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He Shrinks The World Of You

I agree with your advice to the woman with an extremely jealous fiancé -- that he could get dangerous, and she should get out immediately -- but I’m wondering what to think about subtler stuff. My boyfriend of two months and I have been fighting about issues I’ve never dealt with before. For example, he saw some clothes I’d just bought and said, “Why do you always have to wear stuff that’s short and tight?” I’m 23, and I always dress with class. Last week, I mentioned a conversation I’d had with his roommate, a coworker of mine. My boyfriend freaked out and said I’m always talking about this guy (well, we’re coworkers and friends -- his name just naturally enters conversation). He then asked if there was something he “should know.” Is this normal, or should I be worried?

--Subtle Trouble

So, the guy isn’t chasing you around your living room with a chain saw, or lurking just beyond your shower curtain, meat cleaver in hand. This isn’t a sign he’s harmless. It’s a reminder that danger doesn’t always do you the favor of dressing for dates in slasher movie chic.

Danger, when under-accessorized (hockey mask optional), is especially hazardous, because it’s easily yawned off as “issues.” What are you gonna do, change the locks, bolt the doors, and put on 24-hour rent-a-goons just because your boyfriend sniped at your fashion sense? Well, yeah. The guy is taking a chunk out of you; he’s just doing it little by little, gnawing away at your friendships, your wardrobe, and more -- a gerbil among men. Before you know it, you’ll be so worn down by his sharp little rodent incisors that you’ll dutifully scurry past the baby tees to the mumu department without him so much as wiggling his pointy gerbil-boy snout.

Now, maybe you do dress “with class” -- perhaps favoring intelli-bimbo style (push-up bra, tiny dress, high heels, and librarian glasses) -- or maybe you make hookers look like they’re modeling the Amish collections for fall. Regardless, you’ve been dressing yourself for quite some time in keeping with your personal aesthetic. This is called “self-expression,” not “insecure boyfriend-expression” -- despite Mr. Mother Superior’s attempt to shame you into dressing with a little more decorum. And, excuse me, but shouldn’t your relationship make your life bigger, not leave you reluctant to exit the house in anything floozier than a burkha, and shrink your social circle until it’s small enough to accommodate a boyfriend who thinks very little of himself?

This isn’t to say you should cover your ears and stomp around your relationships, refusing to hear a word of criticism. What’s key, though, is the critic’s motivation --whether he’s offering fashion tips to help you get ahead, or because he’s terrified of getting left behind. Say a guy supports your desire to pay stylistic homage to that silhouetted hoochie-mama on the back of mud flaps. He still might gently suggest that dinner at his grandmother’s isn’t the optimal occasion to break out the fuchsia patent leather hot pants and matching platform boots.

Forget any bright ideas you might have about reassuring your boyfriend into an attack of self-worth. That’s gonna happen -- right after he grows a third eye. Be who you are, and find somebody who thinks it’s great -- even when he’s forced to endure you prancing around in a hanky that’s aspiring to be a dress, and revealing a lot of unsightly pushed-up cleavage.

Copyright ©2004, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.