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Under New Anger Management


When my boyfriend and I started dating, he was kind of a hothead. His first encounter with my friends was a game of touch football on the beach. He and another guy collided, and he lost his temper. There was a good bit of yelling, and I think people were pretty shocked. To his credit, he realized he had an anger problem. Over time, he has worked hard on it, and now he doesn't blow up anymore. He really is a changed man, and I thought people would recognize it, but I've recently learned that they all still see him as the scary-angry guy. Is there any way to change that? — Asking For A Second Chance

In touch football, you're only supposed to put a hand or two on another player — as opposed to, oh, tearing out his soul with your bare hands, grinding it into a fine powder, and sprinkling it on your cornflakes.

Sure, in the months following that friendly Sunday afternoon death match, your friends had various opportunities to see that your boyfriend's changed. Sadly, this probably hasn't made the slightest dent in their opinion of him, thanks to our brain's penchant for energy conservation. Once we've figured something out — some bit of information or how to do something — our brain creates a cognitive shortcut, shrink-wrapping and storing the knowledge set so, the next time around, we'll react automatically instead of having to think the thing through. These cognitive shortcuts work great when you, say, want more light to read by. You know to reach over and switch on a lamp; you don't have to figure out what a lamp is or whether yanking the dog's tail might make his eyes light up the room.

Unfortunately, this autothink makes undoing first impressions like trying to unspill red wine on a white rug. The next time we see a person, our brain shoves us our mental flashcard on them — "Oh, right, Explody McSploderson." There's no mulling over whether that view of them might be due for revision. Researchers, predictably, call this cognitive laziness "first impression bias." It's a form of confirmation bias, our tendency to favor information that confirms our beliefs and ignore any that suggests we might be mistaken. Information updates are especially easy to overlook when they're subtle, like an explody guy shrugging off a small affront, which is far less visual and memorable than that time he turned into Conan The Touch Football Barbarian.

A way to overcome first impression bias, suggested by research by Kai H. Lim, is presenting new information about your boyfriend in such "unambiguous" and "vivid" ways that it becomes hard to ignore. Tell friends straight-out that he's changed, and explain his motivation — ideally while walking past him meditating on a park bench with the Dalai Lama or running a rescue for hummingbird single mothers.

At the very least, tell stories — true stories — laying out how differently he now responds. Information presented in story form tends to be stickier, and "vivid" mental pictures of his transformation may quash the ambiguity that helps maintain first impression bias. Finally, add a call to action — a request that friends give him a second look through the lens of this new information. They just might see that they can sit down to dinner with the guy without worrying he'll go off on them: "My name is Inigo Montoya. You bumped my arm reaching for the bread. Prepare to die!"

Hot To Tot

Is there a way to make sure someone is on birth control? My girlfriend says she is, but I don't believe her. I know she really wants to have a baby. I'm not ready to be a father yet — or maybe ever — so I need to get to the bottom of this. — Worried

You're perhaps more of an adoption man — into adopting the sort of little rascal you can leave tied to a parking meter during brunch without anybody calling social services on you. Unfortunately, a man has limited control over whether a woman he's with gets a bun in the oven with his DNA baked into it — that is, unless he gets snipped or padlocks his zipper and chucks the key in the ocean. Of course, the single worst form of birth control is trusting that a woman — especially a woman longing for a baby — is actually taking or using hers. A mitigating factor is whether she's shown herself to be ethical. Consider whether that describes your girlfriend. If not, you might want to make that a requirement for any partner of yours — before you find yourself reading "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" aloud for the 300th time in a week, as it's the only way to keep your toddler from screaming like a goat being slaughtered.

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, Dr. Jennifer Verdolin and Amy Alkon on manners and sexual politics in humans and animals.


19 Comments | Post Comment
What, no mention of condoms for LW2? If he doesn't think he wants children ever, then vasectomy is a valid option, but in the meantime drugstores are full of temporary measures.
LW1: you don't say how long ago this touch football game took place. If it was less than a year ago, your friends might be right to be sceptical for a while.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Seabeast2
Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:35 AM
@Seabeast: The guy may want more assurance than just a condom. Of course, the only 100% surefire way to not get her pregnant is to not do it.

LW2 - If you don't trust your girlfriend, you shouldn't be dating her. And the answer is no, there is no way to PROVE a woman is on birth control except in very specific circumstances (like a Norplant or IUD, which can be shown on ultrasounds). But even if that's what she was on and you could, if you feel you need to do that, then again, you shouldn't be dating at all.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Paul W
Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:51 AM
LW1 - If your friends haven't spent much time with your BF since that first great explosion then they haven't had much opportunity to see the new him. If I were in your shoes I would deal with my friends one on one about this, maybe have them over for brunch and explain the situation to each friend, asking them for help. Ask them if they're willing to, say, spend a couple of hours with you and your BF in a setting that allows for some personal conversation but also is "safe" (in public) and not overwhelmingly long.

If I were on the other side of that table (the friend who's avoiding your BF out of fear), I might take some careful persuading before I'd want to spend time with someone who lost it during a casual game at the beach. If his GF (that's you) got all defensive and kept saying "Oh but he's changed so much now!" I'd only read that as desperation.

It's great that he's working on himself and has made real progress. Most "rage-a-holics" never get that far. Good for him.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Red Ree
Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:54 AM
LW2 - There are women out there who will fish your used condom out of the trash to get themselves pregnant without the sperm donor's knowledge or consent. Be careful. If your GF really wants a baby that bad, she might be driven to extremes that she normally would never consider. I think you should let this fish go - she wants a kid, you don't, honor her wishes, don't string her along.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Red Ree
Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:59 AM
LW1: The best way to handle this is to have your boyfriend apologize for his past behavior and say tell your friends personally that he has been working hard on managing his anger. This will go a long way in getting them to see him in a better light.

LW2: No, there is no way of knowing for sure and given the scenario, I would recommend that you use a condom every time and/or find a girlfriend who is also not ready for parenthood. If you're almost positive that fatherhood is not for you, consider making a deposit at the sperm bank just in case and then getting a vasectomy.
Comment: #5
Posted by: PuaHone
Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:02 AM
LW1 -- Amy offered good advice. Good add-ons here at the BTL, as well.

@Seabeast -- I had the same thought -- the guy could take responsibility for birth control -- what a concept!

But I also agree with Paul that if he doesn't trust his GF, then she shouldn't be his GF.

LW2: -- It's simple really: only sleep with people you trust. You don't trust her, so don't sleep with her.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Lisa
Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:15 AM
LW1: Why do you care what everyone thinks? So sad. Grow up.

LW2: If you're dating someone you suspect will trick you into being a father then it's time to run, not walk, away.

Comment: #7
Posted by: Diana
Tue Aug 26, 2014 1:37 PM
@ Lisa - "only sleep with people you trust" - that don't work either, some are very good at deceiving. I have an acquaintance - I'd say friend, but to me he is a low life - that had a vasectomy years ago and he has had sex with more women then any other man I know. They could be single, divorced, married, going through a divorce don't matter. Some thought they could hook him by getting pregnant, but as he would say the joke is on them.

@ Diana - So dating is synonymous with sex.
Comment: #8
Posted by: J
Tue Aug 26, 2014 2:58 PM
What about the male birth control shot?
Comment: #9
Posted by: Trixie
Tue Aug 26, 2014 5:33 PM
You might have to hop a plane to India and find the clinical trials but it is 100% effective and lasts 10 years. Beats 18 years of child support

Comment: #10
Posted by: Trixie
Tue Aug 26, 2014 5:35 PM
LW1 - hang in there - the first impression will fade with time and continued socializing.

Lw2 - if you don't want to have kids, don't have sex. Wait until you are married. Spend a nice long while getting to know your potential mate. Then, after you are married, if you both still don't want kids, go see a doctor for permanent sterilization.

Then you won't have to worry about whether some random woman is going to steal your dna and charge you for it for the next 18-21 years.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Lisa in OK
Wed Aug 27, 2014 5:28 AM
Interesting opinions on LW2.

I think if the LW doesn't trust his girlfriend for WHATEVER reason (she cheats on her taxes, shoplifts, lies about where she's going, etc.) then they don't have much of a relationship and should probably break up.

There are a LOT of women out there who don't want children, but find someone honest.
Comment: #12
Posted by: nanchan
Wed Aug 27, 2014 6:52 AM
There are ways to poke holes in condoms.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Jane
Wed Aug 27, 2014 7:32 AM
In addition to using a condom, LW could insist that they also use a spermicide. Spermicides alone are only about 70 - 80% effective, but when used in combination with a condom, the two together are about 97% effective.
Comment: #14
Posted by: C Meier
Wed Aug 27, 2014 10:56 AM
Oh, yeah - also keep the condom in your possession until you put it one. Like Jane said - women have been known to poke holes in them. And flush it or whatever else you can do to prevent a situation like Red Ree said in post #4 about women fishing used ones out of the trash to inseminate themselves.

These seem like extreme lengths to go to with someone you should be able to trust, but better safe then sorry for the rest of your life - especially the years when you would be paying child support. Or if you feel you need to marry her if she gets pregnant and you wouldn't want to marry her otherwise.
Comment: #15
Posted by: C Meier
Wed Aug 27, 2014 11:05 AM
Another solution to the problem "hot to tot" is having would be to break up with his girlfriend. If he is not sure she is ethical enough to tell the truth, he needs to leave.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Mary
Wed Aug 27, 2014 12:27 PM
LW1- You have bought the concept that your boyfriend is now in control of himself, but your friends have not. Please try to view him through their eyes. If they are wrong, only time will tell, but getting over raging anger as a go to way of dealing with life takes a long, hard time. Go slow, keep your eyes open, and know that it is up to your boyfriend to win them over; it isn't your job to be his cheerleader.
LW2- Holy trust issues, Batman, if you think she is sneaky enough to become a mother without your consent, why would you want her to become the mother of your child? You could ask her if you could accompany her to your gynecologist's office, to get information about birth control together. If she balks at that, you have your answer.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Patty Bear
Wed Aug 27, 2014 6:38 PM
LW2 - Puahone is right: Your best bet would be to make a sperm deposit or three in case you want to have a kid in the future, then go under the knife. But be aware that vasectomies sometimes fail. (About one in 4,000 don't work at all ---- and very, very rarely, the vas deferens will spontaneously heal, reversing the vasectomy without the man's knowledge.) So you should also, always, use a condom. And if a "miracle" happens and she gets pregnant anyway, insist on a paternity test. Women have the right to full control over their reproductive choices ----- and so do men. But you have to make some choices and exercise that right, for it to mean anything.
Comment: #18
Posted by: sarah morrow
Thu Aug 28, 2014 3:21 PM
LW1--Bauvard, the author of ''The Prince of Plungers' once said "When I see the best of myself in others, it makes a good first impression. Your boyfriend made an ass out of himself the very first time he hung out with your friends and they've never forgotten that. While you have a keener insight into your boyfriend's reformation from being a hothead with anger management issues into a cool cucumber, your friends simply remember the angry ugly scene on the beach. If your boyfriend wishes to change that impression, then he needs to set example after example of his calm, collected self. This will take some time. In the meantime, include your boyfriend in activities with your friends and see how he does when confronted with opposition. If your boyfriend is truly a changed man as you put it then your friends will see it too and hopefully the blow up on the beach will be something that fades into ancient history.

LW2--Um, try a condom dumbass. Why are you leaving reproductive responsibility up to your girlfriend? Moreover, if you can't trust your girlfriend, then why are you with her? Obviously you're a glutton for punishment.
Comment: #19
Posted by: Chris
Thu Aug 28, 2014 6:04 PM
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