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
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).
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. . .
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.
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? . . .