Saturday, February 09, 2008

When it comes to male-female friendship, marriage, and complications, sex can be the least of it...

Oh the Joys wrote a blog post the other day called, "I don't hang out with your husband," which addressed opposite sex friendship after marriage. I felt it was a pretty straightforward account of the things you need to keep in mind about opposite sex friendship and marriage. I think most of us have had some experience of this going right, and going wrong, and have probably formed some opinions. In the case of the comments to that post, most people seemed to agree with OTJ, including me.

Then two bloggers, Meno and Bob, wrote eloquent posts that elaborated on their point of view.

I kept commenting to each discussion, and then decided I had enough to say to warrant my own post. Then I felt like it made sense to include my husband's voice equally.

So I recorded a conversation between us about this, for your reading pleasure.

The conversation is exact, conversational, and so hopefully you can follow it. It also unfolds interestingly. We began with my husband thinkign he had a different point of view then me, me believing we agreed, and ended with us both learning a little something.


Our response and conversation about male and female friendships, friendship and marriage...

(from dictation of a conversation)

Jon:

Having read Oh The Joys, Meno and Bob's posts (or having had them read to me) and the comments, I have to say I fall most in line with K, Oh The Joys' husband. I admit and get that Julie falls more in line with Oh The Joys, and I understand that.

Julie:

Why do you fall in line with K? What does that mean?

Jon:

I don't think there should be a line drawn in the sand of whom one---based on gender, or race or any other distinction one can draw---can start a friendship with.

Julie:

But do you hear me saying, have I ever said you can't be friends with a woman, or specified that your only friends can be men?

Jon:

I don't know that it's been directly said but I've gotten the impression you're uncomfortable with it and don't prefer it.

Julie:

Based on...? Have I been discouraging, gotten in the way, how did you get this impression?

Jon:

Based on cues I've picked up on in conversation, I can't think of any specific examples. It of course all started with the very beginning and what happened there.

Julie:

You're going to have share with the class. What happened?

Jon:

It all started with the, umm, situation...

Julie:

Should we put slut? Whore? Bitch? Or will female work?

Jon:

(laughing uproariously) I don't think you can say those on a family blog.

Julie:

I did check "no profanity." Hmm I guess we'll see.

Anyway, go ahead...let's establish up front a short synopsis here. We met when we were both dating other people. And then we met again when we were both in a sort of something or another of some sort with other people. And I asked you out. You hesitated because of this other guy, who you sort of shared a social group with and while I thought of him as "nice guy to do things with..."---stop that you know I mean go places---you had a different take on it and you claim so did he.

Which is sort of my point, to some degree, how easy it is to mistake feelings in a male-female friendship.

At that time, we both had a lot of opposite sex friendships, didn't we? And some of those had gone awry, sort of in this manner.

We could say our relationship had a complicated start. I'd like to attribute that to the youthful blunders of the early 20s but I'm not so sure. So go ahead adn explain your point of view on that deal.

Jon:

Umm well I think because of the situation we were in at the time, and I can't speak for your friends who were totally messed up in their own ways, but most of my friends at that time were female. They apparently had different perspectives on our relationship that I did.

Julie:

What was your perspective and theirs?

Jon:

Well apparently some of them had romantic interests that they had not expressed and as such got bent out of shape.

Julie:

Would you say they sabotaged or tried to sabotage our relationship, either through actions or an utter lack of respect for the relationship?

Jon:

Umm it would seem that way. Nothing was done in front of me...

Julie:

OH MY GOD. You still allege innocence like almost 20 years later. Were you on drugs or something? How could you NOT SEE what was going on? How about that invitation to dinner...how about that weekend by the lake...

Jon:

Maybe I was watching the last vestiges of all my college friendships being washed away and it was a really difficult process, to the point that now I have utterly no contact with any of the friends I had in seven years of college.

Julie:

That sucks. For both of us. My friends weren't any better. I admit that. I had some genuinely nice people who kept it largely to themselves, but the bottom line is that nobody was happy for us when we got together. And eventually all the friendships faded away. I think mainly because they couldn't support our relationship. But as I was saying, I had someone I'd been friends with since freshman year---my roommate!---who tried to seduce you after we were definitely a couple.

Jon:

(nods) And your other friend too (name omitted for privacy reasons). I'm not sure how agreeing to go play pool one night at a bar was accepting some invitation to cheat on you. I guess before we were actually married it could be argued I was available, but I don't think married versus committed should be distinguished like that.

Julie:

Yeah but just shooting pool isn't agreeing that you think of yourself as available to cheat.

Jon:

I agree.

Julie:

But some people seem to have a lot of trouble with the line. And because our relationship bore so many strains due to opposite sex friendships, I got really protective about who we befriended and how. So you understand?

Jon:

Yeah.

Julie:

But you still feel my preferences are a little over the top? And you feel vastly different.

Jon:

I just don't challenge them. I don't have time these days anyway.

Julie:

Have you ever wanted to? Has there been a friendship you've passed out of fear of my reaction or more obviously hurting my feelings?

Jon:

I don't know. I can't think of anyone.

Julie:

Did you feel at all burned or shy after all we dealt with from those opposite sex friendships?

Jon:

Sure.

Julie:

Do you think that's why you don't challenge my preference? No, wait, you probably feel pretty similarly to me. But you let it be my preference, so it falls back to me, and my feelings and my responsibility.

Jon:

I'll admit if you were regularly---in our current state---heading off to go have coffee with a guy friend or talking on the phone with a guy friend frequently I wouldn't like it much, but that's more the time issue again. We don't have time to regularly go off together and chat and have coffee ourselves. I imagine if I told you I was going out to have drinks with (woman he knows, name omitted for privacy) for a drink after work you'd have a heart attack. I don't think it would have anything do with me having drinks with her, or a woman, more that you want me home, and I know in large part because you've had it with the kids by then and if I went gallivanting around town you wouldn't be very happy about it.

Julie:

I want you to have a social life, and I'd be pretty happy if you had more of one than you do now, and I think if possible I'm more unhappy about your lack of social life than you are, but at the end of the day, you have to work, a lot, and you have a long commute, and then you want your free time with the family, which leaves little to no time for friends, so the leftover free time we either go on a date or meet a couples friend for a night out. Which kind of cuts out your time for much making of friends at all.

So would you agree it's not really, probably, in most cases---even in ours where we bear a history of you definitely proving to be honorable and worthy of my trust and probably then some, even though we dealt with friends interfering or trying to in our relationship---so in most cases, it's probably not so much about the sex, or worry about sexual infidelity as jealousy about wishing you had that free time with your spouse?

Jon:

I think so.

Julie:

So the jealousy is really more an envy, a wish for that freedom, that togetherness, in a time of not enough time, not enough together time. Not so much a distrust necessarily.

Jon:

Yeah.

Julie:

But there is distrust, and there is a worry that your actions might be perceived wrong by the partner, so maybe this causes general you to make a different decision about making friends of the opposite sex than you once did.

Okay (neighbor dad) and I often walk or chat to and from school, he's come over and hung out while the kids played, and (other guy we know) and (other male friend), we've chatted and everything.

I'm not hardcore into the idea that I can't be friends with them, you have to be, and I have to be friends with the wives. I do have more women friends and hang out more with them. But I'm glad for you to be friends with my women friends, and you don't seem to have a problem knowing, for example, that I sat over at (friend's house) and ate dinner with (her husband) while she wasn't there and the kids ripped up their house the other week. And I can say I'd be perfectly okay with the reverse, you hanging out there with her.

Jon:

Yeah but I don't feel like, well...I know them, and I don't feel threatened by them. I guess your point, well, it's good, there is some importance to knowing the person. I get your point about involving or meeting or just knowing in some way the friend.

Julie:

There isn't an exclusivity...so my point is that it's not you have to befriend HIM and I have to befriend HER and neither the twain shall meet...

Jon:

I don't think it has to be husband-husband and wife-wife...I suppose there is some sort of safety net in couples being friends with couples...

Julie:

I don't know, seems like that's where it happens a lot of the time.

Jon:

Well and that's the thing, isn't it, it's not the friendship and excluding the opposite sex doesn't preclude infidelity.

Julie:

I agree.

Jon:

I don't think you should have to exclude single people. I mean if you liked to chat with a guy, maybe from book club or something, I don't see anything wrong with that.

Julie:

I don't either. And that's not my point. I don't think it needs to be exclusive him-him and her-her. I do think it has to include the marriage, I think it's easier to respect something that has a face, that you see. I also think it means you draw a line, like a sharing line. I do think you need to approach friendship a little differently after you get married, committed whatever, to some degree. I think you have to respect that, respect your partner. You get my point that it makes sense that eventually---whether it's a dad from school or guy from book club, single or married or whatever---it makes good sense to have open lines of communication, each be available to the spouse, known in some way...at least you meet these people and know them, not just know about them. You think that's reasonable?

Jon:

Yeah.

Julie:

And so what you were saying here, that you feel comfortable with those guys I call friends, that a big part of that is that you know them, and you know their wives, and so forth.

Jon:

Yes.

Julie:

So actually, we're pretty much on the same page here, and it's not really just my preferences, it's pretty much a joint agreement.

Jon:

Yeah, I mean I can't speak for you, but from what you've said here, and over time, yeah, I think so.

I do agree with Bob that friendship isn't at the heart of infidelity. If it's going to happen it's because of problems in the marriage, not the friendship. If some man or woman is going to chase after a spouse and take advantage of a weak spot, well, that's not just that person, that's people having more problems than that. In general, if you're going to wander off and pick up a relationship, there's something structurally wrong with your marriage to begin with. It's not a friendship gone awry, it's a marriage gone awry.

Julie:

Oh I completely agree about that. Friendship doesn't cause infidelity, problems do. There is nothing simple about it, and nothing easy black and white.

I do feel strongly, though, that when your marriage is having trouble, you need to dedicate your resources there, to figuring that out, and not necessarily put it out into friendship, that's especially when those opposite sex friendships carry more risk or have the possibility of creating a problem or trouble, if nothing else, due to anger that your time is there with that woman, for example, instead of home with me, but that's again, the problem, not the friendship.

So really, in the end, it's not really that complicated. My point of view, no our point of view, is just to keep the marriage front, and that's our job, and know in some way our spouse's friends.

Is that about right?

Jon:

Yeah.

Julie:

Anything else, anything else from the discussion that you think is relevant or important, you know, to address?

Jon:

No.

(read: quit making me talk, I want to go do...)

When it's completely misinterpreted by the masses you can come back and I'll take it up more then.

Julie:

Okay, thanks for playing.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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24 comments:

Oh, The Joys said...

Julie,

Who knew I would hit a nerve like this?!

I totally agree with your discussion here.

I think we should introduce the relative HOTNESS factor of the potential opposite friend next and really get the conversation going... What if the "new friend" is SMOKIN' HOT? How do the men feel about their pro-male friends of their wives then?

Heh.

ewe are here said...

I think it comes down to what you say towards the end. It's not friendships that cause infidelity, it's problems at home. And when you have problems at home, the friendships can suck precious resources/effort out of the marriage and start to cause trouble...

Gwen said...

I think most of us are so strapped for time with our spouses, that it's that issue that causes more problems. (I realize that infidelity is a problem, too, but it's not one I can really relate to, honestly, as naive or dorky or whatever as that makes me.) What Joy said is funny, but true, because my husband has a harder time if he thinks I think (get that?) that my boy-friend is anything more than homely.

Melissa said...

Interesting discussion...Mr. D and I have had a similar discourse. We have couple friends and neither of us are the jealous type. But there was ONE instance...a woman with a history of marital infidelity wanted to be "buddies" with Mr. D (she's not his co-worker, but friend of a friend) She wanted to jog with him, meet him for drinks after work, have lunch on her birthday with him...you get the picture. I trusted him, not HER. And when I flipped it around using a neighbor guy as the "buddy" doing drinks with ME and jogging and so forth, well, we understood each other much better then.

Mamma said...

That post struck a nerve with me too, because I do have a number of male friends from over time--mostly from work. But I agree with the conversation you and Jon had. I think the important part is keeping the marriage as part of the friendship. Greg doesn't mind if I get lunch with a work friend or go out with drinks with folks during a conference because he knows I tell him all about it (probably more than he wants to hear sometimes) and those guys I do call my friends all know Greg too.

I just don't think you have to rule out friendships with the opposite sex because of a marriage.

realitytesting said...

Wow. I'm wondering why I've never considered the fact that MANY of John's friends are women. Granted, they are all twenty years older than him and married, but he's friends with many women hehe. Truly. I once ended a friendship with someone because it bothered my husband...he didn't ask me to. But he did say that I was talking about this person an awful lot. I realized I was. And I realized that if there ever were problems in our marriage (there weren't--but if that ever happened), that this relationship had the potential to become even more threatening to John. Nothing was ever going on--we were just friends. But it was the only time I ever sensed hurt in my husband's eyes--and I was causing it. At teh time, our girls were so little, money was tight, work was hell...our life together was hard. This friendship, however, wasn't. The potential there was frightening. So, I completely backed off. A year later, I learned that this person had initiated an affair with a married woman.

Kyla said...

I, too, find it so interesting that OTJ's post seemed to hit a resonating nerve for so many.

I think you and Jon wrapped it up pretty well here.

Robert said...

I've actually dealt with friendship struggles like this a lot in marriages, not just my own. The first girl I dated married a nice guy, and I (out of respect) distanced myself from them because I did not want him to feel threatened. She and I were never more than friends, but I didn't want that concern because I knew their marriage was already going to be difficult because of cultural struggles (interracial marriage issues). Today my wife is great friends with her and we're all friends, but it was years after their marriage when I finally sorted it out with my friend as to why I stopped calling her (she thought I did it because I disliked her husband).

On the flip side, a friend my wife had from before we knew each other obviously had a lot of trouble sharing my wife's time with me. She lived with us for a time, and it was hard on our marriage without us completely realizing it. In the end, the two of them were driving each other so nuts that most of my time with my wife was spent helping her sort out the problems the two of them were having and I was sick of it. That friend still hates me to this day despite all I did to help her out of a tough time in her life, but I didn't think it was right to have to share equal time with my wife (and I was actually spending less alone time with her than her friend was). The day after she moved out, both of us realized how much of a mistake it had been to let these things go on. I bring this relationship up because it speaks strongly to your points about time spent versus the nature of the relationship. If I could only have male friends, then I'd have a very short list because I just get along better with women. But my wife is friends with all the women I am friends with, and probably 95% were her friends first. I don't dislike the husbands (at least not all of them) but I just have always enjoyed relationships more like women have (they talk about life goals more than goals scored in some game, for instance). The male friends I have tend to be more complex that way, too.

I know my wife worries at times that I don't have as many friends that are just mine, but we both just love to spend our time together so it's never a big deal.

I can definitely see, though, how male-female relationships outside a marriage can quickly become problematic if the marriage has its own internal struggles. The adventure can be like dating all over again, and it would seem more appealing because the couple having the affair doesn't have the turmoil that comes with being married (paying bills, raising kids, just the day to day monotiny that can come in a marriage).

I am so thankful every day I married a woman I have no fears that she will cheat, and that she has no fears that I will cheat. We certainly have our struggles with life in general, but we do our best to renew our marriage constantly so we can avoid letting those things tear us apart.

slouching mom said...

This was fascinating. I am friends with a stay-at-home dad. But I am also BFF with his wife, and my husband and I socialize with them both. So that's not quite the same situation...

But here's the thing. There's a global consensus, I think, that opposite-sex friendships post-marriage are, if not wrong, then at least quite peculiar.

I know this from personal experience. Because whenever stay-at-home dad and I get together with the kids, in public, we are asked something by a stranger that suggests that the stranger thinks we are married.

It is just ASSUMED. We think it's downright funny. And sad -- don't forget sad.

Andrea said...

I can't imagine limiting my friendships to half the human race based on whether they have an innie or an outie. And I would never be able to exist in a relationship where a partner attempted to exert that level of control on me, or had that little trust.

Not to mention, as someone who has been cheated on a fair bit, it's not the ones you know about that you have to worry over. It's hte ones you don't know about. That'll happen no matter what rules you put in place.

I'm really trying but I don't have a shred of commonality with this viewpoint.

Blogversary said...

My husband approach this issue differently. I don't really have any male friends since getting married. He does have some female friends, but until I meet the woman I can get jealous. Mainly because our time together is limited enough.

jen said...

smoking hot should be a pre-req, IMO.

Heather said...

This was really fun to read. It is interesting the tension that opposite sex friendships can sometimes create. Whether within or outside of that actual friendship.

My husband and I have a very similar take on this issue as you guys. Time for a marriage is such an issue when you factor in work and kids.

We (okay, I) had some significant trust issues early on in our marriage, but I think I've grown in trusting my very trustworthy guy.

Also, we have been blessed to have a bunch of amazing couple friends who we really know and trust. Also they fully support our marriage. Not only do we put our marriage first, but they openly respect and support that and we do likewise for them. So these friendships have become a safe place for us to have same and opposite sex friendships and also get support for our marriage.

SciFi Dad said...

Great post.

I agree with what you and your husband said, that a part of the issue with alternate-gender friendships in a marriage is whether or not the spouse knows the individual. And, that friendships don't make cheaters... problems make cheaters.

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

So many factors play into what turns an opposite sex friendship into a potential problem. The ages, the hot factor, the vulnerability of the marriage, the vulnerability of the two individuals, the previous patterns, etc., etc., etc.

I think that's what makes this such a potentially threatening topic for many couples to think about. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Each person has to weigh out the benefits and risks for him or herself.

Gwen said...

I'm still curious as to why so many of your friends didn't want the two of you together, Julie. You've said that more than once, and I find it ... odd. That's a hard way to start a relationship (my family didn't want me to date Jeff and my parents refused, more or less, to come to our wedding, so I know a bit about this, btw).

Sober Briquette said...

You guys touched upon everything I could think of: how others - including the potential friends- make assumptions about your "availability" and interest level; how much a friendship can "take away" from time with the spouse (we have young kids. Bob's are in college), and wanting that time for yourself; how introducing the spouse(s) to the friends helps to indicate where you stand.

It's all about experience. 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 whatever. I guess this didn't rile me up because I'm not unhappy with the way things are.

Jennifer said...

What a great conversation.

For me and my marriage, it is not that men and women cannot be friends. They can. It is that the marriage must be considered, by all parties (the man, the woman and any friends) as the primary relationship and be respected as such. I have male friends, including old boyfriends. My husband has female friends from work. Neither of us (my huband nor I) are at all bothered by "I'm meeting Joe/Joanna for lunch today". But if it were to become a "I'll be late for our family dinner because I'm going for drinks with Joe/Joanna" or long phone conversations with that friend, etc., it would become an issue. Also, my husband and I have a general rule: "It's not enough to not plan for something (such as an affair) to happen -- you have to plan for it NOT to happen." And planning for it not to happen means keeping the marriage as primarily important as well as not putting ourselves in what might become a tempting situation. That's what works for us. Trust is there, always, but respect for the marriage is there, too.

And yes, it is always easier when we have couple friends!

melissa said...

I need to go and read those original posts...

But until I do, WOW.

Spouse is really good friends with a woman from work who is pretty cute. She's our age, in fact I went to high school with her. So we're friends from waaaay back. But it still irks me a bit when he talks about her a lot. And sometimes, I do admit, I get a little paranoid. But at the end of the day, I know he puts this relationship first.

Aliki2006 said...

This was so interesting to me, really. Sadly, I don't have any male friends, and my husband doesn't really have any female friends, so we're lucky I guess in that we don't have to worry about this whole issue. Because we "tag-team" parent my husband does do many things with T. and runs into other moms he's friendly with through her school. Not a problem at all, really. I also know a couple stay-at-home dads. I think Jennifer put it the best--it's how you treat your marriage and keep the lines defined, I think, and show respect to your family above all. I think I'd have a huge problem if Scott hung out with GUY friends and ditched dinner or was home late--it's the respect that's the most important thing.

Cathy said...

Wow, this is fascinating!

I'm behind on my blog-reading and haven't read OTJ's post ...

... am heading there now and will comment after ...

le35 said...

One reason that this is a tricky issue is because when someone gets into a bad situation, it's generally something they've already rationalized to themselves. So, if having lunch with a co-worker of the opposite sex is alright, then having dinner with him/her may be alright. The difference really is where it encroahces on our time spent with the family and what we do with that time. I think it's totally fine, as a mom, to go to a play group where a dad is with his kids. I would be fine if Rob took the kids to a play group with a whole bunch of other moms. I would be fine with Rob taking the kids for a play date with a mom of other kids. However, we've discussed this at length due to a female friend of mine living with us. Trust is a big deal to a marriage, so my thought is to err on the side of caution if there is any question.

Family Adventure said...

I did not read OTJs original post on this (though I will now, obviously), but I'll add my 2 cents worth anyway:

But what you and Jon said here makes perfect sense, even without your bad experiences in the past.

The marriage and resolving problems in that relationship have to be priorities of both partners. If they are not - that's when a friendship can turn into something more.

Awesome post, Julie. Love the format!

Heidi

Christine said...

I found this to be a fascinating discussion! I never gave it too much thought because it almost never comes up with our friends--i go out with my girl friends and my husband occasionally goes out with his guy friends.

and this is the same for us: "I'm more unhappy about your lack of social life than you are"