It’s been a while since my last post, and though I could cite all sorts of truthy reasons for that extended silence, the reality is that I went and got my heart broken. And, you know, it was just kinda hard to write about romance, what with the blood and tears spewing all over the screen and gumming up the keyboard.
To be more precise, I smashed my heart repeatedly against someone else’s, someone who was never gonna open that thing up to me no matter how hard I knocked, no matter how patiently I waited, no matter how many brilliantly creative tactics I used to sneak past his defenses. I did this until it was mangled to the point that I could no longer find enjoyment in the attempt, and so I left the arena.
Here’s the truth of the matter:
That is not to say that there aren’t people in the world who will be happy to use, abuse, and betray you, who will fail to return the love you offer them, or who will up and stop loving you for no good reason. There are, and they will. But no one can take, break, or so much as breathe on your heart without your consent, and in most cases, with your full participation.
But here’s another, equally important truth to wrap your brain around:
Quite the contrary. A broken heart is a badge of honor, a battlescar that bespeaks remarkable courage. Because opening your heart to another person is always a risk, and it takes true bravery to keep taking that leap of faith anydamnway.
The true shame is in keeping your heart locked up tight and never letting it play the bloodsports it was designed to play, dangerous and insane though they are.
Claim the honor that is rightfully yours. Stop giving your power away by claiming that someone else broke your heart. YOU did that. And not because you’re weak or foolish. Because you’re smart enough to know that opening your heart is the only way to win the game of love, and you’re strong enough to lose an alarming number of rounds and keep coming back for more.
Which brings me to my third and final truth about heartbreak:
Be honest with yourself: you got something out of it. Even if it was simply the exhilaration of attempting to surmount an insurmountable barrier, or the smug righteousness of being the lesser asshole, or a masochistic enjoyment of martyrdom. You must have gotten *something* out of it, or you wouldn’t have bothered in the first place. The more you focus on what you got out of the deal, the less you will feel like a victim. And only by letting go of your victimhood and seeing yourself as the active participant you were/are can you finally let go of your heartbreak and heal.
But what if there’s someone out there who’s convinced that you broke their heart?
As we’ve already covered, that’s not really possible. They are fully responsible for their own condition, and you are fully responsible for yours. But let’s say you did some things that, in retrospect, were kinda shitty. And let’s face it, it’s pretty damn near impossible to get through an intimate relationship without doing something, at some point, that qualifies as some degree of shitty. What’s the best way to go about attempting to repair that damage?
Step One: Check your intentions.
Really scrutinize ‘em. Interrogate yourself to make sure that this is not simply a veiled attempt to win one last round, get the last word, relieve your guilt, or obtain forgiveness.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. AT ALL.
This is about offering the other person a no-strings-attached apology because it’s the right thing to do.
… ABORT MISSION!!
It is kinder, and just all-around better, to leave that person in peace than to make contact before you’ve fully worked through your own emotional baggage and made peace with the situation.
If, however, you are genuinely seeking nothing in return, proceed:
Step two: Write a letter of apology. Make it clear that no response is necessary. As we’ve established, this is a no-strings-attached apology, so make sure the recipient feels zero pressure to offer forgiveness, acceptance, or anything else.
Step three: Explain your wrongdoing in your own words. This is not what they or anyone else believes you did wrong, this is what you know in your heart was the wrong thing to do.
Step four: Express empathy/compassion for any consequences that befell them on account of that behavior.
Step five: Wish them well.
Step six: Fully accept that you may get a strongly negative response, or no response at all. Know that you did the right thing anyway.
I’ll give you a true-life example, which I sent out to an estranged ex just last week:
This is a long overdue apology. No response necessary or expected.
When you set a totally legit boundary with me, I got irrationally angry and lashed out at you. I was a jerk, and you deserved better. I can only imagine how awful it must have felt to make yourself vulnerable like that, only to get a verbal smack-down from the person you most needed to be on your side. Thank you for bringing so much joy to my life, and for caring enough about our relationship to communicate your needs. I wish you peace, and so much love.
Happily, I did get a positive response, but I wasn’t expecting one, and that’s not why I did it. God knows I’ve gotten plenty of nasty responses, too.
If you *do* get a negative response: remember that you are not obligated to respond either. Just listen. When it comes to their feelings, do your best to empathize. But when it comes to accusations or evaluations about your behavior or character more generally, take it with healthy lump of salt. If something strikes you as true, feel free to fix it. As to the rest? Just let it go. Arguing about it isn’t going to change their mind or make you either of you better people. It’s just going to degrade any hope of either reconciliation or peaceful parting of the ways.
Whatever you do, don’t take pity on the heartbroken party. They don’t need your pity, because as we’ve established, heartbreak is a mark of bravery and will only make them stronger in the end.
Instead, honor them both inwardly and outwardly. Honor the risk they took in opening their heart to you. Honor their hurt feelings without taking on any blame. Bow to them as you would a worthy, now injured adversary at the end of a particularly rough karate match. And then leave them alone to heal as they damn well see fit.
Are you tired of ending up in healthy, long-lasting relationships? Here are some simple steps that will keep your turn-over rate sky high!
I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this method (I’m not proud, just honest).
Step 1: Be dishonest
True dishonesty begins by being dishonest with yourself. Try to be someone you’re not, and to want things you don’t. That will make it much easier to make agreements you can’t effectively honor. Before you know it, you’ll be breaking those agreements!
And when you do, you’ll think, “Hey, I’m a good person. So I must have had a good reason for breaking that agreement.” And you’ll find a way to rationalize your action, and to cover your tracks.
You might even get good at it. And before you know it, you’ll be a bona fide liar. It’s that easy!
Lying is an especially effective way to destroy relationships, because even if your partners never find out (and they probably will), you will feel the need to justify having lied to them. And thus you will start to subtly villainize your partners.
Which will lead you directly into step two…
Step 2: Find fault with your partners
Although it’s plenty effective to simply think badly of your partners, this step is most effective when you actually let your partners know just how dissatisfying and inadequate they are, both as a partner to you, and as individuals.
Here are some especially effective areas to focus on:
Do they have a small penis, or perhaps mismatched, pendulous breasts? Be sure to point that out every chance you get! Oh, and be sure to unfairly compare them to other people! Bonus points if those other people are other lovers of yours (past or present), celebrities, porn stars, or friends or relatives of theirs.
Triple bonus points if they were bullied in school because of it!
Tell them how to do their job! Contradict them on matters in which they are vastly more qualified than you are! Oh, and by all means, offer unsolicited critiques on the stuff they’re most passionate about.
Did they mispronounce a word in conversation? Correct that shit! Bonus points if you roll your eyes.
Do their favorite shoes squeak when they walk? Complain about it until they feel so self-conscious they stop wearing them!
Oh, and be sure to lecture them about shit they post on Facebook, where they happened to go grocery shopping most recently, how they dress themselves, their grooming habits, etc.
Show them just how wrong they are on a wide variety of topics. This will drive home the importance of your approval, while simultaneously making them despair of ever living up to your standards.
Step 3: Always be right
Okay, so you’ve made it clear just how superior you are to your partners. But why should they trust your opinion? You’re going to need to make sure they understand that YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.
So, you’ll need to take every possible opportunity to assert your rightness. Jump on any mistakes you see a partner making, no matter how insignificant, and don’t let anything go until you’re satisfied that you have won!
Never admit fault, and for god’s sake never learn anything from your partners.
Above all, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EMPATHIZE. If you start looking at things from your partner’s perspective there’s a good chance you will achieve understanding. And that’ll lead you straight to compassion and reconciliation, which is the LAST thing you want when trying to make a relationship spontaneously combust.
Pro-tip: be sure to generalize! Make whatever is going on now about everything else they’ve ever done wrong. That way you’re not just right, you’re META-RIGHT.
Step 4: Throw your partners under the bus in public
So now anyone you’re dating should be painfully aware of just how often you are right, and more importantly, how often they are wrong. But if you really want to annihilate the relationship, you’re going to need to make sure that everyone else knows it, too!
Whenever you disagree with something a partner does or says, proclaim your disagreement loudly, and in front of as many people as possible. Social gatherings, social media, Thanksgiving dinner, all excellent opportunities to let folks know you’re not afraid to side against your partners. Bonus points for snark and sarcasm!
If you skip this step, people might start to think that you are on the same team and have each others’ back, and that’s bound to give your partner a sense of security and a desire to show the same kind of loyalty to you. Now, is that any way to fuck up a relationship beyond all hope of recovery?
Step 5: Don’t communicate effectively
Now, if you’ve followed all the steps above, your relationship should be on the train to splitsville. But there’s still a chance that train could be derailed by effective communication. So you’re going to need to be extra vigilant about keeping those channels full of static.
For example: have you been clearly stating your needs and wants? Well, cut that out! If they’re aware of your needs and desires, they’re much less likely to fail to meet those needs and fulfill those desires. You might end up feeling loved and supported, and you’d be surprised how much damage that can do to all your hard-earned dysfunction.
Instead, simply expect partners to be psychic and magically know what you need and want. And each time they fail to guess correctly, be sure to assume that they must have known, and simply failed to provide you with what you wanted on purpose. That’s sure to produce the maximum amount of resentment, which is a key ingredient in all failed relationships.
But don’t say anything about it! Let that resentment build! Resentment, like a fine wine, needs time to mature in order to reach its full relationship-crushing potential. The time will come to unleash the torrent. In the meantime, you can communicate just how unhappy you are by cultivating the fine art of passive-aggression.
Meanwhile, be sure to discourage your partners from expressing their needs and wants by reacting poorly any time they try. Bonus points if you mock their “neediness” and/or make negative judgments about their desires!
Pro-tip for the advanced relationship saboteur – do communicate your desires, but phrase them as demands rather than requests! This is extra-effective because it not only destroys any chance of your partners freely offering you what you want, it also fosters resentment, and undermines your partners’ sense of self-determination. And what better way to discourage someone from communicating their own needs and desires than to convince them they are not in control of their own life? Genius!
Finally, don’t forget to…
Step 6: Focus on the past
Be careful! If you focus on what you actually want to accomplish in the present, there’s a possibility that you could actually achieve mutual satisfaction and move forward together! And that could lead to…
FIXING THE RELATIONSHIP. *gasp*
So, instead, be sure to focus on things that have already happened and cannot be undone. That’ll ensure an endless battle that can’t be won. By anyone. Ever.
That oughta do it. Now get out there and start ruining your love life!
“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out, honestly
I wanna see you be brave“
- Sara Bareilles, Brave
The first time I heard that song, I was oh-so-smug.
I thought: “Now there’s something I’m really good at! Being BRAVE!“
I thought about how often I’m the first to say “I love you.”
I thought about how brazenly I put myself out there in the public eye.
“Hey everybody! I’m bisexual! I’m polyamorous! I have herpes! I’m a survivor!”
I thought about all the little ways in which I make myself vulnerable in the realms of sex and romance. “Brené Brown would be so proud,” I told myself.
And I gave myself an emotional pat on the back.
I thought about all the other people who really needed to hear, and heed this song. People who weren’t being honest with themselves, weren’t being honest with other people, weren’t being brave enough to confront the reality of their situation, let alone change it.
I wanted to send a benevolent, benignly supercilious singing telegram to every last one of them.
But as recent events in my personal life have proven, Sara was singing to me.
Because bravery isn’t just about telling people what you do want, it’s also about telling them what you don’t want. Or, even scarier, what you did want, but don’t anymore.
And now I’m thinking about all the ways in which I’ve failed to be brave in my relationships. Like how long it took me to be honest with that guy who was convinced I was “the one,” when I knew I wasn’t. Or how many times I said, “I love you” to that girl, knowing that I didn’t. Or how long it took me to leave my abusive first husband. Or all the times I’ve failed to speak up when I didn’t like what was happening, and then got resentful about it.
I’m thinking about all the myriad ways I’ve allowed my boundaries to be trampled, my integrity to be tarnished, my needs to go unmet.
Then again, in every case, I eventually did the right thing. The hard thing. Despite grave personal and emotional risk.
I gave that guy his ring back.
When that weeping woman asked me point-blank, “Do you love me?” I answered, “No. Not the way you need me to.”
Despite the death threats and blackmail, I left that abusive bastard for good (third time was the charm). And I’ve come clean about a lot of those harbored resentments after the fact, and done my best to make amends.
Because it’s never too late to be brave.
The longer you wait, though, the more bravery will be required.
Look, I’m willing to put money on the fact that you–yes, YOU–are not confronting some truth.
Yep, that thing you thought of just now. That’s the one.
And now you’re probably mentally listing off all the perfectly rational reasons why you’re absolutely justified in not confronting it.
But here’s the truth: that thing is screwing up your life, diminishing your joy, and sapping your resources in ways you aren’t even aware of. And you don’t have to settle for that.
So I’m lancing you an official challenge:
Not tomorrow, not next week, not after squandering another year, or ten years, of your life on living a lie.
I promise you’ll thank yourself for it. Not right away, of course. At first it’s gonna suck hairy, sweaty monkey nuts. But someday soon, you will.
Because nothing feels better than being true to yourself.
“Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”
I’m sure you’ve all heard of The Friendzone by now. But just in case you’ve been living under a blunt, heavy object, here’s the general narrative of The Friendzone:
Guy meets girl. Guy is into girl. Guy starts hanging out with girl, does all kinds of nice things for her, and hopes this will translate into a sexual relationship. Guy ultimately realizes that girl has no intention of sleeping with him, but rather is simply enjoying the fruits of his friendship, and goes online to angrily complain of having been “Friendzoned.”
A more specific example can be found in my post about “Nice Guys.”
I’ve dedicated a fair amount of blogspace to debunking the logic of the Friendzone and offering alternatives to the usual bitching and blaming (spoiler: she didn’t Friendzone you; you failed to effectively communicate your true desires and intentions).
But today I’m here to talk about the inverse phenomenon, bitched about primarily by straight women and gay men, and blamed upon fellas everywhere: The Fuckzone.
Here’s the general narrative of The Fuckzone:
Girl meets guy. Girl is into guy. Girl starts having sex with guy, and hopes this will translate into a long-term romantic relationship. Girl ultimately realizes that guy has no intention of settling down with her, but rather is simply enjoying the awesome sex, and goes online to angrily complain of having been played/used/heartbroken/betrayed, etc.
Now, these narratives don’t neatly correlate to gender. There are certainly men who feel they’ve been “Fuckzoned” by women, and women who feel they’ve been “Friendzoned” by men. Or other women. Or men by men. And so on. It’s an equal-opportunity mindfuck. But my personal example just happens to follow the girl-feels-fuckzoned-by-guy model.
Back in graduate school, there was this guy. I’ll call him Joe Schmo. Joe was a decently attractive dude who made himself more attractive by being super laid-back, to the point where if you wanted any contact with him, you had to make it happen. Even when he was teaching, he just sat in a chair, didn’t even lean forward, and spoke softly. Instead of putting the information out there and hoping they would absorb it, he made the students come to him. It was kind of a brilliant tactic and I envied him for it.
I also slept with him a few times because of it, at a time when I was mighty emotionally vulnerable (i.e. immediately following my messy divorce). The sex was pretty darn good, overall, but I was very clearly a booty call to him. We used to have these little text battles:
Joe: It’s 2 a.m. so I know you’re not busy.
Me: I’m busy sleeping.
Joe: Not anymore. Come on over.
Me: Fuck off, Joe. I have to teach at 8 a.m.
Joe: You’re putting on your shoes, you’re getting in the car…
Me: I AM NOT.
Joe: Don’t bother getting dressed.
Me: I hate you.
Joe: See you in five minutes.
At school, he would largely ignore/avoid me. Having been down that road before, I knew it could not end well. So I found a better option, stopped screwing him, and later seduced his girlfriend (a professional model/successful actress) for revenge. But this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about a gal named… uh… Fancy.
Fancy was also in my graduate program. And she had also just gone through a divorce. AND at some point, she started sleeping with Joe. I know this because she started referring to him as her “boyfriend,” acting all giddy and love-struck, and telling all the gals she thought he was “the one.”
Now, I knew from my personal experience that this was crazy talk. But I didn’t want to come off like sour grapes by warning her against him. Instead I simply offered my services as a listening ear.
I listened to Fancy tell me how crazy she was about him. I listened to her fantasize about their future together. I listened to her tell me how convinced she was that he loved her, listened to her make excuses for all the ways in which he didn’t treat her with love, or even kindness. I listened to her complain that his “fear of intimacy” was keeping him from admitting his true feelings for her. And I listened when she came over in tears after he finally made it clear that he was just not that into her.
“How could he use me like that?” she asked me, her face streaked with mascara and tears.
I wanted to say,
“He didn’t. You used each other. You were his sex toy and he was your imagined Prince Charming.”
But I didn’t. Instead I simply pointed out that, while I was no fan of Joe Schmo, he hadn’t actually been dishonest with her. He told her she was hot and that he wanted to have sex with her. That was an accurate self-assessment.
Then I asked her if she had ever told him how she felt about him, or if she had shared any of her future plans with him.
“I couldn’t!” she protested, “It would have freaked him out!”
Right. Exactly. And why? Because he didn’t want a future with her. He wanted a present with her, and he was already getting it. She was in The Fuckzone.
And just like a guy who looks around and realizes to his horror that he has landed in The Friendzone, Fancy was quick to blame Joe for having Fuckzoned her. But in both cases, it comes down to the same failure on the part of the person who is feeling “-zoned.” They were either unclear, or simply dishonest, about their true desires and intentions in terms of the type of relationship they wanted to create with this other person. They failed to maintain their own boundaries, and then blamed the other person for crossing them. Not okay.
I know: it’s scary to be honest about what you want. And for good reason: putting yourself out there and showing interest in something you aren’t 100% sure the other person is interested in does make you more vulnerable. There is, indeed, an inverse relationship between passion and power. That, however, is not an excuse to be a coward. It is your responsibility to get your own needs met. It is up to you to decide what you will and won’t put up with.
Because, seriously, who’s going to turn down free favors? Who in their right mind is gonna be like,
“Please don’t help me move. I am not attracted to you and therefore it would be unethical of me to accept your help.”
And by the same token, what dude is gonna turn down NSA sex?
“Well, a blowjob does sound awesome, but since I’m not in love with you and don’t intend to create a life with you, I’d better pass.”
Um, no. If you’re offering, no apparent price tag attached, they have every right to accept. And you have no right to get resentful over it.
Happily, though, integrity is sexy. Once you start setting boundaries and making your needs and wants known, you may be surprised at the respect you start earning. What’s more, you’ll weed out the people who aren’t looking for what you’re looking for sooner rather than later, so you can move on to someone whose interests are in line with yours.
Better still, you can start simply enjoying friendships, and NSA sex, for what they are. Rather than feeling helpless to transform a friendship, or a fuckship, into what you really want (because, OF COURSE you are capable of creating whatever sort of relationship you want, RIGHT??), you’ll be able to relax and reap the benefits just like the other person in the equation. Because friendship is great, and sex is great, and there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t delight in them exactly as they are.
All that said, if you’re reading this, Joe Schmo (and I know you know who you are), you’re still an asshole. And I’m still not letting you in mine.
If I had a quarter for every time I got asked “What’s the secret to online dating?” I could retire.
If I could encapsulate that information into a handy-dandy one-paragraph answer, I would be forced into early retirement.
Happily (for me, anyway), the truth is that there is no magic bullet. There are all sorts of approaches that will work for all sorts of people–and, unfortunately, that won’t work at all for others. Such is the case when you’re dealing with messy, multifarious human beings.
That said, in terms of the messages you write, there are some approaches that are almost guaranteed to make you crash and burn repeatedly, and others that are far more likely to get your foot in the proverbial door. This list of do’s and (mostly) don’ts is the closest you’re going to get to an Online Dating cheat sheet, so feel free to take notes.
DON’T be the online equivalent of a catcaller
HIM: Hey hottie
Me: Really? Two words? I didn’t even merit a complete sentence?
HIM: U R priceless. What R U looking for?
Me: Someone who can be bothered to type out actual words?
HIM: So am I ur type?
If your opening line sounds like something that would be yelled out the window of a passing car, punctuated by a wolf whistle, anything you say after that is automatically suspect and likely to be met with annoyance, or more often, simply deleted.
Also, NO LOLSPEAK. You are not a cat. You have all the necessary letters and prehensile appendages at your disposal. Use them.
DON’T be a spam-bot
A hopeful once sent me this message:
“Hiya. I was going to cut and paste some pre-typed email, but thought I’d just say hi instead. You must get a gazillion emails a day, but I found your profile.. and you’re very… well, I guess the rest is obvious. Ok, photogenic, and you seem fun and interesting, very interesting… “
Then, just below, he accidentally cut and pasted *the exact same message* addressed to two other chicks. OOPS.
But even if he hadn’t made that egregious error, I wouldn’t have responded in any case. Why? He gives me absolutely no specifics of any kind. The entire message is a vague generalization that could be made about any woman in whom he might take an interest.
The rest is obvious, indeed.
DON’T be a dick
ME: You’re cute and all but I’ma need more than one word.
HIM: Hi there.
ME: Le sigh
HIM: Yeah, you just kinda seem internet cliché Burning Man boring.
ME: That the best neg you could come up with or are you just a genuinely unkind human being?
Look, I’m not against negging. It’s actually a useful tool, particularly when dealing with someone who is obviously inundated with messages and bored to death of compliments. But a neg, if done correctly, does NOT make a person feel badly about themselves or make them genuinely angry. A neg should be a good-natured tease that will make the PIQ laugh and put you both at ease.
Because they require a playful delivery, negs are nearly impossible to pull off online. So, unless you are an expert, don’t try this at home. But here are a couple of examples of online negs that got positive results:
“All black at the beach? You must be from Seattle. ”
“Do you always dress like a sexy Muppet to go dancing, or only on special occasions?”
A good neg invites someone to make light of their own foibles and gives them a comfortable feeling like you’re already friends and there’s no reason to stand on ceremony.
A neg is NOT, and should never be an excuse to be hurtful and cruel. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. Period.
DON’T lead with your dick
I have so many examples of this I could fill a book. But here’s one of my all-time (least) favorites:
“I wanna lick it front to back all night long baby”
The specificity of this image makes it extra barftacular. But it doesn’t need to be this graphic to gross me out. Really any opener (or even worse, photographic evidence) that makes it obvious that you are SUPER eager to get laid is an insta-turn-off.
Look: I like sex. A lot. Possibly even more than you do. But here’s an analogy that might help you understand what it’s like to get unsolicited sexytime messages (or worse, pics).
Let’s say you’re super into tennis. You love the game and you’re really good at it. You would love to find an equally skilled partner to play with, and are actively looking for one.
One day, you’re walking by a tennis court, checking out the scene, when suddenly someone throws a tennis ball at you. Hard.
The ball-tosser follows this up by expressing disappointment that you didn’t simply hit the ball back. When you protest that you weren’t prepared, didn’t have your racket at the ready, etc., the tosser gets up in your face and goes into a vividly detailed description of just how sweaty he wants to get while playing with you, how sweaty he wants to see you get, etc. When you look horrified, he changes tactics and tells you how desperately he needs the exercise, how skilled he is as a player, etc.
Yeah. It’s like that.
DON’T make it painfully obvious you didn’t read a word of their profile
“You don’t seem like the type, but what the hell. Have you ever considered being with a couple?”
Uh… I’m openly bi, and poly, and currently dating at least one couple, and all of this is clearly stated in my profile. If I don’t “seem like the type,” who does? *DELETE*
Another annoying phenomenon along the same lines, the would-be suitor who writes “Tell me more,” as though my lengthy profile was not informative enough.
DON’T put the cart before the horse
“We have a very high match percentage and would obviously make a great couple…”
I’m gonna stop you right there. Just because a computer algorithm has determined that we have a high percentage chance of compatibility does NOT mean we would make a great couple. Chemistry can’t be determined online, and the fact that you don’t seem to be aware of that makes me wary of you.
Furthermore, your eagerness to jump straight to coupledom makes you come off as rather desperate and low-value. It also puts undue pressure on me to decide RIGHT AWAY, with only your profile to go off, whether or not *I* think we are destined to be together. And that calculation is unlikely to work in your favor.
Finally, it’s rather insulting to assume that you and/or a computer know better than I do who I should be dating. Yuck.
In short: I’ve never met you, and your assumption that we are made for each other makes me less inclined to want to meet you.
I won’t re-print any of the unsolicited novels I’ve deleted, unread, from my inbox. I will only say that the time it took me to delete them was more than I could spare.
Again: I don’t know you. I am not yet interested in hearing all the painful details of your last breakup, your tortured childhood, or your chronic depression. Frankly, I’m not even interested in reading five fucking paragraphs about all the awesome stuff in your life, either. Because, seriously? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
DON’T treat a person like a personified fetish
I’ve got a few examples for this one:
Luvmilf: Damn your fine, no way your almost 40!
Luvmilf: Naw, I’m only 24. But don’t worry, I’m into the cougs.;)
Oh, so you’re not just a milk fetishist with poor spelling skills? Good to know.
Also, pro-tip: women who just turned 37 aren’t keen on hearing that they’re “almost 40.”
Along those same lines:
Lovinclubbin: Sorry to bother you Miss, but I notice you seem to have misstated your age on your profile. You should probably fix that before someone believes you’re actually over 30.
This clumsy attempt at a compliment was made even clumsier by the fact that two of my girlfriends received the same message from the same dude.
Just don’t bring up a woman’s age. Especially if she’s over 35. For any reason. Ever. Older women are too wise to fall for the old backhanded compliment trick. If you really want to bag a cougar, try treating her like a person first and a hot, experienced woman second.
Anal-Fetish: Wow, what a beautiful… face!
What an unfortunate choice of usernames. And opening lines.
And speaking of unfortunate usernames, confidential to “Ilikeuglygirls”: you are doing it wrong.
Look, I get that online is the perfect venue to find people whose proclivities line up with yours. But even if you’re on a fetish-specific website, it is simply unwise to treat someone you don’t yet know as a person like a fetishized object.
There are, of course, even more atrocious examples of this phenomenon, but I will spare you the gory details.
DON’T make inappropriate/insulting/illegal propositions
One would think this would be obvious. But alas…
HIM: How much?
ME: For? I have many services to offer…
HIM: Sex… kinky. Maybe fuck my ass w a strapon too.
ME: Sorry, you don’t meet my minimum manners requirement.
HIM: LOL. Never met a whore with manners. Oxymoron, no?
ME: No. It is part of a whore’s job to be pleasant to be around. Look, microdick, you’ve got one thing and only one thing right: with an approach and attitude like that, no one’s gonna fuck you for free.
The sad part is, that last line was probably used as masturbation material. So if you’re looking to get free abuse, then this is the approach for you!
No. Just no.
Now on to something less flagrantly douchetastic, but far more insidious and ultimately more deadly:
DON’T be dull
Recently, I got three messages in a row that were nearly identical. None of them were particularly heinous on their own, but taken as a group they signaled an irritating trend that I would like to help curtail right here and now.
Here’s the general template:
“Hi, I’m [name]. How are you? How’s your weekend so far? I’ve been [activity intended to impress]. Message me back if you’d like to [typical first-date activity] sometime.”
Look, I get why this approach seems like a good idea. The fellas who are sending these messages probably think it comes off as friendly, conversational, and straight-forward. They probably think it puts me at ease because they aren’t blatantly hitting on me. They are wrong, on all counts.
Messages like these set my teeth on edge for several reasons.
I didn’t ask for your name. I didn’t ask you what you’re doing this weekend. I don’t particularly want to share with you what *I’m* up to, or how I’m feeling, seeing as I DON’T KNOW YOU YET. You’ve intruded on MY cyberspace, and here you are burdening me with unwanted information already. Not a good sign. And not a real conversation, either. More like a schizophrenic in an elevator, carrying on an impassioned two-way exchange with himself.
Not only is the conversation one-sided, it’s insipid. These dudes are not saying anything genuinely intriguing, they’re just making the most useless sort of small-talk. WITH THEMSELVES.
If this is a preview of our first pre-date, just shoot me now.
I guarantee you these guys could care less what I did this weekend. Or how I’m feeling. Or any of the other inane chit-chat questions they toss my way. And why should they? WE DON’T EVEN KNOW EACH OTHER. And those kinds of questions aren’t going to do a damn thing to change that. Even if I just happen to have an amazing answer that could spark some worthwhile conversation, I have no real motivation to share it, since I’m totally unconvinced that they actually give a fuck.
Now, does that mean that you should write to a gal and say, “I want to have sex with you”?
That may be more honest, but it’s still all about you and what you want.
And on that note, my final DON’T:
DON’T make it all about you
“I love strong women. I could really use someone like you in my life.”
Oh really? Tell me more about what I can do for you, person I’ve never met and to whom I owe nothing.
How about telling me what *you* have to offer *me* instead?
Which brings me, at last, to the DO‘s.
DO read the damn profile
Yes, the whole thing. If it’s too wordy and you can’t get through it, that tells you something about how the conversation would go in person. It also tells you something about how verbose your own profile should be (NOT VERY). In any case, if you find yourself skimming, or bored, or turned off, just move on. If, on the other hand, you find yourself *more* interested, not less, after reading the whole shebang, move on to the other DO’s.
DO let your natural curiosity guide you
Find something in the profile and/or photos that sincerely intrigues you. (If there is honestly nothing you want to know more about, then this is clearly not the right person for you. I don’t care how hot s/he is, it’s just not going to be worth your time.) Better yet, find three things you want to know more about.
DO play guessing games
Make conjectures about the things that intrigue you. If you’re right, bonus points for ostensible psychic ability! If you’re wrong, s/he will feel compelled to set the record straight. Voila! Instant conversation.
For example, you notice that s/he mentions a fondness for sushi, you might say,
“I’ll bet you roll your own.”
If you can’t come up with a clever conjecture, questions are an acceptable substitute so long as they are specific and borne of genuine interest.
DO get specific
This goes for your profile, too. If you aren’t offering specifics that someone could comment on or ask about, then you are handicapping others’ ability to approach you.
Intimacy is in the details. When someone sees, and celebrates, your quirky specificity, that’s when you feel seen, understood, and appreciated as a person. And that’s what connection is all about.
DO be intriguing
Don’t just talk about the person you’re writing to. Be sure to say something mysterious/intriguing about yourself, too.
“I think I just discovered the world’s greatest karaoke duet.”
DO NOT give details. Wait for the PIQ to ask.
DO make it entertaining
If your message holds my interest, makes me smile, think, or better yet, laugh out loud, I figure there’s a good chance you’ll do the same in person. If not, then… not.
The beauty of online dating is that it’s the perfect venue for sharpening your social skills, running experiments, etc. The more you try, the better your chances, so just keep finding people who intrigue you and writing to them. Worst case scenario, you’ll learn a little something about what *not* to write.
Which brings me to my last “DO”
DO learn from your mistakes
If you get a negative response, don’t let your pride get in the way of the golden opportunity to learn and improve.
If you get no response, most likely one of three things happened
Are you sensing a pattern here?
Look, rejection sucks any way you slice it. But here’s the thing: it sucks on both sides. S/he doesn’t want to reject you any more than you want to get rejected. S/he wants you to be amazing. S/he wants you to be valuable.
And there it is, the real secret to online dating success:
Have something to offer that you genuinely believe is of benefit to the kind of person you would want to date. And let that value shine through in everything you put on your profile and every message you write. Do that, and you can’t help but attract the right kind of person into your life.
Hi, my name is Ava, and I’m addicted to weddings.
I mean, what’s not to love? It’s a celebration of love itself, as well as an opportunity for a specific couple to publicly declare, and delight in, their unique affection. A creative combination of traditional ritual and personal statement, every wedding is both a one-of-a-kind expression and a connection to something much larger, and deeper, than the lovers expressing it.
And that’s before we even get to the reception which, if done correctly, is the very best kind of party: socializing, sensual indulgence, unapologetic romance, and pure ecstatic wackiness.
Love deserves to be celebrated, regardless of how long it lasts. All commitments, all agreements, are worthy of a public declaration, and make for a perfect excuse for a party, a honeymoon night, and even a vacation (provided you can afford one). Even if you’re not in the market for a life-long commitment to one person, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy the unbridled attention only a wedding day can provide. And there’s no reason not to escape your workaday life for a romantic getaway with your sweetheart just because you’re not 100% certain that you’ll never want to do the same with some other sweetheart sometime in the future.
Recently a friend told me a story that really got my proverbial knickers in a twist. He was at a poly-picnic, of all places, and was asked, on the subject of a gal with whom he’s been intimately involved for many years,
“So when are you gonna lock that down?”
As if, after a certain number of years of having an intimate relationship with one person, one is obliged to either “put a ring on it”–to make THE commitment–or to part ways so that you can both find someone you’re willing to make THE commitment with/to. This kind of thinking really irks me. If the relationship is working well for both parties at the current level of commitment, then THEY ARE DOING IT RIGHT. They are not obliged to get legally married, nor are they obliged to even WANT such a thing.
And let’s face it, with the current divorce rates, it’s clear that at least half of the people who do choose to make THE commitment aren’t actually willing to make THE commitment. But there is a tremendous amount of social pressure to enter into a legal contract in order to legitimize the relationship in the eyes of family, friends, and the larger community.
When you start to think perhaps you’d like to get married, ask yourself, in all honesty:
Do I want to be legally bound to this person for the rest of my life? Or do I simply want everyone to know how much I love this person, right here and now?
If the latter, I have a modest proposal. Why not epole instead?
I’m hoping this article will make epoling into common practice. I’m hoping people will stop waiting to find “The One,” or convincing themselves they’ve found “The One,” in order to feel entitled to publicly celebrate the love they have now, the commitment they’ve already made, the uniquely beautiful relationship they have crafted.
The best thing about an epolement is that it can, and should, be repeated. Repeatedly. And not just with a new person, with the same person (or people!). Because relationships change over time, and one of the best ways to keep a relationship healthy is to consciously decide to renew and/or amend it at regular intervals. Kind of like renewing your vows on your anniversary, only you don’t have to wait for your anniversary, and you don’t have to stick to your original agreements. You can celebrate the evolution of your relationship as well as the longevity of your love.
So without further ado, I hereby present the definitive (and thus far only) guide to epoling:
No need to break the bank, kids. Don’t go into debt just to declare your mutual adoration. There’s no shame in simplicity. All it has to be is a reflection of who you are as a couple (or triad, team, etc.), and an opportunity for your friends to let loose and blow off some steam.
That cuts both ways, however. If you’re not planning to start a whole new life with this person, move in together, start a family, etc., then don’t go register at Macy’s. In fact, don’t ask for gifts at all. If your friends and family feel inspired to offer them, accept them graciously. But I warn you: if you ask for gifts for this epolement, knowing there’s likely to be another, don’t expect an enthusiastic response from the folks who shelled out a sizable donation the first time around.
I understand that a wedding is often a delicate balance of pleasing/placating family and creating something that feels like you. But one of the best things about an epolement is that it is unapologetically yours and yours alone. Make it exactly as you want it to be. Always wanted your life to be a Broadway musical? Sing your vows to each other. Want to celebrate how hot you are for each others’ bods? Don’t wait to kiss the bride. Make it a reflection of what you love about each other, and about yourselves as a unit.
Yes, it’s true: you don’t need a real minister, or justice of the peace, to preside over your wedding in this day and age in any case. Your friend who studied Public Speaking in college can get “ordained” online in order to preside over your ceremony. But when you epole, there’s no need for anyone to preside at all. All you need is to exchange your vows/agreements in the presence of witnesses, and then have yourselves a blast. The end.
All right, lovebirds, I’m counting on you to make epoling a hot new trend. So get out there and don’t get married! Publicly, proudly, and on purpose.
Oh, and be sure to invite me. Because I fucking love weddings.
“I need help,” said the frazzled woman sitting across from me, wiping tears with the back of her hand. “I can’t decide if this relationship is good for me or not.”
As I handed her a box of Kleenex, I thought, “If I had a quarter for every time I’ve had this conversation, I wouldn’t be sitting in my office, having this conversation.” But, as usual, I asked her to enumerate both the positive and negative aspects of her relationship. And, as usual, she listed off all the things she liked and didn’t like about the way her boyfriend interacts with her.
When she had finished, she looked at me, waiting for a verdict.
“And what about you?” I asked her.
She seemed genuinely confused by the question.
“There are two people in this relationship,” I reminded her. “What have you done to change things for the better?”
She protested that she’d told him many times about the things she doesn’t like, but that he still hasn’t fixed them.
And there was the rub: she was focusing on things she had no power to change, i.e. his behavior, rather than focusing on things she could, and should be doing to work toward her relationship ideal.
Women in particular seem to be prone to this behavior, though it’s not gender-specific per se.
This creates a feeling of powerlessness, as though we ourselves are incapable of affecting change and must therefore pester our partner to do so. And since people are not generally fond of criticism, particularly within romantic relationships, those petitions are, at best, simply ignored, and at worst labeled as “nagging” and used against us in a court of love.
You see, focus determines reality. So the more you focus on what you think your partner is doing wrong, the more real that problem becomes. And the more energy you send toward worrying over whether or not that problem is a deal-breaker, the less energy you have to devote to creating the kind of relationship you actually want.
So, the first step is to decide what kind of relationship you want. Until you do that, you have nowhere to put your focus and no goal to work toward. So, envision your ideal relationship. Write it out on paper. Keep it somewhere prominent so you can remind yourself on a daily basis exactly what you are working toward creating.
Then, put your focus on taking positive action. That is, on doing whatever you can do to make your relationship more like that ideal you described.
Finally, when you find yourself in a negative interaction with your partner, try simply re-focusing your energy onto figuring out what you are both trying to accomplish.
Ask your partner, and yourself for that matter, “What do you want?” or, if you want to get more technical, “What is your desired outcome for this interaction?”
Once you’ve gotten an answer to that question, for both of you, give no focus to anything that does not work toward one or both of those goals.
To sum up:
Some of you out there are probably pretty shocked that I just put that out there so casually. And some of you are surely wondering about the gory details–what type, where, how I contracted it and when, etc. And, unfortunately, a lot of you are already making assumptions and judgments about my sex life, based only on the information I gave you. Right?
What if I told you I got it from the French asshole who raped me at age 16?
I didn’t. But I could have.
What if I told you I got it from the creepy (female) renter who molested me at age 4?
I didn’t. But I could have.
What if I told you I got it from a random gal I picked up at Neighbors for a one-night-stand in my roaring 20′s, thinking lesbian sex is pretty darn safe and dental dams are annoying?
I didn’t. But I could have.
What if I told you I got it at age barely-20, from a guy with whom I was head-over-heels in love, and who was sincerely convinced that he was STI free?
Well, I did.
He was what you call a “carrier.” He’d never had a single outbreak and thus had no idea he could give anybody herpes. Surprise!
Regardless of how I got it, though: I have it, and I have to live with it. And part of living with it means disclosing it to potential lovers. By no means is this an enjoyable task, but I’ve learned through trial and error how to make it as quick and painless as possible for everyone involved.
So without further ado, I give you the do’s and don’ts of disclosing:
DON’T wait until you’re in the middle of a hot n’ heavy make-out session, or worse, already in bed with someone. It’s bound to go badly, and it puts you in an extremely vulnerable position. I’ll share a personal example of just how badly it can go at the end of this article.
DO say it at the first available opportunity. For example, I was recently on a first date with a very attractive couple. I hadn’t planned on disclosing just yet, but an opportunity presented itself while playing a get-to-know-you game. We were sharing “red flags” about ourselves, so I just threw it out there, and immediately got props on my forthrightness.
DO say it as casually as you can manage, as if reporting on the weather or sharing your favorite food. People will respond to your energy, and if you give off an ashamed or nervous vibe, you are likely to trigger an unwanted response such as pity or fear. If, on the other hand, you treat it like it’s no big deal, just something you’ll need to work around like a scheduling conflict, they are likely to respond in kind.
Now, as to asking:
DO ask early, in a non-sexual situation. It’s not presumptuous: it’s polite. And if the person does have something to disclose, it’ll be a relief to get it out of the way. And if not? Excellent, now you both know you’re clean and the door is open for some flirtation-with-intent.
DON’T make it an interrogation, just a conversation.
DON’T ask for paperwork on the first date. It’s not the dating standard to show up with a recent STI screening. Yet. If they happen to have one, and they happened to bring it along, they’ll show it to you. Trust me.
DON’T just take their word for it. Use safe sex practices anyway. There are no guarantees, and short of leaving your underpants on (and you can still have a lot of fun with your underpants on!), there are no 100% effective methods for protecting against every STI out there.
Finally, if someone tells you they have an STI:
DO treat that person with kindness, respect, and compassion.
DON’T pepper them with questions about how they got it, etc., particularly if you have no intention of sleeping with them. It’s exploitative, and just kind of a dick move.
DO your homework. Take as much time as you need to inform yourself about the STI in question, how it is transmitted, how you can protect yourself, etc., before you decide whether or not to proceed. In fact, you should do your homework ahead of time, just in case!
DON’T feel pressured to be sexual with the person just to make them feel better. It’s your body and your life, and you have every right to keep yourself safe, even if the other person feels rejected/hurt. Their reaction is their responsibility, not yours.
DON’T freak the fuck out and/or treat the person like a leper. This should go without saying, and yet…
The personal example I alluded to earlier:
Once upon a time in graduate school, a cute neighbor asked me over for dinner. I had just separated from my abusive ex-husband and was a bit off my game, so I didn’t catch the signals he was sending until he was playing his guitar and serenading me with a love song he wrote.
And by then I was so caught up in the moment I literally forgot about the damn herpes. Pretty soon we were kissing, pulling at each others’ clothes, and moving toward the bedroom. It wasn’t until my head hit the pillow that an alarm bell sounded in my mind.
“Wait!” I said, pushing him back, “There’s something I need to tell you.”
I already knew from bitter experience that this was NOT the ideal time and place to disclose, but it was too late.
“What?” he asked, already alarmed.
“I have herpes.”
There was a painfully awkward silence. I felt his hands retract from me as if my skin had gone ice cold.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I… I have to think,” he mumbled, and literally fled the room.
I sat there on his bed in my bra and panties for nearly half an hour before I realized that he hadn’t just left the room, he had left the apartment. And he was waiting for me to leave before coming back.
It was one of the most mortifying experiences of my adult life. All he had to say was, “I’m not comfortable with that.” I would have said, “Okay, no problem,” and we could’ve gone back into the living room and watched a movie instead.
But no, he chose to run away from me as though I were, myself, a highly contagious disease. We avoided each other from that point forward, which was pretty fucking awkward since he lived right next door.
Look, the truth is that there are all sorts of ways to contract an STI, and it doesn’t necessarily say a damn thing about one’s sexual practices or ethics. It certainly doesn’t say anything about their value as a human being. Yet slut shaming and revulsion are unnervingly common reactions to STI disclosure.
That’s not okay.
Let’s put it this way:
If someone comes clean to you about an STI, then you know you’re dealing with an honest, ethical, and therefore probably trustworthy person. It’s the people who are lying to you, or ignorant of their condition, that you really need to watch out for.
Look: herpes fucking sucks. I should know. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, let alone a lover. And what someone chooses to, or not to, expose themselves to is about them, not about me. But no matter how justified you may feel in doing so, there is no excuse to treat another human being like a walking, talking disease vector.
She left him but a note.
Life has lost its flavor since those days in the Garden. We used to do a lot of crazy shit, eating Dad’s food without permission, traipsing around wearing nothing but our birthday suits, letting your “snake” convince me to do things I shouldn’t. But since we’ve moved, the excitement is gone, you just don’t seem to try anymore. I still love you, but I’m not in love with you.
I have dealt with a great deal of confusion from people over the years on the subject of love. Specifically with people who either don’t know if they are in love, don’t know if they want to be in love, or don’t know if they ever will be in love.
The standard advice is that love is felt, when you know that you are in love and you are certain of it, then you are. If you are questioning whether you are in love, the smart money is on getting out of that situation because if you were really in love you would “just know.”
I am here to tell you why that’s wrong. I’m here to tell you how to love.
That statement itself poses a problem for most people. Love is the last bastion of safety from a world seeking to codify and categorize things. For someone to say they figured it out demystifies it, and that ruins it. And I agree with that, it does ruin it. I am not looking to do that at all, I am simply attempting to avoid the appeal-to-nature of the “you’ll just feel/know it” argument while not falling victim to my own naturalist fallacy.
What I am trying to do is help those of you who may have doubt about love. Are you really in love? Can you do anything to make it feel stronger? Can you save a strained love?
There are answers to these questions, and those answers come when you learn a skill.
How to love.
And that’s what we’re going to learn how to do now.
Love is a feeling you get that intensifies with relatable experiences.
This simply means that you have things you relate to with another person, then you have experiences orbiting around those things, then you have experiences that relate to past experiences and it is intensified if those experiences relate to your ideas, dreams, hopes and especially stories about partnership. That is how the feeling of love is created.
Here’s an example. So, Adam meets Eve and they both say, “wow, we both really enjoy gardens.” Because they are compatible they have some experiences around gardens (perhaps they plant a garden, frolic in a garden, or eat some fruit). Adam knows about Eve’s love of gardens so he will choose to do things for her that are garden-related (a wedding in a garden, a garden party, etc).
Those are the relatable experiences that makes love intensify. What makes it romantic is the way you narratively frame it, the way Adam arranges events in their lives that reflect on the story of Eve’s life, and vice versa. Maybe you grew up in a family that gardened and it was a place that witnessed many loving moments, or just simple comfort. Or maybe a garden symbolizes growth and fertility for her, and if so that’s her narrative frame for gardens. The number of past positive stories that Eve can relate to revolving around gardens will intensify the feeling of love. And the number of those stories that feel romantic or sexual will increase romance for Eve.
So if you care about similar things and then create interesting memories together that relate to those things you care about and do so with affection. You’ll feel love naturally. But while most people think that happens naturally, it often takes work to ensure its success. Because life makes us busy, the effort you have to spend is often just about finding time to write the stories that make the memories.
The focus on how to love is the key then. And that is broken down into two very distinct categories.
The first is value to you and the second is value to your partner. Essentially, what they have that you relate to and want, but also what you provide to them that they relate to and want.
The first is responsive, you need only sit back and watch what they do for you and how many things they do that make you smile, give you a warm-fuzzy feeling, turn you on, and so forth.
The second is active. And this is the tricky part for most people, because it defies normal convention and almost seems backwards in its thinking. But I promise you, nothing could be more important. Nearly everyone has been taught to believe that in order to do one’s part in a relationship one simply continues to do whatever it was they were already doing in life that attracted their mate in the first place.
So, when we break down the areas of how we actually create love, there are four important actions we must look at.
It is true that 1&4 overlap and 2&3 overlap. This is because it is a relationship, and synergy is to be expected.
But the reason they are kept separate is because (and here’s another surprising concept, and you’re going to think I made a typo), Adam is fully responsible for 1&2, while Eve is fully responsible for 3&4. How could Adam be fully responsible for what he wants that Eve provides?! Keep reading, you’ll see.
First, there are tricks to both. Most relationships are just 1&3 and that is often enough for love to last a while. Doing 2&4 as well is where you might find a story book romance that lasts a lifetime.
So, how would Adam go about doing BOTH 1&2?
Since #1 is responsive, the only thing you need to do is have straight in your mind what you value AND align those values with your own ethics.
But you have to do that in a place of distance from your feeling about someone. The truth is that feelings come before thought. A person has a feeling, then a thought will zoom in that tells the person why they are having that feeling. Then something very strange can happen, the person will often think that the thought happened first because that makes the feeling rational. If you want cake then you might get a thought justifying you to eat cake. You might remember how good you have been recently and completely ignore the fact that the desire for cake came before that thought did.
So while a person may make you feel amazing, that could be because they gave you a smile at just the right moment, drugs when you were desperate, wore clothes that reminded you of your dad, were desperate or needy enough to not threaten you, were different from your last partner in some key aspect, gave you a romantic gesture that made you feel wonderful, and so forth. But your feeling WILL be paramount if you have no prior system to identify a mate. You may fall in love with someone and feeling will actually direct your mind to justify the feeling with thoughts that make it seem rational.
Imagine Stella just getting on a bus when she notices that she is missing the correct change in her purse and just as the bus driver is about to kick her off a man leans over and winks at her putting coins in the jar and while doing so says to the bus driver, “It’s a good thing the machine does the math for you.” He gives a big smile to Stella who is overwhelmed by the charming and dashing gesture. She sits across from him and thinks to herself. “That comment WAS accurate I guess.” Now Stella is the kind of woman who hates it when people are rude to others. But because she had such positive emotions about this man she justifies his action and then puts it out of her mind. She thinks she is being rational when in fact she just violated her own ethics. This of course is the culprit for all number of shocking relationships that everyone (except the couple in question) is very aware should not be happening. Without a set of values already written down that one can refer back to, the tidal wave of emotion that happens in a new relationship can set up a pattern of justifying thinking that can lead to a slippery slope where someone can stay through even abusiveness.
That said, #2 above was also being given energy and effort, a lot of the irrational justifications you allowed yourself to believe would be brought to light, but we will get into #2 in a moment.
Knowing what you value and what your ethics are is often a matter of trusting yourself.
It is better to do this when you are not in a relationship and did not recently get out of one. If that isn’t possible, I recommend isolating yourself from your current relationship for as much time as is feasible (a week or two is usually sufficient). Then you simply write a list of things that are important to you and categorize them. Here is a simplified version of the exercise I give to my clients:
Anything that is both in A and B are especially important but they all may be important and it’s really up to you to decide what order they go in for you. All you need to know is that things that both help you survive and make you happy are usually the things that you keep on the list the longest.
Then write down what your ideal mate would be. Write this one by hand, and leave it in a prominent location. For this you should be very explicit and very strict with yourself. This is someone you will never meet probably. I call this list “Somnia Femina” which is a Latin bastardization of “dream girl.” If you are into men you could label it “Somnia Vir.” “Somnia Persona” is the best you will probably get if you want to leave the gender ambiguous.
If you can, order all the lists in order of importance.
You can revise this list but before you do, please read through this list of cognitive biases and realize that everyone is susceptible to them. I am, you are, your super intelligent boyfriend is, your dad, your mom, your teacher, your shrink, everyone. Some more so than others but what is constant is that these biases are the most influential when you are upset or in some way motivated by emotions. If you are in a fight or just out of one, or if Prince Charming just saved your life, do not revise your list then. Trust yourself when you were more rational and allow the list to influence who you fall in love with. Find someone that matches your values.
Here is an example.
Adam’s list (this is an actual list used with permission):
Somnia Femina: Wants children, stay at home wife, beautiful, somewhat smart, happy, honest, dedicated, clean, takes care of herself, healthy, no history of cancer in her family.
He then needs to remember this list and reflect on it when he meets Eve. It’s not meant to rule you, of course. If Eve hates dogs but is a beautiful honest woman who wants to marry and raise children, plus she loves beer, hockey, fast cars, then you might be ok with letting go of the dog. The point is to avoid falling in love with the woman who likes beer, hockey & fast cars but says she never wants kids and/or seems flighty and dishonest. That woman might make you happy in the short term, but in the long run she’s bound to make you crazy. Or the beautiful, honest woman whose goal in life is to be a stay-at-home-mom, but who is vehemently against alcohol and drugs, hates violent sports, has a very low libido, wants to trade in your sports car for a minivan, and is a terribly dull conversationalist. That woman may seem like she’s “good for you,” but will it be worth sacrificing all your favorite things?
It is also not a list meant to make it impossible to meet someone. I repeat: this is someone you will probably never meet. Instead, it is intended to give you standards which will make you both more attractive to a potential mate (being selective is attractive) and also keep you from making a mistake.
It should also be noted that mistakes are very valuable and you should not discount the fact that people do change, and that you can help people to change (see #2 below), so this list should not restrict you from following a strong feeling to explore further with someone, or even to fall in love. If it doesn’t work, you will find you have probably grown and so have they, and you can move on to someone else that fits your list (which may now need revising) even better.
This may seem obvious, but it only seems that way now, reading it without the pressure of someone’s desire for you burning into your head.
Write it down, and refer to it.
Let’s delve into the second item now (2&4 above):
You love someone because of your value to them.
This is an active concept.
Adam’s feelings of love increase based on Adam doing things for Eve, to help Eve, to make Eve happy, to grow the whole relationship and to create amazing stories with Eve.
Adam’s feelings of love increase based on how much he creates and nurtures the relationship more than anything else.
It is not that it is wrong to focus on what someone can do for you. It is a natural consideration actually, survival dictates this kind of focus and almost every form of media poses that self-interest is the most important selling point for any product or service. I am personally all for self-interest. But let us not conflate that with what makes us happiest. Artists and parents know better. They know that creations and children (another kind of creation) are so precious to them not because of what the artwork or the child does for them, but because of the energy and care they have put into creating, nurturing and helping grow or change their creation.
The trick here is to view a relationship as your work of art. To see it as something you enjoy putting effort into.
In most models, people find love strained after a few years. Many have heard 18 months. One study said 2.568 years.
There is a natural assumption that follows from this about the length of time needed to get a child into and out of a womb and safely strapped for travel. Or the lazier amongst them assume the oxytocin drop is the cause rather than the effect of such a drop in interest.
This is such a problem that some scientists have taken to the idea that a love vaccine might help stave off cheating after love has gone. Doctor Elaine Hatfield takes a slightly more rational approach stating, “The prevailing wisdom was that passionate love would last for a few years and then companionate love would grow, but it also declines,” She adds that it tends to decline at the same rate as romantic love, and generally never stops declining. Later she explains that commitment often increases in spite of that.
I am here to say that the initial model of love is what is wrong in most cases. In fact, it is the focus on only 1&3 above to the exclusion of 2&4 that lead to this dropping of interest and the frittering of love.
Effort is usually the missing link, and a lack of effort is, likely, the actual reason for the drop in oxytocin. Though a study proving this would be fundamentally impossible, the anecdotal experiences of the oldest couples in the world show a consistent philosophy of effort and focus on the other partner and the relationship itself from both partners.
Often the model is for one partner, usually Adam, to put forth most of the effort and the other partner, generally Eve, to enjoy the effort as though it were a show or a carnival ride. Then Eve rewards or pays for Adam’s carnival ride with affection (often limited at first in order to increase her perceived value), sex, then tenderness, kindness, comfort and so forth, so long as the effort and rides keep coming. It is a 1&3 model where the focus is on what someone can get and #2 is usually being done in order to fulfill social expectation in order to get 1. (Please note though the male and female roles are most commonly in these positions respectively, it certainly happens with all genders and orientations in all manner of configurations.)
This “enjoy the ride” mentality of relationships is engendered by countless television shows and movies that simultaneously place women in the position of both prize and audience, adorable weaklings whose attempts at strength are to be nurtured as you would a child’s, but not expected. The truth many of us know is that women are strong and capable, and making things easy for them doesn’t do them any favors.
If Adam were to be putting in effort, not to buy affection, but instead to create the relationship he envisions (especially if he had done a “Somnia Femina” above so he knew what he wanted in a relationship) then he would feel very strongly about every single milestone he helped to create. It would have been nurtured from the start.
If Eve did the same, she would feel the same, and by being expected to do the same she will also be being told that she is respected for the strength and capability that she really has. She then gets to enjoy creating something amazing and fun too.
But the real beauty comes when they are doing this together, when they both agree on the ideal relationship and both spend energy to create it like a work of art, asking for change when it is needed, enacting changes that are required, making sacrifices, etc. Creating grand displays of affection that require tremendous planning is a great idea, not only because both the planning and event create more love, but because it then becomes a story that is referred back to and remembered as proof of love. Love is referential to itself.
Those stories are essential to a lasting feeling, and to the compelling part of the art project that is your relationship. Sadly, there is usually only one storywriter, but ideally both people should consider that an essential part of their role in the relationship. Grand romantic gestures by both sides give monumental momentum to the relationship. The gesture does not need to be huge every time, though every relationship would do well to have both sides artistically and creatively putting together something like this from their own personal determination at least once every decade.
Even the smaller romantic gestures should have some personal touch to them, some artistry. Remember these gestures are memorable because of their narrative weight. They evoke love by linking the story of the moment to the hope, dreams and existing stories you both share as to what romance looks like. As stated at the beginning, that is how love is intensified.
And let’s not forget the simplicity of help. Simply noticing that something is needed and providing it without asking or being asked is the easiest way to grow a mutual relationship. Your focus should be to attempt to grow the relationship and connection as much as you can. Help should never be offered as a means of trade, but rather as a way to continually improve upon your creation. The gestures should always feel like art projects and never feel like currency spent to buy affection, or to appease an unsatisfied partner.
The model is total mutual agreements on what the relationship should look like, then focused effort by both sides to create it, brave efforts to grow, repair or improve anything needed to achieve it, along with efforts both grand and small to make it narratively interesting so that the story of your relationship adds beauty to it. It doesn’t matter what gender, orientation, or how big or small your relationship is. This applies to two people in a monogamous relationship or 5 in a polyamorous relationship. All that is required is to grow the love to something more serious, stable and permanent.
This model is far in excess of what is necessary, many relationships get by on much much less; that said, nothing in the model is extraneous. If it is followed, your relationship will become a synergistic masterpiece that gives more energy back than the amount of energy you expend. It is designed to create feelings of romance and love that make you giddy and excited about the person.
Here’s the rub: This method will also lead to early detection of incompatibilities. You are finding out early on whether or not you are compatible because you’re putting energy into creating. You have the vision of the ideal relationship in your head and you’re painting that picture. But soon you realize that your partner doesn’t really like the painting as much as you thought. S/he refuses to paint with you at all or suddenly starts using a color you thought you both hated. You are being active in creating something based on agreements. If you can’t reach agreements, you’ll find out quickly. You may find it difficult to abandon the project — after all there is satisfaction in overcoming challenge. However, I strongly recommend that you return to your description of your ideal partner and make your decision based on empirical evidence of compatibility rather than the emotional urge to hang on.
On the flip side, if you are compatible, the relationship may just last forever, and even if it doesn’t, it will feel incredibly fulfilling to both sides, will not feel like work, will feel ever romantic and will last a long time.
The Oxytocin will runneth over.
It’s not an exact science. In fact, it should be like art. The artist has an idea of what he’s painting, but the evolution of his art is beautiful and surprising. Love requires narrative, power, directed creation, and commitment to your own values. Any one of these, if missing, will be noticed, but together they are the ingredients for an ideal relationship.
And that’s how to love.