“Femmes Before Flames?”: An Amateur Philosopher Considers

Author’s Note: I’d like to mention that the awkwardly alliterated quotation that comprises the first half of this essay title is my variation on the less inclusive and kinda vulgar moral precept: “Chicks Before Dicks”. If any readers think of more euphonic alternatives, do leave them in the comments.


In a perfect world, our friends and our significant others would get along with one another swimmingly. This is often not the case in college.

For the most part, we live near one other, spend a ton of time around one other and, given the small size of Columbia’s campus, run into one other a lot. As a result, our friends and our SOs sometimes get sick of one other. Being stuck between a SO and friend who are feuding can be a really crappy experience. Just this past year, someone I was seeing majorly crossed a line with a friend of mine and, on a separate occasion, my friend’s SO majorly crossed a line with me. Both incidents caused me an incredible amount of stress, even though I technically hadn’t done anything wrong. Months later, my relationships with said friends remain. By coincidence, (or perhaps not) neither of us are involved with the offending people anymore. I bring up my past experience not to suggest that we should “choose our friend’s side” in these types of cases, but to underscore a point: conflicts between SOs and friends can seriously strain relationships.  

It’s good to internalize that your friendships are strong enough to survive relationship drama, but this attitude alone isn’t much use in preventing conflicts between your SO and your friends. While any incident that takes place between your SO and your friend is 100% not your fault, your response can defuse a situation or make it much worse.


Conflict on the Horizon

To avert disagreement between SOs and friends before it starts, maintaining a healthy degree of separation is key. The number-one rule? If your SO or friend shares something personal with you, don’t share it with other people. A friend generally tells you personal stuff because they trust you; they probably don’t have the same trust in your SO. As for your SO, their right to privacy is just as valid as your friend’s, even if your relationship with them isn’t as close. Similarly, if you’re sharing anything personal with a SO or a friend, you should clarify that the information is private.

Also, make sure you’re consciously designating enough alone time with your friends and your SO, respectively. Not only will it help you guarantee you’re not neglecting your friends or your SO; your friends and SO will appreciate the space from one other.


Conflict for Real

The separation rule will ideally prevent any tension between your SO and friends from escalating, but conflicts may arise even when you’re doing your part. Below, I consider two possible conflicts between you, your friend and an SO.

1) Your SO crosses a line with your friend

If your SO’s actions were petty but not flagrantly offensive, you may not want to bring them up, particularly if your relationship to either the SO or friend in question is casual. Perhaps your SO and friend have smoothed things out on their own, or are content to have parted ways with one another. Maybe you’ll want to meet with your SO and friend separately to discuss what happened and then close the subject permanently. You get to gauge this one.

On the other hand, if your SO’s actions were really inappropriate, you should probably get more context, no matter how long ago it happened. You may want to avoid initiating a serious relationship with your SO if their actions give you reason to believe that they’re creepy, controlling, mean-spirited, etc. If what your SO did was hateful or dangerous, cut ties with them—your safety may be at risk.

2) Your friend’s SO crosses a line with you

You have every right to let your friend’s SO know that you are not okay with what they did, but should do so in a way that contributes minimally to your friend’s stress, if possible. Be direct in your communication with the SO instead of using your friend as an intermediary.

If the SO apologizes, great. Whether you two hang out again or not, any real stress for your friend is lifted. If the SO doesn’t apologize or wants to make up on terms that you’re not comfortable with, you don’t have to accept them. Tell your friend that you’ve decided for the sake of your friendship not to engage with the SO anymore.


These Are Tumultuous Times

In my above analysis, I have considered two possible conflicts between you, your friend and someone’s SO, but have left out many others. I’ll consider two of these quickly. Caveat: I assume that your friend’s actions don’t veer into extremely offensive/ inappropriate territory. This sometimes does happen, and if you find yourself in this situation you would be right to seriously reevaluate your relationship with said friend.

3) If your friend crosses a line with your SO and they end up on bad terms with one another, you have to decide if your relationship is worth the drama that bringing the incident into your relationship will cause. Then decide on what terms you can maintain a relationship with your friend that doesn’t negatively impact your other relationship.

4) If your SO’s friend crosses a line with you, definitely speak up to your SO or the friend and let them know that you’re not okay with what the friend did. If either gives you a hard time for speaking up, let your SO know that you’re not going to engage with their friend for the sake of your relationship.


With that, I’d like to wish you the best in your present and future conflict-management endeavors! Hopefully you’ve managed to stay awake while reading the inaugural installment of this column, “Amateur Philosopher Considers”. If you didn’t, here’s the takeaway: your good relationships will survive if you force yourself to take the high road. Good luck!