how do i integrate myself into a brand new friend group?
November 5, 2012 10:30 PM   Subscribe

how do i integrate myself into a brand new friend group?

so... i have a wonderful new boyfriend, who i've been dating for approximately six months (official for about three)... and with this new boyfriend comes an exciting (and rather large) new friend group. they're the kind of friends who hang out regularly in really large gatherings where everyone knows each other and has known each other for years... and it's a bit overwhelming, particularly for someone like me, who is more of a one-on-one kind of person, and rather quiet and reserved in large groups.

a few special snowflake details that are also causing me some anxiety:
1. my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend (they were together for about a year and a half, and up until a couple of months before we started dating) was apparently a very integral part of this friend circle... like to the point where even after they broke up, she was planning one of his good friends' engagement parties. so i can't help but feel like everyone is comparing me to her, and that they may even still feel some sort of loyalty towards her. i haven't met her, although i think she still hangs out with plenty of the people in the group.
2. as silly as it sounds, i find myself particularly concerned with thoughts that she was probably more social and outgoing than i am... i'm finding it difficult and awkward to just jump into some of the larger group discussions, even though i really like everyone, and they're the kinds of people i would want to be friends with regardless of their association with my boyfriend. i don't want to come across as snobby or unfriendly somehow, just because it takes me a little longer to open up.
3. another factor... and a major one, i think... is that my boyfriend's family is also highly involved in his friend group. they're sort of the "cool" parents who host weekly dinners for everyone, attend some of the social events, buy everyone drinks, etc... so they, too, were quite close to the ex-girlfriend (who was much beloved, from what i can tell, although it's not like anyone flaunts this or mentions it in front of me). it's also taken a little getting used to to be hanging out with all of his friends... over at his parents' house. i actually really like them, but it's sort of been meeting new people overload.

i haven't shared any of these concerns with my boyfriend, and he hasn't said anything to make me feel like i'm doing anything wrong. a month or so before we officially became boyfriend/girlfriend, he did express some concern about the fact that his ex-girlfriend was so close to his parents and all of his friends... this is, i guess, when the seed of worry was first planted in my mind... but after that, he never mentioned it (or her) again.

thoughts? tips? personal anecdotes? reassurance?
posted by humiliated_grape to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Be cool. Just be relaxed and yourself. Everything is fine.

Stop worrying about the ex.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:42 PM on November 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

If there are a few people you really like, maybe reach out and initiate something smaller scale so that you can get to know them in a more relaxed (for you) setting? You sound a bit overwhelmed, and I don't blame you.

Don't worry about the ex. That ended for a reason.
posted by ambrosia at 10:58 PM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding point # 2, I think you may be worried over nothing. Your boyfriend sounds a lot like me, in that I'm a highly extroverted person and have a ton of friends - but I actually prefer dating introverts, since they balance me out. Extroverts sometimes make me feel like I'm in a contest to see who can have more fun, you know? Dating another person like me can be exhausting. Anyway, my point is that you shouldn't look at your introversion as being a disadvantage in comparison to his ex - it could actually be one of the reasons that he prefers you to her.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:58 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

yup, just be yourself and enjoy.
posted by facetious at 11:04 PM on November 5, 2012

They're exes for a reason. Caring friends and family will see how happy he is with you and adjust their views accordingly.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:10 PM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm part of such a friend group and when you've been friends for years and years you know that relationships come and they go. The ex is/was part of the friend group, now you are too. It's OK, I guarantee there are a dozen other ex-couples in the same situation. Long term groups know the score and if they're being tactful and welcoming I think you can assume they like and accept you. As far as becoming closer to them, that will happen naturally with a few people that you like more than the others. Just be yourself and it'll come with time. Time is the key here. And not asking people to take sides or gossip.

I think one of my exes is a big gigantic jerk but when we broke up and mutual (male) friends asked about it I just said something vague like "he was a little pushy" and saved the real venting for close friends that also didn't really know him. I didn't badmouth him and he didn't badmouth me and peace reigned. This was like each of our third times dating someone our friends knew so we'd learned!!
posted by fshgrl at 11:43 PM on November 5, 2012

One thing is that you can expect the ex to still be in the picture, possibly forever, even if you don't meet her for years. You may get these sense you are being deliberately kept apart.. This is most likely not people being sneaky or wishing your SO would get back together with her or preferring her, this is just friends staying friends and trying to avoid an awkward situation. I juggle this every time I have a party- do I invite A and As ex, knowing that A has a new SO and the ex doesn't yet? Has A told new SO about the ex? Does the ex know A will show up with a new partner? Who someone be hurt? Will they cry? Will they blame me/ am I the worst host ever??? These are things people wrestle with and feelings get hurt but 99% of the time it's not intentional at all, just the opposite.
posted by fshgrl at 11:47 PM on November 5, 2012

Just make connections with those individual folks in the group that you enjoy talking to, one at a time, and don't sweat any of the rest.
posted by davejay at 1:28 AM on November 6, 2012

Are you close enough with them that you could suggest that everyone get together and do something, and plan or initiate an activity?

Sometimes as a shy person I rarely initiate outings with friends or ask people to do things. If you took the initative and planned (with your boyfriend) for everyone to go out bowling or to a movie or for drinks or dinner, it might help you feel closer with the group.
posted by shortyJBot at 3:40 AM on November 6, 2012

How is this a normal case of "ignore the ex-girlfriend?"

This is strangely unique, and almost like the ex was your BF's wife. It's hard enough managing one of the things you mentioned, never mind all of them :

- Ex is integral part of your new social circle
- most if not all those friends like her
- she likes them
- BF'S parents like her - still
- you have social anxiety issues, in addition to every point above

My suggestion: either you significantly limit your interactions with this group of people, or you may want to consider whether you really want to continue to get further down the road with your BF.

This is a lot, at once. Why did your Ex and BF break up, at least, how it's perceived by the social group?
posted by Kruger5 at 5:49 AM on November 6, 2012

The best way to integrate yourself is to host an event. It doesn't have to fancy, just meeting at a happy hour someplace or just a random celebration someplace. Hosting something will make you more than just part of the background. Have your boyfriend invite people from that group and you can invite a friend or two from your clique.
posted by JJ86 at 6:32 AM on November 6, 2012

I also started dating someone with a big, tight friend group this year. I was introduced to about 20 people all at once (who had known each other since college) at a big brunch party, and it was intimidating to be the "new girlfriend" everyone was checking out. A couple things that helped:

I was quiet at first — I had to figure out the scene and the social dynamics. The boyfriend was wonderful during this time, making sure I wasn't left out and being right there with me throughout the first few parties. After I got the sense of who people were and how the group dynamics worked, I focused on a few individuals that I liked the most, and naturally connected with. I honed in on (mostly) the girls I thought I wanted to be friends with anyway, and tried to talk with them more.

When the boyfriend and I arrived at a big group event together, I wouldn't cling to him, but instead sit somewhere else and use basic ingratiating techniques: compliment them on their shoes or something, ask questions about their work/life/job/boyfriends/dogs. Laugh at their jokes. You don't have to be extroverted to show interest in people — and showing interest is what makes people like you.

After a little while, I confided in one or two of them that it's a little nervous-making to meet a whole group of people at once. (Confiding in people and sharing a vulnerability builds trust.) They were totally sweet and said "they understood" — it's like that for everyone approaching the friend group for the first time. And they then worked to make sure I felt welcome. And in a few cases (and only when I genuinely meant it) I confided in individuals that I really liked them and felt more comfortable around them and was glad they were in the group. This was not to be manipulative, but a genuine compliment + a confidence. Now these people have my back and are total allies.

On the flip side of things, I have come to realize that the group wants me to accept them too. A month after we started dating, I held a "clothing swap party" and had only met the group once, so didn't invite any of them. Talking about it the week after, three of the girls were like, "why didn't you invite us?!?" And I realized they wanted to be friends with me too. It's not even been a year, but I get bear hugs from the tough girl and texts asking for book recommendations from the one who's into literature. I feel warmly accepted.
posted by amoeba at 6:59 AM on November 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Can you try to forge stronger connections with a few individuals who you really like? You might ask one or two people out for a drink after work, or before a larger group event, just to get to know them better. Once you're more comfortable with them, their presence will probably help you feel more at ease in the larger group.

It might also help to remind yourself that even if your relationship is monogamous, friendship is not. Assuming the split was amicable, being friends with your boyfriend's ex should in no way inhibit his friends (and family) from also being friends with you.

Anecdotally, I am close friends with almost all of my exes, which means not only that my exes are part of my larger friend group, but also that they're friends with my partners and with each other. This might sound awkward, but pretty much never is (heck, two of my exes live together), and I think that's largely because everyone is really focused on the friendships we enjoy now and not on thinking about the past. This might be too scary, but do you think it would be helpful to meet her? It sounds right now like you're focusing on her in a way that makes her seem incredibly important and scary, and it might be helpful to have a drink with her and realize that she's human and probably likable but also definitely not perfect.
posted by dizziest at 7:02 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about being an introvert. Just make friends as you normally would, one by one. They sound like a wonderful group of people. And the fact that your SO and his ex can still exist in the same friend circle actually says good things about your SO.

And hey, maybe you and the ex will be friends someday, too. I've seen it happen ...
posted by lunasol at 7:52 AM on November 6, 2012

Do you constantly compare new girlfriends to old girlfriends and always in a negative light? Because that's what you're assuming these people are doing.

Relax. They likely don't care nearly as much as you do. Focus on the ones you do like or have things in common with and let the rest sort itself out. They're not all super intense awesome buddies with everyone else either!
posted by buteo at 9:53 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed that if this group has been friends for years, there have been girlfriends coming and going, and that's the way it is. They've had practice in this dance, and it sounds like they're - correctly - letting your boyfriend set the pace, by not having you and Ex at hte same events.

Even better news, it sounds like they're open to expanding their friend circle, and that can include you. If they were the kind of group that included your boyfriend, but any girlfriend was just his temporary "plus one", they wouldn't care about the ex at all. That might be more comfortable for you short-term, but that doesn't sounds like a great group of people to hang out with. But they do like her. That doesn't mean they'll resent you; that just means they saw/see her as something other than half a couple. That means they're probably interested in being friends with you, not just "including BF's new girl". Relationships as one way that fun and interesting people can get introduced to the group, and they're willing to be friends with anybody on their own merits, not just as their friend's arm candy. How awesome is that??

They don't sound like people to be intimidated by. Take your time, have the kind of conversation you're comfortable with, with the number of people you're comfortable with (even if that means one quiet chat in the corner per night), and just assume you're going to keep seeing these people often enough, for long enough, that eventually these parties will be a lot of fun.

Consider talking with your boyfriend about this. Tell him what you're nervous about (being perceived as shy/awkward, being compared to Ex, etc), tell him what he can do to help (check in on you during hte evening; actively include you in group conversations, or actively cover for you so you can sit quietly and recover, etc), ask him for advice (who might you get on well with? who was BFFs with the Ex and you might want to hold off for a while?). Maybe you've avoided talking with him because it's a new relationship and you don't want to look wimpy; but he has mentioned it/her, he's probably aware that it's potentially awkward, and there are plenty of ways to talk about things without treating it like a huge huge deal and you like a fragile emotional flower.
posted by aimedwander at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2012

> Tell him what you're nervous about (being perceived as shy/awkward, being compared to Ex, etc), tell him what he can
> do to help (check in on you during the evening; actively include you in group conversations, or actively cover for you so
> you can sit quietly and recover, etc)

Seconding that strongly. Once I invited a lady regularly to gatherings of people I knew well but she did not. (It happened to be a historical reenactment group I spent lots of time with, so in addition to the usual difficulty of being among strangers, these strangers were all jabbering in a semi-insider language full of in-jokes and obscure references. As well as all being dressed in funny clothes, of course.) Until she became entirely at home in this mob I felt it was a courtesy rightfully expected of me to be at her elbow often, whispering to her exactly the way assistants whisper to heads of state at receptions: "This person heading toward us is so-and-so from such-and-such, very interested in topics A and B, possibly also ready to talk about C and D." I also had my antenna set to pick up "I'm tired, can we go now?" hints and was ready to do that rather than staying until the bitter end and into the clean-up phase, as I would have done if I had been there by myself.
posted by jfuller at 2:39 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

« Older Who released the jar of air?   |   Hey! Phrasing! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.