Am I Having an Emotional Affair with My Best Friend?

My fiancé hasn't shaken off toxic masculinity

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

A couple embrace on the beach, wrapped up in a blanket
Q: I’m twenty-eight years old and getting married next year to a wonderful, reliable, and sexy man who I’ve been with for four years. But like most men, he was raised in a culture of toxic masculinity and has no idea how to talk about emotions or comfort me when I need support. I’ve been gradually trying to teach him how to be more honest about his own emotional needs, as well as how to talk to me about mine, because I know it’s not only essential for our relationship to flourish, but also essential for his own mental health. He’s been putting a lot of effort into it, but bad habits don’t disappear overnight, and he sometimes feels resentful that I’m asking him to change his worldview in such a major way.

Enter my best friend. He’s a straight cis dude, but also he’s been a feminist since high school, and he has successfully un-learned all that toxic bullshit. He views himself as an emotional creature, and our social circle knows we can rely on him for emotional support whenever we need it. He’s been my best friend for ten years now (longer than I’ve known my fiancé), and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s patient, caring, and understanding; he knows when you just need a shoulder to cry on and when you need actual advice, and any woman would be lucky to have him. (Did I mention that he’s also single?) When I need support, I’ll frequently turn to him before I turn to my fiancé, at least partly so I won’t explode if my fiancé finds himself lost and unable to help. My fiancé has repeatedly stated that he’s cool with this arrangement.

But then someone suggested that I might be having an affair. I laughed it off, because my BFF and I are wholly sexually incompatible. “Not like that,” she said, “an emotional affair.” Well at twenty-eight years old, I was completely unfamiliar with this concept, so I did a little research. I’m getting mixed messages on what constitutes an emotional affair exactly, but I seem to check off most of the boxes. At first I was worried, because I have no desire to be an unfaithful wife. Then I was scared, because if my husband is the only rock I can cling to in this married life, then I should probably call off the wedding right now. I have no desire to foster co-dependence in myself or my fiancé.

Then I was angry.

Like, really angry. If my best friend were a girl, my other friend would not have said this. He’s my best damn friend. It shouldn’t matter what he’s packing between his legs. I have no desire to sleep with him. So why should it matter that I rely on him for support? I should also mention that I am bisexual. So if I actually were to rely on a girl, would it still be considered an emotional affair?

Ever since this concept was brought to my attention, I’ve been jumping at metaphorical shadows. Oh, my fiancé saw me lying on the couch next to my best friend. Is he jealous? That twitch in his eye probably means he’s jealous. It’s probably just paranoia, but I can’t seem to shake it.

So my question is this: What is an emotional affair, exactly? Am I having one? If so, how do I stop?

—Needy in Nebraska

A: Dear NIN,

Probably not. Loads of people have close friends of all sorts. It’s not fair or realistic to expect your spouse to fill every need, to be your everything. Diversification is good; having a community of support is good; these are all good things!

You know there’s a “but” coming, right? But. When you’re so wholly relying on one person for emotional support, and that person is not married to you, you’re setting yourself up for some trouble.

And while we’re at it, you could be setting your friend up for some trouble.

The first kind of trouble—the trouble for you—is that you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. What happens if he gets a girlfriend? Moves away? Has kids? Is suddenly unavailable to you for countless possible reasons? When he’s inevitably snatched up (who wouldn’t want to date this guy you’re describing?), will you be jealous? When that girlfriend isn’t cool with some married lady lying on the couch with her boyfriend, what happens? When he doesn’t have time for you, where will you fill this need? Marriage is a lifelong commitment, which isn’t something you get from “just friends.”

The second kind of trouble—the trouble for your friend—is that you can’t say for certain that you know how he feels. Everything is just platonic to you, cool cool. Your partner is alright with your friendship, awesome. But how can you know, for sure for sure, that this guy is on the same page? It’s sometimes hard to honestly measure our own investment, let alone gauge someone else’s. Do we really know he’s not secretly hoping that one day you’ll realize he’s your one true love, rom-com style?

All of that is honestly beside the point for me. What you’ve got going on with this guy, whether it will last, how he feels for you, none of that matters as much as are you getting what you need from your partner? You’re probably not in an emotional affair. But you are using this guy as a sort of emotional placeholder. Your partner shouldn’t be your everything, but he should be something. Something more than “reliable.” The fact that he’s resentful of whatever emotional conversations you try to have may mean he’s emotionally stunted, or it may mean you’re trying too hard to make him someone he’s not, or it may mean you’re just communicating about emotional stuff on different wavelengths.

Ask yourself: Are you really getting what you need from your partner? If not, is this a good way to go about it? Fair to yourself? Fair to your friend? Is your reliable golden retriever of a husband going to be enough? Or will you one day wish you had a partner you could emotionally connect to?

—Liz Moorhead


Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Amy March

    I want to focus on the start of your question, when you announce that your fiancé is great! But like most men he has no idea how to talk about emotions or comfort you. No. #notallmen. Actually there are lots of men that, culture of toxic masculinity aside, have figured out, minimum, how to talk to their life partners about emotions and comfort them when they are sad. That’s a major major thing to not be getting out of your marriage. Why are you settling for that? You obviously crave it.

    And I’ll be blunt with you- I think you are having an emotional affair and at risk of a physical one. He’s straight, single, lying with you on the couch, listening to your problems because your fiancé doesn’t- that is exactly a classic recipe for a physical affair. You are turning to this friend, routinely, before your fiancé because you don’t have faith in your fiancé to cope with your emotions. This should be a giant red flag about both of your relationships.

    • AP

      “listening to your problems because your fiancé doesn’t”

      I’d maybe change this to: “listening to your problems because [you don’t bring them to your fiancé]” Which, yeah, red flag for more reasons than one.

    • Katharine Parker

      Yeah, this letter almost reads like the LW is allowing the pressures of toxic masculinity to excuse her fiance for not meeting a basic need in their relationship and to excuse herself for relying on her BFF to meet that need. Undoing lifelong patterns is hard work, but also it’s not asking too much for a partner to be able to express emotion and comfort you when you’re sad.

      I also was taken aback by “lying on the couch together.” In some way, the LW has to feel weird about that, or why mention it here? Every relationship is different so probably other people find that not weird, but if I saw my husband lying on the couch with any friend I’d be, minimum, raising my eyebrows. Added to the emotional reliance that LW discusses, I’d be alarmed.

      • Alli

        Yeah that concerned me. What does lying on the couch together mean? Spooning? Cuddling under a blanket? One person kinda leaning on the other? That sleepover foot-to-face arrangement?

        • penguin

          Yeah I was thinking of it as one person kinda leaning on the other, which doesn’t sound weird to me. But that’s just my assumption, it could be anything.

      • Anon

        My now-husband had a best friend who loved cuddling with him and completely FREAKED OUT when he put a boundary in place after I expressed that I (as a new girlfriend) was uncomfortable with it. Guess who was in love with him? Quelle shock.

        • Ashweck

          I used to have a very touchy feely relationship with my best friend, who was a guy. That went away as a natural consequence of getting into a relationship, and as I grew closer to my husband, I obviously relied less on my friend. There were, as far as I know, never anything but platonic feelings on either side, but he still took a giant step back from our friendship in response to new boundaries.

          Here’s a bit of a hetero-normative thought:
          I think male-female friendships are really wonderful and I have many, many male friends. But sometimes they can be tricky, too, in ways that same-sex friendships are not, because no matter how close we are, other people are fundamentally unknowable. And sometimes, we choose not to know one thing because we choose to believe another.

          I cannot speak to the letter writer’s point about her female friends because it’s not a relationship dynamic I’ve ever found myself in, but it would be horrible if she felt she couldn’t have close friends without the danger of an emotional affair. I think she can and should have close friends. But perhaps the boundaries need to be renegotiated.

          • uggggh

            you: what’s a gay person?!
            you know we have same-sex friends as well as partners…right?

          • Ashweck

            I’m sorry — I was only trying to acknowledge the limited scope of my experience and to acknowledge that I cannot speak with any authority on some of the issues she raised here. I wanted to sympathize with her concern regarding the risk of emotional affairs with both men and women while also recognizing that these issues, which she explictly brings up, are not necessarily ones with which I have firsthand experience. I’m sorry that I did a poor job of conveying that; it was not my intention to offend you, though I did, so I take responsibility for that and I apologize.

          • fellt

            Its comments like this that make APW one of the few places I’m not scared to read the comments on the internet. Thanks for taking accountability with a thoughtful and non-defensive reply!

    • S

      I’m not really comfortable with this jump to the idea that the BFF is secretly into her just because they’re close. Like: maybe, I’m not saying he definitely isn’t – but also, it’s totally possible that he’s not? I have lots of close male friends. Some are straight, some are not. We’ve slept in the same beds together when logistics call for it, ring each other to talk through things, cuddle, etc. It doesn’t bother my partner, and it’s not romantic or sexual in any way. It feels weird to me that it’s ok for me to have those friendships with men, as long as they’re only into other men, and it’s ok for me to have those friendships with women, even though I AM into women as well. All these weird gendered presumptions just make me feel tired. The difference from me and the LW is that I’m getting what I need from my partner, and that he’s my first port of call, my first priority, my favourite person, the person I’d hit up if I wanted to go to the movies or talk about my day or fly around the world or whatever. I’m just not sure if that’s true of LW and her partner.

      • Ella

        I didn’t take Amy’s comment to mean that being physically and emotionally close to a friend is not allowed ever, but that it’s an issue if you’re 1. closer to the friend emotionally than you are to your husband, and 2. putting yourself in intimate situations physically.
        I think the difference between a best friend and a partner should be more than just you don’t have sex with the best friend (regardless of everyone’s gender and sexuality). There should be a level of intimacy that is reserved for your partner.

      • Amy March

        I don’t think it’s an automatic leap, but I think it’s worth considering the possibility with eyes wide open.

    • Spot

      I wish I could upvote this more than once.

      I think she needs to take about three hundred steps back until she can see the kind of dysfunction cultivated in both relationships. No wonder she’s frantic. One man is on a Woke™ pedestal encased in rose-colored glass (from which anyone will inevitably come crashing down) and one is a hapless Neanderthal who needs LW’s Feminism 101 classes, indefinitely, or he will ruin his marriage and his own life.

      Friendships can absolutely have severe boundary issues and be unhealthy without any romantic tension whatsoever, but all this cooing about what an ideal (single!) man her buddy is plus the “my BFF and I are wholly sexually incompatible” line explaining why they could never ever reeeeally be together? This thing is set to implode, messily.

    • Kara E

      I think you (Amy) and Liz nailed it. And frankly, it sounds like there’s a bit of underlying contempt for your fiance’ and his lack of ability to respond to your emotional needs.

  • Nicole

    Good advice, Liz. Needy in Nebraska: I know you wrote that you have no desire to sleep with your best friend, and I want to respect your self-understanding. But just reading the language and tone of the section of the letter about your partner and the section about your best friend, I have a hard time understanding why you want to marry the former and not the latter…or why you want to join your life with the former, full stop. I’m wondering less about whether you’re being emotionally unfaithful to your partner and more about whether you’re a bit in love with your best friend. Only you can figure that out.

    For the record: I’m also bisexual and I hear you on the whole people-assuming-that-opposite-gender-relationships-must-be-romantic thing. But this situation sounds genuinely emotionally complicated to me.

    • Amy March

      And there are more than two men/women in the world. Sometimes when you’re torn between two not perfect options it’s a sign you should keep looking.

      • Nicole

        Preach, Amy March.

        • Amy March

          I mean, did we learn nothing from Kelly navigating Dylan and Brandon if not the importance of choosing “me”?

      • Cleo

        This needs to be on a sampler. On my wall.

      • ItsyBit

        This perfectly sums up what I spent almost two years trying to say to my sister.

  • Laura

    Here’s the thing about toxic masculinity and male privilege. It’s possible, with work, to shed these things or at least become aware of them and how they perpetuate inequality in relationships as well as the wider world. But your dude needs to WANT to do that work. From your letter, it seems like you really want him to do that and that he’s somewhat amenable but also kinda resentful of it. You’re trying to drag him into your worldview when it sounds like he would kind of prefer being in his happy “not talking about emotions” dude bubble. That’s a valid choice for him to make, because it’s his life and his decision how to live it. But it sounds like that’s not the partnership you’re looking for.

    The best friend feels like a distraction from the real question, which is: am I fundamentally compatible with the person I intend to marry? Or is he just a reliable dude that I can maintain a comfortable existence with, when my emotional needs are being met elsewhere?

    • Noelle

      Yeah, and on the flip side, you need to give your fiancee opportunities to work on being emotionally responsive, rather than just assume you’re going to end up frustrated if he doesn’t respond how you want. If you continue to seek out this other friend for emotional support first, your fiancee won’t ever learn how to respond in ways that meet your emotional needs.

      • Laura

        Also, my husband and I have been together 11 years. He still doesn’t always respond to my emotional needs in the precise way I’d prefer. But he does a pretty decent job, he’s committed to being an emotional support to me, and we’re both continuing to learn how to respond optimally to the other. That’s just the work of any long-term relationship.

        Shiny best friend with whom you don’t actually have to deal with the day to day grind of a relationship? He might be able to respond perfectly to your frustrations and emotions now. But would he do so if your negative emotions were directed at him, which often happens in relationships? Perhaps not.

        • Alli

          This makes me think of how I can give my best friend advice, but can I give myself advice? No, because then I’d have to listen to me and I know all my bullshit.

        • AP

          YES. And I don’t always provide the support my husband needs in the precise way he’d prefer. The commitment to getting better at it and sticking with it, though- *that’s* the important thing.

      • Zoya

        Yup, this. When it comes to emotional things, I’m a think-out-loud person and my husband is a bottle-it-up-until-he-knows-exactly-what-to-say-which-is-sometimes-never person. We’ve managed to meet in the middle, where he says what’s on his mind more often and I sit in silence and let him marinate more often.

        But getting to that point was–and still is–damned hard work. If one of us wasn’t willing to meet the other halfway, or kept going to others to blow off steam, I don’t think we’d have had the mutual coping skills to make it through some of the tough stuff that marriage has thrown our way.

        • AP

          This is my dynamic with my husband as well.

    • rg223

      Totally agreeing with this. The question of emotional affair or not is a red herring – and for that reason, whether things would be different or not if the best friend were a woman is moot too. The bottom line is, LW doesn’t or can’t get emotional support from the person she’s going to marry. THAT’S the part that needs to be figured out.

    • Sarah E

      Yes yes yes. If you are trying to fundamentally change the world view of your partner: 1) that is super major huge deal 2) you cannot do that, they have to want to 3) everyone needs to be on the same world view page, or agreeing to catch up on the reading asap, well before the wedding.

      • AP

        Also 4) be ready for the long haul, because changing world views and changing behaviors to line up with that new world view takes Time

  • louise danger

    I saw a red flag in this letter at “I go to Friend before I go to my Partner.” Not, “I go to Member-of-Support-Network before I go to my partner,” but “I go to this specific person often before I turn to Partner.” (The inclusion of ‘did I mention he’s single?’ also seemed… weird, in this letter’s context.) I think it’s totally reasonable, healthy, normal, various other positive-connotation words to have a diverse support network of people you can go to when something’s bothering you. As Liz mentions, building that entire network on one person – especially a non-spousal person – leaves you open to considerable vulnerability.

    When you get married, you and Partner will become a more cohesive unit – the two of you versus the world. Is your friend still going to be the person you go to before your husband? Will there still be couch-lounging with friend and not husband?

    It sounds like your partner is genuinely trying to meet you halfway, or somewhere else on the road to your goal destination. Are you reciprocating that effort with understanding that he’s probably never going to share your ideal outlook? “He’s reliable” is probably a quality I admire about my husband, but if someone asked me “why did you decide to get married?” it’s not something in my top-three that I would gush about, lest they think I was marrying a washing machine or a bus schedule.

    • Her Lindsayship

      Yes, I so agree about the diverse support network/community thing. There are a couple things I just don’t want to go to my husband about first because maybe my sister has a better perspective on it, or I’ve bonded with a friend about the same problem before, etc. But for most things? My husband is my partner. I wouldn’t have chosen to share my life with him if I couldn’t trust him with my emotions.

    • Jo

      Well, I would (gush about how dependable my hubby is*). And this is where no two relationships are the same, and don’t need to be. HOWEVER. That said, I’d also agree that having ONE person as your go to who isn’t your husband may work for some, but it may also indicate that you’re avoiding addressing communication challenges with your husband. Which is not a long-term solution for a happy marriage.

      *some of us are looking for romance, some for excitement, some for intellectual connection, some for someone you can dependably build a life with, and probably some combination of most for most people.

      • EF

        as someone who has a ONE person as my non-partner go-to, …, ehhhh it’s fine. there aren’t necessarily communication issues between partner and me, but something bad happens, for instance? I want to talk to friend first and he’ll help me figure out how to break it to partner. something good happens? i tell friend first via text and tell partner in person cause that is fun. every boredom? partner has to deal with that at home with me. texting/calling/harassing in some way the friend is a way to keep me engaged with people who are not the partner.

  • Arie

    I wish there was some sort of Liz subscription service where she’d just pipe advice directly into my ears in real time, honestly.

    • Eenie

      Her, Mallory Ortberg, and Alison Greene.

      • Zoya

        And Jennifer Peepas, and Carolyn Hax.

      • louise danger

        Mallory Ortberg would be my preferred choice for an Arrested Development-style biopic about my life.

        • Eenie


          • Zoya

            I met her briefly at a conference once, and she is a goddamn delight.

          • louise danger

            new 10 year career goal: do something worthy of a Two Monks Inventing Things montage

      • rg223

        Unpopular opinion, but Mallory Ortberg gives terrible advice. Alison Greene is perfection.

        • Eenie

          Not so unpopular. I think she does a better job on the podcast vs in the column. I’ve started to not like the written column as much. The manner in which she gives advice is my favorite part.

          • rg223

            Oh yeah, I think she’s hilarious and her comments/manner of advice giving is entertaining!

            My big problem with her advice is that when she first became Pru, if someone asked a question that she didn’t have any background knowledge about, she would ask the audience for their help or find someone who did have background in it and ask them. But she stopped doing that as much and there are definitely times when she gives poor advice because she doesn’t have background knowledge needed – for example, she’s missed the mark on giving advice to parents when child development questions were involved, and I had a lot of issues with how she responded to the Deaf woman who wanted advice on getting her parents to accept her Deaf identity (both areas I am familiar with). I also think I compare her with Liz, who is awesome and a huge draw for me coming to APW years after my wedding, so there’s some bias there too!

          • kazeegeyser

            Mallory is pretty terrible at giving advice specific to parenting or traditional office environments.

    • Abby

      Would totally have paid for that service during my wedding planning.

  • KB

    Oh man, this letter hit home for me today. My close friend introduced me to my guy, she’s newly married but has been ‘best friends’ with my guy for a few years while dating and subsequently marrying her partner. Her partner can very much be described like LWs fiance, a great guy who she truly loves but has emotional limitations. I trust absolutely that there’s never been anything romantic between my friend and my man and have tried to support their friendship…but…her role in our life has been tough. We’ve had serious issues with boundaries and her always trying to compete with my by showing who knows him best. She’s struggled a lot with accepting that I come first now and there was an incident where she blew up at him, and then me, because he showed me a (generic) text she had sent him, because she feels ‘their’ privacy comes before our relationship. Both of our friendships with her haven’t quite recovered yet. My guy has been fantastic in dealing with this together as partners, but he does feel bad that she’s lonely. I’ve never been one to think that male/female friendships are inherently harmful to relationships, but I think this advice is spot on!

    • NolaJael

      “…there was an incident where she blew up at him, and then me, because he showed me a (generic) text she had sent him, because she feels ‘their’ privacy comes before our relationship.” NOPE.

    • Ella

      Your friend’s reaction was obviously unfair, but, question: if I confide in my friend, should I just assume she will tell her husband?

      • Amy March

        Yes. Generally I think yes. By all means ask her not to if it’s something really really important but generally assume your married friends confide in their spouses.

      • rg223

        YMMV, but I personally don’t tell my husband things my friends tell me, unless I think it’s common enough knowledge. My best friend has told me things that will go to my grave, because they just aren’t any of my husband’s business, and they’re not my business to share. Though I feel like this was discussed here a while back and it seemed like most APW people told their partners everything.

      • G.

        I think this varies. I have married friends who automatically tell their partners almost everything their friends say/do and those who do not. There is no difference in the quality of their relationships but rather distinct approaches to disclosure. There isn’t a single good way. So ask your friends.

        • Ella

          Asking (and being explicit) sounds like the way to go! I wasn’t sure if there was some tacet understanding I was missing out on..

      • KB

        Well, so while our specific incident is more complex than is probably relevant here, I actually do suspect its pretty common for couples to share otherwise private details about their friends to one another – with the implicit understanding that you don’t let on you know these things in public. My partner miiiiiight have made a booboo there, but it was certainly a harmless share vs a deep dark secret.

        Although come to think of it I’m not sure how I would feel about my married female friend regularly confiding her deep dark secrets to my male partner…

  • Anon

    I’d be interested to know some examples of how the fiancé fails to meet emotionally needs and how these “teaching” conversations go, but I suppose it doesn’t matter in the end. My experience was that I knew I’d found a good one when being in a physically AND emotionally intimate relationship with my now-husband was. . . easy. No more awkwardness because the guy I was dating wasn’t as into me as I was into him. No more emotional or physical disappearing acts when life threw a speed bump. No more dysfunctional fight-makeup cycles. And no more regular need to hash things out with someone else. LW, of all the great things you list about your fiancé, I can’t imagine a circumstance in which a comfy and strong emotional bond (and communication skills) is less important that those. . .

  • Pterodactyl111

    If you can’t connect with your fiancé on an emotional level, what is your relationship based on?

    • Julie

      ….I think we know ;) ;) ;)

  • Going anon for this

    Ok, so. This letter sets off all kinds of stuff for me, and I have thoughts:

    1. My husband is kind of like the LW’s fiancé – not too in touch with his emotions, not always able to offer *exactly* the kind of comfort I need *exactly* when/how I need it, not the guy people go to for emotional support. I’m not sure it’s fair to chalk this all up to our culture of toxic masculinity, though. Sure, that’s part of it, but emotional intelligence is a skill that comes easier to some than others, for genetic and developmental, as well as social, reasons. The whole “toxic masculinity” thing seems like a scapegoat for what could be compatibility issues, plain and simple.

    2. I often have the same feelings about my husband’s difficulty with expressing emotions and empathy. Like, I wish he could meet every emotional need I have, the moment I have it. But…that’s just unrealistic. Even my best girl friends who are all about the empathy and support have their off days and their own lives going on. It’s up to me to have a healthy support *network* to meet my emotional needs (and one person is not a network, as Liz said.)

    3. LW’s relationship with the best friend sounds like an emotional affair for one huge reason: the attention LW should be putting into the relationship with fiancé is going instead to the relationship with this guy friend, and LW is using a lot of complicated justifications for it. LW isn’t even giving fiancee a chance to listen, maybe mess up and learn, or maybe even actually get it right. Instead LW is bypassing fiancé and going straight to the best friend. That is hugely concerning to me.

    4. I’m on the other side right now of an emotional affair that my husband has been having with a female coworker for over a year. While there’s been no sexual impropriety, his job is incredible high stress and he’s been going to her with work-related problems because she “gets it” in a way that I don’t. And eventually their relationship blurred from coworkers to friends to confidantes, culminating in his attention being so far diverted from our marriage that he blew off my birthday because he kind of…forgot that *I* have needs too. And I wanted so badly to be the “cool girl” who’s super chill about her husband’s opposite sex friendships that I waited WAY too long to stand up for myself and demand that it stop. Fiancé may have a lot more problems with this dynamic than LW wants to admit.

    • K. is skittish about disqus

      “Fiancé may have a lot more problems with this dynamic than LW wants to admit.”

      Particularly if she admits that he’s the stoic and silent type. Someone who has trouble expressing emotions would be more likely to say that he’s “fine” with the dynamic rather than say why he struggles with it, no? Maybe he is fine with it, but considering the basis of the letter, I’d have to wonder if he’s bottling *this* up too.

    • Abby

      Just popping in to say sorry about your situation with your husband and his coworker. I totally hear you on the desire to be cool with it but how frustrating it is when your spouses attention is diverted from you. for such a lengthy period of time. Thinking of you and hoping you got exactly what you needed when you stood up for yourself. <3

  • K. is skittish about disqus

    [I’m never going to figure out Disqus’s spam filters! My user name is still relevant. :p Others have covered a lot of what I originally wrote, but wanted to highlight one point that I made that I don’t see here yet]

    It’s a little strange that you make a point of the fact that you’ve known your platonic best friend longer than you’ve known your fiance. That’s really, really common? I mean, many people know their partners for less time than others in their lives, yet they still put their partner first in terms of priority and relationship primacy. Intimacy and the chronological length of a relationship aren’t (and I’d argue *shouldn’t*) always be so deeply tied together. Otherwise, no one would ever put their relationship with their partner before, say, their relationship with their sibling, to tie back to last week’s question.

    Just feels like a bit of gatekeeping, in a slightly eyebrow raising way.

    • penguin

      This jumped out to me too, like the fiancé can’t know the LW as well as the best friend because he hadn’t known her as long. You should still be able to get emotional support from your partner!

    • Ella

      Yes, it just means it’s not surprising that it’s easier to get emotional support from her friend, he “gets” her more, etc. But it’s going to keep being easier with the friend if LW never does the work with the fiance.
      Maybe a useful meditation for LW: “in 6 more years, I will have known my husband as long as I now know my friend. If I put in the same emotional energy into my marriage as I have, over time, with my friend, do I see us getting to the same level of closeness? will it be worth it?”

      • AP

        I think this is so smart.

  • Kate

    Generally when I bring emotional baggage to my best friend instead of my husband, it’s because A) I need help letting go of something that would cause an unnecessary conflict with my husband, B) I need to talk through an issue with a third party before approaching him, or C) it’s an issue that is relevant to my best friend but not to my husband.

    Like a lot of commenters, it concerns me that the LW seems to be using her relationship with her best friend to replace an emotional connection with her fiancé instead of to complement it. I would definitely recommend a good hard look at her relationships before getting married. It might be a good situation to consider seeking counseling from a therapist, first by herself to help her understand how she feels and what she needs, and then with her fiancé to help them work on emotional communication and support.

  • sofar

    This could be my hippy-dippy, touchy-feely, feelings-sharey, group of friends, but nothing in this letter tripped my “Weird-o-meter.” Not even “the couch thing.”

    … as long as her husband is OK with this.

    And … as long as LW is OK with pulling back if her friend’s future girlfriend is NOT OK with this. That was the big thing for me. The hours-long friend-therapy-on-the-couch sessions and the impromptu emotional support phone calls may very well have to be cut back when there’s a girlfriend in the picture. And LW may have to find other avenues of emotional support (or self-soothing) at that time.

    • rg223

      Yeah, this letter is a toughie for me, because you can absolutely read this letter as “everyone is cool with the situation and no emotional affair is happening” OR “this is an emotional affair on the road to pound-town.” Or something in between! I didn’t find the friendship stuff super outside the realm of normal either, though I think there may be more to the situation as the LW decided to write in.

      • BSM

        All of the upvotes for “pound-town.”

    • Zoya

      Right, I was gonna say. There are a whole lot of ways to relationship, and I’m not necessarily going to side-eye a friendship that involves high levels of physical and emotional closeness. But your two caveats matter. Hugely.

    • Katharine Parker

      This is definitely a letter that we’re all filtering through our own experiences, boundaries, opinions, etc. (like always), but I wonder why, if everything were fine and everyone were cool with it, LW would be seeking validation or advice.

      I personally wonder what the husband thinks and if the husband knows the extent of the closeness of LW and BFF. Because that definitely matters! And has the BFF ever had a long term relationship and how that affected his relationship with LW.

      • sofar

        Agreed. The tone of the letter did also strike me as a bit contrived in a “she doth protest too much” kind of way.

    • Lawyerette510

      Yes, I agree. The idea of an affair (physical or emotional) to me is that it is covert and a breach of trust with your partner.

    • Abs

      Yes. The thing that got me was in all of this teaching the husband to open up about his feelings, she was relying on a (possible) eye-twitch to determine if he’s jealous. If this is all about openness, why not ask him how he feels about this friendship?

      • tempy13

        But isn’t he (the fiancé) responsible for communicating with LW about his feelings about the friendship? Why should she have to ask him? He can speak up and say he’s cool/uncool with it. Why is the onus on her? Why’s the onus always on the women to communicate? I’m not meaning to just ask that of you, Abs. This isn’t against you at all. I just get so tired of women always having to try to communicate.

    • Pickle

      For me the friendship didn’t raise red flags so much as the inability to connect emotionally with her fiance. My partner and I both have incredibly intimate best friendships, but it’s never even come close to being an issue because we have a strong emotional connection of our own. There’s a big difference between sometimes going to your best friend for support first because it’s something they really get, and sometimes going to your partner first, etc, and always going to your best friend because your partner doesn’t meet your emotional needs in any significant way.

    • Yeah, I thought the friendship stuff sounded pretty normal to me… Like, I know a lot of opposite-sex best friends from highschool peeps who are very touchy-feely and very share-y.

      But yeah, him being her main emotional support is pretty likely not going to be a permanent dynamic due to things like future girlfriends, and I kind of wonder how much LW grocks that?

    • EF

      ditto all of @disqus_NSPCIO6X7g:disqus’s comment! none of this was weird. but agreed you gotta discuss what happens with the friend finds a girlfriend. like with any relationship going through a change, that can be hard.

  • rg223

    Also just noticed this on a re-read: “I have no desire to foster co-dependence in myself or my fiancé.” This gets my hackles up a bit. Co-dependence is very different from relying on your partner as a main source of emotional support (and giving support in return). If LW feels they are equivalent, I think there needs to be some soul searching on that end as well. I know I’m pulling this from the rant-y part of the letter, but still, I don’t think anyone, anywhere is arguing that spouses need to be or should be co-dependent.

    • louise danger

      y e s s s s s s. a marriage, where you create a long-term partnership between two people, will involve some degree of co-dependence. that’s what a relationship is – two people who work together, depending on the other to provide support/love/whatever. how in-tandem that partnership is will vary – are you riding a bicycle built for two, or are you playing doubles tennis? – but each end of the partnership depends on the other end. a marriage on paper where each party continues to be completely otherwise independent of one another sounds, to my ears, terribly lonely. why bother?

      • Lawyerette510

        I love the idea that some marriages are riding bicycles built for two, while others are playing doubles tennis. It’s being a pair and working together regardless, it’s just a matter of degrees.

      • Laura

        The word co-dependence is one of my language pet peeves. It originated to describe a particular type of problematic relationship in which one person is struggling with addiction. Codependency is a bad relationship dynamic describing enabling and excessive reliance on another person for approval. Interdependence, though, can be a beautiful and totally appropriate thing.

        ETA: The reason this bothers me is as a therapist, it’s a term that often gets misunderstood and misused. It just means we depend on one another! It’s a wonderful thing!

        • rg223

          Yes, I realize now that I need to clarify that I read the LW’s use of “co-dependence” in the clinical sense, and i thought she was saying that relying mainly on her partner for emotional support would be automatically problematic and unhealthy (my husband works in the field too and I will always read that word that way). But people use that word very different colloquially, as you said. I was trying to convey the point that co-dependence is not the same as interdependence (though not very clearly!). And also as you said, interdependence is healthy and a good thing!

        • louise danger

          understood! I definitely read (or my comment should be read) to encourage INTERdependence and not COdependence. thanks for the clarification! :)

    • penguin

      I think she was bringing that up in response to the emotional affair bit, and was saying that she doesn’t want to have to lean on her partner for 100% of her emotional support – which I think is valid. I agree though that there should be some in-between between what’s happening now and 100% fiancé-or-bust we-are-one-person now.

      • Lawyerette510

        yes, but interestingly, it seems she is leaning on her friend for the vast majority of her emotional support

        • penguin

          Yeah that hadn’t occurred to me until I read some other comments on the thread – totally agree.

      • rg223

        Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. I initially read her use of “co-dependent” as the clinical definition, which really changed the lense I viewed that statement with. I forgot people use that word colloquially in a different (and in my mind, not totally accurate) way. But I think you are right too, on all accounts!

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      That bit strikes me as another way she’s trying to justify a relationship with her fiancé that’s lacking something important.

      • rg223

        Yeah I think that’s the subtext too.

  • Brooke

    What strikes me a bit odd about the way this question is posed is that LW focuses solely on the negative aspects of her relationship with her fiancé (and the negative aspects of his personality/emotional availability) versus the overwhelmingly positive relationship with and traits of her friend. To me, this sounds like it’s crossing in to emotional affair territory. We have a multitude of relationships in our lives, with partners, family members, friends, and they all have slightly different roles in our lives, but whenever you are removing your fiancé from his role in your life and giving preference to your friend, that is a problem. If you don’t have that emotional connection with your fiancé, there will be trouble down the line, no doubt.

  • BSM

    Your friend has “un-learned all that toxic [masculinity] bullshit?”
    I’m skeptical.

    • Ha, that was literally the main red-flag in this letter for me.

    • Cleo


    • Lawyerette510

      Seriously! Have any of us truly un-learned ALL the toxic masculinity bullshit? It’s the f&*king air we’ve been breathing since we were born.

      • Zoya

        And even if you are aware enough to see it and name it for what it is, it’s still damn hard to break those habits.

        • BSM

          And it’s not something you can just be done with and never consider again. Toxic masculinity takes so many forms and evolves with the times. You have to continually revisit its effect on you.

      • BSM

        Yes! I was just going to ask if he’s also gotten fish to notice water? And where is his e-course or TED Talk on shedding toxic masculinity – I’ve been a feminist for as long as he has and have so far been unsuccessful.

    • LindseyM

      For some reason this reminded me so much of the episode of New Girl with Seth from the OC where he is the “woke” best friend to Nick Miller’s emotional nutcase.

    • AP

      Yeah, my hackles were raised by the comparison LW makes in this letter between the fiancé and the friend. Friend is definitely up on a pedestal.

  • Cleo

    Hard agree with Liz and all the comments thus far, but one thing I don’t see mentioned yet is how much this emotional affair comment bothered the LW. To me, the way she can’t dismiss it (to the point that she’s asking strangers to weigh in on whether she’s having an emotional affair!) signals that there may be something to this comment… maybe not in the literal sense of, “Yes, you are having an emotional affair,” but in a related sense like – “Something in my relationship isn’t right and this has tipped me off to it!”

    Before I have broken up with then-boyfriends or switched jobs, or told someone I loved him, I find that my process starts with Googling “When do you know that you should break up/switch jobs/say I love you/etc.” After the fact, I know the answer is ALWAYS “when you start Googling the answer, you know you need to do something,” but in the moment, it’s very difficult to make that switch right away.

    So, LW, (I’m accepting that you’re not at all interested in your best friend, though as an outsider, I wonder if thou dost protest too much) ask yourself what is behind writing in for advice on this? If you’re not having an emotional affair and your friend made a stupid comment, why is it STILL bothering you so much? What nugget of truth did she hit on? Then go try to work that out.

    Good luck!

    • Zoya

      This is so wise. And applicable in so many life situations.

    • Laura

      This reminds me of a friend who had a major freak-out when someone mentioned in passing that when they first met her husband, they thought he was gay. She went around asking everyone what their first impressions were of her husband’s sexual orientation, what this meant, etc. Turns out….yeah, the husband later came out as gay and they separated.

      If someone told me they assumed my husband was gay when they first met him, my response would be, “huh” and then never thinking about it again. If you’re experiencing an outsized emotional reaction (not in the context of an anxiety disorder), it’s sometimes because something hits a little too close to home.

  • Abby

    As someone who is married to a man who is analytical before he is ever emotional in his reacting to things (including my emotional needs) this is a big deal in my relationship. It’s in no way insurmountable but it is something that you have to communicate about frequently.

    I.e., Learn how to say “Yes – I do need your advice on how to proceed with X” or “Tonight I just need you to hold me and drink wine with me.”

    I’m sure it’s easier to go to your friend who probably just senses what you need but IMO, that can ultimately build resentment in your relationship with your spouse (on your end) when you find he’s not responding in the way you want and you haven’t worked on the communication behind it all.

    Good luck friend.

    • penguin

      Being explicit helps a lot with my husband. I process stuff by talking it through, and he would always try and fix whatever I was complaining about, when normally I just wanted to complain. He’d get frustrated that I wasn’t taking his advice, and I’d get frustrated that he was trying to tell me what to do. But if I just need to vent, he’s fine with that as long as he knows I’m not expecting a solution from him.

      • Jess

        This is me and R in reverse. I’m learning!

    • Meredith

      yes! Sometimes my husband jumps straight into helping me figure out a solution, but then I am like, I JUST WANTED TO COMPLAIN. You don’t have to fix everything!
      And other times if I am really crying non stop, he knows to be quiet and give me a hug.

    • Jess

      Asking directly for what we need was part of our wedding ceremony, in more flowery language.

      So, truer life advice may not exist… in my opinion.

    • ssha

      I kept thinking of a quote from Anne Lamott about men while reading this: “You have to teach them the very basics of emotional literacy.” I certainly don’t think think this is true for all men, apparently not LW’s friend… anyway. Some women/people are okay with that kind of teaching, but i don’t think LW is. Or at least not without the exact results she wants.

      • Abby

        Totally agree with you. Sometimes I wish my husband was more attuned to my desired emotional response because that would be easier but then I remember about all the ways he is wonderful and perfect for me and that little bit of work seems like no big deal. I get the feeling that the LW is completely and emotionally beat down by that type of work in her relationship and no longer seeing the good in her partner.

      • I think some women are very into that kind of teaching. Some people like living in fixer uppers, and some people like living with fixer uppers. The problem is a partner is not a project; they are never ‘done’. Watching someone else change is rewarding, but shying away from anything that challenges that feeling, like emotional conversations where fiance doesn’t get it right where friend would, suggests that ‘teaching’ fiance is more about the positive feedback she gets than actually giving him the tools to be a happier, healthier person and using those tools together to build their relationship.

  • Anon

    So, I’m bisexual and my best friend happens to have been my first girfriend back fifteen years ago when we were in high school (my husband knows all of this and is fine with it), so my perspective on this may be a bit different, but I think Liz is totally spot on. I talk about my life with my friend, but I would never go to her to talk about stuff that I wouldn’t talk about with my husband. The only time that I can think of that I was upset and did talk to her more than my husband was during the election, and that was because my husband was more of a Bernie supporter. We’ve moved past that now.

    I’m totally of the opinion that you can be as close to your friends as you want–but if they’re filling major emotional needs that you feel the lack of in your main relationship, that’s not close friendship, that’s a secondary relationship. Which again is fine, but it doesn’t seem like anyone explicitly consented to that, so someone is bound to get hurt.

  • Meredith

    Your fiance will never learn how to support you if you don’t give him the opportunity.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Ehhhh, the whole toxic masculinity explanation seems like a red herring. Taking the time to diagnose the reasons for his emotional distance as such sounds like you’re spent a lot of time justifying his behavior. Is he providing the amount of emotional communication you need and want from your spouse? Does your relationship look and work and feel the way you want it to feel, with your life partner, right now? If not, it kinda doesn’t really matter whether it’s the patriarchy, or our culture, or his personality, or anything else. If that’s the way he is, and that’s not enough, reconsider marrying him. (It sounds like maybe he’s making a little progress in this area, but you also say he’s annoyed that you’re persistently trying to change him, so maybe he doesn’t agree with you about why he’s emotionally stunted, or whether he even is at all.) You can’t count on him to change, however gradually, and you can’t explain away and justify a big gaping hole where something you need is supposed to be.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      The more I think about it, the more the friend is-it-or-isn’t-it-an-emotional-affair question also smells like a big ol’ fish. LW isn’t getting what she needs from her fiancé, and is bending herself into pretzels to convince herself that she doesn’t have a problem with that. The emotionally woke friend is a giant, distracting band aid, and wouldn’t be an issue in the first place if she and her intended groom had a healthier relationship.

      • Jess

        I love this transition in thought via comment. Like… LW, here are two very clear descriptions of what you may be feeling and how to deal with that.

        Figure out which one it is and good luck!!

  • Anon

    So here’s my novel…As someone who has been down a similar road, I’ll try to impart some advice. First, mixed-gender hetero platonic friendships are absolutely real and good. Assuming that your friendship with your bestie is absolutely non-sexual from both sides (and I believe you that it is!), the real issue here is the emotional dependency. Forget the word affair; I don’t think it’s helping you figure things out. The fact that you feel worried and conflicted enough to write into a website shows that something doesn’t feel right. As other commenters have voiced, I think the concern here is less -who- your friend is and more -how much- you’re investing your emotional needs into him specifically rather than your partner plus a network of friends (including bestie). Try establishing some distance from bestie for two weeks or so and see if you notice a difference in what emotional needs your fiancé fills.
    Not that my personal experience is in any way universal, but my years-long best friendship with a (straight-ish) man changed drastically once he entered a serious relationship with a woman. I always kept very strict physical boundaries with him after I entered a relationship with my now-husband, but my friend’s girlfriend felt, basically, like my friend was more emotionally available/intimate with his friends than her (which was pretty apparent to most people in their circle too). My friend refused to make a change in how he related to his close, exclusively female friends — including me— and after finding out how much anguish it was causing his wife, I chose to end my friendship with him (there were some other issues too, but that was a huge piece). Apparently I kept coming up in their couples counseling after their wedding but my friend never ever addressed it with me, so his girlfriend hated me for years and didn’t want me around. He never put the work into trying to fix it, so I ended it. It was incredibly painful — this was the 1 person besides my spouse (and that’s critical here—my hubby was always my priority) who I could call day or night and count on for support regardless. That said, I’ve found that my relationship with my husband has grown to fill in the gaps of that relationship to some extent. I joke with him more and tell him more of my feelings, both of which were key elements of my old friendship.
    Long story short, prioritize your fiancé and supplement with deep friendships, not the other way around.

    • Ella

      “Forget the word affair; I don’t think it’s helping you figure things out.” – I think this is absolutely true. Something in the comment hit home (or she wouldn’t still be obsessing over it), but “affair” sounds like a BAD thing to do, and LW (presumably) is not a BAD person, so ~clearly she can’t be having an AFFAIR~

  • I strongly feel that the “criteria” for an emotional affair really either needs to involve secretive behaviors/feeling like you don’t want to tell your partner about parts of your friendship OR a situation where you are becoming emotionally distracted and neglectful of your relationship. Cuddling on the couch and even having someone else be who you prefer to process emotions with? Problem if it’s a problem ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    But that said, it sounds like this all… Is being a problem. LW seems very unsettled by an un-involved person’s opinion of her relationship, and that alone makes me thing that there’s something she feels “off” about. I really think LW needs to talk to her fiance about her paranoias about this friendship since he’s the only one who can actually reassure her that he’s not jealous.

  • Polly

    For my 0.02$, yes emotional affair. The gender of your friend doesn’t even have much to do with it, although at least for your single cis male friend it adds to the possibility of a physical affair. Ideally the person you fall in love with becomes your best friend and the new center of your life. That means all of your other friendships have to give way to make room for the amount of time and attention that being married requires. I’ve definitely stepped back from my friendships – male and female – because to continue with them as I did when I was single would mean putting my husband second and sometimes leaving him physically and emotionally isolated.

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Meh, I don’t know.

      I love my husband dearly. We’ve been together 11 years, and we’ve been through plenty of tough times that would test even the strongest of relationships. We’ve survived, and through at all, we’re as close as ever. But nah, he’s definitely not my best friend. He’s not really the center of my life. He’s more like a business partner, except that we’ve agreed that we never get to dissolve the corporation.

      There’s no one right or wrong way to do a marriage. I’m glad that your approach works for you, but not every marriage has to be that way, nor SHOULD every marriage be that way. Personally, if my husband and I relied on one another in that way, we would have never made it, because there have just been too many times when the other person would have been in no position to provide the needed emotional support.

      • Anon

        Thanks for the well-stated comment. When I married my husband several years ago, I was very much in the camp of “I already have a best friend— my husband is a different relationship altogether”. When my best-friendship dissolved (comment I posted earlier), it kind of jaded me on friendships and I started seeing my husband as my best friend. But I don’t know that it will always be that way — I miss that friendship literally every day and would love to have that closeness again in addition to the great marriage I have.

  • ManderGimlet

    Some thoughts: the primary issue you have with your fiance is that he is not emotionally forthcoming or open. The reason you believe he is not bothered by your relationship with your friend is because he said he was “cool” with it. I mean? Could you really expect him to say otherwise?

    Read these 2 sentences: “I’ll frequently turn to him before I turn to my fiancé, at least partly so I won’t explode if my fiancé finds himself lost and unable to help.”
    “I have no desire to foster co-dependence in myself or my fiancé.”
    Is needing directions or asking for help “codependence”? Can your fiance fail without you exploding OR immediately turning to your friend? Also, if you are turning to the friend BEFORE your fiance, how do you know he would be lost or unable to help? Is he given an opportunity?

    Girl, clearly, the eye-twitch was real! I think you are afraid to change the parameters of this friendship because you are using it as an emotional crutch and also it is very scary to face the idea that maybe your fiance is never going to be emotionally there for you in the ways you need and then being left to ask what that means. Maybe you aren’t having an emotional affair but are taking a deeper look at your relationships and emotional needs, which is great. But geez louise, please at least respect him enough to not be cuddling on the couch with this dude. If he is already struggling to move past archaic notions of masculinity and relationships, hurling the speedball of “physical intimacy with a member of the opposite sex within the confines of a separate monogamous relationship” may be out of his league at this time.

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Seriously, the whole “cuddling on the couch” thing was enough to make MY eye twitch!

      I am not a jealous woman. It is no secret that I didn’t “marry my best friend”–the husband and I are together because we share the same goals and values, NOT because we’ve ever had a particularly great friendship!

      We hang out with his exes. I have plenty of male friends and acquaintances. I work in a male dominated industry, where my every day life is nothing but men. I meet roughly 80% of my emotional needs outside of our marriage. In short, we’re pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum from those couples who have a shared Facebook page and who don’t believe in being alone in the same room as a member of the opposite sex.

      But seriously, even I would lose my shit if I came home from work one day to see my husband cuddling with another woman! That’s…that’s just a bridge too far. As a straight woman, my metic for what’s okay with male friends is “Would it be weird for me to do this with a female friend?”. If not, we’re good to go. If so, it’s probably not okay to do with a male friend, either.

      • Abby

        Laughing at your FB Comment. Someday someone is going to have to explain to me why couples share FB pages. Zero judgement – I just don’t understand it.

  • Jessica

    NIN, I just want to start this comment with a hug, because I’m guessing that getting a ton of feedback on your life choices is pretty challenging, and maybe not exactly what you expected when you wrote in. So…hugs.
    I think it might also be a good idea to talk to a therapist about developing more emotional coping skills yourself. Saying you have to talk to your friend because if your fiance doesn’t offer you the right kind of emotional support, you’ll explode, sounds like a recipe for disaster. Maybe you deal with bigger issues than I do on a regular basis, but right now I’m staying at home with my toddler all day, and there are plenty of times when I get frustrated…but I can’t reach out to anyone in the moment because the tantrum-throwing toddler isn’t going to let me have a peaceful 20 minutes to go call my mom. Sometimes I just have to be able to regain emotional equilibrium on my own. I can’t tell from your letter what conversations between you and your fiance are like…maybe you’re coming home like, “My mom’s cancer treatments are really rough right now” and he’s all “yeah that sucks” while he stares at TV…but maybe you’re coming home for the 10th time in 10 days with hour-long rants about your co-workers and he tunes out after the third day. That’s not toxic masculinity making him tune out…I would be tuning out at that point as well!
    Long story short: if there’s a disconnect between what your partner offers in emotional support and what you need, I think it’s worth doing some digging to see if your needs are reasonable, or if you’re making others do some of your emotional labor.

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  • Jan

    LW could, like, consider talking to her fiance about it. Just a thought. Wild, I know.

  • EF

    shout out to all the non men with male best friend who have wicked close friendships. ain’t nothing to be ashamed of.

    celebrate the friend, have a guy-of-honor, have an awesome fiance/husband, carry on. works for me, works for others, hope it all works out for you!

  • uggggh

    Straight women…are you okay?!