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Archive for the 'Advice' Category

Apr 25 2009

When All Else Fails, Tell the Truth

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The premise of the Dating at Midlife research project is that as people go through a midlife transformation, they change the way they create intimate relationships.

It’s hard to catalogue all the changes. One of the big changes is that people become more honest with themselves. When I was younger, in a moment of supremely naïve arrogance I complained that I couldn’t understand why people found it so difficult to be honest with themselves. That was before I began my own midlife project.

Lying is a strange business. Many animals use deception for survival. A momma bird will pretend to have a broken wing to draw predators away from a nest. Many predators use camouflage to capture prey. Wild female birds will mate with one male but bond with another for child rearing. Among humans, there is no necessary connection between what is said and what is done. To deceive is natural.

And then there is television. Almost everyone you see on television including news people are actors. The more hours you watch television the fewer hours you are interacting with real people, people who aren’t always performing for you. Our infotainment culture has dulled our talent for truth detecting.

When we get honesty and fearless self-disclosure, we often aren’t sure how to handle it. We aren’t even sure we want it.

Most relationships are a cocktail of truth and lies. For example, less mature, and less honest people often perform a strange mental trick with their intimate relationships. They divide them into two opposing categories. Category one: predictable, but maybe dull. Category two: fascinating and romantic, but dangerous.

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Apr 25 2009

What Happens in the Midlife Transformation

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I have a friend, 72, who said, last week, “I’ve just realized that I’m going to die. I always pretended it was only something that happened to others.” At seventy-two he finally could handle the full impact of the challenge that drives us all through the midlife transformation.

Some of us never get that strong. For most of us, it takes years. I remember when the beginning edge of that awareness struck me. I was thirty five. I had been living a life designed more to make other people happy than to make me happy. Somewhere in my inner shadows I was sustaining myself on the thought that next time I would live life for me. I began to understand that depending on my next life to give spiritual justification to this one was a poor strategy, but I wasn’t sure of the alternative.

What was a better idea? I didn’t know and then I had a dream. In the dream I was in an office in an advertising agency visiting an important person, who I referred to in my dream as “the person in the advertising business I admired most.” In the dream I realized that that person was me. Even in the dream I felt sheepish about giving myself such importance. I had a lot to learn.

In my waking life I was not yet a psychologist. I was an associate creative director making television commercials for shampoo, soap, cereal, frozen pizza and dog food. In my dream I walked into my office and found this important person, “me,” on the window ledge about to jump.

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Apr 25 2009

Measures of Maturity: The “Why Did Your Last Relationship End?” Test

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This is the central fact of dating at midlife: if you are single at 20, you are just single. If you are single at 40, you have a story about it.

No one gets to be forty years old without having been hurt or having hurt. How a person deals with this unfortunate truth shapes their expectations about new relationships, and the way someone tells you their story tells you what they are expecting from you in the coming relationship.

There is a lot you can learn by listening to how they tell their stories. But you have to know what you are listening for. One of the things I listen for is how they deal with the fact that they have been hurt, or that they’ve hurt someone.

In my experience, if you have not reconciled yourself to this dark side of life, you will put certain specific and unreasonable pressures on your next relationship. In this short article, I want you to think about how this works.

I am going to start with the story of the Troubles Tree, an old Jewish folk tale.

One day in a small town in rural Poland an angel appeared and told everyone that, because of the piety of certain people the town’s people would be given a gift. For one day, everyone could walk around freed from the burden of their life’s troubles. A tree would appear in the center of the town and each person could hang their troubles on it.

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Apr 25 2009

Between the STR and the LTR, the MTR, a stable, friends and benefits relationship.

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The personals specify STR or LTR, (short term relationship or long term) as if those were the only choices. I’m not so sure. I think that there is a growing hybrid, the MTR, the mid-term relationship.

As one very smart and very attractive 50 year old woman explained to me, the problem is how to be “looking for long term relationships and dealing with the libido in the meanwhile.”

I think it is The Central Issue in dating at midlife. It is the thing that everyone struggles with.

I think the problem of how to have a sex life when single at midlife is equally vexing to both men and women. Midlife adults are sexually active and want to be. But how?

The best answer is a good long term committed relationship. It’s the best sex, the easiest sex, the most emotionally satisfying sex and the richest, most textured sex. Far and away, most of the people who report having the best and most frequent and most satisfying sex at midlife are people who are married or settled into in long term relationships. Then sex simply becomes part of pleasant domestic tranquility.

Midlife singles, by definition, are people who experience long sexual dry spells. These are people who, for one reason or another have backed away from long-term committed relationships. By 35 or 40 they’d tried for the Big One and they’ve either left or been left or have avoided it altogether.

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Apr 25 2009

Hey You Dropped Your Baggage

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The top three dating complaints of single men in their 50s:

· Dating partners who have a lot of “baggage” (42 percent)

· Women who “become difficult to get along with” after the first few dates (28 percent)

·Women who want to get too serious too fast (18 percent)

The top three complaints of women:

· That baggage thing (35 percent)

· Not having a clue where to meet men, and meeting too few new men (23 percent)

· Overeager guys who want to get real serious real fast (21 percent)

· Have not had a date in the last year. (43 percent)

The other figures are interesting but we’re talking about baggage. You’ll notice that all the men’s complaints come down to baggage and the first and third of the women’s complaints are about baggage.

(I don’t know about you, but I also noticed that 70% of men complain about baggage and 35% of women. Twice as many. What’s that about? Let’s bookmark that question.)

“Baggage” is not really a technical term and so it’s one of those things that we all know what it is when we see it but are hard pressed to say exactly what it is.

I’m not going to do a survey of literature, but I do want to acknowledge that what I’m going to say here is only one position in discussion, a discussion in which soothing voices of healing professionals can become quite sharp.

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Apr 25 2009

How To Work A Room As A Midlife Single

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I’m a bit of an introvert. That means that my consciousness is captured by all the information coming in at me. An extravert would be charged up by a room of 50. I am overwhelmed. So I had to think through how to handle myself in a setting like that. How do I meet so many new people. How do I enjoy myself. Here is some of what I’ve learned.

Someone told me once that the word, “courtesy,” contains in it the word, “court.” Courtesy is how people were supposed to act when they were at a royal court. It is a kind of social ritual, a set of rules for how to act regardless of the personalities of the people you are dealing with. Such rituals make social dealings go smoothly. That is the purpose of courtesy.

The most important rule of courtesy in a large social setting is the rule that anyone gets to talk to anyone for three or four minutes.

What happens in the first four minutes of a conversation? Actually quite a bit. You usually learn someone’s education, social class, and personal taste and values. You learn how well they listen. You learn how generous they are interpersonally.

The other thing you are doing here in using the four minute window is stepping past “the stranger threshold”, that built-in instinct we have which keeps us away from strangers. Once the two of you have stepped across the stranger threshold, you can speak to each other again easily.

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Apr 25 2009

Creating a Wise Conversation: The Mother of All Communication Skills

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I have this all worked out. The next Messiah will not be an individual. The next Messiah will be a couple. Al and Betty. The message they will bring is this: “We can all have wise conversations with each other but we have to practice.”

Al and Betty will teach by example. We’ll watch them get tangled up in some passionate and profoundly important misunderstanding. Then we’ll see how they work their way out of it.

I think it would be fascinating to see them go back and forth, get frustrated, get sad, have hurt feelings, apologize, finally think they understand, and then be dead wrong.

The most instructive part will be watching them hang, go at it again, until finally, like a miracle, they come up with something neither one of them could have imagined before.

I’ve seen this happen and it’s always profoundly gratifying. I think it a holy act. It is certainly a creative act. Couples who are good at this process say that it is one of the most erotic forms of foreplay.

I think it’s really important to see how people reach dead ends, and feel it’s hopeless, and then still go on.
There is no right answer that better, more decent, smarter people than you already know. If you are looking for a really new understanding you don’t know where the process is going to end.

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Apr 25 2009

Factoids from the Wild World of Dating

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It Really Is a Jungle Out There…

Mate Poaching
. I think this term was coined by evolutionary psychologist, David Buss. It’s quite common. Just as you suspected. And it is especially common in the de-regulated world of midlife dating. 20% of long term relationships begin when one or both partners are involved with others. This holds steady across age groups and couples who are married, living together or dating. From current Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a survey of 16,000 men and women in 53 countries. 60% men and 40% women have attempted to entice others who were already committed to others for short term flings. 47% men and 32% women succumbed.

Poachers tended to be people who were adventuresome, sexually attractive, and willing to talk about sex. Those who cheated tended to be people with high self-esteem but were selfish, distrusting and immodest. Also, the more a culture allowed for equality between men and women, the more likely it was that men and women did equal cheating and poaching.

Further, this is generally known. In a study in Britain, forty-five percent of women owned up to secretly checking the text messages on their partner’s phone, compared to 31 percent of men.

Among younger people, nine percent of Britons admitted to dumping a partner by sending an MS text message on a cell phone. Among those aged 15 to 24, the figure rises to 20 percent.

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Apr 25 2009

E-Dating / E-Therapy

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My favorite story about the strangeness of e-dating appeared in The New Yorker magazine a few years ago. The writer, a woman from Seattle, had developed a lively email exchange with a man in New York. It took her two years to finally get to New York, on business, and there she was, having lunch with him. And there he was, across the table from her, in the flesh.

However during lunch, she found herself bored, distracted and restless. She wanted to get away, to go home, to check her email. Like so many other dates she’d had in the last two year, she wanted to get away from whoever she was with so she could go home and enjoy the latest email from… him.

What’s going on? Had an e-relationship actually trumped flesh and blood? Why would that happen?

Here is another story, a common one. A woman writes with a question. She’s started up an Internet relationship with a man and now, after six months she is about to meet him. However, the picture on her profile is 10 years old and 40 pounds lighter than her current self. Now what?

What strange dynamic seems to be playing itself out with e-relationships?

E-relationships invite fantasies. In e-dating the lack of visual information feeds fantasies. If the person you are investigating as a possible companion isn’t right there in front of you, your tendency will be to fill in the blank spaces with all your fears, hopes, dreams, and fancies. Some people take advantage of that.

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Apr 25 2009

The Capacity for Commitment: The Fourth Stage Of The Midlife Transformation In Midlife Singles

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I’m going to claim that the mark of maturity in couples is their ability to communicate. I’m going to borrow a phrase from Bill W., founder of AA, and talk about how mature couples engage in something I’ll call “A Searching and Fearless Intimate Conversation.”
Is it really so desirable that men and women share deeply about their lives?

Let me tell you a story. I was invited to a “salon.” That’s what it was called. It was an evening of culture, conversation and pot-luck at a the house of a wealthy widow. Before dinner and conversation a man who played classical piano gave a small recital. He played one of Satie’s pieces and before he played he gave us a little lecture on the piece. He said, “The composer said that this piece should be still, steady, and reliable, like the ticking of a clock in an empty room.” And then our hostess, the widow, who was certainly a mature woman, said, “Yes. That’s exactly how I like my men to be.”

So there are couples who would rather not have a lot of sensitive communication.

I realize that my own view of maturity comes from psychology. And I do wonder about that. Is it possible that psychologists are just describing themselves and setting themselves up as a model of maturity? I find their case persuasive and grounded in research. You’ll have to make up your own mind. That is the condition of being an elder. You have to think for yourself.

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