How Do I Defeat My Crippling Fear of Peekaboo?

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Photo: Istockphoto

Welcome back to Ask Google. This week, our search-engine-optimized advice column conquers adult fears and examines the perils of dating someone skinnier than you are.

I’m 23 years old, and I get frightened and shriek when someone I’m talking to hides their face with their hands. I’m not a baby, so people don’t often try to play peekaboo with me, and it’s not usually a problem. But I made the mistake of telling my roommate about this, and now she and our shared friends like to do this to me as a joke. It really terrifies me. This is probably something I should finally deal with, right?

There are no results on Google for “peekaboo phobia,” so congratulations, you seem to be the only adult in the world afraid of this.

The saddest part about this is most actual babies aren’t afraid of peekaboo. People play it with them because babies find it funny (until, apparently, the babies have seen that shtick too often and come to see peekaboo as ridiculous and trite).

Google says babies like peekaboo because they’re just beginning to understand the concept of object permanence (“why do babies like peekaboo,” second result), the reality that things continue to exist when they are out of the baby’s sight. (Though for some reason, babies don’t laugh when you ask them if a tree makes a sound if it falls in a forest and the baby isn’t around to hear it.)

If this is the reason babies like peekaboo, maybe this is the reason you dislike it. Do you feel burdened by object permanence? Does it frighten you that things are going on in the world you don’t know about? Are you, like Mark Zuckerberg, upset your friends aren’t sharing every detail of their lives on Facebook?

You don’t mention any existential crises in your query, so let’s just call this booaphobia an “irrational fear.”

Google wants us to have a look at a message board of people who use the psychedelic drug DMZ (“how to overcome an irrational fear,” ninth result), but their suggestions surround meditation and having a set routine before tripping to stay calm and keep the mind clear. Peekaboo, unlike psychedelic drug use, is truly unpredictable; it could happen at any time. So you can’t really prepare beforehand.

Wikipedia and this Time article (“how to overcome an irrational fear,” eighth result) agree on the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, gradually exposing you more and more to the object of your fear until, I guess, peek-a-boo becomes just as banal to you as it is to a hipster toddler.

Do a Google video search for “baby peekaboo” and you’ll find plenty of YouTube clips of adults covering their faces. You can bite the bullet and watch these until you shake your phobia. Unless you also happen to have a crippling fear of YouTube, which is probably less irrational than being afraid of peekaboo.

I met my boyfriend when we were both overweight, but he has since gone on a diet and lost 40 pounds. I think it’s great! I’m proud of him, and he’s definitely hotter now. But despite his protestations that he still loves and is attracted to me, I worry that our attractiveness levels are too unbalanced now. I sometimes feel like him staying with me is sort of altruistic, and he has more power in the relationship because he can leave me for someone more attractive. Is this sustainable?

The way you frame this, you make me feel like I’m in a freshman international-relations seminar debating realist political theory. Are people in love perpetually in a state of war, always checking one another’s power to have sex with strangers who are more attractive?

If that’s really how you see it, you could do things the hard way and try to lose the same amount weight yourself as fast as possible while holding onto your man. “All you have to do is skip eating, exercise for eight hours a day, take laxatives — and pray you don't end up in the hospital or grave before you reach your goal,” one helpful health writer suggests (“quickest diet,” third result). 

But let’s say you’re not an all-star supplicant. You could make a preemptive strike against your boyfriend to render him less attractive. Ideas in Google results for "face disfigurement": chimp attack, meth lab explosion, tumors, fire.

Of course, any good international-relations professor would tell you sexiness is merely soft power, which could potentially be balanced by hard power, arming yourself with a cache of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. (I’m not Googling how to make those for you, sorry. This Patriot Act is still on the books, and I don’t want to be thrown in prison for writing an advice column. Happy 9/12!) The risk there is that you set into motion an arms race and another Cold War and bring yourself, your boyfriend, and the rest of humanity to the brink of total annihilation. 

What you also could do is just let go of the anxiety and take him at his word that he’s still into you. Sometimes love will do that.