The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

You luddite up my life                   

My boyfriend will text if he’s running late but says texting “isn’t real communication.” He says that if I need to talk, I should call him. I get that anything serious should be discussed via phone. However, we live separately, and sometimes I just want to reach out in a small way with a funny photo or a word or two and get a word or two back. When he doesn’t respond or grudgingly responds a day later, I get more and more hurt and angry and want to break up with him. I know he cares about me. Am I being unreasonable?      

 — Upset

We get it: You spend an entire day making a small but very accurate Voodoo doll of him and then have to dispose of it when he finally texts back.

There are many who share your boyfriend’s techno-snobbery, claiming that texting isn’t “real communication” (perhaps because it doesn’t require Socratic oratory or chasing a goose to pluck a quill). But say one person texts “i love u” and the other texts back, “k.” That communicates plenty. And say you and your boyfriend were in the same room and you held up a tiny fern in a pot: “Look! A plant that has yet to commit suicide on me!” It would be pretty cold — and surely he’d think so — if he just kept silently clipping his toenails or whittling his corncob pipe or whatever.

It’s one thing if you’re sending him iTunes user agreement-length texts and expecting him to text back in kind. But this sort of texted “yoo-hoo!” you’re sending him is one of the seemingly unimportant reach-outs that relationships researcher John Gottman calls “bids for connection.” These “bids” are attempts — often made in small and mundane ways — to get your partner’s attention, affection, humor or support.

Gottman observes that these are effectively little “trust tests” leading to “a tiny turning point — an opportunity or a lost opportunity, for connection.” In a study by Gottman and cognitive psychologist Janice Driver, the newlyweds who remained married to their partners six years later were the responsive ones — those who had “turned toward” their partner’s bids, on average, 86 percent of the time. Those who’d responded only 33 percent of the time were divorced by the six-year mark.

Explain the “bid for connection” thing so your boyfriend can understand why it’s so important that he come through for you — or, rather, 4 u. But also keep in mind, as I write in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, that “technology makes a nearly instant response possible; it doesn’t mandate it.”

Let him know that you aren’t looking to start some relationship reign of terror — like if he doesn’t text you back in 60 seconds, his phone and/or the relationship will explode. It’s just that seeing him making an effort would mean a lot to you (and keep you from Googling genital death spells). It’s also the sort of thing that keeps romance alive. As Gottman points out, you do that not with Gone With the Wind embraces or a bunch of loot on Valentine’s Day but with little daily shows of love. In this case, it’s those three little … uh, letters — LOL — after you text him a cat with a gunslinger mustache or a dachshund in a lobster suit.

 

Generation Text                  

I’ve been texting a lot with this guy for a few weeks, but he never calls me. We’ve been on a few dates that were really nice. My girlfriends tell me that if he really liked me, he’d call me. But one of my friends is about to get married, and their whole courtship was basically conducted via text. How important is the whole calling versus texting thing?

 —Worried

Spoken-word telephone conversation does have its merits, like how you’re unlikely to find yourself asking your grandma to send you a better photo of her penis.

There’s an assumption many women make that if a guy’s only texting you and not calling you, he’s not that into you. But context matters. Like whether “whassup gorjuss?” comes in at 1:17 a.m. or at 9:30 a.m. as you’re riding the elevator up to work. And content especially matters — in a guy’s texts and when you’re together. For example, on dates, is he looking into your eyes as you two talk for hours or looking into his phone as you stare into your napkin? In short, the medium is not the message. The message is the message — like if someone’s on the phone with you and simultaneously organizing his sock drawer, pondering a zit in the mirror, and bidding on a vintage beer sign on eBay: “Sorry, what was that about your childhood trauma?”


© 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

 

Gone Juan                   

I’m a 20-year-old woman, and for three months last year, I dated a 21-year-old guy. Suddenly, out of the blue, he stopped returning my calls. I spent about a month trying to find out what had happened, but he wouldn’t respond to texts or email, either. Well, last week, I ran into him, and he said he’d just gotten really busy with school. He wants to date again, and I really cared about him, so I’m tempted.      

— Please Talk Me Out Of It

“Really busy with school,” huh? When … 150 years ago, when there were no phones in the one-room schoolhouse in Little House on the Prairie?

There’s playing hard to get, and then there’s being impossible to locate. The first is a canny strategy; the second is casual cruelty in action. In this case, after three months of dating, a breakup phone call (in lieu of face-to-face) would have been semi-appropriate. A text would have been better than nothing. A telegram would at least have had historical flair. Yet, there you were, repeatedly trying to track him down and getting the reception most of us give random collect calls from “guests” in the long-term bed-and-breakfasts known as federal prisons.

As for your toying with the absolutely absurd notion of dating him again, your slacker of a brain is partly to blame. Admittedly, our brains require a lot of energy to operate, so they like to take energy-saving shortcuts whenever they can. They do this with what I call “thinkpacks” — the brain’s version of those Lunchables combo boxes — prepackaged thinking sets that allow us to act automatically (without thinking through every last little detail). These come in handy when, for example, we’re dining and we can just pick up a fork and use it; we don’t have to wonder what a fork is and whether we use the pointy bits to stab the food or the person next to us.

But in psychologically complicated situations, these mental shortcuts can get us in trouble. Take the state that social psychologist Leon Festinger named “cognitive dissonance” — our simultaneously holding contradictory beliefs, such as “He’s not that into me!” and “He’d make a great boyfriend!” Well, the inconsistency makes us very uncomfortable, so our mind wants to smooth it out pronto. So, easy peasy, no problemo — it typically just up and erases whichever belief goes most poorly with our ego. Unfortunately, reality isn’t so simply dispensed with, and before long, “He’s not that into me!” is back and “He’d make a great boyfriend!” is facedown in the storm drain behind the dive bar.

A way to avoid reality erasing is by getting in the habit of “metacognition” — basically, thinking about your thinking. The guy who came up with the term, developmental psychologist John Flavell, called it “a kind of quality control.” In this case, you unpack your thinking about this guy: “He’d make a great boyfriend!” and your wanting to believe things could be different. Lay those out on the bed next to the facts — how he behaved — because what you do reflects who you are and what you’re likely to do in the future. In other words, what you can trust about this guy is that you can’t trust him to show even the most minimal concern for your feelings — not with even so much as a poop emoji goodbye.

 

Err of mystery                  

I’m a 28-year-old guy, newly single after the end of my relationship from college, and all of my dates have been busts. I ask girls out, and they say yes, but I must be doing something wrong on first dates, because I can’t seem to score a second one. Like, ever. They go out with me once, and goodbye. I’m a gentleman, enthusiastic, complimentary, affectionate. What could be the problem?

— Puzzled

There’s a chance you’re overdoing it in the Enthusiastic! Complimentary! Affectionate! department. (It’s good to keep a woman guessing a little, but not, “Am I on a date, or is this guy trying to enroll me in a pyramid scheme?”)

Consider “the principle of least interest,” sociologist Willard Waller’s term for how, in any relationship, the person who shows the least interest has the most power. Conversely, the person who comes on with all the subtle nonchalance of a “Cash For Gold!” sign spinner — especially before they even know the other person — has the aura of a needy suck-up.

Try something: Cool it on your next five dates. This doesn’t mean acting catatonic. It just means waiting to see whether a woman actually is exciting and worth getting to know — as opposed to being excited by her mere presence: “Wow — to be out with a real woman! I usually just have candlelit dinners with a pillow with a wig on it!”


© 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

 

A force to be reckoned whiff                  

My new boyfriend travels a lot for work. Before he left on this trip, he gave me his weird onesie lounging garment. It’s this disturbing “As Seen On TV” thing called a Forever Lazy. It’s like a fleece blanket, but with legs, a hood and a … umm … back flap for easy bathroom access. I was hesitant about taking it, but he said, “Take it! It’s so comfy! It’s the bomb!” Of course, I don’t wear this weird thing, but it smells just like him. I’ve found myself cuddling up with it and sniffing it. Like, a lot. And it’s not just about missing him; it’s about the smell. I feel like a serial killer! What is wrong with me?!      

— I’m Weird

 

Welcome to the decline of civilization playing out in a single garment. If a grown man who wears one of these things says something like “Let me slip into something more comfortable,” you’ve got to think, “What, the womb?”

What seems weird to me is that you’re able to have sex with a man who wears a giant romper. What doesn’t seem weird is your sniffing Mr. Baby’s onesie. This suggests that you two might be a pretty good match, at least genetically — which isn’t to say your genes and his have lots in common. Studies by Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind and others have found that women seem to prefer the body odor of men whose genes are dissimilar to theirs. Which sounds so hot: “Hey, baby, I love how genetically dissimilar you smell in the morning.”

It’s a set of immune system genes that matter. They’re called the major histocompatibility complex, or MHC. “Histocompatibility” is a mouthful, yes, but it’s really just the Greek word for tissue — “histo” — bumming a ride on “compatibility.” MHC molecules are basically immune system security guards that sound the alarm on incompatible stuff in our bodies — icky infectious microorganisms that don’t belong in our “tissue” (really, our cells). If you and a genetically similar man have kids, your combined MHC genes will only be able to recognize a very similar, limited set of trespassers. But with a genetically dissimilar man, the immune systems of any kids you have will have a much larger force of security guards, able to recognize a much broader group of icky invaders.

Regarding your onesie sniffing, the most interesting, relevant finding on MHC is by experimental psychologist Christine Garver-Apgar and evolutionary psychologist Steven Gangestad. Instead of just testing individuals as previous studies did, they tested couples. They found that as the proportion of MHC genes that couples shared increased, women were less turned on by their partner, cheated with more men, and were more attracted to men other than their partner, especially during their most fertile time of the month.

In other words, it’s a very good thing that you’re into how this guy smells — so much so that you can overlook the fact that he’s a grown man who wears a onesie made from some fabric cousin of the airline blanket. Here’s to your living fleecily ever after with your new man. But should this not work out, remember that smell is important, and look for a man who also smells good to you — maybe even one who isn’t afraid of hard work, like the agonizing chore of pulling on both sweatpants and a sweatshirt.

 

Fifty Shades of Nay                  

I’m an in-shape, intelligent, funny 35-year-old guy with a good job. I went on a date with a beautiful woman. We had a terrific time — wonderful conversation over a nice dinner. When I asked her out again, she said she thinks I am a “super-nice guy” but she just wasn’t feeling the “chemistry.” Well, it was only one date. Can chemistry grow? I’d like to see her again. I’m convinced I could sweep her off her feet if given the chance.

—Ambitious

You didn’t get the job. Picketing the office isn’t going to change that.

Not feeling the “chemistry” is polite code for “I’m not physically attracted to you” (or, in really dire cases, “I’d chew through rope to avoid having sex with you”). Unfortunately, there’s no sweeping a woman off her lack of chemistry with you, though you might sweep a lesser woman off her integrity by inviting her out for a slew of free dinners. Over time, you might even charm the woman into loving you — kind of like she loves her grandma. But keep in mind that biological anthropologist Helen Fisher and other researchers find that physical attraction comes out of a person’s look, smell and manner. In other words, persisting when a woman lets you know she isn’t attracted to you is ultimately a big ol’ losing proposition. (You can try harder, but you can’t, say, try taller.)


© 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

 

Lord of the Ringer                   

I had an affair with a married man, and we fell madly in love, and he left his wife for me. We’ve been happily married for many years, but recently, I found out that he’s still in contact with his ex-wife. I got suspicious, bought a voice-activated recorder, and tapped our landline. Lo and behold, they’re having hot phone sex while I’m visiting my elderly mother on Sundays! I can’t believe he would disrespect me like this! Especially after all we’ve done (like moving across the country to get away from his psycho ex). I really love him, so I’m wondering whether I should confront him or just seethe in silence (because I know he won’t go back to her). And honestly, I’m not even sure phone sex is really cheating.     

— Shocked
 

OK then. You’ll just be having a nice big scoop of “What Comes Around Goes Around.” Cup or cone? Nuts? Sprinkles?

As for your shock at his behavior — “I can’t believe he would disrespect me like this!” — it’s not like you two met while working at the ethics factory. People who cheat with you are cheaters, meaning that they can probably be counted on to cheat on you. We all know this. Yet there you are, not only suspending disbelief but driving it out to the desert and burying it in a shallow grave.

You’re doing this not because you’re dumb but because you’re succumbing to a mental shortcut called “optimism bias” — a belief, fueled by ego and wishful thinking, that bad things likely to happen to other people will pass over you like a flock of birds, not leaving so much as a souvenir dropping in your hair. Optimism bias is maintained with denial — like your questioning whether phone sex is “really cheating.” Um, if some behavior by your partner, done openly, is likely to cause you to burst into heaving sobs, chances are he’s crossing the line: “Be right there, dear! Just talking dirty to my ex-wife.”

As for your notion that you could just seethe in silence, wonderful idea — except for how, as resentment builds, “head in the sand” starts to feel like “head in the blender.” To stop giving in to optimism bias, give yourself a crack upside the head with how things actually are. Yes, you need to admit that your husband is cheating on you. Once you have your meet-and-greet with reality, let him know you’re onto him and then sit down together to see what you have and whether it’s fixable (and not just by making your elderly mom take the bus to your house so you can stand guard by the phone).

To figure things out, spend 12 hours straight in a hotel room together. Yes, really. No books, TV, phone calls, naps or walks outside. You can sit silently — or talk about anything regarding one or both of you. The late therapist Nathaniel Branden, who came up with this idea, called it an “experiment in intimacy.” Branden explained that when all avenues of escape are closed off, a couple can experience real breakthroughs in communication. As opposed to what you’ve been experiencing — real breakthroughs in communications devices:  “Yeah, we have a very happy relationsh— … hold on, Katrina … sorry; that was just the tracking thingie telling me my husband’s going south on Oak.”

 

Braggedy Andy                  

I’m dating this guy. We aren’t committed, but I’d like us to be. Recently, he’s been mentioning chicks who want to sleep with him whom he shut down. I appreciate his honesty, but I guess I’m wondering why he’s telling me this stuff at all.

—Earful
 

There’s being open and honest, and then there’s bragging about your sexual options, which is the mark of a mantoddler: “Mommy, Mommy, look at the sex fort I’m making!”

The guy’s spirit animal appears to be the trash can with the swinging lip. He either wants you to like him more or he is warning you that you like him too much. Time will tell. Meanwhile, just sitting there blinking as he rattles on about his harem-in-waiting doesn’t make you seem cool and easygoing; it makes you seem cool with disrespect.

In other words, you actually need to say no to knowing. This doesn’t take some long, icky speech. Just a slightly singsongy “Overshare!” And if he doesn’t quite get it, maybe add, “Fascinating … but unless I’ll be needing a penicillin nightcap, TMI.” Assuming he listens and stops and is generally attentive to your feelings, you probably shouldn’t fixate on this. Even the sweetest guy may say things he doesn’t quite think through — to the point where a girl’s sometimes got to ask for tech support: “Hi … sorry, but I couldn’t find this in your FAQs. How do I log out of your penis’s news ticker?”


© 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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