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Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
I’m newly married, and struggling. When my husband and I started dating, he had some friendships that confused me, but I felt like I was being silly and tried to get over it. Now it’s starting to feel like this is going to be part of life with him.
I first noticed he’d stare at women very openly when we were out together. None of my past partners were oglers and I was surprised, but I’ve discreetly checked guys out in the past, so I tried to ignore it. Then I saw him taking what looked like up-the-skirt photos of a female friend of his under the table one night. When I asked him about it, he said that he was testing the camera. Later I found a photo of the same woman in a bikini taken from quite a distance. (It looked like she had no idea she was being photographed.) They flirted quite a bit — butt-slapping, nuzzly hugs, baby talk, etc. I let him know it made me upset, he said it was innocent, and I eventually got over it — I reasoned that this was a complicated relationship that started before he met me, and that these things take a while to resolve.
Later I found out that he had been cheating on his last long-term girlfriend with their mutual roommate, someone he is still close with. He knows it makes me nervous, but they continue to text and email, and she always lets him know when she’ll be in town. I sometimes worry that he sees her without telling me, but he’s promised that they’re back to being just friends now, so I try not to think about it.
Now that we’ve been married for a few months with a baby on the way, my hope has been that his interest in these complicated, flirty friendships (there have been others) would dwindle. So I was heartbroken when we were out for dinner with some friends and he spent the night flirting with a woman who’s relatively new to the group. (They seem to be getting pretty close — according to my husband, she confided in him about problems she’s been having with her boyfriend, and hinted that they’re breaking up.) I tried to head off the flirting by changing the subject; but as soon as I got involved in another conversation, they went back to flirting — and I overheard my husband making comments about his penis size.
This kind of feels like the last straw but I’m not sure where to go with any of this. This marriage is new, there’ll be a child involved soon and I want to do what’s best; but some small part of me is starting to feel crazier every day. Talking to him doesn’t help; his definition of flirting is very different from mine, and any time I’ve said how hurt I feel it causes a fight, but nothing changes. I don’t think of myself as the jealous type, but I’m starting to feel like my expectations might be over-earnest and naive. (My only other serious relationship was nothing like this — neither one of us flirted with other people). On the other hand, I wonder if I’ve been trying so hard NOT to be the crazy jealous wife that I’ve been willfully blind. Do I add flirtiness to his list of traits, remind myself that we’re all human, and be grateful he puts up with my flaws too? Or is there a better way to deal with this?
Under the federal Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, “knowingly videotaping, photographing, filming, recording by any means, or broadcasting an image of a private area of an individual, without that individual’s consent, under circumstances in which that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy” is unlawful and persons found guilty of violating this act “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
So that’s one thing.
The other thing is social appropriateness.
It’s not illegal to be a wacky single dude who flirts and slaps butts and talks about his penis. Slap a butt. Talk about your penis. Let’s not be too boring. But marriage is actually about becoming boring on purpose. That’s why you get a license and have a big cake. The idea is to create a zone of sufficient boringness, i.e., safety, so that two individuals can raise children and pursue creative and financial goals that require a stable home base.
So you don’t want your husband shooting upskirts under the table and talking about his penis and slapping women’s asses. So I suggest that you find a good couples therapist who specializes in sexual issues and that the three of you meet every week for a year. Yeah, have 52 sessions. Keep going. If nothing comes up for a while then keep going. Stuff will eventually come up. You and he will find out some things about each other that will help you decide what to do next. It’s possible that the marriage was a mistake and a quick, early divorce is the best option.
If he won’t go to the sessions, divorce him. If he continues to photograph women under the table and deny and hide his behavior, divorce him. If the therapist believes that no progress has been made and that he does not realize or refuses to admit what he is doing, then divorce him.
That’s not meant to sound punitive, like divorcing him would be some kind of punishment. It’s not that at all. There ought to be a better way of saying it. “Release him from the bonds of matrimony” might sound kinder. Because it’s not your job to punish him. It’s your job to have an orderly life so you can raise your child in peace. And I just think you’re going to be fighting about this and it will be destabilizing and upsetting and make it very hard for you to enjoy the early years of motherhood. And the baby’s not going to dig it if you two are at each other’s throats and he’s freaking you out with his behavior.
Actually, there is some truth in the notion that divorcing him would be a kind act. He may have made a mistake. He may not be ready or able to regulate his behavior and so it would be cruel to expect him to do so. But regulating one’s behavior is what marriage is. It is an agreement between two people who may have all kinds of impulses and wishes, to agree to moderate those things in order to have an orderly and peaceful coexistence. It’s not going to be a good situation if he’s shooting upskirt videos while you’re trying to raise this child.
Force the issue. There’s still time to make a new start. Take action. Soon the baby will be here and you will be consumed with motherhood. Do what you can now to confront this and come up with a plan.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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