It's Platonic, really.
January 1, 2011 10:10 PM   Subscribe

My sister is starting a technology company with a male friend. People keep thinking they are dating. How does she make it clear that it's totally platonic and will stay that way?

They have a business plan, possible investors, possible employees, etc. and are moving forward quickly. Both of them are single, and around the same age (he's mid-20s, she's early 30s). It's theoretically possible they could get together (I guess), but he's sowing his wild oats and she doesn't want to be another conquest. Besides, she's very excited about the company and doesn't want romantic things to mess it up. She has plenty of other romantic interest and so does he, so why let this get in the way?

They have very good rapport and get along socially as well as in business (they were acquaintances before starting the company and are now better friends). They have very complementary skills (and very different personalities) and make a good team.

- What should she say or do to make it clear that they're not involved? To business associates? To his girlfriends (so they don't get weird and jealous) and her prospective boyfriends (ditto)?
- Have you been in this situation before?
- Any suggestions?
posted by alternateuniverse to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They shoudn't say anything; 1. it's no one's fucking business and 2. only gossips or fools will care or think that two people of the opposite sex and similar age are unable to be friends or colleagues without screwing.
posted by smoke at 10:25 PM on January 1, 2011 [10 favorites]

how does she know people think this? Have they made comments using the words dating/together/husband/boyfriend?
If not then she shouldn't worry about it.
If so just sort of chuckle and say nope just friends.
short and sweet is best here as too much denial may lead to more gossip.
posted by sio42 at 10:35 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I pretty much live my entire life in this situation. My BFF/Compariot/Fellow in Arms/Nonsexual Life Partner is a straight dude and I'm a generally straight chick.

To real estate people when we're looking at apartments and they inquire about bedroom number requirements: "Oh, we're not a couple." + *humorous grossed-out look* and, if that doesn't stick, I do a clean little "I'm gay!" lie, which pleasantly ferrets out bigots and unfriendly neighborhoods.

To friends: Well, we refer to each other as "roommate" and sometimes "flatmate", and then "He was just too much man for me! *laugh*" and, when we're closer, they get the real information, about how both of our life goals are pretty much mutually exclusive to any sort of romantic entanglement with each other.

To business associates: Again, the "roommates" terminology, and in your sister's case, always staunchly say "business partner". Couching things in official, accepted terms will help cultivate an attitude of professionalism. It shouldn't matter if they're a couple or not, in this situation. If these associates switch over to the friend zone, then a simple explanation should suffice, right?

To prospective romantic partners: I always try to slip in a casual comparison to my brother or my dad about him, and I've caught him do the same about me. If I'm in a situation where he's kinda sorta cockblocking me and he doesn't realize it, I've been known to turn to him and say so, so the other guy hears. I'm always really nice and deliberately ingratiating to any women my BFF takes a shine to (not that I'm not secretly judging them at the same time, but it's not like I can't be nice about it, you know?) and ensure that they don't feel put off or get "weird" about it. I try to make friends, like a sister might.

To family: I've given up. Everyone except our parents (who have endured a decade of friendship and pretty much get it now) in our extended families assume we're secretly dating and probably secretly already married or something. I've over explaining things to Grandma, honestly. I always stress the brotherly relationship we have, and that's about it.
posted by Mizu at 10:38 PM on January 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

Just to be clear, this came up because they went out for New Years' with one of his current girls and a few other friends. She made very clear that they were business partners and nothing more (and was extra nice to the girl) -- but the girl still asked later on in the evening, "Are you sure you guys aren't dating?" It was kind of sad. My sister said "No, not going to happen!" but wasn't sure if there was a more witty/convincing way to handle it.

Mizu -- thanks! This is exactly what I'm looking for!
posted by alternateuniverse at 10:44 PM on January 1, 2011

Everybody ALWAYS asks. There's absolutely no getting around it. Just be honest. If your sister's friend doesn't want her saying "he's too much of a player for me" then they need to hash out some sort of mutually agreeable way to explain. Recently, at my BFF's family Winter Solstice Party Extravaganza, I told a bunch of people that I was "the Kirk to his McCoy." That went over well in our circle. But really, it's always going to be a question. People want to make sure they're not treading on the wrong toes, or wasting their time.
posted by Mizu at 10:52 PM on January 1, 2011

I have a male best friend, who used to be my roommate, and have been in this situation a lot.

You sort of just have to let people think what they want to think and not get too hung up about it.

In re significant others, I'll say that I find that if someone I'm dating can't deal with the fact that my best friend is a guy, the relationship just isn't going to work out. Bro's before ho's, and all. Less facetiously, the bottom line is that I am the person that I am, and I'm not going to change who my friends are based on the insecurities of some passing fling (and nobody makes it past passing fling if they're going to have an attitude about Bestie).
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 PM on January 1, 2011

This happened to me at a hospital I used to work with. The rumors didn't stop until she married someone else and had a couple of kids. They're just going to have to get used to not caring that people think they're a couple.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 11:07 PM on January 1, 2011

She made very clear that they were business partners and nothing more (and was extra nice to the girl)

Here's the tricky part---being extra nice to the girl. It can come off as "I'm in a position to be extra nice or welcoming or not to you."

Sometimes it's about territory --not whether they're actually dating or not.

She'll need to find a way to create distance, so that she isn't the one who always knows him better than anyone else. His girlfriend should be that person--and potential girlfriends need to see that it's possible.

Maybe the polyamory community would have some tips?
posted by vitabellosi at 3:36 AM on January 2, 2011

I always liked this explanation of a close Platonic friendship from William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition":

"Damien is a friend. Their boy-girl Lego doesn't click, he would say."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:34 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am constantly in this situation - I work in a male-plagued field (software development) and as a fairly senior-level engineer, I am always with with the guys. The truth is that there's only so much you can do; some number of people are always going to make remarks, and some SOs are always going to be freaking about it. My SO is completely cool with the fact that I am always working very closely with guys (I'm a straight-ish female); he even lived through me starting a company with a guy. There's always one that I am tightly working with; I tend to call that person my current "work husband", which SO finds funny and not threatening (he doesn't want to have to work with me!).

But the real-life spouses of my work partners have displayed some jealousy towards me. One used to call her husband *constantly* when he and I traveled together; she thought that would disrupt our passion (I am laughing typing this; there was NO passion there). The spouse of my current partner says he talks about me too much and has made some disparaging remarks; I haven't met her yet.

See, for me it all gets better once I meet them, because they see the way we are together - like brother and sister or like guy-friends. With my last partner (whom I still know and work with occasionally), I even became friendly with his wife, once she saw how it was between us. The calls when we were traveling became normal after we'd met. So I definitely recommend light social interaction with them and their SOs; it gets everybody over the fear of the unknown.

As to everybody else, they're going to talk, and protesting often has the opposite effect from what you want. If they keep it strictly business between them, people will figure it out and it'll be fine.
posted by Mala at 6:29 AM on January 2, 2011

I think the problem here is that as you describe it, their relationship actually isn't devoid of romantic interest. They could be a couple "theoretically", you say, but he's seeing other girls and she doesn't want a "conquest". This does not sound like a purely platonic friendship -- and other people probably pick up on the fact. With my purely platonic guy friends, there is absolutely no attraction. No sense that if things were different we'd be together.

Now, it's still possible to be business partners and friends with someone you're attracted to. You just need to set up some boundaries and watch your behavior. For example, your sister does not need to be going out on new years with dude, nor does she need to meet his latest conquests. She should try to limit any flirtinesss (especially in public) and focus on work.
posted by yarly at 8:30 AM on January 2, 2011

Just look at them like they're high or crazy and say, "We're BUSINESS PARTNERS." As if the idea of anything else never even occurred to her.

"but the girl still asked later on in the evening, "Are you sure you guys aren't dating?" It was kind of sad. "

Don't cater to insecure people. And it's really HIS business to deal with HIS dates and their insecurities. I suppose she has to be nice about it, so maybe say something like, "As I already told you, we're business partners. If you have any more questions, bring it up with Joe."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:33 AM on January 2, 2011

I think this is going to be affected much less what they say and how witty it is, and much more by what they act like.

It sounds like you are saying there is sexual energy between them, and it's only for logistical/other reasons that they're not together.

Same thing with Mizu's example - if I read it correctly, there is or was attraction there, but because of incompatible life goals, they won't be together.

It's that attraction that people are going to pick up on. As long as that's there for people to see, that what they're going to believe, not what you say. If they want to stop people thinking this, they need to watch their body language and whether the way they talk and interact is really leaning closer towards the way platonic people do it or the way romantically/sexually interested people do it.

There's something else too, when it comes to prospective romantic partners, and vitabellosi nailed it here: She'll need to find a way to create distance, so that she isn't the one who always knows him better than anyone else. His girlfriend should be that person ...

There are both overt and implied ways to assert that you are closer or more important to this guy than his date is. An overt one would be calling yourself his BFF or something like that. Implied ones would be in-jokes that pass over her head, talking about people she doesn't know or events where she wasn't there, etc. Also, this is something Mizu mentioned probably jokingly, but if I met a new boyfriend's friend or female business partner and sensed that she was quietly judging me, I would totally think something was up there.

If it is important to your sister that her business partner's girlfriends not get the idea that they are dating or might date, I think it's important to be careful not to assert either overtly or by implication that she's closer/more important to him than they are.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:15 AM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

>>She made very clear that they were business partners and nothing more (and was extra nice to the girl) -- but the girl still asked later on in the evening, "Are you sure you guys aren't dating?"

Is it possible they're giving off that romantic-interest vibe? Too close, touchy feely, inside joke-y, etc. If people keep thinking they're dating, there could well be a reason for it beyond "he's a boy, she's a girl, and they're business partners and friends." Work on that and people will stop thinking this, which will make explanations unnecessary.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:16 AM on January 2, 2011

Blech, I had this. My business partner for seven years and I are both gay guys, and every gay dude always thought we were also gay-for-each-other partners. (To the point of which, like, I wouldn't get asked out by guys who were interested because they thought we were a couple.) I would loudly scream "WE ARE BUSINESS PARTNERS" at the drop of a hat, basically, as the way to combat it. Also sometimes "WE ARE BUSINESS PARTNERS NOT SEX PARTNERS." (I'm not very profesh, let's face it.)

That being said, things are a bit better now in this department for everyone? In this case it's some very weird sexism that any time a woman is a partner with a man it's assumed they're lovers! So she should practice withering looks, her hilarious grossed out face, and three stock lines about how their relationship is all business and how extremely silly it is for anyone to think otherwise. Beyond that, however, she should stop worrying about it.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:30 AM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

(Also? Due to the paucity of women in tech, I really think she should prepare a line that is something like, "That's so amazing, there's so few women in this field so whenever there is one, it's just assumed she's sleeping with someone in the field!" Delivered cheerily or wonderingly, not icily, that serves a big dose of STFU without really being mean. Her mileage for being cutting will vary, of course.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:33 AM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Does Larry fuck Sergey?"
posted by anildash at 10:38 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

One could wear a faux wedding ring.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:07 AM on January 2, 2011

A faux wedding ring would probably be difficult to pull off.

I'd assume that the people they are concerned about are people who are going to be everyday acquaintances, colleagues, and clients, as well as their social circle(s) and prospective romantic partners. They're going to think it's weird that she's wearing a wedding ring but never mentions a husband. If she circumvents that by inventing a fake husband, it's going to become even weirder when she never produces the dude in question. It also means inventing elaborate lies that she will have to keep telling over and over to people who stand to become permanent fixtures of her life. Not to mention the potential for a humiliating reveal when her mom comes to town and wants to check out the new office, or a Six Degrees Of Separation situation arises.

And of course all of the above would make it impossible for her to ever date.

Much easier to just say, "Nope, just business partners!" and let the comments roll off like the proverbial water off a proverbial duck's proverbial back.
posted by Sara C. at 11:15 AM on January 2, 2011

Just look at them like they're high or crazy and say, "We're BUSINESS PARTNERS." As if the idea of anything else never even occurred to her.

I strongly agree. Any attempts to explain the dynamics of their relationship will be taken as "doth protest too much."

I'm female, and have had a number of dude best friends in my life. The "aren't youuuuu?" thing gets pretty old. I admit that at times I have snapped and railed on someone for a) insisting that they know my business better than I do with their coy winking bullshit b) using a platonic relationship as an excuse for their own manipulative jealous bullshit c) being a tiresome bore. However, it really is best to just stick to your party line with appropriate head-tilt and huh? noises as needed.
posted by desuetude at 12:35 PM on January 2, 2011

"It's so funny that, even in 2011, people don't understand that men and women can be friends and business partners."
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:06 PM on January 2, 2011

Is it possible they're giving off that romantic-interest vibe?

I've noticed in dance partnerships that the amount of work and close cooperation that the couple constantly needs to do results in many of the same "markers" as a relationship (such as how they know so well how the other thinks), and that furthermore, we're often not accustomed to seeing those markers in any context other than a relationship so they are reliable markers, even though they're not (in the case of dancers, their very visible ease and comfort inside each others personal space is something that many/most people have never seen except between lovers).

And from same experience, I know that there are some people who will never fully trust that those markers don't mean what they fear them to mean. Those people are no good and so this kind of relationship can sort some of the chaff out from the wheat, but as already said, be perpetually gracious and polite, with perhaps a feigned hint of surprise and amusement.

Perhaps "Heh, no. Even if we had some chemistry, I've invested waaay too much in this venture to risk it all with those sorts of unnecessary complications!"
posted by -harlequin- at 9:13 PM on January 2, 2011

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