First Dates is fun and instructive

April 16th, 2017

First there was The Bachelor, then The Bachelorette, followed by dating shows for those who are large and lovely, have a huge age span between them, first meet in complete darkness, etc. In other words, almost every kind of angle on making that first love connection has been explored through reality TV. Some have endured through many seasons, others had such a short life that we missed them entirely and/or can’t remember their name or what their specific focus was. Yet, the subject continues to draw viewers as so many people are out there seeking ways to find and connect wit that right person for them.

Now there is a wonderful new dating show called First dates, and airing (ironically?) on Friday nights on NBC. It’s appropriately titled First Dates, and is exclusively about that. What is unique is that it doesn’t feature one specific age, weight, gender category—it’s about bringing couples together who range from young to older, are from different backgrounds and demographics—and the only thing they have in common is their desire to meet compatible others for dating and maybe more.

The show has a funny angle to it, influenced no doubt by Executive producer, Ellen DeGeneres. It is narrated by Drew Barrymore, and is based on a hit U.K. show that uses the same format. The first dates it features are all held in the same posh, Chicago restaurant used exclusively for the show on the night of taping. Their dates are not scripted, and the audience gets to be a fly on the wall, watching and listening to their first glances, impressions, awkward exchanges, positive connecting—even their quick phone calls from the rest room to friends, as they offer their thoughts about their date. My favorite so far, “he’s me with a penis.”

Single viewers have a unique opportunity to sit back and observe the body language of the individuals and see how this lines up with what they say. It’s a great way to get good at reading what someone is really thinking and feeling—which is where many folks get tripped up on first dates. Pay close attention to what people say and do and how this comes across to a date. What is good, what falls flat—and why.

I know, it’s on Friday night. Isn’t that what TiVo is for? You can learn something from this funny, candid and at times, very endearing show. I loved the two seniors who met and connected, both in recovery from the death of a beloved spouse. There’s hope for everyone here. Give it a look.

Is sleep derprivation hurting your communication?

April 8th, 2017

You might be thinking, well I know that answer. After all common sense tells us that we don’t function the same without sleep. While that is true and simple on the surface, how sleep deprivation specifically impacts communication may surprise and inform you.

To begin with, when we lose sleep it impairs our ability to read happiness and sadness in those around us, yet our ability to interpret emotions like disgust, fear and anger remained intact. If we think a moment about what this could translate to in an interaction, it might be that we would be reacting to anger but not realizing that a partner’s unhappiness is behind it. One without the other leaves us with an incomplete picture on which to base an assumption or conclusion, which definitely causes problems in a relationship.

The research led by a University of Arizona psychologist and published in the journal Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms found these differences in what we can and cannot recognize when we don’t get enough sleep. They concluded that the difference may be in how we are wired to recognize primitive emotions in order to help ensure immediate survival due to the possibility of danger associated with those emotions. However social emotions are not tied to immediate survival—yet are certainly important to the health of our relationships and happiness. Our evolution has not gone that far yet, so we need to rely on other things to ensure better social outcomes.

This subtle awareness is tied to EQ (emotional intelligence), and indeed some people have more of an innate ability, but others can raise theirs with awareness and practice—and apparently, getting enough sleep.

The 54 participants in this study were asked to read faces only—and nonverbal communication involves so much more. Therefore it’s likely that when sleep deprived, our ability to read the overall nonverbal messages of others is significantly impaired. What this boils down to socially is that we could be misreading people and responding inappropriately to them based on our false conclusions about how they are thinking and feeling.

As a couples’ therapist, I see this miscommunication a lot. Maybe I need to focus more on the importance of sleep, especially before sitting down to problem-solve or have a difficult discussion about something. If you find that you are often misinterpreting people at work, in your family, in your social and intimate relationships—pay attention to how much quality sleep you are getting. If it is less than 7 hours a night, consider taking steps to improve that. It may make a big difference in helping you be a better communicator.

Would you recommend your spouse as a great partner?

March 23rd, 2017

A piece titled You May Want to Marry My husband was published in the New York Times Modern love column on March 3, 2017. It was written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who finished it 10 days before her death on March 13. What is remarkable about this piece is not that she wrote it so close to her death—it is the topic and how she delves into it that will leave every reader touched and a bit haunted.

Amy KR was an author of 28 children’s books, a mother of three, and wife to Jason Rosenthal for 27 years. She was very happily married to a man she fell in love with on their first (blind date.) Though they had already had many years and 3 kids together, they were looking forward to the next 27, but cancer changed all of that.

This remarkable woman was facing her imminent death, yet it was very important to her to write this piece in the hope it would help her spouse find both acceptance of her death and new love eventually. In it Ms. Krouse Rosenthal shares the many wonderful qualities her husband possesses, his physical attractiveness, likability, that he is a sharp dresser, how he has kept himself in good physical shape, his handiness around the house, that he is a great cook, his love of music, his artistic talent, what a great travel companion he is—and most of all, a supportive and loving husband and great Dad. If I weren’t already married to my dream man, I’d be looking up Jason.

Ms. Krouse-Rosenthal wrapped up her last and most important piece on Valentine’s Day. She thought of it as one last gift she could give the man of her dreams. She knew she could not have him anymore—but wanted desperately for him to find new love with someone else. Seriously, is there any greater love than this?

Kleenex anyone?

The importance of male bonding and friendship

March 18th, 2017

Much is made about the importance of friendship to women. Our social contacts and circles are where we draw a lot of support, empathy, understanding, and a sense of connectedness from. But why is it so different for men?

Guys often have more friends when they are younger—friends from school, other single guys from their workplace, and guys that belong to their urban tribe (if they belong to one). However as men enter committed relationships, marry, have families, and move along in years—they often let their old friendships lapse. Given the transient nature of our lives, and the demands of work and family life—this is very understandable. Yet women, even working women, tend to make an extra effort to keep track of friendships and keep at least some connections alive.

By middle age, many men experience a loneliness that only friendships with other men could fill. Billy Baker penned a great piece on this topic for The Boston Globe. In it he talks about how this loneliness men feel impacts their health and happiness. Vivek Murthy (Surgeon General) has spoken many times about isolation and called it the most prevalent health issue in our country today.

But how can a guy be lonely when he has a family and work to occupy him? Apparently, these connections add value and depth to our lives, but they also drain us and make demands that only someone who doesn’t need/rely on us can help feel. In other words, me time with like-minded folks, engaged in play, conversation and bonding—fills a need that nothing else can.

If what I have said so far doesn’t give you pause, digest this. Beginning in the 1980’s, repeated studies have been showing that people who are socially isolated are much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected peers, even when the studies correct for gender, lifestyle, and age. One study said loneliness is the new smoking. Now that should give everyone pause.

When married men share couple friends with their spouses, this can fill a part of that need. Other dads they meet through sports and school events, and actually connect and hang out with—can make a difference as well. Actually, these are common ways that women meet new friends. But what about all the single and divorced guys? They might just be the loneliest people on the planet.

It seems one of the best ways for men to meet other men and form friendships is through shared activities that bring them together regularly. Sports, volunteer work, a passion like scuba diving, running marathons, or rock climbing—can all help men to form real connections, not just those superficial ones that lead nowhere.

So if you are a lonely man or woman, consider pursuing a passion, joining a cause, or finding a way to give back in your hood—and make this a consistent and regular part of your life and schedule. Through regular contact with like-minded people (at least in one thing), you could develop new friendships with depth.

If you are married and reading this, don’t panic that your spouse could meet someone of the opposite sex and find that deeper connection. Encourage them if they need this in their life, put any feelings of insecurity aside, and consider doing the same for yourself if your old friendships have drifted away. Good partners care about what is best for one another and encourage them to get it.

What does China have to do with you finding a relationship?

March 14th, 2017

Unfortunately it has more to do with you finding that right person than you may think. As James Carville said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” In a world that is rapidly shrinking, with the world’s economies increasingly interdependent on one another—what happens when U.S. jobs are lost to nations like China, there is a direct impact on our individual citizens.

Economic professors from MIT, the University of Zurich, and the University of California at San Diego looked at the connection between our opening of trade with China and Mexico that allowed US companies to tap cheaper labor across borders, and the U.S. drop in marriage rates, where the share of married women ages 25 to 39 fell by at least 10 percentage points across all socio-economic levels. What they found is that manufacturing is an economic foundation on which a lot of other social arrangements rest. Therefore, when these jobs disappear, there is a reduction of marriageable men. This is because the value of heterosexual men tends to be tied to their employment status because women are likely to reject a man who is not financially stable and able to contribute to the finances of a partnership. Yes, research shows that money does matter—but don’t assume it is because women are shallow, it’s more about survival instincts.

Notice that this research does not say that a man has to be a high earner, he just needs to have a stable job that can pay the bills. For most women, this is enough to provide that sense of security. Birth rates among married couples also go down when the unemployment rate increases, which makes a lot of sense. However unmarried birth rates can go up—maybe because pregnancy can be unplanned and some women may feel they have no choice but to have their babies.

So for any guys out there who worry she is only interested in your earning potential—there is only a little truth in this. For women who think money “doesn’t matter,” it does. Your future health, security, and family stability requires that you choose with your head as well as your heart.

If your sex life isn’t great you are not alone

March 8th, 2017

If you think your relationship is the only one that is lacking a good sex life—think again. A new study has just been published in the journal Archives of Sexual behavior that showed a drop in sexual activity that crosses gender, race, religious, educational and work status lines. Unpartnered folks have traditionally had less sex than partnered ones and though that continues to be true—married people are showing the sharpest decline in sexual activity overall. Ouch, there goes the “marriage advantage.”

Data from the 1989-2014 General Social Survey was used, and demonstrated that American adults have sex seven to nine fewer times than they did in the 1990’s. Doesn’t seem like a lot overall, but it is a clear trend. Married people as a subgroup had a steeper decline in the frequency of sex. The average went from 73 times a year in 1990 to 55 in 2014. Unmarried people currently average 59 sexual encounters per year.

The study did not list reasons why this is happening—but many of us could offer ones that are likely suspects. People are experiencing more stress in their lives, more are using medications to deal with stress/depression that impact sexual desire. In addition, more couples have both partners working outside the home, and this leads to less down time and time for the couple to relax and be alone together.

Since sex is linked to marital satisfaction, this is something we all need to pay attention to, especially those of us who work with couples experiencing marital discord and unhappiness. Too often couples focus on money, stress, and communication problems. Yet their interest in and willingness to put aside other issues and work on their intimacy should be a priority. Intimacy is what distinguishes a committed couple from best friends and roommates—which is what many couples report their relationships have become.

Time spent on electronic devices may also be a culprit. If someone is spending hours online interacting with others instead of setting that time aside for their partner—their sex life will suffer. Another factor is age—many couples slow down as they age and with increased health problems, sex often becomes more like work than fun for couples. Therefore paying attention to one’s overall health and well-being can directly impact one’s marital satisfaction. Now there is a strong motivation for eating well, exercising often, getting the right amount of sleep, setting limits on work, and managing stress in a healthier way.

Want a better sex life? It all begins with you as an individual.

My prediction—Nick of The Bachelor will choose Vanessa

March 7th, 2017

From that first moment when Vanessa stepped out of the limo, she had Nick’s attention. In fact, as she walked away and into the mansion, Nick remarked that she is “a keeper.” I was surprised when Rachel got the first impression rose—I knew Nick was drawn to her, but thought of her as a second to Vanessa. So last night when he said good-bye to Rachel, it wasn’t surprising.

Maybe Nick just didn’t want to deal with a future where race would be an issue. Maybe Rachel’s “church” lifestyle is just too conservative for him, and maybe he just felt more for Vanessa and Raven, both of whom he has been clearly into all along.

Obviously Rachel lands on her feet and then some. Now she will get to choose between 30 guys, and have the experience of a lifetime doing so. So that leaves raven, who is actually quite young, sweet, and clearly smitten with Nick. I believe Nick won’t choose her because though he loves her sweet wholesomeness, she is not as much of a challenge as Vanessa. He and Vanessa often talk about how alike they are, how they might clash because of it—and Vanessa seems to challenge Nick, as well as turn him on.

They talked about geography last night and we finally got to witness a discussion like this—one that is rooted in reality. Both are close to their families, they love their respective countries—and moving to another country is very different from moving to a different state. They did not come to any agreement and we viewers were left with a sense that this could be a deal breaker—and Vanessa hinted at this as she discussed her “core values” being a definite deal breaker if a potential partner did not share them. Go Vanessa.

However in spite of all this, I think Nick will choose Vanessa for all the reasons I have cited—and just because they seem to be a better fit than he and Raven. However making it work long term will be an issue—and it may be that the divide is just too wide and no middle ground can be found. Nick also has a wild streak and Vanessa loves working with special needs adults, hanging with family every Sunday and other very mundane, real life things. I imagine Nick is attracted to that, yet may bristle if asked to live a mundane life.

We are down to the finish and no matter who wins, in the long run, Nick may just not be ready for a committed relationship.

April Flowers—the movie

February 25th, 2017

A while back I was asked to preview a movie before it was released for the first time on February 13th in Germany. It’s a debut feature from Myopia Pictures, which is a production company based in NY and headed by the film’s writer and director, Christopher Tedrick. It’s a Rom-Com with a little something extra thrown in. I don’t want to give anything important away here, but will hopefully get your interest. This is a film I definitely recommend—especially to anyone out there looking for “the one.”

I LOVED this film. My attention never wavered and it was anything but predictable. It’s about a young woman who is longing for that special someone, but who seems to have a history of always finding fault with the men who are into her. She is romantic yet cynical, intelligent, yet thinks primarily with her heart and gut. She longs for a soulmate, but finds it hard to connect when a great guy is right in front of her.

This film speaks to how technology or virtual connecting can take on a life of its own. Believing that we know someone based on what they write about themselves leaves a lot out—and this film deals with this in a unique and touching way. It delves into the feelings of its primary character and introduces us to her cool friend and confident, and to a great guy she meets through ironic coincidence. We watch a romance blossom as we wonder about her search for an elusive journal writer who speaks to her feelings in a way that draws her in and keeps her engaged in her quest to find him, even at the potential expense of her budding love affair.

We are kept on edge as to whether she will ever find the writer, what will happen to her real life relationship—and if she will ever feel satisfied that a real and less than perfect guy could be her perfect guy. The ending has a few good twists and we are not left wanting. Enjoy…

What does Tinder have that dating websites do not?

February 22nd, 2017

If you are single and dating and are not familiar with Tinder, you are rare indeed. Tinder has been ranked as the #1 most downloaded lifestyle app for 2 years and counting. Yet if offers little information to users about potential matches. So why is it so popular?

For many folks it is like a drug—you take a hit and then another and get instant satisfaction. There is no delaying gratification as on dating websites where you post a profile, wait for others to respond, read through their profiles, send an email, wait for a response, chat online, maybe chat by phone for a bit—and then possibly agree to that first face-to-face meeting.

Tinder on the other hand serves up potential matches based on looks, location, and availability. Profiles often arrive one after the other—and all the user has to do is swipe right or left and wait to see if the other person goes with right or left. If both swipe right, they can meet immediately as they are always in close proximity, which is one Tinder requirement.

In the old days, we would have scoffed at how shallow this approach is dud to it being based on looks and convenience. But were we being honest with ourselves then? Dating success relies heavily on looks and convenience and always has. Now we are just being honest about it and it has become socially acceptable to pursue others based solely on these criteria.

Tinder has gotten smart (greedy) and limits right swipes for those who don’t sign up for premium—so it’s like any addiction, you will need to keep spending to get your high—and Tinder is a big high for its users. Not surprisingly it has been found that men and women come into Tinder dating with different motivations. Yes, some things don’t change. Women buy into the swipe right based on scarce criteria but are often looking for something more than just a fun date. Men on the other hand are more interested in short-term dating and making a lot of fun matches. Therefore guys tend to swipe right more often than women, which means more women get matches delivered to their inbox then men do. The problem is they may not be looking for the same thing and won’t know this until after that first or second date.

Women are more apt to send messages following matches, and they offer more detail in what they share about themselves then men do. Again, not surprising that guys put in less effort as they are more interested in having an encounter than finding that right person to have the encounter with.

Despite these differences, lasting matches are being made and there are more and more marriages that began by swiping right. There are always users of both sexes looking for love and more. And since it is such a popular app—users increase their odds by being there.

So you will still have to meet and connect with a few frogs, but Prince Charming could absolutely be out there. The elements of luck and timing have always been part of dating and this is the case here as well.

So get active, swipe right when interested and actively engage in those first meetings, putting forth your best true self. Mr or Ms Right are out there somewhere and there is a high probability they are using Tinder right now.

Singles Awareness Day

February 15th, 2017

Just what the single man or woman needs the day after Valentine’s Day—Singles Awareness Day. For weeks now you have been only too aware of your single state and have been counting each day until you could forget about it for another 364 days or you find that right person to celebrate the 14th with next year, whatever comes first.

But no, someone had to come up with Singles Awareness Day which is meant to declare to the world that there is nothing wrong with being single, and that there are in fact, many advantages to the solo life. That Shakespearean quote comes to mind, “Me thinks the Lady (or man) doth protest too much.”

Indeed why do singles have to proclaim this, especially if they don’t really buy into it? To let folks know they are not desperate, undesirable, looking too hard, and/or somehow not fit for coupledom? It seems that if you feel the need to explain, it is because you are feeling defensive, and really, why should you be defensive? Because you haven’t yet found someone you want to commit to, because you enjoy your life as it is and/or are open to the possibility of relationship but not to the idea of forcing it?

The vast majority of us have a solid, happy relationship in our list of long-term goals. It’s NATURAL to desire a partner, friend, confident and lover to go through life with. Other non-human mammals do as well. Isn’t life more fun when you can share it with someone special? It’s the “someone special” part that can be hard to find—and many folks just aren’t willing to settle just to be coupled. Those that do often burn out quickly and find themselves back in the land of the single. Isn’t it more mature, wiser, and a happier experience to get it right the first and only time?

So if you are single today, you don’t need a greater awareness of it. Just go ahead and embrace the life you have, the choices you have made so far—and imagine the possibilities for relationship happiness that could be just around the corner. Get in touch with your inner happy person, this is the one who will help you find and attract that love you seek.

Enjoy


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