Serious disrespect? Harmless male instinct?
Picture this. You’re sitting hand-in-hand with your man at a beach-bar, happily waiting for the sunset.
It’s been a perfect holiday, the world is good, and you feel closer than ever to him. There’s a comfortable break in the chat and you idly glance around the room, sipping your Mojito.
When you turn back to your guy, he’s
looking at entranced by another woman. A pretty girl, caressed by a chic summer-dress, laughing in the golden evening light.
You hate her.
You hate him.
Your stony glare brings him back to consciousness. His eyes refocus, and he sheepishly resumes talking to you. The evening never regains its former warmth.
You’ve been there, I’m sure.
Fact of life: Every man looks at other women.
I’m going to start by explaining what’s going on here (and you might not like it). I’m not justifying disrespectful behavior though. This article is more about your average unreconstructed guy, and less about sexist pigs who should be in counseling.
What is he thinking?
Most likely he’s not thinking at all. The first glance is an uncontrollable reflex, a knee-jerk reaction. As his gaze lingers, he will slowly return to social awareness, and at that point can choose to look away … Or choose to swivel his head and follow her across the room.
This is not about you
He is almost certainly not comparing. She is in a separate compartment of his mind. She’s an object, a body, a thing of beauty/horror/novelty. Possibly attractive, but not exactly real. Like appreciating a Ferrari without any desire to own one.
Except when it is about you
OK, occasionally it’s about you or the relationship. If it’s new behaviour, or increasingly blatant and disrespectful, then you might have a problem. In this case, there will certainly be plenty of other signs that he’s unhappy.
Why do we look?
The male brain
In her best selling book (Amazon), UCSF Professor of Psychiatry Louann Brizendine details the ways that men’s brains are different to women’s. Different as in physically scientifically measurably different. She describes the “Man Trance” that overcomes adolescent men when they see a proud pair of breasts. (Older men have exactly the same initial reaction, but some have learned to quickly hide it).
In a CNN article she states:
“I wish I could say that men can stop themselves from entering this trance. But the truth is, they can’t. Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue… they have to check out the goods.”
She also stresses that the other woman is forgotten within seconds.
Researcher Tony Little explored how men and women respond to familiar vs. new faces. In one experiment, volunteers were shown photos of five men and five women, one after the other. They rated them for attractiveness on a seven-point score. They were then shown the same photos for a second time, but presented paired with a new head-shot they had not seen before.
Women gave the male faces higher scores when seeing them for the second time. Men gave the familiar females lower scores when seeing them alongside a new female.
In a similar setup, the images were scored instead for sexiness and trustworthiness. You can guess what happened when seen for the second time. Yes, women found the familiar men more trustworthy, men found the familiar women way less sexy.
We really can’t help it
There are countless research publications and on-line articles which all come to the same conclusion. Whether it’s explained by testosterone or evolutionary psychology, guys are hard-wired to reflexively check out other women.
Smart women don’t react impulsively
Your instinctive reactions will backfire on you.
It might be tempting to point out that her tits are silicone, her dress is from K-mart and her IQ is sure to be lower than your dog’s. Don’t. Firstly he won’t care. Secondly, it’s not the other chick’s fault he’s looking at her. But most importantly, it’ll make you look insecure and jealous. You’ll lower your own status rather than the other woman’s.
Turning on your husband in anger may also backfire. There’s a good chance he will shut down, either because he feels guilty, or because he just doesn’t see a problem.
In a series of experiments on student relationships, researchers tested the “Forbidden Fruit Hypothesis”. In one test for example, the subjects were quickly shown two images of the opposite sex; one attractive, one not. Some of the time, the attractive image was blocked, or the student was subtly distracted from looking at it. They then completed questionnaires about their own relationship. The partners (of either sex) who were prevented from looking at attractive faces:
So a slap on the wrist isn’t going to work either.
You need to be smarter than that.
The place to start is by questioning your own response…
How do you feel about it?
The three factors affecting your feelings:
|The hunger in his look|
|He barely noticed her||Drool soaking his shirt|
|Damn I’m hot||I’m not worthy|
|Your trust in the relationship|
|I’m loved by a decent guy||He’s cheated before|
Explore your own feelings before reacting to him. Some useful questions in trying to work out the first factor are:
What to do
Check it isn’t a symptom of bigger trouble
Do a mental check of the marriage. Are there any other signs that your partner’s not happy? Any issues in the bedroom?
Is it your problem?
Are you projecting your own insecurity onto innocent actions? If this is more about your own fears and self-doubt, then picking a fight with him won’t resolve anything.
Instead, work on yourself. Are you ashamed about how you look? Then explore why you feel that way, but also take practical steps like reviewing your wardrobe.
You might decide this is the best option when:
Accept the realities of human nature, and let it go.
Join in the fun
My wife is smart (sometimes). She understands there will always be younger sexy women. She also knows I’m lucky to have caught her, and that I know this. So, often she’ll point out provocative sights to me! It’s a type of people-watching, a game that actually brings us closer together and even raises the sensual tension. Her confidence is so much sexier than her disapproval would be.
Have it out with him
If none of these options appeal to you, then it’s time to talk to him.
If you’re going to raise the issue…
If you’re not fully in control of yourself (and which of us truly is?), don’t raise the issue there and then. This is likely to worsen the situation, increasing your frustration.
At a relaxed place and time, when you have his full attention, start in the spirit of inquiry and learning. Smile and ask “What was it about her that caught your eye?” or “I’ve noticed you sometimes staring at babes. What’s going on with that?” With this approach, your boyfriend is more likely to pause and actually think about the topic, rather than denying or becoming defensive.
Explain how you feel, taking responsibility for those feelings. “I feel old and unattractive when I see you staring at babes”, not “You make me feel ugly”. This technique is a great general communication skill, worth trying to internalize as a habit.
This is one of those Mars/Venus subjects where he really will have difficulty understanding your point of view. After all, he knows he loves you and you have no reason to be concerned. Stay calm, focused and patient.
There isn’t a real right and wrong. Aim for an open conversation rather than an argument.
Unless you have other evidence to the contrary, believe him when he says it means nothing and he only wants you.
It may not be reasonable to expect him never to look again, but you should expect to be heard, and treated with respect.
Advice from a feminist
As Dr Brizendine, who describes herself as a feminist concludes:
“The best advice I have for women is make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.”
And this man agrees with her.
If you’re worried your man is pulling away, there’s lots more insight in my free ebook Why Men Lose Interest.