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Dating Mr. Know-it-all 

Advice Goddess

Belittle Richard

My girlfriend says she likes that I'm smart but says I can be "on" too much of the time. For example, if someone pronounces a word wrong or uses it incorrectly, I'll correct them. If they talk about their fad diet, I'll explain why it doesn't make scientific sense. My girlfriend says I am "condescending" and make people feel bad. That's not my intention. It's a matter of right and wrong. How can I help her understand that I just care about getting the facts out? — Honest

If public humiliation were the key to proper pronunciation and correct word use, the hot new show on Bravo would be The Real Housewives of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Sometimes, immediately calling people on their errors is the right thing to do, like if you're the guy keeping an eye on the big thermometer outside the nuclear reactor. In social situations, however, being right isn't the point. The point is connecting with people, and you don't do that by correcting them — showing them up with your mastery of "Hooked on Phonics" or explaining how stupid they are to be on that new diet they're all excited about: "Your dinner's going to give you cancer. Bon appetit!"

Typically, there are two kinds of people who think they know it all and have to hammer others with it immediately: 12-year-olds and the secretly insecure. Others who do this are narcissists — self-obsessed showoffs with a pernicious lack of empathy. But a few may have Asperger's syndrome, which is associated with high intelligence, difficulty in understanding how others feel (called "mindblindness"), and a tendency to think in black and white. For "aspies," things are either right or wrong. Things they perceive to be wrong they find very disturbing, and they're driven to right them — in conversation, or let's say they get a love letter. What else is there to do but make corrections in red and send it back?

But even people with Asperger's can learn to act empathetically by having someone help them understand how certain behaviors tend to make others feel and then memorizing socially appropriate responses (like smiling and nodding instead of challenging somebody to a duel over their misuse of the subjunctive). At the very least, you need to ask "Would it be okay if I told you what I learned while in the grammar police?" before diagramming somebody's sentence on the restaurant wall.

Whatever your reason for going all conversational disciplinarian on people, as someone who values being right, you probably value being effective. Correcting people makes them feel attacked, which makes them defensive. They won't hear your correction; they'll just hear you telling them they're an idiot. Ironically, it's by listening to people and giving them the sense that you like and respect them that you might get them interested in your ideas — fun as it must be to turn every social occasion into a Soviet show trial, but with hors d'oeuvres and an open bar.

Skirt stake

Last year, I got out of a bad marriage. My husband withheld sex (despite my keeping up my appearance), and it really made me question my desirability. I'm now ready for a relationship, but I only seem to attract guys seeking one-night stands. I did start dressing in very sexy clothing, and my best friend (who's no prude) suspects this is sending the wrong signals. — Overcompensating?

Research by psychologist Cari Goetz suggests that men see revealing clothing as a sort of billboard advertising women's availability for "short-term mating" ("till daylight do us part!"). And though you want a relationship, consider whether you're subconsciously seeking some (short-term) reassurance about your hotitude.

To advertise your interest in a relationship, wear clothes that are form-following instead of pore-following. Per evolutionary psychology research on what men are attracted to, what seems essential is highlighting your waist — revealing your figure to be more hourglass than beer keg. And consider that one of the easiest ways to look attractive is by walking tall — moving in a way that conveys sexy confidence. Sexy from within is what relationship-minded men are looking for — as opposed to the sort of sexy that, when you lean forward at the bar, gets a dermatologist tapping you on the shoulder: "You know, you really should get that mole on your inner thigh looked at."

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Her latest book is Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck.

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