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What Exactly Should You Do About A One-Sided Friendship? Chile...

"A one-sided friendship brings exhaustion and there's no one who deserves to be sucked dry." — Euginia Herlihy

What About Your Friends?

Uh-huh. The title alone lets you know that there is so much to unpack here, so take a deep breath and let's knock this one out so that we all can get free, amen? I guess a good place to start would be with a personal example of why I think this is a topic that should be tackled more often. OK, so there's someone I know who, twice, called me because they needed money for their bills. Because I considered them to be a friend, let's just say that I took care of more than a month because I knew how down on their times they were. Y'all but when someone (several months later) in my family died and I asked them if I could use some of their frequent flyer miles (because they had a ton and clearly this was an emergency), their response was, "I plan on going on a lot of trips this year, so I don't want to give those up." Honey, someone died. DIED.


One-sided friendships are a trip, y'all. They're also just how you'd expect them to be — one person doing most of the work; one person constantly being the shoulder to lean on; one person giving 75-90 percent of the support and encouragement; one person is doing most of the giving and one person always going with their needs being unmet and sometimes, flippantly dismissed or ignored.

Honestly, if I had to choose between an enemy or any more one-sided friends, I'd probably go with the enemy because at least, more times than not, they're not getting anything out of me and I know just where I stand. Yep, that's how bad a one-sided friendship can be. That's why I think we should walk through this thing, together, in the hopes that, if you are or aren't sure if you're currently in a one-sided dynamic with someone, you can get the clarity that you seek in order to make the decision that you need to make. SOON.

First of All, Are You Sure the One-Sided Friendship Is Even a Friendship?

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Something that really can't be said enough is the fact that what makes anything a healthy relationship is the root word of the word itself. To relate is to establish a connection and to connect is to communicate and unite with someone else. And y'all, this can't really or completely happen when only one individual is putting forth the time, effort and energy. You know, the reason why I've written articles for the platform like "Always Remember That Friendships Have 'Levels' To Them", "According To Aristotle, We Need 'Utility', 'Pleasure' & 'Good' Friends", "What If You Love Your Friend...But Don't Like Her Anymore?", "What A Supportive Friend Actually Does (It's Not Quite What You Think)" and "Ever Wonder If A Friend Is Just...Not That Into You?" is because I know, from personal experience and the accountants that I've heard from others, that a part of the reason why so many of us find ourselves disappointed in our friendships so often is because we're not even really sure what we should expect from that type of relational dynamic in the first place. And many times, that's due to how our first friendships went down when we were kids.

It's kind of like that wack story that a lot of us were told while growing up — that if a little boy mistreats you in the first grade, that means he likes you (please don't tell your daughters that foolishness). Along these same lines, many of us were introduced to interacting with young boys and girls who were bullies, mean girls and manipulators. And so, unless someone took us aside and explained what our standards and expectations should be, a lot of us found ourselves in highly dysfunctional situations, very early on.

So yeah, if you're wondering if you're in a one-sided friendship or not, first do some real soul-searching over whether or not you even have a good grasp of what a true friend is. A true friend is loyal. A true friend is trustworthy. A true friend respects you. A true friend wants you to feel valued. A true friend shows consistent reciprocity. A true friend supports you. A true friend challenges you. A true friend helps you to feel comfortable in your own skin. A true friend is reliable AF.

If all of what I just said either is somehow foreign to you or has triggered you on some level because you realize that some of your friendships don't look this way, that is already a sign that you may be in something that isn't very healthy or beneficial for you.

How Did Things Start Off?

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On the heels of what I just said, a wise person once stated something along the lines of, if you want to see how something will turn out, reflect on how it began.

That said, there is a past friendship of mine that I had to release a couple of years ago because I was definitely doing more giving than I was receiving. And when I think back on how we began, it was during a time when my self-esteem was pretty low, so I introduced myself to her while in a state of admiring her and thinking that she was beyond awesome. While on the surface, that probably doesn't seem so bad, the flag in that is when you start any kind of relationship thinking that you are "less than" in comparison to someone else, that can cause things to have a really imbalanced start. In my case, I was more like a fan of hers and she found ways to avail herself and sometimes even exploit that energy.

So much to the point that when I jotted down how much money (for example) that I had spent over the course of our entire relationship, it was literally in the thousands. Meanwhile, she had gotten me a ring from a museum and some lip gloss that she lost (so I never saw it). Another example is I realized that when I would call her to talk about my problems, she found ways to make things be about her or she would overtalk me to the point where I didn't get to complete my thoughts. Another example? We would plan dates and either she would cancel at the last minute or if I came to her home, numerous times she would be on the phone during the visit or fall asleep (which means you didn't appreciate my driving all the way out to your house, on loop).

Now that's not to demonize her because we had some good moments and if there is one thing she did well (at least to my knowledge) was honor confidentiality. Still, when you start to really like your own self and become your own BFF (check out "Self BFF: 7 Signs You're Your Own Best Friend"), you realize that you want what you give. Not only that but you also realize that there are people in this world who are willing to step up to the plate when it comes to what those needs actually are.

Honestly, in retrospect, had I not been so in awe of her and she didn't feel so comfortable with my being that way, perhaps our friendship could've ended up a different way. What I will say is when I ponder the start of a lot of the friendships I have now, they are way healthier than many of the ones in my past. And I can't help but believe that there is truly something to that because a healthy beginning has a much better chance of continuing on that sort of path.

Have You Ever Experienced a Balanced Friendship Before?

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Listen, I'll be the first to say that it's amazing that I am (still) a marriage life coach because when I tell you that both in my family and out, I have seen some straight bullshishery…whew. One time, when my mother and I were discussing this very thing some years ago, she said something that I'm glad I took to heart — "I hope you come into contact with some healthy marriages, so you don't end up becoming jaded." While I must admit that, based on the true definition of healthy, those couples are kind of like a rainbow unicorn, I am thrilled to say that I personally know some, that they are quite inspiring, and they help me to stay motivated to do what I do.

Where am I going with this? Not only do I know some healthy marriages, I also have some balanced friendships. You know what, though? Before I had experienced them for myself, it was easy for me to remain in the hamster wheel of one-sided dynamics because, while they weren't fulfilling me, they were still what I was used to. And what do I mean by "balanced"? Be careful of the kinds of people who state that they can't meet your needs because they "don't have the time".

All of us are busy. All of us have a lot on our plate. Still, we find a way to make time for who and what matters to us — and when someone truly values what you bring to their life, they are going to make sure that you know it.

The reason why I like to use the word "balance" when it comes to defining the opposite of a one-sided friendship situation is because it means things like "the equal distribution of weight". Not just one person is there for the other. Not just one person is doing the giving. Not just one person is being helpful and supportive, even when it's inconvenient at times (check out "Life Taught Me That True Friendships Are 'Inconvenient'"). When two people have signed up to be in a true friendship, they know that there is a certain amount of "weight" that they both need to carry. In fact, by them both doing so, that keeps the friendship from feeling taxing or burdensome for either one of them.

When you've never been in this kind of friendship before, it can be easy to tolerate something far less. That's why I think it's also really important to reflect on who you're in a balanced relationship with. Then, compare those to the ones that are imbalanced. And then, ask yourself why you are remaining in the second ones. This brings me to my next point.

Is Fear Your Relational Motivation to Remain in One-Sided Situations?

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I say it often — the opposite of love is not hate but fear. Even the Bible cosigns on that. One of the things that I appreciate about I John 4:18 is it states that "fear involves to torment" and that couldn't be truer when it comes to remaining in one-sided friendships with other people because torment is about constantly worrying and putting yourself through incessant mental suffering. And when we're scared that if we speak up for what we need or are lacking in our relationships, because we don't know what the outcome(s) will be if we do, we are definitely tormenting ourselves.

I once wrote on this platform about a friend who ghosted me because I started telling her what was and wasn't working for me in the friendship (check out "I Was 'Ghosted' By My Best Friend"). I also once had a guy friend who tried to gaslight me the moment when I started to call him out on some of his manipulative ways. The thing that I hate most about both of these situations is I would've been rid of being emotionally mistreated and taken for granted had I not allowed fear to keep me from confronting them years ago.

When it comes to one-sided friendships, never allow fear to hold you back from stating your mind and sharing your heart. The right ones will appreciate that you did. The wrong ones? Well, they will reveal how wrong for/to you they actually were. It's a win either way.

Do You Even Know What You Need in Your Friendships?

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With healing comes seeing things from a broader perspective. I will be the first to say that. And while I'm not really trying to defend those who reaped the benefits of being in a one-sided friendship with me (because, believe you me, most of them know it and have absolutely no problem with it; that's another article for another time, though), what I will say is it's unfair to expect anyone to be a mind reader.

Where I'm going with this is, something that I realized in the process of pulling my own self out of the ditch of one-sided friendships is, I had been so used to giving until I was depleted that I wasn't even really sure that my actual needs were much of the time. And so, while I knew things were lacking and I was growing resentful because of it, if one of those people were to say, "List the 10 things you need me to do," I honestly probably would've said, "If you were really my friend, you would try to figure it out. I mean, I am attentive and proactive towards you."

Y'all, if there is one thing that can spare you a ton of disappointment, disillusionment and potential heartbreak (check out "How To Heal From A Broken Friendship"), it's accepting the very true reality that it's unfair to expect people to think like or do the things that you would do, just because you want them to.

That's why clear, concise and consistent communication in relationships — all kinds of relationships — is so important because, holding your needs in, even if it's to "keep the peace" is a form of self-disrespect; however, you can only say that you aren't being respected in the way that you deserve from others once you state what your needs are and they continue to not meet them — because once they know and ignore, now it's a conscious choice. And that's when it's evident that the friendship is problematic and something must be done.

This brings me to my final point.

If Your Needs Aren’t Met, Are You Prepared to Let It Go?

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Again, now that I have the kind of friendships where I am meeting needs as my needs are being met, I promise you that I can't think of a solid logical reason for why I would tolerate another one-sided friendship. Case in point. There is someone in my sphere who is cool as all get out. Still, the last time I saw her, I said, "You know we only talk when I call you, right? So, next time we chat, it'll be because you rang me." When I said it, she laughed and was like, "Not so but girl, I'll give you a ring, for sure." Guess how long that's been? Around two years now. On this side of being not codependent or fearful of "losing friendships", I am just fine with that. When I see her, it'll be fine. Yet am I interested in keeping things going by doing all of the work? Uh-uh.

As I bring this all to a close, the main point here is sometimes, the way to handle a one-sided friendship is to end the friendship. I'm not gonna lie and say that it's always easy because as unhealthy as one-sided relationships can be, clearly there is something that you like about the person that has caused you to stick it all out. Personally, what I did was come from the angle of, all of the time, effort and energy, blood, sweat and tears that I was putting into a one-sided friendship where I wasn't getting much reciprocity at all, I now have the room for people who are all about about mutuality — and that is what's so much more beneficial to my overall health and well-being.

Real talk, some of us are in one-sided friendships because we're not good enough friends to ourselves. That's why it's so important to do some self-love journaling (check out "Self-Love Journaling & Why You Should Be Doing It"), to get serious about what you REQUIRE in your friendships and to release those who are unwilling to meet you at your needs (not necessarily all of your wants but definitely your legitimate and realistic needs). Because what's the point in being in any kind of relationship where you are basically in it alone? And for the most part, sis, that's exactly what a one-sided friendship is.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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