Thursday, November 19, 2009

Who's the Slut?

I was having a conversation the other day with a dear friend about marital protocol -- what we could and could not properly do within the bonds of wedlock -- and the talk turned to the case of a man we knew who was the very picture of propriety. Cultivated and somewhat reserved, he was the last person whom one would suspect of promiscuity.

"You wouldn't guess it from looking at him, but the guy is a slut," I told my astonished friend. "Not in the conventional sense. He doesn't sleep with other women. What is sluttish about him is how he cultivates relationships with young women, flirting and pursuing them, keeping them in his orbit. As he hits his middle years, he seems to have stepped up his courtship more aggressively."

My friend fell silent, looked stricken, really. This conversation had taken her to an unexpected -- and unpleasant -- place. We had been talking about the rules that spouses abide by, the degree of flexibility in these rules, the boundaries we set for ourselves and those we break. We were talking about testing limits...not trespassing them. We talked about acceptable and unacceptable forms of flirtation. Sipping Starbucks early in the morning, we traded tales of our own marital situations, testing out stories against the other in an effort to gain insight into our own actions and reactions. Our mood was lighthearted. And then our conversation turned to this matter.

Obviously, someone who is promiscuous with his attention does not deserve the same designation as a true Don Juan, still it is useful to examine the question of how much we are allowed to share of ourselves when we are in a committed relationship. Being married requires a certain degree of tzimtzum, contracting the essence of oneself, bestowing it only upon one's beloved...or an inner circle of loved ones. Flirting is a part of life but fidelity is not just a matter of NOT sleeping around. Giving too freely of your time and attention -- or pursuing emotionally intimate relationships -- is a breach of exclusivity, I believe.
Do you think I'm judging this man too harshly, I demanded of my friend? Do you see what I see when I look at this situation? I see a married man trying to have it both ways...getting the wife, yet setting up a lifestyle where he is able to essentially court young women. Don't you think that makes him a slut?

My friend looked pained. She was deep in thought. Finally she said, "Maybe no more than most men. But I guess it comes down to how his wife feels about his behavior. What does she think?"

Suddenly, I felt depressed by the whole conversation. "I was merely borrowing the word she used when she talked to me a couple of days ago," I replied. "Frankly, she's pretty disgusted because he figured out a way to be married and single at the same time. So, yeah, she thinks her husband is a slut."

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