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When the going gets stuffed

My boyfriend of seven months, who's 43, just moved in with me. Several days ago, he unpacked his "stuffed animal collection," which consists of 12 teddy bears given to him by ex-girlfriends, and perched them all on the top of our couch. Am I petty to let this bother me? Some of them say things like "Love Margie" or "Happy Valentine's Day, baby." -- Invaded

Who knew in-your-face hostility could be so furry and cute? But, there it is, all "Love Margie," in a little motorcycle jacket and a tiny scarf and goggles on the teenage girl's bedspread that used to be your living room couch.

At what point do you stop parsing how petty is too petty, so you can unzip your skin and run away screaming? Now, to be fair, I have a friend who's into stuffed animals. Her name is Sophie, and she's 7. Your boyfriend, on the other hand, is a grown man -- somebody who shaves, pays taxes and soon will get prostate exams -- and he collects teddy bears? And, no, he didn't amass all 12 by accident, with each girlfriend arriving at the idea herself: "Whoops, I have yet to buy my big, hairy, adult male boyfriend a stuffed toy!"

Personally, I'd be less creeped out by a boyfriend with a collection of brains in Mason jars (provided he mail-ordered them from Body Parts 'R' Us, and didn't just help himself to parting gifts from my predecessors). But, there you are, neck-deep in Edgar Allan Poe meets Winnie the Pooh, wondering whether you're being fair. What, exactly, is a deal-breaker for you? A guy who brings his mom on dates? One who wears diapers, and not because he leaks? Or are you more of a classicist, drawing the line at a guy who keeps his mother's skeleton in the attic, dresses up in her clothes, and runs around waving a long knife to a Bernard Herrmann soundtrack?

If somebody's a wack job (and we all are on some level), the least they can do is be discreet -- especially if their particular brand of wack involves a retrospective of their ex-girlfriends in stuffed-animal form. Your boyfriend could have a secret cache of teddy bears at his storage space, complete with a little altar that lights up, and a tiny table and chairs where he and the bears can have naked tea parties. Instead, he's installed his mnagerie twelve in your living room -- probably because reminding you and himself of Margie and friends is the point. Awww, the poor dear, he must not have gotten the right kind of mommying as a child. Why should he sweat the abandonment issues now, when it's so much easier to shove this cuddly-wuddly wall between you?

Maybe, if you can get him to go suck his thumb in some therapist's office, he might someday join you in an adult relationship. Then again, maybe your energy would be better spent on your own behavioral shortcomings, lest you find yourself asking the next guy in your life, "Shall I clear a wall for a photo gallery of your former girlfriends?" Feel that long bumpy strip down the center of your back? That's a spine, waiting to be used -- whenever somebody motions you to remain prone so they can more conveniently wipe their feet on your back. It's hard enough coming to a respectful compromise with a boyfriend who wants to hang his neon Bud sign in your French Country living room. When a guy decorates in Early Ex-Girlfriend, where do you even start? My suggestion: Call up the Playskool bus, and see if they've got room for a large, unshaven child with 13 stuffed bears.

Backup to square one

I've been going out with a woman whenever she's home from college. Although we're "just friends" because she's dating someone at school, we flirt, and there's a lot of sexual tension. Last night, I told her I have feelings for her. She said she doesn't share them and we have no future. I was shocked. Is she just a tease? Or is she torn between her college man and me and unable to deal? -- Snubbed

Your relationship is a bit like Los Angeles real estate advertising, where "Beverly Hills Adjacent" describes apartments nowhere near Beverly Hills, but nevertheless with their own unique charms: "Confined quarters just minutes from illegal drugs, prostitution and gangland violence!" People do line up to rent these places, figuring they're the closest they can get to what's temporarily out of their reach. Likewise, when this girl can't have sex with her boyfriend, she'll settle for a movie date and sexual tension with you. While you're probably a great guy for a lot of girls, for this girl, you're a good-enough guy -- more fun than staying home with her dad and watching Hitler's armies invade Poland for the 250th time.

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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