dating

"Is it ever okay to have rules about who your partner eats with?"

I know many couples who have rules in their relationship.

Never argue in public. Never go to bed angry. If you’re upset – voice it. Don’t fester and bring it up weeks later, when you’re arguing about something entirely unrelated.

By and large, there is nothing inherently wrong with forging rules for your relationship. If they fit your personalities and your expectations, they no doubt can make for a healthier and happier partnership.

But is deciding who your partner can, or more accurately, can’t eat with, well beyond the scope of acceptable relationship rules?

Should you have rules for your relationship? And if so, what are they? Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and I discuss on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

This week, an interview with Mike Pence from more than 15 years ago resurfaced.

The Vice President of the United States said that he never eats alone with a woman who is not his wife, and he won’t attend events that serve alcohol, without her present.

His personal rules for marriage have, however, entered his professional life.

Pence cannot have a lunch meeting or professional dinner with a female co-worker, even if she happens to be Angela Merkel or Theresa May. Any aide or colleague who will be required to work late alongside him, must be of the male variety.

Pence’s rules unequivocally exclude women from certain professional opportunities. Simply, it’s workplace discrimination. His behaviour actively sustains the hegemonic ‘boys club’ and reduces women to sexual temptresses who have no place in the board room.

The sexism inherent in Pence’s decision not to interact with women one on one in the workplace is not up for debate.

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But on a personal level, does he have a point?

CBN ran with the headline; “Pence Marriage Rule: Wise Advice or Misogynistic Throwback?” and indeed, it seems to be a philosophical goldmine.

The outrage, as The Atlantic put it, “reveals how deeply gender divides American culture.”

It became a question of conservative versus progressive, and secular versus non secular, but I think the conversation is actually far more nuanced than that. Because whether or not you feel comfortable ‘allowing’ you partner to dine with a member of the opposite sex (or of the same sex, as the case may be) is, in fact, a deeply personal decision, impacted by so much more than your politics.

A woman who has been cheated on in the past, or a man who grew up aware of his mother’s infidelity, might always harbour an insecurity about dining alone with someone they could potentially have a romantic interest in. Hard and fast ‘rules’ may not be the answer, but an honest discussion is certainly a starting point.

Mike and Karen Pence. Image via Getty.

Or how about a man who is in the public eye, photographed having after work drinks with a woman who is not his wife? He'd hardly have finished his beer before the titillating images are splashed across the tabloids.

Could Pence's rule be sensitive? Or even pragmatic?

I'd be more inclined to label it problematic.

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"Misogynistic throwback," seems a far more accurate description, as Slate's Heath Schwedel put it, "Aggressively following this rule, one can imagine, would seriously compromise one's ability to gain insight from women who aren't Karen Pence."

The social practice of entering into a heterosexual, monogamous relationship, and then slowly but surely eliminating all friends of the opposite sex, is bizarre and archaic.

Pence's rule plays into the characterisation of all women as nothing more than sexual seductresses, who lure unassuming men in with cunning trickery.

A man's wife or partner should not be the only woman in his life he has a meaningful relationship with. And the same goes for women.

If they are, it assumes that the only role a woman ought to play in a man's life is a sexual partner. That's where their worth begins and ends.

Anecdotally, I've found that the best men have female friends. They respect women, they're interested in what women have to say, and they understand women.

Perhaps if Pence had a female friend or two, he might not be such a hard-lined anti-abortion advocate. Or he wouldn't be standing against equal pay. Just a thought.

I suppose I feel sorry for Pence, as I do any man who doesn't dine with women apart from his wife. It's impossible to quantify what they're missing out on; the perspectives, the laughs, the insights and the stories. Simply, the loss of a lifetime's worth of female friendships.

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Each and every relationship will inevitably formulate their own implicit or explicit set of rules.

Some might say if it's a long time friend, dining alone with them is fine. Perhaps if you've met someone new of the opposite sex and the friendship is beginning to develop, it might be polite or sensitive to try and include your partner in that friendship.

For some, exes are fraught territory. For others, catching up for a drink, or even inviting an ex over for dinner, is a nonissue.

And of course when trust is broken, the rules are rewritten.

But if your partner is dictating who you can, and who you absolutely cannot spend time with, then it might be time to reconsider the relationship altogether.

Perhaps it's time to challenge our propensity to be fearful of our partners new friendships. Where is the logic in reducing your pool of potential friends by 50 per cent, simply because you're in a relationship?

Mike Pence's marriage should not be the blueprint for a happy, healthy relationship. Far from it.

The kind of relationship I want to be in, encourages and broadens friendships, rather than forbidding them.

And I want a companion who loves women, not just as sexual partners.

But that's just me.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

You can buy any book mentioned on our podcasts from iBooks at apple.co/mamamia, where you can also subscribe to all our other shows in one place.

Would you let your partner eat alone with another woman or man?