You just started dating someone—not talking to someone, not seeing someone, not some other euphemism young people have decided we need to untangle the complicated terrain of getting naked + having feelings for a particular someone—you two are dating. They’ve got a toothbrush at your place and it’s not just a the-dentist-gave-me-a-toothbrush toothbrush. It’s an electric one. Things are serious.
And now you have no idea what to do with yourself around your sexy single friends, the attractive people you used to flirt with just for fun, an endeavor which your new person might find concerning. This isn’t to say that your partner feels threatened by your friends! In fact, it’s probably you who feels like the dynamic with Misty the bangin’ barista is suddenly weird. We’ve all had sexy friendships that have to be re-navigated once a partner is in the picture.
Here are the keys to still being friends with people once you’re dating someone:
For the sake of this one example let’s say you’re a straight guy who dates women. None of your friendships with men have changed just because you’re dating someone. Maybe you see them a bit less because you’re too busy having early-on-in-the-relationship sex and going to farmer’s markets on the weekend, but you and the guys are solid. (Seriously though, how are there so many markets in your city that you never noticed?) Well, good news! Your friendships with women shouldn’t be changing either.
If you were really friends with these people before (and not just trying to use the guise of friendship as a means of getting into their pants—we all do it) then it really doesn’t have to be weird. Of course, some things do carry different meaning now that you’re in a relationship. You can debate ‘til the end of time whether that should be the case, but it is. What was once an innocuous crash in a friend’s bed after a long night of living room lip sync battles is now boundary-crossing and gossip-worthy.
That being said, a good rule of thumb is: Do what’s normal. If you’ve seen every single one of The Rock’s movies with your coworker Yolanda, you don’t have to stop now. If it wasn’t romantic before—seeing The Rock’s movies is not romantic—and it’s not a couple-exclusive activity (like having sex or cuddling or sending nudes), then you’re probably in the clear.
Ahhhh communication! The tentpole of all good relationships! The most true of the it’s-a-cliché-because-it’s-true clichés! Have a talk with your partner when something makes you uncomfortable. Ask them to tell you if something makes them uncomfortable. You’re not going to always agree on the boundaries. Some things might seem like couple-exclusive activities to them that you never thought of (does sitting on someone’s lap not occur to you as sexual?). That’s the point of going over your expectations. Maybe for you it’s no big deal that your hot friend from middle school has a key to your place, but for your new partner, that seems pretty intimate. Talk about it! And use concrete terms. “Eh, I trust you,” is not enough of a talk, even if it’s true! Plus, talking will likely make you feel better. There might be things that your current partner doesn’t care about at all, but that friends or society or past partners have convinced you are sketchy. It’s up to you guys to define boundaries.
Don’t dismiss concerns.
One thing that people who blur the boundaries of their relationships love to say is “don’t you trust me?” or “you either trust me or you don’t.” Trust is paramount in a relationship, of course. But part of that trust is trusting that the other person isn’t going to get into situations that make you question their commitment. Don’t make your partner feel like they’re being unreasonable when they bring up concerns. Listen to them and agree on a solution and then try to avoid situations that violate that. You probably innately know it’s not a good idea to plan an extravagant scavenger hunt surprise party for your friend Taylor when all you did for your partner’s birthday was bring home a card and two Twix bars from CVS because “oh shit, your birthday was Monday, wasn’t it?”
Be honest—with your partner and with yourself.
This is two-fold. Firstly, be honest with your partner. If at any point you’re lying to your partner about whom you are with, how long you hung out, what you did, or where you went, you’re not in a good relationship. Either their boundaries are too controlling and your values don’t line up OR you’re on your way to becoming a little cheater cheater bird feeder. (I don’t know, it rhymed). Both are possible, but if you start lying to your partner, or even just skirting the truth, that should be your sign that the relationship is not going well and something needs to change.
Secondly, be honest with yourself. Do you really have no feelings for your sexy friend? I don’t mean “have you really never imagined them naked?” We’ve all imagined everyone naked! We’re adults. But ask yourself: Is there a history of flirtation here that you’re trying to keep up even though you’re dating someone? Are you secretly loving the attention the mega-hot Greta from your fantasy basketball league gives you? Are you wishing she didn’t live so far away so it could work out between you two? You know the answers to these questions and your partner should not be the only one asking them.
Basically, you shouldn’t really have to change much of your behavior unless you were actively trying to get into a lot of your friends’ pants. Which is a problem in and of itself—learn to value friendships! But you might have to adjust a bit. Don’t cuddle Loren during your Black Mirror marathons. You aren’t just “a touchy person.” That’s flirting. Probably stop letting Tristan play with your hair at work; the rest of the office thinks it’s weird anyway. Just be normal, dude.