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).
Got a problem? E-mail Amy at AdviceAmy@aol.com.
Gurus Just Wanna Have Fun
It's hard being as conscious as I am, which is why I come to you. I'm a 23-year-old man with high standards and a belief in being honest and frank, which some mistake for cruelty. My knowledge of self and understanding of others makes it hard for me to find a girlfriend. I've never initiated dates except for nerdy "going for coffee but she doesn't know it's a date" dates. I just can't shake the feeling that women I'm attracted to have men coming on to them constantly. I don't want to add to their burden, so I find myself waiting for women to come on to me. This seldom happens, so I end up settling for women who pursue me, which is where my honesty perceived as cruelty comes in. Recently, I became attracted to a co-worker. I told her of my attraction, and asked her to lunch. She agreed to go, but said, "I want you to know it's just as friends. I have to cover my bases." This was unsettling, but I still took her. She's seemed on guard ever since - proving to me that I was a burden. - Insightfully Alone
If you have a drinking problem, you go to an A.A. meeting and say, "Hi, my name is Bob, and I'm an alcoholic," not "Hi, my name is Socrates. I'm here to share my vast knowledge of self and others, right after I toss back a coupla shots."
Sorry, but your problem isn't that you're too perceptive, too in-touch, and too sensitive to the needs of others, but that there's no personal shortcoming you can't spin into a humanitarian gesture or a sign of what a genius of human nature you are. Take your "belief in being honest and frank" - at least, with any girl you settle for: "Here, darling, my 32-page illustrated report on all the ways you're beneath me." Somehow, I'm guessing you manage to restrain yourself from marching over to the husky trucker in the Kwik-E-Mart and announcing, "Hey, tubby, you might wanna rethink those Ho Hos."
As for what's actually keeping you from getting a girlfriend - could it be that you rarely ask women out on anything remotely perceivable as a date? There was that one woman, that co-worker. Technically, you did ask her out - for lunch at high noon, the least date-like time of the day. And, perhaps that was the point: it would technically be a date, but without any pressure on you to do anything terribly date-like. I mean, when's the last time you saw two people sharing a lingering first kiss while pressed up against the sneeze guard of a busy salad bar?
Of course, you mucked things up from the start by spitting up your feelings all over her shoes ("I told her of my attraction..."). When you don't know how somebody feels about you, you don't go all full-frontal with your feelings for them. Consider the difference between "Wanna have sex with me?" and "Would you like to come up and see my etchings?" which Harvard psych professor Steven Pinker addresses in "The Stuff Of Thought." With the latter, the girl is reasonably sure you aren't looking to guide her around a late-night art exhibition, but "indirect speech" allows both of you to maintain what Pinker calls "a comfortable fiction." The same goes for asking a co-worker out for after-work cocktails. Unlike lunch, the evening can morph into a date. If it doesn't, you can spin it as friendly drinks, or your new program, "No Co-worker Goes Home Thirsty" - which you should find much easier on the ego than your old program, "An Audience With Genius: An Unwanted Declaration Of Attraction, Followed By A Long, Awkward Free Lunch."
Pardon My Trust
My boyfriend moved with me when I left for college, which shows me he really cares. I know he loves me, and would never cheat, but when I have female friends over, he's sometimes flirty. I know it's harmless, but it always gets to me. - Jealous Mess
Maybe your boyfriend moved with you because he really cares, or maybe his parents kicked him out of their basement. Maybe he'll "never cheat," or maybe he's already opened the back seat of the welcome wagon to half the women in your college class. If he seems trustworthy, chances are your real problem is gauging your self-worth according to your boyfriend's willingness to sullenly ignore female guests in your home. But, what if he leaves you?! Well, what if? It won't be a fun month, or four, but isn't there more to your life than being some guy's girlfriend? I mean, just picture your tombstone 75 years from now: Instead of "Beloved wife, mother, and friend who made a difference," it'll be "In college, she had a boyfriend who never cheated on her. R.I.P."