Fidelity and Flirting

A Letter to a recent Client

Hi there, Friend:

How are you? I hope you are well–though in the situation you’ve described, I see many problems–so I cannot imagine you are.

Realize that I can only judge your situation by what you have told me–and this isn’t therapy–so I have to make some assumptions. I’ll expect you to correct me, where I go wrong–based on the limited information I have, and if you want to revise your story at any time, please do. Okay, Friend, even though I know most stable, healthy relationships should require no extra-relationship flirting–many people do it on a harmless level. Personally, I never have, and I don’t think I have ever seen my friends or family members do it. I think it is a sign of strong relationships and healthy, mature people who have confident psyches–that they don’t have a tendency to flirt. On the other hand, the topic requires that we define flirting. Simply being friendly with people of the opposite sex (or the sex of our interest) in the same manner we are friendly with members of our own sex (or the sex of our disinterest) is not flirting.

Flirting is any behavior accidentally or consciously intended to create a possible sexual or love-oriented relationship with another person. It is also a way of making one’s partner jealous. Now–just for a moment, allow me to play devil’s advocate: Have you been overly sensitive? Does your fiance show you true love in all the healthy ways–listening to you, helping you, putting you and your needs first and looking out for your interests–and has he only been reasonably engaged in light conversation with other women–never taking any interaction to another level or developing strong feelings for those women? Is it possible this is a power play–whereby he resents your possibly having turned some innocuous interactions into his tendency to test you and play with you because you may actually be unnaturally jealous and insecure? You must think about these questions I have asked you–seriously.

All outcomes in a relationship of any kind are the results of two or more person’s input. Now, that said, I will say this: You deserve a relationship in which you are the focus, and only you–in sexual and romantic ways. You deserve a relationship from which you are able to leave, from time to time–even if only to go away and be alone for a while to explore your interests and feelings in a solitary fashion. And you deserve a relationship wherein you do not have to suffer the insecurities inherent in the discomfort of knowing your partner has a need to be attractive to other people in a romantic and/or sexual ways. Now, I cannot be sure–because I have not met him, but it sounds like your fiance does care about you–but in an immature way, and in a controlling way, and in an insufficient way. In fact–that is why you have written me. Isn’t it? What are your feelings on love? I ask all my clients to tell me; you might have noticed that on my profile page. Is this a satisfactory relationship–which you are in? I think it is not. Again, isn’t that why you have written me? Tell me; does your boyfriend make it clear to those he flirts with that he is spoken for? Are those people sure he loves you and that there is no chance of their success with him–because he loves you? If not–he is not just being friendly or polite. In such cases he would be cheating on you–because he is opening doors to new relationships with such flirtation. In a strong, normal, Western relationship, partners make it known they are spoken for when speaking to new people. When they don’t, a red flag should go up in their partner’s minds. This is something I didn’t like about dating in Asia. I often found partners there–even married people–who behaved in ways that were quite ambiguous–which caused me to feel that those doors were always open–in all directions–and it spoke to me of high insecurity and low fidelity.  It was not always the case, of course–but it was noticeable (and of course a certain amount of confusion could have been caused by the overly affectatious way women are expected to act in some Asian cultures); so, it can be cultural. But in a healthy relationship it certainly is not necessary.

Finally, one judgement I will make is that your fiance should not be doing things that make you uncomfortable–within reason. I mean, saying “hello” to women–or talking to them–in a polite, non-romantic, or flirtatious way–should be acceptable–even if it is with his ex, from time to time, but if there is some romantic need being met or fostered, that’s cheating. And he certainly should not be telling other women he misses them–unless he is not planning to be exclusive with you. I hope you’ll pardon me for saying this, but it sounds like you’re in a relationship with an “old boy”, and the image that comes to my mind is of people in their forties or fifties–from some sexist culture–wherein the men are chauvinists and can do what they want–and the women must abide by it. And when the women express protest, the men feign dedication, make excuses, and continue on doing what they had been doing before–with no alteration. Finally, when the women decide to leave, the men act like little boys–unable to be men about it, unable to make changes. Is that accurate? He sounds like an old-fashioned person.

This is the 21st century; people in love today don’t behave like that–unless they are immature… or playboys (which are immature men, anyway). Crying is okay, occasionally, but throwing tantrums is not. Controlling you and manipulating you are the worst things he can do–but don’t confuse control with influence. He has a right to influence you–in a loving way. You have to ask yourself if your relationship is strong enough so that you two can sit down and talk about your needs and then you have to ask yourself if you’re both willing to negotiate to create boundaries and rules for the relationship. When one or both partners cannot or will not do this–a healthy relationship is impossible.

Love is not just a feeling; it is a practice in which the partners engage to make one another comfortable, healthy, and happy, and when only one partner’s needs are met–that’s not a healthy love relationship. That’s a dysfunctional one. In fact–it’s not love. It’s usage. Someone’s being used and taken advantage of. Now, your boyfriend may not be making you feel this way on purpose, but he needs to be made to understand that you’re not happy and if this continues what kinds of uncomfortable situations and feelings will result. Actually–you’re already there–in a place of discomfort. Please let me know how you feel about what I’ve said and take good care; your health and happiness should be your most important concerns. Of course you should care about your boyfriend’s health and happiness, too, but he seems to be taking care of that quite well; he has multiple people–apparently–to make himself feel secure. I don’t want to paint a bad picture of your boyfriend, here; most times people are doing the best they can according to their own maturity and intellectual & spiritual achievements. Perhaps he would like to change, but is not able to see the seriousness of the situation. Maybe this is how he saw love whilst growing up.

Love requires originality and flexibility, to the extent that it enables partners who want to grow their love; to do whatever is reasonable to keep that love growing. You have to communicate reasonable needs, feelings, expectations, and boundaries, and those have to be understood, agreed upon, and practiced in a relationship in order for happiness, fulfillment, and respect to be maintained. When only one partner is achieving these elements, the relationship is unbalanced and unhealthy. When you accept such conditions, the relationship is dysfunctional–because it is not functioning in a balanced way. That kind of relationship eventually makes both partners unhappy–not just the partner being hurt, initially.

Lastly, when one party in a relationship has the need to be involved with people outside the relationship in order to fulfill that need–it means his or her needs are not being fulfilled within the relationship. Sometimes this is normal. A wife goes to her gynecologist because her husband is only a plumber, not a medical doctor. A husband plays baseball once a month with his buddies because they provide the male bonding his psyche requires for a balanced life of friendship that men get from their male friends and perhaps their wives cannot offer. However, the ego assuagement we get from possible sexual and romantic flirtation outside of our romantic relationships which perpetuates discomfort in our relationships is not healthy, nor is it fair. Sit down and have a sober, calm, understanding, and supportive discussion with your boyfriend–about the feelings both of you have. Only after you have decided what your feelings, needs, and expectations are–and you have both committed to fulfilling them as best you can–should you call him your fiance, again–because he is not acting like a fiance, now.

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