My friend went to bed and her husband tried to seduce me

I made my excuses and left -- but should I warn her what he's up to?

By Cary Tennis
Published January 11, 2007 12:37PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have a close friend I have known since high school whom I still keep in regular touch with. We don't talk or e-mail frequently, but whenever I am in her area I always stop by for a visit and usually have a wonderful time with her and her husband.

Recently, however, I've started to feel a bit uncomfortable around her husband. I've long been the unattached friend who spends a lot of quality time with her married friends, and I'm always told I'm such a great person, etc., by all of them. Her husband, however, has taken this further than the rest, saying how wonderful I am, kissing me on the cheek, putting his hand on my leg ... various casual gestures that have added up to my feeling more than slightly uncomfortable around him.

This situation came to a head when I last visited them around the holidays. When my friend went to bed, her husband proceeded to offer me a foot massage. He then grabbed my feet, took off my socks and performed the foot massage. I was too uncomfortable to say much and just ended the situation as soon as I could, but before I could go to bed he did something else. We were both sitting on the couch watching a movie on television, I on one side and he on the other, when he proceeded to grab me and pull me over so that I was laying next to him. I moved away from him and sat up, trying to distract him, but after I did this he proceeded to pull me back where I had been.

I quickly made my excuses about being tired and went to bed, hardly being able to sleep the entire night as I was worried he would come into my room and try something. As soon as I woke up the next morning I made my excuses that I needed to head back to my parents' house to my friend, and left without saying goodbye to her husband. On my drive back to my parents' house he called my phone and left a message, which I must admit I still haven't been able to listen to.

I am horrified about this situation. I have always felt so happy for my friend, that she found happiness, and was in a very stable and positive relationship. I have always loved my visits to see her and her husband. I don't think I've done anything to warrant this behavior on her husband's part, but I don't know how to approach the situation ... if I should say anything to my friend ... or if I should just let it go. I don't get the sense, based on what I know of their social tendencies (they don't have many -- they stay at home most of the time) that her husband is behaving this way with other women. However, I know that right now I would not feel comfortable going back there to see them. I don't want to lose the friendship that I have, but I don't know how to tell my friend what has happened.

No Clue What to Do

Dear No Clue,

When you stay over at her house, your friend doesn't have you and her husband sleep naked together in the same bed, does she?

She doesn't have you shower with her husband, right?

We understand these things. There are certain cues to arousal that we try to remove from the chaste realm of family, so that sexual taboos remain intact. We try not to let children look at pornography. The wife does not parade naked around the house in front of male guests. And the husband does not sleep naked in the same bed as the wife's friend.

Other cues to arousal are less obvious. Some boundaries are less clear. And some people are aroused by situations that seem innocuous to others. I'm not saying that watching TV on the couch is a big turn-on and everybody should know that. Yet I suspect that there is something about this situation in which friendship, family and sexual intimacy come together in a confusing and unhealthy way. And I assume that everybody plays a role in such confusing triangles -- you, the wife and the husband.

Now, I know that if given a written test he could tell the difference between you and his wife. And logically he knows that it's not OK for him to seduce his wife's friend. But if you test the lizard brain, it just says, "Ugh. Woman on couch. Rub feet. Get boner."

I'm not making excuses for him. He's way out of line. Nor am I blaming the wife. A wife ought to be able to go to bed and leave her husband in a room with her friend without fear that he's going to hit on her. And you ought to be able to sit in a room and watch TV with your friend's husband without his hitting on you.

I guess what I'm arguing for is greater self-protective awareness of the complexity and variation in human behavior. Things are not always going to be as they should. People don't always act right. You need to recognize a bad situation and take care of yourself -- which you did, after a fashion, though I'm troubled by the fact that you "made your excuses." You don't need to make your excuses, girl! You need to get that man's cotton-picking hands off you!

You need to say, "Get your goddamn hands off me, you moron, I do not want a fucking foot rub, I'm so off limits you need an East German passport just to sit next to me."

The thing is, I believe that we are more animal and primitive than we pretend, and that is why cultures have evolved fairly strict taboos to preserve marriage. While consciously we know that friends of our wives are off limits, no woman is off limits to our unconscious desires; it's always at work seducing people regardless of taboo. That's why taboos, to be effective, must be not only understood mentally but enforced physically through customs and conscious behavior.

In some cultures strict control is kept over single women. That is oppressive. Women ought to be free. Men ought to control themselves. Instead of controlling their own behavior, some men in positions of power try to control women. That is wrong.

I am against controlling women. I am for maximum freedom. But with maximum freedom comes maximum responsibility. Not everyone is going to play by the rules and it is foolish to pretend that they will. Things are going to happen. You've got to set your own boundaries.

So should you tell her? I'm staying out of that one. My concern is with you. I would like to see you learn to recognize when boundaries and taboos are not being observed and take appropriate action. I hope you learn to speak frankly to protect yourself. So repeat after me: "I'm so off limits you need an East German passport just to sit next to me."

Now why did that phase in particular come to mind? Why the Cold War? Well, maybe unconsciously what I'm saying is that you need to wage a little Cold War of your own.

Besides, never miss a chance to induce confusion in the enemy.

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