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Foul Pay

Amy Alkon on

I went out with a feminist who was all into women's empowerment, but when the bill came, she made no effort to chip in. Please explain this type of feminism. Is it somehow possible that she didn't notice the check? -- Incredulous

It is possible that she didn't notice the check. It's also possible that she likes to take time off from complaining about paternalistic behaviors to sample the ones that work best for her.

While this appears to be a glaring example of self-serving selective feminism, research suggests there's sometimes a more charitable explanation for absurdly contradictory beliefs and behavior. Though most people believe that there's a single consistent you (or me) with stable beliefs and preferences, this actually seems to be an illusion. In fact, if there's one thing that's consistent about humans, it's how inconsistent we all tend to be (and -- it gets better -- how consistent we are in vigorously denying that).

Cognitive scientist Colin Martindale theorized back in 1980 that we have a number of "subselves" -- sub-personalities with varying beliefs and priorities -- that go active or sink into the background depending on the context at hand. In other words, whichever goal is front and center in your mind -- like "Fight patriarchal oppression!" or "Take this totally adorbs patriarchal oppressor home to bed!" -- drives how you think and behave.

Research by neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga suggests Martindale was right. Gazzaniga's findings also led him to the conclusion that our mind has a janitor of sorts -- a psychological one he calls "The Interpreter" -- that tidies up in the wake of our inconsistencies by creating justifications for them. These, in turn, allow us to view ourselves as consistent and rational -- instead of laughably hypocritical, like a feminist who, when the check comes, stares skyward, all "Wow! That is one of the most well-preserved examples of the early-'90s popcorn ceiling!"

However, again, more charitably, everybody these days is confused about who's supposed to pay on dates (and when and what it all means). For example, a woman will chip in on the first date because she earns a living, too! -- or because the prospect of sex with the dude is akin to "Would madam enjoy her Caesar salad with a light dusting of E. coli?"

To suss out where this woman is coming from, you need more information, and to get that, you'll need further interaction -- on the phone or, even better, in person. (Action reveals character.) Sure, she could be a hypocrite riding the patriarchal free dinner train -- or maybe she finds it icky to split the check and figured she'd get the next one. It's also possible she'll reciprocate with a home-cooked meal -- because you picked a place where the water alone costs $11 and she's busy completing a dog walking internship while moonlighting as a freelance field hand.

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This girl I've been dating for two months is soon going to Brazil for three months! We aren't officially committed, so it seems unfair to ask her to be monogamous. We plan to stay in touch, but I don't want to hear about her with other dudes, and selfishly, I don't want to stay home, all celibate like some war bride. -- Realistic Or Cracked?

It's very considerate of you to suggest three months sexually off leash, as she is traveling to the ancestral homeland of male supermodels, where a chunk of the GNP is dependent on Carnival -- a weeklong drinking, samba, and sex fest.

The problem is jealousy, one of our guard dog emotions. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss explains that jealousy rises up automatically to help us fend off "potential mate poachers" and prevent a mate from "defecting." Because it's set on "auto," it can be hard to override.

That said, though you don't have a committed relationship with this woman -- let alone an "open" one -- you might be able to make use of a psychological tactic of people in sexually open relationships. It's called "compersion" -- taking pleasure in your partner's getting pleasure, even if it's from some other, uh, provider. Granted, this is probably about as realistic for most people as their Ubering to a party via unicorn. However, it dovetails nicely with my fave quote about love, from sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein: "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."

Float the idea of planned cooperative ignorance, and ask her to think on it for a few days. (People often have more reasoned responses to hot-button issues when they aren't expected to reply pronto.) Also, it doesn't hurt that she's the one wintering where stone-sober women are tempted to stop men on the street with "Excuse me, but would you mind if I licked black beans off your ridiculously chiseled abs?"

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Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com). Her weekly radio show can be found at http://blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. Order her new book, "Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence."

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