I was a bit of a loner growing up. When people I knew talked about throwing a party and inviting “all of their friends,” I knew for me that would mean going to my neighbor’s house and asking if he (Jeremiah, co-author of this blog!) wanted to hang out. One of the advantages to that lifestyle, that I didn’t realize at the time, was that I never had to worry about my social time management. No girlfriend, very few friends, and living at home allowed me as much free time as I wanted. However, just a few years later, I had started working, gone through college, dated a couple of girls, and moved away from home. All of a sudden, I felt like I was being pulled in too many directions.
This feeling is usually strongest when there is a big change in your life: after you’ve been single for a year and you meet a girl; when you move away to college; when you join a club and suddenly meet 20 new people who share your interests. All of those events, in a vacuum, are great things – and many times you are actively seeking them out. But how do you manage to keep everyone happy at the same time?
My number one rule to help avoid the stress of managing relationships is to make sure I am happy. I am a pretty outgoing guy, but even I can only fake a smile for so long. If I always wish I was somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else, people around me are going to notice. That isn’t to say that you can’t make compromises or put others first – both of those are very important. But if you realize that almost every activity you are attending is just to make x, y, or z friend happy, you need to cut back and make some time for yourself. There is nothing wrong with treating yourself to a relaxing afternoon after work, all alone, and skipping a party.
Another major consideration to take into account is finding out what is most important to your significant other/family/friends. Let’s say your girlfriend is a social butterfly: one of those people who seems like she’s out with friends every day of the week. She might invite you to every social event – way more than you want to attend. Rather than suffering through and getting angry at her, sit down and ask her if it’s ok for you to skip sometimes and spend some quiet time at home. She may even find out that she wants to join you on some of those “relaxing night ins.” However, if you’re feeling lazy and your best friend wants you to help them with something you know is causing them stress, suck it up and help them. If it’s important to them, it should be important to you.
A final point to remember is that no two people, situations or relationships are the same. In my case, my fiancee and I would both usually rather stay at home than go out to a bar – that part is easy for us. However, we both had to adjust to our families’ social levels. I was used to seeing my family a few times a year at major holidays; we are all very close, and talk on the phone and over Skype all the time. However, her family all lives in close proximity, and get together at least a few times a month. For a while, I made sure to attend every family function with her – I knew it was important, and I was still in the “puppy love” phase of the relationship. As time passed, I got a little tired of all the driving and started trying to weasel my way out of obligations with her family. She played it cool, but I could see she was getting frustrated. Finally, after way too long, we sat down and had a long talk. We both started off upset at the other person: “we just saw them last week, why is it a big deal?” “I feel like you don’t like spending time with my family, and they ask why you aren’t with me.” We learned a lot from that conversation, and I realized that it’s a huge part of her life to spend any chance she gets with her family. I agreed to make a change, and make sure I don’t miss those family events.
As with almost anything, it will take some growing pains to get to the right balance of time. If you put in the effort, and talk about possible conflicts before they grow into actual issues, you will find that juggling family, friends, and a significant other is a great problem to have.