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Whoa Is Me


Last year, after I split up with my girlfriend, the law firm I worked for went belly up. I haven't been on a date all year. Friends try to set me up, and I keep giving excuses for why I can't go, but the truth is, I've totally lost my nerve. I'd like to change that. Money isn't the issue. I work here and there and still have severance pay left. But despite interviewing heavily, I have yet to land a full-time gig and feel kind of like a failure, and I don't want to discuss that on dates. — Romantic Stage Fright

You lost your girlfriend and were thinking, "At least I have my job." Then you lost your job and were thinking, "At least I have my confidence." Whatever happens, don't say, "At least I have my penis."

After a series of big setbacks, it's understandable that you'd feel most comfortable hiding under the bed. Unfortunately, you won't get a whole lot of dates there unless you have a tiny tea set and are sexually attracted to mice. You likewise are unlikely to find your lost nerve under there, perhaps hiding out from creditors. But, like many people, where you go wrong is in thinking that you need to find your nerve to take action. You don't. You just need to decide that being afraid to do something isn't a good enough reason to avoid doing it.

Of course, you'll do better on dates if you don't arrive feeling like a cow patty in nice shoes. The good news is, you can give yourself a boost pretty easily — without standing in an open field during a storm and hoping to get struck by a bolt of confidence. A growing body of research finds that "walking the walk" (in your case, just making the body movements of the large and in charge) is actually transformative. For example, social psychologist Dana Carney had both men and women pose for just two minutes like fat-cat executives — feet on desk, hands behind head. These simple acts raised their testosterone (the dominance hormone) and made them more willing to take risks (a sign of confidence), and they reported feeling more, well, "Wolf of Wall Street" than "Chihuahua of Skid Row."

In other words, when you have a date, you need to get to the place early and do a little bathroom-stall yoga. Ridiculous as it seems, a little powerbroker-cise should help you feel and act like your peer group is great white sharks instead of small brown smudges. And though your inclination is probably to shove all your negative thoughts about your job loss in some mental drawer, research by clinical psychologist James J. Gross finds that this tends to backfire, making you feel worse.

Instead, try "cognitive reappraisal" — reframing your job loss so it works better for your mojo. This would just take emphasizing to yourself what you already know — that you're jobless because of others' bad business decisions and a tough economy, not because your lawyering skills rival those of a plastic fern.

When you're on the date, don't worry about selling yourself. We tend to believe we can talk people into liking us, but we're actually more likely to listen them into it. And by listen, I mean listening from the gut, not just nodding your head while trying to remember whether you left a load of underwear in your apartment building's washing machine.

Obviously, the easiest way for you to feel better is to start working again, which would give you a sense of purpose. The thing is, you don't have to wait for somebody to hire you. Consider donating at least a few hours a week to provide free legal counsel to people in need. I explain in "Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck" that we can happy ourselves up for, oh, a few weeks or a month by chasing happiness — buying a new car or a new set of boobs — but happiness with staying power comes from pursuing meaning, like by making the world a better place because you're in it.

Making the world a better place has the side benefit of making it a better place for you to go on dates. Women look for men to show signs of generosity, and pro bono lawyering stories are way better than hoping she notices that you left a 24.6 percent tip. And ultimately, dates and job interviewers alike should find the natural excitement that comes out of "I'm helping an elderly widow save her home!" far sexier than your current conversation starter: "I like wearing a paper bag over my head and crying myself to sleep; what are your hobbies?"

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email ( Her latest book is "Good Manners For Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck."



It's Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess Radio! "Nerd your way to a better life," with the best brains in science solving your love, dating, sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. The call-in number during the show is 347-326-9761. This week, Amy Alkon and Dr. Jennifer Verdolin on understanding and overcoming jealousy.


13 Comments | Post Comment
I disagree with Amy's advice about dating. Don't date until you get another job and get back on your feet. Job-hunting is stressful, new relationships are stressful--don't combine the two. And nobody wants to hear "Oh, I'm unemployed right now, but I've got some opportunities I'm looking into..." because that just sounds like the spin it is. A date hears that you don't have a job and then they think things like, "Is he really a lawyer or is that just BS? How many free dates can I come up with? Will he get mad at me if I pay? Do I want to get stuck paying all the time? Is he even going to have time for me once he finds a new job?" etc. etc.

Just focus on your job hunt. When you find a new job, you'll feel better, you'll get your confidence back, and you'll be able to sell yourself better to potential suitors. You'll also have a better feel for where a relationship will fit into your new schedule.
Comment: #1
Posted by: lilypants
Tue Sep 16, 2014 9:45 AM
I'm of two minds here.. On the one hand, lilypants is right.. he might want to wait until he lands that new job because it probably will make a difference to many women if he is still unemployed.. I mean, spin all you want, but until the proof is in the pudding that he is hirable.. you just don't know if you are hitching your horse to a wagon with only three wheels.

However, I have experienced a layoff and unfortunately, the downtime between jobs can be longer than you think. In this economy, it might take even longer. Does he really want to put his whole life on hold until he gets a permanent, full time job? It sounds like he IS working some.. at least time to time. He doesn't specify whether it is lawyer work.. or landscaping.. and that would make a difference how he spins things. If he is doing a little time to time lawyer work his story is that he is working free-lance at the moment, while waiting for the right opportunity to come along.. doesn't want to rush into something that isn't a good fit. If he has enough resources to pull that off and make his date not feel like she has to only order off the dollar menu.. it shouldn't hurt his dating prospects too much. If he is mowing lawns to make ends meet and dates have to be at the coffee house because he can't afford more.. then.. it may be harder to bluff his way through.

Either way, I am not sure I would put a lot of effort into "dating".. but make it a point to be out and social.. maybe he will meet the right one before he finds a job.. or not.. but at least he isn't at home hiding from the world.

The suggestion to do pro bono work is good as that might give him contacts with other working lawyers.. which might not only lead to better self esteem, but an actual paying job.

Comment: #2
Posted by: qhgirl
Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:12 AM
If I went on a blind date with someone who was going through a rough patch and was upfront without wallowing I'd be mighty impressed. It's hard to do and may take some acting skills. You can also think that every moment you keep it together is like psychological calisthenics, and thus the self-control is a direct investment in your own future.

"Well, to be honest I'm between jobs right now. My last law firm went belly up, and I've been working here and there till I find something else. But enough about me. Tell me about that beautiful glass Om necklace you're wearing. Are you into yoga or meditation?"

Anthony Trollope, a Victorian novelist whose 800-page books have seen me through some lengthy illnesses, once defined a gentleman as someone who could have some terrible animal gnawing at his innards and still put a smile on for the world. It's not the same as repressing the bad feelings - YOU still feel them and accept them for what they are - but you don't let them rule you and you don't put them out for other people to see, and deal with.

Be master of yourself. Good luck, it's a hard row to hoe.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Red Ree
Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:27 AM
I found the BTL comments about LW1 interesting... it's true that a fair number of women will tend to look down on him if he's unemployed.

I'd recommend that he start a little entrepeneurial business. Then when the ladies ask him what he's doing, he can say: "Yeah, I'm a lawyer, but the firm I was working for went belly up. So I started a great business. It's the best thing that ever happened to me. What do *you* do?" This will emphasize the fact that he's (hopefully) going somewhere, which will appeal to the ladies more than saying, "I lost my job and am depressed and don't know what to do... can I cry on your shoulder for a while?"
Comment: #4
Posted by: sarah morrow
Tue Sep 16, 2014 1:34 PM
LW1: If you date in order to find a wife then don't date until you have your life going the way you want it. If you date because you enjoy the company of women then start dating again.

Comment: #5
Posted by: Diana
Tue Sep 16, 2014 4:27 PM
There is the money involved in dating... You say money is not an issue. It is not an issue RIGHT NOW, because you're "working here and there and have some severance pay left". That won't last forever and, in this economy, your unemployment may well last longer than your money. Even if you should be so lucky as to score, the last thing a new girlfriend of yours would need is a boyfriend who's hysterical because he just ran out of money and is not working "here and there" enough to pay the bills. I would highly recommend that you spend conservatively.

I think the best way to succesfully put yourself on the market for dates is to feel good about yourself, and you don't feel good about yourself when you're jobless. Fix that first. THEN you can take a stab at the dating scene, with enough confidence that you can take rejection without going through a meltdown.

Because right now, not only do I think you already have enough of that on your plate, but you won't project well, thus setting yourself up for yet more failure. Try to treat yourself better than that.

Comment: #6
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:00 PM
Re: Red Ree
(Military aide-de-camp to the dying general) Sir, sir, does it hurt?
(Dying general, sepulchral voice) Only when I laugh...

Same song, second verse. ;-D

Comment: #7
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:11 PM
LW1--I agree with lilypant's advice. The entire dating process can be very stressful and emotionally draining. Especially in this day and age of on-line dating, rejection via Twitter, and seemingly wonderful people vanishing without a trace after a seemingly "good" date. Job hunting is similarly draining but instead of being rejected by potential life partners, you're being rejected by big corporations and often without so much as a letter of explanation. It can be very degrading. Combining the two will be a recipe for destroying your self-esteem and any trace of self-confidence you might have left will evaporate. Focus on the job hunt, and socialize with your friends. You've got plenty of time to date and settle down once you regained a full-time job and recovered from the emotional toll of the job hunt.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Chris
Tue Sep 16, 2014 8:03 PM
LW1: I agree with Amy that he should find a legal aid office and volunteer. It will keep his resume fresh with productive work, it will give him satisfying ways to serve himself and others, and it could also lead to his future in ways one can't predict. I volunteered with a legal aid office after an extended layoff period, and the job I have now would have been impossible if I hadn't done that. I gained back lost confidence and it was a wonderful experience to seriously help people without worrying about billable hours. You dig in and do your work and it's fantastic, plus you meet a lot of people who are worse off than you. You realize how lucky you are and it lifts your spirits. I even was nominated and won an award for my pro bono work. I met a lot of people this way and he can too. He should try it.
Comment: #9
Posted by: LouisaFinnell
Tue Sep 16, 2014 10:28 PM
Ree-Ree - the first I ever heard of Anthony Trollope was from Miss Manners, who apparently adores his work. I finally read "Barchester Towers" and enjoyed the story as well as his writing, but it made me a little hesitant to tackle one of his many tomes. He does strike me as someone who,if met at a party, would corner you and talk on and on and you'd find yourself looking around for an escape.

Miss Manners, commenting upon the restrained personality, said a truly disciplined person would respond "Fine, thank you. How are you?" To the emergency room doctor while lying on a stretcher. I love her.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Wed Sep 17, 2014 10:17 AM
I think I'm probably falling on the same side of the fence as lilypants, and Chris put it well, too, I think. If you are job-hunting and dating there's likely to be a certain amount of rejection on both fronts, and that's a lot to deal with in a short time.

I guess if the "work here and there" turns into a semi-permanent state of affairs -- and there's no shame in essentially being a contractor -- then LW might want to re-think it all. But it sounds like right now he himself is a bit stressed about the "no full-time job" status, and instead of trying to work himself up to a point where he doesn't feel that way, it might be easier to just spend the next few months really throwing himself into the job hunt, and then getting back into dating.

Maybe give himself a deadline -- "for now, nothing but job-hunting, but if I don't have a full-time job by the end of February, then I'll shift gears and slowly start dating again" or something like that.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Mike H
Wed Sep 17, 2014 10:58 AM
There's some good advice here for the LW, but just out of curiosity, where does he say he's a lawyer? He says he worked for a law firm, but there are other jobs in law firms that he could have held. Paralegal comes to mind, for one, but there are others.
Comment: #12
Posted by: sam
Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:44 AM
Re: sam
True enough, but legal aid offices probably need volunteer paralegals as well, so the advice still holds.
Meeting dates to go hiking or bike riding and then for coffee afterward is a way to have a social life without spending a lot of money. Or he could cook them dinner in his home, if he's a competent cook. Most women nowadays are well aware that jobs are precarious and unemployment can happen to the best of us.
Being upfront and honest about his situation will weed out the women who would only want someone to spend money on them. I met my husband when he was unemployed, his personality was such a great match for mine that bike rides and dinner at his place was a wonderful date. Well, except for that African stew that was so spicy it took 2 hours to eat...
Comment: #13
Posted by: Seabeast2
Fri Sep 19, 2014 6:12 AM
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