Nov. 16 2011 12:00 AM

Snorting hope & You’ve got stale


Q: I’ve
been with my boyfriend for three years. The first year was rocky. He
was selling drugs, got addicted, and went to prison. Three months after
getting out, he relapsed. I persuaded his mother to send him to rehab,
and afterward I found us an apartment, where we’ve been for six months.
He has remained drug-free, helps with cooking and cleaning, and pays
half the rent and bills. His job just got cut back to 16 hours a week.
He has applied for a handful of positions but isn’t consistently
looking, and he spends lots of time fishing. Meanwhile, I’m paying for
groceries, dinners out and any puny vacations, and I’ve bought him new
clothes so he’ll look his confident best. When I say I’m exhausted
pulling this much weight, he uses his sobriety as a tool, saying, “Look
how much better I am; I did this all for you.” My last relationship was
much more equal, and I ended it because I felt like I didn’t matter. I
do like feeling important to this person, and I do like the love,
affection and kindness he shows me.


A: It
must have been hell for you in your previous relationship when stopping
your boyfriend’s self-destructive behavior only involved putting out
messages like “Just say no to chicken-fried steak and the occasional

Some women do volunteer work; some women
date it. You and your boyfriend are a classic combination, the drug
addict and the enabler. Addict behavior is immature brat behavior —
throwing over tomorrow to get your rocks off (or snort some rock)
today. These days, your boyfriend’s nose might not be powdered (“Crack:
The other white meth!”), but he’s leaving you “gone fishing” notes
instead of going looking for “help wanted” signs. Then again, why
should he man up when he can always count on you to mommy up? 

Welcome to “the well-intentioned path to
hell,” as Dr. Barbara Oakley puts it. Oakley, author of the fascinating
book “Cold-Blooded Kindness,” studies “pathological altruism,” help
that actually ends up hurting —
sometimes both the helper and the person she’s supposed to be helping.
Oakley explains that your boyfriend may not be the only one in the
relationship who’s been getting a buzz on: “Part of our sense of
altruism — of wanting to care for others at cost to ourselves —
is related to the positive feelings we get from our nucleus accumbens
and related areas (the brain’s pleasure center)…the same areas that are
activated when we get high on drugs or gambling.”

You have a choice: Keep pressing your
paw on the little lever for your do-gooder’s high, or accept the risk
of seeking real love with the sort of man who can live without you but
would really rather not. Real love means having a crush on a man as a
human — respecting and
admiring who he is, as opposed to pitying him for what he’s done to
himself. A man who really loves you wants the best for you; he doesn’t
guilt-trip you (“I did this all for you!”) into ignoring your own needs
so you can better meet his. Should you decide to stay with your help
object, inform him that you’ll bail if he doesn’t start putting out
more than a clean urine sample. If he doesn’t come through, either
accept your fate as Mommy II or finally act on what you’ve spent three
years pretending not to know — that a woman without an addict is like a fish without a Smart car.

Q: I’m a
woman who’s been online dating for two years. I’ve noticed that people
who’ve been on the dating site as long as I have often put up different
pictures. By never changing my picture in two years, am I broadcasting
that I’m a loser? I feel changing it seems more loserish, as in, “Hey,
anyone want me from a different angle?”

—Still Here

A: Do you
also suspect Banana Republic is going out of business every time they
update their store windows? Changing your picture is a way to say “New
and Improved!” — a
classic advertising gambit that seems to perk up sales despite
everybody knowing it probably means “Toothpaste’s largely the same, but
check out the butterfly and sparklies we added to the package!” Keep in
mind that research has shown that men are drawn to flirty, smiley shots
of women, and common sense says to avoid cropping all your photos at
the shoulders, as this leaves a little too much mystery about what
shape the rest of you is in. Have fun while posing and you should seem
like you’re having fun putting yourself out there —
as opposed to having fears that the next man at your side will be the
utility worker who discovers you sitting mummified on your couch.