It may be easy to introduce your partner to your friends if you’re dating someone with infinite swagger. But my partner is often quite shy. When I introduce him to my friends, he’s nervous and unsure – will they like him? Will they see in him what I do? Will the start of the evening – all shuffled feet and polite chitchat and coughing and staring at phones – eventually meld into one big conversation, when he gets swallowed into the group until no one can remember that he only met them four hours ago?
Usually he hovers at the edge of a conversation. Not the back-and-forth chitchat we have at home, when he’s solidly and warmly in his comfort zone. He’ll sit anxiously perched on a chair in a pub, sipping his drink and calculating whether this or that comment might be well received.
He’s shy. For a while.
But after the shyness comes something quite awesome. Those moments when he takes a deep breath and leaps into the group. When he remembers that he has no reason to hide himself or pretend to be less than he is. That he’s loved and loveable and fun. That there’s nothing and no one here to be afraid of.
He sips his drink and I natter, because they’re my friends and it’s easy. I’ve spent time with these people at festivals: at our very best and our very worst. We reminisce about ridiculous things we’ve all done together, and plan what we’ll do next when this party segues into that one. Someone puts their foot in it and we laugh along with them – reassuring them we’ve all made similar faux pas. We share stories about times when we’ve fucked up in the same way, and the tension’s eased and all’s well.
He sips his drink and listens, and waits for a few more minutes.
But there comes a moment – whether it’s because he’s two or three drinks in, or perhaps it’s the warmth of the company – when he stops being shy and starts to open up. He chips in with a comment. Tells a quick story. Laughs at someone else’s joke and clinks glasses with them in solidarity.
And my heart starts to swell and ache at the joy of it.
I make a joke: quite funny, a few giggles, that kick of delight that you get when you manage to tease laughter from people you love. And just as I start to wonder when I last felt this fucking happy, he joins in. He takes my joke and runs with it: makes it bigger, bolder, funnier. Like I’ve passed him a baton and it’s safe in his hands.
My friends laugh with him. Huge, loud, bold laughter of the kind he has me in when we’re alone.
And suddenly he’s no longer the shy guy sitting in the corner, he’s the dude who stepped out of the shadows and had them in stitches. Who backed me up, picked up my baton, and raced with it over the finish line.
I look round at this group of people that I fell in love with recently, and the boy I fell for when I was only twenty six, and I wonder if there’s a kind of pride that can ever compete with this one.
This is the pride I feel when I write something cute about him and you lot all go ‘awww’. The pride I feel when I relay a particularly hot fuck, and people tell me they’ve wanked about it. The pride I feel when I introduce him, for the first time, to people who know nothing about him, and their curiosity is dispelled amid gales of laughter when he tells them an excellent joke.
He does this kind of thing a lot: surprises me with random, sudden bursts of social excellence that make me swell with pride. It’s not just jokes told to friends – sometimes it’s his playful put-downs to fatshaming relatives, the kind I’d be too scared to utter myself but which he somehow manages to deliver while maintaining a rocky peace. Hugs offered to strangers who are trying to harass our friends – nothing makes creeps disappear quicker than when my other half steams in to out-weird them. Or the way he leaps up when a good tune comes on, grabs me by the wrist and leads me into the middle of the dancefloor, throwing shapes that make everyone else wish that their own boyfriend was a bit less grumpy about dancing.
I’m proud of him for his work, and for his kindness, but I’m never more proud of him than in times like these: these tiny moments when the version of him that I know and love so well behind closed doors suddenly comes out to play. All smiles and jokes and weirdness and whimsy and joy.
When you introduce your partner to your friends and family, you know that no one will understand exactly why you love them. The comfortable rhythm you’ve developed when you’re alone will never fit perfectly into every other group. Love is often built in those tiny moments which no one else observes. But sometimes those details burst out: the clouds of shyness or politeness disperse and the bits you adore can shine through.
It’s rarer, if you’re dating a shy boy. But when it happens, it rocks.