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.