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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The Carats And The Stick
I'm 25, my boyfriend's 28. Our three-year relationship has been near-perfect, and he's given every indication he plans to marry me. I was secretly (albeit prematurely) planning our wedding in my head when I found an e-mail exchange with his high school ex. (He'd used my laptop, and left the message open.) He claimed he was in a "complicated situation" with me, and suggested they had a future. I was floored. He swore he doesn't feel that way or know why he wrote that, but says it was "like a game," and he enjoyed the attention. He e-mailed her to apologize, explaining how in love with me he is, and how he'd never forgive himself if he let me go. He forwarded me this e-mail and her response, but I'm still having difficulty trusting him. He's now trying to apologize with expensive gifts and fancy dinners. How can I convey that I need him to show his love in non-material ways, or maybe with one sparkly gift to weigh down my left hand? -- Broadsided
As friends go, diamonds can be lying jerks. Skepticism is actually a girl's best friend. Unfortunately, our culture celebrates commitment, not doubt. Nobody's going to throw you a party because you're wavering about getting married: "You two aren't entirely sure about each other? Well, how wonderful! Are you registered for that at Tiffany's?"
According to you, your relationship has been "near perfect" -- except for the part where your boyfriend was e-mailing his high school girlfriend on your laptop, telling her how troubled it was. What's his next smooth move, murdering somebody, breaking into the police chief's house, and leaving the body on the living room floor while he makes himself a cup of cocoa and watches CSI reruns? "Hiya, Chief... didn't expect you home so early!"
If the guy doesn't need "The Internet For Idiots" he's probably trying to tell you something; like, it's one thing for a guy to throw around wildly romantic ideas about forever in the heat of the moment and another to march down to the courthouse to say it in triplicate. Of course, men do marry, but you don't find them meandering around the hardware store picturing the tux they'll someday be walking down the aisle in. For a man, pledging that you're "the one" means swearing off all access to the other six or eight. Or 18 or 88. And then, after foreverizing, what if it gets to the point where "the spark" can't be reignited, not even with a blowtorch and a bedroom of dry leaves? Sure, he'll be right over to take that blood test, just as soon as he dashes off a couple e-mails.
As anxious as you are to get "happily ever after" squared away, you don't want to make marrying you the ultimate apology for hitting on the high school ex. While the guy didn't express ambivalence in the nicest way, it seems he has some. He should be encouraged to explore it so you can find out how he really feels -- whether he got momentarily freaked by the sign, "Last Girl, Food, Lodging For 100 Years," or whether the only monogamy he's actually up for is the serial kind. You might take this less personally if you can look at marriage in consumer terms. With a divorce rate of up to 30 percent for college-educated couples, getting married is like looking to buy a refrigerator with a big sticker on it, "Only a 30 percent chance this sucker will crap out!" Do you rush in shouting, "I do! I do! I do!" or mumble, "Uh, yeah... I think I might need to see a few more refrigerators"?
No Plane, No Gain
My boyfriend just moved 800 miles away for his dream job. Before accepting, he asked whether I'd consider moving. I would, but it's a sacrifice. He said, in the interim, we'd take turns visiting each other every other weekend, and he'd pay half my plane fare ($150). Now, I'm thinking he should pay the full $300 since he moved, and his salary's twice mine. -- Resentful
Opportunity knocked and your boyfriend forgot to treat it like a collection agent: draw the curtains, curl up with you, and pretend he wasn't home. Hey! Weren't you supposed to be his dream job? Be honest: Is it really plane tickets you want him to pay for, or are you fining him for putting his career first? Getting him to kick in that king's ransom of $150 shouldn't be tough: Just tell him you can't afford it -- if that's truly the case. Otherwise, what's really going to cost you is your attitude of "You broke it, you have to pay for it." Love works best when it "knows no boundaries," not when it stomps off the plane with an envelope of itemized receipts, down to the $2 airplane Pringles.