Unless you live in a cave, you are probably aware that it was Valentine’s Day yesterday. All things romantic are foremost in my mind not just because it’s THAT month again, but also because I’m majorly excited that next weekend I’ll be offering the Vive La Différence Couples Workshop in Collegeville, PA. Last week I wrote a post for Lifehack on how to make Valentine’s Day last all year and I thought it would be fitting to share one of the tips I shared on how to re-kindle the spark.
This hot date idea is entitled Strangers in the Night and it is quite the fire-starter, especially when you have been together for a long time and/or are married.
For the purposes of this exercise you will need to select a time and date to meet in a bar that neither of you have visited before. An hotel bar is ideal for the purpose of this exercise for reasons that will become apparent.
Without discussing any details beforehand, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to invent an alter-ego for the night, complete with name, age, personal history etc. Venture outside the box a little and experiment playing the role of someone who has a little different lifestyle to your own. For example, you might pretend to be a traveling pharmaceutical sales executive and power dress in heels and a business suit – perhaps with racy lingerie underneath (-of course, if you’re the guy and you try this role you will need to be prepared for quite a bit of extra attention.) Get creative and play against type – if you’re a dentist by day, how about going as a contractor complete with tool belt? Or a secret agent on a dark ops mission? You get the idea. Whatever you come up with, invest a little time in creating your character as fully as possible. Where do you live? How old are you? Kids? Not?
When you arrive at the bar, if you get there first pull up a stool with your back to the door, order a drink and enjoy the thrill of anticipation as you await the arrival of a mysterious stranger. Play hard to get or flirt like mad, the choice is yours. One of the most fun and unexpected benefits of this game is the reaction of the bartender or guy next door who is eavesdropping on the conversation and just can’t believe what he’s hearing. Especially when one of you proposes that you should leave together (or better still slips a room key to the other).
Whether you head off home or head upstairs to a room together, try to keep up the act as long as possible. This game is a sure fire cure for date nights that have fallen into a rut. Especially when you make a conscious effort to see, hear and touch each other with the curiosity of never having done it before. While you’re at it, you might want to try new foods or -ahem- activities that you perhaps might not usually explore. You get all the adventure with none of the risks and the best part is, you can pretend to be a totally different set of people as often as you want.
I saw this photo on the web today and I just had to buy the poster. To me it says so much about what so many women I know yearn for in relationship: To be able to be the driven woman, charging ahead towards her goals and yet to also enjoy the feeling of being held by powerful arms. This guy is so clearly un-threatened by her power. He doesn’t have a problem letting her drive, he exudes confidence, intellect, sexiness and fun. He trusts her enough not to second guess the direction she’s taking and is on the look out for something awesome on the way that they can share and enjoy together.
The alpha woman and relationships
The subject of the alpha woman and relationships has come up twice this week, once in a fascinating chat I had with a dynamic woman who is a highly successful entrepreneur and mega star of the blogosphere and again on Twitter, in tweets between Patti Stanger, of Bravo tv’s Millionaire Matchmaker fame (@pattistanger) and reality tv star and Pageant Queen, Monica Pietzrak (@Monicawickedfit).
The first conversation revolved around the fact that for women entrepreneurs success can actually put more strain on a marriage than failure. We got to talking about the subtexts in a relationship to do with money and power. The Twitter exchange went like this: Monica tweeted “Why do successful alpha women crave the alpha guy? Will it truly never work? I’ve always been told “can’t have two #1′s” and Patti quipped in reply, “Ha! Yes it’s true we want a man to overpower us. So when you get an alpha man you become a beta woman!”
Patti’s use of the word “overpower” makes me flinch a little. This is a highly controversial area, not least because of the historical abuses of power and violence between the sexes. Many women fear to disclose a secret desire to be ravished, lest it is taken as an invitation to rape. But it’s worth venturing into the breech and talking about because it’ s an issue that many of the brilliant and beautiful women I know wrestle with: How do we reconcile our desire and ability to equal and even exceed men in business with our secret yearning to be “treated like a woman”. Just to be clear, whilst referring to straight women here, this issue relates to anyone of any gender whose preference lies in predominantly “feminine” traits and who enjoys intimacy with someone whose preference lies in predominantly “masculine” traits.
Why do I have to choose?
This is the dilemma of the modern woman - whilst I may be an expert at skilfully utilizing the “masculine” traits of my personality to kick butt in the world, when I come home, akick off my shoes and wonder in to the bedroom, my comfort (and pleasure!) zone lies in being in my feminine in relation to a partner who is exhibiting “masculine” traits. Critics accuse us of wanting to have our cake and eat it but why can’t I be an equal in the boardroom and still get the door opened? Why do I have to choose? For more on this ideology, check out the work of David Deida, no stranger to controversy himself, and his best-selling book The Way of The Superior Man.
The feminine feminist
Living 21st century, post-modern, industrial society, the pace of life is overwhelmingly masculine. It’s all about action and achievement and the faster the better. I wonder if that’s why we sub-consciously absorb this assertion that the feminine traits are in some way less powerful and judge them in ourselves. Growing up as a girl in the seventies, equality of the sexes was drummed into us at school at every opportunity, our anthem was “Anything you can do, I can do better”. The underlying message was that Pink was both Powerless and Pathetic. I exchanged it for black as soon as I could and didn’t wear it again until my thirties, when I decided to come out of the closet as a feminine feminist.
In theory the battle of the sexes should be over, but have we really come that far? What messages about being feminine and being powerful are we offering to girls – (or even more pointedly to boys who exhibit feminine traits) today? Women are certainly seen to be powerful, yet the power they exhibit often follows limiting stereotypes. Look at the media and you would be forgiven for thinking that there are only two ways to the top. One involves selling your body and the other selling your soul. Where is the middle ground between “pussy power” and being “an alpha male with a vagina”?
Vive La Différence
I think the answer for these successful women lies in giving up competition – not in favor of becoming submissive, (heaven forbid), but exchanging it for a paradigm of cooperation (which is of course, the feminine model, technically speaking). The road to peace and passion lies in embracing the concept of complementary opposites. I’m in favor of valuing our different qualities equally instead of trying to dilute them into an equal similarity, or as the French put it, Vive La Différence.
I have a new post on Lifehack this week, with some advice about first dates which you can check out here if that pertains to you. If on the other hand, the days of first dates are happily far behind you, I also have something for you! Have you have been wondering about what to get your beloved for the holidays? Have you just been seized with minor anxiety because you hadn’t even thought about it yet? Let me help you out here. For a present with real and lasting value, how about coming along together to the couples retreat weekend I am presenting on December 10th and 11th? It’s the ultimate in quality time and I guarantee that this weekend will be the gift that keeps on giving, with more fun, intimacy, connection and great communication for the year to come and beyond. If you’d like to have a chat to get an idea of exactly what it could do for you and your other half, I’d be happy to hear from you. If you’re already convinced that this is clearly a) a gift that gets you mucho brownie points and b) one that will actually be pretty awesome for you too, hope on over to the registration page on
Have you ever noticed how at the beginning of a relationship, when you are falling in love, you just don’t eat as much? There seems to be an inverse ratio between the amount of sex had and the amount of food eaten. The marvel of it all is that you don’t even feel deprived, you simply don’t think about food as often.
Compare that to your eating habits whilst nursing a broken heart. Unless you are one of those rare people who just can’t eat when they are heart-broken, you have probably indulged in comfort eating on such occasions.
This came to my mind when I was remembering working with a client who had been struggling to get her weight down to an acceptable and healthy level. She used to have an enviably athletic yet feminine physique and at that time, felt very confident about herself and thoroughly enjoyed an active sex life. Fast forward a few years via marriage and motherhood, and she found herself in the common position of carrying more weight and having less sex.
More importantly, she didn’t feel sexy. This was something she very much wanted to change, yet time after time, she made a sincere and determined resolution to alter her eating habits only to find that in a matter of days, she fell off the wagon and compulsively consumed what I like to refer to as “consolation calories”.
What’s the pay off?
Clearly this was way more complicated than needing a new diet plan, since at that point in her life with her level of experience, she could probably have written one. Sound familiar? So if it wasn’t about needing to learn how to do it, we needed to investigate what was getting in the way of being able to put into practice what she knew.
Behind every act of self-sabotage is a hidden benefit that keeps you hooked in to the status quo. There is always a reason you resist desired change and that reason is to do with what you are getting out of leaving things as they are. In order to make any progress, you need to discover what pay-off you’re getting from not changing.
In order to start investigating your subconscious blocks and motivations behind your behavior, grab a pen and paper and start to write down the messages you give to yourself. Externalizing the beliefs that are hiding inside your head is the first step to being able to become conscious about why you are doing what you do, which is the prerequisite to being able to change.
What’s the risk?
Often, the thing that stops us from being able to get out of an unwanted situation is a subconscious fear about the unknown alternative that could result. Sometimes, as Marianne Williamson said, it’s a fear of just how powerful we might be if we gave up a limiting behavior that can keep us from moving forwards. If we actually did lose that ten pounds, quit the job we hate, start to exercise,- fill in the blank – things might have to change and change is scary.
Or it can be a protective mechanism based on a bad experience in the past, (the subconscious is always forgetting that now is not then). The message that “it’s better not let your creative side out again in case you get devastated by criticism” – may be based on the time your kindergarten teacher said you couldn’t draw.
In the case in question, we came up with a couple of factors that were causing her to eat excessive amounts of things she should avoid whilst really wanting to lose weight. Number one was the subconscious belief that losing weight would mean becoming attractive to men again which would invite intimacy which carries a risk of getting hurt emotionally. Rather than being a self-destructive urge, this impulse came from a misguided sense of self-protection.
The vicious cycle
But the heart of the matter came to light when, looking at where she used to be and where she is now, I felt compelled to ask “Is Food your new Sex?” What we discovered was that she was in the grip of a vicious cycle revolving around a rebellious reaction to a lack of pleasure in her life.
This big picture involved a cumulative effect of feeling overly burdened with responsibilities, dealing with a lot of stress, having a punishing schedule of doing too much at a relentless pace, always giving and having self-care at the bottom of her priorities. It’s really tough to feel sexy in survival mode, which is how she had been leading her life.
No wonder she saw the chocolate (but it could have been the cigarette) as the only fun she got and was determined to hold on to it for dear life. And so she reacted out of a sense of deprivation. She comfort ate to fill the void of pleasure, which in turn created the weight issue which made her feel cut off from her sexuality (which could have provide a healthy, non-fattening source of pleasure) and so feeling deprived, she used food as an outlet for her need to experience pleasure – which started the whole cycle once again.
A new approach
Rather than beating herself up, I encouraged her to recognize that there was a positive side to this revelation. She agreed to consider appreciating the fact that there was some part of her that longed for a better quality of life. In making peace with this aspect, she could understand why this part of herself would be so mad that there wasn’t enough joy and pleasure going around and would insist on hanging on to whatever she could cling to. That part of her needed reassurance that there would be some other, better, more healthy alternatives to choose from in order to begin to let go.
Once it was clear what the motivation was, it was easy to come up with a whole new approach to the issue, which involved a conscious campaign to reduce her stress and to create a lot more opportunities to experience pleasure in her life.
In the beginning it was even hard for her to come up with a list of what might constitute alternate sources of joy and pleasure in her life. So I gave her the assignment to investigate the matter. She scheduled a series of Saturday afternoon play-dates for herself, to explore, either alone or with friends what might please her.
Daily pleasure practice
The resulting list, ‘Making time to take a bath by candlelight, buying flowers, touching fabrics that pleased her, singing, dancing, working out’ – became the basis of a new daily pleasure practice. And it was from this change in lifestyle, that gradually she found herself able to make better eating choices without even having to try that hard.
So, next time you find yourself beating lamenting your unmet goals and beating yourself up unmercilessly, might I suggest that instead you try an alternate approach? Take the time to get to know your demons and you may discover that, in fact, all they really want to do is to help you. Once you figure this out, it’s a whole lot easier to thank them, let them know you will no longer be needing their services and either retire them or reassign them to another duty somewhere else in your life that will actually serve you.