Is combining friendships like a recipe or musical score? Hardly, but it does take trial and error.
We blend wines, spices, words, colors, ideas, and sounds all the time. Unfortunately, not all efforts mix well like oil and water or credit card bills and your budget. There can be clashing tastes in a recipe not yet perfected, a variety of hues in one room that may not be complimentary--too jarring, and the divergent, loud sounds of traffic may sound cacophonic and actually hurt your ears.
After we each became single in our 50s and 60s and after 31 years and 42 years of married life respectively, we were fortunate to blend a new romantic partner into our lives. But we found it challenging at times to add to the blend our friends and some family members. He likes that one but not the other. She doesn’t like so and so, and soon the scenario is playing out like a script by Woody Allen with its complexities and contradictions. It’s axiomatic that bending friends and family into your life at this stage does not always create a winning combo.
It was so much less complicated when we each married young and slowly made new couple and single friends and brought them into our lives. We developed many of these relationships together as newlyweds, and sometimes later, too. It worked because it started as a level playing field, and we each knew how the other person thought--the foods, music, clothing, hotels, and even friends they were likely to like--or not.
Now in the second chapter of each of our lives, this simplicity has been expunged from the equation. We each came to our new relationships with a long list of close friends and family members we see regularly, sometimes occasionally—at holiday gatherings and school reunions, parties, and so on. Introducing our "partners" was easy; we were excited to have them meet our circle. Getting reactions--almost like a Yelp or TravelAdvisor review--became a far testier matter.
Sometimes, they clicked, and we made more dates with a couple or a single friend. In Barbara's case, the blending led to vacation time spent with two different close sets of her friends, who are now also her beau Fixup's friends. One involves an annual summer gathering in the Indiana Dunes; the other resulted in a road trip to Natchez, Mississippi, to see the country's largest collection of antebellum houses, and the foursome are talking about their next outing, maybe to Alaska.
But in other cases, things didn't pan out so well. Two sets of Barbara's friends met one guy she was dating, and they understood her attraction but each shared their deep concerns about his personality type. "This guy isn't a keeper--and certainly not for you--was the gist of their shared sentiments." She knew if a relationship did develop long term, they wouldn't be interested in socializing. It didn't.
And with the keeper, Barbara got a negative review which surprised her but which she took under advisement. After Fixup met one couple she had known for 40 years, she animatedly asked him, "What do you think? Do you love them?" His reaction was greatly disappointing. He explained he would see them again, but found them less than scintillating, particularly one part of the couple whom he found extremely negative. Barbara got defensive. "They're really good friends. How can you not like them?" she remembers saying. "But, you asked," was his reply. They made more dates, and she came to respect his perspective, which hit a bulls' eye. If they lived closer geographically, she might have seen the wife alone.
There is no playbook for blending friends. It’s trial and error. For Margaret, it became a conundrum: were Mondays, or Wednesdays, or Fridays date nights with her friends, and Tuesdays, or Thursdays, or Saturdays with his friends with constant reminders of whose turn was it? And on Sundays, was it kumbaya--we all do something together?
Each time Margaret and her guy friend went out with his or her friends, it was the same routine: meet, shake hands, ask and answer questions in an effort to get to know them. Sometimes, they hit it off. Other times it was a no go. For her guy friend, it was a challenge for him to fit in with some of Margaret’s friends who had been close friends with her late husband. Margaret met one couple, long time friends of her guy friend, she didn’t care for at first, grew to like them and considers them now to be good friends of hers as well. Two couples, who were Margaret’s friends, became both their close pals and traveling buddies with day-long and weekend jaunts. Her guy friend occasionally has lunch with the husband of one of these couples, the ultimate in success! Bravo.
Lessons to share:
- 1. Test the waters. Do a one evening event and, if compatible, stretch it to a one-day or weekend trip. Try different activities. Maybe they’re good symphony friends but not the most fun on a biking trip. And who wants to be with them at restaurants where they ask too many questions about ingredients and preparations.
- Second chances and be open down the road. Always give long-standing friendships and familial relationships another chance if an initial reaction isn't positive. In fact, give it a third or fourth chance or take the perspective that it's only one dinner or lunch date. Who knows if your feelings may change? People do change, maybe not fundamentally but enough so that you may find something sufficiently appealing—they’re good at Trivia and fine to be with at those big group events but not as a pair you’d care to travel or sip wine and dine with slowly and often.
- Don't criticize a partner's interest in the couple or person since everyone's entitled to their feeling. Just explain why you feel the way you do.
- Separate ways. If the feeling remains negative for whatever reason, think about socializing separately. Make a lunch date or even do dinner but not always as a three- or foursome.
- Start new traditions. Perhaps you’ve always spent New Year’s Eve with the same two couples for 25 years and want to continue this tradition. Then, in turn, agree to spend Rosh Hashanah or Easter with his friends and make this an annual occasion.
Blending friends can be a challenge, but it’s a terrific way to enrich your life and expand your circle. In the meantime, it’s really all about you and your partner making new memories—and friends-- together.