Interview With Dr. Alicia Clark: Sharing Her Thoughts on Why You Are Repeatedly Attracting the Wrong Man, Pacing Your Relationship and Much More
1. A common problem our subscribers face especially those who are coming out of a messy divorce or breakup is lack of self-belief and confidence. They wonder if there are enough eligible men looking for a serious long term relationship, they doubt if men would find them attractive and some also suffer from body image issues.
What advice do you have for women to overcome this problem?
This is a really tough time for so many people. The most important thing is to be gentle with yourself, and look behind you at what you have accomplished – leaving a relationship that wasn’t working. It wasn’t easy, it took courage, and you need to give yourself time to heal.
Remember you don’t have to get back into the dating pool right away.
It is ok to focus on yourself and find some joy in being alone. Independent. And in control. Focus on yourself, and getting healthy in body and spirit. This is a great time to focus on doing things for yourself you couldn’t do before – don’t be afraid to make a list, and take action.
Putting energy into being your best self will pay off in confidence earned.
Knowing yourself, and what you need, will also help you make better choices in your next relationship.
Let confidence, health, and self respect be your calling cards – you don’t need a relationship to be complete, you want a relationship to enrich you. There is nothing more attractive that a woman who takes care of herself, knows what she wants, and is able to be alone.
2. Some of our subscribers feel stuck in their love lives because of their past emotional baggage. This affects them in a number of ways- they either tend to compare the next man they are dating with their ex or they have trust issues because they have been cheated on before or they just cannot seem to forget their ex and move on in life.
What are some practical ways that can help women release their past emotional baggage so that they can start attracting healthy love into their lives?
It’s important to understand your baggage and what you have brought to your previous relationships.
This isn’t always easy to get a handle on – many people seek the help of a professional to sort this through. It is totally understandable to compare a new relationship to your previous one. You should.
Understanding what went wrong in your previous relationships is how you will learn not to repeat it.
Getting really clear on what happened, and what you brought to the table, will help you identify what you don’t want to repeat, and help you make better choices moving forward.
When you find yourself comparing a new relationship to the old one, recognize that this is your anxiety working for you – trying to alert you to painful situations of the past that are reemerging.
Listen to this message, and take time to compare. If there are similarities, ask yourself honestly if moving forward is safe, or if similar dangerous dynamics are at play.
If in comparing, you see that a new relationship is actually different, it will be easier to let yourself relax.
Comparisons are what we do, they are how we learn. So don’t be afraid of them. Only when there is no danger, and you feel more confident trusting yourself, will it be safe to let the comparisons go. Don’t force this – healing takes time. Remember that you are striving to learn from your relationships, not just repeat them.
3. As women prepare themselves to date men after a breakup or divorce, they often find dating intimidating and stressful. They feel out of touch, out of place and suffer from anxiety because it has been a long time since they have gone out on a date. Some even call dating a dreaded chore.
How can women overcome this intense anxiety and start enjoying the dating process?
The best strategy to approaching something new and scary is to make it as small as possible, and be conscious of the need for courage.
Dating after being off the market for a while takes courage. For that matter, dating while you are in the market takes courage! Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the belief that something is more important than our fear.
In the case of dating, recognize that being anxious is 100% normal, but meeting someone special is more important.
Decide that meeting someone special trumps your fear and gently press forward with courage. Like with anything else new, bit by bit, it will get easier. Dating is just another new thing that you will get better at with practice. But practice you must do.
Look for a balance between courage and self-compassion, and be gentle as you stretch into this discomfort.
Talk to your friends, seek support, even hire a dating coach – there are loads online who can help. Go at the pace you can tolerate, but make sure to do get out there. You can’t play ball if you aren’t in the game.
4. Some women have the tendency to attract the wrong men over and over again. Some repeatedly fall for the cheaters, players, men with addiction issues etc. A lot of experts talk about how this comes from unresolved childhood wounds and second they also point out that women may themselves have commitment issues. On the surface though, women find it hard to accept that they would repeatedly fall for the wrong men because that’s what they unconsciously want.
Can you explain this issue in detail and how women can overcome this issue?
This is a tricky issue. I wouldn’t say that women want men that cheat, but often men who cheat are among other things charming. Many people who cheat crave validation, and being able to seduce a person. This helps them feel alive, vibrant, and engaged. Sometimes being able to tell if someone is narcissistic is really tough, but it is an important skill when you are dating, and I have written on some ways to tell.
Fidelity is hard for people who are experts at seduction.
This is the classic Don Juan. The problem isn’t so much an unconscious fantasy of being cheated on, so much as it is the conscious pleasure of being wooed. Who doesn’t want to be wooed?? And who doesn’t deserve that at some level?
However, the place I notice people struggle is to recognize that a man’s ability to seduce is practiced, and likely something he needs to do to feel alive.
There is much to say on this – really it could be an article in itself – but suffice to say that if the seduction and instant chemistry feel too good to be true, they probably are.
Being able to step away from the flattery and whirlwind of practiced flirtation can be really tough, but it is the first step in making a different decision. The trick is to be attracted to people who are actually available, not those who have all the right moves.
5. Some of our subscribers hesitate to share their honest feelings especially as they are getting to know a man and want to grow the relationship. This hesitation comes from the fear that they may come across as someone too emotional and needy and feel that it may push the man away. So they don’t raise the issues and avoid tough conversations because they want to be the “cool” girl.
Here are some examples: she goes out on a date and he says he will call her but he doesn’t. She is disappointed when he doesn’t and doesn’t discuss this when she hears back from him. Other examples are not calling ahead of time when he is running late or not making plans for a date etc.
What advice do you have for women who have issues that they want to discuss with their man but have troubles expressing them because of the fear of coming across as a nag or needy or demanding?
You are not being a nag, or overly sensitive to notice when he is being insensitive. Period.
Chances are what you notice in your early interactions will continue as you continue dating. Ask yourself if this behavior is something you could tolerate moving forward, and if the answer is no, you need to find a way to talk about it. Remember, you are looking for a partner who can be considerate, and with whom you can sustain a relationship.
If his behavior bothers you now, it probably will continue to bother you, so talking about it is important.
When you address it, make sure to stick with your feelings, be ready to understand where he is coming from, and tell him how you would prefer he behave. For example, would you prefer he not call than promise to call and flake? Then say so. Make sure to offer options, and lay out what makes you feel comfortable.
Shy away from labeling or judging his behavior, instead focus on how his behavior makes you feel.
We all have our limits and pet peeves. Knowing what yours are, and expressing them with compassion, is better to be done sooner than later. Healthy communication is a critical to a satisfying relationship.
6. Some experts recommend women wait till they get to know the man they are dating and not have sex until you both are committed to exclusivity. Some experts believe you should go with the flow and be spontaneous and not have any rules regarding when you want to sleep with a man.
Can you share your thoughts on the right time to have sex?
I’m not sure there is any “right” time to have sex, but I do know there is no such thing as casual sex.
Sure we all know that sex creates more intimacy and a level of connection that is deeper. But not all of us understand that sex stimulates a cascade of attachment hormones that makes attaching to your partner almost inevitable.
This is Helen Fisher’s work, and it is powerful.
She finds that sex stimulates a chemical cascade of hormones that attaches us to our partner. The thinking from an evolutionary perspective is that this allows us to form the pair bond necessary to raise conceived offspring to propagate the species. Sex was never likely designed to be casual, and still isn’t.
Understand that jumping into bed with a mate is likely to fuel a connection and attachment that can be hard to resist, so the more you know about your partner beforehand, the better.
Sex definitely changes things, and can make being “casual” much harder, if not impossible on the other side.
7. Can too much honesty negatively affect a relationship especially when you have just started seeing the other person? How much of the past and even the present should you reveal to the man you are dating? Should you share details like cheating in the previous relationship, the fact you are currently seeing a therapist or you are a recovering alcoholic etc? Some of our subscribers have been too honest and in the process lost out on many men because it freaked them out.
Can you share your thoughts on how women can balance the fine line between honesty and giving themselves the chance to date men and pursue a long term committed relationship?
A relationship is always about balance, and considering your needs alongside of your partner’s is always part of the analysis when considering anything.
Disclosures should be considered using this analysis as well, with careful attention paid to balancing your sharing needs against his need to know and/or ability to respond.
By their nature, disclosures are intimate, and have to do with vulnerability – you also need to be somewhat sure he can handle and respond with the empathy you are looking for. This takes time.
Before you dive in, test reactions with smaller disclosures, or stories about other people in similar situations. Testing his reaction isn’t limited to what he says in the moment; it should include what he does afterwards as well.
Building trust is about sharing feelings and experiences, and feeling heard and understood by your listener – this is critical to building the relationship that you want.
However, oversharing too soon can risk sending the message that you are more than he can handle, at a time when the relationship, and your compassionate feelings are premature. Being honest is an absolute must, but timing is everything.
Demonstrating you can wait to tell him things until you know he can hear them isn’t manipulative, it’s being smart and showing him you can handle whatever it is you feel vulnerable about.
Finally, whatever it is that you need to share likely isn’t about him, its about you, and therefore yours to manage and deal with.
Telling him how you manage and take care of yourself can go a long way towards mitigating the anxiety it could cause in him. We are all attracted to strong, capable people. It’s ok to be vulnerable and human – just make sure to show him your strength at the same time. A worthy mate will find this attractive.
8. Our subscribers also run into a situation where things are going great and just when they think the relationship has great potential or feel he is the one, the man starts developing cold feet. He pulls away, doesn’t respond to phone calls or text messages and in some cases disappears for a while.
What advice do you have for women who deal with men that suddenly pull away and act inconsistent?
This is something I see a lot of in my practice, and it can be very painful, especially if it follows a period of closeness and shared vulnerability (emotionally or sexually). In our excitement to connect, we can unwittingly engage in intimacy that is unsustainable, or too much.
Pulling away is a classic sign of overwhelm (reasonable or not), and is an important behavioral message that needs to be heard.
What might seem like a great connection to you can be overwhelming for him, and this kind of inconsistent behavior likely has much more to do with him than you.
If you notice inconsistencies between his words and behavior, try to tune into his behavior and follow his lead.
Behaviors don’t lie. Look to respond with like behavior, and resist the urge to reach out to him if he is radio silent. Just how long will he wait between dates? And is this acceptable to you? It is always safest to end a date first, and leave him wanting more of you, but this isn’t always possible if he has already pulled away.
The hard decision is to determine if his behavior is good enough for you.
The most common thing I see is the opposite – a free fall of anxiety wondering what you’ve done to push him away, and what you can do to get him back. The truth is that the more you try, the more he will retreat. Instead, give him space, understand this is about him, and stay focused on whether this behavior is something you can handle or want. This can take a lot of discipline and insight, but it pays off.
9. What are your top 3 relationship tips that you would offer women who are single and looking for a long term committed relationship?
Stay focused on what you want and on who is good enough for you.
This keeps your eye on the thing that’s most important, and keeps you out of the insecure spiral of wondering if you are good enough.
Focus on the positive in you, and what you are looking to share with someone – not what you are looking to get from someone.
While this might sound contradictory to the above, it is actually complementary. It’s sort of the idea of putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others. Both are needed, but taking care of you needs to be primary, and often isn’t in women looking for a mate. This attitude will also keep you positive, strong, and exuding your best confident self – all qualities that will boost your attractiveness too.
Be patient, and practice with a long view.
You can’t expect to get these skills down without practice, and getting out there is the only way to practice, and improve. Expect mistakes and expect to learn and improve from them.
Sure it only takes one guy, and you want it to happen now, but navigating the early stages of a relationship takes finesse and you will want your best game for when he comes along. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, and keep at it – it will happen.
10. What books or resources would you recommend for women that are looking to attract the right man and create long lasting fulfilling relationships?
My favorite book hands down for dating advice is The Rules.
Not because it is geared to help a woman find a husband, but because it teaches women the nuts and bolts of what confident dating behavior actually looks like. Confidence is critical both for its ultimate attractiveness to a mate, and in screening out suitors who are overly self centered or incapable of respect – relationship and confidence killers.
About Dr. Alicia Clark
Alicia H. Clark is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and has maintained a private practice in Washington, DC since 1999. She specializes in relationships and anxiety, and helps people cope with stressors ranging from the mundane to the extremes of modern life. She has longstanding interests in anxiety and emotional regulation, and endeavors to help people understand the broader impacts of anxiety and depression on different life stages, as well as how interpersonal relationship patterns can substantially affect these experiences.
Her current areas of interest include harnessing the productive power of anxiety, the commodity of attention, and the critical role of empathy and emotional expression in relationships.
To know more about Dr. Alicia, visit her website www.aliciaclarkpsyd.com.