August 5, 2007

I went out with a man who would openly check out other women while he was with me. Sometimes, like a hypnotist, I'd have to snap my fingers directly in front of his face to redirect his gaze. Occasionally, he would even make a comment - she's got a great butt - and he could never understand why it bothered me.

"You can check out other men, and I won't get upset," he'd say. But that argument doesn't work. I'm not stimulated by a man's physique, so I'd have to say something like: "Now there is a man who looks like he wouldn't mind listening to my problems."

When that argument failed, he offered reassurance that he wasn't leering, he was "admiring", suggesting I should appreciate him for appraising beauty. As if admiration of a waitress with a nice bottom should give him points.

He naturally assumed that if it bothered me, it must be because I felt insecure. No, I said, it bothered me because it meant he wasn't listening to what I was saying. So it was rude.

His response was: "I am who I am." There's really nowhere to go after that, is there? The only thing that's worse than people who say "I am what I am" is people who say "I yam what I yam" while doing a Popeye imitation.

People who give anodyne answers are hard to converse with. Once you say "I am what I am", you're just a sentence away from "It is what it is". Which in our case was: over.

I understand that when eyes rove, it doesn't mean feelings do. Which is why I don't feel an urge to check out men randomly. I stare at a man if I think I recognise him or I'm thinking about something and he happens to be in my line of vision. One time this happened and I smiled, but then he smiled back. Next thing I knew, he was heading over to talk to me. Such a mess.

Lately I've been observing men who "admire" other women, and have discovered even the most seemingly mild-mannered men have strategies. My friend Tim told me he has a system. It's based on a risk-reward assessment.

(1) The risk: how important is what the girlfriend might be saying at the time? (2) The reward: how attractive is the other woman?

"If what the girlfriend is saying is very important (rare), I don't look. If she's silent, or what she is saying is not that important, then I look discreetly."

So he'll fake paying attention rather than be honest? Without hesitation, he replies yes. The brain, he says, is big enough to work out how to check out the other woman without being caught, and pay attention sufficiently to stay engaged in the conversation.

As for comments, he said he'd never make a comment out loud about another woman, but he'd feel free to comment about a handsome man.

"Admiring men aloud from time to time is a usefully misleading strategy when actually looking at women."

Who knew there was so much technique involved? Now a whole new category of suspicion has opened up. If a man is looking for the waiter, I've assumed he wants the bill. But maybe he's using it as a ruse to check out the woman near the bar with huge breasts.

One thing I know is that if a man's going to look, you can't change him. So I make sure that he sits facing the wall. Unless it's a wall with a mirror.