Category Archives: Amy Alkon

I see someone who sees rude people

Amy Alkon–better known as the Advice Goddess–was featured on The Today Show this morning, weighing in as an expert on rudeness (she’s the author of the book I See Rude People).  Check out the clip!

I always think it’s fascinating to see and hear writers speak, and find out if they sound at all in real life how they sound in your head.  In this segment, for example, it’s a little jarring to see Amy (usually known for her unapologetic straight shooting) say, “I think strangers should treat each other more like neighbors,” in a soothing voice.  It’s not that she’s contradicting herself–I think you can call it as you see it with the adulterers who ask you for advice, and still be kind to children and gracious to the waiter.  It’s just not the tone I expected her to take, given the zingy (sometimes too zingy) one liners and black leather jacket I’m used to seeing in her column.

She certainly came off as more elegant, however, than the two guests who were on the show live, and who (ironically) proceeded to interrupt one another, cutting each other off and practically elbowing each other to get in the last word on how manners have disappeared from our e-society.  Matt Lauer looked a little afraid.

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A tweet by any other name

Over the years it’s been clear enough in this blog that I frequently disagree with Margo Howard–and sometimes I’m straight up irked by her column.   But I’ve recently started following her on Twitter (@Margoandhow) and found that I really enjoy reading what she has to say in that forum.

In contrast, while I can (more frequently) get behind the Advice Goddess’s advice, her Tweets (@amyalkon) are of no interest to me.

Amy (@AskingAmy), Carolyn (@carolynhax), and Cheryl Lavin (@talesfromthefro) are on Twitter too, though Amy’s the only one who tweets with any regularity.  Check out the list I made of columnists I follow.  Anyone following anyone else?

When opportunity knocks…in her nightie

On Wednesday, both Carolyn Hax and Amy Alkon featured letters from spouses deeply and, it seems, irrationally concerned about their partners’ ability to keep their pants on at home and at work:

Dear Carolyn:

My husband of 10 years, who is retired, calls me at work one morning and tells me he had just gotten out of the shower when our female next-door neighbor rang the doorbell in her nightclothes, stating that she got locked out when she took out the trash. My husband then says he invited her in to use the phone and stay until someone came to let her in (about 30-45 minutes).

I ask him, “Why would you invite a half-dressed woman into our home when I am not present?” He could have helped her by offering his cellphone and a robe while she sat on her porch.

I ask him to present this situation to his male friends. He responds, “Yeah, they will say, ‘You are stupid for even sharing that with your wife.’ ” I was very disappointed with how he handled this situation. He says he would do it again exactly the same way, even if it upsets me, and says I am insecure. Any suggestions?

E.

Your husband is retired and home. You are employed and at work. If your husband wanted to cheat on you, he wouldn’t need to wait for opportunity to come knocking in her nightie.

There are a lot of people out there — okay, me, but I can’t be alone in this — who would be horrified if spouse’s response to a nightied neighbor in need were to strand said neighbor on the front porch. Have you ever been caught in public in your skivvies? Offering shelter is the compassionate thing to do.

And her 45 minutes of shelter didn’t cost you anything — not unless it led to a tryst. And if it led to a tryst, then that says your distress over this incident is misplaced: It’s your marriage that needs your full and sustained attention.

In other words, if you trust your husband not to boink the neighbor only if she doesn’t ask to use your phone, then you can’t call that trust. Believing your husband is just one robe away from cheating is, yes, insecurity.

And as with any serious problem, it’s essential to trace insecurity’s source and root it out. Is your marriage shaky/husband out prowling? Then don’t nibble at the edges of the problem by fussing over neighbors. Admit you don’t trust him, lay out the evidence supporting your skepticism, then see where that conversation takes you.

I suspect instead that your husband hasn’t done anything sketchy, and you merely regard infidelity as a real and constant threat. (Yes, that’s the get-counseling light flashing.) If so, you owe it to both of you to admit how corrosive this outlook can be. It motivates you to doubt him no matter how faithful or devoted — or transparent — he is.

Often, too, such fear acts as a negative filter through which you view everything. Your husband helped someone! Told you about it! And you punished him for it! How many times, in how many ways, has that defensive pessimism played out? How many bad things have you exaggerated, how many good things have you questioned?

Unfounded suspicion is about you, founded suspicion is about him, but the approach is the same with both: Lay out the facts for your husband, and see where the discussion goes.

My reading was slightly different than Carolyn’s–I didn’t get the impression that this woman was necessarily worried that her husband actually would cheat on her.  Instead, it seemed she was fretting about something even less important: how the situation looked.  My guess is that there are certain arbitrary principles of marriage that she feels should not be violated–such as being alone in your home with a semi-dressed woman when your spouse isn’t present.  But I couldn’t guess whether she’s worried about how this reflects on her husband, or on her (and to whom?  the neighbor in distress?  Or yet another neighber, peeping through the curtain?).  Or perhaps she just feels there’s a rule that’s been broken–some things should not be done, and he did one of them.

I get the sense it has to do with respect–that is, if her husband respected her and honored their marriage as his most sacred commitment, he wouldn’t have invited an undressed woman into the house.  She could even have extended it to, if her neighbor respected their marriage, she wouldn’t have come knocking in such a state.  That is, instead of thinking “What should Joe have done this  morning when Sarah was locked out?” I suspect she’s thinking, totally abstractly, “Should a married man home alone invite a scantily clad neighbor into the living room?”  She makes her answer (“No!”)  the obvious right one by ignoring the details of reality.

And speaking of the details of reality, Amy Alkon printed this:

My wife’s a hairstylist, and I recently learned that she continues to cut the hair of a guy she had a fling with seven years ago. We’re newlyweds but dated for three years. She’s always been truthful and forthright, so I was dumbfounded that she kept this from me. She claims they’re “just friends,” insists the past is the past, and won’t discuss anything. I had trust issues with my ex-wife and have abandonment issues (thanks, Mom), but had ZERO insecurities about my wife until this. She honored my request and told the guy he needs to get haircuts elsewhere, but I know her other male clients occasionally discuss their sexual escapades. Inappropriate! I think marriage comes with boundaries. I’ve been working hard to rid my mind of visions of her with others before me, but find myself prying into her past for details, which only increases my anxiety. — Love Stinks

Yes, your wife had sex with other men before you — because she was probably raised in some suburb in America, not locked away by her sultan father until you could buy her from him for a Lamborghini and a really nice herd of goats.

Instead of spending your evenings giving your wife something to smile about the next morning at work, you’re giving this seven-year-old fling of hers more late-night reruns than “Godfather II.” Sure, she still sees the guy, but consider the environment. Yes, it’s what I always advise a man who wants to stage a seduction: Put on a big pastel smock, sit between two little old ladies getting smelly perms, and give the woman a bird’s eye view of his bald spot. Before you know it, he’ll be telling her how he likes it, and she’ll be begging, “Lemme take off my top!” — in that secret language all the hussy hairdressers use: “Want me to take a little more off the top?”

You’re right that marriage comes with boundaries — and it’s time you started respecting your wife’s. You’re her husband, not her owner, so you don’t get to give her a list of acceptable topics of conversation: 1. “Nice weather we’re having.” 2. “Still nice weather we’re having.” Since you’re also not her boss, she doesn’t have to ask you if she’s allowed to do her job: “My 2:30 appointment fooled around with me once seven years ago, but he really needs a trim.”

What stinks isn’t love, but being a guy who’s never bothered to put his mommy issues and ex-wife trust issues on a leash and walk them to a therapist’s office.

More arbitrary rules!  More declared boundaries!  More therapy needed!

Carolyn Hax and Amy Alkon are different in all kinds of important ways–perhaps the most relevant example here being that Carolyn bristles at the assumption of any male/female stereotypes (“it’s not guys who do that, it’s people who do that!”), while Amy thrives on them: an inclination toward evolutionary psychology (man must hunt!) is the underpinning of most of her relationship advice.

But interestingly, I think they’d agree that marriage is not a box set of rules, regulations and guaranteed-to-apply statutes.  Instead, each one is a different relationship between different people, rolling along in different circumstances–and random pronouncements like “no pajama’d ladies within 3 yards unless I am present!” and “no exes possibly oversharing like some of your other male clients do!” are more likely to destroy them than prove their strength.

See more like this: One Singular Temptation

No More Mr. Nice Guy….(please, spare us all)

The advice column world has always been dominated by women….most of the popular, syndicated columnists are female and I’d wager that most of the writer-inners are as well (though maybe only by a small margin). But there’s one demographic of men that never seems out of reach (or out of touch): the bitter Nice Guy. They’re always lurking, complaining to the columnists about all the wonderful, giving things that they do for women and how they’re walked all over in return.

They typically describe all women as shallow, dishonest and ungrateful (for the presence of the nice guys in their lives), which makes me wonder why they’re complaining about not being able to get any women at all.

There are a few consistent characteristics I’ve noticed that may help us (and them) distinguish between kind men of integrity and character and walked-upon nice-guys ever bitter about “finishing last.”

1) Their chivalry is generic and directionless: seeing a woman? Better bring a bouquet of roses and open her car door. Then if you don’t go on a second date you’ll have evidence that it wasn’t your fault, because you clearly did everything you could.

2) They’re convinced that they’d be better off as a “bad boy,” because the women who come crying to them for support and help Monday are apparently all in the sack with bikers and pirates from Friday through Sunday. They generally write, with bitter half-sarcasm, that they’re thinking of taking up smoking/drinking/swearing/tattoos/verbal abuse to attract women. In short, they want to be with women who constantly need a shoulder to cry on and, worse, are drawn to being treated badly…..?

3) Related to, but slightly distinct from number 1–their “niceness” knows no bounds. But not in a good way. Most of these men make no distinction in their relationships (or lack of relationships) and the actions that they deem “nice” are often totally inappropriate for the “level” that they’re at with someone. For example, moving to a different city to make dating more convenient for a woman they’ve dated casually for a few months (no, really, this happens). This gives the impression that the guy has no life of his own to which he is anchored, and that he’d do this kind of thing for any old stranger on the street, which doesn’t exactly make a girl feel special. Then, when things don’t work out, it’s all, “You’re so ungrateful and evil, after all I’ve done for you!” when really….it was his own decision to make too big a sacrifice for an untested relationship.

What would be a giving act of love in a serious, long term relationship is alarming and vaguely creepy with an acquaintance. And what would be a romantic, thoughtful gesture from a boyfriend is pushy and over the top from a first date. And it conveniently leaves the guy always three steps ahead of the woman–anything she does (besides fawn) will be construed as ungrateful, because he’s already gone ahead and done more than she asked for or wanted.

It’s often bewildering to these “nice guys” that women are drawn to men who ignore them, but at the other end of the spectrum, there’s no compliment in being chosen by a guy who’s not at all choosy. Like a university, you have to reject a certain number of applicants, not only to make sure those who get in meet your standards, but because they, too, are making an investment and deserve some sort of assurance about what quality of experience they can expect. No one who thinks they can get into Harvard is going to be satisfied with the community college.

Also, there is value in valuing relationships differently, and you can do this without abandoning social graces: hold the door for and say please and thank you to strangers. Call people you’ve been on a date with and would like to see again. Make your time and emotions available to those who mean something to you–don’t force false intimacy by sharing secrets and confidences with people you don’t know at all. Drastically change your life situation only for someone you love, and who loves you. And know how to recognize the difference. These guys tend to lay everything on the line for a virtual stranger. They do this repeatedly with everyone they meet. Why, then, are they surprised when it backfires?

And now, the letter that brought on this rant: today, the advice goddess gets to the heart of the nice guy issue:

Can you help a nice guy become a bad boy? Being nice is a curse, and not just with women. I do volunteer work, and always hear stuff like “You’re the only one we can trust, so stay and guard the door while we’re at a party with people we don’t trust. Clean up for us, too, because we won’t want to when we return tired and drunk.” I know a cooperative spirit can be mistaken for weakness, but I feel like Cinderfella. Still, I don’t want to stop being the guy my ex called “the brick” (because I’m always propping somebody or something up). I just want people to think I’m bad so they won’t try to get away with so much. When I’ve tried acting like a bad boy, I’m told I come off angry or antisocial. Maybe I should start smoking or get a motorcycle…maybe a tattoo? — 55 Years Of Too Nice

Sure, all you need to change everybody’s opinion of you is a smoking habit and big scary tattoo — and since you’re always mopping up after people, perhaps a skull crossed with a couple of Swiffers?

You call yourself a nice guy, but you’re really a “nice guy,” an approval-seeking, conflict-avoiding suckup. In “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Dr. Robert Glover clarifies the difference. The “nice guy” might seem generous, but he actually isn’t; he gives to get. He thinks he just has to hide how flawed he is and become what others want him to be, and he’ll be loved, get his needs met, and have a problem-free life. This is unlikely to happen, as he’s passive-aggressive, chronically dishonest, and brimming with “toxic shame.” Thanks to a lifetime repressing his feelings and denying his needs, he’s filled with rage, especially at women. Women, on the other hand, do love this guy — to wash and wax their cars while they’re on dates with guys they are sleeping with. And whaddya know, all it takes is calling him “the brick” instead of “a tool.”

Yes, the bad boy does have allure. He’s masculinity on steroids: arrogantly confident, aggressive in bed and out, unpredictable and untamed. He’s fast cars, alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. And he’s sometimes in jail for using the latter to hold up the 7-Eleven.

Many women are drawn to him, but those who have it the least bit together hold out for a guy they can get conjugal with without first being cavity-searched by the guards.

You’re right to want to change, but the answer isn’t trading in your wallet for one you chain to your pants and slouching in a doorway with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth. People will warm to the real you or they won’t, but they’re unlikely to be fooled by the fake you, “nice” or “bad.” After 55 years of people-pleasing, don’t be surprised if you need to mount an archeological dig to figure out who you really are — what you like, want, need, and actually care about (even stuff that seems not so nice to care about). After you do, work on accepting yourself, faults included. Glover’s book should help. Finally, be who you are, and have the guts and the self-respect to expect a thing or two from people — beyond what time they’ll return from the party so you can stop staring at the door.

This guy is a textbook case. And it’s not because I derived my “textbook” definition from this letter alone (I didn’t). Guys who think that going slightly criminal will work better for them than being “nice” probably have a lot more issues than they even realize. People don’t try to get away with less because they think you’re “bad.” And being “nice” doesn’t mean doing everything people ask of you. The way to get people to stop taking advantage is not to scare them away from asking, but simply by not agreeing to DO every degrading task they ask of you.

Carolyn Hax mentioned a few weeks ago that people who enumerate their strengths (from “I’m an excellent judge of character” to “I’m a nice guy”) are usually ones who seek out these strengths to cover up real or perceived weaknesses–in themselves, or ones they fear in others. She added that a real strength should come so naturally you take it for granted. That is, a REAL nice guy–an honest, kind, respectful and reliable person of integrity–won’t talk about being one, because he won’t be doing it on purpose. He’ll just be being himself.

Good Advice: Don’t Date Jerks

Amy Alkon gives it to us straight:

I’m a 39-year-old woman, dating a guy 10 years younger for about a year. He swears he’s in love, can’t live without me, says I’m the best woman he’s ever been with, and makes me feel great when he’s with me. However, he rarely answers the phone when I call and has stood me up numerous times. Whenever I get mad about being stood up, he’ll call after a couple of days and either say he was in the hospital or someone died. Should I move on, or is it possible that he does care but needs to grow up? I would like to add that our sex life is out of this world. The truth is, I am turning 40 soon, and I guess he makes me feel young. — Confused Or Stupid?

Okay, so your sex life is out of this world. And don’t tell me, when you call the guy, his message says, “If I’m not here, I’m probably on the mothership…”
Actually, he has so little respect for you that he can’t be bothered to come up with original (let alone plausible) excuses, or call you in a timely manner to deliver them. In fact, he’s got you trained to call him and wait a couple days to hear which of his two excuses it’ll be. What? Somebody died? People die every second — almost all of them strangers to a guy who isn’t exactly living out his final days at Whispering Pines nursing home. Oh, wait — was he in the hospital again? Perhaps insurance companies are finally recognizing being a complete jerk as a legitimate medical condition — or did he just sprain an ankle walking all over you?
Sure, mistakes happen. Like, once. A good guy works 16 hours, lies down for a five-minute nap, and wakes up five hours after he was supposed to pick you up for your date. He’ll be mortified, call you pronto to tell you how sorry he is, and clean out the corner florist to say it again. Should a date who’s a no-show fail to call right away, or claim he was held hostage by bank robbers, the reality is almost certainly one of two things: He isn’t a good guy or he isn’t a good guy. Do feel free to believe otherwise — the moment you turn on the local news and see a familiar face bound and gagged on the floor of the bank.
Since anybody with an I.Q. over freezing is too smart to put up with the excuses you do, it’s got to be a profound lack of self-respect that keeps you coming back for that 26th helping of crushing humiliation (or, as you prefer to call it, “out of this world sex”). Of course, you have your reasons, like how young he makes you feel — but do you really need to relive that time you waited alone in the rain when your mom forgot to pick you up from ballet? You have to be blocking out your true feelings, and reality, too, probably out of desperation to be loved — which is about the best guarantee you won’t find anything remotely resembling love. You’ll only be ready for a relationship when you can take or leave being in one. Go work on yourself until you don’t need to hear how wonderful you are from somebody else — that is, just as soon as he comes out of this week’s coma, and the waitress in the nurse outfit releases him.

I don’t really have much to add. It makes me sad to see people consistently being treated poorly by those they care about. The good news is, that it’s never too late to say, “Hey, wait, you’re not nice to me. Goodbye.”

When a door closes, somewhere…..

I can never seem to resist when Advice Goddess Amy Alkon really takes someone to task…..

Last year, I fell for this guy, “John.” We hung out and flirted via e-mail, but he never asked me out. This fall, after he left on a month-long trip, I started dating “Mike,” later discovering he’s one of John’s best friends. Things with Mike started getting rocky. John then surprised me by e-mailing that he’d heard about Mike and me and was a bit hurt and jealous. At Christmas break, Mike left town and John returned. John and I planned to get together, but John lives with a friend of Mike’s so I had to sneak in through his window. I soon realized I had to break up with Mike. Mike was devastated, and it didn’t help that I couldn’t tell him why. John and I kept meeting secretly, but the guilt was getting to him, so we called it quits. Now, I’m torn. Do I settle and give Mike what he wants (me), or wait and try again with John? Or, is it worth it to think of either of them? — Hopeless Romantic

Oy….when you can’t follow the plotline of the love polygon, the answer is almost always “stop dating everyone until you better know yourself, your values, and what you’re looking for in a relationship.” Sound advice, I think, typically delivered with varying layers of sympathy/contempt, depending on the emotional state of the writer and the patience of the columnist. And Amy Alkon is, in general, not known for suffering fools lightly. Ahem.

The course of true something-or-other never did run smooth. Two people — one of whom is really kind of apathetic about the other — torn apart by fate, or whatever you call it when you rip a perfectly good pair of panties sneaking through your boyfriend’s best friend’s window.

An actual “hopeless romantic” is somebody in love with love. You just seem confused: Paper or Mike? John or plastic? Cheeseburger or big steaming plate of raw sewage? “Or, is it worth it to think of either of them?” Now, I’m all for people asking me for advice — especially because I’m fond of eating and my landlord likes me better if I pay my rent — but you have to come in with a bit more of a base: I’m this kind of person, and here’s what I care about, and here’s how the two guys I’m considering stack up. Probably because you lack self-knowledge and values, you’re seriously considering settling for a guy. Yeah, there’s a romance right out of “Romeo and Juliet”: “He’s here, he wants me, whatever.”

Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater said one of the greatest mistakes you can make in life is being a “moral imbecile” — somebody who doesn’t bother figuring out who they are and what matters to them, and instead relies on other people to tell them what to do.

When nobody’s around to ask, a person like this can end up doing some really dumb things — say, climbing in a guy’s window on the first date. Ever hear of bars, restaurants, coffee shops? Many people who date use them as meeting places — especially if they’re women looking for more than a hookup, because guys tend to use and lose women who sleep with them on (or especially, before) the first date. In the future, when a guy you’re seriously interested in is picking you up, see that he does it in a car, not by grabbing you by the arms and yanking you over the sill.

Of course, until you find it completely nuts to be with a guy simply because he wants to be with you, you’re the only person you should be dating. (Maybe grope yourself at the door for old time’s sake.) As you get to know yourself better, you’ll get a better idea of what kind of guy is right for you. In practice, deciding who to get involved with should work like Santa — the “making a list and checking it twice” thing, not hauling off to the mall and plopping yourself down in some fat guy’s lap.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters…

I just consecutively read two totally unrelated columns (Advice Goddess, which I love, and Single File, which I think is kind of lame) recommending that people volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Obviously this is a sign, right?

Anyway, I’m planning to stay in the area for awhile and would like to be more involved in the community, so am seriously considering getting involved with this mentoring program. Anyone have any experience with it and want to share?