The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess



All of meh        

I’m a 30-something woman, and my best friend is a guy. We talk and text day and night, and I truly adore him. All our friends think we should be dating, but I don’t feel sexually attracted to him. I agree that we’d otherwise make a perfect couple. Can chemistry grow or be built? 

— Bestie

There’s no such thing as a one-night friendship, and for good reason — because friendship is based on trust, fondness and mutual respect, not on how the other person’s butt fills out a pair of pants.

And though you might love your friend as a human being, loving him as something more won’t work unless you also feel a little short of breath when you see him bend over. Unfortunately, this isn’t a feeling you can practice and get better at like the clarinet. Who you have the hots for is partly borne of history, like when a guy’s lip curl pings up your tween longing for the older bad boy next door. There are also some evolved “human universals” at play in attraction, like how women across cultures tend to prefer a man who’s taller than they are. And even your immune system seems to have a say. Research by Switzerland’s Claus Wedekind and others suggests we evolved to be attracted to the scent of a partner with an immune system dissimilar to our own — one that would combine forces with ours to make a baby with a broad set of defenses against infection and disease.

Though you (and others aspiring to be attracted to somebody they’re fond of) surely mean well, you can’t give sexual bonus points to somebody for being a good person. It’s actually cruel to get romantic with somebody you aren’t attracted to, and biology doesn’t help matters. The hormone-driven heat of the naked and new is easily mistaken for attraction, but it’s actually just a temporary biochemical Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Before long, your newly beloved will be about as appealing a sex partner as your desk lamp, and you’ll be mulling over whether you’d rather get it on or snip off a few of your toes with rusty bolt cutters.

Ask yourself something: Why do you have to be all “let’s take this to the next level” anyway? Romantic partners often crow about the wonderfulness of their relationship by saying they’re “best friends.” You already have that. And frankly, platonic has its benefits, like how there’s no canceling plans because it’s “that time of the month” or you accidentally dyed your hair the color of Bozo’s ugly shoes. And ultimately, two people are far more likely to “grow old together” if they aren’t the sort of best friends who have sex, which comes with all sorts of risks and complications. (Note that reality TV shows have titles like Wives With Knives and not Best Friends Chasing Each Other With Hatchets, and the detective on The First 48 never says, “Yeah, whenever somebody dies of suspicious causes, the first one we look at is the BFF.”)

I would dye for you          

My new boyfriend asked me to dye my ashy blonde hair dark. I think it would be fun to go brunette, but it seems rather unfeminist to do it for him. The bigger problem is that I recently stumbled across some photos of his ex-girlfriend of eight years, a brunette. Should I be concerned that he’s still into her and I’m just a stand-in?  

— Wigging

Sure, a romantic partner can go too far in making appearance-related requests, like by asking you to have a new set of breasts bolted on or to wear a ski mask to the liquor store. But the reality is, we all transform ourselves to be more physically appealing to romantic partners and others. It’s the reason for Rogaine, lipstick, and those control-top pantyhose that make you feel like someone’s giving your intestines an all-day mammogram. And here’s a man you want to want you. Why would fulfilling this request — one you deem “fun” — be a bad thing? Yes, there is the question of whether he’s asking this because he thinks you’d look hot as a brunette or because you’d look like the hot brunette he dated before. But there’s a simple way to figure that out, and it’s calmly (and non-prosecutorially) asking him about this hair color preference, as well as what he sees in you (lookswise and otherwise). Keep asking until you either are satisfied with his answers or — sadly — realize that this request is just a prelude to other requests. (Really, all you’d have to do is a few pages of paperwork to legally change your name, saving him the pain and expense of getting that “Melanie” tattoo lasered off his “special place.”)

© 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 delete me       

I’m trying to get over my ex, but I’m constantly checking his Twitter and Facebook pages, and I get really upset. I’ll see pix of women or see that he’s gone to some event and wonder whether he met anyone there. It’s crazy-making, but I can’t seem to stop looking.

— Unhinged 

You know you’ll feel bad when you check his Facebook and Twitter, yet you keep doing it. This is the social media version of being the busty friend character in the horror movie — the one who says, “I hear creepy reptilian hissing coming from the cellar. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I’ll just rub my large breasts with raw hamburger and go down there with this flickering flashlight to check.”

Unless intelligence tests have revealed you to have an IQ rivaling that of Jell-O, you’re repeating this misery-making behavior because you, like the rest of us, are prone to fall into automatic strings of behavior we call habits. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that “a habit is a choice we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing.” Research finds that every habit has three components, which Duhigg calls the CUE (a feeling that triggers behavior), the ROUTINE (the behavior itself), and the REWARD (some sort of payoff that tells your brain, “Oh, yeah, let’s totally do that again”).

You’re probably picturing yourself at 80, with an elderly monkey on your back, still frantically checking Facebook for signs your ex-boyfriend’s shifted position in the last 30 seconds. But Duhigg emphasizes that you can break a habit. You do this by swapping out the middle step, the routine (compulsively clicking into your ex’s social media accounts). To understand what to replace it with, check in with yourself at the moment the urge strikes and figure out the “why” — what reward you’re going after, what need you’re trying to fill. Maybe you’re lonely and longing to feel connected. Or maybe you’re going for a hit of intensity. Intense feelings are called “arousal” in psychology and can be positive or negative. Either leads to feeling stimulated and alive (though sometimes alive and pretty miserable).

Next, you need a plan — a substitute routine to slip in whenever the impulse to cyber-stalk him strikes. This replacement routine is especially important because a “negative goal” — not doing something — is way harder than doing something different. So, if it’s connection you’re longing for, call a friend or go impede a co-worker’s productivity. If you’re an intensity junkie, watch a clip from a slasher movie or maybe rappel to your car instead of taking the elevator.

Be prepared for temptation to gnaw at you, especially if you’re tired or hungry (when willpower is at its wimpiest). Make it harder for yourself to cheat by mailing your phone to a faraway friend and burying your modem in the backyard — or at least blocking the guy on social media and maybe installing a program on your computer like Freedom (, which prevents you from getting on the Internet. When the going gets tough, remind yourself that time heals most wounds, and it should do the job on yours — as soon as you stop picking that 140-character scab every 10 minutes.  sir-veillance iminthebushes


Leave of absinthe          

I drank too much mystery punch at an office party last week and confessed my unrequited crush to a co-worker. He thanked me and said he was “flattered.” I was mortified and now feel really uncomfortable at the office. How can I fix this?  


My boyfriend, whose favorite self-help book is The Godfather, had this helpful suggestion: “Hire a hit man and have the guy clipped.” Unfortunately, this advice violates my rule of not solving people’s problems by giving them bigger problems, like a first-degree murder charge. Instead, inject a little perspective. OK, you spewed at the party, but now, back at the office, your thoughts aren’t running across your forehead, CNN news-ticker-style: “I’m in love with you. You’re so hot. I love your tie. Marry me.”

To make yesterday’s drunken blurtation today’s “I said no such thing,” align how you act with the message you want to send. This starts with realigning your head. Reframe what happened. Tell yourself that it was gutsy to put yourself out there. Next, tell yourself that you accept that he’s not interested. Repeat until these notions sink in. If you use these thoughts to avoid acting uncomfortable around him — no look of sweaty shame, no tight smile at the copier — he’ll have no reason to be uncomfortable around you. It’s like giving yourself a reset — that is, until you drink too much at lunch and he finds your Post-it on his computer: “I still wanna have your babies. Don’t forget!”

© 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


The company you keep away       

I’ve got an intense attraction to this musician I’ve been dating for four months. He’s on the road a lot, plus he’s new to the city and recently out of a relationship. He says he’s not ready to get serious now and just told me he wants us to be non-monogamous. The more I try to get close the more he pulls away. My girlfriends told me to stop chasing him and be much less available. I tried being less present, which, to my surprise, made him miss me and be more attentive. I’m disgusted at the need for manipulative game playing. How much longer do I need to keep this up?

— Hate Games 

There are times it makes sense to chase a man, like if he’s wearing Lycra knickers and making a dash for the end zone or he’s just run out of your house with your TV.

However, chasing a man is an especially bad strategy when you’re looking for love. The reason for this goes back millions of years and comes down to what anthropologists call “parental investment” and how biology sticks women with the lion’s share of it. As I’ve explained here from time to time, before the invention of reliable birth control, a single romp in the bushes could leave a woman with a hungry kid to haul around and feed. So women evolved to be the choosier sex — to cross their legs until the man vying to be their sex partner showed he’d be likely to stick around to provide for any ensuing Neander-browed children.  

Men, in turn, coevolved to expect this choosiness from women. And though we’re living in modern times, we’ve got some pretty antique psychology still driving us, so when a man today encounters a woman who seems easy to have, he tends to get the message that she isn’t worth having. This may seem awful and unfair, but it’s just how things are. So lamenting the need for “game playing” is like expecting something different from gravity. Drop an apple and it’s going to fall; it will not lift off, circle your head a few times, and then try to make it to Cleveland on tail winds before nightfall.

As for this guy, sure, you want him, but letting attraction and enjoyment alone determine whom you have a relationship with is like letting your taste buds do your grocery shopping. (Dunno about yours, but mine would not be lingering in the broccoli section.) Before you get involved with a man, you need to check to see that he’s available, and immediately disqualify any man who isn’t single or emotionally ready for a relationship.

Once you have a viable candidate, take steps to avoid seeming desperate, like by setting the timer on your phone for 20 minutes or an hour before you return a text. The more you do this sort of thing the more natural it will feel, until you become hard to get instead of just playing it. Should you feel tempted to fall back into old chase behaviors, just remind yourself of your ultimate goal — inspiring a man to want you instead of inspiring him to fill out paperwork to keep you 100 feet away from him at all times.


Lawn and order         

How can I get the guy I’m dating to shave his neck beard? He shaves his face but not this thick scrubby hair he has all down and around his neck. Mercifully, the hair is relatively short; it isn’t Amish-length or otherwise truly beardy. But it really is not attractive.  

— Not Liking The View

Word has it that the Brazilian wax is out; pubic hair is back. This may be so — but not under your boyfriend’s chin.
There are practical reasons for a neck beard. For example, if a guy’s car were to go off a mountain road, he might survive a few extra days on trapped Cheetos dust. Assuming this sort of situation is unlikely, you can put in a request for neck beard removal. Because criticism tends to make people feel hurt and defensive, it’s most successful when reformatted as flattery. In other words, tell him how hot he is, but tell him you think he’d look even hotter with a clean shaven neck, and ask him to try that for you for the next time you see him. Be ready to counter possible objections, like that he gets razor bumps. Magic Razorless Cream Shave, a drugstore product designed for black men, can help him prevent them while also removing the Brillo pad making love to his neck. This area can be a powerful erogenous zone — just not when it’s hard to figure out whether it’s saying “Kiss me!” or “Use me to clean your oven!” 

© 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


American Idle       

My girlfriend is beautiful, highly intelligent and interesting. She’s smart for a living (as a strategic planner in advertising), so I find it sad that she watches so much television — maybe two hours of it upon coming home from work. She could be spending her time doing so many other things.

— Dismayed  

There comes a point in the day of a brainy person when she’s about a half step from being entertained by cat toys.

But this is nothing to be boohooing about. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley explains in her neuroscience-based book on learning, A Mind for Numbers, that our brain has two modes of problem-solving that it shifts between. There’s the “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go!” focused mode and the resting-state, brain-in-the-La-Z-Boy diffuse mode. Focused-mode thinking is what we’re using when we put our attention on a problem or on learning, writing or memorizing. It’s direct and intense, like shining a flashlight on a raccoon. 

But your brain is not a Denny’s and should not be expected to be “always open!” In fact, Oakley explains, you will be far more efficient if you take breaks and let your diffuse mode take over. This is the subconscious processing that goes on when you turn your focus away from a problem, like by taking a walk, cleaning the gerbil cage, or — horrors! — watching something dopey on TV. And while the focused mode can get you roadblocked into an overly narrow set of potential solutions, diffuse mode involves big-picture thinking that draws on a wide range of neural networks. This means that afterward, when you refocus on the problem, answers come more easily, and sometimes — almost magically — you experience the mental equivalent of going to sleep, having mop-wielding elves crawl out of your heat vent, and then waking up to a blindingly clean kitchen floor.

Consider the sort of “slackers” who watch TV — like the late crime writer Elmore Leonard, who was awarded the National Book Foundation’s 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. After a long day working on one of his 45 novels, he’d be on his couch watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. As my boyfriend (his researcher of 33 years) put it, “you could say, ‘Elmore, the Martians just landed on your tennis court,’ and he’d say, ‘Wait! It’s Final Jeopardy!’”

Sure, your girlfriend could be “doing so many other things,” like staring blankly into a bookcase or tossing back four martinis and passing out on the sofa with an olive in her ear. But TV-watching is the brain vacation that works for her. It’s only “sad” if her boyfriend, despite the neuroscience mini-tour above, remains too entrenched in his beliefs to respect a TV-watching woman. Unfortunately, once disgust for a partner is afoot in a relationship, the thing is probably shot. Though, rather incredibly, “the idiot box” can help a person be a smarter decision-maker at work, scientists have yet to discover any similarly unbelievable lowbrow cures for ailing romantic partnerships, like a month of eating Big Macs for a relationship-saving McDonald’s cleanse.


Jurassic Spark        

I’m a 45-year-old woman, and my new boyfriend is 30. I look good for my age, but I keep making “old” jokes, which he finds disturbing. Although he seems really into me, I guess I’m worried that a much younger man won’t be around for long.  

— Mrs. Robinson

When you’ve got a bit of funny clawing to get out of its pen, it’s tempting to undo the latch: “Waiter, a glass of chardonnay for me and a box of crayons for my date.” But consider that some jokes are jokes and some are fear with a laugh track.

Your fears that this won’t last aren’t exactly unfounded. Men evolved to be attracted to signs of peak fertility — youth being a biggie — but some use older women as sexual grazing areas while between relationships. There are exceptions — May/December pairings that make it to twin rocking chairs on the porch of the senior living facility. However, the reality is nothing’s forever — including relationships between two hot 22-year-olds. The trick to fully enjoying this (or any) relationship is accepting that it will end and resolving to have the absolute best time you can while it lasts. To take possession of older-woman sexy, consider that some men are into the sexual confidence women tend to gain with age, as well as what the French call being “bien dans sa peau” (comfortable in one’s skin). Whatever you do, avoid regularly exhuming the late Groucho Marx to inform the guy of all the ways 45 is actually the new 75. If you’re doing that, you might as well cut to the chase: Yank up your support hose and run after him with your cane, yelling, “Hey, kid, get off my lawn!” 

© 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


Belittle Richard       

My girlfriend says she likes that I’m smart but says I can be “on” too much of the time. For example, if someone pronounces a word wrong or uses it incorrectly, I’ll correct them. If they talk about their fad diet, I’ll explain why it doesn’t make scientific sense. My girlfriend says I am “condescending” and make people feel bad. That’s not my intention. It’s a matter of right and wrong. How can I help her understand that I just care about getting the facts out?

— Honest  

If public humiliation were the key to proper pronunciation and correct word use, the hot new show on Bravo would be “The Real Housewives of the Oxford English Dictionary.”

Sometimes, immediately calling people on their errors is the right thing to do, like if you’re the guy keeping an eye on the big thermometer outside the nuclear reactor. In social situations, however, being right isn’t the point. The point is connecting with people, and you don’t do that by correcting them — showing them up with your mastery of “Hooked on Phonics” or explaining how stupid they are to be on that new diet they’re all excited about: “Your dinner’s going to give you cancer. Bon appetit!”

Typically, there are two kinds of people who think they know it all and have to hammer others with it immediately: 12-year-olds and the secretly insecure. Others who do this are narcissists — self-obsessed showoffs with a pernicious lack of empathy. But a few may have Asperger’s syndrome, which is associated with high intelligence, difficulty in understanding how others feel (called “mindblindness”), and a tendency to think in black and white. For “aspies,” things are either right or wrong. Things they perceive to be wrong they find very disturbing, and they’re driven to right them — in conversation, or let’s say they get a love letter. What else is there to do but make corrections in red and send it back?

But even people with Asperger’s can learn to act empathetically by having someone help them understand how certain behaviors tend to make others feel and then memorizing socially appropriate responses (like smiling and nodding instead of challenging somebody to a duel over their misuse of the subjunctive). At the very least, you need to ask “Would it be OK if I told you what I learned while in the grammar police?” before diagramming somebody’s sentence on the restaurant wall.

Whatever your reason for going all conversational disciplinarian on people, as someone who values being right, you probably value being effective. Correcting people makes them feel attacked, which makes them defensive. They won’t hear your correction; they’ll just hear you telling them they’re an idiot. Ironically, it’s by listening to people and giving them the sense that you like and respect them that you might get them interested in your ideas — fun as it must be to turn every social occasion into a Soviet show trial, but with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar.


Skirt stake        

Last year, I got out of a bad marriage. My husband withheld sex (despite my keeping up my appearance), and it really made me question my desirability. I’m now ready for a relationship, but I only seem to attract guys seeking one-night stands. I did start dressing in very sexy clothing, and my best friend (who’s no prude) suspects this is sending the wrong signals..  

— Overcompensating?

When you’re looking for a relationship, it’s OK to arrive at dates dressed like you just got off work — providing you don’t look like the vice president of jumping out of cakes in not much more than body glitter. Research by psychologist Cari Goetz suggests that men see revealing clothing as a sort of billboard advertising women’s availability for “short-term mating” (“till daylight do us part!”). And though you want a relationship, consider whether you’re subconsciously seeking some (short-term) reassurance about your hotitude. It might help to recognize that your husband’s behavior probably had more to do with something about him than something about your appearance. (After all, some pretty underkempt people manage to get it on.)

To advertise your interest in a relationship, wear clothes that are form-following instead of pore-following. Per evolutionary psychology research on what men are attracted to, what seems essential is highlighting your waist — revealing your figure to be more hourglass than beer keg. And consider that one of the easiest ways to look attractive is by walking tall — moving in a way that conveys sexy confidence (even if that isn’t quite how you feel). Sexy from within is what relationship-minded men are looking for — as opposed to the sort of sexy that, when you lean forward at the bar, gets a dermatologist tapping you on the shoulder: “You know, you really should get that mole on your inner thigh looked at.” 

© 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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