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 for some time. I do not lust after all beautiful women that I see, but there are some 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 having those thoughts, especially since she had a boyfriend. Was my behavior lacking?
The problem with lusting after strangers, even if you're single, is that it's a time-consuming, not to mention mind-consuming, preoccupation. In other words, if your question is, have I done anything wrong, as a single male, by lusting after unmarried women, the answer is no. But it's not the sin of commission that you should be focusing on. It's the sin of omission.
Most of us end up regretting the bad things we do in life, while the good things we failed to do are given scant consideration. In truth, the failure to maximize our human potential is life's greatest sin. Let's apply this sin of omission to your situation. Rather than being in a loving, romantic relationship, maximizing your ability to bestow affection on a fellow human being, you are spending your time in a fantasy world, objectifying women and lusting after a single dimension of their personality--their bodies.
Rather than being in a holy relationship, like marriage, where you can focus all your erotic interest on one woman, making her feel sexy and desirable and turning her into a comforting soulmate, you are squandering all your erotic energy in directions that lead neither to passion nor intimacy.
That's why it's so important, in my opinion, for young men like you to get married young. Monogamy provides the ultimate form of romantic and erotic focus. Rather than feeling distracted by women and unable to concentrate, you now have a powerful erotic release, so that you can simultaneously become close to the woman you love and begin to cease objectifying the unattached women you work with. I have seen many men in their twenties and thirties who are basically slaves to their sexual desires. 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 other women. 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, since you want to be a good husband, who brings his wife happiness rather than pain, you will strive your utmost not to stare at other women, and certainly not to 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 a sexually exploitative culture, you have to accept that you have been corrupted - albeit unintentionally - by the prevailing mores of our society, whose principal economic engine seems to be the exploitation of women. These days everything from beer to cars to sports is sold on television by women in bikinis. The glaring misogyny of our culture is laid bare for all to see. Having said that, you can fight against it by refusing to sexualize your co-workers and by treating women as peers and equals rather than potential conquests. The man who does so has forever been known as a gentleman, and since you sound like an extremely sensitive soul, I urge you to join such ranks.
May G-d bless you,
--Rabbi Shmuley Boteach