We’ve all got that one friend who is up for anything and everything; the one who expects you to be available to help them with any life dramas; who wants to hang out on the reg… but who is then guilty of miraculously disappearing when they meet a new partner.
You know the type.
But while it’s natural to get caught up with things when you get into a new relationship, and perfectly acceptable to want to spend time with your new squeeze, it’s important not to forget about your pals in the process – they’re the ones who will always be there, after all. As long as you stop ghosting them, that is…
And it can be particularly difficult for friends who have been single together when one of them gets into a whirlwind new relationship, and suddenly disappears, going off-grid for days at a time, leaving a gaping hole in your daily communication and support system.
(We’re all happy for the lovely time that you’re obviously having, just drop us a WhatsApp now and then, k?)
This is because, for many, friends are more than just people to hang out with on occasion – they’re our support network, our closest confidante, our person.
‘Those that are single for extended periods or long-term may well form close connections to friends that can take on the functions or characteristics of a romantic partnership, as we look to meet our relational needs,’ explains clinical psychologist Gemma Harris – aka @theexdoctor.
This can include being emotionally intimate and even maybe codependent.
‘Just like a relationship, your friend might also be your therapist, careers coach, gym partner and so on,’ she continues.
‘When a close friend then finds themselves in a romantic relationship, some of those relational connections or functions may be redirected towards the romantic partner, leaving a void in the connection.’
Look, it’s perfectly understandable that you’re going to want to allocate a chunk of your life to your new partner – and that your usual routine with your friend will change.
However, this can have an impact on a friend who perhaps feels like their routine is being changed against their will, without the thrill of something new to fill it.
Ness Cooper is a clinical sexologist who works as a sex and relationship coach at The Sex Consultant. She tells: ‘When we bond with friends we have often developed routines that compliment and support each other, and when a change to these happens it can upset our feeling of what has become a normal way of living.
‘This make individuals feel as if their safety network has been shaken and can lead to confusing emotions such as envy and jealously, particularly when it’s due to a friend forming a separate relationship with someone else.’
What if this is something you’ve been guilty of?
If you’re someone who perhaps recognises that you’ve been guilty of ditching friends in the past, even though you didn’t mean it to come across that way, it’s worth taking the time to think about how you can make your friends feel important and valued.
‘Sometimes, it is not necessarily about the outcome being different but the process; the way we go about it,’ advises Gemma.
‘Realistically, it may be that your friendship is going to change to make space for a romantic partnership, but how that gets named and negotiated could facilitate this change with less hard feelings.
‘You could emphasise the value of the friendship, negotiate protected friend time or activity, but openly acknowledge the loss too.
‘Alternatively, if you are someone who jumps into relationships quickly and loses friendships, you might want to consider ways that you can balance your time and emotional energy to sustain a range of relationships concurrently.’
And, to be clear, it’s not just for the benefit of your friends, it’s for you, too.
‘Putting all your energy into one romantic partner can be an intense high, but it leaves you very vulnerable emotionally,’ Gemma continues.
‘Getting your emotional needs met through a wide variety of connections tends to be healthier and more sustainable.’
It’s always good to take time out, step back and look at the relationship that is developing, advises Alex Mellor-Brook, dating expert at Select Personal Introductions.
‘Spending time with close friends is a fantastic way of being able to do this,’ he says. Allowing you time to be you, with people you are already comfortable around and who know you well.
‘Friends will keep you grounded and help you keep your individuality,’ he adds.
‘It is often an aspect that couples lose sight of when they are in a relationship.
‘This is important as, as well as maintaining valuable friendships, it can keep this new relationship fresh and positive.’
What if your friend has ditched you for their relationship?
If you’re coming at this from the POV of a jilted pal, while it can be difficult to deal with, it’s important to understand that, as we go through life, people’s priorities do and will change. It’s only natural – its just that we don’t always vocalise these, or even consciously consider them.
‘We often move fluidly through life in many aspects but often it’s not spoken about,’ says Ness. ‘Things change; some of these changes we have control over and others not so much.’
She adds that this can be difficult – especially the things we don’t have control over.
‘Any relationship we engage in is dynamic, and as such we are in a constant relational dance with others,’ agrees Gemma.
‘If we fear change it is good to ask ourselves why.’
She adds that we can’t avoid change happening by attempting to control others, and it tends to end badly when we try.
‘We are better off trying to look inwardly at our response to change instead,’ she says.
‘For example, if it feels like rejection, then we can evaluate that reasoning and reframe, and if it activates loneliness, we can seek connections that mitigate this.’
How to make things better
Honesty and effort are the two key things here.
‘Arranging time with your friends can be very important even when you’re in a new relationship,’ says Ness.
‘Trying to schedule something you all can connect and enjoy can help you all still be aware that you’re there for each other.’
She adds that it’s also important to feel comfortable with integrating some of your relationship in with your friendships.
‘Working out what activities you can all do together can be important to show all the important people in your lives that you want them to still be part of your world.
‘Remember, also learn to take time for yourself too, and set boundaries to make sure you get some “you” time where friendships and romantic partners aren’t involved.’
And if you feel like the new relationship is causing what could become irreparable damage to your friendship, honesty is the best thing, even though it can feel hard, advises Ness.
‘Sometimes just talking about how things changed can help you both work out new ways to connect with one another and still spend time together.
‘Just like romantic relationships, friendships require communication, and at times you will need to both establish new boundaries to make sure the friendship still works for you both.’
Gemma agrees, explaining that all relational connections are evolving and being non-verbally negotiated all the time, but that, in these circumstances it’s helpful to explicitly negotiate the connection.
But, she explains, when doing so, it is important that you are honest about your feelings and expectations whilst also being empathic to the perspective of your friend.
‘An effective negotiation will involve being understanding of both people’s perspectives, and may involve active compromise as an outcome,’ she says.
‘But it may actually be partially resolved just by having your feelings named and validated.’
It’s also important to be honest with yourself, and address your own behaviour.
‘Be honest with yourself about why friendships are given a back seat when you get into a romantic partnership,’ Gemma adds.
‘Consider what needs the romantic partner meet that the friend does not, and/or whether there are fears about what might happen if the romantic relationship is not prioritized.
‘Often there are unspoken rules or expectations that we are applying to ourselves (and others) that may be driven by attachment insecurity which impact our ability to set and negotiate relationship boundaries.’
And remember, it’s possible to be head-over-heels in love with both your romantic partner, and your platonic ones.
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