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By Mary Grace Garis
When my recent plans got canceled on account of a polar vortex, I hesitated when my friend texted to reschedule for the following Friday. “I might be free on the 8th, but I’ll let you know,” I answered. I knew that the space on my Google Cal was wide open, but these days, Friday and Saturday are automatically reserved for my relationship. Friendship meetings are for weekday, after-work drinks and the occasional witchy, new moon cauliflower pizza party—and nothing else. But that reality of mine doesn’t exempt me from a cold, hard truth: I regularly lie to friends in order to stay totally available for my boyfriend, Luke. Cue: self-loathing panic leading me to wonder whether I seriously and monumentally suck.
Indeed I might when it comes to ditching my friends in favor of spending yet another consecutive night with Luke. But I know in my bones that other people do it do it too. (Which—I know, I know—doesn’t make it right, but it does pique my curiosity.) Only confirming my suspicion is a chat I recently had with psychologist and Loving Bravely author Alexandra Solomon, PhD, who was was able to share insight on why so many people seem to do this.
It’s how our brain works
It’s not you, it’s the chemicals. According to Dr. Solomon, the neurophysiology that comes when you fall in romantic love is simply more powerful than any friendship, especially during that beautiful honeymoon phase. With neurochemicals like norepinephrine (a source adrenaline rushes) and dopamine (a stimulant of feel-good pleasure) rushing through your body, it’s easy to fall victim to cartoon hearts circling your head and then flake on friends. But I’m a year deep into my relationship, and way past the honeymoon phase—so what’s my excuse?
Once we’ve nested into our relationship, we make room for oxytocin, which Dr. Solomon describes as the “cuddle hormone.” Settled and cozy in a routine, being around our partner comes with a sense of relief. So after a stressful workweek, it only makes sense to curl up with takeout boxes, the TV remote, and the person who makes you think, as Dr. Solomon puts it, “I just get to exhale and come down from my week.” It’s relaxing to not worry about taking two forms of transportation to meet friends for $16 cocktails—even if you earnestly do value those friendships.
It’s something you can work on
Just like with oh-so many issues in life (workplace struggles, family arguments, existential crises), self-awareness is key. So, pay attention to patterns you’re setting, and notice when they’re becoming problematic. In my case, the pattern in question is that I’m protecting my weekend time, and realizing this has brought to my attention that I’m doing something potentially harmful to my friendships.
And to be clear, I aim to protect my healthy friendships. I love my friends! They’re brilliant, funny, driven, and amazing to be around. So how do I suck less?
There’s nothing shameful in telling someone that you’re struggling with booking friend time over significant other time.
Honesty and transparency are cornerstones to friendship upkeep, and Dr. Solomon says there’s nothing shameful in telling someone that you’re struggling with booking friend time over significant other time. So from here moving forward, I’m going to be upfront with the platonic loves of my life, and then I won’t suck so much.
But it’s not something to beat yourself up about
Fact remains that there’s no perfect balance, nor will there ever be for the rest of time. In light of this, Dr. Solomon stresses the importance of being good to yourself. “Navigating friendships and intimate partnerships is not a problem to be solved but an ongoing process that shifts and changes all the time,” she says.
Guilt assuaged, I now plan to make a concerted effort to work on not letting my relationship monopolize my weekend time. I’ll check in with my friends and really try to make plans to see them. And for that friend I lied to about only maybe being free on a Friday—I’m going to follow up and let her know I’m fully available. If she wants to hang out on Friday, let’s hang out on Friday.
…But, like, Thursday is also good.