by Amy Alkon
Q: My girlfriend has been hurt, cheated on and even ripped-off in past relationships, and I’m paying the price. If I don’t text back immediately, she is convinced I’m dumping her and flips out. If I’m busy, she thinks I’m with another girl or abandoning her. When I do something sweet, she thinks I’m trying to play her. All I want is to have a nice relationship with her. Am I fighting a losing battle, or can a little good from a caring, ethical guy allow a woman to let go of a lot of bad?—Optimist
A: A woman like your girlfriend, with a history of dating shady guys, can find the most inconsequential things suspicious, down to the way you drip creamer into your coffee—surely Morse code telling that pretty woman across the cafe that you want to have sex with her. You: “Uh … you mean the woman canoodling with her girlfriend in the ‘Keep Calm and Kiss Lesbians’ T-shirt?”
There are a few world-class deceivers out there, and it can be hard to see who they really are until you’re looking at a small pile of cracker crumbs where the money in your bank account used to be. But, typically, a woman who’s frequently chumped by bad guys is not just their victim; she’s her own. Repeat suckerization often comes out of low self-worth. But it almost always comes out of refusing to do the necessary homework—observing a potential partner’s behavior over time and seeing whether it matches up with the person they claim to be. Your girlfriend appears to favor a popular shortcut—cannonballing into a relationship and hoping things turn out okay. Until … whoops! He was just helping her best friend fix her sheets, and then the most amazing thing happened—all of his clothes fell off.
Considering that your girlfriend probably feels cruelly abandoned whenever you stop talking long enough to sneeze, lead with the reassurance that you love her and want to be with her. Then tell her it hurts your feelings that she doesn’t give you credit for who you’ve shown yourself to be—a loving boyfriend who’s given her no reason to believe he’d ever run some scam on her. Explain that for your relationship to make it, you need to see her working on her issues—in a therapist’s office and/or with a great reason-based self-help book, Dr. Albert Ellis’ A Guide to Rational Living (because her flip-outs are ultimately caused by her failing to apply reason).
Gently point out that just because she has a feeling—like jealousy or anxiety—she doesn’t have to act on it. Sure, in the moment, it’s easy to go straight to crazytown. Avoiding that takes preplanning. She needs to resolve to instead pull out the evidence—the spreadsheets of your prior behavior—and assess the likelihood that what you’re “picking up at the store” is actually just milk and not a 5’10” blonde. Give yourself a deadline to see some progress. Not necessarily miraculous change but some indication that she’s trying—and that you might someday be greeted with a kiss and a “How was your day?” instead of a gavel and a “How do you plead?”
Q: When I talked on the phone to a woman I met on a dating site, I told her I really like hiking, and she said she did, too, so I made our first date a hike. It was a really easy hike, but she complained the whole time, wore the wrong shoes and lagged behind. She finally admitted that she never hikes. It isn’t the first time this has happened. Why do women say they like hiking when they hate it and never do it?—Just Be Honest
A: Okay, so this woman’s idea of an invigorating nature trek is cutting across a grassy median to get to a shoe sale. Hiking is so easy to like in the abstract, on the phone—especially when you like hiking and the woman wants you to like her. She may even picture herself hiking—up a fake rock in Chanel shorts at a Vogue photo shoot—and believe that she could be into it. And then, when she feels a twinge of guilt for telling a fibby, she probably tells herself that once you fall for her, you’ll realize it’s a small price to pay that her feet don’t take kindly to parting company with pavement. The bottom line for you? Assume that anyone you meet—especially on the Internet—is lying about absolutely everything until proven otherwise. (Yeah, of course she enjoys seeing birds in formation—in valu-paks at the grocery store.)