Real Life

Life 101 according to the experts

We grilled a range of experts – from stylists to sex therapists – to bring you the answers to your most pressing questions.

How can I have a better relationship with my boss?

Do I have a book in me?

Is it really worth it to make your own pasta?

We’ve asked some industry insiders to tackle some of the most difficult questions about life we could think of – and the lighter ones that will make our everyday lives that little bit easier. Their answers are affirming, surprising and entertaining… and might just make you think differently.

Why are my dreams so weird?

Karyn O’Keeffe PhD, research fellow at Sleep/Wake Research Centre, Massey University

This is fairly common. Studies show up to 10 per cent of dreams contain content that’s clearly impossible and up to 75 per cent have at least one bizarre aspect. Our dreams seem to be made up of fragments of memories and become a mixture of recent and older memory content. That is, they can contain information from the preceding day mingled with information from long ago. Dreams are rarely an exact replay of an event; the brain seems to extract key elements from a scenario and incorporate them into an unrelated one. It has been proposed dreaming is a way of analysing, understanding and processing the memories and emotional content of the events in our lives.

How do I get my husband to go to the doctor?

John Berry from the Men’s Health Trust NZ

There’s a range of useful strategies for getting your husband to visit the doctor – encouragement, reason, scare tactics, bribery, blackmail and emotional arguments (do it for the kids). None work in isolation so combine a few. Ask your husband’s friends to mention it because what really works is getting men to discuss it among themselves. Doug’s more likely to get in the habit of going to the doctor if he knows Dave’s going too. Here’s another idea: pre-pay the doctor’s visit and make it into a gift card. Then play on his fear of loss by telling him he will have wasted the money if he doesn’t go! But if reasoning is the way to go, you might need some facts to back you up. Go to and find out what a men’s health check involves.

How can I get the haircut of my dreams?

Raymond Robinson, creative director, Servilles, Takapuna

After more than two decades working in top celebrity salons, and on international runways and magazines, I think there is a process to getting that dream haircut. First find the top five salons in your city, look at their style and find the one that best suits your current mood (conservative, edgy, fun, sexy). Call and ask the salon manager who they suggest would be best suited to your hair texture or the direction of where you may be heading. Find the best person and trust in their expertise to guide you. If you don’t really feel the confidence and connection with the hairstylist, it may be best to try another one. Make sure they are interested in your lifestyle, features, sense of personal style, and the mood or feel of what you want your hair to reflect.

Will we ever swing from the chandeliers again?

Mary Hodson, specialist in emotional and sexual intimacy, Sex Therapy NZ

If you’re asking this question, hope is definitely still alive. All that is needed is to gently and lovingly raise the issue. “I’m wondering if you’re feeling the loss of excitement in our sex life as much as I am?” is enough to get started. Often the loss is about leaving sex to bedtime, not leaving enough time to nurture the emotional connection and allow arousal to occur. Set aside 45 minutes three or four times a week for each other. Make a regular appointment, when neither are tired. Make it uninterruptable and in a private place. Use the time to talk about sex and other things that enhance the emotional connection rather than functional things. When the time feels right, the talking can become touching and the touching can become sexual. Emotional connection and desire nurtured in this way will last a lifetime.

Is it ever worth making your own pasta?

Kyle Street, executive chef, Depot and Federal Delicatessen

I find when it comes to cooking at home all extra effort is worthwhile. Fresh pasta can be a little daunting but it is surprisingly easy once you’ve cracked the art of making the dough. Freshly made pappardelle (pasta ribbons) is one of my favourite things on earth. The authentic bite or ‘al dente’ people speak so highly of can only be achieved by rolling it fresh. Insider’s tip: you can pre-prepare and freeze pasta dough for a few weeks and roll it out on your chosen day of consumption.

What is the one place I should visit before I die?

Brett Atkinson, travel writer,

That’s like asking Steve Hansen who his favourite All Black is! There are many reasons I’ve been visiting Turkey for three decades. Istanbul is one of the world’s most compelling cities: echoes of past civilisations linger in Cappadocia and at sites like Aphrodisias and Mt Nemrut, and my Kurdish friends in southeast Turkey are probably the most welcoming people on the planet. South-eastern cities have great food and markets, and the south-west’s beaches more than hold their own internationally.

How can I have a better relationship with my boss?

Brooke Nelson, HR expert and marketing manager, Randstad NZ

Imagine your work problems as monkeys. Don’t go around handing your boss monkeys. Sure, ask him if you’re feeding the monkeys correctly, but don’t ask him to feed your monkey. Being solution-focused – even if it’s the wrong solution – goes a long way towards improving the relationship. And icing on the cake for a better relationship? Positive feedback. When was the last time you gave your boss praise? The trick is to make the praise specific and genuine.

If I find the perfect pants should I buy five pairs?

Caitlin Taylor, personal stylist and fashion blogger at

Is that even a question? Without a doubt yes! I’m a firm believer in dressing to suit your shape and personality, and not pay so much attention to trends. If the trousers fit your body, that’s all you need. Plus because they fit you so well, you’ll get more versatility out of them. You can always dress them up with a blouse and heels or down with a tee and trainers. It’s almost impossible to find the perfect pair, so if they fit – get them in every colour, and yes, at least five pairs for sure.

Do I have a book in me?

Jenny Hellen, publisher, Allen & Unwin

Yes, everyone has something unique to say, whether it’s telling the story of their life or creating a fictional story. The process of writing a substantial piece can be very enjoyable and fulfilling as well as personally illuminating. If your question is ‘will my book get published and bring me fame and fortune?’ the answer to that is probably not. If you want to write something, there are some good creative writing courses available that will point you in the right direction, and at the very least you’ll produce something you’re proud of and that your family and friends will enjoy.

Are designer clothes worth it?

Jackie O’Fee, stylist and television fashion adviser for a range of New Zealand programmes

Yes and no. High-end designers often have access to better fabrics, and smaller runs tend to ensure the construction is better. Their garments are also often more fashion-forward and leading edge; and of course you’re less likely to see hundreds of other people wearing the same thing. On the other hand, you can buy a similar, fashion-forward garment for a fraction of the price. Mass-produced designer-inspired garments are made within weeks of something hitting the runway. So, you can still be totally on trend without spending a fortune. I do believe we have an emotional response to what we wear, so if you feel better in your designer piece, it’s worth the dollars invested. Equally, if you get a sense of satisfaction from looking great at a fraction of the price then the saving is worth it too.

Should I have therapy?

Marieke Pastor, counsellor/supervisor, MNZAC

If you’re struggling to make sense of your emotions, your life or your relationships, therapy may help. A therapist won’t tell you what to do but will provide an objective, supportive, non-judgmental environment in which you can find your own inner wisdom. Therapy can help you make sense of your experiences and make changes to live a more fulfilled life. If you’re struggling in an intimate relationship, it’s more helpful if you and your partner attend together. Therapy is useful in times of transition, eg bereavement or separation, and can help you process strong feelings like grief and anger.

What is the most beautiful piece of music ever made?

Murry Sweetpants, DJ

What a question! If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my career as a professional DJ, it’s that people’s taste in music is as diverse as their personalities. As in all aspects of life, we should respect the tastes of others and not be at all judgemental on how bad the latest Bieber song might be in comparison to that Beatles track from 40 years ago; remember your parents hated them back then too. Contemplating my own answer, I keep coming back to Greg Johnson’s Don’t Wait Another Day; it’s beautiful in its simplicity and message. The best things always come from the heart.

What’s the best way to apply eyeliner?

Stacy Lee Ghin, makeup/hair artist

I like to use Indian kohl that you find in Indian shops. I first lightly disinfect the eyeliner stick with a flame from a lighter. I dip the stick into the bottle of kohl powder, tap off the excess then place the end of the stick in my inner eye, holding it horizontally, as close as I can to my eye. I shut my lids tightly, with the stick between the top lid and the lower inner eye lid, then twist and pull the stick out. This is an ancient method that lines both top and bottom eye lines in one stroke. You’ll get the blackest, inkiest, darkest liner known to woman.

Which TV series should I watch?

Maria Mahony, head of programming and local content, Lightbox

Better Call Saul. I can’t be the only one who fell in love with the questionable character of Saul Goodman while binge-watching 16-time Emmy Award-winning drama Breaking Bad. In Better Call Saul you find out exactly how he became a lawyer with such controversial moral standards. This series follows Saul six years before he meets Walter White. He’s a small-time lawyer searching for his destiny and more immediately, hustling to make ends meet.

Are old friends really the best?

Neil Denney, chief executive, Friendship House

Friends teach us the lessons not always learned from family. There’s an old saying that goes, “True friends are like diamonds, precious and rare. The rest are like scattered leaves everywhere”. Old friends know us so well and are always there for us. New friends will never be as good as an old friend until they become an old friend too.

How much makeup is too much?

Lisa Matson, L’Oréal New Zealand makeup director

If makeup is distorting someone’s natural beauty rather than enhancing it there’s a good chance they’re wearing too much. The most common mistakes are: wearing too much foundation which muddies the tone of skin, dulls skin texture and exaggerates blemishes; wearing too much blush instead of just a healthy looking flush; and wearing too much brow product, meaning your eyebrows dominate rather than frame your face. The other two I see a lot are: too much mascara, making lashes look clumped and eyes receded; and too much gloss, which then bleeds outside the natural lip line, looking messy rather than alluring.

Should I teach my son to hold the door open for women?

Dr Melanie Beres, senior lecturer, Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work, Otago University

The problem with teaching boys to open doors for girls comes when it’s embedded within benevolent sexism; the belief women should be cherished and protected. This view may seem harmless but it’s not; the subtext is women are less capable, and these views are connected to hostile forms of sexism. Definitely teach your son to be courteous, but also to view women and men as equally capable.

Does history really repeat itself?

Neill Atkinson, chief historian/manager, heritage content, Ministry for Culture and Heritage

History never repeats itself exactly, but familiar cycles and patterns of events can sometimes make it seem that way. We are often struck by similarities between events that occurred long ago and what is happening in the world today – a form of historical déjà vu. People often say some situation is just like the 1930s or some group’s views are straight from the 1950s. But those are figures of speech, and are rarely meant to be taken literally. Sometimes, though, particularly when we are confronted with conflict or crises, it can seem as though humanity hasn’t learned anything from the past, and is doomed to repeat its mistakes.

How do we raise kids to be good people?

Diana Noonan, children’s author

When I write for children, it’s feelings that come first. That’s why books like the Best-Loved Bear are best-sellers. They reach right inside the reader. It’s children’s feelings rather than their behaviour we need to ‘hear’ and respond to. Feelings connect us with our kids’ inner core and establish an intimacy that binds them to us. It’s this that enables them to talk to us, and us to them, about the important things in life.

Why should I care about others’ rights?

Dr Jackie Blue, Human Rights Commission

A more equal society is a happier, healthier, productive one so equality is important to every one of us. A more equal society means everyone’s rights are respected and there is gender equality. At birth half of us are immediately treated differently based on whether we’re a boy or a girl. We need to become world leaders again in gender equality, we must challenge sexism, encourage equal opportunity and end our nation’s tragic domestic violence tradition.

Can I get rid of my bingo wings?

Claire Bellingham, personal trainer

Unfortunately, you can’t control where fat comes off the body any more than where it goes on; that’s determined mostly by genetics. So there’s no short cut. Eat fewer treats and more veges. Drink more water and less alcohol. Then throw in a few push-ups and tricep dips for good measure. If all else fails, cheat with puffy sleeves!

What’s the best way to assist people in my community who have less?

Dame Diane Robertson, formerly of the Auckland City Mission

The best way to help is to make sure they are fully included in society and have the same options and rights as the rest of the community. We should advocate for equal wages for women, fair wages for caregivers, access to childcare day or night and jobs that are sustainable. We should treat everyone with courtesy and respect, with no regard for their financial status. We can assist people who are struggling financially by donating to charities who support families with housing, food, childcare and employment opportunities.

How can I look good in a selfie?

Jessie Casson, photographer

One of the most important factors is the light direction. It’s really important to have the light source, the window/sun or light bulb in front of you; side lighting is unflattering and accentuates wrinkles and pimples. The best time to shoot outside is one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Crop in tight on the photo; this removes the extended arm or tense shoulder holding the camera in the shot. Stick your chin out a bit and raise the camera up to get the most flattering angle.

Should I forgive my ex?

Jasmine Platt, life coach

When painful things happen, emotions such as anger are normal. We use them to protect ourselves and give us the space to process what’s happened so we can let it go. Until we’ve processed it fully, forgiveness can be hard, but ultimately choosing to forgive will enable you to set yourself free. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are saying what they did was okay. You’re simply acknowledging you are ready to move on. If you hold on, you leave powerful energy you need for creating your future, back in the past. It can be helpful to pay attention to what the event and emotions are here to teach you, so you can see it as a learning and growing opportunity.

What can I say to my friend who is dying?

Sorrel Renton-Green, soul midwife

In dealing with palliative care patients I think something like this (or your own take on it) is comforting: “I promise you’re not alone in this. No matter how hard this gets I will be here to hold your hand and walk alongside you. We’ve shared so much together over so many years; this will be no different. You have enriched my life and left your imprint on my soul. I will be forever grateful for your kindness, wisdom and loyalty. You are truly loved and treasured, and you’ll be remembered. My heart will smile each time I think of you.”

Words by Alexia Santamaria

Photos by Kristina Soljo/, iStock Images, Getty Images and supplied

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