Amy Alkon drags people, kicking, screaming, and laughing, out of their misery with her behavioral science-based advice column, which runs in about 100 newspapers.
Buy her science-based and bitingly funny new advice book, "Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck" (St. Martin's Press, June 3, 2014).
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Pest Wife Regression
Two years ago, my man left his 22-year marriage to be with me, but he told me he loved his former wife and would always want a friendship with her. I accepted that (I'm friends with my ex), but I'm bothered by the amount of contact they have. They do have two adult children and own property together. But, although she's living with a new partner, she sometimes wants to borrow his car, have him pick up the dogs, or drop off some paperwork. They phone about every other day, and not a week goes by without his stopping over — occasionally for a family dinner. I get plenty of his time, energy and affection, and I know their relationship isn't romantic. The issue is split loyalty — all the effort he's putting into remaining "loving friends" with a woman who'd love to see our relationship fail. Am I being petty and jealous? It feels like she's clinging hard — and so is he.
— The One Who Stole Her Man
Once you get to a certain age, there's no starting a relationship with a clean slate. You meet somebody and it's never "Hi, here I am, just me and this little suitcase!" — unless his entire family disappeared into a giant sinkhole or went back in time while on vacation and was caught in the volcanic eruption at Pompeii.
There is much to be said for having a mature attitude about one's divorce. Friends of the divorced encourage it by emailing inspirational quotes like "When one door closes, another door opens." Annoyingly, in this case, that quote continues "And then that first door opens back up and a woman leans out and asks what time your man'll be coming over to take the dog to the vet."
Jealousy is the guard dog of human relationships, an evolutionary adaptation that helps us defend ourselves against mate-swiping. As cognitive psychologist Dr. Nando Pelusi and I discussed recently on my weekly radio show (blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon), jealousy is productive when there's a real threat that your partner might fall for someone else and leave you for them. Jealousy is counterproductive when you know he's going to leave you for someone else — but just for a few hours a week to drop off some paperwork and deworm the dog.
Of course, to be human is to be small and petty. (To be successfully small and petty is to not let it show.) Lashing out, snapping, "Excuse me, but wasn't she supposed to get her husband privileges revoked in the divorce?" will just make him defensive. Instead, use your vulnerability in a powerful way. Evoke his sympathy by saying something like "Listen, I understand that you two have kids and property and a friendship, but I'm feeling a little insecure about all the time and attention you're devoting to her." Chances are he'll reassure you by explaining why you have nothing to worry about, and maybe even consider dialing it back a little. On the bright side, you're with a guy who isn't one to drop-kick his obligations the moment some husband-stealing hussy comes along. Maybe try to laugh at how happy endings are sometimes the messiest and enough to make you pine for a good old Jerry Springer-style breakup. At least when one's dumping the other's clothes on the front lawn, pouring gasoline on them, and lighting them on fire, the logical human response isn't ringing the perpetrator up and asking to borrow their car.
Speaking Ill Of The Dud
One of my coolest girlfriends is in love with a total dud. He gets wasted at every party, talks in front of her about how hot other women are, and is generally pretty disrespectful of her. I keep wanting to yank him aside and ask him whether he knows how lucky he is. Now I'm thinking I need to yank my friend aside and tell her she can do better.
It's considered an act of friendship to tell a girlfriend that she's got a piece of spinach stuck between her teeth. You'd think she'd be equally appreciative when you point out that she's got a soulmate stuck in some other woman's cleavage. But, her ego is probably all tied up in her belief that she's found love, and she'd probably just get combative. Instead of telling her she's making a mistake, try to get her to come to that conclusion by borrowing from an addiction therapy technique called "motivational interviewing." Get her to talk about what she wants (all the wonderful qualities she's seeking in a man), and then gently ask her how that stacks up against what she has. By drawing the discrepancies out of her, you're leading her to do the math: She hasn't so much fallen in love as she's slipped in a pile of something somebody should've picked up with a plastic bag.
It's Advice Goddess Radio! Amy Alkon interviews fascinating experts and answers your questions on on love, dating, sex, relationships, and manners. Listen live every Sunday, 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. Call-in during the show: 347-326-9761 (NYC area code).
(**This week, NYU psychology professor Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman on creativity, the entrepreneurial personality, and why workaholics should have more sex.)
Read Amy Alkon's book: "I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society" (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).