“Don’t get involved.”
That was the singular message I got from the University of Maryland’s Geoffrey Greif, author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships on the subject of two of your guy friends suddenly being at odds. “You should role model for them that you’re sure they can work out their own relationships without your interference,” Greif says, so if two of your best buddies are fighting, it really is best to stay neutral.
But wait! It wouldn’t be MEL if we didn’t examine this in the minutest possible detail, so let’s get more involved. Or rather…
Don’t Get Involved
In a situation where two of your close friends are at odds, Greif says, “It’s not your job to engineer their relationships. It’s your job to support them both.” The reason it’s important for you to stay out of it is because of how male friendships respond to turmoil: As he told us in our examination of the mismatched buddy movie, Greif reiterates, “Men don’t like to make up.”
For a guy, if they’re crossed and a friendship ends, generally things are going to stay that way and never change. In these types of situations, it’s not so much that men are going to hold a grudge forever, it’s more about the fact that most men don’t try that hard at their friendships in the first place. So if a friendship gets overly complicated or one friend betrays the other, a guy’s not going to put the work in to fix it. The same will go for a complicated attempt by the guy in the middle to reunite them — it’s just too much to be bothered with.
How to Handle the Subject If/When It Comes Up
As the guy in the middle, if you want to continue to be friends with both guys, you’re going to have to be clear that you don’t want to get involved. Greif says to “be up front with each of them,” so if you’re hanging out with one friend and he brings up what an asshole that other guy is, you need to speak up and say that you know they’re not getting along, but that you don’t want any part of it. If they persist in badmouthing that other guy, you persist in your neutrality. “Let them know that you’re not going to stand for them running that other guy down,” Greif says. Also, let them know that if that other guy puts them down, that you’re going to tell them the same thing.
While it may be tempting to fall silent and let the subject pass, Greif says that the more silent you are, the more complicit you are in the other friend’s bashing (the same obviously goes for you joining in and also saying the other guy’s an asshole). Despite the fact that us guys love gossip too, if you badmouth each friend behind the other’s back, you risk losing them both, as one of them could try to use that against the other. In that case, they’ll quickly find out that you’ve been a cowardly asshole to both friends.
The same applies if you accidentally bring up the subject — if you’re talking to a buddy and mistakenly mention the other one, just acknowledge the situation and move on from it. “You need to be transparent,” advises Greif. Being upfront and persistently neutral is the only way you’re going to be able to maintain both friendships.
Keeping Them Both as Friends
You should know going into this that you likely won’t remain equally close to both guys. “You can’t be exactly as close to two people,” Greif explains. Inevitably, you’re going to have more history with one guy, or more in common with the other guy. In some way you’re likely linked to one more than the other, and just so you know, this could end up getting you involved in the rift.
One thing you might want to watch out for is scorekeeping, which Greif explains that many people do — it’s just part of human nature. So if you’re spending a lot more time with one guy over the other, know that it could end up being a wedge.
Another pitfall that may put you in the middle is the simple subject of right and wrong. If one guy is clearly in the right and the other is clearly in the wrong, you still may not want to take a side in this thing, as you risk losing the friendship with the dude who’s in the wrong. In the same way, your own history with one of the guys may come into play here too. Greif gives the example that if those two guys are feuding because Guy A asked out Guy B’s ex-girlfriend, and years ago Guy B also asked out your ex, you’re likely going to side with Guy A because you empathize with him (and also, fuck Guy B, man!).
Whether you can keep both friendships going in these situations is really going to depend on how well you straddle the line, but Greif says that it’s important to know that, “We often have different friends for different things.” So for a simple example, if you like both football and baseball, and Guy A is your football buddy and Guy B is your baseball buddy, during football season you may spend more time with Guy A, but when baseball season rolls around, you may be closer with Guy B. Now, over time and if the rivalry deepens, you may naturally gravitate to one friend over another for any number of reasons, but it’s possible to maintain both friendships as long as you remain neutral in the matter.
When It Comes to the Super Bowl Party…
So what do you do when it comes to the Super Bowl get together, or the house party, or the next Avengers movie gets released? What do you do when there’s an event that would have involved all three of you, and now it’s come around again and you know that you’re going to have to pick one over the other? The answer is actually pretty simple — just don’t pick a side. Instead, Greif offers the solution that you simply email or text both guys and say, “I’m going to the beer festival, I hope you both decide to join me,” and that’s it. Leave it up to them.
Getting the Gang Back Together
Situations like the above may also represent the only opportunity you have to reunite your threesome and once again make your friend group whole. Since heavy-handed, overly-complicated gestures may be anathema to a typical guy, if a situation comes up where it would naturally make sense to invite them both, you may find that one, or even both of them decide that this feud has gone on long enough. Perhaps they’ll decide to go, and they may even find ways to bridge the gap between them.
But even if you engineered the whole Super Bowl party just to get your friends back together, if they do both come, Greif recommends saying something like, “I’m so glad you’re both here, I hope we all can enjoy the game,” and leave it at that, as anything more is likely going to force the subject before they’re ready to move forward themselves.
In other words, the advice is the same that Greif has been giving all along: If your buddies are in a fight, you stay the hell out of it.