Are ‘Low-Maintenance Friends’ the Key to Navigating Adult Friendships?

written by MIA BARNES
Source: @polina-tankilevitch | Pexels
Source: @polina-tankilevitch | Pexels

Picture this: Your phone pings and it’s yet another text from your friend asking to hang out this weekend, even after you’ve told her countless times you’re unavailable. She’s had another rough date and needs a shoulder to cry on—and you’re her go-to. After a few minutes of contemplation, you groan and text, “I can’t.” You wish you could be there for her every time she needed you, but the truth is that you have a lot going on, too, and most of the time, she doesn’t get that.

There’s no arguing that friends are vital. We need them to celebrate with, cry with, and do nothing except eat ice cream and watch Netflix with. However, the trouble with adult friendships is that responsibilities multiply, and schedules become even more demanding, making it hard to prioritize them all the time. Maintaining a connection can feel like yet another obligation when your calendar is already so booked up. But even though social interaction can sometimes feel like a chore, it’s a connection humans need most for our sanity and our health. (Social interaction makes it easier to recover from stress, enhances your quality of life, and reduces your risk of chronic diseases, after all!)

So how can you solve the dilemma of not feeling like you have the time or energy to prioritize your friendships but still know that you want to and need to? Well, the answer lies in low-maintenance friendships. Ahead, we’re getting into what a low-maintenance friend is, how to make them if you have nothing but high-maintenance friends, and how to maintain low-maintenance friendships so they thrive for years to come.

What are low-maintenance friends?

A low-maintenance friend is, well, low-maintenance. They understand that the biggest roadblock to maintaining adult friendships is balancing your relationship with all your other responsibilities—like work, school, hobbies, family time, self-care, kids, and romantic relationships. They are the kinds of friends that make you feel like no time has passed since you last saw them, even if it’s been months. And there is no blame on either of you for how long it’s been since you were able to schedule a coffee date together. They respect your boundaries and accept you for who you are—full schedules and all—and you do the same for them.

Having this mutual understanding and acceptance of each other’s busy lives makes maintaining healthy relationships as an adult much simpler. They require less frequent interaction and are built on a foundation of trust, making them more resilient to the demands of adult responsibilities.

How do you know if you have a high-maintenance friend?

To put it simply, you know you have a high-maintenance friend when juggling your life responsibilities with their expectations of you, and your time drains your energy. For example, they might make you feel guilty for canceling on them or being unavailable, throw a fit when plans change, or blow up your phone after you’ve told them your schedule is already jam-packed.

These friendships come with a set of expectations that are challenging to manage alongside the demands of daily life. Such friends may place excessive demands on your time, which can negatively impact your other relationships or work performance—and you may even find yourself having to choose which connections or priorities to nurture. These friends aren’t very flexible, and they typically don’t respect your boundaries very well. Basically, instead of feeling like a busy person, they make you feel like a bad person for not having enough time for them. If you feel like one wrong move could lead to a friendship fallout, that’s a clear sign you’re trying to manage a high-maintenance friendship.

How to set boundaries with high-maintenance friends

While it’s easier said than done to cut them loose because they are (dare I say) way too needy, it’s not ideal to keep trying to meet their expectations of you. If you don’t want to lose these friendships (maybe you’ve known them your whole life or can’t imagine life without them despite their high-maintenance tendencies) but desperately need some respite, it’s time to address these issues and set some boundaries. Try having an open and honest conversation (in person preferably) about how you’ve been feeling about your friendship and where you stand.

For example, you could say something like “I love spending time with you, but I can’t always dedicate as much time to hanging out as you’d like me to,” or “I have been feeling overwhelmed by other’s expectations of my time, and I want you to know that even though I can’t always hang out, our friendship is still important to me.” Always start by acknowledging your appreciation for your friendship and being honest about how you’re feeling upfront so that when you transition into what needs to change (like them getting mad at you for not texting back right away), they know you still care for them. If this conversation angers them or they continue to be high maintenance, then it might be time to cut them loose for the sake of your sanity.

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How to make low-maintenance friends

Whether you’re slowly realizing that most of your friends fall under the “high-maintenance” category or you’re just looking to make a few more solid low-maintenance friendships going forward, here are a few ways you can make low-maintenance friends.

Scope out clubs or memberships

Have you always wanted to try ballet, aerial yoga, or another niche discipline? If you’re seeking new low-maintenance connections, clubs, gyms, or even recreational sports teams are great places to start. Since you’ll be surrounded by people who share the same interests, it will be easy to spark up a conversation, and seeing them week after week will help you quickly grow a casual friendship. Many places are completely free or offer introductory memberships for low or reduced prices, letting you slake your curiosity while meeting new people, which is a total bonus.

Bond over a shared hobby

Do you have an acquaintance who enjoys running as much as you do? What about yoga, reading, or reality TV? Reach out to them to see if they want to do these things (that you already planned on doing!) together. You can schedule your morning runs for the same time each week, enroll in a weekly yoga class, go book browsing, or lounge around watching a new episode of your favorite series. This way, you’re not adding to your schedule to make time for social interaction, you’re simply just making it better with a friend.

Extend the invite

Maybe you live for dinner parties, but your guest list is a bit sparse. An easy way to rectify that problem is by asking the guests whom you’ve already invited to bring two additional guests. Not only will you have a few familiar faces by your side, but you’ll meet people who your friends already know, like, and trust. Even if you start with two or three invitees, you’ll end up with a full house and plenty of opportunities to meet new, low-maintenance friends.

Rekindle old friendships

Another easy way to make low-maintenance friends as an adult is to rekindle past relationships from high school and college. Think about the people with whom you’ve kept in touch, even if it’s only been over social media. Do you find yourself commenting “congratulations!” when they post about significant milestones, like weddings, childbirth, and job changes, or replying to their stories asking where the heck you can get your hands on the jeans they are wearing? Send them a message and ask them if they want to get together sometime to catch up! Since you already don’t see each other regularly, this friendship won’t require much of your schedule to maintain but can be joyful nonetheless.

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How to maintain low-maintenance friendships

Once you’ve established low-maintenance friendships, you must ensure they remain that way. Sustaining these connections involves intentionally nurturing the relationship while respecting each other’s responsibilities and priorities, and when it comes to balancing the responsibilities of everyday life with socialization, the biggest obstacles are time and energy. Here are a few favorite ways you can easily maintain low-maintenance friendships:

Do everyday tasks or errands together

You’re already going to do things like get your nails done, fold your laundry, go grocery shopping, go for a walk, and hit up a workout class, so why not combine them with a much-needed catch-up? Whether you invite your friend to go with you or you call them while you’re doing them just to say hi and see how they are doing, this is an easy way to check in and prioritize your friendship. It requires minimal effort but makes a big difference.

Establish routines with long-distance friends

Another problem with maintaining adult friendships is how drastically things can change. What if your college BFF now lives in LA, and you’re in the Big Apple? You don’t want your friendship to fade, but you also can’t just hop on a plane to see them all the time. Technology makes it possible to keep in touch with friends at a distance, and taking advantage of it can help big time. Establish regular check-in times by phone, text, or social media to say hi and exchange a light chat. This way, you’ll always feel connected, no matter how much time you have to talk or how far away they are.

Acknowledge their milestones

While you may not chat every day, a simple way to keep the friendship alive is by acknowledging the milestones that matter. Take a moment to remember and reach out on birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or during their triumphs. You can shoot them a quick congratulatory text or get a bunch of flowers delivered to their home. These kind and thoughtful acts go a long way in keeping the connection strong without requiring a ton of effort.

Be there when they need you

Whether you’re there to lend a listening ear after a tough day or stand by them through one of life’s unexpected challenges, ensure you show up for your friends in times of need. Be there with empathy, kindness, understanding, and a willingness to lend a helping hand where possible. A simple “I’m here for you” goes much further than you may think.