Way back in high school, I went on a summer trip with two of my best friends. The catch was, they didn’t know each other — I knew them from two different parts of my life — but I was friends with both of them since childhood.
I was thrilled when they hit it off. But as they got more comfortable with each other and excited by the new friendship they’d formed, they ended up making me feel ganged up on and excluded (and I’m a big advocate for both including and laughing at yourself). It was as if they both relied on the fact that we’d been friends for so long, and genuinely didn’t think their actions were hurtful. But by the end of the summer, I felt upset, let down, and isolated by the people I brought together.
Since then, I’ve decided to keep my friend groups separate from each other. I don’t make an effort to introduce my university program friends to my residence friends, and God forbid I set up a date for two friends from different groups. It may seem ridiculous and extreme, but there are actually a lot of benefits I’ve realized since starting to draw this boundary in my relationships.
As humans, our actions vary around different people — something professionals call self-monitoring. Some friends bring out certain personality traits or hobbies, while others can make you display a different part of yourself. For example, I can have dark humor and be self-deprecating around some people, but around others I can be more sensitive (and it’s not shady; it’s natural).
Having separate friend groups can help you enjoy the benefits of each friendship — you can be authentic around everyone, without worrying about accommodating both parties. And you may realize that while you’re the common denominator between them, that’s the only thing they have in common.
Because you may show slightly varied parts of yourself around different people, your friends may not get along if you try to bring them together. Don’t feel bad that your friends aren’t close with each other, because you could be doing everyone a favor by sparing them some drama.
The fact is, bigger friend groups are more prone to drama anyway — more people means more opinions and personalities that clash. Even though they can be fun, keeping friends separate may be saving you a friendship or two in the end. You’d be surprised; I certainly was.
All friendships have issues, though, not just big friend groups. And when inevitable annoyances or disagreements happen — or if you just need a break — it’s important to have other friends you can spend time with. They can help take your mind off things, but will also be an objective third party who will have an easier time at making you feel better. By keeping your friend groups separate, you’re maintaining that safe space for yourself — and you’ll probably thank yourself later.
Since the aforementioned horror story, I’ve seen these benefits in real time. Sure, it hasn’t always been easy, but applying this strategy has certainly paid off — especially last year, my first year of university.
In my residence, I had two different friend groups. I kept them separate — they were really just acquaintances with each other — and felt bad about it all year, because I didn’t want anyone to think I was being rude by not making more efforts to join the two groups. But alas, near the end of the year, one of the friend groups had a major falling out — the first I’d experienced since my summer trip several years prior.
In this instance, I was relieved by my other friend group — especially since we were in the middle of the pandemic and it was hard to see anyone outside my residence. I was lucky to have my other friend group to go to for distance and distraction from the situation — they helped me move on and restore my happiness. Had we all been one big friend group, everyone would have been involved in the conflict in some way, and I would have felt even more alone, without a way to escape from the drama.
Now, just because it’s okay to keep your friend groups separate, that doesn’t mean you should live a Hannah Montana-esque double life, act “fake,” or restrict people from even meeting each other. It’s okay to have your friend groups become acquaintances — but I’m definitely advising against initiating a full-on friendship smoothie.
Take it from me, someone who has seen the best and worst of friend group-mixing: You don’t need to have one big friend group, and you shouldn’t feel bad that you don’t have one. Instead, a lot of the time it’s best to have different people and groups to lean on.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not rude to keep your friend groups separate — instead, you could be saving everyone a whole lot of unnecessary discomfort or drama. And I’d take that trade any day.