'Your other friends seem so great! Can I meet them?'
This kind of question fills me with dread. My knee jerk reaction would be to yell 'NO' and then scream 'They're MINE!,' like a petulant toddler.
It's what I call a 'frerge' - a merging of friends - and it worries me because of any number of (sometimes totally illogical) possibilities.
For example, the fear that friends will become better friends with each other than we ever were; they'll start hanging out without me and I'll be left at home with FOMO.
Or an even more absurd worry, that they'll run off together into the sunset and leave me behind completely.
Speaking to experts on the subject, some have suggested that fearing the 'frerge' might be exclusive to introverts or Type B personalities. On the other hand though, is friendship-merging narcissistic or a way to deflect intimacy? Let's dive a little deeper...
Fearing the 'Frerge'
When I realise my primary friendship group is actually a collection of waifs and strays amassed over the years from different walks of life, the thought that I should have any ownership over the group is laughable. It's like a pot luck party, where everyone has donated a friend into the mix instead of a dish.
These people are often my daily support system, and I wouldn't have them were it not for the generosity of others.
Yet I have a territorial sense of possessiveness about my friendship groups, preferring to compartmentalise the people in my life. I also cherish the one-on-one relationships I have with certain friends who orbit my life without affiliation to any particular crowd. Merging them into any group would feel alien, or like something intimate and special had been diluted.
Are You A Narcissist?
'Mixing friendship groups is my number one hobby!' says my friend Mia, our group's primary frerger, when I ask her how she does it.
'If I'm honest, it started years ago as self-serving convenience. I was working very long hours and weekends with barely any time to catch-up separately with the various people I know, so I'd suggest bigger dinners or bring people along to other friends' parties. Over time it developed a life of its own, and I've met some of my now closest friends as a result.'
Rosie Potter, 29, has a more humorous take on her fondness for merging friends: 'My fiancé thinks it's because I am narcissistic and that I like knowing that they are all linked by me.'
Is it true? She muses and laughs: 'Yeah I have one group of five friends who are all friends through me and that is a big ego boost.'
I ask about jealousy, and what part, if any, that plays. She's refreshingly devoid of it, though everyone has their Achilles heel, right?
'My best friend,' she admits, 'I don't like it when other people act as if they are best friends with her, or invite her to things without me. But I just try and tell myself 'they don't have what we have.''
Or Are You An Introvert?
Amy Morgan, 26, moved here from New York two years ago and, she tells me, it's frerging that helped her find friends: 'I wouldn't have the social life I do now if anyone was even slightly hesitant or wary about introducing new people into the mix.'
She's an obvious advocate for being open to others and sharing friends, though she admits that a fear of frerging can still creep in. 'I think that it is normal human behaviour to be jealous or possessive about your people,' she says, making me feel like a slightly better person. 'A few times I've had people I've introduced become extremely close and of course I've felt left out or put aside. But I think that's normal.'
If this is all sounding a little too familiar, you're not alone. Dr. Andrea Bonsior, a celebrated American clinical psychologist and writer, agrees that it's sometimes okay to be possessive as long as it 'doesn't get out of control.'
I confess my own resilience to frerging and she proffers a host of explanations for it, including one that surprisingly resonates with me: 'Sometimes a person who is more introverted would prefer to have more one-on-one friendships. They might not like the idea of sharing that person that they are closest to.'
Do You Struggle To Get Close To People?
Denise Knowles, from Relate, the UK's largest provider of relationship support, thinks people with a fondness for frerging can actually sometimes be deflecting intimacy.
'The person doing the introducing might have lots and lots of really good friends but do they have that one close friendship?' she says, 'In collecting friends there is safety in numbers. You don't have to bare your soul completely to one person.'
Mixing friendship groups is my number one hobby!
Sadly, problems with frerging seem to occur more prominently in female friendship groups. I can hear the resignation in Dr. Bonsior's voice when she admits: 'It's a horrible stereotype, but I think there is genuinely less drama in male friendship groups!'
So, what causes our Mean Girls temperament? Bizarrely, it's the very thing that makes us good friends in the first place: empathy.
'Women connect on a more emotional level' says Knowles. 'So, when there is an issue, women are more likely to emote and dissect and feel possessive and men are more likely to draw a line under things and move on.'
The issue is, of course, that frerging can destabilise the dynamics of any friendship group. Knowles believes that these dynamics are a delicate balance of moving parts and, in order to frerge without insecurity: 'You've got to be sure of your place in a group before you introduce someone in.'
Frerging Horror Stories
Though frerging obviously has its benefits, it's not a risk-free activity. More than just my illogical aversion to it, I've heard my share of frerge horror stories.
'I introduced two friends from different groups because I thought they would really hit it off and we could all hang out together,' explains Lily Ewes, 30. 'It worked great for a while but one day they had a huge fight. I lost one of them as a friend because of the fallout- she asked me to choose between them and I refused. It was awful.'
A similar situation occurred for Nicole Ferris, 31, who introduced two friends when one was looking for a flatmate. Their living arrangement turned sour very quickly.
'After originally being invited into the group she was then ostracised because of how badly the flatshare went. I find it hard to be as close to her now. I'll never do that again.'
Sometimes a person who is more introverted would prefer to have more one-on-one friendships
Despite my resilience to blending my friends, there are times it has actually served me well. At one of my birthday parties, three of my friends from university- who vaguely knew each other before- hit it off. Within days, we had formed a distinct group, complete with the requisite whatsapp group and, embarrassingly, our own nickname. It was a wonderful confluence of personalities, and a brilliant little accident that I still cherish.
More wonderful, however, is the story of when my one of my male best friends met one of my female best friends. They began dating and, despite an initial unease at the situation (will it be awkward, please don't tell me about the sex etc) I think its brought us all closer. They are now in a very serious relationship and I adore the fact that two of the most important people in my life have merged so well, they may just spend the rest of their lives together.
Frerging might still fill you with dread but it's important to remember that, when it goes right, you could be starting a whole new life.