People celebrate “losing themselves,” and “falling” for someone; they get tossed and turned like they have no say in the matter; they let themselves get pulled emotionally willy nilly and chalk it up as “passion.”
“Relationships take work,” we tell ourselves. But we’ve misconstrued what that “work” is supposed to mean.
“Boring” is better than “impassioned,” and while most great relationships have a blend of both, forced to choose, we should readily take the former.Consistently warm is far more hospitable than hot and cold for long-term emotional wellbeing.
Boring is beautiful
By “boring,” I mean stability, consistency, reliability. We can hang our hat on these things; we can only build on a solid, unwavering foundation.
Greatness is built with consistency
As true for relationships as it is for anything.
Weight loss happens with countless little daily decisions, not binging and purging. Building a company happens in the millions of micro-moments, not landing — and losing — That One Big Client. It’s a lot easier to engineer a solution around consistent variables — regardless of what they are.
When a partner (or the relationship) is up, down, hot, cold, ecstatic, pissed, etc., we spend far too much time managing their feelings and not enough time actually building the relationship.
I can’t do anything with an erratic partner. (I know this because I had one once — okay, twice — and it was simply unworkable.)
Greatness is built with agency and taking responsibility
If we approach love with healthy hearts, we don’t complain of “boredom” with our partners, because we understand that they are not here to amuse, distract, or otherwise entertain us. Their lives are not fuel for our amusement, they are not here simply to delight and distract.
We are responsible for our own emotional wellbeing.
Greatness is built with emotional health
Emotionally healthy people do not chase “romance” and put on exaggerated displays. Emotionally healthy people can lap at the edge of excess; they are satiated on healthy displays of love alone. They understand that real, healthy love is in the every day little shit — remembering the dry cleaning; a hug; a word of encouragement before the big meeting — and they don’t require, nor do they have any real appetite for, the showy shit that’s “shareable” on social media.
Greatness is built in the everyday, not the few exciting moments
Great relationships, like anything, are built in the everyday. They don’t simply endure the everyday to just get to the next vacation or fun outing, just like great work doesn’t simply endure the work week to get to the weekend.Relationships are built in the “white space” of life; they are the everyday. So what we do with that time makes or breaks us.
Every moment we spend with our loved one is precious and invaluable. That’s where the relationship lives or dies. And a lot of those everyday moments are, for the most part, boring.
That 80 year old couple holding hands in the park is sharing “boring.” They got there one day at a time.
Impassioned is dangerous
By “impassioned” I mean excitement, excess, extremes. Romantic hedonism — new restaurants, gifts, travel, grandiose displays or constant reassurance or lofty, poetic declarations of love. If you want great love, these should make you want to run.
Bustle put out an article on “17 things to do when you get bored in your relationship.”
I’ll save you a read, because there aren’t “17” things to do. There’s only one thing to do, and it’s: “take responsibility for your own life and understand that it’s not your partner’s job to entertain you.”
There is, of course, a real benefit of trying new things and going to new places as a couple — but only if done with a calm heart, and never with the anxious frenzy to “do something!”
When we chase romance and excitement, we do to “love” what porn does to sex.
“Passion” is dangerous to hang our hearts on because it fades away. It must either be doggedly pursued and constantly refueled, or it runs the risk of exposing the realization that there’s nothing underneath. Love built on frenzied pursuits leaves us fatigued and washed up, looking at each other at the end of our ropes, frustrated that we “can’t come up with anything else to do.”
In good love, there’s nothing “to do” except love one another. Every day. And it doesn’t depend on how wefeel, because good, healthy love doesn’t hinge on our feelings; it’s a choice. Every day.
Good love looks and feels “boring”
Real, healthy love is quiet, not loud. It is calm, not frenzied. It is solid and stable, not flighty or fickle.
As Irby wrote,
“Real love… it’s not a game you don’t understand the rules of, or a test you never got the materials to study for. It never leaves you wondering… what you could possibly do to make it come home and stay there. It’s fucking boring, dude. I don’t walk around mired in uneasiness, waiting for the other shoe to drop… This feels safe and steadfast and predictable and secure. It’s boring as shit. And it’s easily the best thing I’ve ever felt.”
Just like we’re not entitled to their every thought or very being
One of many people’s biggest complaints in a relationship is “when my partner doesn’t tell me how they feel” (or “open up” or “talk to me,” etc.)
Ask these people what’s “literally the worst thing” in love and — second only to the thought of their partner leaving them — they will tell you: the frustration of a partner not sharing their feelings.
So, overwhelmed with the anxiety of not knowing — and being ill-equipped to manage this anxiety in healthier, more constructive ways — these people rush their partner, crowding them emotionally and coercing them,
Talk to me! Tell me how you feel. I wanna talk about it. I want to know what you’re feeling. I just want you to open up. Share with me. Tell me. Talk to me.
Give me. Give me. Give me.
People like this think “love” means “always sharing” and “sharing everything,” and they think this behavior translates as “intimacy,” but in reality it’s just “disrespecting your partner’s personal space” and “steamrolling healthy boundaries.”
I’m not suggesting that shutting down and stonewalling is the path to a great relationship — that’s not good, either. Because love does mean sharing. It does mean “talking about how you feel” and “letting the other person in;”being vulnerable and open and honest — all of that’s great.
But there’s a huge difference between offering and being obligated.
Offering to share with our partner is intimate. Being pushed to isn’t. If webully our partners into sharing, we are directly undercutting the very intimacy we think we’re building. If we whine, or cajole, or get defensive, or pissy, or play any kind of emotional war games in response to them holding back, we are being shittier than they are.
Because other people’s emotions are first and foremost theirs, not ours.What they do with them is their prerogative, not ours. And hearing them,if they choose to share, is a privilege, not a right. We are not “owed” anything in their heads.
“Sharing is caring!”
But care is also about being fair. Love is about respecting boundaries and understanding what’s yours, what’s theirs, and what they want as well.
“Yeah but if I don’t know what’s wrong, then how can I fix it?”
I understand where this is coming from, but it’s also worth understanding: other people are not ours to “dig at” or “fix,” and doing so is only “loving” if it’s also welcomed. Our partners are not our personal puzzles and our relationship isn’t a game of codependency Clue.
“But I just want them to share!”
Mm hm. And you’d probably also like it if someone gave you a million dollars. But we are no more entitled to someone’s personal experience than we are to someone’s money.
“But why won’t they just tell me?! Why is that so hard?”
Because they don’t want to. Maybe they’re not ready, maybe nothing’s wrong, maybe the feelings are still half-baked, maybe now’s not the time, maybe they’re self-soothing, maybe it’s not a big deal, maybe they don’t like how you latch on when they share; it doesn’t matter. They don’t want to. We can’t push.
We can make ourselves available, we can ask, we can invite, we can listen.
But above all, we must respect boundaries and recognize that it’s their emotions — not ours. The good thing is that with that comes the beautiful treasure of understanding: when they finally do share, it’s because they wanted to. And when they’re ready, if it’s important, they will.
People are increasingly unsure about kids, and the US and European fertility rate is at an all-time low. According to Pew Research Center study, 1 in 5 people will remain childless. That’s doubled since the 1970s.
Uncertainty is higher among women than men
Women are not just delaying babies; they’re debating them altogether.
“Having kids was once considered a necessity for every woman, but the last few years have shown shifting trends surrounding settling down.”
As Bryce Covert wrote: men want kids — and women aren’t so sure.
“In a nationally-representative survey of single, childless people in 2011, more men than women said they wanted kids… Another poll from 2013 echoed those findings, with more than 80 percent of men saying they’d always wanted to be a father or at least thought they would be someday. Just 70 percent of women felt the same.”
There’s a joke we have in software regarding the inherent standoff between developers and managers, represented by a chicken (managers) and a pig (developers):
As a woman, that’s pretty much how “the kid conversation” feels.
When I broke up with an ex-partner, he made a last-ditch effort at staying together by saying: “but I wanna have kids with you!”
To be clear: the only time we’d talked “kids” was when we joked “probably not.” I was super busy (and super happy) at work, logging 12-hour days and weekends. I had zero interest in a baby. But when I said this, he countered,
“That’s okay — just have the kids and then I’ll raise them.”
I heard that and thought, “say what now??” Bud, I’m not a broodmare. I’m not going to be a surrogate to my own kids.
And like I said, we broke up.
And yet, bad argument or not, we’re all still left with the overarching question: should I have kids?
In order to argue “religion,” you have to believe in it, and people who believe in it aren’t undecided on kids, so don’t need this post. It’s for everyone who doesn’t use religion, and needs discussions outside of it.
Most Common Reasons To Have Kids:
Reason #1: Status in Society
If you value social norms, you’ll probably have kids. Because even as childlessness becomes more common, it still isn’t socially accepted.
Psychology professor Leslie Ashburn-Nardo conducted a study where participants read about a fictional person (described as male or female with either zero or two children) and then shared their feelings on them.
What she found was astonishing. When childless, the fictional people were “perceived to be significantly less psychologically fulfilled,” and not only that, but participants expressed emotional reactions such as disgust, disapproval, annoyance, and anger towards them.
“People experience moral outrage when they perceive someone has violated a morally prescribed behavior, something we’re ‘supposed to do’ because it’s what we see as right.”
My ex-partner’s sudden urgency to have kids happened right after his friends started having them. When I asked about his change of heart, he admitted: “everyone else is doing it!”
We may laugh at this, but at least he was honest enough to say it.
But much like “religion,” this argument only works if you value social norms — and some of us don’t.
I don’t owe the world anything. Like, I’m also a talented visual artist but few people know this about me. I don’t owe the world art, and I don’t owe it kids.
Reason #2: Fear of Regret
Many people have kids because they “don’t want to regret not having them”— or because others threaten they will.
But, bro — have you heard of FOMO? Because this is just FOMO — “fear of missing out.”
“FOMO frequently provokes feelings of anxiety and restlessness, often generated by competitive thoughts that others are experiencing more pleasure, success, or fulfillment in their lives than they are… FOMO behavior will continue to prevail and diminish the overall quality of well-being, and fulfillment in one’s relationships and life in general.”
And as Gabriele Moss wrote, if “you’re only doing it because you’re afraid of missing out” or “people say you’ll regret it if you don’t,” then you’re going at it all wrong.
But FOMO exists because:
We regret things we didn’t do more than the things we do
As Daniel Gilbert wrote in Stumbling on Happiness,
“In the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean those regrets are “correct!” It’s just how our brains work.
“The psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than actions.”
In other words: our brain struggles to conceptualize and fill the “white space” of not doing something, so we assign it with the biggest negative emotion and then call the thing “regret.”
Fear — even fear of regret — is not a healthy motivator
Good decisions are made out of love, not fear
Move towards the things you want; don’t just avoid the things that scare you.
Have kids because you’re ready to love — not because you’re terrified of regret or other risks.
Some people do regret kids
They just don’t talk about it.
In 1975, advice columnist Ann Landers asked her readers, “If you had it to do over again, would you have children?”
Nearly 10,000 parents replied on handwritten postcards, and a few weeks later, Landers shared the survey results in an article headlined “70 PERCENT OF PARENTS SAY KIDS NOT WORTH IT.”
Mother Brooke Lark wrote about her experience as a parent saying,
“I am in the smack-dab middle of motherhood and I feel lost. I feel time-sucked and threadworn. I feel like I’m responsible for carrying the world… There is no break. There is no quitting. There is no vacation. There is constant guilt. That reality is sobering and exhausting.”
Someone once told me, “not having kids won’t keep you from getting old.”
And to her (and other people who argue that), I just want to point out:
“Having kids won’t keep you from being lonely when you’re old.”
In her last book, I Remember Nothing, accomplished author and mother Norah Ephron wrote,
“In time, of course, the kids grew up and it was just me and Nick in the house on Long Island. The sound of geese became a different thing — the first sign that summer was not going to last forever, and soon another year would be over. Then, I’m sorry to say, they became a sign not just that summer would come to an end, but that so would everything else.”
Children go off and live their own lives. All of us, kids or not, will be left to deal with the sunsetting of our days. I don’t mean to be morbid; I only mean to be honest.
It is our job, not our kids’, to ease existential woes and deal with our death.
Reason #4: “I just want to see…”
…“how they’ll turn out,” “what they’ll look like,” “my partner as a parent,” etc.
“Kids aren’t personal experiments. They’re not mirrors we can admire ourselves in. They’re their own living, breathing people and they’ll look how they look, learn what they learn, and be who they are regardless of us.”
We often think of kids in the theoretical sense, but kids are their own, separate people — not extensions of ourselves.
Reason #5: Happiness
Fact: Kids don’t actually make us happier
Since the 1980s, at least two-dozen studies have shown that the quality of marriage decreases once the couple has kids. Studies also show that when kids leave the nest, parents are happier than any other time in their relationship.
University researchers Philip and Carolyn Cowan shared,
“More than 25 separate studies have established that marital quality drops, often quite steeply, after the transition to parenthood. And forget the “empty nest” syndrome: when the children leave home, couples report an increase in marital happiness.”
Psychologist Ashburn-Nardo shared,
“Meta-analyses of hundreds of studies demonstrate that having children negatively affects relationship satisfaction.”
To be fair, most worthwhile things don’t make us happier in the moment. But I wish we’d stop confusing the two and lying, using the word “happy” when we really mean something else…
Reason #6: Meaning
Many people cite their kids as the most meaningful part of their lives, but that doesn’t mean we should. Good parenting means honoring kids as their own people, with their own lives, whose “meaning” is entirely separate from ours — and vice versa.
A new mom once told me, “you either have to make a million dollars, or you have to have kids.”
And an (arguably bad) therapist once threatened: “if you don’t have kids, you’ll have nothing.”
Both times, I stared back thinking that’s a human being.
Kids aren’t here to “fill your life”
They are not here to ease our existential anxiety or distract us from it, and even if we ascribe meaning to them, the responsibility still falls on us.
And secondly: our lives — and days — don’t have to be manically “filled.”
As Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being,
“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground … The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half-real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
When I think of my life, I see lightness.
Many people are anxious about this, agonizing over the white space of childlessness.
“If not kids, then what?!” They need to know. They need a box, a marker, a label, a reason, and an explanation as to why — and “what instead.”
And when you don’t offer one, they shovel in their own certainty — “you will!” — trying to reassure themselves by pretending to reassure others.
And maybe they’re right. I don’t have enough emotion loaded into the issue to get defensive or argue otherwise. But I’m still not convinced right now.
And as one woman in her 60’s said,
“That’s just because you think there’s still more time.”
And sure, that’s true, but I’m also not sure I’d care if this was all there was.
I’m also so happy with my partner I’d never ask anything more of him (except the baby, if we do), and I think I’d be totally happy with a life that continued more or less like this until they day I died. I think we all get to that point, mentally and emotionally. We get “okay.” It’s just that some of us have already had kids by the time we do.
In other words: this thing others call “nothing” I see as “contentment.”
“I could go either way”
I tell partners: if you forced me to say yes or no right now, I’d say no. But I could see myself changing my mind.
“I believed that if I was ‘in love enough,’ I’d feel that primal push toward motherhood that seemed to grip so many of my friends… even as a child, when I imagined my grown-up future, I didn’t necessarily picture motherhood.”
Ditto. But I’ve always been open to the possibility of waking up one day and wanting a kid in the way I pulled the trigger on buying a bike, moving to the south or cutting my hair — after years of deliberation, culminating in an instant when I’m so certain there’s no more wondering.
And these decisions, I should note, have always been my happiest. Which is why I’m not only open to it happening this way, but am perhaps hoping it will.
And I can afford to think this way. Still only in my early 30s, there’s still time.
There are a number of things I should my indecision isn’t. Such as:
It’s not feminism. I’m not taking a stand against traditional roles or anything. At least consciously.
I didn’t have a bad childhood. I mean, no worse than average. I think.
It’s not lack of money. I mean, not directly — though after years of student loans, I’m not exactly ecstatic about continuing to hemorrhage it.
But it’s not because I want to spend it on travel or cars or whatever.
In fact, the only real thing my indecision is is: I’m not sure I want them!
And yet still…
My mother does this “needle test” — dangling a needle on a thread over someone’s palm and watching its pattern to determine their (current or future) kids’ gender(s). Mine always comes out 1 girl, 1 boy (in that order), which is, coincidentally, exactly what I’d want if I could pick. I’d love to chalk the whole thing up as fake (my brother and sister-in-law certainly have) but it’d be a whole lot easier to do so if I hadn’t seen those needle test projections come out exactly accurate over the 10+ years she’s been doing it.
So I guess what I’m saying is: on top of everything else, I guess I want to be open to whatever the universe has in store for me.
LIKING kids — but not LOVING them
It’s sort of like being a cat or dog person
I like cats. But I prefer dogs.
My thing with cats is: all their bullshit isn’t “cute” to me. Laying down on my keyboard isn’t cute. Knocking shit off surfaces isn’t cute. Being little assholes isn’t cute.
But the difference between me and “cat people” isn’t that they like those behaviors, but rather they aren’t bothered as much —they like the cat enough that it’s worth it.
That’s how “kids” feel for “kid people.”
And it’s not that I would never have a cat — especially since my partner absolutely loves them. (Seriously, he gets more excited about cats than almost anything else; any time we’re around one, he becomes this adorable, baby-talking little old lady.) I’d get one if it came down to it.
And that’s how I feel about kids.
I’d make a good parent
Tons of people feel this way. Though, of course, most of us are wrong, we all have our own reasons for warranting this belief, and mine is: I don’t glorify motherhood.
I wouldn’t hang my identity on it, or offload my insecurities into my children. I’d let them be their own people, and I’d love them accordingly. (Just like I am as a partner.)
Bad moms are the ones who try too hard to “mother,” putting too much of themselves into it. They’d never admit to this of course — I mean, why would they? — and on the contrary, they will spend a great deal of time and energy arguing the defensive position.
Good moms relinquish their grip. They honor their kids as separate people.
Kids take work. (Never-ending and thankless work.)
I don’t see joy when I see children; I see work. I see the day to day realities. And not labors of love even, but work for what it is — years of thankless straining, work that hinges on having huge reserves of intrinsic motivation.
“I wasn’t aware how much work they are. Work — and joy! But, seriously: WORK. Exhausting, bone-crushing, emotionally draining, you-will-be-touching-human-feces-often work… You can’t ignore your kid, because he or she is a living, breathing creature who relies on you to maintain his or her existence. Your needs — rest, intellectual stimulation, a shower, frozen yogurt — cease to matter when your child comes into the picture. And there is nothing wrong with finding the thought of this kind sacrifice utterly appalling.”
Children are lovely little creatures. Children are also tiny terrors.
I like paid work
Not purely as a matter of income, but more importantly: having a bit of space and wherewithal in the economy.
As Betty Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique,
“The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.”
Not just creative work, but paid creative work. Everyone should have independent economic means, and much of the angsty malaise of the stay-at-home-mom isn’t (just) under-appreciation, but lack of outside work.
Things I just don’t want to deal with:
1.) The emotional labor
Parenting takes a lot of work — way more than dressing your kid in a cute outfit and calling it a day. It takes conscious communication, patience, and consistency, and unfortunately not all people who become parents were ever equipped for the most important parts.
2.) The sheer amount of stuff
I just don’t want my life to be saturated with “kid shit.”
My partner and I recently visited one of his friends and his wife who recently had a baby, and every time they turned around, my eyes would dart around the room in horror at the wall to wall “kid shit.” Toys, play mats, a high chair, a stroller, a playpen, a swing, a whole section of the couch set up for, presumably, nursing. I just could not get over how much shit there was.
3.) Loss of sleep
It’s not that I sleep until 1 pm or anything — I’m a respectable human being with a normal sleep schedule, and I freaking love the morning hours — but I am very protective of my sleep. I once dated a bad snorer and it was borderline deal-breaker.
And neither does my partner. The idea of daily meal prep makes me feel bored out of my mind. And I hear most people agree, treating it as a necessary chore, but again — cost:benefit.
5.) Being interrupted
I hate being interrupted so much that when my little sister was a toddler and would bust into other people’s conversations mid-sentence with some kid shit, it was one of the few times I actively “mothered” her (“don’t do that — it’s rude.”)
“Interrupting” is still one of my biggest pet peeves, and one of the biggest “bad habits” I am most quick to nip in the bud with a new partner. I’ll say it to friends, I’ll say it to colleagues. I’ve stopped hanging out with people over it.
6.) I don’t want to go to Disneyland
And I don’t want to be the asshole parent for feeling that way.
Frankly, most things “Disney” are weird at best, and a little toxic at worst. And I’m not saying I wouldn’t take them — I’m sure I would — but the only thing that makes it worthwhile is if they freaking loved it, and given what I know about kids, there will be at least one Mickey Mouse Meltdown.
7.) Intellectual Atrophy
It takes a special kind of everyday saint to deal with all of the mind-numbing mundanity.
Do you know how much those little shits cost? A lot. Like, $250K+ a lot.
Which is exactly what I point out to anyone who says they want kids so someone takes care of them in old age. Put that money away and you can hire someone.
9.) Porn and/or drugs (the kid’s)
Future kids are going to see porn in kindergarten and I just don’t have the emotional wherewithal to fight the internet. And what happens when the kid gets into meth or heroin? What are you going to do with that?
10.) Health problems (the kid’s)
When considering a potential partner, I always ask myself: “how would he react if our kid had leukemia?” People always think of idealizations, but sometimes shit hits the fan.
Things I love that I’d be giving up:
The bike. Minimalism. Quiet. Sunday mornings poring over one or three of my many, many books… the bike.
I know people with kids are quick to jump in here like, “but you replace those things with joy!!” And to that I’m just sitting here staring back like, “you either don’t understand the deep, visceral joy of a motorcycle, or you’re totally immune to the gross chaos that is the back of a minivan, because those two do not even compare.”
When to have kids
When what you value makes the payoffs worthwhile.
When you do so from a place of love, not fear.
So: what do you value?
It differs by person — and it’s for you to figure out. Is travel or work most important (forever?) Is doing the right thing?
But as you ask yourself, just make absolutely sure you are answering from a place of love, not fear — from a place of desiring something, not avoiding the alternative; i.e., “I want to” (raise kids, love them) not “I don’t want to” (regret it, die alone, etc.) And make sure your “want” honors them as people, not extensions of yourself.
But above all else: when the idea of having kids makes you feel more good than bad. When you’re ready to put in the work. When you’re doing so from a place of love, not fear. When you can offer love on a consistent basis.
It’s real hard to write about your life without writing about your life, especially when you’ve got the inclination to write about your life.
I don’t really write about details because I’m never sure which to include. Safest bet is always the past, except when you consider that I’m far more interested in the present, future, or “non-time, pure-fluff theoretical” tense.
I don’t really write about where I live because I’m not sure it matters.
I don’t really write about work because, I don’t know, separation of church and state. Also it’s not really important. But mostly the former, because the only thing standing between this world and that one is the play-pretend model I have for keeping the two apart.
I also don’t really write about my partner day to day. I write about him at a high level, skirt around our story (“friends for fifteen years, but that’s enough of that — here I am going on and on!”)
But I want to write about what I write about, because writing is my part of the deal.
I can choose whatever form I want. I can talk theoretical, in wispy sentences that don’t have much weight. I can share real stories. I can sort of half-share a real story without sharing too much. I can mention things (improv; my mom) that implies a sense of intimacy without actually sharing anything.
I can make a reader feel something. I can give them something to relate to. I can offer them something in which to see themselves.
I can put the time in. I can type. I can spend part of my day, every day — part of my week; part of my life — putting posts out there. My Mac is only a year old and two of the keys have popped off from typing. And that’s all part of my end of the deal. I can work.
But I can’t decide for you what you want to do. I can’t decide what’s most important.
I can suggest a drink for you, and I can definitely pour it and put it in front of you, but I can’t promise it’s the one you wanted.
I can do my part of the bargain, but I can’t pick up more than you do when “the deal” is more your life than mine.
Decisions in your life are yours and not mine. I can weigh in, I can make suggestions, and I can most definitely back you up — hell, I’ll even jump and say when I think you’re wrong. But I can’t tell you how to live your life. I can’t make these major life decisions for you.
That work must first and foremost, by design, at least first fall on you.
I am not a therapist, and I wouldn’t want to be one.
I know how to write daily blog posts about life and love and happiness and psychology and philosophy, and I know how, from a reader’s perspective, that can look a lot like “wanting to give you one-on-one advice,” but to state the obvious (and do so in a brutally honest way): it’s not at all the same from my viewpoint. And I have close to zero patience for the latter.
Writing something is entirely different than responding to someone’s “situation.”
I even published a post telling people, in big bold letters: “don’t bring me your life story.” Granted, I articulated this within the context of bartending and friendships, but I actually figured the underlying message of “I don’t want to hear it” was so apparent that I almost didn’t post it for fear of being “rude” (as I noted. In the post.)
And yet several times a week, people continue to write to me with their life stories, asking for advice.
Well, to all of you diligent advice-seekers, here’s a summary of my response to the most frequent questions I receive:
(Anything more than like 100 words, usually starting with “bear with me…”)
Fuck off with this shit. Seriously.
Someone once sent me a 1,000+ word email covering what was apparently half their life story, graciously including a series of totally superfluous details, such as 3 or 7 or 18 other friends’ names, I guess in a way that was somehow meant to convey their importance to the story(?!)
And let me just remind you: I never asked for this email.
It was effectively the email equivalent of being accosted in the street or shouted at on the bus. It was “Hey!! Can you please help me! Wait, I’m not actually going to pause to let you respond yes or no and now I’m just speaking in run-on sentences to tell you my sob story in a way that just leaves both of us feeling worse”… in my inbox.
If you come at me with 1,000 words, I will not respond. My time and attention are not here for you to throw shit at.
“My partner isn’t changing and I don’t know what to do”
Yeah, no shit.
But I’m going to tell you the same thing I’ve said in my posts at least a dozen freaking times:
You do not control other people!
Why you think you’re the exception to this rule (or think there’s some secret side door loop hole, or your situation is different, or you’ll win me over to giving you “the real advice” on how to still make the universe rearrange itself for you anyway) is beyond me.
And if you’re thinking: “not the whole universe! Just my partner.” I’m gonna stop you right there. Stop whimpering in your head and acting confused.
You. Do. Not. Control. Other. People.
The only one you control is you.
Don’t like their behavior? Tell them. Already did? Then GTFO!
Don’t like that answer? Sorry — tough shit. The world doesn’t bend itself to suit your whims. There is no additional science here, man. Think there’s still some magical solution to making them change? You’re a dummy. But you “love them?” You’re even dumber still — and need to circle back on rule 1: self love and self esteem.
If they were interested in changing and staying together, you’d have seen at least some effort by now.
“It’s not me — it’s them”
No. It’s you.
The other day someone sent me a 1,400+ word email (that’s a 7-minute read, guys; i.e., longer than some of my blog posts) that actually started with,
“I feel that I am an emotionally stable person.”
No. Clearly no. You are a highly delusional person who just likes to pride himself on the image of “emotionally stable.” Otherwise you wouldn’t be emailing strangers tiny novels saying so.
And even if it’s truly “them,” then it’s still “you” for staying.
“I have this friend…”
Look, buddy. Let me stop you right there. Because unless you actually are “this friend,” or this friend’s partner, or this friend has explicitly asked you for your opinion, my advice to you is: stay in your lane.
“I have a question about my ex…”
I don’t care. Neither she/he nor I want to hear it. (I mean, seriously — if your actual ex isn’t interested, imagine how I feel…)
Someone wrote to ask me,
“My avoidant ex is not very good at initiating contact or responding… its been a month since I’ve had any contact with my ex — should I still reach out or do you think she’d prefer to just not hear from me.”
Are you being fucking serious with that?
“What should I do?”
How the fuck should I know, bud? I’m not you.
But if you’re asking me how people should decide what to do, my answer is simple (and, incidentally, always the same): do whatever best aligns with your most important values.
“Okay, but my situation is different, because…”
No it isn’t.
People are not that fundamentally different, and the inclusion of your partner’s name or your job or how long you’ve been dating or off and on or what, exactly, he or she does wrong doesn’t make your situation unique.
“Can you give me the exact steps to take to solve my problem?”
Life doesn’t work that way.
And even if I listed steps, odds are you wouldn’t take them, instead believing that you still didn’t have “enough clarity” to do so. Do you see the problem?
What’s stopping you isn’t clarity — it’s your need for clarity. And while you continue to nurse that need, you’re procrastinating, pushing “problem solving” further out because you need increasingly detailed “steps.”
But if you’re looking for writers who are willing to let you believe otherwise and drag you along for the ride, there are plenty out there. Have at it.
“Can we meet?”
No. (What the hell?)
Literally who are you even?
Are you doing this in other places in your life, randomly emailing people who don’t know you and asking them to meet you? If you are, you need to stop.
I know you and I are probably real tight in your head, but in the words of Reese Witherspoon,
Dude, what? Not really. See above — do you know I don’t know you?
I mean, do you think I sit around refreshing my inbox waiting for people to fill it with pieces to read? Do you suppose my attention is here to have stuff thrown at it? Have I ever expressed interest in this? Is this your way of building a following? I mean, seriously. No.
(Side note: I do usually click on pieces sent to me. Usually they’re not great. But on at least one occasion, the piece was so good it brought me to tears — and I said so. And then read like three more. So, do with that what you will.)
“I would date you”
This is unwelcome and I don’t care. I don’t know you and I didn’t ask your opinion.
Did you think I’d take it as a compliment, that some random internet stranger judges potential partners based on one-way communication and a profile pic?
Are you under the impression I’m taking some kind of poll — “sup readers: how many of you would hypothetically date me? Check yes or no?” Because I’m not.
If you are (even worse) speculating that we actually could date, I’m just gonna stop you there and pull the rug out, because we never would. There are two of us here and one of us doesn’t go for random internet strangers who “answer unasked polls.”
And if you think I don’t know what you’re actually saying you would do, you’re an idiot.
Look, I’m not here to win suitors. It makes no difference to me whether or not you’d “date” me. I’m not saying you can’t feel that way — feel away. I’m just saying I don’t need to hear about it.
This is one of my least favorite topics, and everyone who asks this always asks from the same position: that of thinking there’s some “secret solution.” There isn’t. (See “specific steps,” above.)
I can share my process (and my schedule and what I listen to and what I drink), but none of that actually matters. The only thing that matters is writing. So the “process” that matters is what gets you to.
“You’re a jerk for writing this post!”
Lol, okay. Just because you didn’t like what I wrote doesn’t mean I’m wrong. It’s my inbox, bud.
If we’re too afraid to stake a claim and set boundaries, we’re worse off, not better.
I still care deeply about readers — and people in general. And there are tons and tons and tons of emails I love getting…
Emails I enjoy:
Because I enjoy the vast majority of those I receive.
I should note that I don’t answer every email I receive, because sometimes I’m a negligent asshole. I check my email daily and I read (most) all of them, but I definitely don’t answer quickly if I answer at all. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t read — or enjoy — them.
Here are my faves:
“I noticed you read a lot of books about __. Have you read __?”
“I noticed you write a lot of posts about __. Can you recommend a book on that?”
“I read your post on __, but I was confused about your point on __. Can you please clarify?”
“I disagree with your post on __ for the following (well-thought-out, logical) reasons (which I have communicated in a constructive, respectful way.) What do you think?”
“Can you elaborate on (a big, hairy topic I already write about a lot)?”
That last one is a great example of one I love but often leave unanswered — sometimes things like that are bigger than email.
I just wrote about improv a week ago, but that post was about anxiety / indecision and this one is about love and those two things, not enough of us agree, are entirely different. So they warranted separate posts.
I just started doing improv six weeks ago, and I loved it by the second class (the first being a bit too dicey too tell; I wanted to like it, was pretty sure I liked it, but it was also a bit early to know for sure.) But by the second week, I was definitely hooked, and I just signed up for my second six-week set of sessions.
And here’s what I’ve learned (and loved) about love in improv:
1.) Care About Others
The audience can tell, and so can your partner(s). It just makes for a much better experience — in improv as much as real life. The best scenes have connection.
Even when two characters are fighting, the scene goes a lot better if they fundamentally like one another (the characters, but the actors getting along IRL helps a lot too.) And you can play any character you want if you fundamentally care about them. The audience can tell.
Connection — and relationships — are the number one thing in improv.
And in life.
We get nowhere operating in a vacuum. Everything that means anything involves relationships of some kind.
2.) Trust Others
People always want to summarize improv as “yes, and,” but the connection and rapport with your teammates comes first.
During the first class, all we had to do was go out and talk. We could say anything we want — funny or not — but we had to talk until someone tagged us out, and the whole point of the exercise was to “save” our team members, and trust that someone would “save” us.
And we all did.
3.) Acknowledge — And Then Add (“Yes, and”)
This is the backbone of improv — the “number one rule” (after connection, see above.) “Yes, and” has two parts:
“Yes:” whatever your partner says or does, you accept. You run with it. That’s the new reality.
“And:” then you add more, and build.
1.) Acknowledge Others’ Realities (“Yes”)
Seems simple enough, but when I heard this phrase years ago, I butchered it. At the time, I tried to use “yes, and” to make a toxic relationship work (i.e., agreeing to everything he said in a fight.) But “yes, and” should never, ever be used in real-life arguments. The whole point of “yes, and” is to build energy, and healthy arguments should instead dissipate and get resolved.
Real-life still includes “yes,” but only in the way it’s actually meant — which isn’t necessarily literal. Rather:
“Yes” simply means you acknowledge what they said and accept it as “real.” It doesn’t mean you have to agree.
“Yes” just means you honor their statement (“okay. I heard that; that’s real”) rather than deny (“that never happened!” or “that doesn’t matter!”) It doesn’t mean you have to like it, or even pretend to.
I learned this the hard way, early on in improv. While playing the girlfriend of an upset boyfriend, I immediately launched into trying to comfort him. Afterwards, our instructor analyzed the characters for the class by saying,
“…and she was obviously totally codependent!! Great job, guys!”
It’s amazing how much we get wrong about relationships.
“Yes” in real life is not “yes, your feelings are hurt and I’m to blame!” It’s more like “okay, your feelings are hurt. I hear you” and then working to unravel and unwind the energy.
(And “yes, and” in improv looks more like, “Okay, sir… but I’m just trying to take your Dunkin Donuts order here.” I trust you see the difference.)
4.) Know how you FEEL! Then know how THEY feel
In the workshop, we did an awesome, deliberate paired exercise where we delivered one line at a time. After one person would say something, their partner would step away and define:
What their partner said
How their partner said it
How it makes them (the individual) feel
How they (the character) will use that in the scene
It’s remarkable how often we don’t hear each other’s actual words.
It’s also remarkable how often we misidentify their emotions.
And it’s downright sad when we struggle to accurately identify our own.
Understanding and getting better at all three things makes us so much better — not just in improv, but in relationships and life.
5.) Know What You Want
People don’t realize how important this is — in improv and life. You have to contribute. You need an objective, a motivation, a want. Even “trying to take your order,” from above, works.
What do you want?
As writer Kurt Vonnegut said,
“Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water.”
If all you do is sit there, smile, nod, comfort, or agree, then you’re not really there. If you’re not present or participating, adding your own unique desires, wants, needs, and opinions, then you are passive and not a part of the scene, or real life. And both will steamroll you.
As Heidi Priebe wrote,
“If you fail to show up with a ‘deal,’ there’s a good chance nothing interesting is going to happen… Because bending or conforming to whoever your scene partner wants you to be isn’t interesting. It doesn’t create any tension. It doesn’t get you anywhere.”
You have to add and ask for something of your own. What’s your deal? What do you want?
6.) Energy is an exchange
Our instructor wasn’t “feeling it” our third class. Normally an expressive woman dressed in whimsical textures and colors, she was seated when we walked in, wearing a baseball hat and a fitted athleisure top zipped up to her chin. She’d had a bad day.
She still led the class, but the difference was palpable. And it was a really invaluable insight into the level of energy she normally brings, and just how draining it can be when someone isn’t constantly fueling the fire.
We have to do that for each other sometimes. We have to bring it. We can’t expect one person in any relationship to constantly feed the fire while the other one absorbs it.
It’s boring at best, and draining at worst.
Same as in improv as in life. We have to bring if we want others to bring; we supply half of the driving force.
Still one of the biggest questions in love is whether or not your partner is “the one,” and, more specifically, how to know.
1. First of all: there is no “one”
Hear me out a second.
I know you don’t like this. I know you aren’t here for it. I know you like some people (or one person) more than anyone else, and many people in the world could never be “the one” for you. That’s all absolutely true — some people are better or worse fits for each other. Of course. But that doesn’t mean there’s literally only one — at least not in the way we mean; not as someone to be “found” or “mined” from the human population. And I say this as an optimist, not a pessimist.
Relationship success doesn’t hinge on finding the one “right” person
I’ve been in or around startups since my mid-20s (including my own), and one of the most common phrases you’ll hear in that world is:
It’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution.
Founders say it. Every venture capitalist (VC) says it. Forbes has run articles on it. Inc has as well. Guy Kawasaki said it. Even James Burrows, the creator of Friends said it.
It matters less what you start with, and much more what you put in. An exceptional person with a mediocre idea has much higher odds of succeeding than a mediocre person who’s got the “perfect” one.
Same goes for love, because it’s all human beings and life. Someone who is a great partner has much higher odds of success than someone mediocre who instead focuses on “having” one.
It’s not about your partner, it’s about your effort
Love is a choice, not an emotion. Love is an action, not a feeling. Love is deliberate, not passive. Love is not something that happens “to you;” love is something you do.
“Chemistry” is simply, as Mark Manson put it, “your favorite flavor of shit sandwich.” He was talking about “life purpose,” but again, it’s all the same. Chemistry” just makes “the work” feel like a labor of love — but success is still more about work, not “chemistry.” Chemistry just makes the effort easier.
Great news! You can still have “the one”
But it’s what you create and commit to, not “find.”
Many business owners are “all in” on their company, but they aren’t committed because it’s “the one”; it’s “the one” because they’re committed.
One of my absolute favorite references to this from the film Five Year Engagement, when Jason Segel’s character explains his breakup by saying,
“Look, we’re not 100% right for each other.”
To which his mother replies,
“You’re being so fucking dumb… I got news for you, moron. Your father and I, we’re not even 90% right for each other. Not even 60, okay? But he’s the love of my life.”
I recall that all the time. It’s so freaking beautiful and true.
“The One” is not about perfection; it’s about decision
My partner is the love of my life, even from a purely logistical standpoint, because I’ve spent over fifteen years — more than half my life — caring about him, which is eons longer than any other partner. Rounding up, he’s already “forever” for me. Because I kept him and chose.
2. Having “The One” is mostly on you
Get your head straight
Love is more about your emotional sufficiency and work than anything else, and your willingness to embrace this is one of the biggest factors in good love.
Happiness is internal, not external
Happiness starts and ends with you. If you keep defining “the one” as the person who will soothe all of your insecurities, you’re going to go your whole life looking in vain.
Nobody is here to be your emotional savior.
This is what the whole “emotional self-sufficiency” thing is about, and why it’s so important. If you don’t love yourself and meet your own needs, nobody else’s efforts will ever be enough, either.
Relinquish your need for concrete, black and white signs
“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” — neither Thoreau nor Nathaniel Hawthorne but often attributed to one or the other
If you’re waiting for a clearcut, definite, black and white, concrete “sign” that they’re “the one,” you’re gonna be waiting forever. Love doesn’t work like that.
The “knowing” in love is inherently abstract and amorphous. You can fight this, pushing for more clarity, but the “certainty” in love is not concrete — there will never be anything to point to, touch, or measure.
So if you’re not open to “abstract certainty,” you will never, ever experience love. You’ll be too distracted looking for “concrete signs” that, by nature, will never appear. Instead, you’ll probably latch onto concrete signs that have nothing at all to do with love, and end up disappointed in other ways.
Love means relinquishing your need for concrete.
Relinquish your stupid “checklist”
Get your priorities straight.
If you’ve absorbed everything you’ve read so far, you see how your “checklist” is totally meaningless — and distracts you from a meaningful relationship. You will never build “meaning” if you keep shoving it into or making it compete with fundamentally meaningless boxes like “income” or “attractiveness.” You either want superficial shit, or you want meaning. Chasing both pits them against each other.
If you really and truly want meaning, you will readily sacrifice the superficial to get it. Because when you truly want meaning, only meaning matters.
I know you think you can chase both, but you can’t. I’m not saying you can’t end up with both — you might build a meaningful relationship with someone “attractive” (or whatever else) — but you will never, ever cultivate meaning by actively chasing superficial shit. It fundamentally strangles meaning, and the best you’ll end up with is forcing or wringing “meaning” from someone to justify your superficial attraction to them.
Emotional stability is first on my own list of only three things I need in a partner. I don’t care what he makes, how tall he is, or what he drives. I only care about what matters, and as a result am eons happier than ever before (including dating dudes who made 2 or 3 times more.) And not slightly happier; rather, so much more that it’s laughable to even make a comparison.
“But I still really want someone hot/wealthy/whatever”
Then you’re not truly ready for real love and I don’t even know why you’re here. When you’re really ready for love, those things pale in comparison.
If you don’t care about meaning enough to still care about superficial shit, then we’re not even having the same conversation and I can’t help you beyond stating the obvious: prioritize your dumb list (“top 3?” you do you) and find the person who best meets them. Just don’t go whining at people once you do and it’s not “love.” Because, duh.
“No, I mean I want everything”
Then you get nothing.
Those people you think “have it all” are some of the most desperately unhappy people behind closed doors, because they’re so consumed with keeping up the image of happiness. There is no “everything.” There is only what matters or nothing.
The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!
Secure people don’t go around talking about being secure. Happy people don’t talk about how happy they are. And, after the first few weeks, genuinely happy couples in love don’t talk about their love, either. People who incessantly emphasize their unyielding love are:
Overcompensating, trying to brute-force it into existence because it isn’t
Afraid things might end at any moment
They are flailing. Love is actions, not words. And little actions, not grandiose displays.
When you really have “the one,” you don’t feel compelled to go around saying it. Doing so just feels unnecessary or silly.
4. Forget “you just know.” It’s more “you don’t even wonder.”
This is my answer to everyone wondering “so, can anyone be ‘The One’?”
There’s still something magical about the right relationship.
Getting there is everything above. Knowing that you’ve gotten there is when the question of “The One” seems small and silly — the answer so obvious it’s not even worth asking.
I have more quiet conviction for my current partner than I ever did anyone else. Whereas I used to answer the question of “is he the one?” with “well, I can’t see myself with anyone else,” or “I guess,” or “it certainly seems that way,” my answer with my current partner is more like “lol.” Like, what a silly question. It’s like being asked if you like breathing; barely even worth asking or answering “yes.” Because of course.
He just is. I just am. We just are. It just is. It always has been; always will be. It’s in the only thing that matters, which is right now.It just is.
I don’t wonder.
And I know I just said that people who are happy don’t talk about being happy, and here I am doing it. But the difference is we’re talking about it and I’m sharing my own experience. You’re being open by reading; I’m being open in response. The red flag is randomly emphasizing it during brunch or something, when nobody even asked.
And to be frank:
“If you ask yourself if this is it, then it isn’t there.”
But what if I DO still wonder or I’m still NOT sure?
Fam, damn. Go re-read points 1 and 2 of this post and find the fallout. It’s in there somewhere.
I’m not saying it’s not your partner — maybe they are fundamentally wrong for you. I’m also not saying it has to work, or that it can’t. Maybe it can; maybe not.
But it always starts with you. Something’s off, but before you go breaking up with them, I’d encourage you to re-read points 1 and 2. A lot of “not working” falls on us, our efforts, and our mindset. And “knowing” whether someone is “The One” requires that we first “know” what makes a good relationship, which is: emotional self-sufficiency, good priorities, and effort.