The Humanist Dilemma: Is There a Problem with Noticing Attractive People?

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A Couple that Admires Together… My boyfriend likes to admire pretty women when we are out, and I don’t mind at all. In fact, I often point out those who are particularly attractive or have certain stand-out features, and if he hasn’t noticed already (mostly he beats me to it), he will share the moment of appreciation with me. I also enjoy noticing very attractive men, although I don’t mention them to my boyfriend, nor does he ever bring them to my attention.

My problem is, I’ve gotten into arguments with female friends who think this is appalling. They would never tolerate their men admiring others before their eyes and think it’s wrong of me to not only tolerate but also facilitate this behavior.

I don’t see anything wrong with it. Am I warped, or are they insecure?

—Appreciative of Beauty Wherever I See It


Dear Appreciative,

I can’t speak to whether your friends are insecure, or whether they were brought up with certain preconceptions about how men should behave, or whether they envy your lack of envy. But I can say that I think you and your boyfriend are fine. Don’t let others invent problems for you. If it doesn’t bother you that your partner finds other women pretty—and that he feels comfortable acknowledging it to you (since I’m sure all people find people other than their partners attractive, whether or not they let on), there’s no reason for you to censor him or yourself. It’s not as if you’re suggesting he drop you and pursue them, or that he even has that urge simply because you both find a passing stranger comely. What it does say is you two have a nice, healthy appreciation of human beauty that you can celebrate together, along with everything else you share as a couple.

It’s interesting that you don’t do the same with attractive men you see. Is it that you fear your boyfriend may feel jealous or hurt, even though you don’t? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with restricting your little pastime to females, I’m just curious about the double standard. It also sounds as though your boyfriend is never one to point out attractive females to you, even if he notices them before you bring them to his attention. Maybe you have a subtle unspoken code to protect each other’s feelings.

Beauty is one of the things that makes life enjoyable, and sharing is another. Just be sure that you take into account the subjects of your gaze—respecting others’ bodily autonomy includes not making them uncomfortable in an ogling manner. My husband and I once had dinner with a couple when a very attractive waitress went by and the man actually started panting and woofing like a dog. It didn’t seem to faze his wife, but it sure bugged my husband and me. I don’t know how the waitress would have reacted had she noticed—unless she had and was professionally ignoring his behavior.

I guess each couple has to work out their own terms about such things. But please, don’t feel you must develop an aversion to your partner admiring others if you aren’t so inclined. There are enough things to be hurt by and sensitive to within relationships without cultivating additional ones just to satisfy judgmental friends.