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How to Open Up to Love After a Bad Breakup

Hugging on boatDear Annie, Tom and I went out for a few months. We had an extraordinarily passionate relationship. He was very loving and attentive in the beginning, but he lost interest over time. I did everything I could to please him, but nothing seemed to work.

He told me that he was ending our relationship because he couldn’t be the kind of boyfriend that I deserved. That made no sense, because from my perspective, he was exactly the kind of boyfriend I’d been seeking! He was everything I wanted in a man. I couldn’t get him to understand that he was already perfect for me.

He had a difficult relationship with his mother, which resulted in him struggling when he was involved in other intimate relationships. I’m OK with this; after all, almost everyone has some sort of pain from their past. Even though it’s been over six months since we dated, I miss him and would still be willing to be supportive in the event that we got back together.

I told him that my intuition led me to believe that we would be fantastic together. He said that a successful relationship consists of two people who want to be together. He told me that he is sure that he will never love me.
I did my best to stay away, but couldn’t help but call or email every once in a while. He has now made it very clear that he wishes no further contact with me. He won’t return my phone calls, texts or emails.

I still hope that he will come back because I don’t believe that he will ever find anyone as good as me. I think that one day he’ll recognize that he threw away the best thing he ever had. Despite this, I have decided that it is time to move on. I started dating again about six weeks ago. I’m on OkCupid and have an easy time getting dates.

The problem is that no one resonates with me like Tom did. I go out with these guys and I feel absolutely nothing except boredom during the date and despair when I go home. I worry that I’m never going to feel anything for any other man. What can I do to get over Tom? Or, maybe get him back? Nancy

You have two problems: 1) Getting over your break up and 2) not being able to meet someone new and interesting.

Chances are that you’re not going to meet anyone appealing until you’ve dealt with the first problem.

Because you haven’t let go of your hopes for a reconciliation with Tom, you’re comparing every man you meet to him—which means that no one except Tom’s identical twin is going to have a chance with you.

This is your fundamental problem with Tom: Whatever other desirable characteristics he may possess, he is not interested in engaging in a relationship with you.

It sounds like he was initially attracted to you and enjoyed your company. But he didn’t want to take it any further. Your hope that Tom is going to rekindle your romance is holding you back. He’s made it unambiguously clear that he has no romantic feelings for you, to the point where he insists on completely disconnecting. It doesn’t matter why he broke it off. Maybe it has to do with his relationship with this mother. Perhaps he’s interested in someone else. Maybe he’s not ready for a relationship at all. In any case, it seems obvious that he didn’t feel the connection in the same way as you did.
Whatever his reason, your first task is to accept that he is gone forever. This isn’t easy. It often feels like a death, because you are dealing with the finality of the end of a relationship that deeply resonated with you.

Treat yourself gently. It’s important to acknowledge the depth of your sorrow.
Set aside dedicated time to mourn each day until you no longer feel the need to do so. Write in a journal. Get exercise. Do something that brings you even a tiny bit of joy or satisfaction each day.

In order to move on, it’s best if you let go of everything that reminds you of Tom, including photos, jewelry and gifts. Disconnect from his social media. Rearrange your furniture. Do whatever it takes to make your home relaxing and inviting without having reminders of Tom lurking around every corner.

It’s hard to become involved with someone new while you’re still attached to an old love. Once you have emotionally disconnected from Tom, you’ll have an easier time opening up to a new man.

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Single or Not? How to Find Out Without Looking Desperate

Flirting At WorkDear Annie, I’ve had an enormous crush on Joe for almost a year. We see each other frequently, as we work in the same building. We have different employers so there is no reason that we can’t date.

Both of us become energized whenever we encounter each other. We can’t stop smiling and he always compliments me. He brightens my day every time I see him!

We occasionally have lunch together in the cafeteria. He tells me about his adult kids, where he likes to go on vacation and what he does most weekends.

The weird thing is that I don’t even know whether he has a girlfriend, fiancé or a wife. I’m assuming he’s single, but all I actually know is that he’s fun and that he makes me feel special when I’m around him.

It’s obvious that we like each other a lot. People have told me that they can clearly tell that we enjoy each other’s company.

I’m afraid to ask him if he’s married. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve snooped around a little to try and find out whether he’s attached, but no one seems to know. He doesn’t have a ring.

How do I find out if he’s available? Noreen

Discovering whether someone is romantically attached is one of the first things you should do when you find yourself attracted to someone. Otherwise, you face the possibility of wasting your emotional energy on someone who may not be available.

It’s easy to find out if someone is attached. You just have to put a smile on your face, take a subtle, deep breath and ask any of the following questions:

  1. “Are you single?”
  2. “Is there anyone in your life who might mind us flirting with each other?”
  3. “What did you and your wife do this weekend?” If he says that he doesn’t have a wife, then say, “Oops, I meant your girlfriend.” If he says that he doesn’t have a girlfriend, say, “I can’t believe that a fun, good looking man like you is single.”

There are a couple of keys to pulling this off comfortably:

  1. Behave in a fun, playful and confident way.
  2. Keep a smile on your face and act supportive no matter what you discover about his relationship status. Figure out in advance how you will best respond to each possibility: single, married or has a girlfriend.
  3. Plan what you’ll say to get out of this conversation with your dignity intact. If he’s involved with someone, you can ask how he met her. Most people enjoy talking about how they found love. If he’s single, ask what he most enjoys about being on his own.

If you find out that Joe is single, you may be able to set the groundwork for seeing each other outside of the workplace by talking about things you like to do in your spare time.

Even if he is single, he may be hesitant to ask you out for any number of reasons. If he doesn’t do so, I suggest that you let go of your crush and focus your energy on getting to know men who are actually romantically interested in you.

Finding out if someone is single and getting to a date often creates a few awkward moments. Don’t worry about them—they are normal—just laugh them off.

If you’re having trouble understanding how to figure out what is going on when you’re dating, my upcoming 4-week group class/ webinar will be a game changer for you! Click here for details.

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How to Succeed When You're Looking for Love on Online

first date met onlineDear Annie, I am fed up with online dating! I’ve been doing it for almost a year and only occasionally get a first date. I have never gone out on a second one. The quality of the men I meet online is very poor.

I’ve exchanged lots of emails with men who never ask me out. Others ask for a date, but disappear when I say yes. I don’t understand why they bother to be online when they don’t really want to meet someone!

I am a decent looking and successful professional woman. I have done everything I know how to do to make my profile appeal to men. I read desirable men’s profiles in order to discover their interests. I follow up by making sure that my profile reflects each man’s interests and describes me as someone he wants.

I reach out to men I’d like to meet and write interesting emails, but three quarters of the time I don’t get a reply.

On the rare occasion that I get a first date, it’s always a big waste of time. Most of the men don’t look like their picture. They lie about their age, height and even about what they do for a living!

I spend half of each first date trying to determine if a man wants a committed relationship and tactfully verifying as much information as possible. It’s emotionally exhausting.

While I haven’t ever gone on a second date with anyone I’ve met online, no matter how hard I try, I haven’t had much luck meeting men off-line either.

I’m 53, so perhaps I’m too old for most guys. Many men my age are looking for women who are far younger. I’m disgusted by the dishonesty and the poor quality of the men out there.

Every time I’m about to give up, I hear about a friend who just met someone fabulous online. So I keep trying. Please help. Gail

The thing that I love about online dating is that it creates opportunities to meet people you would not otherwise encounter. I suggest that you look at a man’s profile as way to get an idea of how he sees himself and as an opportunity to discover if you want to meet in person.

One of the well-documented difficulties about online dating is that the vast majority of people don’t know how to accurately describe themselves in writing. I believe that you only begin to become acquainted with a potential mate when you meet in person.

Part of the fun of early dating is getting to know whether you enjoy each other’s company. That pleasure will be severely curtailed each time you approach a date as a way of testing a man to see if he qualifies as a potential partner.

Dating works best when both people take a little time to get to know each other casually.

Think back to when you were in high school or college. You became familiar with certain boys because you were in the same place at the same time. You got to know, trust and like each other slowly.

Fast forward to online dating. People expect to know each other by reading a profile and meeting for an hour or two. Often, they make a decision whether to move forward on very limited information.

In your case you’re meeting a man and primarily examining him for flaws. This isn’t exactly fun or romantic.

It’s smart to expect that a first date with a stranger is likely to feel somewhat unpredictable. As long as you’re meeting in a safe place and don’t share sensitive information, allow yourself some time to get to know each other.

In the meantime, rather than expecting that you’re about to figure out if he’s Mr. Right, shift your attitude so that you’re simply spending a little time getting to know a stranger. Focus on the positive aspects of your date. This way, you’re less likely to be automatically suspicious or disappointed.

Keep the following things in mind when you’re meeting someone from an online dating site.

  • A man may be looking for a committed relationship, but he isn’t likely to know whether you’re the right person for him until he’s gotten to know you better.
  • Statistics say that 85% of people lie about something on their online dating profile. Usually these are social lies—things (like age, income or height) that you would not know if you met them in person. One of my clients once said, as an example of this behavior, that “No one looks like their photo. Some look better, some look worse.”

I suggest that you approach each date as a way to try and see the best in each man you meet. Keep it under an hour, and find out what he enjoys. Talk about what makes you happy and what amuses you. Discuss your hopes and dreams, but stay off topic of relationships and other serious issues.

If you see a first date as a way to meet someone new and have fun, you’ll have a better chance of getting a second date. As you get to know each other, you’ll increase your odds of getting the relationship you desire.

If you’re having trouble understanding how to figure out what is going on when you’re dating, my upcoming 4-week group class/ webinar will be a game changer for you! Click here for details.

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The Art of Deciphering the Phone Snub

Shes not picking up his callHi Annie, I’m tired of being disrespected by women who can’t be bothered to pick up the phone or return my calls. I don’t understand why they give me their number if they don’t want to talk to me.

I’ve had to make multiple calls to schedule dates, make reservations or confirm plans. I would estimate that 50 percent of women don't return calls. It is just outright rude and passive aggressive. Al

I partly blame this problem on the mixed messages women get about dating. Many believe that they will appear desperate or too eager if they return your call promptly. However there is nothing further from the truth.

Not returning a man’s calls, texts or emails often creates a huge source of frustration. Rather than inspiring a man to like or respect the woman who is not returning his calls, it simply makes him annoyed because she is positioning herself as an opponent rather than as an ally.

There is also another reason that a woman might not return your calls. She may have given you her phone number, but later changed her mind about wanting to get to know you. Rather than being direct, she believes that you will take the hint when she ignores your calls. The problem is that most people aren’t mind readers.

The most successful way to deal with the situation is to set clear boundaries around your phone calls. Wait at least 48 hours between calls, or she might get the impression that you’re a stalker.

  • If she doesn’t pick up your first call, leave a message saying that you would appreciate a return call. Tell her that if she’s not comfortable doing so, you would appreciate a text back telling you the best times of the day to contact her. Say that if she doesn’t call you back you will be in touch in a day or two.
  • The second time you call, repeat the first message. Tell her that you enjoyed meeting her and that you would like to get together for a quick date. That way she won’t worry that she might get stuck on a long, romantic date with someone she barely knows.
  • If you call her a third time, let her know that you’re making a one-time exception to your general rule of not contacting someone more than twice in a row. Tell her that this is the last time that you will be in touch, and that you would appreciate a return call.

Your tone of voice on these phone calls should be friendly, self assured and flirtatious. It helps if you put a smile on your face--she will be able to hear it in your voice--to remind her that you are a friendly guy.

Note to women: It’s kinder of you to let a man know if you’re not interested in him. Many of my male clients have expressed deep frustration when they have been in a similar situation.

Men simply want to know whether you’re interested. They don’t read smoke signals—especially those sent by women! Clearly communicating whether you are interested in getting to know a man a little bit better is both a respectful and thoughtful way to approach the situation. Ghosting him by not returning his calls is rude and thoughtless.

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Long Distance Lapse: How to Discover the Truth About Your Relationship

Flirting at a barDear Annie, Friends introduced me to Fred when he was visiting Berkeley from his home in Seattle a couple of years ago. We hit it off right away. He’s intelligent, has a great sense of humor and is down-to-earth in exactly a way that I like.

He’s called me almost every evening since we met. We talk for at least half an hour, often much longer. He stays with me every few months when he visits the Bay Area.

I haven’t gone out with another man since we got together. I doubt that he’s dating anyone else. I can count on his calls, and he’s always friendly, affectionate and interested in my life.

I’m concerned that he’s never invited me to stay with him. I brought it up once or twice, but he says that he can’t accommodate guests as his place is being remodeled.

I’ve talked to friends about my situation and several of them think that I should be proactive and visit him, uninvited, in Seattle. I feel it would be presumptuous and awkward. I can’t imagine telling him that I’m planning to visit his home.

My friends also tell me that I should ask him if he’s dating anyone else. I don’t know if he’s ready to have that kind of a talk. I love him and want to continue our relationship. I’m afraid that asking him such prying questions could scare him away. He’s a sensitive guy and I don’t want to pressure him.

On the other hand, when I look at what is truly important to me, I don’t want to waste my time with someone who has no intention of being in a long-term relationship with me.

How do I find out whether we’re both on the same page without risking our relationship? Molly

You’ve waited quite a long time to ask questions that are likely to seriously impact how you approach your connection with Fred.

It’s unwise to assume that you’re in a committed relationship with someone unless they have agreed to that with you. This is something you need to talk about, so you don’t misunderstand each other’s intentions. Until then, assume that you’re both free to date others.

For all you know, Fred could be married to a woman who works in the evening. He could be dating other women before or after your regular phone calls.

There are several signs that you and Fred might not be seeing your connection in the same way. A man who treasures you would want to see you more often than every few months. He would be likely to include you in his life and introduce you to his friends and family during the first six months or so of your relationship.

It’s time to be brave and discover the truth. You could start by asking him how he envisions (let's change verbs) your relationship. Are you friends or are you boyfriend and girlfriend? If you are, is your relationship exclusive? How does he see your future together? Does he have any intention of moving to Berkeley or inviting you to move to Seattle?

The prospect of asking these questions may make you feel awkward, but they could save you a great deal of pain in the future.

Reluctance to have a discussion about this topic once caused a friend of mine a great deal of misery. She dated a man for about four years, during which time she assumed that they were dating exclusively. When she discovered that he was also seeing someone else, she accused him of cheating. But he countered, saying that he was free to do whatever he pleased because they had never agreed to date exclusively.

Gaining clarity about the nature of your relationship, as it progresses, will give you the ability to make the best choices for your future.

If you’re having trouble understanding how to figure out what is going on when you’re dating, my upcoming 4-week group webinar will be a game changer for you! Click here for details.


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You’re Committed to Him, But You’re Just One of His Many Options

Hiking couple webDear Annie, Alex and I have been dating for more than two years. He acts like he’s my boyfriend, but he introduces me as his friend. We spend almost every night together. I don’t think he’s seeing anyone else.

I love him deeply. I think he loves me although he’s never said those words. He doesn’t like to talk about our relationship or discuss his feelings.

He has told me that he isn't ready for a commitment right now because he was too hurt in his previous relationship. So I have focused on being the best girlfriend possible so that he’ll feel safe around me.

I want to be reasonable about our relationship and take care of myself at the same time. In the past, I’ve been willing to wait for his pain to heal. I don’t want to nag him, but lately I’ve become increasingly impatient. I feel like I ought to know whether we want a future together.

How much longer do I need to wait before he recovers from his last relationship and decides to commit to ours? Jennifer

You and Alex seem to have different ideas about where your relationship stands. You want a future with him. He is behaving as if he’s truly enjoying your friendship and the romantic benefits that you’re bringing to the table.

He has avoided defining and committing to your relationship. Yet, you’re still providing him with affection—in and out of bed—as well as attention, loyalty and friendship. You have given him no reason to believe that he has to do anything in return.

If he is like most men, Alex was being honest when he told you that he was not ready or available for a relationship.

When a man is in this situation, he’s not seeking a partner to share his life. Instead, he’s interested in someone to enjoy in the moment. In this case, it’s likely that he will continue to instinctively hold back from becoming deeply emotionally involved with you.

When a man tells you that he’s not ready to commit, it’s unwise to assume that your loving behavior will change his mind. I only recommend dating a man who says he’s not ready if you can truly be happy dating him for a short period of time before moving on.

I suggest that you have a discussion with Alex. Tell him that you have come to the realization you need to be in relationship that is moving towards a future together. Tell him that you hope that he’s available. If he says that it’s not in the cards, thank him for his honesty. You will then be able to make a good decision for yourself because you will know where you stand.

You cannot set a deadline by which time a man must be ready to commit. But you can set a limit on how long you will wait in a go-nowhere relationship before you move on and take care of what’s important for you and your future.

People are either ready or not ready for a relationship. Both of you need to want the same thing if you want to get serious about finding lasting love.

If you’re having trouble understanding how to figure out what is going on when you’re dating, my upcoming 4-week group class/ webinar will be a game changer for you! Click here for details.

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The Art of Interpreting Mixed Signals

Beach CoupleDear Annie, My boyfriend, Jerry, and I been dating off and on for two years. During this time he has broken our relationship off four times. Each time he told me that things aren’t working and I’m not the right person for him.

When it’s good between us, it’s fantastic. We get along well in every way. Our chemistry is off the charts and we have comfortable, engaged conversations. We share many interests and have a great time together.

The first time he broke it off, we’d been dating for about six months. I was crushed, as I’d fallen deeply in love with him and hoped that we could share a future together. Needless to say, I was thrilled when he called a few weeks later and said that he couldn’t live without me. I welcomed him back with open arms.

He ended it again right before the holiday season. He finally asked me to reconcile a couple of weeks after I’d spent a miserable New Year’s holiday alone. I was relieved and took him back even though I had some misgivings about his ability to commit. He assured me that he was ready for a deep, intimate relationship and said that he knew I was “The One” for him.

The next time he broke up with me was in the middle of the following summer. He was gone for longer this time, but begged me to take him back. I told him I would only do so if he promised to stay for good and that I wasn’t ever going to give him another chance. He insisted that he had learned his lesson and that this was the last time it would ever happen.

Fast-forward to three days before Christmas—we even had tickets to fly to Chicago to see my family—he broke it off again. He said he couldn’t do this anymore. He told me that he wasn’t good at relationships and that he regretted getting back together. I told him to never contact me again.

Not only was I heartbroken, but I felt like a fool after allowing him back in my life three times! It took me a while before I could function again.

After being apart for almost four months I’m finally starting to heal. I’ve even started dating and am enjoying feeling open to other men, even though part of me still longs for Jerry. Last night he called and begged me to talk. He told me he had made a huge mistake and was terribly sorry that he had left me. He pleaded temporary insanity. He promised to marry me if I take him back. He even wants to set a date.

I’m torn; I don’t know what to do. I love him with all my heart. But I can’t stand this emotional roller coaster. There is a part of me that is thrilled that he feels so strongly about me. And there’s another side of me that is horrified that he’s returning, as I can’t trust him to stick around. What do I do? Denise

Jerry sounds like he has a classic commitment-phobic behavior pattern. He’s deeply attracted to you. He may even love you. But his discomfort when he’s deeply involved causes him to feel suffocated, and he feels compelled to extricate himself from your relationship in order to feel comfortable.

Commitment phobes subconsciously prefer to keep a certain degree of distance between themselves and their loved ones. They may be able to maintain a relationship until this distance is breached. When you become too close for comfort, they pick an argument or push you away. As a relationship becomes more intimate and connected, they feel an urgent need to get away, so they initiate a breakup.

Holidays usually exacerbate this behavior. Even if he’s been able to manage his fears during the rest of the year, seasonal pressures push them over the top. They become so uncontrollable that he feels that he has no choice but to run. He literally feels like he’s fighting for his life.

Once he’s caught his breath and finds himself alone, it’s a different story. He thinks about what he had when you were together. He remembers the things he appreciated about your relationship and starts to feel increasingly lonely and desperate. He misses you. The longer you’re apart, the greater his need for you becomes until he convinces himself that he’ll handle it better this time.

I suggest that you continue healing and moving forward without him. Some couples with relationships caught in this cycle break up and reconcile over a dozen times. Stephen Carter, author of Men Who Can’t Love says that this chain of events usually recurs with the separations becoming longer and more frequent, interspersed with shorter periods of reconciliation.

Dealing with a commitment phobe is similar to handling other abusive relationships. Your only real power is to walk away, heal and become involved with someone who can handle a healthy relationship.

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Not so Mister Nice Guy

Unhappy coupleDear Annie, John and I started living together after dating for six months. My friends told me that I was crazy to move in with him so soon, but we were in love, seemed to be completely compatible and spending every night together, so it made no sense to pay rent for two places.

After we combined households, things changed. We’ve been arguing a lot.

He’s become increasingly possessive. He gets upset if I spend time with my girlfriends unless we include him. Yet, he goes to band-practice every Friday evening without me, which would be fine if he didn’t interrogate me about my activities during that same time frame. He insists that I tell him everything I discuss with anyone.

It gotten to the point where I’m afraid to do anything without consulting him, first because I never know what it going to upset him. He’s not violent, just very critical and moody. I’m starting to feel like I can’t do anything right, no matter how hard I try.

For example, he doesn’t like the way I do the dishes. I follow his detailed instructions the best I can, but he snaps at me if I don’t stack them exactly the way he wants. I told him that I am doing my best to do things the way he likes and if he doesn’t like the results, it would be a lot less stressful if he would just do it himself. That just made him angry.

If it was just the problem with the dishes, that might be OK. But, he’s got a strong opinion about how and when everything should be done. He doesn’t want to eat dinner after 6PM, needs to be in bed by 9PM every night and needs at least a week’s notice in order to modify any plans.

I know that his behavior is abusive and that, as much as I love him, I can’t tolerate much more of it. When I ask him to do things differently, he tells me that I’m overreacting and controlling. He’s agreed to go to couples therapy, but he can’t find a convenient time on his schedule, so it never happens.

I’m ashamed to say anything to my friends, since they didn’t support our moving in together. I wish I hadn’t given up my apartment. We have a year-long lease and I don’t know how to get out of it. What can I do to work this out? Kerry

You have three major problems: Your shame at making a mistake, your lease and your abusive, toxic boyfriend.

You don’t need to go through this alone. You’re not the first person who has misjudged someone due to the influence of love.

I suggest that, for the time being, you ignore John’s rule that you share all of your conversations with him, as your safety is more important than anything else. If you simply threaten to leave, there is a good chance that his behavior will temporarily improve until he’s sure you’ve returned for good. Unfortunately, the vast majority of abusers can’t change repeat their disparaging behavior. It’s unlikely that John would be the exception.

If you’re like most women in an abusive situation, his sincere-sounding apology and promise to change will result in intense feelings of elation, triumph and relief, and you’ll want to give him a chance to reform his behavior. The intensity of these feelings is the main reason that people stay in abusive relationships, according to Gavin deBecker, author of bestseller, The Gift of Fear.

This almost never works. Abusers generally seduce their partners and victims with words of love and promises that they can’t keep. Once they’re assured of their love, the patterns of abuse and isolation from support systems take over. When you try to separate from your abuser, the pattern of seduction starts anew.

The first thing you should do is to get support from friends and family. Swallow your pride and contact your friends and say that you made a mistake. Apologize if you said things that hurt their feelings. Then, ask for their help in extricating yourself from this situation.

  • Plan your exit carefully:
  • Research to find out how to get out of your lease. Call your landlord and find out what your options are. If you discover that you’re stuck with the lease, contact your local bar association and ask where you can get low-cost legal help.
  • Find a new place to live before telling him you’re going. You don’t know how he is going to react when he receives the news that he’s losing you, so store your important documents and valuables elsewhere in advance.
  • Forward your mail to a P.O. box for now so that he can’t easily discover your new address.
  • For readers who are in a long term relationship and need help leaving an abuser, this article has fabulous advice and a great list of resources.
    Ask friends to help you pack and move. If possible, leave while John is at work.

The best way to avoid becoming involved with an abuser is to pay attention to changes in their behavior as you become increasingly involved. You’re always better off if you move forward slowly and cautiously, as abusers often rush into romantic relationship.

If you’re having trouble understanding how to figure out what is going on when you’re dating or relationships, my upcoming 4-week group class/ webinar will be a game changer for you! Click here for details.

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