Originally published on Mic.com
When Deborah, 27, was in labor, her husband was by her side for emotional support. But during a particularly painful moment, it was her best friend, Christina, who jumped into the hospital bed with her and held her.
“No questions asked, no words spoken. She knew exactly what I needed in that moment and was there to provide it,” Deborah told Mic.
It’s an extreme example of something many of us know but don’t say as freely these days. Our modern expectations for romantic relationships are that they are everything — that our significant other is our cheerleader, our biggest fan, our teammate and, as Bachelor and Bachelorette finales like to remind us, our best friend.
There isn’t any single person who can be everything to you. Much as we tout our partners as our “best friends,” having actual best friends who aren’t our partners may be the most important thing we do for ourselves — and our relationships.
Romantic relationships didn’t always include friendship. For most of human history, marriage was viewed as a strategic joining of families; the idea that you could expect love and friendship from your partner was subversive and unimportant.
Pamela Regan, a psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, told Mic that couples used to occupy separate spheres, and friendships outside the relationship were a given. “The husband did his things with his buddies, and the wife did things with her gal pals,” Regan said. “That’s all it was for decades.”
Now society’s definition of marriage has changed, and we seek out partners who meet our psychological needs for friendship and emotional support. Not only do we expect our partners to satisfy us sexually and provide unending love, we also want them to geek out with us over our latest obsessions. That’s quite a tall order.
“What a heavy set of expectations to weigh down a partner with: ‘You should be everything to me, my best friend.’ No one person can fulfill all of those things,” Regan said. “It’s really unfair to place that burden on spouses or partners.”
Romance thrives when each person has other besties. Friendships help preserve our own sense of identity and keeps the relationship from stagnating, Kim Schneiderman, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist from New York, told Mic.
“It’s really important for both people to have their own independent lives and interests, and they go out into the world and have these experiences and bring that fresh energy back into the relationship.”
Julie, 27, told Mic her best friend is the one she can get excited about the latest romantic comedy with. For Carrie, 25, friends are an outlet to work through relationship issues before diving into arguments with her boyfriend.
Then there are certain aspects of our personalities that mesh best with friends. Daniel, 23, told Mic that he has a sarcastic streak he can’t always express with his girlfriend. “But my best friend is like that too. Probably why we get along so well,” he said. “We can insult one another and brush off those insults without any hurt feelings, and I know it helps get any attitude out of my system.”
Having those outlets is crucial. “When someone is your whole world,” Emily, 24, told Mic, “they bear the brunt of every stress, emotion and feeling you are having.”
Have your cake and eat it too. Having a “boyfriend who’s also a best friend” has become a proud pronouncement, an oh-so-modern #RelationshipGoal that signals your progressiveness and closeness. And being friends with a partner is incredibly valuable, leading to proven marital satisfaction.
But not only is it basically impossible for one person to fulfill all your needs, seeking all the most important qualities of friendship in your relationship can find you pushing your real friends out of the picture. In fact, science tells us exactly how many friends we lose once we fall in love: two, according to a 2010 Oxford University study.
Falling in love is great, but it’s best when you’ve got others to share it with. As Emily said, “Boyfriends come and go, but you can’t fall out of love with your best friend.”