My best friends started dating each other and I'm left out.
Did I fuck this up beyond repair? Do I give them space and stop talking to them? Do I ask if I did something wrong and try to talk about it?
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
A SWEETIE PIE:
I have a pair of friends that I used to hang out with almost exclusively as a trio - bars, brunches, vacations, the works. I felt like we had a great relationship, and always looked forward to texting with them every day and planning our next (now, socially distanced) get-together.
Then they started dating.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them, ecstatic! They’re both incredibly happy (daily insta and snapchat stories about how much they adore each other happy) and I love seeing my friends happy.
The problem is now I no longer fit. Ever since I found out, I’ve felt incredibly awkward about texting them, or talking to them, or hanging out with them at all. I used to wish them good morning, or compliment their outfits of the day, or ask for advice about work or friend drama, but now that just feels weird and awkward and like I’m crossing a boundary that wasn’t there before. I’ve been very careful to give them extra space - not asking to hang out, double checking that they want me invited to things when they propose hangouts - but it still feels so uncomfortable.
And I think they’ve picked up on it, but don’t seem to get it. Case in point - they wanted to show me one of their favorite movies that I’d never seen, and spent the entire hangout eagerly swapping lore tidbits and talking about their favorite upcoming scenes and quoting the movie to each other and talking about their plans to visit the filming location together, and I was just…also there. So I didn’t say much, and when one of them asked me what was wrong, I tried to explain I was setting new boundaries and respecting the shift in the dynamic, and they were baffled. “Why would anything change? We’re still friends! Nothing is different.” I couldn’t convince them that things have changed.
I 100% admit that I initially wasn’t the most mature about this - of all my friends, these were the last two that were single, and now I’m the only single person I know (and a late bloomer to boot, I haven’t, well, dated ever, and am pushing into my late 20s). Coupled with a recent move to a city in which I know no one (thanks, pandemic) and an apartment I never leave, and, well, I’ve done my very best to be super positive and bouncy and upbeat as they’ve always known me to be, but it’s been a little bit of a mixed bag, and I’ve vented to them sometimes about being stressed or anxious or isolated or lonely (and always apologized each time after). They’ve also definitely pulled away - I initiate 99% of my conversations with both of them now, the group chat is dead unless I send something, and we haven’t hung out in weeks (as, obviously, they are spending time with each other. And not me. Which I shouldn’t be jealous of. But am a little bit.).
What do I do? Did I fuck this up beyond repair? Do I give them space and stop talking to them? Do I ask if I did something wrong and try to talk about it? Do I fake it till I make it and just keep on reaching out in cheerful ways, even on the days when I’m not feeling it, and take whatever responses they give me? I don’t want to force a relationship or make them uncomfortable or harsh their buzz AT ALL. I 100% do not want to be toxic or manipulative or a whiny asshole. But I do want to have my friends back, if that’s possible.
Oh my goodness this made my heart feel like a poached egg where you just touch it a little and the yolk comes pouring out. This is frankly, heartbreaking. I don’t mean that it’s doomed or that you’re going to lose them as friends anything like that, but this is just SUCH a massive shift for you and it comes with very little benefits for you and a whole lot of benefits for everyone else involved. It’s… well, frankly it’s shit. It’s a shit situation and it’s a situation that many people have been in before and probably all of them—regardless of the outcome—will tell you that it’s a shit situation.
There are a lot of separate yet convergent problems here, and a lot of them— most of them, in fact—you have almost no control over, which sucks ass. Sometimes it’s nice to get a letter from someone who is entirely at fault for/ in control of a situation because then I can be like “Ok, do A, B and C.” But your dilemma is a bit more murky because you’re relying on two other people’s actions. All I can really do is 1) commiserate, because again, this sucks shit. 2) Offer advice for how to cope with it. 3) Remind you how wonderfully you’re already doing because you are. You are such such such a good friend to these two people and I kind of can’t believe that they’re mucking it up so badly. Except I can because they’re horny dipshits and I think many of us have been horny dipshits before.
All right. Let’s do this. Advice time.
First and foremost—while I think for your friendship to survive you are definitely going to have to do some adjusting—THEY are going to need to change their behavior for this friendship to be good again, ultimately. They will need to both accept that things have changed among the three of you and they will need to want to adapt to that and they will have to take action to do so. I don't know if they’ll do it or not. I can’t see into the future, and frankly the beginning of a relationship is one of the easiest times to abandon friends and just be a selfish piece of shit. Often people don’t even realize the extent to which they’re doing that. (Which is still very, very shitty and doesn’t excuse anything). But while some of the work and much of the discomfort will be on you, THEY have to want to stay in the friendship.
There is a very depressing (and I think unlikely!!) possibility that they were not ever as invested in friendship as a group and that they were just trying to use friendship as a guise for hooking up with each other. I say that not to try to be a pessimistic sicko, but to warn you that sometimes people aren’t good at being friends with other people. That doesn’t reflect on you. The same way some people aren’t good parents and it doesn’t reflect on the kid they had. Some people just… aren’t good to others. If you do some digging and find out that that’s the case, RUN don’t walk from their friendships. Do a whole lot of mourning and crying and screaming at the sun and then remind yourself that the good news is that YOU were a perfect friend and you did nothing wrong and you can and will make new friends and it will hurt and suck but you are magic. Again, I think this is unlikely and the most extreme bad scenario.
Regardless of whether the reality is as bad as what I just described above, you are—no matter what—going to have to do some mourning. Treat this like the grief it is. This is LOSS. Things are never going to be the same with the three of you again and that FUCKING SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKSSSSS. You did nothing wrong and the world changed and it changed where you’re the third wheel and that’s bullshit. And it’s super duper duper duper bullshit that your friends seem to have not thought about how this would impact you and, even if they did think about it, they have made very little effort to either talk to you about that impact or to negate that impact. That’s shitty. You deserve to feel sad/angry/resentful/bitter/lonely/heartbroken about that. That’s fucked. I’m not saying you need to let this grief consume you and your life or that it should become a big dark cloud in your friendship or dealings with them. Just that you should let yourself feel for god’s sake! Please! Stop trying to be so upbeat about this! You feel sad because it’s sad! You lost something: easy, steady friendship. Their effort. Their attention. Their hang outs. The group chat. I mean that’s a lot of fucking loss to try to not feel bad about. It would be like pretending that your dog didn’t die!
That’s the first step. And actually, it’s an ongoing step that’s going to last through the whole process. Give yourself permission to feel and to feel bad and to feel mad and sad (and anything else that rhymes with those words). You don’t have permission to be cruel or harmful; try not to sabotage the friendship or to be unnecessarily harsh or petty. You don’t have to pour your grief into their laps. You just have to feel it. And then, my advice is: be honest about it. Not just with them but with yourself. With other friends. With family members. With a therapist you have (now is a GREAT time to get a therapist if you can!!!! Please do!! This is perfect for therapy!). You don’t have to spend your days venting to everyone about every minor slight, but find outlets. Let people see that you are grieving.
I also really really recommend journaling right now. So many “small” things are going to feel very hurtful to you (I’m guessing from similar situations I’ve been in). Things that seem like they “shouldn’t” be painful will feel painful— think of the movie night. Sometimes it’s easier to write out the situation and give yourself some time and then come back and read it again and see what hurt and why. That way you don’t end up with your brain running in circles all the time, trying to figure out if you’re mad at your friends or desperate to be around them or resentful or happy for them or missing them. (The answer is: you’re all of those things, and they’re hard to hold in your brain at one time). Journal. It will also make you feel less “crazy.” Not that you are even a little and obviously that word is derogatory as hell, but I think it’s a label we give ourselves when we don’t like how we’re feeling, when we feel shame about it, when we want to speed up our grieving timeline.
The next step is to talk to them. You knew this was coming!!!!! You have to have a talk. You need to feel out what is going on with them. Maybe they think they’ve been doing The Nice Thing by pretending that nothing has changed—even though most adults know that being that dishonest is not kindness in any way, shape or form. Maybe they’ve been feeling guilty around you, or uncomfortable. Maybe they’re selfish pieces of shit who don’t actually have any intention of putting in effort to be your friend. I don't know. And right now, you don’t know either. Here is what I would do—and like most things in life, it will happen how it happens not how you planned it to go, so take this with a grain of salt—I would wait until you’re all hanging out again in person and then say something like, “Guys, I know—or at least I think— you’re trying to pretend like nothing has changed since you two have started dating, and I believe you don't want me to feel left out, but what’s happening right now isn’t working for me. It’s dishonest and it’s making me feel like I’m nuts for feeling excluded. I’d rather us be open about the fact that you two have a relationship and that this friendship has changed. I want us to all stay friends in spite of this change, even if it’s hard, but pretending things are the same isn’t the way to do that. The fact is, I do all the initiating in the group text. I do a lot of the work and put in a lot of the effort and I don't feel like I’m getting it back. And maybe you guys feel like you don’t need to put in effort because things with each other are so easy, but that’s really heartbreaking to me because I still want to be friends. I don’t want things to be awkward or weird and I think not addressing it has made that worse.” For my money, I don’t think you can guilt them too much—I know that’s a little petty of me, and perhaps immature, but these two acted like real fuckos about this, and they deserve to feel some guilt.
Please remember YOU didn’t do anything. You don’t always need to be the most gracious, the most generous, the one to adjust. That’s unfair. And it’s very very fair to feel frustrated and resentful that they’ve put you in the position where you feel like you’re the only one acknowledging the change. You don’t need to be upbeat about this all the time; they should not expect that of you. They fucked up the friendship dynamic and now they need to put in some work to help right the boat. I know the inclination is often to pull away in these situations, and I do think you guys will hang out less as a group than you did before (grieve that, too!!!) but I think now is the time to pour some real love and communication their way and talk about how much you miss them and how hard this has been for you and then hope they give you love and communication back.
If they don’t, they’re sick assholes and I will be your friend. But also, for real, you will have more friends. Moving to a new city at any point is HARD and LONLEY. Being in a pandemic is HARD and LONELY. Having your two best friends start dating each other is HARD and LONELY. You’re doing amazing. You’re not toxic, manipulative or whiny EVEN 1 PERCENT. I SWEAR. You’ve fucked nothing up. They should be so lucky to be your friend.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org