The Advice Goddess

The Advice Goddess


Mr. Throng       

I’m a 35-year-old woman, and I’ve been involved with a guy around my age for almost two years. It’s been “open.” Well, that is, he’s had the freedom to sleep with other people. I haven’t wanted to. I finally realized that I am not happy with this and want more, but he made it very clear that he’s not interested in being monogamous — with me or anybody. I’m having a very difficult time cutting things off, as there’s a lot that’s great about our relationship. How do you leave somebody you really care about who you know is bad for you?        

— Stuck

It isn’t exactly a shocker that the thing you want to be asking your boyfriend when he comes home is not “Hey, cuddlebug, how was your booty call?”

There’s this notion that being sexually sophisticated means being all “no probski” about your partner having sex on the “I love a parade” model. But it turns out that jealousy isn’t so easily disabled. Research by evolutionary psychologist David Buss suggests that jealousy is basically love’s burglar alarm — an evolved psychological warning system that goes off in response to threats to a relationship. So, sure, you can try to talk yourself into being cool with the sexual variety pack — just like when you hear your downstairs window breaking, you can try to roll over and catch a little more shut-eye while the burglars ransack your house.

It must seem kind of unbelievable to be so miserable yet so unable to keep enough of a grip on that to get out. You can probably blame the limits of what’s called “working memory.” It’s essentially a mental workspace — a kind of whiteboard in your head — where you lay out and kick around a few sets of information. These info sets are called “chunks,” and one example might be the experiences that make up the idea “he cooks me these wonderful dinners!” But according to research by psychologist Nelson Cowan, working memory holds only about four chunks at once. We also tend to give priority seating to info sets that justify the choices we’ve made. So, all aboard for the he’s a great kisser chunk, the he was really sweet when I was in the hospital chunk, etc., etc. And whoops — whaddya know — seems there’s no room for he insists on having sex buffet-style.

You need to look at all the information at once, and this requires a piece of paper and a pen. On either half of the page, list the pros and cons of being with him, giving them blocks of space that correspond to their importance. For example, his home-cooked meals should probably get a sliver of space on the pro side, while his need to go home with Linda should get a big block on the con side. Carry this paper around and look at it until it becomes clear to you that you need to be somebody’s “one and only” and not just the one before their Tuesday tennis lesson.


Hug Hefner          

I’m a 32-year-old guy, and my girlfriend has been complaining that the only time I’m cuddly or affectionate is when I want to have sex. I don’t really see the problem. It’s my way of initiating versus … I don’t know, asking her … which would be weird.   


Aw … how sweet … cuddling that comes with a trap door to the sex dungeon!

From a woman’s point of view, it’s nice to have your boyfriend, say, grab your hand, and not just because he’d like you to put it on his penis. This isn’t just some mysterious form of sexual etiquette. It comes out of how women evolved to be “commitment skeptics,” as evolutionary psychologist Martie Haselton puts it. Erring on the side of underestimating a man’s level of commitment was how ancestral women kept themselves from ending up single mothers with a bunch of cave-lings to feed.

Economist Robert Frank calls love “a solution to the commitment problem.” As he explains it, being emotionally bonded keeps you from making a coldly rational calculation about who’s got more to offer, your girlfriend or the new neighbor with boobs so big that each should be sending a delegate to the U.N. So, because women are on the lookout for signs that you love them, a hug is a hug is a hug needs to be the deal much of the time. Otherwise, whenever you’re affectionate, it’ll just seem like the boyfriend version of a wino telling a woman she’s beautiful — because it would be really beautiful if she’d give him the last dollar he needs to get drunk on cheapo aftershave.

© 2016, 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


Ben Hurry       

I’m a woman in my 40s, and I’ve been happily married for 22 years. Unfortunately, my husband and I have never been very compatible sexually. I had read so much Cosmo in college that I believed sex was something we could work on. Well, he is quick in the sack and uninterested in my pleasure. It’s been two decades of “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,” and our old four minutes of intercourse now lasts for about two. And yes, I have asked him to attend to my needs — for years. He just blows me off. He’s always been satisfied, so he is not motivated to change. After a particularly quick encounter this morning left me feeling used, my thought was that I need a divorce. I’m distraught to think this way. Is there another option?        

— Unsatisfied

Sex can sometimes be confusing, but timewise, it shouldn’t leave you wondering whether you’ve been having it or poaching an egg.

There is only so much room for improvement if, in bed, two people go together like peanut butter and an oar. Still, Cosmo wasn’t entirely wrong. Sexual technique can be tweaked at least somewhat by working on it — that is, if both partners show up to the office and admit that there’s a job to do. And then there’s your husband, dead set on continuing to have sex on the “success in bank robbery” model: in and out before anybody knows what hit ‘em.

Though your sex face is obviously a frown, the big issue here isn’t bad sex; it’s bad love. You don’t seem to see it that way, perhaps due to “cognitive dissonance.” That’s social psychologist Leon Festinger’s term for the psychological discomfort of simultaneously holding two conflicting views — like the belief that you’re worthy of love and the observation that your husband’s about as attentive to you in bed as he is to the headboard. To smooth out an inconsistency like this, we typically grab for whichever explanation helps us feel good about ourselves — which is maybe why you describe yourself as “happily married” to a man who acts like the clitoris is a rare exotic bird.

If, outside of bed, he’s actually loving enough for you to want to fix this, you might say something like “I love you and want to save our marriage, but I feel deeply unloved whenever we have sex.” Explain that if he isn’t willing to take steps to change, you don’t think you can stay with him. Specify the steps, like practice sessions in which you show him what you like and maybe some get-togethers with a sex therapist (a referee to call him on his sense of sexual entitlement).

Even if he were to agree to all of it, be realistic. Sex might start feeling more like being made love to than being bumped into by a naked man, but it’s unlikely to ever be mind-blowing or anything close. Still, you might be happy if you just see that he cares enough to make an effort in bed — one leisurely enough that you don’t expect it to be followed by “meep meep!” and a cartoon cloud of dust.


Look before you keep          

This guy I’m dating had a mean, demanding girlfriend, and it left him kind of a relationship-phobe. He says meeting me two months ago made him want to change that. He is loving and seems excited to be with me, except for how he introduces me — as his “friend” or “ladyfriend.” Should I be worried that he doesn’t call me his girlfriend?   

— Irked

It’s easy to go straight to all the worst reasons for why he won’t call you his girlfriend, like that it would seem disloyal to that secret wife he has stashed away in the suburbs.

However, keep in mind that a label (like “girlfriend”) isn’t just a word. Labels actually have power over our behavior. Research by social psychologist Elliot Aronson finds that we seem to have a powerful longing for consistency — for things to match. So, committing to a label tends to make us feel obligated to follow through with the behavior that goes with it — and never mind figuring out whether it’s what we really want.

Give the guy some time. He’s (understandably!) slow to do a cannonball into a new relationship, but you say he is “loving” and seems “excited” to be with you. So, sure, he may be on the fence, but he doesn’t seem to be on the run. Until his answer to “What are we doing here?” is no longer “Not sure yet,” you might ask him to drop the likes of “ladyfriend” and just use your name — charming as it is to be introduced with what sounds like 19th-century code for “two-dollar hooker.” 

© 2016, 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


Shove hurts       

I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on a relationship coach, who instructed me to cut off all sex and even all contact with the guy I was dating until he agreed to marry me. I knew he loved me and wanted to marry me; I just wanted him to do it faster. Sadly, my ultimatum to him blew up in my face; he is done with me. My roommate, who thought the coach’s advice was terrible, just moved in with her guy, despite his being kind of a commitmentphobe. Her approach was to just be loving and patient with him and give it some time (about a year). She said she realized that she had the option to bail if the waiting became too much. I’m confused. Men supposedly don’t get hints. Why doesn’t saying what you want work to get the guy?        

—Direct And Dumped

Is your dating coach 8 years old? Because “I refuse to speak to you till you propose!” is a (slightly) more adult version of “I’m holding my breath till you buy me that Barbie!”

Welcome to Ultimatum Frisbee! A highly risky game. We tend to freak when our freedom is threatened — including our freedom of choice. In fact, social psychologist George A. Youngs finds that when a potential loss of freedom looms, it unleashes a “motivational state,” compelling us to try to preserve that freedom and fight off any attempts to yank other freedoms. In other words, the more you go all petty despot on somebody — overtly trying to force them into doing your bidding — the more likely they are to rebel, and maybe even do the exact opposite of what you want.

“Overtly” is the key word here. Your roommate also wanted to wrangle a commitment from her boo. But note the difference in tactics: making it attractive for him to stick around, as opposed to leaving a note on his pillow, “Put a ring on it!” — along with the severed, bleeding head of My Little Pony.

This isn’t to say you should keep your mouth shut about what you want. But consider the difference in controllingness in making a statement versus giving an ultimatum. A statement tells him what you have to do: “I feel bad that you don’t seem to want to marry me, and I can’t continue in this much longer.” An ultimatum, on the other hand, tells him what he has to do: “Marry me or nothing, bucko!”

Also, consider that with “marry me or nothing,” you’re very distinctly putting “nothing” on the table. And maybe at a certain point, this is a trade-off you’re willing to make. But, again, stating it in those terms is probably a bad idea. Keep in mind that typically, a man commits to a woman because he loves her and is better with her than he is alone — much as he might admire her for her attempt to re-enact the Iran hostage crisis on a very small scale.

Atone deaf         

I’m a 28-year-old girl, and I‘ve been with my boyfriend for several months. He never really apologizes. He’ll say “I’m sorry you feel that way” and never “I’m sorry that I did that.” When I confronted him, he said, “Well, I’m not sorry for my actions. I just don’t want to hurt you, so I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” Am I parsing this too much? Is there a difference between these two apologies?   


“I’m sorry you feel that way” is the Dollar Tree version of an apology. Sure, it has the words “I’m sorry” and the package seems kind of familiar, but it ultimately goes down like expired SpaghettiOs from Czechoslovakia.

This kind of apology doesn’t make you want to forgive somebody; it makes you want to chase them with an ax. Basically, instead of taking responsibility for what they did or said, they’re using apology words to blame you for feeling bad about it. Which is like saying, “I’m so sorry your window was too lame to open itself when my golf ball was heading toward it.”

And sure, “Sorry you’re offended” is sometimes appropriate, but when it’s always somebody’s apology, it suggests they have no connection to the possibility that they’ve done something wrong. This is a trait common to narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths, reflecting a lack of empathy. (Their saying “I’m sorry you’re hurt” is just a sneaky way out, not an expression of care and concern.)

Consider whether the “I’m perfect; you’re oversensitive” model will work for you long term. If not, tell him what you need and see whether he can or will give it to you. If you don’t see a change, the best way to teach him may be by example: “I’m sorry, but the number you have called has been disconnected.” 

© 2016, 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


Livid and let livid      

You responded to a woman who was very proud of herself for leaving the room to compose herself when she got really angry with her boyfriend. It is very unhealthy to stuff your anger. Why would you give this terrible advice — encouraging her to keep holding back — instead of telling her to vent her anger?       

— A Healthier Way

Nothing like screaming obscenities into somebody’s face to get them to respond, “Gosh, I forgot how much I love you. And I really want to make all of those changes in myself.”

Also, unlike a box of Cap’n Crunch, anger does not rapidly get used up. In fact, Charles Darwin observed that raging on will make you even … rage-ier. But thanks to Freud, people still believe that “venting” anger is a healthy way to reduce it. Not because he had actual evidence for that but because he said so and accessorized so credibly, with the cigar, the iconic eyewear and the groovy Viennese fainting couch.

One of the first modern researchers to debunk this myth (back in 1966) was Michael Kahn, then a Harvard grad student who’d actually hoped to demonstrate the benefits of venting anger. Posing as an aggressively rude medical technician, he made seriously insulting remarks while taking subjects’ blood pressure, making them really angry. As part of the study, some subjects were allowed to vent their anger to a researcher posing as Kahn’s supervisor. To Kahn’s surprise, those who did got angrier, and their already-elevated blood pressure took off toward strokesville.

Some people will say, “I don’t care what the dumb research says; I feel better after I blow my lid.” Well, these people still experience all the ill effects of anger on their physical health. The relief they feel is emotional, coming out of how anger arises from the feeling that we’ve been treated unfairly. Raging back makes them feel that they’ve done something to right the balance. However, it also tends to provoke a defensive reaction in the person they’re raging at, so it’s a counterproductive tactic — assuming they weren’t aspiring to kick off 20 years of trench warfare in the condo commons.

The answer isn’t stuffing your anger; it’s expressing what’s behind it — in a civil discussion instead of a civil war. Controlling the body’s role in anger is an essential part of this. The problem is that surging adrenaline and other elements of the body’s anger response can’t just be thrown into reverse. So, when you feel anger brewing, it’s wise to take a step back — or to do as this woman did and step into another room.

Keeping your cool allows you to present your case — your feeling hurt by somebody’s behavior — in a way that evokes sympathy rather than defensiveness. This is important because sympathy tends to motivate us to do things to make hurting people feel better. This, in turn, bodes better for the future of a relationship — sexy as it can be when a man interrupts a woman’s rage-athon to whisper, “Baby, I don’t mean to turn you on, but that pulsating vein in your forehead looks like an arteriovenous fistula about to blow.”


The Speaky Wheel        

My girlfriend wants me to compliment her more — to notice how she looks and say something. I know I’m not Mr. Effusive. But honestly, if I didn’t find her hot, I wouldn’t even be with her!   

— Still Here!

It may not come naturally to you to effuse, but civilization is all about doing what doesn’t come naturally. Note that chimps in the wild are rarely observed wearing shoes, ties and cuff links.

Many men complain that women’s idea of communicating what they want is hinting, pouting or slamming drawers while insisting nothing’s wrong. You, however, have a woman who comes right out and tells you, “Here’s what you could do to make me happy,” and it doesn’t even involve risking jail time or going on a double date with her mother. Her simple request: When she’s, say, vacuuming in her new underwear and your jaw drops, run with that. Make it go up and down, and make words come out.Basically, the terrorism prevention line applies: “If you see something, say something.” Put a daily reminder on your phone if you have to. For added incentive, consider the fringe benefits. Research by social psychologist Sara Algoe finds that the stock-taking that goes into expressing appreciation for a romantic partner actually makes the person doing it feel more satisfied with the relationship. Not surprisingly, being appreciated seems to do the same for the recipient. And yes, you have to do the appreciating using the spoken word. Nonverbal creative alternatives are only (borderline) acceptable if you are a working mime or birthday party clown, and even then, there’s always something lost in translation with balloon animals. 

© 2016, 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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