Monday, August 08, 2011


From Prudie:

I have a female friend who I've known since we were kids. My wife has always been uneasy over this friendship but generally tolerated it. That is, until recently when she discovered that this friend and I had a one-night stand a couple of years ago while my wife and I were dating. (Emphasis mine.) Since she discovered this, she's been badgering me to stop seeing my friend. I can honestly say this happened only once and it will never, ever happen again. We have no romantic feelings for each other. Who's in the right here?
Am I way off here, or is this question not really at all a subset of the my-partner's-too-jealous-for-me-to-have-friends-of-the-opposite-sex questions advice columnists get by the bucket-full? Questions where the answer is obviously to remind all that the world is made up of two sexes, at least; that even the not-so-social will be networking with men and women alike; and that unmerited jealousy is the gateway to all kinds of still-creepier behaviors?

Nor is this even in the open-relationship, "monogamish" realm. This is not something where, after a couple decades and the loss of lust of one spouse, the other ventured elsewhere with less than full disclosure. This is not something of ultimately no consequence being revealed long after the fact, long since the relevant third party has ceased to be anyone's friend/neighbor/nanny/co-worker. It's most definitely not about a spouse who's jealous of something utterly ridiculous, like solo activities, movie stars, the occasional head-turn when Brad or Angelina walks by, or the fact that prior to meeting each other, there were - and unless the couple got together at 16, there were - other people?

This is about a couple that's been married for about five minutes - we know this because they were dating "a couple of years ago." And the dating-vs.-married distinction... makes sense in some 1950s universe where people "court" many prospectives at a time, and only engagement (or only marriage) implies exclusivity. And I know that Prudie tends to advocate for a return to that world, for an end to serial-monogamy, cohabitation, pseudo-marriage, etc. But in the world that does exist, in a milieu a man writing into a Slate advice columnist might come from, when this man was "dating" his now-wife, if there's a presumption of monogamy in their marriage, there was one then as well. Maybe not in the first week or so, but in all likelihood nearly all their "dating" days were committed enough that involvement with others would have been considered cheating. (If there were some kind of premarital free pass, how would anyone ever get a sense of whether or not a potential spouse is likely to cheat or, more to the point, is enthusiastic enough not to have to? Isn't that kind of the point of beginning monogamy before any rings are exchanged?)

In other words, this guy cheated on his now-wife with another woman, and that same woman is someone he now wants the wife to be OK with him hanging out with. This isn't even about whether it's fair to have friends of the opposite sex who are also exes, murkier territory where the only possible answer is, if a couple's fine with it, it's fine, but if advice-columnists are being summoned, presumably one is and one isn't and thus the problem.

We're also meant to believe that the wife's unease about this particular female friend exists somehow independently of her having maybe picked up on the fact that something was there between this woman and her husband, because technically she only just learned this. That she's just a jealous person who can't tolerate her husband hanging onto a childhood friend, simply because that childhood friend (so innocent a time, childhood!) is female.

I think Prudie got this one all wrong. As I read it, the letter-writer was asking for Prudie's permission to label his wife jealous and irrational, to divorce her, and to take up with someone else, quite possibly (but not definitely) the girl-next-door.


Britta said...

I agree that Prudie's advice was off the mark, and I mostly agree with you. I do think though, as commenters pointed out, there's a difference between "dating" as in boyfriend-girlfriend, with expectations of monogamy (even if not explicitly laid out) and "dating" as in, went on two dates and are interested but not formally a couple. My guess is it's probably the former and this guy cheated on his wife, that's why she's upset, rather than the latter, but even if it was I still think this guy shouldn't be bffs with this woman, although it wouldn't be the same as cheating.

Even if it was the latter case and the guy didn't cheat on his wife, I think not telling his wife about the fling when they were more serious would be a major faux pas. I would be fine with my husband being friends with an ex, but I wouldn't be ok with finding out that my husband had had a thing with a friend and then neither of them had told me about it. The lying about it at the very least makes it inappropriate.

I also agree that it's highly possible their relationship seems a bit off to the wife, which is why she didn't like it in the first place. I actually don't know many people who are so jealous they don't allow their spouses to have friends of the opposite sex. In advice column world it seems common, but in real life, everyone I know has friends of both sexes, and my guess is a lot of these "jealous" partners don't like a particular friendship for a particular reason, not that they hate opposite sex friendships in general.

Going back to this particular friendship though, it's hard to judge without all the details about the relationship stage of the husband/wife and what the female friend knew about it (if it was early enough, it's possible she didn't even know her friend was seeing someone when they hooked up). However, as someone with many male friends, and with male friendships which range from completely platonic to less than platonic but both of us are adults with self control and understand the consequences of our actions, I think that it's totally normal and natural for people to have a crush or sexual feelings for someone not their partner, but ideally 1) they respect your partner, and 2) their friend respects their partner, or at least the relationship, and 3) everyone is adults about the whole thing and values the relationship they've chosen above cheating. The lack of self-control/lack of respect would bother me, because it would indicate that one or both of them didn't really respect our relationship or couldn't control their instincts.

Finally, I don't get this whole "getting it out of your system" thing in this particular situation. If the two of them are attracted to each other, I don't see how sleeping together once means it's less likely to happen again, or going to destroy the desire, unless it was absolutely terrible.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I don't get "getting it out of your system" either. My sense of the dynamic wasn't so much that the guy was passionately attracted to his friend, or vice versa, but rather that the friend doesn't much respect the wife, and that the friend will if she hasn't already become his confidant when he comes complaining about his irrational beeotch of a spouse. The wife, meanwhile, is in this no-win zone, where however reasonable she might be in general, the specifics of this situation make it so that if she were totally blasé about the whole thing, that itself would be a bad sign about their marriage.

The issue isn't that he's still friends with an ex, but that he'd already decided that his wife wouldn't be able to handle that, and had lied to her (by rather key omission) about who this "childhood friend" really was. Now, it might be that he'd correctly assessed that his wife would not be able to handle continued friendship with an ex. It might also be that he wouldn't want her to do the same, and this helped him maintain a double standard. Whatever the case, though, she's been put into a position of irrational-until-proven-otherwise.

As for "dating"=/=exclusivity, in the abstract, there's ambiguity, yes. But if you factor in both the length of time that a now-married couple dated exclusively versus was still in the getting-to-know-people stage, and that - as some Slate commenters point out - the dude probably would have mentioned that he and now-wife were not yet exclusive at the time, since that would kind of help his case, it really does look like what he's saying is, yes, it was cheating, but it wasn't Adultery. Prudie, because she wants everyone to take marriage seriously and to abandon all forms of relationship between casual dating and marriage in seriousness, accepts this.