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A Sappy Medium
From the Advice Goddess column I just posted, a guy's girlfriend writes her daily doings to an ex-boyfriend and signs off with "love" or a (gag me!) emoticon kiss. The guy, "Plagued By Her xox-Boyfriend," continues:

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.

Here's my answer below:

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.

The whole Q&A is here.

Posted by aalkon at July 12, 2006 10:36 AM

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Actually, you've got your warriors mixed up. "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." is from The Princess Bride. Conan wanted to hear the lamentations of the women of his enemies, or something like that.

Posted by: deja pseu at July 12, 2006 8:56 AM

"Conan, what is good in life?"

"Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women."

PS - FWIW, Amy, I think you're being a little naive on this one. Talking to her ex twice a week? Updating him on her daily doings? Sounds like a safety net to me.

Purely anectodal, but - I have exactly one ex that I still talk to, and that's only b/c we were childhood friends for a long time before we were ever involved. We are very respectful of each other's SOs and would never sign off with "love" or call each other "sweetie." I can't imagine lapsing into comfortable terms of endearment without coming dangerously close to flirting. Those boundaries have been essential in re-building a lasting friendship out of a ruined romance.

Posted by: Snakeman99 at July 12, 2006 9:10 AM

"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."

My wife tells everyone "I love you" at the end of phone conversations. Even wrong numbers. It used to really bug me, because she says it to people she can't stand, like relatives she feels obligated to talk to. Same with emails, birthday cards, etc. etc.

A while back, when came online, I contacted an old girlfriend, we started emailing, and she also started with the xoxo's and "love" signoffs, which by then I thought were no big deal. I reciprocated. It's just something women do, and I had not seen her in 20 years, and she was a thousand miles away, what harm? Needless to say, my wife totally freaked out when I mentioned it in passing.

War criminals are treated better than I was for the next few weeks. Since then, with everyone except Mom, I just sign off as -eric-.

(Somebody please shoot me.)

Posted by: eric at July 12, 2006 9:29 AM

Sorry, but Conan predated Princess Bride by five years.

And Snake, sappy people are consistently sappy. The guy'd seen her emails. There was no suggestion or thought on his part that she was cheating.

As Eric points out, there's a protocol of xx's -- once somebody xx's you, you xx them back. It's just something some people do. It doesn't necessarily mean they want to jump you.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 12, 2006 9:37 AM

By Crom, the frequency of their contacts still gives me great pause, Woman!

"For no one - no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. This you can trust." [Points to sword]

Posted by: snakeman99 at July 12, 2006 10:44 AM

Eric, I like the stories from your life. The one about the signoffs makes the missus sound until we remember the one about the New Years party.

Posted by: crid at July 12, 2006 2:26 PM

Conan as a character goes back longer than 5 years.

However, "Hello. My name is ____. You killed my father. Prepare to die." is indeed Inigo Montoya's catchphrase, not Conan's.

Posted by: LYT at July 12, 2006 7:25 PM

Sometimes it depends on where you live. In the UK, it's quite common for my female friends to include an x or an xx at the end of any e-mail, IM or text message. Mind you, it doesn't have the slightest indication that they have the intention of hanky panky in mind. Just something that they do....with everyone.

i think if i were that guy, as it were, i might question the frequency of those e-mails rather than x's and o's.

Some burning questions remains....why is this guy reading his girlfriends e-mail? Does she forward them to him for screening? Does he secretly have her password? Is this girlfriend British maybe?

Posted by: Rob at July 13, 2006 6:07 AM

just because someone has a gay idiosyncrasy on the internet doesn't give you carte blanche to reciprocate.

kinda like how i don't capitalize or look up big words on the interwebs to make myself sound smart.

i'd relate a personal story about my ex and being too intimate on the internet, but i have a feeling she's reading this.

Posted by: g*mart at July 13, 2006 7:11 PM

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