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Social taboo

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Dear Village Pickle,
I have been to a number of parties or social gathering over the years where I meet an interesting man who is a part of a straight couple whose partner or spouse is a bore. The man and I become engaged in a long conversation and suddenly I become aware that the partner or spouse may not be so comfortable with this, or I might be violating some social taboo.

I am a married woman and have been fortunate to have many platonic male friends throughout my life. My spouse is fine with me having engaging conversations with female and male friends, and is often present at the same gatherings.
Is there still a social taboo here, or is my pause just an outdated throwback to a sexist era of separation of the sexes?

Dear Chatterbox,
Throwback it is not, since jealousy and mistrust are perennial issues in relationships, contemporary or otherwise. To whatever extent a social taboo does still exist, it is because people believe that a conversation between two (hetero) people of the opposite sex can never consist of mere pleasantries. For these folks, even Freud isn’t, well, Freudian enough, because a cigar (conversation) is never just a cigar.

Since there isn’t much you can do about others’ relationship insecurities, the bigger question becomes what to do when you get stuck with the boring half of a couple. This is especially galling when you can halfway hear a more interesting discussion happening just outside your conversational zone.

If it’s just you and one other couple, and you have nothing much to say to the wife (in your case), your options are limited to:

• Asking your husband beforehand to engage the wife so you can talk to the husband (make sense?)

• Picking topics of conversation that include both spouses, thus ensuring a more general discussion

• Talking with the husband and occasionally asking the wife her opinion, experience or perspective on what he’s saying

• Not going on couple dates where you know this to be a problem.

If you’re at a party or gathering of multiple couples, there is nothing wrong with excusing oneself to get a drink, use the bathroom, etc. and then, upon returning, engaging a different conversational partner.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider given your concerns is the role of body language in your interactions. Are you and the interesting man in a corner, with your back to the rest of the room? Are you sitting in the middle of the couch, and turned to one side, thus freezing out whoever is on the other side? By physically creating space for others to join the conversation, you are signaling the inclusive nature of your interaction and the innocence of your motives.

Also, remember: regardless of gender, dominating any one person’s time at a larger social gathering is poor form. We should all strive to give and receive the freedom to circulate among our friends.
—The Village Pickle

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