Opposite Sex Friendships

 Posted by on 8 April 2008 at 8:08 am  Love/Sex
Apr 082008

The just-married Dan Edge — Congratulations, Dan and Kelly! — recently posted a very interesting essay on opposite-sex friendships. His general policy is that he refrains from developing intimate friendships with women when he’s in a committed relationship.

I agree with his overall analysis, particularly as applied to married or to-be-married persons. (Before that point, with some exception for long-term couples, I wouldn’t regard the relationship as “committed,” although it might be “exclusive.”)

Contrary to our culture’s common sappy mysticism, love is not a magic glue that holds people together, come what may. That love can be imperiled fairly quickly — if a person fails to consistently make his/her spouse (or partner) the most important person in his/her life. One common way of failing in that basic task is to cultivate emotional intimacy with a person who might (absent the primary relationship) be a love interest. That kind of friendship saps time and energy away from the love relationship. Issues discussed in depth with the friend are not likely to be discussed again with the spouse, or at least not discussed so deeply. That weakens the bond between the couple, while strengthening the bond with the friend. Sexual feelings for the intimate friend will have to be suppressed — but at some point, the requisite self-control might fail. In that case, the affair didn’t “just happen,” as many people would say. Disaster was deliberately courted, probably over the course of months.

Of course, those considerations apply only to intimate friendships — not merely friendly friendships. Friendly friends talk about their work, hobbies, politics, mutual interests, and so on. They talk about matters that they’d discuss with pretty much anyone they like. They talk on occasion or when convenient. Intimate friends discuss private thoughts and feelings, depend on each other’s discretion, and regularly carve out private time to spend together. Mere friendly friends (of whatever sex) are not a danger to a romantic relationship. Intimate friends of the opposite sex can be, precisely because such intimacy is so central to romantic relationships.

(Oy, that was less coherent than I was hoping, but oh well. More fodder for debate in the comments, I suppose!)

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