Is it ever okay to choose your relationship over a friendship?

What kind of a woman chooses her boyfriend or girlfriend over a best friend? It seems like a pretty shitty thing to do. Friendships are sacred, and may the gods of pinky promises and sleepovers smite whomsoever dare break that sanctity. Because boyfriends come and go – or so they say.

I am a staunch advocate of the importance of friends. I myself have many that I’ve collected over the years like precious stones, and whilst romantic love is unique in its potential for sex, marriage and children, no relationship is a substitute for multiple and varied friendships. But as I consider what we expect from our friends when we get into a relationship, I see that the ‘bros before hoes’ mantra, whilst catchy, is inherently problematic.

I would take issue with most arrangements that give one group immunity. When a person is afforded the freedom to do or say what they like without being held to account, the imbalance of power can lead to injustice (and in extreme cases dangerous, pussy-grabbing politicians saying whatever they want about anyone who disagrees with them). Are we right then to assume that, when a new partner is brought into the fold, the last-in-first-out rule automatically applies?

I recently read Dolly Alderton’s book ‘Everything I Know About Love’. It is a touching ode to female friendships, and on finishing it my best friend and I called each other up in an enlightened flurry to profess that we had indeed been each other’s first love! But the book can be an uncomfortable read for someone in a serious relationship. As Dolly remembers the pain of her gal pals finding boyfriends and flying the singles’ nest, she also recalls her hope that those relationships would fail so they could go back to being wild and single together. She touched on this again at her book talk in London, recounting how when her best friend’s boyfriend would come to their house, she would all but ignore him when he said hello. She admits this was immature, but I was disappointed at the laughter and applause the anecdote provoked. When did it become acceptable – trendy, even – to treat our friends’ partners with such disrespect? What’s more, why do we believe that, as the best friend, we have the right?

Single’s so hot right now

I’ve been single for most of my adult life, and so over the years I’ve been privy to those conversations in which girl friends have proven themselves unable to cope with a fellow singleton leaving the pride. I’ve heard the lot; from the classic “She’s no fun anymore”, to the pass-agg “He doesn’t seem like her type”, and the not a little dramatic “If I ever rely on a man to make me happy, shoot me.”

I absolutely respect the ‘I don’t need no man’ perspective, and I am all for Girl Power. Never before have women had so much independence – financially, professionally, physically – and it is right that we open ourselves up to the possibility of a different kind of future to the one our grandmothers and even our mothers were afforded. This is an important moment of female empowerment, and so does it surprise me that a packed theatre of young women would whoop not giving a toss about boyfriends? Not really. Does it concern me? A little, simply because women who are in a happy relationship should be free celebrate this too.

The implication that allowing a man to make you happy is in some way un-feminist is completely misguided. I have many wonderful friends that are happily single, as I myself have been. But I also know plenty of women who despite needing no man have found wonderful, kind partners that support, encourage and respect them. It’s a beautiful thing, and making yourself vulnerable in love is not a weakness, but an act of great bravery.

BFF?

Some women then may be fighting the good fight. But whilst Dolly Alderton is a vocal feminist, I’m not convinced that blanking any non-single male that entered the apartment was genuine activism. In most cases when a friend is overly critical, they’re just a bit jealous. Jealousy is understandable and also totally forgivable. But if it makes a friend bitter and unsupportive, you might ask yourself whether this friendship is bringing either of you value at this stage in your lives.

Earlier this year, a guy who I considered one of my best friends (let’s call him Peter) started making rude judgements about my boyfriend. They had met just once at a lunch I’d organised with three close mates. The other two have since become good friends with my boyfriend, but Peter immediately took issue with the relationship. It started with vague, non-committal statements when I asked him what he thought of my boyfriend; things like, “I need to get to know him better” and “I feel protective of you, so I’m always going to be wary of whoever you go out with.” But as the relationship became more serious, he started making very personal remarks, commenting that he wouldn’t trust a man in my boyfriend’s line of work (Sales, by the way, not the Mafia), and that he hadn’t liked the way my boyfriend was prying into his personal life. My boyfriend had been asking him about his family, and so I was furious that his best qualities – his compassion and his interest in the people that matter to me – had been so deliberately misconstrued.

I gave Peter the opportunity to take back what he’d said. What’s more, my boyfriend was willing to forgive him. But Peter stubbornly continued to criticise. When I told him about the wonderful things my boyfriend had done for me, Peter told me that it wouldn’t last, and that he was suspicious of the way my boyfriend made a show of his affection. I was so disappointed in his deliberate efforts to make me doubt my relationship, and I couldn’t see how we could go on being friends.

It’s important to note that I wasn’t angry with Peter for having reservations. As a trusted friend, I was open to hearing any concerns he had. (Indeed, if you believe a friend is in a damaging or dangerous relationship, it’s right to say something.) But it is not a friend’s place to be suspicious of your partner under the sole pretext of protecting you from disappointment. This does not make them a good or caring friend, and you must ask yourself for whose benefit they are making you question your relationship. In Peter’s case, I believe all he was trying to protect was the status quo.

You do not owe a debt for falling in love

Things had of course changed when I got into a relationship. My boyfriend immediately became a priority, up there with my oldest, dearest friends, and these two worlds would inevitably merge. Initially I’d resisted. I’d felt the weight of responsibility to help friends like Peter adjust and had tried to prove to everyone, including myself, that nothing needed to be different. But this was stressful and unrealistic, and what about the attention and care I owed to my new relationship? If I wanted it to grow into the ring-on-my-finger, bun-in-the-oven kind of love, it was not good enough to approach it apologetically. Of course it was right that things should be different. I was different, as my best friend made me realise: “Of course you’ve changed,” she said. “You’re happier.”

When you find someone you want to share your life with, it inevitably morphs and shifts to accommodate them; and a good relationship will give you the space to continue nurturing the other areas of your life. Work hard, take the time to exercise if that’s important to you, and invite your friends to share in your happiness. Some might worry that you won’t have time for them anymore. Reassure them, and they will realise that loving you means being happy for you. But indulging meanness is not in your job description, and refusing to stand for your partner is in no way noble. You do not owe a debt for falling in love. Stand up for what is important to you, and turn your attention to where the love is, because that’s where you will find your friends.

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