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In Friendship, Do You Give More Than You Receive?

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If there is one thing I hear all the time from women, it is some variation of the theme: "I'm tired of being the one who gives more than I receive."

The details change depending upon the stage of the friendship, but the implication is always that we are tired of being the initiators, the givers, the schedulers, the inviters and the ones who do the most for the other. We apparently listen the longest, serve most thoughtfully, and show up more consistently. In short, we think of ourselves as the "better friend."

From all my interactions with women, you'd think the odds are probable that I'd eventually connect with these blessed beneficiaries, these winners in the life lottery of our giving. You'd think that for every woman who gives too much that there would be at least one woman out there who admits getting too much.

Ironically, I haven't yet met her.

I am curious about this apparent vast imbalance, and I'm not talking about a healthy friendship where life circumstances mean that one of us needs to receive more than we can offer, for a time.

My inquisitiveness leads me to ponder possible theories about why women seem to often be giving to each other without ever feeling full, in return. Could any of them be true?

Seven Possible Explanations For The Giving Disparity

  1. Everyone, except me, is selfish. This is possible, I suppose. Likely? I think not.

  • Maybe we're all paying it forward. Maybe it's like a big love triangle --where he likes her, but she likes the other guy. Maybe we all are over-giving to someone, and that person is over-giving to someone else, who is over-giving to someone else, which means we're all giving, but it never feels reciprocated by the right people.
  • Maybe it's easier to see what we give than what she gives. In one case, I actually knew both of the women in a friendship, each of them thinking they gave more than the other. One said, "I'm always the one initiating our time together," while the other said, "She does all the talking -- I am always the one listening to her life." They were both accurate, but it didn't mean that the other wasn't contributing; it was just in a different way. Some of us are better at scheduling, others at remembering birthdays and others at asking meaningful questions. Maybe we tend to only have eyes for how we give.
  • Maybe we're scared. Maybe we don't over-give at all, but our insecurity heightens our fear of it. Perhaps we hold that memory of one person who walked all over our boundaries long ago; and now, to prevent getting hurt again, we are super-sensitive to anyone who doesn't reciprocate immediately in big ways. Maybe we don't remember that we've become better at setting boundaries since then and can trust more people than we do.
  • Maybe we give more than anyone needs or asks. I once had a friend who kept buying me trinkets from different shopping expeditions. I sure didn't need those little things and didn't even like most of them. She was giving to me in a way that I wasn't asking her to give, didn't need her to give and certainly wasn't reciprocating back to her. If she ever felt it was disproportionate, I'd rather her have cut back on what she bought me than to resent me for not matching her style. Maybe we need to look at where we give and see if we think it's really meaningful to the receiver.
  • Maybe we are leaking what we are given. Maybe other areas of our lives drain us so much that even if our friends are giving to us, we can't hold it. Maybe she affirms all the time, but it just bounces off you. Maybe she initiates get-togethers frequently, but you're too stressed to hear them.
  • Maybe we're not over-generous at all. Perhaps to prevent feeling rejected we only give an inch and retreat, calling it imbalanced when really it was just one email. Maybe the one clue you dropped that you'd be open to getting together again wasn't really disproportionate. Maybe we're only putting our toe in the water and calling it over-giving when it's not. Maybe we can email her a second time, or follow up again, without it falling in the category of too much.
  • Though I won't go so far as to say I don't think there are needy, insatiable and self-centered people out there, I will say that I don't think everyone, except us, is one. From my experience, almost every woman I interact with truly wants to be in a mutual friendship. However, not surprisingly, those mutual friendships don't seem to be strengthened by scorecard and tally counts.

    In my next post (sign up for alerts in the top right corner of this page to be notified when it's up) I am going to highlight some strategies for how we can bring more mutuality and joy to our friendships. But for now, I challenge you, if you're someone who feels like you give more than you get, to see if any of these theories resonate with you. Or maybe you have another one to add to the list?

    Why do you think so many people believe they are the over-giver in their relationships?

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