Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Five Feel-Good Resolutions for the New Year

Being good to yourself is not the same as being selfish. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Your relationship with yourself is the source of all your other relationships, and if it’s not constantly tended to you’ll eventually have nothing to give to the people you care the most about.


With that in mind, let’s talk about New Year’s resolutions. I’ve got nothing against goal-setting and self-improvement, but all too often our resolutions seem like an exercise in self-flagellation or even self-loathing. “No more desserts.” “Stop snacking at work.” “Drop three sizes by summer.” The premise is that we’ve been bad and we have to start being good, and that to be good we have to give up the things we love.


Most such resolutions are soon abandoned, with good reason. Why should any sensible person whip himself incessantly for no greater sin than simply being human?


To be human is to enjoy food, drink, and other pleasures that make us happy and give us reasons to live. Of course, there is such a thing as overindulgence, but the kind of person who makes resolutions is not the kind of person who drinks vodka from morning to night, or eats three dozen cookies a day. The kind of person who makes resolutions feels guilty because she’s not perfect. Perfection may be something to strive for in a spiritual sense, but it shouldn’t be the measure of our self-worth.


So, with no further ado, here are my five feel-good resolutions for 2014: resolutions you can actually keep and which will enhance your relationship with yourself in the new year and beyond.


Resolution Number One is: Drink More. OK, this doesn’t apply to recovering alcoholics. But if you’ve never had a problem controlling your alcohol consumption, your life would improve if you enjoyed an extra glass of wine a couple of times a week. But I really mean enjoy. Savor the wine, sip it slowly, feel it relax your body and renew your spirit. If you still feel a bit guilty, just call it “mindful drinking.”


Resolution Number Two is: Exercise More. Wait; didn’t I just say no self-flagellation? I did, but exercise doesn’t have to be punishment. Nor does exercise have to be merely a means to an end, if by end you mean losing weight. Enjoy exercise for its own sake. Feel how energizing it is to breathe fresh air on an early morning walk, or to stretch your arm and shoulder muscles for five minutes, or to dance deliriously to a Donna Summer song when no one’s home but you. If you lose a few pounds, fine, but don’t measure your progress by that. In fact, don’t think in terms of “progress” at all. Live in the moment, however briefly it may last.


Resolution Number Three is: Maximize the Time You Spend with Fun People. My guess is you know someone who makes you smile just by hearing their name. If you’re lucky, you know several people like that, people who are warm, humorous, upbeat, and life-affirming. Do everything you can to see those people early and often in 2014, or at least stay in touch with them. They’re helping to keep you alive.


Resolution Number Four is the flip side of Number Three: To the extent possible, Avoid People Who Suck the Air out of the Room, and Who Suck the Life out of You. Just as there are people who make me smile when I hear their names, there are people who make me want to drive my car off a cliff rather than spend time with them. Unfortunately, there’s someone like that in every family and every office, so it’s impossible to avoid them altogether. But it’s vital to your emotional health that you keep your interaction with such people to a minimum.


Resolution Number Five is: Try Something New and Different Every Day. We all get into ruts. We tend to watch the same TV shows, read the same magazines, visit the same websites, talk about the same subjects….There’s nothing wrong with doing things you love, but if you’re doing them solely out of habit you should shake things up a little. Instead of going to the same restaurant, try one you’ve never been to. Instead of socializing with the same couples all the time, invite a single friend over for dinner. When you were younger, you were open to different perspectives, different experiences, different people. You can’t turn the clock back, but you can feel a lot younger just by being open to possibility.


I was going to add as a sixth feel-good resolution: Have More Sex. But if you follow the other five resolutions, the sex should take care of itself. If you’re unstressed, energetic, intellectually adventurous, and not constantly down on yourself, you’re probably going to feel sexually alive as well, and other people will recognize that in you.


So ditch the “thou shalt not” resolutions of the past, and let 2014 be the year you start having fun again, and start getting in touch with your truest and best self.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Note to My Readers


It's been a while since I last updated my blog. I'm still answering the relationship questions you submit to me, and I'm still publishing the ones that I feel have the broadest appeal or that deal with issues I haven't previously addressed. You can find them in the archives of the following sites:

I also write monthly relationship articles for:

If you have a relationship question you'd like me to answer, please send it to I'll do my best to help.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Should Being a Jerk Disqualify You from Being President?

"Jackie wasn't pretty enough to be a President's wife."
Newt Gingrich, in conversation, referring to his first wife (as recounted by two former aides)

As expected, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced today that he's a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party nomination for President. This is not a political blog, so I'll refrain from making any comments on Gingrich's policy positions or his career as a legislator, other than to acknowledge that he's had some substantial accomplishments over the years. But because I write about men-women relationships, I do have a couple of things to say about the guy.

Even by Washington standards, his marital history---in particular, his treatment of his first wife, Jackie Battley---leaves something to be desired. I'm not talking about the fact that he married her when he was a nobody, and divorced her (to marry a woman he was having an affair with) once his career started hitting stride. I'm talking about the way he did it, the way he lied about it afterward, and the way he ridiculed her for things beyond her control.

Gingrich had Jackie served with divorce papers while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. When that got in the newspapers, Gingrich blamed it on the process servers, indignantly proclaiming that he would never have been so insensitive to have it done that way. Well, how did the process servers know she was in the hospital, and what room she was in?

And then to add insult to injury, Gingrich would joke about Jackie afterward. Seven years older than him, and by no means a "public" person (she was formerly a high school geometry teacher), Jackie apparently didn't fit Gingrich's notion of what a political wife should look and sound like. She wasn't pretty enough, he told aides, and her shyness embarrassed him at political events. Clearly, she was a liability, and had to be disposed of.

His marriage to wife number two, Marianne Ginther, was also characterized by his infidelities. He divorced Marianne to marry one of his affair partners, Callista Bisek, his congressional aide and twenty-three years his junior. Interestingly enough, while carrying on his affair with Ms. Bisek, Gingrich was in the forefront of the movement to impeach Bill Clinton over matters related to his affair with a much-younger aide.

The question I raise is simply this: Should being a jerk, and a liar, and a hypocrite, disqualify a person from the Presidency? I can't answer that question for you or anyone else, but I know what my answer is.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lying about Your "Secret" Trysts? Your Cell Phone Can Expose You!

"Apple Inc.'s iPhone is collecting and storing location information even when location services are turned off."
From an article in the April 25, 2011 Wall Street Journal

I'm not exactly a cutting-edge technology guy, but I've always been fascinated by the interrelationship between technology and extramarital affairs. E-mails, cell phones, instant messaging and texts all make it easier to carry on an affair, but they also make it easier for affairs to be exposed. Just about everything a person does on his computer or cell phone is stored away somewhere, waiting to be uncoded and---perhaps---used as evidence against him in a divorce case.

Even things we don't usually think of as personal electronic devices can expose us. A while back, I wrote about the use of "EZ Pass" data in divorce cases to establish that a person had been somewhere other than where he claimed to be. EZ Passes are used in states that have toll roads or toll bridges, as a way of allowing drivers to pre-pay the toll rather than wait in line at the toll booth. A scanner reads the EZ Pass as you drive by, and you probably never think about what happens to the information that's collected---notably, the date and time you pass each toll plaza.

Well, what happens is that it's stored at some remote location, possibly for years to come. And it's "discoverable" in court cases: a lawyer can serve a subpoena on the state transportation agency to produce the data related to a particular car. In a number of divorce cases, the data have proved that someone was lying about his whereabouts. He was, let's say, claiming to be working late at his office in Manhattan, but in reality had used his EZ Pass to cross the Triboro Bridge to see his girlfriend in Queens.

More recently, it turns out that both Apple's iPhones and Google's Android phones are continuously transmitting location information back to Apple and Google. Both companies say that users can disable the "location service" on their phone, but an independent test conducted by the Wall Street Journal showed that location data were still being collected and transmitted, even after the service had supposedly been disabled.

I'm not aware of any divorce cases in which cell phone location data have been subpoenaed, but I guarantee you it will happen, just as it has with EZ Passes. And it will reveal a lot more than EZ Passes do. It will reveal precisely where you were, when you were there, and how long you stayed there. If you happen to have taken your cell phone with you to a two-hour tryst at a cut-rate hotel during office hours, you may have some explaining to do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why is it So Hard to be Reasonable?

"Honey, I know you didn't mean to upset me, but you did. Let's clear the air so we can move on to enjoying our relationship again." Sound familiar? Of course not.
From "Friendly Fight: A Smarter Way to Say I'm Angry" (April 19, 2011 Wall Street Journal column)

Elizabeth Bernstein writes the weekly "On Relationships" column for the Wall Street Journal, a column I enjoy reading because it's well-researched, well-written, and almost always about what I consider a "real world" relationship issue.

This week's coumn is a good example. Ms. Bernstein deals with something that most of us have been guilty of at one time or another (and some of us are guilty of all the time): expressing anger inappropriately. As she puts it:

"If someone upsets us, we often shout, stomp off, roll our eyes, or refuse to speak to the person. Or we pretend we aren't upset, until one day we explode over the seemingly littlest thing."

Why is it so hard to express anger in a mature way? One reason, according to psychologists quoted in Ms. Bernstein's column, is biological. When you get angry, your brain is flooded with chemicals and hormones, including adrenaline, which makes you want to either fight or run, and which can remain in your system for hours. There are also "mirror neurons" in our brain that make us subconsciously mimic a person we're interacting with. Thus, if the other person is showing signs of anger, we'll probably show them, too. In that sense, anger is contagious.

Another reason is childhood conditioning: we probably learned a dysfunctional style of expressing anger---or handling someone else's anger---from our parents. If your mother was prone to having emotional meltdowns, while your father was quickly retreating into a shell, there's a good chance that you're now exhibiting one or the other of those behaviors.

So, it's not easy to overcome our self-defeating approaches to expressing or reacting to anger. But it's not impossible. One of the experts quoted by Ms. Bernstein teaches people how to do it in five steps. I think they make sense.

The first step is to calm down. Let your emotions cool. Pick a good time to talk about the situation with the other person, maybe a day or two later.

The second step is to begin the conversation by acknowleging, in a calm tone of voice, that some of it may be hard for you to say or for the other person to hear.

The third step is to say "I" and not "you." "I was hurt yesterday by what happened," is less threatening than "You behaved badly yesterday," and less likely to lead to a retaliatory "What do you mean? You're the one who behaved badly!"

The fourth step is to find out why it happened. Maybe the other person had no idea he or she was offending you in some way.

The fifth step is to deal with the issue completely (but without dredging up any and all other issues from the past that could sidetrack you). Work together to figure out how to avoid repeating the same problem. And once you've achieved an understanding, try to express some appreciation and affection.

As I say, doing all this won't be easy, especially if you've been ranting and raving and slamming doors all your life. But it's certainly worth trying, and trying again until you get it right, because there's nothing more corrosive to a relationship than wounds that haven't healed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tracking Down a Lost Love: a Good Idea or Not?

"We're in love again. To think we've found each other after all these years."
Phyllis Mitton, 86, who has recently been reunited with Mike Stadnyk, her long-lost boyfriend from 1945.

Thanks to Internet search engines and social networking sites, there are a lot of stories these days similar to that of Phyllis Mitton and Mike Stadnyk, who lost touch with each other after the Canadian Army transferred him to some distant base after World War II. They eventually married other people, and many years later were both widowed and wondering, "Whatever happened to...?"

It's a nice story, but there are also plenty of stories that don't turn out nearly as well: stories of people who are married to one person but have an irrestible urge to track down someone else. Ostensibly, the reason is mere curiosity ("I wonder if he ever finished that Ph.D. program he enrolled in"), but once the two former lovers get together the conversation quickly morphs from Ph.D. programs to how wonderful it was back then when they were together, and how unsatisfying their lives are now. It's not hard to predict what happens next.

So, should we or shouldn't we do a google search on someone we were once in love with? The answer, according to my friend, Dr. Nancy Kalish, is "It depends."

Dr. Kalish is a sociologist and university professor who is probably the world's leading expert on people who reunite with lost lovers (her website is She knows all the happy-ending stories, and she also knows the ones that have ended badly. She says there are three main lost-lover categories. Depending on which category you're in, you should either plunge in enthusiastically, or you should proceed with caution, or or you should totally forget about it.

The Mitton-Stadnyk story is a classic example of a situation where there is no good reason not to try to resume the relationship. Because their separation back in 1945 was due to something beyond their control, they didn't really "break up" in the usual sense. They may have been sad at the time that things didn't work out, but they didn't feel animosity toward each other. Beyond that, they were both widowed prior to the recent contact, so there was no chance that a long-term marriage could be jeopardized. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying to get back in touch.

A "proceed with caution" situation usually involve former lovers who are currently unmarried, but who broke up in an unhappy or even nasty way. According to Dr. Kalish, unless the wounds have completely healed on both sides, it could be a mistake to try to start over again. A person in this situation should ask himself or herself: "How hurt would I be if we were to break up again?" If the answer is "very hurt," then don't risk it.

The common denominator of "forget about it" situations is marriage, particularly a marriage that's on shaky grounds. When one person or the other is married, or both of them are, there's a high liklihood, according to Dr. Kalish, that one or both marriages will be jeopardized if the ex-lovers try to reunite. Even if the impulse to contact the other person is an innocent one, the old feelings will almost always come back, especially if there's an in-person meeting. In theory, the meeting could result in a purely Platonic friendship, but in the big majority of cases it would lead to an affair, or at least an increase in the level of marital frustration and dissatisfaction that already exists.

For better or worse, the Internet has allowed all of us to play private detective. Anyone with basic computer skills can gather more information on someone in five minutes than any of the famous private detectives of the 1940's movies could in five weeks. The question is: what do we do with that information? Usually, the best answer is to think long and hard about the person---and about yourself---before doing anything. To paraphrase the old saying about getting married without thinking it through:  e-mail in haste, repent at leisure.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Limitations of Niche Dating Sites

"Apple users match up well, because they tend to have creative professions, a similar sense of style, and an appetite for technology."
From a New York Times article about some some new "niche" dating sites, including one solely for owners of Apple computers.

By definition, niche dating sites are not everything-for-everybody, one-stop-shopping kinds of sites. They're for people who want to narrow the universe of potential partners to people who are like themselves in some way they consider important. Thus, if religion is a big part of your life, you can find sites limited to people of your particular faith. If you're a book lover, there are sites where you can search for people with reading tastes that are similar to yours. If you're unlucky enough to have a sexually-transmitted disease, there are dozens of STD sites that allow you to avoid all those worries about what to say and when and how to say it.

There are literally tens of thousands of niche dating sites, some of them so specialized that you wonder how they can attract enough members to stay in business (e.g. a site for men with mustaches and the women who are turned on by them). Some niche sites are free, but most of them charge anywhere from $5.00 to $50.00 a month.

I can see the appeal of some of these sites. If you're Mormon, say, or Greek Orthodox, and you're 100% certain you only want to date within your faith, why join a site like where only a tiny percentage of the members meet your requirements? If you don't feel you could date a meat-eater, why not join a vegetarian-only site? If opera is the biggest thing in your life, why waste your time with someone who not only hates it but ridicules it?

All of that makes sense. But it's important to realize that common interests and shared attitudes can only take you so far. For a relationship to succeed, there has to be chemistry between the two people. Having something in common may help break the ice by giving you something to talk about, but at some point a relationship requires more than just a mutual interest in, say, Apple computers or the novels of Jane Austen.

There's also a danger in attributing too much to a particular shared interest. We want to think that if a new person in our life is like us in some way, he or she will be like us in other ways, as well. But oftentimes that's not the case. We might both be dog-lovers, but that doesn't mean we have similar opinions about social or political issues. Or we might have similar opinions about social or political issues, but have incompatible communication styles.

The bottom line is that dating sites---whether niche or mainstream---can only, at most, identify candidates who might be suitable for us. No more, no less. That's why it's crucial that you meet someone you're interested in as soon as possible, and not get over-invested in him or her until then. When you're face-to-face, you can tell more about someone in five minutes than you can in five months' worth of e-mail exchanges. You can see what he actually looks like, how he dresses, how he talks, how (or if) he listens, whether he has any social skills, or, conversely, any annoying habits.

Chemistry may be hard to define, but one thing we know about it is that it can't be willed into existence. It's either there or it isn't, and all the common interests in the world can't create it or sustain it.