Q: I broke up with a boyfriend a few years ago because I wasn’t getting what I wanted from him. I’d give him subtle cues, and when he didn’t respond in the ways I was hoping for, I blamed him for being thickheaded. I’ve ended many a relationship because of this. The dudes didn’t have a chance. I now see that we women can skip years of frustration by getting clear with our partners about what we need from them. Understanding this now, you’d think it would be simple for me to follow through. Yet, I’m continually surprised at how strong my “have him guess!” impulse can be. Letting a man in on my feelings actually takes a lot of courage and stretches me like nothing else.
A: It isn’t hard for a boyfriend to make a woman happy instead of pissed off for days. He just needs the right answer to “Hey, honey, guess what it means when I put my hair in a ponytail and walk out of the room!”
A guy gets to the point where he can’t be sure whether he’s in a relationship or a really, really long game of charades. (Either way, it helps if there are occasional breaks for angry sex.) Although men and women are psychologically similar in many ways, studies by social psychologist Judith A. Hall and others find that women are more accurate in sussing out the meaning of nonverbal cues. The problem is, we humans all have a tendency to assume others’ minds work just like our own. So, you conclude that a guy is withholding and mean when he seems to ignore what you think should be obvious — that your left nostril flaring is code for “Tell me you love me right this second!” (Not to be mistaken for the flaring right nostril’s “Take out the trash or I’ll kill myself!”)
To your credit, you took a hard look at yourself and admitted that you were wrong. As for why you’re having difficulty putting what you now understand into practice, Yale psychology professor Alan E. Kazdin explained on my radio show, “Knowing doesn’t control doing.” Doing actually takes doing — in your case, repeatedly pushing yourself to express your feelings, despite how uncomfortably vulnerable it makes you feel. Repeating behavior over time actually rewires the brain and, in Kazdin’s words, “locks” the new behaviors in. Eventually, healthier behavior should come more naturally to you — like recognizing, without animus, that the way to get your boyfriend to admire your sexy new haircut is by telling him you’ve gotten one, not by glaring out at him from under the subtly different slant of your bangs. (As every woman needs to understand, his not noticing your new do doesn’t mean he’s stopped loving you; it means you haven’t shaved your head.)
Q: I am online dating and assume people will Google me before we meet. Two years ago, I briefly got involved with a crazy woman. When I realized how nuts she was, I broke up with her. She started an Internet campaign against me, posting horrible things about me online. These are obvious lies and clearly seem to be the rantings of a crazy person, but most are nearly impossible to get taken down. Should I casually mention these in an online chat with potential dates? (“Oh, by the way, if you read anything terrible about me online, it’s written by a crazy person.”)
A: A person should get to know you a little before she learns you’re a 300-year-old incubus who poisoned our groundwater and killed the neighbors’ dog and made it look like a suicide. Since ranting crazies tend to sound, as the saying goes, a few balloons short of a parade, a prospective partner’s big worry is likely to be that sick drama is relationship-as-usual for you. The best way to dispel this fear is by letting someone see who you are before seeing who the Internet says you are. Wait until after the first date to reveal your last name. (If questioned, plead online dating prudence.) Create a new email address you use for online dating only so no one can use your regular one to Google your identity. And then, on your date, you could casually mention the nutty former ex — ideally in a way that suggests the experience was very much out of character for you. Assuming you come off solid and balanced, this should help dispel any suspicions that your ex is nuts because you drove her there or that you have some scary tendencies yourself. Although women these days tend to be pleasantly surprised by chivalry, they are always looking to weed out the sort of man who’ll end their evening with a considerate offer like “Can I walk you to my trunk?”
Advice Goddess Radio: Evolutionary psychologist Dr. Vladas Griskevicius on making wiser choices by using “Deep Rationality.”
It’s Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Radio — “Nerd your way to a better life!” with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or listen or download at the link, at iTunes, or on Stitcher.