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Some Like It Hothead

I dated this girl for seven months. She was emotionally volatile, and would lash out at me inexplicably. Still, after a couple months she told me she loved me, and even said she'd marry me. Last month, halfway through a road trip, she broke up with me, saying she needed her "alone-time." Shocked, I asked her to see if she felt differently in a week, but she refused. A month later, I'm still just as confused and hurt. How can I believe love exists, when it was given and taken away so cheaply? --Used And Abused

Oh, those three little words! I mean "Your fly's open." These words take no more effort to trip off your tongue than "I love you." So, why do declarations of love get tossed around like birdseed, while only men with accidentally unzipped pants get told their tighty-whities are on parade? Maybe because nobody who hears "your fly's open" is under the impression that they've just won an all-expense-paid magical life.

Supposedly, the moment somebody blurts out "I love you" and you respond with something a little more reciprocal than "Thanks!" a trap door in the clouds opens up, and shafts of golden light shine down on your relationship. No bills, no bunions; from then on, life is one long, hand-in-hand walk on the beach at sunset, with periodic breaks for fine dining. (You may also be in a position to amass a substantial pile of silver, crystal and plasma-screen loot, courtesy of friends, relatives and coworkers who aren't too sure who you are but feel obligated to chip in.)

The temptation to buy into all this romantic hoo-hah tends to eclipse how easy it is to say you love somebody. Somebody -- or just anybody. Try it. Tell a drunk crumpled on the corner how much he means to you. Explain to the fireplug next to him how deeply you care. Confess your tender feelings for the drugstore cashier: "Ma'am, I think I love you." Chances are, she'll respond with some measure of skepticism: "Honey, nothing you say is gonna get you double-coupon rates on a single coupon day."

Maybe "I love you" means "I love you," or maybe it means somebody got hit upside the head with hormones or got giddy to play relationship. All you know for sure is that you've heard the words. Even if they're sincerely spoken, you can't lock in love like a rate on a home loan. Falling in love is something that happens to you, like getting run over by a truck. Loving, on the other hand, is something you choose to do. Not just talking the lovey-dovey talk, but getting the feet moving in lovey-dovey tandem.

But, perhaps your problem was less a lack of lasting love than an excess of expectation. Your girlfriend habitually flew off the handle at nothing, yet you simply ducked out of the way when you should've tossed her back into the dating pool like an undersized trout. If you choose to stick with a volatile, unpredictable woman, maybe you aren't entitled to squeal like a stuck pig when she acts ... volatile and unpredictable!

Of course, even if you land Sally Stability, you'd be wise to avoid staring bug-eyed into the future with reckless abandon. Instead, opt for judicious abandon: Slowly and methodically assessing your chances for a long-term relationship while sharing some stark raving mad times in bed. It won't get you on daytime television, but it might get you into a "forever" that lasts longer than a cheap pair of shoes.

Love Is a Paddle Field

Because I have a middle-school daughter, my boyfriend and I only "hook up" when she's out of the house. He wants to get married, but I'm afraid my daughter will discover our sex life. It's kind of kinky (think clothespins, paddles and hot wax), and I don't know how she'd handle it. --Parental Discretion

Nobody's middle-school daughter should have to "handle" their sex life -- even if it's sex of the most vanilla variety. Married or not, there's no telling when she'll come home for her biology homework and accidentally get a firsthand lesson. Reality check: Locking sex toys away from a teenage daughter's prying eyes is generally pretty futile. Your particular sex toys, however, hide quite nicely in plain sight. Throw them in a grocery bag with dishwashing liquid and a roll of paper towels, and she'll pass over your sex kit in hopes of finding something interesting in your drawers. The big issue should be whether the family dynamic works, not the sexual one. Regarding using your home as your sex den, perhaps you've been too busy dripping hot wax on each other to watch TV, but haven't you heard? Motel Six will "leave the light on." Tip the maid extra if you get wax on the carpet.

Copyright 2004, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com)

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