Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend and I have both been married twice. We have been seeing each other for about 18 months, and I really love her, and I think the feelings are mutual.
I was married 30-plus years to my first wife, and 13 months to the second. When I first got divorced, I made a lot of new friends, both men and women. I was active in a church that had a great singles program and divorce-recovery classes. I even became a facilitator in the program. I also joined a dance club where I met more friends.
When I encounter an old friend, or even an acquaintance of the opposite sex, I get questioned about how I know her. I also had a friend I talked with a lot on the phone. Believe me, we are only friends. My girlfriend doesn’t think so.
She asks why don’t I have guy friends, and I do – they just don’t call to get my point of view on their relationships. I’ve made it a point not to call my friend unless she calls me. I haven’t given my girlfriend any reason to not trust me. Do I need to give up this friendship? I can, but I’m afraid I will resent being pushed into it. – Anonymous
Like this one, so many questions are some permutation of “He does X, and I want Y.”
The only right answer to these questions will address both the specifics of the situation, and the general fact that no one can ever force someone else to change – so the answers demand nuance. You’d get very different answers from me if (a) you were always forthright with your girlfriend, or (b) you had cheated on her with so-called “friends” before, or (c) your girlfriend had been burned that way recently by an ex.
One variable, though, spares you most of the gray: innocence. If the deepest scrutiny of your soul turns up no ulterior motives in these friendships, then your answer is simple: Announce your intention to do so, then live your life on your terms. Explain to your girlfriend, once (in your words): “I have no secret love for these women, and I will keep the friendships out in the open.
“I love you, and I hope you will accept me, friendships and all – but if you can’t, then I will understand, and miss you. What I won’t do is end friendships that are valuable to me and based on good intentions. I can’t make you trust me, but I also can’t stay with you if you don’t.”
This isn’t just about you, or opposite-sex friends, or saving relationships. It applies to all of us, and it’s about not losing ourselves.
You can substitute “having female friends” with, for example, hobbies you love, or commitments you feel bound to honor, whatever. As long as it’s a legal, nonexploitive reflection of who you are, then it’s important to assert it – calmly, unflinchingly – it as a non-negotiable part of being with you.
Ideally this declaration of self comes before commitments, kids or commingled stuff. That’s because these promises don’t hold when they’re made without conviction – and how can you have conviction when you’re behaving as someone wants you to, and not the way you think is right?