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Amy Alkon


Leave Story I had an amazing first date with this guy: dinner, a movie, a stroll around the park, and a passionate good-night kiss. That was two weeks ago. Since then, I haven't heard a peep. How was it awesome for me but not for him? Were we, unbeknownst to …Read more. You've Got Bail I am not attracted to "nice guys." I'm in my early 30s, and I don't think I have low self-esteem. I don't like to be mistreated, either. In fact, I want somebody loving and faithful, but I find the guys I "should" be dating predictable and boring. (…Read more. All Of Meh I'm a 30-something woman, and my best friend is a guy. We talk and text day and night, and I truly adore him. All our friends think we should be dating, but I don't feel sexually attracted to him. I agree that we'd otherwise make a perfect couple. …Read more. You Delete Me I'm trying to get over my ex, but I'm constantly checking his Twitter and Facebook pages, and I get really upset. I'll see pix of women or see that he's gone to some event and wonder whether he met anyone there. It's crazy-making, but I can't seem …Read more.
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Urning Curve


My boyfriend of eight months was with his ex for almost five years. Unfortunately, she passed two years ago. I have sympathy for him, but occasionally he'll call me by her name, and it's really upsetting. I feel like she's haunting his brain, and I don't know how to do an exorcism. How do I take my rightful place in his life? — Can't Compete

If you're putting on some skimpy somethings to get your boyfriend in the right mindset in bed, ideally, they aren't three strategically located "Hello, My Name Is..." stickers.

It's understandable that you're feeling bad, but his detours into Wrongnameville probably don't mean what you suspect they do. Using the wrong name is what memory researchers call a "retrieval error," describing how an attempt to get some specific item from memory can cause multiple items in the same category to pop up. Basically, your brain sends an elf back into the stacks to get the name to call someone, and he just grabs the first name he spots that's associated with "girlfriend" and girlfriend-type situations. (Lazy little twerp.) This sort of cognitive error — following a well-worn path (five years of grabbing the late ex's name) — is more likely when a person is tired or preoccupied. In other words, your boyfriend's name-swapping may be a sign that he needs to stop multitasking; it doesn't necessarily mean he's been taping a cutout of her face over yours in his mind.

There is a solution, and no, it doesn't involve inventing a time machine so he can go back 20 years and get in the habit of calling all women "babe." It turns out that a person can get better at retrieving the right name with practice. Cognitive psychologist Gordon Bower explained in Scientific American that the one making the error needs to consistently correct themselves or be corrected and then repeat the right name a few times. It would be best if you correct him teasingly, and perhaps incorporate visual aids like homemade flashcards — ideally of you in various states of undress with your name on them.

Assuming he isn't trudging around in all black like a Fellini film widow or putting the ex's urn between you two in bed, it might help to consider how he is when he's with you: Engaged? Loving? Present? If so, do your best to focus on this — lest you be tempted to go low-blow and tit for tat and start screaming out dead men's names in bed: "Ooh, Copernicus...Oh, my God, Cicero...I mean, take me, Archimedes!"

Demotion Sickness

My boyfriend just broke up with me but wants to "stay friends" and keep hanging out on those terms. (He says, "My life is much better with you in it.") I'd like to be friends eventually, but I told him that it's just too painful and confusing to see him now.

He says I'm being dramatic and unreasonable and keeps calling. — Broken

This guy's notion of how a breakup should work is like telling an employee, "Hey, you're fired, but please feel free to come in a few times a week and do some light janitorial work."

A breakup is supposed to be an ending, not a "let's continue as if very little has changed, and I'll pretend not to notice those big wet mascara stripes down your cheeks." Research by clinical psychologist David Sbarra confirmed what most of us already know about getting dumped — that contact with your former partner while you're trying to recover jacks up feelings of love and sadness, setting back your healing. You need time and distance to process and accept the change in your relationship; you can't just send a memo to your emotions, ordering them to recategorize the guy: "Cut the love. From now on, respond to him like he's a brick or maybe a lamp."

It's wonderful to have a man who insists on standing by you, but not because it's better for him than respecting your need to go away and lick your wounds. This is not friend behavior. If, despite that, you want him in your life down the road, inform him that for now, you've made a "no contact" rule — lasting until you feel ready to see him on different terms. When he (inevitably) tries to break it, politely reiterate it and end the conversation. The sooner he's out of your daily life the sooner you'll be open to a new man — dreamy as it would be to spend lazy afternoons at your ex's place writing him letters of recommendation for prospective girlfriends and Photoshopping your arm out of pictures so he can post them on Tinder.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email ( Her latest book is "Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck."



It's Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess Radio! "Nerd your way to a better life," with the best brains in science solving your love, dating, sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. The call-in number during the show is 347-326-9761. This week, Amy Alkon and Dr. Jennifer Verdolin on how friendships can enhance who you are and how you live.


8 Comments | Post Comment
LW1 -- I have a brother named "Steve." We had a dog named "Sparky." My mother sometimes accidentally called my brother "Sparky" -- she less frequently made the same error with me, probably because "Steve" and "Sparky" both start with the letter "S," and my name starts with "L." Or maybe my mother really loved "Sparky" better than "Steve." Or maybe my mother thought "Steve" looked a lot like "Sparky." Or maybe she REALLY had a boyfriend before she met before our father whom she called "Sparky," and she secretly had an oedipal love for "Steve" that we would have uncovered had we not merely assumed that she sometimes accidentally called "Steve" "Sparky" for no particularly important reason at all.

If the only reason you think you "can't compete" and that you have thus far failed to "take your rightful place" in your BF's life is that he occasionally calls you by the wrong name, you might want to consider the possibility that you are making a mountain of a molehill.

LW2 -- Even if, at some point, you feel ready to be friends with your ex, I hope you will very seriously consider NOT doing so. I say this not because I don't think exes can/should be friends -- I think it's great when it works out for everyone. I say this because your ex apparently doesn't give two $#!ts about your feelings. He wants a relationship with you on HIS terms, HIS way, HIS timeline, and accuses YOU of being unreasonable and dramatic. That's rich. This doesn't sound like someone I'd be at all interested in being friends with, ever.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Lisa
Tue Jan 27, 2015 9:16 AM
My brother sometimes calls me by his wife's name. That means nothing except that their children are all boys, so my SIL is the only female he regularly talks to outside of work. It certainly doesn't mean we have a thing going.

LW2, you need to document every contact from your ex. He sounds creepily close to becoming a stalker, and you want a record of his behavior to show the police.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Kimiko
Tue Jan 27, 2015 1:05 PM
LW1 - ¸
You are vastly overthinking this. At least you know whose name it is, and she's out of your hair forever. I would be more concerned if he did this during sex and with a name that's neither his ex's nor yours. What Lisa said - LOL.

LW2 -
Your ex boyfriend's idea of "staying friends" is keeping the relationship exactly as it is, but minus the physical intomacy (my guess is that his desire for you went past the expiry date), so he can continue enjoying what he still likes about you while pursuing other more desirable females to have sex with. How nice of him.

His words and expectations exhibit a woefully, callously dismissive attitude towards your feelings, which obviously don't exist for him. You don't see it now, but he actually did you a huge favour by dumping you. This guy only cares about what he wants and everything is about him.

Block his number and his e-mail address, and you go and have sex with someone else yourself so that you stop hurting - he's not worth it.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Tue Jan 27, 2015 3:37 PM
LW2: Exes can be friends after breaking up, if they were friends before they started dating. It's because friends have shared community, shared interests, and mutual liking that doesn't depend on physical attraction. Without that, there's nothing to go back to. If the only reason the two of you were ever in the same place at the same time was to date, you will have to go out of your way to spend time together as friends.
It sounds to me as though you're a basically good person who he finds useful in some way, and with whom he likes interacting as a couple. He may even want to keep you around as a backup option. The trouble with allowing that is that he will be taking up space in your life or burning up time that you could be using to find someone you want to be with. So it's not a reasonable request. If you really are part of the same community, or have been friends in the past, take a time-out and don't hang out with this person until after you've found another partner.
Comment: #4
Posted by: R.A.
Wed Jan 28, 2015 9:12 AM
Regarding the first letter, I grew up in a large family and my parents would sometimes run through several names before landing on the right one. I got called by my sister's name and vice-versa. One time, however, when my father was trying to speak to my sister he threw in a third name that we'd never heard before. Still haven't figured out where that one came from...
Comment: #5
Posted by: Seabeast2
Thu Jan 29, 2015 8:38 AM
LW1: You need to find a good therapist. There is no rightful place. This is not a competition. Your brain is not working properly - get some help.

LW2: So? Who cares what he wants? Why are you still putting him first after he dumped you? You're not a victim. You have power. You have choices. Learn to make better ones.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Diana
Thu Jan 29, 2015 12:05 PM
LW1--Um, let's do the math. You've been with your boyfriend for eight months and his ex, who DIED, was with him for five years. Bottom line is that you can't compete with her ghost. Ever! She was clearly the love of his life and any other woman will be second best. Decide for yourself what you're willing to put up with and then either stay or go.

LW2--The last time I checked, this was still a free country. Block your ex-boyfriend's number and don't respond to him on social media. Should you run into him socially, be cordial but cold and distant. Your ex-boyfriend is one of those people who thinks there are no consequences to his actions. In his (tiny) mind it was perfectly okay to hurt you because he was willing to give you the "gift" of his friendship. Oh please! With friends like that, who needs enemies? Tell the jerk to buzz off!
Comment: #7
Posted by: Chris
Fri Jan 30, 2015 3:29 AM
L1: WHAT??? You are dating someone with a past? There was someone in his life before you? Oh nooooooooooooo!!! Who could bear such a thing?
Oh. Yeah. All of us who didn't marry our sweetheart from grade school. This is a very very little mole hill that you are going to build up into a great big mountain, from which your relationship will soon fall. Personally, I would make a little game of reminding him of my name, with appropriate "rewards" for using it. But that's just me. I also don't think that you have a "rightful place in his life" after only 8 months. Chillax.
L2: He dumped you. I don't know what the relationship was like, but it's over. I'm guessing he controlled a lot of things, but that is the beauty of the breakup...he has (or should have) absolutely no say over what you are doing or how you are being. Tell him he would be far happier with someone less dramatic and more reasonable, and to quit calling. He isn't looking for friendship. He's looking for a convenient booty call and an instant ego boost from your attention.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Shirley
Fri Jan 30, 2015 9:58 AM
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