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The Path Of Leash Resistence
I just posted another one of my Advice Goddess columns, about a girl whose boyfriend is either controlling or "pushing her to be her best." Here's the question:

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

And here's my answer:

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 10, 2007 9:47 AM

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Beautifully judged reply, Amy. (Sassy and very, very sharp - FWIW!)

Posted by: jody tresidder at January 10, 2007 8:34 AM

Excellent response! In my 20's, I also kept ending up in relationships with 'Enry 'Iggins wannabees. It took a few years of figuring out what I wanted for myself as well as learning to set boundaries before I was able to be with men who wanted the best for me, but not to dictate what that should be.

Posted by: deja pseu at January 10, 2007 9:09 AM

Thank you so much. Yeah, young women have to be careful if they get involved with an older boyfriend before they're sure enough of themselves to not be pushed around.

In New York, in my early 20s, I dated a guy who used to say, "What?! You haven't heard of (insert name of obscure musical performer from the 1950s here)?!" and I'd be all embarrassed. Now, only few years ago, I learned Jimi Hendrix was black. Gregg was only somewhat horrified, as he knows it's not exactly my music. I thought it was funny. P.S. When I told my little sister, she said, "Jimi Hendrix is black?"

A later episode for humor: We were driving downtown and the radio was playing. I asked Gregg who it was. Hendrix, he said. "Who's his guitarist, I asked? He's really good!"

P.S. Julie Andrews is dirtier than you think.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 10, 2007 9:30 AM

Blechhhh. Ptoooie.

Posted by: Crid at January 11, 2007 3:59 PM

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