TIME Dating

These Are the 20 Best Cities for Singles

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New York, NY Noe DeWitt

Here are the liveliest singles scenes, whether at bars, bookstores or bowling alleys

The singles scene in New York City is a little crazy, maybe even certifiably so.

“This is a city with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but only in the best ways,” says Rachel Harrison, a Brooklyn-based public relations exec. “You can dress a little wilder, slap on some fake eyelashes—you can do anything you want, at any age. There are no judgments.”

Unabashedly batting those faux lashes got the Big Apple more than a few second glances this year. New York City landed in the top 10 for the best cities for singles, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In this year’s America’s Favorite Places survey, readers ranked 38 cities on dozens of appealing qualities, including good-looking locals, cool shopping, and hipster-magnet coffee bars.

The winning cities in the singles-scene category excel in the off-hours, ranking highly for nightclubs, dive bars, and even great diners, where you might lock eyes with someone over a late-night order of fries.

But the most singles-friendly cities also put a creative spin on conventional meet-up spots. Plenty of big attractions—from the Brooklyn Museum to the San Diego Museum of Art—offer monthly happy hours, wooing artsy singles with cocktails and live music. In Boston, one of the coolest bookstores does Trivia Nights, while in downtown L.A. a popular bar stocks old-school video games.

Another strategy for uncovering a city’s best singles scene is exploring the activities that locals love most. “New Orleanians live and breathe festivals—like Jazz Fest, and even Creole Tomato Fest,” says native Stephen Schmitz. Just be warned: “The heat and humidity,” he says, “can make for a rough appearance.”

Read on for the full results. And make your point of view heard by voting in the America’s Favorite Places survey.

No. 1 Miami

Gorgeous locals, a wealth of nightclubs, and a wild streak as long as the beach: Miami climbed from second to first place this year, thanks to its flair for throwing a big party. Hot spots like Wall at the W South Beach or the Italian-restaurant-meets-cocktail-lounge Cavalli get a big boost when celebs grace the premises, whether it’s Bieber or the formerly single Clooney. Other trendy hangouts are a little more accessible to the non-red-carpet crowd: Tamarina, for one, features an oyster bar and alfresco champagne bar, plus a reasonably priced happy hour. You might meet other singles while strolling through galleries and past street art on the Wynwood Art Walks, held the second Saturday of the month. And in this otherwise well-dressed town, your best secret-weapon accessory may be a smile: readers found the locals to be a little aloof.

No. 2 Houston

Houston sashayed into the top five for singles this year, and why not—the locals ranked as both smart and stylish, and the city landed near the top for both its decadent barbecue and world-class art. Gallery Row, at the intersection of Colquitt and Lake streets, offers both great art and conversation starters: check out Hooks-Epstein for contemporary surrealists or Catherine Couturier Gallery for vintage photos. Houston also pulled off an upset by winning the wine bar category this year. Pull up a stool to chat at La Carafe—the city’s oldest bar, with a fabulous jukebox—or try the newbie, downtown’s Public Services Wine and Whisky, which is located in the old 1884 Cotton Exchange building and serves a wide range of global wines, sherries, and whiskeys.

No. 3 New Orleans

Last year’s No. 1 city for singles still knows how to whoop it up, ranking at the top of the survey for festivals, bars, and wild weekends. But a good singles experience in NOLA need not be limited to collecting beads: some cool places to meet a more local crowd, off the tourist grid, include the Saturday night dance party at the Hi-Ho Lounge in the Marigny; Bywater wine bar Bacchanal, with its live-music-filled courtyard; or Fulton Alley for late-night “boutique bowling,” with shareable, andouille-sausage tater tots.

No. 4 Austin, TX

The seat of Texas government is also the nation’s capital of hipsters, according to readers, who also ranked Austin No. 1 for cool locals. Given Austin’s high density of both college students and bearded Peter Pan types, the can’t-miss spots for meeting singles include dive bars and food trucks: you can find both at Wonderland on East 6th, a stylishly low-key bar that provides space outside for the Thai-flavored East Side King truck. To mingle with fellow foodies, check out The Picnic, a trailer park on Barton Springs Road, which is home to Turf N Surf Po’ Boy and Hey Cupcake! If you need an excuse to let down your emotional walls, consider that Austin also ranked well for feeling safe.

No. 5 Atlanta

The Georgia hub scored well for its java, and Dancing Goats Coffee Bar, a single-origin coffee and donut bar in Ponce City Market, is a fine place for a pick-me-up (and perhaps a pick-up line). If you prefer snobs of the burger variety, head to Holeman and Finch, where every night at 10 p.m., you can line up for one of the 24 acclaimed double-patty (grass-fed chuck and brisket) cheeseburgers, served on house-made buns. Atlanta’s residents also made the top 20 for being smart.

Read the full list HERE.

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TIME Sex/Relationships

Unintended Pregnancies Decline Across the U.S.

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Though some states are doing better than others

The rates of unintended pregnancies have fallen in most U.S. states since 2006, according to a new report — though rates remained steady in a dozen states.

Between 2006 and 2010, 28 states out of 41 with data available experienced a drop in their unintended pregnancy rate of 5% or more, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute. Twelve states’ rates remained unchanged, and one state—West Virginia—had an increase of 5% or more.

MORE: The IUD: Why The Best Form of Birth Control is One No One is Using

The report notes that in 2010, more than half of all pregnancies in 28 states were unintentional and that the minimum rate for any state was 36%.

The states with the highest unintended pregnancy rates were Delaware, Hawaii, and New York, though the South tended to have higher rates in general. New Hampshire had the lowest rates.

“The decline in unintended pregnancy rates in a majority of states since 2006 is a positive development,” study author Kathryn Kost, a senior research associate for Guttmacher said in a statement. “However, rates remain twice as high in some southern and densely-populated states compared with those in other states—a variation that likely reflects differences in demographic characteristics and socioeconomic conditions across states.”

MORE: Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed

There’s been an increased use of the most effective contraceptives, like the intrauterine device (IUD), which has contributed to the drop in pregnancies. The report underlines double-digit drops in unintended pregnancy rates in Colorado, Iowa and Missouri, after conducting campaigns to promote the use of long-acting methods like the IUD and implant.

In 2010, publicly-funded family planning services also helped prevent 2.2. million unintended pregnancies, according to prior Guttmacher research.

TIME Sex/Relationships

10 Rules to Make Your Relationship Last

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'It’s always more work than you can possibly imagine. In my case, it was worth it.'

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, what is it that makes a marriage last (and last)? To answer this age-old question, family sociologist Karl Pillemer, PhD, launched the largest in-depth survey of long-married couples ever conducted, interviewing 700 people who had been hitched an average of 43 years. Their sage advice is collected in his new book, 30 Lessons for Loving ($26, amazon.com).

Here, a few of our favorite practical relationship tips from husbands and wives who’ve discovered the true meaning of commitment.

Start the day with a small kindness

“When you wake up in the morning, think, What can I do to make his or her day just a little happier? The idea is you need to turn toward each other and focus on the other person, even just for that five minutes when you first wake up.”
—Antoinette Watkins*, 81

Remember that being close doesn’t mean you’re the same

“You have to be able to try—and sometimes this is very, very difficult—you have to try to understand what the other person is thinking in any given situation. The main thing is that everybody—including your partner—has their own ideas about their world. Even though you’re in a very intimate relationship, the other person is still another person.”
—Reuben Elliot, 72

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Stop worrying about your wrinkles

“Somehow as you get older you kind of get blind to the infirmities that affect the other party. And you always see them the way they were. You don’t see aging. It’s a wonderful thing. I don’t know if the brain is wired for that, but that’s the way it is.”
—Alfredo Doyle, 77

Find your “fight number 17”

“This may sound like a flip thing, but it works for us. We came up with it at some point along the way: We call it jokingly ‘fight number 17.’ … It means we’ve had this one at least 16 times before. We’ve decided we don’t even bother to have it anymore. We see it coming and we just shut up and don’t even start with it. Because it’s not going to go anywhere. My theory is that in every marriage there is one of those issues.”
—Ralph Perkins

Nurture the friendship

“I think it’s hard when you’re young and hot on one another to back off and say, ‘Do I like what is behind these hands and these body parts?’ But that is the piece that doesn’t wear out, that grows and deepens. The sexual aspect deepens, too, in its own way, but it becomes less important and the friendship becomes more important as the years go by. It will be challenged by kids and hardships and losses of parents and changing interests and patterns, but an abiding friendship is at the base of a solid marriage.”
—Lydia Wade, 73

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Surround yourself with happy couples

“If you’re hanging around with negative people, find some positive people and hang around with them instead. You know, success imitates success. So if you see people who seem to have a very successful happy marriage, well, you hang around with those types of people. It does rub off. Avoid the ones with a defeatist attitude—get out of there before they drag you down.”
—Jeremy Bennett, 80

Repeat back to each other

“We realized early on that disagreements often came about when we weren’t really understanding where the other person was coming from. So I will say, ‘Are you saying….?’ Or ‘Do you mean…?’ Because sometimes we really are in the moment and we say things that we really don’t believe. So I always repeat back to him what I think he’s saying and then he’ll either say yes or he’ll say, ‘No, where’d you get that idea?’”
—Lucia Waters, 75

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Divvy up chores based on your strengths

“You just need to share at home…It needs to be cooperative. And here’s the way to do it: Whatever needs to be done, the person who can do it best is the one who should do it.”
—Dixie Becker, 84

Take breaks

“If conflict occurs, well, there is the Chinese saying, ‘Take a step back, and you can see the whole sky.’ Just step away, a little bit. Just step back and then you see other things.”
—Chen Xiu

Know that there’s always more to learn

“It seems to me that marriage is a process. You never get there; you’re always in process. It’s always more work than you can possibly imagine. In my case, it was worth it.”
—Samantha Jones, 80

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*All of the participants’ names have been changed.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Sex/Relationships

How to Escape the Friend Zone

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I needed to recognize was that everyone has a fear of rejection

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

For a while, I assumed that guys put me in the friend zone because they didn’t want to date a plus size princess (what I affectionately call myself.) But, really, I think it was my own insecurity that was the problem. By holding myself back instead of going after what I wanted, I was the one guilty of putting myself in the friend zone.

In fact, somewhat recently, I realized that many of the guys I’ve had crushes on would totally have dated me, but since I gave the impression that I wasn’t interested, they followed my lead and dropped pursuit. When I was 13, I spent every night talking on the phone with a cute, ginger-haired boy named Kevin. I wanted him to be my boyfriend so badly, but I convinced myself that he’d never go out with a chubby brown girl, so I hooked him up with my little blonde best friend. (Fast-forward about 15-odd years, and Kevin and I actually did end up dating for a while. You might call it my childhood dream come true, and you can read all — well, maybe not all — the mushy details here.)

Then, when I was in college, I fell for an older, thoughtful poet. He was beyond dreamy, and although we’d watch movies in the dark at each other’s houses all the time, nothing romantic developed between us and now I understand why. As fate would have it, I was forced to face my friend-zoning tendencies when I ran into the poet last year at a party and jokingly said “I had the biggest crush on you, but you weren’t interested.” He looked shocked and reminded me that whenever he’d invite me over to watch a movie at his place, I’d just curl up into a tight ball on the opposite side of the couch. My body language had told him everything he needed to know.

The thing is, I’m a big proponent of starting things off slowly — developing a friendship first. But, I had trouble getting past that whole friendship part. There was no doubt I had to change some habits if I wanted to let love in. One thing that helpd me leave the friend zone was accepting the vulnerability that’s attached to being a part of an intimate relationship. Being a guy’s best friend was a position I was comfortable in. I knew how it worked, and I knew the pain that came when he eventually and inevitably started dating someone else. I chose to put myself in the friend zone because it was safe: I knew the score.

I almost never told guys I liked them, because I was terrified of the unknown — terrified of putting myself out there. I didn’t want to be the first one to admit I wanted something more from the relationship. Instead, I was willing to sit back and wait, while pretending I didn’t care either way. I was lying to them and I was lying to myself.

Another thing I needed to recognize was that everyone has a fear of rejection — including all of my male friends throughout the years. My own fear of rejection is based on my weight, but I was also using it as an excuse to keep a wall up and not let my guard down. I can’t even imagine how frustrating it was for my poet crush to want to make a move on me when I was literally curled into myself. What’s worse: By building these invisible barriers of protection around myself, I was essentially asking my would-be boyfriends to try and get through them. And that wasn’t fair at all.

In the midst of these self-discoveries, I was in a friendship where I constantly heard, “Awww, you guys are so cute together; why AREN’T you dating?” and “He CLEARLY likes you, what’s going on?” One day, not too long ago, I made a decision to step out of the friend zone and let my buddy know I was interested in being more than just pals. The conversation started awkwardly at first, as I rambled on about our relationship and how great I thought he was. Somehow, I got the courage to tell him that I felt a chemistry between us and was interested in exploring that. We talked it through and in the end, he suggested taking me on an actual date. Robert and I have been dating ever since.

After we began dating, I started to look at other areas in my life where I was allowing myself to stay in a safe-zone situation. At work, I wasn’t pushing for a promotion; I was in the “friend zone.” And, on my blog, I was in the “friend zone” because I was limiting myself in terms of the kinds of stories I shared. The list goes on.

What I’m saying is this: It can be very tempting to hide behind our insecurities, whatever they are. It often feels easier than taking brave, bold steps, except I learned that taking those strides leaves me far more fulfilled than hanging out in that easy place. I almost always challenge myself to make the harder choice, and I can confidently say that I’ve never regretted putting myself out there. If you’ve been spending too much time in your “friend zone” — in work and/or play — then maybe you should step out of it and see where that takes you.

On her blog, Plus Size Princess, CeCe Olisa has detailed everything from what it’s like to be the only big black girl in a yoga class (fine, thanks!), to her adventures in plus-size dating in the Big Apple. Now, the New York City transplant is lending her poignant, often-hilarious voice to R29.

TIME relationships

The Moving-On Manual: How to Get Over Anything

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The idea of ‘letting go’ is so crucial to our mental — and physical — health

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

In a perfect world, all would go just as we wanted — from the outcome of our relationships to our career moves and everything else in-between. But, of course, real life can totally eff with what is important to us, from a quick fling to a long-term love, the perfect job, and the delicate balance of our friendships. As a result, sometimes anything emotional — from anger to resentment and low self-esteem — can infiltrate all unrelated aspects of our lives, too.

“When it comes to the idea of ‘getting over’ something, people often think of it as the equivalent of forgive and forget,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of A Happy You. “But, really, while there is the forgive aspect, it’s not about forgetting — it doesn’t mean that you condone what has happened or that it doesn’t hurt — it means that you are releasing the anger, sadness, and resentment that goes along with it.” And you know what else comes out of letting go of a grudge? The negative health aftermath — including legit muscle pain, stomach issues, even migraine headaches — that is sure to be only a few baby steps behind it.

And, while it’s easy to get all hung up on whatever it is that has you bummed — a breakup, the job you didn’t get, a fight with a friend — Lombardo says that once these things happen, really, they aren’t what’s got you feeling down. “What hurts after the fact is not the event itself,” she says. “It’s the present interpretation of the event — ‘I didn’t get the job I wanted last year, so I took a job I hate, and now I’m miserable because I didn’t get the job in the past.’ It’s the perception of what that event meant at the time, but also what it means right now.” This blame game could hold us back from actually getting what we want. “We put a lot of blame on events, but really, how do we know that that’s true? We make this assumption and we can’t change the past, so then we remain stuck in an emotional pattern caused by that event.”

(MORE: Go On, Get Mad! How Anger Can Be Healthy)

So, how do you break the can’t-get-past-it BS that could be the actual thing standing in your emotional way? “Ask yourself: How helpful is feeling this way for me?” says Lombardo. “Instead of thinking that you didn’t get that job because you aren’t any good, really look at the situation and what happened. Maybe you and the interviewer had bad chemistry, or you went in unprepared, or you didn’t really understand the position — really look into the ingredients that contributed to the outcome.”

Seems easy, right? Well, not if you suffer from what most people do — a love of what Lombardo refers to as global generalization. “Instinctually, we want to make sense of stuff, and that can lead us to making sweeping generalizations that act as a defense mechanism,” she says. If you think “I’m never going to meet anyone now that we broke up,” then may be you don’t go out or meet new people, and make it so that is, in fact, the result. “Sometimes, it’s easier to think negatively, and then when that negativity manifests, say, ‘See, I was right!’” she says. “But if you’re going to make an assumption, why not let it be positive?”

Kathy Andersen, a well-being coach and author of Change Your Shoes, Live Your Greatest Life, suggests coming up with replacement feelings. “If you don’t have anything to replace the grief, anger, abandonment with, then you might hold onto them longer than you need or want to,” she says. Whatever negative emotion you have, think about the opposite emotion that you want to have, and one thing that you can do to feel it. So, for example, if you’re lonely, may be you could go for a walk in the park, volunteer, or call a friend. “Once you start with one experience and one feeling, you can bring it into your life more fully and more consistently, and let go of the emotions tied to the event that you don’t want in your life any longer,” says Andersen, who notes that aiming for 15 minutes every day for a month is enough. “The transformation this brings about automatically brings you to the next step.”

(MORE: What Shame & Guilt Can Do To Your Wallet)

And, it turns out, not being able to ‘get over it’ is what can actually lead to guilt, too. “When we can’t move on, we often feel disheartened, because the concept feels like you need to forget about it — but it remains with you, and then you start to wonder what is wrong with you,” says Andersen. “So, many people say, ‘Oh, move on!’ and then we hear that and it doesn’t compute.”

Yet, the idea of ‘letting go’ is so crucial to our mental — and physical — health. “It can affect our psychological health, how we view ourselves, and behavior,” says Lombardo. “If, after a breakup, you feel like you’ll never meet anyone, then you don’t even try to put yourself out there to meet anyone; plus, research shows that holding on to negative feelings can put a huge stress on our bodies, leading to chronic pain and aches, insomnia, and even weight gain.”

While it might sound all new-age-y, experts agree that it all comes down to your view and current perception. This is known as the Law of Attraction, when thoughts come to fruition because your behavior (even unconsciously) reflects that belief (good or bad), causing us to behave differently toward people and vice versa. One of the best ways to move on, according to Lombardo, is to ask yourself what you can learn from this. “We can learn from every single thing — be objective, instead of personalizing,” she says.

(MORE: Stop Telling Women They’re Crazy)

Experts also say that visualizing what you do want is essential. “We are so focused on what we don’t want, and then that’s what we often get,” says Lombardo. “Your brain literally thinks, ‘I guess being miserable for the rest of her life is what she wants, because she says she will be!’” So, basically, mind trick yourself: Andersen suggests first closing your eyes and picturing the perfect job, significant other, apartment, or whatever it is, and experience the positive emotions you feel from that — over time, that can help be the catalyst to get what you do want.

Then, pick up a piece of paper and literally write down how or why you would benefit from getting over x, y, or z. And, accept that the thing you want to get over happened. “Again, it doesn’t mean that you agree, or that you’re necessarily happy with the situation that occurred, but it means that you are accepting that these are the cards that you were dealt, and you can either be pissed about it or decide that you are going to play the best darn game that I can with them.”

How do you know when you may need a pro to help you talk through it? First, simple enough, if that is what comes to mind that you might need, well, then you probably should. But there are other I-could-cope-better red flags: “If you aren’t functioning the way that you used to; if the situation has affected your physical health, like you aren’t sleeping well; or you’re argumentative with friends or loved ones, then you should seek out a professional’s help,” says Lombardo. “Mourn the loss, but if negative behavior after is consistent, then seek out a professional to talk it out.”

TIME psychology

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Sexual Satisfaction

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

A look at a wide range of studies, some large and some small

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Sex/Relationships

5 Weird Ways Love Affects Your Personality

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If you feel like you’re “addicted” to being in love, you might be onto something

Beyoncé may be a musical genius, but can you really be “drunk in love”? According to science, yes, you can. In fact, feeling head-over-heels does more than just make you feel a little warm and fuzzy; it can actually transform the way you think and act.

Check out some of the freaky ways love can affect your mind and body, and prepare to feel (mostly) exonerated from your past in-the-name-of-love behavior.

1. It can make you feel high

There’s a scientific explanation for why you feel so blissfully overjoyed during a new relationship, and it has nothing to do with romantic dates. Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City studied the MRI scans of college students and found that falling in love activates the same neural system in your brain that lights up when you take cocaine, giving you an intense feeling of euphoria. So if you feel like you’re “addicted” to your new beau, you may not be as crazy as you think.

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2. It can make you dumber

Or at least really, really spacey. Research published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in 2013 found that people who are in love are less able to focus and perform tasks that require attention than people who aren’t enamored. In addition, the more in love the participants in the study were, the more difficult it was for them to concentrate on assignments. The study authors aren’t quite sure why exactly love makes your brain go fuzzy, but they do theorize that a balance between focus and fantasy is crucial for a successful relationship (and probably a productive day!)

3. It can make you meaner

Think back to every rom-com where two guys duke it out over a girl or a pair of best friends become scheming enemies because of a man. What causes such intense hostility in the name of love? According to a recent study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the answer lies in neurological hormones that are linked to aggression and empathy. Researchers at the University of Buffalo asked participants to describe a time when someone close to them was threatened and how they reacted, and they found that caring for someone predicted aggressive behavior. So when you’re with someone you love, these hormones can turn your brain’s warm, compassionate empathy into protective aggression, readying you to defend your mate against attackers, stressful events, and even sadness. Cute, huh?

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4. It can make you obsessive

If you’ve ever fallen in love, you know how the infatuation that occurs in the early stages of a relationship can feel all-encompassing and exhausting. Researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy set out to find the reason why and discovered that the biochemical effects of romantic love can be indistinguishable from having obsessive-compulsive disorder. The scientists found that people who fell in love in the previous six months had similar low levels of serotonin (a calm-producing hormone) as individuals with OCD, which might explain why you can’t stop thinking about your baby all day and night.

5. It can make you feel invincible

Ever wonder why all your aches seem to disappear when you’re cuddling with your partner? No, it’s not a coincidence. According to researchers at Stanford University, the areas of the brain that are affected by feelings of intense love are the same areas that painkillers target. Participants brought in photos of their significant other plus an equally attractive friend and the photos were flashed in front of them while researchers heated up a thermal simulator on their palms. Brain scans showed that the “love” photos reduced pain more than the friend photos, possibly by activating reward centers that block pain at a spinal level, like opioid painkillers do. Of course, a passionate romance isn’t a good alternative for chronic pain meds, but, hey, it could help.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Reproductive Health

The Second Most Popular Form of Birth Control Will Surprise You

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Looks like the pill has some competition

About 62% of U.S. women from ages 15 to 44 use some form of contraception, and predictably, the pill is still the most popular. About 16% of women used it in 2011-2013, finds the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

But the second most popular contraceptive may come as a surprise to many: 15.5% of women—just a hair behind the pill—choose female sterilization. The CDC report shows that nearly one in three women ages 35 to 44 opted for female sterilization. By contrast, fewer than 1% of women between ages 15 to 24 chose it.

The rates of women choosing to undergo the simple, yet irreversible, surgical procedure might seem high, “until you start to peel back the layers and intricacies around forming a family,” says Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president of external medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who was not involved with the research. “Consider the fact that the majority of women in this country have had the number of children they want to have by mid-twenties to thirty or so—and they still have the capacity to get pregnant until they are 50 years old.” For a lot of women, that can mean 20 fertile years during which a woman may not want to become pregnant.

Cullins says women who tend to ask about sterilization don’t want to be bothered by other methods, even those that only require intervention every few years. The overall rate is slightly less than previous years, the CDC says, and Cullins says she expects the rate to continue to decline as long-acting contraceptives, especially the intrauterine device (IUD), become more popular and more affordable in the U.S.

But for now, the pill, female sterilization and condoms are more popular than the IUD. Long-acting reversible contraceptives, like the IUD and implant, remained stable from prior years, at 7.2% of women. They were most popular among women aged 25 to 34 and less popular among younger, sexually active women between ages 15 to 24. Women between ages 35 and 44 were the least likely to use them.

Because the IUD is much more convenient than the pill, with a lower failure rate, it may prove to be a bigger birth control contender in the future, some health experts say. And there are signs that with increased affordability and access, young women will opt for it. One recent study showed that when teenage girls were counseled about birth control and given their pick for free, a full 72% of them chose the IUD.

TIME psychology

The 4 Most Common Relationship Problems — and How to Fix Them

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Relationship problems. Everybody has them. And sometimes you have them over and over and over.

Most of the people giving advice don’t know the research. So where are the real answers?

I decided to call an expert: Dr. John Gottman.

You might remember him as the researcher in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink who, after just a few minutes, could predict whether a couple would end up divorced.

John is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Gottman Institute. He’s published over 190 papers and authored more than 40 books, including:

He’s also a really cool guy. John’s gained powerful insights from studying couples that thrive (who he calls “Masters”) and couples that don’t (who he calls “Disasters.”)

So what are you going to learn here?

  1. The four things that doom relationships.
  2. The three things that prevent those four things.
  3. The most important part of any relationship conversation.
  4. The single best predictor of whether a relationship is working. (It’s so easy you can do it yourself in 2 minutes.)

Want to be a Master and not a Disaster? Let’s get to it.

1) The Four Horsemen Of The Relationship Apocalypse

John has studied thousands of couples over his 40-year career. Four things came up again and again that indicated a relationship was headed for trouble. The Disasters did them a lot and the Masters avoided them:

#1: Criticism

This is when someone points to their partner and says their personality or character is the problem. Here’s John:

Criticism is staging the problem in a relationship as a character flaw in a partner. The Masters did the opposite: they point a finger at themselves and they really have a very gentle way of starting up the discussion, minimizing the problem and talking about what they feel and what they need.

Ladies, are you listening? Because criticism is something women do a lot more than men. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to how the guys screw up soon enough.)

#2: Defensiveness

This is responding to relationship issues by counterattacking or whining. Here’s John:

The second horseman was defensiveness which is a natural reaction to being criticized. It takes two forms: counterattacking or acting like an innocent victim and whining. Again, the Masters were very different even when their partner was critical. They accepted the criticism, or even took responsibility for part of the problem. They said, “Talk to me, I want to hear how you feel about this.”

#3: Contempt

It’s the #1 predictor of breakups. Contempt is acting like you’re a better person than they are. Here’s John:

Contempt is talking down to their partner. Being insulting or acting superior. Not only did it predict relationship breakup, but it predicted the number of infectious illnesses that the recipient of contempt would have in the next four years when we measured health.

#4: Stonewalling

It’s shutting down or tuning out. It passively tells your partner, “I don’t care.” And 85% of the time it’s guys who do this.

(Want to know a shortcut to creating a deeper bond with a romantic partner? Click here.)

Okay, that’s what kills a relationship. Naturally, you want to know what stops those things from occurring, right?

3 Things That Make Horsemen Go Bye-Bye

From looking at the Masters, John saw what prevented the downward spiral of the 4 Horsemen:

#1: Know Thy Partner

John calls this building “love maps.” It’s really knowing your partner inside and out. It was one of the Masters’ most powerful secrets. Here’s John:

A love map is like a road map you make of your partner’s internal psychological world. The Masters were always asking questions about their partner and disclosing personal details about themselves.

Why is this so rare? It takes time. And the disasters didn’t spend that time. In fact, most couples don’t spend that much time.

John cited a study showing couples with kids talk to each other about 35 minutes per week. Yeah, 35 minutes.

And even most of that was just logistics — “When will you be there?” “Don’t forget to pick up milk.” — not deep personal stuff like the Masters.

#2: Responding positively to “bids”

No, this has nothing to do with eBay. We all frequently make little bids for our partner’s attention.

You say something and you want them to respond. To engage. It can be as simple as saying, “Nice day, isn’t it?”

It’s almost like a video game: when the person responds positively (“turning towards a bid”) your relationship gets a point.

When they don’t respond, or respond negatively, the relationship loses a point… or five. Here’s John:

The couples who divorced six years later had turned toward bids only 33% of the time. The couples stayed married had turned toward bids 86% of the time. Huge difference.

Couples with high scores build relationship equity. They’re able to repair problems. They’re able to laugh and smile even when arguing. And that makes a big difference. Here’s John:

If you turn toward bids at a high rate, you get a sense of humor during conflict. Humor is very powerful because it reduces physiological arousal during arguments and that’s been replicated in several studies.

#3: Show admiration

Ever listen to someone madly in love talk about their partner? They sound downright delusional. They act like the other person is a superhero. A saint.

And research shows that is perfect. Masters see their partner as better than they really are. Disasters see their partners as worse than they really are.

(For more on the science of sexy, click here.)

Admiration is about the story you tell yourself about your partner. And that leads us to how to predict whether your relationship is working…

The Best Predictor Of How Good A Relationship Is

You can do this yourself: have someone ask you about the history of your relationship. What kind of story do you tell?

When your partner describes your relationship to others, what kind of story do they tell?

Does the story minimize the negatives and celebrate the positives? Did it make the other person sound great?

Or did it dwell on what’s wrong? Did it talk about what that idiot did this week that’s utterly wrong?

This simple “story of us” predicts which relationships succeed and which fail. Here’s John:

Our best prediction of the future of a relationship came from a couple’s “story of us.” It’s an ever-changing final appraisal of the relationship and your partner’s character. Some people were really developing a “story of us” that was very negative in which they really described all the problems in the relationship. They really emphasize what was missing. Masters did just the opposite: they minimized the negative qualities that all of us have and they cherish their partner’s positive qualities. They nurture gratitude instead of resentment.

(For more on what research says makes love last, click here.)

Is there a part of a relationship conversation that’s critical? Actually, there is.

The Most Important Part Of A Relationship Conversation

It’s the beginning. 96% of the time John can predict the outcome of a conversation within the first three minutes. Here’s John:

Negativity feeds on itself and makes the conversation stay negative. We also did seven years of research on how Masters repair that negativity. One of the most powerful things is to say “Hey, this isn’t all your fault, I know that part of this is me. Let’s talk about what’s me and what’s you.” Accepting responsibility is huge for repair.

How you start those serious relationship discussions doesn’t just predict how the conversation goes — it also predicts divorce after 6 years of marriage.

Via Principia Amoris: The New Science of Love:

…it went on to predict with high accuracy their fate over a 6-year period of time. The predictions we made about couples’ futures held across seven separate studies, they held for heterosexual as well as same-sex couples, and they held throughout the life course.

So you’re talking and you’re starting off positive and calm. Great. Now you should stop talking. Why?

When I asked John what the best thing to do to improve a relationship he said, “Learn how to be a good listener.”

The Masters know how to listen. When their partners have a problem, they drop everything and listen non-defensively with empathy. Here’s John:

In really bad relationships people are communicating, “Baby when you’re in pain, when you’re unhappy, when you hurt, I’m not going to be there for you. You deal with it on your own, find somebody else to talk to because I don’t like your negativity. I’m busy, I’m really involved with the kids, I’m really involved with my job.” Whereas the Masters have the model of, “When you’re unhappy, even if it’s with me, the world stops and I listen.”

And sometimes the best thing to do at the beginning of a relationship argument is to end it immediately. Why?

69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual. They won’t be resolved.

Beating a dead horse, asking someone to fundamentally change who they are isn’t going to work — but it will make them angry. Here’s John:

In the studies that Bob Levenson and I did, we brought couples back into the lab every couple of years to find out what they are arguing about. And people resolved only about 31% of their disagreements. You can edit these videotapes together and it looked like the same conversation over and over for 22 years. Masters learn to accept what will not change and focus on the positive. They seem to say, “There’s a lot of good stuff here and I can ignore the annoying things.”

(For more on how to listen like an expert, click here.)

Okay, that’s a lot of great stuff. Let’s round it up and finish with the thing John said that impressed me the most.

Sum Up

So here’s what John had to say:

  1. The 4 things that kill relationships: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling.
  2. The 3 things that prevent them: Know your partner, respond positively to “bids”, and admire your partner.
  3. The best predictor of relationship success is how you and your partner tell your “story of us.”
  4. The beginning of the conversation is crucial. Negativity compounds. Keep a cool head and resist emotional inertia.

One last thing that really blew me away: what makes for happy relationships sounds a lot like what makes for happiness in general.

Research shows, happy people seek out the positive and are grateful for it. Unhappy people find the negative in everything.

There’s a very similar dynamic in relationships: Masters scan their relationship for good things, disasters are always noting the bad.

And not only that — the Masters’ way of looking at the world is actually more accurate. Here’s John:

People who have this negative habit of mind miss 50% of the positivity that outside objective observers see. So the positive habit of mind is actually more accurate. If you have a negative habit of mind, you actually distort toward the negative and you don’t see the positive. People with the positive habit of mind, it’s not that they don’t see the negative — they do, they see it — but they really emphasize the positive in terms of the impact on them. That’s the difference.

Choose to see the positive. It can cause a cascade:

  • It’s fuel for your good “story of us.”
  • You’ll probably start relationship conversations on a good note.
  • You’ll admire your partner.
  • And on and on…

Some of the same things that make you happy can improve your relationships — and vice versa. What’s better than that?

John and I talked for over an hour, so there’s a lot more to this.

I’ll be sending out a PDF with more of his relationship tips in my weekly email (including the two words that can help make arguments dissolve.) So to get that, sign up for my weekly email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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10 Things That Will Change the Way You Think About Love

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • Love does mean being a little deluded. Don’t believe it? You’re deluded. This has been shown time and time and time again.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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