He brought the subject up the following day and said she was like a sister to him and he isn’t attracted to women. I said I didn’t feel comfortable with his touching other people in the same way he shows affection for me. He said it was normal for him to do that with some of his female friends and I had nothing to worry about. I trust him implicitly, but maybe she harbors feelings for him. She has a boyfriend, but they are having problems in the bedroom because he is not fulfilling her sexually. Do I have anything to worry about or is it just a cultural thing? — Irish-Mexican
The only thing inappropriate here is that you know what’s going on (or not going on, as the case may be) in your boyfriend’s best friend’s intimate relationship with her boyfriend. But, no, I don’t think your boyfriend rubbing his friend’s knee at the movies means you have anything to worry about. And it certainly isn’t a cultural thing — at least not in terms of national culture. More likely, the affection between your boyfriend and his female friends is a generational thing. Gay men and straight women have always shared a kind of alliance with each other in a way two groups who are marginalized, oppressed, and victimized might. But they also share a safety with each other precisely because there isn’t generally a risk of romantic or sexual feelings developing among them. They are free to express their intimacy through casual physical affection without it “meaning something.” There’s no meaning attached to the affection beyond close friendship because there aren’t sexual or romantic feelings attached to the gestures. So, while your boyfriend might be touching you and touching his friend the same way at the movies, the meaning is different because the feelings attached to the touch are different.
Your boyfriend’s best friend may be having problems with her boyfriend — which, frankly, are none of your business — but that doesn’t mean she’s suddenly vying for sexual attention from your boyfriend. It may mean she’s leaning on him more as any friend would who is having relationship issues. But it doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with him or steal him away from you. You don’t have anything to worry about. And if you’re looking for something to worry about, I’d think maybe your twenty-year age difference might actually carry more significance, after all, than your boyfriend rubbing his friend’s knee at the movies.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.