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How Close Is Too Close?

Every few months, it seems someone starts up the never-ending discussion again: Can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way? And can you still be friends with your opposite sex friends after you’re in a relationship? (Or same-sex if in a same-sex relationship?)

In the 80s, When Harry Met Sally tried to answer these questions. Their answers? No, to the first question. After all, Harry and Sally always kind of have a thing for each other. At the end of the movie, remember, they end up together. The second question? Their answer is well, kind of: after entering a partnership you can still be friends with your opposite sex friends, but only if they’re also coupled up.

Recently, an episode of Blackishattempted to answer question number two. The episode opens with a string of couples (Harry and Sally-style) answering whether or not they felt like their partner was their best friend. The main character, Dre, goes on to talk about his long-time friendship with a girl he knew growing up (not his wife). When she comes to visit, his wife, Bo, expresses to a coworker how she feels like a “third-wheel in her own marriage”. Though there is no jealousy or fear that Dre and his friend will sleep together, there’s a clear confusion about roles — is Dre’s old friend more intimate with him than his partner? Can there be different kinds of intimacy in a relationship? 

The conversation about friendship outside of a committed relationship is an important one to have — preferably before beginning a relationship. I’ve had friends discover, months in, that their partner becomes insanely jealous if they hang out with anyone on their own. I’ve had other friends who are totally chill discussing with their partner the people they each find hot — even mutual acquaintances.  And I know that for other couples, such a conversation would feel like a sign that the relationship is ending.

Of course, every relationship is going to have its own tolerances. Here are some thoughts on various scenarios:

Your partner wants to be your best friend.

First off: what does “best friend” even mean? Coming up with a shared definition is crucial. In my opinion, if it means the person you do absolutely everything with, then probably not. Everyone benefits from continuing to have their own lives, so Guys Nights Out and Girls Nights Out are still awesome. However, if you don’t feel comfortable sharing things with your partner that pertain to your relationship but continue to do so with your best friend, then that’s probably a red flag.

You’re still friends with an ex and your new partner is jealous.

Remaining friends with an ex is dangerous territory and should not be taken lightly — not because it’s impossible to have sex with someone for a while and then decide to part ways in a friendly manner, but because your current paramour might not be super happy about it.

In this situation, it really depends on how close you and your ex are. If it’s the I still follow them on Facebook kind of close but that’s about it, then anyone who is worried about that connection is probably insecure. Have a conversation about it, and if you care about your current relationship, then your ex should be easy to let go of.

Another possibility is that you may be one of those amazing people who still occasionally hang out with your ex. Maybe you knew them for a long time growing up and tried things out only to find out it wouldn’t work or maybe you’re just both super chill. First, ask yourself if there aren’t still some lingering feelings (if there are, then your new beau or belle has a reason to be concerned). In any case, talk to your current partner about it from the get-go and ask them how they feel about it; then go from there. This is an important conversation to have in a new relationship as it susses out potential trust issues or insecurities that should be addressed before things get too serious.

Your new partner is jealous of your longstanding friendships.

Long-time friends that feel kind of like siblings should be easy and really, most people respect these kinds of relationships because we’re all just human after all. However, if you are starting to see someone who doesn’t respect your relationship with your opposite-sex bestie, then you sort of have to wonder why. Is it insecurity? Is it the controlling need to be your one and only? Is it both? If it’s a bit of insecurity, that’s usually easily remedied with by keeping everything out in the open and introducing your partner to your old friend, so they know there’s nothing to worry about. If it gets worse than that, we’re all about not ditching your friends for any relationship.

You meet people and you find some of them attractive.

A universal truth that we all must acknowledge is that there are a crap-ton of attractive people in the world. While yes, we’re talking about looks, we’re also talking about other things like how confident they are, how nice they are, etc… It’s also a universal truth that you’re going to continue to meet attractive people no matter how long you’re with your current, very attractive partner. This is honestly okay because it’s kind of one those things, like weather, that you can’t control. However, you can control how you respond to it.

First, it’s okay to admit that you have a crush on someone you meet at work, school, place of worship, etc. It happens, and it doesn’t mean you love your partner less. However, depending on how the relationship progresses, if you start hanging out with this person and you start griping to them about your partner, or having conversations with the new, attractive person that you should be having with your partner, or flat out flirting — that’s a red flag that there are issues you’re not facing in your relationship.

It’s a good idea to be open with both parties about your relationship status from the get-go. If you’re not, and your relationship with your new “friend” becomes more intimate, consider that you may be cheating emotionally, which paves the way for actual cheating.

How do you know when you’ve cheating emotionally? When you tell your new “friend” more about your day than you tell your partner. When you find yourself texting them ridiculously unrelated things outside of work. When you find yourself wanting to spend more time with them than with your partner…then you may want to ask yourself if the primary relationship you’re currently in is really the best thing for you.

Like that quote, “The path to true love is never easy,” it can be tough to navigate some of these spaces, but with common sense, communication, and compassion, you and your partner can figure out how your relationship squares with the friendships you both individually have outside of it.