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Friendship Disappointment: Expectations and Behavior

By Andrew Burgon /
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November 3, 2014


michaeljung / 123RF Stock Photo

Expectation and Behavior Play a Part in Dealing With Friendship Disappointment

Disappointments come part-and-parcel with a friendship. Know someone you like and desire the friendship of long enough and he or she will likely disappoint you in some way. We can deal with this by adjusting our expectations and behavior as well as coming to terms with the fact that not everyone is like us and that in certain situations acceptance is needed.

I saw a movie poster last night for the movie Moses starring Christian Bale. The Pharoah was decked out in gold armor while Moses wore black armor. Now use that image and superimpose your friends face on both the Pharoah’s and Moses’. The one clad in black representing those elements of the friendship that disappoint and the gold one representing all the good things your friend brings to the table of friendship.

I think we should all focus on the version of our friend decked out in gold! No friend can be perfect and fulfill every need or hope we have. That’s a huge unreasonable expectation to have. I am willing to take the disappointments as well as the good things. I will do my best though to minimize the disappointments when they come.

The Role of Expectation and Behavior Adjustment When Dealing With Friendship Disappointment

Adjusting our expectations (E) and behavior (B) is one way of dealing with troubling disappointments. If there is something disappointing about a particular friend say to yourself something like, “This behavior is troubling me. I will adjust my expectations and behavior accordingly.” Here are some examples.

E: My friend cannot be expected to arrive on time.
B: I no longer invite him to events that require people to arrive on time like a dinner party or a movie night. (There are still many other events I can invite him to.)

E: My friend is not reliable and somewhat flaky.
B: I will not depend on him to do something important like bring the extension cord to the party or take up his offer on providing all the meat for the barbecue.

E: My close friend is usually not up for socializing on the weekend.
B: I will significantly reduce weekend invites, seek out other times and activities he might be up for like eating out or seeing a movie together during the week. I will also consider what events he has on the weekend that I could occasionally go to.

E: My friend is incredibly uptight in certain situations making it unpleasant to be around him.
B: I will make a mental note of situations that causes him to be like this and create workarounds eg. if he is highly critical of movies I only go to see movies he thinks will be good.

E: My friend is really critical in a public kind of way!
B: I plan my parties carefully, start preparations early and have a friend help me with the cooking.

E: My friend is really emotional and strongly opinionated on a topic I don’t agree on eg. politics, religion
B: I refrain from talking about said subject.

General Expectations and Adjustments

There are also general expectations (GE) and behavioral adjustments (B) that we can make that are usually based on past experience.

GE: Not all friends can be trusted to honor the conditions of a loan.
E: As a general rule I avoid loaning friends money but am open to helping them out in other ways.

GE / B: As a general rule I do not bend over backwards to help a friend because should they exit my life in a troubling way I will feel the disappointment more intensely. (Scratching my head) “Let me get this right. I did this, this and this for a friend and they did THAT!”

An Alarm of Discord

Sometimes an alarm of discord goes off when we attempt to adjust our expectations for a friend. It’s usually when they have crossed a line. Perhaps the friendship has been too disappointing. It might be with a friend who is chronically passive and your generous amounts of initiative have been used up. Usually when this alarm goes off I respect it and simply cease taking initiative with the friend.

Empathy and Understanding

Some people are far too quick to judge their friends or fail to take into account the reasons why their friends are disappointing them. If the situation is continually bothering you seek to understand. You might find that if you subtly sound out your friend he might be going through a crisis, madly in love with a new girlfriend or suffering from depression. Knowing this can make it easier to hand or even help neutralize the disappointment.

Another way to gain some empathy and understanding is to consider in what ways have you disappointed your friends. Doing so may help you come to grasp the situation with a friend and reduce the amount of disappointment you feel. You might, for example, feel that your friends are very unsupportive in a certain way that bugs you only to realize that you were no different with some of the friends you have.

Have Good Friends Installed in Your Life

One thing I’ve noticed is that having two good friends installed in my life makes a world of difference. Without them, friendship disappointments can seem amplified especially when you’re lonely and depressed. With them I become calm, cool and collected. It becomes a lot harder to ruffle my feathers when there are good friends about.


We all have flaws and quirks. There are so many things in life demanding our attention. We can’t be present in every friend’s life to the same degree. It stands to reason that friendship disappointments are bound to happen.  We need to remember to zoom back on the black spot that’s bothering us and see the page it’s on. To focus on all the good and wholesome things concerning our friends.

We can opt out of the troubling aspects of a person by adjusting our expectations and behavior and still enjoy the friendship. Utilize empathy and understanding in your friendships and have good friends installed in your life. They can have a mellowing effect on how you feel about disappointments.

P.S. Oh, and remember. Someone, somewhere may be disappointed because of something you’ve said or done and they’re handling your flaws and quirks and the disappointments they feel, too!
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