Not “boyfriend”: Boy. Friend.
In an Ensign article, Kenneth Matheson speaks about spiritual and emotional fidelity.
Emotional infidelity…occurs when emotions and thoughts are focused on someone other than a spouse….Emotional infidelity doesn’t usually happen suddenly; rather, it occurs gradually—often imperceptibly at first. This is one reason why those involved often feel innocent of any wrongdoing….Relationships with others of the opposite sex are not in and of themselves a problem or a fracture of fidelity. In fact, many of our meaningful relationships with neighbors, Church friends, co-workers, and others have a balanced and important place in our lives. However, there is a danger zone that people may cross into if they are not watchful.
This strikes me as perfectly true and wise. However, Matheson makes another comment, which I am not quite so sure about:
A marriage can be placed in a precarious situation when one spouse forms a relationship with someone outside the marriage and begins to choose the company of that person or frequently shares personal information with that person rather than with a spouse. Furthermore, the problem can occur with either husband or wife. “Jane” could just as easily be “John.”
I feel somewhat dubious about this, because it does not fit my own experience, nor the observed experience of many other people. (I should note I am talking about the mainstream American church; norms of judgment may operate very differently in wards within a different cultural context.) That is, I have many “Girl Friends”–friends that are female and to which I am not married. Some of them are online friends, some of them are professional associates, some of them are community friends, some are all three. With more than a few of them, I have spent a fair amount of time communicating–in some cases privately, in some cases over meals, in some cases at distant conferences–about shared interests, mutual goals, and sometimes just gossip. In this, I am not–so far as I have been able to determine amongst those members of the church in similar professional positions–at all unusual. And so far as I know, my wife has never been worried about the possible implications of these professional and personal friendships, and neither has anyone else. It is, on the contrary, assumed to be normal.
But put the shoe on the other foot, and the situation–at least in my observation–arguably changes. A female spouse–most particularly a non-working spouse; perhaps that’s the key difference here–with a “Boy Friend” (a male friend who is not her husband) operates under a certain amount of presumed suspicion. Where did she meet him? Facebook? E-mail? What do they share? Are they book lovers? Reminiscing over high school memories? What are they doing when they meet for lunch? Just chatting? Or something…more?
Why would anyone even find themselves thinking along such lines in the first place? Obviously there is infidelity, of many different sorts, and obviously such infidelity–assuming one values the marriage relationship–is to be guarded against. And yet, it is also a near-universally acknowledged (though almost never vocalized) truth about adult relationships that you can love someone dearly, prefer their company over most anyone else, and yet still not always think of them as one’s ideal conversation partner at every moment of every day. (I study political philosophy, and love talking about it; there is a limit to how much joy I can take from talking about it with my wife in comparison with someone else–perhaps a female someone else–whom I know. My wife reads young adult literature, and loves talking about it; she encounters similar limits in the joy she could have discussing it with me in comparison with some other men she knows.) Why the ease in assuming that the former case, while obviously capable of leading to temptation, is not fundamentally problematic, whereas in the latter case, a perception of potential problems and temptations seems to immediately arise?
Now, I can see a couple of ways in which this conversation could proceed. We could talk about how men and women are different, and how the forms of socialization which implicitly govern interactions men may have through work-related activities with women they are not married to are consequently different from those forms which attend to women similarly interacting with men they are not married to, and that therefore certain concerns are justified. Conversely, we could attack the prior sentence root and branch, deny that there is any substantive (as opposed to merely conventional) reason to see male-female friendships as any different from female-male friendships, point to numerous examples of such friendships which counter the dominant “things are different for women and/or their male friends” stereotypes, and leave it at that. Or we could bat it back and forth between both positions, scouting out all the possible caveats and exceptions in between. Any and all such discussions could be enlightening. For now though, I’m just looking for information. Do you think differently about men who have professional and/or personal friendships with women they are not married to (“Girl Friends”), than you do about women who have the same with men (“Boy Friends”)? If so, why? If you don’t–that is, if you take Matheson’s position–does that really fit with what you’ve observed, experienced, and felt? Because, when I reflect upon the friendships my wife and I both have with different people, it doesn’t seem to fit particularly well at all.