Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m a 27-year-old male in my first serious relationship since college. As a rule of thumb, how much do I need to scale back my friendships with women out of respect for my new girlfriend? She has never openly expressed jealousy but I can tell she does not always feel comfortable with the way I interact with other women. I have many female friends and am not willing to give them up completely.
– A Lady in My Life
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DEAR A LADY IN MY LIFE: I hope you don’t. Emotional boundaries are less obvious than physical, so I’ll stick to the former. The two lines you don’t want friendships to cross when you’re in a committed relationship are:
(1) Serving as your primary source of intimacy;
(2) Serving as cover for some ulterior motive.
That’s it. These apply not just to your friendships with women, but with all your emotional ties. In a committed relationship, that person is your first consideration. Not only, just first — as such, both of you are free to have many friendships without regard to the person’s sex, and owe it to yourselves and each other to both use and honor that freedom.
But that’s my take; since one or both of you might have a different one, the most useful “rule of thumb” is either to choose a partner with the same philosophy about friendships, or, when you differ, to make a mutual commitment to respecting each other’s philosophy.
As for your girlfriend’s discomfort, please pay close attention: Is it coming from her emotional makeup, or is it coming from the way you act around these female friends?
The answer you come to won’t change the baseline answer here — be true to yourself and find partners who are comfortable with that true self — but wherever there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity to learn something. Is she insecure to the point of struggling with boundaries over your legitimate Platonic friendships? Or are you behaving in a way that strains the boundaries of “Platonic”? Or is it some combination of the two? And if yes to any of these, how did you get to this point, and how can you back yourself onto a healthier path?
Re: Lady in my life:
I have found that if I keep relationships with female friends (1) transparent and (2) matter-of-fact, two things happen: First, those who had any romantic potential disappear as they seek men who are available, and second, those who remain seem to stay at a distance, not wishing to be a third wheel. In short, the problem is self-resolving if there are no games involved, like flirting to create jealousy.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Dead on, thank you, as far as it goes.
The one part left uncovered is the insecure-partner contingency. If your committed relationship is with someone insecure, then even the transparent, matter-of-fact relationships with women will be regarded as a threat.
That is then an argument for ending the commitment to the possessive mate, though, not for ending the innocent friendships.