Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm lacking confidence

Dear Edahn, 

I am one of those people who lacks a healthy dosage of confidence. I am most comfortable in my own company. I have put up with way too much in the past from friends though I'm becoming more and more convinced that it has only been as a result of my upbringing. Although I have a sibling, we are the extreme opposite of each other. My sibling radiates confidence and enjoys the spotlight. I, on the other hand, just vanish into the background, as if I was born without a voice, that is even when i speak. Much of this, I believe, has to do with the fact that my sibling has received both praises and parental support throughout his life. I have pretty much had to motivate myself. Though I have grown stronger, at the same time I feel like somewhere along the way I've lost touch with people. Don't get me wrong, I love people and I love being in their company. However, it seems I have to work that much harder to make myself 'heard.' What is your take on this?

I think it's groovy, baby! 

You've identified an area of your life that could use improvement, done some reflection on the causes of it, and are taking corrective action to restore the situation to something fluid and healthy (rather than just wallowing in misery or anger). Sounds great!

As to what happened, I guess that are all sorts of factors and experiences that would cause someone to hesitate when interacting with others. The way our parents raised us is probably the biggest factor, though I'm sure teachers, genetics, and peers also contribute. I recently wrote this sentence in my journal: "Rewriting your scripts is the process of becoming your own parent." A script is how you see a situation unfolding. When I wrote that, I was specifically referring to how you see your life unfolding in the future, as in do you imagine yourself being content or frustrated? Calm or agitated? But there are microscripts too, like how you see interactions with others unfolding.

Right now, you personally have certain expectations for how the interaction will go, e.g., they'll say something, I'll get quiet, I'll try and say something, they'll ignore me, I'll have to do this and that, I'll feel afraid or confused or alone, I'll have to work on it, etc. Self-improvement is a process of examining, challenging, and rewriting these scripts (especially in the cognitive-behavioral approach). You find the ability, sometimes by surprise, to say "you know what, maybe this doesn't have to go the way it's always gone, and maybe I don't have to expect the worst. Maybe I can start expecting something better to happen or just forget it all and be open to a new, unexpected experience happening." In doing so, you're abjuring (good word, Edahn!) the old scripts and making room for new ones. It's like going into your past and acting as your own parent who guides their child and helps them form a positive and trusting relationship with the world and themselves which in turn builds healthy scripts.

It's great to see you already in that process. With a decent attitude and a little practice, I have no doubt that you'll succeed in shedding those tired scripts and kicking some serious ass.

(Just a reminder, if you want to show appreciation, you can Digg this blog, share it with a friend, become a Follower, whatever. Grazi!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm not making this up!

Dear Edahn,

I have been confused for years as to how to go about make-up. I hate being misleading and dishonest and that's why I don't usually wear make up. How do guys feel about make up HONESTLY? How should I? I don't like the feeling of 'you see me one way, and in the morning, you'll see me a whole different way...' but if it's something that's really accepted, then I wouldn't mind getting made up. Please shed some light on this topic! Thanks.

How do guys feel about makeup? I haven't done a survey, but common sense tells me that it depends on the guy, the setting, and what he's looking for. Most guys probably don't have strong opinions about makeup per se, but have strong opinions about what they find attractive, which varies somewhat from person to person. Lets take a looksie.

Lets start with Exhibit A. There are the guys who drive Beemers, go to clubs, and hit on girls in order to find temporary mating partners and brag about them later. You can tell from their little Dubya lips how serious they are about themselves and their stupid hats. In a bar, you're almost certainly going to need some make up to catch their attention in a positive way. Not wearing makeup will brand you an untouchable social pariah.

Exhibit A. Douchebag^2.

Moving on, we have Exhibit B, a smelly hippie from Northern California who's looking to invade/connect with your soul. (I don't really know where this particular smelly hippie is from, but I assume it's somewhere dirty.) He hangs out at the park with his djembe and mingles with people named after constellations. He says the word "energy" much too much. For him, less makeup = more natural = more like me = more accessible.

Exhibit B. Dirty hippie.

In between these dorks is Exhibit C, a guy who frequents the bars but is as thoughtful -- and perhaps charmingly clueless -- as you are. He likes a little makeup but not too much, and would still be interested in talking to you if you were made down (is that a word?) assuming you had a nice, playful, welcoming energy disposition.

Exhibit C. Almost normal.

Here's my advice. Look at this makeup thing as a challenge. The challenge is to try and find the balance between wearing so much make up that you start to feel like you're wearing a costume, and wearing just enough that you look nice and presentable. You can take into account the place that you're going to, the clothes you're wearing, the type of guy you're looking for, and the mood you're in. You're like the computer that gets fed all that data and is looking to harmonize it somehow with the right combination. This way you can make it kind of fun and interesting, almost like an art project of sorts. Don't worry too much about being deceptive, since most guys know you'll be wearing some makeup anyway. If you decide that some days you're not in the mood for any makeup, that's cool too. Just don't expect to go home in a Beemer that night.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why aren't my friends being supportive?

Dear Edahn,

Why are people so embittered? When things get cloudy and you need them, that's when they'll do their best to make sure that things stay cloudy for you. It's not supposed to be this way. Maybe I've been talking to the wrong people. Thanks for being here Edahn.

There are some motherfuckers who see your vulnerability as a chance to climb up the ranks and seize power over you. In truth, they're not the total basterts that they appear to be; they're just insecure and lacking self-confidence. They prematurely submit to others and are uncomfortable with it, so when they see an opening to reverse roles and act as the dominant figure, they thrust themselves in by piling on the criticism to keep you down.

There's another thing that might be going on here, though. (Rut roh!) Some people, when feeling down, turn to others to provide them with strokes. You can think of a stroke as pity or commiseration. An example might be Girl 1 saying to a friend "I hate my parents, they're so mean! They make me do dishes that I haven't even used!" Girl 1 wants Girl 2 to say something like "What? I'm sorry. That's not fair. Parents are so tough." (Stroke stroke stroke!) Girl 2 might decide, instead, to respond objectively and honestly and say something like "well, do they sometimes do your dishes?" or "do they do other stuff for you that makes doing their dishes fair?"

Why wouldn't she offer Girl 1 the fuzzy, warm agreement she's seeking? Because Girl 2 doesn't like offering something when she feels pressured. She prefers offering things of her own volition. If she refuses to concede to Girl 1's request, Girl 1 might perceive Girl 2 as being unsupportive or trying to keep things cloudy and unresolved for her. Girl 1 will get pissed because she's come to depends on the strokes. Girl 1 doesn't realize that she doesn't need the strokes to be okay.

So what's happening with you? I don't know. I'd like to assume that the problem lies with your friends, but from such a short question it's hard to tell and I want to cover all my bases for your benefit and the other 8 readers of this blog. You can figure it out by becoming sensitive to your motivation and  the motivation of your friends when you open up to them. Are you expecting them to comfort you or just be honest and caring (which sometimes requires that they criticize you)? Are they, in turn, giving you honest feedback, or trying to rub your mess in your face?

If you conclude that your motivation is healthy and your friends are responding carelessly, then point out what they're doing and tell them to knock it off, firmly and clearly. If you decide that your motivation is unhealthy and your friends are responding with care, then just be a little more open to what they have to say and recognize that they're not criticizing out of malice but genuine concern. If you conclude your motivation is unhealthy and your friends are responding without care, well...then you're totally screwed. ;-D

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Missed the dating boat?

Dear Edahn,

First of all, thank you for answering our questions. I really appreciate the time you put into your responses. I'll try to make my question short and sweet. I was in an 8 year relationship from age 20-28. I was engaged the last two years of the relationship and with every fiber of my being did NOT want to get married. I broke it off and although I was sad and felt bad that I hurt him I was relieved to have my freedom. I gave myself 6 months then started dating. I went out on a few dates then I fell into a relationship rather quickly that lasted 6 months. The guy dumped me pretty hard. He said mean things and completely broke my heart. It was very self-esteem shattering and rocked me to the core. It took me about a year and a half to get over. 

I've been dating now for about 6 years and nothing very exceptional has happened. I've had almost every experience in the book. You name it, it's happened to me. That stuff is funny and good for storytelling but at the end of day it's not very fullfilling. Nothing seems to stick. I just don't seem to find men that interest me very much. I'm tired of this, tired of dating and feel really ready to love someone. The problem is, I feel so old. Like all my lessons came so damn late. Most people are married off by the time they're 33 and I haven't even met "the guy" yet and I'm 36. I guess I don't really have a question but am seeking some advice as how to handle myself. I've just had some great career success and am ecstatic about it but also sad I have no man to share it with. I feel lost.

If I was in your shoes, this is how I would approach things.

First, I would make myself fully available for a relationship. That entails removing any obstacles that could be interfering with me meeting and getting to know someone, as well as being strategic and creative about finding an interesting person. What kind of people am I interested in? Where do those people congregate (in cyberspace or meatspace)? Am I in pretty good shape? Are there some simple things I can do to make myself more attractive? How's my personality? Am I too judgmental? Too reserved? Too serious? Too desperate? What's happening on my dates? I would solicit some feedback from my friends to help answer those questions and start making adjustments accordingly. If this is stuff you're already doing, great. If there's some room for improvement, go for it.

One thing I want to bring to your attention is the story-telling. I have some friends who are good story-tellers. Their frustrating dating life becomes a source of material and their friends begin expecting them to provide some type of entertainment in the form of a frustrating or absurd dating story. I think what starts to happen is that my friends steer their dates in the direction of frustration and absurdity in order to replicate that feeling of surprise and astonishment that they later share with their friends. The sharing is a source of amusement for everyone. That's not a bad thing, but it sets up a competition between your social success and dating success which puts pressure on your dates to go bad. If you think you've become identified that way in your social circle, I'd suggest keeping your dating life private for a little while and finding other things to talk about with your friends. You don't have to completely keep them in the dark, but you can try being more terse in your updates.

Second, I would play with my expectations. Instead of trying to meet a guy, I would try to redirect my efforts into making friends. Sure, I would still be scanning and evaluating like the Terminator (can't really help that), but I would also make a conscious effort to get to know other people and give them a chance to get to know the real me. Shifting your focus like that has a bunch of advantages: it helps bring out the best in you by making you less judgmental and driven, which in turn brings out the best in others; it gives you a chance to meet friends of friends; it gives you a chance to get close to someone in a way you hadn't expected and maybe fall for them; it gives you a little break from the pressures of dating; and, it prepares you for the possibility of not meeting someone by building a strong social network underneath you. Neither of us can say for sure whether or not you'll meet a guy you'll want to marry, but shifting your focus will benefit you either way.

Third, I would start going on adventures that offered me lots of joy. I wouldn't hinge my happiness on whether I found someone to mate with. Sure, it'd be nice, but being single, having friends, (casual sex?) and lots of free time to dabble in different intellectual and spiritual disciplines is still a pretty sweet deal. I'd probably pick a project and devote a year to it. So far on my list, I have: compare the way people baton (express themselves with their hands), catalogue the purposes of conversation, live in a commune, open a cafe somewhere, and decode the secret language of crop circles (I shit you not). What's on your list?

To sum up, I don't think think people ever really miss the boat, and learning a lesson, even if that lesson comes late, is better than not learning the lesson at all and ending up divorced or in a empty marriage. But even if you do end up missing the love boat, there're still other boats in transit that can take you to the same destination. If you'd like to write back, feel free.

Monday, October 26, 2009

We never communicate

Dear Edahn,

I am 21 years old and recently ended a 5 year relationship. We were engaged for about a year. Long story short: I lost passion for him. We rarely had conversations. We spend most of our time watching TV or something else keeping us busy. I always talked about work or what I did recently, but he said he didn't want to hear about my problems anymore. I mean, I respected that, I was really negative all the time. But all that was left in the conversation was nothing. Life became routine.

I decided to tell him about the problem one month before the relationship ended. He didn't really take it seriously and kept pushing the problem aside. Saying that it would resolve later. I also tried hard not to make it so obvious that I was unhappy since he was having problems with work, I didn't want to burden him. After a while I brought it up with him seriously and then next thing you know, we were broken up two days later! How did it go from 10 to 0? (10 being madly, passionately in love to 0 being incredibly dull.) Am I making a mistake? 

I should have tried harder, but I don't miss him. The right decisions seems like I should have put more effort, but I don't feel like I want to give that effort. I felt so anxious, like I was a sitting duck and nothing was going on in the relationship. Its difficult to gather up my emotions in words but it didn't feel genuine, it felt unnatural, it felt like something was missing. I didn't feel complete with him, like I was still searching for something to tame my soul. My mind was floating away and I needed to find something that directed my focus. I mean, we went on a 8 hour road trip and it was dead silent! I don't know exactly what I'm searching for, but I know that what I had was not right. Or do I really know?

Most relationships start with passion but need intimacy to stabilize. Your relationship is/was missing intimacy. While you may have been comfortable on the outside, you weren't really comfortable on the inside. Neither of you felt like it was safe to be yourselves and you probably both assumed certain relationship roles, like actors would. Maybe you took on the role of the negative person who complains about her work but eventually realized how unfulfilling and unnatural it was. Who knows what role he played. Maybe the role of a mime. :)

Intimacy, humor, creativity, spontaneity -- all the good stuff -- is built on trust. You know that it's okay to be yourself, as lame, boring, weird, or confused as you currently are. That trust, in my unprofessional opinion, has a lot to do with speech. On one level, the words you both use (semantics) evoke certain images and feelings that you find agreeable or not, comforting or distressing. Someone who keeps talking about "nucular bombs" will probably not get along well with a hippie who uses scarves as a substitute for real clothing. (You've seen these people, right? WTF?)

While semantics form the surface level of compatibility, deeper compatibility is built upon prosodics: the volume, intensity, tempo, and tone of speech. Some people talk fast and intensely, some people talk quietly and calmly, others are relaxed and flowing in their delivery. Whatever your style is, you broadcast a certain feeling and mood that either resonates with others or doesn't. My guess is that you both need someone who dances to a slightly different, complimentary rhythm. No one's fault, just not a good match. For instance, right now I'm sitting at Starbucks and I can hear this lady complaining about her son's little league drama. I can hear each word even though there's music playing in the background, other people are chatting, the Frappaccino maker is hard at work, and I'm partly deaf in my right ear. I wouldn't last 2 minutes with her, and for once I'm not talking about intercourse.

I know you want to be friends to help him through this and make sure he "lands" safely. He will. If you know that this is not for you and really want to move on, for your sake and for his, then you can't be friend yet. I'd prescribe 7 months of no communication. It might seem like a long time, but you both need time to get closure and move on before you can think about starting a healthy relationship free of codependency and unconscious resentment. You made a tough decision and you should be proud of yourself for being honest and having guts. Now don't go fucking it up by questioning yourself to death and caving in. Stick with what you know is true and make yourself available for new, more fulfilling relationships.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Attracted to my younger guyfriend

Dear Edahn, 

I am attracted to a guy in his late twenties who is also six years younger than I am. As far as I can tell he likes me. I have been out of a relationship for some time though I would not mind going out with him. We talk, but we are not close. How do you think I should go about it? I need some help.

Hm. Does he have a blog? Maybe an advice-related blog? Have you considered leaving a comment on it and asking him what you should do? That's kind of suggestive and flirty. Maybe he'll get the hint. Then again, maybe he won't.

If you already talk and he seems to like you, then what I'd suggest is engaging him a bit more often. You can start by upping your communication by internet (Facebook, email) and then going to phone if he seems to be reciprocating. You want the transition to appear seamless. If you already have a flirtatious relationship, then continue. If you don't, then start teasing him a little by making fun of him in ways that are clever or witty to avoid appearing malicious. You don't have to be a comedian, but a joke here and there is useful.

Within a week or so you can invite him out to somewhere non-threatening  like a bookstore, mall, or vintage clothing shop and play. You can then transition into something a little more sexually charged like a wine bar, pool hall, or maybe some type of club, assuming you can make it seem like it's something you want to do because it's generally fun and not because you want to jump his bones. By the end of the night you'll probably end up hooking up. Doesn't matter who makes the first move as long as you feel the chemistry. Play it cool like it's something that's possibly going to happen again, but if it doesn't, no big deal. If he freaks out and pulls away, let him but keep spending time with him.

Alternatively, you can try just being straightforward and asking him out on a date which you treat, but if you've already been friends for a while during which time you've been single, then taking a more surreptitious route would be your best bet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Distant boyfriend, I start to cry

Dear Edahn,

I have been in a relationship now for about a year with a great guy that really cares about me. He shows me that he cares by calling, texting, making regular plans, being my best friend, having great sex and generally "showing up" in all the right ways. However, I find myself getting very emotional with him about all kinds of things. He encourages me to talk about my feelings, so I tell him what I'm feeling a lot of the time. The problem is, I seem to get upset a lot, which is not fun for either of us.

For instance, if he is a bit distant or tired when we are spending time together, I get upset and make a comment about it, which causes him to react a bit defensively, and then I start crying. He says he doesn't mind the crying (see, great guy!), but if I'm not happy that's another problem. I AM happy with him, that's the confusing part. What can I do about my level of extreme sensitivity? Do I keep it to myself, sort of "fake it til I make it?" I don't understand why I get so emotional in romantic relationships but seem to have no problem in my friendships. Help!

Wait -- we're not supposed to mind the crying? So I shouldn't be saying "There's no crying in baseball sex romance!" in my Tom Hanks voice? Cr. Ap.

As best I can tell, this is what's happening. You want him to stay engaged and show signs that he is invested. He, naturally, needs to relax and introvert (using it as a verb here) once in a while. That leaves you feeling a little empty or uneasy, as if his distance is a signal that you guys are unconnected, or rather unconnecting. (To take it one step further, the uneasiness overshadows your sense of security, taking down your sense of self with it, and without your sense of self you panic.) You respond by expecting and trying to get him to reengage which he takes personally as a sign that he's not okay; he fires back to protect his freedom and you, already worried about the relationship coming apart, get sent over the edge, almost as if he's rejecting you and breaking up with you. That, I'm guessing, causes him to feel sorry, at which point you know that he's still invested and you feel calm and reassured again.

The first thing you can do is just recognize that this (or something similar to this) is occurring. You're interpreting his disengagement from his thoughts as a disengagement from you personally. On the surface, sure, he is disengaging from you. But it's not the type of disengagement you need to panic about; it's the type of disengagement he needs to refuel, and refueling will give him the ability to connect to you on a more intimate and personal level and really appreciate you in a simple, pure way. So you don't have to panic. Phew.

But alas, for the time being you still will panic because your mind is still conditioned to launch into the worst case scenario and interpretation: that he will forget about you and that you won't be able to reconnect. That's okay. Just know, even just intellectually, that it's not the harbinger of doom your mind (and body) are saying it is. If you know that and appreciate that, then you can claim responsibility for your reaction rather than rushing to correct it by pointing the finger at him and making it his responsibility, or by getting him to feel sorry as a tool to reengage him.

When you see the whole drama -- it's kind of like a play, isn't it? -- start to unfold inside you, just take a second to let it be there, even if it makes you feel like ass. That's one of the luxuries of being in a relationship -- you're not expected to be "on" all the time. It's okay if you feel off, or feel a sense of doom. You can tell him what you're feeling, but do it with the intention to share, not to have it corrected by him or to have him feel sorry for you.

Instead of reacting by turning to him, you can try one (or some combo) or these: 1) Let it pass. Just wait. It will. Seriously. Even if you think it won't, that's fine. A few tries will show you that you'll end up coming back and so will he. 2) Be understanding with yourself. You have a whole drama being triggered. We all do. That's exactly what karma is -- conditioned thought. No need to rush, no need to freak out, no need to worry. Patience is all you really need, since that will give you perspective of what's happening and guide your actions and decisions in a smart, wise way. 3) See a little humor in the situation. Everything is not going to shit; the dude is just unwinding. :) I'm picturing a guy like Michael Cera innocently walking over to the water fountain to take a sip, totally oblivious to the fact that his girlfriend is totally freaking out. OMG OMG OMG, it's over! This is kind of the same thing. If you can see the absurdity in that situation, you can start to see the charming absurdity (and humor) in your own situation. 4) Using your understanding of the situation, face the uncomfortable feeling directly. Yes. It sucks to feel panicky and it sucks to have that security slip, but it's not THAT THAT THAT bad. Ask yourself if you can be strong and endure it without running away or having to change it. You can even try talking some shit (to the thoughts, not your boyfriend). I ain't afraid of you, biyatch!

Try some of these out or invent your own thing using your understanding of the situation. If it works, repeat. The main thing really is to take it slow and consider what's happening and how you want to respond, rather than just going into autopilot. And remember, no shame! We're all growing together. Like fungi. Emotional fungi.

The Beauty of Acceptance

I have seen a lot of beautiful things in my life -- award-winning rosescalligraphy samples by J.S. Griffith, Girls Gone Wild Jamaica -- but nothing as beautiful as acceptance. I'll admit, I have not accepted myself or my circumstances entirely; I am not enlightened; and I lack wisdom and insight in many areas of (my) life. But I have glimpsed acceptance in myself and in others and realize it's value.

Acceptance forms the cornerstone of my therapeutic approach. People let their mind get absorbed in worrying and theorizing about the past and future -- questions about their next move, how to "exfoliate" their personality, who they are, how they work, mistakes they've made, how to resolve problems, patch up holes in their lives, blah blah blah. Those questions undoubtedly have their time and place, but in excess, they negate contentment and peace, what I prefer to call "Rest." I'm a firm believer that the best place to answer those questions is from a state of Rest, anyway.

Here's the analogy I wrote in my diary journal. Think of a person as a hot air balloon waiting to float off effortlessly, except the balloon is tied down on both side. One side represents past hang ups (ex-lovers, mistakes, speculations); the other side, future hang ups (how will I take the next step, resolve this issue, change where I am, fix myself). The therapist, guru, guide, even friend's task is to sever those hooks that keep the balloon grounded through whatever tools they have at their disposal: inspiration, empowerment, patience, good modeling, explanation, closure, listening. Each situation requires a different tool, but the end result is always the same. The person stops resisting the situation they find themselves in. They accept the past mistakes, accept the uncertainties of the future, and they begin to float. They find a place to Rest in their present predicament, as shitty as it is. You can see the difference on their face and usually a smile starts to form. Very, very pretty.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Long Distance Relationship Problems

Dead Edahn,

[Ed. -- I tried to edit this question down as best I could. Basically, he's in a LDR, they talk ALL the time and she's starting to get annoyed with all the calling, but upset when he stops.]

In college, I met this girl. We started hanging out, talking and we had a lot of chemistry, but she had a boyfriend so nothing happened. By the time she broke up with her boyfriend, I was moving to the US. We didn't talk for the next 15 years until a year ago when destiny/life put us back in contact again. I found her through Facebook, and we started talking again. We started with the occasional email and me helping her with her homework, but through talking figured out that we wanted the same things in life. We have talked about our future together, marriage, she coming to the states, or me going back where she is. What I told her, that not only I was going to earn her love and respect, but that I was going to earn the love and respect of her daughter. The one thing we have clear is that we want to be together.

Well, we started a LDR; we are in our 3rd month. We do a lot of stuff together, we talk two to three times a day, we do homework, hers and her daughter’s, we read books together, we go to the movies, and every night we do video conferencing, also during the day I email her and send her poems and funny emails to make her laugh and enjoy her day. I have asked her is she minds the calls, the emails and all the attention I give her, and she says no, that she likes it and that she enjoys all of it. But a few weeks ago she stopped responding to my emails, saying she was really busy with work changes. I'm also busy, but I find the time to do it. I told her not to worry and that I do it regardless of getting an answer or not, and that was the end of it. I get the feeling that she doesn't want to hurt my feelings and that she really doesn't like it. She likes the attention, but not all the time. But when I pull back and don't call, she asks why I didn't and assumes I abandoned her. 

Yesterday while we talked she says that she is scared that I have ghosts in my life, that I have not told her all about my old relationships. I told her there is nothing to talk about, that I dated and that I did not find anybody worth giving my love to, and its true, and that I found the person I want to share the rest of my life with and that, that person was her. She said one of those ok's, that you can feel she still is not happy. How do I make her tell me what she is really thinking, I have tried but it has been to no avail. I do not want to lose her, it took me 15 years to find the love of my life. Please help me.

She thinks you have ghosts in your life? You're not dating Melinda Gordon, are you? Ha. Putting aside my question of how you go to the movies together in a long distance relationship, I think you are dealing with a lot of neediness and self-doubt. Instead of giving you some answers about what I would do (dial down the intensity, call less, make fun of her, and probably break it off) I'm going to try and help you develop a little more sturdiness and self-reliance.

There are two ways you can approach relationships. You can approach a relationship as something that will develop on its own with interest, compatibility (which are already there or not), time and some effort, or as something you need to actively construct, measure, and manage. Most people, in my experience, go into friendships with the former mindset, but romantic relationships with latter mindset. They try to build a relationship by devising clever gimmicks to keep their partner constantly attached, interested, and invested. They do things like broadcast their dedication to their partner (writing poems, excessive compliments), belabor the relationship's strengths ("You know what I love about us?"), entertain and try to create warm fuzzy feelings in their partner (humor, intense devotional statements like "I can't imagine being without you"), suppress legitimate disagreements, and put a lot of effort into demonstrating their value. None of this stuff is bad on it's own, but the motivation that produces them causes other problems.

When you constantly put pressure on yourself to be anyone -- someone loving, someone valuable, someone similar -- you have no time to relax and just be, even if just being is being bored or quiet. That time to just be is critical because it's when you shed the gimmick-filled role. That's when bonding and meaningful interaction start. Without that, you're interacting through an inauthentic role, which pressures others to play complementary roles. You end up growing more and more apart and start to depend on the the warm fuzzy feelings created by the gimmicks to hide the disconnection. When you don't have that warmness, i.e., when the feeling of disconnection comes back, the response is either more gimmicks, worrying, or blaming and fighting. The long-distance factor makes it harder to just be because you're expected to be actively interacting on the phone, while just being is a form of passive interaction. I think this is what's happening in your relationship.

What's missing is Trust, capital T. Not just trust in the fact that your partner won't cheat on you, but trust that you will naturally come together, that you're good enough for her (baggage included), and that even if you don't end up together, you'll be okay, even if you don't find a replacement. That lack of trust inspires the gimmicks listed above which are used to push you closer. I've experienced it many times and have described it before as trying to push together two repelling magnets; it's like whatever you do, they're just going to resist and push away from each other when you let go. Capiche?

Here's how to get started. First, commit to being honest with yourself at all times. Be honest about however you're feeling. Paying close attention in moments when you might be playing a gimmick will encourage that process of honesty. You don't have to discuss every change you observe with your partner just be honest about it with yourself, privately. Second, make a commitment to yourself to be cool with whatever comes up, rather than avoidant, ashamed, or self-critical. Take a few minutes every morning to picture what that would look like for you. When honesty and coolness build a quality I call Patience, but it also goes by the name of mindfulness, Presence, nonresistance, No-Mind, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, or self-love.

Knowing what to do with all that data, Wisdom, will develop naturally over time. Just try and make the best decision you can keeping the themes of this post in mind. Sometimes you might have to disappoint your girlfriend and pull back, not just for her sake but for yours. As you start to get a better sense of what a healthy relationship looks like (vs. a needy one) you'll start making better decisions with more confidence.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dating an older man at 18

Dear Edahn,

Hi, I have been reading your letters to people and you really seem to have some good advice. So I have a really big question and it would really mean alot to me if you could help me. I am currently eighteen years old, I am going to be turning nineteen come December. I am thinking about dating a twenty five year old man. I know I know please keep reading. 

These are the reasons why I think that it could work. 1. I know what I want in my relationships and I am not afraid to commit. 2. I know the signs of an abusive relationship and I am not an abuser. 3. All of my friends are his age and older, except one; I don't get along with people my own age (another question, is that a bad thing) 4. I live on my own and pay the majority of my own bills. 5. I graduated early from high school and an enrolled full time in college. 5. I know what I want out of my career. I want to recieve a doctorate in history and a minor in archaeology so that I may become either a historian and lecture and teach on the side (teach in colleges) or become an archeaologist. 5. He and I have already spoken about entering into a relationship and have decided to wait until we know each other better. 6. My career plans wouldn't stop us from having a healthy relationship. 

I guess that the question that I am trying to ask is, do you think that this relationship could work and am I being healthy by allowing my self to be friends with older people? And I guess that I would also like to add that adore all of my older friends and that I really feel that I could be very happy with this man. I have had a lot of relationships and I know that this kind of sounds tacky but, I think that I could be happy with him for the rest of my life. Please help.

Let me start off with a story. I have a very dear friend who envies rich males who posses the typical status markers: designer clothing, a sports car, and expensive nights out at clubs. He tries to assume that image and project it out to others because it's what he sees as valuable. So he purchased the clothing, the sports car, and he spends too much money when he goes out. He depends on that image for his own value and judges other people according to those standards. He puts a lot of work into maintaining that image which I assume is as obvious to others as it is to me. The real tragedy is that by acting like someone else, he's implicitly rejecting himself, as if to say "you're not good enough, so you must pretend to be someone else." He ends up being too serious, too tense, and his heart closes up. That makes peace of mind impossible to achieve.

My concern isn't that you have 6 years between you. If you're smart and careful, you can navigate around the traditional perils of dating an older guy: that he would exploit his power over you and use you. Really taking things slow like you suggested (not just taking things slow for 2 weeks) sounds like a good solution to that. My concern, instead, is that you're trying to play a role like my good friend, that being the role of the girl who is in grown-up, serious relationships and grown-up, serious friendships.

I can't know for sure without meeting you, so you're going to have to be honest with yourself and determine if you're trying to create that kind of seriousness in your life. Wanting that stuff isn't wrong; it's nice to want to establish yourself and develop satisfying relationships. But it's important to do that with a sense of humor and levity. You don't have to terminate any of your relationships or change anything. Just keep what I said in the back of your mind and go about your business. Things will fall into their proper place over time. Remember this, though: good relationships, like good friendships, are based on how well people can truly laugh at themselves.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My husband wants a threesome but I don't

Dear Edahn,

My husband and I have been married for several years now and have kids. He has been away on business and we have been sending racy texts to each other. (We miss each other very much!) Anyway, in one of the series of back and forth texting, he started opening up about all these fantasies he wants to carry out with me. Most of the stuff was classic porn things and I played along, excited to do them together. Then he wrote two things that seemed a little weird to me. 1. He wanted me to suck him while I’m on the toilet (which I don’t have a problem with, but I just wanted to know if that’s normal or disrespectful/degrading?) 2. He asked if I would allow us to bring a lesbian into the bedroom. He wants to see me with another woman, not because he wants to be with another woman. I kind of got hurt from that, but I didn’t dare show him because I was just so happy that he feels so open with me and I don’t want to ruin this new level of complete openness we have attained. I just am not sure if I should be hurt or not. Thanks in advance for your response.

I understand your dilemma, but you can't have "complete openness" if you don't feel comfortable saying no when you're not into something. Your declining his offer doesn't have to be a big deal. Just do your best to do it casually and get the conversation back on track. 

You could amiably reject his proposal and request a new one. You can also say something like "I'm not really into that, but I did like your other suggestion of..." You could even propose your own fantasy: "I'm not keen on the lesbian thing, but what if we tried [including a gay guy?] instead?"

Adding a little humor will also help soften the blow. (Regrettably, I have the sense of humor of a 13-year-old Austin Powers.) You could try something  like: "I thought about it, and my answer is yes." He says "Really?!" and you say "No," followed by "What do I look like? A fucking wish-granting genie?" Option 2: "Nope. Better go return that new video camera and professional editing software." Option 3: "It's not that I'm not into lesbians, it's just that their penises are too small for me."

In the end, it's fine if you don't want to do something, especially something unconventional. Even if he gets disappointed for a little while, that's okay. He'll bounce back in a few days when you send him another salacious text message from the toilet. ;-) And no, I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of. It's just healthy role-playing. Filthy, perverted, immoral role-playing. 

You might want to revisit the issue a little later once the lines of communication are more sturdy. I'd suggest doing a little introspection to pinpoint exactly what makes you uncomfortable about the situation and going from there. It might help to talk with your husband about your concerns. And you're welcome in advance. Please feel free to write in if there are some other issues you're having and please share the blog with some friends. That's the best way to show appreciation. Cheers!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ask Everyone Else: Yoga

Dear Everyone Else,

Is yoga a bona fide spiritual practice or bullshit social networking tool?

[Your answer here]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why do I turn into a stupid slut when I drink?

Dear Edahn,

So you know how my nickname is vagiprude? Wellllll the past 2 times I've gone out I drank so much that I blacked out. Like I'm still dancing and everything but I don't recall anything the next day or know what I'm doing. So both of these times, I kissed guys, like random ones at the club!!! AND I DON'T EVER DO THAT! I gave out my number to like a zillion guys and they all state that I initiated the kissing. My question is why is my auto pilot kissing slut? And why am I suddenly blacking out like this? I'm not drinking any more than I have in the past 5 years...

So you've been drinking the same amount, but now are blacking out (black outing?) and kissing dudes, which I'm going to assume are related.

The best explanation I can think of is that you're metabolizing the alcohol faster than before. Blacking out isn't just a function of how much you drink, but the rate at which you drink it. So in theory, you could be drinking the same amount, just drinking it differently, i.e., drinking faster taking more shots than usual, etc. You could also not be eating enough before you drink. Food delays the absorption of alcohol into your system, so not eating would mean that alcohol is being metabolized faster, thus leading to a greater chance of blacking out. More alcohol in your system at once means fewer inhibitions, which explains the sudden emergence of your (not-so-)slutty behavior. If you want to stop blacking out, start drinking wine.

But there's another aspect of your question that's nagging at me and hopefully at my perspicacious readers: WTF is this girl complaining about? So you kissed a few guys when you got drunk. Who hasn't? Hell, I've probably kissed a guy when I was drunk. I'm probably kissing someone right now. So really, what's the big deal?

So I started thinking about it some more, wondering what's going on in your head, and here's what I got. Most people wouldn't have a big issue with making out when they're drunk because they wish they could make out when they're sober. They understand what's going on when they drink and embrace it. You, on the other hand, condemn it. You make it sound as if someone else is steering the ship when you're drunk, but the truth is, it's still you. You're just unwilling to accept that into your identity, preferring to see yourself as a prudent, restrained woman. And thus we have conflict.

Why do you want to see yourself that way? I don't know. I don't even know if you know. Maybe it's for the attention you get from guys when you say "sorry, I don't do that unless I'm drunk," maybe you were raised thinking it's wrong, or maybe it's just something you do to distinguish yourself from others. Maybe, just maybe*, you like to set up a conflict between the person you want to be and the person you think you should be so you can play the role of the confused, frustrated girl and solicit advice from brilliant minds like mine.

I don't have any preference as to what you do with your lips. If you want to kiss guys, go for it, and if you don't, then don't. But I am a proponent of insight, self-honesty, and simplicity. If you're interested or ready, ask yourself: why am I so adamant about being perceived as a prude? What's the payoff? What happens if I don't? What will I suddenly lose out on? My purpose isn't to convert you either way, but to help you see the big picture and silence some of your mental chatter.

* This is the right answer, lol.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Does size matter (to me)?

Dear Edahn,

I had sex with a well-endowed guy and now I'm having a very hard time having sex with regular sized men, never mind the little guys. I know that this is not the most important thing in a relationship, but every time I have sex I keep thinking how much better it was with Mr. Big. While it's true that it's not just what you have, but how you use it, there is a minimum threshold beyond which I can't even tell that I'm having sex, and he's reminded me that this is a BIG deal. Will I ever like someone so much that I won't care how small he is, or should I just start picking up guys in the Magnum section of the condom aisle? (and, how do I break up with my current beau over this-- should I tell him I'm "just not feeling it"? :P)

First off, there is no "Magnum section" in the condom aisle. I know because every time I go to the supermarket, I say really loudly: "EXCUSE ME. CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE THE MAGNUM CONDOMS ARE LOCATED?" They always just look at me weird.

So you're having sex and can't stop thinking about what you're missing out on. Forget about trying to make those thoughts go away by rationalizing them or suppressing them. That just turns people into nervous mental control freaks. It's exhausting and will prevent you from relaxing and actually, possibly, enjoying l'amour. Lets just accept that you're going to keep having these thoughts for now. Let em all in: the disappointment, the disconnection, the resentment, the frustration, the comparisons, and any attempts you make to change all of those. Just let it all be there in the background (or even foreground).

Now ask yourself what you still enjoy. Obviously "his massive manhood" isn't going to top the list, but there may be some other things that are kinda cool: the way he kisses, the way he moves, his level of relaxation, his attentiveness, etc. Accept the bad and see what's good without being in a rush to measure it and evaluate it. You might find something nice and fulfilling, you might not. Give it a couple weeks. If it's just not there, you can just tell him that you're looser than a pair of old Levi's you don't think the chemistry is quite there. Leave it vague since this isn't something he can fix.

As much as I want to tag this with "grow some balls," I'm going to resist.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How hard should one strive to be good?

Dear Edahn,

In your opinion, how hard should one strive to be good? Actually, I think that this question sort of starts in the middle it that it assumes a number of things (e.g. whether there is any such thing as good) and it leaves a number of others unanswered (e.g. what is good). What do you think, leaving the assumptions and unanswered questions alone for now? I suppose you may find my question silly from a strictly atheistic perspective. Oh well, indulge me if you will.

I do think it's important to be good and to strive to always be good without exception. The reason is that being good and living in alignment with your conscience promotes well being. It dissolves guilt, fosters self-connection, and infuses people with meaning. Since those things are generally thought desirable, it makes sense to take steps to develop them.

Would I say that others have a responsibility to be good? I wouldn't, because I don't think philosophies can ever give rise to ethical systems and the values they depend on. Those values come from contemplation, wisdom, and appreciation (or some other moral authority).

The harder question is how to define good, but I think it's something that needs to come from a person's core, rather than via authority.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How can I help my anxious partner?

Dear Edahn,

My girlfriend has social phobia / anxiety disorder. Lately, she is getting worse despite sessions with a psychologist and doctor. She thinks everyone is looking and laughing at her at all times. She can't get out of the house and she is quitting. She does not believe her situation can improve and I don't know how to deal with it. What should I do? How do I help her?

This situation is tricky because you don't want to play too much of a role in her recovery. It's not that you shouldn't help her, but that getting too involved will make her dependent on you (for support, wisdom, motivation) when she really needs to find a way to depend on herself. By developing self-reliance and inner strength, she'll be able to face the paranoid thoughts, examine them, and then either ignore them or challenge them with some good ole fashioned shit-talking.

A second reason you want to be careful is that you don't want to turn into her therapist and turn the relationship into a series of therapy sessions. Not only would that make your interaction very serious and heavy, but it could trap you both in certain roles. Role-playing is sometimes fun and sometimes needed, but too much of it will leave you feeling disconnected from yourself and your partner.

What you can do is make sure she stays in therapy and nurture her independence. How do you nurture independence? By being strong yourself and letting her know that you believe in her and in her ability to be strong. Everyone has the ability to overcome anxiety as long as they're dedicated. I have seen it in friends, in family, and in myself. As long as she sticks to her therapist's plan and pushes herself at a healthy, brisk pace -- not too fast, not too slow -- things will start to improve. Whether she believes her situation can improve or not is irrelevant at this point. That faith will come from persistent effort and seeing results in due time. She can keep her doubts and follow her therapist's advice anyway.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Updated post: Texting Etiquette

Due to popular demand reprimand, I've updated the previous post on texting etiquette and provided you people with a more substantive answer. Behold:

Texting Etiquette *REVISED*

Ask Everyone Else: The Meaning of Life

Dear Everyone Else,

What's one word that describes the meaning of life?

Winner: Eskimos.

The meaning of life is hereby Eskimos.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Texting Etiquette *REVISED*

Dear Edahn,

I went on a pretty good date with a girl last night and wanted to know if I could text her something today? Is that against the rules?

To summarize Rule 18-b subparagraph (ii) of the American Rules and Mores of Social Dating (ARMSD), Vol. 6 (Fourth Ed.), you may indeed text her, but the rules also dictate that you mention (1) that you can't stop thinking about her, (2) that you bought her a gift (3) that you can't wait to see her again, and (4) the word "love," "marriage," or "engagement" at least once. If she doesn't return the text within 4 minutes, follow up with the following sequence of text messages, verbatim.

1. hello???!1
2. are you ignoring me??
3. i thought we had a good date, you seemed to be having fun
4. Really, I thought you were different
5. this is why I don't date, thanks [her name], very mature
6. i'll make sure to recommend you to my friends
7. oops, i meant ENEMIES
8. fine, I'm done.

Wait 4 minutes between sending each text. If she still doesn't reply, wait 2 hours and send the follow texts 5.5 minutes apart.

9. sorry, i tend to overreact. give me one more shot? maybe a drink will smooth things over?
10. Well, the ball's in your court. Hit me up when you have a chance sweetie.
11. I love you.

If she replies at any point in this sequence, make sure to ABORT. If she doesn't reply after the text #11, you should add her on Facebook, but I'll leave that for another post.

Update: After receiving some oral hate mail from some of my readers complaining that this post was neither funny nor informative, I've decided to amend it. Texting after your date is not against the rules because there are no rules. HOWEVER, if you act like a subservient loser, you're transgressing the laws of common sense and intelligent courtship. If you act too interested too quickly, you're signaling that you're probably clingy and desperate to find someone. No one wants to date someone clingy because (1) it's annoying (2) when you're really needy, you lack the balls to have a flirtatious, teasing attitude, and (3) it suggests that you're really low-status. The third is important because people are looking for partners that have comparable status to theirs.

So just don't fawn over them by writing something like I included in the top portion of this post. (See, it actually was informative. Idiots!) Say something sincere and include a reference to something amusing from the previous night. Examples:

1. Hey, it was really nice meeting you. Looking forward to meeting your roommate! ...NOT! (Caution: do not use "not-jokes" unless your date has a really good sense of humor.)
2. Just wanted to say I had a great time destroying you at billiards. Excited to see what I'll beat you at next.
3. Last night was fun. Sorry for ejaculating so quickly!
4. Great time last night. Those porn pictures of your grandmother were hilarious.

Don't overthink it; it doesn't have to be perfect.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Making serious disclosures to your partner

Dear Edahn,

I've got kind of a serious one today. I am 27 years old, and I was sexually assaulted by a stranger 7 years ago. I have since spent a lot of time in therapy recovering, and have made substantial progress. I started dating again not too long after the incident, and entered a long term relationship with a man I had known since before the rape, so there was no need to explain to him why I needed to move relatively slowly. We broke up a couple of years ago, and I have tried to date again. So far I have not had a relationship last more than 3 months, and I feel like this might be because I move too slowly sexually, as I'm still somewhat cautious about becoming sexual with a man too quickly. I feel like at some point I need to be honest and tell my new suitors about my past, but I'm not sure how to do this without totally freaking them out. I know your general approach is to coat everything serious in humour, but in this case I think that might seem kind of manic. Do you think most men would be scared away by my past? And what is an appropriate point to bring it up?

There are two ways you can look at a traumatic event like that. You can see it as something that differentiates you from others, or you can see it as something that bonds you with them.

I have never met anyone who hasn't experienced something traumatic that has fucked up some aspect of their life. Some people discuss it, some people obsess over it, but most people hide it because they're afraid of appearing defective to others. They're afraid of showing their hurt and it makes them feel alone in the world.

The irony is that we've all got this baggage. And mind you, I'm not just talking about bitching how you can't find someone, but deep pain and shame for things we think brand us as "fucked up." For some people, it's depression, others anxiety or low self-esteem, others physical qualities, intelligence, accomplishments, inferiority, whatever. But since no one's saying anything about it or showing it, everyone thinks they're alone, and because they think they're alone, they don't say anything. It's like a class full of virgins where everyone brags about their sexual conquests for fear of being identified as the lone virgin.

The thing is, it's okay to be defectiveIt's okay to have baggage.

It's okay if you've got this issue you need to work out because we all have those issues. Don't just read that. Meditate on it, internalize it, and incorporate it into your world view. Look around you and take a guess what people's hidden baggage is right now. Can you see it? (This, by the way, is the part where one of the virgins gathers the courage to say "hey you guys. I'm actually a virgin," to which the other dorks rejoice "no way, us too!") We're all in the same boat as you are, all the same, all connected. But we forget about that judge others for having baggage the same way we judge ourselves. Maybe you already knew all this, but it's important stuff anyway.

So now to your question about disclosure and relationships. Just be smart and be thoughtful. Tell him when you think it's important (2 or 3 weeks?), and just try to be as sincere as possible in your delivery. He's going to be wondering what that means for him and his prospects of intimacy (emotional and sexual) with you, so you can give him a head's up if you know. You might say "it doesn't mean I'll suddenly freak out and have a flashback, but it means I want to get to know you first and feel comfortable." He'll probably be curious about it. If you feel comfortable, share. If it's painful to talk about, that's okay; give yourself a little nudge. Some people will respond well to your disclosure and open up, others won't. That's expected.

Quick story: I went on a date a while back with sweet girl who was very interested in self-improvement and Buddhism, probably more than I. Just before heading into the bar, we started talking about life and spirituality. She opened up about fear and how she's constantly working at it and how difficult it was for her. I spontaneously blurted out "omg, I'm so fucked up. I have all these anxiety issues and I have no idea what to do." We both started laughing. It was special and we connected in that moment. We both knew that it was okay to be struggling and found humor and levity in it.

Also, we had sex. Giggity!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

He Never Admits He's Wrong

Dear Edahn,

I'm a big fan of yours as you are very cute and handsome. Anyways, my problem is relationship-oriented. I feel as though I'm always made to be the wrong one and when it goes the other way they justify whatever issue I have with them. When I ask them about this they say that they don't act with an intent to be mean so it is justified, but I don't act to be mean either. I'm someone that can admit fault, but I am starting to have an issue with always feeling like I am the one that is wrong or always doing something that is wrong.

People are going to keep turning things against you and making you feel like you're in the wrong as long as you let them. When you stand your ground, don't take their shit, or even occasionally bite back, they learn their lesson.

It's pretty obvious that he's off-balance as he's totally unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions and instead rationalizing them. What's less obvious is how you're off-balance. You're letting people encroach on your psychological space and subordinate you instead of drawing firm boundaries and saying "HEY. Fucker. Knock it off and back the fuck up." Taking a stand like that is probably as foreign to you as taking responsibility is foreign to him so you're going to need to push yourself until it feels more natural and fluid.

You can and should continue to take responsibility when you screw up, but start drawing some clear boundaries. First, don't allow being wrong or being right to be a big deal. If someone admits fault, accept the apology and move on. If he makes you feel bad and shames you, firmly point it out and tell him to stop.

Second, look out for the difference between explanation and argumentation. Explanation is done calmly and with care. Argumentation is aggressive and done to "win." If you start to feel like he's arguing, justifying, or attacking, point it out and tell him you're just not playing that game anymore. Mature adults are expected to be honest and responsible and resist the maneuvering and posturing characteristic of adversarial lawyers. This is a relationship, not Judge Judy. Don't start again until you really feel like he's not trying to win, just trying to discuss or resolve. If he's someone aggressive who's accustomed to arguing, he might even take a few hours to calm down.

Third, keep some key phrases that foster responsibility in your back pocket, like "what do you imagine I was thinking when you _______" and "can you see this objectively?" and "I'm going to dump you if you don't STFU." And if you hit the point where you feel like you've taken too much responsibility and the other person hasn't taken enough, STOP and make an affirmative decision to stop taking fault until the other person makes some concessions. Will there be times when you mess up and fail to take responsibility for something? Maybe, but that a mistake in the right direction that'll eventually work itself out naturally.

See how it goes. If the guy still doesn't play along, then DTMFA.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Boyfriend's Iraq War PTSD

Dear Edahn,

My boyfriend recently came home from an 18 month tour in Iraq. He says he did not see much violence so I know that is not an issue. He says though, that he does not have PTSD. He is however, very worried about "security" in every situation we encounter from visiting an aquarium to spending a night at home by the fire. He also has "fits" of incessent arguing and proving points all of which never happened before he left. I believe that even though he never saw violence he may have experienced PTSD just from the sheer fact that he was displaced from his home in America and displaced to a foreign country. He is too proud to get counseling, says that that is only for people who saw violence but I think it can be many aspects of war. Any ideas on how to talk to him? I do not want to push my opinions on him as I am well aware that the army did that enough and I don't want to be equated to that. I just want him to hear that YES he was affected by his deployment, violence or not. I love him and would like him to be present and engaged in our relationship. Not engaged in the marital sense just to clarify but engaged as in aware. Thanks!

It's strange how people call them "tours," isn't it? It sounds like the government took him site-seeing in Iraq. And over to our left we have the site of a former -- [bomb sound] -- ongoing bloody battle between resident Sunnis and Shiites over who's morally superior.

Anyway, as tempting as it is to pin his attitude change on his recent military service, I think we have to be careful. Eighteen months is a long time to be away from anyone, regardless of where they've been. A lot of changes can happen during that time. He can acquire new traits; you can acquire new traits; and you both can stop masking old traits, all of which can change your dynamic. Moreover, your lives are no longer integrated the same way they once were. That's bound to create some hesitation, role-confusion, and emotional distance. Fighting is a natural result as human nature is to attribute that distance to something or someone else. If I see you as the cause of my suffering, I'm more likely to fight with you, thinking that the fighting will resolve my problem.

To some degree, your question does the same thing by attributing the recent problems to him and his military service, though I don't think you're being unreasonable in doing so. It's possible that severe stress has altered his thought patterns and emotional reactions. Even if he wasn't under attack, being constantly worried about the threat of attack sounds equally stressful to me. Hell, I worry about people trying to talk to me at Starbucks. It's easy to see how that stress could leave him agitated and in a state of distrust of his surroundings and yes, his girlfriend. But truthfully, we don't even need to go that far. You don't need to experience something stressful to have your thought patterns altered. If he was stationed in a frat house for 18 months, you can be damn sure his thinking and behavior would change over time. The same goes for the army which probably has many of the same features.

All of these explanations are plausible and all might be contributing to your current friction together. His military service, the time apart, and normal changes in both your personalities may be influencing the situation. My advice is to try and separate them. For the relationship arguments, just try and deal with them as calmly and rationally as possible. Hear what he has to say and try to avoid the temptation to dismiss his position as "just his PTSD talking." Take responsibility when you should, point out when he's being unreasonable, and try to reach a compromise. It's going to take some time to sniff each other out and reintegrate your lives before you feel comfortable again and hopefully you'll be able to work it out.

For his PTSD-like symptoms, you can try pointing out how he meets the various criteria (his security-checking would fall into Criterion D). You can point out that even if he doesn't meet all the criteria, he can still use some help to palliate the symptoms he does have. You can also let him know that there's no shame in talking to someone just to see if there's anything to discuss. I would personally suggest that he try 5 sessions and then decide if he wants to continue. The first session is free and the next 4 can be somewhat bargained for. Most therapists have sliding scales to accommodate people with financial difficulty. If he absolutely refuses, that's okay. What you can do is try to stay calm yourself. When he starts going off about security concerns, just look at him compassionately and softly that and tell him that everything's okay. Your body language will have more impact than your words. If he doesn't follow your suggestion right away, that's fine, just keep at it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Updated post

This is mostly for the person who sent in the question, though I think others might find it interesting too. I updated by response to the prior question: 2 guys 1 keep. I left both posts up for comparison.


Friday, October 2, 2009

AskEveryoneElse: SO on a dating website

Dear Everyone Else,

You've been seeing your SO exclusively for a yr. Your friends calls to tell you that they saw your SO on a dating website and that they logged in 10 days ago. SO admits they were on the site, but says that it was just to surf profiles because they're curious about what people write in them. SO shows you that there have been no communications with anyone for a yr, but they could have been deleted. How do you proceed?

[Your answer here]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Two Guys One Keep

Dear Edahn,

I've been dating a guy for several years and a couple months ago I started to wonder, "Is this love or is this just comfortable?" So, when another opportunity came along, I thought I might get my answer. Unfortunately, it's just an even bigger mess. The experiment started out with harmless flirting and minor physical interactions until one drunken/high night when I woke up clothes-less to the words, "I love you". FML.

I like being around my long-term SO, but there's definitely a stronger physical attraction to the other. I really have no idea what to do at this point.

I think of love as care. It's genuine, deep care that comes from your core, not just acting like you care as part of your relationship role. If you really cared about this guy you would 1) not have cheated and 2) told him by now. My guess is that it's not love, and neither is it love with this other guy you're sexually attracted to. I say come clean with your guy (like I said in my last post) and see what happens. It's the only way to start building something real and honest. It's impossible for you to love him if you don't care enough to be honest with him.

If he breaks up with you -- and I think most self-respecting people would -- so be it. Lesson learned. If he decides to try and figure it all out, you're in luck.

Update: Because this is my site and I get to make the rules, I've decided to update this post after doing some more reflection on your situation. I understand that you're confused about what to do because you're confused about how you feel, or more accurately, how to interpret what you don't feel. If you knew how you were feeling, this situation would probably not have occurred and if it did, you would know how to resolve it.

There have moments in my relationships when I wasn't sure how I felt about someone. I knew I did not feel excited or close, but stuck it out, hoping that things would change, or that I would change, or that she would change. In the end, I just kept waiting and nothing really happened. I ended up breaking up because the situation was at an impasse. When I looked back, I realized that the reason I didn't feel close or "right" is because the person truly wasn't for me.

I can't say what's right for you. Not only am I lacking information, but it's a decision you have to decide for yourself. What I can suggest, however, is a way to go about making that tough decision.

It's my belief that we all have a pretty good idea of what's best for us, what's right, and what we need to do in our lives. That information is stored deep inside of us in the form of "intuition." Intuition is knowledge that doesn't come about through deduction or rationalization. It just kind of appears. The dialogue (if you can call it that)  between you and your intuition gets interrupted when there's too much thinking or worrying going on. Thinking is like a concert speaker that's blaring while someone tries to whisper to you. So the trick is to figure out a way to turn down the volume of your thinking.

Working out, meditation, kindness, and reflection are just some of the tools our society has developed to accomplish this task. I'll give you another tool, in the form of a set of questions to ponder: can you see yourself spiritually growing with this person? Do you experience the world similarly? Do you truly respect this person? Do you see yourself at peace with this person, or forever wondering if you made the right decision?

Don't think too hard, just keep those questions in the back of your mind and offer yourself and your boyfriend some deep kindness. The answer will come from your heart, not your head. When it does pop up, it will feel special. Don't ignore it; trust it. Use it to resolve this situation.