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Appropriate or Not?

Today we’re discussing Measure of Love as part of the GRAB(ook) Club, and I’m participating too.  You can answer my question without having read the book (though… you know… what are you waiting for?  It’s a great summer read).

Arianna presents a sticky situation in Chapter Two.  She’s at the dry cleaners when an annoying woman holds up the line for twenty minutes, arguing about her missing clothes.  Arianna falls into a conversation with a man standing behind her who turns out to be a writer for a comedy news show.  They end up grabbing coffee together and chatting after they get out of the dry cleaners.  They part ways without making any plans to see each other again; in fact, she doesn’t even have his last name though it wouldn’t be difficult to find it since she knows where he works.

Rachel thinks this crosses a line, especially since Arianna is in a committed relationship with Ethan.  Arianna doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with grabbing a cup of coffee with a stranger.

Which person do you think is correct and would you have gotten coffee with the man if you had been Arianna waiting in line?

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for Measure of Love.  You can get your own copy of Measure of Love by Melissa Ford at bookstores including Amazon.


1 Jennifer { 06.12.13 at 10:32 pm }

Here’s the thing: I see how that can be innocent. Heck, I grab food or drinks with male colleagues and think nothing of it. However, if my husband said he had coffee with a female stranger it would not go well.

2 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.12.13 at 10:52 pm }

I’m not of the Harry Met Sally camp. Like Jennifer above, I believe that two people who are capable of being involved with each other can be friends without slipping into an inappropriate relationship.

But that ability depends on the personalities involved, the health of the other relationships each person may be in, and the mindfulness with which they conduct themselves.

3 a { 06.12.13 at 11:04 pm }

I think men often see things differently than women. That said, I go out to lunch every week with 2-3 guys I work with and 2 guys that retired from my workplace. 90% of the time, I am the only girl. My husband knows all the guys, and they know him. I also go out with some of their wives. Some of us have kids of similar age. I think the difference is that we’re all pretty well settled in our lives. When you’re not settled (as Arianna didn’t appear to be to Rachel), the question arises.

I also think women are very capable of separating guys into platonic friends and guys with which they’re interested in forming a relationship. But I don’t think men are quite as capable. Also, I think other women are prone to judging.

Anyway, to answer the question, I might have gone to coffee with the guy, because going to coffee is just that, to me. And I think Rachel’s main objection occurs because it relates to her brother, not just some random dude who she only knows through his relationship with Arianna.

4 Delenn { 06.12.13 at 11:23 pm }

This is so funny because I JUST read this part a few hours ago. I really thought Rachel was out of line to even suggest it…although Arianna seemed a bit defensive too. As a Gamer Chic who plays with mainly men–I can totally see this being an innocent thing. I do agree that Rachel is more offended because she is a bit sensitive because its her brother that Arianna is having a relationship with. I think because she doesn’t really know what is going on in that relationship, she is taking EVERYTHING a bit to meaningfully. Sometimes a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee.

5 missohkay { 06.12.13 at 11:26 pm }

I think going out with a stranger of the opposite sex is more problematic than going out with an existing guy friend where both parties are (presumably) on the same page about their friendship and boundaries and have likely hung out in group contexts before the one-on-one. Going out with a stranger in a get-to-know-you context is definitely date-esque in my opinion.

6 Mommy-At-Last { 06.13.13 at 5:21 am }

Missohkay has it summed up. It is very different having an innocent lunch, drink whatever with a friend where you know where you stand, you know each other’s motives, but with a stranger??? I think this falls in the grey area for me. Funny enough I also found myself playing this over and over when I read this part of the book trying to figure out who was right.

7 Justine { 06.13.13 at 7:27 am }

I agree that it’s a bit odd to have coffee with a stranger you never plan to meet again, unless that person could have useful information for you, or it’s time for lunch and you’re both going the same place … it probably WAS just a cup of coffee, but to me it suggests something about Arianna.

8 Egg Timer { 06.13.13 at 9:20 am }

I think the hunting down of a stranger to have a cup of coffee is what makes this wrong. If I had a 20 minute conversation with a woman in line and she showed up at my work place and asked to be my friend I would be all “whoa… crazy stalker chick!” The only thing that would cause you to hunt down a man after such a brief encounter would be an attraction to them… immediately making this coffee not as “innocent” as you are professing that it is.

9 Pepper { 06.13.13 at 9:31 am }

I don’t know if it’s inappropriate technically, but I wouldn’t feel right doing it and I wouldn’t like it if my husband did. My interest was piqued as soon as it happened in the book and I knew it had to lead to…something… plot-wise because why else would you have included something so attention-raising? I liked how much it made me think.

10 Gail { 06.13.13 at 9:46 am }

The scene in the book reminded me of the movie “Lost in Translation” with Bill Murary and Scarlett Johansson. They meet at a hotel bar when neither one can sleep and strike up a conversation. They end up continuing to meet at the bar and spend time together even while knowing that they are both married to other people, but their conversations get deeper and deeper. While they never have sex or even kiss, there is a definite relationship there. When I watched the movie with my husband, we discussed whether having an emotional connection to someone would qualify as having an affair and neither of us really decided on an answer. While having drinks together was innocent and not a problem, there was a point in which the characters crossed the line both in your book and in the movie. And, crossing that line took it from a casual meeting for drinks to an emotional affair.
Here is a link to the clip where the characters meet in the bar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGvDCmuDKKE

11 Barb { 06.13.13 at 10:23 am }

I think it’s innocent and ok as long as you keep it innocent.

12 Melanie { 06.13.13 at 10:26 am }

I agree with missohkay completely. I see nothing wrong with having coffee, lunch, even a drink with a known friend or coworker of the opposite sex. My husband and I have both done that with no issue. If there is an established platonic friendship, I wouldn’t think twice about it. But if my husband had coffee with a stranger he met in line, that would be a big red flag! I wouldn’t be comfortable with that and I wouldn’t expect he would be either, if I did it. It does seem date-ish. To meet someone and immediately decide you want to spend additional time out of your day with them implies some sort of spark. Platonic friendships usually take longer to cultivate.

13 Kathy { 06.13.13 at 11:13 am }

This is such a great and uncomfortable question for me to think about… I echo missohkay, Mommy-At-Last, Justine and Melanie. Unless it was lunchtime or we happened to be walking into the same coffee shop after we left the dry cleaners, I don’t see how it isn’t a bit of a red flag/a line crossing.

I wish that I was more confident and could answer as Lori and other’s did. But I know myself and I think it would be hard for me to accept if my husband did this (with some he hadn’t met before, such as an old friend or a coworker). So that said, if they same boundaries/rules apply to me, than I probably wouldn’t do it.

The other part of this discussion that fascinates me is what constitutes an affair. I don’t mean how far you would go with someone physically, as to me whether its a kiss or sex, it is most definitely crossing the line. However, when it comes to emotional affairs (as Gail commented on above), things get more complicated. Is it wrong to fantasize about another man (someone we know or a celebrity) now and then, if you never act on it? Is it wrong to flirt with friends that you find attractive, if it never goes any further?

I wish we were all in a room together so we could discuss this more in real time, but this format is second best and I look forward to what others have to say. Thanks for hosting this Mel and writing such an awesome and thought-provoking book/sequel to Life from Scratch! I can’t wait to read Apart at the Seams next year!

14 anexpatinuk { 06.13.13 at 11:49 am }

At first I thought that it was nothing wrong with the situation and that Rachel simply overreacted. I have had many male friends over the years so don’t think it’s strange at all. but then again, how it happened might question it, since they don’t know each other and that it is a hint that at least one of them is interested in knowing more about the other, but you don’t know who… so, knowing how it all worked out in the book, I believe Arianna is right in this case.
Would I go for coffee like that? maybe, but only if I didn’t sense any flirting going on.

15 loribeth { 06.13.13 at 11:50 am }

I’m in agreement with everyone else. It’s one thing to have a cup of coffee with someone you already know, but to go off with a stranger you just met in a lineup… I dunno. As others have said, would you like it if your husband/boyfriend/partner did that? I agree that Rachel probably overreacted a bit & called Arianna on her behaviour because of her brother.

I remember one morning a few years back, I was having a lousy day — got into the elevator with this incredibly good looking guy — who made some comment about the weather or such. We went back & forth for a minute, and as I left, he smiled & said, “Have a good day.” He totally made my day — it was such a great pick me up. ; ) But had he tried to continue the conversation, suggest a coffee — well, that would have been a bit creepy. It was what it was, and it was fun for the minute or two that it lasted, but to try to pursue it further than that would have spoiled the effect.

16 loribeth { 06.13.13 at 11:50 am }

I’m in agreement with everyone else. It’s one thing to have a cup of coffee with someone you already know, but to go off with a stranger you just met in a lineup… I dunno. As others have said, would you like it if your husband/boyfriend/partner did that? I agree that Rachel probably overreacted a bit & called Arianna on her behaviour because of her brother.

I remember one morning a few years back, I was having a lousy day — got into the elevator with this incredibly good looking guy — who made some comment about the weather or such. We went back & forth for a minute, and as I left, he smiled & said, “Have a good day.” He totally made my day — it was such a great pick me up. ; ) But had he tried to continue the conversation, suggest a coffee — well, that would have been a bit creepy. It was what it was, and it was fun for the minute or two that it lasted, but to try to pursue it further than that would have spoiled the effect.

17 Amy Elaine { 06.13.13 at 1:53 pm }

I would do it, but would realize it might not turn out to be that innocent.

18 Vivian { 06.13.13 at 2:12 pm }

This is an extremely sticky question for a lot of people. I don’t think Rachel is right but then again neither is Arianna. As others have pointed out, there’s a difference in perception between going out with friends or acquaintances of the opposite sex, but going out with a complete stranger of the opposite sex appears different. Arianna wound up being friendly with the guy, never appears to be flirtatious with him, and even got her lover Ethan involved in meetups. In the end it is sometimes the perception of impropriety that figures most in people’s minds and regrettably that may overshadow everything else. Guess we haven’t gotten too far away from those overly strict Victorian morals on proper etiquette between men and women after all.

19 April { 06.13.13 at 2:23 pm }

As a person who has several male friends, I can easily see how it can be innocent. I don’t take much stock in the “men and women” can’t be friends theory and I’ve never experienced attraction to my male friends. If I had been Arianna, I would have gotten coffee with him. I also feel that Arianna handled the situation fine with introducing Ethan to her friend and including him in outings with him.

20 Jane { 06.13.13 at 2:53 pm }

Personally, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but I have n see how it could have been just an innocent coffee. But, I think it can cross that invisible line of what is appropriate or not.

21 Brid { 06.13.13 at 6:31 pm }

I wouldn’t think twice about having coffee or a drink or whatever with a woman I’d just met, so I hate to change the standard if that stranger I’d met was male. As for my husband, if he were to do it, I would probably twinge a tiny bit (just because I’m a loser, and that’s what I do), but I know without a doubt that his actions, and just as importantly, his intentions would be honourable. I don’t think anyone should turn themselves off from getting to know someone just because of their sex or their relationship status.

22 Brid { 06.13.13 at 6:35 pm }

Also, what about sexual orientation. Would it be different if the rhetorical coffee date was homosexual? I.e., what if a woman I went out with was a lesbian… is that just as problematic?

23 Chickenpig { 06.13.13 at 7:03 pm }

My husband’s best friend is a woman, and he grabs lunch with her on a regular basis.
However, I think that asking a stranger of the opposite sex out to grab a cup of coffee (or the same sex, if you happen to be gay) is too close to a date to be comfortable. Kids these days would call it ‘hooking up’. Go out with a friend, go out with a co worker…but if it’s a stranger, or an ex for that matter, it’s a little over the line.

24 Chickenpig { 06.13.13 at 7:05 pm }

except of course if you introduce your new friend to your other friends or significant other.

25 Tara { 06.13.13 at 8:22 pm }

It seems I am of the same mind as everyone else…the fact that Arianna is in a relationship when she grabs coffee with Noah is what makes it wrong for me, even if it was innocent. If she was single, fine. There have been times I’ve been asked to lunch or coffee by married coworkers…totally innocent but it made me uncomfortable on behalf of the wife & how she would feel.

26 Alicia { 06.13.13 at 9:26 pm }

There are so many complexities and dimensions to this question, love it!

I am in agreement with the others – coffee is coffee, but keeping it on the level is important.

I work in a professional environment where men and women must interact both at the office and at social functions ranging from coffee or lunch to after-work drinks or formal functions. Keeping boundaries becomes very, very important both personally and professionally.

I’ve been in situations where the boundaries get skewed and I don’t know how this happens. Knowing too much personal information about the other? Too much time together? Work pressures?

In today’s North American culture, women are equals, through and through. Keeping boundaries intact is important. There can be a fine line between being friendly and mind-cheating …

That said, coffee is coffee. 🙂

27 Alicia { 06.13.13 at 9:30 pm }

And I totally agree with Kathy about 2 specific things – considering what constitues an emotional affair AND it would be awesome if we were all sitting in a room to really discuss this!

28 Catwoman73 { 06.13.13 at 10:05 pm }

Personally, it’s not something I would have done had I been in Arianna’s shoes. Any time I’m presented with a conflict like this one, I put myself in my Hubby’s shoes. How would he feel if I told him that I went for coffee with a strange man that I met in line at the dry cleaners? I know it would probably make him a little bit uncomfortable, so I wouldn’t even consider it. A situation like this has the potential to cross the line to the inappropriate, and I wouldn’t dream of tempting fate. That’s not to say I don’t have male friends- I certainly do- but there are limits on those friendships. I don’t confide in them as I would my Hubby or my girlfriends- that would be crossing the line.

29 Alexicographer { 06.13.13 at 11:35 pm }

OK, I’m jumping in without having read the book because — um, what? If I meet a guy in some casual out-and-about encounter and grab a coffee with him, that’s a problem? Or ditto if my DH ditto a woman? What?

I’m perplexed. What era are we living in, again?

If my husband did this and kept it secret from me, I would find that weird, even alarming. But otherwise: eh. And I’m astounded to see how many others feel differently.

30 minniek { 06.14.13 at 11:06 am }

I haven’t read the book – it’s on my list! – but I’m also conflicted about this. I want to think we live in this highly evolved world where random coffee encounters wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But, 1) I live in the south, 2) I don’t really trust stranger men, even hilarious ones. Basically, I’ve made some rules for myself so that I don’t seem improper to the southern culture around me – I don’t go out to dinner/lunch/coffee with men alone, no matter his friendship status with me or my husband. If there is another person along, male or female, then I feel ok about it. A man and a woman alone at a table implies a date, not to me, but to onlookers, and I don’t want to start any rumors. I also won’t hang out alone with a man friend at his house. My husband knows about my rules, though he didn’t request them or imply I needed them. It was just my own doing. I also don’t judge other people for doing the opposite or for thinking my rules are crazy. I just happen to live in a big-small town, and some of my friends are high profile and I just don’t want to contribute to the already over-active rumor mill.
So, I would never have coffee with a strange man. I might invite him to a party I was throwing, or a social outing I was planning, but that’s about it.

31 Steadfast Warrior { 06.16.13 at 10:32 am }

Brid echoed the thought in the book that came up. If it’s a man and a woman, many people are saying it’s not okay, but what if the random coffee was with two people of the same sex and one was homosexual. Does that change things?

I think it’s easy to overanalyze things, but then again, rarely are emotions rational. Perhaps it is all about perception and the laying down of boundaries. It’s all circumstantial. Maybe it’s where the context really does matter. And at the end of the day, we just cannot know the exact context of other people’s lives (Mel’s book covered that very well!) and so until we were actually in that position ourselves, do we have the right to judge?

32 katherinea12 { 06.17.13 at 4:11 pm }

I think it’s one of those situations that almost has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. On one had, I can completely see how it could be innocent. On the other, some of the contextual clues make me a little more reluctant to accept Arianna’s protestations that it wasn’t a crossing of the line.

These contextual observations include the way Arianna tries to slip it in casually to the conversation, the way Arianna is described: “…stares at the scoreboard behind the cash register and stirs her drink without sipping it”. There’s also the way Arianna says “Which is really funny, right?” when telling the story or Rachel observes that “she has yet to actually look at me”. It came across to me strongly as those nervous things I do when I’m not totally at ease (maybe I’m projecting too much here). It comes across as Arianna trying to justify or maybe tint the truth a little.

Rachel’s very quick to assume the worst, but there’s a way in which I sensed Arianna was defensive and hedging a bit. In that case, I couldn’t help but feel Arianna had crossed the line. Maybe not by too much, maybe only barely, but I felt her behavior had crossed some sort of boundary.

I think people of the opposite sex can be completely, entirely platonic, or that even grabbing coffee with that stranger might have been okay in some contexts. It’s not something I would feel comfortable with doing myself, but I know that for some people, it just wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s the way Arianna relates the story that makes me wonder.

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