My childhood friend recently made an announcement: he was bringing the woman he was dating to a party to meet his friends.
This was the first time he introduced a girlfriend to his friends in a while. I couldn’t help wondering: why was this woman meeting his friends—what does it mean? Was their relationship becoming serious?
So after the party, I asked him.
“It’s a test,” admitted Ryan Kardish, 29, a digital platform strategist in Toronto. “I think it’s a statement that the relationship is at a further stage than something casual or has the potential to work beyond that state.”
Why does he want me to meet his friends?
Plenty of time is spent discussing the importance of a guy introducing his partner to his parents—there are endless movies, TV episodes and sketch comedy routines about it. But what does it mean when someone is invited to meet their boyfriend’s friends?
“It really depends,” explained Tracy Ross, a New York couples’ therapist with more than 25 years of experience. “It could mean a lot or it could mean nothing.”
Ross explained that if you’ve been dating a while, and it feels significant, then it may be as serious as you think.
“They’re proud of you, they want to show you off or they want to take it to the next level,” she said. “They want you to know they want to integrate you more into their life.”
But you could also overthink it. “Sometimes it’s just there’s an event, they need a date, and you’re the person they’re dating,” Ross said.
Meeting his friends: What does it mean to him?
For Ryan, a party with his friends came up, and he thought it’d be a good excuse to introduce the woman he was dating to his friends. But he also saw it as an opportunity to ask himself some questions about the relationship.
“Is she going to work out? Is it what I’m feeling? Do I need my friends to validate what is real? Am I going to change my opinion? Do they see her in the same way as I do?”
While meeting his friends is a significant step according to Ryan, it’s not at the same level as meeting his parents.
“When I go to my parents, it has more of a serious tone to it,” he said. “So it’s more, do they really share in the same values, same traditions, have the same outlook for life that I do? I think friends can gauge how you are in the moment. Like, you seem truly happy or you two both really seem to complement each other well.”
Ken Porpora, a 32-year-old writer in New York, said when he first introduced his current boyfriend to his friends it was an even bigger deal than when he introduced him to his parents.
“I think it was more pressure because we’re all around the same age and [my friends] will be the ones talking to him on a daily basis. They’ll be the ones talking to him if we have a fight or something,” he said.
“If my mom is like, ‘I hate him,’ then it’s more like, ‘shut up mom,’” Ken added with a laugh. “But if my friend is like, ‘I don’t like him,’ that resonates a bit more for whatever reason.”
In her therapy practice, Ross said she’s found that meeting his friends can be a very important step in a relationship.
“I hear from a lot of people, ‘Yeah, I love that she gets along with my friends’ and ‘My friends like her and she likes them.’ It’s an important aspect of a relationship that probably gets overlooked a lot.”
Tips for meeting his friends
As you prepare to meet your boyfriend’s friends, keeping these tips in mind should lead to a smooth introduction.
Don’t air dirty laundry
Chances are, your boyfriend uses you as a sounding board for things that frustrate him, including his friends. But those complaints should remain between the two of you, or else his friends may conclude that neither he nor you can be trusted.
Lean into your strengths
Do you always have a crowd laughing? Are you a fantastic cook? A sports nut? Whatever your strongest qualities, lean into those when meeting his friends. And if possible, plan the introduction around them—if you’re really into sports, a baseball game is a great way to meet them and remain in your element.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not
On the flip side of that coin, pretending to be something other than your authentic self because you think you’ll fit in better is a recipe for disaster. Imagine being a cat person but pretending to love dogs because some of his friends have dogs—could you really keep that up if the relationship lasts a long time?
Be kind to him
It’s not unusual for close groups of friends to bond over a little good-natured teasing. But while your instinct may be to join in the pile-on to fit in with the group, it’s a bad idea. You’re still an outsider to his friends, and it may appear to them that you’re treating their friend poorly.
Don’t back down
Unfair as it may be, you may receive some of that same teasing from his friends as a “test” of sorts to make sure you can fit in with the group. As long as it’s gentle and good-natured, you should be able to show that you can take it—and even dish out a little of your own.
Some of the most common advice for making a good first impression is to listen more than you talk, and the same is true here. It’s the easiest way to show anyone—including his friends—that they’re important to you and that you genuinely want to get to know them.
Keep the PDA to a minimum
Most people aren’t huge fans of seeing other people engage in public displays of affection, but it gets really weird when one of the people involved is a close friend. Some light hand holding or leg touching is probably fine, but resist the urge to sin on top of one another or start a spontaneous makeout session.
If you have the bad luck of meeting his friends in a setting you’re not fond of, it’s tempting to do some quick hellos before retreating to your phone until it’s over. But that’s no way to make a first impression, and will likely be off-putting to both him and his friends. Find a way to include yourself in the activities and conversations, and you may have a better time than you originally planned.
Similar to how it’s a good idea to do lots of listening when meeting new people, it’s also important to ask them questions about themselves. Again, it’s about demonstrating that you’re trying to get to know them. People also tend to gain a favorable opinion of others when they’re able to talk a lot about themselves, and this is the perfect opportunity to do that.
Don’t obsess over inside jokes
Every group of friends has them, and his friends are likely no exception. While it’s tempting to try to have them explained to feel like you’re part of the group, it would be awkward—people value unique connections. Just give it time, there are sure to be more that you’ll be present for and therefore a part of.
Even if the setting isn’t ideal, getting to know the people who are a big part of his life is an opportunity to understand him even better. That should be a fun, exciting experience.
You can also do some strategic planning. Going into the meeting, Ross said it’s a good idea to ask your boyfriend what you should expect. Questions like, “Who are these people to you? Are they important? Are they meaningful? How do they know you? Do I have anything in common with any of them?”
Ross also warned boyfriends to make sure their date feels comfortable. “You have to present as ‘We’re a unit,’ at least right now. ‘We are here together as a unit and we are relating to you as a pair. I’m not doing my friend solo thing with you.’”
While Ryan said he always primes his dates and his friends beforehand, he revealed that it’s a major plus if she can fend for herself.
“I am generally attracted to, and would want someone, who could just jump into any situation and kind of survive.”
Ken also said it was important to him that his partner move around the room and chat with his friends independently.
“When I introduced him to my friends, it was kind of nice when he was able to kind of drift away and have their own relationship because ultimately that’s what I wanted,” Ken said.
So by all means go out together as a couple, but it’s a good idea to be yourself and show him you can stand on your own two feet.
He introduced me to his friends. Now what?
Sometimes meeting his friends doesn’t go perfectly well. Friends can be testy and protective or you just don’t gel for whatever reason.
“You enter any new person into a group and the whole dynamic shifts,” Ross explained.
But even if the meeting goes poorly, it gives you a chance to assess how your relationship is outside of a one-on-one dynamic.
“Look at it as an opportunity not just to meet the person or to take the relationship to the next level, but to learn about each other,” Ross said. “Because we all kind of adapt our behavior a little bit with different people in different situations.”
So if you’re invited to meet his friends—go for it. Chances are it’ll go well. But If you’re feeling petrified, then that may be a sign you should hold off.
“If you feel like you’re going to just be uncomfortable all night, then that just tells you maybe you’re not ready to meet their friends,” Ross said.