Category: Self-love

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Are you asking too much of a boyfriend?

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

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

    Dear Dr. Ali, 

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

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

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

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

    What do you think I should do? Giovanna from Harvard

    Dear Giovanna –

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

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

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  • On your purpose in life, the logic of pleasure, and breaking cultural norms

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

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

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

    It’s worth noting that (more…)

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  • “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 promise and peril of young love: the epic email exchange

    MARK YOUR CALENDARS: I will be doing the first Tao of Dating LIVE lecture/workshop in San Francisco from 7-9pm on Tuesday 20 May. Details coming right up…

    Ever been in love? It’s a consuming preoccupation, liable to bring out the best, the worst and the dumbest in ourselves. It’s particularly potent when we’re young. Sure, older people do silly things when they’re in love, too, but a less-experienced youngster possessed in the clutches of romance is a bit like a 5-year old behind the wheel of a Ford F-150 pickup truck: things are gonna get wrecked. Here’s an email exchange with a Canadian university student that illuminates some tricky aspects of this whole love thing: (more…)

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