The scenario: I invite a friend to play cards, or to a concert, or to watch a game at my apartment. I’m sure he’ll say yes, because he’s always said yes. He even said yes that time he had to cancel dinner with a client, a decision that nearly cost him his corner cubicle.

But this time is different. This time, my friend rejects me with all the subtlety of a Hellfire missile. At first, I wonder why. Have I done something wrong? Was his birthday last week? Did he not like that joke about his sister and the dude from Jiffy Lube?

I don’t have to wonder for long. Soon, the truth surfaces like a submarine headed for port: He has a new squeeze, a steady, a lady in his life. And I, mere friend, am out in the cold.

There was a time in my life when I railed against such behavior, when I didn’t understand how my friends could so hastily turn their attention from pal to gal. That, though, was before I ever fell in love.

Here’s the thing about being with the one you love: it’s far better than drinking Busch heavies and playing some PlayStation game in which we fire rail guns at zombies as a thinly veiled outlet for our sexual frustration. There’s the sex, of course. But there’s also the sense that, finally, someone (other than your mother) understands you, loves you, gets you.

And also the sex. Did I mention the sex?

Not everyone is as sanguine as I, though. Some people need to be let down a little more slowly. Which is why I’ve created this handy, step-by-step guide for married men who need to phase out their single friends.

So listen up, men who’ve recently been taken off both markets (the Friend Market AND the Dating Market).

I have some advice for you.

Step One: Keep Some of the Details To Yourself

Alright. You’ve met a lady you like. She smells like lilac and she looks like Emily Blunt and she tastes like— stop right there.

Later in this guide, I’m going to give you permission to engage in what Dr. Spock would’ve called “tough love.” But right now, the tough love is aimed directly at you. It’s early, and you need to calm the fuck down. Have a little sensitivity. Your friends aren’t prepared for a detailed analysis of the depths of your love affair. Not because they’re the Neanderthals pop culture makes them out to be. Sure, they might claim they “don’t ever wanna settle down” and that “monogamy is for pussies” and that “your pants are way too tight now.”

But those dudes would give anything for what you’ve found.

So take it easy with the descriptors, bro. That stuff hurts.

Step Two: Make a Series of Wildly Unacceptable Counteroffers

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume you have a friend named Justin (easy enough; these days, everyone has a friend named Justin). You and Justin have a tradition: you get together every Sunday to watch your favorite American football team play an American football game. On the Thursday before the next game, Justin sends you a text:

Yo dude, your house or mine for the game?

A chill runs down your spine. Because the thing is: on Sunday, you’re going to want to spend the day with your new lady-partner, who we will assume for this exercise is named Maribel because that’s the name of a human I’ve never met.

Now, you are not yet prepared to admit this desire to Justin, of course; if pressed, you would say that you are going to hate it when Maribel forces asks you to hit the farmer’s market with her. But the truth is that you’ve been to the farmer’s market with girls you didn’t like and this whole going-to-the-farmer’s-market-with-someone-you-do-like, well, you’re into it.

But we’re saving the Truth Phase for Step 5. For now, what I want you to do is type the following:

Sorry man, I got some shit I gotta do.

And then, immediately thereafter.

How about we get some brews on Tuesday night?

Why so specific?

You already know Justin has that early staff meeting on Wednesday (now that you’ve got a decent female presence in your life, you’re actually listening). There’s no way he’s going to want to drink on Tuesday, leaving you to do what you actually want to do on Tuesday, which is to lie in bed and let Maribel play with your hair. And you’ll get to receive that hair-play without a shred of guilt, because at least you tried to hang out with Justin, right?

Step Three: Be Erratic

Back in “the day,” which is a phrase no one uses anymore, you and Justin and Dave (you also have a friend named Dave, duh.) would on a daily basis exchange at least one group text or bulk email, which was then replied to within minutes. Well, times have changed, and it’s your job to brief your boys on the new normal. And what this means is that you’re going to have to wait out some of those text battles. Instead of responding immediately, wait a couple of hours. Justin and Dave need to know that you’re not always going to be around.

You don’t have to make this a constant feature of your communication with your best friends—sometimes you can respond right that motherfucking second, like you used to. Your only objective is to keep them on their toes.

Need some guidance? Go back to when you and Maribel were courting, when you would let her texts simmer for hours on your phone, terrified to seem too eager.

Now, apply Early Maribel Behavior to your friends.

Step Four: Keep Your Frenemies Close (And Your Girlfriend Closer)

You know how Maribel has been bugging you to have a dinner party? Here’s your chance! All Justin and Dave have to do is find dates, because you’re not hosting a reenactment of every meal scene from That 70s Show here. You need couples!

You’re right: Justin and Dave are going to protest, at first, and someone’s going to call you a name, but in the end you’re going to come out of this exercise on top. Maribel’s going to be happy that you have confidence in your shared ability to make a home-cooked meal (even if it is grill-based). Justin and Dave can hardly take issue with the format of the event; you’ve all voted in four Presidential elections so it’s not like they can say a dinner party sounds “lame.” And now that you’ve been treating the two of them like former hook-ups you’re trying to keep on the back burner, they’re going to be thrilled at any chance to see you.

Then there’s this: in the same way that menstrual cycles align, so do coupling cycles. Maybe Maribel invites a friend; maybe Justin decides he kind of likes her.

Presto, double dates!

Step Five: Be Honest, You Coward

OK. You’ve applied tough love to yourself. You’ve applied tough love to your friends. You’ve gotten weird in text message form. You’ve gotten weird in real life form. (Because I’m sure seeing you in that shirt Maribel picked out for you at H&M was something of a stunner for Dave.) Now it’s time to stop messing about. You need to tell your friends the truth, which is that, for now, you’d probably rather be with Maribel than with them. Explain that it’s not that you don’t want to see them ever again, it’s just that you don’t have as much time as you used to. If Dave and Justin are cut from sensitive cloth, say something about companionship and about how Maribel makes you a better version of yourself.

If that isn’t feasible, go back to the sex thing.

And remember, if you are not ready for Step Five, then it’s time to face the facts: maybe you’re friends suck. If they were real friends, they’d be more interested in seeing you happy than anything else.

But if you should chose to keep Dave and Justin in your life, there’s a silver lining for them. In about a year and three months from now, when all the sexual dynamism between you and Maribel has worn off, they’re going to get you back for all the poker nights, concerts, and football games their hardened hearts could ever desire.