Watercolor Under the Bridge

A guy my girlfriend dated seven years ago is now an aspiring artist, and he gave my girlfriend one of his paintings. It’s abstract, splashy and horrible. I find it disrespectful of him to give it to her (because she’s in a relationship). She said he does lots of paintings, sells almost none, and gives them as gifts to all of his friends. I asked her to throw it away, but she said that would be “too mean” and shoved it under the bed. Am I being overly jealous, or is it wrong to accept gifts from exes?

— Chafed

Art, especially abstract art, says different things to different people. To you the painting screams, “Ha-ha, I had sex with your girlfriend!” To everyone else, it’s probably an expression of a moment — the one that came seconds after “Outta the way! I had some bad clams!”

It makes sense that a gift from a guy to your girlfriend would set off your internal alarms. Consider, as evolutionary behavioral scientist Gad Saad points out, that one sex — the male one — woos (as in, tries to get the other into bed) with gifts. When a guy arrives to pick a woman up, she doesn’t open the door with “Surprise, bro! Got you these roses! Take off your pants!”

As I somewhat frequently explain, this difference comes out of how sex can cost women bigtime in a way it doesn’t cost men: pregnancy and the 18-year after-party. So, women evolved to go for men who are willing and able to invest in any little, uh, nipple nibblers they give birth to, and gift-giving can be a signal of that.

Your being upset over the painting could be a subconscious reaction to this. But considering that this guy is handing out paintings like they’re “We Buy Gold!” leaflets, this gift to your girlfriend is probably a sign of a few things: He paints badly (though prolifically) and lacks storage space.

In general, as for whether it’s OK to accept gifts from exes, context counts. Did the two people break up just yesterday or a decade ago? Are there still feelings bubbling up? Was the ex’s gift, say, a tire jack or a diamond-encrusted thong?

Because this was just an ugly painting given to your girlfriend by a friend (long stripped of benefits), she did the kind thing and accepted it. So maybe just appreciate that her willingness to shove it under the bed relieves you of the need to suggest an even better location: a la “Can I offer you a steak — mesquite-grilled, with just a hint of carcinogenic paint fumes?”


Wife in the Fast Lane

I’m a 31-year-old woman, and I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 10 months. I was hoping to get married eventually. Well, my friend goes to this famous “relationship coach” who says that if a guy doesn’t ask you to marry him within the first year, he never will. Is that true? It’s making me feel anxious and worried that I’m wasting my time.

— Two More Months?

It’s comforting to believe that somebody has the magical knowledge that can get us to happily ever after. That’s why there was a movie called “The Wizard of Oz” and not “The Dishwasher Repairman of Oz.”

In fact, we crave certainty and get freaked out by uncertainty. Psychologically, a guarantee of something bad happening is way more comfortable for us than the mere possibility that it could. This sounds a little nuts, but it makes evolutionary sense, because uncertainty leaves us on constant alert, which is both psychologically and physiologically draining.

When research subjects are given a choice — get an electric shock for sure right then and there or possibly get surprised with a shock later — they overwhelmingly opt for the certain zapping in the present. And neuroscientist Archy de Berker found that people experienced greater physical stress responses (sweating and enlarged pupils) when a shock came unpredictably than when they knew it was coming.

This is why it can be tempting to buy into an “expert’s” doom-and-gloom timetable — despite countless examples disproving their “Marry before the year’s out or Spinsterville forever!” pronouncement.

And consider something else: University of Pisa psychiatrist Donatella Marazziti finds that people in love are basically hormonally inebriated for a year or two. Also, it’s typically adversity — which tends to be in short supply during a year of romantic picnics and spa vacations — that shows what two people are made of and how well they, as a couple, weather life’s kicks in the teeth. You know … like after you encourage your partner to be true to that inner voice, and he listens: “Thanks to you, honey, I’m quitting my soul-killing six-figure job to become a professional pogo stick artist.”


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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