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.
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Axing A Girl Out
You overlooked the danger when you replied to the woman who was invited on a hiking date by a man she'd had a crush on. You said that he probably got interested because he saw her with her new boyfriend. Well, he could also have wanted to murder her because of that. Every year, there's news of a female body being found in a remote area — or not found after a disappearance.
— Prudent Woman
Recall that this guy spent seven years barely noticing this woman before noticing she had a boyfriend and asking her out. This is not exactly the behavior of a man obsessed, brimming with jealous rage. Chances are, he just thought, "Hmm, I could hit that." (And I very much doubt he meant "over the head with a shovel.")
How likely is it that a date could end in a shallow grave? Well, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2005, 513 women in the U.S. were murdered by "boyfriends" (men they were dating but not married to) and 164 men were murdered by "girlfriends." (And yes, men, too, are victims of domestic violence, much of which goes unreported.) These intimate partner murder stats are a bit unreliable because the FBI doesn't always identify the perp/victim relationship, but even if you include the 2,363 uncategorized murders of women, a woman's chances of being a victim of "dinner and a murder" are seriously small. Divide the 513 number by the population of unmarried American women ages 15 to 64 — 45,752,000, per a 2009 Census Bureau sample — and a woman has an 11 in a million chance of getting offed by her date. (Statistically, she's far more likely to speak Cherokee.)
Of course, those odds of getting murdered really only apply if she's anywoman on anydate with anyman. Unfortunately, partly because people are reluctant to be seen as "blaming the victim," there's a politically correct popular notion that intimate partner violence happens at random, to random victims, kind of like an air conditioner falling out of a high window just as you're underneath walking the dog.
But, various authorities on violence, including personal security expert Gavin de Becker and domestic violence researcher Jacquelyn Campbell, have independently identified very similar coercive, autonomy-limiting behaviors in men who murder their female partners. These behaviors echo the four items from a 1993 Statistics Canada survey that researchers Martin Daly and Margo Wilson noted were strong predictors that a woman will experience serious violence from a male partner: "1. He is jealous and doesn't want you to talk to other men; 2. He tries to limit your contact with family or friends; 3. He insists on knowing who you are with and where you are at all times; 4. He calls you names to put you down or make you feel bad."
Although government agencies and victim assistance organizations parrot the politically correct warning that intimate partner violence "can happen to anyone," the truth is, certain women are more likely to be victimized, and research shows a stew of contributing social, financial, and cultural factors. (Poverty and prior experience of family violence are two biggies.) Amazingly, there's almost no research showing the particular psychology that might make one more prone to get into (and stay in) a physically violent relationship. (In the scant findings there are, researchers are unable to tease out whether, say, low self-esteem precipitated victimization or was caused by it.) But, it seems likely that women who have low self-worth, who are "pleasers," and who have abandonment issues — women who are more likely to stay in emotionally abusive relationships — are more likely to stay in physically abusive ones. De Becker, in his vast experience with victims and victimizers, concurs, observing in "The Gift of Fear" that "men who cannot let go choose women who cannot say no."
The muzzle of political correctness — intended to protect the feelings of victims — actually makes women more likely to be victimized by stifling discussion about who becomes a victim and how they might prevent it. Interestingly, the bounds of political correctness don't extend to how we portray men. But, demonizing all men as deadly is like demonizing crossing the street because many people die each year at intersections (983 in 2009). A better idea is to look both ways. In relationships, this means assessing your individual risk for victimization and fixing feelings of low self-worth instead of trying to plaster over them with a partner — a partner you may feel compelled to cling to no matter what. In dating, this means engaging your judgment — not going off into the woods with some guy you barely know but also not seeing life as one giant "Law & Order" episode: "Hey, pretty lady in the mood for a murder-suicide, or would you rather just see a movie?"
It's Advice Goddess Radio — bringing you the best people from science: fascinating, fun professor and therapist guests who will nerd you out of your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. 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).
Amy Alkon talks with Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of "The How of Happiness" (and the least sappy authority on happiness ever), about small steps we can take to be happier and prevent relationship boredom.
Read Amy Alkon's book: "I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society" (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).