Got a once small problem that is now a bigger problem and I’d love some advice. My girlfriend and I are currently doing long distance, and she plans to move up here next fall. She was planning a move to my city anyway, but our relationship has expedited that process. She lives with two college friends who I’ve never really liked as they are low key shitty to her. It looks like they’re all going through a friendship breakup, which is gutting and I’m being as supportive as I can from afar.
But. She kinda doesn’t have any other friends. She’s highly introverted, and although she has a few workmates she likes, she only socializes outside of work on occasion. I know it bugs her that she doesn’t have any close friends, especially with this new breakup she’s going to lose her last two friends at the same time.
Codependency is something we’re both wary of, and now with all this friend drama she’s worried that she’ll cling to me and drive me away. I think we can work through it, but I also want her to have friends! Friends are great! And I know that she wants friends!When/if she moves across the country to be in my city, I’m totally going to include her in my socials, but we both also need separate friends.
You’ve written some great articles about making adult friends from the other side, but what about when you want your partner to make friends? Is that a boundary I can’t cross? Gently suggest things? Offer to introduce her to people? I’m at such a loss, because I don’t want to disrespect her boundaries and come on too strong. I’m also wary that doing nothing could lead to her having no friends, and while I love my gf I’m not willing to backslide into codependency.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge that you both understand that you need individual support systems – that’s a huge deal! While it may feel like it’s nothing, naming what you don’t want (codependency) is usually the most helpful first step. It’s rad that you’ve already read through some of our advice on making friends, such as this piece on working through codependency. However, you’re right: being the girlfriend who wants their girlfriend to have friends definitely requires a gentle approach and some nuance.
It seems like your girlfriend knows she will need to make new relationships, and once things with her ex-friends settle down, she may even want to refocus her energy on forming new relationships. I’m sure things feel really chaotic for her right now, especially if these friends were her closest support system. Unfortunately, the older we get, the harder it is to make friends: not because either party does anything wrong, but at the end of the day, it really is exhausting to have more than a few close ride-or-dies. It sounds like this breakup is for the best and will free up a lot of emotional space once your girlfriend has had some time to heal.
However, I don’t think that waiting to approach her until she’s worked through everything on her own is the right answer. Communicating with your girlfriend about your worries isn’t crossing a boundary. Though, as I’m sure you know, you can’t make her do anything. I can see why you might be worried about seeming unsupportive or harsh, but it’s clear to me that you care because you want your relationship to remain healthy. I’m not a therapist, but I think talking this out with her is a great first step.
Before going into that conversation, I would make a mental (or literal) list of why you’re concerned and ways you could suggest these to her in a gentle, but clear way. Remember that how you communicate something isn’t always the way it’s perceived. Think about how she might hear what you’re saying. There’s no harm in expressing your emotions, but if your go-to feeling is frustration and hers is isolation, that could escalate quickly. You aren’t telling her that she’s shitty at making friends, you’re wanting to grow closer by preparing for the future.
No matter how you do it, the most important thing to emphasize is why you want to have this conversation. You don’t want to step on her toes or make her feel incapable of forming adult friendships. You just want to prepare for a big step in your relationship. This may sound super unromantic, but I think any major step in a relationship takes preparation and a plan. In order to set up the next phase of your relationship for success, you want to be able to have those conversations to ensure she has a healthy support system.
I certainly have firsthand experience as the girlfriend with no support system. I had just moved to the U.K. (from the U.S.) for grad school and quickly found myself in a relationship with–who I thought at the time was–the woman of my dreams. She was also there for grad school, but she is British-American and had a whole family and friend group established in our city. I knew absolutely no one, so she took it upon herself to introduce me to some of her Ph.D. cohort. I didn’t really vibe with them and she was really pushing me to get my own friends, so we tried a different approach. She heard about a QTPOC community group through the grapevine but she didn’t know anyone in the group. We decided it might be fun to show up to this new space as a couple so that it would be easier for us to make friends together, but separately. As an introvert, this helped me immensely! I felt comfortable enough to show up, but challenged enough to have at least one conversation outside of my comfort zone. A group like this may not be accessible to you, but I would suggest thinking through some of your shared interests and finding an event that way. If you’re both into D&D, search for open campaigns near you (Google, Meetup, Facebook, Lex, Autostraddle?!?)! If you’re into pottery, go to a regular class together! If you love basketball, search for pickup games in your area!
Like you mentioned, introducing her to some of your friends is definitely a good start, especially if your friends have other friends she could chat up. For example, my roommate has been getting close with his boyfriend’s best friend’s boyfriend (a mouthful, I know). This particular friend is not only super cool but has a queer roommate who said she was looking for more queer female friends. Through this friend group grapevine, the two of us met and connected over lots of gay stuff.
When I was the girlfriend in your situation, I found it helpful when my girlfriend would suggest that her friend’s friend (or whomever) and I had *insert specific hobby* in common. That way, I knew I could awkwardly approach this random person and say, “So you’re into candle-making too?” The mutual friend scenario is usually a great start, but I would avoid trying to make her friends with your close friends. Instead, widen the group a bit so she has the chance to make her own unique relationships with people.
Remember that your intentions are in the right place. The best thing you can do to support her is to be true to your own needs, use the resources you both have, and give her any of the tools I mentioned previously as a way to help her feel empowered to make new friendships. Ultimately, you should remember that it’s up to your girlfriend to do the work of making friends, not you. I would encourage you to find a way to cheer her on from the sidelines in a way that feels good for both of you.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.