Stop a Break From Becoming a Breakup

It’s Murphy’s Law of relationships: Just when everything is trucking along perfectly, she lands an internship in another city. Or a semester abroad in Italy. Or even band camp for the summer. Whatever it is, it’s a chunk of time apart, and it makes you nervous. You have a right to be -- breaks often lead to breakups. But if you know that’s not what you want, there are things you can do -- both before and after the separation -- to keep your relationship on track.

B.B. (Before the Break)
“The key is to talk about it beforehand freely and openly,” says Nancy Pina, relationship expert and founder of Right Relationships TV. “Just ask her straight out if she wants to pick up where you left off when she returns and whether she sees long-term potential in the relationship.” This way, says Pina, no one is left guessing. If she thinks she’s in a committed relationship while you think it’s OK to date other people (or vice versa), well, suffice it to say that few relationships survive that kind of misunderstanding.

This isn’t an easy conversation to have, particularly for guys. After all, it might not go the way you want it to. But it’s good practice. Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and to discuss your relationship with your partner are not just core life skills -- they’re the mark of a man. And there are practical things you can work out along the way, such as how you’re going to stay connected during the break.

“One of the keys to getting back together successfully after a separation is healthy communication while you’re apart,” says Pina. “Agree on how often you can be in touch, and what format -- text or email or Facebook or the phone. Otherwise you might hurt her feelings by not texting her as much as you used to when you were living in the same place.”

A.B. (After the Break)
So what about when she’s back? Pina suggests some simple gestures, like meeting her with flowers at the airport. “And a mushy card always helps!”

But it’s important to go slowly. According to Jennifer Curtet, lifestyle coach and professional speaker, there needs to be a re-acquaintance period after a long time apart. “You might get that slo-mo reunion at the airport and all the hugs and ‘I love you,’ but what about a week later?” she says. “We change a lot, especially when we’re young. Everyone wants to just jump in the sack and try to get back to where they were, but don’t assume that someone’s going to be the same when they return from a major trip.”

Keep things low-key and relaxed, so you both have the opportunity to feel comfortable and reconnect properly. A welcome-home party sounds like a great idea, but it will likely keep you separated or focused on other people. “The same goes for seeing a band or going to a movie,” says Curtet. “The important thing is to interact one-on-one, so consider options like a trip to a park or museum, or a meal in your favorite restaurant. You’ll get a chance to talk and discover just how she’s been changed by her trip.”

One of the byproducts of being separated is sensitivity, perhaps even jealousy. This is only natural; during your separation you both have experienced different things, perhaps having met and spent time with other people. But the antidote is easy: Create new experiences together. It could be as simple as reading the same book. Even better is to learn something new together. Ask her what she wants to explore and help make it happen. It moves your relationship forward, rather than trying to recreate the past.

“It could be anything,” says Curtet. “A pottery class, a dance class, or something like rock climbing, which relies on trust in a potentially scary experience. If she’s been in the third world, her values may be different. Perhaps you could help out in your community and feed the homeless. Ultimately, shared values make for a strong relationship.”

You both grow and change independently during periods of separation, so getting back together can seem like starting from scratch. The key is to appreciate the new 5.0 version of your partner and your relationship. Taking this opportunity to reappraise both can deepen your bond, which might be just what’s needed to get to the next level.


What to Say to Women

Maybe your confidence fritzes out at girl-mingling time, or maybe you just say boorish, untrue things. Either way, you’ll need to learn how to talk the talk. Here’s what to say.

Hey, you! Yeah, you. Solitary man in the corner. With nobody to talk to. That’s right, we’re talking to you, hermit boy! It’s time to get over yourself and start getting over with the ladies. All it takes is a little self-confidence … and maybe losing the pleated Dockers.

First off, to connect with a lady, you have to actually make a freakin’ attempt. That means you need to relax, suck it up and channel your inner winner. Vernacular: Let people (we’re talking girls here, Romeo) know who you really are. So if you’re dusting off some killer dialogue like, “Do you sleep on your stomach … ’cause I’d sure like to,” they’ll know who you really are: a loser. Which you’re not! So read on.

Opening Lines
“The best opening line is a smile and a friendly hello,” says networking guru Susan Roane, whose books on the topic include How to Work a Room.

Interpretation: Guys often think they need to roll up to a lady like Jack Nicholson on Viagra. But unless you starred in Chinatown (or have Lakers courtside seats for that matter), lounge lizard lines sound pretty lame. And if your rap sounds like dialogue from A Night at the Roxbury, best to call it a night before leaving the house.

“Contrived opening lines come with inherent pitfalls,” says dating counselor Amy Owens, known as The Singles Coach on the Web and the author of The Itty Bitty Breakup Book. “If a man’s greeting appears contrived -- and most phony ones do -- the woman’s apt to think he’s trying way too hard. She may even wonder what he’s trying to prove.”

Owens advises guys to keep it simple and focused on the woman. “A good opening line is simply, ‘How’s your day going?’ Asked in a friendly manner, this question invites a woman to tell you what’s really going on with her. If she’s having a bad day, you’ll get an idea of her capacity and style for dealing with adversity. If she’s having a good day, you’ll know what makes her happy -- a question most men would love to have the answer for.”

Roane even suggests preparing a little five- to seven-second self-introduction script, custom-built for the event you’re attending. Example: “Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m a friend of the groom. How about you?”

Talk to Her
New York psychologist JoAnn Magdoff suggests tailoring your conversation to the woman. “Telling a girl she has beautiful eyes sounds a little bit too generic and a lot less believable than making a comment about a unique bracelet she’s wearing or the dress she picked out for the occasion,” she says. “This makes it sound like you’re actually interested in her … not just any woman.”

Engage Her (and You)
“If you’re at a ball game, ask her how long she’s been a fan,” Magdoff advises. “If you’re at a resort, ask her if the place has lived up to her expectations. Engage her in conversation that’s relevant to her -- and you. This way, you won’t have to search for crazy topics you have no expertise in.”

Stay True
Hear that, all you “movie producers,” “billionaires” and “astronauts?” Stick to stuff you know. “If you’re being fake, chances are a woman will see right through it,” says Magdoff. And while you’re at it, actually listen to what she has to say. If she’s hot, even her summation of today’s The View will sound profound. Trust us.

Show Interest
“Be genuinely interested in who she is and how she presents herself,” Magdoff adds. “Pay attention and you’ll pick up cues from her about what she wants to talk about. When you do, she’ll be more interested in hearing about you and your interests.”

Be Body-conscious
You can also connect with body language -- just make sure it ain’t foul language. “Don’t lean in too much,” Magdoff warns. “At least until her body language gives you the invitation.” Owens agrees, insisting you let the woman set the pace: “If she casually touches your arm after several comments back and forth, that signals that she trusts you and would be interested in getting to know you.”

So there they are, men, the keys to casual conversation with a woman. From the experts. Who all happen to be women. If these tips don’t work, well, maybe she’s just not that into you.

Summer Dating on the Cheap

With summer come so many of life’s great pleasures: the warm sun on your back; scantily clad babes on the sidewalk; and perhaps best of all, the ability to woo your girl in fun and creative ways -- without breaking the bank. The possibilities are endless, but to help get you started, we give you our top six picks for summer lovin’ on a shoestring budget.

Date No. 1: Park It Here
Whether it’s your first date or your 50th, your local park is ground zero for easy and inexpensive outings. “On the first date, play Frisbee and go grab an ice cream. That’s enough time to figure out if you want to have a second date,” says Arthur Malov, senior dating coach at Other options include taking a stroll in the park at sunset or renting paddleboats by day if your park has a lake or pond. Throw some bread in your pack for the ducks and score bonus points with your girl for being kind to animals.

Date No. 2: Get Your Groove On
Free concerts are a summer mainstay in most every American city and town. This is your chance to check out new sounds -- without the download fee. If it’s a small show and the venue allows, bring a blanket and pack a picnic. If you’re going to see a major artist for free (or a pittance), expect big crowds and forego the picnic. But do bring water for both of you to stay hydrated; she’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and you’ll appreciate her not passing out.

Date No. 3: Raise the Roof
When the warm weather hits, restaurants with an outdoor roof deck are a brilliant way to wow your girl. A view equals romance in the minds of most women, even if the chow on offer is burgers and Buffalo wings. Skip the weekend crowds and go on a Tuesday: You and your sweetie will have the place to yourself. No roof restaurants in your hood? Check out patios overlooking a marina or a garden -- there’s gotta be something worth looking at in your town!

Date No. 4: Fairs and Fests
Summer fairs and festivals are the ultimate date venue because there’s so much to see and do, mostly for little or no money. Buy a pair of corndogs and check out the demolition derby. Win something for her from the arcade. (Hint: Nobody loses at the Duck Pond game.) Ride the Ferris wheel and kiss her when you’re stuck at the top. You get the idea.

Date No. 5: Set the Stage
Nothing says you’re a classy dude like Shakespeare, and almost all cities (and many towns) offer some kind of free or inexpensive theatre during the summer. Check your local paper for details, then prepare to bring out your smoothest moves. Pack a picnic of olives, bread and cheese to enjoy before the show (or during, if allowed). Check Wikipedia, and then impress her with insight into the play. Hate the theater? Usually the venue is outside, so pick a cloudy night -- if the show is cut short by rain, you get the culture points without the pain!

Date No. 6: Life’s a Beach
Whether by bus, train, car or a bicycle-built-for-two, get yourself to a beach. It’s the date with the best dollar-to-eye-candy ratio. Bring a blanket, Frisbee, chips and beverages. Offer to help put sunscreen on her back. The rest we’ll leave up to you.

Make the Honeymoon Period Last

Unless you’re getting relationship counseling from Charlie Sheen, you’re probably gonna want to make the heat of a new relationship last a little longer than “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien.” How? Just follow these tips and watch the spark of those first few months together turn into a lasting glow.

1. Keep Dating: Let her know you’re still working to woo her and not just satisfied to have her. And be a little open-minded about the kinds of dates you choose. Taking her to every new Adam Sandler movie does not count, even if he does play a different kind of adolescent in each. “Find out what she wants to do,” says Dr. JoAnn Magdoff, a New York City-based psychotherapist and relationship expert. “You won’t only be pleasing her; you’ll be exploring new fun options for yourself.” Make it a regular Saturday night ritual -- or a first-Saturday-of-the-month ritual if you’re broke or cheap.

2. Mix up the Program: Nothing gets you into a romantic black hole like falling into a routine. Get too comfortable with your girl and you’ll miss out on all her signals. And when you become a dull dude, she’ll start looking for Mr. Excitement. Who’s that? Anybody who isn’t you. In fact, it will work better if you actually talk to her about how to make things more interesting. “If you come up with romantic ideas together, you’ll learn more about each other and might wind up trying stuff neither of you would think of doing on your own,” says Magdoff.

3. Wanna Get Away? Don’t fret -- you don’t have to hit Paris or Honolulu to take your baby over the rainbow. Any trip away from your regular surroundings will give you a chance to focus on her alone in a different environment and rebuild the romance. According to Magdoff, you don’t even need to go outside the door to get it done. Instead, construct elements of a romantic trip at home -- a little luau, French love notes hidden around the apartment -- to let your love know you can still work it like Paul Rudd in her favorite rom-com.

4. Co-hobby-tate! Ouch! OK, why don’t you try writing all the snappy headlines? The point is, get into something with your girl that you can learn and grow in together. Whether it’s taking Pilates to get in shape for the summer or an Italian cooking class to keep things hot in all corners of the house, women love it when guys stretch themselves and make an effort to grow the relationship. Yeah, we think it’s goopy too. But it will get you into shape, bring you better meals and make you more attractive to her! It’s a win-win-WIN!

So get off the couch and wipe the crumbs off your shirt. You’ve gotten fat and complacent … and to be honest, even we’re a bit turned off. Just imagine how your girlfriend feels! All it takes is a little effort and innovation to let her know you haven’t forgotten why you asked her out in the first place.

The Grudge Report

Ever hear that saying, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”? It’s harsh, but spot-on. Harboring resentment, no matter at whom it’s aimed, simply drains your own emotional reserves. “A lot of times a grudge is one-sided,” says Jordan Harbinger, a relationship expert and talk show host on SiriusXM radio. “The other person isn’t necessarily even thinking about the problem.”

The Damage
Even so, says Harbinger, a grudge can wreak havoc on relationships. Say you’re pissed at your girlfriend because she didn’t seem to appreciate the IKEA armoire you spent an entire day slaving over. You decide not to say anything. But when she comes home from the grocery store the next day without the item you asked her to buy, you flip. “She’s thinking, ‘My boyfriend is crazy! I buy rigatoni instead of ravioli, and now I’m sleeping on the couch! What’s going on here?’” says Harbinger. “You just cannot have a healthy relationship if you have a grudge.”

Furthermore, the poisonous effects of a grudge can often spread beyond the two people concerned. If, for instance, you’re not talking to one of your pals, your mutual friends are hardly going to feel inclined to invite both of you to the same dinner party. Says San Diego-based therapist Jeff Palitz: “If you choose to hold on to a grudge, those negative feelings stewing inside of you are bound to affect other relationships you have in your life.” In other words, by harboring a grudge, you end up alienating yourself. The same logic can be applied to families, where grudges can get to the point that no one even remembers what the original problem was, and relatives miss out on decades together without knowing why.

Moving on …
OK, so it’s clear that grudges cause a lot of damage. But getting over hurt feelings … easier said than done, right? And yet, says Palits, “Regardless of the circumstances, there comes a point where you have to decide: I either have to let this go, or I have to do something about it.” Choosing which path to take boils down to one thing: whether you want to maintain a relationship with the other person.

“If the idea of taking the high road is instinctively unappealing to you, maybe that’s a sign you’re not that invested in the relationship,” says Palitz. Just be sure to let the grudge go along with the relationship. To get the feelings out of your system, talk to your friends or family or write in a journal, and keep reminding yourself that holding a grudge against someone with whom you have no intention of resuming a relationship makes absolutely no sense. It will only hurt you, not them.

… Or making up
If, on the other hand, you care about the relationship too much to let it go, you’re going to have to confront the other person. But do so only after you’ve had time to cool down -- which could take 20 minutes or 20 days, depending on the situation. Before approaching the person, Palitz suggests writing a letter to him or her, whether or not you intend to deliver it. In the first draft, let out all the vile, nasty, name-calling things you want. Let it sit for several hours (or days), and then write an edited second draft. It will help you process your emotions and give you a dress rehearsal for talking to the person.

Once you’re ready to talk, be honest. Let’s say one of your friends applied for a job you’d told him about. Because you really wanted it -- and he ended up applying for and landing it -- you immediately stopped talking to him, despite his repeated tries to get in touch with you. Now you’ve got a great new job and you’re kind of missing the old ritual of watching the Patriots together every Sunday. How to break the silence? Pick up your phone and try starting off with: “Listen. It’s been a while since this happened. I don’t even know if you’re still thinking about it, but I want to get it off my chest.” Despite being shocked to hear your voice, he’ll most probably be relieved that you’ve called, and apologetic for what he did. Keep things short on the phone, but make a plan to meet up for the next game. “Guys are often willing to let things roll off their back, particularly with their male friends,” says Palitz. Odds are any awkwardness will be momentary and you’ll soon be rooting for the Pats together like old times.