The Many Complications Of Setting Up Your Friends
The Debrief: What if they don't get on? Or what if they do get on and you have to spend the next ten years listening to stories about their sex life?
It seemed like a genius idea at the time - setting up third-best friend with your boyfriend’s mate from uni was going to solve all of your problems. It would mean you finally had another couple to hang out with and you wouldn’t be forced to spend Saturday night with his brother’s boring girlfriend. Flash forward six months time and you’ve just had a blazing row with your third-best friend and you’re wishing you’d never started the whole thing in the first place.
And yet still we keep setting our mates up. Tinder might be having a moment but a survey carried out last year revealed that being set up by friends was the second most popular way couples who end up getting married meet each other (meeting at work was first and online dating came fifth).
Property developer and TV presenter Sarah Beeny has been setting people up on the regular for the last decade - and loves it so much she famously set up MySingleFriend.com to allow other people to do the same. ‘I don’t think I can explain it, there’s no feeling quite like it. It’s a feeling of pride and happiness that you just can’t get enough of, knowing that you have helped change the course of a friend’s life and made them happier,’ she tells The Debrief.
But that's when it all goes right - what about when it all goes horribly wrong? Jo, a 25-year-old PR’s has a particularly cringe tale of matchmaking woe. ‘My friend Louisa set me up with this fabulous guy called Chris who she thought I’d have loads of common with, from the same part of London.' 'I freaked out at the idea of going on a blind date and didn’t show up, but a few weeks later I went to her birthday party and he was there. He walked past and greeted my older brother like an old friend - turns out he was my aunt’s son. I’d been set up with my cousin.’
Generally speaking, individuals love having control over the relationships of other individuals
So why do we persist in setting our friends up? It can’t just be altruism or that aforementioned feeling of joy Sarah mentioned (which only the truly altruistic would feel anyway)? According to psychologist Ben Voyer, it’s because we’re all machievellian control freaks (I’m paraphrasing slightly). ‘Would see there a more Machiavellian purpose, from an evolutionary point of view: it is a way to gain control over the mating partner of potential ‘competitors’. Generally speaking, individuals love having control over the relationships of other individuals.’
But where do you even start? Say you sit next to a guy who’s nice, fun, clever and right up your friend’s street. But if he’s not as good looking at the type of guys she thinks she should be able to attract, she’ll presume that’s a reflection on how you view her looks. She’ll be offended, and he’ll get rejected. ‘I’m always so affronted by it,’ explains Claire, a 28-year-old writer. My friend once set me up with this guy, she kept saying “ he’s perfect for you, I think you’re going to get on so well.” He was so dweeby, uncharming, and also short and unattractive, I couldn’t believe that’s who she saw me with.’
According to Professor Voyyer, this all comes down to control again. ‘Most of us want to believe that we are in control of our choices - especially when it comes to romance and dating. This is merely an illusion, as influences often come unconsciously (e.g. social groups and norms, etc). When we discover someone has set us up, this puts us in a position of inferiority, a position in which we are not in control of.’
‘In individualistic societies, individuals use relationships as a way to enhance their self and their social perception. That is, people often chose a romantic partner not just for who these are, but based on what these can bring them and the way others see them.’ Similarly if our friend sets us up with someone we’re less then impressed with, we see that as a reflection of how they view us - which is when our hackles get raised.
I’ve set loads of people up and it hasn’t worked, but I think what’s the worst that can happen?
Sarah thinks that the less each party knows about the fact that they’re being set up, the better. ‘I strongly believe the less anyone knows about it the better, every time I’ve set someone up I’ve tried to engineer it without them realising it.’ That way everyone’s egos stay in tact. Equally there’s no point in being anything but honest about the great-but-slightly-average-looking colleague you want to introduce to your best friend. But actually, the fact that you like and get on with this person should speak volumes to your friend about the type of person they are. ‘You can tell an awful lot about someone by their friends. We make judgments about people based on their voice, their clothes and their face, but knowing who someone’s friends are will show them in a whole new light.’
But what if it goes wrong? Because it probably will, even Sarah admits that. 'I’ve set loads of people up and it hasn’t worked, but I think what’s the worst that can happen?’ Well potentially, the worst thing that can happen is that they get on and live happily ever after, and where does that leave you? Friendship groups are delicate things, explains Professor Voyyer. So before your start setting your mates up, start thinking about how much you really want them to be coupled up. ‘Dynamics can change quickly, especially if a change of status means someone becomes an outlier in a group - for instance, by suddenly becoming the only 'single' in a group,’ explains Professor Voyyer. ‘Generally speaking, whenever a romantic status changes and it results in having a different status, compared to one's friends, this is likely to create tensions, jealousy, etc. Suddenly becoming single, for instance, can mean - or be interpreted as - a potential threat by friends, who could be worried of potential poaching.’
And then there’s the sex. You’ve probably never thought about what your mate from home Pete’s like in bed, and you definitely don’t want to know. But now you’ve set him up with your mate Tara and she keeps dragging you off for a glass of wine so she can tell you how they did it in the toilets at a bar the night before and how he does things with his hands that she never knew were possible. The conversation might want to vomit into your own sleeve, but you can’t because you set them up, so it’s your own fault.
But it’s not all bad - Sarah has just come back from the wedding of a couple she set up at a Christmas party - ‘what if you are one degree of separation away from the person you should be with? The couple who just got married probably would never have met if I hadn’t introduced them. If I hadn’t sat them at the same table that night, they may never have spoken, and now they’re married.’
And even Claire, who hates being set up herself, had her own smug set-up story this summer. ‘One of my best friends got married, and it was a set up I was involved in, it was such a nice feeling and I even got a mention in the wedding speeches. It also worked brilliantly for me as it bought my two groups of fairly disparate friends together.’ And therein lies the reason why we keep setting our friends up. Whether it’s the warm fuzzy glow you get from engineering another person's happiness, or an opportunity to get a name check at the wedding, when it goes well, everyone benefits.
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