This year marks a decade since I left my corporate job at McMisery & Co to start writing and teaching for a living in May 2005. Thanks to you and my other dear readers, I can safely say: so far, so good. Now over these ten years of receiving and responding to thousands of your letters, I’ve noticed a few things.
First of all, almost none of you who write me explicitly state what you want. You send me a scenario – he said, she said, this happened – and then ask me “What’s your take on that?” So basically you’re asking me to figure out what you want AND tell you how to get it. Is this part of my job description, hmmm…
This is because most people aren’t aware of their unconscious needs, because, well, they’re not available to the conscious mind. So let me tell you what you should want:
You want to flourish and give your gift to the world. You want companionship that involves mutual support, love and growth. This package I call fulfillment, and that’s what you should aim for.
The other thing I’ve noticed is my real role as a self-help author. You may think that I provide tactical information to help you solve your problems, and you’d be mostly correct. But it turns out that what I mostly do is to provide norms, establish boundaries and give permission.
As the recipient of the world’s love woes, I can tell you how common your problem is (short answer: very), whether you’re being a complete spaz (= about the same as everyone else), and whether it’s okay to do something (e.g. online dating is now totally normal, and it’s okay to ask the cute guy out). That’s establishing norms.
The norms overlap with permission, which basically involves my saying “it’s okay for you to feel good” – whether that’s in the context of getting more good stuff (e.g. connection, sex and intimacy) or less bad stuff (e.g. deadbeat partner).
And finally, overlapping with both of them are boundaries. This next letter is about that:
“Dr Ali — I have a concern about the dating situation I am in. I’ve been seeing this guy for half a year. I like sex with him. I’ve been liking it more recently. It’s just that he only appears to be truly concerned with his orgasm in the end. I’ve told him that I would like him to use condoms. I’ve never had as much unprotected sex with anyone before in my life and so far, I’m not sick with anything. He also has asked me for anal sex which I’ve continued to refuse, but from time to time, he tries again. I don’t want to at this time. I’m not sure that I’m going to ever want to. Is it me and my lack of setting appropriate boundaries? I’ve never had to continue to ask a guy to not cross these boundaries before. I can’t say I haven’t formed a bond with him, because that’s what continued sex with someone does to a female.
Thoughts? Thanks, Lana”
Well, it’s your body and your relationship, so if there’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing, then it’s your prerogative to draw the line and say, “Hey, I really like you, I enjoy having sex with you and we have great chemistry together. But I’m not into this XYZ thing that you keep asking me. So if that’s something you really need, then it’s not fair for me to keep you from your needs and I’ll have no choice but to let you go and I’ll miss you. And if that’s something you can live without, then please don’t bring it up again because I’m not comfortable with that sexual practice and it’s awkward to keep saying no to you.”
Same thing with condoms. As the person who bears the risk of getting pregnant (and catching something nasty), it is absolutely your prerogative to ask for protection during sex. It’s just a matter of how you phrase it: gentle but firm, keeping the interests of both parties in mind.
If the sex is mediocre and he’s more concerned about his finish line than your pleasure together — well, that’s a whole different issue, and a pretty common one at that. That’s gonna require a bunch of re-training of the boy, which is beyond the scope of this letter. Still, the same formula applies: tell him, “When you do this, it makes me feel A. I would prefer to feel B. How can we go about doing that?” Communication = good thing.
And here’s a little exchange about establishing new norms that allow permission to have greater freedom, joy and peace of mind than before:
Dear Dr Ali — I was wondering if you could give me a bite-sized piece of advice. What’s the best way to be with someone with whom you have made a connection, and there is attraction, and a friendship developing, but no clear indication whether or not it will become something more? I find myself getting very impatient, then I meditate and try to relax and trust in the universe (well, God, but you get my meaning), and then I get impatient again.
We have been so conditioned to look to the outcome instead of the journey that I know it’s a universal struggle but nevertheless it’s still confusing. Some of my friends advise me to “pursue” and “make a big move” but I don’t feel that’s the right thing. I want to be receptive to HIS move, but it’s a long time in coming, for reasons that aren’t clear as yet. And of course it may never come.
I appreciate your insight if you have time. Best, Violet in Europe
AB: How long has it been? How old are the participants? How did you meet him? How far have you come along (smooch or pre-smooch)? How can you tell if you likes you? Details please…
VIE: We met several months ago at a conference. We’re both in our forties. Since then we’ve kept in touch and met a few times, but not often, because he travels for his work and is all over the place. We live in different cities (I’m aware of your opinion of long-distance, and I understand it is difficult if not impossible). I made an effort to visit his city and he travels to mine for work.
I know he likes me because we expressed mutual admiration for each other at our last meeting. It is all pre-smooch though. He might be seeing other people, I don’t know right now. I know this is a crapshoot, and I’m willing to accept whatever happens (or doesn’t).
AB: I don’t know which cities or countries you’re referring to, but here’s my advice: HAVE FUN WITH IT.
You don’t live in the same city, so this precludes having a real relationship where you can call him up and say, “Hey, I just cooked up some yummy pasta, so come on over.” If you try to impose the requirements of real relationship on a long-distance thing, then you WILL make yourself miserable.
On the other hand, having a suave and sophisticated lover in another city — what fun! See if you guys get along, see if there’s good sexual chemistry, and then stay friends for a long time. Again, this is an exploration, so you should enjoy the process. There is no destination. There are no requirements. Get to know each other.
And if you’re on the warpath to get married and have kids, this is the wrong guy. Keep looking and go for local talent please.
VIE: That is the best advice ever. You are the best! You live up to your name, “Binazir” which as you probably know, means “without compare”.
AB: Or “peerless,” or “one of a kind,” or “the one and only.” Now go tell that to the other 23 people in my extended family with the same last name. A propos, a little bit of personal history: my paternal grandfather actually made the name up on the spot when they first started issuing government IDs in Iran some 70 years ago. Apparently our original family name is “Forouzesh”, so if any of you out there have that last name, we could be related!
That’s all for now. If you have a question, feel free to zap it to me: less than 200 words, make sure there’s a question in there, and tell me your age and location so I have some context. Hope your 2015 is off to a magnificent start.
Best, Dr Ali
PS: Know friends who would find this email useful? Then feel free to spread the love and forward it to them. I will thank you, and I’m hoping so will the recipients!
PPS: If you’ve read The Tao of Dating and have nice things to say about it, I’ll be infinitely grateful if you could express yourself in the form of an Amazon review. And if you haven’t read it yet – well, you’re still here all the way to end of this rambling email, so apparently you like to read what I have to say. Go get thee a copy already! Thanks :)