Monday, October 23, 2017

Adventures in Online Dating: When Do I Give Out My Number?!?!

Adventures in Online Dating: When Do I Give Out My Number?!?!
While online dating has in many ways changed the dating game fundamentally, it does have a few interesting things in common with pre-online dating. Scheduling a second date, the first kiss, and exchanging phone numbers. Call me lazy (or busy!) or old, but I don't use apps like What's App or Snap Chat because

1. They create too much conflict in relationships; and

2. I don't want to manage something else in my life!

Therefore, I find myself thinking about phone numbers the same way I did in college, before app and internet dating became ubiquitous. Now, I don't tend to give out my cell number right away and wait until I'm comfortable with a guy or we have met at least once (Plus, when you get 5 different "Mikes" or “Steves” etc. in my phone book, it's annoying and confusing!) 

Adventures in Online Dating: When Do I Give Out My Number?!?!So it was for Mark, whom you’ll remember from some previous installments. For anyone who hasn’t followed along since our first “Mark” chapter, Mark and I had a couple of nice chat conversations, after which, out of nowhere, Mark straight-up ghosted me. Being a therapist, I knew it was important for me to get some closure with him, even if he refused to respond, so I told him how I felt about his behavior. Afterwards, I received a message through my InstaGram account. It was Mark! He messaged stating that he did not think I was getting his messages through Tinder. Apparently, he channeled his inner detective skills and pieced together what little info he knew about me (I’m a therapist who attended Drexel University and had an IG account) to find a way to reach out. I decided to hear him out since that did take a lot of time and effort. Plus, it was a bit of a turn on, even though he did acknowledge his attempts could come off stalkerish. (Honestly, all of the ladies I’ve shared
this with thought it was an endearing quality!) At this point, I gave him my number, since Tinder attempted to screw us over (1 for Mark/Courtney, 0 for Tinder!). Yes, he did send me screen shots of his Tinder messages that, for whatever crazy tech reason, hadn’t been delivered to me! This made me wonder how many other guys were “missed opportunities” due to Tinder and should I give out my number sooner?!?!

Despite the Tinder fiasco, Mark and I continued to chat and went out a few times. We actually hit it off, which wasn’t too much of a surprise, since our online and text ‘dating’ allowed us to develop a rapport before being thrown into higher-stakes dating. Building rapport is a key foundation when considering whether to exchange phone numbers. I always think of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail when I think about this issue. It’s funny, but that movie really anticipates the online
Adventures in Online Dating: When Do I Give Out My Number?!?!
dating situation most of us are faced with today. We want to use the casualness of internet conversation to get to know each other before we schedule that nerve wracking first call (or text message, or bistro meet up with a rose used a bookmark). It makes those first steps, however small, towards genuine intimacy that much easier to make. If Mark and I hadn’t had a rapport while online, I never would’ve felt comfortable enough to give out my phone number.

As for the end of Mark’s story, he and I really enjoyed our time together. Unfortunately, a few differences came up and I had to honor my relationship bucket list before moving forward with(out) Mark.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#Me, Too: My Experience, My Thoughts

Sometimes, it’s easier to “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.” I have to admit, this has been my attitude over the past few days with the start of the #MeToo movement. Frankly, I was moved, shocked by the outpouring, by the accounts of woman after woman. I asked myself, “why would what happened to ‘other women’ affect me so badly?” Then, I started seeing friends on Facebook change their statuses and even share their own experiences of sexual harassment. I realized, “Me, too.”

I began reflecting on the many times I’ve been sexually harassed. I even questioned whether I’m ‘making a big deal’ out of a few experiences. Then, the therapist in me came out and said, “Stop gas lighting yourself and keep your eyes open. See evil, hear evil, speak the truth.” I needed to confront my emotions, my experiences, the way I try to help my clients learn to do.

What is sexual harassment? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission partly defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Wikipedia expands the definition by adding “bullying or coercion of a sexual nature…of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.” Sexual harassment doesn’t only affect women. Sexual harassment affects women, men, straight people, LGBTQ people, gender fluid people, and the list goes on. In fact, I know of men who have been sexually harassed by women. I also know of LGBTQ person’s who have been sexually harassed.

The #MeToo campaign focusses on the experiences of the harassment victims, but the point of this blog is to challenge everyone, but especially men, to think about, “Have I ever sexually harassed (or just harassed) another person” even if the act was in jest or not intended as harassment. This is important because, as the campaign has shown, harassment is pervasive, even among people you’d least expect and, essentially, among people who’d least expect it of themselves. We need to make a way for people who engage even in low-level sexual harassment to reflect on their actions, words, and unstated presumptions in a way that allows them to change, even as we condemn or criticize their attitudes. 

First, what are examples of sexual harassment? Have you ever expected a sexual act or even a kiss/make out session because you agreed to a date or to cuddle? I remember numerous times when I’ve told past partners that I wasn’t in the mood for sex but would enjoy cuddling, and they still pressed me for sex after the fact. I remember one time when I met an online date. We went out maybe once or twice before I agreed to come watch a movie at his house. When I declined his advances to make out, he told me wasn’t interested in “a high school relationship.” In that moment, I felt like a sexual act with me was more important than spending time with me. I was only worth what I could give sexually. I left and we never spoke again. Oh, he was a college grad/young professional. 

I’ve heard many stories from gay men sexually harassed by women and other gay men. Just because a man is gay does not mean he wants just anyone and their cousin touching him or making obscene comments about his perceived sex life. The fact that this stereotype about gay men persists says a lot about how our culture stigmatizes and ostracizes homosexuality.

What about at your gym? How many times have you “eye fucked” another person or commented about a body part without warrant? I’m not saying we can’t admire someone’s physical features or fitness achievements, but ogling or looking and then commenting to your friend is both uncomfortable and treats the other person as an object for your approval or disapproval. I remember a time at a gym when I was stretching and using a lacrosse ball to relieve tension when two guys decided they needed to comment on how close it was to my boob. That comment sexualized me and an act I was doing in a wholly unsexualized manner in a way I didn’t agree to or intend. Unless you’re asking why I have the lacrosse ball in that spot in order for you to try it yourself, not acceptable. 

These are just a few of my examples of my experience. The question is what do we do now? How do we stop sexual harassment and other forms of oppression? The Bob Newhart clip, “Stop It!” comes to mind. I just want to yell, “Stop it!” to everyone I know. As a systems therapist, we are trying to change a system. A very large system. This not a family of six or even a family of ten. This is not your immediate family plus some extended family members. This isn’t even only a city, a county, and state, or one country. This is a culture and a whole world that needs to change. Keep an eye out for my next post where I share my thoughts on how to change this system and how this dysfunctional, oppressive system began and continues.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Vacations Improve Your Mental Health: Tips to Plan an Enjoyable Get Away

Vacations Improve Your Mental Health: Tips to Plan an Enjoyable Get Away

For most families and couples, vacation planning is a mix of delight and terror. We can’t wait for time away from work, alone with our loved ones...but the thought of too much time, or time doing the wrong things, can make us long for a bit of an extension on the holiday. These anxieties are the sorts of things that family, relationship, and individual therapists talk about all the time, and we can all benefit from some therapeutic insights when we begin to plan vacations.

Planning is half the fun!

With hectic work and school schedules, it’s difficult to find an entire week or two when the whole family or two (or three, or five, or more) partners can make their schedules jive perfectly. That’s why, when you find the time, it can feel like you need to plan the ‘perfect’ vacation: extravagant, exotic,
Vacations Improve Your Mental Health: Tips to Plan an Enjoyable Get Away
expensive. Raising the stakes on a vacation can increase tensions and actually make a vacation experience worse. Indeed, in a 2010 study, sociologists found that vacation enjoyment does not correlates with what you do on your vacation, how much money you spend, and only partially with the length of vacation. Instead, vacationers who spent the most time planning the vacation – researching activities, talking with friends, anticipating it personally – were the ones who reported the highest levels of satisfaction post-vacation. So with this in mind, feel free to be a little more judicious about your budget and a bit more liberal with your approach to planning.

How long is too long?

Because of the relief we often expect vacations to bring, we can fret about how to allot our time: should we aim for several short vacations in a year, a few moderate ones, or one long one? Keeping in mind that advanced planning can add significantly to your vacation satisfaction, you also want to keep in mind that the vacation is supposed to separate you from your daily routine. Too short of a vacation can make this excessively difficulty. But too long of a vacation can make returning to your routine just as difficult, souring the last few days of vacation and making your vacation memories worse. The same study from above shows that participants tended to report the highest levels of satisfaction with vacations that lasted around two weeks, so if possible, try to aim for around that amount of time for your vacation.

Have to get away!

Part of disconnecting from your daily routine means refusing the chances for that routine to intrude on your vacation, in ways large and small. It seems easy to say you’ll respond to email before your
Vacations Improve Your Mental Health: Tips to Plan an Enjoyable Get Away
partner or family wakes up in the morning. But consider how that routine, thinking about work intensively and hoping your family doesn’t wake up early, can establish an unhappy, unrelaxing note for each day of a vacation. And as we all know, when you give co-workers an inch, they’ll take a mile (because after all, they’re still working). The best parameters for enjoying a vacation requires you to treat work as non-existent except in cases of emergencies. As long as everyone knows in advance that they can’t reach you, they’ll plan to do without, just as you’ll be planning to do without them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Are You Mature in Age? This Is Why You Need Therapy!

Many people think that once they reach a certain age, they can’t change. We say people are ‘set in their ways’, ‘things were different then’ or ‘people didn’t talk about those things’ when we think about counseling and seniors. But as many therapists are attesting, seniors are expressing more interest in therapy, and benefitting from it in more profound ways, than almost anyone would expect. Indeed, there’s an element of ageism in assuming that seniors can’t or won’t benefit from therapy, as though their lives, their stresses, joys, and anxieties, are any less worthy of attention or care as those of younger people. And while moving past this ageist stigma can be more difficult with seniors than with younger patients, the vivacity and thrill of improvement and change that seniors experience, when our society, media, and even families have written off their concerns, is profound.

Aging isn't Always Easy, but Don't Make it Harder!

Are You Mature in Age? This Is Why You Need Therapy!Although many view the “golden years” as a time of rest and pleasure, for some, even many, it can be a depressing time of uncertain changes, as we no longer have a job to provide a routine or income, no longer socialize as often as we did when employed, children have grown and are creating their own lives, and medical conditions may become more chronic. For some seniors, therapy is a lot like therapy for younger people who switch careers or get divorced: you’re learning to adjust to new and uncertain terrain, and having a trusted partner like a therapist can make that transition easier. For others, those with chronic physical ailments, for example, adjusting not just physically but psychologically to a more difficult lifestyle can be incredibly stressful, and numerous studies have shown that increased stress levels, especially in the elderly, make recovery significantly more difficult.

You Can Still Get It On...and Up

Are You Mature in Age? This Is Why You Need Therapy!An especially salient change in physical life for seniors is the role of sex and intimacy. Our bodies change chemically as we age, and many people experience what can be a frightening decrease in sexual desire as they age. But because we so stigmatize the idea of senior intimacy and sexuality, we often tacitly encourage seniors to interpret this ‘drop off’ as a ‘deadening’, which is not only a false assumption, but it worsens sexual frustration and other anxieties. Although our bodies change more significantly at these ages, numerous studies show an important link between quality of life for the elderly and levels of touch, intimacy, and sexual activity that they experience. Sex therapy for the elderly can focus on just these issues: how to maintain a sexually satisfying lifestyle, despite decreases in libido or ability; how to work with physical therapists and developing workout regimens that focus on maintaining muscle groups and cardiovascular health that are essential to a satisfying sex life.

Talk to Someone Who Understands 

Are You Mature in Age? This Is Why You Need Therapy!Indeed, therapy can help process the numerous changes, physical and psychological, and help manage any symptoms of depression, and provide support for creating a new routine including remaining active and social. I have many clients in the 60 plus age range who enjoy therapy and reporting learning more about themselves and how the past impacted who they are today. This knowledge has helped them improve current relationships or form healthier relationships with others. For these reasons, we should encourage seniors to seek out therapists trained in senior care. These providers focus on the challenges, and triumphs, unique to seniority, and are especially well-positioned to form bonds aimed at improving these patients’ specific psychological needs.

I hope you enjoyed the final installment of my Therapy Through the Decades series.  Are you a senior struggle with life change? Do you have a senior family member struggling with life change? I'd love hear from you in a comment below or you can contact me here

Monday, October 2, 2017

Did That @$%#* Just GHOST Me?

What is Ghosting?

Exhibit A: Meaningful Conversation
Though I don’t consider myself a millennial, I come from that generation that is on the 'millennial cusp.' I have adapted to millennial terminology and a few behaviors, like texting instead of picking up a phone and hearing a voice. Yes, kids, there were days when texting did not exist, when you had to hope someone was next to a phone and would answer when you needed them. Similarly, “ghosting” was never mentioned a few decades, or even a few years, ago. When I first heard the term, I had to
research what it meant and how it is used!

A google search reveals that the term “ghosting” is related to an active dating situation or an emotional bond to another person. This means that you and at least one other individual formed a relationship. You and this person had an ongoing chat conversation where you looked forward to seeing that “Courtney sent you a message” notification on your phone. You and this person could have met once, a few times, or may even be actively seeing one another. Ghosting happens when, out
of the blue, this person completely ceases conversation or communication for unclear reasons.

Did He Just Ghost Me?!?!

Exhibit B: Response to Ghosting

Let’s take Mark, for example. Mark and I began chatting through a popular app. We began a great conversation (see exhibit A) about anything and everything other than sex. After a few days of chatting, I was thinking, “This dude is pretty cool. I need to meet him,” and determine if he’s a real life Dexter or not. Well, our conversation suddenly stopped, when unexpectedly, he stopped responding to my messages .

Was this ghosting? Heck yeah this was ghosting! Let me tell you how I felt about that. Even though I had never met this man or heard his voice, we had a great conversation that led me to think he was the ‘real deal.’ Then the dude just goes MIA with no forwarding address. WTH?? I needed emotional closure, so I told him how I felt about his behavior (see exhibit B). Now, you would think that would be the end of the chapter? He is too afraid to maturely end a conversation, I get it off my chest, and our lives go on. Nope. Mark hung around. (To find out what happened to Mark, subscribe to my blog and get updates sent straight to your mailbox.)

Ghosting is Not...

On the flip side, it is not ghosting if Mark sent an initial message and I decided, for whatever reason, not to respond. This is me deciding not to engage this man in conversation; similar to declining an invitation from someone at a bar to strike up a conversation. If you look back at my insults post, it appears “Heisaswellguy” might confuse my choosing not to respond to a complete stranger as
ghosting, which would create emotional turmoil for him. Now, it may seem rude not to provide a stranger a “Thanks, but no thanks” response, but it is not ghosting. You may spend more time saying, “Thanks, but no thanks”, or trying to be polite to any response a guy might send than focusing on a person of interest. The informality of dating apps means that they have some implicit norms of their own. One is that no one should be offended if you refuse an initial advance. But another is that “ghosting” after an extended conversation is genuinely offensive and hurtful. So, if your interest flags after those first pings, just have the courtesy to let the other person know you’ve moved on.