“Everyone’s paired off. It’s like Noah’s Ark, but with fluorescent lighting.” —Gordo from “Lizzie McGuire”
Welcome to your 20s, where pretty much everyone you know is either dating someone seriously or married to someone seriously and lots of changes are taking place within your relationship dynamics. Unless your friends marry each other a lá Monica and Chandler (and sometimes not even then), expect your relationships with these people to start looking a bit different.
In my experience, there are a few ways this usually goes. The first is this: Your good friend gets serious with someone and you stop seeing them. It is as if they are dead. You struggle to remember their face in your mind as you longingly clasp the T-shirt they left at your place months ago. OK, so maybe it’s not that dramatic (but if it is, that’s OK. We are all here for you), but it does happen. They’re so wrapped up in their new relationship that they forget about their old friends, their old habits, and you’re left contemplating how much you were even worth to them to begin with.
The second way involves your good friend getting serious with someone followed by you never seeing them without said someone ever again in their life ever. It’s like the moment they put each other in their respective phones as “bae <3,” an invisible kitestring attached itself to both of them so they can’t wander too far off. It’s like, for Christmas, they bought each other those animal backpacks with the tails that are leashes and are both happy about it. Long talks over wine at your place? Better get out three glasses. Cheese fries at your favorite dive? Pull up a third chair. You’ve got company. One friend told me recently that she always texts both parties in a certain couple when making plans, because they’re so attached at the hip, neither of them make exclusive plans anymore.
The third way is simultaneously the best and worst thing that could happen and the opposite of the second situation. Sometimes your friend and their new SO will continue to pursue their own interests simultaneously, even if they don’t overlap, and pretty soon you’re forgetting they even had a new partner in the first place. Few things change: They’re still out bar-hopping with you, shopping with you, heading out on that weekend trip with the gang, but their SO is never along for the ride. This makes you happy, because yay! no change!, but it’s also saddening when you see your friend unable to share experiences with someone they care about.
There’s rarely a happy medium in any of these situations—at least in my experience. But are we given an unfair expectation of what’s supposed to happen? In TV shows, the new boyfriend or girlfriend is always accepted into the fold with little consternation: In “One Tree Hill,“ new kid Julian begins dating Brooke and is considered “one of the guys” after a few weeks of hanging around and a quick camping trip. They’re all best buds after that. In “Friends,” Phoebe dates Mike for a year, but nothing really changes with her relationships within the gang.
Here are some things that having feelings about your friends’ new SOs probably does not mean: It’s not that you don’t want your friends to find happiness or true love. It’s not that you don’t respect the commitment that they’ve made to someone they care about. It’s not that you actively dislike their partner and desire their single status be returned to them swiftly and with no mercy. Rather, your feelings mostly mean that you just miss your friend. And that’s OK.
Regardless of how long a couple is together, the pursuit of individual interests is imperative to maintaining a balanced life. If one person is always pursuing the interests of the other and forsaking their own, that breeds resentment in one and selfishness in the other. But if the two never share any experiences, that breeds distance and loneliness. Neither make for healthy, successful relationships, and ultimately, that’s what we want for our friends.
So what can we do in these situations? The best option is to speak rationally to your friend and explain to them how you’re feeling. Tell them that, while you understand your relationship dynamic has clearly changed since the onboarding of the SO, you miss parts of your old relationship and would like to share in those experiences when possible. Being accusatory or whiny will not help—in fact, it will most likely just push your friend away and cause them to become defensive. Be understanding of their situation and they’ll be more likely to be understanding of yours.
If you find your never-to-be-seen-again friend is unresponsive to the idea of lessening time with their SO in favor of hanging with you and yours, try planning more group events and making a special effort to include their partner. It could be they are afraid you’ll dislike them or disapprove of them. It’s also possible that initial desire to be with their partner 24/7 will wane over time as the “honeymoon phase” dissipates. The same may be true for your friend who never shows up without their SO. As they spend more time together, it may be that they discover the activities they like participating in together and the ones they prefer to do separately. Give it a minute and see if they come around.
If your friend is still living life with you like before they were paired off, take the high road and talk to them about it. It can be easy to just go with the flow and be happy as little as possible has changed, but making sure your friend is pursuing a happy and healthy relationship is important, too. Talk to them about why they never bring their SO around; like the absent friend, it could be they’re scared of disapproval, and the solution could be found in making a special effort on your part. Or they could need to talk through larger relationship issues, and as their friend, you need to be there for them in that as well.
One final piece of advice: If you can’t think of any of your friends doing this… maybe you’re the friend that’s doing this. Take a second and make sure you’re splitting your time between your partner and your friends! Yes, things change as we grow and attempt romantic relationships, but that doesn’t mean we have to ditch the people we care about, glue ourselves to the hip of our SO, or pursue relationships in which there are no shared interests with no intent to make changes. It’s not necessarily “bros before hoes” or “boyfriends are temporary, but friends are forever,” but rather an attempt at trying to experience the most you can with all the people you love, despite all the changes.
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