His back to the wallet
My girlfriend of a year is enormously wealthy and very generous. Despite my protestations, she loves buying me nice clothes and other gifts, and appears to expect little or nothing in return except my love. I have a professional job but much more modest means. There's no way I can return her generosity in any material sense. How might I be able to give a visible and meaningful sign of my commitment to her? She wears rings on both hands with huge diamonds, and anything I might be able to afford would seem trivial by comparison. — Underfunded
It's a losing battle, giving jewelry to a woman who prompts thoughts like "Is that a diamond on your finger or have they discovered a new planet and given it to you to wear?"
You're actually lucky you can't take the spendy way out. It makes it too easy to drag a duffel bag of cash to the obvious places: the jewelry store, the cashmere store, the handbags-that-cost-more-than-some-compact-cars store. These items aren't exactly horrible gifts, but a better choice is "the gift that keeps on giving," which, I know, sounds like something you get from drinking the water in Mexico. It actually describes a feeling you give another person — the feeling that she's loved — through showing her that it means a lot to you to make her happy, and not just on Christmas, Valentine's Day, and days when you're trying to say you're sorry for doing something you shouldn't have.
By truly listening when a woman talks and then using the intel you get to make her life happier, easier and more fun, you tell her a very loving thing: "I'm paying attention to who you are." You can say this by going out of your way to pick her up a latte or her favorite snack; by making a $50 book with your photos and captions about all the things you love about her (shutterfly.com, apple.com/ilife/print-products.html); by sending sweet, funny, 30-second videos you shoot of yourself on your phone; and by fixing things she didn't realize were unwieldy, uncomfortable, or broken until you made them better. In other words, any guy with a spare $100,000 lying around can buy a woman a ginormous diamond. It takes a really special guy to give her a bag of pinecones (assuming he's trying to remind her of happy times she spent at her family's cabin as a kid, and not just getting rid of tree litter he cleaned out of the bed of his pickup).
Fifty shades of gay
My girlfriend and I are lesbians in our mid 30s and totally committed. She's pretty and more feminine than I am and likes getting male attention, and she gets it — in restaurants, bars, pretty much anyplace public. Last night at dinner, some cute waiter dude was flirting with her, and she flirted back (nothing crazy, just teasing him, etc.). I got really upset. She apologized and reassured me that she's just playing, and that it was harmless because she wasn't flirting with a cute girl. Besides not getting why she's into this, I find myself resenting guys for not respecting our relationship, or worse, not even noticing it. — The Girlfriend
The next time a guy comes up and says, "Hi, I'm Jeremy. I'm your waiter," you could just grab your girlfriend's boob and say, "Hi, we're Samantha and Karen, and we're life partners." Otherwise, it's mostly a big straight world out there, so people won't always get that you're together — assuming you aren't dating Rachel Maddow or sporting matching crew cuts, grandpa cardigans and combat boots.
As for why your girlfriend flirts, flirting is a form of play — and a ploy. People, gay and straight, flirt their way to free drinks or a better deal at the tire shop, to get confirmation that they've still "got it," or to flex their charm to make themselves and other people feel good. (No, when the supermarket cashier teasingly cards the 9,000-year-old lady, it isn't because he's looking to get busy with her in the back seat of his car.)
If there's no reason to suspect your girlfriend is cheating on you, or would, and if she's only bantering briefly, not making you feel ignored, consider whether it's really her flirting you're upset about. (Maybe there are underlying insecurities or problems that need addressing?) It's generally a bad idea to cramp your partner's style, and especially when you know that her "relationship" with the waiter will end with her leaving him a tip — the monetary kind, not an idea of what it might take for him to slide her around on the Kinsey Scale.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle To Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society.