My male partner of two years and I, both in our late 60s, have recently attended parties where married female friends have been extremely affectionate towards my partner, coming on to him big time and touching him.
He’s a very kind, happy man and interested in others, so maybe women whose husbands are no longer interested in them want to flirt for his attention and affection. Or perhaps they are jealous – who knows? I find their behaviour disrespectful and difficult to cope with. I thought they were my friends, and I would never behave in this way. Can you suggest how I deal with this without actually being outright rude?
I don’t doubt that he loves me, and that the behaviour of these women means nothing, but when it happens fairly regularly and is in public, it is demeaning. Interested to have your thoughts and comments.
I’m guessing your relationship started during the pandemic and so this has become a recent problem as we’re all going out more. Everyone I know is not only very happy at being in social situations again but being much more tactile than ever before. So the fact that all of this is happening in public is actually a good sign, it’s not clandestine. How does your partner react to all this?
I took your problem to psychotherapist Chris Mills, who thought your friends were probably “very excited to welcome what sounds like a really nice guy” into their circle. Especially if you’ve all known each other a long time, this new person will attract a lot of interest.
We wondered if there’s something in your history that may be contributing to your insecurity – “is there something replaying here?” asks Mills. When we’re feeling confident we can afford to be not only generous but look at things with perspective, and I wonder what’s making you not so confident now? You didn’t give me specifics of what your friends did with your new partner (nor how they “come on” to him), or tell me how long they’ve been your friends; if a long time, how typical is this behaviour?
It may also be your friends’ way of showing they accept this new man and are really happy for you. It’s hard to tell without specifics, not least, as Mills says, “what’s one person’s flirting is another person’s being open and chatty. If there was one woman who was really coming on strong and chucking herself at him and he was reciprocating it … but if they’re all doing it’s likely to be friendliness.”
“What I think is probably askew,” suggests Mills “is your interpretation [of what’s happening] because it doesn’t necessarily mean that your friends are trying to take him away from you or compete with you. My guess is that these women are just delighted to have this new guy in their social circle and it probably doesn’t occur to them that you’re jealous.”
However, the fact remains that you’re concerned enough to write in so what can you do?
Mills advises that “you need to find a way to say to your partner, ‘My friends really seem to like you, I feel a little bit insecure, can you reassure me that I’m safe?’ I think it would be useful for him to know how you feel.” Trust is super important in a relationship; not only that you trust your partner not to betray or hurt you, but you need to be able to trust them with your most vulnerable feelings. So I know this won’t be easy.
I also asked if your partner should change his behaviour, and Mills suggests as little as possible: “You don’t say he’s doing anything wrong, he just seems a very kind and happy man, interested in others and his behaviour is exactly what you’d expect with a man like that. He doesn’t seem to be playing games or trying to make you feel insecure. So it wouldn’t be good for him to feel he’s got to adjust his behaviour in order to make you more comfortable in an insecurity that’s probably not justified.”
He sounds great and he clearly really likes you; I’m sure in time everyone will calm down. If he can reassure you, maybe you could get to a place where you can relax and feel confident that you’ve got the lovely man you deserve.
• Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to email@example.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.
• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.
• The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.