Category: self-help

  • 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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  • 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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  • How the Psychologist Found Love + Beta Testers Wanted for New Course + Birthday

    This last week was my birthday. I received a hundred or so messages from readers like you via my Facebook profile (to which I’d be delighted to add you should you wish to witness my miscellaneous ramblings), and another few hundred messages, texts and phone calls from friends and family. If you were one of them — thanks so much! By the end of the week, I was brimming with gratitude & joy from all of your kindness and support. This one below was one of the most heart-warming of all, and it wasn’t even sent for my birthday:

    “Hi Dr. Binazir! I don’t have a question, just a testimonial for your book (and I’ll add one on Amazon, too)! I read it about a year and a half ago after some unfortunate online dating experiences (I admit, you were right).


    I’m a psychologist, but at times even the principles of therapy you provide for others just don’t sink in with regard to yourself. Your book really helped me with that, and I was able to let go of my desperate search for a partner. I think the things that helped the most were starting to attend a guided meditation practice, and using much of that time to focus on the principle of abundance. I really began to see my life as complete, and also kept my eyes and heart open.

    Almost the instant I reached and maintained a state of acceptance and peace, my friend happened to (more…)

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  • Matthieu Ricard on Altruism and Loving-Kindness (audio)

    Last week, I saw Matthieu Ricard give a talk about his new book Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change You and the World (hardcover, ebook and audiobook) in an event hosted by Soren Gordhamer and Wisdom 2.0. Ricard is an interesting fellow. After finishing his doctorate in molecular genetics in 1972 in the lab of Nobel-winning legend François Jacob, he promptly took off for a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Nepal, where he has resided since. Subsequent to participating in a pioneering study by Richie Davidson from the University of Wisconsin on the effects of meditation on brain physiology, the media dubbed him “the happiest man in the world.”


    You know this is a man grounded in reality because he is quick to refute that label not out of modesty but from the simple fact that all of his fellow monks would do (and have done) equally well on measurements of their brain activity that could result in such a label. My inclination is to think that if you’ve put in the 50,000 hours of meditation that Ricard has, your brain is bound to manifest some unusual phenomena.

    Ricard is an exceptionally lucid and engaging speaker, even in English, which is not his native tongue. In fact, he’s so engaging that I hardly took any notes. Here is some of what he mentioned in his talk:

    • Happiness is not the constant seeking of pleasurable experiences. That can turn out to be quite exhausting.
    • One definition of happiness: not excluding anyone from your heart.
    • Constantly making the world about you — why did this happen to me, why are people mean to me, why am I so unlucky — you create the phenomenon of “the world arising as enemy.”
    • If you find meditation boring, it’s not the fault of the meditation.
    • The word “meditation” itself has little meaning. It’s a bit like saying “training” — what kind of training? Weightlifting? Running? Tennis?
    • In the same way that you can’t expect to play the harpsichord expertly without practice, you can’t expect to be an expert at compassion, altruism, mindfulness, gratitude without practice either.
    • Mindfulness by itself is not enough. You could have a mindful sniper or psychopath. You must add the caring component to it.

    At the request of the moderator, Ricard led us through a 4-part compassion meditation.

    1. First, you project loving-kindness to several people in sequence, from easy-to-love to very difficult.
    2. Then, you wish for a reduction of their suffering. This is the compassion component.
    3. Rejoice in the existence of all the other people also wishing for the reduction of suffering and taking an active part in it.
    4. Make impartial your projection of compassion and loving-kindness to all sentient beings, without preference or special allocation.

    I have adapted that into this 12min audio, which you can listen to here. The clinical effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive affect and psychological health are well-documented. Besides, it feels good. If you do not have a meditation practice yet, you may wish to consider trying this for starters.

    You may download the audio here.

    Ricard is currently touring the US to promote Altruism. He will make two stops in New York City next week — check his event calendar here. I urge you to go see him if you have the opportunity.

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  • “Who would ever want me?”: On being lovable

    Hello, ladies and the occasional curious gentleman. Noah’s Flood has hit Northern California with full force, and I volunteered to be part of the crew that collects pairs of animals for the ark. The problem is that I really can’t tell the difference between, say, a boy armadillo and a girl armadillo. So if certain species end up going extinct in the near future, you didn’t hear about any of this. Deal? Deal.

    In other news, I’ve been doing some research on my ongoing project called Happiness Engineering. In the course of my readings, I’ve come across a bunch of interesting research emphasizing the importance of vulnerability, compassion, self-compassion and mindfulness. In my last article, I covered some of those topics. This being the hammer that the world has provided me for the foreseeable future, I’ll be looking at the letters you send me as the perfect nails for said hammer. Case in point, we have one from Cori, a 44-year old widow with 4 kids who just started dating again:

    After being married for years, my husband died of cancer, and I started dating again. I’m 44; the new guy is divorced. After dating for a while, the new guy says he wants to marry me. But after getting to know him for over year now, I’ve noticed that has a bad temper. He calls me names when he gets mad, like “jackass” – who even uses that anymore?! – and slams the phone down etc. Gets mad at me a lot. Told him it’s not fun anymore and I’m not okay with anger issues. He offered to change. I declined the offer. He argues that he is committed, dependable, and loving and I bring out the anger by doing stupid shit basically. I told him no go – husband of many years never called me a name, ever.

    Question: Am I nuts to break up with a man willing to take on a widow with four kids? I meet tons of men. I’m super sexual. Get hit on plenty but his point is they all just want sex, not love. I’d rather be alone! But do you think people change?! I really don’t. I feel pretty liberated by making my own choices and not allowing myself to settle…

    Anyway. As always just hoping for some honest thoughts from the smartest man I know (online anyway). Hope your love life is going better than mine. — Cori

    Dear Cori – I’d say you’re pretty smart, too, since saying stuff like “Just hoping for some honest thoughts from the smartest man I know” is exactly the way to motivate me :)

    Your letter brings up a bunch of interesting points. First off, because you’re so smart and fabulous, here’s what I would say: trust yourself. You don’t like the anger. Your late husband never called you a bad name the whole time you were together. Clearly this is something you don’t want to tolerate, and really nobody should. You already have clear boundaries, and he’s obviously violating them. He could be a trillionaire who’s a typhoon in the sack, but if he has a habit of pooping on the breakfast table, then you can’t be with him. Uncontrolled anger is like pooping on the breakfast table, except that it can happen unpredictably at any time, anywhere, not just at mealtime. His blaming it on you because you supposedly do “stupid shit” is BULLSHIT, emotionally manipulative and inexcusable. A grown man is responsible for his own behavior.

    Now this line from the letter was quite telling:

    “Question: Am I nuts to break up with a man willing to take on a widow with four kids?”

    Let me translate that into what it’s actually saying:

    “Since I’m just a widow burdened with 4 kids, I should hold on to any guy who would give me the time of day. I mean, when will I ever get another chance? Who would be crazy enough to want little ol’ me?”

    Well, Cori, I don’t know. Who would be crazy enough to want little ol’ you?

    And ladies — before you think that somehow this is a problem unique to Cori, please raise your hand if you’ve ever had a version of this go through YOUR mind, ahem:

    “Who would want to be with me with my oversize thighs / stringy hair / pot belly / C on my report card / chronic disease / neat-freak tendencies / crappy job / ugly neighborhood / weird family / shitty car / funny-looking feet / dwarf stature / beanpole height / asymmetrical boobs / annoyingly high voice / funny accent / other perfectly common no-big-deal issue which I will nevertheless unconsciously use as a barrier to intimacy?”   

    Now, I haven’t met you, so it doesn’t make sense for me to sit here and boost your ego by singing your praises. What I can do, however, is to tell you how you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are enough.

    See, I get hundreds of letters from you ladies every year. And you all think you have this one special problem that’s specific to you and you alone.

    Well, I’ve got news for ya. All of you have one problem and one problem alone, and it’s pretty much the same for all of you. And I’ve said before, it is this question:


    That’s pretty much it. Everything else boils down to that, as I mentioned in my last article. Am I worthy of love? Am I pulling my weight on this planet? Is there any good reason why people should like me, want to spend time with me and be nice to me?

    Luckily, the answers to those questions are entirely in your hands. Here are three things you can do such that you know that you’ve done your part in being, like, totally lovable:

    1) Am I being vulnerable?

    What’s the most lovable thing in the world? An infant, a kitten or a puppy would qualify. So cute! So adorable!

    And so completely useless. I mean, what can a baby do? Not much besides pee, poop, and make nipples sore. And yet, because it’s also perfectly defenseless, everyone adores it.

    Now, granted, there are also some deep evolutionary mechanisms at work assuring that we find wrinkly, pudgy, smoosh-faced, income- and sleep-annihilating babies adorable, otherwise the human race just wouldn’t propagate.

    Nevertheless, it’s still true that lovability is directly proportional to vulnerability. One thing we all know for sure: perfectionism, the polar opposite of vulnerability, is distinctly non-cuddly and just plain unattractive. So if you’re trying to attract men, what may work even better than trying to come off as a hypercompetent, fiercely independent overachiever is this: a little bit of emotional self-disclosure.

    Admit that sometimes things are tough. That you wish you had more support, more close company that you could share experiences with. That you miss your dad who passed away 6 years ago, and that you wish he could have met his grandkids. That all the responsibility of being a powerful woman weighs you down sometimes. That the scar from the surgery still hurts. That you gave up your childhood dream of being a classical cellist for a corporate job. Emotional self-disclosure of pain or imperfection like these make you more vulnerable, and therefore more approachable and lovable.

    Vulnerability brings out the protective and nurturing instincts of a man – his noblest aspects. Perfectionism, on the other hand, brings out his competitive instincts. Which one would you prefer? Would you rather fight or be cherished? Your choice.

    At the same time, “vulnerable” means “more subject to harm.” So make sure the person you’re making yourself vulnerable to is the right audience for it. Last thing you want is some brute who’ll attack you just when you’ve exposed your soft underbelly.

    Also, make sure that vulnerability is the spice, rather than the whole dish. If you’re perpetually talking about the pain in your life, that’s not vulnerability – that’s just whining. This is not about dumping your woes on people. This is about discreetly making yourself vulnerable, in measured doses, to someone you like.

    2) Am I being self-compassionate?

    Generally speaking, people can only love you to the extent that you love yourself. So – how much do you love yourself? If you’re constantly putting yourself down and telling yourself how much of an idiot you are, then you’re probably going to end up with someone who agrees with you or worse.

    Why? Because you’re going to reject out of hand any guy who likes you more than you like yourself. “What could he possibly see in me? He’s either crazy, deluded or faking it.” That would be funny if it weren’t true of so many people I know.

    The antidote to this is a healthy sense of self-compassion (which apparently is different from self-esteem, but that’s a story for a different day). According to Prof Kristin Neff of the University of Texas in Austin, who pioneered the field and wrote the book on self-compassion (full delightful title: Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind) there are 3 components to it:

    a) Self-kindness, meaning that we are gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Basically, when you flub, be as nice to yourself as you would be to others. Simple.

    b) Recognizing our common humanity, meaning that we feel connected to others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. This is what I was talking about earlier in the article when I said all of you have the same am-I-lovable problem. You’re not alone in being alone, as the immortal bard Sting put it in the song Message in a Bottle.

    c) Mindfulness, meaning that we remain aware of our pain but keep that observation in perspective, rather than ignoring the pain or exaggerating it.

    Practice self-compassion, and the beast of low self-worth is likely to go on a very long vacation.

    3) Am I being loving?

    If you’re being vulnerable and self-compassionate, that’s a great start. But being loving is also an active, outward-directed thing. So this is third part of doing your homework so you know that you are totally, completely, 100% worthy of love involves building up other people in addition to not tearing yourself down. Some ways of being loving:

    • Being a catalyst for others’ growth
    • Habitually making folks feel like a million bucks
    • Expressing your appreciation of people
    • Being focused more on giving than taking (while still looking out for yourself, ahem – no doormats or martyrs, please)
    • Valuing people as ends in themselves, not as means to some other end
    • Saying more positive things than negative things (3:1 ratio at least)

    The good news is this is all under your control. You can choose to be vulnerable. You can choose to be loving. And when you do, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are worthy of love.

    But wait! There’s more. There’s a side benefit to all of this. As a result of all of these practices, e.g. making others feel like a million bucks, YOU’RE going to feel like a million bucks, too! Scientists have shown that all of this stuff that you do – raising people up, sharing of yourself, being giving – has a direct, positive effect on you. It makes you feel good!

    So to go back to Cori’s original question: Who would want to date a 44-year old woman with 4 kids? Who’s gonna love you, girl?

    Well, if you’re doing the stuff that we just talked about, the answer is legions of guys – assuming they have some sense in them. At the same time, the work of vulnerability, self-compassion and being loving is its own reward. How’s that for a win-win?

    So go forth and live it up. Make someone’s day — especially your own. I’ve gotta put on my rain gear and catch some armadilloes for now, but I fully expect to hear back on how it went for you when I’m back.

    Best, Dr Ali

    PS: As you may know, the audiobook of The Tao of Dating for Women is now available on Audible and Amazon. Audible has a deal where you can get it for free. And if you’re one of the first people to put up a review of it on, I will hook you up with a free download code to send to a friend. I have 15 gift codes left, so hurry! Once your review is published, send me an email with “AUDIBLE REVIEW” in the subject and the link to your review, and I shall hook you up with the goods.

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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 body language of love and attraction

    Last week I read a book I’d been meaning to read for a long time — Love Signals: A Practical Field Guide to the Body Language of Courtship by David Givens, Ph.D. It turned out to be even better than expected. In fact, I made 163 highlights and took 19 pages of notes!

    Now we’ve all heard the term body language and are aware of how it works to some extent. But the word language is not even a metaphor here. Body language is literally a language, and if you’re not familiar with the vocabulary and syntax, you might miss something life-alteringly important.

    Luckily, language operates at an unconscious level, so you’ve probably been doing a good job of understanding body language all along. At the same time, a little bit of extra training can put you way ahead of the competition – and enrich the experience of peoplewatching next time you’re in a public place.

    Here are some fascinating snippets from the book:

    — You have a whole center in the temporal lobes of your brain dedicated to responding to (more…)

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  • “Why don’t men approach me?”: An epic email exchange on self-esteem and the single woman

    I recently had this 5-day email exchange with one of my readers. It brought up a lot of issues which I’ve found are not just common amongst women but pretty much universal. I’m talking about low self-esteem here, ladies. And it seems as if the prettier and more talented a person is, the lower her self-esteem.

    To a man observing your magnificence from a distance, this can be baffling. The good news is that after this email exchange, I had some insight into the root of the problem. Read through to the end to get to my commentary. I insert additional commentary [in brackets] where I feel it illustrates a point, or just to crack a joke of dubious taste.

    Here’s our exchange below just as it occurred (with small edits for clarity). I have not edited Rosie’s letters since she expressed herself in perfect grammar and without any spelling mistakes. Clearly this is a woman who is highly educated, intelligent, and likely a perfectionist (read: pointlessly hard on herself). If any of this resembles someone you know (ahem!), I encourage you to read on.

    On 11/10/13 2:15 PM, Rosie wrote:

    Dear Dr. Binazir,

    I have a quick question for you.

    So I have been trying to go out more often – it’s hard with long hours in lab and a long commute, and I am a bit of a homebody. Nevertheless, I know I’m not meeting anyone sitting on my tush at home, so I signed up for this network that connects people who have graduated from top tier colleges. And I went to a lecture on politics hosted for these people last week.

    I went by myself – which is a huge step outside of my comfort zone – because I know groups of girlfriends can intimidate guys. I also followed your 40% rule – curly brown hair down, wearing tight black pencil skirt below the knees and short-sleeve blouse unbuttoned on the low side.

    I get there and it was a huge sausage fest, so I’m thinking I’m golden and I position myself near to the men I want to talk to, trying to smile and catch their eye whenever one looks my way (which I’ll admit I do have trouble with since I’m nervous around men, but I’m working on it and fighting through the awkwardness).
    And not one approaches me.

    I noticed almost all of these men were forming groups of 3-6 guys and chatting among themselves. Not one broke away to talk to me or invited me into their group. I ended up initiating conversation with one guy but that fizzled out once the lecture began and he didn’t find me to continue it afterwards. Needless to say. I was very confused and kinda sad because I thought I had done everything right.

    My friend says that since I’m pretty, confident, and whip smart, they’re scared of me and that they were afraid of being made fun of if they broke rank to talk to me. Is this true? I’m literally the least frightening person out there. And was what my friend said the true reason no guy approached me? Thanks, Rosie

    On Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 3:54 PM, <DrAli> wrote:

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, Rosie. Keep at it!

    Now, if a golden ticket is sitting on a countertop and no one hands it to you, it doesn’t mean the universe hates you. It just means you put constraints on your behavior that didn’t allow you to benefit from the abundance (eg “sausagefest”) that was presented to you. Your experiments don’t do themselves on your own, do they? Well, in this department, you’re also not a potted plant. Do stuff!

    So yes, you did some things right (eg dressing up, showing up). But you didn’t do everything right. Most important, you didn’t seize control of your own destiny, and that’s what I sense is missing here. If there’s someone you want to speak to, speak to him. It’s as simple as that. You’ll get better at it the more you practice.

    In which city is this all happening, by the way? Best, AB

    On 11/12/13 1:20 PM, Rosie wrote:

    I’m in DC. Apparently dating sucks here, or so I’ve been told. I have met some guys from the events, I’m just not at all attracted to them like that. [This is the first salvo of negativity. More to come. -AB]

    I am very shy around men – always have been – so it is very hard for me to make eye contact and start conversations with them. And then I completely nerd out on them and talk a lot of science and my research because that’s what I do a lot of the time and it’s my passion (plus I work on malarial vaccine development, which I’m sure just reels them in) – or I go on about my favorite off-the-wall TV shows and books and my new rescue cat.

    [Notice the expressions like “nerd out” or “off-the-wall TV shows” carry an implicit negative judgment about her perfectly normal tastes and tendencies. The gratuitous takedown of the self begins. -AB]

    So I guess I just don’t know what to talk to them about, so I don’t know how to lead into a conversation or be flirty (I’m TERRIBLE at it.). [TERRIBLE!] Or if I do start (badly) flirting [BADLY!] with a guy, it invariably happens that he has a girlfriend and I feel terrible/ awkward/ embarrassed. And I don’t have any other single girls to turn to – almost everyone I know is in a serious relationship or engaged. I don’t want to hear “it will happen soon when you’re not looking” anymore, especially now that it’s the holidays and I know I’ll have to fend off questions from my family. 

    I’d much rather be receptive and have them come to me (I am a masculine energy person since I’ve been single for my whole life and have to do everything myself, so I’m trying very hard to accept my feminine energy, which I deny a lot of the time because I connote femininity with being weak). Then I at least know they find me interesting and I don’t feel like they’re just humoring me if I talk to them first. 

    [Ever seen a woman give birth? Even better, have you asked your mom how long she was in labor to bring you to the planet? When I was in medicine, I saw women who were in labor for 30 freakin’ hours! Not exactly the stuff that weak is made of. But I digress. -AB]

    I guess the reason I feel so down about this right now is because I feel like no guys notice me while all my friends are super happy with fantastic boyfriends. They just talk about wedding Pinterests and themes and I have nothing to contribute and it makes me feel very alone and when you routinely battle low self-esteem, sitting there silently and getting ragged on (albeit lovingly) for becoming a cat lady doesn’t put you in a good headspace. Because if guys did notice me, wouldn’t they want to come up and talk to me? 

    [Ladies — guys are noticing you, but it’s not that easy for us to approach you, just so you know. It’s not a trivial thing to put yourself out there and risk your dignity with a total stranger. Again, no need to be hard on yourself.]

    On Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 9:20 PM, <DrAli> wrote:

    DC has a surplus of single women over single men, so it’s going to be a little tougher there. Still, no excuse. All you need is one good one :)

    Sounds to me like you’re overthinking it. If you want a fuller diagnosis, zap me a photo (especially if in said outfit). Right now I have no idea what these boys are running away from/not approaching.

    Also, one of the biggest fallacies of life is thinking someone else is somehow better off than you. Said girlfriends don’t tell you about how the dude leaves his smelly socks around the house, or about the fabulous wedding that ends in rancorous divorce down the road 50% of the time. Count your blessings. AB

    [She sends me two photos of her, one solo and one with a friend. Although maybe not five-alarm sriracha hot-sauce hot, by any human standard Rosie is a babe – cute, slim, elegant. I would totally chat her up at a party, especially since I’m a sucker for glasses. Smart girls rule! That said, the friend in the picture is sriracha hot.

    Which brings me to one of the only bits that I edited out of The Tao of Dating at the urging of my female friends: If you are hanging out with a friend who is noticeably better-looking than you, most guys won’t even notice you. It’s like you’re the moon, and the sun just came up – poof, you vanish. If you are going out for the purpose of meeting guys, go with someone who’s about as good-looking as you are or less so. As much as I wish it weren’t true, this is the way the world works. And women do it, too, as I can attest to personally. Do not BYOCB to the party (bring your own cock-blocker) – totally counterreproductive. And yeah, that does say counterREproductive.]

    On 11/13/13 8:36 PM, Rosie wrote:

    I heard that DC’s odds aren’t particularly in my favor (I had to put in a Hunger Games reference, exhibit A of my nerdiness). 

    [Approximately 5 squintillion other people also read or watched Hunger Games, so if it’s a sin, it’s a pretty universal one]

    I don’t have any pictures of me in that outfit – I usually avoid taking pictures of myself because no matter how good I look in person, I end up looking awful on camera. The pictures I sent you are a bit old (maybe one or two years or so), but I haven’t changed my appearance at all, really. I’m the girl in the glasses. I’m very petite – 5’2″ on a good day, 110-115 pounds or so (I never weigh myself unless I’m at a doctor’s, so I can’t say for sure), huge curly hair, now with red cat-eye glasses. 

    Maybe I am overthinking it. I’m a huge analyzer because I’m a scientist and evaluating something from all angles is required for my job. 

    [Perhaps it’s a good idea to leave the job behind when you’re going out then, ladies. You don’t wear the lab coat to the party, right?

    And I guess you’re right about thinking someone else is better off than you. I do know that it makes me bitter sometimes, but I try to see when I’m getting to that point. Just kinda take a step back and be like, okay, I’m going to acknowledge and accept I feel this way even though it’s not the way I want to feel especially towards my friends, whom I love and am genuinely happy that they’re happy. Maybe it’s because I don’t hear the uglier/less glamorous side of things so all I really hear about is just the roses and poetry and Tiffany’s. And the fact that I literally have nothing – no boy toy, no guy I’m even interested in (and my celeb crushes on Benedict Cumberbatch and Evan Peters don’t count, apparently) – makes it harder to keep smiling.

    [This industrial-strength sob story would be funny if I hadn’t heard it at some point from every woman I know. And I do not know who Benedict Bumbersnatch is, but it definitely sounds like the item I’m avoiding on the brunch menu.]

    On Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 2:04 PM, <DrAli> wrote:

    You are most definitely overthinking it :) The length of the emails and detailed rumination are pathognomonic for the thinking disease.

    [Pathognomonic is one of my favorite words of all time. Worth taking 5sec to google it.]

    Instead of ruminating or comparing, start with gratitude for what there is — being young, smart, good-looking and parasite-free is a fine start. Then start having fun with the whole process. Fun has no goal but fun. Play with it. If you keep doing that instead of overthinking, things will have no choice but to shift.

    On 11/14/13 12:05 PM, Rosie  wrote:

    I am? So does that mean I’m pretty so I’m scary to them? That’s the reason guys don’t approach me? 

    [Have you noticed the fishing for validation here? “So you think I’m pretteeee?” C’mon, you know you’ve done it yourself. And have you noticed how I’m not giving any validation? Because outside validation is like crack – one dose just keeps you wanting more. There is no end to that. It’s also an instrument by which women can easily be manipulated. Someone can control you simply by giving or withdrawing approval. To give a momentary bit of approval would be the temporary treatment. But that’s not what we’re looking for. We need to go for a cure. The cure is to stop looking for temporary external solutions and to seek permanent internal solutions instead.]

    I don’t know how to play or to have fun with flirting – it’s just anxiety-inducing to me. I do things for a reason. Being efficient is part of my job and my personality. I don’t like putting in effort into something or someone that’s not going to pan out (maybe this is why I failed at online dating, I hated it) AT LEAST for a few dates and good times. So I don’t want to waste my time flirting with a guy only to find out later he has a girlfriend or he is not interested or he only wants to get laid – because when I do put myself out there, this is what happens and I feel embarrassed and sad afterwards. 

    So how can I make myself have fun flirting? And how can I make myself more approachable? Any tips? 

    On Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 1:12 PM,  <DrAli> wrote:

    Rosie – you need to relinquish your need to be right. Even now you’re arguing with me — and arguing for your own limitations. You sure you want to be right about that? Let it go. I recommend meditation in the morning and two glasses of wine when you go out :) AB

    On 11/15/13 10:29 AM, Rosie  wrote:

    I just have a hard time actually believing/accepting that I’m pretty. I guess I just assumed since no guys were talking to me, I wasn’t pretty enough to garner their attention. [More negative self-talk and fishing for validation]

    But even with the wine, I don’t know if all this will become more fun for me.  

    [And now, you get to see the part where I lose my patience]

    On Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 3:27 PM,  <DrAli> wrote:

    “And I’ve tried meditation and I can’t keep my mind quiet enough.”

    Yeah, and you’ve been to the gym and still haven’t made it to the Olympics yet, you big slacker. You should probably stop exercising for the rest of your life.

    Well, I guess you’re right. You’re not pretty enough, you’re not interesting enough, you’re not flirty enough, you’re not fun enough, not mindful enough. So it’s time you found yourself a nice cave somewhere and just retire from civilization since you’re such a total failure! You managed to convince me, so — well done. If I’m your biggest advocate and you’ve exhausted me with your negative self-talk, cannot imagine what you’re like with the other single guys.

    Take it easy. And go do something to make other people happy instead of focusing on you and your completely imagined shortcomings.
    Signing off,

    On 11/15/13 12:47 PM, Rosie  wrote:

    Okay, that was harsh, but I needed it. I was mad when I first read your response, but now that I thought about it, you’re right, I just wasn’t ready to accept any of it yet. I have a lot of work to do. I do apologize for subjecting you to all my moping and being a drag.  


    On Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 4:44 PM,  <DrAli> wrote:

    This is called provocative therapy or motivational interviewing. You agree with the client’s sob story, then intensify it to the point that she finally snaps out of it and starts to stand up for herself — “Hey wait, I’m not that bad.” Self-directed miracles ensue.
    I’m hoping you got that. Part of me thinks you’re actually looking for a cave now.

    On Fri, 15 Nov 2013 16:47:48, Rosie  wrote:

    No cave shopping going on over here, no worries. I did get it, loud and clear, and it was exactly what I needed. Thank you.  =]


    On the last day of this exchange, I went out at noon to City Hall to see thousands of people gathered to make a 5-year old boy with leukemia happy by turning San Francisco into Gotham City. This was inspiring, and it got me thinking that low self-esteem is just another form of narcissism. Get over yourself, be grateful for being alive, and go make someone else’s day.

    The Buddhist concept of anatta (or no-self) says that there is no fixed entity you can identify as the self. You’re constantly changing: breath coming in and out; neurons firing; neurotransmitters sloshing around; cells dying and multiplying; tissue being replaced, re-ordered, renewed.

    Low self-esteem means focusing all attention on this made-up entity called the self to the exclusion of everything else in the world: the vastness of galaxies; the blue sky that protects you from deadly ultraviolet and cosmic rays; the earth that supports you now and every day, holding you fast and not letting you spin out into space; the fact that 70 trillion cells in your body cooperate every day to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing and your intestines shimmying even when you’re knocked out cold in bed and have no conscious control over any of it.

    You are surrounded by billions of miracles every second of existence. To ignore all of them and to focus on imagined shortcomings of this imagined self is an act of solipsism, narcissism and simple arrogance. Who are you to put down this miracle of creation! It’s like making fun of an oak tree because it’s not a sequoia. Sheez.

    The solution is simple, if not necessarily easy: focus on things other than the self. Notice the everyday miracles surrounding  you, and express gratitude for them: “Thank you Mother Earth for holding me up!” Do this dozens of times a day. And then go cheer other people up. Whose answered prayer have you been today? Whose day did you make today? Who did you make feel like a million bucks today?

    Service is always an arm’s reach away. Moreover, it’s the only thing that psychologists have found to increase self-esteem. So go forth and volunteer, serve, help out. Read to kidsGive a microloan to someone who can put the money to far better use than you (I just gave 4 of them between the writing of that last sentence and this one — took me 15min). Do it for purely selfish reasons: to make yourself a healthier person.

    You ladies often ask me, “Why am I not meeting Mr Right?” And maybe it’s because the universe is doing you a favor. Maybe right now you’re a mess. You have no idea what you want and don’t know how to be kind to yourself, let alone him. If he were to waltz along, you’d screw it up so bad he would speed away and you’d never see him again. And that would be tragic. So relax, take your time, work on yourself, and when you are ready for love, he will show up. Usually within minutes, since he’s either been staring you in the face the whole time or is right around the corner.

    And remember not to grasp too hard. What if you were to get that thing you were craving for so long, and then find out it wasn’t what you really wanted after all? T. S. Eliot, one the greatest poets of all time, had something to say about that in Four Quartets:

    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

    So relax. Let your mud settle. Take in the good. Meditate. Enjoy life as it is. Do not take yourself down for any reason — your adversaries don’t need any help in that department. Appreciate the miracles. Wait purposefully as you grow. And let the miracles ensue.

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  • Book Review: “Compelling People”, or how to be a more effective human

    best book for increasing your personal power
    A compelling read

    Every once in a while, a book comes along that has the power to really change the way I see the world and move in it. In 2012, it was The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. The year before, it was Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut is such a book.

    The central premise of the book is that in any encounter, people base how they feel about you based on how you project strength and warmth. Once you become aware of what your unconscious strength and warmth signals are, you can learn to modulate them to connect better with people, influence them, and just be a more effective all-around human being. From the worlds of psychology, neuroscience, acting, political science, they’ve compiled some of the best practices for presenting your best self to the world.

    Some things I like about this book:

    1) Neffinger and Kohut are seasoned professionals who have coached dozens of nationally-known (more…)

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