My friend Rachel told me a story about two of her friends that made me roll my eyes. “Sally and Daniella were inseparable,” Rachel recalls. “They would text all day long, and see each other a few times a week.” But each time Daniella started to date someone, Sally wouldn’t hear from her for weeks at a time. One time, Sally was surprised and delighted to be invited for a weekend away with Daniella. Her excitement evaporated when she learned Daniella and her boyfriend had broken up. Sally felt, again, like the runner-up.
These anecdotal stories of “now that my best friend is in a relationship, I never see her anymore” is validated by research. In one recent study, social scientists at Oxford questioned hundreds of adults about how their relationships changed after they started to date. They found that a new lover meant less time to invest in other close relationships. On average, a person’s core group (family and friends one used to see regularly and who were depended on in tough times) diminishes by two people.
It’s true that there is only so much time to go around. We make tough choices about who we spend our time with, and how much of it. But investing less energy in our close friends and family is perhaps not such a great idea.
I interviewed some people in new relationships who say they are not ditching their friends. Here are five reasons why.
Friends Make You More Interesting
Hanging out too much with your partner and doing “partner” things limits the diversity of your life experiences. No doubt there are interests and activities that you share more with your good friends than with your partner. Continuing to participate passionately in these “outside” interests enriches your life, feeds your own joy, and makes you more interesting to yourself and to your partner too! For instance, one person continues to go to the theater regularly with friends rather than invite her new boyfriend instead.
Friends Can Help Your Relationship
Our friends understand us in ways our partners don’t. They often have known us longer and see patterns in our behaviour. They can act as an objective sounding board to help us navigate problems in our relationship, and point out our blind spots. For instance, one person was complaining to her friend about her boyfriend being late all the time. Her friend gently pointed out that she complained about this with past boyfriends, her new boyfriend wasn’t unacceptably late, and that she had a tendency to be controlling.
Friends Avoid “Suffocating” Your Partner
Being in a relationship can start to feel suffocating if one feels guilty for spending time away from a partner who is dependent on them for their social life. Spending time with your close friends takes the pressure off your partner to feel like they are responsible for your happiness and entertainment. One person said that too much “together time” can zap the novelty and mystery out of a relationship. Seeing their partner enjoy activities independently makes them appear more confident and attractive.
Friends Validate Your Partner’s Decision
People judge us by the friends we keep. Having interesting, fun friends reflects well on us. One person said they are suspicious of people who don’t have close friends; it makes her wonder whether they are lazy or apathetic about relationships, and whether they will not make the sort of emotional investment that is needed for their relationship to thrive. If other people love you, your partner will think (even subconsciously) that’s a good sign!
Friends Deserve Respect
Taking people for granted (like Daniella did with Sally), only “using” them when it suits your own purposes may come back to haunt you. While some friends may be at your beck and call, chances are that others you value may not be there when you need them the most. You can’t expect friends to give you a shoulder to cry on (like when you need relationship advice, or you’ve just been dumped) if you’ve been ignoring them for months.
Have you asked your BFF to “move on down the bench” now that you’re in love? Maybe you should think about warming up their seat a little closer to you!