As you get older it gets harder and harder to make friends. Everyone seems to find this. When I was at uni, it was the easiest thing in the world to make friends – they were everywhere, and we already had so much in common. We were all at a similar stage in life and it was easy to share interests, activities and time together.
After uni, work became my primary circle of potential friends. But there’s no guarantee that I’d have anything much in common with the people I work with, or that we’ll be at similar stages in life, or have similar interests outside work. Making new friends seemed to get more challenging, more hit and miss.
Work has been the principal source of friends for me for many years now. I don’t do a lot of activities outside the house – I’m not a club or group joiner – so work is the one place where I come across significant numbers of people amongst whom I might hope to meet someone I get on with.
Many colleagues assume that because I am single, my number one priority is to find a partner. This makes finding men friends even more difficult.
Most of my men friends are people I have worked for or with. My last two bosses have been great, and as I now tend to pick bosses I like as well as respect, it is a perfect basis for friendship. However, this can generate tension with their wives. Their wives can be somewhat mistrustful when they start hearing about their husband having coffee or lunch with me, or going for a drink after work. There isn’t anything romantic about these social events, but it can take a while before that becomes clear to the wives.
So I have developed a few hard and fast rules for keeping these friendships as friendships. My number one rule is to never, ever act flirtatiously under any circumstance. This includes never responding to any attempt on his part to flirt with you. It’s easy enough to slip into flirtatious banter, even when it isn’t meant, but it’s dangerous. The flirting line may be a fine one, but once crossed, going back is difficult.
Not that I have any, but cleavage is a definite no-no in general around men friends. Apart from anything else, it’s totally inappropriate for work. No-one should be forced to confront (or have to avoid confronting) a woman’s breasts at work.
At some point, talking about some details of your personal life is inevitable if the friendship is to develop beyond water cooler chit-chat. This is a tricky time, especially if he starts along the lines of “my wife doesn’t understand me”. My approach is that if I want to stay friends with him is that I do not get involved in fixing this by being the woman who does understand him. On the one or two occasions I’ve been confronted with this, I’ve been sympathetic to his plight then offered suggestions about how he can fix things with his wife. By doing this, I’ve usually managed to make it clear that I’m not a plan B, and that if he has a problem with her he needs to talk to her about it, rather than me. This doesn’t shut down the sharing between us, but it does put it onto a different footing where he knows that I know he’s having trouble, but he is sharing that trouble with me as a friend and not as an alternative to his wife.
Of course, if you do meet someone at work who you want to get involved with romantically, well, that’s a whole other ballgame. One I’m not qualified to advise on. Other than perhaps to suggest that you go into it with the expectation that you may have to change jobs if it doesn’t work out.