How can I maintain a social life balance when all I want is my SO?
July 7, 2016 8:31 AM   Subscribe

One of the reasons my last long-term relationship failed was because we didn't have any/many friends outside of each other. I want to avoid that in my current relationship, but unlike my last one, my current boyfriend and I love doing all the same things together so it's hard to reconcile doing things separately with friends that we'd prefer to do with each other.

At the beginning of our relationship I was insistent on spending outside time with friends, but as we've started spending more and more time together I enjoy doing activities with him so much I'm finding it hard to spend time with friends because I'd rather be with him (and he feels the same). I haven't been in this town long so the friends I do have are sort of newer and therefore we don't have super established relationships. Extra snowflakes - boy and I are moving out-of-state in a couple of months and so will have to make all new friends, making this even harder.

I really don't want to fall into codependency or boredom with our relationship. MeFites, can you a) remind me of the value of friends outside of your relationship and b) recommend ways I can maintain this friend/relationship balance?
posted by majesty_snowbird to Human Relations (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If he feels the same, then you are a lucky girl. Just because you had trouble in your previous relationship due to wanting to spend all your time with SO does not mean same will happen in this one. In fact the way you describe it, you have exactly the right guy cut out for you. you want to be with him and he wants to be with you. Nothing to worry about there.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by LarryMan at 8:34 AM on July 7, 2016 [11 favorites]

Agreed with LarryMan. My fiancé and I mostly just spend time with each other. We sometimes hang out with other people also, but we rarely hang out with other people without the other one. It works for us.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:35 AM on July 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

Also agreed. Don't look for a problem where none exists. If you prefer to spend time with each other, keep doing that. If either of you starts to feel like you want more alone or friend time, you can deal with it then.
posted by something something at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think the important thing to keep an eye on is "want" vs. "need." Want is fine, if you both feel the same. Need is a problem. If you feel like you need to spend all your time with him, check yourself. If it's just that you both have the same hobbies, and you both enjoy spending the time together totally voluntarily, there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Just remind yourself that everything changes, hobbies change, friend groups change, so in a couple years it may be that you have several different hobbies and different friend groups. Would this bother you? Would it bother him? If no, then carry on.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:41 AM on July 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

Contrary to the above, I think it's a good instinct to follow that socialization outside of the relationship is important. Can people pull off socializing with no one (to a significant extent) but their SO? Yes, of course. But that's like asking if you can live off nothing but hot dogs: some people can do it their entire life and be fine. Other people will get sick of hot dogs and then become resentful at having to eat all these fucking hot dogs all the time.

You may have needs, as most of us do, your SO cannot and occasionally should not be expected to fulfill. For a facile example: my wife does not like live performance and I do. I can ask her to come with me, and she will, but I don't want to do that too often because I know she won't enjoy it. I can go alone, sure, but it's more fun to go with friends so I go with friends and leave my wife alone unless it's something I really, really want her to attend with me. I know of other people in relationships with similar issues who instead either drag their SOs to things they don't particularly want to go to every single time and build up (often mutual) resentment that injures the relationship. All because of one dumb aspect of a personality we wouldn't think twice about in a friend because we don't pull all this psychic weight-of-companionship on friends like that. Which is why friends are important!

So, basically, there may be a point you reach where you still want to spend all your time with your SO but you also want to spend you time doing a thing your SO doesn't really want to do. Or maybe you have a problem you need to talk about and for one reason or another your SO isn't particularly useful to talk through that kind of problem with. Or any other of a million things that are encompassed by the fact that your SO is just one human being with likes and dislikes that will not always match yours.
posted by griphus at 8:44 AM on July 7, 2016 [38 favorites]

a) remind me of the value of friends outside of your relationship
For the two of you, it gives you something to talk to him about that he doesn't already know. For your friends, it gives them a chance to know you as an individual outside of the relationship. Neither of these requires tons of time or really involved activities. It can just be you and friend going on walk while your SO and their SO stay back at the cabin you all rented together.
posted by soelo at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

You can also have friends together. My partner and I have a dozen or so close friends in common and few close friends unique to either of us because we do most things together.

But don't make something that doesn't bother you a problem.

This relationship is not about solving the problems of your previous relationship. My previous partner and I were not good at having common friends and good boundaries, but that doesn't matter 10+ years later.
posted by French Fry at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have often fallen into the same pattern, and there are many benefits. But I've also experienced the drawbacks:
1. When things are going badly in the relationship, if all of your friends are shared you will have no one to talk with/confide in.
2. There are power balances in any relationship, and for women in heterosexual relationships in particular, I think there is a real danger in molding one's life around the man and prioritizing his wants/needs. This is unfortunately a reasonable likelihood even in 2016, and even if both of you are committed to an equal partnership. Maintaining an individual persona helps mitigate this.
3. And you know, every relationship ends. It might not be for 50 years till you are parted by death, but it will happen somehow, and it is hard to be alone in the world.

I don't necessarily disagree with posters above - just some food for thought since you are requesting the drawbacks.
posted by veery at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2016 [14 favorites]

My SO and I are extremely close and we spend a lot of time together and are each other's best friend. I think we're both used to having one or two really close friends but life changes meant we are sort of alone in a new place. I agree with others that you should focus on the dynamic of this relationship, not your last one.

I think having friends outside a relationship is important. It just becomes really hard when your SO is away or very busy, or if you need to talk about the relationship, or if you get to a rough patch and need some distance. My SO and I both also suffer from depression differently, and sometimes we struggle with a dynamic of hurting individually but trying to reassure the other; having other friends has helped us heal without depending on the other so much all the time. We have to give each other emotional breaks sometimes.

You could start with hanging out with other couples. I became really good friends with my co-workers. If one of you makes friends more readily, I wouldn't really recommend co-opting your SO's social circle. It's fine for you to all be friends together but it can get a bit iffy if you're confiding in the same people. It may not matter very much to you, but other people can feel awkward or not know how to handle it when they don't know what "side" of a relationship they're on.
posted by mmmleaf at 8:57 AM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

How long have you guys been together?
posted by JenThePro at 8:58 AM on July 7, 2016

My husband is my best friend and vice versa. We have all the same friends for the most part. But we make it a point to do things with those friends separately as well as together. For example, we'll have a big dinner party with everyone. But then the next week I'll go out to lunch with one or two of the people who were at the dinner party and maybe the next month my husband will go to a movie with someone else. It's nice have "alone time" with our friends and neither one of us feel like we're missing out because we know the other one is going to come home and share the fun parts of the "date."
posted by cooker girl at 9:01 AM on July 7, 2016

Everything goes in cycles. You started out the relationship trying to maintain an outside social life; right now that doesn't sound like as much fun as just spending time keeping the relationship strong. In a few months, you're moving to a new town, and you will be each other's only close friend in town. But hten you'll start making casual friends, and that dynamic could change a bit if you decide that's what you want. Don't worry about that right now, take things as they come - but stay aware, let every day be its own decision, not too much "always" and resistance to change.

Also, that's about the everyday friends, not the forever friends. Do absolutely keep in touch with your old friends, with your family/siblings/cousins, with whoever has historically been your support network. Those are the people whose absence you'll really feel if you let the relationships decay, much more so than letting hte boyfriend replace the hobby-buddy or the friendly coworker.
posted by aimedwander at 9:03 AM on July 7, 2016

Part of having friends is having lots of outlets for your feelings and lots of different ways to let of steam - you're not relying on one single person to provide all the emotional nourishment you need. You don't want to be in a situation where you have emotional connections with nobody but your partner. For one thing, that's incredibly draining for your partner, and for another thing, that's very limiting for you.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:11 AM on July 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

So many of my own personal friends are Imaginary Internet Friends that our local friends are almost entirely shared, and it's not a big deal. I do have a women-specific social organization I see once or twice a month, and I like having that in my life so I seek it out when we move, but I don't know that it's the only thing standing between us and doooom.

We don't go out much, but we do spend time apart in the home (often simultaneous to lightly hanging out with our imaginary friends, in separate Slacks and other environments). It's never felt like not enough.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:26 AM on July 7, 2016

Are you and/or him introverted? To me as an introvert, having my husband be my best friend makes a great deal of sense. I don't particularly feel like I want to hang out with lots of others. We both have a couple of friends but it's not like some great social circle. We mostly keep to ourselves and I think it's perfectly fine. Do what feels right to you guys. If either of you start finding that the other cant meet needs or wants then yeah try to expand friendships to find those people who like the opera or whatever it is.
posted by FireFountain at 9:27 AM on July 7, 2016

Another opinion against the grain here:

If you want to be strictly utilitarian about it, having friends outside of your relationship is like having health insurance: if you're lucky, you can get by just fine without it, but if and when things start to go wrong the situation will be much, MUCH harder for you if don't have that support system in place.

Like I hate to be morbid, but think about what you would do if, a year or so after moving to your new home, your SO became very sick; or had a family or work emergency which meant you wouldn't have nearly so much access to his time; or something changed in your relationship and the two of you broke up. Who would you talk to about your troubles? Who would you spend time with on weekends? Who would check in on you to make sure you're doing okay? Who would be your emotional support system?

Community and social ties are what keep us happy and healthy as we grow older, and they help us to be more resilient during a crisis. It takes time and effort to build and maintain friendships, but in my experience that effort is 100% worth it -- an investment in yourself and your future happiness, not just an arbitrary ticky box to check off because that's what you're "supposed" to do.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:43 AM on July 7, 2016 [16 favorites]

How long have you guys been together? I think this is a real issue at the one or five or ten year mark, but before six months, it seems pretty typical to want to spend ALL of your time together and not have as much energy for other people. You do need time to fall in love, at least.

If you guys are moving in a few months, why not strategize together on how to make new friends?

Also, for what it's worth, my partner and I have largely the same interests and share the same group of friends. This hasn't been a problem for us because we tend to relate to the same group of friends both together and as individuals. For example we will both go to a party together and see the same people, who we are both friends with. However, often we will separate and talk to different people at that party. Or even if we are both hanging out with the same person at the same time, we still have subtly different relationships with that person and will talk about different things, bond in different ways, etc. We are often not operating as a unit in shared social settings, if that makes sense.

Do you guys both have jobs? (I'm sorry this is such a patronizing question.) Because our separate workplaces also mean that the two of us spend the bulk of our waking hours interacting with different people. It's not precisely a replacement for independent friendships, but it does ensure that we're not 100% codependent at all times. We also don't communicate a lot during the work day unless it's about practical stuff, so work hours really feel like separate personal time and not like an extension of relationship time.
posted by Sara C. at 9:48 AM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I apologize in advance if the following comes across as snarky, because it's certainly not meant to.

It has been a few years since I was in a serious relationship, b/c my previous partner died, but I always enjoyed having social connections and doing things with people that didn't involve my SO. It wasn't that we didn't spend that much time together b/c we surely did. I just really wanted to have a diversity of folks in my life to interact with. Different experiences. Different conversations. I'm really glad I did.

I really agree with griphus upthread. For me, I don't really understand why attached people become so insular in their choice of company. Yeah, meeting new people is not exactly easy, but it can be fun. Attitude is everything.

Another thought, one way of looking at this could be "I don't really need any more friends". But as cheesy as this may sound, there might be "someone out there who needs a friend just like you".
posted by strelitzia at 9:52 AM on July 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

There is simply no "one size fits all" response to this question. It sounds like you are in the earlier stages of dating? It's perfectly normal to spend less time with other friends during that period.

As for later, all that really matters is what makes you happy. If you spend most of your time together and that feels good and happy and cool, don't worry about. I personally need to spend time with friends doing things without my fiance around to be content (also a lot of time alone). My fiance is a pretty major introvert and besides the social interaction he gets at work, is mostly content to have almost all of his social interactions be with me. There is truly no definitive right way to be with these things.
posted by cakelite at 10:27 AM on July 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

MeFites, can you a) remind me of the value of friends outside of your relationship and b) recommend ways I can maintain this friend/relationship balance?

I don't know if I can do it, but maybe Kurt Vonnegut can:
When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, thought without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”

A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family. It’s a terribly vulnerable survival unit.

I met a man in Nigeria one time, an Ibo who had six hundred relatives he knew quite well. His wife had just had a baby, the best possible news in any extended family.

They were going to take it to meet all its relatives, Ibos of all ages and sizes and shapes. It would even meet other babies, cousins not much older than it was. Everybody who was big enough and steady enough was going to get to hold it, cuddle it, gurgle to it, and say how pretty or how handsome it was.

Wouldn’t you have loved to be that baby?

I sure wish I could wave a wand, and give every one of you an extended family, make you an Ibo or a Navaho — or a Kennedy
I think it's absolutely wonderful you've found a relationship that rewards and sustains a singular focus. By all means, enjoy drinking from that well as deeply and as often as possible. But it is likely enough that there will be times when the relationship may be unavailable, may take on a different character, may be under stress. And there are so many ways in which you and your partner can enrich the lives of others (particularly when so full of love!) and be enriched by them in return.

If you don't have ideas of where/how to make friends, I'm hardly an expert, but the communities that form around institutions and other regular activities are a good bet. Churches, colleges, community education or arts, volunteer organizations. Getting involved with going to something regular -- or creating it -- is the way to create the reoccuring proximity that makes starting a friendship likely when the interpersonal connection is right.

And that might also be good for your relationship in another way. One friend I respect has been telling me some of her theories about relationships. A few years back she went looking for elderly couples who'd been together and happy a long time and did an informal evaluation of what she thought kept them together. She said she observed that all of them had a sense of purpose or mission or story for the relationship that was bigger than them individually. This is in some sense what marriage is as an institution that carries with it obligations that the prevailing sentiment in a relationship might not always support, but this might be neither necessary nor sufficient. Perhaps since you and SO are so sympatico, you should think about the things you both want to do and see done in the world and find community connections that will let you be on that mission together.
posted by wildblueyonder at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2016 [19 favorites]

I think it's good that you're thinking about this. I also think it's great that you and your partner love spending so much time together!

I really, really agree with Narrative Priorities' point about friendships outside a relationship. If and when you need community, it can be found in people and places you didn't anticipate, such as a co-worker you've never met up with outside of work but who brings over dinner during a difficult time. You can cultivate better relationships with those around you without it becoming an all-consuming thing or feeling like a timesuck. It could just be occasionally chatting a bit longer with friendly neighbors or sending a short condolence email to a colleague who just experienced loss. It could be sometimes commenting on fellow locals' Instagram feeds so you develop an online community that is distant enough that you comfortably apart but close enough since you live close and share some interests. Of course, it could also be attending one or two Metafilter IRL meet-ups with your partner and seeing if you hit it off with people. Even if you don't hang out with folks again, I always find it nice seeing the faces behind the screen!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:33 PM on July 7, 2016

Yeah, I think it's worth it to keep in touch with your friends. Moving is really hard and stressful even if you're excited about it too. Learning your way around a new place takes a while and it can be lonely for a while even if you're living with a dear partner. If you let most of your friendships fade right now, I think you are going to be missing some of them in a few months when you're trying to find your way in a new city.

Also, from a purely practical point of view: maintaining friendships can be work, but it's a lot less work than starting new ones. And also, new friendships take a while to build. All of which means: if you get unlucky and end up with some kind of trouble when you feel like you really desperately need a friend, and if you've let your social circle die off, then you're in for some hard lonely times while you try and re-build it. But if you work on building and maintaining a social circle when it doesn't feel like a desperate need, then those people will be able to help you through rough times.
posted by colfax at 2:38 PM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

It took me about two years of living with my beloved almost-wife before I really started to *feel* like maybe I needed some socialization outside of her and the internet. Where we live is not the best for me to easily make friends, so what we decided is that I'm going to do more solo travel and see my existing friends more often. (She, fortunately, was delighted at this and admitted that she worried about how hermit-like I was.) For those two years, it really wasn't a thing I wanted, but now I kinda do and I haven't done any legwork here to set up a social life, which... is what it is, I guess, but I wouldn't recommend it.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of questioning your definition of friend here. You say you had basically no friends when you were with your ex and you also say that after you move you'll need new friends. I feel like your idea of a friend is "random female person" or maybe "person I've know for a long time but only see when I'm not doing something better" or possibly even "near stranger that I can do social things with to fulfill my promise to do social things with at least one non-so person". Friendships are cultivated and are relationships that can easily match romatic relationships in depth, complexity and meaningfulness. Many friendships span decades or are lifelong.

I have "friends" like you that I only see when they're single and bored. I don't think much of them or invest in the relationship much. If they vanished tomorrow I wouldn't notice for months. I think they are the way they are due to a combination of self absorption and poor social skills. They cannot maintain platonic relationships. Romantic relationships are more fun to them because the spotlight is all on them, everything is about them. They're kinda bad friends tbh.

I think if you up your friendship game you might get more out of it.
posted by fshgrl at 4:29 PM on July 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

It can sort of be a slippy slope? Maybe? like i do get the introversion aspect, but it also makes me think of a couple i used to know. they rarely did anything outside their little unit and they sort of became slightly (ok fully) intolerable (i have a sort of short fuse though, ymmv) because all they did was agree with each other and congratulate themselves for uh, always being agreement. or something. It was bizarre trying to engage them because its like they assume you want to agree too. Dunno, think its healthy to hang out with the world and get challenged a bit further than just your SO.
posted by speakeasy at 4:38 PM on July 7, 2016

I'm kind of questioning your definition of friend here.

Yeah, do you have close friends? It's inevitable that you spend less time with your friends when you're in a relationship, especially a new relationship, but I wouldn't completely ditch my friends because I care about them as people and I miss them when I don't see them.

There isn't a one size fits all answer to this question. I just know, for me, that my friendships with people outside of my SO have always been really important (not in a relationship at the moment, but when I have been, this is/was how I roll).
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:50 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Asking how you can make more friends * in the service of preserving your romantic relationship* is kind of a paradigmatic 'how can I treat other people as a means to my chosen end and have them appreciate me for it?' That's not friendship. At best I guess it could be symbioticically parasitic if you find some other married/coupled person trying to use 'friends' as an insurance policy for their relationship. It makes me sad that some commenters seem to think this is an a-ok approach to friendship.

If they're the only one you want to hang out with, and they're fine with it, so be it. Otherwise please look for another mate or for 'friends' in your same boat, or consider therapy to begin to explore your approach to non-romantic/romantic relationships and whether it is really working for you. If so, please just do your thing. If something goes wrong, I presume you would find the next relationship to take that place in your life that for other people might be occupied by friends.

My belief and experience and learning lead me to believe that friendship can be a really beautiful... I don't know, manifestation of humanity? Way of being in the world? Way of relating to other human beings and yourself? I think it is a mistake to treat friendship as something in service to romantic relationships and maybe actually makes true friendship impossible. Like, I don't know, looking for a romantic relationship as a way to get away from your family of origin, or as an escape from the last relationship. It hobbles and shackles the friendships from the outset and seems like a kind of shabby way to treat someone (unless they're completely onboard with the protect I guess, but I would still think that's a story of cargo cult play acting of'friendship'). Be a friend and be in a friendship for its own sake, not because it'll snag you a better job or a better romantic relationship.

Or don't be. Seriously. Find the romantic relationship that works for you and be you and do it your way.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:03 PM on July 8, 2016

Response by poster: I appreciate all the advice given - it's given me several different ideas of how I can approach the situation.

I also wanted just to add something now that may clarify things for those who think I have a poor concept of friendship - I have moved several different locations in a short period of time (out of state for college, with my ex to a new city, with my ex to a new state for about half a year, and then without him to another new state where I met my current boyfriend). So while I do have friends that I keep in touch with long distance, I haven't had a lot of time/opportunity to make friends in my new locations that I can go out with IRL and talk with in person. My friends from past places I've lived often are non-responsive to me because they're busy and not thinking about me since I'm out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I'm not incapable of keeping friends and I'm not sure why that's the impression people got from my original post, and I don't think it's a crime to want friends who live in the same city/state as you that you can spend time with in real life. I often feel as if I just haven't found many friends yet that I felt were truly people I wanted to have discussions with, spend time with, or who were there for me in times of need and so that's why I have a different viewpoint on it.
posted by majesty_snowbird at 1:56 PM on July 10, 2016

« Older Greeting card/postcard printing, not Moo or...   |   Can one become a morning person? Have you... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.