by Amy Alkon
Q: I like this woman I’ve been seeing, but she’s really in love with me. I’ve been clear that I’m not ready to get more serious and that I’m really never going to be up for that with her. She’s chosen to stick around, but her best friend called me crying, saying I’m breaking her heart. (Yikes!) Is it wrong to stay with somebody whose feelings are much stronger than yours?—Troubled
A: She sees the two of you getting old together. You see the two of you getting together for sex on Friday. The French make this sort of mismatch sound sexy and fabulous, calling what she’s feeling “la douleur exquise”—the “exquisite pain” of wanting somebody you can’t have. But look under the hood and you’ll see an ugly stew of hormones and the psychological gotchas called cognitive biases—unconscious errors in reasoning—leading to an acute case of adult-onset puppy love.
Some would argue that this woman is worshipping at your altar of her own free will (laying if not crops and a goat at your feet, then undying love, Doritos, and beer). The truth is, a cognitive bias called the “sunk cost fallacy” probably has a good bit to do with her sticking around. This describes our tendency to be irrational “investors”—deciding whether we’ll continue putting time, energy, and/or money into something based on what we’ve already put in. This is dumb, because our initial investment is gone, and throwing in more whatever won’t change that. The rational approach would be basing our decision on what kind of payoff we’re likely to see down the road. Unfortunately, though we humans have a reasoning department built into our brain, cognitive biases can keep it a plastic-wrapped no-go zone, much like my late grandma’s living room couch.
Love is not always 50/50, but it also shouldn’t be, oh, 90/10. Eventually, if you have a conscience, taking advantage of her futile hopes will prey on you (if it hasn’t already). And sooner or later, she’s likely to resent and maybe even hate you for sticking around to never give her what she wants—instead providing the dating version of, “Hey, we don’t sell what you need at this store, but please hang out here till we go out of business.”
Q: I have a wonderful new boyfriend, but I’ve been avoiding sleeping over at his place because I snore. Not cute ladylike snores but loud, bed-shaking ones. I’m not overweight. (In fact, I’m in really great shape from CrossFit.) I don’t have sleep apnea. And snore strips and bite guards are useless. (This is something I’ll eventually need surgery for.) I’m afraid my boyfriend won’t be so attracted to me once he hears my “night noises.”—Stressing
A: A guy will generally appreciate a woman who’s kind of a wild thing in bed—just not when he jolts awake to call Animal Control to show up with nets and a tranquilizer gun.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to get to that point—if you and he can think a little differently about doing your sleeping in separate beds, which is supposedly the province of couples who last had sex when FDR was in office. It’s actually that of couples looking to wake up rested instead of exhausted. Though romantic partners insisted to sleep researcher James Horne that they sleep best when they share a bed, the squiggly line of his sleep-monitoring gizmo said otherwise, suggesting that separate beds make for a far less interrupted night’s rest. (This is especially true for anyone with a partner who cage-fights in her dreams, wakes up frequently to sleep-drive to Home Depot, or snores like an asthmatic wolverine.)
Because that which does not kill us can still scare us awake—and because big scary facts tend to shrink to a more manageable size when revealed in advance—you should tell the guy about your snoring instead of letting him find out. And because we judge things by comparison, let him think the worst—if only for a moment. Say, “There’s something I have to tell you …” He’ll wonder, “Oh, no … do I need to go to the clinic?” He should be relieved when you reveal that you “breathe loudly” in your sleep—that is, in a way that announces you’re still alive … to neighbors two doors down. Next, present the solution: doing the fun stuff together in the same bed but slumbering separately. If the guy’s got any smarts, he’ll put this in perspective. The good news: You have an ass like a 22-year-old stripper. The bad news: You snore like a drunken hobo on a bench. (Can’t win ’em all!)