Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Friends

Thanks for the suggestions for future posts. I will certainly blog about my trip to Bahrain when it happens. I am working on posts about Germany and Crete, still trying to keep them at least to novella length.

However, I do have a question somewhat related to the his & hers post that I want to pose. I'm looking for your experiences and/or opinions about "mixed" friendships, especially when the friend is married.

I met "Lisa*" soon after she came to work. She and I hit it off immediately. We were both programmers sitting in cubes in the same area and would frequently start the workday having a cup of coffee in one or the other's cubicle. There wasn't much that we couldn't talk about to each other. Lisa would unload on me about her husband's ex-wife and how she would use the step-children jerk her husband's strings, or just about disagreements she would have with him, (and so you don't think all she did was complain to me) about their vacation plans, her career aspirations, her son, etc., etc., etc. I felt comfortable telling her about things of a similarly personal nature about myself too. When Lisa had surgery, I visited her at home bringing movies & books to occupy her during her convalescence.

However, after about a year things started to cool off. We met less and less often - although the conversations, while less frequent, remained as personal as they had been. I wondered if maybe I had done something to offend her, or maybe she came to feel that I wasn't as good a friend as she needed. Lisa had told me early on that she made friends much more easily with men, but I noticed that she started spending more and more time with the women in the office, going to lunch, etc. I asked her about this, and was told that nothing had changed, she still thought of me as a close, valued friend. About this time she started talking more and more about her religious beliefs and how much the church meant to her. Her opinions about topics we discussed became more conservative.

One day we had lunch and I related all of this to her, that I felt we had lost some of the closeness of our friendship. The conversation wandered around but the gist is that she felt that, both in terms of her marriage and her religious beliefs, we could not be close friends. It was inappropriate for a woman to be close to a man that wasn't her husband. And that is the way things remain today.

I miss her friendship. While we have a very comfortable working relationship we are merely casual friends. We still work in the same office. Lisa and I don't have very many one-on-one talks anymore, excepting that when she's angry at her boss Lisa will still come into my office and rant.

I am fully aware that my take on this could be totally off base, that we just drifted apart and that I am not what she wants or needs in a friend, that the reasons she gave were merely to save my feelings. I am also aware that people do change, that friendships dissolve over time. This could be the case, and I can accept that. I have in any case accepted that our close friendship is gone.

What bothers me are the reasons she gave. If she told me the truth, it really bothers me that she has come to believe that men and women cannot have a close PLATONIC relationship exclusive of marriage. I know that people think, given our baser natures, it can be difficult to believe from either perspective that the other isn't thinking about or wanting to have sex. Speaking for myself, I made a promise of monogamy when I got married that I have kept and will keep. I would not become romantically involved with anyone else unless our marriage had ended. I expect this behavior in anyone who is married. I do not assume that a woman I am friends with is interested in me in a romantic way. In other words, my having a close female friend has no impact at all on my relationship with my wife. I love my wife no less, nor does it interfere with my marital commitment to her.

Do any of you have any experiences to share like this? What are your opinions - can a married man or woman have a close friend of the opposite sex? Do your religious beliefs have a bearing on this, or am I just running into conservative social standards? True friends are so hard to find. Friendship should not be squandered because of some perceived social prohibition.

*not her real name

24 deeply creased, dogeared comment(s):

Lee said...

One of my favorite blog reads,El Guapo posted on this very subject in a humorous way. His readers, including myself, recorded our opinions in his comment section. Hope you enjoy!

Regarding the religious excuse, I ran into it once when my Mormon boyfriend told me we couldn't have sex anymore and he was on probation. Since he was attending BYU, I beleive he was sincere. ;)

Sober Briquette said...

My husband would not want me to have male friends. I'm guessing Lisa's husband, more than Lisa, felt the same way.

Sometimes this can work if the husband and the friend can also be friends, but if not, at least in my case, the displeasure of the husband, and the manifestation of such displeasure would not be worth it. I'd let the friendship go.

Mother of Invention said...

Hmmm, difficult! It's different with everyone. I do believe it's possible to have a platonic friendship when both are married happily. It has to be equal and you never really know how happily married some are. A part of me thinks there is a little wee bit of attraction, perhaps simply as a person, and let's face it, it is always a compliment when the opposite sex takes special notice of you just as a person. You might ask the question: if we were both single, would we want to go out with each other? If the answer is yes, then just be very careful and let your spouse know everything you do, otherwise you will feel guilty and not even have done anything. If your spouse doesn't sound too keen on it or feels threatened, then cut back.

In my experience, it has never worked unless the friend's spouse and mine are also friends. The 2 male friends I became really close to, weren't attached and I think they might have thought I was or should be interested. Then they got perhaps jealous of me and my good marriage, then angry. In the one case, as soon as he got a girlfriend, I was dropped like a hot potato and I felt hurt. I had been there for him when he was really down.

Bottom line is, you have to figure it out on an individual basis and consider Laura's take on it.

meno said...

My husband has, and has had, female friends. Some of them have made me very uncomfortable. Some of them are just fine. It's not all about looks either. I can tell when there's a sexual interest behind the scenes. It's an issue of boundaries that the Mister and i used to have problems with, because it fed his ego to have that attraction going on. Long story of course. But now, if i tell him that so-and-so makes me uncomfortable, he listens.

But he also tells me that it's hard to make real friends with men. And i know what he means.

Will think more and maybe do a post, using your post as a seed. If that's okay with you.

meno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob said...

Lee - I read the post (hilarious) and the comments. I think, or would like to think, that a spouse would have a different take on it than a boyfriend/girlfriend. When you aren't married and your s.o. has a close friend of the opposite sex, you tend to see that friend as a competitor. Is it really friendship????? I would like to think that the security of marriage would allay that fear. I have had mixed results with my wife, so I understand both sides.

De - That could be. Her loyalty to her husband could be why she didn't say so. I also understand that if forced to choose between husband and friend choosing your husband. It is unfortunate that this is an either/or situation - and what this post is really about. Why should you have to choose?

MoI - I am on the fence about "the sex thing" except to say that if you are going to be friends with someone sex is out of bounds. Maybe you are right, a compromise is that your s.o. has to be friends too, but that still tells me that trust is an issue here. I have a hard enough time finding a friend without having to also make sure that it is someone my wife has to be friends with too. I don't think friendship works that way.

I'm sorry you were "dropped like a hot potato", he turned out to not be such a good friend.

Laura knows when I am friends with someone, it isn't something I hide. I would be uncomfortable if Laura had problems with it. It hasn't been a problem so far. (She did say it depends on the situation, though!)

meno - I had a friend once that Laura told me to watch out for, that she was wanting more than friendship. I had been oblivious to it. I was extra careful to make sure that I did nothing to encourage her. That time passed and she and I are still friends. We visit about every other week.

Please, help yourself to the topic. I look forward to what your post

Lee said...

Interesting...I guess I come at it from a different angle. Commitment to monogamy is commitment to monogamy, in my opinion, whether to a boyfriend or a husband. Plus, I cheated on my husband (I was very young and stupid), so the vow didn't seem to sway me.

Thailand Gal said...

Hm. Interesting topic. I believe in some cases it can work ~ but it's relatively infrequent. I have a few male friends but we're very clear about the nature of our friendship and it has all been spoken. If a discussion takes place and boundaries are set, it can work.

I find this new trend of "friends with benefits" to be absolutely disgusting!

I'm not the jealous type so I never objected to my ex-husband's female friends. For the most part, I liked them, too.


Peace,


~Chani

jen said...

i think we can and should continue to create friendships throughout our life. It's hard enough without it.

I might be going on a limb here, but perhaps she had other feelings going on for you that she needed to deal with, and this is how she chose to do it.

Susanne said...

"True friends are so hard to find. Friendship should not be squandered because of some perceived social prohibition."

I totally agree with that. I used to have male friends but interestingly they just vanished when I got married. My husband has had a lot of female friends. He even stays friendly with ex-girlfriends. A lot of people have told me to be jealous but I'm not. They are friends. They know me. I know them.

Bob said...

Lee - I agree, a commitment is a commitment. That's why I think that having a friend of the opposite sex shouldn't be seen as a threat to the marital/bf-gf relationship. As for your infidelity, I assume you had your reasons. I wouldn't presume to judge what you did, I wasn't involved and don't know the circumstances. Only you (and your ex-husband) can.

Chani - I'm interested in that you say that it only works in limited circumstances and then go on to say that you had no problems with your ex-husband's female friends. You nailed it when you said you weren't the jealous type - you trusted your husband.

As for friends-with-benefits: I cannot separate my emotions from the physical act of sex. I have to have an emotional connection with someone to have sex with them. That moves the relationship (for me) beyond friendship. From my limited reading, I think that friends with benefits really means a sex partner with whom there is no other connection. If the sex were to end, so would the "friendship". Just my opinion.

Jen - I totally agree: no "person" is an island. Humans are social creatures, the world is a lonely place without others to share it with.

And as for "Lisa" - you could be right. I am notoriously blind it. Laura has told me 2 or 3 times that a woman had "feelings" for me that I didn't know of. She was right.

Suzanne - I am sorry your male friends vanished when you got married. I have heard this a lot and am sorry to say this tends to support the theory that when men are friends with unmarried women there is always another agenda. Have you not had the opportunity to form new male friends since you married?

I continue to think that jealousy is a manifestation of insecurity. That you aren't jealous of your husband's female friends tells me you trust your husband. Trust is the foundation of any good relationship, not just marriage.

Thanks for your comment.

Oh, The Joys said...

I'll bet she was just feeling too close to you and needed the distance.

Thailand Gal said...

Bob, in some ways, there is a difference between my personal experience and things I observed elsewhere. Other women (and men) expressed some jealousy over the idea of their spouse having opposite-sex friendships.

Jealousy is, admittedly, an entirely foreign emotion for me. My attitude was that if my husband was going to do something, he'd better use a condom and he'd better not lie about it. Seriously. I don't have the energy to hold that kind of torch for anyone, to be monitoring his activities. I don't "own" another person.

Ultiamtely, either he has integrity or he doesn't. I wouldn't have married someone I didn't believe to have integrity. My ex had his issues but dishonesty wasn't one of them.

After all, it's not the extramarital sex that's really the core issue anyway. It's the deception.


Peace,


~Chani

patches said...

I'm a day late to the party. Men and Women can have strictly platonic relationships with the opposite sex outside of the marriage...but it takes a an understanding spouse (obviously you have one). It can be a slippery slope. I had a strong friendship with the opposite sex before I met my life partner. His wife trusted him completely and never questioned the nature of our friendship, and we spent lots of time together.

Later I learned that both he and I had curiosities about "what if?". We were both consenting adults who chose to acknowledge his commitment to his wife. Our friendship eventually drifted apart. Not for lascivious reasons, but simply because we were at different places in our lives. He was starting a family (two boys) and I found the love of my life (he had 2 grown children and desired no more).

I miss the perspective of the opposite sex, and if the opportunity presented it again, I would pursue the friendship because a) my husband trusts me and isn't threatened, and b) my husband has women friends and I trust him.

Bob said...

OTJ - you could be right. I wish I knew, though. I hope it wasn't something I did.

Chani - good points. I understand your distinction between observations and experience.

Everyone has expectations of their marriage. There are also the vows exchanged. In my case, our vows included fidelity to each other, so infidelity is not an option. I have talked to other people who have said much as you did, though. Each marriage is as unique as the people in it.

Patches - yep, an understanding and trusting spouse. I am happy that yours does and I hope you have that opportunity.

I think that a lot people get tempted, especially if they've married long enough. That had to be tough on you both.

urban-urchin said...

i think jen's right. she had other feelings for you and took steps to protect herself (and you in a way- how awkward would it have been if she hit on you!!!)

I have both male and female friends. My husband knows he's got nothing to worry about- but if someone made him uncomfortable I'd have to consider his feelings as he is my husband

katrice said...

I have a male friend whose friendship I value greatly. (I, too, make friends with males much easier than with women, and I have always been that way.) My husband has gone back and forth over this friendship I have, which has always been platonic. His sporadic uneasiness has made my friend a bit nervous, even though he hasn't done anything. It's been a bumpy ride.

Under most circumstances, I think platonic friendships are fine. However, I've heard church people say the same thing Lisa came at you with. I don't think she made it up. Sounds like she's allowed herself to be manipulated like so many.

Bob said...

Urban-Urchin - It makes me sad to think I caused a conflict in her when all I've wanted for her is to be happy.

I would be conflicted if my wife had strong feelings against a friend of mine. I would certainly consider Laura's feelings. I also know I would be bitter if I were asked to choose between Laura or a friend.

Katrice - I am sorry to hear that your friendship has been a (periodic) point of contention with your husband. I hope that it ceases to be so.

People turn to the church for guidance and many mistake guidance for instruction. (Of course, in more conservative churches it would be instruction.) What is really at play (IMHO) is merely conservative social standards that seek to protect us from ourselves. The underlying theory is that we are incapable of making the right decision for ourselves and so the decision must be taken out of our hands.

If she did push me away either from the personal realization that it raised doubts about her marriage or due to some church-related directive I hope that she resolves the conflict in herself. And if pushing me away helps, then so be it. Ultimately I want her to be happy.

But it still hurts to lose a friend.

Thanks for coming by and for the comment.

MaLady said...

Oh, I am sorry to be so late arriving to the conversation.

I do have experiences to share - I have been on a few sides of this issue and have had to make tough choices like she did - it was about choosing the greater of two goods with my feelings not being one of them.

I am going to try to write about this elsewhere and let you know if I succeed!

Bob said...

malady - Please do let me hear what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

deb said...

I just found you through Thailand girl. I'm guessing she was attracted to you and needed to pull back for herself, I wouldn't take it personally. Myself, I have a hard time being friends with men, sex gets in the way. Everybody's different.

Bob said...

Deb - I can understand that to a certain degree. There are relatively few people I connect with, it is sad it had to wind up like this. Thanks for your comment.

Mother of Invention said...

Sounds like you have made this work before so go with it. It's just that I haven't had it work twice so am really hesitant to try again. I don't thing the S.O. HAS to be good friends but it does make it way more comfortable and keeps your own S.O. on the new friend's radar do delineates boundaries right there.
I hope you can make this new friendship work.

Bob said...

MoI - this is an especially difficult relationship because of all of the things that have been discussed here. It would take an especially close friendship to survive the problems that this type of relationship incur.