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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Platonic Relationships Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about whether platonic relationships can exist. There were a lot of interesting comments to the post, but unfortunately, they are lost somewhere in cyberspace between my old commenting system and blogger. Basically though, I am of the opinion that, despite the famous Harry and Sally, men and women CAN be friends. I don't think that every man and every woman can be friends, but I think, with open communication and understanding between male and female, it absolutely can be done and can add a lot to life. I really enjoy my friendships with males, I think it enhances my quality of life and sometimes it's nice to get away from my female friends. The dynamic and perspective is just different than between two people of the same gender, and I think it can be extremely beneficial.

What I'm currently having problems with is jealousy and/or discomfort issues. Here's the scenario. I have a male friend with whom I am JUST friends, nothing doing of it going anywhere else. I enjoy his company, but there are very big reasons that it will never be anything beyond friendship. This is very clear to both of us.

The problem is that significant others sometimes aren't so comfortable with our relationships. Specifically, the women that my friend dates are not always so enthusiastic about the fact that we are friends. (The guys I date don't seem to get as bothered by it.) These issues are despite the fact that, when he is dating someone, I specifically make efforts to stay out of the way and to not be in touch with him as regularly, because I have no desire to be an issue or a problem in his relationships. When I have met women he has dated, I have gone out of my way to be friendly and nice to them, and to make it clear that I am no threat to their relationship.

But despite these lengths I go to, there have been occasions where the women he has dated haven't been comfortable with the fact that we are friends. Why is this such an issue? Why does it seem to be more of a problem for the women he dates then the men I date?

I have dated guys in the past who have had female friends. I have to admit to certain moments of slight jealousy or discomfort, despite the fact that I knew they were unfounded and unreasonable, but I don't think I have ever let it get to the point where I would really make a big deal about it. The only time I could see myself doing so would be if these female relationships took precedence over me with a guy that I was dating, which just hasn't been the case. I could understand having a hard time with it if the guy I was dating was spending large amounts of time with a female friend, or if the time he spent with her was at the expense of the time he spent with me. But this has never been the case, so it's never been a real issue. And I have made sure that it's not the case with my male friend - I have always made sure that the woman he is dating comes way before me.

I would think these women would be happy that he has female friends - it means he knows how to relate to and interact with women. It means he has a female to turn to in order to understand the female perspective. But it doesn't seem to work that way.

Why are platonic relationships so threatening?


  • Hey Shoshana!!!

    Doing what I do (with shidduchim) I can tell you that platonic relationships DO interfere with dating success.

    I don't think there is any way to be sure that one of the platonic relationship doesn't harbour secret feelings for the other.

    By Blogger kasamba, at 1/15/07, 12:35 PM  

  • If the girls your friend dates are not from the kind of background where guys have platonic female friends it may be harder for them to accept your friendship. I think every single platonic friendship is different. It's pretty natural for girls to be a little wary at first. Do you really think your friendship with him has truly been the reason girls have broken up with him?

    On the other hand, I do think platonic friendships at some level can work, and if a guy is open with the girls he dates about the females he is friendly with, and if the relationship doesn't suffer at the expense of the friendship, I think it can work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/15/07, 1:28 PM  

  • Kasamba -
    I suppose there is no way to absolutely know for certain, but I do think it can be possible that there are no secret harboring feelings either way.

    Sara -
    I do NOT think my friendship with him is the reason his relationships have not worked out, I'm just saying it has been an issue. If I felt that I was the one to ruin his relationships, for his sake, I would have ended the friendship a long time ago.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 1/15/07, 1:49 PM  

  • I think it's like the guy is saying to the girl he's dating: "I prefer you to other girls, but you're not enough. I still need other girls." It's a slap in the face even if it's not meant to be.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/15/07, 2:13 PM  

  • Shoshana,
    I have no doubt about that.

    I think what Debbie said is also true. I guess females just feel threatened by other females, no matter what.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/15/07, 2:38 PM  

  • i don't think this kind of relationship is ok, on many levels. too much to say on the issue and not enough energy to articulate it.

    By Blogger Maven, at 1/15/07, 6:01 PM  

  • I think it depends entirely on circumstances. For instance, when the platonic friends are both married, I think it presents much less of a problem than when they are single, probably because there's already some level of commitment and some test of loyalty has already been made. Many women, unfortunately, are insecure about themselves, and probably have more self-esteem issues than men... for whatever reasons. I don't have any polls or anything, I just think that's probably one reason. But I absolutely agree that platonic relationships are workable, depending on the people involved.

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 1/15/07, 8:05 PM  

  • Debbie -
    I definitely hear what you are saying, but why is the same not true for friendships of the same gender? Why are women not jealous of their boyfriend's male friends? Seems like that would be saying that the girlfriend doesn't fulfill all his need either.

    SaraK -
    Seems to be.

    Maven -
    I hope you get the energy at some point, I would certainly be interested in hearing what you have to say.

    Irina -
    I think you are right, and some of it does have to do with self-esteem and security.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 1/15/07, 10:17 PM  

  • "It means he has a female to turn to...", and that's the problem. She wants to be the one he turns to, and she doesn't know what you might be saying to him about you. Your presumed intimacy is threatening.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/15/07, 10:55 PM  

  • That's a difficult topic and I am sure it varies alot with different people and different circumstances but after reading all the comments above, I would have to say I agree with both Debbie and Silk's comments.

    By Blogger Baleboosteh, at 1/16/07, 7:07 AM  

  • I think it's like the guy is saying to the girl he's dating: "I prefer you to other girls, but you're not enough. I still need other girls." It's a slap in the face even if it's not meant to be.

    That is just insecurity speaking. If you have a friendship that pre-existed the relationship it is entirely different.

    I have always had a lot of female friends.I never hid any of my friendships from the women I dated. They either accepted me and my friends or we stopped dating.

    By Blogger Jack's Shack, at 1/16/07, 12:37 PM  

  • I agree with you Shoshana. I think Platonic friendships can and do work wonderfully in many instances.

    I have also found a correlation between the strength of relationships I have been in, and the degree to which the women in the relationships felt comfortable with me having female friends. In my best relationships, these friendships were encouraged and understood. In the worst, there was jealousy and appeals to guilt. Maybe it is an insecurity issue.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/16/07, 4:27 PM  

  • Shoshana... you probably saw my post on my blog about this very topic and all the hostility and controversy it attracted in the comments..So Im going to steer clear, but I will say that if its a casual friend once in a while, ok. But talking from experience if you seriously hang out all the time, it will just mess with your brain and your emotions, and confuse you on dates. For HS its cool, but in your late 20s its time to take relationships seriously..
    Sort of like training wheels on a bike, at first its great but after a while youll never be able to ride a bicycle if you dont give them up..

    Sorry for Preaching...Shosh

    By Blogger Semgirl, at 1/17/07, 1:10 AM  

  • As I've already hinted at in a few other posts, I'm a very, very firm believer that platonic male-female relationships can work, and if done right, they can immeasurably enrich our lives.

    The essential, irreplaceable element, though, is fair, open, honest communication. Both sides need to be clear about their intentions; both sides need to have a firm understanding of the relationship and its potential.

    Yes, things can sometimes get complicated. Yes, things can sometimes go awry. But that's just a part of life. I've never been one to subscribe to the whole "well, you might get hurt" school of thought. In order to truly live and have great relationships, you have to open yourself up, and that means yes, making yourself vulnerable. And that's true of all relationships - it's not as if people sometimes don't have gut-wrenching heartbreaking friendship-ending fights with their same sex friends.

    Relationships (all kinds) make our lives better, enrich our human experience, and make us better people. And relationships (all kinds) can sometimes go bad. That doesn't mean we abstain from them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/17/07, 2:26 AM  

  • Silk -
    I hear what you're saying, but I think it's healthy for a person to have more than one outlet to turn to. I personally am concerned when I date a guy who doesn't have friends to be a support system for him.

    Jack -
    I agree and I think that your point about not hiding it is important - as long as it's something up front, esp when it predates the relationship, I don't understand the concern.

    JT -
    I think when you have a strong relationship, it's easier to encourage that person to be friends with others, because you're not worried about what he's "not getting" from you that needs to be addressed elsewhere - you are secure in your relationship.

    Semgirl -
    I don't agree. I think it's healthy for singles to interact with members of the opposite sex, especially on a friendly level. It gives a person more comfort with the opposite gender and I think it makes dating a lot easier, because you aren't viewing your dates as some foreign species you can't relate to. You are more comfortable and able to be yourself if you are used to hanging out with them. I have seen many who are very awkward and don't seem to know how to interact with the opposite gender, because they aren't used to doing it. And I think that makes it much more difficult to build a strong, open, trusting relationship.

    LT -
    Can't say I'm surprised by your view :) I think your point about the necessity of taking the "risk" of getting into relationships is a very good one, because you are totally right - it's better to risk being rewarded with a great friendship and all that comes along with that than wimp out and never connect with anyone in your life.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 1/17/07, 9:51 AM  

  • Obviously a very sensitive topic. I donĀ“t think we can generalize here, every relationship platonic or not is unique. Chances that one of the two people in the relationship will develop deeper feelings are high, but those feelings can also go over - at least in my case. Good luck and I hope you find the right way for you and him.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/17/07, 4:16 PM  

  • hi again. it's still a lot to post about, but i'll try to clarify.

    #1 i agree with semgirl. it DOES mess with your head to have male friends. emotions need to be very clear when dating, and i believe having male friends detracts from that.

    #2 how is it tsnius?

    #3 where does this leave you in marriage? is is fair to have another man to confide in? would you like it if YOUR husband was all buddy-buddy with another girl? it's simply unfair.

    #4 i think jealousy, which is a normal and healthy emotion, has gotten a bad rap. i think reading rabbi manis friedman's "blush" book would clear some of this stuff up.

    By Blogger Maven, at 1/17/07, 9:35 PM  

  • To respond to Maven's points:

    #1: As long as the people involved are adults, there's no reason they can't be open, honest and straightforward in communicating their feelings to each other. What are the potential downfalls? You might get hurt? That's the price of having relationships of any kind... you have to make yourself open and vulnerable if you want to have any real connections with people. Things might get complicated or difficult? So what... that which is easiest is rarely that which is best.

    #2: Tsnius? Are you kidding? What would be untsniustik about having a phone conversation with someone of the opposite sex? You can only expand the definition of "tznius" so far before it loses meaning. And "tznius" very often becomes just a codeword for trying to give yourself some kind of pseudo-religious authority when condemning a behavior you personally find distasteful.

    #3: You ask a question, and then you go ahead and answer it for Shoshana. What if she has no problem with her husband being buddy-buddy with a girl? That's how it is with me... I have close female friends that I absolutely intend to stay friends with after I get married. And I have no problem whatsoever if my eventual spouse has male friends she wants to stay close with.

    #4: Jealousy isn't a negative emotion? Are you joking? Jealousy in relationships is only possible if there is a lack of trust or feelings of insecurity. If I feel secure with my relationship with my girlfriend/wife, and I trust her completely, then I have absolutely no reason to feel jealous that she has male friends. If I'm insecure about our relationship, or I don't trust her fully, then our relationships has problems that go far deeper than her having male friends.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/18/07, 1:48 AM  

  • The difference is that male friendships are different than male-female friendships. And they give each other different things.

    It's like the difference between salt and pepper. They both flavor your food, but in different ways. And neither one precludes the other.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/18/07, 10:58 AM  

  • Jewish Smorg -
    I think it is managable, especially if you are aware from the beginning of the pitfalls.

    Maven -
    LT kinda took the words from my fingers, so I don't have a lot more to say.

    But for point #1, I don't really understand how having male friends detracts from having clear emotions in dating. If two people are just friends, and are very clear about that point, I don't see why it would necessarily change a dating dynamic, it shouldn't even be an issue.

    Point #2, I completely agree with LT on. The world is such that men and women have to interact. It's not a tznius issue whatsoever, and I fail to see why it would be. We aren't talking about inappropriate or sexual behaviors here, we are talking about friendship. The concept of tznius has been overemphasized and blown out of proportion to include way too many things that have absolutely nothing to do with modesty.

    #3 LT summed it up.

    #4 The only thing I have to add to what LT said, is that the Rambam himself said that with character traits it is best to strive for the mean - not too much, not too little. He also gave an exception to three of those traits, saying that you shouldn't have them at all. One of those was jealousy. I absolutely don't understand how jealousy has gotten a bad rap and I think if a relationship is healthy, it shouldn't occur.

    Debbie -
    You are right, relationships between members of opposite genders do offer different things. However, like both salt and pepper, neither of them are necssarily bad.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 1/18/07, 11:25 AM  

  • No, it's not that either one is bad, but you only need so much of either one. Let's say you need a teaspoon of salt. One person (your spouse) should be that teaspoon. If you have a wife and a female friend you either have more than one teaspoon (too much) or your wife is not enough, which is what I said in the first place.

    But one friend is definitely not enough on his own. That's why you can have lots of friends (pepper) and it still only adds up to one teaspoon.

    And I don't believe that pepper can replace salt or vice versa.

    By Anonymous debbie, at 1/19/07, 9:30 AM  

  • I don't want this to sound offensive, but I haven't the foggiest idea how having friends of the opposite sex is different in your 20s from high school.

    I am in my late 30s now and never found it to be a problem. I never hid anything from my dates. They never had anything to worry about.

    There is nothing wrong with having more than one person to confide in, unless it is interfering with the relationship you have with your significant other.

    By Blogger Jack's Shack, at 1/20/07, 10:11 PM  

  • i see this is really inflammatory.

    to clarify point #1, i feel that having friends of the opposite gender and channeling your energy into such a friendship certainly DOES detract from dating/being married. i don't know how i could explain that further, or why it's so hard to see the other side of the coin. that is why there are boundaries/fences regarding mitzvos. you can be sensitive to those, and erect those boundaries for yourself, or you can make your own parameters. each person has to find his/her own way, and i respect that. not being friendly with someone of the opposite gender is a way of protecting boundaries.

    2. let me clarify about the tsnius issue, because i think you are putting words into my mouth. i did not say a phone call was not tsnius. my point was that i find male/female friendships not tsnius. i certainly do respect your views on having friends of the opposite gender, though i disagree with them. i think this is simply a difference in hashkafa. i don't appreciate the "pseudo-religious " authority comment. we're trying to have a conversation about a controversial issue. taking personal "potshots" at people isn't the way to have a discussion. i don't find such friendships distasteful, i find them inappropriate. i DO respect other people making their own choices.
    perhaps we have different ideas as to what tsnius is, and that's ok.

    3. i did not answer the question for shoshana, i simply posed it. tsnius is what it is to protect and sanctify the relationships we have with Hashem and our spouses. if you can go to someone of the opposite gender - other than your spouse - for emotional gratification, i personally feel that detracts from the marital relationship. again, you may not feel that way.

    4. It's ok to feel insecure/jealous about your spouse being friendly with people of the opposite gender. we guard what we love and don't want to pass it around. on the other hand, we don't want jealousy to get out of hand. we want to have normal parameters. we simply want to respect our spouses' boundaries. all being read and said, i stand firmly by my views. (and i still recommend Rabbi Manis Friedman's "Blush" book).

    By Blogger Maven, at 1/21/07, 9:21 AM  

  • Debbie -
    I guess I don't believe that you necesarily have to completely limit your intake of either.

    Jack -
    I agree

    Maven -
    Just to clarify, I have read Rabbi Friedman's book, and while I believe he has some points, I think the "tznius" part of it does get blown out of proportion and gives people unhealthy views of relationships with the opposite sex. I think there are tznius and healthy ways to have relationships with the opposite gender that do not necessarily endanger a relationship with a potential or future spouse. In the end, I think what you say about having different views and perspectives, hashkafically-related is probably right, and it's important to respect each individual's decisions as their own. I apologize if comments made were personally attacking and/or offensive, I strive for open and respectful discussion on this blog.

    By Blogger Shoshana, at 1/21/07, 7:37 PM  

  • You don't think it's possible to have too many friends? At some point, I'd say someone or something's going to get neglected.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/21/07, 8:24 PM  

  • Maven,

    What I'm having a hard time understanding is whether your attitude is "having friends of the opposite sex is not for me" or it is "having friends of the opposite sex is wrong and untzniustik for anyone."

    If it's the first, then to each their own.

    If it's the second, then whether you realize it or not, you are everyone who has friends of the opposite sex. You're telling us that what we're doing is wrong and untzniustik. You're telling us it can't work, even though some of us are saying that it does work for us. That may be why some are taking offense, and how this conversation has developed in a contentious manner.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/21/07, 11:06 PM  

  • as someone in a platonic relationship myself, it gets hard when you feel you have to explain to people why the two of you are only friends and why aren't you two dating. i have list of reasons why and i rotate my answers constantly to each person that ask, even to my parents.

    it also gets hard when you are asking yourself the same questions. but speaking for myself, i found platonic relationships to be dysfunctional and sometimes boudaryless. like the author of this blog, i find myself distancing from him when his girlfriend is around. i also try to be friendly his significant other just to show i'm in no way a threat to their relationship. but more often than not, we never talk about each other's relationships.

    though platonic relationships clearly means there is no sexual intimacy involved, i often wonder if emotional intimacy can also constitute as cheating.

    are there limits to platonic relationships? should there be? and if there's none, is the platonic relationship heading for trouble?

    i don't really know the answers, i don't even know if i want to find out, i usually just play it by ear. i try not to overanalyze it and just enjoy the friendship.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/17/08, 12:09 AM  

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