My daughter wants to marry an Internet creep:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

My 19 year old daughter isn’t really into school. She sees no reason for it but she’s attending because I want her to. Recently, through her online video game, she met a 35 year old man from across the country and after two months she thinks she is in love with him. They Skype and she has seen his kid and says he is real cute and she loves him too. He claims he got custody of his child after the end of an abusive relationship with the mom. They council each other on the woes of their lives. She wants to drop everything and move in with him.

So far, she has submitted to my ultimatum: “over my dead body!” But I think that when she turns 20 she plans to leave. What can I do? She says they relate because he “doesn’t think like a 35 year old.” This is what scares me- my daughter is not the most mature kid on the block. What if she goes? He says his ex was the abusive one but it takes two to tango. What if she has kids. I don’t want to be burdened taking care of her kids should it come to that.


Fearful Mom,

Dear Mom,

Unfortunately, unless your daughter can be proven mentally ill or so mentally retarded that she cannot be responsible for her decisions, there is little you can do. Despite her immaturity her age qualifies her as an adult. Perhaps you could tell her, “you can go, but I have to move in with you too.” It often helps children behave in school if a parent threatens to go in and sit behind them.

As far as any children that your daughter may have, that’s a tough issue. What does one do with adult children who have children of their own? I hope that this guy would step up to the plate, but statistically it is unlikely. You should talk to your husband about what your plans are, when and if that should happen. I would also talk to your daughter about a copper IUD; it is good for 10 years. It has a higher risk of infertility than shorter methods but it doesn’t require any maintenance. Talk to your daughter and her physician about options. Preventative medicine is the best policy here.
Good luck,

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: your daughter is a fool, Mom. Let me relate a true story to you; this actually happened to an airhead friend of mine. Jude was a fanciful girl who smoked a lot of pot and tended to think in “cosmic” ways. She struck up a correspondence on the internet with a guy in California who claimed to have his own ranch. He understood her deepest thoughts. They felt the same way about the cosmos and about life and love. He sent her pictures and made promises and she was so besotted that she packed up all her stuff and drove across the country, from Providence, to be with him. When she got there, this little gnome of a guy who smelled terrible greeted her at the end of a dirt road, where she followed him to his cabin. Thank god she had her own car. It turns out the guy was a consummate liar and he was actually the caretaker for a large ranch someone else owned. He’d lied about everything. The only reason they “understood each other so well” was that they were both equally stoned and lacked a sense of concrete reality.

Jude drove back home the wiser for the experience and never made the same mistake again. Here’s a message to your daughter, Mom: anybody can say ANYTHING on the internet and make it seem true. Nothing in their life has to match, not their age, their occupation, or even their gender. All they have to do is fabricate an identity for themselves and convince someone without any ambition or life plan to fall in with their fantasy. If she’s lucky, your daughter will simply be let down. If she’s unlucky, she could end up dead.

Men will say anything to get what they want. They prey on young impressionable kids like your daughter because no one else will fall for their crap. The internet is a perfect place to do this. Any35 year old man who is picking up teens on the internet is a LOSER, no matter how you look at it. As far as what you can do? I’d show your daughter this blog. It may not open her eyes but I hope to god it prompts her to ask a few more questions. Another idea- have your daughter ask the guy to fly out and meet you and your husband. If he’s really serious, he’d welcome the chance to make his intentions known to mom and dad. If he refuses, that picture speaks a thousand words.

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Should we let the dirtbag die?

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

I am a mental health worker. Today I received the strangest request. One of my clients, who has had a less than reputable past which includes drug abuse and alcohol, is now older and sober; but he is paying the price. He has gone into kidney failure and he will die if he doesn’t get a transplant. His life can be temporarily prolonged with dialysis but only a transplant can make him well. Today, the transplant center called me to ask if he is mentally capable of receiving a transplant. They told me that kidneys are very scarce and if he will be noncompliant with treatment his body will reject the organ. This would be a waste when it could have gone to someone else. Additionally, the medications required after a transplant will be very harsh on his mind and body. Essentially, they needed me to tell them if he is worth saving. This is an argument I can run many ways in my head. What is your opinion?

Life or death

Dear Life,

Mental health is not relevant to this case at all and neither is your own opinion. Our cultural standard demands that, right or wrong, one cannot withhold lifesaving procedures based on mental health, sex, or race. Not even for economic reasons although in reality health insurance withholds treatment all the time from people.

If this man’s insurance covers it or he is willing to pay for it himself and the kidney is available, in our culture, he has a right to it. If dialysis is an equally effective treatment alternative then it is between the patient and his doctor to decide those options. If dialysis is a lesser treatment, you cannot substitute it simply because you might feel he is less deserving of the kidney than someone else. Even if you feel he might not be compliant with treatment follow up, this doesn’t justify the right to withhold treatment. It would just require extra effort on the treatment provider’s side to help him with compliance issues.

All you can say as a mental health professional and licensed doctor is whether the patient is able to understand the proposed procedure, risks and benefits, and if he is mentally capable of signing his own consent.

Medical ethics is a fascinating field but like law it is not simply based on ethical right or wrong. What determines right or wrong? What is right for the individual often conflicts with what is right for the community as a whole. Therefore many ethical decisions in medicine are based on legal rulings and or community standard.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: This confuses me. If the transplant issue is a matter of law, why is the transplant center seeking this mental health worker’s opinion? Are they taking the law into their own hands and playing God? That seems unlikely. I would like to know the reasoning behind this unusual request.

However, if you want Granny’s opinion- if this issue of who gets the kidney WERE to be decided on intrinsic worthiness, it would not be possible to make such a decision without a thorough investigation into the next kidney patient on the list as well. The patient who was described seems no less worthy of an organ than anyone else. Everyone has problems and no one is without fault…but this man has faced up to his wrongs and through his own efforts he has overcome problems which many people lack the character to address. In my eyes, this would make him more worthy, not less. We cannot judge people by the mistakes they make. If we are to judge them at all, it would be to judge their willingness to accept responsibility for those mistakes and their efforts to right the wrongs. Anyone can coast along an even path…it takes a strong individual to survive an earthquake. Many people who resort to drugs are in terrible emotional or physical pain for reasons not entirely their own. I do not judge them. I feel at least an initial compassion for them. It’s the boneheads who don’t even bother to try that I have no use for.

Dr. Brilliant clarifies:

No this isn’t a legal issue technically. I said medical ethics decisions function like law based on a community standard.

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Nice vs. Kind splainin:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

I read your recent blog on the difference between “nice” and “kind.” I wonder if you could explain this further. It seems like there’s an important point here
and I would like to make sure I understand. I think I might have a problem telling the two apart myself.- I could use some “splainin”.

Mary Doormat

Granny says: Here’s the difference between “nice” and “kind” on a purely word & language level- “nice” is behavior that you learn and it involves a display of social consideration: “Be nice to your little brother” As a nice person, you are seen as a person who likes others. Niceness can be viewed from outside, it is behavior that is easily seen.

On the other hand, “kindness” is an innate instinct that we either have, or don’t. It is not learned behavior- some people are born kind while there are also people who get joy and satisfaction in creating troubles for others. Kindness is not always seen from the outside, and sometimes it means looking like the bad guy- a “nice” mother might let the teens party in her house, but a “kind” mother knows how wrong it is and boots them out.

It’s easy to be “nice” on the outside while being a self-serving bastard and having no compassion at all for others. But it takes genuine kindness to feel a reflexive caring for one’s fellow humans.

Dr. Brilliant comments:

This is a topic I usually spend an hour lecturing on and years thereafter reinforcing but I will try to hit the highlights.

In the self help world and codependent literature nice and kind are split the opposite way. I believe kindness is a set of learned skills and nice is culturally trained behavior which becomes reflexive. I’ve included a chart of differences: nice vs. kind.

The way I see it, nice derives from what we are taught living in a codependent culture. Nice is one sided and revolves around self sacrifice. I don’t believe this is sustainable because it leaves personal needs out of the picture. Nice people are hyper aware of other’s needs and are compelled to get involved and help.
Unfortunately, most people often aren’t aware of their own needs or suffering so when a “nice” person comes in and takes care of everything, it only helps short term; the problem itself remains unchanged so things get worse over time not better. Nice people live in immediate time not long term. The general rule I teach is if you do too much, everyone else does too little.

In the 50’s sitcom, Leave it to Beaver, Mom does everything for everyone, as the perfect mom. But in reality these sacrificial moms were probably on Valium; Anger, resentment and disappointment can build underneath a nice person’s constant sacrifices. No family is sustainable if everyone doesn’t pitch in.

In my practice I see sacrificial moms often ending up cheated on or taken advantage of by their husbands because they exist merely as a reflection of others, which is boring and tiresome. Based on Game theory, the more one sacrifices, the more of a victim they become and the angrier everyone else gets at them for doing it.

Being “nice” and sacrificing maintains status quo but it can’t change anything because it doesn’t add anything new. If you are only a reflection of what you think everyone else needs, you aren’t even you.

“Nice” can’t ever be neutral. Nice has to get involved. Nice doesn’t let others sort things out on their own so no one learns how.

“Nice” doesn’t Consider intent or goal based planning. It isn’t a discussion with others…it is a doing for others. “Nice” people show love by performing tasks. “Nice” people often are not present in the moment. If you are always doing, you are never present. Nice people will run themselves to depletion.

“Kind,” on the other hand is often counter intuitive. It is skill based and requires asking good questions: what is the consequence of my intervention long term? Did they ask me to help? What is my goal and intent and what is their goal and intent? “Kind” is having a presence in the moment and having an ongoing conversation with all involved. Most importantly “kind” is living by example- role modeling.
Rather than doing everything for everyone, kind people are good teachers and role models. They help others to help themselves. Kind people understand that suffering can motivate creativity, personal growth and change as long as the right tools are available. Kind people do not infantilize everyone in their life by doing everything for them.

Kind people understand happiness is self generated. You do not make others happy. A kind goal is not happiness but contentment.

Kind people allow themselves to be replenished by others.

Good reference books on the topic is: The Inner Bitch Guide to Men, Relationships, Dating, Etc. by Elizabeth Hilts and The Original Warm Fuzzy Tale by Claude Steiner

Here is a summery chart that compares the associations of nice vs. Kind.


Reflex—————————————Skill based


Allergic to suffering————————Can say no , can be neutral

Compelled to do something——————–Bigger picture mindful. The doing of non-doing

Love as tasks——————————–Love as presence

Doesn’t add self, acts as if was
the other person—————————–Role models. Self is a role model following INTENT

Western compassion /getting in the way——-Eastern compassion,getting out of the way

Self is others thus nothing new is added—–Role model and teacher

Status quo is maintained———————NEW

Can build: Resentment, anger,—————Can be neutral
disappointed, guilt, shame

Tied to outcome——————————Witness

Feeling based——————————–Balance oriented


Happiness is the goal————————Contentment is the goal

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Be kind not Nice:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have been dating a woman, Sara, for about 2 months. We talked about our past relationships and I gathered that her last one wasn’t a good experience. In her eyes, the guy was “abusive.” She recounted stories about how manipulative he was, how selfish, etc, etc… They were never married, but were together for a long time before it fell apart in an ugly way. I had a different experience with my ex- we’ve remained friend through the years, although admittedly we weren’t very friendly for the first 6 months. But we both learned lessons and I don’t hold any blame.

Here’s the problem I’m having with Sara- she doesn’t seem to have taken anything but animosity from a relationship she put many years into. Sara is a lot of fun and she is intelligent and attractive. But during a recent out of town trip she took, I had a lot of time to think about things. Now I’m wondering if I should go any further into a relationship with her. She does seem to have a problem being direct about her feelings if something upsets her. I don’t want to be the next guy she’s describing to her new boyfriend as an abusive a-hole.

Steve Notahole

Dear Steve,

This is a very astute question which most people don’t even seem to consider. Every relationship is about at least two people, and you usually only ever hear one side. No one can have a relationship with a partner who doesn’t reflect their own relationship skills. This means that Sara probably has some issues. But on the other hand- who doesn’t?

In a relationship, there’s more than one way to respond to issues. Usually either one partner pushes the other’s buttons and brings them out or they diminish their impact by not responding to them. If you balance her by not reacting to her stuff, you might be good for her; she might also do the same for you. But if you are a “rescuer” you will make her issues worse.

As long as you two can openly and honestly communicate a lot of things might just work themselves out, but an ongoing conversation is essential. It’s the nice people who keep everything silently to themselves who suffer the most.

Be kind not nice. There is a huge difference.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: Two months isn’t long enough to know what the future will hold. Most people are on their best behavior during the “honeymoon” phase…then when they start feeling comfortable, you see what was behind their company manners.

I think it’s unfair to judge a person on past relationships because this would mean that no one learned or grew through experience. However, something you said about Sara sets off my Granny BS alarm: “she doesn’t seem to have taken anything but animosity from a relationship she put many years into.”

Animosity is not fertile ground for learning and growing. Continuing animosity means that that a person is festering, not healing. It also usually means that they are placing the blame largely on the object of their anger. People who are obsessed with blame rarely question themselves. It takes two to tango and Sara and her ex both had their own part in whatever dysfunction existed. If Sara can’t admit that, she’ll never update her personal relationship skills. If those skills now lean towards finger pointing rather than problem solving, you can expect to have many fingers pointed at you over the course of your relationship, should it continue.

My suggestion is that you tell Sara exactly how you feel, although for god’s sake, be tactful or you will seem abusive in her eyes. See how she reacts. If she gets angry, this is how she will always react. If she is concerned for your happiness as well as her own, she will engage in a conversation.

An ongoing conversation IS necessary to a healthy relationship. If you can’t start the conversation, I’d advise against trying to start the relationship.

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Absolute morality of my husband:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have a secret. I don’t want to have a secret but my husband, although a completely reasonable man in all other respects, is adamant in his stance towards alcohol- he is a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in 14 years, and to him, alcohol is an evil that nearly destroyed his life. He is tolerant of people in social situations because he doesn’t think he has a right to impose his beliefs on them. But as far as I go- I am a reflection of who he is and if I drink, this is a reflection on him and a violation of his deepest creed.

So I am a secret drinker. When I say secret drinker, I don’t mean that I have bottles hidden around the house. In fact, I never drink at home. I consider drinking to be an occasional social pleasure, to be moderately indulged in with the company of other responsible adults who are relaxing and enjoying life. If I go to a friend’s birthday party, I see nothing wrong with toasting her along with everyone else. If I have dinner with my mom and we both have a glass of wine, I’m not careening down the road to ruin.

But my husband has zero tolerance, so I hide it from him. And I have to keep everyone I know in on the secret.

Drinking has never been a part of our life together, so I don’t miss it at home. But it puts me in a position where I have to keep up a front, make sure no pictures are ever posted of me at parties, etc, etc… I have tried talking about the issue with my husband and he says he sees my point, but he just couldn’t live with it and he knows that.

Literally everything else is fine in my marriage. We share thoughts, household chores…our sex life is fine. This secret is like a little pebble in my shoe that is an annoying constant presence.

got any ideas?


Dear Betty,

Overall this is a moot point- as unimportant as alcohol is to you, you could just as easily have a soda with your friends. This is really not about alcohol but about control.

To gain back a feeling of equality in this matter, understand that the human brain is so good at denial that if you tell him the truth in a diplomatic way, he most likely will just ignore your forays. Just tell him. “I know we disagree about social alcohol and I agree never to have any at home or to keep it at home out of respect for you but I don’t want to lie to you. Occasionally I have a drink while out with my friends. It is my right and we can agree to disagree on this point. I will not bring it up again and I would appreciate you not to be a bully about this.”

He is not going to leave you over this and if he did it would be indicative of a much larger problem and in that case, good riddance. One couple I know did indeed divorce after the husband turned born again and adopted an intractable morality and nothing the wife did was righteous enough for God (or his liking.) Absolutism often doesn’t differ much from narcissism, but I don’t sense this in your husband’s case.

Don’t keep up a front, just be yourself- but I don’t recommend flaunting it.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: If this issue is about control, it’s about the control Betty’s husband is exerting. Her desire to have an occasional social drink as an adult is completely normal and healthy and soda is hardly as relaxing or convivial as a glass of wine. Soda is also not good for your bones, if you want to pick nits- it leeches calcium.

Here’s the real problem I see- every lie builds a wall between partners. It’s not a healthy practice for anyone in a relationship, especially when it concerns an important issue. One nearly always ends up getting found out- and then the lie is as big, or a bigger, betrayal than the act itself.

Dr. Brilliant’s idea is great for getting the truth out…IF your husband reads his lines as planned in the script you’ve prepared. However, people tend to be annoyingly uncooperative in real life. You may have to do more than count on his being in a coma of denial. You may have to explain yourself and it may get messy.

Here’s what I recommend. First, give Dr. Brilliant’s suggestion a try. But in case your husband starts asking questions, have another speech prepared: “Honey, I love you with all my heart, but you are one half of this relationship, not the dictator of a small country. I’d like to have a respected third party mediator called in so that we can get a better balance into this marriage.”

If this backfires, then Dr. Brilliant is right- there’s a bigger problem here than drinking, and it may not be solvable.

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Alcoholism is not a disease:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

My dad is an alcoholic, sober for 23 years now. His sister was also an alcoholic, still drinking; I realize that it is something that runs in the family.
I can’t say that I have a drinking problem, but I do know that if I am not careful, I will start drinking too much. So I am very careful and don’t let it become a habit, I don’t drink alone, nor do I binge drink on the times I indulge socially.
I think that my consciousness about the problem in my family makes me aware enough that I can control myself.

However, I have a brother who is definitely on his way to becoming a problem drinker. His daily cocktail hour starts at dinner and continues through the evening. His wife says he never gets “drunk” per say. But the cautious voice in me senses a potential problem.

Anyway, here’s my question- how come people from the same family, who have similar dispositions and probably similar genetics, can react so differently to alcohol?
My dad can’t touch it; my brother probably shouldn’t but is a functioning drinker; I’m moderate as hell. It raises the question-
is alcoholism really a “disease” that runs in families? Is it inevitable and uncontrollable to anyone who has the wrong body chemistry?
Or is it something that we each either chose to control…or not?

Wendy Wonders

Dear Wendy,

Despite popular culture’s belief, alcoholism is not a disease. It is a complex of genetic predispositions wherein alcohol becomes the obvious solution.

You can’t catch alcoholism from people although substance abusers do like to initiate others into their addictions. Unlike a disease that enters into your body without permission substances have to be introduced into your system by your own behavior. You are always choosing to use when you use; or choosing not to, when you don’t.

You are being vigilant, consciously taking responsibility for your choices. The rest of your family is taking the route of least resistance. However, you should realize- addiction doesn’t always take an obvious form.

In every alcoholic family there is at least one designated driver, the one who carries the responsibility for all the others. Genetically, the designated driver is not any different but their particular addiction is that of obsessive guilt and hyper responsibility. One can be addicted to dysfunctional people or dysfunctional love as much as to a drug. Destructive habits such as cutting, gambling, sex addiction or anorexia are all interchangeable shortcuts as well.

The silly thing about addiction treatment in our country is the prevalent use of medications to treat addictions. Sure, they might work if you stay on them forever- but that isn’t success- it does not change the big picture. One substance is simply substituted for another. All the behaviors that predispose a person to addictions (a shortcut mentality, black&white thinking, heightened sensitivity to emotions, the misconstruing of other’s intent) continue to operate. The twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous deals with the bigger picture but, ironically, many people don’t work the steps if they are taking a medical prescription because they think they are cured.
In reality, constant vigilance is the only way to control addiction. You need to address and develop the skills necessary to counteract your genetics tendencies.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I think that a great metaphor for addiction is the legend of the Vampire- he can only come into your house if you invite him in. Once he has been invited, you can’t keep him out.
Every addiction is a permission given by the person who has it. Everyone has their own reason, their own special explanation as to why it is OK, or how it works to keep them going. And they are right- when you are unbalanced, drugs and addictive behavior can help create an artificial balance that you can live with. The problem comes with the consequences…most addictive behaviors are eventually destructive on either, or all of, these levels- physical, emotional, spiritual, economic and social. The price they ask is too high. The balance is not sustainable.
If addiction occurred for intellectual reasons, an understanding of consequences would be enough to stop any potential addict. However, addiction does not come from our minds, or even our emotions. It comes from a black hole inside that is always aching, empty and hungry. It is like an element that rages unbidden. It is not a rational thing.
It is, and always will be, only a firm decision and commitment to change will ever precipitate the control of addictive behavior. We make bad decisions every day, telling ourselves we will do the right thing tomorrow. But as any food addict can tell you, by the time tomorrow comes, years can have gone by and we don’t just have five pounds to deal with- we have a hundred and fifty.

It’s always easiest to catch an addiction early. If you catch it after it is firmly entrenched, be prepared to have a long battle on your hands. The tentacles reach deep.

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Nudity would be a public service:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I like to watch French and Italian foreign films, despite my difficulty in reading the subtitles, because there is something about the attitude they take towards life that makes me feel better about myself. I’ve been trying to understand why and I realized after watching Pauline at The Beach just what that something is.

These other cultures have so much more acceptance of sexuality than we do in this country. I’ve mentioned that to friends and they laughed and responded with,
“look at all the sex and nudity in American films! What are you talking about?” But the number of boobs and porn scenes is not what I am talking about. It is the way that the people
in the film react to it, and the consequences it has.

Nobody seems to just accept sex as a part of normal human life in this country. They use it to sell things, tantalize potential customers and lure men to their death…but no one has a warm, natural attitude towards it. It is an act steeped in guilt, cosmetic surgery and divorce settlements.

I have never felt comfortable with my own sexuality- I don’t think my parents ever even mentioned it to me. They must have assumed I got my info from other sources. And they were right-
I got it from my misinformed friends and from magazines and movies.

I wish that just once I could think of sex and have a pleasurable act between consenting adults come to mind. Instead, it always opens up a can of traumatic memories, fears and regrets.

Are we all doomed to sexual dysfunction in our country?

Amy American

Dear Amy,

It isn’t just sexuality that is messed up in the USA- so are our ideas on nudity and body image. As you pointed out, we don’t seem know what it means to be human at all. We learn about our humanity from religion, media, and conversation with friends…and this skews our ability to observe for ourselves. Sexuality starts with body image and clothing for it is what we mostly see. But clothing is a costume from some media picked ideal. If we don’t fit comfortably into jeans we think we are misshapen instead of just average for our ethnic group. I was so disappointed when Sara Silverman commented on her nude scene in Take This Waltz and used this term for herself: misshapen. She just looked human and that was the entire point of this scene. Nothing and no one is perfect.

Too many people have a skewed view of sexuality and what it means to be human. I honestly think if we all went naked for a week it would be a public service. It would teach everyone what normal people look like and it would go a long way towards helping people feel comfortable with themselves and their sexuality.

Are we all doomed to sexual dysfunction in our country? Yep!

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: There’s not much I can add to the comments on body image. I became curious about how body image affects mental health and looked up some statistics on anorexia, a dangerous disorder that is a direct result of body image. Do you know what I discovered? The highest incidence of anorexia is with elite athletes in judged rather than refereed, competitions. Female athletes in aesthetic sports (e.g. gymnastics, ballet, figure skating) were found to be at the highest risk for eating disorders- a full 20% of them suffered from it, compared to an estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of women in the general population. When I looked at the statistics on France, I was startled- they had the second highest rate of anorexia in Europe- ranging from 0.46% to 3.2%, and the women there were much thinner than in other European countries, with the exception of Austria.

So perhaps a more culturally relaxed attitude towards sex doesn’t translate to a healthier body image.
Interestingly, the study I read by the London School of Economics and Political Science stated that “anorexia is a socially transmitted disease and appears to be more prevalent in countries such as France where women are thinner than average.” The article concluded : “In the light of this study, government intervention to adjust individual biases in self-image would be justified to curb or at least prevent the spread of a potential epidemic of food disorders. The distorted self-perception of women with food disorders and the importance or the peer effects may prompt governments to take action to influence role models and compensate for social pressure on women driving the trade-off between ideal weight and health.” I think that this unfortunate tendency to strive for unrealistic and unhealthy body types is global, not just an American phenomena. And according to every study I found, the spread of movies and media from the West is changing attitudes in every corner of the world.

Pointing a finger doesn’t help at this point. Perhaps we do need a Naked Day. Anyone want to start a movement?

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I feel dirty initiating sex with my husband:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have been trying to do little things to spice up my marriage lately- after reading an article in Cosmopolitan about straying husbands, I decided I should make a preemptive strike,
and put more effort into being playful and spontaneous. But I am running unto some problems I hadn’t anticipated, and they all involve my own insecurity.

If I make an effort to initiate sex with my husband and he happens to be doing something like making dinner, he will put me off and say, “can it wait, honey?” The moment he is less than receptive,
it’s like the wind was knocked out of me- I feel so rejected and unwanted. I think to myself, “if a Brazilian supermodel walked in here right now, he sure wouldn’t tell her to wait!” And then I feel ashamed of myself, as if I’ve done something wrong and I should feel…dirty. Or something. It’s hard to explain. But my point is- how can I feel so insecure and vulnerable with a man I’ve been married to for 14 years?

I am going to stop reading Cosmo. It’s messing with my head. Is there something wrong with me?

Diane Dejected

Dear Diane,

You are normal. In fact, what you describe is so common that it was referred to in the movie “Take This Waltz” When he rejects her advance, a wife tells her husband: “You know how hard it is for me to be bold? It takes all I have!”

This phenomena is generated almost entirely from the way sex is dealt with in our culture. Woman are supposed to be perfect, angelic, clean and innocent. At the same time, they are expected to spice it up, be dirty and act exotic or they risk losing their husbands to other woman…and it will be their own fault.

Meanwhile, somewhere in their psyche they are hearing “you will burn in hell for these lustful thoughts.” This is why books such as Fifty Shades of Gray are so instantly, insanely popular with woman. They address the unspoken line in our culture between the perfect, innocent woman…and the slut next door who wants to be raped. In our culture, sex, for a woman, is a dammed if you do and a dammed if you don’t situation.

Yes- throw out Cosmo! But I would also see a therapist and work on feeling comfortable with yourself and body. It takes work to reprogram and remove all of the culturally-acquired toxicity. A great deal more than Cosmo needs be tossed.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I don’t really see this as a cultural issue. I’m sure that many of the attitudes people have about sex originate in cultural roots, but approaching it from that angle won’t solve the immediate problem- this is how Diane’s brain is functioning and there’s no guarantee that therapy will change it. Let’s see what we can do with the brain Diane’s got. Diane, let me explain something to you- just because sex is difficult for you to initiate, this doesn’t mean that you should always, and easily, get sex when you screw up the courage to make a move. God knows, men don’t. Not to mention- other people have involvements and needs of their own to distract them at times, and since you aren’t a Brazilian super model, you can’t rely on shock to tilt the results in your favor.

Men have testosterone that will prompt them to persist in their drive if not given the reception they hope for at first. Instead of testosterone, you have insecurity and negative expectation causing you to shut down at an initial rejection. Your personal embarrassment is unnecessary. A man wouldn’t care. But that’s a whole other can of worms and we won’t open it right now. I think that the useful thing to consider is this- you are taking a contrived approach to initiating sex, because it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to you. Contrived sex, imposed at the wrong moment, is a recipe for clashing and disaster. What I would suggest is watching, waiting for the right moment, and initiating something in a manner that arouses you. I am guessing that you will get a very different reception.

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You most certainly can have your relationship and career too:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I am not some throw back to pre-feminism. I do believe that a woman should be able to support herself and that we deserve equal pay for equal work.
However, I am in a debate with my sister over an issue, and I wonder if you can throw your two cents in.

I really believe in the value of a good relationship- I think that if two people can help and support each other, they can go farther than someone going it on their own.
I want to have a career, but I do not want to wait until I am established and successful before I have a relationship. I am actively looking for a partner.
As you know, this isn’t a simple thing these days- I don’t want to hook up with some loser just to be in a relationship. I am willing to put the time into attending meet-up clubs, even trying some online contacts (cautiously!) and getting out to openings and functions so I have choices.

My sister tells me that I would be much better off putting my time into my career and going to night school to get another degree. She is working on her master’s in business and has her eye on a job with big pay checks. I can’t help but notice that she is alone though. And she doesn’t seem to be any happier
for her career intensive life.

Am I a fool for spending my spare time dating instead of toiling at books? Is my sister right? Will I end up with less of a career because I want to have a relationship?

Notta Lone

Dear Notta,

I once was in your shoes and everyone told me the same thing- focus on yourself and your career first! However, my priority and intent for my life was to have a family and not end up alone. My career and own interests were important too, but I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do both. A person can also learn a lot about themselves through dating. To me, the important thing (besides finding someone nice, not insane) is to gauge how a potential partner will fit into your life. We all are packages and you get the whole thing when you are with someone; people often forget that. If you both have a mutual intent, and the same picture of the future, this helps to insure that you will enhance each other’s energy rather than suck it dry.

I think too many people wait too long and believe that their entire life must halt when they are with someone. Anyone who needs that, you don’t need. Once kids come and the focus can’t stay on your partner any longer, these relationships tend to fall apart anyway.

As long as you find a partner who is on the same page as you about relationships (this is an ongoing conversation you must be having) I’d say go for it.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I have no idea why people think that they can parcel their lives and neatly take care of one goal after another. A family certainly doesn’t operate that way.

If you want a relationship, don’t wait until you have your life all set up. If you do, there will be no room for a relationship at that point. You will have developed a system that operates efficiently on it’s own. Fitting another person into it will be a complex task.

To be honest though, I can think of certain professions where one might prefer to get a degree before assuming a family- my son went through law school and told me that he saw every relationship his fellow students had, both married and dating, fall apart due to the stress of too much work. If you are a medical intern and you don’t already have a partner, you may want to wait until after you get back to a normal sleep schedule to pursue new partners. Otherwise you may sleep through your dates rather than getting to know them.

But let’s face it- as we go through life, we constantly face challenges and difficulties. Two people who are helping each other can often go further than someone operating on their own. It sounds as if you want to go through life with a partner. Put your life together with that potential in mind. You don’t have to put either your career or your emotional life on hold. They really do both go together.

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Stay or go aren’t always the only choices

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliche;

When I met Lianna, I thought she was amazing. She was as beautiful as a model and extremely well-spoken. She worked in PR at my company. She came after me, for some reason, and at first it was great. We had a good time together and the sex was great. She had two kids and I really liked them a lot.

But little by little, the flaws came out. Lianna was incredibly manipulative, was constantly asking me for money, and had an unholy alliance with her mom, whom she called four times a day. As Lianna showed more and more of her dark side, I was on the verge of leaving- but then she had some personal problems and really needed my help and the kids depended on me because their mom was acting like a ranting loon. To make a long story short, I ended up staying 8 years, intending to leave most of the time, but having one tragedy after another make me feel like I’d be a heel if I walked out. It wasn’t just minor, manufactured dramas that kept me hanging on. Lianna’s dad died, and then her brother. I felt that if I hadn’t been there, her kids would have gotten thrown to the wolves. I couldn’t stand the thought of that happening.

I finally left, but I can’t get around the fact that I knew this woman was a monster and yet I stayed. I even went on medication to help me deal with the stress. I threw all my pills out when I left and I never went back.
Still, I wonder why it took so long to leave. I know that my own mother was a nightmare, so I probably don’t have a healthy role model. I really do not want to make this mistake again. Any thoughts?


Dear Zorro,

Black and white thinking puts us in tiny boxes; and not seeing the big picture traps us there. Stay and Go were never the only options you had. They are simply the two black and white extremes. Eight years ago, if you were honest with your feelings and said “this isn’t working out for me but I want to remain friends and be there for you and the kids,” this would have been a middle option that would have allowed for flexibility…and a potentially better outcome. Of course, she may have told you to go f__k yourself. Then it would have been her choice, and that would have been that. Her kids are, after all, her kids, not yours. You have to realize that it ended eventually anyway- but if you’d been honest earlier on, there might have been a more balanced outcome for all involved now.

This much is true- you are accustomed to ignoring bad situations and just drifting through time. Learn to ask this question daily: “do I agree with this?” That will prevent the same situation from happening again and again. All relationships seem great during initial attraction; but if you learn to ask questions you won’t miss the bigger picture.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I am having a good laugh at the thought of a guy telling a ranting woman, in a reasonable manner, that he doesn’t want to be with her anymore but he hopes to stay friends and help with the kids. I hope that if he tries this, he is wearing a football helmet and some protective gear.

OK, I am willing to grant you, Zorro, that a neurotic, manipulative woman with whom you also work may not the easiest tie to break, but I can’t buy the part about sparing her feelings. Let me tell you something about neurotic, manipulative women- their intuition is better than you think. If you don’t want to be there, but are pretending because you are afraid to leave, she will sense this the same way a dog smells fear. It will just make her crazier. You are not doing her a kindness by staying. You are setting the stage to send you both over the edge. No wonder you needed to resort to medication.

When two people are intimately involved, they build their world together on the information that is given. If you are giving out a pack of lies, you can’t build anything but a house of cards. In the end, it will always fall apart- every slight breeze that blows threatens the foundation. This is not a favor to the children either. They need something real.

I will relate a story to you. I lived with a man for four years back in my 30’s. We had a tempestuous, destructive relationship that finally blew up. A month after our demise, he discovered he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In his fear, he came and begged me to go back with him, saying he couldn’t make it without me. I wanted to cave in because I knew it would seem like a terrible thing to deny him. But I also knew that his being sick wouldn’t change the way we interacted; in fact, the stress from constant fighting may have contributed to his condition. I told him as gently as possible that I just couldn’t pretend. Then I felt like I killed a puppy. But wait! The story has a happy ending, or at least as happy as it could. The guy found another woman with whom he really was compatible; he married her and spent his last year in peace. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d tried to “spare his feelings.”

If you want my advice, it is this: be honest, Zorro. It takes courage, because people will be hurt and yell and make threats and all sorts of crap. But pretending won’t make any of that go away. It will just prolong the agony, for everyone.

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