Featured Member of the Month: February 2019
Finding & Nurturing Love
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we sat down with Women of Culture member Jennifer B. Rhodes to talk about her experience as a Clinical Psychologist turned Relationship Coach.
She shares some fascinating insights and stories from her work helping both men and women from all over the country find and cultivate love in their lives.
Jennifer developed an interest in Psychology after suffering the trauma of losing her father in a sudden accident at the age of 15. Although her family’s way of coping was to ignore the situation and send her immediately back to school as a distraction, Jennifer found that she needed to talk about and process the pain she was experiencing. She eventually made her way into group therapy and found the experience so beneficial, she decided that she wanted to help others in the way those therapists had helped her.
She obtained her PsyD in Clinical Psychology from Yeshiva University and her postdoctoral fellowship from Tulane University Medical School with a concentration in child psychology. After a second postdoctoral fellowship at the Insitute for Violence, Abuse and Trauma (IVAT) she began working with private clients who were going through divorce or child custody battles. She quickly felt drained and overwhelmed by these traumas so early in her career. When one client whom she had coached through a terrible divorce asked for her help in starting to date again, she realized perhaps she could better serve people by helping them find and sustain healthy relationships from the start, rather than trying to help them recover from the pain of a failed relationship on the back end.
Since then, she has lived in five different cities and operated her business on both the East and West Coast, helping a vast number of clients develop a better understanding of themselves so they are better able to develop healthy relationships. Below are just a few of the things we discussed:
ALEX: What is the number one problem new clients come to you with, and is it different for men and women?
JENNIFER: One of my primary groups of clients is women in their 30’s and 40’s who have never been married and are extremely scared to end up alone. They are often looking for ways to make themselves less intimidating to men or want to change themselves in other ways to make men more attracted to them. So, I do a lot of coaching around helping them realize who they actually are and how to find emotionally available men.
But the biggest surprise to me is that I now have more male than female clients. Ever since the #metoo movement hit, I’ve had a large increase in emotionally sensitive men coming in out of fear that they’re going to somehow cross the line with a woman without realizing it. Especially in NYC, there are a lot of men who want to get married and have families, but they don’t know how to meet women and are super scared of them. A lot of the good guys out there are very intimidated right now and don’t want to get accused of being inappropriate.
ALEX: This is so surprising, because to me, it seems obvious how to treat a woman with respect. What do you think is going on with these guys?
JENNIFER: Psychological research shows that men are not good at picking up on non-verbal cues and often over-estimate a woman’s sexual interest in them pretty significantly. It turns out men often literally do not know where the line is because they process the world very differently than we do. So rather than risk being accused of being inappropriate, many are just removing themselves from the situation altogether.
ALEX: So how do you work with this sort of client?
JENNIFER: I have to teach them how to understand things from a women’s perspective. A lot of them are very defensive because the ways they were used to behaving around women 10 years ago, especially in bars, is no longer acceptable and might get them yelled at in today’s world. Many men come to me feeling confused and thinking that women have gone crazy, so a lot of my work in the beginning is educating them on what dating is like for women. Unfortunately, a lot of women have had terrible experiences with men, especially in the bar scene in NYC, so I have to start by educating men about this and then move on to addressing their anxiety.
ALEX: And what about your female clients who are looking to change themselves in order to ‘get a man’?
JENNIFER: A lot of my female clients tend to be highly creative and exploratory, so the coaching is around how to own that part of their personality in a way that attracts a man who appreciates it. According to Dr. Helen Fisher, people with exploratory personalities need to be in relationships with people who are equally as exploratory, so for those types of clients, I recommend a lot of travel as well as the non-American passport plan because American men tend to be more traditional and often unable to handle a truly exploratory woman.
People also tend to underestimate how traditional the dating scene is in NYC. It can be harder to find other people who respect creativity and exploration here compared to other cities and countries. But I have noticed that a lot of younger, millennial men are more emotionally mature than their 45-year-old counterparts, and a lot of my female clients have been dating and marrying younger for that reason.
ALEX: Everyone loves to talk about how hard it is to date and meet quality people in NYC. Do you think single women/men have a harder time here than in other cities and why/why not?
JENNIFER: Personally, New York has been the hardest city for me to date. In San Francisco, it was hard to meet people, but once you met someone, there was a better possibility for a healthy relationship. Californians have a better work-life balance, and there’s an understanding that relationships are an important part of personal growth and healthy living.
In New York, on the other hand, people often work too much and neglect their personal lives. They also tend to develop a higher level of narcissism and think they deserve the best of the best because of their professional achievements. So, if you’re someone who is highly sensitive, empathic and who values real connection over superficiality, dating in New York can be a challenge.
There’s also an avoidant-attachment style happening in which everyone, especially men, fantasize about getting married, having kids and living in the suburbs, but their behavior is often in complete contrast to these desires. Especially because the culture of this city emphasizes individuality, there’s not as much value placed on the importance of a committed relationship.
ALEX: What is your opinion of online dating and how it has shaped the dating scene?
JENNIFER: Ultimately, online dating is a tool, and anyone who is serious about meeting someone should be using all the tools available to them. But I think eventually the younger generations are going to reject online dating, and there will be a trend to go back to meeting in person and through friends and family the old-fashioned way.
It also depends on where you’re online dating. I personally enjoy it more when I’m travelling internationally as a way to get out and meet new people. But in other countries, people make it very clear what they are looking for in their profiles. We haven’t reached that same level of transparency here in the US, and men can often use that to their advantage. I’m a big proponent of women screening profiles better in order to understand who someone really is before they meet.
ALEX: Have you noticed any trends among the couples you see as clients and the success of relationships which were begun online versus those started the ‘old-fashioned’ way?
JENNIFER: I don’t think there’s any psychological research to show that one way of meeting your partner is better than the other, but we still have a 50% divorce rate in this country. So regardless of how people are meeting, the majority of marriages are still ending, often within the first 7 years.
A big trend I have seen among my couples clients is that one of them has used an online dating site. It’s not unusual for people to have had profiles on Ashley Madison or other sex websites, because rather than having a conversation about problems that come up in a relationship, they are turning to technology as a distraction. This can be ok if it’s a temporary or one-time situation, but if it’s the only way a person is dealing with the issues in their relationship, they will end up destroying it. The couples that stay together the longest are the ones that can maintain emotional intimacy.
ALEX: Do you have any advice for single women in NYC, particularly when it comes to Valentine’s Day?
JENNIFER: I think women in NYC and beyond need to be a little more patient with men and not always react immediately when men say stupid things. Instead, take a step back and try to understand where the behavior is coming from. Because of the #metoo movement, many men are feeling anxious around women, especially those whom they perceive as being successful. Psychological research shows that men lag behind us in emotional intelligence in general, so women need to have more understanding and a wider perspective as to why men behave the way they do.
I also advise women to be really clear on what their deal-breakers are and not to get defensive or emotionally reactive the minute a man does something they don’t like. Men actually do respect us when we stay grounded in who we are and in our feminine energy. We don’t need to yell or get defensive. Men are already scared enough of us because they know we are ultimately the ones who choose and say yes or no to them.
I also think it’s helpful for women to drop the stereotypical checklist which dictates that men need to have a certain education level, income and appearance. Statistically, none of that is actually related to the creation of a healthy marriage.
As for Valentine’s Day, I personally like to use it as a time for reflection and to celebrate being single. Two hundred years ago, we might have been banished or locked away for being single women. We have more freedom now than ever and much more freedom than many women in other countries, and I think that should be celebrated.