Thursday, November 16, 2006


My rule when it comes to cheating is simple. Never do anything behind your significant's back that you would not do right in front of him/her. The rabbi who married us drove this point home, along with the fact that love is not a feeling, it is a decision, and to love someone is a contract that you must consistently check on and uphold. It is intended to keep things very black and white. But there are shades of gray.

As a woman in the workplace, in a "sales" type position, I am often on the other end of conversations that could be construed as flirtatious. The men I deal with are much older and likely on marriage #3 or one that has lasted since JFK was in office. My job is to sell them -- not on me -- but on a product, an idea. This requires smiles and compliments and nodding when you don't agree. It requires "thank you" when you are told that you are pretty, even when it has nothing to do with what you are talking about, and when the mere idea that he is looking at you that way makes you want to heave.

And it's not just business. Today on the bus, the driver greeted me with, "do you have a smile to go with those good looks?" and then proceeded to flirt with me for the entirety of the ride. Moving seats would be mean. His face was thick and wrinkled, and his beard salted. He is not a threat to my gorgeous husband, even if he was attractive. And I do not get off on this talk, mainly because it feels desperate and embarassing. I know it does not take much to receive these comments -- some bright lipstick, a tight sweater. I am not a model. And by New York standards of honey highlights and size 25 waists, I am nowhere near. And maybe that's what makes me safe.

But I think of my husband, and how I would feel if he smiled wide in response to a compliment. I know my intentions are pure. They are guilt laden, not wanting to offend. My sister-in-law, who works in a prison, told me that she learned that women who are nice are more likely targets of assualt because they don't want to offend. So they answer directions from someone in a car, or they don't change sides of the street when they are walking near someone who gives them the creeps. They smile back at strangers even when they don't want to.

When my husband is at work functions, does he allow an arm to linger on his shoulder? When his tie is complimented, does he mention that I picked it out? I trust him completely. But that does not mean that I would not be hurt with the accidental carelessness of business banter, or conversations with he woman who sells him coffee who tells him that he does not even look 30.

A female subordinate once asked him: "Is this shirt too see-through?" He knew immediately that there was no good answer. That any answer would imply that he was looking at her chest. So he said, "I think that's a better question for a female colleague" and went back to work. The best answer he could find. And soon after, he fired her. I wonder if he would have been so dismissive if it was a colleague who he could not risk offending. And would I blame him?

Many female friend reference women who are "their husband's friends". From the office, from high school. I don't think I could take this. Maybe I believe, fundamentally, that men will not befriend unattractive women. I know that I could have male friends that I don't find attractive -- but I just don't think it works the other way around. There is something bothersome to me about conjuring up an emotional relationship, albiet a friendly one, between my husband and another woman. What would they talk about? What needs would she fulfill that I can't?

My close friend J is dating a guy who is divorced because his wife cheated on him. She worried recently that he might have jealousy issues, which would be bad because she is a big flirt despite the fact that she is the most committed girlfriend imaginable. Maybe I am wrong, but I do believe that women can dialogue with men, even in a seemingly flirtatous way, even with an ex-boyfriend, with no ulterior motive. Just because we like to be chatty and feel desired. But does that make it okay? And if the tables were turned, how would we feel?

I am discussing hetero relationships here -- but I am sure the same issues exist in gay relationships. Perhaps it becomes even more complicated when you are dealing with two women who may be (sterotypically) more sensitive and less trusting?

I was cheated on once, in my first serious relationship. It happened at his company's Christmas party, after which he called me with the ever dreaded "I have to tell you something"that makes your room suddenly glitter. He had kissed a co-worker who he had been arguing with for months. I should have known -- men generally can not conjure up passion, even bad passion, for someone they are not attracted to. Where women seem to be able to detest quite platonically. Anyway, I had heard what she looked like -- severe, too much eyeliner, combat boots. I had imagined her as ugly, though the thought of him pressed against her at the Marriott Marquis, in a clandestine embrace, was nauseating. I would conjure this up in my mind over and over, just for self-torture. I believe that company parties, like business trips, can engender this type of behavior -- the surreal nature of "unbuttoning" for an evening. Nothing feels real. I married someone who boycotts his own company Christmas party because it is not spouse friendly and he has witnessed this debauchery firsthand. He is not worried that he will be tempted, but is morally opposed to the construct. On business trips, he is home by 10. I wonder if this is part of what attracted us - the importance we place on representing our relationship in an upstanding light. Perhaps it comes from betrayals of our past. I like to think that it is more a commitment to our future -- the paths we choose that are not always friendly or easy but just more right. For us.


At 2:55 PM PST, Anonymous Leigh said...

Like your rabbi, I tell David I that relationship (and I may concure with "love") are a "choice." It took me a long time to realize this; I was in so many bad relationships I assumed I could never find a healthy one, and that I'd be alone. Now I'm in a healthy, happy relationship, and I realize how much it is my own decision that got me there and keeps me there. It feels very conscious, a sharp contrast to the romantic notion of love that just overtakes us. Not that that doesn't exist, but there's a deliberateness to being with and taking care of someone that not enough people emphasize.

I enjoyed this post.

At 4:23 PM PST, Blogger Amy said...

Leigh - that is exactly what our rabbi was saying. It was the most important words we ever heard. Mainly, that because it is a decision, a choice to love someone, that you need to treat that decision with respect no matter what. Meaning, even when you want to yell and scream cruel things, you need to remember your decision, your choice, and choose another way. So happy you are happy!

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