Advice Goddess

By Amy Alkon

Heavy meddle

Is it okay to keep your income a secret from someone you’re dating? I recently started seeing a girl I work with (at an advertising company). She believes women at our company get paid less on average, and I suspect she’s right. Yesterday she came right out and asked me how much I make. I’m pretty sure I’m the highest-paid person on our team, but her question made me really uncomfortable, and I told her I make a lot less than I actually do. I felt bad lying to a woman I could get serious with, but I don’t want her or other co-workers knowing my salary.

– Johnny Paycheck Privacy

It’s normal to keep some personal information secret from the person you’re dating – like your exact income or the fact that you belt out Lynyrd Skynyrd in the car every day on your way to work.

Unfortunately, your girlfriend decided it was time to bridge the gap between conversation and colonoscopy. She snookered you into going along by asking you point-blank how much you make. This is really rude – on the level of yelling across the office, “Hey, Steve, ya still got that weird rash on your balls?” Because of that, it catches a person off guard, leading to a reaction like yours – stammering out an answer, but not the one the prying person actually deserves: some version of “Up your butt with a coconut.”

Maybe she doesn’t believe you’re entitled to boundaries in a relationship, or maybe she decided she could erase yours for a good cause. And sure, you, like most people, probably want the person you’re with to really know you. But really knowing the person you’re dating means understanding their hopes and dreams, not having the same information you’d get if you duct-taped yourself to the awning of the ATM just before they deposited their paycheck.

Beyond one of the biggest problems with lying – the tendency to get caught – by not standing up for your right to keep select areas of your life private, you’re paving the way for future info-hooverings. To dial back your privacy settings, tell her you only revealed your salary because you were so unprepared for her to ask about it. Request that she keep a lid on it, and let her know the boundaries that work for you – like that the woman in your life has a right to know how much you make when you’re sharing a checking account, not a cubicle.

You don’t have to turn your pay stub drawer into a petting zoo to show her you care about her concerns. You could offer to help her come up with tactics for negotiating a raise. Keep in mind research shows women tend to take the salary, raises and opportunities they’re offered instead of trying to negotiate for more. A book you might get her is “Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want,” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Finally, prepare yourself for being put on the spot by her or anyone with what I call “The Power of Not Right Now” – recognizing  you can decline to answer a person’s question right then and there (perhaps with the exception of inquiries like “You gonna give me your wallet, or do I have to gut you with this rusty screwdriver?”).

Curl, interrupted

The girl I’m dating wears hair extensions, and feeling them creeps me out. She’s very pretty, and her hair is lovely without the extensions. Can I tell her they make me uncomfortable?

– Mr. Natural

When you’re running your hand through your girlfriend’s hair and a bunch comes out in your palm, it can be hard to keep straight whether you’re making out or snaking the shower drain.

Your girlfriend joins an increasing number of women in planting non-native foliage in her hairgarden, probably because men tend to be attracted to long, lush hair. It’s actually an evolutionary sign of good health. (Hair suffers when a person eats poorly or has a disease.) Because complaints are most productive when reconstituted as compliments, start by telling your girlfriend she’s a natural beauty (as opposed to “If I wanted a girlfriend with interchangeable hair, I’d date Mrs. Potato Head”). Add that you’d love to run your hands through her real hair, and ask whether she’d consider going without the extensions. If she agrees, be sure you effuse when she’s hair naturelle so she’s inspired to keep it up. All in all, a little mystery is a good thing in a relationship, but it’s best if you’re wondering whether your girlfriend got her pretty hair from her mother and not suspecting she hired somebody to take a big scissors to Seabiscuit’s tail.

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