Relationships

‘Reply only’ friendships: how to deal with that one friend who never asks about you

Messages about your news go ignored, and they only use you as a sounding board. Here’s your guide to avoiding ‘reply only’ friendships.

Maybe you have a ‘reply only’ friend, but you haven’t been able to put a name to their behaviour until now. 

You care about them dearly, love hearing from them and are always texting them questions about their recent job, life or partner. They’ll always reply – be quick at it even – but when it comes to asking about your life, the conversation suddenly dries up.

Chandni, 24, from Berkshire, has noticed this behaviour for the past couple of years with one friend.

“I’ve known them for just over five years now and they’ll ask how I am, but then immediately fill me in on everything that’s going on in their life. I don’t mind because it’s nice to catch up, but I don’t always feel like being spoken at for 10 minutes straight, chipping in with an ‘oh, really?’ or a ‘wow’ every now and then.”

It’s become a problem for Chandni. Due to the lack of space afforded to her within their conversations, Chandni’s fearful that she’s accepting some of her friend’s “potentially damaging” actions or comments. 

“It’s not that they’re a bad friend. I would just like things to be a little more balanced. It makes me feel like they just want someone to validate their opinions, and that they’re not as invested in actually being friends as much as they want someone to vent to.” 

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Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo, an expert psychologist specialising in mental health and human behaviour, says this kind of ‘reply only’ friend can easily be put into one of two categories: someone who is consciously aware and someone who is genuinely unaware that they’re just a replier. Often, for the latter, it’s the friend that notices this behaviour.

“If you’re not aware that you’re this kind of friend, often there’s no malice, no deliberate intention to cause offence and no conscious awareness of it,” Dr Quinn-Cirillo says.

“It’s not that they don’t value you or you’re not that important, people are just genuinely super busy people who may think they’ve replied in their head. Or they may not have taken the time to remember to check in with you.”

She expands: “Some people have problems with initiation and that can be neurological. But sometimes people are just not comfortable initiating conversations due to fear of rejection, ridicule or perhaps insecurities over not being valued that much. If you’re someone who’s suffered with this previously, it’s going to affect your behaviour because our brains and thoughts will stop us doing certain behaviours going forward. When you initiate conversation, that’s a whole different set of psychological processes and it makes you quite vulnerable.

“Our worries over being ignored are also exacerbated by social media and read notifications now. You know when someone’s read a message. That makes it worse for a lot of people.”

Elise, 23, from Manchester, says that the imbalance in text communication has led to a nine-year friendship ending abruptly.

“In the past few years, I’ve noticed she only speaks about herself. Conversations are paragraphs long, and in the last few months, they’ve mostly been about her recent engagement – I was the first person she told.

“I got my dream job a couple of months ago, messaged her and she read it but hasn’t messaged me since. It’s been around three months now and normally I message first to ask about her but this silence has really upset me,” Elise explains. 

“Unless she reaches out, it’s over.”

The behaviour of the ‘reply only’ friend can be attributed to narcissism, but Dr Quinn-Cirillo explains that a lot of the time we need to view our friendships like we would a romantic relationship. Setting boundaries and recognising your own personal values are two important things for any relationship, she explains.

“Some people just don’t have strong boundaries in their relationships but we need to ask ourselves: what do we expect from our friends? Do we talk about it? Or do we need to think about saying, ‘Hey, I quite like it when you message me first’.”

Two friends laugh together as they explore outside
Some people are better friends in person and can come across as disinterested over text

Dr Quinn-Cirillo says you need to analyse two main things: “What are your values in your different friendships – is this behaviour constantly outside of your values? It’s important to remember that it’s alright to have different values for different friends too; it’s not a one-size-fits-all model.

“Secondly, assess how it impacts you. If it affects your mood, makes you anxious, takes up capacity in your head or you continually ask yourself why you make all the effort, that’s when it’s time to be brave and admit it bothers you.”

She goes on: “If you’re someone who recognises that it’s not good for you to have friends around you that don’t initiate, or it’s not good for your wellbeing, that’s when you need to realise it’s a problem.”

Francesca, 31, from Kent, recognised her friendship with Alex* had become a problem in January. She felt she couldn’t continue their friendship any longer. “He never really asked me how I was and I understood that life was just crap for him. He has depression and I get it.

“But I have anorexia. I’m sick too, and I don’t think it’s an excuse. I’m a good friend, and always ask, always care – so it’s very frustrating to not feel that back. I just got fed up with him not caring how I was.

“I brought it up with him when it got too much and he was good for a while, but old habits have started to slip back.”

Dr Quinn-Cirillo has advice about this too. She says that it’s important to “pay attention to your friend’s behavioural patterns”.

“If you’ve noticed that someone can make the effort, then try, if you can, to really reflect on what could’ve made their behaviour shift again. Your brain may immediately think it’s you, but actually, sometimes people are just overwhelmed with daily life and we might not realise that.

“It’s like joining the gym. We join and lose our motivation and then try again,” she says. “Behaviours are habitual and we get lazy, things become subconscious and we just end up doing them and not realising.”

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For many, especially those with generalised anxiety, for instance, it means that daily life can be overwhelming. “A couple of deadlines, for example, may seem like such a non-issue to many, but for those with anxiety, their head can quickly feel full. It’s important to understand and, as I say, formulate it: why would this person refer back to their old behaviour?”

“Use some validation and text them something like ‘I hope everything’s all right, I haven’t heard from you in a while,’” she explains. “If you can start with ‘Are you okay?’ it’s validating what they’re going through.”

Alternatively, some people just don’t like interacting through tech, Dr Quinn-Cirillo states. “Some people are just face-to-face people, but when you see each other, ask yourself: is your friend comfortable and engaged in person or are they as inconsistent as their messages are?”

Wanting regular, balanced conversation isn’t a big ask of a friendship but if your ‘reply only’ friend is making you question this, taking a step back from it (for the sake of your wellbeing) could be the answer.

As Dr Quinn-Cirillo puts it: “The memory of a friendship isn’t enough to keep you in it.”

Images: Getty/Enis Aksoy

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