The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

Playing with mismatches         

I like this woman I’ve been seeing, but she’s really in love with me. I’ve been clear that I’m not ready to get more serious and that I’m really never going to be up for that with her. She’s chosen to stick around, but her best friend called me crying, saying I’m breaking her heart. (Yikes!) Is it wrong to stay with somebody whose feelings are much stronger than yours?    

— Trouble

She sees the two of you getting old together. You see the two of you getting together for sex on Friday. The French make this sort of mismatch sound sexy and fabulous, calling what she’s feeling “la douleur exquise” — the “exquisite pain” of wanting somebody you can’t have. But look under the hood and you’ll see an ugly stew of hormones and the psychological gotchas called cognitive biases — unconscious errors in reasoning — leading to an acute case of adult-onset puppy love.

 

Some would argue that this woman is worshipping at your altar of her own free will (laying if not crops and a goat at your feet, then undying love, Doritos and beer). The truth is, a cognitive bias called the “sunk cost fallacy” probably has a good bit to do with her sticking around. This describes our tendency to be irrational “investors” — deciding whether we’ll continue putting time, energy and/or money into something based on what we’ve already put in. This is dumb, because our initial investment is gone, and throwing in more whatever won’t change that. The rational approach would be basing our decision on what kind of payoff we’re likely to see down the road. Unfortunately, though we humans have a reasoning department built into our brain, cognitive biases can keep it a plastic-wrapped no-go zone, much like my late grandma’s living room couch.

Love is not always 50/50, but it also shouldn’t be, oh, 90/10. Eventually, if you have a conscience, taking advantage of her futile hopes will prey on you (if it hasn’t already). And sooner or later, she’s likely to resent and maybe even hate you for sticking around to never give her what she wants — instead providing the dating version of “Hey, we don’t sell what you need at this store, but please hang out here till we go out of business.”

Seismic matters            

I have a wonderful new boyfriend, but I’ve been avoiding sleeping over at his place because I snore. Not cute ladylike snores but loud, bed-shaking ones. I’m not overweight. (In fact, I’m in really great shape from CrossFit.) I don’t have sleep apnea. And snore strips and bite guards are useless. (This is something I’ll eventually need surgery for.) I’m afraid my boyfriend won’t be so attracted to me once he hears my “night noises.”  

—Stressing

A guy will generally appreciate a woman who’s kind of a wild thing in bed — just not when he jolts awake to call Animal Control to show up with nets and a tranquilizer gun.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to get to that point — if you and he can think a little differently about doing your sleeping in separate beds, which is supposedly the province of couples who last had sex when FDR was in office. It’s actually that of couples looking to wake up rested instead of exhausted. Though romantic partners insisted to sleep researcher James Horne that they sleep best when they share a bed, the squiggly line of his sleep-monitoring gizmo said otherwise, suggesting that separate beds make for a far less interrupted night’s rest. (This is especially true for anyone with a partner who cage-fights in her dreams, wakes up frequently to sleep-drive to Home Depot, or snores like an asthmatic wolverine.)

Because that which does not kill us can still scare us awake — and because big scary facts tend to shrink to a more manageable size when revealed in advance — you should tell the guy about your snoring instead of letting him find out. And because we judge things by comparison, let him think the worst — if only for a moment. Say, “There’s something I have to tell you …” He’ll wonder, “Oh, no … do I need to go to the clinic?” He should be relieved when you reveal that you “breathe loudly” in your sleep — that is, in a way that announces you’re still alive … to neighbors two doors down. Next, present the solution: doing the fun stuff together in the same bed but slumbering separately. If the guy’s got any smarts, he’ll put this in perspective. The good news: You have an ass like a 22-year-old stripper. The bad news: You snore like a drunken hobo on a bench. (Can’t win ’em all!)


© 2015, 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 (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. 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

 

Urning curve         

My boyfriend of eight months was with his ex for almost five years. Unfortunately, she passed two years ago. I have sympathy for him, but occasionally he’ll call me by her name, and it’s really upsetting. I feel like she’s haunting his brain, and I don’t know how to do an exorcism. How do I take my rightful place in his life?   

— Can’t Compete

If you’re putting on some skimpy somethings to get your boyfriend in the right mindset in bed, ideally, they aren’t three strategically located “Hello, My Name Is …” stickers. 

It’s understandable that you’re feeling bad, but his detours into Wrongnameville probably don’t mean what you suspect they do. Using the wrong name is what memory researchers call a “retrieval error,” describing how an attempt to get some specific item from memory can cause multiple items in the same category to pop up. Basically, your brain sends an elf back into the stacks to get the name to call someone, and he just grabs the first name he spots that’s associated with “girlfriend” and girlfriend-type situations. (Lazy little twerp.) This sort of cognitive error — following a well-worn path (five years of grabbing the late ex’s name) — is more likely when a person is tired or preoccupied. In other words, your boyfriend’s name-swapping may be a sign that he needs to stop multitasking; it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s been taping a cutout of her face over yours in his mind.

There is a solution, and no, it doesn’t involve inventing a time machine so he can go back 20 years and get in the habit of calling all women “babe.” It turns out that a person can get better at retrieving the right name with practice. Cognitive psychologist Gordon Bower explained in Scientific American that the one making the error needs to consistently correct themselves or be corrected and then repeat the right name a few times. It would be best if you correct him teasingly, and perhaps incorporate visual aids like homemade flashcards — ideally of you in various states of undress with your name on them.

Assuming he isn’t trudging around in all black like a Fellini film widow or putting the ex’s urn between you two in bed, it might help to consider how he is when he’s with you: Engaged? Loving? Present? If so, do your best to focus on this — lest you be tempted to go low-blow and tit for tat and start screaming out dead men’s names in bed: “Ooh, Copernicus … Oh, my God, Cicero … I mean, take me, Archimedes!”

Demotion sickness            

My boyfriend just broke up with me but wants to “stay friends” and keep hanging out on those terms. (He says, “My life is much better with you in it.”) I’d like to be friends eventually, but I told him that it’s just too painful and confusing to see him now. He says I’m being dramatic and unreasonable and keeps calling.  

—Broken

This guy’s notion of how a breakup should work is like telling an employee, “Hey, you’re fired, but please feel free to come in a few times a week and do some light janitorial work.”

A breakup is supposed to be an ending, not a “let’s continue as if very little has changed, and I’ll pretend not to notice those big wet mascara stripes down your cheeks.” Research by clinical psychologist David Sbarra confirmed what most of us already know about getting dumped — that contact with your former partner while you’re trying to recover jacks up feelings of love and sadness, setting back your healing. You need time and distance to process and accept the change in your relationship; you can’t just send a memo to your emotions, ordering them to recategorize the guy: “Cut the love. From now on, respond to him like he’s a brick or maybe a lamp.”

It’s wonderful to have a man who insists on standing by you, but not because it’s better for him than respecting your need to go away and lick your wounds. This is not friend behavior. If, despite that, you want him in your life down the road, inform him that for now, you’ve made a “no contact” rule — lasting until you feel ready to see him on different terms. When he (inevitably) tries to break it, politely reiterate it and end the conversation. The sooner he’s out of your daily life the sooner you’ll be open to a new man — dreamy as it would be to spend lazy afternoons at your ex’s place writing him letters of recommendation for prospective girlfriends and Photoshopping your arm out of pictures so he can post them on Tinder.


© 2015, 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 (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. 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

 

Leave story         

I had an amazing first date with this guy: dinner, a movie, a stroll around the park, and a passionate good-night kiss. That was two weeks ago. Since then, I haven’t heard a peep. How was it awesome for me but not for him? Were we, unbeknownst to me, on two different dates?  

— Disturbed

When a man disappears on you after a great first date, it’s natural to search your mind for the most plausible explanation — that is, whichever one doesn’t shred your ego and feed it to your fish. Top choices include: 1. He was kidnapped by revolutionaries. 2. His couch caught fire while he was setting up candles around a shrine to you, and he’s now homeless and, more importantly, phoneless. 3. He double-parked at 7-Eleven, and then a witch put a spell on him, turning him into a Big Gulp, and some skater kid drank him.

The reality is, maybe you and he actually were, “unbeknownst to (you), on two different dates.” We have a tendency to assume others’ thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and desires match our own, explains psychologist Nicholas Epley in Mindwise. What we forget to consider are what Epley calls “the broader contexts that influence a person’s actions.” For example, maybe smack in the middle of all that “awesome,” the guy was raking through a few thoughts — like whether he’s truly over his previous girlfriend, whether he likes the woman from Tuesday better, whether he’s straight.

And sorry, but despite the “passionate” kiss, it’s possible the attraction to you just wasn’t there. One of my guy friends, a reformed cad, explained: “I used to do this all the time with women. I’d realize I wasn’t that attracted to them, but since I was already there on the date, I’d keep moving forward and see if I could get laid, ‘cause why not? So from their point of view, the date was ‘awesome,’ but what they didn’t know was that there was never going to be a second date.”

The hurt and “huh?” you feel when this sort of thing happens is a measure of the distance between expectations and reality. You can avoid this by managing your expectations, and the best way to do that is by not allowing yourself to have any. In short, until your phone rings and the guy is on the other end asking you for a date or another date, he doesn’t exist. When you’re on a first date that seems to be going well, the attitude to take is to enjoy yourself to the fullest in the moment — which is loads easier when you aren’t all up in your head figuring out what you’ll say when the little girl you two have together comes home at age 8 demanding to be allowed to have her nipples pierced.

Pal Rider           

I’ve been friends with this guy for almost five years. We’ve always been attracted to each other, but we’ve never been single at the same time. Now we’re starting to date, and I have to say I feel a lot more safety and trust because we were friends first. I’m also not as concerned that he’ll take me for a ride or play games. Am I being unrealistically optimistic, or is there some truth to this?  

—Been Hurt Before

There is safety in having been friends with a person for a while, like how you can be reasonably sure that when he says “Here, let me help you into the car,” it won’t be the trunk. And because we evolved to care deeply about maintaining our reputation, it also helps that you two have mutual friends. (A bank robber is less likely to hit a branch where all the tellers know him by name.) However, once you’re in a relationship, all sorts of emotional issues can pop up and start biting, and what prevents that is not having been friends but having done the work to fix whatever was bent or broken.

To be realistically optimistic, make yourself look at the guy’s worst qualities, and decide whether you can live with them. You should also consider what went wrong in your prior relationships. Sure, getting hurt is sometimes a random act, like a stove falling out of the sky onto your car. But often, it’s something you could have seen coming — and would have, if you hadn’t been so busy sewing all the red flags into a big quilt. Finally, even if a guy doesn’t have a skull in his kitchen cabinet labeled “Marcy,” keep in mind that there are special surprises that will only reveal themselves once you’re “more than friends” — like his superhero underwear and his habit of taking over a bed “alphabet-style” (warding off zombies by sleeping in the letter X).


© 2015, 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 (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. 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’ve Got Bail         

I am not attracted to “nice guys.” I’m in my early 30s, and I don’t think I have low self-esteem. I don’t like to be mistreated, either. In fact, I want somebody loving and faithful, but I find the guys I “should” be dating predictable and boring. (So cliche, I know.) I seem to end up dating guys who cheat on me and have problems with the law. Is there such a thing as a good man who’s also a bad boy? 

— Longing
 

When you date a “bad boy,” there are always adjustments to be made, like getting adjusted to how he’s sleeping with three of your friends.

It’s easy to go unrealistic in looking for love. On the gooier side of romantic unrealism are the people determined to find their “soulmate.” (No such perfect partner actually exists — just somebody they’re compatible with in essential ways.) You, on the other hand, seem to be drawn to a guy who’s had a cellmate. Women very often go for bad boys out of low self-esteem, but you insist this isn’t your problem. If not, maybe you aren’t ready for a relationship and are going for guys who’ll crash and burn what you have together before you get itchy to get out. But it seems more likely that you’re an excitement junkie, turning to bad boys because they’re reliable providers of it — the obvious downside being that they steal not only your heart but also your wall clock, which they sell to buy cigarettes.

Most people will tell you they like excitement, but chances are you have a strong aversion to the dull and routine and a craving for excitement and variety — to the point where your comfort zone is more the end of the bungee cord than the end of the couch. If you do feel this way, you’re likely a high scorer in a personality trait that researcher Marvin Zuckerman deemed “sensation seeking,” which involves a lust for novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences and a willingness to take physical and social risks to get them.

Sensation seeking appears to have a strong biological basis. So if this is part of your makeup, it’s not like you can just decide to take up with the nearest accountant (that is, one who isn’t embezzling from the mob). What you can do is look for good guys who have some of the positive qualities bad boys do, like confidence, charisma, creativity, spontaneity, and a wicked sense of humor. They won’t be easy to find, but consider that every bad boy you’re with sets you back from getting together with a good guy who also meets your need for speed. To keep yourself from taking any further dips in the felon pool, figure out alternative ways to get your excitement needs met (skydiving, tsunami-surfing, regular shortcuts through dark alleys?). This should free you up to meet the sort of guy who figures he’s justified in using the carpool lane because he’s pulling you behind his car on Rollerblades, not because he’s got a couple of bank tellers tied up in the trunk.

Man Of Squeal           

My brother has had a crush on this woman for a long time, but somehow the timing never worked out for them to date. A few months ago, I ran into her at a party. One thing led to another, and we ended up hooking up. Now my brother and this woman are finally giving it a go. He and I really don’t have secrets from each other, so this is weighing on me, and I feel like I should tell him.  

— Need To Disclose

Having sex with a woman isn’t like the moon landing. There’s really no need to put the word out about who got there first. In general, when you lay a piece of information on someone, it should benefit them in some way. In this case, it would be one thing if you had important supplemental information to disclose, such as “sex with this woman is best followed up with a penicillin nightcap.” But the disclosure you’re looking to make simply self-serves a purpose — for you to get a load off your chest by immediately transferring it to your brother’s. What’s done cannot be undone, and though some men can shrug off the sex their girlfriend had with some guy before they were dating, not all can, and it’s especially hard when “some guy” is one they’ll be seeing at every family gathering for the next 70-some years. Sure, as the saying goes, “information wants to be free.” But as with a Great Dane in heat, that doesn’t mean you should just open the gate and let it out … so it can make sweet feverish love to everything in the neighborhood, starting with the neighbor’s Mini Cooper.


© 2015, 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 (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. 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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