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The Path Of Leash Resistance

I’m 26; my boyfriend is 32. He called me “a woman about to bloom,” and said he wants to be there to help. He started by pushing me to move out of my mother’s house after my situation there became unbearable. I dreaded leaving my comfort zone, but now I’m thrilled to have my own place. He’s also urging me to move up the ranks at work by dressing the part, being punctual, and wearing makeup. His exact words: “You will wear makeup.” No, I don’t dress as nicely as I could, and I’m really makeup-free out of laziness, but I was in jeans, an old shirt, and no makeup when we met. Lately, even if we’re going to the mall, he expects me to look nicer. Sometimes I feel like a child being told what to do. When I overslept and was late to work yesterday, he said, “This is not acceptable.” Granted, he’s successful, works hard, and is never late. Some of my friends think he’s controlling, and others think he’s pushing me to be my best. Which is it? He says he loves me for who I am, and then tells me to change.

--A Little Confused

You aren’t the only one who’s confused. Does your boyfriend often seem unsure whether to take you to dinner or to the dog park so you can scramble after an old tennis ball, and maybe sniff some Yorkshire terrier butt? Set the guy straight: You’ll take advice, upon request -- not orders. You’re his girlfriend, not his cocker spaniel.

Okay, he’s older, seems to know a few things, and hasn’t been late since he emerged from the womb. And you? In the words he must’ve borrowed from some ad exec on the pantiliner account, you’re just “a woman about to bloom.” He probably means well, but have you ever known a plant to flower because somebody’s standing over it and yelling at it?

Don’t be too quick to assume that his South American dictator approach to life-coaching comes from feeling personally together and secure. Chances are, beneath that titanium super-executive shell of his, there’s a tiny, sweaty man living in terror of spontaneity, uncertainty, and disorder. Avoiding those fears turns a guy into a control freak -- staving off his anxiety by micromanaging you from head to toenail polish, all the while insisting he loves you just the way you are.

That said, can you really argue with being on time and looking spiffy for work? Well, unlikely as it is that your boss will base her next round of promotions on which employees arrive latest and most undergroomed…maybe your boyfriend’s ambition is not your ambition. Figure out who you are and what you want, and maybe it’ll coincide with what he thinks is best for you. Or, maybe you’ll choose to take your chances that, say, avoiding what I call “The Purina Lifestyle” (cat-food casseroles in your 80s) won’t hinge on whether you have the energy to apply eyeliner on Wednesday.

As for dressing up to please your boyfriend, what does dressing up mean to you? Is it no big deal, just a little thing you do to make him happy? Or is it what camping is to me, as somebody who sees “getting close to nature” as walking down a city sidewalk where there’s grass growing up between the cracks? I can love a man to pieces, but if I’m cold, dirty, and being chased by a bear…suddenly, it will all become clear: Love is not the answer, a four-star hotel room with pulsating shower heads is the answer.

Posted by aalkon at January 7, 2007 1:03 PM

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I expected you to come down harder on the woman for being late to work, as that seems like a basic thing to avoid if one is going to be part of the modern world.

Otherwise, it is hard for us slackers to argue with successful control freaks.

Posted by: doombuggy at January 10, 2007 7:12 AM

But, actually, everyone knows the potential consequences of being late to work. It's a decision each person needs to make for themselves -- are you a person who's Johnny-on-the-job, or are you a slacker? It isn't for the boyfriend to decide for her.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 10, 2007 7:20 AM

It sounds like in a warped, co-dependent kind of way, they are both getting something out of the relationship. If she is really that unhappy, why is she still dating him? She doesn't sound unhappy, more like she is trying to understand the dysfunction that is their love!

Posted by: Chris at January 10, 2007 10:03 AM

Perhaps his attraction to her conflicts with his visions of the future...how can they go to dinner with Donald and Melania if she's dressed like Ellie Mae? It's difficult to love one who offends your sensibilities. People are so much more than their packaging, so I recommend that he lose the shallowness if he can avoid making her pay, for the rest of her life, for forcing him to evolve. She should also consider whether he fantasizes about being a slob and he secretly wishes she would knock him off his high horse because he lacks the balls to climb down himself. I once told a girlfriend I couldn't marry her unless she got a degree because I didn't have the guts to tell her I didn't love her and she was a psycho bitch.

Posted by: Dave at January 10, 2007 11:32 AM

You know what she ought to do? First, dump that sanctimonious jerk. Then, start wearing nicer clothes and make-up, show up for work on time, and be more responsible. Just to piss him off.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 10, 2007 12:08 PM

If this guy is into women who wear makeup, dress up, and are always punctual, why the hell is he dating a late slob? It sounds like he just gets off on ordering people around. She should ditch him and try dating someone who's actually into her.

Posted by: amh18057 at January 10, 2007 4:32 PM

Some of my friends think he’s controlling, and others think he’s pushing me to be my best. Which is it? He says he loves me for who I am, and then tells me to change.

Hard to say. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment. He's really into you, and is doing what he thinks is best for you both from his vantage point of advanced wisdom. The problem is that he's relating to you as an adult to a child. You already realise this. If you don't like it, don't play that game.

The good news is that if you are equally into him, then changing this kind of behaviour is perfectly feasible. I wish all behaviour patterns were so easy to change! Parents - well, some parents - do it as their kids grow up and become adults. So it's not necessary to walk away from him, provided you are both willing to make that change.

You have to be clear: you appreciate his support, but you are not a child, and won't be treated like one. That game is over: do you want to play a new game?

Posted by: Norman at January 11, 2007 3:38 AM

It seems insecurity is part of the slacker crowd. I'm thinking of friends who, left to themselves, roll out of bed at noon, get going at 3pm, then spend the rest of the day looking for sex and drugs. But, when talking to them, they tend to talk about how hard they work, how lazy so-and-so is, how they would be doing better but "the man" is keeping them down, etc.

Posted by: doombuggy at January 11, 2007 5:01 AM

Amy, great job, per usual!

Well, I'd say this was even better than usual, because, nonsensical as this might sound, I couldn't tell which way you were going to go, and you went both ways.

I'm with you all the way. The guy is a jerk, but that doesn't make him wrong. She should dump him, but consider the consequences of doing what she's doing.

I think it's a little over-the-top to assume she's simply a "slob," though. Somedays, I don't wear make-up, and it's a complicated decision as to why, with one of the criteria being how lazy I'm feeling that day. I like looking nice, and I loathe leaving the house without mascara, but every now and then, I think that glasses are a better choice than contacts, or that my skin will look almost as all right without foundation and blush. I just didn't get the vibe from her that she's running around, forgetting her false teeth and wearing her black Big Wheels shirt two days in a row.

Posted by: Brenda at January 11, 2007 5:59 AM

It appears she is trying to attach a distinct label to his actions. People’s motives are not as easy to see as Hilary Clinton’s or Bill O’Reilly’s. The answer is he is neither & both. His intention are probably sincere in a controlling sort of way. Taking his advice may be truly helpful & she may very well gain from it. But, as she gains confidence from it. It’s going to get real old, real fast.

The bottom line is that you don’t change other people.
They change themselves.

Posted by: Artemus at January 11, 2007 8:46 AM

I think he has a noble goal. Everybody knows how boring and un-romantic the relationship would be if we always had to correct his partner. The questions aren't why he did that or should he allow to do that but who gets benefit/lost at the moment.

If the relationship terminates right now, she would have built up some good habits that would help her to find another partner easier. On other hand, he was wasting all his time (time is money) without any return.

Posted by: Virgin Man at January 11, 2007 3:22 PM

Maybe the boyfriend is really some rich SOB, who made a bet with another rich SOB, over whether he could convert the letter-writer into a real lady who'll eventually start wearing Ann Taylor separates to her high-paying job and lose her Cockney accent. Maybe by this point Professor Controling has "grown accustomed to her face" and fallen in love with her.

Or maybe she's fine the way she is, and that the guy is not good for her, and that this story is best viewed on theTurner Classic Movie channel.

Posted by: Wendy at January 11, 2007 10:45 PM

This guy sounds like a control freak and it is not going to get better she had best move on..
he must of seen something that he liked and now he wants to change it????????????????

Posted by: Bob Davis at January 12, 2007 12:13 PM

Sounds like a BDSM relationship to me- but without informed consent.

Posted by: C Ross at January 13, 2007 12:20 PM

My ex was 8 years older than me. So not only did he think he could tell me what to do because he was a man, he also felt he knew better than me because he was older. When he picked up a pot and said to me, "From now on when you cook, I want you to wash the pan right then." I replied, "I'll wash the fucking pan when I get good and ready." The relationship didn't last.

Posted by: chicknlady at January 13, 2007 11:17 PM

There is a differance between Blunt and Rude. She needs to decide what she is willing to give up and what she wants to gain. How does she still have a job if she's late all the time and does she even like her self let alone her job and her boyfriend???

Posted by: Linda K at January 19, 2007 9:17 PM

First: Amy, I just discovered your website after viewing the Nightline video. I LOVE this site, and think you are smart and hilarious!
Second: Your advice to this young woman was right on. In any relationship people are going to communicate their likes and dislikes to each other, and it's not verboten to make suggestions here and there. But this guy is ORDERING her to do things, and she appears to recognize the inappropriateness of that. I think her first order of business is to get a healthy distance and set parameters regarding behavior that she will and will not tolerate from her man. Otherwise, as time goes on, he will come to dominate her more and more until she has neither the will nor the self-esteem to stand up to him or to get away from him. Right now it's her tardiness and lack of make-up; next it will be her ideas, her taste, her choices, and her whinnying laugh.

Posted by: Donna at January 20, 2007 8:23 PM

Here is my take:

Woman needs both discipline and freedom to develop an inner beauty. The ultimate goal isn't to accomplish a specific task, but creating an environment to grow a strong and well-defined character. Discipline and freedom seems to be opposite to each other. However, they can complement each other if using appropriated combination. In the following paragraphs, I will describe one of my personal observations.

A woman X, who had a loving father. He allowed her to do whatever she wanted to do. He didn't force her to do anything against her will. He loved and care about her feelings. As a result, she developed a deep affection for him. She worked and studied hard to please her Dad. In return, she was always his favorite daughter.

So, what's wrong with this environment? Did her father raise her well?

Even though her father did a good job in nurturing her affection and her feminine side, he didn't prepare to give her a moral framework and a deep sense of individual responsibility. As a result, she became a selfish person. She was emotional available only to people who gave her constant dose of love. Furthermore, she became very stubborn about her thinking and easily to be provoked when criticized about her way of life.

In light of that personality, some of the past events could be easily explained. She was very committed to her first boyfriend. She moved to his school, she cohabited with him. As her father was terminally ill, she didn't visit him when he passed away. Despite love, she had many fights with her boyfriend and he always backed off to keep the relationship going. The latter part of that relationship is long distant; it got less love and more fights. When they finally backed together and prepared for marriage, he's seeking for an exit by having an extra affair. They broke up afterwards.

So, did she learn? Currently, she is in a relationship seems to be stable albeit of many long distant periods. She settles down for someone who is less successful and ambitious than her previous one. She has less love but also less fight. The end result is anybody's guess.

The above case has proved that the lack of discipline led to unsuccessful personal relationship and unfulfilling life. If her father gave her moral framework to diverse stubborn tendency and levitate her selflessness, her life would turn into a different way.

There are some concluding remarks from my observation. First, father is the most important factor contributing to daughter's personality. Daughter also gets the expectation of how her future man should be. Second, it's almost impossible to change woman's personality in normal circumstance. Love won't conquer all, and it definitely won't create an environment for change. Third, identifying your partner personality is absolutely crucial in the early stage of the relationship.

Posted by: Virgin Man at January 29, 2007 11:04 PM

Virgin Man, what do you suggest to bring out a man's inner beauty? Discipline to curb his selfish nature and control his tendency towards being a control freak?

Posted by: Chris at January 30, 2007 8:35 AM

Holy crap, this is a plot from a few dozen 1950s and 1960s movies.

"A touch of Mink" is one: 'You can't let a helpless kitten just sit in the street to starve.' Was Carey Grant's assessment of Doris Day (Cathy Timberlake, computer operator), so he kept trying to "save" her. Not the exact same items as the letter, but the same idea.

There are several more movies like that, but I don't remember the names and I just happen to be watching the movie named above at the moment.

No, this is no endorsement of the ass who your writer is dating. Actually, Carey Grant and the rest of "us gentlemen of the world" give 'ladies in the rough' (hotties without polish) gentle, polite and nice advice with the hope that it takes.

Side note, as you know there is no shortage of women who do the same thing and not quite as "nice" as the boyfriend of Confused.

Posted by: Guy Montag at February 21, 2007 8:01 PM

You got that right. Women want the bad boy who they are going to change into Mr. Right through the power of their love. Pretty egotistical project.

Posted by: Chris at March 6, 2007 4:09 PM

What if the tables were turned? When I met my husband, he was a lazy slob, as is the lady writing this. I was his guide as he worked on himself. I don't think encouraging someone to dress the part for work, be on time, and take care of themselves financially is being controlling. My husband is self sufficient and we have a pretty equal relationship, he just needed a little help getting to this point. I loved him for who he was, but I also knew that he wasn't being his "best". I think many women can relate to that, but since this is a woman needing guidance it makes the man controlling? Come on, this woman is 27 and was miserable living at home but she needed someone to tell her to move out? I'm young (23) but I'm capable of coming up with the solution to that on my own. Maybe they're a good match, he likes having someone who needs him to take care of her, and she needs someone to think for her.

Posted by: Nicole at May 2, 2007 6:28 PM

I'm coming into this discussion way late -- I just discovered this site last night, and have been reading it obsessively. But this particular letter pinged my meter:

One of the best books I ever read on male psychology was A Knight In Shining Armor, by a shrink named Hornstein. He had a practice specializing in men who had had multiple long-term relationships blow up in a really ugly way. He had identified something he called Man Servant Syndrome. The jist is this: There is a group of men who believe that women have some mystical power to make them "okay" -- to kiss the frog and turn him into the prince. Hornstein refers to this non-existant power as a woman's "libidinal bounty."

The men who have this gut-level belief also believe that -- like the princess in The Frog Prince -- women will not willingly yield their libidinal bounty, will resist performing the magic that will turn him into a prince. Therefore they need to induce her to do so by becoming Man Servants. When, inevitably, his "service" does *not* induce the woman to turn him into a prince -- when 6 months or a year later he wakes up and realizes he's still the same schmuck he always was -- he doesn't realize that he had unrealistic expectations. He assumes she's holding out on him, and becomes angry.

There are three basic types of Man Servant -- the Man Servant Minister, who does things for women (whether she wants him to or not,) the Man Servant Lancelot, who performs bold deeds in front of women (like driving too fast and getting into fights), and the Man Servant Educator, who likes to teach things to women -- sees every woman as "great raw material." The LW is dating a classic Man Servant Educator.

I recognize the type because I used to attract them myself. I came to call it the Henry Higgins Complex. I got very tired of men who thought I was soooo bright -- just think of how they could shape me and mold me! And the moment I had an opinion of my own, the fighting would start.

Assuming after all these months the LW is still with this guy, and assuming she ever reads this, I'd recommend direct confrontation: "This is who I am. It is not your job to shape me or mold me or teach me. You can enjoy me the way I am, or you can go." My guess is that there will be a big fight, with him insisting that he's "only trying to help her" (condescending crap!) and they'll break up, but it's worth a shot.

Me, I learned to date younger men, largely because they didn't think they should be able to tell me what to do, and it was far easier to have a relationship of equals. I've been happily married to a younger man for going on 13 years now.

Posted by: Dana at November 15, 2007 8:27 AM

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