No More Mr. Knife Guy

You’ve answered some questions about online dating recently, but I haven’t seen you mention dating sites that do criminal background checks. Do you think it’s a smart idea to sign up for one of these, or is it just more marketing hogwash?

— Wondering

There’s that very attractive man you see on a dating site who spends “a lot of time abroad” — as one must, when primarily employed as a drug mule.

These dating sites that do criminal background checks probably seem like a wise choice. And they do offer their members something extra: a false sense of security. First, as one of the sites with “extensive background checks” admits: “Some people do manage to slip through the cracks. When in doubt, report it!” Charming. Kind of like telling bank customers, “If you notice armed robbers in the bank, feel free to tackle them while yelling, ‘Citizen’s arrest!’”

Of course safety is a primary concern, but ponder this: Your friends don’t background-check their party guests. Nor does the supermarket: “Hey, handsome, can’t let ya into the trendy baby veggies section till we check for outstanding warrants.” Also, not every person with a criminal record is someone to avoid. There’s being arrested because your little brother left a pillowcase of weed in your trunk versus being nabbed for your armed carjacking hobby: “No, officer, I swear…nothing of interest in the trunk … um, that is, if we don’t count the bound-and-gagged widow who owns the car.”

There are countless articles listing some pretty obvious ways to protect yourself: Drive your own car to the date; meet in a public place; don’t leave your drink unattended; and don’t front anyone money. Another common piece of advice is to tell someone where you’re going and whom you’re meeting. Right. Surefire psychopath-stopper: “I told my roommate all about you, so you’d better put away that huge knife, buster!”

One thing you can do to protect yourself — in online dating or any other dating scenario — is gag the voice that’s shouting, “Happily ever after, here we come!” so you can pay attention to feelings that something just doesn’t add up. These feelings often don’t come out of nowhere. Research by neuroscientist Yue-jia Luo, among others, finds that our brain reacts to subtle signs we’re in danger, including ones we aren’t consciously aware of. The brain messages the body to get ready for “fight or flight,” adrenaline courses, blood gets pumped to our extremities, and goosebumps form on our arms (part of the physical basis of feeling creeped out).

Online dating, like all dating, involves risk. Assess your level of risk and whether it’s worth the benefit: immediate access to numerous potential partners. There are some crafty criminals out there, but odds are the problems you’ll experience will be the ordinary kind — finding out that a guy has a few girlfriends, and not a few girlfriends out back under the tomatoes.


Pippi Bongstocking

I’m in recovery, and my best friend and I have sleepovers every few months. She’s come over drunk and/or high on pot the past few times. It’s not that it’s triggering for me; she’s just annoying and not herself when she’s loaded. How do I ask her to not come over trashed?

— Sober

What does she do when she isn’t visiting you: attend Mass in a “Lucifer Rules!” T-shirt, pop by the animal rights march in a mink vest, and then park her ice cream truck outside the Jenny Craig meeting?

Though you know what you need to tell her — don’t come over trashed — you’re probably being tripped up by something I wrote about recently: how women evolved to be the confrontation-avoiders of our species, probably to protect their ability to have and care for children. In 1990, developmental psychologist Eleanor Maccoby reviewed the research on sex differences in communication and found what researchers continue to see today: A major goal of girls’ (and women’s) speech is “to be ‘nice’ and sustain social relationships,” while for males, “the agenda is more often the single one of self-assertion.”

Though being direct may not be natural for you, there are many things in our lives that aren’t “natural”: deodorant, motor vehicles, buying dinner at the supermarket instead of waiting behind a tree to club it with a rock. You’re simply asking your friend to be appropriate to the situation. You could open with an air bag of sorts —“I love you and love having you over” — and then say, “But, from now on, please don’t show up drunk or high for our sleepovers.” Enduring a little discomfort in the moment should keep you from being commandeered into future “fun” drinking games like “Let’s flip your cat over and do shots off her belly. I’ll do vodka; you do water. Last one to lose an eye wins!”


Got a problem? Write to Amy Alkon at 171 Pier Ave., Ste. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email her at AdviceAmy@aol.com.

Alkon’s latest book is “Good Manners for Nice People who Sometimes Say F*ck.” She blogs at advicegoddess.com and podcasts at blogtalkradio.com.

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