dating

Making Peace With the M-Word

monogamy-300x224Like a lot of polyamorous people, I have a fraught relationship with monogamy. First off, it’s always been imposed upon me externally, via social context or romantic partner. And second, I have historically “failed” at the version that was presented to me as acceptable, to disastrous and occasionally life-threatening results. Thus I have long assumed I would live out my days splitting time between multiple partners who probably also had other partners, and believed myself content with this scenario.

But a while back, I started feeling pulled toward exclusivity. The idea of focusing all my romantic energy toward a single partner became deeply compelling to me. But because I had so much of my identity tied up in being “poly,” I fought that pull. I reminded myself that monogamy goes against human nature, or at any rate my nature if we are judging by history. I told myself it was an unrealistic expectation that I could ever find one person who would embrace the weirdness of my particular situation (i.e. I’m a not-quite-single Mom living next door to my “wasband,” his girlfriend, and their daughter, who I also think of as my kid). I thought it would be a betrayal to my community, an abandoning of my identity, and a scary and dangerous undertaking.

And then it occurred to me that these are exactly the kinds of bullshit arguments people come up with to squelch a desire to open up a relationship.

Without realizing it, I had adopted a rigid, dogmatic adherence to a single relationship style and had become unwilling to consider the possibility that it was no longer right for me.

Oops.

It didn’t help that the fellow I felt most pulled toward—we’ll call him “John”— also had a long history of infidelity within purportedly monogamous relationships, and was showing no obvious signs of interest in making an exclusive go of it with me. Or did it…?

One day it occurred to me that perhaps this was an ideal case study to explore my mono-curiosity. After all, the thing I had always hated about monogamy in the past was that it was being thrust upon me from outside of myself. This situation was exactly the opposite of that. I had no reason to do this except my own desire to do it, and there would be no external pressure to continue, were I to abort mission.

So one morning, getting ready for work after having spent the night at John’s place, I announced that I wanted to stop fucking other people. His face registered confusion, skepticism, incredulity, and finally amusement. “Ooookay,” I recall him saying, “Why?”

I realized, as I started to list off the reasons, that I had never actually articulated the full list, even to myself. It was more robust than I had realized.

  1.     I didn’t actually WANT to fuck other people. With a couple of notable exceptions, those interactions contributed little to my life beyond an added layer of physical and emotional risk. Yet I continued to pursue them out of boredom, loneliness, escapism, insecurity (i.e. to have a back-up plan), a desire for emotional leverage (i.e. to make John jealous), or simply to fit the narrative I had created about myself as a non-monogamous person.
  1.     I was finally confronting the irony that my polyamory was rooted in a dangerous kind of romanticism; deep down I still believed that THE ONE was going to come along and sweep me off my feet, and if I was in an imperfect monogamous relationship with some non-magical human I would miss my chance at true love.
  1.     I had experimented with a wide range of polyamorous relationship configurations, and with the polar opposite, celibacy. But the middle ground of voluntary monogamy remained unexplored.
  1.     I wanted to connect on a very deep level with another person, to learn the art of genuine intimacy with someone just as flawed, and just as awesome, as I am. And, at least for me, that requires concentration.

And, all intellectualizing aside, perhaps the most important reason:

  1.     I was in love with John. So, I wanted to focus all my romantic and sexual energies on him.

And so it began.

Soon after followed The Challenges. I’ve always known monogamy was challenging, but I understood the central challenge to be a futile fight against one’s biological instincts. So not only did I see the secondary challenges of monogamy as not worth the trouble, I thought of them as actively harmful.

Now that I had a genuine personal interest in an exclusive romantic/sexual partnership, I discovered that the real central challenge of monogamy, at least for me, wasn’t resisting the temptation to fuck other people. Rather, it was confronting all the ways in which promiscuity had become an emotional crutch for me. And it became clear that taking on that challenge, and all the secondary challenges that stemmed from it, would not only be worthwhile, it was my only path to any sort of healthy relationship.

Thankfully, I had already confronted a lot of the ways in which my self-esteem was tied up in the desire, attention, ecstasy, and appreciation of others during my four-month celibacy stint that began almost exactly a year ago. But it quickly became clear that I still had a long way to go on that front, and that confronting those issues while in an intimate relationship with someone had it’s own peculiar pitfalls.

green_eyed_monster_by_citrisblossoms

Challenge #1: Jealousy

The old green-eyed monster began to rear its tiresome head almost immediately. I had expected this. I’ve done enough study on human sexual psychology to know that jealousy is based in insecurity, and I had just cut off the mainline of ego-stroking I had relied on most of my life to combat it. And unlike when I was celibate, I now had a terribly tempting screen on which to project those insecurities to super-human proportions.

I found myself indulging in behaviors I had resented from past partners: demanding declarations of love, fishing for validation, trying to catch my partner cheating, and of course, losing my goddamn mind when I found even the most circumstantial evidence to support that hypothesis. This was especially unfair given that I never communicated anything resembling a boundary around my partner’s sexual behavior. I had simply declared my own intention not to fuck other people.

To his credit, though, John did not play that card. Nor did he indulge the drama by offering any of the emotional concessions I was demanding: reassurance, promises, evidence of his fidelity, etc. Instead, he simply reminded me of what I already knew: that nothing he could do or say would ever be enough.

I knew he was right, and that Possessive Partner was a shit role to play. So I had two options: I could take a leap of faith and choose to trust John, or I could break up with him. Spoiler alert: I chose trust. So far, so good.

That’s when I realized that polyamory had effectively insulated me from my long-standing trust issues. With multiple lovers, I never needed to fully trust any one person not to betray and abandon me, and thus I maintained a comfortable illusion of security. Now that it was just John, I was working without a net, and it was terrifying.

Happily, though, confronting those fears with a partner is a lot less wretched than doing it alone. And little by little, I’m building the kind of security that comes only from experiencing the benefits of well-placed trust. Which is a much more secure security indeed.

Betty White in Entertainment Weekly. FOR GATECRASHER ONE-TIME USE ONLY; DO NOT ARCHIVE Photo by Entertainment Weekly/Michael Elins Original Filename: Betty White by Micha#8321182_RGB.jpg

Challenge #2: Getting my needs met

Another reason I have long identified as poly is that I embrace the reality that no one person is going to fulfill my every need. But in practical terms that’s meant building a kind of Frankensteinian conglomerate of desirable partner traits in the form of what could be referred to as a harem. One partner to satisfy me sexually, another to be my intellectual equal and challenge me to improve myself, another to provide emotional support, and yet another to be a companion / partner in crime to laugh and be silly with. And even when my harem was complete, STILL I wasn’t content. Still I had needs that went unmet.

But it wasn’t until I was monogamous by choice that I realized why: because it isn’t just that no ONE person is going to fulfill my every need. It’s that my every need is never going to get fulfilled. At least not by any kind of external source. It became clear that I was going to have to look inward to discover what was missing and figure out how to create it for myself.

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Challenge #3:  The scarcity myth

The next challenge I came up against was time and energy. As in, he didn’t suddenly, magically have any more of it to offer just because I was now focusing all of mine on him. And I started to feel annoyed, frustrated, and slighted that he chose to prioritize things like work and self-care over me.

Again, I took a long, hard look at my behavior. Did I really want to be that co-dependent lover who demands every moment of her partner’s time, even at the cost of his/my/our well-being? Did I want to view his time and attention as a finite resource for which I was in constant competition?

Hell no. That’s exactly the kind of bullshit I became poly in order to avoid.

I want, and have always wanted, to be the lover who encourages my partner to take care of his own needs and to live exactly as he pleases. I just happen to be so fucking awesome that he chooses to spend time with me anyway.

So, I decided to focus my energy on filling my own life with awesomeness, and stop worrying about how much time we were or were not spending together. After all, that’s exactly what I would be doing if we weren’t together.

And this is where my celibacy training has really come in handy. When in doubt, I ask myself:

WWCAD: What Would Celibate Adrienne Do?

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In other words: what would I do if I didn’t have this other person to lean on / blame / hook into playing out my cyclical psychodrama? Try doing THAT instead.

At one point, I even attempted to downgrade our relationship to “friends with benefits” so that I would be forced to stop projecting all my expectations of what a “boyfriend” is and does onto him. To my great surprise, rather than relief that I was finally over this silly monogamy experiment, he expressed hurt and disappointment. It hadn’t been a test, but that was, as it turns out, the answer my heart needed to hear. After that, I was IN.

I’ve still got a lot of healing to do. A lot of radical self-love to express. A lot of fears to face down and challenges to see through. But for the first time in my life, I am confident that it can, should, and will be done. Not because I think John is “the one.” But because I’ve finally admitted that I am the one. The one with the power to fulfill my own needs and create genuine intimacy with another imperfect human.

And so far? I gotta say: intimacy is pretty fucking awesome.

My approach for picking a partner

ChoicePoor relationship choices. We’ve all made them.

But having narrowly escaped death-by-suffocation at the hands of my first husband, I like to think I’m something of an expert on the subject.

That’s why I was over the moon to find this amazing article on how and why so many of us are picking the wrong mates.

The article, however, is simply an introduction to the problem, rather than a comprehensive solution. So I’ve been pondering the question: What would a “psychological marriage,” as recommended by the article, look like? How can we accurately screen for, and actively create, that kind of partnership?

In short: how do we start picking the right partners instead?

Lucky for you, I’ve gone through a truly epic amount of trial-and-error on the subject, and I have some suggestions.

1. Learn yourself as a lover. 

The conventional wisdom, when seeking a long-term romantic partner, is to think about the kind of person you hope to find. Their qualities, their values, etc. And though that can indeed be a useful exercise, it has its limitations and indeed its dangers.

First of all, it sets up a fabricated framework into which you will then attempt to shove actual human beings, none of whom are going to be an exact fit.

Second, it robs you of any control over compatibility with potential partners, since the burden and power of possessing the requisite qualities rests entirely on The Other.

Third, it presumes that you can know exactly what you want before you’ve ever met or experienced it.

Therefore, instead of pondering what/who you are looking for, I recommend you find out exactly what you have to offer, and the conditions under which you thrive or wither as a lover and long-term partner.

Here are a list of questions that I’ve found especially useful in pursuit of this kind of self-knowledge:

– What is important to you?

– What do you value most about yourself?

– What quality of yours do you think is most useful to other people?

– What do you most enjoy creating, and how?

– How do you express love?

– What communicates to you as love?

– What kind of partner do you wish to be?

– What tends to bring that out in you?

– What tends to hinder it?

Focusing on the kind of partner you are and wish to be puts the focus back on the only thing you can control in a partnership: yourself.

2. Seek to know The Other

You would think this would be a no-brainer. But I’m afraid it is, in reality, exceedingly rare.

When we meet another person, our first instinct is to seek agreement. We try to draw parallels to ourselves, to discover the ways in which The Other is like us and can relate to and understand us, rather than in trying to actually get a comprehensive understanding of who this person is, what they want, how they function, etc.

When we meet a potential partner in particular, we tend to look for the ways in which they fit with our image of The Ideal Partner, and to gloss over everything else. Or conversely, to look for all the ways in which they don’t fit our criteria so that we can dismiss them and move on to the next candidate.

But by treating a date like a job interview, we are missing out on the opportunity to genuinely connect as people, which, incidentally, is the only way to create genuine intimacy. Oops.

Next time you go on a date, take a genuine interest in this person as a person, not just as a potential partner. Ask them the same sorts of questions you just asked yourself, and really listen to the answers. If you, like me, find that to be a struggle, try pretending you are a writer, and they’re a celebrity you’re interviewing for a biography.

Just because someone is not a good match for you as a long-term mate doesn’t mean you can’t still connect with and appreciate them for who they are. Some of my closest friends are people I dated once upon a time (or in the case of my second husband, married) but realized we were better cast in non-romantic roles in each others’ lives.

3. Evaluate The Couple you create

Chemistry is complicated. You can put together two ingredients which are quite innocuous on their own and create something dangerously volatile, or surprisingly delicious. So it is with human beings, only we are far less able to predict the results ahead of time.

There are, however, early-return results we can observe in order to help predict future results.

After a few dates, step back and, as objectively as possible, observe the effect this person has on you. Since this person has been in your life:

– Has your overall sense of well being improved or declined?

– Have others made any observations about changes in you (either positive or negative)?

– Are you proud of your behavior? Are you acting like the sort of person you want to be?

– Are you inspired to create? To grow? To take positive action?

Meanwhile, do your best to observe the effect you have on them. This is trickier, since you generally have no baseline against which to make an assessment. But do take note as to whether their overall well-being, self-regard, and behavior seem to be improving or declining as a result of your association.

Take note also of which of your qualities they seem most enamored of. Are these the same qualities you value most in yourself? Because, make no mistake, those are the qualities they are going to want you to focus on. For example, if the thing you value most in yourself is your artistic talent, but the person you’re dating is constantly going on about how hot your bod is and doesn’t seem particularly interested in your art, don’t be surprised when they encourage you to spend more time at the gym and less time sketching.

Take note, also, of which of their qualities you most admire, and whether or not they seem invested in putting focus and energy toward it long-term.

Finally, take note of how many misunderstandings/miscommunications the two of you have, how many of those turn into arguments, and whether or not those numbers appear to be on the decline. If you cannot learn to effectively communicate to each other, and/or cannot maintain your affinity for each other while communicating, you’re in for a lot of fighting.

Ask yourself, in short: what sort of people do we make of one another? What kind of couple do we create? And is that the kind of couple you think the world needs more, or less of?

Most importantly: listen to that little voice in the back of your head. If you have this funny feeling that something isn’t quite right, it probably isn’t. If you have this inexplicable sense that this person is trustworthy, even though you have no solid evidence to back that up, they probably are. When you first meet someone, your mind is taking in far more information than you can rationally process. You are picking up subtle signals that may not be explained for a long time to come, but that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed. On the contrary, it is those quietest, most gut-level feelings to which you should pay the closest attention.

Sadly, there are no guarantees when it comes to relationships. People are complicated. They change over time. Even the most promising partnerships can implode without warning. So forgive yourself. Learn. Move on. And remember: not every relationship that ends is a “failed” relationship. It’s just a new kind of relationship, and an opportunity to create another intimate partnership from scratch.

“I have an STI!” How to ask, how to tell, and how (NOT) to react.

DisclosureI have herpes.

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?

Well…

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.

  • Sex is risky, and you need to be willing to shoulder a certain amount of risk just to get on the ride.

Finally, if someone tells you they have an STI:

DO treat that person with kindness, respect, and compassion.

  • Ask yourself: how would I like to be treated if roles were reversed? Because they could be. More easily than you care to think.

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.

Above all:

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.

*swoon*

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.

Period.

 

How to love

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She left him but a note.  

“Dear Adam,

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.  

Goodbye Adam.

-Eve”

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.  

  1. What Adam wants that Eve provides
  2. What Adam does to create a relationship that Eve benefits from
  3. What Eve wants that Adam provides
  4. What Eve does to create a relationship that Adam benefits from

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:

  1. Things that make me happy:
  2. Things that help me survive better:
  3. Things that don’t fit into the above that I know I value:

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):

  1. Things that make me happy: Beer, hockey, fast cars, hot women, money, my dog, law school, pot, yearly charity drive, intelligent conversation, sex
  2. Things that help me survive better: Money, law school, food, air, good decisions, pragmatism
  3. Things that don’t fit into the above that I know I value: Love, attention, dedication

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.

Why Science? And how it can actually help the Pickup Artist community.

 

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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.

Power vs. Passion

“Ava, I’m screwed. I like this girl more than she likes me,” laments the adorable soft-butch lesbian on the phone.

“What gives you that impression?” I ask, never one to take such declarations at face value.

“I almost always contact her first, and do most of the talking. I compliment her all the time, and she rarely reciprocates. I got her more for Christmas than she got me. I’m always super affectionate with her, and she’s only sometimes that way with me. Usually just when we’re in bed together.”

“What do you think would happen if you pulled back a bit? Contacted less, said less, gave less, showed less affection?”

“Well, I tried that, actually.”

“And?”

“And it sucked. I mean, she did pretty much what she always does, and I was doing less, so I guess it was more… even. But it also meant there was just less emotion going around. And I just started to feel sort of… empty and sad.”

“Because being effusive and affectionate with someone feels good.”

“Exactly!”

  • She had hit upon a discovery it took me 30+ years to make: that when it comes to romance, there is an inverse relationship between passion and power, between emotional safety and emotional satisfaction.

You see, it is a fact of human nature that showing less interest, affection, commitment, etc.—in short, being less passionate and emotionally invested—gives you more power in a relationship. The less you care, the more you control. But there is another, equally important piece of this equation: you get what you give, emotionally speaking. So the more you care, the more satisfying the relationship will feel to you.

On the Passionate end of the spectrum, people are quick to emotionally invest. They fall hard and fast, are quick to trust, wear their heart on their sleeve, and shower their loved ones in affection. The major benefit of being Passionate is the giddy enjoyment of the highest highs that romance has to offer: the ecstasy of sensual and emotional abandon. The major drawback, of course, being the other side of that coin: the devastating lows of heartbreak, betrayal, and rejection.

On the Powerful end, people are more reserved with their affections. They are slow to trust, slow to show their feelings, and less likely to offer unsolicited validation. They are the first to run, the first to reject, and the last to say “I love you.” The major benefit of being Powerful–aside from power itself–is the avoidance of deep pain. The major drawback is the incidental avoidance of deep pleasure.

Furthermore, in most relationships one partner will gravitate toward Passionate and one will err on the side of Powerful. At times they will even trade roles. And there’s a good reason for that.

Passionate + Passionate = codependence. Both partners care SO MUCH that they are consumed by the relationship, prioritize it over everything, including their own sanity. A relationship entrenched on the Passionate end of the spectrum often exists, and ultimately ends, in a cloud of drama so thick that no one outside the dyad can penetrate it, and occasionally devolves into violence.

Powerful + Powerful = stalemate. Nobody makes any moves, nobody takes any risks, and eventually it just sort of disintegrates into a puff of mutual “meh.”

As I told my client (once we had established that the relationship was, in fact, well-balanced in other areas),

“You’re the Passionate partner this time around. Embrace that. Make peace with it. Enjoy the ride and let her enjoy the comfort and security of the Power position.”

There is no shame in taking either position. Both are needed in a balanced, functional relationship. But remember that you are not confined to one end of the spectrum, and that there are benefits and drawbacks to both positions. I believe everyone can benefit from giving the role they normally shun a go, if for no other reason than to appreciate more deeply the benefits they receive from their usual role.

Indeed, the closer you can both come to the center, the healthier the relationship will become, and the more deeply you will both understand what the other is risking/sacrificing in order to maintain that delicate balance.

 

This is Not a Date

People often ask me where to take someone on a first date. My answer usually surprises them.

You see, the traditional ritual of taking someone you barely know to someplace you probably wouldn’t go by yourself, to do something you won’t necessarily enjoy, has always struck me as bizarre. And the other day it occurred to me that many of my most cherished relationships have been marked by a total absence of traditional “dating.” Don’t get me wrong: romantic excursions have always entered the picture at some point, but not a single one of my most lasting and meaningful attachments has kicked off with dinner and a movie.

Often the flirtation began in a larger social setting—a party, a class, a show, etc.—and then slowly morphed into spending time together separately. Sometimes the first meeting was one-on-one, but both of us resisted the idea that we were on a “date,” and stringently avoided traditionally romantic settings.

On one such recent outing (at Whole Foods), my companion summed it up perfectly when he said:

“Dating is what you do with someone you’re already fucking.”

Or, you know, in love with. Or at least pretty deeply in like.

Point being: romantic outings should be reserved for people you already know you like, and who you already know like you. Sometimes that is a first date, say in cases where a friendship takes a more romantic turn, or a workplace flirtation finally moves outside the workplace (or wherever), and in that case, feel free to romance it up. But taking someone you aren’t so sure about (or who isn’t so sure about you) to the same kind of place you would take the love of your life on your anniversary is presumptuous, puts unnecessary pressure on both of you to enjoy it or else, and is frankly an insult to the spirit of romance.

  • So what *are* those early interactions, or more to the point, what could/should they be?

I’d like to introduce you all to the concept of pre-dating. Anything that happens before one or both of you has spontaneously expressed explicit enjoyment of one another’s company (i.e. “I really like spending time with you,” “I had so much fun, let’s do this again soon!” “I like you,” “I think I’m falling for you,” and so on) falls into this category. Pre-dating is particularly useful/important if you met the Person In Question (PIQ) online, as you may have built up some assumptions about who this person is (and vice-versa) that may not turn out to be entirely accurate.

Pre-dating is essentially a two-way audition/interview. You’re checking each other out, testing each other, observing each other in context. So, the trick to successful pre-dating is providing a context in which both of you can shine, as well as enjoy yourselves, regardless of how well you get along. The bottom line is, there must be NO pressure to fall in love immediately.

Here’s a quick-and-easy guide to choosing a pre-dating activity. Ask yourself:

  1. If I were going out by myself, what would I choose to do?
  2. If the PIQ stands me up, will I still enjoy myself?
  3. Can I enjoy myself even if we don’t necessarily click?
  4. Will it give me an opportunity to be excellent?
  5. Will it give me an opportunity to observe the PIQ interact with others?

Myself, I don’t tend to go out to restaurants solo. And I would feel pretty depressed watching a movie alone if my date stood me up. Likewise if my companion turned out to be the human equivalent of a cheese grater, I wouldn’t particularly want to sit across from him/her while sipping an overpriced beverage and attempting to make small talk, even for half an hour. But I would feel perfectly comfortable browsing a bookstore, exploring a museum, shopping at Value Village, or going dancing all by myself—or better yet, with a group of friends! Which brings me to an important point:

It is always a good idea for a pre-date to be a group outing, so long as it gives ample opportunity for the two of you to interact with each other. Not only does it relieve the burden of keeping the conversation going and the ubiquitous pressure to LIKE EACH OTHER, but it gives you both an opportunity to watch each other interact with other people. If it’s a group of your friends, you will have more control over how you come across. If it’s a group of the PIQ’s friends, you can glean more information about the PIQ. Either way, bonus for both of you!

If you can think of pre-dates as opportunities to just go out and have fun, with or without a “date,” you’re at least guaranteed a good time.

As to the rest? There’s never a guarantee.

Keep the pounds, lose the self-pity

To those of you who think you need to lose 10 more pounds before you really put some effort into this dating stuff:

You are wrong.

Now, it’s one thing if you are considerably overweight (as in, 30+ pounds heavier than what you’re comfortable with), but if you’re just self-conscious about a little extra padding–probably around the middle or slightly below–then I have some good news for you.

When I was in the best shape of my life, I got asked out very rarely. And when I worked up the nerve to make the first move, the PIQ was often nervous, awkward, and even suspicious of me. Finally, I got frustrated and asked a guy I was chatting up what the problem was. His answer?

“You’re too intimidating.”

Great, I remember thinking, I spend every morning of my life in the gym (or on a bike, or in a pool, or pounding the pavement) for years, and this is what I get?

So to those of you who think hot women don’t want to be approached: you are also wrong. If that’s been your experience, you’ve probably been doing it wrong.

Several years and one baby later, I am a little–er–softer than I used to be. Don’t get me wrong; I still take good care of myself. But my body will never look quite like it did before, and much to my shock, this change has actually increased the number of dates I get asked out on.

And I’m not alone in this. I’ve heard the same story from my friends and clients over and over: as soon as they stopped trying to attain physical perfection and just accepted themselves as they were, they were suddenly flooded with romantic attention.

As it turns out, most people aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for a real person with flaws and quirks. They’re looking for baggage that matches their own.

 Meanwhile, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a relaxed, playful, self-confident attitude is the number-one trait that will get you dates.  So if your appearance is hurting your confidence and making you feel uncomfortable in your skin, get thee to a gym. Or a dance class. Or into a sports club, or a pair of hiking boots, or whatever works for you. You may find that simply taking action to make a change is enough to help give you the confidence boost you need to get back out there and start smiling at strangers again.

Exit Strategy

After my most recent post, I got quite a few questions regarding the specifics of the situation I described (in which I and a man I didn’t know helped a young woman out of an awkward entanglement), the gist being, “Are you SURE intervention was necessary? Couldn’t she have just told him herself that the interaction was over and left?”

I won’t go into any more specifics here, except to reiterate that yes, in this particular case, there is no question in my mind that intervening was the right thing to do. That said, I am 100% in agreement with the idea that it is best to teach and empower people to disentangle themselves from unwanted interactions. So that’s what today’s post is all about.

 

I’ve already written a bit about the art of rejection. Quick review:

The ABC’s of rejection:

A. Admiration. Find something, anything to admire about the approach: “Clever opener,” “What a refreshingly direct approach,” or  “It takes cojones to make the first move,” etc.

B. Brief statement of disinterest. “…but I’m not feeling it.” DON’T list off your reasons. Keep it short and to the point.

C. Close off quickly and decisively. A friendly “Have fun” or “Good luck” followed by a turned back or walk-off is usually quite effective.

Altogether, it goes like this:

“You’re funny! Thanks for the entertainment, but it’s a no on the date. Cheers.”

In most cases, a casual rejection like this one is all you will need, so long as you deliver it with confidence.

 

But what do you do when you’re dealing with someone who just won’t take no for an answer? Or who has a strongly negative reaction to your rejection? And how do you deal with someone whose approach was in no way friendly or admirable, but was clearly intended to intimidate or dehumanize you? 

Here are some concrete suggestions for making a clean get-away in these stickier situations.

First off, you must be able to recognize that you are in said sticky situation. When it comes to identifying a situation that merits stronger action, trust your gut above all else. If you begin to feel genuinely afraid–not just butterflies in the tummy, but really scared–then it’s time to go. NOW. You don’t need external evidence, and you don’t need to make excuses for yourself. Just get the hell out of there, to a more (NEVER LESS) secure location.

  • Bolt first, ask questions later.

When it comes to getting out of a really uncomfortable situation, short of breaking the law (remember: you can still be charged with assault if you attack the approacher first!), just about anything goes. But here are some tried-and-true methods that have worked for generations.

NOTE: I ordered this list from least to most invasive, so I recommend starting at 1 and moving on to 2 only if 1 fails, and so forth. Also, these methods are most useful (and some of them are ONLY useful) as long as you remain in a public place. If a stranger or near-stranger tries to isolate you for any reason, or starts hitting on you in an isolated location (i.e. an elevator, an empty or nearly-empty bus or train car, or in the woods), you may need to use techniques like these instead.

 

1. Call me

Obviously it isn’t always possible to plan ahead. Say, if you’re approached at a bus stop or coffee shop. But if you’re going on a date with someone you don’t know well, or going clubbing, or anyplace where you’re more likely to get approached, it’s a great idea to set up a back-up call.

Picture this: you’re having a lousy time, but this dud just isn’t picking up your signals. You send a short text under the table: CALL ME. The phone rings a moment later, and your friend is in *terrible* distress.

“Oh no,” you tell your date, “this sounds serious. I need to go talk my friend down.”

Exit secured.

You can also set it up for a friend to call you at a certain time without prompting, just in case. If things are going well, you simply ignore the call, or better yet, take the opportunity to brag a bit.

This can also work without anyone on the other end, so long as you know how to make your own phone ring on command. I recommend learning this trick, as it has bailed me out of more than one unfortunate interaction.

 

2. I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date

It may be cliche, but it works.

All this trick takes is a quick look at a clock, and distressed expression, and a panicked, “Oh no! I’m late!” Then you just grab your things, give a quick, “Sorry, gotta go,” and you’re outta there.

 

3. When you gotta go, you gotta go

It’s hard to deny someone an immediate, physical need. If you suddenly have to pee, or you feel ill, or you spill something all over yourself, there are few approachers who will try to keep you from heading to the facilities.

And if s/he does try to keep you there, or follows you to the bathroom? Feel free to start acting like you’re going to vomit on him/her, pee your pants, etc. If you can rip a really juicy fart, or burp right in his/her face, do it.

Gross is good. Nothing shrinks a boner like icky bodily functions.

Another tried-and-true method of grossing out unwanted approachers is to pick your nose and wipe it on your clothing. This is a great trick on public transportation, where there are no facilities and just up and leaving isn’t necessarily an option.

4. Go crazy on you

If any/all of the above didn’t do the trick, then you’re probably dealing with someone with a couple of loose screws. So, why not turn the tables and loosen your own screws a bit?

A quick illustration: a friend of mine was getting a little too much attention from a much older man in a park. She was polite at first, but when he sat down next to her uninvited and started to put his hand on her knee, she busted out her improv skills, turning to him with a suspicious look and saying,

“Who sent you? Was it THEM? Did THEY send you? Well you can tell them I’m NEVER COMING BACK! They’re not going to keep running experiments on MY brain, even if those aliens DID implant a microchip in there!”

She ranted on like that for several minutes, until finally he made his excuses and left.

Mission accomplished.

 

5. You make me wanna SHOUT

You may be surprised how effective it is simply to raise your voice. Most people don’t like “causing a scene” and will get anxious if you start yelling. Besides, a nice, strong yell right in the face can snap them out of their one-track-trance and make them realize that this has gotten serious. “NO” or “STOP” are good go-to yell words.

And if that doesn’t work? Well, this is where a rape whistle comes in handy. But anything you can get your hands on that makes a loud noise will do.

A sudden loud noise will also alert others in the area that something untoward is happening, and you may be able to solicit some back-up.

Speaking of which…

 

6. Requesting Backup

A lot of the time, when something not so good is going down, onlookers are nervous about stepping in. But when clearly invited to do so, they are often happy to intercede. Alas, you can’t, and probably shouldn’t, count on that, but you can learn some clever ways to leverage their presence, regardless.

Try randomly involving an onlooker into an awkward conversation. Ask a question, seek an opinion, compliment their shoes, do whatever you can to get them to respond. If they stay and chat, this will offer safety-in-numbers, and even if they don’t, it will send a clear signal to the unwanted party that you don’t want this to be a one-on-one interaction and aren’t afraid to involve others.

Sometimes, though, you may need to take more drastic measures. Try to make eye contact with someone (or even better, a group of people), and send out distress signals with your eyes. Once you think they’ve gotten the message, call out,

“There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!”

and walk toward them. Unless the person is seriously oblivious, or just kind of an asshole, they will almost always play along. This works especially well if you are female and can disappear into a group of women.

Meanwhile, if ever you see someone in a precarious situation and wish to intervene, here are some tips for doing so safely and effectively:

– Address the person who looks like they’re in trouble, NOT the person causing said trouble.

– Ask first. “Need a hand?” in a friendly, upbeat tone works nicely. If they say no firmly, simply smile and say, “Just checking.” If they say no with hesitation or in a manner that seems unsure, say,

“Okay. I’ll be right over here. Let me know if anything changes.”

– If they do ask for help (or are visibly unable to do so), ignore the troublemaker completely. Even if they speak to or threaten you directly. First priority is to get the person you are helping, and yourself, out of there and into a more safe environment.

– As in everything, there is safety in numbers. A whole group of people extracting one person is always going to be safer and more efficient.

 

7. And if all else fails, Let’s get physical!

I really recommend avoiding getting into a physical tussle if you can. There are just so many things that can go wrong, and it’s easy for onlookers to mistake you for the attacker and back the wrong side.

There are, however, some situations that absolutely merit a hands-on approach. If someone is getting very handsy and won’t stop when asked to, do your best to block/remove said hands, and then create enough of a safe distance between yourself and the approacher that a recurrence will be easy to curtail. In other words: get out of the intimate/personal zones and back into the social/public zones.

If, on the other hand, s/he is actively attempting to restrain you, then going on the offensive is the best move you can make. A nice, hard slap (or drink!) in the face is a classic choice. That will show her/him that you aren’t afraid to go on the attack, and should provide enough of a shock factor that you are able to disengage and GTFO.

 

Above all, do your best to disengage emotionally from the situation as soon as it becomes less-than-enjoyable. Because the most powerful weapon a stranger can have against you is your empathy.

 

 

 

Fun with flings!

Ah summertime, the season of flings.

Not flinging yet?  Try travel!  Sure fire way to get the flings a-flying.

You know how when you hear a foreign accent you are immediately intrigued, and somehow more attracted to the speaker than you would otherwise have been?  Well, the same works in reverse.  When you go abroad, *you* are the one with the cute accent.  Use it to your advantage.

Furthermore, you don’t have to go abroad to have a foreign accent!  Just go someplace with a significantly different speech pattern from your own.  If you’re from Seattle, go check out Savannah.  If you’re a Jersey native, go hit the other shore in San Francisco.  Ask cute people for directions until one of them directs you where you really want to go.

Do keep in mind, though, that if you’re traveling somewhere very different from home, that there may be different cultural rules in terms of acceptable courtship behavior.  Do your homework ahead of time so as to avoid ending up in a sticky situation–which could mean anything from an awkward moment to a shotgun wedding.

Taboo, or not taboo, that is the question.

Finally, remember to BE HONEST.  The fact that you are just passing through makes you MORE attractive, not less.  The intensity of a now-or-never experience can be truly explosive (see Before Sunrise).  So there’s no reason to pretend you plan to stick around.  Unless, of course, you’re an asshole who just likes breaking hearts for sport.  In which case, please feel free to disregard my advice about taboos and land yourself in a Turkish prison.

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