Here’s a most excellent letter about a question that every woman has asked at some point in her life:
“Why is it that a guy fiercely pursues a woman at first, and then when he finds out she is actually interested he is not so sure if he is interested anymore? And then his interest wanes and he starts treating her like an option instead of a priority? When can you let a guy know you are interested! At what stage? Is dating just one big game? How do you get a guy to treat you like priority instead of an option? For background, I’m 29, live in Australia, and I’ve been on 5 dates with this guy so far but we haven’t kissed yet.” — Sheila
Well well. An excellent question that has been posed by women since time immemorial. There he was, totally interested, looking dapper in his buffalo skin while nonchalantly swinging his club at the cave entrance, offering you some freshly killed mastodon meat. There he was, showing up outside your castle window every day in his mostly shiny but frankly also a little rusty armor, strumming his lute and warbling his troubadour songs. There he was at the opera house, his head low and eyes up giving him that simultaneously worshipful and conspiratorial look, passing you a note saying, “Meet me at the fountain when the clock tower strikes nine.” There he was, texting you right back when you texted him, even asking you out on actual grown-up dates to actual grown-up places like concerts and lectures, and then… poof.
What is up with that?! Why do men lose interest? What, if anything, could you have done differently? (more…)
Lately, several trends have gotten me thinking about the end of the world: military escalation, global warming, nascent pandemics. And more pernicious than them all, dating apps. Y’know, like Hinder, Stumble and Cringe. If you think I’m kidding, you’d be only partially right. Because those innocent-looking swipey apps are far more destructive than you’d imagine. So I’m going give you 10 reasons to delete those apps right now. Your choice: save yourself from a world of pain, or it’s app-ocalypse now. Let’s see what we can do to save your corner of the world.
1. Apps are designed to make them profit, not make you happy
There’s just enough variety amongst the dating apps to distinguish themselves from each other. But in the end, they all have one thing in common: they are businesses. Number of dating apps that are a saintly charity devoted to finding you a perfect match: exactly zero.
And you don’t need an MBA to know that dating apps don’t make money when you leave their app. Let’s say you to come on our hypothetical app, Hinder. On day one, you get matched with a studmuffin who’s 100% absolutely perfect for you, with whom you proceed to trot off into the sunset and off the app. That would be great for you — but a disaster for Hinder. Why? Because they can’t make any more money off you (and Mr Perfect) when you’re both happy and gone! Their entire business model depends on keeping you on the platform for as long as possible.
This means that your goals and their goals are at odds with each other. Economists call this perverse incentives. It’s like hiring a lawyer to work on your case by the hour. While you want the case to end as quickly as possible, he gets paid more the longer the case goes. Will he have your best interests in mind, or his own?
In the case of the dating apps, it’s pretty clear: they have their own best interests in mind. So it only makes sense for Hinder and Stumble to show you the profiles of people who are okay-but-not-great matches for you. Basically, they’re in the business of hindering your ability to find a long-term partner.
Now if you’re looking for fling but not ring, then no problem — your incentives and Hinder’s are aligned. Go to town! Otherwise, know that their matching algorithms are optimized for making them a profit, not making you happy.
2. Ordering humans on an app just doesn’t seem right
Have you ordered anything online in the past month? Food? Books? Clothes? Shoes? The idea of searching for exactly what you want, finding it, ordering it, and having it magically appear at your doorstep is far too seductive to pass up. And unless you live under a rock, you have ordered something online in recent memory.
How about people? Have you ever ordered people online? Before you rail at me — omigod that’s like human trafficking SO wrong — isn’t that exactly what you’re doing when you’re on a dating app? Granted, you don’t always get what you thought you had ordered, like when people’s profile pics are from 10 years or 50 pounds ago. And sometimes the same-day delivery isn’t so reliable (except for Grindr, which I hear has same-minute delivery). But the process? Pretty much the same.
On the dating apps, the people are the products you’re selecting from. Now, I don’t know how romantic it sounds to you to turn the potential love of your life into a commodity like sneakers or spare phone chargers. But commoditizing people sounds like a terrible idea. Moreover, by being on the apps, you’re agreeing to turn yourself into a commodity, too. You, the supreme goddess of love, beauty, and joy, reduced to the status of compression socks and charging cables.
Consider this instead: refuse to commoditize other humans or let yourself be commoditized. Give yourself and others the dignity they deserve as the unprecedented miracles they are, and get off the damn apps. That way you can meet one another in natural human habitats — dinner parties, cafés, Zumba classes — and connect in a way that doesn’t turn you into glorified widgets.
3. Apps addict you with slot machine psychology
I recently read that users of Tinder, the original swipey app, spend 90 minutes a day swiping on it. 90 minutes! That’s enough time to read War and Peace, learn French, or take paddleboarding lessons. Apps can hook you for hours on end because they are designed like slot machines. As Prof Natasha Dow Schüll explains in her engaging book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, these gizmos use a technique called intermittent variable reinforcement to keep you addicted.
It basically works like this. For those of you reading this in a glorious future in which these apps have reached their well-deserved eternal demise and therefore have no idea what I’m talking about: you express your interest in someone by swiping right. You don’t match with everyone you swipe right on. But every once in a while, bing bing bing JACKPOT you get a match! Hallelujah! That’s when your brain gets a little hit of happy juice called dopamine, which is the same reward chemical you get when you do cocaine or heroin. Which keeps you going for the next fix. Which is why most of us get literally addicted to these apps, swiping on them for hours at a time. No wonder why drug addicts and app customers are both called users.
As your friendly neighborhood Happiness Doctor, I believe that the opposite of happiness is not depression. It’s compulsion, because it robs you of your will, depriving you of the freedom to spend your life as you choose. It’s like imprisonment, just without the chic orange jumpsuit.
I don’t want you to be captive to some app designed to make you its miserable slave. I want you to be happy. So delete the damn apps and get out there instead. That French paddleboarding instructor just might want to cuddle up and read War and Peace with you.
4. Apps kill civility
Ever noticed how people are just ruder online — including yourself? No need to feel guilty — it’s a universal issue. Online, a host of factors, including absence of face-to-face contact or accountability, bring out our worst selves (same is true when driving, incidentally).
And so people will easily dismiss someone online who could be a great match in person. Or match with you on the app, but not respond when you message. Or say something unbelievably crude. Or not call when they say they will. Or not show up to a date.
It’s one thing to deal with a single instance of incivility. But collectively, these little indignities add up and gradually age your soul. They could even make some people lose their faith in basic human decency. How much more of any of that do you need in your life?
The good news is that people tend to be much more civil in person. They say “hi” back. They will give you the time of day. If you look desperate enough, they may even point you to the bathroom. So instead of wading neck-deep into the swamp of disappointing behavior that is dating apps, you may want to go meet much nicer people in real life through friends and family.
Don’t get me wrong — the humans will still be disappointing. After all, it’s all the same earthlings. But at least this swamp will be just ankle-deep.
5. Apps hijack your drive state, turning you in to a zombie couch potato
Let me tell you a little more about this crazy little multitalented molecule called dopamine. One of dopamine’s duties is to serve as our main mental fuel driving us to seek survival goods, like food, shelter, and sex. Drive states are essential to our survival, both as an individual and a species. Any kind of addiction — drugs, video games, porn — can hijack these drive states. So now instead of going out foraging for food and seeking a suitable mate, you just stay home and play video games, smoke meth — or swipe on an app. Not good for you; not good for the species.
This is particularly pernicious because using the apps messes up your neurology to prevent the one thing you need to do to alleviate your singlehood: to get off the damn couch and go meet some eligible humans. So if after an hour of swiping on an app, you feel strangely depleted and unmotivated to go out, now you know why. Delete the app, and go get some sunshine (or moonshine) so someone has a chance to take a shine to you. Don’t do it for you; do it for the species.
6. Winners take all on the apps, leaving most people in the cold
When I was a kid, we once took in a stray cat, which we imaginatively called Kitty. Initially, we fed Kitty dry kibble, and he loved it. “This is great! So much better than being a hungry stray!” he would have said, if cats could talk. One day, I saw some TV ads for a cat food so fancy as to have the word in its name: Fancy Feast. The next day, I bought some Fancy Feast on my way back from school. Kitty devoured it with the glee of a child encountering brownies for the first time. Hell, Fancy Feast works!
Except for one problem: after we ran out of the Fancy Feast, Kitty refused to go back to the regular kibble. It wasn’t so much disdain as it was a complete refusal to acknowledge the kibble’s existence. “What, you want me to go back to that dry, flavorless stuff that comes out of a bag? What do you take me for, some kind of stray? Feh.”
Something similar happens when people get on dating apps. The app shows her Chad, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed 6’3″ former college athlete who’s making bank at an investment bank, and she thinks, “That’s what I’m talking about! Swipe right for Mr Right.”
This is fine, except for one problem: once you’ve seen Chad, normal Joes who are just 5’10” sub-zillionaires just ain’t going to cut it anymore. They have been reduced to the status of dry kibble, and you couldn’t possibly stoop that low. You ain’t no stray.
Congratulations — now you and Kitty have something in common. You both have Fancy Feast Syndrome (FFS). A core feature of human (and cat) neurology is that once you’ve seen a delectable dish like Chad, it’s hard to go back to sloppy Joe. This isn’t evil or wrong; it’s normal. But it does have a series of far-reaching consequences, none of which are good for your happiness or society.
First, because the likes of Chad are getting all the attention, all the regular guys are not. By some accounts, 90% of all matches are going to less than 10% of the guys. And according to studies, the match rate for guys on apps hovers somewhere around 0.5%. That’s 1 in 200. While normal Joe can barely score one date, Chad has to hire Scooter, a personal booty-call scheduler, just to service his 300 matches. This winner-take-all situation leaves most of the guys on apps frustrated and lonely (and Chad very tired).
Second, because it’s not just you who’s trying to match with Chad but also every other woman on the platform, he just may not have time for you. In fact, with his excess of choice, he’s got even worse Fancy Feast Syndrome than you. Anyone less than a supermodel just might not capture his attention. You and Chad could be a perfect match, destined to make beautiful genius babies together. But if you’re not his idea of Fancy Feast, you’ll never get the call from Scooter (Chad’s too busy to call, remember). So now most of the women on the platform are frustrated and lonely, too.
And third, because of the winner-take-all setup, you have prioritized inaccessible fantasy men while devaluing and neglecting all the normal Joes who could actually be a great match for you. If frustration and neglect isn’t your idea of fun, may I suggest that you delete the apps and instead meet real men in real contexts. They may just surprise you with character, kindness, consistency, reliability, resilience — qualities that may not always come through a shirtless Hinder thumbnail photo.
7. Apps prioritize bullshit criteria
The other day, I was at a party and this girl came up to me and asked, “Hey! How tall are you? How old are you? And what do you do for a living? And how long is your left pinkie?” Pretty jarring, if you ask me. I mean, who does that? The answer is nobody, because I just made that up. I mean, how weird would it be if those were the first questions someone asked?
And yet, that’s exactly the kind of information that the dating apps put up for everyone to see first: height, age, job. And so, whether we like it or not, those are the first criteria by which we judge potential app matches — even though we never do it in real life.
What happens as a result is what I call optimization for bullshit criteria. Even though things like height, age and job have no correlation with relationship satisfaction, we end up optimizing for them because, well, that’s what the apps show us. If they showed us left pinkie length, shoe size and kidney shape (I can just see the Cosmo article: “Boomerang or a bean? Know your type!”), then we’d end up optimizing for those. Which would be just as useless as the current data the apps choose to display.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Prof Samantha Joel and co studied a very large data set of couples (11,196 to be precise), looking for correlates of long-term relationship satisfaction. You know what didn’t end up mattering? Basically all the things people try to optimize for on apps:
Previous marital status
Similarity to oneself
What did matter, you ask? Intangibles that are hard to discern via an app, like kindness, resilience, and self-awareness. So if you don’t want to get waylaid by bullshit criteria, do this: delete the apps. Then meet people through friends and family, and select for the stuff that actually matters, like how well they treat you. Otherwise you just might end up with a guy with freakishly long pinkies and a boomerang kidney.
8. Apps dangerously shorten courtship time
Here’s an unusual fact about how my mom and dad got together. Before they ever met in person, they talked on the phone — for a whole freakin’ year. Totally not kidding here. After hundreds of phone calls often stretching into the wee hours of the morn, they finally made a real date, met, and found each other attractive enough to start going out, fall in love, and produce glorious offspring like yours truly. As of this writing, they’ve been married for three and a half centuries.
Contrast this with the current courtship paradigm on dating apps. Instead of getting a year to really get to know someone, people are dismissing or accepting mates in less time it takes to wipe a nose. Too short. Too poor. Too hairy. No sense of style. Hot, but the shirtless pics are too cheesy. Job’s too boring. Job’s too exciting. Has a cat. Actor. Drives a Camaro. Pass, pass, pass, pass, hard pass.
My point: it’s difficult to fully assess another human in the 500 milliseconds we’re giving them on the swipey apps. And how would you feel if someone only took half a second to evaluate your whole amazing, unprecedented existence? Would that be doing you justice — you, the complex, multidimensional, utterly magnificent creature? Hell no! Would take millennia if not eons to get to fully know you.
So why would you assume that everyone else on the app isn’t equally worth getting to know? Hmmm.
The best solution is to opt out of this shallow, low-attention span environment altogether and delete the damn apps. Slow the courtship process down. Behind the bullshit criteria that dating apps display may just be a person worth not just half a second of your time, but maybe even a whole lifetime.
9. Apps increase danger
One of the consequences of meeting guys off the internet is that most (if not all) of them will be total randos. They will have little to no connection to your network of friends and family. This is problematic because for the last few hundred thousand years, that’s exactly not how things worked. You met boys from your own tribe or the neighboring tribe — someone who was already embedded within some network of social trust.
Right up until the advent of online dating at the turn of the 20th century, that’s mostly how things worked. You met guys through a friend, work, school or family. As such, they had some kind of back-connection to your extended social network. Although this didn’t always guarantee impeccable behavior, it was a decent deterrent to guys being total jerks. Violating social norms carried heavy penalties.
You still could have met a rando at a bar or nightclub then, but that was the exception, not the rule — and one that carried a stigma. Couples who had met at a bar would only admit to it sheepishly, or change their origin story altogether.
Funnily enough, that’s initially how people treated online dating when it arose in the 1990s. I remember couples who met online inventing all kinds of stories to circumvent admitting it — “Umm, we met through a mutual friend.” Sure you did. First name Intern, last name Ett.
Now in the 2020s, meeting someone via a dating app seems to be superseding the in-person encounter. Which means meeting a lot more randos. Which means meeting a lot more potentially toxic randos with zero accountability for their behavior.
The problem is widespread. I don’t believe I’ve met a single woman who hasn’t had some kind of regrettable experience from online dating. It’s so bad that a whole new set of terminology around it has entered the vernacular: catfishing (misrepresenting yourself online to take advantage of people); doxxing (making private information public without permission); and revenge porn (making very private information public). Hell, they even made a (fictional) movie about it called Catfish in 2010, and a (real!) documentary called The Tinder Swindler in 2022.
If that’s not enough to scare you, then I encourage you to read Carrie Goldberg’s book Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Stalkers, Psychos, Pervs and Trolls. She’s a lawyer whose firm defends women who have had harmful dating experiences. Her book is a gripping (and harrowing) memoir as well as a safety guide. Goldberg tells tales of terrible things that toxic randos have done so they don’t happen to you. Nearly all of the stories have one thing in common: the ladies met these douchebags online.
If you think I’m being a little alarmist, you’re right. Because a little alarmist is not nearly enough! Ladies — your long-term well-being is at stake here. Some wise woman once said that the worst thing that can happen to a guy on a date is he gets laughed at. The worst thing that can happen to a woman is she gets killed. Truth! All it takes to ruin your life is one toxic, determined dickhead. Dating apps are the dark alleyway where these dickheads lurk, awaiting their next unwitting victim.
My suggestion: avoid the potential stalkers, psychos, pervs and trolls entirely by choosing not to walk in virtual dark alleyways (i.e. dating apps). Only meet people within your extended social network of friends, family, work, and school. Although things may still not work out, the experience is far less likely to endanger you. And at the very least, you’re not willfully walking into a dark alley where you’re liable to get mugged, literally and figuratively.
10. Apps make users miserable with an excess of false choice
When I moved to the US at age 13, one thing completely blew me away: American supermarkets. Such an avalanche of products on display! I was a huge cereal fan then, and just couldn’t believe the bounty on display before me: Cap’n Crunch! Count Chocula! Froot Loops! Trix! Lucky Charms! Cheerios! Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs!* I could have a different cereal every day of the month and not run out. It made me dizzy just standing in the aisle looking at the vast selection.
Not only has that not changed, but it has gotten much worse. And not just for cereals, but for almost everything (including dating). There is so much choice right now that it’s not unusual to see people standing in the supermarket aisle, too dazed to decide on a jam, kombucha or toilet paper because there’s umpteen zillion choices. Psychologists call this decision paralysis. Like most forms of paralysis, it’s not fun, and it’s one of the byproducts of having too many options.
But wait — it gets worse. In his outstanding 2009 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Prof Barry Schwartz tells us that when we try to pick the best possible choice (i.e. maximize) in a regime of excessive options, it makes every phase of decision-making unpleasant:
• Sorting through the choices is annoying and hard, especially when the choices (e.g. dating profiles) are similar.
• Picking one from amongst the multitude of choices is hard because you’re committing to one and forgoing the rest. How do you pick just one of your matches and leave the other 121 behind? So painful and wrong.
• Committing to one of the choices is tricky and annoying because how can you ever be sure you made the best choice? Surely #42 of the 121 you neglected must have been better than #44. You will live in the Land of Perpetual Buyer’s Remorse, which I hear has the slowest wi-fi, ever.
That sounds like a whole lot of self-inflicted terribleness. So how do we overcome our maximizing tendencies and the paradox of choice so we can have an outside chance at happiness? Three ideas:
Voluntarily limit choice. The data is clear: less choice equals more happiness. So limit yourself to the people you can meet from your immediate social circle, instead of the thousands on the apps.
Practice satisficing instead of maximizing. The great multidisciplinary super-genius Herbert Simon coined the term satisfice as a mashup of satisfy and suffice. It means, for example, that instead of reading the entire 1000-page Cheesecake Factory menu before deciding, you pick the first thing that sounds good enough, close the menu, and go with it: “I’ll have the grilled salmon, please.” Studies show that people who satisfice are much happier with their choices than those who maximize.
Use the 37% criterion. If picking the first good-enough choice feels too much like settling to you, then you can go with this procedure borrowed from computer science. A true maximizer would go on a date with every single guy on an app before deciding on one. Instead of that self-imposed hell, you pre-decide the upper limit of dates you’re going to go on — say, 100. Then, you go on 37 dates without making a decision (that’s the 37% part), while making a mental note of the best guy you met in that batch (let’s call him Napoleon). After that, the first guy you meet who is as good as or better than Napoleon is your man. You pick him, close the menu and you’re done.
Taking up the satisficing habit may take a minute, especially if you’re a lifelong maximizer. But once you start doing it, this new way of dealing with the world opens up so much time and energy that you’ll never go back. Give it a try and delete your dating apps. And thanks for doing your part in preventing the appocalypse.
You did it! You just finished reading a 4000-word article! You ROCK! This was an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Five (Hidden) Love Questions. It’s a complement to my earlier book, The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible (paperback, ebook and audiobook), which was the highest-rated dating book on Amazon for 7 years and has been highlighted over a million times.
Would love to hear your thoughts about this excerpt! If you’d like to help me make the book better, click here to join my Editorial Board. You’ll get early access to the manuscript, an acknowledgment in the book, and other goodies you can help me dream up.
Greetings from sunny Los Angeles! Hope you’re doing exceptionally well wherever you are.
So I had a little bit of a motivational slump myself these past few weeks, and now feel like I’m on an upward trend. Of course, of all the challenges one could have, this is a pretty high-quality one — vs say “can’t get a ventilator in the ICU.” To paraphrase the old Buddhist story: Thanks for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever.
One of the ways I raise my own energies is by making myself useful to the world. So my very important question to you is this:
How can I best serve you?
Here are some potential options:
More articles on dating and relationships. Have been putting these on the backburner because the topic seems to have dropped in priority, but valid topic nonetheless. And I do have some new stuff for you, e.g. The Pipeline System.
More seminars and workshops on happiness and well-being. Did 10 of those and happy to do more.
Brain Yoga sessions. Exactly what it sounds like: a yoga class for your brain to make it stronger and more flexible.
Drop-in video office hours on Facebook or Zoom. These can be fun and interactive.
One-on-one coaching sessions, or long-term coaching programs. If you feel like this is what you need to get you to the next level, I’m all for it.
Tune Up Your Life Happiness Engineering group course. 3 months with a bunch of your peers to slowly, radically redesign your life.
Write the update to The Tao of Dating. Not sure if that’s what the world needs right now, but if you tell me otherwise, I could be convinced. Working title: Grown-Ass Dating: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Love & Romance
So please drop me a line, and let your presence and thoughts be known! There are a lot of directions I could go in, so it’s crucial that I find out what YOU find the most beneficial.
In the meantime, I just did an interview with my old friend & colleague Rebecca Whitman on her Balanced, Beautiful and Abundant show for smart accomplished women like yourself. And you know what? It came out purty good! For once, I listened to it myself (at 2x speed, of course), and I’m happy to report it did not bore me silly. It’s about the 5 Pillars of Human Thriving (Robust Relationships, Meaningful Work, Sound Sleep, Mental Fitness, Physical Fitness), how to apply them now and in the future, and what’s love got to do with it all. 22min at 2x speed, 44min if you’re the more patient type. Listen to it and let me know what you think!
And if you’re wondering what I have been doing: reading even more than before. All nonfiction as usual. Some terrific ones of the 87 books of 2020 so far:
Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, by Michael T Osterholm PhD MPH (and Mark Olshaker). Osterholm is one of the world’s foremost public health professionals, having served for 40 years on the frontlines of such diseases as Ebola, SARS, MERS, Zika and everything else. This book will rapidly bring you up to speed on epidemiology and pandemic management. He also devotes a whole chapter to a “tabletop scenario” that’s basically a play-by-play description of the unfolding of the coronavirus epidemic. Insanely prescient, exceptionally timely.
The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California, by Mark Arax. Just came out. A deeply reported look from a native son into the history of water, irrigation, and farming in California, that desert turned into the world’s breadbasket and the US’s most populous state. How? And how sustainable is it? This elegiac, poetic, and unflinching book will tell you. Longish and totally worth it.
By popular request, I’m holding another series of Staying Sane Seminars this week.
Now, attendance at the seminars has been robust, but not exactly internet-breaking. I myself just took an online seminar on marketing, and my instructor would tell me that I need to do a better job of letting you know what these seminars are and who they’re for.
To that end, I will be sharing with you today a little bit more about my background and thinking:
Why these seminars are necessary
What qualifies me to teach you this stuff
Why this stuff is worthwhile
Who it’s for
What’s in these seminars anyway
1. WHY THESE SEMINARS ARE NECESSARY, PANDEMIC OR NOT
Here’s the deal: the universe was kind enough to drop the most complex machine in the entire cosmos into your cranium. It’s called your brain.
Unfortunately, the universe forgot to include an owner’s manual. So most people — and by “most” I mean 99.964% — are running around feeling feelings and thinking thoughts that don’t necessarily serve them all the time. Stuff like fear, doubt, worry, self-loathing, shame, loneliness, and various flavors of self-inflicted misery.
What makes things worse is that evolution designed our magnificent brains for survival on the African savanna 300,000 years ago. This is before the era of gridlock traffic, report deadlines, “Real Housewives”, and competitive kindergarten admissions. So there’s a lot of evolutionary mismatch between what our brains are optimized for and the challenges we encounter in 2020 C.E.
That means all of us have these ancient brains that aren’t adapted to modern environments. So we don’t necessarily feel so good all the time. That’s where I come in.
2. WHAT I HAVE TO TEACH YOU (a.k.a. who the hell is this guy anyway)
Hi there! Dr Ali here. I have been studying how the mind works for over 20 years now. As an undergraduate physics and biology major at Harvard, I performed research in neuroscience. After that, I studied medicine and workings of the body-mind at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
One day I sat in on a class on clinical hypnotherapy to heckle it. I found that hypnotherapy was effective beyond all reason for many conditions — and massively underused. Subsequently I got certified in it not once but twice, and have been practicing clinical hypnotherapy since.
I also got twice certified in another mind-healing modality called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Like an antibiotic, it was very effective for treating specific things. And when it worked, it was mind-bendingly effective. It could do in 20 minutes what 3 months of therapy couldn’t accomplish. Like magic.
Since 1999, I have been studying and practicing yoga. Yoga is a supremely powerful way to train the mind, and fortunately, it has become more popular in recent years. These days, people think of yoga as mostly just aerobics in Sanskrit. Although doing yoga booty ballet is still better than not doing it, it’s a far cry from what the likes of Paramahansa Yogananda taught. The truly transformative aspects of yoga are in meditation and breathwork.
I’ve also attended dozens of personal development workshops and lectures, from the mainstream (e.g. Tony Robbins), to the offbeat (e.g. Wim Hof ice baths), to the esoteric (inner fire Tibetan tummo tantra taught by a reincarnated lama). And I read 160 nonfiction books a year, mostly on psychology and personal development.
I’m telling you all this because you need to know that these Staying Sane Seminars aren’t just any old seminar. They’re a collection of THE best, most effective practices I’ve gathered over the past 20-some years. Stuff that works astonishingly well to transform the way you feel and think.
I call it Creative Repatterning: you’re using the creativity of your own mind to change its patterns. Think of it as personal training for your brain.
You know how you feel after watching a Cirque du Soleil performance? How you say “wooow” a few times, and feel like a different person? Senses elevated. Mind expanded. Think of this as the Cirque du Soleil of personal development seminars.
Definitely not ordinary.
And for the time being, they’re free. Come on down.
3. WHO THESE SEMINARS ARE FOR
Who is this for? Anyone with a mind. Especially one that experiences occasional disquietude and suffering.
Access greater equanimity. Diminish stress, anxiety & worry. Build a happier you no matter what’s happening. Join me, Dr Ali Binazir, as I share with you Creative Repatterning techniques for altering your body-mind that are quite literally life-changing.
If you’d like to get better at regulating your own feelings and developing an unshakable foundation of happiness, I’ve been working on a course that I’ll be starting soon for 20 people. If you’d like to be part of this first cohort, fill out the application here.
I have time slots for 3-4 one-on-one coaching sessions per week. They are $200/hr, or $100 for 30min. If you’d like to book one of those, click here.
Additionally, I have for you recordings of the first 6 seminars. Each one is different, with at least 80% new material:
Thanks for your enthusiastic response to the “5 Magic Questions” workshop! An unusually large number of you signed up (and paid!) for the livestream, so if that was you, I hope you’ve had a chance to listen/watch in the last week.
The response of the live audience was very enthusiastic. I’ve already done 2 podcast interviews as a result, so I’ll take that as a vote of confidence.
I went through a lot of material in the 90min. Some highlights:
1) Am I enough?
Wrong question, yo. Might as well ask “Am I a horrible person?” Questions direct the function of your brain, so ask good ones. Some better options: How can I make others feel like a million bucks? How can I serve? How can I be someone’s answered prayer today? THAT’s the kind of power that cannot be taken away from you.
2) Am I buying or selling?
Who has more power in a job interview, the interviewer or the interviewee? Then be the interviewer. Since a date is basically an evening-length job interview that costs you money, I find this analogy particularly apt.
3) What do you really want?
This is complicated. We went through an exercise that will really clarify this for you, using the 5Ks framework and another neat hack involving looking back on all your breakups (fun!).
4) Do I feel safe?
There’s faux safety, which basically duplicates the environment you grew up in. And there’s real psychological safety, which allows your full flourishing and the giving of your gift to the world. Know the difference.
5) Who am I really?
I did 3 visualizations and meditations to radically reconfigure your mind around this one, so yeah, you just may have to listen to it :)
You can download the workshop for free, then decide how much you want to pay. In an election year, this is about as democratic as it gets. And I get to receive some extremely honest feedback from you, in the form of how much you’re willing to plunk down (recommended minimum: $5; maximum: none :-) Fair enough? You can zap the dough via Venmo (@abinazir) or Paypal (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Are you enough?
Are you buying or selling?
What do you want?
Do you feel safe?
Who are you, really?
Here’s a quick story for you:
On this day about 11 years ago, I published The Tao of Dating for women.
I had already written the version for men, which took me 3 months to write. The book for women, on the other hand, took me over 3 years. Partly because at the time I didn’t really believe I was qualified to comment on the topic. What could a guy possibly know about such things?
But since then, I’ve gotten over 5000 letters from my readers about their love lives. And certain patterns have revealed themselves from those letters, from which emerge The 5 Magic Questions.
How you answer these questions determines not just the quality of your love life, but the quality of your whole existence.
I’m not totally exaggerating here, m’dear. Questions like “Am I enough?” are always operating in the background, whether you’re dealing with a boss, a lover, a family member, a classroom of people, or just friends. It affects your salary, your health, your happiness.
Science shows that the answer to the question “Do I feel safe?” determines the range of your existence: how far you’re willing to go beyond your comfort zone, how much risk you’re willing to take, and thus how much you can flourish as a human being.
And, what DO you want? Ain’t that the perennial dilemma.
For those of you who are in LA, the live workshop is $25. If you’re far away (like in Paris, Moscow, or Glendale), you can attend via livestream (or get the video and audio recording later) for just $10.
Your time is the most precious commodity you have — the one thing that is completely irreplaceable.
My job is to change people’s lives for the better in the time I have with them, whether through lecture, coaching or therapy. So when you choose to spend your time with me, I’ll do my darndest to deliver information that can transform you.
I hope you can join us next Wednesday so you can stand taller, grow faster, and feel better in your life. Prepare to be moved. Sign up here. Full Eventbrite description below.
All the best, Dr Ali
THE 5 MAGIC QUESTIONS: WHAT 5000 WOMEN’S LETTERS REVEAL ABOUT LOVE & DATING
Since I published The Tao of Dating 11 years ago, it has been the #1-rated dating book on Amazon for 7 years, as well as its most-highlighted title (what? seriously?). Tens of thousands of smart, strong professional women like yourself have enriched their love lives with its precepts.
Over those 10 years, I’ve noticed a pattern from the 5000+ readers’ letters I’ve received: they all seem to contain the same 5 questions!
I call these The 5 Magic Questions. Answer them right, and your love life will go spectacularly well. Get them wrong, and fulfillment will prove elusive.
In this 75min workshop, we will examine who you really are, what truly fulfills you, how to find it, and how to keep it in your life. Some topics we’ll cover:
• The perils and opportunities of online dating. Used incorrectly, tools like Tinder, Bumble, Match and OKcupid can make you miserable. Find out how to use them right.
• The one question to ask to make sure a guy’s not a sociopath/psychopath
• Lance, Biff and Victor: the three archetypes of men and how to spot them
• How to tell the difference between Good Guys and Bad Boys, and avoid the latter like the plague
• Subtle ways you may be sabotaging your own love life right now
• Insights on how men think, from an actual guy :)
I’ll be giving you tools from both the scientific and spiritual perspectives that my readers found useful for finding and keeping love in their lives. Are you ready to graduate from app swiping and superficial interactions to deep fulfillment and happiness? Then this workshop’s for you. Regardless of your age and whatever your dating situation is, these are the tools that can give you power that cannot be taken away. Sign up now and join the tens of thousands of women who have found more warmth and joy in their lives with The Tao of Dating.
PS: I’ll talk for about 60min and take questions for the last 15min. There will be signed copies of The Tao of Dating paperback available for purchase for $20.
A couple of months ago, I was wandering in one of my favorite spots in the world, The Strand Bookstore in New York City, when a book with an unusual cover caught my eye: Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls by Carrie Goldberg (ebook & print).
What is this all about? I requested the ebook from my local library via the insanely great Libby app (which you should all get, by the way). A few weeks later, I had the book in my paws for freeeee, wheeee. Aren’t libraries incredible? For a man with a 160 book-a-year habit, yes they are.
Halfway through the book, which I read in two sittings, I bought the book anyway because it’s scary good. As in both scary and good. So scary that I don’t think I ever want to have a daughter, jeebus.
My staff and I have even developed a shorthand to describe the shitheads we see most often: psychos, who obsessively stalk, threaten, and intimidate their prey; assholes, who exploit or mistreat victims out of willful ignorance or arrogance or for their own financial gain; trolls, who terrorize victims under the cloak of internet anonymity; and pervs, who get off on overpowering victims into sex acts against their will.
The stories of Carrie’s clients are harrowing to read. It’s remarkable how awful humans can be to each other. Well, actually, in this book, it’s men being awful to women, and sometimes to other men.(more…)
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 can 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 learning 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 my peace eternal. She sporadically stayed on my mind for years.
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?”
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.
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
To further explore some of the principles I discuss in the article, here are some useful resources:
• 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.
• 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.
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!