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Amy Alkon


Belittle Richard My girlfriend says she likes that I'm smart but says I can be "on" too much of the time. For example, if someone pronounces a word wrong or uses it incorrectly, I'll correct them. If they talk about their fad diet, I'll explain why it doesn't make …Read more. Lord Of The Lies In social situations, my boyfriend will often pretend to have read books I know he hasn't. He doesn't just fake it with some casual "Yeah, I read that." He will try to say something deep and philosophical but can end up not making much sense. He's …Read more. Scoot Force My husband's been saving for a motorcycle, and I was excited about riding on the back, hanging on to him — sexy and fun! But then he came home with a Vespa, the little Italian scooter. It just seems so girly. The tiny wheels make it look like …Read more. Along Came Polygraph I'm an aspiring comedian — seriously aspiring — so I'm out most nights doing stand-up. My girlfriend gets upset about all the time I put into this and expects my nights off to be spent with her. Recently, I was going to an open mic, …Read more.
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American Idle


My girlfriend is beautiful, highly intelligent, and interesting. She's smart for a living (as a strategic planner in advertising), so I find it sad that she watches so much television — maybe two hours of it upon coming home from work. She could be spending her time doing so many other things. — Dismayed

There comes a point in the day of a brainy person when she's about a half step from being entertained by cat toys.

But this is nothing to be boohooing about. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley explains in her neuroscience-based book on learning, "A Mind for Numbers," that our brain has two modes of problem-solving that it shifts between. There's the "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go!" focused mode and the resting-state, brain-in-the-La-Z-Boy diffuse mode. Focused-mode thinking is what we're using when we put our attention on a problem or on learning, writing, or memorizing. It's direct and intense, like shining a flashlight on a raccoon.

But your brain is not a Denny's and should not be expected to be "always open!" In fact, Oakley explains, you will be far more efficient if you take breaks and let your diffuse mode take over. This is the subconscious processing that goes on when you turn your focus away from a problem, like by taking a walk, cleaning the gerbil cage, or — horrors! — watching something dopey on TV. And while the focused mode can get you roadblocked into an overly narrow set of potential solutions, diffuse mode involves big-picture thinking that draws on a wide range of neural networks. This means that afterward, when you refocus on the problem, answers come more easily, and sometimes — almost magically — you experience the mental equivalent of going to sleep, having mop-wielding elves crawl out of your heat vent, and then waking up to a blindingly clean kitchen floor.

Consider the sort of "slackers" who watch TV — like the late crime writer Elmore Leonard, who was awarded the National Book Foundation's 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. After a long day working on one of his 45 novels, he'd be on his couch watching "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune." As my boyfriend (his researcher of 33 years) put it, "you could say, 'Elmore, the Martians just landed on your tennis court,' and he'd say, 'Wait! It's Final Jeopardy!'"

Sure, your girlfriend could be "doing so many other things," like staring blankly into a bookcase or tossing back four martinis and passing out on the sofa with an olive in her ear.

But TV-watching is the brain vacation that works for her. It's only "sad" if her boyfriend, despite the neuroscience mini-tour above, remains too entrenched in his beliefs to respect a TV-watching woman. Unfortunately, once disgust for a partner is afoot in a relationship, the thing is probably shot. Though, rather incredibly, "the idiot box" can help a person be a smarter decision-maker at work, scientists have yet to discover any similarly unbelievable lowbrow cures for ailing romantic partnerships, like a month of eating Big Macs for a relationship-saving McDonald's cleanse.

Jurassic Spark

I'm a 45-year-old woman, and my new boyfriend is 30. I look good for my age, but I keep making "old" jokes, which he finds disturbing. Although he seems really into me, I guess I'm worried that a much younger man won't be around for long. — Mrs. Robinson

When you've got a bit of funny clawing to get out of its pen, it's tempting to undo the latch: "Waiter, a glass of chardonnay for me and a box of crayons for my date." But consider that some jokes are jokes and some are fear with a laugh track.

Your fears that this won't last aren't exactly unfounded. Men evolved to be attracted to signs of peak fertility — youth being a biggie — but some use older women as sexual grazing areas while between relationships. There are exceptions — May/December pairings that make it to twin rocking chairs on the porch of the senior living facility. However, the reality is nothing's forever — including relationships between two hot 22-year-olds. The trick to fully enjoying this (or any) relationship is accepting that it will end and resolving to have the absolute best time you can while it lasts. To take possession of older-woman sexy, consider that some men are into the sexual confidence women tend to gain with age, as well as what the French call being "bien dans sa peau" (comfortable in one's skin). Whatever you do, avoid regularly exhuming the late Groucho Marx to inform the guy of all the ways 45 is actually the new 75. If you're doing that, you might as well cut to the chase: Yank up your support hose and run after him with your cane, yelling, "Hey, kid, get off my lawn!"

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




15 Comments | Post Comment
Actually, if she's a strategic planner in advertising, than watching TV is likely how she keeps up with trends in TV, society and advertising. Your complaint is akin to dissing a mechanic for coming home and working two hours on their car, or a chef for coming home and spending two hours cooking dinner. And if you really understood what she does for a living, you'd kinda know that. You might want to focus less on her smarts and ask yourself why you're so dumb you didn't make that connection.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Jane
Tue Dec 16, 2014 7:43 AM
LW1--Sorry hon but two hours of television is not excessive. Here's a newsflash for you: people who use their brains for a living need a way to decompress after a long hard day. As a research scientist myself, I personally enjoy watching Judge Judy and Maury Povich for a couple of hours after work. The mindless banality of these programs lets my brain rest. I'm sure your girlfriend is doing the same thing. Instead of judging her for watching a bit of 'Say Yes to the Dress' after a hard day of strategizing at the office try being more supportive of her need to decompress.

LW2--Obviously you're insecure and unsure of your appeal to your younger boyfriend. Knock it off! Your boyfriend is clearly into you so stop over thinking it. If you can't handle being in a relationship with a younger man, then date someone your own age. It's as simple as that.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Chris
Tue Dec 16, 2014 7:44 AM
My dad was a brilliant physicist and chemist. He was also a voracious reader. For movies and TV, he loved psychological thrillers and film noir classics, but not as much as "The Newlywed Game" and "The Gong Show."
Comment: #3
Posted by: Carla
Tue Dec 16, 2014 8:22 AM
LW1 -
And because she's so bright, her brain has to be the Energiser Bunny and be on-on-on-on all the time, and she's never allowed to unwind, unless it meets with your royal approbation? Wassa matter, you demand that she do double shift, so to compensate for YOU? Crack a whip, why don't you. Controlling much?

And of course, Mister Bright Guy, it hasn't occured to you that, as a strategic planner in advertising, relaxing while watching the mecca of all advertising could possibly double up as "research"... Be that as it may, the woman has a right to spend her leisure time as inanely as she sees fit. Do her a favour and let her go, Mister Pygmallion, she needs a Big Boss like you like she needs a brick wall on her feet.

Comment: #4
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Tue Dec 16, 2014 10:39 AM
LW1: You're so busy being pretentious you don't know sh*t.
LW2: Insecurity is not sexy at any age. Grow up.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Diana
Tue Dec 16, 2014 11:55 AM
LW1: I'm a reasonably intelligent person and I come home from work and watch shows like The Bachelor or America's Next Top Model. Sometimes I watch reality TV while also reading my latest book on the Plantagenets and sometimes not, depending on how fried I feel from my intense day as an attorney. If I'm watching a show about the Borgias or the Habsburgs, it's probably the weekend. For heaven's sake, everybody needs down time. It's crazy to expect your girlfriend to be a 24/7 genius. It's disappointing that you can't support her enjoying a little down time after work in her own home after a long day at the office. Stop being ridiculous if you want her to stay with you.
Comment: #6
Posted by: LouisaFinnell
Tue Dec 16, 2014 4:43 PM
Re: LouisaFinnell
By a show about the Borgia, do you mean that series that had Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia and Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia? Now that was a fun bit of bubblegum for the brain! I miss it.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Seabeast2
Tue Dec 16, 2014 6:26 PM
Re: Seabeast2

There are two series about the Borgias and Netflix has them both. Fun! I do love me some historical drama, that is, when I'm not watching Project Runway.
Comment: #8
Posted by: LouisaFinnell
Tue Dec 16, 2014 8:17 PM
LW1 - Two whole hours??? Doesn't she know how many sandwiches and beers she could have brought you in that amount of time?? If I were you, I would not put up with that level of slackerishiousness. AT ALL. Good on you for noticing this ridiculous tendency before you got way involved with her, like marrying her or something. Whew!! That was a close one! Two episodes of Criminal Minds is more than your relationship should be expected to tolerate.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Lisa in OK
Wed Dec 17, 2014 6:13 AM
LW1 - I'm sure your girlfriend probably thinks you could spend YOUR time in better ways too...instead of nagging her.

LW2 - Stop the jokes and just enjoy the damn relationship without worrying about numbers. Problem solved.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Paul W
Wed Dec 17, 2014 8:54 AM
I love the unanimity about LW1 -- quite right that humans need a break sometimes, including resting our brains, and nobody should ever be ashamed of (or be shamed for) enjoying a little "mindless entertainment", even on a regular basis.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Mike H
Wed Dec 17, 2014 12:10 PM
Re: LouisaFinnell
The Borgia series that aired on Bravo didn't make it to its conclusion and I went AAAAUUUUUGH! That was my favourite show, and I was looking forward to the new season months at a time - as in, the day after the season ended. I can't understand why they canned it.

Comment: #12
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Wed Dec 17, 2014 7:26 PM
LW1 - Girlfriend's possible view: I work in advertising and everything I do at work has to be supported by data. I try not to let uninformed opinions affect my choices. I am dating a guy who insists on badmouthing television even though he never watches it. He assumes that any time I spend watching TV, no matter what I watch, is a waste of time and complains about it. I try not to have uninformed opinions, and I don't assume that something I haven't done or seen in 10 years (the last time he watched tv) is just the same as it used to be. How do I get this guy to stop pushing his uninformed opinions on me?
Comment: #13
Posted by: kai archie
Thu Dec 18, 2014 2:17 PM
Kai archie--I used to have a choir director who refused to have a TV in his house, which was fine, but if I'd been his wife, I'd have said, Sorry, honey--I love you, but it's time for Modern Family, so I'm buying my own TV.

My elderly, now-deceased aunt used to say "There's nothing on TV." I wanted to ask her how she knew, since she never watched anything. I completely disagreed with her. There are a lot of good stories on TV now, and that's what I like to watch.

Sometimes, you just have to veg out and not think about anything for a while.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Joannakathryn
Thu Dec 18, 2014 10:45 PM
Re: Joannakathryn
Television is like New York City, where you find both the best and the worst of humanity together, and every shade of grey in between, where you can find both the best documentaries ever produced, masterpiece movies, plays and music... and Jerry Springer, and bridezilla shows, and child beauty pageants, and Nancy Grace ranting, and Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch.

If the presence of bad was enough to trash the good, God wouldn't have stopped at Sodom and Gomorrah. ;-D

Comment: #15
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Sun Dec 21, 2014 7:57 AM
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Amy Alkon
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