Dear Captain Awkward
I’m asexual, and all my friends are aware of this. I’m not incapable of forming relationships – I am actually heteroromantic – but I rarely do. However, possibly because I’m asexual and therefore there is no possible sexual element to complicate matters, I tend to form close friendships with men. In particular, my three best friends are all male.
Now one of these three is in a difficult situation. We’d been building a very good friendship for about two years, mostly by e-mail (he’s a professional singer and he works all over the world, so I don’t physically get to see him very often), when all of a sudden his wife decided to object. At about the same time, I discovered that he didn’t have his own e-mail address; the one to which I had been sending e-mails was an account shared with his wife, although you might think a professional singer would have a separate account. She had been reading everything both of us had written, and on the basis of that she announced that I was not to blame for anything – meaning, apparently, that he was. She then forbade him to contact me directly again, which was a distinct problem because by that point I was running his official fan website. He was allowed to speak to me only at concerts (these being public places), and if he had anything really important he needed to communicate, he was to e-mail it via a mutual friend. I thought I would get round this to some extent at first by e-mailing him, since she couldn’t stop me doing that, but he soon had to tell me that any e-mails from me resulted in her making life difficult for him, and I really didn’t want that to happen, so I had to stop. I am allowed to write to him regarding the website, which I do about once a month, and of course I put all the other news in as well; this letter has to be sent via his agent, although the agent presumably doesn’t get to read it as I put it in a sealed envelope inside another one.
I absolutely cannot understand his wife’s behaviour. Although I’m asexual, I am by no means clueless about when someone is making unwanted advances towards me, because I’ve beaten off plenty of them in my time. I have never had the slightest sense that my friend has been trying anything of that sort with me; knowing he is married, I would have bristled at him if he had, and I’d have done it even faster than normal. I can’t find anything in any of his e-mails that she could possibly have misread. It seems pretty clear from where I’m sitting that his marriage is not a happy one, and what particularly worries me is that he’s terrified of his wife and will do anything to keep her appeased. Nonetheless, he seems to be actively trying to improve the situation, and he’s never once actually complained to me about his wife. The strongest thing he’s ever said to me about her is that he wouldn’t blame me if I bore a grudge against her (which I don’t, because I can only think there is some piece in the equation she’s missing somewhere).
Some time later, I got his wife’s explanation of her behaviour from a third party who was trying to help. Apparently his wife said that the problem was that my friend had too many unnecessary contacts, and she was trying to help him cut them down. She may well believe this; he does have an awful lot of contacts, and he does spend a lot of time e-mailing people. It’s quite possible that he spends too much time on the computer and she has legitimate reason to feel he ought to be doing a bit less of this and spending more time with her. Nonetheless, as far as I know I am the only contact she has “cut down” in this way, and I’m hardly unnecessary. I’m someone whose friendship he values – he’s stated that in so many words – and I run this website for him. Therefore her explanation doesn’t figure.
Before all this ridiculous situation blew up, I had told him many times that I would like to meet his wife. That’s in the e-mails which she saw. He agreed, and said he would like me to meet her too, but at that time she was not often able to come to his concerts as they had a rather overactive small child. Since then, I’ve said the same thing: I would like to meet her, but now it would be with the intention of trying to work out exactly what is going on here and hopefully make peace. However, she has made it more than obvious that she does not want to meet me. The child is a little older now and able to sit through a short concert, so I have now been to two concerts which the whole family has attended. I strongly suspect my friend’s wife knew exactly who I was on at least one of those occasions, but she made no effort to talk to me, despite knowing that I would be happy to do so. I’d have walked up and spoken to her, but my friend looked terrified and implored me not to do that, as it would make things worse for him. So I didn’t. I’ve got to say I feel as though she’s picked me out of a hat; there is such a complete lack of reason behind this that I think if it hadn’t been me it would have been some other random woman.
Captain Awkward, I do realise that this is my friend’s problem rather than mine. I know I can’t solve it for him and I’m not asking you to help me to do so. But if there is anything I could possibly do to make things easier for him – given the fact that neither of us is willing to sacrifice a strong and perfectly innocent friendship for the sake of this woman – I’d love to hear it.
Thank you for all your wisdom.
Ace of Baffled
Dear Ace of Baffled,
Your friend might in fact be in an unhappy marriage with a controlling and jealous woman who is isolating him from his friends and monitoring his email. (Am I the only one who finds the whole couples-sharing-a-single-email-address completely bizarre? My mom and dad do that, and I have to put subject lines like “DAD DON’T READ THIS IT’S ABOUT YOUR BIRTHDAY SURPRISE LOVE, JEN.”)
Since you are at a distance and he has backed her up by asking you not to contact him except once-a-month about the fan website, there’s not a lot you can do here. The way you can “make this easier for him” is to take him at his word and communicate with him only by requested channels at requested intervals. So let’s focus on making this easier for you.
I say this because it is 2012. He has all your contact information. Since he has communicated with you via email before, we can assume that he understands the technological wizardry that goes into making his own private separate email address where he could email you if he wanted to take the ten minutes out of his busy day to continue this friendly correspondence. If he’s asking you not to get in touch, and he’s not contacting you from YourAwesomeSecretSingingFriend@FreeEmailServiceThatEveryoneKnowsAbout.Com, he’s making a decision to put your friendship on a back or a side burner for now. The best thing you can do is show him that you respect that by respecting that.
The other thing I want to address in your letter is the way you present your asexuality as evidence of the wife’s unfairness because this friendship couldn’t possibly be romantic or setting off anyone’s boundary alarms.
I’m a…is “sexual” the opposite of asexual? My closest female friend and I call each other “Wife.” I also have close, awesome, fierce, “you-are-my-brother-from-another-mother” friendships with men that have no romantic or sexual element. It’s not a factor of sexual identity, it’s a factor of specific individual feelings and choices to never take it there. I feel really strongly that a close friendship is in fact a lot like falling in love. There is that same spark of joy and recognition when you find one of your people, you look forward to time with your friends, you get the same happiness and comfort from growing trust and shared experiences, you feel like your best self around them, you think of them often and want to tell them your good news and hear their good news and sit with them during bad times. There has to be chemistry in friendships for them to be real friendships. That’s why I hate the concept of “the friend zone” so much because it reduces the concept of a friend to a person you don’t feel like sleeping with or who doesn’t feel like sleeping with you but you keep them around for some reason (in the hopes that that will change). You can have different degrees of friendship – certainly not every friendly acquaintance you like seeing at parties sometimes or Facebook “friend” or work buddy is a kindred spirit – but the attitude that friendships are somehow romantic relationships that failed to launch is so insulting to what close friendship really is.
Asexuality describes your sexual identity, but your sexual identity doesn’t completely describe you. It doesn’t encompass all feelings that you will ever have and it doesn’t describe feelings that other people might have for you (whether or not they share those out loud or make advances). It also doesn’t control how the friendship is perceived by others. The wife may perceive your intense friendship with her husband as an emotional affair. He may have developed an irritating case of mentionitis that annoyed her. She might see you (whether fairly or not) as a fan who is overstepping boundaries. While there’s something off about spouses trying to control each other’s friendships, if she’s asked him to back off your friendship and he’s complied, that’s a decision they get to make. There’s also something off about this paragraph:
“I strongly suspect my friend’s wife knew exactly who I was on at least one of those occasions, but she made no effort to talk to me, despite knowing that I would be happy to do so. I’d have walked up and spoken to her, but my friend looked terrified and implored me not to do that, as it would make things worse for him.”
She may not have recognized you or have been thinking about you at all! Or she may just not feel like socializing with you or getting to know you. She’s not attending concerts where her husband is performing AT you, and I strongly suggest that you try not to look at her behavior at those events as a referendum on you.
And, you’re not going to want to hear this, but the husband might be using his wife as an excuse to cut back on contact with you because he senses that the friendship has crossed some invisible line. Even if your behavior has been totally above-board and this is completely unfair. That doesn’t mean he never liked you or got anything from your correspondence, just, he doesn’t want to be the bad guy, so he’s making her the bad guy.
Whatever’s going on here, whether the relationship was romantic or not, whether it crossed boundaries or not, there are some constants:
- You’re clearly thinking about him/her/them way more than they’re thinking about you, which is bad for you.
- You have been or are on the verge of being dumped. “Write to me only via my agent no more than once a month” is a breakup in disguise, no matter whose idea it was.
I think the best idea would be for you to treat this like any breakup and focus on taking care of yourself. Some possible steps for you:
- Accept that you might never get a satisfying explanation or any kind of closure. Make your own closure: Acknowledge that it sucks, respect the wishes of the person who doesn’t want to communicate with you, grieve for what was, move on.
- Strongly consider resigning from administering the guy’s fan website. Find another fan to handle the day-to-day tasks. Right now this is just something that’s keeping you engaged with someone who doesn’t want to be engaged with you.
- Trust that if this friendship is meant to survive, your friend will find some way to get in touch with you and let you know how important you are to him. Until that happens, there is really nothing you can do except respect his stated boundaries.
Disengage. Be really nice to yourself. But for everyone’s sake, disengage.