Monday, November 27, 2017

#Me,Too: The Impact of Systems

I want to continue sharing my thoughts, begun in a previous post, about why there is even a need for a #Me,Too campaign. As a systems therapist, I view families and relationships as a system with their own rules and expectations. Some systems are more dysfunctional and unhealthy than others. However, even a dysfunctional system finds some way to work.. Think about a malfunctioning traffic light. The light may not be showing the typical green, yellow, and red light, though the flashing yellow and red are still operating. Although the latter system may be dysfunctional, adding stress and confusion to travel, traffic continues to flow, though driver’s must adjust to the change (or not…).

#Me,Too: The Impact of Systems
As with traffic systems, in order to change a relationship system (e.g., a family or relationship dynamic or societal expectations), we must begin to break the current pattern of dysfunction in order to create a new pattern. Sounds easy right? Well, if it were, I wouldn’t have a job. Many systems are not open to change, and change can be especially difficult when initiated by members who are part of it. Change is the unknown. Change is scary. Change is something we don’t know intuitively how to enact, or our participation in a system may impact our perceptions of what is possible. Change could give us an outcome we don’t like or want, that we may fear even more than current dysfunction. The dysfunctional system may seem safer than working towards a new, more functional system.

Now, when you have only one part of the system attempting to change and the other parts are not in agreement, there is conflict. Often, the system will try to return to its original pattern or way of functioning. Go back to our traffic light example. When the lights malfunction, drivers become more stressed out and complain to the city for repair. It’s easier to return back to the “normal way.” Once the lights begin to operate in the original pattern, drivers are content. 

Trying to change a system could feel like an uphill battle or a salmon swimming upstream. It may also feel like one person doing more work than other people in the system. In the end, there are at
least three possible outcomes:
  1. The system returns to an original pattern and continues working in dysfunction—healthy systems don’t tend to need change.
  2. The system goes along with the change and a new pattern begins.
  3. The parts of the system become independent of each other and may begin their own patterns and (dys)functional systems.
The way I see sexual harassment and oppression as a system, or as operating within a system, is that right now, some parts (people/communities/countries) are attempting to create change in other parts (other people/communities/countries), and the other parts are, in various ways, not embracing this change. I wouldn’t say we have returned to the original way of operating, as new patterns and expectations have been created (i.e. women in certain countries have more rights than women in other countries, laws protecting children from sexual violence) even while old patterns keep returning (people violating the rights of others, or communities not accepting change).

However, it seems clear that there is conflict between members of a system who see misogynistic patterns as dysfunctional and those who view those patterns as either not dysfunctional or who see the costs of changing the patterns as outweighing the value of developing new ones. Altering the system is a process of negotiating between the relative interests of each group, with the aim of moving the system out of conflict and into a functional orientation. Some of the work of this change involves social scientists and political theorists. But as the Me,Too campaign has shown vividly, misogyny and sexual harassment has an effect, for perpetrators, victims, and bystanders, on the individual psychological level. This is the level at which systems perspective can make a difference—the level at which we look at our own behavior, the behavior of those in our personal ‘systems’, and try to begin to change.

As I’ll discuss in my next post, even sex therapists can learn a great deal by thinking through their own behaviors both that resist and that perpetuate a system they’d like to change.

#Me,Too: The Impact of Systems

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Holiday Stress? Take Care of YOU!

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at
It’s well-known to therapists, among researchers, and as a piece of common knowledge that the holidays are stress-inducing for almost everyone. Apart from a day or two around each holiday, we plan endlessly for elaborate get-togethers, without taking time off work, and with at least a few with whom we may have...strained relationships. It’s a process that lasts weeks, always ends up being more expensive than we expect, and leaves little time to schedule your own relaxation.

With Thanksgiving, the starting-gun for a marathon that ends with New Year’s, right around the corner, it’s important to be proactive, not just about your activities but about your stress levels (which are related!). The expectation that it’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year” makes it that much worse when you notice how little cheer you have left for yourself. So take a few minutes to consider some common sources of anxiety and some techniques for converting anxiety into anticipation!

Pick Your Poisons

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Even before relationships and emotions get in the way, over-scheduling is the compounding factor that can ruin your holiday season. The happiest families, friends, and couples can only handle so many consecutive weekends of shopping, gatherings, social obligations—so consider how stressful it is to those of us with normal relationships! With this in mind, take the Thanksgiving dinner table advice to heart: don’t overdo it! Make a list or a calendar of your potential holiday obligations, and be thoughtful about what you choose to attend. For non-mandatory events, like meet-ups with friends, try to spread them out into January. Not only does it give you something to look forward to, but it eases your stress burden in December.

And don’t let anyone make you feel that you’re “skipping something important.” Everything is important this time of year, and treating each event like it’s mandatory waters down the pleasure we’re supposed to take in each other’s company.

How Much is Mistletoe Anyway?

Speaking of overdoing it, so many people report elevated stress levels over holiday budgeting. Kids and significant others need gifts, and our culture seems to have no way of valuing any gift that isn’t just perfect (read: expensive!). Consider this as you make your gift lists. Instead of buying gifts, plan events for couples or siblings that are mutual and that you might find yourself doing anyway. I know plenty of siblings with partners who plan a double-date for after the holiday season. It’s something you’re always trying to plan to do, and this way, you can give a gift that everyone can look forward to!

Kiss Your Santa Claus!

Image courtesy of tuelekza at

Couples and spouses face an especial amount of strain over the holidays, because so few gatherings are about them. You’re traveling to Grandma’s, buying kid’s presents, trying not to insult your spouse’s intoxicated boss at the holiday party. Knowing this in advance, say “no” to one of your higher-profile ‘obligations’, and replace it with a date night, spa night, or movie night with your partner. Cancelling is a good way of signalling to your partner (and to yourself!) how important alone-time can be for relationship health. And as long as you plan something romantic, you can look forward to opening one of your gifts a little early when you get home!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

My Male Friends Wrote My Dating Profile

Welcome to the conclusion of When Your Friends Write Your Dating Profile! During Part 1, we learned that my female friends know me pretty well, though the type of match their profiles would find for me might be...questionable! We also heard from dating coach, Erika Ettin about why the profile is so important. Part 2 becomes a battle of the sexes to see if the male friends can out do the females. And Erika is back to share some additional professional insights!

Putting the BFF Relationship to the Test

If you’ve read any of my “Living with a Sex Therapist” series, then you’re familiar with the infamous, BFF. Who better to write my profile summary than the man I’ve shared a household with in two different states for a decade? You would think he knows me better than I know myself. “Hi,
My Male Friends Wrote My Dating Profile
I'm Courtney- I'm a fiercely independent single girl just looking for Mr. Right. I don't NEED a man, I just want one! I run my own business so I appreciate a guy who is also successful. I'm a traditional Southern belle when it comes to dating, so ask me out: No, not to a movie but to dinner or some fun event where I can actually get to know you. Put some thought into it. Be original! Be a gentleman! PS- My job gives me a unique opportunity to get lots of free sex toys.... Maybe you are the one that can help me "review" them?” Well, damn! He does listen to me even when it seems like he doesn’t!

A Conspiracy Theory?

The next brave soul to give this a go is Gordon, who wrote: “Confident, adventurous, accomplished single female…What's it like to date a sex therapist? You'll have to message me to find out, but I am good at listening and taking your perspective. Sex is important enough to me that I've made it the focus of my practice. I may or may not be up for what you're seeking in bed, but I'll definitely be
My Male Friends Wrote My Dating Profile
Image courtesy of bugnin at
willing to talk about it.” I bet you already guessed he’s a therapist, huh? Does anyone else think Brad and Gordon are conspiring behind my back?? Both men, apparently, know me well, though I advise not bringing your professional life into your personal life. At least not right away. Your dating profile is not a networking platform to build your resume or business; it is a platform to meet another person (or persons) to build an intimate relationship with. When making first contact with a potential match, get to know them as a person by asking about a favorite pastime, travel experience, or a favorite place around town. Talking too much about work, especially on a first date, reads too much like small-talk, identifying you with a part of your life that your potential partner might not ever really get to share. The same is true for adding too much of that information to your profile. Get to know this person for who they are outside of work, and signal in your profile that that’s what you’re looking to do..

How Much is Too Much?

Our final contender, Joel (Yes! He’s a therapist too!), wrote: “She’s a thoughtful, caring, good-listener who can be very patient and kind with people close to her. When not caring for succulents and being generally nice, spends time walking with her cat and chasing firemen.” Although I do like men in uniform, we might need to leave out the “chasing firemen,” as that could be unappealing to potential matches. You want potential matches to be clear about your current relationship status and not having immediate questions due to other people in pictures or talking about other people in your profile (unless this clarifies a relationship structure or status, of course). I know I’ve declined sending or responding to a message after seeing other women in profile pictures without a clear description of who they are in relation to the potential match.

If you’ve decided having your friends write your profile will happen when pigs fly, then what now?
My Male Friends Wrote My Dating Profile
You’re still frustrated with the experience and questioning if your profile is at least decent. Erika gives us a little tip to help your profile stand out amongst the crowd! “When I write someone's profile, all of the information is accurate, of course, but I spice up the language a bit and delve into specifics. For example, if someone just moved from, say, San Francisco to New York, rather than writing, "I just moved to the East Coast from California," I would instead say something like, ‘I recently traded the Golden Gate for the Empire State.’ It says the same thing, but it's much catchier. In online dating, people make quick decisions, so you have to stand out.”

What do we think kids? Who won the battle of the sexes? Would you have your friends write your profile? Comment below!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

My Female Friends Wrote My Dating Profile

I don’t know about you, but creating a dating profile is about as frustrating as cleaning the grout in your bathroom! You know you should do it, some part of you wants to do it, but it’s tedious and time-consuming and even, at times, a little bit gross. I found myself procrastinating on completing my profile, ignoring potential opportunities and feeling even more anxious about needing to get it done! I reached out to Erika Ettin, dating coach and founder of to get her opinion on why writing a dating profile is so difficult. “People often think that dating should be easy,” she said. “When you're with the right person, sure, it's easy (hopefully). But in the search for finding the right person, it's anything but that. People want the outcome (the relationship) but don't want to put the work in to find it.”

Self-Summaries: Are They Worth It?

My Friends Wrote My Dating Profile: Part 1
Your profile and self-summary is one of the first things potential matches see about you! (Yes, yes, yes, I know we all look at the pictures first!) Once we actually read the words on this profile, do you want a potential match to think, “This person seems lazy. They can’t even write a paragraph or a complete sentence?” NO! So, like anything important, take some time and write a serious introduction. Spend time editing it, or ask a close friend to read it over.

Erika also said that we should have the first date in mind from the beginning. “As I tell all of my clients, every relationship has to start with a first date. And how do you get a first date these days? Often online.” Just like a resume gets you the job interview, your online profile gets you that first date. The written part of that profile sheds light on your personality, your interest, your character traits and what type of person you might be in a relationship. It gives another person the first glimpse of what dating you might be like, or at least, what a first date might be like. This can determine not only whether you get that first date, but how that date will go.

What My Friends Really Think of Me...

I started thinking that if I hated this task so much, was the profile I was resentfully clacking out really giving my potential matches a good understanding of me? Solution: I’ll ask my friends what they would write in my self-summary! Not only would I see what my friends really thought about me, but I thought I might end up with a more accurate profile—and they would do all work! Here’s what they had to say:

My Friends Wrote My Dating Profile: Part 1
The "Homicidal" Cat

Star, a dear friend and fellow therapist, wrote: “High energy alpha female seeks a companion who is educated, romantic and loves homicidal cats. Also must be ready to have kids...” Well, not a bad start, though I could see how this might be a turn-off to some people. Homicidal cat? Really Star? For me, the homicidal cat part isn’t as much of a concern as the “ready to have kids” part. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids…other people’s kids. This summary might also make it sound like we’ll be popping out babies before dessert! I’m not against the process of making babies, I’d suggest keeping the kids conversation for in-person, or a couple of dates in—especially since part of the impression you’re going for is the first-date. Oh, and the homicidal cat is all in my friend’s head. The cat really loves her!

Let’s see what my good friend, and also a therapist, Jenn would write for me. “Cute, energetic, SEX therapist seeking her perfect match. Must love cats and be willing to experiment with "therapy" techniques.” After reading this over and over, it’s pretty on point, though I could see how this might send the wrong message. I’m thinking many potential matches wouldn’t get past the experimentation part. At least the cat isn’t homicidal….

Third Time’s the Charm, Right? 

My long-distance friend and fellow cruise-mate, Brooke would write: “Incredibly sexy, sex therapist with plenty of toys; loves flamingoes, cruises; cats; wine; and crust - the perfect person to curl up in a hammock or talk about lube preferences. She's got it all - beauty, brains, boobs, and cats - what else could you want??!!” Has anyone else noticed this cat comes up often in these summaries?

Oh, ladies, I love you, but what type of person are you trying to find for me!? Can online profile writing get any easier? In part two of this blog, we’re going to find out what my male friends would write about me as well find out why an online dating coach could improve your dating profile and online experience.

My Friends Wrote My Dating Profile: Part 1