Birthday soot

My boyfriend\’s generally pretty sweet, and we\’re enjoying it all. On his birthdays, I buy him a present and dinner. Both years we\’ve been together he\’s bought me nothing for mine, saying he didn\’t know what to get. The second year, I waited in vain all weekend, hoping we\’d do something special (he did make me breakfast in bed on Sunday, and woke me with kisses and \”Happy birthday\”). My birthday was that Monday, and he only took me out as an afterthought. As I was leaving for work, he said, \”I\’ll wait up.\” (I work late.) Hurt, I said, \”I can\’t believe you aren\’t even taking me to dinner!\” He then lost his temper. Maybe this seems silly, but I\’m actually still hurt. Part of me wants to rise above this, and part wants to give him a lump of coal for his upcoming birthday.

— Present Dilemma

For a lot of women, it\’s the thought that counts — as long as the guy thinks of something a little more, well, pawnable, than a plate of eggs.

Personally, because I\’m no longer 6, I mainly think of my birthday as a day to apologize to my mother. (I won some pickle company\’s contest for being the biggest baby born in Detroit the week of March 8.) Also, I prefer to celebrate actual accomplishments. Of course, being a year older is an accomplishment for some, but I try to set goals a bit beyond \”Well, well, well, another year, and I\’m still not dead from meth!\”

Perhaps I\’m an anomaly, because there seems to be something girly about commemorating birthdays. Sure, there are guys who acknowledge each other\’s, but at some point after seventh grade, birthdays seem to split off in importance along gender lines. For example, guys don\’t have a version of the Sweet Sixteen, with their mom wiping away tears as she gushes, \”Look, my little Adam\’s grown an apple!\” And consider how common it is for women to send their friends little cards and Hallmark desk bunnies, but when\’s the last time you saw Rocco down at the garage buy a card with frolicking baby raccoons on it and get all sweet about Fred\’s special day?

That said, your birthday\’s important to you, and if you\’re important to a guy, he\’ll find a way to remember it. But, wait, there\’s this: \”He did make me breakfast in bed on Sunday, and woke me with kisses and \’Happy birthday.\’\” So, your boyfriend did remember your birthday — just not in the style to which you\’d like to become accustomed. Assuming he isn\’t a jerk the other 364 days a year, how could he not know what\’s expected of him? After all, you bought him presents and dinner. All he had to do was the exact same thing, kind of like a chimp imitating somebody shaving.

Unfortunately, the male brain isn\’t an exact replica of the female brain, just less, I dunno, lavender. Because men generally don\’t operate on 13 levels of intuition, if you need something from a man, you probably have to say so. In this case, tell your boyfriend what you want (a gift and dinner), why you want it (it says, \”I\’m thinking of you, I don\’t take you for granted\”), and tell him a little before when you want it (meaning, give him reminders, don\’t haul off the morning of with \”Hey, potting-soil-for-brains, guess who turned 30 today?\”). Finally, let him know that whatever effort he makes will score big with you — providing it goes beyond asking Denny\’s to try to get 30 candles to stand up in a Grand Slam.

Paradise flossed

I\’ve had some awesome dates with a guy with very bad teeth. I thought this was a cosmetic/ genetic issue, but now I\’m thinking it\’s a hygienic one. He seems clean and healthy otherwise. I lie in bed thinking about how bad I wanna get that gnarly stuff off his teeth so I can kiss him again. Suggestions?

— Grossed Out

You really need to be honest. Well, not totally honest, like, \”Kissing you is like licking a dumpster,\” or \”Ever tried gargling with Janitor In A Drum?\” Just be honest enough that he understands it\’s you or his plaque collection, pick one. First, cushion the blow. Tell him he\’s hot, sexy, funnier than Chris Rock, Einsteinish in intelligence, and by the way, has he seen a dentist recently? Then lay out the tough love. You need him to care for his teeth: Visit the dentist twice a year, brush twice a day, and floss at least once (a day, not a decade). He might get embarrassed, he might get defensive, he might even storm off to find a partner who\’ll accept him as he is; say, a small finch who\’ll perch on his lip and peck particles from between his teeth.


Recluse endangerment

I\’ve been seeing this wonderful man for three years. I\’m 29, he\’s 41. Although he says he loves me immensely and deems me the person most important to him, I mostly feel single. He never accompanies me to functions (weddings, Christmas parties, etc.). I\’m independent and love hanging solo with friends, but sometimes I\’d like him to be my date to something. His response: \”I just don\’t do functions.\” I get that. He\’s an introvert. In his defense, he threw a big birthday party for me and says I\’m always welcome to invite friends to his place for drinks. Still, I feel I\’m kept low-profile, and it hurts. My friends have pronounced our relationship dysfunctional. So, despite all the fun we have, I wonder if something\’s very wrong and I\’m compromising my needs.

— Unaccompanied

You know those party games where people ask, if you were an animal, what would you be? Well, if your boyfriend were a party animal, he\’d probably be something between a deer in headlights and roadkill.

There are people who need people and there are people who need fewer people. Or, as Bukowski put it, \”No [I don\’t hate people]. But, I seem to feel better when they\’re not around.\” The image of the introvert is negative: Norman Bates, Ted Kaczynski, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Howard Hughes with Kleenex boxes on his feet. But, for many, being introverted is merely a social preference, not a disorder. This probably goes for your boyfriend — unless it stops him from getting to the grocery store and he starves to death, or he\’s so \”not a people person\” that he\’s compelled to get them out of the way with an ax.

Frankly, your boyfriend sounds like mine. I go to a monthly writers\’ dinner that people would, as the saying goes, give their right arm to attend. My boyfriend would actually gnaw off his right arm to get out of it. While I thrive on human contact, it\’s more in his nature to stay home alone in the dark reading about Stalin and listening to Penderecki\’s \”Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.\” When there is a social gathering he needs to attend, his life dream is to be mistaken for a shrub and left outside beside the porch while the party flames on.

How does this reflect on me? It doesn\’t. In fact, I kinda brag that he\’s antisocial. Of course, I don\’t have the equivalent of Alvin and the Chipmunks weighing in on my relationship, leading me to wonder stuff like, \”Does he love me enough to be miserable for me?\” If you sincerely can\’t deal, you\’re with the wrong guy. Otherwise, what do your friends know? After all, the boyfriend who\’s supposedly keeping you \”low-profile\” threw you some huge birthday bash, and you don\’t complain that he only takes you to out-of-the way restaurants frequented by drunks and the bowling league.

It\’s possible you can sometimes get the guy to compromise. But, pick your parties — maybe your best friend\’s wedding, maybe not the housewarming for whatsername from Accounts Receivable. Set ground rules; like, you\’ll leave by a certain time, and you won\’t leave him stranded with some blowhard. Just don\’t get carried away and start expecting him to lead the hokey pokey line. Remember, the question for him isn\’t just, \”Honey, wanna go to a party?\” but more along the lines of \”Honey, wanna go to a party or be locked in a small cage and gnawed to death by ferrets?\” (Uh, he\’ll need a little more time to mull that over.)

Laugh all the way to the wank

Your response to \”More Than A Wallet\” suggests you\’re a feminazi, probably the head of the S.S. in that group. You said, in dating, whoever does the asking out (usually the man) should pay for the first couple dates. Guess what: Dates can initially be set up with a 50/50 payment understanding. I wonder how many times you weren\’t asked out but wished you were, and decided to screw up others\’ lives to be more comfortable with yours.

— Just Sayin’

Let\’s see … I suggest men will be more successful in dating if they pick up the first couple checks — and this compares to marching millions into the gas chamber, then shoving them into ovens? I give reality-based advice, and the reality is, most guys are looking for carnal advancement, not experiments in dating finance reform. Come on, it\’s hard enough for some guys to get dates. Once one of these guys lands one, he\’s supposed to start talks on the level of the Israelis and the Palestinians about who funds the biscotti and coffee? All I can say is this: I wonder how many times you weren\’t asked out but wished you were, and decided to screw up others\’ lives to be more comfortable with yours. Just sayin\’!


The carats and the stick

I\’m 25, my boyfriend\’s 28. Our three-year relationship has been near-perfect, and he\’s given every indication he plans to marry me. I was secretly (albeit prematurely) planning our wedding in my head when I found an e-mail exchange with his high school ex. (He\’d used my laptop and left the message open.) He claimed he was in a \”complicated situation\” with me, and suggested they had a future. I was floored. He swore he doesn\’t feel that way or know why he wrote that, but says it was \”like a game,\” and he enjoyed the attention. He e-mailed her to apologize, explaining how in love with me he is, and how he\’d never forgive himself if he let me go. He forwarded me this e-mail and her response, but I\’m still having difficulty trusting him. He\’s now trying to apologize with expensive gifts and fancy dinners. How can I convey that I need him to show his love in non-material ways, or maybe with one sparkly gift to weigh down my left hand?
— Broadsided

As friends go, diamonds can be lying jerks. Skepticism is actually a girl\’s best friend. Unfortunately, our culture celebrates commitment, not doubt. Nobody\’s going to throw you a party because you\’re wavering about getting married: \”You two aren\’t entirely sure about each other? Well, how wonderful! Are you registered for that at Tiffany\’s?\”

According to you, your relationship has been \”near perfect\” — except for the part where your boyfriend was e-mailing his high school girlfriend on your laptop, telling her how troubled it was. What\’s his next smooth move, murdering somebody, breaking into the police chief\’s house, and leaving the body on the living room floor while he makes himself a cup of cocoa and watches CSI reruns? \”Hiya, Chief … didn\’t expect you home so early!\”

If the guy doesn\’t need The Internet For Idiots he\’s probably trying to tell you something; like, it\’s one thing for a guy to throw around wildly romantic ideas about forever in the heat of the moment and another to march down to the courthouse to say it in triplicate. Of course, men do marry, but you don\’t find them meandering around the hardware store picturing the tux they\’ll someday be walking down the aisle in. For a man, pledging that you\’re \”the one\” means swearing off all access to the other six or eight. Or 18 or 88. And then, after foreverizing, what if it gets to the point where \”the spark\” can\’t be reignited, not even with a blowtorch and a bedroom of dry leaves? Sure, he\’ll be right over to take that blood test, just as soon as he dashes off a couple e-mails.

As anxious as you are to get \”happily ever after\” squared away, you don\’t want to make marrying you the ultimate apology for hitting on the high school ex. While the guy didn\’t express ambivalence in the nicest way, it seems he has some. He should be encouraged to explore it so you can find out how he really feels — whether he got momentarily freaked by the sign, \”Last Girl, Food, Lodging For 100 Years,\” or whether the only monogamy he\’s actually up for is the serial kind. You might take this less personally if you can look at marriage in consumer terms. With a divorce rate of up to 30 percent for college-educated couples, getting married is like looking to buy a refrigerator with a big sticker on it, \”Only a 30 percent chance this sucker will crap out!\” Do you rush in shouting, \”I do! I do! I do!\” or mumble, \”Uh, yeah … I think I might need to see a few more refrigerators\”?

No plane, no gain

My boyfriend just moved 800 miles away for his dream job. Before accepting, he asked whether I\’d consider moving. I would, but it\’s a sacrifice. He said, in the interim, we\’d take turns visiting each other every other weekend, and he\’d pay half my plane fare ($150). Now, I\’m thinking he should pay the full $300 since he moved, and his salary\’s twice mine.

— Resentful

Opportunity knocked and your boyfriend forgot to treat it like a collection agent: draw the curtains, curl up with you, and pretend he wasn\’t home. Hey! Weren\’t you supposed to be his dream job? Be honest: Is it really plane tickets you want him to pay for, or are you fining him for putting his career first? Getting him to kick in that king\’s ransom of $150 shouldn\’t be tough: Just tell him you can\’t afford it — if that\’s truly the case. Otherwise, what\’s really going to cost you is your attitude of \”You broke it, you have to pay for it.\” Love works best when it \”knows no boundaries,\” not when it stomps off the plane with an envelope of itemized receipts, down to the $2 airplane Pringles.








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