The word “poach” has several meanings, including “to trespass or to take another’s property.” And when combined with the word “friend,” it typically means that someone in your circle of three is feeling left out in the cold.
The feelings of loss and even betrayal that accompany a dreaded friend-poaching are very real and very painful. Why does it happen? What did you do wrong? How can you deal with it? And perhaps most pressingly, whom do you hang out with now?
No matter how big your circle of friends, it's natural to be especially close with two or three gals in particular. They're the ones you call to chat with while running errands; the ones you can't wait to dish to after an especially good (or bad) date; the ones you shop with, chill with, get dolled up and go out with. They're your go-to gals and nothing could ever change that … or could it?
Friend-poaching happens when, after introducing two of your friends, those friends then form a close relationship, so close that you are essentially cut out of the equation. It can happen even in long-established friendships, and often happens gradually; a “forgotten” invitation here, a Facebook check-in (without you) there, a girls’ trip to Mexico without you—even though you’ve always said how much you like to travel. Two of your friends are clearly having a great time without you, leaving you feeling excluded and abandoned. You might also be feeling a little uneasy about your emotional response. After all, they're adults. They're entitled to spend time together without you. Are you being too sensitive? Too clingy? Hurt feelings can give way to anger and resentment.
Dealing effectively with a friend-poaching requires maturity, finesse.
What's Really Going On?
After racking your brain for words or behavior from you that may have driven one friend into the “social calendar” of another (and out of yours), you conclude (we hope) that this isn't your fault. Because, it really isn't.
The fact is that what you are feeling is jealousy and fear that you may be losing a friend (or in this case–two friends). This emotion is common.
"It's a classic problem for all of us who have relationships and want to feel those relationships are special," so said Jeffrey Parker, a developmental psychologist at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa in an article with the Seattle Times. "It's the symbolism or stature that goes with the relationship, that sense that you are special in the life of these people, and it feels diluted. You must share that privileged status with someone else now."
Usually the situation is simply that your two friends have hit it off, share similar interests, and a schedule that allows them to spend time together. They aren’t necessarily trying to exclude you, and may be completely unaware that your feelings are hurt. In rare instances, the slight may be intentional, but those situations are uncommon.
Meeting someone with whom you “click” is exciting and feels just like the high you feel when you meet a new romantic partner. Someone has validated that you are fun and interesting, so much so that they want to share their time with you (and we all know how valuable time is). So you get a bit wacky, and in your desire to enjoy this new friendship, perhaps you inadvertently forget to consider that someone else might also like to enjoy the joys of friendship—with the two of you. A gradual transition would have been the better approach, starting with group outings and then moving to one-on-one get-togethers. But again, sometimes excitement gets the better of us.
What Can You Do?
The best solution to this situation is an honest conversation with the friend with whom you are closest, each friend individually, or both together. Start your conversation by explaining that you introduced them to each other because you felt that they’d like each other, and that you are glad that this is indeed the case. But also let them know that your intention wasn’t to be replaced and excluded, and that this is exactly how you are feeling. Of course, you can explain, that the new friends are welcome to share activities by themselves, but that you’d appreciate being included when appropriate.
Good friends will quickly realize their blunder and be sure to include you in future plans. Not-so-good friends won’t, and that is just how it is going to be in those cases.
Ultimately how you handle this is up to you. Some folks love when their friends connect, relishing in their “friendship matchmaking” success. For others, it can bring up some uncomfortable feelings.
Although there are all sorts of rules that surround romantic relationships (like never, ever dating a friend’s ex), these types of norms aren’t as defined when it comes to friendships, and thus the need for open and frank discussions when these types of situations do arise.
Above all, realize that the friendships are still intact and can be enjoyed. And also realize that you might now just have a bit more time to pursue some other friendships as well.