The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

Took the wind out Of her Zales

Around Valentine’s Day, my beloved boyfriend of a year kept hinting about a big surprise. He’d been talking about moving in with me, and I was expecting a proposal and a ring. I got a fondue pot. I have two children and, apparently, the idea that a man should put a ring on a woman’s finger before moving in with her and her kids. He said he’d propose when he was ready. Then, by accident (I think), he left his Amazon.com page open on my computer, showing the tackiest, cheapest ring in the world and a pocketknife for himself (which cost more than the ring). I told him to move in and forget the ring. I bought myself a ring, but that didn’t work. I felt unvalued and ashamed. We fought often, and he ended up moving out. He wants me back, but I don’t want to live with him without the stupid ring. We’re both too needy to live apart. Can we salvage this?

— Heartbroken Mama
 

The man you love did give you a shiny object that you could show off to the girls at the office, even if the admiring remarks you were hoping for weren’t “Look at that thing! It’s twice the size of Miranda’s Crock-Pot!” and “Ooh, is that stainless steel?”

Diamond engagement rings can seem like a completely stupid thing to want. They’re absurdly expensive and hard to tell from lab-created rings available at a fraction of the cost. And what good are they, really? As evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller jokes in The Mating Mind: “Why should a man give a woman a useless diamond engagement ring, when he could buy her a nice big potato, which she could at least eat?”

Well, the answer is that men can walk away after sex and women may walk away with a bunch of little mouths to drag around and feed, so women evolved to seek reliable signs that a man has access to resources and a willingness to provide them. Any hump ‘em and dump ‘em smooth talker can make promises. The most reliable signs of commitment are those economists call “costly signals,” meaning that they require substantial effort or financial investment and are therefore difficult to fake. Basically, only a guy who’s madly in love with you would be willing to prove it with an object as wildly expensive and useless as a diamond. That’s why buying yourself a ring didn’t work and why you felt “unvalued and ashamed” when your boyfriend got down on one knee, but only so he could plug in a moderately-priced kitchen appliance and propose, “How ‘bout we put stale bread cubes on sticks and dunk ‘em in melted cheese?”

Being too needy to live alone is reason to get a dog or paste a face on your robot vacuum cleaner, not rush into a lifelong commitment. The way to figure this out is by spending time together without living together until he’s ready to commit or you’re ready to throw in the towel. But pick a date to take stock of whether progress is being made so you aren’t hanging on endlessly. As they say in the fondue world, there comes a time when a guy needs to either dip or get off the pot.

 

Paradise Lust

I want to break up with my girlfriend, but we are supposed to go to Costa Rica and have already paid for the house we’re renting for the month with her friends. Is it ridiculous to wait till after Costa Rica to break up?

— I Sound Like A Jerk
 

When you put off canceling a relationship to avoid canceling your vacation, even posing for photos can get complicated. You might find yourself trying to put a native person or pre-Columbian artifact between the two of you to avoid blurting out, “Hey, can you stand a little farther away from me? It’ll make it way easier to crop you out.” Unfortunately, you can’t do much to cushion the blow when she invariably squeezes out of you that you stuck around long after you stopped loving her, which will make her feel stupid and humiliated, in addition to the usual fun feelings that come with being dumped. Barring some immediate need for your emotional support (like your partner’s grandma’s impending funeral or bail hearing), the kindest thing you can do is break up as soon as you know it’s over — even if it bummers up your travel plans and means you’ll eat some costs. Letting your girlfriend go without you to Costa Rica might allow her to look back fondly on both the relationship and the vacation — in a way she couldn’t if she were flipping through her trip photos saying, “And this is the guy who wanted nothing to do with me kissing me under a jungle waterfall.” 

©2013, 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)

It’s Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Radio — “Nerd your way to a better life!” with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. Call-in during the show: 347-326-9761 (NYC area code).

Read Amy Alkon’s book: “I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).

The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

 

Moody call  

Ten months ago, while studying abroad, I had one wonderful night with a girl. We kissed and danced the night away. She lives in Brazil, but we’ve communicated regularly via Skype and email. I’ve never felt such a strong connection. Recently, I asked what she wanted, and she said to be together in the same country. We started imagining that, and she became extremely attached, wanting reassurance about our future that I couldn’t yet give. I confessed to feeling guilty about causing her emotional strain. She flipped, seeming like a totally different person. She said it wasn’t the first time someone had worried about how attached she was and said she’d start being more distant with me. Angry, I briefly blocked her on my phone so I wouldn’t communicate anything rash. She later complained about her texts bouncing back, and I explained what I’d done and why. She lost it, saying she was “sick of this” and “done.” That was two weeks ago. Should I attempt reopening communication? I feel I’m missing the opportunity of a lifetime if I don’t.

— International Love

Here’s a woman who flips out when you worry aloud that you aren’t making her happy fast enough. The prospect of being with someone who does this is the “opportunity of a lifetime” the way Hurricane Sandy was the vacation opportunity of a lifetime, complete with the chance to swim in the Jersey shore’s finest restaurants and mingle with celebrities (well, wave to Sean Penn if a disaster recovery photo op took his rowboat past the roof of your motel).

A long-distance relationship is a relationship that’s miles from reality. Much of its power comes from what’s missing. For example, there are a lot of blanks left by “seeing” somebody by Skype and email. Nature (and human nature) abhors a vacuum, so you fill the blanks with your projections of who the person is, drawn from romantic memories and hopes of who you’d like them to be. The love you feel may, in part, be a love of how your conversations make you feel about you: that you’re witty, charming and a great romancer. And of course, love that’s out of reach tends to have the strongest pull, a la Romeo and Juliet. Frankly, if their families hadn’t basically been the Crips and the Bloods with linguini and instead had been all “Hey, you crazy kids, be home by curfew,” it probably would have been a matter of weeks before Juliet was sneaking out behind the palazzo with Marcello and then Luigi.

You find out whether you can have a life with a woman by experiencing her day to day — seeing whether she chases you around with a cleaver when you forget to wash a glass or when you draw the line at picking up ladyproducts at the drugstore. You could propose living in the same place for a month — after getting in touch to tell her how wrong you were. (This is basically catnip for women, and whether you were actually wrong about anything is immaterial.) But consider all that goes into a relationship with someone from another country (travel expenses, residency permits, and difficulty finding work and even getting a work permit). Maybe it makes sense to deem what you had as “one wonderful night with a girl” — before you get to Brazilian customs and find yourself answering “Do you have anything to declare?” with “Yes, I think I’m making a big mistake.”

 

The Blurt Locker

I’ve been on two dates with a woman, and she’s agreed to a third. We kissed on the second date and have been talking every night, but she seems to be playing it a little cool (letting me do all the calling, etc.). Perhaps I should also play it cool, but I’m dying to tell her I like her. Is there a magic number of dates you have to go on before it’s OK to do that?

— Bitten Tongue

There are solutions that cause more problems than they solve, like giving your car a car bra, which traps moisture underneath and eventually leads to two-tone paint. (And besides, what happens if your car doesn’t have a bra, someone sees its nipples and it gets embarrassed?) Announcing that you like someone you’ve gone out with twice is another one of these problem-causing solutions. If this woman is at all ambivalent (a healthy way to feel early on), telling her you like her wouldn’t make her like you, but it might make her uncomfortable enough to flee. So, go ahead and say those “three little words” — as long as they’re “You free Friday?” Rest assured; she knows you like her. Because you’re still around, because you’re calling every night, and because when you kissed her, you apparently didn’t spit afterward, wipe your hand across your mouth, and say “Eeeuw!”


©2013, 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)

It’s Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Radio — “Nerd your way to a better life!” with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. Call-in during the show: 347-326-9761 (NYC area code).

Read Amy Alkon’s book: “I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).

The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

Crappily Ever After

My husband of a year is the most selfish, inconsiderate, cold-shouldered man I’ve ever known. He’s 24; I’m 22. He behaved similarly when we were dating, but when he proposed, he made promises to treat me better, and I believed him. Well, we pretty much only do what he wants to do. If it’s an activity for me, he’ll whine and act miserable the whole time. He often cancels our plans to hang out with his friends. On our anniversary, we had reservations at a fancy restaurant 45 minutes away. I got ready, and he suddenly decided he didn’t want to drive there and took us to some random place nearby. At that point, our evening meant nothing. He is king of the silent treatment and never admits fault or listens to my feelings. We’ve sought out marriage counseling, but when there’s no sex, compromise, communication, or friendship, should I still hold out hope? I’m trying to because I told myself I’d only get married once.

— Upset

It’s 2013. You tell people you’re divorced and they mumble, “Oh, sorry.” They don’t put you on a scaffold in the town square to be jeered by all the villagers and then make you go around with a big scarlet “D” sewn on all your clothes.

Our early 20s should be called the Age of Idiocy. Not for all people but for a whole lot of us, including me. Until we figure out that life’s hobby is kicking us in the teeth, there’s a tendency to just wing it and believe things will turn out OK. Well, there are things — like signing a contract to spend your life with somebody — that just shouldn’t be, uh, wung. Sure, this guy showed promise as a boyfriend; that is, he made empty promises that he’d be completely different after marriage. For future reference, anybody can say he’ll be different. Only after he consistently shows he’s different over time does it makes sense to believe him. Unfortunately, it’s hard to think so sensibly if, like many early 20-somethings, you see marriage as an express elevator to adulthood: Hop in; press the “just married” button; get off at grownup-land, where you’ll magically become mature adults and get on with all that happily ever after stuff.

Your husband has his merits, like that both of his kidneys seem to work and he has yet to express an interest in drowning squirrels. Couples therapy could help — if you had a guy who just didn’t know how to be married but cared deeply for you and wanted to learn. Your husband’s behavior, however, reflects the lack of empathy common to narcissists. Empathy isn’t something you can train an adult to have — not to any meaningful degree. What you can do is accept that you were naive and amend your “marry only once” pledge to “marry idiotically only once.” You might also take a more positive view of mistakes. They tend to be pretty amazing teachers — providing we admit we’ve made them so we can learn from them instead of sticking around to see if we can’t make a bunch of sociopathic babies with them.

 

Mild Kingdom

My girlfriend’s love of animals is causing some tension. She cannot watch any movie in which an animal gets hurt or dies. Telling her to remember that it’s a movie and the animal doesn’t actually die just makes her really mad. She’ll say my knowing animal suffering upsets her should be enough of a reason.

— Rational

Never mind that Titanic is a movie about 1,500 people drowning in the freezing Atlantic Ocean. For some, what matters is “Omigod, did that lady’s goldfish die?” And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a site for these people, doesthedogdie.com, which details whether animals in a movie are depicted getting injured or killed and confirms that no, in Titanic, “Old Rose’s dog and goldfish are not harmed.” Phew, huh? Snarking aside, no amount of turning to your girlfriend and saying “Oh, come on, that dog has an agent and headshots!” will change her need to live in a world where Old Yeller never bites it. There’s also a good chance that much of her upset is about what she thinks your reaction means — that you don’t care about her feelings. Try putting on a new you — telling her that you understand how hard it is for her to see animals suffer, that you’ll let her know when she can uncover her eyes when you’re watching TV, and that you’ll go alone to movies in which aliens snack on deer. This should dial back the tension so you two can snuggle on the couch together, watching humans being shot, bludgeoned, and hacked to pieces. (Do the gentlemanly thing and cover her eyes if the camera pulls out to reveal an ant trap.)

©2013, 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)

It’s Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Radio — “Nerd your way to a better life!” with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. Call-in during the show: 347-326-9761 (NYC area code).

Read Amy Alkon’s book: “I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).

The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

The butt stops here

 

My husband and I both smoked pot regularly, but I quit several years ago, and he began smoking nightly. I kept encouraging him to quit because it makes him mentally disappear. He goes through periods when he doesn’t smoke (mostly because of my nagging), and then we’re able to connect and have a loving relationship. But he inevitably falls back on this nightly habit, and I become frustrated and resentful. Recently, I discovered a large stockpile of hidden video footage he’d taken of women’s booties. In one video, I was standing next to him, oblivious, as he videotaped the woman ahead of us in line. I was shocked that he was capable of this kind of disrespect. We had an emotionally-wrecked several weeks. He slept on the couch, and I avoided him. I told him that if the nightly pot smoking and the butt videotaping were to persist, I’d have to move on. I was convinced that leaving was probably the best choice. But since I said this, he’s only smoked a couple of times, and we’ve been reconnecting. He says he’s not making any more videos because he saw how upset it made me. I love this guy, but am I deluding myself in thinking he can change?

— Hesitant
 

When you marry a man, it isn’t because you’re looking to walk off into the sunset all by yourself while he’s lying facedown on your living room floor staring at an ant, realizing he totally gets what the ant is thinking.

Your husband — let’s call him “the old bong and chain” — is an addict. You may not think of him that way, because he probably doesn’t have a physical dependence on weed or running around town making butt-umentaries (say, in the way I have a physical dependence on break-a-tooth-black coffee). Probably what he has is a psychological addiction to checking out (instead of engaging emotionally), and he’s using these habits as transportation to get there.

To explain that further, an addiction treatment specialist I respect, Dr. Stanton Peele, in 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, writes, “When people turn to an experience, any experience, for solace to the exclusion of meaningful involvements in the rest of their lives, they are engaged in an addiction.” Another addiction therapist I respect, Dr. Frederick Woolverton, in Unhooked, explains that what all addictions have in common is a longing to avoid “legitimate suffering” — difficult emotions that are a normal part of being alive.

So, no, your husband’s saying no to butt cheeks and “only sometimes” to pot probably isn’t enough. These are just his preferred forms of checking out. To avoid simply replacing them with new forms, he needs to recognize that he’s been using them to duck feeling his feelings — maybe just in your marriage but maybe in other parts of his life, too. He also needs to commit to changing this, but not because you’re hassling him and it would be an even bigger hassle to get dumped by you. (Change is especially tough for the emotion-averse.) He needs to come to the conclusion that it’s worth it to tough it out and feel so he can connect with you on more than the pothead’s deep philosophical questions, “What does paisley sound like?” and “Are we out of Funyuns?”

It isn’t easy to go straight from the daily numb to “Hey, intensity, here I am,” and addicts are already in the habit of going straight to easy. Your husband might avoid setbacks by using a practice called “mindfulness meditation” as training wheels for living in the now instead of avoiding in the now. This form of meditation involves sitting or lying quietly, scanning your body with your mind and observing your thoughts and bodily sensations nonjudgmentally, as if they were scenery you’re passing in a car. I know this sounds airy-fairy. But a growing number of solid studies (by molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn and neuroscientist Richard Davidson, for example) find that regular mindfulness meditation diminishes stress and anxiety and dampens reactivity to emotional discomfort, helping people stand back a bit from their feelings instead of letting their feelings get them in a death grip.

It’s possible to do mindfulness meditation without a program, but the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness, founded by Kabat-Zinn, has a link to programs and teachers around the U.S. and Canada (bit.ly/MBSRsearch). Taking a class in this could even be something you do together and might be the start of lots of things you do together. If he’s sincere about wanting you more than he wants to check out, you could soon have a husband you can count on to be there for you — and not just as a large, heavy, smoking object keeping the couch cushions from running into the street and getting hit by a car.

(c)2012, 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)

It’s Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Radio — “Nerd your way to a better life!” with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. Call-in during the show: 347-326-9761 (NYC area code).

Read Amy Alkon’s book: “I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).

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