The reader’s dilemma this week makes me feel as if I am watching an episode of Mad Men….from Season 1, before the characters heard about Betty Friedan or that new-fangled idea called feminism. A reader named Elizabethmg wrote:
Is it appropriate for a single woman (divorced) to spend the entire evening at a party (where she knows almost everyone there and could have easily mingled with others to have conversations) with one married man whose wife was also at the party? She followed the man around—where ever he stood/sat—and engaged him in a conversation. Before the married couple left the party, the wife confronted the single woman and let her know she was out of line with her behavior.
Elizabethmg asked: Who was out of line here?
OMG, as we say in the 21st century, was Elizabethmg somehow transported in a time machine back to a cocktail party thrown in 1960? I have to say it sounds as if every single actor in this drama was behaving like some kind of stilted throwback to an earlier era.
First, why is the unattached woman at the party being called out for being “divorced?” Does that make her extra-special bad? Are we to believe she is like some predator (cue the deep red lipstick) whose only goal in life is to snare Hubby No. 2? It’s the year 2011, Elizabethmg, and for all we know, this woman may not be after romance here. Maybe she’s gay. Or maybe she has just rekindled via Facebook a high school romance with an out-of-town boyfriend who couldn’t attend the party. Or she could be a plastic surgeon whose main concern these days is how to rebuild the lucrative private practice she gave up after she married.
It's possible the single woman and the married man are just good friends. Maybe they’re doubles partners. Or she could be feeling insecure because her “friends” are suddenly ostracizing her, and he’s the only person at the party who doesn’t act as if he’s judging her for getting divorced.
That’s one possibility.
Another is that the woman is making a play for the husband. Or that the two of them already are having a torrid, secret affair (although that’s unlikely, given that she’s blatantly hanging on him at a party instead of acting as if they barely know each other to throw people off the scent).
But here’s the thing. If the woman is flirting inappropriately, it is up to the man, not his wife, to put a stop to the situation. Men are not like children. Well, some are, but you should try not to be married to one of those — instead pick a husband who will behave like a responsible adult at a party, one who knows how to gently disengage himself from a hanger-on to whom he is not married. A simple, “Excuse me, I’m headed to the bar because I promised my wife I’d bring her another glass of wine,” should get the message across. Another sure-fire flirtation killer: “Oops, I just realized I need to phone the baby sitter to make sure she got the kids into bed without a fuss.”
If the husband is not behaving responsibly—perhaps, unaccustomed to such flattery, he is bowled over, or maybe he’s even thinking, hmm, she is kind of hot, now that I think about it—then the wife can sidle over to the cozy twosome and address the husband lovingly: “How are you doing in this dark corner, honey? I’ve missed you.” The wife can smile sweetly at the woman and say, “We were talking at breakfast about this old friend of ours we want you meet. He’s unattached, and we think you two would really hit it off.”
Later, in private, the wife can tell the husband that the situation made her uncomfortable and she’d appreciate it, next time, if he would nip such behavior in the bud (see above).
So, yes, the wife was out of line to publicly humiliate the single woman by confronting her at a party and making her feel even lonelier and more alienated than she already does after going through a divorce.
Agreed? Or no? What would you have done in the same situation?
(image via The Guardian)