#1316: “I finally have a friend and my wife is jealous.”

Hi Captain Awkward,

I am a lesbian who’s been married to a woman for about 5 years. We have two kids and are generally very happy together. We live in the small city where my wife grew up; I moved here for a short-term job and stayed because I fell in love with my wife. I really like it here but the community is very insular and I haven’t really had close, intimate friends since I’ve lived here. That’s been sort of tough for me, because before living here I always valued having close friendships.

In the past year or so, I’ve developed a friendship with a woman “Jane” who my wife has known forever. Our friendship developed organically because our kids play together, but I feel like she’s a kindred spirit and it has meant a lot to me to finally have a friend who I can really talk to and connect with. Jane is bisexual and has been in relationships with men and women, but is happily married to a man. I have no romantic feelings for Jane and she’s never said or done anything to indicate romantic feelings for me.

Lately my wife has been getting jealous of my friendship with Jane. For example, Jane and I occasionally go grocery shopping, and my wife has said that this makes her uncomfortable because that’s something people do when they live together, not something friends do. I think part of it is just that my wife feels left out. She’s known Jane forever and they’ve never been close, and she feels like suddenly we’re friends and she’s not part of it. I also think she’s jealous in a romantic way; on some level she feels like Jane is a threat I guess, which is compounded by Jane being bisexual.

My wife hasn’t told me to stop seeing Jane or anything like that, but she will occasionally tell me that some plan I’ve made with Jane makes her “uncomfortable.” Part of me thinks well, she’s my wife, and if she’s uncomfortable I should stop seeing Jane. My relationship and my family are the priority. But part of me thinks, I finally have a friend and that’s really important to me too! I just don’t know what’s “normal” here because I have never had both a best friend and a spouse. Is it weird to go to the grocery store with your friend once a week and then maybe have a glass of wine on a weeknight? I’m really confused by the whole thing. I want to respect my wife’s feelings of course but I just don’t know whether she’s being reasonable.

Thank you for all of your help!!

Everybody involved in this question uses she/her. 

Hello, thanks for your question! 

I can understand your wife feeling a little jealous that you hit it off with Jane as a friend in a way your wife never did, or feeling some wistfulness that the the three of you never evolved into a balanced brunching triad. I can understand feeling pandemic fatigue (and pandemic parenting fatigue) that comes out as jealousy about doing something fun outside the house when the two of you haven’t had a real date in a year and everybody’s a little bit sick of each other’s faces and farts and unromantic cohabitation tasks. I can understand feeling jealous in a way that might prompt your wife to look at her own friendships and family relationships outside of her marriage,  and think, “I wish I had a friend like that.” Not everyone is destined to get along, so if your wife was like, “I don’t know, I just don’t like her, she’s always eating crackers, but go have fun as long as I don’t have to hang out with her,” that wouldn’t be an outlier, but they were friends before you moved there, so ????? Also, a good parent-friend whose kids like playing with your kids is a prize above rubies, or so I’ve heard, so again, ??????????

But when you mention the part where your wife is threatened by Jane’s bisexuality, something clicked. Zounds! Not a home-wrecking bisexual! Good People of Awkwardland, time to lock up your wives, sons, daughters, husbands, cousins, parents, uncles, aunts, any distinguished grandparents of unusual hotness, just lock up everyone, probably, ’cause the bisexuals are here!  We will steal your lady, dress up in her clothes, steal somebody’s man while wearing your lady’s clothes, then steal his warmest hoodie or flannel in order to tuck it sensuously around yet another person’s lady or man, like, “I’ll keep you warm, babe, I’m a bisexual, we keep everybody warm, let’s get some groceries.” Didn’t you know that being attracted to someone in more than one category of gender means being uncontrollably attracted to all people of any gender and totally unable to distinguish “friendship,” “attraction,” and “committed relationships” as separate categories? [/sarcasm]

If there is something sketchy, home-wrecker-y, racist, larcenous, mean, shady, toxic, etc. that Jane *has actually done* besides “be bisexual” that your wife knows about and hasn’t told you, it’s time she spilled it. If you have cheated on your wife before, or have developed a wicked case of mentionitis or flirty hide-your-phone-itis with regard to Jane that your wife is picking up on, that would be relevant. Assuming neither is the case, the “threatening” nature of Jane’s bisexuality seems to be coming from inside your wife, and the word for that is “biphobia.” That’s why the “grocery shopping” thing seems not just like a reach (which it is), but also like a search for some rational, acceptable, independent justification for what she’s feeling. 

I also can’t understand what exactly you are supposed to do about all this discomfort. It is not weird or unreasonable to have friends or want to spend time with them, including time that does not include your spouse, including combining grocery shopping (or any other routine errand) with something fun, especially in a time of very limited socialization. However, expecting a spouse or other romantic partner to give up friendships or interests IS highly unreasonable and can lead to real badness. Is that what your wife expects to happen? 

Not all discomfort warrants action, especially other people’s actions. Is your wife expressing a feeling she’s having, in the name of honesty, because she’d want you to do the same if the situation were reversed and you were jealous? Sometimes “I’m uncomfortable” is more of a fact about yourself than anything else. I’m hungry. These shoes pinch. It’s cold in here. Is your wife trying to say, “I know you aren’t doing anything wrong, and I want you to have friends, but I’m really lonely right now, I feel left out. Help me figure this out?” Or something more like, “Oh, I wish I could go grocery shopping with you,” or, “I wish you would stay home with me tonight,” but without the expectation that you’ll actually do it?

Is there something she expects you to do? Like…not be friends…with your dearest friend…? Like…avoid the seductive temptations of the cereal aisle, for there be adultery and sin? (Plus, if you reach for a box of Quaker Oats at the same time a bisexual person reaches for it, you have to have sex with each other. It’s the law.) (That was sarcasm again). 

Quaker Oat Guy
Oh, the steamy liaisons this icon has witnessed!

It sounds like it’s time to find out what’s really going on here. I can put possible words in your wife’s mouth in this post, and make jokes about grocery store granola glances, but I suggest that you not do that in your conversations. Assume nothing. Ask your wife. Be gentle and open to what she has to say and give her a chance to get it out without judgment. You can wait until the next time she expresses discomfort about your plans, but that would mean tensions are already up. It might be better to wait for a quiet moment, be proactive, and ask her question like:

  • “Can we talk about Jane, and the discomfort you have with us hanging out lately?”
  • “Is there something specific that’s prompting this?”
  • “What is it you are asking me to do when you say that you’re uncomfortable?” 
  • “What aren’t you telling me?” 
  • “In a perfect world, where you get everything you want, how would this get resolved?” 

She will hopefully tell you what’s actually going on and you can sort out the reasonable from the unreasonable together. Try to listen more than you talk, and when in doubt, go with “short sentences, mostly questions” until she’s really had a chance to have her say.

And, don’t panic and immediately jump on it if some highly unreasonable stuff does come out in this conversation. When I’m a seething ball of anxiety, some highly unreasonable things come out of me, and sometimes it’s only when I say them out loud that I can see how ridiculous they are and actually deal with what’s behind them. I try to keep most of that contained to therapy nowadays, but it’s not a perfect system. The things our “best” selves don’t really mean still carry weight if our “wildly freaking out” selves actually say them, so if your wife gets very agitated and hurts your feelings or crosses your boundaries or reveals some biphobic stuff during this conversation, I’m not suggesting that you carry on like it never happened, I’m just saying, wait a couple of beats before you respond. Use the beloved trick of teachers and documentary filmmakers, and stay silent for a few moments. so she can hear, collect, and possibly clarify her thoughts. If she doubles down on badness, then at least you know what fight you’re actually having. 

I hope you work it out, but before I wrap up, I want to say again: It is a very, very bad precedent for one spouse to be like, “I feel very anxious/jealous/uncomfortable, and that’s why if you love me, you’ll stop grocery shopping and doing other fun things with your best friend.” And it is bad precedent considering that you uprooted yourself from a community where you had these friendships to one where you didn’t. “I liked it better when I was the sole center of your world,” may be a real emotion that your wife is feeling somewhere in the mix, but it’s not a good basis for decisions about who you’re allowed to see and have in your life. 

So, to the part of your question where you wondered if you should drop the friendship in the name of “putting family your first,” my answer is NO. Not without a whole lot more information, and possibly still no, even with more information. 

If there’s something else going on here, she needs to say. If that something else is biphobia, it needs to be acknowledged so it can be uprooted. If there’s something specific that would help reassure her, she needs to tell you what it is. 

If this is her brain being a jerk with anxiety, or her own loneliness and wistfulness about friendships, you can be sympathetic and help her sort it out, but you’re still not going to give up your best friend. Turning negative feelings and fears about what might happen into an excuse to limit and control a partner’s actions and friendships is not okay. Not only is it not okay from an ethical standpoint, it is not particularly effective, as the Jerkbrain can always manufacture new grievances. 

I think there is one small thing you could do here, out of respect for your wife, and that is to be aware of your wife’s privacy and how much you discuss your wife with Jane, especially your wife’s private stuff, body stuff, sex stuff, and issues the two of you have. It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t discuss relationships with friends and vice versa, everybody gets to confide things and vent sometimes, including to internet advice writers!

Just, from long before getting married, my personal ethic has been that if I find myself routinely talking about a partner in ways I’ve never discussed with that partner, or ways that I think that partner would be very uncomfortable with if they knew, or in ways that I’d be ashamed of if my partner heard those words repeated back, that’s a sign that something is off. You’re probably well in the clear here with Jane, but a mental spot check of those boundaries isn’t going to make anything worse than it already is and may give you peace of mind that the friendship is not the real issue here.

I hope everyone can work this out to a happy resolution where you keep your lovely wife and your lovely friend whose kids play with yours and this all gets filed under Pandemic Weirdness/The Year Nobody Was Crushing It and quickly forgotten. Fingers firmly crossed.