Some like it hot mess
Why do "helpless" women have men constantly doting on them, while women like me are deemed "too strong"? I was raised by a 1970s feminist and single mother. ("A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!") At 21, I became a widowed single mother. I put myself through school and own a home and a business. I now have a boyfriend who feels I don't "need" him enough.
He says I need to drop some of the balls I'm juggling so he can pick them up. "Just take them!" I say. We recently had a yard sale, and I did everything and was resentful and exhausted. I threw a little fit and walked away. My man then put forth a superhuman effort and cleaned everything up. But, as usual, he didn't handle things until I was unable to. — Superwoman
The modern damsel doesn't have to be in distress, but it helps if she at least has a few items not yet crossed off her to-do list. Otherwise, what is there for Superman to do but smoke a bowl and make YouTube videos of the cat riding the Roomba?
No sooner did you find a man who says he wants to help than you immediately raised the bar. It isn't enough that he's willing to take out the trash from under the sink. You expect him to sense that you want him to and then wrestle you for the bag. What's with this? Did you get comfy with the belief that women don't need men and are you now intent on confirming that? Could it be that having him help conflicts with your self-image as the suburban Joan of Arc — if not burning at the stake, cooking up the steak while burning with rage about how you have to do it all?
You can have the martyrdom merit badge or a relationship; pick any one. Consider that maybe being a strong woman means being strong enough to admit that you need a man for something besides yelling at when he gives the wrong answer to "Do I look fat in this?" You will have to ask for help, which may be easier if you think of this as sending your boyfriend on little "quests" to make him feel needed. Though you probably don't need a Holy Grail, you could ask him to wield power tools or run up to Rite Aid to get your kid some cold meds.
While he's gone, here's a suggestion: Write out that dumb fish/bicycle quote. Burn it. Scatter the ashes. And replace it in your head with an update on a classic: "It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease— that is, if it doesn't run off and grease itself before anybody else can get up out of his chair to go look for the can."
Although I regularly tell my boyfriend how much I appreciate him, he repeatedly reminds me of how well he treats me, often saying "You sure have a great boyfriend" or "Your boyfriend's so good to you" — even when I've just done something super-nice for him! I'm not sure why he does this, but he often tells me he's "very confident," which screams insecurity to me. He also loves telling stories about people complimenting him and every day tells me about someone's seeing him and saying, "Hi, Chris." — Annoyed
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish for compliments and you annoy the crap out of everyone who knows or encounters him. Of course, if your boyfriend didn't feel like a skin tag among men, he wouldn't be marching around putting out mini-manifestos on his greatness. You can probably get him to cut back on the incessant self-congratulation simply by telling him it grates on you and makes you feel unappreciated. (A woman likes a man who's quick with a compliment, but especially when at least a few of the compliments are for her.)
The question is, do you even know the man you're with? Chances are, he hides his real feelings out of fear that you'll leave him if you get a glimpse of what he probably sees as his shamefully loserish true self. Unfortunately, somebody chasing inner security all around town is never going to find it, and if your boyfriend's happy in your relationship, he's unlikely to feel motivated to get into the grubby business of digging inward. Relationships involve tradeoffs, and maybe being with him is worth it to you. But you may ultimately find it too hard to respect a guy who does stuff like bragging when people say, "Hi, Chris." Yes, it's the highest achievement of the human spirit: "Wow, people know me, and they don't shun me!"
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email 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.