The Havoc-Wreaking Platonic Affair


A writer in the Daily Mail says her “platonic affair” with a male friend “ended her marriage.” Naturally, this being the Mail, this leads to generalizations about the rest of us.

When Lucy Cavendish and her family move to New York, she is stranded with a small child, no friends and a workaholic husband until she meets a dude who quickly becomes her lifeline. Clearly, this isn’t just any friendship — it’s her only friendship, and its intensity would be noteworthy whatever the other person’s sex. As she writes, “In the course of about four months, I grew to rely on him enormously. He became my companion at social events, and a surrogate weekend father…I liked the way I felt when I was with my new friend. He looked after me and listened to what I said. When I was with him I felt fantastic; without him, I was bereft.”

Clearly, the issue here was as much about the shortcomings of her marriage as anything about opposite-sex friendships: Harry and Sally questions of platonic possibilities aside, the fact that her husband “was convinced we had crossed a physical boundary, even when we hadn’t” points to a fundamental lack of trust and communication. In short, while this emotional bond with another man clearly strained her relationship — would it have lasted otherwise?

It’s no secret that “emotional affairs” can be very real and, as a spokesperson from the Relationship Institute points out in the article, as damaging as physical infidelity. But this isn’t the same thing as friendship, and it seems to me important not to blur the distinction: no friend should actively be making up for your partner’s shortcomings, or enabling you to stay in a relationship. Can the parameters of a friendship shift? Of course: that’s where being an adult in a relationship comes in. Simply put, no one reasonable can really object to a friendship. An “emotional affair” is something very different. Several of my closest friends are guys, and it certainly wouldn’t occur to anyone I’ve dated to object to that fact. If, however, one of them became my de facto other half and “surrogate father” to my child — not to mention my only friend — well, that might be a different matter.

Which is to say, this specific story has very little to say to the question. Cavendish says her new husband is cool with her friendship, now 13 years in, but I’m guessing the intensity has let up a little from the first heady days of their relationship, when she was totally dependent on him. So when she asks, “Is your marriage actually in danger the moment you start investing time in a relationship with any man who isn’t your husband?” It’s hard to know what she’s on about. Um, of course not. Or at any rate, that sounds like one fragile marriage.

Could YOUR Relationship Survive A Platonic Affair? [Daily Mail]

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