Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Beware: Instant Friendship

It’s happened to each and every one of us – the warning signs of instant friendship. Whether it’s a co-worker who shares too much too soon, or a new acquaintance who’s looking to merge, everyone knows what it feels like to be talking to someone who’s seeking instant friendship.

People handle this situation in a myriad of ways. Some people don’t want to seem rude, so they nod along and try to be pleasant. Some people feel awkward and get coerced into sharing private details themselves. Others can be rude or dismissive, and make an over attempt to post a glaring stop sign that sends the message: Go Away.

When someone seeks instant friendship and wants to get too close too soon, it typically reflects that this person has what mental health specialists call ‘unmet dependency needs.’ In a nutshell, everyone has certain needs for closeness with others, and these needs are ‘dependency needs.’ When someone’s dependency needs go unmet, that person has an emotional hunger for connection.

What can you do when someone seeks instant friendship as a means of fulfilling unmet dependency needs? The truth is that there is little you are going to do that will make a difference. The best analogy I can make is to relate an experience I see in everyday life.

Once in a while, you see young children whom you have just met who want to instantly attach to you. You might not even have met them - you could simply be riding the same elevator with them. I’m not talking about friendliness, but rather the search to connect, almost in the way you’d expect a child to look to a parent. When this happens, it is often a sign that the child lacks the guidance and love he or she needs, and he or she desperately looks for it around each and every corner.

For some people, they’ve never gotten what they needed. Many of the people who seek instant friendship as adults have been searching for a connection for a long time because they’ve never had a relationship that gives them their emotional ‘fill.’

When you come across someone who seeks instant friendship, the best thing you can do is to be aware of what’s going on – this person is looking to you to fill what is likely an emotional void. You must understand that such a void is not going to be filled easily or in a short period of time. Often, this characteristic will be apparent in dating situations. It is critical to detect the signs of someone wanting instant connection because the friendship or relationship that ensues will likely not be healthy. It is natural and healthy for friendships to begin with a certain measure of caution and distrust. After all, it should take a fair amount of time to build trust.