I've been with my boyfriend for a year. We were best friends and talked about everything — what our kids would be like, projects we'd do together, magical worlds, and even other people we found attractive. Then, on his computer, I accidentally clicked on what I thought was just some porn video, but I recognized his blanket and realized it was he and his ex-girlfriend having sex (when they were dating). I had a very hard time seeing him with someone else and have become very sensitive and jealous, and this has set our relationship on edge. We don't talk as we used to. So many areas have become off-limits (even just who he had lunch with) because he's so afraid that anything he says will upset or hurt me. I want to communicate as we used to when I was his "cool girlfriend." — Shut Out
Katharine Hepburn could have made a sex tape without anyone ever knowing, because after the 8 mm film got transferred to video, her image would have been hard to discern from that of Ernest Borgnine, Sasquatch, or Yogi Bear.
Thanks to technological advances, whenever some dermatologist in Idaho clicks up Kim Kardashian's sex tape, her agent probably gets a call telling him she's got some 2 mm birthmark that needs looking at. As distressing as it is that you could probably pick your boyfriend's ex out of a lineup — one from the waist down — it's not like you found footage of him clubbing squirrels. You just got unfortunate visual confirmation of what you already knew: He had a girlfriend before you. They did more than spoon.
Jealousy is a good thing when it rears its little green head to warn of an actual threat to the relationship: "Eeek! He's having sex with another woman ..." But jealousy needs a slap in the mouth from reason when there is no real threat: " ... and it happened a year before we'd even met." To help yourself think rationally, don't be nebulously hysterical ("I'm afraaaaid!"). Verbalize exactly what you're actually afraid of — probably that he'd leave you, maybe for his ex. Next, consider what would happen if he actually did. The world would not end. Your head would not fall off, roll under the bed, and become a cat toy. You'd probably sob into your pillow for a few months, but you'd eventually get over him and get on with your life.
To get back the relationship you had, start acting as if you'd never lost it — meaning, when your boyfriend asks you the time, you just tell him; you don't shriek that all you can see is that clock on the nightstand in his sex video. There's a good deal of research, laid out by psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman in The As If Principle, that suggests that changing how you behave is actually the fastest, most effective way to change how you feel. Let your boyfriend know that you know your fears aren't rational, that you're going to stop acting like they are, and that he, in turn, needs to stop treating you like a bomb that could be triggered by "pass the salt." Before long, you should be his cool girlfriend again — faster, probably, if that blanket from the video finds its way to some homeless man. Ideally, he should be one who isn't in your neighborhood, lest your response to "Spare change?" be "You whore!"
Jest not that into you
Women always say they like a man with a good sense of humor. What exactly does that mean? I think I'm funny. Do I have to bust right out with a bunch of hilarity on the first date? — A Guy
If a woman agrees to go out with you, it isn't so she can finally find out why the chicken crossed the road. She either wants a free dinner or wants to figure out whether you're worth seeing again. You're unlikely to score a second date by pelting her with jokes and one-liners, which suggests you prepared for the evening by memorizing the joke book on the back of the toilet. What impresses a woman are shows of wit — spontaneous expressions of humor in response to something she says or something around you. Wit reflects intelligence while communicating your worldview — telling her who you are far more interestingly than droning on about your major and your dream to someday get your boss to assign you a better parking space. That said, don't get so caught up in making her laugh that you forget that connecting with her is the point. Make her feel like a one-woman audience for your "act" and she'll figure out for herself why the chicken crossed the road. (Because it would rather be hit by a car than listen to another one of your jokes.)
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.