Can men and women really be just friends?


After the 1989 blockbuster movie “When Harry Met Sally…” many were left questioning whether truly platonic relationships are possible. But friendships between men and women really do exist and, if anything, are becoming increasingly common.

Over the past two decades, the differences between male and female societal roles have narrowed. Women are spending time in the workplace beside men; men are more actively participating in child care, housework and parenting. These generational shifts have spawned cross-gender friendships that your grandma never dreamed about.

Yet there is still a paucity of research and no roadmap to guide us in handling these complicated relationships. That’s why we tend to resort to shorthand when explaining them. We may say having an opposite-sex friend is like “having a sister” or “having a brother.”

Shared values and expectations are essential to any friendship, but achieving this between platonic friends is especially tricky.

Kate’s experience highlights the potential pitfalls of failing to define a platonic friendship explicitly from the beginning — and, perhaps, redefining it periodically. (The names here are not real.)

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The case of Kate

Kate met her best friend, Jake, through her husband, Marc. At first, the three friends went to the movies and had dinner together quite often. Then Jake met Allyson, who would later become his wife, and the threesome became a foursome.

Jake was outgoing and loved being with people. Allyson worked long hours as a nurse, so Jake fell into the habit of coming over often to hang out with his old buddies. “It began to seem like he was always with us,” Kate says. He was even there, clapping like an uncle, when her son, Ari, took his first steps.

If Marc was working, Jake would accompany Kate to the mall to pick out baby clothes or to shop for gifts. “Jake actually enjoyed shopping, and I often joked he was my favorite girlfriend,” Kate says. Marc trusted his best friend (and his wife) so there wasn’t a hint of jealousy.

“There was only one time when I felt really awkward with Jake,” Kate admits. The two couples were at a movie, and Jake asked his wife to switch seats so he could sit beside Kate. “I nearly died,” she says. “I was so embarrassed and stunned he would do something like that.” But that seemed like a one-time gaffe.

A few years into their friendship, Jake confided to Marc that his marriage was foundering. Kate and Marc encouraged Jake to see a marriage counselor and tried to support him. Soon after, things calmed down and seemed normal between Jake and Allyson.

One day, however, Marc was changing a tire in the driveway when Jake stopped by. He went into the house to say hello to Kate. Out of the blue, Jake blurted out, “I’ve met the love of my life.”

“You’re married,” Kate said. “Are you having an affair?” She was shocked and disappointed in her friend.

Then came the kicker. “It’s you,” Jake said.

Kate was speechless. She picked up Ari and ran outside. Jake followed and said goodbye to all of them as if nothing had happened. After he drove away, Kate immediately told Marc about the incident. The next day, the couple called Jake, and Kate told him that even if he wasn’t, she and Marc were happily married. She hung up and cut off all contact with her once-best friend. Although it was painful to lose a friend, as far as Kate was concerned, Jake had crossed a line that signaled the end of the friendship.

“You can’t expect everything from one relationship,” comments Lauree Ostrofsky, founder of Simply Leap, a life coaching and communications company in Washington, DC. “Even if your partner is great, other friends (male and female) can really add to and enrich your life,” she says.

But just as same-sex friendships morph over time—and even the best of them don’t necessarily last forever—recognize that a platonic friendship may turn steamy for one individual or another. Having a solid friendship as a foundation should help in successfully renegotiating the terms of the relationship.

Searching for rules

Three basic rules can prevent problems in opposite-gender friendships:

1) Establish clear boundaries from the onset
Whether you’re single or married, platonic friends need to talk about what’s acceptable in the relationship and what isn’t. For example, if one is a touchy-feely person and the other isn’t, they had better get on the same page quickly. Kate and Jake fell into their relationship without ever explicitly discussing it. When she felt uncomfortable with Jake’s behavior in the movie theater, she should have spoken to him about it afterward in private.

2) Respect your romantic mate or partner
If one or both platonic friends are married or in a romantic relationship with someone else, they need to be especially careful not to undermine that primary relationship. While Marc was open and forgiving, maintaining a platonic relationship is inadvisable if your spouse or romantic partner is insecure and jealous. Never fan the flames by keeping secrets, or by sacrificing time and closeness with a primary partner for a friend. Be inclusive and make opportunities for the three or four of you to be together as well.

3) Be cautious about appearances to others

You both may have agreed on the rules — and your romantic partner may have blessed the plan, too — but people in your workplace (for example, an older supervisor) may still associate cross-gender friendships with romance. Flaunting a relationship with a “work spouse” (someone you’re closely tied to at work) can create misunderstandings among supervisors and co-workers that undermine your reputation at work. Always maintain your professionalism and exercise caution about drinking too much at office parties (think TV’s “Mad Men”) or burning the midnight oil together too often.

Madoff trustee seeks $19.6 billion from Austrian banker


From NYTimes:

A prominent Austrian banker who portrayed herself for two years as one of Bernard L. Madoff’s biggest victims was accused on Friday of conspiring for 23 years to funnel more than $9 billion into his immense global Ponzi scheme.

The accusations were made in a civil lawsuit that sought damages of $19.6 billion — the sum of the cash lost in a fraud that wiped out nearly $65 billion in paper wealth and ruined thousands of investors on almost every rung of the economic ladder.

The central defendant in the complaint is Sonja Kohn, who was the hub of a complex network of European and Caribbean funds that channeled money to Mr. Madoff. A well-connected banker in her native Vienna, Ms. Kohn insisted she never suspected her trusted friend was running a global Ponzi scheme.

Read more at NYTimes.com.

He’s my …


 

The term “boyfriend” is like the knee joint on someone who is morbidly obese. It is being asked to do way more than it was designed

to do. It is buckling under the pressure. Where it once could do the job, it is now carrying too much weight.

Example: My grandma had a companion with whom she would converse and play bridge after my grandpa died. They had long phone conversations, saw movies together. He accompanied grandma to certain family events. He was over 90, he used a walker, but, technically, Roy was grandma’s boyfriend.

Something about the word is just so precious. And misleading. Unless you’re safely within the confines of a sorority house or discussing someone you met in a chat room last week, that word just doesn’t work. No matter how serious or long-standing the relationship is, once you refer to him as your boyfriend, it sounds all fluffy and insignificant — and gives me the distinct sense a pillow fight is going to break out any second.

So what should you call him if “boyfriend” doesn’t seem right to you, as it never has to me?

Let me help you avoid a mistake I recently made: do not say “my friend” when referring to your romantic partner. If you refer him simply as a friend, you might as well take him for a salt scrub followed by a matinee of “Miss Congeniality 2”; that’s how emasculated he will feel. This is because, sadly, “friend” is also the word used to describe male friends with whom you have no intention of having sex, so you see the problem here. It may be satisfyingly vague and pretty much accurate, but it’s also eunuch-izing.

Moving on. Let’s get into the novelty options: there’s “my old man” and “the old ball and chain.”

I like the former, as it seems to conjure a Hell’s Angels clubhouse and leather pants. Although it’s nice to use the argot of an extra in the movie “Mask,” it can seem somewhat out of place if your “old man” drives a Camry and invests regularly in his 401(k).

“The old ball and chain” has some camp value. But like “my old man” it can be tricky using a term to refer to your partner that contains the word “old.” If he actually is old, that’s uncomfortable. If he’s much younger, in the Demi/Ashton sense, no need to bring that into relief. I’ll throw in “my main squeeze” here as another troubling novelty term. The modifier “main” suggests you have numerous other “squeezes.” Is it just me, or does that sound like “Meet Joe, he’s my main squeeze. I have so many ‘squeezes’ I have to break them down into main, secondary and auxiliary”?

Above, I used the word “partner,” which I will lump in with “companion” as totally useless if you happen to be straight, because everyone associates these expressions with same-sex couples.

Here we head into the category of sugary terms: my sweetie, my honey, my cutie pie. These make me long for the relative class of “my baby daddy.”

A nickname that is used privately is one thing, but I’m talking about the need for a public term. He can be monkey, puppy, bobo or baby in private, but when it’s time to introduce him at a party, you will need a descriptor.

“This is my little puppy pants” is just not going to do when introducing him to your boss. Here is where “my honey” nauseates anyone within earshot, “my friend” pisses him off, “my old man” is trying too hard and “my baby daddy” only works if you have kids. You are stuck with boyfriend, which will make you feel like you’re in the 1950s. Or you’re 15. Or you just wrote his name on your sweatshirt in puffy paint.

If there’s one good reason to get married, it is simply to be able to use the dignified moniker “my husband.” Even “my fiancé” has limited appeal, but husband is solid, works for all ages (except maybe under 15, like in Appalachia, when it’s creepy).

This brings me to “my man,” which has a certain twangy charm. If you can pull it off, good for you and Tammy Wynette, but it’s a bit country for most of us. There’s always “beau,” which is old-fashioned and sweet, but also cloyingly French. “Lover” barely rates a mention, because even in the 1970s it was way too ’70s.

This is where I’m left. Lucky to have the guy, but wishing I had something better to call him.

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?”

But I notice he didn’t call his play “Ralph and Bertha.”

Teresa Strasser is a TV host and Emmy Award-winning writer. She’s on the Web at teresastrasser.com.

 

Knesset to Get First Openly Gay Legislator


Activists in Israel’s gay and lesbian community are hailing the upcoming swearing in of the Knesset’s first openly gay member, calling it a breakthrough in their efforts for greater recognition.

When the Knesset reconvenes in November following its summer recess, Uzi Even, a Tel Aviv University chemistry professor, will become one of the Meretz Party’s 10 lawmakers. He will succeed veteran legislator Amnon Rubinstein, who is retiring from politics.

“This is a day of celebration for the gay and lesbian community, but also for the free and civic society in Israel,” said Itai Pinkas, chair of the Association of Gays and Lesbians in Israel. “Those who for years tried to push the community outside the public discourse will now get a declared homosexual as a Knesset member.”

Rubinstein was to have been replaced by the next person on Meretz’s roster, businessman Benny Temkin, who is currently in Mexico. But Temkin announced he would decline the position for personal and family reasons.

The seat then passed to Even, 61, who was next on the list. At a news conference, Even said he would focus on science, technology and education. He also promised to lobby for gay rights.

“I am proud to be a Knesset member and represent the community that sent me there,” Even told the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv. Labor Party Knesset Member Yael Dayan, who initiated the first Knesset conference on gay and lesbian issues 10 years ago, in which Even participated, welcomed his appointment to the Knesset.

Dayan invited Even to head a parliamentary subcommittee on gay issues that would function under the auspices of her Committee for the Advancement of Women. Legislators from fervently Orthodox parties condemned Even’s appointment.

Shas legislator Nissim Dahan called the appointment “a black day for the State of Israel.” Even dismissed the criticism. Once the media hype blows over, he said, Shas “will have no problem cooperating with me in the Knesset. My vote will be equal to that of every other legislator.”

Even, who lives with his longtime partner, has played a key role in advancing gay rights in Israel. In 1993, when the army found out that Even was living with a man, it removed him from his job as an intelligence officer.

He later was invited to address the Knesset about discrimination against gays in the army. Orthodox lawmakers walked out when he spoke, but his efforts eventually helped outlaw such discrimination. Within months, a regulation prohibiting discrimination against gays in the armed forces was signed by then-army Chief of Staff Ehud Barak.

Even later successfully sued Tel Aviv University to get the same benefits for his partner, Amit Kama, a communications professor, that the school extended to faculty spouses. Even and Kama also were among the first homosexuals to become foster parents in Israel, when they took in a 15-year-old whose family had thrown him out for being gay. The social welfare authorities and the boy’s biological parents approved the arrangement.

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