Are you enough?
Are you buying or selling?
What do you want?
Do you feel safe?
Who are you, really?
Here’s a quick story for you:
On this day about 11 years ago, I published The Tao of Dating for women.
I had already written the version for men, which took me 3 months to write. The book for women, on the other hand, took me over 3 years. Partly because at the time I didn’t really believe I was qualified to comment on the topic. What could a guy possibly know about such things?
But since then, I’ve gotten over 5000 letters from my readers about their love lives. And certain patterns have revealed themselves from those letters, from which emerge The 5 Magic Questions.
How you answer these questions determines not just the quality of your love life, but the quality of your whole existence.
I’m not totally exaggerating here, m’dear. Questions like “Am I enough?” are always operating in the background, whether you’re dealing with a boss, a lover, a family member, a classroom of people, or just friends. It affects your salary, your health, your happiness.
Science shows that the answer to the question “Do I feel safe?” determines the range of your existence: how far you’re willing to go beyond your comfort zone, how much risk you’re willing to take, and thus how much you can flourish as a human being.
And, what DO you want? Ain’t that the perennial dilemma.
Next Wednesday, Feb 19, 7.15pm-8.45pm PT/10.15pm-11.45pm ET via live workshop in LA and via Zoom livestream elsewhere, I will go through The 5 Magic Questions and their vast implications on your love life and beyond.
For those of you who are in LA, the live workshop is $25. If you’re far away (like in Paris, Moscow, or Glendale), you can attend via livestream (or get the video and audio recording later) for just $10.
Your time is the most precious commodity you have — the one thing that is completely irreplaceable.
My job is to change people’s lives for the better in the time I have with them, whether through lecture, coaching or therapy. So when you choose to spend your time with me, I’ll do my darndest to deliver information that can transform you.
I hope you can join us next Wednesday so you can stand taller, grow faster, and feel better in your life. Prepare to be moved. Sign up here. Full Eventbrite description below.
All the best, Dr Ali
THE 5 MAGIC QUESTIONS: WHAT 5000 WOMEN’S LETTERS REVEAL ABOUT LOVE & DATING
Since I published The Tao of Dating 11 years ago, it has been the #1-rated dating book on Amazon for 7 years, as well as its most-highlighted title (what? seriously?). Tens of thousands of smart, strong professional women like yourself have enriched their love lives with its precepts.
Over those 10 years, I’ve noticed a pattern from the 5000+ readers’ letters I’ve received: they all seem to contain the same 5 questions!
I call these The 5 Magic Questions. Answer them right, and your love life will go spectacularly well. Get them wrong, and fulfillment will prove elusive.
In this 75min workshop, we will examine who you really are, what truly fulfills you, how to find it, and how to keep it in your life. Some topics we’ll cover:
• The perils and opportunities of online dating. Used incorrectly, tools like Tinder, Bumble, Match and OKcupid can make you miserable. Find out how to use them right.
• The one question to ask to make sure a guy’s not a sociopath/psychopath
• Lance, Biff and Victor: the three archetypes of men and how to spot them
• How to tell the difference between Good Guys and Bad Boys, and avoid the latter like the plague
• Subtle ways you may be sabotaging your own love life right now
• Insights on how men think, from an actual guy :)
I’ll be giving you tools from both the scientific and spiritual perspectives that my readers found useful for finding and keeping love in their lives. Are you ready to graduate from app swiping and superficial interactions to deep fulfillment and happiness? Then this workshop’s for you. Regardless of your age and whatever your dating situation is, these are the tools that can give you power that cannot be taken away. Sign up now and join the tens of thousands of women who have found more warmth and joy in their lives with The Tao of Dating.
PS: I’ll talk for about 60min and take questions for the last 15min. There will be signed copies of The Tao of Dating paperback available for purchase for $20.
Here’s a most excellent letter about a question that every woman has asked at some point in her life:
“Why is it that a guy fiercely pursues a woman at first, and then when he finds out she is actually interested he is not so sure if he is interested anymore? And then his interest wanes and he starts treating her like an option instead of a priority? When can you let a guy know you are interested! At what stage? Is dating just one big game? How do you get a guy to treat you like priority instead of an option? For background, I’m 29, live in Australia, and I’ve been on 5 dates with this guy so far but we haven’t kissed yet.” — Sheila
Well well. An excellent question that has been posed by women since time immemorial. There he was, totally interested, looking dapper in his buffalo skin while nonchalantly swinging his club at the cave entrance, offering you some freshly killed mastodon meat. There he was, showing up outside your castle window every day in his mostly shiny but frankly also a little rusty armor, strumming his lute and warbling his troubadour songs. There he was at the opera house, his head low and eyes up giving him that simultaneously worshipful and conspiratorial look, passing you a note saying, “Meet me at the fountain when the clock tower strikes nine.” There he was, texting you right back when you texted him, even asking you out on actual grown-up dates to actual grown-up places like concerts and lectures, and then… poof.
What is up with that?! Why do men lose interest? What, if anything, could you have done differently? (more…)Tags: attachment styles, dating problems in Chicago, dating problems in Los Angeles, dating problems in New York, dating problems in San Francisco, dating problems in Seattle, dating problems in Sydney, how to deal with dating disappointment, how to deal with players, how to get a guy back, how to understand men, importance of sexual compatibility, why do men suck, why men disappear, why men lose interest
Over the weekend of 3-5 August 2018, I presented some workshops at the Magnesia Festival in Helsinki. One of them was entitled “The Tao of Dating: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Loving and Being Loved.” Some things have changed to modern romance since I first published The Tao of Dating book (ebook and print). I’ve also learned a lot from the 5000+ letters readers like you have sent me, so think of this talk as an update and supplement to the book that incorporates the new stuff.
The talk has 5 themes:
- How to get better at selecting men: Avoiding psychopaths and sociopaths. The heart-spine selection criteria. Avoiding Bad Boys in favor of selecting Good Guys.
- How to present the best possible version of you.
- How to find him at his best: the importance of venue and context.
- Set up dating so you win.
- How to avoid unforced errors: on communication habits, giving love a chance, overdependence on devices, and the cure for negative self-talk.
Download link for The Tao of Dating: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Loving and Being Loved (Sun 5 Aug)
Download link for Saturday version of same talk (Sunday one was better)
If you are a fan of yoga, meditation and dance and can free your schedule for the first week of August, I highly recommend the Magnesia Festival. It’s set on a beautiful island in Helsinki harbor, with healthy food, fun classes, and serious sauna. Many thanks to Mari Rasimus, Kaisa Kärkkäinen, Asaf Peled and Oded Peled for inviting me and taking such good care of the speakers!Categories: Abusive relationships Audio commitment Dating for Women femininity long-distance relationships Personal Development Relationships Understanding men Women's empowerment
Thanks to all of you who made it to the “Tao of Dating 2018” workshop last week in Santa Monica! When you spend months on end like me staring at a computer screen, it’s a real treat to see some of you face-to-face and answer your questions in real time.
We covered a lot of ground during the workshop. More specifically, I talked about six themes:
1) The fallacy of the Western Romantic Narrative and how it can cause more pain than joy
2) Guy selection.
3) How to present the best possible version of you, and how online dating apps can hinder that.
4) How to find him at his best
5) Benefits of prolonging the courtship: patience pays!
6) How stop inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot in the dating arena.
It’s this last one that I want to touch upon briefly. Dating can be plenty challenging as it is without committing unforced errors. Here are some simple ways you can get out of the way of your own success:
• Minimize negative self-talk: Do you ever find yourself saying things to yourself like, “Omigod you’re such an idiot!” Or “You screwed that one up again because you don’t really deserve to be happy anyway.” Or worse?
Everyone has a little negative soundtrack running in their heads, and scientists have noticed that it’s particularly prevalent amongst women. Nobody knows exactly why, but I’m pretty sure that all the advertising imagery emphasizing women’s inadequacy is probably not helping.
What’s the solution? Two ideas: First, limit the amount of (more…)Categories: Audio Books Compassion Dating for Women Happiness Online dating Personal Development Relationships Self-love
This post has three parts to it:
1) An excellent letter from a reader, asking about what she should do about a friends with benefits situation that has gone on for 10 years.
2) My survey question to you: What is your biggest challenge in dating and relationships these days?
3) A treat from me to you, relating to the new project I’m working on.
First, the letter from reader Lainie:
I have read your book, The Tao of Dating, several times and it is awesome! It has helped me in many ways.
I am in an unusual situation. I met a man nearly a decade ago and we started out as friends. We were next-door neighbors. We quickly turned into friends with benefits [for non-English speakers: that means they had sex without making any explicit commitment to each other – AB].
We spent a lot of time together. I watched him go out with woman after woman. I finally got to the point where I said I wasn’t going to watch him be with other women and broke it off.
Several months later he came back and said he wanted a relationship with me. That was 4 years ago. Since then we have broken up and gotten back together at least 6 times. He goes away for a few months and then comes right back into my life. He tries to be my “friend” for a month or so and then we’re right back in a relationship.
Every time he breaks it off it’s because he says he cannot picture himself married with a family and can never give me what I truly want, even though I have not tried to pressure him. He also says he doesn’t think about me all day (so he doesn’t obsess about me like people do when they FIRST meet someone). I have explained to him that I do not think about him all the time either, and I am not head over heels for him.
It’s a deeper love now, after nearly 10 years. We are best friends and the sex is always good. I know he loves me. He has admitted he has never done more for a woman in his entire life and that he really loves me. We were together for an entire year this time with out him freaking out, and now he has broken up with me again. Same reason as always. I know he’ll come back again, and although I love him, I don’t know if he’ll ever get past this Walt Disney fantasy about what love really is. What should I do?
— Lainie, getting a little tired of it all
Thanks for the note, Lainie! The answer to “What should I do” is simple:
You should take up needlepoint.
So soothing. Increases your dexterity. And you’ll have pretty presents to give to friends every time you finish a project. Perfect!
Just kidding. And I jest because every woman who asks me a question does the same thing: they ask “what should I do, doc” without making clear what they WANT. How am I supposed to steer you towards an outcome without knowing what it is?
So – what’s your ideal outcome, Lainie? If this man did not exist in the world and you could design a perfect relationship with one of the remaining 3 billion men, what would that look like? Would it be intermittent commitment, with some good sex and regular yearly breakups? Think about that and get back to me :)
If I could wave a magic wand and have the relationship I always wanted, I’d be with a guy who has the same loyalty and love that I do. Someone who didn’t question everything, someone who was affectionate and kind. Definitely not what I’ve been going through with this guy. Someone who was fun and outgoing, and enjoyed going on adventures with me. He’d be my dream guy.
Great! Now we’re getting somewhere. So, next question: does this guy fit that description? If yes, please proceed full steam ahead. If not, you need to stop sleeping with him (preferably forever) because with the emotional and physical connection and multiple breakups, you’ve already created an addictive circuit in your brain around this relationship.
What happens with an on-again, off-again relationship is that you’re activating what neuroscientist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky calls the power of maybe. He goes into that in some depth in his new tome Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (ebook and paperback), which may be the greatest work of nonfiction I’ve ever read. I’ve talked about this maybe thing before, but it’s worth repeating.
The way you get neurologically hooked on something is when there’s an irregular reinforcement. For example, the nice guy is always nice. He’s highly predictable in the sense that you know he will always do the kind, decent thing.
The jerk is also predictable: he’s always mean. Not very interesting or pleasant.
The bad boy troublemaker, on the other hand, is unpredictable. Some days he’s nice. Some days he’ll do what he says. Other days, who knows. Some days he feels like smacking you around, physically or emotionally. Others, he treats you like the queen of the universe. You just never know.
The problem is that dopamine is the neurotransmitter that mediates addiction. And the more uncertain an event is, the more dopamine your brain produces. Maximum uncertainty happens at 50% — half good, half bad. Withdrawal just means that the next dopamine spike is going to be that much larger when you finally get it.
So Mr FWB (short for “friends with benefits”) can’t commit. He strings you along for a month, a season, a year. Then – boom! Cuts you off. You’re adrift again. But something in the back of your head still craves him back.
Moreover, you’re having sex with him, and you say it’s good. I’ll interpret it as meaning “I’m having orgasms with this fella.” If that’s the case, two more things are happening that make the situation even trickier.
First off, orgasms cause additional dopamine secretion. To be clear, that’s what an orgasm is – one giant wallop of dopamine to the noggin. So there’s your nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center of your brain, getting another hit from the presence of FWB, and getting you more addicted to him.
Second, orgasms cause secretion of oxytocin. It’s a bonding chemical well-known for its effect on increasing trust. Trust applied to the wrong person has a name: bad judgment. So it’s helping you make poor decisions. Like keeping this guy around for a whole decade after 6 breakups.
Now I don’t know how old you are, Lainie, but this much I know. You’re behaving as if you have an infinite amount of time. You do not. We’re all gonna die. (I know, I’m a hoot at parties.)
Moreover, as a woman who’s interested in having children, you will not be fertile forever. And if you had let this guy go 8 years ago and instead found someone else who was interested in commitment, you could have had a kid in 3rd grade by now.
Think about that.
So what we have here is a sunk cost of 10 years. You’re never going to get those back. But you can do this: take corrective action immediately so you don’t lose out on another millisecond. Remember: we’re not going to live forever.
Now you may have noticed that I used the language of drugs and addiction when describing your situation here, Lainie. That is intentional, because the neural circuitry of sexual love mimics that of drug addiction. That’s why the parallels between the two are so striking: The failed attempts at quitting. The ecstatic highs and the soul-crushing lows. The resolve that “this time it’s going to be different.” The craving, the draw, the seductive ease of slipping back into the same routine.
Gambling works the exact same way. If gamblers won every time, or lost every time, it wouldn’t be so interesting. Gamblers would get bored and quit. But it’s the uncertainty around winning or losing, its sheer haphazardness, that keeps us hooked. As a one-time semi-pro poker player, I can tell you that’s true.
So you need to treat it like any other addiction. The first step is complete cessation of the drug – in this case, contact with FWB. You may feel it’s too drastic to stop talking to him, but it would actually be the most effective path since you both have a pattern of falling back in bed with each other.
You must allow time for your brain to heal. Technically, that means spending enough time without him such that your brain downregulates all the extra dopamine receptors it has created over the last 10 years. In the parlance of rehab, this is known as “detox”, and it takes a while. My preference is that you break off contact with him permanently. Like alcohol for an alcoholic or crack for a crackhead, the only acceptable dose is zero.
Then, you must find healthy substitutes for the stimulus you were receiving. That makes the cravings easier. Ideally, this would be a commitment-minded guy you really like who likes you back. Quality time spent with friends and family is also good. Spend as much time in community as possible. Mindless sex with strangers would mostly perpetuate the problem you’re already having, so I do not recommend it as a healing modality.
I refer you to this 5000-word piece I wrote some time ago about getting over breakups:
How to Get Over a Breakup: Professional Edition
Ladies: every minute you’re spending with the wrong guy is a minute not spent with a much better match. The bad news is that the design of our brains has made the hot-cold, on again-off again treatment of bad boys inherently addictive.
However, if you’re after a long-term relationship and maybe a family, this is not a legitimate excuse for giving in to the charms of the bad boy and wrecking your life.
Because the good news is that we also have discipline, wisdom and willpower. How many of you say, “Omigod, I mean the crack pipe was there, and I just couldn’t help myself.” Or, “Well, I was at the party, and the heroin syringe just came around and I HAD to inject myself.”
No? You wouldn’t do crack or heroin? Ever? Not even because come on, they’re so much fun!
Why? Because you know they’d wreck your life. All of it.
So please treat bad boys exactly the same way. Like the human equivalent of heroin or crack, only worse. Lies, infidelity, divorce, financial instability, custody battles, a world of pain. Those are things that wreck lives. Lainie’s pretty lucky – all she’s lost are 10 years of the best dating years of her life. Still irretrievable though.
Sometimes it’s tough to spot bad boys, but if you’re interested in having a long-term committed relationship, I’ll boil it down to one thing: inability to commit. If commitment is what you want and he can’t offer it, then that’s all you need to know. To you, he’s a bad boy. Done and done.
So write down what you want in a relationship on a piece of paper, and stick it in your purse. Now you have a basis of comparison for every guy who comes along. Have standards for the character of the kind of guy you want to have a relationship with, and stick with those standards. Ten bucks says that “flaky” and “wavering” are not on that list.
I would also encourage you to do “Exercise 12: The Ideal Man” on page 154 of The Tao of Dating (ebook and paperback) to get you started, and to take a look at The Prospective Spouse Checklist: Evaluating Your Potential Partner (ebook and paperback) by Isabelle Fox.
A Big Question for You
As I sit here in front of a computer screen with nary a reader of mine in sight, I often ask myself: “Am I doing any good? Is this useful to anyone? Am I just repeating myself myself?”
So in the interest of better serving you, I would like to ask you a single very important question:
The idea is that if you had a magic wand that you could wave to solve the single biggest problem in your love life, what would that be? The answer to that question is hugely important to me, because it will tell me what things I can create for you to solve the problem!
So please do us both a medium-sized favor and take 60 seconds to answer the question via Google Forms. I’ll also have survey results for you to share what other readers said.
In the Meantime: A Sleepy Treat for You
I’ve been working on a project called Happiness Engineering. It’s a manual for educated folks who want to design happiness into their lives instead of merely leaving it to chance. I’ve already given a TEDx talk about it which some of you have already seen.
One of the five pillars of Happiness Engineering is good sleep. Statistics say that a large portion of the population is getting mediocre sleep (like, 1 out of 5 people). So if you’re one of those who has difficulty falling asleep, I’ve made this recording for you. It works best when you listen to it through headphones. Note from Captain Obvious: Please don’t listen to this when driving :)
Dr Ali’s Sleep Script
You can listen to it for free right here. Length is 15:48min, but most people conk out after 7min. If you’d like to download it to your devices, click here to pay whatever you consider reasonable.
That’s all for now, lovelies! If you have a question for me, please send it to my new address: DrAliB (at) TaoOfDating.com. Make sure it’s under 200 words and it contains a question, preferably addressing what you WANT :)
Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali
PS: In the interest of getting to know more of you, please join me on Facebook if you have not already! In addition to my articles, I post travelogues, photos and random observations, usually of the silly variety.Categories: Abusive relationships Audio breakups commitment Dating for Women Getting over a relationship How to get over a guy marriage RelationshipsTags: are friends with benefits bad, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, friends turning into lovers, friends with benefits, Isabelle Fox, on-again off-again relationships, Robert Sapolsky, the power of maybe, The Prospective Spouse Checklist, why bad boys are addictive, why bad boys are bad for you
Dear Dr Ali – There’s a guy I like who’s in my social circle. He’s my friend’s boyfriend’s best friend, so we spend a lot of time around each other. He’s always attentive to me, and has even given me shoulder rubs a few times – something I have not seen him do for other women. We’ve even spent one-on-one time together lying down on a blanket watching stars. But he has yet to make a move. Why hasn’t he kissed me yet? Does he even like me? What should I do? Should I even bother? – Perplexed in Paris
Well there’s a perennial question if there ever was one. How do you know if a guy likes you? I mean, yeah, he does like you, as in he clearly wouldn’t let you get run over by a bus. But does he like like you? As in smooches and snuggles?
That shouldn’t be hard to figure out. But additional challenges present themselves when you see a guy frequently as part of your social circle, whether at work or in a group of friends. How do you broach the subject of “Do you like me?” when the negative response means having to hang out with someone who snubbed you? Or, even worse, what if you hook up and it doesn’t work out? Now you have willingly planted an ex in the midst of formerly friendly territory. Surely there is a way to finesse this tricky social situation.
The best way is to take me along to a party to hang out with both of you. And by turning on the super-sensitive Dr Ali-dar and observing your interactions, I will give you a read of the situation.
But, alas, the best way is often not the most practical way, and I’m usually far away (greetings from Barcelona and Lisbon!) and would probably end up eating all your hors d’oeuvres (unless they’re supermarket crudité platters – who likes that stuff?).
So I don’t get to observe whether he looks directly into your eyes and how often, how often and where he touches you, how he talks to you, how he reacts to the other women around you, and a zillion other things.
All I get to see is your world through this tiny keyhole of an email. From that I must deduce your character, the nature and intensity of his interest, and your suitability as a match. Piece o’ cake!
What might be wiser, however, is to give you some general principles for spotting interest from another party, so you can apply those to your own situation and figure out what’s going on.
1. Active vs passive interest.
When trying to gauge interest, this is the overarching theme. Is he actively pursuing your company, or just settling for casual bump-ins and group events? The more deliberate effort a man puts into spending time with you, the more interested he is. Doing something that risks rejection, such as asking you out on a date, raises the stakes and is an even stronger sign of romantic interest.
Now I heartily recommend that folks initially get to know people through group events. They’re far less threatening settings than one-on-one dates which are contrived situations that fail to bring out the best in us (unless your best happens to be anxiety, self-consciousness and phoniness). But if a guy only invites you to group things, he’s either not that interested, or too much of a wuss to step up and ask for your company solo. Either way, that’s not someone you should be signing up for.
2. How is he looking at you?
A few years ago I was sitting at this deathly boring talk at a conference in Los Angeles when I spotted this dazzlingly beautiful woman across the room. Before the talk was over, I must have involuntarily turned to look at her 50 times. Why? Because we tend to seek out more information about things we’re interested in. That’s kinda the definition of interest. And lord knows I made a beeline to talk to her afterwards.
The quality and quantity of a guy’s gaze says a lot about the degree and nature of his interest. Does he keep looking at you even when you’re not looking at him? Interested. Does he look at your face when he’s talking to you? Interested. Straight into your eyes, seriously trying to plumb its depths of mystery and passion? Seriously interested.
The pro-level tip here is that you want to arrange the environment such that you’re a) getting useful information and b) letting him be at his best. For example, if you’re with him on a date at a topless beach, chances are his eyes will not be glued to you the whole time no matter how interested he is. Same goes for sitting in a restaurant: if he’s facing the crowd and bustle of the outside world, his eyes will wander, and you’ll get inaccurate data. Do yourself a favor and you take the banquette seat so he’s looking at just you and the wall.
Most Western societies are pretty touch-free, so if a guy touches you, that’s a big deal and a sign of major interest.
Or is it? Touching behavior varies culturally, which changes the salience of the act. A classic study done by Sidney Jourard showed that during an hourlong conversation between friends, in England they touched each other zero times. In the US, twice, during bursts of enthusiasm. In France, 110 times, and in Puerto Rico, 180 times! Watching people here in Barcelona I’d say they would touch 200 times at least. So this means that a touch from a shy English guy counts for a lot more than one from the gregarious Spaniard.
The second level information is the quality of the touch. Is he giving you a high-five or a shoulder rub? The more prolonged and deliberate the touch, the greater the interest.
In Love Signals: A Practical Field Guide to the Body Language of Courtship, Prof David Givens enumerates five phases of courtship: attention, recognition, speech, touch, and lovemaking. Touch is the final phase before getting in the sack. So if he’s touching you, it’s safe to say his interest is not entirely platonic. That’s a nice start, but there’s an essential bit of meta-information that you need to know, too.
4. Is he interested in you specifically, or just women in general?
You meet a guy. He’s utterly charming, listening to you with rapt attention, gazing deep into your eyes to plumb the mystery/passion, and touching you early and often. And you’re loving it.
The question that most women don’t ask themselves: is he doing this because he’s into me, or because he’s into women in general? Because to an observer the two behaviors look exactly the same.
Now, if you’re just looking for a RLD (relationship of limited duration), then – who cares! Run with it, girl. But if you’re looking for something lasting longer than a Scaramucci (i.e. a temporal unit equivalent to 10 days), you need to get more data.
‘Cause if he’s a shy guy who hardly approaches women, the nature of his attention is much more salient than if he’s a player who collects 20 phone numbers a week. The shy guy is putting everything on the line. The player, on the other hand, has this routine rehearsed so well that he can do it after 7 margaritas, in microgravity, while tied up in a burlap sack.
The distinction between specific and nonspecific attraction is important because they’re mediated by different brain circuits and hormones. Nonspecific attraction (i.e. lust) is fueled by testosterone. The guy is just generally horny. Specific attraction runs on dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter of goal-directed activity. He is horny for you, and therefore seeks you out. This is the difference between RLD and long-term love.
So take some time to find out what this guy’s really like. What’s his reputation? How does he behave around other women when you’re with him? Does he flirt shamelessly with the cute waitress, or does he focus his attention fully on you? What do his friends say about him? These are all important bits of information for establishing what kind of person you’re dealing with, and how to interpret his attention.
5. Actions vs words.
The most accurate information you can get about a guy is his long-term behavior – the stuff he actually does, over and over again. The least accurate information you can get about him are his words, especially when they are about himself.
This isn’t necessarily because men brag or that all humans are evil liars. Rather, it illustrates a central principle of human behavior. Science shows that we have cognitive biases that blind us to our own shortcomings, and as a therapist I can tell you that people are horrendous at self-reportage. Like, totally inaccurate, all the time.
Why? Because well over 99% of your brain’s functioning happens outside of your consciousness. This means that by definition, you don’t have conscious access to what’s really happening in your brain. It’s all about the unconscious.
Oh, and then there are the guys who will say anything to get into your good graces – or your pants. But you already knew that.
Now I’m going to overemphasize this point until it gets burned into your consciousness forever, because it is unbelievably important. In fact, the main reason I wrote The Tao of Dating was because I had a darling friend who believed the phrase “I promise I’ll never give you another black eye” more than the actual black eye the guy had given her. And who kept on taking him back and financially supporting him even though he continued to physically abuse her.
Oh nononononono we can’t let that be you. So you will pay very close attention to what a guy does, and take anything he says with a boulder of salt. Look for actions, not words. Actions, not words. Actions, not words. A thousand times: actions, not words.
So what are some actions that show he’s truly interested? Having been that interested guy often, here are some things that come to mind:
1) He calls you and asks you out to spend real, grown-up time together. He’s risking rejection, which means he’s investing ego. He’s agreeing to spend money and time on you, which is more investment.
2) He does what he says, when he says he’ll do it. Whether it’s to call you, have coffee with you, do you a favor or send you something, watch how he handles his promises. If he handles them poorly during courtship when he’s supposedly putting his best foot forward, he’ll be far worse when he’s in a relationship with you.
3) He treats you as if your company is a worthy goal in itself, and not just a means to some other end. Guys will request your company for any number of reasons – avoid being lonely, try to get you in bed, or just to hang out. As we already discussed, the question to ask yourself: is he just asking for company, or my company specifically?
In the early phases of courtship, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Generally speaking, the more planning and risk it involves for the guy, the more serious he is about you. It’s one thing when I ask a woman two weeks in advance to come with me to the sold-out SF Symphony Beethoven extravaganza. It’s another when I ask her if she can join me for a show tomorrow ‘cause I got two comp tickets.
Mind you, we’re not saying spontaneity is bad; heck, it’s something sorely lacking from most overplanned modern lives. However, if all you’re getting from a guy is spontaneity, that’s a pattern worth noting. You need to figure out if he’s really interested but bad at planning, or just casually interested.
Once again, the quality of attention during the date tends to be a good indicator of his interest level. If he’s focused on you the whole time, he’s into you. If he’s flirting with the waitress and getting other women’s numbers, he’s probably just there for a good time.
You are not a potted plant: tiger power vs. flower power
Now we get to the fun part: the things you can do to get accurate information about where you stand.
First, I’d like to make a distinction between flower power and tiger power. Flowers don’t have a lot of power. Sometimes they have fancy colors and aromas to attract pollinators, but for the most part they just sit there and look pretty.
Tigers, on the other hand, are the apex land predators. They roam the range of their vast territory and go for whatever they want, without apology or hesitation.
Both flower and tiger power are effective in their own way, and everyone has both kinds of power. You just want to make sure that you’re using the right kind of power to get the result that you want.
Now, if there’s one overarching principle to the Tao of Dating, it’s that you are not a potted plant. Women run families, corporations, states and entire countries. So it does not make sense to be a passive bystander to your own love life. Right now is always a great time to take control.
But here’s the thing: too much tiger power tends to scare off men. And guys like to hunt, so you must let them be the hunter. They’re just not used to being chased.
So you will get a little clever. Asking a question like “So why haven’t you kissed me yet?” is tiger power, because you’re taking action. At the same time, you’re stepping back and allowing him to step into his own tiger power.
Perhaps even more important than asking the question to make sure you get the frame right. So keep it light. If you get all serious on the boy and go “Umm, I’ve been pining for you since the dawn of time and don’t think I can breathe much longer without you” and proceed to faint, you may qualify for a job re-enacting romance novels, but you will scare off the boy. Permanently.
On the other hand, if you do it all in the name of banter and fun, and you playfully ask him, “Are you shy or something? ‘Cause I know you’re into me, but you haven’t made a move yet. Or if you’re feeling feisty: “Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? You were lying down next to me on a blanket for two hours and didn’t even try to kiss me! Am I ugly? Are you secretly gay? I mean, it’s totally fine if you want to be my GBF, but I just need to know.”
Why is this powerful? Humor opens up the conversational field, allowing all parties to share their feelings in a safer context. But even more important, you are subtly taking control of the situation instead of just waiting around. At the same time, you are passing the baton to him to take action.
Create the environment that favors your outcome
People’s behavior is context-dependent. So if the guy’s interested but shy, or on the fence for whatever reason, here are some ideas for creating an environment conducive to a more romantic interaction.
How do I know these work? Because wily women have used them on me, that’s how. Pick one depending on your level of interest and boldness:
• Propose to watch a movie at your place or his. Snuggling on the couch during a movie is completely natural, and a well-known way to not watch the movie at all. (Not that you asked, but the movie in question was L.A. Confidential, and I still haven’t seen it.)
• Invite him over to your place for dinner. Most guys understand this as a sign of definite interest. If he accepts the invitation, you’re 95% of the way there. Wine helps.
• Grab your shoulder or your back, and with a pained look on your face say, “I’ve got this terrible knot in my back – could you be kind enough to work on it for a minute?” You probably know what to do from there.
• Invite him to the beach. Relaxing and frolicking in the sun with minimal clothing is one of the best ways of getting out of your heads and into your bodies. Playing in the water and applying sunscreen to one another are time-honored ways of getting physical.
• Take a yoga class together. For a zillion reasons, exercising together is generally a good idea. But especially after a yoga class, everyone’s inside their bodies and super chilled out, making physical interaction much easier.
• Take an acroyoga class together. Acroyoga has taken off all over the world, so you should be able to find a class where you are. It’s basically a full-body contact sport in which you periodically collapse into each other’s arms. It’s also fun. If this doesn’t work in getting romance going, you can safely give up, ’cause nothing will.
What’s worked for you?
Awright then! That should give you a few tools for figuring out if a guy has romantic interest in you. Now here’s the thing: I’m just one guy here, but there are thousands of you reading this. And you have the advantage of being actual women! So do you have a tool or technique that you have used successfully to suss out a guy’s interest in you? Then please share it in the comments ASAP! Let’s make this as useful a resource for other women as possible.
One more thing: I have a little favor to ask you. Are you on Goodreads? If so, could you be kind enough to put The Tao of Dating on your bookshelf and give it a rating once it’s there? For those who aren’t on Goodreads, it’s a fantastic site for book lovers, where you can discover new books and share libraries, reading lists and reviews with friends. It’s also a great tool for authors to reach their audience. It’s particularly important for a book to be on readers’ shelves, because that’s how Goodreads determines whether a book can get promoted on there. This is how I pay the bills, so I would be immensely grateful for your help. Let’s see if we can put the book on a few thousand shelves!Categories: Abusive relationships Communication Dating for Women marriage Relationships Understanding men Women's empowermentTags: active interest vs passive interest, does he like me, goal-directed behavior, how do I know if a guy likes me, how do I know if he's into me, how to tell if a guy is into you, how to tell if a guy likes me, how to tell if a guy likes you, is he interested in me, is he into me, specific attraction vs nonspecific attraction
This week, I gave a talk in San Francisco entitled Understanding Men: On the election, sexism, insecurity, and your love life. I started with a story about my mom, who was a butt-kicking professional woman in Iran, and how she refused to put up with the sexist nonsense that the fundamentalists were propounding after the Revolution. From there, I spoke about how the male vote in the 2016 Presidential elections relates to men’s feelings about dating smart, strong women. The 15min excerpt below talks about the prime directives in male and female behavior, and how that creates three choices for strong women when it comes to choosing and relating to a man:
Excerpt from “Understanding Men” 5 Dec 2016
A lot of people were sad to have missed it because of time (or distance) conflict, and asked for a replay. So I’ve edited the talk to 57min and made it available for download. People who attended live paid $15-20, so I’ve decided to let you name a fair price for the download — somewhere between two 3-minute songs from your favorite Justin Bieber album, or the full album. NOTE: Downloads don’t work well from mobile devices, so please make the purchase from a computer.
Other topics covered in this talk:
- The two components of partnership with a Good Guy: spot him, and partner with him; how to do it
- Knowing the difference between mere marketing bluster and honest signals
- The implicit association test (IAT) and what it says about misogyny amongst women
- Pernicious sources of female insecurity
- Perfectionism as a form of covert self-loathing, and what to do instead
- An exercise for rewiring your brain to tame your negative inner voice
Click here to purchase the full lecture.
Tue Dec 13: How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays
In the meantime, on Tue 13 December, a week from today, even though I object to the word “webinar”, I’ll be holding the free webinar “How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays”, just ’cause I like you guys so much. Also, over the 15 years I’ve been teaching this stuff, one thing I’ve learned: most women could be better at meeting men. A lot better. “Nice girls don’t do that”, “It’s the guy’s job”, “What do I even say?” — it’s time to jettison those excuses and expand your repertoire of skills beyond just standing there and looking pretty. We’ve already got 200 signups, so register here so you get the reminders, esp since I’ll be doing live Q&A at the end.
And do send your questions. Under 250 words, and make sure it contains a question regarding the outcome you desire!
Go forth and conquer, Dr AliCategories: Audio Communication Compassion Dating for Women marriage Personal Development Relationships Self-love
The holiday season is upon us, which means that many of you will be going to a bunch of holiday parties. This is an excellent time to get out and make new friends. And by friends, I mean people you’d want to date. If you don’t believe me that December is the best month to meet people, believe the US Census Bureau: the most babies are born in August, followed by September and July. Which means that people were engaging in lineage-perpetuating activities nine months before, which brings us to… ah yes, December and November.
This letter asks about how you actually do it — y’know, get a guy’s number under combat conditions and stuff:
“I’m still working my way through the modules of Project Irresistible and will need to listen to them once or twice more to really grasp some of the information presented. I really enjoyed the classes and feel that I am seeing some results already. Joined yoga which I realized I had missed as part of my routine and going out more often.
Quick situation I wanted to run by you: I was picking up my dry cleaning and there was this good looking guy there. We were the only two in the store. While the person was getting my dry cleaning, I did the smiling eye contact with good intention thing, and then he came over and we started a conversation back and forth about how good a dry cleaning place it is and how fast and reasonably priced they are.
I couldn’t figure out how to shift the conversation to something else. I got my dry cleaning and smiled at the guy and left.
Any suggestions? The situation didn’t lend itself to compliments (I don’t think) since I couldn’t figure out how to shift the conversation. Should it have been something like – “I love coming here but sometimes it’s a little far with traffic. Do you live or work close by?” That’s the only thing I could think of in retrospect. Thank you, Christine”
Great question, Christine! A lot of what I write is about mindset and being your best self. But sometimes, you just straight up need some techniques that work. This is one of those times.
In the big city with people constantly in motion, it can be challenging to make a connection. That’s what the 3 C’s emphasize: Conversation-friendliness, Community, and Continuity. You want to be able to have a meaningful exchange of sufficient length in a safe context such that you can follow up with the person later.
But sometimes, moments arise where there’s a quick connection, but not enough time for the conversation to develop to the point where you can comfortably exchange information, even when it’s very clear that the attraction is mutual.
Now the dry cleaners is a great venue because the people there are likely to be local (good for Community), affluent, and probably gainfully employed. This is the realm of grownups. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of Continuity — people grab their stuff and take off, with little time for a full conversation.
That’s why you have to be prepared. A few ways of doing that:
1) Have a business card ready. This cuts out the middleman of fumbling for phones, or pen and paper. It also conveys that you’re a serious person, with job and income and titles and all that glorious adult stuff. All you have to say is, “Hey, I’d love to continue this conversation sometime. Let’s keep in touch. Do you have a card?” Then get yours out. If he doesn’t have one, jot his info down and be on your merry way. You don’t need an excuse or an explanation — you are a woman. The attention you just gave him probably made his day. And if not, that’s useful information, too.
2) Have a Container Event ready, or make one up right on the spot. I have a Bookswap Brunch that I do once a month or so, where people bring books to swap with each other while having a tasty brunch. It’s a great community builder, allowing me to add new people to my circle of friends in a casual, fun setting. It also gives me an eminently plausible excuse for getting people’s contact info.
If you’re hosting an event, throwing a party or going to a show that you have extra tickets to, there’s your opportunity to recruit anyone to your cause. “Hey, are you free Thursday night? Because I’ve got us some Cirque du Soleil tickets.” Yes please!
3) Be spontaneous. If it’s lunchtime, or you have time for a coffee, why not ask him to join you right then and there: “Hey, I was about to grab lunch next door — would you like to continue this conversation there?” One of my best relationships started that way, and maybe yours will, too.
Now this topic happens to be one of the most common that women ask me about. So to address the question more thoroughly, I’m going to hold a no-charge 1-hr webinar on Tue 13 Dec 2016 on this very topic. Capacity for the webinar is only 100 people, so if you want to be on, I would recommend that you click on this link right now and sign up. Nothing to lose; much joy, potential partnership, wedding ceremonies, rugrats, and massive private school and college bills to gain :)
On the morning of November 9, perhaps you were one of the millions of women who woke up wondering, “How come so many guys voted for someone who clearly disrespects women?” Or, even more puzzling, “How come so many women voted for a guy who disrespects women?” (Hint: If you were rejoicing on Nov 9, this talk is probably not aimed at you.)
In this short lecture + Q&A on Mon 5 Dec, I’ll be talking about what this election revealed about male-female dynamics:
- How men really feel about dating strong, smart, accomplished women like yourself
- How does a woman’s vote for an avowed sexist reflect in her love life?
- Is there a central glitch in the human mate-selection operating system, and if so, how is it showing up in your life?
- Male & female insecurity, and what you can do about it
The talk is brand new with material I’ve never published before, drawing upon the Tao of Dating books for men and women, 14 years studying love lives, and answering over 5000 letters. I’ll be talking about some uneasy truths that I hope will enlighten and challenge your view of the world. Note that if you are a guy and/or voted for the disrespectful guy, this talk will probably be tough to take.
It’s also been over 2 years since I’ve done a live event like this in San Francisco, so it’s about time! Would love to see you if you’re in the Bay Area already, and if not, please tell your friends who are. I’ll do a 30-45min lecture, followed by open Q&A (about anything love-related, not just the topic of the day). It will basically be like a live version of the blog, so bring your questions! It’s like therapy, only cheaper and more fun. The room is smallish, so if you want a seat, get your tickets quick — there are about 19 left. I’ll also have copies of the book on sale to sign.
Look forward to seeing you soon, Dr Ali
So here’s my secret: even though I wrote this book about women and love, I’m actually not a woman. That whole story I tell about having written the book before my sex-change operation? I made it all up. I’ve been 100% a guy the whoooole time.
And yet, here I am, dispensing advice to womenfolk on being a better woman. Really? Like there’s a shortage of actual women out there to tell you about this kinda thing? Well, there isn’t. In fact, many of you, my readers, are plenty wise. One of the things I’m really proud of is how incredibly smart and educated my readers are. Even if you ladies don’t let on much, I see all the MAs, PhDs, MDs, CEOs, scientific papers written, books published, and operas sung.
So I’m going to take this month of community building as an excuse to introduce some of you to one another, and share some of the wisdom you’ve shared with me.
The Wisdom of Women: Long-Distance Relationships
Let’s start out with Julie, who left this comment on the blog a little while back. One of the most consistently true findings over the 15 years I’ve been thinking about love & relationships has been this: long-distance relationships are a terrible idea. This has been verified over and over again, to the point that it’s almost like saying “water is wet.” And yet, people still think “No no, our long-distance thing is special” or “My boyfriend is different” or some nonsense like that. Julie has an unusual perspective on all of this:
“My soon-to-be ex-husband met a woman while they were both working out of state in the same city. He told her he had kids from a previous relationship and lived alone. All the while, he was telling me he missed me and couldn’t wait to get home, I love you, goodnight baby, all those usual things.
She was in a long distance relationship with him for months before I found out who she was and told her the truth. They had met up a few times for happy, fun, touristy long weekends and Skyped a lot, and this was their “relationship.” Then he lied to her astoundingly about how our marriage had been over for a long time, he wasn’t happy, it was a sexless marriage. It was a very sexually active and enthusiastic physical relationship in our marriage, and we were not fighting or distant. He was a messed up human being inside who was a very good actor.
My therapist (I got one, after all this) told me, “It doesn’t take a broken marriage to have an affair. It just takes one broken person.” So true. He had been binge drinking on work trips, too, and I never knew. He hadn’t been paying bills from his accounts he told me were being paid. He was a mess across the board. But the kicker is, she believed his lies long-distance and got back together with him. All while he was still lying to her about various things.
But that’s just it… she so badly wanted to believe in the fantasy of who he was that she refused to see that long distance meant she could never really know him and see what was going on in real life. Meanwhile, I saw the truth come out and kept seeing it because our relationship wasn’t escapism over long weekends, where it’s easy to put your best foot forward all week and then for an hour of skype here and there.
They eventually broke up, but she still thinks she had some great love with him and even said nobody knows him like she does. After seeing what long distance looked like that way, how easily it all was hidden (whereas I discovered his behavior within two weeks of it starting), I would never advise it to anybody. He had a breakdown in life and the affair was only part of it. He messed up his friends, family, work, and finances at the same time too. Of course long distance can be done. People have made it. But it’s too much fantasy and vacation for so much longer than normally dating somebody would be. Or than seeing a sudden change in a married partner or dating partner locally would likely be. — Julie”
Such a great letter! Julie’s unusual perspective as the aggrieved wife of a husband cheating on her in a long-distance relationship illustrates a bunch of points how the whole thing’s a fantasy. The other woman has no way of getting to know the cheating husband very well, so she constructs out of whole cloth this whole story about how great he is. The fun, touristy (and probably sex-drenched) weekends together propagate the fantasy, free from any inconvenient real-life notions of whether the guy is a responsible adult who pays bills on time, takes out the trash or doesn’t leave dirty socks lying around.
Another great letter on the topic of long-distance relationships comes from Marcy. Her perspective is slightly different:
“My 16-year marriage was born online, states apart. We saw each other every couple of months for days until I moved to be with him and talked obsessively, both sacrificing countless relationships with people who were available locally. Was it worth it? In a way, yes! We have two children and built a relatively stable, often happy, in person life together that has lasted longer than many traditional marriages. But I would likely never do it again.
Here’s the thing, we DID know each other via phone and text (we didn’t even have video calling then). And we WERE genuinely compatible in the ways we experienced. But, even after confirming what appeared to be our compatibility (in person), in the truth our long distance relationship was still 90% fantasy. Long distance relationships allow you to idealize positive traits for an extended period of time while grossly undervaluing negative traits. The intensity of the sex once you finally see each other, coupled with the future planning, almost guarantees it.
Our outcome: Sex was intensely magical at a distance, but soon became detached and uncompromising once we saw each other regulary. Sunk costs began playing their part: I’d invested so much in such a high risk relationship (moving states, transferring schools, convincing everyone who knew it was wrong that it was right) that I would not let go. We married and began moving towards a sexless marriage in my late 20s. Now in my mid 30s, we have neither kissed nor had sex in years.
The excellent “communication” I believed that we were building up to in our long distance relationship was also overblown. You have no idea what someone is doing while it appears that they are deeply engaged in a chat with you. While imagined him laying on his bed staring at his laptop screen in anticipation of my messages, my husband was undoubtedly playing videogames the vast majority of the time we were chatting.
This became apparent when we moved in together and I realized that he struggled to look at me during conversations or have any serious face-to-face interactions with me at all. In fact, this was one of the greatest downfalls in our marriage. My husband is a gamer and much prefer spending large portions of his free time engaging online friends. This did not change when I moved and is an enormous incompatibility that I downplayed. Playing video games alone is more fun than talking in person (which he hates), or playing with our children (which he dislikes), or even having sex. He also prefers exceptional amounts of emotional distance, evident in seeking a long-distance relationship.
I have come to believe that people who use placeholder/long-distance relationships are signaling that they are emotionally unavailable and likely to be relationally incompetent in very significant ways. For all the reasons and excuses we made for our online “relationship”, the truth is, we were using each other to prevent the development of potentially loving dynamics with compatible partners close to home. We were not prepared to commit to doing what was necessary to create a truly healthy dynamic and that’s why we were chatting online, closing doors in the first place.”
Wow! That pretty much summarizes everything that’s bad about long-distance relationships. Marcy is particularly insightful in noting that a LDR is often a “placeholder”, a hedge against real intimacy.
But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be in a long-distance relationship to create hedges against intimacy. You can be a workaholic or choose a job that has 60% travel. You can insist on having separate hobbies, circles of friends, or vacations. You can be a picky eater so you can’t share meals with people. You can subscribe to a multi-partner lifestyle like polyamory or swinging. If you’re afraid of letting people get to know the real you, your unconscious is going to create all kinds of clever strategies for making sure people don’t get too close. If you find yourself perennially lonely in spite of your best intentions, you may want to think about how you’re unconsciously inflicting it upon yourself.
Women picking matches for their friends: a new kind of dating app?
So I’m on record being against using online dating as your primary means of meeting new people. But what if there was an app that let you pick matches for your friends? Would that be more useful?
Recently I came across such a collaborative matchmaking app. It piqued my interest and thought I’d bring it to your attention. It’s called Spritzr, and it’s an app for friends to play matchmaker. So you get to meet dates that you have friends or interests in common with, as opposed to the stream of randos you see on most dating apps.
Am I totally convinced this works? Not yet. But it does seems worthy of a closer look. They’re early in their development, and I befriended the founder, who said we could be some of his beta testers. Yay! If you’re interested in being part of this early adopter program, go to get.spritzer.com/tao and sign up for an account. I’m very curious about how the experiment goes — especially if we stoke the whole app with a bunch of my amazing readers :)
Next week, I’ll be telling you about the new book by my excellent friend and colleague Christine Marie Mason. She’s written a remarkable new book called Indivisible: Coming Home to Our Deep Connection, and I’ll be sharing some of it with you before it’s even released on Sept 16. Who loves you?All the bestDr AliPS: The Win Dr Ali’s Kindle Superfan Contest continues. We’ve already got some strong contenders, and I’m going to add some prizes for 2nd place to make things more exciting. Click here for the rules.
A great letter about an all-too-common issue: do you stay in a mediocre relationship, or stick around to acknowledge your partner’s efforts at self-improvement, in hope that things maaaybe get better:
Dear Dr Ali — My on/off partner of 4.5 years (with breaks) has a very avoidant attachment style, manifesting through extreme workaholic behaviour, using work to put distance between us. His work is stressful which exacerbates the issues. I have left the relationship twice. I am generally secure, with a very close, supportive family and friends network, but under this type of stress I become quite anxious. I’ve left whenever I realised I was persistently unhappy and ultimately feel alone within the relationship.
We have an 8 year relationship as creative partners and are currently still working together (sporadically, not everyday). Our working relationship is great, I’d say because he feels safe and not threatened by intimacy. We are always happy to see each other.
Both times I have left, he has reached out to try again. This time he started therapy to address these problems and in a few months there has been a significant acknowledgement of issues but no change so far. We love each other but I am worried that his underlying issues are so deep, he will never be able to commit to a relationship in a way that will make us both happy.
Do you think it is possible for a strongly avoidant person to smooth off those edges and feel happy and fulfilled in a relationship rather than trapped and panicky (especially during the stressful times in life)? Ages are 38 and 40. Thanks, Cleo
This kind of question comes up a lot, and it’s an example of what’s called the framing problem. See, Cleo, the correct question here is not “Can this person who has been making me feel anxious, unhappy and alone for 4.5 years with whom I’ve already broken up twice suddenly change and become the warm, caring person who fulfills all my relationship needs for the next umpteen years?” but rather, “Why am I putting up with this shit?” The real choice is between the mediocre-to-toxic relationship you’re having right now, vs the mutually nurturing and nourishing relationship that you could have with any of the millions of men that you haven’t broken up with twice yet.
What you’re asking me is, “Hey doc. I just got this hot dog, and it fell in the sand. Should I just eat it, or is it possible for me to pick out all the grit and maybe wash it and then have a soggy mess that’s almost edible again and maybe a little less gritty, so I don’t have to throw it away?” If you have 5 bucks in your pocket, I’d say go get another hot dog, toss the other one and never think about it again.
This type of thinking is very common, Cleo. The problem is with the framing: should I keep a miserable relationship, or a slightly less miserable relationship. It’s a false choice. You can also have a great relationship. Just not with this guy. I’m guessing that right about now, you’re getting a pretty unified chorus of friends and family saying that you deserve better. Maybe it’s time to listen to that.
The reason this comes up so often is because of the sunk cost fallacy. I’ve written about this before in Chapter 5 of The Tao of Dating (ebook, paperback, and audiobook), “Understanding Men, Understanding Yourself”, p93:
The Slot-Machine Theory of Human Behavior
“Let’s say you’re in Las Vegas, and you’ve decided to play a slot machine. You put in a coin, pull the lever, and – nothing. Well, that’s fine – you weren’t expecting to win immediately anyway. So you put in another coin and – nothing again. In fact, nothing is the most likely outcome every time. Funny that.
But before you know it, you’ve sunk quite a few coins in this machine. Now you’re thinking, “I’m invested; I can’t just quit now! I’ve fattened this thing up – it’s going to pay off any second now! Jackpot City!”
The fact remains that the most likely outcome of your next pull (and the next, and the next, and the next) is still nothing. And that likelihood does not change whether you put in one coin or 10,000 coins before this pull.
Psychologists have noticed that one of the reasons why this happens (and why casinos are making a mint) is that the human mind grasps poorly the concept of sunk costs. Those first 100 coins that you put into the machine are gone forever, and they have no bearing upon the outcome of the next pull of the lever. People tend to mistake the sunk cost for an investment, which has an expectation of future payoff commensurate with the investment. A sunk cost, on the other hand, is just plain gone.
The way this concept plays out in a bad relationship is that the aggrieved party thinks that she has invested two years dating a jerk, so she can’t just throw that investment away. Besides, through her efforts, he might reform and thereby reward her with the jackpot she’s been working on all along.
Well, there is no way to retrieve or throw away those two years – they’re gone for good. They are sunk costs. And the jackpot isn’t coming. Just as in playing a slot machine, the best policy once you realize you’re in a sunk cost situation is to cut and run and immediately stop your losses. The sooner a woman leaves behind the jerk, the sooner she’s opening her life to the arrival of a guy (perhaps even a Good Guy) who can be a catalyst for fulfillment.” [end of excerpt]
Your question once again brings up the central question of relationships: What do you want, Cleo? Do you want an on-again, off-again relationship that stresses you out? Because that’s what you’re signing up for by staying with him. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and the past behavior has not been promising.
It’s nice that you say you love him, but your mission in this life is to be your most radiant, giving, generous, creative self so you can give your gift to the world, not to have it drained out of you by one person. This man does not sound like the kind of person who as a partner can catalyze your greatness. As such, staying with him would be an act of selfishness. You have a much bigger mandate than having to deal with his issues. Be strong and move on so you can open the door to the right partner who’s been waiting for you for a long time now. And if that means being alone for a little while, that’s still a better spot than what you’re describing right now.
Please recall that I wrote The Tao of Dating because a friend of mine told me she was dating with a man who lived under her roof paying no rent and beating her up. That was a really clear case of someone being in the wrong relationship, because he was physically abusing her. But sometimes the violence isn’t so obvious because it’s occurring emotionally.
All relationships go through ups and downs, but please be mindful of what the overall arc of the relationship is. Does it go down, then go up again, with a general upward trajectory? Or does it go down, and then stay down till you get used to the new normal, then go down again? There’s a term for this in decision science: normalization of deviance. And if you’re stuck in the middle of it, it can sometimes be hard to tell if you’re compromising too much in a relationship.
So here are some ways of finding out whether what you’re putting up with is normal relationship fluctuations or a toxic relationship:
Are your friends worried about you? Do they often express concern about the state of your relationship? Do they ever say things like “He’s not good for you” or “Y’know, have you considered dating someone else?” If so, you may be in a toxic relationship.
Do you find yourself apologizing a lot in the relationship? Like you’re always walking on eggshells, trying not to set him off? The whole point of relationship is for two people to support each other, not to create an atmosphere of fear. There are plenty of dark alleyways you can walk down in the sketchy parts of the city to make you feel unsafe. Why construct one in your own home?
Do you have a history of staying in bad relationships? If so, your idea of “normal” may be skewed such that you’re willing to put up with a lot more crap than you should.
Do you feel that you’re flourishing as a person in this relationship? This is the absolute criterion that doesn’t even need the rest of them. If the answer is no, it’s time to think about why that’s the case.
If you don’t feel psychologically safe on a day-to-day basis in your relationship, it’s really time to move on. Things like love, growth and joy only have room to happen when the parasympathetic nervous system and the mind and body feel safe. When your mind is in threat response mode, it just never gets past that. If that describes you, call on a trusted friend or counselor to discuss how you can extricate yourself from the situation.
Speaking of flourishing — I’ve got a little something for you. On Tue May 31 at 6pm PT/9pm ET, I’m giving a free teleclass called “Happiness Engineering: The Five Pillars of Authentic Success.” Sign up for it here and I’ll send you a reminder for when it’s happening.
All the best,
PS: By popular request, Therapy Thursdays continues. If you have an issue that you think could benefit from a one-on-one consult via Skype, send a message to drali at taoofdating.com with “TT” in the subject line and I’ll see what I can do to accommodate you. There are 3 appointment slots per week, and they happen on Thursdays and Fridays.
PPS: If you don’t have it already, you can get The Tao of Dating audibook for free when you sign up for a 30-day trial with Audible.
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 AliCategories: commitment Dating for Women Happiness marriage Meditation Personal Development Relationships Self-love