Big thanks to Meaghan, Colleen C, Amie and Monica (“BEST. BOOK. EVER.” – really?! I think I’m in love) for posting reviews to Amazon in the last week. The amount of compliments in there is enough to make me blush, and you know what? I’m learning how to be cool with it. Blushing is good for the skin. Here’s what Meaghan said:
“I found so much joy from this book! It is labeled as a dating book, however I found that embedded in the info about dating were so many valuable life lessons that you can apply to everything you are pursuing in your life. I truly think every woman should have a copy. I have read it once and have started reading it again…and I plan on using it as a guidebook again and again.”
Yes, you are all on to me, you clever little minxes. The Tao of Dating was never really meant as just a dating book. I not-so-secretly want you to make your whole life better! Heresy, I know.
So I’m thrilled to report that on Tuesday, 20 May 2014, we had our first Tao LIVE gathering here in San Francisco. I held the event in my living room, and it was filled to the brim with the 21 people who signed up. It turned out to be just the right number of folks.
Some of the ladies who showed up had been reading my stuff all the way since 2009. Some of them were brought in by friends and were completely new to the Tao. As expected, you, my dear readers, are an accomplished and erudite crowd. I love it when I’m searching for a piece of information – in this case, the name of Dr Daniel Siegel, the author of Mindsight – and one of you shouts it out from the audience. Awesome.
The good news is that I got a pretty good recording of the talk portion. The less good news is that as I was editing it, the computer did something horrible to it, rendering the sound file unusable. Word to the wise: event recordings are like parachutes. Always have a backup.
Which means that the good news is that I’ll do the same talk again online so any of you who want to listen in can do so. Details after this highly disruptive long weekend, when I have your attention again.
In the meantime, some of the audience members posed excellent questions about their love lives, bringing up some challenges that many of us have wrestled with.
Case 1: Jekyll vs Hyde, or the Power of Maybe
Tanya, who’s in her late 20s, recently started dating a fellow whom she likes. They go to school together, and he’s a decent guy who’s nice to her. Most of the time, Tanya responds to his kindness favorably. But sometimes she just snaps at him like a “flaming bitch”, as she put it. She doesn’t know where this reaction comes from, and wishes she didn’t have it so often, since she actually likes the guy and doesn’t want to make him feel miserable.
Dr Ali’s observation: It’s a rare person who hasn’t experienced some pain in his or her relationship history (for example, the breakup part). So getting close to anyone and exhibiting some vulnerability is going to be fraught: the mind and body are going to go into a somewhat vigilant state, especially in the beginning of a relationship. Add some external stress – say from job or family issues – and the probability of blowing up for no reason at someone you love goes up significantly.
Remedy: Become aware of what you’re feeling, and then verbalize it. Say it out loud to the person whom you just blew up at. “Jeff, I’m having a rough day and sometimes I’m on edge for reasons not having to do with you. If I snapped at you, I want you to know that it’s not really personal.”
Verbalizing the feeling allows your emotional brain and your logical brain integrate with one another so you’re whole again, instead of working at cross-purposes with yourself. Left and right hemisphere communicate with each other, limbic brain and cortex get back in touch, and the probability of being able to deal with the situation from a place of awareness (instead of reactivity) goes up significantly. This way, you’re actually re-wiring your brain for greater long-term resilience.
This is a well-studied technique developed by Dr Dan Siegel of UCLA, which he explains in detail in his excellent book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. Check it out.
Caveat: When Tanya gets bitchy with Jeff, she’s introducing uncertainty into the relationship: “I was nice to her, but she was mean to me. What gives?” Inadvertently, she’s creating an irregular schedule of reinforcement – sometimes nice, sometimes nasty, and you never know why. This is exactly what makes gambling so addictive: if gamblers always lost or won, it wouldn’t be so compelling. It’s the power of maybe that gets you hooked.
This means that Tanya is inadvertently getting Jeff addicted to her. Her meanness has created a perverse incentive of getting Jeff to like her better (those of you who have experienced this or done this to someone, give me a little nod – thanks :).
However, it’s still toxic, so it needs to go. It’s important to introduce some kind of irregular schedule of reinforcement in the relationship to keep things fresh (see Ch 12 of The Tao of Dating), but it’s even more important to do so consciously. Kindly. Not randomly and cruelly.
Case 2: The 6-month Specialist
Heather, who is in her forties, mentions that her relationships seem to fall into a certain pattern. She meets a guy, and for the first few months, he’s very enthusiastic and pro-active about the relationship. Towards the fifth month, he starts to become more distant, and by the sixth month, they break up. This has happened 10 times now, and Heather is a bit tired of the pattern and would prefer longer-term relationships.
Dr Ali’s observation: First of all, nobody’s to say that a 6-month relationship is a failure. Hell, I know guys for whom 2 months would count as a coup. This is where I introduce the 3 main reasons for having a relationship at all:
- To practice being loving
- To grow as a person
- To have fun!
The part about fun is so axiomatic as to not even be worth mentioning. It’s like saying “you shouldn’t asphyxiate while doing it.” Duh. So just remember the first two: grow, and practice being loving.
Everybody we meet is an opportunity to practice being more loving: opening the heart, extending ourselves for the benefit of others, risking vulnerability. You can do it for a day, a week, a month, a year or a lifetime. It all counts.
The second thing is I’m hoping being in the relationship is bringing out a better version of you. If hanging out with someone turns you into a lazy, insufferable snark, what’s the point? Get with people who catalyze your greatness.
Now, back to Heather’s case. Now I wasn’t there to observe all of her relationships, and I haven’t met any of the guys she dated. But one thing I know: all of her relationships had one thing in common, and that one thing was Heather. So that’s the thing she needs to work on.
Moreover, it seemed as if by the time she got to Month 4 of a relationship, she was already starting to get more clingy and needy, and by Month 5, she was already in a borderline panic mode, thinking oh crap here it comes again. And then, it did, just as she expected.
Well, if what you expect to happen tends to happen, why not expect great outcomes instead of mediocre ones? You get more of what you focus on. If you drive down the road thinking “I don’t want to crash”, you’re probably going to crash. And if you think “I don’t want to lose him”, you’re probably going to lose him.
The remedy is to take better control of your thoughts and take everything on a moment-to-moment, day-by-day basis. Are you having fun with him right now? Great! How about the next minute? Great! Quit projecting anything into the future.
And the way you do that is by training your mind. Yeah, you’ve pretty much got to start meditating regularly. Make the mind your ally, not your harasser.
Case 3: The Myth of Attracting the Wrong Guys
Kayla, 50 years old, told me about how she kept on attracting unavailable guys. She would meet these guys and become interested in them, only to find out that either they lived far away or were married – or some other dealbreaker like that.
Dr Ali’s observation: First off, I object to the expression “I’m attracting the wrong kind of guy.” It sounds as if you’re some kind of plant who sits there helplessly and can only attract a particular kind of insect, and I don’t like it.
You are not a potted plant! You have agency – a lot of it. I’ve written whole books about it. This attitude also subtly absolves you of responsibility: “Oh it’s not my fault; I just attract them.” Mmmm, no. Responsibility and power are pretty much the same thing, so if you abdicate responsibilty, you’re abdicating power. I prefer that you retain power. Stay in charge of your own life.
However, it’s true that sometimes, women can end up with a procession of The Wrong Kind of Guy. Sometimes it’s because you just happen to live in the middle of Genghis Khan’s army or Doucheville. Sometimes it’s just random — in fact, streaks are a mathematical feature of truly random sequences.
Can’t really help you in those two cases. But sometimes it’s because of what you’re doing. Perhaps I can lend a hand there.
Here’s what may be happening:
1) You’re not asking the right questions to filter out the undesirables. “Married” and “lives in Antarctica” are dealbreakers, period. If what you want is a real relationship, then you figure that stuff out before the first date ever happens.
2) You are meeting guys in a low-accountability context that lends itself to men behaving badly – namely, bars, clubs and the internet. This just means that you’re subjecting yourself to a needless procession of Mr Wrongs. You’re not attracting them so much as you are surrounding yourself with them, not leaving any room for the Mr Rights to show up. Go meet good guys through friends already. Thanks.
3) You are secretly, unconsciously avoiding real intimacy. You may think that you don’t want unavailable men. But deep down inside, you have unconscious programming that moves you toward them and only them. A lot of people who habitually do long-distance relationships fall into this category.
Here’s the test: rate the appeal of Mr Unavailable on a scale of 1-10, 1 being repulsive and 10 being McDreamy. Got a number? Great. Now vividly imagine that he’s totally single and available, lives 5 blocks away, and wants to see you at least twice a week. Reassess his appeal. Did the number go up or down? If it went down, then guess what: you’re dating these guys not in spite of their unavailability, but because of it.
There may be some deep intimacy issues having to do with attachment style here (anxious or avoidant styles, specifically), the resolution of which may be beyond the purview of a mere blog post. There may be career considerations – “If I get too close to a guy, he’s going to take up too much of my time and energy and I’ll lose focus.” Whatever it is, the remedies are to meditate (that again!) so you can run your own mind for a change, and get some professional help. Yes, I do hypnotherapy, and it can do wonders; in the meantime, I recommend that you get local professional help.
Tao LIVE was so much fun that I’m going to do it again, with the intention of making it a regular thing. The next one will be in San Francisco, Tuesday 3 June 2014, 7-9pm. You’re more than welcome to come again, since the topics will be slightly different each time, as will your questions.
Some closing notes:
1) If you live in a major metropolitan area and can set up a room and get 30 paying audience members in there, I’m more than happy to take the show on the road. Drop me a line at DrAli(at)TaoOfDating.com with “Roadshow!” in the title, and I’ll get back to you pronto prontissimo.
2) I’m starting up a monthly training program called The 5 Pillars of Happiness, and I’m looking for 4 good women to be the inaugural members. It will comprise four 1-hour calls per month along with a monthly group lecture, plus various readings and assignments. It will focus on the 5 Pillars of: intimate relationships; life purpose; sleep; exercise & diet; and mindfulness (making up the acronym SMILE – boom!). Since you’ll be helping me co-create and refine it, the introductory price will be well within reason – high three-digits, specifically.
If this tickles your fancy, zap me a message with subject line “SMILE!” and tell me a little bit about yourself, why this would interest you and how committed you would be to such a thing.
3) The Amazon reviews you have been contributing have been mind-blowingly good, and for that I am tremendously grateful. Not only do they brighten my day, week and whole fiscal year, but they also help other women find a resource that’s useful to them. So if you have nice things to say about The Tao of Dating (which you already profusely express in the letters you send me when you badly want an answer, ahem), I’d be thrilled beyond words if you were to express them publicly at http://amzn.to/a1ic0F.
4) And once again, a HUGE thank you to the 21 ladies who showed up to the first Tao LIVE event this week. For your support, you get lifetime friend privileges: you may bring a friend free to any future Tao LIVE event. You rock!
All the best
PS: If you’ve got a question, send it on! Boil it down to its 200-word essence, make sure there’s a question in there addressing WHAT YOU WANT, and zap it to me.