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Man Friends, Part 2

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It does take a certain amount of courage to be just friends with someone of the opposite sex (or someone you “shouldn’t” be friends with). People often don’t understand how it’s possible. I know that it is possible, but it can be tricky, and you have to adhere to the rules. What rules you ask? Why, the rules I made up for myself. I’m not a relationship counselor and I don’t pretend to be one, but I’ve honed these rules over time and they have served me well. Here they are:

Rules for Maintaining a Healthy Platonic Friendship

Rule #1 – If you find that you are physically attracted to your friend, take two giant steps back. This is the most important rule, and one that causes trouble for people trying to maintain a friendship with someone who is not available for a romantic relationship (or who themselves are unavailable). The thing to remember here is that attraction is spontaneous and mostly outside of our control. You can’t help who you’re attracted to, but you can certainly control how you react to it. If you value your friendship and don’t want to lose it, be careful how you interact with a person you find yourself attracted to. Don’t allow the attraction to take hold. You may have to step away from the friendship for a while; that’s ok. It’s more important that you don’t do something stupid that you can’t take back.

One other thought about this topic. Yes, sometimes attraction is inevitable and unavoidable, and it can add an element of fun to your friendship, as long as you don’t feed it. I can’t stress this enough – if left unacted on, physical attraction will usually diminish over time, so let it. If your friendship is truly important to you, you will protect it by staying as physically and emotionally far away from the person you are attracted to as possible until the attraction, starved for attention, dies off. I’ve been through it, and I promise you it works.

Rule #2 – Talk openly about your spouse or partner. Unless your friend comes to you for relationship advice there’s a temptation to not discuss your significant other with them. Don’t fall into that trap. Your spouse or partner is an important part of your life; they are part of who you are, and you have to bring all of that to the table to truly be friends with someone. It can feel awkward, but make a point of doing it.

However, DON’T compare spouses or talk about them in a derogatory way thinking to amuse each other! That’s the height of tacky, and I don’t do it or put up with it. I am NOT here for you to complain about your spouse. If you are honestly seeking advice in order to improve your relationship that’s ok, but DO NOT call me up bitching about your wife. I will tell you to get a grip and hang up on you. Also, if I see you behaving in a way that I think is disrespectful to your wife, I WILL call you up and yell at you (yes, I’m talking about YOU – you know who you are!).

Rule #3 – If you’ve had a romantic relationship with your friend in the past, don’t dwell on it. I’m a fan of closure, so if you’re trying to have a friendship with a former flame, deal with whatever you need to deal with and move on. Your friendship exists in the present, not the past. If you find that all you ever talk about with that person is your old relationship, they are not truly a friend. They are a Movie of the Week, endlessly repeating. Get over it. There’s a reason your relationship didn’t work out in the first place, so be glad that you’re both in happy relationships. Find those things that formed the basis of your friendship in the first place and go from there.

An important point here – if your former flame is reaching out and wants to be friends but they are not in a happy, committed relationship be very careful. I would actually advise that you keep your distance from that person. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be their friend – they may need a good friend – but be extremely careful how you manage your interaction. They may be looking for more than just friendship, and they don’t have anything to lose. You do. Watch your step.

Rule #4 – Don’t expect too much. If your friend is in a committed relationship (or, you know, has a life), don’t expect that friend to be interested or available to you all the time. Actually, if one of you seems to be constantly chasing the other one down it can signal trouble in the primary relationship that should be dealt with. For me, I’m happy if I hear from my man friends every couple of months. We may have short exchanges on Facebook, or I may reach out if I see something involving a mutual interest, or if I hear something that causes me concern. Sometimes we’ll meet up for a beer or a meal if we happen to cross paths. But I have no expectation or desire to be in constant communication with my man friends. It would be creepy, and a bad idea.

Rule #5 – Don’t overdo it.  This relates to #4; don’t send your man friends messages on a weekly basis. That’s stalking. These kinds of friendships need space and distance to survive. The trick is finding that balance between keeping the friendship alive and getting too involved in your friend’s life. There’s a limit to how much communication you should have to keep your relationship in the “friend only” zone. Again, like the attraction thing, you have to be very conscious about how you manage the communication with your man friends. I find the key is to have lots of them so I don’t have time to only focus on one (but maybe that’s just me).

Rule #6 (This is for the women only) – Don’t expect your man friend to understand you. This is actually good advice for any relationship, but it definitely applies here.

Women, if you want understanding and empathy, go to your female friends. A man will never, ever understand you, and it is extremely unfair to expect them to do so.

What you can and should expect from a man, be it your husband or your boyfriend or your man friend, is for them to respect and honor you, and to enjoy your relationship in an honest and open way. You should be confident that your man friends like you just for being yourself – otherwise, what’s the point?

A friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship. It provides a source of comfort, joy, and companionship. All relationships are different because everyone is different. I get different things from every friend I have, male or female. From some I get sympathy for and identification with my struggles. From others, comradery. From some, wisdom. From others, simple affection. From some, laughter. From others, moral support. From some, the connection of shared passions.  From others, deep and abiding love.

I give my love to my friends freely, without reservation. My friends, men and women, sustain me, they hold me up when I need holding, they give me a place to focus my caring and concern. I am impossibly blessed with the most wonderful friendships of every kind. Some of them may seem unconventional. I really don’t care – they’re mine, and I cherish each and every one.

One last thought. To the spouses of my man friends:  I am not a threat to you. If anything, I’m your greatest ally. I have no desire whatsoever to take your husband from you. I have my own husband; I don’t need yours. Unlike other women who may be interested in pursuing a relationship with your man, I know where the lines are and I will not cross them. But I do ask that you have enough confidence in your marriage to acknowledge that your husband’s friendship with me could make your relationship stronger. If you can give your man the room to be a friend to me, and for me to be a friend to him, I promise you that he will respect you more than he already does.

But, and this is really important, you can’t make him not like me. You can forbid him to speak to me or you can punish him if you think he’s getting too friendly, but that won’t make your marriage any stronger. I’ve lost friends to jealous wives, and I let them go; the last thing I want to do to someone I care about is make their life harder. Friends don’t do that. But what I hope is that you can give him the freedom to maintain his friendship with me, even if you don’t like it. Just so we’re clear, I’ve done that for my husband, and he has done it for me.

So there you have it. This is what I’ve learned over the years of having lots of man friends. I care about them, and I want them to be happy. I hope they feel the same way about me. I think they do.

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Man Friends, Part 1

Venus & Mars b&w

I have a lot of male friends – maybe more than is the norm (or, let’s face it, strictly necessary) for a married woman in her 40’s. I’ve thought a lot over the years about why this is and how I’ve managed to maintain these friendships, and I’ve decided to tell you all my secrets for keeping man friends. Guys, this is for you, too – if you want to know how to be friends with a woman – just friends – this is what you need to know.

First let me say that my husband is the best man friend I’ve ever had. When we met we hit it off right away with a combination of similar interests and a sense of humor. The other stuff came along in time – shared values and goals, trust, commitment – but the friendship has remained. To this day he’s the person I most enjoy being with. We still find ways to make each other laugh, we adore traveling together, and we look forward to going out on dates. We love each other, of course, but we LIKE each other, too. I still see him as a distinct person, someone who has a life and thoughts and concerns and history that is completely separate from mine. You may think that’s an unusual way to view one’s spouse, but I believe it’s the key to a happy marriage. I’m with my husband because I choose him, out of all others, to share my life with – not to become my life. It’s a conscious choice I make every day, and every day I am thankful to have this amazing man as my husband.

Please also understand that my closest, dearest friends are all women. There’s a bond that women have based on shared understanding that is much stronger than any of my relationships with men except for the one I have with my husband.

So, now that you understand those two things, I want to tell you about the other men in my life – my man friends.

I’ve always gotten on well with men. I’m not entirely sure why (I suppose some of my man friends would have to tell you that), but I’ve always had friends who are boys. I do know that sometime in my early teenage years I figured out that being friends with boys was much easier than being friends with girls, in a general way. Boys were unlikely to say mean things just to hurt your feelings, or to purposefully exclude you from group activities, or to take pleasure in publicly humiliating you. I experienced all of this behavior from girls I knew. As a young adolescent I was overweight (which was unusual in my day) and I wore glasses, which made me a prime target for bullying. I found a respite from that social nightmare by hanging out with the guys.

I’ve also noticed that even though we’re all “grown up” now, some women still behave this way; if I’ve had problems with a boss, it’s always been a woman boss. That’s not to say I haven’t had some good women bosses – I have. The best boss I ever had was a woman. But so was the worst. I’d rather deal with men in that capacity because most of the time they’re really only interested in your work. Yes, personalities do come into play, but again, it’s unlikely that a man will try to embarrass you publicly for the fun of it. Throw you under the bus, yes. Take credit for your work, yes. Blame you for their mistakes, yes. But at least they won’t get all personal about it.

So, here it is – my big secret.

I like men.

I realize this won’t be a shock to anyone who knows me, but hear me out. The secret to being friends with a man is to like him for who he is and to have no expectations about what your relationship is or can be.

It’s that simple. And that complicated.

I love all my man friends – straight or gay, married or single – just the way they are. I don’t need or want anything from them. For my married or committed friends I am a huge fan of their partnerships, and for my single man friends I live in hope that they will find someone who will love them. I am here to listen to their problems if they choose to share them with me. I will go to the grave with their secrets. If they want my opinion about something I am happy to give it. The same goes for my advice – and I don’t care if they take it or not. I’m here to celebrate their victories and commiserate their setbacks. I’m someone they can turn to who will always be there, never judging, never demanding anything. The only think I ask is that my man friends respect the friendship as I do, and that they want the same things for me that I want for them – happiness, success, and fulfillment. And that they have the courage to be my friend in the face of occasional disapproval.

Ok, that’s enough for now! Next week I’ll share my Rules for Maintaining a Healthy Platonic Friendship.

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