Latest Blog Posts:
  • How to Be a Powerful Woman: A little story about my mom (and save the date: June 18 or 20)

    Let me tell you a little story about my mom.

    Back in the 1980s, I was a wee tot going to elementary school in Tehran, Iran. The Revolution had just happened, turning what was a constitutional monarchy into an Islamic republic overnight.

    If you’ve never experienced a fundamentalist revolution, it can be a pretty oppressive thing, permeating down to every level of private life. Including schools. Morning rallies with slogans (“Death to America!”), political brainwashing, and fundamentalist Muslim indoctrination were all part of the daily routine.

    My smart, secular and highly educated parents put up with most of this, trusting that as a family we could help me & my sister sift the truth from the lies and maintain sanity.

    Until one day, the headmaster of the school went too far. He decreed that all the boys would have to get military-style buzz cuts. No reason. Just because.

    Now at the time, I had hair. A lot of it. And I liked it on my head. Reasons of aesthetics and vanity aside, being bald was also supremely impractical in chilly Tehran winters. And my mom was not down with the program at all. She liked her son’s curly locks the way they were.

    So one day, she came down to my school. Now remember that this is the Islamic Republic, where women’s rights were being systematically stripped, and they were forced to cover their heads with scarves and gradually driven out of public life. But my mom, a doctor of veterinary medicine, former director of the National Dairy Labs, stylish, young and very good-looking, didn’t care about any of that.

    She gave hell to the headmaster and every other administrator at my school. “You do not have the right to tell my kid how to wear his hair,” she told him, “or to any other kid, for that matter!”

    I never did shave my head, and from then on, the administrators knew better than to mess with me. Apparently it just wasn’t worth awakening the lioness. A few years later, we escaped to Los Angeles, and here we are.

    That was many moons ago, so my memory of the day is not exact. But this much I know: when my mom came to raise hell at my school that day, she did not commit any of the 7 Deadly Sins of Public Speaking that would have diminished her power. When you are surrounded by forces bent on bringing you down, you need to show up in full force and have your voice heard. (How is the weather in Alabama these days?)

    That’s why, by popular request, next week I’m doing two more dates of the webinar Charisma Killers: The 7 Deadly Sins of Public Speaking and How to Avoid Them. Although the webinar’s open to all, it’s geared particularly towards smart, educated, badass women like yourself. Use the skills to be more charismatic, get better dates, do even better at work, win cases, defend a thesis, run for office, whatever. So long as you use the skills.

    Pick one of the dates below. Exactly 100 spots in each, and they fill up fast, so sign up now. No charge to attend. Tell a friend. And show up!

    Tuesday 18 June 2019 @ 3pm PDT/6pm EDT/11pm London/8am Sydney

    OR

    Thursday 20 June 2019 @ 10am PDT/1pm EDT/6pm London/no time to be awake in Sydney what were you thinking

    See you then & there!

    Go forth and conquer, 
    Dr Ali

  • How to Get Guys: Doing Your Dude Diligence Using the 6.5 Dating Phases of Men

    Have you ever played poker?

    If so, one of the first things you learn is that the strength of your own hand depends on the strength of your adversary’s hand. In other words, it’s not enough to know what your hand is. You also need to know what kind of hand your adversary is holding.

    Now let’s say you’re thinking about dating a guy. What’s his hand, metaphorically speaking? This would entail asking yourself questions like: How many relationships has he had? How long did they last? Is he any good in the sack? Is he any good with women, or is he a 40-year old virgin? Is he needy or independent? Player or homebody?

    It’s important to know how much skill and experience a man has in the dating arena so you know how the two of you match up. If he’s coming off a divorce and has not been out on his own in 20 years, your Mata Hari seductress routine might scare him off. And if he’s a youngish guy who goes on 15 app-enabled dates a week, you may want to bring your A-game. 

    That’s why you need to do some dude diligence (sic) and figure out what dating phase your guy is in. Beginner? Intermediate? Advanced? Burned? To that end, I present to you the 6.5 Dating Phases of Men, informed by how I went through most of them myself. 

    Phase 1: Blissful Cluelessness

    UNCLE ED: What do you think about girls, Ali?
    ME, AGE 7: I don’t really care about girls, Uncle Ed. They’re kinda icky.
    UNCLE: Yeah, that’s gonna change, buddy. 

    In this phase, corresponding roughly to early boyhood, the guy — okay, the kid — is mostly unaware of the existence of a separate gender known as female. Everyone, boy or girl, is a potential playmate. If anything, sometimes there’s even an aversion to the other sex (see dialog above). In the teaching trade, you would call this the phase of unconscious incompetence. You’re bad at something (e.g. girls), you don’t even know you’re bad at that something (e.g. girls), and frankly you don’t give a damn, because it’s not even on the radar (girls?). Yet.

    Alas, this phase of blissful cluelessness does not last. Although this was definitely me up to age 7, in that year I developed a raging crush on an impossibly cute classmate named Leila (as chronicled in the last chapter of The Tao of Dating and my second TEDx talk, “Love and the Empowered Woman”). There went eternal peace. She sporadically stayed on my mind for years

    Even that “crush”, though, was entirely asexual—more about seeking simple approval or companionship than some kind of unstoppable drive to join life, limb and loin. 

    But Uncle Ed knew something from the world of beyond, when those loins would finally come online, assert hegemony over the head, and pretty much wreck everything. 

    How to get the Phase 1 guy: You don’t. He’s just a boy. And stop having those sick thoughts.

    • Companionship drive: high
    • Sex drive: absent
    • Competence: absent
    • General state: bliss
    • Percentage of men in this phase: zero

    Phase 2: Painful Cluelessness

    Also known as “adolescence”, this phase starts roughly around 12 and lasts until about 50 (or indefinitely for males in Los Angeles or San Francisco). This is when the loins come online with casual vengeance, flooding the boy’s veins with poisons like testosterone that make him want to dare the devil by jumping off the high-dive, ramps on a BMX bike, guardrails on a skateboard. Why? To impress girls, duh. Because within the space of a few months, girls go from not being on the radar at all to becoming the radar.

    This phase started relatively harmlessly for me because I was in an all-boys school, so the objects of temptation/mental anguish were not even present. Unfortunately, this school was in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country hell-bent on sending me to die in a futile war against Iraq as soon as I would turn 16. Mom was not down with the early death program, so she packed me up to Los Angeles soon after my 13th birthday.

    Suddenly, I found myself deposited at Emerson Junior High School surrounded by these mystical magical creatures called girls. Where did they come from? Why were they so distractingly beautiful? Whereas before, the crushes happened once every fiscal year or so, now they were dive-bombing my psyche on a quarterly or even weekly basis: Jenny the curly-haired ballerina, Robin the quiet gymnast, Heather the freckly smart girl, and a dozen more whose names I didn’t even know.

    Now if you will humor me, let’s take a quick mental detour: 

    Imagine that on your way to work, there is a bakery. And every day, you have to walk by this bakery that has fresh cake, brownies and chocolate in the display window. They’re even considerate enough to leave the door open so the intoxicating aromas of flour, butter, bread and chocolate waft into the street, gently tempting passersby. 

    And you can’t have any of it. 

    I dunno, you’re dirt poor, diabetic, just had your jaw wired shut because of a bar fight you lost, or you’re on some stupid diet. Whatever. You just can’t have any. You can only watch the goodies through the window, with other people gleefully hopping in there to stuff their smug faces with fresh chocolate croissant. 

    Cruel world, eh. Well, that was my world for a very long time. There I was, afloat in this sea of impossibly cute girls, with nothing for me to drink. There was nothing I can do about it because I couldn’t talk to them. What would I even say to such lofty creatures, so lofty as to be composed entirely of loft? 

    Of course, if I can’t talk to them, then I can’t get to know them. If I can’t get to know them, I can’t ask them out. If I can’t ask them out, there’s no hanging out, no hand-holding at the movies, no making out, no circling of bases, nuffin’. My genes would never propagate to the next generation. The Binazir name would be listed alongside the dodo, the great auk, the aurochs: extinct and forgotten, even though eminently delicious. 

    You may think this is funny. And, in the sense of comedy being tragedy happening to other people, it definitely is kinda funny. 

    But it’s also kinda not funny. Especially when it was happening to me. Because it’s especially vexing to want something so badly while being powerless to attain it. Most boys just kinda take it and patiently hope their luck to turn someday. Y’know, get lucky and stuff. Some never do, and call themselves Incels (involuntarily celibates), buy guns and shoot people in movie theaters out of sheer frustration. Or worse, strap a bomb on themselves because someone offered them 72 imaginary girls in heaven. Scary shit.

    Luckily, no part of my ego was tied up in getting girls and partying during high school. Even though my body was transitioning to Phase 2, my mind was firmly in Phase 1 clueless bliss. The crushes kept coming, but I considered them mostly curious nuisances, not the centerpiece of my existence. Yet.

    How to get the Phase 2 guy. Many men, especially younger ones, are still stuck in this phase—maybe as many as 5-10% of them. Even though they would like to make stuff happen with women, they don’t even know where to begin. They’ll come up to you and say, “Where are you from? What do you do for a living? What’s your favorite movie?” That’s about as likely to get them somewhere as throwing water on a bag of flour is likely to turn it into baguettes. Boy’s going to need some skills. And remember that “boys” can be as old as 50.

    If you happen to fancy mostly clueless but still horny men, getting one shouldn’t be very difficult. You just have to be the first woman who gives him attention. Just make it very easy for him to spend time with you. And ask him questions like, “So, when were you going to finally ask me out?” He will think this is the most miraculous thing that has ever happened and probably follow you around to the ends of the earth, forever and all time, hallelujah and amen.

    Upside: He will think you’re the greatest thing since chocolate croissants. Another upside is that, due to lack of skills, he’s not going to have a lot of options besides you, so he’s less likely to stray.

    Downside: You will need to take a lot of initiative to get things going, because he will be scared and clueless. And then, boy is going to get very attached to you, very fast. And that can get old very fast. As will being his boss. Were you looking for a partner or a pet? And lack of skills in the courtship department usually means lack of skills in the sack, at least initially. Luckily, pets and people can learn. Which brings us to the next phase.

    • Companionship drive: high
    • Sex drive: on overdrive and rising
    • Competence: absent
    • General state: quiet desperation
    • Percentage of men in this phase: 5-10%

    Phase 3: Marginal Competence

    At college, once again I was thrown amongst a whole bunch of women, many of them exceedingly cute. But this time, things were a little different. I was no longer a six-sigma outlier impoverished nerd in a high school of rich cool kids, but rather a nerd of middle rank in a whole school of nerds. In fact, at Harvard, since almost everyone was smart, and nerd is usually the label normal people apply to smart people to feel better about themselves, you could say Harvard had no nerds at all. In the same way that, say, amongst NBA players, nobody thinks of anyone as tall.

    This, of course, was a grand opportunity for reinvention. No one needed to know that I’d been to exactly one real party in my life, or had kissed exactly zero three-dimensional girls. College: a pricey way to acquire basic social skills. But at least that’s some useful education.

    So I started going to parties and talking to everyone. I wasn’t very good at it, and it was still frustrating to see other guys insta-making out with girls at parties, without having the slightest clue as to how to board that bus myself. Poisoning oneself with ethanol seemed to be part of the procedure, which I was definitely not down for.

    But at least I was in the arena, making friends. I even learned to dance and got reasonably good at it. Baby steps, yo.

    With new skills and new horizons opened, and new question would arise: how can I turn a girl who happens to be my friend into a girlfriend? Y’know, like the smoochy kissy version?

    It’s fascinating in retrospect: here’s a 17-year old kid clever enough to figure out Schrödinger’s equation, Fourier analysis, the inscrutabilities of Immanuel Kant. You just throw him a book, and he wrestles it down, and digests its contents into mental tools he can use. 

    But he can’t figure out how to kiss a girl. Or even where to go to figure out how to kiss a girl. Should I call my parents? Ask my older sister? Is there even a book for this kind of thing somewhere in Widener Library? Naaah, might as well give up.

    The craziest thing is that I was not alone in my cluelessness. Once a semester, each of our dorms (“Houses”) would hold a ball: The Formal. And for that one date every four months, the entire campus would go into a tizzy. How do you ask a girl out? No Harvard class for that, alas. No counselors, either. 

    That was part of the reason I wrote a book in 2005 called The Tao of Dating: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Success With Women. (Yeah, the book for men was first. And no, you can’t buy it anymore.) 

    But I digress. In spite of my lack of skill, lightning did eventually strike, and I finally had a girlfriend in my third year of college. Score! Except — not entirely. We both had strange notions about what should and should not happen before marriage, so we technically never had sex. That would come later. All puns fully intended.

    At this point, I was the Marginally Competent Guy. I was interesting and witty enough, and maybe even fun to be around. But I didn’t have a reliable system to have girls go out with me, become my girlfriend, and stay my girlfriend. I found out the hard way that that last part is actually pretty tricky, involving a whole new sets of skills I did not possess, as chronicled in gory detail in my article How to Get Over a Breakup: Professional Edition.

    How to get the Phase 3 guy: I’d say most guys — maybe 60-70% of them — are in this phase. Getting him will be similar to the Phase 2 guy, perhaps with a little less hand-holding. If you give him attention, he will usually take initiative and ask you out. Just remember that he’s pretty scared, so you have to make the green lights pretty obvious. Returning his communications in an encouraging manner and saying “yes” to his invitations should do the trick. 

    Upside: Sometimes the Phase 3 guy is a real diamond in the rough, so if you’re willing to put up with a little bit of cluelessness, he could make a great companion, spouse, and dad. He will have more options than the Phase 2 guy, but not by much, since his system for meeting women is luck-based, not skill-based. He’s playing dice, not poker. Therefore, as long as you treat him well, he’ll think he’s the luckiest man in the world to have you and will generally do his best to keep you around. 

    Downside: It’s easy to misread his lack of aggression for lack of interest, which could lead to a premature ending of the courtship. This means you have to step up your aggression and pursue him a little more than you’re used to. Although some women are loath to admit this, things like aggression and success with other women are what subconsciously make men more attractive to their partners. So if he’s not good with women in general, you just might lose interest yourself. But then you’d be potentially missing out on a fabulous long-term relationship with a decent man. So you’ll need to take deliberate action to maintain your interest, which can be challenging.

    • Companionship drive: high
    • Sex drive: high
    • Competence: marginal
    • General state: okay but could be better, and you look really nice today
    • Percentage of men in this phase: 60-70%

    Phase 4: Abundance

    After college, I went to medical school, where my social skills found another practice arena. Once again, no one knew of my prior life, so I could even attempt to be cool! Which frankly isn’t all that difficult amongst a bunch of ultra-studious pre-meds, but still. I joined the university ski team and started partying in earnest, including drinking (gulp). 

    I was getting better at talking to women, and had gained some notoriety for getting a lot of phone numbers from them. But unbeknownst to the observers, not a whole lot was actually happening afterwards. I’ll always remember finally getting the cutest girl in our med school class to go out with me to see a play, and then sitting in the car with her for 30min at the end of the evening. Without making any kind of move. What move was I supposed to make? I didn’t know karate or kung fu. This boy clearly had a long way to go.

    Finally, in my second year, I met a girl who would become my first real girlfriend. She rightly challenged the irrationality of my idea to stay a virgin till marriage, and proceeded to have her wicked way with me, bless her heart. And I realized that although sex was tons of fun, I had built it up to be a much bigger thing than it really was. Religion can really mess with your head, and not in good ways.

    But then something interesting happened towards the end of medical school. A younger friend told me about some interesting material he had found on the internet, which like my friend, was in its adolescence. It was about talking to women. There’s a book about it?

    I read it. It was eye-opening, revelatory, paradigm-smashing, world-expanding stuff. It told me exactly what I had been doing wrong around women my entire life (e.g. being safe and seeking approval) — and how to do it right henceforth. Apparently there was a way to speak to women, with a certain intent and demeanor, that triggered ancient, unconscious circuits in the woman’s brain that said, “This guy is sexy.”

    I was pretty sure I had never been sexy at any point in my life. Holy revolution, here I come.

    After med school, I moved back to Boston and started to implement my new skills. They worked shockingly well. Overnight, I went from kissing a girl approximately every other time a meteorite hit me, to doing it on a weekly basis. And then an eveningly basis. Every time I went out, I could potentially stir up some magic, and suddenly find myself in the Makeout Zone. Unreal!

    I went from perennially having no girlfriend, to having too many — sometimes as many as 4 at at time (not that I ever called them my girlfriends). I still had zero skills in the relationship maintenance zone, but I was frankly having too much fun to care. Finally, after decades of deprivation, I could have women in my life, in my bed, on my terms! Wheeee! And make up for all that sex I never had.

    That was fun, until it wasn’t. But that’s the story for the next phase. For now, I had newfound power and therefore, choice. Because I had choice, I did not have to put up with subpar treatment. Nor did I have to settle for the first woman who would give me attention. Instead of being a spectator to my own life, and a beggar to chance, I could reliably arouse the interest of a woman of interest and make something happen. That was big.

    How to get the Phase 4 guy: Depending on where you are, 10-20% of men are in Phase 4. Unlike the guys from the prior phases, the Phase 4 guy has skill, choice and will. He’s been around the block a couple of times and knows enough about a woman’s mind and body to make him dangerous. In fact, that very danger can make him appealing to you, even if he’s not necessarily a good fit. He has enough choice such that he can go for what he wants, not just what fortune throws his way.

    So to get him, you must first be his type, which is not entirely in your control. And then you must play the game better than him. You do that by being the buyer, not the seller, while still being your amazingly kind self. You have high standards but still treat him better than anyone has ever treated him. Feisty but nice. If this tightrope act doesn’t sound easy, it’s because it isn’t. Which is why I wrote a whole 280-page book on how to do it. 

    Upside of the Phase 4 guy: Because other women find him attractive, there will be some dynamic tension in your relationship which will keep you attracted to him. He’s more experienced in the sack, which has definite entertainment value. And Phase 4 guys also tend to be generally more interesting, dynamic, powerful people. 

    Downside of the Phase 4 guy: Let’s face it: the Phase 4 guy is basically a Bad Boy, and probably a pain in the ass. The problem with getting involved with a guy who’s good at the game is that you may get so involved in playing the game and winning him over that you may not notice that you two are not a good fit for each other. Or that he’s just not into the idea of long-term relationships. With anybody. And because he has more-than-average choice and power with women, he could still get bored and wander off, even if you two do get along and you do everything right. He may also just hook up with someone else for kicks.

    • Companionship drive: medium to low
    • Sex drive: very high
    • Competence: high
    • General state: ohhhh yeah, baby
    • Percentage of men in this phase: 10-20%

    Sub-Phase 4.5: The Trough of Disillusionment

    Even if the Phase 4 guy has gotten good at finding, meeting and attracting women, he doesn’t necessarily want or know how to keep them around for the long run. Sure, he’s having many relationships, which is an improvement over none at all. But, just like a well-known side effect of life is death, a well-known side-effect of having many relationships is having many breakups. And breakups are a little bit like getting dental work: sometimes necessary, never pleasant.

    I’ve had my fair share of breakups, and over time, I’ve certainly gotten better at handling them. But they all suck, and each leaves enough of a bitter aftertaste to make chasing down the next Bright Shiny Object of Desire slightly less appetizing. It’s also easy to generalize the ensuing state of self-invalidation, self-pity, loneliness and disappointment into “Oh, there are no good ones out there. Why even bother?”

    I don’t call this a full phase unto itself because it tends to oscillate back and forth with the Abundance or Marginal Competence phase. The guy eventually scrapes himself off the floor with the spatula of self-respect, and starts looking for love again. And — he succeeds! And then that relationship dissolves again, and he’s back in the trough. 

    But if a guy lacks resources for resiliency, he could end up becoming a permanent resident of this purgatory. In other words, he’ll be one bitter dude. And bitter dudes you clearly don’t need in your life.

    How to get the Phase 4.5 guy: You want a Disillusioned Dude? So you can redeem his faith in women, and love, and by extension, all of humanity and the universe? Really? Are you sure you don’t need  to look for a better hobby? ‘Cause martyrdom is not a good look for you. 

    Although acting the part of the savior can be awfully appealing to some folks, it’s an unstable basis for a long-term relationship. That said, if you do meet Disillusioned Dude, it shouldn’t be very difficult for you to be his shoulder to cry on. And there isn’t much distance from shoulder to neck, from neck to nuzzling, from nuzzling to smooching, and well yeah anyway. 

    It’s easy to start a relationship when one of the two partners is in a particularly vulnerable state. That still doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. What happens when they’re over the breakup and shit gets real again? 

    So please: let the guy do his own healing and figure himself out enough such that he seeks you out on your own merit, and not just as the closest tear-absorbent pillow.

    Upside: He’s vulnerable! He’s sensitive! He’s sharing his feelings! He wants to spend lots of time with you!

    Downside: He’s too self-absorbed in his pain to be a full person capable of offering you support should you need it. Which is one of the big points of having relationships, if not the point.

    • Companionship drive: varies between low and needy
    • Sex drive: low and decreasing
    • Competence: dormant
    • General state: FML
    • Percentage of men in this phase: 5-10% at any given time

    Phase 5: Something Like Wisdom

    If a guy has chased many Bright Shiny Objects of Desire, caught a few of them, and eventually let them all go, and still has a few functioning neurons left over in his brain, he may start to notice a pattern: “I really hankered for that girl and thought a relationship with her would solve my problems. But it turned out she wasn’t the answer. Huh.”

    And then, if he’s really clever, he’ll make a radical leap: “Well, if it wasn’t Jennifer, or Shannon, or Elizabeth, or Charlotte, or Maddy, or Rachel, then who? What if no one is the answer?”

    Bingo. There is no “answer” out there in the form of a human. 

    Sure, there is this unthinking biological drive, deeply embedded in my 3 billion base-pairs of DNA honed over millions of years saying, “Go, go, go get the girl! It’s going to be awesome!” Because all that drive wants to do is make more people

    But is that what I want? And exactly which of the world’s problem does having more people solve? Hmmm.

    In the Wisdom phase, the guy is able to step back from his own thoughts, instincts and unconscious drives, and ask himself: Is that really good for me? Or is it just the ancient software speaking? Y’know, the same software that thinks eating a pint of Cherry Garcia for dinner is a good idea?

     In this phase, instead of being disillusioned, the guy becomes free of illusion. Instead of thinking of every attractive woman he meets as The Answer, he asks himself: What’s my mission in life? How can I best serve the world? And would being with this woman catalyze my ability to serve or hamper it? Where’s the fit?

    Don’t get me wrong: he’s still a little horny. But he’s learned to watch the drunken lust-bunnies in his mind. They somehow turn the women he meets into The Answer, over and over again, with no supporting evidence. But now he can see those lust-bunnies for what they are: not real. Illusion. Special effects. Super-convincing, and even entertaining at times. But not real.

    So he starts looking for substance. He starts looking for depth. He starts looking for partners who are on a mission similar to his own. Instead of just extended-remix hookups, he’s looking for longer-term relationships. “How can she best activate my gifts in service to the world?”, he asks himself.

    And he’s patient, because he’s no longer hungry. And he’s not really lonely either, because he enjoys being alone. Sure, he’ll still notice you if you saunter along. But solitude suits him just fine.

     How to get the Phase 5 guy: To get the Phase 5 guy, you must first get him — fully understand where he’s coming from. And be a Phase 5 woman yourself. Then, there just might be a fit. 

    Upside: By the time he reaches Phase 5, a guy has most of his shit sorted out and is ready to relate to another human being in a meaningful way. He’s done with light entertainment and wants the main show. He’s interested in partnership, depth, mutual enrichment, growth, and service. This could be a really good start.

    Downside: If you’re not at or near Phase 5 yourself, this may be more goodness than you can handle. Most relationships end because either the partners are at different life phases or grow at different rates. Although being with a Phase 5 guy could potentially feel wonderful, it’s also a little bit like driving a racecar: are you prepared? Can you handle a guy who wants and appreciates you but doesn’t necessarily need you? A guy who just plain refuses to fight? Or to save you? Or to get jealous? Can you be interdependent without being codependent? How well have you worked out your own shit? Careful what you wish for.

    • Companionship drive: unhurried
    • Sex drive: mostly irrelevant but present on demand
    • Competence: high but unused; plays the game of no-game
    • General state: equanimity
    • Percentage of men in this phase: 1-2%

    Phase 6: Transcendence

    I almost didn’t include this in the list, because it’s a vanishingly small portion of the population: probably 0.01% or even less. But the scientist in me yearns for completeness, so I present to you Transcendent Man.

    I can’t claim to have firsthand experience with this phase, but I have spent time with at least one woman who I believe was in the Transcendent phase. It’s a pretty unusual zone to inhabit.

    Imagine that you’re 3 years old again, and everything is novel and interesting. Butterflies! Bugs! Cars driving by! That billboard over there! Everything is just delightful. And so are people! Every one of them is a manifestation of the divine, so perfect in their operating, such a once-in-the-existence-of-the-universe event, that the opportunity to hang out with any of them is simply delightful.

    Of course, that is the absolute truth: everything is miraculous all the time, should we have eyes to see. But at the same time, this biological notion of pair-bonding requires that your partner think you’re at least a little bit special. If everything is delightful all the time, where do you fit in? Clearly this guy doesn’t need you — or anybody else for that matter. But does he even want you?

    A relationship with a Phase 6 guy could be novel and invigorating. It could even be a rapid accelerator to your own spiritual growth. But I have no data on whether it’s sustainable. An awakened person by definition has few attachments, if any. And you probably won’t be one of them. I’d say given a chance to hang out with a truly Phase 6 guy, you should take it, so long as you have zero expectations as to the duration of the relationship.

    How to get the Phase 6 guy: You can’t. Heck, chances are you probably won’t even meet one in this lifetime. But if you do, just be curious about him and keep asking questions. It’ll be a trip.

    • Upside: A completely new way of encountering the world.
    • Downside: You will initially have no idea how to relate to him. And probably never will.
    • Companionship drive: he likes having people around, maybe probably?
    • Sex drive: in hibernation with a chance of selective re-awakening
    • Competence: irrelevant
    • General state: bliss
    • Percentage of men in this phase: 0.01% or less

    Conclusion

    You now have some signposts for figuring out what kind of guy you’re dealing with when you’re out there dating. So use them! They will make your love life easier. 

    Although that’s nominally the main message of the article, there are three other big points in the subtext that I want to make sure you don’t miss:

    1) No person is The Answer. Hell, no person or thing is The Answer. If there is such a thing as The Answer, it has to come from within. Meditate, yo. 

    2) No man is perfect. Every relationship has upsides and downsides. Even the most evolved man can be a significant pain in the ass, not in spite of being evolved but because of it. That said, you can still aim for a relationship with a guy who’s a better fit instead of a worse one.

    3) Be curious, kind and generous, and you’ll go far. You can get yourself twisted in knots trying to interpret every move a guy makes so you can get the upper hand. Or you can just be genuinely interested in getting to know him better. I present that the latter approach is easier and more fun.  

    Did you find this article useful? Then please share it with single (or non-single) friends who would benefit from it! And if you have any insights and experiences of your own about the Phases of the Guy, please leave a comment and share with the rest of us!

    Image credit: Busetto/Circa

  • The 3 Big Questions to Turn Your Dating Life Around (10th Anniversary Post)

    It’s been about 10 years since I published The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible (ebook, print, audiobook). Although most of the stuff I wrote that long ago has become too cringeworthy for me to read, this book is mostly okay. And thanks to the support of readers like you, it’s once again Amazon’s highest-rated dating book for women (4.5/5 stars). So I’m starting to think it’s useful to people.

    In the meantime, I’ve had a decade’s worth of personal experience, 5000 letters from readers, and countless talks and seminars to reshape my thinking about dating and love for the modern woman. From that mass of data, three big principles have emerged that I’d like to share with you today.

    1. Are you buying or selling?

    When I was in Helsinki last summer, going to the farmer’s market was one of the most enjoyable things I did. Finland is big on berries, and has an abundance of wild blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, hinkleberries and floinkenberries. Okay, so maybe I made up the last two, but the rest are real and tasty. And at the farmer’s market, you’ve got all these vendors with acres of the stuff selling it for cheap.

    So there I was, armed with my all-powerful berry-buying euros, thinking, “Hmm, which vendor should I buy from?” Here, let’s make it a multiple-choice quiz so you can help me out:

    Vendor A: pretty solid berries but starting to look a little tired, 4 euros
    Vendor B: big juicy bright superfresh berries, 3 euros
    Vendor C: big juicy bright superfresh berries, 5 euros

    So—which one should Dr Ali choose? If you said “B, duh”, then you understand the idea of being a buyer with money in your pocket and options to choose from. You know what you want, and you pick the best option.

    Now, let’s switch the scenario around a little bit and pretend this is what happens instead:

    You arrive at Vendor A. Hey, look, berries! They look a little worse for wear, but overall not bad. Oh, you’re willing to sell to me? No way! It must be my lucky day! I’ll take ‘em all. Will you pleeeez take my money?

    What, you won’t even look at the other vendors, even though you’ve got money in your pocket? Do you see how much nonsense that makes? And yet, that is exactly how most people approach the relationship market. They act like they’re selling when they should be buying.

    You’re selling whenever you try to persuade people how wonderful you are. I’m a great cook! I make mad money! I give body-melting massages with hot chestnut oil! I’m great in the sack! I’m pretty! Choose meeee!

    And it’s possible that you’re all of those things and an excellent salesperson, and thus get all kinds of attention.

    But in the end, the best salesperson in the world has less power than even the least skilled buyer. The science of game theory guarantees it. Because the buyer has choice. And choice in the marketplace is power.

    How do you practice being the buyer in the dating world? By being playfully discriminating. The attitude is something like, “Hey, you seem pretty interesting. Let’s find out what you have going for you and whether there’s a potential match here.”

    This would be in contradistinction to “Omigod you are so amazing and beautiful and great please give me a smidgen of attention pretty please I promise I’ll make it worth your while even though deep down inside I’m not worthy but give me a chance anyway? Pretty pleez?”

    Yeah, that may not work so well.

    And yet, in spite of the inherent weakness of the seller stance, it’s the one most people in the relationship marketplace assume by default. So if you are that rare person who has the presence of mind to adopt the subtle shift in perspective to become the buyer, you will win more often.

    It does not cost anything to assume the buyer stance. You don’t have to lose weight, get a new hairdo, go to the gym, go on a diet, or get cosmetic treatments to assume it. And yet, it will make you more attractive than all of those external interventions.

    In The Tao of Dating, I call this the picky buyer stance. And while I want you to be picky, I also want you to remain compassionate and kind. It’s very easy to lapse from picky to hardass to jerk. But you will never do that, because you will remain your playful, fun, kind self. Right? Right. The point is to keep your heart and mind open while conveying that you have standards.

    The picky buyer stance is especially important to remember when meeting people online. This is because an online profile is basically an advertisement, which is by definition what people utilize to sell things. So when you go online, there’s no way around going into sell mode initially. Once you receive some messages from interested parties, then you can go back to being the picky buyer.

    Being the buyer vs the seller feeds directly into the next principle, which may not only be the most important principle for dating, but also for lifelong happiness and fulfillment.

    2. Are you enough?

    One of the two things that struck me about the 5000 or so readers’ letters I’ve received in the past 10 years is that they all basically contained the same question even though on the surface, they looked different:

    • “I’m a 37yr old divorced mother of two. Will any guy want to go out with a woman with young children?”

    • “We had a great first date, and I texted him the next day to thank him. It’s been two days and he hasn’t responded yet. Has he lost interest?”

    • “We’ve been dating for three years and I thought we were headed towards marriage. But now he’s saying he wants some space. What should I do?”

    • “Does my butt look good in these pants?”

    But deep down, they were all variations on the same question:

    “Am I enough?”

    The problem: it’s the wrong question. Merely attempting to answer it puts you in a seller position that’s impossible to escape from. Also: Enough for what? The changing whims of culture and fashion? The unfathomable desires of millions of different potential partners, most of whom don’t even consciously know what they want? Your own pointlessly harsh standards?

    Some of you reading this right now are probably thinking, “Omigod, he’s right! I’ve been am-I-enoughing myself forever! How terrible!”

    And that would be funny, ‘cause there you go doing it again. But it’s okay: everybody does it. There are multi-billion dollar industries arrayed to make us feel terrible about ourselves: TV, movies, cosmetics, advertising, exercise, diet. Making us feel bad about ourselves is how people sell us stuff.

    Luckily, there are remedies. You can re-read The Tao of Dating and Marianne Williamson’s A Woman’s Worth. Then, for a permanent solution, do these three things:

    (a) Instead of asking “Am I enough?,” ask “How can I be of service?”

    Even if you do happen to think you’re enough for one brief shining moment, that moment will pass. The hair will have a bad day. The outfit will go out of style. The culture’s ideal butt will go from Reubens to Marilyn to Twiggy and back, while yours stays attached to you mostly unchanged. And there’s no escaping self-criticism (except for the solution in (c) below).

    Trying to be enough is a game you cannot win. It is temporary power at best, because it can be taken away from you.

    The good news is that on any given day, wherever you are, you have the opportunity to be someone’s answered prayer. You have the power to elevate those around you, appreciate them genuinely, and make them feel like a billion bucks:

    “Love how you’ve put together that outfit!”

    “Really enjoyed your presentation. So uplifting!”

    “Thank you for a fantastic dinner! So wonderful of you to bring us together!”

    The power to elevate others is power that cannot be taken away from you. You can do it anytime, anywhere. And because of the hypersocial human brain, when you make other people feel good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you glow, and people want to be around you. You’ll feel great, and you won’t ever be lonely again.

    To implement this into your life, start by setting a goal of giving one more compliment per day than you were before. For most of us, that adds up to one compliment per day. The bus driver, the receptionist, an old friend, your partner—everyone is eligible. Let’s make a habit out of this.

    Another interesting thing happens when you make being of service a part of your identity. Potential partners will go from wondering if you’re good enough for them to thinking if they’re good enough for you. Your mere presence will want them to be a better man! How’s that for a shift from “Am I enough?”

    (b) Practice self-compassion

    Self-compassion would be the opposite of the voice inside your head saying stuff like “I can’t believe I left the food on the stove overnight again what a bonehead just shoot me now.” Prof Kristin Neff of the University of Texas suggests three things you can do to replace the habitual self-harshness with some self-compassion:

    1. Self-kindness. Imagine your 7-year old nephew breaks a plate. Would you crash down on him like a titanium anvil, or say something like, “Oh, careful now but don’t worry about it too much”? Self-kindness means being as nice to yourself as you would be to the 7yr old nephew.

    2. Recognize our common humanity. Everyone screws up. Everyone has issues like Kleenex has tissues, and they’re all the same issues, no matter how exotic and unique you think yours are. As the recipient of all of your letters, I have proof that whatever problem you’re having, hundreds of others have it, too.

    3. Mindfulness. According to Prof Neff, “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.” This is about allowing yourself to feel whatever emotion you’re experiencing without over-identifying with it. Acknowledge it, feel it, and let it pass.

    (c) Get rid of your small self.

    One of the foundational tenets of Buddhist philosophy (and all mystical traditions) is to get rid of your sense of self entirely. If there is no you, then nobody can belittle you, insult you, betray you, or break your heart. No self, no problem!

    The problem is that getting to no-self ain’t so simple. One path is to meditate. A lot. And while you meditate, you take one step back from your own thoughts and feelings so you can stop identifying with them. Instead, you identify with the pure consciousness behind those thoughts or feelings. Think of your consciousness as the TV screen, with your thoughts the programs showing on it. You are the TV screen, not the programs.

    Eventually, the state of dis-identifying from your thoughts goes from being a state to becoming a trait. That’s what the sages call samadhi, or satori, or awakening.

    As a regular meditator, I’ve come to appreciate the slight impracticality of telling folks to solve their relationship problems by practicing no-self (anatta). It’s like telling an out-of-shape person to take up ultramarathons. That said, you can begin the practice of dis-identification by meditating.

    Meditation is by far the single most beneficial practice I’ve taken up. And you can begin with just 2 minutes a day. Who doesn’t have time to sit and do nothing for 2 minutes? Apps like Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up are excellent ways to ease yourself into it.

    3. What do you want?

    The second thing that struck me about the 5000 letters was that they almost never contained a real question. I’d get a novella about how they met, the minute-by-minute unfolding of the first three dates, his lingering attachment to his ex, and then: “What do you think I should do, Doc?”

    And that’s when I would say with total certainty, “Buy Tesla stock! It’s, like, totally undervalued.”

    Well, actually, I don’t really know about that. I also don’t know about what you want. And until you tell me what you want—some kind of desirable outcome—I have no basis to dispense advice, dubious or sage.

    There are some general guidelines, of course. Hang out with people who bring out your best self and catalyze your growth. Don’t chase bright, shiny objects without regard for whether there’s an actual fit between you. Only date people who are actually single and available. “Separated”, “divorcing”, and “like totally separated but ex still lives in the house” are not the same as single and available.

    So. You need to ask yourself, “If I could wave a magic wand here and get exactly what I want, what would that look like?” You’d be shocked and amazed how much clarity this simple mental exercise will give you.

    For example, sometimes what you really want is not a relationship with a hotshot who has repeatedly signaled his unavailability with poor communication and a busy schedule, but something simple and more reliable. Sometimes you just want a fun fling, not something serious. Sometimes you don’t actually want the long-distance relationship to work out, but rather to handle your latent tendency to avoid real intimacy. Sometimes you want the bad boy you’re dating to propose to you, and you know he’ll never do that, which means you’re free to look elsewhere.

    Sometimes it’s okay not to know exactly what you want. Last thing you want is to spend lots of time and effort attaining a lofty but ultimately wrong goal. On the other hand, things like growth and fulfillment are directional goals. So long as you’re on the path to greater growth and fulfillment, you know you’re going in the right direction.

    And sometimes, it’s okay to just go into the silence and practice solitude. Work on yourself. If you can’t stand your own company, how can you expect anyone else to stand you? Learning to be alone without being lonely is one of the cornerstone skills of relationship.

    Conclusion

    The principles I just described are simple to grasp. They may not be trivial to implement them into your life, especially if you’ve been practicing their opposites for years. But it’s certainly possible to change. One of the most hopeful aspects of human existence is neuroplasticity. The brain can change and grow no matter how long you’ve been alive. You can learn new ways of doing things.

    So if you’ve been playing the seller your entire life, go ahead and try playing the buyer for a while and see what happens. Experiment! Make a game out of it. If you’ve been acting as if you’re not enough, shift to practicing self-compassion and being of service, and notice the results. If you haven’t been a meditator, start with 2 min a day. And if you’re having a difficult time figuring out what you really want, start with a list of things you really don’t want. That should help clarify the values you hold dear, which is a signpost to what you want in your life.

    I hope you find a way to implement these principles into your life. I’m interested in hearing about your thoughts and experiences. There are thousands of you and only one of me, so there’s a lot more collective wisdom in your midst than in my noggin. Either comment on the article below, or write to me directly at DrAliB (at) TaoOfDating.com. If you have a question, keep it under 250 words and make sure you include a question :) And if you’d like me to do more consultations and office hours, let me know so I can make time for it in the schedule.

    All the best, Dr Ali

    Additional resources

    To further explore some of the principles I discuss in the article, here are some useful resources:

    Prof Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion website

    Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (ebook & print). One of the best books ever written on meditation and living at peace with oneself. Just might be the best $11 you’ll ever spend.

    A Woman’s Worth by Marianne Williamson. Great antidote to feelings of not-enoughness.

    • Meditation apps: Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up.

    The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, M.D. (ebook & print). Neuroplasticity is real and applies to everyone, including you right now. Some tremendously inspiring stories in here. Probably the most hopeful book I’ve ever read.

    The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible by Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil. (ebook, print, potentially free audiobook). Just in case you haven’t read it yet.

  • Tao of Dating 2018 Workshop, Helsinki Edition (audio)

    Over the weekend of 3-5 August 2018, I presented some workshops at the Magnesia Festival in Helsinki. One of them was entitled “The Tao of Dating: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Loving and Being Loved.” Some things have changed to modern romance since I first published The Tao of Dating book (ebook and print). I’ve also learned a lot from the 5000+ letters readers like you have sent me, so think of this talk as an update and supplement to the book that incorporates the new stuff.

    The talk has 5 themes:

    1. How to get better at selecting men: Avoiding psychopaths and sociopaths. The heart-spine selection criteria. Avoiding Bad Boys in favor of selecting Good Guys.
    2. How to present the best possible version of you.
    3. How to find him at his best: the importance of venue and context.
    4. Set up dating so you win.
    5. How to avoid unforced errors: on communication habits, giving love a chance, overdependence on devices, and the cure for negative self-talk.

    Download link for The Tao of Dating: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Loving and Being Loved (Sun 5 Aug)
    Download link for Saturday version of same talk (Sunday one was better)

    If you are a fan of yoga, meditation and dance and can free your schedule for the first week of August, I highly recommend the Magnesia Festival. It’s set on a beautiful island in Helsinki harbor, with healthy food, fun classes, and serious sauna. Many thanks to Mari Rasimus, Kaisa Kärkkäinen, Asaf Peled and Oded Peled for inviting me and taking such good care of the speakers!

  • Tao of Dating 2018 Workshop recap + recording + Mindful Living

    Thanks to all of you who made it to the “Tao of Dating 2018” workshop last week in Santa Monica! When you spend months on end like me staring at a computer screen, it’s a real treat to see some of you face-to-face and answer your questions in real time.

    We covered a lot of ground during the workshop. More specifically, I talked about six themes:

    1) The fallacy of the Western Romantic Narrative and how it can cause more pain than joy
    2) Guy selection.
    3) How to present the best possible version of you, and how online dating apps can hinder that.
    4) How to find him at his best
    5) Benefits of prolonging the courtship: patience pays!
    6) How stop inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot in the dating arena.

    It’s this last one that I want to touch upon briefly. Dating can be plenty challenging as it is without committing unforced errors. Here are some simple ways you can get out of the way of your own success:

    Minimize negative self-talk: Do you ever find yourself saying things to yourself like, “Omigod you’re such an idiot!” Or “You screwed that one up again because you don’t really deserve to be happy anyway.” Or worse?

    Everyone has a little negative soundtrack running in their heads, and scientists have noticed that it’s particularly prevalent amongst women. Nobody knows exactly why, but I’m pretty sure that all the advertising imagery emphasizing women’s inadequacy is probably not helping.

    What’s the solution? Two ideas: First, limit the amount of (more…)

  • Women’s Top 7 Dating Challenges in 2017: Survey Results

    Hey there, ladies! Your reactions to the “Bad Boys & Addictions” article was swift and enthusiastic. Turns out that almost every woman has had some kind of experience with bad boys, not all of them healthy. Most gratifying were the responses from some of you saying, “Omigod, this is happening to me right now! Thanks for opening my eyes. Time to take out the trash!”

    Here’s one from Theresa:

    This post really hit me. I’m in a similar situation; however, I believe he’s the first man I’ve ever truly loved. He has commitment issues and will never really settle down with me. I’ve come to realize that he is not good for me and have left twice but he has come back every time without promising me a future.

    Your advice is apt. I am addicted and need to figure out what I want and move on. Thank you. I’ve told myself I can do this.

    And here’s one from Susan, who had a similar experience but is in a much better spot now:

    What a classic post, Dr. Ali! And I’m so glad you’re back. Everything you wrote is so true. Ladies: definitely follow Dr. Ali’s excellent advice.

    I spent 9 months with a “bad boy,” who managed to break up with me 4 times in just 9 months. After the 4th time I finally smartened up and focused on moving on. I’ve now been dating a really great guy for over 2.5 years.

    In the beginning I was still hung up on Bad Boy, but distraction and detox (no contact with Bad Boy) really worked. When Bad Boy reached out to me 16 months later, the addiction was genuinely dead, and I could authentically say f*** off.

    So ladies, read Dr. A’s excellent advice, detox from your Bad Boy, and if you can, find something or someone that can pull you forward into the present or the future — rather than some wistful past that you’ve idealized.

    As I work on my current project, Happiness Engineering, I’m reminded over and over again how our relationships form our experience of life. You could even go so far as to say our relationships are our life. As such, your choice of life partner is the most important decision you make. Nothing else comes close. Make it a good one.

    Which brings us to the results of the survey I did last week. Some of you were kind enough to answer my 60-second survey question:

    What is the single biggest challenge you’re dealing with in dating and relationships these days?

    If you wanted to answer but didn’t get around to it, you can do it now here. I’d be thrilled to hear your thoughts, since it will not only help me create better material for you, but also get to know you better.

    As a gesture of thanks for participating in the survey, I’ve put The Tao of Dating ebook on sale for 67% off in all territories for the next 72 hours only (sale ends at midnight Sunday Sept 24). So in the US, that’s $2.99 (regular price $9.97).

    To put that in perspective, a mocha or latte at Starbucks costs $4.15, and an hour of parking in San Francisco or New York City costs $6. And they are both gone in an hour. On the other hand, you get to keep this book (which, incidentally, has helped tens of thousands of women) forever for under 3 beans. If you already have the book, thank you thank you thank you and please tell a friend.

    In the meantime, here are the preliminary results of the survey.

    1. Meeting quality men.

    By far, the biggest challenge the respondents encountered was meeting quality men. How do you find a guy who’s compatible, age-appropriate, and interested in a long-term committed relationship? The phrase “finding a man who wants to be a grown-up” came up several times. This response summarized the challenge nicely:

    “Meeting a man who I feel compatible with, feeling attracted to that same man AND having him treat me well.”

    This is what all the online dating methods call the matching problem, and what I cover in The Tao of Dating as the Find phase. It turns out to be a source of considerable concern for a lot of ladies, as this poignant response shows:

    “Where is he? He really likes me. We are best friends. We have immersive conversations. We care about each other’s experiences in life. We have a deep and abiding connection. He understands I am a product of (more…)

  • Tainted Love: How to Deal with the Addictive Appeal & Dangers of Bad Boys

    This post has three parts to it:
    1) An excellent letter from a reader, asking about what she should do about a friends with benefits situation that has gone on for 10 years.
    2) My survey question to you: What is your biggest challenge in dating and relationships these days?
    3) A treat from me to you, relating to the new project I’m working on.

    First, the letter from reader Lainie:

    I have read your book, The Tao of Dating, several times and it is awesome! It has helped me in many ways.

    I am in an unusual situation. I met a man nearly a decade ago and we started out as friends. We were next-door neighbors. We quickly turned into friends with benefits [for non-English speakers: that means they had sex without making any explicit commitment to each other – AB].

    We spent a lot of time together. I watched him go out with woman after woman. I finally got to the point where I said I wasn’t going to watch him be with other women and broke it off.

    Several months later he came back and said he wanted a relationship with me. That was 4 years ago. Since then we have broken up and gotten back together at least 6 times. He goes away for a few months and then comes right back into my life. He tries to be my “friend” for a month or so and then we’re right back in a relationship.

    Every time he breaks it off it’s because he says he cannot picture himself married with a family and can never give me what I truly want, even though I have not tried to pressure him. He also says he doesn’t think about me all day (so he doesn’t obsess about me like people do when they FIRST meet someone). I have explained to him that I do not think about him all the time either, and I am not head over heels for him.

    It’s a deeper love now, after nearly 10 years. We are best friends and the sex is always good. I know he loves me. He has admitted he has never done more for a woman in his entire life and that he really loves me. We were together for an entire year this time with out him freaking out, and now he has broken up with me again. Same reason as always. I know he’ll come back again, and although I love him, I don’t know if he’ll ever get past this Walt Disney fantasy about what love really is. What should I do?
    — Lainie, getting a little tired of it all

    Thanks for the note, Lainie! The answer to “What should I do” is simple:

    You should take up needlepoint.

    So soothing. Increases your dexterity. And you’ll have pretty presents to give to friends every time you finish a project. Perfect!

    Just kidding. And I jest because every woman who asks me a question does the same thing: they ask “what should I do, doc” without making clear what they WANT. How am I supposed to steer you towards an outcome without knowing what it is?

    So – what’s your ideal outcome, Lainie? If this man did not exist in the world and you could design a perfect relationship with one of the remaining 3 billion men, what would that look like? Would it be intermittent commitment, with some good sex and regular yearly breakups? Think about that and get back to me :)

    If I could wave a magic wand and have the relationship I always wanted, I’d be with a guy who has the same loyalty and love that I do. Someone who didn’t question everything, someone who was affectionate and kind. Definitely not what I’ve been going through with this guy. Someone who was fun and outgoing, and enjoyed going on adventures with me. He’d be my dream guy. 

    Great! Now we’re getting somewhere. So, next question: does this guy fit that description? If yes, please proceed full steam ahead. If not, you need to stop sleeping with him (preferably forever) because with the emotional and physical connection and multiple breakups, you’ve already created an addictive circuit in your brain around this relationship.

    What happens with an on-again, off-again relationship is that you’re activating what neuroscientist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky calls the power of maybe. He goes into that in some depth in his new tome Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (ebook and paperback), which may be the greatest work of nonfiction I’ve ever read. I’ve talked about this maybe thing before, but it’s worth repeating.

    The way you get neurologically hooked on something is when there’s an irregular reinforcement. For example, the nice guy is always nice. He’s highly predictable in the sense that you know he will always do the kind, decent thing.

    The jerk is also predictable: he’s always mean. Not very interesting or pleasant.

    The bad boy troublemaker, on the other hand, is unpredictable. Some days he’s nice. Some days he’ll do what he says. Other days, who knows. Some days he feels like smacking you around, physically or emotionally. Others, he treats you like the queen of the universe. You just never know.

    The problem is that dopamine is the neurotransmitter that mediates addiction. And the more uncertain an event is, the more dopamine your brain produces. Maximum uncertainty happens at 50% — half good, half bad. Withdrawal just means that the next dopamine spike is going to be that much larger when you finally get it.

    So Mr FWB (short for “friends with benefits”) can’t commit. He strings you along for a month, a season, a year. Then – boom! Cuts you off. You’re adrift again. But something in the back of your head still craves him back.

    Moreover, you’re having sex with him, and you say it’s good. I’ll interpret it as meaning “I’m having orgasms with this fella.” If that’s the case, two more things are happening that make the situation even trickier.

    First off, orgasms cause additional dopamine secretion. To be clear, that’s what an orgasm is – one giant wallop of dopamine to the noggin. So there’s your nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center of your brain, getting another hit from the presence of FWB, and getting you more addicted to him.

    Second, orgasms cause secretion of oxytocin. It’s a bonding chemical well-known for its effect on increasing trust. Trust applied to the wrong person has a name: bad judgment. So it’s helping you make poor decisions. Like keeping this guy around for a whole decade after 6 breakups.

    Now I don’t know how old you are, Lainie, but this much I know. You’re behaving as if you have an infinite amount of time. You do not. We’re all gonna die. (I know, I’m a hoot at parties.)

    Moreover, as a woman who’s interested in having children, you will not be fertile forever. And if you had let this guy go 8 years ago and instead found someone else who was interested in commitment, you could have had a kid in 3rd grade by now.

    Think about that.

    So what we have here is a sunk cost of 10 years. You’re never going to get those back. But you can do this: take corrective action immediately so you don’t lose out on another millisecond. Remember: we’re not going to live forever.

    Now you may have noticed that I used the language of drugs and addiction when describing your situation here, Lainie. That is intentional, because the neural circuitry of sexual love mimics that of drug addiction. That’s why the parallels between the two are so striking: The failed attempts at quitting. The ecstatic highs and the soul-crushing lows. The resolve that “this time it’s going to be different.” The craving, the draw, the seductive ease of slipping back into the same routine.

    Gambling works the exact same way. If gamblers won every time, or lost every time, it wouldn’t be so interesting. Gamblers would get bored and quit. But it’s the uncertainty around winning or losing, its sheer haphazardness, that keeps us hooked. As a one-time semi-pro poker player, I can tell you that’s true.

    So you need to treat it like any other addiction. The first step is complete cessation of the drug – in this case, contact with FWB. You may feel it’s too drastic to stop talking to him, but it would actually be the most effective path since you both have a pattern of falling back in bed with each other.

    You must allow time for your brain to heal. Technically, that means spending enough time without him such that your brain downregulates all the extra dopamine receptors it has created over the last 10 years. In the parlance of rehab, this is known as “detox”, and it takes a while. My preference is that you break off contact with him permanently. Like alcohol for an alcoholic or crack for a crackhead, the only acceptable dose is zero.

    Then, you must find healthy substitutes for the stimulus you were receiving. That makes the cravings easier. Ideally, this would be a commitment-minded guy you really like who likes you back. Quality time spent with friends and family is also good. Spend as much time in community as possible. Mindless sex with strangers would mostly perpetuate the problem you’re already having, so I do not recommend it as a healing modality.

    I refer you to this 5000-word piece I wrote some time ago about getting over breakups:
    How to Get Over a Breakup: Professional Edition

    Ladies: every minute you’re spending with the wrong guy is a minute not spent with a much better match. The bad news is that the design of our brains has made the hot-cold, on again-off again treatment of bad boys inherently addictive.

    However, if you’re after a long-term relationship and maybe a family, this is not a legitimate excuse for giving in to the charms of the bad boy and wrecking your life.

    Because the good news is that we also have discipline, wisdom and willpower. How many of you say, “Omigod, I mean the crack pipe was there, and I just couldn’t help myself.” Or, “Well, I was at the party, and the heroin syringe just came around and I HAD to inject myself.”

    No? You wouldn’t do crack or heroin? Ever? Not even because come on, they’re so much fun!

    Why? Because you know they’d wreck your life. All of it.

    So please treat bad boys exactly the same way. Like the human equivalent of heroin or crack, only worse. Lies, infidelity, divorce, financial instability, custody battles, a world of pain. Those are things that wreck lives. Lainie’s pretty lucky – all she’s lost are 10 years of the best dating years of her life. Still irretrievable though.

    Sometimes it’s tough to spot bad boys, but if you’re interested in having a long-term committed relationship, I’ll boil it down to one thing: inability to commit. If commitment is what you want and he can’t offer it, then that’s all you need to know. To you, he’s a bad boy. Done and done.

    So write down what you want in a relationship on a piece of paper, and stick it in your purse. Now you have a basis of comparison for every guy who comes along. Have standards for the character of the kind of guy you want to have a relationship with, and stick with those standards. Ten bucks says that “flaky” and “wavering” are not on that list.

    I would also encourage you to do “Exercise 12: The Ideal Man” on page 154 of The Tao of Dating (ebook and paperback) to get you started, and to take a look at The Prospective Spouse Checklist: Evaluating Your Potential Partner (ebook and paperback) by Isabelle Fox.

    A Big Question for You

    As I sit here in front of a computer screen with nary a reader of mine in sight, I often ask myself: “Am I doing any good? Is this useful to anyone? Am I just repeating myself myself?”

    So in the interest of better serving you, I would like to ask you a single very important question:

    What is the biggest challenge you’re experiencing in dating and relationships these days?

    The idea is that if you had a magic wand that you could wave to solve the single biggest problem in your love life, what would that be? The answer to that question is hugely important to me, because it will tell me what things I can create for you to solve the problem!

    So please do us both a medium-sized favor and take 60 seconds to answer the question via Google Forms. I’ll also have survey results for you to share what other readers said.

    In the Meantime: A Sleepy Treat for You

    I’ve been working on a project called Happiness Engineering. It’s a manual for educated folks who want to design happiness into their lives instead of merely leaving it to chance. I’ve already given a TEDx talk about it which some of you have already seen.

    One of the five pillars of Happiness Engineering is good sleep. Statistics say that a large portion of the population is getting mediocre sleep (like, 1 out of 5 people). So if you’re one of those who has difficulty falling asleep, I’ve made this recording for you. It works best when you listen to it through headphones. Note from Captain Obvious: Please don’t listen to this when driving :)

    Dr Ali’s Sleep Script

    You can listen to it for free right here. Length is 15:48min, but most people conk out after 7min. If you’d like to download it to your devices, click here to pay whatever you consider reasonable.

    That’s all for now, lovelies! If you have a question for me, please send it to my new address: DrAliB (at) TaoOfDating.com. Make sure it’s under 200 words and it contains a question, preferably addressing what you WANT :)

    Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali

    PS: In the interest of getting to know more of you, please join me on Facebook if you have not already! In addition to my articles, I post travelogues, photos and random observations, usually of the silly variety.

     

  • “Does he like me?”: Five principles for telling if a guy is into you

    Dear Dr Ali – There’s a guy I like who’s in my social circle. He’s my friend’s boyfriend’s best friend, so we spend a lot of time around each other. He’s always attentive to me, and has even given me shoulder rubs a few times – something I have not seen him do for other women. We’ve even spent one-on-one time together lying down on a blanket watching stars. But he has yet to make a move. Why hasn’t he kissed me yet? Does he even like me? What should I do? Should I even bother? – Perplexed in Paris

    Well there’s a perennial question if there ever was one. How do you know if a guy likes you? I mean, yeah, he does like you, as in he clearly wouldn’t let you get run over by a bus. But does he like like you? As in smooches and snuggles?

    That shouldn’t be hard to figure out. But additional challenges present themselves when you see a guy frequently as part of your social circle, whether at work or in a group of friends. How do you broach the subject of “Do you like me?” when the negative response means having to hang out with someone who snubbed you? Or, even worse, what if you hook up and it doesn’t work out? Now you have willingly planted an ex in the midst of formerly friendly territory. Surely there is a way to finesse this tricky social situation.

    The best way is to take me along to a party to hang out with both of you. And by turning on the super-sensitive Dr Ali-dar and observing your interactions, I will give you a read of the situation.

    But, alas, the best way is often not the most practical way, and I’m usually far away (greetings from Barcelona and Lisbon!) and would probably end up eating all your hors d’oeuvres (unless they’re supermarket crudité platters – who likes that stuff?).

    So I don’t get to observe whether he looks directly into your eyes and how often, how often and where he touches you, how he talks to you, how he reacts to the other women around you, and a zillion other things.

    All I get to see is your world through this tiny keyhole of an email. From that I must deduce your character, the nature and intensity of his interest, and your suitability as a match. Piece o’ cake!

    What might be wiser, however, is to give you some general principles for spotting interest from another party, so you can apply those to your own situation and figure out what’s going on.

    1. Active vs passive interest.

    When trying to gauge interest, this is the overarching theme. Is he actively pursuing your company, or just settling for casual bump-ins and group events? The more deliberate effort a man puts into spending time with you, the more interested he is. Doing something that risks rejection, such as asking you out on a date, raises the stakes and is an even stronger sign of romantic interest.

    Now I heartily recommend that folks initially get to know people through group events. They’re far less threatening settings than one-on-one dates which are contrived situations that fail to bring out the best in us (unless your best happens to be anxiety, self-consciousness and phoniness). But if a guy only invites you to group things, he’s either not that interested, or too much of a wuss to step up and ask for your company solo. Either way, that’s not someone you should be signing up for.

    2. How is he looking at you? 

    A few years ago I was sitting at this deathly boring talk at a conference in Los Angeles when I spotted this dazzlingly beautiful woman across the room. Before the talk was over, I must have involuntarily turned to look at her 50 times. Why? Because we tend to seek out more information about things we’re interested in. That’s kinda the definition of interest. And lord knows I made a beeline to talk to her afterwards.

    The quality and quantity of a guy’s gaze says a lot about the degree and nature of his interest. Does he keep looking at you even when you’re not looking at him? Interested. Does he look at your face when he’s talking to you? Interested. Straight into your eyes, seriously trying to plumb its depths of mystery and passion? Seriously interested.

    The pro-level tip here is that you want to arrange the environment such that you’re a) getting useful information and b) letting him be at his best. For example, if you’re with him on a date at a topless beach, chances are his eyes will not be glued to you the whole time no matter how interested he is. Same goes for sitting in a restaurant: if he’s facing the crowd and bustle of the outside world, his eyes will wander, and you’ll get inaccurate data. Do yourself a favor and you take the banquette seat so he’s looking at just you and the wall.

    3. Touch.

    Most Western societies are pretty touch-free, so if a guy touches you, that’s a big deal and a sign of major interest.

    Or is it? Touching behavior varies culturally, which changes the salience of the act. A classic study done by Sidney Jourard showed that during an hourlong conversation between friends, in England they touched each other zero times. In the US, twice, during bursts of enthusiasm. In France, 110 times, and in Puerto Rico, 180 times! Watching people here in Barcelona I’d say they would touch 200 times at least. So this means that a touch from a shy English guy counts for a lot more than one from the gregarious Spaniard.

    The second level information is the quality of the touch. Is he giving you a high-five or a shoulder rub? The more prolonged and deliberate the touch, the greater the interest.

    In Love Signals: A Practical Field Guide to the Body Language of Courtship, Prof David Givens enumerates five phases of courtship: attention, recognition, speech, touch, and lovemaking. Touch is the final phase before getting in the sack. So if he’s touching you, it’s safe to say his interest is not entirely platonic. That’s a nice start, but there’s an essential bit of meta-information that you need to know, too.

    4. Is he interested in you specifically, or just women in general?

    You meet a guy. He’s utterly charming, listening to you with rapt attention, gazing deep into your eyes to plumb the mystery/passion, and touching you early and often. And you’re loving it.

    The question that most women don’t ask themselves: is he doing this because he’s into me, or because he’s into women in general? Because to an observer the two behaviors look exactly the same.

    Now, if you’re just looking for a RLD (relationship of limited duration), then – who cares! Run with it, girl. But if you’re looking for something lasting longer than a Scaramucci (i.e. a temporal unit equivalent to 10 days), you need to get more data.

    ‘Cause if he’s a shy guy who hardly approaches women, the nature of his attention is much more salient than if he’s a player who collects 20 phone numbers a week. The shy guy is putting everything on the line. The player, on the other hand, has this routine rehearsed so well that he can do it after 7 margaritas, in microgravity, while tied up in a burlap sack.

    The distinction between specific and nonspecific attraction is important because they’re mediated by different brain circuits and hormones. Nonspecific attraction (i.e. lust) is fueled by testosterone. The guy is just generally horny. Specific attraction runs on dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter of goal-directed activity. He is horny for you, and therefore seeks you out. This is the difference between RLD and long-term love.

    So take some time to find out what this guy’s really like. What’s his reputation? How does he behave around other women when you’re with him? Does he flirt shamelessly with the cute waitress, or does he focus his attention fully on you? What do his friends say about him? These are all important bits of information for establishing what kind of person you’re dealing with, and how to interpret his attention.

    5. Actions vs words.

    The most accurate information you can get about a guy is his long-term behavior – the stuff he actually does, over and over again. The least accurate information you can get about him are his words, especially when they are about himself.

    This isn’t necessarily because men brag or that all humans are evil liars. Rather, it illustrates a central principle of human behavior. Science shows that we have cognitive biases that blind us to our own shortcomings, and as a therapist I can tell you that people are horrendous at self-reportage. Like, totally inaccurate, all the time.

    Why? Because well over 99% of your brain’s functioning happens outside of your consciousness. This means that by definition, you don’t have conscious access to what’s really happening in your brain. It’s all about the unconscious.

    Oh, and then there are the guys who will say anything to get into your good graces – or your pants. But you already knew that.

    Now I’m going to overemphasize this point until it gets burned into your consciousness forever, because it is unbelievably important. In fact, the main reason I wrote The Tao of Dating was because I had a darling friend who believed the phrase “I promise I’ll never give you another black eye” more than the actual black eye the guy had given her. And who kept on taking him back and financially supporting him even though he continued to physically abuse her.

    Oh nononononono we can’t let that be you. So you will pay very close attention to what a guy does, and take anything he says with a boulder of salt. Look for actions, not words. Actions, not words. Actions, not words. A thousand times: actions, not words.

    So what are some actions that show he’s truly interested? Having been that interested guy often, here are some things that come to mind:

    1) He calls you and asks you out to spend real, grown-up time together. He’s risking rejection, which means he’s investing ego. He’s agreeing to spend money and time on you, which is more investment.

    2) He does what he says, when he says he’ll do it. Whether it’s to call you, have coffee with you, do you a favor or send you something, watch how he handles his promises. If he handles them poorly during courtship when he’s supposedly putting his best foot forward, he’ll be far worse when he’s in a relationship with you.

    3) He treats you as if your company is a worthy goal in itself, and not just a means to some other end. Guys will request your company for any number of reasons – avoid being lonely, try to get you in bed, or just to hang out. As we already discussed, the question to ask yourself: is he just asking for company, or my company specifically?

    In the early phases of courtship, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Generally speaking, the more planning and risk it involves for the guy, the more serious he is about you. It’s one thing when I ask a woman two weeks in advance to come with me to the sold-out SF Symphony Beethoven extravaganza. It’s another when I ask her if she can join me for a show tomorrow ‘cause I got two comp tickets.

    Mind you, we’re not saying spontaneity is bad; heck, it’s something sorely lacking from most overplanned modern lives. However, if all you’re getting from a guy is spontaneity, that’s a pattern worth noting. You need to figure out if he’s really interested but bad at planning, or just casually interested.

    Once again, the quality of attention during the date tends to be a good indicator of his interest level. If he’s focused on you the whole time, he’s into you. If he’s flirting with the waitress and getting other women’s numbers, he’s probably just there for a good time.

    You are not a potted plant: tiger power vs. flower power

    Now we get to the fun part: the things you can do to get accurate information about where you stand.

    First, I’d like to make a distinction between flower power and tiger power. Flowers don’t have a lot of power. Sometimes they have fancy colors and aromas to attract pollinators, but for the most part they just sit there and look pretty.

    Tigers, on the other hand, are the apex land predators. They roam the range of their vast territory and go for whatever they want, without apology or hesitation.

    Both flower and tiger power are effective in their own way, and everyone has both kinds of power. You just want to make sure that you’re using the right kind of power to get the result that you want.

    Now, if there’s one overarching principle to the Tao of Dating, it’s that you are not a potted plant. Women run families, corporations, states and entire countries. So it does not make sense to be a passive bystander to your own love life. Right now is always a great time to take control.

    But here’s the thing: too much tiger power tends to scare off men. And guys like to hunt, so you must let them be the hunter. They’re just not used to being chased.

    So you will get a little clever. Asking a question like “So why haven’t you kissed me yet?” is tiger power, because you’re taking action. At the same time, you’re stepping back and allowing him to step into his own tiger power.

    Perhaps even more important than asking the question to make sure you get the frame right. So keep it light. If you get all serious on the boy and go “Umm, I’ve been pining for you since the dawn of time and don’t think I can breathe much longer without you” and proceed to faint, you may qualify for a job re-enacting romance novels, but you will scare off the boy. Permanently.

    On the other hand, if you do it all in the name of banter and fun, and you playfully ask him, “Are you shy or something? ‘Cause I know you’re into me, but you haven’t made a move yet. Or if you’re feeling feisty: “Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? You were lying down next to me on a blanket for two hours and didn’t even try to kiss me! Am I ugly? Are you secretly gay? I mean, it’s totally fine if you want to be my GBF, but I just need to know.”

    Why is this powerful? Humor opens up the conversational field, allowing all parties to share their feelings in a safer context. But even more important, you are subtly taking control of the situation instead of just waiting around. At the same time, you are passing the baton to him to take action.

    Create the environment that favors your outcome

    People’s behavior is context-dependent. So if the guy’s interested but shy, or on the fence for whatever reason, here are some ideas for creating an environment conducive to a more romantic interaction.

    How do I know these work? Because wily women have used them on me, that’s how. Pick one depending on your level of interest and boldness:

    • Propose to watch a movie at your place or his. Snuggling on the couch during a movie is completely natural, and a well-known way to not watch the movie at all. (Not that you asked, but the movie in question was L.A. Confidential, and I still haven’t seen it.)

    • Invite him over to your place for dinner. Most guys understand this as a sign of definite interest. If he accepts the invitation, you’re 95% of the way there. Wine helps.

    • Grab your shoulder or your back, and with a pained look on your face say, “I’ve got this terrible knot in my back – could you be kind enough to work on it for a minute?” You probably know what to do from there.

    • Invite him to the beach. Relaxing and frolicking in the sun with minimal clothing is one of the best ways of getting out of your heads and into your bodies. Playing in the water and applying sunscreen to one another are time-honored ways of getting physical.

    • Take a yoga class together. For a zillion reasons, exercising together is generally a good idea. But especially after a yoga class, everyone’s inside their bodies and super chilled out, making physical interaction much easier.

    • Take an acroyoga class together. Acroyoga has taken off all over the world, so you should be able to find a class where you are. It’s basically a full-body contact sport in which you periodically collapse into each other’s arms. It’s also fun. If this doesn’t work in getting romance going, you can safely give up, ’cause nothing will.

    What’s worked for you?

    Awright then! That should give you a few tools for figuring out if a guy has romantic interest in you. Now here’s the thing: I’m just one guy here, but there are thousands of you reading this. And you have the advantage of being actual women! So do you have a tool or technique that you have used successfully to suss out a guy’s interest in you? Then please share it in the comments ASAP! Let’s make this as useful a resource for other women as possible.

    One more thing: I have a little favor to ask you. Are you on Goodreads? If so, could you be kind enough to put The Tao of Dating on your bookshelf and give it a rating once it’s there? For those who aren’t on Goodreads, it’s a fantastic site for book lovers, where you can discover new books and share libraries, reading lists and reviews with friends. It’s also a great tool for authors to reach their audience. It’s particularly important for a book to be on readers’ shelves, because that’s how Goodreads determines whether a book can get promoted on there. This is how I pay the bills, so I would be immensely grateful for your help. Let’s see if we can put the book on a few thousand shelves!

  • Important, Mind-Blowing, Fun: 100 books I read in 2016

    At the beginning of 2016, I decided to devote more time to my favorite activity: reading. I set myself a rough target of two books a week, and got through about 110 of them (32,000 pages, according to my Goodreads profile). On my personal blog, I wrote capsule reviews and ratings of about 100 of those, categorized into the following 5 headings.

    1HELLA IMPORTANT!: These books aren’t necessarily the most fun to get through, but they’re talking about something super important that is probably affecting your life right now, e.g. global warming, mass extinction, the distraction crisis.

    2. MIND-BLOWING: My reaction after reading these books was “Holy cow that was amazing,” whether due to content, style or both. Many of them would also fall under the “Important” or “Loved it!” categories.

    3. SUPER USEFUL: I read a lot of personal growth books, and these are the ones I found particularly useful.

    4. FUN AND FAST: I picked up these books mostly for kicks or out of curiosity. All of them are quick, entertaining reads.

    5. LOVED IT!: My reaction after reading these books was “That was awesome! Why did it have to end?”

    6. HEART-EXPANDING: These are the kind of books that can help you become a kinder, gentler, more thoughtful version of yourself.

    7. MORE: These are the books didn’t quite fit the categories above.

    Click here to take a look at the list and the reviews. I’m lining up books for the next 12 months, and I know you’re a book-reading bunch (that’s how you found me, right?). So if you have some must-reads that would fit in the above categories, please share them in the comments!

    And if you’d like to keep abreast of my reading, follow me on Goodreads: goodreads.com/AliBinazir. And if you’re not on Goodreads already, it’s a fantastic utility for keeping track of your reading and discovering new books.

  • “You’re a great catch but we’re not a good match”: How to let people down easy

    You went out with a guy for a couple of dates. He’s a nice fellow, but you’re not feeling the spark. You want to inform him that he’s no longer a romantic prospect, but you’d like to do it gracefully. How do you let a guy down easy? Or anyone, for that matter?

    This topic came up a couple of times in the last week alone (one of them at my live talk), so apparently it’s on people’s minds. What I recommend is to use two principles: the praise sandwich and the idea of fit.

    The praise sandwich has three components:

    • Start with praise and appreciation, e.g. “Hey, I’m really glad we met, and I think you’re a really great guy.”
    • Express your intention clearly and positively. Emphasize what you want (“I’d like to keep you in my life and stay friends”) as opposed to what you don’t want (“You are so not a romantic prospect”).
    • End with praise and appreciation, e.g. “I just know you’re going to be a great catch for some lucky girl.”
    • Of course, you’ll want to tailor this to the situation at hand. The whole idea that he’s a great catch but not a good match (thanks to M. for this rhyming formulation) is what I mean by fit. It’s not that he’s a bad kisser, or has poor hygiene, or socially awkward, or just not your type: you guys just aren’t a good fit for one another. This makes it less personal, so even if the unsavory things about him are true, he can hold his head up high and legitimately count you as a friend.

    The praise sandwich works particularly well because people tend to remember the first and last things you tell them (the primacy and recency effects, respectively); the meat of the sandwich tends to get forgotten.

    In the end, it’s important to remember that regardless of how large a population center we inhabit, we’re still members of communities. So you want to treat people as if they’re a friend of a friend — someone you’re liable to bump into in the near future. As I explain in the audio from the Q&A session last week, nastiness tends to redound on itself. Gentle let-downs help expand your circle of allies and reduce the amount of incidental rancor in your community and the world at large.

    Also, it occurred to me that you would be even more interested in the Q&A part of last week’s live event than the lecture. Some of the questions we covered:

    • What do you do when most of the guys you meet are younger than you?
    • How about an emotionally unavailable guy? How do you make him open up?
    • Why is it that you always read about women having to change, but not men?
    • And what’s a good way to let a guy down easy?

    Click on the player icon below to listen, or click here if you prefer to download the file (29min, 20mb). To get the full Understanding Men 1 lecture preceding the Q&A for a name-it-yourself price, click here.

    Understanding Men 1 – Q&A Session

    To get the full Understanding Men 1 lecture preceding the Q&A for a name-it-yourself price, click here. I’ve got a bunch of other speaking engagements coming up, so be sure to put these on the calendar:

    Tue Dec 13, How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays
    Tomorrow Tue 13 December at 6pm PT/9pm ET, even though I object to the word “webinar”, I’ll be holding the free webinar “How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays”, just ’cause I like you guys so much. Also, over the 15 years I’ve been teaching this stuff, one thing I’ve learned: most women could be better at meeting men. A lot better. “Nice girls don’t do that”, “It’s the guy’s job”, “What do I even say?” — it’s time to jettison those excuses and expand your repertoire of skills beyond just standing there and looking pretty. We’ve already got 200 signups, so register here so you get the reminders, esp since I’ll be doing live Q&A at the end.

    The Extraordinary Love Series: Find Your Right Man and Make Love Last
    My colleague Orchid Tao has put on this series of video lectures with a whole bunch of speakers (50 of them!) that’s happening Dec 19-Jan 16. Some of the speakers are really, really good. And I’ll be talking for 45min on how to set yourself up for love that lasts. It starts next week; more info for you in the near future. In the meantime, you can sign up for the whole thing for no charge here.

    San Francisco Bay Area, Tue Dec 20: Understanding Men, Empowering Women 2
    The response to the first Understanding Men event was enthusiastic, with everyone and their grandma saying they wanted to show up but just couldn’t. Well, I’m doing it again, so call up grandma, like, right away, so she can book her flight from Florida. This time I’ll be talking about some deep insider secrets about men’s sexuality, as well as some subtle and unsubtle forms of female self-sabotage (e.g. fixation on tall men and insisting on wearing high heels at the same time).

    That’s all for now, since I have to hit the road in a minute to see the extraordinary Jack Kornfield speak at Spirit Rock. Next time, I’ll talk about how to rewire your brain for greater happiness.

  • “Understanding Men” Lecture (audio)

    This week, I gave a talk in San Francisco entitled Understanding Men: On the election, sexism, insecurity, and your love life. I started with a story about my mom, who was a butt-kicking professional woman in Iran, and how she refused to put up with the sexist nonsense that the fundamentalists were propounding after the Revolution. From there, I spoke about how the male vote in the 2016 Presidential elections relates to men’s feelings about dating smart, strong women. The 15min excerpt below talks about the prime directives in male and female behavior, and how that creates three choices for strong women when it comes to choosing and relating to a man:

    Excerpt from “Understanding Men” 5 Dec 2016

    A lot of people were sad to have missed it because of time (or distance) conflict, and asked for a replay. So I’ve edited the talk to 57min and made it available for download. People who attended live paid $15-20, so I’ve decided to let you name a fair price for the download — somewhere between two 3-minute songs from your favorite Justin Bieber album, or the full album. NOTE: Downloads don’t work well from mobile devices, so please make the purchase from a computer.

    Other topics covered in this talk:

    • The two components of partnership with a Good Guy: spot him, and partner with him; how to do it
    • Knowing the difference between mere marketing bluster and honest signals
    • The implicit association test (IAT) and what it says about misogyny amongst women
    • Pernicious sources of female insecurity
    • Perfectionism as a form of covert self-loathing, and what to do instead
    • An exercise for rewiring your brain to tame your negative inner voice

    Click here to purchase the full lecture.

    Tue Dec 13: How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays

    In the meantime, on Tue 13 December, a week from today, even though I object to the word “webinar”, I’ll be holding the free webinar “How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays”, just ’cause I like you guys so much. Also, over the 15 years I’ve been teaching this stuff, one thing I’ve learned: most women could be better at meeting men. A lot better. “Nice girls don’t do that”, “It’s the guy’s job”, “What do I even say?” — it’s time to jettison those excuses and expand your repertoire of skills beyond just standing there and looking pretty. We’ve already got 200 signups, so register here so you get the reminders, esp since I’ll be doing live Q&A at the end.

    And do send your questions. Under 250 words, and make sure it contains a question regarding the outcome you desire!

    Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali

  • How to Meet Men During the Holidays: 3 tips + free webinar

    The holiday season is upon us, which means that many of you will be going to a bunch of holiday parties. This is an excellent time to get out and make new friends. And by friends, I mean people you’d want to date. If you don’t believe me that December is the best month to meet people, believe the US Census Bureau: the most babies are born in August, followed by September and July. Which means that people were engaging in lineage-perpetuating activities nine months before, which brings us to… ah yes, December and November.

    This letter asks about how you actually do it — y’know, get a guy’s number under combat conditions and stuff:

    “I’m still working my way through the modules of Project Irresistible and will need to listen to them once or twice more to really grasp some of the information presented. I really enjoyed the classes and feel that I am seeing some results already. Joined yoga which I realized I had missed as part of my routine and going out more often.

    Quick situation I wanted to run by you: I was picking up my dry cleaning and there was this good looking guy there. We were the only two in the store. While the person was getting my dry cleaning, I did the smiling eye contact with good intention thing, and then he came over and we started a conversation back and forth about how good a dry cleaning place it is and how fast and reasonably priced they are.
    I couldn’t figure out how to shift the conversation to something else. I got my dry cleaning and smiled at the guy and left.

    Any suggestions? The situation didn’t lend itself to compliments (I don’t think) since I couldn’t figure out how to shift the conversation. Should it have been something like – “I love coming here but sometimes it’s a little far with traffic. Do you live or work close by?” That’s the only thing I could think of in retrospect. Thank you, Christine”

    Great question, Christine! A lot of what I write is about mindset and being your best self. But sometimes, you just straight up need some techniques that work. This is one of those times. 

    In the big city with people constantly in motion, it can be challenging to make a connection. That’s what the 3 C’s emphasize: Conversation-friendliness, Community, and Continuity. You want to be able to have a meaningful exchange of sufficient length in a safe context such that you can follow up with the person later.

    But sometimes, moments arise where there’s a quick connection, but not enough time for the conversation to develop to the point where you can comfortably exchange information, even when it’s very clear that the attraction is mutual.

    Now the dry cleaners is a great venue because the people there are likely to be local (good for Community), affluent, and probably gainfully employed. This is the realm of grownups. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of Continuity — people grab their stuff and take off, with little time for a full conversation.

    That’s why you have to be prepared. A few ways of doing that:

    1) Have a business card ready. This cuts out the middleman of fumbling for phones, or pen and paper. It also conveys that you’re a serious person, with job and income and titles and all that glorious adult stuff. All you have to say is, “Hey, I’d love to continue this conversation sometime. Let’s keep in touch. Do you have a card?” Then get yours out. If he doesn’t have one, jot his info down and be on your merry way. You don’t need an excuse or an explanation — you are a woman. The attention you just gave him probably made his day. And if not, that’s useful information, too.

    2) Have a Container Event ready, or make one up right on the spot. I have a Bookswap Brunch that I do once a month or so, where people bring books to swap with each other while having a tasty brunch. It’s a great community builder, allowing me to add new people to my circle of friends in a casual, fun setting. It also gives me an eminently plausible excuse for getting people’s contact info.

    If you’re hosting an event, throwing a party or going to a show that you have extra tickets to, there’s your opportunity to recruit anyone to your cause. “Hey, are you free Thursday night? Because I’ve got us some Cirque du Soleil tickets.” Yes please!

    3) Be spontaneous. If it’s lunchtime, or you have time for a coffee, why not ask him to join you right then and there: “Hey, I was about to grab lunch next door — would you like to continue this conversation there?” One of my best relationships started that way, and maybe yours will, too.

    FREE WEBINAR: HOW TO MEET MEN DURING THE HOLIDAYS

    Now this topic happens to be one of the most common that women ask me about. So to address the question more thoroughly, I’m going to hold a no-charge 1-hr webinar on Tue 13 Dec 2016 on this very topic. Capacity for the webinar is only 100 people, so if you want to be on, I would recommend that you click on this link right now and sign up. Nothing to lose; much joy, potential partnership, wedding ceremonies, rugrats, and massive private school and college bills to gain :)

    San Francisco Bay Area: UNDERSTANDING MEN Live Lecture + Q&A Mon 5 Dec 6.30-8pm

    On the morning of November 9, perhaps you were one of the millions of women who woke up wondering, “How come so many guys voted for someone who clearly disrespects women?” Or, even more puzzling, “How come so many women voted for a guy who disrespects women?” (Hint: If you were rejoicing on Nov 9, this talk is probably not aimed at you.)

    In this short lecture + Q&A on Mon 5 Dec, I’ll be talking about what this election revealed about male-female dynamics:

    • How men really feel about dating strong, smart, accomplished women like yourself
    • How does a woman’s vote for an avowed sexist reflect in her love life?
    • Is there a central glitch in the human mate-selection operating system, and if so, how is it showing up in your life?
    • Male & female insecurity, and what you can do about it

    The talk is brand new with material I’ve never published before, drawing upon the Tao of Dating books for men and women, 14 years studying love lives, and answering over 5000 letters. I’ll be talking about some uneasy truths that I hope will enlighten and challenge your view of the world. Note that if you are a guy and/or voted for the disrespectful guy, this talk will probably be tough to take.

    It’s also been over 2 years since I’ve done a live event like this in San Francisco, so it’s about time! Would love to see you if you’re in the Bay Area already, and if not, please tell your friends who are.  I’ll do a 30-45min lecture, followed by open Q&A (about anything love-related, not just the topic of the day). It will basically be like a live version of the blog, so bring your questions! It’s like therapy, only cheaper and more fun. The room is smallish, so if you want a seat, get your tickets quick — there are about 19 left. I’ll also have copies of the book on sale to sign.

    Look forward to seeing you soon, Dr Ali

  • Resources for Resilience

    I understand that many of you had a rough week.

    You saw a candidate who routinely insulted minorities, immigrants, handicapped people, and LGBT folks become President-elect of the nation. You saw a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women win the highest office in the land. And you saw friends, family, and fellow Americans disregard all of that ugliness and vote for him anyway.

    If in the past week you have felt less safe; disrespected as a woman; in despair about the state of democracy; worried about the future of your self and country – I hear you.

    So I’m having free office hours tomorrow Wed 16 Nov from 12 noon-2pm PT/3pm-5pm ET. If you want to talk about stuff, just call 213 444 6826. If I’m talking to someone else, leave a message and I’ll call you back.

    In the meantime, even though something very strange has happened, worry is not going to help. The world keeps turning, and frankly it needs you. So if you are not feeling tip-top, here are some ways to improve your resilience and bounce back, pronto:

    1) Move. There is nothing that changes your mood more reliably than exercise. So get out of the house and move – go for a run, do yoga, take an exercise class, or just enjoy a long walk. Even if you really, really don’t feel like it and it requires a crane to get you out of the house, just do it. You’ll thank you for it.

    2) Reconnect. We humans are hypersocial creatures. And yet, as books like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone show, the sense of community in America has been eroding over the years. Singles living alone are now the biggest demographic group in America, and nothing about the 6 million year history of hominin evolution prepared us for living by ourselves. So get together with people. Organize a movie night, go watch sports together in a bar, go dancing, have a dinner party. Good company is healing.

    3) Listen to music. If you’ve noticed that music has mood-altering qualities, it’s because it does. It’s like a fast-acting, totally legal drug. Which also explains why so many repressive cultures ban music (think the Taliban or fundamentalist Iran). So grab your smartphone, fire up your Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music or Pandora, and listen to some seriously uplifting tunes. If said tunes make you dance, even better (see #1 above). Here’s a list of a hundred or so songs that never fail to get me jammin’.

    Classical music is particularly powerful for me. Some pieces that get me going when I need to scrape myself off the floor: Brahms Piano Concerto #1 (more on the kickass empowering and passionate side of things rather than just cheery); Mendelssohn Symphony #4, “Italian” (relentless exuberance); Beethoven Symphony #6 “Pastoral” and #7.

    4) Meditate. Sit. Yeah, just close your eyes and sit. And don’t do anything else. That’s basically what meditation is. For extra credit, do your best to clear your mind of thoughts. You do this by focusing on something other than random thoughts – say, the sensation of breath as it goes through your nostrils. Repeating an internal sounds also helps you focus. You can say “calm” as you inhale, and “mind” as you exhale. Mantra is the fancy Sanskrit name for this, and some religious organizations charge $5000+ for giving you one. Which is bananas. Just email me a beer instead.

    5) Practice mindfulness. Wait, I thought we just talked about meditation, didn’t we? Ah. Meditation is a form of mindfulness, but not the same thing. Mindfulness is something that doesn’t require that you sit or close your eyes. You can practice it all the time. It just means you’re paying attention to this present moment instead of the past or the future. Because, if you really think about it, all of your problems reside in the past or the future. Right now – this tiny sliver of a second constituting the present moment – is frankly too narrow to contain any problems.

    Mindfulness means that if you’re washing dishes, do that and only that. Feel the warmth of the water, the hardness of the plates, the slipperiness of the suds. Hear the sounds of splashing water, and the squeak of sponge on dish. If you’re walking, feel your footfalls. Which part of your foot hits the ground first? Which one is next? How do your legs feel as they alternately support and swing? What are your arms doing?

    As you do this, you may notice something: this moment in time is always fundamentally okay. If you’re reading this now, chances are you’ve got a roof over your head, you’re in reasonably good health, you’re fed, you’ve got friends and family who care. And then the next moment in time – still pretty good. And the next one? Yup. String together enough of these mindful moments, and you get whole days, months and years. This way, you can get through anything.

    6) Serve. One of the best ways to cheer yourself up is to help cheer other people up. Hey, why do you think I do this stuff? So call up a friend, offer to listen, go deliver a hug in person, send them this list, and otherwise make yourself useful.

    7) Be grateful. Let’s try an experiment: think of something you’re grateful for. Could be your family, your health, your car that gets you around. Now notice that while you’re feeling gratitude, it’s impossible to feel demanding, slighted, indignant or otherwise grumpy. I mean, you’re here! On Earth! With free gravity keeping you from being flung into space, free atmosphere giving you oxygen courtesy of plants, and a magnetic field and ozone layer that deflect cosmic and UV rays so we don’t get baked. Pretty sweet, eh?

    So go ahead and grab a piece of paper, and write down 3 things you’re super grateful for. Meditate on them, and deeply appreciate them in your life for 30sec each. Then go on with the rest of your day. Science shows that making this a daily or even weekly practice has measurable benefits for your long-term happiness. This really should have been at the top of the list; thanks to eagle-eyed reader Maria for bringing it to my attention.

    SF: THE TAO OF DATING AND LOVE, MON NOV 28

    All of the things I just mentioned are free and available to you right now. If you’d prefer to buy a ticket and you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’re in luck. Because I’m doing one of my rare live events in a couple of weeks! The Tao of Dating and Love will be on the evening of Mon Nov 28. I’ll do a short (30-45min) lecture followed by Q&A. Tickets are cheap. And if you’re not in the neighborhood, tell your friends who are! Would be great to see them.

    WORLDWIDE: OPEN OFFICE HOURS WED 16 NOV, 12NOON-2PM PT

    As I already mentioned, for those not local to SF, I’ll have Open Office Hours tomorrow, Wed Nov 16, 12pm-2pm PT/3pm-5pm ET. Just call 213 444-6826. If I’m free, I’ll pick up; if I’m talking to someone else, I’ll call you back. Simple.

    PROJECT IRRESISTIBLE: NEW LIVE COHORT

    I’m starting a new live cohort of Project Irresistible two weeks from now on Tue 29 Nov. Why? Because it’s the holiday season, when a woman’s thoughts turn to love and “Who should I take to the office party?” and “Whom will be making out with at midnight on New Year’s Eve?” Most people have a lot on their plate during the holiday season (literally and figuratively), but they’re also going to a lot of social events. Moreover, everyone’s in a sunny holiday mood (read: slightly tipsy and/or desperate). Translation: This is a really good time to meet new people. Why do you think the most number of kids are born in August? Because people are hooking up left and right during the holidays, that’s why.

    Anyway, there are 6 sessions in total. We’re going to do 4 sessions before the New Year, which should get you in excellent shape to capitalize on all the social happenings. The remaining 2 sessions will be in 2017. If you join in the next 48hrs, you get $100 off with code “FALL100”. After that, it’s a $75 discount.

    And remember, the course is evergreen. All the material is online, and you can come back to it as often as you want, and join a live cohort whenever I have one. So if you’ve been meaning to get your love life in shape and find some warm, kind, steady, and fulfilling partnership, now is a really good time to sign up to refine your skills.

    STILL MOPING?

    Hey, I hear ya. Things were probably rough even before they got rougher! We live in uncertain times. But guess what: as the ever-wise Jack Kornfield brought to our attention in his talk at Spirit Rock last night, any human who has ever lived has lived in uncertain times! None of this is entirely new. And you know what? You’re ready to handle whatever comes your way. I have faith in you.

    And just so you can have even more faith in yourself, here are two resources straight from my secret stash that have been very useful to me:

    • The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, by Mark Nepo. This is a daybook. You get an essay for every calendar day. For example, for May 1, it’s entitled “Burying and Planting: The culmination of one love, one dream, one self, is the anonymous seed of the next.”

    Mark Nepo has been through a lot (cancer, divorce etc). As a result, he always writes from a place of deep vulnerability. He also writes beautifully. No wonder Oprah went gaga over his book when she found out about it in 2010. You will, too, so get yourself the paperback gift edition for a mere $11 (or the ebook) and put it on your bedstand. You’ll be glad you did.

    • Reverend Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith speaks on Wed evenings and Sun mornings at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles. You can either watch the livestream or go to watch from the archives right now for no charge (perhaps the Nov 9 service will be of interest; lecture starts around 51:00). He is one industrial-strength wallop of inspiration and the best living orator I know. The services are spiritually-oriented and non-denominational. I think of it as church for people who don’t usually go to church.

    There are some recurring themes to his messages: you have the power to think independently of circumstance; you have a gift, and the world is waiting for it. Yet somehow, every time it feels as if he’s directly addressing you and the challenge you’re having right now. Oprah has also recently discovered Rev Michael and had him featured on Super Soul Sunday. Rev Michael was a pivotal part of starting my writing career 11 years ago. He is an extraordinarily helpful resource in times of trouble or joy.

    And if you have a go-to resource that you’d like to share with the rest of the Tao of Dating community, please write it down here in the comments! Whether it’s running, knitting, playing with your pet, a particular book or poem, I’d personally love to hear about it, and I’m sure the rest of the readers could benefit from it, too.

    All the best, Dr Ali

  • The Science of Meditation: 5-day online class, Oct 19-24

    Meditation has been the single most transformative practice I have taken up. It has made me a calmer, less reactive, more thoughtful person. The first thing I do every morning is meditate, and I consider it the most important part of my day.

    For years, I’ve been talking about meditation to whoever would listen. I’ve offered some rudimentary training in it in articles and workshops, and even talked about the science behind it. So I’m thrilled to announce that our friends at the Shambhala Mountain Center are starting a 5-day “Science of Meditation” online course featuring some of the best meditation teachers in the world.

    For someone deep into meditation, the list of teachers reads like the Team USA Basketball team roster: all the superstars in one spot. I am not exaggerating when I say these folks are the best at what they do:

    Anyway, the whole thing is broadcast for your benefit without charge; you may access the recordings up to 48hrs after they’re broadcast. Should you decide to purchase a package of the recordings, I receive a part of the proceeds. And frankly, if I didn’t receive a penny, I would still tell everyone in the world about this. There’s a few millennia worth of wisdom amongst these teachers, and they receive my highest recommendation.

    I’ll be listening to the lectures myself. Whether you’re a long-time meditator looking to deepen your practice, or a novice looking for a right excuse to jump in, you can’t do better than the teachers on the roster for the Science of Meditation Summit. Meditation is the life-changing practice, and I sincerely hope you can join me. Click here to sign up.

  • Wisdom of Women, Pt 3: On self-compassion + best letter of 2016?

    ***ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ll be conducting a LIVE WORKSHOP in San Francisco on Monday October 3 called How to Be a Compelling Speaker: The Art, Science & Practice of Charisma. Whether you’re asking for a raise, presenting in front of a big client, getting a seed round going, defending a PhD or asking someone on a date, there will be turning points in your life when your fate hinges upon the quality of the pitch you make. Do you know what to do to make that pitch great every time? Or are you leaving those crucial turning points to chance? In this live talk/workshop, we will teach you some of the main principles behind being compelling so those presentations go better and better every time you make them. Tickets here.***

    I get a lot of letters from readers. There are common themes to these letters: Why do I behave this way? Why does he do that? Can I trust men? Is a long-term committed relationship even possible? How do I overcome my upbringing and/or religion to find true connection?

    But rarely does a letter hit all of those themes at the same time. Martha, a very thoughtful 30yr old graduate student from Oregon sent me this letter recently. I’m publishing this on the blog not because it has concrete answers to challenges women encounter in their love lives, but because it raises a lot of questions that women commonly ask themselves. Let’s read the letter together (edited for clarity), followed by my comments:

    “Dear Dr Ali — I’m at a stage of serious introspection in life and obsessed about discovering the roots of every decision we make, the unconscious mind. But I tend to come up with philosophical and existential questions that make everything harder. This expands to different areas in life, specifically relationships. Learning that I belong to the anxiously attached category helped me understand the painful break-ups and self-destructive patterns of thinking that followed. Was this just a result of my caretakers’ actions or more than that? I notice the numerous ways we helplessly cling on to different means to feel secure when we don’t have the internal resources to know we will be OK if things go sour. In my life these external resources have been: feeling loved and wanted, and clinging to religious practices.

    Like many others, I didn’t have a great childhood and grew up in a male-dominant family, where submissive qualities were part of being a woman. Along with that, I was exposed to continuous fights over parental infidelity, leading me to lose trust in men.

    In real life, I have never been cheated on but because of my limiting beliefs, my unconscious mind has created this scenario over and over again to protect me in this potential “life-threatening” situation. It’s the one thing that has countless times made me feel powerless and not good enough. No matter how much I learn, my brain doesn’t sync up with today’s reality and let go of the survival mechanism it has produced years ago. I believed that no matter how good you are, you are only one woman and if men need variety, then you’re never good enough on your own.

    Since I was also criticized a lot, I always wanted to be more, which served me well but also with the downside of never being happy with who I was. I also wonder if I lack determination in my decision-making or reactions. I wanted to break the taboo of dating someone from a different socioeconomic status, which is why I started dating my boyfriend Bradley about a year ago.

    I often find myself analyzing everything my partner says, looking for its origin in order to discover the real him:

    • He says a lot of men have extramarital sex that men because they’re evolutionarily wired to reproduce, therefore able to detach emotionally and have sex with someone they don’t love. To me, making love is sacred; it’s where you connect with the one you love at every level and that’s why I can’t be okay with how men feel about it (if this is true).
    • Or the fact that even though he truly loves me, thinks the world of me and would do anything for me, he believes that any relationship will become routine. Whereas I believe that maybe most of us get married for the wrong reasons, and we simply mistakenly label different emotions as love, and so we inevitably would end up not content with our marriage and choose to leave or cheat. I’d like to think that they’re missing real intimacy in life and they use affairs as an outlet to compensate for it. Conclusion: maybe/hopefully loyalty is possible.

    These conversations alarm me and rev up my sympathetic nervous system to withdraw from trusting him in the long run. But then I’m relieved when I occasionally remember that maybe there are others that could love me and want me for life. But then again, I realize that this is still giving authority to external circumstances to keep me content.

    I never fear being left because someone smarter or kinder may come along. I fear being left for a more attractive girl, or simply a different kind of beauty. This may be due to my belief in men’s susceptibility to visual stimulus, or the belief that men need variety when it comes to appearance. To this day, I haven’t figured out if this statement is true or not, or if it is legitimate to expect men to be monogamous and happy at the same time.

    I worry about getting old and losing physical beauty, but at the same time I realize that being a goddess is not a requirement to keep a man loyal. Many men cheat even when they have a goddess at home. What puzzles me is that even though I consider my mother a very beautiful woman (though lacked in other areas) and know that it did not stop my father from cheating, I take physical comments to heart and I worry about losing the field to younger girls. I don’t understand the I tend not to believe in that men can be loyal but yet let them discredit me with the value system I don’t approve of. I also understand that you don’t own the one you love but the fear of being defeated after investing years of trust makes me feel beaten in the contest. I hate being the possessive girl that scares guys away but despite my efforts in hiding this insecurity; it’s been clearly sensed by my partner through non-verbal communication. I wonder if I have unconsciously always gone for the wrong guys to prove myself that men are not trustworthy. I want to be OK on my own, even if no man is ever going to be loyal to me for eternity. I want to stop worrying and being loved to be happy. All my best, Martha”

    Before I comment on the content of this letter, I’d like to observe that the issues that she mentions are extremely common. Heck, it’s exactly the kind of stuff I’ve been hearing since I started doing this stuff. And yet, there is an undertone of self-recrmination to the whole thing, a sense of “What’s wrong with me?!?”

    Well, if some of what Martha brought up resonated with you, raise your hand. See? Lots of raised hands out there. Which brings me to the topic I want to talk about today: self-compassion. Prof Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin is the pioneering researcher of self-compassion. Here’s her definition: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. After all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” She says it comprises three elements, which I quote from Dr Neff’s excellent, resource-rich website:

    1. Self-kindness vs self-judgment. “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”
    2. Common humanity vs isolation. “Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.”
    3. Mindfulness vs over-identification. “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.”

    Now let’s see how we can apply each of these concepts to the challenges the letter brings up.

    The most obvious one is recognizing our common humanity. Right now, as you’re sitting there, you’re probably thinking, “Well, nobody has the kind of problems I have.” Heck, you may even take pride that your problems are unique — no one else could be having them! And you would be wrong. Out there in Oregon, writing these thoughts to me, Martha is probably pretty sure that she is the only person in the world that has this constellation of challenges. And yet, you the reader can probably identify with a bunch of them: trust, loyalty, partnership, sexuality, feeling enough, gender differences.

    Once you realize the rest of the world is also having these issues, it somehow becomes much easier to bear. Reminds me of that line from The Police’s “Message in a Bottle”:

    Walked out this morning
    Don’t believe what I saw
    A hundred billion bottles
    Washed up on the shore
    Seems I’m not alone at being alone
    A hundred billion castaways
    Looking for a home

    That brings us to Principle #1, Self-kindness. Hey, if it’s happening to everyone else, too, might as well go easy on myself. Some folks — especially perfectionists — have somehow internalized that there is virtue in ripping into yourself. Well, there isn’t, so stop it already. Besides, which part of you is ripping into which part of you? Are you slapping yourself in the face with your own hand, or elbowing yourself in the stomach? Do you have any idea how weird that sounds? Stop that now before I call in the shrinks.

    And that brings us to Principle #3, Mindfulness. Look, you’re feeling something. Just go ahead and feel it fully, without letting it be your whole existence and identity. When you allow them to express fully, feelings fade over time. But if you resist them, they persist. So let them be, then let them go.

    Mindfulness is also about being fully present in the moment. This happens to be the antidote to overthinking or rumination, which is what this letter is doing a lot of. Like many of you, Martha is a smart, highly-educated woman. And like many of you, she thinks a lot about things that have never happened and may never happen. Some of these thoughts may turn into worries, which may become anxieties looming large enough to alter your daily behavior.

    For example, Martha talked about infidelity: “In real life, I have never been cheated on but because of my limiting beliefs, my unconscious mind has created this scenario over and over again to protect me in this potential “life-threatening” situation. It’s the one thing that has countless times made me feel powerless and not good enough.”

    Even though she has never been cheated on, there’s this gremlin lurking in the shadows all the time, which diminishes the quality of her life.

    The solution? It’s easy for me to say “stop doing that”, but not terribly effective. What works is to do something else instead. What’s the thing? Gratitude. It’s impossible for anyone to feel sorry for herself and grateful at the same time.

    If you’ve been habitually ruminating and overthinking for, say, your whole life, now is a really good time to change that behavior. As the Tao Te Ching says, “Stop thinking, and solve all your problems.” Here’s what I recommend:

    1. Use the rubber-band technique. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. Any time you start to worry, ruminate or overthink, snap yourself so it stings a little. Your brain will very rapidly learn to stop doing the behavior that leads to the snap. You can kick habits like this in less than a week — sometimes in as little as two days. This also works for other habits like complaining, gossiping or eating brownies.
    2. Get yourself a Pavlok. If a rubber band is not fancy enough for you, I recommend this behavioral modification wristband called a Pavlok (combination of “Pavlovian” + “shock”). Instead of just a snap, the Pavlok delivers an actual electric shock to your skin, I kid thee not. It’s a supremely versatile device that can be programmed to buzz, ring or flash, depending on what kind of behavior you want to diminish or reinforce. You can program it to help you get up on time, quit smoking, exercise more, stop biting your nails, or kick a social media habit. The mild shock is definitely unpleasant, so if you’re willing to shock yourself whenever you ruminate or overthink, you’ll be done with that habit in a hurry. It’s about the same price as a single therapy session, but with potentially lifelong utility.
    1. Meditate. I get on this hobbyhorse at least once per post, so might as well tell you again: meditation is a life-changing practice. It not only solves all the problems you have right now, but also all the ones you’ll have in the future. But you won’t even know it, because they won’t be problems any more! I’m only exaggerating a little, folks. Get the Headspace app on your smartphone to get started, or check out one of the dozens posts I’ve written on the topic. Meditation is the ultimate antidote to rumination.

    There’s a lot more we could discuss from this very rich letter, but the points I wanted to make today  were:

    • Your challenges are common. You are not alone. Join the club!
    • Many of those challenges can be overcome through practices like mindfulness, gratitude, self-compassion, and meditation.

    If the letter resonated with you, share your thoughts in the comments.

    All the best, Dr Ali

    PS: For those of you who are in the Bay Area on Mon Oct 3, would love to see you at my live workshop. Please drop by and say hi! And use code “FF” to get the discount for my readers.

    PPS: For those who missed the “How to Connect Deeply” teleclass with Christine Mason on her new book Indivisible, here’s the replay and download link for you:

     

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