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When the playground becomes a pick-up zone
August 25th, 2011
07:27 AM ET

When the playground becomes a pick-up zone

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

From the dog run to Whole Foods to the Apple Store, you don’t have to look far to see single people flirting it up. But when it happens at the playground (where the vast majority of parents are not so single), one tends to want to look away.

Once upon a time, I worked with a couple (call them Jack and Jill) who hadn’t had sex in the year since their daughter was born. While Jill “wanted to want sex,” she complained of feeling “touched-out” from breastfeeding and of being too tired for sex. A successful marketing executive, she had returned to work after an all-too-brief maternity leave, while Jack, a freelance writer, stayed home to take care of the baby.

Our weekly conversations focused on how sex-starved Joe had been feeling and his anger and humiliation at being constantly rejected.

“Every night it’s the same thing: Jill comes home and wants to spend all of her time with the baby, and then is too tired to do anything else –- especially sex. Why step up to bat if you know you’re going to strike out?” he lamented.

Just when they started making progress and having sex again, an incident occurred that set them back. Jill had been distracted by Jack’s iPhone buzzing and beeping and, as she turned off the ringer, she took at look at his messages.

She was shocked to discover that many of his e-mails and texts with other moms (mainly to make appointments for play dates) had a flirty, chatty energy.

“It’s not that they were sexual,” she said, “but they were funny, charming, and flirty - and trying way too hard.”

While Jack was furious that Jill had snooped on him and didn’t feel that he was doing anything wrong, he did eventually admit that it was nice to flirt, “and to know that I’m still attractive, at least to someone.”

When I was working on the book “Sex and the Baby Years,” I did some informal interviews at local playgrounds. One of the topics was flirtation and infidelity and how dynamics at the playground might have changed with the influx of stay-at-home dads.

Said Chloe, a mom of three who had been hitting the same playground for nearly a decade, “It used to be mainly moms and nannies, and maybe the occasional dad. But now there are all these stay-at-home dads and they’re cute and funny and interesting and they want to talk and talk and talk. I used to just throw on sweats and a ratty T-shirt, but now I’m getting dressed up and putting on lipstick and it’s much more of a scene. In many ways, it’s an added pressure.”

But Elizabeth, a recently divorced mom, felt different.

“I’m 39, with a 4-year-old son,” she explained. “Even when I get a night to myself, I just want to go to the gym and then go to sleep. Really, who’s going to be interested in me? Somebody with his own baggage, like a divorced dad. I’m definitely not looking to bust up any marriages, but I am looking.”

“I had to change playgrounds and stop going to group play dates,” said Shannon, a mom in a sexless marriage who wanted to up her passion-quotient, but felt like her husband was depressed and uninterested. “There was a dad who was very forward and cute and I started talking about my issues at home, and I knew I was getting into trouble when I was fantasizing about him and coming up with all of these romantic scenarios. I wasn’t ready to give up on my marriage.”

As for the guys I spoke with, many were similar to Jack: stay-at-home dads who were a little bored and very frustrated in their own sex lives. Most flirted for the attention and fun, but a few said that having an affair with a married mom would be perfect - both parties would be in it for the sex and not looking for a relationship, which made the idea all the more alluring.

Emotional infidelity has always been a gray area. It usually occurs when a person in a committed relationship forms a deep attachment to someone he or she is attracted to and pursues increasing intimacy, but without sexual activity - at least at the outset.

Emotional affairs are often the precursor to full-blown sexual affairs. Today, both men and women are having emotional affairs that start with the heart and the mind.

We’re all living, breathing sexual beings. Attraction doesn’t end once we’re in a relationship. Even the most happily coupled people are going to feel the familiar buzz of attraction when someone catches their eye or laughs at one of their jokes. But in her book “Not 'Just Friends,'” Dr. Shirley Glass reported that 82% of unfaithful people started out being acquaintances, neighbors, or co-workers with their affair partners.

In other words, people who are unfaithful to their partners weren’t looking for a relationship or seeking out strangers in a bar; it just happened.

In my professional experience, parents, especially news ones, are a particularly vulnerable lot: When you have a baby, sex goes from being something that used to be spontaneous to something that goes on a to-do list.

And as sex falls to the bottom of that list, relationships become increasingly vulnerable: to anger, resentment, indifference, and, yes, infidelity.

No wonder a recent study from the University of Denver reports that 90% of new parents experi­ence a significant decline in relationship satisfaction, or that, according to a recent survey by the online magazine Baby Talk, just 24% of parents say they’re satisfied with their post-baby sex lives, compared with 66% who were happy before they had children.

Flirting a little is a natural part of life. And many couples are able to channel that energy into their own relationships. But when flirting doesn’t get re-directed into the relationship, but rather is re-circulated outside the relationship, the air at home tends to get stale.

For parents who feel like they’re more connected to their peers than their partners, it’s probably time for a trip to the playground - together!


soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. Ryan

    Well I think that our society is changing the way we all do things. It use to be that the moms always stayed home and did the dishes, clean the home, laundry and take care of the kids. The dad use to work and come home, read the paper, watch the news and the kids would play outside. The dad probably was worried that the Milkman or the Postman was flirting or possibly having a relationship with his wife. That was life back then. But society has changed.

    Married men flirt at work so why not at the playground. Does it mean they are cheating? Not likely. It's human nature to flirt and be playful with other people. You cant change that. If you don't like the fact your husband is flirting with other women, then perhaps you need to "remind him" that you are still his wife. Don't get angry....stop complaining about feeling tired and do something for him. Vice Versa men. If your wife is always home taking care of the kids, then do something special. Show them you still love them. It's so simple. Plan on spending time together and try to do something at least once a week.....or simply don't complain if your significant other is flirting with others....because honestly if you don't focus on them you might lose them to someone who will.

    August 25, 2011 at 09:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Queen Lattice

      i agree w/you ryan.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:14 | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Ryan, it is not progress, it is as the bible states "just as sinful as having the physical affair" for the act of doing this type of flirting is a 1st. expression of your heart's willingness to ditch your wedding vows! and after you have sold your mind on the fact that it is harmless you have taken the first step towards adultry. this flirting seems harmless because the persons who claim that it is don't want to admit the truth even to themselves. Just as men are visual creatures it is only a few well placed flirts from a person with the right physical attritubutes to start the mental fantasy factory into overdrive. Should the female flirter enhance the flirt with innocently seeming touches on a sholder or a leg or a slap on your rear and if she has the perfect or desirable breasts,thighs,buttocks or even just ones that tickle a fantasy. well now your 10 miles down the 12 mile road to cheating...This is why GOD tells you that such thoughts are as bad as having done the act. Because your love of your wife started in your head and your heart and these Flirtations are a live bullet in your 6 bullet revolver and if you pull the trigger even once that bullet could be in the chamber just waiting on that hammer to drop...and if your revolver only has 5 spots for a bullet even if the first trigger pull misses the live bullet you may not be so lucky on the next pull...Well GOD tells us this because there is no innocent flirting to flirt even once is an advertisement and a statement that you are at the very least offering a piece of your heart and commitment to your spouse as negotiable and you shouldn't ever be willing to advertise that way,for someone else may decide that you or the spouse may be worth a run after and GOD our creator knows the risks and the dangers and where these really stem from and where they lead to and he wants us to be above the temptation and knowing our nature so well knows it is sin lurking around waiting for a place to happen

      August 25, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
    • S-EX

      @BOB I'm suprised you have electricity to see this article and respond to it living in a cave. The bible is a fictional novel and your going to die alone! Stop ruining my country.

      August 25, 2011 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • KeithTexas

      Bob – religion creates pedophiles and perverts because you are denying your basic nature.

      It is God given, why would God want you to subvert something he gave you.

      Just go away, we are trying to learn something about human nature here so we can be good people we don't need tha Bible for that.

      August 25, 2011 at 23:36 | Report abuse |
    • froggyrabbit

      Bob, please stop with the fiction. The idea that you know what god wants and what god says and what god thinks is beyond ridiculous. And while you're espousing your antiquated views, I'm chatting it up with your wife. In another week or so I'll have her in pigtails and a cheerleader outfit.

      August 26, 2011 at 09:20 | Report abuse |
  2. AlwaysTri

    Just a note to the editor: you mention Joe at one point, and I think you mean Jack. It got very confusing for a paragraph or two, as I was trying to figure out who the heck Joe was.

    August 25, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MNMartin

      Then you don't read CNN enough, I was thinking that someone should proof read this stuff. Or that Joe is his real name?

      August 25, 2011 at 10:24 | Report abuse |
  3. John

    I assume you mean, "...especially NEW ones"... not "news ones".

    August 25, 2011 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Pest

    Maybe consider the value of romance before making terrible life choices?

    August 25, 2011 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. IoUSA

    You get PAID for writing this garbage???

    August 25, 2011 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. peanut

    My wife and I have a date night once every week, no matter what. I go out on Tuesday and she goes out on Thursday. Works great!

    August 25, 2011 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BRBSanDiego

      We have datenight too. I go out whenever I want to and she stays home watching crap like Dancing with the Stars, America's Got Talent,, etc. Works out great.

      August 25, 2011 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
    • coolbreeze

      BRBSanDiego <=======Maybe she dancing with someone else and showing her the stars. And maybe he's an american with talent. If you know what I mean. Don't think women are stupid, they get theirs if you ain't giving it to them!!!

      August 25, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse |
  7. free thinker

    the whole concept of "relationship" needs over hauled. people, generally, aren't monogamous beings–and really, where did we start believing it was wrong to be otherwise? Between religion and government, century after century boundaries and traditions and morals were put in place to reinforce and perpetuate the myth that it's best to be married, to pledge yourself to only one person, etc. . .. that something is wrong with you if you can't or won't. Even the tax laws favor married couples over individuals. It is a control device.
    If you want to be married, fine but not everyone has to continue buying off into the concept and all of its accompanying rules.

    August 25, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dom625

      Considering the rates of STDs among promiscuous people and the number of "accidental" pregnancies in the same group, monogamy is a much safer lifestyle than the alternative.

      August 25, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse |
    • JohnQ

      :)

      August 25, 2011 at 12:20 | Report abuse |
    • Zashy

      And who are you to say what we are or aren't? I know for a fact that'd I'm extremely protective of my partner, and polygamy would make me wanna kill myself. Monogamy is simply the way people are because it benefits their way of life and isn't that what evolution is anyways? If a certain quality benefits the species, those who happen to have that quality pass it down. Polygamy causes jealousy and insecurity and makes people depressed and angry (often to the point of killing each other), so many of us are monogamous. It's that easy. What humans are isn't static or defined as "always this way". Maybe some people would be happy being polygamous. I would not be.

      August 25, 2011 at 13:17 | Report abuse |
    • Zashy

      But I agree there should be no social stigma for living one way or the other.

      August 25, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
    • Ella

      I think all free thinker was trying to say was that monogamy and marriage isn't for everyone. They were trying to say that it's wrong it's just not right for everyone.

      August 25, 2011 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
  8. S_

    Don't get maried, don't have kids and you don't have these issues.

    August 25, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • S-EX

      Sterilize the stupid.

      August 25, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse |
    • Hetero

      We get it dude. Just pack fudge and be happy all your life...

      August 25, 2011 at 20:58 | Report abuse |
  9. Jess

    Reading these types of articles makes me glad I am not jumping on the marriage bandwagon like all of my other mid 20-something friends right now. A high level of effort must be made in making the relationship work and you have to be ready to work through issues and bumps with your partner. I think a lot of younger folks get caught up in the idea of planning a wedding and a big fancy ring and then forget what you're left with after the party... a husband/wife for the rest of your life.

    August 25, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ancient Curse

      As someone who made the same decision in my 20s (I'm near 40 now), I have to say this, and I mean this from the heart... You've made the right decision. What your gut is telling you, your eyes will soon prove correct. So sit back and enjoy the show (and your life)!

      August 25, 2011 at 15:08 | Report abuse |
    • Ella

      Jess:

      I so very much agree! Most of my friends got married either right out of high school or during college. It was all about the ring and the wedding (none could afford anything big since they were, after all, only 21 year old college students) and never about their future with the person. Now, one is already divorced, one isn't happy (guy's a jerk) but at least most seem happy and they have beautiful babies......but they're 23 so who knows what could happen after settling down so early. So PLEASE pass around your ideas about this to other young people. Don't change!!!!!

      August 25, 2011 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
  10. Tony

    I love them MILF playgrounds!

    August 25, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. coolbreeze

    No way would I give women at the playground my number or even flirt with them. I could just see it, My 4 year old telling my wife daddy was talking to another lady and not paying attention to me

    August 25, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • David in Corpus

      No sht, the short time I was a stay at home dad, I avoided other women like a plague. They see you with that kid and for some reason it makes them wet as October.

      August 25, 2011 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
    • JuzClownin

      Pretty obvious why it makes them wet - 'cause you're there being a dad, while their babies' daddy is MIA (even if he may just be...um...WORKING to pay the bills)...

      The way I see it, if my kid ends up blabbing to Mom that I was chatting it up with another, it will wake her azz up to see that I've still got it going on - so she better not take me for granted!

      September 9, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
  12. Tony

    Next in the series: Picking up MILFs at grocery stores.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JuzClownin

      Pretty easy. Just play dumb and act like you "need help" with an item.

      September 9, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  13. Scott

    So what happened with Jack/Joe and Jill? Did Jill get the hint and start putting out? Did she divorce Jack/Joe and soak him for child support? Did Jill guilt Jack/Joe into getting back in his box and staying there? Did Jill ignore the situation and Jack/Joe had an affair?

    August 25, 2011 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Josh

    This is what happens when a couple puts the kids first.

    Unless the kid is in immediate danger – house is burning down, he's sticking his finger in a lightsocket – your spouse always, always comes before the kids. And your spouse should always put you before the kids. If you practice this, then the kids have a much, much better household in which to live.

    When the kids come first, one or both spouses is neglected in some way, the marriage falls apart, and the kid is forever damaged by the failed relationship of his parents.

    August 25, 2011 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ella

      I sort of agree and sort of disagree. Children can turn out fine after divorces and there is nothing wrong with putting children first. Their needs should be met first (fed, clothed, bathed, cared for etc.) but when parents over do it (like taking them to 4 different extracurricular activities a week, monitoring their every move and spending hours focused on them) it takes more than a fair amount of time away from the spouse.

      August 25, 2011 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
    • JV

      Josh, since you are acting like you have a PHD in child development I figure I can too...Every situation is different as I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum. Bottom line is anything in moderation will bring healthy results. Yes kids need to come first in almost every arena and of course as they get older they become more autonomous. It's all about working together and communicating the rough patches. In my household there is an understanding that we take care of the kids first with the understanding that, that is doesn't mean my wife and I love each other less just differently.

      August 25, 2011 at 18:34 | Report abuse |
    • Nicholas

      Josh,

      Totally agree! Unfortunately, most couples don't realize this. IF you make your children the end all and be all of your relationship, pour all your love, time, energy, and affection towards them, after they grow-up and leave, you are left with two complete strangers without a purpose. Mothers, especially, take heed!

      August 25, 2011 at 19:49 | Report abuse |
    • JuzClownin

      Josh is 100% correct. Women need to wake up and realize that they sometimes take the maternal thing way too far, into the realm of unhealthy behavior. My own mother did this, at the expense of her marriage. My parents are still married but living in a pathetic, loveless state. I keep thinking to myself "Why don't they just f-ing divorce already??"

      September 9, 2011 at 17:16 | Report abuse |
  15. John

    I just had a divorced man use his 5 year old daughter as bait to get all up in my wife's personal space with me sitting right beside her. This almost intimate conversation with me right there went on for almost half an hour. I kept assuming it would end. But the guy kept inching in on my wife. Two inches from her to be exact. I finally asked her to excuse herself to the restroom and I switched chairs. He sure didn't like being all up in my personal space. What a jerk!

    August 25, 2011 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JuzClownin

      You're a better man than me. I would have been much more direct about it.

      September 9, 2011 at 17:17 | Report abuse |
  16. sarah S

    i'm only 21 and married (my husband is 29) and we didn't have a big wedding or fancy rings. i dont even have an engagement ring and didnt want one. all i care about is being committed to spending the rest of my life with him. we have a 2 month old baby girl and at that age she has to come first, as hard as that is at times. i can't just let her cry out in hunger or sit in a dirty diaper because he's home and we need time together. even though i miss having se.x every night and being able to just spend time with him without distraction we both love our daughter and know at this age she has to come first. we also know it won't always be this way. neither of us has felt the need to flirt with other people since we still make time for eachother physically and emotionally. i think the problem is a lot of women use having a baby and being married as a cop out which i dont get. i didnt lose my physical or emotional desire for my husband after i had our baby. if anything it increased.

    August 25, 2011 at 19:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Older & Hopefully Wiser

      @ sarah S

      Such a naive doe in the woods. Married at 21, husband at 29. Please tell everyone how great your marriage is after oh say 15 – 20 years assuming you are not on your 2nd / 3rd husband and he on his 2nd / 3rd wife.

      Whether you like it or not or even agree with it, based on statisical data of the divorce rate being >50% your odds of it lasting forever are very low and your odss of divorcing are very high. And yes I know, you and your hubby are different. Then again I believe that nearly everyone of that >50% group said they were different as well. Marriage as defined by 1950's standards is an outdated concept. Don't agree, well the >50% divorce rate gives credibility to this statement.

      August 25, 2011 at 22:34 | Report abuse |
    • KeithTexas

      Sarah – Older is not Wiser. My wife and I have been together for 38 years; almost everything was stacked against us when we began our life together. I was 21 she was 22, and a lifetime together is what we chose. We were married but at different times in our life we renegotiated or lives together. We have had a great time and raised two kids that turned out pretty good. We didn't put our kids first unless you are talking about their physical needs. It was always us first and it still is.

      An example is when my daughter was 17 she and her mother were having a big argument. My wife was very wrong for the position she was taking and my daughter ask me to intervene. My response was, you will be leaving home soon and I will still be here. How will my intervention in this argument make my life better? It was funny later and my daughter tells the story to her friends. My wife eventually saw that she had over reacted too but the fact is that my relationship with my wife was and is far more important than anything else in my life.

      You can make it and you can stay in love for your whole life if that is the choice you make, good luck.

      August 25, 2011 at 23:58 | Report abuse |
  17. ANGEL OF MERCEY

    MAKE A POINT TO SHOW SOCIETY THAT IF YOU PREYING PLAYGROUNDS FOR THE INTENTION OF HARMING A CHILD LET SOCIETY HAVE A CRACK AT THESE ANIMALS

    August 26, 2011 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brandon

      Caps lock ahoy!

      August 26, 2011 at 04:48 | Report abuse |
  18. Older & Hopefully Wiser

    @ KeithTexas

    Hoorah for you, been together for 38+ years BUT don't be sooooooo stupid and naive to discount the >50% divorce rate. For eveyone one of you / your wife I will show you a divorced person. And just so you know even if you disagree with everything I said, if your daugther were to only get 50% correct on a test when she was in school what grade did she receive, oh could it be a big fat "F" for failure. Considering that 50%+ of all marriages end in divorce I would say that marriage get a big fat "F" for failure. Don't kill the messenger just cause you don't like the message.

    August 26, 2011 at 08:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. sarah S

    @older & hopefully wiser: statistics or not i still belive in marriage and specifically my marriage. if i didn't then we would be doomed to fail. thanks for trying to be so discouraging though. and just so you know everyone in my family supports my marriage and i'm sure i have a family member or two older then you. @keithTexas: well when my daughters 17 we'll be able to put eachother first all the time but right now she's a 2 month old infant and thats really not possible. like i said i'm not going to let her cry out in hunger so we can fool around. we can wait till she's fed and asleep.

    August 26, 2011 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Andavari

    Nice Apple Plug in the beginning buddy...

    September 2, 2011 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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