In love and the pub, I am so alone

You choose a new partner, but you don't choose his old friends. Victoria Thorpe finds herself in the awkward role of intrusive outsider
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I am sitting in a pub feeling hugely uncomfortable. It is a Saturday night in Camden and the whole world is getting horrendously drunk. Conversation is the meaningless, opinionated waffle that comes only after four hours of alcohol abuse. Opposite me, three girls are chatting and laughing. On the other side, a group of blokes are standing in pint-and-fag pose, sorting out the world. I am with them all; we are all in the same group. And yet we're not, not really.

These are my partner's friends. I am among them only because I am his girlfriend - there is no shared history between us, no memories of long conversations into the night, sobbing fits or blissful successes. I've been propelled into their world by falling in love with Tim, their mate.

Meeting your partner's friends can be a nightmare. Logic would suggest that it should be problem-free: a person is usually attracted to similar types of people; it should follow that everyone has lots in common. Unfortunately, it's rarely that simple. Much as I would love the girls to make room on their couch and let me in on the joke, or the boys to ask me my opinion on the latest Arsenal defeat (hurrah), or whether Kula Shaker really are a bunch of posturing ponces (not at all), I know it's not going to happen. They do not welcome me, for it seems that I have spoilt something by appearing in their lives; I have taken their friend away.

The problem is never stated or articulated, so Tim believes there isn't a problem. A couple of his close girlfriends clearly resent me, and in their position I might feel the same. It's obvious that they feel their importance to him will decrease. I can also see that one of them is attracted to him. She's playing Kristin Scott Thomas to his Hugh Grant in the unreciprocated love scene in Four Weddings. Unfortunately, that makes me Duckface.

Male friendships are different again - perhaps slightly less complicated, but they should not be underestimated as problem zones. "It is practically impossible for one friend not to mind when the other gets a serious partner," Roger Look, a clinical psychologist, says. "They know that to some extent they are being replaced, that the relationship is going to change and that they will see a lot less of them."

This is why I feel so guilty. Because it is true, I have changed the nature of Tim's friendships. He and his best mate Mark used to be together all the time. Now Tim's with me. But instead of Mark being happy for him, he simply seems to resent it and feels that Tim has let him down.

According to Roger Look, although the new partner may feel bad there is very little he or she can do. "It's really up to the person who is already established in the group. There's a danger that if the new partner tries too hard to make friends, they come across as pushy. What you can do is try to establish that you're not a possessive person. If you're out with his friends, strike up conversations with other people; don't stay with your partner all night."

Tried that. Tried sitting at opposite ends of the pub table from Tim and ignoring him all night, in spite of the fact he's the only one I want to talk to. Tried to make conversations with his friends. Tried apologising to Mark for screwing up a lifetime's friendship (bad move). Nothing seems to help, and instead I am beginning to resent their resentment. Tim's friends seem to think only of the effect our relationship is having on their lives, without realising that their friendship is beginning to affect our relationship.

A friend, Lucy, found a way of coping. She stopped seeing her partner's friends. Refused to go. They had all been at university together and she simply got sick of listening to anecdotes about people she didn't know, laughing at jokes she didn't understand, and being ignored for hours. She didn't like the situation, so she removed herself from it.

"It's not the worst way of coping," says Roger Look, "but the best way is to try and change the way you feel about it. Just because you may not be contributing much to the conversation, it doesn't mean that's a bad thing. And give your partner a break - he may be trying to steer the conversation round to things you know about, but the majority of the others probably haven't given it a thought."

He is right, of course, but these things do tend to spiral out of control. I know I should be tolerant and positive and believe that everything will be OK. But I think longingly of the evenings we spend with my friends, who are mostly in couples, and how easy it seems.

Back in publand, a horrible recollection occurs. It's Mark's birthday next week. Dinner, pub, silent discourse with a bottle of Diamond White. The same routine. Oh, stuff the positive attitude. To be honest, a couple of bottles of red with Lucy and an extended moaning session sounds a whole lot more enjoyable.

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