HOWTO therapy: what psychotherapy is, how to find a therapist, and when to fire your therapist

I read this hilarious post by Amanda Rosenberg called “I Asked My Therapist How to Find a Therapist” and cry-laughed the whole way through it. (TL;DR: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) Because it’s so true: when you need a therapist the most is when you have the least energy, organization, and resilience, all qualities that are helpful in finding a therapist in the U.S. (Most people muddle through with desperation, panic, and flailing instead.)

Finding a therapist doesn’t have to be this hard. As an American, I was amazed to learn that many countries offer free government-provided mental health care. It’s not a panacea – you still have to jump through hoops and fill out paperwork and get referrals – but it does show that there’s no inherent reason why finding a therapist has to be so. Damned. Hard.

Personally, I love therapy – or rather, I love what therapy has done for me and how much happier I am after doing therapy for many years. I have had to find a number of therapists in my life, and recently I used what I’ve learned to help several people I know find good therapists. I figured I’d share what I learned in this blog post, starting with how to find a therapist since that’s the question I get asked most, and then going on to things like how therapy works and how to pay for therapy. It got kind of long, so here’s a table of contents so that you can skip to the part you’re most interested in.

How do I find a therapist?
What is therapy anyway?
Can I go to therapy if I don’t know what’s wrong?
Can therapy help me?
What if I can’t afford to pay for therapy?
What if I don’t have the free time to go to therapy?
How do I know when I should switch therapists?
How do I know when to stop or reduce frequency of therapy?


How do I find a therapist?

In the case that you are paying privately for a therapist at market rates, here is my recommended algorithm:

  1. Search on Psychology Today for therapists near you.
  2. Optionally, filter your results by therapists who use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). (CBT is the most evidence-based method of talk therapy. You don’t have to use it as part of your therapy program, but listing CBT as a method of treatment is a positive sign in a therapist in my experience.)
  3. Add any other constraints that are important to you: gender of the therapist, whether they specialized in LGBT issues, if they are a person of color, etc.
  4. Read the self-descriptions of the therapists until you find three that click with you. Be critical and picky and pay attention to how they present themselves.
  5. Once you have three, schedule a free get-to-know-each-other appointment with each of them, preferably in the same week. Go to all three appointments and tell them what you are worried about happening in therapy as well as the problems that brought you there. Optionally, you can send them the Geek Feminism wiki page for therapists.
  6. After you’ve been to each, talk through your experiences with each therapist with someone you trust and pick one. If none of them seem right, go find three more therapists and repeat.

If you have therapy through government healthcare or healthcare insurance or an Employee Assistance Plan or something similar (see the section on affording therapy), use whatever directory or right to choose providers that you have to get an opportunity to work with three different therapists if at all possible. Therapy is in part about the fit or the match between your style and your therapist’s style; there’s no one size fits all. If you can only work with one therapist at a time, see the section on when to switch therapists to decide when to move on to another therapist.

If you are looking to pay privately for therapy but can’t afford market rates, here are some suggestions for finding therapists to interview:

  • Google search for “cheap therapy [YOUR LOCATION]” or similar phrases
  • Search on Foursquare or Yelp or other review sites for the same
  • Search online for counseling training schools near you (they usually have cheap rates for working with students)
  • Ask anyone you know who often works with disadvantaged folks: social workers, court-appointed advocates, activists, etc.
  • If you have any advocates or healthcare workers caring for you – social workers, legal assistance, nurses, doctors, legal advocates, case workers – ask them for suggestions

A great collection of resources for therapy for people with specific needs (such as a polyamory-friendly therapist) is the MetaFilter wiki page on therapy.


What is therapy anyway?

Therapy/talk therapy/psychotherapy is when a patient talks regularly with a counselor or psychotherapist to figure out new ways to think and act so that they are happier. In particular, many of us have developed beliefs and habits about how to be happy and safe that seem to work in the short run, but that end up making us feel unhappy and unsafe in the long run. The therapist helps you recognize these unhelpful beliefs and habits and change them (or at least stop acting in ways that reinforce them). As my favorite advice blogger, Captain Awkward, puts it: “I think every adult could benefit from a look under the emotional hood at some point in their lives.

Many forms of therapy use your relationship with the therapist as a testing ground for trying out new beliefs and actions. In the U.S., a fairly common frequency for therapy is one hour a week or every two weeks. Therapists who use classical Freudian psychoanalysis (what you see on TV shows or movies most often) like to meet for an hour 3-5 days a week.

The forms of therapy differ, but generally they all work better when you are truthful with your therapist, attend appointments regularly, and do any assigned homework. (Conditions that make any of these tasks hard are harder to treat.) The most important thing is to tell your therapist what you are thinking or feeling about therapy or about them, even if it is things like, “I am afraid of you,” or “I feel sexually attracted to you,” or “I want to say what makes you happy,” or “I hate coming to this appointment” or “I’m embarrassed to be in therapy.” It’s the therapist’s job to not take comments like these personally and to use it to help figure out your beliefs. (If they respond to you saying these things with, e.g., anger, or by seducing you, or making you feel guilty, fire them and find a new therapist immediately.)


Can I go to therapy if I don’t know what’s wrong?

Several people have asked me if it is it helpful to go to therapy if you don’t know what’s wrong, or can’t put your feelings into words. The answer is most decidedly, yes. People often go to therapy because they feel vaguely dissatisfied, or incomplete, anxious, depressed, unhappy, empty, tired, hopeless, unimportant, isolated, angry, sad, ashamed, or any number of feelings. People often feel this way even when their life seems objectively great – great job, great family, great friends, etc. If you have figured out why you have those feelings and can put that into words, that’s wonderful – you have a head-start on working with the therapist to figure out what to do about them. But if you don’t know why you feel the way you do, therapists are good at helping you figuring out why.


Can therapy help me?

Oversimplifying wildly, here are the requirements for therapy to work as I understand them:

  1. Self-motivation: Do you want to change badly enough to do scary hard things?
  2. Self-criticism: Can you accept and internalize criticism?
  3. Self-discipline: Are you willing to put in the effort to change, even if it is hard or scary?

It’s okay if you’re not that good at accepting criticism or at consistently applying yourself, as long as you’re motivated to get better at those two skills for reasons you find compelling. But if you’re going to therapy in order to appease or manipulate someone else, but don’t actually think you need to change, it’s less likely to work. Most of the work of therapy happens outside the time that you meet with your therapist, and you are unlikely to do that work if you don’t see how it benefits yourself. This kind of motivation normally fluctuates – I’ve several times taken a break from therapy because I didn’t care to work on my problems at that particular time. I came back when I was motivated to do the work again, sometimes years later.

Several psychological symptoms or disorders interfere with one or more of self-motivation, self-criticism, or self-discipline. These include (but aren’t limited to) depression, anxiety, difficulty staying focused, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD, better known as psychopathy or sociopathy).

If you have depression, anxiety, or difficulty staying focused, therapy will be harder but still doable with effort and advice from your therapist – after all, these are some of the most common reasons people go to therapy.

Narcissistic personality disorder presents as extreme outward confidence, disregard for the feelings of others, and obsession with personal image. One of the less well-known aspects of narcissism is the inability of the narcissist to accept and internalize criticism. It is difficult to improve at any skill if you can’t directly face and accept feedback on how you are doing it wrong. As a result, someone with narcissism has great difficulty changing anything about themselves for the better. Narcissism is notoriously difficult to treat. (If you’re seriously wondering if you are a narcissist, that is an excellent reason to go to therapy. The answer is probably no, but either way, talking to a therapist is a very good idea at this point.)

People with Antisocial personality disorder (better known as sociopathy or psychopathy) have difficulty caring about or understanding the needs or feelings of others, are impulsive, and have difficulty imagining or caring about negative consequences for their behavior. Many people with ASPD are quite content with their personality and actions and see no reason to change them – although some proportion of people with ASPD decide to be a positive part of society anyway and it’s not clear why they are different. Some proportion of ASPD cases are due to permanent impairment of specific brain structures; they can use therapy to learn different behaviors but won’t ever recover that specific brain function. Other folks have neurotypical brain physiology and acquire ASPD after experiencing intense abuse and trauma. Therapy can sometimes help them recover full function.

Other things that can make it harder to get benefit out of therapy: a mental illness, an addiction, an allergy, not getting enough sleep, and being in an abusive relationship. Often, therapy will have the side effect of helping you to solve or reduce these problems, but fixing them may also take medication, diet changes, social support, and time.


What if I can’t afford to pay for therapy?

I’ll assume if you’re asking this question you don’t have access to state-provided healthcare, such as citizens or residents of Australia, Canada, or many European countries. To start finding therapy in this case, my understanding is that you usually ask your general practitioner or primary care doctor for a referral. The rest of this answer will focus on countries that don’t have this.

The easiest way to get therapy (even in countries that provide it for free through the government) is to have enough disposable income to pay the market price for therapy. If you have the money, go this route. If you don’t have the money, you’ll be amazed at the number of ways to get therapy at below market rate. Here are some of the ways to get therapy at a lower price.

You may have private health insurance that covers therapy. However, relatively few therapists accept the extremely low rates paid by insurance, and those that do often have long waiting lists. If you have more money than emotional energy or time, I recommend not even trying to get therapy paid for by health insurance. Otherwise, go to your health insurance web site and look for information on using your mental health benefits. They will probably have an online directory of providers who take your insurance.

Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Plan that covers therapy, usually a specific number of sessions, like six (which is laughably low but better than nothing). The nice thing about EAPs is that usually there is a hotline that you can call and say, “Help me get a therapist,” and they will do the work. This is extremely helpful!

For the case where you can’t afford full price for therapy, but you could afford, say, 25% – 75% of normal costs, many areas have a school for training counselors with students who need patients to practice on. They usually charge need-based sliding scale fees. Many individual therapists will also charge on a sliding scale basis – just ask when you first speak to them. Many therapists also list their price ranges on their Psychology Today profile. Another option in this price range may be online counseling services like In Your Corner.

If you can’t afford that, many community service organizations provide free counseling as part of their services or can help you find free counseling. Homeless shelters, halfway houses, LGBT youth centers, and addiction centers are some places that will be willing and able to help you find free or very low cost therapy.


What if I don’t have the free time to go to therapy?

If freeing up the time to go to therapy seems impossible, here’s my suggestion: move heaven and earth to go to one appointment and tell the therapist why you don’t have time for regular therapy. Then they will be able to suggest ideas for how to make therapy possible for you, based on their far more extensive experience working with many different patients. Remember, it’s not a matter of having time for therapy, it’s a matter of prioritizing therapy just slightly higher than other things in your life that you spend a couple of hours a week on. If therapy is key to you staying alive and functioning, then it’s worth exploring the options.

Some useful options for some people with little money and an uncertain schedule and certain types of problems are the various twelve step programs that branched off from Alcoholics Anonymous, especially the program for the friends and families of addicts. Twelve step programs are free (funded by small voluntary donations from those who can afford it) and usually have meetings at a variety of times in major metro areas. They also have meetings within prisons and hospitals and even phone-based or online meetings. These programs can also be helpful for people who can afford therapy, and many therapists recommend joining the appropriate twelve step program in addition to therapy. Check out the list of twelve step programs on Wikipedia to get an idea if one of those is a good match for you. Note: there is significant research questioning the effectiveness of twelve step programs compared to naltrexone for ending alcohol and narcotic addictions. I agree that twelve step programs don’t work for everyone and attendance shouldn’t be court-mandated; at the same time, some twelve step programs are helpful for some people and are definitely cheaper than most therapy.

One last plug for trying to make therapy work in the face of obstacles from my favorite advice blogger, Captain Awkward: “I recommend therapy here a lot. And I will keep doing it. Even though it is often prohibitively expensive. And/or difficult to locate. And/or difficult to acquire once you do locate it and can maybe afford it. I have a very strong bias in favor of therapy/counseling/mental health services because I have found them to be personally extremely helpful to me and to people I love – some of whom are alive and breathing because they sought out mental health services in time to save their own lives.”


How do I know when I should switch therapists?

Sometimes you aren’t done with therapy but you need to work with a different therapist. This can happen for a lot of reasons. The easy reasons are things like: you develop a symptom or a condition that the therapist doesn’t feel qualified to treat, you move away and they aren’t willing to do therapy over the phone or Internet, or you can no longer afford to pay this therapist’s rate. The less obvious reasons are when therapy isn’t working for some subtler reason: you’re still showing up to therapy and doing homework, but things aren’t progressing. Are they not working because you aren’t ready or doing the work, or is it because you and the therapist are a bad match for each other, or is it because the therapist is bad at their job?

Here are some red flags for therapist relationships that aren’t working out and should probably be ended:

  • The therapist creeps you out (no need to put it into words or get more specific)
  • The therapist attempts to make you feel guilty
  • The therapist makes any kind of sexual advance (or accepts your sexual advances – they are in the position of power and should never accept your advances if you make them)
  • You find yourself unable to stop lying to the therapist
  • The therapist talks about themselves for more than a few minutes per session
  • The therapist does things that make you feel you need to care for the therapist (e.g., becomes visibly upset and requires soothing from you)
  • The therapist “one-ups” you by sharing information about themselves that inhibits you from speaking about your own comparatively minor problems
  • The therapist is unable to hide their anger in session with you
  • You feel belittled or smaller or beaten down after sessions
  • The therapist relies on information provided by your abusers or an unqualified third party (e.g., a parent defining what is wrong with their child)
  • The therapist dismisses your feelings (this is different from searching for underlying feelings or first feelings that turn into your current feelings, a normal activity)
  • You find yourself “accidentally” missing appointments (though this could be a sign that you need to end therapy entirely too)
  • The therapist says things or takes actions that make you feel like you are broken or weird
  • The therapist tells you that something is concerning or bad, but does not help you address it
  • The therapist doesn’t make an effort to understand things that are important to you, like your job or online community
  • The therapist has difficulty remembering important facts about you between sessions
  • The therapist can’t hide that they don’t share basic values with you, such as feminism
  • You find it very hard to tell them that therapy isn’t working for you in some way
  • The therapist offers advice outside the boundaries of the therapy relationship (e.g., about sports or nutrition)
  • You are comfortable and unchallenged in most of your sessions
  • Your take away from most sessions is that you are a really great person who is doing nothing wrong and doesn’t need to change anything but for some reason you need to keep coming to therapy
  • You feel like you are able to fool or charm or manipulate the therapist into doing what you want

Overall, you should feel like your therapist is supporting you in doing difficult, painful, but necessary work. If seeing your therapist makes you feel worthless or helpless or more self-critical, or if they simply affirm you without helping you grow in ways that are difficult for you, you’re not getting the help you need.

Here are some normal (but not necessary) experiences in a relationship with a therapist that is working:

  • You cry. A lot. In session, out of session, on the way to sessions, at work, at home, everywhere
  • You feel sadness and grief more intensely than you have in years
  • You feel strong guilt and anxiety (but not as a direct result of the therapist’s actions or words)
  • You are simultaneously dreading and looking forward to your next appointment
  • You get angry with your therapist in the session (but they do not express anger towards you)
  • You avoid appointments because you don’t want to talk about a specific subject
  • You have to drag yourself into the appointment
  • You sit silently for most or all of the appointment
  • You want to say something to your therapist but you are afraid to and spend the whole appointment avoiding saying it
  • You want to please the therapist and be the perfect patient
  • You don’t want to make your therapist feel sad by telling them unpleasant things you have experienced
  • You deliberately insult or shock or act rudely towards your therapist
  • You show up late to appointments
  • Your therapist reminds you of someone important in your life (mother, ex-husband, etc.)
  • You feel guilty for taking up the therapist’s time
  • You feel like you should be making faster progress
  • You are really tired after an appointment

You can also be having any of these normal experiences with a therapist who is still a bad match for you, just don’t think that these experiences alone are a bad sign.


How do I know when to stop or reduce frequency of therapy?

Spending time and money on therapy has diminishing returns at some point for many people, and at some point you can have a perfectly fine working relationship with a therapist but not have any motivation to continue therapy. Some signs that it might be time for you to reduce frequency or end therapy are:

  • You start forgetting your appointments because you aren’t thinking about what you’re going to discuss at the next one
  • You made a lot of progress in one area of your life but you aren’t much interested in working on any other area right now
  • You feel like you aren’t connecting with your therapist after several weeks
  • Your appointments are uniformly boring
  • You have difficulty thinking of things to say (as distinct from having things to say but not wanting to say them)
  • You keep cancelling your appointments because other things are more important

It can be uncomfortable bringing up the topic of ending therapy with your therapist. Keep in mind that they have been through this many times and that for them, it’s like having a student graduate (in the best case). Just say, “Hey, I’m starting to wonder how much longer I should be in therapy. What do you think?” If you are worried that you want to end therapy for the wrong reasons, or shouldn’t end therapy, your therapist is a good person to discuss that with.

I hope some of this advice is useful to you! I love therapy and it has made me a much happier and healthier person – after years and years of difficult hard work and buckets of tears, so don’t give up too quickly. I wish you all the best for your journey towards greater happiness!

The Ally Skills Workshop returns, Impostor Syndrome book, public speaking and more

After taking three months off work, I naturally decided to found another company! Allow me to introduce Frame Shift Consulting, my new consulting firm. I’m continuing to do what I loved from the Ada Initiative – teaching Ally Skills Workshops, advising companies and conference organizers, speaking – and leaving out what I hated – fundraising, line management, and non-profit paperwork. I’ve also expanded the Ally Skills Workshop to teach people in a position of privilege how to support members of any marginalized group (formerly, it focused on teaching men to support women). I already have enough paying work that I’m behind on filling in my company web site, but I’ll be adding more content in between contracts over the next few months.

Woman holding microphone and raising arm in front of a photo of lightning
Calling down the lightning in a lightning talk
(Credit David Balliol, Thomas Bresson)

One of my goals for 2016 is to do more public speaking. I love speaking and people seem to enjoy my talks, but speaking was rarely a good use of my time when I was at the Ada Initiative. I regretfully had to turn down a lot of speaking engagements over the last 5 years. Now speaking is both fun and aligned with my work, so let me know if you’d like me to come to speak at your event! I’m especially interested in opportunities to speak to tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and paid speaking engagements anywhere in the world.

I’m also working on a book about fighting Impostor Syndrome, based on our work on Impostor Syndrome at the Ada Initiative. The approach I’m taking is that Impostor Syndrome isn’t a mysterious production of unfathomable personality quirks, it’s the intended result of a system of oppression designed to reinforce existing hierarchies. Once you understand where that nagging internal voice doubting your accomplishments is coming from, it’s easier to take action to reverse it. I’m looking for an agent who does traditional paper books for traditional publishers and knows the self-help market – let me know if you have a recommendation for someone!

I ended a lot of things in 2015 and I’m pretty happy about that. After 5 years of successful advocacy for women in open technology and culture, Mary Gardiner and I shut down the Ada Initiative (Mary is now working for Stripe, the lucky ducks). I stepped down from the board of the feminist makerspace I co-founded, Double Union, which is still going strong. With the shutdown of Magic Vibes, I am no longer involved in any joint projects with Amelia Greenhall and won’t be in the future. I stopped drinking alcohol entirely; I never drank that much in the first place but it turns out I’m allergic (!!!) to alcohol. After 5 enjoyable years of single-tude, I started dating again and am, to my pleasant surprise, in a long-term relationship with a great guy.

I’m really looking forward to 2016: teaching workshops, writing books, and speaking (and not fundraising!!). If you’d like to talk to me about teaching an Ally Skills Workshop, consulting with your organization, or speaking at your event, shoot me an email at contact@frameshiftconsulting.com. Here’s wishing you a great 2016 too!

Between the spreadsheets: dating by the numbers

In my blog post about how to have more fun online dating, I mentioned the spreadsheet I made to help with dating. Yes, a spreadsheet. For dating. Because when you’re feeling romantic, you just want to fire up Excel and input some data! Nothing like an evening of writing formulas to get you in the mood for love!

But seriously, enough people were intrigued by my spreadsheet-dating ways – including the excellent dating expert Virginia Roberts – that I cleaned it up, added some instructions, and licensed it CC BY-SA. You can look at it here, or keep reading to learn more about why and how I made it.

Note: While I’m the only person who has used this spreadsheet, I designed it to be useful for people of all genders and a broad range of sexualities, including asexual folks. If it doesn’t suit you, please fork it and make your own changes!

Sources

A couple of years ago, I watched Amy Webb’s amazing TED Talk about how she “hacked” online dating to work for her. Her advice is what inspired me to put some work into online dating, and I put a lot of her talk into my post about having more fun with online dating. Part of Amy’s system was creating a scoring system for everything she wanted in a partner, and refusing to go on dates or continue relationships with people who didn’t score high enough on her system.

Then I read the poorly named “Is He Mr. Right?” by one of my favorite relationship writers, Mira Kirshenbaum. Mira broke down “chemistry” into five requirements: ease and closeness, fun, safety, mutual respect, and affection and passion (see this summary of an earlier version of the five elements by Lisa Wolcott).

Theory

I decided to combine these two concepts – creating a spreadsheet full of things I wanted from relationships, and then figuring out which ones were important (“dealbreakers”) and which were optional (“extra credit”) by rating how they affected the five elements of “chemistry.” I showed it to several Double Union members who came to our “Quantified Relationships” meetups, who gave me a lot of useful feedback and tips. My good friend Leigh Honeywell was particularly helpful with sources, ideas, and encouragement.

What I intended to get was a tool that would tell me whether to go out on dates or continue a relationship with any particular person. What I got instead is a really good tool for introspection and learning more about myself. It turns out a lot of what I thought was important, wasn’t important at all, and vice versa.

Caveats

My original intention for making this tool was to make me more aware of and responsive to my “dealbreakers” – things that meant a relationship wasn’t possible. But while making and using this tool, I discovered that my own ideas about what was a “dealbreaker” were frequently wrong. I am now in a happy relationship with someone who had six of what I labeled “dealbreakers” when we met. And if he hadn’t been interested in working those issues out with me, we would not be dating today. But he was, and working together we managed to resolve all six of them to our mutual satisfaction. Talking to my friends, I found that this was a pretty common experience.

So I added a third category, in addition to dealbreakers and extra credit: things that you need for a happy relationship, but if your partner doesn’t have them, it is possible that if you both work together with good will you could come to some kind of solution. I called these “workables.” But remember: both of you have to be willing, motivated, and able to resolve these issues. And it will take time and patience. But also, many of what you would consider dealbreakers will end up being acceptable as long as you have the five elements of chemistry.

I don’t think you should use this spreadsheet to start or end relationships. The “scores” in particular are just helpful tools to think about people you might date, in addition to all the other information you have about the relationship. I do think you should use this spreadsheet as a way to explore what is important to you, what your relationship patterns are, and how much effort you are willing to put into a relationship.

How to use it

The relationship preferences exploration tool is here. Here is the current version of the instructions; for the most up-to-date version, read the instructions in the first tab of the spreadsheet. Enjoy!

This spreadsheet is a tool to help you figure out what you are looking for in a romantic partner by leading you through a process of brainstorming which starts with examples of specific people, and progressively distills descriptions of those people down to specific qualities you can use to think about potential partners.

While there is an overall “score” for each person, the point of this tool is to help you think consciously about what is important to you, not tell give you yes/no answers to whether you should date someone.

How to use this spreadsheet:

This is a little complicated! There will be an example at the bottom, as well as examples in the spreadsheet.

Anti-archetypes & Archetypes

Start by thinking of several people who are or would be bad partners for you, but whom you have been attracted to anyway. Enter their names in the “Anti-archetypes” tab and write down their major qualities, both bad and good. Do the same thing for people that you have been attracted to and think would make good partners for you, and put these in the “Archetypes” tab. In both cases, you can include people whom you never dated, or even people who don’t exist – fictional characters are totally okay (after all, often our ideas about what real people are like are also totally fictional). You should start seeing groups and trends – several people who share a lot of traits. Group them together and give them a name. Then on the “Anti-archetypes” tab, make a summary of common things you are attracted to in people you shouldn’t date, and vice versa.

Red flags & Green flags

Now go to the “Red flags” tab and start writing down all the qualities or actions that, in retrospect, were a clear sign that you should not date that person. Refer back to your “Anti-archetypes” tab for specific ideas. Pay especial attention to things you find attractive that are also signs that this person will make you unhappy. You can use things you learned from other people’s relationships, from friendships, from work relationships, or books you’ve read. Do the same thing for the “Green flags” tab, but for positive qualities that indicate someone is worth getting to know better.

Bad things & Good things

Once you have a good collection of red flags and green flags, turn them into short descriptions and put them in the “Bad things” and “Good things” tabs. What you are going to do next is find out which of these things are incredibly important, which are kind of important, and which are totally optional. For each quality, you will rate whether it affects you in each of the 5 key components of relationship happiness. For more explanation of what these mean, read Mira Kirshenbaum’s embarrassingly titled relationship book for straight monogamous women, “Is He Mr. Right?”, or read this summary of the 5 components:

http://www.lisawolcott.com/the-essential-five/

The 5 components are: Ease & closeness, respect, safety, affection & passion, fun. For bad things, put a “1” under each component if it would make you feel less of that thing. For good things, put a “1” under each component if it would make you feel more of that thing. Some qualities will affect your feelings for all 5 components; some will affect none of them. Now sort them by their total score. Things that have a score of 1 or more are important. Things that have a score of 0 are nice extras.

You now know what things are really important to you, and which things are totally optional. You might be surprised by what they are! And you should expect them to change a lot as you go on more dates and learn more about yourself.

Ratings

What you are going to do next is turn the “Bad things” and “Good things” lists into a single list of things you want in a partner over in the “Ratings” tab. For each thing in your bad/good/extras list, enter it in to the “Ratings” tab in a positive form (e.g., “Smells good” and not “Smells bad”). Then decide whether this is required (a score of 1 or higher on the bad/good things list), required but something that might change or compromise on if both of you are willing to work on it (“workable”), or an optional extra (a score of 0). Next decide if you have to know that quality for sure before you will (a) go on a date, (b) have sex, or (c) enter a long-term relationship. (If those aren’t your goals, you’ll have to do some heavy spreadsheet hacking to change them – sorry!)

Scores

The final tab is the “Scores” tab. It will calculate numerical “scores” for each person you’ve rated, and whether you know enough to make a decision about going on a date, having sex with, or starting a long-term relationship with them. It also tells you if they have dealbreakers, how many positive things they have going for them, and how much work you’re in for if you decide to continue the relationship. The “Scores” column is intended to give you a sense of overall how attractive each person is, but you shouldn’t take it very seriously.

Here’s an example: Your awful ex Ashley smelled liked old socks. You create a column named “Ashley” in the anti-archetypes list and enter “Smells like old socks” in that column. You notice that a lot of your other bad exes smelled bad too, so you put “Smells bad” in the “Red flags” tab. Then you put “Smells bad” in the “Bad things” tab and rate it. Smelling bad affected your ease & closeness, affection & passion, and fun, so you put “1” in each of those columns. Then you enter it into the “Ratings” tab. Under “Trait” you type “Smells good.” You decide that this quality is required for you to have a satisfying relationship but possible to change with mutual work and effort, so you write “Workable” under the “Type” column. You’ll go on a date with someone before you know whether they smell good, but you have to know someone smells good before you will have sex with them, so you put “Sex” under the “Threshold” column. Now you go on a date with someone named Skylar and he smells delicious to you. Then you put Skylar’s name into the first open column in the “Ratings” tab and put “Y” in the row for “Smells good.” Then you look at the “Scores” tab and see that his score went up by 1 point.

You don’t necessarily need to rate people before you go on a date or at any other time, and most of the time you’ll just make decisions without using the spreadsheet. This is spreadsheet is for when you are feeling uncertain or noticing that you are tending to go out with people who aren’t a good match for you. That’s a good time to sit down and update this spreadsheet. You’ll probably find a lot of things that you thought were dealbreakers, aren’t, and things you thought were optional were actually very important.

Have fun!!!

How to eat paleo at Trader Joe’s (mostly)

This post is about how to eat the Autoimmune Protocol diet – which greatly resembles what people call the “paleo diet” – while shopping primarily at the popular U.S. grocery store, Trader Joe’s. That’s pretty specific – why in the world am I writing this?

About two and a half years ago, I stopped eating wheat and discovered that many of my chronic health problems started going away. It wasn’t a cure-all, though. A year and a half later, I had actually gained weight (I was already overweight) and I started having a new symptom: stomach pain so bad I couldn’t sleep at night. After the doctors ran all the tests and couldn’t find any cause or treatment, I decided as a last ditch attempt to try the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, documented in full in this monster book (don’t worry, you don’t need to read it to try the diet).

AIP is a diet designed by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne to eliminate all the foods that are likely to cause inflammatory autoimmune reactions in most people (surprise! Wheat is #1 on this list), and then to gradually reintroduce some of the safer foods until you know what your personal set of “safe” foods is. It also provides a list of more nutritious foods that you are encouraged to eat more of. Following the diet often improves the symptoms of health problems that stem from inflammation, allergies, or autoimmune reactions. However, most people have never heard of AIP, and it resembles the various diets people call “paleo”, so I usually just refer to it as “eating paleo” or “autoimmune paleo.” A year and a half after starting this diet, my stomach no longer hurts, I walk 5-10 miles every day without pain, and I’m in the recommended weight range for my height for the first time since I was a teenager.

The point of this blog post isn’t to convince people to eat the AIP or paleo diet. It’s expensive, takes a huge amount of time, and is unsustainable at a global level. But if you are a person who is already trying to eat AIP or paleo, or if you have an autoimmune-related problem and are considering the AIP diet, and you live near a Trader Joe’s, I wanted to share my tips for buying AIP compatible food at Trader Joe’s, along with sources for things you can’t get at TJ’s. For context, I live alone in a tiny studio in San Francisco, walk to the grocery store several times a week, and am relatively healthy and abled. I make enough money that shopping at Trader Joe’s isn’t a problem but Whole Foods is something I can only afford on occasion.

A word of encouragement

Eating AIP is HARD. At first, you can’t eat grains, dairy, eggs, legumes, nightshades, seeds or seed oils, nuts, sugar, or a long list of food additives. You have to make and eat all kinds of weird labor-intensive food. You can’t eat at most restaurants. You get really tired of chewing. There is So. Much. Chewing. But then I got better at cooking, I bought more cooking equipment, I started adding more foods back into my diet, my palate adapted to not eating sugar, and everything got easier and more fun. Probably my jaw muscles got stronger too.

I’ve been eating the AIP diet for a year and a half now, and I love food more than I ever did before. Now opening my fridge gives me pleasure. I eat whatever I want when I’m hungry (within the diet), and I stop eating when I’m full. Food almost never goes bad in my kitchen. I’m excited about eating every meal and I eagerly try new foods and recipes. Eating food I didn’t personally cook makes me feel like it’s my birthday. I absolutely still do think fondly of eating an entire bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups or a giant hot croissant fresh from the oven, but knowing that I’ll immediately feel sick if I do eat those things keeps me on the diet and feeling well.

The compromises

I couldn’t actually afford to the time and money to eat fully AIP in two particular ways: I can’t always afford to buy organic produce, and I can rarely afford to buy pastured meat or eggs. Buying higher quality meat and eggs (e.g., organic, free-range, or partly grass-fed), even if it isn’t fully pastured, seems like it has been enough of an improvement over fully conventional meat and eggs to be worth it. Also, once you have tasted an organic free-range brined chicken or a grass-fed burger, it’s really hard to go back to the 100% conventional U.S. stuff – it tastes pretty bad in comparison. Delivery of pastured meat isn’t feasible for me because I travel so often. Also, I’m not eating as much organ meat as the AIP diet would prefer.

The cookbook

Eating AIP without a cookbook is hopeless. Besides the challenge of making food without most of the ingredients you normally put in food, there are lots of foods you really need to eat that have complicated prep techniques. The main cookbook I used was The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook by Mickey Trescott. Mickey also does one-on-one diet coaching via Skype – highly recommended if you’re stuck on fixing particular problems or debugging particular foods. For example, I was having mixed results reintroducing rice, and she told me it was normal to have no reaction to whole white rice, but have problems with brown rice or rice flour. I don’t know why that is, I’m just glad she helped me find what works for me!

Meats and bone broth

Eating AIP involves a huge amount of meat, which is a pain to cook and store. Trader Joe’s has a surprising number of pre-cooked meat products that are AIP-compatible, even during the first most restrictive phase of the AIP diet. If you choose the right meats, you can make your own bone broth without going out to buy bones themselves.

Pre-cooked meats and seafood

The big winner here is the pre-cooked carnitas, over in the deli case next to the fresh meats. Don’t worry about how fatty it is – eating AIP you end up having a hard time getting enough fat in your diet and you’ll be grateful for a fatty cut of meat like these carnitas. The next big one is pre-cooked bacon, though my local TJ’s stopped carrying it and I now make a special trip to CostCo to buy it. Pre-cooked bacon is crucial for sticking to the diet for the first few weeks – if you’re low on calories and time, pull out the pre-cooked bacon and dates and keep eating till you are full.

The Chicken Apple Sausage is technically AIP-compatible, although you notice that the maple syrup added to it makes it unpleasantly sweet after a few weeks on the diet. I much prefer the Garlic Herb chicken sausage. The smoked salmon is usually AIP-compatible. The prosciutto is also good; I buy the Stockmeyer because it is cheaper and lasts longer, although it isn’t the traditional soft style of prosciutto. Tuna fish, sardines, and similar stuff is available in the canned section.

If you successfully add nightshades back to your diet, you can try a lot more of the pre-cooked chicken sausages: Sweet Italian and one with bell peppers. They just introduced a pre-cooked Beef Sirloin that is quite good if you’ve reintroduced black pepper. Also in post-black pepper land are the cured sausages that don’t need to be refrigerated – I like the Volpi brand best. Watch out, a lot of the cured sausages have sugar and milk powder in them, and many people end up with headaches from them (as I do if I eat too much of them). However, they make great emergency or travel food since they don’t need refrigeration until you open them.

Counter-intuitively, the “Just Chicken” line of pre-cooked meat is usually not at all AIP-compatible – it has tons of additives. Also, it tastes gross compared to your home-roasted organic free-range brined whole chicken that I’ll tell you about in the next section. Some Whole Foods have an organic roasted chicken with no additives if you’re looking for pre-cooked chicken; the ones I’ve seen are comparable in price to the high-end uncooked chickens Trader Joe’s sells. But you are risking entering a Whole Foods – I can’t get out of there for less than $40 for only half a bag of groceries.

Uncooked meats and seafood

The most expensive and important meat I buy at Trader Joe’s is the Organic Free-Range Brined Whole Chicken. I put half a lemon and a dried sprig of thyme inside, truss it, and roast it on a rack set in a pie dish covered in tin foil for about 90 minutes in a 400F oven, flipping it twice. I use a meat thermometer to figure out when it’s done (160F next to the breast bone). Once I made this chicken, I could not stand eating lesser chicken, especially not those frozen chicken breasts in a bag. This chicken is horrifyingly expensive (about $16 in SF) but I justify it because it’s a good source of bones for making bone broth (and did I mention that it tastes amazing?).

I also buy conventional bone-in pork chops – they taste way better than boneless pork chops and also create bones for broth. I fry pork chops in a pan to get that crisp brownness, even though it makes my apartment reek like bacon for hours. Another good option is the grass-fed ground beef, which comes both fresh and frozen in pre-made patties. I also like the frozen Mixed Seafood – add some bacon, bone broth, and asparagus, and it’s an affordable and super easy meal to make.

I detest cooking and eating most fish, but if you like it, TJ’s has tons of frozen seafood that is AIP-compatible. I used to buy ground turkey and make sausage patties out of it, but it was relatively tasteless no matter what I did and I stopped. If you’ve reintroduced nightshades, try the Sweet Italian Pork Sausage. That’s another great source of hard-to-find dietary fat. I cook them all at once and put them in a plastic container in the fridge.

Do go buy cooking twine – I never owned any until I started eating AIP. And I really like buying fresh thyme and drying the part I don’t use right away to put inside the chicken. I use the cooking twine to hang it till it dries and keep it in a glass jar after that. It’s great crumbled on pork chops, too.

Organ meats

TJ’s doesn’t carry a lot of organ meats, which are a source of a lot of important nutrients. The whole chicken I buy has no giblets. I tried buying and frying chicken livers from Whole Foods, and maybe I needed to give it a few more tries, but – yuck. Then I realized I could buy the chicken liver truffle pâté from the deli case (note: contains small amounts of milk and egg and is topped with caregeenan) at TJ’s and eat it on slices of Granny Smith apples (or cold steamed broccoli, believe it or not, or yucca crackers). I eat about one of these containers per two weeks. This is good enough for me for organ meats, though I’d love an easy source of chicken hearts because I hear they taste amazing.

Bone broth

Bone broth is a crucial part of AIP that you really can’t skip, and it also an enormous pain to make or buy. Bone broth isn’t “just stock”; it’s the product of cooking bones long enough to get most of the nutritious stuff out of the bone matrix. How long is long enough? NINE FUCKING HOURS. This is why I caved very early on and bought a scary pressure cooker, which only takes three fucking hours (plus pressurizing time) to make bone broth at high pressure. Here is my complete bone broth system:

  1. Buy whole chickens and bone-in pork chops.
  2. Save the bones after cooking in a gallon plastic bag in the freezer (remember to take the lemon out of the chicken carcass but leave the thyme).
  3. Save the drippings from the chicken in plastic containers, also in the freezer.
  4. When I have a full plastic bag of bones, roast them in the oven for 20 minutes at 400F on a foil-lined pan (this browns the bones and makes the broth taste good, otherwise it’s gross).
  5. Put the bones and the frozen drippings in the pressure cooker, add a bay leaf and about a tablespoon of salt, and fill with enough water to cover the bones.
  6. Cook on high pressure for 3 hours (mine only goes to 90 minutes, so I have to reset it once, and sometimes I let it sit overnight on “simmer” and do the rest in the morning).
  7. Pour contents into a strainer sitting in a large stock pot.
  8. Remove the strainer and ladle the broth into glass jars sitting in the sink (leave at least an inch of room at the top of each jar).
  9. Put all but one jar in the freezer (they won’t explode if you leave at least an inch of room).
  10. Every morning, put 1/3 cup of bone broth in a mug and add boiling water and drink it (you can skip a week or so every now and then with no trouble).

Bone broth is amazing. After I started eating bone broth everyday, I had a mildly gross experience as the new stronger layer of skin started growing in (stop reading and go to the next section if skin stuff makes you barf). I’ve always had patchy skin on my knees, but a few weeks after starting the bone broth, I noticed that a layer of skin on my knees started peeling off and underneath was – non-patchy skin. I haven’t had patchy skin anywhere on my body since. Imagine what’s happening on your insides!

Updated 26 August 2016: Whole Foods now sells pork and beef bones for fairly cheap – you can find them in the freezer near the butcher department. $10 worth of bones fills up my pressure cooker. Chicken wings are also a good source of cheap bones, which is good because I really don’t like pure beef or pork bone broth. For a couple of months, I was buying chicken carcasses from the local halal butcher but they stopped carrying them. I also noticed that Costco sells $5 whole roasted chickens which seem like a pretty good deal even if you’re throwing the bones away.

Eggs

Eggs aren’t in the introductory AIP diet, and I personally couldn’t reliably eat them until I entirely gave up on trying to reintroduce alcohol (sigh). But if you can eat them, eggs make a huge difference. I recommend the organic free-range TJ’s brand eggs. The shells are thick and the insides are thick and viscous in the way that indicates high quality. I especially like poaching eggs: Boil 2 quarts of water, take the pan off the heat, add a splash of vinegar, swirl the water, drop the egg in from the cup you cracked it into (or two at once), and put the lid on it and wait for 6 minutes before lifting it out with the slotted spoon you used to swirl the water. It’s also worth getting to be extremely good at making scrambled eggs.

Cooking oils

Cooking oils are a pain on AIP. You’re not supposed to use oils derived from seeds, like canola or safflower or sunflower. And you’re not supposed to heat olive oil because something something mumble carcinogens or something (cold olive oil is fine). Initially I just used coconut oil for everything – TJ’s carries it in a jar. It tastes a little funny with some things and it’s annoying that it’s hard below 75F, but it works. Then I finally rendered my own lard (bacon fat) and WOW. Bacon fat is amazing. Once you’ve had scrambled eggs cooked with rendered bacon fat, or steamed spinach with a little bacon fat, or chicken sausage fried in bacon fat – you’ll never go back.

I like to render my own fat using Bacon Bits and Pieces from TJ’s – chop them into 1/4 inch-size pieces and put them in a stock pot on low heat with a 1/4 cup of water for about an hour, pouring out the fat through a strainer into a funnel into a jar as it renders. You also get a bunch of incredibly delicious home-made bacon bits which I usually eat within 24 hours. One of my friends likes cooking bacon in the oven a couple of pounds at a time, and pouring the fat off that. But you can also buy lard in grocery stores that carry a lot of traditional Mexican foods, or order it online from Amazon (you should buy pasture-raised but conventional is okay). Leaf lard is the most prized lard – it has the least flavor and is used by dedicated bakers who say it makes the best pie crust.

Vegetables & fruits

Many vegetables and fruits are AIP-compatible, but I’ll list the ones that I didn’t eat as much of until I went AIP. If this list sounds boring and gross, remember this important fact: when you stop eating processed sugar, your palate gets more sensitive to sugar. A piece of steamed broccoli or a roasted brussel sprout will taste deliciously sweet and flavorful. A raisin will seem overwhelming.

The most important fruit while you are transitioning to the AIP diet is Medjool dates: they will satisfy your sugar cravings, fill you up on calories, and they go great with bacon, prosciutto, and coconut. Maybe I was over-cautious, but about a month into the diet, I started losing weight more quickly than the recommended 1 pound a week. The only way I could slow it down was to sit and eat dates and bacon and coconut every night for half an hour. (Remember what I said about all that chewing?) Dates also keep well and I spent about 6 months with a bag of dates in my purse at all times. Now dates seem too sweet to me and I only eat them occasionally.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Medjool dates contain mostly invert sugar, which has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, but some other dates have higher percentages of sucrose, such as thoory and deglet noor dates. Sucrose turned out to be one of the things that doesn’t make me feel great in large quantities, so I cut down on the fruits with high levels of sucrose. I stick with Medjool dates, even though they tend to be more expensive and squishier than the rest of the dates. Also they are the only date my TJ’s carries.

Other good fruits for keeping up the calories: bananas, fresh figs, peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes, and mangos (though most of these are high in sucrose, so pay attention to how you feel when you eat lots of them and try to always eat protein and fat with them). Fresh mangos in the U.S. mainland are usually super gross; try the frozen pre-cut mangos in the TJ’s freezer (now in organic, too). TJ’s also sells frozen figs sometimes – delicious! Unfortunately, figs give me headaches, fresh or frozen.

Other frozen favorites: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, nectarines. Early on, smoothies made with frozen bananas and other fruit using an immersion blender were crucial to consuming enough calories to avoid dangerous weight loss (you’ll get REALLY tired of chewing). I would buy fresh bananas and freeze them in plastic containers when they got ripe. As your need for calories lessens, apples, pears, and persimmons get more attractive. Applesauce is important: apples have a low glycemic index and it is a treat to eat something that you don’t have to chew. I like the Gravenstein applesauce at TJ’s but the regular is fine too.

Avocados are crucial: one of the few sources of fat in an AIP diet. I generally have at least 5 avocados in varying states of ripeness in the house. If you buy them 4 in a bag, you can put two in the fridge for a few days so they don’t all ripen at once. Once they ripen, put them in the fridge until you are ready to eat them. I like to halve them, slice them in the skin (be careful with the knife), scoop them out with a spoon on to a plate, and drizzle white balsamic vinegar on them and sprinkle some salt. Super amazingly good! They also make a good breakfast: my canonical breakfast is bacon, half an avocado, two pre-cooked beets, and a cup of hot bone broth.

Pre-cooked frozen asparagus was a major staple for me for a while. You always have a ready-to-eat vegetable in the fridge, and you can defrost them and wrap them in prosciutto. They also go great in a mixed seafood stew or as an addition to scrambled eggs. Pre-cooked beets are also good – slice them and drizzle with vinegar or lemon juice. Speaking of lemons, I eat far more lemons now than I used to, go ahead and buy the bag of lemons and keep them in the fridge.

Brussel sprouts are amazing – if you cook them correctly. The difference between a delicious brussel sprout and a disgusting mess is about one minute of cooking. To get yourself off to a good start, make brussel sprout chips and sprinkle them with lemon juice. If you’re a good paleo person, you’ll substitute bacon fat (lard) for the olive oil, but start with the olive oil version first just to see how good they can really be. I also like steaming brussel sprouts, but the key is to remove the outer leaves and trim off the ends before cooking – the outer leaves have the most of the bitter gross part of brussel sprout flavor. Also slice larger brussel sprouts in half so they cook all the way through without turning the smaller sprouts to mush.

Microwave-in-bag vegetables sound like they will be terrible, but microwaving actually works well for many vegetables. Haricot verts are my favorite microwave-in-bag veggie at TJ’s, but they also sometimes have broccoli florets and pre-seasoned asparagus. You can microwave brussel sprouts in the bag, but if you don’t take them out and trim off the ends and outer leaves, they will taste disgusting. You can put them back in the bag and microwave them after, but if you’re going to all that effort, it’s not hard to boil a little water in your steamer while you’re preparing them.

I don’t think you can do paleo without massive amounts of sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are not a member of the nightshade family, so you can eat them right from the start, and they are a good source of sweetness and carbs while you’re getting used to a lower carb diet. Don’t buy canned sweet potatoes; they are gross and usually sweetened. You can roast sweet potatoes whole and keep them in the fridge for a quick snack. I’m particularly enamored of the new purple Murakami sweet potatoes. Regular orange sweet potatoes tend towards stringy wetness; Murakami are dry and mealy – a little too dry IMO but a wonderful change from the norm. Did you know that if you peel and dice purple sweet potatoes, toss them in melted bacon fat, add a little thyme and salt, and roast them for 30 minutes at 400F, they taste remarkably like cupcakes? It’s one of the few paleo foods I have a hard time stopping eating. (I tried cinnamon but it tasted nothing like a cupcake; it’s some weird effect of the thyme.)

One thing you will seriously miss on this diet is anything – anything at all – that is crunchy. (Treasure those homemade bacon bits.) The only AIP cracker I can find is yucca crackers, which you can’t buy at TJ’s. I get mine at Mission Heirloom over in Berkeley, which has a gorgeous outdoor patio. You can get Mission Heirloom food delivered, but I can only imagine it’s hideously expensive. I’m currently searching for a source of AIP-compatible taro chips, but it’s hard to find anything fried that doesn’t use a seed-based oil.

Coconut products

Coconut products are an important part of the AIP diet, especially in providing that hard-to-get fat. A lot of salad dressings, sauces, smoothies, and desserts use specialty coconut products. You’ll find it a lot easier to stay on AIP if you get all the obscure coconut products and have them in your pantry.

Trader Joe’s only carries three AIP-safe coconut products: Coconut oil, coconut flour, and coconut sugar. The rest of their coconut products contain either sugar or thickening agents. Once you’ve figured out which thickening agents (xanthan gum, guar gum, etc.) are safe for you, you can start eating more of TJ’s coconut products, but don’t start until you’ve done the full AIP protocol and are ready to test for allergies to thickeners. (Turns out one of my most debilitating reactions was to a thickening agent in TJ’s coconut ice cream, which I’d been eating weekly when I was having really bad stomach pain. Oops.)

For the rest of the coconut staples – shredded coconut, dried coconut, coconut concentrate, coconut aminos – I order online. Amazon has everything, but I found that dried coconut was significantly cheaper when I purchased it directly from the original retailer. You’ll need to make your own coconut milk AFAICT – I never did find a source that didn’t include thickening agents. But all you’ll need is shredded coconut and cheese cloth to make your own.

Fermented foods

The very best fermented food at TJ’s is the fresh raw sauerkraut they sell in the deli case. This stuff is amazing. I made homemade sauerkraut and while it was vastly better than every other sauerkraut I’ve ever bought in a store, it didn’t measure up to the TJ’s at all.

I tried very hard to drink kombucha and water kefir (not available at TJ’s, I bought starter online from Amazon and used coconut sugar), but it turned out I’m so sensitive to alcohol that even the low amount in these foods was too much for me, so I don’t have a ton of advice here.

My system for making water kefir (which was super yummy) was this: buy two 0.75 liter bottles with integrated stoppers, two 0.75 wide mouth jars, cheesecloth, and water kefir starter, all from Amazon. Using coconut sugar from TJ’s, follow the instructions to start the fermentation in the two wide mouth jars and put them on top of the fridge. Every day, take the jar that has been sitting longer and pour it into a strainer sitting in a funnel in a bottle. While doing this, boil a little water in your electric tea kettle and stir it into two tablespoons of coconut sugar in a tall cup. When dissolved, add enough cold water to the cup to keep the hot water from killing the starter, and pour it and the kefir grains that ended up in the strainer back into the jar. Fill up the rest of the way with cold water and recover with cheesecloth and put it back on top of the fridge. If you like, go to Rainbow Grocery and get pure fruit juice concentrate and put a tablespoon in the bottle before you strain the kefir in it. Take the bottle you just filled, close the stopper, and leave it on the counter for one day to carbonate before putting it in the fridge. This way I always had a bottle of delicious sort-of soda every day.

You can make your own kombucha too but I never tried. It’s pretty damned expensive in the store and relatively easy to make once you get your system down, so I recommend making your own if you like kombucha.

Since I can’t eat dairy or even trace amounts of alcohol, I ended up trying a bunch of more or less expensive probiotics. I eventually discovered that VSL#3 works well for me, which is unfortunate because it is wildly expensive and needs to be refrigerated. I suggest trying everything else first, including eating naturally fermented foods.

Miscellaneous other useful foods and tips

Date sugar is a great low glycemic index sugar that I’ve only bought at Rainbow Grocery. I suspect you can get it at Whole Foods too, and it is also available on Amazon. I make a mean peppermint hot chocolate using date sugar, cocoa powder, coconut concentrate, and peppermint oil. Alcohol-free vanilla is useful too; I don’t recall where I found mine but it wasn’t TJ’s. Try Rainbow Grocery or Amazon. Generally any strange flour – lots of AIP recipes call for tapioca starch or arrowroot flour or something equally obscure – can be found at Rainbow, Whole Foods, or Amazon.

I bought a lot of resealable plastic containers and baggies, and always keep at least two or three kinds each of cooked vegetables, cooked meat, and fruit ready to eat and in plastic containers in my fridge. For the first few months, I would be suddenly hungry at unpredictable intervals, and the best way to not fall off the AIP diet for me was to always have ready-to-eat food in my fridge. When I head out for a few hours, I throw a couple of the containers and some apples in my purse and I have lunch. When I travel, I take an entire bag full of plastic containers and baggies with me (customs is a pain).

Many people recommend batch-cooking on the weekends to make enough food for the rest of the week. For me, what worked best was cooking for 15 minutes here and there throughout my week. For example, while I’m making breakfast, I’ll also take 10 minutes to steam some broccoli. Or I’ll get home, turn on the oven, and roast some sweet potatoes while I’m reading Twitter. Or I’ll make 6 servings of carrot salad while I’m making lunch, and put the other 5 (okay, 4) servings back in the fridge. I eat mostly plain whole foods that have been lightly cooked, so this works well for me. I found that putting an hour and a half into a stew with a lot of different ingredients that requires lots of prep work didn’t pay off for me in the pleasure of eating. Eating cold steamed green beans out of a plastic container makes me surprisingly happy! But if that isn’t enough for you, by all means, batch cook on the weekends.

When testing food additives, it’s worth buying them separately in the store and trying them alone, especially the thickeners which rarely are used alone. I found guar gum and xanthan gum in pure powdered form at Rainbow Grocery. Start looking at various non-dairy milk-like products to find ones with only one or two thickeners for easier testing.

I eat lots and lots of fat at every meal, and I could not have stuck with this diet if I hadn’t. This diet is pretty scarce in carbohydrates, and bodies can only convert so much protein into usable energy per day. I had to replace the rest of those missing carbohydrate calories with something else, and the only source left after protein is: FAT. Don’t worry, fat doesn’t actually make you fat, high glycemic index carbs make you fat – the low-fat diet relentlessly promoted by the U.S. government had no empirical basis and was probably highly influenced by the U.S. farm lobby. Take a look at these guys if you are worried about your health on a high-fat diet.

AIP only deals with a subset of food sensitivities. Sarah Ballantyne’s monster book reviews most other food sensitivities. For people with FODMAP sensitivities, you’ll need to modify the AIP diet heavily (only half an avocado per day? no brussel sprouts???). Another class of food sensitivities manifests as headaches when you eat particular foods (for me, some cured meats, figs, blackberries, most wine).

Equipment

I had to buy a fair bit of new kitchen equipment before I could cook AIP food. Here’s what I had to stock up in addition to a fairly minimal set of kitchen tools for someone who lives in a city and doesn’t cook that often:

  • For roasting: Cooking twine
  • For rendering lard: Fine strainer, funnel, jam jars
  • For bone broth: Large strainer, many glass jars (pickle, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, etc.), pressure cooker (optional)
  • For smoothies: Immersion blender
  • For fermenting: Bottles with stoppers, cheesecloth, large open-mouth jars
  • For many things: Large but relatively short stock pot (so you can also stir-fry in it easily), lots more plastic containers

Good luck!

That’s most of what I learned from one and a half years of cooking mostly AIP while living in a studio in San Francisco! Feel free to add your tips and tricks in the comments below. Best wishes for your new cooking adventures!

How to have more fun while online dating

Updated Dec. 4, 2015: I did a podcast with dating expert Virginia Roberts about this post. Also, I’m now happily in a relationship with someone I met on Bumble. Enjoy!

Online dating is hard and scary, am I right? Most of the advice for online dating focuses on how to find and get a partner, which seems like the right focus – get it over and done with ASAP, right? But as I followed that advice and started working on my profile and contacting people, I realized that for me, the bigger problem was preventing myself from getting so discouraged that I gave up dating entirely. Looking at the bitter, angry comments on many other profiles, it looks like I’m not alone in feeling that way. Most people will have to go on a lot of not-right dates to find someone who is a good match for them, and if you’re a straight woman, you’re even more likely to get a lot of insults and threats along the way as well.

So I decided to spend some time trying to make the process of dating itself more fun. Here’s what I learned.

TL;DR for the impatient: Pay for professional photos, put a lot of effort into your profile, pay for extra features, only go on dates you will enjoy even if it turns out you’re not attracted to the other person, be picky, reject people quickly, never give reasons for rejections, don’t think about people who reject you, reframe bad experiences as great stories to tell your friends, pay attention to red flags, use helpful tools, try the new dating app Bumble if you are a straight feminist man or woman.

The full-length version is pretty long, so I split the tips into the following categories:

Disclaimers: This isn’t a “10 tips for getting a great partner, like I did!” kind of post – the only claim to success I’ll make is that I’m having a good time dating right now. I didn’t do any research on what dating is like for people who aren’t similar to me, so you should know up front that I’m a 37-year-old straight white feminist cis woman who doesn’t have or want kids and is looking for a long-term monogamous relationship in the San Francisco Bay Area. The platforms I used were OkCupid and Bumble, so you will have to translate to your favorite online dating platform. I’m not including any safety-related tips because more than enough of that kind of advice already exists for straight women.

With those caveats in place, I hope this post helps a few more people enjoy themselves while online dating a little more!

Preparing to date online

 

Don’t date until you are ready to date

Plenty of people join an online dating service for some reason other than wanting to find partner(s): fear of being alone, wanting to conform to expectations, plain old boredom, whatever. I get it – I once started online dating because I had a serious crush on an unavailable coworker. I should have joined a sports club or adopted a dog or poked myself in the eye with a stick repeatedly instead.

Here’s the thing: if you aren’t actually ready and willing to date, you are not going to have fun with online dating. Online dating is hard work, emotionally, and takes a lot of time. If you’re not really into it, you’ll resent the time and emotional energy you put into it, and that will put you in a bad mood. (You’ll also waste the time and effort of the people who respond to you, but I encourage you to think about being kind to yourself first.)

How do you tell if you are ready to date? Often the same way you know you are ready for other big life changes: you spend a lot of time both thinking about and taking actions that prepare you for it. For me, I knew I was ready when for several months I consistently spent several hours a week reading about or researching dating and relationships, and consciously reduced my commitments so that I would have time to put into a relationship. Another way to figure this out is to go to a therapist. (My advice on finding a therapist: search on Psychology Today’s therapist directory, make appointments with three therapists who mention CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and go with the one that seems pleasant but professionally distant.)

Work consciously and intentionally on your profile

Most online dating starts out with looking at each other’s profiles. This should be a self-evident truth: When you put effort into having an attractive, well-designed profile that accurately reflects who you are, you get more contacts from people that you are attracted to – and this increases your enjoyment of online dating as well as your chances of finding your partner(s). But even if this is as obvious as it seems to me, many people feel self-conscious or deceptive about putting effort into creating a good profile (and heaven forbid that you spend ACTUAL MONEY to do so).

For straight women, this ties into the common trope that women should be effortlessly! feminine! and attractive! We woke up looking this way! And definitely never intentional or calculating about anything to do with your love life. For straight men, I think it’s more related to the constant pressure from other men to not try too hard to be attractive to women in ways that require significant work, thereby lowering the standards for all straight men (think of this as “dating on the curve” for straight men). You can thank toxic masculinity for that one!

I’m here to give you permission to create the best profile you can, and damn the self-consciousness! If not for yourself, then do it out of compassion for all the poor people who will otherwise have to read your lackluster, lackadaisical, borderline-offensive profile.

Some useful tips for improving your profile from other folks:

I have a story about the last point, which describes how if you live in an extremely left-leaning area and are left-leaning yourself, you want to lower the importance of OkCupid match questions that have to do with abortion, gay rights, gun control, flag-burning, etc. When I did my first search on OkCupid after answering questions the obvious way, one of my top 5 matches was a guy I already knew. He was a 93% match – and he was a total jerk in a way I used to find attractive but had spent several thousand dollars on therapy to stop finding attractive. I was devastated: Had my match questions somehow revealed my true soul? Was I doomed to date jerks forever? Or maybe he had changed as much as I had? (I looked for recent social media posts and the answer was: no, he was still a jerk.) After using the advice in these articles to change the importance of the questions related to those areas, our match percentage dropped dramatically and he sank into the noise. PHEW!!

Eventually I realized that, in a place like the Bay Area, it is socially shameful to be anti-abortion or anti-gay rights, so a man who lacks compassion or kindness and would anywhere else be anti-abortion or anti-gay rights would be in favor of those things in this culture. You have to use smaller, less socially fraught signals to figure out what people’s personalities are like in places like the Bay Area.

Pay for professional photos

I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting professional high-quality photos. Most people need professional photos to look as good in their photos as they do in person. If you are one of those people, you are presenting an unfair and inaccurate version of yourself with non-professional photos. So stop misleading your potential dates and go get professional photos that accurately represent your looks, your style, and your personality!

For me, the difference between a dating with amateur photos and dating with photos taken by a professional portrait photographer was like day and night. Before, I was going on dates mostly with people I was not attracted to. After professional photos, I suddenly started going on lots of dates with people I was very attracted to – and who were attracted to me! I know my better photos weren’t misleading because my dates also gave me a lot of compliments about how much I looked like my photos, and I started getting asked on second dates.

If you are thinking, “But I want someone who is attracted to me for my personality and mind,” I hear you. If it helps, you can view the photos as an unfair, unnecessary filter which you want to get as many prospects through as possible so that they can find out more about your personality and mind. For me, I realized how important photos were (for straight men at least) when I found a straight guy’s profile whose text consisted only of, “Does anyone even read this? I know you are just looking at my photos.” So, for straight men, let me add: yes, I am reading your profile, and it is important too.

How to find a photographer: I searched Yelp. Almost all reviews on Yelp for photographers are about wedding photos (same problem for flowers and cakes) so I looked at the photographer’s web sites to see if they did online dating portraits. In San Francisco, the going rate was about $400 for an online dating profile package with a 90 minute session. This seems expensive, but think about how much money you’ll spend on bad dates instead – and you can often use some of the photos for business, too. (The number of straight men on OkCupid who use their business headshot as their main profile photo still astonishes me.) Obviously, if you have professional photographers in your personal network, asking them for recommendations is a good way to go.

The Heartographer has some great tips on preparing for photos and finding a professional photographer. She also has an idea for getting good pics for cheap that would work with or without a professional photographer: get a bunch of folks who need dating profile pics to go to a nice restaurant with good light, and take photos of each other laughing and talking to each other.

Don’t hide your “worst” features in photos

Both OkCupid’s dating blog and Captain Awkward agree: whatever it is about you that makes you stand out physically, it should be evident in your photos, whether you view it as a positive or a negative. OkCupid says that the straight women who get the most messages are ones whose photos are polarizing – a significant number of straight men think the photos are very unattractive, and an equally sizable number think they are very attractive, with very little “meh” in between. I know I’ve had this thought before I contacted someone: “Hey, they are super good looking to me but I bet lots of other people think they are weird-looking and won’t contact them – maybe I have a chance!” Captain Awkward gives the same advice for a different reason: it’s demoralizing and no fun to present an edited version of yourself on the Internet and get rejected in person. And you are missing out on all the people who are attracted to the thing you think of as your least attractive feature. (People are different, okay?)

Have fun with your profile

At the same time that you are doing the research on how to write a good profile and getting professional photos, your profile should also be fun for you to write and read. I see a lot of deadly serious profiles out there, which is fine if you yourself are deadly serious all of the time. But most of us are at least a little playful, and are just writing Serious Profiles because finding a partner is Serious Business. The idea is that the more important something is to us, the more serious our writing about it should be.

I disagree. First, your profile is supposed to give people a representative idea of what you are like as a person. If you are funny and quirky and make jokes, you should do that in your profile too. But more importantly for the purposes of this blog post, filling your profile with in-jokes and Easter eggs will help you have more fun while dating. When someone finally got my obscure reference to Jem and the Holograms, we had a great time talking about the Rio/Jem/Jerrica love triangle, and I was also pretty sure that person would be more positive about women. And when you reread your profile (which you will be doing a LOT), you will smile every time you come across one of your jokes.

Avoid obvious harassment triggers in your profile

Any woman has put the word “feminist” in the first sentence of an online dating profile knows what I’m talking about here: you want to get across the important parts of who you are, but you also don’t want to field a bunch of nasty messages from resentful entitled dudes who have nothing better to do than neg women on online dating sites. How do you filter out the guys who won’t like the real you without also getting a bunch of garbage messages?

I recommend having a profile that at first glance and on the surface level is very upbeat! and! shiny! But it is filled with subtle references and hints that stand out to the kind of person you are actually looking for (which ties in with the “have fun with your profile” advice above). My favorite example is from one of the iterations of my OkCupid profile: I quote the tag line from Jem and the Holograms, and down near the end of my profile, at the end of a long list, I mention that I’m looking for smart, artistic, feminist men. If some bored troll is skimming it, he won’t get the Jem reference and he’ll skip right over the long boring list in the middle of my profile. But the people I do want to meet take the time to read my whole profile and get my references, and then I know that they put some effort into learning about me when they mention them.

The same thing goes for profile photos and hot button questions: if some part of your profile triggers harassment, don’t hide who you are but find a way to say it in a more subtle way, one that will take too much knowledge and brainpower for the average harasser to notice.

Focus on two services

A lot of dating advice says to use two online dating services. This was true for me: More than two is overwhelming, but only one is too limiting. Pick the two that seem to be best marketed at the kind of person you want to date, and focus on them.

Use Bumble not Tinder

Bumble is a new dating app fairly described as “the feminist Tinder.” Bumble was started by Whitney Wolfe, the Tinder co-founder who was run out of the company by sexism and settled for an undisclosed amount. It is very Tinder-like – location-based, photo-based, swipe left/swipe right. The cool thing about Bumble is that in male-female matches, only women can initiate conversations (and they have to do so within 24 hours of a match). With other gender combinations, either person can initiate. The great thing about this for women is that you are much less likely to get harassed by a match, so you have a better experience overall.

I was aiming for a long-term relationship, but I also kept hearing stories about people who met on Tinder and then ended up dating long-term. I was also getting a little annoyed with how incredibly serious many of the people on OkCupid were. At the same time, I heard lots of awful stories about harassment of women on Tinder and of course I didn’t want to support a product run by sexist jerks. So Bumble seemed ideal, especially when a friend reported that the men on Bumble were way hotter than Tinder.

My experience: Bumble is GREAT! Highly recommended! So far the straight men I’ve asked about it seem to enjoy the experience of being contacted by women, so the rules seem to work well for straight men and straight women.

Screening dates

 

Use power tools

Dating sites are more enjoyable if you sign up for some of the extra features – which often cost a little (but not too much) money. For women, I especially recommend anything that lets you filter your incoming messages. I check my filtered messages on OkCupid once a week – all the messages from people who are outside my age range or immediate location, almost all poorly written or clear copy-and-paste – and then I think about how happy I am that they weren’t mixed in with the mostly great messages I got the rest of the week. The ratio of filtered to good messages is about 10 to 1, and I think I would be far more demoralized if more than 90% of my “You have a new message!” notifications were junk.

Some power tools are free: The OkCupid for the Non-Mainstream Chrome extension lets you surface useful information from a person’s questions right up front.

Figure out your “league” and mostly contact people in it

You don’t want to waste your time only messaging people who won’t go on dates with you, but you also don’t want to miss out on a potential mutual attraction to someone you think is too attractive to be interested in you! For me, it took a while to figure out what my new “league” was – that is, the general ballpark of overall attractiveness in a potential date that would likely result in mutual attraction. I hadn’t dated for 5 years and I’d changed a lot since the last time I dated – A LOT. It didn’t help that I had a terrible profile initially; at one point I pretty unhappy with my apparent pool of prospects.

But once I’d fixed the major problems with my profile, I was pleasantly surprised at how many people I thought were too attractive to be interested in me actually returned my messages and went on dates with me. The lesson here is: keep improving how well your profile represents you, and keep messaging a range of people, including the people you think are out of your reach, until you get a good sense of what sorts of folks to concentrate your effort on. Then keep messaging a few of the ones who seem out of reach anyway.

An important consideration here: Researchers recently showed that couples who knew each other only a short time before beginning to date are more likely to be similarly physically attractive (as rated by third parties) and couples who knew each other longer were more likely to be different in physical attractiveness, presumably because you got to have more information about their other qualities. So your “league” will vary depending on your physical attractiveness, your other kinds of attractiveness, and how much you know about each other beyond your photos. On one of those pictures-mostly apps, being similar levels of physical attractiveness will matter more. On services with more context, or when you have been friends for a while, bigger differences in physical attractiveness within couples are more common.

But what I really want to say is: if you are a woman raised in our culture of brutal, constant attacks on women’s appearance and worth, don’t immediately rule someone out because you assume they are too attractive to be interested in you.

Switch up your search parameters

After a couple of months, I had contacted most of the people who came up in my very specific and detailed search on OkCupid. Faced with the option of waiting for new people to sign up or changing my search, I changed my search. It was interesting to find out how many people had never, for example, filled out the “Relationship type” field but were monogamous. (When I asked, they said they didn’t realize there were so many polyamorous straight men on OkCupid that monogamous straight women would desperately want to filter them out.) I also tried searching for people solely on one characteristic I knew I found attractive (which is how I ended up scheduling three dates with 6’4″+ surfers in one week – fun!). Since I paid for extra features, I could use more advanced search parameters, which also led to more fun.

Invent your own CRM

Online dating services have terrible CRM – customer relationship management. That is, it is hard to keep track of people you have already looked at, people you have messaged, people you have rejected, etc. This is on purpose because the goal of an online dating service is to make you spend more time on it, not efficiently search through the likely prospects.

Make up a system that will help you keep track of these things, even if it isn’t how the service wants you to use the features. My system for OkCupid is:

  1. If I think someone is attractive, I “like” them and bookmark them.
  2. When I have more time, I review my list of bookmarks. If I decide I shouldn’t message them after all, I remove the bookmark (but leave the “like”).
  3. When I am feeling up to it, I send messages to people I have bookmarked and then remove the bookmark (but leave the “like”).
  4. I “hide” people who are no-gos.

This way, when I am scrolling through matches, the “like” serves as a marker that I’ve already contacted this person or added them to my to-contact list or decided not to contact them at all.

You can also use the features of the Chrome extension “OkCupid for the Non-Mainstream” to do CRM.

Avoid the haters

After my experience with being a 93% match with someone I already knew and thought was super mean, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to detect mean people through their dating profiles. What I found was surprising.

The obvious ones are people who are critical or judgmental of others in their profile. If someone has a list of things a prospective partner must not be, or complains about other people’s profiles, give them a miss (unless you are into mean people). What was less obvious is that people who were bitingly sarcastic about themselves in their profiles were also mean to other people. It’s a popular idea in psychology that the way that you treat yourself is the way you treat others, and vice versa; as far as I can tell from online dating, that’s true.

Some specific warnings for meanness from profiles of straight men:

  • Hates selfies. Anyone who makes a snide remark about selfies – his or yours – gets put on my ignore list right away because selfie-hating is a sign that he hates things associated with women or women loving themselves (conscious or not). Ironic selfies of himself are not great but okay, as most men have to go through an ironic selfie stage on the way to becoming a selfie-lover.
  • Mocks either you or himself for being on a dating service. Anyone with the joke, “We can tell your family we met at [other place]” on their profile is negging both you and himself – but mostly you.
  • Getting specific about his partner’s personal grooming in his profile. One guy seemed perfect for me – funny, good-looking, social justice activist, great writer – but then the third paragraph was a long diatribe about women’s personal grooming that ended with how much he hates picking hairs out of his teeth, KNOW WHAT I MEAN NUDGE NUDGE. Yuck.
  • “Message me if: You have a job” or similar “you must be this awesome to date me” list. It’s okay to only want to date women with jobs, but this form of it is rude and judgmental. He is taking out his anger about feeling insulted by being approached by someone not worthy of him by being mean or sarcastic to EVERY WOMAN who reads his profile – bad sign.
  • Any kind of rant or rule about responding to everyone who contacts him, or complaining about women who click “like” but don’t reply to a message. This screams entitlement and inability to deal with rejection well.
  • Says a bunch of people gave them advice on how to improve their profile and they didn’t take it – or actively made their profile worse. Or any other form of proudly ignoring kind and helpful advice on how to be more pleasant to potential partners (because he’ll be that way when you give him tips on what you like).
  • Carelessness in their profile. It’s okay to have misspellings or grammatical errors or use odd slang or whatever else represents who that person really is. But it’s not okay if it comes across as “I couldn’t be bothered to present my best self to my potential future partners.” Either they have self-esteem problems or they are genuinely contemptuous of people they want to date or they are so incompetent they can’t put together a profile that doesn’t seem that way.
  • Uses the word “sapiosexual.” This is a person who thinks being “intelligent” (according to very narrow standards having to do with mathematics, science, knowledge of Western literature, etc.) is sooooo damned important and special that it is of equal importance with gender in choosing a sexual partner. This person is almost always heterosexual and always totally full of themselves.
  • No women creators listed in the music/books/movies section (or only white people). They may not be a hater, but at minimum, you will have a loooooot of educating to do on the basics of things like Women are People Too and Europeans Do Not Have a Monopoly on High Culture.
  • Any positive mention of any of Ayn Rand’s books, NO EXCEPTIONS. Even if they just mention that they liked “The Fountainhead” but didn’t identify as an actual libertarian or objectivist by the name itself. I have tested this for you and gone on dates with more than one person like this and no matter how they try to couch it, these people are fundamentally attracted to the idea of a world in which only the strong survive and the weak are left to shrivel and die – and they believe they are the strong people due to their inherent good qualities. (Of course, it is racism and patriarchy that define the “strong” and the “weak” – but shhhh, don’t tell them.) Other red flags in literature: Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”), Albert Camus (“The Stranger”), and maybe Orson Scott Card (“Ender’s Game”) and Heinlein – depends on how long ago they read them.
  • Insulting women in any way. This often takes the form of slut-shaming or shaming femininity – wearing makeup, having emotions, mocking things teen girls like, etc. – so it takes a while to learn to detect all the forms.

Satisfy your curiosity

If you’re the sort of person who is curious about lots of things, go ahead and learn more about some topic related to the other person without feeling bad if you don’t end up dating them. As a result of online dating, I have read a book of Turkish folktales, a dissertation on chord progressions, the results of googling for “danish men“, the history of Twitter’s founding, and much more. It was fun and I have no regrets!

Tell stories to sympathetic friends

Even with the best preparation, a lot of bullshit is going to happen to you with online dating. I once messaged someone who recognized me because… his ex-girlfriend had led an online harassment campaign against me. While they were dating. No shit. It was incredibly demoralizing – but then I realized I now had the BEST ONLINE DATING STORY and ended up laughing for five minutes straight instead. The prospect of telling a story really helped when I ended up messaging two guys without realizing they were identical triplets (fortunately the third was already engaged so I was spared that embarrassment).

Make sure your chosen friends are interested in hearing your stories, and try to lighten them up – but don’t try to cope with all the weirdness and awfulness alone. I found that often my friends who were in the longest and most stable partnerships were the most interested in hearing my stories, so don’t make assumptions about who would be interested!

Some of my all-time favorite tweets about my experiences with online dating:

Going on dates

 

Only go on dates that will be fun even if there isn’t mutual attraction

I made it a rule to only go on dates that I would enjoy even if there was no connection with the other person. I had tea at the only coffee shop in San Francisco with a Bay view, I ate dinner at The Grove, I took walks in Aquatic Park, I finally went to the Cable Car Museum, I took a ferry to Sausalito, and I climbed the Coit Tower stairs. Next on the list: visiting the new cat cafe in SF. Sometimes the fun was just in looking at a very attractive person while he said (possibly hilarious) words.

Very few of those dates led to second dates, but I enjoyed myself on all of them, so I’m happy! Do you have a list of tourist-y things you always meant to do, but never got around to? Or things that are only fun with two people but none of your friends are interested in doing? Make a list and start checking it off. (Keep in mind all the other advice about picking first date activities: in a public place, easy to leave, not a big commitment of time or money, easy to talk to each other, etc.)

Try video calls

It sucks to show up to a date and know within seconds that this person is not attractive to you. I found that video calls were a good way to screen potential dates for two things: whether you would be attracted in person, and how they act when they are outside their comfort zone. Lots of people won’t do a video chat (and you could be one of them), but if it works for both of you, it can be really fun and help you avoid trekking across town only to have your hopes instantly dashed.

If it’s right for you, go ahead and have casual sex

Hey, lots of us enjoy sex. And if you wait to have sex until you’re sure someone is a good long-term candidate… you’re not likely to have much sex. If lack of sex is getting you down, I encourage you to feel comfortable with (safely! thoughtfully!) having casual sex with people who are a good match for you in terms of physical attraction but maybe not so good as long-term relationship prospects (different opinions on kids, where to live, how to spend money, etc.). Many times, you’ll be happier, in a better mood, and more attractive when you do meet the person who is a good long-term match.

After dates

 

Know what you want and don’t waste time on people who aren’t it

Probably the most influential book I read while procrastinating on actually, you know, dating, was the embarrassingly named “Is He Mr. Right?” by Mira Kirshenbaum. In this unabashedly heterocentric book aimed at monogamous straight women, Mira lays out 5 criteria for a relationship that will last, calling these qualities by the term “chemistry.” Then she gives this advice: as soon as you figure out that your relationship doesn’t have all 5 qualities, dump them immediately and start dating again. Here is her list:

  1. You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close.
  2. You feel safe being in a relationship with them.
  3. You feel it’s fun to be together.
  4. You have real affection and passion for each other.
  5. You feel there’s real mutual respect.

Mira has a lot of great advice on how to figure out whether your relationship has these 5 things, but I went a little further and actually created a spreadsheet to help me figure out what I wanted in a partner. It has more than 9 tabs, functions that exceed 200 characters in length, and it took me several months to create. I read two books, watched a TED talk, and started a quantified relationships club to get more feedback on it. I’m still updating my spreadsheet, usually after I meet someone who is closer to what I want than ever before, but still not quite there.

If you’re feeling weird about being intentional and specific about your search for a partner, my friend Leigh Honeywell pointed me at this classic comment from Harriet Lerner, quoted in “All About Love” by bell hooks:

Few of us evaluate a prospective partner with the same objectivity and clarity that we might use to select a household appliance or car.

Who you end up in a committed relationship with is a hugely important part of your life. Treat the process of finding that person with the appropriate level of care and respect.

Get good at dumping people

More advice from Mira Kirshenbaum: the difference between women who find good partners and ones who don’t is often the length of time that they stay involved with a partner after they’ve already figured out they aren’t a good match. Her example math: if on average it takes getting to know 10 men fairly well in order to find the one that’s right for you, and you average three years with each relationship, it will take you on average 30 years to meet the right guy. If instead you average three months with each one (just long enough to find out what you are really like after the initial bloom has worn off), it will take you two and half years to meet the right guy.

So that’s why you should dump people quickly when it’s clear they aren’t right. But how do you do it well? Captain Awkward has some great advice: Don’t give any reasons beyond “it’s not working for me,” and feel free to break up by any communication medium necessary (phone, text message, email, whatever – you don’t have to be afraid they will physically assault you to use this perfectly reasonable method). Usually, waiting to break up – say when you see someone in person, but only if they aren’t having a bad day, and only if you aren’t feeling guilty about them taking the time to meet you, and they didn’t bring flowers or buy you dinner, or fill-in-the-blank – is just a complicated avoidance tactic on your part. It has nothing to do with whether it is the “right way” to break up with the person, it’s all about you wanting to avoid having to break up at all. Ignore all of the self-righteous advice-givers on the Internet with “rules” about whether or not you “can” break up over the phone.

On “ghosting”: WTF, I hate that this has become some kind of meme of a bad thing for people to do in the context of dating. “Ghosting” is when someone ends a relationship by simply not responding to any further communication. It is a perfectly reasonable way to end many kinds of relationships, especially ones that up to that point involved, say, a single date or an exchange of emails. It is an especially good way to end abusive relationships – see Gavin de Becker’s advice in “The Gift of Fear” on cutting off ALL contact with stalkers. It is true, it can be a painful and horrible end to a long-term and apparently committed relationship, but that’s almost never the context in which the term “ghosting” is used.

I actively recommend using ghosting if you have had a very small number of interactions with someone – e.g., their second message contains a rape joke, or something like that. If you have met in person and you don’t have any reason to be fearful or disgusted by them, I do recommend officially ending the relationship via some kind of direct communication for this reason: if you constantly feel guilty about all the people you just stopped messaging, it will make you not enjoy dating. Telling someone explicitly that you’re not interested in pursuing a relationship is hard, but you usually feel better as soon as you do it and it doesn’t stick around and poison your online dating energy. It also gives you practice in the all-important skill of breaking up with someone when you’ve been together a little longer and you have figured out you don’t have quite the right chemistry but some things are good and maybe if you just tried a little harder… If you’re comfortable with breaking up because you’ve had a lot of practice, you won’t try to avoid it as much and you can get on with finding that right person for you before your 30 years are up.

Reminder: if someone seems scary or gross or gives you some kind of the willies, definitely DO “ghost” them – further contact is always a bad idea (see Gavin de Becker and The Gift of Fear again).

Reframe or forget rejections ASAP

Being rejected is HARD. The human psyche is not designed to cope with being romantically rejected 3 times a week. Look at all the angry/sad/petulant online dating profiles this kind of systematic rejection produces! It’s hard not to become bitter even when you aren’t getting turned down several times a week.

I used two techniques to cope with rejection: reframing and forgetting. I tried to reframe rejections from “Nobody likes me!!!” to “Now I’ve learned more about what kind of person is attracted to me!” And I made a rule that once I had messaged a particular person for the first time, I could not think about them or visit their profile again unless they messaged me back. I was less successful at letting go of people who rejected me in less obvious ways (by cancelling in-person meetups, usually), but I’m learning to interpret these “nice” rejections more quickly, so I can start forgetting them sooner.

Whatever you do, don’t start theorizing about why you’ve been rejected, or any other kind of exercise in encouraging bitterness. Bitterness is your enemy in online dating – it makes you less attractive, it shuts down risk-taking, it saps your energy. So don’t feed it by thinking about your rejections beyond the simple and obvious lessons learned (e.g., “guys with fauxhawks NEVER like me in person”).

Okay, that’s all (“all”) the advice I have for enjoying the process of online dating more! I wish you an enjoyable and fun time with online dating, and hope we all have a little more joy in our lives!

The Ada Initiative is ending, but our work continues on

A little over four years ago, my good friend Mary Gardiner and I co-founded the Ada Initiative to support women in open technology and culture. Today, thousands of conferences have anti-harassment policies, dozens of communities have codes of conduct, over 2000 people have taken the Ally Skills Workshop (and 40 people know how to teach it), and more than 550 people have attended AdaCamps. Awareness of sexism and misogyny in open technology and culture has increased dramatically.

This week we announced publicly that we are shutting the Ada Initiative down in mid-October. I feel really good about what we accomplished in a few short years. Since we made a practice of releasing our work in open source form and training other people to carry it on, the programs we developed are all continuing in some form. As I told Selena Larson at the Daily Dot, “I have not made the tech industry good enough that I’m willing to work in it again,” but Mary and I and all of our supporters made it a little better for a lot of people.

I’m excited for my next project, founding a consultancy to teach the Ally Skills Workshops and anything else I (we?) end up developing. I’m wondering if perhaps diversity in tech work as a whole has moved past the stage of donation-funded non-profits and into the stage of for-profit consultancies paid directly by those who benefit the most (mostly large corporations). It would make sense: 10 years ago we could only do this work as unpaid volunteers; 5 years ago awareness was high enough that it became possible to do it as non-profit employees; today enough companies think of this work as necessary and skilled labor that they are willing to pay for-profit consultants market rates to do. For me personally, I think I’m done working with non-profits for a while – I just stepped down from the board of directors of Double Union as well. I’ll also be taking a good long break from working before starting my next venture, probably in January 2016.

Mary and I will be teaching a few more Ally Skills Workshops and Impostor Syndrome classes before the Ada Initiative winds down. Spaces are still available in:

We will be announcing a few more workshops before mid-October; keep an eye on our blog and Twitter account to find out how to register for them.

Leading the Ada Initiative for four and a half years is the longest I’ve done anything in my life; it’s also by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I developed a lot of valuable new skills as a result of working closely with Mary Gardiner and the members of the Ada Initiative board of directors and advisory board. I want to especially call out Sue Gardner, Amelia Greenhall, and Caroline Simard as being particularly influential in shaping me as an executive. [Update 5 Feb 2016: Amelia and I are no longer collaborating on any projects.]

On a sadder note, the shutdown of the Ada Initiative coincided with the untimely death of the person whose experiences and passionate advocacy inspired its creation. As I’ve said in numerous interviews, Nóirín Plunkett’s experiences with sexual assault at open source conferences and their public refusal to put up with them were influential in my personal decision to co-found the Ada Initiative. I first met Nóirín about 14 years ago on the LinuxChix IRC channel, and never expected I’d end up riding a giant Ferris wheel with them in Brisbane, or attending their pirate-themed wedding in a Portland donut shop. Nóirín was an active advisor to the Ada Initiative since its founding, and worked with us as a consultant during our executive director search earlier this year. Nóirín was one of the bravest, most brilliant, most competent, most caring, and adventurous people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. I will continue to think of them as a role model and inspiration in everything I do.

Finally, the Ada Initiative’s work was supported in large part by many of my friends and acquaintances and I’m incredibly grateful for your trust and dedication. I’m also grateful for all the new friends and working relationships I developed while working for the Ada Initiative – my life is so much richer and happier now! Thank you everyone who contributed to the important work we did together over the last four years.

More ways to fight white supremacy

At least three other people have joined me in donating $1000 to fight white supremacy: Leigh Honeywell, Katie Bechtold, and Alicia Gibb. They also suggested:

Baltimore Racial Justice Action is “an action-based organization grounded in collective analysis of structural racism and white privilege.” In addition to a supportive community and educational events, BRJA offers consulting and training to individuals and organizations that seek to become inclusive and equitable. Donate here. Contributions are tax-deductible.

Black Women’s Blueprint works “to develop a culture where women of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race and other disparities are erased” through research, historical documentation, and movement-building. Follow @BlackWomensBP on Twitter, and donate here. Donations are tax-deductible and eligible for employer matching – you’ll need to get the match by looking up JustGive (EIN 94-3331010) in your employer’s matching system and designating the donation towards BWB.

My original suggestions:

Equal Justice Initiative: Working to reform the criminal justice system, challenge poverty and the legacy of racial segregation, educate the public, and create hope in marginalized communities in the United States. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

United States Representative John Conyers Jr.: For 25 years, he has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives every year to create a commission to study reparations for slavery in the United States. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

We The Protestors: Led by a team including Johnetta Elzie and Deray McKesson, this organization works to “fulfill the democratic promise of our union, establish true and lasting justice, accord dignity and standing to everyone, center the humanity of oppressed people, promote the brightest future for our children, and secure the blessings of freedom for all black lives” through supporting the on-going protest movements in the U.S. I gave $250 (scroll down to the tiny PayPal donate button at the bottom of this page).

The American Civil Liberties Association: Fights for voting rights in the courts across the country. The recent well-funded campaign to prevent Black Americans from voting shows how crucial this issue is. I gave $250 (click here to donate).

[Trigger warning: racist violence and sexual assault]

Finally, I want to speak personally about the link between misogyny and white supremacy that the Charleston killer brought into high relief with his statement, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” Many more educated and well-spoken people than me have written about the long history in the United States of justifying the killing of Black men as “protecting” white women from sexual assault. Implicit in this theory is the assumption that access to white women’s sexuality is controlled by white men, a concept that frankly makes me nauseous. It’s also ridiculous at a personal level, since I am an example of the by far most common case of white sexual assault victim: all the people who sexually assaulted me or attempted to do so were – you guessed it – white men.

Destroying the idea that white women’s sexuality is owned and controlled by white men will remove one more prop in the system of racist violence by white people against Black people. White men: I reject your “protection” if it is based on the concept of owning and controlling access to my sexuality. Come back when you can view women as human beings.