Being in your early 20s can be a really awkward and stressful situation: you just graduated from university, you are underemployed and broke, you are entering adulthood even though you have no clue what you are doing with your life, and to make things worse, you might be losing your closest friends as well—to their significant others, especially if you are single. 

As a single 20- something woman, I can’t help but wonder: is our friendship just a replacement for romantic relationship? Do I cease to matter to my friends as soon as they get into a committed relationship? Is there really a giant divide between single people and people in relationships?  

A few days ago my friend Jo, who is single, called me to complain about her best friend Liz, who is currently in a committed long distance relationship with her boyfriend. So here is the context: Liz and Jo met in University and had been besties for four years. After graduation, Liz moved to San Francisco and my friend Jo moved to Seattle. Liz’s boyfriend was originally from Seattle but he now works in Canada. And here is what happened: during Christmas and Holiday season, Liz’s boyfriend came back to Seattle to see his family, so Liz flew to Seattle as well to spend two weeks with her boyfriend. Since Jo hadn’t seen Liz in months she texted Liz for a meet-up, to which Liz responded with “I’ve already made plans with my boyfriend, his family and his friends during my time here in Seattle, but maybe we can grab lunch together the day before I fly back to San Francisco?”  

“She was in Seattle for TWO WEEKS! And she’s only willing to spend like 3 hours with me? Are you kidding me?” Jo complained to me over the phone. The worst part is, when Jo and Liz did meet up for lunch, the first thing Liz said was, “I could’ve been with my boyfriend right now but I sacrificed my time with him to see you, so you better be grateful!” Even though Liz said that in a joking manner, my friend Jo was still pissed and heartbroken. She told me she felt as if she was begging her best friend to spend time with her. She felt like she was no longer needed.  

I didn't really know what to tell Jo because the cruel reality is, most of my non-single friends act in a similar way: as soon as they start a relationship, I barely hear from them anymore. However, when they get into a big argument or break up with their boyfriends, they’d suddenly reappear and come to me looking for comfort. For instance, I have this one friend who wouldn't come to a concert with me because she’s too broke, but would save up that money to buy her boyfriend nice gifts or to surprise him with dinners at fancy restaurants. She no longer needs me and has replaced me with her boyfriend. They would go to concerts together, go shopping together, go out to eat together, and travel together; they are each other’s friends and confidantes. However, whenever something went wrong between her and her boyfriend, she’d expect me to drop everything to offer her support and comfort because “that's what friends are for.” Why would you expect me to drop everything to accommodate your emotional needs when you didn't offer the same courtesy? 

If you've ever been abandoned by your friends after they get into a relationship, just know that you are not alone. According to a research conducted by researchers from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, on average, people lose two close friends every time they get into a new serious romantic relationship because romantic partners absorb time that would otherwise be invested in friendships.  

This is really bad news, especially for people who are single. A lot of single people feel that they lose contact with their non-single friends easily because their non-single friends prefer spending time with their significant others or other couples. There is even a theory out there stating that if you want your relationship to last, you should stop hanging out with single people. Why? Some people say they see their single friends as a potential threat to their relationship because there is a possibility the cliché “My boyfriend/girlfriend slept with my best friend” can happen. Some people say they do not have much to talk about with their single friends anymore because they can no longer relate to issues such as “having trouble finding the right woman/man.” Some people even think of their single friends as “ needy” or “jealousy.” 

This just seems ridiculous to me. I don’t understand why our society and the social media always portray single people, especially single women as desperate, destructive, crazy, irresponsible and “on the hunt.” Why can’t we be single and happy and responsible? Maybe we are not desperately looking for a man and we genuinely enjoy being single? Are we defined only by our relationship status? Can we not enjoy the company of other people based on any similarities other than “having or not having a man?” Just because we want to hang out with our good friends we are seen as “needy and jealous?” Is friendship really just a substitute for relationship? 

I guess for some people, that is the case. To them, friends are merely placeholders for the time when there isn’t a boyfriend or girlfriend in the picture. However, I also know people who don’t ditch their friends once they get into a relationship, and they know how to balance their friendship and romantic relationship perfectly.  

So yeah, I do believe that there are people who value their friendship as much as they value their romantic relationship, I do believe even the most perfect and loving couple would need some time apart from each other once in a while, and I do believe when people break up, they would need emotional support from their friends. So I guess a romantic relationship cannot completely replace our platonic friendship with other people after all.