"Is there, in your opinion, an unspoken understanding that one should heed a certain discretion with friends of the opposite sex when they enter a relationship? For example, if I’m best friends with a guy that has a new girlfriend, does that mean I have to censor how often I contact him, especially if the new girlfriend doesn't know me personally?” —K.U.
In so many words, yes. But instead of taking for granted an “unspoken understanding,” you should have a conversation with your friend about what’s expected, what’s crossing lines and what’s likely to rattle to your friend’s significant other.
I find that I’m one of the rare people who believe men and women can be friends, just friends and only friends. I have several male friends, friendships that span more than and approaching a decade, and they are strictly platonic. We are not superhuman to accomplish this feat. It is possible, as you seem to know.
But like I said, that tends to be a rare perspective. A noticeable number of the people who contact me for help with their relationships have complaints about their significant other’s opposite-sex friendships. Some just don’t want their mate to have them at all. Period. Others find that friends call too often, too late, are alternately “too friendly” or “not making enough effort” to get to know the new mate. And a lot of times they fear that the “friend” is secretly crushing on their partner and just waiting to sabotage the relationship. Any of this can be true. And it can also entirely be paranoia resulting from insecurity about the relationship.
You’re dealing with it, so you know how odd this situation can be, at least for you. You’ve been friends with a guy all this time, and now this new woman comes along and you have to fall back? It doesn’t seem fair. But look at things from her perspective, too. There’s another nonrelative friend in her man’s life who knows him better than she does. That’s not exactly a comfortable feeling, either.
I’m happy when my guy friends get into relationships because, well, they’re my friends and I want them to be happy. But admittedly, it could be annoying at times to act in a respectful way of the relationship, especially when I was single. For instance, when something wonderful or surprising or tragic happened, I’d pick up the phone at any time of day and shout, “Dude, you will not believe … !”
But when he got into a relationship, I had to check the clock before I called. I thought about what time I sent texts because a phone going off in the middle of the night while your woman’s laying beside you is never going to go over well. When I went home for a rare visit—he lives in my hometown—I might get a night to hang out with him if he was free. His girlfriend (now wife) obviously took precedence for weekend plans.
Whether I liked it or not, that’s the way its supposed to be. When you enter a relationship, you’re not supposed to forget about your friends, but in day-to-day matters, the partner trumps. It makes things a lot easier for the friendship and the relationship when friends play an appropriate position, and by “appropriate,” I mean behave respectfully so as not to give any appearances that there’s anything more than an entirely platonic situation.
It also helps if you’re just overall considerate of the new relationship, even when it’s inconvenient. In addition to curbing the time of day and amount you call, be mindful to ask, “Are you with so-and-so? Tell her I said 'hi', " or if you want to hang out with your friend, extend the invite to his significant other. I find those two small gestures can go a very long way in making a new girlfriend more comfortable, and more importantly, less paranoid, if at all, about any friendship with her man.
This strategy has worked exceptionally well for me, as even though I’m not friends per se with his wife, she’s seen that I’ve always respected their relationship. For instance, the last time my bestie and his wife were coming to New York for the weekend, she made plans to do a whirlwind shopping trip with her sister.
He’s not the type of guy to tag along for a girls' day. He asked her, “What am I supposed to do then?”
She looked at him like he was crazy and said, “Doesn’t Demetria live in Brooklyn? Why can’t you go hang out with her?”
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.