My boyfriend is an incorrigible flirt. I completely trust him and I know that he’s never cheated on me (and don’t think that he will), but it makes me mad that when we’re out doing something together, he spends a lot of time smiling and chatting up the woman who’s waiting on us, women at the tables around us, or random women we pass on the street. He says he’s just being friendly and that he appreciates beautiful women; I don’t mind his being friendly, but I wish he’d channel more of that attention toward me. Is this a legitimate concern, or am I acting like a baby? —MF, New York, New York
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
I think it’s interesting that you think you may be acting like a baby. Is this what your boyfriend says when you tell him that you’d like more attention from him? From where I’m standing, he may be the one acting like a baby, not you. But let’s also make sure that you’re dealing with your feelings and needs like an adult. Tell him what you’re feeling and what you need. This is different from chastising him for being a flirt. Yelling at him for his behavior is not the same as telling him directly what you need. You’re feeling frustrated, and you want reassurance from him that you’re the number-one woman in his life.
The great nonviolent communication guru Marshall Rosenberg has folks put it this way: “When I see/hear _________ [your observation], I feel _______because I need ______. Would you be willing to___________?”
By the way, he can still appreciate beautiful women without constantly chatting them up. If he has no empathy for what you’re feeling, then let him go. Find a guy who is man enough to listen and focus his attention on you and not on every other woman in the room.
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
There’s a parable I want to share with you, MF: A little boy finds a rattlesnake, which convinces the boy that he won’t bite him if he picks him up and takes him home. The boy, despite the danger and his doubt, brings the snake home. Just as the boy sets the snake down, the snake bites him. The little boy says, “Mr. Snake, why did you do that? The snake replies, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”
You know you’ve got a flirt here, and yet you choose to stay with him. He needs to make you feel special regardless of his flirtations with others, but I sense he does this or you wouldn’t be with him. If his treatment of you becomes worse, then you have a legitimate concern. You mention that you completely trust him, so this behavior seems to be more of pet peeve … and you can’t be too peeved if your pet is a snake.
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
How very EU of your boyfriend to notice every. Single. Woman. Who comes near him. But since you live in New York and not Paris, Rome, or Barthelona, I don’t think you’re being a baby. I think you have a valid concern.
Obviously, after you’ve been with someone for a while, you lose a bit of the intensity in the googly-eyes-only-for-him department. You eventually float back down to Earth and start to notice other good-looking people again. Ain’t no shame in that game, MF. But it’s a problem when he can’t fully engage with you because he keeps getting interrupted to “appreciate” someone else. It’s rude, and it’s disrespectful to you and to your relationship.
Though I would always recommend a very honest conversation as a first course of action (“It really hurts me that you spend so much time looking at other women; I wish you’d more attention to me when we’re together”), sometimes actions speak louder than words. I would normally never dream of recommending tit-for-tat behavior (the horror!), but perhaps it would help him to see you “appreciate” someone, too. Just once, so he can have a taste of his own medicine. If the direct conversation and the appreciation don’t help, it never hurts to accidentally knock an ice-cold glass of water in his lap the next time those eyes of his wander. And let that be your last action before you ease on down the road and find someone who will appreciate you the way you deserve to be appreciated when you’re dating someone. As we say in Kentucky, that’ll learn ’im. (I’m not sure how that translates in France, Spain, or Italy.) Or maybe it won’t. But either way, he, his wandering eye(s), and his soggy lap won’t be your problem anymore.
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
Is he running for office? If not, he needs to turn his attention toward you when you’re out on a date with him. (I confirmed this by asking my plumber for a second and unbiased opinion, by the way.) Don’t smother him to death, but if he “appreciates beautiful women,” he needs to appreciate you. In short, I feel that you have a legitimate concern. Far too many people fail to see the fine line between appreciation and looking for the next best thing. So what do you do about it? You’ve clearly already brought it up to him, so remind him again subtly. And if that doesn’t work, kick him in the nuts the next time he does it. When he asks you what that was for, as he inevitably will, just tell him you were simply trying to redirect his attention toward your conversation. Then smile gently and tilt your head to the left.
Here’s the bottom line: guys are guys and gals are gals. We flirt. We annoy the other party, and he or she gets over it. There’s no need to go overboard with it, though. With dating comes respect for our partners. He needs to know that. Have a firm conversation with him and remind him of that without coming off as a prude. Plan B is to flirt your ass off with someone right in front of him and see how he reacts. No telling what possibilities that might open up for you!