Are you a ‘taker’? How to tell if you are + what to do about it

Looking for friendship advice? Want to be a better friend? It starts with being a giver - not a taker. Click through to see if you're a taker + what to do if you are!

Here are some things I’ve needed help with during the last 10 years of my life

  • early morning drop offs/late night airport pick ups (about a million of ’em)
  • some heart-rending breakups
  • lots of Craigslist runs that necessitated borrowed pickups/hatchbacks/another pair of strong arms

Many of my nearest-and-dearest buy furniture from, like, stores and have the nerve maintain happy, healthy marriages so I haven’t been able to return all those favors. Slowly but surely I’ve developed a (tiny) complex about the give and take in my friendships.

Was I asking too much of my friends?
Were people going to avoid my calls because they thought I’d just ask to borrow their truck? Again?
Was I becoming That Person?

This obviously lead to the idea for a blog post series and some Big, Relatively Deep Thoughts about give and take and healthy friendships.

Here, inspired by my own neuroses, are four questions you can ask yourself to discover if you’re a ‘taker’

Do most of our conversations focus around me + my life/problems?

Did I spend an hour and a half detailing the project I just completed? Did I monopolize our night with tales of car repair? Do I have any idea what’s going on in their life? Did I think to ask?

If you’re going through something tough you are 100% allowed to talk about it. At length. I will happily talk to you about your breakup every time I see you – for a few months even!


If your life is clipping along as usual, with the absolutely normal ups and downs we all experience, it’s kind and important to share the floor with your friends. This does not require memory tricks or black belt conversation skills; it can be as simple as “What’s new at work?” or “How are things going with botanist you were dating?”

Does it feel like this person is doing more for me than I’m doing for them?

How many times have I asked them to help me move? How many times have I shined the friend-beacon in the night sky and requested emotional support? How often have I asked for a professional favor or introduction?

You needn’t keep a spreadsheet of who’s-done-what (because that would be weird) and you can’t really help it if your friends are homeowners and you’re an apartment dweller who moves every two years. We can all, however, be conscious and intentional of how often we’re calling in favors.

Do I tend to complain when I’m around them?

Some people love to complain + vent and I even know some people who manage it in a hilarious, endearing manner. It can even help you bond!

But I think there’s a big difference between a shared, affectionate, five-minute rant about the service at your favorite noodle joint and regularly railing against your partner to your friends. Or talking about how you hate your body around a friend who struggled with an eating disorder in college. For a lot of people negativity is draining and derailing and when we spend our time venting our frustrations at them we’re just sucking up all their energy.

Do I only reach out to them when I need something?

When was the last time I sent them a text just because I was thinking about them? When was the last time I initiated plans? How many hilarious otter videos have I sent them?

Again, you don’t need a spreadsheet, but let’s all make a conscious effort to show our friends we love them and not just call them when we need a ride to the airport.

So you’ve got some ‘taker’ tendencies. We all do. Here’s what you can do about it.

Really, it’s insanely easy to be a little bit less of a taker.

Ask your friends about their lives

We all know conversation works both ways. I ask you a question and then you ask me a question. And I’m asking you questions because you’re my friend and I care about you and I want to know about your life.

When you know they’re traveling/moving/going through a tough time, reach out

Many of us aren’t good at asking for help; it makes us feel weak and incompetent. Save your friend the trouble and when you know they need something, offer to help.

Help them be the person they want to be

If you know your friend is giving up alcohol, invite them to coffee or make reservations at a place that only serves juice and tea. If you’re super active and you know they’re training for a 5k, include them in your running group.

Of course (of course!) friendship is a two-way street and it’s important to know that you can (and should!) lean on your friends from time to time. We love you! We want to help you! There will be times in your life – divorce, miscarriage, unemployment, death, crushing debt, mental health struggles – when you have to lean heavily on your friends.

At the risk of being eye-rollingly trite we should all be the sort of friends we'd like to have. Click To Tweet

Which probably starts with a little less taking a few more links to otter videos.

Have you ever been a ‘taker’ in your friendships? How have you dealt with takers in your life? 

P.S. How to travel with a friend and not kill them + Things we don’t say enough (and when to say them)

photo by kris guico // cc

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  1. Nik

    I'd like to hear the opposite side of this! I'm the person on the other end of the phone being draaaaained. How do you tell a friend you're taking too much of my energy without hurting their feelings? I think my friend feels like I never share what I'm going through because I don't vent often or always have a story to tell. It's such an uncomfortable space to be in! You want to pick up the phone and be happy that its your friend calling. 🙁

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I've actually got another post coming up on being too much of a giver! What motivates you giving, are you doing it for the right reasons, how to create maintain boundaries, etc 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Hi Sarah! Have you read Adam Grant's "Give and Take"? This is the concept he explains in it! Great post!

  2. Barbara

    I agree that "how to deal with takers, complainers and energy drainers" is a major topic for helpful discussion. In my experience, asking "What do you think you can do about it?' or "Do you thjink you could try_____?" could move the venter's attention toward possible solutions. I say could, because some venter's just want to c0omplain and get sympathy; and are not looking for solutions.

    For those folks, I try to redirect the topic. If that doesn't work, I get the conversation over with as soon
    as possible, and move on to doing something I enjoy. In two (very sad) extreme cases, I found it best to end a friendship with a Totally Negative Nancy. I said that we have gone in totally different (non-specified) personal directions, and are no longer good supports for each other, and wished her well. As hard as it was, I am glad that I made the decision. TNNs usually seek other TNNs or Totally Sympathetic Sallys.

  3. kathrynoh

    I have friends who give too much, well not really too much but they never want to take. I try to give to them but never feel like it's balanced. It can take a while to realise that sometimes people get a kick out of doing nice things for you.

  4. Rachel Ann Pierce

    I worry about this a lot, with a few relationships in particular in mind, but I've started to feel better about it lately when I realized that the relationships I'm worried about are with people who are a few years older than me. I love talking about things with them, and we do talk about them sometimes too, but I've come to think of those friendship in part as mentorships. It also helped to realize that there are some relationships I have people people a few years younger than me in which I am more of a giver.

    That said, with people who are on the same life stage as I am, I definitely still worry about this. I don't want people to think that I'm using them for their pool or the times their parents are in town and taking everyone out to brunch. I'm trying to focus on sharing the stage whenever possible, and treating them whenever I'm able (tiny apartments don't really lend themselves to hosting duties).

  5. Kristen

    Loved this and totally looking forward to the upcoming article about takers! It's always difficult finding that balance– I think most of us sway back and forth but it's always good to be more aware of how one might be coming across to other people.

  6. Fifi Islaih

    Thanks for the questions and tips! It's going to be helpful!

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