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Advice Goddess: May 2016
Thursday, 07 April 2016 23:18

We’ll always have parasite

Q:   When I got remarried, I inherited a stepdaughter. At the time, I was happy about this. Though she and my husband had been estranged for many years, I was instrumental in getting them to reconcile. I’ve come to regret this. She is a rageaholic, spendaholic party girl. She has three DUIs and an extravagant lifestyle that’s financially draining her dad and me. Though I have no problem cutting her off, my husband can’t say no to his little girl — which has us on opposing ends of a bitter battle. 
— Stressed-Out Stepmother 


A: If you had the traditional kind of parasite, you could just put a lit match to its butt.

Welcome to the bottomless hole of wrongheaded empathy — the daddy guilt version of that “bottomless cup of coffee” that (if you ask politely) the Denny’s waitress will keep refilling until you finally die in the booth. 

Obviously, your husband means well. Unfortunately, he’s engaging in what’s called “pathological altruism.” The primary researcher on this, Dr. Barbara Oakley, explains it as an intention to help that actually ends up doing harm (sometimes to both the do-gooder and the do-goodee).

Enabling can feel so right in the moment, Oakley explains -- in part because we get something out of it: activation of the same regions of the brain that “light up” from drugs and gambling. (Say hello to the “helper’s high.”) Refusing to “help,” on the other hand, is uncomfortable and tends to lead to ugly interactions, like screaming matches if Daddy says no to putting his retirement money into retiring last season’s Versace for this season’s Vuitton.

Being judiciously helpful takes asking the feel-bad questions, like “What’s the likely result of consistently attaching a garden hose to our bank account and washing away any consequences from Princess Partyhardy’s actions?” That’s a question that should get answered before she gets her fourth DUI -- possibly leading to a need for somebody to pick up not only the cost of the fancy DUI lawyer but the pieces of some cute 5-year-old from along the side of the road. 

You can keep telling your husband this until your teeth fall out, but because of his emotional ensnarement — along with the fear and anger that you’ll try to stop him -- he’ll probably just fight harder to go along with her little-girl-voiced shakedowns. And though, with your emotional distance, you have a clearer eye on how your step-sponge is playing her dad, there are surely a few rationality-eating emotions bubbling up in you. There’s got to be anger (because your money’s getting tossed down the drunken-spendy princesshole) and some fear (that you’ll end up on a street corner, begging people to drop change into your “World’s Greatest Stepmom” mug). 

Fear and anger make for the worst argument partners. They trigger the amygdala, a central player in the brain’s threat-detection circuit. It, in turn, sounds the alarm, triggering the release of fight-or-flight hormones and shutting down functions not needed to battle or bolt, like -- whoops -- higher reasoning. And more bad news: When you keep repeating a behavior, your brain cells go, “Wait — we do this all the time; let’s put that on auto.” And this is what has happened here —  which is to say, you two could be doing permanent damage to your relationship. 

Advice columnists tend to squawk like parrots, “Therapy! Therapy!” (Like that option wouldn’t otherwise occur to anybody.) However, in your situation -- because you two can’t seem to dial down the “bitter battle” -- there is an intermediary you should consider engaging: a mediator. (Look for a marital one at Mediation is dispute resolution. It’s issue-focused, so it’s worlds faster than therapy. (The mediator won’t take a month to figure out how you really felt when you were 6 and you didn’t get that cookie.) 

The mediator’s job is to dial down the emotional temperature and get you two listening to each other -- to the point where you understand each other’s feelings. (This is how you come to empathize with somebody -- which motivates you to act in their interest and not just in your own.) The mediator then guides you to come to a decision as a couple and can help you set up a framework for discussing emotionally charged issues so date night doesn’t devolve into hate night.

Still, it’s important to recognize that every problem isn’t perfectly solvable. What’s essential, however, is the “C-word” -- compromise: understanding that you ultimately win by being willing to lose a little. This means accepting that you won’t always get the exact outcome you want — which, in this case, would probably involve picking up a time machine at Best Buy so you could go persuade your stepdaughter’s mother to have a purse dog instead of a child.

Papa’s got a brand new hag

My boyfriend travels a lot, and when he’s away, he wants to video call over FaceTime. Well, I look absolutely hideous on FaceTime, and I don’t want to do it. And really, who doesn’t look scary on FaceTime? Megan Fox? Scarlett Johansson? I get that he loves me and knows what I really look like, but I always feel depressed and self-conscious after I get off our video calls.
 — FaceTime Hater



Of course. it’s what’s on the inside that really counts, which is why men’s magazines so often run glossy spreads of stout, good-hearted older women crocheting afghans for nursing home patients. 

FaceTime should be renamed UglyfaceTime for what it does to a person’s features, and especially to a woman’s (in lumps, jowls, and eye baggery not apparent in photos). While the camera is said to add 10 pounds, FaceTime adds 10 miles of bad road. The good news: You look just like a movie star! The bad news: It’s the zombie Orson Welles. 

Friends will remind you that your boyfriend loves you and tell you you’re being silly (read: shallow). Some will offer helpful suggestions, like “It’s all about the lighting!” They aren’t wrong. I suggest avoiding light entirely, like by FaceTiming from a dark closet. Another popular chant: “Wear concealer!” My recommendation: Le Burlap Bag Over Le Head.

Right now, countless readers are getting ready to email me to tell me I’m an idiot. (Hold your fire!) First, male sexuality is highly visual -- in a way female sexuality is not. And then there’s what psychologists call “the contrast effect” -- how the attractiveness of someone or something changes, depending on the “neighborhood”: how attractive or unattractive the nearby alternatives are. So, you could be an easy 8.5 in Smalltownville and come to Hollywood -- aka Mecca for every high school’s golden-blondiest cheerleader -- and find yourself struggling to hang on to a 5.8.

The contrast effect even holds true for somebody we love. In research by evolutionary psychologists Douglas Kenrick and Steven Neuberg, when men in relationships were exposed to pictures of very attractive women, they perceived their partner as less attractive -- and (eek) felt less satisfied with and less committed to her. 

Obviously, looks aren’t all that matter. But sexual attraction naturally wanes over time. Best not to help it along with a “just keep your chins up!” attitude about FaceTiming. This isn’t to say you should leave your boyfriend visually starved. You can keep him well-supplied with images of you that you can control: selfies. 

These selfies could even be used for a “foreign correspondent” approach to FaceTime — keeping the camera on a still photo of yourself (like when a CNN reporter is on an audio-only connection from a tent outside of Jalalabad). This will allow you to focus on your boyfriend instead of on another man — one with the medical training to make your cavernous nasolabial folds look less like the place they’ll find Jimmy Hoffa, your dad’s coin collection, and three hikers who disappeared in 1976.


 (c.) 2016, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ( 


‘Pet Sounds’ to be performed
Thursday, 07 April 2016 23:11

From Staff Reports 

Brian Wilson and his band will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his iconic Beach Boys album, “Pet Sounds,” live and in its entirety during an 8 p.m. Aug. 18 concert at Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

Wilson and his band also will perform some of the top hits and fan favorites — “California Girls,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” — from Wilson’s 54-year career spanning his times with the Beach Boys and as a solo artist.

“Pet Sounds” was released on May 16, 1966 and, although it bears the Beach Boys name, “Pet Sounds” was largely the creation of Brian Wilson, one of the band’s leaders who has gone on to a solo career. 

Rollling Stone magazine has rated “Pet Sounds” the second-greatest album in the history of modern music.

Wilson and his band will be joined by former Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.

For tickets , from $98 to $282, visit The show takes place on at 8 p.m. Aug. 18 in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.



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