Tag Archives: relationship

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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.


Will you have sex tonight?

Mathematical predictors of your sex life.

I love this guy, John Gottman.  I mean he comes up with mathematical formulas to figure out how often you are going to have sex this year.  He measures his approach to your bedroom with game theory.  The basic idea of game theory is that the decisions people make relate to the the payoffs they will receive as a result of that decision.   I generally find his books really easy to read but when he goes into explanations of game theory, he enters serious geek land.  He actually has sentences like this in the chapter:

EP for Ianamy agrees = 5 σagree + (-1)(1- σagree)

So I am here to translate his formulas for your pleasure, or future pleasures.  He postulates that most bedrooms are pretty darn quiet according to research.   Just a quarter of adults over 45 are having sex weekly and another 40% are having sex at least monthly which means that about 35% of adults are having sex less than once a month (AARP, 2010).  Another recent study found a relationship between having sex about once a week and levels of happiness, regardless of age, gender or how long the relationship had been going on (Muise, 2016).  So many couples are probably having sex less than they want to and less often than is related to happiness.  Maybe the woman has been rebuffed in their sexual advances one too many times, and she has each stopped asking.  Or, the man isn’t sure when the right time is to ask and has stopped as well.

Gottman suggests that the key factor in determining how often you have sex is how you react when your partner says “not tonight” to you.  If you react with any kind of rejecting behavior – sulking, sighing, complaining, criticizing, frustration or anger, you just set in motion a cascade of negative emotions that will lead to less sex.

If you react negatively to her refusal of sex … you get less sex in the future

Using game theory, Gottman estimates that sex gets as low as 15 times a year when both partners react negatively to a refusal of sex.  However, if the man, for instance, reacts positively when his partner says “not tonight” with understanding, kind words or affection, her payoff increases (she got treated nicely) and his payoff increases (she is more likely to feel positive feelings towards him for understanding and is more likely to say yes in the future).   Using mathematical formulas, Gottman suggests you could be getting it up to four times a week (233 days a year!) if you start rewarding your partner when she refuses sex.

If you react positively when she refuses sex … you get more sex in the future

A client recently lamented that he wasn’t having sex with his wife very often and wanted to know how to increase the frequency of sex.  I asked him about his thoughts on strengthening the relationship but he wanted to know how to increase the frequency of sex first, as that would make him feel satisfied enough to continue to work on the relationship.  I explained the following to him:

For men, sex leads to intimacy and for woman, intimacy leads to sex.

And thus, for both parties to want sex, there has to be intimacy.

If you work on your relationship by building intimacy, trust and ease, you will surely move towards intimate, trusting (read: fun) sex that has a sense of ease to it.   Bringing intimacy into your relationship comes from sharing secrets, small kindnesses, little kisses, frequent caresses, quick fixes around the house, loving words and so many other wise moves.

These small kindnesses are not done for the purpose of “getting some”, but for the purpose of expressing your appreciation.  By expressing your appreciation without expectation or coercion, you are building a foundation of intimacy from which intimate, satisfying sex will flourish.

p.s. Another recent study explicated that men are more likely to want to have sex in the morning and women are more likely to want to have sex at night.  This research makes all those refusals make more sense.  We don’t necessarily want less sex, we just want it at a different time than you!

For more on this topic, come to my workshop starting on April 4th.   The Secrets to Making Love Last is a four-part series focused on how to build and maintain a healthy, fun relationship.  You can come to one session or all four.  We will work through predictors of happy relationships and divorce, building trust, dealing with betrayals, understanding your patterns and enhancing your communication skills.  More information at localflamesmaine.com.  Register Here.


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 20 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

For more from John Gottman, I recommend his book, “What Makes Love Last”.





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


Ridiculously Honest: The Rebound Marriage Series

The ride was rocky, the destination unknown and the companions changed along the way.  The path into me was circuitous, tires screaming around bends at full speed, body slowing in the trees, silence coming at the end.  A marriage here, a marriage there, a heart meandering, directionless until I started listening to myself.  This is the journey into me.

There are 15 parts to The Rebound Marriage Series.  The series is intended to expose the trauma of divorce and a pathway to the other side.  Erin is the founder of Local Flames, a organization focused on supporting healthy relationships for men and women.  Enjoy and please write me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Part 1 – The Moment of Realization

Part 2 – Picture Perfect

Part 3 – The Decision

Part 4 – Honesty Session

Part 5 – Smiling Weakly

Part 6 - You Can’t Go Back

Part 7 - What would it be like to live not being seen?

Part 8 – Forward Motion

Part 9 – I Wanna Shout Out Loud

Part 10 – I Love the Bubble

Part 11 – No One to Save You

Part 12 – I Have Hit My Limit

Part 13 – You Don’t Know Me

Part 14 – The Path I Walk Down

Part 15 – My Children of Light and Dark



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


You Can’t Go Back

(Written a week after asking for my second divorce.)

You can’t go back. Seems like a no shit Sherlock kind of statement. But the idea is tempting. Going back to a pretty good relationship, yes, not perfect, but pretty good. Pretty good seems fucking fantastic right about now. Perspective. I get it and then I lose it. I think I have grown and then my adolescent tendencies creep back in. I shall go off and become one with myself. Or, I shall start the search on match.com all over again. Maybe picking better this time. But it is still picking – an active act of fate, or against fate possibly.

I wasn’t displaying a lot of perspective when I agreed to a marriage that had seemingly been a side comment in a bed that I paid for in a house that I paid for. Those “paid for” comments get me in trouble but they give the context that is important. I had established a life for myself, using hard earned money. I was independent, strong, able to leap buildings in a single bound. Yet, I had just played into a non-heart felt, unromantic proposal, no not a proposal, a suggestion, no lower, a passing comment that getting married would be.. um, okay. And apparently I was desperate enough to take that and turn it into a commitment to engage in a serious act that would impact me and my children.

That was within 6 months of meeting Paul. That type of whirlwind commitment can seem romantic and can certainly be spun into a tale of fevered love. But there wasn’t anything hot about it. It was practical, pragmatic and a little pathetic. It was a next stage to move onto. Something to tell our families about. Finally, an announcement that would result in smiles, rather than a scene of pity and disappointment.

People hearing of the details of the demise ask me, “Why? How did you get into that relationship?” For me, it was more of a question of why didn’t I get out of it even after I knew it was bad, bad, bad… This is what it felt like…

Leaning out the window of a speeding train, watching the world whip by, not being able to keep up with the speed such that you feel like you have to keep whipping your own head to the left, to the left, to see any of the details of what you are passing by. Walking down the center aisle of the box car, wavering from left to right, your feet and legs no longer reliable in keeping you balanced. Getting to the front of the train to glare at the bastard running this thing (assuming it is a man, of course) and finding that there is just another box car, no engine, no conductor, no engineer, no particular direction except for FULL STEAM AHEAD! Now I can feel my heart racing, my chest heaving as I realize the predicament I am in. I decide with a heavy sigh that staying on the directionless train is better than jumping off now into unknown lands, the act of which will surely result in injury. I forgot that eventually the train would race off the end of the tracks slamming it’s full weight into the equally strong ocean, eager to simultaneously suck it into the depths and resist it’s entrance with millions of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.


4 Ways To Be: What we can do to foster attachment in our relationships

The key to a long term relationship is being attached enough to weather all the rough waters that inevitably churn during a relationship. Researchers[1] in neuroscience have determined there are three different “emotion-motivation” systems that are involved in lust, romantic love and attachment. While “lust” encourages us to sleep with basically anyone and everyone, and “romantic love” calms us down a bit and encourages us to focus on finding a specific, suitable person to have babies with, attachment is the way in which we can actually stay with someone long enough to “complete species-specific parental duties” (Seriously, they say that. Researchers are super fun and funny!)

For the first couple months of a relationship, there are awesome-feeling neurotransmitters coursing through your brain helping you to stay with and explore your new relationship. These neurotransmitters actually allow you to believe your mate is unique in this world as they focus your attention on all the positive characteristics while ignoring potential red flags. (I will get all technical in a future article on what is really happening in your brain.) In addition to the help your brain is providing, there are other things you can intentionally do to assist your new partnership to thrive and it all has to do with attachment.

We attach to others when we feel safe. When we feel safe, we can be vulnerable and in those tender, together moments of closeness we start to attach. It was pretty much the same thing way back when with your parents. We attached to our parents when they responded to us in ways that made us feel safe and loved.   The more they explained the rules to us, provided guidance, helped us negotiate the world, hugged us, listened to us and picked us up when we fell down, the more we attached securely to them. As an adult, we can encourage attachment to other adults by creating a safe, loving, predictable environment.

How we make others feel safe enough to attach.

1. Be explicit about the rules of the game.

Even though kids, and many adults, seem to resist rules, we all actually perform better and feel better when we understand what is expected of us and know how we should be behaving. We need to communicate the rules of the relationship. Maybe this relates to whether you believe in dating multiple people at the same time or how often you like to communicate.  Maybe this relates to how you celebrate holidays or whether you like to go out or eat in. It is all good, as long as you communicate the rules to your partner explicitly.

2. Be consistent.

Being able to anticipate what is going to happen next makes all of us feel calmer. In a relationship, this plays out in consistency in communication and actions. For instance, if you normally text when you are on your way to her house, do so consistently so she knows when you will be showing. If you tend to show up 5 minutes late to everything, no need to be perfect, just tell your partner so they know what to expect.   Consistency also means being there for your partner when they need you, essentially being trustworthy and dependable. When something bad happens, you want to know someone has your back.

Note: If you have problems being consistent (which is not unusual), examine why? Does being consistent make you feel locked in or hampered in your movements? Or do you simply have a distractible personality and don’t always remember. Explain to your partner your tendencies and ask your partner what types of consistency are important to him or her.

3. Be empathic (not sympathetic).

This is key to making your partner feel heard (and that feeling of being heard and understood is what strengthens the attachment between two people). Empathy is the ability to listen and see a situation from another’s perspective. Empathy involves simply listening and hearing your partner. It does not involve fixing your partner (“oh, no worries, just do this”) or diminishing their concerns (“at least… you have your health”).  It doesn’t involve talking at all. The key to listening is not to talk. Try it! You will make your partner feel great and you may learn a thing or two.

4. Be kind.

We all thrive on kind words and gestures. We all suffer too little kindness in this world. Take a moment and compliment your partner, or just listen to them talk about their day, or give them a hug.

Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Partner

The goal is to be explicit with your partner about the rules so that the relationship feels consistent and predictable.  Ask these questions:

1. How do you prefer to communicate? By phone, by text, by email? How often? What type of communication makes you uncomfortable?

2. How much time do you like to spend with someone you are seeing? How much alone time do you prefer?

3. Are you affectionate? How do you feel about PDA (public displays of affection)?

4. What kinds of gifts do you really appreciate?

5. What makes you feel loved? What can I do to make sure you feel safe and loved?

6. Are there points in a relationship when you typically start feeling uncomfortable? What happens? What should I expect? Is there anything I can do to make your more comfortable?

Get to know yourself, get to know your partner and create a safe environment to the best of your ability to let love and attachment thrive.


Erin Oldham has a Ph.D. in psychology and has spent more than 20 years researching how children and adults for secure attachments and healthy relationships. She offers engaging workshops to help people learn more about themselves as well as strengthen their current and future relationships. She is a relationship coach and divorce consultant. Contact her at erin@localflamesmaine.com for more information. Or check out localflamesmaine.com/workshops for the workshop schedule.


[1] Defining the brain systems of lust, romantic attraction and attachment. (2002). Fisher, H.E., Aron, A., Mashek, D, Li, H & Brown, L.L. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31(5), 413-419.