Friday, December 30, 2011

DrB's Profile

Originally published October, 2006.

Q: Dear Dr. B, When I have met someone thru an online site, how come it is acceptable to email/IM back and forth all day long and possibly even talk on the phone for an hour every night until the date happens, then after the face-to-face date they revert to a "game" and wait a few days to email or phone you after the date? If he seemed as interested during the date as before the date, why can't he just keep things going the way they were with that regular kind of contact?

A: Meeting people online has become so common that it's gotten boring. It's rare to come across someone that hasn't tried it at least once. From total losers and nerds to the coolest guys and the hottest chicks, anyone that's dated in the past 5 years has probably used this outlet. In fact, even the doctor recently put a profile up on Myspace (not intended for dating, but I have been known to connect with the fans in the past). The culture of online dating has really evolved since the days of trolling psychos and chat rooms with a 500 to one male-female ratio. Online dating etiquette on the other hand, seems to be lagging behind.

Before I get to my answer, I've got a confession to make. For a doctor, I hardly ever read. Now don't get me wrong, I read your questions and look for the occasional bit of knowledge that I don't already have crammed into my skull. I'm talking about reading for recreation or entertainment; I just don't do it. As an educated person, I feel like I should read more, and I have a huge collection of books that I had every intention of reading, but when it gets down to it, I feel like doing other things with my spare time. The doctor likes to stay busy (cellphone Tetris anyone?).

I'm sure most of my audience is way more literate than I, but some of you may relate to this. Because I am not someone that reads, I am never disappointed when I see movies that have been adapted from popular books, or if I am disappointed it has nothing to do with my reading. I watched Lestat, Harry Potter, and Jason Bourne rock out in stadium seating without once thinking about what, if anything, the filmmaker cut from the stories, did wrong, or how much better the books were. I'm a blank slate movie-goer when it comes to these pictures.

Unlike me, my friend Karen is an avid reader. I've seen her walk out pissed off and disappointed by more movies than you can shake a stick at. Although I'm not certain exactly why anyone would want to shake a stick at a movie. Seems kind of fruitless to me. Although Hollywood does occasionally butcher fine works of art, I've noticed that some of her disappointment stems from the disparity between the way she imagined the characters and events of the story and the way the filmmakers chose to display them. For Karen, Tom Cruise as Lestat was unthinkable. For me he was Lestat and that shit rocked.

When we read, we imagine and I'm sure that no two people imagine the same thing in the exact same way. Meeting people online is a lot like that. The parties involved may be as honest as they can, but words like "voluptuous", "athletic", "single", or "research-psychologist" can be defined differently in our heads, even if we all point to the same entry in the dictionary. Exchanging pictures and talking on the phone a few times can help people get a better mental image of what you're all about but until you interact in person they're still largely working from imagination. Although I'd say that kind of communication is a necessary part of Internet dating, if you carry that on for too long before the face-to-face, you could end up spoiling the movie as the real you will be less likely to match the version in their head. Body language, facial expressions, and weird quirks are hard to convey over email or phone, yet this is all valuable information. When we use our imagination to fill in the blanks, we rarely imagine that the people we are hoping to meet face-to-face may eat like pigs, have no sense for sarcasm, or tell inappropriate jokes at our expense to total strangers as they step into a cab (thank you, J). I'm sure if you've had even a few online dating experiences you'll know what I'm talking about.

So one possible reason that these guys are reducing their communication down from daily IMs and email exchanges to, say, a Facebook comment every couple of weeks, is that they may not have imagined Cruise as Lestat (or Damon as Bourne, or Karen as sweetmilf36). I know it seems weird to go from heavy IMing to nada, but sometimes we get to the end of the book. And sometimes the movie doesn't do the book justice.

Of course, I have no way of explaining every instance of this behavior. I do think that some of what I've suggested is at play any time you meet someone online. But, like most things, it depends on the people involved and the situations. Another possibility is that daily communication may feel like too serious of a relationship to some of your online dates once the in-person barrier is removed. Talking everyday may seem safe with someone that you only know online, but most people reserve that level of frequency for very intimate relationships. Hell, most people don't even have that much to talk about anyway (especially those of us that never read). I know I haven't been up to much in the hour since I was last IMed.

Either way, to go from regular communication to nothing isn't a game, it's rude. It sucks, believe me I know, but I hope that this behavior doesn't discourage you from moving on and meeting someone else in life, online or not.

PS. Like I mentioned earlier, the doctor recently put up his own Facebook profile. Go ahead and add me, and if you're cool enough maybe I'll add you back.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Medical, Dental, and a Good 401(k)

Originally published August, 2006.

Q: Dr G, I need help with something. I have a guy friend who I really like. I got the nerve to tell him this a few months ago, and he said he wasn't interested in dating me. We've been hanging out a lot lately and we have really interesting conversations and have a good time together. We are both still single because we have high standards for the people we would date. The other day, we were having a really long conversation, and I asked him if I could just lean on his shoulder, and he said OK. It was so great, just that little contact. What can I say, I'm a little deprived, leading me to the point: I want to ask him to be "friends with benefits". He's never done that before, but I have. Is there any way to somehow "hint" or ask him about being FWB without ruining our friendship?

A: First, a little rhetorical bitching: Although I’ve used the phrase “friends with benefits” on occasion, I’ve never really liked it. Don’t all friends come with benefits? Like my friend Neal, who once helped fix my hard drive, or my buddy Jason, who is always down for grabbing a beer, or my friend Elise who gives great head. Okay, maybe I should rethink that.

Then again, I guess it’s better than “fuck buddies,” but yeah, whatever you label the relationship, the benefits you mention clearly have nothing to do with dental plans or stock options and probably go beyond the occasional shoulder leaning. Casual sex relationships get started in many different ways, depending a lot on the situations and people involved, so what I have to say may not help you to go about upgrading this particular friendship. However, even if I could offer guaranteed friend banging in 10 easy steps, I don’t think I’d want to.

After all, let’s not forget that sex without love is a sin and besides that, you should wait until you get married. Otherwise, we're talking free milk and to hell with buying the damn cow.

Wow, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face. Seriously though, I definitely recognize the joys of having FWBs and think no strings casual sex can be a healthy alternative to serious long-term relationship oriented dating, but not with this guy. Not now.

First reason: You like him, a lot, and have secretly crushed on him for a while. FWB is an arrangement that works because neither person wants anything more than a (mind-blowing, boot-knocking, world-rocking) friendship from the other. Oh, and maybe someone to hang out with once in a while that’s not likely to be shopping for cows anytime soon. Usually when things go sour, it’s because one friend gets more attached and starts wanting to talk about where the relationship is headed or what color wallpaper to buy for the nursery. If you’ve got a hidden agenda or any ulterior motives, don’t even think about stepping it up. Nice uniforms and store discounts don’t mean squat if you’re really looking for a good retirement plan. Remember, for a lot of people friends are the ones they hang out with when they’re not on a date. How comfortable will you be when your FWB starts meeting girls that do live up to his high standards?

Which brings me to reason two: Although you both have high standards for potential dates, he’s already told you that you don’t meet his. Dizamn! That had to hurt a little. Imagine how it would feel if you two started playing amateur gynecologist. Even if it’s true, I doubt you would want to think of yourself as someone that isn’t good enough to date, but good enough to fuck. Your self-esteem is going to skyrocket, or nose dive. I forget my metaphors.

Don’t think for a second that I’m telling you not to have sex. Have it, and have lots of it. Definitely start dating more, but if that’s not an option, consider offering a few benefits to another friend on your list; maybe that guy you have lousy conversations with (I know he’s out there) so there will be no chance of you wanting more later on. It may surprise you to learn that guys are ridiculously easy. Of course, you could ignore all of this and start getting your freak on with Mr. High Standards, and he might come around. Hell, maybe after a while he’ll even be down for some of that dating the kids are into these days. But more than likely, you’ll end up ruining your friendship and giving him some good stories for his other benefit-free friends.

Hypothetically speaking, suppose you decide that you are not into this guy anymore and still need some of that sweet, sweet loving. If you really want to get your hands on this guy’s benefit package (so what if it’s a pun, it’s a damn good one) you’ve got to do two things: First, convince him that you are truly no longer interested in dating him. I suspect that part of his reservations to being FWBs has to do with reason number one, and you’ve got to make sure that he knows if he samples the milk he isn’t going to be asked to buy a damn cow. Do this subtly: step back from the friendship a notch and try to create some real emotional distance. Be more like his other friends (you know, the ones that don’t want to bang him) so that he sees you as such. Also, try to avoid any mention of how you are over him so it’s okay to screw around. Second, get him to sex you up. Friends that fuck usually start doing so naturally, like after a platonic weeknight dinner or a movie; in other words, a date-like situation without any obvious romantic undertones. Invite him over afterward just to hang, watch a DVD, or any other lame non-sexual activity you can think of and let it go from there. If you do end up hitting it, remember that you don’t want him thinking he’s just made a bovine down payment, so be cool for a few days. Make sure you act as if nothing has changed in your relationship, like, you know, you’re still just friends. If this works, then awesome: good benefits are hard to come by. If it doesn’t work, well you should have stopped reading a paragraph ago.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Talk is Cheap

Originally published July, 2006.

Q: Do most men really like it when a girl talks dirty during sex? I like dirty-talk, but sometimes my (ex) boyfriend wouldn't say anything. He just kept pounding away harder and harder.

A: So it's been almost a year and a half since the doctor wrote his last column, and although I really want to get to your question, I must admit that I'm having a hard time concentrating. In fact, I've attempted to write an answer several times in the past couple of months. I pulled your question out of my backlog thinking it would be an easy one, which it definitely is. If only I could overcome this damn writer's block.

Your question is so painfully easy to answer that I can't seem to focus on it long enough to carpal-tunnel out my reply. I keep thinking that before I do, I should first write some sort of explanation as to why I haven't written in a while but I know you don't care about any of that. Hell, you probably aren't even going to read my answer so what's it to you? Nothing, that's what. That's too bad cuz it would make one fucking badass column, maybe a screenplay even. Seriously. It's your loss you don't want to read it.

Another thing that keeps interrupting my answering is the fact that this column better be damn good. When you make a comeback, you gotta return stronger than you went out. Otherwise the audience will think that you've lost it. Like when Family Guy returned to TV last year, I feel like this column needs to kick some major ass. That's a lot of pressure for a doc; at least MacFarlane has help.

And unless something changes between now and when I get this uploaded, this is the first column written for that Internet thing I keep hearing so much about. It's exclusively digital content, no paper distribution, no deadlines, and no pictures of Dr G's face on corner newsstands throughout the city. This is one hundred percent intended for pixels only and a new medium equals a new audience.

I also keep thinking about how to approach my answer. See, I try to offer good advice sprinkled with a healthy dose of smarcasm (go ahead, add that one to your vocabulary) and the painfully easy answer ain't exactly inspiring much at the moment. The obvious thing would be to give you a verbal spanking of dirty talk, cuz I know you like it like that, don't you? I could be wildly thrusting each sentence into these paragraphs like an out of control beat poet. You know you shouldn't, but you can't help but to keep reading the forbidden prose, sentence after sensual sentence. It feels so good as my words penetrate your inner voice faster and harder, some you've never heard of and some too difficult to pronounce. Nasty little reader. Too bad I try not to do the obvious thing.

Clearly I've been having a hard time concentrating on your question, but if I stopped to focus on my answer for even a sentence, this column would be over in a heartbeat and having something end too soon can be a major disappointment. I didn't want to shoot my load right away; I had a lot of white pixels to burn. Oh god, just talking about it makes it impossible to hold back much longer. Too much pressure... Ready or not, here it comes...

A lot of men try to distract themselves during sex to sustain the erection needed to keep "pounding away harder and harder." Some do this by thinking about anything but sex and that gets in the way of their ability to talk dirty to you. And a lot like this answer, the moment they start focusing on the task at hand it's all over.

But don't let that inhibit your skanky trash mouth. A lot of men, even the ones that are secretly paying more attention to the stupid 80s song stuck in their head than to how good your thighs feel, get real turned on by it. And if you find yourself with another hard-pounding mute, maybe you can convince him to be more expressive during the foreplay...

PS. Lame or not, it's good to be back. Now, let's get them questions a-coming.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Drinking Free

Originally published Feb, 2005.

Q: I've been told I don't flirt enough. I am curious to know how does a straight woman flirt with men? And I don't mean the philosophy behind flirting but I want you to notice on your morning commute, while out at night, co-worker flirtation at the copier, etc. what works to get noticed and a guy's attention...aside from her bra size and ass that is.

A: Who is telling you that you don't flirt enough? Your girl friends or the guys around you trying to get your attention.

Oh, I guess you can't really answer me. I understand… shh.

I'm going to assume it's your girl friends. Most guys don't want you flirting unless it's with them or you are supporting them with your job at Hooters. In that case, flirt all you want baby, cuz the cable bill is way overdue.

So how do you do it? Well as a guy, I've been flirted with in all kinds of ways and I guess I can give you a few pointers. First if you are braless (a good flirter is always braless) and wearing a white t-shirt, try pouring a pitcher of water across your chest. That's always a definite attention grabber. Also, if you happen to be standing next to a pole, try holding onto it with your legs and swinging from it. Trust me; it's a guaranteed crowd pleaser. For more intimate flirting, there is a technique known as the table dance.

Okay that is all horrible advice and I apologize. Actually, it's been my experience that straight women flirt with men by writing them emails seeking their advice so for the real deal this month I decided to email a few of my female friends for their expert opinions. Here's a sample of what I got:

"laughing/giggling/touching/eye contact" (I'm assuming that these are distinct. Please don't poke out a dude's eyes while laughing and think that you are being flirtatious.)

"You can flirt with your eyes, your body language - lots of touching of body parts (hand, shoulder, neck, etc.) A flip of the hair, if you can manage it is also a good thing..."

"What has worked for me is being able to make dudes laugh. You bust a few balls, make a few subtle innuendos. Timing and certain looks do well also."

"I find being funny always helps. And sarcasm seems to go pretty far these days. And being interested and aloof all at the same time. Flirting is an art form."

"The biggest key factor of flirting is eye contact, at least that's how I play it. You seem more engaged in the conversation, shows you have confidence and I like to touch a guy's elbow when I flirt, kind of catch their attention. I didn't know people were awkward about it until my friend bitched about my flirting last night and said she can't do it."

"Call him by name, compliment him. Look him in the eye when you speak. Ask him for help with something such as fixing a car or assembling furniture (makes him feel macho), and glance at his mouth when you want to be kissed."

Okay, so there you have it. To sum up the women: you should be funny, make eye contact, touch us as you are talking, and flip your hair. In short, just be more outgoing. Let me also add that laughing at our jokes, no matter how bad they are, goes a long way, as does feigning interest in whatever garbage we seem to be talking about ("ooooh, you write for an independent magazine, that is sooo interesting!"). Trust me, it'll get your bar tab paid.

Oh and one word of warning to the novice flirter: practice in safe environments with people that you are already familiar with. Don't start making jokes and touching every potential stalker you see on the bus. Ease into it, and you'll be swinging from stripper poles in no time. Which brings up another good point:

Q: What is your take on flirting? How far is too far... Is it off limits to flirt with others outside of your relationship when you are dating someone steadily or married? It's something that I love to do and don't due much to the fear of leading someone on and getting myself in a dangerous situation.
A: Well, I know I wasn't supposed to go into the "philosophy behind flirting" but here's the deal: Flirting is a nonverbal means to express interest, specifically sexual interest. So, if you find yourself at the point in your flirting where you are giving your partner a "reach-around", that may be too far. Or at least the flirting portion of the evening may be over.

Is sex with others outside of your relationship off limits? If not, then I can't see any amount being too far. But, if you just want to flirt for the sake of flirting, that's cool too. Just please bear in mind that may not be the signal you're sending the world. I'd say the limits to your flirting should be a function of your intentions and the other person's expectations. Those expectations are hard to know when you meet someone new, so if you have limitations I'd get them out in the open pretty damn early. Drop hints about the existence of your boyfriend, husband, or dominatrix between giggles and touches so that at least people know where you stand.

Even then, I'm sure you'll get your drinks for free.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advice for Short Attention Spans

Originally published Jan, 2005.

Q: I'm gay and my parents don't know that I am...last weekend they caught me in bed with my partner. What should I do?

A: Well, to start with I think that you should consider yourself lucky that you successfully avoided an awkward "coming out" conversation; we all know how uncomfortable those can be. Plus, you can rest assured that when you do have a talk with them about your sexual orientation, they are very likely to believe you. Nothing is worse than stubborn disbelieving parents that demand proof.

Also, try buying them a kitten.

Q: Are lesbians more on the prowl than straight men?

A: You may recall that, like most straight men, the Doctor gets overcome with warm fuzzies just thinking about lesbians… Much like kittens, Tarantino movies, and freshly made mojitos, they make the world a better place. As I've previously discussed, lesbians have a firm position in the male fantasy world that isn't likely to give way anytime soon (like, what else are we going to think about?).

In those fantasies we'd love nothing more than to imagine that, not only are these ladies hot for each other, they have nearly insatiable sexual appetites and are always looking to jump in the sack with another fresh co-ed whenever the "Thong Song" comes on the radio (and it's always playing somewhere). However, even though some lesbian libidos can be damn strong, straight men really corner the market on this one. Men think about, want, and seek sex way more than women, including gay women. Hands down, we win. Now give us some sex.

Q: Dr. G, I'm involved in a long-distance relationship. My communication needs aren't being met, not to mention the absolute lack of physical intimacy. What are some ways to communicate this to my man without him feeling threatened or persecuted? Or should I just walk away from this seeming exercise in futility?

A: Like a lot of the questions I received this month, this one lends itself well to a short, but thought-provoking answer:

Rosebud.

Actually, you're really asking several questions aren't you? Long distance relationships are a bitch. To avoid falling into such situations, I've developed the habit of creating boundary rules for dating in each of the cities I've lived in. For example, in NYC, I had a "same borough" requirement; in Pittsburgh, I adhered to a very strict "no tunnels" policy; and in New Orleans the rule was "anything but Mississippi."

But maybe I'm an asshole and the girl of my dreams might live just outside my current dating borders… hmmm… anyway, back to you.

Although long distance relationships do indeed suck very hard, they don't have to. They can be fulfilling and are sometimes logistically necessary for dual-career couples or polygamists trying not to get caught. Regardless of the circumstances, the success of these arrangements depends entirely on the individuals involved. Relationships are meant to satisfy our needs. Failing to do that, any relationship despite the mileage isn't going to work out.

Your situation does sound like an "exercise in futility," especially if your needs aren't being met (there is no little blue pill for phone sex). If you haven't yet walked away, I'd recommend taking a good look at what you need and discuss this with your partner. Explore what both of your goals are and what either of you is willing to do to obtain those goals. Be straightforward though, honesty and openness hardly ever come across as threatening or persecution. That is, unless you are telling someone that they give lousy phone sex, that's a bit hard to hear.

Trust me; you don't want to end up like this:

Q: Why can't I find me a man?? I think I am pretty fuckin top of the line cool, yet I am already 24 and not married yet. The best years of my thighs are OVER. No one will love me. HELPPPPPP

A: Yeah, you're right. Honestly, sometimes the truth hurts. On a positive note though, I've heard that kittens will love you unconditionally and you should have no problem finding a few for free… Keep 'em well fed and they should provide you with company for years until the social worker arrives.

P.S. When in doubt, get a kitten.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sweet Gig

Originally published Dec, 2004.

Q: Why is it that some people just cannot be single? They move from one girl to the next, or one guy to the next to be fair. And when they get lonely, they resort back to their ex. Is this a form of insecurity, a form of security, or just plain stupidity? I know someone who dated their partner for three years, and one day, just said hey, I was out with another girl last night, and that was it, he moved on to her. Where is the logic? Are people afraid to be alone? They hold onto people they don't even like just for the simple fear of not being with anyone? What's the deal?

A: Hell, you got me. People are strange. If only I knew why people did the stupid things that they do then maybe I could give them advice. Maybe I could even get paid to do it! Damn, that would be a sweet gig. Hell, maybe I could even write an advice column of some sort... Um, yeah... Fuck.

Anyway, I know what you mean. People sometimes act in ways that seem really counter-intuitive. For example, I have this friend that has been at the same crummy job for four years. She hates the work, has absolutely no potential to advance in her position, and apparently her office employs a herd of "dipshit cattle" that constantly bug her for office supplies and mindless conversation about nothing that matters. I've never been to her office, but to hear her description, it sounds like a layer of hell.

Not getting paid for my advice, I've been giving it away for free for months and telling her to quit that damn job. I mean really, quit already. What the hell? Each time my unsolicited, quality advice goes completely unused and she mentions some nonsense about needing another job first and whines about having to pay rent and other bills. Bullshit if ya ask me, but you didn't.

I mean what's the deal with that? Waiting for another opportunity to open up before moving on. Why can't she just be unemployed? Where is the logic in looking for another job before moving on? People are so strange.

Actually, now that I really think about it (thank you, ODB) that's not so strange at all. She's probably afraid of being stuck without an income, being unable to buy food or afford car payments, or ending up homeless. Plus, quitting a job without having something lined up is kinda reckless (thank you, Lil' Fish).

I guess it's really not that hard to understand why some people tend to do the same thing in their relationships. I mean hey, your boyfriend may be a thirty-something loser whose band peaked when they played your sister's QuinceaƱera a few years ago, but in some ways coming home to his pot-smoking, game-playing ass sitting on the couch is preferable to coming home to an empty apartment. And for some people, an opportunity needs to present himself before they'll seek change from even a bad situation.

In your question you've touched on some good points. Some times it's rooted in insecurity; some times it has to do with the fear of being alone. Unlike being homeless, which seems to be a fairly common thing to fear (except in my neighborhood), being alone may not seem that bad to everyone. Then again, neither do snakes and there are plenty of people scared shitless of snakes. Partner-jumping behavior could also be rooted in some deeply psychological unconscious dissatisfaction that some people have with themselves that drives them to continuously seek validation for their own existence from others. Then again, some times it's just a force of habit. I prefer my explanations simple.

I can tell by the tone of your question that you are probably not one of those people. Neither am I, and welcome to the club. Although serial monogamy is a term that can be used to describe how most Americans date, members of our club like a little space between serials (I like a little milk with mine) and generally don't consider every first date to be the first night of a new romance. We are a lonely, jaded group but with good benefits and the meetings are hella fun.

And since I still have some space to kill, I'd like to point out that it's my freaking birthday this month! Go me! Hells yeah, baby. And they said I'd never survive on the outside…

PS. A few short months ago the world lost a gifted scholar, a wise sage, and the best damn source of relationship advice I had ever seen. I am, of course, sarcastically speaking of the man once known as the Ol' Dirty Bastard. Always entertaining, I realized recently the ODB, via the intro of his first solo album, taught me the valuable lesson that any time you really think about something you draw the exact opposite conclusion (cool points if you know what I'm talking about). In honor of the ODB, I once had a ferret named after him but had to give it up for a move a few years ago. Now I miss them both.

PPS. Unlike the ODB, my good friend "Lil' Fish" is very much alive.

Gettin' Personal

Originally published Nov, 2004.

Q: Dude, why is your column so late this month?

A: Yeah, that question doesn't sound at all contrived does it? You're probably thinking that things are slow down in the old e-mailroom if I'm makin' up my own questions, lame as they may be. Yeah, you'd figure that. But, you'd be wrong.

Truth is, this column is late despite the fact that I have a plethora of preguntas (Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of preguntas?) just ripe for the answering. My inbox is overflowing with perfectly good questions, ranging from the mundane to the insane. But the doctor just ain't been feeling up to the challenge.

Please bear with me as I get a little out of character and get personal. The doctor has had an extremely rough month that included a move to a new city. I'm writing this on a borrowed laptop, sitting in a coffee shop in the Manayunk area of Philadelphia, my life in boxes, and wondering when I'll get a chance to move into my new apartment. Oh yeah, and dealing with the break-up of a very serious relationship. Hopefully, you can understand how I may be having trouble concentrating on your sex and relationship issues at the moment. To say that the break-up was caused by the move or vice versa would not do the situation justice, and that's a story I won't bother you with here. Suffice it to say; sometimes even advice columnists could use a little help.

And sometimes that help comes from very unlikely places.

Way back when I was just "junior college G", long before I ever dreamed I would be adding the doctoral title to my name, I was involved in another break-up with one of my first girlfriends, (blank). She was an intelligent, beautiful woman who I was thrilled to get to know. Of course, I'm talking about an ex-girlfriend, and girlfriends normally don't become exes when everything is perfect. Dating (blank) was not without its difficulty as she suffered from a condition known as vaginismus.

Vaginismus is a condition where a woman's vaginal muscles involuntarily contract in anticipation of intercourse or insertion. It can make intercourse very painful, difficult, and in (blank)'s case damn near impossible. For example, she had never been able to use a tampon, had passed out during pelvic exams, and had made it into her early twenties without successfully losing her virginity despite several attempts to do so. When we met she was still a virgin, not because of religious values, fear of STDs, or a notion of "saving herself"; her body just wouldn't let anyone in. As her partner, I remember that it felt as if there wasn't an opening there at all; just a hard, impenetrable, flat surface. And yeah, for a man destined to one day be banging out sex advice columns, that was a tough pill to swallow.

At the time, both of us were ill-equipped to deal with the situation but instinctively I developed a plan. It involved several nights of very painful "practice" as we used a lot of lube and gently forced entry. The process was torturous with even the smallest intrusion causing her extreme pain each night. We started small, with a pinky, and worked our way up to the size of small vibrator. At each step she became more and more relaxed and increasingly more comfortable until finally almost a month later, we were able to knock some long overdue boots. And (blank)'s boots were definitely made for knocking.

As successful as that was, sex was still a strain on our relationship and unfortunately (blank) entered into my list of exes that just recently became one name longer.

In the following decade, (blank) and I lost touch and I moved several times across the country in pursuit of my education and greener pastures. As I began researching sexuality in grad school, I was pleased to learn that the method we used to counter her vaginismus was actually similar to professionally recommended techniques. Still, I often thought of her and wondered how her life had turned out. I've also thought that our story would probably be beneficial out there to couples and women that are currently dealing with vaginismus; I've just never taken the opportunity to share it until now. Trust me, it can be overcome.

So why then, as I sit alone in this Philadelphia coffee shop trying to write an advice column after a recent break-up, are my thoughts drifting to an ex from my distant past? It has a lot to do with an email I received earlier today:

"Wow… you won't believe how many years I have tried and been afraid to contact you… There are so many things to say... mostly, I am writing to get in contact with you and actually thank you... thank you for what you offered my life. All of life is about the pain and the pleasure... I am just now remembering all the firsts you offered me and how my life drastically changed for the better due to you."

It was from (blank). After years of being out of touch, she had tracked me down on the web just to send me an unexpected thank you note from the past. And after the month I've had, being reminded of how I've positively influenced at least one person's life was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Of course she's happily married now and currently lives nowhere near Philadelphia. Oh well.

Next month, I swear I'll be back to the normal DrG, so send me those preguntas. Vamanos!

P.S. Ladies, after reading the above, if you are concerned about vaginismus or overcoming it, please bring it up with your gynecologist. There are also some great resources on the web. And of course as a last resort, there's always Philly…

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Backdoors

Originally published Oct, 2004.

Q: My husband wants some backdoor action (and I don't mean the usual doggy-style), but I'm just not that kind of girl. However, I am intrigued that he would want to do this because he is such a hygiene freak. Still, he is rather large and I am terrified of the pain that I expect to occur if I agree to do this. What should I expect? Is there a way to do this without excessive pain? Just how "dirty" is it if we take precautions?

A: I think your husband should get in touch with this person:
Q: How do I discuss my desire for anal stimulation with my husband of 15 years? And why am I embarrassed to mention it?
A: Okay, I'll admit that my answer to the first question was cheap and that I'm above such pain-in-the-ass antics. Well, maybe not. But shit, let me take a crack at banging out a proper top-level answer. Butt.

I should preface my answer with the following disclaimer: I am a straight male, and as a life-long straight male I have never been on the receiving end of such an act, so I can't speak to the pain or pleasurable aspects of it. I can say that most women and gay men that I've spoken with on the subject do report that it can be quite painful but does have its rewards. As one woman put it "there's a whole other world in your ass."

However, despite my lack of qualifications on the subject of gift receiving, I suspect that both of your husbands are straight males as well, and that puts me in a pretty good position to answer you (the advanced degree helps a little).

Regarding Q's backdoor wanting husband: for most hetero men, anal sex is about as kinky as they can imagine getting (among gays I suspect it's the least). Men are relatively easy to please sexually and most never develop a taste for much more than good old-fashioned guy-on-girl humping. However, even for diehard fans of vanilla, the missionary position can get a bit redundant and a little change is necessary. For the husband who's tried every position in the Kama Sutra, whips and chains can seem a bit drastic but anal, with all of its associated taboos, can be the final frontier. Hell, if you listened to Howard Stern any morning and you'd get the impression that the butt is the holy grail of sex for straight men. And you'd be right.

This brings me to Q's husband of 15 years. Anal sex is a very common male fantasy and desire, and it is likely that your husband already thinks about doing a bit of spelunking from time to time. If neither of you has approached the topic in 15 years of marriage, my advice is to test the waters with him and see if it's something he thinks about or would consider. Try having this conversation in a non-sexual context, as it's not really something you can just roll over for after a bit of pillow talk (more on that in a minute). If he is down, then you'll soon be off exploring whole other worlds together, and if he's not, perhaps he'll be willing to give it a shot for your sake.

Now to both of you: Yes, you can expect pain at first. For the uninitiated, it can be a difficult and awkward experience. Think about how clumsy your first experience with vaginal intercourse was and remember, that's supposed to be the easy way. After you have your discussions with your respective partners and you are ready to be "that kind of girl" I recommend that you take a trip downtown to your local adult bookstore and enter in the back (I just couldn't resist that one). Read up on the topic, look at pictures, consider picking up one of the many commercially available devices designed for anal insertion (i.e. butt plugs), and buy some good water-based lube; you'll need it. Then, go back to the bedroom and practice. Start small, preferably with a finger, and move to bigger and better things when you are comfortable. Take it slow, use lots of lubrication, stay clean, and remember to communicate with your partners. From what I understand, as a life-long straight male, don't expect much more than a happy husband from your first time. But if you stick with it and develop a taste for taboo, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Or hell, just swap husbands with each other.
P.S. I recommended using a water-based lube because oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms. Anal sex is risky business, and even if you've been married for 15 years you should consider using condoms. If you are concerned about possible health risks, please consult a physician.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Twice A Year

Originally published Aug, 2004.

Q: If a couple only has sex once every six months, would you say there is something wrong with their relationship?

A: If I was one of the members of that couple, I'd say, "hells yeah there is something wrong with that relationship!" Only playing "hide the pink crayon" twice a year? Are fireworks so important to lovemaking that it has to be saved for New Year's Eve and Independence Day? Are you shitting me? I'd have to play the be-out game, and, well… you know… be out.

But thankfully, I am not a member of that couple. Neither, I suspect, are most of the readers of this column. Rarely are those that aren't getting any interested in the problems of those that are.

All of us are aware that we need to sleep. On the average, adults require seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but some of us (like my grandmother) seem to function on just a few, whereas others (like my roommate) can't seem to get enough sleep. You can force an eight-hour night, but the true measure of how much sleep a person needs is whether or not they're able to function, healthy, and feel satisfied. Like I told my grandma, if you feel as if you're not getting enough then you're not, but if you feel fully refreshed on four hours then you probably don't need any more. Now go bake me some damn cookies.

Oh wait, I was supposed to be discussing sex. Ah, it's the same thing. Some people need it all the time and some are content to live their lives without it, but most fall somewhere in the middle. And again, the best measure of if you're getting enough booty is if you feel satisfied. I know there are some people out there that can be perfectly happy having sex once or twice a presidential term, or never at all.

Our desired sex frequency is usually an important consideration when we enter into relationships, and partner discrepancies are among the biggest sources of conflict. Whenever one partner wants more than the other negative feelings of resentment, frustration, unhappiness, obligation, and regret can be introduced into an otherwise successful relationship. Oh, and people sometimes cheat. I should mention that.

That's not to say that differences in sexual desire are always the cause of relationship hell; a lot of times, other problems in a relationship can kill sexual desire. If you grow to hate someone for always forgetting to put the seat down, you probably aren't going to want to have sex with him. Similarly, if someone constantly tries to talk to you while you are obviously trying to watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force, you probably aren't going to want to have sex with her either. Infrequent sex is very often a symptom of deeper, more serious relationship problems.

So, if you and your partner are reasonably healthy and only bump uglies once a leap year or something like that I'd say you need to take a good solid look at your relationship. If both of you are content, then by all means enjoy all the extra time you have to pursue other interests like needlepoint, yelling at the neighborhood kids, and wondering why your own children never call. Or just take a nap. We could all use a little more sleep.

P.S. I know a couple that has a very serious discrepancy in their preferred frequency of intercourse. He almost never wants it and she seems to be insatiable. They've been together for over ten years and apparently everything else in their relationship is perfect. A few years ago, they decided that she should start to take on outside lovers to fulfill her sexual needs. They worked together to determine a very strict set of rules for whom she could have sex with and what was acceptable in order to avoid any feelings of jealousy or create any unwanted attachments (not to mention diseases and pregnancies) while he remains faithful to her. Sure, there were some kinks to the system that had to be worked out, but so far it seems to be holding up and they are happier than ever. I don't think their solution would work with every mismatched couple, I just find it interesting…

Did Somebody Say LESBIAN?

Originally published July, 2004. 

Q: In talking to a friend of mine, she told me that it is common for lesbians to have one-sided sex, meaning, they take on the role of "top" and "bottom." Do you think this true for most lesbian couples?

A: I have to be honest: I totally stopped reading your question after I hit the word "lesbian." Once I came across that word my head was suddenly filled with images of cute sorority girls in various stages of undress having pillow fights and doing all sorts of sordid things to each other. Most guys, even advice columnists, cannot seem to resist the lure of the lesbian myth. A fact that Howard Stern, Tatu, and the producers of "Girls Gone Wild" have used to their advantage.

I'm often asked why men are so fascinated with the idea of sex between women, and since I can't seem to think about anything else at the moment, I'll use this space to finally draft an answer. First, men are overwhelmingly more sexually driven than women. This has been shown over and over in research and a quick glance around at the world we live in should be enough to convince even the most diehard skeptic. We simply think about it and want it more. WAY more. We think about sex all the time. Hell, I'm struggling to write this column because my thoughts keep drifting.

Men are also more visually oriented than women. That, plus our ever-present thoughts of sex, equals a virtually insatiable demand for erotic imagery. Straight or gay, men are the major consumers of pornography, strip clubs, and, I suspect, the Victoria's Secret catalogue. Within all that demand for images, there are unlimited niches including: thin girls, big girls, tall girls, short girls, girls jumping on trampolines, girls standing next to cars, and girls eating bananas. Which brings me to the obvious conclusion that if us (straight) guys like looking at images of girls so much, then I'm guessing it's fairly logical to think that we'd like looking at images of multiple girls. Together. Oh man. That is so cool.

Plus, there is always a chance that the "lesbians" aren't lesbians at all, but simply a pair of bi-curious cuties that would eagerly welcome us men into their boot knocking. Threesomes are as common a male fantasy as watching two women, probably for the same reasons. However, to know for sure, I'll need to conduct a bit more research… Now that I've explained myself (in print anyway), perhaps my own girlfriend will be more open (if she doesn't break up with me first; good thing I write under an alias).

Okay, unrelated digression aside, I can now get to your question of whether most lesbians assume "top" or "bottom" roles in sex. Again, I need to be honest: I was just stalling earlier because I really don't know what you are talking about. I've heard those terms used in the context of gay male relations, referring to whether a person thinks it's better to give or receive, but never among lesbians. Truth is, I fell short on this one.

You asked if this is true for most lesbian couples, and my gut reaction is no, only because of your use of the word "most." However, being ignorant in this matter, I present the issue to my lesbian readers. Are these roles as common as Q's friend suggests? Please send your comments to the address below.

One thing I do know is that many women find pleasing a partner more satisfying than their own physical sensations, and in many relationships, one person can dominate the other. But, does this turn lesbians into tops or bottoms? I don't know. It's nice to imagine lesbian couples as consisting of two nubile young ladies engaging in some equal-opportunity mouse-clicking, but I'm sure there are plenty of selfish dykes out there that just want to get theirs, roll over, and fall asleep; just like us breeders.

P.S. Above, I made reference to the lure of the lesbian MYTH. When straight men imagine lesbians, much like the sorority girls I was daydreaming of just a few short paragraphs ago, we don't really imagine lesbians. What we usually picture can be described as a cross between Hollywood, porno, and attention-getting nightclub antics that are far removed from reality. I know many lesbians and all are good, beautiful women that would never entertain the idea of sharing their relationship with a man, no matter how hard he begged. Or maybe it's just me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What's Wrong With Drunken Losers?

Originally published Sep, 2003.

Q: I am a young single girl that can't seem to find a date. The only guys that I seem to attract are drunken, obnoxious losers at the South Side bars. I just don't get it; I'm pretty, intelligent, fun-loving, and have a good personality. I had no trouble getting dates in college but the few that I've had since moving to Pittsburgh have been awful.

A: After being ranked as one of the worst cities for singles by Forbes Magazine two years in a row, we all know what a dating Mecca Pittsburgh can be. That aside let me get this: you are single, young, attractive, college-educated, fun-loving and still can't get a date? I can fix that easily enough, just drop me a line at the e-mail address below (do you like martini drinking columnists?) Of course your situation doesn't translate to good odds for those of us that aren't so blessed by nature. Hell, I should just throw in the towel now or at least drink more and try to be more obnoxious when hanging on the south side. Actually, your second statement contradicts your first. You can get LOTS of dates; the problem is you don't like any of the offers you are receiving. Are your standards too high for the average drunken loser? Picky, picky! Lucky for you, your situation is painfully common and I can offer a couple forms of advice. Take one, the other, or mix and match, you're in control here.

Lower The Bar: Maybe your standards for an acceptable date are too far above the heads of the local dating pool. There may not be that many millionaires, male super-models, or vacationing European royalty hanging out in da 'Burgh. You may have to settle for the occasional "regular guy". Also, think about this: alcohol can make anyone a little more obnoxious than usual. Hell, even yours truly, doctoral education and all, can turn into a total jackass under the influence (even sometimes without). Last I checked, drinking alcohol was one of the top activities people engage in while at bars, so if that's where you are spending your time, you're probably going to encounter a few drunks. Just keep in mind that not all drunks are losers.

Change the Scenery: I once knew a woman, an engineer that worked in a factory, who complained that she never met anyone that was as intelligent as her. When I asked where she went to meet people, she told me that she spent a lot of her social time attending happy hours at the bar across the street from her place of employment. This bar was mainly filled with men from her factory. Sure they were hard-working, attractive, and decent people, but they were definitely not the educated white collar types that she was looking for. Similarly, a friend once asked me how I managed to meet so many women compared to him (apparently he didn't know me as well as he thought). My first reaction was "I leave the house, there aren't too many single women sitting around my living room watching TV."

Of course, the point of both of those examples is that if we are not currently finding what we are looking for where we are, we should try looking somewhere else. You don't like South Side drunks? Well I know for a fact that there are no "South Side Drunks" in the Strip District, Shadyside, and every other neighborhood in this city. Of course, those areas have their own share of obnoxious drunken losers. It sounds to me that you are searching for an upscale, educated, professional crowd of people to mix it up with. With the disproportionately small population of college educated people in Pittsburgh, that's a problem for a lot of us here. If that's so then darts and pool probably ain't gonna cut the mustard. Perhaps you should try some of the newer establishments that are aimed at attracting that crowd. Places like these need the support so that they don't eventually succumb to the drunken loser crowd that you wish to avoid. Ellsworth and Highland avenues in Shadyside are full of great places frequented by the sort of people you may be interested in (you may even run into the good doctor G!). Try and seek out new experiences instead of frequenting those old familiar pre-college hang-outs. I think you'll find that Pittsburgh has a lot more to offer than you once were aware.
Be More Pro-Active: Who says you gotta wait for the drunks to hit on you? You are just as capable of being the aggressor. When you see a guy you like that hasn't noticed you yet, push the dork with the comb-over and the too-tight Hawaiian print shirt out of the way and step over to "Mr. Potentially Right". Never leave your dating life to the mercy of other people. Imagine how crummy your professional life would be if you just sat at home and waited for employers to approach you with job offers? Of course, I understand that, even in the progressive age we live in, directly hitting on men is something that most women are uncomfortable with. No one wants to look trampy or desperate, and as much as we like to separate ourselves from our Ohioan neighbors, there is a lot of the midwestern inhibition bred into the culture here. If this is the case, be passively aggressive. Position yourself near Mr. Right and throw him a few flirty glances until he gets up the courage to talk to you or his boyfriend comes back from the restroom, whichever happens first.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Soulmates and Lemons

Originally published Aug, 2003.

Q: okay Dr. G., what about this? For almost two years now, I've had a relationship with a married man who was separated from his wife. They weren't divorced, but they were living apart. Anyway, each time we talked about his marriage and such he would assure me that he no longer loved his wife and that he believed the marriage was a mistake. Then, all of the sudden he decided to go into counseling with her to give it "one last change" even though he claimed that he didn't think it would work out. Well, I guess the counseling worked because now they are back together and we are no longer seeing each other. Needless to say, I am really upset over this. My friends say forget him, but it's not that easy. I honestly think he is my soulmate, and I have two years invested in this relationship. What should I do?

A: Before I answer your question, I have something I too need to get off my chest.

When I was in graduate school I took 800 dollars of my hard-borrowed loan money to buy a used car. For that price you can imagine it wasn't pretty, and definitely didn't score me points with the chicks, but it usually ran when I needed it and got me back and forth from home and school for a while. Anyway, like a lot of cheap, crappy cars it broke down on me a lot. First needing a new clutch, then some electrical stuff, then an alternator, some brakes, a new exhaust system, etc... Not knowing anything about cars except how to drive them, I ended up dropping about 500 bucks in repairs every other month. On top of other expenses and the total poverty that graduate students are forced to live in (believe me, I lived on less than a part-time burger-flipper), this sucked.

So why did I continue to invest in this piece of shit? Economists often refer to this phenomenon as "throwing good money after bad", or wasting good resources to try and salvage a bad investment. As a psychologist, I know we do this all the time and can lead to difficult situations, yet knowledge of the behavior didn't keep me from going broke. A lesson I still seem to be learning.

I guess the reason we do this is because each of those additional investments seem so much easier to make than starting over from scratch. A 500 dollar repair was a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a new car, and as optimists we like to think that perhaps if we stick with it, it'll pay off in the end. Sometimes it does, but more often you end up selling the car as scrap metal for some pocket change (I got $100).

So, by now you must realize that, by analogy, my car = your relationship. Relationships are the same, we make a small investment upfront (time, intimacy, even money) in hopes of a big pay-off later. Sometimes our investments are misplaced, and yet, like me with my car, we continue to throw good money (and time) after bad. I lost a year and about 2,000 bucks. You lost two years, but if you continue to harbor feelings for him you'll lose even more.

You are lucky that you currently have such insightful friends in your life. They are right, and I think you realize this as well, in that you need to get over your feelings for him and move on. Sometimes this is easier said than done, try to stay busy and reach out to your friends when you need their help. Before you know it, you'll be ready to put a down payment on another relationship. Remember, a "soulmate" isn't a soul-mate if that person is in love with another. The sooner off you can chalk this relationship up as a loss and send him to the emotional salvage lot the better.

PS. I've said it before but it always needs repeated:
Anyone, man or women, who is SEPARATED from a married partner has not given up on the marriage. If they say something to the contrary, they are either lying to you or kidding themselves. Period. Case closed. People get separated for a number of reasons (career relocation, having extra-marital sex, PMS) but giving up on marriage isn't one of them. Usually it's a trial period that allows partners to see if they can meet someone better, sometimes they do but often they don't and reconcile. I'm not saying don't date someone in a separation, but just do so informed and know what to expect.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Friends

Originally published July, 2003.

Q: Is it possible for a female and a male to be friends without the male trying to be more than friends? My boyfriend tells me that all guys want one thing, and one thing only. You're a guy Dr. B, is this true?

A: Yes, it is true that I am a guy. Thank you for noticing.

To answer your other question, of course men and women can be platonic friends. Haven't you ever seen "Will & Grace"? For the benefit of those readers who spend too much time at the bars to watch TV (I know my audience), I'm talking about a show that revolves around the friendship of a man and a woman who do not appear to have any sexual feelings for each other. They hang out, shop, dish, and basically do whatever with absolutely no ulterior motives. Of course, it helps their friendship that the character of Will is gay. Then again, the show also focuses on another platonic inter-gender friendship between the characters of Jack and Karen. Coincidentally, Jack is gay too. The answer is simple: gay men and straight women can be great friends without sexual tension.

I bet that your boyfriend probably doesn't suspect that your gay male friends secretly want in your pants (unless they want to borrow them) so this question is probably in reference to those straight guys out there that you spend time with while your boyfriend is out of town. I get the impression that you have some male friends that your boyfriend is suspicious of. You ask if it's possible for a straight man to be your friend and not secretly lust after you and of course it is possible. Anything is possible. Hell, fresh-cut fries on a sandwich could be an overlooked cure for cancer. It's possible; it's just not likely. Probability speaking, the chances are good that any guy you are close to is, will be, or used to be attracted to you. That is, unless one of the following factors apply to your situation:

1. The male friend is gay.
2. You have a reason to believe he finds you unattractive.
That's not a complete list, but those are the biggest two factors. If you're attractive and he's not gay then you may have a friend who secretly wants you. Another big factor is if you and your friend already have a history together. Unless they desperately want to patch things up, ex-boyfriends and former lovers can often make great friends. With a "been there, done that" attitude, they've already tasted the goods and moved on.

However, none of this should have any relevance to your current boyfriend whatsoever. It doesn't matter if guys in your life want you as long as: 1) you don't want them; and 2) they keep it to themselves. Regarding the first point, if you are true to your boyfriend then he should have nothing to worry about despite his suspicions of your male friends' motives. Regarding the second point, be aware that a lustful friend could someday share his true feelings with anything from a heartfelt discussion to making a sexual pass at you. Such situations are never comfortable and how you deal with it will depend on your own feelings and the nature of the situation. Whatever the case, it should be resolved immediately, at least before Karen and Jack come over.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Revenge

Originally published June, 2003.

Q: What's the best way to get revenge on a cheating boyfriend?

A: I love questions like this. Short and to the point, obviously submitted by someone with a working attention span. Keep them coming!

Of course, it's a tough one to answer. First, I'm not a big fan of revenge, at least not for infidelity. If someone violates your trust in a relationship, especially one that you may not have much invested in, I say walk away. Game over, period. Get the hell out of there. To stay involved with someone that has cheated on you just introduces elements of distrust and insecurity into your interactions that will taint your relationship for years. You'll always be suspicious of his behavior whenever you aren't involved in his activities, and, if you are sexually active, it'll interfere with your sex-life. Questions like "Why'd he do it?" "What's wrong with me?" and "What's keeping him from doing it again?" will continuously haunt you. Anger and other negative emotions will take away from your own quality of life, and no one needs that headache, especially in summer. Instead of plotting revenge, I'd recommend that you keep your dignity, walk away, and get over him so that you can enjoy the rest of your life without him.

Sorry to disappoint, but I would never suggest getting your revenge by cheating on him in return. I especially would not recommend that you try seducing one or two of his close friends, roommates, or maybe even an advice columnist one night while he's at work. I surely would never tell you to do things with them that you were never willing to do with your boyfriend such as experimental positions or three-ways. Imagine how your boyfriend would feel if you never had anal sex with him but ran off and did it with some other guy. Man, would that suck for your boyfriend and I would never recommend doing something like that.

If I were to recommend some form of revenge, I would probably suggest that you make the punishment fit the crime. The "eye for an eye" philosophy at least seems somewhat just. I definitely would also suggest that you try to avoid any criminal behavior. His car didn't do anything to you, so leave it alone. Of course, as I've already said I don't support taking a revengeful action. This is all purely hypothetical.

Finally, I have my own personal motto regarding revengeful situations:

"I don't get mad, I get single."

Feel free to quote me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vegas Baby!

Originally published May, 2003.

Q: If you are in a "relationship" is it wrong or inappropriate to go on vacation with your friends? My girlfriends are planning a trip to Vegas and my boyfriend thinks it's "oh so wrong" if I were to go with them. What is the deal, I see nothing wrong with getting away with your closest girlfriends every once in a while. Do you?

A: Hell no, there ain't nothing wrong with a little getaway with the girls. I'm with you, go on with your bad self and make sure to send me some pictures (the more incriminating, the better).

Of course, you have to understand your boyfriend's objection (I am curious about your use of quotation marks around the word relationship, is he a boyfriend or not?). To you it's a nice "vacation with your friends", but let's be realistic here: it's VEGAS. A town that, despite the Disney-inspired recent developments on the strip, offers 24 hour alcohol sales, drive-though wedding chapels, private strippers, and semi-legalized prostitution. When groups of guys go to Vegas, they go to drink heavily, ogle chicks, and get laid (oh yeah, and gamble). You and your friends probably aren't that interested in calling Pamela Peaks for a hotel room visit or taking the 45-minute drive to the nearest legal brothel. However, you will most likely be spending your time drunk (if you do it right) or otherwise intoxicated and surrounded by hoards of men who are in town for only one night, with only one purpose in mind. Nobody goes to the museums, the shows are just time fillers, and Hoover Dam is just a stop on the highway for most. Groups of young people go to Vegas to party. Period.

Your "boyfriend" probably doesn't object to you going away with your friends, just to where you are going. I'm sure that he'd have no problem with you and the girls heading out to the Amish country, Napa Valley, or Salt Lake City. But let's be honest here: A trip to Vegas (or New Orleans, Ft. Lauderdale, Cancun, Amsterdam, etc.) implies certain behaviors that he may feel threatened about. Just think of the recent commercials for Las Vegas that advertise what happens there stays there. He's worried about how you'll be partying and the people you'd be partying with. If he knows that he's only in a "relationship", not a quotation-free relationship, then he may have reason to worry. But does he really? I doubt it. Regardless of what you do in Vegas, I don't think that it will have any impact on how you feel toward your "boyfriend". You're probably not planning on doing anything that would hurt your "relationship", but even if you manage to hook up with every hot guy in the Mandalay Bay, you aren't going to fall in love in Vegas and you've still got a ticket home. The only thing you can really do for your "boyfriend" is to try to alleviate some of his insecurity. Eliminating the quotation marks is a good start, but also assure him that it's a harmless weekend and emphasize the quality time you will be spending with the girls. No matter what some people do in Vegas, it is possible (so I hear) to have a good time without indulging in a bit of sexual indiscretion. You should also point out that being able to trust your partner enough to let them out of your sight once in a while, even to Vegas, is fundamental to any good "relationship".

PS. Whatever you do in Vegas, resist the drunken urge to get married. I don't know your "boyfriend", but I'm pretty sure that won't go over too well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guilty Fantasies

Originally published April, 2003

Q: I am seriously involved with someone, however, I keep having these fantasies about someone else who is much younger than I am. I think in another lifetime we would have made a scorching couple, but definitely not now. How do I reconcile my guilt over having these seemingly uncontrollable feelings? I would never leave my partner - but I can't seem to stop thinking about the "Could of" aspect of the other person. Or should I feel guilty?

A: Extra-relational attraction, fantasies, and guilt are all very common experiences that most of us (some more than others) are quite familiar with. All are very normal, and are part of what it means to be an emotional, sexual, and rational being.

We make a lot of decisions in our lives, like last night it took me ten minutes to decide between the salmon or the pasta. Both were equally appealing and cost the same, but I went with the fish. As I was eating, someone at the table next to me ordered the pasta and it looked damn good. Unlike picking items from a menu, choosing a partner is one of the most important decisions we can make. It's a semi-rational choice based on emotions and/or sexual attraction, involves another person, and can have long-term results. We have a lot more invested and more at stake when choosing a partner and we tend to do so with caution. I wasn't emotionally bound to my dinner choice (hell, I could have just flipped a coin), the salmon's feelings weren't going to be hurt if it didn't work out, I knew that picking salmon didn't mean that I could never eat pasta, and I damn sure didn't feel guilty for thinking about the pasta after I had made my decision.

Did you make a good choice? It's hard to tell from your e-mail, but whether you are happy with your relationship or not, you will likely find yourself attracted to other people. Choosing one person does not make you blind to the charms of the rest of us (inspiring such bumper-sticker wisdom as "I may be married, but I ain't dead"), especially when there are others out there with similar qualities that you find attractive (we really aren't as unique as we think and neither are our partners). You haven't acted on these feelings and even said you would never leave your partner. Assuming that your relationship is secure: don't sweat it. Acknowledge the attraction, even fantasize a bit, and after a while, it will probably fade. If you think your partner can handle it, you may even want to "confess" your desire to lessen your feelings of guilt (be careful though, I've known several relationships where this caused problems). Regardless, your attraction is normal and fantasies can be healthy. In fact, it really isn't worth worrying about unless you are unhappy with your partner. In this case, your attraction to someone else may be cause for you to re-evaluate your choice. Might be time to order the pasta.
As for the guilt, that's an issue for clergy and philosophers. Personally, I feel that only actions should cause guilt (a statement that is much easier to type than to live by). Simply thinking about something, even repeatedly, isn't amoral. We all have unintentional "evil" thoughts, sexual or other, that pop into our heads on occasion, and I think it is a testament to our moral character that we do not act on them. Then again, maybe I'm just going to hell.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Young 'n' Tight

Originally published March, 2003

Q: Why don't men dye their goatees? Or any gray hair for that matter? They expect women to look tight... What are they doing to make sure they look young 'n' tight? And why don't more men care about looking young 'n' tight.

A: Okay, seriously. What the hell are you talking about? Tight pants? Tight asses? Tighty-whities?

Let me take a tight crack at what I think you mean: Straight men do not seem to put forth the same effort to make themselves physically attractive to straight women as straight women do to attract straight men. If anyone disagrees with this statement, then please go to the nearest nightclub and take a good solid look around. You will no doubt see very hot girls, fully made up with perfect hair, wearing the latest fashions and attracting lots and lots of attention from both men and women alike.

If you can peal your eyes away from those hotties for a second then you will also notice a collection of gimpy-looking pot-bellied guys who think that any combination of a button-down shirt tucked into a pair of faded jeans looks good with the same belt and shoes that they always wear (I recently saw this guy at a martini bar that completed the look by rolling up the sleeves on his short-sleeved pin-striped shirt - what a stud!). Or you'll see the somehow more stylish fashion t-shirt and baggy jeans look coupled with a hair style that is ready straight out of the shower. In general, men just don't put forth the same effort. Guys seem to think that damn near anything that is under ten years old is still in fashion, and unfortunately they are generally right. Sure, you may see an occasional well-dressed and well-groomed straight man, but they are the exceptions not the rule. So why do guys feel comfortable going out looking so bad? Because you girls don't care! It is 100% your fault that we don't care about looking "young n' tight". Hell, if I can get laid with some gray in my goatee then why the fuck should I dye it? That's just nonsense.

This points to a larger issue, that I won't go into great detail with now, that anyone familiar with modern psychological theory or just some basic observational sense will recognize: the standards we hold men and women to are very different. Us straight men like our women "young n' tight" while you straight women seem not to mind a little gray in the goatee as long as we have other qualities you are looking for. More on this topic in later columns, I'm sure, but in the mean time I'm taking my half-gray goatee wearing self out to a martini bar to scam on some hotties.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mmmmm Berries

Originally published Feb, 2003.

Q: How do you get your boyfriend to trust you after you have deceived him twice?

A: Well, it's real simple: you don't. It sucks, I know, but that's life.

Of course, I know you are reading this with a "gee thanks, doc" response, so I'll continue. Because this person is still your boyfriend, I can assume that you both probably want to work it out. Good for you, I wish you the best. Unfortunately, human nature may work against you. See, one of the instincts that we have programmed into our heads is the tendency to place greater importance on bad memories than good ones. If you think about this in another context, you'll see how it makes sense.

Suppose an early human stumbled onto 3 types of berries and ate one of each. The first was bland and had no taste. The second tasted awesome, full of flavor and loaded with sugar. But the third was so bitter that it left a fowl aftertaste and even caused the poor guy to spit it out, maybe even throw-up. Which of the three berries are going to leave him with a stronger memory? Good taste is often associated with nutritional value but bad taste is usually associated with poison (convenient how that works). So even though it may be a good idea to remember which berry tasted the best for the next time you're hungry, you better damn sure remember which one may kill you.

Our selective memories help keep us alive and from repeating mistakes. So let me get back to your boyfriend: I'm sure that 99.9999 percent of the time that he's known you, you have not betrayed his trust. Hell, there may have been times that you've proven your trustworthiness. But, and this is a J-Lo sized but, he will always remember those two times that you deceived him. I'm sure that every time you fight now, he brings them up. I'm sure it affects the way he acts with you in certain situations, and I'm sure that no matter what you do now, he refuses to let it go. Right?

This isn't fair to either of you, and if the issue persists then I doubt that the relationship is worth the trouble. However, another cool thing about human nature is that we are adaptable and have the ability to change or overcome our instincts (just watch "Fear Factor" for instance). So it is possible that he can learn to trust you again, although trying to get him to understand on a rational level and act on an emotional one are very difficult tasks. His awareness of what he is doing is key, and he must try to keep in mind that you've only deceived him for a fraction of the time you've known him despite how intrusive those two occasions may be. But the bottom line is this: if he is going to continue to treat you like a poison berry, then he shouldn't keep sampling the fruit.

On The Couch with Alan Astor

Originally published June, 2005.

An Interview with singer, songwriter, and all around bad-ass Alan Astor
(www.alanastor.com)

DrB: Normally, I'm the one answering the questions, not asking them so if this turns out to be the suckiest interview ever, well that's why. Um, so what are you drinking?

AA: At night? Tequila and red bull, though sometimes vodka and soda, or my favorite beer, Mirror Pond.

During the day I drink a lot of tea - green or black to get moving, or throat coat to heal the damage I did the night before.

DrB: You live in New York City, any chance you know Susan?

AA: I don't think so. Is she nice?

DrB: Naw, a real bitch. Actually, I'm from the city myself and I get a kick out of people asking me questions like that. So I know you're originally from Wilmington, Delaware. What was it like growing up there? You must have a ton of credit cards in your pocket.

AA: Yeah, Wilmington is the credit card capitol of the world. Its also home of tax free shopping in case you ever need to stop off at Borders, Olive Garden, or TJ Maxx on your drive between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Delaware is a really difficult place for creative people to grow up - there's almost nowhere to see live music, all the local bands play covers, there's no real art and the people all moved there for the cheap home ownership so it isn't the most aggressively forward thinking place. On the upside, there's a lot of dark fields to hang out in and a lot of places to drive forever. I spent a lot of time being bored and hung out with a bunch of other bored creative people. We'd play music or tell jokes or make little movies or whatever.

DrB: Sounds like an environment that could definitely lead to some innovation or serious drug problems. Now, here's a typical psychologist question for you, what was your childhood like?

AA: Difficult? I was the smart, rebellious, hyperactive kid that very few people knew what to do with and I spent a lot of time being confused because I was always told to sit down and shut up but it was like 'hey, this is who I am!' I think a lot of my thinking was shaped by that. Now that I'm older I'm only listening to me.

DrB: I think it's interesting that behaviors we punish early on are often those we reward with record contracts and movie deals later on. Were you diagnosed with ADHD? You definitely still have the energy.

AA: Yeah I mean, society rewards people more and more the closer they come to being insane. Megalomania, depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, egomania - these are the building blocks of actors, musicians, artists, and writers.

I've been diagnosed with a whole lot of things throughout my life, but I've rarely felt helped by psyche doctors. I think a lot of medical conditions, mental and otherwise, are assumed by western medicine to be intrinsic, or at least they are treated that way, rather than symptomatic. I mean, I had some bad depression for awhile but I figured out how to work through it. I haven't been depressed in a long time now. If I had listened to the doctor, I probably wouldn't be doing this interview, I'd be at home on some meds. I'm pretty opposed to psyche meds, at least for me. Some people out there I wish would take more. Really though, things start working out for you when you start making them work out.

DrB: The first time I caught your act was in Pittsburgh and both of the girls I was with could barely stop drooling long enough to take the CD you were handing out. Is that a typical reaction? Cuz damn, that sort of thing just doesn't happen to advice columnists.

AA: Hahaha, it's happening more and more to me and it would be hard to say it's not fun. Have you thought about switching professions?

DrB: Many times, need a back-up singer, or at least a roadie?

AA: Not right now, but you can check for new job postings at AlanAstor.com.

DrB: The last time I saw you perform, you were sporting, and I say this in the most hetero way possible, a fairly spectacular beard. Coincidentally, that same week my friends and I held the first meeting of the unofficial "Pittsburgh Beards Club"-okay, it was more like three guys at a party, but it still seems facial hair is becoming more popular lately (at least for men). I like to think it looks a little distinguished, but there's a fine line between that and Ted Kaczynski. What's your take?

AA: Bottom line is - grow a beard. You'll exit from the oppressive societal norm of running sharp objects over your face, you can look like your favorite bible hero, and girls will want to touch your face and tell you how hairy you are while they think to themselves 'god he's like an animal!'

I'm a huge Kaczynski fan by the way - I've read his manifesto like 6 times. He should be required reading for high school students.

DrB: Excellent advice Alan, have you ever thought about switching professions?

AA: Not since I started this one. I've been frustrated at times with the professional side of what I do, but I really can't imagine not doing music. I wanna be doing this for a long, long time.

DrB: I guess at some point we'd have to talk about your music. I know I've described you as a "crooner for the digital age" how would you describe your brand of pop?

AA: I'm not big on descriptions, but the best comparison I've heard is 'Neil Diamond meets NIN'. I dunno, I just try to make the most exciting, expressive, and poppy shit I can.

DrB: Alan, you're not exactly a big guy, but you manage to belt out this amazing soulful voice. In a way, watching you sing reminds me of the first time I saw that Rick Astley video in the 80s. You're like a crouching tiger, hidden Barry White. Wassup with that?

AA: Honestly when I started singing, I didn't know it either. Guess I was born with it. One of my favorite things about singing is that no matter how much you try to sound like someone else, you'll always end up sounding like you.

DrB: Seriously Alan, you've got a great voice and a terrific sound, but enough with the slow stuff already, how about giving us something a doctor can dance to?

AA: For some school book report on music when I was like 10 and I read this really academic book where the guy said that one of the fundamentals of music appreciation is bodily movement. I've been confused ever since. The Western world has been anti-dancing from the time they met black people all the way through the other night here in NYC where I was told to stop dancing because the club didn't have a 'cabaret license', a dancing permit. I've never understood NOT moving to music, I mean, what do you think that rhythm is there for?

And you know, I am a little disappointed in how undanceable my first record is. Wait til the next one hits - there's some real bangers on it.

DrB: You started your career playing jazz and rock, how'd you get mixed up in the world of synth and mp3s?

AA: You wouldn't call my music jazz-rock fusion? The electronic thing happened first out of curiosity, and continued out of necessity. When I can get a 40 piece band to back me up, I will.

DrB: I'll look forward to that album. Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?

AA: Shit I hate this question, I love so much music and take so much from so many places. To really simplify: Scott Walker, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Aphex Twin, Buju Banton, Jaques Brel, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wilson Pickett, and definitely James Brown.

DrB: I knew you would hate that one, I hated asking it but you know readers. How about this one, what makes your ears bleed?

AA: Overly sentimental teen ballads, poorly done songs about self-loathing, electro-clash and most ironic music, new country, overly self-important stuff. I like all kinds of music I think, especially when it's emotive and well done. I generally can't stand things that are poorly done.

DrB: I believe artists, such as yourself, represent a genre that, if there is any space left on the iPod after all that crunk, should be a major force in the near future. What do you think of the future of electronica?

AA: Electronica is a weird word that I don't think anyone who ever made electronic music was ever happy with. I think the future of music is where it's always been - experimentation in emotions with sound. There's a lot of new feelings now that no one's ever felt before - time to make soundtracks for them.

DrB: And the future of Alan Astor, do you have anything on the horizon you'd like to talk about?

AA: My second record is called 'Winning Is The New Suicide' and its heating up. It's not quite finished and I haven't figured out how it's going to be released yet, but it's going to kill. I've got some touring coming up, some songs that are going to be in commercials, and a lot more feeling good to do.

DrB: You know, I usually write a sex & relationships advice column, so if there has been anything that has been on your mind…
Actually, it seems most of the questions I get asked lately deal with a common theme of people that find themselves stuck in unhappy situations (cheating boyfriends, lame girlfriends, abusive imaginary friends, etc.). You've overcome a bit of depression yourself, what advice could you give my readers?

AA: Commitment is everything. Commit to yourself, what you want, your ideas, the people you love, and don't ever stray from that commitment. When people are talking, evaluate what they are saying and accept it as absolute truth, then pit it against what you know and see what wins. Eliminate anything in your life that you don't like. Don't take shit from people. When you get destroyed, build yourself up even stronger. Don't pay attention to the government, politics, the news - its not worth it. Know your past and think of yourself as an individual point on a long line extending infinitely back and forward. Live as though you are already dead. Always know that nothing ever had to be the way that it is, and that Everything Is Possible.

DrB: Well said.
I know that you spent some time in Austin, Texas, which is a kick ass town for music. I lived there for a while too, moving down from New York. How did you deal with the transition from east coast to third coast, and back again?

AA: I've moved every year for the last 10 years, so transition isn't that hard for me anymore. Going to Texas definitely made me appreciate the East coast. I don't think I could live anywhere else in the US.

DrB: And finally, some quick ones:
Girls making out: pro or con?

AA: Pro. Double-Pro if you are making out with them.

DrB: Rich or beautiful?

AA: Hm, materialistic or vain? They're both so good I just can't choose!

DrB: And for all the Austinites that may be reading this, which did you prefer Magnolia or Kerby queso?

AA: Magnolia man, though maybe its the atmosphere. Its a much better brunch spot. I'm a big brunch person.
For more on Alan and to check out samples of his music, visit www.alanastor.com.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chemistry Lesson

Tonight's installment of "On the Couch" reminded me of the very fist advice column I wrote back in Pittsburgh. I warn you, this blows.

Originally published Aug, 2002.

By special request, this week's column is about chemistry. Not really my strong point, but I've taken a few courses so here goes nothing. First, we need to understand that all matter in the universe is comprised of molecules that are themselves comprised of smaller pieces called atoms. There are at least 118 different atoms that we categorize in a periodic table according to the number of positively-charged particles they contain. Because the laws of nature dictate that electrically charged atoms are unstable, these particles must be balanced by an equal number of negatively-charged ones. Okay, this column is turning into a major snoozer. Let me re-think this…

Romantic Chemistry 101

Questions typically fall into one of three categories: 1) Is there such a thing; 2) Is it constant; and 3) Is it important. Obviously questions 2 and 3 depend on the answer to the first, so I will begin with that one.

Is there such a thing as romantic chemistry? The answer really depends on what is meant by such a phrase. There are chemical components to love, as emotions are brain functions and everything that occurs in our brain is dependent on special chemicals called neurotransmitters. There are also chemicals exchanged between individuals in most species called pheromones which can influence the emotional state of others. Although their existence in humans is debatable, at the very least we know that humans exchange molecules of a substance called MHC that helps us subconsciously determine if our immune systems are compatible with one another.

Most people use the term "chemistry" as a metaphor of how individuals seem to randomly find one another in a vast pool of dating partners. Actually, science would suggest that much of this metaphorical chemistry is dependent on the actual chemical processes I've briefly mentioned. For example, couples with compatible MHC molecules are more successful than others. Also, any experience that we interpret as pleasurable (including good conversations, good food, and good sex) is associated with a surge of a brain chemical called dopamine. Lucky for us this substance is also important to learning and memory so that such experiences are likely to be repeated (we are rarely motivated to repeat things that do not result in such a surge, unless we're just bored on a Friday night and that lame girl with the boring stories is the only one who answers the phone). So yes, on a basic level chemistry exists.

Is it constant? Nope, and you should be thanking whomever you hold responsible for the human existence that it is not. We are a highly adaptable species, and sometimes we need to un-learn old things so that we can learn new things. Falling in love with someone who betrays our trust is a good example, being able to move on after the untimely death of a spouse is another. Both of these are extreme but important examples of reasons why our system needs flexibility. Another is reproduction, or the lack of successful reproduction. Try to forget that we live in a time period that includes birth control, family planning, fertility treatments, and societal advantages for postponing reproduction. I know this is hard to do because we are surrounded by these things, but our genes, or rather the inherited instincts that our genes create, don't have a clue. Genes don't know that we are purposely avoiding pregnancy by using contraceptives and that we will be able to reproduce when we are ready. In nature, failure to conceive means something is wrong with the plumbing and continued effort with the same partner is not going to help achieve our primary goal of coupling in the first place: someone to do our chores for free.

There is a phenomenon called the "2-4 year itch" that refers to the fact that most divorce occurs within 2-4 years of marriage if no rug-rats or crumb-catchers are produced. Unfortunately, in this case an instinct that was once beneficial to our species is now inconsistent with other aspects of our lives. This doesn't mean that childless couples are doomed to break up. Knowing this information, and the way in which chemical surges occur, can help us to avoid this outcome (or at least prolong the chemistry). Dopamine is a drug produced in the brain. Actually, it is chemically similar to cocaine. Like any drug, if we regularly use it we develop a tolerance and no longer feel the effects we once experienced from its use without changing the dose. Drug addicts must constantly be increasing their amount of consumption in order to maintain the desired effects, or perhaps change the method of delivery. A person that fills our head with surges of dopamine is an addictive substance that we will eventually develop a tolerance for. This could result in taking him or her for granted and getting into a behavioral routine that we will eventually no longer find pleasurable. It is crucial then, for childless couples who wish to maintain their "chemistry" to grow with each other, explore and regularly engage in new activities that both can enjoy, and keep the sex life interesting. There is no guarantee that chemistry can be prolonged indefinitely but anything worth having is worth working for.

On another note, keep in mind that like any other physical detail (height, weight, shoe size) these processes vary between individuals. Chemical levels and the rate of tolerance are highly variable. Some may experience extremely heavy and powerful initial emotions, require more effort to maintain them, and lose them much quicker than others. Definitely compatibility on these issues can also be a factor in ultimate relationship success.

Is it important? HELL YES! However people couple for tons of reasons and many successful marriages have had nothing to do with chemistry or were initiated by other forces (finances, religious beliefs, societal arrangements, etc..). Personally, I prefer to feel the chemistry. But then again, no wealthy woman has ever asked me to be her trophy husband either. Any millionaires out there want to help with an experiment? I assure you that it's all in the name of science.