Is it possible to keep your platonic friend after they get married?
November 12, 2021 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm female/heterosexual and one of my oldest friends (from when we were teenagers) is a hetero male. The friendship has always been platonic, and we've supported each other through some difficult times over the last couple decades. He's always been a loyal, thoughtful, sensitive and all-around good guy, and I seem to recall him having a few female friends.

I went to his wedding, and I know his wife (and I always thought we got along). We both work for the same (very large) corporation. Obviously we don't hang out as much as we did when we were teenagers or in our 20s, but here and there over the years – usually in a group or at lunch at work.

We had plans to have lunch today with another female friend, who had to cancel yesterday. My friend said he was still up for lunch yesterday, but when I checked in this morning he cancelled as well (it seemed like an excuse.) I was disappointed because I was looking forward to catching up – it's been a few months. We're all working from home still.

The thing is, this has happened before with him. It seems he'll hang out if we're in a group, but if others cancel and it's just the two of us --it's not OK to get lunch together. He'll go to lunch with male friend one-on-one.

Maybe I'm naive but I'm wondering, do many people in this situation stay friends? Is it rude/presumptuous for me to assume I could have lunch with this friend occasionally? I understand friendships change as we get older and that the frequency fades as people settle down, but he still sees a lot of his male friends at least weekly.

I should note I'm currently single, but I have been in long-term relationships and I didn't have a problem with my partners seeing their female friends on-on-one. It probably stings a bit more because of COVID isolation but I'm just trying to understand.
posted by Pademelon to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
That is weird behaviour and it would be good to ask why to him. It may mean contacting her and going out of your way to meet. You could also find married friends and show him what real mutual friendship is so he gets it and starts doing it naturally.
posted by parmanparman at 2:07 PM on November 12

This will all vary by person to person. Though I would never have an issue with my spouse having a one-on-one meeting with an old friend of any gender. And he wouldn’t for me. Because we trust each other and don’t see friendships as a threat. Rather, we support each others friendships because we want each other to be happy and fulfilled. But it’s definitely in the realm of things that happen, though I don’t think it should and the basis of treating people differently based on gender alone is pretty icky.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:12 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]

I'm female and I do social things one-on-one with platonic guy friends all the time, including those who are married.

You can tell him that you've observed that he seems less likely to hang if it's a one-on-one situation and ask him if that's a thing. Even people who do not explicitly think that they have "rules" around this may have absorbed some of the cultural heterosexist baggage around opposite-sex friendships. However, it's also possible that your observations of his behavior are totally a coincidence/confirmation bias.

He's one of your oldest and best friends, just tell him you were super bummed not to hang out.
posted by desuetude at 2:16 PM on November 12 [7 favorites]

This is ultimately an issue that he needs to work out with his wife. Plenty of couples have this rule, often imposed by a partner who's been cheated on.

But to answer your question absolutely you can continue to have opposite sex platonic friends after you're married. Im a married guy and many of my friends are female.
posted by lemur at 2:16 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]

My best friend is a woman, and it's not a problem for any of us, but I have definitely known people who found it intrinsically awkward (as in asking me how I could still be friends with her now that she's married. Yes, really)., IMHO, this will need to be dealt with in a straightforward manner. Don't assume "it'll just work out the way it always has".
posted by aramaic at 2:18 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

Is this the first time for lunch after the wedding? were you having lunches just the two of you before the wedding? It doesn't sound like it from what you wrote, and if that's true nothing has really changed. You were hanging together in groups before and he prefers that still now, for whatever reason.

No way to second guess the reason he cancelled. Could be she's uncomfortable, could be he is. could be something else entirely.

You can still be friends, people do it all the time, but there might need to be some understandings reached about how that might be changing for whatever reason.
posted by domino at 2:24 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

I would say that for a greater portion of the population, it falls somewhere on the spectrum between "awkward" and "might as well be cheating", but for those that - honestly, are few and far between - lie at the "no big deal" end of the spectrum, it's well, no big deal.

It's my norm, and always has been. Then again, I don't make females friends nearly as easily as I do male friends, and if I was 20 or 30 years younger, it'd be cool to call myself demisexual. As it is, for me, it's just normal.
posted by stormyteal at 2:25 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

I think you should ask him very directly about it since you've noticed it's a pattern. I find it insulting when friends not of my gender behave as though our platonic friendship is suspect or a problem of some sort, whether it's because of a partner's unmanaged jealousy/insecurity or some imagined impropriety.

It's certainly not rude or presumptuous for you to expect that your friendship should be maintained in the same way your friend maintains friendships with his male friends. It's rude for him to cancel repeatedly if there's not some other friend to provide "chaperoning" duties. There's absolutely nothing wrong with men and women being platonic friends and implying that there is usually ends up being misogyny in a threadbare disguise.
posted by quince at 2:25 PM on November 12

I've had friends where it wasn't awkward and friends where it was.

My suggestion is invite him and his wife out for brunch or whatever for now and see if that settles everything down.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:31 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: [Not to threadsit - just wanted to clear something up] He's been married for over 10 years now. I've been at social events at their house several times, and with other female friends, but never just me. I can't pinpoint exactly when when we stopped hanging out one-on-one (it's been like this for many years now) but today was the day I really noticed it's a pattern.

Like other people who have commented - I used to have a lot of male friendships, which have faded over the years as they got into relationships -- and I'm just sad that this is how it is sometimes. I really miss a lot of those friends. Seems like an old-fashioned mentality.
posted by Pademelon at 2:34 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]

It does kinda sound to me more like this friendship has just been cooling off/settling down for a while now. "Obviously we don't hang out as much as we did when we were teenagers or in our 20s, but here and there over the years – usually in a group or at lunch at work." Maybe he's only wanted to do group hangs with you for a while now and it's just more noticeable because other people in the group are cancelling more often now?

I'm just sad that this is how it is sometimes. I really miss a lot of those friends. Seems like an old-fashioned mentality.
I don't necessarily think it's always that people feel like they're, like, "not allowed" to have opposite-gender friends (although of course this is true for some people) - I think a lot of the time people just become more focused on their spouses and their couple-friends. I think this can *especially* happen with men in relationships with women because the woman tends to take on the "family social manager" role.
posted by mskyle at 2:37 PM on November 12 [14 favorites]

It certainly is "possible" to stay friends after one person marries, and it happens often, but the fact that it is possible is not the point anymore in this case, unfortunately. If his wife is not comfortable with it, then it's not possible in this case, at least not now.
The wife need not think you're "cheating" in order to feel uncomfortable. There just are people who simply don't want their spouse (or themselves) sharing any kind of intimacy or history with someone of the opposite sex (given a hetero situation) even if they don't suspect it will lead to actual cheating. They don't want you laughing over lunch and talking about things that by definition of your friendship exclude the spouse. In a sense, they believe that the intense energy of their marriage is dissipated by outside friendships with people of the opposite sex.
So I would not think it in your best interest to discuss this with your friend. He will relay the conversation to his wife and most likely it will make her even more uncomfortable with you. If it's this kind of scenario she probably doesn't want you and her husband discussing your relationship together, even if it's platonic. It won't help you to discuss this with him for this reason. It likely will make him feel even more like he's betraying her even to see you with another friend present.
So, I would accept that the friendship has changed. See him with other people, or invite his wife.
I'm not passing judgement. I've been saddened several times when decades long friendships with men basically ended because their wives got uncomfortable. But my friend was responsible to his wife's happiness more than to mine, and to whatever they agree on together in their marriage. Let your friendship evolve flexibly to incorporate his new reality if you want to stay friends with him in a way that works for him.
posted by ojocaliente at 2:39 PM on November 12 [17 favorites]

This can be a thing, but without knowing more details I would not be so quick to blame his wife. Maybe he’s flaky, maybe he preferred the idea of a more social lunch, who knows? If you really are good friends, just tell him you’d really love to catch up.
posted by cakelite at 2:40 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]

He either has or once had feelings for you, or he's ramping down the friendship.
posted by bleep at 2:43 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

I consider it abusive for people to have these sorts of rules about their partners having friends. Unfortunately, it is super common.
posted by metasarah at 2:48 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]

This depends entirely on the friend and/or his wife. It's possible his wife isn't cool with you hanging out one on one. Or he isn't. It's not out of the question entirely for what you want, but in some relationships, for whatever reasons it can be An Issue.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:51 PM on November 12

I'm female and I do social things one-on-one with platonic guy friends all the time, including those who are married.

I'm the same and my long-term partner is also like this. We check in occasionally if we think we're doing something that might be weird for the other person (like "Hey I am traveling to a place with a guy friend and we were going to share a hotel room but want to make sure you are okay with this") but it's never been an issue.

I have had some friends, however, who this has been "a thing" with. Usually male friends who either can't hang out one on one anymore (rarely) or more often will have me over to their place where their wife is. It's definitely not my thing, culturally, but it's not totally unusual. Sometimes I 100% know this is because their wife is like "NOPE" but other times I think it's as mskyle mentions, the woman takes on the role of managing social times. I definitely have one friend where we can make a plan to do a thing, but if his partner (she is really his ex-wife but they still act couple-y) wants to do something during the time we had scheduled something, he does that instead and breaks it off with me. Different couples have different ideas of how to prioritize outside friendships. There's also the outside chance your pal had feelings for you but I'd consider that a less-likely option here.
posted by jessamyn at 3:38 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

I have a male friend that I dated way back in the mid 1980s for two years. We had an angry split, and didn't have any contact for five or six years. Through mutual friends we reconnected and became friends. I married, had kids, divorced. We stayed in contact, just friends. He met his now wife, married, and they adopted two little girls. We'd see each other at friend get-togethers (I went to their wedding; they came to my second wedding)(They got married in 2001).

Imagine my surprise several years ago when he told me that his wife didn't like him talking to me, even when we were surrounded by tons of (decades long!) friends! He would wait to call me when he was alone, waiting for one of his daughters to get out of some sort of practice. It was never, never in appropriate. I just can't imagine what her issue is with me - I really like her and she's never been anything but friendly to me - at least to my face.

So perhaps your friends wife has a similar irritation where you are concerned. Since you've been friends for so long, in my opinion it won't change much if you just flat out ask him what's up.
posted by annieb at 3:51 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

It seriously depends on his wife is the jealous type, i.e. believes in "can man and woman ever really be just friends"

If there's a deep trust in their relationship, then there should not be a problem. But if there's little trust, then yes, there will be a huge problem.

Some people are just not secure enough to trust their partner to have an opposite-sex platonic friend.
posted by kschang at 4:09 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

Just to provide another angle, it may be that no one is worried about anything happening, but there's anxiety about awkward optics.

I once got dinner with a male friend (of 20+ years) while his wife (also a friend of 20+ years) was temporarily living on the other side of the country. None of us would have thought twice about it. Except we ran into one of his grad students who misunderstood and was visibly shocked. My friends and I all thought it was hilarious, but I can see how people who aren't us might prefer to avoid the scenario.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:28 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]

(Another possibility is that you've grown apart a bit over the years, which is a normal thing)
posted by trig at 5:31 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]

I don’t think his wife is worried or preventing him from seeing you but that your role in his life is different now.

Back when I was single my single male friends would consider me an intimate friend in that they would share their feelings, get advice, and talk freely with me. When these friends married, their wives became that person they shared all these things with, as it should be, and my friendships either shifted to be significantly less intimate or faded away.
posted by vivzan at 5:48 PM on November 12 [23 favorites]

I'm the same and my long-term partner is also like this. We check in occasionally if we think we're doing something that might be weird for the other person (like "Hey I am traveling to a place with a guy friend and we were going to share a hotel room but want to make sure you are okay with this") but it's never been an issue.

This is pretty much our situation, too. But I think that this is pretty uncommon; most people I know well enough to have a sense of their personal boundaries have tighter restrictions on what they can and can't do in those situations. Sometimes those restrictions are for really retrograde/territorial kinds of reasons, but sometimes it is a more conscious negotiation that people work out. For example, I have a friend who has had cheating problems in the past, and one of the ways he and his partner reconciled was in agreeing to have much tighter boundaries in social situations. It's their private deal, so if you don't know them well you'd assume he was just kind of uptight or she was controlling.

And, even for people who don't have those kinds of boundaries, it is normal to dial friendships up or down, and avoiding one-on-one time is a way to control that level of (platonic) intimacy. Unless you talk to him about it (and I'm not sure you should), I don't think there is any way to know what is going on.

I'd be in favor of just accepting that at this moment, this is the level of friendship and social contact that he desires. That might change in the future, but for now this is the way it is.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

I am a heterosexual woman who had several long term platonic male friends. I lost each of them from my life within a couple of years of them getting married. It's not my place to say anything about their relationships, but my husband and his platonic female friends are still close and they are still welcome to spend time with him. Some people are just insecure, sometimes their partners don't want to rock the boat, and if you're not in that relationship there's not a lot you can do about it. It hurts.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 7:01 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]

I find this practice nonsense as, taken to its logical extreme, I, a bisexual person, am not allowed to have any friends while partnered. We all have heteronormative garbage clanking around in our heads, but if this is what's going on, I think you're right to feel disappointed and confused.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:08 PM on November 12 [12 favorites]

I would have said something similar to it just being that many couples tend to socialize together, etc., but the fact that he's canceling or avoid one-on-one lunches at work - where it appears that he's specifically avoiding being alone with a woman, or you specifically - that I find eye-roll-y.

From a practical perspective, I personally don't think there's much to be gained - and perhaps a good deal to be lost - by bringing it up with him, but I also am someone who hates going out to lunch during the workday and who doesn't have much time or will for one-on-one social outings in my free time, so this wouldn't be a particular loss for me. I would personally just roll with the new structure, if you like him and his wife enough to let it be that.

I can think of a few friends from my younger years that might fall into the category you describe, and guess I just wouldn't feel bothered about whatever configuration getting together happened, though, again, I would roll my eyes in situations where there was an opportunity that by circumstance excluded the wife or any other buffers (in my case, for example, maybe if a friend was in town alone for work travel or something) and he still didn't want to grab a one on one drink or coffee, but whatever

Or, maybe your close friendship has just run its course and he's not into spending time with you without other people to hang with, in which case I think the answer is the same.
posted by Pax at 3:16 AM on November 13

You say that you both work for the same large corporation; are you both roughly on the same tier of the org chart? If you're on significantly different tiers (say, you're a C-level exec and he's in the mailroom) that kind of power imbalance could significantly alter the dynamic of a work lunch.
posted by xedrik at 8:02 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be so quick to blame his wife, either. It's a completely different thing having lunch with one single person of the opposite sex rather than a group of three of you. He may be uncomfortable with it himself. Or, any of the perfectly good reasons stated above, including that friendships with single people tend to drift away when you're married for a while
posted by tillsbury at 2:54 PM on November 25

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