What is it with the two great Timeses (as it were), and their strange categorizations of stories? Jill complains, rightly, that the “grey lady” stuck an article about anorexia, addiction, and celebrity in the “fashion” section of yesterday’s paper. Meanwhile, today’s Los Angeles paper (truly a shadow of its once-splendid self) offers this article in the Health section: Married, with “just friends.” (The other feature article in today’s Health section has to do with seniors living on their own, which makes much more sense.)
The “Married, with just friends” piece mixes a few bits of solid insight with some whopping cringe-inducers. The author, Susan Brink, interviews some experts on the topic of opposite-sex friendships and heterosexual marriage. One such oracle of wisdom is April Bleske-Rechek, psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. Bleske-Rechek, musing on the notion that spouses are right to be mistrustful of one another’s opposite-sex pals, says:
Wary husbands and wives have an uneasy sense of the temptations out there, even if they trust their spouses. “It’s like when your teenage daughter goes to a concert dressed like a slut,” says Bleske-Rechek.
“She says, ‘I’m not going to do anything.’ And her father says, ‘It’s not you I’m worried about.’ “
Bold emphasis mine. No, professor, it’s not “like” that.
I tremble for the good professor’s students, truly I do.
Leaving aside the gratuitous slut-shaming, which isn’t easy to do, it reflects a troubling view of marriage. A husband and wife ought never relate to each other as father/daughter or mother/son; indeed, the surest way to kill passion in most marriages is to adopt a parent-child dynamic. (I touched on that here). If I’m troubled by my wife’s friendship with a man, I’m gonna say “Honey, your relationship with Bob bothers me, and I want to talk about it.” I’m not going to come out with something ridiculously patronizing like “Love, I know you think Bob looks upon you as just a friend. But I’m a man, and though I trust you, I know how men think. Bob just wants to get you in bed.”
When you’re in a committed monogamous relationship, it’s a prerogative of either partner to ask questions about the other’s friendships. The goal of each party should surely be to always, always, place the spouse or partner first. But in the end, the health of the marriage can’t be conditional on what other people do. My wife is a beautiful woman. She has many friends of both sexes. It’s entirely possible that some of the men — and the women — in her life want to sleep with her. It’s possible that one or two may fantasize about luring her away from her marriage vows. But the thing is, I don’t need to trust the rest of the world. I need to trust her. She is not my daughter to be protected (though when and if I have a daughter, I’ll be damned if I’ll slut-shame her ala Bleske-Rechek.)
My wife is my ally, my companion, my co-pilot, my best friend. She is a woman of extraordinary depth, and I do not claim to understand everything about her. I know that I love and trust her, and I know that she loves and trusts me. We are each surrounded, every day, by other people of both sexes of whom we are deeply fond. Some of those friends may have fantasies or agendas — or they may not. Either way, I can choose to tie myself into knots of jealousy, or I can choose to trust her regardless of what it is that others want from her.
I know which one makes both of us happier, and keeps our marriage much stronger.