Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Chatting with a married ex verges on breaking a boundary
D.C.: I communicate daily with a friend I dated long ago. The friend is now married. While there is no possibility of things getting physical — i.e., cheating — is it wrong to continue to be friends with someone when his mate doesn't know about/wouldn't be comfortable with the friendship? Is it even my business whether he divulges this or not?
Carolyn: Why are you being hidden?
D.C. again: I think it's hidden because (a) the wife wouldn't like it, since we dated in the past, and (b) we operate at a very familiar level. I tell him a lot of personal information regarding work, dating, sex.
I guess I'm trying to determine how much moral culpability I have. I am acquainted with his wife, and I'm pretty sure she would hate me if she knew we talked as often as we do. Despite this fact, I still think it's not my business. I didn't take any marriage vows, and it would never escalate, so there is no risk of cheating. I think if she was upset, he would be 100 percent to blame. Am I wrong here?
Carolyn: He's more culpable, but you're lying to the wife in your own way, too — since, in your acquaintance with her, you're essentially representing yourself as a much-less-close friend to her husband than you really are.
While I openly and frequently reject the idea that exes can be generalized as All Bad, some exes are rightly regarded with suspicion, and your behavior makes you one of those. It's a two-part test, for exes and for plain old friends, for that matter: Do you have a level of intimacy with the coupled person that s/he doesn't have with the mate, and does the mate know about you?
To make this pass the sniff test, the husband, your friend, needs either to hang up the phone and direct his intimacy toward his marriage, or to be aboveboard about his closeness to you. He's doing neither. He's having and eating his cake.
Since you're in the position to call him on that, but are choosing not to (presumably because you enjoy his attention and don't want to give it up), then you're abetting his cake-fest. You're morally on the hook for that.
Anonymous: Re: Close friendship with the married male friend: Carolyn, you were way too soft on this.
Call this what it is. It's an emotional affair. The writer may not be married, but her friend, the guy, is. If she really cares for her friend, she will respect his marriage and have some boundaries. I am sick and tired of people having inappropriate boundaries with friends who are married.
This is one of the reasons divorce is so common: emotional affairs with friends and exes. I'm not saying this particular relationship will lead to divorce, but it happens all the time.
Boundaries have to change when your friends or exes marry, that's just the way it is. Deal with it.
Carolyn: There you go. You're not breaking vows, but you're making it possible (and appealing, and easy) for someone else to break his vows. Thanks.
Tomorrow: D.C. begs to differ.