What an Accidental Dating Guru Wants Women to Know
It’s time to make your move.
Jon Birger did not expect to be here. An award-winning business journalist and a former senior writer at Fortune, he admits to venturing into the self-help genre with a “snooty attitude” when he wrote his 2015 book Date-onomics, which analysed modern-day dating by crunching numbers. Having returned to the genre with his 2021 release Make Your Move, the author is not only more comfortable with advising single women worldwide, but also encouraging them to question the clichés that come with romance. Today, as the world marks the annual day of love, we share 10 takeaways from our conversation with this accidental dating guru.
Proceed with caution when online dating.
“The physical dangers associated with online dating are ruining romance. Every day, there’s some online dating horror story like this one. Science shows there is a profound connection between the stories of how we first meet and the stories of what we become as couples. What does that say, then, about relationships that begin not with magical moments, but with anxiety, fact-checking, and escape plans? It’s incredibly hard to fall in like or love if you’re spending the entire first date worried that Robert the handsome hedge fund manager might actually be Billy Bob the married ex-con.”
The so-called rules of dating are outdated.
“A big theme of Make Your Move is pushing back against the ‘play hard to get’ advice that has been the dominant message of most dating books written for women over the past 30 years. Of course, the bible of the play-hard-to-get crowd is The Rules, the success of which began a host of copycats like Why Men Love Bitches and Ignore the Guy, Get the Guy. Their underlying philosophy is that men will lose interest in you the moment you show interest in them. The problem is today’s men don’t actually think this way, which is why so many of the fabulous, 40-something women I’ve interviewed for my books can’t understand why they’re still single despite having followed all ‘the rules’.”
#MeToo has altered the dating landscape.
“Men like women who like them. Every time I use this line on the lecture circuit, men in the audience nod in unison, while the women look at me like I’m crazy. Too many women have been taught to believe that the way into a man’s heart is ignoring his messages and rebuffing his advances. Now, perhaps this was true 100 years ago, but I can tell you with great certainty that this is not true today.
The message that the rules-followers want young women to send to young men boils down to ‘not interested means keep trying’. Think about how this sort of messaging plays out in the post-#MeToo era. Men nowadays are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing – as they should be! Now, very few men are going to assume that uninterested means keep trying. If a woman seems uninterested, men have learned that the proper response is not to assume she’s playing hard to get. The proper response is to leave her alone.”
Steer clear of dating apps.
“How many single women have ever said something along the lines of, ‘I love dating apps so much. All the men are so kind and honest, and it’s just so easy to find true love on a dating app!’ I’m guessing the answer is somewhere between zero and zero? Online dating is a cesspool. Everyone knows this. According to Pew Research, 57% of women report experiencing harassment on dating apps, 55% of women believe dating is harder now than it was 10 years ago, and 19% say they’ve been threatened with physical violence while using a dating app.
If there were a singles bar where one out of every five women were being threatened with violence, who would go back? To be clear, I’m not saying it’s impossible to find a life partner on a dating app. What I am saying is it’s hard. According to one study, young singles are now spending 20 hours a week on dating apps! And that doesn’t even include time spent on actual dates! The problem, as I see it, is the FOMO mindset when it comes to social media. As much as they dislike online dating, singles are more afraid of not being on dating apps.”
Get back out into the real world.
“I reject the idea that we need the apps and that it’s impossible to date people you know from the real world. I recently gave a Zoom talk to a group of students at Rollins College in Florida, where the Life Launch class covers everything from personal finance to relationships. Much of my discussion dealt with concerns about the safety and efficacy of online dating. A young woman told me she understood my arguments, but wanted to know how she was supposed to meet someone if not through the apps.
In response, I posed the following question to the entire class: ‘How many of you already know someone from the real world whom you like and have considered dating?’ There were 40 people in the class. 40 hands went up. My point was: why would you start from zero with a complete stranger on an app when there’s already someone you know and like from the real world whom you could ask out instead?”
The paradox of choice is real.
“The problem with modern dating is that every first date is a blind date with a stranger. Even after a third or fourth date, you still don’t really know the person – and this is where the paradox of choice kicks in. If he does or says something wrong, you are going to be much more likely to pull the plug simply because there are so many other fish in the sea. You have little way of judging whether his mess-up was a one-time goof or an indication of a deeper personality disorder. But if he had been a co-worker or part of your friend group – someone you actually know – it would be much easier to put the behaviour in context and determine whether or not he deserves a little slack.”
Classism will only work against you.
“Categorising a non-college-educated man as ‘settling’ or ‘compromising’ isn’t just rude. It’s classist. As a society, we are making such progress towards compassion and equity, so when it comes to dating, do we really want to send out the message that marrying the gentlemanly electrician is ‘settling’ – but marrying the insufferable banker is not ‘settling’? The bottom line is this: I do not believe that a college degree makes someone a better wife or a better husband. Lastly, if this really is purely about income, I’d be careful about buying into the stereotypes. I bet most Oxford-educated English majors earn less than their plumbers. For what it’s worth, my own plumber drives an Audi.”
Don’t rule out younger men.
“It’s all about women expanding their dating pools, much the same way men have done by dating younger women. For whatever reason, 30-year-old women have been socialised to believe that 26-year-old men would never be interested in them. Again, maybe this was true 100 years ago, but it’s definitely not true today. If you read Make Your Move, you’ll learn why. The other point I’d make deals with the downside of dating educated men who never married – because of the way dating math works, the dating market gets better for them as they age into their 30s and 40s.
For the record, I’m not assuming everyone should or wants to get married, but if I were a woman who was looking to get married, I would be very wary of such guys, especially the better-looking ones with good careers. Many of them are having way too much fun playing the field. It’s one reason why I encourage 30-something women to consider dipping down age-wise. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I actually think the younger guys are likely to be more commitment-minded than a lot of the older ones.”
You are not a failure.
“One of the reasons I wrote Make Your Move is because some Date-onomics readers found the message depressing. It was wrong of me to write a whole book all about why dating sucks for young, educated women without offering up real solutions to the problems these women were experiencing. This is why I wrote Make Your Move, which I believe offers solutions along with an uplifting message. I guess my words of wisdom would be: it’s still not your fault, but it is time to try something different.”
Make your move already!
“Stop worrying about ‘ruining the friendship’. I do not assume that everyone aspires to marriage or even monogamy. But if ‘happily ever after’ is indeed your goal, do not be shy about going after what and whom you want. If there’s a guy you know and like from the real world – a guy who gives you a happy feeling every time you’re around him – just ask him out. Stop waiting for him to realise you like him. He’s probably oblivious like most guys are! And if it blows up in your face? Feel free to blame me. But just remember what’s at stake. You’re not shopping for a used car here. You’re searching for a life partner, and anything that is important is worth taking some risks.”
Empowerment is not a buzzword anymore, but an imperative notion for positive change, evolution, and equality. Society at large has always discriminated against girls, their likes, their lifestyles, and their basic rights. So how can we bring a monumental change in the way we raise our girls to turn them into the torchbearers of this generation? Now, with International Daughters Day on the horizon, I would like to highlight ways in which we can raise and empower every little girl to lead the way in the future.
Teach Her to Voice Her Opinions and Decisions
Allowing girls to express their opinions is key to raising empowered young women. Let her know that her voice matters and say, “What are your thoughts? I want to hear what you have to say. How do you feel about this?” Letting them speak their mind is particularly important in making them feel included, heard, and accepted. At home, parents should allow their daughters to debate big topics – even if it gets heated – as it teaches them to be assertive and holds appropriate boundaries around disagreements. Long story short: listen more and dictate less.
Encourage Her to Pursue Her Passion
It is every individual’s fundamental right as a human being to pursue what they truly love and, as women, it becomes even more vital. It is often observed that girls don’t speak up for themselves when it comes to their career choices. Letting girls fully engage with an activity that they love will give them the opportunity to conquer and master any challenge. This will also boost her morale, build resilience and self-esteem, and affirm intrinsic values in her (rather than limiting her to just beauty and body).
Identify the Core Values of Your Family
Just as charity begins at home, so does empowerment. Creating an environment for girls to hone their values, yet live life on their own terms, is vital. Consider the ways in which you can convey values, especially by example. Think about what traits and strengths you want her to develop, such as authenticity and integrity, and what everyday life moments you can use to model and demonstrate such family values.
Create a Safe Space for Them
It is our responsibility to create a safe environment where she can express herself uninhibitedly, and not restrain her feelings. Allowing girls to show their full range of emotions is important in making them feel respected. We also need to teach young girls that when they feel angry or upset, it’s a signal that something is important to them and they should express it. Thus, creating a safe space for girls to stand up for themselves is very important. Safety is also a feeling that most girls and women never fully feel in life. This makes it important to educate men to learn to respect and treat girls the right way, so that girls can feel safe and don’t always have their guard up. Creating an environment where women are not treated as objects, but seen as equal individuals, is crucial.
Teach Her to Say ‘no’ Without Guilt
From a very early age, we are conditioned as girls to take care of others and their needs first, and not prioritise ourselves in the process. This leads to faster burnout for women as compared to men. Thus, it becomes vital to teach our girls as kids to say no without feeling guilty or constantly feeling the need to please others.
Allow Her to Be Adventurous, Daring, and Fearless
Urge your daughters, cousins, and every other girl to get out of her comfort zone by embracing her authentic self. Help her face the fears that make her feel incompetent and make her realise that there is more to her than she believes herself to be! Let her take risks, stumble, and find her way – that will help her embrace her true empowered version.
Exercise Equality, Irrespective of Gender
Most girls have witnessed gender bias at least once in their household, which always leaves some form of a scar in their lives. If you have boys and girls in the same house, it’s important to treat them equally, be it when they are in the middle of an argument, fighting, shopping, or even in terms of love, care, and number of hugs. Children have a tendency to observe everything and adapt quickly to actions, behaviours, and words. Schools must also step up to treat boys and girls equally, encouraging them to play together – especially in sports as that’s where most girls feel they aren’t as tough and strong as boys.
Be Inclusive and Body-Positive
A lot of girls and women worldwide struggle with body image issues. What if this could be eliminated by taking action in one’s early days? Passing mean comments on a girl’s body (even jokingly), looking at their bodies with disgust, pressuring them to lose weight, and warning them that they will have a hard time finding a suitable boy if they don’t can contribute to women’s body image issues. Unfortunately, this practice still happens in countless schools and homes today.
Kids – and girls especially – are bound to self-sabotage, question their looks, and think that there’s something wrong with them. To change this, parents can be mindful of how they talk and feel about their own bodies. If a girl sees her mother avoiding certain foods because she wants to lose weight or groaning at the weighing scale, that can send a certain message. In contrast, using positive phrases, avoiding negative comparisons, being mindful of how they talk about themselves and their friends, and not unnecessarily restricting them from behaving a certain way will surely encourage them to unlock their girl power.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Teach her to establish healthy boundaries for herself, be it personally or professionally. This will help her to not be taken for granted. Not only will it make her understand her own worth, but also teach her to treat others with respect and harmony.
Lastly, Celebrate Her
Women are creators themselves, and should be celebrated at every stage of life. They are symbolic of grace, abundance, feminine energy, love, joy, and so much more. Always upliftyour daughter to be independent, push her to become a fierce woman, teach her to become self-sufficient, and never limit herself to her beauty and body. Let’s give wings to her aspirations!
Read on if you’re anxious about a quarrel with a loved one.
Have you ever been anxious about a quarrel with a friend, sibling, or spouse? We’ve all been there. There is always guilt, but at the time, your fury overtook you and caused you to say things you didn’t consciously mean, and you wish you could take them back.
You can’t take back what you’ve said after you’ve said it. It keeps you thinking about how you could wreck your relationship with them, which takes you down the overthinking spiral. There appears to be no answer, but there is one that may improve your situation – but what is it? Making amends. It’s the only way to get over it. After what you said, you may feel embarrassed and even guilty about contacting them again, but it’s never too late. A sincere apology may even improve the bond between you and your loved one.
The first step is to admit to yourself that you made a mistake. Making amends after wrongdoing can only happen once you’ve admitted and accepted your role in the situation, as well as the pain you caused them and yourself. There is no need to continue reading this article if the acceptance is missing. Being mindful of your triggers and starting the healing with yourself will lead to making amends and asking for forgiveness.
As specialists have discovered, the hardest part of the healing journey is asking for forgiveness and forgiving oneself. On the other hand, the healing process begins the instant you recognise your mistake and start to resolve the cause of the trigger, and are eager to correct it. Stabilising your mental health and manifesting positive energy can be difficult, but it is not impossible. It all begins with you.
To “See Through Their Eyes”
We’ve all heard the advice to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes or see things through someone else’s eyes to understand a situation better. However, this may be difficult since everyone has their own narrative about a scenario, and it’s difficult to discard that narrative because there’s always a bias, which is difficult to overcome.
Nonetheless, this is a critical step that you must not overlook. Putting yourself in their shoes or seeing things through their eyes is imagining yourself in their circumstances and changing your perspective to see things from a different one. In this manner, you can comprehend why you did something wrong and hash it out with the person. Furthermore, you’ll be able to empathise with their suffering and give them and yourself time to heal before continuing your connection.
Communication Brings People Together
Communication is the second most important aspect of making amends. It solves 50% of the problems when they are done correctly. The goal of communication is to eliminate any potential for misunderstanding. This way, instead of expecting to hear what you like, you can truly and meaningfully ask the individual what you can do to improve things.
Their response could be very different from what you expected, making you upset and enraged. To summarise, you must accept their response with an open mind. If you truly want to make amends, you must mentally prepare yourself to accept what they say while putting selfishness at bay.
Processing the Apology
Giving the other time to accept your apology and giving yourself time to accept is crucial. You can’t immediately apologise and expect everything to go back to normal; forgetting and erasing the negative from memory takes time, and moving on takes time. However, forgiveness and acceptance are the first steps toward regaining control of your thoughts and improving your mental health.
Making amends is a way to make peace with oneself and start healing. It’s important to remember that your apology should represent your selflessness – not your desire to re-establish the relationship, but rather to help the other person feel better and improve the situation. There’s a chance the individual won’t forgive you, but you should let it go and see this as an opportunity to grow.
Liberate Your True Self
You must keep on track and not stray. Your apology aims to restore the other person’s faith in humanity and apologise for the actions you have shown honestly. It reflects your true self and allows the other person to comprehend your objectives better. If they don’t accept the apology, it doesn’t mean you’re abandoning the original goal – whether the individual forgives you or not, you should stick to your words. Making mistakes is inevitable in life, but failing to acknowledge them causes your character to deteriorate.
Asking for forgiveness is a healing process that can help you regain control of your life and mind as well as improve your perception of things. It should be a selfless deed to cure yourself and the person you have offended. It’s okay if you accidentally hurt someone and learn from it during your self-love journey. In contrast, what is not okay is being mindless about it. However, you are selfish if you purposely harm another person to benefit yourself. There’s a fine line between self-love and selfishness, and it’s up to you to draw it.
The Perfect Present
Researchers, mental health experts, religious leaders, and those in the recovery community all agree that acknowledging our triggers, healing our triggers and mistakes, expressing regret, and doing what we can to make things right may lead to immense benefit. Forgiveness is critical to the healing process because it allows you to let go of your anger, guilt, shame, grief, or any other negative emotion and move on.
Once you’ve identified what you’re experiencing, given it a voice, and realised that mistakes are unavoidable, you can go on. You’ll realise how liberating and forgiving it can be. Researchers have concluded that self-forgiveness is a “morally problematic area” and that “individuals may, at times, believe that they deserve to continue paying for their wrongs”, but they might be able to “tilt the scales of justice” if they make amends.
Aditi Vijay Chandani is a mental health coach in Dubai. Visit @therapywith_aditivcfor more information.
Here’s an inconvenient truth for all brides-to-be: your wedding, while designed to be the greatest day of your life, will inevitably have a hefty carbon footprint. Flowers will be discarded, as will excess food, paper decorations, and even wedding favours left behind by guests. It’s no wonder that more and more couples are opting for a ‘green’ – a.k.a. eco-friendly – wedding, which is easier to plan than it sounds. Here, with peak wedding season on the horizon, we share a few tips to get you started.
Instead of creating a wedding registry and accumulating more material possessions, direct your guests to a charity of your choice. Whether you’re passionate about animal welfare, fighting hunger, or protecting the environment, there’s a whole host of brilliant initiatives that your guests can support on your behalf.
Seek a stationer that gives back to the planet in some capacity. Ananya Cards, for example, plants trees for every wedding and event stationery order placed. It also uses cardstock from sustainably managed forests and recycled cards where possible. We also recommend posting information such as directions on your wedding website instead of using additional paper.
Floral centerpieces do wonders for the aesthetics of a wedding – not so much for the environment, though. A more sustainable substitute is using potted plants (like succulents) or flowers (like orchids or roses), which can be taken home once the big day is over. Alternatively, bypass the blooms in favour of more modern options like books, branches, and or sculptures.
An entirely vegetarian feast will inevitably make for a more eco-friendly wedding as plant-based meals consume fewer resources to produce – and harm no animals to boot. Looking to accommodate meat-eaters? Aim for a menu that’s 50% vegetarian. And if neither of these is an option, opt for plated dinners as buffets lead to greater food waste.
Edible wedding favours are a no-brainer. For starters, your guests will likely be famished towards the end of the night. And let’s face it – they’ll probably prefer mini cupcakes or cheese popcorn over a candle with your wedding date on it. Bonus: you can support small, locally based businesses if you source your favours from Ripe Market or ARTE, The Makers’ Market.
Unless fancy soirées are a regular occurrence in your groom’s social life, suggest that he rent a tux instead of splurging on one – it will be better for the planet and his wallet. Based in Jumeirah, The Wedding Shop has both tuxedos and morning suits in cuts ranging from classic to contemporary for hire.
You will need to arrange some type of transportation for your wedding day, especially if your out-of-town guests are staying at hotels far from the ceremony or reception venue. Providing post-event vans or buses is not only safer, but it also reduces the number of vehicles used.
To say dating in Dubai is tricky is an understatement – with such a transient populace, not everyone’s seeking a serious, long-lasting relationship. Factor in long working hours, an emphasis on social status, the prevalence of ghosting, and all those headlines on scams carried out via dating apps, and you’re looking at a recipe for disaster. Enter: Christiana Maxion.
Better known as ‘The Dubai Matchmaker’, the New York native is (you guessed it) a Dubai-based matchmaker and dating coach, passionate about helping the city’s singles find love. On a mission to rewrite the blueprint of the Dubai dating-verse, she’s also the host of the aptly named Dating in Dubai podcast that spans subjects like dating different nationalities, the perils of Tinder, and even her own UAE break-up story. We spent an evening chatting with this charismatic dating guru. Here’s what we learned.
1. Dating in Dubai is tricky, but it has its merits.
“You can argue both sides. I would say Dubai is definitely a place where you can have the most fun in dating because you can literally date the entire map. It’s such an international city – even New York City, where I’m from, has more of a homogeneous community in the sense that most people are American. But here in Dubai, you have people from so many different parts of the world, so it’s a really cool place to date. As for this mindset that it might be more difficult? I think that it’s a place where you can actually weed out what you like, where you can test the waters. And maybe it will take a little longer to find that person who you do connect or click with, but then again, dating is an experiment. It’s a game. You just have more options here, which I think is great.”
2. Not all singles in Dubai prioritise status when dating.
“It’s dependent on where you are. Of course, when you’re in Dubai – whether you’re visiting or you live here – you see the flashy cars, you see that it’s an expensive city. While there are ways to live in Dubai on any budget, it is a flashy city – but it’s about what kind of crowd you roll in, what kind of places you go to, where you meet different types of people. Also, different people define ‘status’ differently. For some, status is a nice car. For others, status is their family unit or the relationships with their friends. And I think Dubai is a place where you can make it whatever you want. If you want the city to be healthy or outdoorsy, you can do that – you can go hiking, you can join cycling clubs, you can join the gym. And if you want it to be super luxe, you can be out in DIFC or Downtown Dubai. There really are so many ways to experience and live in Dubai.”
3. Quality singles do exist in Dubai.
“I think there are so many quality people in the UAE, especially in Dubai, because it takes a certain personality to move here. It isn’t home for most people – close to 90% of the population is composed of expats, so it takes a certain mindset to leave a place that’s comfortable, a hometown maybe, and move to Dubai. And what I love about this city is that it breeds so much opportunity – people come here, they start new businesses, they maybe bring something that’s popular in their home country but doesn’t exist here. A lot of people have an entrepreneurial spirit, that ambition, that drive, which I personally find really attractive. So, yes, there are plenty of quality people here, but you might not find them on a dating app. Or maybe they are on a dating app, but they don’t come across that way on their profile, which is why I say to move more towards dating in the wild.”
4. Dating apps in Dubai – and everywhere else – are trouble.
“Dating apps in general are bad news. We’re in 2022, and the dating app market is really saturated – and with that comes a lot of fake profiles, a lot of profiles of people maybe who aren’t portraying their authentic selves. And in Dubai at least, the pandemic seems to be kind of over – we’re at least halfway out of it – so more places are open. There are so many different hobbies and interests that you can invest in and actually meet somebody in person. Besides, dating apps take away that vetting process, right? Would be curious to know more about a person based on an in-person interaction or a static photo and some words put together that might not even be true? I’d recommend Dubai singles to pursue more hobbies and go out there to meet people in person – or hire a matchmaker!”
5. Meeting a partner ‘in the wild’ is more likely to yield the right partner.
“I think that meeting a partner in the wild not only narrows down the vetting process, but also the effort involved in the dating process. Yeah, it might take time to meet someone who you actually connect with, but at least you’re not blindly going on dates with people you know nothing about. You get that automatic feeling when you meet somebody in person, whether or not you’re curious to know more about them, or if you have a connection. You instantly know if you want to see where it goes.”
6. Demand for matchmaking services is on the rise across Dubai.
“I hear so many complaints from both clients and friends about the fact that people aren’t portraying their authentic selves. They go on a date, and realise the profile contained altered photos, filtered photos, photos from 10 years ago. Some people aren’t being honest about their relationship status, either. But when you join our database – either as a member or a client – you’re completely vetted. We interview every single person, and you have to sign a contract confirming that you’re actually portraying your authentic self. And when we do present potential matches, we tell you why you would be compatible with a particular person. As for those who trust the process? I tell everybody that even if there isn’t a romantic spark, it could result in a friendship or business connection.”
7. Overwhelmed by modern dating? A dating coach can help.
“Sometimes, what ends up happening in dating is you ask your friends for their opinions. Or maybe your past experiences have shaped your perception of what dating should be. Or maybe you’ve lowered your standards in some way. In contrast, I call the dating coaching that I provide ‘empowered dating’. It’s about breaking through past patterns by starting with a deep analysis of your most significant relationships. We then build your ideal partner – this is like the customised compatibility coding that I do with my matchmaking clients, but in even more depth. From there, we create dating opportunities, so based on this compatibility code, we determine what hobbies and interests you can invest in to meet or attract this partner in real life.
Coaching also entails learning how to put yourself first – date yourself first, get to know yourself, and put yourself on a pedestal. One of the things we do is create a unique selling point list – your USP list – and then talk about all your achievements and what you bring to a relationship. This is because once you start putting yourself on a pedestal, it’s easier to see both the green and red flags when you’re dating. You’re no longer going to settle for somebody who treats you lesser than. And a really big point that I emphasise when I work with clients is that you should be dating like you’re the CEO of your dating life – you wouldn’t hire somebody to work for you if they weren’t meeting your minimum requirements, right?”
It’s Time to Talk About International Childfree Day
Let’s live and let live already?
As someone whose pre-pandemic life was dominated by travel, it was unusual – rare, even – for a country to leave behind an emotional imprint. Until Vietnam happened. I found myself on the unassuming island of Phu Quoc in 2015 after a traumatic series of events left me without a plan for the first time in years and, almost on impulse, started exploring the country from south to north and falling in love with just about everything along the way. However, it wasn’t until I reached Hanoi that I found purpose again – volunteering at a non-profit that serves children born with birth defects as a result of Agent Orange.
Spending my days with children suffering from severe autism and Down syndrome changed me forever. Between my heartfelt connection with them and seeing their everyday realities up close, I vowed that I would dedicate any surplus time, money, and energy to institutions that cater to children who are already here and in need of help. And with whatever is left of my limited resources (yes, there’s truth to the term ‘starving artist’), I’d rather pursue the travel experiences on my bucket list: sleeping in a yurt by Issyk-Kul Lake, hiking to Everest Base Camp, practising sunrise yoga in Bali, exploring the undiscovered corners of Balochistan, taking a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, and capturing a rainy day at Salar de Uyuni. And I don’t feel the need to apologise for my priorities – or do I?
The subject of childfree women, such as myself, is a prickly one. Just setting out to write this article in celebration of International Childfree Day, today, led to everything from uncomfortable debates to downright judgemental reactions. For the uninitiated, this annual event created in 1973 recognises “couples who have faced criticism, ridicule, and rejection because they chose to be childless”. And it’s due to the stigma around what is an incredibly personal decision that I felt the need to speak with three resolutely childfree women in the UAE. What I never could’ve predicted is how similar they are – despite their differences. These are women who dote on their nieces and nephews and feel passionately about animal welfare, thereby disproving the stereotype that childfree women are ‘selfish’. Here are their stories.
Born in the UK to an English mother and Iranian father, Deborah works in marketing and moved to the UAE 11 years ago. A few things that she’s passionate about? Animals, the environment, global warming, and everyday compassion. “I’ve become vegan over the last couple of years and, as a result of changing my diet, I think about a lot of things very differently now, including how we use the Earth’s resources and how we treat each other. More than the UK, you see stark differences between rich and poor in Dubai, and I’ve become more aware of that recently – how we treat those most vulnerable in our society, which includes animals that are completely dependent on kindness from others.”
Deborah says that it was a series of events – as opposed to one aha moment – that led to her decision not to have children. “Growing up, I never questioned that I wouldn’t have children. Like a lot of people, I thought I would get married by 27 and have probably two or three kids in my 30s. That was my plan and I never really questioned it, but there were a few different things that happened,” she says. “Firstly, I didn’t really meet anyone that I could see myself marrying. I spent a lot more of my adult life single than in a relationship and, while the relationships that I was in were very much by choice, they weren’t necessarily going to end in marriage.” Like so many of us, her light bulb moment happened in the shower.
“I got to a point where I was in my mid-to-late 30s and asking myself, ‘What if I don’t meet someone in time to have kids?’ And I’d never really thought about that before. I remember feeling a sense of shock that all of these things that I’d assumed would happen might not happen. But after taking a few days to really ponder it, I came out the other side feeling like it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have kids. I didn’t feel like I was going to be missing out on some universal life secret. And I was a little surprised by my indifference,” she explains. Her priorities were more rooted in meeting the right person.
“If I had to make a choice between meeting the right person and having children, I would always choose the former. I knew that I wasn’t going to do sperm donors or adoption if I hadn’t met anyone. And if I met someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and they didn’t want kids, I knew that I would prioritise them. I also didn’t want to have kids within a few months of meeting someone – that’s a huge commitment and you need to be really sure about the relationship. I was around 36, 37 at the time and starting to edge towards a point where it may not be suitable for me to have kids anymore. I never wanted to become a mother in my 40s,” she explains.
It was around this time that Deborah underwent a post-breakup period of emotional recovery that entailed both spiritual work and adopting cats. “I also started looking at life from all kinds of different aspects, including spirituality, which helped shake off the need to leave a legacy in this life. At the same time, fostering and adopting cats made me realise that I could unconditionally love something that I wasn’t connected to by blood, and it freed me from this idea that I needed to physically have a child. It also introduced me to the idea of other options, like I could adopt a five-year-old if I suddenly felt the need to catch up with everyone else. It sort of released from the fear that I couldn’t love a child unless it comes from my own body.”
As fate would have it, she ended up meeting her now-partner a few years after this phase of healing and introspection. “I was 41 when I met him, and we had the conversation about kids early on. He said he would be supportive of my decision either way, but admitted to feeling relieved when I told him that I didn’t want children,” she says with a laugh. “He has children from his first marriage – two teenage boys – and it’s really nice in many ways. We get along really well and, while I’m not their mother, we make a nice family unit when they visit. Those few weeks of activity drop-offs and cooking for them and family time together leaves me feeling like it’s enough.”
Elsewhere, family time comes in the form of nieces and nephews, who helped take some of the pressure off Deborah – not that she ever felt pressured. “Both of my older sisters have children, so I wasn’t depriving my parents of having grandchildren. They have six grandkids and that’s plenty,” she says. Explaining her stance on connections, she asserts, “If you are supposed to be part of somebody’s nurture, it doesn’t matter whether you gave birth to them or not.” While Deborah says she has never felt the need to explain her decision to people, she does occasionally address the proverbial elephant in the room – just in case they’re wondering.
“But I tend to find that people who have kids never really question me on it,” she tells me. “And people who’ve known me a long time understand that it wasn’t a snap decision. It’s just the way that life unfolded, and you go with it.” As for what advice she’d give to women who are facing pressure or judgement as a result of their choices? Two words: dog mentality. “My advice is the same as it is for a lot of stuff. I understand that people have opinions or beliefs based on where they’re from. And that’s fine. But the best way that you can ever address anything is with a bit of kindness and empathy – even if they’re not kind and empathetic towards you.”
Being an animal lover, Deborah says she always asks herself what a dog would think of a particular person. “Dogs don’t notice your designer shoes or the size of your apartment or your body type. They’re just going to go, ‘Oh, this person is lovely! Do you have something nice in your pocket? Do you want to play with me?’ Dogs – and animals generally – give people the benefit of the doubt and approach people with positivity. Humans on the other hand? We’re the exact opposite. We care what you wear or what you look like. Along those same lines, dogs are completely unaware of the vehicle they’re in. All they care about are the simple things – who will feed them and who will be friends with them. And that would be my advice to such women, you know? People are always going to have opinions that you can’t change, so be who you are and be really comfortable with who you are.”
Mia, who works in business administration and marketing, hails from the UK and has lived in Dubai for eight years. Her parents migrated from India to England back in the 60s, and she says that her mother (who she describes as a go-getter) has been instrumental in her ability to question social norms. “My mum broke a lot of barriers in her time. She was the first woman in the community to learn how to drive, for example. And it was her strength and courage that has not only inspired me achieve a lot in life, but also influenced where I am today – getting married and having babies feels like a bit of a social institution.”
As a result of witnessing the breakdown of several marriages around her, Mia started to look within at a relatively young age. “I started questioning the decision when I was 21. Why should I have kids? Because society tells me to? And getting married and having children is the be-all and end-all? Is it an expectation from my parents? Or is it because I don’t want to feel lonely when I’m old? None of these reasons felt meaningful enough.” She tells me that she was a serial dater in her late teens and early 20s, but that changed after some key realisations. “When I was younger, I had to be in a relationship because there was this kind of urgency – I need to get married, I need to have children. And then I realised that I didn’t have to get married if I didn’t want to. I’m not going to settle. And I don’t really need to have children. That was a real wake-up call and it enabled me to have quite a healthy relationship with myself.”
Like many women who are childfree by choice, Mia says that seeing friends and family members with children doesn’t stir up anything. “I love children. I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews who I absolutely adore, but it doesn’t make me feel broody. I’ve got friends who hit 30 and panicked about their body clock ticking or being unmarried. I don’t have that feeling. I never have.” Mia says she gained newfound wisdom when she turned 30 and became a lot more accepting of her decisions, but not everyone followed suit. Over the years, her choice to remain childfree has been met by everything from incredulous gasps to patronising comments like, “You’ll regret your decision when you’re older and it’s too late.”
Like Deborah, Mia is the youngest of her siblings, all of whom went down a more ‘traditional’ route. “My siblings conformed to society, getting married and having children, which gives my parents the enjoyment of grandkids. But it didn’t spare me from the incessant questions about my future. There was this whole ‘it’s a part of your religion’ argument. But I’m Muslim, and part of my religion is also to give back,” she says emphatically. Between rescuing cats and educating children – tomorrow’s animal owners – on more humane treatment, Mia is determined to bring change in the future.
“Look, I go around picking up all the disabled ones that really need help, so what’s stopping me from going to an orphanage and adopting a child that really needs help? That’s kind of my motto in life – giving opportunity. And I’m very fortunate to be able to do that. For me, having children is about bringing someone into this world with the intention that you’re going to create the best version of that person and give them the best kind of chance in life. I feel I can do that through adoption someday. I don’t necessarily need to give birth to be able to do that.”
Despite observing a move towards a slightly more tolerant mindset in general and across Indian-Muslim communities, Mia says there’s room for improvement when it comes to respecting one’s decisions. “I’m quite open about why I’ve chosen not to have children. And it’s not something that has come about recently, you know? I’m 35. This is a belief that I’ve been carrying for 15 years. I’m not going to start conforming just because I’m the only singleton at a dinner table with couples who are married and have children. And people need to respect that. We just have to respect how a woman chooses to use her reproductive organs, really,” she says wryly.
As for women in the Middle East? “We are entering into an era where women are able to challenge the longstanding limitations on their freedom. I think it’s crucial for women to be vocal, especially for those who are unsure of their decision or feel they aren’t allowed to think the way they do. This is a fundamental move to be liberated from the patriarchal system. Don’t be ashamed to speak up. I mean, we’re becoming more and more tolerant about people’s choice of gender identity and sexual orientation – why should it be any different for what a woman decides to do with her body? This particular subject doesn’t get as much publicity as it should.”
A homemaker and long-term expat, Pranjal has lived in Abu Dhabi for over 19 years, but what our chat reveals first and foremost is how her upbringing in India has shaped her into the real-life Dr. Dolittle. “I got my master’s degree in Marine Zoology from the University of Mumbai. I’ve always been a science freak and wanted to be a researcher, but I got married and moved here with my husband. As a child, I was a rescuer before the term was even coined. We had a house full of rescued animals – everything from dogs and cats to snakes, squirrels, and birds like egrets and cuckoos. In fact, if anyone ever found an injured animal or a baby animal in need of help, they would bring it to us. I was used to being around animals all the time,” she says.
Pranjal credits her paternal grandmother – who was an avid animal lover – for her penchant to rescue animals, but says animals were in much better shape back then. Her parents, like many, thought she would simply outgrow her tendency to pick up an orphaned puppy or injured cat on the way back from school. But luckily for the animal welfare scene of Abu Dhabi, she didn’t. “I remember people warning my husband that I was a bit mental about animals when we were getting married,” she chuckles. “But then it happened. I found my first rescue here. Being passionate about helping voiceless creatures, I picked up a poor cat helplessly lying on the asphalt in the summer. And that’s how my story in the UAE began. I’ve since been involved in areas like rescuing, humane trapping, and neutering. And I won’t stop unless I’m really old and unable to do things anymore.”
While I think of the capital’s stray cats as Pranjal’s unofficial family members, I can’t help but ask about her pets at home, and her reply is nothing short of fascinating. “Right now, I have a dog that I found in the street about nine years ago. He’s a big Saluki – and who throws a Saluki out in the street? But they do here. They’re thrown out once they’re considered no good for racing. He’s a hunter and an ex-racer, but he’s a submissive chap and became friendly with my five cats soon enough.” Her next anecdote is just as endearing as she recalls a puppy that she once rescued. “She used to collect shoes from all the villas around our house, and would dump them in the garden. And in the middle of that, she once deposited a baby tortoise at my kitchen door. I remember being puzzled at the time, like, ‘Okay, this isn’t a shoe.’ That’s how I got Ninja, my tortoise.”
Pranjal goes on to recall more incidents – a 47-gram owl that needed to be force-fed by a vet before being released back into the wild, a sunbird that she found lying outside after it hit glass, and countless cats and dogs in need of help. The more I hear, the more I’m moved by her life purpose. Selfish? Childfree women are selfish? What’s more selfless than tending to an innocent animal that can offer nothing in return? Explaining the thought process behind her decision, Pranjal says the ever-growing human demands on natural resources was a big factor.
“I always was and still am a voracious reader, which is how I started learning about ecology and human encroachment on nature while I was in school. The Discovery Channel came to India soon after, which got me into all these wildlife documentaries. And then it just didn’t make sense – if this planet has finite resources and we are clearing things up for the sake of humans to exist, where will these animals go? They shouldn’t be in zoos for us to gawk at. Oh, and that owl I found? That’s because a new community was built in the middle of the desert, and wild animals were suffering. This is what human demand does to the environment. Forests everywhere are dwindling and, whether the land is cleared for livestock grazing or concrete jungles, the animals lose their habitat either way. I started asking myself what we should be doing as responsible humans.”
But while there are responsible humans, there are also nosy humans. Pranjal has been on the receiving end of both positive and negative reactions, some of which are just downright appalling. “I’ve never experienced a friend being judgmental – in fact, I met my best friend here because of our dogs. But I’ve also had women proactively give me phone numbers of fertility specialists. And then there are those who react to the fact that I don’t have kids by saying, ‘Oh no, I’m so sorry.’ At times like that, I ask myself if I should explain, but then I just let them assume what they want,” she says with a shrug. And in case you’re wondering, yes, she has also been called the S-word. “I’ve been called selfish, I’ve been called a child-hater, which I’m not. I love my cousin’s kids and I love kids generally – unless, you know, I’m on an airplane and the kid behind is kicking me,” she confesses with a laugh. Another classic? “You must have at least one child – who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?”
I ask Pranjal what advice she’d give to women who are on the fence about having a baby, but feel pressure in light of societal norms – particularly in this part of the world. “I would say to them what I said to myself: it’s your choice and nobody can make it for you. You should have a child only if you feel driven by your maternal instincts,” she explains, asserting that it’s not an experiment. “You cannot just have a baby and then see how you feel. But if you have made up your mind, like everything else in life, stand by your decision and know that your family will eventually come around. There’s no point making yourself miserable just because somebody else wants you to have a baby. Back then, a 20-year-old girl sitting at home was considered unacceptable, but it’s not like that today. You shouldn’t be pressured into becoming a parent.”
International Childfree Day may have been created nearly 50 years ago, but Pranjal (rightfully) feels that the overall mindset towards childfree women hasn’t changed much. “Honestly, I think that the you-must-have-children camp is much bigger than this small percentage of us who have decided to take this path. People simply need to respect others’ personal decisions – I mean, my neighbour has nothing to do with whether I have children or not. I’m happy there’s a specific day that recognises people like us, but I don’t think a discernible shift will happen anytime soon, especially in this region. Things are totally different in the West, but here, a husband and wife alone cannot be a family. There has to be a child in the equation.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Mimi Winsberg – aka the ‘text whisperer’ – has taken a deep dive into the nuances of texting for her first book, Speaking in Thumbs, in order to help us master today’s most dominant mode of communication. After all, when it comes to communicating in the 21st century, it’s our thumbs that do the talking. By combining behavioural research with real-world text exchanges, she has helped readers recognise red flags in the early days of online dating, examine the personalities and attachment styles of prospective partners, and avoid misunderstandings in romantic relationships. Here, we share the key takeaways of our conversation with this ‘text whisperer’.
1. Early text exchanges can cloud your judgment.
“I think it’s important to note that as we’re getting attached to somebody early on, we’re telling ourselves a story – first about who this person is, then about the kind of relationship we have. And there’s a fair bit of projection that goes into that story sometimes. We’re not necessarily looking at the data that’s in front of us, and that’s where people can get into trouble. Our early text exchanges can therefore betray important clues about things like an individual’s personality traits or attachment style, so it’s not so much about looking for red flags – although I do advise on that, too. It’s more about looking for clues as to who this person really is and whether they’re right for you.”
2. Fluency in texting is essential in modern-day communication.
“Texting is a relatively new language; we’ve only been texting since 2007 and, in some ways, our brains are still struggling to catch up with this notion of asynchronous communication – even though it’s how we conduct most of our lives. It’s certainly the primary form of communication in our romantic relationships. As I was sifting through all these real-world exchanges for the book, I was struck by how profound some of the conversations were. They were emotional, stirring, romantic, but also conflicted at times. That’s why we must acknowledge that our brains skip a few steps sometimes. We don’t read the message exactly as the person intended it. And as we type quickly, we hear the message in our head, but don’t really think about how it’s going to be received.”
3. You can use your text threads to your advantage.
“Our text threads are the electronic medical record of our relationship – there’s this whole history that you can see unfold from beginning to end. Are we supposed to have that? No. And is it doing us a disservice? Perhaps. But it’s here to stay, so I propose that people use it productively. Reviewing texts can help learn something from a relationship, perhaps one that has soured or ended. You want to track the inflection points as the relationship progressed, so by reading past text exchanges, you can see your partner’s patterns of communication and your own. If you tend to get defensive, for example, it will be obvious while reviewing the thread in a way that you couldn’t have seen in the heat of the moment.”
4. The absence of visual cues brings with it both advantages and disadvantages.
“The disadvantage of texting is that everything is distilled down into one bubble, but the advantage is that you can take your time and maybe take a deep breath before responding – and edit before you send. I give plenty of practical tips on how to avoid misunderstandings in the book, but I’d say the first is what John Gottman discusses, which is cultivating attunement. When we like someone in person, one of the characteristic things that we do is make eye contact, pay extra attention to them, and match their body language unconsciously. I think the same kind of thing can happen asynchronously, too – you’ll develop better rapport if you really pay attention to the person and what they’re writing.”
5. There are tell-tale signs of lying over text.
“There are certain linguistic features of people who are being deceptive, and the first is the tendency to drop the first-person pronoun, the ‘I’. Why is that? Because when we lie, we try to emotionally distance ourselves from the statement. It comes off more easily that way. As opposed to something like ‘running late’ – which is such a common abbreviation – an example would be something more personally descriptive. So, instead of saying, ‘I was out with Martin last night’, they’d say, ‘Was out with Martin last night.’ Liars also tend to say the same thing over and over again, hoping that makes it seem truer. It might be repeating the same thing three times about how the car broke down.”
6. It helps to understand your partner’s texting language.
“There’s been a lot of lip service given to Gary Chapman’s love languages and, in the book, I argue that there are five love languages of text, too – different ways to express and receive love over text. Get to know your partner’s preferred method of texting. If they don’t like getting memes or GIFs or article links throughout the day, maybe don’t do that. But if they like you to share such things without necessarily initiating a conversation, then great. I call that love language ‘spoon-feeding’. We’ve observed that various ways of expressing ourselves over text may or may not be compatible with another person.”
7. Instant intimacy can be a red flag.
“I coined the word ‘instamacy’, which of course is instant intimacy. And it’s not to say that I discourage it, per se, because I think one of the key indicators of chemistry is this feeling that it’s so easy to be with the person and you’ve known them forever. But I do think that when it’s too much too soon, it can also be a sign of poor boundaries or an insecure attachment style. Creating a sense of intimacy too quickly can be an exploitative technique. Somebody talking about meeting your family or getting married or going on honeymoon after the second date – those are all warning signs. It overloads the relationship, and it’s a presumption of intimacy that has not yet been built.”
8. Men and women text (very) differently.
“Women tend to perceive a lot of texting as a good sign. In contrast, men feel that things are going really well when there’s less texting going on – that no news is good news. I think that’s an interesting discrepancy. Women tend to favour more communication, and it goes with the volume of texting, too. We’re also more inclined to type longer texts and want frequent texting, whereas men prefer less communication in general. They get overwhelmed easily and can’t handle multiple questions within the same text bubble, so women, keep it short. Men, be metaphorical when you give compliments. Women don’t like reading texts that say, ‘You’re hot.’ Try to be a little bit more poetic in your delivery.”
Us men can seem like a bit of an enigma at times, appearing stoic, emotionless, carefree, and perhaps even cold and indifferent. The keyword here though is ‘appearing’. The truth is that we feel more than you think. It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to believe that the expression of emotion equals weakness – unless it’s related to sports or video games, of course.
I write this as a man who has struggled to express his truth with women for many years – a man afraid of reaction, rejection, judgement, and the truth I might hear reflected back at me. So instead, I lied, suppressed my truth, and consequently caused a lot of pain to those close to me. The battle between the man who wants to express his truth and the woman who wants him to when they both lack trust in each other is ongoing.
As you read this, you may think that it’s normal for a man to lie and hide the truth – and whilst I might agree with you, it does not make it okay. The reality is that men want to be honest. A man wants to unburden his troubles, but the conditions need to be psychologically safe. Most men fear that their truth will hurt the person they want to be honest with, so they decide to say nothing. They fear rejection, and their ego struggles to accept it, so they avoid being vulnerable altogether.
To the women reading this: you are the conductors of this journey and the experts of emotional expression – and we need your help. It’s not easy for us to switch between our emotions, especially with some of the vulnerable ones. They don’t feel nice, and we don’t know what to do with them. Most men want to escape a negative state of mind as quickly as possible, which is why we try our hardest to block our emotions or numb them.
So where do we go from here? It might sound cliché, but communication really is key. I’d like to share with you some ways in which you can create psychological safety for the men in your life in order to encourage open and honest conversations together. Of course, there are many men who are comfortable being vulnerable, but this article is written with those who are emotionally closed off in mind.
Before you read ahead, know that I fully understand there are times when the things I list will be difficult to do, perhaps because your own emotions may be heightened or the topic you wish to bring up has been on the table for quite some time. Every relationship is unique and relationship goals may vary. This is a journey and it will take time, but I promise that if you really work on creating safety, the man in your life will begin to open up.
Is this the time or place?
He’s just come home from work or hanging out with his friends, and you’re ready to talk to him about something that’s been on your mind all day – after all, you’ve had all the time to go over it and now you want to let it all out. But this is not the time. This scenario does not create safety. As mentioned before, it is difficult for a man to switch between emotional states and after having just come home, he’s in no state to talk about his feelings, so give him time to truly settle.
Talking to him just before sleeping is also a bad idea. Most men just want to sleep once their head hits the pillow. I can fully appreciate that you may have something on your heart and mind – possibly something that’s been bothering you for a while – but if you really want to have the best shot at an open conversation, find the right time and place to do so.
Are you really ready to hear his truth?
Before embarking on a journey to create safety for him to open up, ask yourself if you feel safe with yourself to receive his truth. Are you ready to accept whatever he says with an open heart, to listen and not react? What is your intention for the conversation? What do you want to achieve together? Check in with yourself to recognise if there has ever been a time where he has attempted to express his truth and you mishandled the situation, emotionally hijacked the conversation, or even used his vulnerability against him. It doesn’t take a lot for a man to shut down and never attempt to speak his truth again.
Be patient with him. Understand that he won’t always know what he’s feeling, Many men have been conditioned not to feel and he may need time to find his words. Try not to jump in or finish his sentences and just listen. It may even be necessary for him to go away and reflect on the topic and come back to you, so be prepared to hit walls.
Commit to holding space for him – even if his truth triggers you.
This also means a commitment moving forward that you will not use his truth against him. It’s important that you work to ensure that safety is maintained within your relationship. Try your best to remain open and take your own time to process anything that triggers you. Be mindful of jumping in with advice or rebuttals. We already get a lot of advice from other men, so what we want from you is to feel seen, heard, and understood. Turn up the dial on empathy and approach with curiosity. Use phrases like ‘I hear you’ and ‘tell me more’ to encourage the flow.
Approach with Loving-Kindness
Think ‘how can I open his heart?’ rather than “I want him to be more expressive’. Use physical touch to show affection, allow him to see and feel your presence, and reaffirm that he is safe. Use this as a moment to bond with him and build your connection. To foster more openness, you could even express your own truth and fears to show your vulnerability. I find that when working with men, they are far more likely to open up when I share a story about myself with them.
Ask Better Questions
Avoid asking big questions like, “Where do you see this relationship going?” It’s a very direct and important question, but such questions can be incredibly daunting to a man who finds it difficult to open up. If your aim is to create safety and encourage openness, start by asking softer and more specific questions like, “When do you enjoy connecting with me most?” Be playful and ask questions that he can answer. If a man begins to feel pressured or overwhelmed, he is likely to close and retreat. Try not to let him feel that he can’t keep up with the conversation.
Catch him doing it right and reinforce the behaviour. When he is opening up, let him know that he’s heard, thank him for his vulnerability, and tell him that it makes you feel good when he opens up to you. Men love to feel that they’re doing a good job, and positive reinforcement will create new neuro-associations in the brain that will likely encourage him to continue opening up.
If you’re not quite getting the response you desire, do not punish him. Instead, speak from your heart and express how it makes you feel when he struggles to express himself – but do so in a calm and loving way. This is more likely to elicit a response from him, but also be prepared for no reaction.
I know this can appear intense, but I cannot stress to you how hard it is for men to open up about their feelings. Real safety is so important in making a man feel comfortable. If we sense even the slightest bit of disingenuity or judgement, we’ll either stop talking altogether or get into our heads and begin disguising or playing down our truth.
It’s a Journey, Not a Destination
I have an exercise for you to try. This is something I used to do on a weekly basis in my last relationship. We would have a ‘check-in’ every week on Thursday at 7pm with the intention of creating a safe space for us. We’d used it to share how we’re feeling in our lives, towards each other, and the relationship. By having it at the same time every week, it allows you both to mentally and emotionally prepare yourselves for the connection – this is especially important for men. Here’s my check-in guide:
Pick a day and time that suits you both. Put it in a diary and honour it.
Both of you must take ownership in creating a safe environment. This can mean lighting candles, putting some music on, opening a bottle of wine, or burning some incense – whatever works for you both.
Sit facing each other and spend around five minutes looking into each other’s eyes (you can blink!) and settle yourself into the moment.
Next, take turns expressing how you’re feeling, knowing that anything can be said. The one listening can only listen, and is then to repeat back everything that their partner said. Try your best not to paraphrase and use their words. The aim of this exercise is to make each other feel heard and seen.
After each share and reflection, say thanks for listening to each other and embrace.
If there is anything that needs further discussion, continue with loving kindness while taking care to maintain physical touch and openness throughout.
If you would like support or are curious to know more, follow Adil Hussain here.
Let’s Talk Healthy Boundaries – and How to Set Them
Benefits, myths, and more.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable and had a feeling that you were being pushed into a corner when interacting with someone? If so, chances are that the person in question violated a boundary that you considered sacred. As a practising therapist, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of establishing healthy boundaries in our journey of inner-growth and healing. Yet, this remains grossly misunderstood and judged.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Healthy boundaries are a set of rules or guidelines that we set for ourselves, defining how we behave with others, respond to situations, and consequently a directive of how we expect others to treat us. Self-honesty and awareness are the two main pillars on which healthy boundaries are created. They are essential in identifying and practising personal integrity.
Healthy boundaries usually have these characteristics:
The limits set are clear and reasonable.
Boundaries are based on your needs as well as the needs of others.
It comes from the intention of being authentic.
Boundaries are not based on other’s approval or from the feeling of being a victim.
The limits help channel any anger or frustration into positive action rather than aggressive behaviour or a shutdown.
Boundaries are not based on fear, guilt, or shame.
The boundaries are based on what reality is, not on expectations of what it should be.
Common Myths About Boundaries
The most common myth is that setting boundaries means being selfish or narcissistic. On the contrary, setting boundaries means ensuring role and identity clarity for ourselves and others. ‘Setting boundaries makes us lonely, unwanted, and isolated’ is another myth, and this comes from a deep fear of rejection and validation. Boundaries actually help us overcome this fear. They provide a haven to experiment, heal, and integrate lost parts of our own selves.
Benefits of Establishing Healthy Boundaries
Healthy boundaries are certainly a very important ingredient for self-care and self-compassion. They help protect our sense of self and identity. They keep us safe and relaxed, both emotionally and physically. Boundaries also develop into a subtle yet firm way of speaking our truth, and it builds self-confidence and empowers our inner being paving the way for wellness in your life.
Top Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries
Take Baby Steps: If you are making a start, start small and choose easy goals. Begin by setting and practising simple boundaries and then move on to the more challenging ones. Build on your small successes, rather than trying to prove a point.
Set an Intention and Follow Through: Don’t beat around the bush, and be direct instead. Define your boundaries and write them down, if required. Be crystal clear of your intention before you begin.
Speak Up: Communicate and communicate more. Speaking out loud not only helps others, but also brings clarity to you. Choose to be assertive.
Be Mindful: Honour other people’s boundaries. Be self-aware and build awareness of others’ boundaries.
Seek Professional Help: Contact a trusted mental health practitioner and let them assist you in your journey.
Boundaries are not a cue for healthy relationships – they are the foundation for self-love and self-respect, so give yourself permission to set boundaries and hold them in high regard.
And why your mental health during the process matters.
In certain cultures, divorce is one of the least accepted decisions a couple can make. People often expect two individuals to be in a relationship throughout their lives – even if they can’t cooperate enough to spend a day with their sanity intact. Deciding on getting a divorce is already a long and complicated decision, and the societal pressure around it makes it even more complex. Couples can feel burdened under this pressure, even though it is a decision that only concerns them and the family they’ve created.
The Grief Cycle
People might assume that the couple must be ‘okay’ if they’ve made the decision themselves, but the actual reality can be different and depends a lot on the level of emotional attachment they had. If two individuals had a close relationship, they would’ve likely developed an emotional attachment, too. This can cause some couples to wonder why they are even separating. Multiple factors could be responsible, with compatibility and adjustment being some of the common reasons we might have heard of.
Today, however, change is starting to become an even more important factor that we are now normalising. It can come in the shape of difference in career, goals, relationship choices, lifestyle – the list goes on. A couple going through a divorce could experience grief like that of a loss. The emotions of the individuals involved could swing from the passive to the active stage.
But one crucial thing to keep in mind here is that the two individuals must be emotionally attached at some level to go through the grief cycle. Even the intensity of emotions associated with each stage differs depending on their emotional attachment. The same is true with time. You cannot determine how much time a person will take in moving from one phase to the other or accepting the decision. It can vary from hours and days to months or even years.
Going from the shock stage to the acceptance stage requires patience and accepting reality. Besides, the timeline for reaching the acceptance stage is not the same for everyone – it ranges from individual to individual. Once you accept the divorce papers as reality, you are usually in a state of shock where you do not want to acknowledge things at first. People may be in denial and make excuses for each situation and circumstance, assuming that it must not be happening to them.
Once the realisation of the situation starts to set in, then comes the anger. This is usually rooted in how they feel cheated of the time and emotions they invested into the relationship. If children are involved, the anger stage might last longer as they feel obligated to fight for the ‘perfect family’.
This then brings us to the bargaining stage, where they are willing to give away a few things in return for others. This stage can easily turn sour when both individuals try to deal with the reality of things by bargaining and realise that it’s simply not working. This stage can lead to depression – either acute or deep – where they feel they cannot change their situation.
Usually, after this stage, they start testing new alternatives like continuing their career, co-parenting methods, remarrying, or pursuing other priorities. Once they find out what works for them, they usually accept the situation and move on in life. All these processes are natural, and the pain people face is a sign to change and grow. This is the time when others need to show support. Help them understand the advantages of their situation and let them realise that it was the best decision that they could’ve made, given their circumstances.
Although such pain and emotional trauma is natural, the social pressure and lack of support from friends and family makes it worse. We, as a society, need to normalise divorce. If two people are not happy living together, then they shouldn’t be forced to be with each other anymore. Instead of pitying them, we should congratulate them for ending a relationship that was not meant for them.
Working Through the Guilt
No matter what the emotional attachment was during the active relationship, one or both parties are often left with a certain amount of guilt. This guilt can make them doubt the right time to start enjoying their life again. The result? They get stuck in this emotional cycle and do not freely live a happy life. Loved ones of divorcees can be especially vital in such cases, helping them focus on the fact that the uncomfortable part is done and they’re now walking into happiness.
Therapy to Cope
Therapy can be a great aid in helping people navigate their divorce. Therapy, in general, is great for adjusting to any change of state – be it big or small. We should normalise therapy as an essential part of life, not something to be ashamed of or something reserved for ‘broken’ people. Therapy can also help in maintaining and distancing oneself from their ex-partner. This is important, especially if you need to co-parent, as an ugly divorce can have adverse effects on children’s mental health.
Last Monday was centred around the celebration of romantic attachment, with people going all out to express their love for their significant other. But what about self-love? Are you madly in love with yourself? And does that question seem alien to you? Having worked with hundreds of women, I can safely say that womengenerally struggle to love themselves wholeheartedly. Some cannot even fathom what it feels like. Here, I’m going to show you what it looks like to be in love with yourself and provide you with tips on how to get started on that journey towards self-love.
When I was nine years old, I remember feeling special and loved. Looking back, it was because I loved myself. I would wake up excited and eager to see what the day held for me. I would say what I wanted when I wanted. If I did not want to do something, I would simply say no. If I wanted something, I would ask for it. I was very clear with what I wanted, needed, what I liked, and what I did not like. I loved myself wholeheartedly. I was happy.
Fast forward to my 20s, and I was filled with self-doubt. I would constantly censor myself when I spoke as I didn’t want to look stupid or sound silly. I always wanted to lose weight, regardless of how I looked. I would repeatedly criticise myself. “Why did I just say that?” “What must they think of me now?” “I can’t believe I did that!” “I wish I was thinner/smarter/richer.” It’s exhausting to just remember the endless barrage of self-doubt and judgement that seemed so normal to me at the time.
When I hit my 30s, I decided that I’d had enough and wanted to return to feeling as good as I did when I was nine. At that point, I started studying the brain and was already a Master NLPpractitioner who was obsessed with being the best version of myself. What I noticed then was that I was not the only one who spoke so badly of myself. That’s when I started on the journey of falling in love with myself.
Observe Your Thoughts
We have thousands of thoughts a day and many of them are about ourselves. Most of us think that these thoughts just come from nowhere and, even though this is trueto some level, it doesn’t that we can’t control them. The first way to fall in love with yourself is to observe what you are thinking about yourself. When you look in the mirror, what do you say? What is the tone you use to speak to yourself? What are the words that you use? If you have never taken the time to really observe the thoughts you have about yourself, start noticing and start writing them all down truthfully.
When you monitor your thoughts, you will realise that it is generally filled with a lot of judgement. It’s natural and we all do it, but you also need to start challenging those thoughts. The easiest way I did this was to ask myself, ‘Would I say this to my best friend?’ Start talking to yourself the way you would to your best friend. Be kind to yourself in the words andtonality that you use. Praise yourself. Tell yourself that you did well and have compassion for yourself. This takes time and practice, but it’s by far one of the most important parts of starting the process of falling in love with yourself.
Honour Your Needs
Another way to start falling in love with who you are is to honour your needs. For example, if you had a busy week at work and your friend asks you to help her move over the weekend, and you say yes – even though you’re physically and emotionally exhausted – then you are not honouring your needs. You’ve put your friend’s needs above yours. Learning to only say yes when you truly want to is one of the most powerful ways to honour your needs. Honouring your needs and wants as a woman means putting your own mental and physical needs before others.
As women, we tend to be people-pleasers and struggle to say no. And being a people-pleaser recoveree, I understand how hard this can be, but the power of being authentic and saying yes only when I really mean it has transformed my life. It means that when I say yes, I am not resenting doing what I have agreed to do. It means that I am not from an empty cup. It is not selfish to do that – in fact, it’s the most loving action you can take for yourself and the people in your life. Honouring your needs, both mentally and physically, is extremely powerful.
Love Your Body
As a woman, you might have a very complicated relationship with your body, and you could be very critical of it. Sometimes you might punish your body by overfeeding or underfeeding it. You could push your body to its limits at the gym or not stimulate it at all by living a sedentary life. A whole article can be written on this issue, but it needs to be mentioned here as so many of us base our self-worth on the size of a dress or the number on a scale. Learning to love your body, no matter what, is a big part of falling in love with ourselves.
How do you do this? Love your body for how it is right now. Think of it like this: if you had an object you loved, respected, and honoured, how would you treat it? You would treat it with care. You would look after it with everything you had. Our bodies are the same. If you treat your body with love and respect, you will nourish it with food that you know will fuel it properly. Moving your body and fuelling it from a place of love and respect is also one of the key ingredients to falling in love with yourself.
Surround Yourself with the Right People
Finally, I want to talk about the people in our lives. Learning to surround yourself with people who uplift you, bring you joy, inspire you, and motivate you is also important for falling in love with yourself. Allowing someone into your life who constantly brings you down or is toxic and berates you is not going to do anything for your self-love. However, learning to distance yourself from them and finding people who have positive things to say and can improve your well-being is essential to falling in love with who you are. One of the most powerful things you can do as a woman is to fall in love with yourself because, the more you love yourself, the more love you can give to the world.
Was this helpful? Learn more ways to improve your health and well-being in our Wellness section.