New Zine! Staying with feelings

A topic I’ve written about on here quite a lot is the idea of ‘staying with’ feelings. After the Pixar movie Inside Out I wrote all about how important it is to get in touch with all our emotions. I’ve also written about the value of noticing how we feel with kindness and curiosity, and about how to stay with other people’s feelings.


In this new zine I discuss both why we get so shut off from our feelings in a wider culture which values some emotions far more highly than others, and how we can go about shifting our patterns of avoiding and fighting some feelings, and craving and grasping for others. It covers both therapeutic and spiritual practices for staying with our emotions.


You can download or read the zine here.


The Internet and relationships

Since Rewriting the Rules was published I sometimes get asked to do email interviews with journalists on various topics. Some of these get published in an edited form and some never see the light of day, so I thought I’d post some of the original interviews here.

Here’s one on the internet and relationships.

Are people being more public about our relationships because of the internet/ social media?

Yes definitely.

In what ways?

Social media encourages us to be more public about our relationships in both explicit and implicit ways. Social networking sites like facebook ask users to say whether they are in a relationship and lists that as part of their profile – suggesting our relationship status is a major part of who we are. Such sites also encourage people to list who they are in relationships with and to mark occasions like weddings, so it becomes public when people get together and if they break up.

There are also a proliferation of dating and hook-up websites like grindr, tinder, OKCupid and Those mean that the internet becomes part of how we get together with people as well as how we signal our relationship publicly.

How is this affecting relationships?

It’s not as simple as the internet being either a good thing, or a bad thing, for relationships. Instead it opens up some possibilities whilst closing others down.

On the up side, perhaps, internet dating moves away from previous ideas about falling in love at first site on the basis of physical appearance, and enables people to meet folk who they have things in common with and who share their values. Hook-up sites also remind us that long term monogamous relationships aren’t the only way to have an enjoyable sex/love life. Being open about our relationships on social media might help people to realise that most of us struggle in this area some of the time, as we see our friends getting together, breaking up, and finding that ‘it’s complicated’.

At the same time, social networking can encourage people to present an entirely positive side of themselves which other people can then evaluate themselves against unfavourably. If all you see on your facebook wall is pictures of happy couples celebrating anniversaries and going on picnics then it’s pretty easy to feel bad about being single, or about having tough times in your own relationship. Also break-ups can be particularly painful if you’re constantly drawn to checking how an ex partner is doing through their blog or twitter feed. Ads for internet dating sites can exacerbate the sense that everybody should be searching for a partner, and that anything less than a perfect match won’t do.

For myself I’d like to see a wider range of relationships being presented online: different ways of being single, and having different kinds of relationships, including friendships being valued as highly as romantic relationships. I’d also like to see people being more open about the difficult stuff of relationships as well as the good parts. Social media has the potential for such diversity and openness if we’re up for taking the risk and using it in that way.

Only Connect: Some personal thoughts on the importance of connection

This is more of a personal post than most that I write but I’m including it here rather than in the offline journal where I write more self-focused reflections. This is because I thought that it might contain some useful ideas for other people too – either about the topic of connection or about reflecting on our values and what we have to offer. However it is very much a work in progress and I hope that any readers will take it as such.

Yesterday I attended a retreat day run by my friend and great writer-activist-teacher-academic Jamie Heckert. It felt good to take some time out for yoga, meditation and relaxation with a bunch of other people who work in similar areas.

In true Jamie style at one point in the day he invited us to ponder the question ‘if you were a cell in the cosmic body, what would your role or function be?’ The word that quickly occurred to me was ‘connection’. To put it in bodily terms I guess the metaphor would be the kind of cell that connects other cells together, and hopefully in a way that is beneficial to them and to the wider system.

Reflecting on it today I came up with several ways in which this connection theme is important to me. They might resonate with other people too, or it might be more that this process – on reflecting on the roles that we can fulfil – is a helpful one for other people to ponder.

I’m reminded of ideas in existential psychotherapy that we might regard a ‘good life’ as one in which we recognise our particular capabilities and find ways to fit them to the word around us. Unlike some existential philosophers I don’t believe that we are given a particular meaning or purpose to our life in some mystical way, but I do believe that we develop certain meanings and values for ourselves in conversation with the world and people around us. And it can be useful to reflect on how much the ways in which we live our lives are aligned with those meanings and values.

Of course such alignment is something that is far more possible for some people than for others, and I am extremely fortunate that I’m able to align my life with my values in both my paid work and my personal life. This is a point that I’ll return to towards the end.

Anyway, back to connection. These were my thoughts:

Read more of this post

Diverse love

This month I was asked to contribute to the series that Photoworks has been doing on Queer Representations. This is a series of commissioned texts marking LGBT History Month with explorations of the queer image in photography and culture.



For my contribution I got together with brilliant photographer Charlotte Barnes to produce a piece about relationship diversity, which also touches in some of the gender diversity issues that I explored in my last post for Rewriting the Rules. We had a great time on the photoshoot and hopefully the models will think that the final pictures and post do justice to them and their relationship.

You can read the Photoworks post here as well as seeing one of the other photographs that we took during the shoot.

You can also view a presentation on polyamory by the trupple here.

You can read more about the Queer Embassy Bar Wotever talks which the video was part of here.

Storify of Gender & Sexuality in the Pub – Female Gaze Pornography

People might be interested in this Storify of the talk that happened last night by Pandora Blake on the Female Gaze in Pornography. Much discussion of the idea of the predominant male gaze, what women are looking for in pornography, why they might not engage with it, feminist pornography and more.

Link is here.


Rewriting the Rules – Out on Kindle!

Rewriting the rules is now out on kindle! Just in time for Christmas shopping. Get it now on Amazon!


Book reviews

A couple of really nice online reviews of my book this week. BJ Epstein for Wales Art Review, who engages with the idea of anti self-help self-help books, and Fred Toates on Society Matters who explores the resonances and tensions between my ideas and biological psychology.

BJ Epstein writes…

We all live with the unspoken knowledge that there are certain rules we have to follow or fulfil when it comes to relationships. For example, for each person there’s “the one” – the one mate who will complete us and be everything to us. And conflict in relationships is a problem, and having conflicts might suggest that your partner is not “the one”. And being attractive is essential because that’s how you’ll find and keep “the one”. And once you find “the one”, the relationship must be monogamous and must remain sexual throughout your lives. And romantic relationships are more important than friendships or other types of relationships. And you shouldn’t speak to your exes after you’ve separated from them, because obviously they weren’t “the one” and there’s nothing that a relationship with them can offer you. And so on.

But actually, as Meg Barker points out in her accessible and important book, Rewriting the Rules, we need to question these rules. They may be holding us back, causing us to be unhappy, making our relationships unsuccessful. Reflecting on them might make us aware of what’s not working for us, but it could even make us reject some of these rules. We can even – gasp! – come up with different ways of living. Read more…

Fred Toates writes…

This is a beautifully written and profound book that is laced with wisdom and humour, full of quirky and novel bits of insight and advice. It is very clearly written and I am happy to recommend it most strongly. I believe that any of us could greatly benefit from reading this study (I certainly have) and discover much unexpected insights into ourselves and our way of dealing with others. Couples, particularly at times of conflict, would probably gain much by both parties discussing together its message.

The basic underlying theme that runs throughout the study is that the rules by which we lead our sexual and romantic lives are open to question and to be undermined. The criterion of whether they should be undermined is essentially a pragmatic one – are these rules really working for you? However, rather than being an egoist’s DIY manual, it is very much grounded in sound ethical principles. I understand these to be that you can, indeed should, experiment, bend and challenge rules and do what you want provided that you are not hurting or being coercive towards another in the process. This seems like an excellent criterion to me and one which would relieve many people of their remorseless stress, discomfort and guilt. Read more…

Thanks so much to BJ and Fred.

Rewriting the Rules: Out now!

“We all struggle with relationships but now the rules have changed. We need a new rule book, and this is it.” –Dorothy Rowe, Psychologist and Writer.

“Meg Barker reveals, step by step, how unpacking and rewriting the ‘rules’ can not only free our relationships from the ties that bind us, but also offer a path to deep self-knowledge and acceptance. A beautifully explicated journey to the heart of loving.” – Dossie Easton, Marriage & Family Therapist, Co-author of The Ethical Slut.

“To tackle the dos and don’ts that flood intimate relationships advice, Meg Barker’s sharp, insightful, open-minded and friendly guide is here to help you navigate the mazes of modern love. Meg’s pen is like a benevolent friend who’s hand you don’t want to let go. Hold on to Rewriting the Rules.” – Esther Perel, Author of Mating in captivity.

Rewriting the Rules, is out this week, published by Routledge. Rewriting the Rules provides an alternative to the many self-help books about relationships by locating relationship difficulties in the cultural messages which people receive rather than in their individual psychology or biology. In addition to this, the focus is on questioning and exploring various possible rules of love, rather than putting forward one single set which will work for all people and relationships.

The book examines the rules around attraction, love, sex, gender, monogamy, commitment, conflict, break-up, and the ways in which we treat ourselves. In each chapter dominant social rules are considered, and there is an examination of the ways in which these might be challenged, the alternatives that various groups have put in place, and what it might be like to move beyond a rules-based model. Drawing on interdisciplinary research on love, sex and relationships, Rewriting the Rules aims to be both academically informed and accessible to the general reader.

Centrefold documentary

Another amazing documentary out now, and this time you can view the whole thing online. The Centrefold film deals with labiaplasty (a form of genital cosmetic surgery) including many people’s experiences who have been through the operation. It raises important questions about our relationships with our bodies and with standards of attractiveness and sex.

Watch the documentary here.

Body Image Report

Last weekend there was a fascinating article in The Observer about psychological research on body image: Uncomfortable in our skin: the body-image report by Eva Wiseman. The article describes a recent conference at the University of the West of England Centre for Appearance Research and also talks about the All Party Parliamentary Group Body Image Report which found that:

Half of the public suffer from negative body image. The problem is so acute that girls as young as five now worry about their size and appearance, half of girls and one quarter of boys believe their peers have body image problems, and appearance is the largest cause of bullying in schools.

The Observer article mentions the Miss Representation documentary, which links the self-objectification of women who are highly concerned with their appearance (which is up to 90% of women according to the research) to the lack of women in positions of power.


The article also talks about the way that photoshop processes mean that the images that people compare themselves against are not even anything that they could realistically look like, something that was famously highlighted in the Dove Evolution campaign.


Susie Orbach, author of the famous Fat is a Feminist Issue, who is now researching the transmission of body image anxiety from mothers to daughters, asks in The Observer article:

Why, when I know that beauty is subjective, that nothing terrible would happen if I put on weight, when my desk is covered in annotated research on bodies, do I still feel bad about the way I look? Because none of us lives in a vacuum…We don’t even know we hate our bodies because we take that for granted.

This is a question – and answer – that occurred to me many times when I was writing about appearance and attraction for Rewriting the Rules. I’ve tried to come up with ways in which we might learn to treat our own bodies, and those of others, more kindly, and expanding out our understanding of what might be considered attractive. Some are already available in the resources here.