My partner ogles other women and it makes me feel unattractive | Ask Philippa

The question My partner of three years is a kind, emotionally intelligent, interesting and handsome man. We are in our early 30s, which is possibly too old for the petty problem I am about to come to you with… He is always staring at other women! Whenever we are out and there are attractive women nearby, he will take a good look or worse, keep staring at them while we’re in a pub or something. Meanwhile, our conversation starts to dry up, because his focus is elsewhere.

I understand this is something that men do and have no problem with him doing so when I’m not there. Our relationship is long-distance, so the problem for me is more that he doesn’t think to put this on pause on the occasions we can be together, that I might notice or be upset by it, let alone that I’ve put a lot of work into looking nice for him. I don’t think he would cheat on me, but knowing that men are visual creatures and I am clearly not up to his standards in this department, makes me feel vulnerable to this possibility.

I am going to personal therapy and am trying to tackle decades-long self-esteem issues, but I’m not there yet. I know this is hardly a life-or-death problem, but for some reason it’s like a punch in the gut for me and I don’t want it to fester as I feel resentful.

Do you think it is unreasonable to talk to him about it? I am nervous, because he has suffered quite a lot of difficult life situations and tends to shut down the conversation if I’m talking about an issue he deems is not worth worrying about. In a sense, he’d be right about this, but I’m very stuck worrying about it.

Philippa’s answer It’s not a petty problem, because you feel it like “a punch in the gut”. So no, I don’t think it is unreasonable for you to tell your partner how his behaviour affects you. If you feel it to be worth worrying about, it is, whether or not he deems it so. He is not the arbiter of what feelings you should or should not be having. His propensity to stare at women might not be a habit he is even aware of having and it needs pointing out to him. The other women might not be all that keen about being stared at either.

With your “clearly not up to his standards in this department” statement, I think you are jumping to conclusions. When someone does something it is too easy to assume it means the same to them as it would to us if we did it. This dynamic was first brought to my attention in a couples counselling session when the wife said her husband didn’t love her because she had asked him to bring her some grapes when she was sick and he had forgotten. It didn’t mean he didn’t love her, it meant he had forgotten the grapes. Your boyfriend staring at women doesn’t mean he doesn’t find you attractive, it just means he’s staring at women.

I think your main problem may be your lack of entitlement. I want to give you permission to talk about whatever you want to talk about. We can all tell other people that when they do X, it makes us feel Y and we would prefer it if they did W. It doesn’t mean they’ll stop doing X, it’s just that they will know, if they are aware of doing X, that it is negatively affecting us. Changing a habit takes practice so you may have to remind him more than once that he’s hurting you when he does it.

It’s probably good to have this conversation for the first time when you feel calm and relaxed and not when he is staring at someone, because if you did it then, it might come out angry, which might make him defensive. You can say you know it’s not a crime to notice an attractive person, and looking isn’t like touching and you know he’s not leering in a crude way, so that he doesn’t feel attacked. You can explain how, when he goes beyond just noticing and stares, it makes you feel like you don’t match up, and also makes you feel unlovable, unattractive, insecure and vulnerable. And it doesn’t matter if he defends himself by saying that he does find you attractive, it isn’t convincing to you when he is staring at others.

You’ve told me that your partner is emotionally intelligent, so I’m guessing he is not ogling women because he has been taught some toxic masculinity like “real men treat women badly” and is just doing what he thinks is expected of him. His emotional intelligence needs to go as far as respecting your feelings and if he does, he will say sorry for hurting you and make an effort to stop the staring. If he ignores you, or gets angry, you are in a relationship where he is giving preferential treatment to his own feelings over yours and you might want to think about whether this is what you want long-term. Then you might consider being with someone who brings out the best in you rather than your insecurities.

Philippa Perry will be appearing at the Also Festival, 12-14 July 2024 (

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions


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