Slight of hand

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON - AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
My boyfriend mistakenly sent me a text meant for somebody else – a real estate agent with my same first name who’s showing him apartments. This made me feel like I’m unimportant – easily confused with just anybody – and I got really upset. Of course, I know that he was just busy and multitasking. And despite knowing that he really loves me, I blow up like this a lot. – Overreactor

Assuming your boyfriend isn’t 11, “do u have any openings?” isn’t a sex question.

Your boyfriend’s mix-up was the sleep-eating version of texted communication. You ultimately know that, but no sooner did you get that text than your feelings started hammering on you. It’s like they were waiting to do it – like those people in folding chairs with umbrellas lined up outside some concert ticket venue. Pound. Pound. Pound. “My watch says 10:31. What the eff?!”


Because fear comes up fast and there’s all this energy behind it, it’s easy to believe it’s telling you something you need to hear – and follow. But it helps to understand what neuroscience has discovered – that emotions are automatic reactions to something in your environment. They rise up (out of a sea of biochemicals) without your doing a thing. (It’s not like you have to nag, “Hey, life-sucking depression, you never visit anymore.”) Rational thought, however, takes work. You have to coax it up and give it an assignment, and then (lazy bastard) it right away starts pushing for a nap.

It is possible to pull reason into the mix before your emotions drag your boyfriend off for a beating. This takes preplanning – and the use, in the moment, of a technique called “cognitive reappraisal,” which involves reinterpreting your emotion-driven view of a situation in less emotional terms. Basically, you explore the boring alternatives. Say your boyfriend’s slow in texting you back. So … lack of respect (boohoo!) – or lack of phone, because the dodohead dropped it in the toilet again?

This isn’t to say your alternate explanation is correct. But the immediate goal of cognitive reappraisal is not judging the truth, the whole truth, blah, blah, blah. Through your considering alternate possibilities, cognitive neuroscientist Jason Buhle and his colleagues find that you divert the action in your brain from the stress and anxiety department (freakout central) to the thinky parts – like the prefrontal cortex. This allows reason to put on its Coke-bottle glasses and have a closer look at what’s really going on. This, in turn, will keep you from contributing to the notion many men have that we women are operating on one flickering bar of rationality. The way they see it, we have our marching orders – and we get them from outer space, via our hair accessories.

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