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OFFICE HOURS

This is where all of my previous Q&A sessions are stored.

2019 SESSIONS

December

Let down and lied to

Big awakenings/changes being made. Had to make some slips for that. Shut the door in Florida, went to California, met a man on Thanksgiving at aunt’s home, barely spoke (he thought I was married to my brother lol), got my number from his mom, text me once for 10 minutes, never heard back. Upset at this, just dumb why waste my time. 

At the time, I didn’t realize this. I was so upset that I was weak, and it led me to contact Florida, and Florida came down to Houston within 48 hours. I’m shocked because he never did before, never once expected to speak about the relationship because I closed that thought off long ago. Had a great time as usual, stayed for a couple days, and the last day I asked about other women. He told me he used to talk to one, but she was too immature and no others. He went to sleep, I got ready for our evening, noticed his phone open, of course I searched. WOW THE LIES!

He text a girl a picture of a rental car (I picked him up from airport). I made dinner one night, he text a picture of MY dinner and told her my boy is an amazing chef! The kitchen is so amazing! That literally made me sick how much he went out of his way to lie, sick! I’m the type I need proof. I text her the truth of him being over my home and no rental car. So he awoke, and I told him the truth. I guess it’s God’s protection because it could have ended really bad with the narcissist. He seemed kinda angry and kinda didn’t care, maybe. He said all I have to do is go to dinner with her, tell her the truth and she will be like OMG, he’s so honest, and she’ll continue with me. I couldn’t believe my ears. He flew home and I first blocked his number, then deleted it, so there is literally no way ever to contact me. WOW! What a lesson in being in a weak moment and making the wrong choice, but I learned why I did it because I was upset at the other situation thinking Jeez, two men in a row that won’t give us a shot! Used to men at least getting to know me, jeez.

Nat’s Response

Jeez, I had to do one big-ass double-take while reading this. The thing is, shady carry-on or not, the nature of your original involvement with this guy was enough information that this situation was a no-go. I used to be the girl who needed proof. I think I watched too much Columbo and Murder She Wrote as a child, haha!

But (and I want you to consider this so that the next time you 1) accept a situation for what it is and 2) trust your intuition), I’m going to use a rather crude example to illustrate my point:

Let’s say that you’re involved with a man who you suspect is downright shady and messing with kids — and that you have a child. Maybe you haven’t caught him in the act, but he’s done a few things that have your antenna raised. Do you have him in your house with you and your child? Nope! You roll his ass out or certainly go out of your way to ensure that they’re nowhere near each other. You wouldn’t keep him around your kid while trying to get indisputable proof. 

You didn’t need to catch a man you barely know and who has so many stories and drama coming out of his bottom that he must have a trail in his wake in the act. Who he was, how he was acting, the nature of your rather brief involvement, even your own actions and thinking are proof enough. 

OK, let’s go to Mr Thanksgiving: Girl, I know I raised you better than this. Do I need to come through your roof and stage an intervention?!

This man thinks that you’re married to your brother (I actually bust out laughing at this because you know your bro loves behaving like your substitute husband and treating you like his wife!). Anyway, you barely speak to each other. 

Let me say it again: you barely speak to each other. 

You exchange texts for ten minutes, and you don’t hear from this mofo again and that drives you to reach out to Mr Florida that you barely know?

No. No, no, no, no, NO. 

That is such an extreme leap that I think you really need to tune in and be honest with you about what this caper was all about. Sure, you met him at your aunt’s house, but exactly what do you think that this man owes you because he got your number? I know you’re fabulous, but what on earth do you think happened at your aunt’s or in the texts that warrants all of this? He didn’t waste your time. It was ten minutes! That’s less than 1% out of that entire day. 0.007. Just over half a percent! 

This is not about two men in a row not giving you a shot; this about two times, three if you include the manager who seems to have dropped off the radar, where you haven’t given you a shot. 

I know that you want a relationship, but not like this. Not with the games, drama, intrigue, deception and trying to catch ’em out. You don’t need to be with the first man that asks or whoever happens to be around when the music stops. Your last three experiences say to me that you don’t know what you want, that you’re still angry albeit not as angry and hurt as you were in the past, and that you don’t trust yourself. 

Stop lowering your standards. Stop trying to ‘win’ and get your own way with these guys. You’re chasing men that come with relationships you don’t want, just because you want each of these guys to prove that you are The Best. You want each of them to choose you over something or go against what they’ve claimed they are or want: study and the boys, being the favourite over your co-workers and him putting himself at risk, grief, complex family and his reluctance to be in a relationship, wherever he spent his time after those ten minutes. Stop competing with other women, real or imagined. 

It’s not them wasting your time. It’s you wasting your time. These men are not the right ones for you. And you know it. If anything, you need to be relieved that they haven’t worked out. 

You have been given an out. Don’t let your ego lead you astray. Dig deep into your highest truth, your highest self. You can do this. Keep going with the self-work.

I'm not ready to date, but should I date?

Literally two days after Florida leaves my home, my mom comes and says “OMG, I met this very kind amazing man and your aunt and I want you to meet him. In my mind I’m like I’m so drained I almost hope he doesn’t call and in a way I’m like Maybe. This is all brand new, so I don’t even know if they gave him my number yet. I feel I’m attracting these men and I closed the door on Florida and California, so I’m like am I going to attract another narcissist or sociopath because I believe we attract what our frequency is at. Amazing, I rarely meet men. Like once a year and the end of this year was three in a row. Now I’m like No, I want a break. Even though new man MAY be great, is he really? Do I even give it a shot? Do I give more time to myself in therapy? Each time I said I’ll date more in 2020 to focus on therapy, a man shows up. I’m like Hmm how’s that lol? Because every time I said I wanted to meet a man, he didn’t show up lol! Or I can set boundaries if this new man does call (now I’m not attached to if he calls or not) and be like I want to go very slow and get to know who you are because I’m not ready?

Nat’s Response

I’d leave it alone for now. You need to do a bit more clearing. You’re still angry and hurt by the last couple of guys. Get that cleared up because if you don’t, you’re going to enter the situation with an energy that isn’t really compatible with the type of relationship you say you want.

You are drained. You do not have the bandwidth to date someone right now.

If you date a man that your mom says is amazing and he turns out to be a jackass, what are you going to do? Cuss her? If he’s amazing and kind, he won’t mind if you don’t rush to start something with him right now this minute. Have you asked your mom and aunt why they think he’s so amazing? Keep in mind that family who want to pair you off or who are of an older generation that tolerated certain things or looked for less than we do because they prioritised security and not being a “spinster” tend to have a dodgy sense of “kind and amazing”.

You have closed the door on the other guys, but you’re still by the door pissed off.

At least give yourself until the new year to calm things down and chill out.

If you’re serious about being in a serious relationship, accept no substitutes.

The universe has a funny way of testing out how serious you are.

You said “Each time I said I’ll date more in 2020 to focus on therapy, a man shows up.”

Yes, but you didn’t have to go out with any of them.

You keep trying to shortcut past the therapy. Given that the intensive period of therapy is likely only for the short term, where’s the fire? Why can’t you commit to what you said that you would do?

The universe is giving you a pop quiz: On X date, you said that you will date in 2020 and focus on therapy. Let’s see how serious you are. Here’s a guy. Will you focus on therapy or will you date him? Oh, I see, you’ll date him. OK, so you’re not quite ready for the relationship you say that you want to be in and the you that you say you want to become. Oh, you’re hurt and ready to focus on therapy again. OK, here’s another guy. What will you do? You’ll text him. Okeedokee. Oh wait, you’re pissed off about him wasting your time. OK, let’s try again.

What will you do next?!

Why did I freeze with my abusive ex?

I saw my toxic ex at our holiday work party. We’d been No Contact for over a year, and I felt comfortable being around him, finally. I still felt an attraction to him and felt shame for it. He got drunk and irritated with me for being shy, and all the sudden my nervous system went into needing his validation, people-pleasing, and it was as if I’d lost myself all over again. I froze up and could barely think of anything to say, which irritated him more. Why didn’t I just leave? Or yell at him for everything terrible he did? I went into ‘Oh I never spoke up in our relationship. It’s my fault’ mode. Forgetting I was scared to do so because of my fear of abandonment and his habit of disappearing if he heard anything he didn’t like. I’m grateful I was aware in the moment, but still, it felt like I’d gotten in a time machine and forgotten everything I’d learned about assclowns. I didn’t fall back in the sack, so that’s a win, but it got too close.

Nat’s Response

Goodness, it sounds like your body did what it was supposed to do, albeit possibly a little overzealously: you froze up. As a result, you didn’t speak to him — and you are designed that way for your own protection because lord knows that you might have got sucked in by his manipulations.

Here you are beating yourself up because you still felt some attraction for him, although I think I need to point out that if you parse your physical response to him and park the mental labelling of it, you might discover that it (or a lot of it) was… fear.

And because, as is often the case in complex relationships, pleasant feelings are intertwined with unpleasant ones, wanting to please is mixed in with fear, validation is mixed in with fear, love is mixed with pain, that’s why you have such a visceral response.

You’re giving you a hard time without acknowledging how bloody manipulative, bullying and entitled this man is. You don’t have to give him the steam off your pee, never mind the time of day. You’ve just blanked him for a year, and he’s surprised at why you’re not falling all over him? What kind of crack is he smoking?

And let me tell you something else that’s so pertinent on today of all days because my 12-year-old daughter had an unpleasant incident with a man at the train station and I literally witnessed her freeze and near sleepwalk herself into politeness: women freeze in situations where we sense that we are around someone of a predatory nature or where we feel threatened.

There is no shame in that.

This man has capitalised and benefitted from you being triggered by earlier experiences in life.

Loving a flawed parent is fine. People love parents who they’ve never met, never mind who treated them appallingly. It’s part of being a child. It can be complicated, but it’s OK. The key is not to confuse loving a flawed parent in spite of what they didn’t do with giving a free pass to a flawed person who doesn’t respect your boundaries and who, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re behaving like a daughter, a child, instead of an adult.

This guy isn’t your parents. If you don’t ever want to speak to him again, you don’t have to.

I would look to reframe this incident. Go back to the start of the evening and replay your mental tape. What do you notice about you? What do you notice about him?

And yeah, you had what seemed like a near miss, but as the hours and days pass, you will see that you missed it — and that’s all that matters.

Getting grounded about my Imposter Syndrome

In January I am starting a new job. One that feels like the job I am more skilled for and passionate about, as compared to the ongoing-almost-previous job which (like I understood through BR) I had outgrown. It will be in a senior role which means at least I use everything I have learned so far. All kind of fears are running wild inside my mind: they headhunted me, so it’s too good to be true, there must be something wrong about the job (otherwise they would have hired someone else); many of the people in the company, which is small, are friends with one another and I am afraid they will never like me, that I will not fit in; so while I do not feel an imposter in my skills, I feel like a human fraud and that I will be found out or that it will turn out they are all crazy. I know this is my inner critic, but I wish I had a manual of instructions about how to be in this new job without anxiety, self-sabotage and anything else. What can I do to stay grounded?

Nat’s Response

I think it’s always a good idea to compassionately (but firmly) interrogate thought processes like this.

You’ve been somewhat unhappy in your previous role and now have an opportunity to start afresh in a role that’s more suited to you in terms of passion and skill. Great. Sure, you haven’t started the job yet, but they’ve interviewed you, you’ve interviewed them, they’ve offered you the role, and you’ve accepted. To add to this, you were headhunted, so they did their homework and personally picked you as opposed to having a shedload of people apply for the role.

Now, sure, I don’t know the level of information that they used, but does it matter? You got the job.

It strikes me, though, that you have [temporarily] fallen into the trap of transferring the angst from the old job over to your new one before you’ve even started. Why? Does it feel safer to be unhappy and anxious? Are you afraid or uncomfortable about letting you be happy and take pride in your achievement? Are you afraid to give you permission to look forward to something?

Don’t you think that you’re also saying something about the headhunters? That they’re stupid or certainly incompetent.

If that’s true, why would you take the job, after all, that would contradict it being a role that you feel skilled for but also that you’re passionate about?

Sure, it’s not easy to start new anywhere, but why have you already made up your mind that they’re horrible people that are cliquey and exclude people?

Again, wouldn’t that contradict your reasons for having taken the job? Sure, you can’t know exactly how things will be until you start, but surely when you interviewed with the company, you got a sense of their ethos and vibe?

Truth is, you cannot expect to 1) get a new job or 2) start a new job without a level of anxiety. Even people who have lots of positive experiences to draw from or high confidence still feel anxious.

What you can expect to do is to 1) be your adult self and 2) parent your inner child.

So, rather than letting your thoughts run wild, parent you and give you reassurance. If you find that a struggle, be a friend to you as you would for a friend. You wouldn’t agree with the negativity if it were someone else, so why would you do that with you.

What would you say to a small child who’s afraid of starting somewhere new? How would you reassure them? What is the reassurance you would have liked to receive when you were in new, unfamiliar and scary situations? Give that to you now.

What would you say to a friend?

Set a time limit. Fifteen minutes morning, afternoon and evening. You’ll soon find that you can’t indulge it for the entire time because you’re more aware of what you’re doing.

There’s no such thing as a human fraud. Unless I’ve missed something about you being a serial killer or that you’ve committed some other heinous crime, all you are is someone who is trying to make her way in the world doing something she enjoys and wants to get better at. You are not supposed to know the job inside out on the first day. It will take time to get to know people. But you have to start as you mean to go on by consciously managing your thoughts so that you don’t enter the place with an attitude of expecting everything to go wrong.

Take your time. Be friendly. Leave your old job in the past.

Write an Unsent Letter to your old co-workers.
Journal for at least 8 minutes when your thoughts get really busy – see 8-minute unload in the resources section.

Good luck, and congratulations. Incidentally, these are something you could do with saying to yourself.

Doubts about my flourishing relationship

I’ve been going back and forth understanding my emotions, the core of what I truly want and desire in a relationship. One that is flourishing, nurturing, passionate, happy and real. I am in a relationship with this guy who I can see a bright future, but there are doubts, there is an uneasy. It is always going to be those kinds of questions, but when I consider making a decision, I go back and forth. I justify things I think maybe because I want this relationship to work. I like this guy so much that I am maybe compromising what I truly want. But what if I am just being a perfectionist? Maybe overanalyzing? When do I draw the line and make a decision?

Nat’s Response

I think it’s always a good idea to compassionately (but firmly) interrogate thought processes like this.

You’ve been somewhat unhappy in your previous role and now have an opportunity to start afresh in a role that’s more suited to you in terms of passion and skill. Great. Sure, you haven’t started the job yet, but they’ve interviewed you, you’ve interviewed them, they’ve offered you the role, and you’ve accepted. To add to this, you were headhunted, so they did their homework and personally picked you as opposed to having a shedload of people apply for the role.

Now, sure, I don’t know the level of information that they used, but does it matter? You got the job.

It strikes me, though, that you have [temporarily] fallen into the trap of transferring the angst from the old job over to your new one before you’ve even started. Why? Does it feel safer to be unhappy and anxious? Are you afraid or uncomfortable about letting you be happy and take pride in your achievement? Are you afraid to give you permission to look forward to something?

Don’t you think that you’re also saying something about the headhunters? That they’re stupid or certainly incompetent.

If that’s true, why would you take the job, after all, that would contradict it being a role that you feel skilled for but also that you’re passionate about?

Sure, it’s not easy to start new anywhere, but why have you already made up your mind that they’re horrible people that are cliquey and exclude people?

Again, wouldn’t that contradict your reasons for having taken the job? Sure, you can’t know exactly how things will be until you start, but surely when you interviewed with the company, you got a sense of their ethos and vibe?

Truth is, you cannot expect to 1) get a new job or 2) start a new job without a level of anxiety. Even people who have lots of positive experiences to draw from or high confidence still feel anxious.

What you can expect to do is to 1) be your adult self and 2) parent your inner child.

So, rather than letting your thoughts run wild, parent you and give you reassurance. If you find that a struggle, be a friend to you as you would for a friend. You wouldn’t agree with the negativity if it were someone else, so why would you do that with you.

What would you say to a small child who’s afraid of starting somewhere new? How would you reassure them? What is the reassurance you would have liked to receive when you were in new, unfamiliar and scary situations? Give that to you now.

What would you say to a friend?

Set a time limit. Fifteen minutes morning, afternoon and evening. You’ll soon find that you can’t indulge it for the entire time because you’re more aware of what you’re doing.

There’s no such thing as a human fraud. Unless I’ve missed something about you being a serial killer or that you’ve committed some other heinous crime, all you are is someone who is trying to make her way in the world doing something she enjoys and wants to get better at. You are not supposed to know the job inside out on the first day. It will take time to get to know people. But you have to start as you mean to go on by consciously managing your thoughts so that you don’t enter the place with an attitude of expecting everything to go wrong.

Take your time. Be friendly. Leave your old job in the past.

Write an Unsent Letter to your old co-workers.
Journal for at least 8 minutes when your thoughts get really busy – see 8-minute unload in the resources section.

Good luck, and congratulations. Incidentally, these are something you could do with saying to yourself.

Read the emotional needs guide

Dealing with criticism while online dating

I recently had a few unpleasant experiences with online dating. After letting him know that I am no longer interested in continuing to chat, he launched a verbal attack. Something along the line of women are always so sensitive; maybe he should stop talking to under average women when more attractive women will be more interested in him. While I know that this says more about him than me, it is still difficult to not let it affect me. Another man accused me of having trust issues when I asked him about his current contact with his ex-wife. These incidences really put me off online dating. Do you have any advice about how to be more resilient to these sort of criticism?

Nat’s Response

Excuse my language, but what a shitbag to behave like that!

First of all, I do not blame you for being upset. He’s a bully and manipulative to boot. When you’ve called time on things, he’s done what some men do in this situation: intimidated you. This no doubt brings up painful feelings from the past because it’s not too dissimilar behaviour to that of your ex.

He has launched a direct attack, opting to do what someone like him always does in the situation: twist things to suit his agenda and pick at something that he suspects you’re insecure about: your appearance.

It’s not that you are “under average”; he is saying that you are to make it seem as if you are making a mistake by turning down a ‘catch’ like him when, wait for it, he’s not a catch. He’s carrying on like he’s doing you a favour, as if this is your last chance saloon and he parked ‘better’ opportunities to throw you a bone. No, he didn’t.

The thing is here is that, ironically, he’s mirroring something to you:

My spidey sense tells me that you lowered your standards in dating him. That you, on some level, behave, think and feel as if this is your last chance saloon.

Believe me when I say that he would not behave in the way that he has unless he felt rejected. That is what 100% of his subsequent behaviour has been about.

Note, also, that if he did that in this country, he could be cautioned by the police under the Malicious Communications Act, especially as you told him that you don’t want to speak any further and he’s also intimidating.

Re the man who said you have trust issues: this is one of those situations where there’s part truth to his comment, it’s just also that he’s manipulative as well.

For example: A friend of mine has been going out with a man who’s been separated from his wife for 2.5 years. They met when he was two years into the separation. They both have children, but she has opted not to meet his and stopped him from doing any more stuff with her children because she realised that no progress was being made on the divorce even though he said it was “in hand”. When she queried what was going on, especially since he keeps complaining about his ex, he said that my friend has “trust issues”.

Actually, that’s not what the issue is about: if she didn’t trust him, she wouldn’t have given him the grace to sort things out. But it’s a lot to expect someone to merge their life with yours while not communicating about what was going on. He hadn’t done anything. It’s like that line from Jerry Maguire — “Show me the money!” Show me the results. You say that you’re “working on things”, so tell me what you’ve been doing. Communicate.

Funny enough, suddenly he’s filed the papers.

In the case of your guy, it depends on how long you’ve been seeing each other. Asking someone you hardly know if they communicate with their ex-wife might be somewhat premature if you haven’t got to know each other enough yet. Context and content. If you don’t have the content, you can’t know the context. For instance, it would be very off to criticise someone for maintaining contact with the mother of their children and trying to co-parent in a harmonious way.

And, actually, it would be better for you to own it: Yes, I hold my hands up. I do have trust issues about being involved with someone who is still emotionally entangled with their ex. I apologise if my question came out abruptly. That wasn’t my intention, but I’m sure you can also appreciate that most people would be uncomfortable with someone they’re dating still being involved with their ex. I guess the question you have to ask yourself is why does me asking what is a straight-forward question mean that I have trust issues? Surely, it’s a yes or no answer.

So, the reason why he answered in that way is because he’s somewhat defensive about his relationship with her and, ironically, has trust issues himself.

I think that most people take criticism somewhat personally until they 1) assess what’s actually being said and 2) recognise where the person is coming from.

“No, I’m not being too sensitive. I’ve had enough experience with people who make comments like this to know that we are not a match. I wish you well.” And block.

People who make generalisations about people and say stuff about being “too sensitive” when pulled up about their actions, are never the right person for you.

The key to the resilience is to accept what they’re doing instead of arguing against it or judging you, and flush fast. Don’t debate with strangers. You haven’t got that kind of time.

November

How to healthily manage my desires when I want to be The Best?

My question is about how to healthily manage a want when it’s closely linked to one’s self-worth. For me, this is being “the best” at work. I went through a rough time in 2017 when my supervisor told me I have no talent for what I do and should try something else. I spent the last two years obsessively honing my skills, entered graduate school, and transferred projects, and am now the youngest tech lead at the company and manage a small research team. Basically, my initial dream and surpassing everyone’s expectations. I appreciate it, but my professional success comes at the cost of my needs (personal time, relationships). I’m scared to step it down because it’ll mean being “back there” in 2017 when I thought I didn’t have what it takes and lost a lot of self-confidence. Thank you for your insight!

Nat’s Response

If your self-worth is linked to being the best at work, it’s not because that’s a want or a fact but because it’s a habit. Long before you ever set foot in this job, you learned to believe that your worth was attached to how well you perform, how hard you work and being the best. Of course, when we’re ’The Best’ it means that we don’t have to deal with inferiority because we’re technically superior until someone comes along and outdoes us. 
But surely we are a worthy person even if we’re not The Best In The Office TM or The Best At Our Job TM?
Where did you learn to think, feel and behave in this way?
Who told and taught you that you have no worth unless you’re burning yourself out, top of the class and breaking records? Who are you trying to impress? Whose attention, affection, approval, love and validation are you still trying to get?
When your supervisor told you that you “have no talent for what you do and should try something else”, aside from that naturally being very upsetting and downright insulting, it must have been triggering. It prodded and poked at something from the past that flared up. This life plan you had suddenly felt like it was in jeopardy, and these always connect to the ego, so on some level, you must have felt like these words were the death of you. This is something that the ego fears — not literal death per se, but the death of the image and everything it’s striving for to win, be right and have power. 
So here you are two years on, and you’ve basically set fire to what your supervisor said. Bearing in mind that your supervisor is 1) human, 2) not good or a higher power or even Judge Judy, and 3) probably a man or certainly someone with enough bias, privilege and entitlement to actually think that they could speak that way to someone, hasn’t it occurred to you that they were clearly wrong?
Whatever they said though, it fired you up. You went off and gave them the proverbial two fingers and have basically hit your goal. You are certainly a more experienced, educated and talented person as a result of the knock back, and that’s great, as long as what you are striving for is what you want. Frankly, doing things for the sake of being The Best is a never-ending treadmill. You will be forever insecure, you won’t internalise accomplishments and achievements, and you will always be on to the next thing.
Who are you trying to be better then? What is the purpose of this all? When you’re burnt out but a professional success, are you going to feel like a successful, fulfilled, happy person?
You clearly have what it takes. Why do you give a sh*t about the opinion of somebody who aside from being wrong, their feedback is irrelevant? At one point do you go, ‘Actually, I am this and this, I’ve done this and that, and I’m really proud of myself for overcoming adversity to be where I am today’?
You’ve not only surpassed everyone else’s expectations — again, who are these people? Are they really that important? Will they matter in five years time?— but you’ve also surpassed your own. Any work you do from here on out is ultimately of your own creation even if and when you have bosses involved. Your approach to it will come down to what drives you: insecurity or genuine love of what you do. And if it’s not the latter, you will hate the job soon enough and possibly not like yourself. 
I get that what the supervisor did was shitty, but it’s time to acknowledge that you are beyond that now. I would also take the time to consider who and what are behind your drive to succeed in this way. Self-confidence is about whether you consider you to be a worthwhile and valuable person. There are people who are brilliant at what they do, but it doesn’t make much difference even when others praise them because they don’t value themselves beyond chasing the next thing to be The Best at. 
Talk to your peers. Find out what they do in their life. Talk to your bosses. Would you be happy to be any of these people personally and professionally? If not, they’re showing you who you will be if they don’t take care of themselves or are chasing ego. 
And I would also consider whether the job is a cover for avoiding something that you might not want to do at the moment: be in a relationship. I think the more honest you can be about these things, is the better you can take care of you.
Dating a real person vs. representative

I recently recalled something that I heard a bunch as a young adult: you never date a real person, you date their representative. That is, you date who they want you to think they are. How does this square with dating while working on your issues? Based on what I was told, isn’t it true that if you don’t show your real self from the start, including your insecurities, anger, etc., then you are being a representative and not the real self? I think I’m confused and worried this phrase would apply to ME if I’m going out in the world as someone who doesn’t immediately let all of their flaws show. Realistically, I know it doesn’t make sense to think that because no one in their right mind would show everything without fixing up their personality a little bit. But I’m having trouble figuring out how to reconcile being a person who is earnestly working on themselves and presenting themselves to the world in the best light but NOT being a person who is simply a “representative” in order to impress people. Can you help reconcile? Or perhaps I just should really let go of what I was told and not try to reconcile?

Nat’s Response

This reminds me of one of my all-time favourite quotes by Chris Rock that I’ve used again and again on the blog on the podcast. In fact, it might be where you heard it:
‘When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them, you’re meeting their representative.’
I think something that the overwhelming majority of humans don’t realise is this:
We are all working on our issues, whether we are aware of it or not. 
Sure, some of us are proactively not just dealing with our issues but also aware of them, whereas some folk have low awareness, but they’re still, through the process and nature of life, being prodded at to work on their issues. Every situation we get into, both good and not-so-good does something to an issue. Of course, the less aware we are, the more likely we are to add to issues rather than take away. 
In an ideal world, everyone who is pursuing or in a relationship would be doing some level of active work on themselves, so basically, there is no issue with you doing it. It’s not as if you’re suspending who you are or putting on a costume. You are you, and you also happen to be working on some stuff. The two things can co-exist. 
Where ‘working on something’ can pose an issue of representation is where somebody misrepresents themselves. Like when someone basically puts on a show and holds all of their shizzle together for several weeks or a few months, or until a big stressor hits. But that’s what getting to know someone is about. 
I don’t know that people just walk out there and “let their flaws show”. What would that even mean? Sure, people over-exaggerate or flat-out make up flaws, and they underplay or outright deny the existence of other flaws. It’s a date. People unfold, and so you don’t need to present receipts for your so-called flaws: you just need to go on the date and do your best to relax and enjoy yourself. Remember, also, that you’re only focusing on what you deem as flaws, whereas someone else might not see those as flaws, or they won’t regard them as flaws but then focus on something else. Basically, you’re trying to control the uncontrollable.
There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward. That’s not fake. It also doesn’t mean that if you, for example, fart a few weeks later or whatever, that you were being fake. It’s relative to where you are at. People do behave differently in stranger situations, just like people behave differently when they think no one is watching, or when they think that they won’t see the person again. 
Representation is something all humans do to some degree. The key is to notice what you do to impress people, and then try to get grounded or even dial it down. Again though, even if you were, for instance, a chatterbox that started listing off their accomplishments, something a friend does when she’s nervous, that wouldn’t mean you were fake. But if every time you went out with someone, you did this, then it would point to the fact that you hadn’t relaxed yet and were still trying to come across as someone. 
I don’t know that there’s anything to reconcile. You just be and tweak as you go by learning from those instances where you come away from stuff and think, ‘Hmm, that was a bit weird!’
How to stop mentally beating myself up

So the thing is, I *know* that often others expectations of me are unreasonable for me and my bandwidth and where I am within myself at this time. However, knowing that is not stopping me from judging myself to be a failure by not meeting their expectations. Now that in itself might not be such a problem. However, it has got way out of hand, with me constantly telling myself that I can’t do anything right, mainly because I can’t do everything perfectly, control everything and also because when I am not meeting things in the way I would like to, I want to give up. Declare life and everything pointless and continue to give me the hardest of times and get depressed. I really cannot carry on like this and wonder why I have got so bad recently……. The net result at the minute is I am avoiding things I used to enjoy/get something from because I am terrified of any more conflict/criticism from myself and others but also because I am worn down. Then beating me up for the avoidance as well. I realise this is a vicious circle, but I seem incapable of not so doing at the minute.

Nat’s Response

Sending you a big cuddle. 

I suspect that if you retrace your steps, an event, or possibly a couple of them have, as such, set you off. They’ve triggered a thought and fear process where it’s as if they’ve reaffirmed something you’d maybe started to think that you don’t believe, but then it happened, and now you’re like, ’See, you’re not a good person!’ Or, ’See, you don’t deserve X!’

On some level, you feel guilty about something, and now you’re trying to pay it off with your misery and giving you a hard time. It’s like if you suffer, if you keep berating you for not meeting someone else’s story that they’ve painted in their mind which is based on their stuff, not you, then you can pay off the guilt you feel about something else. Part of you maybe doesn’t feel as if you have a right to be happy, and so you’re ensuring that you’re not. 

But I also think that some of your response is about your hurt about your own expectations. Life is a funny bugger, and so the things that piss us off about others always point back in some way, shape or form to something that we ourselves are grappling with. A sense of unfairness, maybe? Possibly angry about how someone else disappointed you that’s been internalised as a failure on your part?

 

Is it possible, also, that you’re being mad at you about something that you deep down don’t want to actually do?

 

So, I know you work with that overbearing woman. For argument’s sake, let’s say that she’s one of the people:

I’m 99.9% certain that you don’t actually want to be or do what she wants. It’s highly likely that you consider some or a lot of the stuff she thinks and does as unreasonable. You have very different values, and while you try to be patient and empathetic, she does wear down your last nerve with her antics. 

Have you acknowledged that some of the things that you think (or know) others expect of you are things that you don’t want to be or do? Meeting their expectations wouldn’t make you happier, and I don’t think it would change them, either. 

You’re not a bad person because you haven’t met someone’s expectations. We are supposed to be disappointed so that in those instances where we are not taking responsibility for ourselves, where we’re projecting onto or even manipulating others, we basically get back in our own lane. They are just expectations, not court orders, not the truth, not how things have to be. Sometimes all someone needs out of a situation is a clear no so that they come back to reality and stop deluding themselves. 

I happen to know some of the things that folk have expected of you, and they were deluded! And it’s their prerogative to be, and yeah, maybe they did throw their toys out of the pram afterwards, but it doesn’t change the fact that their expectations of you were way off base. 

And what does “in the way I would like to” mean? Write it down. Bring it out of your head into the open. Are you asking a lot of you? Write down twenty people you know. Do each and every one of them meet expectations at the level you expect you to?

You have got into the habit of being critical. Spend more than a week or so doing something again and again, especially if it’s in similar situations, and you will create a habit. The thoughts and feelings will pop up automatically like a recording because, well, your nervous system has recorded all of your stress responses throughout life, but your subconscious is filing away events. 

Let’s say that every Tuesday when you go to the school club, you feel anxious and there’s chatter in the background about that woman, or you’re criticising you, do that a couple of times, and that’s been recorded, and you will do it almost automatically. You will feel anxious because of what you know you’ve already been through in that circumstance. 

Acknowledge that it’s ‘pre-recorded’. You are stressed and anxious about this because you have already been stressed and anxious, not necessarily because you actually are in that moment. 

Try the anxiety exercise in the mini masterclasses. 

Have a few sessions with a grief counsellor until you’re feeling a bit more yourself. Expectations and disappointment go hand in hand, which means that each time you experience disappointment, that’s felt as a loss. Loss is loss, so it trips on grief. Make it a priority to book some sessions in with a grief counsellor asap. 

I would also go along to the things you normally enjoy anyway. When you hear the criticism, say “Hello [name]”. Give it a name. Make it separate to you. 

The repeater lesson

I took two steps forward to take one step back. Let go of Florida guy, but deep down still hopeful. We didn’t talk for two months. I fly out to Florida to visit cousin & manipulated/controlled situation where I posted a pic of me in Orlando in WhatsApp & he saw it and text right away. I saw him, nothing sexual, wonderful time. I wanted answers, told me I was wife material, but he couldn’t give me that. Wanted me a part of his life, but just wanted to start off as friends. We spoke business/family etc.. and oh hell no I wasn’t having the friend thing so he can go sleep with his women and have his cake too. Started to get anxiety on how often we would talk again. I felt like I already gave you two months away, anyways same answer: he didn’t want commitment. I finally had somewhat of enough. We had a serious conversation on the phone, said he’d call me back, but didn’t as usual, and I went off! This is why we are working on confidence-building in therapy. I called and text this man, he ghosted basically, never a response. This was a week ago.

I posted a quote on WhatsApp, and he had the nerve to view it as we both know we can damn well see that, now he’s playing games and this time I’ve had enough. I blocked him on WhatsApp. I journal all the time now. I realize the hurt that’s coming up for me, is not from him but past baggage. I’ll be good one part of the day and the other I’m leaning into the hurt. Definitely set me back in therapy for a few weeks, but it’s okay. It’s like I needed to see him again to kill the hope because I was sitting here truly feeling bad for him, all along he’s probably with other women. And I get that he doesn’t want to commit and I was the one pursuing so I’m working on letting the universe know I am willing to learn how to let go of control and learn how to trust.

Nat’s Response

Ack! Don’t assume that this is all about ‘other women’ because that’s not the facts, and it’s the stuff you’re adding into the mix that’s causing you a great deal of pain. Here are the facts:

You met someone a couple of months or so back on a trip. It was intense, you clicked, and even though you knew it was far-fetched, you hoped to try and turn this into something.

He told you that he’d lost a parent, that a first anniversary was coming up (am paraphrasing here), that there was a lot of stuff going on, and basically that he did not have the bandwidth for a relationship.

Initially, even though you heard him, you weren’t listening. Because you had that brief time, plus you had some feelings, plus you likely felt more attached to the idea of being with him now that you knew it was unlikely and that there was a lot of things/people to compete with and be #1.

Your anxiety increased. Push came to shove, and he told you what you already knew and what he’d said/hinted at: he can’t give you what you want.

Fast-forward to recently, and you send a smoke signal to catch his attention.

Bearing in mind that you first on a short vacay, on some level, you knew that you being in town would mean that you were likely to see him. It’s short, just like the previous trip, so he doesn’t have to be Mr Boyfriend.

You hang out and have a great time. Maybe you feel validated by the fact that he tripped over himself to hang out.

He reiterates how wonderful you are but that he cannot give you what you want.

You have a serious conversation on the phone. Given that you’re 1) not in a relationship, 2) relative strangers and 3) the conversation will seem disproportionate to you being on a short trip, and what he’s already said, it’s a conversation that couldn’t go anywhere. So, he didn’t text because there isn’t anything else he can say.

I’m not saying that going silent was an ‘ideal’ move, but what has taken place over the last few months would suggest that you were not going to accept what he said. Even if he is shagging every woman in town, it doesn’t change his situation. You are 1) asking a lot of him to cancel his grief, whatever problems he has and basically start something with you, and 2) asking a lot of yourself.

Of all the guys in all the land, why do you want to be with the one that doesn’t live in the same area code and who has a boatload of problems sapping his bandwidth and his ability to be in a relationship?

No, he can’t tease you with friendship. It’s not what you want. You barely know each other as well.

I want to stress: even if you disagree with the way he’s gone about things, which means you’d need to acknowledge how you’ve gone about things, his reasons are his reasons. Yes, you can be empathetic and compassionate enough to recognise that grief and turmoil does a number on a person. You like him. He’s not some ‘baddie’. But feeling bad for someone doesn’t mean trying to force yourself into his life as if you can be the solution to why he (or you) feel bad.

And nothing good ever comes of manipulated situations because the energy is all wrong.

Just because this hasn’t gone how you think it should have, it doesn’t mean that you’re ‘wrong’.

Accept what he has said to you so that you can tell your body and mind the truth and move forward.

Keep going with the therapy. There’s no ’setback’; just progress in disguise.

Is my intuition true and real or is it just my insecurities?

I am dating a guy who I adore so much for a little bit over a year now. He is a little bit shady sometimes, but I made it known, and after that conversation, he started making more effort with his communication. However, there will be times where I would feel so strongly that he is talking with other women and that he is seeing somebody else. We see each other every weekend pretty much, we work together for the same company, but currently at different projects about 4 hours away from each other. Since we are not always together, if he doesn’t call or have done something outside the normal, I immediately think he is cheating. I feel very immature, I don’t want him to keep reassuring me, but I don’t know why I have these thoughts and is this a sign that I need to end the relationship? How do I know my intuition is telling me something or when to follow my gut, or maybe I am just insecure?

Nat’s Response

Truth be told, I think that it’s a bit of both.
The insecurity/fear bit is when you don’t hear from him, or he’s out of sync with what you believe is your established pattern, and you go “Arghhhhh! I think he’s cheating on me!”
At that time, you are experiencing a mix of anxiety and maybe some intuition that something is off, and then you pile in with the story that he’s cheating.
Now, part of the problem here is that you’re going out with somebody who is “a little bit shady”. What does that mean? Half-shady, a quarter-shady? Now, of course you can’t quantify it, but you noticing this about him and continuing to be with him does mean that on some level, you know that there’s a distinct possibility that he’s being shady with you. 
I encourage you to put down on paper exactly what it was that made you believe and feel that he is shady, especially anything that you’ve called him out on, and he’s appeared to make some more effort. 
Go through your list, and try to summarise what that specific thing told you or implied about his character, his relationship values or anything else. 
For example, and this is a very common one I seem to hear about from clients and members of late:
He might be someone who lies about things. Maybe it’s work experience that he puts on his CV. And then you think, Well, everyone does that, and I can see where you’re coming from. So you carry on, but then you notice that he lies and omits with friends and family, so now you are seeing a pattern, and it’s not about villainising the person, but when you summarise it, you learn this:
He’s prepared to lie to get what he wants and/or to gain an advantage over others in certain circumstances. 
He tells people what he thinks they want to hear or what suits him. 
This means that in situations where he thinks that it might create conflict or criticism, or where it might endanger him getting what he wants, he is likely to lie. If he keeps rationalising it rather than recognising how it might create an integrity and intimacy issue in his relationship, including yours, then he will keep thinking that there are good reasons to fudge things. 
So, go through your list and try to home in on the overarching themes. Is there a pattern? Does that pattern have anything to do with what alarm bells ring when you don’t hear from him?
Now, speaking of that: it is a problem that one year into your relationship, you’re on enough of a precipice still that him not calling when you think he’s supposed to send you spiralling. It’s also a problem that in order to feel safe and secure in the relationship, you basically need him to do those things. Now, that’s not because consistency is a bad thing — quite the opposite—but your reliance on him doing these is based on the question marks you have over his head about his character. On some level, you are not sure about the relationship, his intentions or just straight-up what he’s up to. 

Is it a sign that you need to end the relationship? Possibly, but what’s actually a sign of is trust issues. In order to proceed, the source of the trust issues, which isn’t in your imagination, needs to be resolved. If despite his reassurances, you can’t shake off the feeling plus he continues to show the same things, trust you, not what he claims. All things will become clear. 

Trust is something that we need in order to avail of benefits and resources that we couldn’t under other circumstances. 
If you are anxious about whether you can trust somebody, you already have your answer: you don’t. 
They’ve either earned your trust, but this hasn’t been computed, or they haven’t earned your trust but it also hasn’t been computed. 
Add to your list with your answers to these questions:
What am I afraid to ask him?
What am I pretending not to already know?
The thing(s) that I keep telling myself is/are in my imagination or that it’s “not that big of a deal” is/are _______________.
 
This is one of those situations where it’s not one or the other: it’s both. 

 

Health and Relationship

I’ve suffered from IBS for at least 15 years now. It has overshadowed my teen years and early adulthood. My IBS has brought about very embarrassing symptoms that are awkward in a social setting. I am unable to talk to people without getting a strong negative reaction (and I don’t blame them). While I can manage most of my symptoms, this one won’t go away. It has caused immense heartache for me. As a 28-year-old, I would love to get into a relationship, meet someone and settle down. I have approached numerous physicians, naturopaths and herbalists to sort this problem out w/o a breakthrough. It’s hard to keep going with any diet plans after this many years. I recently noticed someone on a dating app that I’m interested in approaching but haven’t got the courage to because of this issue. Any words of advice would be useful in my impossible situation. Thanks in advance.

Nat’s Response

I struggled with IBS without knowing what it is. I found that mine flared up with deadlines, anxiety about, for example, family events, or sometimes feeling overwhelmed due to juggling too much. I just thought I had a ’sensitive’ stomach. It was only when I read a friend’s Facebook post about how she went for hypnotherapy because she’d failed her driving test two or three times and how she suffered with a dodgy tummy for very similar stuff to me, and she called it IBS, that a lightbulb went on. I went for hypnotherapy, something I’d never imagined I’d do before that, and within a week, I realised that it had taken effect because I had my daughter’s birthday party and all the organising with that, and I was fine. That actually lasted about three years, and then I had another session because my stomach was acting up again, and it settled. 
So, that’s one option. 
Generally speaking now, when I have an upset tummy, it’s because I’ve eaten something dodge or time of the month. However, I do still have occasional one-off intense episodes. I can live with that, because it’s not a few times a week like it was all of those years ago, and I’ve noticed a pattern to it — certain types of seafood, white fish like cod, ’too much’ dairy (I don’t have much dairy but I can only tolerate a certain amount before strong pains kick in within 24 hours). 
So, next option: keep, not just a food diary, but a feelings/day data diary with it too. Note how much sleep you’re getting, if there’s been anything about the day that would be considered ‘stressful’ — you will see a pattern. If you have an episode, write down as much information about the day as possible. I tend to have a bout a few days after spending a lot of time with family….
I have also had a number of sessions with an osteopath, and that also made a difference because some things were ‘out of place’. My husband went, and years of a problem with digestion and the like calmed down. 
I wouldn’t let IBS stand in the way of you being in a relationship. A hell of a lot of people have it, they just don’t necessarily know that that’s what it is. They just think that they have funny bowel movements or whatever. 
I don’t blame you for feeling stressed by the diet plans. After a colonoscopy and endoscopy earlier this summer just to make sure that there isn’t an underlying ‘medical’ reason for why my stomach does what it does, it was recommended that I work with a dietician. I declined. 
Lifestyle, so managing stress levels and becoming really self-aware is key to managing the symptoms. As I said, I still have bouts, but they are dramatically down.
Use episodes of IBS to acknowledge where, even if you don’t think it should, your body is having a stress response. Bearing in mind that your nervous system has recorded everything you’ve been through and how you’ve responded, it’s very possible that your body is, in some instances, misinterpreting signals because it is highly stressed. Doing things to calm it down like journaling, sun salutations, meditation, managing stressful elements of your life, breathing exercises, help to reset some of the body responses and calm down the stress hormone levels in your system. It’s also important not to criticise you when you have an episode because your body is recording that too and it’s adding to the stress in the body. 
I have some tips here about using journaling to figure out your personal wellness formula — just substitute tinnitus with IBS. 
The tips here, although about tinnitus, most apply to IBS. 
You can do this. I wholly empathise, and remember feeling much the same way myself. Don’t be secretive about it. I have a friend who was/is going through it. We talk about it a lot, but she was going on holiday with a group of people, most of who she didn’t know. She was so stressed about her IBS, and eventually she broke and told them in a text what she’s struggling with. Three other people in the group also said they had it and that they too had been worrying about the holiday. It’s good to talk. 
Where to start becoming more available and knowing myself better.

I started listening to you in April or so on your podcast when I was going through a breakup with a narcissist. I have grown so much since then. I started dating in sept with a guy that I met off of tinder. I also have ADD that diagnosed recently in adulthood. I get overwhelmed and cluttered very easily and realized that I spend the majority of my time daydreaming rather than living and experiencing life. I am discovering through dating this guy that I am feeling anxious on and off, and I feel that I NEED to know his intentions. But I am hesitant to bring anything up because I know that it is based on fear and feeling out of control. So I want to continue getting to know this guy while simultaneously working on myself and not losing myself in the process. Where would you suggest I start? You have so much wonderful information, but I feel so overwhelmed and information overloaded. He seems like a great guy so far, and I only want to bring up the talk when I am ready and for certain and not because I feel he has picked me or out of fear.

Nat’s Response

I think that you’ve already identified something that’s crucial to your inner peace even though you will still likely think about it:
You want to know what his intentions are, but you also know that part of recognising what his intentions are is about noticing who he is as a person and what you are co-creating together as well as having a conversation.
But the thing I always say to people is that it is fine to want to get a gauge of how they want to proceed because it is important to clarify when you’re a month, two, three or so down the road, what you’re doing. Someone, for example, might feel that things are going really well and that they’re each only with each other, and the other party might feel the same. Or, they might feel similarly but want something different.
All that said though, you’ve got to want to know for the right reasons: Asking because you’re anxious and you’d prefer that someone tries to predict the future rather than you show up and be vulnerable, isn’t the right reason.
Asking because even though there might be a little anxiety, you actually want to know to clarify that you’re on the same page and establish what your relationship is, is very different.
A relationship without direction has no purpose or aim. If there’s any ambiguity about what you’re both doing or a lot of it is working off broad assumptions, the intimacy levels are lower than you need them to be, so closing that gap is vital so that you both know where you stand.
You also need to clarify with yourself what you needing to know “his intentions” means. Do you want to know if you’re in a relationship or whether he’s ready to start one? Are you asking him whether he intends to marry you or how he sees the future playing out? Do you want him to tell you if you’re The One or whether he’s planning to screw you over? What is it that you mean? If it’s any of the latter few, given that you don’t feel comfortable broaching tricky topics or admitting that you are anxious, that’s a sign in and of itself that it’s a bit fast out the gate to want to know what his future intentions are.
And to be fair, people can tell you their intentions, but they will still need to be backed up by actions. What they can’t tell you, however, is what the future will be like.
The way not to lose yourself when getting to know someone is to be conscious of your intentions: why you are doing something you’re doing. All of us are acting with intention, but many of us aren’t conscious of ours, and when we’re not, this leads to very different outcomes than when we are aware.
This is why I said that you need to decipher why you need to know even if part of you is anxious. 
But if you are anxious, it’s also about where that’s coming from: the past and/or something about the relationship or what he’s doing that’s ringing the alarm?
So, where to start:
Keep a Feelings Diary (foundational resources in the membership). Especially with your recent diagnosis, this will help you to feel more grounded.
Get clear about what needs are with the attached guide about emotional needs.
Then do the work in the What’s Driving You? Guide, and then read the follow-up guide afterwards (the Take Care of You one). Both are in the foundational resources.
You might benefit from listening to The Anxiety Sessions and The Intuition Sessions in the membership (they’re listed on the main page of the membership at the top.
Dating after turning 40

I am currently putting myself out there again via online dating. I have met a few men who are divorced with kids. Due to their bad experiences with divorce, they seem to have lost trust in women. Given my previous experience with an ex who was a misogynist, any mention of their ex-wife being mentally unstable or too demanding made me feel uncomfortable. I am not sure whether it is because I am too sensitive to this. In fact, one of them told me that he will need to do his due diligence on his future partner before marrying and think carefully whether she is the right person to have kids with due to the mistake with his ex in the past. I can’t help but feel frustrated that due to not being partnered up at my age, I have to ‘suffer’ the consequences/ punishment of what their ex have done to them (i.e. them losing trust on women and I have to work hard earn their trust).

Having turned 40 this month and the ticking biological clock doesn’t help as it increases my anxiousness of being single.

Do you have any advice for me on this?

Nat’s Response

Welcome to the forties! It feels bumpy, but it turns out to be marvellous once you realise how the bumpiness is getting rid of a lot of stuff that you don’t need. 

To be honest with you, everyone needs to do the due diligence of taking their time to get to know someone and being conscious, aware and present enough to understand the relationship they’re co-creating. Has he put it crudely? Absolutely. Is he talking about due diligence in a way that sounds like he’s starting a FBI investigation? For sure. But the truth is, if we don’t use what we’ve [hopefully] positively learned from past experiences to be more discerning and make better choices in our future relationships, that keeps us stuck. 
Again, I’m not saying that his approach isn’t somewhat crass, but show me someone who isn’t being or doing something because of their ex or some past experiences, and you’ll be showing me an alien. 
How you are approaching things, who you date, what you think your options are: your own language suggests that you are punishing yourself because of what your ex did. 
As is the way with life, the things that annoy us about others always point back to something in us. It’s not that you’re doing it the same as him, but if his attitude bothers you and you see it as being punished, then it also needs to bother you that you’ve been punishing you. Your own attitude to men and relationships whenever you generalise or think negatively of someone or you because of your own views or experiences. So, as annoying as he might be, he’s doing you a favour by showing you this aspect in yourself. 
I also don’t know why someone wouldn’t certainly take a bit more time and think carefully if they already have children. I don’t know that it’s all punitive as such. But I also think that some of these comments suggest that they are not over their relationship. It doesn’t mean that they want to get back with their ex, but they are emotionally, mentally, legally or financially tied enough to their ex that it impacts how they show up. And this is OK. You know what that’s like. It’s not something that needs to be taken personally. 
I think that without listening or asking questions, then you can’t really know where someone is coming from with comments about an ex’s stability. What they’re saying may be true. For some, it might not. I think that language like “too demanding” would suggest that this person doesn’t have enough self-awareness to understand the real reasons why the relationship broke down. They’re putting down the woman having needs. I think that if you feel uncomfortable with the way that someone is talking about an ex, especially when 1) they share children with this person and 2) you barely know them, walk away. Not every man with children hates their ex. Plenty love their children and respect the mother of their children even though the relationship hasn’t worked. 
And I should make clear: it doesn’t matter what age you are, you could have the same issue. That is not a forty-year-old problem. Granted, we might experience it more as we age, but there are plenty of people who’ve experienced that in their twenties and thirties. I certainly wouldn’t let any of these men define all men. Weed out, flush fast, move on. If you are sincere in your desire to be in a relationship and have children, you haven’t really got time to brood on people who are not a match for you. They quite simply didn’t get past the equivalent of the first or second interview. More on that here
Friendship always difficult for me

How do you know if you are the problem or if it’s the people I am drawn to? I’ve fallen out with a 4th friend last week. 4 friends that 5 years ago were my ride or dies. Friendships ranging from 10 to 20 years. One by one, I have fallen out with all because I created new boundaries that I feel they have overstepped. This then creates tension. How could I have had so many unworkable friendships? You hear about people falling out with one or two friends when they start to heal and grow (like I feel I am) but not all of them. I feel like maybe I’m the toxic one. Maybe my boundaries are as unfair as these friends say they are. Maybe I am being unaccepting. One friend accused me of silencing and censoring him when he brought up a subject that we disagree on and said I didn’t want to talk about it (because we were going around in circles and it was uncomfortable). I’ve felt very lonely this week. Very much like there’s something wrong with me or with my way of thinking. These four friends all have loads of other friends, and that’s making me feel like it must be me that’s the problem here.

Nat’s Response

I think you’re being very hard on you. 

This. Isn’t about you being a difficult person to be friends with. 
Who were you ten years ago? Who were you twenty years ago? Who were they?
It’s very possible that these friendships have relied on you staying how you were all that time ago, and that’s always going to be a problem because it means that you can’t grow. 
You clearly don’t have a problem making friends: you had four ride-or-dies. Some people struggle to have one, and certainly many struggle to hold on to the same ride-or-dies with the exact same relationship throughout their lives. And, actually, there are plenty of people who have all of their friendships go into freefall when they start working on themselves. Hell, I’ve seen people’s friendships go to the wall simply because they lost a load of weight. 
At the end of the day though, you isolating your situation as an anomaly and comparing it to others isn’t helpful. 
Some people are very uncomfortable with being told that something isn’t okay. Their first reaction in these instances is double down into the behaviour because on some level, they feel ashamed, likely because it’s something they are aware of, but also because of what you drawing your line appears to say about them. It is 100% okay for these people to feel uncomfortable. No, it’s not ideal if they escalate it into something else, but how they’ve responded is based on their stuff, their baggage. If all of their friendships rely on them always having the last word and never being called out, why would you be the exception?
They might feel that your boundaries are unfair, but they’re your boundaries. Just like they have expressed their discomfort, and you are uncomfortable with them basically saying that it’s not okay to point out something you don’t like, that’s their boundaries. They might be dodgy ones, but they’re theirs. 
It’s also too much to expect to be friends with people for such a long time, to never have said anything before, and to then expect that now that you’ve said something and clearly drawn your boundary that they go, “Thanks so much! I’ll fix up now!”
How many times in these friendships have you been honest?
How many times have you expressed discomfort, clearly and honest?
How many times have you basically asserted a boundary?
If any of those numbers are less than double digits, and given the length of the friendship and you saying they were ride-or-dies, you’d expect it to be triple digits, you have your answer as to why all four have behaved that way. 
Your friend who said you were censoring him: you were not. He’s not entitled to talk about whatever he wants with you regardless of your discomfort or you going around in circles. You were tired of talking about it, and he wasn’t. All you’re doing is doing what you already were – disagreeing. So you agree to disagree. You don’t need to agree with him, and he doesn’t need to agree with you. 
I would also, however, question whether you’ve fallen out. Isn’t it possible that there’s an awkward period? Why does them not agreeing with you have to spell the end of the friendship? Is that your assessment of things, or have they said that it’s the end of the friendship? If things are awkward between you, that’s coming from both sides. Someone has to reach out. And it doesn’t mean that you won’t have to assert a boundary again in future. 
It doesn’t matter if these people have “lots of friends”. You have no idea if those people have issues with the same friends, and you don’t know the breadth and depth of those friendships. 
What you need to decide is what kind of friendship you want to have? If you’re cool with remaining friends but just not bothering to broach certain subjects, it will just mean that you’re not close friends. You will spend time with them, but you will cultivate other friendships where the boundaries are more fluid.

October

Standing up for myself and recognising my value

I was in a barely-there casual fling relationship. After meeting the guy four months ago, I became infatuated and started fantasizing about us together. He was pursuing me hard until our third date, during which I was completely ‘in love’ but self-sabotaged due to thinking he didn’t like me and ended up feeling rejected while rejecting him simultaneously. The fourth and fifth date I made happen, and he took me to his home on the fourth, but I didn’t want to sleep with him yet. He was away for a month, and we barely had any contact, if at all it was because I had contacted him first. When he returned we had a super short WhatsApp conversation and a fun back and forth when he finally asked me whether I was in city A or B. But I didn’t respond, only three days later saying I was neither at A nor B. He sent me a picture of his fireplace and said autumn had arrived. When I told him I was coming home, he said he was going to be in my city but only shortly and never asked me out. I got so upset that I sent him a letter telling him that I had ended my engagement only a couple of weeks before meeting him and that I wasn’t really interested in dating anyone but that he was so charming and funny that he managed to get me to go out with him. I also said that I felt that our conversation was lacking any substance and that I didn’t want to play games. I said that I was writing this letter because I wanted to be honest and open, especially since I liked and respected him. I told him that I hope we could be friends and have a good time together should we run into each other and wished him all the best.

Ever since then, he hasn’t contacted me again, which is what I was hoping for because the breadcrumbing was hurting me so much. I still get into self-blame for having done that despite feeling so attracted to him and basically ruining the chances of us getting together. At the same time, I feel like I spoke up for myself and showed my value and wanted to be treated with care, trust, love and respect. He didn’t even take the time to say a simple ‘ok’ or ‘wish you well, too’ which sucks but also shows that he was not the right man for me, I believe, because if he truly liked me and cared he would be coming after me, right? How do I resist the urge to apologize for my letter to him and send him love poems? I’ve been limerent for four months now.

Nat’s Response

I think that if you sent him love poems when the last contact you had was the letter you sent, and the previous interactions were confusing and very highs and lows given the relatively short period of time, that he would feel incredibly confused.
Also, what exactly would you be apologising for?
Isn’t it true that you ended your engagement two weeks before meeting him?
Isn’t it true that you found the relationship painful and confusing?
Apologising for the letter, like the love poems, would be incredibly confusing and would also say all of the wrong things about you.
The apologising isn’t because you are actually sorry that you sent that letter but because you want to re-enter the fantasy bubble with this guy. But you can’t. It’s like trying to put a chicken back into an egg.
That doesn’t mean that you should now be mad at you because you sent the letter — you did yourself a solid favour there, even if you can’t see that right now.
There’s something else that this man would find confusing or would certainly read as a red flag:
The intensity. Now, some people would read it and see it as a green light to mess with you. But the intensity suggests that there is a fantasy, but also that this isn’t really about him.
You have been triggered by your involvement with him. This has activated you. 
The combination of the broken engagement and wanting somewhere to put what may be some very painful and confusing feelings plus wanting to escape plus his behaviour plus how you are behaving plus anything else that is going on in your life that you, for example, want to avoid, has been very activating for you. 
Being pursued hard like he was in the very early stages is a code red alert. The fact that he backed off on the third date just underscores this. It’s tactical, even if he won’t admit it. He switched things up on you and so now when you thought that he was super interested to suddenly being indifferent or certainly appearing less interested than he was before, that perceived slight, the perceived rejection triggered you. Suddenly you were now invested in this total stranger. You were infatuated with him because he’d indicated to you that he was ‘powerful’ simply by snatching the rug from under your feet.
Were you really in love on the third date? Or were you in love with the escape, of recapturing his intensity? You were hooked in by rejection.
At the end of the day, this is a man who you don’t know, and where no relationship happened. I don’t say this to be harsh but to help you to put this into context and remind you of the truth. You also do not know this man well enough to propose friendship and given the context of your interactions, it’s quite clear that you are not friends nor do you want friendship. And it’s not like he was pursuing you for friendship either.
 
There wasn’t anything to say to the letter. You went on a few dates, and responding even though it would have been polite, maybe, would only have fuelled an awkward situation. It’s not like he’s going to be thrilled that you were engaging with him or pursuing him off the back of ending an engagement. He doesn’t know you well enough to be doing this whole caring and liking thing. You need to avoid doing things that aren’t integrity. If you wanted him to contact you, it’s better to say that rather than orchestrating a situation (the letter) to drop that hint.
What would be useful at this point is to address what’s behind all of this: broken engagement and wanting to escape your feelings or commitments in your life. Commit to doing that first, and if after you’ve done all of that work, you still want to reach out to him, go ahead. Right now, your focus needs to be on you and your wellbeing, so use the fact that you are feeling this way about him as the prompt to do whatever you need to address your old hurt. You can do better than this guy. 
41 and never had a boyfriend

I have so much shame about this. For years I blamed it on being overweight.  I quit drinking 11 years ago – was mostly only intimate with men while drunk.  Recently a married guy from work has shown more interest and attraction than I’ve ever received.  I know it’s crumbs and unhealthy, but 41 years!!!  Luckily I’m in NY and he’s in London.  I’m on dating apps, but disappointment from that just sends me back to the fantasy.

My friends get lots of likes on these apps – I’ll get just some matches and then they’ll unmatch with me – they were just swiping right to see who matched.  So I have few options (in NYC!!).  I’m funny, smart, attractive (though unhappily 50 lbs overwieght).  I thought that there would be more men who could appreciate these qualities. I want to experience love, and I don’t understand why available men don’t show interest like this married man. How on earth do I battle this belief that I’m too far gone and inexperienced (and somehow not appealing enough) to get a relationship? I’ve read The Dreamer/Fantasy Relationship, I’ve done some modules on Break The Cycle, and listened to some podcasts.

Nat’s Response

Sending you a big hug. 
Let’s cut to the chase: it’s not your weight. There are people who are overweight and loved-up to the hilt. There are also people who are “skinny” who are in the same position as you. 
But what it is about is how you feel about you: the weight, your possibilities. 
Something that weight does in a situation where we might, for example, feel as if it’s crept up on us, that it’s blocking our way to something that we want to do, is act as a protective barrier. We say that we want a relationship but then our feelings about our weight mean that we don’t have to put ourselves in the position of being intimate. How we feel about that weight filters often unconsciously into our behaviour and our energy, so we play ourselves down, for instance, and wouldn’t even notice a semi-decent prospective partner. What we are highly likely to pay attention to is the intense often inappropriate person who pursues us and makes us feel special. But on some level, part of what almost lets that person feel confident about approaching us is sensing or even recognising how almost flattered we are to be getting attention. That we’re like a plant that hasn’t seen sunlight and water in ages. 
They prey, even though they won’t admit it, on your loneliness, your unwarranted shame, your fear of being open to and rejected by an available guy who you don’t feel as if you’re ‘good enough’ for anyway. 
The thing about only getting intimate when you’re drunk and then quitting is that if you don’t address what’s behind that, you put out one fire… and another lights up. That would be the weight. 
There are people out there that do and will appreciate you for exactly who you are at whatever weight you are, but even though you’ve listed those qualities, I sense that you don’t appreciate you. 
I want to stress as well: I get the whole going online, the apps and all that jazz, but it’s not representative of the real world and much as it can be useful for meeting people, online is also the mainstay for folks who want to avoid and escape. It’s seen as less scary, less vulnerable than actually meeting people. And the problem with this is that in these instances, we tune out of real life and stop interacting. We don’t realise how our dependency on ’safe’ interactions affects how we show up in the world. 
One of the traps we all fall into as humans is taking what we think know about someone and assuming that it makes them more ‘high status’ or that we should trust them.
Let me tell you: I’ve heard more than enough stories to know that there are people the same age as you who’ve had copious relationships who have the ’same’ level of ‘experience’ as you… or less. 
Number of relationships doesn’t equal ‘lots of experience’. Some of them have a lot of experience at being in painful relationships that they haven’t learned much from. Some of them have cultivated some funny habits! 
You have life experience and it’s about what each of you show up as in the relationship. 
The relationship I’m in is the only healthy, loving relationship I’ve been in. It only takes one. And that can happen at any age, and I see it happen. Don’t get hung up on your experience. You’re breathing, you’re alive, you’re working through stuff. You are more self-aware and striving to heal and grow than a hell of a lot of people. That is an advantage. 
So continue doing the work on what believing all of this is benefitting you. I’ve attached an exercise for you as a starting point. 
How to not self sabotage, and should you wait to have sex with someone you really like for long term?

I met a man, and we really hit it off and share a lot of similar values, and I am feeling rather strong very quickly, but I don’t feel anxious or butterflies with him. He’s actually available omg. I have a history of self-sabotaging when something goes good, but it may not happen this time as I feel more right with myself. I am catching myself looking for red flags really closely. He said something bad about his ex, and he’s a sex coach – my brain went right to he hates women and he must want sex from us all. He’ll cheat. Makin up stories. Can you have sex too early? I’ve not yet. How do I keep from running as I am afraid that I will?

Nat’s Response

Looks like life has decided to put a different experience your way to thrash and flesh out your feelings about dating and relationships. 
It’s lovely that you’ve met someone — enjoy it!
But something that you need to be mindful of even if there isn’t anything in particular going on, is that any impression of values in the early stages is just that — an impression. What you actually share in common and whether you’re aligned on similar paths is something that becomes evident with time and experience. 
If that initial impression of shared values is spot on, it will only become more true as time goes on, not less. 
Now, let’s get onto the sex part of things:
When you have sex isn’t the issue; why you have sex, whether you’re on a similar page about it and what is happening between you both is what determines outcomes. 
Someone can have sex on the first date and never see the person again. 
Someone else can have sex on the first date and date for a really long time and get married. 
Someone can wait until marriage to have sex, and the marriage still ends. 
Someone can wait until marriage to have sex, and the marriage is lovely. 
You can wait three months only for them to turn around on three months and one day and skedaddle out of there. 
You can wait three months and the relationship continues. 
Basically, it’s not the sex. 
Sex does not determine who someone is or make them stay or go. 
Him being a sex coach and saying something “bad” about his ex doesn’t make him shady. He is human and even, for example, therapists struggle with romantic relationships, hurt, etc. I have plenty of therapists who read/listen to Baggage Reclaim for themselves. He doesn’t have to behave as if he’s a saint, not least because he’s a sex coach and I’m not sure what that all involves, but he still has his baggage. Everyone does. 
Now, for all I know, maybe he does hate women. I don’t know what he said, but I guess you need to ask yourself: Have I put two and two together and made four or four hundred?
Is it just the comment that sparked that thought process, or did your intuition pick up on something that you haven’t consciously registered?
Now, if you don’t know the answer to that, all you need to do is acknowledge the amber alert so that you get grounded. It’s possible that you’re assuming that you know him better than you do or are maybe trying to move you faster than you actually want to go. 
Rather than reaching a conclusion that’s only going to taint your interactions, acknowledge the comment and do the following:
Ask him what that was about. What did you mean when you said “X”? Or express your discomfort while asking: When you said X about [his ex], I must admit that I felt really uncomfortable afterwards. What did you mean when you said that?
Try to be really present to your interactions, noticing not just how you feel and what you’re thinking, but also just being present to how he shows up. 
All things will become clear. If there is cause for concern, that will reveal itself. 
I don’t know about sex “too early”, like there’s the ideal number of days or weeks, but the litmus test is:
If you can’t handle the emotional consequences of sexual intimacy, don’t have sex until you can. 
Or, have sex because you want to and you know will be OK no matter what happens afterwards even though it would be understandably disappointing if things didn’t work out, not because you are trying to control something or secure the relationship. 
Pay attention to your thoughts around having sex with him. If there’s chatter about how he’s going to finish things if you don’t put out or worry about how you will look if you don’t or any other fears, that’s not a good reason to have sex. It is “too early”. 
Good luck!
Why am I avoiding romantic relationships with men?

I’ve had a pattern of being attracted to and dealing with Mr Unavilables my entire life. I broke it off with my last Mr Unavailable 5 years ago, since then I don’t date and feel increasingly afraid of romantic relationships, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

Nat’s Response

It sounds like part of you shut down after the end of this relationship. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being single and it’s essential to take time to heal after a break-up, so if that’s all you were doing in the five years, I wouldn’t have been so concerned. You’d be amazed at how many people need a few years to themselves because it turns out that they’ve barely gone a week being single since they were a teenager. And now they’re in their twenties, thirties or beyond and need to focus on something else — themselves. 
What I suspect happened here is that because you had a pattern of being with Mr Unavailables, after breaking off the last relationship, you, well, gave up
That might have been a conscious decision (I’m so bloody done with relationships. I can’t trust anyone, least of all myself. Relationships suck). Or… maybe you gave you a really hard time afterwards, berating, blaming and shaming you or imagining all sorts of awful things (I’m no good. He was only this way and he’s probably off somewhere giving ‘her’ what he wouldn’t give to me. This is all my fault. I’m probably going to get screwed over. He/this reminds me of __________). 
Now, consciously or not, you’ve been thinking and feeling this way for long enough that you’ve become terrified of trying again. 
Let’s imagine for a moment that you had another very common issue:
A pattern of being in unfulfilling work positions with a passive-aggressive or narcissistic/sociopathic boss. 
While it’s possible that you would take time off after leaving due to the downright trauma of being in this situation and might certainly be fearful of getting a new job, a part of you would know a couple of things about this situation:
These experiences don’t mean that all jobs are a waste of time. 
That you worked with some pretty shady folk. 
That you maybe didn’t understand your needs when you took on these roles or recognise what you brought to the table. 
That you could use these experiences to address anything from the past that influences your confidence in these situations so that you can take care of you and be assertive and self-supporting where needed. 
Now, I know of enough people who have been so affected by work experiences that they’re signed off work, so you can see by stepping outside of the romantic context for a moment how you could end up where you are now. 
“Increasingly” is the key word that jumps out at me, so part of your work is taking time to become aware of the thoughts (and, in some cases, actions) that are heightening and exacerbating that fear. 
So, for now, make it an observational exercise where you do your absolute best to not judge what you discover, and note what you’ve been thinking about. 
Thoughts precede feelings. Always.
And how you feel affects what you might think next, especially if you’re unaware, and in turn this affects what you do or don’t do. And round and round you go. 
So start noticing what you’re thinking. Document it in a journal. For now, just focus on the noticing. A few days to a week of this and you will know why you feel as you do. 
The intel you gather helps you to see what needs to be addressed. 
It might be anger — at you, him, parents/caregivers, an old bully or someone else. 
I would also write down a list of what you’re afraid of. Better out than in. Unprocessed thoughts swirling round and round wreak havoc on your emotional wellbeing and confidence. 
It’s also important to note that feel and think a certain way for long enough and it becomes habit. The feelings and thoughts pop up, and then what happens is that because you don’t know that it’s become a habit and these are almost like recordings on repeat, you attribute meaning to the fact that you’re thinking and feeling this way — and boom, you’re feeling increasingly afraid. 
Feling hurt and even traumatised post-breakup or series of relationships is far from uncommon, but getting honest about what’s on your mind is pivotal otherwise you end up punishing and sentencing you for something that was the result of old decisions and a situation that was trying to guide you back to who you really are. 
Start with the basic observing and journaling. Unsent Letters could be useful here too — all in the foundational resources. 
Also listen to The Anxiety Sessions in the membership.
Finding an available relationship where men are ACTUALLY scarce

For the past two years, I have been an expatriate on a small Caribbean island. After my latest EUM left for good a few months ago, I delved into Baggage Reclaim, and I am doing much better. But now that I’m back out there, ready for an available relationship, all I seem to meet are EUMs! Here, eligible men are ACTUALLY scarce, so each time this has happened–even though I’ve flushed them every time– it’s easy to get my hopes up and stake a lot on each, and every time it doesn’t work out, I feel like one of my few remaining chances are being cruelly snatched away. I even feel I’ve been resigned to some metaphorical “reject pile,” and that every remaining man here has already looked me over and said “no thanks.” I fear I am doing nothing here but accumulating a string of one-offs (and perhaps a reputation), which will actually harm me the more I continue. The weird thing is, I know people who have found available relationships on this island, including close friends of mine. Why not me? Why do I feel like I am still doing something wrong?

Nat’s Response

There’s something called Gambler’s Fallacy. It’s basically where we think that if we’ve experienced, for example, a lot of something that the odds of that happening in future are much lower. And even vice versa. I think it’s typically applied to, for example, coin tosses, but it’s applicable, I think, to all areas of life. 
So, because you dated in the past in a time and a context where you expected that to happen, you think that the odds of having success in dating are less than they were before. Is that really true though?
Does no one on the island ever meet a loving partner?
Have you met every single single man on the island?
Are eligible men, single or not, as scarce as you say?
I get that it’s a small island, but is what you’re saying categorically true?
We won’t get into the nitty grittys of what ‘eligible’ means to you because, of course, that varies from person to person, but assuming that your idea of eligibility isn’t wildly off-base, do you genuinely believe that those few experiences you’ve had are representative of everyone? 
If what you say is indisputably true, which is more important to you? Your desire to be in a loving relationship with a loving partner or living on the island? Whichever one it is guides your future actions and choices. 
If what you say isn’t indisputably true, what is saying this really about?
 
Truth is, you can meet emotionally unavailable people anywhere. I’m not saying that to depress you; I’m saying this because if you’d met the same amount of people elsewhere, would you really be able to state unequivocally that you’d ‘done’ the place and that eligible men were in short supply?
It is annoying to meet people who they turn out to be less than what you hoped they might be, but they didn’t change, you just got to know them. It’s not about having no hope at all, but if you’re that disappointed by the process of dating, it suggests that a lot was riding on each of these guys and that you’re disappointed by your expectations, not by the men per se. 
So, you might think that your odds of meeting someone are lower because of whatever factors you determine, but on the flip side, part of why you are so disappointed is because going in the other direction, you, on some level, felt that between the guy you finished it with and the string of ‘unsuccessful’ dates that it was due to get better. And it’s not that things will not get better and that you can’t and won’t meet someone but more that the universe isn’t keeping count in that way and handing out rewards for going on dates. And don’t think that you’re weird for feeling how you do: it’s normal. This is something I stole about in the podcast episode about dating anxiety and ‘efforting’:https://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/podcast-ep-130-dating-anxiety-why-efforts-dont-equal-outcomes/
No guy has said that you’re in the reject pile. There’s no register that you’re on that’s notified all the guys on the island. 
This notion of being on a reject pile is your belief, not theirs. 
I get wanting to meet someone, and I get how annoying it can be, but it is only as upsetting as the meaning you take out of it. It’s great that you’ve ended things as and when needed, but that’s something that’s only going to benefit you if you 1) don’t use the experience including having to end it as a reason to shame you and 2) see these as clearing out and levelling up to who you are and want to be in future including the relationship you want to be in. Writing you and relationships off because you met someone that isn’t suitable defeats that purpose. No, you haven’t met someone yet, but whether it’s on this island or elsewhere, you will. 
Step back from dating for a bit so that you can put things into perspective. 
There isn’t a bucket that all of the women are taking the ‘limited’ number of relationships, opportunities, success, etc., from. Your friends haven’t used up the men. Step back for a bit. Get clear on what is really bothering you and what anger and hurt lingers from the break-up, and address that first so that you don’t take the dates so personally, but also so that if and when you date, you date with clear intentions and without the anxiety. 
Colleague and confidence

I hope you are well! How do I deal with a line manager who will sneer, use sarcastic tone when replying. If I ask a question, he replies as if I’m a nuisance. I already feel like I’m incapable of doing basic tasks and have a short memory, and so his manner of speaking to me sometimes aggressively really spoils the vibe. For the most part he is very supportive, can switch to a very kind tone. But I never know when which side will come out. He also raises his voice to make it a point to others to show where/how I’ve made a mistake. It’s a new job, so I’m getting used to the workplace, which overall is very supportive and caring. In the beginning, I gave the impression that I wasn’t competent, lacked confidence. So I regret verbalising these things. And I didn’t know how to act cool and calm when I hadn’t yet mastered the tasks. Even now, I ask him for help for every little thing which I guess would be annoying. How do I ensure I can be strong in my professional life from this point forward? Thanks!

Nat’s Response

Your line manager is very switchy, which is pretty destabilising, especially if you’ve grown up in an environment where someone else behaved in a similar manner. 
The problem, as is often the way with things, is two-fold:
You have portrayed you as incompetent through language and behaviour and now, understandably, resent being spoken to and treated as such by your manager. 
Your manager is good cop, bad copping you to maybe deter you from cultivating this dynamic and expecting him to be your enabler, but he is being inappropriate in some instances instead of sitting you down privately and saying:
What is going on? I’ve noticed that you ________, _________, and __________. I’ve also noticed that you’ve gone out of your way to belittle your efforts. Is there something going on at home or here at work that I need to be aware of? Which of these things can you actually not do, and which of them can you? I appreciate that you’re new and that that can be daunting, but you are not only doing you a disservice, but some of what you’re doing is disruptive and drawing unnecessary negative attention to you. There more you say that you can’t do something that you can or that you’ve already been shown is the more incompetent that I and others look. I know that I have been short with you and haven’t handled this the best, and for that I apologise. I want to move forward, so let’s talk about any concerns you have but also put a plan in place about how to move through these next few weeks. Let’s do a check-in at the end of every week and take it from there. 
You’re not going to build Rome in a day, but there are a few things that you can do, some of which you’re already aware of:
Stop advertising your shortcomings. I’m all for being honest about what you’re unable to do or need more training with, but this is very different to advertising you as incompetent
Let’s, for argument’s sake, imagine that you’re working in a technical environment and you’re asked to do something that you don’t know how to, haven’t had the training on. 
Asking for help is fine. What’s totally different is saying things or behaving in a way that makes you either look like you’re pretending that you don’t know how to do the job so that you’re parented by your manager, pretending so that you are not asked to take on more, putting you down, or that they’ve made a mistake in hiring you. 
Address the situation. Ask to have a quick meeting and hold your hands up. 
I get the sense that I’m getting on your nerves or that I’ve pissed you off because you said/did [and give no more than three brief examples]. Now, I know that this is not always the case and you are at times supportive and encouraging, but I don’t like feeling like a nuisance. 
 
I hold my hands up: When I first started, I let my nerves and insecurity get the better of me, and I think I’ve ended up coming across as if I don’t know what I’m doing, which isn’t the case. I regret doing this, and it’s been a stark lesson to learn over these last few weeks. Shouting/sneering at me or losing your patience though, isn’t helping. I’m not saying that there aren’t things that aren’t new to me, but that’s the case for anyone in a new job. I apologise for how I have come across at times. I’m keen to clear the air and move forward. I can’t say that I’m never going to make a mistake though or need to ask for help, so can we talk about how this can be handled going forward?
 
You could also add: I’m going to stop asking for your help with every little thing, but it does mean that in some instances, it might take me a little longer until I find my feet. Is this OK?
Hold the thought. Before you ask for help or decide that you can’t do something, pause. Take a few deep breaths and re-look at what you’re doing. Try to do the problem-solving bit so that if you do ask for help, you can say ‘I’ve tried this, this and this, what am I missing?’
Get training if they have genuinely forgotten to explain something. 
Befriend someone, but don’t take up too much of their work time to help you. Maybe your boss can get you to shadow someone. Addressing the situation as above may open up some options on training. 
Be the new person. It doesn’t last. Accept that you don’t know everything, that there will be mistakes, but that you will learn. 
Learn from the experience. It’s one thing when we diminish ourselves and saying crappy stuff, but it’s another when someone listens to us and treats us that way or says what we do. If you want to cultivate a professional reputation, push past the negative thoughts and be the grown-up instead of being, for example, like the kid in class who wants to hold the teacher’s attention. Try to acknowledge what has come up for you in this experience so that you can let you move on from the past. 
Good luck.
Weird behaviour after breakup

So I Split up with K. you know now I am confronted with all kinds of nasty behaviour. I just want to stay no contact but she gives me all kind of crazy “orders” around sending her her belongings back (do send! do not send!). Yesterday she used a login I forget to delete on FB to post in my name on a competitors site …and tagged a friend so it seems like this friend is my new GF. What’s the point of this? 

Nat’s Response

Jesus, this woman!

Well, as is the way with the narcissistically inclined, if you draw your line and step back and let their show continue, they unravel. Spectacularly. And because they have an empathy deficiency, they don’t recognise how their behaviour underscores exactly why you ended the relationship. They’re validating your decision and everything your gut has been trying to communicate to you over the course of the relationship. 
Now, I see a couple of things here that need addressing:
The door has been left ajar by the fact that you haven’t gone through each room in your apartment and gathered up every last thing she owns, boxed it, and either sent it back to her or dropped it outside hers or her parents’ place. Or, you could say, you have X or Y date at A or B time to pick up this stuff or it’s going to be donated or sent to her address by courier or whatever. She would either pick one of those or suggest another. Then she would either follow through and collect, or she wouldn’t. But there would be no more dealing. Personally, I would go with the packing up and sending. Do an itemised list, photograph it all (but don’t tell her), send. And then block. 
This whole still having her possessions thing means that you are still engaging with her. You are unnecessarily connected. 
Returning her possessions doesn’t make you mean. It puts a line under things and stops all game playing. Unless you still want her in your life, it’s time to cut the cord. And you don’t need her permission to do that, and being Mr Nice Guy about it is only going to prolong the headache. The financial cost of sending the items is more than worth it to be done. 
It doesn’t matter about the do/don’t send. She doesn’t want this conversation to end because she can’t mess with your head and hold your attention if she doesn’t have something in your place. Have you ever watched Fleabag? In one episode, she talks about how she always knows that she can get back with her ex that breaks it off with her because he returns all of her stuff but keeps this one particular thing. She thinks that somehow, after all of this malarkey, that one day you’re going to go, “Do you know what, K? I know you’ve been stalking, gaslighting, harassing, bullying and goodness knows what else, but I think we should get back together because we’re clearly meant for each other. This is all a mistake. I know you pulled a whole load of shady stuff in the relationship as well, but if we get back together, then your behaviour’s going to stop, right?”
 
Don’t debate with her about the possessions. Make the decision and go ahead and do what you need to to remove the property from your home. 
Go through your business like a fine-tooth comb and find every possible login. It can’t be helped that this has been forgotten, but now you need to double down. 
She is coming undone, and it’s quite sad really. But also very inappropriate. She clearly needs help, but that’s not your place. When someone is behaving in this way, they think that prodding, poking and provoking you, that this will get your attention. Then you’re supposed to get on the phone or text. They pat themselves on the back because they see it as a game that they’ve won. It’s also about her throwing all of her toys out of the pram. It’s like, “I decide when we end, not you. How dare you think that you can just end things and that I will go quietly?! Don’t you know who I am?! You should be crawling around begging to be with me. You need me! I say when this is over, NOT you.”
 
Humans don’t take rejection well. Some take it particularly badly and find it triggering. While we can all relate to this, that doesn’t in any way mean that her behaviour is OK, but you can realise that it isn’t really about you. 
Please have your lawyer send her a reminder about not interfering in your business and that she must not log into your accounts, impersonate you or anything like that as it’s a criminal offence. 
I’m sorry that she is still doing this. Stick to your guns. 
My life’s path

So I’ve been going to therapy for four weeks now, it’s been very insightful as that’s the first step. I finally in my life have got a look at who I am to the very core and my “life story”, that was nice to accept and very revealing. I feel different emotions after the session and let myself feel. The guy I separated from in Florida at the beginning of Sept still weighs on my mind, just not as often. I find myself missing him & wanting to talk to him, but I stay away, and he doesn’t call either. I’m like ok we only “talked” for a month, should be over it in 2 weeks. What a wake-up call. It’s been a month and a half, and we haven’t spoken & I’m like ok why is this taking so long? But I just let it be, someday it’ll disappear like the rest of them. Sometimes I feel like wow he can’t even call? I just accept he doesn’t care enough & God has better plans, but I need to stop telling myself I’m unworthy and see him as unavailable, dealing with much grief and can’t be available. More of a blessing to me. He was honest and left. I feel on the rise. Thoughts of him pull me back & I’m ok with it and continue to take steps forward. I’m REALLY looking forward to therapy and everything I’ve been suppressing all these years, for it to come up and heal.

Nat’s Response

I’m glad that you’re getting a lot out of therapy. 

Here’s the thing: It’s your ego that wants him to call, that feels aggrieved that he hasn’t, not your true self. 
Life doesn’t work in a linear, orderly, logical fashion. I’ve seen people take a year to get over a week-long involvement, and I’ve seen people take a few months to work through much longer relationship. There isn’t, of course, a destination with getting over something, especially as it’s something that happens throughout our lives in what can be imperceptible but nonetheless healing and crucial ways. This is why I encourage people to not get too hung up on a timeline. 
Just because you talked for a month, it doesn’t mean it should be done and dusted in two weeks. That’s a legacy myth about breakups. I think Charlotte in Sex and the City said it was a third of the time, but that philosophy has been around for a long time. 
There are a few reasons why it’s on your mind:
Because it’s been on your mind and so it’s now a habit thought or sequence of thoughts. If when you get in the car to go to work you ruminate about him, a few times of doing that means that now your thoughts automatically go there when you sit in the car or even walk by it. The mind is powerful. 
It’s also a distraction from other uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. 
This upset, this experience, has brought up old unresolved feelings about other endings. 
A part of you thinks that if somebody doesn’t try to reach out to you after the break-up, even though it’s the wrong thing to do, that it means that you’re not worthy, that they don’t want you or that what you had wasn’t real. 
You’re hovering over the break-up wondering “Why is it taking so long?” This strengthens thoughts around him and sends a message to you that it’s taking too long. 

I’m no rocket scientist, but don’t you think you’re asking a lot of you to start therapy off of the back of this involvement, to go there every week, and to also forget about the involvement?

And in the end, it’s not about why he hasn’t got back in touch (I’m glad that he hasn’t. Given everything he’s going through and the upset your involvement caused to you, it would be a terrible idea), but about the baggage behind this. What is coming up from your past that the ego part of you wants to win and have the validation? 
Rather than focusing on having had the thought about him and highlighting that you ’still’ have the thought, notice the thought, what is going on at that moment, and say something. E.g. It’s OK that he hasn’t called. In fact, I’m glad that he hasn’t. 
Or, I’m only having this thought because it’s one I’ve had many times, not because I want or need to hear from him. 
Keep catching the thought and the habit will break. Gently and compassionately steer you to other thoughts. Don’t feed them with negativity. 

September

Feeling vulnerable in dating due to gaining weight

I have gained a significant amount of weight since my last breakup. I have been trying to lose weight for the past year to not much success.

Being currently overweight, I felt really vulnerable when putting myself out there to date. I do not want to be judged for my weight as I have been doing a lot to change that and certainly not being lazy at all. With both my age and weight catching up, I don’t feel that I am lovable.

Do you have any pointers to manage my feelings around this and to gather the courage to put myself out there?

Nat’s Response

I’m no expert on weight, but you might be missing the wood for the trees here:

You were in a pretty traumatic relationship where he gaslighted the hell out of you and had some incredibly sexist views about women, age marriage.

Between family and culturally, there are also some pretty strong views about women, age and marriage.

Post-breakup, it took some time for you to distance yourself from his voice in your head.

I suspect that while you do deep down want to be in a relationship that you are scared of being in one to the same extent. I’m pretty sure you would hate to be with someone like your ex. I think you’re also scared of ‘failing’, but that you also possibly resent the expectations and sexism that are being put upon you.

Gaining some insight into why you have gained weight will offer clues about how to take care of you. It might be health-related, so make sure that you have had a full health check as you might be pushing you to lose weight when what you’re not dealing with is your overall health. If, however, you have gained weight because of a change in eating habits and lifestyle, then that is also offering clues. For example, if you are eating your feelings or subconsciously trying to protect you from having to date and be another relationship and risk being hurt or it not working out, the weight becomes a protective layer. It stops you (because you decide that the weight is unattractive and that nobody wants a woman of a certain size) from having to be a woman of a ‘certain age’ dating because now the focus is on your weight, and you get to delay taking the next step or moving on to the next stage of your life.

Gaining weight at this precise moment in time, or, more accurately, believing that being this weight is an issue and, in turn, a barrier to dating at this time serves a purpose. This is something I talk about in this month’s classes, The Behind The Problem Sessions.

For example, someone else was telling me how they had really wanted to be in a relationship and have children, but they feel as if they missed the boat. I asked them what they were doing during that time, and it turns out, in their late thirties to mid-forties, they avoided dating because they didn’t want to be ’that’ woman who was in her thirties. She thought that guys would think she wanted to settle down and have kids… But deep down, she was actually terrified of being in a relationship and having children, and only felt safe to date again when the ’threat’ of that had passed.

I’ve included a resource on appearance. I think that you need to get to a more honest place with you about the source of these feelings about your appearance. Society and the media have done quite a number on women about their appearance, but it is also crucial for us as women to acknowledge where we participate in patriarchy and levelling the unrealistic standards at ourselves. Fact is, you can be loved at any size. Walk the streets, watch people around you: is it only the ’thin’ or ’beautiful’ people in relationships. No. So, no, you don’t need to be a certain weight to be loved — only you are telling you that.

It is OK to want to exercise or to lose weight, but it has to be from a place of liking you anyway. Otherwise, you will just find something else to criticise you about. And it is possible to date and exercise or whatever at the same time.

Get clear on your reasons for wanting to lose weight and make sure that none of them are rooted in shame. There’s never a ‘right’ weight for going out with the wrong person.

How do I back out of my wedding now?

I’m getting married in less than a month. There’s a huge problem: I want to postpone and potentially cancel the wedding. Right before my fiancé proposed I was planning on breaking up, but I said yes anyway. My loved ones have seen my mental state decline and have asked me to slow down. They support me. How do I know this isn’t pre-wedding jitters and if I really am going to call everything off how do I do this while remaining safe (in every sense of the word) and putting the focus on me not on letting everyone else down? I feel trapped and alone on this. He’s a great guy, but I don’t trust him, and I’m afraid he will betray my trust again or become a monster after the wedding. Don’t most men do that? I don’t know. Any insight would help immensely.

Nat’s Response

Wow! That is a lot that you have going on, and I don’t blame you for feeling all over the place.

Here’s the thing: pre-wedding jitters are what you have when you want to marry the person, but between the planning, the anticipation, the sudden realisation of the ‘hugeness’ of it all, you start to question yourself and what you’re doing.

That’s not what’s going on here!

You had jitters before you even knew that there was a wedding on the horizon! The reason why you feel like you do now is that you did that thing that a lot of women (including me) do or have done: You agree to go out with or marry someone because they asked and you feel obliged to say yes. We have been socialised to believe that it is the pinnacle of success for a woman when someone, anyone, wants to marry you. We’ve also been socialised to be pleasers, having been told that we should be meek, mild, not make waves, be nice and blah, blah, blah.

Let me tell you a quick story: Once upon a time there was a 23-year-old girl called Natalie. She went on a date with a guy despite her misgivings because he was so persistent and everyone seemed so eager to set them up. When he behaved like a jealous nutter and she told him to take a run and jump, he was very apologetic, and so she took him back. A few months later, when he announced that he intended to propose, she felt trapped but didn’t know what to say. She worried she’d look like a bitch. He took her out for dinner on Valentine’s night. Five minutes before he proposed, he was having a go at her and being a bully. She hoped that it meant that he wouldn’t go through with it, but instead, she had to force herself to act happy when he got down on one knee in the restaurant. She excused herself as quickly as she could as she squinted at the diamond and waited for the happy feelings to engulf her. Instead, she examined the bathroom window to see if she could climb out. Months later, when she tried to buy herself some bridal magazines to gee herself up, she had a Carrie in Sex And The City moment and had a panic attack. It took 18 months, including moving in with him, but she did eventually leave him and has always been forever grateful that she didn’t go ahead.

Getting married isn’t for others.

If this marriage is wrong, it’s wrong, and you and he will bear the full weight of that, not everyone else. They do not have to live with your decision. So people have to put their outfits away or cancel hotels or whatever. I’ll be honest with you: most of them will not be surprised and will respect your decision, not least because some of them went ahead with weddings that they shouldn’t have.

Is it convenient? Nope. Is it pretty? Nope. But marrying him isn’t fair to either of you.

You don’t sleep or go out with people you don’t trust, never mind marry them.

 

You said it yourself: your loved ones support you, and once you support you, that’s all that matters.

This isn’t about “most men’; this issue is about you and him and how you were almost prepared to marry someone you had been on the verge of dumping all just because you didn’t want to disappoint him or because you thought you ’should’ want to get married. He doesn’t have to be a ‘bad’ guy; he’s just not the right guy for you.

And if he is pissed off or hurt or whatever by you calling off the wedding, this is OK. He’s only human. But he would rather, even if he doesn’t fully realise it yet, have a wedding called off by a woman who recognises that it wouldn’t be right than it would be for the wedding to go ahead. He is aware that this is not right. I can’t help but wonder if this is why he proposed.

You will be OK. Be honest with him. When he asks why, let him know that you had actually planned to end it before he proposed and then the pleaser in you had felt bad about knocking him back. Reassure him that this isn’t jitters.

The reason(s) why you wanted to end it still exist. That’s why you feel as you do now.

Take care of you, and you take care of others in the process.

Making love, care, trust and respect happen in real life

You helped me see the connection between my childhood and the way I chose men to date. My mother was consistently inconsistent, caring and abusive at the same time. The last man I dated switched between hot and cold, yelling at me one day and apologising the next. I’m the youngest girl in the family, and I was never treated as number one. One of the guys I was with last year was Mr Unavailable. I broke it off when I realised he made me believe there was a possibility of a relationship while treating me as a mistress. I have also been choosing men who are either unavailable or where no real relationship could possibly develop. I do not know if I am scared of a real commitment or think I do not deserve one. I long for a deep emotional connection with someone where we could treat one another with love, care, trust and respect, and if our connection can withstand the test of time, we start a family together. I have listened to your love, care, trust and respect session, but I do know how to make it happen for me in day to day life.

Nat’s Response

How wonderful that you’ve made the connection between your childhood and the men you date.

I think that it is difficult to have a parent who behaved as your mother did without having some adult experiences of engaging with highly critical, demanding, switchy and/or narcissistically-inclined folk. Whether it was at work, through friendships or romantically, you have needed these experiences to wake you out of the pattern so that you can heal and move forward.

You are only just making these realisations, and so you do need to give you time to process and filter through while using these realisations to help guide you in your day-to-day life. For instance, recognising how your mother has been showing up in your relationships means that you can now be more aware of when you feel that kind of energy off somebody, or they show familiar signs of behaving in that way.

The reason why the relationship pattern existed is that you were still in a child role behaving as you did around your mother (trying to please her but also protect you from her) and trying to right the wrongs of the past. Start noticing the thought, feeling, action habits that you learned to be and do around your mother. Try to pinpoint where you can have even a small shift in response by making it more adult.

For example, some of the things I did included noticing my mother’s behaviour for what it was without blaming or shaming me in any way. Wow, that was pretty outlandish and intense. If I find that hard to deal with now, just imagine what it must have been like for my five-year-old self.

I went out of my way to not look for approval and noticed when I was gravitating to it.

I endeavoured to stop behaving like a child when I experienced or sensed the potential for criticism. This stopped me from taking things so personally, but it also meant that if someone displayed any similar behaviour to her, I was more vigilant, I put boundaries in place and basically kept my distance.

Use journaling with exercises like unsent letters, letter to your younger self, to rewrite the narrative you have about you and your mother and life.

One of the things that I’ve learned through doing this is that I (and you) have what I call The Other Mother. She isn’t what you see in Getty Images or Google searches, and she doesn’t sound or act like what we think mothers ’should’ do or how other people say theirs do. We tend to carry a lot of shame about having one of these mothers, not realising that the fact that our mothers behaved as they did is down to their backstory, personality, characteristics, circumstances, resources and level of abundance at that time. You didn’t do anything to make her this way, but you’ve taught you that people who love you are also the ones who hurt you, so you feel unsafe about love. Your mother has very specific reasons for her behaviour. The bolded items above are those reasons. Become aware of them so that you stop blaming and shaming you for being your mother’s child and for her behaviour. Unmothered mothers tend to treat their children in the way you experienced, and yet, you will not pass on that pain, because look at you already trying to heal and move forward in ways she never did or even had a chance to.

So keep focusing on healing the relationship with you first, because when you stop blaming you for your parents stuff, you don’t go out with people who pull the stuff that you’ve been used to experiencing.

I think it's time for me to look within

Met the guy in Florida I told you about before grieving his mom’s death. Also, his ex-girlfriend. He told me in the first week he wasn’t ready for a relationship. I didn’t want to hear, so I kept conversations, liked some of his qualities, when pressure arose he would say “I think we need to cut communication for now. Haven’t you ever thought I don’t want to bring you in on my issues? My world is dark. Of course I want to talk to you, I enjoy being with you.”

Saw him a couple more times. One night I get an emotional text saying lovely to have someone like you. I’m sorry I wish things were different on my end. I am on a mission and not stopping until I find peace and healing, and you deserve the best.

I cried, was upset when we were on the phone. He’s like, “I’m sorry. I know you’re sad. I’m so sorry.” Anyways, I didn’t say that I wouldn’t contact him anymore, I just did it. We haven’t spoken in about 13 days. I took 7-9 days to heal. I wonder why he hasn’t called!

Of course and FINALLY am starting therapy tomorrow. So much stuff has come to life. He was my golden ticket to finally face myself. I keep attracting emotionally unavailable men! First men who had women, then single & emotionally unavailable. Reading Women Who Love Too Much. Wonderful book. Trying to right wrongs of past. Didn’t want to listen to him from the first week, so I extended it to 4 weeks and saw him more. Got to find out a bit more, then I was like “Oh shit, I’ve really gotta get out of this!” All this grief & unavailability. Major turning point I feel is about to happen. Started reading into love addiction even! I wanted to make his problems about me, why I wasn’t good enough for him to do a miracle & be available. SMH. Sometimes until now, I’m like why hasn’t he called? I feel it’s a blessing when someone says they’re not ready and follows through. I tried to make it about he’s not interested and about me. I’m done, Nat. I’m done attracting these situations. I want to be emotionally healthier for once in my life! Beginning to a VERY LONG journey of therapy and maybe even a support group.

Nat’s Response

It sounds like you are ready to go deeper, and good for you.

If you think of your progress like a spiral where the biggest circle is at the bottom, this helps you to recognise that you are not going round in circles even when it might seem like it.

I think that something that becomes clear through the experiences, whether it’s this guy or the boss, is that you haven’t been quite ready to be in The Relationship. And this is OK. This pattern of stressy situations that you find triggering, men who have the whole kit and caboodle going on that you almost have to compete with for their attention, tuning out not just your inner voice but what you see before your eyes, it’s like pressing the pause/delay button moving on to the next stage of your life. You’ve still wanted to be right, to win, albeit less than before, but I also think you’ve just needed to have space as you who isn’t working with your family. You have grown in this time, don’t underestimate that, and just maintain your commitment to going to a deeper level with this work.

The reality is, you didn’t need the guy to tell you that he wasn’t ready for a relationship (that much was obvious), but you have I-started-so-I’ll-finish and Well-he-shouldn’t-have-started-this-if-he-wasn’t-going-to-follow-through-so-I’m-going-to-make-this-happen mentalities.

Yes, he was interested; yes, you had a good time together, but you hardly knew him, and if on reflection, he realised that he was way over his head and this relationship wasn’t a fit, this is OK, just like if you see something that isn’t workable or change your mind, it’s OK to step away.

He does not need to call you, and you don’t need him to call you. Only your ego wants that call. You cannot be bigger than the grief he has for his mother or whatever else he has going on in his life. That is no reflection on you. This is his stuff, and it’s his prerogative to honour his life and his needs in whatever way he wants, even if he doesn’t always get that right. Stop competing with men’s problems or their other women or whatever. It’s not about being not ‘good enough’; you are letting your need to prove something you believe overtake your desire for a healthy relationship. You are already good enough, but no matter how wonderful any person is, it’s never enough to make people be and do as we want. Rather than choosing the wrong partner or relationship and then going into battle to make them change, build a healthy relationship with someone who you started out on a healthy foundation.

How to deal with my patronising co-worker?

 I was going to say this not a question, but I do need support dealing with a colleague. It’s the one that tried to muscle in on the club, shit stir, etc. I had to tell her yesterday to “stop being patronising” when she said in the most sarcastic of tones when I was harvesting my carrots “Oh, did I grow them all by myself”. This was her third *nip* in rapid succession. She is a complete pain in the bottom 🙁 I am blowed if she is going to intimidate me out of the club I helped found or keep putting me down.

Nat’s Response

I read about what happened with her [in a separate email], and I hope you realise that you did the right thing in putting her back in her box and telling her that she was being patronising — because she was. Clearly, she is not someone who knows how to read the room or the vibe. She doesn’t check in with herself or think before she speaks, so at some point, you were going to have to tell her to stop or communicate to her what she was doing. 
Her comments, especially the one about you being “in the club”, are not appropriate at work. You and her aren’t down like that. You’re not, as the youth say, brethren. She is totally crossing the line — and it’s 1000% OK to not be OK with it. 
And I can see why you went along with things when she played her stupid game with the carrots. You’re a professional person, unlike her. It’s why you haven’t ripped her a new one already! 
Next time she says something:
Use the “stop being patronising” again
OR
“I see you’re being patronising again.”
“Is something wrong? I’ve noticed that every time you are here for the club that you make jab after jab, like asking me if I’m in the club and mocking me about the carrots. If you have a problem with something, rather than insult or mock me, just come out straight. Otherwise, if it’s quite simply a case that you like to try to make people feel small, please stop.”
And if she says anything like the “in the club” comment again, it’s time to show her who’s boss and make the boundary super clear:
You ask her to step outside or move her away from where you’re standing at the time of the comment so that there’s an immediate shift.
You let her know that what she’s just said isn’t cool.
When you said {insert exactly what she said and repeat it back to her], you crossed the line. I’ve let [give 3 quick examples of things that she’s done before] slide, but this is too far. If you are to continue helping out at the club, you need to stop with the put-downs, the mocking and the stirring. When you make comments like this, it’s divisive and disruptive to the group. Please stop. 
Is it ok not to accept an apology from a longtime friend?

A little over six months ago, I had a falling out with a longtime childhood friend. We were on a trip together, and throughout the trip, her behaviour was not the greatest, and I was put in situations that I was definitely uncomfortable in. Tensions were already high before the trip because we had a mutual friend that I had a falling out with, she is still close with her (which is fine by me) but she has said and acted in ways that were downright boundary-busting to me, like telling the girl things I told her in confidence among many other things. I left the trip early because it wasn’t going well, and I felt it better to remove myself from the situation. She proceeded to send me a long text, saying the most horrible, hurtful things to me (that I’m toxic, she didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, etc.) I chose not to respond because I knew if I responded in anger, I would also say hurtful things that I couldn’t take back.

Just last week, she emailed me an apology, telling me how much she sucks and that I’m amazing, beautiful, etc., and the list goes on and on. I decided not to respond because this isn’t the first time we have had issues, but it was definitely the worst, and I just don’t want to be friends with someone that says or thinks those things about me. Am I being too harsh and insensitive by ignoring the apology and cutting her out of my life completely?

Nat’s Response

I suspect that this ex-friend of yours has experienced something or a number of things, possibly with the other person you fell out with, that has flagged up to her how crappy her behaviour was. This is a common occurrence.

You fall out with Friend 1, but Friend 2 remains friendly with her. You have your reasons for falling out with Friend 1, but Friend 2 seems to think that Friend 1’s behaviour was specific to you and that she will be the exception. It becomes increasingly apparent that the friendship between you and Friend 2 isn’t great, and then you discover that Friend 2 is chatting sh*t about you to Friend 1. You’ve tried to be the bigger person and not disrupt the group with the fallout with Friend 1, but you realise that you need to break away. Friend 2 cusses you because maybe she’s feeling super confident and secure because of how tight she is with Friend 1. Friend 2 realises that Friend 1 isn’t a particularly good friend and sees things that you had already experienced. Now she comes apologising because she too has been treated poorly by Friend 1.

I think what you need to acknowledge here is that you and this friend go back a long way and that there were long-standing tensions in your friendship. The trip was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

You can accept the apology without engaging with her. Her apologising doesn’t mean that you need to reply, reach out to her, reconnect, re-establish the friendship like hardly any time has passed at all or that you need to wipe what happened from your memory.

How both of these women behaved on this trip was unkind, and your friend betrayed your trust. It was like you were in Mean Girls, The Trip. Yes, this person has apologised, but it doesn’t erase what was said. I think, without a very solid explanation of everything that was said to you and addressing the long-standing tensions in the friendship, there isn’t really anywhere to go. By talking about how she sucks, it’s what’s known as ‘centring’ – you do wrong to someone, get called out about it or belatedly realise what a crappy thing it was and then due to berating yourself and maybe even tears, the focus is then on your upset, not the wrong that you did. The other party is expected to alleviate your apparent distress by telling you that it’s OK or whatever. But what this actually does is marginalise or even erase the other party from their own experience.

Hence why you are wondering if you’re being “insensitive” and “harsh”.

You have already made your decision: you don’t want to be friends with her anymore. This is 100% OK, and you don’t need to justify yourself. You don’t need to carry ill will towards her. You can be grateful that you received a level of apology — and leave it at that.

I'm aware of my negative beliefs. Now what?

Through self-reflection, I’ve come to unpack and understand a lot of my emotional baggage. I would consider myself a pretty self-aware person and often times I’m able to trace back why I felt wounded about something, why someone triggered me, identify a specific pattern of thinking that influences my behaviour, untrue core beliefs, etc.

The problem I’ve been running into is that I don’t know what to actually DO with this information. For example, I could tell you a major core belief I have that impacts every part of life is that “I’m not good enough”. I’m aware of it, can see how it manifests in my life, and even feel pretty confident about tracing back where it stems from. The unfortunate part is I don’t know how to dismantle this belief. Somehow knowing all of this information doesn’t stop me from acting in line with the belief that if I was just taller, thinner, more ambitious…that I would be the “best” version of myself or enough. I thought unpacking everything would lead me to feeling resolved and good about myself but instead I’m just acutely aware of how problematic my thinking is and how I should know better.

Nat’s Response

Everyone has beliefs, both helpful and not-so-helpful.

First comes the awareness of it and next comes the questioning/challenging it in the way you go about living your life.

There are the, for example, Get Out of Stuck, Unsent Letter and Connecting With Limiting Beliefs resources.

While knowing that you don’t believe that you’re good enough or where it comes from is undoubtedly useful and a very good starting point, it’s looking at where you use that belief and recognising, Oh, that’s not true or Wow, me thinking that leads to that which leads to that.

Dismantling a belief isn’t an overnight thing. It would be amazing if it were, but the truth is, plenty of us have lightbulb moments… and then sometimes get distracted or sucked back into old thought processes. The wonderful thing is that we can and will come back to that lightbulb moment.

It’s too much to expect that you would recognise a thought and then it would go. I spent 28 plus years repeating variations of the belief ‘I’m not good enough’ and ‘I’m worthless, good-for-nothing and never going to amount to anything’ in my life. My life has changed radically in the fourteen years since I recognised my beliefs and had some lightbulb moments, but the ‘dismantling’, as you put it, has come through choices that I’ve made. And I haven’t made ‘perfect’ choices nor have I done it 100% of the time. Those beliefs reared their ugly head when my father and my extended family distanced themselves from me after my wedding, and when my mother pulled her stunts, and when I went through the book proposal process or even when I’ve looked at social media sometimes. But the majority of the time, I know those beliefs are crap and not true, and I make decent choices that contradict those beliefs.

It is too much to expect that you would recognise a harmful thought that you’ve had for what might be your entire life and then boom, it would disappear overnight.

Thinking that you are not ‘good enough’ is a habit. That means that it will pop up, not because you aren’t good enough or because you agree with the belief but because it’s your habit. Noticing the thought and questioning it is enough right now, especially as you didn’t even notice or know about it before.

Question your beliefs about height, size, ambition, etc., with the resources I mentioned above. Even if you didn’t look at those, asking yourself, ‘Um, is it true that if I were tall, thin and ambitious that all my problems would go away? Or, are all tall, thin and ambitious people problem-free? is a good start. I mean, sure you could push yourself harder or diet, but you can’t make you taller, and I suspect that even you know that not all tall people are happy and that people who’ve made themselves thinner or who are thinner aren’t automatically happy either. It’s not the height, size or ambition; it’s the feelings about these and you, and these can be changed one day at a time.

And telling you that you should know better is just an unkind way to think of you. Why should you know better? Are you God or a higher power? Nope! You’re human. There are specific reasons for why you feel as you do, and you learned to feel this way because you blamed that on you being not good enough. The majority of humans are struggling with some level of inadequacy even if they are disguising it. You are human, and you can’t know ‘everything’. Given that it was your much younger self that learned to think and feel in this way, have some compassion for her and recognise how tough on you and her your stance is.

How can I know the difference between when I am standing up for myself and when I am being rude and/or aggressive?

My inner critic, which usually criticizes me for things I said/did after I go out with friends or at work, seems to be critical even if I stand up for myself. Recently a company I am working with sent me a document to sign for a project we are developing from my own idea, they said it was for getting funds (it’s a movie script), but instead it stated that my further involvement in the project should first be approved by all future partners in the business, something which had never been discussed and meant they could kick me out of the project and make other people write my own idea. I perceived it as a breach of faith, and I declined to sign. As days go by my inner critic says I was too aggressive and rude in my answer, but the more I read my emails, the more I see I politely denied signing and they politely explained they would not oblige me to sign. So how can I learn to know the difference between when I am standing up for myself and when I am actually being rude and/or aggressive?

Nat’s Response

You could definitely benefit from going through the Tune Into Your Inner Voice course.

Here are the facts, which incidentally, inner critics don’t tend to be overly concerned with:

You agreed on something in principle for which you received a contract.
On receiving it, it became clear that what was being proposed was a very different deal to what was discussed and that it was unfavourable.
You declined to sign.

Not signing is the logical and reasonable thing to do. Don’t you think that they read through their own agreement? You don’t think that they’re aware of what you were being asked to sign? You don’t think that as they had discussions with you that they could have brought that up? Fact is, in these situations, companies tend to rely on people not reading the paperwork. Happens to people in the creative industry all the time. 

Sure, you could have gone ahead with the deal if you were happy to. You may have decided that you were OK with being out of the project, or you may have decided that there was a price for that possibility and whacked up the fee to make sure you were more than handsomely compensated for your efforts.

The issue you’ve encountered is very real and something that was all over the news a couple of months ago when Idris Elba and another guy booted the two female writers off a project they created and then launched the play with it containing pretty much what these women had done.

Inner critics do one thing: cri-ti-cise.

This means that whether you signed or not, your inner critic would still be saying something. 

The aim is not to please the inner critic into silence. Inner critics always have something to say! But inner critics are at their loudest when we treat them like they are the boss of us and as if every word they say is true when all it is is the equivalent of an old recording that gets activated when your subconscious thinks that you’re straying out of your comfort zone and encountering ‘danger’. The other time when it’s loud is when you are not in integrity.

In this instance, it’s clear that your inner critic is piping up because you are in the habit of criticising you when you stand up for yourself.

The difference between standing up for you and being aggressive is the facts.

See above facts at the top if in doubt. .

All you did is decline to sign a contract that you only had to sign if you were in agreement. You were not. And people in the industry are used to not having contracts signed for exactly the same reason.

Rude or aggressive would have been if you’d received a contract with what you discussed and you told them to take a run and jump because you’d changed your mind. And, of course, you are always free to change your mind but if you cussed them out for doing so, that would be off.

That is not what happened here, and sometimes, yes, you do have to be forceful in stressing that you won’t sign away your rights or whatever it is. That doesn’t make you a bad person or aggressive.

How do I determine what is a reasonable request at work?

I was recently chewed out after a year of working with a client for not offering him enough ideas and not taking “ownership” of the account. Some of the criticism is valid; my people-pleasing nature and lack of assertiveness are responsible for a mistake I made a while back, which I take responsibility for; this is a mirror of my personal life and something that I am actively working on. On the other hand, he (and my boss, for that matter) went a year without telling me they were dissatisfied, and their criticism was, “We shouldn’t have to request anything from you; you should know what we want and do it.” I cannot read minds, and I cannot be available 24/7–I feel I am already going above and beyond in my availability to this client. My question is, how do I sort out what is a reasonable request and something that is not reasonable? How do I heed their request to be more assertive while also keeping my boundaries intact?

Nat’s Response

I think that your assessment of the situation sounds pretty spot-on in that it’s a mix of the two. It’s one of those age-old situations where you’re trying to discern what’s your issue and what’s theirs.

Yes, you are already aware that you can stand to be more assertive, but you are also right in saying that you’re not a mind reader.

If your boss and the client feel that you should be proposing ideas, I’m going to assume that this is based on feeling that you have got to know the client and what they are about. It doesn’t mean that all of your ideas have to be ‘correct’ or ‘perfect’ but that they want ideas from you that cause the client to think about what they do want.

So, for example:

I’ve worked with my designer for about ten years. When we first worked together, she had to get a feel for my style, what I was looking for. Clients tend to come up with briefs (as I did), but a brief is only really as good as how much the client knows and thinks that they know, and it’s a starting point. When the first set of ideas are presented, the feedback helps you to refine. You also hold on to nuggets of feedback to inform future suggestions. What I found with my designer is that over time, there were instances where she could present me with something that it was almost as if she had read my mind if I’d had the foresight to know that it was exactly what I wanted.

I suspect that wording has proved to be a stumbling block in this instance in that your boss and this client claimed that you should know what they want and do it.

But there is some truth in that you need to get to know your client and their services/products/needs and take risks. It is only by doing the latter that you will get closer to hitting the mark.

Of course, the problem here is that people pleasing and taking risks don’t often go hand in hand together unless the person in question is pretty confident in their job role and/or pretty intuitive, which you may well be for all you know.

Pleasers often avoid voicing ideas or sometimes water down their ideas for fear of getting things wrong. They sometimes avoid lifting their head above the parapet and mistakenly believe that what people want from them is to be compliant, to follow orders. This causes them to run into problems though, as you already experienced with the mistake, but it can also lead to being misperceived in the workplace and people being promoted over you. It’s not necessarily the case that the loudest wins, because loud doesn’t equal assertive and sometimes, empty vessels make the most noise, but if you are not assertive when it’s something that’s required in order for you to be successful at your role, it’s going to undermine you.

Your boss and client are being reasonable in expecting you to put ideas forward and get your teeth into the account. Go back over any notes you’ve taken over the past year, try to recall conversations, and basically write down what you know about this client and how that fits with whatever your line of business is. I come from an advertising background and know that some clients can be a right pain in the bottom, and some also only want things done their way and don’t want ideas, and some need a steer. You also need to check your job spec and anything you’ve been given about your role to see what the expectations are. If in doubt, you can always quietly check with HR.

There is a grey area with client work in that unless it’s the type of work where you’re basically servicing whatever the client asks you to do, it’s likely that part of the client work requires you to anticipate needs and wants and speak to those through ideas, pitches, catch-up chats with the client, etc. Your company may expect you to keep abreast of the client and may have loosely worded it as something like maintaining a positive and beneficial relationship with the client that leads to you retaining the account as well as potentially bringing in more money.

Where there is an issue of unreasonableness is how you were given the feedback and the unconstructive nature of some of it.

You will need to go back to your boss and tell them that in line with the request for more assertiveness, that you would appreciate some more constructive feedback about how to proceed to minimise any further friction. Tell them that you are not asking him to tell you what ideas to give the client, but that given that a whole year has gone by without feedback until now, you would appreciate a fuller understanding of what it is that you are doing wrong as well as what is working. In this way, you avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

If you feel that you’re going above and beyond and your boss and the client don’t feel as if the needs are being met, step back. Is there anything that you’re currently doing that you can drop? Are there things that you are doing that you maybe find easier to do than being assertive that if you swapped them for something else, would lead to win:win where you would be happier and better thought of, and the client would also be happier too? It’s not unusual for people in these situations to burn themselves out doing busy work and running after the client in an attempt to please because it’s still less scary than the really assertive stuff.

I’m all for going above and beyond where needed, but only if what you’re doing positively adds to the working relationship. Part of the assertiveness is managing the client’s expectations. If I do this, I can’t do that, etc. Check out the attached guide on saying no — there’s a whole section on work.

How To Say No – The Scripts

Should I invite them to my wedding?

A few years back, I got involved with a married EU narc at my old job. He still emails me every year around the same time even though it’s been over two years since I told him never to contact me again. I don’t reply to him at all, and this year he sent me an email with an attachment which I believe was a virus so he could hack my email or computer somehow, but I didn’t open it. I have three friends from my old job who I want to invite to my wedding, but I’m worried that if I do, they’ll tell someone he knows about where my wedding is and he will try and sabotage it. Do you think I am being paranoid? And what should I do about my friends? They don’t know about my previous involvement with him as far as I know and I’d rather not tell them.

Nat’s Response

First things first, block him on everything possible. You should be able to block his email address so that you never see an email from him again. If it’s a personal email address and you’re OK with changing it, then you could switch over to a new one, but only do this if you think it’s necessary, or you can’t block him on it, which you should be able to. You can also mark his email as spam so it shouldn’t show in your inbox, but basically block, block, block and block. I should add, too, that it’s possible that the email he sent or appeared to send was an actual spam email — so one where his account has been hacked and then it sends out emails that make it look like it’s from him with the attachment. Given that you’ve ignored him for two years, sending an attachment is super weird, hence why I mention the possible hack on his end. But, of course, it may well be him. So, block away!

It’s not unusual to feel somewhat paranoid after being involved with someone like him, but you have to be careful of letting your own mind do his dirty work.

I think what you have to weigh up here is whether you genuinely want to invite these people to your wedding. Are they your friends? If so, invite them. You can always say that given that you’re not inviting lots of people from your old job, you’d appreciate it if they’d keep the invite on the QT so as to avoid an awkward situation. Or, you’re honest with them and admit that you were involved with him, that it was a massive mistake, that it’s obviously very much a thing of the past but that given that he still emails you periodically, not to mention the wedding to him as you don’t want him ramping up his efforts.

But… all that said, what exactly is it that you think he could do without looking batshit crazy?

You haven’t spoken to or engaged with him for over two years.

To do anything drastic, he’d have to out himself, which creates problems for his marriage.

One of the difficulties in being involved with someone who is narcissistic or who’s certainly inclined that way is that we inadvertently make ourselves super important, so we imagine that they’re thinking about us all the time or cooking up plans to destroy us or that we’re one of their ‘projects’, so someone they’re biding their time to destroy. It’s one thing if the latter is true (and you’d know about it because sociopaths don’t wait two years and send an email a year).

But what you maybe need to consider is whether there’s a part of you (ego) that wants to think that you’re still a target, still important to him? This isn’t because you’re into him but more down to catastrophic thinking and possibly an element of inadvertently sabotaging your happiness about your upcoming nuptials.

This is a good time to do The Behind The Problem Sessions.

I get not exactly being in a rush to tell your friends that you were involved with him, but I don’t think it’s worth not inviting them and alienating you from them on a just in case. So you need to get absolutely truthful with you about how real a possibility his behaviour is, and you need to block him.

 

August

How to avoid oversharing or undersharing?

I’m a private person – too private. However, as a people pleaser, I sometimes overshare in social situations when I feel that I’m being too quiet and people are noticing. Every time, I regret it. For example, I once told coworkers, who I don’t know well, a childhood story that I still carry some shame about, and that I barely tell people I consider friends.

But at the same time, I can sometimes ‘undershare’. In certain circles, I’m known as the person who gives no details about her life. I’m not splitting personalities, I just literally can’t tell how much is “normal” to share without over or underdoing it while maintaining my personal privacy comfort level but truly connecting with others to the appropriate degree in the moment. How can I balance all of this? Or am I overthinking it?

Nat’s Response

My first thought as I read this was Isn’t oversharing in those situations a way of making people regret thinking that you should have been more talkative? A bit like putting them off in advance of next time?

When it comes to disclosing personal information, like everything in life, intentions dictate outcomes. 

Are you disclosing personal information because you genuinely want to as part of opening up in an intimate relationship or furthering dialogue and understanding in a social situation or, are you disclosing because you want people to see something about you? Are you, in fact, trying to push them away? Are you trying to ‘fit in’ because you think that you are going to be alienated or that you are not looking or acting ‘right’ only to then feel as if you’ve misread the situation?

Basically, the feelings, thoughts, and what might be hidden motivations, are responsible for those disclosures. 

‘Oversharing’ is a tricky one in the sense that there are times when we feel that we’ve overshared when we haven’t, and also that it’s subjective due to it being relative to our perception of what oversharing is as well as the other person’s perception. 

What happened with your coworkers isn’t actually uncommon. People often share personal stories with coworkers because we spend a significant portion of our week at work, and some of them feel like family or friends, even if on reflection, we decide otherwise. I’ve heard from a number of people who told someone they worked with that they were being abused after keeping it from friends and family. Those people were helped to leave these abusive relationships as a result. 

Why do we tell someone we hardly know or don’t regard as a close friend something deeply personal that we haven’t or wouldn’t tell friends or family? Well, sometimes it feels too loaded to the latter, like they will chime in and say certain things or have certain expectations. Sometimes it’s because it feels less vulnerable. Sometimes it’s because we feel as if the people in that dynamic have the intellect or the empathy or whatever to handle what we are saying. 

So, in answer to your question of what’s ’normal’, judging it from a place of ’normality’ isn’t the way to go. 

How much you share is relative to the context and person you’re sharing it with as well as what you feel comfortable sharing and your intentions. 

I come from a family where the attitude on both sides is to not talk about nothing to nobody. ‘Don’t embarrass yourself’ and keeping family secrets, well, secret. That is most definitely a cultural issue that’s also been about protecting ourselves in environments where we’ve felt under threat (when you’re an immigrant in a country that doesn’t like the colour of your skin, for example) and to protect our pride, but goes too far in associating shame with talking about one’s self or talking about our problems. For example, in African and Caribbean culture, it has often been frowned upon in the past to see a therapist. 

I share a lot about myself through my work, but I do it with boundaries: I know the intention behind why I’m sharing something and even if what I share has been a source of shame in the past or still brings a bit of discomfort, I am not shaming me for the experience or for wanting to talk about it hence I can handle someone else’s reaction. 

The way to balance it, for want of a better term, is to be intentional. That includes noticing how you talk about you before or after you share. It is totally normal to go through experiences of feeling that you have under or overshared. These are the way you bring it into balance. Notice what, if anything, you felt uncomfortable about when you perceived you to have overshared. You will still share, you will just tweak the bit that made you uncomfortable. 

This post is a good primer on disclosing your past and sharing. 

Which needs to I have to step up for myself on?

I’ve started on Break the Cycle, and when I work through understanding my desires and wants in a relationship, I find a number of critical voices come up. E.g. “What makes you think you deserve that?”, “You’re setting yourself up for failure there”, “You have a child, your needs and wants don’t count”. Amongst these another critical voice comes up – yours Natalie – sorry can’t control that one. What I get from your voice is “You should be stepping up and providing that for yourself!”.

How do I know which needs, wants and desires are OK to have in a relationship, and what must I do for myself?

Thanks for the course – enjoying it.

Nat’s Response

All needs are, for all intents and purposes, ‘ok to have’ in a relationship, as long as you yourself are meeting that need in some way, whether that is through actions, thinking and attitude or through the choices you’re making.

The need in and of itself doesn’t tend to be the problem — it’s how you go about meeting the need or who you expect it from or even prioritising one or two needs over others at the expense of your wellbeing.

“What makes you think you deserve that?” There’s a belief that you haven’t earned your needs being met. This speaks to something from childhood about worthiness.

“You’re setting yourself up for failure there” There’s a belief that needs are wrong lurking there. See previous.

“You have a child, your needs and wants don’t count”. This voice speaks to a belief that mothering is about sacrificing yourself and becoming needless. Actually, it isn’t. It is possible to be a fully-fledged human and love and take care of your child. In fact, it’s the best thing for them. You neglecting you impacts on your ability to be present to your child. Again, the how bit is where things can go awry. For example, one friend felt that she needed companionship and sex. That’s fine. What she didn’t need to do was introduce her children to the guy a week into dating him.

You are not an island, so it’s impossible to be and do everything yourself. Every single human on the planet does everything throughout their day to meet their needs. We do this through a variety of relationships including romantic, although a heavy emphasis is put on the latter because people think that a relationship will make them happy because their partner will be responsible for their happiness. And they think this to a large degree because they themselves believe that it is their job to make their partner happy if they want to be able to hold onto them and the relationship. This isn’t true. It’s not your job to make them happy (or vice versa). It’s your job to take care of you (and they them), and as a result of that, you take care of each other healthily because you each understand your respective needs.

The attached exercise: figure out your voids helps you to recognise which needs, even if they’re healthy, the how bit (who you’re expecting it from or whether or not you’re doing it) is affecting you.

Also go to masterclasses, go to the needs section of the page and watch the’ Taking A Stand’ class. It breaks down needs in the context of relationships.

Does my 'ex' have a right to be angry?

About 15 years ago, I had a mainly sexual relationship with a guy, lasting a few years, whilst using my imagination to pad out the crumbs. It has never felt like the ‘relationship’ ended. He would sleep with me, then ask another girl out. I would pretend I was fine whilst then spending days in bed crying and even feel suicidal at one point. I’ve never expressed my feelings to him. He is now married to a girl he ‘left’ me for. They’ve two kids. When he sees me, he acts excited, which I’ve found confusing and exciting, interpreting it as him caring in some way. I’ve ignored him for over ten years. Last year he and his wife came into a store I was working in. I had to serve them, which was awkward. He stared at me intensely, trying to make conversation. He was trying to be ‘nice’ but came across as patronising, and I felt angry. He came back a few days later and tried to get my attention by beeping his car horn and waving frantically when I finally looked. I’ve seen him twice in the last week. He ignored me and looked angry. I’ve applied for a job in the same place he works and may run into him on occasion too; I’d appreciate any advice you can give x

Nat’s Response

It strikes me that applying for a job in the same place as your toxic ex is setting you up for pain. It’s like you’re trying to put you in the position of being hurt all over again and feeling as if you’ve failed. The fact that it feels like the relationship never ended, even though it did, is a major sign that you need to halt and be very honest with you about your motivations for applying for this job.

Even if it didn’t feel like it ended, it did. There doesn’t have to be an announcement, and while it would be ideal if there were a level of decency in how it ended, he doesn’t even need your involvement in ending it. Unfortunately, with sexual relationships, them being sexual denotes how it ends — often by tapering out or by discovering that they’re sleeping with or married to someone else. 

You don’t feel as if you have closure, but it’s not him that gives it to you; it’s you. 

The thing about sexual relationships of this nature is that we mistake the fact that we are allowing ourselves to be used by somebody sexually as us having some level of power over them, especially when they keep coming back. We use the sex as currency to negotiate with, to feel valued by, and then feel discarded and devalued when they sleep with someone else or they move on altogether. 

These slivers of acknowledgement from him are being interpreted as him still sexually desiring you, as him still caring, when, in fact, he’s just a narcissistically inclined person with low pride brazening it out and getting off on having power over you. He was actually dropping hints to his wife that he had been involved with you. That is why he did it: to mess with her head. His behaviour is entirely inappropriate and suggests that he hasn’t changed at all. He is only behaving angrily now to make you go chasing after him so that he can re-establish the power play. 

It is 2019. This is an involvement from 2004 that’s been over for at least ten years. 

Should that run your life now? At what point do you close down an involvement and cash yourself out?

Fifteen years is a long time to harbour resentment, hurt, and a desire for validation from a guy that doesn’t deserve the steam off your pee, never mind your time. 

Cancel the job application. Unless this is the job of a lifetime and you intend to put an end to this fantasy immediately, don’t go there. It’s better for you to work through your feelings about the experience so that you can put closure on it. 

How to stop seeking male validation as a distraction from pain?

I have identified a pattern in recent years; whenever I am depressed, going through a difficult patch, or experiencing feelings of fear and anxiety, I start having a relationship with a man that turns so intense in a short time. I find it so hard to let go even though I know the man is no good. The reason I won’t let go is me mostly trying to block my feelings and to distract me from facing and living my life ( which I think is miserable). How can I break this cycle? Your previous email helped A LOT, but I am still struggling. Thanks.

Nat’s Response

The way to break the cycle is to halt and confront the feelings. So, literally feel your feelings and allow you to be discomfort, possibly with support from a professional at the same time if these are bouts of depression where you don’t feel that confronting your feelings on your own (e.g. journaling, literally sitting with your feelings, allowing the feelings to pass and noticing how they shift and change, acknowledging what the feelings are about, acknowledging what the feelings are similar to, noticing how what you think and say affects how you feel as well as what you do next).

This means that it’s beneficial also to make a note of what the pattern is, so break it down into much smaller parts.

What sets off the depression? – specifics, e.g. people, type of situation, events, particular feeling
How do you know when you are experiencing a bout of depression?
What do you do once you become aware of it? These pieces of information allow you to notice earlier points at which you can opt to do something different.
Also, break down the interaction with a person into smaller parts. So, start from the moment that you, for example, connect with the person online through to when things start to go awry.

Also, get specific about what you are trying to avoid. So, not just the feelings you are blocking, although it’s handy to note that too, but also what specific elements of your life are you trying to avoid? Are they that miserable and are they worse, for instance, than being with somebody who is abusive or certainly shady?

 Try resources like…

Feelings Diary Guide
How to Keep a Log of Your Cues and Triggers
How To Self-Soothe Guide
Identifying Your Blocks To Self-Care

These are not instant fixes: this is data gathering that points you in the direction of where you can choose a different path that allows you to take care of you. There isn’t a way to avoid your feelings. You can delay them, but they are far worse afterwards, and it’s basically the difference between choosing clean and dirty pain.

Also, listen to The Anxiety Sessions 

How do I heal unresolved lingering anger issues?

Met a man two weeks ago in Florida, spent two whole days together going out, meshed etc…when I get back to Houston, I went from 0 to 1000 with expectations and in 3 days that hit the floor lol, I’m huge on if you say you’ll call in 30 min, then call! Told him it was uncomfortable for me when he says something and doesn’t do it. He said I’m right; he’ll work on it, no excuses. And has a ton going on on top of his mom’s one-year anniversary for when she passed all of a sudden, and he’s very close with his family. The stories he shares of his dad are EXACTLY of my family. Anyways, that happened a few times, and I had enough by the 3rd-4th time, so I went off, and we already planned on seeing each other again. Somehow I take things way too seriously too fast, and now I’m like whatever happens happens. I’ve been getting to know him more in person. He said when I’m upset he will wait until I’m calm to communicate as it’s not wise to talk in that form and he knew I was flying back out anyway and wanted to talk in person. I’m aware his mind is everywhere, and when I leave, I told him, it is what it is, kinda like I’m watching his words/actions as he plans a trip to Houston. No judgement on him really as I’m just watching & learning who he is. The fact that in 1 week of getting to know him only, that much anger made me go off bc he didn’t keep his word happened in my last relationship in the first week too, and I’m so frustrated with this deep-seated anger, weirdly 2 days ago my brother said I’m reading booked called anger factor that digs into unresolved anger, I think you should read it, perfect time.I think that having an expectation that people keep their word isn’t unrealistic per se, but what I notice is a rigidity about it that’s used to control people and situations. It is your way of setting boundaries when actually, you’re using expectations as a way to control your fears, which isn’t the same thing.

Nat’s Response

What happens if someone says that they’ll call in thirty minutes, but they call in sixty instead? Is it that much of a thing? Bottom line, in that instance, they called. You have to be careful of trying to own people’s time.

When you put your expectations into the context of his situation, I think that you are expecting too much given that you barely know him and he’s in the middle of an incredibly tumultuous time. At the same time, he needs to be more realistic with his time. Not sure why he is setting such a specific timeframe. He could easily say “I’ll give you a call later” or “I’ll give you a call before 9.” Why does it have to be so granular, and why wouldn’t he have learned his lesson after catching his hand in the equivalent of the bear trap a few times?

You need to be honest with you about what this anger and control are about, because the truth is, it sure as hell isn’t him. You didn’t know this 2.5 weeks ago, and you spent two days together. That doesn’t mean that something potentially couldn’t come of this, but you both need to park it until he’s got his situation calmed down, and you’re in a position to be calmed down.

That much anger in the first week is a sign that you are triggered. You need to acknowledge the baggage behind it. Truth is, it really doesn’t matter to your sense of self-worth and the safety of your life if he hasn’t called in thirty minutes. If nothing comes of your two days, you had a great two days. Your life will not fall apart. You will be OK.

You need to identify where you got the idea that you set rules for your partner. Why are the rules so rigid?

A rule exists as a response to old hurt and guilt. You create the rule to protect you from getting hurt, but all you end up doing is feeling crap because the fear remains.

You are in danger of communicating the wrong things about yourself: that you have trust issues based on another man or possibly several men.

You say that because he didn’t keep his word in the first week like an ex that it made you go off. So, here’s the thing: if that’s how you feel about it, let him go.

Em was late on our first date because there was a delay on his train. If I had a rule that someone has to be on time or that people who are late are shitty people, I would have judged him for him being late. It was no big deal. I chilled out at the bookshop outside the train station, and we had a great time.

The problem is not him calling after thirty minutes; the problem is how you respond to it. That’s not for him to manage.

You can make a decision to choose to talk you down off the ledge.

Fact is, you don’t keep your word to the letter in every situation in life. If you go back over your life, you will see that. And people still love you and have a degree of flexibility with you.

 

Sit with your feelings for a bit and think back to that other relationship where he broke his word in the first week. Is it really about him breaking his word in the first week, or is it about something else? Does him breaking his word in that way in the first week have anything to do with what you put up with afterwards? If so, be honest about what you’re really angry about and why you are carrying it from relationship to relationship. What is its purpose? What does it give you permission to do or avoid? On a scale of 1-10, how angry do you still feel about the breaking of the word in the first week? If it’s above a 4, and when you acknowledge the time passed since that event, this is hogging up your bandwidth for a relationship. The problem then isn’t that he broke his word but that you are still hanging on to it with a white knuckle grip. What purpose does being angry have in your life? Food for thought.

How to "live" life knowing it is a risk?

OK, so, any of us could befall a life-changing illness/accident or even death any moment of any day. Living life seems harder when you have something to lose, i.e. something you want to do and live for. It seemed easier to be depressed and not care about myself (not really true but in some ways, it was). My question? How do you cope with the knowledge that your life could “end” anytime and “live” your life unparalysed by trying to make things safe when there is no such thing really? I have been a bit Pure O about things i.e. Pure O is the rumination/thinking obsessing part of OCD without the compulsions so all in my head, i.e. bad stuff won’t happen if I……..

Nat’s Response

Well, the funny thing is that you’re already living life knowing that there is a risk. Sure, there are times when you’ve been more aware of this risk than others, but you have and already are living your life. 

I met a colleague of my husband’s several years back, and when he found out what I do, we got into a deep conversation about his attitude to life, which was basically what you describe. Here’s the thing: he had a young son with his ex-partner, and due to his attitude of ‘I could die at any time’, he avoided closeness with his son. He didn’t want to be devastated if something happened to him, and he didn’t want his son to hurt too much if he were to die suddenly. 

The problem, though, with this mentality is that it robs you of your present and future while you are here. I pointed out to him that if he lives for another forty years with this attitude to protect himself, he will have robbed himself of a beautiful, rewarding relationship with his son, all because he thought that he was going to die before then. About a year or so later, I heard from him via my husband about how his whole life had changed with his son. He realised that it was a far greater problem that he would be a detached father than about when he was going to die. 

I get the preoccupation. Losing people does that. I am more aware of my mortality after losing dad, but I’ve also had a niggling anxiety in the past about missing the boat. I also, after becoming a mother, went through a period of being deeply anxious about something happening to the kids or Em. He would be delayed on the train, and I’d imagine the police turning up to say that he’d been in an accident or something. It got really bad at one point, and I realised that my preoccupation with how it could all come to an end was bringing me to an end. When my eldest started secondary school, my mind started running to places about how to protect her against all the awful things I imagined. 

There is no easy answer to this question. At the end of the day, you can’t focus on making things safe because it’s all relative to what’s in your field of awareness and you don’t know how your life is going to end or when. All you’d be doing is prepping for something every day that might not happen for a hell of a long time. 

We all have lifetimes with a beginning and an end that we live in between. 

 

The deeper question to ask is: why now?

Why, when you could be, for example, living deeper in your relationship(s) or enjoying aspects of your life, are you so focused on this? What is the purpose of your mind going to these places? You will see that it’s a distraction from something else that you feel out of control of. 

If you feel that this is becoming compulsive and that it’s a way of managing anxiety about something, consider checking in with a health professional about it, just to be on the safe side. They may be able to offer some support to help to manage the thoughts. 

 

Always trying to find a cause/questioning myself.

I know I have touched on this before, but I still have niggling thoughts on whether my career plays a role in relationships not going the distance.

I am a creative design contractor for Film & TV. The contract can last from 3- 9 months – depending on the job, and then, the whole production ceases & we all become unemployed until we get a new contract.

Our work hours are 11 hour days (Including 1hr lunch), and I usually need to be in the office for this. The hours are not the ‘norm’, but I do get months of not working (but also unpaid, so I get social welfare). It is unionised, so we do get decent pay whilst working on a project.

I have tried to get a ‘normal’ 9-5 on my free time, but it’s never really happened, and I really feel as if I’d be bored in a normal design job.
I love what I do. I get to live my creative dream, I just don’t love the hours. I work with different people and teams a lot, but it’s never permanent. The thing is, I feel that to have a good relationship and/or a family, these hours deem me to be unable to have the energy and time to give much during my contract, to a relationship – at least this is what came to me during my last breakup. I have a mortgage to pay, so I need to work enough to cover me and this is the way to make my money. 
Am I choosing men who can’t understand? Am I not setting my life up well for a relationship? Am I emotionally unavailable to give whilst working these long hours? 

I feel most people are brought. up in a 9-5 situation and don’t understand or can’t handle the way I work. I am not a workaholic, as I sometimes only work 6months per year- so it balances out yearly.

It’s so difficult to change a career at this stage in my life & I have been trying to figure this out for years, 
Some insight would be great! Thanks!

Nat’s Response

It’s funny: I thought about your previous question about this last week. It popped into my head. It was one of those things where it felt like more would become clear. 

The thing about life is that we consciously and unconsciously design it to suit our beliefs and our needs, and that includes our fears. We might, for example, be drawn to a certain style of working because of what it allows us to do or not do. 

When we work for ourselves, we can sometimes find that we design ourselves into a trap. For instance, we opt to work in a particular way because of the creativity and the freedom and flexibility, only to find that we are the worst boss we’ve ever had or that we don’t have the freedom and flexibility because of the way that we do things. 

Sometimes we unconsciously opt for hectic and uncertain, albeit fulfilling and creative careers in part, because the instability or the demands of the work are distracting, allowing us to avoid handling certain feelings or dealing with certain areas of our life. 

You are in an enviable position in that you love what you do; the problem is that you don’t necessarily love how you do it. 

What I often find in these situations (and I’ve been there myself) is that there is a blind spot about how you can adapt. We often see the way we do things as the only way or are not aware of other options in our field.

So, for example, our age group and older were taught that you get a job/contract, and they set the rules. That you go to college, study something, follow a path, and that determines what you do. Our generation, in particular, were really that generation of women who had the ‘Women can do it all’ and whose parents encouraged them to go onto further education rather than expecting that the focus would be on finding a fella. Here’s the problem:

There isn’t a set path. That’s the old system. I even know of doctors who have realised that the ordained path is not their path and are doing some pretty out-there things.

But what I often find in these situations is that when you want to open up your life in new ways, you feel stuck because we are the generation that expects to apply for a job or to slot into a defined career. When we wonder what to do next, while we will undoubtedly innovate where we can, we often first look to what is existing. 

I would encourage you to do a few things as a starting point:

Look at whether everyone who works in your kind of job is single, and if they’re not, what are they doing? Do they have a family? Do some proper looking around. 

What do people move on to? It’s unrealistic to expect to do the same thing until kingdom come. I found that turning 40 totally flagged this up to me, and I felt lost for a bit. You are likely at a point where you need to shake things up a bit and find a new way to do what you love. 

What other work can you do that utilises the same creative skills? 

Retrace your steps to when you first started working in this way. Were you dealing with a big stress? Did you regard this style of work as an escape from anything?

Who said that this was the only way to work, and is it possible that in the time since you first started to now, that other ways have prevented themselves?

Don’t look at it as changing career per se; it might be an idea to look at it as redefining your career. In all honesty, you will find that everything that you’ve done to this point is preparing you for something else that you will do that will totally incorporate it. I never worked in product design (what I have my degree in), but I have used it a hell of a lot. I used to work in advertising and magazine publishing, and that shows up in fascinating ways in my work. Sometimes we’re a bit too literal and don’t see the wood for the trees. Is it possible that because you’re highly creative that you could be teaching others something? Is your knowledge transferable in some way that you can sell your skills via something online or through workshops and classes? 

 

Highly recommend the book Pivot by Jenny Blake. 

 

How do I keep my perfectionism from impacting my self care?

I’ve been on a journey of consistent self-care but lately realized I’m trying to be “perfect” about it. I find myself wanting to take long baths with essential oils, meditate, journal, brush up on my French, workout, read, listen to podcasts, take e-courses on awesome sites (including yours!) all at the same time and I am overwhelmed. By wanting to do it all and I have fallen off on some of the very things that have been impactful (affirmations, for example). They all seem EQUALLY important, and I don’t know how to balance. I’ve tried selecting a specific night to read or start an e-course and have that be my sole focus, but then it seems like I’m missing out on other things I should be doing (that solo trip to Colorado won’t plan itself). How do I prioritize the self-care elements and feel like I’m not “dropping the ball”? I have journals that are unfinished, e-courses forever stuck on day 9 out of 30, self-help books collecting dust, podcasts piling up and no matter what I am doing (and I do at least one thing a day) it never feels like its enough. Help!

Nat’s Response

Lovely as that all sounds, my immediate thought was that it sounds like a bit much, which I know is funny given that it’s self-care, but it almost sounds like you’re overloaded with ideas. 

I know how that feels. I’m an ideas person plus I really enjoy immersing myself in creative projects plus I’m aware of the need to ‘do me,’ i.e. self-care. If I don’t practice a level of discipline, I too feel overwhelmed and also like I’m dropping the ball, which defeats the purpose. 

It isn’t possible to do it all every day, or at once. It’s better to keep a running list of things that you want to do and pick something to have a go of. Do that often enough that you have a genuine gauge of whether you enjoy it or how much it does for your sense of wellbeing and then try something else/add something into the mix. 

You are right that it’s perfectionism. As a recovering perfectionist, I endeavour to give myself grace while at the same time noticing where I’m creating a situation where I’m going to end up feeling rubbish because I overdid it and expected too much of myself. 

There is no such thing as everything being equally important every moment of the day. It’s also OK to have things to do in the future as well as incomplete stuff. For example, I started weaving a few weeks back, and I really enjoyed it. I’m probably a quarter of the way through. Now, I could give me a hard time that I haven’t been able to get back to it for a few weeks and have done other things in the meantime (paint, draw, sewn, holiday, etc.), or, I can focus on the fact that I enjoyed it, that I relaxed, and that it’s there when I want to pick it up. So, with this in mind, here are a few tips:

1. Keep a running list of ideas of things you want to do. Don’t aim to do them immediately. They are things that you can do in the future if you feel so inclined, or that if you run out of things to do or need to change things up, you can pick something. 

2. Try doing things for short periods but together. For example, if you do 5-10 minutes of reading, journaling and meditating, that’s 15-30 minutes that you maybe did at the start, middle or end of the day that ticks a few boxes. 

3. Pick, a few things (sometimes mine is 2-3, sometimes it’s 3-5), allocate that little chunk of time to each one each day (or for 5 out of 7 days or however long) and just do those. See it as an experiment. Maybe you drop one the following week that hasn’t resonated, or you swap it with something else to mix things up or try something out. Or, you add in something (so you go from 3 to 4 things because you’ve got into the rhythm with 3. You might find that you want to stick to a group of things for longer so that they feel more like a long-lasting habit, or you might prefer to rotate if you’re that much of an ideas person that it feels like something’s burning a hole in your pocket. 

4. There is no actual dropping of the ball. The fact that you are doing something contributes to the cumulative effect. It’s not about doing all the things as if there’s an exhaustive amount; it’s about taking time for you. Consistently doing something, even if it’s lots of small things spread out over time, builds up. It’s like putting money in a piggy bank. 

5. Be experimental rather than rigid. Otherwise, you will suck the fun out of it. This isn’t a chore. It’s including you in your own life and taking a little bit of time, even if it’s twenty minutes a day, that is all about you. The build-up of that over several weeks, never mind several months, is surprisingly powerful. 

6. It’s not an exam. You can have one hundred journals if you feel like it. Unless your aim was to use a journal to complete a daily project from page one to the end, there is no need to ‘complete’. That’s not the point of journaling. Gather the journals together and cut out pages and group into one if needed. It’s also OK to have journals for different things (one for out and about, one for work, one for outpourings, etc).

7. Whatever you do is enough for that day. If it bothers you to have so many podcasts, do a cleanup and unsubscribe. 

8. Go back to ecourses as and when needed. Sometimes you get everything you need at that point. Use the experience to refine how you purchase. Add future course purchase ideas to a Wishlist and that way you don’t buy on impulse. I took a course a few years back. I did not finish it, but in the first module, one piece of advice caused me to make a change in my business that changed everything. Job done. I’ve gone back periodically to try to finish the course, but haven’t. Who cares? It still helped me!

9. It’s OK to miss a day or a few days. It actually causes you to miss some stuff. I have weeks like that, and then I notice, slow down, and go for a walk, or stretch the following morning, or have an early night, and boom, I’m doing something.

Hope that helps.

Dealing with a distancing friend

Over the last two years, I worked with a younger woman (I was the boss), and we also developed a close friendship. She felt like my ‘other little sister’. We are both in different job situations but still in the same profession, and moved to the same city, but she has been distancing me (not answering phone calls or texts) off and on for the last few months. When we do talk or get together, everything is great & fun then intermittent after. Can friends be hot & cold too–or ‘give good date’ but still be hurtful? This hurts as I really care for her and trusted her.

Nat’s Response

It’s a good idea to step back and get clear on what being her ‘big sister’ meant to you, so what was involved and how was she expected to behave in order to fit what you wanted to do. The reason for this is that your expectations might not be based on her or an equitable friendship but one where you are the boss or older. She may have been OK with that role when you worked together, but you’ve both evolved since then, and if your friendship is to evolve and survive, you both need to be friends, not big sister, little sister, or boss and subordinate. 

The dynamic is likely to have inadvertently stepped into The Karpman Drama Triangle (see The Drama Sessions) where you were the rescuer, and she was the victim. In these situations, though, whether you call the role these or something else, one or both parties get tired of being in that role. 

It also sounds like even though you are both having a great time when hanging out, there is something unspoken on one or both sides. Otherwise, you would have just asked her what was up.

On one hand, you could argue that if you’re both having a great time when you meet up or talk when the relationship is based on talking and seeing each other occasionally, that maybe that is where your relationship is at this time — that might be its sweet spot. 

You’re no longer in the same jobs, you’re not her boss, and life has moved forward — it’s possible that the friendship, or certainly your perception of it, hasn’t caught up to that. 

Be honest with yourself about what your expectations are of this friendship and why. 

So, what do you expect her to do, how often you expect her to call, how do you expect to hang out, etc., and what this is based on? As in, where did you get this idea that this is how your friendship should operate? 

Keep in mind, also, that what you are feeling isn’t unusual — it’s highly common.

This is one of those situations that’s here to highlight a blind spot or where you need to be more mindful.

It’s not that you guys don’t have a friendship; it’s that your expectations of the friendship might inadvertently be based on her looking up to you in some form or relying on you, and so now that she’s not, you maybe feel rejected or a bit surplus to requirements. A part of you might be wondering who else she’s relying on. 

It’s also worth considering whether how you feel about this friendship has anything to do with your role as a big sister to an actual sibling.

So, for example, if you have a sibling, but you are not as close as you would like to be, some of your feelings might be connected to this. Or, if you’ve had other friendships where you’re in the big sister role (or have been someone’s little sister to their big sister), how is this influencing your perception of this friendship?

I think that it is possible for certain friends to be hot and cold, and by extension, these are not close friendships as claiming to be close friends with someone like this is a recipe for pain. In those friendships, it’s always worth asking ourselves, Why, if this person is blowing hot and cold and I’m not fulfilled by this friendship am I continuing to be available when they feel like it? In those instances, confronting our own motives and how we might be willing to be used to be seen in a particular way or to try to win them over helps us to break out of that pattern.

But based on what you’ve written here, I don’t think it’s about hot and cold per se; I think it’s about a relationship that has evolved outside of what you expect it to be. It’s like you being her mentor and also feeling like close friends but maybe now that the job situation has changed, how you look at the friendship and interact within it has to change too. 

How do I go about asserting a boundary with my ex who is also my co-worker?

I need help around asserting boundaries. To give you some context: I have been in a “lean period” for several years now, which probably explains how I ended up in an on-again, off-again situation with a guy at work. He ended it a few months ago. Consequently, I decided not to make contact with him as I don’t believe he ever treated me well to begin with.

I needed the space. Each separation has been particularly painful for me, this last one included. With my lack of boundaries and trying to “get” a relationship out of him, I let him in without really knowing him. Recently he and I were chosen to be part of an audit at work. Once he learned I was also chosen, he emailed me some of the materials used to prepare for the audit. I responded to the email just thanking him – no more no less. That was last week. But now he has taken to direct messaging me every day since then. While the content has been primarily work-related, with the way things ended, I am not comfortable with this. I don’t want to be used for his comfort or a springboard.

Nat’s Response

I don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable with this situation that’s unfolding.

You were in an on-again, off-again situation with this guy that after he ended it, you distanced yourself. It’s understandable. Not only had you been through a break-up but you also had to work together, and so there has to be space to redefine the boundaries so that you’re not endangering your emotional wellbeing, but you’re also not adding unnecessary stress to your life or crossing professional boundaries. 

The thing about the average person on the receiving end of this is that even though they may have been the ones to end it or they didn’t treat us well, they hate the fact that you won’t put on a show and give them the time of day. It bugs them that you might think that they’re not a very nice person and that you actually may have developed enough of an emotional backbone that you won’t be suckered in by their stuff. It’s almost like when you were prepared to give them the time of day even though they weren’t treating you well, they could deny their own actions and focus on yours or the fact that they’re just taking what you’re giving, but when you won’t talk to them, that suddenly makes them acutely aware of their behaviour. It’s like even though they, on some level, knew that they weren’t treating you well, they could deny it when you were engaging, but now that you’re not, they feel guilty and want you to play ball so that they can get rid of the feeling. 

I suggest that due to the nature of your previous relationship, that you gently but firmly (I know) create the boundary:

Hi, I’ve noticed that since we’ve been put on this audit together that you’ve taken to DM’ing me a lot. Given our previous history, how we used to communicate, and the fact that we haven’t been speaking for several months, this isn’t something I’m comfortable with, so it needs to stop. Us working on this audit isn’t a reset on what’s occurred. I will, of course, be professional, but the DMs need to stop (use the company email) and please don’t try to cross the line into personal territory. I trust that you will respect my wishes. 

This is just a generalised idea of what to say (tweak as you see fit), but aim for brevity and don’t get personal or detailed. A response like this communicates your boundaries and the state of play loud and clear, and then your subsequent actions reflect it. 

 

If he DMs again, respond via the company email. 

If he makes any reference to non-work stuff in any communications, ignore it. Only respond to the work stuff. 

Keep in mind that at the level you’re engaging, you are not going to be his comfort or springboard. Your fear of this is based on your old identity (how you were with him), not who you are. 

Decide that you are not someone who feels the need to pacify or make nice with someone who hasn’t treated you well. Professional, by the way, is just being civil. You don’t need to be friendly. 

Keep your side of the street clean by remembering who you are, not who you were. That version of you used to put up with his crap, but you’ve grown since then and get to choose. 

You are 100% within your rights to draw a line with him. You don’t need to tell him about himself. I sense that you might feel somewhat bruised by what happened (understandable) but if you choose to stop seeing him as The One Who Got Away or The One Who Has All The Power and realise that he doesn’t matter that much and you don’t want him or a relationship with him anyway, it takes the sting out of things. Be thankful that he ended it because now you don’t have to participate and you get to be an even better version of you.

Good luck!

My friend crossed the line and now she's distanced herself from me

OK, so I’ve been asking about relationship ‘stuff’ as an ongoing saga..which it is… But today I wanted to loop back around on some friendship issues. A while ago I mailed about a friend who’d upset me re comments about my daughter’s health (the one who suggested social workers would be ‘after’ me!). Well, things stayed weird for a while. Only saw her a few times, always with my daughter who acts as a barrier to grown-up conversations! This was by my friend’s choice. She’d said originally that she wanted to apologise in person. She never did. Carpet sweeping continued. I tried to be nice. But obviously, our friendship had and has changed.

Recently it was her birthday, so I thought ‘she’s an old friend. Let me show her I still care by sending a bday text’. Then, I got a total blank… A few days later I texted ‘You OK?’ And nothing. Now I’m feeling a bit sad she didn’t reply. But also that I don’t want to keep bending over backwards to make the friendship ‘OK’ when it’s clearly not.

I understand friendships change over time. But I’m feeling a bit ‘hang on, you upset me, I told you, you apologised but didn’t follow up with actions, and now I’m getting blanked for being ‘nice’?!’ Whaasat!
It’s OK, but it’s not OK. It’s a bit sad (we’ve been friends for 20 years) yet I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with it/her right now. Is this lazy, of me? Or just a signal that the friendship really is done? Have I ‘broken up’ with my friend?!

Since becoming a mum, I’ve made a few new ‘mum mates’ who I really like. But it’s not the same as a 20-year friendship. However, maybe it will be one day. Thanks x

Nat’s Response

I think what this friend did is that she said she wanted to apologise in person because, on some level, that makes it sound like she’s super-apologetic without her having to actually apologise properly. It also delayed an actual conversation because it put it off to another time, allowing her not to have to deal with it. To be honest, if I were her (based on what you’ve said), I’d feel pretty crappy about what I said and what happened:

I’d feel bad that I said a shitty thing. 

And/or

I’d feel bad that you pointed out that I said a shitty thing. 

Some people (and you see this a lot in children) get very embarrassed and double down into worse behaviour or avoiding you when they get pulled up about something. I get the sense that because you’ve pointed out what happened, and rightly so, that she doesn’t feel as if your friendship can continue as it was before (or at all) because now you’ve basically implied (in her mind) that she is someone who doesn’t say nice things, or that she’s not a good a friend, or that she’s someone who is making a judgement about your parenting or you being a single mother.

I know it seems so outrageous that she is now mad at you even though she’s the one who said it, but humans aren’t rational creatures and she, on some level, feels indignant and hurt about what took place. I have a friend who another friend made a comment about “bastard children” to in what he felt was a joke, and other than when he had his leaving party, she hasn’t had anything to do with him in almost 18 months. He argued that she was making some pretty crass jokes about him, but she feels that he went too far.

One of the things that she might be using as a basis for her attitude is history. She might feel that because you’ve been friends for twenty years that you should know her intentions and that she was making a joke. Long-standing friendships sometimes have underlying tension that doesn’t fully come to the surface until a situation like this. I know that she is the one who said that she wanted to apologise in person, but I suspect that she changed her mind or wondered why she had to if the apology was accepted and you were both friends. She may have decided that she just wanted to move on.

And so the question you have to ask yourself is: If you know that you have both been friends for twenty years and you accept her apology, why does it matter if you had the whole in-person thing?

Is it possible that you are still angry with her and hadn’t really accepted her apology or that the incident ignited other anger with her? And… is it possible that you are holding her to her word because of someone else who you don’t hold to theirs? Bit like overcompensating. 

If things are weird between you both, it’s weird from both sides, and it’s possible that she has read this situation as a sign that you are not the friends you thought you were. If you keep waiting on her to say something because you feel like she owes you or that she should because of what she said, as annoying as her behaviour and attitude might be, you are both responsible for this situation.

I would also stop bending over backwards.

You’re only going to get angry with yourself and feel like a doormat when she doesn’t behave how you want her to. Rightly or wrongly, she feels hurt by what went down. And you do too. If this was solely about that comment and the apology had been accepted, or you didn’t think that there was maybe something not-so-good about your friendship, you wouldn’t be in this place. If you’re going to be friends, it has to be about more than history and her being around. You have to like each other for who you both are right now, and it has to be a healthy dynamic.

Leave it be. Stop chasing her. Yes, it’s a bit rubbish in the interim as she is a closer friend, but with your daughter starting school, you are going to get caught up with meeting new people. Let the dust settle, use journaling or self-reflection to get honest about what is really going on here, and trust that all things will become clear about the friendship.

Why am I emotionally unavailable when my dad wasn't?

In the past few years, I’ve gotten stuck in a series of casual and/or toxic relationships with emotionally unavailable men who treat me poorly–and I don’t understand why. The conventional wisdom is that I’m holding onto baggage from childhood, but my parents had and have a great relationship, and I’m closer to my father than just about anyone else in my family. I have followed in his footsteps professionally my whole life (we’re both writers). I sometimes wonder if it’s almost TOO good to the extent that it would be hard for anyone to live up to him. I do have a history going back to childhood of perfectionism, heavy self-criticism and impossibly high expectations, and being more comfortable obsessing and fantasizing about someone from a distance rather than risking myself in an actual relationship where there is a chance of being rejected. Part of that is my need to please my dad, but honestly, none of that came from him; it came from within me. What could be going on here?

Nat’s Response

Casual relationships equal ‘I am being casual about my needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions’.

Toxic relationships equal ‘I am accepting crumbs and busting my boundaries while making me responsible for their feelings, behaviour and lack of commitment. I have toxic beliefs about myself and relationships.’

When you get involved (and continue) with emotionally unavailable partners, it’s because you are also emotionally unavailable. Water seeks its own level and something about their attitude, behaviour etc., fits with your beliefs and the role you typically adopt in a relationship. 

When we get involved in unhealthy and unfulfilling relationships, it’s because, in these situations, we accept only slightly less from others than we do from ourselves. 

These relationships reflect the way that you feel about you. 

While plenty of people who had emotionally unavailable parents or who experienced abuse, neglect, deprivation, etc., get involved in unhealthy relationships with emotionally unavailable people or shady ones, there are plenty of people who for all intents and purposes had happy childhoods with loving parents who do too. 

Whatever our journey to this point, it’s not about blaming the parents, so rather than look to seek answers in your parents, step back and acknowledge that what you’re experiencing and doing is emblematic of how you feel about you, love and relationships. 

Your relationships are a pattern. Patterns are what happen when we’re living unconsciously. This means that these are learned habits of behaviour and thinking that you keep gravitating to.

These relationships feel like home. They are familiar. So, even if these people don’t seem obviously similar to your parents, what they are similar to is a pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving in this way. 

Ask yourself:

Who is it that even if I got it in the past, I still crave attention, affection, approval, love and validation from them?

Where else have I felt similarly to how I feel within these relationships? Remember: it doesn’t have to be a like-for-like situation. Where else have you thought, felt and acted similarly to how you do in your romantic relationships?

Which beliefs do these relationships reflect? What are these relationships validating and allowing you to avoid being or doing?

Think back to your childhood. Every person takes on a role or number of roles in their family. What was yours? How does it relate to what you do in your romantic relationships now?

 

You mention that you are very close to your father and that you have this need to please your dad. When that need is so strong, that is keeping you 1) in a child role and 2) triggering people pleasing behaviour. 

Why the need? Why do you have such a strong need to please your father that it runs your life? Where and why did you learn to be this way? So, what happened in the past that made you believe that this is what you have to do?

Your worth is tied up in pleasing your father, and this is keeping you small. When your life is so overshadowed by this male relationship, there isn’t any room for another significant male relationship in your life. Is it possible that you choose relationships that don’t threaten the status quo?

You also mention perfectionism, self-criticism and impossibly high expectations: this is precisely why you are not in healthy relationships because you are gravitating to relationships that allow you to keep on behaving and thinking in this way because you don’t believe that you are worthy of a relationship. Is it also possible that you are sabotaging yourself via romantic relationships so that you don’t do ’too well’ or so that you keep yourself in a state of angst? Are you afraid of outshining your father or sibling? Or, does your misery allow you to stay close to your father (maybe because you get to need him or he gets to feel needed) and so you fear being happy in case you lose that closeness.

You need to retrace your steps so that you can understand how and why this habit started. It’s a response to old hurt and loss that you haven’t forgiven your younger self for, and so you’re using an outdated identity to choose your relationships. 

Make sure you check out the masterclasses on patterns

And explore the foundational resources too. 

July

Stuck on decision-making - is this a sign of emotional unavailability?

I am lost and stuck… I just got a contract job offer over in Manchester for 9 months on a big job. At the moment I’m working on a contract that ends in two months. I had to make a very quick decision about this, but I couldn’t seem to get in touch with my gut..or I got confused with what I wanted to do. I felt really torn, as there were pros and cons to each job. I ready to leave and get a replacement for myself in the job I’m in, but I felt wracked with guilt and felt I was walking away from the commitment that I had made. My replacement was less experienced, and I really felt with the workload I would leave them in the lurch.

It got to the point that the designer in Manchester (Whom I used to work with in Dublin) had got the contract sent to me. Due to the nature of my work, everything moves very quickly.
Overnight I felt sick that I was going against my loyalties, and decided not to take the job in Manchester. Either way, I would have let one side down. I feel like now, I messed them around too much and may have burnt bridges.

Why did I mess them around?Is there a link between my type of career and my lack of committal relationships? I take everything so hard emotionally now.

Nat’s Response

One of the things that becomes clear in what you outlined is that you have a strong sense of responsibility — and are possibly over-responsible to boot. This is very typical if you’re the eldest or an only child, but it can apply to anyone who, in childhood, assumed or was given a great deal of responsibility, or took the fallout from something (e.g. divorce, bereavement, parents’ loss of home/job) very hard.

As with anything, there is light and shade. So, having a strong sense of responsibility makes you very loyal, hard-working, dedicated, possibly delivering to a high standard, and the like. The flip side of this, though, is that you will feel a great deal of guilt even when there isn’t any need. You might mistake servitude for loyalty. You might not know your boundaries, will push you too hard and might sacrifice too much of your needs, desires, expectations, etc.

One of the traps you’ve fallen into is behaving like an employee when you’re a contractor — and this is very common. In fact, in companies and industries where they prefer contractors (don’t have to benefits, etc.), they often work with contractors on an ongoing basis that ends up, from a tax perspective, being the equivalent of them being an employee.

Now, being a contractor doesn’t mean that you need to be a coldhearted mofo, and it obviously comes with its challenges, but one of the benefits of contracting is that you don’t have to approach things as an employee and get caught up in the minutiae of the business. I suspect that you’ve cultivated really good relationships and that you take pride in your work as well as having a genuine affection for the companies and people you work for. This has, however, possibly created confusion and resistance in this instance.

Decision-making issues are often more about lack of self-awareness than they are about having an aversion to making commitments. That’s not to say that the latter might not be a factor, but I suspect that if you weigh up your life and how many decisions you’ve made, you will see that you can make decisions in some instances and that there are others, understandably, that you find harder. There might even be a theme.

In order to make a decision, you need to have self-knowledge and self-awareness to draw on. A good understanding of yourself, so who you are, what moves the needle for you, what gets on your nerves, where you want to head, basically your values and needs, facilitates confident decision-making.

Is it possible that uncertainty about what you want or grief over where you thought you would be in two months caused this confusion?

I think that your conscientiousness also played a big part. And the frustrating thing for you is that you’ve turned down the role because of your concerns, but you’re still finishing in two months. Unless you’re planning to stay on with these people, you turning down the other role doesn’t serve your current employer’s problems.

If I were you, I would clear the air on both sides.

“I hold my hands up, I let my anxiety about the new person taking over get the better of me and ended up turning down a contract. In all honesty, I really enjoy working for you guys, and because I know that she’s less experienced than me, I’m concerned that she won’t be able to cope with the workload because [insert no more than 3 key reasons].”

Reach out to your contact in Manchester and let them know that you’re sorry about having pulled out and this is not something you’ve ever done before. If you know them personally, briefly explain that you’ve had a very difficult few months and between that and the current place not having their ducks in a row with a replacement, it triggered panic. Acknowledge that you know you’re ‘only’ a contractor and that maybe you shouldn’t care so much, but it’s not who you are. Tell her that you know that the job has gone, but that you wanted to clear the air and assure her that what happened was a blip.

And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to contract. It doesn’t make you emotionally unavailable.

It might, however, be a good idea to reconnect with what you enjoy about contracting and how you want to work with clients because if you’re going to be this dedicated, you also need to ensure that you are being paid accordingly. Us women are very good at taking responsibility for everything while underselling ourselves.

And, look, I know what happened isn’t ideal, but I think you need to acknowledge that it happened from a good place, but it also happened because you were ignoring your need to give you a bit of time but also to allay your concerns about the current role. Your biggest commitment is to yourself. That is what you’re really pissed off about: upholding commitments to people while ignoring your commitments to yourself.

Reach out to each employer and clear the air — I suspect that that will calm the busy mind about what happened.

Meeting up: Healing or Not ?

OK, so, I found out a couple of weeks ago that G’s (ex-partner) mum had died a month earlier and that his dad had been to the school alone for prizegiving (they donated a gift in G’s memory) and to see the memorial area we have created for him. I phoned his dad as I got such a shock, and he would welcome a visit from me. I think it could be healing for us both and want to see him from a boundaried place. I *never* want to set eyes on his brother again, but that should not happen.

His dad was a lot like G whereas his mother and brother were a lot like each other and nothing like G. I think I can maintain my boundaries and that it would be a comfort to both his dad and me. I cannot imagine his dad crossing my line, but if he did, I feel I could handle it. I don’t really wish to end things with them all the way that was necessary for his brother. Your thoughts, please…. Our phone conversation was mega respectful on both sides.

Nat’s Response

Goodness, I’m sorry for your loss. She is your mother-in-law and connected to you. Regardless of what went down between you, you feel it as a loss. And how lovely that there’s a prize in G’s memory and a memorial area.

You going to visit his dad has nothing to do with your brother-in-law.

Your issues with him are entirely separate. It’s easier to manage the anger if you uphold the boundaries, so knowing where you end and others begin, and vice versa. Yes, he’s father to Mr Pain In The Bottom, but he’s human first and foremost. He’s lost his son in unimaginably painful circumstances as well as his wife in the space of a couple of years. And if he’s very similar to G, he probably isn’t finding much solace in his other son…

The key thing here is, to be honest about your motivations and be clear in your intentions.

Knowing why we do what we do helps us to enjoy more successful outcomes. It also, however, stops us from pursuing a destructive course of action.

If your intention is to visit your late husband’s father to offer your condolences, to be a source of solace, to share your love of your late husband, rock on.

If your intention, however, is to make a point about something, to get validation, to pursue any form of agenda, halt. That’s not a good reason to visit and will only lead to tension and friction.

There isn’t any need, at this point, to cut off his father.

Actions flow from energy. If the energy that you’re bringing to the situation is basically good boundaries, that takes care of this relationship.

The reason why things are so tense energetically between you and the brother-in-law is that you didn’t have the boundaries that you recognised in hindsight that you needed. You feel that he took advantage of you during a vulnerable time and played mind games while trying to emotionally blackmail you. Now that you know what’s up, of course, you were offended and hurt by his behaviour, but as a result of this experience, you’ve had to stop dismissing your instincts. You’ve had to learn how to call a spade a spade and see things coming. So, yeah, not ideal that he behaved like a jackass, but he’s done you a favour in the bigger scheme of things because you are less likely to consciously or inadvertently victimise yourself in your dealings with people. He pushed you to get pissed off and assertive.

Go there with love, and enjoy the time with him.

How do I know what situations are the "good" ones to be excited about and commit to?

Recently I met a guy during a beach trip. We had a great time and hung out quite a bit, however, we don’t live near each other (we are about 3.5 hours away). Since then, he has text regularly, but nothing about wanting to see me again or making plans to do so. Given it’s tricky because it’s hard to just go on a date and not commit to an entire weekend, so I get it, but I’m still disappointed. He seemed like such a nice guy, and it is the first guy I’ve been interested in almost 2 years since my last breakup.

I really want to be smart and not get caught up on someone I hardly know and also temper my disappointment and expectations. How do I even trust myself that I really like this guy and I’m not just starved after 2 years of NOTHING, so I’m making it bigger than it really is? It’s hard to know when to push forward and pursue something and when to pull back or move on to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Nat’s Response

Ah, this is one of those frustrating situations that can eat you up if you hop on the train of thought that says that you’re about to miss out on a lottery win.

What if… you were just supposed to meet a guy on a trip to the beach, have a great time… and leave it at that?

I know, I know.

Here’s the thing though: You feel somewhat invested in him because he’s the first guy you’ve been interested in, in two years. That makes him seem extra special. Your mind is crunching the data and figuring that he’s supposed to be the love of your life.

You experiencing attraction that day is more about you finally allowing you to be in a space where you could be.

People often ask me how long it takes to get over somebody, and I always say that while time can be a healer, it’s what you do with the time that counts. When people tell me that they’re hung up on somebody for the first time in a long time, what they have to acknowledge is that part of the reason why they’re so hung up is because of what they were hung up on during that long time — their ex, beating themselves up, being closed off.

“I really want to be smart and not get caught up on someone I hardly know and also temper my disappointment and expectations.”

It’s not about being’ smart’, but at the same time, you need to acknowledge that you already are.

You spent an enjoyable afternoon with someone that’s basically shown you that you can enjoy yourself. That maybe your ex isn’t the only man on the planet or that how you’ve been telling you the world works isn’t entirely true.

You don’t know him. It’s not hardly know; it’s don’t know. It takes time and experience to get to know someone, so anything you think about him at this point based on that afternoon is guesswork and, yes, possibly intuition depending on how tuned into it you are. i.e. If you’re not typically tuned into it, it would be difficult to pick up on the ‘resonance’ of this connection.

Disappointment is what you experience when your hopes and expectations don’t match reality. If you are disappointed (or you become it), it will be based on your thinking, not his actions.

Unless you’re going to turn around and say ‘Hey, do you fancy doing lunch next weekend?’, or he does, this is a fun connection that’s going to fizzle out. And if you’re struggling with the emotional consequences of hanging out on a beach with someone, then the onus is on you to remove the ambiguity about the situation by asking what’s going on or removing you from it.

To be honest, you can’t know how much you like this guy without investing time, energy, effort and emotions. I think you’re asking a bit much of you to expect that based on hanging with a guy at the beach for a few hours and some texts, that you’re supposed to know how you feel. How? Why?

What you have to be careful of is designing a problem for you that gives you the perfect reason to give you a hard time, to escape, or to obsess instead of putting yourself out there.

Unless you’re prepared to meet up with him, which, incidentally, is either going to result in you liking him more or you realising that this isn’t what you thought, you will need to knock this on the head.

The way to uplevel out of old mistakes is to respond differently, even if it’s in small ways.

Finally moved out and have a clean break from my ex: why do I feel so unsettled?

I finally moved into my own apartment 2 weeks ago. I’m not living with my ex anymore, but instead of being happy and excited, I feel numb and empty. Cannot seem to settle at all.

Was looking forward to it for two years, now it happened, I no longer know if it was the right decision at all. Even though I thought I’ve dealt with the breakup, now when we actually have a clean break, the old emotions and wounds seem to be coming back to life… Hopefully only temporary but unsettling all the same…

Nat’s Response

Aw, congratulations on finally moving into your own apartment. Yay! I can’t believe that it’s been two years! Jaysus!

In all honesty, I’m not surprised that you’ve experienced a bit of an anticlimax.

Sometimes in these situations where the other party feels like the bane of your life or there’s a massive problem, it’s all too easy to assume that once they’re out of it or the problem is solved, shazam, everything else will fall into place.

You’re in your new apartment with the freedom and flexibility that you’ve craved, but you’re there on your own, and the move has severed the major tie to your ex.

Isn’t it possible that you’re experiencing grief?

You possibly feel a bit overwhelmed by being alone with your thoughts and feelings. He’s no longer a buffer for them. When you were having a crappy day in the past, and then you came home to the apartment that you felt trapped in with your ex, you could probably, well, blame him for it. Don’t worry — it’s normal!

I think it’s tough to grieve the loss of a relationship while you’re sharing living space with the person. It’s not a clean break; it’s a delayed one. You have to hold yourself together and mind your p’s and q’s because you have to get on enough to facilitate living together for what, if I recall correctly, wasn’t a defined period of time. You didn’t necessarily know that it was going to take two years.

We are all energy. You were combining energies and sharing the same energetic space for two whole years after you broke up.

I had to live with an ex in America for three weeks, and that drove me batty. It was only when I was back home in Dublin that the breakup hit me… and I had insomnia for three weeks.

And, of course, what you’re experiencing is temporary. Let the feelings come up. This is stuff you’ve shoved down for a few years. Breaking ties with him has done the equivalent of moving things about on your emotional seabed. Be patient with you, drink plenty of water, journal, be kind to yourself, and don’t be telling you that it was a mistake.

Walk around your apartment and smile at the rooms, at your space. Luxuriate in the feeling that it’s all yours — and appreciate it. Write a list of anything that you’ve put off while you were in the relationship or waiting to move out — be and do those. Make some plans.

It’s also OK to acknowledge that it was a codependent relationship and so, of course, a part of you wants to know what’s going on, after all, you could still keep an eye when you were under the same roof. But it’s only your ego that wants to be in control, not you. Wish him well every day, and be genuinely thankful that you are free of the cycle of pain that you were in. Sometimes we make the mistake of believing that drama, being around the person with problems, is the way to get attention, to feel vital. It isn’t. If anything, it cuts off our vitality.

Be patient with you.

Flirting with managerial danger: should I do friends with benefits with my manager?

Ten months into my new job. I guess, slowly, an emotional connection happened with my manager. We finally spoke about the white elephant in the room and agreed to definitely not go sexual, but temptation is around. He says the emotional connection is worse than just having sex. We care for each other, we both know it won’t lead anywhere, haven’t dated in a year, I will not take him home, but I swear I’ve contemplated friends with benefits for once in my life. But fear paralyzes me. What if I fall super hard? What will it be like when we stop? Can we still work together (this is why we’ve agreed not to do sexual)? Like, why can’t I just enjoy the moment and do it if I wanted to, but then another part of me battles like, “No, C, wait for ‘the one’ because you can control your emotional part with him because you’re still in power”, because I didn’t have sex yet in my mind. I feel sex equals losing all my power.

He’s handsome, so of course, he’s used to women coming at him while I’m quite the opposite and still don’t come at him. It’s like we naturally fell for each other SLOWLY and both in denial like “No way, I don’t like him/her lol. How could it be?” My mind has been racing with thoughts! I’m so glad you’re here today. Help! I battle between guilt if I did anything because of people’s perceptions and my fear of falling and waiting for ‘the one’.

Nat’s Response

Ah…. I did wonder about you and this manager. It popped into my head a couple of times.

The thing about life is that we can do whatever we want, but we’re not free of the consequences.

Part of you wants to throw caution to the wind and jump his bones. I get it. A woman has needs and all that jazz, plus all that sexual tension only adds to the heat of things.

I know a hell of a lot of people who met their partner/spouse at work. In fact, my friend’s ex who was friends with The Guy With The Girlfriend is married to another woman we worked with. When my friend left the company, this woman got promoted to her position. When my friend dumped him, she finally started going out with him after lurking for a couple of years. Anyway, I digress, haha!

The way I see it, if this is a guy that you wouldn’t take home, that this is not a relationship that could go anywhere, that leaves a couple of routes:

Screw his brains out and then deal with the fallout from that, which might, in fact, likely would result in you having to leave.

Leave it alone.

I would also check your company handbook, contract, etc., as American companies tend to have pretty firm rules and procedures about romantic involvements. One or both of you could lose your job, or you could preclude you from promotion.

Your sexual relationship, for example, would be regarded as an advantage over staff. If people so much as got wind of this and there’s money, status, etc., involved, it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. It’s also potentially damaging to your reputation.

You also need to weigh up whether this is one of those situations where you talk you into believing that there’s something between you because of something that happened that flagged in your brain as ‘ooh, must become romantically interested in him’.

So, a couple of months back, this guy’s defending you to other staff members and damaging his leadership credibility, and you’re going to toe to toe with two colleagues who seem to take umbrage at your close relationship that you said was strictly platonic.

Where you are now is always where the two of you were going to end up based on how that situation unfolded because it was not a boundaried situation. He was treating you differently, and you were benefitting from (and flattered by) him doing it.

So, at the end of the day, you can, of course, get laid. But… what you really need to check in with you about is whether your course of actions lines up with your intentions and values? No, sex does not need to lead to a relationship, but if all you want is sex, why does it have to be with your manager?

And if you secretly want more than sex but are signing up to a dead-end relationship because you won’t bring him home to your parents, wouldn’t you just be repeating the past? Also, is it a good idea for you to be involved in something that means you living in the shadows?

Sex does not equal losing your power. Sex plus believing that you gave something away equals losing power because it’s what you’re telling you about sex. That’s not to diminish sex, but we live in a world where we allow our private parts to drive our life when they don’t even have a single brain cell in there. We only do that because of the stories we tell ourselves, and many of those stories are incorrect.

Take a step back from this situation. Distance gives objectivity. Try to tune in to what is really going on here. Get to know your intentions because they dictate the outcome.

I am still obsessing & ruminating & acting on my surge of feelings & thoughts

I am still obsessing and ruminating and acting on my surge of feelings & thoughts. I feel lonely, directionless and tired.

After going No Contact, my strength is now starting wane. A few weeks ago, I passed my ex of 4/5 months near my home in my car. I texted him saying “You know you just drove past me?”A while later he got back to me upbeat saying “I didn’t see you, I hope you’re well.”

I got upset and angry, feeling yet again dismissed and the fact that he can drive by my home without batting an eyelid. I saw red and launched into a text saying that I know he is happy because he moved on very quickly, and that how could he have walked away from someone he supposedly loved blah blah. Of course no reply, so I then later sent him a message saying “You are a cruel human” – yes I laugh at myself sometimes.

My emotional urges are still so extreme, and I am losing my pride. I just want him to be hurting like I am.
There’s more. Yesterday, after feeling quite lonely and upset over the weekend (despite hiking with friends, yoga etc., I seem to have too much time on my own) I had such an urge to ring him… and I did, leaving a message that I really would like to meet face to face to gain understanding. I now feel like I will be perceived as a psycho-stalker. I have lost all sense of pride & feel I will never be emotionally tough enough to deal with men. Still lost.

Nat’s Response

Well done on another job offer, and look how you intuitively knew that mending bridges was the way forward. Maybe the work is a metaphor for something else. There was a period when work was quiet and you were stressed about that and probably wondering about your future. Now, there’s lots of work showing up and I guess it’s showing you that just because something doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that that’s an end to everything else. I think there’s something in both of your experiences, also, about valuing yourself. My spidey sense says that you might be undervaluing your efforts monetarily and sometimes putting loyalty aka known as fear of disappointing others ahead of your very real need to be monetarily rewarded appropriately for your efforts as well as for security and to not be burnt out. 

Flip that around to your ex… and you can see why him passing your house without, it feels, some level of acknowledgement and suddenly everything you quietly put up with out of seeming loyalty to him and investment in your future is like throwing a match on oil.
So, let’s put it out in the open: You’re pissed off. You’re hurt, you’re angry, you’re disappointed, you’re offended and you’re resentful. 
After selling you a future, he’s off living in the present and possibly whipping up a future with someone else. 
You thought you’d be getting pregnant by now, not wrestling with job offers and wondering why your ex is skiddadling by your house. 
You had hopes and expectations invested in this relationship, and reality fell short. That is disappointment. 
It offends you that he doesn’t seem very contrite or suffering over you after everything he said to you as well as what he did. You feel miserable at times and so, on some level, it seems ridiculous that he isn’t suffering. It galls you that he’s fallen into another relationship even though odds are that he fell into a relationship with you, too. Odds are that you didn’t know his background and his ways — she doesn’t either. People with his habits tend to move on very quickly, not because they’re over the previous relationship but precisely because they’re 1) not and 2) not prone to taking responsibility so they have to cover up past relationships by moving on swiftly into another one.
There’s clearly a lot of resentment there because you put up with stuff that you shouldn’t have. And you did that because you thought that if you did, you’d finally get your happy ending.
No matter how much we deal with the past, present-day situations cause us to grieve old hurts from different angles and they, yes, poke at all old anger. It’s very possible that his attitude about driving by reignited not just your anger towards him but the hurt you felt about your father, especially if he was somewhat cavalier about the after-effects on everyone.
The thing about text is that it’s one-sided, and it feels a lot safer to vent or lash out via text than have a conversation. You probably did want to pick up the phone and tear him a new one, but opted for text. 
 
Sure, calling him a “cruel human” isn’t a pretty thing to say, but is it so terrible that you spoke your mind about the fact that you are hurt, you know he’s moved on, and he’s ignoring you?
That doesn’t mean that texting is the way to go, and with the benefit of hindsight, you probably wouldn’t send those texts if you had your time over, but maybe it’s time to stop pretending. If he now knows that you’re not simpering away and that you do get very angry indeed, that’s no bad thing in the grander scheme of things because, again, my spidey sense has the impression that you weren’t really speaking your mind because, on some level, you were worried about the skittish commitment horse bolting.
And you should laugh at yourself, but not in cruel way: have a sense of humour about things. Sometimes we’re melodramatic; sometimes we’re right on the nose. And, no, he’s not responsible for your future, but there is something asinine about taking up with a woman who’s chomping at the bit to have a baby, telling her you’re up for it… and then slamming the breaks down. I’m not saying that he set out with the intention to be cruel; I think that like a lot of people, he’s very of the moment and loose with words. He wanted to be that guy, he just couldn’t commit to that.
“Emotionally tough”, which I’ll assume is about resilience, has nothing to do with handling things perfectly or not being super upset. So, you flipped your wig on him. News flash: “emotionally tough” people do that. It doesn’t make you ‘weak’. What that experience is here to show you is that you cannot keep suppressing and repressing your feelings and not expect them to come out in other ways, so the answer isn’t to not be hurt — the answer is to feel your feelings, let them pass, keep on grieving and keep on living.
 
Unsent letter, pronto! Don’t make those calls or send those texts without having done that work first because you will have a lot more perspective.
Keep a feelings diary. No, neither of them are quick solutions, but they calm down your emotions remarkably fast.
Every time you feel that surge, do the 8-minute unload. It’s brilliant. Also, try Expel The Venom.
All of these are in the resources section.
Recently engaged: Any marriage tips?

I’m recently engaged and am wondering about any advice you have about marriage? Sorry, it’s not more specific. I’m not sure exactly what to ask, but I guess the reason I do is that I don’t really have many examples in my life of marriages where the couple are happy and can be themselves and I want to make sure I’m doing my part.

Nat’s Response

Wow! Congratulations! Happy dance for you!
Interesting, thought-provoking question:
I don’t come from a family where marriage is their strong suit, and funny enough, neither does Em. Both of our parents split up when we were quite young, and they’ve all remarried, and in some cases, a couple of times, which made for great entertainment at our wedding.
One of the things I encourage you to do is not use the sample size of the relationships around you. It is not possible to get invested in other people’s examples of marriage because we’re only getting the highlights. We tend to pay attention to what we’re biased to based on our beliefs, so if you’re noticing unhappy marriages, go out of your way to notice healthy, happy relationships also. It doesn’t only have to be marriages that you notice. The fact that two people have been together for a long time but aren’t married doesn’t mean that they are unhappy. They, in fact, might be happier than two people who’ve been married for that same period of time.
Here are some other things:
Yes, marriage is a form of commitment that’s also legalised, but it’s an expression of an already existing commitment. This means that if the two of you have created a loving relationship, it’s just a continuation of that and nothing dramatic is going to happen as soon as the rings go on the fingers. 
Make sure you both know and understand each other, including what each of you sees marriage as. That’s not a conversation to be had post-marriage. e.g. My friend’s cousin was with her boyfriend for over a decade before marrying and they were divorced within 18 months. Why? Because he expected that once they were married that they would take on traditional roles and that she would focus on knocking out a few kids and packing in her high profile vet career. How do you see married life? What, if anything, do you each think will change as a result of getting married? What are your views of your parents’ relationships?
Don’t use marriage to ‘fix’ anything. So many people get married with the unrealistic expectation that once they are married, certain issues will go away or that it will make it easier to address them. In some instance, they think that marriage is what gives them the leverage to put their foot down. Marriage cannot fix problems. It won’t, for example, make someone faithful or turn them from cruel to kind.
Marriage, like all relationships, is 100:100. Not 50:50, 100:100. You have to show up, he has to show up. If you’re each being and taking care of yourselves as well as each other, the relationship will prosper and thrive. See my book Love, Care, Trust and Respect (it’s in the membership) for more on these topics.
Be yourself. Yes, it’s nice to do things to foster good feelings in our partner, but not at the expense of being who you are. Be you and let that filter into your relationship. That way, there are no unpleasant surprises. If you’re being yourself, you will see who he is and feel safe and secure within the relationship.
Get a good giggle or belly laugh in each day. Or, at least try to. That’s my marker of how present I am to life and whether I’ve got too caught up in the minutiae. When myself and Em are exhausted but telling a story from the day and crying laughing before falling asleep two minutes later, it’s those moments I remember.
I’ll definitely do something else on this topic!

 

Pressuring myself to date

I have been away overseas for work for the last 3 months and took a break from dating. The plan is to get back into dating when I get back. However, I am finding myself hesitating to get back into the dating scene. Perhaps I enjoy the freedom of being single too much while I am away, coupled with feeling a lot more content with myself and the prospect of being alone. In the long term, I do want to meet someone and have a family. So, I am quite frustrated with myself with the lack of motivation to date…It could be that the fear of the unknown with dating came back after taking a break. Do you have any advice as to how to kick start the dating cycle again? Thanks.

Nat’s Response

It sounds to me that not now that you are back on your home turf, you are putting you under a great deal of pressure because you’re experiencing stimuli that you interpret as a cue to put yourself out there again.

Moving is the single biggest habit changer. And, yes, that applies even when it’s for three months.

When you were away, you were not around the same stimuli. If, for example, you got into the shower at home each day and immediately started rattling off your to-do list or thinking about dating, it’s possible that even though you clearly showered while away for those three months, the literal change of scenery means that you likely deliberately chose other thoughts and also made a conscious decision not to date because you were away.

You were under no pressure from yourself and so the real you came to the fore. You focused on work and enjoyed your freedom. Now, the funny thing is that you have that same freedom where you are right now. You don’t need to move to somewhere else to do that.

Which begs the question: What’s so different between where you were and your home?

Make a list.

Also, where is the pressure coming from to date?

If it’s just you, then you can make the decision to chill out, just like you did when you were away.

Pressure isn’t a motivator for a lot of people. Sure, you might be someone who pushes out some of their best work when they’re close to a work deadline, but you likely don’t enjoy being shamed and pressured into dating.

You said it yourself “In the long term”: that’s not now or even in the near future. You do want a family, it just doesn’t have to be this minute. You don’t have to be motivated right this minute for that and putting in all the hours for dating.

I think if you can try to relax like you did when you were away and deliberately cultivate that atmosphere in your life, you will stop white-knuckling life.

If you do feel that you have to kickstart the dating right now, then you go whether you want to or not. You don’t wait until you’re perfectly ready; you go anyway. Bit like when I was training for the marathon. I didn’t really want to go out for a run, but once I was out, I was fine. Not ecstatic, but fine. And gradually, it got better. And then some days it was rough as hell.

I wouldn’t look, however, to kickstart a cycle because it’s like you’re trying to restart a pattern. Go to some group events. Do some fun activities. Take a class. That could be a way of easing you into being social and dating again.

How can I best set boundaries with my sister?

I could use some help with a relationship dynamic with my sister that I’ve been struggling with for a long time. We’ve always had issues, and I’ve come to understand that she’s never really shown up for me. I’ve often felt hurt by her and.in the past, I’ve made efforts to forgive and forget incidents where the issues came to a head, but she’s treated me with disdain. I’ve tried to move forward on my own and repair the damage. I think that my desire for a sister bond and larger family harmony kept me denying the fact that she’s not treated me well.

However, since I’ve been the primary caregiver for my parents for the past 7 years, the lack of support is more obvious. I am angry and disappointed with her for not helping when needed and feel that she’s taking advantage of me. So I’m wondering how I can protect myself from her and this unhealthy dynamic?  I’ve begun an unsent letter which has helped to clarify my own stuff but feel wary of interacting with her. I’m leaning towards cutting her out of my life but don’t want to burn bridges if there’s a way to build better boundaries.

Nat’s Response

Your dilemma is prevalent, and it’s important to remember this because often we give ourselves a hard time about sibling relationships due to this unrealistic expectation that we’re supposed to get on with them. This often leads to shame and hurt about the relationship, as well as other uncomfortable emotions such as resentment.

There are always more options than cutting off, although if cutting off is the way to go, then it’s the right thing for the relationship.

Options:

All options are basically about being more boundaried.

Put some distance between you where you can find the sweet spot of your relationship. Much of the tension and friction with family relationships comes from trying to make them live up to the picture that we’ve painted in our mind instead of accepting the person for who they are and working with that. We have a good afternoon with them, and so we decide to try to be bosom buddies again, and it goes wrong. If we allow ourselves to enjoy our good afternoon without trying to force it to be something else, it takes the pressure off.

Make sure that anything you’re doing whether it’s about her or with your parents is from a place of desire, not obligation.

So, here’s the deal, and I’ve seen this so many times even with my own friends and myself: You are the primary caregiver for a reason. Yes, your sister could do with stepping up, but first, you need to own your reasons for being the primary caregiver. Did you assume the role? Did somebody give it to you? Retrace your steps and try to home in on the sequence of events. What is your role within the family? For instance, over-responsible children, helpers, fixers, saviours and the like, do tend to take on the primary caregiver role. The thing is, if you have always been in this role, it puts people into other roles, and vice versa.

You need to be honest with yourself about how and why you took up the roles that you did. Anything that you or your sister are doing is because, on some level, when you were children, it’s what you worked out would get you attention, affection, approval, love or validation, or it was to avoid conflict, criticism, disappointment, rejection or abandonment.

Both of you resent each other for various reasons. Whether she’s aware of it or not (or you are for that matter), she resents you for showing her up and always being the one that dives to the rescue. Maybe she resents you for being The Best or whatever. You each know your secret resentments. For example, you might resent her for always getting off lightly, for not taking responsibility. You, in fact, might resent the fact that you have sacrificed your needs, desires, etc., and basically come to her rescue time and again (even if it’s in some twisted way as it invariably is for anything from childhood) and that it’s never appreciated, even though she might resent you for inadvertently (or consciously) making her look incompetent.

Listen to The Drama Sessions, and you will quickly see that you are both in the drama triangle – rescuer, victim and persecutor.

You don’t have to make these sacrifices. But you have made them thinking that you would get something back: sister bond, family harmony etc. This is why things are boiling over.

So, the answer here is to re-evaluate everything that you’re doing. Get clear on what you want to do versus what you feel obliged to (see the masterclass on how to use mindfulness to break a people-pleasing habit). Figure out where you’re taking advantage of yourself first so that you can then get clear about where she is taking liberties.

Boundaries are two-fold: in knowing what the boundary is for her, you need to have that boundary for you too.

It’s also to ensure that you are not expecting her to mind-read, even if, yes, it should be obvious that you need help or that she should step up. If you’re always presenting as strong, capable, I can do it, to the rescue, etc., she may have decided to opt out. It’s like when the person at work who always cleans up after everyone in the kitchen becomes resentful that nobody helps: if you’re the one who always does stuff, people don’t feel as if they have to because you’re already on it.

Get a list together of what help is needed. Don’t assume, don’t ask – tell her: I need you to ______________________.

If your parents tend to ask you for stuff, start deferring them to her.

This is a starting point, but a lot can happen from there.

How could he do this to my children and I?

I was divorced 7 years ago from a very abusive marriage and had 2 children. After 3 years of very traumatic times, especially the children, I built up the courage to date. I met what I thought was a wonderful man and dated him for 1 year after which we decided that things were so healthy that we would move together closer to his children and buy a house for all of us to start afresh. Two years on, he’s upped and left us just saying he’s unhappy and misses his kids! He’s moved out instantly and has left me with two heartbroken children and of course myself in bits. He too has 2 children (7 & 10) of whom we saw weekly and holidays for long periods. This is in brief, but I feel absolutely stuck, hurt and can’t believe he’s done this!! Please help.

Nat’s Response

I think, first of all, that you have to be careful of writing him off as being a whatever type of person because he’s upped and left. You were together for three years, two of which you were living together. Unless I’m misreading this, you were happy for much of those, but things have recently collapsed.

Understandably, you are devastated and hurt by his actions, not just for yourself but for the kids, too.

Don’t look at this as something he’s ‘done’ to the kids.

You and he were in a relationship that you both invested in. Each of you has children. Yes, a new relationship feels somewhat more precarious when children are involved. You both attempted to blend families, and, for a time, this seemed to work. He was unhappy, certainly more so than he ever communicated to you. The thing is, he couldn’t stay to avoid hurting your children because that would only lead to hurting them even more. That doesn’t make what you’re all going through any easier, but remember that what he’s done also affects him and his children.

The thing about someone who ups and leaves is that they play their emotional cards close to their chest. You think you’ve been talking, but it turns out that you haven’t been talking about the things that are in his heart. He has not been sharing his anxieties or issues. This is evidenced by how he left.

As you know, being a single parent carries a fair amount of guilt with it. I know this, also, from being the child in it.

Your children had you and him on a full-time basis, whereas he was seeing his children weekly and then for longer periods during the holidays. Some people don’t cope that well with this, and it takes experiencing it for them to realise that it’s not enough. It’s hard to play happy families with someone else’s children all week when you also want to see your own children more often. I have a friend who wishes her ex-husband would even see his children fortnightly on a consistent basis. Who’s he living with? His new wife and their children.

It sounds like there’s been a breakdown in communication. Maybe he hadn’t wanted to hurt you. Maybe he feared that you would feel offended or something. Who knows? There may be more to this than he’s been willing to share at this point. But there has been a breakdown in communication, and it sounds like yours and your children’s needs were met by the relationship but that, for some reason, his weren’t.

Hard as it is, try to let the dust settle. Conversations started in anger are only going to alienate the two of you even more.

Don’t go from the angle of “How could you do this to my kids?”, because he has his kids too. They are as affected by this as yours are, but he also has responsibilities towards them, even if he’s maybe not handling them in the best of ways at the moment.

If you’re going to have a conversation with him, you need to go in with an open mind and heart where you can hear his side of things even if you don’t agree with it. That’s empathy. He then gets to hear your side of things. Try something like, “I realise that something has clearly been wrong for a time. I had no idea that you were so unhappy, and I’m sorry you’ve been going through this on your own. I would like to hear your side of things and try to understand what’s been going on. Can we meet up and talk?”

Upping and leaving is not a way to resolve things. What he’s done is extremely hurtful and has ruptured your trust and the family unit you thought you were building. But remember that he’s not your ex. He might still be a wonderful man, but he’s a wonderful, conflicted man who hasn’t been talking to you about his issues.

Why am I letting myself get booked back in again?

So, this feels like a confession (I guess it is!) I’m getting totally hooked back in by ex. Went away with him, without my daughter, for a few days a couple of weeks ago. Took crazy flights to meet him. He’s been going through it lately, as mentioned last time. But I can feel that I’m currently helping him more than he is me! We did have an amazing time together. And yes, amazing sex, European capital hot rooftop with view dinner, etc. He sorted flights/hotel/everything. But I know I gave him me. Not that it’s a bargaining thing, but I feel like he wants me to ‘make it all better’ without any new commitment or change in his behaviour. He wants me to boost his ego and soothe his soul. Part of me totally wants that too, but the after taste is bittersweet.

Now in a UK city, with our child, awaiting his arrival tomorrow (he’s got a gig over the weekend, so it’s convenience, not effort). His tour manager being weird about my room because “no one knows you’re here”! So what? We’re here on ‘down-low’ because he’s still not publicly acknowledged our child etc.? She’s happy she’s going to see him. I’m feeling tearful and resentful right now.

Know none of this is healthy, for me. But I clearly still love him to be putting up with these levels of shit. He wants what he wants when it suits him. But he’s not reliable as a father, or a lover.

I imagine the ‘here we go again’ merry go round is familiar to others still in love with men who aren’t good for them.

A few months ago, was working on boundaries and getting somewhere, emotionally. But it’s like he felt it! Suddenly fixing up on birth cert. Whisking me off for a hot mini-break, arranging time with our daughter etc. But it’s not SOLID.

Anyway, consider this two questions in one, because it’s long. The question really is, why am I doing this to myself? Why do I still love someone who’s return of reliable love is so sporadic? Arghhhhh X

Nat’s Response

It sounds like you’ve been having an exciting, albeit turbulent time. 
You’re in a somewhat tricky spot: This man is the father of your child whom he hasn’t publicly acknowledged, he’s wishy-washy about child support and visits, and only recently finally put his name on the birth certificate. At the same time, because you’re inclined to be very conscientious about others to the point of people pleasing, him going through a difficult time with some sort of illness has tugged on your heartstrings. It’s as if, on some level, you thought that he was going to die or something, and suddenly this sent you fleeing to him. Even though he’s alive and well, touring, flying you out to have sex with him, you seem to have ignored the fact that he’s not exactly on his deathbed… and that, intentional or not, which he wouldn’t cop to anyway, he’s playing you. 
You’re still holding out hope that the fantasy is going to come true, so you’re back to gambling at the relationship casino. If anything, these experiences are here to tell you that you hadn’t given up hope that he would finally validate you and your child. You’ve been lying in wait — and he’s taking advantage of that.
Here’s how using and taking advantage works:
Yes, what they’re doing is crappy, but we allow people to use us, to take advantagebecauseof what we think we might get back. You are willing to be taken advantage of because you think it’s going to pay off big. And when it doesn’t, you are going to feel deeply hurt and resentful towards him.
Here’s something that you need to consider: Why now? Why, when you’ve been on his case for goodness knows how long, did he suddenly ‘out of the blue’ decide to do the birth certificate that you had begged and pleaded for numerous times?
It’s because it suitshisagenda. 
Why now? Why are you being flown out to hook up with him? Why are you and your child squirrelled away in a hotel room? The tour manager is even in on whatever his agenda is. 
You feel resentful because whatever you’re doing, you’re doing itbecauseof what you think you’re going to get — and he’s already shortchanging you. You’re doing it because you’re playing the role of The Good Girl because you feel obliged to meet his needs. It’s the idea of not meeting the needs of the man who’s repeatedly let you down makes you feel guilty. You think that if you do enough, that he’ll finally come through. Part of you probably thinks you’re doing it for your daughter. But you need to be careful of using that as an excuse to put you in harm’s way. She doesn’t need you to hook up with him. Youdon’thave to be the roadie chick in the shadows. 
 
You are beingmanaged. 
 
I don’t know what’s going on his life, what he needs to keep you sweet for or whatever, but this has the hallmarks of you being managed.And I guess you need to consider what you’renotdoing as a result of your current involvement with him? What is he getting away with now that you’re involved?
Why do I still love someone who’s return of reliable love is so sporadic? Figure out who or what else he reminds you of from the past and you have your answer. 
Rebuilding my life after a toxic four-year relationship

I was in a toxic relationship for nearly 4 years. It will be a year that we broke up in Aug 2019, and I’m just stuck. I wake up, go to work, come up and think about how incomplete my life is. I don’t feel like doing anything, going anywhere, and to be honest, I’m quite lonely now. My friends have married, I’m 47 and single, and literally, my life has just become much ado about nothing except work.

Nat’s Response

Sending you a big hug.

Loneliness has nothing to do with whether you’re in a relationship, how many friends you have or whether you’re a ‘loser’; it’s an emotional state brought on by being disconnected from 1) yourself and 2) close relationships. This means that even if you were in a relationship or did have people around you, if you’re not expressing your innermost feelings and thoughts to yourself as well as to close people in your life, you would still experience the loneliness.

I suspect that the disconnect stems from being in a toxic relationship for nearly four years. One of the things that we don’t often recognise is how we shut down and closed ourselves off in order to cope with being in that kind of relationship. By my calculation, you were around 42 when this relationship started. It’s very possible that what drove you to be with this person may have been fear of being on your own, feelings about being in your forties, shame, and so forth.

As it became increasingly evident that this wasn’t a match made in heaven, you probably felt stuck and afraid, in turn, delaying exiting the relationship. Depending on your circle, how much you talk about what’s going on with you, you may have retreated into yourself, making it even more difficult to leave.

You finally did get out of the relationship last year (good for you), but your grieving’s taken on the form of going through the motions. It’s like you think that your life went down the pan when the relationship ended. Wake up, go to work, come home, and lather, rinse, repeat.

The fact that you think that your life is incomplete as a result of a toxic relationship ending gives a big clue as to why you stayed — and why it hurts so much now.

To be honest, it sounds like you are grieving but that you’ve got stuck in it due to the perspective piece: When you think that you’re complete by being in a relationship, any relationship, just as long as you’re in one, you don’t feel as if you’re living when you’re not in one. You’re waiting for someone else to fix you up, but you also end up feeling as if you’ve failed at something or as if you don’t fit into society. That reinforces the crappy feelings and the loneliness habits that you probably don’t even realise you’re engaging in, such as going through the motions or avoiding talking to people.

Don’t wait to feel like going somewhere or doing something, because, in your current mood, it’ll be a while, especially if you interpret how you feel as a sign that you shouldn’t do something. I know that it sounds counterintuitive, but you have to ignore those feelings and go ahead anyway.

You are in the habit of feeling this way. It doesn’t actually mean that your life is rubbish or that you even feel this way all the time. But if you get up every day for the best part of a year and go through the motions and tell you that, for example, life is sh*t or that there’s no point in doing anything because you’re not in a couple, your mind has made connections between elements of your day and these feelings. If you feel this way as you pick up your house keys, it’s automatically sending you those feelings because it’s what you’ve been doing. 95% of what you think today is what you thought yesterday, a month ago, and even a year ago.

 

Get to grips with your regrets (see attached guide). I think that processing a little of what’s happened will motivate you as long as you are looking at what you can learn from the experience rather than beating you over the head with it.

Acknowledge this comfort zone: where you are and have been over this last 11 months is a comfort zone. Where else have you felt this way? Does an aspect of the last 11 months feel familiar? What are you getting out of being in this comfort zone? What don’t you have to be? What do you get to avoid? What do you get to continue blaming you for? Acknowledging this is a key aspect of getting you moving.

Make an agreement with you that you’re going to do one social activity a week. Try, for example, booking into a local class. Don’t overdo it though. Doing something, for example, for 30-60 minutes is more manageable than immediately booking you into a day-long thing or a weekend retreat (unless the latter is your thing). Check out meetup.com or your local Facebook group, newspaper etc.

Get out for some fresh air even for 15 minutes. Not as part of going to or coming back from work, but as a separate thing. Doesn’t matter if you feel a bit rubbish while you’re on the walk — fresh air and a change of scenery can do some good.

If you don’t want to join a class or go to a local social event, try volunteering for even an hour a week. This will restart your engine and get your wheels moving because you step outside yourself for a bit.

Call your friends. Don’t expect to move mountains, but reach out and acknowledge that you know you’ve been quiet or whatever. It’s like putting it out there about how you’ve felt and that you’re open to talking to someone who knows you.

June

Quick tips for not falling into very old pattern?

I’ve been very inspired by your observations about perfectionism/people-pleasing/lack of boundaries and showing up in situations as the child we once were instead of an adult. They really resonate with me and put into words habits and feelings I’ve recognized in myself for a long time and nevertheless failed to change. For the last year, in particular, I’ve resolved many many times to set boundaries and stop people-pleasing at work. I stay hours and hours longer than I need to trying to do an outstanding job/avoid mistakes or criticism/get strokes for going the extra mile. Long story short: it’s gone from “working” to not and possibly having the opposite effect while having seriously negative consequences for my health, happiness and life outside work. I know this, and yet within half an hour of sitting down at my desk, I’m right back repeating the way of working I had vowed to change. I repeat the daily cycle all over again with what feels like robotic unawareness. I know that change takes time and effort. However, I’d appreciate it if you could share suggestions for jump-starting the process and recognizing in the moment when I’ve gone on autopilot so I can begin to break this lifetime habit. Did you struggle to start establishing boundaries and giving up perfectionism? What worked to remind you if you were triggered or falling into an old pattern automatically of the new muscles and skills you wanted to exercise and build? Thanks and best.

Nat’s Response

This is one of those situations where you know that the habit isn’t working for you in more ways than one and yet you almost go into autopilot each day. Next thing, you ‘wake up’ at the end of the day and you realise that it’s been Groundhog Day all over again.

To be clear: Everyone struggles to break the habits of perfectionism, people pleasing and overthinking.

These are ingrained habits, and the way that our brains work is that the part that manages habits is a hoarder. It doesn’t differentiate between helpful and harmful habits and so if you attempt to deviate, it feels super weird or downright awful.

I still struggle to give up perfectionism. Relative to where I used to be, however, I have evolved significantly. It’s a work in progress, hence why I call myself a recovering perfectionist, people pleaser and overthinker. There are plenty of things that I’ve let go of over the years, but as humans, we come up against plenty of new things or just things that we didn’t realise that we were using these habits for, and so we heal, learn and grow as we go.

My biggest area of perfectionism is work, and I haven’t cracked it, but I’ve made a lot of progress. It’s felt like the road of trials with the flying monkeys. There are certain things that get on my nerves and I vow OKAY, this month, I’m going to get ahead and not leave it until the last minute… and then other stuff comes up, or I slip into other habits. What’s hilarious, though, is that at the same time as struggling to crack some of the smaller habits, I introduce new habits like, for example, drawing every day or early nights. This in itself proves that things can change.

So, here are my recommendations:

You can’t change what you don’t know. You need to, not be granular per se, but you definitely need to get some specific data on the group of smaller habits that make up your day. There are a couple of reasons for this:

It’s likely there are one or two things that set the ball in motion.
It’s very possible that there is something or someone that you are dealing with that if that issue was addressed, a lot of what you’re doing would collapse.

Let me give an example: One member works extremely long hours and often has to use holiday time to catch up on stuff. The knock-on effect is exhaustion, overeating and drinking. I asked her to break down her day, so I got her to take me through her day, and within about twenty seconds, I saw the problem: she was doing her assistant’s work, which meant she didn’t have time to do what she needed to do to prep for clients between sessions, which meant she was constantly taking paperwork home.

To get the specific data, spend a workweek documenting your day. Believe me, even if you only did half the week, you’d soon see some themes, but try to do the whole work week. Some people even do two to see if other stuff comes up on alternate weeks.

What type of requests are you getting? Who does the asking? Who or what stresses you out most? Is there a specific time of day or type of work that brings out the worst of your perfectionism? Who are you trying to please? Make a note of what you automatically agree to do. Remember that this is an observation period so don’t stress too much about having to change anything in that week.

The key is to identify very specific things rather than being ‘global’. By identifying the small habits, you can pick one or two to address rather than trying to do everything.

Next: make an agreement with you that rather than automatically comply, you have to have a certain window to consider what you want to do. “Let me get back to you.” Six magic words. Unless it’s a genuine emergency, that is what you have to say.

Even if you gave you 5-10 minutes, that is a damn sight more than your brain and mind normally gets.

Now… notice the thoughts and try to reassure you.

Next: Try to do B-minus work. I know, sends a shiver through you, right?

Fact is, you’re trying to give 150%, so B-minus work really isn’t even that.

Truth is, no one does an ‘outstanding’ job by staying late. Done occasionally is fine, but done routinely sends the opposite message and contributes to burnout.

So, a few things to try: once you are aware of the tasks that trigger autopilot, put them on a Post-It note that you can see.

Put an elastic band, hair band or similar around your wrist (try colourful as you will notice it) and before you start a task, ping the band on your wrist. Then ask “What am I about to do here?”

Use a pause. Before you start anything, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts and get grounded and calm. See the class in the Mini Masters section.

Is a relationship with someone that brings up pain from the past always a red flag?

I have grown close to someone over the last year, as friends after a fleeting fling at the start, but find increasingly we are getting locked into painful arguments that result from the other’s behaviours. I can see clearly my younger self fighting for attention with this person like I did with my parents, and him batting my back like he did with his smothering mother. Is friendship or any relationship like this always doomed or is there an opportunity for growth in them, in spite of the pain?

 

Nat’s Response

Relationships help us to heal, grow and learn by bringing our pain, fear and guilt to the surface through our interactions and the challenges that result. This happens even in the most healthy and loving of relationships because, well, all of us humans have emotional baggage and so it shows up in instances that remind us of it.

One of the things that stand out to me about this situation is that this friendship originates from a fleeting fling. The fact that you are both having these painful arguments suggests that there’s a lot unsaid here. Circular arguments are those ones that keep coming back around. They indicate that the original issue wasn’t addressed or resolved and/or that each party is still consciously and unconsciously gravitating to habits of thinking and behaviour that are not in the best interests of 1) themselves and 2) their relationship.

I don’t know the circumstances of your “fleeting fling”, but it is clear that there’s a lot of tension between you both. This doesn’t feel like a friendship which begs the question of, What is really going on here?

Are you both trying to force a friendship?
Have you (or him) settled for this ‘friendship’ which allows each of you to have access to the other without having to actually be in a relationship but still to some degree engaging like you are in one?

It’s the age-old question: What’s the baggage behind it?

You acknowledge that you’re fighting for attention like you did with your parents, which means that something about this interaction resurfaces that baggage. It taps on what’s felt as an unmet need.

But why do you need this attention from someone who is supposed to be a friend and so it doesn’t have the expectations of a parent and child or a romantic relationship?

And it’s interesting because you experienced neglect earlier in life (or certainly felt that your parents weren’t as attentive as you would have liked) but you’ve partnered up with someone who feels threatened by closeness because he experienced his mother as ‘over-attentive’. So, each of you are being triggered even though neither one of you are the other’s parents.

This offers the clue that you’re both in child roles here and between that and what sounds like power-struggling (This is how it should be! No, this is how it should be! You should be my friend this way. No, I don’t want to. Do it my way!) This happens in stage 2 of some romantic relationships when each party is trying to be in control and is afraid of vulnerability.

The fact that pain is coming up doesn’t mean that it’s a red flag per se, but the fact that the same one keeps coming up is a code red alert that something is unhealthy about this situation.

Now, it may be that if you can both step back and realise that neither one of you are children, this is supposed to be a friendship, and that you need to have the appropriate boundaries, then you may be able to salvage a friendship.

Friendship or not, you are both growing. Possibly at different rates and undoubtedly in different ways, but you’re both growing.

Your baggage is your baggage, and his baggage is his.

You can really only clean up your side of the street and so you need to acknowledge your younger self while also taking her out of it. You can’t meet those needs via him. If you’re neglecting you because, for example, you’re pursuing a friendship with someone who, on some level, you do so because of feeling rejected after the fling or wanting to be in control in some way, that’s not on him. And you’re not responsible for his baggage, but you don’t need to try to ‘fix’ him. What you need to do is try to step back and be absolutely honest about what is going on here.

There’s a video in the masterclasses section about learning to parent your inner child. I would also check out The Drama Sessions as it sounds like you’re both cycling through the rescuer, victim, persecutor roles.

I feel angry and confrontational

Growing up, I had anger management issues. When I was old enough to research coping skills, I realised it was more irritability than outright anger problems. So I paid attention to things like diet, sleep, underlying emotions (sadness), journalling to help me cope.

Recently, I’ve noticed that I am a rude person (maybe to do with how I think boundaries should be set/survival?). It’s carrying over into the workplace and is unacceptable. My mother was very sarcastic and still is, and I’ve picked that up. Every conversation with family, friends or colleagues is me using a harsh tone, snapping back, being sarcastic, critical. I would love to speak lovingly, kindly, gently with people, including myself. Hold back on criticism and be benevolent while setting firm boundaries.

 

Nat’s Response

Everyone has some level of anger management issues growing up, whether it’s about suppressing it and becoming super passive and churned up with, acting out in small and big ways, or losing their temper.

Irritability is a form of anger, as anger has varieties. Most people just think of it in terms of rage or obvious anger. Frustration and resentment are other forms of it. — check out the Recognising Feelings Guide in the foundational resources for more on that.

You seem quick to label you. You’ve gone from believing that you were basically an angry person to now believing that you are a rude person.

What you need to understand is whether you are a “rude person” all day long in every situation, or whether your ‘rudeness’ comes out in certain situations. The language that you are using to describe your situation — e.g. “carrying over into the workplace and is unacceptable” sounds like you are in inner critic/parent mode as opposed to adult mode, i.e. you. You are taking you to task. And while, of course, we need to acknowledge where we are being and doing things that aren’t in ours (or others) best interests and that have, for example, the potential to affect our professional standing, speaking to or about you in this way is likely compounding the situation.

Why?

Because when we tap into our inner parent and we are not yet in that space of taking care of ourselves and knowing the difference between inner critic and our inner voice, our inner parent can be pretty dictatorial, harsh, exacting, teacher-like, etc. Now, let’s imagine that you don’t have the most loving of relationships with one or both of your parents or that even if you do now, you used to act out due to how you were treated. You mimicking your parent through that inner parent/inner critic dialogue where you criticise your behaviour will trigger your inner child. This will trigger, for example, that irritability, which will trigger passive-aggressive behaviour. And round and round you go.

I appreciate that you may have aimed for brevity due to it being Office Hours, but it might be worth considering the way in which you talk about you and how that is impacting your behaviour with others.

You say that you have picked up sarcasm from your mother. What you need to ascertain is whether being around people who bring up similar feelings to your mother (even if/though they are not the same) triggers your own sarcasm or whether your sarcasm is a communication habit. For instance, if you feel as if someone is trying to be authoritative or exert control, that might trigger the sarcasm. But, equally, if you feel that someone is beneath you (so, on some level, you feel superior to them), that might also trigger the sarcasm.

You say that you would love to speak lovingly and kind to people, and yet you don’t. Now, granted, that could be down to the simple fact that you are in the habit of communicating in this way and have become more aware of it due to self-work and now trying to bring you into harmony with your values, but you also need to be honest with yourself about why you are not able to make a choice to do that.

The clue, I suspect, is in this next piece of language “setting firm boundaries”.

You don’t need to set firm boundaries; you need to create healthy boundaries that lead from the front with your behaviour.

Boundaries are not about ruling others, and so if you are unhappy with your boundaries, the answer isn’t to use sarcasm to express your need to control the situation in some way or to take them to task about unexpressed issues. The answer is to stop focusing on setting their boundaries, and start focusing on yours.

Something you can do is say, “I’m sorry. I realise that that came out sarcastically. What I really mean to say is ______” because sarcasm is what you use in lieu of being honest, but it’s also a way of taking people down a few notches.

You do not trust yourself (and/or others) to be direct and are afraid to express your true feelings, so set a standard with you that before you open your mouth, you will take an extra five seconds, even, to pause and notice your feelings.

Next, be honest with you about what you’re angry about. Clearly, something is a source of emotional pain, and you’re trying to transfer that to others. If you are pissed off with these people about something, it’s best to get honest about that first with yourself. It’s all very well wanting to be loving, etc, but if you don’t recognise the feelings, process and also acknowledge your desire to be a less judgemental person, you are bypassing your feelings hence why they get built up.

I would also acknowledge whether your continuance of the habit is about feeling guilty about trying to be different from your mother. Like you’re making a judgement call about her, or maybe you’re not sure how to handle her.

What did you mean by that (repeat verbatim what she said)? each time she’s sarcastic will soon break the habit between you.

How can I become happier & more stable with my biology timeline causing my unhappiness?

At 40 and after a breakup with someone whom I thought I was going to go the distance with, I am struggling with sadness, fear for the future, and I think depression/anxiety now. I was never one to bounce back easily, but my Body clock is now getting in my way. My fear & grief of not having my own child/family with a partner is overwhelming, & compounding everything. I do everything I can think of to help myself, but it is all-consuming. I go to therapists, yoga, acupuncture, NLP, Hypnotherapy. It has now been nearly 5 months since my breakup and I am still grieving the future I thought we had. I’ve been exploring the idea of having a child on my own, but I just don’t think it’s for me. I really don’t know what my future is worth to me without a family of my own.

How can I become happier & more stable with my biology timeline causing my unhappiness?

Nat’s Response

As someone who’s pretty ‘woo-woo’, I empathise with the whole trying various different things. I’ve had tinnitus for just over five years, and while I would say it’s on its way out, this time last year, I had exploded in rage that after spending money on kinesiology, acupuncture, osteopath, homoeopath, a medium, supplements, doing yoga, EFT, journaling, not eating this and that, ‘managing my thoughts’, hypnotherapy — you get the gist — the fecking tinnitus was still there. Now, I didn’t do it all for tinnitus (I’ve processed a tonne of stuff from the past over these last five years), but I was fuming.

I share this with you because it hit me: I am into all of these things and have done so much for myself, but a part of me was trying, as usual, to control things.

Have you done all of this stuff and been a bit like, ‘OK, surely this will change everything?’ Maybe you’ve even had thoughts about the universe not co-operating or fearing that you’re pissing it off!

Five months isn’t that long. I know that you feel short of time (and I get that), but depending on what this relationship brought up for you, combined with the panic about whether or not you will have kids, that’s likely accentuating, heightening the grief.

Now, at forty, you still have options. As I said before to you, I know a hell of a lot of women who had their first child in their forties, including with partners they met in their late thirties or in their forties.

The thing is, if you write off your future for having children because your relationship with him ended, that’s probably why you’re feeling so much grief about the whole thing. The relationship ended, but your ability to have a child, whether it’s on your own or with someone else, has not. But if everything is banked on him, then it will feel as if you’ve been robbed of your future, when, in fact, you haven’t.

You have two competing thought processes: I want a child and want to be open to meeting someone else and/or exploring my options to have a child on my own, and I want a child but I can’t because my relationship with the man who I thought I was going to have children with ended.

The mind doesn’t really know what to do there. It doesn’t distinguish between fact and fiction. Whatever you imagine, your mind treats as if it’s happening. You tell yourself, ‘I can’t have children’ often enough, and it fires up those proverbial files and agrees with you, throwing a load of ‘evidence’ to suit. Funny enough, you say that it sucks that it ended but you still want and have the chance to have children, and really try to focus there, even if you’re scared, and you start to throw up the evidence for that too.

Look, when the grand plan is to have a child in a unit then, of course, you’re not exactly chomping at the bit to have a child on your own. And I’m not saying that you should or that that’s your only option, but it’s worth noting:

Even people who want to have children or already have children have doubts about their abilities.
Our plan is not the plan. Some people choose to raise a child on their own from the outset, and sometimes circumstances change, and they’re no longer in that relationship. No, being a single parent isn’t what they (or you if you go down that road) had in mind, but they rise up to meet what’s happening.

If having a family is that important to you, it is not worth sacrificing your genuine desire for that to punish you (or anyone else for that matter) for things not working out between you and your ex.

You say that you don’t know what your future is worth without children: it’s worth everything, just as it will be when you have a child.

I get the whole not wanting to do it alone, but is that enough to stop you from having a child if that’s something you desire with every fibre of your being (which it sounds like you do)? Even if you did have a child on your own, who’s to say that you wouldn’t meet someone anyway? Incidentally, I also know a hell of a lot of people that that’s happened for, too.

There are plenty of things that we tell ourselves that we can’t do that it turns out that we can.

Your biology timeline isn’t causing your unhappiness. Your thoughts about your timelines are causing your unhappiness. e.g. I need to be pregnant this second. I’m on borrowed time. I won’t meet someone else. I don’t bounce back easily (note: you bounce back quicker than you did in the past and also no one bounces back easily from painful stuff). My body clock is in the way (no, it’s not — sure, loads of people we went to school with have mammies who are in their fecking 80s now!).

You get the idea.

1) Talk back to your thoughts. Imagine each thought as a train that comes along. You can hop on, or you can hop off. Even if you hop on and suddenly realise where that thought is heading, you can choose to hop off. You hop off by talking back and countering those thoughts. Use the attached guide to recognise how the thoughts are leading to the feelings. Something else you might find very useful is to use an affirmation (see the foundational resources) and repeat these. You can’t have the two thoughts at once, and you can use the affirmation to interrupt the habit of having these thoughts. Because they are a habit. Think about it: imagine that you’ve spent the last 5 months thinking about your ex and your body clock. This is now a habit. If you think it each time you get in the shower, boom, now the thought is associated with the shower. Keep in mind, also, that something like 95% of the thoughts you have today are the same as the ones you had yesterday, the day before that, a month ago, and even a year ago. So intervene. Use the affirmations as a distraction.
2) Join an online group (or meet-up) for women who’ve had or are considering having children on their own.
3) Write an Unsent Letter every day for the next while. Do more than one a day if needed. Include one to your father if need be. Get this out in the open so you can unblock yourself. The guide is in the foundational resources.

How do you practice self kindness and self compassion?

My question is, how do you turn that critical voice in your head around so you are kinder and more compassionate to yourself? My own self-talk is hateful to the point it’s making me ill, and I am incredibly hard on myself, abusive if I’m being truly honest. I know beating yourself emotionally with a stick doesn’t work.

 

Nat’s Response

If your inner critic is being abusive, it’s because it’s a habit that you’re becoming increasingly aware of, or because you are being and doing things that feel, to your body, as if you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone. They might be very small things in the grander scheme of things, but even a little bit of perceived change can get it busy. The part of the brain that manages habits doesn’t differentiate between harmful and helpful habits. This means that it hoards and clings. 
Breaking the habit is small steps every day rather than expecting a radical overhaul immediately. 
Start by noticing whether your inner critic is abusive point-blank, so all the time, or whether it ramps up when you do certain things. As soon as you’re able to notice its presence, make a note of the types of things it says, what you were doing, where you were, what you were maybe thinking/planning before it piped up. 
Is it finding fault? Belittling? Trying to manage you so that you don’t mess up? 
Start to question what it says. Ask yourself: Is that categorically, unequivocally true? If someone else I love said this about themselves, would it still be true? Would I blame a small child for the same things or expect a small child to live up to these ideals? Is it really that bad?
Acknowledge where you learned to speak to you in this way. Is it your voice? Someone else’s? Whose words are they? Who made you believe this?
Give this abusive voice a name. This way, when it pipes up, you can say, for example, “Hello Joyce. Surprise surprise that you’re popping up now.” Basically, greet it. Acknowledge it. Giving it a name and even a character helps you to put some distance between you and it. 
When you are having abusive thoughts, halt yourself as soon as possible and say to yourself calmly but firmly. “This is no way to speak to anyone, least of all me. I am only going to listen if you are respectful.” Even that can be a jolt. Don’t tell it to eff off or rage at it as it just feeds the thought pattern.
And/or, try “Thanks for your input, but that’s not relevant to this.”
Switch up the person. Change “I” to “you” so if you’re saying, “I’m never going to amount to anything” switch it to “You’re…” This helps to put distance between you. 
Or, try describing what is going on in the third person. “Helena is feeling scared because she’s thinking about trying ______”. This helps to calm feelings and distances you from the inner critic. 
Notice where you’re inadvertently giving it fuel for the fire. So, the thing about our critical inner voice is that it’s pretty damn switchy. Do what it says and you hear more critical noise, don’t do what it says and, yep, more noise. Start to notice what happens when you comply with it. What don’t you say or do? How does your behaviour change? Here’s the thing: our inner critic and self-criticism is at its strongest when, on some level, we sense that we are not being authentic. So, even though it sounds counterintuitive, not complying and keeping going while trying to pat you on the back where you can, quietens it down because you’re not giving it attention, but you’re also being more authentic hence less to criticise. The more you branch away from it is the weaker the criticism gets. 
Acknowledge whether there’s a nugget of truth. If there’s a bit of truth, it’s ok to acknowledge that. It doesn’t make everything true. The inner critic thinks that it’s trying to help, albeit in the crassest way possible because it’s overzealous. 
What are you scared of? Some of the criticism is stuff you’re saying consciously as opposed to stuff that you default to. What does that criticism hide? What are you really expressing?
Put a rubber band or similar on your wrist and ping it each time you’re self-critical. It interrupts the habit, and you have the opportunity to intervene. You will be sore initially, but you will also be more conscious about what you’re doing. 

 

How do I get out of stuck and move on?

I’ve been broken up with my ex for almost 2 years now, and I’m feeling a little hopeless because I have not been out on even ONE date yet. I’ve dabbled in online dating to try to get out there, but I feel even more disappointed when doing that because it generally has been occasional messaging back and forth with guys that never ask me out. I’ve expanded my group of friends and feel like I’m going out and doing more things, but just feeling down and feeling the pressure since I just turned 37 a few months ago. I still occasionally talk to the ex and being perfectly honest, I still keep tabs on him online to see if HE is dating someone (which I think he is, even though he still professes his love for me). What can I do differently to get “un-stuck” and move forward?

 

Nat’s Response

If you’re still intertwined with your ex (and he with you) even though the relationship has ended, then this explains why you haven’t moved on. Right now, your desire to check up on him to see whether he’s changed, whether he’s moved on, etc, is greater than your desire for a relationship, after all, doing all of those things don’t fit inside a new relationship. A new partner wouldn’t be cool with you checking up on your ex or your ex telling you that he’s in love. If it’s important to you (or more likely, your ego) that your ex is still saying that he loves you, etc, you’re not going to do anything to threaten that, even if outwardly you’re saying that you want a relationship. I know, messy! 
Hate to break it to you, but online dating involves messaging, sometimes with people who it isn’t going to go anywhere with. The key is to flush fast and to be realistic about the process of online dating without being depressing about it. How lovely would it be if we went through a shitty breakup, spent months of years grieving it, went on a dating site and, shazam, the next person is the one? Yep, that’s a fairy tale. 
And, yes, quite frankly, talking with Chatty Cathys who are collecting attention and have no genuine intention of asking you out is a pain in the bottom, but if you have an agreement with you that you meet within, for example, 1-2 weeks of chatting, and if that isn’t floated within the first few communications (but they’re wanting to chat, sext, whatever), that you’ll flush, you will find that you won’t get hung up on these interactions but also that you develop a nose for recognising those types. 
You can only be disappointed by what I call Stage 0 of dating (haven’t met in person yet and/or been on the first date) if you have unrealistic expectations. It’s your expectations, not the men, that are disappointing you. If their communication is limp enough that it’s occasional messaging, they’re not really in online dating for the reasons that you are. Don’t get hung up on it, though. 
If you feel pressure about turning 37, again, you need to check in with you: is the pressure internal or external? Is it your beliefs about 37 and the timeline, or is it someone else’s? Many of the women I talk to are socialised to mentally put themselves under pressure because they’ve internalised beliefs and messaging about what women ’should’ do or should have done at or by certain ages. This means that even if they don’t actually want to get married and have children, they reach late thirties and pressure themselves about it because they haven’t checked in with themselves about their own desires and values. 
It’s also worth acknowledging, given what you’re doing with your ex, whether despite a desire for a relationship, you’re secretly afraid of loss, being trapped or having to sacrifice too much by being in a relationship? There’s a primer on this topic here. 
Until you’re honest about what you want as well as what you’re afraid of, you will grind your gears. Expanding your group of friends, going out, etc, is all well and good, but if deep down you’re afraid of commitment or afraid of being trapped or hurt, then these are all masking, going-through-the-motions activities. It’s also important to note, also, that doing those things doesn’t equal the right person should appear. Primer on that here
What a lot of people want is to go online or start doing a few social activities and be effectively rewarded for branching out a bit by meeting someone. Aside from the fact that efforts don’t equal or control outcomes, sometimes the things we decide to do are the things that we find way easier to do than the thing we really need to do. In your case, I suspect that one of the things you really need to do and that is blocking your way to a relationship because he’s literally taking up your relationship space is to cut ties with your ex. I know it seems flattering when somebody tells you that they love you while being with other people or you not having to be in a relationship (but possibly having them as the fallback even though you know that the relationship isn’t right for you), but it isn’t. Unless you are going to start a relationship with him now, then it’s time to end the relationship fully. That is how you get unstuck. 
How do I fulfil my need for attention?

I understand from your materials we should fulfil our needs ourselves and not depend on someone else to fulfil them. One need I can’t seem to figure out how to fulfill myself is the need for attention. I’ve tried filling up my days with activities, projects, both private and public, spending time talking to and connecting with friends. Somehow it’s not the same as getting attention from a crush or your partner. I’ve been single for 2 years now, but in that period of singlehood everytime a guy I like gives me attention, I still get happy feelings and want a lot more of it. When the guy gets busy, I start to feel something lacking. What are other practical ways I can fulfil the need for attention on my own?

 

Nat’s Response

Every human has a need for attention, and part of that comes from our social interactions and our mutually fulfilling relationships. They have to be mutual otherwise what appears to be a need for attention is often something else altogether. So, for example, when we say that we need attention, but we’re involved with somebody who is sporadic or veering between hot and cold, there’s something more to our need for attention from them. 
If, for example, we say that we have a need for attention and then we typically go online, chat with people for a while, it peters out, and then we restart the cycle again, that is a way of getting or, in fact, collecting attention. Especially when part of it is about confirming attractiveness and desirability. But it’s also meeting a need to not be in a relationship due to fear or liking the newness feeling as well as highlighting that the need exists. There’s a lack of self-attention due to, on some level, believing that our own opinion of our attractiveness, as well as our attention, is not as valuable as that of a stranger. 
Whether we’re in a relationship or not, someone else can’t fulfil us because, well, they’re not us. A by-product of being in a mutually fulfilling relationship is how we treat ourselves as well as the other party is that our needs are met. But it’s important to note that someone can be in what is for all intents and purposes a relationship that has good prospects due to compatibility, but if one or both parties are behaving in ways that are counterproductive to the relationship, it won’t work. So, for example, if someone goes into a relationship believing that it’s the other party’s job to make them happy so ipso facto, they invest their efforts in ‘making’ the partner happy, they will feel resentful, frustrated and more if they don’t feel as they expect to feel or their partner doesn’t solve everything for them. 
So, let’s get to the nub of what’s going on with you:
First of all, why wouldn’t you enjoy the company of a new love interest? Isn’t it normal to enjoy that feeling of new possibilities, that honeymoon period?
Next, why wouldn’t you experience some positive feelings at least when someone you like reciprocates your interest or, at the very least, gives you some attention? Wouldn’t it be weird if you didn’t?
You say that you then want a lot more of it. 
It is normal to want to spend more time around someone that we have a romantic interest. Hell, if we make a new friend, we often feel as if we want to be around our new ‘bestie’ all the time. 
As with anything, though, it’s knowing why you do what you do. Or, in your case, noticing whether you want to spend more time around this person because you’re curious about them and would like to get to know them but are also content within yourself, or whether you’re starved of attention because the only attention you really value is romantic attention and so it’s like getting rain after a two-year dry spell in the desert?
You say “When the guy gets busy, I start to feel something lacking.” 
Find out what that’s about, after all, no one, even The Bestest Person Ever can devote every moment of their attention to us. Where did you learn to make that association between busyness and something being lacking? Who used to be too busy for you? Where did you learn to be this way? Use the Clearing and Releasing Associations exercise in the foundational resources. 
Do you switch modes? Just because you have met somebody, doesn’t mean that everything switches to him. One of the things that many people do is that when they are not involved with somebody, they feel as if they’re pretty good at taking care of themselves, but then get a little itty bit of attention or feel into somebody, and without even realising it, they go on pause. Some people behave as if meeting their own needs is something they only have to do until someone comes along to distract them.
You also mention that you are doing this with a crush: that’s a sign, especially if it’s a regular thing, that you’re not meeting needs because you are using a fantasy to escape. 
Practically:
Do all the same things you do when you don’t have a crush as when you do have one. 
Identify what specific needs for attention were not met as a child. Notice whether there’s a similarity between that and what you seek from a crush. Note that no matter how amazing a romantic partner is, they can’t meet needs that your parent was supposed to meet. Only you can meet those needs, directly and through your choices. 
Calm yourself when they’re busy. If how much attention you feel you’re getting is based on how ‘busy’ they are, you will always be on a roller coaster. No one can satiate that need. 
Make specific asks for the attention you need, that way it’s not some vague thing that you’re relying on a crush to meet, after all, someone who you’re not in a relationship with can’t meet needs. That means that if you want to meet up, ask. Yes, they are things that take you out of your comfort zone but acknowledging your need for attention is vital. 
Is [the person or relationship] actually ‘lacking’? If so, this isn’t an attention issue. No amount of attention can cover up the wrong relationship. Just ask somebody who is in a controlling relationship where the person supervises their every move. If that person’s busyness flags up that the relationship you have in mind isn’t possible, this is not an attention issue. This is a pursuing the wrong relationship issue because you are prioritising your need for attention over your need to be in a safe and secure relationship. The needs exercises in the foundational resources can help you identify this. 
Live your life. There’s no magic formula to it. There’s nothing wrong with desiring a relationship, but you have to be whole whether you’re in one or not. The things that you have focused on are practical in terms of activities, but what you are not giving attention to are your thoughts and feelings and what they’re telling you about your needs. It sounds like you’re filling up time, but you need to get into a monogamous relationship with you by getting to know you. A good place to start with giving you attention is keeping a Feelings Diary (also instructions in the foundational resources). You will quickly get to the truth of things, and you will be able to direct you to the relationships, opportunities and things that you need.
I Know I Shouldn't Care About My Ex, But...

As you know, I’m beyond pleased that the birth certificate loop is over, pending approval but expected within the month. Then onward to the dual citizenship, which I’m told WILL get sorted.

A few days after that weight came off my shoulders, my child’s father contacted me to let me know he was in hospital. He has dangerously high blood pressure, and it took 3 days in hospital (in Sweden randomly) to get it back to safe enough level for him to be out.

Understand that’s not great, at all. But was surprised by how badly I felt really scared something bad was going to happen. Google didn’t help :/ It made me want to jump on a flight and go into ‘care and rescue’ mode. It brought back feelings for him I haven’t had for a while…

I KNOW he has NOT been great, in any way, with ANYthing. Yet here I am still full of care and concern for his well being. Yes, as the father of my child, but I can admit it felt/feels more than that. We were getting on really well, partly due to him finally (after my 4-year wait/nag/wait/good cop/wait/bad cop/ wait/ final try) doing the forms I wanted and him also being happy about that. But it felt more than that… we had a moment..we kissed and hugged and I cried my eyes out with him apologising, hugging and comforting me. BUTTTT I KNOWWW none of this changes anything. I KNOW he’s not good for me and won’t suddenly have an epiphany, he would have done it already, surely. I can feel myself going back into caring for him more than I should. I’ll always care in a way I know, but I’m aware how many more YEARS I could potentially waste on this man. No matter my feelings, he is NOT who I’d like him to be. He’s not going to give me what I need/want in a relationship.

Need to give myself a reality check pronto I think. And clearly knowing all this ‘stuff’ doesn’t stop me feeling all this ‘stuff’. Pls advise!!!

 

Nat’s Response

To be fair, he is the father of your child, and you do have some feelings for him because these have governed your interactions with him over these last few years. If there weren’t those feelings and maybe a little bit of residual hope that he was going to come good and be the father and partner you wanted, you might have come down harder on him. And that doesn’t mean that you should have, but it’s acknowledging what lies beneath. I should throw in that you’re a caring, generous, empathetic (sometimes to a fault) person and so if you think about how you were when you experienced those bereavements, it’s easy to see why his health threw you into a tailspin. 
And this is ok. Breathe. 
My husband has high blood pressure and is on medication for it. I can understand why you would find an episode like that scary. Likelihood is that something in your ex’s lifestyle has led to an episode like that. Something that’s triggered very high stress. Sometimes it can be a random thing that sets it off, or maybe a virus or goodness knows what. 
This is one of those situations where you need to be empathetic and compassionate, and that is the equivalent of being boundaried:
He is the father of your child, you had a relationship in the past, you possibly see more in him than he does in himself. But stay in your lane because you will hate yourself for overriding your needs by playing surrogate girlfriend to somebody who isn’t even stepping up on a consistent basis father-wise. 
Ask after his wellbeing, but don’t do it every day, and don’t do it from a place of fear. 
Your feelings are holding you to a lower standard than the truth. They’ve emerged because of the catastrophising and the recent nostalgia due to him finally stepping up. If anything, use this experience to acknowledge that you have been holding on but to also let go of the anger you’ve harboured towards him that’s manifested as hope for a brand new him. Accept him as he is, wholly and fully, without judging you for who he isn’t. Your priority is your child, not him. You do not need to be with him in order for him to be a father to your child. If he isn’t prepared to do the latter but will, at least, do the paperwork side of things and be sporadic otherwise, work with what you have. 
One of the dangers of fantasising about a child’s absent parent is that it sets the child up for disappointment. It’s not because you have to clobber them with the truth, but they do need you to manage their expectations. When you accept that you and him aren’t going to have a happy ending, you can focus on creating or continuing on with the happy life you have with your child. Children crave stability, structure and consistency. If you create the boundaries and set the parameters, while he still won’t be the father you’d prefer her to have, she won’t be at the mercy of you acquiescing to him. She will get to an age where if the inconsistency continues and it hasn’t been addressed, she will blame herself, because what kids don’t know, they make up. And what they imagine is far worse than the truth. If she knows that her dad isn’t the type of father who makes the calls or turns up or whatever, she won’t spend her time wondering if today’s going to be the day. She’ll know when he makes promises that it’s possible that he’s going to break them, but she will have you there to give her reassurance and stability. Kids do need you to acknowledge the elephant in the room. It helps them to make sense of things. 
It’s fine that you will always care for him, but care for you more. 
Get your journal out and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings that have resurfaced. It then gives you an opportunity to put some perspective to them. 
I think that it is great that he has finally done what he is supposed to do, and it’s nice that you had a moment, but the best thing you can do with these things is appreciate them for what they are instead of expanding them into something else. As humans, we always want more. Be grateful for the certificate, for the beauty of the moment, and let that be what it was without adding anything else to it. That will calm down your feelings more than fantasising about him. 
Should I re-enter dating scene?

My question is about entering the dating field again. After a year spent coming and going with an unavailable guy, I have taken a well-needed dating hiatus and have focused on me and have done loads of work from your resources. I’ve felt and cried/grieved(about him and other life situations) and had some big realisations about my tendency to get activated when a guy pulls away and the rollercoaster of hot and cold that I get sucked into. I felt soooo drained and anxious after this guy that only now coming up on 3 months that I feel my energy is coming back bit by bit. The good thing is that feelings of loniliness and desperation (which I always had after a relationship ending) seem to have disappeared! I want to start back dating at the end of June (my birthday!) but am a bit concerned. I still think of the unavailable guy and sneaky thoughts like “I wonder if he’ll contact me on my birthday” are coming in! I hate this as I know rationally that he’s no good for me. I guess I’m seeking clarity around whether it’s ok to go back dating even when thoughts of this guy still linger. I’m afraid that if I take longer that I’ll just be avoiding dating as I do find it scary to put myself out there. Thanks a million,

 

Nat’s Response

I’m glad to hear that you’ve taken time out. If you didn’t acknowledge what was really going on behind the scenes, there was nothing to stop it showing up in your next involvement. I do think that there comes a point where even if you feel a bit wobbly, you go ahead and have a go at it anyway, because there isn’t necessarily going to be that perfect moment where you feel absolutely ready. If when you start dating you find that you’re hugely triggered and can’t get grounded, then you take that as your cue to face whatever’s come up and either continue dating or try again. 
Remember: you are going to feel anxious in situations where you’ve typically been anxious before. 
It’s not that you miss him but wondering what the ex is up to and whether they will reach out just as you’re starting to move on is likely a thought pattern that’s been used before in similar circumstances. You will find that anxiety wills surface in situation where your mind has it on file that you haven’t had your back before. This means that the key over these next few weeks is to manage your thoughts. 
Part of that is really about acknowledging that it’s your ego that wants to know if he will reach out on your birthday, not you. Your ego is concerned with winning, being right, saving face and all that jazz. That means that rationally you know that even if he did reach out, it would feel good for a short while and then the pattern including your own feelings and anxious behaviour would resurface. It’s like when we say to ourselves that ’Surely hanging out with the ex can’t do any harm?’ or ‘Why do I have to not drink at all?’, or ‘Maybe he/she’s changed and they’re missing me’ or whatever. This is a romanticised ideal. Things don’t change. You take your newfound growth and rationalise that you can cope better, but then you do whatever it is that you convinced you was OK, and after a short period of feeling good, you suddenly remember how awful you used to feel. 
The truth is, your concern is understandable given what happened, but you only need to be super concerned if it’s your intention to get on that train of thought and behaviour. If you retrace your steps and think about where things basically went off the rails, you will see opportunities to be more mindful. If you find that you’re on a date with someone whose company you’re enjoying but they mention their ex who they’re battling with or how they live a few hours away and don’t believe in long distance, you know to walk away rather than talk yourself into continuing. 
It is also OK that you think about the unavailable guy. You spent a year being jocked around (and, OK, yeah, getting sucked in by your hope that he would spontaneously combust into someone else). That’s a habit. You can’t spend a year thinking about someone and then expect that, poof, the thoughts just disappear. It’s a habit to think about him. It doesn’t mean that you want to get back together; it means that you are in the habit of thinking about him. It might be when you’re in the shower. Perhaps it’s when you start to think about putting yourself back out there. Maybe it’s when you’ve had a rough day at work and you don’t want to acknowledge your annoyance so you think about him instead. 
It’s probably also worth acknowledging whether part of you is hoping for the fairy tale. While he undoubtedly let himself down, this is one of those situations that’s commonly rationalised as He wanted to commit and he’s a decent guy, it’s just that he had all of these problems with his ex and hadn’t dealt with all of that. If he wasn’t dealing with that, we’d be living happily ever after. 
 
No, you wouldn’t. 
As I’ve said before, I don’t doubt that his situation is/was difficult, but he hasn’t got the market cornered on having big problems, and a lot of his problems came about from being at war with his ex: anger. When someone isn’t taking responsibility for themselves, whether it’s about their past relationship or the current one they’ve gotten themselves into where they’re expecting the person (that would be you in this case) to manage down their expectations and put up with their bullshit, that’s telling you a lot about how they handle stuff. So, even if/when he gets his situation sorted out, he still has to deal with himself
So, yes, in a nutshell, it’s fine to go and date. If you think you’re never going to have a thought about any of your exes again, even when you’re happily with someone else, think again! You will find, though, that as life moves forward and you let him go, your mind becomes filled with other thoughts. 

 

May

Anger helps for now, but is it justified?

Another people-pleaser with poor boundaries here, having a hard time trusting her feelings. Relationship of 3.5 years ended five weeks ago. It needed to. I figured we were going to have The Talk. What happened instead blindsided me.

Now-ex sent a text at 2 a.m. saying he didn’t want to break up in a text but blah blah blah. I texted back “You did break up with me in a text.” He called immediately (we live in different countries) and had a one-sided conversation. He asked me to call him when I was ready because he wanted a mutual decision.

The next night I sent him an email about a loop-closing bank transfer, hoping to circumvent a reply and saying I didn’t want one. He replied with more blah blah. Instantly, I was furious. Sent blistering email about dickish break-up texts, how he hadn’t cared what I thought while he unburdened himself for two hours on the phone, so a TBD follow-up for the purpose of arriving at a previously possible mutual decision held no appeal.

Two nights later, I sent another email, less scathing but saying it was the how of the break-up that was so hurtful and how careless his words were. Three more nights, a final email acknowledging at least half the responsibility for what came before the offensive break-up was mine and what I was sorry for.

My conundrum: I’m worried that my first email was as bad as the actions of his that so infuriated me. He wouldn’t have been expecting such venom. I feel guilty when I imagine him reading it. I’m not looking for an excuse to get in touch, yet wonder: Do I need to make amends?
My anger is dissipating by the day. But it’s protecting me from pain so I’d like to hold onto it for a while longer. But only if I’m entitled to it, and only as long as it serves me.

Nat’s Response

To be fair, long-distance relationship or not, I would be pretty pissed off if my partner of 3.5 years basically dumped me by text while telling me thatchy don’t want to do it by text and then telling me to call him so that the decision that has already been made can be made mutually.

Now, I’m no rocket scientist, but it sounds to me like he wants you both to say that it’s mutual so that he can feel less guilty about how things are going down and his part in things.

Dumping someone via text at 2am when you know that they’re going to be sleeping and then asking to talk about it to make it mutual is like closing the door after the horse has bolted.

To be clear though, the decision to break up doesn’t have to be mutual. If one person wants to break up, both people do. And even if it is mutually agreed that the relationship needs to end, that doesn’t mean that each person’s reasons for reaching that conclusion are the same.

You do not need to be in agreement about why you’re breaking up. Sure, it can be handy if you are, but it’s often the case that you have to agree to disagree.

You are and were hurt by how he handled things. Maybe less so now, but in the aftermath, you were bloody hurt.

After 3.5 years of being in a relationship that you’d reached the conclusion at some point that it needed to end, and after acknowledging your people-pleasing and boundary issues, his behaviour will have hurt because, on some level, you feel that it’s unfair given how good or accommodating or whatever you’ve been in the relationship.

So all of the feelings that you’ve suppressed over the years have bubbled up, and you’ve erupted.

This is very common. You either explode or implode. The danger then is that if you don’t acknowledge how you came to be feeling and expressing yourself in this way, you will feel ashamed and guilty about your response and then back peddle. Sound familiar?

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t acknowledge that some harsh words were said and approach things from a calmer, more boundaries place if you do need to engage with him further, but it is telling that you feel guilty about getting angry while he clearly isn’t losing sleep over how he handled things. You are in danger of gaslighting yourself into backtracking on your very real feelings, needs, etc.

The issue isn’t about whether what you said was “as bad”. You can be damn sure that when someone dumps you by text, they expect that they’re going to be in problems, but they hope that you will be so upset and mortified that you say nothing. And if he didn’t expect you to get angry, you might want to ask why that is…. That’s not a good thing that he doesn’t expect that. Not that my husband is planning to dump me by text (or at least, he’d better not be), but you can be damn sure that if he does something that he knows is going to wind me up, he expects that I will let rip.

And he wasn’t that shocked by it: he talked about himself for two hours.

Me thinks you doth protest too much about having done something wrong.

Breathe.

Everyone is entitled to anger. It’s a feeling, not a fact. It helps us to process. It is not necessary for it all to be perfect truth. He, for example, can be angry with you even if it’s totally unjustified. In time, if he has a level of perspective, that calms down and he gets more truthful. Same for you.

So, no, you don’t need to make amends. You need to grieve the loss of the relationship, anger and all.

Am I being too closed off about being set up, or smart?

As you may remember, I don’t have a ton of dating experience but am interested in dating a bit to get used to it. A friend revealed that her friend has a crush on me. This guy is nice, but I’ve always viewed as too “wild” since drinks too much, is life of the party and seems to make ridiculous decisions (examples: got license taken for drunk driving; went skiing with a few of us even though his collar bone was broken from snowboarding and laughed it off). My friend and her husband think he’d just be good for me to hang out with. I agreed for the friend to share my number. He’s texted me already asking if I’d like to go for a run (Everyone knows I’m a runner). I’ve nicely said I’m busy for the next week or so. I’m afraid of two things: 1) me being a very recently recovering people pleaser and will I actually turn him down if I don’t like him (history says I won’t because I constantly abandon myself); 2) disappointing my friends yet again (this isn’t the first time they’ve tried to hook me up!). In this case, am I being too cautious? Or smart?

 

Nat’s Response

You know the deal here.

Look, I get that your friends want to set you up, but setting you up with Fun Bobby who drink-drives, mashes himself up and does all sorts of random stuff that other people laugh at but don’t actually do themselves is a total pisstake. Is that the best that you can do?

You do not need their pity, and this sounds like a pity date. Sure, you could do with some dating experience, but why does it always have to be with people who they’re basically just setting you up for kicks?

You are not being too cautious. He doesn’t sound like someone who’s up your street. The situation is wrong as well because you’re only contemplating going on a date with him because 1) you’re too afraid to say no because of your pleaser ways and 2) you feel obliged to because your friends want you to.

I know that a lot of the time we’re not exactly chomping at the bit to be set up or to go on blind dates (I’ve had some bad ones myself), and I’m all for trying new things and pleasant surprises, but given what you know about this guy, I’m not sure why you’re going on the date. And it’s not because I think that you should only go on dates with people who are ‘guaranteed’ to be up your street (no one is); it’s because he has already indicated that you have very, very different values. And this is OK. How he chooses to live his life is his choice, and you don’t have to hate on him for it, but the likes of drink driving are extremely serious. It’s not a laughing matter. And I know that people make mistakes, but this guy has a reckless, attention-seeking, not listening to himself kind of vibe. For all you know, he’s going on the date because his friends, yet again, feel desperate to set him up with someone who can put him on the straight and narrow.

You’re not the fixer. And this guy, for some reason, is giving me some vibes of that ex you mentioned.

Try to decipher what you want to do. If you want to go on the running date just for fun, then go. If you feel obliged to go and you can’t turn it into a genuine desire, don’t go. Do not override your gut.

If your friends are disappointed, this is OK. Personally, I would feel a tad offended at being set up with him, so if anybody should feel disappointed in anyone, it’s you of them.

Fear of getting back in the dating/relationship arena

Been single for three years. My last relationship was short and intense and ended abruptly. It left me scarred, hurt and no confidence. I have been in therapy, have done a lot of self-reflection and growth and feel good now. But every time I try to date again, I feel so scared of being rejected, left or hurt. I don’t need a relationship, but I want to have someone in my life, and I think its a normal human need. None of my ex relationships have fulfilled my needs. I’ve felt used, ignored and undervalued in all of them. How can I have done so much work on myself (years looking at my patterns, baggage, family, childhood) and still feel scared that if the next guy turns out to be horrible, it will finish any hopes of finding a healthy, loving relationship. I no longer make relationships a priority, but I wonder why I just can’t find someone like other people do. It seems so easy for others. The dates I’ve had in the last three years have been a mixture of ghosting, mixed signals and guys only wanting sex. I have not entertained at all and have exited the situations. I keep joining different dating apps then leaving the next day as fear of being rejected, abandoned and feeling not good enough keeps coming up.

 

Nat’s Response

Starting to date again after being 1) out of things for a while and 2) nursing hurt for quite some time means that you’re going to feel afraid.

The part of your brain that handles fear is pretty primal, so how you respond is still pretty similar to how you would if you were bracing yourself not to get savaged by wild animals. It doesn’t differentiate between something that’s happening and something you’ve cooked up in your imagination so as far as it’s concerned, be things are going down and it must flood you with feelings, hormones and other body responses to make you protect yourself.

Each time you are in a situation where you basically experience stimuli and associations that your mind and body associate with pain, your nervous system kicks into gear. Your nervous system remembers your past responses, including all of the hurt you’ve been carrying. Your body is just doing what it’s supposed to do based on the information you keep giving it. Because of this, it’s critical to recognise that how you respond each time is compounding the issue, especially given that in the grander scheme of things, nothing has happened. Your subconscious has stored up everything you’ve been through and is pulling what it feels is the correct file to send down what it thinks is the correct emotional responses. And if you keep responding in the same way, this cycle isn’t going to end.

It’s also important to note that because you opted out of dating after a short involvement, you are going to feel pretty twitchy for any period of time that basically reflects that period. So, let’s say for argument’s sake that the involvement was two weeks and that it started out online. You’re going to feel twitchy about using online dating, and for two weeks and a bit afterwards, you’re probably going to be anticipating drama.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have someone in your life. It’s a need that every human has, although the way in which each human goes about doing so varies.

It is too much to expect after taking a three-year break after a short involvement that you’re not going to find dating daunting. So, if you’re expecting all of those feelings to just vamoose the hell out of here, think again.

You will have to, as the saying goes, feel the fear and do it anyway.

Fear does not always equal danger. Fear pops up when you are stretching outside of your comfort zone. Fear does not want you to do that. It would rather flood you with a whole load of stuff that sends your body haywire and basically scare the shit out of you.

If the next guy turns out to be, as you put it, “horrible”, that’s OK. There are more than 7 billion people on the planet. Dating is a discovery phase. Better to discover that someone isn’t for you early on and get out, learn and move on, than to discover it, continue and suffer. It isn’t a failure to discover that someone isn’t for you. Your hopes for a relationship don’t go down the toilet with some guy you barely know. I would be shit scared too if I thought my whole future was banking on some stranger. Too.much.skin.in.the.game.

The experiences that you have in dating are the same ones that millions of people do. Don’t embellish it and make out like everyone else is having an easier time. My friend went through what you have, and she still continued but learned from the experiences. She had a baby with her husband a couple of days ago.

And the problems that you’re experiencing have been going on for time, so the key is to learn to flush fast and not take it so personally. It’s also to ensure that you are discerning about who you go out with and are not repeating any patterns in terms of who you’re attracted to.

Why am I always the 2nd choice?

Since I was 17 (I’m 32 now), every guy who pursued me always had another girl he was pursuing simultaneously. I’d first not know about it and think I’m the only one being pursued. This pursuit can go on for 3 months. I’d later somehow meet his friends and from their “boy talk” find out that he’s also pursuing one other girl and can’t decide between the 2. The friends say indirect things like “Michael is so lucky. He has 2 choices and can’t decide between the 2” without outwardly referring to me but because I know I’m being pursued, I know I’m one of the “options”. Every time I find this out, I will friend zone myself the next time I go out with the guy by saying things like “So how’s your girlfriend? You’re going out with a girl, right? How is she? She sounds great, you should go for her!” and he would indeed end up together with her. Now at 32 even when I don’t know if there’s another girl, if a guy starts to seem like he’s distancing himself in the slightest bit, I assume there’s another girl, get insecure and indulge in self-sabotaging behaviour. How do I stop this?

Nat’s Response

My first thought is, how did you reach the conclusion that you are the “second choice”?

If I’m reading you correctly, you have a pattern of being interested in men who are typically pursuing more than one person at a time.

Fact is, he hasn’t chosen either of you. He has kept his options open, which, yes, is annoying.

But, you are the one who decided that you are second choice. When the other women find out, they obviously don’t feel like first choice either.

Also, when you rightly bail out of the situation, you make the choice for him because you cut his options from two to one. It’s you who is making you second choice when you take the information you glean from these men’s friends and basically play games. You friendzone yourself, not him.

Pursuing is what someone does initially to make it known that they are interested. While they can still pursue you once you basically give them the time of day, he’s not pursuing in a vacuum. You are pursuing them too. You are not a passenger.

This means that if you are at all passive about how you come to be involved with a guy, that needs to end. For a start, just because a guy pursues you, it doesn’t mean that you have to reciprocate. Next, you are free to ask questions at any time. If you’re the type of woman who doesn’t date men who dating multiple women at a time, that’s something that you need to communicate, especially if the type of guy that you tend to be interested in, tends to be indecisive, non-committal or keeps their options open.

You can’t assume that you’re the only person being pursued. Yes, you would like to think that if someone expresses interest in you then it must mean that they’re only interested in you, over their ex or that they are emotionally available and commitment-ready, but that’s quite a leap. It’s down to you to do your due diligence and ascertain where they’re at. ‘Are you dating other people?’ Boom.

You also don’t have to friend zone, although that’s a perfectly legitimate option as well. ’It’s come to my attention that you’re pursuing me as well as someone else. I’m not somebody who gets involved with somebody who is juggling, so you need to choose.’ If they hem and haw, you then say, ‘You clearly don’t know what you want, so I’m making the choice for you. I’m out’

So, if you want the cycle to end:

1) Ask questions up front
2) Do not jump to conclusions about the distancing. Clarify what is going on.
3) Write down all of the people who have done this. Write down their positive and negative qualities, physical appearance, what attracted you to them, how the situation unfolded, how you felt around these people. There are similarities.
4) What has gone on earlier in life where you have felt second best? Use the clearing and releasing exercise in the foundational resources to explore what feeling second best is about.

Tired of the obsessing loop with my ex over stepping up as a father

I’ve been going around in an obsessive loop, trying to get my daughter’s dad to step up. As we’ve previously discussed, he’s not doing anything that doesn’t suit him! Saw him a few weeks ago, the first time in 8 months. Had THE SAME discussions we always have. He’s tired of hearing it, I’m tired of saying it. Mentioned that our child should have dual citizenship and reasons I feel it’s important. He agreed. When I explained what needs to be done to sort it, he stumbled over being on her birth certificate. It’s an ongoing issue. He knows if he is, then I can also take him to court for maintenance etc., so he feels I will ‘use’ it against him. I’m tired of going around in circles with him. Can’t afford US and UK legal costs. But it seems that’s the only way I’ll ever make him take any real responsibility. As I can’t persuade him to do this, I’d have to go legal to make him, which I can’t afford. Feel like it’s a major loop but also don’t want to just back down and let him off the hook. Any suggestions on how I might persuade him to fix up?!? Big ask, I know, but you might have some subjective insight that I don’t!

 

Nat’s Response

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are not going to be able to persuade your ex to fix up. If he were remotely inclined to being a stand-up father in spite of the fact that you’re no longer together and he lives overseas, you wouldn’t have to persuade him.

So, there isn’t a magic thing you can say to him where light will suddenly dawn on marble head and he’ll go, “Thank you so much for staying on my case. I have seen the light. What a shitty father I have been. I am so sorry, and I will devote myself to being the best father I can be from here on out. I will pay you all of the backdated child support, and from now, you will receive monthly maintenance for our child without you having to undignify yourself to persuade me. I will have my name put on the birth certificate immediately, and from this day forward, I will treat you with utter reverence. You are raising our child, and you have my utmost respect for doing so. Thank you, also, for not dobbing me in and being so patient with me. Another woman, and rightly so, would have torn me a new one.”

Look, in an ideal world, you’d ask a few (or a lot of) times, they’d see their child flourishing despite their absence, they would feel guilty, and boom, they would suddenly cave without you having to spend money.

If your ex was intent on being the father you want him to be, you wouldn’t be asking this question today because he would have already stepped up.

Think about this: Your child is entitled to dual-citizenship, but her father is refusing to put his name on the birth certificate in case, wait for it, he is legally expected to fulfil his obligations which he has always had since the day she was conceived. I’m outraged on your behalf that he sees your requests as you having something that you can use against him.

I’ll tell you what you can use against him: all of the communications over the years and any monies collected so far where he has acknowledged paternity of his child.

Bearing in mind that your daughter can claim her dual-citizenship at a later date, it is worth considering whether you need to go down the route now if you’re not in a financial position to do so.

But I would find out what is involved and go down the proper channels. Depending on where he lives, he may also be breaking the law by not putting his name on the birth certificate. You might find that there are organisations local to him that may be able to assist, and it’s also worth exploring options for legal aid and such. Some solicitors (and US lawyers) will work on these cases for reduced fees.

I wouldn’t tell him that you’re going to pursue legal action unless you have your ducks in a row to do so. Basically, don’t make empty threats. You have to follow through. So, if you are going to have a conversation, and it’s a tell, not ask, then you tell him. If you have any texts where he states that he’s avoiding being on the birth certificate, all the better. And if this conversation can take place (or be clarified after a verbal conversation) via text, great.

Example: Hi X, so, as you can imagine, I feel like I’ve hit a wall with you over this dual-citizenship issue. I don’t want to keep going back and forth with you on this because—and you might not realise this—it feels horribly painful when the father of your child doesn’t want to be their birth certificate. So, to be clear: are you telling me that you’re not going to put your name on her birth certificate so that she can have her dual citizenship?

Then you have it in writing.

I know you’re trying to be ’nice’ about the whole thing, but your daughter’s interests are the priority, not keeping him in favour despite his unwillingness to provide child support, show up, or put his name on the birth certificate.

I really feel for you. Start exploring your options — and other than clarifying his position, don’t involve him.

And any further agreements made with him will have to be in writing so that you can hold him to them. No more verbal agreements that he can wiggle out of.

Am I wrong for blocking him and not having a conversation first?

Recently blocked a guy I’d dated for a month in October. Since November we’d stayed friends, but really it felt like a mix of ego strokes, armchair therapy, and me auditioning for the girlfriend role. In February, I asked for space as our mixed signal friendship was giving me anxiety. He was not happy. I had THREE separate conversations with him, providing clarity until he finally agreed to give me space. Things cooled, but I felt a strong desire to no longer be friends as he made me feel he was simply trying to get me to join his harem of girls he used to date that are now his “friends”. I hoped if I pulled back subtly things would dissipate naturally. Nope, calls and invites increased. Last time I was honest with him, he got upset, and it was so stressful I wanted to avoid a replay. I texted saying I had personal stuff going on, was going dark, and would be unresponsive via phone/text but that I would be on Instagram if he wanted to touch base (as we’re already friends there and I don’t mind that light level of interaction I just don’t want to be besties).

 

Nat’s Response

I think it’s a major code red alert that it took an initial request plus three further conversations with him before he would agree to give you space. This shows that your needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions, so basically your boundaries and values, were not of concern to him.
This is a man that you do not and did not know very well. When you decided to stay friends after a month of dating, the subsequent experience of feeling as if you were auditioning for the role of girlfriend was a code red alert that this was not the friendship you thought you had entered into. Both of you had switched to this friendship with hidden agendas: you hoped to prove something that would make him choose you while also becoming a suitable boyfriend desiring a relationship. His hidden agenda is that he essentially wanted to profit from your feelings for him and your possible insecurities about why things hadn’t worked out.
Deer, taxidermy. Photo by Taylor Wilcox on UnsplashI am very wary of people who insist on being friends with every single person that they’ve ever been romantically involved with. Staying genuine friends with an ex is one thing, but staying friends so you can add another trinket or medal to your trophy cabinet or be the equivalent of the hunter with the taxidermy on their walls, screams hidden agenda and ego issues. It’s like they think being friends with all of their exes speaks for them, and, of course, if you’re all willing to be friends as a booby prize for the relationship not working out, he never has to truly acknowledge why the relationship didn’t work out.
To be clear: this is not a friendship. 
Think over all of the genuine, healthy friendships and other relationships that you have. Even if you experience bumps in the road with some of these people, you know what a friendship or mutually fulfilling relationship actually involves or feels like.
This is not a friendship, and unless you do a hard stop on this relationship, he will continue to take advantage of your unwillingness to go to that level because you will go back to convincing yourself that you can keep in touch like acquaintances.
If anything, he has repeatedly proven in the seven months since the relationship ended that it was right for the relationship to end, but also that he doesn’t make a good friend.
His behaviour is coercion. There is an undertone of emotional blackmail, and he quite simply doesn’t respect boundaries.
You have to keep explaining yourself. Now, either you’re not spelling out, or he’s hearing but he’s not listening.
It’s like, “You’re not allowed to not be friends with me” and you have to be, “Erm, yes I fricking am!”
The only way this connection could continue is with clear boundaries and with you continuing the friendship from a place of desire, not obligation.
If you feel guilty, resentful, tense, anxious, bullied or anything else, then you are not in this friendship for the right reasons.
“I know that I agreed to be friends, but that was a mistake. This isn’t a friendship, and your refusal to respect my wishes, to hear what I’m saying to you, is a sign that our connection can’t continue. I’m not comfortable being in ambiguous or mixed signal situations, and I hold my hand up, I think that I originally agreed to friendship because I hoped that you might want more at a later stage. That was a mistake, and experience over the past few months has also shown me that this so-called friendship doesn’t reflect the nature of my other friendships. I know that you make it a thing to remain friends with all of the women you’ve been involved with, but I won’t be able to partake in that. I wish you all the best.” And then unfriend and block him on Instagram, and block his number.
Should I report him?

It’s now been 9 months from me walking away from an imaginary relationship. The guy was a tutor in an institute where I was taking 1-2-1 classes with. From what I can deduce now, it was predatory behaviour/love-bombing on his part and me carrying on the fantasy for the rest of the time. Some aspects of his character sit questionably with his profession (religious instructor) – he was one thing on social media and another in his professional life (though the mask slipped there too). I feel that I should alert the institute/ report his behaviour but feel that he will paint this as me being crazy ex type. Also, he immediately deleted all his Facebook posts once I ended things in July last year. He also threatened to report me to the institute for harassing him. I’m conflicted on whether I should report him or not. Help!

 

Nat’s Response

This guy sounds deeply, deeply unpleasant, verging on sociopathic.

He is predatory and abusing his position. In true abuser style, he threatens to make it look like you are crazy and deletes his trail because he’s practised at it.

This isn’t his first ride around the rodeo.

There are clearly some very credible concerns that would indicate to report it, but before you do that, be honest about your reasons for doing so, not because reporting it is a ‘bad’ thing but if you are unaware of your intentions, you can find that you’re trying to get his attention or switch the power base around, and this can lead you down a path that you don’t want to go.

If you want to report him because 1) what he did was wrong and 2) because you are genuinely concerned about the welfare of other students, then report him. But get your ducks in a row beforehand because you will need to have some evidence (texts, emails, messages, etc, all help). If you have the message where he said he threatened to report you for harassing him, also use that. Write down what the love-bombing/predatory behaviour involved so that you can build up a picture of what was going on.

Or, bide your time and gather evidence on him.

It may be worth having a confidential conversation with someone in HR or pastoral care where maybe you don’t name names, but you ask about whether there have been incidences of anyone else reporting inappropriate behaviour and how they go about handling things. They may have a process, and you might not be the first person who has mentioned it. But only have the conversation if you are guaranteed that it is confidential.

And make sure that you read the institute’s guidelines about romantic involvements, harassment, predatory relationships, etc, before approaching HR or pastoral care.

In the meantime, steer clear of him so that you aren’t unwittingly taking part in something that he’s twisting to suit a narrative that he’s preparing.

If you don’t feel that you have anything you can pin him, you will need to weigh up whether you want to call his bluff and report him anyway. It’s very possible that he issued that threat because he’s hoping that it will scare you off. You might find that you are not the only person who has reported him. But weigh the risk and get your ducks in a row first if you’re going to report him.

The decision to do these things is always personal, so you need to look within and weigh your options.

Good luck, and I’m sorry that you went through this,

Dating a friend who is not over his ex

I have a question for you, and I think I probably already know the answer but could use your wisdom anyway. 🙂 I have taken a 7-month break from dating after a painful breakup. I’m feeling stronger and like I’m ready to date again. I have a male friend who I get along very well with. Our kids get along. Everything is very easy with him. He’s starting to express romantic interest in me, but so far we haven’t crossed that threshold. The problem is, he’s not fully over his last ex. He wants to move on but hasn’t completely. My question is, do I steer clear of any romantic involvement with him, even if we move very slowly? My instinct says yes, but I’m developing feelings regardless. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

 

Nat’s Response

The fact that your instinct says yes means that you really need to heed this. 
You yourself have just recovered from a painful breakup. You know what it’s like when you’re hurting, when you don’t feel ready, when you feel scared. 
While there isn’t a magic feeling or set amount of time for recovering from a breakup — everyone is different, and our past experiences including any other losses, as well as how hard we are on ourselves, have a big impact on breakup recovery — attempting to date again and becoming aware, as a result, that the ex is still a little too close to home is a sign of not being ready quite yet. 
He can want to be, but he isn’t, and given that your kids get along and everything seems so ‘easy’, it’s best not to go down that road until he can enter into things wholeheartedly. 
Every single one of us has baggage, so even if he was over his ex, you would each have different things come up over the course of the relationship. 
It also doesn’t have to be right now.
 
If you’re both conscientious enough to be honest about where you’re both at (you’re just over a relationship and don’t want to get caught up in someone else’s stuff, and he’s still hurting), this is a conversation you can both revisit in a few months time. You hitting pause on things and him having to face his feelings rather than dive into a relationship with you, will certainly flush out where he’s really at. 
I know it’s hard when someone seems to have so much promise, but healthy relationships do require two responsible partners who are self-aware enough to recognise, acknowledge and express their feelings but to also understand where they’ve been. You know yourself well enough to know that your gut is pinging that you need to step back from this situation for now. His gut isn’t doing the same thing, or if it is, he’s ignoring it, possibly wanting the instant gratification where you get to experience the feelings of something new. But we have to be responsible with our words and actions. If he knows that he’s not over his ex, that’s all you need to know about whether or not to start something with him. 
Moving slowly isn’t a solution because you begin your involvement by overcompensating for him. That’s a really slippery slope from there, something I talk about here.
When he’s free and clear to genuinely pursue something, let him start chatting about his interest in you then.
What to do with jealous co-worker?

Life an new job are great! Transgender male co-worker who is a woman at work is friends with another woman. Well, my manager and I are close, we go to lunches, talk often, very cool. I wouldn’t cross that boundary and definitely not attracted to him romantically. My trans co-worker said wish I was getting that attention from our manager, you and him are close now, it’ll fall eventually etc. I said umm we are just friends. Other co-worker suggested she was jealous, which she admitted. Next thing, she runs her mouth about me to her friend at work who likes my manager.

This friend found a way to be upset with me. We are not friends but cordial. She had a very sour face when saying hi a couple of days ago. I called her on the phone, no answer. Text her and said let’s squash like adults. She said she’d made a personal choice not to talk to me. It wasn’t that serious.

My manager spoke with her and defended me. I said we squash it now. I’m not waiting a week to speak in person. I said let’s do us both a favour, this is a sign you aren’t meant for me, let’s kill the friendship now since you harbour anger & bitterness in your heart. Keep that energy within you since you couldn’t have the decency to come and talk to me, and you’ve been feeling like this for weeks! I can’t respect you for that. She said no talk through text, but I kept going because obviously couldn’t call back, and I said “God’s best to you, no hard feelings. If you made personal choice to not speak to me and not worth talking about, then this is so petty, and I will not be apart of it nor stand for this! Take care.” My trans co-worker always tells this girl I’m with my manager and what we do. I feel this is wrapped around him (my manager) but I give zero shits. Told my manager “This only fuels me more to go out with lunch with you, lol!” I am not responsible for their feelings & insecurities.

 

Nat’s Response

I think you have to be careful of getting sucked into behaviour that isn’t reflective of who you are in the main. While I get that your co-worker’s behaviour is bitchy and inappropriate, this situation has escalated to quite a level given that this is 1) your manager and 2) you are not romantically interested or involved.

This is the time to step back and ask: What is really going on here, and does this really matter that much?

Your manager, whether he’s aware of it or not, has engaged in some behaviour that has fanned the flames of tension.

It may well be a platonic lunch, but clearly there is some underlying tension in the office about him that you have walked into.

If you try to look at this objectively, it looks how it looks: No, it doesn’t look romantic necessarily but one co-worker going to lunch with the manager and talking a lot is going to get people’s backs up. This may be something that wouldn’t even occur to you given that this is your first role outside of the family business, but doing what you’re doing is going to get people’s tongues wagging, especially given that some have been there way longer and he maybe doesn’t give them the time of day.

Or, as this woman has hinted at, he has a habit of playing favourites and picking the new flavour of the month.

Look within and have an honest conversation with yourself: you are enjoying the attention. Ain’t nothing wrong with that! And I don’t mean that you’re necessarily enjoying it from a romantic perspective, but it must feel nice to be in the manager’s inner circle or to basically be teacher’s pet. You may be privy to information and gossip that the others aren’t, and the more insecure people on your team will get their knickers in a twist.

If you even consider how rapidly this escalated with the other two women, on some level, you have enjoyed the fight. Not enjoyed enjoyed, but feeling as if they’re all pecking around this guy and that you don’t even want a relationship with him, and he’s clearly not bothered about them.

You say that this woman was not a friend – cordial – but that doesn’t explain how you dealt with her. If you are not friends but ‘cordial’, what “friendship” is there to kill? So you need to work out what’s going on on your side of the street because if you two aren’t friends and were only cordial (because on some level you both acknowledge that you don’t like each other or are wary), what you said and did was entirely unnecessary. For your manager to then go and speak to her has only fanned the flames and created the impression that you’re flexing your muscles, even if this wasn’t your intention.

Work is a professional environment first and foremost. Friendship is a bonus. I think it’s great that you and your manager have hit it off so well, but that doesn’t absolve him from being professional and leading where he needs to. No, he doesn’t have to pander to gossip, but if he is playing the women off against each other and getting off on fanning the flames, that is poor leadership. The overall wellbeing of the team has to come first, not his ego.

It’s very possible that your trans co-worker feels very vulnerable or is reading into things because of issues she’s experienced. That doesn’t mean that she gets to chat shit about you, but when you step back and empathise, you realise that this isn’t really about you.

And you say you don’t give a shit, but you did tell this woman about herself, talking about God in her heart etc. I bet she didn’t know what hit her, haha.

You do give a shit, and you did want to have the last word. And this is OK. You’re only human, but be honest about your conflict response.

There isn’t anything to do with the jealous co-worker other than be professional and graceful about the whole thing. You do not need to get involved in their drama, nor do you need to apologise for being friends with your manager. But don’t stir the pot as it can easily be misconstrued into something far more serious, and this isn’t a situation worth endangering your job (or him endangering his).

**And as an additional aside, it’s also worth considering whether some of the tension with your co-worker is about them being trans. Are you actually understanding where they’re coming from, or is there confusion about how she’s relating?

Mar/April 2019

Is intensity necessarily a code red?

In the beginning, my ex blew really hot. But that was due to no fault of hers – I blew equally hot. I was the one who pursued her; I thought she was cute, asked her to dinner. She asked me about kids the following day, we hung out with each other every weekend, had sex after 3 weeks of dating. In return, I gladly reciprocated – I brought up becoming “official” in 4 weeks, told her I’m crazy about her. She thought I was the One, and vice versa.

Then she gradually cooled. But *I* didn’t. I blew even hotter, the more I got to know her. So why is intensity in the beginning necessarily a code red? If she had just continued to blow just as hot, things would be amazing. It would’ve been totally sustainable – I sustained my “hotness” for her, after all.

Is intensity in the beginning a bad sign for all dating/relationships? Should I really have recognised that as a code red right from the very beginning? I felt irresistible chemistry, so was I wrong to not control myself and “hold it in”?

Nat’s Response

Intense | adjective:- of extreme force, degree or strength, having or showing strong feelings or opinions

It sounds like you’re conflating interest and intensity. It’s possible for someone to be interested without them being intense. And it’s possible for someone to be intense without them having any genuine interest beyond anything short term.

Someone being intense at the beginning of any relationship always leads to problems further down the line because it isn’t sustainable. Given how many times she broke it off with you and the issues that were presenting themselves from early on, I guess the question you have to ask yourself isn’t whether intensity is a code red but why you became more intense and hotter the worse she treated you and the more unstable the relationship became?

There is no such thing as “blowing hot” in healthy interactions. The only reason why someone is referring to “blowing” is because to define someone as having blown hot, they had to have blown cold. Blowing hot and cold is a characteristic of unavailable relationships and people. It’s all very well asking why they couldn’t have continued to “blow hot”, but that’s to ignore the fact that the person who blows hot is very different to the person who then switches to lukewarm or cold. The expectation that someone should blow hot reflects the idea that intensity is a part of relationships. Yes, we can have intense moments, but intensity isn’t possible for an entire relationship. It’s entirely unsustainable.

People who are interested in someone and really into them can do so without being intense in the sense of disregarding their own and another person’s boundaries. That might be moving too fast emotionally, moving too fast mentally, moving too fast physically or all three and more. It is simulated intimacy, not actual intimacy.

At the point where intensity is happening at the beginning, neither one of you knows each other. So the intensity is based on a fantasy that gets pushed and pushed.

“If she had just continued to blow just as hot, things would be amazing.” That’s not how people work. Who has that much commitment to be in exactly the same mood, at exactly the same feelings all the time forever and ever more? Who can be that intense 24/7? That’s why these involvements go bust. That type of intensity is unsustainable. Real life intervenes, and you get to know one another.

There’s no ‘scale’ for chemistry but imagine it on a scale of 0-10.

People who drive their decisions on chemistry look for the equivalent of a 15/10 or 20/10 feeling and they do not question why they are feeling as they do. That level of chemistry, that connection, is destabilising, toxic and impossible to build a loving relationship with. Chaos is mistaken for chemistry. “Irresistible chemistry” especially in the face of subsequent information that suggests that all was not well, implies that something about the dynamic was similar to the past.

You can’t create, forge or sustain healthy relationships on unhealthy chemistry. Love isn’t the same as pain or control.

Destabilising and toxic connections cause you to lose yourself but to also play out old patterns from the past.

Fear and recognition of familiarity (the person or situation being similar to the past) are often mistaken for “excitement” and “passion”.

Some people recognise it from the beginning because they have prior experience of it or it doesn’t feel right despite what might be some good aspects to what is going on. The question that you have to ask yourself when you don’t know someone that well is why are you feeling so off balance or why are you continuing to feel that way even though things aren’t anything like the beginning any more? And if you didn’t recognise it then, then you would certainly recognise it next time around.

At the end of the day, life is here to teach. This means that you can insist that this is how you want to proceed (going down the intense route and saying that she should have kept it up), and you will discover through experience, whether it’s with her or someone else, whether what you believe is true.

How can I forgive myself and get back to loving me when I've fallen back into old patterns?

I’ve been working on recovering from my people-pleasing and perfectionism for a few years now. Recently, during a bout of very low self-esteem, I ended up acting out on old stories (nobody loves me, no one cares, I’m not enough) and started a very serious argument with my boyfriend via very unfortunate and hysterical text messages centered around me not feeling like he wants to spend time with me. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I put a stop to the conversation, and we’ve both been taking time to cool off.

I know that if he’s the one for me we can talk it out, and he’ll forgive me. But how can I forgive myself? I am frustrated to find myself acting like a child once again.

 

Nat’s Response

You’ve had a human experience, and you pulled yourself back from it. Sure, it wasn’t your finest hour, granted, but if you can’t have your un-finest hour with the person you love, who the hell can you have it with?

In that moment, you were very vulnerable, and he got to see that you’re not Teflon-coated and cool, calm and collected 24/7. Was it the ‘best’ way to express your need for connection or for you to admit that you’re struggling? No, but you’re only human, and things are not supposed to come out pretty and at the perfect time.

Your boyfriend is human too, and he’s going to have his own struggles in the future. Will you be telling him not to forgive himself? Will you be telling him that he should castrate himself for slipping up?

How do you forgive yourself? You admit where you took the shortcut. You’ve done the equivalent of skipping a few meals, not getting sleep, doing too much, and then having a hangry meltdown. And then beating you up for having the hangry meltdown and everyone and everything that got caught up in it. But how did the hangry meltdown come about? Because you skipped meals, didn’t get enough sleep, did too much. And why did those things happen? Because you were trying to meet what you thought were other more pertinent needs and skimped on you.

Now, as a fellow recovering people-pleaser and perfectionist, I’m here to tell you that it’s an ongoing journey. There’s no destination; you just keep evolving. So, please don’t expect you to get things ‘right’.

You haven’t fallen back into old patterns; you had a bad day that was the crunch point of a rough patch. And you caught yourself, showing that you are not in the old pattern.

So, what you need to acknowledge is where you’ve skimped. It’s not something to beat yourself up over; it’s something to help you recognise the journey you travelled to that precise moment when you started firing off texts. What had you been going through in the preceding days, weeks and months that had led to a bout of low self-esteem? Where were you being self-critical and pushing too hard? Where have you expected him to mind read instead of being honest and vulnerable about something you need? What’s the baggage behind it? Where did you learn to say that “nobody loves me, no one cares, I’m not enough” and how is/was that similar to the situation you were in at the time when you sent the texts?

And if you know that he will forgive you, then why would you decide to hold it over you and your relationship? Is there a part of you that’s looking for a way out of the relationship? Because that’s the only reason why you would opt to hold it over you. You haven’t lived up to the idealised version of you in your head. And you’re mad at you for showing this to him. But now you are free to breathe out and admit that you are not perfect instead of hating and berating you for something you’re not.

Forgive yourself by having better boundaries with you. Work out what it is that you need. Rather than waiting to feel bad to feel justified in expressing your need, have a calm conversation with your boyfriend and admit that you’d like to spend more time with him (if that’s what you genuinely want).

Also, you don’t ‘get back to loving [you]’. That’s why you feel bad. You can’t withdraw love from you or loved ones each time they mess up or are human. That’s not unconditional love. This is exactly the time to show you some love. It’s not just about when the going is good, because it’s easy to do it then. So, imagine that you’re someone you love and care about (e.g. your boyfriend) and that they’ve messed up. Would you hate them and shame them? Exactly.

Check out The Drama Sessions as I think that it really applies, as well as The Self-Forgiveness Sessions.

Why do I keep feeling inadequate?

I’m in a church group, met 5 lovely girls, in a group chat. All uplifting women, all there for each other, it’s a much bigger group but us 5 really connected. When I say things, I feel like oh no maybe I’m not good enough. I’ve come to learn some other girls feel that way too, each of us has our own thing to deal with. The reoccurring theme is I’m not good enough, maybe they’ll be better off without me. When I see them, it’s like I get a new dose of confidence like oh ok I did nothing wrong they’re still talking to me, it’s a sick mentality, and that’s how I know I’m not ready for a romantic relationship. They don’t know how I feel, they can’t save me, that’s like telling them to constantly fill me up. At work, I get so much attention I’m not unfulfilled there. Church group is like you’re so funny etc.. it’s like when we go to group & let’s say I came later and didn’t get to sit next to them, I feel I’m not as loved & unworthy. I wish I wouldn’t feel this way! 🙁

 

Nat’s Response

I think it goes without saying given the nature of your question that you’re very hard on yourself. It’s like, even though you’re aware that everyone is going through their struggle and that the same people you feel inadequate around all feel inadequate around each other or other people, you think that you shouldn’t feel like this. Now, granted, feeling like this all the time isn’t good for your emotional, mental, spiritual and even physical wellbeing, but feeling like this sometimes is normal. Often the people we assume don’t get bothered by this stuff feel it just as much or worse.

I feel inadequate in certain situations, typically in large groups of women or where the insecurity worm has got into my head and put the idea in there that I’m going to be an outsider and/or be mistreated. Now, I catch myself with this and really force myself to take in my surroundings, notice what’s actually going on, and ensure that I don’t hop on the drama train of these feelings, but I felt like this as recently as a few days ago when I went to a close friend’s baby shower. And I had a great time. I could dwell on the fact that I felt that way, or I can acknowledge that I didn’t get sucked into the feelings.

So, you ask: Why do I keep feeling inadequate? And the answer is that 1) you’re human and 2) because of things that you’re thinking and doing. Thoughts precede feelings.

To be honest with you, if you keep telling yourself that everyone has their shit together or that they’re judging you, that’s judgement, and so, of course, you feel inadequate.

What is it about these women that has you so convinced that they are superior and you are inferior? Be honest with you. Is it age, wealth, their relationship status, race, education, how they worship? What is it? You’re comparing you because of something. And you’re also judging them, judging you, finding out that actually, they’re not judging you at all and that they have their own stuff, and then starting the cycle all over again. Are you competing with these women without even realising it? Is that why, for instance, you’re OK at work because relative to whatever you compare, you know that you’re doing well? Are these women bringing up feelings from school? What is it that you think being friends with these women says about you?

Try to step out of judgement. Make them human.

Stop working so hard to be in a group that you’re already in. The universe keeps throwing you a bone and saying, “Look, these women are just like you: human and struggling. You’re not inadequate at all”. And you keep going, “OK, yeah, they are human, and we are literally going through the same worries. But, they’re still better than me. There’s something wrong with me. I’ll find it, damn it!”

So, be honest with you about what this issue is really about. Why do you want to have the problem of being not ‘good enough’? What does telling you that you’re inadequate give you the cast-iron alibi to avoid doing?

Also, check out The Drama Sessions.

How do I interact with the narcissistic parent who's behaving hard done by despite their treatment of me?

Do you have suggestions for interacting with a parent who has treated you wrong, but when you approached them, they on and off act as if it’s your fault? My father is a bit of a narcissist and has been in and out of my life since I was born. We had a small dust-up about something on social media a year ago (he posted a picture of me that I didn’t like because I looked terrible and with a caption made it seem like we were this lovely father-daughter pair) and he stopped speaking to me. We don’t speak on the phone or really ever talk on text, but the two times he saw me in person after, he wouldn’t look at or speak to me. Surprisingly, he still sent me birthday and Christmas cards, though he barely spoke to me at Christmas and made a scene storming out of the house when I arrived at my aunt’s house for dinner. I’m nervous about Easter. I don’t want any drama, but afraid he’ll make a scene OR try to pull me aside to tell me that I’m disrespectful or something. I’m very nervous about the whole thing!

Nat’s Response

Having had personal experience of this, I do empathise, and this month’s sessions, The Drama Sessions, are right on time for this, so do check them out.

The truth is that there is underlying tension and resentment that you feel towards your father that pops out at certain times and makes itself known. You feel entitled to feel this way given that he’s a narcissist who’s been in and out of your life since you were born. You don’t feel that he’s paid his dues, shown remorse or actually invested in having the type of relationship he attempts to portray on social media, and on some level, it gets on your last nerve that he wants to post those pictures with acting right.

Our parents, grandparents and beyond that are from the generations where, according to them, it doesn’t matter that they weren’t there, or that they inadequately parented or that they beat you or whatever. They’re the show pony parenting generation who will feel entitled to parade you around if need be or even ask you for money or expect you to take care of them in their old age or put your life on hold on demand. Make any mention of their less than perfect past, and they will silent treatment you or tell you all about yourself so fast and for so long, that you will start to wonder if it’s you that did wrong.

Now, it’s not that you should whitewash the past and pretend that your father was Father of the Century TM. But your feelings about him that are shown through your description of him and how things went down suggests that you’re still waiting for him to be a decent daddy. You’re still waiting for him to put things right. And this gets in the way of you having an adult-to-adult relationship where the relationship evolves, you see him as a human first and foremost and stop blaming you for his behaviour or waiting for him to change, and you decide how much or how little you want to be involved with him. Instead, you and your father are dancing through the drama triangle where you are the victim, he’s the persecutor, and then he gets mad, and so you look like the persecutor, and he becomes the victim, and round and round you go.

Let me tell you something: people, especially parents and other folks who know they haven’t acted right, don’t like having it spelt out that they haven’t acted right. Even if he never chooses to openly admit it, he is well aware that he has not been the father you needed or hoped for. He is well aware that he has let you down. Keep in mind that any narcissism is just about disguising feelings of very low self-worth so your reaction to the photo will have wounded him. Even if he’s not a full-blown narcissist and instead, is narcissistically inclined at times, his ego and feelings are hurt.

You don’t have to agree with him or ‘condone’ his past actions; you just need to acknowledge that he has a position even though he has not been the father you wanted. Empathy. And that doesn’t take away from your experience.

I have previously taken the attitude that given all that my father failed to do, that he had no right to get upset with me the moment he felt as if I’d put a foot wrong. Actually, he did. Not a “right” per se, but he was human, and we don’t get to keep lording it up over people with the past while cancelling their feelings and speech. It took a few years and a lot of silence after our big fallout for me to see this. And, actually, it was only after he died that I fully understood the thing that I hadn’t been able to see at the time due to my anger and sense of injustice: my actions hurt his feelings even though he hadn’t been the father I needed in childhood. And then you take out the end of that, and it’s: I hurt his feelings.

And because your father comes from the stable of family members that love the ole silent treatment but will still expect you to act normal, you’re still planning to go around there and partake in the awkwardness. He sent you those cards because he’s well aware, even if he doesn’t admit it, that he’s dropped the ball on fatherhood, and he’ll be damned if he starts failing to send the cards. It’s his way of attempting to show that he cares, but he still lets his pride get the better of him.

You have a few options:

Don’t go.
Call up your father and clear the air.
Do go, and take it upon yourself to clear the air.

Remember, you’re not that kid anymore, and you are allowed to interact with your father as an adult.

Am I destined to be on the sidelines romantically?

Recently, two people very close to me have entered serious relationships. My sister met a wonderful man through online dating and has never been happier. She says instead of getting crumbs she is finally getting a whole loaf! My cousin met a guy at work and they fell in love. It’s long distance currently but he’s met our entire family and everyone loves him. While I am happy for those closest to me it is tough to smile and cheerlead for them when it feels like I’ve been eternally sidelined. I’ve changed jobs, I’ve online dated, I’ve put myself out there, I’ve done my own thing and not cared – and still – nothing. I’m at a loss.

How do I feel genuinely happy for them and not feel like it’s just a constant reminder of what I don’t have? This has literally been my whole romantic life, watching others play while I’m saddled on the bench. I’m 30 and have still never even had a boyfriend. I’m constantly hearing about weekend rendezvous and surprise visits and can’t help wondering will it always be like this? Me watching everyone else fall in love while I ride the bench another 30 years?

 

Nat’s Response

What you’re feeling isn’t unusual, and at the same time, I think that your feelings are amplified by a sense of “I’ve done all the things. Surely I should be with someone, too, or even have met someone before? What’s wrong with me?”

And it is hard to feel as if you’re doing all the things and that you don’t have ‘anything’ to show for it. But that’s not the case. For a start, you didn’t change jobs and endeavour to take better care of you and be more self-sufficient so that you could basically turn to the universe and say, “Look! No hands! I’m doing everything. Where’s my relationship at?” They’re things that you have to be and do anyway. Yes, you have online dated and put yourself out there, but efforts don’t equal outcomes. Dating isn’t a j.o.b. that you bust your tail at and then you get the promotion. You can put a lot of effort into dating and not see what feels like fruits for a while. But what you do get as a result of doing that is more discernment and an evolved relationship with you, especially if you get better and better at recognising what you need and not accepting less.

Now, the thing is, I’ve seen so many people feel exactly like you do. I did, not realising at the time that a relationship wasn’t that far away.

My friend pretty much said the exact same thing as you. A few years on, some of those people are still together, some aren’t, and she met someone, got engaged, lost her mother to cancer, got married and is due to have a baby in a couple of months time.

I don’t think that what your sister and cousin have (and I’m cautious of making it into something major as you used the word “recently”) is a sign of what you don’t have. It’s a sign of what’s possible. Your own sister said, “instead of getting crumbs she is finally getting a whole loaf!” Why have you cast her in a fairy tale then, where she’s had a perfect life while you’ve suffered? Sure, you haven’t been in a serious relationship yet, but your sister’s clearly been in some shitty relationships prior to this. Maybe it’s acknowledging that she’s had her own struggle that will allow you to feel happy for her, just like people will feel happy for you when you meet someone.

Plenty of people are your age right now and haven’t had a serious relationship. It’s best not to compare yourself to previous generations of thirty-year-olds because you haven’t lived and dated under the same circumstances.

If it’s genuinely “constant”, take some time out from your sister and cousin. If it’s not a constant reminder and you’re just giving you a hard time, get back to enjoying dating.

Unless you plan to watch everyone dating because you don’t believe that it’s possible for you to be in a relationship, then instead, their relationships are a reminder that you can meet someone too. But if you do believe that you are saddled, then I encourage you to explore those beliefs and how it (and others) have affected your dating experiences.

Do the connecting to limiting beliefs exercise from the foundational resources. Don’t avoid this exercise as it will help you to recognise how a belief that you’re never going to be in a relationship, or that you’re not good at relationships, or that everyone else is ‘better’ and that you’re going to be a humiliated spinster, is affecting how you think, feel and act, creating a vicious cycle.

You can’t force yourself to feel happy. That’s not how humans work. So you also need to acknowledge that you’re angry and envious, but also happy for them. Take it a day at a time.

How do I find time for my own feelings in the midst of everyone's grief?

Have been dealing with a LOT of death recently. Was at huge family funeral for uncle yesterday. 2 friends lost their dad’s unexpectedly, another friend his uncle. Best friend’s sister’s ‘baby daddy’ yesterday died from drug misuse.

It’s been/is a LOT. But as ever I have no time to contemplate and process fully. I’m helping and supporting who I can. Yesterday the amount of emotional labour I saw my aunt do was unbelievable. All this has also brought up guilt for my not attending exes funeral last year. Also fear of losing my parents is v high just as they embark on a trip for next month. I know grief comes in waves and different ways. I’m just not sure how I soldier on with high workload, school hols etc., and as ever FIND TIME FOR MY OWN FEELINGS?! In caps because that’s how I’m feeling. Want to and am supporting others, and that’s ok. Also want to support myself. Times like this I am weak for father of child crumbs, and it’s like he has a radar. Semi feel supported by him but also wonder if he ‘smells’ my weakness. Sorry Nat, I don’t even know what I’m asking you!? Just pouring out feelings really and hoping for bit of your wisdom please! 

 

Nat’s Response

I’m so sorry for your losses. You become gripped by a sense of futility, uncertainty, unpleasantness and grief, along with a myriad of other emotions when it feels as if there’s an onslaught of death.

You expect a lot of yourself, though. I barely know my arse from elbow half the time, and I’m not single-parenting. Your body and mind are registering all of these deaths, and you’re feeling a hit, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. The answer isn’t to try and turn into the energizer bunny or to beat yourself up for not going to your ex’s funeral last year; the answer is to stop, breathe, breathe some more, take some more deep breaths and let whatever comes come.

You’re an empathetic soul who feels. You make time for your own feelings by going to bed at eight instead of trying to do chores or lying down in a heap. You spend an extra ten minutes outside, maybe sitting on a park bench doing nothing but sitting there. Your feelings are there. They don’t die. Even giving them 5, 10 minutes is better than nothing.

The best thing you can do right now is support yourself. Don’t try to be all things to all people, and don’t assume that the way to support everyone is by attending to their grief. They all need room for their feelings, too. Rather than feeling as if you literally have to be there all the time, offer specific things and don’t task you to burn yourself out supporting others. That’s not good for them or you. You might be expecting more from you than they do of you. The reason why I say to offer specific help, also, is that people tend to do one of two thing: be super generic and say “If I can be of any help” while sometimes hoping that saying it was more than enough, or just assuming that they have to be there day in day out or call up all the time.

“I can pop up on Saturday and help you out with a few chores” or “I imagine that you have people coming round or phoning up a lot, but if you fancy {suggestion A} or {suggestion B} (that fits within your bandwidth and isn’t overdoing it), let me know.”

Also, don’t assume that you’re the only one who can be there. Pay attention to who else can be.

Rather than reach out to your ex or respond to him, have a bit of time out from running around and give you a chance to be upset in the privacy of your own home, even if it doesn’t make sense.

And it’s perfectly OK to not have gone to the funeral last year. Again, I don’t know where you expect to find the time, energy, etc, to do all of these things!

Write an unsent letter to your ex letting him know why you weren’t at his funeral.
Be honest with your daughter’s ex: What I really need right now is to have space for my feelings. You have a knack for knowing when I’m going through stuff, and in the past, I’ve succumbed, but I can’t do that this time. It wouldn’t be good for me or our daughter, but thanks for the offer.

I’ve included a quote from a book my daughter was given about bereavements and lifetimes. It always helps me to remember what lifetimes are really about, no matter how long. 

“So, no matter how long they are, or how short, lifetimes are really all the same. They have beginnings, and endings, and there is living in between.” 

Should I try to reach out to my ex after his Instagram post about 'moving on'?

Broke it off with a guy who couldnt give me what I wanted. I felt him starting to lose interest and I told him via text that I wanted to end things.He called me back and said we should try but instead I heard from him even less.He told me that his exwife who he has a kid with was dying and he needed to focus on her.So I called and we had a decent convo that ended with us planning to meet that same night to give back items.He cancelled told me that he could bring them to me later or not meet at all if that was what I wanted.I told him it was up to him and he said that we could just hold on to stuff and give it back when we were in a different place. I thanked him for being understanding with everything and wished him all the best and told him I planned on taking a insta break.He never responded. I went on insta to see if he deleted me and found that he posted that he was staying focused on things that actually matter# moveon and I am crushed.should I call to fix things or leave it alone.

 

Nat’s Response

I’m sorry to hear that you have been through this break-up, but you made the right call. To be honest, while his insta post was crudely timed, I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that he’s talking about you. Given that you were connected on there and he typically struggled to be honest with you, it seems like quite a leap to suddenly be Mr Honesty on there. Yes, people are passive-aggressive, but I also suspect that if this is his situation, you’re not the only person who will be experiencing conflicts with.

Let’s say that he was referring to moving on from the relationship:

He was a guy that couldn’t give you what you wanted. You ended the relationship. He then said that he wanted to try but then made even less effort than he did prior to you finishing it with him. He then said that his ex is dying and that he needs to focus on her. That meant that at that precise moment, he told you that she was his priority, not you. So, even if he is talking about you on Instagram, he hasn’t conveyed any new information. It’s not as if you figured out that he wasn’t able to give you what you want, but then you didn’t have a conversation with him; he told you.

Given the context of what happened when he cancelled, what he posted doesn’t really make sense, and so, given that he’s not the man for you and both of you know this, why persecute yourself over this? There is nothing to fix. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not even about him having done something ‘wrong’: if what he says is true, this was a situation where you were on borrowed time. You were not in an established relationship where you’re far enough down the road that you’re involved, and even when I hear from people who are in this situation, the relationship often comes under strain or comes to an end. It is too much. His child’s world is about to fall apart, and it’s very possible that he’s about to become a solo parent.

Leave it alone. You have done nothing wrong, and you are moving on.

My fiancé doesn't like me salsa dancing. Should I stop?

My fiancé is very jealous and do NOT want me to dance salsa or kizomba with other men. He told me clearly that it is inacceptable. What do you think ?

I’ve danced for many years and I really envoy that. He’s ok if I go to classes of therapeutic dances (5 rythms, medicine dance..) but not couple ones.

 

Nat’s Response

 

Jealousy is an emotional response that represents a sense of feeling territorial and threatened. All humans have their moment(s) of jealousy, but when it’s a persistent emotion, it becomes problematic because if we don’t acknowledge the truth including the truth behind our feelings as well as the truth of the situation (e.g. you dancing with another man is just dancing, he is insecure about something) we undertake courses of action that tend to involve trying to control the other person. The idea is that if we tell that person that we don’t like something and that it makes us jealous, that they will stop doing what they’re doing and that ipso facto, the jealousy will go away.

Actually, what you need to consider is what this request really represents: insecurity, trust issues, and a possible desire to control.

Let’s say that you do decide to stop this dancing that you’ve loved for a long time, and that you do so because it becomes a case of “If you loved me, you wouldn’t choose between dancing with these men and my feelings”.

So, you only do the dancing that he approves of. Does this solve the problem? Does he feel loved?

No, it doesn’t solve the problem and he might feel ‘loved’ for a time, but what he actually gets to feel is that you were responsible for those feelings (because you obeyed him) and also that if he throws his weight around that you will eventually acquiesce. He knows that certain language and behaviour is effective and he also knows that you worry about him being happy or even withdrawing the relationship. So, not only does the original issue remain unsolved, but you now have a far bigger problem on your hands. And he will now be in the habit of believing that if he doesn’t feel great then it’s up to you to fix it, which is temporary reassurance against doubts.

So, what you need to do is take a step back and consider the bigger picture of your relationship:

Is this a relationship where for all intents and purposes, everything else is OK and healthy, he is not usually unreasonable and has no problem accepting and respecting no? Or, is this a relationship where there are other issues present that his need to decide how and with whom you dance is emblematic of? Is this a relationship where there’s mutual love, care, trust and respect and your each try to empathise, so recognise each other’s positions even if you don’t agree with them all the time? Or, is this a relationship where there are underlying issues and that this you-dancing-with-men is being used as a distraction or a perfect alibi to avoid having to follow through?

If you genuinely believe that you’re in a loving relationship and you yourself are not inclined to try to control an aspect of his hobbies, it’s worth sitting down and trying to understand where he is coming from. Is this about dancing or is this about something else? For example, is this really about him not wanting you to dance with men, or is it about him not feeling a part of this aspect of your life without him actually making the efforts to participate? Is he imagining something terrible? Has he been to the dance? What is it that he thinks you’re going to do? If he’s afraid of you cheating, then that’s the real discussion, not the dancing.

Or, is this about having patriarchal views? If you two are getting married and he has very set ideas of what is “acceptable”, it’s best you get this out on the table now so you can understand each other’s values and ensure that you are compatible. The man who doesn’t want you engaging with other men, has some very strong views on other things, so you need to know what these are. What else does he expect when he gets married? What does he think that wives do, and why? Often the expectations exist without the person knowing why. They tend to be parroting what, for example, their parents did or a fear from a past relationship.

To be clear, though, also: It’s OK for him to feel uncomfortable. What might not be too cool is if he is controlling or aggressive about his discomfort.

Have a chat with him and find out what’s really going on.

While in the process of “getting over” someone, is “accepting” a good place to be?

I think I’ve accepted that I still like the person, even if some reasons are things BR has taught me: betting on potential, undo this rejection with a do-over. But it doesn’t change these feelings. I’m hoping they’ll go with time. I can live with the occasional unpleasant feelings and move past it – “yes, it’s sad that didn’t work out, and you’re annoyed he’s with someone else, but that’s just because you still have some feelings. Let’s get back to work”. Is this… okay? Do I just wait for complete indifference, or is there something else I should be doing? Should I NOT still have feelings for him, cos I know all the reasons I shouldn’t!

I even know why casual hooking up, or him asking about a relationship, would be bad for me (hint! It’s because he’s Mr Unavailable and doesn’t want to step up, and doesn’t want me to go past level 4 or 5/blowing hot and cold, and I’ll get locked in the cycle again. I refuse to be a yo-yo girl! Even short term benefits will start everything over, and then he’ll opt-out AGAIN when it becomes too much). I haven’t said a word to him in months (told him I don’t want to be friends and keep in touch, because it’s not good for me) and plan to keep that up. I’m wondering if I’m on the right track; if I’m not, how to change and what I’m supposed to do from here on out.

 

Nat’s Response

 

I think what you’re wondering deep down is whether you are in control of things and, if not, how you can change that. In an ideal world, people would love to have a crystal ball that tells them ‘You will be over this in X weeks/months’ or ‘You will meet someone on X date’, or ‘He/she will have a shitty experience on X date and you will finally be avenged for all of their wrongdoings’. Or, ‘He/she will come crawling back on X date and you will take great delight in telling them to take a run and jump (or you will hop back into bed with them and live happily ever after as if nothing ever happened’. 
What you really want to know is, Am I doing everything ‘right’, how long is this all going to take and what can I do to control it so that there’s the least possible amount of unpredictability or uncertainty?
Accepting is always a good place to be. Accepting what is, who someone is without judging you for who they or aren’t or how life is. Accepting that whatever something is supposed to have been, it’s been. Accepting that something is over even if that isn’t how you thought things would go down. Accepting that someone has made their choice even if you’d prefer, in an ideal world, that they made a different choice. Accepting that you’re not in control of the uncontrollable, that you’re not a robot and that feelings and thoughts, including ones you’d prefer wouldn’t pop up, do pop up — and they’re no big deal. 
Something like 95% of what you thought today is what you thought yesterday, last week, and possibly a year ago. That means that we all have way less new thoughts each day than we think, and that a lot of what we think is habit, repetition. Thoughts precede feelings. That means that being conscious of your thoughts (something you’re doing) and compassionately answering back and moving things along, is updating your percentages of new thought, as such. It’s changing the habit. Which is what you’re doing. 
But don’t be a perfectionist about it where you’re trying to hurry you the hell up and you’re criticising you. 
How long will it take? What do you do? How long is a piece of string?
Grief isn’t linear. You don’t go denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You vacillate between them all. The more accepting you try to be without bypassing your feelings, is the sooner you heal. There is no destination. We are always processing and accepting even when we are not consciously aware of it. One thing I do know is that micro-managing it and so hovering over your feelings and thoughts might actually be exacerbating it and giving weight to what you felt in the past if you are making a judgement about what you felt or thought. 
How do you feel about how you feel? If you’re cool with however you feel, great. If, however, you have a problem with how you feel, then the problem isn’t so much how you feel or what you felt that about, but how you feel about how you feel. They’re just feelings, not court orders. They’re just feelings that have previously been assigned certain meanings that might, in some instances, be off base. Responding to them with criticism and pressure will reinforce a negative meaning. Aren’t feelings and thoughts popping up just reminders that you’re human and gradually getting back to some level of normality after going through a process of active grieving?
Maybe work on being annoyed that he’s with someone else. That denotes possession, hostility, resentment and rejection. You’re either annoyed that he’s with someone else because you think he should be with you, or you’re annoyed that he’s with someone else because you think he should be burning in relationship hell. So work through that anger. You’re not annoyed because you still have feelings for him; you’re annoyed because you, on some level, believe that him being with someone else says something about you (it doesn’t). You’re annoyed because you’re deprived of getting casual sex from him and annoyed that even if you did get it, that it wouldn’t change who he is and what he’s about. And so realistically, you’re annoyed that he’s not someone different. The ego self, maybe, but not something about actual you. Choose to make it none of your business, because in reality, it isn’t. 
What do you think will happen and how do you think you will feel if you became involved with him again?
What do you think will happen and how do you think you will feel if you didn’t become involved with him again and chose to let this go?
Your answers give you clues about what you’re really resisting. 
I don’t know that you need to wait for anything. Let it be. Indifference isn’t something you wait for. You choose it, not by saying ‘I am indifferent’ but by choosing to let go of the need to be right, the need to be wronged, the need to be angry, the need to remain connected to the situation. You tell you that his decision to be with someone else has nothing to do with you and that although you disliked his behaviour towards you, you are more concerned with having the healthier boundaries you need to take care of your side of the street. That’s how you reach indifference. 
So, yes, you are on the ‘right’ track. You are working on letting go. 

Feb 2019

How do I break my pattern of ruminating?

I’m over four years post-divorce following a long-time (20+) marriage/relationship. I’m getting used to being on my own, both liberating and daunting. In 5 years time, the kids will be off to college, and there will be no need to stay in the city I currently live in since co-parenting with ex and stepmom is over. I followed my now ex cross-country, twice! Yeah, kind of resentful.

Anxious thinking about planning for a move in the future keeps me from making more ties to others. I’m making excuses (why date? I’m moving!; why be a local activist? I’m moving! etc.) And at the same time, the place does not feel right for me long-term – wrong demographics, wrong climate, wrong region – and I have no family ties here.

What really scares me is the real loneliness that could come when kids are gone, ex is really, really gone, and I’ve self-sabotaged by moving someplace else in my 50s where I’d really be alone for the first time – a solo empty nester. Then I tailspin into thoughts of dying alone… Ruminating thoughts keep me stuck. So unnecessary. I need an attitude adjustment, or am I just distracting myself from the present? How to break this pattern? Thanks!

Nat’s Response

It strikes me that given how life rarely goes exactly to plan, that it may be foolhardy to not bother having a life where you currently live because your kids are going to be grown in five years time. You don’t know what will happen in these five years, what the emotional, and, for example, the financial needs of your children will be, and who and what you will be five years. 

Unless you have no intention of enjoying yourself and literally thinking, feeling and exactly the same for the next five years, you can’t really be sure where you will be. 

I think that your concerns are valid: In five years time when all of your children might have gone off to college, and they’re all in a good place wellbeing wise with minimal drawing on you in comparison to, say, when they were kids, what will you do then? Where might you want to live, how might you want to spend your time?

You were with your ex, your children’s father, for a very long time. While I totally understand feeling pissed off that you live somewhere that you don’t feel you would have chosen to if it weren’t for you having been married to him, those decisions aren’t invalidated because of how things turned out. You don’t have your children without having had your ex. You decided to make those moves, and hopefully, you wanted to do these even if there were sacrifices you needed to make in order to facilitate these. Those moves were part of your relationship. They weren’t done with the assurance and iron-clad guarantee that he wouldn’t be a pain in the arse or that you would last forever and ever. So, as resentful as you might feel towards him now that your marriage is no more and you’re living in a place where the connection is your children and him, you’ve got to own those choices. 

You did not have a crystal ball and so you couldn’t see into the future. 
You were trying to do your best by your husband and children. 

Did you, maybe, make those moves because you thought that it’s what a Good Wife does or you thought that he would pay you back with altered behaviour? Possibly, and that’s the source of your resentment (doing things not because you want to but because it’s what you think is expected of you and feeling like everything is on his terms because the marriage is over and you’re based where you moved to not where you would have necessarily chosen to be). 

Even if you were still married, you would still have empty nest when the last child moves out of the home. You would still have been faced with the questions you’re already considering. 

But, the answer to calming the rumination is doing something now. No, you don’t have your family there, and things about the place aren’t your first choice, but you’re there. Choosing not to date because you think that everything will be perfectly lined up in five years and you may have to move, doesn’t make sense. That’s just an excuse not to enjoy yourself, to not try to make the best of your time there, to not date. 

If you were to date and did your best to enjoy your life there, you couldn’t exactly stay as mad at him as you are now. And the fact is, you could meet someone during this five-year period and just like you picked up everything and moved, they will move with you if you wanted to. 

Worry is basically praying for what you don’t want. We’re all prone to it as humans, but when we use it as a way to fill in time, to avoid thinking about other things, to avoid being available to the present, it robs us of our inner peace. Worry is like goldfish: it doesn’t know when it is ‘full’ so it will take whatever you feed it. 

How useful is it to worry about dying alone? That doesn’t have to be a reality unless you’re going to stay in this purgatory. 

Do not wait until your kids move out of the house for you to get a life. Be here now. Enjoy it now. Invest even though this isn’t the place you had in mind. In today’s society, not all children go to college, and even if they do, they wind up back at home living with you until goodness knows when. So, start living now. Rather than keep looking for something new to persecute you about, go and date. 

In 2006 when I met my now husband, my brother-in-law would be non-committal with girlfriends because he didn’t see himself staying here in England. He was moving. It is 2019. He still lives about 20 minutes down the road from us…. And he is still using the same excuses. 

RESOURCE(S) 
Are You Making You Special? 

TASK

Pretend for thirty seconds that you have decided that you are going to remain where you are currently based. I know you say that you want to move and that you don’t like various things, but use your imagination to pretend that you actually want to stay there. What would staying there mean? Who would you have to be? What would you have to do?

Should I tell the ghoster off for ghosting me, and how do I proceed?!

So the Mr Unavailable that I’ve been on an off with (unavailable due to his confessed issues around intimacy and pressure from trying to sort out mortgage issues with his ex) stepped up 2 weeks ago and asked me to be his girlfriend. He also suggested we would communicate in a clear way and that he wouldn’t pull away without explaining himself. He then went on holidays for a few days to Barcelona but before and after I could feel it was going hot and cold. He then said his ex had just rejected his last offer to solve their past mortgage issues and they’d have to go to court.

He was home from Barcelona and no mention of meeting up despite him agreeing he would step up in this area! He was still texting away though. When I finally broke on the Friday and asked if we were meeting up, he apologised for his head having been all over the place for the week but avoided the question of meeting. I said, “I know, that’s why I didn’t mention the last few days”. I wanted to put the focus back on the weekend we were dealing with.

He hasn’t replied since… it’s now Tuesday. He has been on whats app but hasn’t bothered replying. I’ve been ghosted!! I want to text him and tell him what I think, but I’ve done that before. What do you think?!

 

Nat’s Response

Soooooo, this guy is behaving like Flaky McFlakerson — and unfortunately, because you guys have been on and off, he’s picked up the message that he can say one thing, do another, say something else, sweeten you up, and then do something else.

  • He asks you to be his girlfriend.
  • He suggested (I’m going to assume implied as ’suggested’ sounds like indirect communication) that you would both communicate in a clear way.
  • And he either said or implied that he would not pull away without explaining himself.

It’s very easy to feel vindicated in these situations when it seems like someone is finally coming round to your way of thinking.

Yes! Finally, all of the blood, sweat and tears I’ve sacrificed have finally paid off! He wants to make us official! He’s going to try harder! I knew it was worth all of this waiting around and malarkey.

The condensation is barely out of his mouth before the hot and cold cycle begins again. I’m sure it’s not coincidental that he makes this big declaration just before he has to go on a trip where it means that due to him being away, he won’t have to immediately show up. He was showing you that he was getting the wobbles yet again.

I also don’t think that it’s coincidental that this all took place around the time that this mortgage offer was made to his ex. Did he think he’d finally clinched it? Did he maybe even think he’d got one over her? But then she turns down the offer and they now have to go to court. He’s, well, angry.

My spidey sense tells me that he’s pretty angry and distrusting of women. What does he think is going to happen if he fully puts himself into a relationship? That he’ll be screwed out of a house by ‘Yet Another Woman Who’s After Me For My Money’? I do not doubt that it’s a pretty unpleasant situation to not only break up but to go to battle over finances and property. But the reason why he’s at this particular point is that he’s gone to war with his ex (and her him by the sounds of it). He wants to win. And he is so consumed by wanting to hold on to a certain amount of the house or not letting her get a penny more than he sees fit, that he’s prepared to decimate his life over the whole thing. By the time they’re done, it will have cost him whatever money it was that he was trying to avoid, plus, if the property has accrued any value during this time, she’s getting a piece of that too.

Now, the thing is, communication is a two-way street. Just like ambiguity doesn’t exist in a vacuum where only one person is doing it, poor communication isn’t just happening from one person in this dynamic.

You say that there was no mention of meeting up, that he was blowing hot and cold again. The agreement that you both made meant that you were well within your rights to pull him up by his bootstraps and be like, ‘Whoa! What is up with you? You said that you wouldn’t pull away without explaining yourself and it’s only X days since that, and you’re doing it again. This is not on!’

‘Mate, you asked me to be your girlfriend, but this isn’t feeling like a relationship. I meant what I said when I told you that I couldn’t do this merry-go-round of not communicating properly.’

Now, I know that you were trying to give him space because his head was all over the place, but given the nature of your involvement up to this point, it ends up looking like you’re too afraid to say anything for fear of rocking the boat and terrifying the skittish horse. I’m also going to hazard a guess that you were flipping furious with him underneath it all but trying to be The Good Girl.

The issues in this relationship aren’t just about him clearly not being over his ex and his inability to explain himself when he pulls away; his fear of intimacy is bigger than his desire for a relationship. If he has an opportunity to get away with something, then he will chance it, because he knows that it has been effective in the past — and he is stuck in the past.

I don’t know that you’ve been “ghosted”; I think that he is so afraid of conflict and dealing with your feelings that he’s buried himself for a few days. He knows that you’d be well within your rights to tear him a new one.

While I’m not keen on his behaviour, it is clear, also, that he quite simply cannot handle this issue with his ex and a relationship. He is overwhelmed, unavailable and angry. And trying to hold on to a woman who he knows deep down shouldn’t be giving him the time of day.

Believe me, I know plenty of people who have been in their situation: it doesn’t have to drag on like this. This is a war that they’ve chosen.

You have a couple of options:

Leave it for now, and let the dust settle. If you think back on past periods of silence, that’s possibly a clue to his current behaviour and how long it might take for him to get in touch. And when he does, draw your line with him.

Send him a short clear message that basically says that you know that it must be challenging to be in this situation over the mortgage, but you object to his recent actions. He asked you to be his girlfriend and agreed to step it up on the communication. Ignoring you and refusing to communicate is the limit and as much as you empathise with his situation, you won’t tolerate being treated this way and will no longer settle for someone who isn’t prepared to be a proper partner. And tell him not to bother getting back in touch and best of luck.

How do I deal with my yearly sadness?
Every year close to my daughter’s birthday I feel really triggered by the situation with her dad. Recently I told him this, on the phone, and he said he feels triggered by it too. I said I don’t think it’s the same trigger feeling though… Because if it was, he’d do something differently. He said he wanted to visit for her birthday but can’t because of work ( I checked his work schedule, and he is booked, so that was true). I said if he really wanted to find a way, he would, in terms of all his ‘wishes’. I feel like he has a wishbone where his backbone should be.

I’m using the word triggered, but really I think it’s probably just sad. And every year that passes reminds me how much he says vs how little he actually does for her. I get to the point of feeling like cutting him off, but also don’t ever want to stop them having a relationship.

A few days ago, after spending time with a male friend my daughter cried when we dropped him at the train station. Like hysterical tears. Then she paused and said, ” I miss my dad”. How can I support my child and help her understand none of this is her fault?

How can I recognise that yes, every year that passes is a reminder of how little is changing in terms of what he says vs does? But not let that make/allow me to feel sad when I should be celebrating my child’s birthday rather than sad about things. Her dad sent me a decent contribution for presents and party etc., but I’m already worried about if he’ll get it together to call on the day before she’s asleep! Know my feelings are on me but feel I need better mechanisms not to let them get to me so much…

 

Nat’s Response

It’s funny. When you try to talk to certain people about the effects of their mistreatment, they turn around and tell you that it’s hurting them too without acknowledging your experience. It’s like when the abuser says ‘You know, this hurts me more than it hurts you’ or someone patently unavailable says ‘You have no idea how much it hurts me to treat you like this’. Come again?

I’m not saying that he doesn’t feel, maybe a little bad about the situation, but it’s not so much that it would turn into concrete action. He is wholly committed to being The Dad Who Doesn’t Show Up On A Consistent Basis because it’s not his intention to be vulnerable enough to deal with his stuff. The status quo, even if he complains about it sometimes, is where he’s very comfortable. All of his children’s mothers accommodate him to a certain degree and even if they express anger at his behaviour, he isn’t feeling any harsh consequences. He then gets to feel like a Wish Daddy: someone who is a father and wishes he could do more, but never actually does anything about it. But then gets to feel good about the fact that he at least wishes that he could, possibly even rationalising that ‘other’ dads who aren’t about just can’t be bothered and don’t care, whereas his wishing shows what a decent person he is.

I’ve felt sad on most of my birthdays for 42 years. As has my brother. My mother, also, felt sad because she saw our sadness and no doubt felt inadequate as well as angry (mostly at him).

You want your child to have a ’normal’ life. There’s this sense of what other children have and you think she’s missing out on. 

Your sadness is 100% understandable. Not only do you want the best for your daughter, but you keep believing in a better him. When he’s on, he’s on, and so because you know of the good points and good times, you just wish he could dig deeper into those and just try and be a father to your daughter. She’s done nothing wrong and she undoubtedly deserves a father, but he’s just not going to step up. This is not something that you will make peace with overnight. It first starts with accepting what you know at this time wholly and fully: that he is not going to step up no matter how nice you are or how many chances you give him.

You then begin the journey of grieving the loss of who you thought he would be, the father you thought she would have, and even this notion of what you and him might have been. From that space, you can make better decisions while continuing to love your child.

There isn’t a magic thing that you can say to your daughter to make all of this go away. It’s not as if you can say something to her and then, shazam, that’s it. This is something that will resurface at different times and you will talk about it in age appropriate ways all through the years so that her comprehension of it improves over time.

It’s OK to explain to her that mommies and daddies don’t always stay together and live together. 

Validate her feelings and let her express her sadness, and then talk through them. It’s totally understandable that she misses her dad. Let her express whether she thinks it’s her fault, and then you can help her to understand that it isn’t. Also, don’t assume that she thinks it’s her fault.

There will be other classmates, for instance, who don’t have both parents at home. If a child’s father passed away, they would feel very similarly but it still wouldn’t be there fault.

Get on the phone to him and thank him for the birthday presents and money, but emphasise to him that she needs a call from him on the day and that if he’s not going to be able to do that (or there’s a chance that he won’t), then he needs to send you a voice note or voicemail that you can play. Or even a video. That way, it can be ‘Oops! We missed the phone call but look what daddy sent’ or ‘Daddy was working today but wanted to make sure that you had this message from him’.

And tell him that she is talking about missing him and that he mustn’t make promises about seeing her if he’s not going to, and that even if he can’t make visits, how about arranging even a FaceTime once a month.

This link has some suggested books on the topic.

Also speak to her nursery about it so that they can get involved in supporting her and making sure that they are sensitive in certain topics.

And happy birthday in advance!

How do I balance my desire to be in a relationship?

How can we balance being in the state of wanting to be in a relationship and taking action but at the same time not wanting to stress too much about it? i.e. not putting too high hope on it due to the potential of disappointment. The swing between the two has given me lots of angst. The more I want to be in a relationship, the more stress I feel especially when they are not turning out as what I have expected.

 

Nat’s Response

 

Your experience is something that so many people go through, and not just about relationships and finding a loving partner.

It is OK for us to have needs, wants and goals, but the way that we feel about these starts to offer clues about whether we are over-invested and banking our self-worth on the outcome. They offer hints about whether we are trying to control things.

What often happens when people pursue a desire that will also satisfy certain needs is that they start to try to do ‘all of the things’. So, they start obsessing about whether they are doing all the right things to make their desired outcome happen and they try to work out the steps and formula in their mind.

The difficulty with these situations is that even if we can’t necessarily put a set timeframe on it, we do so anyway. So even though we don’t know if we’re going to meet someone this year or this month, even, our thinking and behaviour, which affects our feelings, is based on us thinking that it is going to or it has to happen by X time.

And when it comes to finding a partner, it’s not like coming up with a revenue goal for your business, and you do XYZ to try to achieve that. And even then, there’s nothing to say that you do all of those things and that you hit your revenue goal.

Dating is different. It’s uncontrollable just like basically everything else in life, but you’re also dealing in something that isn’t predicated on your efforts.

So, the reason why people throw themselves into work, exercise, etc., goals is because they are aspects of life where it feels as if you can put in a certain amount of effort and get something back. Granted, if you’re busting your tail in the wrong job or you’re not doing the right exercises, or you’re maybe sabotaging all of the exercise with whatever you’re eating, that will be counterproductive to that effort, but the odds are that you will see some form of payoff from those efforts. But it’s not guaranteed. If, for example, how much money and success people had was based on effort, as in how hard they work, then there wouldn’t be so many people living in poverty.

In fact, it is safe to say that hustling and burning ourselves out, for instance, at work, doesn’t actually lead to as much success as is made out.

And it’s the same with dating.

You could put a lot of effort into dating, let’s say, for the next 6-12 months, and there’s a possibility that you might not meet the person who you want to and can settle down with (because they’re compatible and your emotional needs can be met by the relationship). Does that mean that because you put that effort in but didn’t meet the right person, that you failed? No.

Your ‘effort’ has nothing to do with whether you ’should’ meet and settle down with someone in that period.

You could walk into work tomorrow and meet someone who you could go on to date and settle down with. People do that all the time. They did not have to burn the dating candles at both ends to do that. It’s very possible that in some instances, they were dating here, there and everywhere and then it turned out that the person was right under their nose at the office.

Dating is not like, for example, work or doing an exam. It’s like herding cats. Lots of uncontrollables and unpredictables. It gets easier if you’re chill with yourself and you flush fast on any unsuitables.

Going back to the 6-12 months: if you put in a lot of effort but don’t meet the right person, but do get away from the wrong people and have greater sense of self and clarity about what you want, then that’s a success that’s taking you way closer to the right person and relationship than it would have been if you tried to make every single person you go on a date with into The One.

And I think that in the end, that is what the fundamental issue in these situations always is: You want a relationship, and that’s perfectly fine.

Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are part of fulfilling our emotional needs. So, yes, in theory, you do ’need’ a relationship, but what you don’t need a relationship for is for all of the things that you might be seeking one out for.

Once you regard meeting someone as something that proves that you’re not X and that you are Y, or you need a relationship for your salvation so that you can finally be done with dating and feel worthy and as if you belong to a special club, you’ve got problems. You have too much skin in the game because every single person you encounter when dating becomes the person you’re banking your hopes and expectations on. And that is too much for a stranger because they are always going to disappoint because you are expecting them to be something that isn’t based on who they are and the process of getting to know them.

If every single person has the possibility to be The One, that is exactly why you have high hope. The mentality is, This person could be The One and so I will try very hard and hope, and so when they turn out not to be The One, I feel disappointed in myself that I wasn’t enough to make them so.

Things are back to front: If every possible date starts with ‘Maybe this is it’, you’re not being discerning. You just want someone to choose you and take you away from this godforsaken rigmarole. I’m not saying that you need to go in with an attitude of ‘Every person is the wrong person’ so that you can be pleasantly surprised; I’m saying that you’re going on a date with a complete and utter stranger and so it’s curiosity and exploration.

Maybe they will be right for you and maybe they won’t, but it’s a balance of neutral and grounded because you haven’t got a you and a life that you’re trying to buy your meal ticket out of.

And at the end of the day, here’s the crunch point: there is nothing to expect because it’s just dates with a veritable stranger. Hope to have a good time, not to make them into your future husband, and your disappointment is way more manageable and less entangled with a sense of whether you’re ‘good enough’.

How can I make sure my past toxic behaviour doesn't move into a new relationship?

I feel great being single, sleep peaceful and all the rest, rarely ever feel lonely. Think I hit the nail on the head: I want to meet a man eventually, but I am low-key afraid. Questions such as: how will I act? Will I blow up? Will my behaviour from the past move to this one TOO?! Can I trust?

I pray about it, and I let it out in this new church group I attended that people pray over you and help each other with situations like this. I can’t wait for the day to feel free and my past is no longer holding over my head!

 

Nat’s Response

 

A very common scenario I encounter is hearing from people who, like you, are low-key afraid that they’re basically going to eff up the way that they did in the past. So, the woman who was in an affair and used to be weak for the lines of the affair partner worries that, for example, he’ll come back and try it on with her and next thing, her knickers are swinging from the chandeliers. The person who didn’t have the boundaries they needed with the person who went on to take the piss, spends months beating themselves up about all the things they didn’t say and do, and then when they finally start to try to move forward, feels terrified of whether the next time someone tries something, that they’re going to roll over and be a doormat.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

The thing about making change is that we don’t get sent to a special centre in the countryside somewhere to go through rigorous rehab and training.

 

Maybe scientists stick those electrode things on us and pump new thoughts into us and perhaps even give us an IV of confidence, boundaries etc., and then we get out of the machine and stroll back to normal life, and then, boom, we date, behave perfectly and land our future partner.

Wow, how amazing would that be!

So, while we can definitely experience a shift in our mindset and behaviour without having had to, for instance, start dating again, the ousting through of those changes happens as a result of getting back out there. It is easy to say that things are a certain way when you don’t actually have to do anything. It’s like when I speak to people who are not in a relationship, and they feel as if they’ve changed, but part of why they’re not in a relationship is because they can keep thinking what they’re thinking, feeling what they’re feeling and doing what they’re doing without being challenged.

You don’t know if your behaviour from the past will ‘move’ to the new relationship unless you’re 1) very resolved to be a different person by responding differently to the same triggers and so 2) aware of your triggers and 3) willing to take responsibility for them.

For instance, I spoke to someone recently who’s worried about whether they will get super angry in their next relationship because they exploded last time around. The thing is, they exploded because they built up a lot of stuff and were inconsistent with their own boundaries. They hid their needs because they were desperate to settle down at any cost. So, unless they’re planning to do the same things, they can’t have the same response. Plus, they don’t need to wait until they’re in a relationship to know whether they will blow up in that way. They only need to start paying attention to their life and noticing whether they are engaging in a variation of the same behaviour elsewhere.

I knew I would be OK with having boundaries in a relationship because I had started to create boundaries in all other areas of my life.

Can you trust, you ask? Well, that depends on whether you trust yourself. Because all trust is a reflection of is your own self-trust. If you don’t trust others it is only because you have not earned your trust. And if you are not earning your trust it is because you breach commitments to you and/or you have actually earned your trust in some respects, but you insist on lording it up over past versions of you and reminding you of where you effed up.

Both of these are things that are easily changeable and have nothing to do with what others do.

If your past is over your head, it’s because you’re holding it there.

Our issues come up, not because we’re a f-up but because they need to be healed. It is better for stuff to have come up in the way that it did in the wrong relationship, as in the relationship that wasn’t with the right partner. That doesn’t mean that stuff won’t come up when we’re in the right relationship, but it won’t come up in the super intense and destructive way like it did in the wrong relationships. We will, possibly, still act like a jackass on occasion but will have the self-discipline to learn from it and talk ourselves out of patterns of behaviour that are not workable for us.

Keep praying and see what life reveals to you in day to day life. You don’t need to wait for a relationship to discover whether you will blow up or be distrusting. Life is already presenting you with these experiences for you to do learning and healing so that next time round, you won’t do things exactly as you did the last time.

January 2019

What negative emotions to process, and what to let breeze by?

I’m struggling to figure out which emotions I need to “feel and process” and ones that send me into a ruminating, depressive spiral. I’m afraid of feeling negative emotions. So when thoughts (to do with an ex) make me sad etc., I don’t know if that means I need to sit and pick it apart to figure out why it’s making me sad, process it, and move on; or if I just accept that it’s making me feel uneasy and try to push it away. I get interruptions of emotions/thoughts about my ex, but I don’t know when it’s time to let myself get worked up and sad to “let it out”, and when it’s time to say “thinking about this won’t do any good”. I want to be healthy, but I don’t want to make myself upset needlessly, start me obsessing (or when it’s something my brain conjures to make me sad for no reason!) What’s the difference between a negative emotion representing something you need to address, and negative emotions that are okay to ignore? I don’t want to be sad all the time, but I don’t want to be ignoring thoughts and feelings I should be addressing.

Nat’s Response

Okay, to start with, it’s not a case of “which feelings”, as if to suggest that there are some feelings you process and others you don’t. Feelings don’t work that way. You turn off one or some, and you affect all feelings.

Feeling your feelings means being open to receiving all of them.

The reason why you know joy is because you also know sadness. All of your feelings are useful, and none are bigger or better than others. They’re all on equal footing. This means that fear, for example, doesn’t carry more weight than the others.

Thoughts proceed feelings hence if you actually want to influence how you feel, it would be better to recognise what you are thinking and experiencing for those feelings to come about so that they have the space to move on. Suppressing and repressing your feelings just makes it worse. They express themselves in other ways — accentuated pain, your mental, physical and spiritual health, projecting and passive-aggressive behaviour.

You might not necessarily have control over the first thought, but you do have some say over the subsequent thoughts. It isn’t a given that because you feel sad that ipso facto, you must ruminate or that you must beat yourself up. You could acknowledge that you feel sad without judging it or you. Without telling a story. It’s also important to note that the overwhelming majority of our thoughts (something like 96%) that we have today are ones that we had yesterday and possibly ones we had as much as a year ago. This means that if you can be present to why you are rehashing a story in the way that you are, but you can also endeavour to be kinder to you and your feelings, you will feel differently.

Sadness, for example, doesn’t go away because you bury it. It’s still there. It moves on with self-care and perspective.

This also offers another clue: it’s not that something didn’t happen in the past to cause sadness, but how you continue to feel is down to untruths. What you might regard as ’negative’ feelings offers clues to where you are not telling the truth about something. Locate the untruth(s), and the feeling moves on.

Is there a reason why you might want to be sad? Yes. Because then you don’t have to change or move on. You will get to keep telling a story in the same way, and you won’t have to update how you saw things in the past.

Short of being right in the middle of work or some other inopportune moment, it’s time when it’s time. Whether you acknowledge it now or later, it’s coming up and how it comes up depends on how you treat you. Pulling yourself together and then, for instance, talking out loud to yourself later or to someone else, or venting in your journal later that evening is very different to shutting it down until you’re triggered or drunk or both and it coming out in more painful and destructive ways.

Here’s a way of making yourself needlessly upset: Telling you that you’re a **** and other horrible stories.

Here’s what won’t make you “needlessly upset”: feeling.

“What’s the difference between a negative emotion representing something you need to address, and negative emotions that are okay to ignore? I don’t want to be sad all the time, but I don’t want to be ignoring thoughts and feelings I should be addressing.”

No feeling needs to be “ignored”. Rather than it being “This one is good and that one is negative”, look at feelings as clues about your emotional state and what might be going on around you (as well as how you’re treating you). You can acknowledge the presence of a feeling without jumping on a negative train of thought. “Oh look, there’s sadness. Well, that’s understandable given that I’m tired and processing lots of stuff right now” is better than “Ugh. I’m such a ******. If only he/she hadn’t ______, then I wouldn’t be ________.” And round and round you go.

You won’t be sad all the time. Feelings have beginnings, middles and ends. Even if you felt sad at 9.05 am today, it’s not all you felt today so there’s no need to exaggerate and say that if you feel something that it will be all you feel. You can choose thoughts to support the way in which you want to feel.

How can I survive work as an introvert?

Do you have any survival tips for introverts who work in open plan offices and live in crowded cities? I’ve recently discovered just how much being an introvert affects my life. I find being around large crowds really overwhelming which makes even walking to my office building in the city stomach churning, and being in an open plan office, I feel like I am very exposed and get drained really quickly. Then because I am in this environment 10-12 hours a day, I am so tired by the time I get home I can barely move. I try to block everything out by being lost in my own head sometimes (to try and minimise being drained) that on the tough days I feel I can barely talk to people and then I get embarrassed because I feel like my boss gets grumpy with me when I am too quiet and don’t speak up, so I try and maintain some sort of contact with everyone on a daily basis but sometimes I really just want to lock myself into a room and be quiet.

Nat’s Response

This is one of those situations where in the long-term, you will need to make mindful choices that honour your need for personal space, to reboot etc., while balancing these with the needs of any organisation you work for or city you choose to live in. With the benefit of hindsight, you know that for your next move, even if you live in the city, you what opt to live closer to green spaces, maybe opt to work from home more and choose a space that allows you to quickly connect with tranquillity.

It’s always worth having a confidential chat with HR about what their suggestions and practices are for introverts.

Build short breaks into your day so that you have opportunities to collect yourself throughout the day. Rather than sitting and suffering in silence while chastising yourself for not being better equipped to handle things, accept that you need breathers and build time throughout the day to reboot. Five minutes here and there, even, could make a profound difference and helps you to avoid intense days. Keeping in mind that people have cigarette breaks, coffee runs and all sorts, you’re fine to take breaks where you can get them.

Change your lunch break if possible. This would mean not only having the office to yourself for a while, but that you also get to go on an undisturbed lunch.

It could be that you look at changing your work hours where you come in earlier and leave earlier so that it’s quieter at the start of the day (and maybe you avoid rush hour in the evening).

Avoid working 10-12 hours a day. Occasionally, fine, but not habitually. It might not be anything to do with introversion why you feel overwhelmed and everything to do with being over your bandwidth and not having enough time to meet your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs.

Try to turn going into work into, if not an adventure, certainly one where you’re somewhat more curious. If I go to bed worried that I’ll have a shit night’s sleep, lo and behold, it affects my sleep. If I focus on being stressed about something, lo and behold I feel stressed. If it’s crowded and I start focusing on bodies and smells and how annoying everyone is, lo and behold, I start to feel as if I’m suffocating and that I despise London and the tube.

If you can, change your route to a more scenic one.

Stop saying that your boss gets grumpy because you’re “too quiet”. Unless you being quiet literally affects your ability to do your job because you, for example, don’t speak up when you need to, how quiet you are isn’t an issue. Be careful of projecting your feelings about your introversion on to him. For all you know, he had a bellyache after his lunch, or he’s grumpy with you about something else.

Wear headphones if you can as this signals that you are busy.

RIngfence time. “Right, I’m going to get my head down and focus on X project, so I’ll catch up with anyone who needs me for anything at 2pm?”

Use goldfish bowl rooms. Back in the day, and this was before it even occurred to me that I was an introvert, I’d book the meeting room to get some quiet time.

Or, find another job and move to the suburbs which do a great job of disconnecting you from the chaos even if you travel into the city.

I think there’s a book called Quiet that’s supposed to be very good for introverts.

How to mediate when the father of my child resists it?

Heading into this new year attempting to set better boundaries with the father of my child regarding financial support, or lack thereof, for our daughter.

He is a musician so has a quite varied income. I also have quite a varied income. So part of me understands, but part of me really doesn’t feel it should be my problem. Previously we made a monthly arrangement. He stuck to it, sort of, for most of the year before last. Last year he was useless, sent money twice in random amounts and at random times over the whole year. Promised to send before Christmas, to buy child gifts, but didn’t. I’ve said we should set something up properly this year…

He says he understands and appreciated me not pressuring him too much (because what’s the point arguing if he doesn’t do anything). However he also says he’s ill, or some other family member has drama which needs him financially (he has 4 other older kids with 2 other mums) or he’ll sort soon etcetera etcetera — excuses basically, but not ones I want to argue over. Don’t want to argue because feels futile and also as if will make him less likely to call/see our child if he fears me stressing him all the time.

I don’t want to argue with him about money at all, to be honest. But feel he can’t be useless at maintaining regular contact AND useless at providing support!

Looked into taking him to court last year but even advice with an attorney cost me loads and told me taking him to court would be very costly and could take years. He’s a USA citizen, and our daughter is a UK citizen (he also hasn’t sorted her dual citizenship, as requested, possibly because he has a clue it could impact him legally etc.) so taking him to court isn’t really an option, or something I want to do financially or emotionally.

Any advice on how I mediate myself (if that’s a thing, lol) in terms of how I deal with this with him please? I’ve suggested proper mediation, to no avail. Really don’t want to argue but feel he should be capable of improving this situation as I’ve been beyond patient and understanding.

 

Nat’s Response

It sounds to me like you are already aware that emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, this man isn’t prepared to step up as a father. There’s maybe been a reluctance to pursue him legally or to draw a line. You maybe don’t want to be seen as being “too harsh”, you likely feel guilty at the idea of “depriving” your daughter of a father that he’s not even able to be. So you keep on holding out hope and accommodating him in the hopes that he will see fit to step up. This is not working.

The difficulty with these situations is that you are expected to extend trust without that person demonstrating that they are trustworthy. You’re asked to believe that they will pay child support even though you’ve had to chase them down to pay it in the first place. If their genuine intentions were to be a present father, they would make arrangements without being harangued, and what they couldn’t do financially, they would step up physically and in other ways.

For example, my friend’s ex-husband has behaved in a very similar manner. He lives less than 20 minutes away. The kids are lucky if he sees them once a month. He’s paid less than five hundred pounds in five years. Yes, it’s tough for her financially at times, but if he at least helped to take the kids to school, was present at events, was a consistently positive contributor to their lives on a weekly basis, the money wouldn’t be so much of an issue.

In reality, he can be useless at maintaining regular contact and paying child support. He already is.

He’s also taking advantage of the fact that you don’t like talking about money and that you are still holding out hopes that he can be a better man than he is.

If he is paying any taxes in this country (or earning money on the side), he can be pursued regardless of whether he’s a US citizen.

Depending on what states he is from and whether his name is on her birth certificate, he is financially liable for your child regardless of whether you like talking about money or not. For example, a client had a baby by a man who put his name on the birth certificate. As a result, despite the fact he is married with children, he set up a fund for her on top of maintenance. Sure, he refused to see his child, which was painful, but he had to step up.

He has four other children with two different mothers, so how he has interacted there should give a clue about what he will do with you. It is interesting that you are afraid of alienating the man doesn’t see your child, fearing that he won’t come and see the child he’s not seeing anyway because he thinks that you’re going to stress him. This shows you that you are making a false economy. If you step up and let him know that an arrangement must be made now and going forward, and he disappears, you’re no worse off. You will know where you stand.

You say “he should be capable of improving this situation as I’ve been beyond patient and understanding”, but that’s not a reason why he should pay now.

This suggests that what he does or doesn’t do comes down to what you do, but what he does or doesn’t do comes down to chis character, intentions and habits. If you make this less about “Right, well I try this and this to see if that will make him do X” and more about “Right, he is who he is. That means that he _________, ____________, and ___________, and so I have to either go to mediation, go down the legal route, or cut ties with him so that the cycle ends.”

Speak to Citizen’s Advice.

Do speak to the powers that be about child support. Given that he won’t go to mediation and he hasn’t paid anything, this is your best option. No, you might not get much now, but it does mean that bailiffs can get involved if he defaults on a legal agreement with HMRC. They may garnish his wages, or if he owns property here, they can put (I forget the name of the thing on it) that means that when he sells (or even tries to remortgage), you have to get paid what you’re owed. That’s what’s happened with the same friend from above. She’s begged and pleaded with him to pay, she even agreed to wipe the debt in exchange for him signing over his share of the house and agreeing to a new payment schedule — hasn’t paid a bean. She did the same thing as you. Waited, halted bailiffs, extended chances, tried to be sweet — he mugged her off while getting married to his new woman.

If he is on the birth certificate, it’s also worth talking to the child support department in his state in the U.S. as they may be able to do more than you think.

How to keep my sanity with online dating?

I have finally gathered enough courage to put up a profile for online dating after not having much luck meeting men in real life.

I am already finding it very challenging. My hope and expectations increase with every wink and message, and disappointment follows with every ignored message, rejection and people disappearing after the first date (I thought the date went well…). It’s like going through cycles of hope, excitement and disappointment.

Do you have any practical tips to manage this emotional roller-coaster? Is this something that I will get used to once I have dated online long enough?

 

Nat’s Response

 

It’s great to hear that you have finally got into online dating. I understand that this is a big move you, especially given everything that you’ve been through and some of the cruel taunts of your ex. It is not easy to go online, especially when it’s quite new to you, and it’s quite easy for everything to feel ‘do or die’. This is why you are on the rollercoaster.

You have too much skin in the game.

It’s not that you shouldn’t have little hope and expectation, but it’s dangerous to read anything into wink or message. It’s not real life. It feels like it’s real life because your emotions are involved and you’re hoping to find the love of your life this way, but it’s not real life until it gets offline and beyond a few dates. If you’ve ever interviewed for a job where you felt it went well only to not hear from them again or be told about a sudden restructure or change of plan, then you know what it’s like to do online dating.

The fact that you enjoyed a date doesn’t mean that there should be a second or that you’re compatible for a relationship. It may well be that you got on well in the sense of two people making an effort to have an enjoyable evening but there wasn’t a connection or anything solid enough to suggest that a second date should happen. Your parameters for wanting a second date (first one went well for you) might different to theirs (they’re expecting something out of the ordinary, whether it’s realistic or not). There’s so many reasons why first dates don’t turn into second ones and if you get hung up on doing the equivalent of trying to find out why each and every person couldn’t be your future husband, you will end up investing your energy in the wrong places. People date for all sorts of reasons and sometimes, it quite simply comes down to that the person realises that they’ve, for instance, met a lovely woman who is looking for a relationship, and that’s not what they’re looking for and they don’t want to mess you around.

You talk about managing the rollercoaster: don’t make your emotional state contingent on the actions of strangers.

If you’re that affected by winks and messages, you are deriving too much value and meaning from the said winks and messages. This means that when you receive them, you get a boost, and when you don’t, your self-esteem takes a knock.

Unanswered messages, winks for the sake of it, second dates that don’t materialise are all part of it. This is something you have to accept if you are to continue, but you have to do so without getting hung up on it.
You can mitigate for this by calming you down by remembering that you’re at stage 0 when you talk to someone online and so nothing has happened yet, there’s no intimacy or anything, and so your boundaries need to reflect this. See more on the stages in the attachment. Or, you need to be more discerning about who you exchange messages and go on dates with, not because it will mean that you wipe out disappointment but because you won’t find yourself mooning over someone who in the cold light of day, you might be flattered by the wink or message but they’re not for you.

You can’t move on to finding the one if you’re mooning over the ones that weren’t.

It is one way of meeting people not the only way.
Also see episode 123 of the podcast about The 5 Stages of Relationships
Is my new job the right one for me?

I started a new job as you know and doing really well in it. I’m competitive inside and supportive to my co-workers. When they sell I cheer them on. But inside I make sure I am still at the top within the new group that started with me lol. So at first for 6 months we get paid salary so we don’t have to worry or if our commission is higher we get that then we go on straight commission. I’m not stressed, I just think to myself I’m going to give it a few more months and see how I like it, although I am liking it and all co-workers are great. The new people that started with me, we are all pretty close-knit and support each other, and I like that.

A co-worker recently told me that I have this glow, “like you are enjoying life, no kids, no man”. I said, “Well, I do enjoy my life!” Side note: just to say, this older man maybe 50-60, calls me over and has the nerve to ask me for a favour. He wanted me to accompany him one night because he wants to bring a beautiful woman with him to make his ex-wife jealous. I’m not quick on my toes but after I was upset like “I am not your trophy A hole” AND had the nerve to ask me to switch my hours for this thing. I said, “Oh no, that weekend my parents are on vacation, and I’m helping in the store, sorry”, then awkward silence and I said take care. We still say hi, nothing weird. If he asked again then I would tell him no sir I am not interested type deal because I’m more prepared now lol! He has some nerve thinking a 32-year-old will do that and I’m not even getting paid for it! Is he nuts!! Lol! Joke!

Nat’s Response

You always tell the funniest stories.

When it comes to knowing if a job is for you, it’s important to recognise that it’s about whether the job is right for where you’re at right now and say the short to medium-term, not whether the job is “right” for all time. Because it’s not. You probably won’t want to do this job in five or fifteen years.

It’s an evolution. Given that it’s your first job outside of the family business, this job is more about getting that first experience out of the way rather than “Is this my perfect career?” It’s a stepping stone.

It’s a question of whether this job is in alignment with your values and meeting your needs, so you have to figure out what’s important to you. There are some drivers, like competitiveness, that tap into your emotional needs, so clearly you need to feel driven and motivated in that way, but it’s not your primary need.

Pay attention to the aspects of the role and the company that you enjoy as this will give you clues not just about whether you are enjoying this job but also about what you might like to do in future.

  • You are enjoying the job.
  • You are doing well which meets your need for accomplishment and achievement.
  • You are engaging with people in a social context that’s different to your previous work environments.
  • You are commanding respect on your own terms.
  • You’ve earned a salary to allow you to get settled, but this is in a different context to what things will be like in the future, so you will need to gauge how you feel about working on commission only. You might find that people up their game because of the commission aspect and not wanting to go hungry lol.
  • No job is perfect. Even if you work for yourself, you might be a pain in the ass boss. And, as you know, if you work for/with your family, that comes with its own set of pros and cons.

You wanted to try something different. You are being stretched.

Ascertain whether you have needs outside of this at this point that are not being met, otherwise see how things go and review again when you have a better sense of how the job is when the money situation changes. Acknowledge if there’s anything you don’t like. It might be minor, but it allows you to have a clear view.

As for your co-worker, that’s pretty inappropriate given that he doesn’t really know you. If you were tight, I could maybe understand the request, but you don’t use your workplace to shop for an escort. Deluded and disrespectful.

Ultimately, if you’re happy right now, chill out!

The ‘plan’ will unfold.

No Contact and co-parenting

Since I co-parent (really though it’s parallel parenting), No Contact or bare minimum contact is necessary for my sanity. I try my best to be responsive rather than reactive. My ex is still the same person as ever. Most of the time I’m trying to see through manipulative, guilt-inducing behaviour, etc. All contact is via email, but after years of this it starts to look like I am the problem, like I’m holding a grudge, “forgive and forget”. The poor communication, silent treatment from the ex, and ex funnelling his demands via the stepmom is exhausting.

Am I maintaining a boundary or caving in a wall? When the stepmom says we should be like each other’s “extended family” and “help” each other, all evidence points to a one-sided relationship. I want to run for the hills and be free from entanglement with the ex’s next version of toxic marriage. Didn’t I get a divorce? Thanks as always for your insights.

 

Nat’s Response

Ugh! Your ex is such a pain in the bottom! Why is he so desperate to look like the victim all the time?! It’s almost laughable when you think about it!

But when you consider that this has always been his stance, it’s not surprising really.

So here’s the craic: you’re not married to him anymore. You co-parent your children, and you haven’t become friends. I don’t get the impression that he has tried to make genuine friends and to clear the air, and I also don’t get the impression that you’re breaking your neck to be friends with him, either.

So, you’re exes who share children.

The level of contact you have relates to what is in the interests of facilitating the relationship with the children. If, for instance, he was being genuinely civil, but you opted only to do things through email because you were angry with him for the divorce, suffice to say that there are better means of communication given the potential for a smoother relationship if you both cooperate.

But if you’ve tried the other routes and all he does is use it against you rather than focus on keeping harmony for the sake of the kids, then the mode of contact such as limited contact is the best way. By doing this, the focus is on the kids’ arrangements, and you don’t get drawn into non-issues that distract from the children or that disrupt your wellbeing.

It’s all very well him wanting you to “forgive and forget” when he continues to engage in the behaviour that he knows will alienate you.

So, the key here is to set your boundaries from a place of love, care, trust and respect. It doesn’t have to be about him; it’s about creating boundaries from a loving place that honours the fact that you’ve grown. You are not married to him anymore. He cannot affect or control you in the way that he did before. He is, literally and figuratively, someone else’s problem now. So you do not need to fear that you will be back in the past again because you are no longer married to him. This should be a blessed relief, not a source of consternation and angst. See him for what he is: someone who is very insecure and needs to convince himself that his ex-wife is madly in love with him and that she would jump back into the hot seat given half a chance.

When he acts up. “Oh, look, there he goes doing his usual __________ and _________. He must be feeling X today. Well, good luck to him. Not my problem anymore” and you don’t get involved, and you don’t see it as an attack on you.

When the stepmom talks about being each other’s extended family, ask her what she means. “What do you mean by that?” Or “How do you propose we go about doing this?” Be genuinely curious. At the end of the day, there is some truth in what she is saying although she might be pushing it somewhat by expecting you to be each other’s extended family. The relationship you have with each other must have the kids’ wellbeing at the centre of it, not your respective egos. That means that sometimes you grit your teeth and sit together at your child’s event so that they have everyone’s support. Sometimes you smile and do your best to have fun at something because you know it will make your child’s day, and they might not fret so much about feeling guilty about their parents. You don’t have to love the stepmom, but if you see her as a person, with her own faults and flaws, as well as positives, rather than the woman who, I don’t know, stole your husband or whatever, it takes the friction out of things. It becomes less about her having one over you and more about “Is it possible that this woman cares about my children?”

And don’t keep score. At the end of the day, even though you might think your ex is the biggest jackass on earth, you love your children and so, no, you don’t need to over-give and burn yourself out but think about what you autonomously want to give to your children.

You don’t need to be involved with your ex’s marriage. You don’t need to know the details. Focus on the kids. Focus on you.

As a child of break-ups and divorce, I am all too aware of angry grown-ups. I see it all the time in children (and adults) who feel torn even if they don’t actually communicate it to the parents. They feel guilty for loving the other parent. They know about the parent(s)’ anger. They feel guilty for liking the step-parent. These are not things that children should have to deal with, but as parents, we can support them and help them feel at ease so that they don’t build their habits of thinking and behaviour around this guilt.

There’s likely a sweet spot where you get to enjoy the freedom of your divorce while also fostering relationships that help your children.

My ex dumped me and yet I feel guilty for moving on

I’m finally getting around to sorting out my finance and buying an apartment. It makes me feel happy, but at the same time, the more I do about it, the guiltier and more uneasy I feel. I feel like I have some sort of responsibility towards my emotionally unavailable ex who broke up with me. We are on good terms now and still sharing the rented house for another few months. I’m working on myself for a long time now, 1.5 years after break up, and it annoys me that I still struggle with guilt, not as often as before but too often to my liking! He broke up with me, left me, it was the worst part of my life so far, yet somehow I feel guilty about moving on?? HELP!!

 

Nat’s Response

Why do you people breaking No Contact right at the point where they’ve made the biggest amount of progress, are feeling happy, etc.? Because they feel guilty and/or they are afraid of what growth means.

The reason why you feel guilty for moving on is that you’ve been in a codependent relationship.

Now that you’re making such a huge financial decision that clearly establishes that he is not as needed as you thought and that reflects steps that you’ve undertaken, it basically flies in the face of everything you told yourself about why you needed to stay with him and who you are as a person.

Given the post-breakup situation, it’s understandable that buying and moving into a new property feels ‘loaded’ for you.

But it’s funny how you feel so responsible towards someone who ended the relationship and who I’m pretty sure isn’t basing his life decisions on whether or note you will feel bad.

I think that given your living situation, you are in close proximity and it’s expected for there to be some discomforting and conflicting feelings in the months and weeks in the run-up to moving out. This is normal, but you don’t have to do anything about them. I think that it’s too much to expect that you’d base your life on someone else for a few years and then, poof, it would just disappear because you broke up. That relationship reflected pain, fear and guilt from the past and how so much of your identity was caught up in rescuing while trying to prove that you were “good enough”. You didn’t realise how much you needed to be needed but also how much you were ignoring your needs.

It’s also very possible that now you are moving forward, you’re feeling guilty because you know that he is not moving forward as much as you thought he was.

 

Guilt is something that’s very present with recovering codependents. That involves people pleasers, overthinkers, perfectionists and the like.

 

Guilt is an easy emotion to reach for that allows us to dine out on feeling bad without really having to interrogate why we feel as we do and whether it’s even required.

It actually lets us feel good about ourselves, like “Look how caring, thoughtful, hard-working I can be in that I feel this guilt.” But what you have to ask yourself is: What is the purpose of feeling guilty? As well as, What can I say to myself at those times when guilt strikes to calm down my anxiety about wrongdoing?

Fact is, you’re a conscientious and caring person. You were in a relationship for a long time where you mother-henned him. You care about what others think and are learning to do less of that. So you will feel guilty on occasion, you just don’t need to buy an apartment in those feelings and take up residence in them.

The best thing you could do in the coming months is to mind your business. I’m not saying be horrible to the guy but if you are still doing anything that involves care-taking him, gradually cut that right down.

And this may be surprising to you, but as painful as it was when he “left [you]” and as much as you might think it’s the “worst part” of your life, I think deep down you feel guilty for the fact that it turns out to not be anywhere as terrible and permanent as you thought it would be. It may be that you were undoubtedly hurt but that you were not as devastated as you thought you were. It’s very possible that you realise that breaking up did you more of a favour than it did him. And that’s OK because it’s his journey, not yours, so it’s up to him to get his learnings in his own time.

How do I get my friend to respect my boundary about not discussing something?

I have a friend who is a part-time Chinese Astrologist. I used to be into it years ago but stopped because I realised that I was relying on it to help figure things out and I was getting obsessive about it. I would get upset when the predictions were negative, and I finally thought- ‘hold on, this is my life and I have some control here’.

My friend is always relating things to Chinese astrology, and I have told him that I don’t really believe in it anymore. But it’s so much a part of his identity. When he mentions it, I don’t really say anything, and I think this upsets him. Am I crossing his boundaries by not engaging in it and not responding or is he crossing my boundaries by continuously bringing it up (for example saying whether someone of my sign should date another sign)? It is sometimes uncomfortable. He says ‘I know you don’t like me talking about this but…’. Sometimes I’ll nod and ask him something about it as it’s so awkward to say nothing and ignore it sometimes. I have told him directly that it’s not something I believe in anymore, explained why and told him that I don’t have anything to contribute but he brings it up lots of times every time I see him.

 

Nat’s Response

Let’s say that your friend was interested in suckling pigs and you were now a vegan. Would you feel obliged to talk about suckling pigs each time he wanted to?

You have very specific reasons for stepping back from Chinese astrology:

  • You became over-reliant on it
  • You became obsessive about it
  • You got upset when predictions were negative

Your way of regaining some level of control over your life was to step back from it. You decided that it’s not something you believe in any longer. This might well be the case, but it might also be that you do, on some level, still believe it but have cut it out to avoid temptation. Only you know which one it is.

If it’s the former, then your position is clear: You’re not into Chinese astrology any longer. That’s no disrespect to your friend, but it’s OK for you both to believe in different things.

Let’s imagine that you’re into, I don’t know, talking about God a lot and your friend is an atheist. It’s not that you have to pretend that you don’t believe in God, but you also don’t have to try to convert your friend from being an atheist.

Now if this is your situation, it is not you that has the boundary issue, but your friend. He is offering unsolicited advice, and he’s either ignoring the fact that you have stated that you don’t engage in Chinese astrology or he is unclear on your actual position. It may be an idea to kindly but firmly use the analogy of the atheist and the person who believes in God so that you can drive home your point. You don’t need to believe in Chinese astrology to be his friend, and if, for him, you do need to, then you know where you stand. You then allow the friendship to reflect that and go your own way.

Side note: Why ask him something about it? Isn’t that confusing the situation further with mixed messages? Either you believe in it, or you don’t. Either you’re curious, or you’re not.

“Friend, I hold my hand up and admit that in order to avoid awkwardness, I’ve sometimes asked you questions related to whatever you’re referencing about astrology, but the truth is, your insistence on bringing it up with me when we talk/meet despite me having told you that I’m no longer into Chinese astrology, is leading me to feel that you’re unable to leave it be. Me no longer being into it is not a judgement on your job. I’m glad that you enjoy it and for a time I did too, but I don’t anymore, and when you offer unsolicited advice using astrology, it feels as if you’re overriding my wishes. I’d hate to feel that we can only be friends if you can do predictions with me, but if this is how you feel, I will totally respect your wishes. If, on the other hand, I’ve misunderstood something or maybe not communicated my position on this in the past that clearly, then do, please let me know.”

If, on the other hand, you do believe in Chinese astrology and so you’re getting triggered because you feel as if you’re keeping the wolf at bay, just be honest with yourself. After getting into a load of woo-woo stuff, I found that when I went through a period of feeling a bit low and as if I’d messed up something, I felt really bad because I felt as if I was effing up my chances because I wasn’t able to “stay positive”. Being a recovering perfectionist, people pleaser and overthinker, it is easy to see how something like that could become a rod for my own back. When I voiced this to my medium friend, she was so empathetic as she laughed her head off and calmed me down. She didn’t feel remotely insulted nor did she push her views on me. I didn’t blame her or whatever I’d been reading for it. While I do think that there’s a load of tosh that gets peddled out there, it was me trying to control everything and wanting someone else to tell me what was going on in my life or to tell me what my plan should be, that got me into that muddle. Once I realised the madness in that, I can hear or read stuff without getting triggered by it.

Regardless of which one it is, from a professional point of view, your friend needs to recognise that he’s over the line. I don’t push my opinions on others. My acupuncturist doesn’t try to convince people who don’t want it to have needles in them. The homoeopath doesn’t spend time telling the non-believer which remedies they should be taking for whatever they’re talking about. It’s quite simply called respect.

Stop pandering to him.

Money talk while dating

I have thought about this issue for a while. Since money talk ruins the romance in a relationship, at which dating stage can we start talking about money without scaring or intimidating a prospective partner?

For example, how do you start a conversation about this especially if you earn significantly more than him (and he only earns enough to support himself)? How do we discuss the expectations of who pays for dates? And what is his/our financial plan for the future?

 

 

Nat’s Response

These conversations are organic. If someone’s going to pay for a date, they’ll offer to pay for a date. I always say to people, specifically women in straight relationships who may have some level of traditional expectations that the guy pays, that they bring enough money to pay for themselves if need be.

I also emphasise that if you don’t believe that you should pay on the first date, then don’t offer to pay. Why? Because if you offer, you’re being fake and depending on how it’s done, you create the wrong impression of yourself, regardless of what you might think are the ’norms’ around money. People who offer to pay and then penalise or dislike the person for accepting the offer don’t realise that their behaviour is disingenuous and that they set the person up for a fall.

If your sincere belief is that the guy pays for the first date or first few dates, but you’re expected to pay, for example, on the first or second, then it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a deal-breaker for you. Bear in mind that it’s fine for you to have the belief, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s done something wrong.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s safe to say that whoever initiated the date, so made the invitation, is the person who pays. If that’s unclear, then it’s quite easy to say “OK, so how are we doing this?”

I don’t know that there needs to be a discussion per se about who pays for dates unless you have a pre-requisite for ascertaining that he is going to pay for dates, and with that, you just need to accept that not every guy will see that as a ‘must’ and may rule themselves out. Just go on a date and pay your half if that’s what you want to do, or don’t. The fact, that for instance, a guy pays for all the dates doesn’t mean that he’s a good catch. It just means he pays for all the dates. Financial behaviour is one part of the picture, not all of it, so you need to ensure that you get a full picture. There are men (and women) who are wealthy and lovely, and there are others who are wealthy and awful. Anyone, if they feel so inclined, can pay for dates. That’s how my friend ended up marrying her now ex-husband. Wined and dined her. Took her to his penthouse apartment. He was paying for all of it with alimony from his ex-wife.

Between stages 0-1, unless money is material to what you’re doing on the date, there isn’t a reason to get into the nitty gritties of money because, well, you’re not in a relationship. The only reason why this would be the case is if you starting a relationship is contingent on them earning a certain amount. What you would then have to accept is that if you go down that road of the money talk with someone you haven’t established know, like and trust with due to being in a relationship with them, that, yes, you will potentially alienate some.

The best time to get a sense of financial plans is when you have reached at least stage 2 and are looking to establish the relationship further. It’s fine to enjoy having a good time, but at the point where you’re talking about continuing a relationship and making deeper commitments, you have established enough of a relationship to discuss these things. It is very easy to jump to conclusions about someone’s finances without having a full picture. There are people who are on “less money” who are more financially solvent and with more disposable income than people who earn more than them.

And there is no “our” until there is an our. Until you’ve got to know someone over time and through different experiences, and established that you want similar things, it’s a bit premature to be talking about “our plans”. For some, that might be three months, for others, it’s six, twelve or more. It depends on the relationship, not on an arbitrary timeline. It needs to be organic, not forced.

How can I support my sister without condoning my brother-in-law's behaviour?

A co-worker convinced me to try the Hinge dating app, and I’ve literally been “shopping” the whole world lmao! I’ve been to Greece, Italy etc… to see if men are on it there too haha! Anyways it’s not the confidence in me, I know I am beautiful. It’s just disheartening sometimes because I’m like this city has no freaking good looking men, so annoying. And another part is like well I enjoy being single and don’t have to compromise yet lol. Part is like whatever and part wants to meet a man. There’s only so much I can do so what do you recommend to me?

 

 

Nat’s Response

Honestly, I don’t know when you will meet someone. It could be tomorrow, next week, in a few months or whenever. I didn’t know that when I rolled one guy’s ass out, that three days later, I’d briefly speak to the man who would go on to become my husband. It turned out, we’d met a number of times before due to being in the same wider circle but just hadn’t been in each other’s orbit. And we met at what I’ve come to realise was exactly the right time. If it were on my schedule of when I thought things should happen, it would have been several years before when, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that I was too effed-up and entrenched in bad habits to know what to do in a remotely healthy relationship. We met at a time when I’d had more self-esteem than I’d ever had, but where I clearly had so much journey to unfold.

Yes, I’m sure that whoever you meet will be “good looking” and they’ll appreciate that you’re “beautiful”, but maybe focus on welcoming a man into your life who’s attractive with heart, character and a desire for a loving relationship that can go the distance. Also, stop telling you that the whole city’s full of ugly men because your mind is biased to look for evidence to reinforce what you keep saying. At the moment, you keep reinforcing that you’re beautiful and that the ‘good ones’ are gone. The mind is very clever that way and can make you surprisingly blind.

I see this, for instance, with people who are convinced that people are talking about them. Everything they see then becomes something that validates that. Next thing, they’ve lost their sh*t with a coworker only to find that they were talking about something they watched on Netflix the day before. They also find that their behaviour and mentality has altered to suit this idea that everyone is chatting sh*t about them and against them. This creates alienation because, well, they’re unfriendly.

Go out and have fun, try new things, enjoy work, use dating apps when it suits, look beyond, well, looks. I’ve been out with some good looking guys who got uglier by the minute with all of their assholery! I’m not suggesting that you ‘force’ yourself to be attracted to someone you’re not; I’m just saying that if looks are about the only qualifier, you haven’t got much to work with in terms of being open to meeting someone of substance.

I don’t know that you can ‘do’ anything. You have to strike a balance between trying to control things with brute force energy and showing up to life. Not easy, but doable. It might take a while. If your house isn’t burning down right this minute because you’re happy and chilled, do you need to call the proverbial fire engine?

Other things:

  • Go to dating events in your error.
  • Join a matchmaking service (but only a reputable one).
  • Try a variety of dating sites. E-Harmony, for example, is more about values and not just appearances.

Go on dates with people who pique your interest. After all, if you go on a date with someone who isn’t as ‘hot’ as you, that won’t change the fact that you’re hot, but it could end up changing the trajectory of your life if you end up falling for someone who you wouldn’t have done so if you were just choosing based purely on looks.

Time to give up the ghost of my ex?

I met someone on a dating site nearly two years ago, and the connection was instant and physical from the start. It got to the point where I started catching feelings and made this apparent to him, and we have even discussed having a child. However, I feel as if he has made little if any effort to court me properly and it always is a case of me going to see him at home. He is reluctant to have me stay overnight at his place, and he even ended things abruptly on a day we were supposed to meet just over a year ago, before seeking me out 6 months later after I blocked him. He gave a lame reason as to why he disappeared and says he still wants me, so I continued to entertain his nonsense until end of last year when I asked him for clarification on what he wants, and even though I have sent a follow-up message to get a response, he still has avoided responding. I’ve since blocked and unblocked him, but I’m not sure what to do as I feel I’m in limbo – should I ditch him altogether?

 

 

Nat’s Response

This is one of those situations where you know what you need to do, but you’re delaying on doing it. You’re hoping that you are somehow wrong in what you see. That your eyes, feelings and gut are deceiving you.

This relationship situation suits you because it stops you from having to be available for a proper relationship. You know, an intimate one where the person treats you with love, care, trust and respect and doesn’t just chat to you about stuff rather than investing in a relationship with you. On some level, you’re afraid that you don’t deserve better. It’s possible that this relationship feels safe to you precisely because it’s not going to turn into a fully fledged relationship. You don’t have to get too close.

But those fears are competing with needs and desires, it’s just those fears are what win out because they’re bigger than your desire and need for a way better relationship.

The code red alert here is that the connection was instant and physical from the start despite not knowing him. You quite simply moved to fast, and so you weren’t able to do due diligence and see this person for who he was and is. You can absolutely feel connected and attracted to someone who is totally wrong for you, especially if they represent something or someone from your past that you’re inadvertently trying to recreate.

Who is it that even if you got it in the past, you still crave attention, affection, approval, validation or love from? That’s your clue about why you are in this.

No, he hasn’t ”courted” you, but it’s vital to acknowledge that this wasn’t a priority at the outset. Things didn’t unfold (or evolve) in a way that suggested that you were looking to be courted so this has only become a concern now that you have taken stock if what is going on.

This man has nothing to offer. He will literally do this for all time if you allow him to. His actions are not that of a loving man never mind a committed one. It’s not anything you said or did; he is this way anyway. What makes it possible with you is that you are open to it.

If you want children, to be seen in daylight, to be allowed to stay over instead of being treated like the sex version of a pizza delivery; if you want to feel safe, secure, connected, intimate, valued, loved, like you’re creating a life and a relationship with someone, this guy ain’t it. It doesn’t take two years to decide to be in a relationship and be a decent human being. Aside from the good moments, which are likely few and far between at this point, and certainly not worth holding out for, you must surely be wondering when you’re going to hear from him next, what you did wrong etc. – no man should ever have you feeling this way.

Get clear on what you want.

Does he have the character and track record to match it?

Are you serious about wanting to be loved?

Is there some reason why you would want to have this big problem in your life? So what is he distracting you from having to face or do?

Who could you be without this albatross in your life? (Clue: your amazing self in a better life)

Do you want this to end? Are you willing to cancel him so that you can be free to be with someone better and to like yourself more? If yes, you know what you need to do.

Is it possible to do damage control for a narcissist's potential future behaviour?

Is there a way to handle when your ex no contact narcissist tries to smear you with others? We work in the same industry, and I’ve not heard anything yet, but I know he made things up about former exes badmouthing them to make himself look/feel better. I know I’m next in the line. My concern is that he’ll take me down in the eyes of colleagues. I feel great right now standing in my rightness, and everyone knows his history, but that part still gets under my skin.

 

Nat’s Response

Well, you don’t know that you’re next in line. Sure, he has done this with other women, but you were involved on and off for a long time, so he could easily have done so before (and possibly has already), and you’ve still been ok. While we still have some way to go, he might be picking the wrong moment in history to badmouth you. If anything, it’s going to reinforce his bad reputation (that he’s unaware of) and may draw attention to him being predatory and narcissistic.

Unless you’re planning to beat him at his own game, which I don’t suggest that you do (so trying to get ahead of the story and smear him first), go about your business. Don’t talk negatively about him with people who aren’t in your inner circle. That way, if he does say anything, it won’t make sense to those who hear it because you’ve made no mention of him, your personality and behaviour around them doesn’t fit it.

If ”everyone knows his history”, then they can put two and two together and make four. You’re trying to control the uncontrollable. Worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. And I get why you would be concerned, but it’s not something you can do much about unless you intend to address it in a professional capacity. If you say something now ahead of it (outside of making a formal complaint), you will play into his hands. Trust that the right people that you so value the opinions of will let you know if they hear something that’s made up. Deal with it then. You can’t address something that hasn’t happened yet. I feel for you. Just be careful of finding new things to stress you out and derail your progress.

I'm afraid of online dating

Have decided need to give dating a go this year, to dip my toe in at very least, but scared of online dating. Have never tried it before but have heard many horror stories from friends male and female.

Would much rather meet someone ‘organically’ but not sure how often that happens between preschool run, life juggling, trying to sort work etc. Hardly ever go out due to lack of babysitting so could only do brunch dates to start with anyway.

Have previously met most exes through work, but due to the industry, I’m not sure how clever that’s been, ha! Also as work-life is currently going through changes and mostly from home, that seems unlikely.

Anyway, what I’m basically asking is what do you think of online dating as a start point for someone who hasn’t dated anyone new for 7 years? Any suggestions on how to approach, or not? Know I’ve still got a lot of work to do on me but would like some adult male company that isn’t just friends I already know, and it’s not a dating vibe…

Have a possible crush on someone who is a friend, and is also a single parent to a teenager. We talk on the phone often but meet up rarely. He’s been really supportive in general in last few years. But he’s a nightmare when he gets drunk. Like, I’d be embarrassed beyond words! Thus have always been just friends. Don’t know if he’s interested or if it’s a good idea to find out? *red face emoji* ha!

Feel like part of moving on from the ex is to attempt to date new men. Have been single for nearly 4 years so feel I want to push myself a bit this year.

 

Nat’s Response

I think it’s a good thing that nothing has happened between you and this friend. Knowing that it can’t happen between you both might be precisely why you have the crush — you know you don’t have to do anything. There’s the safety of feeling the feelings without risk. He’s displayed some clear reasons why getting together wouldn’t be a good idea for you (or your daughter). This is one of those relationships that works fine for a friendship where you can have support and laughs, but not for more than that.

Online dating is undoubtedly an option. My friend found herself in the same position as you after her marriage broke down and she didn’t exactly have the social life to make it easy to be meeting men while out and about thanks to single parenting two kids. This is the same friend, incidentally, who also doesn’t receive child support.

If you go down the online route, you must be grounded. Episode 123 of the podcast talks about the stages of relationships and intimacy. You can spare yourself a lot of drama if you learn the stages of relationships. Also, see episode 109 about the four qualities. There’s a video in the masterclass section on it too.

  • Go and try it out.
  • Be discerning and avoid going for similar types to the past.
  • Assume nothing even if they’ve told you a whole load of stuff in chats or on their profile. Getting to know someone takes time and experience.
  • It’s not that everyone lies, but people describe themselves how they want to be perceived, not how they are, so the real getting to know doesn’t start until you’re in the flesh and even then, it takes some time to get a sense of the good stuff about someone (although you can quickly see the code red stuff if you pay attention in the early stages).
  • Accept no bullshit. Flush fast.
  • Don’t try to make a relationship with everyone. Be discerning (again).
  • Be clear (with yourself) about what you want so that you don’t get sidetracked by sex and flattery. Begin with the end in mind. That means if you want to meet people with a view to eventually being in a relationship, decline anything and anyone that’s not a fit.
  • Decide if you’re wearing your sex hat or relationship hat. This dictates your behaviour.
  • No introducing them to your child until you have begun a relationship and started to get a real sense of them.
  • There can be horror stories but this is less likely to happen if you take.your.time.
  • No intensity and if it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.
  • Try something like eHarmony that requires more legwork.
  • Possibly try going to a local dating event.

Have fun.

I’ll dig out some extra resources for you and send them over.

Is my new love affair with me keeping me from dating?

I’m absolutely obsessed with growing my business right now and am at a point where 99 problems and a man ain’t one! I feel like I’m in a relationship with myself for the first time ever. I’m about to turn 35 and want to start a family in this life before its too late. Should I be concerned that I’m not making an effort with dating and I’m all about me right now considering my biological clock? Am I not dating out of fear or am I just happy drowning myself in self-love and self-care for now?

 

Nat’s Response

Nope! You just got out of a toxic involvement and need to take even a little time, which might just be several months, to get into a monogamous relationship with you. Date yourself for a while. Fall in love with you or at least in like.

If it feels avoidant at times, try to stop in the moment and pay attention to that feeling to see if that’s true or whether you’re rationalising not making a man the centre of your universe as you being self-involved, avoiding relationships and throwing your life away.

Savour this time. I remember my own time very well. I’m so glad I did it. It’s led to so many great things, most of all, finding my way back home to myself.

Is it possible to make healthy changes to your responses without offending others?

I’ve realised how inauthentic and co-dependent I’ve been for my entire adult life and have been working to make changes. I need practical help with ways to interact with others authentically. I was always the person in relationships (work and personal) that gives both advice and a prompt follow-up that tries to show how much I care, lots of “Awwws” and babying and dramatics. In conflict, I’d try to make others feel better and make myself small. I now realise that it was to ensure that others like or love me. I now try to respond in a compassionate but authentically way with less “frills”, unless it’s natural. It’s surprisingly easy! Except when it’s clear that people are disappointed with my “new” response, a way I can tell by the look on their face or if they comment that I’m being nonchalant. I’m tired of depleting myself for others, but that’s all they’re used to. How can I update my behaviour without offending others and making myself feel guilty? Or is this another attempt by me to bow to others? I’ll note that in some relationships I’ve noticed that it’s helped and improved our interactions!

 

Nat’s Response

OK, so it’s important to note what you said: It’s surprisingly easy!

It turns out that after being a life-long codependent, you not twisting you into a pretzel doesn’t cause the sky to fall down. Who knew?

So, here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as behaviour that doesn’t offend others.

If people knew that you pitied them so much in the past that you felt the need to pump up their ego and make you feel small, some would be offended.

If some knew that you acted as you did with them, not because you wanted to, but because you had decided that they couldn’t handle it and that they might do something terrible to you, they would undoubtedly be very offended even if there was some truth in it for some of them.

You can say something innocuous today that has nothing whatsoever to do with the pattern that you’ve outlined, and due to how things are today, somebody could get offended by it. It’s not that I think that people are oversensitive, but I do believe that there’s a societal habit that’s been cultivated in particular by social media where we pick apart, well, everything. That’s why so many people feel as if they’re tip-toeing around or that they don’t want to say too much lest they are pounced on.

There are people in your life who, like it or not, they are part of your people-pleasing entourage. They are used to benefitting from your lack of boundaries. They might be aware of it, they might not be, but what they don’t have is a right to expect you to bend over backwards and remain a doormat until kingdom come just so that they don’t have to be uncomfortable.

You said it yourself: you were not being authentic. You were playing the role of being caring instead of being caring. You didn’t do this stuff because it’s what you wanted to do; you did it because it’s what you thought was expected of you and to be liked, as well as to avoid conflict, criticism, disappointment, stress, rejection, loss and abandonment.

Everyone needs to be able to learn how to handle conflict. It’s not that you need to be creating conflict for conflict’s sake, but you need to know that in those situations where you need to step up, speak up and show up that you can. This is one of them.

How someone might feel should never dictate how honest and authentic you will be, otherwise you quite simply never will be.

You say that you can tell by the look on their face. OK, but who says that the look on their face equals “Her behaviour is WRONG”. How people behave is their stuff, not yours. Yes, you can be conscientious, so you don’t need to be like a bull in a china shop or cold, but what you don’t need is to alter authentic behaviour because you think someone is uncomfortable. It’s not your job to manage other people’s feelings and behaviour. That’s codependency. You’re effectively saying “Oh, look, they have a funny look on their face. OK, I should make them feel better”. Who said that that was/is your job?

You also need to give people time to adjust. Just because you’re not breaking out the brass band every time you show you care, doesn’t mean that you 1) don’t care or that 2) what you have to say doesn’t have value. Sometimes the perfect way to show you care is to mind your own frickin’ business and let people sort out their stuff!

And if you feel guilty, it is because you’ve told you that you did something wrong instead of being truthful. Your boundaries are not wrong. No one is entitled to take from you.

If someone says to you that you are “nonchalant”, ask them “What do you mean by that?”

Their answers might surprise you (and themselves) as it’s likely that they have unacknowledged unrealistic expectations of you.

“Not being nonchalant at all. That’s definitely not what I was intending to convey. What was it that you feel I should have said/done?” And they can say if they want to.

You can also say “No, definitely wasn’t being nonchalant. Just because I didn’t [summarise whatever they felt you should have done], it doesn’t mean that I don’t care. Of course I do. But experience has taught me that it’s not my place to get so heavily involved and so that might be where you are feeling the shift.”

I can accept sadness. Now what?

I can accept that I am feeling sad, and why (ex). I’ve stopped (to a degree) beating myself up that I’m not over it, I just am not (Mr Unavailable & the Fallback Girl has helped with the “why”, I’ve probably some ego issues which means seeing him with his girlfriend will sting a little). I’ve written an unsent letter, and I could probably do another, but I’ve got shit to do!

I’m ready to try move on. I don’t want a relationship yet, but I’m ready for sex. I’m too busy with coursework to be getting sad or dwelling on this. I can manage it slowly diminishing, but it seems that since starting Reclaimer I’m now in a rut. What else can I try to move forward? More unsent letters? Just sit and let the sadness and/or anger bubble up every now and again? Do I even NEED to do anything but wait, if now all it will take is time? I know everyone is always rushing for the finish line, but it’s been a year since it ended and this is more bogging me down than actively getting me sad.

 

Nat’s Response

I don’t know that you need to devote yourself to anger and sadness. Yes, feel them, but don’t base your life around them.

It seems that you have expectations of what you are supposed to be thinking, feeling and doing now, and that’s a big chunk of the problem because then you end up giving you an unnecessarily hard time. And it’s a vicious cycle because thoughts precede feelings, which affects your actions, which then has a knock-on effect on your thoughts, and round and round you go.

It’s unrealistic to think that you can write one Unsent Letter and boom, a lifetime of feelings that you hadn’t previously acknowledged have disappeared. You may have to write a lot of them. You might write several and feel enough of a shift that you can go about your life. It may be that in a few months time, anger and sadness resurface then and you deal with it then.

If you want to have sex, have sex. No one is stopping you. Whatever happens, you will experience something and learn something about you. Only you know why you want sex right now. It might well be that you want sex and that’s it. It could be that sex is just a stand-in for something else that you’re seeking. Only you know that (or will find out that). It’s just sex so if you want to have it, just go and have it.

Maybe stop focusing on what you are ‘supposed to be’ feeling and what you think that your feelings are supposed to do, and go about your business.

When my father died almost two years ago, I felt inexplicably sad, angry, lonely, joyful, grateful, resentful, guilty and a myriad of emotions. For a while, I didn’t have the bandwidth for much, and I wanted to take time out to feel. And that was lovely for a while, feeling that I didn’t have to be anywhere because people knew I was taking time off. And then I got restless after several weeks and started to feel like I was in a rut with tending to my feelings. So, I just started going about my life, showing up to more and in a different way. I started working, I met up with friends — and I cried and raged and laughed when I needed to. I cried last week. Should I be mad at myself that I cried last week despite the fact that it’s been almost 22 months? They’re just feelings. Sadness sometimes surprises you. Other feelings also surprise you.

You don’t need to “sit” anywhere. Go and live your life and deal with and learn stuff as you go. It’s what you have to do anyway regardless of whatever feelings you have. The rut is based on how you see things, not how things are. You want to be in control, and so now it’s like “I’ve opened Pandora’s box, Natalie. What should I do with myself now?” Let the feelings pass and go about your life.

Here’s the deal: Your relationship ended a year ago. You think that you should be over it now because it’s a year. And for all you know, you are way more over it than you think, but the way that you think that this is supposed to go down is keeping you wedded to this situation. Your ego is telling you to have sex, to be mad at you for him being with someone else, and that you ’should’ be over this by now. It’s what you do with the time that counts. If you said to me that for 365 days, you’ve felt all of your feelings, grieved, let the sadness pass and all you’d felt for 365 days was pure sadness, I could see how you could call this a rut.

But it may be an idea to weigh up exactly how much of those 365 days was spent taking care of you and letting your feelings pass without judging you or doing something destructive?

It takes as long as it takes and that time shrinks as soon as you stop focusing on how long you think it should take and as soon as you stop consistently investing in any thoughts and activities that reinforce feelings of sadness.

How to find a hookup that is, y'know, a decent person?

I could find hookups on any app, I know. But I usually need to get to know them a bit first, see if I’m comfortable and there’s actually chemistry. I feel uncomfortable thinking they expect sex. Maybe after the end of the second, or third meeting, once I feel like I know them more. Maybe not at all! But the idea of them expecting, me having to turn them down makes me uncomfortable, I’d prefer we knew where we stood from the start. Is there a way to even phrase this to potential hookups? “Hey, I think I’d like to sleep with you, but not right away, and maybe not at all, can you wait for two or three dates and we’ll see”, considering most people looking for hookups can do so then and there. And I don’t want a relationship or to get too personal/invested when talking to them. Would someone even wait, since it’s not the same as a relationship (where it is expected that a guy would wait until you’re comfortable to have sex, vs a guy who can get anyone who will do it on the first date whereas I might need a bit longer)?

 

Nat’s Response

It sounds like you need to work out what it is that you want.

Sex, judging from the many thousands of stories I’ve heard over the years is surprisingly (not really) very easy to get.

It sounds like you want to date someone first so that you can then have sex. That’s your prerogative to do so, but there isn’t really a way to dress that up. You’re just one of many people who wants to meet someone to have a casual sexual encounter and who would prefer to make it less seedy or perfunctory or like they’re ‘just’ someone who wants sex. This is fine, but own it so that you don’t complicate your life unnecessarily.

What do you need chemistry for? Chemistry is a woo-woo term that people use as a catch-all for wanting to feel a buzz and connection for someone without getting too specific or intimate about what that is.

You can fancy someone and have sex with them, and have no desire ever to see them again.
You can have so-called chemistry with someone and have lousy sex.

So, you’re probably not going to know if you have sexual chemistry until, well, you have sex with them. And by the time you really discover that, the sex will be over and it will be time to move on.

Many apps/sites allow you to specify that you’re looking for “fun” or something “casual” or whatever. You don’t need to say that you’re looking for a relationship. The only reason why you would need to tell a veritable stranger that you only want to meet them one or a few times to ascertain whether you will have sex with them and then once done, that you will go your separate ways, is if they 1) mention that they’re dating with the intention of finding a relationship partner or 2) they ask you what you’re looking for. Even then, really, how much detail do you need to go into?

I get that you want to find a “decent” person to have sex with, but it sounds, quite honestly, as if you’re hedging your bets and wanting to feel better about ‘just’ having sex. It’s either that or you want more than sex but are afraid of starting over again and dating, so you’re telling you that you just want sex so that it feels less vulnerable. Work out which one it is. Y

Plenty of people have been on 1+ dates only to have sex and not see the person again. I’m not sure that you need to make your desire to have sex as complicated as you are.

“And I don’t want a relationship or to get too personal/invested when talking to them.”

It does not sound like you want to go on a series of dates with one person to ascertain whether you can have sex with them. That seems rather unnecessary given that you don’t want things to get personal and you don’t want to get invested.

You don’t need to date someone in order to have sex with them. And if that’s your intention (to date first), then give yourself one or two dates (no more than that) to make that happen and then either have sex or get out. It’s just sex.

I want also to add: even if you’d paid for the sex, you are free to change your mind. That’s not to suggest that you should pay for sex, but just because you’ve expressed an interest in having sex it doesn’t mean that you’re obliged to. You are free to say no at any time and if that is a problem for whoever you’re contemplating having sex with, roll their ass out. Don’t have sex with anyone where it feels as if you’ve been coerced or shamed into it. Keep in mind that they are free to turn you down too. No one is obligated to have sex with anyone just so that their ego can feel good about it.

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