masculinity, men's issues, personal development

Four Things About Robert Bly That May Surprise You

Poet, author, and thought-leader Robert Bly turned 90 last year on Friday, December 23rd. His name will be forever associated with the mythopoetic men’s movement, a loosely-knit group of men, scattered across the country, that gathered during the late 1980s and early 1990s to sing, drum, dance, and reconnect with their bodies. Bly’s book “Iron John” was their inspiration. In that book, he holds that modernization has caused an identity crisis in the modern American male, a crisis that can only be solved by reconnecting with and giving voice to grief; by being initiated into adulthood by older men; and by reconnecting with the earth. The movement gained huge popularity after Bill Moyers interviewed Bly in 1990 in “A Gathering of Men” on PBS. Although the movement was widely criticized, and at times ridiculed, it was the first time, for many men, that we connected with our emotions — the first time they gave themselves permission to feel. Public attention on the mythopoetic men’s movement lasted about five years, but the weekend events and the relationships forged there changed the lives of many men forever and inspired some men’s groups that still exist, such as The Mankind Project.

Bly’s legacy is getting renewed interest and attention since the release last year of “A Thousand Years of Joy”, a film about his life and work. It’s an intimate portrait of a multi-faceted man. Bly’s influence on American culture goes way beyond the mythopoetic men’s movement; his contributions are vast and wide-ranging. Here are some aspects of his life that may surprise you:

Bly made it okay to be introverted. Both through the example of his life, and through his writing, Robert Bly represents the cultivation of self-knowledge through solitude. During his years living in New York City in the early 1950s, he lived in a rented room and met few other poets. Years later, as a successful author and a National Book Award winner, when young students asked for advice on what it takes to become a poet, he’d tell them to live alone for two years and not talk to anyone, because without an experience of solitude, a poet’s words won’t carry the authority of self-knowledge.

But his thirst for solitude and love for the inner life was always balanced by a passion for social justice and a moral outrage against human cruelty. “American Writers Against the Vietnam War” was an organization he founded, with fellow poet David Ray, to provide a vehicle for American intellectuals to voice their opposition to that war. Bly became a frequent sight on college campuses and at anti-war rallies, demonstrations, and teach-ins, bringing his anger over the war to life with poems that had a personal, intimate quality to them. Unlike other political writers who simply gushed their anger onto the page, Bly was introspective and fearless, and wrote poems that were carefully crafted, as in these lines from “Counting Small-Boned Bodies”:

If we could only make the bodies smaller

Maybe we could get

A whole year’s kill in front of us on a desk!

As a sensitive intellectual, Bly provides a model for younger men in this country who may be seeking an alternative to the stereotyped forms of masculinity seen in the media (and taken to an extreme by our president-elect). Their experience is of a man who is sensitive to feeling and expressive of his emotions but still grounded. This is also a man who also sees women in a very different way than in ways many of us were brought up to do.

How much I need

A woman’s soul, felt

In my own knees,

Shoulders and hands.

I was born sad!

(from “Love Poem in Twos and Threes”)

Spending a few hours reading poems like this brings us into the presence of a man who can remain open-hearted and grounded while still remaining true to who he is as a masculine man.

Bly helped us see the world through poetry. Robert Bly was one of the first to introduce American readers to certain poets writing in other languages whose work was mostly unknown outside the cultural traditions from which they came. Through his literary journal The Fifties Press (its name changed with the passing decades), he provided original translations into English of many poets whose names are now familiar to many of us, and whose work is now taught at many high schools and colleges around the country:  Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado, Rumi, Kabir, and Mira Bai – to name just a few. Other writers and poets continue to produce translations of these and other authors from many languages.

Bly was a keen observer of societal shifts. Bly became increasingly disturbed by the ascendancy of youth-centric culture and the social and economic forces that encourage everyone to think of each other as sibling rivals. A world without mentors or people to look up to is a world where people begin the path to adulthood too soon, — but emotional growth stops at adolescence. Previous generations were marked by compromise and sacrifice; people only got about half of what they wanted, but they grew up all the way. In the sibling society, people feel entitled to everything they want, but grow up only halfway.

Since “The Sibling Society” was written the problem’s only gotten worse. Social media is a place where experts’ and dabblers’ opinions both carry equal weight, and where people post news and photos of their achievements online, to the envy of others. Where is the role of mentors and teachers in a world where everyone has equal access to the public’s attention, and where everyone feels entitled to be rich, famous, and successful? Where are the pictures of people’s failures and getting up again, or of making personal sacrifices?

Bly started the Great Mother Conference. Before Robert Bly wrote “Iron John”, and long before he started his men’s workshops, one of his main interests was in the divine feminine. The Conference on the Great Mother was a gathering he started in 1975, inspired by the work of psychologists Carl Jung and Erich Neumann, with the purpose of reclaiming aspects of the divine feminine by seeking evidence of her in other cultures around the world, through what became known as the “mythopoetic imagination” – a revisioning of modern cultural narrative through story and song. This conference still takes place every year near Portland, Maine, and has been renamed “The Great Mother and New Father Conference”. It’s hosted teachers like psychologists Joseph Campbell and James Hillman, as well as Rumi translator Coleman Barks and others.

In addition to these direct influences, Robert Bly’s work has influenced the work of many people in the helping professions – most notably psychotherapists Robert Moore, Douglas Gillette, and John Herald Lee. All publicly acknowledge and give credit to Bly for his inspiration to work with men. His collaboration with Jungian analyst Marion Woodman (“The Ravaged Bridegroom”) has helped thousands of women also, and helped to popularize the writings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes (“Women Who Run With the Wolves”) and others who gave a voice for women’s stories and healing.

Although he never has, and probably never will (because of his politics), serve as our poet laureate, Americans owe a great debt to the life and work of Robert Bly. He introduced us to new ways of being male; he gifted us with translations of poets from other cultures; and his cultural criticisms are every bit as true today as when they were written. We wish him the best on his 90th birthday.


confidence, dating, men's issues, personal development

Four Mistakes Men Make Before the Third Date

It’s happened to all of us: you’re getting to know a woman, and you both seem to be hitting it off. Maybe that first date is some stimulating, shared outing; the second date, something more quiet and conversational. But by the third date, whatever it is, something fizzles. Suddenly you realize that she’s not the catch you thought she was; or she’s visibly turned off by something you didn’t even know you were doing. Or worse, you think it’s gone really well – but you don’t hear back from her. Or she sends you a polite note saying thanks, but you’re not for her.

A young  loving  couple hugging and kissing on the beach at suns

If you’ve spent a lot of time giving and receiving dating advice, as I have, you know that it’s dangerous to overthink any single interaction. Every situation, and every woman, is different, and each early interconnection has its own trajectory that includes a feminine person, a masculine person, the dating environment, logistics, and our inner lives. There are too many variables to look at in any meaningful way, and in any case, it’s best not to ascribe motives to a woman that she hasn’t verbalized to you herself.

But there are some common pitfalls. They’re easy to avoid if you’re careful; if you know how to relax; and if you can communicate well and circulate your desire through your body. (If you don’t know how to do these things, get in touch with me.) For these tips to be effective, you need to know what (and who) you’re looking for.  You also need to demonstrate that knowledge through your every word and action; be in touch with your own feelings and desires, and be honest with yourself about them.

Mistake #1.  Showing continued interest when you’re no longer interested. Why do we men do this? Maybe we’re acting out of fear and scarcity and want to “lock in” what we have; maybe we’re not sure what we’re looking for; or maybe we’re planning to keep her on the sidelines for NSA sex. In all cases, you’ve already decided she’s not what you want, but you find yourself making plans with her anyway. You continue to text her, you flirt with her, maybe you even go on another date or two.

It’s often worth sticking around for a while to find out if your feelings for her change. People can, and do, find the love of their lives in someone who “isn’t my type” or who made a bad first impression. If there is only one aspect of her you find unappealing, and everything else looks good, it’s wise to be patient with yourself, and with her. But if you find the thought of calling her again exhausting; if you’re easily bored this early in the interconnection and have to constantly resist the urge to look at your phone or at other women in the room; or if (yes, this needs to be said) she absolutely disgusts you, you need to break it off – early and cleanly. To do anything else is a disservice to her and to yourself. These are not the same rules that govern a long-term relationship. In a committed relationship, there are going to be moments when we find our partners exhausting, boring, or disgusting, and our job, as loving partners, is to love our women through their least attractive moments. But the relationships that survive these moments are those grounded in deep physical and emotional connection. If it isn’t there from the beginning, you won’t be doing either of you any favors by continuing to stay with her. It’s better to be alone than with the wrong person. (Women understand this, by the way, better than we do, in recent years.)

Know your desire. Get acquainted with what it feels like in your body, and in your heart. Trust your deepest wisdom. If you’re still not sure, talk to your friends.

Mistake #2. Being too nice. It’s fine to give her a compliment – once. But if you continue to do so, she may think you’re being too nice, and if it continues past a certain point, she might actually stop believing you.

Recent research suggests that being a jerk, counterintuitively, can get results. High disagreeableness correlates with a wider variety of sexual partners, and the correlation cuts across all demographic and socioeconomic groups. But the same women who select men for casual sex select different men for long-term relationships, and those men tend to be kinder and more sensitive. Bottom line:  if you’re a nice guy looking for a casual fling, you might need to cultivate some qualities, such as social dominance and insensitivity, that don’t come naturally to you, and if you’re a disagreeable man looking for a long-term relationship, you need to blunt your edges.

Don’t be afraid to give her a sincere compliment about something you notice about her. Choose one aspect of her, preferably some choice she’s made, an accessory or an article of clothing, rather than some aspect of her face or body, and deliver your compliment sincerely and with good eye-contact. Let her hear it, and see how it lands. How she handles a well-delivered compliment will tell you a lot about her.

Being too generous is part of this “too-nice” quality. Spending more money than you usually do on a night out will be picked up as low-value behavior, and will actually decrease your chances of another date. Don’t take a cab if you normally take the subway; don’t take her to a five-star restaurant if you’d normally go for pizza. Although, for some women, high income communicates high status and marriageability, if it isn’t genuine, the outcome will be worse. You may think you can fake it, but trust me, she will know if you’re using payment methods you’re not used to, or negotiating wine lists you don’t know anything about. Even if she feels special to you, demonstrating it by being overly generous will lead her to expect such treatment all the time. Can your wallet handle it?

Mistake #3:  Not touching her. The topic of kino and physical escalation is a controversial one, but I’ll say it directly:  from the first interaction, you need to be touching her, at least in social ways if not romantically or seductively. Even during a chat between friends, there’s a physical conversation happening, or not, that sets the tone for the entire interconnection. It’s worth paying attention to what’s socially acceptable in her culture; some societies value touching more than others. But by date #3, an interconnection is defined, in large part, by how two people are handling each other physically. (And recent studies show that physical touch has social benefits that go way beyond sex and romance, but that’s a topic for another article.)

Physical touch is how you separate yourself from her other friends and establish yourself as a potential intimate partner. Elbows and shoulders are usually good starting points for social touch. As emotional intimacy develops, a man can move on to the hands, hair, and the small of her back. Keep alert to her responses, and calibrate accordingly. If she asks you not to touch her, don’t! She should eventually be reciprocating.

Mistake #4.  Giving information instead of emotion.  Information and small-talk are instant killers of romance. “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” Do you really want to ask these questions, or answer them? Women (and, much of the time, men too) want to be taken on an emotional journey. They remember and value feelings, rather than data. Tell stories she’ll remember, give her impressions of textures, sights, aromas. Your own feelings are a great guide here. If you’re bored, chances are that she is too. If you’re relaxed and having a good time, she likely is as well. It’s probably better to be a bit of a jerk than to be boring on a first, second, or third date. Don’t be afraid to voice your strong opinions on wine, music, or politics. Ask her for her opinions too, and playfully challenge them if she sounds too deferential or accommodating.

You can talk about the weather, if the talk reflects your true passions and experiences. But too often, small-talk and information are used as a way to hide – either because we’re shy, or because we’re afraid to make a mistake or to let the woman see us as we are.

Avoiding these mistakes are a good start to getting what you want in the world of dating. Knowing what you want can set the tone for the interconnection. You’ll be able to communicate your desires clearly and, if a connection isn’t what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to break it quickly and honorably. Taking your date on an emotional journey, touching her affectionately, and avoiding insincerity will show her who you really are. And who we are is what we should always aim to be to women. After all, why would we want to be anyone else?

masculinity, men's issues, personal development

Five Books That Shaped Me in 2016

It’s been a year of bizarre, unexpected surprises, both personally and politically. I spent a lot of time alone, reconnecting with my passions, reaquainting myself with old literary loves, and generally taking care of myself. Here are just a few books that helped me on my journey. All of them are masterpieces that yield new insights with repeated readings. Only one was published in 2016, but all of them are still in print and made me stronger as a person and as a man. They’ll do the same for you.2016_books

Just Kids by Patti Smith. The punk rock scene of which Patti Smith was a part didn’t really hit the Long Island suburbs where I grew up until the late 1970s, and by then it was over. I read her memoir last year partly to get caught up on what I missed, as well as to get a sense of Patti herself and the person she’s become since her days with Robert Mapplethorpe. Her descriptions of their life in the East Village are touching and bring to mind images of a New York that has utterly disappeared, as completely as the New York of earlier eras. The people she worked with, the lives she touched, and her journey from an aspiring, poor bohemian to successful performance artist and musician is inspiring. Her account of her lifelong friendship with Mapplethorpe calls to mind how precious — and rare — a true and lasting friendship can be. Smith was in the limelight again this year for her appearance and performance at the 2016 Nobel Prize ceremony for Bob Dylan, at which he failed to appear (viewable here). It’s a beautiful tribute to an American icon.

The Suble Art of Not Giving a F*k, by Mark Manson. Pickup-artist-turned-blogger Mark Manson has taken some of his best-loved ideas and turned them into a book. For a man under 40, he’s incredibly wise and unpretentious. His ideas, though often counterintuitive, make a lot of sense. They’re down to earth and are a good antidote for the pie-in-the-sky school of creative visualization and positive affirmation championed by many New Age personal development authors and the self-esteem movement. For people of my generation, it’s my parents’ advice revisioned and re-articulated, minus the judgments. His key point, which informs the whole book, is about values. Clarifying our values with a fine-toothed comb will help us choose more wisely the things that we care about. And doing that will give us better problems, which in turn give us a better life.

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard M. Halpern. If you need to break an unhealthy romantic attachment — as I did earlier last year — this book is for you. Addiction to alcohol or drugs is well-known, and the remedies are relatively straightforward, though not easy. Addiction to a person is a little harder to define, and the cure is not so simple, but with time, effort, and support, it is possible. The book looks at the phenomenon of “attachment hunger” and all the ways it can interfere with living our best life. It’s a brilliant mix of self-help advice and an explanation, in layperson’s terms, of object relations theory, which is how mental health clinicians explain the ways in which our experiences of other people are formed from an early age. If there are problems getting our attachment needs met during early childhood, it can lead to problems forming healthy relationships later. Parts one and two address the workings of an addiction to a person. You may recognize a lot of your own and others’ toxic behaviors here, but what’s really helpful is the last part, which offers techniques and exercises to break free. These include writing, building a supportive network, and self-talk that promotes self-esteem. There is also a chapter on how to make the best use of psychotherapy, for those who wish to seek professional help in this situation.

Reading the Manson book before reading this book will help you make better use of the exercises here. Remember that affirmations that build self-esteem are only useful if you can find things in your life to feel good about. But as you spend more time alone, become reacquainted with yourself, and take concrete actions that move your life forward, finding things to feel good about gets easier.

Eating the Honey of Words by Robert Bly. I heard Robert Bly read while he was on the Ohio Poetry Circuit in 1978 or 1979, and I’ve been addicted to his work ever since. This book is a selection of poems from his books spanning almost fifty years, and contains work that had not previously been included in any collection. (Bly turned 90 last year; my tribute to his life and work can be found here.) The book is divided into sections that begin with the earliest books and end with the latest, but the divisions overlap and and are not strictly chronological. Still it’s easy to see, in this book, all the ways in which his work has evolved. The poems often contain one or two details from nature that suddenly come in with a revelation about his, or our, inner lives that had previously been unnoticed. But the biggest gift his writing gives to me is he way the shares his experience of the feminine — both the real women in his life, and with his own feminine side. The way he gets in touch with aspects of himself that many men never notice over their whole lives can be an inspiration to the rest of us. A good way to experience “Loving a Woman in Two Worlds” or “Morning Poems” is to read them once, read Iron John or A Little Book on the Human Shadow, and then read the poems again. It’s not for the faint of heart. You might find, for instance, as Bly does in “A Man Writes to a Part of Himself”, that your feminine side has regressed through neglect, and is living in primitive, hostile conditions. Or you might see hints of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, in his seminal protest poem against the Vietnam war, “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” — though she’s never mentioned by name.

The Way of the Superior Man, by David Deida. First published in 1997, and now in its 23rd printing, this book is a beautiful guide, for men or masculine-identified people, for dealing with women or female-identified people. I’ve read it about once a year since 2008, and it yields new treasures every time. Its generalizations may enrage or offend you, but if men read it, take long breaks to breathe fully during those difficult passages, and then go back to it, they will find, after doing this over several years, that the places in the book they find hardest to accept are those that point to their biggest potential for growth. Women can read the book too, as a guide to understand what the men in their lives are all about. The book is a few years old by now, and some of its more important points can be easily challenged. For example, Deida says that men are happiest while filling their life-purpose, whereas women are happiest while in relationship. The data from the Harvard Study are now in and suggest, pretty convincingly, that close relationships are the key to happiness, not just for women, but for everyone. But it is true, over the short term, that men tend to find fulfilment in their achievements. It’s a wise man that honors that impulse in himself, while keeping family and close friendships — the things that matter most over the long term — in sight.

personal development

Set Your Intention for 2016 and Beyond: How to Create New Year’s Resolutions That Stick

The phrase “New Year’s resolution” has become almost synonymous with good intentions that don’t last. It’s easiest to pledge to cut down on our drinking or eating right after a night of overindulgence. Others who may be more ambitious promise to get their bodies into shape, or to learn that new language or musical instrument. But, once the hard work begins of taking the steps needed to actually get into shape, take language or music lessons, or practice or work out, the rate of follow-through is low. The Wall Street Journal reports that gym use, which spikes right at the start of the New Year, is back to usual levels around the third week of January.


Blogger and entrepreneur Mark Manson distinguishes between being in love with the process needed to reach a goal, and being in love with the results. People in love with the process are successful in reaching their goals; those who are in love with only the results are not. A similar phenomenon is known in the world of dating coaching as outcome dependence, which is what happens when a man, during an early interaction with a woman, is so concerned with where the conversation is going that he forgets to enjoy the moment. But whereas a man in the grip of outcome-dependence is still taking action to produce the results he wants, someone in love only with results doesn’t always take any action at all to reach his goal. Or he reads everything he can about his chosen topic, then does bits and pieces; or he puts together a list of twenty goals for the year; or he creates goals that are mutually exclusive; or he creates the structure – joins the gym or gets the instrument or the Rosetta stone CDs – but then fails to fill that structure with the time and effort of practice.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, consider setting an intention for the New Year:  a brief description of what kind of year 2016 will be for you. How do you want to remember 2016? Do you want to remember it as the year you broke through your dating slump? The year you actually learned that new foreign language or musical instrument? Once you set your intention, consider the goals and objectives you need to take to move you towards your goal.  These steps should be specific and measurable. Here are some tips for success:

  1. Keep expectations realistic. Don’t try to go from being severely overweight to having a six-pack within three months, and stay away from diets or routines that promise it. Choose goals and processes that are likely to see small results over short periods of time, but that will yield bigger results over the next twelve months. If you’re an absolute beginner on the guitar, you won’t be playing like Jimmy Page within the year, but you might get “Stairway to Heaven” under your fingers by the end of June.

Be sure also not to begin too many new projects all at once. If this is your year to learn guitar, this might not be the year to also start that new business, learn Spanish, and begin dating a bunch of women all at once.

  1. Choose goals and objectives that are time-limited and measurable. A favorite coaching question is “What will you do, when will you do it, and how will I know?” “I will eat more vegetables in 2016” is a good intention. But what’s better is “I will eat one cup of broccoli rabe or fresh tomatoes, three times per week.” If you set this goal on Sunday, you’ll know by the following Saturday night whether or not you’ve followed through.


  1. Develop a daily, weekly, and monthly rhythm. Each day, come up with small steps you can take to further your goal. Find an ideal time of day to take these steps, and take them. You will need to mix these steps with necessary tasks you need to fulfill your obligations to yourself, your family, and your friends and co-workers. Devise a daily list every morning, or (even better) the night before of tasks and chores, and include some of your objectives in your list. Set yourself short-term goals for the week, medium-term goals for the month, and long-term goals for the middle of the year. Don’t be afraid to modify these goals at any point if they seem out of reach, but be sure to push yourself and challenge your limits too. A coach can be of immense value in finding your “sweet spot” between overreaching beyond your capacity and complacency.


  1. Become an early riser. Research shows that the most difficult tasks of the day are best accomplished when the day is young. Beginning your day when the rest of your family is still asleep, the TV and other devices are turned off, and you have plenty of energy is the ideal time for working out, writing, or studying that new language. Resistance is low, and you have less time to ruminate and come up with excuses not to do the activity. If you’re tired on waking, you might not be getting enough sleep, or the quality of your sleep may be low. Look at changes you can make at night to increase the chances of a good night’s sleep.


  1. Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. All habits consist of three components: the cue, the behavior, and the reward. It’s difficult to change the cue and the reward, but it’s relatively easy to change the behavior. This book, based on a ton of research on the behavior of both individuals and organizations, goes into a lot more detail about how this process works. Part 1 is of immense practical value in changing a personal habit.


Forgo New Year’s resolutions in 2016. Instead, set an intention, and back it up with a short list of realistic goals and objectives. Establish a regular rhythm of activities that will move you incrementally towards your goal. By the end of the year you’ll have accomplished a lot, and you’ll look back on 2016 with satisfaction and pride.

dating, personal development, Uncategorized

More Reasons Why Men Love “Crazy”

Most of us who make a practice of conscious dating are familiar with the phenomenon of girls who date bad boys. For some women, men who treat them badly are like a drug: they know they’re unhealthy for them, but they continue to go back to the same man, or the same type of man, over and over. Scott Barry Kaufman, who researched this topic a few years ago for Psychology Today, found a clear relationship between low agreeableness and a high number of sexual partners. Being a bad boy, it seems, is associated with many traits that women find attractive, such as high extraversion, openness to new experience, and even a bit of narcissism. It’s those men who get the most attention from women, and the correlation cuts across all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups.attached-GF

What’s less familiar is the phenomenon of men who adore “crazy” women.  I think that if we looked at it closely we’d find a number of men attracted to unpredictable, volatile women in equal numbers to women attracted to bad boys. Not all men do, but there are some who are fascinated with images of women suddenly getting violent, or bursting into tears for no particular reason, or going into the bedroom and slamming the door shut, or dramatically dumping a man’s possessions into the street from the 7th-storey window.

What makes a man go after women who behave capriciously and impulsively? There have been a lot of theories: high energy in life equates to high sexual energy, and what man wouldn’t want a woman with more sexual energy? There’s also Harville Hendricks’ theory of the imago: an internal representation of negative or toxic parental influences, with which we tend to seek out relationships in hope of a corrective emotional experience. Also, men love to fix things, and what’s better than a broken woman to keep us occupied?

These views all carry some truth, and may be more or less true in any particular relationship. But there’s another point of view that doesn’t see women like this as toxic or unhealthy at all; in fact, given the right circumstances, some behavior that’s seen as crazy or toxic can actually be a path into greater intimacy with your partner. Here are three reasons why you might be drawn to a “crazy” woman:

1. Her possessiveness is endearing. Particularly if you’ve “played the field” for a while and had a string of first or second dates where neither you nor your date felt strong feelings for the other, a possessive girlfriend can — at least for a while — feel charming and enlivening. Her expressions of love and jealousy, as darkly twisted as they can be, feel genuine to you. She says she loves you, and you feel loved. Over time, her questions about your behavior, your friends, and where you spend your time can erode the relationship. But in the beginning, having a jealous girlfriend can be a nice break from all the women who played it cool with you.

The Internet meme of the overly attached girlfriend is funny, because it takes to an extreme a lot of treatment that most men can recognize, having experienced it at one time or another. The wild eyes, the way she makes everything about her, and her desire to possess a man, rather than relate to him, are all hilariously familiar.

How can you tell the difference between endearingly possessive behavior and boorish jealousy? The key question is:  Do you feel loved, or distrusted? There may be times when she genuinely loves you, and is asking questions about your behavior and your friends to show her love. But there may also be times when distrust is most evident, and this feeling is toxic to a healthy relationship. If there is suspicion in her voice, rather than love; if it seems like she’s trying to pick holes in the story of how you spent your day, it’s ultimately damaging to the relationship. Address her behavior, with either a good couples counselor or relationship coach.

2. She’s testing your ability to stay present in volatile situations. Any man can stay present, calm, and collected when the day is going his way, and according to plan. But what happens when his woman’s behavior takes the day in a whole different direction? Sometimes what we label “crazy” behavior is really only a woman trying to feel her man’s presence. Can he tell, after she’s run into the bedroom and slammed the door, when she really wants to be alone, and when she’s waiting just behind the door, hoping he’ll come in and sweep her into his arms? Can he read her so completely, and so carefully, that he’ll know what to do next?

3. Impulsive can mean intuitive, and the right intuitive woman can save your life. In my experience, impulsivity and intuition often go hand-in-hand. That’s not to say that an impulsive woman is always intuitive, or vice versa. But when you find a woman who can deliver insights about yourself and your relationships incisively and compassionately, it can be a great gift that just might make the inconvenience of a crazy relationship worth the trouble. David Deida says, “A good woman can show a man his asshole better than any therapist.” If you find yourself with a woman who comes up with spot-on truths about you, spoken in love, she may be a keeper — even, or maybe especially if, those truths hurt. They can provide you with hints about the next direction for your life or career, or let you know where you may not be speaking or acting with complete honesty. If you feel you’re getting these kinds of messages from the woman in your life, don’t ignore them. Feel what she’s saying, rather than just listening for points of agreement or disagreement.

“Crazy” women — strong, impulsive, volatile women who are good in bed — can be difficult to love. They can blur the distinction between intimacy and intensity. They can sap your strength, or make you stronger. They may build character, or merely reveal it. But don’t discount a woman’s “crazy” behavior before you’ve taken the time to understand it. You might have a potentially valuable life partner with you — someone who will help you surf life’s highs and lows with presence, compassion, and humor.

dating, personal development

The Legacy of “The Game”

October marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of “The Game”, Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss’s firsthand account of the world of pickup artists. Strauss didn’t invent the term, nor did the pickup artist (PuA) phenomenon come into being as a result of his book.  Instead, he brought to light certain substrata in society that have existed for generations, but which really began to flourish with the growth of the Internet.  The seduction community gained even greater exposure in 2007 with a reality show on VH1, and today, everyone brings a specific image to mind at the mention of the phrase “pickup artist”.  It’s usually a pejorative term, implying a player out to gratify his sexual appetite, who manipulates women into sleeping with him.


And men have always been trying to meet women, to sleep with them, go on a date, or get into a conversation — at night in bars and clubs, or during the day in coffee shops, parks, bookstores, and other public places. Go to Union Square, Manhattan, on any halfway-beautiful Saturday afternoon, get curious about what you see around you, and sooner or later you’ll notice a man chatting up an attractive female who clearly has only known him for a few minutes. This doesn’t mean he’s trying to trick her into sleeping with him — but it might mean he’s attempting to learn a new social skill, overcome shyness, or break a dating dry spell.

Pickup artists aren’t new, but the publicity and commercialism around them is. What was originally known to members simply as “the community”, in the past ten years has gradually transitioned from a loosely-connected group of men sharing tips and tricks, to a cottage industry of dating gurus teaching others the art of seduction, at increasingly steeper prices. Men who need help today face a dizzying array of choices in the nature of the advice available, and the advice itself takes the form of e-books, bootcamps, one-on-one coaching, telesummits, text-based, Skype, or other distance coaching, and small group experiences.  Advertising and promotion promise to “end rejection forever”; to help you “build the love life you deserve”, and provide almost endless testimonials of men who succeeded with this or that system after years of failure. Almost none of the methods that are marketed as a way to improve social skills have been studied independently for their effectiveness; the coaches are not licensed (and are only rarely ICF-certified, or even on a path towards becoming so); and no criteria exist as to what a successful passage through any program should look like.  In some ways, this is as it should be:  the value received should be obvious by looking at whether a participant is enjoying the relationships with women that he wants; and a coach’s credentials should be obvious by whether he himself has those kinds of relationships with women.

And yet, it’s reasonable, given the amounts of money charged, to expect some kind of standard, especially now that we’ve seen a few bad apples within the past couple of years that tarnish the reputation of the whole barrel.  Dating coaches and their companies should clearly lay out what realistic outcomes in their programs should look like, and what a participant has to do to reach those goals.

We wouldn’t be asking these kinds of questions, though, had Neil Strauss not written his book, and actually the question of whether the PuA approach “works” is irrelevant in the long run. More than anything, the pickup artists’ legacy has been in changing the way men think about women, and in giving men the boldness and confidence they need to engage with women. Being “in the game” means dealing, for better or worse, with real live members of the opposite sex, and for many, that alone can lead to a transformation. It helps us look past surface appearances, however sexy, to the real woman. And it teaches us never to blame a woman if an interaction goes badly.

Many men find their voice, find themselves actually relating with women in conversation, and in so doing, quickly realize that much of what they imagined must be true about them isn’t true at all. They quickly discover that what they thought was aloofness was really shyness, for example. And that can lead to empathy, and learning to experience a sense of shared humanity with women. In that moment, a woman’s beauty suddenly becomes only part of the picture — they are real human beings, with similar frailties, dreams, and fears. It also leads to the revelation — surprising to some — that there are attractive women whom we don’t want to get to know, either because we discover we don’t have anything in common with them, or because their behavior and outlook on life turn us off.

Only rarely, if ever, will a dating coach blame a woman for an interaction that goes badly. If her prejudices are obvious — if she dislikes men of a particular race or profession, for example — he might take her to task for it, but he’ll usually look at what he could have done differently, never what she could have done differently.  And a good coach will be careful about looking too closely at any one interaction. Like it or not, dating is a numbers game, and any coach worth his salt will recognize that.

I’ve met many men who have never had a girlfriend. Several of them who are well into their 30s have never had sex. The standard dating advice — usually dished out by attractive women who have plenty of choice when it comes to sex and dating — almost always falls flat with them. It’s like they’re speaking a different language. How can you change the way you communicate with a woman when your sole experience of women outside your mother’s house has been in online porn or in girls whom you pass on campus?

And so the PuAs have given us an empowering language for speaking about sex and dating. It’s given us a language of choice, a way to communicate, and a way to interpret social signals; and therefore, it’s made us more emotionally intelligent. Several of the men I’ve known who devoted themselves to the PuA life have fallen in love and gotten married. They’re good men who’ve played The Game to the fullest and who are now ready for the next chapter. This isn’t “settling”. It’s a celebration of the road they’ve traveled and an acceptance of new challenges ahead.

Many thanks, Neil, for the legacy of your book.  Like Prometheus, who gave to humanity the gift of fire, you’ve given a gift to men that can be used for good or for bad. Let’s all choose wisely, do no harm, and conduct ourselves with honor and integrity.

personal development

Doing things the hard way: Four ways to decide if you should take the road less traveled

I am one of those people whose nature it is to solve problems the hard way. If there are four easy ways to accomplish something, and one hard way, I’ll discover the hard way first. Only later, if I take a step back from the problem and take a more detached view, will I discover all the easier ways. How have I survived? I’ve been extremely lucky in having developed a circle of people around me who are prepared to show me where I’m making a task more difficult than it needs to be. These are people who will, lovingly but firmly, show me where I’m wrong. Still, there are times when those people are mistaken. The hard way sometimes is the best way and, very often, the only way. If you can learn to tell the difference between being principled and being stubborn, you’ve received oneinidivualist of the best gifts life has to offer.

So this is for all my fellow travelers who tend to overcomplicate life’s problems, or who overestimate the effort required to solve them. Whether it’s because you want to prove something (to yourself or someone else), or because you just can’t see any easier way, these are a few guidelines to help you determine when to trust your instincts and when to listen to well-meaning friends and family.

1. Trust someone’s experience, not their ideas. When listening to advice, ask for and listen for your friend’s experience, and compare it with your own. Often, someone with absolutely no first-hand knowledge of a subject will have strong opinions about it. Be wary, for example, of dating advice from your buddy Bill who has been married for thirty years. He may have good advice about how to sustain a long-term relationship, but he will likely be clueless about how to meet, court, and date a woman. It’s the same with your own experience. If you know New York City to be safe at night, but a friend who has never been there is talking about how dangerous it is, don’t let the force of his opinion turn you from your reality. His opinion might be based on information from years before, or he might have remembered some incidents he saw on the news and taken it as a pattern. It doesn’t matter who talks louder; your experience will always trump someone else’s argument.

It’s the same when people talk from the point of view of a particular social or political ideology. Trust their behavior, rather than their ideas. The feminist activist who dates jerks, the family values activist who has an account with Ashley Madison, the men’s rights activist who has never dated a woman or been to family court, all have their story. But until they back up their ideas with experience, it’s just talk.

2. Keep in mind that family may never be satisfied no matter what you choose. It’s sad to say, but even healthy, relatively functional families don’t always know what they want for you. Or their ambitions for you may be mutually exclusive—they may want you to be a successful entrepeneur who travels the world while also spending all your free time at home with the kids. There are even some parents of adult children, sadly, who will never be happy with their kids’ choice of a mate, and will do everything they can to convince them that they could do better. In some cases, they may actively attempt to sabotage the relationship. Don’t let it happen. Set clear limits with your parents and, as a last resort, separate from them, at least until they take your relationship seriously.

3. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Even for some smaller life decisions, it’s worth getting out pen and paper and mapping out those expected costs and benefits. It’s worth noting that sometimes, even the seemingly easier decision won’t reap the expected benefits. Many people pursue some supposedly lucrative career under pressure from their parents, and enter their fields after months or years of training only to find out that jobs are not as plentiful, or as well-paying, as they were led to believe. They’ve sacrificed the career they really wanted for an elusive goal that vanished the moment it was within reach.

4. Remember there are very few mistakes until around age 35. When clients in their 20s ask me “Am I making a mistake?” my usual response is, “I don’t really think mistakes are possible for you right now.” We all would like to get things right the first time, but that just doesn’t happen often. There can be setbacks and delays, and some decisions will move you further along towards a goal than others. But until you hit your mid-30s there’s very little you can do in the way of making a serious, irrevocable mistake, short of landing yourself in prison or ruining your body with alcohol or drugs. Even when there are mistakes, their long-term effects will likely not be as catastrophic as you believe they might be. I don’t mean to diminish the heartbreaking effects of divorce, debt, psychological addictions, and toxic relationships. I’ve been through all these, and know many others who have. They are all extremely painful in the short run, and are all temporary inconveniences in the long run, if you face them honestly and persistently. Kids grow up, debts get paid or expunged, and wounds heal—sooner with psychotherapy, later without it.

In my experience, there are some decisions that are easier to make:

• When I’m faced with the choice to solve a problem alone or with others, solving it with others is usually the easiest and best choice. Doing something alone if I don’t have to makes a problem harder than it needs to be.
• Whether it’s harder or easier, the choice that will lead to the fewest regrets and second thoughts is the best one.
• Making sacrifices is OK, if a child will benefit.
• Money, security, and validation from others almost never feels as good as standing firm in my convictions.
• If it involves music, exercise, coffee, poetry, or sex (unless someone will get hurt), it’s usually the right thing to do.
Appreciate the criticism and opinions of your friends and family, and be grateful that they care enough about you to have an opinion. But consider the limitations of their advice. Experience trumps argument; family don’t always know what they want for you; and mistakes are the realm of middle-aged people only. Consider everyone’s advice, take it in, do a cost-benefit analysis, and make your own decision.