The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess





I have a great circle of female friends, but one of “the group” has a way of making backhanded comments about my appearance that make me feel bad about myself. Her latest topic is my breasts and how much smaller they are than hers. Incredibly, she manages to work this into any conversation — exercising, fashion, shopping, camping. If I confronted her, I know she’d act as though she’s been paying me compliments. (“But you’re SO lucky to have small boobs!”) How can I get her to stop.    

— Annoyed

Stopping her would be easier if you two were guys: “I don’t like the way you’re talking about my boobs, Marjorie. Let’s take this outside.”

But while men will sock each other in the bar parking lot (and can sometimes go back in and have a beer), women engage in what anthropologists call “covert aggression” — attacks that are hard to pinpoint as attacks, like gossip, social exclusion, and stabbing another woman in the self-worth. (“Stabracadabra!” — you’re bleeding out, but nobody but you can tell!)

Psychologist Anne Campbell, like others who study female competition, explains that women seem to have evolved to avoid physical confrontation, which would endanger their ability to have children or fulfill their role as an infant’s principal caregiver. (Ancestral Daddy couldn’t exactly run up to the store for baby formula.) So while guys will engage in put-down fests as a normal part of guy-ness, even women’s verbal aggression is usually sneaky and often comes Halloween-costumed as compliments or concern: “Ooh, honey, do you need some Clearasil for those bumps on your chest?”

The tarted-up put-down is a form of psychological manipulation — a sly way of making a woman feel bad about herself so she’ll self-locate lower on the totem pole. And because men have visually driven sexuality, women specialize in knocking other women where it really hurts — their looks. Like those supposedly minuscule boobs of yours. (Right … you’ll have a latte, and she’ll just have another mug of your tears.)

The next time that she, say, turns a trip to the mall into a riff — “Har-har … Victoria’s Secret is that they don’t carry your size!” — pull her aside. (In a group of women, conflict resolution is most successful when it’s as covert as female aggression — as in, not recognizable as fighting back.) By not letting the others hear, you remove the emotionally radioactive element of shaming. This helps keep your defense from being perceived as an attack on her — yes, making you the bad guy.

Simply tell her — calmly but firmly: “These mentions of my boobs are not working for me. You need to stop.” Be prepared for the antithesis of accountability — a response like “Gawd … chill” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But she’ll know exactly what you’re talking about, which is that you’ve just become a poor choice of victim. She may float a remark or two to test your resolve, so be prepared to repeat your warning — calmly but firmly — until she starts acting like just one of the girls instead of yet another breast man.


Tinder mercies

I’m a successful lawyer in my late 40s doing online dating. I’m active in the Republican Party and philanthropic causes, so I often go to benefit dinners, for which I typically buy two tickets in advance. I’ve asked two women I met online to come to these as a first date, but both canceled by text at the last minute. (The dinner yesterday was $1,000 a plate and for a political cause that means a lot to me.) Maybe I’m just attracting rude women, but I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m doing something wrong.   

— Empty Chairs

You can learn a lot about a woman on the first date — like that she still hasn’t worked out her drinking problem and that she doesn’t always like to wear panties. Ideally, you find these things out while seated across from her at Starbucks, and not after she climbs on the table at a benefit and starts doing some sort of fertility dance with the centerpiece.

Sure, it seems convenient when your need for a plus-one coincides with your desire to go on a first date with some online hottie. But you’re better off coming up with a list of attractive female friends you can take or even male friends who share your politics or just enjoy free meals enough to not challenge your tablemates to a duel over theirs. Not taking a woman you barely know is also an important business safeguard — so that when some conservative client of yours turns to your date and asks “So how do you two know each other?” he won’t hear something like, “We met in the ‘Republicans Who Like Hot Wax Play’ chat room on Christian Mingle.”

© 2015, 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


Dork matter                

I’m just out of a bad relationship and ready to start dating. I recently met a guy I liked at the mall. There was definitely a physical attraction, and we had a lot in common, but not an hour after we met, he sent me a text that said, “Miss you already.” That set off red flags for me. Sweet or creepy? I’m on the fence.    

— Want to be Charitable

He’s looking forward to watching you sleep — from the third-floor apartment across the way, with a set of high-powered binoculars.

Then again, it’s possible that socially, he’s kind of a mouth-breather. Socially clueless guys will sometimes dig around in the “Chicks Love This Stuff” bin, pull out some romantic-sounding line and lay it on a woman, hoping it’ll stick. They don’t get that prematurely expressed affection can creep women out. Sure, his “Miss you already” — or one of its cousins, “I loved you before I even knew you!” — sounds like a sweet sentiment. But using it before real feeling has time to develop can suggest that one’s underlying motivation is not “Can’t wait to take you to Paris” but maybe “Can’t wait to keep you in a crate under my bed.”

That’s probably where your intuition is taking you. Intuitions — gut feelings — are judgments we arrive at without conscious reasoning. But they don’t come out of nowhere. Your brain compares input from your current environment with prior situations (from your past and your evolutionary past), looking for patterns that suggest danger is afoot. The thing is, these alerts are often wrong. But that actually isn’t a bad thing. Evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss find that we seem to have evolved to make the less costly error — like your erring on the side of red-flagging a guy because it’s less costly for you to end up home alone on a Saturday night than to end up crated or dead.

Should you override your weirdo-dar? It can feel unfair to write somebody off on the basis of one yicky remark. But if you’re going to take a risk, it should be an informed risk, meaning that you use information about past behavior (which you’re rather short on) to predict the likelihood a situation will go south. You also factor in your ability to deal if it does. Like if he turns stalker, will you be all “Not gonna make it through the armed guards and the moat around my house” or “My neighbors in 4B would cheerfully buzz in Charles Manson”?

On the other side of informed risk is “cross my fingers and hope it turns out OK,” which, given the level of information you have, is pretty much where you are now. However, the reality is, sometimes throwing caution to the wind makes sense, like if the guy in question seems to be the last man on earth or your last shot before eternal spinsterhood. If this is the case, it would probably be prudent to pair your high hopes with a bedside Taser, on the off chance Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Right Outside In Your Bushes.


Break room with a view

I’m dating my co-worker, and this is kind of embarrassing, but I’ve hooked up with two other guys at our company. These encounters happened a while back, and they were meaningless. My concern is that one of these guys will get wind of the fact that I am seeing and really like this guy and they’ll tell him and he’ll be put off. He knows I used to be pretty wild and said he didn’t want to know the specifics, but he also didn’t know that they involve our co-workers. Should I warn him?    

— Unsure

To be human is to engage in episodes of poor judgment: drop-crotch pants … cornrows on a white person … vajazzling (adhering sparkly gemstones to a part of your body that nobody looks at and grumbles, “Gosh, if only it weren’t so plain”). Likewise, though life partners sometimes start as co-workers, it’s generally best to score hookup partners from the larger population pool — men whom you might occasionally run into at the grocery store, as opposed to every 45 minutes in the coffee room.

However, what’s done is done, and what your new beau wants to hear about it is none of it. And sure, there’s a chance that one or both of these guys will spill, but there’s also a chance that neither will. If it comes out, deal with it as needed. Otherwise, what he doesn’t quite know won’t, well … let’s just say the abstract idea that you were wild is different from his having mug shots in his head of the specific co-workers who’ve ignored the tattoo on your pelvic bone: “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

© 2015, 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


Owe, Baby, Baby                

My girlfriend always cries that she’s “broke.” I just ended up buying her groceries and paying to have her car fixed, and then I discovered by accident that she’d recently paid hundreds of dollars for hair extensions, beauty products and a facial. She isn’t the first girlfriend I’ve had who prioritizes beauty stuff over necessities. I really don’t get some women’s relationship with money.    

— ATM on Legs

Some personal financial crises are caused by unexpected events, and others simply by how one answers certain basic questions, such as “Hmm, get waxed or continue living with electricity?” or “I can’t decide: New brakes or traffic-stopping hair?”

Old-school economists, who view humans as hyper-rational data-crunching machines (like big, sweaty chess-playing computers), would tell you that it makes no sense for your girlfriend to keep ending up, as the saying goes, with so much month at the end of the money. (And sure, car trouble can pop up out of nowhere, but it isn’t like the need to eat comes as a surprise.)

Evolutionary economists take a more nuanced view of human rationality. They find that our glaringly irrational choices in one domain (like the survival domain, including financial survival) aren’t so irrational in another (like the mating domain). For example, because men evolved to have a very visually driven sexuality, women looking to land a man or retain one’s interest will (often subconsciously) prioritize beauty measures — sometimes buying eye creams so pricey they should come with power steering and a sunroof.  

And though we aren’t in a recession right now, a July/August 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 72 percent of people believe we are. This is relevant because research by evolutionary psychologist Sarah Hill finds that though economic downturns lead both men and women to cut their spending across the board, they also seem to prime women to increase their spending in one area: beauty enhancement. Hill explains that a scarcity of resources appears to cue an evolutionary adaptation in women to “increase the effort they invest in attracting a mate who has them.” (And this seems to be the case even when a woman has resources of her own.)

Still, it isn’t fair for your beauty-binging girlfriend to treat you as her boyfriend-slash-overdraft system, taking advantage of how you’d rather pay for her car and groceries than see her hoof it and crash wedding buffet lines with a big purse. Tell her that you feel bad being put in this position and though you love her, her abusive relationship with her debit card is eating away at your relationship. (A mate-retention warning light should go off in her head.) Next, show empathy. Mention that many people find themselves in her position, mainly because nobody ever taught them how to budget, and we aren’t all natural fiscal wizards. In fact, we’re more like chimps with credit cards.

To help her conscious mind better understand her subconscious one, explain the evolutionary view of human rationality and offer to help her plot out her finances. You might get her the book Smart Women Finish Rich, by David Bach. And because our decision-making ability evolved in an ancestral environment where we typically had just a handful of visible choices in front of us (like five bison and one with a limp) — as opposed to big mathematical abstractions to chew on — you can help her get a better grip on her spending by making it visual. As for how helpful visuals can be in decision-making, evolutionary cognitive psychologist Gary Brase finds that people are far better at understanding medical risks when they are communicated with pictures (for example, 100 little people on a page shaded to show that this many of 100 will be cured and this many will end up going home in an urn).

In keeping with Brase’s findings, you could draw little rectangles all over a page to represent $100 bills (in the amount of her monthly salary). Color in blocks of dollars to indicate all her monthly expenses, including any potential expenses, and offer to help her budget until she gets the hang of it. If you’re open to paying for the occasional item that’s not in her financial plan, let her know, but explain that you’d like to be asked first, not just informed that all of her dollar bills have run off and taken up residence in the cash register at Sephora. And finally, while you’re helping her tally things up, you might take a moment to count your blessings. Your girlfriend might be a little money-dumb, but she seems to understand the importance of keeping up her curb appeal — mindful that there’s a reason men get accused of talking to a woman’s breasts and not her calculator. 

© 2015, 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


Rise and spine                

My fiancé is good friends with his ex-girlfriend from college. (We’re all in our 30s.) She isn’t a romantic threat, but she’s become a source of stress. Long before I met my boyfriend, they began hanging out at a local bar together twice a week. They still do this, and I go along, but I’ve increasingly found these evenings a draining time-suck. When I don’t want to go, my fiancé hangs at home with me. This prompts a tantrum from his ex-girlfriend, complete with a barrage of angry texts. I’ve tried reasoning with her, but she claims that when he was single, he “dragged (her) out constantly” so he still owes her. My boyfriend is a laid-back, nonconfrontational kind of guy and just says she needs to calm down.    

— No Wonder They Broke Up

They’ve translated the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it turns out they’re actually a 900-page list of everything this “friend” has ever done for your fiancé.  

OK, when he was single, maybe he “dragged (her) out constantly.” Unless he did this by unchaining her from the wall and yanking her to the bar on a choke collar, it was up to her to decline. Gotta love the notion that her companionship led to some unwritten indentured frienditude contract that he still owes big on. (One person’s friendship is another’s mob extortion scheme.)

It’s your fiancé’s job to be “reasoning” with his friend, not yours. (You’re marrying the guy, not adopting him and trying to get him into a good preschool.) You excuse his passivity by describing him as a “laid-back, nonconfrontational kind of guy.” Well, there’s laid-back, and there’s confusing onlookers as to whether you’re a person or a paperweight.

The thing is, whether somebody gets to abuse you is usually up to you. In other words, your fiancé needs to grow a pair (or at least crochet a pair and pop ‘em in) and then get on the phone. Tell him that he needs to tell this woman — calmly and firmly — something like, “You know, lovey, I’ve got a fiancée now, and I can’t be as available as I used to be.” He needs to shut down the abusive text storm the same way, telling her, “Not acceptable. Cut it out,” and then block her number if she keeps up the telephone thuggery.

Sure, it’s uncomfortable standing up to a person who’s been treating you badly — an uncomfortable and necessary part of adult life. It’s how you send the message “Nuh-uh … no more” instead of “Forever your tool.” And here’s a tip: You don’t need to feel all cuddly and good about confronting somebody; you just need to do it, as opposed to cowering in fear as the Bing! Bing! Bings! of their texted multi-part tantrum come in on your phone. Start encouraging assertiveness in your fiancé now, and keep letting him know how much you admire all the steps he takes. He could soon be a man who’s got your back when there’s trouble — and not just in the corner of his eye as he curls up in a fetal position and whimpers, “Donnnn’t hurrrrt meeee!”


To boldly no where no no has gone before                  

I’ve started seeing this wonderful guy. There’s no official commitment yet, but I have no interest in anyone else, including the two guys I was casually seeing from time to time. When they text me to try to hook up, I won’t respond or I’ll say I’m busy, but they don’t seem to be getting the message. Admittedly, in the past, I’ve said “no more” and then caved when I’ve gotten lonely or had a few glasses of wine. Also, how do you say “beat it” without being mean?    

— Go Away Already!

There’s little that tempers a man’s enthusiasm for a late-night shag like responding to his “want 2 hook up?” by texting back, “YES! i’m ovulating & dying 2 have a baby!”

But it shouldn’t have to come to this — that is, if you start by actually saying no instead of starting a game of “Guess why I’m not returning your texts!” An ambiguous no — not responding or saying “I’m busy” — is not a no. This is especially true of your ambiguous no, which, in the past, has translated to, “I’m not drunk/lonely enough. Try me later.” Because of this, you may need to repeat even a firm “I’m no longer interested” a few times for these guys to get that you aren’t just confused about what you want or playing hard to get. But in general, the unevasive no eliminates the need to make your point repeatedly, in turn curbing the likelihood of your getting mean on the phone (or, worse, hiding under the bed when you hear the ladder being leaned against your upstairs window). 

© 2015, 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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