Category: 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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  • “Should I be miserable, or slightly less miserable?”: The Framing Problem

    A great letter about an all-too-common issue: do you stay in a mediocre relationship, or stick around to acknowledge your partner’s efforts at self-improvement, in hope that things maaaybe get better:

    Dear Dr Ali — My on/off partner of 4.5 years (with breaks) has a very avoidant attachment style, manifesting through extreme workaholic behaviour, using work to put distance between us. His work is stressful which exacerbates the issues. I have left the relationship twice. I am generally secure, with a very close, supportive family and friends network, but under this type of stress I become quite anxious. I’ve left whenever I realised I was persistently unhappy and ultimately feel alone within the relationship.

    We have an 8 year relationship as creative partners and are currently still working together (sporadically, not everyday). Our working relationship is great, I’d say because he feels safe and not threatened by intimacy. We are always happy to see each other.

    Both times I have left, he has reached out to try again. This time he started therapy to address these problems and in a few months there has been a significant acknowledgement of issues but no change so far. We love each other but I am worried that his underlying issues are so deep, he will never be able to commit to a relationship in a way that will make us both happy.

    Do you think it is possible for a strongly avoidant person to smooth off those edges and feel happy and fulfilled in a relationship rather than trapped and panicky (especially during the stressful times in life)? Ages are 38 and 40. Thanks, Cleo

    This kind of question comes up a lot, and it’s an example of what’s called the framing problem. See, Cleo, the correct question here is not “Can this person who has been making me feel anxious, unhappy and alone for 4.5 years with whom I’ve already broken up twice suddenly change and become the warm, caring person who fulfills all my relationship needs for the next umpteen years?” but rather, “Why am I putting up with this shit?” The real choice is between the mediocre-to-toxic relationship you’re having right now, vs the mutually nurturing and nourishing relationship that you could have with any of the millions of men that you haven’t broken up with twice yet.

    What you’re asking me is, “Hey doc. I just got this hot dog, and it fell in the sand. Should I just eat it, or is it possible for me to pick out all the grit and maybe wash it and then have a soggy mess that’s almost edible again and maybe a little less gritty, so I don’t have to throw it away?” If you have 5 bucks in your pocket, I’d say go get another hot dog, toss the other one and never think about it again.

    This type of thinking is very common, Cleo. The problem is with the framing: should I keep a miserable relationship, or a slightly less miserable relationship. It’s a false choice. You can also have a great relationship. Just not with this guy. I’m guessing that right about now, you’re getting a pretty unified chorus of friends and family saying that you deserve better. Maybe it’s time to listen to that.

    The reason this comes up so often is because of the sunk cost fallacy. I’ve written about this before in Chapter 5 of The Tao of Dating (ebook, paperback, and audiobook), “Understanding Men, Understanding Yourself”, p93:

    The Slot-Machine Theory of Human Behavior
    “Let’s say you’re in Las Vegas, and you’ve decided to play a slot machine. You put in a coin, pull the lever, and – nothing. Well, that’s fine – you weren’t expecting to win immediately anyway. So you put in another coin and – nothing again. In fact, nothing is the most likely outcome every time. Funny that.

    But before you know it, you’ve sunk quite a few coins in this machine. Now you’re thinking, “I’m invested; I can’t just quit now! I’ve fattened this thing up – it’s going to pay off any second now! Jackpot City!”

    The fact remains that the most likely outcome of your next pull (and the next, and the next, and the next) is still nothing. And that likelihood does not change whether you put in one coin or 10,000 coins before this pull.

    Psychologists have noticed that one of the reasons why this happens (and why casinos are making a mint) is that the human mind grasps poorly the concept of sunk costs. Those first 100 coins that you put into the machine are gone forever, and they have no bearing upon the outcome of the next pull of the lever. People tend to mistake the sunk cost for an investment, which has an expectation of future payoff commensurate with the investment. A sunk cost, on the other hand, is just plain gone.

    The way this concept plays out in a bad relationship is that the aggrieved party thinks that she has invested two years dating a jerk, so she can’t just throw that investment away. Besides, through her efforts, he might reform and thereby reward her with the jackpot she’s been working on all along.

    Well, there is no way to retrieve or throw away those two years – they’re gone for good. They are sunk costs. And the jackpot isn’t coming. Just as in playing a slot machine, the best policy once you realize you’re in a sunk cost situation is to cut and run and immediately stop your losses. The sooner a woman leaves behind the jerk, the sooner she’s opening her life to the arrival of a guy (perhaps even a Good Guy) who can be a catalyst for fulfillment.” [end of excerpt]

    Your question once again brings up the central question of relationships: What do you want, Cleo? Do you want an on-again, off-again relationship that stresses you out? Because that’s what you’re signing up for by staying with him. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and the past behavior has not been promising.

    It’s nice that you say you love him, but your mission in this life is to be your most radiant, giving, generous, creative self so you can give your gift to the world, not to have it drained out of you by one person. This man does not sound like the kind of person who as a partner can catalyze your greatness. As such, staying with him would be an act of selfishness. You have a much bigger mandate than having to deal with his issues. Be strong and move on so you can open the door to the right partner who’s been waiting for you for a long time now. And if that means being alone for a little while, that’s still a better spot than what you’re describing right now.

    Please recall that I wrote The Tao of Dating because a friend of mine told me she was dating with a man who lived under her roof paying no rent and beating her up. That was a really clear case of someone being in the wrong relationship, because he was physically abusing her. But sometimes the violence isn’t so obvious because it’s occurring emotionally.

    All relationships go through ups and downs, but please be mindful of what the overall arc of the relationship is. Does it go down, then go up again, with a general upward trajectory? Or does it go down, and then stay down till you get used to the new normal, then go down again? There’s a term for this in decision science: normalization of deviance. And if you’re stuck in the middle of it, it can sometimes be hard to tell if you’re compromising too much in a relationship.

    So here are some ways of finding out whether what you’re putting up with is normal relationship fluctuations or a toxic relationship:

    Are your friends worried about you? Do they often express concern about the state of your relationship? Do they ever say things like “He’s not good for you” or “Y’know, have you considered dating someone else?” If so, you may be in a toxic relationship.

    Do you find yourself apologizing a lot in the relationship? Like you’re always walking on eggshells, trying not to set him off?  The whole point of relationship is for two people to support each other, not to create an atmosphere of fear. There are plenty of dark alleyways you can walk down in the sketchy parts of the city to make you feel unsafe. Why construct one in your own home?

    Do you have a history of staying in bad relationships? If so, your idea of “normal” may be skewed such that you’re willing to put up with a lot more crap than you should.

    Do you feel that you’re flourishing as a person in this relationship? This is the absolute criterion that doesn’t even need the rest of them. If the answer is no, it’s time to think about why that’s the case.

    If you don’t feel psychologically safe on a day-to-day basis in your relationship, it’s really time to move on. Things like love, growth and joy only have room to happen when the parasympathetic nervous system and the mind and body feel safe. When your mind is in threat response mode, it just never gets past that. If that describes you, call on a trusted friend or counselor to discuss how you can extricate yourself from the situation.

    Speaking of flourishing — I’ve got a little something for you. On Tue May 31 at 6pm PT/9pm ET, I’m giving a free teleclass called “Happiness Engineering: The Five Pillars of Authentic Success.” Sign up for it here and I’ll send you a reminder for when it’s happening.

    All the best,
    Dr Ali

    PS: By popular request, Therapy Thursdays continues. If you have an issue that you think could benefit from a one-on-one consult via Skype, send a message to drali at with “TT” in the subject line and I’ll see what I can do to accommodate you. There are 3 appointment slots per week, and they happen on Thursdays and Fridays.

    PPS: If you don’t have it already, you can get The Tao of Dating audibook for free when you sign up for a 30-day trial with Audible.

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  • Marriage Part 2, crash test dummies, and how to stop beating yourself up

    Wow! So many comments from the Garden Gnomes article — a new record for the site, in fact. Apparently marriage is on people’s minds. Some of the ladies had pressured to get their partners to propose, and saw the error of their ways:

    “This was just what I needed to hear today, thank you! We have an amazing relationship & have only been together a little over a year. I don’t want to weaken it by putting pressure on him about marriage. Now I just need to share this with my well-meaning friends who pester me about why I don’t have a ring yet every time I see them! Thank you!” – Renee

    “I recently put pressure on my boyfriend about this, and we can both feel the strain in the relationship now. It’s not worth it to push any issue. It would definitely feel much better if it were his decision without the pressure, and I feel very selfish now. I guess I needed this article, and I thank you. Marriage does still remain important to me, but I think a good relationship with a man I trust is better.” – Michele

    Others were more of the Beyoncé camp: girl should stick to her guns, and if the dude wants to stick around, he should put a ring on it:

    “She should be able to discuss what her relationship needs are. Most women do not thrive when they are in limbo. Most women want relationship security. Most women want to know that the man they are with has a current intention to be with them in the future. Maria should feel 100 percent comfortable checking in with her man to see if they are still on the same page. If she genuinely and lovingly communicates to him what her genuine needs are, and he cannot meet them, she should wish him the very best for the future and move on. There is abundance and a lot of opportunities for love in this world.” – Elle from Oz

    All salient points. Now I know a little bit about the courtship and dating — y’know, the part leading up to the scary forever promises and written contracts and stuff. But if you want advice on marriage and relationships from the source, I encourage you to consult the magus himself, Prof John Gottman, starting with The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (ebook and paperback). In addition to being married himself, he has videotaped, analyzed and advised thousands of couples and written reams about the topic. 

    Marriage is a supremely complex topic that we could debate till the end of days. So I’ll just say a few words before we move on to new letters. Specifically, that marriage does not necessarily bring you security.

    Reader Tess Bee’s comment encapsulated the theme of the pro-marriage camp: “I’m not saying a marriage certificate will stop a man from leaving. But the very fact of swearing in front of witnesses to remain “’til death us do part” shows a level of commitment which imbues a woman with a sense of security that is simply not there without a tangible commitment.”

    Well, let’s imagine this scenario: suppose I offer you a ride crosstown, and I tell you, “By the way, there’s only a 50% chance that we’ll crash — you should be fine.” How safe would you feel about that ride? Would you even take it?

    Dumb question, I know. That’s what crash-test dummies are made for. And yet, 50% is also the intrinsic failure rate of marriages in the US. And for some reason, there are millions of people clamoring to get in on that deal.

    Dunno about you, but a coin flip to crash ain’t my idea of security.

    Now I know what you may be thinking: “Oh, that’s the other 50%. They weren’t talking about us. Our bond is special.” This would be a prime manifestation of one of the most pernicious cognitive biases known to man — namely, the bad shit only happens to other people bias. May want to go ask those other people if they thought themselves “other people” when things went sideways.

    There is only one thing that will bring you security in this world: being comfortable with insecurity. There’s a great book about it — The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (ebook and paperback). Because the truth is that the world is eternally in flux. Everything is jiggling, twisting, shimmying, dodging, weaving, all the time. Even that rock sitting there, seemingly quiescent, has quintillions of molecules vibrating unimaginably fast, perpetually. Everything is moving and alive. Chapter 76 of Tao Te Ching has something to say about this:

    Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard.
    Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry.
    Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
    Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
    The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.

    So according to Taoist thought, wishing for ultimate security — a form of stasis — is like being anti-life. I see how a huge promise made in front of all your friends may make it harder for both parties to back out. But like any wall, it also makes it harder for you to get out. What if he or she turns into a monster right after the marriage? What if you find out you’re not the one suited for married life, even though you asked for it?

    The other thing is that marriage is a cultural construct, not a natural phenomenon. We made it up. And, like tattoos and skinny hipster jeans, just ’cause everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it necessarily the right thing for you. Data shows that single women’s overall life satisfaction goes down after marriage (while that of men rises). You sure you want to sign up for that? Like the Buddha said, ehi passiko — go figure things out for yourself and see if it works for you.

    Which brings us to a letter about uncertainty:

    Hi Dr Ali — I told myself that all I really wanted was to just meet the guy and have fun so I messaged him last Wednesday and told him that I was free Saturday afternoon. He never replied. And for some unknown reason, and never having met the guy even, I’m absolutely heart broken.

    All I really wanted to do was to meet the guy and break this fantasy that I have of him in my head. Meeting him would have shown me that he is human, giving the infatuation less power. But now I am devastated because I don’t think I’ll get the chance to do that and I’m feeling awful. I’m regretting not talking to him at that event and really beating myself up for it to the point of it feeling painful. I’m upset that he wasn’t willing to follow through with asking me out and just disappearing. I know, it’s likely just a simple case of not being interested or even dating someone else, but I can’t help feeling as awful and sad as I do. I felt like you may have some words of wisdom for me, and actually being on my trip to do my rotation without my friends or family isn’t helping me much. — Lily the 24yr old med student from last time

    Well, Lily, one thing I know for sure: this is no longer about the guy, since he is nowhere near, and you haven’t even met him in person yet. So right now he is about as real as the spawn of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. What is very real is the misery you’re feeling right now. And since he’s not there, we know the exact address of the source of your pain: your own mind. This is a good time to learn how to run it so it serves you instead of running amok for the next 70 years. Three main suggestions:

    1) Meditate every day. If one good thing can come from this mediocre experience, it’s that it got you started on a lifelong practice that improved your existence more than anything else. So get meditating. Start with 2min a day, and extend it to 20min or beyond. If you don’t know how, get Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance (ebook and paperback) or the “Headspace” app. If you don’t start meditating, I’ll just assume that you prefer to feel miserable.
    2) Exercise. A run or yoga session will clear your head and expand your vision in a way to make this issue shrink to its proper tininess in the grand scheme of things.
    3) Practice self-compassion. This beating up on yourself needs to stop. I know it’s a pretty common practice nowadays, but it doesn’t make it any less weird or pathological. Also, which part of you is beating up on which? Are you slapping yourself in the face like Annette Bening in American Beauty? Is it the left hemisphere of your brain attacking the right? I’m asking these questions to illuminate the absurdity of beating up on yourself. Just stop and do crochet, street graffiti, skydiving — y’know, anything less detrimental and annoying.

    Prof Kristin Neff came up with the three elements of self-compassion:

    • Self-kindness: “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”
    • Common humanity: “…Suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.”
    • Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.”

    On her website, she has some exercises you can try out. If what I’ve said to you about self-compassion so far speaks to you, the exercises can be life-changing. When you combine practices like meditation, exercise and self-compassion, you become resilient, like the reed that bends in the wind instead of breaking. And that is real security in the face of the flux of the world.

    I understand that change is hard, though. And even ideas that cognitively make a lot of sense — “Wow, I should totally do that!” — sometimes pass us by without making a lasting difference in our behavior. So for those of you interested in real change and tangible growth, I propose Project Irresistible. In it, we address some neglected but fundamental questions like, who are you, really? What’s your point for being on this Planet Earth? What are your most deeply held values? What are your goals vis-à-vis men and relationships? Do they mesh with those values? Are you ready for love? And that’s just the first two modules. Written exercises, listening assignments, guided meditations and real-world exercises get you expanding your envelope of existence to embrace a grander vision of you — and to manifest that in your daily behavior. The $100 off promotion is over, but you can still use coupon code “SPRINGY” for a $75 discount, which makes the price for the 6-week course less than a single session of therapy.

    And finally, to Lily and all the other ladies out there: the pain of being neglected and rejected is very, very real. Return people’s phone calls, texts, and emails, especially when it comes to romantic matters, even if it’s just to say “No thank you.” A clear “no” is a thousand times better than silence, which is perceived as “You’re not even worth a response.” As guys, we’re used to rejection, but the amount of infelicity and casualness in communications these days must be at an all-time high. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and be the change you want to see in the world.


    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. If you’re from a time zone where these slots are inconvenient, let me know and we’ll see what we can work out for you. Write to me directly and put “I want a session!” in the subject line, and include your PayPal address and Skype ID. $175 per 60min session.


    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, effective, fun stuff. Location: Downtown San Francisco. Early bird tix are $45. Sign up here.

    Thu May 12, Los Angeles, 7pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself.” Location not yet confirmed — 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.

    Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali



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  • “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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  • Mailbag: How to be ready for love + shooing men away accidentally

    Reading time: 9min

    ***ANNOUNCEMENT: My friends, bestselling author Arielle Ford and Claire Zammit, founder of Feminine Power, have brought together the world’s leading love experts to create a ground-breaking program for smart, successful, conscious women. It’s called Attract Your Soulmate: The 5 Keys Conscious Women Need to Know to Meet the Right Partner and Create Lifelong Loveand yes, it is a mouthful. The point is that they’ve got the big guns speaking to you for free: Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray LoveCommitted, and Big Magic), John Gray, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Marci Shimoff, Alison Armstrong, Amir Levine (Attached), Jean Houston. You won’t necessarily love all of them, but many will knock your socks off (eg Liz Gilbert, Marianne, Armstrong, Houston). That’s why I’ve been a perennial partner of this program. It starts Tue Apr 26, it’s free, it’s gonna rock, and I encourage you to sign up for it here.***

    We’ve got a good batch of letters today. Let’s see what the ladies have to say:

    Dear Dr. Ali — A couple of weeks ago I was at an event with my family and I saw a man that I was very attracted to. I noticed him because he was staring at me intensely the whole day and would move close to me in the crowd and smile repeatedly. I would smile back but I was too nervous to approach him and I think he was too so I went home with regrets. But later I went home and was able to find him online via LinkedIn.

    I proceeded to ‘poke’ him on Facebook and he messaged me saying “Hey good-looking! How did you find me?! :)” We talked back and forth for a couple of days, I told him I was in the middle of finals and he asked if we could go for coffee when I was free. I responded sure, and if he would be okay with the end of exams 3 weeks from now. He read my message and never responded and this was 5 days ago. I feel quite upset and confused as this act of ‘ghosting’ is not the first time this has happened to me.

    I have read your post about why men lose interest, but how is it possible to ask someone out and lose interest in the span of 12 hours?? I’m wondering what could I be doing/saying that makes a man change his mind after asking me out? Should I not have looked for him when I saw him on the dating site? I know I am overthinking this – I know deep down the simple answer is he just wasn’t interested enough… I am just feeling a bit hopeless in the game of dating and wondering if you have any words of advice for a 23 year old like me? — Lily in LA

    Great one, Lily! Well, you’ve done many right things here. You’ve taken the initiative to look him up and establish contact (after being too chicken to say hi to him when he was right there in front of you, but hey, baby steps here). And he was eager enough to see you to ask you out – and then (more…)

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  • 9 Reasons why men lose interest — and what you can do about it

    Here’s a most excellent letter about a question that every woman has asked at some point in her life:

    “Why is it that a guy fiercely pursues a woman at first, and then when he finds out she is actually interested he is not so sure if he is interested anymore? And then his interest wanes and he starts treating her like an option instead of a priority? When can you let a guy know you are interested! At what stage? Is dating just one big game? How do you get a guy to treat you like priority instead of an option? For background, I’m 29, live in Australia, and I’ve been on 5 dates with this guy so far but we haven’t kissed yet.” — Sheila

    Well well. An excellent question that has been posed by women since time immemorial. There he was, totally interested, looking dapper in his buffalo skin while nonchalantly swinging his club at the cave entrance, offering you some freshly killed mastodon meat. There he was, showing up outside your castle window every day in his mostly shiny but frankly also a little rusty armor, strumming his lute and warbling his troubadour songs. There he was at the opera house, his head low and eyes up giving him that simultaneously worshipful and conspiratorial look, passing you a note saying, “Meet me at the fountain when the clock tower strikes nine.” There he was, texting you right back when you texted him, even asking you out on actual grown-up dates to actual grown-up places like concerts and lectures, and then… poof.

    What is up with that?! Why do men lose interest? What, if anything, could you have done differently? (more…)

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  • Love Better, Present Better, and Perform Better Through Presence

    ***ANNOUNCEMENT: The next This Is How You Heal Yourself: Rewire Your Brain to Overcome Pain workshop is in San Francisco on Tuesday, 19 Jan 2016. I’ll be teaching you tools to get over heartbreak, phobias and trauma. Sign up here.***

    Here’s a story for you: just last month, my professional singer friend Valerie was terrified of her upcoming auditions because of crippling stage fright. Right about that time, I was fortunate to attend a talk by Amy Cuddy on her new book. Valerie couldn’t attend, so I gave her an advance copy of Presence (hardcover and ebook) that Amy had kindly given us. Valerie watched Amy’s TED talk, read half of the book, executed the “power pose” (i.e. expansive body postures like the “Wonder Woman” and the “Usain Bolt” held for 2min) and “self-affirmation of core values” techniques right before her auditions, and nailed ’em: three auditions, three gigs booked. And it all worked that fast.

    What would you say if I told you that there was an essential life skill that could make you a better speaker, help you nail job interviews, get you better dates, improve your performance, and make you a better partner and parent? What if I told you that no one has ever bothered to teach you this skill, mostly because we didn’t even know what it was? That secret skill is presence, “the state of feeling connected with our own thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions, so that we can better connect with the thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions of others.” And Amy Cuddy’s book can teach this state of “self-assured enthusiasm” to you and a whole lot more.

    People — this is life-changing stuff. We can all think of a time when (more…)

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  • How to Get Over a Breakup: Professional Edition

    I had a breakup recently. It sucked royally.

    Except that it wasn’t even a breakup. The woman just stopped returning my communications. Calls unanswered. Voicemails not returned. Texts unacknowledged. Emails languishing in a mailbox, gathering e-dust. Hell, I even wrote her a handwritten letter. Four pages long! Hadn’t done that in over 15 years. Still nothing.

    Breakups are never fun, but of all the ways one can be dumped, the disappearing act probably feels the worst. I mean, it’s one thing to say to my face that I’m a terrible boyfriend/husband/partner/lover and you can’t stand me anymore for reasons X, Y and Z, spurious or true. It’s a completely different thing to vanish completely. Because in the former case, the mind perceives it as rejection, which registers in the same part of the brain as a poke in the eye That pain is so similar to regular pain that it is ameliorated by acetaminophen (aka Tylenol, paracetamol). Bet you didn’t know that.

    But when someone goes poof, the brain perceives it as a death. So you don’t just experience the pain of rejection, which is bad enough already. You go into mourning.

    The disconcerting news is that this kind of thing seems to be happening with such frequency nowadays that it has a name: ghosting. How fucking terrifying is that?

    So lest anyone think that the existence of this word somehow legitimizes the practice, let me make this clear: ghosting is an act of violence. If you ghost on someone — especially someone with whom you until very recently used to share secrets, food, bed space and bodily fluids, and was basically decent to you — you are a horrible, terrible, awful human being. This is an act of omission that is very much an act of commission: you are leaving someone for dead. And nice people don’t do that.

    But I’m preaching to the choir here, because you’re probably reading this to recover from a breakup, not to inflict one. Well, you’ve come to the right place darlin’, because I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of these. I should know from breakups.

    There’s more that makes a breakup painful than the pain of rejection and mourning, however. You also come to (more…)

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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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  • “How Will I Ever Trust a Man Again?” + A Good Day for America

    First of all, a massive congratulations to all Americans today for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Such a breakthrough would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.

    Unfortunately, discrimination against homosexuals has been around for much longer than that. Fortunately, as Martin Luther King Jr put it so eloquently, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In the past hundred years, we’ve gotten the vote for women and racial minorities, improved access to higher education for women and minorities, reduced violence significantly (The Better Angels of Our Nature: How Violence Has Decreased Over Time is a fantastic read on this), criminalized torture, stopped burning witches at the stake, nearly eradicated slavery, and seen democracy progressively displace hereditary tyranny all over the world.

    Although I’d like to think that, “Geez, isn’t this the way things should have been all along?,” the fact is that for nearly all of human history, people have been pretty nasty to each other. So it is with a joyous heart that I say halleluuuujah, it’s about time, and I for one will not take this for granted. There will always be meanies, but the good guys eventually win. San Francisco’s already lit up in rainbow colors all over the place, but with this announcement, the whole town’s going to go certified bonkers.

    In the meantime, we’ve had some interesting letters in the past week. Let’s see what the e-mailman brung: (more…)

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