Authenticity, Relationships, and Women: An Interview with Shana James
1) Tell us about the work that you do and a little about the folks who come to you.
As a dating & relationship coach, and the co-creator of the Authentic Woman Experience, I help women have phenomenal romantic relationships, true sisterhood and lives they adore¦ all without settling, holding back or compromising themselves.
I believe a woman will only be fulfilled if she is true to herself, so I don’t work with rules or games. I support women to move from self-doubt to self-confidence (even with men they’re most attracted to) and to feel powerful and feminine at the same.
In our A.W.E. workshops, Dr. Alexis Shepperd and I help women see how they may be pushing men away, without even knowing it. And how to have more fun and ease attracting a man who is a great fit. Women also learn the difference between what inspires a man’s attraction verses what inspires his commitment. The first seminar we lead is called Find Love Now!
The women I work with tend to be single, heterosexual women in their 30’s and 40’s, who are looking to create a relationship and start a family. Though women from ages 22 “ 75, and in every stage of relationship, from single to 30 year marriages, have attended our workshops.
2) Tell us what you mean by “authenticity”? How can it help people in their lives?
It isn’t always obvious what authenticity is or how to practice it. The word is thrown around like candy these days. I have heard women say: “I was being authentic. I told him the truth. I shared my emotions. But it still didn’t work!” This is because there are two facets of authenticity and one is usually overlooked.
The more commonly known facet is that what’s going inside you is what you are sharing or showing on the outside. If you’re sad, angry, or turned-on, you allow that to be seen, rather than stuffing it or covering it up with a false happy face.
The piece of authenticity that often gets overlooked is that we all have back-logs of unresolved emotions from past experiences. I call this your emotional residue.
If you don’t consistently clear out your emotional residue, it will come out sideways and repel people. Instead of feeling your vulnerability “a quality that attracts a man and creates closeness “ men will experience communication that is loaded and heavy, and they will want to get away. Fast!
Being authentic involves having feelings (sometimes a lot of them!), but making sure your expression is not connected to your past wounds and upsets. Instead, it is connected to what I call, your Essence.
When you communicate from your essence you can create profound connection and passion. You can break all the dating “rules and you become a lighthouse. People feel drawn to and inspired by you.
When I started communicating from my essence I went from spending years having three or four friends in San Francisco, to landing in a community of hundreds of people who have similar values and goals, and dear friends who love even the quirky parts of me. I went from attracting men who were emotionally unavailable and flaky to men who adored and respected me, who were emotionally available, and were not afraid of commitment.
I had only dreamed that many things I now experience on a daily basis were possible. Now I am living a life I love, with a man I love, in a career I love, with a community of people I feel held and loved by.
3) What are some of the things that hold people back from creating more authentic relationships?
Fear! Fear! Fear! Fear is one huge piece that holds people back from creating more authentic relationships. More specifically, our fear tends to boil down to the fear of being too much, or not enough, for someone else. I was just reminded of this example from my life:
A while ago, I was dating a guy for a couple months when he went away for a week. I knew he was going ahead of time, but he didn’t tell me he would be out of communication during the whole trip. When day five passed and he still hadn’t been in touch, I noticed I felt angry and hurt. I didn’t want to feel those feelings, but I felt them.
He called when he got home and as we talked I realized I was really upset. Once again, I didn’t want to be upset. Some part of me didn’t think I had a “right to be upset. We were not in a serious relationship. I didn’t want to seem demanding or high maintenance.
So, I told him the truth. I was afraid he wouldn’t want to be with me if he knew my truth, but I couldn’t relax, I wasn’t being myself, and I was not creating the kind of connection I wanted.
It can be scary to share our truth, especially if it is feelings we would rather not have. Most of us have some degree of fear that if someone saw the parts of ourselves we see as unlovable, s/he would go away. So we convince ourselves it would be better to not say anything and keep the peace.
I hate to say it, but I have seen many relationships where couples attempt to keep the peace in this way, and none of them are thriving.
I told this guy I had something I was scared to tell him. Rather than blaming him (which can be easier than being vulnerable!) I shared with my heart open, rather than protected or defended. I admitted that, even though I didn’t understand why, I felt hurt.
That night we got closer. I learned that he had patience and love for the parts of me that weren’t shiny or easy to be with. He got to feel my heart and vulnerability, something he said was one of the most beautiful parts of me and touched him deeply.
It took jumping through the hoop of fear that I would look bad, or seem not enough in some way, and be left alone. Jumping through that hoop can be terrifying, and what I’ve seen is that what’s on the other side tends to be more intimate and amazing than you could imagine.
4) On your site, you talk about how living authentically can make women more attractive to potential partners. But what’s the difference between that and (for example), presenting a false front in order to the same?
The first thing about presenting a false front is it is exhausting. You can only keep it up for so long. And men see through it, more quickly than you realize. Also, like attracts like. When you present a false front you attract men who want the falseness you are presenting. The degree to which you are false, you can expect the man you have attracted to be the same.
When you are living authentically, you attract men who love you for who you really are. Isn’t that one of the things we ultimately search for? Someone who loves and appreciates us?
One of the most attractive things about a woman is her radiance. A woman glows from the inside when she is so accepting of herself that she expresses everything from her tears to her bliss, without apology, and while staying connected to her truth.
There is an ease a woman simply cannot embody when she is putting up a false front. Her body will be more rigid and her breath shallower. She will not glow in the same way. But most importantly, she will not ultimately be fulfilled. She will know this and she will suffer.
5) How can doing this work enhance sexual relationships?
In my work with clients, and my own life experience, I have discovered that the passionate spark in sexual relationships is deeply intertwined with truth. When people are sharing their truths, sex tends to get hotter and more connected. When people are hiding their truths, sexual energy tends to dull.*
This feels vulnerable to share, but I used to put pressure on myself (based on ideas I had internalized when I was young) that if I touched a man’s penis, I had to make him orgasm, or he would suffer!
The suffering was first internalized in the term “blue balls. That plagued me for years. I stopped believing it as I became an adult, but was still left with this dread of touching a man’s penis if I was not clear I wanted to take the time make him orgasm.
In my adult relationships I started talking about this dread with the men I dated, and eventually the man I married. Before sharing this truth my sexual energy was much less alive and free. I thought that not bringing a man to orgasm would be such a let down, or would mean I was a prude, or not generous or frigid. Rather than telling the truth and sharing this, I contorted myself into really interesting shapes to avoid looking bad or disappointing men.
Since sharing this I am so much more free to enjoy myself. I am more relaxed. I am no longer hiding a part of myself that I think is unlovable. I am in a partnership where I can admit when fear arises so I don’t have to be alone with it. I can enjoy spontaneous make-outs and even have sex for two or three minutes if I just want to feel my husband inside of me. There is no obligation or pressure anymore to create an orgasm. I get to go with the flow and co-create an experience that is intimate and exciting for both of us.
Another way authenticity enhances sexual relationships is that each person discovers his or her desires and fantasies. This is sacred discovery and gives a window into a person’s heart and soul. When you support another person’s desires and fantasies (in and out of the bedroom) it creates profound intimacy, and often healing!
Being tied up is a fantasy of mine. Sometimes it is a sexual fantasy. Sometimes it is more simple than that “ when tied up I lose my capacity to DO, to accomplish! I can’t check my email or create a workshop or schedule a client or pay a bill. I have to slow down and be with myself, and with spirit.
Sexually, I find it a relief to be unable to move. I know I can’t be blamed for anything. I couldn’t be disappointing someone because he put me in this position. While I feel more free from the fear of blame and disappointment than I did years ago, it still sometimes creeps around in my psyche. And while I intellectually know I am not to blame for another person’s disappointment, it is healing to take even the possibility of it off the table.
When I let my partner in on and tell him this is healing, enjoyable and powerful for me, he can help create this with me. I can do the same for him. I find that when we create these intimate situations for and with each other, we feel a deep unshakable bond with each other.
*Note: Truth is powerful and while it makes sex hotter, it can also reveal incompatibilities in relationships. It may reveal that you are not a sexual or emotional match with the person you are in relationship with. One thing can be said for sure: truth will set you free. It may not seem like it at first, but if truth reveals a mis-match you are free to find someone who is a fit for you!
6) What are some of the common sexual concerns or issues you see in your work? What has been most helpful for your clients in overcoming them?
A very common concern I see many women who are dating have is the question of when to have sex. When is it too soon? When is it too late? How can I determine the right time to have sex so he doesn’t lose interest and go away?
Many women go through hours of stress and frustration over this question, so we address this in an evening seminar we lead, called “Find Love Now. We share about what we call “Man Myths – beliefs women have about men that make it nearly impossible to attract or create a successful relationship.
Many women think men leave because of the timing of having sex. I don’t want to give away the secret because we bust this “Man Myth at our seminar, but I will say it is not about timing. You can have sex on a first date or wait six months and either way can create intimacy and inspire a man’s commitment.
One of the most helpful things I suggest to my clients is to “get on the same page with a man. This means getting clear about what you want and having a conversation with a man about what he wants, before jumping into bed.
This conversation itself can be playful and hot. My dear friend, and the co-creator of A.W.E. “ Dr. Alexis Shepperd, did this. She sat down with a man she was dating and a bottle of wine. They had a great time discussing what they each wanted.
It turned out they weren’t a match for a long-term relationship. Getting clear about that they were each free to decide how sexual and intimate they wanted to be. Neither one of them was in the dark about the other’s truth or desires and both had a chance to make decisions that honored themselves.
7) When couples find themselves in conflicts over sex, what are some of the tools that can be helpful in dealing with them?
1. The best tool I have discovered, and use on a regular basis with my husband, is to share my DESIRES, rather than my COMPLAINTS about sex (and about everything else too!). The tough part is getting in touch with the actual energy of the desire, which is exciting and enlivening, as opposed to the energy of complaint, which is heavy and hopeless.
Sometimes I don’t feel hopeful, but without finding that energy I create despair or resignation rather than inspiration. Years ago, for a whole year, I shared my desire to have more spiritually connected sex with my husband. At least, I thought it was my desire.
When I shared it though, he was not only disinterested, he would get upset every time I brought it up. On the night he finally heard what I was saying, he responded with, “That sounds amazing. You’ve never said that before.”
A rush of hurt and anger moved from my belly to my face. I thought, I have been saying this for a year! I took a few deep breaths and said, “Wow! I’m shocked. I feel like I’ve been saying this for a year now. Have you really not heard me say this?”
What we found that night was that he heard me because I was connected with this pure desire. Other times I had been voicing my desire in the form of a complaint. The biggest complaint started with “Why don’t we…?” When I shifted from “Why don’t we have more spiritually connected sex?” to “What I really want is…” and described the energy and beauty I saw possible, everything changed!
2. Another amazing tool is to practice not taking your partner’s desires, or lack there of, personally. Instead, do your best to be curious. My husband and I went through an emotionally tense period where we felt distant and sex was disconnected. Years later we look back at that time.
What he remembers is: I stopped thinking I could make you happy and it hurt. I finally gave up trying.
What I remember is: Sex was dark for me at that time and I felt your frustration about that. I didn’t know how to change how it was for me and I felt abandoned by you.
In recent years, our relationship coach helped us hear what it was like to be the other, at that time. It was not fun for either of us. As we each understood the other’s pain, we felt closer and saw that we each wanted the other to be happy and fulfilled. This understanding melted resentments we had been holding onto for years.
3. One of the most important tools is to get help! Don’t try to do this alone! I personally believe we aren’t meant to. The nuclear family makes dynamics even worse and more hidden. Talk with your friends about what is going on, and/or see a therapist or a relationship coach.
Even we, relationship coaches, need relationship coaches. From within your couple’s dynamic you can’t always see a clear path to feeling connected to each other, like you did in the beginning of your relationship.
8 ) What upcoming events do you have?
We have an evening seminar called Find Love Now. It’s free!
If you haven’t attracted a man who both adores AND respects, who meets you emotionally, sexually, and spiritually, OR if you’re looking to put the spark back into your relationship, come check it out!
We talk about 3 big mistakes, even smart women make, that keep them single. These are not Cosmo-type mistakes. They are mistakes that cut to the core, the ways in which we as women turn against ourselves as we attempt to find love, and how we can be fully ourselves and have love too!
We also reveal the beliefs women tend to have about men that make it nearly impossible to have a successful relationship!
Find out more about Find Love Now here!