Are your dating skills ruining your love life? 4 dumb dating habits to drop.

Most accounts of modern dating describe finding lasting love as more elusive than ever.  Thanks to mobile dating apps, dating has evolved into a finger-swiping game of ‘matching’ with people whose real intention for long-term dating is nearly impossible to determine.  Being an executive and dating coach in the San Francisco Bay Area has given me a front row seat to this phenomenon with an inside view of the good, the bad and the ugly.  The highly competitive tech scene here is also known for having an awkward dating culture where both men and women can develop some dumb habits that thwart their long term relationship goals.  I feel it’s my duty to share them publicly, air out the gender themes I see, and hopefully shed some light on the issue so more people are successful in their dating endeavors.

My clients are bright, healthy, charismatic people who bemoan their dating struggles as real a ‘pain point’ in their life.  In my last article on learned optimism, I outlined the rationale for viewing problems through a positive, solution-focused lens, and how to hold yourself accountable for your role in a problem.  When a client tells me “I’d like to meet someone and settle down into a long-term relationship but I’m having a tough time finding them.”  I’ll ask “What strategies are you using to meet eligible people?  Tell me, what are you currently doing to build a long-term relationship with someone?”  This is when the storyline starts to reveal dating habits that can be major roadblocks to developing a lasting romantic relationship.

master-of-none-5.w710.h473A 30 year old male client of mine shared with me how Season 2 of the Netflix hit series Master of None,(episode ‘First Date‘) struck a chord with him.   In this episode, Dev (Aziz Ansari) meets a myriad of women and for various reasons, experiences failure to launch towards a meaningful relationship with any of them.  In 2015, Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg co-wrote Modern Romance: An Investigation, a book that examined the evolution of dating patterns and coupledom. The concept of ‘overchoice’ in dating, an idea first introduced in Alvin Toffler’s 1971 book Future Shock, and later explored in Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book The Paradox of Choice has become a mainstay in modern dating culture.  Ansari concludes that while having access to more potential mates might be enjoyable up front, it eventually makes the process of choosing and investing in someone much harder, and can ultimately lead to less romantic fulfillment.

Dumb dating habit #1:  Going on a never-ending cycle of first dates, waiting for that ‘love at first sight’ feeling to signal when it’s time to finally pursue someone for a long term relationship.

First impressions are often not a good predictor of who’ll be a good fit for a long term relationship.  In my observation, guys need to take initiative and figure out how to emotionally invest in the process of dating if they want a long term relationship.  A lot of men are stuck in a conundrum when they’re looking for a girlfriend- they feel safer with more options, but more options leads to low emotional investment, which leads to a sense of emptiness, which they fill with more creating more options.  It’s a vicious circle!  Men, start by figuring out what you need to do to care more about the person you’re meeting for a date.

Males are commonly raised to avoid vulnerable emotions, and learn to keep a safe distance from their feelings, especially in matters of the heart.  As a result, they can miss out on developing emotional intimacy with someone because they fail to take an active role in building it.  In movies, men are portrayed as reluctant participants in intimacy – cinematic stereotypes such as the manic pixie dream girl archetype evolved in order to protect masculine identity in the face of falling in love.

REBOOT:  If you don’t work to get inside your feelings and figure out how to genuinely invest in caring about the person sitting across from you, these feelings will not mysteriously emerge on their own.  I know you believe you just haven’t met someone who’s attractive enough, smart/accomplished enough, humble and supportive and interested in YOU enough.  If this storyline is sounding a lot like you, it’s time to see it for what it is – you’ve got to rise to the occasion and take initiative.  Make a real effort to be curious, listen, absorb and relate.  Look at it from an economic perspective- wise investments of all kinds pay off big!

Dumb dating habit #2:  You’re using dating as a way to compete with your friends- in this game the last one to get off the single train wins.  

You’re struggling with choosing someone because you’re too busy rounding out your dating options for more bragging rights with your friends.  A proud 20-something year old guy once told me that he and his male roommates had a world map in their house with colored pushpins in it to represent the countries of origin of women they’d each slept with.  Why?  Because it made them look cool to all their friends, duh!  But do you really want to be the last one who still cares about playing this game?  It’s like you’re that last guy in your middle school friend group who still cares about who has the most/best Pokémon cards.

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Dude at some point, it’s not that crucial anymore!  Eventually, most guys want to be with someone that will stand by them when life gets hard, someone to enjoy private moments with, who will honestly be there for them through the thick and thin of their life.  Meanwhile, do you want to still be scrolling through your phone contacts looking for someone who actually cares about what happens to you? (besides your family!  Not your ex either, she’s probably happily married now with a baby on the way.)

REBOOT:  The price tag for a real relationship is steep, and you need to be willing to pay the price.  Commitment, vulnerability, giving FOMO a grown ass man smack down, and dealing with someone’s shortcomings because they have to put up with yours.  When was the last time you heard of getting something worth having for free?

Dumb dating habit # 3:  Not noticing when your mind magically fills in the blanks in someone’s potential instead of accepting the current reality as it stands.  The problem with this is that your brain gets caught in a vicious cycle of unrealistic expectations.  This can lead to feeling mad and resentful when the person falls short of your version of them. 

Sometimes women can get ahead of themselves while dating, and lose track of the difference between what is reality and what is wishful thinking.  This happens when they fail to notice that someone isn’t demonstrating a consistent investment in getting serious with them.  When you fantasize a million steps ahead about how your next dates will play out together it can lead your brain to believing it should and it will, and then when it inevitably doesn’t, you feel shortchanged and frustrated, but keep hoping things will improve.  Unrealistic expectations can also lead people to cut things off prematurely which is sabotaging your #relationshipgoals.  Confirmation bias  is a form of faulty thinking with plenty of scientific evidence supporting people’s propensity to believe something is true because they would like it to be true. Motivated by wishful thinking, individuals will stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

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REBOOT:  DO NOT GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF. If someone isn’t consistently making an effort to set concrete plans with you, showing a genuine interest in connecting with you, stop giving him your mental attention!  Be ready to harness some discipline because old habits die hard.  You’re perfectly rigorous about keeping your diet paleo, you’re awesome at limiting your drinking to the weekends, but you let your mind go on a wild goose chase over every text thread in your phone!  You know you’re in trouble if the guy inside your head is always more fun to think about then the same guy whose text messages rarely extend beyond 3 words and you never quite know where things stand between the two of you.  Be honest with yourself.  Why would it make sense to want a relationship with someone who’s hot and cold towards you?  Inconsistency and unpredictability beget failure in building anything of value.  Open your eyes to the people who are making it clear they value you and want to spend time with you.

Dumb dating habit # 4:  You over-rely on dating apps and forget that prospective dating partners are everywhere!  Your attention is buried in your phone and you never (ever, ever) initiate conversation with a stranger for social purposes.  

Pretty much everyone is guilty of digital social isolation these days.  You’ve heard this before from those of us who evolved as human beings before the digital era.  By limiting yourself to socializing through online/text consumption you are actually limiting yourself to a communication method with WORSE social aptitude results not BETTER.  The quality of enjoyment, depth of expression and opportunity to build lasting relationships has evolved over billions of years through face to face communication.  Digital communication on the other hand has existed for a fraction of a mili-second and the jury is out if humanity would even survive if we continue to depend on it with today’s enthusiasm.  It’s not that I think people shouldn’t enjoy all the latest dating apps, follow each other on social media for entertainment, ease and efficiency, but aim to keep practicing your real life social skills.  Every single client who’s taken me up on my encouragement in this area has come back glowing with newfound empowerment and shock, really.  Like “I cannot believe I initiated a social conversation with a total stranger (sober, mind you!) AND DIDN’T DIE ON THE SPOT FROM ANGST.  I CAN DO ANYTHING NOW!!!”  YES!  That is the best feeling!

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Follow @nxtlvlgoddess on Instagram to learn about an amazing new community

Thank you for including me as a featured member, founders of Next Level Goddess- a new Instagram community of individuals who inspire, educate, and empower one another.  I look forward to learning more from the group and it’s members, and seeing it flourish and grow!

We're proud to celebrate NLGs who have personally inspired us to be our most splendid selves 👊🏻 Writer, mental health professional, educator and a woman of fierce independence, Dr. Christina Villareal dances to the beat of her own drum. She commits her time to opening the eyes of others to live to their fullest potential. Straying from conventional therapist-client methods, she vulnerably shares and speaks from her own experiences when appropriate. By creating an atmosphere of complete non-judgement, she's helped me see that no one can take control of my narrative without my consent. A goddess through and through, she embodies the belief of sharing the wealth that is the human experience. Her words can be found on DrChristinaVillarreal.com. x Rosa #NLGcommunity #nxtlvlgoddess

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Dr. Christina Villarreal’s Focus on Women’s Sexual Health, Empowerment & Wellness

15 years ago, I completed my doctoral dissertation examining cultural and gender influences of sexual risk behavior among Latino women. For the past 10 years in my clinical practice, I’ve enjoyed helping women embrace their sexuality, overcome obstacles to safe sex practices, and empower themselves for a lifetime of sexual wellness. I’ve served as a Relationship Expert on social media websites like GuysAskGirls.com, and written a range of articles on sex, dating and relationships, with media publications and interviews in popular media sites such as techcrunch.  This week I orchestrated what turned out to be an amazing workshop for nearly 40 women on Navigating Sex, Relationships, and Dating in San Francisco. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to do this important work. Thank you to all those that participated, there will be more to come!  In the coming weeks I will be recruiting a diverse group of men in various stages of their dating life and relationship experience- from single to married.  These men will form an expert panel for an open Q & A session for an audience of Bay Area women who’d like to better understand why guys do what they do!  I will facilitate an honest and respectful dialogue that will surely be insightful, informative and instrumental in improving dating and relationship experiences for all.

Here are a few candid snapshots from the event on May 27th, 2015, we had a great time!

Hosting my first workshop on Women's Sexual Health and Wellness
Hosting my first workshop on Women’s Sexual Health and Wellness
With Rebecca Alvarez of Bodyfeminina- she is a Sexual Wellness Expert and Women's Sexual Health researcher
With Rebecca Alvarez of Bodyfeminina- she is a Sexual Wellness Expert and Women’s Sexual Health researcher
With Dr. Lina Hannigan, a Clinical Health Psychologist practicing in the Bay Area, SF.
With Dr. Lina Hannigan, a Clinical Health Psychologist practicing in the Bay Area, SF.

The Kim Kardashian effect: America’s obsession with beauty

American media has had a long love affair with capturing and promoting images of feminine beauty. While trends in beauty have shifted along with fashion through the decades, one thing remains constant: American women want to keep up. I’ll refer to this pursuit of beauty as ‘The Kim Kardashian Effect’ as a way to describe America’s obsession with beauty. Reality television star Kim Kardashian’s prolific business empire is built predominately around her image. She has successfully leveraged her physical beauty and lifestyle as a means to achieve super stardom and wealth, all possible because millions of people continue to give her their positive (or negative) attention. Tina Fey wittily captures American women’s struggle with increasingly unachievable standards of beauty in her recent autobiography, Bossypants:

“I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes”.

Are American women and men preoccupied with beauty?

Camille Anna Paglia American author, teacher, social critic, and self-described dissident feminist has noted “We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. Beauty is an eternal human value”. Scientific evolutionary research supports the idea that physical symmetry, science’s definition of beauty, is preferred by human and animals because it is equated with a strong immune system. Thus, beauty is indicative of more robust genes, improving the likelihood that an individual’s offspring will survive. This evolutionary theory is supported by research showing that standards of attractiveness are often similar across a wide range of human cultures. So while humans are intrinsically invested in seeking beauty in others and appearing beautiful, how do we strike a healthy balance in how much attention we give to our physical appearance?

At what point does our pursuit of beauty become pathological?

It’s not hard to name the litany of celebrities who’ve made both subtle and dramatic changes to their physical appearance to improve, enhance, preserve, and in some cases overhaul their looks. Celebrities have access and means to hire world-renowned physicians, trainers, dieticians and stylists who, for better or worse, create results that leave lasting impressions on us. Is there a healthy balance of appearance-driven behaviors? From basic hygienic habits, to hair extensions and facial injections, to lengthy daily exercise routines designed to give us celebrity-worthy physiques, how much is too much?

Generally speaking, mental health experts define a given pattern/set of behaviors as ‘pathological’ when those behaviors:

  • deviate markedly from the expectations of the individual’s cultural surroundings
  • are inflexible and pervasive across a broad range of settings/situations
  • lead to clinically significant distress in a person’s life, i.e. financial, social, occupational or other important areas of functioning

At what point does someone meet the criteria for the psychological disorder, ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder‘?

Mental health experts define Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) as a

  • preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance
  • If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person’s concern is markedly excessive
  • This preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (such as dissatisfaction with body size in Anorexia Nervosa).

What types of treatment work best for people displaying symptoms of BDD?

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)- The goal of this treatment is to reduce an individual’s negative thoughts (and associated feelings and behaviors) about their appearance. Patients with BDD hold deeply negative thoughts about their appearance. CBT (using exposure and response prevention) can also effectively treat compulsive rituals that people develop out of anxiety about their appearance. These rituals can include checking themselves in the mirror, seeking reassurance from others, camouflaging the area of concern with cosmetics, clothing or tanning, and planning for surgeries to correct areas of concern. The goal is to “teach clients to challenge the validity and importance of their distorted thoughts about their bodies,” said Tom Corboy, M.F.T., director of theOCD Center of Los Angeles. Patients learn to “restructure their negative thought patterns to be more realistic,” said Sari Fine Shepphird, Ph.D, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist who specializes in BDD and eating disorders.
  • Medication- Research studies demonstrate SSRIs can be effective in helping people manage BDD. These antidepressants—which include Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, Anafranil and Luvox—are also commonly prescribed for depression, OCD and social anxiety disorder, all of which share similarities with BDD.

is another great resource for additional information on managing this disorUnderstanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder: An Essential Guide, Katharine Phillips, M.D., a leading expert on BDD and director of The Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Body Image Program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I. This is a great resource for additional information on managing this disorder.

This article was produced by Dr. Christina Villarreal, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Oakland, CA. For professional inquiries, please visit her website at www.drchristinavillarreal.com

“Fifty shades of Grey”: awakening women’s sexual identities

The wildly popular New York Times bestselling series Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has garnered fans from all walks of life, becoming the fastest selling book of 2012.  The series centers around a young, impressionable woman who falls for a troubled, domineering older man, and aims to find out whether he is capable of love.  This archeotypical tale laden with S&M and bondage stirs Newsweek to explore the notion that modern working women want to be dominated in the bedroom, even in an era where women are overtaking men as America’s breadwinners.

A UK Guardian review proposes that Fifty Shades of Grey thrusts erotica into mainstream media, transforming the way erotic fiction is consumed by the public.  According to the publisher’s data, “gleaned from Facebook, Google searches, and fan sites”, more than half the women reading the book are in their 20s and 30s, in spite of the prevailing stereotype that the largest consumer of this series are middle-aged suburban women, sexually frustrated Twilight fans, or conservatives foraying into adult fiction in search of more palatable sexual fantasy reading material.

Dr. Mehmet Oz  dedicated a recent show to exploring this book series with an audience of women and men who have read them.  EL James “has gotten people talking about sex in a way that no one else could get them to talk about it,” Dr. Oz said from the red carpet of a gala honoring Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the worldDr. Oz included James with the likes of President Barack Obama and Rihanna stating “this book is about people having an honest conversation about what sex should be like, what makes it feel better, what are the timing issues, how do we make it an important issue in our life rather than an afterthought.”

As a clinical psychologist in private practice, a large segment of my psychotherapy patients are young women in their twenties and early thirties.  Like the protagonist in Fifty Shades of Grey, many are struggling to awaken and understand their sexuality  during a developmental time when the goal is often to find and secure a loving life partner.

In my professional opinion, one of the biggest challenges these women face is learning how to cultivate the necessary self-confidence to enjoy sex.  This is a generation that grew up watching Sex in the City, had a wealth of sexual content at their fingertips via the world wide web, and whose favorite musical artists and actors relied upon sexual exposure at younger ages and more heavily then ever before in American history.  Perhaps due to wide-spread sexual overexposure that continues to objectify women, this generation of women continues to struggle with identifying and indulging their sexual desires as did earlier, more sexually conservative generations.

During psychotherapy sessions I conduct with many women, I hear feelings of inadequacy based on pressure to be aesthetically perfect for their partners, or a focus on fulfilling partners’ desires without identifying or communicating their own- all of which which robs them of their ability to truly develop their own unique sexual identity, and discover one of life’s greatest pleasures.  As a clinical psychologist, I use a problem-solving cognitive-behavioral approach to help individuals become more comfortable with the process of awakening and fostering their sexual identity.

What are some treatment recommendations for developing one’s sexual identity?

  • explore (with a mental health professional, peers or through journaling) how cultural, familial, gender and religious norms, values, experiences and biases may have shaped your views of sexual behavior in both positive and negative ways
  • explore the expectations you place upon yourself and others when engaging in sexual behavior- do these these expectations allow for healthy self care? Reciprocity?  Are they realistic?
  • Identify images, fantasies and forms of touch that awaken your desire- what kind of judgment do you place upon them?  How might you gradually increase your comfort level with them in order to fulfill your needs?
  • Are there materials that can support your exploration of the above?  Explore adult novelty websites such as Adam & Eve, or local bay area stores such as Feelmore 510 or Good Vibrations.  Bookstores such as Amazon/Kindle and Barnes & Nobles/Nook are also well equipped with reading material which can be procured discretely.

This article was written by Dr. Christina Villarreal, Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Oakland, California.  For professional inquires contact her at christina.villarreal@gmail.com