Is Sexting Safe?

I wrote a post over a year ago called Safe Sexting.  I thought it might be smart to reiterate some of the things I said in that post plus add a few new things to think about.  Sexting has become very popular among younger people, and probably some older folks too.  People have told me it is a new way of flirting.  However, you can do some pretty stupid things with a smart phone these days.

Students have asked me if I think sexting is a good idea.  It really depends.  In some cases, it is a very stupid idea.  If you don’t really know the person you are sexting or sending naked pictures to, then it can get out of hand pretty quick.  If this person lives on the other side of the world, it may be relatively safer.  They don’t know any of your friends and family and it is a lot less likely that what you said or the pictures you sent could come back to haunt you.  However, if you just sent off a few pictures of yourself to a person you just met in your anatomy lab, be prepared to have their friends looking at you like they’ve seen you naked.  Chances are, they have.  Colleges and universities are like small communities.  People talk and others around you may know more about you than you think.

Another thing to think about is WHY you’re sexting with someone.  Some students have told me they feel pressured into it.  They start out just flirting with someone else through text, but then it quickly becomes sexual.  They tell me they want this person to like them so they continue to say suggestive things through text.  The next thing they know, the person is asking for a naked photo.  Sending this person a naked photo because you just want to get them to like you isn’t a good reason.  You should engage in sexual behavior because it is your choice and what YOU want to do, not because it is what someone else wants you to do.  Do what you feel comfortable with.  Don’t do something to impress someone or make someone else like you.

Be yourself.  If you aren’t overtly sexual in person, don’t pretend to be through text.  This person may then expect you to follow through with some of those sexual suggestions you made when they see you in person.  If you don’t feel comfortable following through, you shouldn’t be making the suggestions in the first place.  It is important to be confident about your decisions.  If you don’t mind being more sexual both through text and in person, then go ahead.  However, if you don’t feel comfortable than feel confident enough to say so.  If you say no and the other person stops texting you, it is a pretty good indication they only wanted to use you for sex any way.  If you want more than sex, it’s better to be disappointed now rather than later.

Is it smart to send naked pics to your boyfriend or girlfriend who you love and trust?  Maybe.  You could be with someone who you know loves you and would never betray you.  However, I’ve heard plenty of horror stories, so please think twice before sending that naked photo off into cyber land.  Once you send that picture you lose all control, so it is still a big risk.  Relationships break up all the time.  This would be a perfect opportunity for your now ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to get back at you.   The so-called love of your life could save that picture and when they feel angry or upset with you, they may send it to anyone and everyone you know.  Who knows where it could end up after the two of you decide to break up?

Also be aware that if you are in a committed relationship with someone and you are sexting someone else, that is considered cheating.  You can cheat with technology very easily.  Even if the person lives across the world, doing anything behind your boyfriend or girlfriend’s back, is considered deceitful.  You may also want to remove those photos that friends have forwarded to you if you are in a relationship.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend finds a naked photo on your phone that a friend passed along, that could still look very bad for you.  Keeping it on your phone even though it was sent from a buddy of yours, is not considered a smart idea.

Another not so smart idea is sending naked pictures of yourself to someone who doesn’t desire to receive one.  This person is NOT going to consider you irresistibly sexy if they receive unsolicited texts or pictures of a sexual nature.  It is usually a huge turn off.  Don’t just assume someone is willing.  Ask the person if they are okay with it before sending anything sexual.  If that person says no, be respectful.  It is also not a turn on to beg someone for sexual material either.  NO means NO.  If you proceed after this point it is considered sexual harassment.

If you want to be a little smarter while sexting it is a good idea not to send any pictures with your face also in the photo.  Some people say it is a little less likely that you will be able to identified in case the picture gets out to others.  Yet, remember, many famous people have been identified in naked photos even though their face wasn’t in the picture.  You may also want to set some ground rules before you engage in sexting as well.  Let the person know how far you want to go.  You may want to tell them upfront that you don’t mind flirting sexually, but you don’t want to receive or send any naked pictures.  If you aren’t ready to have sex with this person, it is also a good idea to let them know up front that you like to flirt, but don’t plan on meeting up with them at 2am to hook up.

I said this in my last post, but I think it is worth repeating.  As a counselor, I recommend you educate yourself before engaging in sexting with anyone.  It may seem fun, harmless and safer than having sex, but there are still consequences that can be devastating.  Be aware of all the risks before deciding what is best for you.  If you are over 18 it isn’t illegal to send sexual material over your phone to someone else that is over 18.  You have to decide what you are comfortable with and be strong about setting a clear boundary with others who are trying to engage you in this behavior.  If you start something and then feel uncomfortable, stop and let the other person know.  If they won’t stop, find a way to block them from your phone if possible or report them for harassment.  Be smart and be safe!

 

Say What You Mean

Why is it so hard to say what we really mean?  Our feelings of pride often conflict with being vulnerable.  Its hard to let our guard down.  Even in a relationship.  A former student said to me once that her boyfriend never listened to her.  She explained by saying that one night she went over to see him.  She told him she had a hard day and she was exhausted.  She then stated that she was mad because he went on to tell her about how hard his day was.   I mentioned that he seemed to listen to what she said, but she wasn’t happy with his response.  She said that she was mad because he didn’t ask her what was hard about her day, or offer to give her a hug, or tell her how great she was anyway.  We discussed the fact that she didn’t ask for those things, but still expected him to get that message.

So often we want something from someone, but instead of being direct, we assume people are mind readers.   This student wanted a hug, she wanted to talk about her day and be encouraged, but she never asked for those things.  She wanted her boyfriend to just “know” she needed them.  A lot of times in relationships people don’t want to risk rejection, so they don’t always ask for what they want.  Or they believe that they shouldn’t even have to ask.  You may believe it doesn’t mean as much if you have to ask for something because you think it is less sincere.  I disagree.  If you tell someone what you want and they are willing to make that adjustment or change, it says a lot about their feelings for you.  I think its important to let your boyfriend or girlfriend know what you want or need, especially in a relationship.  If they ignore you, then you have a problem to address.

Communication is complicated in relationships especially because its hard to find someone that thinks, feels, and believes the exact same way you do.  It is easy to become upset when people don’t always interpret your needs in the right way.  It can cause a lot of conflict.  The first person to look at when it comes to communication is you.  Find out if there is anything you can do differently to communicate your thoughts and feelings in a way that others can understand you more easily.  Ask yourself if you are sending “coded” messages to your partner.  Is it fair that they should always know what you mean without you having to open yourself up a little more?  Remember, its not always the listener that is at fault.

It is difficult to be vulnerable.  You may be rejected.  You may ask your partner for a hug and they may look at you like you’re crazy.  You may come to realize that your partner isn’t ever going to be the physically affectionate type.  They aren’t going to automatically hug you when you’re feeling upset.  You can handle this a couple of different ways.  You can choose to let it go and get that affection from other friends and family.  You may talk to your mom or your best friend if you need a hug.  It may decide its enough that your partner does other great things for you when you feel down.  Maybe they offer great advice or cook you your favorite dinner to make you feel better.  Look for the other things that your partner brings to the table and ask yourself if that is enough for you to feel good about your relationship?

The other thing you can do is decide that it isn’t enough.  Maybe you’ve opened up to your boyfriend or girlfriend about things you need in the relationship and they’ve ignored all of them.  You may come to the conclusion that they aren’t able to give you what you need.  Sometimes a couple may have similar interests, but the way they communicate or show love is completely opposite.  This can be overcome, but it requires a lot of compromise.  Again, you can look outside your relationship to meet some of your needs.  One person is never going to meet all of your needs anyway.  Which is why friends and family are so important.  However, if you are going outside of your relationship to meet almost all of your emotional or physical needs, then you may want to consider the fact you may not be in the right relationship.

The key is first ask for or explain what you want or need.  Don’t let yourself get upset over something your partner may not even know you are wanting.  Again, not everyone comes from the same background or thinks the same way.  What may seem obvious to you, may not be obvious to your partner.  Give them a chance to know what you need.  Also, remember that you may need to remind them sometimes.  Habits are hard to break and they may not always react the way you want or need them to.  If they ask you to do something that seems odd or different to you, you’ll realize that it isn’t always so easy to remember something that doesn’t come naturally to you.  However, if you both can be patient, it will be worth it.  It always better if both you and your partner open up  and help each other make a few healthy changes.  However, sometimes the person can promise to make a change and never follow through.  You’ll feel like you have to constantly remind them and they constantly forget or fall off after one or two times.  The anger and resentment will build and start to really damage the relationship.

In this case, you may come to realize that you need to leave the relationship because you’ll start to feel rejected by your partner.  It does happen.  Not everyone can give you what you need in a relationship.  This is why you date before you get married.  You want to find out what works and what doesn’t.  Dating helps you realize what you can and can not compromise on.  You can either change what you need or change the person you depend on to meet those needs.  It isn’t easy, but definitely necessary to live your life with someone and be happy.

The Heat of the Moment

Why is it that some things seem so right in the moment, but later you think to yourself, “How the hell did that happen”?  Living in the moment has it’s upside.  It can be fun to be spontaneous and carefree at times.  However, in the heat of the moment some people make choices they really live to regret.  A lot of the time I have students come into my office who are upset about cheating on their boyfriend or girlfriend in a moment of anger.  Why is it so easy to seek comfort from someone else even though you know you’ll probably regret it later?

Our emotions have a lot to do with why we act certain ways at different times.  If you have been in a relationship for more than a few weeks you know that it isn’t always always perfect.  It is normal to have disagreements and not always get along with the one you love.  You will have moments of anger and disappointment with the relationship and with one another.  It is in these moments of anger that you can easily veer off track.  The temptation to turn to someone else can be very alluring when you are angry or frustrated with your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Then, it’s only one more step before you’re doing something impulsive that can alter the course of your relationship if it ever became known to your partner.

Sometimes people don’t necessarily have sex with someone else in that impulsive moment, but they may have texted some things they now regret or said something to someone else that would be seen as a betrayal to their partner.  If you are feeling angry or upset it is very easy to convince yourself that you deserve to have this little bit of comfort, or that your partner deserves to hurt like you’re hurting.  You can justify any action in the moment. It is only later when you feel calm or less angry that you may regret the action you took.  When the dust settles and your anger goes away then the love for your current partner comes back.  This can make you feel very selfish and guilty for cheating either emotionally or physically while you were angry.

It is easy to forget that angry or frustrating moments pass.  Anger usually fades with a little time and perspective.  You wake up the next day and decide you still really love your partner and want to stay with them.  What do you do now?  Do you tell them about your momentary mental lapse in judgment?  Do you let it slide and pretend it never happened?  I can not answer this question for you.  I can tell you that you take a risk if you don’t say anything because it may come out to your partner anyway.  I can assure you being caught in a lie is definitely worse than coming clean.  Although, either way, your relationship will never be the same again.  Only you know what decision you can live with in this circumstance.  Of course from the outside, it would be easy for me to say be honest, but I’m well aware that it doesn’t always make everything okay in the end.

The one answer I can give you is this…What is done is done.  You can’t go back and change it.  We all make mistakes we have to learn from and forgive ourselves for.  The brain is just looking to make things fair.  If we’ve been hurt it is easy to justify hurting someone back.  The biggest thing to remember is that life isn’t fair and hurting someone else doesn’t usually take our own hurt away.  Anger is a gift that keeps on giving and usually ends up biting you back in the end.

It is better to deal with your anger in other ways that won’t hurt you or someone else.   If you can remember that your anger will pass if you give yourself some time, you can do things during that time to help you process your anger.  Some people like to write and use their blog or journal to vent.  Other people need physical exercise to work out their feelings.  You can run, walk, lift weights, do yoga, or play your favorite sport.  Sometimes just taking a nap or going to bed for the night will help you feel better.  You may wake up and feel a lot better.  You can also watch tv, play with a pet, or engage in a favorite hobby.  Whatever you do, find something you enjoy and will get your mind off of your anger for a little while.  There are a lot of healthier ways to deal with your feelings rather than turning to someone else.  Once you’ve dealt with your feelings, you can think through what you want to do about your relationship.  Is there something you need to discuss or do you need to work on letting something go?  The answer is usually more logical when you wait for your feelings to calm down.

I also suggest talking to one person of the same sex who you really trust if you are having problems in your relationship. Or talk to a counselor if there isn’t anyone you can trust.  I don’t recommend talking about your relationship with everyone you know when you’re angry because you don’t want to poison others against your partner.  It will be easier for you to forgive your boyfriend or girlfriend than for your friends or family to do the same.  Sometimes your anger won’t resolve itself.  At that time you may need to decide to leave the relationship, even though it may seem easier to turn to someone else and cheat.  However, most of the time, anger is temporary.  In those times, it may seem innocent at first to reach out to talk to a friend of the opposite sex.  Just remember that boundaries can be crossed really easily when you’re angry at your current partner.  It is too easy to want to be comforted or wanted by this person who is “listening” to you.  It seems like a good idea in the moment, but you may end up really regretting not waiting to see how you feel once your anger fades.  Deal with your feelings before making any decisions that may have a huge impact on the fate of your relationship.  It can be thrilling to live in the heat of the moment, but sometimes it can burn you so badly that you don’t recover.

Am I Dating a Master Manipulator?

Have you ever met someone and everything just clicked right away?  But then a few months down the road you ask yourself, “Who is this person”?

In the beginning of a relationship most people put their best foot forward.  They make sacrifices they wouldn’t normally make because they are so excited to be in this new relationship.  This is normal.  At first you may watch that basketball game even though you don’t like it.  Or you may go to church with that person even though you haven’t been to church in years.   Most people want to make that other person happy and it is easy in the beginning because the relationship is exciting and new.

As time goes by people usually settle into the relationship and you may share that you don’t prefer to eat seafood or like to go backpacking in the wilderness.  Those changes aren’t so dramatic.  The longer you are in a relationship the more you find out about each other and realize both of you will have to make sacrifices at some point.  No two people are exactly alike.

But there are people out there who will pretend to be just like you in the beginning of the relationship.  The person I am describing is capable of mimicking anyone they approach.  They often convince others that they are just like them.  They are very persuasive and can read people really easily.  They are adept at sizing people up by watching nonverbal cues and reading people’s faces.  They use that information to get close to you and you may feel like this is the first person who really “gets” you.  They seem to understand you so well that you feel like they have been able to see inside your heart and soul.  When in fact this is not the case.  They are just very good actors and should try their luck out in Hollywood.  However, before you know it, you’ve fallen in love.

The blissful part of the relationship may last a couple of months.  By this time you have become very attached and may even feel ready to be with this person forever.  Then all of a sudden they seem to change.  They may become mean at times, impatient, or refuse to do things they used to do.  They may stop calling you back, be late for a date, or not even show up.  This is when the roller coaster begins.   You feel mad, betrayed, upset, hurt.  You text them constantly to find out what is going on, but they don’t respond.  Then out of the blue they text you back or call.  They may try to convince you that you’re overreacting.  At first, just hearing from them is enough to forget how mad you were, so you may agree that you overreacted and blow it off.   Those feelings of love coming pouring back into your heart and you forget about your hurt feelings.   A week later, it may happen again that they don’t text you for a day and then tell you they left their phone at their friend’s house.  You believe them and all is well again.

Over time this happens more often.  Instead of being nice for a week, its only for a day.   You start to hold onto the anger longer.  When they realize it isn’t going to so easy to smooth things over, they’ll start to apologize and promise to  make it up to you.  They then usually become so attentive that you end up forgiving them.   It is so great when you’re together it convinces you that you’ve turned a corner in your relationship.  However, it never lasts.  When they are not with you, you wonder what they are doing because they ignore you.  When you finally see them again, they are so loving and kind you feel like an idiot for ever doubting them.  The fighting may increase, but the intermittent reinforcement of their attentiveness and promises of love keep you hooked.

It takes a very long time to break off a relationship like this.  Even though all your friends and family will start to hate this person, you feel like you know another side to him or her.  In time though, you will wonder if anything they’ve ever told you was true.  It is hard to say.  Were they being real when they were telling you how much they love you and giving you a lot of attention?  Or were they being more real when they were ignoring you and putting you down when they were mad?  There may have been times when they were genuine, but it was so inconsistent that you may never know the true answers to those questions.

They may have loved you in their own way.  They may have been sincere in that moment when they apologized, but when that moment passed, that sincerity was gone.  It is hard to trust someone like this.  They have a hard time following through with anything, not just relationships.  They usually pick the loyal, kind, giving types of people to hook up with.  You are not stupid for being a loyal, kind, giving person.  Just be aware that not everyone is as genuine and as unselfish as you are.

In most cases, these relationships eventually implode.  They will end up hurting  you so much over time that you eventually do end up leaving for good.  It can be hard not to blame yourself.  Remember, most of the time they KNEW what they were doing and preyed on your vulnerable emotions.  Eventually your heart will heal and then you can use what you learned to be more aware of these patterns in the future.

One thing I see as a red flag is someone who is too complimentary.  If someone barely knows me and continues to tell me how great I am or constantly tells me how great I look, that is a red flag to me.  You have to really know me to be able to compliment me genuinely.  However, this works because it is very hard to resist someone who seems so into you.  The other thing is they love the chase.  Resisting them sometimes eggs them on.  It is a red flag if a person doesn’t eventually give up if you tell them you aren’t ready for a relationship.  Or at least listen to you and give you some space.  This person seems to become more aggressive in their pursuit to get you to date them.   These two things are very common in manipulative people.  Please be aware that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

The one last thing you can do to safe guard yourself from a person like this is to become more confident.  If you feel good about yourself, you won’t be so vulnerable to someone who compliments you all the time.  If you are confident being single, then they won’t have that edge when they pursue you so aggressively.  You’ll be able to resist and they will go find someone easier to manipulate.

Maintaining a Successful Long Distance Relationship

I haven’t written about this topic in a while.  It is that time again when school is almost done for the year, and most students go back home for the summer.  That means many of you could be experiencing the whole long distance thing with your boyfriend or girlfriend this summer as well.  I read this post by Julie, on Hugstronger, and wanted to share it on my blog.  I thought it might help to read about it from someone who has gone through it.  Here is her advice:

I’ve had almost eight years to sort out long-distance relationships. During that time, I’ve spent countless nights scouring the Internet for sources telling me what to do, how to cope and how to make myself feel like I wasn’t putting my life on hold.

I was practically living on my computer, and I felt utterly defeated when my one link to my partner couldn’t even help me figure out how to deal.

Unfortunately, Google and Wikipedia don’t have all the answers.

Recently though, I’ve realized that I don’t struggle with being in an LDR like I used to. It’s been a long time since I’ve appealed to the Internet, asking questions like, “How do you have a life when you’re in a long-distance relationship?”

What changed? Well, time and experience definitely helped. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and in turn, I’ve learned how to make my life in an LDR better.

I have three tips that will absolutely make being in an LDR easier:

Tip 1: You Are Not Alone

I recall too many evenings spent sitting around on my computer, waiting for my partner to wake up or come home, just so that I could say a quick “hello-goodbye.” Being in college can get lonely at times, and being in an LDR, on top of it, can make that loneliness even more astute.

It can be difficult for others who aren’t in LDRs to understand the rationale behind your decision to stay with your partner despite the distance, and that lack of understanding makes it feel like your friends aren’t a support system.

You do know at least one other person who’s in a LDR though: your partner. I encourage you to talk to them. Open up about what you’re struggling with. Chances are they’re going to relate.

Don’t write your non-LDR friends off though. Just because they haven’t experienced what you’re going through doesn’t mean they can’t listen.

Tip 2: Live In The Present

Living alone this year (as opposed to on campus) definitely taught me to value time with myself. It also meant that I couldn’t just run back to my room between classes for a quick Skype chat with my partner. This lack of constant Internet connections has helped me realized that it’s good to be alone sometimes, to not constantly be connected to my partner.

Sure, we text now and then during the day, but I’ve been refraining from constant texting. I want the people I’m spending time with in the here and now to have my complete attention, and I’ve found that texting during those interactions takes my mind away from what’s happening in the moment.

It’s easy to feel like you have to be available for the other person at all times because you can’t make up for it by being there in person. Try to remember that you’re still living your life right now. It’s important to nurture yourself and the relationships with the people around you, too.

Tip 3: Have Open Communication

This is a big one. Since you’re so far away from one another, it’s easy to stop sharing the daily details of your lives. I’ve noticed that once this happens, it’s easy to feel like you’re not a part of each others’ lives.

There have been times where I’ve felt like I didn’t really know my partner—what he was doing every day, who he talked to, what funny little things happened to him. Those little things make up life, and when we forget to share them with one another, we soon feel less connected.

Share the big stuff, too. If you have something on your mind (and this goes for every relationship) let your partner know. The healthiest relationships I’ve seen (and have been in) included people who realized this and did their best to be open and honest with one another.

About Julie

Julie is a college senior attending Humboldt State University, and every day she feels lucky to have the opportunity to be living amongst the beautiful trees and waters of Northern California.  She will be graduating in May of 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English for secondary education, after which time she plans to move back to Europe to live with her partner, teach English, and write.

Is it Lying If I Withhold Information?

There is a fine line between withholding information and straight up lying to someone’s face.  Sometimes it isn’t a big deal to withhold information, but other times it is worse than lying.  Here are a few reasons people withhold information:

1.  They think they are protecting someone

2.  They are trying to protect themselves

3.  They feel guilty

4.  They feel insecure or embarrassed

5.  They are normally very closed and private about everything they do

Are any of these reasons valid?  Of course the answer isn’t black and white.  I don’t think someone needs to report to their significant other everything they did, who they did it with, with a time and date stamp to go along with it.  If you’re boyfriend or girlfriend is demanding a play by play of your day, all the time, then there is a trust issue.  You shouldn’t have to share every detail  of your day.  However, it is important to share significant details with the person you love and spend a majority of your time with.  If you can’t open up to the person you are dating you may want to ask yourself, why?

Some people are more private.  By nature some people are more quiet and keep things to themselves.  Being quiet may not be a problem if you really aren’t hiding anything.  If your life is pretty boring and there isn’t much to say, then it shouldn’t cause a problem.  If you are really quiet, you may want to find someone who is okay with the strong silent type.  However, remember that communication is important in a relationship, so try to open up as much as possible to the person you’ve chosen to love and trust.

There are also people out there who have a hard time trusting someone else in a relationship.  It may be hard to open up and tell another person something if you think they are going to betray you, make fun of you, or scream and yell at you.  In a new relationship, look for signs in the person that they aren’t going to use your information against you.  Share small things and observe how they react.  Hopefully you find your new partner is more patient and calm than people you’ve opened up to in the past.  This may help you build your trust or convince you to leave before you become too attached.  It is important to try to build trust or you will have other problems down the line.

Sometimes a person thinks they are protecting their partner by withholding information.  This is usually an excuse, but sometimes it is valid.  If a person is already very stressed, anxious or depressed, it may be hard for them to handle something upsetting.  I tell students all the time in my office, the only thing you can do to get your partner to open up to you more, is to not overreact when they tell you something.  Let them know they can trust you.  If you start yelling, swearing, and throwing things when they tell you their ex texted them, then don’t expect them to tell you the next time it happens.

It is okay to be upset by information, especially if it is hurtful, but it isn’t okay to project your feelings onto someone else by yelling and freaking out even if you are stressed.  If you are too upset to talk to your partner, try to go in another room to calm down before talking about it.  Find a way to get in control of your emotions before you open your mouth and start a fight.  You want to be someone your partner can come to with information.  The better you handle it, the more likely they’ll keep opening up to you about something hard or potentially hurtful.  Trust me, you’d rather hear it from them than someone else.

Although, it isn’t okay to withhold information because you THINK your partner is too emotional or may over react.  You need to give them a chance and not just assume they can’t handle information.  If they have gotten really upset in the past, let them know it makes it harder for you to open up.  If you really aren’t doing anything wrong and they get upset all the time anyway, then figure out if you want to stay in this type of relationship.  It isn’t healthy to stay with someone you feel afraid to open up to.

Then there are the people who don’t share because they feel embarrassed, insecure or guilty.  They are trying to protect themselves in the situation.  This is not a good reason to withhold information, and it is very much the same as lying to your partner.  You aren’t innocent if your ex texts you and you don’t want to tell your partner because you want to keep talking to him or her.  You then effectively start lying to them in many ways.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend does find out, a lot of times I hear the excuse, “Well you didn’t ask me about it”, or “I didn’t think it was important”.  Your partner shouldn’t ask you every day if you’ve heard from your ex or any other specific questions about your day.  You also wouldn’t want them to ask you everything all the time because that means they don’t trust you.  You need to provide information to them when things happen.  If they find out you’ve withheld information, then you should expect to be asked questions all the time.  Which doesn’t help the relationship.  Being open helps your partner realize you don’t have anything to hide.  Your partner shouldn’t be the last person to know about something significant happening in your life if you want the relationship to grow and be healthy.

My advice is to think about your communication in your relationship and if you might be withholding things.  Ask yourself why.  Do what you can to fix that problem if you find it, or it will only end up blowing up in your face sooner or later.

What to Know Before Moving In Together

If you are close to graduating and living out in the real world, money and living issues are going to become a part of your relationship.  It’s not the sexiest topic, but it causes a lot of stress in relationships.  Unfortunately, most people don’t get into relationships with someone who is similar to them in spending or living habits.  This can be a good thing.  Where you are weak, they can be strong.  However, I meet students who don’t really pay attention to how their boyfriend or girlfriend spends money or if they clean up after themselves, and this can be a problem if you plan to move in together in the future.

Some people look forward to being in a relationship and being “taken care of”.  Even in college they start dating someone someone who takes care of buying everything when they go out.  I also know people who start dating someone in college who comes over and does their laundry or cleans their apartment for them.  Some people like this arrangement at first because on one side it makes life easier and on the other side its nice to be needed, but it is still a good idea to pay attention to your differences.

If your boyfriend spends all his money on food and entertainment on a limited budget and freaks out when the rent is due, how do you think he is going to manage the money when he is making a lot more of it?  It may be nice that he pays for your night out, but not if you have to worry every month if he is also paying his rent.   If your girlfriend spends her refund from her student loans on tanning, make up and new shoes, do you really expect her to be more frugal once she is living with you?  You may be proud of how she looks on your arm, but you may not be so happy when you are the one paying all the bills when she has no money left.

The other thing to notice is their living habits and how they take care of their stuff.  If you always come over to your boyfriend’s place and have to clear a space in his room to sit down, be prepared to be clearing a space and doing a lot of the other cleaning chores when you live together.  If your girlfriend always asks to go out to eat instead of staying in to cook dinner for the two of you now, don’t expect her to become a world famous chef when you move in together.

When you are just dating, you don’t think of these issues.  You are still taking care of your own stuff.  However, you can observe how your partner takes care of their stuff or manages their money.  Impulsive spender while you’re dating?  Most likely going to be an impulsive spender after you move in together or get married.  If you are afraid of debt and like to save your money, you’ll only be fighting battle after battle with someone who is an impulsive spender with credit card debt.  Never cleans up after themselves?  Probably never going to clean up after themselves after you move in together or get married.  If you are someone who gets anxious around clutter and messiness, you’ll only be fighting battle after battle to get this person to help you with the daily household chores.

It takes a lot of compromise to live with someone who has very different living or spending habits than you.  It can be done, but again, you may have to do more than you bargained for in the relationship.  A saver won’t be able to save as much money as they want to, and a spender won’t be able to spend as much money as they want to.  A neat freak will have to live with a little messiness, and someone who doesn’t clean up after themselves may have to do the dishes once in a while.  You will have to step up or let go in some areas depending on your personality.  The other option is to find someone who operates just like you do, and then you can live in peace and harmony all the days of your life.

Well, it isn’t really that easy, but you know what I’m trying to say.  I’m a big promoter of being involved in all aspects of your relationship.  You should know how to take care of things your partner usually takes care of.   Even before you live together you should communicate about money and how each other takes care of your living space and other things you own.   Make sure both of you are on the same page.  It will save a lot of headaches down the road.

Also, another helpful thing to notice before moving in with someone is whether they are grateful and appreciate what you bring to the table or if they take you for granted or constantly try to change you.  Whatever they are doing now, they will probably do in the future.  An appreciative person will probably compromise and try harder to make you happy.  However, someone who is taking you for granted now, will be expecting you to do a lot for them in the future and feel that somehow you “owe” them.  Also, someone who is trying to change all your habits and won’t compromise now, will still be trying to control every aspect of your relationship in the future.

Even though most people in college aren’t in super serious relationships, you want to start observing behaviors once you do decide to settle down.  Know what you can and can’t deal with in a long term relationship.  Money and living habits are big issues that cause a lot of conflict.  Know how your partner spends money and be involved in the financial decisions once you start living together or get married.  Also, figure out a way to work out how you want to share your living space.  Don’t assume the other person will “take care of” you.  That person may not always be there or they may not be taking care of things in a good way.  Learn from the mistakes of couples who have been through it and try to be smarter in your own relationship.  It will be worth it.

Puppy Love

There is a reason that a dog is a man’s best friend.  Puppies and even older dogs love people like no other.  I think it’s a good idea to analyze why puppies can be so therapeutic.  Maybe we can learn about love from analyzing how a puppy loves its owner.

1. Perseverance- a puppy doesn’t give up trying to win your love.  Even if you are trying to ignore it, a puppy will keep putting his nose in your hand to get your attention.  You can try to push him away, but he will continue to try to get you play with him.  Loving another  human being takes perseverance.  You need to really work at love to make it last.  A lot of people give up when a relationship becomes hard.  You aren’t always going to get along and your relationship may go through rough patches.  However, if you keep coming back to work things out, you find that most rough patches end.  Don’t give up too quickly and run to someone new because you think it will be easier.  Unless you have constant conflict, most of the time it is worth it to stay and work things out.

2.  Unconditional Love- a puppy loves you no matter what.  He doesn’t care whether your hair is messed up or you’ve gained a couple of pounds.  They love you for you.  They don’t judge you on how you look.  However, if you treat a dog badly, over time, they will withdraw from you.  It is possible to destroy their trust, although, they do still love you and want your love in return.  Dogs will also forgive you if you start treating them well again.  Loving humans should be more like this.  Love someone for who they are and try not to criticize or change them.  Although, be aware that it isn’t fair to take advantage of someone’s unconditional love.  If you are hurting someone or doing things to break trust, you can cause your boyfriend or girlfriend’s to pull away from you.   They do deserve better.  It would be wise for them to leave the relationship if they are being abused.  If a dog doesn’t deserve to be treated badly, your boyfriend or girlfriend certainly doesn’t.  Don’t think you can can do whatever you want to someone and expect them stay even if they do still love you.

3.  Loyalty-  a puppy is loyal to its owner.  It learns quickly who feeds and takes care of it.  A dog may learn to be nice and love other people they get to know well, but they will attack people who are out to harm their owners.  Loyalty is a huge virtue to find in someone because it builds trust and love in a relationship.  It is good to defend your partner when others are putting them down or attacking them in some way.  Stand up for the person you love and support them emotionally at all times.  A dog also isn’t going to leave its owner and go sleep on a neighbor’s porch.  Learn from dogs and know that cheating is never a good thing in a healthy relationship.

4.  Affection-  a puppy can be very affectionate.  It usually isn’t shy about showing it’s love to its owner.  Puppies will try to climb on you and lick your face constantly.  There is never any doubt they love you.  Not every human is so demonstrative with their affection.  You don’t have constantly be touching your partner to show them love, but every once in a while it is good to show signs of affection.  A 20 second hug will release feel good endorphins.  Sometimes holding hands or cuddling on the couch can be just what a person needs to feel how much you love them.  Also, dogs don’t show affection as a way to get sex.  Affection is not a tool to be used to get what you want out of the situation.  If you are only touching your partner as a prelude to sex, then try to find times to touch them just to show them you care, not because you’re trying to get something from them.

5.  Fun- a puppy is fun to be with.  It will remind you to let go of your worries and just relax for a bit.  A puppy can be stressful at times to take care of, but most of the time they make you laugh at the funny things they do.  They are entertaining.  Human relationships can be stressful at times to maintain.  However, it is important to bring an element of fun to your relationship.  It isn’t your job to get your partner to relax, but you can set a good example by making time to do something fun together.  Finding the time to have fun will defuse the stress built up over school, work and never having any money.  The reason a lot of people cheat is because their relationship isn’t fun any more and they find someone else who makes them laugh.  Find ways to make your partner laugh and your relationship will be healthier.

Relationships with puppies, dogs or any pets are not perfect.  However, animals do have a special way of showing love.  I think all of us could learn a little more from them to improve our own relationships.

Why Am I Still Alone?

Do you believe we send out vibes to others around us?  I do.  I believe our moods and how we see ourselves affects how others interact with us.  If I believe there is something wrong with me, I’m probably going to believe other people think the same thing.  If I don’t like myself, I’m more likely to think others will reject me too.  It may make me afraid of dating or getting close to someone.  If I’m shooting off this vibe of “Please don’t look at me, I’m gross”, do you think that is going to attract the opposite sex?  No, they most likely will be put off by my nonverbal cues of insecurity.

If you haven’t dated a lot in high school or college it is easy to start thinking there is something wrong with you.  I work with students who are depressed because they haven’t been in a serious relationship yet.  When someone feels depressed it is hard enough to get out of bed, so it is no surprise that it is also hard to put on a smile, act friendly and send out a positive vibe to all those potential single people out there to date.  It is one of those crazy cycles.  Like how can I get work experience unless I have a job, and I can’t get a job because I don’t have any work experience.  The same is true for single people who may feel depressed.  It is hard for others be attracted to them because of their mood and because people aren’t attracted to them, their mood becomes worse.

The longer this cycle goes on the more depressed people feel and the more fear they have that no one will ever want them.  The fear comes from not feeling good enough.  The fear may have started in the past from hearing people tell you that you are stupid, or fat, or ugly.  It is hard to believe someone would see something different in you if this is what you have been told in your past.  Or if you have been sexually abused, you may be afraid that if anyone found out they would never want to be with you.  Many people have demons inside of their heads telling them they don’t deserve to be loved.  It only reinforces the fear of being in a relationship with someone.  The truth is everyone deserves to be loved, but it can be hard to believe it for yourself.

So which comes first?  The chicken or the egg?  Do you need to get into a relationship first to feel good about yourself?  Or do you need to feel good about yourself to find a someone to date?  It does happen that a depressed person meets someone who sees through all their negativity and loves them in spite of it.  This can be a huge confidence booster to find someone who sees how beautiful you are even with all your flaws.  This relationship may help you to learn to love yourself.

However, I do believe YOU have more control over learning to love yourself even while you are single.  You can get away from anyone else, but you can’t escape yourself.  Others may not always be there for you, so its very valuable to learn to be there for yourself.  You can start by deciding whether you want to work on accepting yourself for who you are, or if there are things you want to work on changing to feel more confident.  It takes time, but you can learn to diminish those negative voices.  I encourage students look over a list of positive characteristics and mark which ones sometimes describe them.  Most students are amazed at how many great qualities they already have, but don’t give themselves credit for.  I then ask students to focus on those characteristics several times a day.  You have to put positive in, to get positive out.  It’s easier said than done.  Changing your thought process is hard, but over time it can have a big impact on how you see yourself.

I also encourage students who are afraid of being alone to take the initiative to reach out to others.  Start somewhere easy like being friendly to strangers.  Practice when you are out at Wal-Mart and greet the person who checks you out.  Be friendly to gas station attendants, waiters and waitresses, and other random strangers.  See how they react to you and you may find that a lot of them respond positively to the attention.  This will encourage you and hopefully give you more confidence without much risk.  Again,it helps to start somewhere less intimidating.  When you feel a little more brave, then look for someone to say hi to while walking across campus.  Ask someone in your class how they are doing.  Have a goal of making at least one person smile each day by giving them a genuine compliment.

The best way to meet others is to show interest.  Start by just being nice and ask them something about their self.  Don’t start by asking a complete stranger on a date.  That will be too hard to do if you’ve never done it.  Build your way up to that by just being friendly and trying to make other people feel good around you.  As you build confidence, then start to notice people you may be attracted to.  Be friendlier to them and see how they react.  Again, if they show interest by continuing the conversation, then find more opportunities to talk to them.  If they don’t show interest (give you one word answers, don’t ask you anything back or ignore you), then simply move on to the next person.  Don’t be afraid of the rejection.  It is normal and doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.  Not everyone is going to click with you and that is okay.  The more people you interact with, the better chance of finding someone you do click with.  It does take time and practice.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  You may need someone to encourage you to not give up or keep you accountable to your goals.  Tell someone you trust about your fears so they can help you fight them.  The only way to defeat fear is to face it head on.  It takes work to be a more positive and initiate conversations with others, but it may be worth it to chase the FEAR of dating away.