By Amy Alkon
Q: My girlfriend tells her mother and her friends pretty much everything. Literally four of her friends and her mom were weighing in on her recent urinary tract infection. I just don’t get why she feels the need to let everybody know her business, and it’s the opposite of what I do. I’m very private, and I’d like us to have some things that stay between us—especially stuff that goes on in the bedroom. How would I set boundaries like this? And does this mean that we are ultimately incompatible?—Mr. Uncomfortable
A: Being compatible with somebody doesn’t mean you’re like them in all ways. I’m an extrovert, which is to say that I see a dead car battery as an opportunity to learn about some tow truck driver’s childhood in Guatemala. Contrast that with my introvert boyfriend, who recently turned down an invitation he got to this really cool event, telling me, “I already said hello to somebody this week.”
Beyond individual human differences, there are some male-female differences, like in feelings- and information-sharing. Sex differences researcher Joyce Benenson explains that men evolved to be the physical defenders of the species, and it would have put a man at a deadly disadvantage to show the enemy his emotions—like if he went all scaredypants from fear: “Oh my God, is that the enemy? I’m gonna throw up.”
Women, on the other hand, evolved to build support networks and avoid social exclusion by convincing other women that they aren’t a threat. A woman does this not by hiding her vulnerabilities but by putting her problems and weaknesses on parade—a la “My ladyparts have been declared an EPA cleanup zone!”
In other words, your privacy nightmare—the scrapbooking circle getting together to focus-group your medical issues—is your girlfriend’s emotional comfort zone. But this isn’t necessarily a sign that your relationship is toast. For a relationship to make it, you and your partner don’t have to be the same; you just have to have enough in common and be loving in dealing with each other’s differing weirdass needs.
If there were such a thing as psychological catnip for humans, it would probably be feeling understood. So, tell your girlfriend that you understand it helps her to hash things out with her mom and the ladypeeps and that you think that’s great. You’re just wired differently. Explain how, and then—sweetly—make your request: You’d feel most comfortable if what happens between you stays between you … given that your idea of openness involves making people sign a 30-page nondisclosure agreement before viewing the heavily encrypted photos—of Steve, your dog.
Q: I’m a woman who’s had a casual hookup thing with a guy for almost two years. I want a serious relationship, and I really like him and would like it to be with him. When we’re together, we have a great time, but he can go a week or two without contacting me. Last week, he showed up late to my birthday, with no present and not even a card. I know I should cut him off, but the sex is great, and there’s nobody else on the horizon. Any chance he’ll finally realize I’m a catch and come around?—Hoping
A: The guy didn’t even give you a birthday card. Even the car wash gives you a birthday card.
Any guy with an IQ exceeding the highway speed limit gets that birthdays are a big deal to most women. And if you care about birthdays and a guy cares about you, he’ll step up—at the very least by running into a drugstore, grabbing a card and checking that the pre-printed heartfelt message inside isn’t, “To my very special grandson! On his very special day!”
In a hookup situation, it actually isn’t crazy to hope for an upgrade from sexfriend to girlfriend. In a survey by Kinsey Institute researcher Justin Garcia, 51 percent of the people who had hookups went into them hoping to kick-start a romantic relationship. In another survey, 9.8 percent of hookups led to committed relationships. However, there’s a progression that takes place in going from lust to emotional attachment. It has a hormonal profile and a general timetable, and, well, two years into a sex thing, the attachment train is probably well out of the station.
In other words, it’s time to take this relationship to the next level—“the end.” On a positive note, it’s possible that removing yourself from this guy’s life will make him realize that he loves you and needs you in it—leading him to start showing boyfriend-type attentiveness. Either way, you’re setting yourself up to have a man you can count on to be there for you—and not just naked and at the ready whenever his Wi-Fi goes down.