How To Maintain Platonic Relationships While In A Committed One
I’ve noticed over the years that when I get involved in a committed relationship, my male friends tend to disappear. It feels strange. There was a point in time, in high school and college, when I had tons of guy friends. Possibly even more guy friends than girl friends. However, once I got into the “real world,” it felt like the quest for Mr. or Mrs. “Right” was the only relationship anyone cared about.
Dating apps don’t help this ‘all or nothing’ mindset; we simply swipe if we are possibly attracted, but if upon further investigation, we discover we’re not interested in a romantic capacity, then we just move on regardless of any potentially platonic connection. In my experience, I’ve met quite a few guys on dating apps who I could see myself being friends with, but when I threw that out there it wasn’t really reciprocated, which is understandable. Dating apps aren’t exactly the best place to be looking for friends.
Nonetheless, it feels as though when I connect with someone, and find that we have mutual interests but zero romantic chemistry, it’s somehow seen as a waste of time. One guy put it bluntly, “I just don’t have the energy or time for girls I’m not romantically interested in.” It sounds harsh, but I kind of understand where he’s coming from, and it made me check myself—am I ok with a S.O. having a close friendship with another woman?
It doesn’t seem fair that our platonic friendships should fall by the wayside once we partner off. Sure, new love is fun, and in the beginning all we want to do is spend as much time as possible with this person. But, I don’t think this can all be attributed to deprioritizing our platonic friendships. Afterall, I make plenty of time for my girlfriends; but I notice as I get older, I tend to be more cautious when it comes to my male friendships.
Many of my friends in committed relationships say that neither they nor their partner have many significant friendships with the opposite sex (or same-sex, preference depending). So, if our expectation of one another as adults is solely that of potential mates or nothing at all, then I have to believe this lack of understanding how to have healthy, platonic relationships with someone who is the same sex as our partner, is linked to the larger gender issue at hand.
Two friends weighed-in on how they maintain platonic friendships while being in a committed relationship, and compared it to what an expert suggests. Here’s what they had to say:
Maintain Platonic Friendships, According To Friends
“I have found it somewhat difficult to start new friendships with men because it feels like the guy’s interest is not usually platonic. As for men who I was already friends with, or people I meet through work or mutual friends, I think it’s as big a deal as I make it. If I talk about a guy friend the same way I would talk about a female friend, then there is no suspicion or red flags from my partner.
In the past, I had a situation with my partner where he was keeping in touch with a girl from our college. It was platonic, but he must have known that it would upset me because he never brought it up. When I saw they had been texting, it was a red flag to me. I told him that regardless of whether anything was going on, it looked sketchy that he never mentioned her the way he mentioned other friends he kept in touch with.
I think having friends outside of the relationship, with any gender, is healthy for you and your partner. For me, pursuing those friendships and working with my partner to make him feel comfortable forming connections outside of our relationship, made us happier and our relationship stronger.” - Sheridan in San Francisco, California, 26-years-old
“I actually recently became friends with a guy at work—he’s single, I’m married. I told my husband I made a new friend at work who was a man and it’s never been an issue.
I feel like it only becomes an issue when you don’t talk about it or aren’t forthcoming, because whether it’s intentional or not, it appears as if you’re hiding something, and for me, it’s only then that it makes me uncomfortable. I introduced my husband to my new guy friend from work and they really hit it off. I think when there’s a high level of trust and honesty in your relationship there’s nothing to feel weird about.
I’m not sure why, but having a male friend actually makes me feel more secure in my relationship, because it highlights for me just how strong our bond is and how confident we are in each other and our partnership.” - Marilynn in Portland, Maine, 29-years-old.
Maintain Platonic Relationships, According To Expert
Certified mental health professional, Adina Mahalli (MSW), says that the best way to have platonic friends who are the same sex as your partner, is to maintain boundaries with your platonic friends and ensure that you are putting your romantic relationship first.
Mahalli says, “When it comes to having meaningful relationships outside of your S.O, it’s important your partner knows they come first. While you should make it clear that your platonic relationships are important, your partner should never doubt their place in your heart in relation to your platonic friendships.
That being said, they should trust you enough that when you are with your platonic friends you are able to be fully present with them, without worrying what your S.O will make of the situation. If you and your partner don’t have that trust, then your relationship is already on rocky terrain.
When it comes to your platonic friendships, any good friend will know that you will always put your romantic relationship before them and should be okay with that. That’s the normal hierarchy of relationships. They should know that you can’t be at their beck and call, but that you will undoubtedly be there for them when they’re in need. Set times to be with your platonic friends so they don’t accidentally keep pulling you away from your partner.”
Mahalli suggests these two tangible ways to go about maintaining healthy, platonic relationships without compromising your romantic relationship:
Keep Touching To A Minimum
“While you might just be the touchy-feely type with pretty much everyone, it’s important to keep touching to a minimum with your platonic friends who are of the same sex as your partner. If you want to keep up your platonic friendship without sending mixed messages, keep your hands to your romantic relationship.”
Initiate Group Hangouts
“One of the best ways to keep platonic relationships platonic is by hanging out in groups. We don’t want anybody thinking this is a potential date, and the best way to do that is either to hang out with your romantic partner in tow or keep your rendezvous to a group setting.”
Trust and boundaries are the key to maintaining platonic friendships without compromising a romantic relationship. I know from experience that trust can be difficult to build in a new relationship, especially if you have been cheated on or have had a dishonest partner in the past. One of my first relationships was with a partner who made me uncomfortable with the way he interacted with other women, in-person and on social media.
I didn’t know how to voice my feelings, so when I did notice something, instead of addressing it, I became passive aggressive, suspicious and let down—a recipe for relationship disaster. When I finally had the courage to say how it made me feel, I was told I was crazy, or was berated for feeling a certain way. Looking back, it was a relationship that brought out the worst in both of us, and it was difficult to accept that we had very different ideas about trust and boundaries, and that was okay, it just wasn’t the right fit for either of us.
Once I entered a relationship with someone who had the same definition of trust as I did, not only was the relationship completely different, but I felt different. It demanded maturity, especially when it came to expressing how I felt.
I now realize that intimacy can actually be created through sharing your fears and working through conflict with someone who you can feel safe doing so with. I really believe that when you find a partner with whom you can have an open dialogue about your feelings and boundaries, platonic friendships are much easier to navigate because there is a mutual respect for one another.
How do you maintain platonic friendships once you are in a committed relationship, or are there relationships or situations you would now handle differently?