“Do you think you’ll ever be in a traditional relationship or have a life partner?” My best friend asked me that a few days ago. A few friends ask me…a lot. I don’t have a “traditional” answer to that question. I date multiple men. I’m not so sure about marriage. I never want kids. And….I absolutely love my life.
This is usually why I skip the self help love section of the bookstore. Aside from a few bad dates that make for excellent stories later, I’ve got to say I have a pretty good life.
But during ladies night out….during the moments before dance class when we gossip about our own lives and right after he doesn’t call back, the chatter abounds. About men. About why it didn’t work out. About him not being into her. About why she keeps dating a jerk. About why she isn’t married yet. And no matter the amount of advice I dish out, the stories of lost love, broken love, and heartache keep coming up with my friends.
I’m no life coach or therapist. I can only attest to what has worked for me. BUT, I recently had the opportunity to read an intriguing and thought provoking book that may be exactly what all my girlfriends need to purchase. That would be, “Giving Up Junk-Food Relationships: Recipes for Healthy Choices” by Donna Barnes. And lucky for you dear loves, I had the chance to interview this captivating woman. Keep reading! (Men can read this book too. Its for all of us.)
First let’s start with three quotes among the MANY that I’ve come to love.
“When you truly accept that the only person you can and need to change is you, you’ll find happiness.” ~ Donna Barnes
“Start taking notice of anything you blame someone else for, and find your own responsibility for it instead.” ~ Donna Barnes
“I believe fear is the root of all relationship problems. The most common fears are fear of abandonment, fear of intimacy, fear of commitment, fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of failure and even fear of success.” ~ Donna Barnes
This interview is long. Its worth reading, so go grab some tea and enjoy this article. Whether you’re single and enjoying it, looking for companionship or even married, there’s something in it for everyone. I’m not necessarily seeking a boyfriend or husband, but this book made it apparent that I needed to cut things off from one of the men I was dating a few months back. It was a great push to do so and I’m glad her book spurred me to action.
SLY: Your book appears to have undertones of Zen Buddhist philosophy & psychology, at least to me. Aside from your life experiences, what inspires your philosophy and general outlook on life?
Donna: I was fortunate to have an amazing Dad who had a Master’s in education. He taught me to always find the lesson in things, also that I could do anything if I worked hard enough. Yet, most of us resist what our parents try to teach us (at least while we’re young) and I have to admit I didn’t appreciate my Dad’s influence until around 30. Things started to not go as well and I discovered seeking knowledge could make my life better. We definitely learn more from the things we didn’t do right, but it could save us from some heartache if we could truly hear what knowledgeable people tell us. Years later I frequently called my Dad to say, “You know, I get that now.” I’m sorry to say I lost him in 2000 but he is still a very strong influence on who I am.
I am utterly fascinated by human behavior and the psychology of why people do what they do. An acting teacher in the 1990’s asked me to read Zen and the Art of Archery, and an NYU professor suggested Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh. I love the Buddhist philosophy, it’s so simple yet effective and if everyone subscribed to it this would be a much more compassionate world.
SLY: Pretty early on in this book, you state that if someone uses your book to reclaim their own power, they’ll be a magnet for someone fabulous. Have you ever received claims that your book wasn’t helpful at all? (On my second day of reading it, by the way, I found it extremely helpful and ended one of the dating relationships I had with someone.)
Donna: So far everyone I have heard from has found something in my book that they identified with. Even some friends that only read it to proof read for me came back to tell me about what resonated for them. I really wanted there to be something for everyone and I’m excited to be helping so many people. Thank you for telling me I helped you decide to end a relationship. Good for you! I promise you as you demand better for yourself you’ll attract better lovers. By the way, I find people who are not open to change generally do not read self-help books. I’m hoping my food metaphor can inspire some of those people to give it a try.
SLY: A lot of your advice is action based. For instance, if its working, its working and if its not working and either party isn’t willing to change, you advise that we should dump the person. I agree but why do you think so many people go back or stay in bad situations aside from the fact that its addictive. Underneath all the drama, why do you think men and women stay in crappy situations? I feel like its more than low self esteem and that their daddy divorced their mother when they were three. What else is underneath our distorted views of relationships?
SLY: In one part of the book that deals with “the compassionate way” versus “the combative way” you provide examples of both. For instance, a combative comment is “I can never get a straight answer from you,” when the more truthful and compassionate comment is “I feel insecure when you’re not open with me.” That’s a huge difference. A lot of what I’m reading centers on defensiveness, expectations and ego. A lot of people struggle with this. Why do you think this is so? Why are we so defensive? Why would we rather blame “them”?
Donna: It feels very vulnerable to admit fault or that you’re not perfect. If you allow yourself to feel vulnerable you risk getting hurt. That’s scary. Being defensive and assigning blame are protection tactics, and to a large degree leftovers from childhood. A child is very selfish because their brain hasn’t developed out of the “it’s all about me” stage, that’s why young children need to be taught to share. As adults much of what we do is because of habit. If you never took initiative to change the habit of being defensive and blaming someone else then that is most likely where it is coming from. Additionally, if you have been criticized by people you love that can also cause you to be defensive, no one likes to be scolded—no matter how old you are. The best way to break a habit is to replace it with something else. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable makes you much easier to communicate with. If you don’t feel safe to be vulnerable with your partner than you’re with the wrong person.
Expectations are more fantasy based. We all develop mental plans for how we want our life to go, but life doesn’t usually workout the way we imagine. I like the saying, “Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.” Our preconceived ideas of how things should be frequently get in the way of enjoying what is. When my cousin got married she didn’t put any expectations on how it would turn out. She said when the florist asked what she wanted she simply responded, “Something pretty.” She chose a color scheme but that was all. The florist was thrilled to have that kind of freedom and the flowers were gorgeous. My cousin was delighted with what she saw when she arrived. Too many brides try to control everything and then are angry when it’s not perfect. Do you want to be angry on your wedding day? Expectations are also about control. Trying to control everything will always leave you frustrated or disappointed. It’s very scary for many people to let go of control. Again, it’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable—and therefor happy.
SLY: Why do you say that a little jealousy can be cute and make you feel loved? I was a little taken aback by reading that statement.
Donna: I don’t mean jealous actions are ever cute. I’m sorry if that was misleading. I just meant that an occasional insecure comment as you’re getting to know each other and falling in love can be reassuring of your partner’s feelings for you. But as you get closer and real trust is developed those insecurities should go away.
SLY: This statement, “ Self-confidence is not the same thing as self-esteem. Self-confidence is your belief in your ability to do things. Self-esteem is your perception of your own worth. Going after a meal who is taken by someone else indicates you don’t value yourself enough to want a healthy meal.” Just Wow. What has been people’s reaction to this portion of your book?
Donna: It’s an epiphany for many people to learn there is a difference between confidence and self-esteem. Many confident people have low self-esteem, so to separate the two allows for some deeper self-discovery, and in the long run becoming happier within themselves.
SLY: Can you explain what you mean by saying making first contact is “exhibiting masculine energy?” According to whom? That section in your book also was a bit jarring. Up until that point the book seemed to relate to either a man or woman in any dynamic situation. That section had an undertone of certain things a woman “should do” and certain things a man “should do.” You also wrote, “For men, you are responsible for initiating communication.” And you wrote, “Unless you want a masculine energy woman who will always take the lead, be the man by taking the traditional lead in communication” Can you explain more of your philosophy regarding this? (To be fair, I’d also like to say that I believe both men and women have “masculine” and “feminine” energy. And being a whole person, to me, is about the balance of both within myself. Sometimes I initiate things and something I don’t. The same with the men that I date. As I read your book, there seems to be some “definite” and warnings as it relates to a women communicating and I’m finding it hard to identify with such a strict and definite view. )
Donna: You are correct; everyone possesses both feminine and masculine qualities, and couples do naturally negotiate to take opposite energies on many actions once inside the relationship. What I was trying to say is that today’s women frequently exhibit too much masculine energy in either the beginning of relationships, or they change into it after they get comfortable. If you start a relationship showing only the feminine energy but then switch to a lot of masculine energy your man may lose interest—because he likes a feminine energy woman. Also vice versa, if a woman shows the masculine energy (by making the first move and initiating the date) then switches to feminine energy after she gets the guy he’s disappointed, and confused why he lost interest. I’m not saying that you need to strictly be one or the other, no one ever is. I’m saying you need to be aware of the energy you’re portraying because it plays a large role in initial attraction, and maintaining attraction. Many masculine energy woman like masculine energy men, but they repel them like the wrong sides of a magnet trying to be pushed together.
I once was at a nightclub with my masculine energy guy when a fight broke out right next to us. He’s 6’2” and stepped in front of me. He was blocking my view so I step around him. He stepped in front of me again and slightly annoyed said, “I’m trying to protect you.” That’s a basic instinct for most men. They want to protect their women. If we don’t allow them to, they feel emasculated. It’s good you’re already aware of when you choose to take the lead and when not too. Make sure you’re making a choice that works for your partner—that’s one of the compromises that relationships require to stay happy. Dr. Pat Allen wrote a wonderful book called Getting to I Do that explains masculine and feminine energy in depth.
SLY: Throughout the book you say, “Don’t Give Away Your Power.” Why is power important?
Donna: Your power is directly linked to your self-esteem. Power also helps to protect you and keep you safe. When you are empowered your personal bar is set high, you don’t disgrace yourself or put up with bad behavior. Like attracts like, when you are empowered you attract an empowered partner.
SLY: I’ll tell you, I least identified with the sex i.e., “comfort food” portion of your book. Things such as “sex makes you stupid” or reading “you’re making smart choices about sex.” as one of the grades to what seemed to be a very subjective test were a bit extreme and bias to me. Most of your test, I thought were fairly reasonable but the sex test seemed very loop sided.
Donna: I’m sorry you feel you didn’t identify with the comfort food section, however since you said in question #4 that you are sometimes defensive I would venture to say perhaps it actually struck a nerve for you. Many times we don’t like things because subconscious we don’t like those same things about ourselves. Just saying it’s something to consider. (This made me smile, in a good way. ~ SLY)
SLY: Why do you imply that a woman who has sex early in the relationship doesn’t value her sexuality?
Donna: I don’t say that blanketly. If a woman connects with a man on an emotional level and is clear about what she wants from a relationship, and then chooses to have sex early in the relationship, that can be an empowered choice. However, and I am not saying this as a judgment—if a woman has sex easily with every man she’s attracted to before truly getting to know him, then that is an indicator that she doesn’t value her sexuality. There can be many reasons why that is. Perhaps she was sexually abused as a child (1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually molested before age 18), perhaps sex is how she feels loved, or attractive; perhaps she needs to control sex, or control her partner by using sex. By saying “sex makes you stupid” I’m trying to provoke a reaction in woman. I want woman to make conscious choices about who they give their bodies to. If you have ever had a hot one night stand (a single serving) and then felt badly when you never saw him again, I want to help you figure out why. My greatest wish for women is that they will always feel empowered with the choices they make. Having said that, if you’re completely happy with your sex and love life than it’s all good. You just have to be honest with yourself about what you truly want.
SLY: Why do you imply that if a man only wants sex from a woman, that he has no respect for her?
Donna: Because I coach men who tell me they have no interest in certain woman other than having sex with them. They have been as blunt to say, “I’d fuck her but I’m not interested in a relationship.” Men are very visual, they are turned on visually. So if they see a girl they think is hot they can purely lust for her, desiring nothing more. Respect has to be earned. I’m not saying you can’t earn it if you slept together on the first date; however I am saying that is the exception not the norm.
SLY: Why do you believe a person should wait to start sexual intimacy? How long should they wait? And why is sexual intimacy placed on a different scale than other forms of intimacy?
Donna: Emotional intimacy takes longer to develop. If you have already connected emotionally, sex is so much more meaningful—and loving. I clearly wrote if you’re just looking to have fun then have sex whenever you feel like it. But if you are truly ready for a long-term relationship then taking the time to get to know each other will help you decide if you have made a good choice or not. You can save yourself unnecessary heartache by waiting. Without repeating the whole chapter here, men and women have different chemicals in their brains, and they process feelings differently. You need to give a man enough time to catch up to you emotionally. That may be 3 dates, it may be 10 dates, or it may be 6 months. You have to be true to yourself and do what feels right for you. Also, throughout the whole book I describe many different types of personality disorders and phobias that all possess the quality of rushing into relationships quickly. By simply delaying intimacy you can weed out many undesirables and people who are simply incapable of truly intimate relationships.
SLY: I agree with you when you say, “Don’t play hard-to-get if you want a well-balanced meal.” You relate this to healthy communication but earlier in the book you insist on women waiting to have sex, even if they want it. There was even a quote about trying to “make him want to wait for you.” Can you explain the conflicting message in this?
Donna: Waiting to have sex is not about playing hard-to-get. It’s about equalizing the playing field. Women think and feel at the same time, men have to go away to feel their feelings. The chemicals in a woman’s brain make her bond through sex, the chemicals in a man’s brain provide a momentary burst of ecstasy and then he goes back to reality. He has no fuzzy after glow. That’s where the term “coyote ugly” stems from—after he has sex he’s done with the girl—unless the feeling part of his brain has grown attached to her—he needs to have space from her for him to feel. A woman who is physically stunning can become coyote ugly real quick after he achieves orgasm. When I said make him want to wait for you I meant make him fall in love with you. Make him enjoy your company. It’s old fashioned courtship at its best. When a man is happy just to be with you then it’s safe to have sex with him (without fear of him never coming back).
SLY: This isn’t a question. I just wanted to restate this from the book, “Only 5 percent of relationships that begin as an affair survive. It truly isn’t worth it to go through all that drama and dysfunction for such a slim chance at winning a lying cheater.” ALSO THIS – “No matter what he is telling her [the other woman], his marriage is fulfilling him in some way; otherwise, he would have already left on his own. People do what they want to do. He wants to be with his wife; he just wants his mistress too. If you are dating a married man I know this is hard to hear, but he is absolutely still having sex with his wife, and he is enjoying it! If you are saying to yourself that your man is different, you’re kidding yourself. He’s just a really good liar.”
Donna: Thank you for restating that! Unfortunately most people involved in a triangle type relationship have a hard time hearing that.
SLY: You mentioned that a person choosing to be in an affair with a married person usually does it for two reasons. Low self-esteem or Commitmentphobia. I never looked at it that black and white before. I’m sure you get many people who justify their “relationship” with a married person. They say its different. That its really love. That its complicated. What do you have to say to them?
Donna: I try to tell them to put themselves first. They are usually so focused on their lover they have lost sight of the reality that he or she is unavailable. I really like the saying, “If you love something set it free, if it comes back to you it’s yours, if not it never was.” I encourage them to let their lover go, to tell him or her that if they can be exclusive he or she can come back. Unfortunately most people in an affair don’t listen, such as the woman I wrote about in my book. I have never had a client come to me to ask for help ending an affair, only to ask for help how to get their lover to leave their other relationship. That’s why I’m happy you restated part of my “Forbidden Fruit” chapter.
SLY: Throughout your book you repeat things such as “Trust your instincts,” “Value yourself,” “Protect your heart,” “People don’t change unless they want to.” When I came across these sections in this book it showed how your book was more than a relationship book. It comes across as a life lessons book. A book on how to love yourself. This is something I like about the book. Was this intentional? Do you intentionally repeat those phrases over and over?
Donna: Thank you! Yes, Giving Up Junk-Food Relationships is also intended as a life lessons book. I am a life & relationship coach. When one area of your life is out of sorts it pulls on all the other areas. You have to be happy and love yourself before you can be happy with someone else. So my hope for this book is to help millions of people create happy lives and relationships for themselves.