Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My husband and I recently invited our new neighbors—a husband and wife—over for dinner. The evening was a blast—they didn’t leave until 2am and many bottles of wine later. It was an unexpected treat. But what was most unexpected was how much the husband and I hit it off. We had so much in common, made each other laugh, and had the most easy-going conversation. I could’ve talked to just him all evening. He, too, is a runner, and we’ve already made plans to run the neighborhood together, just the two of us. Physically, I’m not attracted to him at all, but I would love to develop a friendship with him.
I’d hate to think that we cannot become better friends just because I’m a married woman and he’s a married man, but that’s what society has taught us. Is it possible to become good friends without making our spouses jealous or having the entire neighborhood think we’re having an affair? Can it be done? And if so, how?
Oh, is it hard to make friends as a grown-ass woman. I moved to a new town a year ago, and in that time I’ve made friends, but the act of making new friends is so incredibly uncomfortable. It’s full of hesitation, risk, vulnerability, hope, trepidation, and the overwhelming desire to give up, go home, and only talk to my husband for the rest of my life. Making friends is hard because it’s usually a slow process, slowed down even more when all parties involved have jobs and kids and precious little free time. I am tapping my fingers impatiently as new friendships develop—I want to go from “Hi, my name is Dana,” directly into, “Can you look at this rash on my butt and tell me if it’s super weird or only kind of weird?” I want to skip past all of the slow getting-to-know-you moments and jump right into the meaty, sticky, emotionally intimate fun.
We all understand that in the pursuit of romantic relationships we have to take risks, appear available, be open to new people and new experiences, and continually actively demonstrate our interest in the other person. But when it comes to the pursuit of friendships we assume that it’s easy, in that the work is already done. You have your friends from school and growing up and now you should be good. But that isn’t actually how it works. We are in constant need of new friendships, especially since we tend to lose friends as we get older and go through different stages of life.
Dr. Irene S. Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, thinks that most adults are currently in search of new friends. According to Dr. Levine, “As an adult, we think that everyone has their friends and we are the only ones seeking them. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The desire to make a new friend is completely normal. And it’s great that you met someone that you click with! But you’re worried that, because he’s a straight man and you’re a straight woman, your friendship is doomed. As I’ve made new friends in my new town, it has occurred to me that I’m making friends almost exclusively with women and gay men. And that’s my own fault. I have yet to reach out to a straight man to see if he wants to hang out sometime, grab coffee, just chill. Why not? Because, as a straight woman, making an overture for pure friendship to a straight man seems perilous. He’ll think I’m interested in him sexually. It’ll make my husband uncomfortable. Everyone will think that we’re strange. I’m definitely not giving straight men enough credit, and I’m also definitely perpetuating a situation that leaves straight men increasingly isolated as they grow older.
Men need friendship, too, but they are hamstrung in acquiring it. Men aren’t encouraged to cultivate friendship the same way women are, and for many men, their romantic relationship carries the weight of their entire emotional life. According to Dr. Todd B. Kashdan, “…men have a hard time forming new friendships…[friends] who you are willing to share your innermost self to because you feel it will be valued and accepted (regardless of what evils lurk there). Women are fantastic at cultivating these relationships. Women spend substantial time and energy creating intimate relationships, safe havens, and people who care about the good things that happen to them. Men? Not so much”
You should pursue this friendship, Platonic. Even if you thought this married man was incredibly attractive, I would encourage you to pursue it because you to get to know another human being, form a friendship, and enrich each of your lives without leaving your husband or accidentally enveloping this new man’s dick. The way you become this man’s friend is the same way you’ve ever become anyone else’s friend—make plans with him. Show that you’re happy to see him. Ask him questions about himself. Start opening up emotionally to him. Answer his questions honestly. Take an active interest in his life, be sensitive to his needs, and do your best to contribute to and enhance his happiness. Treat him the same way you would a new female friend.
As for the neighbors—the neighbors are you. You think that the neighbors are going to think that you’re having an affair or otherwise being inappropriate because you think that pursuing this friendship may be akin to having an affair or otherwise being inappropriate. It’s not. You’re fine. And the neighbors will think whatever it is that they’ll think, which will also be fine because 1) you are not a mind reader and therefore will never know what they think, and 2) what they think isn’t your business anyway.
Make a standing friend date to go running with your neighbor. Continue to invite him and his wife over for dinner. Take the risk of making a new friend.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.