Archive for the 'observation' Category


a “bechdel test” for bars

Today, instead of giving advice, I’m going to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: create a “Bechdel Test” for bars.

The Bechdel Test originated out of a comic strip – Dykes to Watch out For – by Alison Bechdel, who credits another friend for giving her the idea. The test is used to determine whether a movie is woman-friendly (or feminist-friendly).

In the comic strip (“The Rule”) wherein the Test was introduced, a lady character says she will only go to watch a movie if it satisfies three rules:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man.

Another variant on this rule says that the women characters have to have names, too. It’s an interesting test to use on movies — try it the next time you see a film. The point is that to some extent, as a culture, we don’t realize how seldom women are represented as important characters in films outside of their roles as romantic interests for male characters.

In any case, for a long time I’ve been thinking about writing up a similar test to determine the woman-friendliness of bars. For the most part, my number one criterion for determining how woman-friendly a bar (or any other establishment, really) is revolves around the bathroom. So there are a few rules about the bathroom that you can use to determine a bar’s woman-friendliness:

  1. Is it clean/stocked (toilet paper, paper towels, soap)?
  2. Is there more than one stall?
  3. Is there a hook or a table on which to place one’s purse or jacket?
There are, of course, other things I can add onto this list that would make the bathroom UBER woman-friendly:
  • Are there free feminine products (esp. tampons, pads) available? (or for sale, which would give you half-credit for this question)
  • Is there air freshener?
  • Is there a full-length mirror?
  • Is the lighting useful for grooming purposes (makeup, clothing, etc)?
And there are other things that determine woman-friendliness in a bar:
  • Are there hooks under the bar for one’s purse or jacket?
  • Do they serve something other than beer?
  • Is there an ample dance floor?
  • Are the bouncers capable of kicking out grabby drunk guys?
  • Are there female bartenders?
To some extent, some of these extra rules tend towards the sexist, assuming that women need to check their makeup or are incapable of liking beer. I will admit that I am making assumptions based on a certain stereotype of a woman — we carry a purse (that we don’t want to put on the floor), we care what we look like, we often have to pee.
But I will argue that, for the most part, women care more about the state of the bathroom than men do (because we have to touch more in the bathroom, you know what I’m sayin’), and that places that do upkeep on their ladies’ rooms are more likely to be woman-friendly than places that do not, mostly because they are considering the feelings and general comfort of women in the first place.
I know at least one anecdotal story that has informed my thoughts about women + bathrooms, told to me by a professor in college. According to this professor, one of the unexpected benefits that occurred once India started allowing women to be elected to Parliament was that the state of public restrooms in the country were improved. This was because, for the first time in history, a group that cared about public restrooms (ie. women) were allowed to pass legislation to maintain them. Everyone benefited (men like clean restrooms, too), but it wasn’t a priority before women were allowed to make it one. (And I will remind you that I stated this was anecdotal — I don’t have any articles to site about this; but it has been something on my mind since I was 20 or whatever.)
Now that you have my reasoning, I think I will present to you “The Kat Cox Rule for Bars & Restaurants”:
To determine the woman-friendliness of a bar or restaurant, the following must be true of the establishment’s bathroom:
  1. It is clean and stocked with toilet paper and paper towels;
  2. There is more than one toilet stall;
  3. There is a hook or a table on which to place or hang your purse or jacket.
Bonus points for woman-friendliness awarded to establishments in which the bathroom:
  • Provides free feminine products (or has available feminine products for a minimal cost [half-credit]);
  • Has ample lighting;
  • Provides air freshener;
  • Contains a full-length mirror.
Further bonus points awarded to establishments wherein:
  • There is a hook under the bar for purses or jackets;
  • There is a selection of drinks that are not beer;
  • There is an ample dancefloor.
  • There are bouncers capable and willing to kick out grabby (male, although not always just male!) patrons.
  • There are female bartenders.
I think I’ll start a new blog and let you know which bars or restaurants pass!
**UPDATE**: The new blog has been started —  Join in!

getting a boob job

Reader M. M. writes:

I have really small boobs. I know that as a girl I’m supposed to be happy about whatever my breast size happens to be, but I’m not. I want to get a boob job. What do you think?

Dear M.M.:

I think there are a few constraints in getting a boob job.

1. Money. Boob jobs cost a lot of money. Like, $5k per boob. I don’t have that kind of money to just throw around; most other people don’t, either. Getting a boob job is like buying a new car: if you have loads of cash, it’s not really that big a deal. Insurance won’t cover it (unless you have some magical unicorn insurance I don’t know about), so it’s gonna’ be outta’ pocket. If you’re having to choose between boob job and housing/food/basic needs, I’d say forget the boob job and reprioritize a little.

2. Safety. Plastic surgery is major surgery, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Plus, it’s unnecessary surgery, which makes it even more dangerous — in my opinion (and no, I’m not a doctor), putting someone under anesthesia and cutting them open should be a last resort. If you do decide to go under the knife, make sure your doc is highly regarded amongst his/her peers and clients. This will also mean you will probably have to spend more money. Don’t fall prey to the cheap, desperate boob job in Mexico that leaves you scarred and in pain and a guest on 60 Minutes. Apparently, saline-filled implants are the “safest” type out there these days, but that doesn’t mean they come without complications. All major surgery is painful to recover from.

3. Social implications. This is probably what you wanted me to get into in the first place. Consider a few things:

the ideal?

Is this the ideal you're striving towards? Image: Roland Darby /

– If/when you get your boobs done, everyone will know. Unless you move far away after the surgery to a new town where nobody’s seen you before, the change will be noticeable. Some people will probably ask. Others will probably judge you. If you’re getting the boob job for yourself, then that won’t matter to you. Every girl I have ever known who got a breast augmentation has been talked about and ridiculed behind her back. (A breast reduction, on the other hand, is generally lauded. Go figure.) Whether it’s jealousy or actual disgust from the Great Sisterhood, it doesn’t matter; these girls still get more ridicule than applause.

– If plastic surgery is pretty “normal” in your social circle, you are much less likely to have backlash from friends and family after you have it done. Part of this is the wealth-level of your friends (if everyone has plenty of money, nobody really sees it as an issue that you’re spending that much to get something “unnecessary” done), but it’s also the cultural acceptance rate for the procedure of the area you live in. In my experience, urban areas are much more accepting of plastic surgery than rural ones. In NYC, it’s often just “what one does” — get a new nose, get some cellulite taken care of, get your eyelids done. In Albuquerque, it’s a bit more taboo. I’m pretty sure nobody discusses their surgeries openly without a bit of discomfort from those around them (Joan Rivers is trying to break this taboo. Trying real hard.).

– I think I’m supposed to ask you a lot of questions about WHY you want to get this surgery. I’m supposed to tell you you’re a beautiful and precious snowflake, which, of course, you are. I’m also supposed to rail on about how great it is to have small boobs — perky for life! We can run shirtless! etc. And I’m supposed to remind you that the military industrial complex should have no say over how your body looks or feels and you should be happy in your own skin.

But I know the feeling of not liking something about yourself. And I also know that modern technology allows us to change those things.

For instance:

I wear contact lenses. I would pay an exorbitant fee to get Lasik surgery. Could I argue that this surgery would be a health issue, rather than a vanity issue? Yeah, I could — I need lenses to see. That’s what makes it different from breast implants; you don’t need breast implants for any health reason. (And, in fact, breast implants will probably cause you more health problems than they’d fix.) But I don’t neeeeed Lasik to see. I can fix it with glasses. Or contacts.

How about braces? You could argue that having straight teeth offers some health benefits, but that’s pushing it. Braces are pretty much straight up vanity. The difference between braces and breast implants is the breadth of the surgery necessary to accomplish it — braces are external and, while somewhat painful, not really that serious.

And then there are other aesthetic vanity issues, like moles. I have a mole on my nose that has been there my entire life. I have gone back and forth on getting it removed. It really mars my face and makes everything asymmetrical. People get really upset when I say I’ve thought about having it removed. “But it’s your whole personality!” seems to be the consensus. And I had one boyfriend who told me that getting a mole removed from my face was tantamount to getting a boob job (although he clearly forgot the difference between major and minor surgery in that comparison).

What I’m saying is, I understand why you would want to change your body, and why you would choose to do so, given the means, time, and energy.

But I must bring up the other side. There is something to be said for fighting against the awful American normalization of “good looks”. We can’t all be 5’4″ 110 lb perfectly-tanned blondes with C-cups and no cellulite. It gets boring. We need some girls with raven hair; some girls with pale skin; some freckles; some dark-skinned girls; some olive-skinned girls; some A cups; some double Ds. We need some girls to have hips. And not because it’s what guys are attracted to. (Surveys show guys think blondes are sexier. So what?)

Maybe bigger boobs will give you more confidence. Maybe it’ll get you more free drinks at the bar. Maybe it’ll make your clothes fit better. (Lord knows my tops never fit right due to my complete lack of boobage.) Maybe it’s not a problem that can be solved with a push-up bra and some Kleenex.

But you’re also buying into the idea that you need to go to extreme measures to fit into an ideal that you had no say in establishing.

We all go through periods where we want to change ourselves. We lose weight. We dye our hair. We take a class in cooking or a foreign language. Self-betterment is a great goal to strive towards.

If you think that getting breast implants will make you “better” — feel better, look better, whatever better — then okay. Get the surgery.

At the end of the day, it’s your body. I can’t tell you what to do with it, and neither can anyone else. Just make sure it’s you making the decision.


too much time at the watering hole?

Reader M.S. writes:

My problem is my favorite hangout. As a freelance writer, I don’t work in an office and I could work whenever and whereever that I want. I just feel that I am spending too much time at my hangout. Now, like I said, I’m still very productive and I have not gotten any backlash at all, so they have no problem with me using their wi-fi. It’s just that I am there five days and 20 hours a week. I have not been blessed with a lot of friends in my (soon to be) 30 years of life and to find a group of people that respect me and see me as a friend (at least some of them do) has been something that has been very refreshing for me. I guess my question is: is there anything wrong with hanging out in a resturant/bar (I sit at the bar because I am friends with a couple of the bartenders, but I don’t drink) for so much time? I like to think I’m a smart, unique individual, but I am still going to ask if this is okay. I’d feel a lot better if I was wasting time in a library or Starbucks, rather than Hooters, even if I would be doing the same thing no matter where I was. The other thing about this is that I take the subway to get there because I live in a different borough than where the resturant is, so it’s not like I could pop in after work for 30 minutes and then leave, I kind of have to stay for an hour or two at least to justify the trip.

So am I worrying about something that I should not be worried about, because I do have other problems like getting writing gigs and how I’m going to make money as a freelance writer. Or should I try to find other hobbies and split my time more? At this point, I’m either at home, at a computer lab at Brooklyn College or this place. Is that bad?

Dear M.S.:

I’m going to quote Hamlet on this one: Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, 250-251)

old man on a computer

You can stay home to do work when you're old. Image: Maggie Smith /

I say if you’re enjoying yourself and you’ve found a nice group of people, there is no problem going somewhere regularly to do your work, even somewhere like Hooters. Even if you don’t drink. Even if you’re opposed to ogling amply-busted women. If none of these issues is keeping you from going to your favorite hang out, then going there is more positive for you than not going there.


But if you’re really having trouble with it, maybe you do need to find somewhere else to hang out. What I mean is, if you’re thinking it’s bad, it’ll be bad.

I’ve talked about this before, but in linguistics we talk about the difference between prescribed rules and described rules. Prescribed rules are the ones that we enforce on language; the grammar our second grade teachers push into our heads so that we write well. (Like using “well” instead of “good” in that last sentence. That’s prescribed.) Described rules are those that you come up with if you just sit back and listen; the actual rules people use when they’re not thinking about it and are just talking. When you’re not applying prescribed rules, the described rules that you naturally follow can be quite different.

I find the same is true in the rest of life. Prescribed rules say nice girls don’t sleep with a guy on the first date. Prescribed rules say guys who don’t drink shouldn’t hang out at bars. Described rules say otherwise.

Take a look at the rules you’re holding yourself to and decide if they’re really the rules you believe in. Are you really the type of guy who hangs out at libraries? Apparently not. Is there anything wrong with being the guy who uses the Wi-Fi at Hooters? Survey says: no.

Ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable with the issue in the first place. Is it your social image? Is it rules your parents taught you? Is it comments from friends or family? Are you spending more money than you’re making?

If you can reconcile your feelings of inclusion and love (yep, having people know your name somewhere is love) with your feelings of moral or financial obligation or whatever else is going on in your head, then you’re okay.

You can look for freelance work anywhere. You and I both know that’s true. You might as well enjoy yourself while you do it. As long as your work isn’t suffering, there’s nothing wrong happening here.

I say, since you’re a writer, write down how you feel. Do a pros and cons list. Figure out just what it is that’s bothering you so much about this and either come to terms with it or let it keep you from going back. (Apparently, it’s not so far, so my guess is it’s not really that big of a deal to you.)

If you just need outside assurance that what you’re doing is okay, here it is: Kat Cox says it’s okay. Hooters is not a bad place unless you think it is. Hell, I’m not one to draw lines in the sand about these sorts of things, but if you have to, tell yourself the following:

It’s not a strip club. You’re not doing anything illegal. You’re not getting into trouble. You’re getting work done. You’re fulfilling your social needs. You’re stimulating the economy. And who knows, you might just be making somebody’s day.

As far as finding other hobbies goes, yes, you should probably find some other hobbies eventually. I think everyone should have myriad hobbies. I know it’s cold in Brooklyn right now, but once the spring hits, you should find some social team to be a part of that’ll get you outside of your house (and Hooters). There are lots of things to do in NYC.

Plus, any place gets old after a while. The group dynamic at your bar will change somehow. Your favorite bartenders may leave or move on. Someone new may come in that you can’t stand. It happens. You’re probably going to find a new place to go, too, eventually. Just be prepared for that.

But for the time being: you’re doing just fine.



communication skillz

Reader C. C. writes:

I was talking to my mom the other day about how my brother has terrible communication skills. If there is a fight, it’s usually about that. So mom and I started talking about my communication skills…Well, the bottom line: people get upset when I ask them questions. It seems some people think that I am questioning their authority or manliness or intellegence or something when I am really just asking a question or trying to have a conversation or questioning to see whether or not they know what they are talking about. So mom suggested I stop that. My immediate response is : why should I change who I have been alll my life? But part of me thinks maybe I should change. What do I do?

Dear C.C.:

I can’t stress enough that in your life, if you want things to change, you have to do the changing. You can never ask someone else to change.

While I value the whole “be true to yourself” sentiment, the fact is, if you find that you’re fighting with people more than you’re communicating with them, and this bothers you, you should change your communication style.


No two people are not on fire. Image: Salvatore Vuono /

If you’re okay with the miscommunication continuing, by all means, keep doing what you’ve been doing. Just remember, according to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping to get different results.

But if you do decide that you’d prefer talking to fighting, here are a few hints to help you re-mold your communication style to be what you need it to be:

Read up on the subject.

Some of us have undergraduate degrees in this stuff (wink, wink), but that doesn’t make us experts. Do your own research. Check out sociolinguistics, particularly inter-personal communication and cross-cultural communication books. I will personally recommend “You Just Don’t Understand” and “That’s Not What I Meant” by Deborah Tannen. They’re easy to read books that point out a lot of the communication styles you may not know you’re prone to. You don’t have to become a total expert, but you should obviously figure out the basics.

Listen to yourself.

Get a tiny tape recorder or digital voice recorder and record a few of your conversations. Don’t be self conscious about it, because that’ll change how you talk. Just set it to record at some point and forget about it. Then listen to your conversations later. Take notes about where conversations go well and where they go awry (if they do). You don’t have to take notes about the other person’s communication style, and in fact, I wouldn’t. Focus on your own style. What do you say? How do you say it? How is it taken? What do you mean?

Be aware.

After you’ve figured out what parts of your speech you want to change, make it a point to be aware of these styles when you’re talking in conversation. Talking is basically completely natural to humans, so we forget we have control over it. You don’t have to jump into change right away, just teach yourself to be aware of what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and what happens in reaction.

Don’t blame the other person.

You’re probably not going to be having conversations with sociolinguists who are interested in changing the way the conversation goes by changing their communication style. If and when a conversation turns into a fight, instead of blaming the other person, back track to what you said that they could be reacting to. Again, as humans, we sometimes forget conversation is a two-way street. You may not realize that the sudden change in a person’s demeanor is due to something you said that was misconstrued. In fact, if you really want to change your conversation style, you’re going to have to learn to blame yourself solely and entirely.


It is your job to redirect the conversation now. You have to change how you’re talking until you get the reaction you want. So start changing. Try new tactics. Start over in conversations if you have to, or walk away when they go bad and try again the next day. Just make an effort to change. Try practicing with a friend who can point out when things aren’t quite right. For instance, your mom is apparently aware of your conversation style — ask her to have a practice chat with you once a week until you feel ready to self-police on the fly. And then do it. Change.

I think you can see this as a form of empowerment rather than changing your basic self. You have control over your mind, how you talk, how you look, and how you’re perceived — it’s just another one of those things human beings forget. Take charge and you’ll feel better, not only about your conversations in general, but about your life as a whole. You have the power to change. And if you can change something as basic as your speech habits, imagine what can come next on the list.


the unofficial intervention

Reader A. B. asks:

I have a friend who drinks a lot. I’ve been avoiding hanging out with him because he’s not fun to be around when drinking, which is usual now. As I cherish the friendship, it a difficult thing for me to tell him that he might have a problem, when yours truly has his own issues to hash out. What should I do?

Dear A.B.:

bad news bears!

Drinking problems. Image: Carlos Porto /

As much as I hate the trainwreck that is “reality television”, there is at least one award-winning series that has taught me a little bit about human psychology when it comes to asking someone to quit their addiction. That show is (you guessed it) Intervention. I have watched it twice, max. But the scenario is always the same and the solution is, too:

Young(ish) person (who still lives off, if not with parents) has illegal substance abuse problem, but is relatively healthy and perhaps even capable of sustaining a life (of sorts). Parents and friends are tired of the substance abuse and decide to stage an intervention. The intervention counselor tells them they have to make rules and stick to them. Rules include kicking young(ish) person out of house, cutting off funds, refusing to speak to him again, etc. Fight ensues and parents/friends consider giving in, but counselor won’t allow it. Make your stand and stick to it, says counselor. Eventually young(ish) person agrees to go to rehab. Fin.

There are a few differences between the above scenario and your own situation. First, your friend doesn’t have an illegal substance problem (booze is legal, federally anyway). Secondly, your friend isn’t living off you (and you are not his parent). Third, I don’t think you need to set up an official intervention with a counselor. However, the solution should be similar, if not the same.

In fact, it sounds to me like you’re already having an intervention by not hanging out with him. You’ve set some rules — “I only want to hang out with you when you’re sober” — and you’re sticking to them.

I think you just need to make sure he’s aware that this is the case, and be very consistent about it.

So how do you formalize an unofficial intervention?

Common wisdom would say that you should do this over the phone or in person. However, I don’t necessarily think this is the case. You’re not asking him to go to rehab (probably). Also, you’re not kicking him out of your house ’til he cleans up. You’re explaining to him that you don’t want to spend time with him when he’s a drunk. He’s probably already noticed that you haven’t been around as much, anyway. Therefore, I feel an email would serve just fine. A letter might be better, but email will keep the formality down and give you time to think about what you want to say. Saying what you want to say in person will give him an opportunity to reply, but that may not be what you want anyway.

The fact that you’ve got your own problems does not belittle your friend’s alcoholism or the fact that his drinking bothers you. An intervention is not the time to throw down the whole “let he who is sinless cast the first stone” nonsense. You are not a hypocrite for caring about him. Hopefully you’ve got other friends who would give you a similar treatment if you were in trouble (for substance abuse or whatever else). In fact, I think your ability to admit you’ve got your own issues makes you a better candidate to stage an intervention, because you understand what’s going on to a greater degree. Furthermore, your sensitivity about your own problems means you’ll probably write a way better, less condescending email than someone who is flawless. (And whoever those flawless people are — meh, screw ’em.)

So, write your friend an email. Tell him you love him, but you just can’t take it anymore. Admit he’s probably noticed you’ve been standoffish; and then tell him why. Tell him you know everyone’s got problems (including yourself, but no need to go into those in this letter), but you’re worried about his health and his life. Tell him you aren’t going to hang out with him again until he (and here you have to choose what level you think is necessary) gets into a program like AA; takes at least a month off the drinking; can go a night out with you without needing a tipple. He may write back complaining about what a jerk you are, what do you know about his life, defensive defensive defensive, etc., but stand strong.

I’m sure you have other mutual friends who will be willing to sign in on this, too. I definitely think that concerted efforts by large groups get the most done in these situations, so include them. Whether or not you bring his family into this depends on how close you are to his family. This is, as the title suggests, an unofficial intervention, so its structure and its attendees are completely up to your discretion.

The only problem with this whole scenario is that you may lose his friendship. That is a risk you are going to have to take. Obviously you already know you can’t stand to be his friend when he’s got such a problem. The fact is, you may have already lost him. But in all truth, when people are faced with losing things (particularly friendship and affection), they tend to get the point. He will probably cave to your (extremely reasonable) demands rather quickly.

Of course, holding him to his promises after he caves in may be another matter altogether. But stay strong and stay consistent. If he does say he’ll quit the drinking, but then succumbs to a finger or two of whiskey when you’re out on the town, leave him, even if you’re his ride home. He’ll get the hint. And he’ll either change his ways, or you’ll never see him again. The ball will be in his court, once you’ve made your demands.


long-distance relationships

Reader L. D. asks:

I just met someone who lives really far (like, Europe) and I think it could work between us. But I don’t think I’ll be moving to his country anytime soon. What is your advice for long-distance relationships?

Dear L.D.:

My advice for long-distance relationships is DON’T DO IT!!! Especially if this is some guy you “just met” and he lives in “like, Europe”, your chances of “it working out” are basically nil. Even long-distance relationships between places as close as, say, Albuquerque and Santa Fe are seriously hard. In spite of the fact that we have all this wonderful technology to help us “bridge the distance”, the fact is, relationships have a physical aspect, too. And distance does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Save yourself the heartache and the wasted romantic time and find someone closer to home.

Of course, young hearts always know better than we old folks do what’s right for them, so you’re probably going to try to have this long-distance debacle anyway. (I was young once, too, you know.) So here’s what the people who’ve made it work have done (from what I can tell):

Set the rules and be ready for them to change.

You and your partner (or whatever you want to call him) are going to have to figure out what your rules are. Are you allowed to sleep with other people? (Usually that’s a “no”, and usually, that’s what fails.)  Are you allowed to go out with other people? Are you allowed to flirt with other people? Are you going to have to stay indoors for the next ten years? Do you have to call each other every night? Be honest with yourself about your own needs and abilities and those of your partner. If you’re going to be thousands of miles (and several time zones) apart, you’re going to have to be flexible. Don’t be surprised if you find that you’ve lost the lust for him after a few weeks of not seeing his smiling face. And be prepared for the same reaction from him.

Repeat after me: I’M SORRY. Also: I FORGIVE YOU.

You’re going to have to use these a lot, I’m afraid. Just start practicing now.



Meet your new boyfriend: the webcam! Image: renjith krishnan /

The people I know who have worked out long distance and still stayed in love have been people who were committed to communicating every day. IM him while you’re at work; call him after work; email whenever you can. Invest in stamps. If you don’t already have a Skype account (what is this, the middle ages?), get one now. Skype is a chat service that lets you call each other for free. Brilliant. A web cam is a good idea, too. Again, because you live in different time zones, you’re going to have to figure out when a convenient time for both of you will be to chat. Breakfast is, I think, a marvelous time… however, when it’s breakfast for one of you, it’s going to be lunch or dinner or bedtime for the other. I have enjoyed watching movies over Skype in the past, although it can get kinda’ tricky.

Have “accountability partners”.

It works for Baptists; it can work for you. Talk with your friends about your relationship. Let them know what the rules are. If you and your friend abroad have “unspoken rules” about it being okay to go home with strangers at the bar, tell your friends this before you decide to go home with the stranger from the bar.  Otherwise, your friends will be doing their very best to keep you from sabotaging your long-distance fairy tale. Unless they’re friends like me, in which case they will allow you screw up your own life however you please.

Have a plan.

Long-distance relationships either end because the relationship is over or the distance is over. If you are sure you’re never going to move to Europe, and he’s never going to move to your house, you can probably also be sure your relationship is going to fall victim to the former. If you want to keep things up, you’ve got to have plans, either to visit each other regularly or end up together eventually. Start looking for jobs in his neck of the woods, and look for jobs for him here. You will make yourself crazy if you leave things too open-ended, trust me.

In spite of my cynicism, I know people who have made long distance work (mostly because they ended up getting married to each other). But you are going to need a lot of gumption, communication, and luck. Go to it.



Reader W.J. asked:

Last week my boyfriend changed the password on his phone, but told me he didn’t. Why would he lie to me about something stupid, and then stick to his guns, even though he’d been caught in the lie?

Dear W.J.:

talkin' talkin' talkin

What's he really saying? Image: djcodrin /

I have to start by saying that this isn’t just a problem with guys. Ladies lie, too. But there’s been a rash of my girlfriends telling me their boyfriends have been lying, and it’s an interesting question to delve into, so I thought I’d use my degree in linguistics and give you a few ideas you may not have considered before.

Lying is a personal choice, and it would be a lie to say one never engaged in it personally. White lies, big lies, cheating lies, fibs… everyone who has ever lied has had a personal reason for doing so. There are even honorable reasons for lying, like not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings. Sometimes you don’t even know the reason you’re lying, which is what I think is going on with your bf, and what I want to explore in this post.

The issue with guys lying in particular can have several psycho-cultural explanations. While some of those lying, cheating boyfriends I mentioned earlier can be chalked up to sheer narcissism (there is absolutely no other explanation for the guy caught cheating red-handed on Valentine’s Day and still denying it happened), there may be something more subtle, and much less sinister, at work.

Whatever reasons your bf lied are completely his own, and pretending I know what they are does both of you a disservice. But it’s a blog, and I’m not his therapist or yours, so what’s the harm?

There’s a linguistic theory about the role of hierarchy in male communication. Please note that it doesn’t hold true for every case, for every man, but as a generalization it can be useful to consider. Whereas women are often raised to use talking and chit chat as a tool for reinforcing community and agreement, men are often raised to use talk to communicate hierarchy. (I won’t even get into the nature vs. nurture debate in this situation.) Boys employ playful jabs much more often than girls do — watch a group of children on the playground and see how much more often the girls are concerned with sharing and inclusion than the boys are. Girls use “we” and try to include others to establish and maintain community; boys use jokes and put downs to establish dominance.

What often happens later in life as men and women try to live together is that women continue to use language as a communal tool and men continue to use language as a way to establish hierarchy. What’s going on in a conversation between a man and a woman may in actuality be completely different from what they intend, and neither party may be aware of what’s going on.

Let’s say Joe and Lucy have been dating and living together for several years. They’re comfortable with each other, but things haven’t necessarily been totally smooth lately. Lucy wants Joe to spend more time with her and less time with his buddies playing video games. She also wants him to quit drinking so much and go to the gym with her, too.

Lucy thinks she’s asking Joe to do something for the two of them — the team or community. She thinks that spending time together is a great idea, and going to the gym together will be good for their sex life, too.

Joe probably thinks spending time together is a great idea, too. And what man doesn’t want a better sex life? However, what Joe may be hearing is that Lucy is trying to be the top dog in the situation. By instructing him to change things in his life that aren’t really problematic, she’s trying to prove her rank in the hierarchy, and to prove that this rank is above Joe’s. She’s not making suggestions to improve their life together — she’s trying to take control.

Instead of doing what Lucy asks, Joe gets a bit more distant or starts to ignore her. Lucy, not seeing a problem with her communication style, just asks him again. This is where the wife-as-nag comes from. “Why don’t you take out the trash?” “Why don’t you fix the gutters?” “Why don’t you go to the gym with me?” Joe may not even be able to put into words why he doesn’t want to do any of these things, but both he and Lucy are aware now that he really doesn’t.

Notice that both parties are equally innocent and guilty in this scenario. Neither is willing to change how he or she hears or says things to communicate better with the other party. Of course, neither realizes that there’s anything wrong with their own communication style to begin with.

Why is this interesting in the case of your boyfriend and lying? If he feels that you’ve been trying to “run his life” lately (telling him to come home earlier from work; telling him to spend more time with you and less time with his friends), he may be expressing his frustration at being “put down” by creating an alternate truth that he can control and sticking to it. He probably couldn’t explain it to you, either; he just knows something doesn’t feel right. Maybe you mean well, but you’re hurting his feelings by asking him to change things.

This may not excuse a lie, but I have a feeling this lie is a lot more benign than some. If he feels like you’ve had too much control over his life lately, this may simply be a way of him trying to regain that control. Certainly changing the password on his phone points to that — you’re in his business too much, and he needs to reassert his independence.

If you’ve been talking a lot lately about “important relationship decisions”, take a step back and re-evaluate how you’re communicating with your boyfriend. Remember that he may not see your style of communication as “inclusive” and “non-threatening”. Try to imagine what it’s like to have someone telling you what to do, and how you’d feel about that.

At the same time, let your boyfriend know that you’re trying to understand his point of view, and that he may be listening to your voice with a different ear than you thought he was. Reframe how you’re thinking about things and see if you can find a more constructive way to communicate what you mean. Communication is a two-way street, and it’s not like your willingness to change how you talk is going to magically fix everything. Just making him aware of the situation and giving him an outlet to discuss it could help immensely.

If he keeps lying or lies to you about something bigger, well… there’s always narcissism to consider.


andy warhol.

Reader J. R. L. asks:

How does one become the next Andy Warhol?

Dear J. R. L.:

I’ve done a bit of research into the king of pop art, and I’ve come up with the following 12-step program for you.

1. Get really sick as a child and be an outcast. The convalescence will give you bed-time to draw and improve your art skills. The pain and suffering of being an outcast will give you subject matter. Also, this will get you really close to your mom.

This is not Andy Warhol. Image: Simon Howden /

2. Go to art school for college. Apparently this is necessary for nearly all famous artists. I think it’s so you can meet people you don’t like and get a job doing arty things you’re not really interested in afterward, but it’s apparently important.

3. Get a job doing arty things you’re not really interested in. Like greeting card design, or making album covers for rock bands. It’s not your own art per se, but it’s arty. Probably in this day and age, you’d be doing graphic design for, like, websites.

4. Use those friends you made in art school to set up an exhibition of your “fine art”.

5. Do something other people are doing art-wise, but do it better. Run with it. Be controversial, but still consumable.

6. Hang out with pseudo-celebrities, writers, filmmakers, weirdos, vagrants, and crazy people who will probably shoot you. But they’ll be good to put on film. And they’ll give you their drugs.

7. Find rich patrons who want you to do stuff for them.

8. Make movies. Movies are everything these days.

9. Have an ambiguous sex life so people can speculate. Is he gay? Is he asexual? What is he?!

10. Have someone try to make an attempt on your life. This will get people to sympathize with you and think that you are a national treasure. How could anyone try to get rid of one of our national treasures?

11. Die of something weird but not scandalous — complications with surgery or a heart arrhythmia.

12.  Have museums founded in your name. (Steps 11 and 12 don’t necessarily have to go in that order.)

13. Optional step: Have parents who are working class immigrants from someplace like Poland. Or Slovakia. Eastern Europe for sure.

Hopefully this will set you on the way to becoming a famous artist, just like Andy Warhol.


monday one liners

questions questions

Image: djcodrin /

I’ve decided to answer a few of these short ones all in one go. Ready?

Reader D.B. asks:

What’s the best way to dispose of a dead body?

Dear D.B.:

Call the coroner’s office or the morgue. If the person is mysteriously dead, call the police. If you killed ’em, also call the police. Turn yourself in. It’s the right thing to do. And maybe get a lawyer, too.

Reader J. Q. asks:

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years and he won’t propose to me, in spite of several big hints. What can I do to get him to marry me?

Dear J.Q.:

Break up with him and find someone who shares your beliefs on marriage. If you try to finagle someone to marry you, it’s just going to get ugly. There is no good way around it. If you care that much about marriage, and he doesn’t, he’s not “the one” and you’d be miserable in five years anyway.

Reader M. D. asks:

I’m taking a girl on a first date this weekend. Do you think it’s better to take a girl to a romantic comedy or an action movie on a first date?

Dear M.D.:

Neither. Skip the movie and get dinner so you can actually talk.

Reader W. K. asks:

What’s the best way to lose weight?

Dear W. K.:

Eat fewer calories and exercise more. It’s the only tried and true method out there.

Keep sending in your questions, folks!



Reader C.N. asks:

I am a fantastic tipper at restaurants and strip clubs, etc. I get tipping in the food industry. It makes sense to me. But what about in other areas? Bell boys? Car washers? When is it appropriate?

Dear C.N.:

Tipping is such a strange custom in America. You would think in the land where we pretend there are no class divides and everyone is “equal”, giving service professionals money for how well they performed their job would be a thing of the past. In most countries, gratuity is included in the bill, and you can give more if the service was exemplary. Not so in our dear America. Maybe we’ve made it so confusing because we want to make life even harder for foreign visitors trying to get a drink at a bar.

Whatever the reason, we’ve held on to the tradition of tipping being up to the consumer, rather than mandatory.

Most Americans, like you, understand that you’re supposed to tip 15% at restaurants, 20% if they were awesome (or you’re awesome and have worked in food service before), and 25% if you’re really really drunk and happy. Apparently, people paying via credit card are better tippers than those who have cash (which figures — you only ever have a limited amount of cash, but credit cards go on forever). And personally, I judge people by how well they tip (especially dates).

But then there’s the question of what to do when you come across someone who’s providing a service but isn’t your waitress. If you’re not provided a receipt with a line to fill in the tip, what are you supposed to do?

I can give you a few tips (harhar) on what to do in certain situations, but the golden rule is that tipping, especially in America, is never mandatory. It’s completely up to you. If you don’t happen to have any singles on your person, you don’t have to tip. You might feel horribly bad about it (and you probably should), but it’s okay. Just remember that in general, this is how these people are making a living.

But here’s a list of what’s sort of expected, from what I can tell:

Bartenders: Usually $1 per drink, or 15-20% of the total bill if you’re someplace way fancy where drinks cost $12, like in Manhattan.

Who tips 20 Euro?

Here's a tip: avoid the clap. Image: Michal Marcol /

Bellhops, Baggage Handlers for Rental Car Shuttles, Curb-side Check-in at the airport, etc: $1 per bag.

Taxi Cab Drivers: 10-15% on top of fare (they usually have a fancy button they press to charge you extra for handling bags, btw).

Bathroom attendants: This one is definitely completely optional unless you’re somewhere extremely fancy. $1-2 for every trip in, unless they don’t have a tip jar, in which case, it’s awkward to hand someone a dollar bill in the bathroom.

Doormen/Concierge: No need to tip for holding open the door, unless you’re feeling extremely magnanimous; if they get you a cab, you can give ’em a buck or two.

Car wash: This is another instance where it’s hard to tip unless they have a tip jar handy. I always try to give at least $1 per car, preferably $2-3. Remember they split the tips amongst the shift workers.

Car mechanic: Don’t tip for an oil change. That’s silly.

Pizza delivery guy: 10-15% of the bill for the pizza, or $5 for kicks.

Casino table dealer: You don’t have to tip, but if you’re up, throwing the dealer a $1-chip from time to time can be considered lucky.

Caddie/cart guy while golfing: Depends on the green fee and whether or not the course has a dress code. It’s somewhat complicated, and I’m not a golfer, so I’m just going to direct you to’s article on tipping at golf courses.

Haircuts and spa treatments: 15-20% of total bill, depending on how good you want your hair to look next time. I always throw down an extra bit at Christmas, ’cause your hair stylist/waxer/nail tech is like your bff.

Hotel cleaning staff: No tip expected, but you can leave them a little envelope if you feel particularly nice. It’s quite likely they’ll have no idea what to do with it, or they won’t be allowed to accept it anyway.

Post Office Mail Delivery Person: It’s not uncommon to give the Postman (or Woman) a small tip or gift during the holidays, but otherwise, they won’t know what to do with it, and are you going to chase them down the street to give them $1 for delivering your mail?

Buffet or cafeteria-style restaurants: Usually these places will have a tip jar at the cash register, but you should probably leave 10-15% tip on the table for the bus boys.

Valet parking: Give ’em at least $1 for not scratching your car or taking it on a Ferris Bueller-style joy ride. More if you’re at a fancy hotel. Otherwise, they may not get your car too readily next time.

Grocery baggers: Even if they bag your groceries and carry them out to the car, they’re usually not allowed to accept a tip. You can try, though. (My mom was once asked if she’d like to join a Star Trek Role Playing Game by the grocery bagger. They’re friendly folk.)

Concessions worker at movie theater: Again, they’re probably not allowed to accept a tip. Unless there’s a tip jar out in front of the register, don’t bother.

Baristas: Again with the tip jar. If there is one, at least throw your spare change in. If you’re a regular, try to tip well at least once a week — throw in a buck or two. Even Starbucks employees like tips. They probably have to split the money with everyone else on the shift, too.  If there’s not a jar, they work at a crappy coffee shop.

Tattoo artist or piercer: At least 15% is a good rule here. Like your hairdresser, things can get pretty intimate with a tattoo artist. Tip 20% or more if you got a custom job; 25% or more if you got an amazing cut on their hourly rate; 30% or more if you wanna’ get in their pants, etc.

Am I missing anything?

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