We ask Joey

SN&R advice columnist Joey Garcia dishes about Sacramento’s dating dilemmas—and her own

This fall, Joey Garcia will celebrate 15 years of dispensing advice to SN&R readers through her popular column, Ask Joey. That’s roughly 1,500 thoughtful answers to Sacramento’s confused citizens, and the questions keep coming—mostly in the love department. Although busy with her work as a spiritual counselor, high-school teacher and the founder of educational charity Rise Up Belize!, Garcia was happy to share some extra romantic insight for our dating issue. “I enjoy helping people with their problems,” she told us, “and I learn a lot.”

How many of the questions that you get from SN&R readers are about dating?

Probably 85 percent are about romantic-relationship problems. That’s the thing we struggle with the most, because we don’t really get training in it in our culture.

What is Sacramento’s biggest problem in the love arena?

People are confused about the difference between infatuation and love. They think they’re in love because they’re having hot, juicy sex, but usually that’s the only thing keeping the couple together. They’re using it as a cover-up for the love that failed to grow because they got physically involved so soon that they were never able to develop a friendship or a real relationship. … Second, it’s about communication. People not being honest. They don’t want to deal with confrontation or have someone mad at them.

So you’re not a proponent of using the “third date rule” to decide when a couple should sleep together?

When there is any kind of rule, you’re not treating each other like individuals, so you never really get to know one another. It seems to me rather scandalous to get completely physically naked with someone you haven’t been emotionally or mentally naked with. Or spiritually naked, for that matter. They’re all equally important, and they unfold over time.

How do you recommend interested people get to know each other?

However you get to know a friend. Spending time together over a meal or a shared activity. And talking—superficially at first. Later, you can bare those skeletons in your closet. People say, “I was abused as a child!” or “My mother abandoned me!” on the first date and it’s like, “Ooh, awkward.” It’s got to happen slowly over time.

Some couples are very intense, so for them, “slowly” is having eight-hour conversations over a period of two weeks. Another couple might just see each other once a week. I’m not a huge fan of putting people in boxes, but there should be some sort of structure around testing the relationship to see if it’s love or infatuation. Many relationships start with infatuation and turn to love. That’s normal. The problem is when people mistake infatuation for love.

How do you know the difference?

Infatuation happens very fast. It’s sex-centered. You want to spend every moment with this person. You stop spending time with family and friends, or time alone. Without time alone, you don’t reflect on red flags. Infatuation is an emotional roller coaster. Life has ups and downs, but you shouldn’t be checking your phone for texts every five minutes. That’s drama.

Do you believe in soul mates or “the one?”

I think of relationships as an opportunity for evolution. They’re a way for me to get to know myself. I don’t personally think I have to find “the one.” If I do, that would be awesome, but if I don’t, I’m learning a lot about myself. My goal is knowing myself, so I can be more compassionate toward others and fulfill my potential, which I always think of as “to love and be loved.”

Do people idealize you because you’re an advice columnist?

It’s terrible! The line I hear from men all the time is, “I’ve never met anyone like you.” I have flat out said, because I’m very direct, “Look, you put me on a pedestal, and what that means is, when I start acting outside of this idealized version of me that you have in your head, you’ll be knocking me off the pedestal. And that’s not good for me or you.”

An ex-boyfriend from college looked me up when he got divorced, and we dated a few times. He didn’t know about the column because he lives in the Bay Area, but he looked it up and he told me, “If I had read this column without knowing you, I’d never have asked you out.” He was intimidated.

I’m almost 6 feet tall and I speak my mind and I’m free-spirited. So that on top of the relationship advice, yeah, I can be very intimidating. … Sometimes the men who ask me out really want a counselor. Sometimes the men who ask me out really need a counselor.

They tell you about their failed marriage on the first date?

Yes. I’m easy to talk to and I’m a good listener. I’ve been doing this work my whole life. I was the goofy girl in high school who the football players would come to and say, “I want to ask this girl to homecoming and I’m so nervous. What should I do?” I was always the one people confided in, not necessarily the one they asked out. And it’s not so different now.

Do SN&R readers ask you out?

Occasionally a guy will send a photo of himself with his shirt off. I don’t even reply, because that’s odd. My favorite one was a guy who said, “I haven’t had any luck getting women to go out with me because I live in my van. But you’re very spiritual, so I know you won’t mind that I’m poor.” Luckily, I was dating someone at the time.