Every Thursday on Twitter, @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence, asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:
My husband and I are close with another couple, “June” and “Mike.” The husbands were friendly first through a shared hobby, but not social outside of that. A few years ago, June and I got to talking pretty intensely and became BFFs. The four of us now socialize often. We happily have lots of shared interests, travel well together, and have a great circle of mutual friends.
The problem: Recently, on two occasions, it seemed as if Mike was looking at me a bit too much. Not creepy, but kind of puppy dog–ish. I thought it might have been my imagination, as he’s never been inappropriate, handsy, or anything like that. However, at a recent (all-vaxxed) outdoor event, it happened again and a third person noticed it. This person hasn’t said anything since, but at the time did a sort of double take, then gave me a pointed look with raised eyebrows. I just pretended I didn’t notice at first, but now at least one person has noticed. June and Mike have a solid marriage, but I know that partners in the best of marriages can have thoughts of others. I just don’t want to be the object! How should I handle this? Help!
I found this question tough to answer because a look is such a hard thing to act upon—whether someone is giving “puppy dog eyes” is kind of subjective, and “looking a bit too much” is an easy accusation to deny. So a big part of me was thinking “Just ignore this” or “Wait until it escalates.” My reaction was a gentler version of this person’s (who sent her response via DM and asked to remain anonymous out of concern that her response sounded “nuts”):
“This lady should ignore this man!!!!!! He looked at you like puppy dog-ish? Relax ma’am! A man looked at you twice and wasn’t even like leering? Get a hobby lady! He’s not trying to leave his wife for you! Maybe he has a weird face sometimes!”
But you know what? You shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable while you’re supposed to be socializing and enjoying yourself. And waiting until it escalates means possibly dealing with something worse and creepier than a look, and you shouldn’t have to do that either. I thought @carolinelove37 made a good point when she said, “Women are taught to be nice. I’ve had to work on not being afraid of being rude or mean if someone is making me feel uncomfortable or unsafe.”
So what should you do? Among the people who responded, there was pretty much a consensus: You should pretend to be confused about why he’s staring at you and call him out, which hopefully will make him aware that his staring is not going unnoticed, or make him too self-conscious to continue. Before this, I had no idea “Is there something on my face?” was the go-to response to creepy looks, but evidently it is!
“I’d go with ‘what are you looking at, is there something on my face? I got a booger hanging out?’ ” —@thembithembi
“Every single time you catch Mike staring at you, look confused and ask him ‘is there something on my face?’ Politely let him know he’s much less discreet than he thinks. If he’s bold enough to keep staring with you calling it out all the time, you can address more directly.” —@sarahovenall
“I think, ‘Mike, why are you looking at me like that? Do I have something on my face?’ would work if you’re in a public space! Anything in private would likely get misinterpreted, and anything more direct would be subject to claims of overreaction.” —@moh_in_law
“ ‘Mike, do I have something on my face?’ to start, the next time you catch him staring. Look him in the eyes, make it kind of pointed. If you need to do more than that, it’s time to have a conversation with June about it.” —@K_Persists
“next time he looks, look back and blithely, and a bit louder than is normal, ask if there is food on your face.” —@_ItsMarisWorld
If you’re not eating at the time, this similar approach might work:
“So you have to be subtle. ‘Did you need something or are you just staring into space and I happen to be in that space?’ Say it enough times around other people and they’ll start to notice how often he’s staring at you. You then have backup when it keeps happening.” —@rosalarian
I also think your husband should be in the loop if he isn’t already, just to make sure Mike’s weirdness doesn’t morph into a story about the two of you having a thing and somehow it gets back to him. As @andyhre said, “This is going to sound weird, but I think she should consult her husband, making it clear it’s just a concern, and that nothing untoward has been suggested or happened. If nothing else, it would head off an issue if he’s sensed it too.”
Good luck, and I hope you’re able to embarrass Mike into keeping his eyes to himself.
Q. Sex with my married BFF: I’m in love with my best friend. He’s married. We started a sexual affair last year. (He and his wife seem to have an unofficial or unspoken understanding about extramarital affairs.) I don’t think he knows I’m in love with him, and I don’t think he’s in love with me. I want him to be happy more than anything. I’ll put his happiness over mine every time. (I’ve never felt that so genuinely, even when I was married. It is an awesome feeling.) I think he really loves his wife and he seems to want to stay married, so that’s what I want for him. But she is not a good wife! What do I do? It’s so hard to bite my tongue.