Why do women who aren't my wife touch me but only when I'm with my wife?
August 24, 2017 10:56 AM   Subscribe

So this thing happens when I'm with my wife in mixed company where women will touch my arm, lower back, and side. Usually it's a glancing touch while they're talking, but somethings it's more lingering. One woman tugged my beard right in front of my wife. I haven't been able to ascertain any pattern (some are older, some younger, some women of color, some white, some immigrants, some born citizens). Yet it never happens when I'm not with my wife. Why does this happen? I'm at a loss.
posted by eustacescrubb to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people are quite communicative via touch, but unfortunately, a lot of actions involving touch can be misconstrued. "Oooh - she touched my arm! That must mean she LIKES me!" when that is usually not the case.

So sometimes, women will do things in front of a significant other to be friendly, but also this communicates a message that "This is a non-sexual gesture. I am comfortable touching you in a platonic way in front of your wife so that no-one gets the wrong idea here".

Maybe.... or maybe there's a different reason? Who knows?
posted by JenThePro at 11:01 AM on August 24, 2017 [43 favorites]

My best female friend will stifle her naturally touchy/feely self in front of lone men - she has had too many experiences of creeps taking it to mean she's romantically interested and has resigned herself to just being a different version of herself unless the person's partner is there.
posted by notorious medium at 11:09 AM on August 24, 2017 [52 favorites]

I agree, it likely seems (possibly subconsciously) "safer" to touch you in front of your wife. It's clearer that they probably aren't trying to hit on you, so women who are naturally more likely to touch people when talking feel freer to touch you in front of your wife (freer than if you were without partners).
posted by ldthomps at 11:10 AM on August 24, 2017 [10 favorites]

My husband and I are friendly with many couples. I am far friendlier to the men when their wives are present than if they're not. Don't want anyone - them or their wives - to think I'm trying to establish an intimacy. (I still don't touch them, because I'm not touchy, but chatting, laughing, &c.) You really can't be too careful when you're a woman dealing with a man alone -- the minefields are everywhere.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:21 AM on August 24, 2017 [12 favorites]

Well, many men do the same thing to me (a woman) when I'm with my (male) partner. It feels extremely different from the kind of aggressively-flirty touch a dude might try when I'm alone.

I agree it is probably some kind of subconscious level of comfort a naturally touchy person might feel based on the sense of "it's all platonic here, no chance of crossed wires, I can be myself".

I would bet the "pattern" across all those age/race/cultural groups is that they're naturally rather touchy, gregarious individuals.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:35 AM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Does it bother your wife?
She probably has a better radar for this than you - what other women are signalling with their touchy-feely behaviour.
If she feels comfortable with it, it likely is what commenters above me have described.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:57 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree that the degree to which I am comfortable casually touching a guy increases in the presence of his romantic partner. I am also more like to to casually touch a guy in front of my partner. I am a touchy/feely person but I have learned to be careful not to give men who are alone the wrong impression.

I also suspect that the presence (and/or existence) of a partner might prompt my subconscious to cast a person in a more positive light as a potential mate. It's kind of like how there is a stereotype that people with wedding rings are hit on more often that those without because of the implied perception that at least one person has found them to be worth marrying.
posted by juliplease at 12:04 PM on August 24, 2017 [9 favorites]

I don't specifically do this but I DEFINITELY do notice a difference in my comfort level around guys who I know for whatever reason don't have romantic partner potential. I don't feel like have to worry as much about how they'll interpret anything I do as possible romantic interest on my end. So this might be similar, but just coming from people who are much more on the touchy-feely end of things?
posted by augustimagination at 12:44 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am friendlier to men when I feel like they are "safe"? I am more myself and less careful. After years of having just plain old politeness or kindness confused with romantic interest I am guarded around a single looking guy.
posted by ReluctantViking at 12:47 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

they're attracted to you, or not attracted but like you, and having your wife there means they can flirt without being disillusioned by you taking it seriously. Married men are often intriguing because they are unavailable, but this is easily ruined if they don't know they're supposed to be unavailable. as is more likely to happen when their wife isn't there.

also, if women find you attractive but are strangers, the presence of a wife is sort of a voucher for your general decency and safety -- like, look, another woman knows him really well and likes him! she seems ok, so he must be ok. this is not a reliable measure of a man as any woman knows if she thinks about it, but it can feel like one.

alternately it's some sort of mildly hostile gesture towards your wife -- putting their hands on her territory, so to speak -- but I think this is a much much rarer thing. more likely they're sure she won't be offended since it's not behind her back in any way.

but they should be more concerned with whether you will be offended. I think women are much less likely than men to be physically aggressive in a semi-sexual way without invitation, in general, but when they do choose to do it they often seem strikingly unaware that it might be unwelcome or invasive. stepping back & away from them and towards your wife should stop them without you having to say anything, if you don't like it. though there would be nothing wrong with saying something.

(If you do like it but want it to happen even when you're alone...talk about your wife more? probably won't work as well, though.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:05 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nth that it's about feeling safe and knowing the gesture is less likely to be misconstrued. A guy in this setting to me is more like a brother and cousin. It feels nice to be able to just connect person to person.
posted by ramenopres at 2:29 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman, and when other women do this to my partner, it really creeps me out. I can't quite put my finger on why, but there's often some weird subtext going on with someone that will just touch you when you are with your partner. That may or may not be the case here.
posted by Vaike at 3:02 PM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Following Vaike, I'm a woman, and when I've been a position where other women have done this to my partner, it generally communicates to me that they don't see me as worth respecting. YMMV.
posted by human ecologist at 3:56 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

When Im in the presence of multiple women and only one man, we tend to objectify the man. I have no idea why we do this but it feels to me more like a form of communication between women. I don't think that is the only reason people do it, but it could be one.
posted by shalom at 5:09 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

If your wife is smiling at you, you become more attractive to other women (see #4 here).
posted by John Cohen at 5:11 PM on August 24, 2017

My exes were men, so I can't speak as to the possible dynamics at play when a woman partner is involved, but I've experienced this as well. I'm not a huge fan of random casual touch (especially when it comes to people I don't know well), so I asked some of my women friends about it at one point. Many revealed that they tend to hold back/are less themselves around men (particularly with casual touch) due to concerns that their intentions/friendliness will be misconstrued or lead to expectations. Because of that, they felt far more comfortable/safe (and more themselves) expressing casual touch around men who they discover are in a relationship already and/or gay.

I transitioned in my twenties and have experienced the fraught world women have to navigate, so I can completely understand being more guarded around single straight men, who often feel entitled to womens' time, attention and bodies. My guess is that when your wife isn't around and you read as a 'single straight guy', women are playing it safe (and therefore being very hands-off).
posted by stubbehtail at 5:12 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also i want to add to my answer above that even if this is drop-down related to comfort levels and not intended in any kind of threatening/uncomfortable way to you or your partner, it is TOTALLY okay for either/both of you to feel uncomfortable with it and ask people not to do it if that's what you want. Just because a person is very comfortable with casual touch themselves doesn't mean you can't set your own boundaries around it too.
posted by augustimagination at 10:44 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

For the curious - neither my wife or I is usually made uncomfortable by this phenomenon (except the beard puller - that I didn't care for) - I was mostly curious and slightly wondering if I should be concerned but it seems like some people are touchers when they talk and more women feel comfortable being themselves around men who don't appear to want something from them.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:03 AM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

FWIW, man here, married, and this almost literally never happens to me, which 100% OK. I think it might chafe my spouse if it did, and it would make me a little uncomfortable.

Maybe that says more about me than it does you! Out of curiosity, do these things happen in the presence of alcohol? Are you especially good looking, or extremely gregarious? Do you like a little social space or a lot?
posted by cnc at 9:25 AM on August 25, 2017

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