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Spending all your time with just your girlfriend spells trouble with your mates
One of the trickiest dilemmas in a man's life is balancing the demands of girlfriend and friends.
On the one hand, women often insist (perhaps rightly) on the lion's share of your time and attention, particularly in those loved-up early stages of a relationship.
On the other, your friends were there for you before she came along, and if things go pear-shaped they'll be there for you when she's gone. As long as you don't mess them around too much, that is.
There are no easy answers, and much depends on the personalities involved. After all, she might be a possessive partner, or she might be one that values her own time outside the relationship and insists on plenty of it. But there are a few general rules that will help ensure everyone - including you - stays happy.
Don't keep them apart
One conclusion some men leap to is that their best bet is to keep the two parties apart. Life becomes a regimented series of lads' nights and girlfriend evenings, and never the twain shall meet.
The problems with this approach are many. First off, both sides will feel slighted and that means the anguished cry of "why are you embarrassed to introduce me to your friends?!" can't be far away. Such an apartheid policy may even make her suspicious. Are you worried your friends will say something that contradicts the carefully censored life story you've constructed for her benefit?
And your friends won't be happy either, if only because they're desperate to tell your new love all sorts of stuff that contradict the carefully censored life story you've constructed for her benefit.
Get them all out together, sometimes
A night out with your friends and girlfriend can be a smart move, sometimes
Accept that you can't keep friends and partners apart forever and then accept that they'll have to meet. In fact, getting everybody out at the same time - at least every now and then - isn't a bad idea.
All being well, your friends will quickly come to see that your new girlfriend is fun, chatty and interesting, just as you told them she would be. More importantly, they'll see that having a girl on the team is a handy asset when it comes to chatting up women in clubs, especially if some of those women are her single friends.
Equally, she'll see that they are not rabid woman haters out to get her for taking away their drinking buddy. The more your girlfriend and friends bond, the more each party will be happy for you to spend quality time (ie alone) with the other.
Of course, there's always the chance that a night of laddish, drunken behaviour will have the opposite effect. "If your partner doesn't like a group of your friends, maybe she can be introduced to them separately," says relationship counsellor Elly Prior. "The group may well behave differently than the individuals within it."
But mostly keep them apart
Even if your friends and girlfriend do get on, don't push it. One successful night out doesn't mean your friends want your girlfriend at their monthly poker night, or that she wants them along on your Sunday evening cinema date. Getting the balance right also means keeping the strands of your life separate more often than not.
Let your girlfriend know well ahead of time if you're planning a day out
And keeping your girlfriend happy and friends friendly takes planning. The problem is that old habits die hard. Your friends might still expect you to go drinking at the drop of a hat - or to keep Friday nights as sacred 'bloke' nights - just like you did when you were single. For her part, your girlfriend might start to assume that she gets first dibs on your time, and that friends can fight over whatever's left.
Neither is a good way forward, so you have to plan time with each. It's worth letting friends know that you might need a bit of warning (a fortnight?) if they're planning a big night out or a day at the races/cricket/casino.
And the best way to keep your girlfriend sweet is to communicate often and early. The sooner she knows about a bloke-only occasion, the less chance there is you'll mess up something she had planned.
Scheduling time for girlfriends and friends means writing dates in your diary, texting confirmations, and reminding all affected parties about upcoming events. OK, that doesn't sound like cool seat-of-the-pants living, but it certainly makes life easier.
Respect her rights
It's self-evident but often ignored. If you're in a relationship, certain nights belong to your girlfriend either exclusively or alongside your friends, and we're talking New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, her birthday, your birthday and significant anniversaries, to name just the biggies.
Don't fight against it. That's just the way it is.
When you're with her, be with her
Texting all evening when out with your girlfriend is a bad idea
When you're out with her, don't neglect her. In other words, don't spend the evening texting your mates or receiving hilarious updates on the night they're having. She'll think you'd rather be out with them, and even if that's true it's a message you really don't want to convey. When you're out with your girlfriend, let your focus be on her.
Similarly, don't think a night in with her is all that's required to keep her sweet, regardless of what you do. "If you spend all evening in front of the telly watching sport with a six-pack, then rolling into bed drunk - well, that really is not going to cut it," says Elly Prior. If you've got a big night planned with the lads on Saturday, make Friday a romantic night in with her. Then everybody's happy.
It works both ways, of course. Your mates will be pretty cheesed off if you spend half the time down the pub nipping outside to check in with "her indoors". They may start to wonder why you bothered coming out at all.
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