Lust in my heart
December 10, 2006 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Is thinking/fantasizing/looking at someone who is not your partner cheating? What if your partner thinks it is but you do not? What do you expect from your partner in addition to simple fidelity?

So, my girlfriend asked me some questions I wish she hadn't asked. And I answered them, and now she's mad. The short of it: she feels like looking at porn, fantasizing about other women, or even entertaining sexual thoughts about women I see or meet is the same as cheating.

I don't think asking me to give up porn is unreasonable. I'm not sure what that means about sexual movies/TV shows, but I can understand why she would feel that is a threat to intimacy, and it's not a big part of my life.

What she got really mad about was my admission that I occasionally have sexual thoughts about other women. I don't really know what to say about this. I understand why it would make her feel bad/threatened. She says she doesn't think about anyone else but me, and asked me how I would feel if she thought about other guys. I wouldn't like it, but I would never ask her that question.

I doubt that attraction can be perfect or complete. I am extremely attracted to her and have never given her reason to doubt that. She is an insecure person, though.

"When you see a hot girl walk by, you shouldn't be thinking about what you'd like to do to her." I don't think about cheating on her, I'm not at all worried about my fidelity. But I do notice other women. I justify this kind of thing by saying its my biological drive to seek out other women. Out of devotion to her, I'm happy not to pursue those desires, but I'm not sure if I could eradicate those desires, even if I wanted to.

I really don't know if I could ever be a guy who sees beautiful women without thinking 'Damn, she is hot.'. It's not really a voluntary reaction, and I don't want to repress my thoughts.

So I'm not sure what to say or do. My girlfriend claims she doesn't care if this is how all guys are (I think at least most of them are, but maybe I am wrong). She is religious, but has mostly modern, liberated ideas about sex. She is not suspicious, or clingy. I feel really bad to make her feel bad, but I don't know if I can change. Or maybe I just don't want to change. I want to give her what she wants and deserves.

How common is this way of thinking? Do other women demand this? Do many guys oblige? If the genders were switched, would it be any different?
posted by bluejayk to Human Relations (75 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

tell her you think the same about hot guys.
posted by thilmony at 11:38 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would actually think you were weird if you never noticed any other women.

Your first mistake, though, was thinking she wanted a truthful answer to an obviously loaded question. It's the same type as "Do these jeans make my butt look big?"

As for the porn, some women have more of a problem with it than others. If she'd just asked you to toss your girly mags, that would be one thing, but she's trying to control your mind, too. Not cool.
posted by Liosliath at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2006

There are no thought crimes. And she is basically just asking you to lie to her. If that's what she wants...
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:49 AM on December 10, 2006

One of the things I most appreciate about my wife is that she has no qualms whatsoever about me appreciating other beautiful women. She even pays attention to the girls I think are hot, and from time to time she'll point out girls she thinks I'll like.

Women like that seem to be rare in the US, but I think the majority of sane, reasonable women accept that their SOs can have sexual thoughts about other women without making a big deal out of it. I think most will tolerate porn. On the other hand, I don't hang around with a lot of seriously religious people. You'll find a much lower porn tolerance among women who are serious about Christianity, I think.
posted by agropyron at 11:50 AM on December 10, 2006

She's insane. And if she's trying to make you think that she never has a lustful thought about another man, she's lying.

Basically, she's insecure. That's fine. Telling you--even if only by implication--that you're not allowed to think about other women, let alone look at them, is complete and utter bullshit. Tell her, basically, that just because you have the greatest clothes at home, it doesn't mean you can't window shop occasionally. (Please note that's not meant to be a sexist analogy--just the one that came to mind). To carry on, tell her there's no way you're going into any of those stores; it's just nice sometimes to look at things that are almost as pretty as the ones you already have.

Then tell her to back the fuck off and stop trying to control your mind.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2006

Oh dear.

I'm a woman. I'm in my 30s. I would never expect my partner to stop looking at porn, much less expect him to change the way he thinks. I find that idea pretty offensive, actually -- if you flip it around and imagine demanding your girlfriend, say, stop washing her hair or stop wearing the colour red, or even to stop liking the colour red, it's obvious how controlling that is.

You haven't said how old she is -- if she's in her teens or early 20s it's likely she'll get over it as she matures. I can't think of any women I know around my age who feel this way -- at worst it's just a reality they don't particularly like but they accept (knowing that to do any differently would be utterly hypocritical.) Me? I like porn. I'm not thrilled about my partner lusting after real-life women but I know I assess people the same way and it's harmless.

In other words, were I in your position I'd have a pretty big problem with this attitude. It's petty insecurity. She needs to be working on that, rather than working on you.
posted by loiseau at 11:54 AM on December 10, 2006

How common is this way of thinking?
Her way of thinking is at least not totally unusual. Which is in my opinion, unfortunate. Your way of thinking seems to be not entirely unusual either, I at least think I feel somewhat the same as you do.

Do other women demand this?
No one has ever demanded it of me, but I do know it's been an issue for girls I've dated before. Usually I just don't ever mention that I still consider some women attractive again and everything is fine.

Do many guys oblige?
Probably not.

If the genders were switched, would it be any different?
Do you care if she looks at another guy and wonders what he's like in bed?
posted by public at 11:54 AM on December 10, 2006

Here's my two cents:

1. I feel much the same way you do - I am not worried about committing infidelity, but if an attractive woman walks by in a bikini, my head is going to turn and I don't believe there's anything I can do about that.

2. I have had two serious relationships with women.

One partner was very similiar to yours in how she felt. I wanted her to feel loved and worshipped and she knew and accepted that I thought she was super hot, but she was still insecure because she wasn't the *only* person I thought was hot. I felt anxious walking around outside with her because if she saw me glance at another woman she would get pissed.

The other was curious to know what my porn looked like and didn't seem to feel threatened by it. She would refer to other women as beautiful or hot.

I do not think you are doing anything wrong, and I don't think it's fair or even possible for you to suddenly view all other women as unattractive.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 11:55 AM on December 10, 2006

Oh, also? Major kudos to you for answering the question honestly. There are few things I despise as much as mind games, and if your partner asks you a question they should be prepared for an honest answer*.

*Ok, I will grant that there is honesty and honesty. Even if those jeans do make her ass look a little big, I think it's perfectly fair to prevaricate slightly, as in that sort of situation what she is looking for is reassurance that she still looks good. oh, and replace 'he' for 'she' whenever appropriate.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:55 AM on December 10, 2006

DNAB, I agree, if you mean answering something like, "Those jeans are OK, but your ass looks fabulous in your Sevens" or something like that.
posted by Liosliath at 11:59 AM on December 10, 2006's likely she doesn't think that much about doing things to hot guys who walk by. So saying that's not going to help.

A lot of women are rather singlemindedly steadfast like that...until it comes to, you know, that friend of theirs who helps them with math and who is suddenly hot out of the blue one day years down the road...

That's how I've tended to be, anyway. I can acknowledge that someone of either gender is hot, but those people don't affect me until I feel some connection with them. Once I feel that, though, look out...

Anyway, she needs to get over her insecurity. I would never ask a guy not to fantasize or think about other women—unless it became some kind of problem where he was thinking about it to the detriment of our relationship. You know, the point where he can't keep his mouth shut about it, it's so pressing. It doesn't sound like your thoughts or feelings are anywhere near that point—in fact, it sounds like she had to push a little to get it out of you. That means you're normal, and that she's insecure or coming from a religious basis with this particular request or that she doesn't understand exactly how fantasies like that work.

She needs to know this: it's to her benefit that you do have a healthy fantasy life—'cause it means you've got a lot of ideas building that you can use in your relations with her.

She also needs to know that you can't cleanse someone else's thoughts, and it's cruel to ask them to imprison their very thought patterns to the point where they can no longer think about x, y, or z thing, 'cause that's just a Sisyphean task...especially with thoughts that are more or less involuntary like yours.

She probably doesn't mean to be cruel—she probably thinks that she's helping secure the future of the relationship by asking this of you. But this attempt is misguided.

My ex-fiancé once decided that for the good of the relationship, he would no longer look at porn and would actively attempt to suppress fantasies about other women. He did this despite the fact that I never requested anything of the sort from him and actually protested it. Well...all his "safeguards" were a bit overkill, and they didn't stop me from eventually defecting. So...take that as you will.
posted by limeonaire at 12:02 PM on December 10, 2006

1) Your girlfriend needs to grow up.

2) You need to learn when to shut up.

The fantasy of complete concord with your beloved is an infantile one. Mature relationships can negotiate differences of opinion and protect the autonomy of both people. Immature ones inevitably devolve into a cycle of transgression and concealment followed by discovery and recrimination. Lather, rinse, repeat.

You're a man. You'll have these sorts of thoughts about women for the rest of your life. If you need to talk about such things in your relationship, you'd better find yourself a very confident, open-minded woman, or get used to the sick stomach that comes when you know you've hurt a woman's feelings.

Alternatively, you could just make peace with the fact that you're built to notice and to fantasize and accord this as much importance as the fact that you're built to sweat on a hot day. And then learn how to answer these kinds of question with tact and delicacy rather than brutal honesty.
posted by felix betachat at 12:02 PM on December 10, 2006 [5 favorites]

Without wishing to sound depressing, you're on a slippery slope to nowhere here.

My ex-gf used to have this EXACT SAME conversation with me every n-weeks, and no matter how often or clearly I defined my position it never seemed to satisfy her.

Generally, with me it started with her asking me this one day. I gave her honest answers, which weren't good enough for her. I listened to her, and tried to implement her version of what was considered unlustful behaviour [no "rude" tv, movies and magazines] but the more I bent the more I had to bend even more. Eventually I became so miserable that I couldn't take it any more. Also, I got the impression a lot of her "rules" were more about making herself feel more secure and comfortable and not really based in sense -- they could be self-contradictary from week to week.

Now, to go onto specifics. By tv shows/movies I think she means material with a strong sexual content. Think Las Vegas, Nip & Tuck etc...

I don't think you will ever be able to repress your thoughts on seeing beautiful women. My belief is that it's a natural thing that cannot be stopped -- which is why 80 year old men in their prime still notice girls young enough to be their grand-daughters. I tried actively to kill this instinct in me but it just turned into a failure,re-failure feedback loop that was quite depressing. Regarding the "wanting to do things to them" that's your call, one could argue that as long as it's a fantasy/all in the mind and gets flushed out with due time it's harmless.

Having been through this, now it is my belief that you cannot demand these things of a partner. They are the way they are and either you accept that or you move on. This applies regardless of gender.

My $0.02 would say this is a direct consequence of her insecurity. You need to decide if you can do what she's asking. If not, be clear about what you can't do and let her make the next step.
posted by gadha at 12:04 PM on December 10, 2006

She's going to need to get more secure with herself. This is an unreasonable expectation.

I suspect you are both younger than 25.
posted by mzurer at 12:06 PM on December 10, 2006

Yeah, she's nuts. Nuts in a way a lot of other people are nuts, but nuts nonetheless. One idea of how to put it to her might be to point out that it means even more that you notice hotness and come home to her anyway than that you're blind to it; that is, you are making a choice. I don't know if it'll work, but it might be a way to address it from the fear-based place she is currently inhabiting.
posted by dame at 12:12 PM on December 10, 2006

One other thing: don't make it a "that's the way guys are thing." Even if you think that, it doesn't go over terribly well with lots of girls. People make choices and saying "it's my genes" seems like a cop-out to many.
posted by dame at 12:14 PM on December 10, 2006

She's wrong, you're right. She needs to grow up. You don't need to feel guilty. I don't know what you can do about it, besides make extra sure she knows how attracted you are to her.
posted by Amizu at 12:20 PM on December 10, 2006

Well you're in an awkward position that might have been avoidable were you not so honest, but I'm one of those honesty is the best policy people, so I guess the question is where do you go from here? My own perspective

- she's a little nuts on this one, but nuts in a way a lot of other people are
- you're right that most other men are like this, otoh they may lie better than you do
- what's the real problem your g'friend is getting at? Is she just insecure or is she really a total though police kinda gal? if it's the latter, you may be in trouble, if it's the former there should be ways of tailoring your future conversations where you can still have your private thoughts but possibly be a little less forthcoming about them
- I agree with dame, don't cop out to biology whether it's true or not, work this out between you and her.
- finding other people attractive is normal and probably hard to change, even if you wanted to, which I don't suggest that you do. telling your girlfriend about it is something you could do something about
- similarly, porn. If you like porn you could do so in a way that never crosses paths with your girlfriend.

Do you guys live together? At some point the two of you need to decide how much private life you each are allowed to have. Most people that I know draw the line at behaviors and reallly don't concern themselves with thoughts because what can you do? If you're not having fantasies of leaving her, hurting yourself or having some sort of unhealthy obsession ... I don't know I find it hard to find a solid argument for why you shouldn't be able to think what you want.

If you have this conversation again, and you probably will, you may want to just push it off with "I'm working on it" and have some sort of more general conversation about how much the relationship means that the two of you become an inseperable whole and how much you should be encouraged to do your own things and think your own thoughts. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:26 PM on December 10, 2006

Is thinking/fantasizing/looking at someone who is not your partner cheating? What if your partner thinks it is but you do not? What do you expect from your partner in addition to simple fidelity?

No one else's answers matter except your girlfriends. Obviously not even YOUR answers matter here (well, at least not in any positive way).

That is the core issue, she thinks one way and, right or wrong, she can NOT understand or empathize with the way you think and feel about the issue. She's put you in the wrong category and the only way to get out is to think like she does. So don't play that game, don't feed her insecurities by capitulating to them.

Of course you love her and don't want to hurt her, but you need to love yourself MORE and not allow anyone to change you or make you feel bad.

She's insecure. and that's the issue you have to deal with. So here's a google search I did on "dealing with insecurity in relationships". Browsing through there might give you better answers to help deal with her and, more importantly, to help her stop being so insecure.

Remember, you're doing NOTHING wrong or crazy or unreasonable or even unnatural. Hell, you're agreed to give up your porn habit, which it could be argued, is too much. But that's your choice.

Just realize that this is HER issue, not yours and she needs to adjust her line of thought. Do not let her make this about you, because it's not about you. It's about her.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:31 PM on December 10, 2006

She's crazy and posessive, you're normal. Not much else to be said here.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:35 PM on December 10, 2006

There are two issues here.

1) Her insecurities.
1) Your behavior that reinforces her insecurities.

If she wants you to change your behavior/thinking, you should feel free to expect the same. If she wants you to cut the porn out, you should feel free to ask to talk about why she feels insecure. And if she expects you to "stop" having thoughts driven by your blood chemistry (hormones etc.), then you should feel just as free to expect her to "stop" being insecure.

I don't realistically expect either to happen. Good people have 'bad' thoughts all the time - it's how they behave with such that dictates who they really are.

If she felt secure in her relationships/life, she wouldn't care if you worked in a strip club - just as long as you came home to her. Find out how to help her feel more stable int he relationship and this won't be an issue.
posted by filmgeek at 12:39 PM on December 10, 2006

I'm not sure where some/most women get this crazy mind-control idea from. Thankfully, most of my friends and I like to point out hot girls to our boyfriends and joke around about it. It is entertaining - people watching becomes MUCH more fun when you can discuss every passerby openly - and it ends up making you a closer couple because you don't have to watch what you say.

My thinking is that if my boyfriend thinks I'm hot, but he also thinks other girls are hot, then all things being equal, he must love me for my personality. Is that really so awful??? Maybe if you phrased it like that to your girlfriend she would come around. If that doesn't work, just keep your thoughts to yourself from now on. Unfortunatley, odds are good that if you break up with this girl, the next one will probably have the same hangup.
posted by gatorae at 12:41 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

You told an insecure woman that you have a biological drive to seek out other women? That was... not good.

You have to understand that what she hears is "I love ya, babe, but I'm always keeping an eye out for your replacement" and that every time you look at another woman, she thinks you're measuring that woman against your girlfriend. She thinks that if you keep looking at other women that way, you will eventually find one that is "better" than your girlfriend, and then she will get dumped. It seems unreasonable, I know, but that's the kind of slippery-slope thinking that an insecure woman can engage in when it comes to relationships.

Maybe you could try comparing it to married women who have stud/fireman/Johnny Depp calendars, in that it's harmless fantasy. It might also help to point out that wanting to fantasize about doing something is very, very different from wanting to actually do the thing.

Since I suspect that most of her fears are about getting replaced or dumped, I'd also recommend telling her the things you love about her that have nothing to do with sex or attractiveness, so that she can see that there are things you get from her that you can't get from porn.

And finally, what everybody else said about time and maturity is absolutely true. Sometimes it just takes growing up a little to feel more confident about your body and your life.
posted by stefanie at 12:42 PM on December 10, 2006

She looks at other guys. If she denies it she's lying. Girls are just much subtler about checking out other people, whereas we men are completely obvious about it. Either get a new girl who's more secure or become an expert at glancing quickly out of the corner of your eye.
posted by SBMike at 12:45 PM on December 10, 2006

Tell her to choose: she can have a boyfriend who's honest when asked questions that other men would probably avoid, or she can have a man who lies, denying he thinks about other women. Those are her choices. Those or solitude.
posted by dobbs at 12:47 PM on December 10, 2006

"How common is this way of thinking? Do other women demand this?"

Most of my female friends and acquaintances - 20s to early 30s, varied backgrounds but mostly liberal - vaguely dislike that their male partners are into porn, but reluctantly accept it because they think that's how men are. Some are totally okay with porn or enjoy watching it with their partners. And some, like me, will not have a relationship with someone who admits to using porn. I am sure I'm the minority here, but I don't think that the last view is insane. I can explain why, if you like.

I do think, however, that expecting you to not notice other women at all is insane.

First off, don't use the biological imperative excuse. "It's natural" is a bad excuse, because as humans, we've managed to train ourselves away from all kinds of (possibly) natural behavior, like peeing in the middle of the road and strangling people who upset us. And as has been mentioned, a lot of women don't like the "I can't help it, I'm a man!" excuse in particular.

"It's harmless" is better. Tell her you don't want to be with those women. You just think they're attractive, and there's nothing wrong with that because you are not acting on it. If you had the chance to have sex with them, you wouldn't (if that's true). You are not more attracted to them than you are to her. Even the ones that might be as physically attractive as her (okay, here's where it might be okay to toss in half a white lie, because saying "yeah, some of them are hotter than you" won't help much) aren't interesting to you because they lack all the other things you find appealing about her.

Most women are insecure about their appearance - please feel free to insert a rant about society's beauty standards here. There's only so much you can do about that, and that does involve making sure she knows you're attracted to her and that you don't want some photoshopped supermodel: you like her moles, you like her slightly frizzy hair, you like that her stomach isn't totally flat, whatever. And again, mention the other things you find appealing about her - brains, personality, how good she is in bed - and how those make her so much better than other random women. I know that being told I'm good in bed makes me feel a LOT sexier than being told that I look good: major ego trip. I don't know how common that is among women, but I'd venture a guess that men tend to tell their female partners "you look good" more often than "you made me feel really good." So it's something to tell her, if you haven't.

If she's still going to press her issues onto you in this way, that's her problem. You should never be put in a position where you have to lie to a partner about what you're feeling, wanting, thinking. It is horrible that she would want you to lie to her over something so harmless. Has she given any reasons beyond general insecurity about why she feels this way?

(Fantasizing about someone else while you're having sex with her would be another thing entirely - if you don't do that, assure her that you don't, and if you do I don't know how to help you.)

"If the genders were switched, would it be any different?"

In theory, sure: there are all kinds of different perceptions and stereotypes and expectations about male versus female sexuality. In practice, no: it's still not unreasonable to ask a partner to give up porn in favor of a live human being, and it still is unreasonable to ask a partner to try to reprogram the thoughts in their head because they displease you.
posted by your face at 12:54 PM on December 10, 2006 [5 favorites]

I can't really add much that hasn't already been said (at least in the majority) but here's a few more subjective datapoints:

Do other women demand this?
It depends on the women. I can think of at least 1 ex of mine that would have crumbled under the very notion that I was attracted to other women. She never asked me, so the problem was avoided.
But like agropyron's wife, my current girlfriend is extremely confident in herself and our relationship, so being attracted to other people is not a big deal for her. I think she's more accepting of the fact than I am of reciprocating this...

Do many guys oblige?
I'm sure some do. The question is, can or will you? Judging by your question, I don't think you're willing to compromise yourself. I personally don't think it's worth it. Reassure her and don't be very upfront about it. Considering she had to ask to be sure, it's unlike that you've been rubbing it in her face anyway...

If the genders were switched, would it be any different?
It's a question of confidence in yourself and the relationship itself. I don't think the gender really matters.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:02 PM on December 10, 2006

That is such a trap of a question. One of my exes I think really loved to get into conflicts and asked questions or made statements like that. Sometimes the hypothetical questions were too complicated to even manage with. For example ones that operated on her dying and whether I'd move on or not, really shitty things.
posted by Napierzaza at 1:07 PM on December 10, 2006

She's not wrong, she's just acting like an inexperienced woman. I'm one of those women that that when I'm in a relationship I have eyes for no one else. So I can see your gf's side of things. However, I dated enough guys that I know guys tend to have an overwired sex drive. They look at other girls, they look at porn, etc and that doesn't mean they're going to cheat. The first time my bf told me he looked at porn I FREAKED cuz I thought that meant I was inadequate. I'm sure she felt the same way.

First, if you do love her, cut her some slack. She's not the only girl to spaz about this kind of thing. Second, honestly I'd show her this. She might not like the whole 'tell the internet your business' aspect but hopefully she might realize guys do that kind of thing and it's normal. (Oh and third, next time she asks something like that, downplay, downplay....shhhh...don't lie, but don't be QUITE so makes us girls' imaginations work overtime...)
posted by CwgrlUp at 1:07 PM on December 10, 2006

Let's not forget that there's insecurity on both sides of this relationship. Giving in to the demand to doubt your own thoughts? She's asking you to take on more insecurity and literal self-doubt to cure her own. Well, it won't work. The only person's responses, emotions and perceptions that you have any control or responsibility over in this world of four billion minds is your own. You could magically become as devout to her as the staunchest saint is to God and you would still have no effect on her mind, and her insecurities as she would not have and could not have any proof of your purity of thought. Do you really want to take on a burden that you can never make right?

Speaking of insecurity. It's hella not hot. It's not hot on women and it's not hot on men. It took me a long time to really learn that lesson, because I had a lot of guilt and insecurity about appreciating women for their beauty and I was alone and miserable for the longest time. If my experience is any guide, then learning to appreciate beauty and sexuality productively is a prerequisite to entering adult relationships. It makes no sense for nature or culture or what-have-you to require a quality one second and force you to switch it off the next. Would you have met your girlfriend if you didn't first appreciate her beauty? Why should you be required to give up an inner quality that brought you together in the first place?
posted by Skwirl at 1:12 PM on December 10, 2006

In addition to what others have said, I'd like to add that the belief that "even entertaining sexual thoughts... is the same as cheating" is one that can itself undermine fidelity. In a lifelong relationship, it's inevitable that one will meet others with whom he or she feels a spark. Fidelity depends upon recognizing that the feeling is natural, but that acting on it is destructive. If one feels, instead, as though the feeling itself is already the same as cheating, what's to keep one from actually committing the infidelity? Your insecure girlfriend might be able to draw more security from knowing that you can have these natural feelings, but that you are committed to refrain from acting on them, than to unrealistically hope or demand that you'll never feel them in the first place.
posted by daisyace at 1:19 PM on December 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

Building on what daisyace said, she's having the same feelings about men. That's normal. If she can't realize that, she's a candidate for cheating not you. Explain that to her. Ask her what she would do if she suddenly felt attracted to another man. Don't take no for an answer--if she says she would never do that, tell her it is a thought experiment. Get her to answer.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:22 PM on December 10, 2006

I can only give an anecdote...

The only woman I was ever involved with who was concerned about me looking at porn, who considered it "cheating emotionally," ended up cheating on me. She also expected me to stop hanging out with women friends, most of whom I'd know for years longer than I'd known her.

I'm thankful that after that was over I met a woman who was much, much more confident in herself and our relationship (which lasts to this day).
posted by lekvar at 1:35 PM on December 10, 2006

Response by poster: Many great answers, thank you very much.

I think specifically what bothers her is me thinking of having sex with another girl, not just appreciating the beauty or attractiveness of another girl.

I have tried to make a distinction between thinking about something and wanting that thing. I think she accepts my distinction but it doesn't make her feel much better.

But I definitely will take the advice about not blaming biology, even though I think my desires are rooted in biological factors.
posted by bluejayk at 1:40 PM on December 10, 2006

I'm kind of in the middle here. On one hand, what you're talking about is perfectly normal and your girlfriend shouldn't have asked you about it. On the other hand, you should not a) behave in such a way around your girlfriend so as to prompt such questions in her mind, and b) tell her the complete, painful truth once she asks.

Now that the cat's out of the bag, you must figure out how much lying about your sexual imagination you can stomach, and then sell that lie like you're Colin Powell at the U.N. (actually, better than Colin Powell at the U.N.). Once you've sucessfully convinced her that she's all the woman you'll ever need, you must hide your porn-watching, neighbour-ogling and her-best-friend fantasizing from this point forward.

Now, of course, if she has any brains, she'll know you're lying, but she'll still appreciate the effort and she'll be glad not have her nose rubbed in things that make her feel insecure.

That's real love, buddy.
posted by timeistight at 1:41 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

She may be parrotting what she thinks is expected of her as a woman in a romantic relationship, and possibly hasn't really thought through if she truly -does- believe it's bad. For instance, I was raised to believe "jealousy is one of the ways you show love in romantic relationships. one of the biggest ways!" -- direct words from my mom, many times repeated. "Women's mags" often feature this kind of crap thinking too. I'd agree it's "not uncommon" among young women, but most people I know have grown out of it as part of a broader maturation in seeing other humans more realistically. Took me a long time to get rid of that training.

The idea of an adult woman "forbidding" her SO to look at porn, much less not to think certain thoughts ... ugh. I know I was like that as a young woman and hate that I said those things out loud.
posted by olecranon at 1:46 PM on December 10, 2006

Yeah, she's out of line. I definitely look at other men when I'm in a relationship, but it doesn't mean I want anything from them. And I look at porn too. It's not cheating, it's normal human desire.
posted by smich at 1:53 PM on December 10, 2006

Let's play this game. If you bend to her will, you're making a sacrifice. What do you get in return? If it's not fair, then why should you do that?

This is definitely insecurity as said before. There is a big difference between imagining something and actually doing it. I knew a guy whose folks had a relationship that could be summed up like this: Him: "The day I stop looking is the day you'll have to put me six feet under." Her: "The day you stop looking and start touching, you will need to be buried six feet under."

Boundaries and expectations are clear and set, but it takes two to agree to it.
posted by plinth at 2:03 PM on December 10, 2006

I think specifically what bothers her is me thinking of having sex with another girl, not just appreciating the beauty or attractiveness of another girl.

I have tried to make a distinction between thinking about something and wanting that thing. I think she accepts my distinction but it doesn't make her feel much better.

If you want to stay sane, don't continue the discussion like this with her. You are not going to win. Your appreciation of beauty will digress into a line of questioning that forces you to admit that beauty can mean attractive, which means that you're attracted, which means that you're thinking about sex with these women!!

Her attitude is commonplace, but ultimately unrealistic and immature. But it can be very strongly felt, as it gets compounded by all of the cultural stuff that olecranon discusses above.
posted by desuetude at 2:05 PM on December 10, 2006

Love is not feeling lust for nobody except your SO. Love is not acting on that lust.

Until your girlfriend understands that, you are going to continue dealing with this issue.

You gotta say something like "Yes, sometimes it happens. I also sometimes fantasize about punching my boss in the mouth, taking a year off to go train with in the mountains of China to be a hardcore kung-fu master, and throwing office chairs out of the windows of skyscrapers. But these fantasies have no bearing on my actions, that's why they're called fantasies. I've been with you for X months. If I wanted to leave you to have sex with other ladies, I would have done it by now." And then leave it. I agree with another poster--if she says she gets to prosecute you and probe you for thought-crimes, then you get to probe her about why she's so damn insecure.
posted by Anonymous at 2:28 PM on December 10, 2006

You might be interested in this short story.
posted by JanetLand at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

When my brother and his wife are walking around, she's the first one to point out the hot chicks. Her idea is that is he doesn't think they're hott and doesn't fantasize about them, then he's gay- not that she has a problem with gays, but she'd rather her husband be straight. Or at least bi. Depending on her sense of humor, point out, "Would you rather me fantasize about chicks and be straight or not and be gay?"
posted by jmd82 at 2:48 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think the bases have been pretty much covered. I would like to highlight, though, that she's asking you to violate a law of physics. Check it:

Don't think about a pink elephant.

posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 2:56 PM on December 10, 2006

You said: She is religious, but has mostly modern, liberated ideas about sex.

I'm assuming that she is Christian, although this may also be true for other faiths. If I understand things correctly, for most Christians, it is not considered an offense to be tempted. The offense is to indulge temptation, to entertain it, and ultimately to give in to it. It's only human to be human.

It sounds almost as if she is expecting a higher standard from you than God would. (not that I'm religious...)
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:05 PM on December 10, 2006

bluejayk, there is one question you must honestly answer to yourself first. Namely, do you by any means make her feel uncomfortable and insecure? Why and how do you look at other women? Why and how much do you look at porn? If you are actually trying to fill in voids in your relationship that way (if for example you are not entirely attracted to her, or she is not umm satisfying you), then, the honest thing is to tell her the truth and either work it out or move on.

If however you insist that there is no underlying problem in the relationship, looking at other women, even thinking they are hot and such, also looking at porn and sometimes satisfying yourself, is perfectly alright and she has to recognize that. Do not lie when she asks, people are not stupid and will see through fake responses. Talk to her and explain that being so controlling is unnatural and harmful to the relationship and demeaning to you as another responsible person.
posted by carmina at 3:28 PM on December 10, 2006

Read some Dan Savage columns (Savage Love, in the Onion AV Club among other places). He makes a good case that honesty is not always the best policy, and I think that's true. Even the people above who complimented you on answering honestly told you to lie if she asked if she was fat (LEETLE hypocritical, there, guys!). Not that you should make it a policy to deceive her. Just don't tell her what she doesn't need to know, if she's going to hold you to a standard that is not humanly feasible.
posted by rikschell at 3:39 PM on December 10, 2006

If you want to continue to talk about other women, and be approximately honest, change your wording a little.

don't say "She's hot" or "She's attractive" or "I'd like to xxx her". These all sound like "I would like to be with her, if only I weren't inconveniently roped into a relationship with you."

If you must say something, do say "She's good looking" or "She's pretty". ("Pretty" is much better, more neutral-sounding than "beautiful". Don't say "she's beautiful".) These are more okay, more like just a statement of neutral fact, less like a confession that you would love to cheat on gf with these women, if only you could get away with it. It's ok to notice that another woman is good-looking, just as you can probably tell which male movie stars are good looking, without being attracted to them. That's the tone to strike.

don't ever get drawn into making any comparisons that your gf loses. So, don't say "She's prettier than you" or "Her figure is great. Your figure isn't as good, but of course your face makes up for it."

do intentionally spin comparisons so that your gf wins. So, do say things like "She's pretty, but you're beautiful" or "She's good looking, but she doesn't have that special something that you have" or whatever.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:48 PM on December 10, 2006

I don't care for my SO to look at porn when I'm around. That said, I gave him a year subscription to Playboy.

One of the best analogies I've ever heard was this:

Your sitting in a restaurant looking over the menu, the waiter walks by with a wonderful mouthwatering entree. Do you jump up from the table, grab the dish and start chowing down? No, of course not, the "dish" just whet your appetite.

You can build up your appetite any way you want to, just come home for the meal!
posted by JujuB at 3:59 PM on December 10, 2006

It's different with everyone. The fact that you are asking this question, to me, indicates that you think it is NOT cheating.

If you are unhappy about her expectations from you, you need to talk to her about it. You should both be happy in the relationship, otherwise what's the point?

I must extend heartfelt congratulations to you for your honesty. IMHO, it's honesty like that, that relationships (the kind I want at least) should be based on.

Talk to her.
posted by 999 at 4:19 PM on December 10, 2006

Well, from a Christian standpoint one is supposed to direct any sexual thought to a spouse, as even looking at a woman not one's wife to lust after her is called adultery (by Jesus Himself.) That having been said, it is normal for people to notice people of the opposite sex. As my husband puts it, it's the "second look" that is wrong.

I personally don't care if my husband thinks a woman is cute, but I would care very much if he fantasized having sex with her. That is mental adultery, not to mention disrespectful of me.

I'm not a bit insecure about him being around beautiful women, because he has shown himself incredibly trustworthy over the years. He has earned a massive amount of respect from me in this area.
posted by konolia at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2006


To answer one question you posed that no one else seems to have addressed, ("What do you expect of your mate other than simple fidelity?" ), I personally expect honesty, not fidelity. As far as I am concerned, the only infidelity IS dishonesty.

Unless you are some novel new creation on this planet, you're pretty much not in charge of how you feel. You ARE in charge of how you act.

If you are in a relationship with the Thought Police, I gently recommend changing it. You can do that by successfully stimulating the evolution of your partner, or finding one who is a little more tolerant of your humanity.

I heartily recommend making a lifelong, analytic study of relationships. Your current one sounds like the implicit model most Westerners follow, and there's not much to be gained from it... it's the one that says a couple belongs TO each other instead of WITH each other. If she's completing herself using your parts, you lose out. Does that make sense?

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 4:31 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

This characteristic of yours is not going to change, period. Therefore, she must come to terms with it. If she doesn't, her life is going to either be A) long and lonely, or B) shared with a liar.
posted by NortonDC at 5:17 PM on December 10, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed, chill or take it to metatalk or email please
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:10 PM on December 10, 2006

For what perspective it's worth, the last two major relationships I've had have been with women who thought very little of porn. Neither of them had much like for it, but they didn't feel threatened by it, either.

Also, both of them occasionally have sexual thoughts about other women as well. Whatever culture I'm in here in the SF Bay Area, they feel no qualms about expressing this. And it's not a genuine lesbian reflex, methinks, it's more a mix of admiration and projection. Never a threat to their commitment to me.

There have also been men my girlfriends have found attractive. No biggie. I know there are other men with attractive traits out there, but that my "total package" is what my partner chooses, so I don't sweat it.

Problem is that men develop sexual fascinations with other women that their female counterparts just don't relate to. Sure, women often find other men (or women) attractive, but it is an occasional thing that rarely rises to the level of even a crush. On the other hand, most men feel a sexual attraction to several women every day. And many of those attractions rise to the level where they sometimes find release during masturbation or perhaps erotic dreams... let's just say they're not momentary blushes that vanish forever when the object of desire exits one's field of vision.

Women will readily admit that men are more visually-oriented, while women look toward deeper traits when selecting a mate. I find this true by observation, but "choosing a mate" is the whole operative phrase. Are men "choosing a mate" when they feel attraction to a woman? Or is it just a minor reflex, no competition to their relationship?

In evolutionary terms, the main reason to have a male sex running around at all is to introduce a culture of competition, where the fittest males of all (determined by a contest or repeated contests) get to mate with the female, or, perhaps ALL the females, so as to pass on the "successful" genes to as many progeny as possible. Some species determine this on a "tribe" basis, where there is an "alpha male" structure, and others determine it on a skirmish-by-skirmish basis, one mate at a time with no societal structure in place.

It's my view that all males have biology bred into them that makes them want to spread their seed/semen/genes to as many women as possible and propagate their genes. It's entirely possible that while AlhaMale1 and AlphaMale2 are fighting it out, other sly males are taking advantage of the moment to slip the willy to as many females as possible.

Point being: don't confabulate competitive alpha-maleness with the desire to mate many females. It's in our blood, it's our function to try and try again, whatever our method.

Similarly, females often decide the outcome of such contests (assuming both suitors live) and they wield the power of selection. And so their biological function is to narrow down. This also serves an important evolutionary function. Don't mate with an unsuitable male. Who wants to spend months of gestation on bad stock? It's highly important for females to be selective. They may be, in fact, the conscious mind of natural selection brought to life.

So here you are. You're a species adapted to a state of mating for life with a single individual, but you come from a tradition of competition and adultery (primatologists please correct me if I'm wrong). Porn is filling the gap between your previous wide-ranging choices. And it is undercutting her previous absolute power of selection. This shift is no doubt helping you bridge the gap but doing little for her. What do you do? Tell her it could be better? That you could be our raping multiply by night? Not likely.

I think there is no comfort whatsoever for her regarding your occasional sexual attractions for other females. You may be dating someone with an extremely monomaniacal libido, someone who cares only and ever for YOU, and needs an equal monomaniacal devotion in return. But it's more likely that she is simply insecure. Your passing thoughts about other women (and we all have them) are not the problem. The problem is that she sees these as a threat to her.

I'd suggest you just downplay any such thoughts you have, however honest you may wish to be. She needs to know that these are surfacy thoughts that don't threaten your relationship. Some women are assholes who demand continual mental obsession of them and only them, but this is an unreasonable request as long as you are a faithful and attendant and fully-present partner. It approaches the status of "thought police," albeit from a different angle than Orwell feared.

I'm not championing the male's perspective as attracted to many mates. Just recognizing the biology of it. A male can impregnate an entire generation if he works at it. A female needs to choose her mate carefully because she does the hard work of bearing and raising the child. This prodigal/choosy attitudes are not necessarily cultural. I believe they are in part biological/hormonal, and have served a function thoughout our development.

It's no picnic to be a "prodigal" male, btw. And she might be surprised and/or pleased to hear that. We are wracked by our hormones every time a woman unzips her jacket on the street. I'm sure many of us enjoy the rush we feel when her breasts come into view, but we also rue the moment we must put our hot blood under a lid and move on with our day, repressing a physical craving as strong as any drug addition (but against which we've developed long-tested countermeasures like marriage). God forbid the object of lust is a daily acquaintace. It can be a real torture.

Even if you don't like her (and I swear I've had things for women I've genuinely disliked) you're helpless on some level to your biological responses. Your male machinery kicks into gear, tells you to kill everything in sight and pursue her. But it does so every time you see her - even if she's your boss.

Refer your lady to monastic eunuchs who castrate themselves to escape the compulsions of the flesh. I think of them at times. There are moments when I feel I have made bad choices because of undue lustfulness, or that I will never be able to enjoy a monogamous relationship - despite their many charms. It's a bit of a cross to bear. Not to victimize adulterous or otherwise venal males but I swear, it is an onerous condition to feel a sexual thrust toward every attractive woman who walks by.

I often wish that my offering of commitment would cancel such reflexes. It doesn't. I am not holding out much hope that marriage vows will be different.

I've been as honest as I can on the subject. I hope it's of some help, although I am stuck for an easy answer.
posted by scarabic at 8:49 PM on December 10, 2006 [4 favorites]

i've known people in similar relationships, although thankfully none of mine have been plagued by this sort of jealousy/insecurity.

basically, 99% of straight men check out all women in their visual sphere, and notice and appreciate the hot ones. some percentage will cheat, but the majority simply like to look. most men are at least slightly covert about this.

most women seem to be largely oblivious to the frequency with which guys scan for and notice hot women in the vicinity (i.e., constantly). not surprisingly, if and when they do discover this tendency, it can feel quite unnerving and threatening. since most women are *not* prone to this activity, at least not in the same way, they don't really understand the motivation, and it is easy to imagine that it means their man actually wants all those hot women and plans to act upon that desire.

as several comments have mentioned, most guys also learn pretty quickly that it's typically not worth it to come straight out and describe this aspect of the male psyche to a partner...if she's asking you she's probably trying to set you up...if she's genuinely curious then she's probably either very young, emotionally immature, or very insecure, and in none of these cases is your full confession likely to help you or her have a fulfilling relationship.

keeping aspects of yourself separate and distinct from your relationship can lead you to feel disconnected or dishonest, but eventually i believe most of us learn that being an individual actually strengthens a relationship. and individuals have privacy, time to themselves, and the freedom to do and think as they wish, so long as they are not actually violating their partner's trust.
posted by jjsonp at 3:33 AM on December 11, 2006

Whether she's right or wrong, she's obviously hurt. And understandably so, as you suggested by saying you wouldn't be thrilled if the shoe were on the other foot. Like many women, she probably doesn't fully understand your relationship to sex/other women vs. your relationship with her. You may not be able to control your own thoughts, but you can be kind and understanding with her and try to help her come to terms with all this in a way that will make her feel better about herself and your relationship. Whatever you do, avoid the righteously indignant and/or defensive tone of some of these posts - she clearly cares about you, and this is difficult for her.
posted by walla at 4:50 AM on December 11, 2006

Well, if you need to look at porn you may be happier with a girl who also likes to look at porn: there are lots. as for the 'other women' stuff, i don't really see why a guy, no matter what are his actually thoughts, needs to make statements like 'she's hot' to his girlfriend about another woman, even if she's just on tv or wherever: it's just self-indulgent and also self-defeating: it will spoil your sex life with your girlfriend. also probably unwise to talk about sexual fantasies concerning acquaintances and friends. would you like it if she did that? sure, she's seeming a little childish, but so are you.

However, perhaps you are quite young and have some way to go: you say you "fantasize" about other woman, but i suspect somewhere inside you is the desire to make it real and actually bed lots of other women and do all sorts of fun things with them: you are curious and, how shall i put it, "ambitious" about the whole world of sex: there's probably no way to deal with that and keep you and your girlfriend happy, methinks.
posted by londongeezer at 6:07 AM on December 11, 2006

Response by poster: longdongeezer, I'm not sure what post you are responding to, it doesn't seem to be mine. Anyway, I think your inference that 'somewhere inside [me] is the desire to make it real and actually bed lots of other women' is presumptuous. You also attribute behavior to me which I haven't engaged in or solicited advice on. I think you need to make sure you focus in on the actual issues and questions at hand. If you don't have time to read carefully, no problem, just don't bother posting--it doesn't really add anything to the discussion.

Thanks to everyone else for depth and breadth of insight offered.
posted by bluejayk at 6:47 AM on December 11, 2006

My take is that it's insulting for a woman to think that you're such a slave to your instincts that you can't control yourself.
Here's my argument:
"Why do you think I'm with you? Do you really think I'm that shallow? I hope I'm not bursting your bubble by telling you that there are people in the world who are more physically attractive that you. Hell, there are people in the world who are smarter, better looking, and more successful than both of us put together, but that's not why we're together, is it? I want to be with you because I think we have something special, because my heart tells me this is right. I hope this is a good enough explanation for you, because it's all I got."
This won't end the discussion, of course, and you'll have to repeat yourself in 15 different ways, but stick to the message above, (if it's what you really feel) and you'll be on the path to putting bizarre control issues behind you and treating each other with mutual respect. I've had to express this view to my ex-girlfriend, and her inability to accept it is what led to her being the ex. I have to say this periodically to my wife, and her being able to accept it is why she's my wife. In the end, she's either able to understand what I mean or she's willing to accept it without understanding it, in the interest of getting along, and when you get down to it, 90% of being a mature, well-adjusted adult is about getting along despite disagreements, so you might as well define what that means to you before you go any further.

If you both agree that what you have together makes getting along more important than anything else, you've got a happy future ahead. If not, it'll never work as anything more than a casual relationship. Do yourselves a favor and admit that now.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:55 AM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

With the religion thing: There certainly is, as konolia points out, a strong push in Christianity to label adulterous thoughts the same as adulterous deeds. There is also, I think, a strong tradition (which may not be coming from the Bible itself) to put women in the role of "civilizers" of men. You know the myth -- men would run wild if it weren't for the civilizing influence of women and home and domesticity -- and it tends to turn up a lot and strongly in weird places, like discussions of rape ("That girl shouldn't have gone into his room, we all know how men are..." "What does she expect, wearing a mini-skirt in that part of town?") and evolutionary psychology ("Man rape everything! Woman must trick man into staying to help raise child! Yarr!"). I mention this just to point out that it's not really a myth that's faded into obscurity, but a message that women get, in various forms, a great deal.

Which, in your girlfriend's case, might translate into the idea that if you're looking at other women, she's somehow "failing." That you're not sufficiently into the relationship because if you were, you would be more "civilized" and stop thinking about conquering other women.

So two things: One, as other have said, the "It's my biology" excuse is not going to work, partly because it's a cop-out, partly because it's not even true (women and female primates tend to stray just as much as men; it's not a gender-determined behavior, despite what the ev psychs would tell you), and mostly because it may be playing right into her insecurities -- it's like you'rr saying "I'm not sufficiently trained yet; you need to crack down more to ensure that I'm fit for civilized society." Two, it may be worth talking to her about whether her religious feelings are playing into this conflict, and how, and whether that's something she wants to be happening. You might find that a more thoughtful, fruitful discussion, and one that gets more clearly at her objections and the reasons for them, so that both of you can proceed more thoughtfully.
posted by occhiblu at 9:29 AM on December 11, 2006

"It's my Biology" is the reason we look at attractive people of the opposite sex, and the reason we have lusty thoughts. However, "It's my biology" isn't likely to get you out of trouble with someone you've promised fidelity to. Just wanted to make sure that was clear.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:30 AM on December 11, 2006

My point is that if you believe it's "biology" dictating we look at attractive people, then it's "biology" that applies to both men and women, but guys who tend to privilege this excuse over others also tend to act as if biology only applies to men, and no other forces are at work on either their or their partners' behavior. It may be in play, but it's a lazy excuse if it's the only (or even main) explanation given.
posted by occhiblu at 10:36 AM on December 11, 2006

No excuse, of any sort, is required to enjoy looking at an attractive member of the opposite sex or thinking whatever thoughts you might wish to have. If you act inadvisedly upon what your biology is urging you to do, no excuse is sufficient, but we're not talking about actions here, we're just talking about looking and thinking, neither of which anyone should ever be made to feel ashamed for doing.

It has also been my experience that it's mostly guys who present biology as an explanation, but I think that's only because they were made to feel like they need an explanation to start with. If my experience was mostly that guys didn't want their girls to look at other guys, I expect I would see girls explaining to the guys why it isn't wrong using the same argument. Do you agree, do you think girls would be somehow less likely to defend themselves, or do you think they would explain things differently?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:51 PM on December 11, 2006

Oversimplification: Men are taught that "spreading their seed" means they're studs and is somehow biologically justified; women are taught that wanting to sleep with a lot of men makes them sluts and is against "nature." Society as a whole is working to keep women ashamed at being caught looking at guys, so the probability of a woman being sexually confident enough and outspoken enough to stand up for herself when confronted with checking out other guys, let alone one who would then start by defending herself using "biology" (which has historically been used in just about every permutation to "prove" why women are bad for having sexual thoughts) is less than finding a guy who would defend himself in that manner. (Not to mention I would find it a bit hard to believe that such a woman would be willing to date a guy who called her out on that sort of behavior in the first place.) Simply reversing the genders here doesn't work, because the double standard is alive and well.

You can be sure as hell that guys don't want their girlfriends looking at other guys any more than women want their boyfriends looking at other women. But the cultural narratives in place for excusing/permitting that behavior, and the cultural assumptions in place for rewarding/punishing those behaviors, are extremely gender-based.

I'm not sure I buy the "it's biology" argument (I can want to stop and look at a pretty flower or sunset or painting without needing a biological imperative to do so), but it doesn't matter. If it's biology, it applies to both sexes, so it's a wash -- there's no use applying it in this argument. Either both people can control it, or neither can. If she's controlling her "biological urge," then his claiming biology means that he's not as civilized as she is. If he's submitting to a biological urge that she claims not to have, then he's calling her unnatural. Either argument gets them nowhere (and the first may play directly into her insecurities, and cause larger problems).
posted by occhiblu at 8:25 PM on December 11, 2006

So if I'm reading you right, we agree on the following points:
  • Biological drives exist in both males and females
  • It's not wrong for the drive to exist, but it may be to act upon it.
  • There shouldn't be any cultural taboos against "just looking", no matter if it's female to male or male to female, but there currently are such taboos, and there is a double standard in play
  • It's messed up and wrong both that there are such taboos and that the double standard is in play regarding them
  • the messed up state of the current cultural norms are likely the basis of the conflict that prompted this question
  • no excuses, be it biology or otherwise, are necessary because just looking isn't wrong, but acting upon it without the consent of the partner is, regardless of excuse.

    Am I reading you right?

    I mean, dearest bluejayk isn't asking whether it's wrong to actively pursue other women, he's just asking if it's OK for him to feel attracted to other people. The answer to that question is that he doesn't really have any choice, does he? He's a normal, living human with a functioning sex drive, so one would hope that he feels attracted to his concept of attractive people. If he didn't, that would indicate that something is wrong with him, right? So why is his SO wanting him to suppress what we have established is only normal and natural?

  • posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:47 AM on December 12, 2006

    The part I find a little insulting about the "it's wrong to look" argument is that it assumes that I can't make a distinction between acknowledging that I am attracted to someone(something over which no one has any conscious control) and acting upon my feelings regardless of my better judgment(something over which I do have conscious control, and choose to exercise).

    If you will look at my points above, I think it clearly shows that I can, in fact, make such a distinction. I can make several levels of distinction. There's thinking, then there's looking, there's even harmless flirting, then there's actively pursuing. Personally, I like to be flirted with, so I flirt back. However, I would never actively pursue someone other than the dear sweet woman to whom I'm currently married. I'm lucky that my dear sweet woman completely understands this and does not attempt to control my thoughts or actions. Her attempting to control my actions would be equivalent to her saying that I cannot control myself, which is kinda insulting. Her attempting to control my thoughts would just be psychotic.
    posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:00 AM on December 12, 2006

    Yes, that's more or less what I'm saying, though this:

    There shouldn't be any cultural taboos against "just looking", no matter if it's female to male or male to female, but there currently are such taboos, and there is a double standard in play

    kinda depends on context. There should probably be taboos against rubber-necking when you're actually out with your SO, for instance, and I'm not sure I want to be anywhere close to making the claim that it's ok for people to leer, gape, or otherwise make random strangers on the street feel reduced to a biological need. I think there are some people who act like assholes and then blame biology, and I think their behavior has nothing to do with biological imperatives and everything to do with them being an asshole -- and, often, how we objectify women in this society -- and I'm not going to say that any gross leering, entitled, juvenile behavior that men sometimes foist on women should suddenly become standard operating procedure for everyone.

    With that said -- yes, of course people of either gender, as a group, are going to be attracted to non-SO-people, and I don't personally see much problem with those fleeting thoughts. But the thing is, there *are* many women who really do not think they have those thoughts about strangers, because they've been told over and over that having those thoughts is dirty and they should want true love and fluffy white wedding dresses and little pink hearts from their Prince Charming forever, and you can't just wipe all that training away, because it's the exact source of many of these conflicts.

    So my guess would be that why "his SO wanting him to suppress what we have established is only normal and natural," because women have often been taught that it's not natural, that it's evil and base and gross, and we also have to put up with a lot of aggressive assholes leering a great deal of the time, which can color how we perceive "harmless looking." That goes back to the point I made earlier about how the "it's biology" excuse gets trotted out in discussions about rape, that guys are just "wired" to look and want and rape. So with that cultural narrative in place, "It's only normal to look at women" can (and often does) become an excuse for really bad, threatening behavior, as well as a way for men to retain their privileged state as being the ones who get to look.

    It's not just that "men are natural" and "women are repressed," which is what I feel you're trying to reduce me to saying. There are a lot of strands coming into play in these arguments, which is why the poster needs to talk to his girlfriend and figure out which insecurities he's pushing on, and where they're coming from, and how they can work around them. It's OK as a guy to be more sensitive to these things than just saying "Dude, I'm a guy, I can't help it," just as it's OK for the girlfriend to force past her comfort zone a bit. Because whether or not I'm ok with guys thinking about other women doesn't matter; I'm not dating the poster.
    posted by occhiblu at 9:22 AM on December 12, 2006

    I am definitely reading you clearly on the differential cultural indoctrinations male and females get. You make a good point that she probably has absorbed the idea that having thoughts about someone else is dirty and some kind of moral failing, and that that idea probably gets reinforced daily. The "men are shallow, women are repressed" concept doesn't leave a lot of room for the nuance and subtlety that is the cool part of human nature and to really understand one another they need to get past that.

    But it's hard for some people to break out of thinking of themselves and one another in such stereotypical terms. It kinda requires waiting until they have that "aha!" moment where they realize, "Hey, she's just a another person, like me. She just wants to get along and enjoy life, just like me. She wants to have friends, feel loved, and be happy, just like me. She's not a bitch/slut/princess/chick or whatever other label I've applied to her. She's exactly who she is, and though unlike anyone else, really not that different from anyone else, in the grand scheme of things." Call it compassion, empathy, or whatever, people kinda have to get there first, before they can talk about one another as individuals, totally separated from any concept of gender roles.

    Not everyone will get there, and from experience I know that most people hearing what I'm saying here haven't a clue what I'm talking about or scoff that last paragraph off as so much new-age bullshit. So I agree that the way out of their mess is to talk to each other and work these things out, but they'll most likely end up using gender role concepts when they do. With that in mind, they need a way to change the harmful and insulting aspects of those concepts, even if they can't rise above and realize that they're just concepts and get past it. Even the most concrete thinker can understand the idea that everyone has a human side and an animal side and that what makes us human is that we can choose to not act upon the animal urges that all mammals on the planet feel. Something that we didn't choose, but rather inherited due to being multicellular organisms, can't be a moral failing. Hence the utility of the "It's my biology" argument. It's a way for people who haven't had that compassionate breakthrough and can't rise above labels and stereotypes to be able to say, "yes, I do have an animal side(and so do you), but that's not who I am." It's a way to give themselves permission to have those feelings and to be able to accept that others have those feelings, even if they can't get past their indoctrination.

    All of the above assumes good intentions on the part of both people, because I prefer to make that assumption, and they prefer to have that assumption made about them. The argument is often used, by people who do not have good intentions, to justify things that shouldn't be justified, but that doesn't ruin the argument. It just means that anyone who uses it had better be able to make a case for having good intentions if they do use it. I guess I'd have to say you were right to question my use of the "It's my biology" argument with no further clarification, and I hope this is clarification enough.

    So maybe bluejayk(who I hope is at least going to read our back-and-forth) should say, "It's my biology, but I am more than my biology. I am a complex mixture of animal drives, intellectual curiosities, and spiritual needs. Judge me if you must, but see me for who I really am, first. Please assume I have good intentions unless I personally give you reason to believe otherwise."
    posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:04 AM on December 13, 2006

    You can be sure as hell that guys don't want their girlfriends looking at other guys any more than women want their boyfriends looking at other women. But the cultural narratives in place for excusing/permitting that behavior, and the cultural assumptions in place for rewarding/punishing those behaviors, are extremely gender-based.

    I believe this is a large part of the reason for the Cult of The Adoration Of The Hollywood and those damn celebrity mags -- safe recreational ogling.

    Doesn't mean that there aren't jealous folks who really do get upset over the implications of watching a movie as [insert hott! celebrity here] porn, but it's safer than explaining letting your gaze linger on a real, live person.
    posted by desuetude at 9:49 AM on December 13, 2006

    How 'bout this -- "it's biology" may be OK as the beginning of the conversation if it's treated as a starting point subject to further clarfication and exploration, but it's almost never OK as a means of ending the conversation.
    posted by occhiblu at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2006

    Mod note: occhiblu/Mr Gunn - please continue this discussion on email or metatalk - this is getting pretty far afield from the OPs question unless you're bringing it back around
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:37 AM on December 13, 2006

    Yes, sorry. Was trying to wrap that up.
    posted by occhiblu at 10:52 AM on December 13, 2006

    I'm done, too. I was kinda viewing occhiblu and my exchange an an example of how a man and a woman with strong and differing opinions can have a grown-up talk about just the kind of things he was asking about. Thanks for rolling with me there, darlin'.
    posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:27 PM on December 13, 2006

    This question made me cry.

    See, right now I'm feeling just like your girl. Last night my boyfriend confided a long-standing crush on someone he had known for a long time. And to my surprise, I took it very very badly.

    It's hypocritical - I tell him about my random crushes all the time, and he's told me about other crushes before. (We even share a crush on the same person!) Indeed, it's because of my honesty with my crushes that he felt trusting enough to tell me about this one (he hasn't even told his family yet).

    I have no problem with him looking at porn; heck, I look at more porn than he does! Back in the early stages of the relationship there were one or two female friends he had whose actions made me a little uneasy, but I have since talked to them and understood what's up and now we're good friends. So why was I then such a wreck?

    I can't claim to speak for your girlfriend, but hopefully this may give a few clues:

    Insecurity is a big one. Are you your girlfriend's first partner? Or perhaps first in a long time? My boyfriend's my first, and I'm still trying to learn the ropes of this whole thing. Prior to him, I had always been attracted to people that were taken, so to finally get someone that wasn't taken, only to hear that his heart may be taken by someone else...well, that's not very easy to take in!

    stefanie was spot on with the fear of replacement. He had to go and tell me that he's always had this crush and probably always will - how do I match up to that? He didn't really have a crush on me to begin with, so it feels a little worse. ("Oh, no crush for me, but an everlasting one for her!") Again, insecurity comes into play, especially if this is a first.

    Another factor with me, which probably doesn't apply to you (but might, I'm not sure) is that right now we're separated for a few months (university holidays; we're from different countries) so it's extra hard not being able to see him or hold him or be held. When I was being upset over this yesterday he kept saying over and over about he wishes he was there to give me a hug.

    Chances are, she's not exactly being the "thought police" (I certainly don't want to control what my boyfriend thinks!) - she may just be totally taken aback by your response, not expecting it, and responded raw and instinctively. Give her some time. In the meantime, do what some of the other posters suggested - reinforce what you see in her that's brought you together. She needs reassurance, more than anything. SHOW it - don't just say it.

    posted by divabat at 3:21 AM on December 17, 2006

    Response by poster: Thanks again, one last time. All your comments were appreciated, it gave me a lot to think about, hopefully I'll actually learn something from this.

    divabat- Hope you feel better soon.
    posted by bluejayk at 11:00 PM on December 17, 2006

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