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The Advice Goddess: Blurt force trauma
Saturday, 01 August 2020 14:17
Syndicated Columnist

I became friends with this awesome guy who moved into my apartment complex. I can tell that he’s into me, but he’s not my type at all. What should I say to tell him I’m not interested?
— Uncomfortable


Telling a guy you aren’t interested before he asks you out is like coming up to a stranger in a bar and saying, “This seat taken? By the way, I find you sexually repellant.”

 Rejection shouldn’t be thrown around like croutons to geese. Social psychologist Mark Leary notes that romantic rejection can lead to people feeling ashamed for being “inadequately valued” by someone they’re romantically interested in.

 The shame comes out of how high social status (being extremely valued by others) evolved to be the Amex Black Card of human interaction. It comes with important benefits, such as better access to resources, including a better choice of romantic partners. 

However, though shame is painful, the notion that it is a “bad,” maladaptive emotion is based in assumptions that passed for science (from 1971 by clinical psychologist Helen Block Lewis) that failed to look for the possible function of shame.

Emotions are evolved motivational tools that drive us to act in ways that enhance our survival and mating opportunities and help us pass on our genes. 

Accordingly, cross-cultural research by evolutionary psychologist Daniel Sznycer suggests that shame is a “defensive system” that motivates us to behave in ways that keep us from being devalued or further devalued by others in our social world. 

In a harsh ancestral environment, this could have kept us from being thrown out of our band and starving to death and/or getting eaten by a tiger. 

In the current environment, where food is plentiful and tigers mainly exist in cartoon form on cereal boxes, if you can avoid making a guy feel ashamed, it’s a good idea.

A feminism- and #MeToo-driven feature (or bug) of the current environment is that men are often afraid to be direct with women they’re into: “Don’t ask for what you want; just stare at it and hope it trips, falls into your lap, and decides you’re attractive.” 

If this guy seems interested but remains mum, there’s no reason to humiliate him by telling him you don’t find him attractive. Avoid flirty talk and body language and situations that could slide into makeout sessions, like Netflix ’n’ chillin’ together.

If he does ask you out or make a move, be immediately clear and direct: “I’m only interested in you as a friend.” (Ambiguous brushoffs like, “It’s not a good time” send the message, “Try again at a later date!”)

 If you can act like nothing awkward has happened between you, it should minimize his humiliation and shame. 

Sadly, sometimes “the birds and the bees” is a category that also includes “the vegetables,” as in, “I like you as a person, but I find you sexy like a potato.”


Bleachable moments 

I’m a 27-year-old elementary school teacher. My boyfriend wants to film us in bed, but I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I can’t help but play out some nightmare scenario that we break up and he does something awful with the footage. He’s a good guy, and I trust him, but this still seems like a reasonable fear to have. Should I just calm down and go with it, or should I tell him my fears?
— Ms. Anonymous


Your willingness to appear on video doing dirty hot yoga and making wounded animal noises should be directly disproportionate to how big you are on, say, keeping your job as a first-grade teacher.

 No matter how careful your boyfriend swears he’ll be, the reality is that any day can be turned into Casual Privacy Elimination Friday. 

Consider that “Oh, no...they hacked our cloud!” gets blurted out at major health care institutions with gazillion-dollar IT security. Also, as you note, today’s “I love you” can shift to tomorrow’s “I will ruin you!” and whoops, how did your sex tape get posted to 65 different websites in under an hour?

 If you’re like many women, you find it hard to say no to requests from a person you love. Women tend to have more helpings of the personality trait “agreeableness,” which manifests in being kind, generous, warm and cooperative. 

Research by psychologists William Graziano and Nancy Eisenberg suggests the underlying motivation is maintaining smooth, positive relationships with others.

However, just because you’re motivated to act in a certain way doesn’t mean you should, like when the cost of being “cooperative” could be potential career ruin. 

Steel yourself, and explain to your boyfriend that you really want to say “yes,” but you just can’t risk your students answering the question, “So, what did you learn in school today?” with “Teacher Likes It Kinky.”


Friend is MC Yammer 

My friend won’t stop talking about her new crush, and it’s driving me up the wall. I was annoyed, but now I’m getting increasingly angry, and I don’t appreciate this toxic feeling rising up. It’s all her and her new love all the time. If she asks anything about me or how I’m doing, it’s an afterthought. I try to avoid conflict, so I haven’t said anything. I keep hoping she’ll realize she’s behaving really selfishly. What will it take to get her to recognize this and start being a better friend?
 — Upset


There’s actual friendship, and then there’s calling somebody a friend but using them as a giant ear-shaped trash can.

Not surprisingly, being treated this way has left you feeling angry. Like many people, you’re uncomfortable with anger. Anger is often characterized (wrongly) as a “negative” emotion. Sure, the expression of anger — ours or that of somebody around us — can make us feel stressed out, uncomfortable, and even poisoned. Uncontrolled anger can get us in trouble (sometimes for 20 years to life).

However, anger, like the rest of our emotions, is actually functional. Over millions of years, our emotions evolved to be the factory foremen of human behavior, motivating us to behave in ways that solved problems humans dealt with on a recurring basis, such as finding a mate, avoiding a beat down, and getting a friend to be more give-and-take than take, take, take.

Evolutionary psychologist Aaron Sell, who researches anger, explains that it is one of a few emotions that serves to regulate not just our behavior but also that of others (as do shame and sadness). When we express sadness, for example, like by sobbing, it evokes empathy in others, which makes them want to reach out and give us a hug and maybe even let us use their shoulder as a substitute for snotty Kleenex.

Sell calls anger a “recalibrational emotion” and explains that it functions as a bargaining tool for us to negotiate for better treatment. When we notice that another person doesn’t place enough value on our “welfare” (meaning our interests, our well-being), anger rises up in us, motivating us to take action to get the other person to correct — that is, recalibrate — the imbalance, to treat us better.

Anger does its recalibrational work — that is, incentivizes better treatment — through two tactics, explains Sell: the potential for the angry person to inflict costs (sometimes just through the scary ugliness of aggression) or to withdraw benefits (such as the various social and emotional perks of being somebody’s friend). Either of these tactics suggests to the person doing the short shrifting that they’ll be worse off if they continue to put too little weight on the angry person’s interests, and this can motivate them to mend their selfish, neglectful ways.

In other words, in anger, you’ve got a fantastic tool to protect you from being taken advantage of... that is, if you use it instead of trying to suppress it. Because anger is triggered automatically, stifling it won’t make it go away; it’ll make it go away and get bigger and uglier. It’s likely to leak out at inappropriate times (like in sniping hostility when you speak), and there can be an eventual out-of-proportion explosion, often at some seriously minor perceived “slight,” like the person you’re angry with not passing a condiment quite zippily enough.

Healthy assertiveness, on the other hand, requires the expression of what I’d call “timely, judicious honesty.” “Timely” means expressing that you have unmet needs relatively quickly — as soon as you can after you realize there’s an issue.

Being “judicious” means taking an emotionally strategic approach: framing the discussion with how you feel rather than how someone’s wronged you. In practice, this means evoking the other person’s empathy (saying, “I feel bad when...”) rather than using language of accusation or blame (“You do this rotten thing...”), which makes a person feel attacked and motivates them to fight back instead of listening.

The third step, “honesty,” is expressing, “Here’s what I need...” and seeing whether the other person says they’re up for providing it. Then, of course, there’s seeing whether they actually will (perhaps with a reminder or two from you if they automatically fall back into their old ways).

If you accept responsibility for being delinquent in expressing what you want from your friend, it should help you cool off enough to do that now in a civil way.

If it turns out she isn’t genuinely interested in your welfare — that is, in being a real friend to you with all the give-and-take that involves — you can downgrade her accordingly (like from friend to “someone I know”). 

Of course, you really couldn’t be a better friend to her right now — that is, unless you had your jaw wired shut for a month.

(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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