'The Modern Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations,' by Jane Buckingham

Read an excerpt of "The Modern Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations"

ByABC News via via logo
March 05, 2010, 2:43 PM

May 13, 2010— -- Jane Buckingham, author of "The Modern Girl's Guide to Life," presents several solutions for women who find themselves in difficult situations.

Buckingham's "The Modern Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations," gives welcome advice with warmth and humor.

What should you do if your date shows up drunk? When should you share a big secret with someone new?

The book answers these questions, and covers a wide range of other issues that may crop up, including problems relating to dating and romance, family relationships and beauty.

Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

This is one area in which I have far more expertise than I would like. There was the time my "true love" was only using me as a distraction while his girlfriend was in Europe for the summer, the time my best friend's boyfriend declared his secret love for me, the time I found out the guy who'd said he was going out to put money in the meter had really ditched me -- and stuck me with the check (I used to tell myself he'd been hit by a Mack truck, but I realize now I was delusional). Best of all, one guy told me he was gay so he wouldn't have to date me any more -- but he subsequently went on to date several of my best female friends.

The good news is, after kissing my share of not only frogs but also slugs, weasels, vermin, and downright asses, I did find my prince -- in the most unlikely of places! (A blind date in Orlando.) So whatever your status -- searching, settled, or satisfied -- don't worry, there's a sticky here for you.


You're having a fantastic time when all of a sudden your date says something so offensive you're pretty sure you misheard him. But then again, you're pretty sure you didn't.

First, make sure you're understanding him correctly. If you don't know how to phrase this question, say, "I just want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly. Did you really say all orange foods should be banned?" (Insert whatever's relevant.) If you're lucky, he'll deny or qualify. If he persists in the opinion that turns your stomach, call him on it -- but be demure. Tell him you disagree, but try to keep emotion out of it -- at first.

The more well-thought-out and less knee-jerk an argument, the more sense it usually makes to a man. (Sorry to generalize; it's biological.) However, if he does hold beliefs that are offensive to you, calmly make it clear that you disagree with him, then start wrapping up the date. It's not your job to change his narrow little mind.

You inadvertently insult your date -- or perhaps worse, he has the gall to insult you!

Nervousness has been the cause of a thousand gaffes. As soon as you realize your mistake, apologize, blame your wacky sense of humor, and ask to start over. A little bit of backtracking will usually earn you forgiveness. If your date insults you but it's clear he didn't mean to, either let the moment pass without acknowledging it or make a joke, like "But you like my pink hair, right?" If he really did insult you big time, end the date quickly. You deserve better!

Your date shows up drunk.

Is he tipsy or toe up? Nervous daters have been known to overdo the liquid courage. You can always hit the bar and catch up with him (suggest he match your cocktails with cups of coffee), or join him in a carb-heavy meal -- by the time you get to your entrees, he'll probably be sobered up (and a bit embarrassed). Now, if your squire is completely smashed, put him in a cab and wish him well. You are not the local chapter of AA.

You were married in your early twenties -- for seven months. Is this a big revelation or is it just another past relationship?

It's best to share this story when you get to the dating history stage of the romance. Go down the litany of exes, and add, "And, well, I was actually married for a little while right after college." Most likely it will be seen as just what it was: a youthful decision that went awry.

You've got a big secret (kids, a messy divorce). When do you share it with your new interest?

The sooner the better. You don't have to wear a name tag that says, "Hello, my name is Recently Separated," but you should share your status with anyone you are considering a relationship with. It doesn't have to be a dramatic revelation -- casually show him pictures of your kids on your iPhone and explain the custody arrangements. If he can't handle a complicated situation, it's best to find out earlier rather than later.

You're not a one-night-stand kind of girl, really, but somehow last night you just wound up, well, you know, having a little too much fun. So how do you deal with an awfully uncomfortable aftermath?

The way I see it, there are two possibilities here: Either you're wishing he'll call or you're praying he won't. If you like him, the best thing to do is wait -- for the first forty-eight hours. If he hasn't called by then, it's not a great sign, but there's still hope that logistics got in the way. Call or text him that you enjoyed yourself (wink wink) and would love to see him again. Short, sweet, declarative. If you get no response, walk away. You don't want to have to convince anyone to like you this early in the game; even if you end up together, you'll spend the whole relationship wondering whether his feelings are real.

If you hope never to see him again but he gets in touch, be kind. Think of how you'd want to be treated. Don't disappear; pony up and say the way you acted was out of character -- maybe even that you're a bit embarrassed. Just be honest. Come to think of it, this isn't the worst way to act with someone you do like, either.

A friend's crush goes after you, even though you have no interest and haven't done anything to provoke it.

Turn him down the way you would any other pursuer you aren't into -- politely and firmly. And if your friend has caught wind of the situation (or, God forbid, was present while he made his play), make it clear to her that you would never angle for her dude. Then step aside and let her continue working her magic.

A friend's crush goes after you, and you think he's pretty cute.

Make no moves without checking in with your lady friend. If this gentleman has been a long-term project for her, you may just want to bow out preemptively no matter how fine he is. But if he's a recent romantic goal, she'll probably be okay with handing him off. Either way, what she says goes. Hos before bros, yo.

You want to Google your date.

Some of you may be thinking, What's sticky about this? Doesn't everyone Google their dates? Sure, but how many of us are thrilled with what we find? My advice is simple here -- only Google him if you're prepared to find out some pretty weird stuff. Maybe he wrote an editorial about why he doesn't believe in monogamy -- or why he does believe in Santa Claus. Maybe he's been in the local paper for all the wrong reasons. Maybe the New York Times ran his first, second, and third wedding announcements.

My feeling is that total access to information sabotages the natural process of courtship. He should be able to tell you about himself in his own time. Finding out too much prematurely can lead you to draw the wrong conclusions -- after all, you never know who shares his name.

You're on a blind date that seemed promising at first, but now there's zero chemistry and you've barely gotten through the appetizer. Do you fake an emergency, or do you stick it out, knowing TiVo has you covered?

Is the lack of interest mutual? Take his temperature -- when you flirt, does he flirt back? If he's into you but you're not into him, is it better to be honest or to save his pride by making up a white lie such as "I'm about to get back together with my ex-boyfriend"? Being honest -- acting available but disinterested -- may backfire and lead him to pursue you, because we all know men love a challenge. But you must never make yourself unappealing or too unavailable, because you never know who could lead to someone else. What a dilemma! Just wrap the date up quickly. If he tries to order dessert, demurely protest by saying you have an early morning meeting and pray he gets the signal. When I was on the market, I used to always schedule blind dates as drinks, never dinner. That way, if your chemistry is as cold as the North Pole, you can call it a night. If it's as steamy as Rio, head out to dinner.

If he calls you for another date, don't be tempted by the lure of a free meal, good concert tickets, or just one fewer night at home watching Mad Men. Just say, "I had a really good time, but I think maybe we should wait a little while before we go out again." When he tries you again, tell him you're really busy but that you have a pal you know he'd like, and hook them up. Maybe he'll return the favor.

You agree to a second date even though you know you're not into him.

As tempting as it may be to keep your options open, don't give false hope to someone you have no interest in. "A girl's gotta eat" is no reason to reprise a mediocre date. Give him a call and say, "Look, I've been thinking about it -- I don't think we're a good match and I don't want to waste your time." If you genuinely want to move things into the friend zone, be up front about it. When setting up the date you agreed upon, say, "I really enjoyed spending time with you, but I think we would work best as friends." Back this up with a suggestion of a fun -- and platonic -- activity like bowling, and be prepared for him to pass up your proposal.

You have some shameful physical secret and you're terrified he's going to find out.

What, do you have a vestigial tail or something? Women always have a laundry list of things they hate about their bodies; if you are going to have a real relationship with someone, you are going to have to risk exposing the parts of yourself that you don't like. Whether it's a scar, a weird birthmark, or an extra toe, it's likely that he's going to love it as much as he loves the rest of you. That is, if he even notices it. And look, if you do have something major, it's part of you, part of what has created who you are -- made you stronger, wiser, and deeper. Don't be ashamed; be proud. If he doesn't love it, and you, he doesn't deserve you.

You want to take a friendship to a romantic place, but you're not sure your pal feels the same.

Ah, here's a sticky that launched a dozen teen movies. Well, you can either throw a John Hughes film festival and then try various misbegotten hijinks inspired by Molly Ringwald, or tell him honestly about your feelings and accept his response. If he's not interested, you should know that there are lots of reasons a man might not want to take the relationship to the next level. It really doesn't matter what they are or if they make any sense to you. The bottom line is that when he imagines being with you more intimately (and trust me, he does think about these things), he pauses and then says to himself, "Nah." Consider taking a break from the friendship until your emotions calm down.

On the other hand, if he confesses his undying love for you and you feel differently, let him down easy. Be clear about wanting to keep things completely platonic, and follow through. Don't play with his feelings to pad your ego -- it's not fair to use him as a substitute boyfriend or devoted eunuch. Again, you may need to cut down on the time you spend together, at least until he finds someone new to crush on.

Now, the stickiest of these situations is when friends just have sex, or when friends think they like each other, sleep with each other, and one changes his or her mind. When this happens, chances are, the best thing to do is take a break from each other. Recognize that good friendships are almost as hard to find as good romances. If your love match wasn't meant to be, your friend isn't punishing you, and it's not your fault -- so why throw the baby out with the bathwater? Be friends, but never sleep together again unless the friendship has turned into a serious relationship. And while there might be a rare exception, I've found that "friends with benefits" tends to be a lot like health care -- the coverage isn't there when you need it most.

You're dating someone you're crazy about, but nothing's official -- should you change your relationship status on MySpace, Facebook, and Ning?

This is a delicate process with several different stages. First off, when you start dating a guy exclusively, you might consider removing the single status from your profile out of respect for what you've got going. Warning: doing this will cause a pileup of curious pals ("Woo-woo!" "Who is he?" etc.), so be sure to delete the move from your newsfeed. Once you and your man move into boyfriend-girlfriend territory, it's time to shift (preferably in sync) to "In a relationship."

Finally, you may choose to link your profiles, which involves one of your sending an invitation to the other, much like a friend request. This is best reserved for solid relationships -- if you're in the breakup/makeup cycle, it's smarter to reveal as little of this as possible to the coworkers and cousins keeping their eyes on your bidness.

You don't know how to introduce him when he's not your boyfriend but more than a friend.

Skip the descriptor entirely and say, "I'd like you to meet John." The fact that you don't refer to him as a friend or boyfriend is typically telling enough. Your body language will likely fill in the blanks for people. If that's too ambiguous for you and you want to mark him as your man, call him your date.

You can't get that guy out of your head -- and there's no room for anything else.

Ah, sweet infatuation! First off, enjoy it, 'cause it's not going to last long. Every new couple should have some time of mutual obsession -- there's nothing wrong with getting caught up in new love as long as it doesn't keep you from eating and going to work.

If the man on your mind is an ex-boyfriend or a crush that never came through, give yourself a couple of weeks of mooning around and then pledge to pull through. Work is a great distraction -- ask for extra projects, focus on a complex task, and put in overtime. Now is not the time to take up mindless activities that will give you time to daydream. Before you know it, you'll barely remember the guy -- and you might get a promotion.

You want to know if it's okay to start calling him your boyfriend, but you don't want to seem needy or clingy.

If you've been dating for a while, he's probably got the same question on his mind. Ask him for what you want in a lighthearted way: "So, are we going steady or what?"

You have a one-night stand with a random guy while getting to know someone you might really like.

Technically this is fair game. Until you are in a committed relationship, you don't have a responsibility to be monogamous. That said, a lasting relationship can be worth sacrificing some easy sex for. You might choose to skip the hookups until you see where things are going with Bachelor #2.

You're dating a guy who lives with his parents.

When the economy is crappy, it becomes more and more common for someone to be bunking with his folks. It doesn't have to be a deal breaker -- you just need to distinguish between Peter Pan syndrome and a genuine time of personal transition.

Is he focused on working (or finding work, if he's been laid off) or school? Is he taking care of ailing parents? If so, you might want to weather the discomfort of shagging on the top bunk. However, if he's just sitting around the old homestead eating Mom's meatloaf and playing Second Life, peace out and leave him to his arrested development.

You're dating more than one guy and don't know whether to be honest about it.

Until you've discussed a commitment, you're technically free to date around sans guilt. But that doesn't mean your gentleman friend won't have hurt feelings when he finds out he's not the only name on your dance card. If you want to segue into a relationship with one of the dudes, then it's easy enough to phase out the other one(s) without full disclosure. However, if you plan on man juggling for a spell, you should make it clear that things aren't exclusive. It's best to bring this up when setting up plans, especially if he starts making assumptions about your time. Say, "I really enjoy spending time with you, but I feel like I should let you know that I'm seeing other people." Then it's up to him to decide if he's okay with the casual thing.

Everything is going great. Really. So you're pretty sure this is where you'll screw it up somehow, like you always do.

Breathe, breathe, breathe -- it's natural to feel fear or anxiety in the early, ambiguous phase of a relationship. Use your girls as your sounding board and take the time to examine your worries. Are you afraid of being close to someone? Of losing your freedom? Of opening yourself up and (potentially) being rejected? Feel free to work it out with the ladies, but for the meantime, hold back from sharing your fears with your beau. Sometimes we want the object of our affection to see us cry and be vulnerable because we want to be accepted or protected. But hold out a little longer. In the meantime, friends, family, and therapists are there to sop up the crazy.

Having said that, be careful of the faux friend. This is the girl who likes to pretend she's got your best interests at heart -- but really doesn't. She's usually single and a bit bossy, and she doesn't really want anyone to be happier, prettier, skinnier, or tanner than she is. She may not even know she's doing it, but she'll steer you in the wrong direction and give you bad advice. Also, this is not a public poll. Talk to one, two, or at most three of your closest friends -- don't let word get out that you're worried, because you don't want word to get back to him.

You made the big proposal! Okay, not that proposal -- the one about moving in! He doesn't want to. Ugh. Should you break up just to save face? And by the way, why doesn't he want to live with you?

What are your reasons for wanting to move in together? Do you want to bump your relationship up a stage, or do you just want to save cash and com-muting time? Shacking up is a big decision, and he has a right to think it through. Use this difference in opinion as a jumping-off point to discuss where your relationship is going. If you see it heading in a different direction than he does, a breakup may be in the cards. But don't ditch an otherwise strong connection just to save face.

Someone you're seeing casually has just professed his undying love. You may feel the same way, but you may not. It's too soon!

You don't always want to take a guy like this seriously. He may be dumb/romantic enough to get caught up in the fantasy of love at first sight and all that. Tell him he's sweet, but be a bit skeptical about his intentions. It's not that you aren't completely desirable or anything, but when someone pledges his love for you that soon, he's probably (1) desperate to be in love, (2) genuinely in love, or (3) bananas. It takes time to find out the truth, and if he's truly in love with you, well, then he'll wait for you to decide.

One of you blurts out "I love you" way too early -- and the other person doesn't say it back.

If it's you to him: Dang! It slipped out, and all you got back in return was a tepid "Thank you." Was sexual euphoria to blame or were you just being honest?

It's best not to overemphasize the awkward moment with apologies or discussions -- let him think it through until he is ready to return the sentiment. And don't beat yourself up. Being open and vulnerable is part of being in a relationship.

If it's him to you: On the other hand, if he opens up to you and you don't feel the same way, be kind and gentle. Make sure he knows that you appreciate what he said and that it makes you feel good. If he pressures you to respond in kind, tell him, "I care about you and I take those words seriously. I'm just not ready to say them yet." You can also just dive in for a distractingly passionate kiss -- beats a change in subject.

Why is it that whenever you start having sex with someone, you stop falling in love with him?

This probably means that the challenge of "landing" someone is hotter to you than the actual potential relationship. Slow down on the sex and work on the emotional side of things first. Don't start messing around until you feel a true connection with the person. Once you have that, the sex will just be the cherry on top (sorry, bad pun).

You need to call it off with someone you're dating but you still want to be friends -- really.

Tired old lines like "Let's just be friends" or "I value our friendship too much to have a relationship with you" have long been fallbacks for cowards looking to duck out of dating someone. Therefore, in the cases where you actually do want to transition a dude from date to pal, you need to be a bit less clichéd.

Let him know that you really enjoy spending time with him -- and cite examples, like your shared sense of humor or mutual love of science museums, before lowering the boom. Tell him that you don't think you are right for each other romantically, and follow up with a platonic invite, like "My friends and I are going to that show we talked about, if you want to join us." You may not get to eat your cake and have it, too -- you have, after all, bruised his ego. But if you continue to show genuine interest in him and are careful not to blur the lines (by letting him spring for movie tickets or indulging in a little "harmless" cuddling, for instance), you guys will be Jerry and Elaine in no time.

He has way more money than you and is always paying for things. You want to reciprocate, but you just can't afford it.

Tell him you are going to take him out for a special date, and plan an evening in your price range. Whether you take him out for Thai or to a kiddie arcade, he'll appreciate the effort.

Another option is to offer to pay for the cheaper part of an evening out -- he pays for the four-course meal (and two bottles of wine), and you pay for dessert. But it's up to you -- if he's loaded, the fact that he's footing the bills most of the time means far less to him than it does to you. It's most likely that he enjoys being the high roller with a pretty lady on his arm.

You'd love to have more sticky situations in love, but frankly, you have no idea where or how to meet guys!

Studies show that meeting guys has less to do with sharing interests than with simply being thrown into proximity with them. Although it's known that similar backgrounds draw people together, being in close proximity does influence the development of our friendships and partnerships.

Adopt the "just say yes" approach. No, I'm not telling you that you should take all comers, but you should accept all social invitations that come your way. Your friend's office happy hour? Yes. Your college's alumni event in your city? Yes. Your coworker's holiday party? Yes. Even if these events don't yield a treasure trove of single men, they will help you become more comfortable meeting new people, as well as lead to more invitations. Even a girls' night out could result in a promising fix-up. If the social events aren't happening, then create them yourself. Throw parties and invite a few wild cards -- people you don't know well and would like to know better. Or have each invitee bring his or her own wild card. As the hostess, you have a built-in excuse to talk to everyone there.

Expand your extracurricular activities. Go to museum lectures, join an intramural sports league (kickball, anyone?), or stop by a local bookstore for a reading. A rock show is pretty much a guaranteed man buffet. Practice starting conversations with strangers -- ask him if he's seen the next band, or if he's read the novelist's first book of short stories. Still too much pressure? Ease in with someone you aren't too interested in attracting. Soon you'll be confident enough to approach any hottie.

Resist MySpace and Facebook no longer -- not only will they reunite you with old acquaintances, they're an easy, informal way to get in touch with someone you meet on one of your new outings. Basically, you're advertising to an everexpanding group of people that you are single and awesome. Possible side effects? Making new friends and connections.

You're nearing forty (or thirty but thinking about forty) and you want to get married and have a baby, and not necessarily in that order . . . no one's calling you desperate, but you hear a certain clock ticking and you feel S-T-U-C-K.

Okay, first of all, chances are that the reason you're single is that you're self-aware, discriminating, and probably have had a lot on your plate.

One of the great things about the post-feminist era is that we women have had the right to choose any path we want. We can have great jobs, great travel, pursue our passions . . . but we want to find equally great men to help raise that equally fabulous family. And they aren't always easy to find in those forty-five minutes we have between work and yoga. Choices are wonderful but often overwhelming, and quite often we're not sure whether we're making the right ones. Mr. Sort-of- Wonderful may seem lovely, but we wonder whether there's someone better down the line.

If you're getting to the point in your life where you're really beginning to panic, I offer a few pieces of advice -- and remember, there are whole tomes devoted to this subject. First, do not -- I repeat, do not -- set out just to get married. Decide what's important to you. Do you want to have a child? Be with someone? Have a full set of china and crystal in your cupboard? If it's the last, forget the manhunt -- throw yourself a big birthday party and tell everyone it's your birthday wedding and you've registered so they can buy you your dream gifts. Trust me, far easier than finding a guy who may turn out to be Mr. Wrong. If you want a child more than a partner, think about whether you're ready to raise a child on your own and what that would mean to your lifestyle.

That's no more nightly trips to the gym, no more sleeping in on Sundays. Do you want a baby because everyone else has one or because you think you should? Studies have shown that children don't actually make your life happier. I would suggest they make your life fuller, but if you want this for any reason other than desperately wanting to care for a child (not dress up a child), then don't do it.

But if you truly long to fall in love and settle down, then let's think about that. Has something been holding you back? Look at the past few years. Has there been a pattern to your relationships? Have you even made time to have a relationship? Are you waiting for Mr. Perfect to swan in, à la Pretty Woman? Because let's not forget: She was actually a hooker!

It's time to be realistic. To have a great relationship, you need to work at it! Work harder at it than you have at any job. That does not mean you need to do everything for your man, but it does mean you should look at things from his perspective.

Does he have a hobby you might enjoy trying out? If you aren't really a cook, maybe now's the time to give it a shot -- for example, with the step-by-step man-friendly recipes on thepioneerwoman.com. (With millions of readers, four children, and a happy marriage, she must be doing something right!)

Other practical strategies:

• Go beyond your traditional circle of people to find men. I know you've heard this advice, but you have to do it. Men do not rain from the sky (typically).

• Do some soul searching about what you want in a man, as opposed to what you think you should want in a man . . . because they're often two different things. It's not about meeting your best friend's or your mom's expectations -- it's about meeting yours.

• Put your best foot, and face, forward. You may expect this date to be a dud, but always look your best. That doesn't mean layers of makeup, but even at the Laundromat you may meet that certain someone, and looking a little spiffy can give you the confidence you need to ask to borrow a quarter.

• Go out with the guys, not always the girls! If you go out with a pack of girls, you might lose the chance to connect with your Mr. Wonderful. Let your best guy friends go out on the hunt with you.

• Once you find someone, don't overthink it, and don't assume this is the one! Nothing is worse for a man than feeling as if he has to ask for your hand by the end of date three. Relax, have fun, and give your relationship time to see if it works.

• Don't break up for dumb reasons. So he leaves wet towels on the floor. So he's two inches shorter than you. Come on!!!! You're looking for a partner, not a custom-made robot. No one is perfect, my love, not even you.

• Hold on to your best assets. Look, I'm not a prude, and I'm not telling you to play games. Just wait until you decide whether this relationship is really a keeper. You'll cause yourself less grief and give yourself a better chance to let the relationship develop in the right way.

• Trust the experts. Go get yourself a subscription to Cosmopolitan magazine. Look, there's a reason two million women read it every month. They've got great tips, info, and advice. Trust me, your man will appreciate it.

• If you want to change your body or your lifestyle, look to the Web for an endless cornucopia of support, from diet and exercise plans to message boards populated by eager experts with too much time on their hands. And -- cattiness aside -- when you need a boost, or just a shoulder to cry on, isn't someone with too much time on her hands a good thing?

Finally, remember, life is a journey, and it is yours to enjoy. We all want a partner, but there are many people I know who I think might have been better off alone. Take care of yourself, and your needs, and the rest will follow.

Online Dating

You feel like a total freak. Even -- okay, especially -- online.

Don't be afraid to let your freak flag fly! There's a niche dating site for every type of person. Unlike general sites such as Match.com that cast as wide a net as possible, niche online dating forums are self-selecting, based on interests, ethnic makeup, or dating preferences. Examples include MulletPassions.com, LargePassions.com, GolfMates.com, DeafSinglesConnection.com, SingleParentLove.com, and BikerKiss.com. Got a quirk, hobby, or passion? Find a like-minded man through one of these sites. The biggies -- Match.com, eHarmony.com, Chemistry.com, Nerve.com -- have the benefit of thousands of users to choose from. Narrow down the seemingly endless options by searching by location, age, or interests -- even by height or weight (not that you'd ever be so shallow). Be sure to take some time to hone your profile.

If you're not a writer, recruit a friend to help you fine-tune your ad. Make the profile memorable by mentioning the things that make you unique: reveal a guilty pleasure or an embarrassing moment from childhood. These things can often serve as talking points when a man sends you a message. Pictures are important. Your profile is far more likely to be looked at if it comes with a photograph.

Resist the temptation to get your graphic designer friend to airbrush the hell out of it. You always want to represent yourself at the moment you are placing the ad, even if you secretly want to lose weight or change your hair color. A clear photograph of a friendly, smiling person is always going to do well.

You're trying to be hip when communicating online, but between the strange symbols and mixed messages, this new language is far more confusing than just waiting for the phone to ring. You just got a ;) and you're not quite sure how to take it.

You've been winked, at my friend, and like in the nondigital world, winking is a fairly risk-free way of showing interest in a person. It also doesn't mean a whole lot. If you're interested in the winker's profile, wink back and see if he responds with an actual message. Or message him yourself: "Thanks for the wink -- what's your story?"

You've been messaging back and forth, but no date. What's up?

Foreplay is great, but we ultimately all want to get to the main event, right? This love letter purgatory could be the result of simple shyness or insecurity -- many people have an easier time communicating through writing than through speech. The medium allows a person not only to think through his or her responses but also to fit flirting into a crammed schedule. In this case, you may want to give the guy a nudge. Suggest that you meet in person to further discuss your mutual love of experimental fiction.

It's also possible that the dude is just enjoying the flirtation but, for whatever reason, has no intention of meeting up. This scenario is a good reason not to indulge in prolonged e-mails before a first date. Why waste your time? Another good reason to get the party started: two people who have top-notch banter may also have zero chemistry. All it takes is a quick drink to discover where you stand with someone.

You've met the perfect guy online . . . but he lives across the country. Should you buy a plane ticket?

Start with Skype -- it's free and will give you the chance to see your man in motion. Still interested? As romantic as it sounds to run away for a weekend of passion, it is best to build a meeting into a bigger trip. Have a friend you've been wanting to visit in his hometown, or a business trip a state away? In the case of a risky meeting like this, you want to have a clear escape route (and an alternative fun time) in the plans if your attraction turns out to be limited to pixels.

Your long-distance guy turns out to be as irresistible in person as he is in e-mail.

Prepare yourself for some steamy weekends -- and some big decisions down the road. A long-distance relationship can keep the infatuation fresh, but it can also leave you feeling lonely and unsupported on the day-to-day stuff.

You think this guy's a little too perfect. He must be married, right?

Okay, there are some bastards out there who use online dating to get a self-esteem boost or to find their next (often unwitting) mistress. A little judicious Googling now is okay when looking for previous -- or current -- marriages! Otherwise, look for the usual signs -- is he always unavailable on weekends, or does he never invite you over to his place? Trust your instincts.

You receive a message from a man you don't find physically attractive.

It's sometimes hard to comprehend that your interactions with others on online dating sites involve real people, so it's always best to react the same way you would in a real-life situation. Think about it: all day and all night, men make advances to women -- on the bus, on the train, in traffic, in elevators, at the grocery store, and, of course, in bars. So, just like in any other situation where you are approached by a man, respond politely. If the messages continue, how about a simple "No thanks" or "I don't think we're a good match, but thank you for messaging me"? Let the guy down kindly and promptly. For the most part, he will accept your lack of interest as part of the risk of online dating. Of course, there are the notorious e-mails littering the interweb written by men unwilling to accept rejection. If you get a nasty response, you have every right to ignore his message or block him (or maybe even forward his message on to Jezebel.com).

You've messaged a guy who looks perfect for you and he hasn't responded -- what gives?

Sadly, this is all part of the risk of online dating. You can't know why he's not interested -- maybe he's just online to browse and not to date, maybe you look like his nasty ex-girlfriend, maybe he started dating his coworker the very day you sent your message. Or maybe he doesn't think you are a good match. It's best to forget him and find a new online crush.

There's no chemistry on a once promising blind or Internet date.

This is why it's best to meet up with an interesting Internet swain before investing too much time in phone calls or letter writing. Sometimes a great pen pal just doesn't add up to a hot date. Cut the evening short and follow up with a simple "I'm sorry, but I just didn't feel we had a connection." It's all part of dating.

The Ex Files

You just ran into your ex with his new girlfriend and suddenly you can't stop thinking about him.

We always want what we can't have. The same exboyfriend who was so irritating last week suddenly seems appealing when he's on the arm of a new girl. It's okay to savor a few fond memories as long as it doesn't lead to any drunken texts or dramatic scenes. The feelings you had for him before seeing him at brunch with that blonde are most likely to be the accurate ones. So give yourself a few hours of delicious nostalgia, then refer to the laundry list of his annoying traits (write one up, if need be) and move on. And find a new place to have brunch.

If you catch sight of your ex with his new lady, suck it up and walk over with confidence. Even if you're slouching around in track pants on your way to the Laundromat (and isn't that always the case?), smile big and shake hands. The fact that you can be confident with your singlehood (or at least fake it) is inherently cool. And, if need be, it's fine to point out the awkwardness of the situation, as long as you do it with a sense of humor.

You run into an ex while with your current flame.

If you're the one with the new hottie on your arm, try not to rub it in. Be polite, introduce them, and, if possible, be on your way. It never hurts to be classy, even if you were the one who got your heart broken. Seeing you with a new man is punishment enough without forcing your ex to witness a PDA.

You and your ex have actually managed a great friendship, but so far you've avoided the subject of new romances. Now he wants you to meet his new love, and you're not really feeling it.

If you want to embark on a true friendship with your former man, you're going to have to accept all aspects of his current life -- including Miss Right Now. That doesn't mean you have to go to dim sum with the two of them every Saturday, but you should aim to meet her in a neutral, low-stress scenario. Plan to meet up at a mutual friend's party (bring backup if necessary). Chances are you'll probably like her -- he always did have good taste in women. If you truly can't handle it, you should probably rethink your "friendship." Do you really want to be friends, or are you waiting around hoping for more? If it's the latter, graciously suggest you two take a break for a little bit.

You want to date your friend's ex.

This is an area in which to tread lightly. Always ask your friend's permission before dating her ex, even if the ex in question is a guy she made out with ten years ago at a rock show. And respect her response, even if you consider it illogical. If you decide you can't live without the love of her college ex-boyfriend and she wants you to keep your mitts off, you will quite possibly sacrifice your friendship if you go ahead with the guy.

Likewise, if she wants to date your ex, you're justified in being upset if she doesn't consider your feelings first. If the dude in question is a recent ex, someone she knew only as your man, you're justified in thinking she's bananas (and a bad friend to boot) for making the request. However, if she asks for your blessing to date an ex you no longer have feelings for, even if it gives you a pang of possessiveness, you may want to relent if you think the two crazy kids could make a go of it. It's just good man karma.

Your boyfriend's ex wants to be BFFs with him.

It's natural to want your man's ex to be firmly out of the picture, but try to keep things in perspective. Yes, they have shared experiences that lend themselves to friendship, but remember that there's a reason they're not still together. Don't be concerned if he has a casual drink with an ex or if mutual friends bring you into the same social circle. On the other hand, if they have unresolved issues or argue about their former relationship, put your foot down. You're not an extra in their traveling show. Suggest that they spend some time apart from each other until the emotions cool.

You have a stalker or obsessive ex.

First, tell him in no uncertain terms to leave you alone. If he persists, start keeping track of every call and visit and save voice messages from him. Tell security in your apartment building and at your office that you're being stalked and (if possible) give them a photograph of him. This is especially important if he is a recent ex whom they were used to waving through the door.

To get a restraining order you need to have proof that you are in physical danger from your stalker. The court will likely ask you specific questions about your interactions with him -- this is where your records come in handy. Once you've been issued a restraining order, keep a copy of it on you at all times and call the police if he violates the decree. In the meantime, have friends and family members walk you to your car at night and let your neighbors know what you are going through.

In Bed

You haven't had sex in a really, really long time, and can't decide whether to break the seal or wait for love.

Consider why you've been holding off in the first place. Is it because you've been busy launching a new business or finishing your dissertation? If you've simply been concentrating on other aspects of your life, you may want to jump-start your return to dating with a (safe) fling. On the other hand, if the reason you've been staying out of the action is because you equate sex with a relationship, a down-and-dirty affair is unlikely to satisfy you. Stop torturing yourself with an arbitrary timeline and work on the dating thing. And don't worry about your inevitable return to the land of the sexual -- it's just like riding a bicycle.

You've been dating for a few months when something starts to feel itchy. Is now the right time to talk about STDs?

This question is always a tough one -- you don't want to bring it up while you're still making out on the couch, but if you wait until he's reaching for the condom, can you even expect honesty from a man with an erection? Wait until the pants are coming off and then say, "I just got tested for STDs and I'm a clean teen [this had better be true, BTW] -- how about you?" Volunteering the information makes it clear you don't consider him just a dirty man ho. But no matter what the moment is or the response you get, you are always taking a risk. People lie about having been tested and they lie about having diseases. Use condoms until you are in a relationship, and get tested regularly.

You have an STD. How and when do you 'fess up to your bed buddy?

This is definitely a question of when, not whether -- you must tell your prospective sexual partners if you have a communicable disease. Never risk another person's health because "it's so unlikely that I'll pass it on." Tell your date in a neutral setting that's not sexually charged (i.e., don't wait until you are grappling on his kitchen floor). Calmly relay the facts of your disease -- how it is transmitted and how likely it is that you will pass it on during safe sex. Then give him time to think things over, and be prepared that he might bail. Just know that, no matter what you have, you're in good company. There are plenty of dating sites and support groups for people with STDs if you want to find a partner who knows exactly what you are going through.

You get caught with your pants down -- literally.

If you are having sex in a shared space, well, pull up your pants and apologize. If kids are involved, you might have to give the old "when two adults love each other very much . . ." speech, which is no fun for anyone. Or if they are young enough, do what my friends do and tell then you were wrestling. Though then, of course, there's the danger that they'll want to join in! If you've been caught by someone over drinking age, just promise to be more respectful in the future and change the subject. Chances are he or she is as embarrassed as you are.

Now, if the Peeping Tom or Thomasina entered your home or bedroom without permission, you shouldn't be the one apologizing. Have a discussion with your children about respecting privacy, and tell roommates and friends not to come a-knockin' when the futon is a-rockin'. In the case of your parents, seeing their kid in flagrante was probably punishment enough.

Your mate has erectile dysfunction.

In this situation, you need to be understanding and he needs to get you off. Suggest that he see a doctor or a counselor to find out whether the problem is physical or psychological and to look into options like Viagra or therapy. But, more important, accept him as he is and let him know that you can have pleasurable sexual experiences without his hard-on. Experiment with toys and massage, or just make out like teenagers. By taking some of the pressure off his erection (so to speak), you can relieve some of his performance anxiety, which might even solve the problem. Just be patient . . . and creative.

His penis is too big -- or too small.

Supposedly a huge "member" is every woman's fantasy, but in reality, sleeping with someone with a too-large penis can be uncomfortable and even painful. At least discussing this problem won't harm his ego. Tell him he has a monster c*** -- the biggest you've ever seen -- and suggest that you use lube or extra foreplay to make sex more comfortable for you.

Got yourself a short man instead? Thankfully, the saying "It's not the size of the wave, it's the motion in the ocean" happens to be true. Experiment with rolling your hips or having him rock his pelvis back and forth when he's with you. The extra effort will up your sensation tremendously.

Your mate wants to have a threesome.

Well, are you interested? If so, it should absolutely be on your terms. You get to choose the girl (or guy) who joins you and you get to decide how much action either of you participates in. You and your man should set guidelines -- are you comfortable with him penetrating another woman, or would you prefer him to be voyeur to the girl-on-girl? When it comes to selecting a third party, skip your friends and peruse the online dirty personals or find an old acquaintance -- preferably from out of town, whom you won't see often and who is less likely to spill the beans to mutual friends. As in any Internet dating situation, you want to do some careful vetting -- have drinks with your prospective double date and work up to the main event. But be very, very careful -- this could really change the dynamic of your relationship, so think hard before you leap in this regard. And here's the thing: If you aren't okay with the word potentially getting out that you had a threesome, don't do it! If there is one thing a man likes more than a threesome, it's telling other men about his threesome. If you aren't interested, let him know and try to be supportive of his fantasy. Explore the idea with dirty talk or watch some three-way porn together.

You fight every time you have sex.

Is arguing an aphrodisiac for you, or are you just fighting about bad sex? If you need to be charged up to get it on, you might be substituting one kind of passion for another. Simply discussing this propensity will help you avoid the habit of picking fights. Instead, try incorporating some role play that will allow you to have some hot arguments without damaging your relationship. If bad sex is your problem, try to take away the pressure of a climax by slowing things down. Play at being inexperienced teenagers again -- spend a night holding each other, work up to removing clothes and rounding the bases. Consider holding off on full intercourse for as long as it takes for you to rebuild your intimacy.

He wants sex much more frequently than you do -- or vice versa.

There are so many ways to deal with the truly common problem of differing sex drives within a relationship. Usually one would start with an adult discussion that, ideally, concludes with the two parties agreeing to work on it. Does he like to have sex in the morning and you like it at night? Try to compromise with your schedules -- morning sex on weekdays and night sex on weekends, or vice versa. Not every sexual encounter needs to be fullblown -- have a quickie, or try mutual masturbation. Finally, on occasion, the one of you with the stronger drive is just going to have to take care of him- or herself. The key is incorporating these solo trips into a fuller, more flexible sexual relationship.

He wants to videotape or take photos of you.

I'm no prude, but let me say two words of caution: the Internet! Whatever his intent, or yours, just think about how you would feel if somehow your private video or photos got on the Internet and your parents or your future children saw it. I could tell you about countless sticky situations -- the daughter who forgot she took pictures with her boyfriend and gave the camera back to her mom, a teacher who then brought the camera into class. Or the daughter who caught a glimpse of Mom with her new boyfriend on a wild weekend away. Ewwwww. So if you want to star in your own private porno, that's your business. But use your camera and destroy all the evidence that night!

It's Serious

Your new boyfriend won't give you any alone time. (When are you supposed to shave your legs?)Suggest a hot date for a few days in the future, assure him that you can't wait, but make it clear that you can't see him until then. If he protests, give him a kiss and tell him you need a little time to do laundry and make yourself beautiful. (Not to mention poop.)

Your new boyfriend has become entirely too close to your mom.

Well, at least they don't hate each other, right? Most likely they're both invested in the relationship because of you. If she's getting too nurturing (cooking him dinner, doing his laundry), have a talk with her about giving you two some alone time. And tell him that you're a grown-up and, as awesome as she is, you can't see your mommy all the time.

Your parents hate your new boyfriend.

Now, what if the opposite is true and your mom (or dad) thinks your new Mr. Right is just another in a long line of Mr. Wrongs? Calmly explain that what makes you happy is different from what makes them happy, and try to point out your boyfriend's best features (other than those between the sheets). But Father Knows Best wasn't just a show on TV. Take a moment to consider whether your parents might be right. If, in fact, your choice in men leans toward the unemployed, unfriendly, parents'-worst-nightmare type, you have to ask yourself whether you're really in love or just shacking up with Mr. Inappropriate in order to drive your folks a little crazy. If the latter, scrap the chip on your shoulder. Bad men are easy to find; good men aren't. Quit wasting your time, and save your poor parents some heartache.

Your boyfriend and your best friend don't get along.

Is the problem a personality clash, or is your boyfriend (or friend) jealous of your close relationship? If it's a jealousy thing, be warned -- it's a controlling man who tries to separate you from the people who make you happy. But if the two of them simply can't see eye to eye, spend time with them separately, and be sure to reassure your girlfriend that she won't suddenly be banished to an unsatisfying relationship with your voice mail. You don't all need to hang out in one big group. Just have them agree that for special occasions, like your birthday, the two will call a truce for your benefit. How about if you hate your boyfriend's brofriend? If he's rude or insulting to you or disrespectful of your relationship, don't take any crap.

Tell your boyfriend exactly why you don't care for his pal and give specific examples. Sometimes a guy will keep an old friend around for the same reason he's been wearing the same underwear for the past ten years -- simple laziness. If you stay calm and don't issue any ultimatums, your boyfriend might come to the same conclusion you have and start the separation process. If, on the other hand, you can't stand your man's friend simply because he's uncool, awkward, or in a different place in his life than your boyfriend, just grin and bear it. It speaks well for your mate that he doesn't ditch people from his past.

You find out your best friend's mate is cheating on her.

Don't you wish you could travel back in time for a moment and cover your ears? This is such a painful predicament. As uncomfortable as it is, you must confront the philanderer and tell him that if he doesn't tell your friend, you will. Give him a set window of time (I think forty-eight to seventy two hours is fair), and check in on him. Keep your fingers crossed that he does what he's told. If you do have to tell your friend yourself, be prepared that she might not believe you. She might also lash out. Don't take this personally. Every time you get frustrated with her, just think: This could be you one day. How would you want to be treated?

There's one exception to this rule. If you truly, truly know (and I mean you're 100 percent sure) that she knows he's cheating, don't confront him. If for some reason she's chosen to turn the other cheek on this issue, perhaps you should be talking to her about her own state of happiness, not fidelity, to see if you can help.

Your mate talks smack about your parents.

We're all free to bitch about our parents as much as we want, but woe betide the pal who chimes in to agree. Your man needs to be respectful of your family, especially if he wants to stick around for a while. Consider the remarks he's made. Is there any truth to them? Do they stem from the way your family treats your boyfriend? If your relatives are partially at fault, let him know that you realize that your family can be difficult, but explain how awful you feel when you hear your parents being insulted. Ask him to be more respectful of your feelings and, while you're at it, talk to your family about how they treat him. If his criticisms are out of left field or, worse, have to do with things like their socioeconomic class or education level, you may want to think about whether he's trying to divide you from your family. Abusive assholes are good at driving wedges between a girl and her nearest and dearest, so be forewarned.

Your boyfriend does everything he can to keep you away from his family.

Often, his decision not to introduce you to his family doesn't have much to do with you personally. He might find his family difficult or embarrassing and, in order to keep life simple, chooses to keep church separate from state. But if you've been dating for a significant amount of time, it's natural that you should expect to meet his family, if only to know that he takes you seriously. Tell him exactly why you want to meet them, assure him that you will be accepting of any quirks they may have, and explain that it's important to you to be part of every aspect of his life.

You've convinced your boyfriend that meeting your family could be dangerous for his health.

If you're the one keeping your kin under lock and key, you might want to consider why you're doing so. Is it just because your annoying aunt will start sending out wedding invitations if she catches sight of a man on your arm? Or are you ashamed of them? You should know that if you plan on sticking it out with this guy, he's going to have to accept your family as they are, weird food and all. Tell him about your fears, bite the bullet, and introduce them. It's likely that he won't even notice all the little quirks that seem so noticeable to you.

And who among us doesn't have a few strange family members? If you're ashamed of your boyfriend, you might want to reconsider the relationship. Why are you with someone you don't consider good enough to meet your parents? You can't change your family, but you can change your man.

You have a huge fight with your boyfriend's sibling or your boyfriend and your brother are acting like cavemen.

As they say on Arrested Development, family first. A with a brother or sister is everlasting, whether we like it or not. You have to make peace with your boyfriend's nutjob sister, if only for his benefit. If she is truly an awful person (as people's siblings sometimes are), try to keep your interactions with her limited to birthdays and holidays. If your boyfriend and your brother don't get along, have a chat with each of them individually. Ask them to play nice on your behalf and appeal to their masculine sense of honor. They'll be on grudgingly good terms by the next Sunday dinner.

Your mate loses his job.

The first thing to do is to be as calm and supportive as possible. He knows that he needs a job, that the market is tough, that you have bills to pay. Take some time to let him know that you love him for more than just his moneymaking potential. Use some of his free time to have more sex (it won't break the bank account, after all). And when he's ready, help him take all the necessary steps toward finding a job.

Your boyfriend and your boss have become chums.

Tell your man that work needs to be separate from your private life. You spend the majority of your life at work, and you don't want to come home at night to find your boss on the couch playing video games. Ask your boyfriend to keep his bromance limited to office events.

Your boyfriend feels entitled to comment on your body and what you should do to perfect it.

A resounding f -- -- you to this guy! If this isn't a question of health, just aesthetics, he's being a controlling prick. Tell him you need to feel that he accepts you as you are or you can't be with him.

Someone important to you doesn't support you the way you would like.

Not to state the obvious, but death is very painful. And unless you've experienced the death of someone close to you, it's truly hard to know what such a loss feels like. As someone said to me when my mother died, "You've just joined a club you never wanted to be a part of." She was fifty and I was twenty-one, but I felt closer to her than to anyone my own age. And no one really knows how to deal with someone who has had someone close die, since we all need very different things when we're in mourning. In fact, you'll probably be so overwhelmed with the loss that you have no idea what you actually want in terms of support. Make it clear that you need his shoulder to cry on, but don't feel that you need to justify to him the way you show your emotions. Likewise, don't assume that his stoicism means he doesn't care. The death you're dealing with might have brought forth his own fears of mortality. Or he may just not be capable of emoting in the same way. Ask him for the help you need, but don't worry if he can't share in your mourning.

He never does anything for your birthday.

Welcome to my world -- and that of my poor husband. If he does nothing, he loses. If he goes all out, he loses, too -- because unfailingly he waits until the last minute to make plans, and ends up spending tons of money on something haphazard. Princess problems, right? I used to take all of this really personally -- where's my cheeky engraved stationery? My gift certificate to the newest ecospa? My French macaroons? But I've come to realize that I often set my husband up for failure -- if I don't really know what I want for my birthday, how is he supposed to?

It's not fair to assume your man is a mind reader. Let him know that it's important for you to be celebrated on your special day, and share whatever you're secretly wishing for, no matter how major, insignificant, or bizarre. No fair answering with "I don't know; what do you want to do?" He can offer you a few suggestions or you can tell him exactly what kind of celebration you want -- a dinner for two, a scavenger hunt, a "surprise" party? Set the date and draw him a map, if necessary, but the key is to leave him in charge. Once the big day unfolds, let him know exactly how grateful you are for it. It shouldn't be such a tough sell next year.

The fire is out -- you're stuck in a rut.

The reason fairy tales end at the wedding is that no one wants to see the happy couple five years into the relationship, when she's a bored hausfrau and he's schtupping the handmaiden. Relationships take work, especially when it comes to trying to get back some of that obsessive infatuation that came so easily in the beginning stages of your union. Start with yourself. What makes you feel sexy? Toss the worn-out sweatpants and stretched-out T-shirts you sleep in and get a soft little nightie.

Get your hair done and try on some new colors at Sephora. Do what it takes to get you back to the place where you're checking yourself out in store windows and your rearview mirror. Once you have your hotness back, start flirting. Grab your man's ass in the kitchen, compliment his baby blues, or wink at him over the dinner table. If you start bringing back the behaviors that marked the beginning of your relationship, you'll start reigniting some of that fire.

You can't stop fighting in front of your children.

The two of you need to make a concerted effort to move the arguments behind the scenes. Your children need to feel as if they have a stable home life, even when their parents are disagreeing with each other. Designate a space where the two of you can have the privacy to work things out, and then when you start to argue, take a deep breath, excuse yourselves, and resume the conversation in your bedroom or study. Consider speaking with a counselor about calmer and more productive ways to discuss your differences.

You need to tell your partner you've been unfaithful.

First examine why you strayed. Were you just craving a crush? Were you bored or drunk? Or were you trying to get out of your relationship? If you know you've made a mistake and want to stay with your man, then you're going to have to earn his trust back. It's best to tell him as honestly and simply as possible that you cheated on him and prepare for some tough times ahead.

If he's cheated on you, you need to decide whether or not it's a personal deal-breaker. If there's cheating early on in the relationship, it can be hard to know if the guy is just getting something out of his system or if he's a jerk. That's the thing about dating: At the end of the day, you're having intimate experiences with someone you don't know very well. You don't know his personal code of honor; you don't have his dating rap sheet. You have to go by instinct, how much you care about him, and what he has to say for himself about it.

Don't date any man who doesn't know why he does things. Talk things through and let him know that it'll be a slow road back to regaining your trust. And, whatever his excuse, don't ever let any man blame you for his infidelity. No matter what your relationship problems are, it's unacceptable that he should step out on you instead of confronting the issues.

You're done. It's over. You want out of the marriage.

If you've done the hard stuff -- the long discussions and the marriage counseling -- and just can't make it work, then it might be time to talk divorce. Both you and your spouse will have to get lawyers, but you might also consider hiring a neutral mediator to help you divide assets and debt in a calm and civil way. Be prepared to sacrifice some material things for your freedom -- no toaster oven is worth a bitter argument. And don't forget that a marriage is bigger than the two of you -- even if you don't have children, you have friends and family who have had a long relationship with your husband. A breakup can be like an earthquake, with ongoing aftershocks. Be prepared for him to find a girlfriend. It will happen sooner or later. Be prepared to be talked about. That will also happen. This is going to be a long haul.

If you have children, you must be as unselfish as possible. This divorce needs to be at least as much about their needs as it is about your own. While I'm no expert, I strongly suggest you seek out a child psychologist well before you make the decision to physically separate. While divorce is difficult on children, there are ways to make it easier, starting with reassuring them that your feelings about them haven't changed and that you'll do your best to spare them as much misery as possible.

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