People fancy my tall, dark, handsome partner and tell him
A male friend makes sexualised comments towards my partner when I am present
‘He is tall, boisterous and great at making friends – a golden retriever in human form. I am closer to the noble stoat.’ Photograph: iStock
I make a real effort to be egalitarian about gender. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Men and women are generally different, though, thanks to the huge variations between individuals, this can’t tell us anything about any one person. So while it’s true that men are generally taller than women, there are countless women who are taller than plenty of men. Most of us are on board with gender equality in theory, but sometimes it can be tricky to navigate in real-life scenarios.
Recently I’ve had a brush with my own gender bias in a way that I’m struggling to reconcile. My partner (how I loathe that word – it makes us sound like a wrestling tag team duo) is in many ways my opposite, physically and otherwise. He is tall, boisterous and great at making friends – a golden retriever in human form. I am closer to the noble stoat; small, solitary and living mostly in the burrows of rodents I have killed, lining my dark, stolen home with the soft, malodorous pelts of my victims. So I’m not great at warming up quickly or making new friends.
Said partner, J, not being a stoat, is also a very obviously attractive person, if you like that tall, dark and handsome thing, which, being more woman than stoat in my heart, I do. People notice this about him and I think it’s nice that others see his many excellent qualities, outside and in. It’s a good reminder to appreciate him and it’s hardly surprising that other people like him when he’s so eminently likable. On the street, women and men both look at him quite a bit, though only women over 50 have the wild social abandon to hit on him on public transport in the middle of the day.
His responses don’t help. Recently, on a train, a lady in her 60s dreamily lilted, “Oh, you’re such a handsome young man; if only I were 30 years younger ... ” at him. I sat there between them, feeling something adjacent to insulted. He laughed, leaned over just a little, said “You’d only need to be 10 years younger” and winked jocularly at her. Her giggles could have lifted the roof off the train and more than 30 years off her age.
It was funny, but it does highlight the gender double standard in relation to these things. When an elderly man recently said something similar to me at the post office (not the handsome young man bit), it was still funny, but it also had a creepy flavour that was impossible to ignore.
J is clearly completely free to do whatever he wants as an adult with agency. If whatever he wants included dating other people, I probably wouldn’t be interested. According to the current rules we’ve agreed, it’s golden retriever-stoat monogamy all the way. As a result, if another woman flirted gratuitously with him in my presence, I wouldn’t feel threatened, but I might feel disrespected, particularly if she wasn’t a stranger and understood the nature of our relationship. What J would feel is up to him.
He has a male friend he met through work a few months ago who identifies as bisexual. They get on swimmingly together and have a lot in common, but it’s very obvious that this friend (let’s call him B) has hungry hungry hippo eyes for the man who is not my wrestling tag team partner. It’s not a secret. B is enormously extroverted and highly social. Sort of Wildean at heart, he flirts with everyone and everything, but he regularly makes sexualised comments towards J when I am in the room.
This is starting to read like one of those help section letters in a magazine from 2009 that you would find in a dentist’s waiting room, but there you have it.
I would be more offended if B were a woman, and I’m not precisely sure why that is. It might be because he’s quite charming, and his gratuitous entendres/entreaties (entendries?) are generally hilarious. J, sometimes a little oblivious to social cues however unsubtle, doesn’t care, but I’m not sure what to do when it happens in my presence.
I know exactly what a stoat would do, though.