Category: Communication

  • “My boyfriend hasn’t proposed yet. Should I break up with him?”: On devotion, garden gnomes & eating menus

    An excellent letter here that brings up issues about commitment, devotion, masculine and feminine essence, the map and the territory:

    Three years after my divorce from a marriage of 22 years, I met this wonderful guy. We are both in our 50s. When we met 1.5 years ago, I made it clear that I was looking for a partner with whom to spend the rest of my life. He said he was on the same mission. We’ve been inseparable since then. Last year, I was diagnosed for breast cancer and he was there for me the whole time. He is a very devoted, compassionate person. He expressed his love for me over and over and said he would marry me. But until now he hasn’t proposed to me yet.

    Because of his professed love and intentions, I was expecting a proposal, but since it wasn’t coming, I was getting frustrated. I threatened to break up with him a few times, but he would always spring back to me saying his life is meaningless without me. Then why he wouldn’t propose? I told him I don’t want to force him do things if that’s not his desire. I asked him please let me go if the marriage is not his plan because I don’t want to continue the relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend. He said, “You don’t make me feel special to like you used to,” and “Marriage is from both parties. What is your contribution to that?”

    I finally gave him an ultimatum few weeks ago, because I was really tired of the situation. He is very quiet now. My questions are: What’s going on in a man’s mind when he said I am the love of his life and he would marry me, but not acting on his word? Did I made a good decision giving him the ultimatum? Or did I chase a good man away by acting on my emotions focusing on marriage? — Maria from Canada

    A long time ago, on a tiny blue planet in the Milky Way galaxy, I picked up this book called Tao Te Ching. And Chapter 36 of this book got me to thinking, “Y’know, this sounds relevant to a lot of life. Especially relationships.” Which may be why this chapter I have quoted more than any other. It goes like this:

    If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand.
    If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.
    If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.
    This is called the subtle perception of the way things are.
    The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.

    Of course, the first time I read this, it blew my head to smithereens. What the hell does it mean that before you can shrink something, you must allow it to expand? The slow overcomes the fast, the soft overcomes the hard? It’s all paradox! THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!

    Ahh, but it does. Let’s think about this line:

    “If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.”

    Let’s say I’m interested in a woman, so I want her phone number. I could just go up to her and say, “Hey, what’s your phone number?” Points for boldness, yes, but with significant room for improvement. Instead, what if I spoke to her for a few minutes, inquired about her thoughts, passions, and values, found her charming and delightful, and then suggested an event — a talk, a concert, a reading — that nicely meshed with her worldview? Then she just might say, “Omigod, that sounds great! I’d love to do that. Here’s my number.” Instead of taking something, I have created the circumstances that make giving that thing to me the most natural thing in the world.

    While we’re on stereotypes, let’s say a woman wants commitment from a guy. She can say, “Hey, where’s my ring?” Or she can create the circumstances such that the man feels supported, strong, 50 feet tall and capable of moving mountains. He’s sitting there, shaking his head, telling his friends, “Man, I can’t believe how good she is to me. What have I done to deserve this? I ain’t never letting this one go.” And that’s when a man’s thinking goes from “I’ve got a good thing going, so heck, I’ll stick around a little longer” to “I need to lock this down now because I’m never gonna find this anywhere else.”

    That, my lovelies, is feminine Goddess Power — the power to make the people around you feel like a trillion bucks. It is the power of devotion. It is real power, because it is always at your disposal and can never be taken away from you.

    This is the thing that makes you irresistible. As in, who the hell in their right mind would want to resist that? “No thank you. I do not want to feel supported, told that I’m the greatest partner in the world, feel like I can move mountains. I’m just gonna go sit in the corner over there and do my best imitation of a neglected garden gnome.”

    Now, Maria, let’s see what’s happening with you. You say he’s devoted and compassionate. You guys have a great time together. And he stood by you during the cancer thing. Sounds like you have a good thing going with a standup guy.

    And yet, you have chosen to strain the relationship. He’s saying things like “you don’t make me feel special to like you used to” and “marriage is from both parties; what’s your contribution to that?”

    Now I understand that you went into this relationship with marriage in mind. And he was on board with that. Cool. Now I’d like you to imagine a conversation he’s having with his best friend about how he finally arrived at the decision to marry you:

    BEST FRIEND: So, what made you decide to pop the question, bro?
    YOUR GUY: You know, she was just… so… demanding. Like, hounding me about it day after day, that I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s so hot. I’d be a fool to let her go.”

    And if you’re having a difficult time imagining this conversation, it’s because it has never happened in the history of mankind. Actually, he’s much more likely to be turning the Janet Jackson question around and saying, “What has she done for me lately?”

    The second issue, which is more subtle, Maria, is that by insisting that he marry you, you’re putting yourself in a no-win situation. It’s possible that your reminders of his not keeping his word will make him feel less trusted and irritate him enough to leave. Then, both parties lose.

    Or he buckles under your demands and proposes. Now you’ve got yourself a man whose masculine essence you can’t really trust, because he hasn’t been true to himself. And if he does marry you, he’s doing it only grudgingly. Once again, both parties lose.

    The third issue is this, Maria: what’s important to you about this marriage thing anyway? I mean, if you really love someone and he loves you back, why do we need to bring the lawyers in? Do they somehow make the party better? Where does this insistence on a piece of paper, a ring of metal on your finger come from? What would having that do for you?

    I can imagine that for two young folks who want to have kids and raise a family together, there are practical aspects of marriage that make it desirable — kids having the same last name, taxes, finances, etc.

    But if you’ve already had a 22-year long marriage and grown kids, what’s important to you about this contract? Is it some kind of hedge against abandonment? Some legitimacy you crave, formalized by the state? What is it?

    I would encourage folks to consult Stephanie Coontz’s excellent Marriage: A History – How Love Conquered Marriage. (ebook and paperback). This whole notion that “if you love me, you will marry me” is a very recent fabrication in the history of mankind, and a potentially pernicious one.

    Because this much I can tell you: none of those shards of paper or metal will protect you against the deterioration of a relationship in which you aren’t showing up as your best, most generous, supporting, loving self.

    This is the age-old conflict between the map and the territory, and how as symbol-binding creatures, we often give preference to the map over the territory, the menu over the food. And then, having chosen the menu over the food, wonder why we’re still hungry.

    It sounds to me, Maria, that you already have the substance of a good relationship: mutual support, shared interest, quality time, and real love. You’ve got the food. However, your insistence on the menu — the marriage certificate — seems to be compromising the relationship.

    So you have two choices here. You can continue to put your foot down and say, “This is what I signed up for, and by golly, this is what I’ll get. True, I’ll be lonely, but I’ll be right and lonely.” The world would have a little less love in it and be slightly impoverished for the decision.

    Or, you can set him free. You can go back to appreciating him, enjoying his company, and making him feel like a zillion bucks. You can say stuff like, “You add so much to my life, and I think I may have been a little misguided in my insistent demands for marriage. It’s true that it’s important to me, but it’s not more important than the relationship we have. And if you arrive at that decision some day, I would welcome it, but I’d prefer that you do it out of your own free will and to find your own reasons to propose if that’s what you want to do.”

    If you do that, you improve the chances that someday, he’ll come around to the decision himself. And if not, you still have the food — the actual relationship — which tastes so much better than the menu, y’know?

    So, to summarize: Devoted is irresistible; demanding is not. When you question your partner’s trust, you’re effectively invalidating his masculine essence, which puts you in a no-win situation. And be careful that you’re not trading real, nourishing tasty food for a tasteless menu made of fake leather.

    Online class vs therapy?

    Dear Dr Ali – I’ve been using love as a drug for some years now, going after guys who were clearly no good for me because I needed the love and validation. I am now considering either going for therapy or signing up for one of your online classes. I’ve almost signed up for your class 100 times. Do you think your program would help me? — Helen

    Excellent question, Helen! I believe you’re referring to Project Irresistible. And if you’re asking me, if i didn’t think it was helpful, I wouldn’t have created it :)

    That said, the class is useful for a few reasons:
    1) It guides you through the exercises in The Tao of Dating. Have you done all of them? Don’t know anyone who has. People often say they read the book in one sitting, but this is a cookbook, for chrissakes. If you want to learn how to cook, you must practice making the recipes. Speed reading ain’t gonna do it. The course puts you through the steps.
    2) It’s self-paced (recommended: 6 weeks), so you have time for the learnings to integrate. I mean, we’re looking to effect fundamental shifts in habits of thought and mind, and that takes time.
    3) As you go through the course, stuff is going to come up. “Hey, why is this exercise so challenging?” “Why am i not comfortable doing this?” “Why does this feel so much better than what i was doing before?” That’s when you stop, pay attention, and go deeper.
    4) The whole thing costs less than a single session of therapy — especially with a $100 off coupon. Use discount code “SPRINGY” to bring the price of Project Irresistible from an already reasonable $247 down to a no-brainer $147 for the first 20 to sign up. After you’ve registered, give me about 24hrs to process your registration and you’re good to go.


    By popular request, I’ll be doing three therapy sessions per week via Skype on Thursdays. Time slots are 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm Pacific Time. Write to me directly and put “I want a session!” in the subject line, and include your PayPal address. $175 for a 60min session.

    Incidentally, ladies, this is how I make a living — through books, courses and workshops. So when you sign up for these things, get my book, or audiobook, or tell your friends about them, it helps me pay my exorbitant San Francisco rent and to pay Uncle Sam’s impressive tax bill so I can keep writing for you and create solutions for a happier, more fun and fulfilled life. Thanks for your ongoing support!


    Fri, May 6, online – “The New Way to Date” teleseminar series put on by my friend and colleague Alicia Ashley. Free to sign up and listen.

    Mon May 9, San Francisco, 6.30-8.30pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself: Advanced Techniques for Overcoming Heartbreak, Phobias and Trauma.” I’m excited to bring some new techniques from recent trainings I’ve attended. This is powerful (and fun!) stuff. Location: Downtown San Francisco. $40-$50. Sign up here.

    Thu May 13, Los Angeles, 7pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself.” Location to be announced — if you know of a good spot, or if you are able to host 15-20 people in your office or living room, esp on the Westside, that would be super useful.

    Sat May 14, Los Angeles, 11am-5pm – I’ll be speaking at TEDx Echo Park: Paradigm Shift. My talk’s called “Happiness Engineering: A New Paradigm for Success.” TEDx events are usually fun, and I know a couple of the other speakers to be pretty cool. I’m scheduled to be the first talk. Tickets are $45 and available here. I’m not necessarily endorsing this event since I’m not putting it on. But do feel free to swing by if you’re local and the topic interests you.



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  • On Dating the Semi-Decent Man: What’s Your Dealbreaker?

    Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of letters from the ladies asking about relationships with semi-decent guys. Y’know, guys who are pretty darn good except for this one niggling detail.

    Before I get into the letters, let’s look at an analogy. Let’s say you’re in the market to get a used car (in the relationship marketplace, there are no new cars). Let’s say it’s in excellent shape and you’re getting a fantastic deal, but the back seat has some scratches and stains. Would you still buy the car?

    Okay, now let’s say the paint on the passenger door is scratched, and there’s a ding on the rear fender. Or it has a flat tire. Still okay?

    Now let’s say the transmission is broken. How about now?

    The point is that there is a spectrum of flaws, all the way from utterly forgivable (scratchy paint) to deal-breaking (no transmission). After all, there are certain car-like features that you would like a car to have. And without those, you basically don’t have a car.

    Let us now extend this to the realm of relationships. What’s the point of being with a guy anyway? Well, you want to feel safe around him — safer than you would without him. You would want to know that he has the capability to provide for you financially, even if you have your own income. You want to feel loved and nurtured, and have someone who is receptive to your love and nurturance in return. Emotional stability is important. And ideally, his presence would catalyze your growth towards an even better version of you.

    I’ve written a whole book on what you should look for in a guy, so I’m not going to get into the details of that here. But I do want to make you aware of what your dealbreakers are. The most basic one is that he hinders your growth as a person.

    On the other end of the spectrum resides the “don’t hit on 20” rule, as propounded by my good man Evan Marc Katz. The idea is that in a game of 21 or blackjack, getting cards that add up to 20 is a pretty good result. You don’t want to ask for one more card (or “hit”) when the only card that can help is an ace, and there are only 4 of them in the deck. In other words, nobody’s perfect, so if your guy’s flaws are not dealbreakers, you’d do well to consider keeping him.

    Some of these letters are on the long side, so feel free to scroll through them to get to my comments. And if you’re in the mood  to ask me a question, writing me a letter that’s under 200 words makes the likelihood of a response go up exponentially, ahem :)

    First one’s nice and short. I’ve pasted my response just as I sent it to her, no fancy caps or nuffin’: (more…)

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  • Mailbag: On Leaving Toxic Relationships

    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?

    Resentfully, Bree

    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…)

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  • Are you asking too much of a boyfriend?

    Ladies – Before we go into today’s letter, I have a favor to ask you. I’m re-doing the cover of The Tao of Dating, and I’d love to know which ones you like best! Click here to go to the contest and let your opinion be known:

    With that out of the way, here’s a great email exchange I had recently about relationship expectations and being in touch with your own needs and emotions. Where does jealousy come from? Why and when do we feel someone isn’t good enough? How do we get in the way of our own loving?

    Dear Dr. Ali, 

    I’m in a very challenging situation and you’re the only person I completely agree with when it comes to relationships so I would really appreciate your help.

    I have recently started dating an amazing man. We get along really well, our conversations flow effortlessly, we have insane chemistry, and he makes me extraordinarily happy.

    There is, however, one catch. He has two kids from his previous marriage. He only sees them once or twice a week and spends enough time with me. As much as I am happy with him, this fact is always bothering me in the back of my mind and I can’t get over it.

    I keep thinking “what if I had met him earlier when he was childless?” And this is just driving me crazy. I don’t know what to do. He is so amazing and I think I can never find someone like him again, on the other hand, I think the fact that he has kids is always going to bother me. I know I sound like a horrible person but I just can’t help it!

    What do you think I should do? Giovanna from Harvard

    Dear Giovanna –

    Sounds like you’ve got a good thing going! Some background info would be useful: your age, his age, do you have/want kids, what kind of work you do, are you angling for marriage, etc.

    So I don’t know the full story here, but one thing is for sure: (more…)

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  • On sexual boundaries, exotic lovers and three ways I answer your dating questions

    This year marks a decade since I left my corporate job at McMisery & Co to start writing and teaching for a living in May 2005. Thanks to you and my other dear readers, I can safely say: so far, so good. Now over these ten years of receiving and responding to thousands of your letters, I’ve noticed a few things.

    First of all, almost none of you who write me explicitly state what you want. You send me a scenario – he said, she said, this happened – and then ask me “What’s your take on that?” So basically you’re asking me to figure out what you want AND tell you how to get it. Is this part of my job description, hmmm…

    This is because most people aren’t aware of their unconscious needs, because, well, they’re not available to the conscious mind. So let me tell you what you should want:

    You want to flourish and give your gift to the world. You want companionship that involves mutual support, love and growth. This package I call fulfillment, and that’s what you should aim for.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is my real role as a self-help author. You may think that (more…)

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  • Dr Ali’s Book Club: “A Path With Heart” by Jack Kornfield

    Soon after moving to San Francisco, I became aware of Spirit Rock, the teaching and insight meditation center just a few miles up the road founded by Jack Kornfield some 30 years ago. Friends spoke highly of it, and your first session was free! With nothing to lose, I made the pleasant pilgrimage to Marin County and sat in on one of Jack’s classes.

    Jack turned out to be one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. After years of meditation and study in Asia, not only does he know his stuff very well, but he’s also quite funny. Like a great college professor’s lectures, his discourses range widely and incorporate numerous allusions, stories, quotes, and quips. He had us laughing at a regular clip of once every 5 minutes or so. Don’t you wish more teachers did that?

    I later found out that Jack is also a practicing PhD in psychology. It seemed as if his (more…)

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  • Mailbag: What to talk about on a date + dealing with long distance relationships

    There have been some very interesting letters coming in the inbox recently — keep ’em coming. I’ve got two of them for you right now, and the theme they share is communication. One is about what to talk about when on a date; the other is about long-distance relationships. But before I get into either of those, I’d like to announce:

    • The Tao of Dating LIVE, Tuesday 20 May 2014, 7-9pm, San Francisco, CA: 
    • Ladies: How to Let More Love In
    • Purchase tickets at Eventbrite
    • We will mingle, sip wine & nibble on chocolate (included in ticket price). I will talk for 30-40min. Then I will field your questions for the rest of the time — all of them. Bring it on!

    And now, to the letters: (more…)

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  • Book Club: “The Great Work of Your Life” + The Art of Love Tue April 1

    I’ve been meaning to write to you for a while now – lots to talk about. However, I’ve been laid up at home mostly immobile due to some mysterious neck and back issues. It’s getting better, and an article about how to deal with pain – both somatic and psychic – will almost certainly come out of it. Just not today – the muscle relaxant seems to relax all muscles, including the finger muscles and the brain muscle.

    In the meantime, I want to tell you about an upcoming seminar series and a couple of books I’ve been enjoying lately. Both books get sky-high 4.8/5.0 Amazon ratings, and for good reason.


    My friend and colleague Arielle Ford is putting on her Art of Love seminar series starting on Tuesday April 1. She’s got a fantastic roster of speakers lined up, including Katherine Woodward Thomas (author of Calling in the One), Dr John Gray, Deepak Chopra, the ever-wise Alison Armstrong and a whole bunch of stellar folks you should take the time to discover.

    Whether you’re in a relationship or not, these great teachers will be sharing ideas and tools for how to navigate love and have more of it in your life.

    Registration is free, and apparently you get three video interviews just for signing up. I encourage you to watch the one with Rev Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith. He’s one of my long-time mentors, and instrumental in my efforts to write The Tao of Dating at a time of great doubt and uncertainty in my life.

    Here’s the signup link: The Art of Love with Arielle Ford

    It’s totally free (unless you decide to buy stuff from them), yet somehow I receive a fee if you sign up through my link. Magic. All proceeds go to my physical therapy and muscle relaxant fund.


    Every once in a while a book comes along with such depth, power and grace that it hits me straight between the eyes. The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey of Your True Calling is such a book. I finished it in two sittings, then re-read it to highlight and implement the important parts.

    Cope, whom I had never heard of before this book, has sterling credentials: psychotherapist of many decades, yoga scholar, and director of the Kripalu Center for Extraordinary Living. The book is about dharma – your true calling in life. He uses the story of the Bhagavad Gita to introduce the concept, then interweaves the lives of remarkable people to illustrate his points.

    If I had only read the stories of Harriet Tubman and Susan B Anthony, the book would have been worth it. But there’s also Thoreau, Gandhi, Jane Goodall and Walt Whitman. And a bunch more everyday heroes that you’ll want to know about. It’s an uplifting and wise book, appropriate for any age, since it’s never too late to find your true calling. Make sure you get the hard copy – you’ll want to come back to this again and again.

    The other book I want to tell you about is Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, by Dr Rachel Naomi Remen. Not only has Dr Remen been an oncologist and counselor for over 45 years, but she has also been a Crohn’s disease patient. As such, she brings great compassion to her observations of the suffering and triumph of her patients, colleagues and self. The book is a collection of brief stories (1-3 pages each), so you can start it anywhere you want, put it down, then pick it up later. It’s been very useful for me these past two weeks, and it’s sure to be a shot in the arm for you, too.

    That’s all for now. More books and observations to come. In the meantime, I’m grateful for your attention and support.

    All the best

    Dr Ali

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  • The shy one, the hottie, and the picky one: NYC women talk about love and dating

    Recently I paid a visit to New York City and got together with some of my readers at the Hudson Hotel for a little chat. A fundraiser by mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio had taken over the main bar, so we found a bench in the Hudson Common eating area and got down to discussing love, happiness, and guys.

    I like these get-togethers because of how much I learn from hearing the stories of real, live readers. A book by its nature is a one-size-hopes-to-fit-all device. But in person you, my readers, are all different shapes, ages and races, with diverging concerns. Here’s a sampling of what I heard.

    Marci, the shy one

    Take Marci, for example. She said that her issue was that she always ended up being one of the guys. How could she make things take a more romantic turn when she didn’t want to be just friends with a guy?

    At the same time, Clara sitting right next to her had the exact opposite problem. Guys just wanted to hook up with her, and she just couldn’t sort out the good guys from the players.

    And now that I could see them and hear them, I had more information with which to diagnose what the hey was going on.

    Marci’s about 30. By her own admission, she’s shy. She’s wearing an elegant and conservative outfit that covers everything up. She’s tall and big-framed, with an open and friendly smile, so you wouldn’t peg her as being shy. As she speaks, you get a sense that her preferred mode of discourse is friendly formality.

    So why does Marci consistently fall into the friend zone? Because when you’re friendly and formal with people, you’re going to be formal friends with them, not a romantic interest.

    So how do you get out of the friend zone and into the romance zone? Simple: get flirty.

    Up to now, everything about Marci has been proper, linear, safe. The problem is that proper, linear and safe has inspired no man to declare his undying love for a woman. What you need is a little more of the flirty, curvy and dangerous. The idea is to provoke emotion and thought in the man’s body and mind. Every woman has the means to do that.

    In the case of Marci, there are some potential fixes:

    1) Engage in “curvy” conversation. Everyone knows where linear conversation goes: “How’s the weather? How was work? Is your pet better?” Linear = booooring. Ain’t gonna get you anywhere.

    On the other hand, nobody knows where curvy conversation goes. “So, you seeing anyone? Why not, is something wrong with you?” If you deliver that with a smile, a guy will have no idea what you’re up to. Are you giving him a hard time? Are you interested in him? Do you want to set him up with someone? Are you just entertaining yourself?

    Suddenly, conversation with you has become more interesting, because he’s not quite sure what you’re going to come up with next. And because he’s not sure of your intentions, now he’s thinking about you when you’re not around.

    Here’s a secret: when a guy thinks about you when you’re not around, this encodes in his brain as “I must like this girl.” In one smooth move, you have taken residence in the romantic quarter of his brain – or at least romantic-adjacent. Friend zone begone.

    The essence of flirting is a little bit of unpredictability and danger. Curvy conversation accomplishes that.

    2) Show a little more skin. If you want to get out of the friend zone, you want to do things that evoke an emotional response in a guy. One thing that does that is to put to use what your mama gave you and show some skin.

    How much skin is the right amount? Somewhere between Sexy Pirate Nurse Slut Ho Halloween outfit and a burqa, there is a balance. And I read somewhere that that balance is 40%, so we’re going to call this the 40% rule henceforth.

    How do you get to 40%? Simple: use the Rule of Nines, one of the things I remember from medical school:

    • Head: 9% of body surface area
    • Front of torso: 18%
    • Back of torso: 18%
    • Each leg: 18%
    • Each arm: 9%
    • Crotch: 1%
    • Total body surface area = 9 + 18 + 18 + 36 + 18 + 1 = 100%

    So if you expose half of your legs below the knees (18%) and all of your arms (18%), with your face (4%) you’re showing 40% skin. If you’re wearing a backless floor-length dress (18%) with bare arms, that’s also about 40%. To project less sexual energy, show less than 40%. To go on the warpath, go over 40%.

    Clara gets too much attention from the wrong guys

    So Marci needed to get out of her comfort zone and be a little more flirty. Clara, on the other hand, had no issues with the flirty part. She’s 23, short, petite, and wearing a slinky black dress which shows a distracting amount of décolletage (also known as “cleavage”). It’s easy to understand how a lot of guys would be interested in hooking up with her.

    From the outside, this may seem like a high-quality problem: “Oh, boohoo, poor thing, she’s got sooo many guys who are into her.” But a high-quality problem is still a problem. And I’m guessing there’s something not entirely savory about every guy you meet trying to get into your pants. It will probably make you feel objectified and distrustful of men, perhaps shutting you down to their advances. No wonder there are so many really attractive women who remain perennially single.

    Luckily, there is a solution. The way men respond to you has a lot to do with the way you present yourself (see Marci’s case above). Here are some things Clara can do.

    1) Dress more conservatively. I understand that women like to look hot, so they get all decked out in 7-inch Jimmy Choo stiletto murder heels, super-slinky dress and blood-red lipstick, ready to slay all oncomers.

    Well, let me tell you this: it’s not fun being slain. And if you look too hot (there is such a thing), the primary emotion that most men feel around you is FEAR. That’s right: adrenaline kicks in, and what we feel is flight-or-fight. And we become too scared to approach you.

    But there is a subset of guys who are not scared off: players. They see you as a prize, as a challenge, as a contest to be won. And they will approach you. And all the nice guys will stay away.

    In one move, you managed to attract all the jerks and alienate all the nice guys. Nice work. And you wonder why all the guys you meet just want to hook up with you.

    So if you’re already a smoking hottie-pie, tone it down a little. Wear something less provocative, more conservative. Don’t let the floodlight of your sexiness blind the men to all the great qualities of character that you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. That way, something like your soul has a chance to come through. Which brings us to…

    2) Talk to him. If you want to sort for the good guys, you must talk to him. This is how you find out how intelligent he is, how empathetic he is, and what his true intentions are. Drink alcohol only sparingly and gather in a place where you can hear him speak, because this is when you’re gathering critical information about this stranger who might become the father of your children. Liberally ask the magic question, “What’s important to you about that?”, and listen closely as he shares the innermost contents of his soul with you.

    This is also a chance for you to show him that you’ve got a great mind to go with the hot legs. Conversation is the broadband communication system of the human brain, so use it to your advantage to glean and convey important information about your suitability for one another.

    3) Give him a chance. Clara happened to be there with her 21-year old sister, Sara, also single. Both being so young, good-looking, smart and sweet, I wonder if there was something going on invisible to the naked eye that was keeping them from finding a good love match.

    There was: Clara and Sara were both vetoing each other’s dates: “Oh, he’s just not good enough for you.” Well, guess what: if you’re her sister and have known her your whole life and will lay your life down for her, in your book there is no man alive who is good enough for her. Get over it and unless the guys are unemployed and torture baby hamsters for fun, give the poor suckers a chance. And your sister, too. You do want to be an auntie someday, right?

    We are super-susceptible to the opinions of our intimate friends. If one of them says, “Oh, she’s not so pretty” about a woman I like, I can feel my interest instantly dropping a few notches. So it behooves Clara and Sara to refrain from saying mean things about their respective suitors and to stop sabotaging each other’s love lives.

    There’s something slightly sinister about this, too: unconsciously, the sisters are aware that if the other one finds a guy, that means less time spent with her. So yes, it’s very likely that a friend of yours – the one you’re closest to and has the most to lose – has actively sabotaged your interest in a guy in the name of “protecting” you. And she will do it again.

    So if you’re serious about having a relationship with a guy, you need to tell her to knock it off. If a unified chorus of friends tells you a guy is toxic, fine – you should listen. But if it’s one friend who’s consistently pulling you away or poisoning things early on, there just may be ulterior motives at work here.

    Polish girl seeks Indian guy – but why?

    Then there was Patricia, the fiercely intelligent, driven Polish transplant. Her question was about intercultural relationships. Specifically, she found herself attracted to Indian and Pakistani men. However, she wasn’t quite sure how to deal with their traditional mindsets, especially when the parents insisted on a bride within their own ethnicity.

    I’m all for intercultural relationships, but the Polish-Indian axis didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I mean, her true fulfillment depended on just that particular 1% sliver of the population? So I had to ask her: “What’s in it for you, Patricia?” After a while I got a sense that Agatha thrives on challenge: moving to the US; solving difficult problems; taking up a difficult dance style (tango, in this case); and maybe choosing boyfriends with difficult families who wouldn’t let her marry him.

    Remember that fulfillment is not a person, but a set of feelings. Was breaking through the challenge of swaying an Indian guy to marry her over the objections of his parents Patricia’s real fulfillment, or just another habit? Was she in it for the prize or for the joy? I wasn’t familiar with the full back story, but as far as I can tell, there are plenty of guys from all ethnicities out there who could catalyze Patricia’s growth and fulfillment. Especially in a place like New York City, where there are literally millions of interesting folks from all over the world. Perhaps it was time for her to focus on the substance of real companionship and emotional connection rather than an insistence on a particular symbol, of which ethnicity is one.

    Thanks for the ladies who braved the wilds of Manhattan and managed to find me at the Hudson that night. Now that I know how much fun live events are, I’ll be having more of them here in San Francisco and also when I travel. In the comments below, let me know where you abide, and if you can put together a group of 20 or more women, I’ll see what I can do to come visit.

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  • Recording of “Compelling People” interview with John Neffinger

    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: 

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