Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
I’ve been dating a guy for about five months now, and he is really great. Funny, kind, thoughtful, affectionate, has great arms, etc. We have loads of fun together, make an effort to see each other regularly, despite both of us being super busy with work. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
The only cloud on my horizon is that I’m not sure whether he’ll get along well with my friends, especially my best friend. He does things sometimes that I know she won’t like (e.g. mansplaining; I know this is super irritating, obviously, I’m trying to get him to cut it out) and has some political views that are pretty different to hers (and my own).
I think I’m sort of worried they won’t hit it off because I like hanging out in big friendly groups where significant others are welcome, but also because I’m worried it’ll show that he and I are incompatible in some fundamental way. I’m very, very similar to my best friend (we grew up together) so if she doesn’t like him, doesn’t that mean I shouldn’t either?
There May Be Trouble Ahead
Dear Trouble Ahead,
Oh my God, arms are so important. Can we talk about arms? And I don’t mean that “Jersey Shore” obsession with biceps – I mean the entire length of an arm of a man. Shoulders and wrists and fingertips. I’ve fallen in love with so many forearms I can’t even tell you. That thing men do where they lay down and put one arm behind their head and talk casually, while having no idea that you’re gallivanting through TRICEP TOWN? It’s one of my top 5 favorite things in the entire world.
It seems that you really like this guy – maybe even love him. New love is tender and vulnerable and is full of questioning and insecurity. Know that questioning a new relationship doesn’t make the relationship wrong – it makes you a fully developed human who has some skin in the game. It makes you afraid of getting hurt. It makes you completely normal.
You don’t say your age, but I’m going to assume you’re in your late 20s. Old enough to have been single for a while and therefore completely spun around by this new, fab man; old enough to appreciate that new, fab men don’t come around very often; old enough to have had some relationships in the past that didn’t pass your friend’s sniff test.
When we’re young our friends are everything – the whole world, the whole point of the whole world. They love us and grow with us and carry us when we can’t walk. They repair us after another asshole boy has broken our heart yet again and they forgive us for every wrongdoing, as long as we continue to show up for them. But taking up with a new man means that you won’t be as available to your friend, and that can cause some static.
Friends deciding who we do or do not date is an adolescent phenomena, something that’s helpful when we’re young and shaky like brand new calves. When you’re 16 you think the 21-yeard-old selling magazines in the mall and offering you acid on the side is cosmopolitan and interesting. When you’re 16 your friends can stop you from making a huge error in judgment, but when you’re 26 the whole landscape has shifted. First of all, you’re no longer a teenage brain moron. You’ve acquired some life experience, some confidence, and you should be able to, on your own, realize that the dude offering acid to 16-year-old girls in the mall should be, at the very least, reported to mall security.
I have judgmental friends – it’s one of the reasons that I love them so. I like judgmental friends, I like people who say what they mean without fear of repercussion. Unless I don’t want to hear what they have to say. But bringing your new love around your old friends isn’t a time for them to be judgmental.
I had a friend, a bridesmaid in my wedding, who didn’t like my husband-to-be. She didn’t say why because I didn’t ask her and, even more, I told her not to tell me. We stood in the parking lot of a David’s Bridal and I looked her in the eye and said, “We’re old enough now that, if we don’t like our friends’ partner, we don’t say anything. If there is abuse, if you’re concerned for someone’s safety, you say something, but otherwise, if you just don’t like the guy, you keep your mouth shut.” She nodded her head in agreement and, after the wedding, she quickly slipped away. Did she leave our friendship because she couldn’t stand my husband? Or because she couldn’t stand me? Or was it another reason? I’ll never know because when I get left I retaliate by leaving the other person twice as hard – it’s a flaw.
My friend not liking my fiancé did mess me up a bit. What did she see that I didn’t? What was I missing? Was I just desperate for companionship and overlooking some fatal flaw? Never mind that this man stays up all night with me in coffee shops while I edit a literary magazine, never mind that he supports my writing more wildly than anyone I have ever met before, never mind that when I’m being mean to him he brings me cheese because he has the innate understanding that I will apologize to him as soon as I’m no longer hungry. Never mind that he makes me feel both cherished and adored, free and safe. My friend didn’t like him because he wasn’t what she saw when she thought of my future.
Here’s the unfortunate truth: You getting closer to this man will cause your friendship to suffer. You’re only one person, you only have so many free moments, and more of them will now be dedicated to this relationship. Not forever, but for now. And your friend probably won’t like that, and she may blame him, and it may be rough for you. But your friend isn’t going to live your life for you, and therefore she doesn’t get to decide how you live that life. Your friend doesn’t get a vote as to who you date.
As we get older, and as we couple up, and those couples become living together, then getting married, then having children, friendships become even more necessary because they aren’t woven into every aspect of your life. A friendship is wholly optional, in every way, in every moment. It’s a glorious relationship made out of pure, ongoing choice. This friend who’s throwing a wrench into your new relationship may someday, 10 years from now after you and your partner have had an explosive fight about how the dishes and your mother-in-law and who is the actually the most tired, be the one who reminds you that he’s not an asshole, it’s just been a bad week, calm down, talk to him, you’re going to get through this. She may be the one who saves your relationship.
Your friend only needs to approve of this man if she is the one who is going home with him. She’s not, so her opinion can stay in her mouth. If she’s good people she’ll stick around even if she doesn’t like him at first. That’s what true friendship is — sticking around, through all of it. Through the weird goth phases, the time you got high and yelled about how you were going to die for a few hours, the trash boyfriend who drank whiskey out of a Gatorade bottle, the trash boyfriend who only came around at 2am, the trash boyfriend who stole your wallet, and the husband who she would never marry herself but who she grows to love anyway because he makes you happy. If your friend had the right of refusal over your relationship, then you wouldn’t have a friendship, you’d have a three-way romantic relationship.
Invite your friend to meet your dude, ask him to really watch it with the mansplaining on that day, and then chill out. Let them meet, and talk, and find things that they like about each other. I find that you can tell they’re really hitting it off when they start tag-team bagging on you – when they’re comparing notes about your most annoying traits, their eyes lighting up because yes, finally, someone else to talk to about how you always eat a sandwich from the bottom up and how fucking weird that is.
But don’t ask your friend her opinion of your new boyfriend, because that will give her the incorrect assumption that her opinion of your boyfriend actually matters. All that matters is your opinion. How do you feel? Good? Then, good.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.