Have you ever poached a friend or had one poached from you? This is how it happens: Your friend introduces you to her friend and the two of you develop a friendship -- independent of the friend who introduced you. If you've been there, done that, you're a poacher. Or if you have introduced two friends and one of them snares the other for herself, leaving you in the dust, you've been poached.
Is it ethically wrong to become a 'friend of a friend' or is it a legitimate way to expand your friendship network? What are the rules and could they be changing?
CNN.com recent ran an article called, When social poachers snatch your friends, that posed both sides of the issue. Through one lens, poaching can be viewed as the ultimate betrayal, akin to "friend-napping." Through another, it can be seen as a reasonable way of making new friends through vetted introductions.
A 2004 essay by Lucinda Rosenfeld in New York Magazine, Our Mutual Friend, expressed the jealousy and hurt the author experienced after she had been poached. When she learned that her two friends were planning a ski trip together -- without her -- she felt excluded (even though she had no interest in skiing). It harked back to the days of junior high school.
I've been poached, too. I had two close friends, let's call them Marcie and Hayley, whom I decided to introduce to one another. I knew they would instantly "click" because they had so much in common: neither worked outside the home, both loved competitive tennis, and each had two kids around the same ages. It was a good hunch because they soon became best friends with each other as I drifted into the background.
Admittedly, the first time I bumped into them at Starbuck's having coffee without me, I felt a bit strange and awkward, even hurt, but as soon as I regrouped mentally I realized that I didn't have as much time or motivation to spend with either one of them as they did with each other. Now we get together as a threesome occasionally. Rosenfeld also found that being poached can be a blessing in disguise. Prior to the treachery, she had found herself in the unpleasant role of constantly ministering to one of the women who was needy and always crying on her shoulder. It gave her a way out.
With the booming popularity of social network sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, the ethics and etiquette of friend poaching may be turning upside down. In cyberspace, becoming a friend of a cyber-friend is not only socially acceptable, but is actually one of the raison d'êtres of participation.
Being poached offline isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. Because friendships change over time, a friendship that is 'stolen' may have long been gone. It may offer the poachee an opportunity to change, take a break from, or get rid of a friendship that was draining, all-consuming, or toxic in other ways.
The corollary: Don't feel guilty about poaching. Unlike family or marriage, friendships have no blood or legal ties; the good ones are totally voluntary relationships that enhance our lives. Feel guilty? Remember that your new friend has the free will to add, subtract, or realign her friendships.
One caveat: Friend poaching is unacceptable, and maybe even pathological, when an individual consistently tries to derail friendships and hurt people around her.
Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author who blogs about female friendships at HuffPo and www.fracturedfriendships.com. She is a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever, which will be published by Overlook Press.