The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

 

The rat of the litter

For two months, I’ve been dating an awesome guy. He does sweet things like leaving cute notes on my windshield, but I worry about how he looks up to his older brother, who isn’t the greatest person. What’s most worrisome is how his brother treats women like garbage, saying anything to get them into bed and then ditching them or cheating. I haven’t known my apparently awesome boyfriend long, so part of me worries about whether any part of his brother has rubbed off on him or will. How much of a “family resemblance” is there between brothers?

— Having Cautious Fun
 

Younger brothers do tend to look up to older brothers, and frankly, this is hard to avoid if one’s older brother is always dangling out some married woman’s second-floor window.

But behavioral science research finds that personality isn’t transferred from one person to another like cat hair from a couch to black pants. “Personality similarity between relatives seems to come mostly from their shared genes,” writes behavioral geneticist and twins researcher Nancy Segal in Born Together-Reared Apart. About your boyfriend and his brother, Segal told me, “If they were identical twins, I would worry!” Identical twins share 100 percent of their genes, she explained. But “siblings share 50 percent of their genes, on average” and “can be very different.”

And even with those genes they share, biology isn’t destiny. The same gene that vaults into action in one brother (sending chemical signals to the brain that influence personality) might spend a lifetime napping in the other. Gene expression — whether certain genes get switched on — is triggered by environment (which includes diet, chemical exposure and a person’s experiences). And although these brothers grew up in the same family, the same environment’s effect on different siblings can be different because they experience it at different ages, with a different combination of genes, and with different peer and other influences. So, for example, four brothers can have the same physically abusive grifter father but only one of them — executed murderer Gary Gilmore — ends up a cold-blooded killer. And then there’s Bill Clinton and his half brother Roger — one of whom was the leader of the free world and the other, a leader in finding the free beer.

Chances are your boyfriend looks up to his brother for historical reasons — for building him forts out of couch cushions and making some bully wear girls’ underwear on his head — and he doesn’t want to mess up his misty view with new information, like how his brother collects girls’ tears in little labeled glass vials. You, however, are on the right track — “having cautious fun” instead of deciding your boyfriend’s the cheese and closing your eyes to any information contradicting that. But while your boyfriend’s brother is a user of people, which points to a lack of empathy, your boyfriend’s behavior (just per the notes he leaves on your car) suggests he takes pleasure in delighting you, which suggests he truly cares about you. If only his brother would show similar thoughtfulness and start leaving his own cute notes on girls’ cars — perhaps something along the lines of “Roses are red, violets are blue; I just got a shot at the free clinic, and so should you.”

Ex and The City

My wife and I divorced just over a year ago, and I asked my friends to stop being friends with her, which I thought they had. I just learned that a friend is starting a new job — for which my ex-wife recommended him (knowing he was looking because they remained “friends” on LinkedIn). I’m glad he got a new gig, but I’m angry people are still in touch with her, since the marriage ending was pretty much her fault.

— Hurt
 

Good morning, General Pinochet. You apparently forgot to put the word out to local birds to boycott your ex-wife’s bird feeder and order squirrels in the park not to take nuts from her. You don’t get to tell grown adults who they can and can’t be friends with. Instead, you trust your friends to behave like friends. It’s a bit much, however, to expect everybody to stop being “friends” with your ex-wife — to remember they once connected on LinkedIn and go click the button for “Off With Her Head.” And frankly, in this economy, I wouldn’t hold it against somebody even if they got their job through a LinkedIn connection to Charles Manson. The ironic thing is, you’re the one who really needs to disconnect — to finally decide to move on instead of remaining married to your resentment long after divorcing your wife. Try to remember, time flies “when you’re having fun,” not “when you’re resenting your dog for not doing the noble thing when he’s at her place and going on a hunger strike.”

© 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

Wimp Daddy

A woman wrote you about flirting relentlessly with a male classmate who seemed interested in her but may have been too timid to ask her out. You asked her, “If a man can’t endure a possible 10 seconds of rejection, is he the man you want with you when danger rears its head?” Absent a link between shyness and an inability to defend a woman in danger, I think you’re being unfair to shy guys.

— Irked

If timidity were useful in defending people in danger, police sergeants would announce to their beat cops, “OK, everybody, go out there and hide in the back seat of your patrol car!”

You’re right that physical courage — willingness to risk physical pain — is different from emotional courage: willingness to risk rejection or other social pain. But they’re more related than you think. Brain imaging research by UCLA’s Naomi Eisenberger and Matthew Lieberman finds that the same regions of the brain that are activated by physical pain are activated by social pain, and Eisenberger reports that “individuals who are more sensitive to one kind of pain are also more sensitive to the other.” Further pointing to a connection, what’s good for a sprained ankle seems good for a sprained ego. In research Eisenberger collaborated on, 500 milligrams of acetaminophen (think Tylenol) taken twice daily was actually found to diminish emotional pain. So, no, it isn’t a stretch to suspect that a guy who shrinks from social ouchies might respond to physical danger as if his spirit animal were the breadcrumb.

There’s this notion that the shy guy approaches “the chase” like it’s the “lie there like cold salmon,” simply because he isn’t a people person. That actually describes an introvert — somebody energized by being alone and easily overstimulated in a crowd but who isn’t necessarily afraid to hit on a girl he’s interested in. But a shy person, instead of having self-esteem, has “what other people think of me”-esteem. This means a woman’s rejection isn’t just a bummer; it’s a crushing confirmation of his worthlessness as anything more than a container of salable plasma.

When a guy’s male role model appears to be grape jelly, it isn’t a woman’s cue to do all the work to make a relationship happen. This is dating, not a pet adoption. Besides, you get what you settle for. A guy desperate for approval is a guy a woman can never count on — to show her who he really is, to stand up for what he believes in, or, maybe, to even know what he believes (without sticking a wet finger in the air).

A guy like this isn’t someone a woman can respect and admire. That’s essential, because real love involves having a crush on a person as a human being, not taking pity on him for his shortcomings. The shy guy to have is the one who’s worked on himself and come out the other side — who maybe still fears asking a woman out but manages to do it anyway. This tells her something about her — that he wants her more than he wants to avoid rejection — and something about him: that he has the qualities women look for in a man — courage and character and not just the really basic stuff like a Y chromosome and an ability for point-and-shoot urination.

Licking for love

I went on a first date to a Japanese restaurant. My date kept licking his fingers clean. All his fingers. One by one. He’s otherwise a truly great guy, but I don’t know whether I can date someone with such weird table manners.

— Shocked

Coyotes lick their paws for good reason — because there’s no waiter to bring them a warm washcloth in a little dish. When an adult human does this on the first date — the date we all know is scored by a team of invisible judges in the mind of the person we’re with — you really have to wonder. As for whether this guy’s dining behavior will be a deal breaker, when you don’t have an answer, the best answer is usually waiting and collecting information until you do. So go on a few more dates. See whether he sticks his snout in the gravy boat. How you ultimately respond will probably depend on both the strength of your gag reflex and how old you are. Women in their early 20s will ditch a guy if his cowlick grows in the wrong direction. Women in their 50s and beyond understand that “truly great guys” are in short supply, and they come to appreciate the little things in a man, such as a pulse, bladder control, and the ability to remain awake throughout sex. F

© 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.blog
talkradio.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

 

Flesh Prince

My boyfriend of two years has always disparaged gentlemen’s clubs. I truly believed him until he visited his family and I searched Google Maps on his computer for something in his hometown. The text box predicted “strip clubs” there. I confronted him, and looking to prove me wrong, he showed me his “places” history. Various searches for strip clubs showed up. (I don’t think he understood that Google keeps track of that stuff.) He claimed he didn’t do these searches and suggested that his brother or someone who borrowed his computer did. We have sex regularly, and he is loving and treats me very well, so I put aside his lying and gave him another chance. I should say that I understand men’s interest in these clubs; I just don’t feel it’s right for guys in relationships to go because of the possibility of cheating happening. Disturbingly, I just found some Hooters coupons with his stuff. I think that the fact that he may go to these places doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that he’s lying about it.

— Worried
 

A woman wants to believe a man when he claims he hates those nasty “gentlemen’s clubs.” Yeah, the last thing any man wants to see is a totally hot 21-year-old with enormous breasts doing upside-down splits on a pole.

There’s that line from politics: “It isn’t the crime; it’s the cover-up.” Not only did your boyfriend pre-lie, laying out the above bed of lies like lettuce on a cottage cheese plate, but he followed up with the obvious honker that it had to be somebody else searching for nudie bars on his computer. Yes, it was probably Granny, who, like many women her age, loves to go to strip clubs and make it rain Social Security checks.

As for why he lied, consider that there’s a notion that men are pigs — simply for being men. Men evolved to be highly visual and variety-driven in their sexual desire, while women evolved to be more emotion- and commitment-driven. Male sexuality isn’t wrong; it’s just different. But men are so used to being under attack for what turns them on that many default to denying it. They keep mum to avoid conflict in their relationships, in part because they think they could never explain male desire in a way that wouldn’t make a woman’s head fly off and chase them around the room.

The truth is, we all lie, all day long, and often think nothing of it. If you cram your muffin-top into Spanx or put goop on your eyebags, you’re lying about what you really look like. And frankly, if people could read our thoughts, most of us wouldn’t make it to lunchtime without a co-worker’s bludgeoning us with a stapler. But because we alone know what we’re thinking, a person can say sweet, relationship-enhancing things to his partner — “You’re the only woman for me!” — while entertaining less palatable fantasies: “If only I could have you, your sister, the Swedish women’s bobsled team, and that girl from The Weather Channel in a swimming pool of butterscotch pudding!”

Still, fantasizing and cheating are two different things. Sure, some guys who go to strip clubs are looking to get some on the side, but a guy can do that at the office or the corner bar without breaking out a wad of Benjamins. And Hooters? Naughty in concept, but in reality, a place to eat heavily battered chicken strips while having platonic conversations with a married waitress in gym clothes and 1980s pantyhose. As for those coupons your boyfriend had, nothing helps a guy seduce a waitress like whipping out a voucher for 10 percent off. (“Hey, big spender!”)

Another woman may turn your man’s head (or make it swivel like a turbo lazy Susan), but that doesn’t mean she turns his ethics, too. If you have reason to believe your boyfriend is a good guy, driven by ethical standards instead of what he can get away with, chances are he’s just looking at strippers from time to time instead of looking to get some strange. Relationships are built on trust, but they’re also built on white lies about who we really are and having the wisdom to look the other way at stuff that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. You and your boyfriend have heat in the bedroom, and he is loving and treats you well. Sounds like he’s happy. That’s probably the single best motivator for a guy to make visiting strip clubs nothing more than an occasional form of sightseeing — as much a threat to your relationship as a visit to the Grand Tetons (on one of those days they’re decked out in flaming nipple tassels and 5-inch Lucite heels). 

© 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

 

Some like it hot mess

Why do “helpless” women have men constantly doting on them, while women like me are deemed “too strong”? I was raised by a 1970s feminist and single mother. (“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!”) At 21, I became a widowed single mother. I put myself through school and own a home and a business. I now have a boyfriend who feels I don’t “need” him enough. He says I need to drop some of the balls I’m juggling so he can pick them up. “Just take them!” I say. We recently had a yard sale, and I did everything and was resentful and exhausted. I threw a little fit and walked away. My man then put forth a superhuman effort and cleaned everything up. But, as usual, he didn’t handle things until I was unable to.

— Superwoman
 

The modern damsel doesn’t have to be in distress, but it helps if she at least has a few items not yet crossed off her to-do list. Otherwise, what is there for Superman to do but smoke a bowl and make YouTube videos of the cat riding the Roomba?

No sooner did you find a man who says he wants to help than you immediately raised the bar. It isn’t enough that he’s willing to take out the trash from under the sink. You expect him to sense that you want him to and then wrestle you for the bag. What’s with this? Did you get comfy with the belief that women don’t need men and are you now intent on confirming that? Could it be that having him help conflicts with your self-image as the suburban Joan of Arc — if not burning at the stake, cooking up the steak while burning with rage about how you have to do it all?

You can have the martyrdom merit badge or a relationship; pick any one. Consider that maybe being a strong woman means being strong enough to admit that you need a man for something besides yelling at when he gives the wrong answer to “Do I look fat in this?” You will have to ask for help, which may be easier if you think of this as sending your boyfriend on little “quests” to make him feel needed. Though you probably don’t need a Holy Grail, you could ask him to wield power tools or run up to Rite Aid to get your kid some cold meds. While he’s gone, here’s a suggestion: Write out that dumb fish/bicycle quote. Burn it. Scatter the ashes. And replace it in your head with an update on a classic: “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease — that is, if it doesn’t run off and grease itself before anybody else can get up out of his chair to go look for the can.”

 

Bad gratitude

Although I regularly tell my boyfriend how much I appreciate him, he repeatedly reminds me of how well he treats me, often saying “You sure have a great boyfriend” or “Your boyfriend’s so good to you” — even when I’ve just done something super-nice for him! I’m not sure why he does this, but he often tells me he’s “very confident,” which screams insecurity to me. He also loves telling stories about people complimenting him and every day tells me about someone’s seeing him and saying, “Hi, Chris.”

— Annoyed
 

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish for compliments and you annoy the crap out of everyone who knows or encounters him. Of course, if your boyfriend didn’t feel like a skin tag among men, he wouldn’t be marching around putting out mini-manifestos on his greatness. You can probably get him to cut back on the incessant self-congratulation simply by telling him it grates on you and makes you feel unappreciated. (A woman likes a man who’s quick with a compliment, but especially when at least a few of the compliments are for her.)

The question is, do you even know the man you’re with? Chances are, he hides his real feelings out of fear that you’ll leave him if you get a glimpse of what he probably sees as his shamefully loserish true self. Unfortunately, somebody chasing inner security all around town is never going to find it, and if your boyfriend’s happy in your relationship, he’s unlikely to feel motivated to get into the grubby business of digging inward. Relationships involve tradeoffs, and maybe being with him is worth it to you. But you may ultimately find it too hard to respect a guy who does stuff like bragging when people say, “Hi, Chris.” Yes, it’s the highest achievement of the human spirit: “Wow, people know me, and they don’t shun me!”

© 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).

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