Welcome to No Love Lost, where we explore everything from attachment theory to sexting, to unpick how our experiences of relationships and dating have been changed and challenged during lockdown.
Somewhere overlooking the Mancunian skyline, Lily loosened the top button of her lucky leather shirt, took an almighty puff of her cigarette and contemplated just how much of a loser she was for not having a favourite album. Why? She’d just met her girlfriend Rebecca’s best friends and been grilled within an inch of her life. “There are two details I remember vividly from the first time I met them,” Lily recalls, “Meticulously choosing what to wear, a detail I never usually care about, and being bombarded with questions on everything from occupation to music taste.”
Meeting your partner’s friends for the first time is cloaked with unspoken expectation and subconscious judging; forget the in-laws, friends are the real litmus test. Stakes were particularly high for Lily that night, with Rebecca making it clear from the get-go just how important it was for her to get on with her inner circle, all of whom happened to be in a band with Rebecca’s ex-wife. It’s the stuff awkward nightmares are made from but really no surprise.
For women especially, friends are essential to our survival – it’s the people in whom we confide our innermost secrets, who nurse us through heartbreak, who interpret thousands of WhatsApp screenshots accompanied by a thousand more question marks. We know the importance of a good friend so it’s no surprise the huge value we place on not only being liked by our partner’s friends, but getting along with them too.
Fairy tale logic implies that if you really like your partner, and they really like their friends, there’s no doubt you’re going to really like them too, right? Take Anisha, for instance. She’d been dating her boyfriend, Tom, for three years when she moved in with him (for the first time) and his best mate, Ali. “I didn’t really have any qualms about moving in with Ali because chances were, if Tom liked him, why wouldn’t I too?” she says.
Drunken nights out and cosy nights in, they became a wolfpack of their own, resulting in four years of domestic bliss and a WhatsApp group called ‘Tripod’. “Some of my best moments of London living were as a result of me, Tom and Ali all living together and through it, I gained a friend of my own,” Anisha says.
Admittedly, life’s not always as plain sailing as this. At one time or another, we’ve all met our partner’s best friend (who you’re really going to get on with by the way) only to find out they’re an egotistical loudmouth, the sum of all your Tinder nightmares combined. There’s an important plot twist here though – instead of trying really hard to sleep with you, they’re trying really hard to be your friend instead.
Carly knows this all too well – as much as she tried, she never got on with her now ex-boyfriend Ryan’s friends. “They were selfish, obnoxious and untrustworthy,” she says. “Their sole interests were going out, getting smashed and keeping score of how many girls they slept with.
“At the time, I saw them as nothing but a bad influence.” Carly adds, “I didn’t want to hang out with them and I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual.”
But does it really matter? While we fall in love with our partners, do we really need to fall in love with their friends too? Science would indicate yes. A recent study that followed couples over nearly two decades showed that when one partner didn’t get on with even just one of the other partner’s friends, the couple was twice as likely to divorce.
However, psychotherapist and relationship expert Nikita Amin explains that how we respond to problems arising from disliking a partner’s friends is more important.
“Often when we don’t like people, we avoid them, continuously declining the invite for drinks down the pub, birthday celebrations or even just prioritising other friends,” she explains. It makes sense; juggling life whilst cultivating our own friendships feels hard enough; why waste time investing in those we don’t want to? But Nikita advises, “Not making an effort with your partner’s friends can lead your partner to feeling caught in the middle, having to choose one over the other. A social life you should share together, isn’t there.”
At one time or another, we’ve probably all had friends like Ryan’s to some extent. In fact, if I look really closely at my own friendship group, there’s at least one still in there. She’s self-righteous, judgmental and has a tendency to ghost; but she’s also an amazing listener, never says no to a Bowie night and has been there to put the kettle on at some of my lowest moments. Just like our partners, we make friends at different stages of our lives; each unique, each perfectly imperfect, each enriching our lives for different reasons. While we sometimes can’t excuse their behaviour, we love them regardless.
Nikita says we can use this approach when it comes to our partner’s friends, too. “Getting to know them is an important way to understand the type of support they offer your partner, and what drives them,” she says. “For example, if a friend has been there for your partner during tough times, that indicates that loyalty is very important.” She adds that, “understanding these things allow you to learn who your partner is to others, what they value in relationships, as well as how you could be a better partner to your partner”.
Of course, Carly’s situation is in no way unique, with many of us finding the prospect of spending even a second with our partner’s friends enough to churn our stomach. In these situations, Nikita calls for clear communication, “be open and honest with your partner, disliking someone is OK, but it’s important that your dislike doesn’t lead to your partner not seeing friends as a result.”
It’s also worth asking yourself why you truly dislike them – hating their racist views is very different to hating their dress sense. And, whilst you’re getting really honest with yourself, is how you’re feeling solely as a result of their behaviour or is it exposing something you dislike in your partner? To paraphrase a well-known saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink 20 Jagers and throw up all over you.
With the grace of hindsight, and no longer being blindsided by love, this is something Carly recognises. “It was so much easier at the time to blame Ryan’s friends rather than Ryan for shitty behaviour,” she says. “I’ve come to realise that rather than the friends being a bad influence, maybe it was just my boyfriend.”
I recently met my own partner’s Ryan. As he swung around the room with a macho arrogance seemingly at odds with every part of my boyfriend’s personality, I’ll admit, at first, it was difficult to see what they had in common. But as the bravado was left behind, I got a glimpse into the authenticity of their friendship, built from a decade of goofy jokes, unwavering encouragement and showing up for each other, time and time again.
So while it’s true navigating relationships between partner’s friends can be complicated and messy, the good news is, for most of us, there’ll be a logical reason why your partner chooses the friends they have – even if we need to look a little deeper to see why and even then, still can’t fully understand it.
But, perhaps in a similar way we learn to accept our partner’s love of heavy metal on a Sunday morning, or braking too hard at the lights, maybe all it really comes down to is acceptance. Accepting that whilst our partner’s friends may not necessarily be the ones we’d choose ourselves, they are the ones our partner has chosen – and maybe, just maybe, that’s enough to make it work.
Images: Getty/Klaus Vedfelt, SolStock on Getty, Oscar Wong on Getty, Vladimir Vladimirov on Getty, Thomas Barwick on Getty