Are You the Back-Up Friend?

Friendships are funny things. We muddle our way through, bump into people and sometimes we just ‘click’, and a friendship is born. Others we cautiously dance around, sniffing the other out and a friendship grows over time. Some we’ve known since we were kids, and some we’ve met yesterday but feel like we’ve known them forever. Friends are da bomb. We tend to gravitate toward a few and class them as our close friends, while others are more run of the mill friends.

Sometimes though, we’re not the close friend. We’re the other friend. The friend that is great, but just not ‘the’ friend.

Ever felt like that?

It’s the feeling of being the back-up friend.

It’s totes a thing. Might not be in the clinical handbooks, but it happens. A lot. Google search that shit, you’ll see topic after topic of people feeling the same.

The back-up friend is everybody’s friend. People like going to them for a chat, or seeking advice, but just as a bit of a gap filler until a better friend shows up.

It’s like being the bridesmaid. Only you don’t even get asked to be the bridesmaid, you just get asked to come and sit at table 10 down the very back of the wedding reception.

To be fair, I’d rather not be the bridesmaid if it involved wearing this shit. No wonder this chick is feeling melancholic. Image source

The back-up friend can lurch between being socially fulfilled and socially isolated. Lots of people to chat to, lots of people who come for advice and support, but when the back-up needs some backing up? It’s a tricky sitcho.

It’s not like the back-up friend isn’t liked. Quite the opposite. They’re well liked…. But just not the closest, or the first preference friend.

Why does this happen? Or is this actually the norm? Is the idea of a BFF so romanticised these days in the media that it doesn’t even really exist?

back up friend comic

Friendships are hard enough as a kid, but when you grow up, it can be whack. We all tend to live in our heads, pondering what and why and how and when. Adult friendships can be tricky, as we grow and change, we move away, we have kids, we don’t have kids, we get into relationships. All these things can impact. Friendships are things we enter into voluntarily, so we technically should be hanging with people we want to. Only for the back-up friend they might find themselves scrambling to have those closer friendships.

You know like that time everyone else had their soul buddy, except for Bart? That.

We all want a solid connection with others. Friendships are proven to be healthy for us. They buffer stress, they can release our happy juices (in our head *ahem*), they can help us feel more switched on and focused.But if you don’t feel like you have that solid connection it can be hard. It can be thankless, stressful, mess with your head, and even mess with you physically. So to not have a decent friendship, and to only feel you’re called on when other friends aren’t around can be pretty detrimental to your overall wellbeing. That shit’s gotta stop.

What can you do if you’re a back up friend?

  • It might feel like it’s about you, but it’s not. Remember that.
  • Look for like minded peeps and focus on them. They’re out there somewhere.
  • Test the waters; try to call on the friends you have. Sometimes we don’t ask for the support we actually need. Do they return it? Do they step up? If not, then you could be the back up friend and it’s time to make a change.
  • If you are feeling like all you’re good for is a chat when no one else is around, then cut those peeps. You deserve better.
  • Check your thought process too. Are you actually being treated as the back-up friend, or is more your perception/paranoia? Sometimes things aren’t quite what they seem.
  • Assertiveness is a gem. Polish that shit up and throw it out there. If it doesn’t feel good for you, then assert yourself, yo.
  • Connections are great in person, but if that’s not possible look elsewhere. Join online groups, forums, interest boards. You might be able to find better connections there.
  • Give new opportunities a chance. Go out for that coffee, try that new bootcamp (or if you’re like me bootcamp really means pub….), you never know what might develop.

And if you can recognise that maybe you do tend to have a few people that you rely on as back-up friends? Try to give back what they give to you. See that they are just as good a friend and deserve to be treated as such. Being a back-up friend is shit, and nobody wants to be in that role.


How about you? Have you ever been the back-up friend? Have you got back-up friends? How do you deal with it all? Adulting is hard.

  • Hugzilla

    Yeah, this is interesting… I don’t deliberately have back up friends but I have clusters of friends in different contexts. Old friends, mum friends, blogging friends, work friends…. I don’t have a lot of super-close besties though. They seem to be the kind of relationships that take a lot of time to nurture and I just don’t have that any more, so I kind of feel like sometimes they are “back-ups” in a sense.

  • It’s all about connection isn’t it? We crave it and seek it out, but everyone is also so worried about appearances and image that sometimes the connection isn’t real, or isn’t reciprocated. Then we fear being vulnerable and open the next time around. Sometimes the back up friend has put themselves in that position by maintaining an armour of sorts. WDYT doc?

  • I have some super close friends but other times I just know I’m the back up. Not a very nice feeling but I brush it off. They aren’t the people I’d turn to, you know?

  • This was bang on Sash! And I cringe at myself but I recently pulled up a friend who is treating me like a backup/background friend. We live in a small town, we’re gonna be in the same circles for the next 20-30 years. So I like to have my cards on the table. Let’s iron out any problems and move on with a bottle of wine or 2. Feeling left out – that shit stings! I like to be treated the same as I treat others. I think every friend has a BFFness about them ? That’s why I picked em!

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    This is so accurate. I had never thought of it like this but this is exactly how I feel. You have made me smile today #teamIBOT

  • I am actually a bit of a useless friend to everyone at the moment. I want to be a good friend but I can’t even be a good friend to myself so I think I just need to concentrate on that and hope like crazy that I was a good enough friend in the before and that the effort that I can manage to put into my friendships will be enough to sustain them all until I can get to the other side.
    I know that I am back up friend and afterthought friend A LOT and I hate it. But for me it has been like that for the better part of the last 35yrs of my life since I was a little 11yr old starting high school and had no friends at all for a year!!! Which consequently means I am forever trying far too hard to be a good friend or to make friends and then I end up all alone again.
    Plus I am really bad at small talk and when making new friends I either seem like a complete snob and say very little or within the first 10 mins I have overshared so much that I usually scare ppl off. Generally then I end up having a panic attack!!

  • I think it is hard to juggle friends. I have a close three or four friends and then I have a wider circle. It is always on my mind about being inclusive to all but not jumping between. I don’t like bullshit and I like simple so as much as I love my wide circle of friends my close friends know the true me. I hope they don’t think they are back ups! You have me worried.

  • Everybody bangs on about how hard it can be for kids to make friends, but it’s even harder when you’re an adult. I think as you say it’s because of all those outside factors and our good friend, paranoia. I had the most amazing circle of friends in London and had to start again when I came to Australia. It’s like the same but different. Back up friend? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  • I sometimes feel like I’m the backup friend when it comes to my close friends who are married / with partners or in relationships. They fit me in amongst the other stuff. I have a friend I really only see when she and her partner aren’t getting along as I’m one of her only friends really and she’ll contact me to vent or just to chat.

    I get that others have more important priorities (partners, kids) so perhaps it’s more that I wish I had someone to put me first.

  • I have never really thought about this. I don’t think I have back up friends. I hope I don’t make anyone feel like they are a backup friend.

  • Interesting, I’d never labelled it as back up friendship but I recognise it and makes sense. I hope I don’t treat people that way though. I’m having to make new friends now that we are up here and it’s not easy to find kindred spirits, lots of people to pass the time with and have a wine but I do miss the deeper friendships. Luckily my old friends are only a phone call or short flight away.

  • Lauren

    I used to be the backup friend the girl that got treated like an option my guy friend did that to me his name was Dominic and I finally gained the courage to end the friendship the worse part of it is he gave his girlfriend priority over his friends including me so I waited until he told me why he hadn’t made time for me and I ended the friendship with him because of the answer he gave me and just today I was honest with his mom about it and told her that the friendship ended he still considers me a friend even if I don’t feel that way anymore I couldn’t be happier

    • Nikki Jamison

      Yeah I couldn’t blame you I am about to the same with a online friend I currently used to chat with all the time, she started to hang out more on Twitter now with other people before and after she went to work up to the time she goes to bed for the night. If I am lucky I think I got 2 or 3 mins with her online today and a quick minute with her before she logged off for the night last night. She wants to play that game fine she can do what the hell she wants. I am getting sick and tired of playing the “I AM ON TWITTER MORE NOW THAN I AM ON FACEBOOK!!” game with her, as far as I am concerned she’s going to end up being someone’s back up buddy and I am going to sit back when that day comes and laugh and laugh. She doesn’t know it yet but her turn is coming she will end up being a back up friend to someone if she hasn’t already LOL.
      You want to treat others like a doormat well I think it’s only right you get the same kind of treatment in return. I am considering getting rid of the internet no reason to keep it when I am sitting here talking to myself or boring myself online, I only got it to meet people online (NOT DATING) to spend extra time away from all the craziness around the house. Guess I can just sleep through all that to pass the time away.

  • Nikki Jamison

    Doesn’t matter a person shouldn’t have to be someone’s back up buddy or have to wait in line like a competition waiting to be picked to be a priority to someone they always chatted or hung out with on a daily basis. Everyone should be treated equal not like a toy that get’s tossed to the side and play with every now and then when the other person isn’t busy.