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See below for the eighth column of ASK ESMOND!

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Let's be honest with each other for a moment. This is my eighth column for the Shelktone website, and I've known every person who's written in with a question. That's not a complaint; I'm just saying that while these questioners may be anonymous to you, in reality, they're mostly people with whom I went to college. And so, for the most part, I can usually figure out just what they're talking about when they describe their problems. But for my latest question, while I understand what the person is saying, I'm clueless as to the details. So I'm left guessing to whom she might be referring, and that's just all sorts of fun.

Dear Mr. Esmond,

My topic concerns the maintenance of friendships when affected by a relationship with a significant other; specifically, friends who have disappeared into the arms of their significant others with no sign of ever returning. Here is my frantic slew of questions:

What's the significance of "girl time" or "boy time?" How important is this in the face of a dating relationship? How do you go about hanging out with your friend but not their significant other? And perhaps, more importantly: WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU LIKE TWO PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS BUT NOT AS A COUPLE?

And if it seems like this "boy time" or "girl time" isn't happening, how do you get over feeling resentment towards a friend who has "let you down?" For example: one who repeatedly hails that something like "boy time" or "girl time" is important and then fails to support it. Or only goes out ONLY when the significant other is out for a "boys' or girl's night"... and it is convenient? Is it beneficial or harmful to the friendship to voice concerns when this becomes a pattern?

Advise us, oh wise one.

-Insignificant

Well, we've all been through this - in fact, we've probably been on both ends of it. And you'd think that as we push thirty, we'd be better equipped at balancing our time between friends and significant others. But you'd be overestimating us.

Hey, you know what? I just got what the writer meant by signing it "Insignificant." See, she's not the "significant other," so in that way she's "insignificant," but because the person in question isn't spending the requisite amount of "friend time" with her, she's really being treated as though she were "insignificant" entirely. That's clever. I can't believe it took me that long to figure it out.

That pretty much spells out the situation, too. You see the impression we risk leaving when we hole ourselves up with our brand new boyfriends/girlfriends? It's a shame. Of course, when someone sets out on a new relationship, they certainly never intend to ignore their friends, it just sort of happens. Why is this?

First of all, let's face it. What were you going to do anyway? Go to a bar, talk about which Tom Waits album is the best? Make fun of people doing karaoke? Rehash the finer points of your last failed relationship? As much as we love hanging out with our friends, it usually pales in comparison to the heartfelt declarations of devotion and non-stop jackrabbit sex with which we're presented at the outset of a new relationship. In the earliest stages, one can hardly fault someone for staying shacked up a while.

But as time goes on, it's important to find a balance. Important so that our friends don't feel "insignificant" (I just love that), and also important to give the new relationship some room to breathe. I'd say "friend time" (Let's all try to be mature enough to not separate it into "boy time" and "girl time." Do we really only have friends of the same gender? Haven't we matured at all?) is significant - but, like most things in life, just how significant is hard to define.

It's natural for friends to feel a little jilted in these situations, particularly if they're either a) without a significant other of their own; or, b) well-entrenched in a long-term relationship, having already struck a perfect balance between "friend time" and "love time." Ideally, we'd all start new relationships at about the same time (let's say June 20th, shall we?), so we could all spend six months or so out of the public eye without missing each other. But the logistics would be a total nightmare.

It's just as natural for the New Lovers (I'm not coming up with a better term, even though I really hate how that one sounds) to get a little inconsiderate in these early stages. We're certain our friends are doing just fine without us, and we expect them to be waiting patiently for our return. And, you know, for the most part, they are. It would be different if you were truly someone's only friend, and you decided to stop calling them while you enjoyed your Retreat d'Amour. But in truth, our friends generally have other friends, and they'll be fine.

Now, let's go forward six months. After six months, the New Lovers will either evolve into Broken Up or an Established Couple. If they're Broken Up, well, we're back to square one. Sure, you can resent them ignoring you, but try not to say anything you'll regret when the tables are turned and you yourself are in the throes of a budding relationship.

If they're an Established Couple, it's important they find some way to re-enter society. Unless it's The Blue Lagoon, they'll have to find some way to interact with others. If nothing else, they'll need bridesmaids and groomsmen one day.

Hanging out with friends should, ostensibly, come really naturally. Hey, if I really like Reed, and Reed really likes Sue, then I'll like Sue, too, right? Well, maybe not.

What if the unthinkable happens? What if our friend has become involved with someone we don't like? Or, as "Insignificant" asks, what if I like both Reed and Sue, but I can't stand them together?

I have a rule by which I live my life. Allow me to share it with you.

I WILL NOT SPEND TIME IN THE COMPANY OF PEOPLE I DON'T ENJOY.

Yes, it's beautiful in its simplicity, isn't it? Oh, I know, there are all sorts of contingencieswhat if I'm at a party and someone I don't like shows up, what if I find myself sharing a cab with someone I dislike (Of course, I'd never be in a cab. This is just an example of what's called "Knowing Your Audience."), et cetera. And of course, in those situations, you remain perfectly pleasant, perfectly engaging, and you endure. I'm not a curmudgeon. I don't storm away from anyone with whom I've got the slightest issue. But for the most part, I don't seek out opportunities to spend time with people unless I know I'll be enjoying their company. If I have to, then I have to. But if I don't have to, then I won't.

Now you're left with a clear choice. Does this advice seem harsh? Extremist? Do you not like the idea of dropping these friends, just because you don't like the way they are together? Well, then you must not dislike them that much, hmm? Maybe their couplehood isn't so bad after all. Does it seem like the advice you knew, in your heart, was right all along? Well then, your course of action is clear.

Finally (I always seem to jumble the order), is it worthwhile mentioning to a friend that their all-for-love, friends-be-damned attitude is forming a discernible and unpleasant pattern? Only when they're single. Bringing this up while they're in the middle of a relationship will seem like an attack on the sanctity of their love, and isn't likely to be well-met. Just try to stop it from happening the next time.

Well, I hope this helps. And I wonder who the couple is. Perhaps Shelktone knows, and will enlighten me.