Dating Advice from an Attachment Perspective:  What you Really Need to Know

Dating Advice from an Attachment Perspective: What you Really Need to Know

As I look at the significant problems of the larger world I’m convinced that we need more connection, not separation and autonomy. – Allan N. Schore, PhD

Today I am sitting on an airplane next to a young couple with a child of about 12 months of age. She is doing what children her age are supposed to do – exploring her surroundings and turning to both of her parents for support when she gets tired or scared. They read to her, comfort her and effectively read her cues (sometimes bantering with each other about what she needs). The parents maintain a flexible view of what her cues could mean and do their best to give her what she needs, not just wants.

This week, the general public has been commenting on the NY Times article about attachment theory.  It is a great overview but unfortunately, the author penned the title all wrong.  In the 1950, 1960s and into the 1970s we really did think that the attachment research meant that parents had to be perfect or a child’s life would be difficult.  Many women sacrificed going to work to stay home with their children.  Others, who did not have the luxury to do so, felt guilty the entire time they raised their children.  The pendulum swung in the ’80s and ’90s the opposite way to the point where many people no longer believed in the importance of attachment.  Now in the 2000s, attachment research has been greatly assisted by neurobiology and we have convincing evidence that #RelationshipsMatterMost for brain development but we do not need to be perfect.

“…even the secure mother is only attuned about 30 percent of the time. The key is not only the misattunement, but the interactive repair. These misattunements are common.”  – Allan N. Schore, PhD

How I Came to Study Attachment Theory

While I am now a dating expert, not everyone knows I was trained as an Infant & Preschool Psychologist as well as a Forensic Psychologist. My training heavily focused not only on child development but also on attachment research and the assessment of the attachment relationship between children and their parents. I was a court appointed expert whose main job was to assess the relationship and make recommendations to the court about custody. It was always difficult for two main reasons:

  1. What we have known for multiple decades – since the 1970s, that there is an intergenerational transmission of attachment status. We really do parent the way we were parented and we can assess it via how we talk about the relationship.
  1. This all changes if there is an intervention. Attachment style can change over time with the right relationship and with the right support.

According to most people’s understanding of attachment research – the infant as described above will automatically be an emotionally secure adult. It is a gift that her parents are giving her and that her future relationship well being should be easy to obtain. According to our original research, she should have no problems dating based on her experience with adults who taught her that her emotional needs were valid. She will have great skill at regulating her emotions and be relatively free of anxiety.

Or so we thought.

Contemporary Attachment Research: It’s not what you Think it Is

Attachment research has conducted multiple longitudinal studies (the gold standard of scientific research) and has followed infants into adulthood in many studies. The research has so much to offer us in understanding why and how relationships are meaningful for our brain development, ability to regulate our emotions and the overall importance of relationships for life success. Yet, it has only been relatively recently – the past 20 years or so that we fully understand that if you receive the gift that this infant is experiencing, that does NOT mean you will automatically became an emotionally secure adult. It means that it is more likely but not a certainty. It is like putting money into the market and barring a financial crisis, predicting the future of your financial investment.

In today’s world, that financial crisis is trauma, bad experiences with all types of relationships and life circumstances can take a child off track from being an emotionally secure adult – it wouldn’t be your parents’ fault at this point. If you had the gift your parents gave you, you may weather trauma in a more resilient manner but there are so many other factors that it seems more reasonable to assume that attachment status is not determined in infancy for the rest of your life.  A bad relationship certainly can throw you off track but so can exposure to terrorism, war, natural disaster, and interpersonal violence of any form.

Why Attachment Research is Important when you are Single

If you are a single, actively dating adult – you need to learn about yourself. You have probably been rude, misinterpreted someone’s actions toward you, emotionally reacted in an extreme manner, blamed all men, talked about how all women hate men, ended a relationship that could have been a great one, not given people a chance to show what they are capable of in a healthy relationship, or avoided dating all together etc…  These are mindless, misattuned, and non-reflective states of mind.  No wonder many people find dating horrible!

Understanding attachment and how your style interacts with others will not only help you keep your sanity but will help you earn your emotional security and show the people you date some added respect.

“Earned secure” is the term that we bestow among those adults who have done the personal growth work necessary to become emotionally secure. They have either been in therapy or coaching and perhaps both at different times. They learned to not take other people’s behavior personally and they learned to seek out relationships with other emotionally healthy people. It is much easier said than done and it takes a mindset to value relationships in general to be motivated to do the work.

Earned security also paves the way for higher levels of flexibility, resiliency, gratitude, and happiness as an adult. Those adults who had difficult pasts and do the work are often more resilient later in life and reap the benefit of having worked through difficult life events at an earlier age (e.g. loss of a parent, some type of trauma, abuse etc…).  Just because you had a crappy childhood does not mean that you have to choose an equally crappy adulthood.

Why does this all REALLY matter?  Approximately 35% of our population at any given time is insecure emotionally. They are either highly anxious (a trend that seems to be increasing) or avoidant of emotional connections. This trend will not disappear as trauma, bad experiences, poor early life experiences and all other kinds of bad things will always happen. Our culture is currently rift with fear and a fear based existence can make raising emotionally secure children more difficult.

How does insecurity play out in the dating world? The anxious types are constantly staring at their phones trying to process WTF is going on and the avoidants are continually falling “in love at first sight” but later (usually in a 6-8 week window) change their mind. As we get older, there will be more of these types on online dating as the emotionally secure folks felt comfortable making a decision to commit at an earlier age.

Does that mean we are doomed? Absolutely not. Anxious folks actually become less anxious over time if they interact with an emotionally secure partner. They are loyal, care about relationships are eager to put it first – qualities that can be beneficial. Avoidant types may find themselves highly successful and wait to seriously date until later in life – traits that are rewarded in our culture.  Rather than promoting interdependence our culture actually supports emotional avoidance and an over reliance on independence.  It should, therefore, not be surprising why so many people are avoidant and look at others who are either emotional secure or anxious as in some way, “needy.”

There is no such thing as needy – just unmet needs.  – Jennifer B. Rhodes, PsyD

Just because you do not like the behavior of someone does not mean that there is something wrong with him or her. It could just be a poor fit for your emotional needs. We do not need to judge.  Each person has a life history of experiences that have taught him or her whether people have been there for them or not. If you continue to nit pick, be judgmental, only date men over 6 feet, obsess over babies (without realizing that that kind of anxiety won’t be good for your future baby!), or in otherwise not respect the person who sits across the table from you, you will remain single or end up unhappy.

What Dating Should Be

Dating should be seen as a pleasurable and enjoyable experience. It should also be treated with a high level of respect and consideration. Being vulnerable and trying to meet new people is not easy. Understanding that the reason why he didn’t call back has less to do with you than him or why she seems so “needy” (it’s in response to your avoidance – duh) and being compassionate means that we all can relax and not get stuck in unhealthy dating patterns. It actually requires a high level of flexibility and mentalization – the term we use to think about someone else’s thinking and his or her intentions.

Unless you are one of the lucky ones who had great parents and never experienced hardship or any kind of trauma, you need to work for your emotional security. It is not something that someone can give you – you need to earn it. That is why therapy, coaching and cultivating a life you love is necessary for you to eventually have dating success.  Effective communication, owning up to your mistakes and repairing rifts in relationships lead to happy long term relationships. It doesn’t come without work – meeting someone should be the easy part. Making it last, requires work and commitment.   You can’t blame your parents for that any more. A more reflective and less reactive approach is necessary for dating success.

“…having secure attachments is not about being a perfect parent or partner but about maintaining communication to repair the inevitable rifts that occur. In the daily battering of any relationship, if free flow of communication is impaired, the relationship is, too.” – Peter Fonagy, PhD

Dating Fatigue:  Why Self-Compassion is Key

Dating Fatigue: Why Self-Compassion is Key

Over and over again,  I hear men and women griping that there is a severe lack of eligible singles.  Men complain that women are using them as a meal ticket and women complain that men do not know how to plan an appropriate date.  More and more of my friends and clients are tired of online dating and are willingly saying that they would rather remain single.  The negative mindset is contagious – especially during the holidays.

If you haven’t read the opinion piece on dating in Silicon Valley, it is an unfortunately common description of dating experiences.  All I can say is, no wonder everyone is exhausted!

Dating fatigue is defined as the result of continuing to date, over time, with perceived lack of success in finding a high quality partner.

Do you have any of these symptoms of dating fatigue?

  • Feeling “over” dating
  • Not bothering to return emails, text messages or calls
  • Telling friends you would rather be single even though you long for a healthy relationship
  • Feeling bored on dates
  • Exhaustion and increased negative thoughts about finding someone
  • Increased negative talk about persons you are meeting

How do these symptoms affect your long term chances of finding love?

Research discusses the importance of having a positive mindset while attempting to find and maintain a healthy relationship.  If you are burnt out and struggling to recover, the chances are that your dating fatigue is attracting emotionally unavailable people.

And guess what?  That also means you may be emotionally unavailable to screen out elusive red flags and may end up in a continued cycle of horrible dating experiences and creating the self-fulfilling prophecy that you are meant to be single while all your other friends are married!

Recovering from Dating Fatigue is not about bolstering your self-esteem

It is about cultivating self-compassion.  Self compassion is a skill that many researchers are realizing is the true key to leading a healthy and happy life.  According to Dr. Kristen Neff,

“Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others…Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.”

We all go through periods in which our dating lives and our relationships are less than stellar. Having compassion for yourself while walking this journey means we are more likely to maintain a positive mindset and less likely to have a negative outlook on dating. So while taking a dating detox can always be helpful, you must also be aware of how your thoughts affect your mood and behaviors or you will burn yourself out again and repeat the cycle.

Dating should be fun, right?

To discuss with Dr. Rhodes whether you need a plan to overcome your dating fatigue, email her now to schedule a time to chat.

Single and the Holidays: 3 tips to Survive and Thrive this Season

Single and the Holidays: 3 tips to Survive and Thrive this Season

Have you ever been to a holiday party where you were asked where your date was only to have to admit you didn’t have one?

The holidays can be a time when family members and other loved often over inquire about someone’s dating status. It can lead to awkward moments and often be a mood killer. So how do you actually enjoy yourself during the holiday season while not feeling like the seventh wheel at every dinner, cocktail party or office shindig when you arrive solo?

Think of every invitation is an opportunity.

Treat the holiday season as an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. If you are interested in dating, be sure to tell everyone that you are looking and willing to be introduced. Many people are in a giving mood and may be more likely to make a connection during the holiday season than at another time of the year. Best of all, it gives those noisy friends and family something to do which inevitably allows you to enjoy yourself more!

Holidays may be a time for rest and relaxation.

Are you living across the country from family and your work schedule is making it difficult to travel? Use the holidays to take some time off and recharge your batteries. Read a book or stay in your pjs to watch a movie marathon. Travel solo to a warm climate. You never know when you may have this luxury again and you will feel more energized for those holiday parties, New Year’s Eve invitations and reactivation of your online dating profile!

If the holidays make you feel blue, tell trusted friends and/or family ahead of time and plan fun activities.

When people understand what your needs are or why you are feeling a certain way, many people rise to the occasion to nurture and care for you. So don’t be shy to ask for company when you are single and unattached. Getting out of the house and having a good time when you are down is helpful and often brings back your holiday cheer.

Update your Dating Profiles – You are NOT the only Single Person Looking to Date!

If you find yourself home alone and relaxing, there is no excuse not to think about your future.  Take those new photos.  Update that profile and encourage yourself to connect with others.  The holidays are actually a good time to meet someone new and you never know what might happen!

The bottom line is that the holiday season provides you with ample opportunity for reflection, nurturing yourself and preparing yourself for the right relationship. If you can tolerate the momentary awkwardness from friends, family and colleagues you may find yourself having a great time meeting new and interesting people.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

Seduction Matters: A Woman’s Guide to Dating in San Francisco

So many women are sick and tired of dating in their current city that they actually fantasize about what it would be like to meet someone in another city.  Technology and the lowered cost of traveling have inspired many women to follow their career paths around the world.  However, few women are able to anticipate how much a city’s culture impacts the rules of dating.  It is no secret that many New York women who have been flocking to San Francisco and Silicon Valley have been quite unhappy with their dating prospects in New York.  Women in New York are used to a pick up artist mentality that places seduction in the category of over sexualized behavior rather than true sensuality.    So when these women arrive in San Francisco, there is a little bit of a culture shock.  It can be a shock that lasts for years as women contemplate where all the “good” men have gone.

Much to the contrary, men have not gone anywhere.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley have many eligible, single men looking for a real relationship.  They are not all Peter Pans avoiding commitment and they are not all gay either.  For a NY woman to be successful in her dating life in San Francisco, she is going to have to learn some seduction and dating skills to learn her new environment.  That’s right.  All the seduction and dating skills you learned in NY can go right out the window if you plan to stay in the Bay Area.

San Francisco is NOT New York.  You need to use your seduction skills to entice men to speak with you.

While New York has most definitely been ripping off the best of San Francisco (thank goodness for the better coffee), a New York attitude will not get you very far in the Bay Area.  Neither will your black wardrobe.  San Francisco is a culture based off of breaking with conventional rules, innovation and relationship building.  Then man sitting at the coffee shop in what looks like a dirty t-shirt and jeans may actually be a billionaire.  Money is not used to buy status driven material possessions (although there are a few car fanatics in the area).  Money is used to disrupt the status quo and make the world a better place.

How does a New York woman improve her chances of dating in San Francisco and Silicon Valley?

 

Learn some dating strategy and seduction skills.

New York is a move conventional dating city with more clearly defined gender roles.  San Francisco is blurry and people like it that way.  If you see someone you are interested in at a party or event, be willing to make the initial introduction or at the very least, give a signal (a warm smile, lingering eye contact) that you are indeed interested.  If you appear in a foul mood, unapproachable or too status driven, most men will not want to speak with you.  Men would rather invest their time in someone with a sunnier disposition.

Offer to split the check immediately.  

It is common convention in New York for the man to pay the bill – no questions asked.  Some men even get offended if a woman tries to hard to pay the check.  In the Bay Area, not offering will guarantee that you never see the guy again.  If you asked him out, also be willing to pick up the tab.  He will kindly reciprocate on the next date and this should not be seen as a red flag in the Bay Area.

Become the best dinner party hostess you can be.

The culture of the Bay Area is very health focused.  As such, drinking at bars and lounges does not last well into your 30s as it might in other cities.  Many people feel more comfortable at more intimate dinner parties.  The best way to work you social network is to offer to host and encourage your friends to invite new people (who are hopefully single) to your party every time.

Stop comparing San Francisco to New York.  

It is so hard for true New Yorkers to stop this behavior and I will admit that I am very much a culprit of this one.  The more that you can try to embrace your new home and not make comparisons the faster you will transition from a WTF moment to appreciating what the Bay Area has to offer.

Change your dating mindset.  

The most harmful thing that any woman does while she is single is to convince herself that there simply is a lack of eligible bachelors.  Just like with money, this poverty mindset will get you nowhere.  Try practicing noticing the number of men you pass on a daily basis.  Are you missing opportunities to connect with other?  Most of us are.  Try to be curious about other people and stay off your iPhone while walking down the street!  This is a good opportunity to learn some seduction skills.  Use it learn how to connect with men.

Figure out what you really want.  

If dating is not going swimmingly while you are in the Bay Area, use the downtime to figure out what you really want.  It is difficult to find the right person when you cannot even imagine what that life might look like.  Take advantage of San Francisco’s close proximity to Napa, Sonoma, Lake Tahoe or Big Sur and take yourself on a retreat.   The Bay Area promotes personal growth and development and you should take advantage of this while you can.

Understand that dating in this culture may leave you feeling “unfulfilled.”  

Many women complain that the men are nice enough in the Bay Area but these relationships are missing something.  While you most certainly should not settle, you may want to look into your own personality and your desires and make sure you are making healthy decisions.  A lack of drama can often be a sign of a healthy relationship.

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes speaking on seduction at the Commonwealth Club © 2016 Rikki Ward

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes speaking on seduction at the Commonwealth Club
© 2016 Rikki Ward

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes speaking on seduction at the Commonwealth Club

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes speaking on seduction at the Commonwealth Club

Seduction from a Woman’s Perspective

How Scot McKay and I Started Chatting about Seduction

 

I met Scot at the Elite Man Conference in Plymouth, Massachusetts this year.  I was immediately impressed with Scot’s presentation which went through some pretty controversial topics related to masculinity.  It was clear from our conversations and his presentation that Scot knew what women wanted and was a great teacher.  After my presentation on seduction, which many of the men were thankful that the messaging was the same, Scot approached me to be a guest on his podcast.

I never thought that I would do any work related to the topic of seduction.  However, after working with many women and also experiencing the complete lack of romance in my own dating life, I started to realize that this is an important topic to discuss.  Men and women living in urban areas have become desensitized to romance and have replaced romance, sensuality and seduction with overtly sexual behavior.   Modern women do crave to be desired and many men today seem to miss easy ways to package their interest in a sensual manner.  The consequences are not insignificant.  Missing out on the positive aspects of seduction and sensuality leads to uninspired dating.

I hope that this podcast will start a healthy conversation about what seduction really means and why it is important in all relationships.

Here is summary of what is covered in this podcast:

 

  • Has seduction in the true sense of the word  gone the way of chivalry…seemingly irrelevant in today’s post-modern feminist world?
  • Could confusion about this very topic be why men and women are having a harder time connecting these days on first dates?
  • What is seduction really about?  Why is it a necessary social skill?
  • Why do women constantly sabotage their romantic life and deprive themselves of romantic experiences with men?
  • What mistakes do men make in this area?
  • Practical tips and suggestions!
Dr. Rhodes speaking on seduction at the Elite Man Conference 2016

Seduction in Everyday Life: When your Date is Perfect

When you are living a life you love, you become infinitely more seductive to other people and less prone to being a victim of a manipulative pick up artist.  – Jennifer B. Rhodes, PsyD

Is your date playing games?

One of the complaints I hear from all of my clients is that they are tired of “game playing.” They are tired of someone’s “hot and cold” behavior, someone who comes on too strongly in the beginning and then ghosts them, or someone who does not seem to know what they want. At this stage of my work with a client, I empathize with their frustration but I also push them to understand that their date’s dating behavior is conveying useful data. In fact, it can be quite easy to deduce whether someone is really playing games or is simply scared of being in a new relationship. This information is invaluable and should guide your personal dating strategy and help you understand what seduction actually is.

The Date who Seems too Direct, Put Together, and Utterly Different

Recently, I had a conversation with a male friend who broke up with his girlfriend to date other women. He remarked that he was always very direct about his intentions and made it clear to a woman immediately that he was interested. This was indeed new behavior for him and while he was making an attempt to flirt with me, I reminded him that the Rake’s character does not falter when a women shows a lack of interest. He stopped to think and his insecurities were revealed. I knew that he never persisted with a woman in the face of unclear signals and he would not persist with me. He is a nice guy trying to figure out a new way to interact with women.

The man who is confident, direct, and makes his intentions known is considered the Rake. Women love the honesty because they are tired of anti-seductive men who complain about everything. Further, what makes the honesty work is the man’s real and intense desire to have that particular woman. Without the desire, the directness comes off a controlling. The true seductive character, however, thrives off of unclear or “yellow light” signals. As a woman, your best bet is to play hard to get. If he stops pursuing you, you will immediately see his selfish nature.    I do, however, want to be clear – there is a distinct line between a man pursuing a woman who is unsure if she wants to date him and a man pursuing a woman who is clearly communicating “don not pursue me.”  A person who pushes your boundaries when you have clearly  communicated you are not interested is not seductive and possibly dangerous.    Keep yourself safe and do not ignore obvious red flags.

The Traits of the Siren:  A Classic Feminine Seductive Character

Women can play this character as well but are more prone to display traits of a Siren. While the Rake seduces with words the Siren seduces visually. She represents the male fantasy – a highly sensual and yet self-confident woman who displays a touch of danger. Men fall for her easily and I often hear my male clients chasing down these women (rather than courting a relationship oriented woman) because they have been physically mesmerized and intrigued by her energy. To a group of men, the Siren stands apart from all the other women. She is different and easily seduces a room full of men by just being present.

Seductive Characters May Be a Distraction

When you are dating, you will likely cross paths with these characters. You will see your friends fall for the inappropriate versions of these characters.   They are the ultimate forms of distraction if you are looking for a serious relationship. If you find yourself chasing one of them, stop and ask if you are really ready for a real relationship. Falling for fantasy usually indicates some dissatisfaction with your current life. For example, highly intellectual men often fall for the Siren because they have not had much fun or lived life to the fullest extent possible. These women are filling a void and if you can recognize what is happening, you may be able to use the situation for your own personal growth rather than fall victim to these seductive characters.  The antidote to this distraction is to start living the life you want now.

Dating Coach and Seduction Expert