Here’s a test of your relationship knowledge. Do you know what a friend’s disease is?
“Friend disease” is more common than you think. Here’s what you should know.
by aparodyoflife ·
TikTok influencer and podcast host Tinx is credited with coining the term “boyfriend disease” to describe this particular phenomenon, though it affects people of all genders and sexual orientations. She points out that the “friend disease” affects all of us. “I was also the girl who abandoned her friends,” she says in her video.
Chanakya Ramdev, a 32-year-old businessman living in Ontario, says he remembers falling victim to “boyfriend disease” in his 20s, when he started dating his first serious girlfriend.
“I thought she was perfect and amazing and I wanted to spend all my time with her,” he said. Which he said, he did — until one day, while scrolling through Instagram, he realized he’d abandoned the rest of his social group.
“When you’re in the heat of the moment, you don’t realize it,” he said. “But looking back, you wonder: What the hell are you doing?”
While “boyfriend illness” is certainly upsetting if you lose your friend, it’s actually a normal and even healthy early stage of a relationship, experts say. The good news is that it’s mostly temporary.
Why do we neglect old attachments for new ones?
When you start a new romantic relationship, you activate the brain’s attachment system, said Amir Levin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. Our attachment styles—secure, avoidant, or anxious—are formed in childhood. Although our friendships are important, when you’re in a romantic relationship, your brain is working overtime to connect with your new partner.
“Humans are a little different, but most of the time there’s one person at the top of the hierarchy,” says Levine, co-author of Attachment: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love.
“If something bad happens to you, there’s one person you’ll call. It’s your safety mechanism.”
This means that when you meet a potential partner, Levin says, you take a stranger and attach to them securely enough that they reach the top of your attachment system and become your safe haven. “It takes a lot of disruption and rewiring of neural circuits to make this complete stranger an important person,” Levin said.
This process requires two people to spend a lot of time alone together, such as going on dates, gazing into each other’s eyes, and generally being around each other, Levin says. This activates your brain’s reward system, making it incredibly rewarding to be in your new partner’s presence, and frustrating to be away from.
This process can take a few months. But once you have enough time to communicate, bond securely, and know that your partner won’t disappear if you have drinks with the girls one night, you’ll be able to comfortably explore your other relationships again.
Levine noted that couples tend to want to share their social circles with each other once they’re connected. “The next stage of bonding is: ‘I want you to meet my friends and family,'” he said.
Oxytocin, a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and sent through the bloodstream via the pituitary gland, has been called the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone,” thanks to its role in social bonding.
Oxytocin, which is released during labor and breastfeeding, plays a role in facilitating communication between the mother and her offspring. Oxytocin and other related neurochemicals help new parents hyper-focus on their infant, making it easier for the difficult task of holding a baby, says Robert Froemke, MD, a professor of genetics at the NYU Neuroscience Institute and the Department of Otolaryngology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Helpless alive.
The relationship between oxytocin and romantic love is less clear, but experts believe the hormone is also involved in marital bonding between two new romantic partners. Once your brain deems a new romantic interest important, oxytocin may heighten some triggers related to that person and put others in the backseat.
“We’ve all had the experience of walking into a room or looking across a crowd of people and seeing certain faces come out, or people we know, or people we care about,” Froemke said. “It’s possible that other types of neurons, at least oxytocin, are responsible for forming strong connections when we start spending time with someone.”
Of course, the result of focusing your mind more on a new partner and less on everything else in your life is that you may spend less time with your friends, studies, work, and other commitments, at least until your hormones stabilize.
“Brains are really good at paying attention to particular people or particular features of things that are important at the moment,” Froemke said.
Those left behind can struggle
Many people in new relationships fall into what’s known as the “attachment stage,” which is a deep infatuation and “total preoccupation” with the other person, says Charlotte Fox Weber, a psychotherapist and author of Tell Me What You Want: A Therapist and Her Clients Explore Our Deepest Desires The 12.
“This can spill over into a lot of life, especially if you’re the obsessive type and have a mindset that thinks love conquers all.”
Weber stresses that the experience can be traumatic for the friends he left behind.
“I think it can feel threatening, it can feel like a loss,” she said. “There can be a lot of social pressure to say how happy you are to this person. Part of you is happy but part of you feels lost.”
Weber says that while romantic love is wonderful, it’s essential to remember that your friendships are important, too, and to make sure you’re nurturing them even when you’re in the midst of new love. “Friendships are a huge part of mental health, well-being, identity and purpose,” she said.
It’s also worth noting that while a certain amount of couple bonding is considered healthy and normal, if you haven’t seen or heard from your newly coupled friend in months, it could be a problem.
If you feel like your friend’s partner is trying to isolate him from family and friends, “it could mean he’s starting to get into an unsafe, unhealthy, or even abusive relationship,” Levine said.
For some, the all-encompassing nature of a new relationship can make them realize that they were previously inclined toward unhealthy social patterns. Danny Gruner, a 40-year-old New York City resident who works in marketing, says meeting his now-wife in his 20s helped him mature, though it changed his friendships.
“I was 27 when I met my wife, who was a full-fledged adult,” he said. Meeting his wife made him more aware that some of his antics, such as his desire to be the center of attention to attract laughter from friends, lacked maturity. “I realized I needed to fulfill my potential and become an adult faster,” he said.
He dropped the comedy action and focused on the relationship. When he returned to his old group of friends, things changed. “Some of my friends loved the artist and missed this version,” he said. “But I don’t.”
That said, many people are able to rejoin their friend groups after recovering from a friend’s illness.
When Ramdev finally returned to his group of friends after his eureka moment on Instagram, he said: “I got some scathing comments.” “But I feel like they were well deserved, because my friends were like, ‘Where have you been all this time?'”
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