The following definitions come from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Notice: to become aware of (something or someone) 

Objectify: to treat as an object or cause to have objective reality

Why have I shared these definitions with you? Too often, those in recovery – both the betrayer and betrayed – get confused when determining whether or not the betrayer is struggling with street lust. 

Let’s listen to a check-in that occurred between one recovering couple.

Wife: So, did you have any struggles today?
Husband: Well, I had one struggle when I stopped in a convenience store. A woman was standing off to the side, which I saw. I noticed she was attractive.

Wife: Did you look at her a second time?
Husband: No, I did not. 

Wife: Then why did you say it was a struggle? You must have looked a second or third time if there was a struggle.
Husband: I saw her once and did not look for more than one second. I only observed that she was pretty and then moved on.

Wife: There must be more to the story because you told me that you were struggling, and if you thought you were struggling, that means you probably couldn’t get her out of your mind.

In this scenario, the husband did not struggle. But he believes he has done something wrong by looking in the direction of another woman and noticing her. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This husband’s actions signal a common misconception: equating noticing with struggling. However, the truth lies in discerning the intention and actions that follow the initial observation. Noticing someone’s attractiveness is a natural human response. Still, it is the subsequent behaviors that determine whether one has crossed the line into objectification. 

Crossing the Line

However, if a husband engages in one of the following activities, he has moved beyond noticing and toward objectification.

1. Canvassing the area and actively scanning his surroundings for attractive individuals indicates a pursuit for visual stimulation. There is no room in recovery for people-watching. Instead, we must stay focused on our mission (why we are out in public) and redirect our attention when encountering someone attractive. The focus should turn back to our mission.

2. Turning back for a second or third look. When a man succumbs to the allure of an attractive person, dopamine amplifies, and he has crossed over into the world of objectification. Again, he has lost focus of his mission and allowed himself to be distracted.

3. You start checking out body parts. Now, this, too, is not a black-and-white situation. While it is inevitable to notice physical attributes, fixating on a woman in yoga pants is crossing the line. That is why it is critical to shift your attention and focus elsewhere. But I have worked with men who have been convinced if they saw part of a woman’s body, they are lusting. This is not true. In this case, when a man sees a woman whose clothing reveals parts of her body, he should calmly turn away and re-shift his attention. It does not become objectification until a man starts to objectify and fantasize.  

4. You later use the image of the woman to fantasize and perhaps masturbate. Utilizing mental images of individuals you had earlier observed solidifies the objectification process. If you refrain from indulging in fantasy, you honor others and build your integrity muscle.

Summing It Up

Being able to distinguish between noticing and objectifying is critical for a man in recovery who wants to keep his partner feeling secure. But to accomplish this objective, he must engage in mindfulness and commit to respectfully acknowledge those around him. This commitment must identify the inherent worth of every individual he sees during his missions.

Forget about bouncing your eyes and instead focus on seeing people as people and not objects.