HI, KELLY: I’m considered part of the “popular group” in school. All my friends are pretty popular and I’ve been friends with them for a long time. The problem is I like a guy I met this year in my English class who is from a totally different group than mine. His group is more quiet, and they are more into things like music and skating. But he’s a really smart guy and is so funny. When we talk, he always makes me laugh. We started to text because we did a group project and had a group text going, but now we snap each other all the time and he cracks me up.
Recently he privately snapped a question at me that said, “Would you go out with an unpopular since you are just so cool?” I knew he was kidding about the cool thing but now I know he likes me too. I answered back “I think so why” and he then asked “how would your friends take that?” I told him I didn’t care and that it doesn’t matter. When I told one of my best friends I was kind of crushing on him, she laughed and said that she thought he was cute before, too, and he seems cool and should hang out with us sometime. When I told him this later, he said, “She only said that because of you. Your friends would never welcome me if you weren’t asking them to. I don’t want to hang out with your friends because it’d be awkward and we don’t have anything in common. I’d rather not be in that situation.”
I was kind of in shock because I’d hang out with his friends if he asked me, but he doesn’t seem open at all to hanging out with my friends, so maybe this won’t work. If he never hangs with my friends, I know we won’t make it as a couple because I love my friends and they would have my back in a minute if I ever needed them.
What should I do? My friends are “popular,” but they’re nice people and honestly I don’t think they would care as much as he would. I really like him and I know he really likes me, but can two people from totally different groups make it work or will our different friend groups be the death of us?
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DEAR DEVAN: You ask a good question. Each one of us is like a hub of a wheel, able to build relationships and friendships around ourselves that provide us with the necessary strength to feel successful and accepted. What matters most isn’t the groups you come from, it’s the approach you take to accepting each other and respecting what makes you different.
If someone is open to meeting people from different groups and forming friendships with others outside their social circle, then the odds are they will make strong connections and build healthy relationships. If they are opposed to getting to know new people or judge people based strictly on the group they hang out with, they will be limiting their social growth and narrowing their opportunity to make new friends. The guy you are interested in sounds more like the latter, which is why you are concerned and are having red flags about furthering this relationship. If he can’t accept or be open to your friends then building a lasting relationship will be difficult.
No one is chained to their clique, nor are they defined strictly by who they hang out with. His group is different than yours but neither is better. You both have the chance to expand your friendships and meet new people. This should be seen as an opportunity, not a burden.
Perhaps your group is more intimidating to him than welcoming. You don’t feel threatened by his friends, but maybe he feels judged and threatened by yours. Find out what his resistance is to hanging out with your friends. What are his fears? Have they said anything mean or derogative to him before? Is he nervous about how his friends would feel if he hung out with yours? Communicate with him and allow him to share why he seems so resistant to getting to know your friends.
Talk to him about why you love your friends and how you see them as more accepting than he is giving them credit for being. Give examples of what makes them good friends. Perhaps he’s heard the negative on them and needs to know what makes them good people. Ask him to get to know them slowly. Don’t have him come hang out with the whole group all at one time – that could be overwhelming. Let him get to know one or two people at first and pick warm and welcoming friends. Hopefully, he slowly warms up to your friends and you get to know his friends as well. Give it time and try not to rush the process. Both of you can learn about being out of your social comfort zone.
If he continues to resist and puts up a wall to your friends (or vice versa), this relationship could be difficult. If he likes you, he has to accept you. Not wanting to ever hang out with your friends could cause tension and a lot of unneeded fighting. I’m not sure it’s worth it. He should be willing to get to know your friends just as you are willing to get to know his. If you can’t find balance in the relationship that will allow you to maintain your friendships, then you will isolate yourself and push your friends away.
Assumptions can lead to stereotypes and unfair judgments about individuals and groups. Model acceptance to him by getting to know his friends. Encourage him to get to know your friends but don’t force it on him. It is possible for two people from two different groups to come together and make a relationship work. We all know some couples who seem so mismatched that we wonder how they ever got together, yet who have learned to enjoy each other and seem so happy together. It all comes down to an open mind, an acceptance of something different and the willingness to expand your social circle.