Welcome to Dear Fancy, Jezebel's new advice column about non-fussy modern etiquette.
I have recently taken on a new beau. While our core philosophical values are perfectly aligned, we clash on a superficial point. I am a former East Coaster who is prone to daily dress-wearing and wine snobbery; my lover is an outdoorsman from the Pacific Northwest, who dislikes any restaurant with a wine list longer than "red" and "white" because he hates either dressing up or feeling uncomfortable in his natural apparel. We are in complete agreement regarding the merits of just heading to a bare-bones ethnic place, and I love drinking 40s on the sidewalk as much as anyone with a well-rounded sense of fun.
At some point, however, if we keep seeing each other, he will find himself dragged to a polo match, fancy party, or even just a restaurant that serves an amuse-bouche. How do I ease this transition without him dragging his feet? Without attempting to actually convert him into a different person, how do I make him comfortable in fancy environs?
Paul Bunyan's Lover
Like flood myths and regional versions of "trickster" stock characters, the story of the guy who won't put on pants that don't have multiple pockets is one nearly as old as time. Truly, I think when the Council of Nicea met up to formalize the Bible, they voted this portion of the Adam and Eve story out of the official rendition we know. Pretty much every woman from the advent of clothing onward has struggled, at some point or another, to get her boyfriend to dress up.
I'm not sure why this is such a common problem, but I blame progressively less-formal work environments and all these restaurants where the waiters look unwashed but entrees are still $40. It creates a false expectation that wearing your "nice" jeans and a clean t-shirt will cover you for all occasions; this is not, in fact, the case.
In the wild I have found that a lot of heterosexual men think that women are so focused on what they're going to wear that they aren't worried about how their companions will attire themselves. So they decide it isn't worth the effort it takes to put together a good outfit and dress up. Nothing could be further from the truth!
It's a good sign, Lover, that you don't indicate that you want him to abandon his beardy mountain-man uniform in favor of remaking himself in the image of Don Draper. It sounds to me like you think he's plenty nicely dressed on the day-to-day, and that you think his look is pretty sexy, but that you don't want to find yourself arguing about him putting on a tie before going to your college roommate's wedding. (Readers, if you're hoping to make more substantial changes than that, please always bear in mind that wanting to substantially change someone, rather than tweak some piece of behavior, is rarely a harbinger of a healthy, strong relationship to come.)
While this problem is one I see often, its solution couldn't be simpler. Unless he's actively trying to break up with you right this second, he probably wants you to be attracted to him and be proud of him and think he's handsome. It's really easy to make him feel this way, so here's what you do: buy him a couple things, and then compliment the hell out of him whenever he wears that item of clothing. You mention that he's got that sort of plaid lumberjacky thing going, so try buying him a pair of nicer desert boots that would be good enough to wear to a restaurant with finer wines than Yellow Tail, or a blazer that would flatter his frame, goes nicely with the color palette he favors and works for several seasons. He'll understand that you purchased this with him in mind; hopefully, he will wear it in fairly short order, and then you must spring in to action.
"Oh, Paul," you will say, "you look so good in that jacket. I wish we didn't have to do this charity dinner for work because I can't wait to get you home." If you're out with friends, enlist their help ("Paul! I love that tie. Where did you get it? I want to buy one for my boyfriend, too!"). I know this sounds almost too transparent, but given that he wants you to want to do sex to him, all you need to do is communicate that him looking appropriate, put together, and just a touch fancy really, really does it for you. When you plan your first truly fancy future outing, mention what you're going to wear—"I think I'll wear that blue dress when we go to The French Laundry"—and then say something like, "You should wear that gray suit I love." He will know that you appreciate his effort and are looking very much forward to seeing him turned out nicely.
If none of this works and your beau will not accompany you to this theoretical polo match or fancy dinner, please bear in mind that I am usually available for such engagements.
Yours in Sartorial Conspiracy,
I have recently taken up a foster dog who is completely charming around other people, but turns into a complete asshole around other dogs. He is what is know as "leash-reactive" in dog-people circles, and yaps his little heart out at any other pooch we encounter on walks. Currently I remedy this by picking him up and trying to diffuse the situation, or making him more comfortable by petting him and giving him treats, or at least just using my body to shield the other dog from view if he keeps barking.
I have no doubt that the owners of the other dogs think we are both assholes, since I do not believe in negative reinforcement of bad behavior (and am not even allowed to by the animal shelter). Is there a gracious way to assure the other dog owner that I am not, in fact, an asshole, but rather a nice person saddled with a little asshole whose behavior I am diligently working on?
Non-asshole with Asshole Dog
Good on you, NA, for taking in a foster dog. Some of those little guys have had a tough start in life, and it's great that you're giving him a good home. All reasonable people should understand that a foster dog's pre-adoration time often leaves them with substantial baggage, which can manifest in weird behaviors that are difficult to control. I know a lab mix who is terrified of all black men, a probably-pitbull who has to be put outside when her person sweeps because she's so scared of the broom, and a rescue Persian cat named Elizabeth Taylor who will go violently haywire if you touch her head for any reason. These animals have usually ended up in a shelter for a sad reason, and their quirks are myriad in expression but a presence they all have in common. We can't know what their previous lives were like, so the best we can do is try to help them adjust to a world where they aren't in constant danger.
I talked to a friend of mine who is a veterinarian up at Tufts about your problem. He said the leash aggression issue is really common, especially in rescues. We talked over a few scenarios. According to him, the basic gist of training this behavior out is to only reward the behavior you want the dog to exhibit, which is "not acting like a big jerk on walks." Figure out what Little Lord Freakouteroy's radius is first. Exactly when does he see something, register it is another canine, and start losing it? If it's ten feet, pick him up and pet him at twelve feet, rewarding his still-calm state with your love and affection. Don't wait until he's losing it before you do the treats/petting/cooing routine.
In your current set up, he thinks you want him to be protective and bark, since you're giving him all the things he wants in this interaction. Gradually narrow the radius in increments of feet or even inches until he's able to walk calmly and not go crazy on every person or animal he sees. This is going to be something that gets fixed on the order of months, not days or weeks, so I've got a couple solutions for you in the meantime so you can save face.
You mention you can pick your dog up, but not exactly how big or small he is, so I'm going to give you two sets of advice. If the little guy is very little, the best course of action is to make a joke out of it. Most people aren't actually afraid of small dogs, so humor is the easy way to go. Try to calm Lil Bow Wow down in the ways described above, but if he still gets aggravated, make a funny comment about it to the person in whose direction he has barked. I grew up with a little dog who was very tough until you actually opened the door, and I would roll my eyes and say "There, there, Kujo," making people giggle for the time the dog needed to calm down.
If the dog is larger than, say, twenty-five pounds, the burden of sociability is a little higher. I, for one, get agitated when a medium-sized-or-larger dog starts barking at me like some kind of toothy maniac, and it's a safe assumption that most people you encounter will feel much the same. In these instances, I think it's important to keep him under control as best you can, and tell the aggrieved party the situation in as calm a voice as you can muster. "I'm so sorry Chester is being so ill-mannered. He's a rescue, and we're still working on how to behave in polite company." Most people will be more than understanding of this explanation, and some will even sympathize.
In either case, I'd advise you to keep your dog away from situations where there may be a great many children, since people are less understanding about frightening toddlers, who are easily frightened to begin with. With time and patience, your dog is going to get more acclimated to his much happier life and you can both enjoy your walks again.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.