Welcome to the fourth installment of “Ms. Opinionated,” Bitch’s new advice column, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don’t.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
I’d like to see a column with some more advice about how not to become that person who gets sucked into a relationship and abandons your friends.
To start, a tiny bit of real talk: If you don’t know which of your friends is the one who bows out every time she’s in a relationship… you’re probably that friend. Every group of women I know has one, and, um, we all talk about you behind your back. (Sorry, I know that’s not nice but it’s really hard not to vent when you get dumped every time your friend falls in deep smit with someone.)
I think the best place to start is to take a personal accounting of the time and energy you’re putting into a romantic relationship and the rest of your life—including your friends—and compare that to what you do when you are not in a romantic relationship. Some questions to ask (and use your calendar to determine, because you might not be able to really answer honestly):
- How many days a week do you spend with your significant other? And how many days a week do you spend not doing anything in case your significant other might be free (even for just a long phone- or IM conversation)? How many days did you sit home or go out before that significant other came into your life?
- How many times in the last month or two have you delayed, refused or cancelled (especially at the last minute) plans with friends in case or because your significant other might want to go out?
- How often do you ask or insist that your friends change plans to accommodate your significant other or your Relationship Schedule?
- How often did you see your friends before your relationship – really, check your calendar or texts to answer this – and how often do you see them now?
- How many times have you called up your friends to go out because of a relationship crisis in the last six months? And how many times have you seen them and not talked about a timely relationship crisis?
Another really great thing to do is go back through your emails and IMs, and compare not only the volume of your non-relationship-time correspondence with your people and then relationship-time volume—and discount by half any relationship-related conversations. If you talk to your friends half as much now as you used to, and a significant proportion of what you talk about is your relationship, you’re the friend who disappears when you get into a relationship.
So, now that you’ve accepted the truth, the question is what to do about it. Personally, I’m a big fan of apologies: Call your friends and tell them how much you love them and appreciate that they’ve been putting up with this really terrible habit of yours and you’re going to try to do better. And then invite them out to do something and let them hit you with a rolled-up newspaper or something every time you bring up the significant other.
Oh, is the night that they are free “date night”? Fuck date night. You need to have a life, and if your significant other doesn’t understand that you need your friends, too, to be a complete person, start questioning what else he or she thinks you don’t need. Then force yourself to keep in touch with your friends: IM, show up, call, make plans. If you’ve been playing rabbit-in-the-hat for a while, they are going to be so used to not asking you or not bothering you that you’re the one who’s going to have to make the effort, even if they love you and accept your outstretched hand. And, yes, you can eventually bring the other person along in group outings, but you need to go out unchaperoned for a bit just so you and your friends get friend-time, which is just not the same when you’re canoodling with a significant other.
The other thing you need to start recognizing and deconstructing in your head is why women—especially women, though some dudes are also guilty—do this in the first place. I know I tend to harp on this, but between the wedding industrial complex and the happily-ever-after fairy tales and rom-coms and reality TV, we all get the societal messages that a major life goal is finding The One and it’s totally okay to leave the seven hard-working-but-height-challenged miners to their own devices after. But try to imagine how they felt: They opened their home to her, befriended her, helped save her life and supported her when Prince Charming showed up and then it was off to the castle for her with a wave and a smile.
She doesn’t really sound like a great person when you put it that way.
The thing is that this isn’t a fairy tale, and lots of Prince(ss) Charmings turn out to be just frogs and happily ever after ends up in divorce court half the time. And who do we inevitably turn to in order to help pick up the pieces, split bottles of wine and hand us tissues? Our friends. How do you get and keep friends? You have to be a friend, which means being around for them even when your significant other is great in bed and your emotions are all sparkly, and not just coming back around for hang-time when you need the tissues and the wine, and being there for the other person’s highs and lows and random nights when you just talk about the stuff you talk about. It means that some of the emotional energy and investment that we’re taught to “save” for A Relationship, you have to spend on your relationships. Invest your time and effort in your friends like you want them around in twenty years as much as you want a significant other—even if it’s not this specific significant other—around in twenty years. Try to be the friend you’d want to have around if romance actually died tomorrow—and you know she wouldn’t ignore your IMs about your boss harassing you so that she could sext with her new boyfriend.