Star-spangled bikinis aside, the Fourth of July isn’t the most sexy of all holidays (it certainly falls behind the romance-heavy celebrations like Valentine’s Day, New Years Eve, and Christmas). Perhaps part of my stance has to do with the fact that this year, my barbecue plate certainly won’t include a side dish of sex. That’s because I’m opting out of my boyfriend’s big July 4th bash this year—one of the recurring social events he’s been having with his friends for a decade. While at this point, his friends are my friends and my friends are his friends, and we all love each other and all that jazz…I just don’t know if I love them at an amount of 10-hours-at-a-faraway-beach-with-no-exit-plan. So, “learn to when to say no” is something I can successfully check off my to-do list.
I get that it appears as though I’m dead in the wrong in my choice to go this route. Because isn’t the golden rule of relationships that old proverb, “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends”? The argument makes sense to me; in the early days of your relationship, getting “with” your new squeeze’s friends is major. You don’t need to be a walking Cool Girl Who Can Hang trope, but being at least cordial with the people your love loves is a fair expectation if you want to last. That much I can handle, because I love my partner (and also, phew, he happens to know some good people and sometimes my introverted self is surprised by how much fun we can have).
But as the relationship ages and your social calendar gets twice as crowded with events and obligations from both sides of the couple’s friendship fences, the social burnout get real. And since we’ve already come to the general consensus that canceling plans with your friends is one of life’s great pleasures, how can we really be expected to show up to all of our S.O.’s friend’s gatherings? Is it okay to sort of pick and choose a handful of choice gatherings to attend? And, do the specifics gatherings in question matter? What do you say now, Spice Girls?
Well first, you’re certainly not required to RSVP yes to every hang session in the frantic effort to win good-partner points; if you feel socially overextended, embrace your JOMO and learn when to say no. “It’s important to find a middle ground with regards to socializing with your partner’s friends,” says relationship psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW. “There’s a fine line between being game and friendly, and trying too hard.”
“One very good way to gauge which events you should be showing up to is by asking your partner what events are important to them.” —relationship psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW
And there aren’t clear rules in place for what you should and don’t need to attend. To learn when to say no, the key is to create and nurture open lines of communication within your relationship about what expectations are. To stick to this, Hartstein recommends using a simple four-word rule: never assume, always ask. “One very good way to gauge which events you should be showing up to is by asking your partner what events are important to them,” she says. “When do they want you to come versus when are they happy to go solo?'”
So basically, you learn when to say no as a result of making your rules together for your relationship. You could make the commitment that you’ll be each other’s forever plus-one at a weddings, even if you’ll take refuge at the open bar for most of it. Birthdays can be a case-by-case affair: a best friend’s big 3-0 might call for you to attend coupled up, but a co-worker’s 32nd birthday happy hour may get a pass—especially if one of your personal friend’s is having a conflicting event. “Keep in mind that you don’t want to go overboard and pull away from your own friends and your own life,” Hartstein says. “It’s never healthy or balanced for anyone to quickly throw over their own life and throw themselves into someone else’s.”
That sense of preserving one’s self is largely what I keep in mind when my S.O. and I divvy up holiday plans. For instance, we do our best to compromise on plans with friends and family to create one mutual plan as a couple for Christmas. But for something like St. Patrick’s Day, unsentimental to both of us, I err on the side of brunch with my girlfriends. I’m Greek, he’s Italian, and neither of us have strong preferences about spending St. Patrick’s Day together at any specific event.
It turns out, at least for us, the Fourth of July falls in a similar camp: My boyfriend’s happy for me to join and not offended if I don’t want to. And, to be clear, I don’t want to. Ultimately, I think he’ll have a better time hanging with his friends while I get to clock in some QT with my friends: the cast of Stranger Things. From the comfort of my couch, those are some people I can spend 10 hours with.
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