Autistic Aloneness: When Coping Mechanisms Go Bad

Navigating in the “normal” world, for a person with Asperger’s, can be difficult, if not downright painful.  The most difficult area for me to handle, personally, is rejection.  While some people with autism or Asperger’s report a reduced desire for human attachment, the reality for many of us is to want it very much, but struggle to achieve it. 

Researchers often call this difficulty to connect with others “autistic aloneness.” Like many people like me, I have learned to mimic social behavior well enough to get along.  I work, have friends, and social relationships…but the real issue comes when things get beyond superficial.  When the very coping mechanisms that get us through surface interactions, not only fail, but cause additional problems.

Intimacy can be a very difficult thing for a person on the spectrum.  Everyday interactions can be “scripted:”

“Hi, how’re you?”
“Fine, how’re you?”
“Just fine, thank you…”

But when you get into the more complex areas of social interactions, it can be very challenging.  By default, people on the autistic spectrum have trouble reading others, and predicting how they will react to things.  This can make for a very jarring life experience.  You can feel like you’re driving down a road blind – and relationships can become very fear based.  If you cannot read other people’s subtle body language, how can you see the problems coming down the pike, until you’ve already collided?  How can you predict what will happen next?

An aspect missed by many mainstream articles and coverage on the subject is this – while those on the autism spectrum have trouble reading so called “normal” people, the reverse is true as well.  Many of the offshoots of the way our minds work can be routinely misinterpreted, leading us to have difficulties in relationships and relatedness to others. 

For example, I am very methodical in how I approach certain things, and I don’t feel safe unless I have looked at the majority of possible barriers I could encounter, and determined how to address them, in advance.  I have had many times in life when I have gone into a situation and badly failed because I was unprepared and froze up.  Especially when social factors are involved, and the outcome is very important, I feel very anxious, even panicked, going into a situation without having done this “prep work.”

The success of my “scripted” approach to the world depends on being prepared for all eventualities.  I don’t show this side to many people, but to those who do see it, can find it very tiring.  In fact, it’s very tiring for me, but the alternative is failing spectacularly.  If not prepared, I am like a computer without the proper programming – because my instincts in these areas are inadequate, or simply nonexistent.

Everyone has frustrations and aggravations that they encounter in social relationships with those they love, but for people on the spectrum, and those that love them, these types of coping mechanisms can take the average stresses to the next level.  It’s very painful for me at times, that the root of some of my success cause a side affect of estrangement from the relationships I value, as they misunderstand, or become frustrated with them.

From a non-spectrum point of view, many of these types of coping mechanisms are routinely misinterpreted.  When I respond to a recommendation with a question such as, “What if X happens?” others view this as a rejection of their recommendation, which frequently it is not at all.  It is actually often the opposite.  It means I have accepted the recommendation as something that should be done, and am asking the proper questions to execute the suggestion, building the “program” or “script” I need to do respond to barriers and navigate the interaction.  But, others can think I am either being difficult, ridiculous, or negative, “shooting down” the suggestion as soon as it’s offered.

There are times when I find the social world of others mystifying.  Within my understanding of the social world, I try to reach out to others, care about others, and be the best person that I can be, but there are times that I feel that I am spinning my wheels.  My overtures to express love fall into the abyss of Asperger’s – creating wide distances between me and those I love.

It can make me very angry – angry at the misunderstandings, frustrated at the judgments imposed upon me by those misunderstandings, and aggravated at the persistence of those misunderstandings, despite my repeated attempts to make myself understood.  Do we all have to be the same to be accepted in this world?  Is the simple fact of having autism or Asperger’s mean a lifetime of aloneness, even when you are with others?


Emotional Pollutants

You’ve got them (all of them) under your skin. Emotional pollution is transmitted covertly by body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice and more overtly by language and behavior. The negative effects of the more subtle forms of emotional pollution are nearly as great as the more dramatic forms. This post will list the top four emotional pollutants.

1. Entitlement
Entitlement is the primary emotional pollutant because it plays some part in all the others. Think of how you react when you see people who behave as if they deserve special treatment or consideration. They expect to cut in front of you in line, smoke wherever they want, drive anyway they like, say anything they want, and do anything they like. By making their rights superior to yours, they imply that you don’t count.

Why do they do it? Emotional polluters often feel put upon by what they perceive as the world’s unfairness and general insensitivity to their needs. Driven by high standards of what they should get and what other people should do for them, they feel chronically disappointed and offended. So it seems only fair, from their myopic perspectives, that they get compensation for their constant frustrations. Special consideration seems like so little to ask! Here’s the logic:

“It’s so hard being me, I shouldn’t have to wait in line, too!”
“With all I have to put up with, I deserve to take home a few supplies.”
“With the kind of day I had, you expect me to mow the lawn?”
“All the taxes I pay, and they bother me about this little deduction!”
“The way I hit the golf ball, I should get the best seat in the restaurant!”
“I’m the man; you have to cook my dinner!”
“I’m the woman; you have to support me!”

2. Resentment
The most common emotional pollutant, resentment is based on a perception of unfairness for not getting the expected help, appreciation, consideration, praise, reward, respect, or affection. It is one of the most unpleasant emotional states to be near, in part because it carries a powerful sense of entitlement – it’s only fair that the world give me what I want. More to the point, resentful people are so caught up in their “rights” and so locked into their own perspectives that they become completely insensitive to the rights and perspectives of others, which means that you will certainly feel shut out and diminished in their presence.

3. Anger
An isolated expression of anger, like an isolated display of entitlement or resentment may not be polluting. However, it is rare to see an isolated expression of anger, simply because it is the most contagious of all emotions. Our unconscious brain constantly scans the environment for evidence of aggression and is primed to react to it before we become consciously aware of it. In other words, you’ll be defensive and angry (or afraid) in response to an angry person before you even know it. That’s why it’s so hard not to become angry around an angry person, even if the anger is not directed at you. A prime example is the driver who leans on the horn in a busy intersection. He is angry at only one particular driver, but he upsets everyone who hears his self-righteous outburst. Many angry men are clueless to the effects of their anger on their intimate partners, because they don’t direct the anger at them. “What does she have to be afraid of?” they naively ask.

4. Superiority
Superiority is the implication, at least through body language or tone of voice, that you are better than someone else. Emotional polluters tend to have hierarchical self-esteem, i.e., they need to feel better than someone else to feel okay about themselves. Not surprisingly, this form of distorted self-esteem lies at the heart of racism, sexism, and all other prejudicial points of view.

The most abusive form of hierarchical self-esteem is predatory self-esteem. To feel good about themselves, persons with predatory self-esteem need to make other people feel bad about themselves. Family abusers usually have predatory self-esteem. Many will test high in self-esteem, while everyone else in their family tests low. When intervention increases the self-esteem of the emotionally beaten-down spouse and children who then no longer internalize the put-downs, the predator’s self-esteem invariably declines. Predatory self-esteem rises on a wave of criticism used to put down loved ones. When the arousal wears off or when victims no longer internalize the criticism, the predator drops once again into depression.

Genuine self-esteem is a virtually unachievable goal for those who need to feel superior. No matter what criterion they use to determine their superiority, they will always find people with more of it. They will inevitably meet those who are smarter, wealthier, more powerful, better looking, more popular, have better socks, and so on; failure is the inevitable end of this precarious notion of self-worth.

Less toxic, though no less pleasant, examples of this form of emotional pollution are displays of arrogance and self-righteousness.

Steven’s Amazon blog



Emotional Abuse: Is Your Relationship Headed There? You Might be a Lot Closer than You Think!

The culprit is common, everyday resentment.

Resentment is a perception of unfairness for not getting the expected help, recognition, appreciation, consideration, praise, reward, or affection. It is becoming a predominant emotional state in the age of entitlement. But it builds under the radar – by the time you’re aware that you’re resentful, it has reached an advanced stage.

The problem with resentment in families is that much of it is due to the effects of emotional pollution tracked into the home from the outside. Resentment is a way to blame powerless feelings on someone else, and the rule of blame is that it usually goes to the closest person. Blame justifies self-righteousness and low-grade anger, which temporarily feel more powerful. But the temporary empowerment comes at the cost of making an enemy of the beloved.

The Chain of Resentment
No one resents just one thing. The continuous nature of resentment creates a self-linking chain, whereon past resentments attract present offenses, forming an ever longer and heavier chain. For example, I had a client who came to his first session resenting his wife for going to bed without kissing him goodnight. That event linked onto the night before, when she tried to kiss him while he was pouting over the fact that she wouldn’t help him do the dishes. That linked to the night before, when she did the dishes behind him back, implying that he wasn’t capable of doing his household chores. You get the idea, once bound with a chain of resentment you can resent someone for doing something and for not doing it.

A point about the architecture of a chain is worth noting. If you pick up a chain by one link, you hold not just that link but the weight of the whole chain. The chain of resentment does not distinguish important matters from petty or trivial ones – they’re all links on the chain and therefore carry the weight of the whole chain. That’s why nothing is too petty to resent.

Though mainly about the past, the chain of resentment eventually extends into the future. That’s when your expectation of someone disappointing you becomes self-fulfilling prophecy: “The weekend’s going okay so far, but she’ll find some way to screw it up.”

How it starts
Resentment exists in all enduring relationships, because even the best of them cannot be fair all the time. It builds automatically as interest declines, an interest must in all relationships that pass from novel and uncertain to familiar and stable.

The trouble comes when resentment blocks natural compassion for loved ones. In good relationships, compassion – caring about the discomfort or distress of loved ones with a motivation to help – outweighs resentment. When resentment begins to overwhelm compassion, it forms a self-linking chain that makes you look for things to resent, as protection from disappointment. At that point it starts a downward spiral of irritability, impatience, restlessness, bickering, cold shoulders, stonewalling, angry outbursts, and, eventually, emotional abuse.

Here are the signs that resentment is building to danger levels. Either you or your partner is:

• Judgmental about the other’s perspective without curiosity to learn more about it

• Irritated by how the other feels

• Intolerant of differences – you should see things the same way

• Irritated by things you used to think were cute – facial expressions, laughter, tone of voice, manner of dress, etc.

• Making less important things more important than the most important things, e.g., the towel in the middle of the floor is more important than your emotional health and the well being of your relationship

• Losing interest in most forms of intimacy – talking, touch, hugging, sharing, sex (resentment is no aphrodisiac).

The cure is to understand that resentment covers a deeper hurt, even when the things you resent seem petty. Increase your:

• Core value – get back in touch with the most important things to and about you, which will not include resentment and anger at people you love

• Compassion for yourself – recognize that when you are resentful or angry you are hurt or overwhelmed; focus on healing and improving rather than punishment

• Compassion for your partner – recognize that when he or she is resentful or angry, he or she is hurt or overwhelmed; try to help

• Respectful negotiation – you have equal value and equal rights

• Recognize the effects of emotional pollution.

Couples inevitably develop automatic defense systems (ADS) once they start blaming their negative feelings on each other. The ADS is mostly triggered by non-verbal cues of body language and tone of voice, but is primed by the effects of emotional pollution. The best way to disarm it is to view it as something happening to both of you rather than something one is doing to the other. You should be able to say, “He our ADS got triggered, let’s regulate it so we can feel connected again.” Together you can disarm the ADS and other effects of emotional pollution. Blaming your partner merely contributes to more emotional pollution and makes you both more defensive.



Candidates Debate — Who Has the Worst Trauma?

I’m new to blogging – I just learned you’re not allowed to criticize political candidates with psychological traumas! The left-wing Huffington Post body language experts, Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, wouldn’t analyze John and Cindy McCain’s relationship because theirs is “a marriage between a recovering drug addict and a deeply traumatized veteran. . . . Even the most straightforward, non-judgmental comment could be perceived by some people as critical of two sub-groups considered off-limits from close observation.”

Really! We can’t criticize people because of their various psychological traumas, even when they run for president! (Fortunately for civilization, the Hendricks decided it was okay to comment on the couple, because “Mrs. McCain has discussed her drug addiction in considerable detail out in public. . . and McCain claims to have no emotional residue from his time as a prisoner of war, and he also claims to have been unaware of his wife’s drug addiction” — huh, how does the latter make it okay?)

This suggests a debate during the primary like this between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Clinton: I just have to object to the tone of my opponent. Doesn’t he realize I am the deeply traumatized betrayed wife of a compulsive womanizer?

Obama: I’m afraid I reject such criticisms – I have a split racial identity! Read my books!

Clinton: I can’t listen to this – I am the oldest daughter of a demanding father – Hugh loved me but he was irrational and demanding, , , (Hillary stops, clearly too choked up to continue).

Obama: Your father! My father was totally absent! I had to travel to Kenya to find any remnants of his existence. I had to make up my patrimony. Read my books!

Clinton: I’m the typical overachieving, perfectionist woman – no wonder Bill was attracted to me, to make use of my skills, while cheating on me with feather-headed trollops.

Obama: And how about me – I had to shoulder the male role for my poor mother and half-sister – weighed down with adult responsibilities before my time!

Hillary: Oh yeah! My mother said she didn’t want any cowards in her house when I ran home crying after a girl hit me. No wonder I feel I have to take on all opponents!

Obama: I took drugs! I’m like a recovering addict, only I didn’t receive any treatment, or join a 12-step group.

Hillary: You’re worse than a woman-hater – you abuse overachieving, glass-ceiling encountering, wives of cheating husbands, deeply traumatized women!

Obama: And I apologize for implying you and Bill were merely racists – you’re far worse – you attack split racial identity, dry drunk, father-absent, deeply traumatized men!

Both: You’re not fair — whahhh!


Marriage Help (Stop worrying about what to say.)

What I hear the most in counseling people about relationships is, “What should I say…” when he or she does this or says that.

My pat response is, “Don’t worry about what to say; focus on the emotional state you are in and the emotional state of your partner when you say it.”

The classic miscommunication in marriage occurs when she says something like, “Honey, we need to talk.” I’ve written elsewhere about why this well meaning approach goes awry. The point here is, whether she forces him to talk or not, the likelihood is great that they both end up feeling disappointed and disconnected. The pain of disconnection from someone you love lies at the heart of every argument, cold silence, and resentment you endure in your intimate relationships.

Emotional disconnection is the biggest single factor in divorce. Most divorcees say they just “grew apart,” largely because they “couldn’t communicate.” This is sad because the problem was not about communication. It was about disconnection. Marriage partners are not disconnected because they have poor communication; they have poor communication because they are disconnected. In the beginning of the relationship, when they felt connected, they communicated just fine. They would talk for hours on end. And they communicated well throughout their relationship, whenever they felt connected.

Connection depends on attuning emotional states, which is extremely difficult to do with words. Emotional states attune through interest and caring – one has to be interested and show sympathy for the other, who must, in turn, be receptive to interest and care at that moment. Interest and care, like all emotional states, are conveyed far more by facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice than by words.

The chronic stress of disconnection in marriage, which is a cause of poor communication more than a result of it, stems from a slight difference in the way the sexes experience fear and shame. This subtle difference is inherent in the dilemma, “Do we talk about the relationship or not?” The real reason women usually want to talk about it–beneath the resentment and frustration–is disconnection makes them feel anxious and isolated. The real reason men typically don’t want to talk about it is that her dissatisfaction with him makes him feel like a failure. His shame is too great to allow him to understand her anxiety, and her anxiety keeps her from seeing his shame. When they try to alleviate their feelings of vulnerability in opposite ways–by talking and not talking–all they end up sharing are disappointment and heartache.

This is tragic and unnecessary because they really want to feel connected and they know how to do it. In the beginning of their relationship, she regularly exposed vulnerable feelings (expressed her concerns and worries), and he responded with gut-level support. She fell in love because she felt safe being vulnerable, which made her feel emotionally connected to him. Her belief that he would be there for her quelled all her anxiety. He also fell in love because he felt emotionally connected. She made him feel more or less successful as a lover, protector, and provider, which reduced any threat of failure or inadequacy; she believed in him.

Their best chance of saving their marriage is to return to that state of mutually soothing and empowering connection. This requires understanding each other’s core vulnerabilities and learning how to negotiate them with binocular vision–a dual perspective based on holding both points of view simultaneously.

Because communication is far more about emotional demeanor, body language, and tone of voice than choice of words, regulating your emotional state as you try to communicate is a crucial skill in modern relationships. (If you need help developing emotional regulation skill, ample information is available here. However, you probably do not need to undertake a whole regimen to develop emotional regulation skill, which requires learning new habits. Try this first. Instead of starting discussions with complaints, approach your partner with:

• A desire for connection (This is actually the goal of wanting to “talk about it.”)
• Curiosity about his/her perspective
Mindfulness that he/she is someone you love and value
• Appreciation of the assets your partner brings to your relationship
• The belief that your partner is a reasonable person, who, if you convey value and respect and give enough information, will at least acknowledge the importance of what you say, even if he/she disagrees with it.

If you can do the above, almost anything you say will be successful and will eventually lead to a compassionate and loving connection that goes beyond words.


Marriage Help: Turn off Your Automatic Defense System

Except in the case of abuse or battering, the real barrier to a satisfying intimate relationship is not the personality, selfishness, ill-will, poor behavior choices, or communication skills of you or your partner. The real enemy of your relationship is the hypersensitive Automatic Defense System (ADS) that has evolved between you.

Activated almost entirely without words, the ADS gets triggered unconsciously by body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. By the time you’re aware of any feelings, it’s usually in an advanced stage. It’s the feeling you get when your partner doesn’t look at you or or sighs as you or when you hear the door close before he/she enters the room, or when he or she starts with that “tone.” Suddenly you find yourself in a defensive posture, prepared for the worst.

Of course, when you are both defensive, the worst is likely to happen. You can just as suddenly find yourself in a battle of cold shoulders or curt exchanges or hot arguments – the missiles seem to start flying on their own, with no one giving the order. You both feel powerless. You get irritable, impatient, resentful, or angry and want to stonewall, ignore, avoid, shut down, criticize, yell, or devalue yourself or your partner.

The sensitivity level of the ADS varies throughout the day. In its hypersensitive stage, anything – serious or trivial – can set off your ADS. There are certain times when it is likely to become hair-trigger:

  • When your physical resources are low – you’re, tired, thirsty, hungry, sick
  • During transitions – stopping one thing and starting another, such as coming, going, waking, driving, starting dinner, finishing dinner, etc.
  • When anxious or depressed
  • Within a year or two of attachment losses – loved ones moving away or passing away.

But even when your physical and mental resources are high, certain incendiary triggers are so powerful that anything remotely close to them will set off your ADS. These usually invoke the memories of some form of past betrayal, such as:

  • Infidelity
  • Abuse
  • Financial secrets
  • Deception
  • Threats of abandonment
  • Having intimately-revealed vulnerabilities thrown up to you (childhood wounds, fears, past failures, etc.).

Over time, the ADS tends to stay in a hypersensitive state more or less continuously, as you come to expect that your partner will let you down in some way.

Preemptive Strikes
Like all defensive systems, the hypersensitive ADS has preemptive strike capacity that is also mostly unconscious. Without intending to, you have an urge to get your partner with some kind of critical remark before he or she gets you. It may seem like you are always defensive, but many times you are striking first in anticipation that you partner is about to do the same.

Good News and Bad News
The bad news about your ADS:

  • It runs on automatic pilot 
  • Like any habit, it’s hard to break.

The good news about your ADS:

  • You still care about what your partner thinks 
  • Your emotional well being is still intertwined.

You probably know couples who are largely numb to one another. They are not interested enough in the negative opinions of each other to be hurt by them. They don’t hurt because they don’t care. Where there is pain, at least there is life, and a motivation to heal and improve. Following the motivation to heal and improve will help you disarm your ADS.

Disarming Your ADS
It’s important to realize that in the vast majority of cases you inadvertently push each other’s buttons. Even though it may seem that your partner is out to make your life miserable, neither of you likes the way you feel when your ADS gets triggered. Neither of you wants it to be triggered. The secret to disarming it is to see your partner as an ally in the effort rather than a nemesis.

To disarm your ADS:

  • See it as a pattern between you rather than something your partner does to you
  • Make a core value decision of what is more important to you – giving in to your ADS or disarming it
  • Maintain the will to disarm it, even when it feels awkward or scary to do so
  • Appreciate times of hypersensitivity and the enormous power of incendiary triggers
  • Be compassionate to yourself and your partner 
  • Be allies against it – it’s bigger than either one of you but not bigger than both of you
  • Be able to say, “Oh, we’re triggered again; let’s set it right. You’re important to me; I want us to be close.”

One thing is for sure: Your ADS is not going to improve without determined effort. If you conscientiously try the above and still find that it is too difficult to break on your own, your ADS has become reflexive and habituated. In that case, you may need some internal reconditioning to eliminate it completely, such as that provided by HEALS.


You Can Spot Couples at a Glance

You walk into a party and spot a cutie talking to someone else. Are they friends? Siblings? Or a couple? According to a study published in the January issue of Psychological Science, you can suss out in just a few seconds of observation with fairly good accuracy whether your mark is fair game.

Skyler Place and collaborators showed clips of speed dates to men and women and asked the observers to judge whether each person on the date was interested in the other. Accuracy was judged based on whether the daters said they wanted a follow-up date. The videos were in a foreign language, so the main cures were voice and body language.

Male and female observers were equally accurate, but they were both better at judging male than female daters’ interest. And observers were just as accurate after watching 10 seconds as after watching 30 seconds, but clips taken from the end of the 3-minute dates were most telling: with these late clips people correctly judged women’s interest about 60{a67302cff4fa4090f2f90fa93424bcd0439ae158cc9629c1054e9724681961eb} of the time and men’s interest about 65{a67302cff4fa4090f2f90fa93424bcd0439ae158cc9629c1054e9724681961eb} of the time. Presumably, if the relationship lasted longer than 3-minutes—as real-life relationships often do—observer accuracy would go even higher.

It makes sense that we would evolve to be able to read people’s romantic intentions quickly. Accidental cock-blocking has surely gotten more than one caveman into trouble with his neighbor. It also makes sense that women would be better actors: They face greater risks of mating with the wrong person (single-parenting on the savannah), so their job is to be friendly and get the guy to open up so they can judge his true character. As a result, observers often overestimated women’s interest during the dates. Some female daters were truly crafty; of the 24 women observed, the five most hard-to-read were misread 80{a67302cff4fa4090f2f90fa93424bcd0439ae158cc9629c1054e9724681961eb} of the time. (Some men and women with their hearts on their sleeves were read correctly 90{a67302cff4fa4090f2f90fa93424bcd0439ae158cc9629c1054e9724681961eb} of the time.)

Some observers had keener eyes than others. One trend the researchers noted: those in relationships had an edge. Perhaps the social skills required to keep someone around are the same ones used to read romantic interest. Or people with SOs at the time of the study are generally in relationships more and thus have more experience witnessing signs of interest. Of course there’s one cue that even a cave dweller can read with near-100{a67302cff4fa4090f2f90fa93424bcd0439ae158cc9629c1054e9724681961eb} accuracy: whether the finger has a ring on it.

My accuracy for judging both men and women was only 50{a67302cff4fa4090f2f90fa93424bcd0439ae158cc9629c1054e9724681961eb} in an online version of the experiment. But then I’ve only had two girlfriends in the last 12 years, so I’ll just go back to my cave now.

Place, S., Todd, P., Penke, L., & Asendorpf, J. (2009). The Ability to Judge the Romantic Interest of Others Psychological Science, 20 (1), 22-26 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02248.x


Finding a Mate

The other day I came across a Satisfaction Survey. People were asked to rate their level of happiness along with all the things that contributed to that rating. Money, it seems, was not a magic cure-all. After achieving a financial comfort zone, adding still more did little to increase their level of joy. Health was important but, like money, the more they had the less it mattered. Then there was freedom. This may seem odd because Americans supposedly live in a land of freedom. In fact, the average person works longer hours today than was common a generation ago. Having a passion in life was also mentioned. Some sort of meaningful work (as opposed to punching in and punching out) appeared to be important. But even with all of the above in hand, there was one essential element without which true contentment was unattainable. This last and for many people the most important of all was a fulfilling relationship.

So what gets in the way of finding a mate? One error people make is looking in all the wrong places. For example, if you don’t like to drink, don’t go to a bar. It’s surprising how many singles will sip a coke at a Happy Hour hoping to meet Mr/Ms Right. If you love cats or books or antiques, go to a cat show, or a book fair or an antique market. Anyone you meet will already share an interest. And why must it be Mr/Ms Right? How about Mr/Ms Will Do? People seek the same traits in friends that they look for in mates – a sense of humor, dependability, emotional stability, physical appeal, consideration, etc. But when they go from finding a friend to finding a mate, they expected all those things in the same person. Looking for an ideal partner may become a long and lonely search. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Keep in mind too that what’s important at one stage of life can become far less important at another. This is why it’s wise to match such things as age, appearance, education and life experience. It will help to insure that two people remain on the same page. The older male dating a much younger bit of eye candy is an all too common example of a couple on separate pages…in separate books.

The importance of first impressions cannot be overstated. People form good or bad feelings about each other within a minute of meeting. This may be unfair but it’s human nature. You only get one chance at meeting for the first time so make the most of it. Women are typically better at this because they’re brought up to be on parade. A woman reporter, who wanted to write about what it was like to be a man for a day, tucked her hair under a cap, pasted on a beard and went out into the world. She was amazed at how she suddenly became anonymous. People just don’t pay attention to males. The downside of this is that men, meeting for a first date, will often naively assume that what they are will supersede how they appear. Love me for who I am not how I look may sound good but it may also kill any chance at a second date

One of the things women like in a man is a sense of humor. Laughing makes people feel good and puts them at ease. It also suggests confidence. On the other hand, a downer for most women is the man who talks about himself. One theory suggests that women fall in love with their therapists mostly because they listen. But then women get into trouble by turning a first date into a rant involving their last husband. “There but for the grace of God…” thinks the new guy.

Look At It This Way
While the value of a fulfilling relationship goes without saying, the means to that end can fill a book. Indeed, there’s everything from magazine articles on body language during dating to workshops on role-playing during courtship. It may seem like a lot of effort but considering the quality of life a good match provides, it’s effort well spent.


Why are humans and dogs so good at living together?

Dogs have a special chemistry with humans that goes back many tens of thousands of years. Researchers investigated this special evolutionary relationship from a number of different angles. Their results are surprising.

The social unit
Domestic dogs are descended from wolves so recently that they remain wolves in all biological essentials, including their social behavior. Wolf packs have some intriguing parallels with human families:

They are territorial.
They hunt cooperatively.
Pack members are emotionally bonded and greet each other enthusiastically after they have been separated.
In a wolf pack, only the alpha male and female are sexually active even though other pack members are sexually mature.

The social adaptations of dogs and humans are similar enough that dogs can live perfectly happy lives surrounded by humans and vice versa. Dogs are pampered with the best of food and medical care, frequently sleeping in their owners’ comfortable beds.

A family member
Why do people lavish so much care on a member of an alien species? A short answer is that on an emotional plane, families do not see the dog as alien. According to John Archer (1) of the University of Central Lancashire, who has conducted a detailed study of dog-human relations from an evolutionary perspective, about 40{a67302cff4fa4090f2f90fa93424bcd0439ae158cc9629c1054e9724681961eb} of owners identify their dog as a family member reflecting social compatibility between our two species.

Dogs are extraordinarily attentive and have an uncanny ability to predict what their owners will do, whether getting the dog a meal or preparing to go on a walk. Experiments show that dogs and wolves can be astute readers of human body language using the direction of our gaze to locate hidden food (2) a problem that is beyond chimps.

Dogs also seem attuned to the emotional state of their masters and express contrition when the owner is annoyed, for example. Otherwise, the capacity to express affection -unconditionally – makes the dog a valued “family member.”

Domesticating each other?
Dogs were the first domestic animal with whom we developed a close association. Mitochondrial DNA research suggests that most domestic dogs have been genetically separate from wolves for at least 100,000 years so that we have associated with dogs for as long as we have been around as a species (Homo sapiens). Indeed, some enthusiasts, including Colin Groves of the Australian National University, in Canberra, believe that our success as a species is partly due to help from dogs (3).

According to Groves: “The human-dog relationship amounts to a very long lasting symbiosis. Dogs acted as human’s alarm systems, trackers, and hunting aides, garbage disposal facilities, hot water bottles, and children’s guardians and playmates. Humans provided dogs with food and security. The relationship was stable over 100,000 years or so, and intensified in the Holocene into mutual domestication. Humans domesticated dogs and dogs domesticated humans.”

Relying on dogs to hear the approach of danger and to sniff out the scent of prey animals, our ancestors experienced a decline in these sensory abilities compared to other primates. This conclusion is confirmed by shrinkage of brain regions devoted to these senses (the olfactory bulb and lateral geniculate body).

During the long period of our association, dogs brains have shrunk by about 20 percent, typical for animals such as sheep and pigs who enjoy our protection. Domesticated animals undergo tissue loss in the cerebral hemispheres critical for learning and cognition. If we relied on dogs to do the hearing and smelling, they evidently relied on us to do some of their thinking.

If Groves is correct that dogs have domesticated humans, then the human brain would also have gotten smaller. Surprisingly, human brains have actually shrunk, but by only a tenth, suggesting that dogs got more out of the deal than we did.

1. Archer, J. (1997). Why do people love their pets. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18, 237-259.
2. Udell, M. A. R., Dorey, N. R., & Wynne, C. D. L. (2008). Wolves outperform dogs in following human social cues. Animal Behaviour, 76, 1767-1773.
3. Groves, C. P. (1999). The advantages and disadvantages of being domesticated. Perpectives in Human Biology, 4, 1-12.


Love, Honey

“Hi Honey,

I just remembered that it’s my parent’s anniversary on Friday, and we really should take them out to dinner. That means we have to cancel on Val and Stuart. Can you make the call? I’m tied up in meetings all day. Thanks.



I sent that e-mail to my husband more than an hour ago and still no reply. I’m starting to get annoyed because I really do have a meeting coming up. I know he won’t be thrilled to go out with my parents again, but I don’t want to have to call and cancel Val and Stuart – they’re really his friends, anyway. “Bing.” I hear the familiar sound of an incoming e-mail and quickly change screens to check it out. It was from him.

“Friday’s fine to take out your parents. I’ll call Val and Stu.”

That’s what’s so great about e-mail – straight answers with no confusion. Apparently, he had no objections to another family dinner, and he was okay with calling off our friends. But something was glaringly missing from his response. He answered me clearly enough, and I got the answer I wanted. So what was bugging me? What was wrong? Oh, now I see it – he didn’t sign off with “Love, Honey.” He must really be pissed at me. Am I going to have to buy something sexy to wear to bed tonight? Or should I tell him to forget about my parents and we’ll stick with Val and Stuart. But that’s ridiculous – he was probably in a hurry and just forgot to write “Love, Honey.” But we always write “Love, Honey” at the end of our e-mails. That’s our little thing.

When I first met Gary 20 years ago at a Memorial Day barbeque, we had an immediate connection. I noticed him from across the patio, with his shaggy brown hair and sweet smile. He charmed me with his disarming humor and warmth. I wouldn’t kiss him on our first date, but I definitely did on our second. I didn’t know it then, but I had found my soul mate.

Over the years, we always called each other “Honey” – on birthday cards, phone calls, e-mails, even when yelling across the house. A dropped “Honey,” or God forbid, the use of the more formal “Gigi,” meant that something was up, a definite red flag that all was not well in Honeyland. It could simply mean the sudden disappearance of the remote control or perhaps a home printer jam (my specialty,) or what I dreaded the most, something I had done.

Maybe I was being neurotic, but I couldn’t stop thinking that Gary’s last e-mail with the omission of “Love, Honey” was a glaring sign that something was wrong. I know my parents had been challenging lately, but we’d seen Val and Stuart a lot. What’s the big deal, one little dinner with my parents? No, I’m not going to call him to see if he was angry. He already agreed and it’s done. I need to get on with my work. I have a book to revise, a million e-mails, plus meetings all day. But I can’t resist. I come up with another reason to type him a note:


Approving cover for new book. Check out the attached pdf. Do you think the orange is too light? It makes me want to eat a Creamcicle. Let me know your thoughts.


No “love.” No “honey.” Now he’ll know I know he has overreacted. I press send and immediately experience e-mailer’s remorse. I didn’t need to lower myself to his level. What was I thinking? He’s probably freaking out over an iPhone crisis or maybe he’s working in the PET scan lab, or maybe he’s laying near death in a hospital emergency room somewhere… I’m about to pick up the phone to make sure he’s okay when “bing,” here comes another e-mail. I write a quick response and hear five more bings. I answer a few more as the familiar bombardment of e-mails both comforts and distracts me. I feel an uncontrollable urge to find out what each new e-mail is about. It could be Gary groveling for forgiveness, a new book offer, Stockholm calling about the Nobel Prize, or yet another opportunity to make millions if I would only give up my social security number to some stranger across the globe.

I look back at my last e-mail to Gary and feel a twinge of guilt. Maybe I was too hard on him. I think what’s really bothering me is that we’re so used to connecting with each other whenever we want, and then, all of a sudden today, I’m cut off. I remember the days before the onslaught of technology, when people didn’t communicate with each other instantly from moment to moment. We somehow managed to get by with busy signals, snail mail, and actually talking in person. Now we use e-mail and texting not just to get our work done, but to stay in touch with each other at all times, throughout the day. I’ve gotten so used to it that I almost panic when my server goes down. I feel like I’m stranded on a desert island . . . with no BlackBerry.

Although it’s easy to knock out quick e-mails, they still can’t convey the subtleties of direct social contact, the non-verbal cues, body language and facial expressions. “Love, Honey” takes care of that for Gary and me. It adds the smile and sometimes even the kiss. Could it be that without “Love, Honey” we are lost in a world of strangers e-mailing their mundane needs? I suddenly come to my senses and write him another quick e-mail:

“Hi Honey,

I’m sorry I was so short in my last note. I love you, but where the hell are you?



The note was to the point. Okay, so I let some of my frustration spill out, but Gary can take it.

Nothing. Another freaking hour of work and still no response from him. So what if I shouldn’t have used ALL CAPS at the end. I know it comes off as if I’m shouting and hostile. Okay, maybe now I’m the one who is overreacting. Before I dash off to my 1:30 lunch, I try one more time.

“Hi Honey,

Sorry about the silly notes. I’m crazy with pressure today.

Love, Honey”

At lunch, my friend notices I’m preoccupied. “Are you going to eat your food or stare at your phone?” I apologize and notice several other people in the restaurant fiddling with their PDAs. I begin to realize why I’ve felt this ridiculous panic all day. Is it possible that our habitual BlackBerry behavior has created yet another unnecessary opportunity to be misunderstood and to feel insecure in love? Before I can take a bite of my sandwich, my BlackBerry starts to vibrate with a new message. As I read the e-mail, I recalled the shaggy brown hair and sweet smile of my soul mate. Maybe I would stop and buy a little something special to wear tonight.

“Hi Honey,

Sounds like you’re having a rough day. I just spent the morning lecturing to a couple hundred neurologists. Good times. Sorry I forgot my iPhone at the office.



Gigi Vorgan is co-author with Dr. Gary Small of “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind” (HarperCollins, October, 2008) as well as several other books. Visit his site for more information.


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