The Mailbag: On unavailable men, heartache as creative inspiration, cheating, neediness and timing

I get a lot of letters from you guys (and by ‘guys’, I mean ladies). And if you’ve ever written to me, you know that I almost always write back — unless your letter is 5 feet long, riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes or internet-speak (bcuz it makes U look like a doofus, that’s Y, and I got no time for doofi), or if you don’t put a space after commas and periods, making your letter look like money transfer spam (“My name is Hamilton Adeyemi,from great city of Abuja.I give you 5 trillion$.Please give bank account.”). See? No space after a comma is just Sketchville.

But usually, I write back. If I don’t answer your question directly, I’ll ask for clarification, such as “Um, there actually wasn’t a question in there – what did you want to ask about?” Some of the really good ones I turn into blog articles. Anonymized, of course.

But you know what? That can take forever, especially when the perfectionist streak in me wins out and says Oh, it has to be really good, otherwise I can’t put it up.

As an antidote to this perfectionism, I’m going to put in this post a bunch of mostly unedited, unfiltered exchanges with you, my dear readers. Heck, I’m not even bothering capitalizing this stuff – that would take days (reason for not capitalizing: prolific keyboard jockey’s hitting that ‘SHIFT’ button a couple of hundred times a day can contribute to significant hand strain).

To increase the chances of getting a personal answer, make it brief (5-10 lines MAX – no novellas, please) with a well-formed question in there. And with that, here’s a recent batch:

> Dear Dr Ali:
I have a boyfriend and we’re almost two years (he is my first boyfriend; he is also three years younger than i am)… we used to be officemates for less than two years… we see each other everyday so there’s no need for us to always meet on weekends. We do, but on special occasions only.

Just the beginning of this year, we have separate work/office… and we never see each other everyday… we only have weekends to meet but it’s not committed to every week… i hate the feeling of waiting every week on whether he will come to my house or whether we’ll go out… he has the control now in our relationship… and i am having a hard time because i felt like i am under his mercy. :-(

Just recently, he moved out of his parents home to rent a house. i know deep inside me its part of his desire to be independent… not just for conveniences of traveling from home to work, work to home. It did bothered me… but i tried to understand it.

i felt like I have been so head over heels with him… that every time we meet, i loses my self and my control… i can feel he’s too proud and having too much pride… resisting what i’m offering (caring words, etc.), i find it hard to reach into him, especially with his emotions… i can’t help myself always tell him “i love you” and he’s a bit annoyed that i’m repeatedly saying those words to him… i always want to be with him, and when we’re together, i wanted to be held in his arms, be hugged and kissed… yes, i’m losing control… he’s gaining it… and in turn, i felt him distant… with regards to his feelings and emotions..

Yes, I admit, I felt so unsecured and too emotional…
I do not doubt his love, but I am afraid I’ll lost it…

what should i do? thanks, Serendipity

Dear Serendipity —
‘what should i do’ is not a valid question. figure out what it is that you really want, come up with a specific, well-formulated question, and i might be able to help you.
in the meantime, this was a lot of whining. where’s your power? is he the only guy on the planet? um, no. so stop acting like he is. and stop acting like you’re powerless, because you’re not.
and this (…) that you used 21 times in your letter, is a sign of indecisiveness. decide what you want for your life, and you’re more likely to get it. otherwise you’re at the mercy of circumstance.


>Dear Dr Ali:  

Hi you’re an interesting person.  Was happy to stumble upon your book..

Q: What do you say about nostalgia and sadness as creative forces for the Universe and the possibility of self inflicting a continual separation in order to have inspiration?

I am in a relationship that has been breaking up for the last 3 years.  There have been many months and almost year breaks in between but we continue to have strong re-kindling..  (during the break ups we don’t talk- but ocassionally he will send me articles or informative videos on youtube that he knows Id be interested in..which I am happy to receive.) which I for a month or sometimes just a week.

We live in different towns and I usually realize I need to leave — mostly because of pursuit of a career and doing creative projects.  He is always crushed by this and can go through intense sadness that I have learned not to feel guilty about and that he has learned to accept as his own emotions..I can see that perhaps he is just a drug.. I do know that I have really created some great songs through our love, and also have gained much understanding for the blues in general. 

I question my intuition on leaving, because I do know that our love and understanding has grown quite a bit through all of this…  I just wonder if I am not self inflicting this and hurting both of us… but he says things like “I will never stop loving you” and I do believe its true- hes a very honest person.  but maybe he has a damaged view of what love is?  Maybe I do?  maybe this is just a romanticized view of love and I need to leave for good? 

I also can feel very happy with him, and feminine and understood and all that.. but it almost feels like he loves me too much and cant see who I truly am.. but sometimes  it really feels like he can and that maybe I am just afraid to receive?  I havent been talking to him about all of this, its kind of like our love is in a limbo.. because I want to have more of a sense of things and dont feel confident to make a defiant break but we just had our 3rd rekindling since our first break up 3 years ago so things are more delicate…

I am an analytical person and like exploring and learning..  I do think its important to acknowledge and honor our love, and that is why I have a little bit of trouble thinking about your ideas of making a joke of all of the memories and such…
What studies do you know about nostalgia and creativity?  Any?
What advice do you have?

I am guessing that you will respond by saying something having to do with evolutions effect on human emotions and the progression of human creation… Maybe that in the future creations will be more structured on happiness… At least that’s what I think may happen.

I know thats a lot of stuff, and its kinda written stream of consciousness, but I hope you can understand it.  I’d really like some insight.

peace. thanks, Stella

well, that was a lot, stella!
i’ve always believed that yearning is a great force for creativity. complacency and a full belly never impelled anyone to greatness. brahms was always pining for clara schumann. yeats was bananas over maud gonne but couldn’t have her. john keats wanted fanny brawne, who was also beyond reach. their creative output was pretty astonishing.
so yes, maybe you’re unconsciously inflicting this upon yourself to be a better artist — it’s sure been known to work. but any intense emotion can be a catalyst for creativity. it doesn’t have to be pain.
in the end, it’s about what you really want. if you want companionship and mutual support, then there’s a pretty clear path to that. if you want to be a great blues artist, there’s a path for that, too. and perhaps the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
the sense i get from this letter, stephanie, is that you’re not really clear on what fulfills you. as it stands, you’re letting your unconscious motivations make your decisions for you. answer the question “on my deathbed, what will i have wanted my life to look like?”, and that might help clarify things.

Addendum: Ladies – by the way, this is a good example of overthinking. Clarify what it is that you want and move towards it. If that works, great; if not, go elsewhere. Turning it over and over and over and over in your mind never helps anything.


>Dear Dr Ali:

I am dating a guy who is nice but shy (which I’m not used to) but does not play games (which I am used to). He has some family issue that just occurred and has affected him a lot. I haven’t seen him in over 2 weeks (one week because I had guests, the other d/t his family issue).

He said this weekend he would call me this week. He hasn’t yet and he didnt respond to a text I sent Sunday. Is it needy or desperate to call him even though he hasn’t called me and the week isn’t up? I am just trying to figure out if I should give him space or I just take a chance and call because well I want to talk to him and I want to know what’s going on in his life.

Thanks, Malika

malika –

thanks for the note!

here’s the thing: if you think you’re being needy or desperate, you’re going to come off as needy or desperate. so let your internal feeling be your guide. if you’re calling with the attitude, “hey, i need to manage my time and see if i can fit you in ’cause as nice as it is to see you, i’m a busy girl”, then that’s empowered, not needy or clingy. if it’s more like “awww, where’ve you been, why have you been ignoring me, pout pout whine whine”, then that’s going to have the opposite effect from what you intend.

the question is, why would you want to chase a guy down who’s being this negligent in his communications with fabulous you? if anything, you should be giving him a hard time about it, not saying ‘i really miss you’. so pick a time when you’re feeling particularly empowered, sexy or just plain strong, and that’s when you leave him a message like, “this is the doctor calling. just checking in to see if you’re feeling okay, because i can’t think of any other reason why you haven’t communicated with fabulous me in a week. talk to me, tamika”.

wimpy woman who thinks she needs me = unattractive. powerful woman who  wants me = hot. get it?

best, AB

ps: oh, and quit overthinking it :)

That’s not insensitive? He said he was upset becuz his parents might be getting a divorce. He is middle eastern and super close to his family. I don’t know.

I already turned it down a bit as my boss told me to dumb it down for guys. I’m a medical director at a hospital and every guy I date bails because they feel intimidated. Its so annoying.

Thanks, M.

you’re overthinking it. go with your heart. and if he’s not a big enough boy to handle his parents’ issues and still take care of his own life, he’s either not a big enough boy for you, or it’s the wrong time. either way, you’re free to move on.
and never, ever dumb it down for guys. it’s possible to be smart and interesting without coming off as bossy.


More, you say? Well then here’s more:

>Hi Dr. Ali,

I read your book and loved it!  I wanted to express my deepest appreciation to you for writing it and helping to empower women to be their true selves and live their most fulfililng life.

There was only one part of the book that I did not agree with, and that is a huge compliment! Perhaps, I misunderstood, but the part about, generally speaking, to expect that everyone is going to cheat did not sit well with me.  If I understand the law of attraction, it is that what one expects is what one receives… and what one projects out into the Universe is what one receives back.  So, it is my expectation that there will not be any cheating.  

Aside from that, I want to say that your book added value to my life, and it will continue to remind me to focus on my fulfillment throughout the rest of my life.  I have already friended/followed you in social media circuits and have been forwarding your emails to my friends.  I will write a review on Amazon as soon as their 48 hour time limit allows me to do so.

Thank you again for your efforts and your insight…

I AM the Light!

– Justine

justine –
thanks you for your abundantly kind words. and if you agree with 99.76% of what i’ve written, then i’m doing very well indeed. and i really appreciate the upcoming review — can’t wait to see what’s in it.

you’re not the first person to bring the monogamy issue to my attention — it’s a touchy subject. however, do keep in mind that i never said ‘everyone is going to cheat’. in fact, the words ‘cheating’ or ‘cheat’ do not appear in the book at all, so someone may have been projecting that :)

to me, cheating constitutes breaking a promise. now it takes more than a good person to keep a promise – it takes a wise one to know which promises can be kept and which ones should not be made at all. “i will not steal from your bank account” for most people is an easy promise to keep. “i will not eat chocolate ever again” or “i will not pee” are much harder to keep, because they go against how we’re designed — our nature, or the tao, if you’d call it that.

so what i was saying in the book is that strict, lifelong monogamy isn’t just something that doesn’t exist in humans. it pretty much doesn’t exist anywhere in nature, in any organism. so from the evidence, it seems that this is a tough promise to keep, on the order of ‘no chocolate ever’.

so are there people who have made this promise to one another and kept it? sure. not a lot of them, but they exist — kind of the exception that proves the rule. so the idea is that this is one of those promises that are hard to keep. so if you’re going to require that of yourself or your partner, know what you’re getting yourself into. being human is pretty much synonymous for being fallible, so leaving room for error is often a good idea. and as far as the law of attraction goes, wishing that there be no rain won’t keep it from getting you wet — best to have an umbrella handy.
thanks for a great letter!

Hi Dr Ali

i just bought your book yesterday- it really appeals to me and there is always something to learn. I do a lot of yoga and meditate, and I have noticed a massive shift- I’m glad for the most part I am on the right track, even if I fall off every so often.

My question is this- how much of this is all about timing? I met a guy who meets the Dr Ali criteria- I suppose for one thing- he just isn’t ready for a relationship. It ended amicably enough, although I can’t help but think “He will be back”. We got along, there was no pressure from me, the only pressure was the pressure he was putting on himself e.g “I should be feeling more” and ” I enjoy your company and I am so confused and not making sense- but I don’t know what I want and I am scared” When all I wanted to do was see it unfold. As I pointed out to him – whatever happened to having great company and a great shag and taking it from there?

I haven’t contacted him, I have intuitively followed your break up guide- yoga, moving, going away for a few days, meeting up with friends, no contact, even the paracetamol! But I still stare at my phone thinking I will see his name and a text saying “it wasn’t the right time, but I’ve sorted through my stuff and now I want you back”. I miss him, he was a good guy, in every sense of the word. Aside from his confusion.

Is it a case of just bad timing? I have no intention of waiting for him but the thought of dating someone else makes me want to go to hide under the covers. On my own. Is is just not my time? Or our time?


dear heather-anne –
thanks for your kind words and a great letter! wish more women thought like you: great company + great shag = see what happens. pretty simple really :)
let me make this easier for you: ‘bad timing’ simply means ‘wrong guy’. if he was married, you could still call it bad timing. same if he was going through a divorce, just had a car accident, or happened to be 19. for him to phrase it that way just makes it sound tantalizing, oh-so-close-i-can-almost-taste-it, which increases the sting of rejection. but he’s just the wrong guy, hon. the right guy will be making all the excuses to spend time with you, not the other way around.
make sense? incidentally, let me know how old the parties involved are so i can put it all in context.

That’s all for now, folks! If you have a question, send me an email at drali (at), put ‘Question’ in the subject line, keep it brief (5-10 lines max) with a well-thought out question in there, and I’ll see what I can do for you.


Dr Ali B