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Haunted – Burying the ghosts of lost love

Late at night, as you read quietly, before you fall off to sleep…

During a busy afternoon as you run through a crowd, hurrying back to your office or home….

Sitting in a movie theater, a restaurant or waiting for the light to turn…

A sudden thought or image rises within you. It can come as a small nagging feeling or as a wave of emotion that threatens to overwhelm and drown you in the grief of a memory. Either way it’s clear; here comes his/her ghost again.

For those who are haunted by a past relationship, the instinctive response is often to run away from these feelings or to pretend they just aren’t there. It is also not uncommon to react by setting your system on “anger mode” and seeing everything and everyone in a negative light. Shutting down all ability to handle even the simple routine tasks of daily life is another response, and one that signals depression. This one needs to be addressed quickly, as it can leave a trail of destruction in it’s path.

These defense mechanisms are employed as a way of coping and to “get through the day.” However, when these responses become prolonged and ingrained, we can get stuck in the grieving process that accompanies loss. This is where the ghosts come in.

All loss, especially the absence of someone with whom we were intimate, results in sadness, anger, denial, fear, depression and guilt. These feelings are normal. However, how we respond to them will make the difference in how well we recover and move on to a new and healthy life.

In order to work through the grief and finally lay those ghosts to rest, you may need some help with the important do’s and don’ts of grieving. The following is a basic primer to get you started.

Things To Do:

Acknowledge Feelings

Denial can provide a very short-term way to cope with loss, but will compound the bottling up of destructive feelings that need to find a healthy outlet for expression.

Allowing yourself to feel, helps you to understand that what you are feeling is normal and therefore, you are not “crazy” or alone. It also opens the way to learning how to cope and move towards a positive resolution. Over time you will learn that feelings won’t kill you, and that you are strong and able to confront them and move on.

Express Anger Safely and Productively

Fear of our own anger is normal. This is why we have so much difficulty expressing it to others. We imbue it with a power that is beyond our control and something that can only be destructive.

Therefore, we stuff everything inside. Pressure builds and we explode, and out comes the “anger monster”; a creation of our own inability to deal with anger when it is at a lower, more manageable level.

There are safe ways to express these feelings. Crying, talking to friends, writing down the feelings and even engaging in some physically demanding labor are all healthy ways to release your anger.

Take Care Of Yourself

This seems to be one of the things we most neglect when loss strikes. Not caring for even basic needs is one of the faces of grief. It can also be a sign of a dangerous depression. Therefore, it has to be a priority.

Basic needs are what usually require attention. These include: adequate sleep, eating right, taking care of minimal household and financial responsibilities and attention to personal grooming.

In addition, exercise not only provides a great outlet for stress, it has been proven in clinical trials to be effective in lessening depression in a significant number of people. Regular exercise can also offer assistance to those who have difficulty sleeping and heightens self-esteem.

Build and Strengthen Social Supports

A strong social support system is always important. During a time of extremes loss, it is vital to recovery.

Do you have good, supportive friends? Do they have time and energy that they can offer to you during this period of grieving?

What about religious ties? A church, temple or other community of like-minded believers?

Do you have good support from any family members?

What about organizations that you have participated in and given your time and energy to? Can they now give something back to you?

These are a few of the supports that you can turn to. Make sure you PLAN well for weekends, holidays and other significant days. Let people know you want to get together and that you want to get out regularly and stay active and involved. This allows others to offer their support and remember to include you in group activities, etc.

Give Yourself Time

Getting over the loss of someone you love takes time. It is a process. It doesn’t take “forever.” You will move on and recover. But beware of that feeling that is often expressed of “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, it’s been months and I’m still not over it.”

The months SEEM like forever, but you know they are a relatively short period of time. You need to give yourself that time or run the strong risk of getting stuck for (perhaps years) in the quicksand of grief.

Set Realistic Goals

This is a time to prioritize and decide what you most want and need and to make a realistic plan for achieving it.

Goals will keep you focused and on-track. They will provide a compass as you navigate your way to a new life. They will help you to achieve success and to boost your self-esteem. This achievement will help you to feel strong and capable of beginning a new life.

Things To Avoid

When enveloped in grief and loss, we have to be careful not to respond in dysfunctional ways. Some classic examples of poor coping behaviors include:

  • overuse of alcohol
  • use of illegal drugs
  • ignoring signs of serious depression
  • sexual acting out
  • recklessness with finances
  • ignoring basic safety and placing self in risky situations

These are all the result of low self-esteem, guilt and feelings of hopelessness. With good supports and the utilization of healthy ways to express feelings, you will be at far less risk of using these self-injurious behaviors.

Remember, we must be willing to accept grief as a possible price of experiencing love. Many, many people have gone through the process of loss and despair and come out strong, whole and ready for a new life. Along the way, they often come to know themselves better and to understand what they most need and want from their relationships. Armed with this new experience and knowledge they are then ready to form new, healthy and lasting relationships.

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The friend Crush – Is this love or friendship?

He’s your good friend. She’s your best confidant. You have known each other for a few years and have shared meals, movies, hobbies and vacations. You have confided to each other about your latest love interest and turned to one another for support when the relationship(s) failed. You can’t imagine life without your good friend.

But for a while….

You’ve felt jealous of his dates. You’ve been overprotective of her since she has been seeing the jerk. You’ve been having very strong feelings of attraction and a desire for something more than friendship. Could it be that your feelings for him/her have grown into something more? If so, your relationship may have developed into a “friend crush.”

You don’t know what to do. You know you want to continue spending time together- more time. But it’s getting hard. You fantasize about having more with this person and are beginning to feel like a jealous would-be partner. Do you pretend everything is the same? Do you start distancing yourself- hoping your feelings will go back to the way they were? Do you actually TALK directly and honestly with your friend about how you feel?

What will happen to the relationship if you make the WRONG choice?

Just as all people are unique, so are the characteristics of their relationships with others. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this increasingly common dilemma. So, let’s take a look at your options. You can:

  • ignore your feelings, keep your boundaries in check and pretend everything is status quo.
    In order to choose this option, you must be able to deny your feelings so well that even you don’t know what they are. You will also have to continue being comfortable on the sidelines while someone else has the relationship with this person that you desire. You will most likely be asked what you think of this or that person and be expected to be happy and supportive of your friend when they meet the right someone for them. In return for all this, you will still have your friend.
  • begin to spend less time with your friend (crush) while seeking out new friendships to pursue and strengthen.
    This option will most likely cause confusion and hurt on the part of your friend who will wonder what happened. They may be understanding and accepting of your need to spread your wings and support you in doing what you need to do. Either way, you will see less of them and your relationship can weaken and perhaps disappear altogether as they move on with new people. If you can distance yourself for a while and no longer feel the romantic butterflies, you can always give them a call and may be able to pick up somewhere near where you left off.
  • continue the relationship with your own hidden agendas – a desire for romantic intimacy and the hope that the person will realize that they feel the same way.
    If they become involved with someone else in the meantime, you can work to sabotage their new relationship or you can leave them wondering where all your anger and hurt feelings are coming from. You can spend a lot of time and energy handling it this way, without anything to show for your efforts but the loss of a good friend.
  • have an open and honest discussion with your friend regarding your new feelings for them.
    This is the choice that seems to be the hardest for folks to make. Often what I hear from people in this position is that they fear “ruining the friendship” if they discuss their feelings honestly. While this is a very understandable concern, it isn’t well thought out. It is emotional, not rational. Look again at the other options. Every one will bring about a change in your current friendship.

Why?

Once your feelings have changed, so does the relationship. Ignoring them, hiding them or distancing yourself will lessen your closeness and the positive dynamics that flow between good friends. You can’t go back. You need to decide how you want to move forward or if this is an option for you. It is also possible in choosing this option that you will learn that they have similar feelings for you that they were afraid to reveal. Therefore choosing this option could result in romance and a love relationship based on true friendship.

Intimacy exists in all close relationships. It is the ability to be completely open and vulnerable to another without fear of harm or rejection. So, by definition, we cannot be intimate with another while hiding or denying our true feelings and needs to them.

The choice will always be yours. Choosing wisely is about really knowing the options, the consequences they bring and what will be best for you and your friend.

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Am I being too picky?

As a matchmaker and dating expert, the biggest frustration I have is watching GREAT people overlook other GREAT people for what are in my estimation…superficial reasons.

Here’s a fun little test that will reveal to you the answer to the question, “Am I being too picky?” Take a look at the last 10 to 20 ‘Candidates’ who’ve crossed your path. People you’ve dated, people you’ve selected through an online service, or just people you’ve met through your world whom you found interesting, attractive, and date-worthy. Go ahead – make the list. And start keeping this list and adding to it into the future. Every person you find date-worthy…write his name on your list.

Secondly, note by that person’s name if he/she was also interested in YOU. Did this person pursue you? Was he/she attracted to you? Did this candidate “go for” you? OK, here’s the tough part. Now you’ve got to do the math. I say, if the percentage of people on your “hot list” who also go for YOU is greater than 50%, then YIPPEE, you’re on track. If, however, a small percentage of your targeted candidates are interested in and attracted to you, then…we’ve got a problem. Tough as it is to accept, if the math shows you that less than 25% of your targeted date-worthy candidates are also interested in you, then it’s possible, um, well, likely actually that you’re being too picky. What to do about it?

You’ve got two choices: 1) Do some serious strategic and proactive marketing to better your chances in our highly competitive romantic culture (join dating services and singles clubs and be proactive, develop your flirting skills, meet lots and lots of people.) 2) Re-evaluate how you are doing your selecting, wrestle with and broaden your search criteria. A general rule of thumb to follow is – if you’re not averaging a better than 50% “Yes Factor” for the men or women you’re targeting, then you’re being too selective and limiting yourself too much to be able to expect success. Homework assignment: Make your long list of the criteria you’re seeking in your mate.

Go ahead, brainstorm, and have some fun with it. Then take a long walk and come back to that list. Isolate the Top Three Critical Criteria. Tough? You bet, but so important. Keep this short list handy, and notice that as you go through the dating process it might just change on you. If the guy/gal you’re considering has all three of your Top Three Critical Criteria, then I say, when in doubt, GO FOR IT. Meet this new person. Still in doubt? Meet again. Still don’t know?

Meet one more time. We gals have the ability to fall in love over time, for the right reasons. If the CRITICAL stuff lines up, then I’d suggest (and so would your mama) saying Yes to meeting and exploring the possibilities with those who meet your critical criteria. That magical thing called human bonding doesn’t even begin to show up until date number three. Be willing to stretch on the issues of lesser importance (height, hair issues, age, income, etc.

Keep the heart and the eyes open, or heck, blindfold yourself! I often wonder if sightless singles have an advantage in today’s media crazed world. And be willing to be surprised as to whom He or She just might turn out to be!

Dating online? The most important thing you need to know…

Having a great photo is the single most important thing you can do when dating online, so visit LookBetterOnline and find out why more than 98% of our customers get better dates, and see how we can help make your online dating experience successful and more fun than you thought possible!

It’s history

Over the years, singles have asked me if they should disclose their relationship history with their dating partners. While some of this information may be important for a potential partner to know, there are a few guidelines that I recommend before deciding to “bare all.”

Dear Dr. Love Coach, I am about to propose to a woman I’ve known for 15 years. We were friends in college, married other people, but now both of us are divorced. What I’m wondering is this — Is it proper for me to ask about her past relationships and/or sex life ? If so, what types of questions are okay? George

Dear George, I’m a little surprised that you’re asking for permission to inquire into your girlfriend’s relationship history this late in the game. My question to you is this — What difference would it make if you had this information? My hope is that the answer would be “not much.” So is it “proper” for you to ask about her past relationships and/or sex life? At this point, I’d have to say “no,” yet with a caveat.

Before you propose, you can ask her if there is anything in her relationship history, or something that she learned in a previous relationship, that she thinks would be important for you to know. An example might be, “Well, my previous husband refused to help around the house which was a big source of arguments between us. So I need you to know that making the effort to keep things tidy is very important to me.”

Basically, the focus needs to be on sharing historical information that would have potential relevance in your current relationship. I get concerned when I hear about singles engaging in long conversations with a potential dating partner about what led to the destruction of their previous relationships. And sometimes they haven’t even met yet!

When singles talk about their past relationship failures, they shift the focus off of building a present, and possibily even a future, with another person. Instead, the focus can shift to seeing your dating partner as someone who is inherently rejectable. In a previous article, “Decisions, Decisions, Decisions,” I stressed the importance of remaining vigilant while dating to NOT talk about past relationship failures.

But if you do feel the need to disclose aspects of your relationship history, then you should do so by emphasizing what you learned, not just about yourself, but about the kind of relationship you ultimately want.

Asking for a sexual history though is a bit more complicated. I think it’s best to be sure that both of you get tested not just for any sexually transmitted diseases, but for genetically transmitted diseases as well. The results should provide you with enough relevant information to spark a conversation about moving the relationship forward, or not.

If you have been dating “consciously” all along, then you probably have already listened carefully to what your dating partner has said, and paid close attention to her many behaviors, to have determined that she is a good candidate for your life partner. Remember though, people do grow and change over time. The decision to propose should ideally be based on the knowledge that you’ve accumulated while in an exclusive relationship. Giving more credence to historical information will not necessarily move you forward — it will just keep you in the past.

Dating online? The most important thing you need to know…

Having a great photo is the single most important thing you can do when dating online, so visit LookBetterOnline and find out why more than 98% of our customers get better dates, and see how we can help make your online dating experience successful and more fun than you thought possible!

True love and Chemistry – Exploring Myth and Reality

When you think about the qualities found in a true “soul mate” relationship, what one word comes up most often on the top of your list?

Is it CHEMISTRY? Probably.

Just the mention of this term conjures up powerful feelings and images for anyone who has ever been in or seeking a love relationship. It is often described as a feeling that leaves you breathless, excited and weak in the knees. Palms sweat, the heart races and the body tingles with nervous anticipation.

It is believed by virtually everyone that true love cannot exist without chemistry. Therefore, the conclusion most would-be lovers come to is that if they experience these intense feelings towards someone, they have the basis for an ideal and lasting relationship.

Right? Maybe not. For this definition of chemistry is limited to one’s physical response to another person. It lacks an entire dimension that resides in our values, beliefs, personalities and worldview

In order to know you have the right connection with a potential (or existing) partner, it’s important to have a basic knowledge of what real chemistry consists of, instead of embracing only the myths that surround it. This can be difficult to do. This intense, physical passion is the stuff that Oscar winning movies and best-selling books are made of. So, take a step back for a minute and see if you recognize yourself in the following.

Sarah is a thirty something, very attractive and successful, professional female. She has been in a relationship for over a year with a man who is unfaithful, disrespectful and incapable (unwilling) to make any commitment to her. Yet, when he makes late night “booty calls”, forgets her birthday, or stands her up repeatedly – she remains available and willing, in spite of her general unhappiness and upset over their “relationship”. Why? “I think I have mistaken great sex for love. I feel this intense chemistry and physical intimacy when we are having sex, even though he offers me nothing else. Over time, it has left me unhappy and feeling badly about myself.”

John is an attractive, intelligent, 30 something male who owns his own successful business. He’s dating a woman that he thinks he is in love with. He has knowledge that she has been out with other men. She cancels dates and is often critical and emotionally distant. She refuses to discuss commitment or taking the relationship to the next level. Yet, she turns to John for emotional, physical and financial help whenever she feels she needs it. Why does John continue to see her? “She’s beautiful and the sex is great. We have such strong physical chemistry. It’s almost like an addiction for me. My friends can’t stand her and even I know she’s not really a “keeper”, but it’s hard to walk away.

These vignettes are great examples of how physical chemistry can be mistaken for the real thing. The attraction on one level is strong, yet these are not relationships that have the right elements to grow into happy and satisfying partnerships.

So, what is missing?

Kahlil Gibran defines it as “spiritual affinity”. It’s the hidden element of chemistry. It’s when two beings meet and connect on a deeper level. It can only be felt in the heart and soul. It’s about friendship, respect, humor and the feelings of warmth and contentment that come when you are in his/her presence.

People often report finding one without the other. This is understandably a cause of great frustration and confusion about whom should we choose and why. In order to understand this better, it is helpful to know how and when each facet of chemistry occurs.

Physical attraction (or lust) generally begins during our first contact with someone. It can DEVELOP into something more over time, yet some pull is there from the beginning. The chemical that results from this attraction (and intensifies it) is phenyl ethylamine – or PEA. It is a naturally occurring substance in the brain. Essentially, it is a natural amphetamine. It stimulates us and increases both physical and emotional energy. The attraction causes us to produce more PEA, which results in those dizzying feelings associated with romantic love. Another substance that is released by PEA is dopamine. This chemical increases a desire to be physically close and intimately connected.

When these chemicals are being secreted in larger doses, they send signals from the brain to the other organs of the body. If you wonder why you or someone is attracted to the “wrong” person, it may be because you are high on the physical response to these substances, which overwhelm your ability to use your head and exercise “good judgment and common sense”.

“Spiritual affinity” develops over time and repeated contact. When these feelings begin to emerge, the brain produces endorphins. These are more like morphine and result in an increased sense of calm that reduces anxiety and helps to build attachment. As relationships move into this phase they are characterized by more comfort, commitment and friendship.

Generally speaking, all “soul mate relationships” require at least some measure of each of these. The important thing to remember is that they come in stages, which is not to say that the physical attraction passes as one moves into a deeper connection. However, it changes. We cannot sustain those intense emotions as we travel down the road to commitment and a shared life. However, in healthy relationships those moments of intensity can and do occur for brief intervals at intermittent times.

Remember not to confuse great sex or deep friendship with romantic love. Instead, look for a measure of both of these in your feelings for another. For then you have the ingredients that lasting love is made from.

Dating online? The most important thing you need to know…

Having a great photo is the single most important thing you can do when dating online, so visit LookBetterOnline and find out why more than 98% of our customers get better dates, and see how we can help make your online dating experience successful and more fun than you thought possible!