passerine: Picture of Jiao Razel from Dykes to Watch Out for (Jiao Razel)
[personal profile] passerine
So, apparently the idea of the "emotional affair" is one that some relationship advice-and-counseling folks are really big on these days. There are actually some slightly useful concepts that could be related to this, like the idea that actual sexual contact with another person does not have to occur for someone to be unfaithful to marriage vows or other relationship agreements. (My ex-fiance, who was all kinds of dishonest and also had a serious substance-use problem, used to love to remind me that, "Hey, at least I didn't CHEAT ON YOU!" as if that somehow made the rest of his various unacceptable behavior perfectly OK.)

But...the concept as a whole is one that I find incredibly problematic for a lot of reasons.

The classic "emotional affair" partner is a co-worker of the opposite sex, and the big scary warning is that an "emotional affair" can easily cross the line into an actual sexual affair, and even if it doesn't, well, obviously this co-worker's company is being preferred to yours, and isn't that WrongScaryBad?

Of course, there are articles and websites about this, meant to warn you if you're getting too close to a co-worker, or if you need to "help" your husband "set appropriate boundaries" about the time he spends and the type of interactions he has with his female co-workers.

And of course, I have apparently spent the last few years involved in an emotional affair, if I am to believe what I read. See, I had a co-worker of the opposite sex that I hit it off with from the interview on. So, the warning signs:

- We both talked about each other in particularly admiring ways, "more than other co-workers." (I admired and respected the work he had done to set up many of the systems and procedures we currently use; he was pleased that I picked them up so quickly. Other stuff too, but that's where it started.)
- We usually talked to each other about non-work stuff, and in particular, a common interest that my spouse does not share. ([personal profile] invisionary has never been much of a bookworm. Jim and I sometimes spent more time talking about books than talking about work.)
- Some of the conversations included fairly personal details (won't repeat those here).
- We had a lot of lunches together. Sort of. If you count taking walks on lunch breaks.
- We'd do stuff for each other like clip cartoons, or he'd give me a ride if I had a major transportation problem.
- And frankly...I don't like my job anywhere near as much now that he's not there. :/

So...emotional affair, huh? Couldn't be trusted alone together? Honestly, I'd be shocked if any such thing crossed either of our minds. See, the reason Jim's not there is because he retired. He's the same age as my parents; I'm perhaps a year or two older than his oldest son.

Is it the age difference, then, that made it possible for our interactions to be "innocent"? Or is it maybe that we had stuff in common, enjoyed each other's company, and didn't see the need for it to be regarded in that sort of light?

The more I think about the entire concept, especially as it applies to favorite co-workers, the more I think this is a subtle and perhaps even unconscious way of saying, "See? There shouldn't be women at work! If they're married, they'll cheat on their husbands, and if they aren't, they'll seduce someone else's husband!" Combined with this is the idea that OHNOEZ your partner isn't getting every last emotional need met by you, and bad wifey, it's your fault for not being interested in what he's interested in (or at least faking it) and for not making/keeping yourself as interesting as this Other Woman.

There's also the whole problematic idea that getting friendship, emotional support, or a chance to share an interest that your spouse does not is BAD when it comes from someone of the opposite sex. (But, of course, it's not a problem if you want to hide out in your "man-cave" with two buddies!)

The way I see it, if you have a marriage (or a primary relationship in general), the reason that relationship is primary is because it has first claim to time/money/spoons, or what I've called "right of first refusal" in conversations with a few different friends on this topic. All other things being equal, it is generally a courtesy to offer available unstructured/unscheduled free time to one's primary partner(s). This is not to say that other relationships and friendships don't need to be maintained - certainly, they do. And it's also not to say that if what you want to DO with your free time is something your partner isn't into, that you shouldn't do it. Except if it's ALL you want to do with your free time, that's going to make for some unhappiness, in most cases.

But I can see all sorts of scenarios in which time/money/spoons become problematic when they are over-spent on same-sex "buddies". And yet that's not an emotional affair, even when it's detrimental to/taking away from your partner, and your partner is objecting to it? It's OK because theoretically there won't be any sex involved, and well, if it's a woman with her friends, lesbians are hot and lesbian sex isn't REAL SEX (don't get me started)...

I think my alternative to the "emotional affair" idea is to recognize that there are all sorts of forms of infidelity out there that have nothing to do with having sex with other people. If you are draining common resources for the sake of "the guys" or "the girls", if you are pouring ungodly amounts of money into a hobby or being so obsessed with it that the only time you really spend with your spouse is spent asleep (and you're even neglecting sleep to for the sake of the hobby), if you're lying about how much of what you're doing...why is that so much less detrimental to a relationship than getting along Really Well with an opposite-sex co-worker?

And consider this: that attractive member of the opposite sex your spouse hangs out with all the time might be uninterested IN the opposite sex. (Hi, [personal profile] esteleth! *grin*) But of course this breaks up the whole paradigm of who might find whom attractive, and we can't have that. (And then there's the whole polyamory angle, if you really want to break people's brains.)

I just wish people would focus on whether their interactions with others are detrimental or beneficial, overall, to what is important in their lives. "What is important" should include romantic partners, and something's probably wrong if said partners are NOT included in that definition. But that takes more nuance than just regarding every member of the opposite sex as a threat. *sigh*

Date: 2009-07-02 01:07 pm (UTC)
esteleth: (Radiation)
From: [personal profile] esteleth
You know, after the first paragraph I was wondering if I was going to show up here. Hi!
I do agree with you, here. Sometimes emotional affairs exist, and they can be incredibly destructive to a relationship. And sometimes close friendships happen. There is a huge difference between the two. I have a number of close male friends, but the idea of me having a sexual (or even romantic) relationship with them is, well, laughable.
I also have a number of close female friends that I am uninterested in for whatever reason, because, HELLO, you can be friends with someone who is of the "right" sex for you (whatever that happens to be) without jumping into bed with them.

Date: 2009-07-02 01:58 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] indywind
getting friendship, emotional support, or a chance to share an interest that your spouse does not is BAD

I think that's the kicker.

For much of the non-polyamorous world, the marriage is expected to be the serious relationship. Period. Friends of any gender, coworkers, activity-partners, even extended family, is expected to take a backseat; fulfilling relationships in any of these categories are thought problematic in proportion to their ability to threaten the marriage (whatever they consider the important aspects of the marriage).

Or so it looks from over here.

Date: 2009-07-02 05:12 pm (UTC)
dglenn: Cartoon of me playing electric guitar (debtoon)
From: [personal profile] dglenn
a) I think you're right that the focus should be on "is this detrimental or beneficial, overall, to what is important".

b) The assumption that such friendships must be a problem or an early warning sign of problems, reminded me of something I wrote a few years ago about heterosocial and homosocial subcultures (though Google tells me that in a mere four years since the last time I searched for the word "homosocial", it has acquired other meanings than how I used it).

Date: 2009-07-02 08:07 pm (UTC)
dancinglights: (hatshepsut is not amused)
From: [personal profile] dancinglights
Ooh, hello stranger; thank you for writing that, and sharing it somewhere I happened to find it.

I run into the disconnect frequently as a very heterosocial person with a family and history of workplaces that are not, but hadn't quite put my finger on it or found the right words. I can see the point the article is getting at in cases where a relationship even without a sexual component can become primary in terms of time and attention, but, er, really, what's wrong with friends? And really, I'm openly bisexual, so why aren't the friends and family who fret over these things just as concerned about the 'affair' potential of my female friends? I think you just nailed why. Thank you.

Date: 2009-07-06 03:53 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I thoroughly agree with you. This "emotional affair" idea pushed another button with me: It smacks of the tendency of abusive partners (and other controlling, manipulative entities, such as cults) to cut someone off from their friends. The partner becomes the *only* source of emotional support, and creates such a strong dependency that they can get away with anything. (It's been done to friends of mine a few times, so this trigger is especially personal.)

Date: 2009-07-06 03:55 pm (UTC)
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
From: [personal profile] blimix
Oops. That comment about manipulative partners was mine. (I'm using my new computer, and had never logged in on it.)


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