Coming Clean About My Life As A Relationship Expert

Since I published my first story in Playboy, I’ve been regarded as a sex, dating and relationship expert.

I never introduced myself as a relationship expert and I certainly didn’t think of myself as one, but I agreed to write a sex column for the now-defunct Razor magazine anyway; and when I started to appear on television with “Relationship Expert” or “Sexpert” as my chryon, I didn’t really argue against it. After a successful appearance on Attack of the Show (giving sex, dating, and relationship advice), I was asked back and, before I knew it, I was fielding emails from all sorts of lovelorn twenty-somethings on television twice a week.

I loved it. I really did. So when I was asked to talk about sex, dating and relationships on The Today Show or The CBS Morning Show or anywhere else, I did.

But my memoir came out last month and while it’s ostensibly about how I followed everything Helen Gurley Brown recommended in her seminal ‘60s book Sex and the Single Girl, it also very clearly details my struggles in romantic relationships.

While it’s been somewhat difficult to read people’s comments on my personal failures, in another way it’s been a relief because a part of me often felt like a fraud wearing my “expert” hat. Now, look: I know we’re in an era where one only need be an addict to be called an “addiction expert” or to have a firm grasp on the obvious to be called a “body language expert” but the literal part of my brain was uncomfortable with my new label. I’d have my makeup done by bright, sunny women, most of whom were married — while I remained primarily single. I dated (often) but I can’t tell you the number of times I squirmed in that makeup chair as one of those sweet girls said, “So, who are you dating? Are you in love? What’s the story?” I was the one who was about to be televised, lending my so-called expertise to the topic of relationships, but really, I wanted to ask them how they did it.

When I confessed to other people — to friends, to other so-called relationship experts, or even to the makeup artists themselves — that I felt like a sham, I was almost always told the same thing: Don’t worry about it. You’re good at this. Besides, would someone who’d met the love of her life at 18 and had nothing but years of wedded bliss be able to counsel the lovelorn, the confused and broken-hearted? In other words, it was my years of frustrating experiences that qualified me for the job. Besides, I was hardly giving Dr. Phil a run for his money: no one was losing any sleep over whether or not the so-called expert on a cable TV show geared toward college-age video game players was really an expert.

Still, I felt like a fraud.

I’d get emails from people asking if they could come to me for “therapy” or asking me how I came to be a “therapist.” Never was it stated or even implied on any TV show or article that I was a therapist but people will fill in gaps with what they want to believe is true. I was offered more work as a relationship expert, shooting one pilot for E! and another one for Comedy Central — both featured me giving advice. I even began pitching my own show ideas.

Still feeling fraudulent, I decided that I would go get a Masters in psychology. I knew this was working backwards — getting a degree so that the thing I was already known for doing felt more legit — but it also appealed to me. I’d originally wanted to major in psychology in college before I learned that I could simply major in writing. And I’ve often thought that the kind of writing I do — exploratory, analytical work that could be classified as narcissistic navel gazing — is pretty close to psychoanalysis. Besides, friends and family members always told me they thought I’d be a great shrink.

My TV agent said that it was a bad idea. “You already have the expertise,” he said. “Being on television as an expert gives it to you. It would be a waste of time and money.”

I looked into phony-sounding programs. Dr. Phil, I’d heard, had a mail order degree. I became a professional member of something called the American Association of Sex Counselors, Educators and Therapists, joining a mailing list where members emailed each other their thoughts about the latest studies, techniques and discoveries in the field. Whenever I chimed in on the mailing list, no one responded. I eventually earned something called an Associate in Sex Education Certificate from a school called the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. But the class mostly involved watching DVDs of ‘70s-era hippy types talking about masturbation. If anything, the class made me feel like I’d possibly decreased my knowledge.

I still give advice on TV — but now that I’ve come clean in my book about everything from heartbreak and rejection to online and speed dating, I do it without any internal conflict. If making mistakes and attempting to learn from them and then continuing to try in the face of that makes me an expert, then I’ve more than earned my stripes.

By the way, can I get a certificate for that? TC mark

image – rahego


More From Thought Catalog

  • Dr. Sidd

    Dr. Sidd thinks single folks give better relationship advice because they don’t have tunnel vision like attached folks. Anyways, doesn’t really matter since anyone looking for a relationship is delusional anyways.

  • Chase

    I remember seeing you on Attack of the Show…always liked you keeep it up!

  • Marc Ferris

    You should get your MA in Psyche, better yet a PhD. That way you can say “It’s okay, I’m a doctor” (you know you want to say that).

    Anyway, you can’t keep a good girl down…unless you tie her to the bed (which happens in the middle of “Falling for Me” so go buy it). So keep on keepin’ on.

  • John

    Hi I’m just dropping in to tell you my name and that you should know who I am and read my stuff on other websites k bye.  

  • Steven Motschwiller

    You win!  I want to buy your book!

  • Jennifer Kathleen

    I really liked this article, and I agree with Marc, you should get a MA or even PhD in Psych, don’t listen to your agent, money spent on education is never wasted. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

  • Aida M.

    AASECT is actually a very respected organization for certifying counselors, therapists, and educators, and it’s kind of awkward that it’s being put right next to Dr. Phil’s “mail-order” education. Important distinction that gets lost in this article: becoming a professional member of AASECT doesn’t mean one is certified, or even KNOWLEDGEABLE about anything; it just gives one access to a network of professionals interested in the field and helps support the organization and its work. Getting certified is actually a hell of a lot of work and preparation, and not something to be taken lightly. As for the mailing list–remember, it’s big and a lot of folks on it are professionals, so their time is limited. Conversations on there vary widely and one is more likely to get responses when targeting specific people than just sending something out into the void of a listserv, y’know?The Institute (as some folks refer to it), is a very specific type of place offering a very particular type of study, so it’s very much not for everyone, but other schools (namely accredited ones) offer a wide variety of programs that intersect with sexology and human sexuality. Schools like Columbia offer a Masters of Public Health with a track in gender and sexuality, and schools like Widener University offer double-masters in Human Sexuality and Social Work, among other things. Just like there are “hippy-dippy” schools around  a lot of other fields (e.g. literature, liberal arts, etc.), there are some around sexuality; they’re not for everyone and there ARE other options with a more educational or medical or whatever focus.Earning and Associate Degree or going through “smaller” and less formal training channels will only give you so much information, and it’s really inadequate to compare stuff like that to AASECT certification or Masters and PhD programs in the fields of Psych, Social Work, Public Health, or Human Sexuality.It’s really important to be clear about who is and who is not a THERAPIST because therapists actually go through a bunch of training, and “life-experience” is not enough for one to be a licensed or respectable therapist. It’s also important to be clear about what educational background people have; it’s not all in the titles and degrees, but those certainly have an impact, and it’s more about the actual EDUCATION (be it self-taught from valid literature or what have you) around the particular issues someone is discussing. There are amazing folks out there without sexology certifications that have SO much knowledge, but for each one of those, there are a bunch of “sexperts” without any formal or even informal training on big issues that people start coming to them for that spout off information with not a lot SAVE for their own, individual experience to back them up.It’s important to combine life-experience and training to do these kinds of jobs formally and in anything resembling a clinical or professional capacity. Missing one leaves people unprepared in many ways, and sadly, because laypeople don’t know the difference between a “coach” or self-proclaimed “relationship expert” and an AASECT certified sex educator or a licensed practitioner, it’s easy for folks with no qualifications to earn the trust of the wider public. If someone needs clinical or therapeutic care, and they go to someone untrained, it can leave them fucked up for life.

  • Aida M.

    Aw man wtf, it did not format any of the paragraphs >_<

  • Brian M

    this is great. I thought I read TC all the time, how’d I miss it.

blog comments powered by Disqus