What Cost Love?

I’m breaking my own rule here, but this new research couldn’t wait until Wednesday. It’s too fascinating.

Think true love is priceless? Think again. According to Oxford University researchers, led by Robin Dunbar (the anthropologist behind the 150-person max social network), the cost of a romantic relationship is exactly two friendships.

According to the study, the average person has an inner core of five friends (the people we see at least once a week, the ones we count on in a crisis), but as a new romance grows, those numbers change. “People who are in romantic relationships, instead of having the typical five [individuals] on average, they only have four in that circle,” Dunbar told the BBC. “And bearing in mind that one of those is the new person that’s come into your life, it means you’ve had to give up two others.”

When I cited this to a colleague yesterday she seemed unsurprised. She lost a friend when she started dating her husband, she said, because that friend had just gotten out of a relationship and was bitter that anyone else was happy and in love.

Friendships end, or diminish, for various reasons when it comes to romance. Maybe your BFF doesn’t like your significant other (or vice versa). Or maybe she doesn’t want to hang out because she hates feeling like the third wheel.

Researchers chalk the lost friendships up to time constraints. When you’re dedicating a chunk of your schedule to romance, girl-time gets whittled down. And as soon as you stop seeing friends consistently, “emotional engagement starts to drop off, and quickly.”

Now that we’re aware of this friend-for-romance tradeoff, we should probably do something about it.

If you’re in a romantic relationship, remind yourself of the importance of platonic ones. They’re meaningful especially when you’re in love. Nothing kills passion like talking to your man about the TMI stuff. He doesn’t want to hear about bodily functions, or how your butt looks in those jeans, or your 800th analysis of the conversation with your mom last week. That’s what BFFs are for.

Have you lost friendships due to romance? What should people do to avoid this relationship evil? Is it possible to maintain close friendships and a quality romantic relationship, or should we just accept we can’t have it all?


Filed under The Search

8 responses to “What Cost Love?

  1. Fanfan

    I think some men do like to talk about girlie topics. My boyfriend is a big fan and some of my male friends at college do, too.

    How did your BFF hunt go? Did you eventually “hook up” with the girl in the retail store?

  2. It gets even more complicated when friendships are between families. Sometimes the wives get along, but the husbands don’t. Or the children don’t exactly bring out the best in each other.

    I think we can have friendships along with our romantic relationship, but each person must be supportive of the other’s choice of friends. I think it is difficult to be friends with someone your spouse absolutely detests.

  3. Megan

    I’ve had a lot of friends get married recently, and they drop off the face of the planet. We’ve put SO much emphasis on marriage in this culture – and it’s STILL true (albeit unspoken) that women are seen as more valuable as human beings if they are attached to a man. This might be one reason why women sacrifice their friendships for romance. All this sounds really bitter, but it’s happened to me so many times and I feel like the only one who tries to make a conscientious effort not to ditch my friends for my man on a regular basis.
    I do agree, though, with my friend who recently got married: “If you can’t be friends with my wife, you can’t be friends with me.”

  4. Ashley

    This topic is so timely, thank you.
    I was talking to a girlfriend of mine the other day about not hearing from a different friend (whom I’m in a long-distance friendship with) for an extremely long period of time. And the friend I was talking to had brought up the idea that perhaps it’s not meant intentionally, but her and her husband are in their first year of marriage and from her (the friend talking with me) experience, her friendship got weaker. There was a period of time where she didn’t hear from her friend and then it started to pick back up again.
    So I’d say I’ve noticed the loss of friendship after the couple has been together for awhile. Perhaps, this is because I haven’t been with too many friends prior to their romantic partnering, or maybe I was too busy doing my own thing to realize the change off-the-bat.
    But within the first year of marriage, I think couples are so wound up in themselves and their love, their relationship and all the changes taking place, that they either 1) don’t have the energy to put into another relationship 2) don’t have the time or 3) are too wrapped up in the ‘marriage/love’ life to see their actions and repercussions.
    However, being the friend that is being pushed to the back-burner, what options do you have to mend the friendship, to keep the friendship going strong? Do you have any options? It surely isn’t fair and if the friendship means anything to you, it’s an emotional twister in your mind.
    This is a real eye opener, that’s for sure! Thank you for breaking the ‘routine’ and sharing the research today!

  5. Lorrie Paige

    I think it’s best to have a committed, regular girl friend(s) time, like meet every week or every other week on a Sunday for brunch. This keeps you in touch with your friends and still have that quality time for your romantic relationship. It would be similar to the way the ladies of Sex and the City did when they met once a week at this café for brunch or lunch.

    I disagree with the study that said the average person has an inner core of 5 friends; if so, I think they included schoolkids as well for the bulk of that average.

  6. My BFF doesn’t live locally. When I was dating and then married my husband, friend and I were still in touch on a regular basis. He’s had a GF for a couple of years now and while the friendship hasn’t disappeared, he’s very much not in touch. Sad 😦

  7. Virginia

    I saw an article about this study and immediately thought of your blog.
    I completely relate to this story. My first serious relationship (2.5 years) taught me an important lesson. My ex was shy, so our group get-togethers hadn’t gone well and I started staying home with him over going out. Since we were all at the same university, I didn’t realized how much I had stopped hanging out with my friends until I tried to reconnect- I felt so out of touch. I was lucky that my friends were willing to get reacquainted and didn’t snub me for my bad behavior! I realized the situation was entirely my fault- he never asked me to give up time with my friends or for myself, I had done it voluntarily.
    Now I am very sensitive to keeping connected with my girlfriends. It can be difficult, but we try to meet up once a month for girls’ night, which can vary from low key (DVDs and games) to going out (dinner, drinks, or dancing). We also have an email chain, which is good for keeping up with the day to day details. Even though we might talk less if one of us is in a relationship, we still keep in touch and have a blast the times we are able to see each other.

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