The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess


The agony of delete      

I just had the humiliating experience of being dumped via email. I’d been seeing the guy for three months. Just days before, we had a romantic date, and he kept saying things like “We’re so good together” and was very lovey-dovey. In the email, he said he realized that we aren’t compatible, because I’m too driven and career-focused and he needs a more traditional woman. Why did he never mention this before? How does a guy who was very affectionate for months suddenly take to the computer to send you a quick note that it’s over? I’m so hurt and confused by how he handled this.

— Devastated  

Unfortunately, personal disasters like getting dumped get none of the funding and attention of natural disasters. There’s no early warning system to make that annoying sound on your TV, and FEMA doesn’t show up the day after with pallets of Kleenex and vodka.  

Making matters worse, this guy didn’t just dump you; he robo-dumped you. It’s OK to take to the Internet to break up with your cable company or somebody you’ve gone out with a few times. But once you have a relationship with a person, you owe it to them to sit down with them and tell them it’s over; you don’t get to shove your dirty work off on their phone, their computer or their vacuum cleaner.

Being willing to put yourself in misery’s way and break up face to face preserves the other person’s dignity — their feeling that they have value. “Subj: we r thru,” on the other hand, suggests that they don’t matter; their feelings don’t matter; all that matters is discarding them in the most expedient way. The pre-Internet equivalent would be breaking up via postcard — maybe “Scenic Lake Minnetonka: Wish You Were Here!” but with the “Here!” crossed out and replaced with “Beer!”

As for how a guy can be all snookieloviepoo one day and all “go away, career lady” the next, chances are, he fell in love — with the feeling of being in love. Early on, with all the sexytime hormones rushing, it’s easy to forget to step back and do the “Hey, wonder whether we’re compatible” check. Eventually, the hormone high wears off, and incompatibilities get highlighted instead of blurred. It’s normal to feel guilty for not noting them sooner. But it’s a stew of guilt and bad character that has a guy taking the e-weenie way out — telling you it’s over with a bonus link at the bottom informing you that there’s never been a better time to enlarge your penis.

When life gives you a wedgie, you can mitigate the hurt by reframing it as a protective experience — one that keeps you from falling into a similar hole in the future. Maybe you can use this to be mindful of asking questions, early on, about the kind of lifestyle and temperament a guy’s most comfortable with, which could help you spot the red flags instead of using them as bedsheets. Weeding out the wrong guys fast will keep you on track to finding the right one — the man who wants a woman who’s breaking through the glass ceiling instead of just getting up on a stepstool and Windexing it.


Louvre, Actually       

I’m really into this beautiful, funny girl I’ve been dating for three weeks. I think she likes me, but my gut says she’s pulling away a little. If this fizzles, I’ll be heartbroken. She’s leaving on a 10-day business trip to Europe in two days. Should I get her a gift or a card to let her know I’m really into her (and to not fall in love with any European dudes while she’s away)?

— Worried

What kind of gift were you thinking of giving her — the duct tape you’d use to strap her to a chair in your den? When somebody you’re interested in seems to be backing away, it’s natural to want to chase them. It’s also the most counterproductive thing you could do. (You look desperate, and they look for doorways to hide in.) Your best bet is to remain present but be minimal about it, like by texting her on the morning she leaves, “Hey, have a safe trip and a great time.” While she’s away, keep seriously busy, both to stay OK in the head and so, when you do see her, you won’t come off like you spent 10 days in your bunk bed drawing sparkly hearts in a notebook with her name on the cover. Upon her return, wait at least a few days, and then ask her out. Give her the space to miss you and she just might do that, and you just might find yourself showing her the American version of “if the gondola’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’.”

© 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


Knight Terrors      

I’m a woman in my early 30s. I was one of the employees who got laid off after my employer lost a big account. I’ve found a new job, but it’s not on my career path and it pays terribly. Still, it’s a job and it pays. I live with my boyfriend, and we’ve always split the expenses, but he’s trying to persuade me to keep looking for something better and to let him pay the bills until I find it. He keeps saying he’s “happy to do that,” but I just can’t stomach it. I’ve always supported myself and taken pride in not being the sort of woman who sponges off a man, and I’m not ready to start now.

— Fiercely Independent  

If only giving you a hand financially worked like giving medicine to a dog, then your boyfriend could just grind up some money and sneak it into your food.

The guy gets that you’re in a relationship, not a tiny little welfare state. He’s offering to help you not because he thinks you can’t manage by yourself but because he thinks you shouldn’t have to. That’s what being in a relationship means — two coming together as one, not one going it alone while the other one waits in the parking lot.

Though being “fiercely independent” is great if you’re the lone survivor of a shipwreck or your car swerves off a lonely mountain road and you need to eat the passenger seat to survive, if spurning your boyfriend’s help is any sort of a pattern, it’s probably hurting your relationship. By refusing to show the vulnerability it takes to accept help, you keep the relationship on a “So, what’s for dinner?” level emotionally and tell your boyfriend he isn’t really needed. In time, this should lead him to the obvious question: “Well then, why am I still here?”

Sometimes, aggressive self-reliance is really fear in a Wonder Woman suit. Our “attachment” style — our way of relating to those close to us — traces back to our mother’s (or other primary caregiver’s) responsiveness to our needs as infants. If you could count on her to soothe you when you were distressed, you end up “securely attached,” meaning you have a strong psychological base and feel comfortable relying on others. If, however, she was unavailable or rejecting, you become “avoidantly attached” and develop a habit of self-protective distancing. (“Can’t count on anybody” becomes “Don’t need nobody.”)

The good news is, even if Mommy was the next best thing to an ice floe, there’s no need to resign yourself to the effects of that. Research finds that a loving partner can help you break out of avoidant attachment by continually behaving in supportive ways that challenge your belief that you can’t count on anybody. You, in turn, need to risk revealing your emotions and needs and trusting that your boyfriend will be there for you — perhaps starting with accepting his offer of a financial cushion. Over time, as you see that you actually can rely on him, you should develop a more secure foundation — and come to understand that true strength involves being confident that you can walk tall but sometimes being OK with curling up in a fetal position tall.

You’ve got tail       

I hit it off with a woman on an online dating site, and she showed up at the bar for our date with an unruly Chihuahua in her handbag. She acted like it was no big deal at all, but she had to hold her purse close to her to keep the dog calm, and the server eventually saw it, so we had to leave. I really liked her initially, but I thought her bringing a pet on a date was really rude. A friend said that the purse dog thing is becoming commonplace and that I shouldn’t nix her because of it.

— Irked

People usually want the howling and scratching to come after the date. Unless you’re meeting at a dog park, it’s no more OK to show up with your dog on the first date than it is to bring your cow, your lobster, or some 3-year-old you happened to find wandering around the mall. This woman was sending you a message about the things she has little interest in: your feelings, whether the bar gets fined by the health department, and the point of a date — for two people to focus on each other rather than on distracting the server from a growling purse. So, yes, you absolutely should nix her — before she realizes that someone’s going to have to curl up on the floor beside the bed. (If you’re a good boy about it, she’ll throw you your favorite squeaky toy a few times before it’s lights out.)

© 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


Will onesies never cease?      

My married friend just had a baby and posts what’s essentially the same “Look how cuuute!” shot on Facebook several times daily. Beyond finding this annoyingly boring, I’m 32 and unhappily single, and seeing all of her blissful pix is making me envious and resentful. Is it wrong to secretly block her photos? I feel it would be better for our friendship.


— Baby On Overboard

A lot of people use Facebook to announce their accomplishments: “I became CEO of the company!” “I got into Juilliard!” And then there’s your friend: “We had sex without birth control, and look at what happened!”

Of course, the fledgling CEO typically posts the good news once; there aren’t hourly selfies: “Here I am teething on my new desk!” “Here I am spitting up on the sales director!” And yes, like many new parents, your friend’s excitement may have led her to misplace her “Don’t be boring!” filter. But as you’re feeling bliss-bombed, you might keep in mind that she’s sharing only the cute moments — her mini-vacations from the screaming and the sleeplessness, going online at 3 a.m. to play “Match That Rash,” and the endless analysis of the cut, color and clarity of baby diamonds —  otherwise known as poo. (If a new mom’s actual reality were on parade, Facebook would be renamed Buttbook.)

Sympathizing with your friend (and even working up to feeling happy for her) is actually in your self-interest. In The How of Happiness, social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky wisely notes: “You can’t be envious and happy at the same time.” Though we rather automatically compare ourselves with others, Lyubomirsky’s research finds that the happiest people aren’t weighed down by others’ achievements; they take pleasure in others’ successes and appear to judge themselves by their own internal standards. Unhappy people, on the other hand, feel deflated by their peers’ accomplishments and relieved about their failures. They tend to be very focused on how much better others are doing, which causes them to feel “chronically vulnerable, threatened, and insecure.”  

To become a happier person, start acting like one — expressing generosity of spirit. Lyubomirsky’s research finds that one of the most effective ways to be meaningfully happier is to do kind acts for others. So, instead of blocking your friend, try a counterintuitive approach: Block out time to spend with her. Go over there, maybe fold a towel and put away a couple of dishes, and treat her to an interaction that doesn’t end with somebody chewing on her nipple.

As long as you’re in the generosity of spirit aisle, pick some up for yourself. Remind yourself that finding a partner is hard for most people. Get in the habit of taking stock of what’s good in your life, and think of constructive ways to get closer to what you want. Replacing your sneery mindset with a more upbeat outlook should have you radiating the sort of positive energy that draws people — including single male people — to you. Keep that up and you should eventually find yourself married, pregnant, and the envy of every woman whose dream it is to throw up violently every morning but still look like that girl who turned into a giant blueberry in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.


Take a toad off       

I’m a single woman who likes hiking, and I agreed to let a male friend set me up with his hiking-loving buddy — and then he showed me his picture. I was not at all attracted. I didn’t want to seem shallow (though I guess I am), so I told him to give me his info, but I never reached out. My friend keeps asking whether the guy should call me. Is it rude to say I’m not interested based on looks alone?

— No, Thanks

People who say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover won’t be ending their Saturday night dodging the book’s make-out attempts on their front porch. Sure, it’s possible that this guy’s photo doesn’t entirely capture how he looks face to face. But photos are not cave drawings. If you aren’t attracted to skinny blond guys, seeing a particular skinny blond guy in person is unlikely to change that. And turning down a date with a man you aren’t attracted to isn’t “shallow”; it’s the kind thing to do — basically breaking up before the first date instead of after he’s gotten attached to you. Doing this doesn’t require the whole cruel truth, just enough of the truth — like “not really my type” — to send him on his way. Communicate that to your mutual friend and you’ll free Hiker Guy up to focus on women he might have a chance with and free yourself up to find a man who can make your heart race — without chasing you up and down the trails with an ax.”

© 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


Fasten your Bible belt      

My boyfriend and I are spending Christmas with his family. I like them and get along well with them. However, they’re very religious, and he wants me to join them in going to holiday church services. I grew up secular in a conservative town, and because of all I went through, I developed a deep distaste for religion. His family knows I’m an atheist but doesn’t know the extent of my aversion to religion. I explained to my boyfriend that the idea of sitting through church and going through the motions, given how I feel about religion, is downright upsetting to me. Though he’s no longer religious, he doesn’t share my aversion, and he insists I go out of respect for him and his family. Should I just go and grin and bear it as a favor to him?

— I’m (Not) A Believer

It’s Jesus’ birthday, but seeing as you guys aren’t that close, you figured he wouldn’t mind if you skipped it.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time religion has caused tension in the world. And sure, there’s something to be said for doing things you aren’t exactly into to please your partner. However, going to somebody’s religious service as an atheist who’s seriously upset by religion isn’t quite the same as “grinning and bearing it” at the opera. You probably aren’t opposed to Verdi on principle, and it’s unlikely to call up childhood memories like “My mommy says your mommy is in bed with the devil” and fun neighborhood games like “Burn The Little Heathen At The Stake.”

The problem started when your boyfriend decided that you just had to go and used the “respect!” argument to try to guilt you into giving in. This is low-blow, crush-the-competition arguing. (What can you even counter with — “Nah, I don’t want to show respect for your parents!”?) Of course, when two people partner up, there will always be disagreements. But in a relationship, winning really isn’t everything. Having a difference of opinion without trying to do to your partner what Hitler did to Poland, that’s everything.


We can understand this intellectually. The problem is, we’re all essentially large, bratty children. We want what we want when we want it, and we want Miss Perkins to turn around so we can hit little Jason over the head with a toy truck until he gives it to us. Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow that our instinctive emotional system is our brain’s first responder — taking over long before our rational system (the janitor that cleans up after our impulses) even decides to get out of bed. So opting for a more adult approach to disagreements requires preplanning — sitting down with your partner before you’re in conflict mode and making a pact to fight not to win but to understand where the other person’s coming from.

When you find yourselves at odds, instead of hammering each other with what you want, explain why you want it; lay out the emotions behind it. Focusing on each other’s feelings — truly focusing, not just pretending to listen until you can get back to selling your points — should lead you to be moved by each other’s fears or distress. This, in turn, should inspire a more compassionate and constructive response. For example, if instead of telling you “You have to go with us to church!” your boyfriend says something like “I just want my family to like you,” his push to get you into a pew sounds more like something he’s trying to do for you than to you. This allows you to respond lovingly to him, reassuring him that his family already likes you (despite not quite understanding your blasé attitude toward burning in hell for all eternity).

For this mode of conflict management to work, you have to accept that some differences just can’t be bridged. Still, discussing them in a way that makes you both feel respected and understood should at least leave you feeling good about each other and the relationship. In this situation, the reality is, your being a nonbeliever could ultimately be a big problem for his parents. But you show your respect by acting respectful to them — maybe welcoming them back from Mass with a punchbowl of your famous eggnog — not by disrespecting your own beliefs and going to church “just this once,” which sets a bad precedent. If all goes well, they’ll just accept your choices. Otherwise, you may have to resign yourself to spending Christmas week in bed — tied to it, while Granny and the dog assist the priest who’s performing the exorcism on you.

© 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


Heavy meddle     

Is it OK to keep your income a secret from someone you’re dating? I recently started seeing a girl I work with (at an advertising company). She believes women at our company get paid less on average, and I suspect she’s right. Yesterday she came right out and asked me how much I make. I’m pretty sure I’m the highest-paid person on our team, but her question made me really uncomfortable, and I told her I make a lot less than I actually do. I felt bad lying to a woman I could get serious with, but I don’t want her or other co-workers knowing my salary.

— Johnny Paycheck Privacy

It’s normal to keep some personal information secret from the person you’re dating — like your exact income or the fact that you belt out Lynyrd Skynyrd in the car every day on your way to work.

Unfortunately, your girlfriend decided it was time to bridge the gap between conversation and colonoscopy. She snookered you into going along by asking you point-blank how much you make. This is really rude — on the level of yelling across the office, “Hey, Steve, ya still got that weird rash on your balls?” Because of that, it catches a person off guard, leading to a reaction like yours — stammering out an answer, but not the one the prying person actually deserves: some version of “Up your butt with a coconut.”

Maybe she doesn’t believe you’re entitled to boundaries in a relationship, or maybe she decided she could erase yours for a good cause. And sure, you, like most people, probably want the person you’re with to really know you. But really knowing the person you’re dating means understanding their hopes and dreams, not having the same information you’d get if you duct-taped yourself to the awning of the ATM just before they deposited their paycheck.

Beyond one of the biggest problems with lying — the tendency to get caught — by not standing up for your right to keep select areas of your life private, you’re paving the way for future info-hooverings. To dial back your privacy settings, tell her you only revealed your salary because you were so unprepared for her to ask about it. Request that she keep a lid on it, and let her know the boundaries that work for you — like that the woman in your life has a right to know how much you make when you’re sharing a checking account, not a cubicle.

You don’t have to turn your pay stub drawer into a petting zoo to show her you care about her concerns. You could offer to help her come up with tactics for negotiating a raise. Keep in mind that research shows that women tend to take the salary, raises, and opportunities they’re offered instead of trying to negotiate for more. A book you might get her is Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Finally, prepare yourself for being put on the spot by her or anyone with what I call “The Power of Not Right Now” — recognizing that you can decline to answer a person’s question right then and there (perhaps with the exception of inquiries like “You gonna give me your wallet, or do I have to gut you with this rusty screwdriver?”).


Curl, interrupted         

The girl I’m dating wears hair extensions, and feeling them creeps me out. She’s very pretty, and her hair is lovely without the extensions. Can I tell her they make me uncomfortable?

— Mr. Natural

When you’re running your hand through your girlfriend’s hair and a bunch comes out in your palm, it can be hard to keep straight whether you’re making out or snaking the shower drain.

Your girlfriend joins an increasing number of women in planting non-native foliage in her hairgarden, probably because men tend to be attracted to long, lush hair. It’s actually an evolutionary sign of good health. (Hair suffers when a person eats poorly or has a disease.) Because complaints are most productive when reconstituted as compliments, start by telling your girlfriend she’s a natural beauty (as opposed to “If I wanted a girlfriend with interchangeable hair, I’d date Mrs. Potato Head”). Add that you’d love to run your hands through her real hair, and ask whether she’d consider going without the extensions. If she agrees, be sure you effuse when she’s hair naturelle so she’s inspired to keep it up. All in all, a little mystery is a good thing in a relationship, but it’s best if you’re wondering whether your girlfriend got her pretty hair from her mother and not suspecting she hired somebody to take a big scissors to Seabiscuit’s tail.

© 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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