3 Ways To Stop Yourself From Being An 'Absent Friend'

If you always find yourself accidentally neglecting your friendships, here's three ways that you reclaim them.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 08, 2024

Picture this: your friend texts you wanting to catch up over the weekend. You're busy with your morning chores and decide to reply after work. In the evening, however, exhaustion takes over and you decide to doomscroll on social media and binge watch a show instead. You decide to reply the next day but, before you know it, it's already the weekend. You come to the realization that you unintentionally ghosted your friend. This is what the beginning of becoming an "absent friend" looks like.

Being an absent friend implies that you might not meet or interact with your friends regularly. Your phone is filled with unread messages, unanswered calls and perpetual excuses. Consequently, you might also be absent in their struggles, triumphs and other meaningful experiences—feeling guilty for missing out and being a bad friend.

Being an absent friend is a sticky problem that gathers inertia with time. Here are three ways you can turn the page and be a more "present friend."

1. Find Out Your Socializing Limits

The first step in reviving your friendship is becoming aware of your capacity to interact and be present as a friend. Awareness of one's own boundaries and capacity to socialize is instrumental in revitalizing friendships as an absent friend. Setting personal limits can help create realistic expectations for social interactions, ensuring that the efforts to reconnect are sustainable.

A 2020 study found that establishing boundaries per one's needs allows one to build relationships on one's own terms and create a sense of autonomy. Consequently, these boundaries can prevent overextension and burnout which allows you to have authentic and meaningful friendships.

To become more in tune with your needs, you must take note of your average working hours and the energy you have left after them. You can create a healthy limit of interactions that don't leave you feeling drained. It can be helpful to remember that communicating with friends can also serve to replenish your mood and energy levels. Once you're aware of your limits and rely on them to make plans or interact online with friends, it can help you to bridge the gap and abate the guilt you feel for being absent in your friendships.

2. Come Clean To Your Friend

It can be a daunting task to initiate a difficult conversation about not showing up with your friend. The regret and guilt one might feel for not reverting to a friend only prolongs with time. Albeit a dreaded conversation, talking it out can serve to diminish your negative feelings and the invisible burden you have placed on yourself.

A 2021 study concluded that trust in a friendship can be strengthened by offering support and building reciprocity. Being vulnerable, admitting to one's social capacity and expressing healthy boundaries can help your friends see your side of the story. It can save your friendship from demise and give your friend the option to reciprocate by expressing their feelings and boundaries.

Talking it out and taking ownership can help you to strengthen your friendship. You can also let your friend know that you need time to recharge your social battery. A simple text expressing your current socialization capacity can be beneficial for both parties. You can reach out again with a replenished well knowing that your friend wasn't left hanging.

3. Schedule Reminders To Check-in With Your Friends

Absence can blot people out and it works both ways. Your friend's presence can be relegated to the background just as simply as they can get used to your absence and move on. When you're caught up in your busy schedule, it can be difficult to remember to reach out to a friend.

Setting up a reminder to reach out or adding it to your to-do list can be a good way to keep them in your "present." You can add it to multiple days to limit the pressure it puts on you. If in-person interactions seem like a lot, simply interacting through texts or a social media app can facilitate keeping the ties strong. A 2022 study published in Computers in Human Behavior Reports concluded that online interactions among friends can also create feelings of comfort, confidence and disinhibition.

Finally, not overthinking it and simply reaching out without an "agenda" in mind is an action that holds more power than you think. A 2022 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people underestimate how much a person appreciates communication initiated by them.

It is not possible to turn a blind eye to your friendships and expect them to continue without a hitch. Healing friendships as an absent friend can seem like a mammoth task. However, it is achievable by communicating openly and being vulnerable with your friends. Like any other relationship, one has to remember that missteps can be made, yet, ownership and the intent to improve can repair rifts.

Do you have what it takes to make your absent friendship more present? Take the Authenticity In Relationships Scale to gain clarity.

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