Platonic schmatonic
September 29, 2010 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Can men and women really be just friends?
posted by AceRock (119 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Are they both younger than 3 or older than 104? Then yes.
posted by facetious at 4:41 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's as though everyone on the planet must be straight....

Seriously. There are queer, gay and lesbian folk around. Plenty of us.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:44 PM on September 29, 2010 [38 favorites]


Bisexual people can't be friends with anyone.
posted by bewilderbeast at 4:45 PM on September 29, 2010 [112 favorites]


Sure.

Obviously.

Equally obviously, it helps if one or more of the parties is physically unattractive, or is at least physically unattractive to the other, or if other sexual prospects are much more attractive.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:47 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes. Now I'd like to try "State Capitals" for 100, please.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:47 PM on September 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


I kept trying to respond to the article but really all I can think to say is: It's 2010 and people are actually debating whether men and women can really have platonic relationships?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:48 PM on September 29, 2010 [30 favorites]


Bisexual people can't be friends with anyone.

Actually, they're "more than friends" to everyone.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:48 PM on September 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Following the top question of being "just friends"
posted by filthy light thief at 4:49 PM on September 29, 2010


This proves my theory that every magazine office has a "IN CASE OF EMERGENCY WRITER'S BLOCK BREAK GLASS" box containing a DVD of When Harry Met Sally and a high school yearbook with someone's face violently crossed out.
posted by griphus at 4:50 PM on September 29, 2010 [38 favorites]


It's 2010 and people are actually debating whether men and women can really have platonic relationships?

Exactly! Relationship insecurities are so 2009!
posted by filthy light thief at 4:51 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


At the very least, they are planning on drinking or using other substances to excess and whatever that leads to.

Where are these roomies? Even when there is mutual attraction I'm generally staying for a conference or exhibition. I'm way too tired for anything but sleep.

Maybe Slate commenters just lead some kind of rock and roll lifestyle.
posted by poe at 4:55 PM on September 29, 2010


CAN CAT AND CAN OF TUNA COEXIST IN THE SAME HOUSE???? OUR INTREPID SLATE REPORTER HOPES TO GET 2000 WORDS OUT OF THIS QUESTION
posted by Greg Nog at 4:55 PM on September 29, 2010 [47 favorites]


MY CATS DO NOT UNDERSTAND TUNA. YOUR ARTICLE IS DUMB.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:57 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kept trying to respond to the article but really all I can think to say is: It's 2010 and people are actually debating whether men and women can really have platonic relationships?

Slate is usually prone to audacious contrarianism, so I don't think expecting them to affirm such communal norms is reasonable. A perfect Slate article is, in my mind, titled "Should We Really Care about Homeless People?" The author (journalist?) would interview a few neuropsychologists about empathic response and maintain some modicum of journalistic integrity by only obliquely hinting that the answer is "no."
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 4:57 PM on September 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


And now you can do a follow-up article, lucky you.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:57 PM on September 29, 2010


Do I need to point out that the article is pretty clear that men and women CAN just be friends? I guess this FPP's title would lead one to believe otherwise, if you didn't read the article...
posted by Nattie at 4:58 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


MY CATS CAN'T WORK THE CAN OPENER THANK GOD
posted by MegoSteve at 5:00 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes. I have straight female friends, gay female friends, bisexual female friends, straight male friends, gay male friends, and bisexual female friends. I'm also friends with a few transpeople and people for whom genders are not as hard and fast.

So I'm missing the point here.
posted by The Whelk at 5:00 PM on September 29, 2010


(oh oh much fun to guess WHICH flag to use)
posted by The Whelk at 5:00 PM on September 29, 2010


Oh for fucking SIIIIIIGH
posted by penduluum at 5:02 PM on September 29, 2010


Yes. I don't have the time to type out why I know this, but yes. And it drives my husband insane, because he believes the answer is "no". I just have to chalk that one up to limited exposure and try not to ruffle his feathers.
posted by PuppyCat at 5:02 PM on September 29, 2010


I guess this FPP's title would lead one to believe otherwise

Well, the article's title has the same slant to it ("Can men and women really be friends?")

I think we're just reacting because it seems like such an obvious, ridiculous question.

But I don't buy that all Americans agree with that. I've known a lot of guys over the years who found the concept bizarre. So while it seems weird to be a question to many of us, I don't think that belief is universal yet by any means.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:03 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Previously.
posted by John Cohen at 5:05 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Repressed Desires: Tussles and "Jonathan"

Tussles, a white-and-tabby Maine Coon, is acquainted with "Jonathan" (not his real name), a can of tuna. "Jonathan" comes from Whole Foods, and is of their 365 house brand. He is solid white albacore, and packed in spring water.

Tussles still remembers the day that "Jonathan" entered the house. "I was like, oh shit, is that for me?" Tussles laughs. "I thought it might be, because he's like, the same size and shape as a can of cat food, you know?" It seemed too good to be true, though, and Tussles quickly learned that it was. "Yeah, I wasn't allowed ANY of it. Turns out, that's HUMAN food." Tussles laughs, shaking his head. "I'm a cat, you know?"

Social psychologist Marianne Brees explains it this way: "Cats are conditioned by evolution to like eating fish. That's just their nature. Isn't that right, honey? Who's a good cat? Is it you? Does the good cat want some fish?"

As for "Jonathan"? He's still not sure. All he was willing to say was: "Serving Size, 2 ounces. Servings per container: 2. Calories: 60. Calories from fat? Zero."
posted by Greg Nog at 5:06 PM on September 29, 2010 [123 favorites]


Can me and women really be mefites?!
posted by nomadicink at 5:07 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man Maine Coons are the best.
posted by The Whelk at 5:08 PM on September 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


The scope of human experience is vast - putting labels on relationships is often unhelpful.

I just have to chalk that one up to limited exposure and try not to ruffle his feathers.

See? If people can marry birds, anything's possible.
posted by WalterMitty at 5:09 PM on September 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


What I like to do is open the can of tuna in front of all three cats, and then only put it in one cat's dish. That is how you test peaceful coexistence.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:10 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can one weak story idea really be recycled endlessly to pad out mass media with popcorn-type content?
posted by Miko at 5:10 PM on September 29, 2010


let's ask Twitter!
posted by The Whelk at 5:11 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like to imagine Brandon and Sue, and Sean and Jody, and Joel and Ruth, and "John" and "Jane", and all the rest discussing the idiocy of the reporter's premise...as catty, gossipy, close friends. Then they all have a big orgy.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:11 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I do find the people who think this is impossible sort of interesting. I sometimes wonder if there isn't some sort of hormonal divide, there; sometimes you read a writer or run into somebody in real life who seems constitutionally incapable of imagining the interior life of a person of the opposite gender, for whom there is no human super class of which men and woman are types but a stark divide, an essential classification from which all else begins.

I wonder how much it's society warping them and how much it's that their brains just work differently from mine. This sometimes seems more true of oldsters; I think the stricter gender segregation of older time definitely enhanced the Mysterious Creatures aspect of the other sex. It's one of the things I think is more striking and interesting about Mad Men, actually --- one of the most interesting things about Don Draper is that while he is pretty sexist he also has female friends; I can't think of many other classical leading man protagonists --- especially of the tall, dark, n' handsome variety -- of whom that's true. Or at least Dick Whitman does...
posted by Diablevert at 5:12 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well when i was like 15 I thought gay men couldn't be platonic friends cause surely the overwhelming desire and need would crash into it all the time but then I moved to place where the gay population wasn't Just Me and I made friends with people and had boyfriends and now I know better.
posted by The Whelk at 5:17 PM on September 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


And I like got a handle on my RAGING TEENAGE LIBIDO and saw people as fellow humans and not fuckpuppets in my own personal drama because I eventually stopped being 15.
posted by The Whelk at 5:18 PM on September 29, 2010 [19 favorites]


Can men and women really be just friends?

Sure. But just asking that question helped me lose my virginity many many years ago.
posted by jonmc at 5:24 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting how the blue is offended at even asking the question whether men and women can be just friends, and yet the green resoundingly condemns men and women with other partners cohabitating platonically.
posted by fatbird at 5:37 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nattie: "Do I need to point out that the article is pretty clear that men and women CAN just be friends? I guess this FPP's title would lead one to believe otherwise, if you didn't read the article..."

Haven't you heard? We don't read the articles here. That 'reading' shit's for Boing Boing.
posted by graventy at 5:38 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


and yet the green resoundingly condemns men and women with other partners cohabitating platonically.

If you don't know the difference between being friends and spending an extended European vacation backpacking with your ex-girlfriend ... I think there's a fundamental disconnect.
posted by geoff. at 5:41 PM on September 29, 2010


Yeah, ex-gf / FWB (who seems to still be in to him) is not the same as platonic friend.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:45 PM on September 29, 2010


I'm a guy. My *four* closest friends are all female. I'm not consumed by any need to complicate good friendships with sex or any other confusing inputs... and they've never presented a problem to any external romantic relationships, either.

So, yeah, not a problem for grown-ups.
posted by rokusan at 5:50 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I currently have a long-term boyfriend but due to many circumstances, we don't live together. Instead, I'm living with one of my male friends. I've known him since middle school. This may seem strange on the outside, but from where I am, it's absolutely not.

Due to my interests, I tend to have more (straight) male friends than female friends. I don't mean for this to happen, really (and I'd love to meet some more women), but it's there. But I actually don't typically think that much about it -- until other people point it out (which is why I've thought more about it lately -- because people have been pointing it out for whatever reason).

As for the "(straight) men and (straight) women will always be attracted to each other" part -- yeah, so what? I personally think attraction is the major reason why we decide to form relationships with people. I am attracted to most of my male friends (physically, intellectually, emotionally, etc. or some combination) and for that matter, I'm attracted my female friends, too. Does that mean I am only hanging out with them because I want to eventually jump into bed with them? No. Not at all. I think that sort of attitude isn't giving people enough credit for being complex creatures that aren't ruled solely by desire.

(And, at one point in my life, I hung out with a lot of lesbians, to the point where people thought I was one, just by association. So I've seen this issue from a different side, too.)
posted by darksong at 5:51 PM on September 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've had sex with everyone I've ever met.
posted by orme at 5:57 PM on September 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


That's impressive.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:58 PM on September 29, 2010


not a problem for grown-ups.

exactly.
posted by jessamyn at 6:08 PM on September 29, 2010


not a problem for grown-ups.

exactly.


Actually, that's the exact problem, a lot of people can't be grown-ups, at least not all the time.
posted by nomadicink at 6:18 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I dunno about all of you folks. I'm pretty sure I can be friends with women, even if I am physically attracted to them. Physical attraction does not mean that I will drop trou at the first opportunity, just means that I am a little more careful about how my statements are received.

And, I should add, the initial phase of friendship would be the hardest, after which I could easily dredge up big reasons why the friendship should never become more than that (ie. I've got to know my friend and learned why they aren't a good match for me).

Of course, I readily accept maybe I could do this while never finding a woman who could do the same. That's a numbers game, I guess.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 6:31 PM on September 29, 2010


I just had a somewhat heated conversation about this topic last month. It's interesting to see Mefites agreeing with me that men and women can easily just be friends and nothing more, but not everyone thinks so. A few of my guy friends are in relationships where their girlfriends strictly forbid this kind of thing (man, woman, platonic relationship, bed). I mean, to the point where a good woman friend needs to crash at your place because there was partying and the buses stopped running and the only other alternative is drunkenly driving somewhere and she'd just crash on the couch immediately. And still that's out of bounds. None of you or your SOs would have a problem with such a thing?
posted by naju at 6:36 PM on September 29, 2010


I wonder how many people have read this article subconsciously feeling like they must be the only people out there not constantly getting laid.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:42 PM on September 29, 2010


People who think men and women can't be friends kinda remind me of that particular subset of homophobe who sincerely believes that, were it not for Judeo-Christian morality and anti-gay-marriage laws and the threat of hellfire and whatnot, everybody would be having crazy gay sex all day long.
posted by box at 6:43 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


If a Main Coon kitten and a Van Kedisi kitten got in a tussle, which one would be cuter?
posted by ovvl at 6:49 PM on September 29, 2010


Of course, none of the straight audience this article addresses have ever been confused about this; otherwise, someone would have made movies and books and epic poems and songs and shit about it.

So let's all have a platonic group hug about how post- everything we are.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:56 PM on September 29, 2010


I tried being friends with a woman and I ended up marrying her.
posted by stargell at 7:00 PM on September 29, 2010


Cats are from Mars, tuna is from Venus.
posted by phunniemee at 7:02 PM on September 29, 2010


>>I've had sex with everyone I've ever met.

>That's impressive.


Depends on how often you leave the basement.

I find this kind of question kind of eyeroll-y, because I've always had lots of female friends and it was never an issue. But then if I think about it a bit more, I know lots of people, both male and female, who either personally believe that this is impossible, or have a partner who flat out forbids friendships with the opposite sex. So it's clearly relevant, if not so much for myself.
posted by Forktine at 7:09 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only problem with sharing a hotel room with an opposite-sex platonic friend is the eye-rolling and exaggerated politeness from the asshole working the hotel check-in counter, because he for one is certain that men and women will fuck like rabbits the second they're alone together.

(All of them except that fucking bitch Sarah in housekeeping anyway, what the hell is wrong with her anyway, is she some kinda dyke? Can't she see how hot he is in his front desk clerk uniform?)
posted by caution live frogs at 7:13 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think this question gets asked about all kinds of relationships, actually. I've had, twice so far in my life, straight male friends tell me that they think I'm a great person but that they don't think they can hang with me as a friend because I'm gay. Part of this may be because they fear for "their reputation" if they're seen out at ballgames or going to movies with me or whatnot, but there seems to be an undercurrent in there about "what if 'things' happen?" buried in their rejection of friendship.

Seems a lot of people think WAY too much about sex, and not about friendship and community as a basic form of human interrelating.
posted by hippybear at 7:22 PM on September 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


*shrugs*

You know, as soon as you take a moment to extend things out a bit -- can men and women be friends? Coworkers? Comrades-at-arms?

...you start realizing this is a heck of a lot less about "can" and a lot more about "should". In other words, someone's trying to sneak norms into descriptions of human nature.
posted by effugas at 7:31 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


None of you or your SOs would have a problem with such a thing?

My SO having a problem would be a dealbreaker. There's never been a point in my life when I didn't have close friends of both genders and many sexual orientations. My SO can take me at my word that I have chosen them as my partner, or neurotically make paranoid demands and seek to limit my friendship activity - and if they choose the second option, it's always been, and continues to be, a non-starter. There's no room for doubting me when I characterize my relationships for a partner, and I've never given anyone the slightest reason to doubt that my romantic relationship is the only one so characterized. So if an SO does have a problem, it's a red flag that they're maybe we're not as well aligned as we should be. And since I wouldn't reject any of my friendships solely because of SO discomfort, it's the SO relationship that would be under the magnifying glass if this came up.
posted by Miko at 7:34 PM on September 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


This article had such promise for titillation and breaking of conventional norms, but all we get is some chick who falls asleep during a threesome which she goes along with because we'll it beats saying home with the cats I guess. And MeFi I expect more from you. Surely there must be some outrageous examples out there. Gay couples where one discovers that they are actually transexual but remain friends after the first ones transformation though no longer sexually involved. A woman who setup her male friend with her most psycho girlfriend's as a means of trying to convince him that she's the perfect one for him, only to realize at some point that she would be the most psycho girlfriend of all. Which is the moment she discovers that the relationship is platonic and she's ok with that. Or the people who are really into lab rescue. To the point that fostering dogs is their whole focus in life. Despite their apparent mutual interests and the prodding of mutual friends to just fucking hookup already, they continue to just talk about dogs. Until you realize that they are both seriously into bestiality and are a little creeped out; but at least it all makes sense. Especially the whole thing about them always smelling a little like peanut butter.
posted by humanfont at 7:35 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Men are like this and women are like this. And never the twain shall meet, except in the sack.

Je-sus.
posted by crossoverman at 7:39 PM on September 29, 2010


When I was a student I had five female friends who were not my g/fs and were known colloquially by other blokes as 'my harem'. The irony was, there was never anything going on with any of them. Four of the friendships were genuinely platonic. The fourth was unrequited. Over the years I've had many, many platonic friendships with women. Maybe one or two of them, there were feelings the other way I never knew about. But not all of them.
posted by unSane at 7:42 PM on September 29, 2010


OK, attention-grabby title, but I feel like it's actually not such a bad article. It mentions the results of some sociological studies (spoiler alert! the answer is "sometimes"), points out that the typical Hollywood narrative doesn't align with reality (particularly with the linked sub-article), and gives some illustrative examples of real relationships that don't fit the expected mold.

Maybe it's obviousfilter for MeFi users, but plenty of people I run into definitely think that any level of sexual attraction among two people, symmetric or asymmetric, precludes their having a platonic relationship. It's nice to see that "fact" get a little splash of cold water in the face, even if it's not a super deep treatment of the issue.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:48 PM on September 29, 2010


My SO having a problem would be a dealbreaker.

Agreed. I go out to dinner and a movie with guy friends, just the two of us, but it's not at all romantic and my husband knows it. I have way more male friends than female friends, so if he got freaked out over that I pretty much couldn't be married to him. I don't have the patience to be with someone who thinks my word means nothing, and even if I did I doubt I could be attracted to someone like that.

Not to mention I'm bisexual anyway, so if he didn't trust me he'd probably just be in a constant state of paranoia no matter who I'm with.
posted by Nattie at 8:04 PM on September 29, 2010


Every Metafilter thread about sexuality leaves me with at least one "Wait, [username] is gay, too?"
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:07 PM on September 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


best thing i did as a young adult was live with several women, nothing but friendship between any of us. i learned more from that then just about anything, what better way to get ready for a date then having a panel of women to help you get ready.
posted by andywolf at 8:12 PM on September 29, 2010


heternormative alert
posted by volt4ire at 8:34 PM on September 29, 2010


From the commentary, one could assume that all of the posters have never had an issue with fidelity or miscommunication or jealousy, and wow- am I envious.

In particular, the dismissal of these issues as a hallmark of maturity seems facetious. Speaking as a grown-up, with grown-up type friends, many of whom have grown-up children and still struggle with these core issues.

The article's stance, actually seems quite reasonable.

A) Some people yes, some people, no.

Unfortunately, many people don't discover which bucket they or their SO actually belong in, until the situation is tested.
posted by mrdaneri at 9:11 PM on September 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


I had this discussion with my mother (mid 70s, I'm in my early 40s) a while back. One of my best friends is male; he stood for me at my wedding. I was talking about having to be in town overnight and possibly staying at his place, and my mother was just horrified. What will Mr. immlass think?

Mr. immlass will think immlass is sleeping in BFF's spare bedroom and see nothing wrong with it, duh, mom. And this was exactly what Mr. immlass said when consulted, as I'd known he would. He was a bit befuddled that the question came up. The problematic thing about sharing a bed or a hotel room wouldn't be sexytimes; it'd be snoring and the white noise generator, and possibly people's sleeping dress (or lack thereof) under normal circumstances.

Sure, some people are jealous. I'm very fortunate that my husband isn't one of them.
posted by immlass at 9:17 PM on September 29, 2010


People who think men and women can't be friends kinda remind me....
--box

The problem is with this generic 'men and women'. As someone who's significant other would often say the same thing about her platonic friend, and despite my loving trust, turned out to be having a strong emotional and sexual relationship with this 'platonic friend', which ended up tearing apart a family with two small children, forgive me if I don't join the party.

Sometimes, it turns out, men and women can't be friends.
posted by eye of newt at 9:24 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, sometimes a specific man and a specific woman can't be friends without it turning sexual. That means absolutely ZERO about whether those two individuals can have friends of the opposite gender. It just means they can't be friends with each other.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:39 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


SO
1) Men and women can just be platonic friends, sure
2) But maybe not specific men and specific women
THEREFORE
3) People should relax about this
4) Except when they shouldn't relax about this
posted by naju at 10:06 PM on September 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Lots of people commenting that this is a heteronormative question and etc--actually I don't think it is... the article throws "straight" around a whole lot and is v clear that it's talking about a subset of all people.

And this isn't the exact same issue in straight and gay communities, either. I think there's a cultural thing that makes it different. It's just not an issue in gay communities, but this question comes up about straight people all the time. It's a different context. (No evidence to support my opinion, just based on observation)
posted by equivocator at 10:26 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Miko: My SO having a problem would be a dealbreaker. .... My SO can take me at my word that I have chosen them as my partner, or neurotically make paranoid demands and seek to limit my friendship activity - and if they choose the second option, it's always been, and continues to be, a non-starter.

This. Like, wtf, if you don't trust what I've said, why are we together? And, actually, we're not together, have you a fun life, don't call thanx bye.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:29 PM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm right there with Miko and dancestoblue. After my first relationship was with a horribly jealous distrusting man (which involved a lot of accusations, outrage, tears, and finally our breakup), I've made sure from the outset with any new man in my life that it's clear that I won't have that kind of energy in my life, and if that's how he looks at relationships, he should look elsewhere.
posted by hippybear at 10:35 PM on September 29, 2010


One of my wife's friends used to practice his pick-up artist techniques on her whenever he hung out with us. Even after we were married. I never thought she was going to cheat on me, but it still didn't sit well with me. According to the standard proposed here, it seems like you should be perfectly comfortable and have no qualms whatsoever about one of your SO's friends actively trying to sleep with him/her. S/he's agreed to be faithful to you and that should be enough. Right?
posted by AlsoMike at 10:55 PM on September 29, 2010


not a problem for grown-ups.

exactly.


I don't know about this. I don't personally doubt the ability of people to form platonic friendships under a wide variety of circumstances, but I don't think it should be a requirement for entry into adulthood that people ignore who they are physically attracted to when forming friendships.

That said I think all adults should possess the lesser but probably more important skill of being able to maintain professional relationships without regard to any possible physical attraction.
posted by depth first search at 11:07 PM on September 29, 2010


According to the standard proposed here, it seems like you should be perfectly comfortable and have no qualms whatsoever about one of your SO's friends actively trying to sleep with him/her.

How did you get that impression in this thread? I don't see anyone proposing that, not at all.

But yeah, if you don't trust your SO, even in the face of active pursuit by others, then that's a separate issue aside from having jerks for friends.
posted by hippybear at 11:07 PM on September 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


From the commentary, one could assume that all of the posters have never had an issue with fidelity or miscommunication or jealousy, and wow- am I envious.


Same here.

In all honesty, if my husband had a female friend he wanted to share a hotel room with, my reaction to the situation would be based on one thing: her level of attractiveness. If she was a hag, I'd say go for it. If I thought she was even slightly prettier than me I'd probably be paralyzed with jealousy.

Now, I still think even people who are mutually attracted to each other can be "just friends" if they mind their boundaries, but that boundary minding is pretty important if either of the two are maintaining romantic relationships with other people - I love my husband dearly but I wouldn't trust myself in a hotel room alone with a hot male friend after a few drinks, so I avoid getting myself into those types of situations (which is totally hard because it comes up all the time, you know).

Of course, there are plenty of other friendship pairs where the attraction is only one way or there's no attraction at all and it would be totally possible to share an actual bed with someone and have nothing happen.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:07 PM on September 29, 2010


Err, I was a bit unclear with this:

I don't think it should be a requirement for entry into adulthood that people ignore who they are physically attracted to when forming friendships.

Better:

I think people who avoid forming friendships for reasons involving physical attraction can be just as adult as the rest of us.
posted by depth first search at 11:14 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


So no, no-one's proposing that, not at all, oh wait, yeah you are? It did seem like he was being a jerk, but I'm not sure why you would think that. He probably just thought he was a better match for her than me - what's the harm in that? If he did split us up, then I guess it wasn't meant to be. We're all adults here, and it's not like I own my wife for god's sake! Maybe monogamy isn't right for her and constant, unrelenting suggestions to reinvent herself with another man are just what she needs to become self-actualized. Surely you don't think I should stand in the way of that?
posted by AlsoMike at 11:25 PM on September 29, 2010


I think for most hetero men and women in Western civilization, truly platonic friendships (though there are exceptions) are often difficult barring a single exception....

that one's spouse or S.O. is significantly hotter than the potential friend in question. THEN a platonic friendship is possible. Guy who has an extremely beautiful girlfriend? Well, I think he's going to have an easier time befriending someone plainer, and truly seeing them in a platonic light. Girl with extremely hot boyfriend? The same. Caveat: if the hot S.O. has some significant personality flaw, all bets are off.

Anecdotally (sp?) the extremely attractive, hetero people I know have said they think it is well-near impossible having true friendships with people of the opposite sex. They have histories where many-a-platonic-friend inevitably falls in love with them. The super-hot people of metafilter, would you be willing to share your experience with this?

So my answer? If you're really super hot, the ease of having a platonic friendship with someone hetero of the opposite sex is very, very slim. (And if you think they aren't at least crushing on you at least some of the time, I think you are kidding yourselves...)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:29 PM on September 29, 2010


I am pansexual.

oh god I am so lonely
posted by NoraReed at 11:33 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The window never closes, ladies."
posted by bardic at 11:43 PM on September 29, 2010


AlsoMike: Um.... at this point, I'm really not sure what you are saying. Your initial comment seemed to be on the side of jealousy, as in "One of my wife's friends used to practice his pick-up artist techniques on her whenever he hung out with us. Even after we were married. I never thought she was going to cheat on me, but it still didn't sit well with me." And I agree. That shouldn't sit well with you, unless you have a non-monagamous relationship, because he's doing things which a real friend, i.e. someone who should be in a relationship of respect and trust with you, should not be doing, i.e. making sexual advances on your wife.

But then your reply seems to feel that you have great tolerance of that kind of behavior from your friends, that you see it as some form of relationship darwinism, and if she ends up leaving you for him because his "moves" are better than yours, despite your marriage vows (and I assume conversations about marital fidelity), then oh well, he played a better game than you, and you should just relax.

Or maybe you're just a troll hoping to get a rise out of me? Believe me, my views on relationships and monogamy and such seem to have taken a very different path from yours, and I think we'd just end up talking past each other if we really engaged in this topic at any level without having a lot of discussion about worldviews from the outset.
posted by hippybear at 11:46 PM on September 29, 2010


From the commentary, one could assume that all of the posters have never had an issue with fidelity

Aye but there's the rub. The unspoken assumption behind the view that men and women can't be friends is that our sexually is an uncontrollable force that we are at the mercy of, something that happens to to us rather than something we make decisions about. And where do we commonly hear this story? As a narrative that acts as a (self-)justification for infidelity.

Trust is something we chose to put in people, after all, and we should therefore insist that people who betray it actively chose to do so. We should have empathy for those who have had their trust betrayed and it is easy to see why they might find it harder to give going forward. It might seem comforting to believe that the person who betrayed you was somehow compelled to, since it might then seem less a personal betrayal more the action of an external malevolent force. But it is also a dangerous attitude since, in denying their agency, it acts to lesson their personal responsibility, and worse it imputes that onto others.

And what of people who have not experienced that betrayal, but still insist on this (likely the majority?). And why the generalization? Why does nobody say I can't just be friends? (the only thing we can really say).

The answer to the latter is surely because that is the same as saying "I can't be trusted" and who would admit to that? Furthermore doesn't it also imply that there are people who can be friends, admitting the existence of a richer social world from which the speaker would be excluding themselves?

So instead we have a projection of a persons inner fears and narratives about themselves onto other people. Something which begins to read like a premature justification for infidelity, one that conveniently lays the blame at another's feet : "it would never have happened if you had stopped me in the first place", never mind that the first place might be nothing they should feel ashamed of. Nor to it does not matter which other point of the triangle of betrayal that person occupies (the betrayed or the third party) as long as someone else can be blamed. (We might also want to consider how this fits in with certain narratives of adultery the rage at the "other women" , or conventional legal narratives which hold it is adultery on the part of both parties even if one is single, rather than on the party who has broken trust).
posted by tallus at 11:48 PM on September 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm going to take some personal responsibility and say that I am not really capable of having meaningful platonic relationships with women and this probably makes me a pretty weak person.
posted by tehloki at 12:04 AM on September 30, 2010


Asking about "can" and "can't" implies free will and insofar as we have any, sure we can be friends. Can alcoholics take just one drink? How have our New Year's resolutions gone this year? Can a Mefite not post until they read the link? Can someone with ADHD decide to concentrate? Can a depressed person talk themselves out of it? To what extent does our conscious understanding of who we are match reality? Do we always know what we'd do in any circumstance? Do we know that we know so we can assert that we do with confidence? And then there are those other people who, not being us, can't see themselves as well as we see them. Can we trust them even if we believe they are being honest with us? Can we understand them even if their gender or sexual orientation differs from ours? Or their culture?

And can we trust someone who says that only their sex with us is "meaningful" so we need not be jealous of their sex with others? Or who says that even their sex with others is meaningful but their relationship with us is more important? Why or why not?
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:48 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Isn't it common for many young Western people to have flatmates? I've almost always lived in mixed-sex shared houses and nothing untoward has ever happened. It does, of course - that's how two long-term friends of mine ended up getting together - but how exhausting would it be if it were the norm and not the exception?
posted by mippy at 3:38 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The more they keep the mystery and angst rolling, the more penis pills, face creams, breast implants, and who-knows-what they can sell to the insecure and uncertain.

It just happens that we watched the beginning episode of Mork & Mindy, last night. (It's funnier than I remembered). In this episode, Mindy is worried, and then her father is insane about the fact that Mork is living with Mindy (OMG! A man living with my daughter!) It's antiquated to the point of being absurd. I had to pause and explain the American attitudes of the day. It's amazing to think that, once upon a time, it was quite scandalous for a man and woman to live together as a couple, without marriage. Unthinkable they would live together as anything other than a couple!

Then there was that show "Three's Company", with the two women and one guy. The guy had to pretend to be gay in order to be allowed to live with the ladies. Yea, it was just a sitcom, but, still, that was the sort of attitudes which prevailed, back in the pre-internet dark ages of my youth.
posted by Goofyy at 3:53 AM on September 30, 2010


Oh, I forgot to add: Mippy, honey, you're British, or at least, living in London. Of course this isn't an issue for you and yours. This is about "sex". And it is well known that this simply isn't an issue in the UK.
posted by Goofyy at 3:57 AM on September 30, 2010


It was a revelation five years ago that if I really cared about a person in the past it's good to remain friends with them, on whatever level. Since then I've actually managed to be platonic friends with most of the exes' and it is a really good thing in my life.
posted by yoHighness at 3:58 AM on September 30, 2010


Anywhere two people can meet each other, they can theoretically develop romantic relationships. To me, asking "Can men and women be friends?" is like asking "Can men and women work together in an office?" Both of those things sometimes require that romantic/sexual feelings be put aside because (1) only one person feels them or (2) one or both people has a partner to which he or she is faithful.

When I hear the argument that goes, "Well, my SO was fooling around with his/her friend," I just think ... well, sure. But it also could have been someone at work. Or someone he met at a bar. Or a friend of YOURS. Eventually, an argument that people who encounter each other can wind up attracted to each other is sort of both obvious and meaningless, to me. Is there often some element of attraction between friends? Sure. There's also often some element of attraction between co-workers. It exists; it doesn't have to be obeyed.

If your plan to ensure the fidelity of your partner is to have him or her avoid all situations in which they might become attracted to someone else, that's ... not going to work. Everyone continues to meet other people, some of whom they might have pursued if they weren't with you. The positive way to look at this is that if you have a partner who loves you, it's not because he or she never meets anybody else. That person is picking you, every day. It's actually kind of romantic, you know? My argument would be: stop trying to keep him/her from having to pick you, and trust that he/she will continue to pick you. Because if not, the other people are not the problem.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:03 AM on September 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


The thing is, there's a spectrum of situations and comfort levels, and its different for every couple I guess. While platonic relationships are not only possible but common in my experience, there's no way of determining from the outside that any particular relationship is genuinely platonic on both sides.

So, yeah, trust is the key issue. But most people are going to have a point where they become uncomfortable. I would be thoroughly weirded out if Mrs U told me she wanted to go on a vacation with a male friend and share a bed with them.

I'm planning an MTB trip right now with another married male friend, sharing an RV, and at one point a mutual (unmarried but in a relationship) female friend was thinking about coming along. However, in the end we all felt the dynamic was just a bit too weird. That probably makes us square, but there it is.
posted by unSane at 4:20 AM on September 30, 2010


If they're both engineers, it's certainly possible.

Mr. Sonika's best friend is female and I worry exactly as much about them "hooking up" when they go on trips together as I do about Jesus coming back. Which is to say, I suppose it could happen in some universe, but it's not the one that I personally inhabit.

Not to mention I'm bisexual anyway, so if he didn't trust me he'd probably just be in a constant state of paranoia no matter who I'm with.

Yeah, this too. I'm bisexual and most of my "extracurricular" crushes are on ladies. I'd never act on it, but for my partner to be properly paranoid, he'd have to get antsy anytime I meet an attractive human. And let's face it, some of my friends are pretty hott. None of them, however, are people I want to have the sexy sex with.

So, yeah, trust is the key issue.

Absolutely.

My stepmother's ex-husbands both cheated on her. As such, she has no trust whatsoever. Rather than showing her the door and asking her not to let it hit her in the ass, my father has taken the opposite approach and indulged her every whim. It's ridiculous. He says that he's taken a cue from Billy Graham and refuses to be alone in a room with a woman who's not his wife. This goes so far as to extend to his ex wife, with whom he has a child, and who is married to someone else. My bio parents still live in the same town in Vermont and were both going to visit me for some event and for whatever reason, neither of my step-parents was able to attend. My step-mother flat out refused to allow my father to share a car with my mom for the 3hr drive down to Providence. (It should also be mentioned that my mother is disabled and while she can drive, it's rough for her to do long trips.) Yeah! Because she's married and they had a kid together almost 30 years ago and she's going to jump him the first chance she gets!

It's really, really arrogant to me to take the view that you can't be alone with a lady because she's gonna jump you. No, no she's not. She's probably not even interested. And even if she is, your marriage vows should be enough to keep your pants on. If they're not, you've got bigger problems than being in the same physical space with anyone who's not your wife.

(This has, as you might imagine, caused a decent amount of stress between my father and some of his now-former female friends who responded to this edict with "ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME?! AS IF I WOULD SLEEP WITH YOU. AS. IF.")
posted by sonika at 5:50 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to mention I'm bisexual anyway, so if he didn't trust me he'd probably just be in a constant state of paranoia no matter who I'm with.

This. My partner sometimes shares hotel rooms at conferences and work trips and so on. Sometimes with female friends (some of whom are straight and some of whom are not), sometimes with gay or bi male friends, and sometimes (less often, but occasionally) with straight male friends. Please clue me in as to when I am supposed to be jealous here.

And I've done the same thing, sharing hotel rooms when required with all kinds of people (gay, straight, and other), and it's never once been uncomfortable or a source of jealousy. (The snoring and farting can be an issue, but there's no jealousy there.)

One of my wife's friends used to practice his pick-up artist techniques on her whenever he hung out with us.

That doesn't sound like much of a friend, honestly. Maybe "friend" as in "guy I hang out with," not "friend" as in "person who supports and respects me and is fun to be around."
posted by Forktine at 6:09 AM on September 30, 2010


A perfect Slate article is, in my mind, titled "Should We Really Care about Homeless People?" The author (journalist?) Camile Paglia would interview a few neuropsychologists about empathic response and maintain some modicum of journalistic integrity by only obliquely hinting that the answer is "no."

That, my friend, is the perfect Slate article.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:13 AM on September 30, 2010


Attraction is not compulsion. So, yes.
posted by Splunge at 6:25 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, I forgot to add: Mippy, honey, you're British, or at least, living in London. Of course this isn't an issue for you and yours. This is about "sex". And it is well known that this simply isn't an issue in the UK.

Oh, we do it now, but only through a specially perforated sheet.
posted by mippy at 6:51 AM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


So many 'favorites' in this thread. Everyone wants to dish it out on slate, the author, the article...

If you're reading, it's for you.
posted by mister-o at 7:44 AM on September 30, 2010


It makes me really sad to read about all these people whose significant others "forbid" them from having opposite-sex friends. That is all kinds of messed up, bordering, in my mind, on abusive behavior.

I do have to say, though, that as a woman who's always had lots of male friends, usually without much complication, some of those friendships have waned once the guys got married (I've never been married). This is sad, but on the other hand, two of my oldest friends are guys, and becoming really good friends with their wives has strengthened these friendships. Bonus: two great female friends I didn't have before!

Put me down as another person who is completely baffled by the idea that men and women can't be friends. Sure, there are often physical and/or romantic attractions, mutual or one-sided, but it's not like that makes it impossible to be friends. I have a few good male friends where there's clearly a mutual attraction that we'll probably never act on for one reason or another, and it hasn't strained our friendship in any way. Actually, it's probably made those friendships stronger - attraction = we want to spend time together = we become better friends.
posted by wholebroad at 1:03 PM on September 30, 2010


hippybear: That shouldn't sit well with you, unless you have a non-monagamous relationship, because he's doing things which a real friend, i.e. someone who should be in a relationship of respect and trust with you, should not be doing, i.e. making sexual advances on your wife.

Yes, you've said that, but it seems to contradict your principle, that telling your spouse who they can and can't see is a form of control and possibly abuse. My wife agreeing to be monogamous doesn't mean I can force her to be in a relationship with me - she's free to change her mind at any time and all I can really expect is that she'll give me some advance notice if that happens. So, playing devil's advocate and accepting your premise, what grounds do I have to say she's forbidden to consider other offers? She has total freedom to leave, but she's not allowed to look around to see if that's something she would want? Sorry, that doesn't add up. Typically, if someone is jealous, people ask a question like "Has s/he ever done anything to make you doubt her loyalty?" If the answer is yes, then the conclusion is OK, maybe some amount of jealousy is warranted. But accepting your premise, even this isn't true - even if s/he has done things that are suspicious, you still have no right to tell them who they can see or not see to protect the relationship. This is because your principle appears to be something like "Thinking that your partner's choices are not rational means thinking you know what they want better than they do, and that is the ultimate source of control and abuse and violating their autonomy." Which is another way of saying that our interpersonal life should be governed by the bloodless assumptions of rational choice economics. The only way you can say that I have a right to be upset with my friend is if you think he might tempt her into making a mistake - in other words, she might make a choice that she later regrets, which contradicts the belief that you should always assume your partner's choices are rational. What I think this means is that this principle sounds great but ultimately doesn't function. It's invoked in an extremely selective way to arrive at a predetermined dogmatic belief, and simply falls apart on close inspection.

It's not that I disagree that you play a risky game when you assume you know what's good for your partner better than they do. But my point of view is that this is risk is, at some level, unavoidable. If you've ever been dumped or rejected by someone you loved, your heart is broken and you'd do anything to be with that person again. Isn't this already the very seed of abuse? They've made it clear that they don't want to be in a relationship with you, and yet you refuse to accept it, your heart still yearns for them. Most people don't let it go any further than that, but it's too late, you've already sinned in your heart, and for some people it snowballs, they start stalking, etc. If you really want to get rid of even the potential for violations of autonomy in relationships, you should really be stigmatizing broken hearts too. But that means that the ideal is that people should accept the dissolution of their most important parts of their life with the same kind of ironic emotional detachment that they would approach their favorite TV show being cancelled, and maybe even see it positively, as the beginning a new, creative journey of self-discovery or something. Can you imagine having sex with just one person for the rest of your life? How dull! The fewer attachments you have to people, the more you can explore yourself and they can explore themselves. But in the enthusiasm to eliminate every danger from relationships, you don't end up with something better, you end up with a frictionless, but ersatz relationship. It's like sugar-free ice cream, alcohol-free beer, relationship-free relationships, so you can indulge, have as much as you like! Great taste, zero calories - there's no danger any more, the sting has been removed. In a way, this is the post-modern lifestyle at it's best, very close to those Japanese men who also have ersatz relationships with virtual girlfriends, and it's a supreme irony, because it demonstrates that the quest for absolute autonomy and independence coincides with extreme regulation and control of other people and how they behave towards us, to the point where you might as well have relationships with computer programs.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with people choosing ersatz relationships if that's what they want - I can certainly see the appeal. But I think in some circles, choosing anything but that is stigmatized, it's even held up as the good progressive alternative to the bad conservative one. I doubt this is true and yet it's basically an unquestioned dogma. This essay which I just read today is very bold in attacking this idea, and quoting Zizek, says something very pertinent to what I'm saying: "Love is a choice that is experienced as necessity."

Tallus: what I immediately noticed in your post was two very contradictory claims about human nature. On one hand, you imply that we are completely transparent to ourselves, all of our sexual choices and motivations are a priori healthy and rational and must be respected - in other words, the standard economic logic of rational choice theory. But then to explain why people can't accept this, you switch to almost the polar opposite explanation: using the language of psychoanalysis, you attribute their behavior to pathological, irrational, unconscious mechanisms and secret fears that individuals are unaware of.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:54 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am pansexual.

oh god I am so lonely


Head down to your local Williams-Sonoma store and have yourself an orgy.
posted by jonmc at 5:02 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I really never said anything about controlling who your wife should or shouldn't see.

Rather, I questioned the quality of friendship with this guy you claim IS your friend, when his actions seem to speak against that as being true.

Perhaps someone else in this thread stated that saying who a spouse should or shouldn't see is tantamount to abuse, but I did not. Check the poster names more carefully before you make statements about what I say next time.

As far as whether your wife should be "free to consider other offers", I suppose ultimately this boils down to the level of trust and commitment you have in your relationship. While I know that it is pretty clear in our current culture that couples come together and break up regularly, I also know that it is possible for this not to be the case. That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with anyone controlling someone else. It could entirely be the nature of the relationship for those two people, who have chosen to be together across time and trials.

For the record, I will be celebrating 17 years with my non-married jealousy-free partner this year. I'm not sure whether you consider my "relationship-free relationship" valid or not, based on what you've written. All i know is, it's worked well for us to find that we choose to be with each other, sharing life without any grasping hands holding us in place, separate yet together as we move through time.

I wish you love and peace in your relationship with your wife, whatever form that takes.
posted by hippybear at 6:20 PM on September 30, 2010


it's too late, you've already sinned in your heart, and for some people it snowballs, they start stalking, etc.

Whoa whoa whoa. No. You seem to be extrapolating all positions to the ridiculous and extreme. Being disappointed, saddened, frustrated, losing someone you loved are all normal reactions to being dumped. But that doesn't equate to "sinning in your heart," and stalking is not just a snowballing of a normal emotion, it's aberrant and obsessive behavior.

The truth is that none of us ever have any kind of a guarantee that our loved ones won't or couldn't fall for someone else and leave us. You have to live with that, accept that risk, in order to have a relationship. All relationships contain the seeds of their own ends, whether that end is the death of one partner or the desertion of one for another. The acceptance of that reality provides the foundation for a mature relationship.

If my SO were constantly hit on by one or more friends, I'd say something about it. Wait - my SO IS constantly hit on by one or more friends. He seems to be a bit of a cougar magnet, if I may. I understand that. He understands it. We talk about it. We check in. Maybe one day he'll suddenly succumb to some overture or other. I highly doubt it and don't want it to happen. He knows how I feel. I am assured by his reassurance that he isn't interested in pursuing these things, and he has strong disincentives to engage in flirtatious behavior, because he doesn't want to encourage them and wants to continue working on his relationship with me. I have friends whom I've been attracted to in the past - he knows this, and he knows them. He knows I'm not interested in pursuing those and have strong disincentives to engage in flirtatious behavior, in that I want out relationship to continue without complication. These are among the forces that create understanding and trust between us.

There's no other kind of certainty one can reasonably ask for, nothing else one can do to control another's behavior without encroaching upon their personal liberty. Is it risky? Of course, and people get their hearts broken all the time. But understanding that this risk continually surrounds a relationship, and choosing to do our best to honor the commitment anyway, is the only basis for a relationship that I would ever consider.
posted by Miko at 6:47 PM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


If my SO were constantly hit on by one or more friends, I'd say something about it.

OK, but show me how that's consistent with personal autonomy being sacrosanct. If someone says "My wife is hanging out with this guy a lot and it makes me jealous," a lot of people on AskMe would say they were being controlling. But if they added "...because he constantly hits on her," people would say, "OK, that's understandable." With just that small bit of extra information, there's a shift. What accounts for that? If you really believe her autonomy is the only thing that matters, it should make no difference whether she's being hit on or not. Yes, she might sleep with the friend, and if she does that would be her free choice - it would end the relationship, but so what, she has every right to do that. So saying something like she should respect her spouse's feelings and perhaps not hang out with the friend is a violation of her autonomy - maybe a very minor violation, but still significant. The spouse can't avoid this by saying "That's what I need in a relationship and she agreed to it," because the whole point of the appeal to autonomy is that no-one has a right to expect something that violates it.

This is the problem of treating human relationships as a kind of capitalist market transaction, a contract between two relationship services providers, as it were. If I sign an exclusive agreement with AT&T, they have no right to tell me I can't go spend the day being wooed by a Verizon salesperson. If they included in the contract some clause that said both parties are allowed to cancel the contract at any time, but forbidden from considering other offers, this would be unreasonable. The fact that the rules are different in relationships says to me that relationships can't be organized only in the terms of individual autonomy and rational choice.

Being disappointed, saddened, frustrated, losing someone you loved are all normal reactions to being dumped. But that doesn't equate to "sinning in your heart," and stalking is not just a snowballing of a normal emotion, it's aberrant and obsessive behavior.

Here's the problem: I said the reaction to being dumped is often yearning, in so much pain that you'd do anything to be with them again. And here you say the normal reaction is disappointed, sad, frustrated, but this is the kind of reaction you'd have if your favorite TV show gets cancelled, and you skip right over the profound pain that people experience. This is exactly my point - we think people who experience a lot of pain when relationships end, people who have strong attachments are pathological. (A variation on this which I've seen on MeFi is when parents are blamed for civil rights violations - their overly strong, irrational love for their children is pathologized.) The "healthy" response is to move on quickly and quietly without a lot of fuss, and the easy way to do that is to avoid forming close relationships to begin with. In other words, making personal autonomy into an absolute means telling people that their real desire for and expressions of love are pathological and dysfunctional, a form of aberrant and obsessive behavior. Effectively, we now have a zero-tolerance policy against love.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:36 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


If someone says "My wife is hanging out with this guy a lot and it makes me jealous," a lot of people on AskMe would say they were being controlling.

That's because the simple fact of the wife hanging out with a guy isn't enough to be worth being jealous about. Add in that the guy is hitting on her or some other valid and boundary-breaking reason, and then you have a totally valid reason for being concerned. The problem isn't that she is with the dude -- the problem is that she is with a dude who is behaving poorly.

The rest of what you are saying (eg "personal autonomy being sacrosanct" and "zero-tolerance policy against love") isn't really connected to the actual things most people are saying here. I think I can understand the point you are making about the problems of fetishizing autonomy, but seriously I don't think almost anyone here has ever argued for that.

There are a couple of people saying that if their boy/girlfriend ever had an issue with them having friends of the opposite gender, that would be a dealbreaker. But they aren't talking about the sacrosanct right to fuck those friends or otherwise behave badly -- they just want to have friends who have other genitalia. Other people further above expressed discomfort with or a lack of ability to maintain those kinds of friendships, so it's not like there's one and only one voice on this here.
posted by Forktine at 2:58 AM on October 1, 2010


Tallus: what I immediately noticed in your post was two very contradictory claims about human nature. On one hand, you imply that we are completely transparent to ourselves, all of our sexual choices and motivations are a priori healthy and rational and must be respected - in other words, the standard economic logic of rational choice theory. But then to explain why people can't accept this, you switch to almost the polar opposite explanation: using the language of psychoanalysis, you attribute their behavior to pathological, irrational, unconscious mechanisms and secret fears that individuals are unaware of.

I'm struggling to see how you can read it that way since I begin and end my post with the same argument speaking about "The unspoken assumption...that our sexually [sic] is an uncontrollable force that we are at the mercy of" and surely the use of the word unspoken is clue enough that I am speaking the "language of psychoanalysis", as you put it, here. Though only partly since it is not at all clear that I am talking in terms of the "pathological, irrational, unconscious". the "secret", or at least not only of them.

The best I can come up with is that you are extrapolating from the phrase "rather than something we make decisions about." to the view that I somehow view relationships through a prism of rational choice theory*. This would seem like an extremely tenuous conclusion to draw about an argument which talks about an irrational and unhealthy motivation for a belief I clearly have little respect for.

I say nothing directly about how I view peoples motivations but the clue is in my repetition of the word "narrative". This is an argument about the stories people tell themselves—stories we need to tell ourselves precisely because our inner lives are often hidden from us and our motivations, our desires etc are unclear. Doesn't the idea of a story suggest that things might not be what they seem on the surface, that one thing might stand for another? One story, though, might serve to clarify our inner life, another to obscure it; one might strive to shed light on our motivations and hold us accountable for our actions, another might be a self-deception, one that seeks to excuse us or place blame elsewhere. But they are still stories, there can be no place of perfect rationality and understanding, rather there are only stories that make more or less sense, at any particular time. Still in choosing one story or another, we do make a choice, whether we do so consciously or not, and we can not evade responsibility for it (an the usefulness of the concept of narrative as a tool to talk about our inner lives is that it enable us to avoid reducing things to the blunt dichotomy of conscious/unconscious).

"Men and women can't be friends" is a bad story to tell because it denies our agency, it gives us the role of puppets in the story, controlled by by unseen forces, rather than making us protagonists or actors. We also need to be clear to distinguish between our actions and our motivations, and the stories we tell about them. We might not be able to chose who we are attracted to, but we can and do chose how we act on that, though we might tell ourselves otherwise. Somewhere between the two is the story we tell ourselves about this but we need to know that we always make decisions regardless of how aware we are of them. We also need to be aware that a belief like "Men and women can't be friends" isn't an unconscious belief (even if we are unaware why we might believe it) but a speech act, it not something that exists outside of its articulation, it is something we decide.



What puzzles me is your seeming insistence that there can only be one story about things as in when you say "If you've ever been dumped or rejected by someone you loved, your heart is broken and you'd do anything to be with that person again". Can you not imagine an instance where someone one might nothing more than to never see that person again? Might not someone experience it as a sudden denouément, the revelation that "all along it turns out that this was not the person I thought they were". So I would say that if a reaction seems inevitable it is because of the story you have told yourself (about the relationship), not because it actually is. As if you had allowed the story to run away with you (we might say "you have lost the plot"). And after all don't relationships often falter because the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, about them begin to diverge, or else we find them contradictory, or not what we believed, or perhaps wanted, them to be?



*An odd choice for a self admitted (libertarian) communist.
posted by tallus at 3:49 AM on October 1, 2010


If you really believe her autonomy is the only thing that matters, it should make no difference whether she's being hit on or not.

Did I say anyone's autonomy "is the only thing that matters?" I don't think anyone is saying that - it would be an odd position to value the autonomy of others more than your own. The autonomy of others is simple fact. But it's not the only thing that matters in a relationship. Communication, trust, willingness to adjust your own behavior sometimes to honor the feelings of your partner, even if irrational, also matter in relationships. Relationships don't survive if those elements aren't present. So autonomy exists, and it exists in connection with the other elements of a strong relationship, which do allow for the discussion of concerns, even misplaced ones.

And here you say the normal reaction is disappointed, sad, frustrated, but this is the kind of reaction you'd have if your favorite TV show gets cancelled, and you skip right over the profound pain that people experience.

No, I don't. I think disappointment, sadness, and frustration are the elements of "profound pain." I just don't think "profound pain" is ever a justification for abusive or controlling or predatory behavior. Profound pain is an emotion, not an action.

This is exactly my point - we think people who experience a lot of pain when relationships end, people who have strong attachments are pathological.

I'm not sure who "we" is, but I don't think people who have strong attachments are pathological. "Stalking" and "controlling" and "jealousy" are not the same as "strong attachment."

The "healthy" response is to move on quickly and quietly without a lot of fuss, and the easy way to do that is to avoid forming close relationships to begin with.

I don't see anybody saying that. I would say that the healthy response is to grieve, feel your emotions, take care of yourself, express your emotions, rely on friends, distract yourself, make daily efforts to stay alive and allow yourself time to recover, and gradually feel your misery lessening or falling into context.

In other words, making personal autonomy into an absolute means telling people that their real desire for and expressions of love are pathological and dysfunctional, a form of aberrant and obsessive behavior. Effectively, we now have a zero-tolerance policy against love.

I think you've created a huge straw man. You're arguing with yourself, because no one here is suggestion that feelings of love and desire are pathological or dysfunctional, aberrant and obsessive. Instead, people are suggesting that behavior which seeks to exert control over others is dysfunctional, abberant, obsessive, and pathological, to one degree or another. In short, you are flat-out refusing to make a distinction between feelings and behavior.

I agree with Forktine's reading: no one is arguing from the extreme positions you're arguing against. I'm not sure what your definition of "autonomy" is, because I think it might be different from the operating definition of the word that most people here are working with. If autonomy means ability to act free from the control of others, which I think most people here understand it to mean, then both parties in a two-person relationship are equally autonomous. A recognition of that mutual autonomy doesn't demand or presuppose bad behavior. It doesn't privilege one person above the other. It is simply the admission of the fact that one person does not have the right to control or coerce the other's actions. One can still request, negotiate, persuade, campaign, discuss, argue, explore, explain, and so on, and these may be ways for two people with goodwill toward one another to influence one another's behavior in ways that enhance their mutual feelings of security. But the simple fact is, unless illegal activity which denies the other's autonomy comes into play, it's simply not possible to truly control another person.

I would actively reject any 'love' relationship that didn't start with that recognition of the fact of individual autonomy. Assumption that control is necessary for a loving relationship is not only, yes, pathological, but actually antithetical to the concept of love, which has no existence outside the free choice to feel and express it.
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on October 1, 2010


forktine: That's use the simple fact of the wife hanging out with a guy isn't enough to be worth being jealous about. Add in that the guy is hitting on her or some other valid and boundary-breaking reason, and then you have a totally valid reason for being concerned.

Right, and the logical conclusion of that is that there are conditions where we think it's legitimate to limit someone's autonomy. But no-one (except me) will come out and say that, which is what leads me to say that they want to hold autonomy sacrosanct, but this can't be sustained so it's necessary to introduce exceptions, which are then repressed. Effectively, violations of autonomy are tacitly accepted as necessary, but we just don't talk about it at parties, be discreet about it, etc. Which is sort of how monogamy used to be: officially you're faithful, but unofficially it's understood that you might have a mistress. In my opinion, this leads to pathological behavior.

I'm struggling to see how you can read it that way since I begin and end my post with the same argument speaking about "The unspoken assumption...that our sexually [sic] is an uncontrollable force that we are at the mercy of"

Well, in the first place, that's a fairly common spoken assumption, and secondly, you are contrasting two groups here: the first group is supposedly making fully conscious, rational decisions to betray trust, and the second is pathologically unable to hold them responsible because they attribute unconscious motivations to them, which denies their agency and personal responsibility and this is bad. But you yourself deny the agency of the second group, attributing their behavior to unconscious motivations. And yes, I do think deploying the neoliberal notion of personal responsibility is an odd choice for a self-admitted communist, but maybe you are more libertarian than communist. Without getting into a debate about the different schools of psychoanalysis, I want to point out a further contradiction: how can we tell the difference between good and bad narratives? It seems clear that this depends on the social context, and a good narrative is one that enables the client to fit into society. This makes psychotherapy into a force for social conformity, so that we could easily say that a slave rebeling against the slaveholders, a woman protesting for the right to vote, and a worker striking for better working conditions are unfortunate victims of bad narratives that make them unable to accept their appropriate place in the social order. Finally, I don't insist that there's only one possible reaction to heart break, in fact I explicitly contrast the painful experience with the new, ersatz relationship mode where people just move on without too much fuss. But you make my point for me by implying that pain is the result of a bad narrative - what is this bad narrative? It can only be love itself. In order to fit into the neoliberal global order of endless self-creation and re-creation, it's necessary to undo the strong ties, solidarity and love that hold us back from reaching our "full potential" of consumerist subjectivity. As Marx said about capitalism, all that is solid melts into the air. We can see this phenomena repeating itself in all areas of society, from romantic relationships to capital's relation to labor where we are encouraged to think of ourselves as "flexible entrepreneurs", a narrative where we no longer see ourselves as sharing a common bond of solidarity with other workers. Instead, our relation to other workers is determined by market logic where they're our competitors, and we try to undercut their prices to drive down the cost of labor.

Miko: In short, you are flat-out refusing to make a distinction between feelings and behavior.

I've seen numerous examples of people admitting they feel jealousy but have taken no action in response to those feelings. Those people are immediately and loudly denounced as potential abusers and controllers, already guilty for having committed thought-crime and sinned in their hearts, despite having successfully resisted the urge to act. It's obvious that no distinction is being made between feelings and behavior, and those comments are usually the most favorited.

Assumption that control is necessary for a loving relationship is not only, yes, pathological, but actually antithetical to the concept of love

And yet you yourself violate this principle when you expect your husband to reassure you when other women hit on him. The message is that telling your spouse to do certain things because you feel insecure and jealous is always pathological, and yet certain exceptions are tacitly understood to be acceptable and even necessary. This explains why people have such strong reactions to the above-mentioned thought-crime - they know that those exceptions are necessary or the relationship would collapse, but can't admit it. The people who do admit to jealousy must be denounced as pathological to prevent the truth from coming out, in exactly the same way that men who are indiscreet with their mistress are denounced by others as immoral, even though the denouncers are also guilty. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, this is called the "subject supposed (assumed) to believe" - we ourselves do not actually follow the rule, but publicly we insist on it for the benefit of others -- often "the children" or some Other who is understood to be naive believers, not sophisticated like us, who know how to break the rules correctly. The appearance of a huge and obvious gulf between normal love and pathological love must be carefully cultivated and maintained through constant repetition, not just in terms of behavior but also of feeling. It must even be made to seem impossible to think otherwise, and that means more and more of what binds us together must be placed on the side of pathology. To substitute for this loss, we're encouraged to think of all the opportunities for self-actualization - a poor exchange, in my opinion.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:25 PM on October 1, 2010


I've seen numerous examples of people admitting they feel jealousy but have taken no action in response to those feelings. Those people are immediately and loudly denounced as potential abusers and controllers, already guilty for having committed thought-crime and sinned in their hearts, despite having successfully resisted the urge to act.

Where are you seeing this? Here on MetaFilter? Your experience doesn't jibe with mine at all.
posted by jessamyn at 1:44 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right, and the logical conclusion of that is that there are conditions where we think it's legitimate to limit someone's autonomy.

That's not actually related to the argument in terms of structural logic, so it's not the "logical conclusion" of the argument. Limiting someone's autonomy might be one outcome you could envision among a possible range of outcomes that occur in response to the problem 'someone is hitting on my wife,' but it's by no means the only one, nor is it usually the recommended, or even legal, one.

There are indeed instances in which a general social agreement is to limit autonomy: in the case of minors, or in the case of convicted criminals, for instance. But a relationship in which there's agreement between two adults who have not committed a crime and are at the age of majority is not one of these instances.

"Limiting the autonomy" of someone is never an appropriate response to jealousy.

And yet you yourself violate this principle when you expect your husband to reassure you when other women hit on him.

1. I don't have a husband - you made an assumption.
2. I don't necessarily "expect" my SO to reassure me. I ask him to reassure me. I hope he will reassure me. If he can't or doesn't, I may get upset, I will want to explore the issue further, and I may have some more thinking to do about I handle the relationship or possibly change my approach to it in future. But I can't require him to reassure me, because what would that even mean? First, I can't control his emotions. Second, I can't control his speech. Third, even if he talked the talk, there's no necessary assurance that he isn't blowing smoke. Fourth, even if he meant it and talked the talk, he can't control whether the effect of his actions even causes me to feel reassured.

The message is that telling your spouse to do certain things because you feel insecure and jealous is always pathological, and yet certain exceptions are tacitly understood to be acceptable and even necessary.

"Telling" your spouse to "do certain things?" Yes. Pretty much always pathological. "Asking" or "requesting" or "wishing" are different, and presupposes an utterly different understanding of the other person's freedom, individuality, and power.

we could easily say that a slave rebeling against the slaveholders, a woman protesting for the right to vote, and a worker striking for better working conditions are unfortunate victims of bad narratives that make them unable to accept their appropriate place in the social order.

I would point out that, of course, people did say those things to those people - because they were attempting to control them, attempting to rob them of autonomy, and attempting to maintain an uneven power relationship in which one person's autonomy was limited and another's artificially enlarged. Today, no, we wouldn't say that, because we have had a gradually evolving global human rights revolution, and can now more easily see that these are situations that arose because, by virtue of some outward characteristic, those classes of people were being denied autonomy in order to privilege another person's autonomy over theirs, and really, to reallocate their resources. In those cases, they were caught in more than a 'bad narrative,' they were actually being denied full humanity and full legal personhood. It's valuing individual autonomy that actually allows us to recognize the injustice inherent in that system and restructure the social order - an ongoing project, to be sure, but a project in which the assumption of the inherent value and freedom of each individual is the core idea.

This explains why people have such strong reactions to the above-mentioned thought-crime - they know that those exceptions are necessary or the relationship would collapse, but can't admit it.

I'm not sure what you're characterizing as a "thought crime." But your use of that language - "thought crime," "sin," "pathological," is extreme, and seems out of proportion to the discussion, and also reveals a perspective at odds with the way I see the discussions of relationships on this site and, it appears, the way others see them. I'm concluding that you have a strong desire to perceive the world of relationships in a very particular way, a way which involves a critique of autonomy, an argument for attempts at control over others, an absolutist conception of autonomy, and maybe a struggle with the notion that compromise, communication, acceptance, and understanding can counter the perceived requirement for total satisfaction that our emotions sometimes seem to demand. In real life, we don't run up against the absolute idea of autonomy very often, because we are not at the extremes, but in the middle, negotiating, listening, working things out, and being heard. I guess I just don't share your concerns when I think about relationships, and have suffered enough from the actions of the jealous and controlling that, for me, rejection of the attempt to control as valid operating principle in relationships is utterly uncontroversial.
posted by Miko at 2:41 PM on October 1, 2010


Where are you seeing this? Here on MetaFilter? Your experience doesn't jibe with mine at all.

I think tallus' comment is a good example of defining any discomfort or jealousy with who your SO hangs out with as a priori pathological, although I admit that I can't find the specific example I was thinking of and may be overstating how prevalent this is on mefi. Still, the overall tone of this thread is that it's simply inconceivable to believe that there could be problems with platonic friendships between the sexes, and it seems like Miko has taken it upon herself to identify with the position I am opposing. Interestingly, I did find an askme question that said something like "I know the general opinion when a girlfriend feels insecure and controlling is 'DTMFA, she's nuts', but..." I think the prevalence of DTMFA and therapy as solutions is itself an indication of how little tolerance we have for relationship problems and how quickly we jump to pathologizing and shaming people.

But your use of that language - "thought crime," "sin," "pathological," is extreme, and seems out of proportion to the discussion, and also reveals a perspective at odds with the way I see the discussions of relationships on this site and, it appears, the way others see them.

Wow, first I get called a troll and now it almost feels like you're saying I'm not welcome here. I definitely agree that your opinion has the benefit of broad agreement, and mine is pretty unpopular, to say the least - that fact is actually an important part of my argument. I will absolutely respect the mods' decision about the appropriateness of expressing it.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:16 PM on October 1, 2010


you are contrasting two groups here: the first group is supposedly making fully conscious, rational decisions to betray trust, and the second is pathologically unable to hold them responsible because they attribute unconscious motivations to them, which denies their agency and personal responsibility and this is bad. But you yourself deny the agency of the second group, attributing their behavior to unconscious motivations.

But I wasn't contrasting two groups— I was doing the opposite. I was pointing out how the language on both sides of the equations can form a mirror of each other, how they form one group.

At the risk of repeating myself nowhere did I say that one side die are the betrayers who make decisions and on the other are the betrayed who are compelled by unconscious forces (again, the only person who talks about "fully conscious, rational decisions" is you). When a person acts to betray another's trust somewhere along the line they made a decision to act— we can not accidentally commit adultery. And a person who is betrayed surely has a choice as to what they tell themselves about it. What I gave was an example of a response to cognitive dissonance. If we put our trust in someone it is because we do not believe they will break it, though we can not force them not to do so (if we believed they would break it surely we would not give it them in the first place). So when someone does betray it we are left facing the uncomfortable fact that we turned out to be wrong, that our beliefs are in conflict with reality. So some people might chose to deal with this dissonance by insisting that in fact the other person did not really chose to act they way they did. But this does not alter reality only the story we tell about it and it leaves the danger of a rather uncomfortable symmetry. I dislike it not only because it denies the agencies of others, but because in doing so it also denies self-agency. (And I have already made clear my rejection of the reduction of unconscious/conscious to a crude dichotomy.If that were truly so the unconscious would be irrelevant since it would never impinge on the conscious (which might then be perfect and rational as you claim). But if there is an unconscious it is surely important in as much as it does impinge. So much so, I would have us believe, that we can not separate them and the use of the terms as a contrast to one another is not a useful way of speaking about things and I talk about narrative a way of escaping this, to see them as one thing ).


how can we tell the difference between good and bad narratives? It seems clear that this depends on the social context, and a good narrative is one that enables the client to fit into society...we could easily say that a slave rebeling against the slaveholders, a woman protesting for the right to vote, and a worker striking for better working conditions are unfortunate victims of bad narratives that make them unable to accept their appropriate place in the social order.

Is it clear? You seemed to have pulled this from thin air to fit me into your pre-existing
formulations. As Miko points out people did say this. And in doing so what were they doing but making a counter narrative to the narrative of the slave etc which refuses the dominant one. To choose one over the other is to make a value judgement and there is nothing in the idea of the narrative to support the one you presuppose. Indeed that presupposition chooses to impose the narratives of others over a narrative of the self, in order to further the interests of others at the expense of that self. If we value autonomy, as I and others do, surely we are forced to conclude the opposite: that the 'good' narrative is one that seeks to extend that autonomy.


you make my point for me by implying that pain is the result of a bad narrative - what is this bad narrative?

No, not the pain, but the idea that "you'd do anything to be with that person again" is what results. It is a bad narrative because it does violence to reality. it denies what is and in doing so sees the other person not as an autonomous subject but as an object that only exists to reflect yourself.
posted by tallus at 6:39 PM on October 1, 2010


On preview:
I think tallus' comment is a good example of defining any discomfort or jealousy with who your SO hangs out with as a priori pathological

I didn't make any reference to "any discomfort or jealousy" and I made no claim to it being pathological. I talked about a a particular response to discomfort or jealousy and why I find it problematic. If you are having difficulty finding things perhaps it is because they are not there, just phantoms of what you wanted to see.

posted by tallus at 6:52 PM on October 1, 2010


it seems like Miko has taken it upon herself to identify with the position I am opposing.

I disagree. I think the position you are opposing is a position no one has taken. b

it almost feels like you're saying I'm not welcome here.

I've said nothing of the kind and would not have any reason to feel or express that sentiment in this conversation. I tend not to think about the site in terms of who is or isn't "welcome." What I said, with which you agreed, is that your position is at odds with the perspectives most usually brought to relationships here, and with my own perspective.

Is AskMe intolerant of relationship problems? Yes, I agree that often the collective sense is one of a pretty short fuse, and I think it's born out of experience, regret, and hindsight - people encourage others to act the way they wish they had acted, or the way they wish someone they love had acted, or a way that seems so simple and clear to them based on observations of others. Yet I think there are long miles of road between "AskMe responders tend to be less than patient with relationship problems" and "autonomy is bad and a fraudulent idea, control is necessary in relationships." The conflation of those two distant points makes no sense to me, and one is not an argument for the other.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on October 1, 2010


Also, just a point of order, you weren't "called a troll." Someone who was trying to understand what you were saying expressed confusion, allowing for several possibilities about why you weren't making sense to one another, including the possibility that "maybe you are just a troll trying to get a rise out of me?" Not an accusation - a query, a speculation. Sometimes people put that feeler out to try to ascertain the degree of goodwill they might anticipate from an interlocutor.
posted by Miko at 8:28 PM on October 1, 2010


This quote from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman gets to the heart of it for me:
Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life...You give them a piece of you. They didn't ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn't your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like 'maybe we should be just friends' turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It's a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.
Yes, autonomy is important. But what if it's also away to run away from this pain? And what if people act controlling and jealous for the same reason? The cure and the disease. The real cure for jealousy is not to get rid of your insecurities - that's what makes people jealous to begin with. It's to be even more radically insecure and vulnerable.
posted by AlsoMike at 10:47 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, to the point where a good woman friend needs to crash at your place because there was partying... and she'd just crash on the couch immediately. And still that's out of bounds. None of you or your SOs would have a problem with such a thing?

Mine would have to put up with it, or she'd never be very S to begin with.

I regularly crash at female friends' houses, often in states of drunkenness or disarray, and vice versa. I can't imagine having a problem with my SO doing this, either. What, you would turn a friend away at your door, or expect someone else to? I grumble around hung over the next day, make myself breakfast and let myself out. What's the big deal, here?

(Heck, I regularly visit my female friends in other cities and stay with them for weeks at a time. I can't imagine staying in a hotel when I have a close friend in the city. They'd be insulted.)

If my long-term SO had a problem with this, we wouldn't be together. But she knows they're not any kind of threat. I wouldn't survive long with anyone insecure, I guess.
posted by rokusan at 12:46 AM on October 2, 2010


After she got married, my friend wondered aloud to me why her husband needed female friends anymore now that he had her. Vaginas: fungible!
posted by prefpara at 9:04 AM on October 3, 2010


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