What's the etiquette? Single woman/married man platonic friendship.
August 1, 2014 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I am still figuring out these dynamics and could use some guidelines. How do you establish a purely platonic relationship with those of the opposite sex?

A married man at work shares some of my hobbies and is new to the area. I mentioned a place I go and offered to show him the spot. I am not attracted to him at all and I don't get a flirty vibe from him. Seems on the up and up.

But my friends are all telling me that it's inappropriate and would be taken the wrong way, if not by him then by his wife- that to spend time with him in this way is inappropriate simply because he is a married male and I am a single female.

I think it's a shame to find yourself in a new area and have to limit your interactions to those of the same gender when you find someone that shares interests with you. I wish it weren't an issue, but I know it is a potential minefield. Unfortunately, I don't have lots of friends that share this interest with me, so I can't invite a big group.

Is it enough to just invite a third and then it doesn't seem datey? What's the best way to navigate this type of thing?

Any advice is appreciated.
posted by abirdinthehand to Human Relations (42 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Most people will say the same thing: Invite him to a group event and encourage him to bring his wife.
posted by bquarters at 2:47 PM on August 1, 2014 [33 favorites]

This is not your issue. Don't do anything inappropriate (flirting, touching), trust that he will manage himself and his relationship. If this is an issue in his relationship, then he will presumably act accordingly. Invite her to things when that makes sense if you want to add that.
posted by brainmouse at 2:47 PM on August 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Well, at the least, for a "first event," I would invite a third -- preferably his wife if she enjoys the the hobby at all. Even if she declines, your intentions should be clear to him.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:48 PM on August 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think your friends are blowing this out of proportion. I'm married, and would not be up in arms if my wife went out with a coworker, even if one-on-one, and as far as I know she feels the same if the roles are reversed. Our rules are basically "do not get physically intimate with anyone else. No kissing, no sex, no hand-holding." So I think those would be good ground rules. Emotional intimacy is another thing entirely, but basically it's just a matter of not having a conversation with female work friend one-on-one that I wouldn't feel comfortable having in front of my wife.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:48 PM on August 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Invite his wife along. Even if he doesn't take you up on the offer, the message is clear.
posted by naju at 2:51 PM on August 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

But my friends are all telling me that it's inappropriate and would be taken the wrong way, if not by him then by his wife- that to spend time with him in this way is inappropriate simply because he is a married male and I am a single female.

Could this possibly be cultural? Are you someplace outside the Western world? Because to me, from my world perspective and experiences, what your friends are telling you is crazypants. Men and women can be friends and their individual marital status is irrelevant. My husband has mostly female friends, and stays with these women when he travels. I have lunch and dinner with my married male friends and without my husband all the time.

If you want to make sure you are sending a clear signal, invite a third person, and/or invite him with his wife. But you actually shouldn't have to send any kind of signal. The signal is only necessary if the default assumption is that as a single woman you are sexually available, or that as a married man, he's a lecher.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:57 PM on August 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

A married man at work shares some of my hobbies and is new to the area. I mentioned a place I go and offered to show him the spot.

Just say something like, "Oh, I go rock climbing at this great place downtown - let me know if you guys want to come sometime." I usually throw in the "you guys" so it's clear the person's wife is more than welcome.
posted by sweetkid at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2014 [17 favorites]

Without knowing the interest, you can just tell him about the spot and tell him to let you know if he wants to go there with you. That way, you leave the ball in his court and don't have to guess at his wife's feelings. Some couples are cool with this, others aren't, for a variety of healthy or un-healthy reasons. It's his job to know what's up.

If he seems hesitant, make it clear his wife is invited, and if you can bring along a third person that's not his wife, all the better.

If his wife doesn't give a shit and he wants to go, he'll let you know and you can have fun!
posted by ohisee at 3:00 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Could this possibly be cultural? Are you someplace outside the Western world? Because to me, from my world perspective and experiences, what your friends are telling you is crazypants.

FWIW I live in the Western World and this isn't an unusual reaction from the friends - I definitely know people (Western ,American, progressive, white) who are wary around single women or think this kind of thing is sort of inappropriate, even if they don't realize it or say it outright.
posted by sweetkid at 3:00 PM on August 1, 2014 [25 favorites]

I am a wife. If you invited my husband to do something he loves, then I would adore you. Especially if we'd just moved and were looking for new friends. It's a marriage, not a three legged race. Outside interests and friendships are good.

It would not seem datey to me at all.
posted by 26.2 at 3:02 PM on August 1, 2014 [28 favorites]

My best friend is a married man. I'm a married woman. We met after we were both married. It is awesome and not a problem. However as we became closer friends, the situation required us being extremely mindful and explicit about the platonic nature of our friendship, and having really clear communication with our spouses about it, and making sure they understood that this was not a threatening situation -- despite the emotional intimacy involved. We had trips together as a group so they could get a sense of our interactions, etc. Both of them approve of our friendship-- if they didn't, we probably wouldn't continue to be friends-- at least not close friends. Which is all to say-- it can be viewed as an unusual situation but it is not taboo as long as it is handled well and above-the-board.
posted by egeanin at 3:05 PM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

to spend time with him in this way is inappropriate simply because he is a married male and I am a single female.

Why? Is it only that specific combination who can't be friends, or would this also be a problem with a married woman and a single man? What about two coworkers who are both married (not too each other)? And why not apply this to two coworkers of the same sex, just in case they happen to be gay or bisexual? After all, you can never be sure another person isn't bisexual. The only way to completely allay everyone's concerns would be to have a rule that married people can't be friends with anyone other than their spouses.

Once you start questioning their premise, it starts to crumble. While many people in your situation or his situation might find it awkward to be friends with each other, and it'd be fine for them to avoid it, you don't have to avoid being friends if you don't sense any awkwardness, just to meet the expectations of outside critics.

Always invite his wife along.
posted by John Cohen at 3:07 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman who has many platonic friendships with men, and my partner has many platonic friendships with women. If a female friend of his invited me solely for the purposes of proving she wasn't trying to come on to him, at best I would find it unnecessary, but to be honest I would likely find it sort of weird and even insulting. I trust him, he trusts me, and I presume anyone that either of us is friends with (regardless of gender) understands that. Case closed.

In other words, I wouldn't find the scenario you are describing to be date-like in the slightest. Your friends are mistaken in insisting that their point of view is shared universally. It absolutely is not.
posted by scody at 3:12 PM on August 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree with the advice to offer he bring his wife along -- after all, she's probably new the the area too and would like to make friends. And I'd also try to do things in a group setting, at least to make it clear to him and his wife what your intentions are.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:19 PM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Exactly what scody said. Sheesh.
posted by Specklet at 3:22 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a wife. I would be happy to let you borrow my husband for activities, but please do introduce yourself to me and acknowledge my existence first. If you didn't introduce yourself to me, I would assume there was some reason you were ignoring my existence.
posted by corb at 3:27 PM on August 1, 2014 [16 favorites]

I too am a married woman whose best friend is a (soon to be married) man. Some people have thought our friendship was more than platonic, but they aren't my husband or his wife to be.

I think inviting the wife along at first couldn't hurt, she might also share the interest and it does send the clear signal you know she's in the picture. I do agree with scody though, that extending invitations only to make sure nobody gets the wrong idea can be annoying. Part of the reason a lot of people assumed my friend and I were more than just friends is because they never saw my husband because he didn't share that interest. He trusts me though, so we've never had problems because of that.

I do think a lot of the people that have problems with these types of friendships do so because they've not really had any themselves. I've always had good friends who are men, and my husband have always had good friends who are women, so we both get that it's not really a thing to worry about (for us).
posted by kendrak at 3:35 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think there's anything wrong with platonic male-female friendships. That said, if he has just moved to the area, so has his wife. Depending on how their family life is structured, she may be even more excited to get out and meet some new people and see some of the local places (even if she isn't normally interested in the particular hobby). I'd invite her along for that reason alone - with the added bonus that it makes it very clear that you are only seeking friendship.
posted by VioletU at 3:38 PM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Bring a third, invite his wife, cya absolutely. I think it's wonderful that some are past what seems to many to be an unenlightened perspective. However, speaking as a single woman, I'm with sweetkid that lots and lots of people aren't as enlightened as they think they are or want to be.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:38 PM on August 1, 2014 [9 favorites]

The issue as I see it is that he is a co-worker. It's not your job to be Welcome Wagon or social director for him -- he's a grown man who can use meetup.com or his own wits to make inroads in his new town. I just think it creates a slight aura of unprofessionalism to take him under your wing that way. I think your instinct is a kind-hearted one, but given the realities of workplace gender dynamics and power imbalances, I don't see this as being a good strategic move, work-wise.

I say this as a person whose two best friends are men I met in my workplace 14 years ago, but I got to know them *over time* in work-related group activities, and we didn't become close friends until after we'd all left that company.

I know there is a trend toward blurring work/social lines, but I think sometimes keeping those lines crisply drawn is better. You really don't know all that much about this guy...if he turns out to have issues, you will have suddenly made your worklife much more complicated and uncomfortable.
posted by nacho fries at 3:48 PM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm a married man, I have single female friends.

Here's my advice: try and make a new friend. If you're worried about his wife being jealous, inviting her would be a good way to try and avoid that. If you're not worried, keep on being not worried.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:53 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently asked a married opposite sex colleague to ACTIVITY together after work, partly for networking purposes, and I absolutely was careful to publically invite along anyone else from work who wanted to come. I would have invited his wife too, if she were not a day's drive away.

I'm pretty sure everyone at work is comfortable with the idea of opposite sex friendships. But I think uninformed gossipy rumourmongering and sniggering can absolutely happen, I think that reputations (particularly women's reputations) can be damaged by it, and I think that at work your reputation is everything.

I also avoid having the kind of friend-level-conversations at work that are exclusionary of other people in earshot. I don't Facebook-friend anyone from work. Work is politics, never forget it!
posted by emilyw at 3:54 PM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

If the wife doesn't share your hobby, invite them together to something else. She's also new to the area; there are certainly other things they are interested in as a couple. If you offer to show them the nice restaurants or movie theatres or whatever, you can also bring some friends along.
posted by MinusCelsius at 4:16 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

But my friends are all telling me that it's inappropriate and would be taken the wrong way

This says more about your friends and their insecurities and their issues around gender roles than you, this guy, your potential friendship. The majority of my friends are women, and my best friend is a woman, and I have never ever had any issues with it, and nor have my spouse, or their spouses. I don't really care what people outside that small group think or feel about my friendships.

If you can't have friendships with members of the opposite sex, you're missing out on befriending a lot of great people.
posted by smoke at 4:19 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a much less positive reaction to this than others in this thread.

It is a good idea to maintain work and social boundaries, to keep yourself protected. All kinds of unintended and sometimes bad things can flow from people feeling the lines are blurred or missing. Even if he doesn't misunderstand, and your romantic interest in him remains at zero, an extra-curricular friendship could end up being quite awkward in the future depending on your career paths.

Also, speaking as someone with a husband I trust, I would not be happy if a woman at his workplace did this without inviting me too. I'd have questions about her agenda.

I'd avoid doing anything more like this in the future if I were in your shoes unless everyone at work is invited to the event/location, not just him.
posted by bearwife at 4:23 PM on August 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

While some are suggesting that your friends are insecure or out of touch with the times, I would suggest that maaaaaybe they know something we don't, and are giving you good advice based on the particulars of your situation, and who you are.

It could be about the culture of your town, and attitudes at your workplace, or even some feature of your personality that might make you vulnerable to harm in this type of scenario. I'm not making assumptions or implying anything in particular, but your friends know you better than we do. If they are good friends, they have a vested interest in seeing you kept safe and happy. If they are expressing strong, gut-level concerns, it might be worth trusting them, even if the way they express those concerns seems based on gender biases that, in an ideal world, wouldn't exist or be a concern.
posted by nacho fries at 4:44 PM on August 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm a married woman and I have a ton of partnered or married male friends I hang out with on a one-to-one basis, and all their partners/wives are fine with it as far as I know.

In a lot of cases, I am interested in $ThingX (whether it's movies, music, history, or something else) and so is my male buddy, and my husband and my buddy's wife are not. So we will go to see said movie, or a history walk, and it's all totally cool.

There is zero element of flirting and no undercurrent of sexual tension at all in any of these friendships. I do jokingly call one guy my "history husband" because we go to lots of events together, which his wife attends alongside us about 50 percent of the time.

That said, it might help to know what your hobby is, because maybe it's something that could be misconstrued as a dating activity (e.g. wine tasting? Salsa dancing?), which is why your friends are balking a little.
posted by vickyverky at 4:47 PM on August 1, 2014

I also thought you should not socialize with this person because he's a co-worker. His being married increases the chance there will be workplace gossip.

Do not do this.
posted by jbenben at 4:47 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

A married man at work shares some of my hobbies and is new to the area. I mentioned a place I go and offered to show him the spot.

I think that depends in part on what the hobby is and what kind of spot you would be showing him. How private would this be? Are we talking you-and-me-alone-in-the-woods-fishing? Or are we talking you-and-me-meeting-at-the-local-DnD-club-with-my-30-closest-friends? Because if it is the former, yeah, ask his wife and/or other people to tag along. If the latter, hey, go meet him there!

Also, if you just met, I would be a little slow to draw any conclusions. You may have no idea if his marriage is solid or not. That detail (and a bunch of others) can substantially influence how he feels about how other women behave towards him.
posted by Michele in California at 4:48 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a wife. I would love it if you invited my husband to do something he is interested in IF you invited me as well (the first time at least). I might choose not to go if its not something Im interested in, but I'd appreciate the courtesy and respect that you showed by inviting me.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:25 PM on August 1, 2014

This is a "proceed with caution" situation. Some folks will be cool, some will not, and some will pretend to be cool and then turn out not to be. You won't know who's what for awhile. So just do what everyone else said about inviting the wife too, and then you'll find out one way or another.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:30 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a single woman with married male friends, an awful lot of women will not be cool with you befriending their husband, even if they feel they have to pretend they are.

It's dumb and backward, but there you are. I'd be careful in this situation.
posted by winna at 5:42 PM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

If this is the same employer you've posted previous questions about, no, I wouldn't hang out with this married coworker. It sounds like there is already enough drama going on.
posted by invisible ink at 6:01 PM on August 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

This is totally fine. If it's a relationship issue, that's on him and he will decide what to do in light of whatever concerns they have. But just do it and don't overthink. New people need friends!
posted by J. Wilson at 6:27 PM on August 1, 2014

invisible ink raises the very good point of context from your previous Asks. There is a pattern there that matches this current question -- your sense that it is your duty to insert yourself into co-workers' issues under the guise of helping them out, or protecting them, while also being worried about gossip and drama. Being overly nice or concerned in ways that create potential drama is actually a boundary-bust. It may be a behavior that you want to keep an eye on, lest it undermine you in your career. Four questions involving gossip and drama in the workplace suggests to me that these aren't isolated, unrelated incidents. There is a common denominator (you).
posted by nacho fries at 9:03 PM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Making friends is awesome. It's so much more awesome to try to make a friend and maybe not have it work out than to refuse to make friends because other people are obsessed with heteropatriarchal gender roles. If he's in a relationship where his wife would have a problem with him hanging out with women, that's on him, not on you.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:46 PM on August 1, 2014

I'm a single woman who has a bunch of married male friends and I've never given this much thought about potential scandal!drama. But: I am usually the friend who does the things the wife hates (sporting events, action movies, etc) so she is usually more than happy for me to take her husband off her hands. And she knows that she's always invited. And we often do things together first--eg, the three of us do dinner then the wife splits to hang with her friends while the husband and I do whatever.

This doesn't have to be all handwringy and overthought. Just extend the invites to anyone interested and let them decide. The more the merrier!
posted by TwoStride at 9:54 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Follow bquarters advice or similar.

It's pretty much impossible for a single female to start a new friendship with a married man without it turning into almighty mess of some sort.

It's difficult enough to navigate lifelong female/male friendships ... hurt feelings or worse are incredibly common, even if you, the female, had no interest.

(And I say this as a female whose friends always ran about 90% male since grade school... it's a very thin line to walk. Especially if any of those friends have a "someday" deep in their subconscious.)
posted by stormyteal at 10:13 PM on August 1, 2014

This guy's marital problems (or not) are his to deal with, not yours. Invite him. Invite his wife, too, if that makes sense.

If that invitation would cause an issue with his marriage, that's for him to account for and respond accordingly.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:53 PM on August 2, 2014

It's pretty much impossible for a single female to start a new friendship with a married man without it turning into almighty mess of some sort.

If nothing else, this thread makes clear that this is not definitive, and is in fact extremely variable.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:48 PM on August 2, 2014

I am not sure about boundaries with co-workers, so I'd leave that up for the other commentators.

My friend circle is full of partnered up people but not married people, and for some reason I ended up being that woman who mostly hangs out with dudes who already have long-term partners.

When I spend time with my heterosexual single guy friends, we tend to do it in a group. Doing things one-on-one with a single man strikes me as more date-like and weird, but that's just me.

Basically all my friendships with partnered up dudes have gone well, and I'd go to movies, events, and dinner one-on-one with them like it's no big deal and their partners are cool with it. They're really good friends of mine and my social life would be significantly less vibrant if they weren't in it.

I attribute these healthy friendships to being friends with their partners and always treating them as a unit. I also genuinely like their partners too, I see them as friends too but I'm just closer to their dudes and that's okay. I invite their female partners whenever possible not because I just want to seem polite, but because they're awesome people.

So for you, I recommend inviting the co-worker and his wife, and some other people for coffee or lunch first. Get to know them as a couple first, and then figure out which activities/events you'd attend in the future.
posted by Hawk V at 10:07 PM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I return to add that it does also depend on what your hobby is, and whether or not you know your wife actively dislikes it. If it's an activity my husband enjoys in a new place, then I would like to explore it with him as well. If it's something I hate, then I'll cheerfully detach.

Also, you straight up cannot do this with alcohol related activities.
posted by corb at 11:04 AM on August 3, 2014

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