One of my golden relationship dictats is to never mix one’s professional and personal lives. I’m going to add one to that –
‘Don’t confuse your partner’s friends for your own.’
This is not a cynical, angry statement (along the lines of “You don’t make friends in b-school, only future colleagues & competitors”). Indeed, I’ve written about the joys of getting along with the partner’s friend. I’ve also detailed the curious picture of a ‘best friend couple’. I stand by those two, based as they are, on real people and situations in my life.
However, I am coming to believe that in order to keep things clean and simpler for everyone in the long run, perhaps some lines (albeit artificial) need to be drawn. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the heartache of a relationship with a friend and one of the most devastating things about it, was the quandary into which it plunged our common friends. Custody battles for friendship are no less ugly than those for children & possessions of an estranged couple.
What happens when you don’t have common friends? There is a normal process of getting to know each other’s circles and finding a place within them. Here’s where my newfound pearl of wisdom comes in. Friction is an integral part of any relationship and the possibility of parting ways is never exactly zero. In addition, the complex process of building a life with another person, doesn’t come naturally to most people, especially those of us in the uber-individual, nuclear-family society of today. At such a time, the urban family of friends and trusted confidantes serve to provide perspective and even wisdom in handling each situation.
All of this just gets complicated beyond control, if the same people (or person) must be called upon to provide perspective to both parties in a relationship. I think, at some level, anyone in this situation would feel that they need to take one side over the other and the choice is almost always (and should) the person they’ve known longer.
What happens when you’ve become friends with your partner’s friends (or think you have) and then discover that they choose your partner over you? Any fair-minded person would agree that this is natural and above reproach. On the other hand, when you trust someone and they take the other person’s side, it feels like they’ve chosen to stand against you; like they reject you. Another mess that only accentuates any natural conflict you may have with your partner.
Let me turn that around. I am always happy when a close friend of mine gets along well with my partner. However, I must admit, I also need to know that when it comes down to it, they have my back. This is irrespective of what situation I face, and tomorrow (or whenever) that situation may be against my partner. I do need to know that my friends are on my side, firmly and without doubt.
I am going to conclude that this is one of the many aspects of the space that is crucial to any relationship. There are things that it is necessary to retain at an individual level, to not share, for the very good of the relationship. Perhaps close friendship is one of them.