Dear Rabbi Boteach,
I have read your column about lusting after others when you're married. What about lust when you are not married? I have struggled with this forsome time. I do not lust after all beautiful women that I see, but there aresome women who dress sexually and provocatively, and others whose dresses enhance their physical attributes. I had a co-worker who had all the qualities that I was looking for in a woman. Once in a while I caught myself wondering what would it be like making love to her. I reproached myself for havingthose thoughts, especially since she had a boyfriend. Was my behavior lacking?
--Single Luster

Dear Single,
The problem with lusting after strangers, even if you're single, is that it'sa time-consuming, not to mention mind-consuming, preoccupation. Inother words, if your question is, have I done anything wrong, as a singlemale, by lusting after unmarried women, the answer is no. Butit's not the sin of commission that you should be focusing on. It's the sinof omission.

Most of us end up regretting the bad things we do in life, while thegood things we failed to do are given scant consideration. Intruth, the failure to maximize our human potential is life's greatest sin. Let's apply this sin of omission to your situation. Rather than beingin a loving, romantic relationship, maximizing your ability to bestowaffection on a fellow human being, you are spending your time in a fantasyworld, objectifying women and lusting after a single dimension of theirpersonality--their bodies.

Rather than being in a holy relationship, like marriage, where you can focusall your erotic interest on one woman, making her feel sexy and desirableand turning her into a comforting soulmate, you are squandering all yourerotic energy in directions that leadneither to passion nor intimacy.

That's why it's so important, in my opinion, for young men like you to getmarried young. Monogamy provides the ultimate form of romantic and eroticfocus. Rather than feeling distracted by women and unableto concentrate, you now have a powerful erotic release, so that you cansimultaneously become close to the woman you love and begin to cease objectifying the unattached women you work with. I have seen many men intheir twenties and thirties who are basically slaves to their sexualdesires. They can't get women off their minds, even at work. In their own minds, they are more animal than human.

To be sure, even after you marry you're going to be attracted to otherwomen. It's only natural. But the difference is two-fold. First, when you marry, you will have a healthy outlet for your sexual longing. Second, sinceyou want to be a good husband, who brings his wife happiness rather thanpain, you will strive your utmost not to stare at other women, and certainly notto fantasize about them in a sexual context. You will realize that such fantasy, even in thought, is an abrogation of your marital commitment.

As a man immersed in asexually exploitative culture, you have to accept that you have beencorrupted - albeit unintentionally - by the prevailing mores of our society,whose principal economic engine seems to be the exploitation of women.

Thesedays everything from beer to cars to sports is sold on television bywomen in bikinis. The glaring misogyny ofour culture is laid bare for all to see. Having said that, you can fight againstit by refusing to sexualize your co-workers and by treating women as peers and equals rather than potential conquests. Theman who does so has forever been known as a gentleman, and since you soundlike an extremely sensitive soul, I urge you to join such ranks.

May G-d bless you,
--Rabbi Shmuley Boteach