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Nearly beloved

My boyfriend, who's lived with me for four years, is still married. His wife and I are good friends, and I don't mind their friendship at all. (They've known each other since high school and have a 9-year-old daughter.) Recently, when his wife and I were both at a family gathering, my boyfriend thought it would be funny to point out that I'm actually not his wife, she is. I got very upset and left the party because he is not the sheik of Saudi Arabia and I am not part of his harem. We got in an argument and broke up. He says it was just a joke. Do you think I overreacted? -- Lost My Sense of Humor

Nothing says "You're the one!" quite like a marriage certificate inscribed with the name of the other "one."

Marriage generally signifies a lifelong commitment to another person (unless the two people marrying are Hollywood stars, in which case, it may signify a weekend commitment). Remaining legally married to one woman typically is a major impediment to becoming the long-term, live-in boyfriend of another. While relationships do come in varying forms these days, a guy with an interest in spending all or part of the rest of his life with somebody would be wise (and kind) to first dispense with spending the rest of his life with somebody else.

Did you really need to wait for your boyfriend to rub your nose in his marital status to notice you were smelling something? Perhaps there's some compelling reason they're still officially together -- like, if they divorce, the little girl won't inherit Great Uncle Nutso's bazillions. Or, perhaps it has more to do with the four years you've spent underreacting to their marriage, to the tune of "Kumbaya." Evidently, you were fine with him having his cake, and your cake, too -- providing he didn't advertise it. "Family, gather round, say hello to my mistress! Grandma, you remember my concubine?"

How lovely that you're "good friends" with his wife. What do you two talk about? How he misses the bowl, and whether his herpes has cleared up yet? Obviously, relationship communism -- what's yours is hers, and what's hers is officially hers -- is a failed experiment. It's one thing if you truly don't care. It's another thing entirely, if, between group hugs, you're building up a Chernobyl-like core of resentment because you can't even squeeze bigamy out of the guy.

According to Dr. Harriet Lerner in The Dance of Anger, this kind of suck-it-up "niceness" suggests you think having a relationship is more important than having a self. Eventually, the self refuses to stay sucked, and comes out in the worst of ways. For example, an unwillingness to calmly assert yourself from the start probably explains why a joking stab at irony by your boyfriend led to a public tantrum and a relationship-ending blow-out. Think about it: If somebody asks, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" you probably don't scream "Racist pig!" -- unless chickens at intersections somehow represent a racial sore spot for you. You were part of this guy's "harem," and if that didn't work for you, the time to inform him, "It's her or me, not her and me," was four-plus years ago. This might not have stopped the guy from racking up more wedding anniversaries -- but it probably would've saved you four years of smiling through gritted teeth while trying to slow-dance with a 135-pound wife hanging off your back.

All's fare in love and war

How much is too much on the first date? I'm fine with splurging on a woman I care about, just not a near stranger. Isn't paying for romantic extras (flowers, expensive meals) before you know someone a bit ridiculous? -- Romance, Not Finance

The idea is getting to know a girl, not getting to know how she takes her caviar. The best way to do that is to invite her out for a drink, as opposed to squeezing questions between courses at some restaurant that charges a car payment for a plate of premature carrots. An ideal first date leaves her wanting more -- while providing you with a graceful out in case 10 minutes with her leaves you wanting less. A moderately priced evening is also less likely to make her feel pressured to have sex with you. (Note that feeling pressured and feeling compelled to follow through are two very different things.) And, yes, coffee technically is considered a drink, but remember, there may be a chance to go in for a little lip action at the end of a date. To tilt the odds in your favor, see to it that you won't be making your move in the height of the afternoon in the parking lot next to Chuck E. Cheese's.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

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