The Dynamite Question & It’s Pivitol Role in Dating

First Date

I’m home this evening reflecting on the boring date I had after work.  It’s always disappointing for me to work a full day, scurry over to a coffee shop and end up on the opposite end of a disconnected date.  But I understand, this is part of the process.  We can’t hold chemistry with everyone.

So as I was sitting there across from a very handsome man off of Tinder, I’m wondering, “Why do I feel so awkward?”  This is not usual for me on dates.  I usually feel embodied, present and confident.  But the conversation was choppy, predictable:

  •       Where did you grow up?
  •      How long have you been here?
  •      Where do you work?
  •      Have you met many guys off Tinder?

Blah blah blah.  There is an art to conversation that is important and, just like kissing, it takes two to get the sparks going!  I did try. I really did!

He had gone to Burning Man last year for the first time.  I said, “Tell me about one of your wild adventures…” He stumbled, had a hard time pulling forth a memory.   When he said he worked for Kaiser, I asked, “What’s it like there for you?”  He was short, to the point. 

And then when I told him I had moved here from NYC, he said, “Yeah, I’ve been here all my life.  different wavelengths over here.”  I thought, this will be interesting to hear: “What do you think are some of the West Coast wavelengths?” I inquired, but I got a pretty vanilla response for someone who’s lived in the Bay for 39 years. 

So what...What was it?  Why was I crawling out of my skin to leave?  It was that I was so disengaged and bored and uninspired!  And that’s where the DYNAMITE QUESTION comes in! Yes, that question that blows shit up, that disrupts, gets a laugh, gets you thinking, gets you turned on, gets you feeling anything together, because that’s what a fantastic date is all about. 

And he just didn’t have that capacity.  I mean, I’m a therapist for crying out loud.  That’s a pretty interesting job (yes biased and subjective here).  But it IS! I craved for him to check in with “What drew you to that field? Why are you passionate about couples therapy?  What do you do in a day?” Everyone likes talking about themselves and everyone loves feeling someone’s deep curiosity for who we are and what drives us to do what we do.  And that’s the heart of therapy and it feeds connection. 

And with the Dynamite Question there is a Part 2: a JUICY RESPONSE.  Yes, when a dynamite question is asked, you have full permission to be playful, flirty, silly, enthusiastic, energetic, ________, ________ , you fill in the blanks. This gets the energy going, flame fuels flame.  Be vulnerable, see what happens.  

So next time you are on a first date, a date with your honey, a date with your partner – or with a great friend… remember the dynamite questions and co-create a conversation that titillates.

Posted on March 15, 2017 .

Relationship Revolution!

Through Intentions and Resolve

It’s that time of year again when we hear about our friends New Year’s Resolutions. 

Friends

Eat healthy.  Work out more. Give up that terrible vice.  There are so many and they’re so personal.  But for 2015, I’d like to suggest one that could be the most important of them all.  One that could be the domino that knocks all of them into action:  Developing your best relationships.

Yes, your best relationships.  Think about who you interact with each week.  Friends, family, bosses, lovers… you could be sitting on a gold mine!  Old and new relationships could be the missing component for changes you’ve been craving in your life.  Lets learn how these folks can help activate your brain and body to get moving – whether you’re conscious of it or not.

There have been several studies that have come out in the past decade that look at what generates happiness and longevity of life span.  Do you know what was the common denominator?  Relationships.  Yes, if you have lots of family, friends, neighbors and communities that you’re connected to – you get lots of benefits.  You can have improved mood, increased sense of security and less sick days. 

But more important than the health benefits is the power of social support.  Most people overlook how much positive relationships motivate us to do our best.  Think about the last time you did something fun with a friend.  Did you love the camaraderie or the laughter?  Did that person see more positive in you than you see in yourself? Maybe, like at a exercise class, you appreciated the peer pressure to participate and finish till the last minute of class.   Social support can make resolutions come to life with joy and increased drive. 

Yes, taking action with others may be the only way some of us can start resolutions, and turn them into completed projects.  Part of how you can super boost this support is a word switch.  Speak or write your new years intentions, which are more powerful then resolutions.  Why, you ask?  Because you can’t fail with intentions.  It’s directing your thoughts and energy, and your friends can feel that power of that without any shame that can come from “not completing” something.  Plus sharing intentions is a great way to get closer to someone.

So now that you know how relationships can help you live happier, healthier and intentionally in the new year, how would you rate your relationships?  I don’t mean on a scale of 1-10, but instead, how is the quality of your social, romantic and sexual relationships?  I’m sure you have a sense of how to maintain, but how about deepen and foster mutual inspiration together? Take a moment to ponder these keys to a relationship revolution:

Start with your own happiness.  Many people think that relationships will make them happier.  That’s true! They will.  There’s nothing like feeling connected.  However, research shows that individuals who are take care of themselves and do joyful things with themselves end up in more satisfying relationships down the road.  

Work through the past.  It’s easier said than done to let go of past hurts and trauma, but absolutely necessary to have fulfilling relationships.  Many of my clients come in wanting to work letting go of jealousy, fear or depression – but we usually end up connecting back to early wounds that were never addressed.  Suddenly relationships improve!

Break through the walls.  Everyone has them.  In the psychology world we call them defenses.  Their the thoughts, emotions or behaviors that keep us from connecting with others.  What are the ways that you notice yourself or your relationships hide from getting more intimate?  For gay or bi men, this can often look like performing the campy comedy stick in group settings as a way of not feeling uncomfortable feelings. 

Surround yourself with the best.  Are your friends encouraging, supportive and the types of people you strive to be?  If not, it may be time to redirect your energy towards those who do.  The people we surround ourselves with are unconsciously influencing us all the time.  What’s most important to you? Someone who’s empathetic, successful, caring or commited to growing? You deserve the best.

So instead of resolutions that will leave you discouraged, set one intention this year.  Resolve to develop the best relationships of your life.  Take some time to enjoy the pleasure of your current relationships.  Open yourself to cultivating more that lift you up.  Take time to enjoy the present and create a fabulous 2015. 

Posted on January 1, 2015 and filed under Better Relationships.

Open or Not to Open

Open or Not to Open, that is the question friends.

Open or Not to Open, that is the question friends.

         Last week at a party, my friend introduced his other partner.  Yes, he’s identifies as gay and open.  This was the first time I was meeting his second of two partners (Clint and Ruben, the names have been changed to protect the innocent). 

Another friend perked up after the second partner left, “So how does this all work exactly?”

“Well”, our open friend smiled and sighed, “I’m dating both of them at the same time.  It lets me take my time, compare notes and never get bored!” he laughed.

“So you’re poly now?” Short for polyamorous, my friend asked. 

Noooo… I’m open… I mean – I guess technically I could qualify as poly right now, but I prefer an open relationship long term.”

          My curious friend then shot off a bunch of additional questions because he was completely fascinated and confused.  Rightfully so, in San Francisco folks throw around these terms assuming we all understand.  But many don’t and, without educating themselves, they’re throwing themselves and their partner into open relationships and getting into deep trouble.

I know, I’ve gotten countless calls from men inquiring about therapy to help their open relationships feel good again.  I usually ask them,

“When did you both consent to be open?” 

“Uhmmm…” Is a typical response. 

“What agreements have you made together about how your open relationship works?” 

“Agreements?” Strike two. 

“How’s your communication and ability to repair after conflicts?”

“Not so good at the moment.  We get pretty heated and stuck.”  Yikes!

            This guy and his partner are not ready to be in an open relationship.  They might not even know what an open relationship is, yet, they’re in one!  I tell my clients that an open relationship is a romantic relationship and agreement between two people, where it’s permitted to have intimate, romantic or sexual relations with others.

            What does that look like?  It’s different for everyone. For most, this looks like having one primary partner, while casually dating or engaging sexually with others.  While many are intrigued by the idea of having their cake and eating it too, most do not have the slightest idea what goes into a successful open relationship.  Believe it or not, the elements that make up a fantastic open relationship are the same for a monogamous relationship.

There are, what I call, the Fab Five.  These are the main ingredients to making a delicious partnership with relations on the side.  They are Agreements, Boundaries, Communication, Negotiation and Security.  Even though these are necessary for any satisfying relationships, all partners in an open relationship must put forth energy and time into all of these.   

Agreements are quintessential for open relationships because they set the parameters for everyone involved.  Here’s a classic example: You and your honey go to party.  Someone else you’ve been dating or sleeping with shows up.  Who do you go home with?  It’s not gonna go well if you make a spontaneous choice at the end of the night.  Agreements that are set ahead of time help make these types of situations easier, emotionally safer and clear for everyone involved. 

Boundaries are rules, limits or beliefs about how someone wants to interact or have others to interact with them.   We need these to feel protected with others and they can build a standard of consent between you and your partner.  Think about a time when someone did something that left you feeling very uncomfortable.  There may have been a boundary crossing.  Being able to share your boundaries or when they are crossed helps others to relate to you in more comfortable ways. 

Communication that is clear, kind and responsible is key to healthy relationships.  Expressing boundaries and making agreements are important, as mentioned above, and even more vital is letting your partner know your desires and needs.  Withholding what’s in your heart or mind usually leads to disconnection or explosions down the line.  Having space to talk openly and vulnerably can lead to the next important element, which entails a communicating and working through each other’s differences.

Negotiation occurs when you’re ready to mutually discuss and compromise with a partner.  It’s an important skill in any mature relationship.  How open are you to trying something you’re not comfortable with?  How willing are you to understand your partner’s perspective and deal with all the triggers that come up?  It takes hard work and patience, but the payoff is enjoying a relationship that’s satisfying for multiple parties.  If you’re game, you’ll learn to develop the agreements and boundaries that are necessary to get both of you on the same page, thriving and leading you to the final ingredient:   

Security in a relationship supports you in going the distance.  You must feel secure with yourself and with your relationship if it’s to work, especially in open relationships, where you’re putting each other in more risky scenarios.  Security involves a sense of safety and trust.  It helps you have faith and take risks.  With security, you can be more honest than you would normally.  Security allows each partner to explore themselves and relationships with or without their primary partner.   Security is so vital, it may require hard choices.  For example, if you open your relationship and are enjoying it, but your partner is becoming insecure and scared…would you be willing to close it if that’s what’s needed to for them to regain wellbeing and confidence?

On the flip side, just because you know what generates a fabulous open relationship doesn’t mean you’ll want one. Open relationships can be very challenging.  They can trigger our most basic attachment needs.  Attachment needs are universal and are expressed towards our caregivers when we are babies.  Some attachment needs are love, closeness, affection, care, reliability, engagement, and accessibility.  Sound familiar? When we don’t receive these growing up, we become wounded.  As adults, we look for them in our relationships.  When their met, we feel amazing, and when not, we are emotionally tortured. 

We’ve grown up with messages and values from family, friends and society about what is “okay” and “not okay” relationally.  It’s natural that many of us soaked those in.  Now as an adult, you’ll need to ask yourself: What type of relationship do I want?  You may just be learning about different types or be well versed in open, poly and other paradigms. The point is, it’s a choice.  To decide, you must ask yourself:

What are my values or goals for a relationship?                                                                                                Could I emotionally handle the person I’m in love with seeing other people on the side?                            How willing am I to work at the Fab Five with a partner?

Open relationships are not for everybody, especially those who do not have the elements listed above.  The most vital are security and trust.  If you do not have this foundation, forget about opening or enjoying your relationship. So whether you’ve decided to have a monogamous or closed relationship, go slow! This way both partners can become aware of their emotions and needs, while working through conflicts and developing a firm foundation. 

Posted on November 1, 2014 and filed under Better Relationships, Couples Stuff, Gay Men.

Get Off Your Phone and Get Into a Relationship

Are you able to meet up and get the relationship you want from your apps? 

Are you able to meet up and get the relationship you want from your apps? 

In the era of Tinder, OkCupid and Grindr, dating sites and apps have become more popular than ever as a way of meeting individuals for dates, adventures and sex.  It's great to have more ways to meet others you have a lot in common with...

But have you had this experience?  You write someone you think is cute on the site and begin to chat.  Back and forth, maybe you even move to text, but for some reason or another - a date never materializes.  

If you're looking to chat, have casual encounters - that's absolutely okay - but many people are looking for a relationship and this is an IRRITATING and common scenario.  

What's happening?

- This person is too busy to date

- This person is not interested in meeting up

- This person prefers the exciting initial stages of interacting vs. experience a range of emotions that happen face to face. 

And this type of interaction on these types of sites don't lead to that guy or girl of your dreams. If you keep chatting, you might begin building up this person (in your mind) to be a fantastic catch (and then never meet them).  You might waste a lot of time and energy and heart into someone that's not going to be a fit for you.  So... 

Get off the phone and into a relationship! How?  When you see someone you like online, write them, let them know you'd love to meet and propose a date (preferable coffee or tea, where you can exit quick if you need to - or go for a meal if it's awesome).  If that person wants to chat, you can let them know you prefer to connect face to face.  Focus on getting the meetup to happen, and if you get one obstacle after another, you have great information about how a relationship will be with this person.  

The Trap of the Unavailable Guy

When will you be ready to let go of these unavailable bad boys?

When will you be ready to let go of these unavailable bad boys?

Yes, it’s a trap.  But you already know this.  That special someone who is not available as a complete package.  He lives in L.A.  He’s in an open relationship.  He calls or texts to hang out late night only.

These are all examples of a person that is unavailable - someone who’s got a block to having a fully committed relationship.   Not that there’s anything wrong with long distance, open relationships or booty calls – but it signals that they will probably not end up your soul mate.

But why are unavailable guys so sexy?  Well, there’s a couple reasons.

   1.    They’re fun.  They are either having fun with you or in front of you and that’s alluring.  We fantasize that we’ll have good times with them forever. 

   2.    There’s great boundaries.   Boundaries feel good in a relationship, and with this guy they’re forced onto both of you because he’s taken up by a job, another person, physical distance, etc.  With this scenario, we believe that the relationship is healthy because it is not all consuming or too sparse. 

   3.    They’re mysterious.  Something or someone else has his attention.  We don’t know everything about him.  He’s spending time with us but not fully committing.  This leads to a fantasy that eventually he’ll be open and decide to be with us %100.

There are many more reasons, but I hope you’re getting the picture about the fantasy part.  Unavailable guys spark fantasies and delusions about what the relationship is and could be – but it’s a dangerous trap!  These guys most often are ambivalent about what they want and you cannot change them.  Holding out doesn’t work either.

 Even if you could snag him, he is destined to stray and divide his attention once again.  You are worth more!  When you let go, you stop joining the ambivalent game with him and can open space for a fantastic person who is committed to YOU.  

Your Love Purpose

What are your intentions when it comes to love?

How do you want to love others today?

How do you want to love others today?

Does this feel like a strange question?  Often, we are so intentional and strategic when it comes to work – but what about love?   Are you clear about what you want and how you want to love others?

Without clarity and focus, we leave ourselves open to whatever.  What types of people are being attracted to you?  What are some of their characteristics? 

Let me tell you a story.  From 16-26, I drew in wounded souls that needed support.  One of the main purposes of my life, I had decided, was to help people.  But over and over again I began to attracted and manifest toured artists, the emotionally disfuntional and drug abusing men.  I would listen to them, take care of them and often be frustrated that I kept drawing in and falling for unhealthy guys. 

Do you think I was clear about what I wanted and how I wanted to love others?  No way!  I was seeing a lot of what I didn’t want and had never thought about being purposeful – which might be indicative of goals too. 

So here’s what I want you to do.  Go get some paper or your iphone and start taking some notes on what you want in a partner.  But instead of listing qualities (i.e. Tall, dark and handsome), write down what you’d like to share together (i.e. Trust, direct communication,  sense of humor)

Part II, what do you want to do with your love?  Imagine that you generate a wonderful relationship… how could it positively impact others? For example, would you be modeling a loving connection, support other couples, or throw fun parties together?  Would you want to work through past baggage with someone safe, develop spiritual rituals or learn to dance salsa?

With this new love purpose, you will feel more directed and be laser focused when on dates on if you and this person are sharing qualities and values that fit with your vision.  Trust your intuition, but stay intentional.  This will undoubtedly attract the right one right to you. 

How Many Walls Does It Take To Disconnect?

What walls are keeping you from connecting on your dates?

What walls are keeping you from connecting on your dates?

I have a friend who perpetually goes on first dates.  I can relate, because there was a time that was in the same boat.  Meeting lots of people, getting numbers, getting dates - but for some reason date #2 never materializes.                                                                                                       

I have another friend who's been dating their boyfriend for a year and they complain that the relationship is in a rut: they go through the motions of dinners, movies, parties, bars and yet there doesn't seem to be progression in the relationship.  

What do these two have in common?   

Yes, they're disconnected.  Lets get some background to understand.  

Friend 1, who is constantly on first dates, grew up in a traditional Hondoures family.  Her family owned a restaurant and everyone worked it.  Her parents were loving but strict and respect was based on conforming and holding the needs of others before your own.  

Friend 2 grew up in a liberal white family. His mother was an alcoholic and no one in the family ever talked about it.  The family did many events together, but pretended they didn't notice mom's intoxication.  This son learned to keep quiet about personal problems and began focusing only on the positive qualities of his past.  

Both of these friends, like so many of us, created walls that blocked them from connecting with the full range of their emotions and thoughts.  When we're not in touch with our deeper parts or we hold in our true self, people can't get sense of who we are, what we're about, our passions, our dreams.  And this can lead to stale first dates or perpetual generic dating that isn't fulfilling or stimulating for anyone.  

What are your walls?  How have you learned to protect yourself? What parts are you hiding?  What would you be willing to share if you know that it would draw people closer to you?  

Go for it! 

Is Slut Shaming Ruining Your Relationships?

Are you unaware of the ways you're shaming others? 

Are you unaware of the ways you're shaming others? 

             I’ve been surprised by how much slut shaming is happing in my office recently.  This year I’ve seen several couples in my therapy practice where one partner is disgusted or angry about the other’s sexual behaviors or desires; and attempts to make his partner feel guilty about them.  This experience has been recently coined “Slut Shaming”, and it’s a conflict that can end up majorly damaging a romantic relationship. 

            The word slut and the act of slut shaming has long been used with women in our society.  More recently it has ben directed towards queer men by queer men.  Slut can be defined as a sexually promiscuous person, someone who engages sexually with a large number of persons or someone who participates in sexual activities outside of a long-term or monogamous relationship.

            Let’s look at a recent example in pop culture.  When Miley Cyrus performed “We Can’t Stop” as a duet with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, Cyrus’ performance was critiqued as being “lewd, grotesque and shameful.”  This judgment was aimed at Cyrus for being a young woman wearing a revealing outfit and using highly sexual moves. Interestingly, there was a lack of criticism towards Robin Thicke, who often performs while objectifying women’s bodies. 

            Slut shaming occurs when sexual behaviors or desires deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations.  For gay men, this can include desires or behaviors that differ from heterosexual, gay or queer “norms”.  This at first may seem ironic, since we are already seen as outside the “norm” of heterosexual society, but unfortunately this happens in many queer relationships.

Common experiences of behaviors that are shamed:

  • Open relationships or polyamory

  • Disclosing an HIV positive status resulting from sexual activities

  • Contacting guys on sex sites for chat, phone sex or meet ups

  • Going to the sex clubs regularly

  • Cybersex for pleasure or pay

  • Being raped especially if drugs are involved

  • Interest in BDSM or the kink community

  • Experimentation with one's gender presentation or transgender experiences

  • Role-play characters or scenes that are taboo

  • Desire to include unusual body parts or fluids into sex acts

  • Participating in erotic dancing or a Erotic modeling

            There are several reasons why slut shaming occurs with some of the experiences or behaviors above.  In the queer community, some of the main ones are internalized oppression, fear and jealously, as well as conservative values. 

Internalized Oppression: Growing up in a homophobic and heteronormative society, we couldn’t help but learn and adopt some of the cultural values that say being queer isn’t normal, isn’t natural and isn’t healthy.  Many who come out consciously reject these beliefs, but unconsciously we retain them.  The beliefs get translated into discomfort, disgust or anxiety that we direct towards ourselves and others in the LGBTQI Community.  This is internalized shame and hatred is toxic. 

Fear and Jealousy: These emotions have a lot of negative connotations in relationships.  However, let me reframe them for a minute. Fear and jealousy have to do with a longing to stay connected with someone you love and have a close bond with.  Love and connection are basic and important needs, but when they get channeled and communicated through these challenging emotions, it leaves couples feeling distressed and frustrated.

Conservative Values:  Lets review history.  America was colonized by puritans a few hundred years ago, and with them came conservative, biblically based values.  Puritans believed humankind sinned and was vile, God had chosen who was good or evil and puritans were the saving remnant.  The United States still carries some of these root values through our families, institutions, and systems.  Many people don’t realize these morals have been passed down and that they hold conservative viewpoints. Conservative attitudes and ethics are traditional and cautious about change and innovation.  These can be hard to hold within a relationship.  

A classic example, that includes all three roots of slut shaming, is when someone discloses their positive HIV or STD status.  Gay, bi or queer men are often regarded as sluts in these cases, deserving their status because of sexual behaviors that produced their health consequences.  This lack of empathy and compassion is detrimental to relationships, cohesion in our community and our humanity.  

             These three origins of slut shamming leave us conflicted.  When we’re conflicted, we develop strategies to deal with the internal turmoil.  It’s difficult when someone we know or care about is expression their sexuality that is different from the way we have.  Internal conflicts usually result in mixed up emotions and psychological defenses that protect us from feeling the discomfort and intensity of these feelings.  Defenses can look like emotional walls, avoidance and acting out.

             I've had several men write me through my advice column, Ask The Love Therapist, on my website asking questions connected to this topic. One of the common distressing topics is when the writer’s partner is asking or forcibly opening a previously monogamous relationship.  The writers present a reasonable argument: “I understand that my boyfriend was sleeping around a lot and having fine when he was single, but isn't it fair for me to ask him to stop now that we are together?” I’d like to take a minute to respond.

             Yes, it is fair. I think it's perfectly okay to want monogamy… or an open or polyamorous relationship - with rules and agreements. These help couples feel safe and keep the trust between them. However, slut shaming is not the way to go if you want to keep your man.

             First of all, many of these behaviors are fulfilling important desires.  They can also be long-standing habits or even addictions.  Instead of being cruel or close-minded, first ask yourself “where is my discomfort or distress coming from?”  It's important to be aware of your emotions, your needs, your core beliefs and where these come from. This way, you're not projecting your stuff onto your partner, especially in a way that is hurtful.

             I would also invite you to have a stance of curiosity.  What could be happening for your partner that they're continuing or starting to engage in these sexual practices? An open discussion from a place that's non-judgmental is important.  This will bring you two closer because true intimacy comes from vulnerability (which happens within security).

            An accepting and open stance can lead to education and understanding of others.  This can grow closeness and connection as well.  Openness also provides space to share concerns, opinions or emotions that may be running through you.  Again, there's no right or wrong when it comes to expressing sexuality, as long as there is consent and safety. Concerns are valid and thoughtfulness in how you share them is the key to having them heard.

           Lets not create more shame for ourselves or those in our community – we have enough be people doing that.  Who knows, you may learn something from your friend or partner and might even enjoy some of the desires or behaviors that fulfill them.    

Posted on March 1, 2014 and filed under Gay Men, Sex.

Welcome!

     This is my first blog post.  I'm so excited!  This will usually be a space where I talk about different topics that will hopefully inspire, educate and interest you - so tell me, what would you like to hear about?  I don't pretend to know all that you might want to hear about concerning relationships, dating, love, attraction - ETC, so let me know below in the comments section.  

     May I take a second to get personal?  I'd like to share a little of my story because it might help to hear my experience with dating and relationship trauma - yes TRAUMA!  It's really tough out there trying to love and be loved.  

     Back in 2000, I ended a two year relationship and was single for 6 years.  I was really shy when it came to dating and even though I was hit on and picked up a few times, I really struggled to find someone I could fall in love with.  I never seemed to find guys that I felt connected to - that I was inspired by and I felt comfortable with.  It was soooo lonely at times.  

      I was always searching for the "love of my life" and tried many different online sites, a matchmaking service, speed dating, singles events - I tried to have a positive attitude but it just sucked!  My sister met her fiancé on Match.com, so it's not like these services don't work - I just came to learn that  had to be in the right space to manifest quality guys and the right time.  

      In the end, therapy was the game changer.  When crying one day in session after another love affair ended (with a partnered guy living in L.A.), my therapist stated, "You seem to keep a pattern of dating unavailable guys and disregarding really important information about them."  Shit - Busted.  That was a turning point for me.  I'm hoping you get a couple of those too.  Cause YOU ARE AMAZING.  And it just takes a little self discovery to shift your world. 

Much love,

Brendan