Dining with a man who is not my husband

We’ve all been abuzz about Mike Pence’s rule of not eating alone with a woman who is not his wife. The assumption is that by not doing so, he removes even the thought of temptation while also prevents any raised eyebrows from may be onlookers or his wife.

(I would argue that Mike should consider polygamy to just avoid this whole scenario. Also, I didn’t know there were so many bad thoughts at dinner! I’m too busy stuffing my face!)

To be fair, he also said he sometimes avoids invitations from male colleagues where things might get a little loose with alcohol, saying of the situation,

“I don’t think it’s a predatory town, but I think you can inadvertently send the wrong message by being in [certain] situations.”

The discussion, profiled in a recent piece about the Pence’s marriage, set the internet wild. My favorite, of course, was this gem from the Onion.

“Excuse me, sir, would you please take this out of my line of sight until my wife gets here?” said Pence

Many public figures and private individuals take this stance, albeit in more subtle ways. Take for example, a male or female meeting with another staff member of the opposite sex alone. In order to avoid any suspicion, he/she is likely to do this in a public place with the door slightly ajar rather than over a personal lunch or over happy hour drinks. Office training on sexual harassment has ingrained such into us. This can perpetuate the “boys club”, with men primarily exchanging with men.

Or, just the other day, I forgot my wedding ring at home while I was out to dinner with my husband. I joked with him that some may wonder at my bare finger next to his decorated one. We laughed devilishly; a bit like Clair and Phil on Modern Family who celebrate their anniversary by each pretending to be someone “new” and “exciting”.

All jokes aside, I’ve been thinking about why we even think this. There are a few assumptions we’re inherently making when we take this stance:

  1. We are sexual human beings who by nature cannot ignore our innate lustful desires. This may lead to other “acts” with people that we should not be “acting” with.
  2. We view members of the opposite sex in this way first and foremost. We don’t see them as teachers, colleagues, friends, or mentors first. We’re not interested in what they have to say, and even if we do, it will certainly be clouded by all the sexual waves! We can’t help it.
  3. We believe that even the mere thought matters.

Now, some people are complete abstainers: they think that even having the chocolate around is bad news, because it’s more likely to tempt them to eat it. They’d rather not even have that mental battle, so by removing the chocolate completely, the avoid the whole situation and chocolate all together.

Then, there are the moderators. Moderators tend to exercise more self-control. They understand that the chocolate is tempting them, but they have the will power to resist. They see chocolate for what it is rather than what it may lead to. While they may have the mental battle around eating the chocolate or not, they are able to move past it.

Now, let’s be clear, we’re not talking about chocolate (but, I am getting hungry).

We’re talking about human beings.

By refusing to sit across from the table and eat with a person of the opposite sex for fear of what could transpire or for fear of what others might think will transpire, we put fear above the value this person may bring. We won’t even stop to hear his/her story or ideas. We are completely closed off. This brings in a whole other set of problems, which my fav Glennon Doyle Melton nicely explains here.

To be fair, there could be other ways around this. For example, Mr. Pence could share a meal with a team of women (wife not present) to hear out their ideas over breakfast in broad daylight rather than over romantic candlelight, and I guarantee he has. However, it is unlikely that a meaningful mentorship experience would take place in such a large group. It is also true that because of his rule, he is more likely to meet one-on-one with male colleagues to hear their ideas, placing female colleagues with just as good ideas at a disadvantage to get his ear.

But, I’m not sure Mike’s completely to blame. This issue is seeped in the pervasive cultural and religious beliefs listed above, among others.

So, what to do?

First, there is still the notion that men would have absolutely no wholesome reason to met with a woman alone and vice versa. In this day and age, that just simply isn’t true. Nor can one-on-one meetings between men and women always be avoided. Gender equality has a good amount to contribute to our changing beliefs on this. Also, as our LGBTQ friends will remind us, it’s hilarious to assume a meeting between two men is free from any less suspicion.

Second, we’ve got to believe that people can have thoughts but not act on them. Should we completely avoid a meeting with an old colleague about a potential job opening because we think he’s attractive? No, we can acknowledge the thought, move past it, and focus on the task at hand which is to explore a new opportunity.

While emotion and physical chemistry are extremely influential, they do not make us robots. We’ve got to hold people accountable for what they actually do, not what we think they will do.

Finally, we’ve got to trust. I worry more about the bedrock of a relationship that doesn’t trust one spouse in a room alone with a member of the opposite sex; a relationship that automatically assumes the worst will prevail otherwise; and a relationship in which one’s respect of his/her partner is contingent upon upholding this rule.

Until we can move past some of these assumptions, we’re likely to continue thinking Mrs. Butterworth should kindly exit stage left until the real Mrs. arrives.

So what do you think?

  • Do you avoid situations where you’re alone with a member of the opposite sex? Or, so you ask your partner to do the same?
  • If so, why? What are these beliefs based on?
  • What do you think needs to happen to help remove this stigma?

To conversation to community,

R

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