Married... with friends

By Courtney Hollands
Globe Staff / April 22, 2009
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Brides to be: Cancel the weekly trivia 'n' beer night with the guys from work. Gents, throw away your little black book and delete all of your female college friends from your cellphone before you say "I do."

This may seem a little extreme, but there are rules for interacting and having platonic relationships with friends of the opposite sex once you're married, according to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the host of TLC's "Shalom in the Home." Among the rules he shared on XM Radio's Oprah Radio: You can't have late-night dinners with a friend of the opposite sex. Lunches are OK, but you shouldn't order alcohol. You can't take long drives or flights with a friend of the opposite sex, even if it's for work. Essentially, Boteach believes that any situation where a married person is sharing secrets or alone with friends of the opposite sex is a "no-no" that can lead to temptation.

Where his points are posted on the MSN Lifestyle website, several people have questioned his rigidity. However, one poster, "literallyjane," agrees that friendships with the opposite sex are nearly impossible when you've tied the knot: "Now that we're married, to avoid problems we just don't have any friends. We're happy this way because we are each other's best friend."

Really? No friends outside of your marriage? (If that's the case, is it too late to reconsider my upcoming nuptials? I'd rather not move to an isolated log cabin in northern New Hampshire and toss out my iPhone.)

Most people in their 20s and 30s grew up around members of the opposite sex. I played recreation coed soccer, tennis, and basketball from age 4 on. I was in countless clubs, church groups, and school project teams with boys. We danced together and called each other on the phone from time to time - gasp! I even considered asking a best guy friend to be a "Male of Honor" in my bridal party.

Katherine Foley, 31, of North Reading said the stigma attached to having male friends besides her husband, Jeff, could be generational: "We grew up more integrated with members of the opposite sex. Guy friends have always been part of my life."

Her best friend is a guy, and she and Jeff share a large circle of friends that includes men and women. "If your partner won't let you have friends with people of the opposite sex, then he or she is really insecure in the relationship," Foley said.

Michael Landry, 40, of North Attleboro, said when he walks down the aisle, he shouldn't be expected to wipe his friend slate clean. A personal trainer, he often hikes with female clients and friends. Although he is single, he said he couldn't be with someone who didn't trust him or wouldn't let him see certain people. "You had a past before you met," he said. "You can't be expected to give up your friends" when you get married.

Perhaps it's the idea of across-the-board rules that turns people off. How could the same relationship standards apply to you, your parents, your neighbors, and your boss?

They don't, says Annette Demby, a local psychotherapist and sex therapist. Each couple needs to set their own boundaries about friendships outside of the marriage. Couples should be open and honest about friends of the opposite sex and about how their family influences and religious values play into the equation, she said.

"We are sexual beings, and we are attracted to other people besides our partner," Demby added. "Your partner needs to feel like he or she is number one. When he doesn't feel like he's number one anymore, that's a problem."

Obviously, we find our friends - both women and men - attractive in some way, whether physically, intellectually, or otherwise. Because, honestly, if we didn't, we wouldn't exert all the effort it takes to maintain the friendship. We'd spend that time catching up on reality TV or picking up the dry cleaning.

But it really shouldn't be too hard to convince your blushing bride that she's number one despite your yearly ski trip to Colorado with female friends from the college ski team; after all, you've already agreed to spend the rest of your life with her. That's commitment.