Every time we get into a new romantic relationship, we lose an average of two friends.
That’s according to Oxford University evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, who’s done extensive research on how friendships – and our brains – work.
Every time I relay that statistic to a new person or a roomful of people, there’s a little glimmer of shame and recognition in their eye and I can tell they’re tallying up who they might’ve lost in their pursuit of romantic love.
It’s shocking but so true, that we tend to accidentally lose friends when we fall in love with someone and start making them our first priority.
It’s perfectly natural, but then, romantic relationships often break and we have a 42 per cent divorce rate in this country, so it’s best not to alienate all our friends when we fall in love, just in case we find ourselves in need of consoling.
That’s not being cynical about love – I love love! – it’s just being sensible.
So, let’s talk about the art of maintaining friendships when you’re in a romantic relationship.
Here are my best tips for holding onto your friends when you’re the literal embodiment of the heart eyes emoji over someone.
Make time in your schedule for friends, even when you’re falling in love
When you first start falling for someone, you wish you could spend all your time together. Holding hands, making extended eye contact, canoodling.
Candlelit dinners, picnics, weekends away. Love has a beguiling way of making you forget everything else. It’s tempting to lose yourself in that glow – and to a certain extent, go for it.
That feeling of being head-over-heels for someone is gorgeous and I’m not suggesting you skip on it.
Just be mindful of how much time you dedicate to one person and therefore how little time you might spend with other people i.e. your mates.
Be wary of the sort of love that demands all your time and have a proper think about your schedule. If your entire life gets swallowed up by one person, it’s probably not healthy.
For every date you have, book in some time with your friends to debrief.
Consciously make time for your friends, even at the beginning of that new relationship, even when you’re in that dopey, starry-eyed phase.
Start as you mean to go on and deliberately build space in your life for the people who adore you platonically; not least because they will remind you of who you are and help you decide whether this new person is right for you.
You need to be talking about your new relationship with your confidants and checking in with them for any red flags (one of which being that they expect you to spend all of your time with them).
You also need to actively be there for your friends and listening to their thoughts and dilemmas and fears and stories.
Friendships thrive on emotional investment, so continue to give your time, energy and love – so that you deserve it in return and so that you remain a good buddy to your beloved allies.
If you don’t think they’re important now, try to imagine your life without them if your relationship breaks down and you find yourself in desperate need of someone to talk to, a sofa to crash on or a cuddle.
Get your priorities right
Knowing when to prioritise your partner or your friends is really about being compassionate, discerning and smart.
Go first to the person who needs you. If you’re happily ensconced in a Netflix binge with your beloved, but your friend has just had a family emergency/ work problem/ revelation about their life and they need you, go to them.
Being in love does not release you from your duties as a friend. Speak to your friends openly, regularly and with vulnerability, so you know what’s going on in their lives and when you’re needed for emotional backup, commiseration over wine, stern life advice, distraction or simply company.
The same goes for your beloved; if they need you, go to them. If you have competing tragedies and suddenly everyone needs you, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too, and only giving as much as you have to give.
If life is normal and people are generally self-sufficient and content, then distribute your time healthily and evenly.
Of course, I know how glorious it feels to be at home in your pyjamas watching telly, but sometimes you need to push past that, leave the house and socialise. Otherwise, prioritise using common sense.
Anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions matter, so try and keep your attendance record high for both friends and your beloved.
Notice your own needs, too, and behave accordingly. Sometimes you need private romance time, others you need bonding friend time.
Work out what you need at any time and try to put plans in place to get it.
Hang out together
Love your friends? Love your partner? Great. So, integrate. Combine your responsibilities as a romantic partner and a reliable buddy.
You should always introduce your beloved to your friends fairly early on anyway because you value their opinions and you can get a very good sense of someone by how they treat your loved ones.
Meet your partner’s friends too and try to establish genuine bonds there; it’ll make the whole thing easier.
If you can spend time in the company of your friends and your partner, then you’re successfully multi-tasking and you can tick ‘quality time with friends’ and ‘quality time with partner’ off your To Do list in one swoop.
Ideally, they all get along and you can be the very best version of yourself in the company of all your favourites, together, in one place. You can bask in the loveliness of both romantic love and friendship love and know that you’re helping maintain both.
It’s much harder to lose those two friends we spoke about if they’re an important part of your life with your partner.
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