Q: A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend told me for the first time that he loved me—in French. He’s not from France and doesn’t speak the language, but even now when I say it, his response is always “Je t’aime.” He says it like it’s this joke between us, but I still wonder if something is holding him back from saying it in English. Can I really trust that he loves me?
A: On first blush, there’s something romantic about being loved only in a foreign language, as if love were a destination, a private island. The strange words beckon; you grab your passport and leave the ordinary behind.
Yet I can’t help but think of the deception and confusion lurking behind this fantasy. You’re not being transported; you’re being marooned. Because your boyfriend isn’t a native French speaker, what he’s presenting seems more illusion than reality. What you’re being asked to translate are not the words themselves but whether he’s ascribing any meaning to them. Does “Je t’aime” mean that he loves you or that he doesn’t? It’s so close to the actual thing, but it’s an impostor, an uncanny valley of affection.
So I think you are right to be concerned. Replace “He says he loves me only in French” with “He says he loves me only when he’s drunk” or “He says he loves me only via text message,” and the issue becomes a lot clearer.
If you’re tired of your relationship feeling like a transaction in a foreign currency (thank you, Deborah Eisenberg), you need to ask him how he really feels. Because while he thinks saying “I love you” in French is a joke the two of you share, it sounds more like a painful disparity. Honesty is not unique to any one language, and words are often nothing more than words. But no matter which ones your boyfriend uses, whether foreign or familiar, make sure you believe him.
If it doesn’t work out, I highly recommend a trip to France.
Q: I remember being a kid and hating how grown-ups always commented on my changed height, and how they said they remembered when I was yea tall, et cetera. But now I find myself extremely self-conscious when I meet someone under age sixteen and fall back on these comments. Any suggestions for some conversation starters?
A: Your question comes at a time when I’ve been grappling with this very subject. At social events, I’ve noticed myself playing friend matchmaker for my partner’s daughter, based on a single broad criterion: her age. As in “Hi, Oliver. Nice to see you! This is Margo. She’s also ten.” Then, when Margo isn’t keen to immediately go off and play with Oliver, I’m flummoxed: Wouldn’t Margo rather hang out with another kid than with me? Apparently not. Or maybe Margo doesn’t want to hang out with her elders and also doesn’t want to fraternize with a stranger based on the fact that they were born the same year. After a few of these failed friend setups, it dawned on me how absolutely ridiculous it is to assume like-mindedness or compatibility based on an arbitrary number. Imagine saying to an adult, Tom, have you met Greg? He’s also forty-one!, and then waiting for them to go off and make a crayon drawing together. Amber, my point is, a lot of us grown-ups are guilty of these reductive, unimaginative behaviors toward kids.
While our intentions are benevolent, these actions seem like a narrowing and misunderstanding of childhood existence, one that we should know—because we’ve been there—is both complex and dynamic. So my advice to you is also what I’ve been telling myself: treat kids with the same respect and decorum you’d use with adults.
Here, too, is an opportunity to have sympathy for the adults who fumbled their way through interactions with us in our youth. When one of my parents’ friends saw me with a botched spiral perm and braces, confidently talking about how New Kids on the Block were better than the Beatles, I can only imagine that remarking on my height was not merely the safest but the only option.
Yet I think we can improve on how we were treated as youngsters, or at least try. I find that asking questions is the best way to engage with kids. Even if their answers are monotone and monosyllabic, at least you’ve given them an opening to share and converse. (You’ll know soon enough whether it’s worth continuing or if the very sight of you is cringeworthy, a rejection that will send you into a spiral ending with a pseudo-clothing purchase from a semi-legitimate company that targeted you on Instagram.) Content-wise, I’d avoid the following subjects unless prompted: TikTok, K-pop, Hyperpop, SoundCloud rappers, Sabrina Carpenter, crop tops, pajama bottoms as legitimate going-out pants, and gaming. Mentioning that you once played Beat Saber on a VR headset might suggest joie de vivre on your dating app profile, but it’s not going to move the needle with the under-sixteen crowd.
Last, if all else fails and you want to ensure you’re treating everyone equally—adults and kids alike—might I suggest telling your grown-up friends how short they’re getting?
Q: Should I force my dog to walk in the rain? I don’t want to make her do something she doesn’t want to do, but I also know it’s good for her. Please help!
A: In short, yes. Dogs of all shapes, ages, and sizes can and will survive a walk in the rain. Exercise and mental stimulation are crucial for a dog’s well-being, and, though it’s the most cliché saying in the dog training world, “a tired dog is a good dog.” But it’s true! Lots of mild behavioral issues—excessive chewing, barking, digging, et cetera—are due to boredom and lack of exercise. So you’re right: a walk is good for your pup, rain or shine.
My two dogs and I live in the Pacific Northwest, so pups in this part of the world are out of luck if they don’t like the rain. That said, there are plenty of dogs I know who look like they’re auditioning for those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials every time water grazes their fur. Help me! they seem to say. And by help they mean, Book me a flight to California. Also, I only fly private.
Given your dog’s aversion to the rain, one of two things is likely occurring, or maybe a bit of both. First, you might have unwittingly “captured” a behavior you didn’t want. Perhaps one rainy day, your dog made a cute, forlorn face and tucked her tail when you tried to take her out, so you bent down to pet and comfort her. Or she refused to walk, so you took her back home, where she cuddled up next to you on the couch. What your dog learned is that when it’s raining, if she comports herself in a certain way, she’s rewarded in the form of attention and affection. Now she’s more likely to continue those behaviors because she likes what she gets in return. Second, for whatever reason, your dog may truly dislike the rain. In either case, the goal is for your dog to develop positive associations with the rain.
The first thing I’d do is buy a high-value treat that she gets only on rainy-day walks. Do not give her this treat in the house or on any other occasion. But the second she steps outdoors and into the rain… ta-da! She gets a treat. You may have to lure her at first. The key to this exercise is staying neutral or ignoring her when she refuses to come along. You may have to momentarily step outside alone and shut the door behind you. Remember, you’re also a reward for your dog, and by leaving without her, you’re removing something she likes. Then calmly open the door and try luring her again, treating or giving verbal praise only with forward movement. If she still refuses to go, you might head back inside and ignore her for five minutes. Just go about your business, no eye contact, no petting. Then try again. As you get closer to the door and she follows, return your attention to her and verbally praise her. If she follows you out the door this time, give her those treats and even more verbal praise. Soon enough, your dog will realize that going outside in the rain is full of positive things: attention, affection, and treats!
Once you’re outside, praise her often, be encouraging, and keep the high-value treats on hand in case you need to administer them for the first couple of blocks. Then make the walk fun and incorporate training to distract her from the rain and put her brain in work mode. Ask her to sit at street corners and give her a treat. If she knows other commands, like “Watch me” or “Shake,” have her practice those, too, and give her treats accordingly. Once the dog is on her way, she’ll likely stop caring about the terrible weather. Hopefully after a few of these sessions, your dog will forget any negative associations with the rain, you can give treats less often, and the reward will be the walk itself and spending time with you.
And, fine, if you want, get her a cute raincoat!