Archive for the 'self improvement' Category


your job as your “ministry”

Reader T. M. writes:

My boss is anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, and homophobic. He calls people or things “gay” when he means “stupid”; he claims women are always overly emotional; and he uses words like “spic” or “illegal” to talk about immigrants or people who speak Spanish. Most of my coworkers are pretty much exactly the same way he is. As an educated, self-defined liberal, I’m really fed up. How do you suggest I go about finding a new job with people I can actually work with?

Dear T.M.:

You’ve definitely got it rough, and I’m sorry you have to put up with that kind of talk. I’m sure if you called your boss out on his language he’d say that talking like that doesn’t mean he’s racist, sexist, or homophobic — some of his best friends are gay Mexican women! And if your coworkers are the same way, you’re unlikely to get much sympathy from them.

But I think you should stay at your job exactly for this reason.

Getting out boxing gloves is a bad idea.

I wouldn't recommend the boxing gloves. Image: Ambro /

My evangelical Christian friends have a huge debate going on Facebook right now about whether or not your paying job is more important than your “ministry”. One of the answers I rather agree with is that your paying job should be your ministry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe proselytizing at the office (or anywhere else) is okay. But I was always taught growing up that the way you live your life is your greatest “ministry”.

What I mean is, people believe things strongly and live their lives accordingly. You firmly believe that racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong, and you could probably back up your reasoning with some great arguments. Your boss, however, clearly doesn’t believe that. And you may be the only exposure he has in a given day to someone who does believe those things are wrong. If you leave, he’s just going to be surrounded by a bunch of people who agree with him, and never have to question why he thinks the way he does.

It would be easy to go through life surrounded entirely by people who agree with you and believe the same things you do. That’s what the Internet has done to us — we’re surrounded by opinions exactly like ours, because that’s what we search out and find. Most of your friends on Facebook probably post things you agree with, and if you don’t, I’m guessing you’ve figured out the “unsubscribe” option by now. Your Google search will even tailor its results to match things you already read, so you’re not going to find anything that disagrees with your opinion without trying really, really hard.

But if you don’t ever challenge your beliefs, how can you grow as a person?

By this point you may have guessed that I mean the learning has to go in both directions. First of all, you offer a differing view of the world to your boss (and coworkers) than what he’s used to seeing. You may have to speak up about it once in a while and let him know, and he may not appreciate that, but you can consider it your “ministry”. You can even point out that he’s setting himself up for a lawsuit from someone who is perhaps a bit more litigious than you. It is extremely unlikely he’ll change his ways. But the fact that he’s been challenged about them at all is a pretty big deal.

And on the flip side, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can’t learn something from him. He’s got ideas different from your own, which means you should sit up and listen to what he has to say. Not because he’s right, but because he’s different. Why does he believe the things he believes? And how can you reject his beliefs outright without first understanding why he believes them?

The discourse between you may just serve to strengthen your own beliefs, or you may learn something new. I’m not saying you should strive to be racist, sexist, or homophobic, of course. But there are probably other points you disagree on that he can teach you something about.

Do you know why racist, sexist, or homophobic speech is wrong? Can you explain it in a rational way? If not, learning why he apparently thinks it’s not wrong to say those things could help you with your own argument.

Of course, there does come a point when hanging out around hate speech is just abuse. It’s hard to sue for a “hostile work environment” if the speech isn’t directed against you specifically, but if you’re uncomfortable, you should speak up. Check out your employee handbook on your company’s policies, and if he’s violating them, call him out on it, or have HR call him out on it. If you’re capable of having a rational, unemotional discussion about it with him, do so. Again, it may be the only time in his life he’s ever asked to consider what his words really mean in the sphere around him.

Just don’t go running to to look for your perfect, not-for-profit liberal social justice job quite yet. The world may need you where you are.


childish vs childlike

Reader S. M. writes:

People have been accusing me recently of being childish. I don’t think I’m childish; I think I’m fun. What’s the difference so I can enlighten my accusers?

Dear S.M.:

I think we need to make a distinction here between acting childlike as opposed to childish. Acting childlike includes all the things we enjoy children doing; being childish is all the crap we hate that children do. People who are childish actually can’t tell the difference. So if your accusers are childish themselves, they’re probably accusing you of the same, because they’re impatient and annoyed by anyone who isn’t in line with their ideals of adulthood.

Slide down my rainbow into my cellar door and we'll be jolly friends forevermore more

Kids love rainbows! Image: digitalart /

In my opinion, being childlike is actually ideal. In fact, various religions promote being childlike — Buddhism for one, and even Christianity with that whole “faith like a child” thing. People who are childlike are definitely fun, but also calming, innocent, and interesting.

People who are childish are not.

So here’s a list of the childlike (traits we like in children) and the childish (traits we hate in children). Check off which ones you’re showcasing at any given moment, and decide for yourself if you’re being one or the other. (If you’re being childish, you might try working on being more childlike.)

CHILDLIKE: Boundless curiosity. People who are childlike never quit asking questions about the world around them. They want to know why things are the way they are, how things work, and where things go, and every answered question leads to a million new ones. It’s a purely innocent desire to know the truth, rather than the more adult drive to prove someone else wrong.

CHILDISH: Inability to comprehend. Have you ever watched a kid just NOT get something, over and over? Something so easy to understand, like gravity or liquid volume, and yet somehow the kid just can’t change their worldview enough to grasp it. The kid has an excuse — it takes time to learn certain things, and there are stages of development. Adults, however, don’t have that excuse — we’re all capable of comprehension and learning, but many of us just avoid it. Being stuck in your own worldview with absolutely no curiosity to learn anything new is a very boring problem to have.

CHILDLIKE: Unselfconsciousness. If you ever get a chance to see really little kids (I’m talking 4-year-olds or younger) performing at a dance recital or musical, take that chance and treasure it. Kids have absolutely no concept of how dumb they look doing something, so they’ll just do it, right along with the rest of the group, as best they can. They’ll wear whatever costume you put on them and just give it a whirl.  They’ll sing their hearts out, even though it’s all off key and off beat. Childlike adults don’t care what other people think — they do what they do without batting an eyelash, whether it’s sing karaoke, wear bright colors, or dance at a wedding. They don’t care how they look; they care that they’re having fun and trying.

CHILDISH: Crippling fear. When I was about eight years old, my grandfather took my sister and I to a haunted house fundraiser for the local high school. After he’d paid our entry fee, we started to go in… and I just couldn’t. Even though I knew rationally this was a fun house built by teenagers, I couldn’t bring myself to walk through it, for fear of what lay ahead. You watch children be afraid of jumping in the pool or riding a bike and you think how much of their lives they’ll miss out on if they don’t get over that. Childish adults are crippled by this kind of fear — fear of rejection, fear of the future, fear of commitment, fear of the unknown, and even though they could probably rationally talk themselves out of it, they just can’t seem to do it.

CHILDLIKE: Selflessness. Sometimes children do the most selfless things ever, without even thinking about an impending reward. As babies, they flirt with you just to see your reaction. They share everything they have, offering you the food in their hands, just to see what happens. This is partnered with their lack of self-conciousness to make them utterly charming.

CHILDISH: Lack of empathy. Young children actually have no concept of another’s feelings or sentience, and so they can be completely, destructively selfish. They throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. Kids grow out of it. Adults with no empathy readily engage in similar tantrums over not getting what they want. These are the road ragers, the guy yelling at the old man in the TSA line at the airport for not taking off his shoes, the impatient asshole in line behind you at the coffee shop. No empathy, no patience, completely childish and unbearable.

CHILDLIKE: Making everything a game. Kids just want to have fun, and therefore, they will find the fun in anything. Even in the absence of video games or technological gadgets, kids will pick up sticks, leaves, and dirt to play with, or just invent an imaginary kingdom all to themselves. They play all the time. And they laugh at everything. Childlike adults find the humor in things, and will invent fun if none exists around them.

CHILDISH: Being bored. Kids who are used to being stimulated all the time often complain of being bored. Without a video game console in front of them, they suddenly lack the imagination to make up a game of their own, and they whine about it. Adults who get bored are often similarly incapable of finding stimulation within themselves. Sometimes old adages are true: only the boring get bored.

CHILDLIKE: Honesty, at the risk of sounding or looking stupid. Kids who admit they don’t know something, or don’t like something, or feel sad about something, are awesome. Adults who aren’t afraid of being honest are similarly awesome. Honesty about feelings is probably most lacking in our adult society — whether it’s love, hate, fear, or sadness we’re feeling, we often won’t express it.

CHILDISH: Lying to hide something embarrassing or incriminating. Little kids who deny that they’ve done something, even though it’s obvious to everyone around them that they did it, are vexing. Adults who do it go to jail most of the time. People who can’t own up to their mistakes just get into more trouble in the long run.

So, dear readers, what goes on your lists of childlike vs childish behavior?



Reader T. M. writes:

I have been accused lately of being too vain. What can I do to stop this?

Dear T.M.:

I have several suggestions on curbing vanity. While none of these things will actually help with the vanity inherent in your personality, it may strike a blow or two to your ego, or at least convince you to care about other things for a while. Self-absorption tends to be the issue people have with vain folks, so focusing your attention outside your own looks is your best bet.

so vain.

Image: Ambro /

Being vain isn’t necessarily the worst flaw in the world, either. While it is associated with being cocky or self-centered, vanity tends to make people take care of themselves. And people who take care of themselves can be rather nice to look at, if nothing else.

Nevertheless, if you feel as though you need to change, then I have a few ideas.

Some of these suggestions are things over which you will have no control. I’ll start with the ones you DO have control over:

Get a really bad haircut. If you’re a young woman, shave your head, or just cut it really short. If you’re a guy… just get something awful. Not stylish-awful like a mullet. I mean like a bowl cut.

Do something you’re really bad at as a hobby. Bad at languages? Take a class in something that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet — like Greek or Chinese or Russian. Not sporty? Join a sports league. If you are sporty, join a volleyball or softball team that always loses. Bad singer? Start going to karaoke religiously. Sing in front of strangers til they boo you off the stage.

Start riding your bike everywhere. You’ll be sweaty and gross all the time. You won’t be able to wear cute clothes or shoes, and bike gear is always ugly. Plus, if you’re new to it, you’ll be falling down in front of people. A lot.

Get rid of all the mirrors in your house. You don’t have to throw them out or sell them, but hide them. Try going a week without looking at yourself. (This is extremely difficult — there are mirrors everywhere.)

Do some seriously gritty charity work. I don’t mean charity fundraising or walking the dogs at the animal shelter. I mean the ugly, hard work — cleaning toilets, cleaning out the cages at the animal shelter, picking up trash on the freeway, painting over graffiti. The stuff that doesn’t get you accolades. The stuff that’s really difficult and messy that no one else wants to do.

– Apply to jobs that are just out of your qualification zone and ask for too much money. They’ll turn you down, and they won’t say it was because of the money. You can just assume it’s because they found you lacking in every aspect of your existence.

Really pay attention to how people react to you. Your friend that accused you of being too vain may not be the only person who finds your behavior annoying.

Things over which you have little to no control:

Get hives. Big ones. Big itchy ones that you can’t stop scratching. Not only will you be terribly uncomfortable, but people will think you’re probably contagious. If you know what you’re allergic to, roll around in it. Otherwise, just wait for the plague to strike.

Get acne. Same thing as hives, only less itchy. Just uncomfortable. You can probably achieve this by not washing your face very often.

Get turned down in several romantic opportunities. Sure, this is unpredictable, but you can have a part in it. Make advances on people you know are way out of your league, especially if it’s intellectually or based on appearances. When they turn you down, ask them why, and hope they actually bother to let you know.

Come down with a really serious illness. I’m talking the kind that puts you in the hospital for weeks and leaves you all skin and bones. Obviously, this will make you realign your priorities.

Okay, you probably don’t have to go to such extremes to conquer vanity. Simply being aware of your vanity can help you at least get it under control. But if you want to go all out, do a combination of any of the above and see where your head’s out a few months later.


the highly sensitive person

Reader S. I. writes:

I have a friend who freaks out about everything, and it’s really starting to bother me. She takes everything really personally. Like, one of our friends got her email address wrong in an email about a girls night out, so she didn’t hear about it until I forwarded the email, and then she said she didn’t think she was really invited, so she wasn’t going to go. Stuff like this happens all the time. What can I do?

Dear S.I.:

I understand the frustration you feel. It sounds to me like your friend is a Highly Sensitive Person, and the bad news is: if it really annoys you, there’s not much you can do about it, beyond leaving the friendship altogether.

The good news is, you can be aware of what’s going on, and maybe clue her in, too.

A Highly Sensitive Person is someone who exhibits traits of higher sensitivity than others. (Kinda’ obvious from the title, I think.) It’s not a diagnosis of  mental illness, it’s not on the autism spectrum, and it’s not caused by eating too much gluten, so don’t get too excited. It’s a personality trait that some scientists estimate 1 out of every 5 people is born with. Your friend was born this way.


Image: Naito8 /

HSPs tend to take things more personally than others, and many HSPs are also shy. However, the sensitivity doesn’t just center on their personal interactions; they also tend to be sensitive to physical stimuli, like noise, light, and even caffeine. HSPs get overwhelmed easily because for some reason, they are more sensitive to what’s going on than many of the people around them. If your friend is an HSP, she can’t help “over-reacting” — her sensitive nature just processes stimuli differently, and she honestly feels like your other friend left her out of the email chain on purpose.

As someone who is apparently HSP herself, I can tell you that it kind of sucks. I am often convinced that people don’t like me because of flippant comments, or how they react to my blog, and I don’t respond well to teasing. It’s embarrassing sometimes how personally I take things. Also, I can’t have more than one cup of coffee in the morning, because I get shaky and can’t sleep at night. I also get overstimulated by jack hammers in the street, loud parties, barking dogs, and screaming babies. It makes me feel really impatient and kind of ridiculous. I’m aware of what’s going on, but there’s not much I can do about it other than accept that it’s happening, and/or try to escape into a dark, quiet room.

However, there are benefits to being an HSP. People who have this trait tend to be more aware of nuances around them, and are great hosts at parties because they know exactly what someone else would need to feel comfortable. HSPs are also deeply moved by music, theatre, and art, which is kind of a bonus. We’re supposedly a bit more empathic, too; I’ll bet when your friend isn’t freaking out over some misunderstanding, she’s one of the best friends you’ve got.

Your friend probably has no idea that she’s an HSP. The best thing you can do for her is understand her condition yourself, and be a little forgiving. You can also let her know you think she may be HSP. Send her a link to an article about it, like The Highly Sensitive Person. (NB: She will probably be upset that you felt you had to send her a link about her behavior, but that will pass.) Let her read up on it, and if she can be more self-aware about it, she may be able to pick up on when she’s being over sensitive, and at least temper her reactions in a more positive manner. Why don’t both of you take the self-test and see where you land?

If you don’t think you can handle her sensitive nature, you may need to cool things in the relationship. It’s not your job to make her personality change, and if you are still annoyed with her even after you know what her condition is and have talked to her about it, maybe you two weren’t meant to be friends. That doesn’t make either of you bad people. Sometimes you can’t be friends with everyone.

Hopefully you can both come to terms with her sensitivity, and enjoy a less frustrating friendship.


working out together

Reader W. H. writes:

Got any tips for working out with a significant other?

Dear W.H.:

Working out together seems like a great idea, and to some extent, it is — you are motivating each other, and that is awesome. But the fact is, matching your physical fitness goals with a partner you’re romantically invested in is actually hard. Personally, I hate working out with people, even if I am head over heels in love with them. The only person I’ve ever felt comfortable working out with was my twin sister. Since she lives over 2,000 miles away from me, I typically go to the gym alone and that is it.

working out

C'mon, babe, it'll be fun! Image: Ambro /

The fact is, we often fall in love with or at least date people who are not our “equals”, physically, mentally, or otherwise. Even if you’re both interested in physical fitness, chances are you don’t bench press the same amount, dance at the same level, or have the same ability to throw or catch a football. These latter aspects are things we tend to look for in a gym partner, not a life partner. This is fine — you probably don’t have the same work skills as your partner, either. Even if you work in the same office. Exact sameness is just not a priority for most humans.

Most of the couples I know who do go to the gym with their BF or GF split up to do their own things upon arrival — she hits the elliptical, he hits the bench press. I know a couple wherein the lady is a marathon runner and the dude is a body builder. They go to each other’s competitions to support each other, but don’t work out together.

That’s probably my top advice for you: go to the gym together and agree to meet up after an hour or so. You get all the benefits of having someone to spur you into working out without all the hang ups of working out with someone who is not your physical fitness match.

But there are definitely those couples who kiss each other between bicep sets, and talk to each other while they’re doing their abs. And there are those couples who run together. And I’m sure you can think of several couples who play tennis together or ride bikes together or whatever else. So it’s possible.

If you really want to work out with your partner, doing the same types of physical exertion, there are a few things I’d suggest you consider first.

What kind of workout are you looking for? For certain types of workouts, you need to have pretty much the same skills to workout with a partner. Running, swimming, hiking, biking, tennis… most two-person sports, etc., all fall into this category. My boyfriend runs a six-minute mile; I take twice that long. While we still run together from time to time, I often send him off ahead while I wheeze behind, because my lack of stamina doesn’t need to ruin his workout. If you and your partner don’t run at the same  speed or have a similar backhand, I would recommend going to the gym. At the gym, you can get on treadmills next to each other and run at different paces without losing each other, or lift different weights while still communing together. You could also join a sports team together, and play softball, kickball, or volleyball without having to be matched.

How similar are your workout goals? The biggest part of this component to consider is whether or not one of you actually doesn’t want to work out at all. In which case, dragging them to the gym will be futile. Don’t even bother. In order to work out at all, a person has to be willing to do so, period.

But there are subtler aspects to this question, too, though. If one of you is trying to slim down and the other is trying to bulk up, you could be slightly at odds. Diet and hormones have a lot of say in how our bodies look in the end, but people who are trying to lose weight tend to do more cardio and people who are trying to bulk up tend to do more bodybuilding. If your goals are similar, it’s a piece of cake; if your goals are different, you’re going to have to figure out a compromise — cardio one day, weight lifting the next, yoga together, spin class, etc.  Honestly, any type of exercise is good exercise, so unless you’re both really serious about your different goals, working out together shouldn’t be that hard.

Do you have matching levels of knowledge about the workout? Maybe she knows more about weights; maybe he knows more about cardio. Or vice versa. If you’re both pretty well-matched, then you can workout at the same things together (albeit at different levels, probably). Or you can take turns teaching each other about your specialty. I also like the idea of signing up for a class that doesn’t necessarily require a certain level of knowledge about the exercise. For instance, many yoga classes tend to have beginners and experts all mixed together, or spin classes give you your individual bike to work out on. This can help you vary your workout and broaden your love for your partner. Or it can make you hate each other endlessly. Which brings me to…

How patient are you with each other? This is actually the biggest part about working out with anyone. If you really cannot sit and wait for someone to understand something, or finish something, or do something right, you really shouldn’t be working out with them, even if you are so in love you can’t go anywhere without each other. How do you know if you’re capable of patience? Ask yourself the following:

– Do I ever feel the urge to hurt someone who I think is driving too slowly in traffic, has cut me off, or is otherwise inconveniencing my daily commute? (Or: Do I ever have road rage, even if I am not willing to admit it’s actually road rage?)

– Do I ever get unstoppably angry while standing in line?

– Do senior citizens and/or children annoy me? 

If your answer to any of the above questions is “yes”, I would not recommend you try to teach your spouse a workout routine, or how to play tennis, or how to pitch a baseball. Definitely split up when you head to the gym, even if you are similarly matched in terms of goals, knowledge, and fitness. Save yourselves. Love is not a salve for personality flaws. You might as well minimize them rather than exacerbate them in front of the person you ostensibly want to share your life with.

But if your answers to the above questions were no, then your ability to help your partner at the gym, or to accept their tips on your workout, might not be that big of a problem. Go ahead and run together, swim together, or lift weights together.

And lest we forget: there are other types of exercise that don’t involve leaving the house. Or the bedroom. If ya’ get my meaning. You can always just focus on making that aspect of the relationship a little bit more… intense.


girlfriend is getting fat

Reader F. G. writes:

My girlfriend is getting fat. What can I do?

Dear F.G.:

Holy loaded question, Batman! That’s quite a lot to take on. First, I have to address a few, ehm, political issues.

Let’s start with the term “FAT”. This is such a weird word in our culture. It means “big”, it means “unhealthy”, it means “ugly”, it means “having mass”… I have to wonder which of these your girlfriend is becoming. Is she just getting bigger? Is she becoming unhealthy? Are you concerned because she’s becoming unattractive to you? Or because you’re worried she’s going to come to irreversible harm?

As you probably know, our culture is obsessed with being thin. Regardless of how much we rail on about the harmful effects of anorexia and bulimia, or how many of those Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” commercials we see, we still live in a more fat-phobic society than one that celebrates actual health. We equate being thin with being attractive, even though “skinny” girls are often in just as much (if not more) trouble than “fat” ones.

Therefore, saying your girlfriend is “getting fat” makes me want to punch you in the face. Given the weight we give that word (haha, pun intended) in our culture, the fact that you would use that word to describe your girlfriend makes me feel like you’re probably a crappy boyfriend to begin with. Don’t ever talk about a girl getting fat if you care about her. Period. We have enough issues with media-inspired self-loathing; we don’t need help from our (supposedly human) boyfriends.


Size isn't always a good indicator of health. Image: Michal Marcol /

But we must talk about the real obesity epidemic in our country. Yes, lots (if not most) people are overweight in our great nation, and few are doing anything to stop it — i.e. exercising and eating better. It’s just so easy to get cheap, fast food and sit on your butt in front of the TV all day.

Being overweight also means someone is generally much more likely to get life-threatening diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, etc. Extra weight can also harm joints and cause other mechanical problems. So while it’s dangerous to encourage girls to hate their bodies and be thin, it’s equally dangerous to let them think it’s okay to be unhealthy and overweight.

As a real, loving boyfriend, you are allowed to care about your girlfriend’s weight as a health issue. I’ll give you that much.

Now let’s decide if your girlfriend really has an issue, or if you’re just being a shallow jerk.

I have a love-hate relationship with the National Institute of Health’s Body Mass Index, because it doesn’t always work. This is because people are individuals, and not numbers, so being “average” doesn’t actually mean anything. Many of my friends who are more in shape than anyone I’ve ever met weigh a lot (muscle weighs more than fat, FYI), and thus have a BMI that is a bit too high for their height. The BMI doesn’t take your fat percentage, cardio fitness, or muscle mass into account, so it’s not always totally useful.

Still, if you look at the BMI calculator, you’ll see that a “normal” weight is about 40 lb. in any direction for a given height. For instance, for my height (5′ 7″), I can be anywhere between 118-160 lbs and still be “normal”. That’s a pretty big range. So if your GF is just gaining weight, she could still be in a healthy range, technically. And you’ve got nothing to worry about (beyond your awful fat phobia).

Basically, what I’m saying is, if she’s just gotten a bit bigger over time (perfectly natural as girls age), or maybe she’s going through a rough patch and is just gaining a bit of weight as part of it, my advice is for you to change your attitude about “fat”. Girls gain weight. It happens. If it’s not life-threatening for her or isn’t part of an unhealthy lifestyle change (maybe it’s just her metabolism, or she’s on a new medication), then you need to just be emotionally supportive. If it’s just a few pounds, she’ll probably lose them once her life gets back to normal anyway.

A friend of mine once asked what he could do about the fact that his GF was getting cellulite. I told him to dump her and find a new GF if it bothered him, but good luck because we all (at least 80-90% of us) have cellulite. Girls who don’t have cellulite are either extremely lucky, or have been subjected to unnatural surgery (gods bless ’em). I told him to deal with the fact that girls get dimpled skin on their asses as they age, or get over having a normal, healthy girlfriend.

I offer you the same advice, if you’re just over-reacting to an increasing number on your girlfriend’s bathroom scale. Deal with it. Or be shallow and date a 19-year-old until she starts gaining weight, at which point you can just repeat the process eternally and never have to be emotionally mature or deal with a real, human girlfriend who has imperfections.

If, however, you are really concerned because your girlfriend has picked up some unhealthy lifestyle habits, then I will gladly offer you some better advice.

1. Don’t be the pot calling the kettle black. Chances are, if your girlfriend is eating poorly, you are, too. One of the hardest components of a weight-loss plan is that our closest friends and relatives hold us back by offering us cake, candy, cookies, and cheeseburgers. Maybe you have the exact same (crappy) diet as your GF, and she’s just got a less hyper metabolism (tends to be the case in women vs. men). If you want her to be healthier (and possibly thinner), you’re going to have to commit to it, too. Anything you ask her to do, you’ve got to be willing to do right alongside her.

2. Talk frankly with her about your concern for her health. Notice I said health, and not weight. Screw the numbers, screw the BMI, screw the cellulite or muffin tops. Tell her you want her to be happy and healthy, period. Make sure you’re not accusing her of being a fatty, or of being unattractive, or of any of the other fears we girls fall prey to when we’re gaining weight. Have a discussion with her, meaning listen to her side of things. I’m guessing she knows she’s been gaining weight. She’s probably less happy about it than you are. Work with her to come up with a plan for helping her out.

3. Help her set goals. Like most mammals, human beings train really well if there’s a reward system in place. Sometimes, looking and feeling better is a reward unto itself, but that can take a long time to take effect. If she’s not going to become more healthy merely for her health’s sake, she’s going to need something to strive for that will actually motivate her. My sister and her husband had a trick where if she made a fitness goal (lifting a certain amount of weight, running a certain distance in a certain amount of time, etc. — NOT losing weight), she got a present, like a pair of boots she really wanted or a new dress. Make the goals reasonable, of course; if she’s very over weight right now, shedding pounds may be an easy goal to accomplish in a few weeks’ time, as weight loss is always easier at the start of a training regimen. A great idea is to make her promise to eat 5 vegetables a day for a week, and if she accomplishes this, at the end of the week she gets a non-healthy treat, like ice cream. This limits her intake of unhealthful food by making it a reward rather than a right, and pushes her to replace the unhealthy food with good stuff during the week.

4. Be supportive. In every aspect of the word: emotionally, physically, spiritually. Do research for her on new workouts or recipes. Volunteer to cook meals. Pack her lunch. Buy her a new pair of running shoes or a set of exercise clothes. Sign up for a gym and go with her every night, or take her out for a walk before dinner. Listen to how she feels. (Pro-tip: that’s what makes a good BF in the first place.) Don’t ever tell her she looks fat, and don’t rail on about your disappointment if she misses a goal. Losing weight and being healthy can sometimes take tough love, but she should get that from a trainer, and not her boyfriend. She needs real love from you.

So, there you go. Godspeed, amigo.


how not to be a tease (for the ladies)

Reader F. T. writes:

There has been a rash of guys lately who told me I’ve been leading them on. I haven’t been dishonest with them, but apparently they’re getting the wrong idea. What should I do differently?

Dear F.T.:

As ladyfolk, we are often less direct than we probably ought to be, especially with the malefolk. It’s kind of a double-bind issue: we’re taught not to be demanding or rude, but then when we’re indirect, we get called out for being “passive-aggressive” or “leading someone on”. There’s a fine line between “nice” and “too nice”. Furthermore, we’re afraid of being “overly aggressive” or “unladylike”. This is why we often don’t get what we want.

My best advice: be direct with the men and they’ll appreciate it.

My next best advice: Trust your gut. Know what you want. Do not settle. Half the time, we’re being teases because we just can’t make up our minds. So make up your mind, lady. Do it.

Oh, sure, telling them you’re not interested will hurt their their feelings. But it won’t be a long, drawn-out affair, which is what leading someone on is all about. If you just tell them you’re not interested from the get-go, everyone will be better off in the long run.


Sometimes it's good to be a tease. Image: bk images /

Of course, I do understand that you may not know you’re not interested until you’re on the second or third date. I’ve been there. It happens. This why I advise that you drop him after the first date if there aren’t the sparks you’re looking for. Yes, some people have a longer courtship ritual than the rest of us, but that won’t stop chemistry from getting through, even if you’re not kissing or holding hands. As the cliché goes, you know when you know. If you don’t know, then it’s a no.

Here are a few examples of times you can stop yourself before things get too hairy:

Scenario 1: He wrote you a message on an online dating service. You go to his profile, and things look fine, but you find out he’s got some trait that is a dealbreaker for you (e.g. he smokes, he has kids, he plays MMORPGs, whatever it is you swore you would never date again).

DO: Write him back and tell him you’re sorry but you don’t think it’d work out. You don’t have to tell him why.

DO NOT: Write him back a really long, flirtatious email to get his interest going, and then end it with: “BUT this-trait-you-have is a dealbreaker for me, so sorry.”

DO NOT: Waver on your dealbreakers. Dealbreakers are black and white. They may change over time, but if you know you can’t stand a guy who smokes, don’t agree to go on a date with him just to remind yourself of that fact. That makes you a tease. Once again, if you know from the very beginning you’re not going to be interested in anything further with a guy, you are technically leading him on if you pretend it’s going to be okay. Trust your gut.

Scenario 2: He’s kissed you after a second date and you just didn’t feel it.

DO: Write him an email the next day thanking him for the nice time but telling him that you don’t think it’s going to work out.

DO NOT: Agree to a third date with him. Or agree to a date with him and then cancel later. Or agree to a third date and then let him kiss you goodnight again.

Scenario 3: You’re in a monogamous FWB relationship. You’re allowed to date other guys, but you’re probably not going to be sleeping with any of them.

DO: Tell your prospective dates that this is the case right off the bat. By not telling them, you’re being a bad polyamorist. The first tenet of true, ethical polyamory is complete disclosure with all involved parties.

DO NOT: Go on three dates with the guy, allow him to give you a massage, let him kiss you goodnight, and then tell him via IM the next day that you’re already getting all your sexual needs filled by someone else but thanks for dinner. I can almost guarantee that he will not be pleased.

Scenario 4: You’re at a bar or club and this dude you’re not into asks for your number.

DO NOT: Give him your number.

DO: Tell him you’re not interested. You can do this nicely. If he doesn’t get it, and bothers you, and is noticeably drunk, you have every right to ask a bouncer to help you tell him you’re not interested.
NB: I have in the past advocated getting a drink from him and THEN telling him you’re not interested. But if you’re working on not being a tease, I wouldn’t advocate this in your case. Remember: We’re trying to teach you how to be direct.

Scenario 5: After a few dates, you decide you’d really rather be friends.

DO: Tell him you would really rather be friends.

DO NOT: Expect him to be okay with this or want to talk to you ever again. If he falls off the face of the planet, let him go. Do not pester him or invite him to your next event or write stuff on his Facebook wall. Do not text him telling him how great you think he is. Leave him alone.

UPDATE: LAST SCENARIO: You’ve told a guy you’re not interested and he writes you a mean, nasty email telling you you’re ugly or stupid or whatever. Or he calls to beg for you back. Or any number of things he could do to try and save face.

DO NOT: Respond. Block him on the social networking sites you have if you have to. Do not answer his phone calls.

DO: Let him have the last word. You’re being a better person by not teasing, so don’t let him drag you down.

Now, dear readers, feel free to share your stories of being led on, and let us know how you dealt with it.


great hair

Reader H. C. writes:

I would like to have great hair. What do you suggest I do?

Dear H.C.:

Well, that’s an open-ended question if I ever read one. But here are a few tips for having, as you call it, “great hair”:

1. Get a good stylist.

There is a huge difference between a $10 haircut and a $30 haircut. It may sound snobby and uneconomical, but it’s true. Unless you happen to be one of those lucky people who knows a girl who studied at beauty school and just gives her talents away to friends for kicks, you’re going


Probably not a good idea to do this. Image: graur razvan ionut /

to have to shell out for a great haircut. Furthermore, you’re going to have to shop around to find the stylist that’s right for you, and keep going back to that stylist for as long as you possibly can. And it’ll probably cost you more money than you’d pay at SuperCuts. This is not to say there aren’t great stylists at SuperCuts. There are diamonds in every rough. And not to say just because you pay more for a haircut, it’s going to be super awesome. My best advice? When you see a girl who’s got the look you want, ask her where she gets her hair did. She’ll probably be thrilled to tell you, and I’ll bet her stylist will give her a price break for the reference if you’re nice enough to bring it up. Don’t just keep going to someone because you’ve heard they were good, either; if you don’t like what they’re doing to your hair, find someone new.

2. Get good hair products.

This doesn’t necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg, but the cheap shampoo at Walgreens isn’t necessarily the best thing for your scalp. There are many who argue shampoo in general is bad news bears, and will tell you how to wash your hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar. It’s really just that easy, actually — you lather up with some baking soda and apple cider vinegar and wash it out. Gets the oil out. May not smell as nice as your Herbal Essences Floral Orgasm, but you can always put some lavender oil on the tips. Also, this route apparently takes a few days to work, so you may have some oil leftovers for a while. If you’re not up for the hippy dippy route, there are good shampoos out there that won’t dry out your hair. Most salon products tend to be a notch above drugstore, and some of them won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Ask your trusted stylist what she thinks you need.

3. You don’t have to wash and style your hair every day.

This depends entirely on your hair type, oil production, how often you dye or style your hair, the climate in which you live, and how much you sweat or exercise on a given day, but don’t be afraid to let the locks go without shampoo for a day (or two!). We of the west tend to over do it on the cleaning products on our bodies. You’re supposed to produce some oil, so let your body do its job to your hair. In fact, I like to give my ‘do an olive oil treatment every once in a while, especially in the winter. I just rub some into the ends (or my scalp if I’m feeling extra sassy) and give it a night to soak in. Extra shiny! If your locks do get greasy in between washings, it may be because you’re stripping the oil out by washing it too much and your scalp is overcompensating. Try a dry or waterless shampoo (you can even make your own! [link via]).

4. Cut early, cut often.

Even if you’re growing your hair out, it’s a good idea to get a trim. For shorter hair styles (e.g. dudes), I recommend once every three to four weeks to maintain a shape; for longer hair, six weeks is a good timeline. If you are dyeing your hair, you’re going to have to keep up those roots — four to six weeks minimum for a re-dye job. Otherwise you’ll look, as my mother says, “tacky”.

Now I know I’ve got some stylists among my readership. Got any tips you wanna’ share?


too much time at the watering hole?

Reader M.S. writes:

My problem is my favorite hangout. As a freelance writer, I don’t work in an office and I could work whenever and whereever that I want. I just feel that I am spending too much time at my hangout. Now, like I said, I’m still very productive and I have not gotten any backlash at all, so they have no problem with me using their wi-fi. It’s just that I am there five days and 20 hours a week. I have not been blessed with a lot of friends in my (soon to be) 30 years of life and to find a group of people that respect me and see me as a friend (at least some of them do) has been something that has been very refreshing for me. I guess my question is: is there anything wrong with hanging out in a resturant/bar (I sit at the bar because I am friends with a couple of the bartenders, but I don’t drink) for so much time? I like to think I’m a smart, unique individual, but I am still going to ask if this is okay. I’d feel a lot better if I was wasting time in a library or Starbucks, rather than Hooters, even if I would be doing the same thing no matter where I was. The other thing about this is that I take the subway to get there because I live in a different borough than where the resturant is, so it’s not like I could pop in after work for 30 minutes and then leave, I kind of have to stay for an hour or two at least to justify the trip.

So am I worrying about something that I should not be worried about, because I do have other problems like getting writing gigs and how I’m going to make money as a freelance writer. Or should I try to find other hobbies and split my time more? At this point, I’m either at home, at a computer lab at Brooklyn College or this place. Is that bad?

Dear M.S.:

I’m going to quote Hamlet on this one: Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, 250-251)

old man on a computer

You can stay home to do work when you're old. Image: Maggie Smith /

I say if you’re enjoying yourself and you’ve found a nice group of people, there is no problem going somewhere regularly to do your work, even somewhere like Hooters. Even if you don’t drink. Even if you’re opposed to ogling amply-busted women. If none of these issues is keeping you from going to your favorite hang out, then going there is more positive for you than not going there.


But if you’re really having trouble with it, maybe you do need to find somewhere else to hang out. What I mean is, if you’re thinking it’s bad, it’ll be bad.

I’ve talked about this before, but in linguistics we talk about the difference between prescribed rules and described rules. Prescribed rules are the ones that we enforce on language; the grammar our second grade teachers push into our heads so that we write well. (Like using “well” instead of “good” in that last sentence. That’s prescribed.) Described rules are those that you come up with if you just sit back and listen; the actual rules people use when they’re not thinking about it and are just talking. When you’re not applying prescribed rules, the described rules that you naturally follow can be quite different.

I find the same is true in the rest of life. Prescribed rules say nice girls don’t sleep with a guy on the first date. Prescribed rules say guys who don’t drink shouldn’t hang out at bars. Described rules say otherwise.

Take a look at the rules you’re holding yourself to and decide if they’re really the rules you believe in. Are you really the type of guy who hangs out at libraries? Apparently not. Is there anything wrong with being the guy who uses the Wi-Fi at Hooters? Survey says: no.

Ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable with the issue in the first place. Is it your social image? Is it rules your parents taught you? Is it comments from friends or family? Are you spending more money than you’re making?

If you can reconcile your feelings of inclusion and love (yep, having people know your name somewhere is love) with your feelings of moral or financial obligation or whatever else is going on in your head, then you’re okay.

You can look for freelance work anywhere. You and I both know that’s true. You might as well enjoy yourself while you do it. As long as your work isn’t suffering, there’s nothing wrong happening here.

I say, since you’re a writer, write down how you feel. Do a pros and cons list. Figure out just what it is that’s bothering you so much about this and either come to terms with it or let it keep you from going back. (Apparently, it’s not so far, so my guess is it’s not really that big of a deal to you.)

If you just need outside assurance that what you’re doing is okay, here it is: Kat Cox says it’s okay. Hooters is not a bad place unless you think it is. Hell, I’m not one to draw lines in the sand about these sorts of things, but if you have to, tell yourself the following:

It’s not a strip club. You’re not doing anything illegal. You’re not getting into trouble. You’re getting work done. You’re fulfilling your social needs. You’re stimulating the economy. And who knows, you might just be making somebody’s day.

As far as finding other hobbies goes, yes, you should probably find some other hobbies eventually. I think everyone should have myriad hobbies. I know it’s cold in Brooklyn right now, but once the spring hits, you should find some social team to be a part of that’ll get you outside of your house (and Hooters). There are lots of things to do in NYC.

Plus, any place gets old after a while. The group dynamic at your bar will change somehow. Your favorite bartenders may leave or move on. Someone new may come in that you can’t stand. It happens. You’re probably going to find a new place to go, too, eventually. Just be prepared for that.

But for the time being: you’re doing just fine.



new year’s resolutions

Reader B.A. asks:

What are your resolutions for the new year?

Dear B.A.:

making the resolutions

Image: nuttakit /

I generally abhor the seemingly arbitrary process of making new year’s resolutions, mostly because I think they’re a great way to set yourself up to fail.

Of course, the new year is a fine time to try and change specific things about your life, even if it’s just for a month. I do enjoy any chance to attempt to make myself a better person, arbitrary or not. Add a chance to write that down somewhere and okay, fine, I’ll make a few.

So here, for your enjoyment, are my New Year’s Resolutions:

Stand up for myself.

I’m not saying I’ve had people attack me or anything; I mean this as something that goes on inside my head. This is a concerted effort to know what I’m worth, what my ideas are worth, and believe it. It also means that I’ll stand up for myself even if someone hasn’t put me down. This means asking for things when I need them, or even just when I want them. It means not apologizing for doing the things I feel I need to do, even if it’s not what nice girls do. It may make me feel conniving or cut-throat, but that’s only until I get used to it. (Guys live like this all the time!)

Find my self-worth in myself rather than others.

This is a hard one to quantify, but as a girl, I’ve found it’s very easy to gauge my self-worth based entirely on how (I think) others perceive me. There are several places this happens: job performance at work, friendships, family, or even just how members of the opposite sex respond to me in public. Being attractive and nice are all fine things, but being happy with yourself is a much deeper enterprise. It’s a hard trap not to fall into, but I just have to learn not to care if anyone else thinks I’m pretty, nice, or funny. Part of it for me is simply looking at the things I feel good about having done, whether they involve other people or not. If I keep a list in my journal, say, I can look back on it when I’m not feeling so great about myself and remember the feeling.

Enjoy the feeling of being hungry.

I don’t mean this is an anorexic, “I’m not eating anymore” kind of way. This is part of a general life-long goal of slowing down and paying attention to my body. We live in the kind of world where food is readily available to us at all times, and going hungry is something we forget how to do. So I’m going to recognize hunger when it strikes me, and allow it to be just a feeling that I can enjoy. (Don’t worry, I’ll still feed myself, too.)

Make mix CDs for my friends.

I used to do this a lot. Seeing as it took me three years to update my iPod, the process has been on hiatus lately. But I’m planning to start it up again. So watch out.

Eat more veggies.

Notice I didn’t say “lose weight” or “be healthier”. I’m simply adding more fruit and veggies to my diet. A couple carrot sticks here, an avocado on my turkey sandwich at lunch… Easy peasy. I may even rejoin the CSA I was part of last year (Los Poblanos Organics), as they’ll deliver a box full of veggies every other week right to my front door. Then I have no excuses — it’s already in the fridge!

I think that’s all I’ve got. Not very deep or particularly interesting, but there you go.

What are yours?

Happy New Year’s dear readers! 🙂

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