My First Date Rules (guest post by A. Rascal)

As many of you know, I started dating again several months ago. Time and again, however, I found myself having the same conversations with women, over and over.

After a while, I decided to just print up a set of rules to hand out before or during the date. Believe me, it’s really helped clear the air so we can move on to other things like enjoying the movie, art gallery, concert, or even getting to know one another.

I’ll update the list as needed. But for now:

Rule 1. No kissing on the first date.
Absolutely not. I wish I had a nickel for each time a woman either closed her eyes and puckered up, as if expecting me to plant one, or tried to surreptitiously graze her lips on mine while coming out of a hug. No.

Rule 2. No incidental touching.
Women are wily creatures. On dates, I’ve noticed they begin by lightly touching your arm with a finger, ostensibly while trying to make a point. However, their nefarious purpose becomes clear as soon as they then place a hand, as if to see how far they can go. Before you know it, they’re rubbing your back and (this is embarrassing to say) sometimes even more.

No. I am not middle-aged male candy.

Rule 3. No Staring.
Ladies, my eyes are up here. I’m sad I even have to say that. Just no, plus ew. Gross.

Rule 4. No Whispering In Ears.
It took me several dates to catch on to this, but I finally got wise around the twelfth time. Especially in crowded bars, women motion to you to come closer, as if they have a secret to share. You take the bait, and bend your head towards theirs. Then, while whispering in your ear, they plant a kiss. Sometimes tongue. Again, ew and gross.

Rule 5. No Sharing Park Benches.
It begins innocently enough, with a request to go for a walk that almost invariably ends close to a secluded park bench. “I’m tired, do you want to sit down,” they ask, and, wanting to be a gentleman, I always say yes.

That’s when the trouble starts. Sometimes I’ve been quick enough to notice the fingers walking along my back to alight on my shoulders. Sometimes I don’t even see it coming, as when women yawn, stretch out their arms, and suddenly one of them lands on my back. No.

Rule 6. No Dancing.
This is a hard one for me, as I love to dance. However, time and again, I have found myself surrounded by women, forming a circle, clapping, whistling, and saying disgusting things like, “woah hoah, Rascal! Shake it! Shake what your momma gave you!”

Honestly, I have no idea what my poor mother has to do with any of this. Except to say, of course, that she would be appalled to see how poorly I get treated on the dance floor sometimes. Shame on you ladies and no. Anyway, this brings me to:

Rule 7. No Stuffing Dollar Bills In My Pants.
Again, it pains me to have to even say that. I don’t care that they’re neatly folded. I don’t care that you lightly perfumed them. I don’t care if you wrote your phone number on them in red lipstick.

And I don’t care that I need the money. No, just no, full stop.

And yes, that goes double for all your friends.

Rule 8. Hot Sex.
Hot monkey sex on a first date is fine, just ask first.



Two hypothetical employees, Amy and Barbara, are working together on a project that requires a great deal of coordination. Each enjoys their job, and they share a close working relationship, in addition to a social one.

One day, Amy discovers Barbara doing something odd. After Barbara leaves, Amy turns on the work computer and finds, much to her shock and horror, evidence suggesting Barbara has been secretly undoing her part of the project for quite some time.

Amy finds herself beset with feelings of intense anger, hurt, and betrayal. Why would Barbara do this? The only reason she can imagine is for Barbara to make herself look better than Amy to management. But how could Barbara do this to her?

Amy prints out the evidence, goes home, and thinks about it. A lot. After several sleepless nights wondering what to do, she decides to have a meeting with Barbara.

When they meet, Amy tells Barbara what she saw, and then shows her the printout.

Imagine Barbara responding in one of four different ways.

Response 1
Barbara immediately bursts into tears. Crying almost uncontrollably, she demands to know how Amy could think such a thing. She goes on to say she is nothing if not loyal and honest, and that she had cared for and respected Amy so much until that very moment.

Barbara adds that she’s devastated, having never felt so hurt or betrayed in her life. She tells Amy she can’t stand to hear another word, is too upset to work, and is going home. She then storms out the door.

Amy feels incredibly guilty. As she leaves the meeting room, she wonders how she could have misconstrued the situation so terribly. She also worries that she’s done permanent damage to what had been a wonderful working as well as social relationship.

She feels this is all her fault.

Response 2
Barbara responds with outrage, demanding to know how dare Amy accuse her of such things, especially after all that Barbara has done for her. For what’s probably only a minute, but feels like an eternity, Barbara shouts and yells at Amy, calling her all sorts of names she’s never been called before.

She ends by telling Amy she’d better prepare for dire consequences if she ever makes an accusation like that again.

Amy leaves the meeting so terrified of Barbara that she not only forgets how she felt beforehand, but actually destroys the evidence, fearing it could provoke Barbara again.

Days later, in therapy, Amy discovers that she is more afraid of angering Barbara than losing her job.

Response 3
Barbara responds by saying Amy’s got it totally wrong: that Amy only thought she saw what she did, and that what she really saw was something else. Barbara adds that, based on that misperception, Amy went on to completely misconstrue the “so-called evidence.”

Barbara then painstakingly goes over what Amy saw, as well as the printout. Step by step, she shows Amy how and where she kept leaping to conclusions, always on the flimsiest of evidence.

Amy leaves the meeting completely convinced by Barbara’s narrative. She feels embarrassed, yet deeply relieved to know she was wrong. She tosses the printout into a wastebasket without a thought, and begins to wonder what in the world is wrong with her.

Response 4
Barbara replies by saying she’s shocked, but not surprised by the accusation, as she’s long suspected Amy of the very same thing. Barbara goes on to share observations of her own that Amy has been undermining her for some time.

Barbara adds that she’s spoken to other co-workers about Amy, all of whom agree that Amy is not only rivalrous and petty, but childish and immature to boot.

Amy leaves the meeting feeling devastated, confused, and utterly demoralized. Could Barbara and everyone else really think that about her? Even worse, could they be right?

For the first time, Amy thinks about leaving her job.

Response 5
Barbara replies by admitting to the behavior in question, but then tells Amy she deserved it, given the fact that Amy had been undermining Barbara in subtle ways for quite some time. Barbara goes on to cite numerous examples of times when Amy has one-upped her in front of bosses and co-workers, all of which comes as a shock to Amy.

Amy had never thought of herself as anything but kind to Barbara, remembering many times when she went out of her way to help her. And while Amy recalls the incidents Barbara mentioned, she had never seen them as one-upping anyone.

Until now.

Suddenly Amy finds herself feeling very sorry, and apologizes to Barbara. Barbara replies that while she accept’s Amy’s apology, Amy is going to have to work diligently to regain the trust she lost with her one-upping behavior. And that, until then, she can expect Barbara to continue undermining her behind the scenes.

Amy finds herself feeling angry and bewildered.

What’s going on here? And how do we help Amy?

Existential Christianity

“Oh hi! Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.”
“You don’t sound particularly enthusiastic.”
“I’m not. As you know, I lost what little faith I had this year.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry.”
“How come you never had that much faith?”
“Well, because I’m a scientist. We don’t care much for supernatural explanations of anything.”
“Of course.”
“In your world, you kind of have to.”
“Ha! Yes, it is kind of a job requirement. But you know, sometimes you say things that make me think you actually want a little faith.”
“Oh you have no idea how much, especially now.”
“But let me guess: you’d be violating your oath as a scientist if you allowed yourself to believe in God.”
“It would be like a betrayal.”
“Well that’s putting it a bit strongly, but yes, that’s right.”
“Yet at the same time you see people of faith using that faith to help them cope with losses like yours.”
“And some part of you wishes you could believe like they do.”
“Well I did. As a child.”
“As a child.”
“Why are you making that face? Did I say something wrong?”
“No, you said something wonderful. Do you have a minute?”
“Let’s talk. But not here.”

“Why’d you bring me here?”
“Well, I’m always visiting you at your office, so I wanted you to come visit mine. Is it making you uncomfortable?”
“No, no, I spent a lot of time in church as a kid. Remember, my parents were both Catholic.”
“I remember you told me that. So this is home to you.”
“Well it was.”
“Yes, I remember that too. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, what can you do.”
“Anyway, I have an idea to run by you.”
“It’s an existential challenge.”
“What? I thought existentialists were atheists.”
“Sartre was. But Kierkegaard, Marcel, and Buber were most definitely not. I think.”
“Ha! Yes.”
“Anyway, the challenge goes like this. Do you enjoy movies?”
“Of course.”
“Now in order to do that, you have to take en existential risk.”
“How so?”
“Well, we don’t often talk about it like this, but suspending disbelief is an existential risk. To leave the world you know and not just enter into another one, but to let yourself believe it enough for it to move you. Perhaps even change you.”
“So: are you the kind of person that can suspend disbelief enough to enjoy a movie? Or are you the kind that sits outside the theater with arms crossed, refusing to go in, saying, ‘this is all bullshit, those are just images on a silver screen.’”
“Ha! Of course not. Who does?”
“Oh I don’t know. Some scientists I know.”
“Very funny. But I still don’t see where you’re going with this.”
“What’s your favorite one?”
“Star Wars, probably. Saw it when I was 10.”
“Me too. Amazing movie, changed my life.”
“Really? Me too. Well, we’re about the same age. Love that story.”
“I bet you do. Now could the movie had any effect on you at all, if you weren’t capable of not just believing in, but fully inhabiting, for two short hours, a world in many ways the reciprocal of your scientific one? A world where there was an Empire chasing a Rebellion, with Jedi and Sith?”
“Here’s my challenge. You ready?”

“Can you let yourself believe in — let’s call it a Force — powerful enough to take on human form?”
“And die for my sins? No thanks.”
“Hey you’re getting way ahead of me.”
“Ha ha. Ok.”
“First, a kid has to be born. A very, very special kid.”
“With all sorts of Force powers.”
“But not enough to save him. He gets betrayed and then killed in the worst possible way.”
“By some of those closest to him.”
“So the Force turns out to be a big fat joke.”
“But is that really how the story ends?”
“Right. What happens to the Cosmic Kid after he gets killed — or allows himself to be killed — by his own protégé?”
“He goes on to fight in another dimension.”
“Let’s just say he beats the Sith at their own game. They tried to defeat death, you see.”
“Yes, through the power of hate.”
“And he does it, this kid—“
“This Cosmic Kid.”
“Does the same thing, but through the power of love.”
“Pretty amazing story, huh?”
“I only wish it were even remotely possible.”

“But is it plausible?”
“Of course.”
“Then can you take a chance? Put your scientific world view on the table for a moment, and let yourself get into the story, as you were just now? Just for two hours? Maybe just enough to let it change you a little, like the original Star Wars did?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Think about it. What would it be like to live in a world where such things were possible?”
“It would be the end of my scientific career.”
“Or maybe just the beginning. Think of the very special birth of a very special child as a new beginning.”
“Ha. Ok. I’ll think about it.”
“Great. That’s all I ask.”
“Thank you. This has been interesting.”
“My pleasure.”
“Merry Christmas, Reverend.”
“Merry Christmas, Cathie.”
“Merry Christmas, Frank.”

Pillow Talk

“Hey. You awake?”

“I am now. What’s up, Mister?”

“I have a weird question.”

“Ooh, I don’t know. Is it kinky?”


“No? Well that’s a damn shame! Just kidding, my dear. What’s your question? Fire away.”

“Ok. It’s a bit embarrassing. It’s about them.”

“Uh oh. What’s up?”

“Yeah. Well. Hadn’t thought of them in a while, you see.”


“Well let me back up, and begin by saying that, despite everything that happened the last 20 years, despite all the crap, there were plenty of good times too.”

“Ok so you miss her. Wait. Oh God, I don’t even know which one. Oh my God, both of them?”

“Yes. Holy shit, how do you do that?”

“Wait, I’m not done yet. And now you’re about to ask me if I miss him. He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

“Ok, either I’m really transparent or you’re really good.”

“Well I learn from the best.”

“Thanks. Look, I want to know—”

“Of course, darling.”

“Most of all because I want to know all about you.”

“Aw. Thanks, sweetheart.”

“You’re welcome. But part of me also wants to know what might be in store for me down the road.”

“Of course love. Ok, so let me tell you. I’ll preface this by saying your mileage may vary. But I don’t think it will, and if it does at least not too much.”

“How so?”

“I’ll explain later.”


“Anyway. The answer to your question is yes, but very rarely.”

“Aha. Why?”

“Well, if I have to talk to him for some reason, I feel pangs, because we did spend ten years together. That’s a lot of time, plus a lot of common language and shared references. But here’s the thing, love: that man is dead and gone.”

“When? You never told me he—”

“Relax. He’s still alive, of course, but the man I married is dead and gone. And to be perfectly honest, so is the woman I was. As a result, the pangs are pretty brief.”

“I see.”

“He broke my heart. That’ll kill a lot of things in a person.”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“Thank you. Ok. Now. Are you ready for the punch line?”

“There’s a punch line? God, I love you.”

“There’s always a punch line. Come on, sit up with me for this.”


“Now give me your hands.”

“They’re yours. All right. What’s the punch line?”

“That man made me who I am today. What I’m saying is, if my marriage hadn’t fallen apart as horribly as it did, if I hadn’t spent years walking around this house, looking for all the tiny little pieces of my heart to glue back together into something stronger, I wouldn’t be this current version of myself. Which, to be frank, is really the first version of myself I’ve ever truly liked.”


“Oh yeah. Ok, love. Now it’s your turn.”

“Aha. Well. Ok. Before them, I suppose I was at best a partial person in relationships.”

“Yes, I agree. But explain.”

“Well that I spent so much of my time trying to figure out what they wanted, and trying to give them that, that I lost sight of who I was and what I wanted.”

“Right. And what happened when you did finally speak up for who you are, for what you wanted or needed?”

“Can we skip that part?”

“Sorry. But ok, right; now would you be who you are now, had it not been for them?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Exactly. You know who you are and what you want, and you’re a lot less afraid to say so than you were before, from the looks of it.”


“Plus you have me, so life is perfect!”

“Ha! Yes.”

“Ok. Now it’s my turn to ask a really awkward and embarrassing question.”

“Sure, go for it.”

“Can we go to sleep?”

“Of course. Love you. Night night.”

“Love you. Good night.”

Oh Really?

This is my retelling of an old Zen story. I tell it from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

There was an old Zen monk in hermitage who was revered and widely praised for living a pure, holy, and good life. 

One day, a young lady from a neighboring village discovered she was pregnant. She was terrified. She did her best to disguise the pregnancy, but soon, the baby began to show. Her parents were furious.

They demanded she name the father. At first she refused. But the more she did, the angrier they got, and the more pressure they applied to her. Eventually she cracked, and named the old monk.

The parents grabbed their daughter by the hand and took her to him. “Old man!” They didn’t bother to refer to him by his honorific. “Get out here right now!”

The old monk came out, smiling. He asked what was the matter.

The father pointed to his daughter and said, “that! That is the matter!” 

“Oh really.” 

”Yes, really! You did this! She told us everything!” 

“Oh really,” was all the monk said.

The family went home and told everyone about the monk. At first, people had trouble believing them. But very quickly, word spread that the monk was not who he seemed to be, and that he was a very, very wicked man indeed.

Some months later, the child was born. The parents took the infant to the monk, who was no longer welcome in the village. They demanded that he raise the child, since it was his. 

“Oh really,” said the monk, as he accepted the child.

A few more months passed. Then, almost a year to the day they first came to the monk, the family returned. The daughter was ashen. 

“Master, we are so very sorry.” 

“Oh really.” 

“Yes. Our daughter finally confessed and told us the truth. You are not the father. It is a young man from a neighboring village.” 

“Oh really.” 

“May we have the child back and raise him with us, his true family?” 

“Oh really,” said the monk as he handed the child back without hesitation. They were both smiling.

On Information Asymmetries

Parent A discovers that their child doesn’t know something very important that they’ll need to know as an adult. “Hey Kiddo, I get the sense you may not know what a square root is. Let’s sit down for a few minutes to see if that’s the case. If so, I’ll bring you up to speed fast.”

Parent B discovers the same thing, but handles it very differently. “You don’t know what a square root is? Oh my God, I learned that in the fifth grade, and you’re a sophomore in high school? I can’t believe you’re 15 years old and don’t know what a square root is. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Boss A sees an employee is not doing their job. This boss pulls their employee aside and tries to find out if they’re aware of the specific expectations for their position. Boss A then tries to find out to what degree the employee is aware they’re not meeting expectations. Lastly, Boss A works together with the employee to craft a plan designed to improve performance, with clear goals and deadlines. 

Boss B discovers the same thing, but instead accuses the employee of loafing. When the employee expresses honest bewilderment, saying they thought they were doing their job well, Boss B becomes even more angry. “That just shows how stupid you are: you don’t even know you’re screwing up! Get it together or you’re fired!”

Spouse A is getting concerned over the household finances. Over dinner, Spouse A says to their spouse, “hey listen, I know this is an uncomfortable topic, but I really think you could be bringing more money into the home. Do you agree? And if so, what are your thoughts about what we can both do to make that happen?”

Spouse B is having similar concerns. Over dinner, and in front of their children, Spouse B asks their spouse to stop being lazy and get a job.

A has a boyfriend. A’s boyfriend has heard a rumor, and asks A if A is seeing someone else. A winces. “Yes,” A answers. A’s boyfriend is devastated, but not crushed, and is able to come back from this very common heartbreak by sharing it with others.

B has a boyfriend. B’s boyfriend has heard a rumor, and asks B if B is seeing someone else. B frowns. “That’s none of your business,” B says.

What’s going on here?

I recently came across the notion of information asymmetries while doing research for a project in political science. An information asymmetry is any situation where one person has more knowledge than someone else.

Given that no one is omniscient, information asymmetries are a fact of life. That is to say, we’re surrounded by people that have more knowledge than we do, and there’s always someone who knows something we don’t.


Now when the information is trivial, irrelevant, or otherwise useless to us, it’s no big deal. But when it’s important for our purposes or goals, or critical for our growth or safety, the situation changes considerably.

You need that information. Someone else has it. If they know you need it, they are in a position to share it or withhold it. This creates a power imbalance in addition to an information asymmetry.

And it can get more complicated. Remember back in school when you thought you studied well for a test but ended up doing far worse than you imagined? You didn’t know what you didn’t know until you took the test.

So sometimes we know we’re missing information, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we know we’re missing information but don’t know how important it is. Sometimes we know where to get it, sometimes we don’t. All of these constitute information asymmetries of their own, and they overlap to make the total asymmetry even bigger.

Either way, someone else almost always has the information you need. And far more often than not, that person is in a position to know if you need it, and in a position to provide it.

This is the situation between parents and children, bosses and employees, teachers and students, and politicians and their constituents, to name a few examples. It’s also the situation between societies, cultures, institutions, or other groups and their members. One partner to a very important relationship has information the other partner needs in order to grow, stay safe, or even in some cases to survive.


The question then becomes: how are such information asymmetries handled?

Ideally, they’re handled in such a way as to dissolve them. That is, in the ideal condition, information is shared along a knowledge gradient so that the information gap disappears.

When this is done repeatedly, in an atmosphere of trust and respect, whatever portion of the power dynamic that depended on the asymmetry also disappears. This is the core informational feature of effective parenting and effective teaching.

This is how children grow to become effective parents, and students effective teachers. And while the power differential disappears, what’s often left in its wake is a feeling of respect and at times even love for the teacher.

One important feature of the ideal scenario is that information is viewed here as a positive-sum game. That is to say, the value of the information increases the more it’s given away. Here when information is shared, not only does everyone win, but people (and institutions) become individually richer than when they held the information alone.

In a positive-sum information asymmetry, someone with information is content, but never truly satisfied unless and until that information is shared with another. Very often in this scenario the information in question is viewed as far more important than the person temporarily carrying it. This makes the bearer of such information feel far more of a steward than an owner.

When the information is communicated in such a way that now two people have full access to, share, or otherwise command it, the interpersonal wealth of the situation grows, sometimes immeasurably. A relationship is created that is far richer than the information itself.

To borrow some terms from Pierre Bourdieu, this is how cultural capital turns to social capital.


This is not always the case, however. On many occasions and in many relationships, knowledge is withheld so as to create, maintain, or even exacerbate information asymmetries. This is almost always done for the political or psychological benefit of those who hold the information.

Here information is a zero-sum game. It’s viewed as a precious commodity that is lost whenever it’s shared, and whose value increases the more it’s withheld. In the extreme, it can become fetishized, and its retention even eroticized.

In my experience, these situations most often revolve around issues of power, control, and self-esteem. Information is withheld in order to create, maintain, or expand a power relationship over another.

Sometimes this is done for the feeling of control it gives. Someone who’s used to feeling out of control in other areas of their life may feel much better knowing they can control someone else. Or they may just enjoy the rush that sometimes accompanies the feeling of being in control over another.

Other times, it’s a way of boosting self-esteem. There are individuals who learn to feel good about themselves primarily by way of making others feel bad about themselves. Shaming and blaming are probably the two most common strategies here.

Typically the people who need to do this the most are people who have been deprived of power, self-esteem, or control in their lives (especially in childhood), or had it wrested away from them suddenly by another.

In another blogpost I’ll describe these more toxic kinds of information asymmetries in greater detail, as well as suggest some strategies for handling them.

Empathy: More Than a Feeling

I was listening to the radio some months ago and got the beginnings of an answer to something that has been pestering me for quite some time.

As a teacher and as a therapist, I’ve struggled against the idea that empathy is nothing more than a feeling. Usually people who say that don’t have nice things to say about feelings in general, but more on that some other time.

Anyway, people tell me this all the time, in the process confusing empathy with sympathy, which is another can of worms in itself.

Here’s what I think empathy really is.

For empathy to be real and effective, it has to contain three sound components: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Put another way, it has to involve effective thinking, feeling, and acting.

The first thing you need in order to have empathy is emotional contact. That is to say, you have to be able to feel what someone else is feeling. Let’s call this affective or emotional resonance. Someone’s feeling X, along a particular frequency, amplitude, and wavelength, and suddenly you are too, just like them.

Now some people can’t do this. Try as they might, for whatever reason, no matter how much someone is feeling something — sometimes sitting right next to them — they just can’t pick it up.

This isn’t a moral failure; it’s just our training, how we were raised, and/or our neurology. Some of us are wired to resonate more easily than others, that’s all.

Incidentally, it’s not hard to see how resonating too much or too often presents a different kind of problem.

So you’re feeling what someone else is feeling. Of course you could stop there; if not, the next step on the road from sympathy to empathy is being able to recognize what it is you’re feeling.

Is it something simple, like anger, loss, excitement, or boredom? Is it a more complex emotion, like guilt, shame, or betrayal? Is it some mixture of either group, perhaps in some tension or even outright conflict with one another?

The cognitive part of empathy involves being able to name the feeling you’re picking up from someone else. This, in turn, involves being able to step outside of the emotion — theirs and yours — just enough to be able to circumscribe it and give it a label.

Here we come to what I like to call the first paradox of empathy. On the one hand, you have to have contact with the emotion in order to resonate with it. To paraphrase a line from commercials often used to sell the lottery, you have to be “in it to win it.”

At the same time, however, you have to be able to step outside of the feeling just enough to be able to say “this is what I’m feeling” and not something else.

So the first paradox of empathy is that you have to be inside and outside of a feeling at the same time. Needless to say, not always an easy task; especially when the feelings are mixed, intense, or complex.

Last but not least, in order for empathy to be effective, it has to do something. That is to say, it has to be able to effect a particular kind of change in a relationship or the interpersonal world.

Most often done this is done verbally. You feel something that someone else is feeling, you put it into words, and then share you share those words with them. But it can be done non-verbally as well. A gasp, knowing glance, hand on the arm or shoulder, or a facial expression is sometimes all that people need to know you get them.

If you’re right (or even in the right ballpark), then a bridge gets built between the two of you that most of us call understanding. And if you keep at it (whether as a therapist, partner, friend, or family member), the bridge widens and gets sturdier.

That’s when it gets strong enough to carry trust.

This brings us to what I like to call the second paradox of empathy. When you say what you think someone’s feeling, you can be right or wrong. Either way, for someone to tell you how you’re doing with regard to understanding them presupposes a certain amount of trust. Absent that trust — most often a trust that good things can come from conversations like these —  people may not tell you whether you’re even close to getting them.

And empathy is what allows that trust to happen in the first place. So the second paradox of empathy is that it both presupposes and is responsible for building trust.

I love paradoxes 🙂