Vietnamese couples challenged by opposite-sex friendships

By Hai Hien   October 18, 2023 | 03:00 am PT
When Minh Phuong was upset by a photo of her husband tightly hugging his female friend in a photo he posted online, she was accused of being “blindly jealous.”

Tuan Tu, Minh Phuong’s husband, has known this female friend, who he considers his "best friend," for more than 10 years. They are "even closer than two guy friends," he said, because they can tell each other anything, from deep family matters to discussing their favorite places to hang out. Whenever this friend is free, she invites Tu out for coffee no matter how late or early the hour. He calls her his "platonic soulmate."

"When I spend time with the two of them, I feel like a third wheel," said Minh Phuong, a 32-year-old Hanoian. "It’s like I’m just there for a free meal."

Phuong said that she’s cut out of the conversation when she and her husband are with his best friend because the pair of "besties" constantly talked about experiences, events and subjects that only they know about.

Furthermore, whenever Tu’s friend takes an intimate-looking picture with him, she tags him without hesitation.

According to psychology specialist Nguyen Thi Minh, a professor at Ho Chi Minh Cit’s National Academy of Public Administration, platonic soulmates are people who share the same hobbies and lifestyle preferences, and whose "souls are compatible." Opposite-gender platonic soulmates are also not sexually attracted to each other.

Minh explained that there exists a concept in psychology called the three components of love: intimacy, commitment, and passion. The highest form of a soulmate bond includes intimacy (being able to share anything) and commitment (sacrificing for one another).

"Only romantic love will include the third pillar," she said.

Opposite-gender platonic soulmates can be ex-lovers whose romantic relationship ended without any lingering hatred or feelings of betrayal. They can also simply be close friends who have the same values and seek comfort from each other.

However, Phuong said even early in their relationship, she had felt uncomfortable with how close Tu was to this woman. But she was sure that everything would change once she and Tu married because she was the one he was choosing to spend the rest of his life with. But Phuong said that she now knows that she was definitely wrong.

"I once advised my husband to keep his distance [from the female friend], but he was adamant that they weren’t doing anything wrong because they were just friends," said Phuong. "He even said that if he and his friend were in love then they would’ve been in a relationship and I wouldn’t be in the picture."

Ngoc Bich’s "platonic soulmate" is a reserved, intelligent man. She said that she can share anything with him even though they are millions of kilometers apart. According to her, he always listens to her and gives her sound advice. And she added that there are also times when he doesn’t say anything and simply lets her vent for however long she wants.

"When that happens, I feel a strange relief, something I never feel with my husband," Bich said.

Her husband is a workaholic with a tendency to be inattentive to his family, according to Bich. Motivated to provide for his family financially, he entrusts everything relating to the family and their home to his wife. As such, whenever she feels pressured by carrying these responsibilities alone, she reaches out to her male friend.

She can text him for hours on end, and she is always the first one to comment on any of his posts. On the other hand, she only exchanges a few words with her husband at the end of the day before both of them retreat to their own corners of the house.

According to Minh, this kind of relationship is bound to create misunderstandings between couples. And sometimes the larger of these misunderstandings can even jeopardize a marriage.

In Minh Phuong’s case, she’s always seen herself as an outsider in her husband’s life. As for Bich’s family, her husband considers her relationship with her friend to be "emotional cheating."

He often insults her friend, which leads the couple into arguments regularly. Once, when he saw his wife texting her friend, he snatched her phone and they had such a fierce fight that they did not even look at each other for days at a time.

According to Ngyuyen Thi Tam, Director of the Hon Viet Center for Training and Application of Psychology, when someone’s life partner has a platonic soulmate who is the opposite gender, it is understandable that the other partner can become jealous.

"Not everyone is going to be able to accept their partner’s opposite-gender friend. It can sometimes be like ticking time bomb ready to ruin a family at any time," Tam said.

In a recent survey of 1,700 VnExpress readers, 63% believed that there is no such thing as a purely platonic relationship between a male and female. They said that they would try to prevent their partner from having such a relationship.

Specialist Minh said: "The stronger the bond between platonic soulmates, the weaker the love between the couple will be."

"Any form of opposite-gender relationship can run the risk of turning romantic if the marriage is devoid of compatibility and understanding," she concluded.

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