I once had a friend who told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had bad breath. Eventually, I managed to forgive her. This same friend also told me that she didn’t like my boyfriend. I’m still working on forgiving her for that one.
Get the difference? My friend was actually right on both counts. She gave me some killer breath mints to help me deal with the first social problem. But as to the second – a stinking romantic relationship – well, there’s nothing worse than knowing that your friends have your mistakes all sussed out long before you do. And here’s where it gets interesting. Much as it might make you squirm, your friends really do know what’s best.
Last year, a couple of Canadian psychologists did a study on predicting the future of romantic relationships. They asked three groups of people to participate: the people in the relationship; their parents and their flatmates. The participants were then asked to guess how long the couples would last. The flatmates predictions won hands down, edging out the parents and trouncing the couples (most of whom foresaw love everlasting; more than half broke up a year later).
Is love, in other words, blind? Well, put it this way: if love had 20/20 vision, the human race would have died out about 9,000 years ago. All the cavemen would have been sitting around saying, “I will not mate with Nuttnutt. She has an agenda and that single eyebrow turns me off.” There is evolutionary, survival-of-the-species stuff at work here.
But back to the present. You’ve been telling your girlfriend all about this amazing guy you met. And, naturally, you’re in a state of trepidation. Pals have a lot of power in your life – and if they don’t, they should. Your friends aren’t going to play commitment games or suddenly develop a bizarre need for “space”. They’re not likely to buy you lingerie, then hint that you look fat in it. A guy did this to me once and I was too embarrassed to admit it to the friend who’d said, “Steph, I don’t think this guy even likes you.” That’s the trouble with friends. They’re the reality check from hell that you definitely (a) need and (b) don’t want.
At the end of the day, it’s your life. Your friends don’t get into bed with your boyfriend (they’d better not). And you’re not asking them to fall in love with him. Maybe the best you can hope for is that they’ll learn to tolerate him. That’s okay. The point is, your pals are a valuable resource at a time in your life when – by definition – your powers of reason are a bit fogged up. Here’s how to use that resource wisely…
NEVER TELL YOUR FRIENDS: “I JUST MET SOMEONE. I THINK I’M IN LOVE”
Your friends will translate this to mean: “My brain just turned to jelly. I’m about to become an utterly useless conversationalist for at least two months.”
You know that hesitation in your friend’s voice when you utter such a prematurely optimistic phrase as the one above. She wants to believe you’re telling her the truth. There’s even a vague statistical possibility that you are. But, just in case you’re not, your friend wants you to hear that slight hesitation. “Wake up!” is what she’s saying to you. “Unless you have several thousand dollars saved up to pay for the intensive therapy you’ll need when this is over, proceed with caution.”
PAY ATTENTION WHEN YOU INTRODUCE HIM TO YOUR FRIENDS
As you’re driving to the restaurant with your boyfriend, you say, “Please don’t tell that joke about the nun, the possum and the camping stove.” And when he’s in the men’s room, you whisper to your friend, “Try to play down the not-eating-dead-animals thing.” In other words, if you’re playing the peacemaker and a war hasn’t broken out yet, what subconscious voice is telling you it’s going to? Might this guy remind your friend of the last politically insensitive clod you picked out? Are you afraid you’ll have to give up your friend in exchange for romance and passion, not to mention someone who looks damned good standing in line with you at the movies? What I’m saying is, pay attention to your own behavior.
LISTEN UP IF YOUR FRIENDS SAY YOU ACT DIFFERENTLY AROUND HIM
Before you get all defensive, what you need to ascertain is : “In what way?”
They’re probably basing their observations on a pattern of behavior, as opposed to one isolated incident. It’s likely that you have quite a bit invested in the relationship at this point. And it could well be that you are acting differently – in good ways. Maybe he’s made you a more considerate, patient person who’s nicer to be around. “Differently” doesn’t necessarily mean worse.
MEANWHILE, CONSIDER THE SOURCE
Is the friend who’s evaluating your relationship happy in her own right? Does she have enough in her life not to be mean-spirited when you find love? Are you getting her honest, heartfelt opinion, or is envy talking?
We need to consider this sad, but very real, possibility. Even good friends aren’t above petty jealousy at certain times in their lives. The best friends to ask for advice on relationships are your happy friends. Their agendas are always clean, fresh and lemon scented. There’s always the chance that, for no particular reason, they won’t like your boyfriend. But, usually, if they’re harboring some kind of negative “gut feeling” about him, it’s coming from a legitimate place and needs to be heard.
USE THEIR OBSERVATIONS FOR A CONSTRUCTIVE PURPOSE
This has to be done the right way. I’m not suggesting you try to score points by saying, “Melanie agrees that you’re always trying to be the centre of attention when we go out.” This self-serving, second-hand stuff is rarely ever taken seriously, nor should it be. Use your friends observations to sharpen and focus your own – not as cannon-fodder. Sometimes, they can come through in areas where you’re temporarily powerless. I once had a boyfriend who showed up two hours late for a birthday dinner my friends were throwing me. For some unknown reason, he didn’t think this would be a problem. My pointing out that this was a problem failed to even register with him. But when the girlfriend who had hosted the party refused to speak to him for a month because she was so outraged, he sure as heck got the message. The best thing was, I didn’t have to say a word.
NOTICE WHO THEY COMPARE HIM TO
I used to go out with an extremely unpleasant guy whose name was (get this) Buddy. Why did I do this? He was hot, okay? Anyway, when my friends met Buddy, their unanimous reaction was: “This man will cause you great heartache.” And that’s what came to pass, in a ridiculously short time.
About six months later, I was dating another guy, in a completely different emotional context – or so it seemed. Then my friend Ruth, said, “I think he’s a Buddy.” I pretended not to understand what she meant. “You find him really friendly?” I queried, desperately. “No,” she said. “He’s a Buddy.”
Ruth was right on target. But here’s the thing: Ruth is 69 years old. She’s not a blood relative. She has no emotional stake in my life of any kind, other than that she cares about me. But Ruth calls ‘em as she sees’ em. And she’s seen most of ‘em: she was born in 1929. It’s a good idea to have girlfriends of all ages. They give you a good perspective on life.
IF YOUR FRIENDS DO TURN OUT TO BE RIGHT AND THE RELATIONSHIP DOESN’T PAN OUT, DON’T PUNISH THEM FOR IT
You’re probably thinking, “Why would I do a thing like that?” Well, maybe you wouldn’t. But, if you did, you wouldn’t be the first. Making a major blunder in love isn’t only emotionally devastating, it’s humiliating. If you chose to ignore your friend’s negative feedback and stood your ground when the situation started to deteriorate, you may now feel like a fool. Almost no friend ever comes out and says, “I told you so.” Yet, in your hyper-sensitive state, you can just feel those words floating in the air.
The loser ex-boyfriend isn’t around for you to hate on a day-to-day basis; your friends usually are. Suddenly, all the stardust from your fractured fairytale has blown away and your left standing in the broad, unshadowed daylight of your old life. Starring: your same old friends.
Brief flashback. Do you remember the scene at the very end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy says: “Some of it was beautiful and a lot of it was horrible. But you were there! And you! And you!” This is the scene in which Dorothy not only wakes up, but grows up. She sees the weathered, goofy faces of her friends and she realises that she’s looking at the most precious thing in her life. That’s memorable stuff.
Oh, and one more thing. This guy you just met may be great for you. He may actually be the one. You may even have to ask your best friend to put on a bridesmaid’s dress. And she’ll smile at the wedding and hug you in this monstrosity, but won’t tell you what she really thinks of the colour. This time, you don’t want to know.