Getting in the way

Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.

Sally: Why not?

Harry: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sally: Yes I do.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sally: Yes I do.

Harry: You only think you do.

Sally: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?

Harry: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.

Sally: They do not.

Harry: Do too.

Sally: They do not.

Harry: Do too.

Sally: How do you know?

Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.

Sally: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?

Harry: No. You pretty much want to nail them, too.

Sally: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?

Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

Sally: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.

Harry: I guess not.

Sally: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.

This morning Kaimi linked to a post on my personal blog about the potential risks of mixed-gender extra-marital friendships. After seeing his reference to When Harry Met Sally, which a friend of mine also brought up after reading my post, I went looking for the above quote, and was delighted to find it on (where else?) Wikipedia.

While I’m not interested in discussing my personal situation in this thread, I would like to hear your thoughts on the issue of friendships between men and women. Especially, friendships between men and women who are committed to other people.

Harry’s got something to say about this, too:

They can’t be friends–unless both of them are involved with other people. Then they can. This is an amendment to the earlier rule. If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted.


That doesn’t work either. Because what happens then is the person you’re involved with can’t understand why you need to be friends with the person you’re just friends with, like it means something is missing from the relationship and wanted to go outside to get it. Then when you say, ‘No, no, no, no, it’s not true, nothing is missing from the relationship,’ the person you’re involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you’re just friends with, which you probably are–I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let’s face it–which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can’t be friends.

What say ye?

95 comments for “Getting in the way

  1. First, in the interest of disclosure, I’m single. This is an interesting post, and it’s an issue I’ve spent some time thinking about. When I was in law school, most of my classmates were married men. I was friends with them, and we studied together. I never saw a problem with it, and they didn’t seem to, either. Of course, throughout my life, most of my friends have been male, and I’ve always been regarded as “one of the guys”, so that might skew the results. (It also might explain why I can’t get a date, but that’s a story for another time…) ;-)

  2. This is a hard, hard standard to impose on people like me. I’m a single woman working in Utah, generally in the field of Mormon studies. Most of my colleagues are, therefore, married. Most of my colleagues are also male. Even before making the switch to history, the business offices I worked in were overwhelmingly male and married. If I had no married male friends, I would have, perhaps, two friends. [Amended: Three. Two women, and one single man.]

    I am not predatory. I am not interested in pursuing romantic relationships with married men (it’s morally wrong; it’s impractical; there’s nothing in it for me). I am no threat to anyone’s marriage — never have been, never will be.

    It is not good for [wo]man to be alone. I am already alone in the marital sense — I refuse to be alone in the platonic, intellectually stimulating, socially companionable sense by skittering away from potential friends who are male and married. This is an artificial, unnatural, RECENT standard suggested by a limited number of high profile embarrassments, and has no basis in gospel or good sense. Thank goodness there are married males (Mormons and others) who are willing to be my friends and engage in normal, wholesome, social contacts with me. Thank goodness for their secure and cooperative wives.

  3. I’m a married guy and I have a number of female friends. Some of them are attractive and some less so, and sort of by definition I would like to have sex with the attractive ones. But I’m married and even if I weren’t, they probably wouldn’t be interested! So I guess the way to have attractive opposite-sex friends is to have low self-esteem? Haha, just kidding of course. Being obsessed with sex is something you just have to get over, I think. It’s something we strive for in the church especially, but I think our culture could really do with a dose of that too.

  4. I also make it a point to let my wife know whenever I get a crush on some other girl. She understands that I can’t really help such things and trusts me to have enough self-control to be faithful to her. Once it’s sort of a known thing, it makes it easier to keep out of trouble I think, and I can then proceed to be friends with that girl.

  5. After I was married, I was able to be friends with unrelated women like I hadn’t before. But even after marriage, I still think there’s some truth to what Harry’s saying. Maybe when I’m older I can really be friends.

    AEP, you’re mixing up two different issues. You’re talking about whether married men *should* try to be friends with women. The post is talking about whether friendship that isn’t warped in some way by sex is even possible.

  6. It’s two facets of the same issue, AG — according to this post, men and women can’t/shouldn’t try to be friends because sex gets in the way. I’m saying that sex does not always get in the way, and that therefore avoiding male/female friendships out of that fear is nonsense.

  7. Thanks for your thoughts, Keri.

    Ardis, thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree that it would be a horrible thing if men and women really couldn’t be just friends–ever. I think mixed-gender friendships have risk potential once they pass beyond certain levels of social intimacy, especially when one or both parties are married. But certainly, any well-adjusted adult can have platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex, as long as boundaries of propriety are respected.

    The question is, what are those boundaries? Some are obvious, but there’s a big grey area.

    Miles, I agree that candor with one’s spouse can be an effective way to deflate an unwanted crush.

    Adam, interesting point about how marriage can actually free up friendships. I’ve found that to be true as well, although I still have to be careful. The really tricky thing is when the friend is someone you have pre-marital history with.

  8. I used to think this was true–and mimicked the church policy in all aspects of my after-marriage life, never to be alone with a guy unless the situation was as purely functional as a church interview.

    And that was a stupid and suffocating way to live. And, it caused me to be weird whenever normal situations forced me to interact with men. My life is much happier since I gave up this levitical and misanthropic rule. Misanthropic because it assumes the worse of all parties. Now that I have female and male friends, both male friends who are married and male friends who are single. And if with some guys there’s undercurrent sparked by the fact we are of different genders, cool. I don’t flirt and I don’t discuss the intimacies of my life, but neither do I have to check my gender in at the door.

    It’s been really nice to get the other half of the human race, and a substantial part of being me, back after a 12 year hiatus.

  9. Well said, Johnna. I think, though, that it’s not a stupid way to live if a person is at all worried about his or her ability to maintain appropriate boundaries. It’s smart to be in touch with the “worst parts” of ourself and to make sure they’re not getting any closer to the surface as a result of our extra-marital relationships.

  10. I think mixed-gender friendships have risk potential once they pass beyond certain levels of social intimacy

    That’s stacking the definitional deck. Any relationship, regardless of gender mix, has risk potential if it passes beyond bounds. People have gone nuts when their shared interest in science fiction reinforced each other’s weaknesses to the point that Heaven’s Gate was formed. People have lost their jobs and neglected their families when friendships formed over poker or classic cars or movie fandom have gone too far.

    But point taken. People whose hormones are stronger than their wills should be just as careful about too intimate contact as people whose attraction to alcohol is stronger than their resistance. Believing that all people share the same weaknesses, to the point of Harry’s insistence that men cannot be friends with women, is overstating matters.

  11. Looking at this from a different perspective…

    I have many guy-friends, and those friendships are natural. I am being my own personal self when I am with my guy-friends.

    I have some gal-friends, but I am never my own natural self when I am with them. I am always self-concious about how I act, what I say, how close is too close in the friendship, am I sending the wrong signals to this gal-friend, how would others perceive my friendship with this person, would my wife be embarrased to see my actions in this friendship, etc, etc, etc. That doesn’t mean I don’t have gal-friends, or I refrain from having gal-friends. But it truly is not the same!

    With guy-friends, I am just me.
    With gal-friends, I am a controlled, reserved, partial version of me.

  12. I”m going to say my piece and then I’m done. Deep friendships between married men and women are dangerous for more than just a minority, and not just for sexual reasons. In my opinion its sometimes pride and rebellion against constraints that says otherwise.

  13. I think there’s a good deal of truth to Harry’s analysis. It describes pretty well a dynamic I’ve often seen in male-female interactions.

    That said, it’s also overly simplistic. It may describe a substantial swath of the population, but it’s not everyone.

    Also, it’s terribly heteronormative. That is, it simply assumes heterosexuality on the part of everyone involved. The analysis gets complicated when we drop that assumption.

    What about gay men? Can I be friends with a gay man? Harry’s analysis would suggest that I can’t, since that man might be attracted to me. So maybe gay men can only be friends with women. (But then, what if those women are straight, and interested in those gay men? Yikes!)

    And pity the poor bisexuals, who apparently can’t be friends with _anyone_.

  14. Any relationship, regardless of gender mix, has risk potential if it passes beyond bounds.

    Of course. But there are bounds particular to this issue. For instance, there are things I can discuss with girlfriends that I can’t discuss with guyfriends. The duration-and-frequency restrictions I place on my conversations with men are more conservative than those I place on my conversations with women. The sex thing is ALWAYS “there,” even if it’s in the far background.

    Believing that all people share the same weaknesses, to the point of Harry’s insistence that men cannot be friends with women, is overstating matters.

    And my intent here is not to echo Harry’s insistence; rather, to question it.

  15. And to follow up:

    Because so many gay people are still in the closet, the sex thing (if accurate) might be there even in same-sex friendships.

    Solution: Don’t be friends with anyone! Be anti-social!

  16. Thanks for being so tactful in your comment, Adam, but of course as the one whose words are being more or less quoted, I’m bright enough to recognize myself as the target of your remark. Never fear. You and I are not facing the formation of a deep and dangerous friendship. And while I suffer from the weaknesses of pride and rebellion in some areas of my life, I can calmly face God without fear of condemnation for my abiding enjoyment of conversations with my married male friends about the intricacies of historical research, regardless of whether a meal is involved. Legitimate constraints of hour, place, frequency, and behavior are one thing; banning all such friendship is another.

  17. Guy C., ditto.

    Kaimi, good questions. I have no idea what the answers are.

    Adam, I agree. Deep is dangerous, no matter what the source of connection. For example, if my husband isn’t interested in poetry, and poetry is important to me, and I happen to find a guy friend who loves poetry… even if all we ever talk about is poetry, I could find myself overly attached to this person because we have a connection I can’t duplicate with my husband. And even if my husband loved poetry as well, some risk would still be there, because I’m sharing an intimate part of myself with someone else.

    Anything we’re passionate about can become a trouble spot easier than we might be willing to admit. And these individual passions are often what lead us into mixed-gender friendships to begin with. So, awareness and scrupulous self-honesty and restraint, when called for, are needed when we venture into such friendships.

  18. I think many have brought up some great points here. Kaimi, KLS, Ardis, Adam, I always enjoy your insight into many of the topics brough up here.

    In reading back through the comments made, it seems to me that the perspective of this issue is divided down gender lines. Is there truth to this or am I interjecting my own gender bias?

  19. 1) I think no man or woman should ever feel like they can be friends only with members of the same sex. That’s not healthy, and it breeds repression of real emotion – instead of learning to deal properly with that emotion.

    2) I agree completely with Adam that “deep” friendships carry an inherent risk – and with Guy that if there is even a hint of physical / sexual attraction I must maintain a distance I don’t have to maintain with men – since I have no such attraction in those situations. I know of WAY too many situations that got out of hand with active, TR holding members who thought they were immune to “that silly requirement” and only realized that they weren’t when their marriages and lives fell apart. There are quite a few women in my stake with whom I simply refuse to spend extended time alone, because, although I feel little if any true temptation, I know I am not immune to it. For anyone to call a concern over deep friendships with members of the opposite gender “silly” or “misguided” or “old-fashioned” is, in my mind, uninformed, proud or insensitive to the needs of many.

    3) Many women really don’t understand many men – even many good, faithful, sincere men.

    4) A point that is missing in the comments thus far is that there is a vital communal element of married men and women maintaining some degree of distance from friends of the opposite sex. Just like the WofW, there is the need to socialize a standard that is a reasonable approximation of something that is attainable to the weakest of the weak. Granted, the absolute “weakest of the weak” shouldn’t be the standard in this case, but those of us who are not tempted in many of these situations need to be willing to sacrifice a bit for those of us who are – to accept reasonable restrictions on our personal “freedom” for the good of the community and its weaker members.

    5) There also is the communal aspect of avoiding the creation of jealousy on the part of the spouse. Often, opposite gender friends (especially at work) don’t know the other’s spouse and, therefore, have little or no idea how that spouse views their friendship. They have no real sense of what a “deep” or “close” friendship might be doing to the other’s marital relationship.

    That’s enough for now.

  20. Guy, the division isn’t entirely along gender lines, because Kathryn and I have a basic disagreement. I wonder if the division isn’t rather more between married and single.

  21. As I read Harry’s analysis, he is not saying that women can’t be friends wtih men, but that men can’t be “just” friends with women without sex coming into the mix. I have had a few male friends end up destroying their marriages because they though they could have close friendships with women. One thing led to another and the intimacy they shared in friendship became physical intimacy. It seems to be plain and simple biology.

  22. I think Harry is right. You’re never going to have a friendship with the opposite gender where sex isn’t the elephant in the room. We don’t acknowledge it out of politeness and respect. We hopefully don’t act on it outside the bounds of God’s parameters, and basic human decency. It’s also a good idea not to spend much time thinking about it, lest we start getting any ideas about possibilities.

    But yeah, the sex thing is always a possibility. And I think it’s just going to limit inter-gender relationships. Doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with a girl. But it does mean that there have to be some restrictions. For instance, if you aren’t dating, you really shouldn’t be spending time alone with any woman. Why go there?

  23. (#22, continued) Also between definitions of “friendship.” I find the specific elements mentioned by Kathryn, Adam and Ray as constituting “friendship” to be considerably beyond what I share with men OR women friends.

  24. Yep, that’s what I meant.

    I know that I’m more careful in friendships with the opposite sex than my wife is. I’ve always assumed that this is due to my awareness of my own inheirent weaknesses.

  25. Ardis… Or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Both Gender and Married/Single impact how you feel about, or behave in, friendships with the opposite sex.

  26. Guy, good point. Ardis, thanks for pointing out that there are many variables at play here.

    This discussion is primarily theoretical. I don’t think anyone of any gender, marital status, etc. would argue that there’s something wrong with the interactions you’ve described. Not even Adam.

  27. #25: Kathryn, a very basic disagreement between us is your statement here:

    if my husband isn’t interested in poetry, and poetry is important to me, and I happen to find a guy friend who loves poetry… even if all we ever talk about is poetry, I could find myself overly attached to this person because we have a connection I can’t duplicate with my husband.

    Substitute “historical discourse” for “poetry,” and you have more or less my situation. But as I’m beginning to realize as the conversation goes on and terms are being used differently by more people, I’m not defining “friendship” in the same way most of you seem to be doing. I can have a deeply satisfying, intensely rewarding conversation with someone, especially when such a conversation continues over time and resumes whenever we meet, without becoming “attached to the person” (whether you mean “attached” as being physically or emotionally or intellectually). It is the opportunity to have that conversation that I mean by friendship.

    Maybe my life is oddly aloof if that definition of “friendship” is alien to you all. But until you have gone literally years without the opportunity to connect with anyone regarding anything more meaningful than last night’s TV programs or the correct place for filing names beginning with “Mc,” you may not appreciate how valuable and rewarding a friendship based on a passionate interest in poetry or history can be, without the remotest involvement of sexual or romantic interest. The objects of my sexual and romantic interests do not overlap with the objects of my friendship, as I have been using the word.

  28. “People whose hormones are stronger than their wills”

    In other words, men.

    There is a reason Harry makes the point and not Sally. Ardis, you may not be comfortable with this fact, but more than likely the well-adjusted, actualized men of whom you speak want to have sex with you. They may control that thought and not lust after you, but that desire most probably exists, unless, of course, they are gay.

  29. I think it’s possible, but risky. My husband has always had many female friends because of the nature of his work. He teaches community college science. He ends up with many students and collegues involved with the health sciences, and at the community college level that equals many women. He balances that by having many friendly relationships at work, and when a relationship seems to be expanding beyond the work sphere involving our whole family. He won’t take a female friend to dinner alone, for example, but he might invite her to have dinner with both of us.

  30. Ardis (#30), I should have made clear that I was talking about deep friendships between people who are married to others. I don’t doubt your ability to talk history with a man, even at length, over a long period of time, and not have any erotic feelings for him. My point was that even a non-erotic deep attachment to a person of the opposite sex can be dangerous for a married person. The level of depth that can be safely managed will, of course, depend on all the parties involved (including the friends’ spouses).

    I am so glad that you have these friendships. I can’t imagine the loneliness you’ve described, but I imagine that were I in your situation, I, too, would be insulted if I felt someone was suggesting that my relationships were anything but innocent.

  31. I don’t know about this. I am newlyish married and have retained very close male friendships. In particular, one of my best friends throughout college is a guy and our relationship has not really changed at all since I got married (he came to my wedding from across the country and was my unofficial “man of honor”). My husband knows I love this friend dearly; he hears me have hour or two long conversations on the phone with this friend, and neither he, nor I, nor my male bff, have ever thought anything was amiss with this. (Also, I should point out that my husband has kept friendships with females as well–he is less social in general and doesn’t have as close of friendships, but he does stay in touch with a few girls, one of whom is even his ex-girlfriend. I don’t care, I don’t suspect there is secretly something there, I trust him.)

    My male bff and I are platonic friends. I think I had a brief crush on him when I first met him five years ago or whatever but that has long since passed. We have talked about the non-romantic nature of our feelings for each other and I think he’s in the same spot as me (minus *ever* having any sort of romantic interest in me). I don’t think of him any differently than my other best friend, who is a very close female friend I have. I am also friends with a bunch of married men, some of whom I know along with their wives and some not. I don’t think that the sex thing is always there, getting in the way. Maybe I am wrong and all the male people I am friends with are secretly harboring sexual thoughts about me, but I really doubt it. I am committed to my husband and he knows it and friendship is friendship, not a mask for something secretly sexual. Most of my friends (married, unmarried of both sexes) feel similarly–that it is not a problem to have frienships (even close ones) of someone of the opposite sex, and it is definitely possible to have non-sexual friendships. Maybe things are changing. I think if you assume that there will always be something sexual in the way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What we look for, we usually find.

  32. This post reminded me of Billy Graham, oddly enough. He had a policy of never being alone in a room with a woman other than his wife. We can see how well his career and marriage turned out.

    Personally, I just stay away from public restrooms (oops, wrong thread). : )

    Gay men and straight women have some of the best friendships in the world, imo. Maybe that’s why the Lord hasn’t smitten us off the earth yet. HM’s intervention??

  33. This is one issue that is hard to address without the bias of our own experiences. If I have never felt a real and strong sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex after my marriage, then I have a hard time understanding what the fuss is all about. OTOH, without being graphic, if I am married but constantly aware of how women affect me, then I have a hard time understanding why everyone else doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about.

    Most of us fall somewhere in between those extremes, with most men closer to the latter than most women. I know MANY very good, faithful men who are concerned about this issue for themselves, while I know relatively few women who are concerned to the same degree.

  34. Has any straight man (no offense Mike) posted and said that a man can be friends with a woman without wanting to have sex with her?

    It just is not possible from a man’s perspective unless the man finds the woman totally unactractive, which is possible, but as Harry says, even then sex comes into the mind. Men are dogs like that, uniformly. Teh degree to which they can contain depends on the restrictions they place on themselves.

  35. Wow, Mike. Commenting on three threads so concisely in one comment. You are now my official hero – even if that means I have to put you on a shelf in the closet. Perhaps you can’t be my friend in the same way as the straight guys with whom I spend lots of time, but we still can get together at a Sunstone symposium or in SM and discuss HM. I think we might be evolved enough to handle that.

    Sorry, everyone else. Back to our regularly scheduled discussion.

  36. Hannah, I hope that situation keeps working for you. It wouldn’t work for me and for pretty much every other married couple I know. Whether this is an age-related thing or not, I don’t know. In any case, thank you for sharing your perspective–very interesting.

    Mike, that was *not* a mental image I wanted to have this morning. But thanks for making me laugh.

    Ray, well put.

  37. Kathryn,

    I was reading part of the Reed Smoot diaries, and I was a little surprised to see how he, as an apostle and senator, would sometimes escort a woman to lunch or dinner while his wife was back in Utah. Obviously, he didn’t think anything of it, he just records it in his diary as part of his day and isn’t embarassed at all. That wasn’t that long ago, but I think there has been a change in our culture since then. I can’t imagine an apostle meeting a woman for dinner in a hotel restaurant today without getting lots of raised eyebrows.

  38. Kathy, I’d imagine it is harder to have close male friendships as a work/stay-at-home mom, because those friendships were probably built on a past intimacy and maintaining the friendship would require semi-regular, planned activities or self-disclosure.

    In the workplace, having “safe” close male friendships is less difficult. I have always had close male friends at work. These friendships are largely built on our mutual devotion to the students in our care. We talk shop, we work together on curriculum projects, we laugh uproariously at funny things students say. Daily proximity, common experience — and a group setting with defined hours — simply make it easier to maintain these intergender relationships. Would I stay close friends with any of these men if I were at home with kids? Probably not in any immediate sense.

  39. Mark IV (#40): That’s what I meant in an earlier comment by RECENT standards. Another indication of the change toward whatever-we-call-it is the ease with which married men and women formerly danced with each other at ward dances. No married man of any age would consider dancing with me today, and neither would his wife dream of allowing it.

  40. Harry makes a good point. He overstates it, but the essence of what he’s talking about is so. I have and have had many female friends, and the way I would put it is that the question of romantic potential (including sex) is always present and should be taken into account in determining what kinds of interactions and situations one should allow themselves to be in. I think the “never alone in a room” standard is hard and may be excessive, but it is certainly safe.

    When the woman involved is attractive, it would be good for her to be aware that there’s a good chance the guy she’s talking to is probably having chemical responses to her appearance, understanding that “attractive” is a subjective continuum determined in the mind of the guy. Most guys learn how to keep that under some kind of control, especially if they work with attractive women, but it doesn’t just go away. And this power should only be harnessed for good, and never used for evil purposes. You know who you are.

    Harry’s point is overstated, as I said, but it should not be ignored.

  41. Mark, I agree that the general level of public scrutiny (by both media and the commoners like us who discuss these things in blogs) and the hyper-awareness of sex in our current society make this a different discussion in many ways than it probably would have been even 50 years ago.

  42. Ardis,

    I would characterize the relationships you describe as professional relationships rather than friendships per se. I too am LDS and single and have a number of male colleagues with whom I share great conversations about work. I think that’s perfectly fine. In your case your work is your academic career. It’s only natural to talk about work with the people you work with — even when work is something you are passionate about.

    OTOH I consider my friends to be the people I hang with, go out to dinner with, go to the movies with, gab on the phone with… Well, you get the idea. These friends are almost exclusively female and do not include my professional collegues from work whether single or married. I wouldn’t feel comfortable socializing with men outside of work unless it’s dating and that’s a different story.

    In the past, (in my twenties) I used to allow men to befriend me. I found that these friendships often weren’t on the level with the men thinking of the friendship as a low risk (cheap) way of getting to know me without actually asking me out. In many cases if the men were not LDS they would have their girlfriends that they were dating (sleeping with) while at the same time being friends and getting to know me. While this worked well for them there wasn’t a whole lot in it for me — especially if I liked the guy.

    So now I figure if a guy is interesed he’ll ask me out. Separates the men from the boys. Keeps things nice and above board. Doesn’t waste my time. So far it’s working well.

  43. #40, #43, this is so true. There are all sorts of things that our pioneer co-religionists did that would seem foreign to todays standards. Social kissing is one that I have considered posting on as it pops up so frequently in diaries.

    As to the substance of the post, I think it is probably true for teenagers and college students. If it were true of an adult, then it is a very sad commentary on that person and represents a deep immaturity.

  44. My PhD advisor (married woman) is very near my age. We’ve had conversations about our families, our children, her struggles to conceive, etc. She’s also very Christian (we have an agreement not to discuss religion, unfortunately). I don’t think I’ve been attracted to her.

  45. One other variable to consider (besides Gender and Marital Status) is our personal experiences that formulate our own bias.

    When I was in my 20’s and Single, this issue was always an issue in my mind. I literally could not have a gal-friend without it occupying some thought in my mind (as bad as that may sound, it’s honest). Experiences at that time showed me that having gal-friendships was always wrought with pitfalls.

    But now, well past my prime and very happily married, those thoughts rarely occupy my mind. And my experiences at this stage in my life show that it is possible to have gal-friendships without the pitfalls. But remembering the past experiences, I still am careful about gal-friendships, even at this stage in my life.

  46. “Another indication of the change toward whatever-we-call-it is the ease with which married men and women formerly danced with each other at ward dances. No married man of any age would consider dancing with me today, and neither would his wife dream of allowing it.”

    Standards have indeed changed. My parents gave parties when I was a child. I remember my father dancing with his best friend’s wife. In fact, all the couples dancing with each others’ wives. No one thought anything of it.

  47. I have to strongly agree with Ardis here.

    The fact that we are even discussing this topic shows how overly-sexualized the ethos of our culture has become. My medical school class is composed of about 60% females, and I have many wonderful, rich relationships with many of them. I have even been on medical trips and missions in which I was paired up with a female colleague/friend for long hours during many days, and instead of eating dinner alone I have eaten dinner with such female friends. Both my wife and I have very rewarding emotional relationships outside of marriage, but we know the boundaries of excessive emotional confidence; which we are ever vigilant to guard.

    Perhaps it has become acceptable to talk openly about these things because of the prevalence and incidence of adultery, divorce, pornography, and premarital sex. It has forced me to be more vigilant against untoward advances as well. Nevertheless, the existence of our society’s deep sexual perversion and pathology doesn’t preclude me from wholesome relationships.

    Just because an important and explicit substratum of society has imbibed too deeply from the zeitgeist of sex doesn’t automatically chain me to their destiny of slavish service to their id god of pleasure. I think that even the discussion of this topic degrades the femininity and divine nature of women, who become objectified; who are forced to live in loneliness because of the smallness of men’s (little m.) minds, hearts, and character.

  48. I’m going to suggest that maybe the way we emphasize this in the church is actually part of the problem, and counter-productive.

    Sometimes I have to travel in connection with my work, and sometimes one of my females coworkers is assigned to travel with me. We drive or fly, check into the same hotel, have meals together, etc., and maintain a cordial relationship without a sexual undercurrent, at least that I can discern. (I’m fully willing to acknowledge that I am not much in the looks department, and that fact may account for the lack of interest on the woman’s part.) But, when I’ve spent five minutes giving a woman a ride home from church, there is an almost palpable sense of wrongoing, as though we are each expecting the other to make awkward advances.

  49. Deborah (#41), I agree. In the workplace there’s a set-apart time and location for interacting, and often there’s the safety of a group setting as well. It’s easy to tell if someone is stepping over boundaries.

    SAHMs interacting with men in defined social contexts–like, at a class they’re taking, or some other group they belong to–can probably relax a bit more. Here again, there’s usually a small crowd at least, and the gathering is for a purpose other than for the continuance of one specific friendship. For the most part, it’s only if someone tries to take the relationship beyond the defined place and time that there’s cause for worry. But every time I email a guy friend, it’s for no other purpose than to spend time specifically with them, so I need to watch myself.

    One of my husband’s old roommates, that I was friends with way back when, is now a SAHD. I thought briefly about getting together with him and his kids during the day, then realized that would never work.

  50. Carolyn (#46), what you describe is probably the situation for workers with normal employment. My situation is a bit different, though. As an independent, I have no fixed place of work, no fixed hours of employment, no accidental friendships formed because of shared work assignments. I do, of course, have pleasant working relationships of the kind you describe with librarians and archivists and curators whose “shops” I visit regularly, but those are quite different from the friendships I’ve meant by my previous comments.

    Those friendships are more meaningful and require the same level of effort as any friendships you maintain with the friends you have deliberately chosen because you genuinely like them, not merely because you’re in the same ward or once lived in the same dorm. These are friendships that are often established and largely maintained via the internet. In some cases we have voluntarily chosen to collaborate on professional projects. Face-to-face meetings, although relatively infrequent, usually involve dinners at professional conferences or lunches in downtown restaurants or university cafeterias. I call on them in their offices from time to time when necessary, and they make appointments to meet me from time to time in various libraries (my equivalent of an office). True, except for catching up on news of, say, ailing parents or growing children or accomplishing spouses, most of whom I have met, these meetings focus on shop talk.

    These friendships are very different in quality and importance from casual workplace relationships. It’s that importance that distinguishes them as true friendships. That, paired with the surface appearances of shared meals and direct personal communication, are also probably what earns the suspicion and disapproval of those who insist that such friendships are dangerous or impossible.

  51. JDW wrote… I think that even the discussion of this topic degrades the femininity and divine nature of women, who become objectified; who are forced to live in loneliness because of the smallness of men’s (little m.) minds, hearts, and character. …

    Wow Joseph… I didn’t know the demonization of men could be worded so eloquently!

  52. Ardis,

    I work in the film industry so I don’t have a standard workplace either. All I meant by professional relationships is that my relationships with my work collegues focus primarily on work, projects, etc. It sounds like that is also the case for you. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having these long term professional relationships. In fact, we need them in order to function at work as well as for our emotional well being.

  53. There was a time I would have staunchly stated that men and women could be friends- freely and easily. But, the years have passed, and the man I considered my very best friend throughout college and the young twenties ended up becomming my huband. My other best friend ended up coming out the closet and is now living as an openly gay man.

    So, at least in my life, I was wrong.

    That said, I do think it’s possible to have platonic friendships with the opposite sex- as long as boundaries are respected by both parties.

    When I still worked outside the home, I had professional relationships with numerous men, and sex never entered the picture in any way- and I would have been a poorer person had I avoided those contacts.

  54. Much has been mentioned about Professional Relationships. I do think there is a distinct difference between a relationship that exists due to the requirements of one’s profession, and one that exists outside of work.

    If my wife travels with a male co-worker because work requires it, or dines out with a male co-worker because work requires it, that’s ok. But if she travels with a guy-friend, or dines out with a guy-friend, just because he’s a friend, IMO – that would be inappropriate.

  55. Has anyone considered the issue of how our current society tends to define individuality – particularly within marriage?

    The dance example addressed *public* and *open* interaction – that which is impossible (at least much harder) to hide or misconstrue. I understand dancing with someone else’s spouse in that setting – a public event, not a “date”. (I also assume that most if not all of the dancing in those situations was not “slow dancing” as we now define it.)

    “Private” interaction between someone who is married and someone of the other gender is a completely different issue. I’m not going to go back and cite the comment, but treating your spouse as half of you and making sure s/he knows about your interactions with other wo/men goes a long way toward solving much of the dilemma, IMO. That attitude eliminates “private” interaction in a very real way – and allows the spouse to express concern if s/he feels the partner is spending too much time with any particular person. The key is open and honest communication, but that is true of most issues – not just this one.

  56. Why do we still have separate male and female bathrooms in America? It sounds like an unrelated question, but it gets to the heart of the matter. There must be established norms along gender lines.

    Likewise, there must be established norms amongst extra-marital friendships. One of those norms must include avoiding emotional attachment to a person you find physically attractive, who is not your spouse.

    Emotions are physiology. We either give in to them or else hope to overpower them with a stronger emotion (e.g. effects of charity, the Holy Spirit). But, to put yourself needlessly in harm’s way, if you are married, is reckless.

  57. Sex gets in the way well before friendship develops. It happens when you first meet. Friendships develop despite the physical evaluation that has already occured.

  58. #51, touche: I think your comment degrades the divine nature of women, who, because of their emotional and spiritual sensitivity, are especially prone to developing romantic feelings for male friends.

    A man’s physical attraction to a woman usually shows itself early in the game. If you don’t think she’s hot on day 1, you might think she’s hot on day 100, but late-blooming sexual attraction is, I wager, not nearly as likely for you as it is for a woman. The closer a woman is, emotionally and spiritually, to a man, the more her sexuality comes into play.

    I don’t set boundaries with my guy friends to protect them from themselves, but to protect me from myself.

  59. #16: Solution: Don’t be friends with anyone! Be anti-social!

    Or just blog more and hang out with iFriends.

  60. 64: The emotions/feelings that may exist are, in general, natural and good as long as they are kept within the boundaries of the Lord. I don’t see how this degrades women–unless of course, women are incapable of controlling their feelings and are dependant on men to modulate their feelings circumstantially. Obviously, I reject that argument–being somewhat of a feminist myself.

    If I’m wrong (about women’s dependance on men) then the game is up, and we should all jump into that big handbasket for the inevitable trip.

  61. #64 – and therein (the last sentence) lies the heart of the conflict. Everyone feels slightly differently about their own ability or inability to protect themselves from themselves, and they tend to think that they can control their self-protection. They also tend to think that others can or should be able to control themselves at the same level – which makes them vulnerable in situations where one person actually is after more than the other.

    I have stayed away from this aspect intentionally thus far, but my brother was in the Army for years. He still is an officer in the National Guard. He has told me clearly that some of the people with whom he has associated over the years in the Army and the Guard *love* serving in Utah – specifically because of how easy it is for them to take advantage of “naive Mormon women” – not teenagers, but women. All they have to do is make an emotional connection, express love and admiration, and gently insist on step-by-step, progressive expressions of affection.

    My brother told me something very interesting when we were discussing this issue. He said, essentially, “I know of too many situations where Mormon women knew everything there was to know about sex, except for how much guys think about it and how manipulative they can be – because they dated and are married to decent guys who would never take advantage of them. They assume they can tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys, when many of them have never been exposed to situations that are controlled or contrived by the bad guys.”

    I don’t know the backgrounds of the women who have commented here, but I think there might be some interesting perspectives from those who have thought they were just friends with a man who actually was manipulating the relationship for sexual purposes. I teach my daughters to set boundaries in order to protect them from themselves, but I also do so to protect them from men who are like the ones my brother described. I am deeply disturbed that we live in a world where I feel I need to have this type of discussion with my daughters, but I have the discussion, nevertheless.

  62. Joseph, what I meant was that by excusing women and blaming men, you’re actually insulting women in a backwards way, by suggesting that their divine natures excuse them from temptation. My point is that women have their own brand of temptation–one that is often overlooked. I believe talking about it is a good thing, not a degrading thing.

  63. This has been much more enlightening and thoughtful than the usual discussion along these lines. Good work, all.

    If I can restate my opinion: sex exerts a gravitational pull on many (but not all) man-woman relationships that can make them dangerous. But ‘danger’ isn’t necessarily a synonym for ‘to be avoided,’ depending on the strength of the pull. ‘Danger’ can sometimes mean ‘be cautious.’

    And I agree that our hyper-sexualized culture is partly to blame.

  64. Ray, you’re right–we can be in denial about our ability to self-protect, and about the intentions of the other party. That was part of my point–I’m fooling myself if I tell myself that I’m not subject to temptation, and that by setting boundaries I’m just making things easier for the man in the equation. Women can be emotionally predatory.

    Like you said before, when such matters are discussed openly with one’s spouse, self-deception can be curtailed to a significant extent. Of course, in the end it all comes down to the individual’s personal integrity. I could talk and talk with my spouse and still, uh, screw up.

  65. KLS, I worked so hard to not let any pun enter this conversation – and you let loose with that one. So much for protecting all of you from my predatory sense of humor! (grin)

  66. I’m sorry, I though this post was on men’s incapability of healthy relationships with women. My mistake.

  67. Joesph, no problem. My intent was to look at the situation from both sides, but the movie dialogue centers more on men’s temptations, and women’s cluelessness about them, so your assessment really wasn’t far off.

  68. Bible Girl:

    in South Dallas, I ran smack up against an ironclad belief that there is no innocent context whatsoever for a close friendship between a grown man and a grown woman. It is always assumed, Ghetto 101 here, that something is going on.

    Her article is pretty uncompromising, but perhaps of interest.

    Rod Dreher’s blog has comments on the Bible Girl article that pretty much parallel our discussion here:

  69. The question is, what are those boundaries?

    I think there is a spectrum of answers to this question, a range of ‘right’ answers. My husband and I were raised in different family cultures — mine, more open, his, not so much. I have found it interesting to see how differently we can see the same situation.

    I think there might be some differences depending on the whole introvert/extrovert continuum as well.

    Because I think there are different opinions and approaches, I think this is actually an important thing to be aware of (not the sex part per se, but the fact that it is a sensitive issue for many). I will often adjust my behavior depending on the degree of the barrier that I might feel from someone. There are some men who are more comfortable talking with women; others are much more reserved. We ought not assume that others will agree with us on what is “appropriate” behavior. Of course, it’s impossible to act in a way that will keep everyone happy, but I do think sensitivity is good.

    More rambling…. I was single for nearly a decade, and some of my closest friends (ones I chatted with, ‘hung out’ with) were male. That changed considerably when I got married. It was actually an adjustment for me to realize that the boundaries were different, whether I liked it or not. I remember going to lunch with a man who was a friend from grad school and a business colleague. Because our relationship really was a friendship, a business lunch really didn’t feel appropriate anymore. I had to sort of mourn that a bit. The emotional connections do have to be kept at a distance now. It just doesn’t feel right to me to spend a lot of time connecting that way with any other man than my hubby.

    Another perspective on this topic: I recently read a book by Robert Millet where he talked of how he had an instinctively jealous nature (insecure, maybe). He felt his wife was too friendly; obviously they had many heated discussions about this. Finally, one night she just couldn’t take it anymore. “Why are you torturing me like this?” she asked. She tried to help him see that she was not doing anything to warrant his lack of trust, and he finally realized that it was his heart that needed to change, not her behavior. So, sometimes I would agree with J. that overworry about this could be a sign of immaturity.

    That said, I don’t think that adults who are concerned about this issue should automatically be assumed to be immature. I do think for different people, there are different weak spots and its takes maturity to be self-aware to realize when this kind of thing could be, IMO.

  70. I appreciate the goodwill Olive Branch, but I confess to writing tongue-in-cheek. What I was objecting to is what actually happens, not what people metaphysically feel or emote. The immaturity and hyper-sexualized state of real relationships between male and female, which is mostly the fault of men, is wrong. Women are suffering as a result of the behavior of men not because of men’s temptation per se, but because of male behavior.

    I am simply holding men to account for their behavior, not their feelings. I am not interested in their feelings in this argument, and this conversation would not be taking place were the behavior not present. nobody denies that the normal person has instincts or attractions, but the behavior, which has been normalized in our society, should be denounced.

    As a result of my rejection of this ethos which society (as evidenced by this silly movie) has normalized, I reserve the right to have healthy relationships (meaning: no bad behavior) with women.

  71. #43: Does this mean I wasted $18.95 +SH, on the Tango lessons?!
    I was called into the boss’s office one day, was told a new secretary was coming in, and my boss wanted to assign her to me. “Fine”. said I. He replied, “Here’s the thing, this is the most gorgest girl I have ever seen and you’re the only guy I trust for this.” I never knew if this was a + or – in his mind. She was mine about two weeks, and she was then moved…Up-Stairs.

  72. Avoiding hypersexualization is one of those areas where wishing doesn’t make it so. You have to have a very carefully controlled media diet, along with a healthy exposure to scripture and so on, to make it so. Bucking the culture is more than just a matter of willpower.

    And, I might add, so is bucking biology.

  73. No…..when she arrived, she told me she had just finished her MBA and this was the only job she could get for now. I went back to straighting the pens in my drawer.

  74. #12 (Guy) said: With guy-friends, I am just me.
    With gal-friends, I am a controlled, reserved, partial version of me.

    Funny, I\’m female, but I feel the same way.


    I can\’t imagine not having platonic male friends. I have very few common interests with most of the women that I meet… And in general, my personality just doesn\’t mesh well with other women. I\’m not quite sure what it is, they just don\’t like me very much when I act like myself. And holding in my personality to suit other women\’s expections of feminine behavior makes me tired. I save it for the hour a week I spend in Relief Society

    The female friends I do have, have the same interests as me and also have predominantly male friends — so when we all get together at any type of social event it\’s generally a ratio of 1 female to 5 males.

    While I\’m not unattractive [I hope!], I\’ve never noticed any untoward behavior and I\’ve definitely never had a problem with a male friend coming on to me.

  75. #84: It was a good decade, my tie was so narrow, it took little time to clean after the lunch hours…so it didn’t cut into my nap.

  76. I love that dialogue from WHMS. There is a pretty strong element of truth to it, or it wouldn’t be so funny.

    Still, by Mormon standards, I’m very liberal on this issue. Even though I recognize that I am sexually attracted to lots of women I am friends with, I just get over it. It’s called being civilized. Sure there’s a risk; the bishop running off with the RS President wouldn’t be such a Mormon cliche if it didn’t actually happen from time to time. But in my view it is worth running that risk. It’s like living your life not being afraid of terrorism. There’s a risk, you do what you can to control it, and then you live your life fully.

    Just this past week my wife drove her good friend–a guy–to Indianapolis for a concert. Didn’t bother me in the least. We have different interests; I’m into scholarship, she’s into art and music; so we tend to have different circles of friends–of both genders.

    So I will go on record here as disagreeing with Ardis in no. 43. I would be happy to dance with her, and I can guaranty that my wife wouldn’t mind. And if I were in SLC, I’d be happy to take her out to the Spaghetti Factory (which I love but my wife doesn’t care for) for a meal and to discuss common interests.

    In short, I’m much more open to cross-gender platonic friendships than many Mormons seem to be.

  77. fwiw, I feel quite differently about doing things with female friends and acquaintances than I do about doing those same things with women serving in Church leadership positions around me. I understand the counsel to avoid extended time alone in church settings, even if it might seem trivial or reactionary – like traveling to and from meetings.

    The Spirit is a powerful uniter / unifier, and its influence can create a bond that is very real on an emotional level. This is true particularly during and immediately following an intense spiritual experience. I have thought for a long time that the admonition against Bishops and RS Presidents, for example, spending extensive time alone together and traveling to and from meetings alone together has more to do with the intensity of shared spiritual experience and its uniting influence than to a distrust of individual leaders or a concern about sexual temptation. In this case, unlike most, I believe spiritual / emotional ties form long before sex enters the picture – and that those ties can serve as a magnet if issues (either large or relatively small) arise in either or both marriages, which inevitably happens in all marriages. The likelihood that such issues (small, but temporarily divisive) will arise simultaneously in both marriages actually is quite high; hence, the Bishop and RS Pres. are vulnerable much more often than many would assume – *if* they regularly experience shared spirituality.

  78. Haven’t read all the comments–maybe someone’s already said this–

    My wife’s my best friend in the whole world–no need to look anywhere else.

  79. FWIW, I’m largely with Kevin B (#86).

    One aspect of this subject that may be worth noting is what might occur if we lived in a society where, for whatever historical reason, men were to hold a significant majority of the “power” positions in the US corporate business world. If those men declined to connect informally with women, but continued to do so with their male colleagues, we’d have a culturally hide bound system that structurally excludes women.

    Hey, wait a minute…

  80. #83: Kim, any decent guy will not reveal his thoughts. Like someone posted – it’s all about being civilized. But that doesn’t mean your guy-friends don’t have them.

  81. You knows what’s scary to me? When I have worked for years,in an almost a cop/partner relationship with a women in a **Non-Sexual Way Guys**, that moment, our eyes meet, and we know, that had history been different, we would have made a great husband and wife, As # 86 says ” I just get over it”.

  82. Kathryn I read your post and immediately thought, “Well that doesn’t apply to my wife and I. We’re much too open-minded, secure in each other and naturally gregarious to be hidebound by the ‘facts’ Harry puts forward.”

    Then I did a mental inventory of my good female friends and realised they’re all:

    1) actually my wife’s friends
    2) women in relationships who are friends we have in common
    3) women colleagues at work I never have occasion to see elsewhere

    The only dodgy relationship is the gooey-eyed one I have with Halle Berry when I see her on the television screen, but my wife just finds this amusing and even signs notes to me on the fridge ‘Halle’, when it’s something important she wants me to remember.

  83. Kyle (#93)–that “Halle” thing is priceless.

    Bob (#92)–Good job describing that moment of connection. Which reminds me, I haven’t yet brought up the fact that for married people, mixed-gender friendships become exponentially more dangerous depending on the trajectory of dissatisfaction in the marriage. If someone’s having a lousy time with his or her spouse gets that “we could’ve been great together” feeling with someone else, that can be really bad news.

    greenfrog (#90)–You’re reminding me about a quote I once read (from a prophet–I think it was SWK) about how women joining the workforce increases men’s struggle to remain faithful in their marriages.

    Aaron (#89)–who can blame you?

    Jack (#88)–glad to hear it. An important point.

    Kevin (#86)–I figure there’s a bell curve re these issues and it sounds like you’re relatively close to one of the ends–which is just dandy.

    Ray (#87)–Very, very well said. I agree 100%. I think the same phenomenon exists, perhaps to a lesser extent, with other kinds of connections–such as artistic and intellectual ones. The shared experience of truth in any form is a powerful thing indeed, and should be handled with care.

    Everyone, thank you for the great discussion. I’ll be turning comments off soon–your closing remarks are welcome.

  84. Great discussion. Unlike one poster, I feel discussions like this are valuable, and do not objectify women (nor demonize men). I’ve enjoyed the different takes and different thoughts on the subject.

Comments are closed.