Once, at my old job, I told a female co-worker I was going to New York for the weekend to visit a friend. This friend happened to be a single male, but he was also one of my best friends from college. I forget if Rick and I were just engaged or married at this point, but either way, the co-worker was aghast when she learned Rick was not going. “Rick doesn’t mind??” she asked incredulously. I was genuinely baffled. Um, no, why would he?
Even in high school, when Rick and I were dating, I got grief for this. Upon making an arrangement with my friend Sid to see, of all things, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” my grandmother sniffed around the situation and saw fit to interject, “Does Rick know about this?” I am not sure if I apprised him of my every move in his absence, but I didn’t see it as a problem either way then, either. Of all people — Sid, my human teddy bear during high school — and of all movies, I had no clue why this was a potential problem.
But for some people, it is. I think of the exchanges from “When Harry Met Sally” about the inherent challenge in men and women being friends.
Some people see a real concern with people in relationships hanging out with friends who are of their preferred gender and are either single or in another relationship. For some people, this is a recipe for disaster, a crucible for jealousy and suspicion. Such a setup, they fear, not only seems and feels inappropriate, but could actually result in something inappropriate happening!
Recently, there was an article in the Globe about how some couples see no need for friendships outside of their marriage, and how some self-appointed arbiters (like the Oprah-approved “Shalom in the Home” rabbi Shmuley Boteach — what, is marital advice the new kashrut?) impose complex rules around how married persons’ friendships should be conducted (no late-night dinners, long drives or flights, and no lunches with alcohol).
You cannot place yourself in any situation where romance can grow. “Romance grows when people are alone; romance grows when people tell secrets,” Rabbi Shmuley says.
I’m sorry, “Rabbi Shmuley,” but you know where extra-marital romance grows? From intra-marital discord. From a lack of trust. From a lack of faith. If I begin having an affair, it’s not because I had lunch with John from the office and, oh no, he ordered wine and here we are at the motel. It would be because there are problems at home, problem with my marriage. And if those problems exist and are severe enough, it doesn’t matter if it’s lunch with a co-worker or dinner with a friend or any other scenario in the world, really — the shit is going to hit the fan one way or another. The problem isn’t having friends, or spending time with them in the non-Shmuley endorsed context; it’s having a weak marriage.
I am lucky enough to have a husband who understands that, if I do have lunch with John from the office and even if a glass of wine is consumed, it means absolutely nothing. I regularly get together for dinner with my friend David — a couple of weeks ago, we went out for Peruvian then got drinks and dessert at a nearby upscale bar — and I love those outings for the good company and quality conversation. Luckily, his wife and my husband are reasonable enough to understand that we are getting together as just friends and there is nothing more to it and nothing to worry about. The mere thought, to me, is preposterous
I’ve always had guys as friends, and granted, in middle and high school, those feelings of friendship often evolved into more romantic feelings. But isn’t the whole point of marriage that you’ve entered a binding partnership built on trust? If I don’t trust my husband to have dinner with a female friend — something that should be a relatively minor blip on the radar of potential marital concerns — aren’t there bigger problems? As the writer of the Globe article says, recent generations have been increasingly brought up in mixed-gender contexts: girls on the Little League team, mixed-gender classrooms. Is this not the era of the film “Made of Honor”? The author makes a good point about commitment — by entering into marriage, you have made a commitment. If that commitment begins to falter, it starts with an internal weakness, not an external temptation: the latter would be a symptom of the former.
My husband and I have always led fairly independent lives, perhaps owing to the fact that we’ve been together since we were 16 and have had time to work out the whole separation anxiety thing — or maybe it’s just our nature. By this point, the distinctions are too muddied to draw a distinction. But either way, I think it works out great for us. Of course, the time we spend together going out and about, playing a game at home, watching a movie or whatnot is awesome and precious. But he can also go to conventions and take other trips I would have no interest in, and vice versa. We can take evenings to pursue our own interests without feeling like we have to drag the other person along disinterestedly. Even some of our together time is spent independently, sitting side-by-side pursuing separate activities (usually him on the DS or with some manga, and me with a book or the laptop) while a baseball game or the retro music channel plays in the background.
But what I find is always one of the best parts of doing that is being able to come back home at the end of the day to him and share where I’ve been, what I’ve done, to listen to him talk excitedly about doing the things he loves. Just because we aren’t sharing every minute of each other’s lives doesn’t mean we aren’t sharing our lives with each other. And that, Shmuley, is what builds trust and keeps couples together.