The article I wrote about friend zoning your suitors received more feedback than I expected.  It seems that some of you are ready to explore the experience of being without a significant other for an extended period of time.

Welcome your new adventure! Being happily single will take your life in an exciting and unexpected direction.   But what should you focus on during this period of “being alone.”
Before I began my journey, I was involved in a 5-year relationship with a man who wanted to spend every second together.  Since I met him right out of high-school, I didn’t get a chance to connect with my identity as an individual.  By the time the relationship ended, I had no idea what to do with myself and how to be alone.  But, for the next several years, I invested a lot of energy into learning about myself and it paid off in a major way.

For 5 years, pretty much all of my spare time was spent with one person.  Once we were no longer a couple, I was suddenly free to use my time as I pleased.  Because we were so intertwined, I made the conscious decision to get comfortable with my own company.  I went to the mall, the park, restaurants, events.  Instead of defaulting to calling my friends for company. I tried to go alone as much as possible.  What I learned from this experience is that you meet more people when you’re flying solo.  This helped to introduce me to a wide cast of characters.  To this day, I’m not shy about striking up conversations with random people. 

One of the most memorable outcomes of my time alone is how much I was able to focus on my finances.  When you’re in your early twenties and going out all the time, you spend money.  But once I was able to have full control of my time and money, I set a new intention for myself.  The money I earned took on a new purpose. At the time, I worked for my dad at his shop.  My pay was based on how much merchandise I sold.    I put all my mental focus on earning and saving as much as I could. Years later, I was involved in a car accident.  Instead of repairing the car,  I donated it to an organization that helped out the less fortunate.  I had enough saved to put a down payment on a brand new car.  The lessons learned from that time financial focus stays with me today.  If you haven’t yet mastered your money, use this time to really get connected to your financial power.

If you’ve ever wanted to start a side hustle, now is the time to do it.  It’s hard to maintain a new relationship while trying to grow a business.  Back in my day, starting a business wasn’t as easy as it is now otherwise, I would have absolutely done it.  Now the doors are wide open.   Even if you aren’t trying to quit your job, it’s still a good idea create a second source of income.  The chances of success are much greater because there are so many examples out there for us to model after.  If you establish something while now you’ve got some free time, you won’t have to worry about it interfering much with your relationship later.

One of the best things you can do when you’re single is to work out regularly. One of the natural side effects of being in a long-term relationship is a little weight gain.  What do you expect from all those dinners and lazy weekends cuddling on the couch?  Getting into a regular workout routine is probably one of the best self-care habits you can implement as a single woman.  Exercising produces feel-good hormones which will help get you through those times when you’re feeling lonely.  Also, toning up will give you an incredible confidence boost.  Now’s the time to strengthen and tone your body.

One area that I didn’t explore during my single life was travel.  If I ever find myself in that position again, I would certainly make travel a part of my journey.  There’s just something about being completely removed from a familiar environment that reveals who you are and what you truly want to experience in life.  Nowadays, you can easily find traveler groups online with people who share similar interests as you.  Even if your friends aren’t into traveling to exotic locations, you can connect with interesting people who can make the journey more enjoyable. I know a few women who are nomads and love to travel alone.  When I traveled for work, I absolutely fell in love with the feeling of freedom and aliveness every time the plane lifted off the ground.  That’s exactly what we need to feel when getting over a difficult relationship.

After high school, most of my friends went away to university. Which meant that I didn’t have many friends in town. This made it easier for me to spend all of my time with him.  Once the relationship was over, I was alone and I only had a couple of true friends.  That’s when I realized how difficult it was to build new friendships with genuine people as an adult.  Eventually, I sought out to build relationships with like-minded women.  I loved having long conversations with powerful women about our goals and dreams.  So many of the outcomes I enjoy today were born out of conversations held with friends.  Nowaday’s it’s super easy to find other women who are in the same place in life as yourself.  Surround yourself with these inspiring women and attack your goals together.

Lastly, I think it’s important to still date casually even if you made the intention not to get into a committed relationship.  Dating casually allowed me the opportunity to become crystal clear about what I wanted in a long-term partner.  With each potential suitor I met, I was able to pick out qualities that I appreciated about the person while identifying the essential traits that were missing. 

I felt like each person I crossed paths with allowed me to gain additional clarity.  By the time I actually allowed myself to open up emotionally to my future husband, I was clear he was the one. 

Those years of being happily single was one of the fondest moments in my life.  I enjoyed every single second of it.  I made use of that special time to focus on myself.  If I had to do it all again, I’d also take that time to work on my manifestation skills.  The Law of Attraction movie hadn’t been released yet, but if I knew about the principles back then, I’d work on mastering my ability to create.  Although I wasn’t aware that “attracting what I wanted” was a thing, I subconsciously was attracting what I wanted each time I identified desirable qualities in the men I interacted with.  I even remember saying to myself that if my husband was “the one,” he I would receive a series of clear, specific signs. When those signs manifested, I was both shocked and grateful. 

The list of things you can do during your singlehood is endless.  Just know that this is an exciting time.  Work on becoming your ideal self.  That’s what it boils down to.  Your investment in yourself will not be in vain.

I don’t write a ton on the topic of relationships because of my limited dating experience.  Although my dating life was short-lived, it was very intentional.  Looking back, I think there was value in my dating methodology.

The reason I’m writing about this out now is that I’m hearing more and more women provide dating advice that I experienced first hand.  Basically, my “dating strategy” was to friend zone every one who was interested in me.  Every last one of them. This approach had so many advantages and I’ll tell you why.
Before I get into the method behind the madness, I’ll share why I decided to friend zone my potential boyfriends in the first place.  Let’s start from the beginning.

I didn’t date in high school. I considered myself a tomboy and academic who focused on my grades first and foremost. As soon as I turned 18, I started paying more attention to how I dressed, wore my hair, etc.  Suddenly guys were flirting and wanting to be around more.  Some of the same guys who practically ignored me in high school suddenly wanted to find out “why I didn’t have a man.”  At the age of 18, I met the guy who would become my first boyfriend.  He was charming, assertive, and pursued me aggressively.  Soon after meeting him, we got into a relationship that lasted a total of five years.

At the end of it all, I felt like this guy has thoroughly wasted my time.  I vowed to reclaim my time and never allow myself to get into a dead end relationship again.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the guy, but ultimately, he wasn’t aligned with what I wanted in life.  He was cute, gave me lots of attention, but he was not the one for me.  If I had friend zoned him (like the ones that came after him) I would have realized that we were very different and would have moved on months, not years later.

Determined never to make that same mistake again, I vowed to abstain from all romantic relationships.  Don’t get me wrong, I still entertained conversations from potential suitors. And I still went on “dates” but I made it perfectly clear to every single one of them that I wasn’t interested in having a boyfriend.  Some of them thought I was joking.  Eventually, they all realized that when I said that we would only be friends, I was dead serious.  Part of my reasoning was to avoid the pain associated with a broken relationship. But my main motivation was to prevent myself from developing deep feelings for someone who would not be in my life long-term.

The experience was eye opening and I learned a ton.  For instance, I learned that I was attracted to the wrong guys.  Many of the suiters, who I thought were my type physically, were not at all ready to be in committed relationships (in their 20’s).  I realized this because I could look at their behaviors objectively since I wasn’t already involved.  That objectivity and clarity was amazing.  It allowed me to give up on trying to change or fix people. I didn’t try to convince myself or excuse their behavior.  If I had to cut ties, it was easy.  Best of all, I left each experience whole. I wasn’t a broken person who wasn’t able to trust again. It was so liberating.

One day, I met my now husband at a grocery store.  I gave him my number because I thought he was cute and really liked his energy. During our first phone convo, we instantly connected. Eventually, informed him we could be friends. Whenever I told a guy about my friendship clause, I would typically get a variety of responses. Some thought I was joking or that friends meant a “friends with benefits” type agreement.  I clarified that friends meant that there would be no physical interaction. During this time, the only type of physical contact I gave was a hug.  I’m not saying that this is the right way to do it,  but it was my way of setting clear boundaries.  Most guys were taken aback by my methodology but my (now husband) didn’t even flinch.

We were friends for a few years before we actually started dating traditionally. During that time, we had movie nights, we spoke on the phone for hours, we even lost touch when life got busy.  Even though he clearly expressed his desire to date (and even marry me), he was respectful of my desire to remain friends. Over time, we solidified our friendship which endured even when he moved out of state.  Although he would often tell me that we would, one day, be married I didn’t always feel the same way.  I found him attractive but thought he was too much of a pretty boy so I dismissed him as disingenuine.  Over time, I finally came to realize that his words and actions were aligned. That’s when I finally let me guard down.  We were engaged soon after I finally came around and we’re celebrating 13 years of marriage this coming year.

The other day, I was watching a Law of Attraction documentary and when they got to the part about relationships, the LOA expert said this:

“It’s important to clear your field so you are creating a very intentional signal. Not dating, or having flings.  You want to create clarity to erase confusion.   It’s vital to clear your space, make it open and available to actually find the true soul mate that you’re looking for.”                                                                                            
With every interaction I had with male suitors, I came out of the experience with incredible clarity about what type of man would be best for me. I would use the opportunity to identify which qualities about the person I liked and which ones were deal breakers. Some of them seemed very excited about our friendship in the beginning, but soon lost interest when they didn’t get what they wanted.  My now husband was one of the few who wanted to be a part of my life even though we weren’t physically involved.  Even though he wanted to be involved romantically, he fully respected my decision.

I jumped on an Instagram live recently. And the young lady proclaimed to her followers that she was abstaining from dating for all of 2018.  Earlier in the year she talked about the broken relationships she’d endured in the past.  Her reason for remaining single and celibate was to revive her ability to discern and determine which relationship(s) are worth pursuing.

Just because we meet some guy who’s attractive and charming, doesn’t mean we should automatically get involved with them.  We give too much energy to guys who deplete our lives instead of adding to it.  By the time we realize their shortcomings, (or the misalignment) we jump into “fixing” mode because we’re in too deep.  This isn’t healthy.  The young lady is working on her discernment because too often our judgment is clouded by how the guy presents himself. We don’t allow enough time for his true nature to appear before deciding if we should be intertwined.

 Her objective now is to utilize her single life to discover her true self.  Then she can clearly determine if potential suitors are aligned with who she is. In her words, “if who you are doesn’t align with who I am, you have to go.”

I’m not saying that everyone needs to take this “no romantic relationships” approach to dating.  There’s a lot you can learn about yourself from dating, which is why I still continued to do it.  But, ask yourself, what is your intention. If you’re looking for a serious relationship, maybe taking a little time out from traditional dating. Or maybe you can try to date differently to heighten your sense clarity.  Trust me, if a guy really wants to be with you, he’ll stick around.  Work on yourself first and clear your energy so you are able to date with intention.  

I haven’t talked much about dating and relationships on this blog.  Although I have a bunch of thoughts on the topic, I’m not an expert.  But, there’s one piece of advice that I’ve repeatedly given out to friends, family and co-workers that I must share with you.

I came to this conclusion as a result of my past profession.  Over my career I’ve interviewed and hired hundreds of candidates.  Sometimes the process works well and, other times,  we recruited what we thought was a great candidate only to find out that we made a serious hiring mistake.

Tired of repeating the same cycle over and over, I decided to approach the process differently.  My new process worked so well that I had to tell the other hiring managers.  Each manager that implemented my recommendation noticed improvement in hiring the right person. They were all grateful for my advice.

The advice I gave out was actually dating advice applied to the hiring process.  Because, in my mind, interviewing and hiring was similar to dating and getting married.  Now, I share these words of wisdom purely as dating advice.  In fact, I actually had a conversation with a guy yesterday who recently got out of a bad relationship.  As he was sharing the story of what went wrong, the red flags jumped out at me.  The first thing he said, after I gave him my world famous advice, was “I wish I would’ve heard this earlier.”

Here it is……Here’s the dating/relationship advice that could change your life.  Listen close.

When you are dating/courting.  The natural tendency is to identify what we like about the person, or what we have in common.  Once we’ve identified those traits, we tend to only focus on them to the point of ignoring (or explaining away) any of the negative traits.

My advice is this.  When you are dating, make a list of the “negative” traits you see in the person.  Negative simply means traits that don’t align with what you want in a partner.  In the case of the guy I was talking to yesterday, one of her negative traits was that she wasn’t a communicator.  He loves to talk and wants someone who can engage in lively conversations. But the woman he was engaged to would communicate via text versus having robust conversations.  You’re probably asking yourself, “why would a guy who loves to communicate propose to a woman who barely wants to talk?”  Because he committed a common dating mistake of only focusing on what he liked about her.  When I asked him to really articulate what he loved about her, he couldn’t give me any substance.  The answers were extremely shallow and he realized that once he tried to verbalize them in a way that made sense.

Instead of focusing on everything you like about a suitor, I invite you to take inventory of the misaligned traits that peak out during the dating process.

Once you have a list of non-aligned traits, I want you to multiply them by 10X!

After you’ve multiplied the undesirable traits by 10X, ask yourself, “am I still willing to accept this in a partner knowing that I will have to deal with this issue times 10?”  If the answer is yes, then you are clear to proceed.

Let’s say you are dating a handsome guy who seems really into you.  He’s super funny, cute, open to new experiences and loves being around you.  But you see faint signs of a few traits that you aren’t fond of.

1. He gets so excited that sometimes he doesn’t let you finish your sentences before he starts talking.
2. His car is a bit messy which bothers you slightly because you’re a clean freak.
3. He sometimes will cancel last minute to go out with friends.
4. He avoids conflict and doesn’t like to talk about his feelings or things that really concern you.

Those are just a few things you notice.  They’re not serious enough to break up with a person over.  Now you multiply each trait by 10X which could look like this.

1. He’s so into his opinions that he always interrupting you mid-sentence.
2. He’s a total slob which means that you have to pick up after him all day, every day.
3. He always puts friends and family over you when it comes to his free time.
4. Your relationship is empty and void because the two of you don’t discuss important matters.

I realize that the list above is an exaggeration and might not happen.  But, I want you to think like it can and WILL happen.  Why? Because as the dating euphoria wears off, the negative traits will grow in intensity.

But, if you look at the list (multiplied by 10X) and you say, actually, I can deal with these issues, then feel free to move forward.  Please note, there is a difference between “I can deal with… and “I can change this about him”…….

Please, please let go of any thoughts about trying to change a person.  That’s a losing battle that will require lots of time, energy and emotional power.  It’s draining and almost never works.  This is not about changing a person, it’s about what you are willing to accept.  What if you say to yourself, ” I can’t accept having someone always interrupting me and not allowing me to express myself.”   Now, you have a decision to make.  Do you break up with the guy right now? Maybe.

You can also continue to date and observe whether you see signs of the non-negotiable trait(s) becoming worse. It’s a good idea to let the person know, in a calm manner, that you noticed sometimes he doesn’t allow you to finish your sentences then see what happens.  If he makes a real conscious effort to shift his behavior…..great!  But exerting tons of effort to change a person is not the answer.

I’ve seen too many people completely ignore red flags then enter into long term commitments only to break off because of a sign that existed since day 1.  Don’t waste time and energy on a “unqualified candidate” when there are tens of thousands of people who meet your minimum requirements.

Use this method as a way of preventing unhealthy relationships and, essentially, wasting your time.  Nobody’s perfect and this isn’t about finding the perfect person. It’s about recognizing which “flaws” are tolerable and which are a no-go.

Some Notes On The Couple’s Massage

We are promised that there will be no rose petals, which is good—both because I refuse to participate in a genocide of flowers and because I do not want my boyfriend to flee the premises.

He and I have arrived at The Retreat at The Castle Hill Inn in Newport, Rhode Island, to experience what the spa has been tactful enough to call a “massage à deux.” But we will not be fooled. This is a couple’s massage.

For the record, we do not do this. To date, Jason has never bought me me a box of chocolates or a Hallmark card. Over the holidays, he presented me with a gift certificate to the Cheesecake Factory—a joke! He swears! A few months ago, he gave me a cactus. Against all odds, we like each other. A lot.

I explain this to Brenda Brock, who greets me in the lobby. As the founder of beloved skincare line Farmaesthetics, Brock has masterminded both the products at and the overall environment of The Retreat. She is very sympathetic.

“It’s all about how you set it up and stage it,” she contends. “There can be champagne. It can be all about romance, but that is not what we wanted. We wanted this treatment to be about time together—to get people in the same place at the same time for something private.”

I relay this sentiment to Jason. He nods. It is so cute how he tries to suppress his panic. Great effort.

He and I are led to a small room outfitted in heavily patterned furniture. The concierge hands us basic questionnaires and cool glasses of water, leaving us to bask in amorous bliss. We sit down next to each other and begin to recount our medical histories. I leave an earnest note in which I detail poor circulation, dalliances with acupuncture, occasional migraines. Reclining in a tufted throne, Jason records his.

“Should I say that I’m pregnant?” He asks innocently.

I roll my eyes. This is our romance.

We complete the forms and are steered into a small room. The space is bright and cheerful and a little chilled, which strikes me as very genteel. I take in the yellow wallpaper and sloped ceilings and think of Ina Garten. I would estimate that I wonder at least every 10 days: “What would Ina do?”

As far as I am concerned, the Barefoot Contessa really knows how to live. She always seems to have a bottle of wine on ice and pals over for dinner. This is what I want for my future.

The fact that I can picture Ina and Jeffrey Garten at The Castle Hill Inn is a good omen for Jason and me. I tell him this. He does not respond. He should be honored. Jeffrey is a lucky man and never wants for fresh mozzarella.

Together, we walk inside. We wash up, strip down, and slide under our respective covers. Small children that we are, we cannot stop laughing. Jason is convinced that he will laugh in the middle of the massage, revealing us both to be infants. We agree to think of dead puppies and take deep breaths.

When our masseuses return, my lips are pressed into a tight line. I am determined to be expressionless. I am adult woman. I am worth a “massage à deux.” I am told I hold a lot of tension in my jaw.

But the strain abates. And for several dozen enchanted minutes, there is no sound. I am so relaxed I do not even remember how to be jaded. I am so relaxed I forget Jason is even there.

After more than an hour, I am slicked in oil—lissome and drowsy. I glance over and see Jason. Oh! That’s right. Him.

We both get dressed in a daze and amble back to the car.

“I never wanted it to ennnnndddddd,” Jason confesses, betraying an enthusiasm for extravagance that makes me smile.

“That was heaven,” I pronounce.

And yet it becomes evident: We have not resolved what we set out to. Massages for two are nice. But they are no nicer than “massages pour un.”

For all the elation, the twin tables did not make me fall deeper or further in love. Not even a charming set of matching bathrobes could do so much. When I visualize rose petals, I still see carnage. But at least my knots are gone this time.

—Mattie Kahn

Photos courtesy of the author. Next up: The Blurred Line Relationships With The People We Pay To Touch Us.

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What’s In Your Overnight Bag?

Every relationship comes with its own series of public and private milestones. Feeling together enough to Instagram together, going ahead and making it Facebook official (side note: Does anyone still do this?), meeting the parents, and so on—things that announce to the world, “We like each other; it’s romantic; look at how happy we are.”

Then, there are the moments that happen like seeing their toothbrush next to yours—akin to the first ‘I Love You,’ right?—and those things that you don’t broadcast but that drive your relationship along in a more meaningful way than any anniversary ever could.

One private milestone has been on my mind a lot recently. At what point in a relationship do you begin doing your full nighttime skincare routine when your Sig. O is around?

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about nine months. We spend most nights together. He’s seen me try to go a week without washing my hair and once get a bloody nose from blowing my nose too hard. So why am I so afraid to go to sleep with some serum on my face when he’s around?

When I spend the night alone, I like to slather my face in some combination of Ren’s Omega 3 Night Repair Serum, rosehip seed oil, and Medicine Mama’s Sweet Bee Magic. It’s an effective combo that leaves my crazy sensitive-and-dry skin radiant and breakout-free. It also makes me look like a melting candle.

When I know I’ll be spending the night at his place (or if he’s coming to mine), I tend to go for a lighter lotion—either CeraVe’s Moisturizing Cream or Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Water Gel. If I breakout, I’ll dab on some Neosporin instead of a more opaque, drying mask—all things that fit well in a small dopp kit and get the job done, only without promising the the fountain of youth results like I’d like.

I vary widely between wanting to show more and more of who I am and wanting to protect the notion that I am low-maintenance and have naturally flawless skin.

So readers, I’d like to know: How do you navigate this? Are there better products that absorb more quickly while packing a moisturizing punch? Alternately, am I insane? Elaborate on one of the above please.

—Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith is a Boston-based political organizer. She passionately supports: responding to emails with gifs, dry shampoo and empowering women. Not necessarily in that order. Photo by ITG.

Photo by ITG. What’s something you’ll never bring over—is it a Kim Jong Il tongue scraper

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