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A Sappy Medium

For a year, I’ve been in a serious relationship with a woman whose “best friend” is a guy she dated a while back. They e-mail each other about their daily doings -- signing “love” with an emoticon kiss (:-*) -- talk on the phone twice a week, and send birthday cards with words like “You Sweetie!” I don’t understand the purpose of such talk between non-dating men and women. She calls it “normal communication between friends.” My approach is adapt or adopt. I’m trying to adapt to the guy having such a presence in her life, but if we marry, I can’t have him sending her cards and e-mails with love and kisses. Adopting means doing what she’s doing -- writing to single women I know in love talk. I can’t do that -- it’s not my way.

--Plagued By Her xox-Boyfriend

Internet cute-icisms like emoticons are a problem. In case Ted Kaczynski or any other computer-opposed types are reading this, emoticons are punctuation marks combined to make gaggingly cute little sideways faces (:-o) intended to convey emotion in chat rooms, instant messages, and e-mail. The way I see it, they’re acceptable when used by anybody under 12, and excusable when used by 35-year-olds who have yet to master written English.

Emoticon users are also prone to use the likes of “LOL” (Laughing Out Loud), and “ROFL” (Rolling On Floor Laughing); acronyms sometimes included in e-mail to indicate that something the person’s written should have us wetting ourselves laughing. Guess what: If it's funny, we'll laugh. If it's not, and you use that acronym, it may leave us “WTTYS”: Wanting To Throttle You Senseless.

But, enough about my menagerie of pet peeves, let’s get to why you’re being so nutso unreasonable. Here’s a girl who’s pretty much typing out her daily to-do list, junking it up with punctuation-mark faces, and e-mailing it to some guy she was done with long ago. You don’t mention feeling attention-deprived, and it doesn’t sound like there’s more than questionable taste being exchanged. Can’t you just let her play nicely with her little friend since it doesn’t seem like she has any intention of playing doctor?

So, her style isn’t your style. What’s important is whether you match up on the stuff that matters most to you. Of course, if this matters most to you, you’re with the wrong girl. Sure, it’s a bit unsettling to have a girlfriend with an ex-boyfriend best friend. But, come on, are you seriously threatened by this guy’s presence, or more by your apparent inability to dictate to your future Stepford wife what she can and cannot do?

The real danger to your relationship is probably your “I’ll show her!” model of conflict resolution: “My name is Conan. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Satisfying as it might be to get revenge by writing loveyisms to single women, if you’d like to learn about the civility, deep friendship, and compromise necessary to make a relationship work, you might watch a little less old Arnold and a little more recent Oprah.

There’s a good chance these punctuation skin tags aren’t so much your girlfriend’s way of conveying she has feelings for the guy as they are a way of glossing over the fact she doesn’t. Stop stewing over “adapt or adopt,” and consider the possibility that she signs off with all that goop because she’s always signed off with all that goop. Maybe, to her, it seems cruel to suddenly yank the kissyface and replace it with (:-|) or with what you’d probably prefer t(-_-t) -- the emoticon (read upright) for flipping somebody the double bird.

Posted by aalkon at July 12, 2006 7:32 AM

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Double Standard Alert!!!!!

This is a boundaries issue. She is doing this because there are no consequences. Who knows why she is doing it. Tell her calmy that you don't like that behavior and you would rather her not do it. Don't get into talking about why. Just say that it is unacceptable to you. If her BEHAVIOR won't change, go find someone who won't show you that level of disrespect. She needs to learn that her behavior does have consequences. You mention marriage here? The first part of a relationship is the time when the emotional love is the highest, if she isn't willing to remove this emotional connection with this man for an emotional connection with you at this time in the relationship, then what happens when there are two kids, your working long hours, and you aren't able to give her all the attention she most desperately needs.

People will not adhere to our boundaries unless we communicate it to them. She doesn't know that it bothers you until you tell her. If she won't make a compromise with you, then you have a choice. If your gut is telling you this bothers you now, it won't get any better.

Posted by: Jake at July 12, 2006 11:43 AM

Well, if it doesn't work for him, he should leave. I write to an old boyfriend of mine in NYC, and always sign xx. I talk to him about once a month, too. Getting back together with him couldn't be further from my mind. He's a friend I care about. Any guy who couldn't deal with that isn't secure enough to be my boyfriend.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 12, 2006 5:12 PM

I completely agree with your advice regarding the girlfriend's friendship with her ex. It's not a big deal at all. Unless there are other more alarming signs not mentioned (though if there were, he'd presumably mention them).

However, your rant against emoticons and acronyms is a bit fogeyesque (so I made up a word, sue me). A lot of times those are used to convey the tone of the words written. In normal conversation, you have the benefit of body language and tone of voice to explain the meaning of the message. Electronic communication lacks that. It helps users determine what is sarcastic or serious. Considering there is enough miscommunication in this form of conversation, anything that clarifies tone is welcome.

Not to mention, LOL and ROTFL are usually used in response to something funny said, since they can't hear you laugh on the other side of the email.

Posted by: Mo at July 13, 2006 1:52 AM

Think about the flip side of this situation. Put yourself in his shoes. How happy would you be if your boyfriend was doing something similar with one of his ex-girlfriends?

Posted by: Greg at July 14, 2006 10:03 AM

Either my boyfriend loves me and wants to be with me or doesn't. My actual boyfriend happens to be something of a loner, so he's not going to correspond like that with anyone. But, I don't seek to change a man I'm with, or make him stop doing something that makes him happy. If it doesn't work for me, I shoudn't be with him.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 14, 2006 10:42 AM

It sounds to me like a complete personal problem. My fiancee's best friend is a woman. Sometimes I'll go out with my friends and he'll get together with her. They've been friends for much longer than he's known me, so who am I to stop such a relationship?

Relationships are built around trust. If she hasn't given him any reason to think that there's anything other than annoying emails and cards going back and forth, what's the problem?

Posted by: Renee at July 17, 2006 1:13 PM

My point exactly.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 17, 2006 2:04 PM

Get over it. Are there other red flags in this relationship? THEN you can worry. I talk to a man who I dated briefly 2 years ago. We are friends and confidants. We didn't work romantically, but we do in many other ways. We are both in committed relationships with others. Causing problems in either relationship is the furthest thing from our minds. He has been my dating guru and gives me great perspective on male minds and behaviors. Without him I'd be paying a therapist a lot of money!

Posted by: Gail at July 18, 2006 10:25 AM

Its possible her behavior is harmless. Its also possible that it isn't. In any case, only you have sufficient information to decide. My advice is trust your gut.

With respect to your adopt strategy, it can be very effective but requires a _subtle_ touch. Remember that the strength of this approach lies in its adherence to the maxim "actions speak louder than words." In any case, putting a mirror in front of someone is both ethically and practically sound. If they criticize you...they criticize themselves.

Posted by: peter at July 18, 2006 8:12 PM

Fogeyesque? Dude, I'm a geezer and I use emoticons! ;)

Posted by: steve at July 22, 2006 4:02 AM

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