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Opposite Sex Friendships

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By Diana Hsieh from NoodleFood,cross-posted by MetaBlog

The just-married Dan Edge -- Congratulations, Dan and Kelly! -- recently posted a very interesting essay on opposite-sex friendships. His general policy is that he refrains from developing intimate friendships with women when he's in a committed relationship.

I agree with his overall analysis, particularly as applied to married or to-be-married persons. (Before that point, with some exception for long-term couples, I wouldn't regard the relationship as "committed," although it might be "exclusive.")

Contrary to our culture's common sappy mysticism, love is not a magic glue that holds people together, come what may. That love can be imperiled fairly quickly -- if a person fails to consistently make his/her spouse (or partner) the most important person in his/her life. One common way of failing in that basic task is to cultivate emotional intimacy with a person who might (absent the primary relationship) be a love interest. That kind of friendship saps time and energy away from the love relationship. Issues discussed in depth with the friend are not likely to be discussed again with the spouse, or at least not discussed so deeply. That weakens the bond between the couple, while strengthening the bond with the friend. Sexual feelings for the intimate friend will have to be suppressed -- but at some point, the requisite self-control might fail. In that case, the affair didn't "just happen," as many people would say. Disaster was deliberately courted, probably over the course of months.

Of course, those considerations apply only to intimate friendships -- not merely friendly friendships. Friendly friends talk about their work, hobbies, politics, mutual interests, and so on. They talk about matters that they'd discuss with pretty much anyone they like. They talk on occasion or when convenient. Intimate friends discuss private thoughts and feelings, depend on each other's discretion, and regularly carve out private time to spend together. Mere friendly friends (of whatever sex) are not a danger to a romantic relationship. Intimate friends of the opposite sex can be, precisely because such intimacy is so central to romantic relationships.

(Oy, that was less coherent than I was hoping, but oh well. More fodder for debate in the comments, I suppose!)266973000

http://ObjectivismOnline.com/archives/003507.html

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I have discussed this and related issues extensively on several topics on these boards, so I'm sticking to a simple identification of the issues in Diana's text. Also, since she does not seem post here, they are formulated as observations and not discussion points.

love can be imperiled fairly quickly -- if a person fails to consistently make his/her spouse (or partner) the most important person in his/her life.

Love is an emotional response to virtue. Replacing the concept's meaning in the phrase demonstrates that it is a non-sequitur. The emotional response to a person's virtues does not depend on he or she making you the most important person in his/her life.

This statement smuggles in the idea that exclusivity is inherent to romantic love. Granted, Diana may have considered no one would argue this implicit assumption which would explain why she didn't trouble herself to validate it.

That kind of friendship saps time and energy away from the love relationship.

This is the real issue with multiple intimate relationships (romantic or not). Namely, our time and resources are limited. It is obvious that it is impossible to have intimate friendships with 100 people, but this is not an argument in favor of exclusivity of intimate relationships (romantic or not).

There is no math that can be applied to the issue. Devoting 100% of your time and energy to a single relationship does not necessarily make it better (by the "value provided to your life" standard) than splitting your time between a couple or a few good friends. Each individual can only judge for himself, and not all answers will be the same.

Issues discussed in depth with the friend are not likely to be discussed again with the spouse, or at least not discussed so deeply. That weakens the bond between the couple, while strengthening the bond with the friend.

This is not true. Many times the aftermath of the discussion with one person will provide insight that makes a subsequent discussion of the same issue even deeper. Also, the possibility that all the people involved may be intimate friends and discuss things together is ignored. Except for the time and energy factor, there is no merit to this point.

Sexual feelings for the intimate friend will have to be suppressed -- but at some point, the requisite self-control might fail. In that case, the affair didn't "just happen," as many people would say. Disaster was deliberately courted, probably over the course of months.

Again there is an implicit assumption of exclusivity (in this case, sexual). No explanation of why things have to be that way. I find it interesting how easy it is for so many to accept self denial as a moral ideal when it comes to sex, despite the fact that it is so alien to Objectivism.

Intimate friends discuss private thoughts and feelings, depend on each other's discretion, and regularly carve out private time to spend together. (...) Intimate friends of the opposite sex can be, precisely because such intimacy is so central to romantic relationships.

Again, there is a hidden assumption that intimacy is a zero sum game, that being intimate with one person necessarily excludes being intimate with another. Aside from the time and energy issue, this is false.

The fact is that most people expect exclusivity (sexual and otherwise) and make it part of their commitment when they enter romantic relationships. I believe this to be due to the deep influence of christianity on western culture. In that context, intimate friendships (with people of the opposite and even the same sex) are a threat.

It does not mean that things should be that way for everyone.

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I don't have time to respond to everything right now so I will just address your first point.

Love is an emotional response to virtue.

So is friendship and yet they are not the same. Romantic love like friendship is also not automatic or deterministic. You may encounter a virtuous person and not fall in love with them or you may not love them anymore eventhough they have not changed.

You are grounding your argument here on a very incomplete vision of what characterizes romantic love. Aside from essential characteristic (a very vague - response to a virtue) there is also an array of other components in play here which are no less important when it comes to the dynamic of romance.

Yours is a purely rationalistic argument ignoring the full scope of what long term love is and requires in reality.

Long term love is something which has to be nurtured and pursued. It is not a state in which once you in it - it will always be maintained (even when the other person continues to be a value no lesser than when you first met). Long term love, is like rationality or honesty - on every new issue or in every new situation - it is something which has to be pursued/chosen over and over (virtue is a habbit).

Your emotional response over time will necessarily depend on the choices which you make regarding this person - the place which you continue to grant them in your life. Like Dan eloquently explained in his post, it is not the label which you put on a relationship but your actions that determine (or more strongly influence) your emotional reactions toward another person (and often their reactions toward you).

Edited by ~Sophia~

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The fact is that most people expect exclusivity (sexual and otherwise) and make it part of their commitment when they enter romantic relationships. I believe this to be due to the deep influence of christianity on western culture.

Not looking to start a discussion, as my past attempts to explain this issue to mrocktor have failed and I don't see that changing. I'd just like to point this out:

Note the use of the "Anyone Advocating Any Position Less Hedonistic Than Mine Must Be A Christian," or AAAPLHTMMBAC, against Diana here - despite no evidence of actual Christian premises or thinking in anything Diana has said. It's just automatic that if someone advocates a position that is disagreeable to the accuser which is less sexually permissive than the accuser would prefer then it is necessarily a Christian influence which must have caused it. It was used against me by Noodlefood commentators when I disagreed with Diana and has now been used against Diana twice since then.

I am not singling out mrocktor for this - I am merely pointing out the practice as I have yet to see a disagreement among Objectivists on the topic of sex where this crude, insulting, and baseless ad hominem with a side of psychologizing did not come out. My goal here is to make this widespread practice clear so that I may implore all Objectivists a simple request:

Stop it.

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But in terms of time and energy invested, one very close friendship will likely take less of that than a multitude of friendly friendships would, so I do not think that as such is an argument in favor of refraining to pursue very intimate friendships with someone. For example, in my particular case, I am just not very interested in developing close friendships with guys, just because very few of them have enough interests in common with me to qualify for such a high-level friendship, and I almost exclusively find really good friends among girls. So in my case, if I were to put this principle into practice it would basically mean that I couldn't have any really close friends, and that doesn't seem consistent with what is in my self-interest, as far as I can determine that.

For one thing, I am not motivated by fear of losing my current romantic relationship, because I am in control of my actions and I am confident that I do not suddenly end up loving a friend; from my experience that doesn't happen until you feel there's something missing in your other relationship, anyway. I understand that relationships require work, and I am fully willing to put as much time and energy into this relationship as I am able to. However, there will always be some time left over, and I would rather spend that with another person who is very much a value to me than take up a hobby or something like that.

Furthermore, as long as you ensure that the close friendship is a lower priority than your romantic partner, how is that going to conflict? Again, it is perfectly possible to choose to have 1 close friend instead of many less-close friends, and I for one prefer having few really intimate relationships. It is certainly possible to combine the two, and I really do not see that changing when I get married.

Lastly, this principle implies that for a bisexual person, it would not be a good idea to develop close friendships with anyone, because they could potentially be attracted to both male and female friends. Again, that doesn't seem like it's a strategy that will sustain long-term flourishing on their part.

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For example, in my particular case, I am just not very interested in developing close friendships with guys, just because very few of them have enough interests in common with me to qualify for such a high-level friendship, and I almost exclusively find really good friends among girls.

I don't mean to pry, so feel free not to respond if this is, but what interests are you referring to that men do not share which would be critical to your friendships?

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Note the use of the "Anyone Advocating Any Position Less Hedonistic Than Mine Must Be A Christian," or AAAPLHTMMBAC, against Diana here - despite no evidence of actual Christian premises or thinking in anything Diana has said.

I like that acronym, although I don't promise I will remember it exactly. :P

I am not motivated by fear of losing my current romantic relationship, because I am in control of my actions and I am confident that I do not suddenly end up loving a friend; from my experience that doesn't happen until you feel there's something missing in your other relationship, anyway.

That's an excellent point. I have stated in the other thread that I would never adopt such a policy myself; now let me also say that I would never be interested in a woman who gave up some of her best friendships for the sake of her love for me. If she has to maintain her love artificially, and at such a high cost too, then I take that as a sign that she does not really love me in the first place.

More broadly, I don't think one should ever give up any value for an emotion. Emotions are not values--I have argued this at length here. (Incidentally, it was a part of my arguing for monogamy, and not just monogamy at any one time, but even monogamy over time as far as possible. See if you can find how many posts it took for me to be called a Christian!)

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Inspector,

I didn't mean to AAAPLHTMMBAC Diana (ha, I made it a verb), and didn't. This, however is false:

despite no evidence of actual Christian premises or thinking in anything Diana has said

The assumption that exclusivity in romantic relationship and particularly in sex are the right way to live are chrisitan premises. This does not mean Diana holds them because she is a Christian (she isn't, and I didn't say she was). I simply observed that the fact that she takes these assumptions for granted is consistent with living immersed in a culture that takes them for granted.

The fact that others hold these principles on faith does not mean she does not have a good reason to hold them - but she didn't provide her reasoning.

Also, as a return request, please stop the use of "Anyone Advocating Any Position More Sexually Permissive Than Mine Must Be A Hedonist", or AAAPMSPTMBAH. For the very same reasons.

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The fact is that most people expect exclusivity (sexual and otherwise) and make it part of their commitment when they enter romantic relationships. I believe this to be due to the deep influence of Christianity on western culture.

Men expected exclusivity from their women way before the influence of Christianity for the very same reason most people expect it today. The reason is selfish unwillingness to share the person they not just love but are in love with. You can be fond of/romantically admire/sexually desire more than one person at a time but you can only be in love with one person at a time.

Throughout history there were many incidences of wealthy and powerful men having many sexual partners even when married but anytime they were in love with a woman - they all over the sudden desired exclusivity not only from her but for themselves. This desire is not due to a Christian influence as the same "phenomenon" has been experienced by men from other cultures (Muslim, Indian, ect) - men who sometimes had a wife and an access to a harem. But when in love things became different.

So what is the reason for this desire when in love? It comes from another desire - that of deep intimacy - an intense psychological visibility. This is not owning the person but fully possessing their full focus (emotional and sexual) and wanting to give the same.

Those men often owned women (in more ways than one) but when it love wanted to caputure this woman's full attention freely given.

Intimacy of a certain dept requires certain psychological mind set in order to be achieved - that of single emotional focus. It also requires your love to be requited. This becomes self evident to anyone who has been in love even if only for a brief moment.

You wrote:

Nothing metaphysically given demands that you choose a single person to devote your life to. It does not mean that things should be that way for everyone.

You are right. It does not need to be that way for everyone. It all depends what you want out of life. You may not seek that kind of intimacy.

This is not about self denial but about pursuing a greater value, for some (which happens to be many).

Edited by ~Sophia~

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You are right. It does not need to be that way for everyone. It all depends what you want out of life. You may not seek that kind of intimacy.

This is not about self denial but about pursuing a greater value, for some (which happens to be many).

You still assume that "that kind of intimacy" is impossible without exclusivity (all arguments I've seen in support of this boil down to "exclusivity is impossible without exclusivity"). But if the folks here were arguing that "most people consider an exclusive relationship to be a greater value" I would not even care to debate. There is a world of difference between that and "monogamy is the highest possible value in relationships".

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You still assume that "that kind of intimacy" is impossible without exclusivity (all arguments I've seen in support of this boil down to "exclusivity is impossible without exclusivity"). But if the folks here were arguing that "most people consider an exclusive relationship to be a greater value" I would not even care to debate. There is a world of difference between that and "monogamy is the highest possible value in relationships".

I do not assume - it is an observation from reality.

In case it was not clear...The greater value here is not the exclusivity in itself - it is just means to another end - of deeper intimacy. (Those men I mentioned did not seek exclusivity because they considered IT in itself a greater value).

To that end, exclusivity is also not enough - you also have to be in love with this person and they have to be in love with you.

Not the easiest value to achieve and maintain but well worth it.

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I don't mean to pry, so feel free not to respond if this is, but what interests are you referring to that men do not share which would be critical to your friendships?

I don't know if I can state this explicitly, it's mostly an empirical observation made from many years of interacting both with girls and guys. Maybe it's the emotional intimacy that's easier to get when you have really good female friends, I don't know exactly. All I know is that I rarely find guys I want to be such good friends with, and it happens much more with girls.

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That in itself is an AAAPLHTMMBAC.

No it isn't, but I think I may have been unclear. Please read "are premises held by christians" instead of "are christian premises". I am not implying that holding these premises makes someone a christian, only stating that christians hold them.

That said, this discussion, unfortunately, is once more a waste of time. The important points with regard to the incompleteness/inadequacy of the original post have been stated, my "work" here is done.

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Please [take my meaning to be] "are premises held by christians" instead of "are christian premises".

Oh I get you now. Still, even that much is wrong, since the valuing of exclusivity in relationships and sex is not a premise, but a conclusion. It is the premises held by Christians which are specifically NOT necessary to value exclusivity.

And if you're going to try to call them "conclusions held by Christians," then so are the conclusions that murdering and stealing are wrong, as well as plenty of other conclusions. However, since those conclusions have no common source with anyone here's premises, and you know it, then making a point of it is akin to pointing out that someone shares Hitler's preference of breakfast cereals. It's a meaningless, pointless, empty insult that casts a bad light on people in an underhanded way by implying a connection which simply is not there.

So, really, I must reiterate:

Stop it!

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Still, even that much is wrong, since the valuing of exclusivity in relationships and sex is not a premise, but a conclusion. It is the premises held by Christians which are specifically NOT necessary to value exclusivity.

You are correct. I should not say that Diana shares christian priciples, what I actually wanted to say is that she may have assumed these widely disseminated christian conclusions without submitting them to the proper rational validation - because they are "standard" in western culture. She certainly did not bother to validate them in the original post in this topic.

Your criticism is accepted, I will be more careful in the future to avoid this error. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Mrocktor, I appreciate that.

what I actually wanted to say is that she may have assumed these widely disseminated christian conclusions without submitting them to the proper rational validation - because they are "standard" in western culture.

But of course I do not believe that those conclusions are "standard" in western culture because of Christianity, so I once against must protest your characterization of the issue.

Romance - i.e. the actual desiring of exclusivity as opposed to the mere commanding of the ritual of marriage - is a concept that did not arise or flourish during the Christian dark ages. It arose precisely when Christian influence started to fade from the scene with the Renaissance and Enlightenment. But it existed in the ancient world as well, in the myths and tales of many cultures - even the polygamous ones. Simply because it reflects the reality of deep human love. To attribute its historical existence to Christianity is perhaps one of the worst AAAPLHTMMBAC's of all.

Just further, I'd like to point out that as with all such conclusions, the Christians don't have the right premises and so can't get the conclusions fully right either. Do they condemn the initiation of force? No, they say "thou shalt not kill," which obviously is an oversimplification of the matter. (I don't have to tell you the rightness of self-defense.) And so too they don't advocate romance, but instead simply command marriage. Not love - love is not a part of their requirements. What kind of mind focuses on marriage but not love? I think you're being very overgenerous to the Christians by attributing that aspect of the culture to them. And in turn quite unkind to its actual source.

Edited by Inspector

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Men expected exclusivity from their women way before the influence of Christianity for the very same reason most people expect it today. The reason is selfish unwillingness to share the person they not just love but are in love with. You can be fond of/romantically admire/sexually desire more than one person at a time but you can only be in love with one person at a time.

Why can't one be in love with more than one person at a time?

Consider the following example: A man and a woman love each other deeply and get married.

Then there's a war and the husband enlists. Later, the woman's informed he's missing in action.

The woman's completely devastated but gradually recovers from the tragedy. After some time, she meets another man and falls in love with him.

Meanwhile, her (presumably dead) husband comes back after escaping from a POW camp in enemy territory.

Now there are 2 men in her life and she finds she's in love with both of them at the same time.

And both men are able to fully understand why she can't even imagine giving up either one of them for the sake of the other.

So, is there anything in reality/about Man (discovered/validated by philosophy/psychology) that says she cannot/should not have the 2 men in her life?

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I've formed no definite view on this issue, but I recommend Leonard Peikoff's lecture Love, Sex and Romance. I believe he argues that one CANNOT have long-range intimacy with two people at once.

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To attribute its historical existence to Christianity is perhaps one of the worst AAAPLHTMMBAC's of all.

This certainly is food for thought. Perhaps the fact that christians defend this idea mindlessly has lead me to guilt others by association. I still don't agree with you, Inspector, but I will probably look at "your" side of the argument in a diferent (more objective) light.

Also, I have to take back this:

That said, this discussion, unfortunately, is once more a waste of time.

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This certainly is food for thought. Perhaps the fact that christians defend this idea mindlessly has lead me to guilt others by association. I still don't agree with you, Inspector, but I will probably look at "your" side of the argument in a diferent (more objective) light.

Thank you.

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And I think this addition to Dan Edge's article is even worse than Dan's. I think it demonstrates an unhealthy approach to emotions; which is to control and suppress them as means of gaining/keeping a value, and treating a certain chosen value as unquestionably good.

Contrary to our culture's common sappy mysticism, love is not a magic glue that holds people together, come what may.

Love is the only glue that can and should hold a relationship together. Actions should match the value and work to gain/keep it - not generate it (such a thing is not possible). You cannot make yourself love someone by choosing to spend all your time with them. This would be reversing cause and effect.

That love can be imperiled fairly quickly -- if a person fails to consistently make his/her spouse (or partner) the most important person in his/her life.

One common way of failing in that basic task is to cultivate emotional intimacy with a person who might (absent the primary relationship) be a love interest.

The use of the word "fail" in this context implies some moral evaluation.

What about the option of simply finding a better match? Why is such option a failure?

Why is a person suppose to stick to one relationship as if his virtue depended on it? It doesn't sound like love, it sounds like fear of abandonment which could hold such a couple together, since there is temptation and desire to spend time away from one's partner.

- which is viewed as an enemy to destroy and restrain, not as something to understand and analyze.

Emotions are not your enemies. They provide information about your ideas and values - about who you are.

Sexual feelings for the intimate friend will have to be suppressed -- but at some point, the requisite self-control might fail. In that case, the affair didn't "just happen," as many people would say. Disaster was deliberately courted, probably over the course of months.

This is a view towards emotions as something which a person is morally required to suppress, restrain, and eliminate.

This is the opposite of introspection, this is the opposite of understanding oneself. This is treating one's own psychology as if it was the least important. As if a person can create/change his own psychology by choosing how to act.

I'd hate to see how someone is able to pursue happiness (which is psychological) by having an approach to their emotions as something to destroy and control without understanding what and why it is what it is.

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Ifat, I must say that your posts in this thread and in the other one regarding this issue have been superb, I just wanted to drop by and give you some praise for them, you have helped me understand the issue at the heart of a lot of these debates. Thank you. I value you.

Michael

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