The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess


To leech according to her needs    

My roommate’s girlfriend is unemployed and just hangs around our place all week, even when he’s at work. (She has her own place but is never there.) She’s very wasteful with our utilities. Yesterday, after work, I found her in the living room watching TV with the air conditioning on full blast — even though she also had all the windows open and, for some reason, had turned on our gas fireplace! When I muttered something to my roommate about her kicking in for utilities, he retorted that my girlfriend isn’t paying any extra. Well, she is here a night or two a week, has a job, and doesn’t run up our electric bill. 


— Feeling Scammed

You need to establish a new house rule: “Residents and their guests can experience only one climate at a time.”

Your problem started with going into a roommate situation without rules — without a written document spelling out how things would work between you and how they’d work if something weren’t working. Signing a roommate contract (like this example from Nolo’s “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide”: might sound unnecessarily formal. However, it’s wise to do whenever you’re rooming with anything more animated than a cactus. Remember, to be human is to be annoying — like, for example, by letting another human move in and cause climate change in your living room.

The fair thing is to get Jackie Brownout to start forking over for the utilities — before it occurs to her to run the dryer all night because the white noise helps her sleep. But the fair thing isn’t always the smartest thing. Consider what this is costing you — and what it could cost you. Compare bills from the previous year to get an idea of how much she’s actually sending the bill up. No, putting every power source in the house on full blast isn’t free, but her usage probably doesn’t add more than $10 or $20 to your monthly bill. And no, it isn’t fair that you’re paying half of that. However, getting into this with your roommate might lead to your putting the $10 or so you’d be saving on moocher energy charges toward doughnuts for the movers you’d be paying hundreds of dollars to haul your stuff to storage until you could find your next apartment.

If you decide it would eat away at you too much to be paying for her, say something to your roommate, but in a mellow way, over a beer. Tell him you really like his girlfriend (because diplomacy, not truth, is life’s little lubricant). As far as you’re concerned, she’s welcome to stay over as much as she wants, but you’d like a new house policy: Girlfriends who stay over four or more days a week need to kick in for utilities. Stress that this applies to your girlfriend, as well, and add that the particular roommate, not the girlfriend, should be responsible for the payment. The last thing you need is to be going all collection agent on this woman — preferable as it might be to asking her to cut to the chase and heat the house by burning stacks of your money on the coffee table.


For whom the wind chimes toll       

This girl I’m dating is truly great — except for how she is into astrology, buys me crystals to improve my “energy,” and keeps sitting me down for tarot card readings. As we get more serious, I feel like telling her I don’t believe in any of this. But I think she actually believes in this stuff and would be hurt if I came clean.  

— Rationally Based

Somehow, people who find it perfectly reasonable to ask a deck of cards whether they should invest in a 401(k) will sneer at you for asking a mailbox for directions to the movie theater. The question is, as a guy who tries to live rationally, can you respect a woman who probably reads books like The Healing Power of Pebbles and How to Ask the Universe for a Pony? (Without respect, you have contempt, which researcher John Gottman finds is the number one killer of relationships.)

Figure out whether you can compartmentalize — focus on what you love and shrug off her planning her day based around whether she sees a sign in her toast. If you stay together, gently explain that you appreciate how sweet she is in wanting to help you but that you really don’t believe in all this stuff. Over time, if you let her see your thought process but don’t hammer her with it, she may come around to the merits of evidence-based beliefs. In the meantime, do your best to be polite when she introduces you to her relatives — all her relatives, ever. (Are you free for a séance Friday night?)

© 2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail ( Weekly radio show: Order Amy Alkon’s new book, “Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck” (St. Martin’s Press, June 3, 2014).

The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess



You printed a letter from a guy who doesn’t want to be a father and wanted to know how to be sure his girlfriend is on birth control. You said, “The single worst form of birth control is trusting that a woman … longing for a baby” is taking hers (with whether she’s ethical being a “mitigating factor”). But you forgot to tell him the magic word — abstinence! In addition to preventing pregnancy, it also guarantees that you won’t get STDs or suffer the physically or psychologically damaging effects of premarital sex. Also, where’d you get the idea that women are conniving to get a bun in the oven without informing their partner? Right, we’re all baby-hungry, unethical hopeful breeders. 


— Saved Myself  

I like to offer “Don’t have sex!” as a form of practical advice — usually just as I’m getting into my flying car.

Yes, abstaining from sex will help a person avoid producing offspring, getting STDs, or breaking a leg after somebody cheaps out on the home dungeon installation. But there’s a reason they call it a sex drive, not a sex parked in the garage. Also, the advice “Just don’t have sex!” is especially impractical for guys in their hornitoadinous early 20s like the guy who wrote that letter. Sure, he’ll just sit his 800-pound libido down for a little chat and then politely decline any opportunity to have sex as if he’d just been offered some questionable hors d’oeuvre. 

As for where I got the idea about (some) women “conniving to get a bun in the oven without informing their partner,” well, in email I’ve received from dismayed men paying child support to these women and from research by therapist Dr. Melinda Spohn. Spohn found that more than a third of the 400 women she surveyed at two community colleges had risked pregnancy — surreptitiously going without birth control or sporadically using it when they had sex with men with desirable qualities (like an apparent willingness to commit and good financial prospects).

On a positive note, it isn’t only men who are appalled by this behavior. A female reader who wanted a second child but whose husband wasn’t up for it wrote, “I can’t even remember how many people heard this and said ‘well, accidents happen,’ followed by a *wink wink.* Seriously, it’s disgusting! Even our family doctor said this! I’ve always been sure to make those people feel about two inches tall by saying that I would NEVER do that to my husband (and honestly, who wants a child this way?!).”

This woman’s ethics are the single best guarantee a man has that birth control will be used instead of dropped behind the bed. Meanwhile, many people will tell you they value ethics and then just cross their fingers and hope their partner has them. The thing to do is to make ethics a requirement, meaning looking for a partner to be OMG ethical!!! the way you look for them to be OMG hot!!! In other words, yes, a man who doesn’t want a child should practice abstinence — the practical, doable kind: abstaining from getting into bed with any woman until he’s observed that he has reason to trust her. (If he wants something loud, sticky and expensive in his life, he can buy a Ferrari and drive it over chewed gum.)


Leica woman scorned         

My girlfriend bought me a digital camera for my birthday. Unfortunately, the one she got me lacked some features I wanted, so I returned it to the store, got the camera I wanted, and paid the difference. When I told her this, I think she was offended. Did I screw up?


— Photo-Bombed

When people say about gift-giving “it’s the thought that counts,” they don’t mean the recipient’s thought, “Did you find this in the trash?”

Yes, you screwed up — not by ultimately getting the camera you need but by making the one she gave you disappear like a witness about to testify against a drug lord. Turning the gift your partner gave you into the gift you want should be a three-step process. First, there’s the effusing — no matter how uneffusive you feel: “Wow, bat excrement!” Then there’s the waiting. One day, maybe two days. And finally…”I just love my camera, honey. But there’s another one that has this feature I really need — this camera-nerd thing you couldn’t have known about. Would you come with me to check it out?” By keeping her involved, the camera you upgrade to becomes, essentially, Son of Camera that she gave you. By the way, that’s how you should start talking about your new camera, and fast, before you find yourself using it to take a series of forlorn all-by-myselfies to post on your soon-to-be-live Tinder profile.

© 2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail ( Weekly radio show: Order Amy Alkon’s new book, “Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck” (St. Martin’s Press, June 3, 2014).

The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess


Whoa is me         

Last year, after I split up with my girlfriend, the law firm I worked for went belly up. I haven’t been on a date all year. Friends try to set me up, and I keep giving excuses for why I can’t go, but the truth is, I’ve totally lost my nerve. I’d like to change that. Money isn’t the issue. I work here and there and still have severance pay left. But despite interviewing heavily, I have yet to land a full-time gig and feel kind of like a failure, and I don’t want to discuss that on dates.    

— Romantic Stage Fright

You lost your girlfriend and were thinking, “At least I have my job.” Then you lost your job and were thinking, “At least I have my confidence.” Whatever happens, don’t say, “At least I have my penis.”

After a series of big setbacks, it’s understandable that you’d feel most comfortable hiding under the bed. Unfortunately, you won’t get a whole lot of dates there unless you have a tiny tea set and are sexually attracted to mice. You likewise are unlikely to find your lost nerve under there, perhaps hiding out from creditors. But, like many people, where you go wrong is in thinking that you need to find your nerve to take action. You don’t. You just need to decide that being afraid to do something isn’t a good enough reason to avoid doing it.

Of course, you’ll do better on dates if you don’t arrive feeling like a cow patty in nice shoes. The good news is, you can give yourself a boost pretty easily — without standing in an open field during a storm and hoping to get struck by a bolt of confidence. A growing body of research finds that “walking the walk” (in your case, just making the body movements of the large and in charge) is actually transformative. For example, social psychologist Dana Carney had both men and women pose for just two minutes like fat-cat executives — feet on desk, hands behind head. These simple acts raised their testosterone (the dominance hormone) and made them more willing to take risks (a sign of confidence), and they reported feeling more, well, “Wolf of Wall Street” than “Chihuahua of Skid Row.”

In other words, when you have a date, you need to get to the place early and do a little bathroom-stall yoga. Ridiculous as it seems, a little powerbroker-cise should help you feel and act like your peer group is great white sharks instead of small brown smudges. And though your inclination is probably to shove all your negative thoughts about your job loss in some mental drawer, research by clinical psychologist James J. Gross finds that this tends to backfire, making you feel worse. Instead, try “cognitive reappraisal” — reframing your job loss so it works better for your mojo. This would just take emphasizing to yourself what you already know — that you’re jobless because of others’ bad business decisions and a tough economy, not because your lawyering skills rival those of a plastic fern.  

When you’re on the date, don’t worry about selling yourself. We tend to believe we can talk people into liking us, but we’re actually more likely to listen them into it. And by listen, I mean listening from the gut, not just nodding your head while trying to remember whether you left a load of underwear in your apartment building’s washing machine.
Obviously, the easiest way for you to feel better is to start working again, which would give you a sense of purpose.

The thing is, you don’t have to wait for somebody to hire you. Consider donating at least a few hours a week to provide free legal counsel to people in need. I explain in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck that we can happy ourselves up for, oh, a few weeks or a month by chasing happiness — buying a new car or a new set of boobs — but happiness with staying power comes from pursuing meaning, like by making the world a better place because you’re in it.

Making the world a better place has the side benefit of making it a better place for you to go on dates. Women look for men to show signs of generosity, and pro bono lawyering stories are way better than hoping she notices that you left a 24.6 percent tip. And ultimately, dates and job interviewers alike should find the natural excitement that comes out of “I’m helping an elderly widow save her home!” far sexier than your current conversation starter: “I like wearing a paper bag over my head and crying myself to sleep; what are your hobbies?”  

© 2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail ( Weekly radio show: Order Amy Alkon’s new book, “Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck” (St. Martin’s Press, June 3, 2014).


The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess


Beard-death experience        

This adorable, smart, funny guy I’m dating was clean-shaven when we first met, but for the past three weeks, he hasn’t shaved much. He has this really weird facial hair pattern (like patches on his cheeks that haven’t filled in well), and I don’t find it attractive. I didn’t know how to bring this up, so I mentioned it to my roommate, and she volunteered to “casually” mention it. So, last week when he and I were having drinks before going out, she popped into the room and said, “Hey, Brad … still growing that beard? I think you look a lot better clean-shaven.” He seemed put off, and we went out to dinner shortly afterward, but the whole evening felt a bit weird. And he still has this patchy facial hair thing going on.

— Mangy Situation

Maybe his facial hair is just scared. Like the groundhog, it came up, saw its shadow, and ducked, terrified, back into his face.

Nobody wants to be the one to tell a guy that his attempted sexy-man scruff is a ringer for a Hobbit’s feet or plant life struggling up after a nuclear winter. But as uncomfortable as saying something would have been for you, it had to be far more uncomfortable for him to have your roommate do it, especially right in front of you. As psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker points out in The Stuff of Thought, we all get that people say stuff behind our backs, but we can let it go unremarked — that is, if nobody knows that we know (that something was said about us). But, Pinker explains, once some disparagement becomes “mutual knowledge” — when others know that we know what was said — we lose face if we don’t do anything about it. And unfortunately, in this case, after your roommate said something, probably the only thing he could do to avoid looking like her puppetboy was to stubbornly avoid shaving that comb-over he’s been rocking on his face.

Let some time pass, and then tell him yourself, in a way that doesn’t come off like criticism. Pet his beard, and say you think he looks good that way but you love his skin and feeling his face is sexy. What he’ll hear: He’ll spend more time in bed with his chick if he spends more time in the bathroom with his Schick.


Pouring him a scold one         

I recently texted a girl I used to date about a year ago. I was going to be in her town, so I wrote something to the effect of “Hey, cutie … will be in your neighborhood Saturday. Want to get together for a drink?” I didn’t realize she had a new boyfriend, whom she was with when I texted. He saw the text and flipped out, as did she, calling me and accusing me of almost breaking up her relationship. I apologized, but she kept going on about it and made me feel really guilty. In retrospect, I’d like to know what I did that was so wrong.    

— Space Invader

It’s not like you said, “Hey, cutie, let’s get freaky … and if this is being read by a boyfriend, I’m just her grandma, and Freaky is my cat we need to pick up from the vet.”

The fact that her current boyfriend went all apey over your friendly drinks invitation isn’t reason to treat you like you waited till Game 7 of the World Series and sexted her on the Jumbotron. As for your apology, when a woman starts shrieking at you, it’s tempting to say you’re sorry first and then figure out what, if anything, you did wrong. But think about it: What could possibly be your error here? Failure to install the latest OS on your crystal ball? Ignoring that “check engine” light in your third eye?

If your text did “almost” break up her relationship, that’s on her — for making her personal electronic device a public one and for lacking the verbal chops to put an entirely clean message from you into perspective. As for putting her little explosion into perspective, think of it the way you would a conversation with the wild-eyed guy at the bus stop who claims he’s getting messages from the aliens in his dental work. (I’m guessing your response wouldn’t be running home to clear your lawn so they can use it as a landing pad.) Perhaps just view this incident as a cautionary tale — a reminder that your next girlfriend should have not only the capacity for reason but an interest in using her brain as more than a sort of highway rest area for her hair.  

© 2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail ( Weekly radio show: Order Amy Alkon’s new book, “Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck” (St. Martin’s Press, June 3, 2014).









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