Posts

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Hit the Brakes on the Relationship Talk

So you think it’s time to have The Talk. You like each other, and you want to know the deal. You want to know where things stand.

Don’t do it. In fact, delay that conversation as long as you possibly can, especially when you’ve just started dating. My rule of thumb is that you can and should get to know each other for 3 to 6 months before you’re going to start slapping down rules and regs. Because the first person to bring it up loses.

Relationship-Brakes

Try not to have the talk for the first 3-6 months.

The need to have The Relationship Talk may seem all mature and adult, but really, it’s just you scratching an insecure itch. You “need to know.” I counter with this: If you’re having a fun, great, sexy time, why oh why would you drop those dreaded words, “Where is this going?” It’s the relationship equivalent of walking into the middle of a great party, turning off the music, flipping on all the lights, and saying, “So, I just want to check. Is everyone having a good time?”

I did this a few years back. And I regret it and would never do it now. I had been seeing the guy a few weeks. He was a bit of a tough read, and I got insecure. I thought I’d help things along or feel better by asking, “So what is the deal, I mean, are we seeing other people, or…” It was a moment of weakness. Big mistake. The whole tenuous, if promising, thing collapsed on itself a short while later. And while that wasn’t the only reason, I sped it to its short and brutish end. Like driving into a wall at 60 mph.

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I’ve also been on the other side, by the way, many times. I gently tried to back off this very conversation with partners because it felt like I was being asked to make a decision I wasn’t ready to make. I felt pressured to say what I think he wanted to hear, and if that’s your idea of honesty, well. It’s not. I’ve often found myself marking time FROM THIS TALK, wondering who would be the one to bail out first. Why create this pressure when you’re really trying to get to know someone? Keep it a little gray–a little mysterious. This is how you keep that intrigue alive.

Ask yourself this: Why do I need to ask? What do I really want to know? What do I hope to accomplish? And while I can’t purport to read your mind, I’ll assume you’re craving what most humans do: significance and security. You want to know what’s going on, not because you’re conducting an investigation, but because you want to assuage the nagging fear and be reassured that you are special. You already are–can’t you tell? Nothing is totally secure in love and life, and no one owes you a sense of security.

And if your reason is that you’re afraid he’ll meet someone else? He could meet someone else regardless. There’s always that risk. What would happen if you held off on the grand summit meeting and just enjoyed the person without worrying about how to categorize or title or otherwise claim him? You get the best of both of you–and your own privacy, too.

“But I want us to be honest with each other!”, you cry. You can and should be open and communicative, yes. And after a few months you really do want to get serious, and you want a committed relationship, then of course you owe it to yourself and him to discuss it. But then—not now.

When you do feel the urge to have a meta-conversation, tell him (or her) instead about how much fun you have with that person, how much they rock, how attracted you are to them–and welcome those comments from him. A few sincere words about how you feel about that person can go a long way to making you feel more secure and appreciated. Early on you want to nurture growth, connection—not start laying down the law.

And that why having The Talk too early is horrible because it starts with “I like you a lot” and ends with “and this is what I need you to do/not do, etc.” It legislates. It kills the fun. It says, “Ok, so shall we look at the fine print?” Unless you’re about to close on a house together or do something else that’s legally binding (like marriage), there’s nothing to be gained by this conversation when you’re just starting to create something real.

There will be plenty of time to make it quite clear what you want, and then, if he’s unwilling to provide that, you’ll know you have a decision to make.

Also: Don’t confuse honesty with security. You think that if you know more about what’s going on under the hood you’ll feel better, but that may not be the case. Do you really want to know he likes you a lot but is getting over a crush from last summer, or that his ex-girlfriend has been calling again? Does he want to know you’re sort of weaning off this other guy? No, no, and no. Not your biz, not his problem. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you keep choosing to spend time with and enjoy each other. It’s the actions that matter, not the definition of those actions. You don’t have to kick the tires every two seconds. Just drive.

Oh–and fuck your Facebook status. Honestly. If you’re making relationship decisions so you can click a box, I fear for your future. Because checking a box has driven more than one person into relationships–and marriages–that shouldn’t have happened. Labeling your life isn’t the same as living it.

Case in point: A client of mine has kindled a connection with a man who lives states away, and a good chunk of the year overseas. She wants to know if he’s her boyfriend or if he could be, and worries that by not nailing it down she’s being played. I tell her, yes, it is a game—and the goal is to keep the ball in play. You do this by maintaining a rich and vital connection, staying in touch and letting that person know you’re very much interested. As soon as she tries to get him to submit to certain rules or titles, I warned her she’ll scare him away, and he’s already far away.

Let’s get one thing straight: That discomfort you feel? That excitement? It exists due to the simple fact that things are NOT SET YET. Enjoy it. Don’t suck the life out of it in an effort to make it shelf stable. If you’re still with this guy 10 years from now, there will be a point, sooner than you think, when you’ll wonder where the magic went. This nervousness and thrill is par for the course—and trust me, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Truth is, there’s no avoiding the pain of a break-up. In Break-Up 911, my online course, I’ll show you how to effectively experience it so you can get on with life as quickly as possible. Come find confidence and optimism when you need it most!

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Why You Should Date a Man With Baggage


When you find out a guy has been married before, do you hit the brakes? Worry that he may have too much…baggage? I tell you what: You should be far more afraid of the dudes with zero baggage. I personally have never trusted someone who travels a little too light.

You want a real grown-up man? Date a divorced guy. They know two things: What it’s like to love and what it’s like to lose. Two very critical lessons. And if he has kids? Great. Even better. He has learned that there is something more important than him. He knows what it is to be humbled by love, and to put other people first.

One of the most serious boyfriends of my adult life was divorced, or divorcing (he’d been separated a year). I hadn’t dated anyone in that situation prior, and I found it refreshing to date a grown man with commitments and obligations.

When you date a much younger man (which I have many times), you realize what’s missing–they’re all hope, no miles. But when I started dating this divorced man in his late 30s, I thought he was sexy and sturdy in ways that younger men simply weren’t. He knew what it was to make decisions, and have them blow up in his face. He learned how despite your best efforts, things sometimes fall apart in your hands and break your heart. His biggest disappointment wasn’t, say, that he didn’t get into his first-choice school.

I’m not saying that divorced men are better than single men–but I’m saying that if you write off a dude because he loved someone before, you’re being shortsighted. Perhaps very. This weird idea that we have to be someone’s first love, that he or she can’t have had any life before us, is naive and crazy and, I’ll say it, selfish. Someone’s ex, or exes, their kids, all of it–is not just baggage they carry around–it’s called life. And I want a man with a little on him. Don’t you?

In the end, this man and I were not a match; we ended up wanting different things. When he was fresh off his divorce he warned that he wasn’t about to get back in that situation again. I was like, No problem. Yet as it turns out, he was the one who eventually wanted that coupled, married life back–and I couldn’t blame him. I knew he needed that, but I also knew it wasn’t me.

But it had zero to do with the fact that he had been married before. Not one iota.

I say this because looking for partners or lovers or any rich and rewarding connection is NOT like picking out a shirt. You’re not looking for the one that looks like it hasn’t ever been touched. In fact, quite the opposite.

And by the way, you don’t have to have been married to have baggage. There’s not one person you could meet right now who hasn’t been hurt before. Who hasn’t been let down, left to cry his or her eyes out. Or had to make the tough decision to leave. These decisions are what give us character. It’s how we learn anything worth knowing.

As someone who hasn’t been married or been in a decades-long relationship, I worry about the opposite judgment–that someone will think I’m not capable of sustainable love or long-term connection. And people have as much as told me that. One woman who didn’t even know me said, “Oh, you’re single–you mean divorced?” No, I mean single. “What? What’s wrong? What happened to you?” I know that nothing’s wrong with me–but you can see by her knee-jerk reaction that she, and many like her, aren’t so sure.

(As an aside, I do think there’s something more than a little messed up when it’s more acceptable in our culture to essentially make a very big promise and break it, than to decide not to take it on.)

If we’re going to look at the upside of divorce, it’s that thousands of men and women are released back into the dating pool every day–many of them with a far more open-minded and enthusiastic approach to meeting new people than some of the hardened singles you encounter. It’s true. You want to feel like hot stuff? Date a man who’s fresh out of a sex-free 10-year marriage. Trust me on this one.

So don’t get scared off by baggage. Embrace it. I’d be far more leery of the person who’s got nothing–no carry-on luggage, no past, no prior commitments, no lessons learned, just a toothbrush, a change of clothes, arms swinging  free. Not only is this a near impossible find, but I’m not so sure you’d want him if you found him.

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Don’t Listen to that Crap: Your Career Isn’t Killing Your Relationship

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I write for Galtime, and I love doing it. But I have to call them on the carpet for this recent post by therapist Jane Greer,Is Your Career Killing Your Relationship?” Or maybe we just leave Galtime out of it and ask Greer what the hell she was thinking.

Why? Because the very notion that we have to choose between relationship and career sets us back at least 50 years. (And why do that, when we have the GOP to do it for us?). I just think that whole thinking is so, SO damn tired. And quite frankly, insulting.

There’s no question that managing a career and family is a challenge–even when it’s your CHOICE to do so, and many families don’t have an alternative; they need both incomes, period. But what I hate most about this kind of tack is that I sense a finger wagging at me, at all women, saying, “Are you SURE you want to do this career thing? I mean, is it worth it?”

Is it worth it? Women make up nearly half the workforce in the U.S. We’re finally–and slowly–starting to work our way up the chain here and we still don’t earn what men do. (Note only 2.6% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies are women.) Yeah, I’d say it’s worth it. It’s a career, not a fucking Birkin bag.

Never mind the fact that she holds up Russell Crowe’s breakup as an example of the damage careers do–as if that’s a relatable example. She seems to imply (though doesn’t say it outright) that Crowe’s wife’s career was the problem (after all, Danielle was filling her time with Dancing with the Stars when she clearly should have been right there on set with her hubby). And as a rule, I try not to make my career and relationship choices based on whatever Maria Menounos is reporting on this week.

She says, “Have you ever asked yourself this question: Which comes first my love life or my career?” (And that’s exactly how it’s printed, with no punctuation after “first,” which also irks me no end.)

The very idea that we bear the onus of that choice, weighing the benefits of relationship or career, makes my eyes roll so far back in my head I can see my own cerebellum. Why? Because you never, ever hear men being asked that question. No one ever says, “Hey Jack, you might wanna ease up. I mean do you need to be on the CEO track? Don’t you have a wife or something? Shouldn’t you be home with her, like now?”

As Melanie Notkin (aka savvyauntie) said to me once over a glass of vino, “You never hear anyone referred to as a career man. Just career women.”

Then, she turns the tables on us real quick, urging her female readers to not take it personally if they’re alone on a Saturday night because your husband has to work,  (You silly, sensitive goose! He’s a man! He has to work!). But, if you’re at the office very late six nights in a row, she says “it may be time to have a talk with the boss and set some boundaries.”

What? I’m all about boundaries–but why would my boss be responsible for my relationship more than his?

And if you must work at this career you insist on having, you’re going to be tired, right? So be sure to “give your partner fair warning. That way, they can make other plans and not feel ignored or abandoned.”

Now you’ll excuse me while I change my huge honking sanitary pad circa 1975 (btw, here’s what you might have used if you were riding the cotton pony at any point during the Ford administration).

This issue came up again and again during this past election: The assumption that balance is a woman’s problem. (Check out Jan Bruce’s piece on forbes.com on the topic.)

While I’m not married myself, I do live on the planet, and it seems to me the strongest marriages are those in which both parties evolve and support each other as pursue career and other goals, and yes, some difficult choices have to be made. And some marriages (many) won’t make it. But this persistent idea that it’s the woman’s fault for not “balancing” things correctly is a lot of horseshit. It puts the onus on women and implies that if it doesn’t work out, it was likely her fault.

I like to think Greer, being a marital therapist with some renown and practicing in the modern age, would agree with me on this, but if she does, she has a funny way of showing it.

Besides, careers don’t kill relationships; people do. And you don’t even need a career to do that.

 

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Why Petraeus Should Not Have Resigned

He shouldn't have left.

General Petraeus should not have resigned. In fact, I wish the president had said, “Sorry General, I do not accept. Now, get back to work.”

I’m not going to pretend I understand the goings-on of the FBI and the CIA, and the more I read about the Petraeus scandal, the more I realize that a lot of the hubbub has to do with the pecking order of who knew what when and how. That’s a whole different issue and has more to do with the handling of delicate information than it does the affair itself.

Now, of course, there are real concerns about why resignation might be in order for someone in his position–compromising national security among them. But at this point, the FBI has found only personal drama, and no security issues connected with the affair (says CBS news).

Let’s Look at What’s Really Bothering You

So let’s take the security issues off the table for now and get to the part that makes headlines, namely that a man of power had an extramarital affair with his young, beautiful biographer. It’s hardly surprising, and yet we seem to be endlessly scandalized by it when it happens. What’s on trial right now (even if Petraeus is not and likely won’t be), is his affair. This is yet more evidence that our reaction to cheating in our culture remains way over the top. Losing your job and ending your career over a sexual affair is ridiculous and incongruous and shouldn’t happen. Period.

We love to be scandalized by the falls from grace–by politicians, war heroes, celebrities. We can’t believe this could happen to them in a way, because who’s more brilliant, more beautiful, more impervious than they are? We’re shocked that a smart, family man or woman would dare take such a risk, or that someone with a rock solid marriage would ever need to seek sex outside the marriage. We think they “should know better.” Wha? Anyone over the age of 12 probably “knows” better. These two people made a choice that, now that they’re outed, they have to say was a mistake, something they just shouldn’t have done. And if there was ever a way for us to know, and there isn’t, what really went on between them, I’d say that wasn’t a mistake at all–the mistake was in letting it get out.

When are we going to stop being scandalized, and instead realize that this happens–to lots and lots of people. Not because society is going down the toilet or because something has changed, but because in fact NOTHING has.

The fact is that human behavior hasn’t changed, and won’t anytime soon. People have been having affairs for as long as anyone can remember. What’s changed or is changing is our response to it, and it is, slowly. At one time you would be (and in some cultures still will be) stoned to death by your own neighbors for such a crime. Today, barring the chance that a jealous lover takes matters into his or her own hands, chances are you won’t be killed for your affair. And if the threat of death didn’t deter people in darker times, the threat of divorce or embarrassment won’t either, and doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter where you went to school, or how much you earn, or how beautiful you or your spouse is. How smart or sophisticated or loving you are. Of course, your affair will get a lot more national attention if you’re a four-star general, but accountants and school teachers and policemen have found themselves in this same predicament. I don’t think they’re bad people because of it. The thing is, we like to THINK that General Petraeus has a stronger moral character or is better than us and can’t possibly fall prey to this. And the panic arises when we realize that if that guy or that woman can’t resist that temptation, than how can any of us? Indeed. That is the question.

This isn’t to say that everyone cheats, or that everyone should. The numbers are pretty high, though (by some accounts, 60% of men and 40% of women cheat). But it also doesn’t mean that having an extramarital affair should spell the end of your marriage, your career, or your life.

The Question of Monogamy

Why this hang up over sex? While we’re drawn to monogamy, and still hold it up as the ideal and the only way to love (which I don’t agree with either), we’re not all that great at it. Some say we’re not even actually built for it (check out Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan). We continue to hold ourselves and others to a standard that few of us can adhere to. And punish ourselves harshly for it.

The very idea that you should lose your job, your career (especially in Petraeus’s case, who isn’t exactly a replaceable employee) over a sexual affair is ludicrous to me. You think, well, he might have put us in danger. Perhaps. And yet, we may be in far more danger because he’s no longer at his post.

Think I’m cynical? Hardly. I don’t see cynicism as the answer or the best response, either. Assuming that everyone will cheat and the world is going to hell in a handbasket is not the goal or the panacea. In fact, I believe we should have a far less cynical and more realistic, sex-positive approach to the role of sex in our lives and relationships. We still cling to this false and fantasy-driven idea that this can’t or shouldn’t happen–that you can’t love someone, you can’t want and maintain a decades-long relationship, and yet want or seek out sex elsewhere. And yet, we can–and do. But it shouldn’t spell the end of everything if that happens.

The Thing Everyone Says (Especially Women)

Then comes the quaint complaint of the simpler minded: “If you’re going to cheat, why not just get a divorce first?”

I’ll tell you why: Because in many cases, people have no desire to end their marriages.  They love their spouses. In fact, many of the people who have affairs outside the marriage are in fact quite happy in most areas of their relationship. They don’t want to end their marriage. And why should they? Why is it more ok in our culture to upend and tear asunder a rich and valuable, years-long life together than it is to want or god forbid act on the desire to have sex someone else? This is not ok.

We put far, far too much stake in the idea of sexual exclusivity than serves us or our relationships. Yes, you can love your spouse and want to keep what you have and still be drawn to and want sex with someone else. Eric Anderson, PhD, author of The Monogamy Gap, says that the reason why men cheat (his study focused on men specifically) is simple: It’s a rational response to an irrational situation. We hold the bar far too high, and then wonder why we come up short. Again and again.

Does this mean I endorse any and all cheating? That I’m all, Sure, yeah, go ahead, what the hell? Of course not. It’s a serious and risky choice to make, and one I’m convinced no one wants to hear about, namely the spouse. We don’t want it flaunted in our faces, and we don’t want to feel rejected or embarrassed by it. But that doesn’t mean that when this happens, and it does happen, it has to spell the end of a relationship–and certainly not the end of your life.

Can Long-Distance Relationships Work?

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Yes and no. And not the way you think. Can you be involved with someone who lives far away? Yes. Will it work if you attempt to adhere to hard-and-fast rules where you define the success of the relationship by how “true” to each other you can be, by how little you can be invested in your local lives and live only to Skype?

Yeah, that’s not going to work.

It’s all about the timeframe and the expectation. If you’ve been very serious with someone and he or she has to move away for a set period of time, that may be doable because there’s a deadline. Or, you’ve been long distance and there are real plans in place to move closer within the next year.

But if he lives far away and there’s no realistic time period when he will be within striking distance–like, ever–then you have to be realistic, too. This does not mean you have to cut this person out of your life; in fact, an annual or even quarterly reunion with a long-distance love can be amazing, and give you something to look forward to.

I am not, however, a fan of the eternal, long-distance pine. And I have had several long-distance relationships, and not a one of them lasted very long. But I don’t see the distance as what failed them; I see our severed connections as having suffered a lack of vision, not love or affection.

You can keep people in your life in degrees. Too many of us see our relationships as an on/off switch—they’re either “on” in your life or they’re completely powered off. I do not understand this. I mean, I get why people feel they need to do this, but am shocked at why we continue to think in this very stringent and joyless way.

I’ll share: I met up with a man I’d known years ago at a dear friend’s funeral, where we connected over our grief—and found we had more in common than just our loss. He was from New England, where I was at the time, but was living in Miami. For a while it was quite romantic—he flew me to Florida, he came up to visit, and it was really a lot of fun. It’s fun to want someone you can’t have all the time (so, ok, yes, pining does have its upside). There was some talk of him moving back up north with his job, but then something changed. He became all of a sudden unreachable, unresponsive. When we finally talked, he said he’d made the decision to stay in Miami, and that meant he didn’t know what the point of our relationship was.

Wow. OK. So at first I was hurt that he would make this decision essentially to write off the state and me without talking to me about it. But also, I told him the relationship didn’t need to go anywhere it hadn’t already gone—that I would be just as happy to see him when he was up here, or make plans to visit him there. I was willing to reimagine the relationship so that we were free to live our lives, and yet could still enjoy one another when we could.

He was not so open-minded, and so it ended. But the real loss there was that he felt he needed to 100% vaporize. And he took it all—his friendship, everything. I feel bad for people like this, who think that relationships are all or nothing, when they don’t have to be. It was my loss, but I also believe it was his.

My point is this: By all means, cultivate and enjoy connections where you find them. But don’t get caught up on the on/off switch. Life is long. You don’t know where and how people will find themselves back into your life or your neighborhood. Keep it open, flexible, and loving, and you really can write your own rules.

Got a question? Some trouble? A mini crisis? Send it my way. 

Should a Woman Ask a Dude Out?

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I’m no stranger to asking out dudes. I’ve done it—slipped my number into someone’s hand, slid a napkin-scribbled note onto a table, approached a man eating alone at a sushi bar, even walked straight up to a very hot guy in some kind of grounds crew and invited him to call me. But I’ll be honest—while it can be sexy and fun, and a great experiment to honing and exploring your confidence, most of those dates never transpired.

Women like to be chosen, plain and simple. Even the big loud-mouthed ones like me. And if you do the asking, you aren’t letting the guy take that step. You undermine his ability and urge to initiate action. Another thing that could happen is that you set a precedent—that you will be the one to ask for everything you want, thus removing some initiative on his part.

Now, every time I say this, I hear from men who say they would love it if a woman asked them out. And some men may like this, sure. We ALL want to be chosen in some way. It’s how you make that choice known that matters. In my experience, when a man takes the role of asking, he is deciding, not just agreeing to what YOU want or (god forbid) giving in. Maybe you’ve asked someone out and it worked and you’re together and happy. Good for you! It works in some cases, sure. But in my own life, I was finding that when I was too aggressive or felt the need to “produce” the relationship this way, I was getting in my own way and actually hindering him.

Understand this does NOT mean a woman is just a passive piece of produce waiting to be picked up, palpated, and taken home. In fact, you as a woman have a very powerful role to play here because in order to have a man walk through the doorway, you kinda have to open it.

So, rather than wonder if you should come out of nowhere and ask him out like some kind of surprise romantic attack, or sit and wait like a stone, do the opposite—lay the groundwork for attraction. You can’t start a fire out of nothing. Think of your efforts at flirting, connecting, etc, as laying the kindling and creating the conditions for fire to spark.

How? BE interested, show interest, give him lots of opportunity to talk to you, be around you, and pick up on all your positive, attractive energies. Make it clear that if he WERE to ask you out, you’d say yes (without of course saying that).  No one likes being rejected, and so you want to be sure he gets the sense that he won’t be. Look, dudes don’t always pick up on subtleties. So don’t be too subtle. He can’t read your mind. If he mentions a sushi restaurant bar just opened near him, you say, “I live for sushi. I could eat it every damn day.” (Only say this if it’s true, which, in my case, it is.) Or maybe you just tell him what you think: That he’s almost too damn appealing to pass up. That’ll send a message.

When you allow and encourage that attraction to take root and get his attention, you don’t have to worry about whether you should ask him out. Because you won’t have to.

And if he doesn’t? Maybe he’s not into it. Or not ballsy enough. Two good reasons to move on.