Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Advice for Online Dating

I have a lot of clients who are, with varying degrees of effort and success, attempting to find relationships via online dating resources. They're on Match, OK Cupid, PoF, Tinder, Bumble (to name a few). 

In full disclosure, I did online dating off and on for several years and found it both frustrating and fruitful, depending on my attitude at the time. I did, however, pretty consistently have what one might call "success" at it, and so from that perspective I'm happy to offer suggestions. I made a lot of friends, as well, and as such had many fascinating conversations about online dating and what people's different experiences of it were. There were some pretty consistent themes that arose, and so I feel confident that this could, if nothing else, give people new perspective. Take or leave these tips based on what feels authentic to you, because that is my #1 piece of advice. 


So without further ado: 


1) Be YOU. Make sure that your photos, bio, quotes, etc all reflect an authentic version of yourself. You don't have to disclose everything up front, of course, but if what you're interested in is connecting with another human on a meaningful level, you have to present yourself accurately from day one. Few things feel more uncomfortable in the online dating world than to discover upon meeting someone in person that they are not at all who/how they presented themselves. To me, the greatest compliment one can give or receive in these endeavors is "You are exactly the same in person." I heard this a lot from men, in a surprised and appreciative way. This leads me to believe many others people are not presenting themselves super accurately. So...be YOU, always. The right person is going to like you for exactly who you are. Also, remember that keeping up a facade is a LOT of work. Ain't nobody got time for that in 2017. 


2) To that end, put recent photos up only, unless you indicate in the caption what is different now or what year the photo was taken. Most of us do not look how we looked ten years ago, for better or worse, and so to present yourself as a younger or thinner or more fashionable version of yourself is false advertising, which we want to always avoid. 


3) Ladies, you need to know that men see it as a huge red flag if all of your photos are just of your face (especially if it's a heavily made-up face). For better or worse, they assume it means your body is ______ (something you don't want to show). Make sure you have full body photos on your page. They don't have to be sexy or in any way specifically intended to show off your body, just make sure there is a photo that shows accurately what you look like. This may seem shallow, but remember that we are all going off our first impressions, and we generally have to find the way someone looks appealing on some level in order to be attracted to them. Don't be mad that men want to know what your body looks like. Many of them have felt tricked into going out with women they normally wouldn't be interested in, so they are understandably wary if their experience suggests they might be duped again.  


4) Similarly, men, you need to know that if all your photos are selfies, that's a red flag. That suggests (to me, at least) that you don't have any friends to hang out with or to ask to take a picture of you at least. Put a group shot up if the people in it are comfortable with it (if that's all you have) or have a pal take a normal-looking photo of you that isn't in the gym or bathroom mirror. One or two of those is fine but not a whole series of them. We get it, you work out. We get it, you have abs. We get it, you use the bathroom. Whatever. We don't care as much as you think we do about your body. We care more about knowing you have friends/family who love you and spend time with you. Or that you've been interesting places or done things besides taken photos of yourself in mirrors. 


5) Write about yourself in your profile. Don't just talk about what you want or don't want in another person. Give the people reading your profile information about YOU. What do you do for fun, for sport, for entertainment? Where do you like to go? What are some interesting quirky facts about you? What are your favorite things? Think of it more as a resume' and less as a help wanted ad. Say who you are, and a person who is looking for someone with your qualities is going to express interest. 


6) On that note, please do not write your whole profile bashing all the men/women you've encountered so far. Talking about catfishing and whatnot or making threats like "You have to do ____" in order for me to even talk to you. Don't litter it with endless "don't be _____" and "don't bother messaging me if _____" and "no games" and negative/defensive garbage like that. That just makes you sound bitter and as if you've been on these sites for a million years and you're all weary about it. It also can make you sound impossible to please and little fun to be around. I would always suggest you make effort to sound like you're actually excited to meet new people. That's why you're on the sites in the first place, so be open to it actually happening instead of constantly poised to defend against imposters or expecting to be lied to or manipulated. For the record, I went out with a fairly large number of men over the years, and every single person was who they said they were. Most of them looked like their photos. It's not as common as you might think to be fake out by people in real life. 


7) If someone messages you and they aren't someone you want to talk to, just don't respond. That's totally acceptable. You don't have to explain why you aren't interested. If they start bothering you, block them or report them if necessary. Don't feel badly for not responding. Online dating shouldn't feel like a part-time job or a whole slew of new obligations. You don't owe anyone anything except to be respectful and honest when you do interact with them. 


8) Women, do not be afraid to message men first. Most men are not intimidated by women who make the first move; if they are, you may not be interested in them anyway! I found that if I reached out first, men were pleasantly surprised that I'd taken that step. The logic is simple: men like to feel desired, too. And some men are shy just like some women are shy. Whoever sees the profile of a person they are interested in first should just write to them or "swipe right" or whatever. Don't assume that if someone looks at your profile but doesn't reach out they aren't interested, also. Furthermore, if you are a woman who wants an egalitarian relationship without too much adherence to traditional gender roles (as I am), why would you wait for the man to reach out first if you're interested? 


9) I would always advise that you not message/text/email for too long before actually meeting in person. A few days or a week maybe tops. Because what happens if you do just message for a long time is that you potentially create a false sense of intimacy. You may start feeling like you really know this person and really like them...but then when you meet in person if you don't vibe with them, it feels really disappointing and confusing. If you have to wait a long time for some reason before linking up in real life, make sure you talk on the phone a few times to try and mitigate that false intimacy. And always be prepared for the person in real life to not quite be what you'd imagined, whether for better or worse. Don't get too attached to the idea of a person before you actually meet them. 


10) On the first date, I would advise you to always assume you're going to go dutch. Some men are always going to insist on paying, and that's fine and appreciated. I'm not going to argue too hard when a man insists on paying for my drinks or whatever, and I do think it is a good look, to be honest. But ladies: you have to at least OFFER to pay for your own stuff- and be prepared to- and be totally fine with it if he agrees to split the check. I'd say 2/3 of the time on a first date the man paid, and the other 1/3 we split it. I'm not saying women should pick up the tab on the first date; I'm just saying it's not fair to always expect that men will pay. This isn't the dark ages. We've got to be able to pay our own way. Similarly, if he picks up the tab the first time you go out, if you're able to, next time offer to pay (and mean it). It's a good reciprocal gesture. He may not let you, but I think you should at least offer, and be gracious either way. 

11) That said, if you actually ARE that concerned about gender roles, make sure you say that up front. "I am a more 'traditional' kind of woman who expects men to be chivalrous in certain ways" or "As a man, I always pay because I think a woman should be treated a certain kind of way". That's cool if you're into that; just make sure you don't present yourself as anything else or you're just setting both of you up for disappointment. 


12) This should go without saying, but make sure the first time you meet up that it is in a public place where you both (but especially the woman) feel safe/comfortable. Women, do NOT give a man your address on the first date. Do NOT have him pick you up, no matter how "traditional" or "chivalrous" you or he is. Women, do NOT go to his house for the first meeting. Men, if she does offer to come over or have you to her house on the first date, this is a potential red flag in terms of her boundaries and worldly wisdom or sense of self-preservation. Women, I also advise (because I'm very mindful of safety and because frankly this whole "meeting strangers" thing can be scary) that you always give a trusted friend the man's full name and the name of the location where you're meeting him, and tell her that you'll text or call her when you get home safely. ***(All this being said, if the whole purpose of getting together is for sex and you're both clear on that, then you may have to violate these general safety rules unless you can meet at a hotel or someplace neutral, which would be ideal). 


13) After a first date, if you liked the person and would like to see them again, you should always send them a quick text afterwards stating as much. Just saying "I had a good time with you tonight" or "Can I see you again sometime soon?" is nice. It eliminates that whole waiting period of "does s/he like me? should I follow up? should I ask him/her out again?" Similarly, if you didn't like the person or would definitely not like to see them again, don't follow up. If they do, a quick "Thank you, but I don't think we're a good fit. Best of luck!" is a kind response,  vs. just ghosting them. In my opinion, it is always rude to not respond to someone you have met in real life who is being kind to you. But once you've said that, you don't owe them any further correspondence. And that is reason 2945 why you never give a stranger your home address. 


There's way more, but I've run out of steam for the day. I'll leave it at this and add to it later. Hope it helps! Happy dating! :) 




Monday, January 23, 2017

UPDATES ON NEW PHONE COACHING

So, I tried it, and it didn't suck. I have had four distance coaching sessions since I posted the update a couple of weeks ago, and each one went really well. It helped that they were all NF types, so communication wasn't a struggle. 

What I realized today on my call was that what I can probably best offer is merely objective problem-solving assistance. Like, if you have an issue or problem and you just want an extra set of eyes on it, you schedule a phone call with me. You tell me the problem, I give you advice, and we may or may not ever speak again, but we both feel good about it. 

I can also do ongoing coaching, but I wanted to add and encourage the option of just being that random long-distance friendly voice you call when you need some advice. I can also do a consult on personality types or relationships. 

Email me if you want to know more or schedule a call. Again, it's $75 for a 45 minute call, and you PayPal me when we schedule the call to hold the slot, and then you call me at that designated time. If you've ever done actual therapy with a bad therapist at up to $250 an hour for weeks/months/years, you know that $75 is a steal if you actually feel like it helped you!!!!!!! I hope to always leave you feeling that way. :) 

Be well, y'all. Things are good in my world. I know I haven't updated here a lot, but I'll try to get better now that the baby is a little older and less constantly-needful. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

NEW SERVICE: Distance Coaching

Readers of my blog frequently contact me for distance coaching from faraway lands (like Oklahoma and Texas, most recently). Historically, I've declined for a variety of reasons, but for 2017 I've decided to try it. 
SO! For those of you not in St Louis who still wish to receive coaching from me, I am adding a telephone option with a few variations on my usual style: 
1) These sessions will be slightly shorter and less costly than standard in-person sessions, but will not be subject to sliding fee scale. 
2) They also will be called "coaching" rather than "therapy" because I cannot adequately attend to your mental health needs from a distance; if you need what would traditionally be considered "therapy" for a mood disorder or other issue, please understand that I will not be a good fit for you to meet those needs. What I can help you with via telephone coaching are everyday problems, relationship issues, and what we might call "existential crises". 
3) The other significant difference is that rather than exchange credit card info via insecure means like email, I'll only accept payments via PayPal.  (COST: $75 for 45 minutes) 
Please email me with questions or to schedule a conversation. I look forward to connecting with you in 2017!  

Monday, December 19, 2016

UPDATED CLASS SCHEDULE!!!!!!!!!!

Regularly Scheduled Classes

Use Words (aka Say What The F*** You Mean)
Saturday, 3/4 1-3 p.m. 
Practical, real-life strategies for communicating more clearly and confidently 
The art of apologizing (and why it matters)
How to identify and avoid passive-aggressive behavior
Learning to name your feelings and ask for what you need 

How To Do Conflict Well (aka Don’t Be An A**hole)
Saturday, 3/25 1-3 p.m. 
Reframing conflict as a positive, healthy aspect of any relationship
Learning how to bypass defensiveness in yourself and others
How to engage in and resolve difficult conversations with kindness and respect
30+ useful tips and tools you can put into practice immediately 

Boundaries 
Saturday, 2/11 1-3 p.m. 
Defining boundaries: what are they and why are they important
What happens when we fail in setting boundaries 
Examining your own struggles to establish and maintain boundaries
Strategies for change 

Personality Types 101 
Saturday, 2/18 1-3 p.m. 
Introduction to Myers-Briggs Personality Type and Jungian temperament theory
Basic understanding of cognitive functions
How to type yourself and others accurately, why it’s useful, and its limitations
General overview of all 16 types and their frequency 

One-Time Bonus Classes/Workshops 

Communication for New and Expectant Parents 
Saturday, 3/11 1-3 p.m. 
Exploring common communication issues for couples 
Naming specific relationship stressors of pregnancy and childbirth
Strategies for navigating the unique challenges of new parenthood 
Tips and tools for handling conflict as it arises


Fine print: All classes are held at our offices in Webster Groves. Prices vary, but full payment is required for registration, via PayPal, check, cash, or credit/debit card. No refunds are offered once registration is complete, but class registration is always transferrable to another person, date, or class. 


Please email amy@millercounseling.org with any questions or to register.
www.millercounseling.org

Monday, December 5, 2016

Baby Blues

I loveloveLOVE being a mommy. I look at Zoe and my heart explodes with the kind of love I literally had no idea was possible. This may sound silly, but I am entirely certain that she was a meant-to-be addition to my life. I feel no ambivalence at all about the decision to have her, and I believe in my bones that she is perfect for me, for us, and for the world.

And
(Not but)

AND...

It's really hard. I've been struggling much more than I've shared publicly (because mom guilt.) But it's really important to me that I live authentically everywhere, even on social media and at work and on my counseling blog. So I'll admit that this hasn't been an entirely smooth transition for me, and that I routinely grieve the death of my independence and freedom. (I didn't want to admit this in particular because so many people annoyingly reminded me when I announced my pregnancy that "you know you can't just sleep whenever you want anymore!" and "you won't be able to go to breakfast and out for wine and travel all the time anymore!" and I was all confidently "it'll be fine" but turns out that part actually really sucks).

Hanging with the baby, I often get bored and lonely and overstimulated all at once. I cycle between feeling joyous and awed to feeling resentful and sad. I cry a lot, often for no reason I can adequately articulate. I probably frustrate Rodney (although he doesn't let on) because I move so quickly through my feelings and moods. The other day I literally googled "Postpartum cyclothymia" to see if that was a thing, because I felt myself cycling so rapidly between OMG THIS SUCKS and OMG I LOVE HER.

But then I had breakfast with a mom friend the other day who made me feel way better about this. She said she's pretty sure everybody feels some iteration of that cycle, but that some people don't talk about it and other people don't even recognize it. She said basically that it's impossible to feel like you have it all together all the time when you're raising little ones, especially when they're little tiny babies and can't say any words, and that it's unreasonable to expect that of yourself (myself).

Side note: hormones certainly play a role in all this too, but to greater or lesser degrees depending on your sensitivity to hormonal shifts.

So, with all that being said, I am working on some *intentional* shifts and changes; I offer them as suggestions for you as well if you're struggling with anything similar.

One shift is trying to mindfully, lovingly, gently remember that I am no longer in control of my life in the same way as I was. And being kind to myself when I remember that I spent 37 years being in charge of just myself and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I mean, I had *decided* not to have children. Given that I took such an extreme turn on my planned trajectory, I'm trying to keep in mind that this is all pretty normal insofar as I am in a pretty predictable grieving process (for my old life) and it takes time to surrender to the new way things are. So I'm trying to be patient with myself and stop holding on so tightly to my freedom. To see this as a new kind of freedom. I'm raising this amazing, beautiful, hilarious baby with a wonderful partner (a partner who incidentally strongly encourages me to still "be a person"). While this life wasn't my "plan", I can't say it's not a pretty great accident. I can honestly say I would not change it, if I were given the option. So I have to constantly reframe, shift, let go. (I have control issues, so this is hard af).

Another shift is more self-care and working on not feeling badly when I prioritize self-care, especially since my partner is so supportive of me doing this. So I am going out of town this week for 2 days while Zoe hangs with her daddy (with his blessing). I'm going to sleep in and read books and drink wine and talk to my very wise mom friend Geneva and laze about. I will miss my family, but I *need* a small break where I'm far enough away that I can't feel guilty and come back. And, I think missing them will be good for me, to remind me what I have to come home to.

I've also been to yoga four days in a row; I realized that when I'm not moving my body regularly, I feel extra super terrible and have even less resilience to stress. Since Zoe was born, I haven't felt good in my body at all. In addition to the expected pain associated with C-section surgery, and even after that faded, I've felt stiff and sore and old and fat. I have joked that it feels like I got a body transplant from somebody's grandma. But I felt guilty (there's that theme again) prioritizing yoga when I could/should be spending time with Zoe or doing laundry or giving Rodney a break or developing a new money-making endeavor or whatever. It felt frivolous. But that's dumb because doing yoga at my beloved studio actually *makes me happy*; just one hour a day there has made a huge difference already.

I also reached out to a new therapist, because having somebody on deck who can give me perspective is helpful. I called my OB and got back on the antidepressant I was on before I got pregnant, because I believe that while medicine doesn't solve everything, it's a wonderful addition to a self-care regimen if/when you need it. Reminder: mental health is not separate from physical health, and requires the same attention and maintenance.

I intentionally go to bed super early, so that when the baby wakes up early and needs me I don't feel so irritated (because that makes me feel guilty too).

I am writing more and reaching out to friends more. I'm trying to make more plans with mom/dad friends who "get" it and won't be annoyed by the presence of a baby and/or the attending needs/unpredictability.

I am writing this and sharing it on my counseling blog in part because it helps me to process in writing, but also to offer support to other new parents who may be struggling with the transition or any part before or after. I personally found pregnancy challenging, childbirth traumatic, and the first months of parenting difficult. It's given me so much perspective I didn't have before, though! I will add to my list of services: Pregnancy, Postpartum, and Parenting Transition Struggles. I mean, I had opinions about parenthood and how to do it before I had Zoe, but I realize now that with all my good intentions, I had no idea what I was actually talking about from an 'in-the-trenches' perspective. Everything is new and different now. It takes time to adjust, and I'd be happy to help anyone else with their adjustment, in part for selfish reasons: because in helping others heal, I often end up healing myself.

If you're in a similar place, and don't have someone you trust to work through it with: http://millercounseling.blogspot.com/2016/12/new-service-distance-coaching.html

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Passive-Aggressive Behavior is the worst

Advice of the Day: Don't engage in passive-aggressive behavior. 
<full stop>
Just, don't. It's an easy trap to fall into and we often reflexively do it, but it does nothing positive for our relationships and in fact is one of the very worst ways to communicate. I personally have to make a conscious effort to not be this way, and it does take a lot of mindfulness to keep from defaulting to it. But because I spend so much energy defying my instinct, I have *very little* tolerance/patience for other people behaving passive-aggressively towards me. If you recognize yourself as someone who is frequently passive-aggressive, it would behoove you to get started on your recovery, because I *promise* nobody likes it when you do that. If you have something to say, just say it. Don't make people dig it out of you or do a bunch of extra work to clarify how you're feeling and why. It is much easier to avoid or resolve conflict when we are being direct. 
First things first, though, while everyone has heard of passive-aggressiveness, I think we are not all clear on what that actually is. People ask me about this a lot, especially in couples counseling, so here's a basic definition: 
**pas·sive-ag·gres·sive (adjective): of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation.**
In other words, it is a way of avoiding using our words to express what/how we actually feel and instead going about it indirectly to get the same point across. Often we do this because it gives us an "out" if it's ineffective to later claim that the other person misunderstood or misread. It tends to happen when we don't feel entitled to or capable of more directly expressing ourselves. 
Examples: 
- saying "It's fine" or "I'm fine" or "I'm not mad/upset" when CLEARLY it is not fine, you are not fine, and/or you are mad/upset.
- intentionally waiting (or failing) to respond to something you know someone is waiting for you to reply to.
- taking your time on something in order to communicate that it is not important to you.
- comments like "Oh I see how it is!" and "Sure, you could do it for HER" or "Don't go to any trouble".
- intentionally messing something up to avoid having to do it instead of just saying "no".
- backhanded compliments 
In all of these cases, you are communicating by not communicating or by intentionally mis-communicating or misleading. You are not actually saying what you mean, which is confusing. How is anyone supposed to connect authentically with us if they don't know how to take what we say/do? Do you know how much work it is to undo conditioning that has taught people not to trust the word of other people because they're so used to passive-aggressive behavior? 
So, if you are upset, and the person you're upset with says, "Hey, are you okay?" - what is the point in claiming "Yes, I'm fine" if you're clearly not? Anyone who is either a) very literal or b) has grown impatient with your passive-aggressive behavior will shrug and be like, "Okay, good." And move on as though you are fine. Because you said you're fine. 
You don't then get to be mad that the person didn't know you were upset. YOU SAID YOU WERE FINE. 
But that's the thing, though, right? You WANT the person to know they've harmed you and made you upset. They can SEE AND FEEL that you are upset, which is why they asked in the first place. Skip all the extra steps and just say, "Yes. I am upset. It is not fine. It hurt my feelings when you did x thing." And move directly into resolving the issue. 
STOP BEING PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE. 
Here are some specific tips: Don't withhold communication. Don't be intentionally hurtful just to "get back" at somebody for hurting you. Don't not respond to something you know a person is waiting for you to respond to just to make a point or to leverage power. Don't pay backhanded compliments. Don't say things like "I see how you are" or "I see how it is" if what you're really saying is "I'm seeing you do something for someone else that I want you to do for me" and don't say "Don't go to any trouble" if what you mean is "Would you please go to this trouble for me?" Don't expect people to read your mind. ETC ETC. 
Communicate clearly, directly, effectively. Even if it's awkward and you feel vulnerable doing it. It's WAY BETTER than working so hard to get your point across through all the back channels. I love and appreciate the people in my life who are direct and honest with me. I value the people who say when they're not fine, and who if I ask "do you need anything?" and they say "no" aren't secretly mad at me for not doing something I didn't know they wanted or needed done. I love knowing that I have at least a handful of people I can count on to not be passive-aggressive, and when I accidentally default to passive-aggressive they can call me out, or I can call myself out and apologize. Your relationships will benefit from working on this. (I promise).

Monday, November 7, 2016

New Class Ideas....

I'm considering adding some new classes, as well as adding an online video option for the classes I already teach so that people can learn this stuff with me from a distance. Let me know if you'd be interested in that latter thing or in these classes (if you're in STL)! 

Email me at amy@Millercounseling.org 

The class ideas: 

1) Shame, Vulnerability, & Intimacy (using Brene' Brown as a jumping off point)

2) Talking To Anxiety: How To Get Your Brain to STFU (practical strategies rooted in CBT on how to deal with anxiety outside of meds/therapy)