Ask Augusten Burroughs: Why Couldn't We Be "Just Friends"?

This-Is-How-Cover Over the past several weeks, Augusten Burroughs tackled your questions about handling chronically late spouses, losing your best friend, infidelity, growing up gay, optimism, irony, and anorexia.

In his last Omni column (for now, at least), he explains why people assume the worst when a married woman is just friends with a man who's not her husband.

And if he hasn't touched on the problem that's been giving you fits, chances are good you'll find fitting advice in This Is How.

Dear Augusten,

I am a married woman that developed a close relationship with a recently divorced man after I relocated for my job to a new city far away from my family. My husband was well aware of the friendship and trusted me implicitly, as I trusted him.

When my family did move up, my friend spent many hours with my husband and with the family. He became a close family friend.

What irritates me is the fact that so many people assumed that we were having an affair. Several people came up and asked me if I were having an affair. When I told them no, they then had the gall to ask me if my friend was gay! When I told them no, I could just imagine what popped into their heads and what most of them would have liked to have asked next--"How do you know?"

I was a cheerleader to my friend when it came to him pursuing romantic relationships after the sting from his divorce had eased. He has found a girlfriend, and I am very happy for him. Unfortunately, the girl friend does not want me in his life and my friend has managed to rationalize it in his head that it is all for the best. I have accepted that there will be no more contact except possibly at an occasional conference, since we are both in the same profession. He is aware that if he needs anything, my husband and I will always be there for him. I owe him a lot, because he helped me through some tough times.

Can a man and a woman just be friends? Why do people always think the worst? What do you say to people who have the gall to ask such stupid questions? Are my husband and I just weird in the fact that we trust each other? Thank you! --Anon

Dear Anon,

I’m not the least bit surprised so many people in your life assumed your friendship with this recently divorced man must be a “friendship with benefits” but why, you ask? Because we are a society that reports as news when the nipple of a celebrity becomes exposed on television, provide our children with genital-free dolls to play with, and obsess relentlessly over which combinations of people should and should not be allowed to have sex with each other.

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