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Why a Conservative Female Rabbi Decided To Pull Away From Her Male Friends

It wasn’t a question of modesty, but intimacy: ‘I had to dial back my friendships with men, for the sake of my marriage’

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And there’s the rub. A new work position had brought Nick to Los Angeles, where family frequently brings me. I was really excited at first, thinking I’d get to see him whenever I was in town. In practicality, the challenges of scheduling a visit with him alongside an overwhelming number of family obligations made it difficult. Then, it happened: I thought I had some time to meet Nick one evening, and I found myself not wanting Joshua to come along. At first, I wasn’t sure where the feeling was coming from. Then I realized that I was longing to pour out my heart to someone, and Nick seemed like both an ideal candidate and—because my husband should have been my primary confidant—the wrong choice. I decided not to see him, and that’s when I wrote him the email. Nick responded with his usual generosity of spirit, recognizing that modesty is an important value and has a particular valence in Judaism. We still write occasionally, exchange notes and photos on Facebook. I don’t feel like our contact is superficial. But I can’t go back to the type of friendship we had where we sit down and pour out our hearts in person. I don’t think that Nick resents me or my choice. He is sincere and wise. Once again, he understands me.

Maybe the reason I can’t invite that level of familiar friendship with men (other than Joshua) anymore is simply that I am not a casual friend; I am devoted to and deeply involved with my closest friends. Maybe it’s because I am a twin, a person whose first friendship precedes birth. Maybe it’s because I take to heart the words of our tradition: “Acquire for yourself a friend” (Pirkei Avot 1:6). And how do you acquire a friend? The rabbis’ elaboration of Pirkei Avot (Avot deRabbi Natan) says, “A person should acquire a friend by eating and drinking with them, by studying Torah and debating with them, by lodging with them and by sharing private thoughts with them.” It’s still a useful formula for creating friendship. Particularly that last part.

Truth be told, I’m a little more discreet in my friendships with women, too, since I got married. I don’t unburden myself to my female friends either as often or in as detailed a way as I did in the past. Yet I feel a special danger when the friend is a man—there’s something intimate about spilling one’s guts to a friend. That’s what is potentially immodest about a friendship between this married woman and any man other than my husband. Confession can be sexy, and dangerous.

A friendship with Nick—or any other man with whom I have that automatic affinity—is a little perilous. That instinctive familiarity isn’t developed by an investment of time and effort; it isn’t earned by action or respect. It’s illusory and untrustworthy. I’m not even entirely sure where it comes from—similarity of disposition, or chemistry, or magic. Whatever its mysterious origins, that automatic affinity gives one a powerful feeling of being deeply seen and understood. It is as if that other person sees the secret you. Now I want only Joshua to know the secret me.

***

How was my email to Nick different from what my sister did with her friends? My sister believed that any close friendship with a man was inappropriate and potentially immoral. I think she felt justified, perhaps even rightly so, in cutting them off. I, on the other hand, felt apologetic. I experienced a deep need to be open about my discomfort, to reassure my friend that he was still very dear to me even if I had to pull away from him—not entirely, but in a way that felt unnatural to our previously open and honest friendship. There was never anything truly inappropriate about my friendship with Nick. On the contrary, our friendship was probably helped by the fact that we were—for all intents and purposes— romantically off-limits to one another.

Most of all, it’s not because of Nick’s exceptional familiarity with me that I needed to curtail our friendship. It’s really because of me and the energy and intimacy I need to direct toward Joshua and nurturing my friendship with him. Part of the power of monogamous sexuality is that it creates shared secrets, but it needs to be paired with greater self-revelation to be truly meaningful. And real self-revelation is something that takes time and effort. Instead of expecting Joshua to read my mind, I have to frequently unburden myself to him verbally; instead of allowing my unmet needs to fester, I have to open myself to him and expose my vulnerable bits, knowing that—unlike others—he’s earned that privileged knowledge.

***

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Joseph Jolton says:

At no point does she talk about how Nick might feel or be affected by her decision. I have maintained relationships with my female friends for years, and my wife is now closer to some of them than I ever was. I take great joy in that. Rabbi Solomin strikes me as very narcissistic and her rationales come across as shallow and self-centered.

Rebecca K. says:

Her first consideration was her husband. How is that shallow and self-centered?

So in other words, you dumped your closest male friend because you didn’t feel you could trust *yourself* around him. This isn’t a Jewish story. This is a lack of self-control story. And a sexist one, too.

Michal Nancy Karni says:

That was wonderful! Honest, and insightful. Thanks for opening up and sharing in such a thoughtful way. I have had similar experiences, but being frum, I didn’t have to deal with them in this way.

cygoverns says:

Hmmm… I have some hesitations about this. I am not Jewish, so please keep that in mind. Seven years into my relationship (two years into marriage) with my husband, I hit a place where I felt least understood by and most incongruous with him. I was just about done. It was my friends who helped me understand him and myself and guided me through the difficult work that brought us back together. Their support and insight paved the way to the more fulfilling, more considerate marriage I have now. When I attend a wedding, I believe that part of my charge as a witness is to do just that. Sometimes that might mean the individual is leaning more heavily on me than their spouse, but my job as friend is to encourage them to return to their spouse.

Another thing that makes me hesitate is that I think it’s particularly important for me to have friendships with men because my husband IS a man and because gender informs worldview.

Finally, as an extrovert, it’s critical that I have a broad network of deep friendships to feed that need, else it puts too much pressure on my introvert husband.

All of that said, I completely agree with the prioritizing my friendship with my husband above all else! So I don’t outright disagree with you…I appreciate that you made me consider, however, whether or not I’m practicing what I preach.Thank you for this insight!

Lily Houseman says:

I think this is a terrific and very helpful article! I’m currently engaged and I’ve noticed that, even without the deliberateness displayed here, my friendships with men have definitely changed and in many ways become less close. I’m ok with that, but have not been able to articulate to myself how and why that was happening. This article has given me the vocabulary. Thank you!

Sprite1_1 says:

What an odd response. I see her essay as introspective and mature. She doesn’t have to live her life the same way you live yours. She chose a path that felt right to her, putting her relationship with her husband first. She didn’t cut off her relationship with Nick; she just compartmentalized it.

Erica says:

First and foremost, I applaud your courage and honesty in posting this. Not many people would open themselves up like this.

I’m
not Jewish, but I do understand the need to prioritize your spouse.
Even before my fiance and I became engaged, we prioritized each other
over our friends of the opposite gender. Most of his friends are female
and they were kind enough to understand some changes in his habits. But
they’re still his friends. Many of them are even coming to our wedding
(much to both our delight).

I work in a very male-dominated
industry so a lot of my friends and business contacts are men. But I
keep very clear boundaries out of respect for my fiance. For instance, I
will not dine alone with them. Not even for lunch.

My fiance and
I are each other’s biggest fan. He doesn’t always “get it,” but he
doesn’t necessarily have to. He cares. He loves me. And he’s always
there for me as best he can. Just like I do for him. I can’t imagine my world without him. He’s my most important person, above everyone else, including myself.

Again,
congratulations on having such courage so put this out there for
everyone to see. Maybe if more people were so brave, many others would
learn the value of empathy over judgement.

JJ Gross says:

I never imagined myself actually having respect for a Conservative rabbi. This piece is superb, and its wisdom is something in to which we can, indeed, should all tap.

rebmark says:

I’m puzzled by the exclusively female orientation of this article. the same could be said for any man/husband and his female friends.

I’ve taken one of Rabbi Solomin’s paragraphs and exchanged the gender-related terms (male/female). The following paragraph works as well for married men as it does for married women:

Truth be told, I’m a little more discreet in my friendships with men, too, since I got married. I don’t unburden myself to my male friends either as often or in as detailed a way as I did in the past. Yet I feel a special danger when the friend is a woman—there’s something intimate about spilling one’s guts to a friend. That’s what is potentially immodest about a friendship between this married man and any woman other than my wife. Confession can be sexy, and dangerous.

cvbruce says:

I think that Nick and Joshua serve two different purposes. Both your sister and your husband can’t be non-judgemental when you ‘pour your heart out’. Nick can. He has as the saying goes, no skin in the game. It’s a relationship that you can use as a sounding board. It allows you to hear your inner voice, out loud. That is really why you wanted to meet Nick alone and not with Joshua.

Or, I could be entirely wrong. I’m just a dog after all.

Myron Bassman says:

I find it sad that you have opted to automatically cut out 50% of people on the basis of gender. I have been married 48 years and most of my closest friends have been women. Not everything one has in one’s mind or heart is for our spouse. There are things that can only be discussed with or shared with others. The kind of intimacy you are talking about is more like smothering. I feel for your husband, since he has the full burden of feelings, thoughts, etc.

RabbiArnie says:

Ignoring the natural sexual attraction/tension that exists between the sexes is naive. That attraction can even overcome the greatest of “self-control”. Rachel, you did the right thing.

disqus_nmxxXlMdhI says:

I understand what you are trying to say here, and don’t disagree with complications between opposite sex friendships. However, I think the notion that you are probably in love with Nick and feel a lack of connection with your husband, even on a friendship level could be explored. You guys should first explore ways to just be better friends, through counseling or adventures, to bring you closer. I don’t think he needs to be the one you go to for everything, because that would be SMOTHERING. Everyone needs friends outside of a relationship. I think you could be friends with Nick, but only if you’re not pining for him. That wouldn’t be fair to any of you and would ultimately make you very sad. You’re clearly a very caring person.

Rachel Lavoie says:

I get and agree with this on so many levels – I believe in discretion and preserving the marital relationship. But as a woman married to a woman, I’m confused as to how to translate that to my own life. How does a woman avoid all female friends? Or as a woman attracted to both men and women, does she just avoid ALL friendships? When you take gender out of the equation as a clear indicator of potential sexual attraction, creating concrete rules for friendships becomes a lot more difficult.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I’m sorry that’s what you get out of my tale. I’m actually not sure what you think is sexist about it. It could just as easily be a tale written by a heterosexual man about a female friend, or a partnered gay or lesbian person about their friends. You may think it is a bad thing to not trust yourself… but I feel like I showed a great deal of self-knowledge by recognizing that I have habits of friendship which could easily lead me to disclose my husband’s secrets or admit things about myself which my husband should either be the first or the only one to know. My female friendships have become more discreet, as I mention in the story, but because I am a heterosexual female who finds emotional intimacy with men to have a sexual charge at times, I think it’s the right choice for me to dial-back the energy I expend on friendships with men other than my partner. I never advocate that all people should cut off ties to the other sex; I haven’t done that myself. And I think it is an explicitly Jewish tale. Modesty is an intrinsically Jewish concern. I also think that the story illustrates the principle: “Who is a hero? The one who conquers his/her own instincts.” Self-knowledge requires us to be honest about the “traps” we sometimes step into in our relationships… and avoiding those traps is a difficult and holy decision.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I understand your confusion… let me be clear. I haven’t “cut-out” men from my social and professional circles. I have quite a number of male friends, but I don’t hang out with them alone, and I no longer unburden myself to them. My husband does not get the full-brunt of all my emotions, either (you’re right, that would be painful). My closest friend other than my husband is my sister, who I speak of in the article. I have a few other female sounding-boards with whom I share thoughts and feelings with, particularly those thoughts and feelings which I need to process more before presenting to my husband in a kind, productive, and loving way.

However, I have a long personal history (which I will keep to myself) of emotionally intimate friendships with men which consumed so much energy that I had nothing left over for partnership. At times, a friendship with an unsuitable man became a way to avoid deeper romantic possibilities. Which is why I distinguish between male and female friends.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

Men are not dogs.

You are totally right. Nick and Joshua could serve two different purposes. Nick can be non-judgmental. But that is–in itself–attractive. One of the reasons why “work marriages”–where two people working together develop a level of comfort and intimacy (not necessarily sexual) with one another due to proximity and synergy–can be so damaging is because one’s coworker is often less judging. You have less baggage with them and a less complicated relationship, which can promote less complicated and stressful interactions. However, that can also allow you to dodge what really requires work in your primary relationship.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

As I’ve said in other comments, I acknowledge that my choice isn’t the right one for everyone. I can easily see how others’ perspectives can be helpful in a crisis–that’s how friendships help me, too. What I find unsettling in my own life is that I might (and have, in the past) use one relationship to dodge intimacy in another one.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I appreciate the consideration with which you read my article. I can happily report that I’m not pining for Nick, and we do (in fact) still communicate. It’s just not the same type of friendship as we might otherwise fall into. I also assure you that my husband is not the sole recipient of my inner emotional angst. My purpose in prioritizing my relationship with my husband is to make sure that I am not using other friendships to dodge dealing with the complications which come from living with my partner, who I value above all other men.

kweansmom says:

Maybe you should reconsider the wisdom of your prejudices against Conservative rabbis.

kweansmom says:

Thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking article. It occurs to me that five years into your marriage, your relationship with your husband is still relatively young. Perhaps years from now, when your friendship with Joshua has matured more, you will be able to reach out again to Nick in friendship.

kweansmom says:

…but that’s not what she’s writing about. She feels her emotional intimacy with Nick is problematic for her marriage, not any sexual attraction or tension.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I actually have spent a great deal of time thinking about this very issue! I think that people have very different kinds of friendships, and totally appreciate that other people either don’t feel a sexual frisson in friendships nor or are not troubled by it. At its heart, the article is really about how I came to an idiosyncratic, if personally meaningful, relationship to the value of modesty. My decisions are intricately tied in to my personal history of both friendship and romance. If I were attracted to both men and women, I would need to be vigilant in my relationships with both–which certainly seems exhausting and complicated. I should also admit that I am very cautious in friendships with my lesbian friends (particularly the partnered ones), because I also don’t want to intrude on the primacy of their chosen primary relationship.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I agree with you one-hundred-percent!

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I hope you are able to find wisdom from the whole community. One of my favorite things about Tablet is the diversity of voices from whom I might not ordinarily hear in a disturbingly disjointed Jewish world.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

Although you are right, kweansmom, it would be dishonest with myself if I did not say that I am immune to sexual tension in my friendships with men and that there is a relationship of this to my vigilance in my friendships with men. I actually think that there is a tendency in egalitarian society (of which I am an eager participant) to dismiss sexual frisson in daily activities. I think that sexual energy (not only heterosexual) is all around us and a mature adult deals with it in a way which allows sexual tension to bring interest, collaboration, and fun into life without making others uncomfortable (as in sexual harassment), characterizing it as inherently unclean (as some fundamentalist societies do) or threatening one’s chosen relationships (by prioritizing sexual novelty over long-term commitment).

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

Although you are right, kweansmom, it would be dishonest with myself if I did not say that I am immune to sexual tension in my friendships with men and that there is a relationship of this to my vigilance in my friendships with men. I actually think that there is a tendency in egalitarian society (of which I am an eager participant) to dismiss sexual frisson in daily activities. I think that sexual energy (not only heterosexual) is all around us and a mature adult deals with it in a way which allows sexual tension to bring interest, collaboration, and fun into life without making others uncomfortable (as in sexual harassment), characterizing it as inherently unclean (as some fundamentalist societies do) or threatening one’s chosen relationships (by prioritizing sexual novelty over long-term commitment).

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I believe that this is likely the case. Many of my older friends have described reaching an end to this particular type of temptation.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I believe that this is likely the case. Many of my older friends have described reaching an end to this particular type of temptation.

RS1961 says:

Really?? Your respect for someone – or lack, thereof – hinges on the specific branch of Judaism with which their beliefs align most closely?

Did it ever occur to you that people who determine that others are not worthy of respect based solely on their religious beliefs – even if they identify with different branches within the same religion – might not be worthy of respect themselves?
(I’m honestly amazed that the bashing and snotty “my Judaism is better than your Judaism” preening has now been extended to target Conservative Jews; those of us who are affiliated within the Reform/Progressive movements have been on the receiving end of these types of comments here for ages.)

the.hoarse.whisperer says:

‘I think that sexual energy is all around us …’ you are absolutely right.

Why, because sex sells product in advertisements. This often leads to a personality crisis in young people who don’t regard themselves as one of ‘the beautiful people’ and in the case of women end up with them rushing to go under the cosmetic surgeons knife.

Heaven help us.

Baba Wawa says:

Forget the nonsense about Nick – I’m still suck on the first paragraph. Why in the world did you become a Rabbi when you clearly have no interest or connection with Jewish Law? Did you actually study Judiasm, or did you get ceritified by answering the questions correctly? I worked for a female conservative Rabbi once – being Orthodox, she had me field all the questions about Judaism – who spent Erev Shabbat getting her nails and hair done. You sound a lot like her – taking pride in wearing pants, showing your hair, and arms. Rabbis are role models for their community, and it sounds like you don’t have to be Jewish to belong to yours. So what’s the point?

Kudos for figuring out the role your husband plays in your life – you could have asked my 11 year old haredi daughter and skipped all the angst.

disqus_nmxxXlMdhI says:

You seriously have anger issues and are taking them out on the wrong person! She wrote an article about boundaries and what she can do to have a good connected marriage. As a Rabbi she probably is able to identify with many of the problems people bring to her in a way that can help them. Would you rather her have said, “I lock myself in a room praying not to be a human with feelings and emotions.” You’re just angry that she wears pants and has clean hair. Get off your high horse and shave your legs! I hope your daughter has access to the outside world.

Jose says:

As pointed by others, I should probably make mention that I am not Jewish.

First off, I want to say I understand your reasons for pulling away from your male friends. At first I thought you were discarding you relationship entirely with Nick, cutting it off completely, and that felt a bit extreme. I see no wrong in a married woman having male friends, as long as they are kept as arm’s length, and interaction takes place under the supervision of the husband (e.g your husband accompanying you to have lunch with Nick). It is the nature of the relationship that needs to change with friends of the opposite sex (or the sex to which we feel attracted) when one is married. Intimate conversations or one-on-one meetings need to desist to exist between a married person and his/her friends of the opposite sex. There can be a relationship, just one more constrained.

Saint_Etienne says:

I rather think it’s the other way around: sex sells because sex is natural.

JRebecca says:

I used to work in a very male orientated job place, and I thought all our “friendships” were non-sexual, pure business/friendships. As I pulled away, stopped the all round good morning hugs and kisses, Lowered the skirt levels, started going home after work instead of to drinks with the boys, etc I realized the jobs I was getting were no longer the top priority, high profile stuff. My earnings decreased accordingly. “Friendships” did not stand the test.

JRebecca says:

While I think the article is great, on many ways, I’m discomforted that having come to the same conclusion about inter-sex relationships as her sister did, she still, in the 2nd last paragraph, has to say how wrong her sister is, and how right she still is, despite that she’s moving towards the position her sister has held from day one of her marriage. Her sister is still wrong, even if she’s right. Why? Well because her sister is orthodox and she’s still liberal, egalitarian etc.

JRebecca says:

Actually that was exactly the feeling I got from that second last paragraph. The feeling that because her sister came to the same conclusion as she did, but from an orthodox perspective other than an egalitarian, liberal, etc etc perspective, made her sisters conclusion less valid.

JRebecca says:

Good summary, badly put, and conclusions an extension.

JRebecca says:

Sometimes you have to break the relationships with the “Nicks” of you life to give the “Joshuas” a chance to take their place, as well as keep their own places.

JRebecca says:

I’ve dropped or changed all my close relationships with the other sex, if for no other reason than someone, whether the person I have the relationship with, or his partner or family, or someone else within our circle, saw more in those relationships than I thought there was. (All true stories and too many to go into)

Firstly, all relationships are important, and circles of people are as important and individual relationships. If there is even a perceived wrong relationship in a circle, the circle breaks, and all and specifically those in the individual relationship, suffer.
And secondly, if someone else sees more in a friendship, am I missing something? Very possibly.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

Sorry you felt that way… My point is the contrary… Many liberal Jews discount certain traditional Jewish values and practices espoused by the Orthodox members of our community instead of finding their own relationship to them. My sisters’ modesty isn’t something I find meaningful, but I can learn from her experiences and find my own interpretation of modesty that is relevant in my life.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I don’t think my sister is wrong at all… Again, I’m sorry that you got that impression. I just couldn’t make the same choices as she did. Earlier versions of the article actually talked about how part of my initial rejection of my sister’s behavior stemmed from my own ignorance of her situation in its entirety.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

My husband and I also share friendships with both male and female pals from our pasts, including some of his ex-girlfriends. That’s a very different thing. I am sorry that you missed some of the points in my article. Nick and I have actually discussed my feelings, and he has shared his. I specifically describe his reaction in the article–supportive and willing to transition into a less-intimate friendship.

Jesse Bacon says:

I know this is a personal piece, but I can’t read it without seeing it as part of the whole “Ladies, it’s your job to catch a man! and get married! and then keep that marriage by dropping out all your cross-gender friendships!” cant. Personally, I think the idea that one’s spouse or partner should be the absolute center of one’s life (while completely vulnerable to any sort of outside competition or pressure) is an odd modern idea, while rich cross-gender friendships are one of the great blessings of living in the present day. Finally, if my (female) partner ever dropped her (male) best friend for me, I would be highly upset and assume our relationship was doomed.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I’m sorry that you’ve ignored the rest of the article and decided before you even read it that I have no interest or connection with Jewish law… I pretty clearly demonstrated the reverse. You may have worked for a rabbi who didn’t exhibit behaviors you respect, but that doesn’t mean we are all that way. Most Conservative rabbis I know–male and female–spend the minutes leading up to Shabbat the same way you do–cleaning house and cooking Shabbat meals, bathing the kids–plus making sure our divrei Torah, Torah readings, lesson plans, and the like are all ready to go. And Shabbat evening itself has nothing to do with doing my nails and hair. I don’t take pride in wearing pants or bearing any part of my body–that would suggest that I think that it’s remarkable. It’s only remarkable because of how it contrasts with my sister, a frum woman who makes different choices based on extremely similar values. I hope that you can grow to understand–as she does–that Jews of all affiliations share many values even if we may interpret and embody them differently.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

While I appreciate you springing to my defense, please don’t fall into the same pattern of stereotypes as Baba Wawa did. The frum women I know are as likely or unlikely to shave their legs as anyone else. Many/most of them do have access to the outside world and make their own choices. Please don’t confuse rigid perspectives with any place on the religious spectrum.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

It’s fascinating to see how many different ways people are interpreting this article. I don’t think that all people need to find a partner. I don’t think that it was my job to find a man and keep him. However, I think that anyone who thinks that their friendships are more important than their marriage and that their deepest self should be shared with others before their spouse may have a very different idea of marriage/partnership than I do, and one which I would not find intrinsically Jewish. The Jewish marriage ceremony itself is called kiddushin (holinesses) because it involves designating a specific person as the most important other in our lives, setting that person aside as somehow different from all others. When we fail to appreciate that our spouses (male or female, heterosexual or queer) are intrinsically different from other people for us, then we belittle institutionalized, community-supported partnerships. I am glad that your partner has a wonderful best friend who you, too, value and trust; but she is not me. I don’t think everyone should choose as I do… but I think that the values I weigh while making my choices are ones which are valuable to consider.

Jesse Bacon says:

Rachel, I did not think you think those things. I think our culture thinks those things, and stories like yours that fit with it get published with much greater frequency. I eagerly await Tablet publishing either a man detailing the sacrifices he has made for his relationship or a woman who does not put her romantic relationship over and above others. Also, way to claim that your model is somehow the most Jewish. My Judaism reflects a wide array of different models of marriage and partnership (including many Biblical ones I want no part of) I don’t find your pushing of your own values on us any more attractive than when Orthodox folks do it. Furthermore, nothing in your piece makes your model at all attractive to me. Finally, I never said the person I live with, wake up next to, etc. is the same as my friendships, just not hierarchically above.. Anyone else have responses to this besides the author?

Wendy Hoechstetter says:

Rachel, there was a time when I would have thought you were insane,
but after having seen first hand the effect of a partner expending
emotional energy outside the primary relationship that should have been
directed into it, both as the unknowing third party recipient of the
confidences and then later at the effect of his turning to someone new
instead of me (and in an obviously highly sexualized manner, at
minimum), I can see a great deal of wisdom in your decision and how you
have managed this.

I think it’s unreasonable to expect to get
*all* of our needs met by our partners, but there are certain ones that
really *must* be kept much more in-house, so to speak, if intimacy is to
flourish and grow. Even if there is no possibility of a relationship
(or it is perceived that way, as with your friendship with Nick), the
emotional energy that is drawn off by confiding too much in friends,
especially of the opposite sex in a heterosexual context, can very much
drain the soul right out of a relationship, particularly if there are
already issues. It need not always be the case, of course, but it does
happen.

I’m not sure I’d make the same choice as you, and I do
think there’s a difference between the role an existing long-time close
friend should play vs someone with whom one has a more superficial or
newer connection to start with, but you’ve given the thoughtful person a
lot of food for thought here. The bottom line is that there *can* be
downsides to maintaining close friendships with members of the opposite
sex once one is in a committed relationship, and I think you’ve
highlighted the concern and the potential ramifications quite well.

comment says:

testing

RS1961 says:

To me, the issue is that you – the author of this piece – have sufficient ***context*** with which to interpret these values and practices, because your own world purview is more diverse and nuanced than that of others who have been raised to live within a much more narrowly-delineated world and accept certain practices as a “given”.

In essence, when you decide to either embrace or reject a specific value or practice, you’re doing exactly that: You’re making an ***informed decision***. You’re not doing what so many fundamentalists/traditionalists do – which is to passively, unthinkingly take on these values/practices solely because some higher authority (or, possibly, some Higher Authority) indicates that is what you *should* or *must* do.

If, as you say, “liberal Jews discount certain traditional Jewish values and practices espoused by the Orthodox members of our community instead of finding their own relationship to them”, then yes – it’s possible that more liberal Jews may benefit from some additional open-minded consideration, and that they should resist the temptation to simply dismiss those practices out-of-hand because they don’t “buy in” to the complete Orthodox package.

But, isn’t it ALSO possible that many of these liberal Jews did, in fact, give a lot of thought to these practices? Isn’t it possible that they spent a great deal of time and thought shifting them around in their minds to see if there could indeed be some semblance of a “fit” within the full set of values within which they live their own lives?
And if they seem to “reject” many of these practices, isn’t it also possible that their rejection was not just a knee-jerk reaction; instead, isn’t is possible – or even likely – that such “rejection” has been based on their own soul searching and upon an analysis undertaken within the larger context of an expanded set of life experiences?

In my mind, critical thinking, asking questions, weighing alternatives, looking inward, using life experiences and a more robust body of knowledge to evaluate … those are all elements that do, in fact, make our choices “more valid” than those we undertake as a matter of obligation, subservience, or rote habit.

Imagine that there are two kids in a sandbox. Each one throws sand at a friend. One kid apologizes to his sand-covered friend only because his parent takes him by the arm, marches him over to the friend, and forces him to do so; the other kid apologizes with no parental intervention involved, because he is truly contrite and believes he has acted wrongly. Wouldn’t you give more credence to the second apology?

Sandy Perlmutter says:

As a woman in a long-term lesbian relationship, I think the intensity of our friendships with men (especially gay men) has been increased, and that of our friendships with women (especially lesbian women) has decreased over the years. I had not thought about it this way, but the idea of modesty (although that is not what we would have called it) seems to be important. It is relaxation of that sexual tension, enabling us to lower our guard. I have close straight married female friends, but there are some very formal limits that I had not understood; probably they also have experienced these. Friendship is complicated!

astoundedbywickedness says:

Thank you for your piece that raises the issue with kindness. In addition, thank you for showing how conservatives (your sister) and liberals (you) and all healthy people of any ideology have to acknowledge and deal with the same human issues even if they draw the line differently (as your sister and you do). [In this case, the issue of "al tarbeh [tarbi] siha im ha-isha [ha-ish]” however one draws that line.]

Ezikiel says:

Poor Joshua, not only his wife is terribly self indulgent, she also is not in love with him.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

You raise some excellent points. I am both a liberal Jew precisely because I advocate engaging with Jewish tradition with discernment and a traditional Jew because of the high priority I put on the Jewish values, laws, traditions, stories, and practices that bind together Jews past, present, and future, in all of our varied cultures.

To go back to your sandbox analogy–I certainly want as many as possible to be the kids who make the apology without Mommy or Daddy’s compulsion–but value the apology, no matter what motivated it.

I also believe that much of the Orthodox world engages in the process of discernment you describe–finding contemporary relevance in traditions whose past interpretations seem no longer meaningful. However, this process of translation is often seamlessly worked into apologetic works not read by many non-Orthodox readers or is kept private.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I couldn’t resist your bait… I am going to go out on a limb and say that I suspect there are many male readers wishing that their wives were so “self-indulgent” and “not in love” with them that they would be consciously made the most highly prioritized relationships of their wives’ lives.

onceinawhile says:

Rachel, This is such an important piece, thank you. A few months ago, I went through a hard time on this topic, but I was looking at it from the perspective of your husband. Im a liberal feminist, and understanding of the infinite possibilities for friendship combinations regardless of gender. I had such a hard time seeking advice on what to do, being told “calm down, its platonic” by secular friends & to “lay down the law” or “give an ultimatum” by religious friends. This is a breath of fresh air amidst the dizzying to-and-fro. It is as simple as you write it — Knowing your partner has emotional closeness with another is painful *(even though I was 100% confident that their friendship was devoid of sexuality and I remained firm in the health of our own emotional intimacy); it caused me to feel less important in his emotional life.

onceinawhile says:

I recently read a teaching by the Ibshitzer Rebbe (Orthodox, mind you). He was once asked what was holier – Torah or Am Yisrael. He responded indeed its Am Yisrael, since Torah was given to them by Hashem. Therefore, it is more important to uphold the sanctity of Am Yisrael, which Rachel belongs to, rather than insult her in the name of Torah law. If you love your Orthodoxy, you will understand the concenpt Ahavat Israel. Where did you learn to hate your fellow Jew more than love them? Please, educate us, and it would be nice if you could do so as eloquently and emotionally sensitive as Rachel.

onceinawhile says:

Thats an interesting interpretation. I think there is something to be said for carving out a special emotional space that is ONLY shared by partners, lovers. But each relationship and couple should define that on their own terms, in their specific context involving specific friends. Rachel isnt preaching blanket statements, just her own very specific experience with Nick, which did have to result in pulling back. Also, every couple has their own emotional needs – there is no formula…As to the partner being the “Center of one’s life”, I dont see that being advocated at all. But, maybe I missed a paragraph where that was expounded upon.

blutopie says:

Much ado about nothing beyond common sense

Old boyfriends are gently withdrawn from or ditched once you are committed to a serious relationship – preferably LONG BEFORE Marriage makes that more obvious and permanent

The ‘email’ sent an old wannabe–maybe-boyfriend is ridiculous. The author should of dealt with this ages ago FACE TO FACE – not with a note that she had to write after her marriage because her husband was sick of her backpocket rainy day boyfriends

Just a clue – if the shoe was on the other foot and the husband had emotional intimacy with a number of ‘old girlfriends’ – just how incomprehensible would all of this been to this narcissist?

Grow up

RS1961 says:

I wouldn’t really consider the process to be “discernment” if the de facto conclusion is that the tradition will, somehow, be deemed relevant. That’s not “translation”, in my opinion – it’s rationalization by someone who was never really going to consider changing.

For a person to truly evaluate the relevance of a tradition and whether or not to incorporate it into his/her own life, there should ideally be some true *decision* involved that takes place after all of the facts/attributes are thoroughly considered. As a Reform/Liberal Jew, I am comfortable with this process, and don’t believe that it mitigates my “Jewishness” one iota.

However, many if not most of the more traditionally-leaning Jews who comment here would disagree vehemently; I’ve been told more times by Tablet commenters than I can remember that my “brand” of Judaism is not authentic, that I should “just become a Christian already”, that my grandchildren will be gentile, and that my denomination will kill off Judaism. (Just yesterday, a lovely Orthodox woman called me an “ignoramous” – in addition to several other names – in response to a comment that I had written that I swear was not inflammatory or disrespectful in the least; I believe that I said that I believe that if a woman completes the same course of study as a male does to become a Rabbi, then I believe that she should be known by the female-equivalent honorific.) And those are just the less virulent comments.

At any rate, I would not consider the Orthodox world to represent the pinnacle of open-minded, well-reasoned analysis about anything that is related to halachic law … which pretty much means anything that one does in one’s life (possibly with the exception of breathing, and I’m sure that there’s a halachically-correct way to do that as well if we look hard enough.) If they are unable to come up with an actual rationale to support that a given practice or belief is still relevant or ethical, they will almost always fall back on an argument that “It is not for me to question G-d” or “because my Rav says so” and decline to change their mindset.
Unfortunately, I have a tough time accepting either of those responses with an automatic “well, alright then!”, particularly since they are also used to justify attitudes that I consider to be abhorrent, including homophobia and misogyny.

What does your husband make of all this?

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I actually don’t want to share my husband’s thoughts in detail because he’s a much more private person than I am. As much as I am an extroverted (over-)sharer, he keeps his feelings to himself. One of the challenges I had in writing the piece is that I thought I had something important to say (how one might develop a personal relationship to a particular value previously discounted and judged others for), and I felt compelled to make sure Joshua read every draft and felt OK about his characterization. I do think Joshua thinks my choice about Nick is weird–but he finds my whole way of being a friend to be foreign to him.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

Thank you for sharing your feelings so frankly. The diverse advice you got from your friends seems to parallel what we’re seeing in the comments (those who think it’s narcissistic to have maintained any male friends as long as I have and those think it’s narcissistic to gently and consciously add boundaries to existing friendships). The diversity of opinion reflects how much this issue touches a nerve and the fact that the ways in which people deal with their non-primary friendships is far from “common sense.”

My husband seemed not to feel threatened–but I have known many, many men and women to be jealous of their partner’s “work spouses” or other friendships. And the easy transition of such theoretically platonic relationships into full-blown affairs is well-documented.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I am sorry that you are encountering readers and fellow commenters who are unwilling to be open-minded about other people’s different Jewish journeys (as am I). I think that anyone who grapples with Jewish values, even when consciously deciding to part ways with some of them, is doing something holy and meritorious.

Just to be clear: I assume that if your friend Nick had been gay it would not have made a difference to you, that you would still have felt the same need to pull back? (That is, that the issue for you is not about the temptation of sexual attraction so much as it is emotional intimacy?)

rachsol22 says:

Haven’t told him, giggle, giggle!

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

Absolutely. I actually have known many straight women who engaged in what I would consider excessive secret-sharing with their gay male friends, seeking consolation and advice, and even complaining unproductively (without seeking out resolution to their problems) about their partner.

Right. I think that several of the comments here are assuming that you’re talking about some kind of sexual “forbidden fruit”. But I understand that you’re not. I agree with you that the power, effect and consequence of emotional intimacy with someone other than one’s partner has the potential to be extremely damaging to one’s primary relationship.

Smith_90125 says:

Another day, another example of religious filth promoting hate against women and inventing idiotic “rules” for controlling people’s lives.

Berel Dov Lerner says:

Obviously, male rabbis have the same issues with their female congregants. The classic Orthodox solution is for the rabbi’s wife – the “Rebbetzin” – to deal with the more intimate aspects of pastoral care for women congregants. Maybe you should have a talk with Joshua about HIS role as a rabbi’s husband!

LouiseBonde says:

This really is a sad topic. To ‘distance yourself’ from another person, with whom you connect so well, simply because you have married, is a total misunderstanding of relationships.

I am non-religious and I have been with my boyfriend for almost 9 years. We often miscommunicate, misunderstand each other and are sometimes frustrated that we do not ‘get’ each other better. But we are as close as any other couple I know, and neither of us need to disassociate ourselves from friends to keep or nurture our connection.
I think its terrible that you find it necessary to pull back from a friend in order to direct “energy and intimacy” towards your partner. I do not believe that relationships are ‘either/or’ the way you describe.
I find energy, happiness, solace and much more with my friends, and this does not, in any way, take away from what I put into my relationship with my partner.

AnnaD says:

Jesse, 10 bucks says the “person [you] live with, wake up next to, etc.” is not going to be the same “person [you] live with, wake up next to, etc.” in 5 years. You are so very modern, open-minded and enlightened, LOL.

AnnaD says:

“[H]er husband was sick of her backpocket rainy day boyfriends”? What on, what the? … Wow, that really came out of left field. It’s totally disconnected from the reality of the article. It’s amazing how much of their own stuff people can project onto others. Blutopie, I think there’s probably someone who hurt you very much that you want or need to say, “Grow up” to, but it’s not Rachel.

Halal says:

Oh my! Reading this made me laugh….. people is crazy, they still let “religions” get into their real life. How can a human being let a marriage become a jail?! Sick, so sick.

te'Shara says:

I had a friend do this. Then she lost her husband and found herself with nothing more than casual friends that didn’t really want to be involved anymore.

Rachel Miller Solomin says:

I totally hear you about that one. I’m one of those rabbis who–when I worked full-time on the staff of a congregation–always kept my blinds open when I had a one-on-one meeting. When you are a rabbi–in a congregation or not–people display great ease in confiding in you, and that vulnerability is easily mishandled (by both a congregant and a rabbi). It makes even socializing outside the congregational context difficult. However, I am not sure that the answer in most communities is to go back to a model in which both partners are jointly dealing with congregants’ needs.

Berel Dov Lerner says:

Earth to Halal, earth to Halal, please listen. This is not at all about religion. Human beings are imperfect creatures and the worst thing they can do is refuse to take those imperfections into account. If someone really wants to protect their marriage and they feel that great intimacy with men other than their husband endangers their marriage, the only sane thing to do is to hedge that intimacy. Or do you think that someone who wants to lose weight can safely load up their refrigerator with chocolate ice cream and apple pies on the assumption that humans are completely rational beings who never are tempted into doing things against their better judgment?

Ora Liel says:

I have never dropped the friends I have who are male. I have been with my husband now for 20 years and have 3 kids, 2 of whom are male.

We as people need to have self control and Orthodoxy seems not to have that because there is always the need to put fences up or put separations up.

We should be able to guard ourselves without fences.

patrick sullivan says:

To read so many of these comments that blame religion or suggest that they made better choices, think about it a little. This person made a decision for the health of her marriage. This is about having something special with her partner. Not about ditching friends for little or no reason. There’s no suggestion that men are innately evil. It’s simple, this is about having a closer relationship with her husband. I think most women would have an issue if their husbands’ best friend was a woman who heard their biggest problems. Would you feel comfortable if you weren’t your lover’s confidant?

marketocracia says:

I loved the “it’s a feature, not a bug” perspective. I have to read the article again. And appreciate the beauty in it.

We lack these values in our Western societies. We’re too “I don’t believe in God” and that attitude is a package. It’s not only an issue of believing or not in a deity, but also the moral framework that comes with the elevation of man to a position of voting what is right and wrong.

In the West, marriage is not about the beloved friend, not even utilitarian. It’s just fast whatever. Fast sex, fast friendship and a fast divorce: in essence, a McMarriage. I hate the ideia, but it’s almost a service.

I didn’t explain how moral relativism affects marriage. You did write that it’s not about modesty, but intimacy. I fully understand that. But can you have THE intimacy without modesty?

Jesuis Generis says:

My philosophy on marriage is obviously completely different from the writer’s, but I just want to comment that I find it sad that the presence of a spouse in one’s life can hold so much conflict. A spouse brings many great things to one’s life, but the socially accepted way of managing a marriage to me means that a spouse is also a very destructive element. First, I don’t agree people some how reach completeness in a partner. I like to see it as still two heads being better than one, but because they are two “whole” heads. Which means friends and a private life are necessary to me. I married a woman who undersands me and my need to maintain an aspect of my “own” life and I think if she ever said bye to a friend on behalf of our marriage, I would feel like an intruder and not a friend of hers. And as far as sexual attraction, this is why people stop enjoying sex with each other and end up living in fantasies about others. I don’t think sexual exclusivity is about love. Sexual exclusivity is about control. I think it’s archaic and people need to stop realizing that sexuality is around us and needs to be embraced and not dealt with like a problem…

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Youie says:

I think the problem is with her own inner demons. She is not secure around men at all because she feels that she will end up sleeping with one.

Dzhershk says:

Basically you married a man about whom, after years of marriage, you came to the depressing conclusion that he doesn’t understand you and you don’t understand him, and your therefore going to cut off all contact with men who do because you know sooner or later you’ll fuck one of them.

You should have called the article: My Husband Doesn’t Get Me, I Want To Have Sex With Men That Do But I Shouldn’t So I’m Not Going To Talk To Any Of Them Anymore.

You’ll probably end up resenting him down the line, after years of emotional silence with no one to confide in and the loss of any people with which you could.

Bubba Loop says:

Shunning friendship for religion: I find this text depressive.

letmeeatcake says:

this bearing of your soul really turned me on…

alphasun says:

You are paying a price, but you’re solution may well be the best for you. As soon as one is married, the natural sympathy and sexual attraction between oneself and anyone other than one’s spouse represents a risk to the marriage — usually negligible but capable of escalating, e.g. if one differs radically with one’s spouse on something and the friend agrees vehemently with you and therefore “understands”. Monogamy has many practical advantages but is not ‘natural’.

In my book, it is unfair of members of celibate religious orders to form close friendships with married people for that reason. However, I understand why they do — the stresses of following religious beliefs and disciplines are considerable.

tusJohn Cox says:

Very mature of you to realise that you cannot continue to be sexually promiscuous when you are married – at least not with men other than your husband.

socialismisevil says:

That was one well, excellently written article

But, to the author, only you know if you yearn for your friend, even in a fantasy world moment

you are obviously deep enough to undersand that a sexual liason can occur with one who you can so deeply share, whatever it is you need to share

“Attraction” is fleeting, definable and yet not always known

as its “magic” its mystery ( as YOU hit on) is just that, a mystery, at times

and as a “mystery” it cannot be trusted to be known, to be expected, to be recognized…….until it is too late

You seem to have solved the “problem” in your last paragraph

BUT intellectualizing a problem/issue doesnt necessarily override the emotionalism that lingers for one that understands you ( “innately” ???)

goes to the heart of that question:

are humans monogamous by nature

certainly, not , generally speaking, as we can and do connect with others on different levels

that stir our emotions and just downright pump our primal urges that no level of intellect can will away

ignore it yes ( like a homosexual person who gets married has children etc) , but not will it away

socialismisevil says:

nailed it

socialismisevil says:

thanks

b/c attraction is that

at once at a superficial level but at the same time , deeper

“rejection” is not fun, at any level

anaximander3 says:

One of the big dangers of a marriage, or even having a boyfriend or girlfriend, is that you cut off all other friends and become absorbed just in each other. That is not the purpose God intended for marriage, nor is it healthy. Unfortunately, this author perpetuates this unhealthy tendency under the guise of “modesty”. As at least one other person here has pointed out, if something goes wrong with the relationship and they have to separate, then neither partner will be able to cope, because they will have no one. Once again religion with its so-called “wisdom” causes problems.

Johanna van Zanten says:

Well said. I also came to the conclusion through life experiences that friendship with a man who is not my partner (or for a man with another woman who is not his partner) is perilous at worst and probably self serving (for assuring some ego strokes coming my way) at best.
Johanna

Guest says:

I am so grateful to you for writing this article. I am not married yet. However, I’m in a serious relationship with someone. He feels that it’s okay to maintain relationships with woman that he’s had sexual/emotional relationships with in the past and I do not agree. We have been talking about marriage in the future and I don’t feel we can even get to that point if we both continue to allow outside factors influence our progression towards marriage. I have confided in one of my closest guy friends about everything that’s been going on…BIG MISTAKE. Since that time he has confessed his love for me and continuously speaks negatively about my boyfriend. I am saddened not only because I realize that at this point my friendship needs to end but my boyfriend also thinks maintaining the relationship with my guy friend is ok. I appreciate that you were able to cut ties with Nick. I hope to share this article with my boyfriend in hopes that he understands and in time I’m hoping my boyfriend will too. Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Rachel Lavoie says:

How disheartening for your lesbian friends. By the very nature of their sexual orientation, they are deprived a level of connection with you as a friend that you are willing to give your straight friends. This is so upsetting to read. If all women went through the world this way in order to preserve modesty etc, I would be able to have no close female friendships because they’d all be avoiding the lesbian friend and just confiding in one another. How incredibly isolating and unfair. Lesbians need solid, good friends outside of their intimate relationship too, you know. That is not a need exclusive to straight women, and should not be skated around in the name of “modesty.”

I would have thought if someone is unattractive then getting cosmetic surgery would be a good thing for them. It’s a shame that it’s unaffordable for some people. I feel sorry for them as they are ugly and poor. Terrible.

humbleforest . says:

Dear Global Friends,

That’s the way it should be, as one is sincere and faithful to one’s husband not to create a misunderstanding or suspicious of committing any adultery.

The world today is in a terrible moral crisis, due to dishonesty and irresponsibility of committing sexual misconduct at the back of one another in adultery, infidelity and false love, thus giving to a sharp rise in divorce rates and marriage break-ups.

The drop of human moral values is due to too egoistic in one’s personal high academic education and knowledgeable, inwhich there is NO moral education to accompany with, thus makes one like stepping back into a world of uncivilisation or uneducated.

On the contrary, the ancient people were searching for various ways and means to become civilised through moral education, while the modern space age people behave otherwise, and are worse. What is the use of being intelligent and knowledgeable without wisdom of morality ? This is being proven for centuries in histories until today, where human beings still kill human beings without mercy and blaming one another for the killings. Is this called peace ? Yes, in words only but NOT through one’s moral heart of one’s action.

Thank you for the sharing. May everyone be self-disciplined in moral values.

AgreewithGod says:

Rachel, I saw this article off a news feed (2 months later than original publication) and have read a number of the comments and your responses to them. You have presented what I would describe as a strong Biblical case for the appropriate way to view/respect your marriage (husband). The short-hand version to describe the way you allow the differences in your husband and you to ‘grow’ you is: Holy sandpaper. But there are a couple of ideas you espouse that jump off the page as grossly off-mark. To call yourself Jewish and Rabbi as a woman is the obvious first. The second, your consistent reference to homosexuality as a presumably morally equal lifestyle is equally troubling for a Jew to make. Scripture is clear that both are not part of God’s plan for His creation. To be clear, His creation, His rules…not mine. I am a man who has been very happily once married to the same woman 25 years. Yet my heart’s desire would be to have a bevy of Victoria’s Secret models at my beck and call 24/7. When searching for the God of the universe, I did not seek a God that would let me do the things I wanted to do, I sought the Truth. Through Grace He accepted me, and still loves me, despite the sinful desires of my heart contrary to His plan. I have no problem with strong women or women in leadership, but I have a big problem with any person, male or female, representing themselves as a person of faith making up their own version to fit their worldview or desires. To be clear, it is morally wrong to say, “I am a Jew who happens to disagree with God in these areas.” It would be correct to say, “I am of Jewish ethniticity, who disagrees with God in several areas and have created (or joined) a religion that fulfills my desires and worldview.” Anything else is disingenuous and acually disturbing. Incidentlally, I grew up with an atheist father (who died in that worldview), and a confused mother (raised Methodist, non church-going). I have an equally confused/mislead sister who is fairly high up in the administration of a Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. I pray that you seek Truth and accept Him. Respectfully

Guest says:

Wow! Brave article. Reminds me of an ex of mine, who was about to give away all her male friends & wanted me to move on with my friendships with the fairer sex. Didn’t seem rational to me and I felt quite apologetic and helpless. In the end, I decided it wasn’t going to work between my ex and me and we moved on. Won’t judge you, as it is only you who are allowed to judge your life. But it would have been very difficult to let a good friend walk away

Just sounds like you married the wrong person, and are living a shell life.

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