The Married Male Friend

It is a fact that the social environment is very different today than the one in which my parents met and started their relationship. Neither mum nor dad really have independent friend circles, let alone know too many single people of their generation. I belong to several social circuits that include couples, some where I’m friends with the guy, some with the girl.

Friendships themselves have changed. While my parents would never even consider introducing a flirtatious note into their discussions with their social groups, my generation itself seems to be a flirty one. Sex, attraction, relationship are all a little too ‘out there’ if you ask me. Romance, privacy and intimacy have been sacrificed to free expression, enhanced comfort zones and devil-may-carishness. I do enjoy being a part of this world, it works for me. But I think in an attempt to get it all out there, we’ve meandered so far into the grey that we may have lost sight of black and white.

Being as I am, an independent woman who’s also friendly and approachable, I find my social circuit quite expansive and complex. The Married Male Friend is only one of those many dark alleys in this complex terrain. How do I treat him?

If he was a friend before he acquired the ‘married’ label, then the situation is relatively simpler. I take heed of how his wife feels about his women friends and our friendship accordingly moves along or away.

How about if the Married Man is someone I’ve met later? Do I treat him like I treat all the other guys? The friendly-flirtatious tone does need to be dropped, no matter how innocent. But what about when the guy is flirting with me? Much to my alarm, I’m frequently propositioned, flirted with and pursued by married men. It’s not just the fact that they’re married and flirting with me that shocks me so much. It is the cool rationale that they feed into it.

I’m not referring to the liars who feign their single status. Nor even the occasional ‘my wife and I are not really in love’ guy trying the sympathy routine.

There is another type of man who is not just unabashed about his cheating but actually derives confidence from it. This man usually has a breakproof logic about why it is legitimate, reasonable and valid to commit adultery. There is the elaborately constructed dialogue over today’s moving social order liberally spiced with statistics about divorce rates, paternity suits and pre-nuptial agreements. There are references to Freud, Darwin and Einstein in a discussion about people’s relationships. There is the sweeping confidence that makes you alternately wonder whether you’re being old-fashioned and how he can be so cold and hot at the same time.

He camouflages these in ‘normal’ intellectual conversations, the kind that we often get into with anybody intelligent. But the flirtatious, slightly dangerous tones lace every word. It’s hard to extricate oneself from such a situation. Does one slap a man who has just been talking to you, who hasn’t said anything explicitly offensive? The last time I got roped into one such talk, I found myself plaintively protesting,

“I don’t want to hear about whether the institution of marriage is valid anymore or not. It has sanctity for me because I say it does.”

I hated how whiny that sounded and how powerless that made me feel. Furthermore, it bothers me is that I (an outsider to that marriage) seem to be carrying the onus of fulfillment of commitment. When I say no, this man just takes his interest elsewhere. And whatever woman chooses to say yes, will be branded that horrible name – the Other Woman, the one that messes with married men. This man knows this fact and takes full advantage of it.

Now let’s pull back a few steps. The above is when it reaches that critical point of deciding which way a friendship is going to go – platonic or otherwise. But how about that vast, grey area before that? How do you know what’s appropriate and what’s not? Where does normal friendliness end and the reek of infidelity begin? Is it okay to watch a movie with a guy friend who just happens to be married? Is it okay to meet him for dinner? Coffee at midnight? Don’t these smack of dating? But is it fair to treat a married friend differently from an unmarried one?

The old ‘it is the intention that matters’ doesn’t hold. That’s not what real life is about. Real life is about human beings who experience attraction and relationship in fluctuating, varying tones every minute. The world has gone so grey, sometimes I miss the black-and-white times when everything was clearer.


*An earlier version of this post is here. A version also appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

43 thoughts on “The Married Male Friend

  1. As a very self conscious introvert, the changed nature of friendships itself can be confusing. Not being hit on by married men is a + about being a dude. Now, about being hit on by married women, have to say the moron in us has his days. Not always but he has his days.

  2. Nice article. I have always wondered about the platonic freindship with old freinds and then freindship with other male collegues and how things have changed over the years. You have put it down nicely.

  3. (Got to this post on recommendation by Netra)

    Well written, I must say. Also brings out the dilemma you (or the protagonist) faces in situations with a married man. I really don’t have easy answers plus the fact that I am not married yet. I am generally a committed guy. However, what really works for me is to “play along” as long as the expectations are set clearly on both sides. That keeps things simple.

    1. @Arpit: It’s simple to a point. Most of us smile and don’t make a scene. But then it reaches a point where a man like this takes it as compliance and permission to go further.

  4. I think that, a married man should behave like he is- Married. There is a lot of gray matter that is there, in all friendships, what matters is that, the person concerned, i.e the ‘married man’ in this case too has to deal with the situation.
    If he refuses to step back – I feel that you should. A married man, who want to be just friends, would never take you out for a movie alone, or for that matter for a mid-night coffee.
    Trust me, I may sound primitive, but that is the practical fact. I know because- I just do!

    A friend is a friend, will always be one- Married or not.
    Nice post btw- Lovely read!

    1. @Sakshi Chopra: In principle, I know what you mean. But the urban reality is that late nights aren’t taboo times anymore. Work pressures, flexible timings and commute times mean that meetings are fixed based on practical considerations and not always what is appropriate or not. I’m not single but I often go out by myself simply because the person I’m with doesn’t have the time or the inclination to attend the same social dos as I. The same is true of other people too. So to completely shut out interactions by time (e.g. after midnight) or type (e.g. only if accompanied by partner) limits the social life to the point of zero. Tricky, isn’t it?

      1. Yes, I agree when you say that the meetings depend upon the practical timings that suit the people who have to meet!
        But then, it is more about keeping in line with rather than shutting out the socializing. That is not the solution to the problem! 🙂

  5. I think the choice is really about what works for you. Whether you’re single / married, every interaction is based on a choice you make about where you’re going with any relationship. And similarly, it’s a choice that the other person (single / married / etc) makes about the next step. It’s like chess… and you don’t get to play both sides. Make a move that works for you. Only your choices are your responsibility.

  6. A marriage is a contract.The unabashed man who has 100 intellectual reasons nevertheless got into a contract with someone and is now reneging on that. If he doesn’t believe in it, he shouldn’t have got married. Once you sign on the dotted line or take the 7 steps or whatever, its done deal.

    If something changed later on, he should attempt to get out of his marriage.

    1. @Anjali: Absolutely! But from the perspective of the outsider who is an unwelcome recipient of his attentions, what to do? When it’s very blatant, one can snub him and walk away but what about when it’s not that apparent, when it’s just that vague, uneasy feeling at the back of your head?

  7. I don’t think there can be any rules of any kind in this situation. What works for you may not work for me at all.

    At all points, you have to be aware, use your intuition and good sense. Be natural, be yourself and understand clearly your own intention.

  8. But at the same time I am grateful that I have some married men as friends whose wives are also ok with me spending “alone time” with their husbands! I don’t know if I would ever be that kind of a wife.

  9. Sometimes for married men it comes across as one kind of a challenge some kind of a high which they get by accomplishing a mission. The mission of making their space their mark in the thoughts and mind and sometimes body of a woman. Whether its for a day a week or a moment it does give the guy a high. This somehow comes from the fact that married men often arent really treated special or at least dont feel being treated special at home which makes them behave like jerks in the outside world.

    not that i speak from theory. having being married once and now stepping into a 3nd innings of matrimony i guess most of these thoughts come from deeper labyrinths of my own minds rather than hearsay.

    1. @praveen p sathaye: Understandable, though not permissible. From the other side (an unmarried person who has been subject to these unwelcome attentions), I’m inclined to think, “Why should his marital troubles be my problem?” and actually start avoiding him because of this. Thank you for commenting. 🙂

  10. “Where does normal friendliness end and the reek of infidelity begin?”
    Imagine your spouse is with you when you meet this married man, or imagine his spouse is with him. Do and say the same things as you’d do and say in their presence – a conversation and a friendship comfortable to the 4 of you – you, your spouse, your male friend and his spouse, regardless of who is physically present in that situation.

    1. @bb: That’s both a sensible and a comfortable approach. I guess that’s what most people do eventually. But every situation is still a grey area that warrants pondering what is right and what is not. And the answer isn’t always clear. Thank you for commenting!

  11. This article captures the essence of many post-marriage friendship.

    I am a firm believer that the intentions have to be let known, in a decent, subtle manner and the receiver should act gracefully when rejecting and must be done sooner than later. Exploring possible benifits in friendship is no taboo and both genders know that. Hiding behind the veil of social dogma is not even a thing of past as such relationships tend to be one to one and not publicised outside the parties involved.

    Ultimately you encourage the guy only if you like something; the way he says it or how close he has observed. Now what is the point of this outcry in public exposing the divinity of flirting 🙂

    Ofcourse the spouses (on either side) are the affected party and I don’t want to get into the morality of such propositions for who knows what is in their mind. Mind is a monkey, they say. Your male-married friend may argue that being true to self ranks higher than the moral obligations towards others – perhaps, justifiably so.

    I would go back and read the story of Rama to obtain strength to thwart such temptations whenever. I go back a lot. 🙂

    Beautifully written.

    1. @R R: It’s up to each of us to be extra mindful of how we’re coming across, in action and intent, I guess. Thank you for visiting XX Factor and for commenting!

  12. Most of us got married by a process which is called “arranged marriage” – which was organised by our parents. I belong to such generation. Now the society has changed in urban areas. Now middle aged married men like me has got the opportunity to interact with few women who are colleagues. This is a new thing for us, because when we were students, there were very few female students in colleges and places of higher studies or technical courses. Now it is much changed situation. So, now though I am married, but I like it when a married woman colleague talks with me and shares her such feelings which she has no one to share with otherwise! Can it be called a friendship only? I do not know. But it is difficult for me to take such a woman friend to my home and introduce her to my wife as my “friend”. Same is very true for her also. Anyway, I told about my personal thoughts. But thank you very much for this excellent piece of writing. Please do write like this more in future. My best wishes to you.

    1. @Chiro Kishor: And thank you very much for visiting XX Factor and for sharing your own experience. We’re experiencing a lot of changes as a society and the shift is throwing up situations that most of us are unprepared for. In such a case, talking about what is happening and how each of us is experiencing the present and viewing the future can be helpful. I do hope you’ll come by again soon.

  13. Lady, you need counseling big time. Instead, you chose to write an article, so that you feel better, so that you could convince yourself and some fools around you that your attraction to, and affair with a married man (or more than one such man) is alright: “See, it was discussed on this blog, so you see, it is legitimate.” Yes Ma’m, your whole article is smattered with pointers to how corrupt your mind is, maybe you’re unaware of it, though. Some gems: “…I do enjoy being a part of this world, it works for me…” “…how he can be so cold and hot at the same time…” “…the kind that we often get into with anybody intelligent…” “…It’s hard to extricate oneself from such a situation…” “…protesting, “I don’t want to hear about whether the institution of marriage is valid anymore or not. It has sanctity for me because I say it does.”…” “…how powerless that made me feel…” “…When I say no, this man just takes his interest elsewhere…” “…that critical point of deciding which way a friendship is going to go…” Every other line in your article is screaming out your own unwell mind and fantasies. Please don’t feel offended when I say this, trust me it is out of concern: get a life! Why do you want to have coffee with a married man anyway? What kind of work requires you to interact with such men outside your workplace, anyway? Why do you have to listen to someone who mentions Freud when he’s supposed to talk about how to sell a particular detergent to the Indian housewife? Why? Your services have been hired because you have a certain knowledge of what you are doing. Do what you have to do, make your money, and keep off such sick men. If you can’t get a hike without entangling with such filth, move away, write a book, maybe. A world with only acquaintances and your own values is far more beautiful and fulfilling that one with lewd friends, or for that matter, even relatives. Trust me, I live such a life. It’s fun.

    1. @Praveen: Did you even read the article? I wasn’t talking about workplace interactions, I was talking about friendships. I’m not sure where you got the ‘supposed to talk about how to sell a particular detergent to Indian housewife’ from since the person I was thinking of is part of my friend circle, not a salesman that I opened my door to. And ‘why do you want to have coffee with a married man anyway?’ – I’m assuming you aren’t married because if you are, then by your own dictat, you should never be allowed to have coffee with anybody. Your opinion is welcome on this blog, even when it contradicts mine (which is why I’ve not withheld your comment). On the other hand, personal attacks are not welcome so please refrain from the name-calling.

  14. “But is it fair to treat a married friend differently from an unmarried one?” Precisely. But that is the problem.

    And I know that feeling where you want to slap the ‘flirting-nonstop guy”. Though, in my case, it gets weird because i am the one who is married. And I cannot comprehend when any guy, who knows very well that I am married – and happily so, flirts or subtly gives hints which they really should not. You cannot confront them.. coz then they say – “oh, just joking.. god, you are such a behenji..” and you have no idea whether they meant it or not…

    even with dear friends, it sometimes is difficult to decide.. whether going out for coffee is ok or not.. what is wrong, what is right – its way too messed up!

    Sorry that was a reallly long comment and I just rambled on. But your post touched a chord inside. Its a thought which has bugged me since forever… where do you draw the line? I wish I could have been more helpful.

    1. @RainGirl: You know I have a friend living in New York who same pretty much the same thing. She’s young, intelligent, pretty and friendly but people sometimes take it the wrong way. On the other hand, when she stresses on the fact that she is married, they tend to leave her out of things assuming that she’s ‘boring’.

      No need to apologize, by the way. 🙂 The comments column is a free space and there are no space restrictions here!

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