The Other Women Club

You’ll never be the only woman in his life. But his ex, old college mates or colleagues can be good for your relationship.

Ahh, the ladies in my life. Where do I start? To all the girls I’ve loved before! I won’t lie – there have been a few. In my 33 years I must have had at least 33 significant relationships. Right now there are several important women in my life – and only one of them is my wife.

Before you reel in horror, it should be pointed out that my relationship with these other women is totally platonic. Even the really good-looking ones. Men and women can be friends without sex getting in the way. Men actually need female friends.

Imagine what we’d be like if we only ever hung out with other guys: arrogant yet awkward, swaggering yet socially inept, a cross between the worst kind of public schoolboy and the saddest kind of computer nerd. We’d play Dungeons & Dragons, listen to Queen and get our kicks at Teasers. Would you want to date us?

It’s ironic: these very women who make a girlfriend so uneasy are actually what make us great boyfriend material. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t want to know us at all. Really, you should be encouraging our ‘other women’ and introducing us to more!

The ‘other women’ in a man’s life can be split into three camps: sisters, old friends and colleagues. There’s Mom, of course, but a guy’s relationship with his mother is like a girl’s with her father – neither can do any wrong in the other’s eyes. There’s no logic involved and complaining about it is like bemoaning the fact your office isn’t in Barbados.

I’m lucky to have two sisters. We’re very close: we go out drinking, we chat on the phone and, in the past, I’ve sought their advice on girlfriends. Is this why women are so wary of their boyfriends’ sisters? Because they have the power of veto over their brothers’ girlfriends? Possibly. But neither of my sisters has ever disapproved of any of my relationships. It they had, yes, l would have thought twice. But then I’d have ignored them.

No, what really unnerves girls about a guy’s relationship with his sisters is that you know it’s going to take years before we’re as comfortable with you as we are with them. Even in families where the siblings aren’t terribly close, there’s a bond that comes simply from spending the first 16 or so years of your lives together. A new girlfriend is never going to compete.

The good news is, we don’t want a ‘sisterly’ bond with a girlfriend. We know our sisters almost as well as we know ourselves; the exciting thing about you is we hardly know you at all and the best bit about a relationship is getting to know you.

So what about our old female friends? Those women we’ve known since school, university or our first proper job? The women whose names pop up in our funniest anecdotes, whose faces are in our happiest photos and who, it seems, might be just as important to us as you?

There’s a very simple answer. Our female friends are not about sex. Even the really stunning ones. And before you ask, no, they’re not just our friends because they wouldn’t sleep with us.

Exhibit A. At university l used to know a guy called Simon ‘The Diamond’. He was clever, funny and good-looking, and always surrounded by the hottest girls – all of whom saw him as ‘just a friend’. His relationships remained firmly platonic, not even one-off, spontaneous sauciness. Why? Because they ‘didn’t want to spoil their friendship’. Hence ‘The Diamond’ – a girl’s best friend.

And he wasn’t friends with these girls because they were beautiful; he was friends with them because he enjoyed their company. And before you ask, he wasn’t gay, he was just, well… cool.

There’s an odd little process single men go through when they meet a funny, clever, attractive girl – she’ll either be put into the ‘dateable’ category and he’ll go for it, or into the ‘friend’ category – and once she’s there, there she’ll stay.

There are, of course, exceptions. There are some men who make a habit, a tactic even, of coming on to their female friends – and there are times when even the most sensible and platonic of boy/girl friends find themselves in a drunken clinch. Usually, if they managed to remain mates afterwards, it’s a safe bet it won’t happen again.

Of course, when it comes to exes, you know there’s been action, so it can be hard to believe there won’t be again. Especially as it’s an irrefutable fact that it does happen. Scott, 28, an estate agent, explains, ‘Quite often after a break-up you’ll end up in bed with each other a few times if you’re both single, especially if it’s an amicable split. But you’ll either drift apart, get back together or the sex stops. I’m still good friends with one ex from five years ago – but the idea of sleeping with her now seems ridiculous.’

It might sound like a paradox but it’s our exes and oldest female friends who pose the least threat. If anything were going to happen, it would have. And if it has, it will have been so long ago there’s no danger of it happening again. As one guy l know says, ‘Exes are exes for a reason.’

The same cannot be said of the random, peripheral women in our lives – the colleagues, the neighbours, the receptionist at the gym. These women keep us in the game.

Don’t panic! They’re not targets for our sexual advances but they are who we practise on. Even the happiest settled man doesn’t want to abandon his flirting skills altogether. And if flirting can liven up an evening course, think what it can do somewhere as dull as the office. Should you assume that an ‘x’ on the end of an e-mail to a female colleague signals the start of an affair? There’s no denying it can happen, but if every flirty e-mail ended up in physical naughtiness, the whole economy would collapse – there’d be no time left to work! And let’s be honest, when it comes to gratuitous flirting, you’re as bad as we are.

I once worked in an office where I was the only heterosexual male and, for the first few days, I thought I’d been miraculously transformed into a sex god. Offers to show me around, help me out… The girls were all over me. Then a female friend set me right. As the token straight man, I was target number one for flirting, a chance to twirl the hair and flutter the eyelashes. But none of it meant a thing. Was I gutted? Of course not – in fact, it made it easier; I could flirt outrageously too, knowing it was never going to come to anything.

We all need a flirt – it’s what keeps us sharp for the real thing and reminds us that even though we’re in a relationship, we still need to make a little effort.

So you see, the other ladies in our lives might be important but, ultimately, they exist to remind us how crucial you are. And whenever the subject of jealousy comes up, I’m always reminded of my dad’s plain-speaking view on the matter – ‘it doesn’t matter where you get your appetite, so long as you always eat at home.’

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