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come out

Odious Online Dating: Learn to Love it!

The conversation

She plopped down on the couch: “I don’t think I can do this. Dating sucks.”  She spent the first five minute of our session lambasting Ok Cupid and men in general: “Are they all so terrible?!”  They are not so terrible; they are probably just like you.  When we step into the online arena, we are a mix of excited, depressed and terrified.  We are bummed that online dating seems the only way to meet people but we have all heard of some fun couple that met online successfully.  Usually the first perusal through profiles is a little jarring.  We live in Maine where there are only so many people and many of the men have ridiculous pics including their half-naked sad selfies in a mirror.  I assume there is an analogous female pic: maybe it includes cats.  But when we take a closer look (with an open mind), we realize (a) we are all just looking to connect with others and (b) there are plenty of good people in the mix.

The research

The Pew Research Center has been tracking opinions on online dating since 2005.  Overtime, more people think dating is a good way to meet others and that online dating can even help you find a better match.  And fewer people think online dating reflects desperation.  An important question Pew asked was whether online dating keeps people from settling down: a third of people think it does.  I have seen this in my practice: the candy shop problem.  Once people know there is a candy shop full of potential pals, it is tough to settle on the one you are with.  Relationships take dedication and energy – some people find it easier to keep going back and picking out a different type of candy. However, I find that people, both men and women, eventually tire of the dating madness and just want a more committed relationship.

pew research

Here are my suggestions for managing your online dating experience:

Set the pace

You get to decide how deep you want to jump in.  Do you want one or multiple dates per week?  Do you want to try one or many people at a time? (Be aware that most people are dating multiple people.)  I find many people, especially women, get overwhelmed by the dozens of emails coming at them (many with just the titillating message: “Hi”).  The recipient oftentimes feels burdened by having to respond to each email to be polite or can’t handle the inbox barrage and ignores them all (most people do the latter).  My advice:

  1. Come up with a standard message to send to people you are not interested in such as “Thank you for writing.  I don’t think we match.  Good luck on your search.”  I found that men were so happy to have someone respond to them that they graciously thanked me for my brief retort.
  2. Come up with a strategy for reaching out to the people you would like to date.  Email three people a week to see what response you get.  Try pithy messages that reflect your interest:  “I enjoyed reading about who you are.  Tell me more about where you like to travel (or ‘what you like to read’ or ‘your favorite place in Maine’). Or, if you want to get down to business (which I recommend): “I loved reading about who you are.  I would enjoy hearing more over coffee.”
  3. When you finally meet, keep it brief.  I recommend the 20 minute coffee/tea date with a planned “get the hell out of dodge” excuse ready.  You could be meeting a friend or taking your kid to the doctor’s or if things are go well, you could stay right where you are.
  4. Caution:  I don’t recommend emailing back and forth more than 4-5 times.  Many novice users of internet dating fall into the trap of emailing non-stop until they feel like they have found their best friend only to discover that they are repelled the instant she walks in the coffee shop door.

Set realistic expectations

Expect to be rejected.  That is just the reality of online dating.  We get to be picky in the online arena.  Just as a woman is not attracted to every single man, men are not attracted to every single women.  He/she may not want someone with kids or someone tall or someone who lives in Scarborough.  You never know.  People are not great at direct communication online.  Think about it: For every person you ignore, there is someone who will ignore you.

My advice: Allow the “NOs” to roll off of you.  Practice not taking it personally.  Know why you are doing online dating and that it generally takes TEN dates to find one you want to continue with (See my 10 to 1 rule here).

Caution: The anonymity of the internet encourages trolls in all arenas including online dating.  Scams are real.  The most recent one I heard about was a man who emailed and called two women (both happened to be widows) and treated them like princesses until a surprise trip came up where the man happened to need an influx of cash to “save him”.  In an article by Reviews.com, they found harassment happened to 12% of Match.com users, 17% of Plenty of Fish users, 20% of eHarmony users and a whopping 47% of OkCupid users.  So the female client who came to my office had reason to complain!

See the humor… and humanity in it all.

Find reasons to laugh amidst the travails of online dating.  The ten year old photos, the ridiculous emails, the awkward silences… it is all great fodder for your friends.  Learning how not to take the rejections to heart will help.  Generally, we are all looking for something similar: we are lonely and want to be fulfilled through a relationship. However, too few of us have perfect relationship skills so we tend to stumble and fall before we stand.  Give yourself a break and extend it to the person sitting across the table from you as well.

Do you want more?

For a well-researched article on the best online sites by Reviews.com, go here.

For an article on online dating when you are 50+, go here

For a glance at advice from men and women on the composition of your profile, go here

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child well-being and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Email her here.

hand

How neuroscience saved my relationship

I have a shit track record with relationships.  I seemed to have gotten married twice and happened to have divorced both of them, getting rid of them with a snap of my fingers (and a small bribe to banish that second one from my life).  My current beau was reasonably nervous about getting involved with what some people might term a “runner”.   Ruiner is another name.  It is tempting to blame my was-bands for my divorces but I know perfectly well that my power to destroy relationships is equal to my ability to attract men.

I am an interesting mix of low maintenance with high expectations.  Camping and no showers for a week – no problem.  Dress up, dress down – all good.  But I require intense interest in life, ambition, progressive inclinations, a desire to volunteer and contribute to the community combined with a nuanced understanding of acceptable shoes (my definition, not your definition) and a butt that can fill out your jeans (which better not be from LL Bean).   I bring people in easily and can easily throw them away when I am done.  Not pretty, not nice.  But if you dig deeper, you might discover, I don’t do this to be mean, I do this to protect myself.

We all have our ways of protecting ourselves from getting too close and being too vulnerable with another human being.  One of my primary ways was to build up a negative story in my mind so I could cut loose at any time without it seeming like a loss.  But I want to keep this one – my new beau.  I want to make the relationship work this time.  I have been studying what works to change our patterns.  I discovered it all has to do with the brain, our neuronal infrastructure and how we form memories from our experiences.  This is what I discovered that might help me and might help you.

“One of my primary ways was to build up a negative story in my mind so I could cut loose at any time without it seeming like a loss.” 

 

We see what we want to see.

During my second marriage, I thought I was being clever by coming up with different pet names for #2, like “f@#king a&&hole”.   I would repeat this sentiment in my head each time he spoke.  As it turns out, this was not helpful!  It biased me against seeing anything good in him, regardless of what he did.  Our thoughts and past experiences dictate what we pull from our current experiences.   It is like we walk around with mesh made up of our past experiences hanging over our eyes, obscuring our vision.  #2 could bring me flowers but all I could focus on what the fact that he was 15 minutes late.  We see what we want to see.

Focus on the good.

In my current relationship, I focus on the good instead.  I purposely note in my mind when he has done something lovely (like listen to me, smile at me or come with me to my parent’s house).  I say it directly to him (Thank you so much for coming with me to my parents’ house.  It means a lot) and repeat it internally.  This is purposeful.  I am building up an argument to my body and brain to keep him.  Sure, I could pick out things I find annoying but I now know that noting those things, reinforcing them in my body will not do me nor him any good.  Our brain forms channels of thought that we can easily fall into and can easily reinforce if we aren’t careful (“He never comes with me to my parents”).  These negative stories can slowly destroy our relationships by tainting our perception and experiences.  By creating a positive story about him in my mind, when something negative does happen, it no longer has much of an impact.

“I purposely note in my mind when he has done something lovely.” 

 

Appreciate often and out-loud.

Another practice I have adopted is to compliment him on anything I see that I like (and even some behaviors I would like to see).   “I really appreciate how patient you were with me tonight.”  This lets him know patience is important to me (and that it is likely a requirement to adapt to my proclivities).  It also gives me inspiration to be patient with him when needed.  It makes him feel good (presumably) and provides a road map for him in future interactions.  Equally important, it again strengthens the neuronal pathway in my brain between him and good things.

We feel what we want to feel

In my 30’s, I bemoaned my lack of moaning.  I wasn’t consistently attracted to my husband and I was missing out on getting off.  I have thankfully moved past this awkward stage with a key life lesson.  You determine your own experience, not only of life and what you choose to see, but of intimacy, by what you choose to feel.  Much of the orgasmic experience comes from fully immersing oneself inside the sensations.  You can essentially create your own orgasm.  We feel what we choose to feel.

Associate him with good feelings.

I learned I could do much the same thing with my attraction for my beau.  By bringing full focus on how it feels when he touches my hand (or any other body part), I reinforce my brain’s association between the warm vibrations and his being.

There are two key practices I do.  I breathe in when he touches me, my breath marking the sensation he produces in me.  This practice forces me to slow down and appreciate him; it allows me to feel and note the intensity of my feeling for him.  I also intentionally note out-loud (and loudly inside my head) my attraction for him.  These two practices build a clear narrative for my ever-protective brain:  He is a keeper.

“I breathe in when he touches me, my breath marking the sensation he produces in me.”  

 

We can change our patterns, defeating our protectionist tendencies… if we are willing to practice.

This is the deal.  We are really good at repeating our patterns over time.  We are really good at protecting our hearts.  It takes practice, and courage, to open up, be vulnerable and create something different in your life.  This was my way of doing it: day by day, touch by touch, neuron by neuron.  By coupling positive thoughts with the sight, feel, and smell of him, I aim to ensure we remain a couple over the long term.  I hope you find your way too.

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child well-being and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Email her here.

communication

The Clumsy Conundrum of Communication

I dread the phone call that I know will come before I am ready.  Her timeline is vastly different from mine.  She wants to know what I am thinking about making for Thanksgiving dinner… in September.  I generally get down to business about 24 hours before the celebration.  She wants to discuss what I am thinking about for summer plans in February.  I, on the other hand, hold off as long as possible from thinking about summer and the pain of no free education-based entertainment during those two incredibly long months.  For her, planning ahead calms.  For me, planning ahead hurts my head.  We have different motivations, different timelines, and different ways of dealing with the world.  Neither she nor I are in the right, per se.  We simply communicate differently.  If she were my partner instead of my mother, I would likely have some communication challenges ahead.

In the game of communication, one of the most important aspects is to understand your partners’ communication style and needs.  What do they need to know?  What level of detail do they prefer?  When do they like to know it?  When is the best time to talk with them productively?  Getting used to fine-tuning the way you communicate in the following ways can help you enjoy your relationship more.

What isn’t working?  Sometimes this is the easiest place to start in your search for good communication.  When do you not feel heard?  When does your partner seem not to be listening?  When does your subtle comment turn into a fight?  Ask yourself the following questions:

Was I clear in what I was trying to communicate?

Is there a better or ‘softer’ way to say what I was trying to say?

Did I use any blaming language that may have made my partner defensive?  (“You always…” “You made me angry”)

Did I give my partner time to respond?

Did I try and understand his/her position?

Was the environment conducive to a good conversation?

Are there certain words I use that tend to “trigger” my partner?

What triggers me?  What did he say that made me angry?

In a recent workshop, men and women talked about what is happening when conversations go awry. 

“I was rushed.”                 “We were late.”                 “I just got home from work.” 

“I felt disrespected.”       “She didn’t try to understand me.”          “He cut me off.” 

“He told me how I was feeling.”                 “She was telling me what to do.” 

What is working?  Think it through: when was the last time you had a really effective conversation meaning that you felt heard or you and your partner worked well together?   These are things you might recognize:

Calmness works. Being able to stay calm in your body and tone tends to keep the other person calm.  Think of it this way: people tend to mimic the body language and feelings of the one they are around.  If you are calm, she will be calm.

Environment matters.  Think “where” and “when”.  Don’t start a conversation when either of you is rushed.  Find a place that is quiet and a time when each party can relax into the conversation.  If he likes to have 30 minutes after he comes home to play video games, let him and ask him to let you know when he is ready to talk.  Sometimes I need to take a shower when I get home to wash off the day and then I am ready to face the world again.  Also, put your phones away and reduce any other distractions.  This goes a long way towards building an environment of respect.

Words matter.  We each have phrases that bug us.  Maybe it’s “you always” or “you never”.  Or maybe it’s a condescending tone that makes you feel belittled.  Notice the impact you are having on your partner.  Be willing to try different ways of speaking that build partnership rather than animosity.

Be a good listener.  This is the one to really pay attention to.  Be a good listener.  Being a good listener means not talking (at all!).  It means making eye contact and listening to understand your partner’s perspective.  If you are really listening, you are not be using the time to formulating your comeback.  You are not be planning your next move.  If you fear you will forget what you want to say, write it down.  A good practice to know whether you were listening is to repeat the words back to the talker and ask them if you got it correct.

This is what I think you were trying to say….. Did I hear you correctly?

Simply listening will go a long way to strengthening your communication with your partner.  If your partner feels heard and even better, understood, there is a lot less to complain about.

I fumble as much as I fly in communicating effectively.  It is a practice.  Allow your missteps to lead to you to being in step with your partner (or your mother), at least occasionally.  It is worth it.

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child well-being and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Email her here.

how to know when to go

Parting is such sweet sorrow? How to know when to go.

We only know what we know.  We often have little ability to have a clear, objective perspective on our relationships.  How do we know when to go?  Turning to the research, there is clear information about what constitutes a healthy relationship and what characterizes a not-so-good one.  This may help us know when parting becomes the better option than staying.

A healthy relationship is characterized by joy, kindnesses, and ease.  These can be qualities that come into the relationship organically or can be ones that you nurture and grow intentionally.  Essentially, a healthy relationship creates an environment where you can take off the mask and be yourself.  It is a place where you feel heard and seen by your partner.  John Gottman tells us more in his book, “What Makes Love Last?”

John Gottman is one of my favorite relationship researchers.  I find him funny and real, grounded in rigorous research techniques and more importantly, grounded in the humbling experience of divorce as well as a second wife that brings her therapist background to bear.   Gottman is most well known for being able to predict which couples will de-couple with a 94% success rate (the 94% success rate emanated from a single study in 1994 and has been replicated with various groupings of couples in subsequent studies).  The key tool of prediction is the story of the couple’s relationship in their own words.  Gottman and his team start by asking each couple to relay the story of how they met and then ask a series of prompts to delve into the details of their partnership.  The researchers are able to rate the couple’s story along a number of dimensions to determine whether the couple is likely to stay together or to go their separate ways.  Couples that stay together express ‘fondness and admiration’ for each other and have taken the time to really get to know each other’s inner world.  They have asked the questions that give insight into how their partners feel and think; they have taken the time to know what is important to the other, what they hold dear.  The couple describes themselves as partners, and even when struggles rise to the surface, they figure it out together and revel in their togetherness.  There is an inherent satisfaction in the relationship; it meets the expectations that were laid down long ago.

A very different story is told in relationships that have gone astray.  The storyline and/or the punchline emphasizes the negative over the positive.  The like is gone.  Couples that are veering into dangerous waters no longer have fondness and admiration for each other, in fact, when they describe their stories, there is more “I” or “me” than “we”.  Tales of the past are rewritten for how they have impacted the individual rather than the couple.  The stories may focus on forgotten dreams, dashed hopes or deep dissatisfaction.  The sense of conquering life together is gone; the partnership has lost its partners.

If you need to measure and analyze your relationship, Gottman is the one for you.  He provides quizzes with scores to measure and to know when to go. Score less than 45% on his scale of dissatisfaction and disillusionment, and it is time for you to go. (See What Makes Love Last? by John Gottman for more.)

Another Gottman concept that can be brought to the table is the four warning signs of relationship breakdown.   He lays out four pillars of dis-ease that can sneak into your relationship: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  The surest sign of contempt is the eye-roll as your partner states his/her case.  Contempt escalates into insults and name calling or may be disguised in hostile sarcasm or mockery.  Criticism is exemplified by barbs that start with “you always”, “you never” or “why are you so…”  The intent is to attack the partner through insults.  Defensiveness is when a partners sees and describes herself/hisself as a victim to keep from being attacked.   Defensiveness may involve making excuses, whining, switching topics or ignoring what the partner is trying to communicate.  Stonewalling starts with the crossing of arms and ends with unbreakable silence.

How to know when to go?

Observe your relationship for a couple weeks.  Ask yourself…

  1. Does my relationship have more contempt than kindness?
  2. Does my relationship have more criticism than support?
  3. Does my relationship have more defensiveness than empathy and understanding?
  4. Does my relationship have more stonewalling than conversation?

If yes, look for a therapist or coach that can help you move towards healthier ways of relating to each other.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works withpeople as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching how children and adults form healthy relationships for 25 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  This is an excerpt from her forthcoming book.  Contact her at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  She facilitates fun, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Localflamesmaine.com

everafter

What I gave up when I destroyed happily ever after

(A cautionary tale for those considering divorce)

If I knew how much I would give up, I might not have done it.  My empowered move to move out of a stifling relationship ironically forces me to give away power on a daily basis.  My ego is decimated, traditions are upended and any possibility of control is a joke.  I decided to give away 50% of my children for the possibility of ‘lightness of being’ in the aftermath.  I didn’t calculate the loss at the time and didn’t fully appreciate what I was stepping into or running away from.  I just wanted out.  I didn’t want ‘out’ of my children’s lives but that is what I inadvertently ‘accomplished’.

At the time of my divorce, the visions dancing in my head were most heavily steeped in freedom and justice and… actual dancing.  I was going to discover the perfect man, have perfect fun, and rediscover perfect joy.  Nine years later, my reality veers close to and away from my ideal, depending on the day.  This is what real looks like today.

Perfection? Not so much.  Yes, I did find a lovely relationship, after far too many painful, confusing ones.  No, he isn’t perfect.  I’m not either.  But, I like so much about him and he brings me heretofore unparalleled joy.  But it isn’t he who changed me.  It is I who changed.   I have discovered that all human beings are wildly imperfect, rather unpredictable but imminently improvable.  We can learn new tricks.    We have to do the work, not to reach perfection, but to realize there is no perfection and that a healthy, fun relationship requires your calm presence and undivided attention each and every day.

Friends with the ex? Not so much.  I had delusions, like many who make the call, that my ex and I would be friends.  I envisioned that I could take what I liked about us and give back the rest.   Extended family vacations, huge Thanksgivings with new partners and progeny in tow, the more the merrier in my rainbow-tinged book.  The reality is that we don’t get to dump someone and expect him to still be a friend.  It isn’t fair; it isn’t nice.  Be careful and fair about what you wish for.

Ease in my life? Eh, sorta.  At 45, I feel grown up for the first time in my life.  I feel calm and grounded, on some days at least.  So that is lovely.  But there is an important part of my life that never reaches ‘ease’; the non-stop requirement to negotiate my children’s lives.  Every decision now runs through two families: the sports they play, the weekend activities they sign up for, and the age at which they can date.  This fall, my son ripped his ACL playing football, the sport I didn’t want him to play, but I was overruled because I control only 50% of my children’s lives.   If you think about it, in a game where everyone controls 50%, no one can ever win.  Compromise is literally the name of the game.

This is what I realize now, nine years post-divorce.  I implore you to read and understand and really think through your separation or divorce.  Is it worth it?

When you blow up your vows, what are you really blowing up?

1. You will put your ego away.   With kids, it is rarely about you anyway, but now there will be even less of you in the equation.  When they cry for their dad in the middle of the night, you will simply call him.  When they tell you how much fun they had with their new step-sister, you will simply smile and say, “That’s great.”  You will feel pangs of jealousy clawing at you, threatening to thwart your promises to never say a bad word about their lives with the others.  You will remember that this isn’t about you; you will smile away the pain in your gut.

2. You will choose your battles.  Now, you control only 50%. This means that when your children are not with you, someone else is in charge, someone who sees him or herself as an extra parent but someone who you do not know.  In the beginning, I used to send over the chore chart to my ex just in case he wanted to implement the same dictates in his house.  I used to tell him what the kids ate in my house just in case he also wanted to reduce gluten, and red meat.  Now, I set rules for my household that go no further than my doorstep.  I ask my children if the different rules in the two households, both alike in dignity, bother them.  As long as they say “no”, I move on and leave the other household alone.

3. You will let it go.  In this new world of split time, you will have no choice but to let it go, lest your anger eat you alive.   On a day like today, a gorgeous autumn day, I have let go of my plans to go apple picking with my children next weekend.  Why would I do this?  My daughter just texted that her other family went today, yet again beating me to the punch, not in malice, but in happenstance.  This happens all the time with bowling, movies, and vacation destinations.  You will let it go and move on.

We seek freedom and we get it, but we lose some as well.  There is measurable good in this alternative configuration of our lives.  My children now know I will fight for what I believe in, and that I will persevere even when the cards are stacked against me.  They see me in a different light, as one who considers and makes choices, many of them hard.  By observing my interactions with their father, my children are learning to negotiate and to acknowledge themselves and others.  They understand that there are times when you speak up and times when it is just as well to remain silent.  They know that many people can love them, from all angles, in their own ways.  So, in the end, my ‘ever after’ is different and a bit more challenging than what I imagined, and, I am sure, from what my children imagined as well.  Divorce leads to compromise, and less control over your children’s lives, but if you can reach a place of peace with this altered ‘ever after’, your children will likely reach that place too.

 

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

datewiselywithkids

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… divorce and dating.

How do I date wisely after divorce when I have kids?

The first thing we have to deal with as divorced people is… how to set up the perfect online dating profile.  This is written a bit facetiously.  But honestly, the major thing on the minds of the recently split is how to find someone new, and better.  Drafting your first dating profile usually happens about two weeks to two months before the divorce is finalized.  Not too long after that we are dealing with the question of when to introduce our new dating partner to our kids.  This happens anywhere from one week (not recommended!) to one month to six months after we meet someone.  And way too soon after that, we are deciding how to merge our family with another in, yikes, the same house!

All of this can happen during the time of ‘unreason’, that time when we are post-divorced and pre-sane.  During this period the concept of time is elusive and the hormones from meeting and touching someone new are in serious overdrive.  We believe we can see the future! And it involves lots of sex!  Once you take a breath, you start to realize that the relationship before you is a relationship just like any other, where we make mistakes, missteps, and misfires. Now however, there are lots of other people involved in our mistakes, namely our children.  So take a breath, and think about these three suggestions as you date post-divorce.

1. Have the conversation with your kids.  

Ideally, a newly-dating adult has prepared their children prior to getting online and dating.  (See “What can I say to my children?” for ideas.)  That is what the experts, including myself, recommend.  From much experience, however, I know most of us start dating before having this conversation.  That’s okay.  Just have it as soon as possible.

2. Be prepared to answer hard questions. 

Your kids are concerned about their experience.  They want to know what is going to happen to them.  You may be thinking about what to wear on your hiking date to look cool and casual, yet fit and vivacious, but your 5 year-old is thinking about whether he will have a new dad, new brothers and sisters, and whether he will have to move from his favorite bedroom.  Your 15 year-old is wondering if you are having sex with other people and whether she will have a nasty new step parent.  Children are the ultimate pragmatists and a bit egotistical in their perspective, and they have every right to be.   If there are any questions that you don’t expect, give yourself the time to think through your answer by saying, “Let me think about that”, or “I am going to talk to your mom about that one and get back to you.”

3. Observe yourself as you date.  

Don’t do things you wouldn’t advise for your kids when they start dating.  You are now a serious role model for your children.  You were before too, but now you are going to show them what it is like to meet people, date, build relationships, and sustain those relationships.  And you are doing it during a time when emotions and challenging situations are circling around you.  Be easy on yourself, be honest with yourself, and be honest with your children.

What are my children concerned about?

These are the questions spinning around in your child’s head.

      – Will my dad still be my dad? Do I have to have a new mom?

      – Will I have to move? Will I have to go to a new school?

      – Will I have new brothers and sisters? Will my mom/dad love them better than me?

      – What is going to happen to me? Are things going to change?

What can I say to my children? 

Keep it simple, straightforward and honest.  Keep their developmental level in mind.  What words and concepts will make sense to them?  Don’t bring the hurt and the pain, or your feelings about your ex into it.  Have the talk at a time when you can be calm and measured.  These are some refrains you can use.

- As your dad and I form new lives, we will both be meeting and dating new people. It is nice to go through life with someone and that is why I will be meeting new people.

- You will not be expected to be a part of it unless you want to be.

- It is natural for adults to want to live their lives with other people.

- It takes time to really get to know people, so I may date a couple people before I find a person I want to date over the long term.

- No one will ever replace your dad (or mom). I will always be your mom. Your dad will always be your dad. We will always be your parents.

- You all come first and I will make decisions about my dating life with you in my mind. I will look for someone who is good for me and who is good for you all too.

- There won’t be any big changes in your life that you don’t know about. I will let you know ahead of time about anything that impacts your life.

- Do you have any questions?

Do I have to tell them?? 

Yes, you do.  This is one of those hard moments as a parent where you would love not to have adult responsibilities.  It may seem easier to just keep on keeping on, or to think that you are protecting your children by keeping them in the dark, or that they are too young to be in the know.  Let me clue you in… kids know whether you tell them or not.  They see you texting, they hear your phone pinging with the latest OkCupid notification, they notice you laughing more, and going out more.  If you don’t tell them, they will come up with a story and the story will be much more dramatic, dire, and fanciful than reality.  So suck it up, sit down, breath, and be honest with your children about what life is like for you in this new reality.

The last word…

This is a hard time.  You are finding someone new while finding yourself at the same time.  The best you can do is to be aware of the choices you are making and to give yourself permission to begin each day anew.  We all make mistakes during this time.  Apologize, be honest with yourself and your children, and start again.

 

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

showandtell

Show and Tell: How much to share during those first encounters.

It’s a conundrum.  As touted by Brene Brown, we are supposed to be in the new age of vulnerability.   Yet, if we share too much of our vulnerability too early, we may scare away the person we are trying to attract.  Every turn of phrase is being judged for adequacy on that first and second date.  So how much should we really share, and when?  In other words, what is the tipping point when a person moves from intrigued to uninterested?

In my dating days, I considered my three children (triplets no less!) and my two ex-husbands to be my biggest liabilities.  I mean, really, who in their right mind would choose to step into a world where three teenagers ruled?  And, that was just the liabilities on the surface.  What about my dirty car, my orange plaid pajamas, my ridiculous bed head and all the real secrets I harbor?  What do you share and what do you save for later?  Think of it like this.  Everyone likes a good story; you are going to tell a story over time, laying down one chapter at a time.  Lay down a chapter per date.

5 steps to sharing just the right amount on your date

1. Give a little.

A date without any of yourself is bound to be boring.  We all have intense stories of tragedies and triumphs.  So, be real.  Share lots of fun, upbeat stories and maybe one or two reality-check stories to give a sense of the full package.   Just, don’t dive too deep right away.

2. Listen and Relate. 

Stop for a moment.  Listen to what your date is sharing.  Is she sticking to work and family, or favorite vacations?  Or, is she going deeper into her life philosophy?  Match your date.  If she want to keep it light, keep it light.  There will be time enough for late night sharing if the relationship progresses.   People tend to be overly judgmental in that first date or two.  She is looking for red flags or anything off-putting.  Don’t give her a reason to jump ship.

3. Look on the bright side of life.

Stick to positive stories that emphasize your strengths.  When your date bids you adieu, he will take away, maybe, 50% of what you were laying down during the date.  And, many people walk away having heard more of the negative than the positive (triplets! 13 year old triplets!) so don’t give him any bait for doubt.

4. Know when to hold ‘em

An acquaintance I had for a brief while (read: misguided Match.com date) used to lay out his sexual history and STD status on the first date and then wonder why the girls ran.  He considered it his duty, his responsibility to inform them.  People are not usually sticking anything where the sun don’t shine for a couple hours into a date, so take it easy on the early disclosure.

5. Be aware of what is compelling you to share.

Are you an over-sharer?  Do you find yourself continually motoring your mouth when across the table from a potential partner?  Explore why that might be.  Are you trying to get out your whole story on the first date?  Do you talk too much when you are nervous?  Do you feel like you are trying to prove yourself?  From personal experience, when I am talking too much, I am trying to justify something in my life, something I feel some shame around (like, my second divorce).   I have also observed that I like to challenge others with my overt honesty.   I want to know upfront if someone likes me despite all my faults.  I want him to know the full me so he can make an informed decision about whether to jump in.   Once you are aware of why you are talking, you can make good choices about whether to continue the monologue.

The Take-Away

You know that saying – if it is meant to be, it will be.  And, in the adult world of dating, where we are all a little gun shy, you want to stay on the positive side to see if the simmering heats up to a boil.   Carefully lay one piece of your story down at a time so the listener can pick it up.   I make sure more of my charm is on the table than my ex-husbands or my many children.  I make light so they can make light.   I don’t treat my children like a burden so they won’t.  Share what you want them to know about you.

Think about the structure of a well written tale.   Desire to turn the page to ingest the next chapter comes from mystery and intrigue.   In the screen writing world, they say you want to reveal yourself like an intravenous drip – let little bits of you seep into their soul.  Tell your story one chapter at a time.  Leave your listener enraptured; leave a little mystery for next time.

 

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

self-esteem

Killer Self Esteem: 5 Steps to Stop Sabotaging Your Relationships

Killer abs and killer legs… people work hard to get them. Killer self-esteem, on the other hand, is not a desired trait, yet, incredibly prevalent in the dating world.  As an adult dater, our insecurities, gain clarity and sometimes, strength as we continue to date. We have seen love and loss and are aware of our foibles and faults. Awareness is good. And, verbalizing your discomforts is a smart strategy in a relationship. However, insecurities that seep into the cracks and crevices of our relationships may expand over time, causing riffs that wreak havoc. It is a slippery slope as they say, emanating from a seemingly innocent question that when repeated enough times has the exact opposite effect that we intend it to have.

“Do you like me?” This common refrain reflects our insecurities and is behind many of our actions in the early months of a relationship.  Check out what happens when you continually prod your partner for an answer.

The Needy Scenario

Take 1…“Do you like me?” “Of course!”
Take 2… “Do you like me?” “Yes”
Take 3… “Do you like me?” (eye-roll) “Yes”
Take 4… “Do you like me? Are you sure?” (Am I sure? Do I like him?) “Um, yes, of course”
Take 5… “Do you like me? Seriously?” (Do I? He really is a little much, sometimes) “Actually, I have been meaning to talk to you about something…”

The Jealousy Scenario

Jealousy is another way to quickly sabotage your relationship.  Jealousy emanates directly from insecurity and low self-esteem.  This is a conversation from a former relationship that started at the same time that I began to run Local Flames workshops on healthy relationship skills (irony times 10!).

Take 1…

“Who was there tonight?” “Oh, it was a great crowd, really good people.”
“Any men in the room?” “Sure, this really nice guy Mark and another great guy, John”
“Were you attracted to them?” “Uh, I was running a workshop so it wasn’t really relevant.”

Now, repeat this conversation every week, sometimes multiple times a week, after each event.

“Who was there tonight?” “Lots of people”
“Any men in the room?” “Yes” (note the reduction in detail over time)
“Who?” “It is not relevant. I am not going to tell you because you continually accuse me of ridiculousness.”
“Were you attracted to them?” “Oh my god!! No!!”

If this were to keep going, if I hadn’t left him at the doorstep of his insecurity which I did, eventually my thoughts may have meandered down this road: “Fuck it. He has been accusing me of cheating on him for months. Maybe i’ll just try it out.   These other men look better and better every time he opens his mouth.” As I have seen with my clients, one person’s jealousy can contribute to another person cheating, which thereby reinforces the first person’s insecurity and belief that people cheat on him (or her)!

Why do we do this? We have beliefs about ourselves that we look to reinforce. We feel badly about ourselves from things our parents told us, from experiences we have had, or from shame related to something that happened to us.  Then, we behave in ways that reinforce that we are right to feel badly about ourselves. She may be looking for him to prove she is unlikable by continually asking if he likes her. Her low self-esteem is killing any potential the relationship had. I have seen this equally in men and women, whether in different or same gender relationships. People are usually not completely aware that they are causing their own downfall. It is easier to blame others for how we feel rather than to face ourselves and our faults head on.

5 Steps to Stop Sabotaging.

It takes courage to start believing in yourself by understanding that we all have faults, big and small. Here are five steps to stop sabotaging yourself and your relationships.

1: Catch yourself in the act. While it may be worthwhile to ask your insecurity question once or twice to check in, it is important to recognize when you are asking the same question of someone over and over.   Ponder why you are asking the question. Do you really need to know the answer? Is that because you didn’t believe the answer the first time, or has something happened that you feel you need to ask it again? Is it your anxiety/insecurity asking or are you asking?

2: Explain yourself. The best gift you can give your partner is a greater understanding of you. Tell them explicitly what makes you feel insecure and what you makes you feel loved. There is nothing wrong with having insecurities because we all have them.  Assuming your partner can read your mind and know what you need is a bad bet.  Communicate what you need from your partner to feel calm and good in the relationship. For example, “I tend to get sort of uptight and insecure in the beginning of a relationship. It helps me to know how you are feeling about the relationship.”

3: Recognize it in others. When someone is peppering you with questions that give you pause, consider what is really going on. It can be helpful to gently state your position clearly to reassure your partner of how you feel. “Yes, I truly like you and am enjoying our relationship. I will tell you if I have a problem.” “I enjoy doing workshops. I am not interested in seeing anyone but you.” Pay attention to whether you are doing anything that may be contributing to your partner’s discomfort and insecurities. For example, are you showing up late without explanation? Are you moody and you don’t tell your partner why?

4: Believe in yourself. This is hard. When you believe in yourself, your need for reassurance from others will reduce and you won’t feel the need to ask the insecurity questions as much. Maybe develop a mantra to say when you are feeling insecure: “I trust this relationship and that she will tell me if there is a problem.” Needy is not sexy.

5: Trust the other. Very often, our insecurities relate to a lack of trust in others. Think about whether your questions of, and behaviors towards, others relates to your lack of trust of them. Did the person actually do something to lose your trust or do you just have a hard time trusting others? Ask yourself what you can do to work on trusting the other person and then communicate that to your partner. For example, “It really helps me when you volunteer information about what you are doing at night” or “I really appreciate when you compliment me.”

As you walk through this world, you will determine your experience. The one common refrain that people repeat to me in relationship coaching sessions again and again is “I can’t stand needy men/women!” Needy is not sexy. Neediness is someone that needs to be reassured and who can’t stop asking those insecurity questions. Don’t let your self-esteem destroy the potential of your relationship. When you find yourself blaming someone else for your current state, I have a suggestion for you… stop, look inwards, and start there.

 

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

grower

Is he a Grower or a Shower? A case for slow dating

There are the guys who excel at first impressions and dates, and then there are the guys that may not shine at first glance, but who grow on you over time. These are the guys who slowly wow you with their opinions, tastes, and knowledge revealed with each passing encounter. The first group of men are the showers; the second group of men are the growers. Wait, what did you think I meant by growers and showers?

When we were in college we could encounter these types in equal measure as we strolled through night-long parties. You could choose the dance floor with the showers or saddle up to the guy on the couch for an awesomely awkward conversation about life. The showers kept you dancing all night long with their self-assuredness while the growers were the guys you confided in and gradually developed an attraction for as they revealed their depth.

In the online world, the growers fall behind. One date is all you get in a world where we administer judgment before someone even opens his mouth to say hello. You have a max of 1 hour and 15 minutes to impress her or you will be thrown to the curb for the next most qualified guy.  My experience with this was an encounter about 8 years ago with a lovely, quiet man that didn’t lead to a second date. I now know this gentleman as a friend, having spent many hours discussing, conversing and pondering the world. He is the real deal. I see many pass him up, not realizing what they are missing. How could they? There are too many people to choose from online and people rarely want to settle into actually getting to know someone the way we used to. It is wham, bam, his nose isn’t perfect and I don’t like his shoes, no thank you ma’am.

What to do?

1. Give love a chance

Slow it down, man. Love takes time to develop. The idea that in the first two seconds you know he is the one is short-sighted. This might be true if we were walking around truly open to all experiences with no pre-conceived notions borne of past relationships. However, because we are so influenced by our pasts as we search for our future, it is wise to give more than two seconds consideration.

2. Listen a little

When you stop talking, you can start taking in what she is saying. This allows you to notice her laugh, her level of vocabulary, and her views of the world. In listening, you learn.

3. Give a second date

Some people definitely rub you the wrong way, and they can be pushed to the wayside. However, if you are intrigued but unsure, give them a second chance. Growers warm up over time. You won’t get to see his true stuff until after 4 or 5 interactions.

4. Interact briefly

A strategy to get to really know someone is to date small. Break up that 4 hour, 3 martini date into 4 small dates instead. Take a walk, search BullMoose for cds, drink tea, and visit a wine tasting at MJ’s. These smaller, less intense interactions will allow you to ease into the knowing of her.

5. Try some offline options. Growers, introverts, and the more introspective are often easier to meet in small group settings. Try these offline options:

     Meetup.com (pick a topic, any topic). Get into writing or bird watching or skeet shooting. Try “Am I still single”, a group for single Mainers who want to meet people offline.

     Wine wise, a group that provides wine tours in and around Portland.

     Running or biking groups (check out meetup.com or bike shops to find them)

     Take Action Portland (TAP) is a volunteer-run organization that coordinates monthly commitment-free community action projects and is a fantastic way to meet people.

6. Pay attention to people in your real world. The ultimate offline experience is right around the corner, at Coffee by Design, Rising Tide Brewery, or the produce section of Trader Joes, for example.  Connect with the person standing next to you in line through a smile or a hello. Take a chance; make a connection. You never know what will happen.

Note: I addressed this article mainly to women because, in my experience, men are a bit better at this. In my dating phase, almost every single man I went on a date with was up for the second date. It was my choice to turn them on or turn them down.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

gentleman

Dating a World Later: The 6 most important questions to ask when jumping online.

It’s been 25 years since you dated. The last “date” you remember was in high school or college. Maybe you were a child of the 50s or 60s when dating was less “dating” and more dancing, smoking, and listening to Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead. Or perhaps you were a child of the 70s when you weren’t quite as free but still retained some sweetness in double dates and seeing movies for the 10th time. Wherever you were, we now find ourselves in a rule-less world of online dating where clearly a lot has changed.  A mid-50s female relationship-coaching client asked me, “What do I need to know about online dating?” The advice I gave in response may prove helpful to you.

1. Men and women may be online for different reasons

There are lots of reasons to be online dating: to meet new people, to develop long-term relationships, or to have lots of sex.  Online dating provides some anonymity and allows people to market themselves in a particular way. It also allows one to hone in on what they want (activesingles.com; greensingles.com).  Be clear about why you are online.

Ask these 2 questions before you get in too far:

- Why did you decide to date online?

- What are you looking for from people you meet online?

2. You need to know the difference between dating and a relationship

The implication of “dating” is that you are trying things out and potentially dating multiple people. A relationship implies that only two people are involved and there is a presumption that there may be a future together. As a rule, men date and women relate.

Ask these questions once you have passed date #3.

- Are you more into dating or relationships?

- How many people do you like to date at once?

3. Sex is forefront in the mind of everyone (yes, everyone)

Most people coming out of divorce have had unsatisfying sex lives for quite some time and are looking to rectify the situation. The pleasure and risks of sex are much different today. The openness is fun; the STDs are not. Don’t be afraid to wait, always use a condom, get tested and ask questions.

Ask these questions cautiously and clearly.

- What are your thoughts on having sex with more than one person at a time?

- Is there anything I need to know about your sexual health before we have sex? (Basically, do you have any STDs I should be aware of?)  Have you been tested recently?

You need to know what you want. People may ask you the same questions. Be prepared.

Start by asking yourself all the questions above.  And, come to the workshop on online dating on May 20th at 7pm at Local Flames.  Register by clicking here.

 

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com