Amy Alkon drags people, kicking, screaming, and laughing, out of their misery with her behavioral science-based advice column, which runs in about 100 newspapers.
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Crappily Ever After
My husband of a year is the most selfish, inconsiderate, cold-shouldered man I've ever known. He's 24; I'm 22. He behaved similarly when we were dating, but when he proposed, he made promises to treat me better, and I believed him. Well, we pretty much only do what he wants to do. If it's an activity for me, he'll whine and act miserable the whole time. He often cancels our plans to hang out with his friends. On our anniversary, we had reservations at a fancy restaurant 45 minutes away. I got ready, and he suddenly decided he didn't want to drive there and took us to some random place nearby. At that point, our evening meant nothing. He is king of the silent treatment and never admits fault or listens to my feelings. We've sought out marriage counseling, but when there's no sex, compromise, communication, or friendship, should I still hold out hope? I'm trying to because I told myself I'd only get married once.
It's 2013. You tell people you're divorced and they mumble, "Oh, sorry." They don't put you on a scaffold in the town square to be jeered by all the villagers and then make you go around with a big scarlet "D" sewn on all your clothes.
Our early 20s should be called the Age of Idiocy. Not for all people but for a whole lot of us, including me. Until we figure out that life's hobby is kicking us in the teeth, there's a tendency to just wing it and believe things will turn out okay. Well, there are things — like signing a contract to spend your life with somebody — that just shouldn't be, uh, wung. Sure, this guy showed promise as a boyfriend; that is, he made empty promises that he'd be completely different after marriage. For future reference, anybody can say he'll be different. Only after he consistently shows he's different over time does it makes sense to believe him. Unfortunately, it's hard to think so sensibly if, like many early 20-somethings, you see marriage as an express elevator to adulthood: Hop in; press the "just married" button; get off at grownup-land, where you'll magically become mature adults and get on with all that happily ever after stuff.
Your husband has his merits, like that both of his kidneys seem to work and he has yet to express an interest in drowning squirrels. Couples therapy could help — if you had a guy who just didn't know how to be married but cared deeply for you and wanted to learn. Your husband's behavior, however, reflects the lack of empathy common to narcissists. Empathy isn't something you can train an adult to have — not to any meaningful degree. What you can do is accept that you were naive and amend your "marry only once" pledge to "marry idiotically only once." You might also take a more positive view of mistakes. They tend to be pretty amazing teachers — providing we admit we've made them so we can learn from them instead of sticking around to see if we can't make a bunch of sociopathic babies with them.
My girlfriend's love of animals is causing some tension. She cannot watch any movie in which an animal gets hurt or dies. Telling her to remember that it's a movie and the animal doesn't actually die just makes her really mad. She'll say my knowing animal suffering upsets her should be enough of a reason.
Never mind that "Titanic" is a movie about 1,500 people drowning in the freezing Atlantic Ocean. For some, what matters is "Omigod, did that lady's goldfish die?" And wouldn't you know it, there's a site for these people, doesthedogdie.com, which details whether animals in a movie are depicted getting injured or killed and confirms that no, in "Titanic," "Old Rose's dog and goldfish are not harmed." Phew, huh? Snarking aside, no amount of turning to your girlfriend and saying "Oh, come on, that dog has an agent and headshots!" will change her need to live in a world where Old Yeller never bites it. There's also a good chance that much of her upset is about what she thinks your reaction means — that you don't care about her feelings. Try putting on a new you — telling her that you understand how hard it is for her to see animals suffer, that you'll let her know when she can uncover her eyes when you're watching TV, and that you'll go alone to movies in which aliens snack on deer. This should dial back the tension so you two can snuggle on the couch together, watching humans being shot, bludgeoned, and hacked to pieces. (Do the gentlemanly thing and cover her eyes if the camera pulls out to reveal an ant trap.)
It's Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess Radio — "Nerd your way to a better life!" with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. Call-in during the show: 347-326-9761 (NYC area code).
Advice Goddess Radio: Dr. Christopher Chabris on how our intuitions deceive us.
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Read Amy Alkon's book: "I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society" (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).