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Dear How to Do It,
My wife of 10 years and I are best friends with another couple. When the four of us got together, my friend and my wife would pair up and talk, and I would pair up with his fiancée. I found a lot in common with my best friend’s girl and vice versa. Troubles arose about a year ago, when my wife complained that me and my friend’s fiancée were texting each other too often. I assured her that I wasn’t interested in her. I allowed my wife to read all of the texts. Some of them may have been considered flirting. For example, I wrote to my friend’s fiancée, “You looked really great from head to toe at our Halloween party.” But it was innocent. This was fine—until my wife was snooping on my computer and found something she was never supposed to see.
She discovered a slideshow of about a dozen pictures of my friend’s fiancée. These were pictures I had taken during our get-togethers. I had zoomed in on her face, on her legs, on her feet. My wife is aware I have a mild leg and foot fetish, and that didn’t help. After discovering these pictures, my wife went ballistic. She cut off all communication with them from us, and also told them exactly why she was doing it. I said that I was sorry that I had pictures of her, but that nothing inappropriate ever happened. As for the other couple, they were upset that we no longer want to hang out. I understand this could be upsetting to my wife, but I also am not the jealous type, I would not have taken such an extreme measure if I had discovered that my wife had made a slideshow of my friend with closeups of his face or chest. I love my wife and I also loved the friendship that the four of us shared. Has my wife overreacted?
—It’s Just Pictures
Stoya: I am not your priest. I will not absolve you. My hackles are up because of this last paragraph: “I understand how this could be upsetting to my wife, but it wouldn’t bother me.” It wouldn’t bother me.
Rich: It’s a false equivalency. So, the golden rule is to treat people the way you would like to be treated, it’s not you get to be treated the way that you want to be treated because that’s how you treat other people. You see, it’s the flip. You can’t expect people to adhere to your standards that you have for them. You have to meet your wife where her sensitivity is.
Stoya: She is a whole person.
Rich: Yes, and this is communicating. So, you can say, “I have these standards, and if you don’t adhere to them, you can’t reach me or we’re not connecting.” Or you can just say, “I understand your limitations and standards and will honor those.”
My hackles raised even earlier that because there’s so much editorializing: “It was innocent, nothing inappropriate ever happened.” He’s saying it was innocent, but if his wife isn’t comfortable with the flirting, then it wasn’t innocent. It doesn’t have to be directly connected to sex that was had in order to point to guilt.
Stoya: Now I’m looking at an earlier paragraph and it’s like I blacked out because I’m like, “This one is also horrible.”
Rich: The pictures?
Stoya: Yeah. Where was the consent from this friend’s fiancé? This is the foot-and-leg-fetish equivalent of an up-skirt. This is really unacceptable.
Rich: It definitely, at the very least, is kind of a creepy thing, and if there is a fetish in there, then the idea that nothing inappropriate ever happened. The wife’s argument is that this was inappropriate.
Stoya: Yeah, and it was.
Rich: It’s like this denial, this refusal, to actually meet the wife where she is, whether she’s objectively overreacting is kind of immaterial to the bigger picture of she feels offended by that, if you love your wife and want to maintain the ostensible monogamy that you have with her, at the very least-
Stoya: Don’t take sexy pictures of your friends for personal use.
Rich: I understand where she’s coming from, too. This is so much dismissal. “Nothing inappropriate ever happened. It was innocent.” Says you! She’s clearly disagreeing with this position.
Stoya: Yeah. I’m not your priest. I think I’m done here. I feel like you’ve very elegantly dismantled this.
Rich: To put a fine point on it, “Has my wife overreacted?” No, you actually overreacted, or you over-acted, and your wife could be viewed as a corrective. Listen to her and honor her feelings and pay attention to what she says and don’t dismiss her, please, if you want to stay married and happy.
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