Late 20s Rut-Busting Your Boyfriend Is Not Your Friend Mary Traina

I had a tough-love therapist a while ago who frustrated me to no end. I’d complain about the behavior of men I was dating and most of the time her response was simply, “That’s because he is not your friend.”

My response was always to sit back in my chair and stubbornly stare at the wall. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.

Your boyfriend is not your friend.

Slowly over time, as I’ve aged from a 22-year-old deer-in-headlights to an actual adult, I’ve started to understand what my therapist meant. In retrospect, it was the most important dating advice I’ve ever received. It helped me to relax. By the time I hit my late 20s, my outlook on dating had changed. In case anyone out there is stubbornly staring at the wall like I once did, allow me to try to explain my evolution.

Picture it! Me on a couch, cozying up to whomever I am dating at the time! Perhaps we are conversing over wine, but more than likely there are two bottles of Corona with a splash of orange juice and we are enjoying what is known as “man-mosas.” As things get more comfortable, perhaps I introduce him to my Al Gore impression and, if that goes over well, my theory that in the event of an actual zombie apocalypse, the undead would simply rot away within a few days and no longer pose a threat. Suddenly, I find myself talking about something at work that frustrated me. This is serious. My gentleman-friend listens carefully, hugs me genuinely then blows things off with a joke. Yet, for some reason, he never really responds verbally to the feelings I’ve just laid out. I feel awkward about that. I start to question. Maybe he is thinking that my feelings are crazy? Maybe something in his brain is broken and he can’t process feelings? Maybe he lied and he is still thrown off by my Al Gore impression?! If this were my best girl friend, she would have validated my emotions and then added to them with her own story. Then we would have laughed and felt stronger for having talked it out.

Six words pop into my head: “Your boyfriend is not your friend.”

Picture it again! Months or years later! I am texting with a guy I’ve been seeing for months. The boyfriend and girlfriend titles have been dropped, you guys, and this is real. This particular night, he is out with the guys. The next day, I see on Facebook that his buddy’s girlfriend ended up hanging out at guys’ night. Where was my invite? This gets in my head. I quickly flashback to a time I found out my friends all went to dinner and didn’t invite me because they thought I was working late. And they had margaritas and guacamole and everything! My friends felt badly and apologized because there is an unspoken protocol to friend invites. This dude of mine does not feel sorry. Invite-protocol is on a case-by-case basis with couples. He doesn’t always want to be part of a couple, even if other couples are present. In my early 20s, I would have felt offended but suddenly I’m getting it. After all, sometimes I, too, feel like having a date is a total buzz-kill; you’re always having to make sure they are comfortable and having fun. Sometimes I want to be alone. After all, as we grow up, our arms don’t always want candy.

It hits me again. “Your boyfriend is not your friend.”

Back to picturing it! This time I have been dating someone long enough that he has a set of my keys. As I climb the stairs to my apartment, broken and defeated from a long, tough day at work, I begin to smell spaghetti and meatballs being prepared. I perk up. I walk through the door to see that my boyfriend has made me dinner! And he just wants me to relax while he serves me! He is pampering me! Like I’m a little baby! Truth be told, we should all expect this regularly from our significant others and they should also expect it from us. Yet, it’d be way out of line to expect this from your best friend regularly. Can you imagine your best friend getting mad because you didn’t prepare them dinner after a long day of work? Because you failed to properly romance them?

And then I get it. “Your boyfriend is not your friend.”

There are a lot of reasons boyfriends, as close as we feel to them, are not our friends. And that’s a good thing. They have some cross over points and they get closer as time wears on (a lot of time), but I’m glad “boyfriends” and “friends” don’t share a definition completely. After all, I don’t want to have to make out with all of my friends. Well, most of the time I don’t want to make out with my friends. If they bring me Dominoes bread sticks, lines get blurred and all bets are off.

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  1. Ironically, this was posted on my third wedding anniversary. Over dinner that night, we reminisced about our wedding day and all the time that’s passed since, and speculated as to the success of our relationship. My husband and I rarely fight or argue, and when we do, it’s always civil and resolved quickly. We communicate openly and listen to each other, and always tell each other the truth. And our conclusion over dinner was that we’re rooted in friendship–that’s why our relationship is so solid.

  2. I have to say, I agree with many of the comments posted. Boyfriends aren’t always your friends – but for a meaningful, long term relationship, a boyfriend has to be a friend plus more. Why spend time with someone who you can’t occasionally vent to? Why be with someone who doesn’t want to invite you out with friends?

    Of course, they don’t constantly have to be an emotional crutch and spend every waking moment with you – that’s tiring and suffocating and can kill relationships. But if someone can only offer you sex and intimacy and is incapable of offering the basics that comprise any platonic, close relationship then I think in the long term, they are not necessarily going to be someone you spend a protracted period of time with.

    This is coming from someone who has just been dumped so I am probably slightly bitter. The reason why? He realised he couldn’t treat me as a friend and, after 13 months together, to not even have the basics of friendship isn’t enough. All the home cooked meals and romantic gestures in the world cannot make up for the lacking of a stronger base. Although I don’t necessarily expect a man to offer the same level of friendship that my best friends can (because make and female friendships often operate differently), I do expect their to be some form of kinship that goes below that of a romantic nature.

  3. My partner is my best friend. I did away with the classic terms “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend” long ago because to me, the relationship is a partnership. It’s not about who’s cooking meals or cleaning or taking the dog out, it’s about both of us working our ways through life together. We’ve become best friends over time, because we know each other’s ups and downs without the other person needing to spell it out. To me, this is much better than having a female “best friend”. Then again, it’s questionable whether I’ve had the kind of female “best friend” relationship that most other women have had. I have a number of very close friends, but I think that to be a “best friend” that person should be one that you run to when something happens; like the first person you call when you get a job. That sort of thing. That person is my partner. But I can see how it’s different for everybody, because different people have different needs. Mine just happen to be met by one awesome dude.

  4. I’m so glad I’m not in my twenties anymore. My husband is my best friend as many others have said. It may be hard for some to understand, but sorry-it is true.

  5. This is perfect, thank you!

  6. Agreed and I must admit I cringe a little when I hear girls say things like “I’m marrying my best friend.” Blahhhhh!

  7. I think your therapist might have meant that a little differently. Maybe not. I don’t know your therapist. I think they were getting at the fact that your boyfriend is not quite the same as a friend. You should have different expectations of each, but generally a boyfriend is called a boyfriend because he is a friend first and foremost but with added benefits designated by a formal relationship. And I definitely don’t think anyone in a healthy relationship should expect to have dinner made for them after a hard day. A great and thoughtful surprise? Absolutely. But something expected? I don’t think so. It takes the value away from the gesture if you think of it like that.

    Another important thing. Your boyfriend doesn’t have to be your best friend, but I personally think it’s better to have more than one best friend in your life. And for one of those best friends to be your boyfriend. I have two best friends, and that seems to work out really well for me. My best friend Max and I talk about everything from the challenges he faces as a gay man looking for a committed relationship to what our favorite brand of shoes is. My boyfriend and I can talk about anything from what we had for lunch to the one person we could sleep with outside our relationship guilt free would be. Like a sexual pipe dream.

    Trite as it sounds friends come in all shapes and sizes, but to deny your boyfriend the opportunity to be your friend just leaves him looking more like your boy toy.

  8. I am ABSOLUTELY saving this for future reference.. thank you. The invite-protocol is one I’ve struggled with many times, and this is just perfection.

  9. I get what the therapist meant. She meant you can’t expect your boyfriend to behave like your girlfriends would. That doesn’t mean he isn’t your friend. He’s just not the kind you’re used to… In my experience a lot of men tend to want to fix things when you give them a problem. If you tell them about a problem they look for a solution, and if there isn’t one (like yeah your boss sucks but it’s your boss and so you just have to deal with it) then all they can really do is say, ‘Sorry babe, that sucks.” And then they expect you to move on. They’re not good at knowing what to do when you just need to vent. Venting is like where you know there’s nothing you can do about a problem but it makes you feel better just to gripe about it for hours. Your girlfriends will get in on this with you. They will go, “Oh, I know exactly what you mean! Something just like that happened to me last week…etc…etc…etc…” And then you two can vent and get it all out and feel much better afterward. I used to expect this of the men I dated. And when they’d just go, “I’m sorry honey, that’s rough,” and then move on, I’d be like, “What the heck just happened? That’s it?! That’s all he’s going to say to me?” It took me a while to learn that a guy IS being supportive when he sympathizes for about five seconds and then moves on… because that’s what guys do with each other. If there’s nothing to be done about it you say, “Man this sucks,” and then focus on something else – most importantly something that doesn’t suck. With the men I’ve known, they feel like it’s way better to get my mind off of it, and make me laugh than to listen while I vent, and give all kinds of feedback. Because at the end of the day, the problem is still there. The griping didn’t solve anything. It just made you both focus on something that sucks for a prolonged time and that’s no fun. Once I got that kind of guy logic through my head I was much happier. My guy was there to cheer me up and support me in THAT way. If I needed to unload and vent all night, my best girlfriends were always better. Learning this saved me so much grief! Men CAN be your friends, but not in the same way as a girlfriend. They are men, after all.

  10. I have to say that my boyfriend is more than a best friend. He is someone I share my life with. He knows things about me that even my best friends don’t know. I think that analyzing what it means to be a “best friend” will help determine whether or not your boyfriend is one. I can say that how I treat and disclose things to my best friends is not how I am with my boyfriend. It is more intimate and at a deeper level with him. A significant other is someone that you are deeply connected with in every sense from goals, talking/sharing with each other, and share the part of yourself that you don’t normally do with others. To me it is all about the definition of “friend”. My relationship is way deeper and more profound than just a “friend” status. It’s the kind of relationship that you see in the movies like the notebook. It has it’s ups and downs and arguments but at the end of the day you just know that that person you love knows you to your core.

  11. I completely disagree with ALL of this!

    My husband IS my best friend, whom I tell everything to and he responds like a human best friend and makes jokes and makes me feel better and I do the same for him. We are each others best friends for life. If your boyfriend is not your friend, then how is he husband material? The real question is, ‘how can you spend your life with someone who is not your best friend?’

    • You are lucky! I don’t think being best friends is what makes a marriage work, though. I think it’s sharing life goals and being on board to support each other in a thoughtful way that goes beyond pep talks. I think that’s why my therapist encouraged me to prioritize supportive, romantic behavior over someone who could talk about feelings and was willing to be joined at the hip. I think when you find someone who you spark with and shares your dreams, you don’t really need them to also be your best friend. But it’s semantics, really! Sometimes separating the definitions is helpful for people. That’s all it is, really!

      Mary Traina | 8/29/2013 01:08 pm
      • This is interesting, because I don’t see a big difference in the ways that my boyfriend supports me and the way that my closest female friends support me. I mean, they offer different kinds of advice but I feel like both halves genuinely want what is best for me and are willing to do whatever they can for me. He has all the qualities I look for in my friendships AND then the extra romantic stuff on top.

        I think when I first read this — and I think a lot of the other commenters may have interpreted it similarly — I incorrectly understood what you were saying to be that your boyfriend shouldn’t/couldn’t be as close to you as your best girlfriends, that you shouldn’t be relying on him for support because boyfriends aren’t friends. But now I feel like you are saying that a good boyfriend should be able to beyond where your friends go.

        When people say their SO is their best friend, I think they mean that he (or she) is the person that knows them the best, that they can be open and honest with, and that supports them unquestioningly. In other words, “supportive, romantic behavior.” So…semantics.

        • Yeah, totally. I think they should support beyond what a best friend should do but also that if they don’t live up to your best friend in certain other areas, that’s okay. It’s not something that needs to be over-analyzed. Some men aren’t as good at having those really good cathartic talks that girl friends have, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Even if they can’t quite verbally pinpoint why you’re upset at work, if they are willing to cook you dinner and help you take a load off after a tough day that’s gold. I think that’s been a really important thing I’ve learned. Not to jump to the conclusion that a guy doesn’t care about me just because he isn’t showing it the same way my friends would. You see friends in successful relationships calling that person their “best friend” and it is confusing if you haven’t found that person yet. You’re like, well… I mean, I have a best friend? So if we were gay, that’s all there is to it? And if this dude can’t have the same kinds of long talks with me that she can, then he’s wrong for me? Even though everything is going so well? Should I be picking this apart more? Is this going to bite me in the ass later? So it just helps to stop using the “friend” term with people we date. If you stop thinking in terms of the word “friend,” you can understand a relationship’s dynamic more clearly. They are different types of relationships.

  12. I have to say, I disagreed with this at first too. My boyfriend is without question my best friend, and I like to think I am his as well. And why would I want anything different? But, it did resonate with me in a slightly different way. Having likewise aged beyond the 22-year-old deer in headlights to a 30-something “grown up” (oy!), I gave up on the idea that you can be fulfilled in every way by one person a long time ago. I get different things from all of my friends, and they from me and their other friends. I get different things from my boyfriend than I do my best friend. He is supportive in ways she isn’t, and vice versa. It isn’t fair of me to expect my bestie to draw me a bubble bath when I’ve had a crap day, just as you said. And it isn’t fair of me to expect my boyfriend to listen to me complain about the cellulite on my butt and various other superficial stuff (in fact, I think that kind of talk is damaging in romantic relationships, but that’s another story…). BUT, that doesn’t mean my man isn’t my friend. Nor does it detract from my bestie’s status. It’s just different kinds of friendships, we get different types of fulfillment from different people in our lives. Family, friends, lovers, pets. I still consider all of those people (yes, my dog is a people :), my friends. My $0.02.

    • PERFECT! I really love your comment Natalie – and Mary, of course loved your piece and advice… and pieces of advice! Woo puns! I agree one hundred percent!

      There is an abundance of fantastic feedback and discussion from readers here, I’m really enjoying reading the comments under this and the article itself definitely helps those who struggle with this to change their perspective, not to mention lessening the stress when we think too much into things (happens to the best of us).

      We all have different roles we delegate our time and efforts to and we also respond to these roles differently . Learning to delegate appropriate time to these particular roles, whether it be your role as an employee, to a spouse, to an aunty, can bring such a great, harmonious and wonderful balance in relationships and lives. TLDR – great article, great comment and I agree wholeheartedly! x

    • I agree with your 2 cents completely! :) I may be more of a stickler for labels, but you’re saying it exactly right!

      Mary Traina | 8/29/2013 01:08 pm
  13. Well, yes. If your definition of friend is narrowly defined to girls your same age that you can emotionally vomit on (which isn’t bad, just uncontrollable and messy) and strive towards a Sex and the City/GIRLS cadre with.
    Is that the only kind of friendship we can have?
    I guess I don’t feel comfortable defining relationships by who I get mad at when for not meeting my expectations. The simplified gist of this article appears to be: If he makes you mad by not acting like your best girlfriend (who by dint of that title had known you a long time and knows you very well) then he isn’t your friend and, GOD! Why did I even try?! We will never get closer than we are now because the shitty hoops you have to jump through ina relationship preclude friendship.

    • And now that I’m thinking about my response, yeah! My oversimplified gist happens all the time! I can only express that thought because I have been in that exact same situation. My frustration arises when I have needs and have no idea who it is appropriate to express them to.

  14. I’ll, of course, start out by saying every single relationship is different. For mine, expecting my husband of 11 years (we married quite young) to fulfill the role of close girlfriend was just setting him up for failure and making me feel like our relationship was somehow less-than because my husband didn’t “properly” fill the role of the best friend in my life. And I feel like that’s the point Mary is trying to make. There is definitely a different dynamic between a platonic friendship and a committed, romantic one. I have a best friend and it’s not my husband. But that’s because, for me, labeling my husband as such just doesn’t give him the full credit of his role in my life.

  15. If you ever want to marry your boyfriend and have a successful, long-enduring marriage, I suggest your boyfriend be your best friend. Marriages don’t work unless you are best friends. Mainly because marriage isn’t usually going out all the time, romancing, and coming home to a man who cooked you dinner after a long day. That may happen a few times while dating and a few times a year even in marriage, but marriage is more often left-overs and re-runs on TV. Just like we love spending time with our best girl friends talking and being bored together, it’s extremely important to enjoy boredom with your boyfriend (or husband). No relationship will last if it’s not built first and foremost on friendship.

    • I agree. The best relationships I have seen are all based in friendship. You can still maintain your outside friendships and do things as individuals, but why would you commit to spending the rest of your life with someone you aren’t best friends with? And aren’t all relationships, in theory, headed to marriage or a life-long commitment, isn’t that the point? I married my best friend and I couldn’t be happier. We’ve been together 10 years and if he wasn’t my best friend, I would probably be sick of him by now ;)

  16. I think it is important to draw the line and I wish I would have understood this earlier! You can be best friends with your boyfriend, sure, but what happens when he doesn’t want to be your boyfriend anymore? Odds are, he’s not going to be “friends” with you anymore either. Some couples manage to break up and stay friends, but I’m not one of them. When I love someone and they no longer love me, I can’t handle being the shell of what we were. That struggle proved to me once that my b/f of three years was not my best friend after all. If he was really my best friend he would have been there for me after the break-up, right? But of course he wasn’t…that would have been ridiculous! Other best friends had to step in for that one.

    Now I am married to a “new best friend,” but I’m okay with giving him best friend status because he’s not going anywhere :)

    • omg it’s totally a risk to allow your boyfriend to be your best friend. For me, the *not wanting to be my friend* after a breakup made me feel way more rejected than the breakup itself. My husband and I dated briefly when we were 15 and really took the time to develop our friend ship during our off/on teenage drama. Fourteen years and four kids later, our choice to become friends was definitely a good one. Somehow, having that extra connection to tether you to one another really helps you remember all of the things you love about the dude when you’re going through a rough patch.

  17. I have to disagree with this. My boyfriend is first and foremost my best friend, and hsa been for 5 years. Before we got together we’d hang out, watch sports, talk about classes and movies, and when we started dating I shared things with him that I wouldn’t even share with my best friends. We communicate with each other much more openly than with my other friends. It kind of seems to me (and please don’t think I’m judging you at all!!) that you might be over-thinking what your therapist said. I’m sure there are other friends that you have that respond to your conversations differently, like your boyfriend did. Maybe when your boyfriend was out with friends the other girlfriend showed up, and no one wanted her there, so he didn’t invite you based on his friends’ attitudes. I’ve been on that other side before, and I’ve been in relationships where they tried to draw this friendship line that I wasn’t allowed to cross. I think when you find someone who is the perfect fit you just can’t help but becoming best friends.

    • I don’t think you are judging! Don’t worry! I’m glad when people are as happy as you are :) I’m in a very healthy relationship, as well. The healthiest of my life, I’d say. I dated a best friend type once upon a time. We had great conversations but he wasn’t really supportive or into pampering. As deep as our friendship was, I just wanted a boyfriend who could take me to the ER without yelling at me for making him miss work (that happened – I mean, that’s extreme, but it’s an example of not gettin’ babied the way sometimes you need!). So when I started dating my current boyfriend, even though we shied away from emotionally geared conversations for a long time, his supportive nature won me over in a big way. We took it very slow. Not all men are great at talking about emotions immediately. But they listen and they hug and they try to do something nice for you to make you feel better and you have more in-depth conversations with your friends. Calling my current boyfriend a friend would honestly feel like less than what we are. We’ve never used that word. I’m very happy I didn’t toss him out just because he was at a loss the first time I tried to have real talk with him. Everyone is different, I guess, but I think the older you get – and the more you are dating men who weren’t friends first – the more you have to keep the idea of “friends” separate.

      Mary Traina | 8/29/2013 10:08 am
  18. What about when your boyfriend was a friend first? I had one of those years ago and it turned out horrible! Should you date guys that you were friends with first?

  19. Great article, I think I totally agree with you on most points.

    Except for this:
    After all, sometimes I, too, feel like having a date is a total buzz-kill; you’re always having to make sure they are comfortable and having fun.

    Honey chile, THEY should always have to make sure you are comfortable and having fun. You? Just sit there and be awesome and cool.

  20. I get what you’re saying, I loved this article. It is very insightful, of course they’re not friends, but that doesn’t mean they’re LESS than that, it’s just different. I guess my first reaction would’ve been the same as yours without the added context. I’m on a good relationship right now and this about sums up many conclusions I’ve had. I just hadn’t really put them into terms, but I’m definitely handling this relationship differently and you helped me understand it. Thank you for a good reading experience, this made me smile.

    • yes! You nailed it. I think that’s the one point I forgot to say… boyfriends aren’t friends, but they turn into something more complicated and deeper than a friend if you back off and let it develop. All the “STARTS with friendship” stuff is for lucky people haha.

      Mary Traina | 8/29/2013 09:08 am
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