By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace
QUESTION: Recently I met a really nice man while I was waiting for my child to finish a tutoring lesson. We talked a little while and then went our separate ways.
Over the course of a few months, a friendship developed. Eventually, we exchanged cell numbers and emails. He texted me during the week just to say “hi.”
Is it possible to develop a friendship with a man, who is not your husband, without feeling guilty or creepy? How do I talk to him politely when I am picking up my child as he has done nothing wrong nor have I?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: This is very tricky and sounds to me like you are playing with fire. A friendship can develop, yes, but the texting just to say “hi” I disagree with. Does your husband know him, or know of your friendship? Be nice to him when you see him at your children’s events. Is more communication than that required?
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Yes, I believe you can be friends with a man who is not your husband — as long as your husband (and your friend’s wife) is in on it, including some details of the texts or your conversations. If you’re asking these questions, then deep down, you already know there’s something not quite right about the relationship. And if you feel uncomfortable telling your spouse about the texts, then you have confirmation that you are in a friendship that might go awry if you let it. When you realize this and want to put brakes on the friendship without being awkward, try texting him less frequently and mentioning both of your spouses in your exchanges. You could say something like “wouldn’t it be fun if our spouses met each other and we all four got together sometime and let our children play?” Or, “my husband always handles this child rearing issue like this.”
Be sure to avoid deep conversations with him about problems at home — if you and your spouse aren’t connecting quite right, don’t complain about your issues with a third party who seems willing to connect with you. You will save a lot of heartache later and (hopefully) end up with a stronger marriage.
As a single woman, I am thankful for my male friends, both married and single, but if they are married, I always enjoy hearing about their wives and bringing them into any of our conversations.
HELEN’S ANSWER: In today’s world men and women can be great friends without the fear of thinking romance is just around the corner.
The problem arises as you really do not know what another person is thinking. So while you know that your feelings for your male friend are purely platonic, you cannot know if he feels the same way or if he is attracted to you.
The best way to deal with these relationships is to include your husband in all dealings with your friend. That way, he is included in your friendship.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Carla Hinton, Religion Editor: The fact that you are asking this question makes me wonder if you feel, deep down, that these exchanges are inappropriate.
Now, they may not be inappropriate, but the truth is that they could lead to something inappropriate. Remember that old saying “It’s a slippery slope”? Well, this catchphrase perfectly fits the situation you describe. It’s easy for one thing to lead to another and statistics bear this out … a text or two here, an email or two there … before you know it you have established a close relationship with a man other than your husband.
There is nothing wrong per se with married couples having friendships with people of the opposite sex but spouses have to be careful that these friendships don’t somehow undermine the marital relationships.
To safeguard against this, one must be vigilant about what topics are discussed in this platonic friendship and boundaries must be established, like no discussing marital problems, etc.
If boundaries are not set forth from the beginning, there could be problems and that slippery slope could appear on the horizon.
I have some questions for you: How would you feel if your husband was on the receiving end of another woman’s emails and texts? How do you think your husband would feel if he knew that you are exchanging emails and texts with another man?
If you would feel uncomfortable with your husband exchanging such emails and texts with another woman that he happened to meet, then you should respond the way you would want him to respond if he knew you would feel uncomfortable with such exchanges.
A good way to end these exchanges is to stop responding to his emails and texts. Or you could simply text or email him to say that you are uncomfortable with the exchanges, however innocent they may be, and plan to stop responding. Wish him well. Period.
Callie Gordon is twenty-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.