Saturday, February 09, 2008

okay, so maybe it isn't impossible

but near enough.

I've been thinking about this all day today. I guess I should say a bit more than I did last night.

Oh, The Joy's post was titled "I don't hang out with your husband" and ended with "I just can't make friends with another woman's husband!" She then appealed to her readers to back her up "against" K, who didn't understand why this was so.

Now, I admit that in the post itself she says that it would be okay for her to spend time with the other dad - within the context of K being there and the dad's wife being there. J also explained further in her comment to my post that it would be possible for a married woman to be friends with a married man, but only if the friendship first developed within the context of the couples spending time together so the spouses could be part of the growing friendship and be comfortable with it. J goes on to say that a strong friendship between a married man and married woman could be misinterpreted.

K didn't understand this. Why did J have to have all future contact via the mom? Hence the appeal for help from her readers. The responses were interesting. At the time I read through all of the comments today, out of 86 comments, 62 agreed. (all but 5 of these were women). Only 9 comments disagreed, with 15 undecided. So - 75% of her readers whole-heartedly agreed. Some "chuckled at his (K) naivete", one mentions that "men are so clueless", one states "our men need a little help sometimes", one wrote "score you 1, hubby 0", one would mark her husband so other women would know to stay away, one mentions K needed "a manual on men & women" and the rest said mostly - yep, you're right. I talked to Laura about this at lunchtime. Where she works the staff is predominately female and she agreed that the majority of those women would feel the same way.

I take from all of this that there are two reasons why it isn't a good idea for this kind of friendship. 1) That the spouse would not understand or like it and 2) that the community wouldn't understand the platonic nature of the relationship.

Point 1: I contend that this is a matter of trust between the spouses. Laura and I have discussed this, she is fine with my female friends and feels no need for her to be involved in the friendship. I have no problems with her having male friends. I trust her. She trusts me. Maybe this level of trust is unusual, seeing that some of the 75% of J's supporting comments mention this. Maybe this level of trust comes after a certain amount of time - we've been married over 23 years. I know that Laura will honor our vows of fidelity. If a friendship of hers turned into an affair, that tells me that our marriage had problems in the first place that caused her to look outside it for whatever she didn't get from me. Me preventing her from having unsupervised contact with another man doesn't fix the inherent problem in our marriage. As for how the spouse of my friend feels about the friendship - that isn't my problem. That may sound blunt, cold, uncaring - but I am not responsible for her marriage. It is a matter for them to work out. It isn't my actions causing the problem - it is her behavior that is causing the problem with her spouse and it is up to her to deal with it. If she chooses to deal with it by ending our friendship, then that is her decision and I respect that. Julie Pippert mentions (my paraphrasing) that I should have respect for their marriage by being careful of the friendships I form with married women. I feel that the utmost respect I can have for someone's marriage is to recognize that they have the power and responsibility for maintaining it and that I don't. I have heard something to the effect that communities have a role in maintaining the marriages in it. I don't know that I agree with that - if the marriage isn't strong enough to prevent infidelity then all of the chaperoning by the community won't fix the problem, it will merely perpetuate a bad marriage. In other words, just because I didn't cheat on my wife through lack of opportunity doesn't mean I didn't want to - and it is the wanting to that is the problem, not the actual doing. A lot of people made fun of Jimmy Carter when he made his famous statement about lusting in his heart but what he was trying to say, in my opinion, was that it wasn't just the act itself that is considered cheating, but the desire to also.

2: I don't know what to say about how the community could misinterpret the friendship. This could be your neighbors or your church congregation or your book club, I guess anyone who knows you and sees you with a man other than your husband who might then think you are cheating on your husband. I cannot control what other people think. I don't really care what other people think - other than the spouses involved. I've addressed that in point 1 above. Worrying about how others think is instilled in us at an early age and is done so that we would conform to the local morays. Society protects itself by means of urging this conformance. But at what expense? So we can all live in the same house, all have the same 2.5 children, all go to the same church, all belong to the same lion's club or kiwanis club or jaycees, etc, etc, etc. At what point are we allowed to be individuals without the fear that if I don't go to the right church or belong to the right club I'll be outcast. Well - if the price of belonging means that I'm not allowed to be who I am then I don't want to belong.

Mir's take on this issue (and my post) was that 1) I was overreacting (yeah, probably) and that 2) that this kind of friendship wasn't impossible - that some women simply have more in common with women and so that's where their friendships are. I totally agree with her. But that isn't what J's post is about and it isn't what upset me. J said that she liked the dad but wouldn't hang out with him, be pals with him, have lunch dates (or pedicures) with him - because it just isn't right, it just isn't done.

Liv commented here that she (in effect) agreed that it is a matter of trust, but her comment over at J's post was that J was right, that "we've been through this! You must do it your way" Which, if I relate this to J's comment here, Liv is being consistant - there has to be trust between everyone. Maggie's comment reflects this attitude also. Okay, I accept that there must be trust - but for me the establishment of trust isn't between me and her husband, it is between me and my wife. It is up to my friend to have the trust of her husband.

Slow Panic, over at J's, agreed with her but over here has had another think at it and seems to agree with me, but made what was to me an interesting and somewhat ambiguous statement: "i guess i was thinking of hanging out with them like i hang out with the girls-- like going out and stuff. i don't know". So male friends are okay, but you still cannot "hang out" with them like you would "the girls?" Why not?

At first I didn't quite understand De's comment over at J's, except that her last statement about K being naive made me understand. Her comment here consolidated that understanding. my response is - How can jealousy exist if there is trust? I find them mutually exclusive. So, to prevent jealousy I have to make friends with both the wife AND her husband? And Laura has to make friends with him too? I don't know about other people, but how likely is it that I will meet a woman I want to be friends with and ALSO find that I feel the same about her husband? I find that unlikely and unreasonable. How many potential friends am I losing if I had to stay away from couples that I didn't like equally?

Julie Pippert was one of those wholly supportive over at J's, she mentions that it just doesn't look right and all friendships have to include both spouses. Which she refines here to say that you have to be "careful of the dynamic and respectful of their marriage" and goes on to say that most people have run into problems with this type of friendship and goes further by saying that trust isn't the issue here. I have to say that I disagree, it is all about trust. I also made my position clear with regard to having to be responsible for their marriage - I'm not. She concludes by saying that she personally doesn't have time for these relationships, her life is full of other things - and she lists friends as part of those things. I am left to assume that these are female friends.

Jen - you were one of the very few who disagreed with J and you've repeated that here, in your own succinct way. It is nice to know that I'm not the only one.

Lee - that's a cop out, girl. Take a stand! Join the fray.

I want to close this novel by saying one more thing to J. She was really nice to say in her comment here that she didn't mean to be discouraging me and that I should continue to form friendships where I can find them. I appreciate that, but I can say that even after having thought this through, If I accept what you and your readers are telling me then I have a really hard road ahead of me. As I have said to others and also here in other posts - I have a hard enough time finding people I want to be friends with without having these extra hurdles to overcome. I guess I will have to treasure those friendships I make even more because there will be fewer of them.

22 deeply creased, dogeared comment(s):

liv said...

Let me just say that you have done a hell of a lot of research---more than my brain can cope with logically at 3AM on this topic. We all have to do what is best for our relationships. All of us come to our opinions based on our set of life circumstances. My comment to J was really born from a convo that she and I had over lunch last Saturday. Sometimes, comments on blogs are simply messages to the writer that are written with an understanding that other readers might not comprehend. That is certainly the case with the repartee between us on our sites, in my opinion.

Because of my own life drama, I cherish my male friends but in a guarded way. For my friend and yoga client whose wife does not participate? I speak to her if I see her and ask after her often. When you were in Bahrain, I mentioned L often because it's important to me that you know that I respect your relationship. And it's even more important to me that it is known that I am not "that girl" who goes where she is not desired.

Julie Pippert said...

I know that making it complicated or finding it complicated feels discouraging or wrong to you and probably to others.

And yet I stand by what I said because I do think it is more complicated than only weighing my interaction or relationship with the other person, and any other relationships that person has are outside of our own.

I also believe it is not as exclusively related to sexual infidelity---let's be honest and say we mean sex here to be clear---as your post makes it out to be.

It doesn't just have to be about sex.

Infidelity means marital disloyalty. Sex might be the biggest and most obviously hurtful, but it's not the only or even the most common. I'm not even convinced it's the most destructive, in the end.

To try to explain my position fully would be fairly impossible in comments because I have most of my life and 20 years with my husband as anecdotal backdrop. But if you have a particular question, I'd be glad to answer it. I might try to do a post on it.

In the end, I have found to to work well to have the male friend, but keep the door wide open for his wife/partner, and keep a friendly relationship with that person too.

I've carefully omitted specifying male or female here, even though it's from my POV.

That's because IMO a Committed Relationship is such a bond in my mind that you can't really exclude the spouse/partner.

That doesn't make YOU responsible for the state of their marriage. You have misunderstood me.

That asks that you respect the fact that there is a marriage there, and the partner must come first above any other friends.

The dynamic I refer to is the dynamic of your friendship...not the dynamic of the marriage.

Gender isn't even the top factor here. It's like I said to meno, it's about ANY friend.

meno said...

I like this post after the last one. That last one felt like kind of a snit.

There is a difference between a friendship that doesn't include the spouse and one that excludes her/him.

As in all matters, you should do what works for your life. Your wife is part of your life (duh) so that includes what works for the two of you as well.

You should continue to try and make friends with whomever you like.

Lee said...

Seriously, one of my best friends is a guy. It's platonic and always has been so, but over the years, his various girlfriends and my various boyfriends have taken issue with us. They come and go. The friendship remains. I'm still so glad I'm single.

Oh, The Joys said...


Julie's post really fleshes out my feelings...


Anonymous said...

Hi, I have never been on your blog before, but I am glad I found it. My husband and I also have friends of the opposite sex. In fact I have made several good ones participating in military support and in other community activities.I am loathe to discount a chance at getting to know another human being because of the whole plumbing you say it's hard enough to make friends you really want to keep as it is. I agree with your arguments and I am pleased to see you post about this. Some friends and I were discussing this topic just the other day. Good stuff. Hope

Bob said...

liv - I'm sorry you feel you have to be guarded with your male friends, but I understand why.

Julie - I read your post. I left a brief comment there and I'll be brief here. You must do what makes you and your husband comfortable in your relationship. Our way doesn't have to be yours.

Meno - "There is a difference between a friendship that doesn't include the spouse and one that excludes her/him." I guess you are implying that the friendship that excludes the spouse is going somewhere unhealthy for the marriage. I would agree with that. I would need to know why the exclusion. lots of talk about it.

Lee - I'm sorry to hear that your friend has been an issue in your relationships. I would rather you be single and happy than married and unhappy.

J - So Julie acknowledges that there can be friends of opposite sex as long as the spouse knows and approves. so maybe you will hang out with someone's husband?

Welcome, Hope. I've seen a handful of people who share this view. we seem to be a minority!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,

I don't disagree with your Point #1.

Point #2 - sometimes the persons doing the misinterpretation are the potential friends themselves. I've never had a male friend that didn't assume I was interested in more because I was spending time with him without my husband. Not sure what that says, about me or them, but that's been my experience. Flip that experience over, and no matter how much I trust my husband, I wonder if his female friend thinks he's available for something more.

When it comes to jealousy and trust, I was thinking about how a friendship can "take away" from time with the spouse (many of us who commented this way have young kids. Yours are in college), and wanting that time for yourself. The best part of our marriage is the friendship between my husband and me. Yes, I would be jealous if he chose to spend what precious little time he has with another woman instead of with me. Emotional affairs erode relationships. It's not just about sex, or even lusting the loins, in the heart, or in the head... wherever. It's the brain that makes friends and it's the brain that falls in and out of love.

The other point I was trying to make is that the relationship may be fine, but for various reasons, people get jealous - not suspicious, but protective - because they are insecure. I'm insecure because I have very low self-worth. I'm not going to just get over that because my partner of 24 years has never considered leaving me for another woman. Someone else might be insecure because their partner has actually strayed. Everyone has a story.

I never meant to say that men and women absolutely can't be buddies, but I do believe that for most couples, the most comfortable way to initiate such a friendship is to formally acknowledge the spouse(s) in an inclusive way. That way, everyone gets to do the "sniff test" and there is no misinterpretation of intent.

Bob said...

De - I don't know what to say about what you are saying with regard to #2. I get the impression that you think (at least deep down) that men and women cannot be friends without sex coming into it. I don't agree, I only have one female friend that I have sex with - and that's Laura. My being married stops me from having sex with anyone else and if a woman I'm friends with hits on me, then I'd end the friendship.

And I understand what you're saying about "emotional infidelity" - your husband spending time with someone other than you. Especially when you've had a rotten day and need a break from managing the kids on your own. But that has nothing to do with cross-gender friendships, that applies to any friends or hobbies or whatever distracts your spouse from spending time at home when they are needed. If your husband were spending his evenings drinking beer with his male friends isn't that also emotional infidelity?

The bottom line is that it shouldn't matter what gender your husband's friends are. It is his responsibility to you to make sure they don't interfere with your marriage and family. Insisting that his friends be yours too is just like you said - you being insecure. After 24 years you don't trust your husband loves you? Hey - only you can make you feel good about yourself.

I'm not telling your husband to do his own thing, I wouldn't dream of interfering in your marriage - or anyone else's. That's between you and him. And the fact that a lot of people agree with you only tells me that there are a lot of people who have that bit insecurity about their spouses. and that's too bad.

Rachel said...

Good post. Lots to think about.
Some that hits a bit close to home.

amusing said...

Oh, crap. I can't even read all this stuff.

It all reminds me of my mother saying "none of the other mothers at the kids' school will want to have anything to do with you. They will be afraid you will steal their husbands."

That comment really pissed me off.
Some of these comments really piss me off. That maybe the world really thinks that way.

I have no friends because the women are scared and jealous, I am single, and men aren't allowed to talk to me.

Well, that's a fine kettle of fish.

I was really hoping people were better than that. But I guess not.

Mother of Invention said...

It is indeed a complicated and very individual issue. There has to be honesty, trust and belief that beyond doubt there no attraction between the friends of opposite sex. Then, there is no feeling of would act, as Dr. Phil says, as if your spouse were looking over your shoulder. It is possible...just have to have the right feeling about it.

Bob said...

rachel - yeah - this topic seems to have hit a nerve (other than mine, that is).

amusing - that's exactly how I took it too (without the comment from my mom.....)

MoI - you know, I really didn't think it would be that big of a deal - boy, was I wrong.

MitMoi said...

You know, one of the sadist days of my professional life was when I had a male co-worker tell me we could never have lunch together, crop-inspect together, nor could he do "Happy Hour" activities with the other guys if I was going to be around. And if I really liked my co-workers, I would be smart and bow out of those activities, so the other wives wouldn't hate my guts too.

I refused to do as he suggested. I am a single woman, working in a male dominated industry. I behave myself, and never act in questionable ways. If "they", be it wives or husbands, can't deal with it, it's their issue, not mine.

I also hate being expected to hang out with the wives at industry meetings. I usually bring a female friend along to take the "wife role" so I can talk business, drink Scotch, and smoke cigars. I have no stories to share about child raising, grandchildren, husbands who are asses, shopping or gardening. My "wife" friend is WONDERFUL, and remembers everyone's children's names, b'days, and all the gossip from the last meeting. I think my professional life would be more difficult if she didn't show up from time to time to play that role.

I agree Bob, it's about trust, and taking responsibility for your own feelings & issues. It's not our job to keep everyone else from misbehaving. Besides, it never works. Those that will misbehave, will find ways no matter what sanctions are put in place to prevent such behavior.

My life is rich and over-flowing because of my male friends. I cannot imagine one without them.


Bob said...

Mitter - bingo. time to step up and be an adult.

I find it hilarious that you found a "wife" to bring along to your smokers. bravo.

Robin said...

i'm with you, Bob. I don't like the idea of being pigeon-holed into making gender specific friendships because I'm in a relationship.

my very significant other has had issues with me having male friends. girls should only be friends with girls; boys should only be friends with boys; but it's okay to play together in a group. since i successfully completed the SECOND grade, i have told him bluntly this topic is no longer open to discussion because we either have trust, fidelity, respect and faith in our relationship or we don't. my friends won't breach those things; he and i will have to take responsibility for our own actions.

bottom line: i've done pretty well at choosing my own friends so far, i believe i'll continue to do so.

an interesting thought: i wonder if this is such an issue in a gay relationship?

Suki said...

Don't lose hope in us young 'uns yet.
Came over from Julie Pippert's space, and did a post of my own here.
I got confused somewhere in the middle of marathon blogging, but the gist is that I agree with you.
Given the right amount of trust(ie trusting with one's eyes open), it is quite fine to have any kind of friendship with the opposite sex.

@Robin: I was thinking about gay relationships too. How about when people are bi? Would they want to maintain a relationship with both sexes?

Susanne said...

I totally missed out on that whole debate but then I have had the same discussion many times with friends. I'm of the same opinion as you. It is about trust. If you don't trust your spouse then nothing will reassure you in the long run. And if somebody really wants to cheat he or she will certainly find a way.

I also very much dislike the notion that between men and women it is always about sex. It isn't.

JCK said...

Bob, I am just entering the fray here. I think you really said it all at the end of your post "I guess I will have to treasure those friendships I make even more .." Friendships are a special treasure. Whether male-male, female-female or male-female. I think everyone has to make that choice for themselves. You are probably connecting with women with whom it is not threatening to them or their husbands. What works for some...may not work for others. The important thing seems to be that you have formed some wonderful friendships that you enjoy with women and your wife, Laura, is fine with that. As you are with her friendships. I think that might be hard for many people. What a blessing that it isn't for you. Enjoy!

Oh, The Joys said...

Bob -
Of course! Yes!

I just find it awkward to initiate the relationship with the husband and keep it separate and apart from the wife. In context and with everyone feeling comfortable about it - I'm all for it. I just wouldn't want K to ever feel that I was choosing someone over him - particularly a someone wholly unknown to him. That seems outside of - or away from - my commitment to him.

Mignon said...

I'm one that feels all good friendships have some element of attraction to them. Same sex or not, if we choose to share ourselves with another, there must be a compelling reason. That said, you are absolutely right about trust, Bob. If my husband forms a friendship with a woman (he has in the past), I accept it, because our relationship is a healthy growing thing and he is a good man. However, I also know he is/was attracted to this woman, because she's smart, funny and pretty. But I trust him, so I would never interfere.

On the other hand, my husband's brother doesn't enjoy women. He's not gay, he just is one of those guys that doesn't relate to females. I think he's a jerk, actually, but if I were his wife and he formed a friendship with another woman? Red flag. Also, his wife is very girly and flirty, and if she had a male friend, that would also be a serious problem.

So, after all that, I guess your reasonings are excellent for mature, intelligent, compassionate adults in committed, healthy relationships. Basically, if things were perfect, we'd all get along.

I guess an example is that my husband's friend eventually moved away and went to grad school and so on, and last year he looked her up to talk about some things they were both working on at the time, and she had a very bizarre, guarded reaction to his call. Her first comment was "You know I'm married now." Implying...

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