Meeting your partner’s friends, like meeting parents or family, is a big step — we’re often nervous about it because we know that what these people think of us has a lot of significance to our partner. We may have been the friend before who doesn’t think a new date is good enough or the right fit for our friend, and we certainly don’t want to be on the receiving end of this. Getting our date’s friends to like us feels like a really big deal.
Once that first meeting is over, though, there’s still the rest of your relationship ahead of you — like family, these people will be here for the long haul. If your relationship ends up being a serious and long-term one, these people will be in your life for the long haul, too — part of committing to a relationship with your partner is investing in the people they care about. So what does it look like to actively pursue a relationship with the people that matter most to your partner? It can sound daunting, but it’s not impossible — here’s how I recommend you go about making friends with your partner’s friends.
Find out what they mean to your partner
A key part of honoring the friendships that your partner value the most is understanding what those friendships actually mean. In the same way that you probably got to know your partner and built emotional intimacy by bringing a spirit of curiosity and enthusiasm to their inner life — what makes them tick? What lights them up? What are their dreams? What are their greatest fears? — you can bring this energy to the relationships they have outside of you.
Ask genuine questions about those relationships, and listen actively and deeply to the answers. How did they meet their best friend? What helped them get so close? What has this person been there for, and how did they support your partner? What parts of them does your partner feel this friend really ‘gets’ or understands, and why does that mean so much to them?
Learning more about this isn’t just gathering intel — it helps you think about what kind of space you want to create for this person in your life, as well. You might be interested to meet their old friend from college that they watch romcoms with and are in a book club with, but if you know that this friend also helped your loved one cook and clean during the worst of their depression when they couldn’t do it themselves, or that this was the person your partner called when their parent passed away, you may feel differently and more strongly.
Our partner’s close friends have likely done the kind of support and care work for our love in the past that we, as their now-partner, want to do for them in the present; hearing about the way our partner’s loved ones have shown up for them is also important for us to hear because it helps us know how they want us to show up for them, too. We can also communicate a level of admiration and gratitude to these friends, whether it’s explicit or implicit, for caring for someone we love.
Invest in relationship building beyond the surface level
When you do get to share space and time with your partner’s friends — which may be frequently if you live in the area, or less often if these friends live farther — think about what it looks like to actually build a connection with them, rather than just pass the time cordially. Your partner is likely your common ground, and that can be a strong place to start, as well as fun and fulfilling for you. What was your partner like when this friend met them? What were the two of them like as children/teens/college students/coworkers together? What are their favorite memories or stories? This can be a bridge to learn more about the friend, too — why were they in that graduate program they met your partner in? What did they think of the company they both worked at? How did they get from there to the career that they’re in now?
You can also be mindful of what your partner shares about their friends in an active way — more than just listening to your partner to be polite, interact with this information as if it’s about a person you’re close to (because you hope it will be!). Is your partner’s bff having a tough time with their dissertation? You can offer to cowork with them. Did they just go through a big breakup? Maybe suggest that you and your partner make dinner to treat them. You can act on these things without your partner involved, too — did you see a funny meme about a movie you know your partner’s friend loves? Go ahead and send it to them! It’ll mean a lot to them that you remembered something about them.
Explore a friendship outside of your partner — and with your partner in mind
This last point is key — although you don’t need to be as close with your partner’s friends as they are (and actually probably shouldn’t be), it’s a great sign if you and your partners’ friends are comfortable hanging out or at least interacting without your partner as a buffer. If, say, you and your partner are meeting their friend for dinner but your partner ends up running 30 minutes late, it shouldn’t feel like an interminable nightmare to have to talk with them on your own for that half-hour — ideally, you’ve developed enough camaraderie with them that you know about their life, their friends, their relationship, their job, and can catch up and have fun without your partner having to carry the conversation.
This matters not only because it’s convenient — although it is! — but also because all of us, including your partner, need as broad a support system as we can get. Ideally, all of our loved ones can coordinate to support us; your partner should be able to have support from you, but not just you. Rides to the airport, care after surgery, someone to call in a crisis — all of these are things that the broader care network of both you and your partner’s friends can coordinate. And who knows, maybe in the process they really will become your friends too.