5 tips for navigating the first date

Dating can be a fun and enjoyable experience.  However, for some, it is an anxiety-producing task. Uncommunicated expectations, unrealistic plans, and hidden motives can wreak havoc on first dates.

Even defining what is and is not a date may be difficult.  There is a new term almost every month.  One of the most recent terms brought to my attention is “pre-date.”   A “pre-date” is an activity that is engaged in to determine if one wants to go on a date.  Yet the activities may not differ from activities that another person would consider a date.  The time of day is another factor in defining whether or not something is a date.  Some people do not consider anything done during the day a date.  Are you confused yet?  It is important that you and your potential date know one another’s definitions.

Now that you have defined that this IS the first date, here are some helpful tips to reduce some of the dating anxiety:

  1. Choose an activity with a natural end
    Meals are the classic activity with a natural end in that the interaction may conclude at the end of the meal. Movies also have a natural end but there is not any time to truly communicate.  Tea or coffee is simple and is enough time to get to know one another yet can be over once the beverages are finished.
  2. Be in the moment
    It is hard to get to know a person if you are already thinking about how the date will lead to a relationship or even worse how the relationship will end.  Give yourself some space and grace to enjoy what is happening in the now.  Being elsewhere is going to hinder your ability to perceive the authentic interactions that are happening in the moment. In doing so, it is easy to give the date too much or too little credit.
  3. Turn small talk into an engaging conversation.
    Getting to know someone can feel awkward.  What do you talk about?  There are only so many things to be said about the weather.  Here are a few topics beyond “what do you do for a living” to spur conversation.

    • Last great meal
    • Fictional character with whom they identify
    • Last book that was read
    • Favorite podcast
    • Dream vacation
    • Best and worst first day of school/work
    • Colors that represent various aspects of their personality
  4. Leave the exes in the past
    Although, knowing a person’s dating history can help shed some light into preferences and stressors.  Previous partners do not need to be present at the first date.  This may send the unintentional message that there is still “something there” or that the person is comparing and judging this date against the “ex” standard.
  1. Keep your standards but release your unrealistic expectations.
    A standard is a level of quality while an expectation is a belief that something will happen in the future.  An example of an unrealistic expectation is that your date is responsible for how you feel.  Turn that into a standard of wanting and needing your date to behave in a respectful manner.  It can get confusing but a good rule of thumb is to break down things into wants and needs.  Another one is to ask yourself “how would this person know this.”  If the answer is “they just should” then that may be an unrealistic expectation.

Now that you have a few tips, take some time to develop your own and most importantly go into the real world and practice!

Nicole is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA who specializes in mental health and relational wellness.  Dedicated to infusing mental health into your overall wellness regimen and promoting healthy relationships.

Help! I can’t stop checking my ex’s IG

Going through the motions of ending a relationship can make you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. One day things are going great and then the next day, you and your partner are done. When your relationship ended, you may have felt as if there was no closure when ties were severed with your partner. Old feelings linger, and your curiosity drives you to explore what your ex has been up to since the break-up. It’s not uncommon for people to spy on their ex’s social media account when they don’t feel like there is closure to the relationship, because it’s an easy way to intrude into their space without being found out. Here are the reasons why you secretly watch your ex’s social media account…

1) Your emotions run high when saying goodbye to your partner. Just like when you lose someone in death, you go through a range of emotions including shock/denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and eventually acceptance. There is saying that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” which implies that after separation from someone, there are times when you miss them, and you romanticize the relationship. When you romanticize your partner and relationship, your memories focus on the good times you had together while minimizing the bad times. To your dismay, you may start thinking to yourself “our relationship wasn’t so bad.” After that, you start to mentally justify all of the things that your partner did right, how no one else can fill that void, and maybe you should give it another shot. The easiest way to do this is by checking up on your ex on social media – and see how they are doing since the breakup. It feels safer to silently monitor how things are going for them since you two are no longer together.


2) You hate being alone. Being alone after ending a relationship is difficult. Lying in bed alone at night leaves your bed and heart feeling empty. You long for and crave that closeness that your ex provided for you; whether it was the conversation, sex, or just being in your space – things just don’t feel the same when you are single and alone. Trying to find ways to fill the void for the activities that you used to do with your lover on the weekend can feel exhausting. And since you recently broke up you may feel like you don’t know how to occupy your time or your space, which may leave you to wonder what your ex is doing. Perseverating on the feelings of familiarity and security that your ex provided for you cause you to spy on their social media account and follow how they are spending their time – so that perhaps you “happen” to show up where they are and increase the likelihood of rekindling the intimacy flame. You also may think of ways in which you can extend the relationship. It’s not uncommon to want to continue the relationship by being “friends with benefits” to satisfy the craving for intimacy.

3) You want to see if they were happy without you. You ask yourself “is my ex missing me as much as I miss them? Are they hurting as much as I am? How are they moving on without me?” You’d like to think that you were an integral part of your ex’s happiness, and it may be difficult for you to surmise that they can possibly move on and be happy without you. Peeking at their social media gives you the opportunity to see how they are handling their lives emotionally without you in it.

4) Fear of failure. No one wants to feel like they have failed in their relationship. Social media makes it easy for people to fake happiness. People usually only post bright, beautiful, and uplifting photos and statuses. People are getting married, having babies, and getting engaged all around you. Your timeline is filled with happy smiling people – not couples with problems or breakups. How would it look if you changed your status to single? It’s as if you feel like you will be judged on the longevity or your ability to remain in a relationship. There is a lot of pressure associated with appearing as though you are perfect on social media, thus if your relationship fails, it may feel like you are a failure in your ability to love, beloved, and be perfect. There is shame around admitting to others, that despite your best efforts, your relationship didn’t work out. Thus, spying on your ex and keeping up a charade that the two of you are still together, to avoid embarrassment is not an uncommon tactic to maintain an image on social media.


5) Lack of closure. There is this idea that because your relationship ended, that the two of you must properly say goodbye in a special way to mark the parting of your paths. You may feel like you can’t truly move on because you didn’t say good-bye, discuss why things ended the way they did, or let your partner know how you felt when things ended. Thus, you feel that you and your ex have unfinished business. Thus, you may spy on your ex to try and find the right opportunity to talk to them about how things were left.

Ok, now that you know why you silently spy on your ex on social media after the break-up, how can you stop doing it and move on?

1) Honor your emotions and process the breakup. Allow yourself to go through the grieving process, by giving yourself time and space think about the hurt and pain that the breakup has caused, as well as thinking about the finality of the breakup. While going through the pain of grieving doesn’t necessarily feel good, it’s a necessary and healthy part of letting go. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, however, you must allow yourself to do it. It’s okay to cry, get angry, and pass on going out with friends if you are sad about what has happened. If you find that you have difficulty processing your emotions around the breakup, then try finding a therapist that can help you with the coping process. Also, reach out to family and friends.


2) Stop isolating yourself. Being alone can trigger you into feeling like you have to occupy your time, and your space – which you may feel is empty. Rushing back to your ex may feel like an easier option because there is comfort in being with them – especially if feelings are still there. You may also feel like your ex is easily accessible because they still have feelings for you too. Instead of reaching out to your ex or looking at their social media account; pre-schedule activities with friends or for yourself during times when you know you are going to be alone. Find ways to enjoy spending time with and distracting yourself like going to a movie, trying a new restaurant, taking a walk, learning a new hobby, etc.

3) Avoid triggers. Steering clear of triggers in the beginning stages of a break-up can be necessary for you. That can include avoiding spaces like social media, and other platforms where everyone may seem to be a happy couple. When you are triggered to check-up on your ex on social media, develop a strategy where you do something else instead like call a friend, watch tv, etc. Also, be mindful of what causes you to feel like you need to spy on your ex. This can help to understand and avoid the unnecessary emotions of discomfort, feelings of failure, and feeling like you owe people an explanation about your break-up.

4) Buy a body pillow – and a vibrator. Finding a way to quell those normal emotions of wanting to be close to someone intimately can be a useful way to help you move on and prevent you from reaching out to your ex to fulfill those desires. It can be helpful to occupy your bed-space with a body pillow or a large stuffed animal. Also, quelling your desires can be done by using a vibrator, which can prevent you from impulsively reaching out for sex with the ex.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not addressing serious forms of cyberstalking or abuse.  This blog post is to be used for educational and informational purposes and should not be substituted for treatment with a licensed mental health professional. The suggestions mentioned may not be applicable to everyone.

Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD., LPCC is a Licensed professional clinical counselor and a registered psychologist. She currently has a private practice called Lifetime Counseling and Consulting in Oakland and Sacramento, CA where she specializes in working with women who have been in emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships with narcissists, as well as with individuals who were previously incarcerated for various crimes. Dr. Jones has a podcast called A Date With Darkness Podcast, which specializes in providing education and tips from healing from narcissistic relationships

To contact Dr. Jones please visit:

Taking Care of Yourself As A Stepmom

A stepparent is anyone dating or married to a partner with children from a previous relationship. When most people hear the word “stepmom”; many preconceived notions come to mind.  Many people think of stepmothers through the lens of old outdated fairy tales and myths. The reality is that the average stepmother is often, isolated and very much misunderstood by society.

Research shows that stepmothers have a much more difficult experience parenting and step coupling than stepfathers. Many stepmothers are expected to be maternal and nurturing toward their stepchildren, even if their stepchildren are rejecting. Biased gender roles, gender stereotypes, and unrealistic expectations contribute to the difficulty that many stepmothers experience.


The average stepmother is expected to hold the same role that a biological mother fulfills such as working outside of the home, and performing the majority of the domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, planning family events and schedules as well as child rearing. According to attachment theory Bonding refers to a very particular type of attachment that occurs when a child is born and developing in utero. It’s natural for a biological mother and father to see themselves reflected in their children. Biological parents can see their child through loving eyes, even in the midst of their child’s challenging behaviors and children have a natural biological bond with their parents.

Stepparents, on the other hand, are newcomers to an already established family dynamic and are outsiders from the onset. Stepfamilies are born out of the loss of a previous relationship. Stepmothers are often expected to parent and nurture children who are grieving their original family and who do not yet have a bond with their stepparent. Stepmothers come into their role, with a partner who may have unrealistic expectations of what a stepmother “should” be.


In stepfamilies with single fathers, the responsibilities of child rearing are often transferred from the biological father onto to the stepmother. During this transfer; Stepchildren can become resentful of their stepmother’s new role in the family. Stepmothers often experience the responsibilities of parenting but usually have very little authority related to their stepchildren and their behaviors. It is common after a breakup or divorce for Biological parents to elevate their children as peers and become permissive parents; which leads to more stepparent stepchild conflict and resentment.

Stepmothers can experience high levels of depression; due to the lack of support they may receive from their partners, within their household, and from their community of biological moms. Many biological mothers can vent and express feelings of frustration and overwhelm related to their children, but stepmothers often have the experience of being shamed or silenced when expressing a similar sentiment of their stepchildren.

Tips toward a healthier, realistic Stepfamily dynamic

Establish Healthy Boundaries with your partner:

If your partner is leaving you alone with their children during visitations; and you feel uncomfortable with this; it might be time for a heart to heart. At the beginning of your relationship, it’s best practice for your partner to continue parenting as they did before the two of you became a couple. It takes the average stepfamily  4 to 7 years to function as a traditional family. It’s crucial for you to define your role as a stepmother and to determine which activities you are comfortable participating in and which activities you would like to delegate to your partner. Learning to say no and delegating to your partner regarding their children can be hard because society has a particular perception of how women “should” interact with all children.  

Utilize Self-Compassion:

It’s easy to listen to that inner critic or to allow others to project their ideas onto you regarding your role as a woman and stepmother. You may worry that you are not “doing enough” as a stepmom if you set boundaries, but keep in mind your partner is ultimately responsible for their children. Try not to beat yourself up for needing a break. Try to tap into those passions you once had before this relationship. As women, we tend to put everything into our intimate relationships, but it’s essential to maintain your interests and friends outside of your stepfamily.

If you are a stepparent and are experiencing signs of depression such as sadness, guilt/shame, irritability, low energy and feelings of isolation, please seek help from a licensed professional You are not alone.


Shelly Ware is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California specializing in Stepfamily dynamics and Women’s Issues.

There is no moving on after a breakup

Often after a breakup (usually around the 1 month mark), you begin getting the mostly unsolicited advice from friends and family that you just need to move on. And while people’s intentions are often good and kind-hearted, this advice really sucks. The truth is that there is no moving on after a breakup. There is only moving through!

The idea of moving on gives you the impression that there are specific steps you can take and that if followed precisely, one day you’ll be all better. Moving through allows you the space to go two steps forward and ten steps back, because honestly that’s often what happens after a breakup. Moving through does not force you to rush and feel better. It allows for the days that are not so bad and the days that are terrible. It would be great if you could move on from the pain but the only way to heal from a breakup is to move through the pain until it’s done. Need some help moving through? Try this: (more…)