“Those Moms from that neighborhood … seriously, you don’t know who is married to whom. You should have seen them all flirting at the party — sitting on one another’s laps — I couldn’t believe it!”
I’d overheard this while I was volunteering at the elementary school. I knew exactly who they were talking about. I knew the party. I knew the Moms. I knew the Dads. I knew the flirting that went on. I knew them all so well, that I knew it was all innocent … Well, maybe not innocent, but these couples were NOT swingers.
So I asked one of the women from the party why this other woman was confused about which spouse belonged to which person, and she said: “You know, we all have been friends for so many years, that this is just how we act. We are all comfortable with it. My husband doesn’t get jealous of these men because he knows they’re not a threat to our marriage; the other men and women feel the same. We were just drinking, letting off some steam, and having fun. Sometimes I sit on the women’s laps because we love the reaction our husbands have.
Sometimes I flirt with the men because it’s just fun. We wives know waaaay too much about each others’ husbands to ever really be interested in them. We are ALL that way with one another. No one cares.”
And that was the important part: No One Cares. If, indeed, no one cares, then what’s the harm?
Another woman I recently met through our kids was complaining to me about how this one Dad is a Boundary-Crosser. “The first time he was at my house,” she began, “he made a crude comment about my breasts. He’s so flirtatious. He constantly makes innuendos. He’s all over every woman. I can’t stand that; it’s totally inappropriate and kind of gross. I’m just not one of ‘those insecure women’ who needs men to fawn all over me. Doesn’t it bother YOU?”
This comment bothered me to no end. Here was this gorgeous woman who has probably had men drooling all over her — her entire life — and she probably has no idea what it’s like to be ignored or passed-over. I told her, “I see what you’re saying about him, but it doesn’t bother me nor offend me.”
What I didn’t say was that I really liked when this man flirted with me. It made be feel beautiful and sexy and 10 years younger, rather than the post-baby middle-aged hag I feel like half the time.
Does this make me “one of those insecure women”?
When I first met this “Boundary-Crosser” — I told my husband all about him. One morning at a baseball game he came right up to me and kissed my neck. I turned to my husband and said, “Um, he just kissed my neck.” My husband laughed. I asked, “Aren’t you jealous?” He said, “I’m better looking and younger than him. He’s just a dirty old man. You’re not to go cheat on me with him. There is not one part of me that feels threatened by that guy. I think I make you pretty happy.”
So maybe I am insecure and need the attention, but clearly my husband is quite secure. So what’s the harm?
Like the woman at the party who was sitting on her friends’ laps, I, too, am in a close-knit group of couples who have known one another ranging from six to 36 years. The men are always commenting on the women’s breasts, butts, and f**k me boots. When we go out for dinner and I show off my boobs in a tight shirt, they thank me. The women pretend to “offer up” sexual favors to pay for dinner or for helping move furniture. Swapping never, ever has happened and never will, but we always joke about it primarily because it’s so preposterous.
One night we women were out for dinner and when my friend got a text from her husband, I grabbed her phone and texted him something dirty back. He immediately texted back: “Hi, EJ” — knowing something so obnoxious would never have come from his wife. My husband came home one day and showed me texts that he and one of our friends were exchanging while trying to figure out where we were all going to dinner Saturday night. If I had found them on my own and not known the woman, I would have had a full-on panic attack. But he did show me, and I did know the woman, and I also knew it was all in good fun.
To be clear, the texts weren’t coy; they weren’t sweet … they were dirty. But in my marriage and in our group of friends, that’s what passes for entertainment. So what’s the harm?
The harm is when the flirting isn’t just for fun. The harm is when it’s replacing the flirting that your spouse would like YOU to be doing with him. The harm is when the flirting causes a friendship to go from platonic to exciting. How do you know when this is starting to happen?
1. You feel the need to delete texts from this friend so your spouse doesn’t see them.
2. You only kiss each other on the lips when both spouses are not around.
3. You find yourself fantasizing about sex with this person.
4. You take extra care putting yourself together when you know you’re going to see this friend.
5. You have conversations talking about your spouses’ negative qualities with each other that you would not say to their faces.
6. You don’t tell your spouse or your other friends about many of your interactions with this “friend”.
If any of these begin to happen, you’re in dangerous territory that will not only damage your friendship, but also will seriously hurt your partner. And if you’re thinking, Holy Crap, that’s totally happening to me — my best advice is to keep your distance from this person, and possibly even have a conversation with him telling him you think you guys are starting to cross a line. And, in order to protect your marriages and your friendships, you need to dial it back a bit.
Try saying: ‘As much as I’ve been having fun texting with you, I keep getting the feeling that if my husband or your wife saw this, they would be really hurt — I don’t want to mess with that.’
When it comes to fantasy, the lines completely disappear because no one else can see what’s going on in your head. After years with the same person, of course we all have a “spank bank” that we pull from either when we are alone or when we’re needing a bit more motivation with our partners. My enlightened husband swears up and down that he doesn’t care who I have in my head, but I think that when it’s not only someone you see all the time, but also someone you might find yourself alone with, it IS a threat to your marriage.
When you and your partner are participating in a role-play sexcapade — trust me, DO NOT ever bring a friend into the fantasy.
Like my beautiful friend who didn’t like the flirty dad, many people are of the school that married people should not be flirting with other married people, through texts, through comments, through extended hugs and kisses on the lips. If either member of a marriage feels this way, then the boundaries have to be clear and strong, and this has to be accepted by both partners.
If your husband wants you to only have eyes for him and vice versa, then anything other than a platonic interaction with someone else can be painful and can test the trust between you.
So what happens when you find a text in your spouse’s phone that crosses the line? What happens when you catch a woman with her hand too low on your husband’s back?
If, indeed, this is not in response to your partner’s actions, if this is “one of those insecure women who need men to fawn all over them” — your best bet is to tell your partner that this other person’s flirtations with him are making you uncomfortable. Many times you’ll find that your partner simply has no idea how to stop the other person from this behavior without a really uncomfortable confrontation. Tell him he can put an end to it rather painlessly:
1. In response to an inappropriate text or email: “Given that it’s hard to tell that you’re just joking in an email/text, I’m nervous that my wife is going to misread this, so let’s keep it PG, shall we?”
2. In response to a tipsy girl sitting on his lap: “Unless you want me to read ‘Goodnight Moon’ to you, you better stand up … this spot’s reserved for my kids.”
3. In response to a woman who hugs just a bit too tightly: “With that hug, I thought you were my wife for a second… better be careful or I might ask you to pop my back zits soon.”
If, however, the flirting is either initiated by your partner or clearly well-received by him, then you two need to have a long discussion about the way it makes you feel.
When I first got married there was a woman at work who was in this fantastic marriage for over a decade, and I asked her what their secret to survival was. She told me TALK. You talk about everything. I’ve taken that advice to heart, and it’s saved me from so many passive-aggressive actions and fights.
My husband and I are OPEN about our anxieties, our insecurities, our expectations, and even about our crushes. Let’s be honest … we all get them.
While the culture of our marriage and our group of friends are very open, while our boundaries seem very fluid, while the sex talk and the flirting get us all excited and help super-charge our sex-life — we know, because we are so honest with each other, that there are boundaries.
We know that we are happy and very much in love. And we trust each other because of it. We also know that once you cross the “boundary” — it’s hard, perhaps, impossible to get back to the Other Side. No matter how much we joke — playing with fire is just not worth it.