The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess

 

Sweeping Beauty      

My new boyfriend is messy. He drops his socks, underwear and clothing on the floor by the bed. He’s not lazy or entitled, just a spacehead. It’s no big deal for me to pick this stuff up, as I feel like I’m showing him love by caretaking. However, he says his ex said she didn’t mind, either, and then was screaming about his socks eight months later. Is that my future?        

— Worried

 

It was so much easier when we only wore fig leaves and you could just rake next to the bed.

To be human is to be annoying to some other human. Like by doing that weird clicking thing with your tongue or always leaving the kitchen cabinets ajar (very helpful for any dishes prone to claustrophobia).

At first, such behaviors can seem oddly endearing — as does a new boyfriend’s abandoning his socks instead of making that harrowing 62.5-inch trek to the hamper. In time, however, a woman can start having some less-than-constructive ideas. You know, little things, like nailing his socks and underwear to the floor or perhaps lying in wait for him to drop something and then spraying him with a water bottle like a cat on the counter.

But as your boyfriend’s letting his socks fall to the bedroom rug like snow, do you think he’s all “Ha, I’ll show her!” — or more “Pillow, here I come!”? The air bag against resenting him is love — not love as a mere feeling but love as an activity, an action you choose to take. Assuming your guy’s basically a good person who loves you, try to behave as if you haven’t forgotten that you love him. Even when you hate him a little.

Unfortunately, change is hard. Behaviors become habits, and the personality traits that contribute to them are biologically driven. However, psychologist Art Markman explains that we can structure our environment to help us reshape our behavior. In Smart Change, he advises building a reminder to do a desired behavior into your environment in a way that it can’t be avoided. Upon repeating a new behavior about 20 times, you create the beginnings of a new habit.

In your situation, this could even be fun. Each night for a few weeks, leave a sheet of paper with a different message on his pillow, maybe starting with a Magic Markered smiling cartoon hamper saying, “Feed meeee!” (One night, you could even tuck the hamper in under the covers.) Should you fail to amuse him out of his laundry-leaving ways, try to maintain perspective. Consider the idiocy of some people who say they’ll do “anything” for love: move, quit, give up the British throne (sadly, a moot point for most of us). Their stance only changes once they have love — at which point “anything” involves stopping just short of picking up a small fabric item from the rug.

 

Minnie Mouth      

I contributed to the ruin of my marriage with my big mouth, constantly sharing our intimate details with my girlfriends. Well, my wonderful new boyfriend is a pretty private person and has asked that I not share this stuff with my chick circle, and I’ve agreed. However, my friends have gotten used to living vicariously through my drama, and they aren’t liking my new tight-lipped approach. They even seem resentful, like I don’t trust them anymore.

— New Boundaries

Him: “I think I have psoriasis on my penis.” 

 
You, picking up your phone to text: “Ohh…that’s terr —…can you spell that for me?”

Yes, I’ve heard — privacy is supposedly dead (buried in a shallow grave with a dial-up modem somewhere in Jersey). And yes, many people treat it that way. However, though the private details of our lives — our thoughts, emotions and closed-door doings — aren’t things you can hold (like your “Hooked on Phonics” coffee mug), they are our possessions just like the physical objects we own. In an 1890 Harvard Law Review article, Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren explain that privacy is a natural human right that comes out of our right to be left alone. Basically, unless you’re a public figure or you’ve done some bad thing that affects the public, the information about your life belongs to you.

Gently inform your girl posse that the info cookie jar is now closed. Explain that this has nothing to do with them and everything to do with your boyfriend’s right to pick the privacy settings on his life. And no, the fact that you and he are in situations together doesn’t change that. He’s agreed to share his life with you, not your friends, your Twitter followers, and three cranky federal agents in the “Heating and Cooling” van outside his house. 


© 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

 

The Gospel of Lukewarm       

I’ve been in a long-distance relationship with my dream man. When we aren’t together, I feel super-disconnected and needy. I’ve never been that sort of person, but he is a master of compartmentalization and just calls or texts back when I contact him and is happy to see me when he sees me. This just isn’t working for me. I need a guy who’s excited enough about me day to day that he takes a little initiative to talk to me. I’ve asked him repeatedly to even just text me first from time to time so I can feel like I matter to him. However, nothing changes. I now think I should end it. I do love him, though, and my friends are telling me that I’ve already invested nine months of my life in this relationship and I might as well see it through now. There is the possibility he’d move to my city, but that wouldn’t be for at least eight months, and it is only a possibility.        

— Across The Country

In situations like this, “absence” would be more useful if, instead of making the heart “grow fonder,” it made the heart grow little legs and trot off to a bar to chat up somebody new.

You’ve told this guy what you need — no, not diamonds, furs and surgical conjoinment; just a textiepoo at some point in the afternoon or maybe a call as he’s on his way someplace. He pretty much responded, “I hear ya, baby — and can’t wait to keep doing the exact same thing!” This led you to the obvious (and healthy) conclusion: Time to jump off the lost-cause train. But just then, up popped your friends to yank you back into the boxcar, advising you to put up with the unhappy and see where it goes — because you’ve already put in so much unhappy.

Right.

This sort of thinking is called the “sunk cost fallacy.” It’s a common cognitive bias — an error in reasoning — that leads us to keep investing in something simply because we’ve already invested so much. Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman explains that even when we sense that investing further is futile, we’re prone to do it because of how powerfully loss affects us. His research finds that we may even feel twice as much pain from a loss as we feel happiness from a gain. So, rather than take the hit to our ego by admitting we’ve wasted our time, we waste more time doing whatever wasted our time in the first place.

The rational (and misery-reducing) approach is recognizing that the time we’ve already put in is gone and that throwing more time in after it won’t change that. What makes sense is deciding what to do based on how likely it is to pay off in the future. In this case, sure, your boyfriend could have a near-death experience, re-evaluate his life, and start texting you heart emojis every 20 minutes — and Elton John could divorce his husband and start dating women. Of course, if you do ditch this guy, your replacement dream man may not pop up immediately in his wake. But at the very least, you should find that there are many men out there who can fail to meet your needs without your spending thousands of dollars a year on plane tickets.

 

Lip bomb      

I love my girlfriend but don’t love how aggressive she is with her tongue when we kiss. I like softer kissing, but I think she thinks I won’t find her “passionate” enough that way. She has big, beautiful lips, and she’s intense, and I don’t need her tongue down my throat to feel connected. How do I navigate this difference in styles?

 —Uncomfortable

It’s great to have your girlfriend’s kisses kick off a fantasy in your head, but not that you’re playing spin the bottle with a camel.

Unfortunately, there’s really no such thing as “constructive criticism.” As I explain in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, “Criticizing people doesn’t make them change; it makes them want to clobber you.” That’s because we’re living in modern times with an antique psychological operating system. A verbal attack sets off pretty much the same biochemical alarm as a guy in a loincloth and face paint coming after you with a bloody spear. The good news is that turning criticism into opinion often makes all the difference in getting it heard. In this case, this simply involves telling your girlfriend how you like to be kissed — and then (fun!) showing her. It’s great to have a woman who takes your breath away — but not because she’s trying to give you a laryngectomy with her tongue.


© 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

 

Fawn Juan      

I’m a 31-year-old single guy with a problematic pattern. Women I ask out seem to love how I’m open and very complimentary from the start, but then, suddenly, they get cold feet. It seems that once women know they’re desired, they’re done with you. My guy friends tell me I should “play it cool,” but then I’m not being authentic.        

— True Man

Gushing over a woman right out of the gate — “Wow … you have skin!” — tends to give a man all the rough-hewn sex appeal of a Care Bear.

The problem here comes out of what evolutionary psychologists David Buss and David Schmitt explain as men’s and women’s conflicting sexual strategies. For an ancestral woman, there was the possibility of high back-end costs from any sex act (children to dig grubs for and drag around). So, women evolved to be the commitment-seekers of our species, and men, the commitment-free sex seekers. Men still had a good chance of passing on their genes, even if they chose to “fun and run.” (Of course, this worked better in the days before state-ordered child support.)

Though it’s the tail end of 2015, evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby explain that “our modern skulls house a stone age mind” with “stone age priorities.” So, women expect to work to get a man to commit just as men expect to work to get a woman into bed. And just as women get devalued by men for being sexually “easy,” men get devalued by women if they seem emotionally “easy” — like by immediately throwing around compliments like glitter at a gay pride parade. This sort of thing doesn’t say you find the woman beautiful or whatever; it says you find it a miracle that she went out with you at all.

Try something new — keeping a lid on the word drool. In other words, shut up and listen. Ask a woman about herself — where she’s been, what she thinks, what matters to her — and engage with what she’s saying. That’s the sincere way to compliment a woman — showing that you’re interested in her as a human being instead of slobbering all over her like a dog that’s been left home all day.

The safe time to compliment a woman on her hotitude is after you’ve slept together. Women are often insecure about their bodies, and post-sex compliments will be appreciated (instead of depreciating you). All in all, keep in mind that the dating realm is like many other endeavors. Too much enthusiasm too soon typically makes you seem desperate … for something … anything … anybody. Picture yourself wandering into a bank and having a bunch of execs dash over: “We’d like to make YOU the president of Wells Fargo!” And you’re like, “Umm … I was just coming in to get quarters for the laundromat.”

 

Stare Wars      

My girlfriend of a year has a really hard time looking into my eyes when we have sex. Eye contact is a big turn-on for me because it’s so intense and intimate. She says she feels scared and vulnerable: “I don’t want you to see how much I care.” I also think she feels insecure about how she looks during sex. How can I reassure her?

 — Not Going Anywhere

OK, so your girlfriend’s idea of something sexy to wear in bed is a Richard Nixon mask with the eyeholes taped over. (On a positive note, this isn’t because keeping her eyes closed makes it easier to pretend you’re Channing Tatum.)  

Your girlfriend’s likely to let go a little if you grab on to her a little tighter. This advice comes out of “the dependency paradox,” a finding by social psychologist Brooke C. Feeney that the more you show a romantic partner that they can rely on you, the less they feel the need to cling. This would seem to apply to emotional risks, too, like not just having sex while blindfolded. In pitch darkness. In a cave. In the middle of the earth.

To help your girlfriend understand that, in you, she has what Feeney calls a “secure base,” warn her that you’re going to start bombarding her with how much you love her and how beautiful you find her. And don’t just do it in bed. Hug her, kiss her, love on her in while in line at the DMV. (Keep at it until strangers coo — or yell, “Get a room!”) Ask her to try eye contact while clothed — at first for three seconds, and then for five — and then try the same in bed. Eventually, she should feel more secure about your loving her and finding her beautiful — even in bed, when she’s making a face like Mao Tse-tung straining on the john.


© 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

 

The Hurt and Confused Locker     

I was dating a sociopathic compulsive liar for three months. I had a gut feeling that he was lying about his work, education and finances, but I had no real proof. This allowed him to manipulate me and convince me that I was crazy, insecure and paranoid. Finally, through Internet searches and contact with his ex-wife, I got proof together and confronted him. Though I dumped him, I’ve become super-edgy and suspicious that everyone’s lying to me. I even accused a co-worker of stealing my phone. I think the stress this guy put me through probably caused PTSD. How does one move on after dating a sociopath?        

— Burned

Tales from your PTSD support group:

THEM: “I was held captive with a burlap bag over my head and beaten with electrical cords.”

YOU: “I’m right there with you, bro. This dude I was dating told me his Ferrari was paid for, and it turned out to be leased!”

YOU: “My boyfriend pretended he was buying a mansion, but he really lives with his parents.”

THEM: “That’s terrible. Can you help me put on my prosthetic leg?”

Sure, according to Pat Benatar, “love is a battlefield.” But spending three months fighting with a sociopathic boyfriend doesn’t leave you ducking for cover whenever a car backfires like a guy who did three tours of IED disposal in Iraq and came home with most of the parts he went in with. Ofer Zur, a psychologist who specializes in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, explains, “To meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, the stressor experienced must involve actual or threatened death or serious injury.”

What you did experience is called “gaslighting,” a covert form of psychological bullying that leaves you doubting your perception of reality and, eventually, accepting the bully’s distorted, self-serving version. So, for example, when you question your partner on something — like their work, education or finances — instead of doing the civilized, healthy-person thing and giving you an answer, they blast you for daring to insult them by asking. (People who are cheating will often do this.) Day after day, as they treat you like you’re nuts, blind or dumb, your self-worth erodes and you feel less and less able to trust your judgment — to the point where you start using all the red flags as carwash towels.

The thing is, gaslighting isn’t like an alien spaceship with a giant vacuum hose, sucking in any person in its path. It’s the need for outside validation that makes a person susceptible, explains psychologist Robin Stern in The Gaslight Effect. Another risk factor is an overvaluing of romantic love — seeing it as a magical eraser for life’s problems and a way to duck out of the grubby work of developing a self. Believing the unbelievable is the price of maintaining a relationship that seems “more intense, more glamorous and more special.” This is basically selling yourself out for love — though all you really have is a snake charmer and a snake, all in one basket, with a boyfriend face taped across the front.

To your credit, you had a strong enough self that you eventually crawled up through the romantic cloud cover and did some late-night Internet snake-hunting. Though you’ve given your reptile the boot (or perhaps upcycled him into a handbag), your fear of being scammed again has you going all Inspector Javert on every slightly shifty-eyed co-worker. Consider that you’re reacting to the romantic con job as if it happened randomly, like a roast chicken falling out of a private jet and cracking you on the head. To stop wildly flinging suspicion around, accept responsibility: Admit that you got duped because you wanted to believe more than you wanted to see.

Granted, it isn’t always easy to identify the liars. (You can’t just keep an eye out for those telltale pants on fire.) Stern, however, offers good advice to avoid getting taken in by gaslighters and other pathologically inventive hustlers. Instead of debating them on whether a particular piece of information is right or wrong, focus on your feelings. Ask yourself: “Do I like being treated this way … talked to this way?”

And though you don’t have PTSD, you might take a page out of Zur’s playbook — his notion that we heal from bad experiences by creating a narrative that gives them meaning for the future. You, for example, could use this experience as a giant Post-it note reminding you to take a relationship slowly, meet a person’s circle of friends, and see who they are over time — instead of immediately declaring that you’ve found the love of the century. If you’re going to have a fairy-tale relationship, it shouldn’t be because little or nothing in it exists in real life.


© 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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