The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess


Moby Dickhead       

In social situations, my boyfriend will often pretend to have read books I know he hasn’t. He doesn’t just fake it with some casual “Yeah, I read that.” He will try to say something deep and philosophical but can end up not making much sense. He’s too smart to need to do this. Is there something I can say to persuade him to stop?

— Embarrassed

Your boyfriend’s just lucky nobody’s suspected he’s lying about what he’s read and tried to trip him up — maybe with “It’s like Heathcliff wandering the moors searching for Cathy after she was abducted by aliens!” or “What a relief when Romeo rushed Juliet to the hospital and they pumped her stomach!”

Obviously, if you’re at the English department’s afternoon tea and you don’t know your Homer from your Homer Simpson, there’s a problem. But, the truth is, not every intelligent person is well-read. People show their intelligence in how they solve the problems life throws them. And actually, as psychologist Carol Dweck observes in Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, the people most likely to squander the intelligence they have are those who measure their self-worth through their intellectual performance — “(caring) so much about looking smart that they act dumb.” 

Dweck finds in her research that this thinking comes out of a “fixed mindset” — the self-improvement-stunting belief that intelligence and ability are set and not changeable, rather than what seems to be the case: that you can work to improve yourself (the “growth mindset”). With the growth mindset, you’re motivated to learn and grow, and failure is just a sign that you need to keep trying. For fixed-mindset people, success is about proving they’re already smart and talented, and the need to work to accomplish things is a sign of being dumb. Fixed-mindsetters actually have a dislike for hard work, which Dweck says makes sense, because if you think effort is for idiots, what else is there to do but avoid it?

Sure, your boyfriend could simply be lazy — wanting to look smart but thinking he’d take a shortcut getting there. But chances are, there’s more to it than that. Build him up — tell him you respect his mind, and then tell him you can’t bear to see him faking it. Explain Dweck’s thinking, and lay out her advice (from her most recent book, Mindset) for escaping the fixed mindset: First, listen for the fixed-mindset voice, and talk back to it with the growth mindset voice: “Hey, Self … you succeed by working to learn, not pretending you’ve got the Library of Alexandria in your baseball hat!” Next, take growth-mindset action: Risk admitting that you haven’t read something, and note how people shrug or maybe respect your honesty; they don’t get up on furniture and pelt you with old fruit. Finally, get reading — perhaps with a 15- to 20-page nightly quota — and enjoy the reward: having something meaningful to say instead of having to get by on a guess that The Catcher in the Rye is the coming-of-age story of a food inspector at a bread factory.

Getting their clause into him        

About once a month, one of my boyfriend’s two exes will write him a pretty substantive email, and he’ll write one back. Though he’s open about these emails (and I’ve seen that they aren’t romantic), I’m not comfortable with his remaining a big presence in their lives. How can I get him to stop?

— Anxious

There’s a certain kind of woman who can get away with giving a man a list of “undesirables” he cannot associate with — a woman whose job also involves knocking on his door at random to make him pee in a cup.

Assuming your relationship is more boyfriend/girlfriend than parolee/officer of the court, you don’t get to give another adult orders. The jealousy that compels you to want to is an evolved impulse — an internal alarm to help us protect ourselves from being cheated on. However, it’s sometimes a false alarm, triggered by insecurity. Chances are, that’s what has you referring to a once-a-month email as a “big presence” and failing to parse the difference between “I found them in bed together” and “I found them in Gmail together.” (Ooh, “Fifty Shades of Paragraphs.” Has her cat thrown up again yet?)

If your boyfriend has given you no reason to believe he’s violated anything more than the rules of grammar, you should probably focus on bolstering how you feel about you instead of how he’s failed to become the sworn enemy of his exes. In fact, you might even see it as a sign of good character that his relationships lead to friendships instead of flames — as in, his ex-girlfriends roasting marshmallows over the dying embers of his Xbox and Hugo Boss suits on the hood of his BMW.


© 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


Scoot force      

My husband’s been saving for a motorcycle, and I was excited about riding on the back, hanging on to him — sexy and fun! But then he came home with a Vespa, the little Italian scooter. It just seems so girly. The tiny wheels make it look like a toy, and he’s a big guy, so it looks like he’s borrowed a little kid’s bike. How can I get him to take it back?


— Disappointed 

If you aren’t European or a hipster married to another hipster, it’s a little dismaying when your husband’s new ride looks like it came in a pink package marked “Barbie doll sold separately.”

Men who ride Vespas and other scooters will tell you that they are secure enough in their masculinity that they don’t need their transportation to be all hairy-chested and gladiating. But the reality is, image matters, especially a wife’s image of her husband. And motorcycles are iconically manly and badass, while Vespas are … well, it’s the imagery of Hells Angels, “Easy Rider,” and “The Wild Bunch” versus the My Little Pony of ground transportation.

Your husband wasn’t wrong to want a Vespa. But he isn’t a bachelor anymore, so he shouldn’t be making major financial decisions like a guy who’s still eating cold cereal over a toilet. Not even when he’s spending his own money. It isn’t that he should ask your permission. (You’re his wife, not his mommy.) He just needs to remember that he’s in a partnership and act like it — consult you on major purchases and decisions and make sure you fully understand what he is (and, by extension, you are) getting into. Sometimes, you may not agree with some course of action, and he may still decide to go through with it. But asking for your feedback will at least make you feel respected and part of the process. And it’s essential in heading off problems — like being a big bruiser of a guy spending thousands on a vehicle sized for Italian slicksters who subsist on olive oil and cigarette smoke.

As “not his mommy,” you don’t get to tell him to trade in the horsiepower for horsepower. Instead, tell him there’s a problem, and lay it on the table for the two of you to take apart and solve together. This requires making compromise your collective goal (though this may be more successful in spirit than in practice). Can you, for example, think a little more, uh, expansively about masculinity? Realistically, maybe not. Would he consider returning the bike, or would that be too huge of a financial haircut? Or … is there some solution that works a bit for both of you, like his renting a bike on some weekends — the kind that looks like it runs on gas, not rainbows and unicorn farts?

At the very least, L’affaire Vespa could serve as a reminder to take a more partnered approach to both conflict resolution and impending major purchases — before you get all excited about his new sports car and he drives up with the sport package … in the mom jeans of motor vehicles, the minivan.


The awful poof        

A female friend set me up with one of her girlfriends, and we went for drinks. There was no love connection, though there was some light kissing afterward (for maybe 30 seconds). Neither of us reached out to the other post-date. Well, my friend just yelled at me for “ghosting out” on her friend. Do I really need to “break up” with somebody after one date?

— Chastised

This friend’s notion of what you owe somebody after the first date verges on expecting you to march up to strangers in the supermarket and announce, “I’ve decided that I’m just not that into you.”

She’s accusing you of “ghosting,” which describes disappearing on somebody you’ve been dating or in a relationship with without so much as a text goodbye. Being ghosted is humiliating; it’s the statement without the statement that you not only have no value but have ceased to exist.

However, in order to ghost someone, there needs to be a relationship of sorts and some expectation you’d be seeing each other again, which, on the first date, you really can’t have. Sure, some kindly worded goodbye is in order if you have sex on the first date or if your date texts, calls or emails you. But otherwise, there’s no obligation for closure after the first date, because, well, nothing was really opened yet. It’s essentially the dating version of those free samples at the supermarket. After you take that toothpick of beef sate, the lady in the white apron and the paper hat just smiles and says, “Enjoy!”; she doesn’t chase you through the frozen foods section, demanding to know whether you’re going to take the whole cow.

© 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


Along Came Polygraph      

I’m an aspiring comedian — seriously aspiring — so I’m out most nights doing stand-up. My girlfriend gets upset about all the time I put into this and expects my nights off to be spent with her. Recently, I was going to an open mic, when a friend called and invited me to a birthday party. I ended up blowing off stand-up for the party, but later, my girlfriend asked me how stand-up went and I just said “fine.” I don’t normally lie, but looking back, I was just tired and not up for a drawn-out conversation. The next morning, I said something about the party, and she realized that I’d lied. Now she is upset and says that if I’d lie about something so insignificant, maybe I’m lying about bigger things.

— Stand-up Guy 

You’re an aspiring comedian but a failed sociopath — telling a lie about your whereabouts at night but going all “whoopsy” about maintaining it the morning after. On the success-in-crime scale, this is like getting picked up by the cops for bank robbery — because the bank manager spotted you making off with that pen on a chain.  

Still, yours was not a white lie — a lie to spare another person’s feelings — but more of a beige lie: a lie to spare your own feelings (allowing you to get into bed instead of into a three-hour parole hearing). Obviously, lies are not Miracle-Gro for a relationship. Even small lies gnaw away at trust and can destroy your bond. But seeing as there’s no evidence you’re a serial liar, what’s important is why you told this lie. Maybe you’re generally conflict-avoidant. But chances are, you’re specifically conflict-avoidant — comedy conflict-avoidant — probably because your girlfriend sees your devotion to your comedy as a crime against the relationship.

This is probably what led her to believe that all of your non-comedy nights belong to her — which amounts to your being an indentured boyfriend, working off all your stand-up nights with romantic evenings out. When you love somebody, no, spending time with them isn’t the worst thing in the world. But you also need time to goof off and be a person — to cut out of comedy some night to hang with a friend at a party or just sit in your underwear and stare at the UPC label on a can of beer.

As you’ve seen, avoiding conflict doesn’t make it go away; it just goes away and sharpens its fangs. You and your girlfriend need to discuss whether she’s truly on board with your doing comedy and all that entails, including your need for some unapproved lone fun. If, for her, this isn’t so much about time as it is about feeling important to you, you could pledge to be extra-affectionate when you’re together — hug her, kiss her, sweetie-talk her — and set aside a designated day every week to spend together (as a number of comedy couples do). If she can opt for quality over quantity, you should be able to retire from your brief career as a failed liar — or at least put lying in its proper place: getting out of your driveway in the morning without starting a blood feud with the neighbor and keeping holiday dinners with the family from ending with somebody’s face pressed between the plates of the George Foreman grill.


Shrieking Beauty        

Our neighborhood bar started having karaoke night on weekends, and my wife always wants to go and sing. I love her, and she’s a great person, but she’s an absolutely terrible singer, and I’m embarrassed for her (and a little for myself) every time she gets up there and belts one out. Does love mean being honest with your wife about her singing voice?

— Broken Eardrums

Your wife is one of the few karaoke singers who manages to surprise the audience — making people turn around to see whether someone’s singing “Blackbird” or being pecked to death by one. This actually isn’t a bad thing. “Karaoke” is Japanese for “y’all better be drunk, because I’m trying my luck at Donna Summer.” Great karaoke isn’t about doing it right; it’s about doing it proud. So you show your love for your wife by whooping up the audience — clapping and cheering as she misses all the high notes (singing from the heart but with the vocal stylings of a diseased spleen). While you’re at it, consider yourself lucky. People with a healthy sense of confidence make the best relationship partners — if somewhat costlier ones, like when you need to get your house professionally soundproofed so the neighbors will stop reporting you for animal cruelty. Interestingly, the satanic rituals involving a flock of chickens and a nail gun always seem to take place when your wife is in the shower.

© 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


Scold rush      

I try to be direct, but my girlfriend often sees this as meanness. For example, when we’re out to dinner, she sometimes takes forever to order when the server is standing right there. I’ll call her out on this — tell her she was rude to keep the guy waiting. Personally, I think it’s unhealthy in the long run to keep quiet about issues, but my girlfriend gets upset whenever I give her constructive criticism. How can I convince her that she’s being too sensitive?

— Honest 

There are times when directness is best. Like if you’re an air traffic controller. What’s important is not that you make the pilot feel supported in his life goals but that he brings the plane to a stop on the runway instead of in some lady’s pool.

But, in many non-emergency situations, being direct — like bluntly criticizing someone — is about as effective as throwing somebody a fruit basket instead of a life preserver when they’re drowning. The problem, as I explain in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, is that “criticizing people doesn’t make them change; it makes them want to clobber you.” Because of a lack of software updates to our body’s ancient fight-or-flight system, we respond to a verbal attack with the same supercharged biochemical ammo we would if we were attacked by some sharp-fanged thing looking to turn our left eyeball into an after-dinner mint.

You are right, by the way; your restaurant table shouldn’t start to seem like a bus stop for the waitstaff because your girlfriend’s applying Bayes’ theorem to whether she’d prefer the chicken to the pasta. But is your ultimate goal hammering her with how right you are or having a relationship? If it’s a relationship you’re after, you need to keep her fight-or-flight defensiveness from whirring into action by transforming accusations (like “You’re rude!”) into information (like reasons the term “waiting” shouldn’t be taken literally). For example, you could say, “Hey, I know you love good food and don’t want to make a bad choice at dinner. But I was thinking that when the server waits for a while at our table, he may feel we don’t respect his time, and other customers may feel neglected and leave him a crappy tip.”

By asking her to sympathize with the waiter instead of telling her what a jerk she’s been, you help her stay cool enough in the head to consider potential solutions — like doing a little online menu recon before hitting the restaurant. If you both start sending criticisms up for processing to the kindness and tact department, you could get in the habit of “accepting influence” from each other — listening to each other and becoming better individually and together — a practice marriage researcher John Gottman sees in the happiest, most stable relationships. Think of this as living the dream — the one where your relationship is a safe place to expose the real you (as opposed to that dream where you’re back in 10th grade standing naked in front of the school assembly just as your mom starts reading your diary over the PA).  


Zero Dark Flirty        

A female “friend” of my boyfriend’s is always leaving flirty comments on his Facebook page, and it’s making me upset and worried. He doesn’t really respond, but because he’s a guy with a girlfriend, it seems that the considerate thing for him to do would be to tell her to cool it. How can I bring this up to him in a sane way?

— Disturbed

Guys also say “Hello, beautiful!” to the 200-year-old grocery store cashier, and probably not because they’re angling for her to send a selfie of how she looks without her compression hose. What keeps a guy from being all “Let’s blow this timeline item and go to a motel” is whether he’s ethical and into the relationship he has. If that doesn’t describe your boyfriend, why are you still with him? If it does, instead of saying, “Hey! People are socializing with you on a website designed for socializing!” let on that you’re feeling a little worried, like by gently remarking, “That friend of yours sure is flirty” (or whatever it takes to get your worry across). Rather than trying to control him, which leads a person to rebel, you’re asking for reassurance, which should lead him to put his arms around you and explain why you have nothing to worry about. This, in turn, should get the two of you back to using Facebook as it was intended — as a place to bring people together to view videos of cats and police brutality.

© 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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