By Amy Alkon
Q: I’ve been in a long-distance relationship with my dream man. When we aren’t together, I feel super-disconnected and needy. I’ve never been that sort of person, but he is a master of compartmentalization and just calls or texts back when I contact him and is happy to see me when he sees me. This just isn’t working for me. I need a guy who’s excited enough about me day to day that he takes a little initiative to talk to me. I’ve asked him repeatedly to even just text me first from time to time so I can feel like I matter to him. However, nothing changes. I now think I should end it. I do love him, though, and my friends are telling me that I’ve already invested nine months of my life in this relationship and I might as well see it through now. There is the possibility he’d move to my city, but that wouldn’t be for at least eight months, and it is only a possibility.—Across The Country
A: In situations like this, “absence” would be more useful if, instead of making the heart “grow fonder,” it made the heart grow little legs and trot off to a bar to chat up somebody new.
You’ve told this guy what you need—no, not diamonds, furs and surgical conjoinment; just a textiepoo at some point in the afternoon, or maybe a call as he’s on his way someplace. He pretty much responded, “I hear ya, baby—and can’t wait to keep doing the exact same thing!” This led you to the obvious (and healthy) conclusion: Time to jump off the lost-cause train. But just then, up popped your friends to yank you back into the boxcar, advising you to put up with the unhappy and see where it goes—because you’ve already put in so much unhappy.
This sort of thinking is called the “sunk cost fallacy.” It’s a common cognitive bias—an error in reasoning—that leads us to keep investing in something simply because we’ve already invested so much. Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman explains that even when we sense that investing further is futile, we’re prone to do it because of how powerfully loss affects us. His research finds that we may even feel twice as much pain from a loss as we feel happiness from a gain. So, rather than take the hit to our ego by admitting that we’ve wasted our time, we waste more time doing whatever wasted our time in the first place.
The rational (and misery-reducing) approach is recognizing that the time we’ve already put in is gone and that throwing more time in after it won’t change that. What makes sense is deciding what to do based on how likely it is to pay off in the future. In this case, sure, your boyfriend could have a near-death experience, re-evaluate his life and start texting you heart emojis every 20 minutes—and Elton John could divorce his husband and start dating women. Of course, if you do ditch this guy, your replacement dream man may not pop up immediately in his wake. But at the very least, you should find that there are many men out there who can fail to meet your needs without your spending thousands of dollars a year on plane tickets.
Q: I love my girlfriend but don’t love how aggressive she is with her tongue when we kiss. I like softer kissing, but I think she thinks I won’t find her “passionate” enough that way. She has big, beautiful lips, and she’s intense, and I don’t need her tongue down my throat to feel connected. How do I navigate this difference in styles?—Uncomfortable
A: It’s great to have your girlfriend’s kisses kick off a fantasy in your head, but not that you’re playing spin the bottle with a camel.
Unfortunately, there’s really no such thing as “constructive criticism.” As I explain in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, “Criticizing people doesn’t make them change; it makes them want to clobber you.” That’s because we’re living in modern times with an antique psychological operating system. A verbal attack sets off pretty much the same biochemical alarm as a guy in a loincloth and face paint coming after you with a bloody spear. The good news is that turning criticism into opinion often makes all the difference in getting it heard. In this case, this simply involves telling your girlfriend how you like to be kissed—and then (fun!) showing her. It’s great to have a woman who takes your breath away—but not because she’s trying to give you a laryngectomy with her tongue.