It is a fact that the social environment is very different today than the one in which my parents met and started their relationship. Neither mum nor dad really have independent friend circles, let alone know too many single people of their generation. I belong to several social circuits that include couples, some where I’m friends with the guy, some with the girl.
Friendships themselves have changed. While my parents would never even consider introducing a flirtatious note into their discussions with their social groups, my generation itself seems to be a flirty one. Sex, attraction, relationship are all a little too ‘out there’ if you ask me. Romance, privacy and intimacy have been sacrificed to free expression, enhanced comfort zones and devil-may-carishness. I do enjoy being a part of this world, it works for me. But I think in an attempt to get it all out there, we’ve meandered so far into the grey that we may have lost sight of black and white.
Being as I am, an independent woman who’s also friendly and approachable, I find my social circuit quite expansive and complex. The Married Male Friend is only one of those many dark alleys in this complex terrain. How do I treat him?
If he was a friend before he acquired the ‘married’ label, then the situation is relatively simpler. I take heed of how his wife feels about his women friends and our friendship accordingly moves along or away.
How about if the Married Man is someone I’ve met later? Do I treat him like I treat all the other guys? The friendly-flirtatious tone does need to be dropped, no matter how innocent. But what about when the guy is flirting with me? Much to my alarm, I’m frequently propositioned, flirted with and pursued by married men. It’s not just the fact that they’re married and flirting with me that shocks me so much. It is the cool rationale that they feed into it.
I’m not referring to the liars who feign their single status. Nor even the occasional ‘my wife and I are not really in love’ guy trying the sympathy routine.
There is another type of man who is not just unabashed about his cheating but actually derives confidence from it. This man usually has a breakproof logic about why it is legitimate, reasonable and valid to commit adultery. There is the elaborately constructed dialogue over today’s moving social order liberally spiced with statistics about divorce rates, paternity suits and pre-nuptial agreements. There are references to Freud, Darwin and Einstein in a discussion about people’s relationships. There is the sweeping confidence that makes you alternately wonder whether you’re being old-fashioned and how he can be so cold and hot at the same time.
He camouflages these in ‘normal’ intellectual conversations, the kind that we often get into with anybody intelligent. But the flirtatious, slightly dangerous tones lace every word. It’s hard to extricate oneself from such a situation. Does one slap a man who has just been talking to you, who hasn’t said anything explicitly offensive? The last time I got roped into one such talk, I found myself plaintively protesting,
“I don’t want to hear about whether the institution of marriage is valid anymore or not. It has sanctity for me because I say it does.”
I hated how whiny that sounded and how powerless that made me feel. Furthermore, it bothers me is that I (an outsider to that marriage) seem to be carrying the onus of fulfillment of commitment. When I say no, this man just takes his interest elsewhere. And whatever woman chooses to say yes, will be branded that horrible name – the Other Woman, the one that messes with married men. This man knows this fact and takes full advantage of it.
Now let’s pull back a few steps. The above is when it reaches that critical point of deciding which way a friendship is going to go – platonic or otherwise. But how about that vast, grey area before that? How do you know what’s appropriate and what’s not? Where does normal friendliness end and the reek of infidelity begin? Is it okay to watch a movie with a guy friend who just happens to be married? Is it okay to meet him for dinner? Coffee at midnight? Don’t these smack of dating? But is it fair to treat a married friend differently from an unmarried one?
The old ‘it is the intention that matters’ doesn’t hold. That’s not what real life is about. Real life is about human beings who experience attraction and relationship in fluctuating, varying tones every minute. The world has gone so grey, sometimes I miss the black-and-white times when everything was clearer.