By Amy Alkon
Q: My new boyfriend is messy. He drops his socks, underwear and clothing on the floor by the bed. He’s not lazy or entitled, just a spacehead. It’s no big deal for me to pick this stuff up, as I feel like I’m showing him love by caretaking. However, he says his ex said she didn’t mind, either, and then was screaming about his socks eight months later. Is that my future?—Worried
A: It was so much easier when we only wore fig leaves and you could just rake next to the bed.
To be human is to be annoying to some other human. Like by doing that weird clicking thing with your tongue or always leaving the kitchen cabinets ajar (very helpful for any dishes prone to claustrophobia).
At first, such behaviors can seem oddly endearing—as does a new boyfriend’s abandoning his socks instead of making that harrowing 62.5-inch trek to the hamper. In time, however, a woman can start having some less-than-constructive ideas. You know, little things, like nailing his socks and underwear to the floor or perhaps lying in wait for him to drop something and then spraying him with a water bottle like a cat on the counter.
But as for your boyfriend’s letting his socks fall to the bedroom rug like snow, do you think he’s all “Ha, I’ll show her!”—or more “Pillow, here I come!”? The air bag against resenting him is love—not love as a mere feeling but love as an activity, an action you choose to take. Assuming that your guy’s basically a good person who loves you, try to behave as if you haven’t forgotten that you love him. Even when you hate him a little.
Unfortunately, change is hard. Behaviors become habits, and the personality traits that contribute to them are biologically driven. However, psychologist Art Markman explains that we can structure our environment to help us reshape our behavior. In Smart Change, he advises building a reminder to do a desired behavior into your environment in a way that it can’t be avoided. Upon repeating a new behavior about 20 times, you create the beginnings of a new habit.
In your situation, this could even be fun. Each night for a few weeks, leave a sheet of paper with a different message on his pillow, maybe starting with a Magic-Markered smiling cartoon hamper saying, “Feed meeee!” (One night, you could even tuck the hamper in under the covers.) Should you fail to amuse him out of his laundry-leaving ways, try to maintain perspective. Consider the idiocy of some people who say they’ll do “anything” for love: Move, quit, give up the British throne (sadly, a moot point for most of us). Their stance only changes once they have love—at which point “anything” involves stopping just short of picking up a small fabric item from the rug.
Q: I contributed to the ruin of my marriage with my big mouth, constantly sharing our intimate details with my girlfriends. Well, my wonderful new boyfriend is a pretty private person and has asked that I not share this stuff with my chick circle, and I’ve agreed. However, my friends have gotten used to living vicariously through my drama, and they aren’t liking my new tight-lipped approach. They even seem resentful, like I don’t trust them anymore.—New Boundaries
A: Him: “I think I have psoriasis on my penis.”
You, picking up your phone to text: “Ohh … that’s terr– … can you spell that for me?”
Yes, I’ve heard—privacy is supposedly dead (buried in a shallow grave with a dial-up modem somewhere in Jersey). And yes, many people treat it that way. However, though the private details of our lives—our thoughts, emotions and closed-door doings—aren’t things you can hold (like your “Hooked on Phonics” coffee mug), they are our possessions just like the physical objects we own. In an 1890 Harvard Law Review article, Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren explain that privacy is a natural human right that comes out of our right to be left alone. Basically, unless you’re a public figure or you’ve done some bad thing that affects the public, the information about your life belongs to you.
Gently inform your girl posse that the info. cookie jar is now closed. Explain that this has nothing to do with them and everything to do with your boyfriend’s right to pick the privacy settings on his life. And no, the fact that you and he are in situations together doesn’t change that. He’s agreed to share his life with you, not your friends, your Twitter followers and three cranky federal agents in the “Heating and Cooling” van outside his house.