The other day I was having a phone conversation with a friend of mine in California. In the midst of that long-distance call, with the noise of screaming kids enjoying themselves in the background, she said something about a guy she once knew. She mentioned the fact that she believed that as a married man he was wrong to have so many female friends that he spent time with.
Her sentence was not a point in itself, it was part of a wider conversation about what had happened to some of our mutual friends since they left college way back in the early nineties. The guy that she mentioned was married to someone we both knew but had not kept in touch with.
We talked for a while longer and made vague plans for an upcoming visit of mine to California. She would say things like "Do you remember the tower district?" to which I'd say something vague while I tried to recall that part of the town. "It's where the Java Cafe used to be?" "Oh yeah, that was a cool place. Mocha Mondays when a mocha was a buck, I remember!" Fragmented memories now clicking into place. "Yeah, well Java Cafe isn't there anymore. It's changed so much since you were here Simon." She said. "Well, I guess it would in ten years huh". I replied while still piecing together old memories of evenings when we would all head out to that part of town and spend all night sitting in the Java Café drinking flavored coffee and listen to Josh speak in what he thought was an excellent English accent.
Eventually, the screaming kids in the background reached fever pitch volume. An unnecessary explanation was offered. "Some friends of ours are getting married nearby and people from out of town have come, so we offered to have the kids." "Oh okay." As I said, an explanation wasn't required but I'm getting used to allowing parents to validate their good parenting to me in situations like this. These days I have grown accustomed to the sound of children in the background of my telephone conversations.
"I'd better go, Simon. I need to make these guys dinner." Dinner time in California equates to a completely unreasonable hour of the morning here in the U.K. We say our goodbyes and I make my way to bed.
The next day that sentence about the married guy with female friends finds its way into my idle thoughts. The rest of the conversation has long since evaporated but this sentence has managed to linger as if it were embossed and visible above the rest of the now faded words.
Why is it wrong for a married man to have female friends? Is it wrong for a married woman to have male friends? I suppose so if their rule were to be applied across the board, and there is no reason to suspect that it wouldn't be. But even though I feel like I understand the reasoning behind the 'rule', I'm not sure I understand the logic.
Okay, so there's the obvious attraction issue. But just because one person is male and the other female that doesn't mean there will be an attraction. And are we then saying that it is wrong to have friendships with people you may at some point find attractive? Taking that question one step further, is it wrong to have a friendship with someone you presently find attractive? How practical is this rule in reality? And what happened to trust?
On reflection what my friend had said seemed strange. After all, here she was a married woman excusing herself to another room to chat on the phone to a guy in England who has never once met her husband. I'm no threat to her marriage, of course, we both know that, but what about the other guy, the husband? How does he feel about me? If he had a problem with his wife and I being in touch would our friendship of all these years simply be over? That hardly seems fair or right or reasonable to me.
I think that if I'm in a relationship with someone then I simply have to trust them. If they're going to cheat on me then they're going to cheat on me. No amount of rules and barriers will prevent that or help address the far more serious underlying issue that must surely be there in the first place. And if they did cheat on me would that be the end? I know plenty of people say it would be, but how far can forgiveness go? How broken does something have to be before it simply can't be fixed?
I suppose the question is an age-old one. Can men and women be just friends? I'd like to think so. I have lots of friends who are women, I would think nothing of spending time with them just as I would with any of my friends. I don't think I dramatically alter topics of conversation or the way I am based purely on the sex of the company I am in. I'd like to think that I deal with people simply as individuals.
I've said before that I'm not a beer-drinking, football watching 'mans man'. I'm not ashamed of that and neither should I be made to feel so. I have a lot of very good friends who are women, that's just the way the dice have landed. I meet people and their friends, then their friends and so on.
Truth be known I'd like a few more guys to hang out with, look at cars, and talk about computers. To be able to make a 'male' comment without the obligatory slap around the head! But at the moment, that's just not how things have worked out. However, the friends I have are good friends, many of whom I know I can rely on. These are qualities that matter, and if someone told me I should give that kind of support and friendship up just because they happened to be the opposite sex to me, well, then that would be a very hard pill to swallow indeed.
I think maybe it comes down to how secure you are in your relationship. If you're worried that your partner is at risk of cheating on you then that is a tough place to be. However, perhaps the problem isn't that your partner is about to embark on some secret sleazy relationship, but more the fact that you think they would do so?