I want to warn you about an insidious recommendation that periodically makes the rounds in the ‘sphere, one that when employed can destroy the quality of your relationship and change the background music of your life into a relentless hum of anxiety. I am talking about the exploitative practice of a man’s instilling dread and fear in his partner to gain the upper hand in the relationship. In particular, the practice of your boyfriend or husband flirting with other women or reminding you in any number of ways that he “has options.” Here’s how the PUA thinking goes:
A woman will lose attraction for her husband if she doesn’t believe that he is actively desired by other women. Like jumper cables on a low battery, insecurity and jealousy work to kick start a flaccid relationship, or keep it finely tuned. Anxiety generates sexual desire. The goal is to first generate fear, then allay that fear. Rinse and repeat for the duration of the relationship.
Whew. I’m uneasy and exhausted just thinking about it. Do we like it when we get the prize guy, the guy that other girls want? Yeah, we do, we like to win the prize. And we like to parade that boy. “He’s mine, all mine! Eat your hearts out, ladies!” Of course, female intrasexual competition being what it is, some biddies are going to flirt with our man. “Hell no, don’t go there bitch. Because he loves me, and he’s not available. I know how to keep my man happy.” There is no better feeling than knowing that the love of your man is secure, that you have taken him off the market and satisfied him. It’s a requirement for a healthy marriage.
What happens when we see the man we love flirting with other women? Responding to them, maybe even encouraging them? How do we feel? Lucky that he has options, that he could leave and get another woman with ease?
God no. We feel ashamed. Why is the man who claims to love us seeking affirmation and sexual validation from other women? Now those biddies are laughing at us, they know the commitment is vulnerable – perhaps he can be poached. Apparently our man is lining up alternatives, “just in case.” We know he’s desirable, other women lighting up when he’s around tells us that. What we wish we didn’t know is that he’s milking it, wants more of it, is getting off on it. It’s deeply humiliating and painful for a woman in love.
A man who does this is displaying low relationship fitness, in one of two ways:
He is genuinely interested in generating sexual attraction with other women, even while professing to love you.
He is using this behavior as a ploy to keep you on your toes.
If he’s employing the first strategy, he’s a cad. Enough said.
If he’s employing the second strategy, he is operating from a mindset of lack, or scarcity. This is ironic, since he is attempting to secure your sexual attraction by conveying abundance. However, he is waging the battle to secure the Position of Least Interest, which means that his win is your loss. There must always be a winner and a loser. That is a very poor paradigm for a successful relationship.
How do I know this? Because I watched this dynamic with my own parents. My father is a highly charismatic and witty man. He is a great storyteller. The first full sentence I ever uttered, as I fished an olive out of his martini, was to tell my mother to go wash his shirts and leave us alone. My entire life I have watched people drawn to my father like moths to a flame.
Women always flirted with my father, and he always flirted back. I recall the late 60s, lying awake while waiting for my parents to return from a party, then the muffled sound of my mother’s weeping as they returned and she spoke of the humiliation of watching this spectacle. Once I peered out of my bedroom to watch the grownups in our living room, and saw my father being dragged into the middle of the room to dance with a neighbor, who threw her arms around his neck. He was enjoying himself. At 10, I knew how my mother would feel about it, and it made me feel sick.
I was perpetually afraid of learning that my parents were divorcing. It was clear to me, even as a child, that my father would not stop, even though it hurt my mother. His own mother had left when he was three, so perhaps that explained his insensitivity and need for female validation. Once my best friend told me how much she loved my dad, how everyone loved my dad, but that she was glad he wasn’t her dad. How I longed for a boring and staid father when I was a child!
Neither commitment nor marriage need look like this. Thirty years ago I fought off the undergrads to win my husband, and that was enough social proof to last a lifetime. I’m thankful that he has never encouraged flirting or sexual attraction with other women during our relationship, and that he has respected our marriage and our family.
This kind of behavior should be a dealbreaker. If your boyfriend does it once, let him know how it makes you feel. If he does it again, get the hell out. If your husband suddenly starts flirting with other women, address it immediately. Figure out where his fear and insecurity lies, and rush to reassure him in every way you can. This dynamic is a relationship destroyer, and it’s toxic for children. Don’t enable it.