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The Advice Goddess: January 2020
Wednesday, 01 January 2020 13:53

Ghoul, interrupted


Syndicated Columnist

A good friend’s mom just died. Out of nowhere, he told me that his mom never liked me very much. Frankly, the feeling was mutual, but I of course never said anything. While I don’t want to start a fight or anything, I’m bothered that he told me this. How should I let him know?

— Irritated


When somebody talks trash about you, it’s natural to want to respond. 

Unfortunately, sending this woman a “we need to talk” text will require a mediator with a Ouija board.

It does seem pretty rotten that your friend suddenly let his mom’s opinions of you off-leash. However, consider that keeping a secret — having information of interest to another person that you need to keep barricaded in a closet in your head — is mentally and even physically stressful. 

Research increasingly finds that the body and mind are co-workers. (Action leads to emotion and emotion to action.) In secret-keeping, holding back information causes psychological tension, which brings on physical tension — which can make keeping the secret both figuratively and literally a pain in the neck.

 Research on secrecy by psychologist Michael Slepian suggests that it isn’t concealing information but having a goal of concealing information that stresses us out. 

Unlike many other goals — the kind you can complete and check off on your to-do list — the goal to keep a secret has no endpoint. This turns keeping a secret into a sort of zombie goal, a goal that won’t die — or, in researcher terms, “an outstanding intention.” 

This makes it more accessible in memory —to the point where the mind tends to wander to it. And this mental reflux has some psychological costs: “The frequency of mind-wandering to secrets predicts lower well-being,” explains the Slepian team. “Thus, what seems to be harmful about secrecy is not having to conceal a secret but having to live with it and having it return to one’s thoughts.” 

 Other research, exploring willpower, finds that stress and “aversive” (feelbad) emotions like sadness diminish our ability for self-control. 

So, your friend, under the emotional stress of grieving his mom, maybe lacked the energy he normally had to keep his mom’s feelings stowed in the, uh, overhead compartment.

Obviously, you’d prefer to unknow this info. However, if this guy generally isn’t unkind or insensitive, you might want to let this go — especially considering the advantage you have over a lady who’s now living on somebody’s mantel: “I will come find you and reduce you to ash! Oh. Wait.”

Keepin’ it revealed

I’m a 32-year-old woman, dating again after a five-year relationship. I’ve got some issues I’m working on. (I can get a little needy.) I’m getting all kinds of advice, from “be you!” to “play hard to get!” I guess acting unavailable works, but shouldn’t somebody like me for me, not because I’m out of reach?
— Sincere 

At fancy supermarkets, they try to sell you smoked salmon with a tiny sample on a cracker; they don’t slap you across the face with a giant fish: “LOVE MEEEEEE!”

In dating, there’s being a bit scarce, and there’s being somebody else. Scarce is good when you’re getting to know a person, leaving them wanting more as opposed to less. Somebody else? Not so good.

 What does it mean to “be yourself”? It basically means not being emotionally manicured, being “authentic.” 

Clinical psychologist Lawrence Josephs and his colleagues explain romantic “authenticity” as a willingness to risk being emotionally vulnerable and a companion unwillingness to “act deceitfully” even when being honest comes with some costs. They, not surprisingly, find that being authentic in these ways leads to “better relational outcomes.”

 If you aren’t yourself, somebody might be attracted to your fake front and then be bummed out and not really into you when it eventually falls off. 

Additionally, the researchers’ findings “suggest that individuals engaging in ‘being yourself’ dating behavior are generally preferred as dating partners over more game-playing individuals.” In fact, they find that men who are authentic seem to have a “special antipathy” toward “more game-playing” women.

But let’s say there are some things about you that are authentically not so great. Like, say you’re “a little needy.” You can tell somebody you tend to be needy. That’s kind of brave and may lead somebody to admire your honesty. 

Of course, you should also get cracking on becoming more secure. (You might also tell a potential partner that you’re working on it, which emotionally healthy partners are likely to respect and admire.)

The important thing is doing what it takes to not act all needypants, like by using diversionary tactics — say, by repeatedly texting your BFF when you’re dying to text some new guy. Her phone goes off in a meeting. Her boss: “Why does some woman keep sending you pix of her boobs?”

Baby got backup

I’ve been dating this really great woman for three months. She’s just decided that she needs to be single right now, despite our forming a pretty strong connection. She explained that she really, really likes me, but she’s never been single for very long and thinks it's best for her at the moment. I can respect that. She also says we can keep sleeping together if I want. I want to do that, but I’m wondering: Could that ruin our chances of having a real relationship again in the future?

— Wanna Play It Smart

People give you a reason for their behavior. It may not be the real reason. Like, I’d tell somebody, “So a work thing!” and not, “I’d shave off my eyebrows to get out of your 8-year-old’s oboe recital.”

There’s a good chance you’ve been demoted from boyfriend to emergency sexual partner. Research by evolutionary psychologist Joshua Duntley suggests that we evolved to cultivate backup mates — plan B partners we can quickly pivot to in case a partner ditches us or dies in a freak accident. Many or most of us seem to have a backup mate or two — somebody we flirt with regularly or otherwise set up as our romantic fallback, though we aren’t always consciously aware of it.

 Maybe you’re all, “Hey, fine by me if she wants to keep me as her sexual service department while she’s shopping around.” Maybe you’re hoping she’ll find other dudes lame in comparison. Totally possible. But if what really matters to you is having a relationship with her, all that availability on your part is not a good look. The problem is “the scarcity principle.” 

Psychologist Robert Cialdini explains that we value what’s scarce or out of reach, fearing that we’ll lose access to it. In fact, the desirability of the very same person or thing often increases or decreases according to shifts in its perceived accessibility. (Picture Denny’s with a velvet rope and a scary bouncer instead of “Open 24 hours! Seat yourself!”)

 Once your value is perceived to be low, there might not be much chance of rehabbing it. So it might pay to find other sex partners and give this woman a chance to miss you.

It ultimately serves your purpose better than turning yourself into the man version of those freeze-dried food packs sold for earthquake or apocalypse prep kits: delicious like seasoned particle board but just the thing while you’re waiting for rescue in the remains of your office building with nothing to eat but your arm.

The truth fairy

 My boyfriend recently proposed to me. I’ve gotten to thinking that if I’d never worn braces, he wouldn’t have been interested in me. I had a terrible underbite. I always felt very unattractive in regard to my teeth, lip, and jaw region until I eventually had this corrected years ago through braces. I constantly have the nagging thought that my boyfriend could do better — that is, find a woman who is more naturally beautiful, more on a par with his level of attractiveness. Basically, I feel that my braces led to a form of unnatural beauty, a kind of cheating, and I don’t deserve him.
— Distressed

Though some men are put off by fake breasts, it’s unlikely that anybody will find corrective dental work a vile form of deception, like you’re the Bernie Madoff of the perfect smile.

Research in “dental anthropology” (who knew?!) by Peter Ungar, Rachel Sarig, and others suggests the cause of your underbite could be genetic—- or it could be environmental (perhaps deficiencies in maternal nutrition during pregnancy). Sorry. I was hoping for something a little more definitive, too.

Might you and your fiance have a kid with a funky bite? Sure. But unlike in ancestral human societies, we live in a world teeming with orthodontists. Just look for the “STR8TEETH” and “SMILEDOC” plates on cars that cost as much as a small, slightly used private jet.

Allay your fears by being honest: Tell your fiance that you got braces to correct a really bad underbite.

A dude who’s attracted to the way you look now is unlikely to dump you upon learning about your supposedly sordid orthodontic history.

Looks are vital for attraction, but they’re just part of what matters. A massive cross-cultural survey by evolutionary psychologist David Buss finds that men, like women, prioritize kindness and intelligence in a partner.

In fact, these are men’s and women’s top asks. And these are things that can’t be engineered with $7K in oral railroad tracks and years spent covering your mouth when you laugh lest those tiny rubber bands shoot across the room and put out somebody’s eye.


Driving Miss Crazy 

I’m a 32-year-old woman, and I went on one date with a guy I’d been talking to online. We have texted some since our date but haven’t made solid plans to hang again. Basically, he’ll text me and we’ll chat, and then I won’t hear from him for a week. The waiting is making me really obsessive. I find myself constantly wanting to text him. I know I shouldn’t chase him, but the urge is so strong. What’s going on?

— Disturbed

Sometimes, when two people get engaged, the intended groom is the last to know. The guy asks you, “So, whatcha up to Saturday? Wanna grab a coffee?” And you’re like, “I thought we’d have an afternoon wedding. But coffee’s fine, too.” 

It should help to understand that this sort of crazy — the intense desire to text him — doesn’t come out of some magical, vine-covered mental love fountain within you. In fact, there’s nothing romantic about it. It’s just the mechanics of our human motivational system, which works like a machine. Russian psychologist and psychiatrist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that just as pressure in a machine builds up and needs to be released, tasks we’ve left incomplete seem to cause emotional tension — seriously uncomfortable feelings, a sort of mental itching. This motivates us to do the thing we’ve left undone so we can stop feeling so unsettled.

So, sure, you like the guy, but one date in, you’re dying to text him not because he’s “the one” but because you’re suffering through what I like to describe as the emotional version of a really bad need to pee. Reminding yourself that it’s just psychological hydraulics might help you weather the discomfort of not texting and then be all cool when the guy eventually calls: “Jason? Jason who? ... Oh, right! Heyyy! Hold on a sec,” you say, as you descend the ladder and put down the glue roller you’ve been using to wallpaper your bedroom ceiling with huge blown-up photos of his face.
(c.) 2020, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ( 



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