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Monday, December 22, 2008

#12: Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Your best friend has a new guy, so you should be happy for her. There's just one problem - he's a total jerk. So, what's a girl to do when her pal loves a prat?

"What do you think of Tim?" my friend shouts at me for the 98th time on the crowded dancefloor. "Erm, he's nice..." I lie, doing a quick spin. She's not fooled. She shakes her head. "You don't like him, do you?" I mutter something about not knowing him, "I'm sure he's fine." But she knows. And she's terribly disappointed in me. I am tempted, oh so tempted, to say she's wrong, that I think Tim is wonderful, clearly in love with her and definitely the best thing that's ever happened to her. But I can't because it's obvious Tim isn't in love with her. In love with himself more like. I've only just met him but my prat-warning antennae are giving me a headache. He's so full of himself. His attitude towards my friend displays a cavalier sense of his self-worth, not hers. For starters, he turned up late, then hit her with a didn't-mean-it-really criticism of her faulous dress, then looks at me like he wants to kill me because he knows I see straight through him, as any decent friend would. Too right I don't like him. Would you?

Speak up, or not?

Marie, my friend, knows how I feel, yet it doesn't stop her seeing him. She even declares herself madly in love and thinks they might marry. What am I to do? Keep quiet and let her get on with it or offer her the benefit of my highly-prejudiced opinion? Try to talk her out of her as fast as you can, but suppose I'm wrong? Listen, I've drunk champagne at more marriages made in hell than I can remember. Sometimes, it's just obvious from the get-go that a relationship is unbalanced but you never quite have the courage to point it out. For months you don't say anything to either party for fear of causing offence. Then you go to their wedding, heart heavy in your boots, and declare this couple are made for each other when they clearly aren't. I look back now on times when I've done that and think of it as the worst betrayal. But how can I be sure I'm right? Suppose, just suppose, I'm jealous? I know that's what Marie will say if I front up about my feelings about Tim. But I shouldn't let such fears stop me. As more relationships face difficulties, we owe it to those we care about to help them to make a good match, not a bad one.

Truth or jealousy?

Couples who are genuinely right for each other invite very little comment from their friends. We all love a good gossip but there's little fun in commenting and whispering about those who chirp at each other like little loveirds. Those suited tend to be very obviously so. When they're not suited, it's something that is often more visible from the outside. So, I gently try to tell Marie why I don't like Tim. I wouldn't have bothered, ut she's started with the bridal brochures and what's a friend to do? "Why don't you like him?" she snaps at me. "Go on, tell me," she yells. I've never seen my friend of so many years quite so angry. I'm in a painted corner. There's no way out. So I take a deep breath and say to her: "No matter how badly he behaves, or how many times he lets you down or openly humiliates you in front of your friends, you always rush to his defence too quickly." She shrugs, "He's very busy," she says like that excuses all of the above. Then she dismisses me and here comes the comment I knew to expect. "You're just jealous. You're going 30 and still not married. Well that won't happen to me. Get out."

Slimy tactics

Yes, it's true I'm not married. So I suppose I can't comment, can I? At least, not from a position of strength. Getting married matters more to Marie than who she marries. Tim wants to marry her, I opine, because he has her exactly where he wants her - on the floor. And he's fast isolating her from all her friends. More power to have over her. She can't see it because she's totally taken in by what little charm this snake possesses. And oh, how she wants that ring. I've been where Marie is. His name was Paul, but I called him Paulie. He called me spanner face. But I like his ribbing, insisted he didn't mean it. My friend Corinne was sure he did. "You're not serious about him are you?" she asked. I was staggered by her question and blurted out no. She nodded and said: "In that case, enjoy. He's a nice piece of arm candy." But what if I'd said I was serious? Because I was. So I gradually started seeing less of Corinne and more of Paulie. That way, I didn't have to face her criticism. I suppose, deep down, I was running away from Corinne because I didn't like that she knew the truth. But I wasn't ready to face up to that yet. I was blinded by the scenery. Paulie was so good-looking but oh boy, did he know it. As I isolated myself more from my crowd (sound familiar? Marie is doing the same with Tim) I became more and more lonely because convinced as I was that Paulie was right for me, I didn't actually see him all that often. I couldn't admit this to my friends (pride) so I often spent Saturday nights, weekends and holidays alone, waiting. When I eventually wised up and left my so-called relationship, my friends as one yelled, "Welcome back."

Prat Recognition

So, how did Corinne know he was so wrong so soon after meeting him? "He was clearly a con man," she told me. "Much too busy admiring his own reflection to notice you." How could she tell all this? She hardly knew the man. "It's true I only met him a few times but I knew him through what you said about him. Everything he did was wonderful. He was just too, too perfect. You invested him with qualities he didn't have. You went on about his appearance. He's very good-looking. No question. But because of that, you assumed all kinds of other things about him." I did what many of us accuse men of doing: I judged by looks. I was a sucker for a pretty face and a beautiful, well-dressed body. I wanted others to notice me through him. To think more of me because I had this trophy bloke on my arm. Shallow or what? Paul cared more about looks than anything. I've no idea what he saw in me. Appearance wise, we were in wildly-different leagues. I was probably a bit of a novelty to him. Someone who didn't know her Gucci from her Prada, except that they're both Italian, right? Oh how quaint I must have seemed. What a prat he was. No, what a fool I was. Why couldn't I see it. Corinne shakes her much-wiser head than mine. "Well, we did try..." Okay, okay. So should I tell Marie about Tim? Without question, says Corinne.

Speaking up

Interference is what friendships are all about, otherwise they're not worth having. The truth has has to be expressed. If you're right and it all goes horribly wrong, you'll be blamed anyway, 'Why didn't you warn me?' they'll say to you. 'Aren't you supposed to be my friend?' So I say, speak you mind and do it tactfully ...saying something like 'If I was in your shoes,' rather than telling them outright they're dating a jerk. No-one likes to hear that." One way to express this feeling is to say that for you, it would be the wrong decision. She has to make her own choices and learn from them but she still needs you. So try and be supportive rather than judgemental. Deep down, she probably knows you're right. She probably has inner voices of doubt herself, but doesn't want to listen to them. Right now, she prefers to heed the call of the more reckless side of her nature and that's something we all do at some point. We are meant to get it wrong at times. How else can we know when we've got it right? be honest about your feelings because that's what friendship is supposed to be. But in the end, it is up to your friend how she wants to live her life and what decisions she wants to take. But if she realises that your concerns are an expression of love, not condemnation, she'll be very glad of it. Or she should be.

Family of friends

Friends are the new family for many of today's young women. We get closer to our friends, tell them far more about ourselves, and they see us in ways our blood family never do. So whereas we'd be reluctant - understandably - to listen to our mothers or even our grandmothers, as many of us did on the past, today we listen to friends instead. So, you have to speak up.

Try, try again

Eventually, I gather enough courage to try again. I haven't seen Marie in several weeks. This is not from want of trying. She hasn't returned my calls and the one time she did answer my call, she slammed the phone down the instant she recognised my voice. So I go over to the apartment where she lives. I'm uninvited and I'm unloved. Hey, I'm the bad fairy in Sleeping Beauty! But I've got to try one more time. She opens the door, hair up in a white towel, face half-painted. She's clearly going out soon. With Tim, I expect. I haven't much time so I blurt out pretty much everything Corinne told me about Paul. I pour out all of my mistakes. And I ramble on about How I'm glad now I had a friend to warn me, even though I didn't listen to her at the time. I finish up with: "I won't say any of this again. I have a duty to you and I just couldn't rest till I'd done it." Julie nods. She hasn't asked me into her place. "Finished?" she says. I nod. So are they. About two weeks ago. She was too proud to tell me. But she's going out tonight as a free woman. Would I care to join her in painting the town red? We burst into tears, hug, and fall in through the front door. It might not end so happily for you but you've got to give it a go. Think of yourself in your friend's position. Say what you would want her to tell the truth too. Tell her about the prats you've dated before - make them up if necessary. It'll help her to realise that you're really on her side. It's not an easy place to be, but will you ever rest easy if you don't say something, now?

How to set her straight

Here's a quick guide to the right way and the wrong way to tell a friend she's dating a prat.

» Wrong Way "Him? He's a total mummy's boy."

» Right Way "I think you might be competing with his mother for his love."

» Wrong Way "His eyes are too close together."

» Right Way "I don't think he's nice enough for you."

» Wrong Way Laughing hysterically when she says they're to marry.

» Right Way "Promise me you'll wait at least a year."

» Wrong Way He's a disgusting little twerp. Have you lost your mind?"

» Right Way "I'm worried he'll take his insecurities out on you."

» Wrong Way "Are you that desperate?"

» Right Way "You could do so much better."

Monday, December 8, 2008

#11: Reload His Rocket

At first, you did it all the time, any time, and anyplace. Now, he just doesn't seem interested anymore. What gives? Here's how to put the lust back into your love-life.

There comes a time in every relationship when you slip into the comfort zone. There is familiarity and predictability about most facets of life together and for the most part, this is not a bad thing. Sure, he's prone to the odd outburst of juvenile petulance when you insist that four hours of football on TV does not a cosy-evening-in make, but fior all his faults and foibles, his presence in your life in provides stability and consistency in your world. Plus, you get to have sex. A total win-win proposition. I'm sure I don't need to explain how important a little horizontal mambo is to your average man. Faced with a choice between life and the sex of a lifetime, most of us would actually have to give it some thought. Much has been said regarding the origins of this unquenchable thirst: it's genetic, it's how we prove our manhood to ourselves, it's the most pleasurable form of exercise yet invented. Who really knows (or cares)? Suffice to say, given the opportunity most men will drop their Levis quicker than Hollywood can crank out movie sequels.

I'm told that the male penchant for the carnal carnival can be a tad annoying - especially when you take its single-minded nature into account. As vexing as this may be, a glut is preferable to a drought and when a man loses interest in doing the biz, many a female partner is left confused, upset and riddled with self-doubt as to her - how do I say this? - pulling power. At some time or another you'll find yourself with that certain itch, he's simply in no mood to scratch. You have two choices here. You can either pack up the lingerie, storm off and find yourself a man who can't stop 'til the morning papers arrive, or you can stick around and remedy the situation. If this is the only malaise affecting an otherwise rewarding relationship, I'd strongly advise going with option two - there are easy steps you can take to remedy the situation. The reasons men go off sex are varied and manifest themselves in different ways, however there are some general causes and, I'm glad to report, remedies to match.

Just Hold Me
One of the most prevalent of all gender fallacies is that, more often than not, men fall into the trap of seeing sex as a purely physical experience - the body as fun-park concept. And while we are - for better or worse, and I strongly suspect the latter - capable of divorcing our inner selves from the physical ramifications of ultimate closeness with another human being, we're people too, dammit. Fellow souls who need - no, deserve - to be held, caressed and cuddled (anything along the lines of "you're the sexiest/biggest/best/first" will do it). However, no matter what you say or how you say it, you have to be holding us tight and maybe gently stroking our hair. I've read numerous interviews with ladies of the night who consistently report that the sex they provide is often simply a pretext and what their clients really desire is intimacy. And it kinda makes sense, when you think about it. Men live in a world of intense competition where dependence is often equated with weakness. Paralysed by out-dated macho stereotypes, they believe that all physical contact is governed by the ethos "go hard or go home". What's more, thy actually think that this is what you women want from them. Show him that you won't think any less of him if he'd rather be cuddled than canoodle and his sex drive will return quicker than you can say "Honey, can we at least wait until we're out of the cab?"

If It's Tuesday
That brings me to my next point -the dreaded routine trap. I should point out that men are just as guilty of this relationship felony (I use this word because it is more grave than a simple misdemeanour) as women. It's a genuine trans-gender libido diffuser. So let's talk a little about the trouble with routine. This does not simply apply to the recurring patterns of frequency. There's so many more factors to consider. First of all, there's days of the week. Logically, weekends would seem the ideal time for a loving liaison - there's no business-associated stress, no time pressure ("Honey, could you pick up the pace down there, I've got a 9:30 presentation.") - it all adds up to ideal circumstances for a bit of hard lovin'. Perhaps too ideal. If he knows that Friday evening through to Sunday night is the action zone, he'll become conditioned to it and you can just kiss spontaneity goodbye. Mix it up, girl, with a little Wednesday wildness and Monday mischief on offer, and your man will experience erotic potential seven days a week. And believe me, that'll stoke the fire in his bioler.

The same philosophy applies to the time of day you decide to get naked and do the chimichanga. First thing in the morning is always good, as is the minute you both get home from work - the dinner really can wait. I'd also highly recommend the early-morning encounter and by this, I mean really early - like 3am. Trust me on this, no man has ever rolled over and said, "Will you please stop fondling me, I'm trying to get some sleep here."

Location, Location
Now let's talk location. For all its wonders and majesty, the boudoir is not the be all and end all when it comes to lovemaking venues. Remember the suspenseful-and-hot The Postman Always Rings Twice? Kitchen table, with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange? Boy, when Jack delivers by hand... Still not convinced? Think Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger's tryst by the fridge in 9½ Weeks. Getting the picture yet? Use your imagination and watch your lovemaking take on a whole new dimension. We're not suggesting heading down to your local MRT station to catch a train to Ecstasy Central, the various rooms in your house will suffice. The shower, for example, is always a cracker. Steam, soap, slippery bodies... What can I say? It's a personal favorite and I'm sure you too will find yours, but you've gotta start looking. And remember, as my Auntie Beth (who outlived three husbands) always sid, "You call that carpet burn?"

My final point regarding the use of variety to perk up an ailing male appetite is perhaps the most delicate of all that I've mention. Two human bodies are capable of pleasuring one another in many wonderful ways, so experiment a little. There's a difference between discomfort and curiosity, so don't do anything you really don't want to, but by the same token, why go to the supermarket if you're only going to shop in the one aisle? If you're stuck for inspiration, there's a range of sources that should provide you with plenty of ideas that don't require the stamina of a marathon runner. There are also a few that might require you to start training up for them. Many can be found in books such as the Kama Sutra and The Joy Of Sex. Your willingness to have a go at something new and different is bound to reawaken his lust.

Equipment Failure
When the goodies in the downstairs department don't do what they're supposed to, men go through a series of emotions ranging from sheer terror to blind panic, followed by all manner of self-doubt. No matter how much and how often you reassure him, he won't be able to hear it over the alarm bells ringing in his head. There are numerous causes for flaccidity including stress, prostrate problems and even what is termed the male menopause (but this only strikes men around that age where they feel the urge to buy a sportscar and acquire a 20-year-old mistress on whose butt you can crack walnuts - and quite frankly it serves the bastards right). Once the mouse fails to come out of the house, so to speak, many men become reluctant to try to lure him out again for fear of experiencing a repeat non-performance. It's now excuse time. He'll tell you he's tired or that he just doesn't feel like it. In truth he's doubting he can do the job required and I can't over-emphasise the traumatic psychological effects of this.

I know it sounds irrational, but it's a totally different ball game for you lot around menopause time - a tube of KY and some hormone replacement therapy and you're ready for action again. This is a tricky problem to solve and I'd recommend extensive foreplay as your starting point. A long, slow full-body massage with some essential oils is always good, followed by a bit of teasing sensuality and perhaps that one special thing he loves you to do. C'mon now, he must have at least one!

We Have To Talk
I purposely left this entry until quite late in the piece so you at least consider the previous explanations before leaping onto this one. A small number of men who no longer want to have sex with their partners are in this frame of mind because, well, to put it delicately, they're banging booty somewhere else. Sad but true. How do you tell? A dramatic drop in the frequency you have sex is the prime indicator, but exercise caution when making this observation. Another thing to watch out for is him splurging on loads of sexy new underwear that he only puts on for office days but never on weekends when he's with you. If he is cheating on you, chances are, he'll feel obligated to still have sex with you to keep up appearances and arouse your suspicions. Look out for any new techniques (is he kissing differently?) or positions that were never in his repertoire. Once again, restraint and caution are paramount in a situation like this. Before the accusations start flying, make sure you have your facts straight. After all, how would you feel if you'd gone to the trouble of researching a new lovemaking trick in order to spice up bedroom time, only to be told that because you'd never done it before mist mean you're having an affair?

And Finally...
I was going to end this story by saying there are times (albeit incredibly rare) that men simply don't feel like it. But I'm afraid this is not so. If you have the place, we have the time. If you have the time, we have the place. If you have the end, we have the means. When men don't want to make love, there has to be a reason for it. It may be something you can help with, it may be something he can only do alone (now, now, that's not what I mean), but regardless of what he says, hang in there, keep wearing the lingerie and bide your time. Unless, of course, he happends to be cheating on you, in which case you have every right to sprinkle iron filings into his condom stash - and tell him Missy Yuuko sent ya. Once the crisis passes, he'll return to the fray with a pent-up passion you'll recall from your early days together and believe me when I tell you that's the sexiest kind of nostalgia there is.

Monday, November 24, 2008

10 Signs You're About To Split

Sometimes, two people can hae radically different ideas about where a relationship is going. One can be positive it's over and plannin the break-up spech, while the other is lissfully unaware that there's a problem. Here's how to tell if you're heading for a fall.

Sometimes, the writing's so obviously on the wall, it might as well be in neon. In other relationhsips, one person's planning the wedding menu while the other is planning to leave. According to couples' counsellors, there are vulnerable points in any partnership - and classic, telltale signs you're about to split. How does your love affair measure up?

You Or Your Partner Experience A Major Life Change
A new job, move to a new country, the death of a parent or a best friend - any major life change pushes the strongest relationship into a vulnerable position. Change gives us a new perspective: we're forced to step outside of the same old routine - and even a short break from normality can make us question how happy we really are. Taking a new job or moving town exposes us to new people: it's easy to stay in a so-so relationship if the only males you mix with are the ancient accounts clerk in the family business where you work. Since more than 65 percent of people meet their future spouse at work, changing jobs can turn up more dates than a disco. Even if you are happy, you're battling the boring old partner syndrome when you meet new men. Someone new is always more interesting and if the two of you have chemistry and work closely together, watch out!

Your Relationship Is At A Turning Point
You've been going out for two years now and everyone's asking when you're getting engaged or married. Secretly, you're both wondering the same thing: is it time to move on or move out? If you're comfortable with commitment and each other, this can open the lines to some much-needed discussion. But if one partner needs more time and feels pressure to make a decision immediately, leaving may seem the best solution.

You Don't Make Love As Often As Before
That touch-me-and-I-melt feeling wanes with time in the healthiest relationship - but there's a huge difference between a natural cooling-off period, and the signals that you're about to split. The telltale sign is "the cringe factor": when you do make love, do you enjoy it - or shrink away? If you're simply caught up with the pressures of life, when both of you finally do make love, it's great and you wonder why you don't make the effort more often. But if either of you go into cringe factor, you're in trouble! Your skin crawls, you close your eyes, shut down your senses - it's a horrible feeling, you can't wait for sex to be over! Partners who are in cringe mode will do just about anything to avoid the bedroom. They'll get drunk, pick a fight, invent exotic illnesses, often be the life of the party simply to avoid going home. Usually, affectionate gestures will also vanish.

One Of You Has Sex With Someone Else
Whether it's a night with an ex-boyfriend or a one-night stand on a business trip, having sexual contact with someone other than your partner means major trouble. For a start, you've broken the pact the two of you had to stay faithful to each other; the relationship loses its "specialness" and you feel less committed. You could also find yourself getting addicted to the risk-taking. If you don't get caught, it's a way of satisfying that 'naughty' side of us. Other people start playing around because they're not sure how they feel, so they start "testing" their feelings. Some people just don't have the guts to say 'I don't love you anymore' so they start cheating. They find it a lot easier to break up by confessing they've been unfaithful. Once a partner strays, the relationship is in dire straits. The theory is that there are three things that hold relationships together; play, passion and company. When we meet someone, we react like children and think 'Wow! Someone I can play with'. When you start seeing other people it means the play has ceased - you're looking around the recapture that feeling with someone else.

The Blinkers Come Off
The blinkers eventually come off in any relationship and flirting with a guy whose pecs rival Arnie's need not mean you're not happily attached. Flirting makes us feel refreshed and desired, and boosts our ego - it's only when you want to take things further that problems start. Occasionally testing your sexual attractiveness for a bit of a laugh is normal; finding yourself constantly fantasising about different men isn't.

You Send Out Signals That Others Act On
If you're happily involved, people ask you out even if you do flirt with them. Subliminally, you're sending out an "I'm attached" signal even if you are flicking your hair and sliding your fingers along the stem of your wine glass. Start thinking about splitting, however, and it's a different story. I'm not sure if it's a chemical thing or not, though it's certainly said that people give off pheromones. Either way, I do think we advertise your availability. You may have a ring on your finger and appear to be settled in a relationship but from the moment you decide you want an affair, you give off an unconscious 'I'm available' message that people respond to. Sometimes, our signals are quite deliberate. If you're thinking of leaving, you become more aware of your attractiveness and may start flaunting your sex appeal to see how you'd fare if you were single. Same goes for him. If he's skipping bonding with the boys for a lengthy discussion about fashion with a blushing brunette, consider the danger light on and blinking.

You Stop Talking
Once, you called him five times in as many hours, eager to fill him in on everything that happened in your day. Now, you've won that longed-for promotion and find yourself picking up the phone to call someone else first. The nurturing element, the ability to care for each other, is part of the glue that holds us together. If you're not getting the nurturing from him - or feel you're giving too much - you'll turn to others who do it better. Couples who are disenchanted with each other often stop communicating effectively. Conversations fade to a bored "How was work?" thrown over your shoulder as you're chopping up the vegetables. Not talking about the little things stops you feeling in tune with each other. It's a fact of life; the person who knows most about us is often the person we feel closest to. We naturally move closer to the person we share our secrets with.

You Stop Arguing
In a university study, researchers asked a group of single men and woman to name the opposite to love. Their answer, predictably was hate. When the same question was posed to married couples, they answered "indifference" - a far more realistic and accurate response, at least according to psychologists. While you're arguing, the chances are there's still a relationship there that's functioning. It's when you give up on arguing that spells the end. You've got to the stage where you're indifferent: you despair that you'll ever get your needs met and stop trying.

You Start Seeing Faults
That cute little habit she has of distractedly smoothing hair now seems neurotic; his gregarious personality starts to grate. Your rose-colored glasses have been replaced by magnifying glasses and faults you never noticed before now seem glaringly magnified. Sometimes, our partners do change physically or emotionally into someone who doesn't attract us anymore. But more often than not, it's our perceptions that have altered. When you fall out of love, your tolerance level isn't the same. What was endearing becomes annoying. Finding fault also helps us justify wanting to leave. We gather as many faults as possible as a reason for leaving someone. We try to justify why we're about to be mean and nasty.

You Avoid Spending Time Together
Couples who can't even go to the dentist alone are nauseating, but pay attention if you find yourself preferring to do just about everything solo. You're leaving him out because you feel less restricted and more comfortable on your own. Another clincher: when people stop asking you out as a couple. If the tension between you is so obvious that others notice it, your future together is definitely growing less and less certain. It's one of the tail-end signs that you've drifted apart. If you're no longer spending time together, you're no longer communicating or sharing. And of course, it also means you're free to spend time with someone else.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Parent Trap

Living with your parents is tough when you're 25 and still being treated like a child.

It's 11am, Sunday morning. Bang... bang... bang... goes my door, followed by the piercing pitch of my mother's voice yelling "Wake up! Come on, wake up! Look at the time!" How many times have I been startled from slumber in that manner after a late night out? How many times have mother and daughter descended into the same old Sunday morning wrangles? To be honest, I've lost count. I'm already 25, single and earning my keep as an account co-ordinator with an advertising agency. But finding my own place is still a pipe-dream, as I struggle rather miserably with my personal finances. I know there's that old saying "beggars can't be choosers", but beggars have a right to privacy and are allowed certain liberties at home aren't they? I keep trying to impress the fact on my parents, but they just don't seem to listen.

Take my mother, for instance. She still hasn't recognised that I am no longer 12 years old. I'm guessing she finds it hard to let go. I could never broach the subject of moving out, having my own space or even making my own decisions. The very suggestion of me leaving home would be absolute sacrilege to her. to impose such a though would have catastrophic consequences. God forbid such unpleasantries, I want none of that. So I hold my tongue and grumble to friends instead. And then there are my father's etched-in-stone house rules:

» No boys allowed home (which has caused many nerve-wrecking episodes when I've to attempt to sneak boyfriends out in broad daylight).

» No friends allowed in the family home without prior permissions.

» Home by 7:30pm for dinner every night.

» No smoking or drinking in the house.

» No vacation plans to be made without consulting my parents first. And, definitely no vacations with boyfrends.

»No loud music.

» Home by 3am after clubbing.

» No phone calls after 11:30pm because I should be asleep by then.

I know I sound like a complete ingrate, but I'll remind you again that I'm a working woman in her mid-20s, and all I want after a hard day at the office is to head back to my very own little sanctuary for some peace and quiet. I don't hate living with my parents, but I wush they'd ease up just a little. Of course, I realise it's not always the parents who are at fault. There are always two sides to every story - I'll admit that I'm a total pain to live with sometimes. After all, none of us are perfect, we're all only human.

Eventually, I will pack my bags and fly from my parents' nest. And that's both a desirable and scary prospect. I'll finally consider myself brave enough to face the social responsibilities and unknown realities of living in the adult world, all the stuff my parents have been shielding and gingerly guiding me through for the past 25 years. When that day comes, I'm sure they'll be nothing but incredilby supportive and proud of me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cash Flash

Aside from staying at home, never going out and locking yourself in your room... there are so many more steps you can take to prevent a lack-of-money misery. Here are just a few of them.

1. If you take a packed lunch from home, you can save about $7 a day on lunch. In a month, you'll be $120 - $154 richer!

2. Downloading music from the Internet is cost efficient. Just get yourself the right software and groove to the latest, hippiest sounds around.

3. Go for those "pay as you go" cards (prepaid cards, etc) for your mobile phone. You'll think twice before you call and it'll save you loads of money. Alternatively, ditch the mobile phone or switch to a pager!

4. Cab fares can eat up to $250 - $300 a month. Take public transport, or how about a skate-skoot?

5. Go to the library and get the books on loan. Otherwise, get them secondhand instead.


Everyone talks about budgeting. But how can I predict how much I may spend on what, in advance? What I spend in one month may not be the same what I may spend in the following month.

The idea behind budgeting is to understand where and how you are spending your money. Here are a few easy steps that will help you build that bank balance.

Step 1. Make a list of your regular bills - mobile phone or pager, transport, credit cards.

Step 2. Decide how much money you want to save each month, taking into account how much cash you have left after paying your bills.

Step 3. Regard the money you want to save as another bill that needs to be "paid" and leave it automatically deducted into a special savings account every month.

Step 4. Consider what your priorities will be each month, whether Christmas shopping in December, weekend away in February, or spring fashion shopping in April. Allocate a certain amount of money to cover these expenses and stick to it.

step 5. Make sure to give yourself an entertainment allowance each month to spend on fun stuff like clubbing, eating out. Saving money shouldn't mean leading a miserable life!

For more advice, check out www.enich.edu

Monday, October 13, 2008

10 Health Questions To Ask Your Mother

Dramatic developments in genetic research are pinpointing more and more genes which predispose us to certain diseases. And half the 50,000 genes in our bodies come from mum. But it doesn't mean you're doomed to develop the same problems as she had. By altering your lifestyle, die and exercise habits, you can reduce your chances of following in your mum's footsteps. Besides, looks aren't the only things you inherit from your mother, chances are she's passed on some health problems as well. Asking questions now, and taking preventive actions, could save your life.

1. How's Her Gynaecological Health?

Uterine Fibroids:
They're benigh growths in or on the uterus and 70 - 80 percent of women have them. Most don't notice unless they grow large enough to cause pelvic pain, heavy periods and the urge to urinate or pass stools frequently. It's difficult to say if fibroids are inherited, because they're so common. But if your mother or sister had some that cause problems, it's wise to checl.

Scientists can't pinpoint the cause but there definitely appears to be a hereditary component. Studies suggest if your mum or sister had it, your risk increases to around 7 percent (as opposed to 2 - 3 percent). Symptoms can include back pain, pain during intercourse, abnormal bleeding and a dragging, arching pelvic pain.

Poor Bladder Control:
Common cause of bladder difficulties include pregnancy, childbirth and the presence of a certain type of collagen, which is usually inherited. Some researchers also say you inherit the strength of your pelvic muslce and tightness of ligaments from mum. If they're poor, you may develop incontinence.

Difficult Pregnancy:
There may be a mother-daughter link, as both may show similarities in the size of their pelvis, how the uterus contracts and how labour progresses. It's far more important to ask if she had diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Both are inherited and if there's a history, you should be monitored by your obstetrician.

Beat The Odds By:
Uterine Fibroids:

Even if there isn't a family history, it is recommended that all women get screened for uterine enlargement (during a pelvic exam) every year, from your 20s through to 50s. Medication can shrink fibroids or they can be surgically removed.

Taking the Pill, which blocks menstruation, can help to ease symptoms and prevent it from progressing. For best results, take it continuously and don't break for the sugar pills. The best cure for endometriosis seems to be a pregnancy. If you have babies early, you're less likely to develop it.

Bladder Control:
Doing Kegel exercises daily (tightening and releasing the muscle that controls urine flow) helps immeasurably.

2. When Did She Hit Menopause?
The average age for menopause is around 52 but in rare cases, it can happen as early as your mid-30s. If your mother went through the menopause before 40 (and it wasn't a result of surgery or chemotherapy), you're also at rick - something to consider if you're planning on having children. Usually, women who experience early menopause are born with a small number of eggs. You're likely to inherit a similar number of eggs as your mother and lose them at a similar rate. Menopause usually occurs when the eggs run out. Your mother's severity of menopause symptoms - hot flashes, cold sweats and insomnia - may also be passed on as they're influenced by how your body handles oestrogen.

Beat The Odds By:
» Planning on having children early, if you want a family.

» Not smoking and watching your alcohol intake. One study showed that smokers can start menopause up to eight years earlier than would have naturally occurred. Alcohol can lower oestrogen levels, also making early menopause more likely.

» Starting hormone replacement therapy early, when you first start to skip periods. There's evidence that taking estrogens more than five years after menopause increases the incidence of breast cancer, but it's very slight and this has to be balanced against the significant positive benefits.

3. How's Her Dental Health?
If your mother had crooked teeth or needed orthodontic treatment as a child, there's a tendency for you to inherit her dental problems. Though if you inherited the right type of genes from your father and he had great teeth, you can be lucky. But you need not get all your parents' dental problems as it's also possible that their bad teeth are a result or poor diet, or not having enough access to a dentist. There is a rare genetic disorder (called amelogenesis imperfecta) which affects the outer layer of the tooth, but only one in 14,000 have it. Gum diseases isn't thought to be hereditary - it's a build-up of plaque which predominantly causes inflammation, bleeding or receding gums and tooth loss.

Beat The Odds By:
» Watching your intake of sugar and acidic drinks. It's okay to indulge occasionally but every time you do, you're subjecting your teeth to an acid attack. Carry a toothbrush with you and brush teeth after meals to get rid of food debris (dry brush if you don't have toothpaste at hand).

» Scheduling six-monthly dental check-ups. You may need to go more often or less, depending on your dental history.

» Developing good oral hygiene habits. Brush twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste, change toothbrushes every two months, floss at least once a day.

» Avoid smoking, red wine, coffee and tea or reducing such stains by rinsing with water after.

4. What's The Family History Of Cancer?

All of us are at risk (there's a one in 12 chance for the average female) but if you have three or more first or second degree relatives (mother, sister and grandmother, for instance) who were hit by breast cancer pre-50 or menopause, particularly in both breasts, your risk does rise. But despite public perception, only 5 to 15 percent of total cases have a strong family history. Two breast cancer genes have been identified - BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you're one of the few unlucky enough to inherit them, your lifetime risk could be as high as 50-60 percent. BRCA1 may also predispose you to ovarian cancer (Men can also carry the gene so ask about your father's family). Early onset of your periods, having children post-30 and being overweight are also suspected.

The normal risk in one in 70 but a strong family history of ovarian cancer can make it five times greater. Symptoms include abdominal pain or swelling, persistent constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, indigestion, unexplained weight loss or abnormal bleeding.

Beat The Odds By:
» Examining your breasts monthly, after your period. The better you know your own breasts and what they usually feel like, the more chance you have of picking up a change. Get your doctor to examine your breasts annually and also check that your self-examination technique is adequate. A lump, dimpling, discharge from the nipples, any change in the skin over them (including redness) or unusual pain should be attended to immediately.

» If your mother or sister have had breast cancer, discuss with your GP whether you should have early mammograms, perhaps starting in your 30s rather than the usual 40/50.

» Watching your diet. Include cancer-fighting foods like fruit and vegetables (especially green produce like broccoli and cabbage). Regular exercise may also lower your risk.

» Cutting down on alcohol. Studies consistently link breast cancer and alcohol consumption. Stick to less than three drinks a week. As with any disease, smoking exacerbates it.

Ovarian: » Having a pelvic examination once or twice a year and asking your doctor about ultrasound screenings and a blood test for ovarian cancer. If your mum has it, get tested from age 35 on.

» The Pill helps protect against ovarian cancer after six months' use.

» Reducing dairy food and animal fat.

5. Does She Have Heart Disease?
Overseas research suggests coronary disease (affecting the arteries that supply blood to the heart) shows a definite mother-daughter link. if your mother or sister developed it before age 55 or either of your parents had a heart attack before they were 60, you're at high risk. High cholesterol and trigyceride levels and high blood pressure also appear to be passed on. One in 500 of us inherits familial hypercholesterolaemia, a condition where blood cholesterol levels are twice the norm. There are eight risk factors for heart disease. Three of them - family history, being male (or a post-menopausal female) and your age - you can do nothing about. The other five (smoking, high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, under-exercising and being overweight) are within your control.

It is recommended that every woman over 25, particularly those with a family history, gets her blood pressure taken annually and a cholesterol check .If it's 5.5 or below, there's no need to check again for another three to five years. But if it's above, you need to diet and exercise to bring that down to a normal range. And if you're even slightly overweight, you're 80 percent more at risk of heart disease. Your waist shouldn't measure more than 80cm: abdominal obesity is dangerous. If you're apple-shaped (tend to carry weight around your stomach) you're more at risk than if you're pear-shaped (carry it around your hips and thighs).

Beat The Odds By:
The good news is, by changing your lifestyle and modifying risk factors, you can reduce your chances of getting any of these illnesss by 50 - 80 percent.

» Eating low-fat, low-cholesterol foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables are loaded with natural chemicals which protect against narrowing of the arteries. Reduce saturated fats like cheese, cream and butter and look for low-fat diary alternatives. Eat chicken, lots of fish and three portions of lean red meat per week.

» Exercising. It maintains a healthy weight, reduces high blood pressure and keeps cholesterol levels low. As little as half-an-hour walking a day lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease.

» Quit smoking. Smokers account for 17 percent of all coronary heart disease deaths. Watch your alcohol intake as well: it's fermented sugar, which sends triglyceride levels rocketing.

» Getting a full check-up with your doctor around menopause - before, if you smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

6. Does She Get Migraines?
There's definitely a hereditary link. It is estimated you have a 30 percent chance of suffering if either of your parents do; UK research puts that figure higher, claiming in seven out of 10 migraine cases, there's a family history. We're all potential migraine sufferers, it's our threshold - how quickly one is triggered - which is inherited. There are varying dregrees of migraines. Some people just get a blinding headache, others neurological symptoms as well (temporary loss of vision, speech and dizziness). In a severe attack, you might feel paralysed, as by a stroke. What causes migraine remains a mystery though a migraine gene, found in a part of the cell called the calcum channel, has recently been discovered. There's also undoubtedly a relationship between the menstrual cycle and migraines because some people get more or less on the Pill. Although most of us associate migraines with stress, it's more likely the relief of it that's a trigger, it's quite common for sufferers to get them on weekends or the first few days of holidays, when stress is removed, than during a busy work week.

Beat The Odds By:
» Maintaining regular sleeping patterns. Too little or too much may both be triggers for migraines.

» Keeping a migraine diary. Keep track of your stress levels, sleep patterns, what you ate and drank to isolate personal triggers. Some are food linked (red wine, fried food, cheese, chocolate, coffee and seafood are common culprits) though it's now thought a craving for these foods is more likely a warning sign that an attack is already on its way, rather than the cause of it. Most migraine sufferers figure out what prompts their migraines. It's then usually a case of taking preventive medication during high risk period.

7> Does She Have A History Of Depression?
Depression is hereditary but that's not all that causes it. If your mother gets clinically depressed, you have a 10 - 20 percent chance of also suffering. The earlier and more severe the onset, the higher your risk. However, remember that "you're susceptible if either parent suffers but it's the difficulties and pressures of modern life that causes it". If your mother takes medication - like Prozac, an anti-depressant - it could mean you'll also respond to the same drug. Anxiety disorders - like panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder - also appear to be hereditary, as is drug or alcohol addiction. Manic depression and schizophrenia are also strongly inheritable. it's worth asking your parents about Alzheimer's disease too. On average, half the children of an affected parent will get Alzheimer's later in life.

Beat The Odds By:
» Getting treatment early. You can't prevent depression but it's very optimistic that you can get good results from various forms of counselling and/or medication.

» Not being ashamed to admit you're depressed. Depression is a medical problem and like all other illnesses, it needs treatment.

» Reducing stressful events as far as possible. Try not to plan high-stress triggers (changing jobs, moving, getting married or pregnant) back-to-back.

» Not relying on alcohol or other drugs to lift your spirits. That only covers up the real problem.

» If you're sleeping badly, find it hard to concentrate, feel irritable or teary for no apparent reason, see a counsellor. We all go through periods of unhappiness but depression is distinguishable by the length (it lasts longer than two weeks), severity (feelings are intense, sometimes even suicidal) and a negative effect on your life (work and relationships suffer because you lack energy and motivation and are constantly irritable). If being miserable is disrupting your life, it's probably depression.

8. Could She Have Diabetes?
There are two types. Type 1 (insulin dependent) and Type 2 or mature onset diabetes (non-insulin dependent). Type 2 accounts for 85 percent of all cases and tends to develop after the age of 40, though it can occur earlier. Both types of diabetes have a genetic component. Your risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is around 5 percent if your father has it but only 1 percent if your mother does. With Type 2, if one parent has it, your risk is around 20 - 30 percent, and it's higher if both do. If you or your siblings weighed over 4k at birth, it could indicate gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) which predisposes you and your mother to developing Type 2 later in life. Be alert to the symptoms. Diabetes makes you feel excessively thirsty, tired and urinate more than normal. Other signs: blurry vision, infections that are slow to heal and recurrent thrush. Type 1 symptoms may be accompanied by rapid weight loss.

Beat The Odds By:
» Exercising and staying within a healthy weight range. There's evidence you can delay - even prevent - Type 2 by managing your weight and keeping fit. Excess body fat, particularly around your stomach, can be a trigger as it interferes with the action of insulin.

» Opting for low-fat, hgh-fibre foods. Eating sugar doesn't cause diabetes and it's okay to have a little so long as it's part of an overall healthy eating plan.

9. Has She Had Any Serious Eye Problems?
If either of your parents wore glasses very young or have serious eye problems or diseases, you could also be at risk. If your mother mentions she's been seeing a doctor for glaucoma since she was 20, I'd be hotfooting it off to your GP even if your vision is 100 percent normal. Glaucoma used to be thought of as an "old people's" disease. But you can be born with it and lots of young people are affected. It causes the pressure in the eye to build up, damage nerves and can make you blind. There are no early symptoms but does appear to be hereditary.

Beat The Odds By:
» Keeping healthy and getting lots of rest. Old-fashioned things like eating well and resting are important for the eyes. Eyes are sensitive indicators of the general health of the person.

» Wearing approved sunglasses to protect your eyes with glasses whenever you're outside. Check for how much UVA and UV radiation the lenses let through.

» Getting up and walking around now and then, if your work means that you stare at computer screens a lot, and remind yourself to blink. There's not a lot of evidence to show that staring at screens is damaging, but if you work in air-conditioning, you'll tend to blink less often and your eyes will dry out.

10. Does She Have Osteoporosis?
It does tend to be passed on and we know there's an increased risk if there's a strong family history, so take steps now to guard against it. Osteoporosis is essentially brittle bones, usually caused by bone loss after menopause when our own supply of oestrogen runs low and can no longer prevent calcium from being lost from bones. Low bone mass in your 20s and 30s is strongly linked to osteoporosis. The New England Journal Of Medicine found daughters of women with osteoporosis have lower than average bone density. Many of the risk factors appear genetic: early menopause (natural or surgical) - both rob the body of oestrogen, fair skin, a small, delicate frame and a tendency to be on the thin side. If you over-exercise and don't take adequate calcium, you may develop it before menopause (women as young as 30 have had it). Usually, it's discovered via X-rays when a fracture occurs. If your mother is still too young to show signs, ask if either of your grandmothers suffered.

Beat The Odds By:
» Doing weight-bearing exercise, especially before age 35. That means any exercise when you're carrying your own weight, like jogging, walking, weights, aeroics. It's recommended you do around four hours a week.

» Eating a high-calcium diet, again before age 35. Make skim milk, low-fat, high-calcium dairy products, fish (especially sardines) and dark green leafy vegetables part of your staple diet. Add foods high in magnesium, like whole grains and turkey - it's another natural bone-builder. Also consider boosting your diet with calcium supplements if you're too lazy or busy to plan meals.

» Not smoking. It weaken bones.

» Consider going for hormone replacement therapy around the time of your own menopause, if your mother had an early menopause.

» Get a bone density test done around the time that you start showing menopausal symptoms.

Monday, September 29, 2008

#6: AstroGuy

Gifts that'll grab him

For this action-packed leader, get him glam sunglasses, cool car accessories, tickets to a match, or a chance to check out some mad sport like skydiving.

He loves the good life and luxury; so go for the best cigars or cognac, a mohair sweater or silk shirt, monogrammed writing set, a leather armchair or hand-made tools for his birthday.

For this Peter Pan gor for games, puzzles, gadgets, anything hi-tech for the home or office. He enjoys fun clothes and accessories too, so don't try and turn him into a grown-up yet!

For this homeody, go for excellent beer or wine glasses, a family portrait, luxury bathrobe or PJs, or saws, hammers and drills and as many cuddles as you can fit in!

The king loves to be pampered, so go for a VIP box at his favorite sporting event, the best food and wine. Anything in gold, flashy designer clothes, or a glitzy night out on the town.

As he's a nest freak, what about a tool box or a personal organiser? His body is his temple so go for a gym membership. Perhaps stylish neutral accessories for his home.

This romancer would love a CD, a luxurious shirt and some pampering bath goodies. Though you - in a tiny lacy thing on Christmas morning - would also be great!

Go for a wine course or beer-making kit, vineyard membership or a fine decanter. As he loves mystery, a good spy novel would work; but so would a few naughty bedroom toys...

As he loves to explore, unusual artefacts or something to do with travel (books, tickets...) would thrill! Or tickle his funnybone with a joke book or a comic film.

This traditionalist likes the best in life but will rarely treat himself! So what about a vintage brandy, antiques, a good wallet or pen, gardening things, or a stylish silver tie-pin and cufflinks?

He's a mad eccentric and likes anything different. Try inventive gadgets, a donation to his favorite charity or name a star after him. Book gifts should feature great activists in history.

As this dreamer loves to lose himself go for music, a camera, photography course, dance lessons or a set of his favorite old movies; but he's also a sucker for aftershave.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Do You Work For A Jerk?

They lie, cheat and steal, howl and scream, ansd suck you dry before tossing you aside. Bad bosses: you can't live with them and you can't run them over, so here's how to cope with their problems personalities.

Bad Boss Type: The Burglar

How To Spot Them:
This person happily adapts other people's ideas to advance his own career. You thought of a way to reduce office stationery overheads? Your boss is with the accountant right now, mouthing off about his cost-cutting plan. You have a great campaign idea for a client? Your boss is on the phone, telling them all about it. How will you ever get anywhere if your contributions aren't recognised?

Coping Strategy:
If you're a member of the support staff, it can be very difficult. Try to document your ideas, keep them in a file and, when your appraisal comes around, point out that this is what you contributed and why you deserve a promotion or a raise. Another suggestion is to only put your ideas forward at staff meetings, when more than one person will hear them. If you're higher up the career ladder, put your suggestions in a memo or e-mail to your boss that you "cc" to other colleagues or supervisors. You can add a note saying, "This is an idea I had that I'd like input on from other people," to cover your reason for cc-ing it.

Bad Boss Type: The Swinger

How To Spot Them:

Easily confused with The Terrorist, but the difference is that this boss has moments of total approachability mixed with tantrums. Mandy, a 25-year-old architect, used to gauge her boss's mood by monitoring his coffees. Two double lattes and the door closed meant troule; a cappucino and leisurely browsing through the newspaper signalled his mood was sweet. He was tolerant and open to ideas; in the next instant, he screamed about even the simplest things. "You never really know what sort of day you were going to have," Mandy says. "I was constantly on edge."

Coping Strategy:
Career advisers say the sanity-saving move here is to determine some kind of pattern to their behaviour. Then, when you've worked out when the bad moods are most likely to hit, the best thing you can do is to stay away. When you think the boss is in a good mood, that's the time to approach.

Bad Boss Type: The Vampire

How To Spot Them:

He feels it's his prerogative to call you at home at night or on weekends. And if he needs you to work late, or on Saturday, you'd better count yourself in. And if you have the bad luck to be his secretary, he'll want you to run his personal life, do his errands and lie to his partner too.

Coping Strategy:
Before you take a job, you should find out if you'll be required to work weekends, or perform personal errands. If the answer is "sometimes", that means "yes". If you're managerial staff, you will probably want to come in on Saturdays or work late if required, to show that you are professional. However, this shouldn't be the case all the time. If you're support staff, ask if some of your work could be delegated elsewhere, or if there's anything you can start earlier in the day or week, to eliminate last minute panic. With personal errands, either make a game of it or look for another job. Some people like the chance to get out of the office, while others find such chores humiliating. If it's the latter, tell the boss you have work you need to finish, and that doing those errands will mean it doesn't happen.

Bad Boss Type: The Gal Pal

How To Spot Them:

No power trips or whip-cracking here - this boss just wants to be liked. It might start with a simple invitation to lunch. Next, it's dinner - soon you'll find it almost impossible to disagree with her over work issues. After all, you're friends. To her, that means unconditional support - something you may not always be willing to give.

Coping Strategy:
It's good to work in a friendly place, but you need to know where to draw the line. However reluctant your boss is to lay down the law, she does need to exercise authority - and that means not getting too personal. Find reasons to gently refuse her invitations. While you don't want to be too aloof at work, you may want to politely let your boss know that you prefer to keep your personal and business lives separate.

Bad Boss Type: The Conspiracy Theorist

How To Spot Them:

You're called into the boss office's. She wants to know why you were talking to the MD in the lift today. In fact, you said, "Hello, which floor?" Trouble is, this boss is convinced you're out to get her job. She will treat good ideas with fear and suspicion, and will eyeball the outfit you wear to work if it's more expensive than hers, or if you look better in it. Watch out! If she suspects you're dressing for success, or sucking up to senior management, you'll be out of there faster than she can say, "You're fired!"

Coping Strategy:
You have to give this boss positive feedback. Make sure she knows you admire and look up to her - reassure her that you're not after her job. Make sure she knows you're willing to be a part of her team, and you're not working hard just to outshine her.

Bad Boss Type: The Terrorist

How To Spot Them:

He yells. Screams. The office is a warzone. You leave the office with your head ringing and your hopes destroyed. Says Linda, a 27-year-old web designer. "it didn't seem to matter what I did, I couldn't please my boss. He'd argue about everything, even the most simple design points or ideas. And if I answered back, or in any way tried to defend myself, he'd go crazy."

Coping Strategy:
The terrorist boss may have a basic personality disorder that dates back to when your boss was the school bully. Unfortunately, often the only solution is to leave. If you want to stick it out, you'll have to ensure your performance is constantly up to scratch, so there are fewer reasons for tantrums. You must also resist the impulse to fight back, or the battle will intensify. It's important that you try not to escape the situation. Remain calm and, when your boss has settled down, apologise if their anger was caused by something you did. If it wasn't, tell yourself that your boss's anger is not personal and try not to take it that way. You could also try going for a quick 10 minutes walk, by then, you should have cooled off a little and won't say anything you'll regret. Or try deep breathing, as you chant to yourself: "I will not kill my boss, I will not kill my boss..."

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Office Workout

No time for the gym? Try these 21 ways to get fit without leaving your desk!

1. Get a Jennifer Lopez butt
Stand behind your chair: legs together, feet facing forward. Slowly raise your right leg behind you, tightening your buttocks as you do so. Go as high as you can without arching your back, then return to standing. Repeat 12 - 15 times, then change sides. It's much easier than most bum exercises. Just make sure no-one's standing behind you.

2. De-stress with cybercats
Keeping a cat is great for reducing blood pressure and de-stressing. Rather than trying to sneak Patch into the office, download a cyberkitty at www.catslikefelix.com - he'll keep you company sans furballs.

3. Bag yourself Gisele-like boobs
Sitting down, extend your arms in front of you. Bend your right arm and put your right hand in your left-elbow pit and position your left arm so your left hand cups your right elbow. Press your hands into arms, feeling your pectoral muscles tighten. Hold a couple of seconds then release. Repeat 10 times. It's the pectoral muscles behind your breasts that keep your breasts lifted. Do this exercise regularly and you'll be amazed at how much more toned they'll look."

4. Wave wobbly arms goodbye
Grab a stretchy jumper in your left hand and drop your left hand over your left shoulder and down your back. Bend your right arm up your back and grab the bottom of the jumper. Straighten your left arm so you stretch your jumper - feel the back of your arm tighten as you do so. Hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times, then change sides. Just don't try this with your workmate's new cashmere sweater!

5. Chill out
Forget about sweating it out on the treadmill - popping ice in your glass of mineral water is a great way to burn off the calories. Your body uses more calories when the water you're drinking is cold because it has to wotk harder to keep your body temperature.

6. Get mystic
Buy a piece of clear or rose quartz for your desk. Placing it near your computer will soak up the stress-causing electromagnetic emissions it gives out.

7. Select your calves
Sit down, take your shoes off and put your fleet flat on the ground, lift your toes and balls of your feet and drop back down as if you're pedalling a bike. Repeat 10 times. Then, keeping your toes on the ground, lift your heels 10 times.

8. Firm your chin
Place your hands behind your head. Stick your chin out and feel the muscles in the back of your neck tighten. Hold for a couple of seconds, return to start position, then repeat 10 times.

9. Bye bye to flabby thighs
Sit with your legs slightly apart, roll up your coat or a chunky jumper and put it between your thighs. Bring your knees together, squeezing your inner thighs as you do so. Hold for a couple of seconds and release. Repeat 12 - 15 times.

10. Daydream your way to happiness
Get that post-gym high by drifting off for a few minutes. Daydreaming increases immune-boosting chemicals and puts you in a better mood, according to UK scientists. Just make sure you don't get carried away and end up falling into a long, deep sleep!

11. Eat!
Not only will missing lunch mean you'll be reaching for a Kit-Kat come 3pm, it'll also make you more stressed. UK scientists discovered that people who skip lunch are more likely to make mistakes and have a shorter attention span. Avoid the three Ss - sugar, salt and stimulants (tea and coffee) - which will make you feel lethargic. Also avoid bread, which is really hard to digest. Instead, go for a chicken or hummus salad or sushi, which are all packed with nutrients. As tempting as it is to reach for the chocolate, try not to - your blood sugar level will peak and then drop so you'll feel really tired afterwards. Opt for fruit instead, such as strawberries, which contain more vitamin C than oranges.

12. Drink to your health
Drink fruits and vegetales the minute they're juiced and you'll get 9 percent of their nutrients compared to only 35 percent if you eat them raw. So pick some up on your way into work!

13. Waist away
Sitting up straight, put your hands on the back of your chair behind your bum. Gently pull your tummy in, and twist your body to your right so you're looking over your shoulder. Breathe in, breathe out and try to twist a little bit further. This is a great exercise for loosening up your lower-back, which can suffer when you've been slumped at your desk and for toning your oblique muscles, which give your waist definition.

14. Head off hand strain
If you've handled your keyboard more than your boyfriend lately, stand up and place your palms on your desk. Press firmly for five seconds, then release. Repeat four times.

15. Boost your orgasms
Sitting in your chair, squeeze your pelvic area as if you're trying to stop yourself peeing an you're sucking up water inside yourself. Hold for a couple of seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times. As well as improving the appeareance of your tummy, strengthening this deep layer of abdominal muscles gives you more control during sex and bigger orgasms.

16. Banish that eye-ache
Stop eyestrain (and subsequent headaches) by giving your eyes a mini-workout. Look as far as you can to the right, then to the left. Then look up, then down. Finally, close your eyes, place the palms of your hands over your eyes, resting your fingers on your forehead for a few minutes. This will give your eyes a break from the harsh office light and the heat of your hands will bring blood flow to your eyes, which alleviates tiredness.

17. Have some daily male
Don't grumble next time your boss makes you organise a parcel of courier - hand it over personally to the courier and you'll feel the troubles of the day drift away. Why? Men's sweat contains a pheromone that makes us less tense and nervous, according to research. (Of course, this probably only works if he looks like Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp.)

18. Beautify your biceps
Put your hands palm upwards on the underside of your desk, with your elbows bent at right angles. Push up firmly against the desk, feeling the muscles in your upper arms contract. Hold in this position for three seconds and then release. Repeat 15 times.

19. Energise yourself
Why tire yourself out on the rowing machine when sticking a Peace Lily on your desk can perk you up as well? Not only are they great for filtering and cleansing pollutants in the air, they also increase oxygen, which will make you feel more energetic.

20. Get a model midriff
Forget sit-ups, tone your abs by sucking your bellybutton in towards the base of your spine. Hold for a count of two, then release. Repeat 12 - 15 times. Sit up straight while you do this exercise and you'll be improving your posture at the same time.

21. R-E-L-A-X
If you're feeling under the weather, staring out of the window at trees will speed up your recovery, according to research in the US. If stress is the problem and the view from your desk is grey rather than green, draw a green circle on a piece of paper and stare at it. Focus on the dot, concentrate on your breathing and try to slow it down. Try to transport yourself away to a beautiful beach or the countryside. You'll be amazed at how much calmer and in control you'll feel afterwards.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How To Talk To A Man

Stop worrying about the difficulties of sending signals from Venus to Mars - Mars And Venus... Actually hvae the solution to better communication in your relationship.

You've heard it a million times - the secret to a good relationship is communication. And it's totally true; without it a relationship can quickly wither. So how come we haven't learned to be better at it? Put simply, it's because men and women communicate in such different ways that we may appear to be speaking foreighn languages sometimes. Tell me everything I don't know, I hear you cry. Well, let's get specific about the most common communication problems between the sexes and how to deal with them.

The "thing" Thing
Problem: The most significant of these differences is that women primarily focus on people, whereas men make objects their No. 1 priority. This trait is evident from early childhood and manifests itself in the way men prefer to discuss business, sports, gadgets and how things work. Or, as Dr Ken Druck, author of The Secrets Men Keep, says, "Men are adept at talking about things, rather than their feelings about the things." Women, on the other hand, communicate mostly about people and their responses, problems, reactions, failings and foibles. Even at work, women are far more likely to e sensitive to how individuals work together, tensions within a work group, or how best to create a smooth workin environment. The shared experience of a conversation is crucial to women, who will often ask questions to maintain the momentum of the interaction, whereas men simply regard questions - and often conversations - as an efficient manner of exchanging information. This is further complicated by the fact that, linguistically speaking, men live in a world of competition where every exchange has a winner and a loser - whereas women collaborate.

Solution: Try to talk about the things he loves, stuff like football and Ferraris. Although it may seem to have the emotional nourishment of a Matt Le Blanc movie, he will feel closer to you for having shared something that he is passionate about. And he should return the favour. Point out that it's through talking about people and their experiences that you form the strongest bond with them. While "thing" talk is fine, explain that you find it almost impersonal and distancing - as if he's feeling afraid to reveal his innermost self.

Jekyll And Hide
Problem: You're at a party and he's hoggin' the floor, telling joke after joke. But you get into the car to go home and it's as if he's metamorphosed into an mute chauffeur. Not a word. This behaviour relates back to the "things" versus "people" conversation mentality. More specifically, the intimate circumstances of home life or even a car ride are better suited to women's style of communication. "While women sometimes express to express," explains relationships Joe Tannenbaum, :men almost always express to resolve. These respective traits cause most damage in times of relationship strife, as many women feel 'the relationship' is working as long as we can talk about it.' Men, on the other hand, are usually more inclined to take the view that 'the relationship is not working if we have to talk about it'."

Solution:When you're alone together, be mindful of engulfing him in conversations about subjects - such as people, emotions and people's emotions - with which he's not comfortable. This is not to say these conversations should not take place. After all, you deserve emotional sustenance and he needs training. Try to make sure he understands that you like to talk for the sake of talking because suich an emotional exchange makes you feel closer to him.

A Paler Shade of Grey
Problem: Men live in a world that's black and white, whereas women inhabit one that's coloured by a million different shades of grey. Men are on a mission to make a point, they assume that women have the same agenda and become frustrated with what they see as pointless tangents. A case in point: my friend's colleague has a shocking taste in men. It's one loser after another. Recently, we met the latest instalment in this cavalcade of mediocrity and I muttered "yet another beauty". My friend, on the other hand, the head of the Freud squad, was interested in why her colleague kept selecting below-par suitors. Did it make her feel superior? Did it give her an easy out when the heady romance wore off? Was this the kind of man her father was? While I feel this approach does have its merits, these theories - whether prove or unproven - do nothing to alter the reality of the situation. Yet men's penchant for sticking to facts have dangerous consequences. Especially when communicating with women who read between the lines. "What men find worth telling are facts about such topics as history, sports, politics are how things work," wrote Deborah Tannen in You Just Don't Understand. "Women often perceive the telling of facts as lecturing, which not only does NOT carry a meta-message of rapport, but carries instead of a meta-message of condescension: I am the teacher, you are the student. I'm knowledgeable, you're ignorant."

Solution: Say what you mean to him and try not to over-analyse what he says to you. Nine times out of 10, he's being straight down the line, I swear. He, in turn, has to develop patience with your right to analyse what others say and do, as it is your way of understanding the world around you. (Plus, it's probably far more sophisticated than his blinkered approach). Let him understand that by sharing your analytical revelations with him, you feel more intimate as a couple.

Laying Down The Law
Problem: Historically speaking, men have had the power, the money and the patriarchy to back them up when making demands. Women, however, have had to be more circusmpect and diplomatic about attaning their goals and have been rather unjustly accused of being sneaky and manipulative. But the reverse is true in the private domain: "When trying to negotiate mutual preferences and decisions, women are often more indirect than men," explains Deborah Tannen. "But when it comes to talking about their personal relationships and feelings, it's the men who are indirect."

Solution: Quit saying things like "What would you think if we were to..." or "I'm not sure if this is right but..." or "If it's ok with you." If you want to do something, tell him. If you want to say something, say it.

The Word Race
Problem: How many times have you been chatting with a man when you begin to suspect that instead of listening, he's simply waiting for you to pause for breath so that he can jump in with his point of view? Plenty, I'll bet. Women tend to be better listeners than men, who often perceive the role of listener as inferior. As a result, they'll often challenge the speaker, or more specifically, their facts. "Since women tend to build rapport, they're inclined to play down their expertise rather than display it," notes Tannen. Women tend to view the roles of talker and listener as equal in the quest to enhance understanding and intimacy. Facts, figures and power plays rarely figures in these talks. Listening is one of the greatest communication challenge within a relationship. Many couples feel that because they've been together so long, each knows how the other thinks and feels, without having to listen or ask. "This becomes particularly apparent when they argue," says Dr Bob Montgomery in Living & Loving Together. "Both are so busy preparing the next verbal salvo inside their heads that neither has the time to listen to what the other has actually said."

Solution: Since your listening skills are probably more than adequate and his are probably practically non-existent, it would be wiser not to live in hope of re-wiring his brain. Instead of pleading for him to not only listen to you but also indicate that he's actually comprehending what you're saying, become proactive and make him hear you. Hone your speaking skills, don't be afraid to challenge him and it worst comes to worst, give him a taste of his own reticence by cutting down the amount of verbal and non-verbal feedback you gave while he's spouting forth.

To The Rescue
Problem: The final major communication battleground between the sexes is that of crisis. When women go to their mate with an emotional problem, they seek empathy and understanding. Unfortunately, what they receive are solutions: a plan of action to resolve and therefore negate the dilemma. Not so fast, Einsten. Men fail to understand that women have cottoned only the true healing power of empathy and they like giving it as much as they need to receive it. Most guys also don't realise that women like to talk a problem out, elaborating details and experiencing an emotional catharsis, which is as important as any conclusion they might reach.

Solution: Point out to your man that although his ready-made problem-solvers to your every emotional problem are appreciated, you'd be far better supported through such crisis if he were aware of the following three responses from Chris Evatt's He & She:

» She is upset, wants empathy now and advice some other time - maybe even never.

» She is upset, wants empathy now and solutions only after she expresses her feelings.

» She is not upset and wants to discuss a solution to the problem.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Beat Those Negative Thoughts

You've been promoted. He told you he loves you. You got that apartment. Congratulations! There's just one problem... a niggling little voice in your head that won't let you enjoy your success. Here's how to silence those negative thoughts for good.

Life was going well for Jean, She'd been promoted, received a fabulous salary increase, and her incredibly romantic boyfriend proposed by placing a gorgeous diamond ring on top of her dessert at a swanky restaurant - just like in the movies. So why did Jean call her best friend the next day and practically break down on the phone? "I felt so good, so increadibly happy, that I was terrified it would all go wrong. When you really want something badly, it keeps you going. When you get it, you just get scared it'll all be taken away again," she explains.

You're Not Alone
Jean has a very understanding friend who, rather than tell her to grow up and accept her good fortune, agreed and told her, "I know exactly what you're talking about. You're suffering from the Big Foot syndrome." The Big Foot Syndrome, or what I call the "Where d'you think you're going" syndrome, is when life unexpectedly gets good or simply stops being awful. You start to think, Oh yes, when's the Big Foot gonna drop on my head and squash me flat? The Big Foot is very clever. It knows when to leave you alone. And it knows when to strike - just as you think your life is turning a corner, bang! Down it comes. You didn't think you'd get away with any real happiness now, did you? Most people have some degree of self-doubt and question their own worth, especially when success has come to them. There are some arrogant souls who act like they deserve the best and mean it. But nice people - people like you and me - question the randomness of good fortune far more than we question the bad. In a society where hard work is supposed to be its own reward, we expect to earn favours and even when we do, we still question our own worth.But there's something more insidious to this Big Foot fear: for some women, women like Jean, there's a message from childhood that says she doesn't deserve to be happy. So, rather than enjoy the success she worked hard for, she's full of self-doubt. Taken to the extreme, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy - you don't think you deserve happiness, so you work like a demon to ruin it for yourself.

Stop Self-Dout
Fortunately, Jean's great pal assured her that she was indeed entitled to her success and warned her not to blow it with too much self-anlysis. Carol was not so lucky. The eldest child of three sisters and one younger brother, Carol had always grown up in her younger brother's shadow. "My parents wanted a boy first, so I was a huge disappointment to them. When the longed-for-boy, Alan, arrived, he was treated like the eldest and received all the favours and accolades a first-born usually does. Then, when my sisters Leanne and Margaret came along, my parents accepted them as girls because they had their boy then." This might sound like sour grapes but I know Carol well and I know her parents too. The favouritism towards Alan is painfully obvious. You don't need to be a psychologist to recognise it. Example: when Alan started work, his adoring mother dressed him from head to toe in Armani to ensure the world knew her boy was going to amount to something. A year earlier, when Carol had graduated from university and found a decent job, her mother reluctantly gave her a $0 gift voucher with a grudging "well done".

Alan has found love, happiness and career success. Carol? Now the other side of 30, she's never had a relationship that's lasted more than six months. As soon as a man tells Carol he loves, or even likes her, she does her damnedest to ruin it. Or so it seems. Carol didn't recognise this until Alan's wedding last year. Then, like suddenly acquiring vision for the first time, she felt desperately lonely and left out. She pulled her best friend aside - typically Carol had taken a girlfriend to the bash, not a boyfriend - and wept so copiously her friend nearly called an ambulance. Her friend had never seen such heartbreaking distress. "I wanted to smash her smug, self-satisfied parents in the face for making Carol feel so bad," says her friend. But Alan's wedding was a huge turning point for Carol. Tired to trying to compete with her younger brother, she dropped out of her well-paid publishing job and opened a New Age centre. Here, she came in contact with therapists for the first time, and realised that rather than helping others, she desperately needed to help yourself. "I know my case is probably a bit extreme but in many ways, that actually makes it easier to 'cure', because the messages I got from my childhood were so blatant and cruel," she says. For Carol, the answer has been to distance her self from her family. That means avoiding traditional get-togethers and keeping all contact to a bare minimum. "There's no point trying to explain to my mother. Not that I haven't tried. But I've realised now that it's easier and much less painful not to see her at all."

Removed from the cause of her low self-esteem, the cloud above Carol has gradually, though not completely, disappeared. When something happens that makes her happy, or she catches herself enjoying a special sunset or simply feeling good, she tried to savour the moment and silence the "it won't last" voices. "If you can literally live in the moment, rather than worrying about the next one, the fear of everything going wrong is easier to handle," she advises. These negative thoughts that tell us we don't deserve happiness or success are not only the voices of our parents or our teachers. They are all around. Psychologist Louise Beech explains: "It's part of the human make-up to find it easier to be negative about someone or something than positive. No-one knows the reason for this, but it's why we tend to believe the criticisms and not the praise. An actress will read 58 great notices but cry her heart out over the 59th that is mildly critical. In the same way, we all tend to believe our bad critics over our good."

Positive Thinking
Even the great and good can be afraid that their happiness will be snatched away from them. Talking about his mid-life crisis, which he explored in The Information, author Martin Amis told an interviewer that although the crisis was over, better times bring their own concerns. "Happiness has a very strong misture of paranoia. Beforehand, when you're struggling and you have worries, it kind of toughens you up. Makes you resilient. You think, They can't throw anymore at me now. But when you're happy, you expect a 747 to land on your head or a building to collapse on top of you. Disaster is around every corner," said the award-winning novelist. So what to do? If, like most people, you accept the randomness of bad luck, then why not accept the good too? Because fortune is indeed random. We can work hard to win that promotion, plum jo or the kind of social life we've always wanted. But no matter how hard you try, luck will always play some part. Sometimes it will go against you, but like tossing a coin, it's equally likely to go your way.

No-one has only bad luck or good. It's merely a matter of interpretation. Lottery winners might say, "Why me?", but why not them? Those who think they go through life experiencing nothing but bad luck simply ignore the times when fortune has favoured them. They color their life black, not because it is, but because that's how they view it It's familiar and safe. But even if things have always gone wrong, some people manage to stay optimistic. Take Joan, who as a child, grew used to disappointment. "I can't remember how many times I was promised something that never happened, like going to the theatre, having an overseas holiday, or indeed any kind of holiday. "None of it ever happened because my parents never had any spare money. But I still manage to look forward to things now, long after the experience should have triumphed over anticipation." However, the disappoinment when something goes wrong is still crushing. "And when something I've always looked forward to does come off, I suffer dreadful anti-climaxes afterwards," Joan adds. "But that's the price I am prepared to pay to remain an optimist. Even though w rarely got the treats we were promised, at least our parents had their hearts in the right place. They taught us to look forward to the future. Maybe that's where I get my optimism from."

Louise Beech has a theory about this apparent contradiction. "Not all aspects of our personality can be explained by reference to childhood experiences. We still don't know the whole story on what makes a person's character. Perhaps some of us are born optimists or maybe we inherit this trait. Psychologists used to think everyone was born with a blank slate onto which their upbringing imprinted their personality. We no longer believe that." That's brilliant news because it means we're not prisoners of the way we've been told to be, or what we've been told will happen. We can always reinvent ourselves the way we'd rather be. And wouldn't you rather believe you deserve whatever good fortune comes your way than believe you dont't?

Get Your Hope Back
As well as taking Carol's advice about living for the moment, you can send your black clouds of doubt packing by doing some simple self-esteem exercises (see 7 ways To Sink Self-Doubt), because believing "It will all go wrong" is a classic sign of low self-esteem. Everyone is entitled to happiness. If life appears to treat you badly, it's not because you deserve it or that you've done anything wrong to bring it about. Events are haphazard and rarely follow any kind of pattern. A spot of what psychologists call cognitive restructuring - I'll explain in a minute - can turn such negativity around in a flash. All that fancy expression means is, "see things another way". Interpret events to suit you. So if your roof falls, your boyfriend leaves you and your boss sacks you, don't shrug and say, "Serves me rightm I'm a failure, I'm gonna go eat worms." Restructure it and tell yourself: "So I'm going through a rough patch, but I'll get through this and it will make me stronger because I'm a survivor." Then, when things do start to go well - and they will, they always do - accept it wholeheartedly instead of peering at the ceiling, wondering when the roof's gonna cave in again. I can't promise you that the roof won't ever cave in ...but why spend your life looking upwards waiting for the world to crash about you? None of us can make the Big Foot vanish forever, but why give it more room in your brain that it deserves?

7 Ways To Sink Self-Doubt

» Keep your birthday and Christmas cards. Whenever life cuts up rough, get them out and remember how much you are liked and valued.

» Each morning, tell your bathroom mirror reflection how wonderful and worthy you are. It might seem silly but it does work. This is what psychologists call "affirmation".

»Write down at least 10 aspects of yourself that you like or find admirable.

» Join forces with a friend and tell each other how special you are.

» When you need some kind of appraisal, say at work, ask for your good points to be given first.We always hear what is said first more clearly. It'll take the sting out of any criticisms that may follow.

» Give up dieting and take up exercise instead. It works better and releases endorphins into the system; these are the body's natural opiates and they're better than any illegal substitutes.

» Try to find something that you can laugh at, at least 10 times a day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What Your Best Friend Does In Bed

You know her taste in food, fashion and men, but what about her sex life? Admit it, you've probably wondered whether her bedroom action sizzles more than yours. So Mars And Venus... Actually decided to find out.

Want to grab everyone's attention no matter where you are or who you're with? Talk about sex. It's the one subject that never fails to fascinate, titillate and intrigue. When Alfred Kinsey published his pioneering report on the sex habits of Americans back in the 1950s, he had no idea what he started. Forty years later, we're still voraciously devouring every sex statistic we can lay our hands on. And getting a vicarious thrill out of listening to our girlfriends' revelations about their sex lives after a few glasses of wine on a Friday night. Sex might be commonplace - on our TVs, in papers and magazines, even plastered across billboards along our way to work - but it'll never be taken for granted. Because sex is powerful. Powerful enough to make kings give up their thrones, married women walk out on their families and the rest of us ditch the nice-but-boring guy-next-door for the bad boy who rides a Harley.

Sensational Sex
Forget being attractive or rich, driving a Porsche, even being thin - the one area we all want to excel in is sex. Because sex is so damn pleasurable. Good sex eats drugs, power - even chocolate! And there are people out there having mind-blowing sex every day of their lives. Is it any wonder what most of us are obsessed with finding out how they do it? In the words of the envious onlooker who watched Meg Ryan faked it in When Harry Met Sally, "I'll have what she's having." There are two types of sex: manufactured sex and real sex. Manufactured sex is what's dished up on TV, in erotic movies and books. You can get your fill of it just about anywhere, anytime, any place. Real sex is what real people do - and it's much more of a turn-on because we rarely get to see it. This is why eavesdropping on your neighbours, desperately trying to boost a flagging sex life by having sex on the kitchen table, is so much more interesting than watchig triple X porn.

Sex Gets Real
Says British sexpert Susan Quillam: "Even if we have watched soft-core movies, which attempt to show the real thing, they rarely achieve the actual blend of intense pleasure and intimacy that makes real-life sex so compulsive." So says sex therapist and clinical psychologist Janet Hall: "There's a strong drive within us to be the same as everyone else. It's the need to survive within the pack. It's easier to survive if we're like everyone else."

Sex: What's normal?
Quilliam believes we all like to measure ourselves against the norm to find our place in the sexual pecking order - particularly at different stages in our lives. What do most of us do if our sex life alters dramatically? Ask our best friend if she's ever experienced the same. "If our sex life becomes spasmodic, we compare ourselves to 'Jane' to see how we're doing," says Quilliam. "We may not like the answer, but at least we've now placed ourselves in the pecking order." Another reason we compare: wishful thinking. If our sex life is awful and we suspect it's got a lot to do with monogamy or age, we want to hear that others out there are still sizzling. If 'Jane' is still doing it twice a night then there may still be hope. If she can get it right then maybe, one day, with the right man or the right sex toy, our desire will come flooding back."

Sex Lies And Tall Tales
Of course, the big question is: will 'Jane' tell the truth? Who hasn't gone home after confessional with "the girls" secretly thinking (or hoping) that the wine let loose imaginations as well as tongues? (And felt guilty for exaggerating ourselves because everyone else's sex lives sound so interesting...) The trick to telling if someone's exaggerating or really does have sex with travelling salesman, seems to be how well you know them. According to the experts, we overplay our sexual prowess when we first meet people, out of a desire not to seem inferior. Once we become fast friends, we then overexaggerate how bad things are. "Once the barriers are down and we're to the point of admitting problems, we can tend to overplay those too because everyone likes to confess," says Quilliam.

Another dead giveaway of a not-so-hot sex life is silence. "There are two types of women out there," says Hall. "Those who enjoy sex and those who are still being the good girls. Women who don't enjoy sex tend to invalidate it and pretend that it's not important. The ones who get drunk and go into great detail are the ones who are orgasmic. They may be naturally more outrageous anyway - or they may need to get drunk in order to admit that Hey, I enjoy sex. Will you still like me if I say so?" Halls feel strongly that some women who don't like sex, don't like - and even pick on - women who do. If the rest of your friends are moaning about hating to give fellatio, it takes a lot of confidence to admit you enjoy it. Never mind if a good sex life is the right of all women and the rest are jealous. No-one enjoys knowing that, the minute her back is turned, someone's going to say "I knew she was a slut".

Sex Gets Competitive
The fact is, for a variety of reasons, people tell lies about sex. And anyone looking for truly objective sex advice and information finds that it's hard to come by. "In the UK," says Quilliam, "we get our basic information from our parents and occasionally from teachers." The media, she says, presents an ideal - which we usually find hard to live up to - while friends teach us "how to": how to kiss, how to flirt, how to make out. The only problem is, our peers tend to suffer from "one-up-personship". Often they'll say it was wonderful, when in fact it was awful. Then when we try it and, though embarrassment or lack of knowledge, also find it awful, we think we're getting it wrong..." While we're embarrassed to admit to gaping at the couple cuddling in the bar, our enthusiasm knows no bounds when it comes to the sex lives of the rich and famous: we're positive that the Sharon Stones and Cameron Diazs of the world set the sheets on fire.

"We believe that the image is the reality," says Quilliam. "In fact, extraordinary sex has to be underpinned by a mixture of emotion, sensitivity, knowledge, imagination and a willingness to learn. There's no reason why winning an Oscar or being a millionaire makes one any more likely to have these personality traits than being a bus driver." She's right, of course. But emotionally, I just can't imagine Sharon being a dud; or my warm but staid girlfriend Pat bonking on her mum's washing machine, despite her vivid description. It's sad but true that even if we do discover what other people do in bed, we don't believe them anyway.

How Do You Measure Up?

While we're the first to admit you shouldn't concern yourself with averages of who does what, where and with whom, we couldn't resist a peek at the very latest sex stats. Here, compliments of the world's sex researchers, the facts and figures on men, relationships and all things sexual...

» 75% of men masturbate once a week but only 35% of women join them. Most women masturbate only once a month.

» A study which compared stay-at-home couples with those who party all night long, found those who stayed in had better sex, more often.

»The average penis is 12cm - 15cm long. When American can were asked to estimate the average length, they put it at 25cm; women estimated it at 10cm.

»The official average of 2.5 bonks per week has dropped to less than twice a week. Most Western married or defacto couple have sex just over sex times a month. Men aged 16-24 were the most amorous, clocking up 10 sessions a month. Only women aged 35-44 had sex that often.

» 75% of British women have cheated - and 83% of them aren't sorry. The Kinsey institute claims 30-40% of married men have affairs, but other researchers claim the figure is much higher.

»56% of Australians have had sex at work - the most popular place is on the boss' desk.

» 13% of American women aged 18-26 never had an orgasm.

» Most Brits would rather sleep-in, chat with friends or read a good book than have sex. Only one in 10 would bonk more often if they could.

» One-third of German women refuse to have sex after an argument - most "strikes" last three days.

» Toyboys are officially good for you. US doctors found women over 50 with partners more than nine years younger than them were three times less prone to an early death.

»If you want to know how many people your girlfriend's slept with, multiply what she says by three. English sex expert Dr Colin Francombe claims women only remember significant relationships.

Made by Grumpy Cow