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…)
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
Last week, I saw Matthieu Ricard give a talk about his new book Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change You and the World (hardcover, ebook and audiobook) in an event hosted by Soren Gordhamer and Wisdom 2.0. Ricard is an interesting fellow. After finishing his doctorate in molecular genetics in 1972 in the lab of Nobel-winning legend François Jacob, he promptly took off for a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Nepal, where he has resided since. Subsequent to participating in a pioneering study by Richie Davidson from the University of Wisconsin on the effects of meditation on brain physiology, the media dubbed him “the happiest man in the world.”
You know this is a man grounded in reality because he is quick to refute that label not out of modesty but from the simple fact that all of his fellow monks would do (and have done) equally well on measurements of their brain activity that could result in such a label. My inclination is to think that if you’ve put in the 50,000 hours of meditation that Ricard has, your brain is bound to manifest some unusual phenomena.
Ricard is an exceptionally lucid and engaging speaker, even in English, which is not his native tongue. In fact, he’s so engaging that I hardly took any notes. Here is some of what he mentioned in his talk:
Happiness is not the constant seeking of pleasurable experiences. That can turn out to be quite exhausting.
One definition of happiness: not excluding anyone from your heart.
Constantly making the world about you — why did this happen to me, why are people mean to me, why am I so unlucky — you create the phenomenon of “the world arising as enemy.”
If you find meditation boring, it’s not the fault of the meditation.
The word “meditation” itself has little meaning. It’s a bit like saying “training” — what kind of training? Weightlifting? Running? Tennis?
In the same way that you can’t expect to play the harpsichord expertly without practice, you can’t expect to be an expert at compassion, altruism, mindfulness, gratitude without practice either.
Mindfulness by itself is not enough. You could have a mindful sniper or psychopath. You must add the caring component to it.
At the request of the moderator, Ricard led us through a 4-part compassion meditation.
First, you project loving-kindness to several people in sequence, from easy-to-love to very difficult.
Then, you wish for a reduction of their suffering. This is the compassion component.
Rejoice in the existence of all the other people also wishing for the reduction of suffering and taking an active part in it.
Make impartial your projection of compassion and loving-kindness to all sentient beings, without preference or special allocation.
I have adapted that into this 12min audio, which you can listen to here. The clinical effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive affect and psychological health are well-documented. Besides, it feels good. If you do not have a meditation practice yet, you may wish to consider trying this for starters.
Last week, I received a rash of letters about bad relationships. Like, really, really bad relationships. I feel like these kinds of relationships are a little bit like cockroaches: for every one that you see, there are 70 that you don’t. Which makes me dread how many more of you must be in these kinds of relationships without telling me — or anyone else. Speak up! First, let’s get to this first letter here. After responding to all of the “I’m Stuck with Toxic Boy and Don’t Know What to Do” letters personally, I felt this one was representative of the batch:
Dr Ali, I have been dating a man for the past 9 years on and off. He is 44 years old, divorced and still lives with his mother. He hangs out with his loser friends to smoke weed and drink alcohol. He hardly spends time with me when I confront him about the lack of time. All he tells me is that I complain about it too much and that I need to respect him and give him loyalty.
His comments make me resent him, so on and off, I block him from my phone. What I heard from an ex is that the times we are not together he was sleeping around and dating other women. In our last break up, he started dating another woman a week after breaking up with me. A month later, he proposed to her and moved in with that woman. He never did anything like that with me.
What bothers me is that he is trying to get back with me while he is still engaged to the other chick. I still love him but I feel disgusted and used. How do I let go of a loser who gave me crumbs of time?
Oh my. The only thing that’s missing here is “He also just recently got out of jail for a few felony charges and tends to beat me with a baseball bat for sport. And wants me to join his cult.” I mean, we all have different limits of tolerance, but it seems as if (more…)
LADIES — We had Session 1 of Project Irresistible last night, and it was full of powerful information to kickstart your love life and more. There were two stories, 3 readings from Eastern wisdom, 4 mind-expanding exercises and one killer guided meditation to get you in the mood for transformation and reaching your highest, best self.
Before you download and listen to the first session, I want to share a funny story with you. It turns out that there was a married woman on the preview class the day before. Now, a single woman I can understand. But why would a married woman choose to attend a class on dating? It made no sense! So she explained (note: here is your chance to hear me dumbfounded — I’m told it doesn’t happen nearly enough). Click on the link to hear the 90sec mp3 of what happened:
Anyway, I’ve always made the first session available to the public so you can get a feel for what the course is about, so here it is. Right click on the link to download it, or click to listen to it in your browser:
Or, newfangled technology! If you’re on a phone or mobile device or away from your computer somehow, you can dial in and listen to the class. That’s right! Call +1 218 844 3182 and use access code 89633016, and it’ll be just like you’re on the live call.
The price for the class goes up to $297 from $247 tonight at midnight. You can enroll for the class through Sunday, November 10. After that, the class is only available to registered students. Look forward to catching up with many of you in the class!
Below is an MP3 recording of the interview I did with John Neffinger, co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential. Now I’ve known John for a while, so I was able to extract some top tips from his book for your delectation and enrichment. Also, John was kind enough to answer questions for 30 extra minutes, which means this interview is 90 minutes of information-packed usefulness. Some of what we covered:
The tug-of-war between how warm we appear and how much strength we project, and how to balance the two
Tips for nailing a job interview
How warmth and strength figured in the fall and rise of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign
The secret of the powerful smile which projects warmth without diminishing strength
The special challenges that race and gender present that make projecting strength tricky
Exercises to improve the way you present yourself right now
Download JohnNeffinger_CompellingPeople1013, stick it on your iPhone or iPod or Android gizmo, and listen to it on your daily drive. Or listen to it using the media player here: