Your husband's wandering eye

My husband spends a lot of time checking out other women. Should I care? Sometimes I worry and wonder if it's the same as being unfaithful. Does he still love me?

First, rest assured that you're not alone. Checking out the opposite sex is normal and your marriage probably isn't in trouble. In fact, I'd say that it's alive and healthy.

Some claim men think about sex every 18 seconds. When I first read that shocking statistic, I had to wonder how on earth they could concentrate on anything else. Did Einstein think about black holes between sexual fantasies? Did Edison invent the light bulb to shed light on a female body? Imagine what progress there would have been in this world if men weren't so consumed with sex. It's amazing anything ever gets done at all. No wonder men get distracted so easily, but they do.

Actually, I wrote a thesis on this topic: Darwin's influence on Freud. The argument is that men evolved to have as many sexual encounters as possible to keep the species going. Guys have a primitive hormone system that alerts them to every female within copulation distance.

As Freud says, however, men also have jobs to do. They live in a civilized society that says, yes, they can look but they can't touch and then they must get back to the work of being a mate, raising a family and building a progressive society. Rather than repressing their energies harmfully, Freud says men learn to turn their energies toward productive work. A structural engineer, for example, has to focus on building a bridge instead of on getting lucky. As it turns out, guys can do something productive in those other 17 seconds after all.

We all know instinct shouldn't be tampered with too much. If we encourage guys to bottle up sexual feelings, we wind up with neurotic men. (Who would you rather be married to: a neurotic Woody Allen or a healthy man who checks out the passing women? I know my answer.)

By all means, if your guy's girl watching bugs you, let him know. Talk to him about being more subtle. Suggest he do it on his own time and not yours. Tell him when you go to an art gallery with someone, you look at the pictures and admire the esthetics but you don't ignore the person you're with.

You only really need to worry if he's one of those creeps who ignores his civilized side. You know who I'm talking about. At worst, they are the stalkers. At the most benign, they're the boors in the bar or the office who leer at every passing female. As long as your partner's not among that crowd, don't worry. As far as I know, fantasies have never destroyed a relationship.

Don't be afraid to let him know if it's bothering you. You have every right to tell him to cool his alpha male routine.

Ogling is crude. The swivel-headed eye-bulging variety of people watching is insulting. Most of us have normal, healthy alive mates. As for whether he loves you or not, the answer is probably yes. You certainly don't stop yourself from looking at nice-looking men, do you? It doesn't mean you don't love your husband. Monogamy is a commitment to another person--her personality, her values, her life--not just a cute behind.

Dr. Catherine Gildiner is a clinical psychologist in private practice. Too Close to the Falls (ECW) is her memoir.


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