My question is very simple. I’ve met a wonderful man, but I quite simply cannot stand his friends. He is in his late 30s, and these friends have been in his life a long time. It seems that he has changed quite a bit from the “old days,” but they are still beer-drinking, rowdy, party people. The kind of friends I don’t want in my life.
I don’t really know what to do. Is it a deal-breaker? Do I just muddle through and hope not to have much contact with these friends?
-Erina in Jacksonville, FL
Thanks for sharing your problem with us. If I were to meet with you personally to discuss this issue, I would have a great many questions that would weigh heavily on my advice for you. Of course, I don’t have that luxury, but based on what you’ve told me, I believe there are two likely scenarios at play here. Before I go through those in detail, I just want to touch on one important general point.
You cannot enter into a new relationship with the expectation that your partner is going to change – in any way. Whenever I have premarital counseling sessions and hear one or both persons say something like “I’m sure that will get better after we’re married,” my blood runs cold. You must always move forward with the assumption that your partner’s worst traits will be amplified once you are married. Expecting a person to really change, no matter what he or she may say, is a recipe for disappointment.
Now back to what I believe are the two likely scenarios at play.
Scenario Number One
Your boyfriend’s friends are a terrible influence on him. He wants to change, but whenever he is around them he falls under their influence and participates in destructive behavior that he later regrets. He cannot see that his bond of friendship with these men needs to be broken for his own good.
If this is true, you’ll need to hear him speak these words from his own lips. He will need to come to you and say, “I need to create space between myself and these old friends.” Only then can you expect the promise of an attempt on his part. Of course, this is no promise of success, but he will be expressing a desire to move in the direction that you prefer – away from these old and destructive friends.
Scenario Number Two
Your boyfriend’s friends are a great influence on him. Their time together is basic harmless male bonding – football, guy talk, beer and weekend getaways – the kind of friendship and closeness that men often do without in our society. In this scenario, you may be jealous when he spends time with this group of guys. They may even do a few activities that you disapprove of, but their behavior isn’t destructive and doesn’t have any effect on your boyfriend other than giving him an outlet for blowing off steam.
The range of possibilities is, of course, wider than these two scenarios. But I suspect that the truth lies within one of these two descriptions.
But whether or not his friends are truly destructive, the important question, Erina, lies with you and your thoughts and expectations of this relationship. The question you need to ask yourself before too much time has passed is: “Will I be happy in this relationship if nothing else changes?” It is really that simple.
Attempting to launch a healthy serious relationship with the idea that you will just avoid his friends doesn’t feel like an effective solution to me. In this situation, what you really want is for him to avoid his friends, and that is a significant and more demanding request.
In fact, asking this man to move away from his friends for your sake would be a relationship nonstarter. The decision to stay or go must be made by you, based on the current circumstances and your discussions with him about what he wants in his life.