Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Balance Your Romantic Relationship with Friendships: 10 Tips

“My plans tonight fell through again,” a good friend of mine lamented, “Ever since (redacted) got a boyfriend, she’s fallen off the face of the Earth, and any plans she makes, she cancels at the last minute.”

One of the most exciting things in the world is getting into a new relationship.  There is nothing that quite compares to the exhilarating getting to know you phase: where sleep is minimal but the rush of endorphins keep a spring in your step and a goofy smile on your face. It’s so much fun. Intoxicating. We’ve all been there, we get it.

The downside of partaking in these new relationships is that the old ones can suffer: in the whirlwind that has become our life, sometimes we forget about our friends. Or have friends who forget about us. This is tricky, because obviously, our friends want us to be happy/we want to be happy for our friends, and with new relationships comes the understanding that OF COURSE our time will be divided, but as adults, we need to find a way to strike a balance: not just for the sake of our friends but also for the good of our romantic relationship.

There are two main causes for choosing our paramour vs our friends: 1. We’re simply too caught up in our love affair to extract ourselves and 2. Our significant other doesn’t like/is jealous of our friendships. The 2nd is worse but the 1st is pretty bad too, because they are both damaging, and completely unnecessary.

10 Ways How to Balance a Romantic Relationship with Your Platonic Ones:

Make regular plans with your friends and don’t flake on them:  Again, everyone knows that being in a relationship means your time is split differently than before, and no one expects for everything to remain exactly the same. If you normally met up with your friends 4x a week, and you clearly can’t keep that volume, then fine. But meet up with them once or twice a week. And don’t just choose times that the person you’re dating is not around. I had a friend who, once she started dating her fiancĂ©e, disappeared off the face of the Earth. The only time she was ever free was when her boyfriend was at work, so expected our dinners to become lunches.  Were we all happy for her? Yes. Did we understand why she needed to eat dinner with him every single night? No. I’ve also had guy friends, who once they got into a serious relationship, cease their friendship with their female friends. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think it’s acceptable.  Don’t do that. For one, it’s unnecessary, but more importantly, it’s not healthy to be codependent. People in secure, strong relationships are comfortable being apart from one another, and actually encourage their partner maintain a life outside of the relationship.  Remember: you had a life before, there’s no reason you can’t have one still. Oh and, don’t cancel plans every time, that’s lame and quick way to lose friends.

Include Your Significant Other SOMETIMES: It’s always nice when friends get along with our partners, and even nicer if we can merge our worlds from time to time. Our partner should be willing to do this (and vice versa) because what’s important to us should be important to them. But don’t bring them along every time. It changes the dynamic and the mood, and friends won’t be as “cool” with it as they’re pretending to be. Now: if you’re in the same group of friends and you get together, it’s obviously a bit different, as you can’t expect for someone to just stay at home or make all new friends just to prove a point. What I do know is this: over the course of my life, I’ve been in a situation where there were couples in my group of friends, but what made it so great is that they weren’t obsessed with being together the whole time. Sometimes one of them came out, or both, and it was great either way.

Have at least one hobby outside of your relationship: This is really something that we should be doing, relationship or not, but partaking in something that interests us is a great way to keep perspective and a strong sense of independence and self. Whether it be kickboxing, choir practice, or volunteering, doing something you enjoy with likeminded people breeds confidence and happiness.

Don’t only hang out with couples:  This seems to happen a lot, as soon as we get into a relationship we suddenly are going on double date after double date or are hanging around people who say ‘we” instead of “I.” Couples retreats are fun, but your single friends are just as much fun and don’t deserve to be excluded simply because they’re flying solo.

Don’t obsessively gush about your relationship: First of all it’s boring, but also it’s narcissistic. We all have moments where we NEED to talk/share/vent, and friends are great for that, and generally happy to be there. But it can’t be every single time.  No one needs to hear about the cute texts he sends you every hour. Friends are happy for us, but at the same time, our relationship with them needs to be about our relationship with THEM: shared interests, the things we talked about and did before. Also: limit the PDA if out with friends. It's great that you are affectionate and adorable, but if you're out with friends, they don't need an inside look at what goes on behind closed doors.

Don’t be in a relationship with someone who tries to control your friendships:  Sometimes our significant other will not get along with our friends, or us with theirs. It’s unfortunate when this happens, but it does. It is not the end of the world. We do not need to spend massive amounts of time with them together, and when we do, we can just be mature adults. However, unless there is a strong reason (the friend is dangerous, the friendship is toxic, the friend is deeply disrespectful and offensive towards you etc) then it is inexcusable for your partner to complain about who you choose to be friends with. Yet it happens, ALL THE TIME, and we often just cut off the friend to appease our partner. As I said, unless there is a strong and viable reason, then this shouldn’t happen.  How it should be:  My best friend, Ben**, has never dated a girl who could stand me. He has been told, on several occasions, that they didn’t want him to talk to me anymore. His response? “Alice is my best friend. That’s not going to change.” And it never has.

Don’t Share Other People’s Secrets with Your Partner:  When we’re dating someone, we tend to talk to them and tell them things. We share stories about our day, our past, and general anecdotes. And for whatever reason, we can find ourselves sharing stories/secrets/situations about our friends. This usually works one way, we rarely tell our friends private or sensitive information about our partner, even though we’ve known them for longer and trust them. The desire to divulge information is driven by something in us that wants to bring us closer to our partner, to SHARE, which is understandable, but shouldn’t be at the expense of others. One, it’s breaking trust, but also, it shapes and affects the way our partner thinks and feels about our friend, which is not something that we want.

Be Present Wherever You Are: In my daily life, I talk about the importance of being present a lot, which people tend to make fun of, “Where else would you be?” people ask. But in reality, a lot of the times we’re somewhere, we’re checking our phones, scanning Facebook or texting others, which takes us out of the moment and impedes on the time we’re spending with whoever we’re with. If you’re out with your friends, be present. Don’t spend the time thinking about rendez-vousing with your love or even engage in an ongoing conversation with them. Doing so makes you not “really” out with your friends and therefore not balancing. It’s harder if you’re in a long distance relationship, I know this, and have definetly spent time chatting to the person I was dating when I was out with my friends, but keep it to a minimum, enjoy the moment and the people you’re sharing that moment with.

Do Things With Friends that Would Typically Be a Relationship Activity: Anyone who knows me, would tell you that I actively hated the phrase “Girls Night Out” because I never understood why it had to be a special, planned evening, why can’t it just be the norm? I still feel this way, and inwardly roll my eyes when I see it but, at the same time, recognize its value and importance. I admit that members of the opposite sex, even completely platonic ones, change the tone of the activity. So if you need to call it a girls/boys night, then call it that. I was recently at ball, solo, and was lucky enough to sit at a table with 9 incredible, fun, married with children women who had left their husbands at home that evening, gotten all dressed up in ball gowns and went out and had a great time. It was a great reminder that not having a romantic plus one to events like this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, in fact, it was one of the most fun nights I’ve had in a while, and I credit those women for that.

Remember to be Inclusive: I'm not just referring to outings and activities, but also information. There is a big difference between being single and being in a relationship, but that doesn't mean that someone who is single "wouldn't understand or care" about your relationship issues. This is somewhat similar to not only hanging out with couples in that, often times, once we're involved with someone, we tend to seek advice or share relationship anecdotes with others who are in the same boat as us, almost as if, someone single wouldn't get it. Of course they would! And do! Withholding this information creates an unnecessary divide and can weaken friendship bonds.

Cynical as it might be to say, there is a chance that this relationship won’t work out. In the event it doesn’t, you’re going to need and want your friends to be your support system when it falls apart…a pretty unfair thing to ask if you’ve all but abandoned them in meantime. (Though to be fair, if they’re really you’re friends, they’ll forgive you. If it does work out, then congratulations! But you’re still going to want to have a network of friends. They keep you sane, make you laugh, and are there for you in a way that a significant other can’t be. )

I’ve always been attracted to men who either live in a different city than me (long distance, though riddled with other complications, makes balancing easy: when you’re together, you are full on, and no one begrudges that, and when you’re aprt you can do your own thing) or workaholics whose demanding schedules leaves me with a lot of “Alice-time” which perhaps isn’t the best way to balance, but it’s always worked for me.

Whatever your situation, there is a balance to be found. An all encompassing, all consuming relationship is impossible to sustain and also incredibly unhealthy. In fact, the happiest/most stable relationships that I’ve been in and seen, were all ones where there was balance between “togetherness” and individuality. It’s not something that should be optional, but rather than essential.

*Thanks to my friends in relationships who make balancing look easy

**And to Ben, who has never let a girlfriend stop him from being my best friend, no matter how much she disliked me. I heart you, big time.