To Ditch and Be Ditched: Relationships, Friends, and Finding a Balance
In the beginning of a new romantic relationship, our friendships often fall by the wayside. This is common among people of all ages, but it's usually a pretty easy issue to remedy. If we don't nip it in the bud, though, it can turn into a more frustrating pattern.
When you’re the friend being ditched, it's obvious. Many of us unfortunately know the feeling: your best friend who was always there for you got into a romantic relationship and has since basically dropped off the face of the earth. You used to hang out nearly every day: now it’s difficult to even see them for one measly afternoon every couple weeks. Their absence feels purposeful, and it stings. All sorts of negative emotions are brewing.
However, when you’re the friend doing the ditching, you probably don’t even notice at first. The realization may come to you in fragments: for days on end, you’re spending all of your time with your new significant other because it feels like the clear-cut choice. I mean, your friends couldn’t expect you to do anything else, right? Right? You’ve been hoping to meet someone for so long. Now it’s finally happening. How could they be anything less than thrilled for you? Um. Well.
This might be the case in the beginning, but the whole arrangement gets mighty stale after a while. What was cute when you first started dating is now grating on everybody’s nerves. Most friends are understanding at the start, but everybody has a breaking point. When you consistently don’t respond to texts until at least a full twenty-four hours have passed, when you leave every social gathering early to go meet up with your new significant other, when you consistently “forget” to respond to casual invitations for coffee or a movie night…even the most patient among us start to get a little testy.
Odds are, most of us either have been or will be on either side of this dilemma at some point. That is to say, while we may be the ditchee at the moment, we will likely be the ditcher eventually. With this in mind, it’s important we look carefully at both sides without jumping to conclusions or vilifying anyone. It’s not as black-and-white as it might seem.
Whether you’re currently feeling ditched or doing some largely unintentional ditching, there are things you should do and things you should be wary of as you proceed.
If You're the One Being Ditched
When your best friend first starts spending time with a new love, there’s a good chance that you’re just as excited as they are. You pore over every text the object of their affection sends, attempting to glean a thousand different meanings from their emoticon placement. You listen as your friend recounts in vivid detail every new, titillating encounter they have with this new person. You hear about the seemingly endless flirtations, the first kiss, and maybe the first time they have sex. It’s something fresh to talk about, and you’re over the moon to see your friend on the cusp of something that makes them so happy.
But then the days roll into weeks. The weeks become months. Your friend and their new person are spending nearly all of their time together: the time the two of you used to spend together.
Suddenly, you realize your friend has been coming around progressively less and less. You might see them around school, but on evenings and weekends you hear nothing. Your friend is always with this new person, and while you want them to be happy, you can’t help but feel…left out? Ignored? Avoided? Maybe even replaced? You want to bring these concerns to your friend’s attention, but you’re afraid that they will dismiss you as simply “jealous.” Your friendship doesn’t feel fantastic at the moment, and you don’t want to make things even worse.
Here’s the thing, though; you’re not “just jealous.” Okay, in reality you might be a just a little jealous, but that doesn’t mean all of your other feelings surrounding this touchy subject should be disregarded. Jealousy, while not pretty or pleasant, is natural. We all experience it at some point in our lives. Feeling like a perpetual third-wheel is at least annoying if not downright painful at times. It is totally normal and understandable that you feel excluded from your friend’s goings-on, especially if they are spending significantly less time with you now that they’re in a romantic relationship.
What matters is what you actually do with your negative feelings. I don’t mean to imply that you need to handle everything perfectly, but there are some gigantic, glaring NOs you might want to look out for if you want to healthfully sustain your friendship. There are also a few things you should consider doing to ensure you won’t be brushed off.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about boundaries. Your friend has a right to seek out a romantic relationship—just because you’re no longer the only person they’re super-close to doesn’t mean your friend doesn’t care about you anymore. Try to be understanding. Let your friend bask in the glow of their new love for a little while—understand that when you’re caught up in a brand new relationship, you might not get around to responding to a text until the next morning. This is okay to some extent, but you have to make your boundaries known as well. Being consistently ignored, blown off, or ditched is not acceptable.
If some negative feelings have begun cropping up, take a few deep breaths before lashing out or blaming your friend. It’s one thing to feel agitated or even plainly jealous, but it’s another thing entirely to act maliciously. If the jealousy feels overwhelming, do your best to rein it in. Whether it’s a parental figure, a sibling, another trusted friend, or a counselor, disclose and work through these feelings without taking them out on your ditching friend. You can also check out this article to read a bit about taking care of yourself in these rough moments.
Try not to talk about your friend behind their back too much, criticizing their relationship. Of course, if you’re genuinely worried about some sort of abuse, that's one thing. If you feel your friend is being isolated by an abusive partner, that is cause for serious concern. Talk privately with someone you trust deeply, ideally someone older or someone who has some sort of experience surrounding abusive relationships. From there, you can decide how to approach your friend in the best way particular to their situation. Use discretion; in this instance, you need to protect your friend’s privacy as well as their safety.
If you’re simply annoyed by your friend’s new relationship, though, that's something else. There’s a difference between sharing your feelings and just blatantly ragging on someone because you’re angry. If you don’t like your friend’s new S.O. or you don’t like how your friend acts around them, that is valid. However, spreading such negativity around your friend group will only end badly. The negative things you say to other friends in the group could easily get back to your friend who’s been ditching you. If you need to vent (as we all do), do so with someone who’s not connected to your friend.
If you’re feeling blown off and/or ignored, reach out. While it’s not cool that your friend has been bailing time and time again, they are swept up and carried away in the dramatic tide of their new relationship. It’s not that they hate you now or that they’re out to hurt you—they are probably just not putting very much thought into your feelings at this point. Of course that really sucks, but you’ve got to concretely let them know how it’s making you feel. People aren’t always as self-aware as we’d like to believe they are, and we must assert our feelings to begin resolving whatever it is that’s going wrong in our relationships.
Think about your phrasing. Don’t make it a personal attack on their character—make it about the way their behavior makes you feel. (This is, of course, a good guideline for healthy communication in general.) Avoid adjectives like “selfish,” and certainly don’t call them names. You shouldn’t have to act like a docile doormat, but you don’t want to lunge and attack either. You don’t want to be so sugary-sweet they think they can walk all over you and hang out only when it’s perfectly convenient for them, but you don’t want to be vicious. After all, if they are your friend, you shouldn’t want to hurt them even though they’re not behaving perfectly at the moment. You don’t need to qualify your statements too much, or elaborately explain how NOT JEALOUS you are. Just do your best to concisely and clearly articulate the core of the issue without dragging in too many extraneous details. Whether it’s via text or face-to-face (the latter is probably better), here is a possible outline for productively voicing your concerns:
I realize that you’re busy, but I feel blown off. This is hurtful and upsetting; I miss spending time together. Our relationship and staying close with you is very important to me, and I don’t want to see our friendship suffer. I don’t think you’re doing it on purpose, but I need a little more time and effort from your end of the friendship. I’m not angry; I just miss you. The time on [X] night, for example, when we were supposed to go to [event] together and you brought [S.O.] made me feel left out and sad. Or the time when we were supposed to do [activity] but you left way early because [S.O.] wanted to hang out after work. I feel like I hardly see you anymore, and I would like that to change. If you feel the same way, I am going to need a little more effort on your end.
Passive-aggressive = blech. This one is honestly just a good rule for healthy communication in general. If you’ve ever been the target of passive-aggressive behavior, you know how terrible it feels. Even though you’re feeling annoyed with or hurt by your friend’s behavior, don’t lash out with passive-aggressive digs. Don’t say to yourself, “Well, they’re obviously not going to reach out to me, so I’m not going to reach out to them either,” and then get mad when you don’t hear from them. Or if they ask you if there’s anything wrong, don’t act all icy but say, “No, everything’s fine.” If there’s an issue, address it directly sans snark. Don’t beat around the bush.
After you’ve reached out, assess your friend’s reaction. When you eventually manage to wrangle a coffee date with your friend and tell them how you feel, observe and consider their reactions to what you say. If you've made a conscious decision to be even-keeled and empathetic when you make your point, know that if they blow up and turn the blame around on you, that is entirely on them. If you’ve been careful to avoid blame, passive-aggression, and projection in your wording and your friend still gets angry, that is their issue. You’ve done your part. If they hear you out, you can hopefully have a productive conversation that leads to positive change. If they refuse to even listen, you may have just learned that this person (or you!) needs a “time-out” for a while.
You may feel inclined to lock down a relationship of your own. Depending on your age, you might join a dating site or download a dating app on your phone, or you might consider dating people you never would’ve before. I personally, and strongly, advise against this. If you didn’t feel particularly inclined to go out with anyone before, don’t go after it now just because your friend(s) found somebody. When we become romantically involved, we want to do so because of that relationship. We want to go into it because it feels right. If you feel you're pursuing a relationship because you want to compete with or be like your friends, perhaps you should question your motives. A better course of action may be to direct your attention toward other platonic friendships.
Try leaving your comfort zone and pursuing some new friendships. If you’re introverted and/or if you struggle with social anxiety, making new friends feels daunting to say the least. You might have only a couple of friends you actually feel comfortable around, and when one of them stops contacting you as much as they used to, it can be terrifying. While it’s true that a little more alone time can be good for the soul, it is still important to build friendships. Additionally, if you start spending too much time alone lamenting the fact that your best friend isn’t around anymore, a whole lot of resentment can start to build. Such resentment will never lead to anything good. You will probably be happier if you start meeting a few new people.
Seek out environments where everybody’s looking to meet new, like-minded folks. You could check out some on-campus, at-school or otherwise local clubs/organizations or volunteer opportunities. If you’re eighteen or older, websites like OkCupid can actually be great for meeting people you have a lot in common with, especially in major cities. You could even look into a new part-time job somewhere. Not only will this take up some free time and earn you a little cash, but you might meet some cool co-workers in your age range.
Once you’re actually in an environment with a bunch of new people, it helps to smile. Resist the urge to bury your nose in your phone; this makes you look cool and busy, sure, but it also makes you look profoundly uninterested in whatever is going on around you. People will often hesitate to approach you if you look preoccupied with a solo activity like phone-scrolling.
Really listen to what people say when you speak to them—ask them questions and express genuine interest. It’s common knowledge that people generally love to talk about themselves, so just ask them, even if your question is just about where they bought their awesome shoes. If you’re warm, friendly, and receptive, plenty of people will probably like you right away. Approaching people can be scary, but you don’t have to do it all at once; you can take baby steps and ease into new social situations. If you commit, though, you can begin to expand your circle.
If You're Doing the Ditching
If you feel you may be ditching, don’t think you’re a bad person or a flaky, fair-weather friend. All people who date ditch their friends at some point; it’s nearly impossible not to, especially if this is your first big relationship. It's just so easy to get caught up in that whirlwind. While you shouldn’t wallow in never-ending guilt over it, you still should consider some proactive change.
Engage a little critical thinking here. Really, take a step back and recall: When was the last time you had a night reserved solely for a friend or your friends as a group? When was the last time you left your phone in the car and became fully present with them when spending time together? Are you setting aside time for them without caveats or exceptions, where you don’t cut the night short to go meet up with your significant other?
If you have indeed by this point deduced that you’re probably neglecting your friends, read on for a few do's and don’ts.
Analyze the nature of the time you’re spending with your partner. Have you simply been swept away by this new relationship? There’s a good chance that this is the case for you. It happens even with the healthiest of couples—you’re head-over-heels for this person, and it feels natural to spend all your time together. It’s fun and it feels all kinds of good; you probably don’t even notice the sheer volume of time you're spending on this person. This imbalance can pose problems in your other relationships, but if you utilize some critical thinking and self-awareness, it is ultimately pretty benign and manageable.
However, it is important to note that excessive time spent together can have a more sinister, potentially abusive tint to it as well. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your partner make you feel guilty for attempting to spend more time with your friends?
- Do they consistently make disparaging remarks about your friends, especially those who have expressed concerns about your relationship?
- Do they make your friends or family feel uncomfortable if/when you’re all spending time together specifically so that your friends/family will leave you alone?
- Does your partner in any way punish or criticize you if you’re just a few minutes late meeting up with them?
- Do they consistently vocalize worries that you will cheat on them?
- Do they accuse you of cheating even when you’ve never given them pause to do so?
- Do they suspect you of cheating with one of your friends?
- When you’re out and about, do they relentlessly call or text to “check up” on you?
- If your partner does this, do they interrogate you about your whereabouts, who you’re with, and what you’re doing?
A partner who truly cares about you will not criticize or hurt you (emotionally or physically) for spending time with other people in your life.
Despite all the wildly unhealthy cultural notions of “true love” many of us have absorbed, your romantic partner does not need to be number one in your life. Someone who spends all their spare time with their partner does not necessarily love their partner “more” than someone who talks to their partner a couple times per week. Not only are you “allowed” to have other priorities, it’s actually healthier when you do. If your partner refutes this, they are not keeping your best interests at heart. Critically call into question such backwards behavior, and analyze other elements of the relationship as well. If your partner is exhibiting any of the behaviors mentioned above, click here to read more about patterns of abuse. You can also click here to read more about what constitutes one of these so-called healthy relationships.
Barring abuse and emotional manipulation, you’ve probably just been spending a lot of time with your partner because you really like them. Yay for that! However, we all need balance to be our best selves and to have all our relationships be good ones. Balance might seem elusive, but I promise: it’s attainable.
Work toward a sustainable balance. You want to spent a lot of time with your significant other, but balance is important. You have to make time for your other relationships, too. Ultimately, it’s just not good to spend all of your time with one person and one person only. When you spend all or most of your time with only one person, you might become so attached that you don’t know what to do with yourself when they’re not around. And if you don't make time for your friends, that other person can feel like they don't get to make time for theirs, either, and might start to feel pretty resentful. And although it’s all sunshine and rainbows right now, there will come a time when your current significant other isn’t there. When that time comes, you don’t want to be left stranded.
Good things often come to an end and conflict arises. You don’t want to end up feeling totally alone if this relationship goes south or hits some road bumps. If this is your first love, there’s a high probability that you’re experiencing many heightened, intense emotions. These emotions may preclude clear judgment. With this in mind, I cautiously say the following; there’s a good chance that you and your significant other will break up. You may think that your situation is different—and in some ways, it is just because every relationship is different by definition—but there’s still a mighty high chance that you two will part ways eventually. That's just life.
I would advise you to have some foresight, and consider the ways in which your actions right now will affect you down the road. If and when you and your S.O. break up, you are going to want your friends there for you. We all need support, and intimate friendships are invaluable when it comes to healing from an emotional trauma. Since your significant other won’t be around, you’ll have a lot more time on your hands. If you’ve alienated your close friends, accidentally or knowingly, this time will start to feel pretty lonely. One of the last things you want after a big emotional trauma is too much time alone to ruminate. Trust me. You will want—or maybe even need—a solid support network.
However, if over the course of your relationship you spent too much time with your S.O. and neglected your friends, you can’t necessarily expect these friends to be happily waiting for you with open arms after the breakup. If you’re too busy to catch up or hang out, life moves on. Your friends should not treat you cruelly or maliciously, but you can’t expect them to stop their lives to accommodate yours when you didn’t offer them the same courtesy.
True-blue friends are difficult to find in life. If you feel like you’ve found some, don't take them for granted. A person’s high school and college years are prime for building friendships. As you get older and busier with more and more responsibilities to juggle, it gets increasingly difficult to make and sustain friendships. So, if you feel that you’ve found a person or a group of people with whom you can really be yourself, don’t ignore them because of a romantic or sexual relationship.
I’m not saying that romantic forays in our younger years aren’t important. They absolutely are! If you feel that a relationship is something you want and you find someone who makes you feel good, you should at least give it a shot. Truly supportive, awesome romantic relationships can build confidence in many areas, and they can help you grow as an individual. There is something really special, though, about the bonds built through friendship and friendship alone. Romantic love feels great, but so does laughing till your belly aches at three o’ clock in the morning with people who simply like and support you. There’s something indescribable about the solidarity and support you can find in a good friend. It is a rare and fantastic thing, and you want to be careful not to throw it away on a relationship that in all likelihood has an expiration date.
If you’re a woman in a relationship with a guy, consider the gender dynamics at play. This is just a little philosophical food for thought.
In our culture, a woman’s ultimate goal is often presented as obtaining a worthy male romantic partner. Once she’s got one, why should she care about her silly friends? (And why does he still care so much about his?) Simply put, women are often not taught to value their platonic friendships; it's expected that they have their romantic relationshps set as their number one priority. They’re taught to seek approval and attention from men, and to see their friendships as placeholders for periods of time where there isn't a boyfriend or husband in the picture. With this in mind, girls dating guys will very often ditch their friends to spend time with their romantic partner. Guys are guilty of ditching, too; this is especially true if they feel like they "have to" because their girlfriends are doing the same. However, a definite sexist gender divide still exists.
Look at the difference between features in men’s and women’s magazines. So much mainstream “women’s” media deals with dating dudes: how to win them over, how to keep them once you’ve got them, how to please them sexually, how to dress to impress them…I’m sure you’ve seen it all time and time again, unfortunately. “Men’s” magazines, on the other hand? Yeah, not so much. Sure, there might be some features about how to blow your girlfriend’s mind in bed or whatever, but such pieces are more about ego than actually pleasing women. These publications certainly don’t devote the same amount of time and energy to the actual relationship side of things. There’s a much stronger emphasis on traditional masculinity.
Much "men’s" media emphasizes time with other men being of utmost importance. I mean, how else are you supposed to have a decent intellectual conversation, right?! Who will you talk about sports and world issues with?! Only other dudes, if you ask our mainstream media. If you ask me, I say that having friends of all genders is important for everybody. Women’s friendships are just as valuable as men’s. We don't have to sell ourselves short in other areas of our lives because we’re in a relationship with a guy.
Some Final Thoughts
As the beloved Mr. Rogers once said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle.” While this statement could be interpreted in a number of problematic ways, it is important to note that when we really love and care for each other, it’s not always going to be totally perfect. Our friends are fallible. You’re fallible. I’m fallible. Beyoncé is fallible. Literally any person you can think of is fallible. As Fred continues, “To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
We’re not going to be thrilled with each other all the time. We will feel hurt and wronged when we feel ignored. We will feel hurt and wronged if it gets back to us that our friends were complaining about our behavior behind our backs. We would all be happier, though, if we could strive to have some empathy for each other, especially in our close friendships. If you feel your friend is being icy toward you since you got in a new relationship, don’t simply declare they're “jealous” and flounce off. Your friend might actually be a little jealous, but that’s nothing to be smug about. True friendships are not competitive.
The key here is to communicate, set boundaries, and actively work to understand each other. When you find your footing, you will hopefully discover that neither you nor your friends need to choose between romance and friendship: you get to have both.