The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

Que Syrah Syrah  

I’ve been dating a fun, very attractive woman for about a month, and things have been going great. However, on our last date, we were out at dinner, and the female server accidentally spilled an entire glass of red wine on her dress. Though the server seemed mortified and apologized profusely, my date absolutely lost it — going into a rage and yelling at the poor server, telling her she needs to learn how to do her job, etc. Except for this incident, this woman has been sweet to me and generally acts like a nice person. Should I give her some leeway on this?

— Concerned
 

Red wine and clothing have been problematic companions for centuries. Impressive as it is that Jesus turned water into wine, if only he’d developed a way to turn wine back into water, he could have opened a highly successful chain of dry cleaners.

And while it’s pretty awful when somebody spills red wine all over your outfit, it’s especially awful when you are on a date and want to be at your sexy, pulled-together best. (If you felt a 2006 Bordeaux would have improved your look, you would have thrown a glass of it on yourself before leaving the house.)

But as I note in my new book, Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck (June 3, St. Martin’s Press), when you’ve just started dating someone, the butter-paws waiter who gives them a red wine bath is probably doing you a favor. Significant character flaws (like rage issues) are unlikely to be revealed in the early stages of dating, when the biggest source of stress you see your date experiencing is the kitchen’s forgetting to leave off the parsley garnish on their medallions of duck.

If, when you’re dating someone new, you never get seated in the clumsy waiter’s section, go camping together, collaborate on a project, or engage in other stress-producing activities that strain a person’s patience and party manners. Bad personality traits, if any, are likely to scurry around like cockroaches after somebody turns the lights on.

As for this woman, it doesn’t look good. Her behavior suggests not only a lack of compassion but poor “self-regulation,” psychologists’ term for the ability to control one’s emotional reactions. You also don’t mention her expressing embarrassment or apologizing afterward as people acting out in uncharacteristic ways tend to do. If you decide to stick around, be wary of succumbing to “optimism bias” — our tendency to project a rosy future for ourselves: silver linings all around; hold the clouds. This leads to selective eyesight, like focusing on how hot a woman is rather than how hot-headed. This may work for you for a while — perhaps until she’s melting your ear in the drugstore aisle: “WHERE ARE THE TAMPONS I TOLD YOU TO GET, YOU BIG MORON?” Of course, at that point, there’s only one thing to say to her: “Sorry, ma’am. I think you’ve mistaken me for somebody else.”

Junior high and mighty     

I’m a 23-year-old guy dating a beautiful and exciting 33-year-old woman. Because she’s older than everybody in my circle, my buddies have taken to calling her “Mom” (though not to her face) and ripping on me for dating her. She really is fantastic, but I have to admit this is having an impact on me — making me both angry at my friends and embarrassed that she and I stick out for the age difference.  

— Peer-Pressured

Ten years seems like a big deal now, but when you’re 139, she won’t even be 150 yet.

It’s understandable that you’re feeling all woundy from these razzings, but being male is about being a competitor — ultimately for women — down to the smallest scale. As one sperm taunted the other, “You swim like you expect to end up in an old tube sock.”

The power of your buddies’ mockery isn’t surprising, considering the finding by UCLA’s Matthew Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberger that our brains react to social pain in much the same way they do to physical pain. This makes sense, as we are a social species and, early on, our survival may have depended on what other people thought of us. But there’s being aware of people’s remarks and there’s letting them drive you like a joystick. Also, the way to pretty much ensure that guys keep ripping on you is showing that you’re vulnerable to it, like by dumping your hot mama girlfriend so you don’t stick out from the pack. Remember, “age is just a number” — like zero, the amount of sex many of them are having and would probably like to see you having, too.


© 2014, 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 Scorn Identity  

 

There’s this girl in my social circle I’d wanted to ask out for a while. Two months ago, I finally got up the nerve, but she politely declined, saying she wasn’t “ready to date yet” after her last relationship. Since then, she’s started dating some other guy, and their pictures are all over Facebook. I unfollowed her from my News Feed, but I still see her with this guy in friends’ photos. Would it be completely petty to unfriend her? I feel like that would make me look even more jilted and bitter. And I still have to see her at parties and stuff.

— Grim
 

Facebook is complicated. Sure, there are privacy settings and other controls, but these tend to be more porous than the U.S.-Mexican border. In fact, there’s only one surefire way to avoid seeing somebody in your News Feed, and that’s covering your computer screen with duct tape.

 
Unfortunately, this won’t help you at parties or the supermarket, since you can only unfriend somebody; you can’t unexist them. Well, not without the possibility of life in prison. But take a step back. You’re feeling “jilted and bitter”? A woman you asked out left you in limbo; she didn’t make a run for it while you were standing together at the altar. She also didn’t wrong you by saying she wasn’t “ready to date yet.” Maybe that was the truth at the time; maybe she won’t be ready to date you ever. A person you ask out doesn’t owe you complete honesty — well, except on whether they’ll open the door and come out when you swing by on Friday night or stockpile weapons and barricade themselves in their house.

Chances are, you wouldn’t be so Mr. Resentypants if you hadn’t pined after this girl for eons and “finally” asked her out. Turning her into a months-long project for your ego made getting a “yes” from her way too important. You probably did this because you’re rejection-avoidant. This isn’t to say the rest of us are all, “Yay, rejection. More, please.” But that sort of attitude — constantly flipping the bird at your fears and taking social risks — is how you get OK enough with rejection to live your life like you’ll be dead soon instead of like you’re dead now.

Getting comfortable in Rejectionville is easier if your self-worth comes from the inside. This is something you may need to work toward. But even if you can’t immediately stop seeing every rejection as confirmation of your loserhood, you can at least stop acting as if you do. Just reinterpret each rejection as a sign to go after the next woman. (Acknowledge disappointment, lick wounds, move on.) Before long, you should be bouncing back surprisingly fast. You should also find yourself reserving your scorn for the truly deserving, like if you ask a woman whether she’d like to have a drink sometime and her response is, “Sure I would. Here’s my address. Leave a bottle of chilled white wine on my doorstep, ring the bell, and run.” 

 

May I have this glance?    

I’m a 23-year-old woman who’s clueless about how to flirt with a stranger. I’m not really good at small talk, and sometimes I’ll see a cute guy at the coffeehouse and wonder later whether I could have sent some signals his way. All my boyfriends have started as friends, so I never really learned this stuff.  

— Clueless

Flirting isn’t the only way to get a stranger to stop for you — but it tends to be more socially acceptable than shooting a tranquilizer dart into their neck. Flirting from across a coffee shop is an expert-level maneuver and requires time you may not have if a guy is just running in for a latte. Behavioral science researchers find that it generally takes repeated instances (say, three) of a woman making eye contact with a man and then looking away for him to go, “Wait — who, me?”

A better bet is moseying over while the guy is at the coffee fixings bar or sitting down at the table next to his and casually saying something. You don’t need to be good at small talk — just small questions. Ask about something. Anything. His antique watch. His haircut. Where the whole milk ran off to. And then, instead of trying to sell him on you, keep asking him about himself. (When you keep a conversation focused on another person, they’re more likely to warm to you.) Don’t worry if you come off a little nervous or awkward. If a guy’s into you, it won’t matter. Even if he isn’t, he’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by your interest, as men who are not movie stars are rarely approached by women who aren’t begging for drug money or out on the street after gnawing through their bed restraints.

© 2014, 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

 

Bad harem day    

I’m 30, and I’ve been married to my sweet, beautiful wife for three years. I am a bartender at a club and have numerous opportunities to cheat dangled in front of me. After coming close on several occasions, I finally told my wife I wasn’t happy, and we separated three months ago as a prelude to divorcing. I moved in with a friend and started taking advantage of my new single life. However, it’s already getting old. I miss my wife and her intelligence and our connection. How do I start the conversation with her about getting back together?

 

 

— Screwed Up
 
 

After several years of marriage, for a lot of couples, pretty much the only way to have hot sex is to do it under an electric blanket.

Ideally, you could have the security of marriage while continuing to pick up sex snacks at the mall food court of bachelorhood. (In a perfect world, Starbucks would also serve free beer.) But back here in the real world, a monogamous relationship demands trade-offs, and the biggie is giving up hot sex for love and constancy. Even couples who keep having sex almost never have it as hot (or as regularly) as they did at the start. There are just certain elements that can’t be replaced — sexual tension and suspense, for example — once you know for sure that you’ll not only be going home with your date but be waking up to them snoring and drooling on your shoulder for the next 50 years.

Part of the problem is the way we view monogamy — as the inevitable next step after falling in love. It’s just assumed that a couple will be sexually faithful for a lifetime; there’s typically no discussion of how, exactly, they’ll accomplish that or whether they even can. Of course, for many people — women especially — there is no acceptable alternative to monogamy. “Open marriage, honey?” Right. You may as well suggest, “You know, I’m thinking we should spend the rest of the afternoon disemboweling squirrels.”

Also, many people mistakenly believe that a happy and loving marriage is a magical fidelity wand that wards off the temptation to wander. Infidelity researcher Shirley Glass, in “Not ‘Just Friends,’” calls this a “misconception … not supported by any research,” though it is commonly cited on TV and in self-help books as a way to “affair-proof your marriage.” What it can end up being is a way to stick blame on the person who got cheated on, as if their saying “I love you” more fervently or keeping the living room better vacuumed could have kept their spouse’s underwear from ending up on someone else’s spouse’s hotel room floor. 

Additionally, some people seem to have a biological and psychological profile that makes them more prone to long for the sexual variety pack. One factor in this is being high in what psychologist Marvin Zuckerman calls “sensation seeking” — craving novel, varied, and intense sensations and experiences and being willing to take risks to get them. Sensation seeking has repeatedly been associated with high testosterone, and men with high testosterone tend to divorce more often and have more sex partners. This isn’t to say these factors are an excuse for cheating. (“Biology made me do it!”) You ultimately have the ability to make choices — difficult as that may be in the moment when you’re feeling very much like a penis-controlled robot.

Sure, you miss your wife now, but if you get her back, will you start pining for the parade of bar floozies? Testosterone does decline significantly with age, as does sensation seeking, so you may find monogamy more doable at 40 than you do at 30. Assuming your wife, like most women, requires monogamy, what you owe her is honesty about the trouble you have with it so she can decide whether she’s willing to put herself in harm’s way. If you do get back together, talk about what you (each) need to do to avoid temptation (like, for you, maybe finding a job where you aren’t surrounded by hot drunk girls flashing you their thong for free drinks).

This level of honesty is likely to bring you both closer and build trust, making your relationship deeper and stronger. You’re ultimately telling your wife that you see there’s a world of women out there but what matters most to you is having her — her beauty, sweetness, and intelligence, and your connection. You now understand that this requires consistent effort. (There’s a reason the saying is “relationships take work” and not “flings are like forced labor.”) You’re committing to doing your part to keep some sparks flying in your marriage — and not by having her find you in bed with another woman and then chase you around with a Taser. 


© 2014, 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

 
 

Sneer pressure   

My boyfriend of eight years and I love each other to death and are very happy. Still, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me that some people think we aren’t in a “real” relationship because we aren’t married and live separately. Is there a way to get them to respect the validity of our relationship without walking down the aisle?

— Unwed  

Being married does allow for some convenient social shorthand. “Meet my husband” is easier than “If I eat a bad clam and end up puking my guts out at 3 a.m., this is the man who’ll be holding my hair back.”

You can either rebel against convention or be accepted by the masses. Expecting to have it both ways is like running off to the jungle to live with revolutionaries and then demanding your tent be equipped with a microwave and a panini-maker.  

Is it possible that in some small way, you buy into the thinking of your detractors? Like one of those Louis Vuitton handbags that cost as much as a Ford Fiesta, a husband is a status symbol for women — one that women have been psychologically primed to want. Because women always have a high potential cost from any sex act — pregnancy and a mouth to feed — we evolved to look for reliable signals that a man will commit. The most reliable are what evolutionary psychologists call “costly signals” — those so pricey that only a man who truly loves a woman would be willing to shell out for. A diamond engagement ring is one of these, as is a man signing a contract to spend the rest of his life with one woman when it’s in his genetic interest (and lots of fun!) to pursue a more McDonald’s-like dream: “Billions and billions, um, serviced.”

This isn’t to say your unaccredited love lacks value. In fact, a marriage license is like a dog license. If you don’t get your dog a license, it doesn’t mean he isn’t real or worthy of a head scratch. But where unmarried partnerships do fall short is in the legal protections department. Rights that come with marriage — like the right to be by your partner’s bedside in the hospital — will, for the coupled but unwed, require filling out documents to get. You can have a lawyer draw these up, but my boyfriend of 11 years and I used Nolo’s WillMaker Plus 2014 software, which, for about $40, has the essentials — a will, a living will, and power of attorney for health care and for finances (designating somebody to, say, pay your mortgage if you get clocked over the head and are too comatose to do it yourself).

Unfortunately, WillMaker Plus is PC-only, but the health care directive and power of attorney only ask for names and contact info of the people you’re designating, so if you have a Mac, you could fill this out on a friend’s PC without worrying about identity theft. As for the will, Nolo’s editor suggested putting in only the most general details about your accounts and attaching a letter with the specifics.

In other words, with a little paperwork, it really is possible to not have your wedding cake and eat it, too — that is, if you can come to accept that your relationship’s approval ratings will never match those of that married woman you see in the supermarket aisle screaming her husband into a small pile of ash. 

 

Along came Polygraph   

My girlfriend is really insecure and gets furious that I meet my ex-girlfriend for lunch a few times a year. This ex and I broke up years ago, but I’d never cheat anyway, and I’ve explained that I have zero romantic interest in her. Still, she’s a good friend and part of my life. How can I make my girlfriend understand?  

— Badgered

Some people read poetry; your girlfriend lives it: “How do I love thee? You’ll soon find out —after I attach this car battery to your nipples and interrogate you about your lunch.” Although your girlfriend’s the one coming at you with the clamps, the truly unreasonable person in this relationship is you — dating an insecure person and then expecting her to act otherwise. Sure, you could encourage her to build her self-esteem, but until she hits bottom — like in a breakup — she probably has no incentive to change. You need to either accept the trade-offs — the hassle, the not being trusted — or leave and get into a relationship where, as the saying goes, “love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry the shackle attaching you to the basement wall is a little tight.’”

© 2014, 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

 

 

All doc and no action

I’ve been going to the same primary care doctor for a few years. I’m very attracted to him, and I believe he’s attracted to me, too. There’s always been a dynamic between us. I thought it was his “bedside manner,” but when I asked others, they didn’t have the same experience with him. I know he isn’t married. Also, I am very healthy and only see him annually for “well checks.” Do you have any advice on whether I should do anything?

— Patiently Waiting  

It’s OK for your doctor to ask you, “Can I give you a breast exam?” — but not if he adds, “… later tonight, in my Jacuzzi?”

There are all sorts of places a doctor can go to meet women — bars, parties, bowling alleys, grocery stores and hostage standoffs — but he can lose his license for dating those he picks up in his reception area. Not only does the American Medical Association deem current patients off-limits but a former patient can also be a no-go if it seems the sexual relationship started through an exploitation of trust, knowledge or emotions from the doctor-patient relationship. Because rules can vary from place to place, it’s wise to check with your state medical board to see whether they have stricter standards. For example, Colorado’s Medical Practice Act imposes a six-month waiting period before your doctor is allowed to see you in a dress that doesn’t tie in the back and expose your butt crack.

Even if your doctor does have the hots for you, he probably has an even stronger desire to avoid downscaling to “driving” a shopping cart, collecting cans, and living beside a dumpster. So, the first move, if any, must be yours — putting an unambiguous end to the medical portion of your relationship. Do this in writing, adding something like, “You’re an excellent doctor, but I would like to see a doctor closer to my house.” It doesn’t matter whether that’s true. It just has to get the message across — without impugning his skills — that you’re formally outta there. At the end, add, “I would, however, be interested in seeing you socially.”

That little addition might not seem like much, but as linguist Steven Pinker notes about a remarkable feature of human psychology, even the slightest veiling of what we really mean will allow people to pretend it meant something innocuous. The deniability “doesn’t have to be plausible, only possible,” Pinker explains in a paper. So, if Dr. McDreamy doesn’t want the romantic relationship you do, he can pretend you’re just suggesting it would be nice to bump into him at a gallery opening or something, not bump into him between your sheets. But before you do anything, you should accept that you may have misread the signals, and he may not be interested. Either way, you’ll need a new doctor, whom you can search for online — ideally, on your health plan site, not Match.com

 

Apartment 2B or not 2B   

I’m a single guy living in an apartment down the hall from two single girls. I find one very attractive, but the one I’m not interested in is clearly interested in me. She flirts with me overtly and keeps saying she and I should go for a drink. What I’d really like is to get something going with the other roommate.

— Double Trouble

Unfortunately, dropping in on the girls down the hall isn’t like visiting a frozen-yogurt shop: “I’m not crazy about the sample you offered; may I try the other flavor?” You’ve heard of The Bro Code — unwritten rules for how guys are supposed to look after their buds? There’s a female version; call it The Bra Code: Sistas before mistas, besties before testes. A girl will not date the guy her friend — especially her friend she lives with — has set her sights on. Worse yet, there’s a good chance that asking you out was something the hot one helped the other one plot. You can, of course, ask the hot one out, but unless the not-so-hot one falls desperately in love with some other guy, the hot one is unlikely to join you in anything sexier than an elevator ride to the lobby.

What you can take out of this is a reminder not to get too laser-focused on one particular girl. You should always be scanning the horizon for possibilities and have a few on deck so when one falls through, you can just shift over to the next. This should keep you from clinging desperately to lost causes, like by pretending you have an identical twin brother and trying to date both the hot and not-so-hot roommate at once. (No, you can’t just feign a stomachache and run back in wearing a different hat.)

© 2014, 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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