by Amy Alkon
Q: I recently started dating this new girl. I asked her whether her lips and boobs are real (and it turns out they are). However, I did call her out on having a nose job. She admitted it but seemed kind of upset. It’s the truth. And she’s beautiful, however she got that way. What’s the problem?—Just Curious
A: At least you didn’t hold her up to the light like a hundred-dollar bill to look for the hologram.
The fact that you have a thought is not reason enough to let it out to roam the streets, exposing itself to the ladies. As I write in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, at the root of manners is empathy. So before speaking to someone—especially someone you’re dating—ask yourself, “Gee, wonder whether she’ll feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I point to her boobs and ask, ‘Yours or cubic zirconia?’”
The reality is, people often spin the truth to present themselves in a better light, just as businesses do. (Your cable company does not really “value your time,” and unless you’re a wino, I’m pretty sure Miller High Life is not “the Champagne of beers.”) However, evolutionary psychology research by William Tooke and Lori Camire finds that men and women tend to fudge their presentation in different ways. Because women evolved to prioritize men with the ability to “provide,” men are far more likely than women to be deceptive about their finances. (You sure don’t see women doing as a male friend of mine did. He lived in a dumpy apartment and drove an old Nissan that looked like it got used for soccer practice by Godzilla and Mothra, but he had me take a photo of him for his online dating profile in a beautiful neighborhood—in front of some stranger’s Porsche.)
On the flip side, because men evolved to prioritize physical attractiveness in women (with the features men find beautiful reflecting health and fertility), women are most likely to be deceptive about their looks (those factory installed by the assembly line boss known as Mother Nature). That’s why women are extremely sensitive about a man parsing their appearance—as men are when a woman sizes up their finances and position. So, for the future, keep in mind that there’s a reason the term is “beauty secrets” and not “beauty announcements.” To reset the balance—so she isn’t insecure about your feelings regarding her appearance—get in the habit of saying something nice about what she’s wearing and if she looks particularly sparkly some night. And do try to maintain perspective on the level of transformation here. She was merely born with a different nose; she wasn’t born “Alan” or “Bruce.”
Q: I’m a reformed party girl. I used to go out, get drunk, and sleep with lots of guys on the first date (if you could even call some of these “dates”). I am older now and am ready for something serious. But after hearing me talking about how I used to be, guys campaign for first-date sex. We’ll start making out a little, and I get into it and end up doing stuff before I really want to.—Regrets
A: No guy wants to hear, “I really like you, so I’ll make you spend months jumping through hoops while catching a little ball in your teeth instead of having sex with you right away like I did with those 6,000 other guys.” In fact, “I don’t do that … anymore” is pretty much a challenge to a guy to try for the same deal the other guys got. So consider talking about the person you are instead of the person you were. In fact, you might avoid going into any real detail—ever—about the old you. As psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker points out in The Stuff of Thought, the ability for a person to deny or overlook what he hasn’t exactly been told is a powerful force. (No guy wants to think about all the ghosts of penis past.)
You can also preplan to make it hard for yourself to cheat, a technique called “precommitment,” recommended by economist Thomas Schelling. For example, because alcohol and moonlight tend to combine to form a waterslide into your bed, you could schedule your first few dates at a less sex-friendly time and place, such as 10am at the coffee bar. Then if you go for a post-date walk, at least it won’t be “the walk of shame.” Before long, you should find that you have a new habit—ending dates with “looking forward to seeing you again” instead of looking for your panties under a guy’s bed.