(The Root) —
"How do you feel about hickeys? My husband recently put one on my neck on purpose and stated happily, 'Your co-workers are going to talk about you, and they're gonna be jealous.' I told him I don't like that kind of attention. I'm very angry about it. What should I do?" —E.P.
You should be "very angry." Your husband just bruised you without hitting you. Despite what he says, the intent wasn't to help you win some sort of popularity contest at the office or inspire the envy of your co-workers. It was a woefully insecure way for him to mark his territory — you. Hickeys are the human equivalent of a dog relieving himself on a tree.
I got my first and only hickey on my neck when I was 13 or so, the result of a joke by a classmate who held me down on the school steps. Nevertheless, when my aunt — the mother of three daughters — saw it, there was no time to explain. (That is probably best, because the actual story sounded as if I'd made it up — and then I would have been in trouble for lying, too.)
She went from zero to ballistic. She grabbed me by the chin and jerked my head up and over to get a good look at my neck. With my cheeks in her death grip and my neck overextended, she yelled something like, "How dumb can you be to let some stupid boy do this to you?"
She stared at my stretched neck. "Lord … and you just sat there. It didn't even feel good when he did it." She shook her head, marveling at my stupidity and ignoring my agony. By then I was duly shamed, even if I hadn't technically done anything wrong.
Now, listen up, E.P. — this is the important part: "When you have something of value, you take care of it, you cherish it, you keep it in prime condition!" my aunt continued. "There's a reason you don't see bumper stickers on luxury cars. You let some dumb boy have you out here looking like a hooptie!" (Forgive her woman-car analogy. But otherwise, the point stands.)
I'll get to how to handle this with your husband in just a bit, but in the meantime, cover up your neck, especially when you go to work. Thankfully, it's winter, and no one will find it odd if, for the next week or so — approximately the duration of a hickey — you're wearing a turtleneck or a scarf around the office.
Understand that it is highly unprofessional to show up to your job with a passion mark. Your husband is correct — your co-workers will talk about you — but it won't be because they're jealous. It will be because, unfortunately, he has made you look very cheap.
Your new decoration is like a blinking neon light on the Vegas strip that informs your co-workers, "I had sex and I lack discretion!" The sex isn't the problem. It's that you're announcing it. Your colleagues should be talking about your job performance and how amazing you are, not whispering and wondering about how you perform in the bedroom.
It's very curious to me that your husband would specifically mention your co-workers as he figuratively patted himself on the back for branding you. It leads me to wonder what's going on in your office that he clearly feels threatened by.
Is there a male co-worker you've been talking about more often than usual, and your husband wants to send him a signal — you know, in addition to your wedding band — that you are unavailable? Were you recently acknowledged or promoted, maybe (further) surpassing your husband's income, and he wants to undermine your success?
You need to have a serious talk with your man. Explain to your husband that leaving a hickey on your neck, or anywhere else it could be seen by colleagues, is completely unacceptable, and you do not want it to happen again. Ever. This isn't asking a lot from him.
You also need to find out why he did this. From your letter, it sounds as if it's the first time this has happened, so ask him what's going on to suddenly cause him to act out this way now.
Don't let him off the hook if he claims he was "just fooling around" or accuses you of "making a big deal" out of nothing. If he's old enough to be married, he's old enough to know better. Further, embarrassing you at work isn't "nothing." Together, you two need to address whatever insecurity he has so this doesn't happen again.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.