“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.
I get asked this not merely in the context of relationship coaching, but also because I’m very open about being in a polyamorous relationship (meaning that I have more than one partner simultaneously, and they all know about and interact with each other).
There are, I believe, two different questions here:
1. How do I, personally, deal with jealousy?
2. How do I think others can effectively deal with their own jealousy?
There is some overlap, but the answers are discrete. And since what most people really want to get at is #2, I’ll answer that one first, and get back to my more personal methods later on.
So, how do you deal with the green eyed monster?
First, let’s answer the question: What is romantic jealousy?
At base, relationships are created through shared experiences and emotions, for which I will use the shorthand “E.” So, jealousy comes into play when one partner perceives that the other partner is sharing or wishes to share E with someone else, and has a negative emotion about that. This could be the same E that they are currently sharing, or it could be E they have yet to share or which one partner has expressly denied to the other.
Within that framework, there are two types of jealousy: possessiveness and envy.
Possessiveness is the desire to own, control, or have exclusive access to another person’s E. It’s what causes little kids to throw tantrums when some other kid tries to play with their toys.
Possessiveness is based on the fear of loss. The little kid in us is afraid that if someone else plays with our toys we will not get them back. Some of that fear has rational basis: what if my partner decides s/he likes the E s/he shares with partner C better than s/he likes it with me, and decides to leave me altogether? That sort of fear can also be dealt with rationally via agreements. As in, I agree not to just up and leave you if I meet someone whose E feels better to me. Or simply via reassurance, i.e. “I will always want your E, no matter what else is out there, because it/you are so valuable to me in X,Y,Z ways.”
There is also the rational concern over physical and emotional consequences from sharing E with a new person. When you add a new partner into the mix, the risk of STI’s automatically increases based on statistics alone, not even factoring in who this person is and what their habits or history look like. Likewise there is an increased risk of unwanted pregnancy, emotional fallout, and resources (time, energy, money, etc.) getting spread more thinly. But again, all of these factors can be dealt with rationally as a group via agreements which minimize risk and maximize return (i.e. using condoms, getting STI tests, disclosing other partners and activities, etc.).
But once you’ve done everything you can to minimize the real risks involved, if your feelings of possessiveness persist, chances are there are irrational fears at work. For example, Partner A might think: If partner B enjoys E with someone else, it devalues our E. Put another way: If I don’t have exclusive rights to that E, then that devalues me as a partner. Therefore if partner B does not agree to give me exclusive rights over his/her E, then s/he is not properly valuing me and I should leave and/or throw a fit.
This is, of course, nonsense. If you have two friends with whom you enjoy playing racquetball, does playing racquetball with friend A make friend B any less valuable? Does it make playing racquetball with friend B any less enjoyable? And if friends A and B play racquetball together when you’re busy, does that devalue the racquetball you play with either of them? Of course not.
You may even have a best friend, say friend A, with whom you enjoy playing racquetball more than friend B. Does that mean you can’t play racquetball with friend B and still get some enjoyment out of it? And will doing so make you any less close to your friend A? Only if you neglect that relationship, which is another matter and which we’ll get back to in a moment.
Point is, viewing relationships in economic terms is harmful and misleading.
A relationship is not a zero-sum game. Love is not a finite resource. In fact, that is precisely backward thinking. Love is more than a renewable resource, it’s a self-perpetuating one. Love = more love = more capacity to love, and so on. It’s real-world magic.
That is not to say that all jealousy is unhealthy or irrational. Just as anger guides us to recognize and fight against injustice, jealousy can help us identify things we want but aren’t effectively getting for ourselves.
Which brings me to the other type of jealousy: envy.
Envy is seeing what someone else has and thinking, “Hey, I want that!”
Here I will delve into the personal realm to offer an example. Myself, I’ve never much suffered from the possessive type of jealousy. I’ve always been good at sharing, and when I love someone, I want to see them as happy as possible, so any E they are getting is good E in my book. That said, I have certainly felt envious or left out when I felt like someone or something else was getting prioritized over me.
The example: I’d been dating a fellow for a couple of years, and had given him carte blanche to fool around with other women, so long as he was honest and upfront with me about those activities. Well, there was a gal whom he frequently invited over to watch movies and cuddle on the couch. I found this adorable and was always pleased to see the two of them entwined when I came over. But one day he announced to me that he was planning to take this gal out to a theater to see some new blockbuster. And I lost my proverbial shit.
Now, there are a couple of pieces of information missing here: A. He was perpetually broke and rarely, if ever, took me out to the movies, and B. This was a movie I really wanted to see.
He was flabbergasted at my response.
“So it’s ok for me to cuddle with her on the couch, but you don’t want me taking her out in public??”
No, no, that wasn’t the issue. But I couldn’t put my finger on what the issue was at the time. All I knew was that it made me feel hurt and angry and… well, jealous.
So, I used my personal go-to method of dealing with jealousy (or neediness, or insecurity, or any of the related emotions): I stopped looking at what my partner was doing, and started looking within myself to discover the source of my feelings. In this case, I was feeling envious because I wanted to go see that movie, and he had invited her before he had invited me. This was a very specific experience that I wanted to have, which my partner was now offering to someone else before I’d had the chance to experience it myself.
Now that I knew where the feeling was coming from, I could do something about it. I could ask for what I wanted. Which is exactly what I did. I told him that I wanted to go out to a theater with him and watch that movie. And, as is so often the case when you ask for what you want clearly and simply, I got what I asked for.
Did he take her out to a movie after that? Yes he did. Did that bother me one bit? No it did not. Because I had recognized that she was not the source of my problem, and once that problem had been solved I was able to vicariously enjoy their dates as I did my own.
If, however, your jealousy is rooted in an irrational fear or idea, i.e. that there just won’t be enough love to go around, or that the desire to share E with someone else means your partner doesn’t value you highly enough, then the right thing to do is not to allow that feeling to win.
That might mean simply acknowledging the feeling as a feeling and moving on, just as you get up and go to work even if you’re feeling blue. Or that might mean disclosing your feeling while recognizing its irrationality, and asking for the help and reassurance of your partner(s) or friends to work past it.
For example, you might try a gentle kind of exposure therapy: try watching your partner and his/her lover doing something relatively painless like holding hands. Check in with yourself as to how you feel. Are you in any actual danger? Do you still feel confident in your own relationship? Then ask them to do something a little harder to watch, like hugging or kissing. Keep checking in, and stop if it gets too difficult for you. Then re-connect with your partner for as long as you need to before trying again.
You may find that eventually your negative feelings disappear altogether.
Or, you may find that you are able to allow your partner to share E with someone despite your negative feelings because you recognize them as yours, not something they are doing to you.
Either way, this will hopefully make your jealousy more manageable, or at any rate more understandable.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the most important part of an online dating profile are the photos you choose to put up. Case in point: when you look at other peoples’ profiles, what do you look at first? The pictures, right? And if you don’t like what you see, do you even bother to look further?
I cannot overstress the importance of having at least one really stellar pic on your profile. If that means investing in a professional photo shoot, so be it, although generally all you need is a friend with a digital camera and some halfway decent lighting. The investment of time/money is absolutely worth the increased response you will see if you get a couple of “wow” shots.
Now, you ladies out there generally know how to pose for a picture, right? And honestly, we chicks can get away with a much wider range of looks, and a much larger fluctuation in quality, than the dudes. So, although the following is good advice for all, it is more specifically geared toward the fellas. If the ladies out there have specific questions, I’m always happy to offer strategic advice!
Now then, gentlemen. Here is how it’s done.
1) Be yourself
Here’s how *not* to get your picture taken for an online dating profile: Go put on your best suit. Sit in a strange photographer’s studio and hold a pose you saw Ryan Gosling strike in the latest GQ, while giving the camera a sexy, “come hither” stare or a big, cheesy grin.
The idea is to capture YOU, as authentically as possible. Wear something that makes you feel like yourself. The you that YOU like best, the one you think is smokin’ hot. Go somewhere that makes you feel like yourself. Yes, your bedroom counts, but I recommend going out into the world and capturing some of the things you enjoying doing as well.
If you’re a bibliophile, snap a few shots in the book stacks at the library, or at your favorite book store. If you love rock climbing, have a friend take some pics of you hanging off the wall. Love movies? Snap a photo with a favorite movie poster as the backdrop.
The idea is to give the viewer an instant feel for not just what you look like, but what you are like. Because the whole point of online dating is to find someone with whom you are compatible, and who is into you.
2) Let there be light
One of the most common mistakes I see in dating profile pics is a simple lack of adequate lighting. If the photo is too dark, or overexposed, or the color is off, then you look “off” too. The viewer may not even realize why, they’ll just get a weird feeling about you.
If, on the other hand, you are bathed in warm, inviting light, you will give the viewer a positive, sunny feeling about you. One of the best ways to ensure that your photo has proper lighting is simply to go outside. Natural light gives a natural look. Ironically, though, overcast days make for better photos than sunny ones. Too much sunlight makes for harsh shadows and squinty eyes.
3) Highlight a favorite feature
We all pretty much know what our best feature is. Maybe you’ve got good cheek bones, or nice, wide shoulders. Maybe people are always commenting on your long legs, or your sexy hip-bones. Maybe you’ve got enviable eyelashes, or mesmerizing eyes. Maybe you just have nice hands. Whatever it is, make sure that portion of you is featured in your photograph.
One caveat: let’s say you’ve been working out, and you’re really proud of your progress. Don’t go busting out the LOOK AT THOSE ABS shot just yet. Ask yourself, objectively, if those abs (or those biceps, or whatever) are really your best feature (or if anyone else would think they were). If they are truly spectacular, feel free to take a shirtless shot (they really do get attention, especially if you’re a strapping young buck), so long as it’s a hot one.
Remember also that less is often more when it comes to showing skin. As Sophia Loren said, sex appeal is 50% what you’ve got and 50% what they think you’ve got. An incidental glimpse of a cut chest mid Frisbee-catch, an exposed chiseled calf above a hiking boot, or a bicep pushing back against a tight T-shirt, is generally more effective than a Mr. Universe-style Speedo-clad show-off shot.
In short: if you’ve got a body that you’re proud of, and you want to share it in a pic, there’s no harm in that. Just be clever about it, or you may come off looking creepy or narcissistic.
4) Look away
When I accompany clients on photo shoots (one of my favorite parts of the job), they are often surprised when I advise them to stop looking into the camera. Although giving the camera an appealing come-hither look or a sweet smile is a time-tested technique for women, it tends to backfire for straight men. When you look at a photograph of someone looking straight back at you, it tends to communicate one of two extremes:
A. Aggression/desire; a look that says “I want you.” Works well for women, but shows far too much interest when a man does it. Also, a direct stare can feel threatening or dangerous coming from a strange man, especially if it hints at sexual desire or includes any sort of masculine posturing such as flexing.
B. Passivity/appeal for help; a look that says, “I need you.” Again, often appealing in a woman, but seldom so in a man. Most women are looking for (or believe they are looking for) a man who is strong, whole, capable, who is not in need of rescue. A hero, not a victim.
The way to avoid triggering either of these responses is to look away from the camera. This gives viewers the impression that you are active, in demand, focused on important matters in the distance. It makes them want to turn you toward them, to capture your valuable attention.
Don’t believe me? Check out the data from OK Trends: http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-4-big-myths-of-profile-pictures/
I recommend you read that whole article, as the statistics may surprise you in a number of areas. I will, however, go out on a limb and recommend that you include at least one pic that clearly shows your face (even though the stats show that showing one’s face or not doesn’t significantly alter response numbers). Doesn’t have to be your main pic, in fact you don’t even need to put it on your profile, you can simply have it at the ready when requested. But nothing says “red flag” like a guy who won’t show you his face, even when asked directly. It immediately sets off alarm bells to the tune of “This guy’s got something to hide!”
5) Create intrigue
The more interesting/unusual your photo, or the activity portrayed therein, the more likely someone is to want to ask you about it. And since a lot of people won’t even bother to read your profile, and the vast majority will only skim it if they do, the pic is your best chance at offering a conversation starter.
You can do this any number of ways. You can picture yourself performing an ambiguous activity, so that someone will wonder “What is he doing?” You can wear something unusual in the photo, for example a leather top-hat or a grass skirt, particularly if there really is a good story behind it. You can hold an intriguing object, and so on. Anything that begs a question, and for which you have an interesting answer.
Okay fellas, go take some pics! We’ll be watching…
I understand the confusion. Science is, after all, incredibly incompetent when it comes to helping people with social problems. Psychology has been around for over a hundred years and it’s really infantile in its efficacy. For all its expansive theory, Psychology has rarely improved upon the “ear of an empathic insightful friend.” And when it has, it is always an empathic insightful therapist armed with scientific knowledge that did the trick. So Why Science?
So, the real problem is not that science has nothing to offer, the real problem is the application of science as a source for a solution instead of a tool for a solution.
What is needed to solve a social dilemma (let’s limit it to that, since that’s what we do) is someone perspicacious enough to apply science as a tool. This is noticeably lacking and very needed. Sadly, many Pick Up Artists are still using the nonsensical and completely fallacious evolutionary psychology. And they use it mostly as marketing.
Meanwhile, real science applied to love and romance can completely demystify it, tell you the real reasons you feel scared and take a lot of that fear away.
Most people don’t need to be told “don’t stand too close” (proxemics), “look them in the eyes” (occulesics), “alter your vocal pitch” (prosody) and “stand up straight” (kinesics).” And so why do we need fancy scientific words that focus on those things? Because many people going for more advanced social skills do need to be told “altering your proximity in conversation can create sexual tension” (proxemics), “looking away is as important as eye contact” (occulesics), “vocal pitch can be used to close distance” (prosody), and “how you hold your head influences how people see you more than anything else in the first few seconds of an interaction” (kinesics).
Perhaps most importantly, we as a society need to change how we are interacting with strangers.
Most of our social conditioning is designed to distance ourselves from others and find justifications to avoid other people.
It prevents us from seeing that the nerdy guy who is being a little bit rude is just losing his words because he’s nervous, and the cocky dude who’s being a little too loud is probably just terrified.
This is not to say that those are the people that you need to spend your time on, but there’s no reason to stop a conversation with them when a little bit of calm, fearless, and skilled social attention could change their lives. And possibly yours.
We have helped hundreds of well-meaning socially awkward folks find love with people who would NEVER have looked at them twice and the retention rate of their relationships are about double the national average. What that tells me (and I confess this is not very scientific) is that there are a lot of people out there passing up a lot of really good opportunities.
Science exists with its incredibly rigorous and exacting methodologies for a very good reason. To avoid the cognitive biases that you and I aren’t even aware that we have.
These biases are not only impossible to avoid otherwise, most people don’t bother because those biases are what actually make marketing effective.
But it’s a rejection of pseudoscience like “a woman needs a guy to impregnate her so she will seek out a male who looks like he can protect her” that make me so passionate about extricating all of it from any PUA methodology. It is all evopsych nonsense.
I used to be an evopsych devotee until I learned just how much completely made up hogwash there is in it.
It’s not that evopsych is totally wrong. It’s that it can’t be called totally right. And since polarized thinking is the most common form of cognitive bias trying to help someone differentiate what is and isn’t good science in it is basically impossible. For example, the desire for impregnation plays a role in womens decisions to an unknown (and ever fluctuating) degree and the desire for someone to protect them is equally fluctuating. This kind of pseudoscience is unnecessary to explain what is happening between men and women (or any pair bonding individuals of any gender). So why even bother with it?
I am not trying to undercut the Pickup Artist community with this. I am actually just trying to save them from their own PR nightmare and the slow dwindling into oblivion that they are currently suffering from. I certainly am not claiming I can do it all myself. But I helped create The Attractive Arts to do my part.
We all know that some PUAs are misogynists, not because they have a reason to hate women but because when you gamify attraction you create an us vs them model that glorifies misogyny. If you want to study some science on this, study symbolic convergence theory.
This is where you get PUAs like Jeffy Jeff Allen, who should already been socially ostracized in every PUA circle in order to avoid the PR nightmare that is this very deserved article.
Mystery on the other hand is a scholar turned rogue, I love the guy. He genuinely loves women and even though he came up with the caveman evopsych nonsense about approach anxiety. What he teaches to people both works and can be applied ethically. He has also influence the PUA community more than any other PUA and he now sets an example of reformed ethics in Pick Up that people can be proud of. He deserves a lot of credit.
Vince Kelvin, a great natural presence teaching game on a level most can’t grasp but anyone who can, really could have their lives changed. He might be my favorite. He is unapologetically sex focused yet incredibly ethical and honest. A role model for others.
So there are lots of great PUAs out there, we are just trying to add a dynamic to it that we think is needed and fits our particular gifts. We are scientists by nature and two of our staff are PhDs. We think we bring something that can allow the PUA community to remain as successful as ever without resorting to making men and women play against each other. It can be totally divorced from all sexism and be totally oriented towards simple, natural, honest connection without any neediness.
Our passion is to create a real way for people to stop being strangers, make friends, get jobs and get laid without regrets in the morning.
We are doing our part by applying actual science, avoiding unnecessary polarizing of women and creating a philosophical framework to attraction technology that is divorced from flashy propaganda. It’s not designed as a dogma, we are happy when we are proven wrong and adopt new ideas quickly.
We hope this clears up future questions about why we focus so much on science in our approach and our viewpoint and connection to the Pickup Artist community.