After dropping off the kids at school at exactly 8:10 every morning, Janice would climb back into the car, breathe a sigh of relief, and head off to her early ritual at the local fitness club. It was a routine Janice had come to enjoy. Her husband was at work, her kids were at school, and she finally had an hour to herself. It became the best part of her day.
For the first month or so, it was just Janice and the equipment. She’d sweat for thirty minutes on the treadmill, lift some small weights to tone muscles, and then stretch out the kinks. She found herself snatching quick glances in the mirrors bordering ever wall of the health club. She had to admit she was looking pretty good for a married mother of two.
Though she couldn’t remember exactly, Janice supposed he’d been there from the first day she joined the club. She just never noticed him, a handsome man, about the age of her husband. He was graying slightly at the temples, tanned, toned, and most attractive.
He introduced himself and said he was glad they’d met. Janice told him her name and said she’d see him again. Almost without thinking, she told him how good it was to have a man around the gym. They started talking and worked out together for a full hour the next day, sweating together and getting to know one another. The following day they worked out together again, and the day after that.
Suddenly, mornings at the club were more enjoyable than ever. After working out together, Janice and Matt would go down to the juice bar and unwind just talking. Before she knew it, her hour workout started to stretch to an hour and a half and sometimes two. Small talk became more serious. “We’re becoming better friends, Janice told herself.”
It wasn’t like her to do anything wrong, she thought as she drove home from the gym. He was a new friend. Why couldn’t she have a man for a friend? What was wrong with that? They had a lot of things in common. She wasn’t doing anything wrong. Just talking.
One day after an especially great time of conversation and being together, Janice was shocked to realize she was beginning to develop strong, secret feelings for Matt. At first she tried to deny them, because they scared her. But along with the fear was an electric excitement. She felt energized, alive, more than she had for a long time.
Whether at work or play, we still need to be aware of the potential for any relationship to become sexualized. Recreational activities often take place at a neutral site separated from other relationships. We go there to work out or play basketball or shoot pool. Any person there is identified within the context of that activity. They can exist for that moment apart from any of their other relationships. Young men have no girlfriends. Wives have no husbands. Fathers have no children. Unless these other relationships are valued and established, they are in danger of being sidelined when we step into the artificial, temporary world of a ball field or a gym.
Some people translate the relaxed nature of playtime activities into a time when they can “let their hair down,” loosening boundaries or restrictions on behavior. Their very concept of play means no rules. The activity is engaged in to forget responsibilities, not to reinforce them. Such an atmosphere is ripe for allowing a relationship within that zone to become inappropriately sexualized.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.