Category Archives: relationships

Personal House Rules

I think often we have unspoken rules about how we want to conduct our lives. It can be confusing for someone to automatically know that -you-should-take-your-shoes-off-when-you-come-inside-the-door.  Then when the person doesn’t quickly act in the way we are expecting, we are confronted with a choice. We  let the new person know the expectations directly or we sadly can  stay silent and be upset that they didn’t do it right.

This is the same thing that we do with the rules of self, we expect  that everyone will know how to we want to live our lives, what works and what doesn’t, how to treat us, what our boundaries are, and the very best way to show us love. This is mind reading  at its best. It is all so obvious to us.

I have a saying that I use with clients a lot “If it is obvious, then you need to say it out loud.” We are so accustomed to our own mind and beliefs that it seems a given, but if it is that ingrained within us that means it is pretty important. Hence, saying our ideas, expectations, and  boundaries out loud not only makes sense but also creates a much more open dynamic.

The approach of letting others know what your personal house are allows everyone to have a framework of interaction. You get to avoid a lot of the messy parts of stepping on each other’s toes.  Everyone decides if the structure is workable and provides an understanding of the boundaries. It sound so simple but that is exactly what we so often miss, stating that which seems like a default to our own system.

I really love the idea of putting your house rules out for everyone to see  (physically like photo above or state directly). Consider wearing your expectations with a badge of honor that you want others to know about from the start. Be proud of who you are and what you want from yourself and others!

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Sick System Identification

 

Often times  people who have experienced trauma and/or abuse get into predictable patterns.  After trauma the mind has to find a way to “become okay” with what has happened otherwise it will just shut down. Hence,the brain will  select, edit, and delete ideas and emotions as necessary to move forward.  From this perspective, it becomes clearer that they will associate interactions with other people in a similar way that they did during the negative experiences.  The mind wires together in a way that creates a system of unhealthy actions and response together with love and care. It is as if the mind got confused along the way (which it did typically based on the abusive situation) and started thinking that being in an interaction that is chaotic and/or manipulative is the way affection is shown.  The how and why this pattern was created makes sense _and_ being able to identify its parts is a crucial part to changing towards healthy dynamics.

There are many therapeutic approaches to working to shift these patterns, but I haven’t often seen a discussion of this within regular conversation. Issendai has thoughtfully expressed how the trauma mind-set can create relationships that are unhealthy. She puts a concrete perspective on what the attributes are that contribute to what she calls a _sick system_.  In reading her thoughts, I would ask you to remember that a person can both create these dynamics directly or respond to them..   One can see they have been in relationships where they were treated in a negatively manipulative way and/or understand they tend to create elements of this pattern in their life.  The point is to look at the patterns and work to shift them into something that is stronger and healthier.

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Sick Systems by Issendai

So you want to keep your lover or your employee close. Bound to you, even. You have a few options. You could be the best lover they’ve ever had, kind, charming, thoughtful, competent, witty, and a tiger in bed. You could be the best workplace they’ve ever had, with challenging work, rewards for talent, initiative, and professional development, an excellent work/life balance, and good pay. But both of those options demand a lot from you. Besides, your lover (or employee) will stay only as long as they want to under those systems, and you want to keep them even when they doesn’t want to stay. How do you pin them to your side, irrevocably and permanently.
You create a sick system.

A sick system has four basic rules:

Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think. Thinking is dangerous. If people can stop and think about their situation logically, they might realize how crazy things are.

Rule 2: Keep them tired. Exhaustion is the perfect defense against any good thinking that might slip through. Fixing the system requires change, and change requires effort, and effort requires energy that just isn’t there. No energy, and your lover’s dangerous epiphany is converted into nothing but a couple of boring fights.

This is also a corollary to keeping them too busy to think. Of course you can’t turn off anyone’s thought processes completely—but you can keep them too tired to do any original thinking. The decision center in the brain tires out just like a muscle, and when it’s exhausted, people start making certain predictable types of logic mistakes. Found a system based on those mistakes, and you’re golden.

Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved. Make them love you if you can, or if you’re a company, foster a company culture of extreme loyalty. Otherwise, tie their success to yours, so if you do well, they do well, and if you fail, they fail. If you’re working in an industry where failure isn’t a possibility (the government, utilities), establish a status system where workers do better or worse based on seniority.

Also note that if you set up a system in which personal loyalty and devotion are proof of your lover’s worthiness as a person, you can make people love you. Or at least think they love you. In fact, any combination of intermittent rewards plus too much exhaustion to consider other alternatives will induce people to think they love you, even if they hate you as well.

Rule 4: Reward intermittently. Intermittent gratification is the most addictive kind there is. If you know the lever will always produce a pellet, you’ll push it only as often as you need a pellet. If you know it never produces a pellet, you’ll stop pushing. But if the lever sometimes produces a pellet and sometimes doesn’t, you’ll keep pushing forever, even if you have more than enough pellets (because what if there’s a dry run and you have no pellets at all?). It’s the motivation behind gambling, collectible cards, most video games, the Internet itself, and relationships with crazy people.

How do you do all this? It’s incredibly easy:

Keep the crises rolling. Incompetence is a great way to do this: If the office system routinely works badly or the controlling partner routinely makes major mistakes, you’re guaranteed ongoing crises. Poor money management works well, too. So does being in an industry where the clients are guaranteed to be volatile and flaky, or preferring friends who are themselves in perpetual crisis. You can also institutionalize regular crises: Workers in the Sea Org, the elite wing of Scientology, must exceed the previous week’s production every single week or face serious penalties. Because this is impossible, it guarantees regular crises as the deadline approaches.

Regular crises perform two functions: They keep people too busy to think, and they provide intermittent reinforcement. After all, sometimes you win—and when you’ve mostly lost, a taste of success is addictive.

But why wouldn’t people eventually realize that the crises are a permanent state of affairs? Because you’ve explained them away with an explanation that gives them hope.

Things will be better when… I get a new job. I’m mean to you now because I’m so stressed, but I’m sure that will go away when I’m not working at this awful place.

The production schedule is crazy because the client is nuts. We just need to get through this cycle, then we’ll have a new client, and they’ll be much better.

She has a bad temper because she just started with a new therapist. She’ll be better when she settles in.

Now, the first person isn’t actually looking for a job. (They’re too stressed to fill out applications.) The second industry always has another crazy client, because all the clients are crazy. (Or better yet, because the company is set up to destroy the workflow and make the client look crazy.) The third person has been with her “new” therapist for a year. (But not for three years! Or five!) But the explanation sounds plausible, and every now and then the person has a good day or a production cycle goes smoothly. Intermittent reinforcement + hope = “Someday it will always be like this.” Perpetual crises mean the person is too tired to notice that it has never been like this for long.

Keep real rewards distant. The rewards in “Things will be better when…” are usually nonrewards—things will go back to being what they should be when the magical thing happens. Real rewards—happiness, prosperity, career advancement, a new house, children—are far in the distance. They look like they’re on the schedule, but there’s nothing in the To Do column. For example, everything will be better when we move to our own house in the country… but there’s nothing in savings for the house, no plan to save, no house picked out, not even a region of the country settled upon. Or everything will be better when she gets a new job, but she’s not applying anywhere, she’s not checking the classifieds, she has no skills that would get her a new job, she has no concrete plans to learn skills, and she doesn’t know what type of new job she wants to take. Companies have a harder time holding out on rewards, but endlessly delayed raises and promotions, workplace upgrades that are talked about but never get enough budget, and training programs that are canceled for lack of money work well.

Establish one small semi-occasional success. This should be a daily task with a stake attached and a variable chance of success. For example, you need to take your meds at just the right time. Too early and you’re logy the next morning and late to work, too late and you’re insomniac and keep your partner up until you go to sleep, too anything and you develop nausea that interrupts your meal schedule and sets your precariously balanced blood sugar to swinging, sparking tantrums and weeping fits. It’s your partner’s job to get you to take your meds at just the right time. Each time she finds an ideal time, it becomes a point of contention—you’re always busy at that time, or you’re not at home, or you eat too early or too late so the ideal time shifts or vanishes entirely. But every so often you take your meds at just the right time and everything works perfectly, and then your partner gets a jolt of success and the hope that you’ve reached a turning point.

Chop up their time. Perpetually interrupt them with meetings, visits from supervisors, bells and whistles and time clocks and hourly deadlines. Or if you’re partners, be glued to them at the hip, demand their attention at short intervals throughout the day (and make it clear that they aren’t allowed to do the same with you), establish certain essential tasks that you won’t do and then demand that they do them for you, establish certain essential tasks that they aren’t allowed to do for themselves and demand that they rely on you to do it for them (and then do it slowly or badly or on your own schedule). Make sure they have barely enough time to manage both the crisis of the moment and the task of the moment; and if you can’t tire them out physically, drain them emotionally.

Enmesh your success with theirs. Company towns are great at this. Everything, from the workers’ personal social standing to the selection of groceries at the store, depends upon how well they do their jobs and how well the company as a whole is doing. Less enveloping companies try to tie their workers’ self-perceptions in with the public’s perception of their brand. People do it by entangling their successes and failures with their partners’, even when they shouldn’t be entangled. A full-grown adult should be able to take his meds without his partner’s help, and there’s only so much anyone can do to make someone eat at the right time and swallow their pills, but he still puts the responsibility for managing his meds squarely on her shoulders. The classic maneuver is to blame all your bad moods on your partner: If they weren’t so _______ or if they did ______ right, you wouldn’t be so stressed/angry/foul-tempered.

Keep everything on the edge. Make sure there’s never quite enough money, or time, or goods, or status, or anything else people might want. Insufficiency makes sick systems self-perpetuating, because if there’s never enough ______ to fix the system, and never enough time to think of a better solution, everyone has to work on all six cylinders just to keep the system from collapsing.

All of these things work together to make a workplace or a  relationship addictive. You’re run off your feet putting out fires and keeping things going, your own world will collapse if you stop, and every so often you succeed for a moment and create something bigger than yourself. Things will get better soon. You can’t stop believing that. If you stop believing, you won’t be able to go on, and you can’t not go on because everything you have and everything you are is tied into making this thing work. You can’t see any way out because there are always all these things stopping you, and you could try this thing but that would take time and money, and you don’t have either, and you’ve been told that you’ll get both eventually when that other thing happens, and pushing won’t make that thing happen so it’s better to keep your head down and wait. After a while the stress and panic feel normal, so when you’re not riding the edge, you feel twitchy because you know that the lull doesn’t mean things are better, it means you’re not aware yet of what’s going wrong. And the system or the partner always, always obliges with a new crisis.

Eventually you’re so crazy that you can’t interact with anyone who isn’t equally crazy. Normal people have either fled, or told you once too often that you’re being stupid and you need to leave. So now you’ve lost all your reality checks. You’re surrounded by people who also live in the crazy and can’t see a way out. You spend your time telling one another that it’s too bad, but that’s how it is, there’s no fixing it, and everything will get better when ______ happens. If anyone does get a little better and says, “Hey, guys, this is crazy, we can all stop now,” they’ve become a stuck cog in the machine. They quickly realize that there’s nothing they can do, and they pull out, leaving you alone with your crazy friends.

Finally you think it’s ordinary.

You fantasize about being suicidal enough to kill yourself. But that’s not all that bad, because you don’t think that way all the time, and you’re not actually trying to kill yourself. You just wish something would come along and make you dead.

One day you hit rock bottom. Maybe you want so badly to die that stepping out of the sick system looks like a good way to commit suicide, or maybe you’re so depressed that you no longer care. Maybe you catch on before then, and realize, as you’re standing there with the pill in your hand and your partner too busy on WoW to swallow it, that this is crazier than crazy and it’s time to make it stop. Maybe the system makes a mistake, and you look at the pattern of people who got promotions and realize that you will never, never qualify for your promised promotion.

Or maybe a door opens, and something magical happens. The position you’ve dreamed of opens up. The school you want to go to offers a new scholarship for people just like you—and the person who runs the scholarship tells you confidentially that with your qualifications, you’re a shoo-in. Your granduncle dies and leaves you $100,000. You can have exactly what you want—if you walk away from the system you’re enmeshed in.

If you step away, two things happen, one after the other:

PANIC! HORROR! THE SKY IS FALLING! I’VE LOST EVERYTHING I EVER HAD AND I’LL NEVER GET IT BACK AGAIN! There’s not enough stress, something is wrong, something horrible is happening and I’m not there stopping it, oh god what is my ex-boyfriend doing and can I save him from a safe distance? I’m responsible! I have to call the office and make sure they’re okay! I have to make sure everything I left was okay, because it would all fall down without me and now I’m not there and it’s falling down and all those innocent people are being hurt and I have to stop it!

…I feel so much better now.

It’s all gone, like someone stopped pounding me in the head with a hammer. I didn’t even know the hammer was there. Why did I let someone pound me in a hammer all that time? What in hell was I thinking? Why did I think any of that made sense?

Once you’re out of the system, it makes no sense at all. None of the carrots they dangled before you mean anything, and you start to truly comprehend just how much stress you were under. You see things you never would have believed while you were in the system. And the relief is greater than you ever could have imagined while you were enmeshed.

Review: Married Man Sex Life Primer

There is a good chance that you will find sections of The Married Man Sex Life Primer 2011 offensive.  As a therapist, I’m here to bring lots of new points that one may not like at first but that are important for change.  This book falls right into that wheelhouse. The basic premise of how heterosexual couples typically interact can easily sound politically incorrect in our current social context.  However, the science, long term data, and reality pretty much solidify the notion that men and women (that are attracted to one another) often create standardized gender roles.

Hence,  similar stories can be heard from couples in my office on a daily basis.  Many men in long term relationships come in stating  that  they feel taken advantage of,  treated poorly, and do not have the sex life they desire.  All the while, these men dote on their spouses, provide a steady income, parent their children, and are all around good individuals. Or the opposite happens, that a man gets so frustrated with feeling mistreated that he totally disconnects and becomes a full on jerk to his spouse. Either way,  I sit across from them with a heavy heart thinking time and time again about how they confuse turning a woman on sexually with being a good provider.

Here is a bit of generalized truth — most heterosexual women are wired to want a male partner that is great at caring for her (potentially her children as well) AND is dominant enough to sexually excite her. The concepts are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, Athol Kay’s book explores the nature of how to balance the alpha male parts that often make a woman sexually excited along with the beta qualities that are crucial for a prosperous long term relationship. One doesn’t have to be a cruel person to make his partner want to have sex, just like one doesn’t have to be treated poorly to have a loving romance.

Now before you start assuming I’m advocating men being violent and women being doormats, how about considering that  my profession is to create a context where individuals can locate a pathway towards success   This all brings us back around to Athol Kay.  He wasn’t some guy who naturally was some arrogant bad-boy and his wife was not an ignorant pushover. They were (and are) two regular people with a relationship, mutual respect, careers, children, and life goals. They love each other and seek a long term monogamous relationship. Completely standard for the understanding of heterosexual romance. If you wanted more details, you can read about his ongoing love affair, struggles, and triumphs at his blog at http://www.marriedmansexlife.com

The Married Man Sex Life Primer is a realistic look at how a man within current societal norms (read: a nice-guy-personality) comes to terms with the fact that acting in more “high value” way makes his wife happy and sexually excited.  The book works through the basic science of heterosexual male/female  chemistry, interactions, and expectations that traditionally generate a long term sexual relationship.  At no point does Athol ever pretend that this whole process of becoming more alpha male is easy for him. Consider for a moment your own preconceived notions about what it means to be  a male nurse in our society and add that to the author’s background. Kay’s natural approach to things is from a care-taking mode and he had no intention of being mean to his wife, even if he was going to have a better sex life.  In fact, he was often shocked and confused by his wife’s reactions to his more dominant presentation. However, the book takes you along his journey towards integrating the science, emotion, and results of his balance between high value alpha actions and beta value response for a beautiful shift in romance with his wife.

There are many striking ideas within the book but one of the main themes appears to be that for a heterosexual man to create an erotic context for his wife it requires him to become her lover, with all the under and overtones of what that term means. Just as often as the sad husband sits across from me, his lonely wife tells stories about how she just wants him to pay attention to her.  And truthfully, beyond hormones this is a huge factor in how affairs get started. The female just wants to be heard, flirted with, and treated in a way that desires her presence.  Women obviously play their part in relationship troubles by becoming  unaffectionate and overly demanding.  Still,  like in all things change can only happen within not at another person. Kay puts it like this:  “My approach is that husbands need to find out how to become sexier to their wives and that will trigger her sexual interest. So rather than trying to ask her to change, you need to change for the better. The obvious solution is to step in and act like her lover would.” Sage advice, indeed.

This work is not ground breaking new information (as most of it is evolutionary psychologically based), yet Kay’s ability to cast an honest view on these dynamics is refreshing and important.  If you agree or disagree with his premise on male/female roles within marriage is really besides the point, because he himself advocates not just one approach but whatever it personally takes to make yourself and you relationship better… and I think this is something we can all agree upon.  The Married Man Sex Life Primer can be used as a way to jump-start your intimate relationship again. However, it feels more like a way to generate change within men that have lost their personal focus.  And no matter what gender or sexual relationship you choose to explore, it will always feel sexy to be around a person who is confident within themselves and has a vision for their life ahead.

The Married Man Sex Life Primer 2011 by Athol Kay

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In my next set of posts on evolutionary psychology I’ll be addressing terms like gender and sex roles, high value and dominance.  I’ll discuss at how these ideas can manifest themselves in ways that promote positive growth rather than blindly accepting societal defaults and assumptions.

Companions

“Sharks need friends or they get sick.”

These words came from across a table scattered with plastic toys in the shape of sea creatures.   This precocious youngster has dazzled me with facts about snakes previously. And because he is a Star Wars fan, I can’t help but pay attention! He brought up this idea because he was doing all he could to convince his father that he needed two baby sharks instead of just one in the aquarium.

Sharks at play

I asked follow up questions but the boy was already on to other facts, reading a book on the topic, and playing shark trainer was high on his agenda.  I sat there thinking about how all I could remember was that a shark can be a host to parasite style fish.

So after a bit of research (read: looking around on the net) I learned that indeed if you are going to have sharks in an aquarium that having two is better than one. This is because while other fish can be companions out in the wild waters, it doesn’t work the same way inside a tank. The sharks get grumpy and want to eat the other fish but when there is another shark they work together. Normally sharks are rather solitary but in this fashion they are friends helping one another out.

You probably see where this is going, but this all tumbled around in my brain and I just saw so many ways this applies to relationships. We often  have an approach of being all on our own.  We show our teeth when we need to and sometimes end up on Shark Week  but overall we just move along to live.

However, when things shift into smaller waters we are much more open to being friendly. We do need one another to help us out because we can’t do it all on our own.

What is the point of all this? Well, I’ll make it easy for you: if sharks can figure out how to be kind to one another and that it helps keep them healthy, couldn’t we move a bit further up on the food chain of friendliness?  I’m not suggesting we use people or be nice just to get ahead, but I am suggesting that in the tank the shark does more than just get along.  The two sharks begin to work together and discover that they do more than just provide a cleaning service. They become companions!

It is a great thing  when we move from accepting help, only in the toughest of times, to opening up ourselves to allowing others to nurture us. It is is probably time to let some other people into your life and care for you, it will help you become healthier!

Learning how to be vulnerable

Let’s face it, we are all scared of being hurt… and in most cases the physical aspects don’t spook us nearly as much as the emotional ones.  It is hard to trust as it is, but then even if you can start to trust after betrayal, how on earth do you actually allow yourself to be in a place that is vulnerable?  Isn’t the whole point of  protecting yourself to NOT be in a position that makes your feel weak? Well…. like most things the answer is yes and no and it depends.

I know that we all want to think that there is someone out there that won’t hurt us, but the truth is that is lie.  Any two people get together and they are bound to cause some pain to one another, this is part of the human condition. Even if we accept that, there is this notion that we want someone who won’t hurt us intentionally… well I hate to burst that bubble too, but reality shows us differently.  We are not always the strongest, healthiest, or at our most kind and with that means there are for sure times we will feel anger and hurt someone else in return. Fight or flight exists on a daily if not minute to minute basis.

So all this doesn’t sound too good for learning how to be vulnerable. Somehow we are supposed to want to open ourselves up to the most intimate parts and share them with someone who will consciously and unconsciously hurt us at some point in our relationship? Yep, that is exactly what I am saying!!!! Let’s not try to pretend that we are all good or all bad when it comes to how we handle our emotions and actions. We do some crappy things to ourselves and others with intention and unintentionally.

With our reality check firmly in place, this is how and why it takes courage to be vulnerable. The strength of character it takes to risk being fragile, raw, and truly authentic  is outstanding. It is in spite of our past, our fears, and the truth of human interaction, that we still move forward with caring for another. It isn’t easy to come to terms with this truth, but it exists none the less.  If you want to really learn how to be raw and exposed to another person … you do it. You push ahead… you feel the fear AND do it anyway.

It is a curious paradox of sorts this whole being open and strong thing. We are taught that if you allow space for feelings that are raw, you are a weak person. But it actually requires so much more strength to risk the possibility of someone rejecting you. Work with me here… if you are truly a weak person then you will just blindly go ahead in any situation without forethought or caution to your self. Yet, when you are stable and strong you look at all the variables, analyze the risk, and move forward with pursuing your desires.

There is no hidden agenda, being vulnerable is hard work, but life in general is a risky proposition. You are bound to get hurt along the way but it is how you deal with that, that matters. You can make choices based on fear (unearned or not) or you can acknowledge possible hurts existence, in even the best of relationships, and create an opportunity for a very different kind of relationship for yourself and others.   It is your choice, but that is the point isn’t it, you are in control, it is your choice, and I would encourage you to be strong enough to choose risking hurt for the potential of something glorious, like the best relationship of your life!

Choosing a relationship by Franklin Veaux

One of my sweeties has a policy never to get involved with someone who has never had his heart broken. She believes quite strongly that there are certain things about yourself that you can only learn when your heart is broken, and that having your heart broken is the only way to discover whether or not you’re the sort of person who can pick himself up, put himself back together, and move on with courage and joy, or if you’re the sort of person who is destroyed by it.

I think there’s some value to that notion, though I don’t use it as a rule.

A few years back, I had a really painful breakup with a woman I fell very hard for and then, after investing a great deal in the relationship, discovered was a very poor partner for me. That relationship really brought home for me a lesson that I knew intellectually but didn’t know emotionally, which is this:

It is possible to deeply, sincerely love someone and still not be a good partner for that person.

That relationship also caused some nontrivial damage to one of my other relationships, and ended up changing the course of my life in ways that I still feel. I can’t say that if I had to do it over, I would never have gotten involved with that person at all, though I can say that I would have made different choices about what to do with that connection. But I digress.

There’s a socially sanctioned myth that says that love conquers all. It’s a deeply and profoundly silly thing to believe; love is a feeling, and a feeling can no more solve problems than it can refinish the sofa or put a new circuit breaker box in the attic. A feeling can impel action, can influence the way you make choices, but it can’t, of and by itself, do anything on its own. And making a relationship work requires more than just a feeling. It requires that the people involved make choices that are compatible and work toward a common end–which is extraordinarily difficult to do when those people have different goals, different priorities, different expectations, or even different internal templates about what they want their lives to look like. No matter what they feel.

And the feeling of love isn’t the only thing that influences our decisions. Other feelings, like fear or anxiety or anger, have a vote, too, and it’s not always the feeling of love that casts the deciding vote–even when that love is genuine.


The lesson that I can really, deeply love someone and we can still not be good partners for each other was probably the most expensive relationship lesson I’ve ever learned, and it’s completely rearranged my approach to choosing partners.
The approach I used to use, and I suspect the approach that many people use, was to keep a sort of internal list of “dealbreakers” that I’d refer to whenever I met someone who seemed interesting to me and who seemed interested in me. I’d kind of run down the list– Is she giving me the psycho vibe? Nope. Does she hold conservative  ideas? Nope. All the way down the list, and if I didn’t hit a dealbreaker the answer would be “Cool! We should totally start dating!”

That isn’t the way I work any more. The dealbreaker approach “fails closed;” it assumes that if no dealbreakers are hit, then we should start a relationship, so if something later comes up that I didn’t know was a problem…well, I find out about it after I’ve already started to invest in a relationship with this person.

The approach I use now isn’t to keep a list of dealbreakers. Oh, there are some, to be sure; I’m not likely to date someone with a history of violence against her past partners, for example. But instead of keeping a list of dealbreakers these days, I keep a list of things that I actively look for–things that light me up in another person.

If I meet someone who seems interesting, and seems interested in me, I am more likely to ask the question “Does this person really light me up inside and bring out joy in me?” than “Does this person have some disagreeable trait that I don’t like?” That approach tends to “fail open”–the default is *not* to start a relationship unless there’s something very special about the person, rather than to start a relationship unless there’s something disagreeable about her.

That approach takes care of a lot of “dealbreakers” on its own, because a person who has the qualities that really shine isn’t likely to have the qualities that would be dealbreakers for me. For instance, a person who has demonstrated to me that she favors choices that demonstrate courage and integrity isn’t likely to be a liar.

It’s more than just taking the dealbreakers and flipping them on their heads, though. There are a lot of qualities on my “must have” list that wouldn’t have been reflected on my “dealbreaker” list.

So all of this is kind of a longwinded way to get to the qualities that DO light me up about someone. The things that really attract me to a person, without which I’m unlikely to want to start a relationship with her, include things like:

– Has she done something that shows me she is likely, when faced with a difficult decision, to choose the path of greatest courage?

– Has she done something that shows me that, when faced by a personal fear or insecurity, she is dedicated to dealing with it with grace, and to invest in the effort it takes to confront, understand, and seek to grow beyond it?

– Does she show the traits of intellectual curiosity, intellectual rigor, and intellectual growth?

– Has she dealt with past relationships, including relationships that have failed, with dignity and compassion?

– Is she a joyful person? Does she value personal happiness? Does she make me feel joy?

– Does she seem to be a person who has a continuing commitment to understanding herself?

– Does she seem to be a person who values self-determinism?

– Does she approach the things that light her up, whatever those things may be, with energy and enthusiasm? Does she engage the world and the parts of it that make her happy?

– Does she seem to demonstrate personal integrity?

– Is she open, honest, enthusiastic, and exploratory about sex?

– Does she communicate openly, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so?

There are probably more; the things that attract me to a person are in some ways a lot more nebulous than my old list of dealbreakers used to be.

In some ways, the approach I use now is an approach that relies on a model of relationship that’s based on abundance, not on starvation. A person who holds a starvation model of relationship, in which relationships seem to be rare and difficult to find, is not likely going to want to use an approach that fails open, on the fear that if he doesn’t take a relationship opportunity that presents itself, who knows when another person might express interest? If relationships seem rare, then why not jump at an opportunity if there seem to be no dealbreakers standing in the way?

The approach of seeking positive reasons to start a relationship, rather than looking for reasons NOT to start a relationship, means that I say “no” to opportunities that come by more often than I say “yes.” I have found that, for whatever reason, I tend to have a lot of opportunity for relationship, so there may be something to the notion that I have adopted this model of relationship because I can afford it.

But I do believe that holding an abundance model of relationship tends to make it true. I think that people who hold a starvation model of relationship often seem to be always searching for a partner, and that can really be off-putting; whereas in an abundance model, if you simply live your life with enthusiasm and joy and instead of seeking partners you seek to develop in yourself the qualities that you desire in a partner, then other people will tend to be drawn to you and relationships will be abundant.