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Here Comes The Bridle 

I'm 50, and in a stormy, three-year relationship with a woman, 45. Our arguments now are mostly about her salsa lessons. Since seeing a therapist, I'm OK with her lessons, and even offered to take them with her, but she still wants to go to Latin nightclubs by herself and dance with other men! When I say it's improper behavior, and damaging to my self-esteem and our relationship, she tells me I'm controlling and don't trust her. She says she's totally committed to me, and wants us to marry, but I don't think I can live with this and remain deeply in love with her. Am I overreacting or is she not ready for a committed relationship?
-Stepped On

Are you trying to show her how much you love her or remind her of what it feels like to be a 13-year-old who's been grounded?

Maybe, if she goes clubbing without you, she'll find herself wanting more than a mambo. Then again, if she continues to take unsupervised trips to the supermarket and the dry cleaner, she may feel the urge to pick up more than a carton of milk and pressed pants. It could happen anywhere — but it's more likely to happen if you make love feel like lockdown. After all, in the unincarcerated world, you never hear stories of people tunneling out of their condos in the dead of night using the cap from the Listerine.

Sure, you offered to take lessons with her — but not because you got hit on the head with a stack of Tito Puente records and realized your life was meaningless without salsa. More likely, you are two left feet attached to some creaky ideas about relationships; for example, that being a girlfriend means resigning from individual personhood and becoming somebody's personal property, like their iPod or their toaster. To you, love means becoming a couple-blob that oozes everywhere as one, or not at all. This puts you in a far different dance class than your salsa freak girlfriend, who'd probably shove aside a crowd of Adonises to get the chance to improve her moves with some toothless old salsa king.

If "I live to dance!" were "I live to knit!" would you still be stamping around like Queen Victoria, muttering "improper behavior"? You toss this off as if what's "proper" is decided by some international tribunal, when it's simply what "everybody" thinks. Automatically going along with their thinking isn't thinking, it's poll-taking. Come on, give the old gray matter a jog. Are you really less of a man because you can't control your woman? Or, are you more of a man if you don't feel the need? Sure, salsa is sexier than crochet, but if she's so untrustworthy that you have to worry she'll run off with the bongo player, why are you still there?

Your love is "deep," just not deep enough to last if she doesn't fit neatly under your thumb: "Here, dear, lemme show you how much I love you by yanking away what makes you happy." Your "esteem" seems less connected to self than what the neighbors would think if they reviewed the footage from the salsa-cam: "Look at his woman, pressing up against all those strange men!"

Talk to your girlfriend, talk to your therapist, and see if they can't help you get it into your thick, jealous head that this is only about the dance — the vertical one, not the horizontal one. You've got the essential element for a committed relationship — a woman you love who's ready to commit. If only you could understand that if she hints at wanting a bracelet for your anniversary, she doesn't mean one that transmits her whereabouts to a parole officer.

I had one night of great, post-breakup sex with my ex, and I now find myself wanting her back. Then again, she dumped me, so I'm thinking I'd be crazy to go there. Do I need a reality check, or should I just go for it?
-Back For More

Sex makes perfectly intelligent people stupid. "Hi, something tells me it might be a bad idea to smear my body with rare hamburger and have myself lowered into a den of hyenas. What do you think?"

I think you wouldn't be writing to me if you'd instead had a night of post-breakup arguing about the still-unresolved issues that led her to dump you. Whatever wasn't working before isn't going to start working now just because your sex drive is in overdrive and your desire to be sane and rational is stuck in park. If you're lonely, baby-sit somebody's dog. If you're looking for a little meaningless sex, choose a sex partner who means nothing to you, and raise your spirits without lowering your IQ 110 points.

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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