Thursday, February 25, 2010

the "Friends of the Opposite Sex" dilemma

True story:  I spent a week at a writing workshop in Belize where I made friends with a guy who was about fifteen years older than me.   There was never anything romantic there, but we stayed in touch over the years and occasionally had a flirty banter to the tone of our emails.   In one email, I inquired about his current relationship and asked him if he was planning to pop the question yet.  He wrote back and jokingly said that he wasn't, because he was still holding out on marrying me someday.   It was not at all meant to be taken seriously, and I was in a committed relationship at the time, but it did give me that tiny little ego boost you get when someone flirts with you.   Other than that, I thought it was no big deal.  

Sadly, his girlfriend came across the emails and didn't feel the same way.   Apparently, marriage was a very hot button issue for them and she had been pushing him for awhile to shit or get off the pot.  So, when she saw his email saying that he was holding out for me, she was understandably hurt.   I, however, was completely blind sided when he called me on the phone and explained the situation to me, then said he was going to put his girlfriend on the phone so that I could reassure her that there was nothing going on between us.    I didn't even have a minute to process before she began to voice her upset and her feeling that the emails between us were completely inappropriate.   It was the most awkward conversation of my life, and while I knew there was absolutely nothing for her to be worried about, I felt awful that I made another woman feel anxious or insecure.   Even though our friendship was completely platonic and I thought the emails were totally innocent, she was right-- it was inappropriate.

Some might chalk it off to her being too insecure, but I didn't feel that way.   Our relationships can be extremely delicate and important to us and anything that threatens it, no matter how secure we are, can be scary and upsetting.   They've since gotten married and have an adorable little boy and he and I still catch up over email, but there is not even an inkling of flirting involved.

At the end of the day, no one wants to tell their significant other to blow off their friends, but I'm willing to bet even the most self assured people would still feel a little odd about their bf/gf going out to solo drinks with a member of the opposite sex. According to my mom, when you've been with someone for awhile, it's not appropriate to spend alone time with single people of the opposite sex (who share your sexual orientation).   She claims at a certain point, couples should have couple friends.  It sounds old fashioned, but it sort of makes sense.   My BF has it easier than I do when it comes to this dilemma, because 90% of my guy friends are all gay.   The last time I went out for drinks with a single guy of the opposite sex was the day before yesterday...and that guy was my brother.   

So, readers--- what are the boundaries when you're in a serious relationship and have close friends of the opposite sex?   Is it appropriate to hang out with them on your own?   If your platonic friendship included a healthy flirtatious banter, does that have to end if one or both of you starts dating someone?   And at what point are your fear/insecurities valid VS possessive and unhealthy?

Tell us what you think and comment below...

9 comments:

  1. I have a couple of close straight male friends and an absolute must is becoming friends with the significant other. Knowing the opposite gender friend is completely platonic is key to keeping the bf/gf relaxed.

    As for flirting, my best friend's husband and I joke about our torrid affair all the time. But it's with my best friend. Without her in on the joke (or frankly in the room), it would be crossing a line.

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  2. I forgot about this one, Saaara! You are the new Carrie Bradshaw and this blog is your Sex and the City. Now I am completely convinced you will never run out of interesting stories/topics from the NY to LA years...

    Hmmmmm....I have to wonder if the ongoing joke about the "torrid affair" St. Clare mentions really doesn't bother her best friend. I'm skeptical having seen similar situations recently, with my friends (older and younger), and the wife/gf secretly voicing disapproval of jokes like that to her OTHER best friends who are not "jokingly" flirting with their bf/husband...It's a fine line I think and every situation is different. But you have to ask yourself what crosses the line or may become annoying by the 3 or 4th comment/joke when you're the platonic friend...

    It always goes back to the ageless rule with your bf/gf: "HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF...?"

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  3. Isn't this the central question in When Harry Met Sally? Can heterosexual men and women be friends? People seem to think so, but it seems in reality as people get older they don't have single friends of the opposite sex. The other thing is a thing I read called the "T-shirt test". If you took off your top and started inching in on your male friend, would he stop you and say that the friendship is too important?

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  4. Does that mean we couldn't grab drinks? Shit.

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  5. shawn, we can still hang out cause neither of us are single. but yes, double dates are more apropo

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  6. Naturally, cousins are exempt from these silly rules too! :)

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  7. Btw, I think with the friends of opposite sex stuff, there has to be a level of recognition of who your partner is. In other words, if your significant other is friends with someone of the opposite sex, but you know that that person just doesn't have the qualities (physical or otherwise) that romantically interest your significant other--and after long enough you should know what those qualities are--then there's nothing to worry about. But if it doesn't make sense to you why your s.o. would not want to be with that friend, then you have to wonder, is this a friend who became a friend after turning down advances pre-my-existence in his/her life? At this point you may want to do a little honest questioning. And seriously guys, if after the questioning you still feel too uncomfortable, there's probably something not just right in your relationship in the first place.

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  8. I'm just discovering this blog aand I'm about 2 years late on this post but man does it apply to my situation!! I agree with the opinions expressed and it was such a relief to hear others dicussing the same thing.

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  9. Yay! A new reader! Welcome to the BLOW OFF, we love you already!

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