by Amy Alkon
Q: I’ve been dating this guy long distance for six months. He’ll often fail to return texts for an entire day or even a few days. I keep breaking up with him, but he keeps apologizing, acknowledging that he can be “distracted” and then offering convincing excuses or making me feel I’m overreacting. This is getting old.—Annoyed
A: Is there some crater somewhere where all his promises go to die?
There is sometimes a good reason that your boyfriend can’t return your text for days, like that it’s 790 B.C. and there’s a snowstorm and he’s sending his eunuch with the bum knee over the Alps with a set of stone tablets. When there is no good reason, his acknowledging an error, like by admitting to being “distracted,” is a first step in mending his ways. That is, except when he shows you—repeatedly—that it’s his only step (perhaps because it’s tricky to text you back when his other, more local girlfriend is sitting right next to him).
Getting somebody to respect your boundaries starts with appearing to have them. Sure, there are sometimes allowances to be made, like for an all-nighter at work or illness. As a friend of mine once wrote: “Sorry I didn’t respond to your email; I was in a coma.” But a man who cares about you generally acts in ways reflecting that—like by dashing off a text to tell you “sleepy—w/write u in a.m.” or “kidnapped—w/be in touch w/ransom demand.” Instead, this guy gives you yet another apology—which basically translates to, “Sorry that it’ll be a few days before I can do this to you again.”
To have a caring, attentive man, you’ll need to make room for him in your life. You do this the same way you make room for a new TV—by putting the old broken one out on the curb. It’s tempting to keep believing the excuses, which allows you to believe that you’re loved. Unfortunately, believing that you’re loved never plays out like actually being loved. The problem is, in the moment, our emotions are our first responder, and reason—that slacker—burrows under the covers, hoping it won’t get called in to work.
Overriding wishful thinking-driven gullibility takes planning—having a pre-packed set of standards for how you want to be treated and then pulling them out at excuse o’clock and holding them up to how you’re actually being treated. This is how you end up with a boyfriend who keeps his word. Keeps it and puts it on his phone and texts it to you—as opposed to keeping it in a drawer with slightly used chopsticks, old answering machine tapes and a Ziploc baggie of his sister’s hamster’s ashes.
Q: I’m a 31-year-old straight guy. I dress pretty boringly—except for my socks. I go for crazy colors and patterns. My buddy says that these make me look “weird” and “less manly.” Come on. Do women really want you to be a carbon copy of every black-sock-wearing dude out there?—Mr. Fun
A: In the sock department, as in other areas, it’s the nuances that count. So, go ahead and make a statement—but maybe one that stops short of, “I’m really a Japanese schoolgirl!”
Novelty sock-wearing for men has actually been a thing in North America for a few years. The really wacky ones may work as what anthropologists and animal behaviorists call a “costly signal.” This is an extravagant or risky trait or behavior that comes with a substantial price—handicapping a person’s or critter’s survival or chances of mating—thus suggesting that it’s a reliable sign of their quality. An example is a peacock with a particularly lush (and heavy) tail. His managing to escape predators while dragging around big, feathered hindquarters like a train on a royal wedding dress tells peahens (girl peacocks) that he must be a real Chuck Norris among big, feathery birds.
Still, there are costly signals—”I’m man enough”—and too-costly signals: “It’s raining men! Hallelujah!” To figure out where the line lies for you, average all the variables: Degree of manliness, girliness of sock choice, occupation (like if you’re a British graphic designer or a guy who goes to work in oversized red shoes) and the eccentricity level of the women you like. But keep in mind that certain socks are risky for any man, such as—and yes, these actually exist—Superman insignia socks, complete with tiny red capes attached. Sure, let your socks tell a woman that you want to take her home with you—but maybe not so you can tear off all your clothes and make her watch as you play with your action figures in your Superman Underoos.