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I am very grateful to Theophilos and to Annie G. for sticking their necks out to reply to my proffered can of worms.  Annie expresses conclusions which I have also come to with an elegance that I would not have been able to muster.  Who would have thought that the word “friend” could be so terribly loaded.

A familial pattern of trying to obtain succour from a family that specialises in being emotionally unavailable means that I have sometimes looked in the wrong place for friendship.  A more recent recognition of this means that I have been painfully clearing the decks.  I suppose my previous post was  part of that.  Theo sets out what he sees as the male perspective, after reading which I wanted to cry.  From what he writes, given that I am a married (and therefore sexually unavailable) woman, there seems little point in trying for a cross gender friendship ever, and yet he seeks to distinguish himself and sees the benefits of them.  These are some of my thoughts and attempts to define my terms.  I assume heterosexuality and at least one of the friends being married – for the sake of simplicity but for no other reason.  The original context was my previous post – about a “friendship” of more than twenty years with a couple who are now divorced and about my discovery that the husband of that couple and I clearly have different ideas about what friendship means.  But I hope these thoughts have a wider application.

  1. Clearly the territory is beset with craters into which it is all too easy to fall. 
  2. Yet men and women potentially have much to gain from cross gender friendships.  Typically men will be able to enjoy the emotional intimacy that women routinely offer their friends, and women will enjoy the more playful style of male friendship.  Both will enjoy the absence of competition that tends to characterise many same sex friendships, and an affirmation of their own gender identity which is absent from same sex friendships.  More than that, many men and women will find in cross gender friendships a freshness, a newness and an otherness that they cannot find in same sex relationships.  This is not to denigrate same sex friendships, nor the marriage bond which offers the same advantages and more. 
  3. Some men have extreme male brains and little need for intimacy.  Others are empathetic and warm.  Some women have brains that are better at schematizing and less good at empathy.  In the middle, there is not as much difference between male and female brains as many would have us believe, or, at least, we are capable of an approximation of the way of the thinking of our opposite gender. 
  4. Men who are capable of intimacy make much better fathers than those who neither need it, desire it, or practice it.  The same goes for women and mothers.  Many a child has been scarred by the absence of intimacy in his/her family of origin.  Such children may either shun intimacy as their parents did, or  work hard to find it to compensate for the earlier lack.  It would be an ideal world in which marriage partners had equal abilities to offer intimacy, and an equal need for intimacy.  Happily it happens sometimes, but often the experience of falling in love masks a chasm between the two that only becomes obvious when it is too late.  Friendships, not being troubled by the “limerence” of the in-love-experience should be less troubled by this inequality, but are not.
  5. Intimacy and friendship are essential aspects of the marriage relationship, though that will come as news to many. 
  6. Friendship is impossible without equality of regard, that is, a reciprocal affection.  Lop-sided friendships are not true friendships. 
  7. Cross-gender friendships are impossible between people who do not actively believe that men and women are equal (though they may be different). 
  8. Friendship is impossible without intimacy, which will also come as news to many. 
  9. Friendship is a form of love.  All friendships are, to a greater or lesser extent, loving and caring.  Friendships are about extending yourself towards the other person, about being open and vulnerable, about being able to trust, about respecting each other, about caring for each other.  This is true of friendships between spouses, friendships between same-sex friends, and friendships between cross gender friends.  As defined it would not be possible to be friends with someone who only has regard for themselves. 
  10. Men who are capable of intimate same sex friendships are more likely to be capable of cross-gender friendships.  Women who are capable of intimate same sex friends are more likely to be capable of cross-gender friendships. 
  11. Men who enjoy a happy, intimate relationship with their wives are more likely to be capable of cross-gender friendship and more likely to know the benefit of them.  Women, similarly, who have a husband who is also their best friend, are more likely to be capable of cross-gender relationships, and more likely to know the benefit of them. 
  12. People who are unsatisfied in their marriage need to guard against trying to find that-which-is-missing-in-their-marriage in their cross-gender friendships.  This will only serve to increase the unhappiness in their marriage. 
  13. This is not to say that cross gender friends should mirror the marriage relationship.  It is possible that cross gender friends may be quite different from the spouse, but equally likely that they may be similar to the spouse. 
  14. No friendship, same sex or cross gender, should ever be allowed to come between husband and wife. 
  15. Both same sex and cross gender friendships have the potential to cause jealousy (and consequent pain for the spouse).  Jealousy may be well-founded, where the friendship has overstepped the boundaries, or it may result from the spouse’s insecurities.  Such insecurities are entirely understandable and normal in a world where some of the most severe threats to a marriage come from cross gender friendships.  The threat and the insecurity may be sufficient to make such friendships unworkable.  It would, however, be unfair that an insecure spouse effectively prevents cross gender relationships for his/her spouse whilst he/she enjoys them herself in another context, such as the workplace or the extended family, or has no desire for them. 
  16. Successful cross-gender friendships will include the friend’s spouse and will assume that anything told to the friend is related to the spouse.   This does not mean that the spouse is present in every conversation or hears every detail of what was said, but the presence of the spouse is the backdrop to the friendship. 
  17. Cross gender friends respect the commitment that the friend has made to their marriage which precedes any other commitment.  It is incumbent on cross gender friends to go out of their way to be welcoming to the spouse of their friend.  They may find that they gain another same sex friend. 
  18. We all find our friends (same sex or opposite sex) attractive, otherwise they would not be our friends.  Though we may not find our same sex friends sexually attractive, that is because we have a heterosexual preference.  We are still able to appreciate that they are attractive.  There is a difference, however, between acknowledging this truth, and overstepping the boundary between friendship and a sexual or romantic relationship.  This boundary is sacrosanct when either friend is married.  When neither friend is married, it would be entirely normal for the friendship to proceed to a sexual or romantic relationship since the potential is there.  Nietzsche said that friendship with a woman was only possible if there was a degree of physical antipathy, but this is to take away her identity as an attractive woman.  Besides I take everything he says with a big pinch of salt. 
  19. Some men and women shy away from intimacy of any description.  It is impossible to be their friend (same sex or cross gender), and heart-breakingly lonely to be their spouse. 
  20. I’m still thinking and would love other people to contribute their thoughts.
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