Most of us feel that we know what we are doing when we walk down the aisle. We’re in love. Isn’t that a natural state of being? So why would we need help to create a vibrant relationship before and after the wedding march?
Andrea Syrtash doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but the author and TV host has spent years interviewing individuals and couples and doing extensive research on what it is that makes a relationship work.
Andrea’s latest book is, “It's Okay to Sleep with him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating Debunked” written with co-author Jeff Wilser.
She has contributed to over a dozen relationship advice books. Andrea is also the author of “He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing)” and “Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband)”.
The New York resident was raised in Toronto and she has made appearances on hundreds of shows on both sides of the border, including NBC Today Show, CBS This Morning, VH1, The Wendy Williams Show and On-Air with Ryan Seacrest. Andrea is also the co-host of “ Life Story Project” on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network (Canada).
Andrea also writes for a number of prestigious digital and print publications and she shares her tips and advice on NBC Universal iVillage’s Love & Sex videos.
You probably had help picking out that white silk organza mermaid gown with the jewel encrusted bodice, but that bridal gown is stashed away in a box with a window. The dress is a symbol of your relationship and it’s only beautiful when it becomes a part of you. Keeping your relationship alive is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your partner, and we could all use a little help to lead a fulfilling life.
First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Andrea about navigating the love landscape of dating and marriage.
Why do you think so many people need help with relationships? You would think it would be a natural thing, but most people seem to need expert advice.
Andrea: I think it makes sense because I don’t think anything is more important than our relationships. If we don’t have happy relationships, it’s very hard to be happy in our lives. If our career or other aspects of our lives aren’t working, it definitely affects our quality of life, but we are social beings so we need those connections. I think love and falling in love is a very vulnerable thing and it’s hard to navigate. Dating is very awkward.
When you are in love, maintaining it is difficult at times because it is work. It is a living, breathing thing. It’s not like you figure it out and you’ve solved it, you are constantly evolving, especially when you are in a relationship with someone else. Hopefully, you grow together and you don’t grow apart. It’s a dynamic thing. People are looking for resources to navigate it, and I get that.
I get it too, having had a few failed relationships, gone to therapy and now trying to date at 60 years of age.
Andrea: I know. It’s a process. There was a celebrity who contacted me once to solicit dating advice, this was a beautiful woman and I kept it confidential, but this was a good reminder that it doesn’t matter who you are, you are vulnerable.
You wrote a book, “It's Okay to Sleep with him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating Debunked”. All those rules are really confusing and some of them aren’t really helpful. I do think that we should be able to do whatever we want, such as sleep with someone without a defined time table.
Andrea: We wrote the book for adults, we didn’t write it for teenagers. Our premise is that the rules can make you inauthentic, but we do believe in strategy. My cowriter and I aren’t saying throw out your common sense and wear pajamas on a first date, but we’re saying follow your gut over any arbitrary rules written by someone you don’t know and someone who may not reflect your values. Those rules have just been made up by people. They’re often not grounded in research and we have been able to refute every rule people say you should do or shouldn’t do when it comes to dating. That’s kind of why we wanted to write that. Most of my books kind of challenge conventional wisdom with common sense.
I think you do that with your book “He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing)”. A lot of the therapists I talk to say that people keep picking the same type of person over and over again and it is usually someone who is wrong for them. They say that you develop certain patterns that are difficult to change.
Andrea: I think that in life, not just in love, we tend to repeat patterns that don’t always work. Hopefully, as we mature we learn from our patterns and we learn what is working and what is not working. Somehow, when it comes to love, people become a little more stubborn. They think they know who exactly they should be with even when their track record has shown that this is not working and this is not a good person for you.
That book is more about breaking your pattern. If you want new results, you have to make changes and get outside of your comfort zone. I think dating is really about taking risks, getting off the paper check list and following your gut and your heart. This can be very hard because that is very vulnerable, but it is very important not to over-think dating.
That book is really about how to enjoy dating again and take the pressure off. That book, more than any book I have ever written has changed people’s lives in a way that is really amazing and I didn’t expect that when I wrote it. I can’t even tell you how many emails I’ve had. At some point I want to share them, maybe without the names attached. People have said, I took a risk because I read this book, and this guy wasn’t my usual type and I never would have said yes to him before.
A big premise of that book is to stop focusing on who the guy is and look at how you are with him and how you show up and that will kind of shift everything. Then you’ll have a really clear picture of whether this person is bringing out your best. That is a good sign. I just got another email from a person saying she is celebrating her second year with the person January 1st. It’s really awesome and fulfilling as an author to get that kind of email because I do want to help people in love and not just entertain them.
That’s so great. You followed that advice yourself.
Andrea: I did, I married a guy who wasn’t my type. We’ve been together for eight years and it is great. So the book starts with that, but it isn’t a memoir so it doesn’t focus on my story, but my experience is definitely part of what inspired me to write it.
I think people who can’t sustain a relationship for years probably didn’t follow a lot of your other advice, such as going on dates with your husband and keeping your relationship alive. So many people end up losing that and become like platonic friends or maybe not even friends.
Andrea: I think it is unrealistic to expect romance and fireworks every day with your long term partner and I certainly acknowledge that in my advice. We also have to be honest with ourselves that being in love is very different than falling in love because our brains actually look different – we look different, we act different. Everything is exciting and new, but that said, even though we are not going to sustain the level of excitement there are still ways to bring back moments of it.
I think part of the work of relationships is keeping the play alive and keeping that intimate connection alive. That takes work. Sometimes you crave a nap and not sex, that’s just normal, but days turn into weeks, which turn into months and years, and then you wake up and you are roommates and not lovers anymore. That’s where it can kind of be a slippery path. It is really important to be in a relationship consciously.
I always say marriage is a choice that you have to make every day, not just at the altar. It is hard to be married and have a partner and think of someone all the time; to think not only of his needs and your needs but your needs together. That’s a lot to think about and if you have kids then you add that to the mix. It’s easy for you to get lost in that and it’s easy for you to resent people. It’s something that you actively have to work on and the work can be very fulfilling and amazing and lead to great breakthroughs and emotional growth and all that. But, there won’t always be highs, sometimes it can be very hard, so that is why I wanted to write that book.
I found when I sold that book that the reason I pitched it was because when I went to the bookstore the marriage section was all books on relationship rescue. This culture is so focused on fixing things when they are broken. I think we need to be a little more proactive so hopefully we don’t need it to be rescued. We just need to maintain it and keep putting work in so that it can continue and be a good healthy fulfilling partnership.
This sort of goes back to my first question. I know a younger people, including my sons and their partners and friends; both straight and gay who really seem to pay more attention and examine their relationships. They also seem to be having very successful relationships. I think in my generation, we didn’t do the work in many ways.
Andrea: I agree, I think there are three reasons for it -- one; we marry later than other generations. The decisions that you make at 24 are much different than the ones you make at 34. I think that is definitely part of it. Two, this is a self-actualized generation that really wants to know who they are, not just in love but in their career and more. I think that being 'self-actualized' wasn't a value to past generations (or at least something they talked about openly). I remember someone saying, “It’s called a job, not a fun. You don’t need to have fun at work you don’t need to love work.”
This generation is very focused on everything being aligned with who they are, but that is great because that means when they make relationship choices they are self-expressed in them, they’re not burying themselves. Finally, I think a lot of people are being more cautious because a number of their parents are divorced. They grew up with this. A lot of people are cohabitating and not getting married, but they are still in fulfilling relationships so it just looks very different today.
You probably know that divorce rates have actually gone down in recent years, but it’s still a staggeringly high number. I’ve heard experts say it’s over 50 percent but that’s not an accurate stat today. It’s still high, but we're inflating it. It's actually closer to 40 percent.
It’s like what you are noticing, I’m noticing that too. I think younger generations are a little more conscious before they settle down with someone. They ask questions and they’ve lived on their own for years before they marry, so that produces a very different partnership.
A lot of times they have separate bank accounts when they get married, they don’t merge bank accounts. Some people feel that that's a bizarre concept because you share assets, but those kinds of things can actually help couples feel they still have some independence in the partnership. I always say, ‘You can’t be a good we without being a good me. That’s a big part of my writing.
I wrote this article recently in Huffington Post in response to an article that went viral. This guy, Seth Adam Smith wrote that marriage isn’t for you, it was never about you, it’s for your partner. It was shared so many times and people said, this is so romantic and beautiful. I wrote this response saying that is really unhealthy. It’s not just about you, that is true, but it’s also about you – it’s both. It can’t be one or the other. I think in past generations, obviously women tended to cater to their husbands a little more. That creates resentment and obviously women entering the workforce in the 70s and 80s shifted everything because they were meeting people and becoming self-expressed. If you are not self-expressed in your relationship then it’s not going to work.
I worked as a private investigator for many years and it made me realize how important trust is in a relationship. I used to say to clients, save your money, if you can’t trust someone to the point you want to have them investigated for real or imagined reasons, why are you even with that person?
Andrea: You are absolutely right; I always say that too. If someone writes me a five page email that they think that their partner is cheating, there is a usually a bigger problem.
I read some of your tips on online dating. Everyone has tried it at least once and a lot of people have met their spouses through online dating, but it’s tricky.
Andrea: It can be an adventure but it requires a lot of patience and a sense of humor. I liken it to shopping at Century 21, which is this department we have in New York that has all these amazing discounts with designer labels. You have to be so patient when you walk in there because it is crowded and you have to sift through bins. You might walk off with that gem, but you are going to look through a lot of crap first – that’s like online dating.
It takes a tremendous amount of patience and resilience and you can’t get too attached to results. What’s great about online dating is that it opens up a world and options that may not otherwise exist simply because there are only so many people you can meet in your area. I think online dating should be really fast, like a drink after work and I don’t think it should be a dinner because it does get really exhausting and draining to go on so many bad dates.
It’s a really interesting part of dating today. I talk about this a lot – over half the single population in the U.S. and probably in Canada are dating online, so it’s one of these things that if you’re not doing it, you’re actually missing a big segment of the single population.
People are a bit frightened of being scammed or misled, where someone turns out to be not at all as portrayed, like in the TV show, “Catfish”.
Andrea: That has happened to some of my friends, intelligent friends who have good judgement. That’s why one of my big tips is that it is always important to get offline. Online dating is a bit of a misnomer, it’s really important to get offline soon after meeting because you don’t know someone based on pictures and words on the page. It may be words that they didn’t write or the picture is from ten years ago. You can’t really gauge, so you need to book a meeting and the meeting should be fast so you don’t feel that it is taking over your life.
My sister met her husband indirectly through a bad online date that led her to him and this happens a lot. People have told me stories where they are on a date and the date has actually said, I doubt that we’re a match, but you would be for my friend, or we’re not a match, but let’s keep in touch. In this case, he invited my sister to a party and she met his friend so it is also a way that just increases your network and you have access to people you might otherwise have not met.
What inspired you want to devote so much of your career to helping people with their relationship?
Andrea: It is the chicken or the egg thing. I think I was drawn to that work because I’ve always been interested in relationship dynamics. On one of my first assignments, I was a journalist working with a publisher called Hundreds of Heads, so for every book title I would have to interview hundreds of people. I worked on a divorce book called You Can Keep the Damn China!:And Other Great Tips on Dealing with Divorce. This was a book on how to survive your marriage and your wedding. There were a number of titles in the series and I was just one of the journalists crossing the country interviewing people, mostly on the phone.
I started to notice themes and patterns that people were more often than not repeating that kept popping up over and over again. That really intrigued me. That was about ten years ago, so by now I have interviewed thousands of people and I feel like I’ve done a lot of research as an author and a journalist. I’m also a trained relationship coach. I don’t talk about at a lot, but I did for a time work with individuals and couples. I’m just really interested in helping people navigate something that can be really difficult and is so important. It’s not just romantic love; relationships are friendships and in-laws and family. There are so many relationships we are in, so I don’t just write about romantic love but I think relationships are important.
There is something really awesome about being in a relationship where someone sees you, knows you so well and challenges you to be better. That’s a healthy relationship. One of my expressions is, ‘people want to be challenged not changed’. Relationships don’t work when you try to change someone. They work really well when you challenge someone to be better versions of themselves and you say, this is who you are and I want to help you get to a new level of who you are. That when relationships are very fulfilling, but that can be very threatening to people. Some people don’t want to be challenged. It takes work.
Is there a couple or a person you’ve met who really inspires you?
Andrea: There are a few. I am thinking of an 80 something year old woman I’ve interviewed who lost one of her husbands recently. She was married twice and she outlived both of them. She lost her first husband quite young, I think she was in her forties and then her second husband when she was probably in her late seventies. Her name is Carol. I quote her all the time because she was one of the few who in the 1950s who knew she had to be self-expressed. She opened a dance studio and people thought that she was a bad wife because all the other wives were being very disciplined. She talks about how her husband loved that she was independent and she was present for them. The thing that I always quote from her is, “The most important thing you can offer in a relationship is your presence.”
I think it is an awesome quote. I think of her a lot. I’ve interviews so many couples. I interviewed a couple in Nova Scotia who I think have been married for 40 something years and one of them had cancer. It’s true that you either get much closer through life challenges or farther apart. That is the true test of your relationship.
I’ve met wise couples who are much younger than me and I feel that they are just really in synch and they get it. When my book came out, I had only been married five years and some people (thankfully I got pretty good reviews) challenged me. They said, she’s in her thirties, and only been married five years, what makes her an authority on this? I would respond that first of all, I’m a journalist and it’s not about my marriage. Secondly, I’ve interviewed people who are 90 years old who are still figuring it out. We get more wisdom and learn more as we get older, but it takes some people longer.
I’ve spoken to 65 year old women who are more confused about dating than 25 year old women, so it really doesn’t matter how old you are. I opened one of my other books with this –we are all teenagers when we fall in love. It doesn’t matter how old you are, we become these awkward vulnerable teenagers just trying to navigate it.
You have to be open to love or you will never get it, and I’ve learned a lot from my sons and their friends about relationships. You also have to be open to love or you’ll never find it, so you can’t be bitter because your last relationship didn’t work.
Andrea: That’s it. You also have to love yourself or no one will love you. It’s also a defense mechanism to blame others and say that all guys are bad. It’s easier to scapegoat and it’s just not based in reality, we all know some good men. Another thing I WRITE about a lot is perspective and how much our perspective influences our results because we settle on a perspective and then we find evidence to support it – like no good guys are left. We look to prove it and we will prove it because that is what happens and the messages we tell ourselves are really powerful. You have to believe that good men are out there, that you are desirable and you have to believe if you want to find love- otherwise you’ll sabotage it
Going through divorce can cause someone to feel unworthy of love or untrusting, how do you get over that?
Andrea: I do think they have to be patient to let themselves go through all that and to let themselves be hurt and angry or whatever else they are feeling. It’s really important to process that, but not to get stuck in that for years and years where your life is not your life anymore and you are living in the past, that’s when it can become an issue. I definitely think right after you separate from your partner you have to practice self-love and be patient with yourself. You need to process it and go through whatever you have to go through before you jump into the dating game again, unless you feel ready to but I think we have to be patient with ourselves.
Thank you, Andrea, for sharing your insight with us.