A co-worker seems interested in me. This is flattering since he’s 48 and I’m 57. He’s asked me out on dates a few times — rather last minute, unfortunately, and I had conflicting plans. He also invited me to join his volleyball club that plays in the park during lunch breaks. The group is all men except for one 30-something woman, who banters a lot with this guy and is grudgingly nice, if not cool, to me. My intuition’s sending up caution flags! I don’t want to trample over a girl who has feelings for this man. I want nothing to do with causing pain for another woman! Should I just come out and tell this man what my intuition’s telling me? Ask him what’s up between him and the young woman?

— Take My Advice

Self-interest is at its most presentable when dressed up in a Florence Nightingale outfit. (You’re only worried about causing another woman pain, not whether your crow’s-feet are starting to look more like pterodactyl claws.)

The average guy is more likely to be attracted to “Barely Legal!” than “Almost Of Age To Retire To The Home.” This particular guy doesn’t seem to be average. Sure, he might have invited you to volleyball to be inclusive, but dates — which he’s asked you on — are very rarely a form of philanthropy. Chances are, the guy’s into you, and apparently not for a lack of options. This has to be irritating to the younger woman, who probably thought she’d have the “hot young thing” advantage. Okay, at 30-something, at least the “hot younger thing” advantage. What’s a girl in her position to say but “Shoo, grandma!”?

You should worry about causing pain for another woman if you’re about to break up her happy home, but you’re just breaking up the all-boy/one-girl ratio of the volleyball league and maybe getting the guy. If you’re like many women, you not only are uncomfortable with competing, you feel it’s mean to try to win — even if your tactic is just wearing a really good bra, not going after your rival with a medieval battle ax. Probably because women evolved to be the nurturers and cooperators of the species, they tend to feel guilty about going for what they want and resentful if another woman gets it. Although it’s nice to be compassionate, deferring to everyone else’s desires is no way to go through life. It’s good and right to act in your self-interest, assuming you aren’t poisoning the rivers or parboiling small children.

Puking your feelings all over this guy’s shoes won’t settle anything; it’s just an impulsive way to relieve pent-up anxiety. (If things weren’t awkward between you before, not to worry; they will be.) If you need stress relief, get a squeeze ball or one of those desktop sand gardens with a tiny wooden rake. Because things are always bigger and scarier in the abstract, if you’re afraid of being hurt, consider how, exactly, that would play out and whether you can deal. Getting emotionally trampled is painful, but not like being crushed by falling space debris. You go through some miserable-time, and then you lick your wounds and move on. If that’s too much for you, retire from relationships to the porch swing at The Home and train for the sort of competition that, at 57, you’ll be a shoo-in to win — the chair yoga/walker push/sponge bath triathlon.

Thin line between love and height
I’m a 5-foot-5-inch man. I know “character is what really matters,” and I’m not insecure about my height, just a realist: Many women want a man who’s taller than they are. I’m considering getting elevator shoes (height enhancers that look like normal shoes). Obviously, if I started dating a woman, she’d find out. Do you think she’d feel scammed?

— Bad Altitude

There’s adding a couple of inches, and there’s going from circus act to starting forward. Two inches is the male version of a padded bra. Five is taking a woman’s bra off and finding it filled with socks. For many women, any height-faking is an automatic dealbreaker. But, if some woman’s very attracted to you as a person but not as a short person, your being able to stand a little taller may keep you in the running to be more than her friend. As for whether women will feel scammed, your attitude probably matters — whether you project that you just feel better with a little extra elevation or whether you seem ashamed and angry at being small. Confidence does make a short man seem taller.

But, keep in mind that some women won’t be into you unless you stand taller at all times. That’s when your confidence will really come in handy — when you’re the only guy on the beach going for a swim in a pair of cowboy boots. 

(c)2011, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com www.advicegoddess.com)

Read Amy Alkon’s book: I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).