The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess


When Harry bent Sally over the hood of the car      

My girlfriend’s “best friend” is a straight guy. I trust that she THINKS he’s just her friend. However, as a guy, I know that if he could hit it, he would. FYI, I’m not really a jealous or insecure person, and my guy friends complain about this same scenario, so this can’t just be my stuff.        

— Annoyed

There’s a saying, “A true friend accepts who you are and helps you become who you can be” — for example, a person who’s naked in her true friend’s bed, feeling really guilty about cheating on her boyfriend.

Sorry to be less-than-reassuring, but you and your guy friends are right: For many men, the friend zone is a holding area where they wait to Mr. Sneaky back-massage their way into the sexfriend zone. In a study of 88 opposite-sex friendships by evolutionary psychologist April Bleske-Rechek, men were more attracted to their female friend than vice versa and more likely to assume she also had the hots for them — a belief bearing little correspondence to how the woman actually felt. Women, on the other hand, tended to assume their male friend had only platonic intentions. And sure, some male friends are just looking out for their female friends — but others do it in the way a hungry lion looks out for the limping gazelle.

Bleske-Rechek’s findings align with research by evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss suggesting that we evolved to make protective mistakes in perception — erring in favor of whatever assumption would be least costly to our mating and survival interests. Men tend to overestimate women’s attraction to them because they lose more by missing a possible mating opportunity than by making asses of themselves hitting on a woman who isn’t interested (and, in fact, would eat a live pigeon to avoid having sex with them). Women, however, tend to underestimate men’s interest, because they have a lot to lose from believing a cad will stick around to be a dad.

You aren’t without options here, though it’s probably best to refrain from dusting off the old flintlock and challenging the guy to a duel at dawn. Showing jealousy suggests you have reason to feel threatened (like maybe he really is all that). Instead, simply be the better deal. Consistently show your girlfriend that you’ve got what women evolved to prioritize in men — a willingness to invest time, energy, and resources — like by really listening when she talks instead of uh-huhing her while blowing up alien invaders on your phone.

Do this stuff not because you’re afraid of losing her (which stinks of desperation) but because you haven’t forgotten that you love her. And as a show of how secure you are, maybe even encourage her to hang with him — that is, whenever she’s all “Golly, it’s been months since I spent the better part of an hour at the mall trying to decide between two slightly different vanilla-scented candles.”


Dupe Dreams        

I’m a 41-year-old male sports fan, and every girlfriend I’ve had has initially claimed to like sports. But once I’m all in, she admits that she never liked sports at all. Why can’t women just be honest in the beginning?   


Say you like camping. A woman who likes you claims she likes camping, too, perhaps believing that she could like camping — not quite connecting it with everything she absolutely hates, like peeing in a hole and bugs that don’t come in pink resin with a matching choker.

Of course, women aren’t the only ones who claim to be a little more woodsy or literate or … sportif … than they actually are. However, men tend to lie to get sex, while women tend to lie to get love. But because women evolved to be the nurturers and peacekeepers of the species, they are probably more likely to say yes or OK to stuff they’re not very yes or OK with. (Some confuse being a pleaser with being kind and giving in healthy ways.) Men, on the other hand, evolved to be the competitors of our species and are more comfortable with conflict — starting in infancy, when they’re beating up the kid in the next crib.

What’s essential to figure out is whether the lie is a little “I like what you like!” stretchie or part of a disturbing pattern — suggesting she’s either a pathological liar or a gaping void looking to use love as Spackle. Expect hyperbole at the start, and ask probing questions to see whether a woman is truly into sports — beyond challenging some other woman to a cage fight over the last pair of DKNY ankle booties in a 9 and a half narrow.  

© 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


A man walks into a barnacle      

I’m a 43-year-old man, and I’m trying to build my career after years of being a stay-at-home dad. I got involved very quickly with a woman I met online, but the truth is that she’s just not smart enough for me. I feel bad because she’s very sweet, but I’d rather devote my time to my work. I’ve tried to break up with her numerous times, but she just doesn’t seem to get it. I’ll tell her I really need time to myself, but she’ll still call incessantly. How do you tell somebody it’s over in a way that is kind but gets through to them?        

 — I’m Done  

You need “time to yourself”? Great. She can do that. Just call her when you’re ready. No, not on the phone. She’ll be out on your porch in her sleeping bag.

Welcome to the rose-colored distorto-vision of being “optimistically biased” — succumbing to the human tendency to see what’s positive instead of what’s realistic. (“What I refuse to believe won’t hurt me!”) We’re especially likely to go happily dumb when our ego is involved. Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers explains in The Folly of Fools that we “protect our happiness via self-deception.” We have a “psychological immune system” that works “not by fixing what makes us unhappy but by … minimizing it and lying about it.”  

Neuroscientist Tali Sharot finds from her brain imaging research that having a distortedly positive view comes out of what she calls “selective updating.” When our brain gets information that things are going to be better than expected, it’s all, “Yes, sir, we’ll send that around.” But information that things will be worse than expected? That gets kicked under the bed — or would if the brain had feet and slept in a bed.

There is another possibility here. Even if your girlfriend’s intelligence level leaves you confused about whether to take her to dinner or just water her and put her in indirect sunlight, she may be what I call instinctually smart. Possibly, it’s clear to her that you want to end it but she’s ignoring that in hopes of wearing you down. Regardless of the reason she’s still hanging around, the only way to change that is by telling her that you two are done, using very direct language, like, “I’m sorry, but it’s over between us. I am breaking up with you.” Should she keep contacting you, make it similarly clear that there’s no room at the inn for hope.

This is actually the kind way to break up with a refuse-to-believe-er — being momentarily cruel, ideally as soon as you realize it’s over. In other words, putting your girlfriend out of her misery starts with putting her through it — pronto. Keep merely hinting that it’s over and, well, if an asteroid destroyed life on earth as we know it, three things would survive: cockroaches, the Kardashians, and your relationship.


The Endear Hunter       

My girlfriend rarely, if ever, calls me by my actual name. Other women I’ve dated have done this, too. It makes me think of that country song that goes, “You don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin’.” I’ve come to realize that I’ve been steadily losing interest in my girlfriend, and maybe she senses that. Or could it be something else? Why do women do this — not calling men by their actual names?  

— Nameless

There are times when only your actual name will do — because the alternative is “Hey, Magic Penis, I’m over here … aisle 4!”

But, generally speaking, the way people address each other is a statement about the kind of relationship they have. So when the nurse comes into the waiting room with a clipboard, you never hear, “OK … Poopooface, the doctor will see you now.” A cop, likewise, will not ask, “Do you know how fast you were going, Turtlebutt?”

A pet name is part of creating a relationship “culture” — things you do and say that mark the relationship as a distinct little society. (Cutesy handles also tend to, uh, travel better than matching bones through the nose.) Not surprisingly, relationship communication researcher Carol Bruess finds that partners in happy relationships use nicknames more than those in unhappy ones. Referencing previous research, Bruess explains that nickname use both creates intimacy and reflects it. So, it’s possible that your girlfriend’s nicknamery is a ploy — perhaps unconscious — to bring you two closer. (If she talks all cootchie-cuddly-coo, cootchie-cuddly-coo might follow.)

But seeing as you have been “steadily losing interest” in your girlfriend, why are you sitting around pondering nickname use? You need to do your part: Inform your girlfriend that the relationshippypoo can no longer breathe on its owniecakes, and that it’s time she started referring to you as her ex-schmoopie — or, better yet, “that asshole” she used to date.

© 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


It’s always darkest after the spawn     

I’m an unhappily married 30-year-old woman. I’ve been with my husband for 10 years, but we only got married seven months ago. We argue almost daily, and he spends all of his time working. Because we fight so much, the thought of him touching me has become repulsive, so we are rarely intimate. Though these problems long proceeded our marriage, I felt I needed to move forward in life (marry, have kids, etc.), so I went through with the wedding. I recently got sexually involved with a co-worker, and I think I’m falling in love with him. We have all the loving passion I don’t with my husband. However, I want to have children before I’m 35. My husband can afford to raise a family, and my co-worker cannot. I can’t go on like this much longer, and I don’t know what to do.        

— Miserable 

Getting married is supposed to be something you do when you find the right person, not whichever person happens to be right next to you when the clock above your ovaries strikes “HolyshitWe’re30!”

Sure, there comes a point in a woman’s life when conceiving and carrying a baby to term is miraculous to the point where unicorns should be pawing at the delivery room door. But keep in mind that even good marriages get strained by the addition of children, thanks to the poo-splosions, sleep deprivation (a form of torture violating the Geneva Conventions), and mystery rashes that look just like Ebola when you Google them at 3:03 a.m.

It’s also seriously unfair to bring kids into a marriage that’s tanking. Sociologist Paul Amato calls children “the innocent victims of their parents’ inability to maintain harmonious and stable homes.” Reviewing the research on divorce’s effects on children, Amato explains that “compared with children with continuously married parents, children with divorced parents … score significantly lower on measures of academic achievement, conduct, psychological adjustment, self-concept and social relations.” This isn’t to say enemy combatant parents who stay together are doing right by their kids. Amato notes that some studies show that children in “high-conflict households … are worse off than children with divorced parents.”

Obviously, staying together “for the children” is a particularly bad idea when you and the husband you despise don’t even have the little buggers yet. So why did you make this “repulsive” guy your husband instead of your ex-boyfriend? It probably has something to do with our tendency to engage in ego-protecting “self-justification.” Psychologist Elliot Aronson finds that we are prone to refuse to acknowledge our mistakes — even when they’re banging us over the head with a leftover wedding centerpiece. Our denial allows us to keep seeing ourselves as smart people who make good choices. Which keeps us mired in our bad choices.

There is a way out, and it’s gritting our teeth and admitting mistakes instead of marrying them and making little bundles of stressjoy with them. For you, admitting that you screwed up by marrying this guy — the first step in unmarrying him — would take accepting the potential cost: You might not find a suitable candidate for daddyhood in time (or ever). Yes, that would be rough — but so would the possible alternative: having an adorable pair of twins who go to Harvard — because it’s a great place to mug dazed freshmen so they can feed their staggering meth habit.


Living repurposefully      

To quote the Facebook relationship status, “It’s complicated.” I went out with this man a few times and slept with him once. It didn’t work out, and now his sexy guy friend, who’s also his boss, has asked me out. However, the boss guy used to date one of my female friends. We are all in the same social circle. What’s the protocol here? Do I need to ask permission or give anybody a heads-up about my going out with the boss guy?  

—Messy Picture

It can be a little touchy for all involved when everybody’s answer to “Where have you been all my life?” is “Having sex with your friend.”

But perhaps you missed the news. They passed an amendment against owning people. In, uh, 1865. So, assuming your girlfriend isn’t in a fetal position behind her couch sobbing over the boss guy, you should feel free to go out with him. But considering how often first dates end up being last dates, it’s best to avoid putting out a press release about your plans. If dating the guy does take a relationshippy turn, that’s when you give your girlfriend a little heads-up: “Hey, just wanted to let you know, I was rummaging through your trash and I found this fabulous old chair, along with your ex-boyfriend.” Stay classy — that is, avoid any temptation to go gloaty: “They both are, like, so comfy and are really perking up the bedroom!” 

© 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


Going scold turkey      

I have a bad temper, and I’m trying to change. Now when I’m mad, I leave the room to compose myself. Recently, my boyfriend said something that really upset me. Taking a break allowed me to calmly explain that he’d hurt my feelings. He apologized, and I could tell he truly felt bad — much worse than if I had raged on him. Can you explain this?        

— Formerly Volcanic 

It’s really smart to “take 10” when you’re angry — and not just because it takes that long to get the gasoline, pour it all over your boyfriend’s Xbox, and light it on fire.

As I explained recently, screaming at a guy — a verbal attack — launches the same fight-or-flight defense system as trying to use the guy’s face as a bar rag. And once a person’s adrenaline gets let out of the gate, there’s no coaxing it back. That’s why Braveheart would be a Monty Python movie if the Scots, upon doing their battle cry, stopped, looked at one another, and then called to the English: “Say, luvvies … on second thought … shall we all put down these silly battle-axes, wash our faces, and chat out our differences o’er a cup o’ tea?”

As for why your emotional makeover led your boyfriend to go more Mother Teresa than angry motherfucker, social psychologist C. Daniel Batson explains that we have two distinct emotional responses to perceiving another person in need. The first, “personal distress” leads us to have an “egoistic” motivation — to focus on ourselves and how we can escape our own uncomfortable feelings. The other response is empathy — or really, “empathic concern,” which leads to an altruistic motivation: wanting to comfort the other person. You’re more likely to elicit the empathic response when your boyfriend doesn’t need to mount a defense — that is, when you approach him with quiet hurt and disappointment instead of like a hornet with boobs and a purse.

Kudos to you for recognizing that having a feeling isn’t reason to hop on it and ride it like a hoverboard. But in light of how gnarly-hard impulse control can be, what’s most impressive are your adult timeouts — putting space between having a feeling and acting on it. It is good for your boyfriend to believe he can always count on you — but not to explode and take his hand off like black-market fireworks you bought with the possum jerky out of the trunk of some guy’s car.


Paradise bossed      

I have noticed something odd in my relationship: The less demanding I am the more my boyfriend does what I want. Are guys so defiant, like little boys, that if you tell them what to do, they won’t do it? Curiously, if, after saying what I want, I add “but do what you want,” he usually does the thing I was hoping for. I don’t get it.

— Puzzled

“Hey, baby, let’s role-play. I’ll be Stalin, and you be the tens of millions of peasants he sent to labor camps!”

Pick one — having a relationship or ruling the world’s tiniest totalitarian state. There are ways to get a man to do your bidding, and barking orders at him is among the least successful. (This is not the kind of doggy-style a man is hoping for.) Social psychologist Jack Brehm’s research on what he deemed “psychological reactance” finds what anybody with a 2-year-old knows all too well: The more you try to pressure somebody to do something the more they will “react” — that is, resist being controlled.

You can use what you’ve discovered to stealth-control a guy — trick him into bending to your will by being all “I dunno … do what you want  …” However, what’s better is not needing to control him. You can get to that point by being consistently giving. This tends to cue our psychological mechanism for reciprocity — our internal accounting system that keeps track of gifts and favors we’ve received and bugs us when we’re in the red (kind of like a bill collector who demon-calls our conscience instead of our phone).  

And, sure, this reciprocity thing can also be used to pull a guy’s strings. But, especially over time, we seem able to sniff out people’s motives. So see that you’re giving out of love rather than out of a desire to, uh, nanomanage (because micromanagement is for slackers). When generosity of spirit is what’s driving you, you’re likely to inspire the guy to give back — wanting to make you happy, as opposed to wanting to get your “honey-dos” out of the way so he can tie up two guards and tunnel out of the relationship with a sharpened toothbrush. 

© 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


Dust in the lust     

I’m a man who has been married three times. Upon reflection, it seems to me that most women are ultimately not that interested in sex as a recreational activity. I try to be a selfless and devoted lover, but I always see a steep drop in a woman’s sexual interest after we’re together for a while. Can I do something to avoid this?       

— Wondering 

Admittedly, women aren’t going to psychics and asking, “Tell me, Madam Sasha … will he have recreational sex with me? I NEED TO KNOWWW!”

Still, there are plenty of lusty women who are just looking to bed and shed a guy. And I do get email from women desperate to get their man to put down Call of Duty and put out. But anthropologist Peter B. Gray and evolutionary biologist Justin Garcia write in Evolution & Human Sexual Behavior that a survey of the scientific literature finds what many of us probably recognize — that men, on average, have stronger and more consistent sex drives. As social psychologist Roy Baumeister put it in one of these studies: “Men want sex more than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it, and after many years of it.”

Gray and Garcia explain that “within an evolutionary lens, this (difference) makes sense.” They’re referring to how it was in an ancestral man’s (gene-spreading) best interest to have sex with any woman who’d have him. Women, however, benefited from being choosier — holding off from going into the bushes with just any “hit ‘em and quit ‘em” Mr. Neanderbrow, which could leave them as the sole caretaker for one or more little Neanderbrows.

But there’s choosiness and there’s choosing to replace hot sex with hot scrapbooking. When sexologist Rosemary Basson read a 1999 study with over a third of women reporting “low sexual desire,” she began to wonder whether the problem is in the women or in the expectation that desire in women will play out the way it does in men.

Basson found that in the early stages of a relationship, or if women are away from their partner for days or weeks, they will have that from-out-of-nowhere lust to get it on that men do. But once a woman settles into a relationship, sex often becomes a “responsive event.” This doesn’t mean her sex drive is permanently up on blocks on the front lawn. It’s what Basson calls “triggerable,” meaning that a woman first needs to start fooling around, which will lead to her getting aroused. She’ll then feel desire and be up for sexcapades. But because many couples don’t know this, their sex lives (and often their relationships) go to pot while they wait around for the woman’s desire like a bus that never comes.

This should tell you that it’s wise, when in a relationship, to schedule not just date night but sex date night. Sure having this as an event alert on your iPhone — just below “City Council meeting” — probably sounds pretty unsexy. However, it’s ultimately a whole lot sexier than getting to the point where your penis starts rogue-answering your phone with charming little greetings like “Death Row, how may I direct your call?”


Blareway to Heaven     

My friends are shocked at how honest my boyfriend and I are with each other. He’ll tell me I need to brush my teeth … again. I’ll ask him if he’s heard of deodorant. We tease each other a lot, but it’s not mean-spirited. We love each other. Also, he says he’s grateful that he doesn’t have to constantly censor himself with me as he did with his previous girlfriends. But are we being too honest?

— Worried

Sometimes the naked truth needs a back wax before it gets presented to anyone. But it really depends on the audience. You two, for example, seem to have a mutual admiration society with moments of “Umm … perhaps you hadn’t noticed …” The message? “Be yourself! But with one fewer green thing between your teeth.”

Marriage researcher John Gottman finds that what matters is the overall climate of the relationship — whether it’s a warm and loving friendship or the kind of “ship” where one longs to shove the other overboard when the cruise director rounds the corner. Gottman also emphasizes the importance of raising issues gently and sooner rather than later. Your way may not seem gentle to your friends, but providing that you don’t start seasoning your humor with contempt (which Gottman finds is a real relationship-killer), you probably have a good chance of growing old (and smelly) together. Picture yourselves in the old fogies home, reciting romantic poetry to each other — like this one (which I think is from Tennyson): “Roses are red, violets are blue, you look like a monkey, and you smell like one, too.” 

© 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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