The Perfect Man (03/28/07)

Dear Zelda,

I am a recently divorced woman in my 40’s and I have been dating a man who I thought was perfect. He is an attractive and very successful professional man. I feel like we have a good relationship, but whenever we disagree about something, he disappears, doesn't call, and won't return my phone calls. This has happened several times and eventually he gets in touch. If it wasn't for his “disappearing act,” he would be perfect. What can I do to change his behavior and get him to deal with conflicts when they arise?

Wanted Conflict Resolution Solution

Dear Wanted,

“Avoi-dance:” sadly, it doesn't mean sitting out the samba. It means not being able to face up to tough situations, and your almost perfect man needs to wake up and smell the conflict. No one, myself included, can avoid disagreements. “It's my bone, not yours” is a common argument in my house. But at least around here we know how to settle our disputes: we don't walk away from the bone, and we don't bury it. We both grab onto it with all our might, growl, and shake our heads from side to side until one of us wrenches it from the other. Then we kiss and make up. I’m not suggesting you approach all your conflicts with this same strategy, but hey, it’s better than turning tail, because when it’s over at least everything is settled.

You said that following a disagreement your beau disappears and won't return your phone calls, but that “eventually he gets in touch,” and that this has happened several times. So let me tell you a secret you may not want to hear: do you know who’s being the conflict avoider in this situation? YOU ARE! This guy may be great in lots of other ways, but by enabling this pouty, childish behavior more fit for a fouryearold than a fortunefivehundred financier, YOU are the one avoiding conflict in order to not mess up what you perceive to be a good thing. Maybe it is a good thing, but you can’t let your fear of losing the relationship, a fear he plays on by performing these disappearing acts, prevent you from raising these very real issues. It’s time for you both to hold yourselves accountable to the relationship.

Your new man is obviously used to getting his way in life, and by punishing even your slightest dissent with this severe withdrawal behavior, he is ransoming your relationship for complicity and compliance. Sure, things are fine by him when you’re willing to agree with everything, but now that you know the consequences of disagreement, aren’t you a little more inclined to keep your mouth shut the next time something bothers you? Yes, he leaves his clothes lying around and expects you to clean them up, but is it worth risking another week’s worth of Houdinilike disappearance? The answer is absolutely! Because realistically, as good as he may be in other ways, this situation is headed down a bad path unless things change course. Resentment, embitterment, and alienation are just around the corner when problems go unaddressed, and little things just turn into big things when they remain bottledup and unsaid. He’s obviously not going to change on his own, so for the sake of the relationship it’s time for you to stop avoiding his avoiding problems problem. (Try saying that three times quickly!)

Talk, really talk, with your Mr. ClosetoPerfect and let him know that his behavior is hurting your relationship and jeopardizing its future. Remind him that he stands to lose more by clamming up than by risking and sharing problems as they arise. Give him an example of how you might have a reasonable exchange in which you disagree about something, discuss it, and move on, and let him know that his disappearing act has got to disappear. Make sure you present this in a compassionate, nonaccusative, but firm manner so he understands your seriousness but doesn’t feel attacked. If his bad behavior continues after all this, I’d say it’s time for you to consider trying the disappearing act yourself. Good luck!


Dear Zelda,

I'm writing you because my owner's boyfriend doesn't like me.  I hear him telling her that she should get rid of me. How can I make him like me? I'm a sixyearold male French Bulldog and I've been with my owner for five and a half of them. I think I'm charming but "the boyfriend" doesn't seem to think so.

Prince Charming

Dear Prince Charming,

What an uncharming predicament for a prince! I continue to wonder how people who are DEVOTED dog lovers manage to date people who are ADAMANTLY NOT dog lovers. I'm all for opposites attracting, but this has all the markings of a story bound to end in "happily never after."

So, what to do? For better or worse, Prince Charming, there really isn't anything you can do, as you are a dog. You are who you are, and that's that. But that's your charm! You just need to be patient with your owner and her boyfriend, and let your winning personality work its magic. Your owner is clearly very attached to you, and if "the boyfriend" has any sense about him, he'll realize that every time he tries to push you out the doggy door, he pushes himself a little further out the regular one! Congrats to your owner for sticking by you and resisting her boyfriend's pernicious poochpitching petitions!

So is there any hope for reconciliation? I say yes! Most guys are basically doglovers at heart, and your owner just needs to try and get past her man's obvious mental block. She should try to think about some activities that could bring the two of you closer together, even if these requests initially elicit groans from the significant other. Get her to get him to take you out on a walk by himself, or even go stay with him for a day when your owner is gone (as long as you trust him to treat you well!). Once you and he develop a bond of your own, you stop being just "my girlfriend's dog" to him, and I think he'll find it impossible not to fall headoverheels for you. Incidentally, When Pets Come Between Partners by Joel Gavriele-Gold, is a great book your owner might want to share with her boyfriend." 

Finally, tell your owner that the best thing she can do for you is stand firm in her commitment to keeping you, and express that clearly to her beau. Let him know that you're not going anywhere, that the conversation is getting old fast, and that this Prince can only deal with so much hassle in his castle. Once he realizes it's simply not an issue for debate, he's likely to accept it, and may even warm up to you a bit. It’s your kingdom so be yourself, and the man will come around.