By Amy Alkon
Unlucky in shove
My husband was a heavy-drinking, drug-taking skirt-chaser who worked only sporadically, so I divorced him three years ago. He quit drinking and drugs, renounced skirt-chasing, and was constantly professing his love for me, so I took him back on the condition that he contributes financially. He soon started behaving badly. He does no housework, misuses my tools and appliances, and never buys anything or replaces things he breaks, including major appliances. When I bring up an issue, he talks loudly and nonsensically over me. I now say nothing until things get outrageous — like when he inspects my dinner plate to make sure I don't have more food than he does. (If he feels shortchanged, he'll reach into my food and help himself!) One Sunday, he disappeared, later claiming he was with a female co-worker and, supposedly, her husband. Yesterday, he retreated to my closet to talk to another woman on the phone while I prepared dinner. Upon emerging, he complained his food was cold. He sees nothing wrong with his behavior, and I'm not supposed to question any of it. Is this relationship worth trying to save? — Upset
In love, it's the little things that count, like keeping your boyfriend's food warm while he's in your closet talking to another woman.
There's apparently a thin line between contempt and hate. The way another man would gaze lovingly at the spray of his girlfriend's freckles, your boyfriend only has eyes for your dinner — lest you have .16 of an ounce more mashed potatoes than he does. When he grabs a handful off your plate, you may finally squeak out a word or two in protest. He'll of course do the gentlemanly thing — plug his ears and start mooing at the top of his lungs.
You only mention emotional abuse, but like a woman who's always "falling down the stairs" and giving herself a black eye, you've probably been living for scraps — the declarations of love between the abuse, or the declarations you used to get. This has you asking the entirely wrong question, "Is this relationship worth trying to save?"
The essential question (about this or any relationship) is "Does this person make me feel happy — and loved?" And in this case, the answer is another question: "Hey, anybody know anybody who delivers moving boxes 24/7?"
As you've seen, denying reality doesn't make it go away; it allows ugly behavior to become "the new normal" — until you find yourself wondering whether to get a second phone line and an outlet for a hotplate installed in the closet. You point yourself toward happier times by being honest about the relationship you have instead of pretending it's the relationship you want. This takes accepting that being human means being prone to emotionally driven errors in judgment — in this case, maybe because you are longing for love, are loath to admit to another failed romantic investment, and dread being alone.
Of course, as I've written before, there's nothing lonelier than feeling alone while in a relationship with somebody else — especially one who claims to love you and shows it by bringing nothing to the table but a finely calibrated scale.
Background checks and balances
Say you're engaged and mutually decide to end the relationship. What's the socially acceptable amount of time you should wait before dating again? In this age of social networking and constant sharing of photos and events, we're almost back to a small-town model where people are privy to all our business. It's likely a guy would see that I'd only been out of an engagement a short time and get worried. — Three Months Single
The Internet can make a lot of first-date conversation seem irrelevant. Before you even sit down at the restaurant, there's a good chance your date's hacked into your Facebook page, dug up your parole officer's home number, Google-Earthed your house from space and zoomed in to see how you look weeding in a bikini. But what he can't know from web searches are the nuances, like whether you might be somebody who was out of her relationship in her head long before she could, for example, figure out how to divide the dog.
If so, just be open with guys you date about your circumstances. Some may rule you out before you get a chance to explain. But remember the stuff you probably complain about with your girlfriends, like how a hot woman can cause the male IQ to plunge to that of a jelly sandwich. If a guy's into you, he'll probably go out with you first and worry later about minor details — like, say, how your last five boyfriends all appear to have committed suicide by shooting themselves in the back.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail email@example.com (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle To Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society.