Do I need to be friends with my boyfriend's friends?
December 9, 2017 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I've been dating someone for a few months. He's great and everything is going well, but we keep disagreeing over how much time I should be spending with him and his friends.

I grew up in an immigrant family in the U.S. with just my parents and my sister. My father was also an alcoholic, which made my family kind of isolate themselves from other people and families. I'm also an introvert, so I value having a small number of close friends rather than a lot of friends who aren't as close. I currently live in the same city (outside the U.S.) where my boyfriend grew up.

He has a lot of friends here, friends from elementary school, high school, friends with whom we went to the same college, etc. He's also an introvert (or so he says), but one that likes to go out and spend time with people and go to parties. He also says that his friends are important to him because all of his immediate family lives in the U.S., and so he views his friends as a sort of family.

I met most of his close friends early on when we started dating and they were nice. I have nothing against them and am happy that he has such a good support system and people he can relate to. However, I don't really want to hang out with them. They usually get together at someone's house or go out for drinks and the few times we've done that, it's been okay, but not very enjoyable. I don't really have anything to talk to them about and it's just been a little awkward. They also tend to socialize in groups of four or more people, while I prefer to interact with smaller groups of people until I get to know people well. But, even when I get to know people, parties with lots of people and a lot of small talk have always been challenging for me.

Anyway, today he had another one of those get togethers at someone's house, asked me if I wanted to go, and I declined. He was okay with it, but told me that he would like me to get to know his friends in the future. Do I have an obligation to spend time with his friends? I guess he feels that if he consistently shows up without me, eventually his friends will think that I don't like them. I do like them in the general sense, but I have my own friends and don't have much desire to spend time with people making awkward small talk. But, maybe this is part of being in a relationship and I should just suck it up and go spend time with his friends, if it makes him happy.
posted by Lingasol to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience, couples do best in the medium/long term when they can be fiends with at least some of each other’s friends, even if only a few close friends become mutual.

That said, no: you are not obligated to go out with him and his friends in large groups at bars or house parties. Some people seem to be totally happy and willing to to not hang out with their partner and their friends very often, or maybe never in large groups.

Only you get to decide what is and isn’t ok with you. If you want to pursue a middle ground, consider inviting him to hang out with you and your friend in a small setting; tell him you would strongly prefer to hangout with his friends only in smaller groups.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:11 PM on December 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

How much time is he expecting you to spend with his friends? And how frequently? A once a month hang out for a couple hours sounds a lot more tolerable than weekly parties, for instance.

You're not really obligated to spend time with his friends, but if you can find a happy medium that you are both okay with, I think that would be for the best. That's something you'd have to figure out with him in an open conversation. There's nothing wrong with not wanting to spend much time with your SO's friends, and there's also nothing wrong with wanting your SO to get to know your friends more. What matters is if you two can find a compromise.
posted by blackzinfandel at 6:15 PM on December 9, 2017

Yeah, you do need to get to know his friends, but hanging out hating life while they're in their big loud group is never going to be fun for you until you do know them (and maybe not even then.) For now, take the initiative to get to know them in small groups. Are any of them couples? Two couples is a nice way to spend a dinner (it can be just TV and a pizza. Whatever. The point is to have a cozy time together.)

Figure out which two of them you can stand to have over at once (either a couple or not) and invite them over. (Word to the wise though: if you do a great job of hosting, people tend to stay late! Have an excuse ready to make them go home when you want to go to bed. And tell your boyfriend that he has to back your play, not stay up with them when you retire.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:27 PM on December 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would be very offput by a partner who insisted that I frequently attend large gatherings of their friends when I did not enjoy large gatherings or have a lot in common with the friends. It would suggest to me that my actual comfort and enjoyment were less important than my partner's - since my partner would enjoy having me there even though I would hate being there - and that my major function in the relationship was to perform coupledom in public. I've never socialized extensively with my partner's friends, and I don't expect my partner to socialize extensively with mine. Dating should not be an extension of work, where you have to do a lot of social performance that you dislike among people who are not particularly congenial to you.

Your partner should understand that when you're out at these parties, he's having a great time and thinking "hooray, I'm showing that I have a girlfriend just like the other fellows, this is awesome" and you're thinking "this is my precious time off, and I'm just spending it being stressed and bored" and that's not fair. It seems very gendered to insist that one partner spend a lot of time doing something they really dislike so that the other partner gets the emotional satisfaction of having them there.

I would suggest thinking about what a reasonable amount of couple-soclalizing would be for you - one party a month? Drinks on Fridays and that's it? Then talk to your partner about how you're up for some gatherings. You and he can choose what he would really like to have you attend and you can sort of triage that with what the least stressful options are.

I have to say, this would drive me out of my tree, though.
posted by Frowner at 6:59 PM on December 9, 2017 [14 favorites]

Also, honestly, I do not get the whole "his friends will think I don't like them" bit; it's always seemed bizarre and childish, like the assumption is that your life should be subsumed in your boyfriend's. My friends have their own lives; my friends' partners do too. I know that my friends' partners like me well enough, because we have pleasant enough conversations when we do meet, but I don't assume that just because we all like my partner we're going to be besties. It would be weird if my friends' partners were all anxiously trying to hang out with me all the time in order to make sure that I knew they really liked me a whole lot, especially if they didn't really want to hang out but were only doing it out of duty.

What's more, hey, maybe some of them don't like me - and so what? We're all grown-ups; we're allowed to not like each other without it being the end of the world.

Obviously don't say that to your boyfriend because it would make him sad, but please don't feel like you are obliged to make sure that your boyfriend's friends know that you really, really like them. Your boyfriend's friends need to manage their own feelings like adults; being friendly to them when you see them is fine.
posted by Frowner at 7:11 PM on December 9, 2017 [11 favorites]

I had a really visceral reaction to this question- "of course you need to know your boyfriend's friends!" - in my case my husband's friends have been really special to me (these are the people that helped us move house, for instance.)

Yes, it's good to have your own lives as individuals within a couple. It's also good to not be isolated as a couple, and hang out with people together.

I guess, from my perspective, a significant other is a significant part of your life- not just a compartment of it. So, his family becomes your family, yours his, and this starts to extend to friends as well. If this isn't how you're doing your relationship, this advice won't hold.

I recognise that the way I perceive relationships isn't valid for everyone.
posted by freethefeet at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

There's not a right amount of interaction to want.It's a negotiation like everything else involved in a relationship. My husband and I have a friend group that operates like your boyfriend's, and it does seem like a more common model but it's not the only one. One of our friends has a boyfriend who just does not want to sit around and hang with people he doesn't know. I've met him once. And yeah, I've thought "that's kind of weird" and "maybe he doesn't like us." But I believe her when she says it's nothing personal, he just reeealy likes his routine. She's involved in other things that he's not into, and it works for them. That's the key, though. They talked it through and it works for them.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:54 PM on December 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I’d take a slightly different tack. It’s not a bad idea to get to know his friends better so that you feel more comfortable with them at these larger get-togethers. But you shouldn’t always have to get to know them his way, by going to these large parties and muddling through feeling uncomfortable. Instead, propose a number of double dates where you can get to know individual friends better, in an environment that’s comfortable for you (e.g. host dinner for the 3/4 of you at your place, a meal and a movie out, a daytime hike...whatever floats your boat). If an explanation needs to be made, “OP wants to get to know you guys better, but feels more comfortable in small groups” should be sufficient for everyone who’s an adult about it.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:57 PM on December 9, 2017 [15 favorites]

In a purely utilitarian sense, you probably want to be known and friendLY with them, but not have to hang out all the time. You want THEM to know YOU and like you, or at least know you as a real person and not a 2d fictional character. That way they will be more likely to stick up for you when you're not around and he's tempted to mischaracterize a disagreement you had, or he's tempted to do something that you wouldn't appreciate. "Hey, [boyfriend], you'd better call Lingasol or she'll get worried" or "not cool, dude" instead of "What, your girlfriend will never know, what's the harm?"

That said, while I like to have my own friends and some of my wife's friends aren't my favorite, it also sucks to have completely separate lives. That's how people drift apart. A good balance is good. Having ALL the same friends sucks if you break up.
posted by ctmf at 10:10 PM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

People look for different things in relationships, and that’s ok. It’s part of what makes the two of you compatible or not. So what you want is ok, but so too is what he wants.

From your question it seems like it’s not even a matter of not liking them or not having things in common. It’s the effort that is uncomfortable for you. Personally, I would not consider someone who isn’t very interested in getting to know the people who are most important to me as a good choice for a long term partner.
posted by danny the boy at 1:11 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

You never ever have to be friends with people whose company you don't feel personally motivated to seek out. Not ever. Not under any circumstances. Not for any reason.

If BF wants to have his friends over one at a time, and you end up liking some of them, so much the better. But it's also perfectly OK for you to have friends whose company he could take or leave, and for him to have friends whose company you could take or leave. You are not in the least obliged to like somebody just because he does (and vice versa, obviously).

Also, if parties are not your thing you're under no obligation whatsoever to be dragged along to them.

If BF's opinion on this is different, it's objectively incorrect.
posted by flabdablet at 3:40 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

it's not that you are obligated. You're not obligated to do anything at all for your boyfriend. You have the right to dump him this minute. You're not indentured.

The point is that he's told you how important these people are to him. They're - currently at least - who he considers his family. So it would be great for your relationship if he didn't have to choose between spending time with them and with you. I'm puzzled at the folks reading into it that he's wanting to "show off" that he has a girlfriend. What if he just doesn't want to ditch either of you?

Long-term friends aren't just a hobby that one partner can indulge in and the other ignores. He loves these people. I'm not saying go to parties - I hate parties too and frankly I wouldn't be in a relationship with someone who often wanted to be at one, because we'd never really grok each other's idea of a good time. I'm saying that if he loves these people, try to get to know them, because they're an important part of his life, and it's not a great idea for your relationship to demonstrate that something he loves simply doesn't matter to you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:25 AM on December 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

If you want your relationship to succeed, you do need to be at least friendly with most of his friends, if only because they are important to him and will be a part of your lives together. It's in both your interests if you can find at least a couple of them that you like and can consider your own friends.

But, that said, you definitely don't have to get to know them in a particular way. If you just don't like loud parties, that's fair enough. Have you tried telling your boyfriend this and suggesting that you take the initiative to socialize in quieter ways, with a couple of them at a time?

Who knows, if your boyfriend has good judgment about the people he gets close to, you might find your own life enriched by reaching out a bit.
posted by rpfields at 8:40 AM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

My experience is that it's really nice to have some "couple friends", people who are close to you both. I have people who are my dear friends and my partner barely knows/sees, and vice versa (especially old friends who we don't get to see a lot and so haven't had much opportunity to grow on the other partner). But having at least some friends who we are both happy and excited to see is an important part of the glue of our life together. This is probably more true because we *host* a lot of events but that also helps us shape the nature of the get-togethers to be satisfying to us both.

For example, he doesn't care for events where we get together with friends and just talk - he wants an activity that he can focus on. So we do a lot of game nights, and I also have nights where I just have one or two friends over and we talk about our lives. But the gaming is a compromise that lets us both enjoy and bond with the same friends. So if you like the people, think about whether you would want any of them to be part of your life in the longer term and how to get that.
posted by Lady Li at 9:33 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

When you are at some of these gatherings, and feel awkward/have nothing to talk about - does your boyfriend make any effort to help you feel more comfortable or does he kind of carries on as if you are not with him? Does he check in with you frequently enough? Explains some insider jokes? Makes an effort to include you in conversation? Do you have an understanding with him that perhaps you could leave earlier if you are getting too uncomfortable? A code word? I'm not suggesting that he needs to monitor and worry about you forever, but I think if he did things to make you more comfortable with his friends, in time you would feel more comfortable? It would also be his way of showing you that you being there is important to him AND your comfort is important to him.

Maybe think of things that would make you feel more included and less strained at these events and talk to him about it. I'm a lot like you, but when I go to similar events with someone who checks in with me to see about my comfort level, I start to relax around new people faster, and enjoy gatherings more. Also, I know how I am, I don't see a fault in it, and don't feel guilty if I'm not participating in all the small talk right away. But usually as the evening goes on, I can find a person or two with whom I could have conversations about different things that interest both of us, not just small talk, and then it's a lot more fun for me. But I don't expect it to happen instantly, and that's OK.
posted by LakeDream at 10:12 AM on December 10, 2017

Blegh, no. It sounds like you have met and been friendly with his friends. That is enough. I’m an introvert too and I can barely handle seeing one of my own friends once a month, let alone my husband’s. I think you are being completely reasonable.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:16 AM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I fully agree that you’re under no obligation to spend your time in ways you’re uncomfortable with. However, just remember that your boyfriend may be looking for a relationship where you’re both part of a big group of close friends, and it’s his right to not be in a relationship with someone who can’t give that to him. It’s important that the two of you be clear on what you can and can’t be okay with.
posted by alusru at 11:59 AM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I guess, from my perspective, a significant other is a significant part of your life- not just a compartment of it. So, his family becomes your family, yours his, and this starts to extend to friends as well. If this isn't how you're doing your relationship, this advice won't hold.

Yeah just as a data point, this is how I feel about relationships as well. I agree with everyone, obviously you shouldbn't be made to feel uncomfortable but there's a difference between "I have to deal with this social thing I don't want to do" and "The person I care about a lot has said this is something they care about so I should try to be at least somewhat accommodating and.or open a conversation" which is nto to say "suck it up" but it is to say "Find a comfortable place that works for both of you.

I had a parent with a drinking problem and grew up as part of a weird family that was very isolated from others and I learned to make that empty space comfortable for me. That said, there were issues with that in the long run and I think most people, though certainly not all, have at least some social element. So I try to find some balance. I am in an LDR with a guy who would probably never actively seek out friend-time if I wasn't saying "Let's hang out with my friends" at the same time, once he knows them, we don't always have to go to all friend events together. He mostly plays music with his friends. I am not musical. I don't just hang out while they play music but sometimes I'll pop in, chill for a bit and then go do my thing.

This varies for people with families too. Some people spend a lot of time with their family and prioritize family time, others don't. There's not a right or wrong way to do this, but it's good to try and make sure your preferences match, or can accommodate one another, otherwise it may be a bad fit for a relationship.
posted by jessamyn at 4:14 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

He was okay with it, but told me that he would like me to get to know his friends in the future.

OK, so, here's the thing. You don't HAVE to do that, but you also don't HAVE to date him. It's clearly super-important to him to have a partner who wants to be involved in his whole life, friends and all. If that's not you, if that can NEVER be you, if you know in your heart that you will just never give a shit about spending time with his friends, that's fine -- but you two are probably not compatible long-term.

I'm puzzled at the folks reading into it that he's wanting to "show off" that he has a girlfriend. What if he just doesn't want to ditch either of you?

Seconded. Man, I want my partner to come along when I'm hanging out with friends because I love him and like spending time with him. It's not about some weird-ass "performing coupledom" shit.

I get that this clearly isn't a lot of peoples' jam, and it certainly doesn't have to be, but jeez, he isn't some kind of monster because he wants to involve his partner in his social life. It's a totally common and fine thing to want.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:19 PM on December 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

Yeah, (I think) it is just part of being in a relationship, these people matter to your SO. The small talk won't be as awkward once you get to know them a bit better and have more shared experiences with them.

It can be hard to penetrate a group with a long history, and lots of memories - but give them space for that, and see if you can get to know one or two people a bit better. Someone will make room for your thoughts and stories too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:12 PM on December 10, 2017

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