The Mutual Friend Conundrum

Yesterday I included a someecard along with my post, mostly because it was funny and fitting for the subject matter. The card said: “Happy birthday to a friend of a friend who I now like more than the original friend.”

Like so many things I love, it’s funny because it’s true.

Or, in this case, could be true. I didn’t send the card to anyone specific, but I’d be lying if I pretended a specific friend and friend of a friend didn’t come to mind when I first saw it.

Haven’t we all seen this scenario play out? I’ve been the friend of a friend before… but I’ve also been the original friend. No matter what your role in this threesome, it’s dicey.

Dicey scenario 1: Mutual Friend introduces you to New Friend. You and New Friend get along famously. You are meant to be. But going forward, don’t you always feel like you have to invite Mutual Friend along? I do. If Mutual Friend introduced us, it’s because she thought we’d hit if off, but I would never want her to feel left out. And it’s plenty likely that part of the reason she introduced us was for her own benefit—if we can hang out three strong, then suddenly she can use her time more efficiently. See both of us at once. A twofer!

Dicey scenario 2: You are Mutual Friend. Suddenly you notice that your friends are hanging out without you. They have inside jokes and secret handshakes you know nothing about. On Facebook they both post about going to a matinee of The Back-Up Plan (you never know, there could be people seeing that). You check your phone for a missed call, your invite to the last-minute movie. Nothing. You remind yourself that even though you introduced them doesn’t mean you always have to be around for their playdates. But still, you kinda want to scream “Uhh hello? Remember me? The reason you two know each other in the first place??”

It’d be nice to think that we’re all mature adults, and once we grow up (ha!) we stop feeling left out. That we no longer need to worry about friends feeling slighted or ignored. (Ask any new bride how that “not worrying” plan worked out with her wedding party.) But like I said, I’ve been in both dicey scenarios. Here are my general solutions:

Dicey scenario 1: I always at least invite Mutual Friend along, unless I find something I have in common with New Friend (say, cooking) that Mutual Friend isn’t into. In that case, I’m usually ok inviting just the New Friend.

Dicey scenario 2: When friends who I introduced are hitting it off and suddenly seem to like each other better than they like me… well, I try to remind myself that it’s good to be a connector. Bringing people together, good karma, all of that. And then sometimes, I will admit, I say something passive aggressive like, “Isn’t it funny that I introduced you guys and now you’re, like, totally BFF?” I try not to, but we might as well lay it all on the table. This is a safe space, right?

Have you ever found yourself in either of these dicey scenarios? How’d you handle them?


Filed under The Search

14 responses to “The Mutual Friend Conundrum

  1. I’ve been on both sides of this equation, and every time – every single time! – it is awkward. I try to act like a grown-up, but my feelings are most definitely that of a twelve year-old.

  2. First off – you used one of my favorite word in your title. 🙂 I love the word conundrum.

    Secondly – I have unfortunately seen “The Back-up Plan”. *hangs head in shame* It was quite possibly the worst movie I have EVER seen. I didn’t have high hopes going into it, but sheesh, it was awful.

    Lastly – I haven’t been in this situation, but one of my best friend’s has and she really struggles with it. I always tell her to try not to feel left out and that they aren’t trying to intentionally hurt her, but I just never know what to say…

    • Jen

      Lisa, thanks for the heads-up! I knew it was getting terrible reviews, but sometimes a girl likes a trashy chickflick. But this sounds beyond “trashy good time.”

  3. Jen

    This happened to me many, many moons ago. My best friend in elementary school (see? told you, a long time ago!) had gone to a private school for a few years and was childhood besties with a third girl. In middle school, we all came together and me and third girl LITERALLY fought over our friend – nasty notes slipped into lockers and everything! In high school, our mutual best friend really started changing – by college, she had alienated both of us (me in a “soft” way, the third girl by going to France together and getting into a nasty screaming match).

    Now? Me and the “third” girl? Still close, still making jokes that date back to high school and referring to old flames that no one even remembers. Our mutual friend is but a name on Facebook…

  4. Jen

    P.S. There is an absolutely DELICIOUS white table wine called Conundrum. TRY IT.

  5. I’m in scenario #1 pretty much all the time because I met almost all of my friends here in Chicago through just 2 people – one of my girlfriends, and my boyfriend. My boyfriend just happened to be friends with a lot of girls (it’s not as weird as it sounds, I swear) so I’ve become pretty good friends with them while we’ve been dating. We hang out without my boyfriend all the time, and he doesn’t really care because we’re doing girly things like shopping or dishing about boys, and he wouldn’t want to do that anyway.

    As for the friends I made through my girlfriend, I have become closer friends with some of them than the mutual friend. She introduced me to all of her friends when I was new to town, knowing I didn’t know anyone, and she wanted us to all be friends. She’s introduced a lot of friends over the years I’ve known her, so I think she does feel like a connector, and she’s happy with that role. That’s probably really unusual though, right?

  6. There have been one or two occasions where I really liked the New Friend and would have liked to get to know her better. But I didn’t want to make the Mutual Friend feel like I was trying to take her place or something. Once, though, I tried to reach out to the Potential New Friend and gave her a birthday gift. She said thank you, but I only saw her a couple times through the Mutual Friend after that. Oh well.

  7. Sassafrass

    Hmmm, well this happened to me but in a twistier version. Mutual Friend introduced me and New Friend hoping we could all be BFF’s. New Friend and I HATE each other. Pretend for Mutual Friend’s sake but secretly ask her why in the world she would be friends with the other. After 2 years, all go to France together for a study abroad semester. Mutual Friend annoys both me and New Friend in Greece. New Friend and I get drunk together and bond walking down a winding path on the island of Santorini. By bond I mean discuss how terrible Mutual Friend was acting. Next day, New Friend and I are a done deal. Mutual Friend is of course forgiven. And we all three are still BFF’s to this day, 15 years later. Though living far apart. So sometimes a threesome really can satisfy everyone. 🙂

  8. I have found myself in both situations.

    I am the mutual friend amongst a number of my bridesmaids. I introduced them, though, long before they were to be in my wedding. It really stung the first time I learned they were doing stuff without me. I don’t think they intentionally didn’t include me, but it still feels thoughtless. With time, I’ve learned to get over it. It’s not like I include all of them every time I want to see one of them, even though they now all know each other.

    In another lifetime, I dated a boy. Through him, I met a co-worker of his, who was a girl. I then introduced girl to a friend of mine (boy) who she then proceeded to date. Boy and I didn’t date very long. Girl and friend of mine didn’t date long, either. But, girl and I remained friends for years after. Every once in a while we’d giggle that the boys didn’t last, but we did.

  9. JenD

    I’ve only been the ‘old friend’ in the mutual friend scenario…that was pretty much how I got dumped by a BFF! Guess she decided she liked her new friend better. I tried to like new friend but we just didn’t click. They are still friends last I heard but they’re no longer in my life (not even on Facebook). Oh well, at least it worked out for them!

  10. Lynda

    This is a touchy topic– so confusing the feelings we feel. It’s touchy, confusing, and a topic most people never approach (in real life) because as “adults”, we shouldn’t feel “left out”, or “jealous” of our friends playing with each other, like you said. Right? Friendships, unlike marriages, or romantic linkings, etc, should be free, voluntary, and always enhance our lives. If we introduce two friends, and they become BFFs, we should definitely feel happy for connecting two people (but unfortunately, yes, sometimes we don’t). We should be confident of our friendships with each one, independent of the other. What they do on their separate time away is theirs.

    I don’t think there’s any “unspoken” girlfriend rule here. Unlike the unspoken rules: you don’t date guys your girls have dated, had crushes on (even if it was back in 5th grade), or befriend their enemies, etc. Because, after all, this a person your friend likes, too. Right? I think it’s always best to be honest with all parties, and openly appreciate the old friend for what you had/have, and cherish, out loud, the fact that you’re lucky enough to have met someone who’s a PBFF, too. 🙂

    If for some reasons, these two friends, or one or the other “slinks” away, it was probably a long time coming anyway– and not at all the fault of this introduction. The depth and loyalty of our friendship with them, was obviously not as strong as we thought.

    Another great topic! Thanks, Rachel.


  11. After reading one of my posts, Lindsey ( suggested I come for a visit. And I’m so glad I did. A great post. Dicey situations abound…always. I have a friend who refers to introducing friends as “cross pollenating”.

    Glad to have met you!

    • Britt

      I am absolutely in this situation now as the old friend.
      I feel incredibly left out when they do thinks without me. And then when the three of us hang out together I feel like an outcast.
      And it especially sucks because sometimes one will ask the other to do stuff that they’ve never bothered to ask me to do before in our relationship.

  12. Anony

    I used to host dinner nights for friends and invited a close co-worker along just because. My co-worker asked if I thought one of my friends would want to hang out with her because she felt a connection. I said, probably just ask. Well, this co-worker has often asked her new-found friend to hang out, 1-on-1, without ever thinking of asking to hang out as a trio. I was happy to connect two people, but I was not fond of this co-worker making secretive play-dates and pushing me aside to be the friend that is only contacted for special favors. I also learned this was not the first time this co-worker used other party hosts to find 1-on-1 girlfriends.

    I think it’s important to attempt to include the mutual friend because he/she connected you to someone. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s understandable to hang out separately. But to start leaving out a mutual friend right off the bat is disrespectful to the person who even considered inviting you to a party to feel included.

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