What To Do When You Realize You’re The Pity Friend


“You think you know someone…”: a five-word phrase that you might hear in some afternoon TV drama, when a character finds out someone they were close to had been deceiving them all along. We, as people, might not all experience such dramatic betrayals that would cause us to say this exact phrase, but most of us can definitely relate to what it feels like when you notice a friend has changed. Maybe these changes are because of a new crowd they’ve become a part of or a different style of living they’ve picked up. Either way these differences begin to have an effect on the friendship, hopefully a good one but oftentimes this is not the case.

For me these changes started happening my junior year of college. I had spent two years living with a specific group of friends who I’d found myself growing close to. We ate, slept, drank and argued together and had grown inexplicably close, when all of a sudden by the end of junior year it became time to pick housing assignments. Before I could even give a suggestion of where to live, these suite friends of mine had already made up their own minds and chose to live in the most expensive residence hall, a hall I had mentioned before I could not afford. At first I was upset, seeing my best friends I’d lived with for two years just up and leave without any regard for what I might have wanted, but I decided not to hold on to such things. It would be our senior year next year and I figured we’d all try and spend what time we had left together.

I managed to find a different group of people to live with, some who I had known since freshman year but had not spent much time with over the years because I had lived with the suite friends. However, they invited me in with open arms and I’m happy to say it was the most loving, relaxing living experience I’d ever had. My roommate and I became closer friends than I’d ever think we could be and I got to reconnect with people I knew to be really cool but hadn’t gotten the chance to get-to-know.

However, over the course of senior year I experienced a fascinating, albeit depressing, phenomenon, as I lived with this new group of people and saw my friendships with the suite friends change. I became what I call a “pity-friend,” to them, a friend who is cast off into the background and only called upon when he or she is nearby, convenient, or otherwise needed as a venting tool.

It started out slow, of course. Whenever these suite friends and I got to hang out, most of them just kept repeating over and over again “we need to hang out more,” and “we should do something this weekend.” Most of the time, though, not many of them ever really tried to get in touch with me, even though I lived maybe 100 yards away. And while I can partially blame myself for being pretty busy during the week, because of my classes, extracurriculars, and work schedule, my availability was always known to them and I kept myself pretty open so it wouldn’t seem like I was responsible for the friendship growing tense.

Being the pity-friend, I was subjected to a specific set of interactions. If any of you have found yourselves caught in entrapments such as these, you might be a pity friend as well. Basically whenever I happened to be in the same vicinity as my suite friends, everything was “normal.” They were nice and we all made jokes and reminisced about the good ol’ days. But when it came down to it, they never really asked how I was or what my plans were coming up. It was all about them and their issues. And while I’m pretty okay with being there for someone if they really need to talk, a one-sided friendship isn’t really friendship. It’s selfish. A lot of the time they’d bring up a party they went to or were going to, without even asking me to come or even what I had going on. While that might seem a bit childish of a thing to complain about, when you’re in college and trying to balance work, school, and a social life, any opportunity to hang out with people you don’t see often isn’t something to just throw away. Even when no one tried to include me but was perfectly fine with taking up any free time I had to talk about themselves, I put up with it because I thought these people were my friends, that they were just so used to being around each other that they didn’t really notice me.

One of the worst things, though, was being called upon by one of these suite friends because of the history we shared, the other person using that as a wedge to open the door of conversation between me and them, but only so I’d listen to their problems. They’d carry on about their insecurities and worries, things in their lives they were struggling with, without asking about maybe what I was going through or how I was handling my own hurdles.

If any of these situations sound all too familiar, my sincerest apologies. To me friendship is one of the most important bonds we as humans are responsible for forming between other people, one that often people take for granted. Another five-word phrase people say is “Friends are easy to find,” but there’s a difference between true friends and passing friends.

True friends don’t invite you to parties where the night starts off with everyone having a good time and then later ends with one person being marooned off in a corner because no one would talk to them. True friends don’t rattle on about their ex-boyfriends or girlfriends who they still have feelings for, then make you feel guilty about being in love with and spending time with your significant other. True friends don’t solve conflicts by being passive aggressive about the issue, until secrets are spread and the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. To me, true friends know how to keep the balance between selfishness and selfless love; how to make sure to take care of their own personal needs, while also knowing how to be there for someone they care about. 

I’m not writing this to get back at this group of people who hurt me over this past year. They are good, talented people and I wish them all the best of luck in life. I can forgive them for not realizing exactly how much they’d hurt me, but what I can’t excuse is how they used passive-aggressive tactics and fake-friendship in order to keep me around.

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What I’m trying to do by writing down my experiences as a pity friend is to spread awareness to those who might not know what they’re doing is harmful to the person and to the relationship. It’s natural for people to change and sometimes even grow apart from one another, but to ignore these changes and treat people as if you couldn’t be bothered to be around for them is worse than ignoring them altogether.

For some it might be hard to find a way out of these friendships, especially when you yourself are the pity friend. You might feel like these people don’t care and want to push them aside for good, but what happens when you’re all together and things feel so happy and warm, just how things used to be? Or what if you’re just too submissive of a person to say anything – is it worth losing someone you call your friend by telling them how you feel?

Though it might be difficult to realize, the answer is yes, it is worth it. If I hadn’t made the conclusion that I wanted to stop being their pity-friend, I never would have found this powerful, self-assured bone in my body that told me more about myself as a person. I learned that I despise selfishness and that I tend to migrate toward people who aren’t selfish or who at least know the balance between selfish love and selfless love.

This realization had become pretty clear over the past couple months as I got closer and closer to graduation, but ironically became transparent on the day of our commencement. All morning long I had received texts from my more current group of friends who I’d come to grow close to throughout senior year, all of them wanting to meet up beforehand to walk in and find seats together. Upon arriving, the car I parked near was full of my suite friends. I’d said my good-mornings and waved excitedly, thinking that maybe we would all want to walk to the ceremony together. After I put on my robe, donned my cap, and took pictures with my family, I turned around to see that they’d all left, no one there to even take a quick selfie. I didn’t let it phase me, though, and went off to find my “true friends,” those who I stood in line with as our names were called out over the crowds of people at graduation.

My suite friends did manage to find me during the ceremony, to wave and give a few words of congratulations. A few even managed to find me after the ceremony was over, but only to take some pictures. I guess they would feel bad if they didn’t take pictures with everyone. Though their actions drove holes into the pit of my stomach, I didn’t let it affect me. I decided that I would no longer be their pity friend. I hope, for those who might find themselves in a similar situation, it doesn’t take you all as long as it took me to realize that you’re better off without them. Because you are.  

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