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Thursday, April 20, 2017 12:13 am

Jihad me at hello

Amy Alkon
I’m a man in my mid-30s, and I’m dating a woman I really love. We match each other on so many levels, and I thought we had a really great thing. But recently, she seems to want more than I can give. Specifically, she’s prodding me to say “I love you” repeatedly throughout the day, and she blows up at me for not doing it enough. Though I do love her, the required affirmations feel hollow. But I am trying. Yesterday she called, and I told her, “I’ve been thinking about you all day.” She got super angry and said, “Then you should have called to tell me that!” WTH?! Where’s the line between being present for someone and being phony just to quell their unfounded insecurity? – Besieged

It turns out that perceiving things accurately isn’t always in our best interest. In fact, evolutionary psychologist Martie Haselton explains that we seem to have evolved to make protective errors in judgment – either underperceiving or overperceiving depending on which error would be the “least costly” to our mating and survival interests.

For example, Haselton explains that men are prone to err on the side of overestimating women’s interest in them. Evolutionarily, it’s costlier for a man to miss an opportunity to pass on his genes than, say, to get jeered by his buddies after he hits on some model. Man: “Yerrr pritty!” Model: “Um, you’re missing most of your teeth.”

Women, however, err on the side of underestimating a man’s willingness to stick around. This helps keep them from getting duped by cads posing as wannabe dads. And, as Haselton points out, a woman’s expressions of “commitment skepticism” may come with a fringe benefit – “more frequent displays of commitment” (like flowers, prezzies or mooshywooshy talk) from a man “who truly (is) committed.”

Unfortunately, your girlfriend’s expressing her “commitment skepticism” in exactly the wrong way – by trying to berate you into being more loving. Practically speaking, this is like running alongside somebody and asking them to explain the tax code while they’re being chased by a mob with flaming pitchforks.

Of course, you understand that your girlfriend is a lady looking for your love, not a tiger looking to turn you into a late lunch. However, once that fight-or-flight train leaves the station, it keeps building momentum.

So, though the problem between you might seem to start with your girlfriend, consider what psychologist Brooke C. Feeney calls “the dependency paradox.” Feeney’s research suggests that continually responding to your romantic partner’s bids for comforting (like expressions of neediness) with actual comforting seems to alleviate their need for so much of it.

Explain the science, including Feeney’s finding. Then, pledge to be more expressive in general (holding her, telling her you love her), but explain that you feel insincere punctuating every text and conversation with robo I-love-yous. As for her part, point out that if, instead of going off on you, she’d express her fears, it would put you in a position to reassure her. Ultimately, if you’re yelling “I love you! … I love you!” it should be because she’s running to catch a plane, not because you just can’t take another weekend chained to the radiator.

© 2017, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail ( Weekly radio show:

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