Category: long-distance relationships

  • The Wisdom of Women, Part 1

    So here’s my secret: even though I wrote this book about women and love, I’m actually not a woman. That whole story I tell about having written the book before my sex-change operation? I made it all up. I’ve been 100% a guy the whoooole time.

    And yet, here I am, dispensing advice to womenfolk on being a better woman. Really? Like there’s a shortage of actual women out there to tell you about this kinda thing? Well, there isn’t. In fact, many of you, my readers, are plenty wise. One of the things I’m really proud of is how incredibly smart and educated my readers are. Even if you ladies don’t let on much, I see all the MAs, PhDs, MDs, CEOs, scientific papers written, books published, and operas sung.

    So I’m going to take this month of community building as an excuse to introduce some of you to one another, and share some of the wisdom you’ve shared with me.

    The Wisdom of Women: Long-Distance Relationships

    Let’s start out with Julie, who left this comment on the blog a little while back. One of the most consistently true findings over the 15 years I’ve been thinking about love & relationships has been this: long-distance relationships are a terrible idea. This has been verified over and over again, to the point that it’s almost like saying “water is wet.” And yet, people still think “No no, our long-distance thing is special” or “My boyfriend is different” or some nonsense like that. Julie has an unusual perspective on all of this:

    “My soon-to-be ex-husband met a woman while they were both working out of state in the same city. He told her he had kids from a previous relationship and lived alone. All the while, he was telling me he missed me and couldn’t wait to get home, I love you, goodnight baby, all those usual things.

    She was in a long distance relationship with him for months before I found out who she was and told her the truth. They had met up a few times for happy, fun, touristy long weekends and Skyped a lot, and this was their “relationship.” Then he lied to her astoundingly about how our marriage had been over for a long time, he wasn’t happy, it was a sexless marriage. It was a very sexually active and enthusiastic physical relationship in our marriage, and we were not fighting or distant. He was a messed up human being inside who was a very good actor.

    My therapist (I got one, after all this) told me, “It doesn’t take a broken marriage to have an affair. It just takes one broken person.” So true. He had been binge drinking on work trips, too, and I never knew. He hadn’t been paying bills from his accounts he told me were being paid. He was a mess across the board. But the kicker is, she believed his lies long-distance and got back together with him. All while he was still lying to her about various things.

    But that’s just it… she so badly wanted to believe in the fantasy of who he was that she refused to see that long distance meant she could never really know him and see what was going on in real life. Meanwhile, I saw the truth come out and kept seeing it because our relationship wasn’t escapism over long weekends, where it’s easy to put your best foot forward all week and then for an hour of skype here and there.

    They eventually broke up, but she still thinks she had some great love with him and even said nobody knows him like she does. After seeing what long distance looked like that way, how easily it all was hidden (whereas I discovered his behavior within two weeks of it starting), I would never advise it to anybody. He had a breakdown in life and the affair was only part of it. He messed up his friends, family, work, and finances at the same time too. Of course long distance can be done. People have made it. But it’s too much fantasy and vacation for so much longer than normally dating somebody would be. Or than seeing a sudden change in a married partner or dating partner locally would likely be. — Julie”

    Such a great letter! Julie’s unusual perspective as the aggrieved wife of a husband cheating on her in a long-distance relationship illustrates a bunch of points how the whole thing’s a fantasy. The other woman has no way of getting to know the cheating husband very well, so she constructs out of whole cloth this whole story about how great he is. The fun, touristy (and probably sex-drenched) weekends together propagate the fantasy, free from any inconvenient real-life notions of whether the guy is a responsible adult who pays bills on time, takes out the trash or doesn’t leave dirty socks lying around.

    Another great letter on the topic of long-distance relationships comes from Marcy. Her perspective is slightly different:

    “My 16-year marriage was born online, states apart. We saw each other every couple of months for days until I moved to be with him and talked obsessively, both sacrificing countless relationships with people who were available locally. Was it worth it? In a way, yes! We have two children and built a relatively stable, often happy, in person life together that has lasted longer than many traditional marriages. But I would likely never do it again.

    Here’s the thing, we DID know each other via phone and text (we didn’t even have video calling then). And we WERE genuinely compatible in the ways we experienced. But, even after confirming what appeared to be our compatibility (in person), in the truth our long distance relationship was still 90% fantasy. Long distance relationships allow you to idealize positive traits for an extended period of time while grossly undervaluing negative traits. The intensity of the sex once you finally see each other, coupled with the future planning, almost guarantees it.

    Our outcome: Sex was intensely magical at a distance, but soon became detached and uncompromising once we saw each other regulary. Sunk costs began playing their part: I’d invested so much in such a high risk relationship (moving states, transferring schools, convincing everyone who knew it was wrong that it was right) that I would not let go. We married and began moving towards a sexless marriage in my late 20s. Now in my mid 30s, we have neither kissed nor had sex in years.

    The excellent “communication” I believed that we were building up to in our long distance relationship was also overblown. You have no idea what someone is doing while it appears that they are deeply engaged in a chat with you. While imagined him laying on his bed staring at his laptop screen in anticipation of my messages, my husband was undoubtedly playing videogames the vast majority of the time we were chatting.

    This became apparent when we moved in together and I realized that he struggled to look at me during conversations or have any serious face-to-face interactions with me at all. In fact, this was one of the greatest downfalls in our marriage. My husband is a gamer and much prefer spending large portions of his free time engaging online friends. This did not change when I moved and is an enormous incompatibility that I downplayed. Playing video games alone is more fun than talking in person (which he hates), or playing with our children (which he dislikes), or even having sex. He also prefers exceptional amounts of emotional distance, evident in seeking a long-distance relationship.

    I have come to believe that people who use placeholder/long-distance relationships are signaling that they are emotionally unavailable and likely to be relationally incompetent in very significant ways. For all the reasons and excuses we made for our online “relationship”, the truth is, we were using each other to prevent the development of potentially loving dynamics with compatible partners close to home. We were not prepared to commit to doing what was necessary to create a truly healthy dynamic and that’s why we were chatting online, closing doors in the first place.”

    Wow! That pretty much summarizes everything that’s bad about long-distance relationships. Marcy is particularly insightful in noting that a LDR is often a “placeholder”, a hedge against real intimacy.

    But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be in a long-distance relationship to create hedges against intimacy. You can be a workaholic or choose a job that has 60% travel. You can insist on having separate hobbies, circles of friends, or vacations. You can be a picky eater so you can’t share meals with people. You can subscribe to a multi-partner lifestyle like polyamory or swinging. If you’re afraid of letting people get to know the real you, your unconscious is going to create all kinds of clever strategies for making sure people don’t get too close. If you find yourself perennially lonely in spite of your best intentions, you may want to think about how you’re unconsciously inflicting it upon yourself.

    Women picking matches for their friends: a new kind of dating app?
    So I’m on record being against using online dating as your primary means of meeting new people. But what if there was an app that let you pick matches for your friends? Would that be more useful?

    Recently I came across such a collaborative matchmaking app. It piqued my interest and thought I’d bring it to your attention. It’s called Spritzr, and it’s an app for friends to play matchmaker. So you get to meet dates that you have friends or interests in common with, as opposed to the stream of randos you see on most dating apps.

    Am I totally convinced this works? Not yet. But it does seems worthy of a closer look. They’re early in their development, and I befriended the founder, who said we could be some of his beta testers. Yay! If you’re interested in being part of this early adopter program, go to and sign up for an account. I’m very curious about how the experiment goes — especially if we stoke the whole app with a bunch of my amazing readers :)

    Next week, I’ll be telling you about the new book by my excellent friend and colleague Christine Marie Mason. She’s written a remarkable new book called Indivisible: Coming Home to Our Deep Connectionand I’ll be sharing some of it with you before it’s even released on Sept 16. Who loves you?

    All the best
    Dr Ali
    PS: The Win Dr Ali’s Kindle Superfan Contest continues. We’ve already got some strong contenders, and I’m going to add some prizes for 2nd place to make things more exciting. Click here for the rules.

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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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  • “If he loves me so much, why won’t he move for me”: On expectations, blindspots and self-inflicted misery

    Ladies — At first glance, this email exchange I had with your fellow reader Karin seems to be about long-distance relationships — a dead horse that in the past I have beaten so thoroughly as to pulverize, nay, vaporize it. So how does this corpse seem to resurrect itself from the very air, and keep coming back?

    Well, that’s easy. For tens of thousands of years, humans used to live and die within a 10-mile radius of where they were born. So you basically hung out with the boy or girl next door, because, well, he/she was next door. Usually in the same tribe, even.

    But once you create means of transportation that take you to the opposite end of the planet in half a day, then the fast-acting mechanism of limerence — also known as that lovin’ feeling — could get activated somewhere very far away from home. For both parties. Add to that the exoticism of being in a novel place and the stress of being a stranger, and you have the optimal brain chemical cocktail to make you fall for someone exceptionally non-local.

    Further add to that the Western Romantic Ideal — i.e. “this temporary state of massively impaired judgment called being in love means I must destroy everything in my path to give in to it” — and that’s when the trouble begins. Here’s the exchange, mostly unedited and as it occurred: (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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  • On your purpose in life, the logic of pleasure, and breaking cultural norms

    Over the years, I’ve noticed that many of the letters I receive come from immigrant folks. And by immigrant, I mean “someone whose parents did not come on the Mayflower and is not part of a Native American tribe.” More specifically, if you were raised with the social customs of another country, this whole American dating thing can be very hard to figure out. Especially if you think that everyone else has some secret rulebook that they’ve been hiding away from you (it’s not secret – you can get it here).

    I mean, what are you supposed to do and when? Do you call a guy first? How long do you wait before texting back? Should you accept a date from a guy who lives out of town? When do you sleep with him? What are you allowed to do in the sack? Do you break up with a guy you like but don’t see a future with? When? How long do you date around before getting serious about perpetuating your genes and stuff (aka kids)? Should you freeze your eggs? Is a pint of Ben & Jerry’s an acceptable substitute for a Friday night date.

    Sooo many questions. I did my best to help you create your own framework for answering these questions in my book-length rant called The Tao of Dating (even if you’re a guy), but questions still come up – especially those particular to a culture.

    It’s worth noting that (more…)

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  • Letter: On young love, attachment styles, and long-distance non-relationships

    You folks send me many good letters, and every once in a while you send me a great one. What makes this one great is it brings up so much juicy stuff, giving me an excuse for me to go on tangential rants on various topics of interest:

    Dear Dr Ali, 

    I’m struggling with a recent break up, if that’s what you can call it. I want to know if I have a shot in hell of saving this relationship or if I need to pick up myself and move on. Here is the story.

    My boyfriend and I had been dating somewhat long distance (4 hour drive) for over 2 years when we broke up. I actually dumped him. Sadly I had pushed him away before so he told me to think about it because this would be the last time. I told him I didn’t want to think and I wanted to be done. Suddenly two days later I realized I made a HUGE mistake and started talking to him. We talked for three weeks, with me begging, pleading, crying, the works, and him saying he was done and couldn’t be with me anymore. I even asked if he had slept with someone else, he said he didn’t want to talk about it, but I pushed him and it turns out in the second week of the break up he had.

    He finally agreed to see me for closure on the third weekend of the break up. It was terrible and had no closure of course. There were HUGE mixed emotions from him. Saying he loved me over and over, kissing, telling me he had missed me. He even said that a part of him did want us to work out but that he couldn’t see the future.

    I begged and pleaded. He pushed back. It was terrible. He even ended up spending the night with me. The next morning he finally agreed that we would talk in 40 days, no promises or anything, but that he would talk to me then. I told him I would work very hard in those 40 days to get myself back and prove to him I deserved him back.

    This was a huge relief and maybe made me a little hopeful. He dropped me at my car, told me he loved me, and even said he hated to think it would be the last time he would see me. I drove home and started to feel so miserable I ended up calling him. We actually had a really nice talk and he admitted he felt lucky to have someone so willing to work for him and so in love with him. I hung up and felt good.

    Then panic set in because I started to wonder if he would get in a relationship in the next 40 days. I called him again and asked him to promise me not to. He got upset saying it wasn’t fair to make all these demands when he had already given me so much (true) and that he didn’t want to keep giving in. But he promised anyways and even said I love you first at the end of the call.

    I’m scared now for the 40 day mark. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and therapy work, I now realize due to an abusive past from my family I have a huge fear of commitment. It didn’t matter how much my ex proved himself or told me he loved me; my past still haunted me. I couldn’t just let go and enjoy the relationship. I was constantly planning and controlling, to the point where I actually mimicked some of the emotional behavior that had been put on me in the past. I truly want to make us work but I’m terrified it’s too little too late. I want to believe when he admitted a part of him wants us to work. But I have to wonder if he was just being nice to make me feel better. Any advice here would be welcomed.

    Thanks, Marilou, 23, Vermont


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  • The Jekyll/Hyde Power of Maybe, The 6-month Specialist & the Myth of Attracting Unavailable Men

    Big thanks to Meaghan, Colleen C, Amie and Monica (“BEST. BOOK. EVER.” – really?! I think I’m in love) for posting reviews to Amazon in the last week. The amount of compliments in there is enough to make me blush, and you know what? I’m learning how to be cool with it. Blushing is good for the skin. Here’s what Meaghan said:

    “I found so much joy from this book! It is labeled as a dating book, however I found that embedded in the info about dating were so many valuable life lessons that you can apply to everything you are pursuing in your life. I truly think every woman should have a copy. I have read it once and have started reading it again…and I plan on using it as a guidebook again and again.”

    Yes, you are all on to me, you clever little minxes. The Tao of Dating was never really meant as just a dating book. I not-so-secretly want you to make your whole life better! Heresy, I know.

    So I’m thrilled to report that (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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  • The Mailbag: On unavailable men, heartache as creative inspiration, cheating, neediness and timing

    I get a lot of letters from you guys (and by ‘guys’, I mean ladies). And if you’ve ever written to me, you know that I almost always write back — unless your letter is 5 feet long, riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes or internet-speak (bcuz it makes U look like a doofus, that’s Y, and I got no time for doofi), or if you don’t put a space after commas and periods, making your letter look like money transfer spam (“My name is Hamilton Adeyemi,from great city of Abuja.I give you 5 trillion$.Please give bank account.”). See? No space after a comma is just Sketchville.

    But usually, I write back. If I don’t answer your question directly, I’ll ask for clarification, such as “Um, there actually wasn’t a question in there – what did you want to ask about?” Some of the really good ones I turn into blog articles. Anonymized, of course.

    But you know what? That can take forever, especially when the perfectionist streak in me wins out and says Oh, it has to be really good, otherwise I can’t put it up.

    As an antidote to this perfectionism, I’m going to put in this post a bunch of mostly unedited, unfiltered exchanges with you, my dear readers. (more…)

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  • “Should I move in with him?”

    Here’s a recent letter from a reader:

    Hi Dr. Ali,
    I enjoy every article you wrote and read them all. Most of all I read your wonderful book, The Tao of Dating. I wanted to ask for your opinion on my current situation. I am currently dating a man (has 3 kids by same woman who he was not married to and long distance, I know how you feel about long distance.)

    He treats me like a queen, he is smart, educated and charming. But the man has emotional baggage! He has been hurt in the past and is afraid to love! Multiple times he had asked me to move in and I am considering it.  My question to you is: Is there anything I can do or be that will help him learn to love again?  I look forward to your response! Tara

    Tara —
    Thanks for the kind words and the letter!
    Wow.  Sounds like a lot of things happening concurrently here.  Long distance, 3 kids, emotional baggage.  Well, let me ask you this, Tara: (more…)

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