by Amy Alkon
Q: I’ve always been a feelings stuffer, but I’ve been reading about vulnerability creating intimacy, blah, blah, blah, so I’m trying to be an open book. Though my boyfriend appreciates this, he keeps telling me there’s a line between expressiveness and my making everything an emotional issue to be hashed out. He last said this when I confessed that I had Googled his ex-girlfriend and felt threatened by how pretty she is. Should I have kept that to myself?—Open
A: If you were any more open, you’d have squatters and roosters. It’s great that you’ve thrown yourself into the trenches of Self-Improvementville, but the way you connect with someone is by letting them see who you are, not poking them in the eye with it every 20 minutes. Vulnerability shouldn’t be a fancy word for “everything you say or do hurts my feelings.” This Carnival of Insecurities, presented as problems for your boyfriend to solve, turns his life with you into a never-ending emotional chore wheel. (Remember, he’s in a relationship with you, not a psychology internship.)
This isn’t to say that you’re wrong to look to your boyfriend for soothing. But before you press a problem on him, ask yourself how it would affect him, whether he can fix it and whether it’s really his business to know.
Not all feelings are made for sharing. Some need to go off in a corner and die a quiet death on their own.
Still, you aren’t without help in ushering them there. (This is what therapists, best friends and the Journaling-Industrial Complex were invented for.)
People think that keeping romance alive takes a $10,000-a-night Spanish castle package, complete with moonlight carriage rides with an aria-singing Placido Domingo jogging behind. But it’s actually the mundane daily stuff that matters—how you and your partner respond to each other’s seemingly unimportant remarks and gestures. It turns out that telling your partner, “I can’t find the salt shaker anywhere” isn’t just an expression about a lost object; it’s what marriage researcher John Gottman calls a “bid for connection.”
In a study Gottman did with newlyweds, he found that the ones still married six years later were overwhelmingly those who consistently engaged with their partner and met those “bids” with “turn-towards.”
Turning toward a partner means being responsive—soothing, encouraging, supportive, or maybe just showing interest. This involves, for example, replying to your partner’s remark about the lost salt shaker—even with, “I hate when that happens!” rather than, “Lemme finish this ‘Minecraft’ session” or saying nothing at all (effectively treating them like some old couch you stopped noticing).
This “turning toward” thing is something you and your boyfriend can each do. Think of it as treating each other like you haven’t forgotten you love each other. It’s smart relationship policy and smart life policy—wiser than getting in the habit of responding to a partner’s, “I’m starting a machete collection” with, “That’s nice, dear.”
Q: The guy I’ve been seeing for a month just told me that he doesn’t want a relationship or monogamy. I told him from the start that I was looking for something “real” and wanted to take it slowly. I did sleep with him too quickly—on the first date. Still, I feel that men don’t really respect what you say you’re looking for. They get what they want and then leave. How do I keep this from happening in the future?—Ouch
A: Nothing like tearing off all your clothes on the first date to say, “I want to take it slowly.” (Your words said no, but your thighs had a marching band and a banner: “Welcome Home, Big Guy!”)
Many women claim to be seeking something “real”—either because they are or because they don’t want it to seem like their exercise program is “the walk of shame.” Guys are hip to this, so they nod their heads about the “real”ness-seeking and then nudge the woman to see whether she’ll tumble into bed. In other words, your problem was not that the guy didn’t “respect” what you said you wanted, but that you didn’t. (This might be a good time to notice that “blame” is just “lame” wearing a “b” as a hat.)
To avoid another Sexodus, match your behavior to your goals. Research (and common knowledge) finds that having sex pronto is a bad idea for a woman who’s looking for something lasting with a guy. This isn’t to say that sex on the first or second date never leads to more. It’s just a risky strategy to sleep with a man before he’s emotionally attached to you—like when your answer to the question, “So … how long have you two lovebirds been together?” is, “It’s actually coming up on two and a half beers!”