The scenario is a common one – it’s happened to me and, while writing this piece, I did an informal survey and asked a handful of women in my life if they were familiar with the phenomenon of fake-friending. All them were. And almost all of them – myself included – admitted to having been on both sides. As a person with a lot of close male friends, I’ve fake-friended multiple new girlfriends in the interest of research (Because really? Her? Is she funny or something? He told me he doesn’t even like brunettes!), and I’ve been the new girlfriend who suddenly had a suspiciously good-looking college friend of my new boyfriend Facebook messaging me that “we should get together.”
It usually goes like this: a man and a woman begin dating and eventually get to a point where they start to meet each other’s friends. If they are well-adjusted, normal adults, they will probably have friends of both genders. Maybe it’s awesome. Maybe the new girlfriend and the female friends genuinely have a lot in common — they do have similar taste in men, after all — and everyone becomes friends and the world continues to turn in perfect harmony.
But probably, because humans are just sacks of guts and hormones, at least one of those female friends will likely have or have had feelings for the newly-spoken-for. Maybe they dated or slept together once (or for a while*) and it didn’t work out. Whatever the specifics, the dynamic is the same: the female friend doesn’t necessarily want to date the guy, but she doesn’t want him dating that girl. And instead of admitting that (and thus, admitting her feelings), the platonic female friend will launch an attack of niceness.
But really, she is getting close with the new girlfriend out of a kind of masochistic curiosity, wherein she fake-friends to gather information that will either assure her that the new girlfriend definitely isn’t good enough for her friend, or better yet, give her ammunition to justify her dislike.
What kind of (probably really stupid) music does she like? What (overly-trendy, desperate-to-impress) bars does she recommend? Does she have an incredible, enviable job, or does she do something lame?
The subconscious logic goes like this: At least if you know the man you have feelings for (or are just really protective of) is with someone who has concrete flaws (she majored in something you know that he thinks is useless! She has an allergy to gluten and he really, really likes bread!) assessed through various “we-should-be-friends” happy hours and plenty of social media recon, she is less of a creature of sickening mystery, and more of a real human being that he will probably break up with eventually. Sooner, hopefully, rather than later.
Until you unravel the mystery, the new girlfriend will be the embodiment of every reason that you and your male friend aren’t holding hands over a shared pizza on a Thursday night – even if you didn’t really like him that way to begin with. Seeing him happy with someone else will just make you feel, in some weird way, like you weren’t enough. It’s totally screwed up and irrational, but that’s how it goes.
The new girlfriend is not faultless here either. She usually gets wise pretty quickly. Because the only reason to be friends with your new boyfriend’s female friend who obviously dislikes you is … oh wait, there isn’t one.
There’s a fear that new girlfriends have (I certainly have), which is that, in some kind of early-2000s-Freddie-Prinze-Jr.-like plot, you will become the wench girlfriend (common trope), and that his female friend is actually the likeable protagonist in the love story. The one that had all of those shared experiences with your boyfriend before you came along. The one who already knows his mother’s first name. The one who is being wronged because he just can’t see past her glasses and overalls or whatever. She is a reminder that he had a life before you and it was good. And it could be good again without you in it. And that maybe, just maybe, he will realize he was destined to be with her from the beginning. So, that’s her reason for returning the fake-friendship.
Suddenly, there’s an audience to the new girlfriend’s every minor success – every promotion, every personal best on a run, every time she drinks a kale smoothie like a healthy adult — except it’s not the new boyfriend, it’s his female friend. Just as the female friend sees the new girlfriend as the manifestation of all the reasons that she and the male friend aren’t dating, the new girlfriend sees the female friend as a timebomb of relationship ruin.
This means more selfies where she looks cute with him, which the new friend will instantly “Like” and comment on! More check-ins together! More humble-bragging about her incredible job! Her incredible cat! Her incredible life!
Needless to say, none of this is healthy for anyone. Because as much as the friend feels like garbage for Facebook stalking, the new girlfriend feels equally gross turning her budding relationship into a platform for ego-stroking. It pits women against each other, which is never beneficial, and it creates a toxic environment when, say, everyone attends a party together. It’s also an emotionally exhausting waste of valuable brain space that you could be using for, oh, anything worth your time.
So what to do?
If you are the platonic female friend, once the feeling of jealousy or protectiveness –or whatever you call it — passes, try to genuinely be her friend because you care about your male friend. Take an interest in the things about her that you have in common. Ask about her family, her childhood — get to know her as a human being. Don’t get to know her so you can know what to hate about her.
And if that’s just not possible, be honest with yourself and with him and tell him being friends with his new girlfriend makes you uncomfortable.. I can’t imagine I’m the only person who has spent late nights, alone in bed, cruising through years and years of another woman’s tagged Facebook photos to see if she ever attended a morally problematic “Cowboys and Indians” themed party. It’s not a good place to be. I don’t recommend going there.
If you’re the new girlfriend, it’s simple: don’t try to be anything you’re not. If your boyfriend’s female friend comes knocking for an after-work drink, treat her like you would a new, potential friend. No need to try to impress her or prove yourself. Give her the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume that she is trying to steal your boyfriend.
Similarly, if you can’t be her friend, you have no obligation to maintain a charade. Sure, your boyfriend would love it if you got along with all of his friends, but he’ll probably understand if you don’t.
This isn’t an unfamiliar scenario for most of us – like I’ve said, I’ve both humblebragged my way through happy hour with a girl that my new boyfriend slept with once and spite-Liked on Facebook the fact that my male friend’s new girlfriend just ran her first marathon (GOOD FOR YOU. NO REALLY!!!!) – but it’s still not really the kind of thing any of us like to admit to. It feeds into the culture of women one-upping each other and competing for men. And any time we can help curb the kind of lady-on-lady crap that makes everyone feel awful, it’s worth addressing.
*All of this could also go for exes who are now just friends, though there are deeper implications and potential pitfalls there, like that they are exes which means they were at one point actually both into each other, which means they could probably do that again.
[Photo from Shutterstock]