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Dating Advice # 8 - Platonic Platitudes

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Opposite-gender relationships with a confidential, vulnerable component are not a good idea -- when they compete with a marriage.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have been seriously dating one girl for a while, and we are literally on the verge of getting engaged. We do have one sticking point, however, that may prevent me from "popping the question." She has a couple of good friends who are male. One of them is a former boyfriend whom she hasn't dated for a couple of years but is still in touch with. Another is someone she grew up with. She thinks that it is okay to have these platonic friendships. But it drives me crazy!! She understands that I am uncomfortable about this and has told me that she'll minimize contact with these guys, but she doesn't do what she says.

I'm in love with this girl and I think the feeling is mutual, but part of me is jealous and part of me is afraid to trust her. I sometimes think of breaking up. This has made me very depressed at a time I should be excited and happy. Please let me know what to do.

Eric in New York

Dear Eric,

It sounds to us that the two of you are not nearly as close to getting engaged as you think. You say you're serious about each other but are also upset enough to consider breaking up. Before you even think about becoming engaged, the two of you need to address this issue that's driving a wedge between you.

Why is your dating partner continuing close friendships with other men? It may stem from her ambivalence about your future relationship. She is engaging in something called "approach avoidance" -- saying she wants something, and then engaging in behavior that seems inconsistent with her goal. This behavior is common in people who harbor mixed feelings about a situation.

The two of you need to have a long talk about what each of you expect for your future together. Though you are ready to pop the question, things may be moving too fast for her, and this is her way to slow things down. It's not uncommon for a man to feel "ready" before his future wife feels the same.

Or, it could simply be that she does not realize the need to place boundaries on her outside male friendships. When a married person has a platonic relationship, it has to be a social one, rather than a confidential one. The dating couple needs to devote their energies to each other to develop emotional intimacy. This is a closeness in which they can talk to each other about all sorts of issues, reveal vulnerabilities and get an appropriate response, confide in each other, and support each other emotionally. This emotional closeness is threatened when one member of a dating couple has a close friendship with a member of the opposite gender.

In addition, a close platonic friendship can distract an engaged or married person from the details of his or her new life, such as how to set up a home, dealing with career, education, and financial concerns.

Of course, it is not so easy to change the nature of a long-standing friendship. Particularly if the friend is not married himself, it may be difficult for him to appreciate why the dynamics of marriage necessitate such change. In the end, if the engaged person can't successfully change the nature of the opposite-gender friendship, she should amicably close that chapter in her life.

If your friend is unwilling to accept this bit of wisdom, the two of you will not be able to attain the level of emotional intimacy needed build a future relationship.

One more thought: Perhaps there is more going on here, and you should look at your own mixed feelings. Sometimes, people are unconsciously attracted to someone whose behavior prevents them from becoming closer -- because they are afraid of becoming too emotionally intimate with someone else. Could this be you -- or maybe we're barking up the wrong tree.

Rosie & Sherry


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