Rabbi Rachel Miller Solomin wrote in Tablet Magazine last week about her process of intentionally ending a close friendship with a male friend for the sake of her relationship with her husband. I respect her right to set whatever boundaries she needs to set in her friendships. At the same time, I strongly disagree with her reasons in defense of this decision.
She calls her friendship with Nick “imprudent” and claims, “I had to dial back my friendships with men for the sake of my marriage.” I would like to share a different set of assumptions and values that shape my own constellation of intimacy and emotional support.
I connect with my friends as people, actively navigating gender dynamics but not being constrained by them.
A strong narrative of assumed heterosexuality runs through Rachel’s story, both in the way she talks about herself and in the way she talks about the men in her life. Instead of sorting through “people I might be attracted to” and “people I will not be attracted to” on a case-by-case basis, she uses gender as a shortcut for forming those categories. Why can’t we just connect with people and see what connection works best for the two of us? Actively addressing and learning about our different experiences of gender and sexuality may be a part of learning about each other and working to become close to each other, but gender in itself need not be a barrier to meaningful relationships of any kind.
I value a distinction between sexual exclusivity and emotional exclusivity.
Rachel explained her move toward emotional exclusivity: “I’m a little more discreet in my friendships with women, too, since I got married. I don’t unburden myself to my female friends either as often or in as detailed a way as I did in the past…Confession can be sexy, and dangerous.” I have learned from people who practice or identify with different forms of polyamory and open relationships about the language of having a “primary” partner. Two people can be each other’s primary emotional partner and not necessarily be exclusive emotional companions. Just as it’s possible to kiss someone and intentionally avoid having sex with them, it’s also possible to nourish emotional intimacy with someone and not have sex with them. I can enjoy deep emotional connection with many wonderful, brilliant, loving, and inspiring people and be confident that my partnership is still special and sexy in its own unique ways.
I value time spent connecting with friends just the two of us, with no one else around.
The turning point for Rachel was when she realized she wanted to see Nick alone, without her husband joining them, because “I was longing to pour out my heart to someone.” She said she wanted her husband to be her “primary confidant,” although in this situation, it seems she is making her husband her only confidant. Personally, I could not survive without time alone with my close friends. And I always want my partner to get the same with his close friends. Ideally, we could both spend time with other people (and pour our hearts out to them) on a weekly basis, if not more often. We continue to be each other’s “primary” confidant in the true sense of the word: of all the time I spend pouring out my heart to someone, it’s primarily to my partner. But frequently it’s to someone else. And that’s essential for both my personal survival and for the health of our partnership, in no uncertain terms.
I respect privacy, but I don’t keep secrets.
Rachel says her marriage needs to have only “shared secrets” and that it feels “dangerous” to be with Nick because he knows “the secret me.” I’ve had a relationship in the past in which we kept secrets with and for each other—and that was dangerous. I share my private thoughts and struggles with my partner—and with my family and with my close friends. Furthermore, I know I have consent from my partner to discuss the ups and downs of our relationship with my close friends. When something particularly difficult or touchy or private comes up, I often check in with him about which of my friends he is comfortable with me going to for further discussion of the issue. And the more I can discuss and reflect and process our relationship with other people, the more clarity and confidence I have when I return home to continue the work of building our partnership together.
My close friendships support and strengthen my romantic relationship.
Rachel’s story paints a picture in which her friendships threaten her marriage—their intimacy, disclosure to each other and the ability to understand each other. In my experience, friendships can actually support, and in fact strengthen, all of those aspects of partnership. My close, intimate, powerful friendships make my relationship closer, more intimate, and more powerful. And they make my life awesome.