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You had me at hell

I'm dismayed that you usually tell ladies to dump men because of their shortcomings. Learning to deal with somebody's problems is how you learn to have genuine love for them. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, "You're not human if you don't have problems." So, why don't you encourage an open dialogue in relationships you feel are doomed? Your advice is going to make a lot of women die lonely if they follow it. Realistic

So, when all evidence points to a relationship being doomed, the people in it should stick around and talk about it? Maybe the woman should try a little of that "active listening" even when the guy's coming on like Jack in The Shining and she's cowering behind the locked bathroom door: "Um ... Jack, honey ... would I be right to say you seem to be hacking through the bathroom door with a really huge, very sharp ax?" Maybe even you have to agree, there's a time for active listening and a time for active running for your life.

The truth is, except when the guy is chasing the woman with the ax, or seems about to, I rarely tell women to break up mainly because it's not very effective. In fact, 32.5 of a woman's friends have probably told her to get out, like, 32,000 times. If she's writing to me, it's usually because she's still there power-rationalizing why she should continue to stick around. Addiction treatment specialist Stanton Peele concurs that you don't get people to change by telling them what to do, and says about my approach, "Humor and good-natured irony are far more effective at motivating change than direct instructions and certainly than lecturing. The latter raise people's defenses." In the spirit of giving advice that might actually be productive, I lay out the disconnect between what people want and what they're doing and let the absurdity of it stink for itself: "Aww, how sweet, maggots in the shape of a heart!"

As for the contention "You're not human if you don't have problems," it doesn't seem to be from Winston Churchill, but I'm guessing whoever said it wasn't advising people to find the most troubled, unsuitable partner they could and get cracking. While looking for the quote, I did find this exchange Churchill had with Lady Astor. She said, "Winston, if you were my husband, I should flavor your coffee with poison." His response: "Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it."

Clearly, "shortcomings" are sometimes hugecomings. Fear of being alone or reluctance to acknowledge you've made a mistake and wasted a chunk of time with somebody won't turn irreconcilable differences into nagging idiosyncrasies. Better to admit you're coming in for a crash landing, and follow standard procedure (it says "hit the 'eject' button," not "hit the 'stay with the burning plane' button").

Living alone doesn't mean you'll die alone. I had a friend die, and if anything, she died crowded, with the nurses scolding her friends for violating fire codes. By the way, she did have a husband. They were divorced. The truth is, if you stick with the wrong person, you can die lonely with your husband of 86 years right by your side. If more women were comfortable enough with themselves to be alone, they wouldn't feel the need to grab hold of the first piece of driftwood that floats by, then spend the rest of their lives in couples counseling complaining that the guy's a little ... wooden.

Fetal piggy

My boyfriend and I have a 5-year-old son. We decided we want another child, but I've had to cancel my IUD removal twice because he gets nervous and claims he's not ready. I have a new appointment next week and don't want to tell him because he'll get all freaked out and make me change it again. Your thoughts? Baby Lust

What's his pet name for you, "Girlfriend Mao"? This is a relationship, not a dictatorship, which means you're free to lobby for what you want; you don't get to have sex then whisper, "Oh ... I forgot to tell you. We could be spending the next couple decades raising another human being." Even if you give him notice that you've gotten yourself unplugged, it's still no fair and very unwise, as he's likely to feel scammed, pressured and resentful (less-than-ideal emotions in a father-to-be or the father of the kid you already have).

Getting him to agree might not be easy, but it's the right thing to do. Anything sneakier is like slipping something in a guy's drink, then having your way with him, except that he doesn't wake up just once with a huge headache and everything cleaned out of his wallet; he wakes up like that every day for the next 21 years.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail adviceamy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

  • There's a time for active listening and a time for active running for your life.

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