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Posts Tagged ‘direct communication’

washington-cherry-treeA patient was complaining about dating.

“It’s annoying.  You have to be cheerful and upbeat.  What if you’re not feeling it?”

I asked him how he really felt.

“Don’t even go there.  I hate people.  All they ever do is take.”

He wanted to meet a girl with whom he could actually bond, and get close.  But it seemed impossible.  He was looking online – it was easier, and that way he didn’t have to actually go out into the world and deal with humanity.

“What’s your online profile like?”

“The usual – just a regular guy who likes to go out for dinner and take walks in the park, blah blah blah.”

“Is that really you?”

He shrugged.  “Is that really anybody?”

“So there’s your mistake.  You’re not introducing yourself as you really are.”

“Who would want me as I really am?”

“You’d be surprised.”

Your first instinct, when you post a dating profile online, might be to do what everyone else does – lie.  But that doesn’t help you achieve your goal of meeting an appropriate partner, it hinders it.

Many years ago, when I was single, I fell into the same trap myself – I typed up a bland, predictable online dating profile that made me out to be pretty much like everyone else.  Then, at some point out of boredom or sheer frustration, I decided as an experiment to post a profile that told the truth.  The result sounded something like this:

I’m Probably Not For You

I am not a “regular guy” and I won’t be right for most people reading this.  I’m a bit intellectual and if you aren’t a bit intellectual too and don’t read all the time and love classical music and jazz it isn’t going to work.  My perfect night out is vegetarian food followed by a classical piano recital at Carnegie Hall followed by listening to some guy play saxophone in a jazz club.  I eschew discotheques and bars and don’t really “get” Madonna or Broadway.  Oh, and I’m a raging atheist, a partisan Democrat, hate smoking and cars and suburban sprawl and have strong opinions across the board on most things.  I kiss my dog on the lips.  If this sounds right and you like my picture, go for it.

Instead of the occasional bland note I’d been receiving with my old profile, I was suddenly deluged by interested parties writing me long, detailed letters.  And all I did was tell the truth.

It works with simple stuff, like sex, too.  I worked with an African-American gay guy a while back who told me he had no luck with online ads on dating sites.  I asked him what he was advertising for, and he said – oh, the usual – “versatile guy looking for fun.”

Then I asked him what he really wanted.to_tell_the_truth

“Oh, a big daddy to top me all night.”

“Then why don’t you ask for what you want?”

“Oh, no one wants a big bottom…”

“No harm in trying.”

He posted a profile advertising (more or less) “Hungry super-bottom for fierce daddy top.”

That did the trick, so to speak.  He had more offers than he could handle.

Gay or straight, or in-between, if you tell the truth – at very least, about sex – someone might be looking for what you’ve got to offer.  I’ve had clients with interests in kink, or who liked to be submissive in bed – or to dominate – and nothing works better than just coming out and saying it.  You can bet someone else shares your interests, or has an interest in accommodating it, but you’ll never find out unless you take the first step and tell the truth.  If you want to smear her body with whipped cream, then lick it all off (or have someone do that to you) then say so!  (And yes, that might entail first finding a dating site that specializing people into whipped cream, but if you look, it’s probably out there.)

In broad terms, truth-telling –  direct, honest communication – is always a good first step towards establishing a healthy relationship.  I’m frequently asked the question:  “How can I tell someone else something difficult about myself?”  My answer is always the same:  directly and honestly.  When you stop and think about it, isn’t the definition of a best friend “the person you can say anything to”?  And that goes especially for talking about the most personal stuff of all – the stuff about yourself.  A romantic partner is supposed to be your best friend, the person who can know you – and accept you – as you really are.

Forthright communication regarding who you are means you stop apologizing for yourself, and own that you are in charge of your identity, and decide who you want to be, living as best you can the life you’ve been given.  That’s the very definition of charisma – feeling comfortable in your own skin.

truthinessSometimes you might feel the urge to hide stuff you’re afraid no one can accept, as if you’ve forgotten you’re not alone in being human.  I had another gay client who was 69 years old and HIV+.  He wanted to date online, but was terrified to reveal the truth about his age or his HIV status.  Instead, he ran a profile with no photo or details, and lied about how old he was.  Predictably, no one answered, and he was crushed.

I suggested he bite the bullet and tell the truth.  It took weeks to bring him around, but finally he put up a pic (he was actually a good-looking guy) and revealed both his age and status.  Lo and behold!  Dozens of gay men in their 60’s and 70’s started coming out of the woodwork, many of them also HIV+.  It only took one person with the courage to stand up and stop apologizing for the reality of his life, and everyone else followed.

Back to that first client.  We talked about possible approaches to his “truthful” profile, and came up with something along these lines: (more…)

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This week’s Ask The People’s Therapist question comes from Stephanie, who’s having problems dealing with her best friend:

I don’t know what to do and I am pretty angry and annoyed with myself lately.  I have basically enabled a close friend of mine by consistently giving in to her wants/desires and not setting up proper boundaries over the 22 years of our friendship, saying yes to activities and outings even when I would rather not have.

In the beginning, I thought her behavior was funny and was flattered that she insisted on including me in every area of her life.  Even at times that I didn’t feel quite up to it, her strong personality won and her persuasiveness and persistence was easier to give into than fight.

Truthfully, most of her friends don’t have the balls to say no to her.  In recent years, she has become bitter that she never married and seems to expect me to be there for her even more.   It’s gotten to the point where I’ve put myself in a bad position.  I am angry at myself for not knowing how to say no.  That if I said how I really feel now, it would shock her and hurt her feelings and probably create permanent weirdness in our friendship.

I am scared to bring it up verbally.  I’d rather create space and boundaries through my actions.   What would you suggest I do to take some of the pressure off of myself?

And here’s my answer:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist!

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My patient was beside himself.  The younger woman he’d been dating was jerking him around, he fumed.  Last week, when he was finally out on a date with someone else, starting to enjoy himself, she’d left him an open-ended text message, asking what he was up to and whether he wanted to get together sometime.

Suddenly, in the middle of this date with another woman, he could think of nothing but her, and his hopes were once again raised that their relationship could be what he’d long desired.

Feeling too distracted to wait, he interrupted the date and hurried to the men’s room to reply to the text.  She answered right away, proposing that they go see a movie together the next day.  He dropped all other plans to be with her.

The next day they ended up returning to his place where, to his surprise, things turned steamy.  They had terrific sex, and he was asking himself afterward if this meant they were back together as a couple.  That’s when she started gathering her things to leave, and delivered a speech about how she didn’t want this to “mean anything” – just “no big deal.”

Since then several days had gone by, he hadn’t heard from her, and things were right back to where they were before.  He hesitated to contact her to ask her out again, since she’d made it clear in her speech that she liked to be the one to contact him, not the other way around.  So he didn’t know what to do.  Meanwhile, the other person he was dating was calling and asking what was wrong and he didn’t know what to tell her.

This was the last straw, he insisted.  It was like running in a maze.  He was going to cut this young woman off once and for all. This was it.  He’d give her an earful.  He didn’t care if he never spoke to her again.

I could see why he was angry.  Clearly, the young woman he’d been dating was ambivalent about their relationship, and it felt like she was sending him mixed signals.  One minute she behaved as if they were together.  The next she said she wasn’t sure. Then, when he was convinced it was over and crawled off to lick his wounds, she would appear out of nowhere, as though nothing had happened.

It might be she was simply too young.  He was more than 20 years older, and he knew what he wanted – commitment.  She had less experience with relationships and avoided the topic, and it was causing a lot of friction.

He told me he wanted to confront her with his anger – burn bridges, end it, have it over with and done.

I suggested something better:  enforcing boundaries.

Burning bridges – discharging anger in an attacking way and cutting off communication – is destructive and creates hurt and misunderstanding.  I proposed using direct communication instead:  telling her what concessions he was willing to make for their relationship – and where he drew a line.

We spent some time together exploring precisely what his boundaries were.  Interestingly, the more we defined his needs, the more sympathetic he grew to hers.

He began to realize that, to some degree, she had communicated her own boundaries to him.  She didn’t want commitment, at least not now.  She was willing to date him, but with the understanding that it was entirely open.  She didn’t know where she stood, and she couldn’t pretend she did.  She was still feeling her way and wanted the freedom to do just that.

It was his turn to decide where his boundaries lay, and to communicate them back clearly and actively.  He’d been avoiding that task, he realized, because he’d been hoping her boundaries would shift to suit his own desires.

He decided to write her a letter.  In it he explained his boundaries.  He communicated clearly that they were at different stages in their lives, and that a committed relationship was his first priority.

He didn’t feel that he was rushing her – they’d been dating for over six months.  And his purpose wasn’t to threaten or to pressure – it was simply to tell her where he stood.

If she didn’t wish to commit to him, that was her choice, but he was going to discontinue their romantic relationship so he could move on.  He needed space to find what he really wanted, and that meant asking her to please stop treating him as though he were just a guy she was dating.  He wasn’t.  He couldn’t be.  He needed more than that, and he wanted to find someone who could provide it.

The act of composing this letter brought my patient a measure of resolution, and relief.  Just organizing his thoughts into a piece of direct, active communication brought him further along the path to understanding his own needs.

This was his best self, his most conscious, authentic self, speaking through that letter.  No one could ask for more than that.  He respected himself for doing the hard work – containing his anger, examining it, and putting it into words.

It wasn’t about burning bridges and never speaking to her again.  It was about enforcing boundaries – expressing his own needs in a way another person could hear and understand.

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