Q: I’m a 34-year-old struggling comic. My girlfriend is a 29-year-old children’s therapist. We’ve been together for a year. She wants to move in with me, wants me to meet her parents—adult relationship stuff that I don’t feel ready for now. I love her, but I live in a studio without a kitchen. I don’t even have a car. As a man, I want to be a “provider” for the woman in my life. She doesn’t want to wait.—Don’t Wanna Lose Her
A: On the upside, you aren’t without savings—there’s that jar with all the change that you take to the Coinstar twice a year.
Your reluctance to be all “let’s move in together and start a life over my hot plate” probably comes out of how (according to cross-cultural research by David Buss and other evolutionary psychologists) women seem to have evolved to seek men with the ability to acquire resources—that is, to “provide.”
Men co-evolved to expect this—and feel they need to rise to the occasion in order to get the ladies. In other words, you, as a man, are psychologically driven to feel unsettled when, in terms of sheer earning power, you’re just this side of living in your car.
This might lead you to wonder why, if you’re so wigged out about being broke, your girlfriend’s evolved psychology seems to be all “yeah, whatever.” Well, there was no such thing as “wealth” in ancestral times, so cues to the ability to acquire resources seem to point to mate quality. As I’ve written before, a woman’s seeing ambition, entrepreneurial thinking and high intelligence in a guy who isn’t exactly raking in the bucks may ring enough of her psychological bells to make him a choice.
A woman who isn’t yet in “let’s make babies!” mode might also be more open-minded than realistic. Think about the life you want, and ask your girlfriend to think about the future she wants, and then put your wants together and see how well they fit. Sure, comedy is a career that can eventually pay off, but for many, it never goes beyond driving around to do $50 sets in suburban Yuk-Yuk Huts. If it’s “babies or bust!” for her, consider how willing you’d be to trade your comedy dream for a dad job—the boringly stable kind with a reasonable weekly paycheck.
Q: My guy friend said my problem with men is that I keep forgetting who I am. According to him, I’m smart, beautiful, accomplished, funny and super-cool, but the moment I like a guy, I act weirdly needy and turn guys off. How do I change this?—Clingy
A: In presenting yourself to others, you’re like the world’s worst used-car salesman: “Fantastic deathtrap for the price! Just the thing to strand you on a desert highway and leave you crawling on your hands and knees over rocky, snake-infested terrain!”
Unfortunately, self-loathing is only stylish for about 20 minutes—and only if you are a newly Goth 13-year-old. Also unfortunate is a big long-standing error in psychology, overvaluing talking and undervaluing action as the way to change our default behavior. Granted, recognizing where you’re going wrong and how you could behave less counterproductively isn’t unimportant or useless. But research by clinical psychologist Stefan G. Hofmann and his colleagues suggests that taking action alone—without talk therapy—leads to dramatic shifts in thinking, including significantly diminishing “negative self-perception” and other counterproductive beliefs.
As for your tendency to go all needypants around a guy you like, ask yourself why you do this. Not the underlying reason, but why you let your emotions drive your behavior. People don’t think to ask themselves that, but as I write in Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence—my science-based book on how action is the key to emotional and behavioral transformation—“your feelings are not the boss of you.” In short, it isn’t how you feel that matters; it’s what you do.
When you’re around a guy you like, act in a way that serves your interests—like a person with self-respect, which is to say, one who has no problem walking away. (Be whiny to your friends, if necessary.) After all, deep down, you know you could get a man to stay with you forever—that’s what basement wall chains and bucket toilets are for.