Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Culpably Clueless

The business of the Universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise.

-- George MacDonald

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There’s the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally, where Harry is telling Sally that men and women can never be ‘just friends’. And I understand what he’s saying. Because of the whole opposite-sex thing, men and women can’t have the same kind of relaxed, carefree friendships that men can have with other men, or women with other women (although, our culture is doing its very best to ‘sexualize’ even same-sex friendships). You always have to ‘be on your guard’, at least on some level, with members of the opposite sex.

I have had, and still have, good friends who are women – people whom I find interesting and challenging, whose company I enjoy. My GF2, who is now Molly’s best friend, is one of those. And virtually all of them are married themselves, which, in its way, is probably helpful – my friendships with the women can happen in the context of a relationship between the two couples. It’s never just ‘one-on-one’ with me and someone else’s wife (or, more to the point, any woman not my wife). But, as a man, and especially as a married man, I always have to ‘watch myself’. A few times in my life, I’ve had to ‘step back’ from a friendship with a married woman, as I’ve begun to recognize within myself an attraction to her (I mentioned one of these to Molly recently, thinking that I had managed to back off gracefully, without the woman knowing what was going on with me; “Oh, she knew,” my wife assured me).

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Which brings me to the present day, and the special dynamics of blog-space friendships. My favorite part of blogging is the friendships you form, with all sorts of really fascinating people, both men and women. I don’t think I’m breaking any new news here, but lots of y’all are really interesting, and really great people; that’s why I keep hanging around. And a few of y’all, I’ve gotten to know better, ‘off-blog’, via email, phone calls, or even face-to-face. And I’ve enjoyed every one of those.

But the thing is, the ‘distance’ of blog-space – the fact that, while we’re in blog-space, we aren’t physically present to each other – can make it all seem ‘safe’, moreso than it would be if we all lived in the same neighborhood, and got together for coffee on our lunch hours, instead of sending electrons to each other in different states. And so, we can get a little ‘casual’ with each other, and ‘let our guard down’ with each other, in ways that we wouldn’t, if we were actually physically present to each other. And by and large, that’s not a terribly big deal.

But, I’m aware that, just as I have to be ‘circumspect’ in my real-life friendships with women, I also need to be careful about my opposite-sex blog-space friendships. I don’t want my blog-space friendships to undermine my real-world marriage (and you all know how much I value my marriage, and love my wife). So, I’ve tried to keep things ‘open and above-board’ with Molly – telling her about the various and sundry folks I meet in blog-space, keeping things ‘where she can see them’. Like many bloggers’ spouses, she’s not terribly interested in blogging herself; she’s mainly quite content to treat it as a hobby of mine, and have as little to do with it as she can get away with (even while being generously indulgent of driving multiple hours to another city with me to spend a weekend with a group of y’all). But, from time to time, I’ll print off some of my email exchanges, and have her read them, just to ‘keep me honest’. Just seems like a good idea to me. . .

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So, I did that recently – printed off some of my emails, and showed them to Molly. Mostly just to let her see what I’m up to, but also to get the benefit of her eyes, and her mind – am I OK here, or should I be more careful with how I’m relating?

And she got upset. Which totally blind-sided me.

See, some of y’all ladies, I’ve made some strong friendships with. We’ve traded emails, and talked about our lives, sometimes on a pretty down-and-dirty level (I hasten to clarify that ‘down-and-dirty’ shouldn’t be construed in anything like a ‘sexual’ way; only that we’ve talked on a pretty deep and heartfelt level), about our lives, our marriages, our kids, our faith – really basic, nitty-gritty stuff. And to Molly, that looks a lot like something that comes way too close to something that might be called an ‘emotional affair’ – an ‘inappropriate emotional attachment’ with a woman who is not my wife (recalling the scene from 300, when Queen Gorgo tells Leonidas, “There’s only one woman whose words should matter that much to you, and that’s me.”).

There’s actually a fair bit that appears around blog-space about ‘emotional affairs’, and how many women are even more upset by the emotional attachments their husbands might form with other women, than they would be if they were sexually unfaithful. And being a man, I don’t tick quite that way. My own ‘inner moral compass’ is set to something like, ‘don’t get sexual with women who aren’t your wife’ – simple and straightforward. And I totally missed the whole ‘emotional attachment’ thing. Which is a really big deal to my wife. And therefore, it needs to be much more on my radar. And that’s my ‘culpable cluelessness’.

I love Molly more than my own life, and I understand what kind of a Gift from God our marriage is. So I dare not jeopardize it in even the most insignificant way. Molly is not a jealous or fearful woman; quite the opposite, actually. The problem here is not her reaction, but my cluelessness.

See, to Molly, my close blog-friendships with women have the same ‘look and feel’ as if they were co-workers who I see regularly, and she rarely, if ever. And then I strike up close friendships with a few of these co-workers, and we discover lots of common ground, and get together regularly to talk about all the things we hold in common, etc, etc. Even if we had the best intentions, and nothing 'untoward' ever happened, such a friendship would be dangerous and unwise. Again, the ‘artificial distance’ of blog-space can kind-of tempt me to think that we’re not ‘connecting’ as much as we really are.

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So, I need to come up with a way to adjust my thinking, just a bit, to have my ‘radar’ tuned to pick up on the kinds of emotional connections that are all too easy for me to make, without it even occurring to me that they’re happening.

It’s sad, in a way, that men and women can’t just be as relaxed and carefree around each other, as what we can be with our same-sex friends. Because I’ve met some women who are really wonderful people, whom I’ve wanted to get to know a whole lot better, and benefit from their experiences, and perspectives; and I just can’t do that quite as freely as I might wish I could. Because we’re human beings, and not angels – we’re not disembodied spirits, or ‘pure minds’ – and it doesn’t help to think that maybe we could be.


And so, once again, the Universe has made a fool of me. Now, when do I start to become wise? . . .

(*sigh*)

20 comments:

Desmond Jones said...

Well, darn it! I'm starting to think that I've done it again. . . Mr. Clueless on the loose in Blog-space. . .

I'm imagining my female blog-friends reading this and saying, "So what the hell am I supposed to say to that?", wondering if they're one of the ones who incurred Molly's wrath on my behalf.

Obviously, I'm not going to single anybody out, and my point here is not to point fingers at anybody, except myself. It ain't you, it's me, as the cliche goes. . .

But I do wonder if there isn't some kind of a discussion to be had, just among us friends, about the nature of blog-space friendships, especially between men and women, and what kind of care (if any) it's appropriate to take in how we relate to each other. . .

Trueself said...

Well, I'm quite certain our interactions haven't been the cause of Molly's concern so you needn't worry about offending me in any way.

I do think that it is good to hold online relationships at arm's length for the most part. I rarely correspond much one-on-one with other bloggers except for a tiny circle (so tiny it would hardly form a circle) of close friends I've made. Only one of those is male, and it did turn into a romantic relationship (BJ), but on purpose.

I don't think I've contributed much to the discussion here -- just my usual addled rambling. I may be back with more thoughts later, if I get any coherent ones on the subject.

Cocotte said...

I would be very careful about e-mails back and forth. I had a situation over a year ago on a message board where a man e-mailed me (and many others) frequently. I got caught up in the friendship at first, but then realized he seemed to think he knew me way better than he really did and I cut the relationship off completely. He seemed to be very happy in his marriage, but something just didn't seem right about the whole thing.

Desmond, to be honest, you are just one of those emotionally open men that are few and far between. You are going to attract women who are needy and looking for validation. I think you are wise to beware.

flutterby said...

What Cocotte said! You are a great guy and I believe a great husband as well. I think it's excellent that you are open with Molly about everything and that she is free to be open with you about her emotions. That is healthy, even when adjustments need to be made as a result.

Don't be too hard on yourself, you have your priorities straight and that is a lot!

for a different kind of girl said...

I agree with what the other women before me have said. You're a pretty open guy, but your openess most often revolves around the solid foundation of marriage you and Molly have. However, I can understand how it's easy for a spouse to not be as appreciative of a connection (whether there or not) their partner has made with another person. A few months ago, my husband befriended his high school crush on Facebook, and though I know without question that their friendship was strictly a friendship (despite my husband's then-feelings), it did bother me that he'd befriended her. However, I remained quiet about it - until he sent her what's called a 'poke' with a graphic I didn't think was appropriate to her Facebook page. Then? Then I made sure to comment on his page directly below the notice of him doing that with the smartly worded "You're kidding me, right?!"

;)

We also talked about it, too, of course. I made him realize that it was clearly not an intentional design to hurt me, but that it did, and he apologized and, honestly, they don't have a lot of contact via that avenue anyway.

All that said, a great deal of my friendships in several areas are more male-centered than they are female. I can't explain why other than I'm around men more than I am around women, so perhaps that contributes to it. I'm also, to a degree, comfortable with things as they are. I know my lines, and I don't cross them, nor have I ever felt like lines were being crossed with me. I think that is key.

schweeney said...

I disagree with the Harry met Sally conclusion. I really don't care very much for the company of women. Almost all of my friends are men and I most assuredly do not have any sexual feeling towards any of them (even the straight ones!).

Most of his friends are women, very smart and sucessful and attractive i might add. I have received many comments about how lucky I am to have such an loyal and trustworthy husband from people (men & women) that have worked with him on numerous political campaigns. Usually what happans on a campagin stays on a campaign so these comments were very reassuring and have led me to shed any jealous feelings I used to harbor about his friendships and associations with women. We also are very open about it being completely normal to want "to look" and understand that under no circumstances is it okay "to touch" - ever.

All this was a super long way of saying different strokes for different folks. Everyone has different boundries they need to set regarding appropriate behavior to keep things steady in their own relationship. Just because you have to watch yourself doesn't mean everyone does. I do think it's easy to overshare on the blogs (see above!). Oh and sorry to hijack your topic.

I do respect you for recognizing that it is a problem for Molly. You are very sensitive, she's a lucky woman.

Xavier said...

Thanks for sharing this, it is all too easy to find comfort in the appearance of anonymity here in ther cyber world and not realize when a line has been crossed.

FTN said...

For some reason I've always had a lot of girly-friendships. I was the "friend" guy back in high school. Most of my semi-anonymous-blog friendships seem to steer towards the female side, and I just noticed that a disproportionately high number of my friends on Facebook are woman as well. Maybe women just spend more time on the Internet? I dunno.

Anyway, I've been guilty before of crossing the line, or perhaps at least drawing the line in a spot much further away than it should be (if that makes sense). I've emailed and chatted with a number of women (the horror!) online, some more than others, and like you, sometimes I just figure it's "safe" to have those conversations and it's not like we're having online sex or making plans to meet up. I'm fairly open about who I talk with, but I'll admit I've seldom gone as far as you have -- printing out correspondence and showing it to my wife.

So kudos to you for having that transparency. If you keep up in your mind that you might do that from time to time, it probably will help in the "becoming wise" part.

Strangely enough, an "old flame" contacted me recently for some God-related advice, and Autumn seemed slightly bothered by it. I offered to print out the communications between us, but I haven't done so yet, and she hasn't mentioned it.

I wonder sometimes if it's a bad thing that my wife has kind of a "don't ask, don't tell" mindset...

Bunny said...

As too many people know, I slipped down that slope myself, became too emotionally involved with a internet friend. It's easy to do and I understand Molly's feelings. I was more upset about my husband's email relationship with a woman than with his spending the night with her in Traverse City a couple years ago. (He's brought me around to believing that they did not have sex that night.

I have had one intense emotional relationship that never involved a face-to-face meeting, but have met and slept with 3 blog friends (and I am still friends with them, but never was "in love" with them nor they with me). I wonder which would bother my husband more? His reaction to reading several text messages from one friend was "annoyance" that "this guy's trying to seduce my wife." Perhaps that should be my first clue.

I think you have nothing but a gentleman and Molly's dutiful and loving husband in our (few) email interactions and I can't imagine you being anything but. I hope Molly now realizes that she certainly has nothing about which to be concerned.

lime said...

it's good that you and molly can discuss this. it's good that you can listen to her concerns and not treat them lightly.

Desmond Jones said...

Thank you one and all for joining in on the discussion. I do sincerely appreciate it.

I'll say, too, that such 'dispute' as happened between Molly and me, while it might have been somewhat 'more than usual' (words like 'affair', even as figures of speech, aren't typical in our, uh, discussions), doesn't remotely threaten our relationship. We're fine. She knows that, whatever I did, it wasn't remotely done our of any kind of 'dissatisfaction' with her, or our marriage. I just need to be more careful. And I will.

So then, to your comments -

Truey - Thanks for 'breaking the ice'. As I recall, such romance as you pursued w/ BJ was pretty explicitly out of a sense of dissatisfaction with your existing marriage, right?

Cocotte - I know what you're saying about 'needy' people. Altho, I hasten to add that I wouldn't characterize any of my recent e-correspondents that way. Heck, for all I know, I'm the 'needy' one. . .

Flutter - I'm glad that Molly feels free to tell me what's on her heart, too. I really do rely on her perspective to keep me pointed in the right direction. . .

faDKoG - See, I think Tool Man and I are pretty similarly clueless. We're just trying to be friendly (cue 60s-era Beatles-rip-off music), and it doesn't occur to us (until it's pointed out later) that we've crossed a line. . . See, my problem is more in realizing when I've crossed the line, than knowing where it is, and crossing it anyway. . .

Schweeney - Thanks for stopping by! I don't fully buy the 'Harry Met Sally' thing, either; as I said, I have some really good friendships with women. But the underlying point is valid, and I think you actually confirm it in your comment. Because of the ever-present possibility of sexual attraction between Man X and Woman Y, they need to be careful with each other in ways they don't have to be with their same-sex friends. Doesn't at all mean they can't be friends; but the friendships are a little different, and less free-wheeling, than same-sex ones. . . And feel free to stop by whenever it suits you; I didn't think you 'hijacked' anything here. . .

Xavier - Yup; you understand. . . And I guess that would be part of Molly's point - why do I feel the need for the 'comfort' (such as it is) of blog-space? Why not seek it in my real-life friendships?

FTN - You know, in high school, I had a few female friends who just seemed to like to talk with me. Which was nice. But yeah, frustrating in the standard way - they didn't think of me in the least, in romantic terms, much as Id've liked them to. . .

This 'crossing the line' of which you speak. . . did Autumn call you on it? Has your blogging ever been a source of conflict (to whatever degree) between you? I actually think that Molly would like to take something like a 'don't-ask-don't-tell' approach to my blogging, but she's just uneasy enough about it not to do that. . .

Bunny - See, that's a huge male/female difference, I think, and it completely took me by surprise - the whole 'emotional connection' thing. I've known for years that the emotional connection is what Molly loves most about sex, and in the early years of our marriage, she was often frustrated that I wouldn't/couldn't 'open up' to her, at least not in the way she wanted me to. Obviously, we've gotten much better at that. But I just didn't 'get', until just now, that that 'emotional connection' is a thing she values as 'her own' (in a 'Queen Gorgo' sense), as much as I value her body as 'my own' (so to speak). And so now, I need to 're-calibrate' just a bit. . .

I actually had a similar thing happen a couple years ago. I carried on a periodic correspondence with a woman who was having an affair. And I would encourage her to quit her affair, and channel her sexual energy toward her husband, and their marriage. And she was always quite appreciative of my admonitions (altho she never did quit her affair, until she was found out). When I showed that correspondence to Molly, she was very upset, also; altho I took her message to be that she didn't want me carrying on a correspondence with an adultress, who was (as Cocotte said) using me for some kind of validation. (I hasten to add that I am saying nothing here about you, you understand). So, Molly's message about an inappropriate emotional connection was lost in the 'moral' question. So now, I have to learn it again. . . (*sigh*)

Lime - Thanks for understanding. . .

Trooper Thorn said...

So men and women can be friends on the internet, until they become too close, they have an emotional attachment that threatens real-world relationships and they have to end it.

It is just like in "Harry & Sally" every time he comes up with an addendum to "The Rule" he thinks of a circumstance that violates it and it comes back to 'men and women can't be friends'.

Trueself said...

Desmond - To answer your question, yes pursuing more than friendship with BJ was definitely a byproduct of marital strife and breakdown. I have no doubt that the marriage would not have survived even if I had remained emotionally and physically faithful to W. Even the counselor (a Catholic nun BTW if that makes any difference) we worked with for almost two years understood that we came to a point where we just couldn't find solid ground for our relationship.

I think that good marriages, such as yours, are far less vulnerable to affairs, whether emotional or physical. I also think that it is great that you and Molly can have open communication about issues and work through them rather than letting them drive a wedge between you.

Desmond Jones said...

Trooper - Thanks for stopping by!

I haven't 'ended' any of my internet friendships with women (not by my initiative, at any rate). Just had to 'step back' a bit. . .

Truey - Just for the record, I wasn't asking you to defend your relationship w/ BJ, or your decision to end your marriage. Only making the connection that the 'internet romance' was correlated to your unhappiness in your marriage. . .

I suppose I agree with you that strong marriages are less vulnerable to affairs. But I also think that one of the things that helps make them strong is the realization that none of us is immune, and taking proper account of our own 'fallen-ness'. . .

And of course you know that anything a nun says is, de facto, true. . . ;)

Trueself said...

Des - I didn't feel like I needed to defend it, just expand on explaining it somewhat though I do suppose I often sound defensive when speaking of it, more a reflection of my own guilt over failure than anything else.

I can see what you say about keeping strong marriages strong. When I was more of a mind to save my marriage than end it I was much more careful not to let things cross boundaries as once the marriage was over (which it was long before we separated).

And here I'll go a bit off topic for a moment:
I didn't know our counselor was a nun when we first started seeing her, just knew that she counseled from a Christian perspective. As a matter of fact, I would have never known except that I googled her when I was looking for her office address once. Lo and behold I found that not only is she a nun but a nun that runs a non-profit organization that is dedicated to microfinancing small businesses in Africa. I found it fascinating plus it explained why she traveled to Africa one month out of the year. Not sure why I felt the desire to share this tidbit other than I do find her a fascinating woman and not the least bit "nun like" from my Protestant's perspective aided by TV shows and movies.

Sensuous Wife said...

I got to be a part of a discussion over at zoecarnate on the topic of men/women friendships. The post, the book, and the discussion were all very enlightening and encouraging to me. Check it out at
http://zoecarnate.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/cross-gender-friendships-too-hot-for-christians

Having talked about the subject in an intellectual way, I want to speak from the heart and say, "I love you, Molly. I admire you, and I don't see how any of us regular readers could not love you after hearing the way your husband speaks of you. I hope your heart feels better soon, dear lady."
-Shula

Therese in Heaven said...

I would say that the best sort of care you can take is just keep the spouses "in the loop." Most of my friends are male, and that is not a problem for RS because he knows them, I talk about them with him, and in that indirect way, he is included in the friendship. Every spouse's comfort level is slightly different, but keeping that "transparency" there works very well for us. He doesn't have to monitor what is said because I let him know what's going on. Being proactive about it, I think, makes all the difference.

Desmond Jones said...

Truey - You find nuns in the oddest places these days. . .

Shula - Thanks for the link; the message here isn't that 'men and women can't be friends', so much as that married men's friendships with women-not-their-wives need to be appropriately 'bounded' (and likewise married women's friendships with men-not-their-husbands). . .

And thanks for your kind words to Molly. We're 'working it out'. . .

Therese - I agree. 'Keep you hands where she can see them', so to speak. And that's what I've tried to do all along. But when she doesn't like what she sees, then you've got something else to work thru. . .

Recovering Soul said...

Des - well, as everyone knows, I'm very well versed on what inappropriate friendships can lead to. Toward the beginning of my blog I outlined what I called my "code of conduct."

It was pretty strict, especially the part on female friendships, and several people thought it went too far, but it laid out what I thought was acceptable and what was not.

It never hurts to guard ourselves, our words, our actions, and put up those hedges. I would also say that people have to be careful to not let themselves see more than is actually there.

Desmond Jones said...

Thanks for weighing in, RS; I appreciate hearing from you.

It's possible that Molly is 'seeing more than is actually there'. But, bottom line, that's not my call; between the two of us, at any rate, her perceptions, and her feelings, are the ones that matter.

And we have talked it thru some with 'objective' third parties, who basically make the same point - if what I'm doing feels to her like it's inappropriate, then I have to take that very seriously.

Plus, I don't fully trust myself, if you know what I mean. If Molly sees a 'connection' that I haven't noticed, I fully allow that the problem could be my failure to notice, and not her hyper-sensitivity.