Your Friends vs Your Date

What can you do when these two camps of very important people in your life just don’t get along? Here’s advice.

By Hillary Quinn

ou’re in the throes of a thrilling new relationship. Maybe you even suspect you have found The One. Excited to introduce your sweetie to your closest pals, you get them all together, convinced they’ll all adore one another. And that’s when trouble starts brewing: Your usually cheerful mate looks increasingly sullen as the evening wears on; meanwhile, when your honey heads to the bathroom and you ask your friends what they think, they exchange meaningful glances and say unconvincingly, “Um, sure, he’s great”—or worse, “Honestly? I’m not sure why you’re interested.”

So much for the honeymoon—now you feel torn between your friends and your
Your pals could be feeling left out…
brand-new love. “Of course you can’t make people like each other,” says Elizabeth Bailey, CSW, a New York–based family therapist, but there are steps you can take to encourage everybody to get along. Here are some ways to help bridge the gap.

Identify the problem
First step: Take a close look at what could be causing the friction. Often, jealousy is the culprit. Partners, for example, can become insecure—anxious that your childhood cronies know you better or have more influence on you than they do. That’s what happened to Laurie, of Seattle, WA, when she started a hot-and-heavy relationship with her now-husband, Don. “Every time we got together with my best friend, Don became standoffish with her—he was flip, insincere, and never made eye contact,” recalls Laurie. Ultimately, talking openly helped her understand the cause of Don’s unfriendly behavior. “At first he claimed he wasn’t aware of his attitude. But eventually he admitted that my best friend represented my past — my partying days with other guys — and he confessed that it made him feel really insecure around her.”

If your pals are the ones who are disapproving, it could signal that they’re concerned you’re no longer part of the gang—especially if they’re used to having you to themselves 24/7. “Think about whether they’ve been critical of your relationships in the past,” advises Bailey. “You might realize that your friends simply feel left behind when you become romantically involved with a new person.”

On the other hand, such criticism could also signal a worry that your new sweetie simply isn’t right for you. If a friend points out that your mate seems to have, say, a controlling personality or inappropriate behavior, that’s a sign that you should take a careful look at your new relationship. When Sue, of New York City, eloped with a man she’d been dating for only six months, her best friend — who couldn’t stand the guy — could hold it in no longer: “She told me it was obvious that he was a drunk and that I was crazy,” she recalls. (Sadly, her friend’s view of the man in question was accurate.) In such dire cases, getting an outside perspective can be helpful, says Atlanta-based psychologist Erik Fisher, Ph.D., author of The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict. “You might even want to see a counselor with your friend; if your relationship is that deep and close, you should both be willing to talk through things openly.” Fortunately for Sue, her friend stuck by her side during several painful years of seeing her husband through AA.

Listen to their feelings—and explain yours
Even when the conflict isn’t this serious, a frank conversation can help. “It’s never a good idea to assume that you know what’s in another person’s mind, so start by hearing
Help them understand each other’s positive traits.
what he or she has to say,” recommends Bailey. You might begin with an open-ended question that gets the other person talking: “You and Janine never seem that comfortable around each other. I was wondering if you could tell me how you’re feeling about spending time with her.” (What you don’t want to do: Say that you’re unhappy right off the bat. It’s a conversation ender that might make your friends or your mate instantly clam up or get defensive.) “Be sensitive when you have these talks,” advises Fisher. “When someone gives you all the reasons why you shouldn’t stay in a relationship, don’t respond with a sentence that starts with But. It negates everything they’ve just said.” Instead, Fisher recommends saying, “I see where you’re coming from, and I feel that Lynn is right for me for these reasons…”

Be a cheerleader
Helping your friends or your partner understand each other’s good traits can go a long way toward mending the split between them. If your partner expresses dislike of a friend or friends, you could explain the significance of that person or people in your life. You might say, for example: “I know you don’t like it when the guys and I go out, but our once-a-month poker night has been a tradition since college, and it’s important to me to have that time to catch up with them.” If your friends don’t seem to “get” your new partner, Bailey advises making an effort to clarify his or her good characteristics and talk specifically about why you are right for each other. Say something like, “I know you don’t think Bob has much of a career, but he’s really proud of my law work, and he wants to stay home with our kids someday.”

Try to mediate—but forge ahead, regardless
If your friends and your mate are willing to give one another a chance, you can try to help things along by letting them get acquainted slowly—and in their own way. Fisher recommends planning activities within your friend and mate’s comfort zones—be it shooting pool or going out for coffee. “You might even encourage them to get together alone. It could be awkward at first, but it gives them the opportunity to meet on their own terms and not focus so much on you.” Given time, even the fiercest foes can eventually call a truce. Remember Sue, whose friend called her husband a drunk? Though her pal and her man didn’t speak for quite some time, they slowly formed a friendship. “Now that he is sober, they are able to see each other’s good side,” Sue says.

But if it becomes clear that the love fest just isn’t going to blossom, don’t despair. “Not all of our best friends have to be best friends with each other,” says Bailey. “As long as everyone involved is respectful and resists subtle — or outright — sabotage, things should be OK.” Whatever the outcome, if you’re committed to your new relationship, be prepared to forge ahead regardless of your friend’s feelings. You might say something like, “I want both of you to be a part of my life, and I hope that you’ll accept my choice and know that it means no disrespect to your opinions.” How could anyone say no to that?

Hillary Quinn is a Seattle-based writer who has been published in many national magazines, including Self, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and Maxim.
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