Sunday, October 12, 2008

Creating out-of-the-box friendships with men

One of the lengthier discussions on the Choice Mom board this past week has been an unusual one for us. A woman remarked that as a single woman marching toward her own goals, she was noticing a pattern that she seemed to be considered threatening to certain married couples.

It launched an interesting conversation on the board, with various perspectives. Some women believe going out to lunch with a married boss is inappropriate (one of the situations that precipitated the original post). Some believe it's inappropriate only if the woman herself has feelings toward the boss (which she didn't). Some believe it's inappropriate only if the spouse has issues with it (as she reportedly did). Some women believe it's the couples responsibility to communicate about their trust issues, and the woman shouldn't have to be the moral arbiter.

There are any number of perspectives, of course. And while this might not seem like a Choice Mom issue, it actually does become one after you have kids. Because all of us do want strong role models for our children. All of us do need to continue to balance our lives with friendships and social interactions that don't always include the children, but aren't necessarily limited to dating and girl's nights either.

Navigating our friendships with men -- including married ones who might be the fathers of our kids' friends and thus part of our playdate scene, and men who might be good companions socially, without being a "date" or "love interest"-- is something we will continue to do as single moms.

Our perspectives always vary, of course, based on personal experiences.

Me...I've always had more platonic male friends than girlfriends. I grew up a tomboy in an all-boy neighborhood. I had seven poker buddies in high school (we eventually referred to each other as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves). I became a sportswriter in my first life. My longest-lasting BFF friendship is with a gay man I've known since 9th grade. My favorite roommate of all time, and the friendship I miss the most (he's in LA now), is a guy I did nearly everything with for a few years -- and we never crossed the platonic line.

Having grown up with so many male friendships, I'm just naturally more comfortable with men than women -- which is ironic in a way, since my work now is so focused on women and motherhood.

On the married man front, it is sometimes tricky to navigate friendship with someone else's mate. And I agree fully that if a partner is having issues, it is up to that couple to communicate and respect what it is so that trust can be maintained -- or deeper issues dealt with. And there are times when it's clear you have to back away.

Right now two of the best male role models in my kids' life are married men whose spouses love the fact that I am generally the Sunday afternoon playdate with their husbands and our kids so they can have hours to themselves. One of the wives has asked if we can simply make it a regular outing. And now another Choice Mom and her two kids have generally joined the gang: four adults, seven kids, occasionally a grandfather....a great combo.

The Choice Mom and I have talked about the fact that WE don't have the same option to "hand off" parenting duty on a weekend day. But we don't mind. And we have some babysitting co-op time with the moms during the week. It's been a great balance, and we love the opportunities it gives our kids to have such regular contact with very involved, active dads. Without the "messiness" of it becoming a more complicated relationship.

It also is a circumstance of my current social life that the easiest evening interaction I can have without kids is with a single man who is many years younger than I am. He happens to be a night person, with no child or spouse to be home for. My young housemates both tend to take night classes, or work, until about 9 pm, so my childcare time tends not to happen until the kids are ready for bed. So it is the most logical combination of demographics that -- since I don't want to "date" or get involved in a major relationship, or go out one-on-one with my married male friends -- and since my women friends right now tend to be married moms who don't want to go out at night, this young single man has become my outlet to balance out the Mom time.

We all need to find the friendships that balance out our lives. Some might look askance when we seem to be stepping outside of borders, as if friendships can be only with women, only with people our own age, only with single moms.

We don't always "fit" into boxes when we are single women with children we opted consciously to have without a partner. Making the choice to parent alone is one way to raise eyebrows. But it won't be the only one.

The more comfortable we are with drawing boundaries that work for us, that don't encroach on someone else's, the happier and more balanced we will continue to be.