On Romantic Love

I realized the other day that as often as the word is used, including here in this blog, rarely is Love, particularly here the romantic type, defined. I think that’s a mistake. I think too often we rest heavily on love as a feeling without taking time to think about what else love entails. Feeling love is, of course, quite wonderful, but too often love gets a free pass from introspection, a mistake that can cause problems in your life if you are not careful.  Love is something I have given much thought to, and I strongly encourage you to do the same. 

Love is reciprocity. It is, of course, being loved in return for your love, that is true, but it is more than that. What I mean here is that love is a constant exchange; an exchange of effort and energy, of time, resources, and attention. Love is this joyful, wild back and forth. Love is not real love if it only takes, nor is it real love if it only provides. Love desires as it is desired, love gleefully and gracefully dances in the space of exchange, taking root not in the soil of self-interest or the shifting sand of altruism, instead love exists between the two, delighting in the acceptance of affection as much as it receives joy by offering the same.

Love is gratitude.  Love cannot help but be grateful, because love knows that it is rare.  Love appreciates, recognizes and welcomes this rarity; knows that to be found and seen is the greatest joy imaginable and celebrates the efforts of love, and the actions of the beloved.  Love knows that nothing is owed to us and takes nothing for granted.  

Love is commitment.  Love chooses its path and is not fickle.  Love allows us to rest easy knowing that it is not swayed by the capricious winds of fate, but rather is steadfast and stalwart, holding itself proudly and easily upright, because it is anchored in commitment, rooted in devotion, and kept in place by loyalty. Love without commitment is infatuation at best, a fleeting dalliance.  At worst, love without commitment poisons the soil that holds its seed, turning roots brittle and eroding the strength that undergirds deep connection. 

Love turns towards and never away.  Like a plant seeking sunlight, love grows always in the direction of its beloved.  Love leans in to bids for attention, hears the desire to be seen and heeds that call.  Love pays attention to whatever it is asked, and can hear the request long before it is spoken.  Love does not shun, does not cause distance to grow, does not let the sound of its beloved become the noise of the background.  

Love sees what is instead of what it wants there to be.  Love harbors no illusions.  Love knows the truth of itself, can speak the name of its ugliness as well as its beauty.  Love sees the shape of things not as a shadow in relief, hazy and ephemeral, but with profound clarity.  Love knows the rough edges as well as the smooth.  Love does not shrink from the truth, but embraces it, celebrates what is rather than bemoans what is not.  Love does not engage in a project of negotiation or persuasion, but speaks instead  the language of affirmation and recognition. 

Love listens before it speaks. Love does not bide time to be heard. Rather, love spends the hours and days of its life listening. Love builds the strength of its foundation with the endless bricks of its own music. Love is patient because to hurry past this hearing would be to forever miss its moment. Love listens because it knows that it cannot build upon itself without this knowing. Love knows that, paradoxically, to listen is to avoid the danger of not being heard

Love does not share what is sacred. Love understands that it is finite, that the holding of itself from others is what separates the sacred from the profane, the extraordinary from the banal. Love holds to itself those things which are sacred and keeps close and held fast that which bonds us to one another and which is uniquely treasured.

Love is trust.  Love cannot be held securely if love does not trust.  What point is there to hear and see and love but not to believe?  Love is a sacred belief that we are taken care of, that we are embraced, that we are held without guile and without any motive more than the joy of this holding.  Love trusts because it cannot hold back some portion of itself and still be held, cannot shield itself from view and still be seen, cannot whisper and still be heard. 

Love is admiration.  Love swells with pride, points out for all who would see, the joy it feels, the wonders it has found.  Love delights and cherishes, love adores and savors.  Love is the voice of the loudest fan screaming to be heard above all others.  Love respects, looks for guidance, knows it is well matched and well met.

Love is vulnerable.  Love strips the skin from our bones, leaves our hearts exposed to the possibility of its destruction.  Love demands to be seen when it is not beautiful, asks to be heard when it cannot sing, asks to be held when it cannot stand.  Love offers what it cannot hold back knowing that it cannot protect itself and doesn’t blink. 

Love prioritizes itself.  Love puts itself above all else; knows that the world will compete against it, understands that time is finite. The truth of love doesn’t lie in words, but in the offering of hours and days.  When offered a choice between nurturing itself and pursuing others, love chooses itself.  

Love is fragile.  Love can be swept away, buried in an instant, crushed.  Love cannot survive the withering effects of indifference or cruelty, of resentment or broken faith.  Love can be destroyed by anger, can be reduced to ashes by dishonesty or mistrust.  Love cannot be assumed to survive if it is left unattended.  

Love is above all else, a verb. If you take nothing else from this, let it be this. Love is a verb. Love is action, not a state of being. If you want to feel more deeply in love, behave more lovingly. If you want to keep the love you have, spend time on that love. Learn what love means to you and tend to it, cultivate it. Spend time on love as the project of your heart. Devote yourself to loving as an activity, as a process. Exchanging those words or even the vows means nothing if you don’t continue the work of love. Spend every hour of your day that you can not just being in love, but being loving. Embrace the joy not just of the feeling of love, but of the activity of devotion and the unending demonstration of that joy.

On Apologies

You are going to make mistakes.  You’ll make big mistakes and little ones; you’ll make mistakes that hurt others and mistakes that hurt you, and some that hurt you both.  You’ll make mistakes that you knew were wrong , and you’ll make mistakes where you should have known better but didn’t.  You’ll make mistakes others point out for you, and mistakes you’ll realize on your own.  Some mistakes you make will be minor and others might change the course of a relationship, a job, or even revise your own moral compass. Mistakes are just part of who we are.  

As we navigate our mistakes, there will be times when you will need to apologize, and while this might seem incredibly obvious, apologies can be tricky and complicated. Far too often, many of us are deeply reluctant to apologize, or apologize poorly and without good faith.  Still others question the value of apologies in reconciliation and conflict resolution, and some use apology manipulatively or strategically.  

I want to start by saying that, in general, I think the apology is an absolutely essential component of how we interact with others.  An apology intrinsically recognizes the value and worth of the feelings of the person you are apologizing to, and without an apology for an error those feelings are likely to remain unvalidated.  If, after hashing out a conflict, you agree you were wrong without also offering an apology, you are not acknowledging that your error had consequences, and that you understand and respect those consequences. It’s not enough to admit you were wrong if you cannot own the impact that your mistake has had. At its heart, this is what an apology begins to do.

The most obvious reason to apologize to someone occurs when you truly believe you have made a mistake and you regret that mistake and the impact it caused.  Don’t be stingy or prideful about this.  Avoiding an apology when you feel that you were genuinely wrong hurts everyone involved.  In fact, there is nothing at all shameful about being the kind of man that owns his mistakes and acknowledges them.  Conversely, a reluctance to apologize shows an immaturity of character, hubris, and a churlish nature that will not serve you or those you love. Learn to recognize when you have negatively impacted others and be willing to extend yourself honestly and vulnerably with an apology. 

More difficult may be navigating this issue when you don’t feel you’ve actually done anything wrong, or when you feel your error is trivial.  Because apologies for many people are difficult to offer, because they challenge our pride and our perception of our moral character, many if not most people are reluctant or unwilling to apologize if they feel the slight is too insignificant to warrant an apology or if they feel they were not in the wrong.  You don’t want to take ownership of an issue unfairly, or compromise your values with an apology you don’t mean.  When you are confronted with an issue that you feel strongly about, that you have considered, and if you are morally comfortable with your core position, don’t apologize just because there is conflict.  The value of an apology is lost when it is offered against your will.  Just the same, if you agree that you’ve slighted someone, but you disagree on the impact, err on the side of the apology.  Even if you can’t imagine why something you did or said could have hurt someone, trust that they are telling you the truth and apologize for having hurt them.  An apology like this costs very little for you, and there is simply no reason not to proffer it.

A good apology should be offered in good faith.  Don’t insincerely or sarcastically apologize, or apologize with a dismissive or passive aggressive tone; not only does this not count, but it makes you less emotionally credible.  An apology doesn’t need to involve an overwrought self-flagellation or public spectacle, nor should it be done for show.  An apology well meant should be simple, sincere, and to the point.  It should explicitly recognize your part in the mistake, involve a demonstration that you understand the impact you’ve caused, and, very importantly, be accompanied by a heartfelt and actionable pledge to work to do better.  

Too often, apologies lack supporting action, and in this way they move from the sincere to the disingenuous or manipulative.  If, for example, I am late to work and it causes my coworkers to have to pick up the slack for me or stay late until I arrive, an apology that is not accompanied by a sincere attempt to arrive consistently on time to work is worse than meaningless. An apology that does not have action tied to it is a way to dismiss someone’s feelings to put an end to a conflict; used this way, it is an attempt to thwart responsibility rather than accept responsibility. 

This isn’t to say that you have to hold yourself to a standard of perfection after you’ve apologized, but it does mean that you must make a sincere effort to improve.  If your actions cause you to need to apologize, but you are unable to improve the situation in the future, you need to be upfront about that.  If, in the same example, you know that you cannot reasonably arrive at work at 5am because you just aren’t wired to work that early, it’s not enough to apologize and keep showing up late. You are obligated to be honest about your abilities and to look for another job where you can meet your obligations without being a burden on others.  An apology should spur you to consider your behavior and grow and change from that consideration.  Consider the apology itself an essential first step, but never the last step.  

Apologies can also be made in ways that are strategic and even manipulative.  One of these is valuable and the other should be avoided.  A strategic apology is an apology offered in part because that apology serves a pragmatic goal.  Earlier, I recommended apologizing to someone if they feel hurt by your actions even if your perception of the distress you’ve caused doesn’t match their reporting.  In this case, you likely don’t actually agree that your actions were wrong enough or impactful enough to have caused such an impact, but I am still recommending an apology.  This is a form of a strategic apology.  Very likely, you don’t feel much actual remorse for your actions, but as an empathetic person, you recognize that your goal wasn’t to cause distress. While you might not agree with the need to apologize, it’s perfectly fine to apologize, and sincerely, that you’ve hurt someone.  While you might not feel bad about the core issue, very likely you will recognize that you’ve caused an impact you didn’t intend.  It’s a fine thing then to offer a strategic apology;  an apology that keeps the peace, validates the impact of an action, and that doesn’t violate your principles.  

Be leery of, and watchful for, manipulative apologies.  Because an apology can be powerful, some offer apologies as a form of conflict dissolution rather than resolution.  While an honest apology is an important aspect of resolving a dispute, error, or slight, manipulative apologies are sometimes offered not to resolve a conflict, but to dissolve one.  Manipulative apologies are frequently offered too quickly, too freely, without seeming consideration, and very often absorb all the culpability in an instant.  They may seem outwardly sincere, but fly in the face of the values of the person apologizing, causing you to doubt the sincerity.  A manipulative apology is generally intended to stop a conversation by reducing the conflict to its final act, thus circumventing the hard work of conflict resolution and reconciliation.  A manipulative apology is often easy to spot because they will be offered swiftly and unconditionally even in complex situations.  The manipulation comes from the suddenness and completeness of blame acceptance.  This works because it forces the aggrieved party to accept the apology before the conflict really resolves, and in this way it is simply a way to deflect from the situation.  

A word on gifts as part of apologies. I believe that gifts should be reserved as an opportunity to show your love and appreciation for someone. I don’t believe in offering gifts as part of an apology. Most of us naturally feel a sense of reciprocity and obligation when receiving a gift. Just as much as an apology should be freely offered, it too must be freely considered and either accepted or rejected. When you offer a gift as part of an apology, the recipient may feel unfairly pressured into accepting that apology when they otherwise may not be so inclined. Gifts can also seem to “buy” forgiveness and insinuate that there is a “price” that absolves a bad action. In this way, a gift attached to an apology may obscure the issue of reconciliation and seem to “settle” an issue without there ever being true resolution. Finally, offering a gift as part of an apology muddies the water when giving gifts for joyful reasons, and can make the recipient feel suspicious or even resentful of future gifts if they have become negatively correlated with apologies and strife.

Apologies are powerful things.  They lead us to reconcile with others, they strengthen our credibility, and they are an opportunity for us to be better.  An apology is not some terrible recognition of a moral failing or character flaw, and you shouldn’t think of an apology as some kind of nuclear option, only offered as a last resort.  Similarly, don’t become an insincere serial apologist.  Don’t apologize for who you are or for what you honestly believe.  Hold as a value that acknowledging our imperfections is the only path forward, and that we owe it to ourselves and to others to recognize and validate the way we impact those around us and this process becomes very simple.  

On Being Likable

All of us want, at least sometimes and in some situations, to be liked.  In many circumstances in your life, the reality is that whether or not you are liked will differentiate one person’s success and opportunities from another’s.  In fact, the power of likability would be difficult to overstate.  Likable people have more and deeper personal connections, greater workplace success, and more romantic prospects and better overall relationships.  Being likable can often be the unconscious deciding factor in getting a job over someone else in an interview and how we are ranked in  performance reviews.  Likable people are more likely to easily establish and maintain close personal friendships. Being likable will make you more approachable and make people feel safer being honest and vulnerable with you, both key components to building trust and connections.  Being likable matters very much, and for some people, it comes very easily and naturally, but like most things that matter, some reflection on the topic can make us think about ourselves in ways that will better serve not only us, but those we care about. Focusing on likability as a set of skills to cultivate is no exception to this rule.  Being likable is essential, and thankfully, likability is not an inherent trait that you either possess or don’t, but rather is a series of skills and mindsets that you can learn, and which will have a massive positive impact on your life.  

To be likable, the most important thing to keep in mind is that likable people are worth liking.  Likability comes from a genuine place, a place where others around you feel trusted and seen, and where you offer something meaningful in return for the time and attention of others.  You cannot expect to be likable for who you are if you do not take the time to cultivate a self that appeals to others.  This doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your values or identity; not at all.  What this does mean however, is that being likable will require you to consider how you present yourself to others and what you offer in an interaction in order to be perceived positively.  It means being attentive and genuine, but it also means being aware of how your thoughts, moods, feelings and attitudes impact others.  It means seeing others first before you work to be seen.  

First, remember little things about other people.  If possible, remember a few small details about people you meet or know.  Try to remember their food or drink order, or maybe an allergy or preference.  If they frequently wear the same color for instance, you now know something about their preferences.  Once you know a few small things about someone, refer back to that thing in a natural, organic way when appropriate.  For example, if last time you met someone they ordered a gluten free meal, and you are meeting again for a meal you can now choose a place that has gluten free choices to make them comfortable, and you can make them feel seen in that by offering something like, “Oh, I think you’ll really like this place, they have a great menu of options without gluten.”  Or, on an even smaller level, let’s say you know someone has more of a tan than usual, you can make them feel seen with something like, “Wow, you look like you’ve really gotten some sun lately, what have you been up to?”  Are they wearing a new piece of clothing or jewelry?  Do they have a bandaid on their arm, calluses on their hands they didn’t have last time you saw them, or do they have a new haircut?  Offering an observation of a small detail as part of a conversion starter can change a generic interaction into something more meaningful and purposeful.  

Always ask after them first.  When you begin a conversation with someone, the first thing you should always do is to ask after them first, and be as specific as possible.  Even in an established relationship, try to avoid leading with a story, feeling, or observation about yourself.   This can be tough to do, but let me offer a few examples.  If, for example, you know someone has recently been studying for an exam, a good starter to a conversation might be, “Hey, you’ve been working on that mid-term all week, how are you holding up?”  Another example might be something like, “Haven’t talked to you all week, must have been swamped, how did your test go?”  The point is to show people that the reason you are engaged with them is because you care about them.  Giving others the first chance to speak builds trust that you are invested in them. For formal relationships and when meeting new people, I like to think about a rough 70/30 rule, where I aim to keep 70% or so of the conversation focused on them if possible. 

Ask for help with small things even if you don’t necessarily need it.  It is a good general rule that people like to help others more than we think they do.  Most people really want opportunities to be valuable and to offer their time and service to those that they love.  Reciprocity can be a great way to build trust and spend time with people, but sometimes you’ll have to create those moments rather than wait for them to appear.  Sometimes, it can be useful to ask for help with something low stakes and simple not because you really need the help to complete the task, but because by asking someone to help you, you are showing them that their contribution of time and energy is something you value.  It makes us all feel good to help those we care about.  This is a useful thought to keep in mind in work settings as well.  Asking for help with a small project or to troubleshoot a problem even if you don’t think you need it creates a sense of partnership.  

Manage the physical comfort of others.  Whenever possible, take note of how other people seem to feel.  Is someone sweating or pulling their coat tighter around them?  Have you been out all day and haven’t stopped to eat?  Is someone starting to seem tired, moving more slowly, yawning, or looking distracted?  Take the time to notice the comfort of others and, when a read of the room and situation allows, make an effort to keep or maintain their comfort.  Keep your home at the right temperature for guests, stop what you’re doing to offer snacks or take breaks you might not need but that you sense others might prefer.  Being uncomfortable physically makes people irritable, which reduces the chances of building connections. Helping to solve the discomfort of others makes people feel seen and appreciated.  

Avoid asking for favors or raises around mealtimes or when people are uncomfortable.  This is just a really practical truth.  Studies show that people are less generous and kind when they are hungry or uncomfortable.  If you are in a position where you need to rely on someone’s largesse, it is a good idea not to burden them with your request for a favor when they are focused on their discomfort.  Mistiming this can lead to people refocusing their discomfort on you or onto your ask.  Instead, if you need to ask for a raise or a favor, make people as comfortable as possible before beginning the ask. They will appreciate the effort and you will likely see a greater reward. 

If you are trying to curry favor with someone, extend your efforts one social level further than the person you are focused on.  People are naturally drawn to those who are kind and helpful to those they love.  If you are building a friendship with someone, include in your efforts their friends or family.  Extending your care and efforts one level further not only broadens your social circle, but it tells the person you are building trust with that you see and value their other relationships.  

Don’t make excuses. Be reliable.  This one is fairly straightforward.  A lot of relationship building can be undone quickly if you are flaky.  If you are reliable, you are telling people that you value their time.  When you are unreliable, you are communicating exactly the opposite and you undermine a lot of your own efforts this way. 

Apologize when you are wrong. All of us make mistakes, but likable people own their mistakes and apologize for them. Apologizing doesn’t cost you anything, and lets people know that you are willing to see your errors and the impact they’ve had on others. When we make mistakes and apologize, this can be an opportunity to grow closer with someone, but only if we are willing and able to be vulnerable and admit our mistakes. However, it is also important not to over apologize. Apologize when you mean it and when it matters, don’t apologize as a verbal tic or as a way to show deference to someone.

Don’t interrupt.  Seriously.  Everyone hates this.  Be an attentive listener. 

If you tell a story after someone else, relate your story to theirs. Just like you shouldn’t interrupt, don’t be a story-topper. It’s a terrific joy to talk and trade stories with people, but if someone is telling you a story, that is your cue to listen, not to wait for your turn to speak. If the conversation naturally leads you to tell a story, acknowledge their story as part of how you transition in or out or your story. An easy example is just a short transition phrase like, “Oh, that’s (nuts/sad/awesome, etc.), that had to be (crazy/terrible, etc.), I once had something like that happen….” You can also do this in reverse. If you tell a story after someone in the natural flow of conversation, you can make sure they still feel heard by ending your story with a reference to theirs with a phrase like, “….which is why I thought about this when you told me about X, it just feels so similar, I can relate.” The point is not to memorize these phrases, but to remember that conversation is about listening as much or more than it is about talking.

Keep track of important dates and ask after people.  This too is simple, and I suggest using your phone.  Keep a calendar to set reminders for things that you know are important to other people such as birthdays, but also small things, like a doctor’s appointment they may be nervous about, or a test you know they studied for.  You don’t have to commit everything to memory to remember people, it’s ok to put things in your phone. 

Make casual eye contact when listening.  Don’t stare hard into people’s eyes, but if you want someone to feel heard, make casual eye contact. They will know you are focused on them when you literally focus on them.  Lean in when listening if the conversation topics are intense or intimate to show interest and engagement. 

Always stand up to greet people.  This is such a small thing, but it makes a huge difference.  When a guest comes to your home or someone enters the room for the first time, when you greet them, NEVER wave or stay seated.  Always stand up to greet them. 

Mimic small body gestures or turns of phrase. Ok, you’ll hear this one a lot in sort of “bro-hack Ted Talk, One Simple Thing” kind of circles and so often it is misunderstood and clumsily overused. What I have found however is that matching someone’s rough mannerisms or style isn’t a manipulation so much as a natural vibe that two people create. If you are paying attention to someone and really listening, you will likely find that you pick up little phrases, affectations, or mannerisms when you speak with that person. That’s a good thing. Don’t overthink this piece or try to “be” the other person-you can’t build likability through inauthentic behavior.

Remember what they’ve told you and bring up their views in relevant conversations.  This is similar to remembering little things, but it’s much more conversationally directed.  Let me give you an example.  If last time you spoke with someone, they mentioned that they are a vegetarian for environmental reasons, you know that environmental issues are important to them.  When appropriate, you can bring that issue up in a conversation knowing that it is a topic they are interested and passionate about.  Offering that tie-in during other conversations is a great way to build connections, it gives people an opportunity to talk about something you already know they are interested in.  

If you don’t want to do a social something, don’t lie about it or invent an excuse. It’s ok to turn down a social invitation if it’s not something you want to do, but do so honestly and gently. Don’t invent reasons.

Conversely, be agreeable when the stakes are low.  For situations where the cost to you for being agreeable is low, you should err on the side of saying yes and going along with an activity or suggestion.  You might learn something about yourself in the process, but you will also find that agreeable people have more social opportunities and experiences.  Don’t be stingy with your time.  Attend social events for the people rather than because the activity appeals to you. There will be many times where you may be ambivalent about the activity your friends are interested in, but avoiding that activity reduces your social exposure.  Thinking of the activity itself as a means to create social connections will make you much happier and more likely to say yes to opportunities to socialize.  

When it comes to meeting and interacting with new people and building new relationships, having an activity to gather around and experience together will take pressure off of trying to constantly find new things to talk about and will give you time to gather your thoughts and feelings.  A shared activity is always the best ice breaker when meeting new people.  

Offer advice only if you know it will be well received.  Advice is something you should be cautious about providing.   In many situations, advice is unwelcome or inappropriate, and it can sometimes feel unintentionally judgmental.  Advice given and taken within established, dear, and trusted relationships is invaluable.  Be careful about offering advice if a read of the room doesn’t seem like it’s being asked of you.  

Never loan anyone money. All money you lend is a gift. Few things can hurt a relationship the way that money can.  Always assume that any money you lend someone else is a gift.  Conversely, assume that any money someone lends to you is a loan that you should endeavor to repay.  

If you find yourself in an argument, stop talking and listen more carefully. Arguing with others can damage your likability.  That’s not to say that you should never argue, but if you find yourself in an argument, take a step back and listen more carefully.  When we listen and try to understand someone else’s view, we are almost certainly going to feel more empathy, which tends to defuse tense situations. 

Watch for cues that others are disengaging and allow them to exit. If you see a lack of eye contact, over the shoulder glances at others, crossed arms, a step back or away, or other cues, gracefully end the conversation and allow the other person to leave the interaction. Don’t physically corner people. Leaving an interaction might not have anything to do with you, so don’t feel hurt. Sometimes people have their own reasons they need to leave a conversation. Let them.

Don’t overshare.  It’s important to gauge the comfort of other people when deciding what to share about your life. Many topics, from sex, to money, to body functions, to religion can be sensitive or uncomfortable for some people even if they are not uncomfortable for you.  Be aware of what types of things others share before choosing to share sensitive details.  If you are introducing a sensitive subject or topic, do so cautiously at first so you can watch how comfortable others seem with your topic.  If you sense discomfort, or others don’t engage or offer their experiences or thoughts on that or a similar subject, avoid going down that road with them again until you are confident it’s appropriate.  

In a school or business setting, don’t directly contradict people. Instead, offer an alternative view by acknowledging the other person’s thoughts with some version of, “Another option to address the issue would be…”  This allows you to offer your view without minimizing someone else’s contribution or belittling someone.  

At a restaurant when sharing appetizers or other plates, if possible, be the first person to take food and begin passing it. This relieves the awkward burden from others and makes you seem assertive and friendly. 

Never take the best or last item from a plate of shared foods. Always offer the last and best piece to others. Don’t make it awkward though, and if everyone else is following the same rule, it’s ok to make a little joke out of taking the last piece.

If you space out while someone is talking, don’t try to fake it. Instead, just say, “I’m sorry, I missed that last part”. Everyone spaces out. It’s ok, just don’t try to pretend. Sometimes, we think we’ve spaced out but our minds kind of archived what was just said subconsciously. Sometimes if my mind drifted for a moment I find that I can pause and then repeat back what someone just said, which lets me “hear” it again for the first time and regain my place in the conversation.

If you don’t understand what someone is saying, don’t pretend you do or agree out of fear of being called out. Just ask them to rephrase, “Wait, I’m not sure I caught that.” Works wonderfully, and again, is both vulnerable and authentic.  Don’t pretend to understand or agree with things to avoid conflict. You can likably avoid conflict and still disagree or ask for more details or clarification.  

I have spoken a lot here and elsewhere about the idea of “Reading the Room.” Reading the Room is really just another way of saying that you understand the social vibe of the situation and the people you are with. When you pay attention to people you will learn to see their body language and facial expressions as something you intimately know, but of course I have some suggestions on this as well.

How to “read the room”

    Pay attention to the volume of conversation and match the volume of the room. Don’t be the loudest or quietest guy talking.  

Note body language. Are people fidgeting, checking phones, clocks, watches, standing comfortably and leaning in or shifting back, sideways and away from you or others? Try to see what’s making them feel how they are behaving. Is there a physical cause? An awkward topic? An accidental overshare? People will tell you how they feel with their bodies as much as their words, so keep your eyes on others.

    What topics of conversation or jokes are on display?  Reading the room is about understanding the unspoken rules of social engagement.  If you feel like you’re in doubt, no problem, just follow the lead of others who are taking a decisive role in the room.  

Look where others are looking to see where their attention is focused. If people are making eye contact with others while talking with you, that is a sign they are not engaged and to give them room. If others seem focused on someone who is telling a story or a joke, don’t try to redirect attention. Follow the flow of those in the room by following their gaze. Pay attention to where attention is paid.

Finally, and I think most importantly, most social situations you are in won’t be completely new. You are more than likely going to know people in the situation, and that knowledge should give you a leg up in understanding the read of the room. Pay attention to those people, and note any changes to normal behaviors in those you know. Are people quieter than normal? Are voices more terse, answers more clipped? Do they seem more or less relaxed? Most of the idea of reading a room is spotting the comfort or discomfort of others. The more attention you’ve paid to those you socialize with, and the more you are in the habit of paying attention, the more easily you’ll be able to spot changes which cue you in to the mood of the situation.

As I’ve written this, I realize that this may sound daunting, but really most of being likable comes down to paying attention to others, to genuinely and authentically listening and seeing them, and to caring about what you learn about the experiences of other people  The more you keep this in mind, the more the guidelines above will feel second nature. 

On Productivity and What it Means to be Lazy

I have, for as long as I can remember, had an idea in my mind that I should earn my rest at the end of each day; that the responsibility of a life well lived was tied, inextricably, to some meaningful level of output.  For most of the years of my adult life, I was in the habit of mentally reviewing my day, of evaluating whether or not I had done enough, if there were still chores left undone, responsibilities left unmet.  Some nights, I would get out of bed after this review and complete some chore about the house until I felt satisfied that I had met this nebulous personal standard.  

It is only recently that I have even begun to shed some, though not all, of this obsession with productivity, and I have been musing more and more on how to strike a balance between avoiding laziness, and creating an unhealthy relationship with work or productivity.  I think a balance is possible, and more so, I think it’s important, and like many of the relationships that I want to help you understand, there is no one right answer.  Your relationship, the balance you strike, between productivity and rest should be a relationship that serves you, your goals and ambitions, and your loved ones.  

When thinking about this idea, you need first to understand your relationship to productivity.  I think about this relationship in much the same way that the ideas of introversion and extroversion are often explained.  

For some, being productive depletes the tank.  Much like an introvert stuck at a party, being forced to be productive requires a significant effort, an effort which is separate and often greater, than the effort involved in the task at hand.  For these “productivity introverts,” there must be enough energy available at the outset of any task to overcome the inertial drain of beginning and maintaining focus on a value-neutral task.  

For others, let’s call them “productivity extroverts,” the exact opposite is true.  It is the act of production, of accomplishing things, often even minor or trivial tasks, that actually provides fuel in addition to, and often in excess of, the energy needed for completing the task itself.  As a “productivity extrovert,” it is difficult to the point of unpleasantness to sit still and inactive for long periods of time unless there is some external diversion or motivation strong enough to overcome the desire to produce or accomplish something.  

Very often, “productivity extroverts” view their “productivity introvert” counterparts uncharitably, not realizing or understanding that the gulf between how they are both energized and fulfilled is the real disconnect.  Similarly, “productivity introverts” are often unsympathetic to the extroverts’ need for action and cannot empathize with a dislike of inactivity, rest, or “relaxation.”  Simply put, it is not relaxing for some people to sit on the beach, nor for some is a long, taxing hike a way to unwind.  

To understand yourself, you need to understand where you fall on this continuum, and as in most things, the answer for most people is contextual and variable.  At some points in your life you may find yourself comforted by your ability to complete tasks and to be of use and tangible value to your loved ones.  At other times in your life, you may find yourself depleted by these same tasks, needing respite from responsibility, and seeking rest and relaxation above any need for productivity.  Both places are fine so long as you understand who you are and what your needs are.  Think about how you spend your time when you have control of your hours.  Do you putter about, happily crossing things off a to-do list, exercising, or completing some pet project or hobby that you’ve been meaning to get to, or do you prefer to curl up on the couch and watch a favorite movie and eat snacks in bed?  This answer will help you begin to frame how you think of your relationship to productivity

Your obligation to understand this about yourself will have real consequences on your choices.  If you are a person who needs a high level of activity to feel comfortable and satisfied, or if you need lots of downtime in order to gear up to be productive, this will affect your choices for work, for friendships, and for romantic relationships.  As in all things boys, spend the time interrogating who you really are and what you really need.

Now here’s the rub on all this guys, as much as it is true that we all have some natural preferences around productivity and work, we still live in a world where things need to get done; meals need to be cooked, money needs to be earned, and emotional labor has to be done.  Knowing your natural tendencies does not excuse you from your obligations to care for yourselves, for others, and to provide for yourself and for those you love.  If we fail in our obligations to meet our own needs, we often foist those responsibilities onto others in our lives, creating undue burdens on those who might not be willing or able to shoulder that burden.  If we are going to ask someone to take care of us, we must be willing and able to offset that ask with a value equal to or greater than what we take.  Leveraging that discrepancy is actually what laziness really means.  Laziness is not a function of the hours you spend relaxing versus doing, laziness is a willingness not to compensate others for the work they do for us.  There is no more sure fire way to erode trust or create resentment than to weaponize someone else’s willingness to care for us.  

I actually believe that, in many cases, some of the best relationships, be they romantic, friendship, or economic (work), are the result of joyful mismatches in these types of people.  There are people who are pleased to be productive so long as they do not bear the burden of responsibility or the need to make difficult choices.  There are others who are only too happy to take on this responsibility in exchange for not having the burden of daily production. For some friends, some people are happy to be the ones who make all the plans, pick up the phone first,  while others are content to offer a limitless ear to bend.  For some romantic relationships, some parties feel great pride and take real joy in providing the material needs for the household while another may offer their partner terrific access to their time and attention.  

Rarely have I seen successful connections of any kinds between productivity introverts, though productivity extroverts can make fine partners in business and elsewhere.  The point is not that any one productivity “type” is better than another, nor am I making ironclad claims that opposites must attract or complement one another.  The point here is to know yourself well, to see fully those around you, and to understand the dynamic between the productivity types enough to meet your obligations, avoid resentment and abuse of others, and to maximize the joy you bring to your life and to others. 

On Giving Gifts

I am excellent at giving gifts. I don’t usually talk about myself in such unqualified ways, but this is just true. I believe in giving as an act of love and affection, and I believe that giving gifts is a sign that you are listening and seeing the person you are providing a gift for. I also believe that it is important to take any excuse to celebrate someone and to express your affection for them. 

But the giving of gifts can seem a difficult task. You may have limited resources, or you may want to give something really meaningful and thoughtful but you are drawing a blank. Don’t worry. Follow the steps below and you will have more great gift ideas than occasions to give them. 

Let’s imagine you need to get a gift for a girlfriend.  You have a limited budget, but you want to give her something that shows you are really tuned in. What should you do? Well, tune in. Listen to her. Try this, on a piece of paper, write down three things she has complained about in the past few weeks. Has she complained about being cold even in a warm house?  Cozy presents in her favorite color will remind her of you when she puts them on.  Does she lose her keys? Get her a Bluetooth key finder and a nice charm for her key ring. Now when she loses her keys, she will find not just her keys, but a little reminder that you care about her. Listen to the things that she complains about, the little inconveniences of her day and find ways to solve them. This will show her that you are listening and that you care. 

What does she really love to do or be surrounded by? What calms her or excites her, what does she gush about, how does she spend her time? Pay attention to her when she is happy, and try to add to her collection of joys. If she loves alpacas because they are soft, see if you can find her a scarf knit from their fur. Does she love a certain TV show or movie? Find a poster, book, memorabilia or experience related to that favorite for her to enjoy. 

Give experiences more than things.  Things are wonderful, but when possible, the best gifts produce memories.  Think about the things she enjoys and look for ways to turn what she loves into an experience you can share. If she’s into Anime, look for a con you can attend, even if it’s virtual. 

Be more generous with your gifts to others than you are with yourself.  Giving is an act of love and affection. Don’t be stingy with your gifts. If you would spend a dollar on yourself spend two on her. Show her that she has value in your life by assigning your relationship actual value. 

The trick is to really pay attention. Every complaint or inconvenience is an opportunity to find a solution.  Everything she loves or achieves, every joy she shares is a chance to hear her and celebrate her. Think of gift giving as a hobby of love. Keep track of ideas even when you don’t need a gift right now. Keep notes of the things she loves, the things she hates, and her clothing sizes.  Listen to her when she compliments someone and take note of the things that catch her eye. Learn her aesthetic.  

On occasion, you may give what I think of as generic or customary gifts. Flowers and chocolates are great examples. If you are going to give her a customary gift, this is still a chance to show her that you are listening. If she loves yellow, don’t buy her red roses. If she loves dark chocolate and hates nuts, get her candy that reflects exactly what she loves most. If  you are getting her a stuffed animal, get her a plush of her favorite animal. Even generic gifts can be thoughtful if you are paying attention. 

Finally, remember that gifts are for other people. You don’t have to get it, you don’t even have to like what they like. All you have to do is to pay attention. Give gifts which make the receiver feel the way you want them to feel. Keep these thoughts in mind and you will never run short of ideas.

On the News

Consuming the News; a Methodological Approach

What we think we know is much less important than making sure that we have a reliable method for coming to knowledge.  This idea, that there exists a method for knowing the world, is the basis for the scientific method, a concept and process which has made the world an immeasurably better place to live and which has vastly accelerated our understanding of the world.  As we enter into a new era of media ubiquity, it occurs to me that it would be useful to borrow from this idea and create a codified method for knowing things when it comes to the consumption of information.  We live in a new world where we are bombarded on all sides by messages of dubious provenance, and without a method of knowing how to source and evaluate information, we will find ourselves picking without a method for our choosing.  

What I am proposing here is the use of a method for determining how to know if things about our world are true.  This has never been more important.  We live in an age where seeing may not be tantamount to believing, especially when it comes to photo and video we find online.  We are at a place where we find ourselves in real peril when sources purport to offer news while instead working to further an agenda.  To be responsible citizens of the world, to make rational decisions, we have to establish a method that avoids these pitfalls and which is, like the scientific method, both repeatable and reliable.  

Inform yourself intentionally, never accidentally.   

This is both absolutely vital, and spectacularly difficult.  As we move through our digital lives, we are bombarded with messages, most of which we will not take the time to fully, critically absorb.  These are the most dangerous messages that we encounter because their repetition, absent engagement with our critical faculties, leads us to believe things as more intrinsically likely before we have applied critical thinking standards to them.  The antidote to this is to make it a point to only consume important information, in full form or headline, as part of your intentional news gathering process.  You will have to avoid all sources where news may be part of your viewing or reading life that happens casually.  This means avoiding following, liking, or subscribing to any news or people who post news on social media accounts  You will need to hide people who post stories, links, and memes about politics and current events.  Your friends, even your well intentioned, educated friends, who post news and current events will, by repetition and because you are sympathetic to their views, color your views and slant your worldview.  Social media should be for puppy pictures, gender reveals, and braggy fitness messages; it is not a credible place to find details about what is happening in the world.  

Vet your sources.  

It is very challenging to know for sure what sources to trust, but there are some tests that you can apply which will weed out bad actors.  For any source that you are considering for trustworthiness, that source must pass the following tests:

    Do they have a physical office where employees work?  

Poor sources do not spend money on office space; they are entirely digital because lies are cheap to produce.

    Does the source have a revenue model that makes sense and appears sustainable?  

Can you buy a physical version or digital version of their product?  If you can’t buy it, beware of how they are making enough money to pay for quality reporting.

Do they have ad revenue from large companies?  Large companies sponsor quality news sites because they understand that their brand reputation is linked to who they advertise with.  If the ads on a page are junk, so is the reporting.  

Is the site full of pop ups?  If so, this is a junk site.  Quality news is paid for by subscribers and ads from major Fortune 500 companies.  They don’t need to spam their page with pop ups and junk from no-name companies. 

Are their reporters identified and can you read about them and their credentials?

Quality news sources hire talented reporters, and like any company, their reputation is built on showcasing that talent.  These reporters are identified and will yield results when you search for the author.  They will have gone to school to learn their trade and they will likely have worked at other reputable companies. 

Do not confuse news with opinion. 

Know the difference between news and editorials, opinion, and analysis.  Opinions, editorials, and analysis should not be considered news. These are a supplement to news, and should not be thought of as synonymous with news itself. Be wary of steeping yourself in analysis, opinion, or editorial pieces.  A high volume of opinion journalism will color your views with other people’s thoughts rather than provide you with facts to consider on your own.  No matter how satisfying it may seem to read material which analyzes the news in ways that you agree with, doing so in quantity or at the expense of consuming fact driven news will damage your ability to think critically. Do not consume analysis or opinion pieces unintentionally. Opinion or analysis pieces, even humorous ones, should be consumed only after you have identified what direction the author is taking and you have a baseline understanding of the underlying issues being discussed. Avoid any source which masquerades opinion as news, they are a blight on the information landscape.  

Be extremely careful of consuming “primary sources” without a full understanding of context.

The internet is full of video that, because of editing, may lead viewers to believe something which is not functionally true.  Examples include video from which important details or context have been removed, video which is mislabelled, video which is in a foreign language and which is inaccurately subtitled, and video which cannot be corroborated to be from where it purports to be sourced.  Evaluating primary sources accurately is very difficult, and the internet has made it much, much harder.  Do not trust your skills in evaluating primary sources if you are not trained to do so.  

Watch for incendiary language

Remove sources from your trusted news provider list when that reporting is laced with unnecessary, gratuitous, or inflammatory language.  Pay attention to how the source you are evaluating uses adjectives, adverbs and verbs.  Are they choosing terms which seem intended to incite emotion?  If so, be wary of this source.  If this is a trend, that is not a credible source and should be avoided.

Look for citations

Does the source cite its own sources and do they provide names, dates, and links to relevant corroboration whenever possible?  Sites of dubious intent and veracity make claims using nebulous language intentionally to avoid specificity.  When news organizations are required to be specific, that means that they are making claims which can be checked by outside sources.  Poor quality news sources will avoid writing with specificity and without clear sourcing because this allows them to avoid third party fact checking.  While some sources may publish VERY OCCASIONAL pieces with anonymous sources or authors, those pieces should be extremely few, and the anonymity should be noted in the article and credibly explained.  

On experts

The world is an increasingly complex place, and no one is educationally equipped to evaluate claims made within  fields they are not personally trained in or without a formal education in that field. You will need to rely on subject matter experts to help you make sense of the world. While there is nothing wrong with this, you must have a method for determining which voices are credible. First, look for credentials specific to the source of the claims. If, for example, someone is a general practice doctor, they are not a subject matter expert on disease mitigation and public health, those are separate disciplines.  Real expertise is specific.  Be wary of those using tangentially related expertise to claim specific knowledge, those are not credible sources of information. 

Look too for consensus when reading news about claims which have a high degree of complexity.  The greater the consensus of field experts, the more likely that information is to be accurate. Similarly, be wary of experts who act as a lone voice in a sea of opposing consensus. That lone voice is not, historically speaking, likely to be correct. Always remember that you are unlikely to be an expert in this field yourself, so make sure that the expertise you rely on is credible. 

Do not trust your feelings  

If you avoid consuming news as an accidental process, and if you avoid confusing news with editorials, opinion pieces, and analysis, you will, over time, become less emotionally reactive to the news that you consume.  You will, as a result, grow less likely to consume news in a way that serves primarily to reinforce a viewpoint, and you will become a better and more objective consumer of facts and information.   It is our natural inclination to consume views and seek out facts which agree with how we see the world and which reinforces our biases.  You have to be very aware of and guard against this.  Most true things exist and are reported on in multiple, credible locations.  Credible, honest stories will appear in many places.  Anything you can only find in one location is very unlikely to be true.  

You are not a good person

You are not a good person. The point of this blog, the point of so much of my thinking, of my writing to you, involves this idea of what it means to be good men, and it seems more important now than ever to tell you this. Being a good person isn’t something that you are boys, it’s something that you do; it’s something you have to do again and again every single day. Your moral character cannot skate by on what you did yesterday. Every hour of every day is a new referendum on your character. It has to be. There are no cheat days for being good. Every morning that you wake up, every hour that passes by in your life, that hour, that day is what decides your character. Not only is being a good person, a decent person, a person of character and integrity something that requires your attention and action, but it is indistinguishable from your actions. You are not a good person just because you woke up today. You are not a good person because you think the right thoughts.
You are not a good person just because you are not actively bad either. That sucks, but it’s true. Being a good person is not a passive thing; it can’t be. Being a good person requires that you think about others, that you act on their behalf, that you be willing to sacrifice your time, your attention, your resources for the betterment of other people. You cannot be good just because you have avoided being actively bad. To be good means that you must direct at least some of the resources of your time and attention outwardly to others.
That’s not to say that you aren’t going to make mistakes. You will. I have. Everyone has, but I want to be very honest. When I make ethical mistakes, those mistakes matter. They are a dark spot on my character that do not go away. I am less good as a person for having made those mistakes. They not only affect the way that others view me, but they do, and they should, affect the way that I view myself. My actions are who I am. What I do, how I treat people, the decisions and actions that I undertake, that is who I am. That is who you are boys. You are not good just because you were good yesterday. You are not inherently good. You are not your thoughts or your opinions, and you are most certainly not your excuses or your unmet good intentions. Imagine if, every day, a replay of your actions appeared above you and ask yourself, would I be proud of myself today? Did I do right by the people I am obligated to in my life? Don’t give yourself an “out” on bad behavior; don’t excuse behavior in yourself that you would not excuse in others.
When you make mistakes, do not forgive yourself without understanding why you failed and changing the parts of you that caused you to fail. When we act in ways that are lazy, that are selfish, that are unkind, that are inconsiderate, we have to do the work of taking stock of what that means about who we are. Our failures should change our understanding of ourselves; it should be harder to look in the mirror. After we have failed, we must undertake the process of sober moral reflection because a failure to be good and to act well is a failure not only to those around us, but it is failure to ourselves, a failure that lessens who we are. Reflect on your failings in direct, honest ways without excuses. Allow yourself forgiveness, but recognize that forgiveness is provisional on change. An ethical failing without a commitment to fix the parts of us that caused us to fail is just an after the fact excuse.
I know that this is harsh. It’s supposed to be harsh, but boys, it’s true. What matters about who we are is what we do, and every day of your life matters. You cannot act well 100 days in a row and fail on the 101st and pretend that it has no effect. We are what we do every day; there is no bank of good actions you can withdraw from to cancel out your missteps. Hold yourself to high standards boys in all things, every day.

On Beginning Intimacy

Nobody wants to hear their Dad talk about this stuff.  I get that.  But if nobody talks to you about this stuff, then you’re going to have to figure it all out yourself, and that’s not ideal.  So bear with me guys.  

At some point in your lives, you’re going to have to contend with navigating how and when to begin a physical, sexual relationship with someone.  I want to offer my thoughts here on this, not in a mechanical, birds and the bees sort of way, but rather to address with you the issues you’ll face interpersonally as you move through this part of your life. 

Relationships are exciting, and the physical aspect of that is not a small part of that excitement. This is part of the joy of dating people, and I am not at all suggesting that it be overlooked.  But I want to warn you first and foremost about starting physically intimate relationships with people before you are ready.  First, becoming sexually involved with someone is likely to significantly intensify your perception of the strength and connection in a relationship.  Particularly when you are young, the novelty, the excitement, the newfound sexual outlet, will collide with a rush of hormones and chemicals which can make you believe that you are more deeply compatible and connected with someone than you would otherwise believe yourself to be.  Sex and sexual activity releases a flood of hormones that are intended to make you feel bonded.  In a mature relationship, this is a great thing, but in a young relationship, this often results in your body clouding your mind and your heart.  Just because things feel good, doesn’t mean that things are, in fact, good.  Having “The Sex” when you are young or your relationship is new will make it more difficult, nearly impossible I would argue, to understand if the relationship you are in is what you want. 

Beginning an intimate relationship with someone will also complicate, deeply, your relationship.  Young relationships are fun, and part of the reason that they are fun is because the stakes are relatively low.  As you meet and date new people, you are learning with each experience how you want to be treated and how you want to feel with someone.  You are learning what makes you happy, and what drives you nuts.  You are also learning how to make someone else happy, how to show off the best side of who you are, when to let your guard down, how much of who you are to reveal and when.  You are learning when to trust people and how to let others trust you and to be worthy of their trust.  When you are brand new to dating, you should avoid getting into serious relationships because you are not ready for them.  You need time to explore yourself, to learn about other people and how they fit into your life and how you will fit into theirs.  If you begin having “The Sex” too early, you won’t have the opportunity in the same way to be casual, to have low stakes encounters with people, to figure things out and make mistakes and have mistakes made with you in ways that are not harmful.  Because sex is consequential both physically and emotionally, sexual relationships will likely feel deeper and more important during a time in your life when you simply lack the experience to navigate truly consequential relationships. You also run a greater risk of having encounters which hurt you emotionally.  Again, sex will bond you and your partner, but the highest likelihood is that encounters that you have when you are young will not stand the test of time.  As these relationships naturally fall away, you will find yourself more deeply heartbroken than necessary if your relationship was sexual than if you enjoyed a less physically intimate connection.  

Also, when you are young, the people you date will continue to be a part of your social circle, likely for years.  Casual dating relationships when you are young frequently become friendships with little difficulty.  Less casual dating with more sexual activity makes converting someone you dated into a friend much more complicated and increases the likelihood that that relationship will become unnecessarily strained.

Sex also can make people feel possessive, which is particularly bad when you are young.  When we are young, we feel our emotions in deep, intense ways, and lack the context of a lifetime to sort through these feelings.  When we bond with someone sexually, young minds in particular can interpret this bond in ways that cause us to feel possessive or jealous. Possessiveness and jealousy without maturity and life experience will only make you and your partner miserable.  

So when should you begin having “The Sex” with someone?  Clearly, the answer is not, never.  Having a meaningful, satisfying sex life is part of any good relationship and part of a good life, and as much as I want you to avoid life’s pitfalls, I also want you to embrace life’s joys.  While there’s no age I can suggest for you where I think it makes sense to begin having a sexual relationship with someone, I think some criteria should be met before you start down this road.  First, you should be able to protect yourself and your future physically without needing anyone’s help.  What I mean by that is that if you are not old enough, mature enough, or independent and confident enough to go the store and buy condoms, you are not old enough, mature enough, or independent enough to have “The Sex.”  Second, you should have dated, casually, several people over the course of several years.  You should have some experience dating and breaking up and being broken up with, without the complications that sex adds to your relationship.  Finally, once the first two conditions are met, I think you should have spent enough time and have enough maturity, personally and within the relationship, to talk to each other about sex before you have it.  Too often, people too timid to talk about “The Sex” begin having “The Sex.”  This leads to no end of problems.  When you are young, frank and honest conversations about the sex are the only way you can make sure that your needs and concerns and her needs and concerns are being really heard and understood.  If you can’t talk about it, you aren’t ready to do it.  

One other note.  As boys, you will likely be on the driving end of initiating and escalating sexual behavior.  There’s a fair amount of social pressure on boys to escalate from one stage of sexual contact to another.  Don’t bow to this pressure.  There’s nothing about having sex which makes you more mature or more manly.  There’s nothing about moving from one “base” to another which changes, in any way, who you are.  To the extent that you feel pressure to escalate from the outside, do your best to ignore that pressure.  With regard to your partner, be respectful of her and her feelings.  Remember that I said that you should be able to talk with your partner about sex before you have it, and that part of talking is listening.  Don’t pressure your partner to escalate anything, and make sure as you move along this path that she feels safe, that she feels respected, and that she is having fun too.  If at any point, ever, you sense reluctance, pause and talk.  Read the room boys, but when you are young, read the room and talk.  

You will be bombarded by messages, important messages, about the mechanics of sex and how to stay physically safe.  Pay attention to these messages, and take notes for sure, but what is more often overlooked is how to keep yourself emotionally safe.  I want you to build the kinds of habits of your minds and hearts that lead you to healthy relationships where you feel fulfilled.  When we begin having “The Sex,” whenever that is for us, we run the risk of beginning to develop patterns for how we relate to people, and these relationships often set the tone for how we relate to people throughout our lives.  Too often, we accept partners and behaviors that aren’t good for us because it’s what we are used to rather than because it’s what we want or what is good for us.  Keep the stakes low while you are young and give yourself breathing room to learn and to make mistakes.  Protect yourself emotionally and learn to build good habits for your hearts.  Trust me on this boys, if you do the work and learn how to build healthy relationships with a minimum of emotional baggage the more serious relationships that you do have will be much more rewarding, much less likely to go catastrophically badly, and you will, I promise, have much more of “The Sex” in the end. 

On Loneliness

I spent most of my life profoundly lonely, so I know a little bit about it.  There are many ways to be lonely, and many reasons to feel lonely, and as we move through the normal course of our lives, it is natural and inevitable that you will find yourselves feeling lonely.  While there’s no way to guarantee that you can avoid this, there are concrete steps that you can take to minimize its impact.  Loneliness, particularly when extended for long periods of time, can cause us to create or maintain behaviors which don’t serve our best interests.  

Fundamentally, loneliness is the gap we feel between our desire or need for connection, and the connection that we actually experience.  Everyone’s needs regarding connection will vary, so you’ll need to understand your needs in this arena to understand if you are experiencing both the quality and quantity of connection that you need to feel satisfied and avoid being lonely.  

I also think that loneliness comes in a few varieties, each a little different.  The first, and one of the most fundamental types of loneliness is physical loneliness.  Everybody has a certain desire for touch. To be very frank, as boys, your access to casual physical touch will be limited during parts of your life. You are likely to be hugged less, cuddled less,and casually touched less than your female friends.  You will likely have fewer opportunities outside of romantic relationships to both touch and to be touched than you may like.  Be both aware and wary of this.  Because you may have less touch in your life than you might like, you may place an outsized importance on the need to connect physically with romantic partners.  While needing to be touched by your romantic interest is fine, a lack of understanding of this need may cause you to remain in relationships that are not otherwise satisfying because they offer an outlet for touch.  Don’t do this.

 There is a difference between touching and being touched, each of which relates to connection.  Touching someone else is, among other things, a signal of someone else’s acceptance of you.  When you touch someone else, part of the reason this fuels connection is because it signals to you that your touch is welcome, that you, in fact, are welcome, and that the act of being touched by you offers that person something they welcome.  

Being touched, by contrast, is a signal that someone wants you, and this allows you to draw comfort and affection from them.  Both types of touch are important, and they are both different.  Touch is important to your life.  You will want to understand your desire both to receive touch and to give touch in order to understand your need for connection here.  

Another way that loneliness, the connection gap, may be noticed stems from our need for understanding.  Like touch, it is important both to have people in your life who understand you, and whom you understand.  Again, both components are essential.  You will need people in your life that listen to you, that see and hear you, and, importantly, have the tools and life experiences to understand how you think, how you feel, and where those thoughts and feelings come from.  

Similarly, you are going to need to understand others to avoid a connection gap.  You are going to need people in your life to care about, to seek to understand, to comfort and to praise.  You are going to need people that you in turn are entrusted to see and to hear.  You will need people to think about, to feel for, and to love.  

Finally, I think there’s a kind of loneliness associated with physical space and shared goals.  I think we need, to greater and lesser degrees, people to work with, to grow with, to play with, and to share experiences with. We need people that understand the work of our minds, of our hands, and of our time, and who find joy in the same pursuits.

Everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum with respect to loneliness.  As you grow and mature, and as your relationships grow and mature, you may find that you move along this spectrum.  That’s fine so long as you understand yourself well enough to identify any connection gaps you feel, why you feel them, and how, ideally, you would like those gaps to be filled and by whom.  

There are things you can do about being lonely.  There are, as with most problems, actions you can take once you understand yourself, that will lessen the connection gap.  With respect to physical loneliness, you may find that long periods of time may pass where you neither touch nor are you touched.  This can lead to a kind of touch starvation.  Touch starvation is not good for your health, physically or emotionally.  

If socially appropriate, hug your friends hello and goodbye.  Even these brief moments, even the “bro-hug,” offers some contact.  Get a haircut or massage.  Touch is a need, and your body will release calming chemicals into your body when you are being touched.  Your body doesn’t know that the masseuse or the salon-worker isn’t a friend.  The calming environment and sustained physicality of the experience can help fill the need to be touched.  Spend time with a pet.  This really only satisfies part of the need for physical connection because you are the one doing the touching rather than being touched, but during a period of touch-drought, it can be very helpful. 

If you are feeling like you are not being seen, heard, or understood, invest in your relationships.  Practice listening, actively, to those you are connected to.  Ask after their well being and attempt to connect with them on a deeper-than-surface level.  Make note, physically if need be, of important dates and events of those around you.  Without exception, celebrate other people’s victories with them, and remember too the times when they might need support.  Don’t be afraid to care, openly and genuinely, about the people in your life.  Taking an active role in the lives of those you want to connect with will encourage deeper relationships and increase the likelihood that others will invest in you.  

There’s another secret I can share with you here.  Many more people than you think are in the same boat.  I think it can be tempting to think that, because we are lonely, we are the only ones feeling that lack of connection.  The truth is though, that everyone at some point will feel this way, and that at any given time, many more people than you think feel this way right now.  Most people will welcome your attention.  Don’t be so afraid of rejection that you reject yourself first.  

However, there may be times in your life where this is difficult, where you don’t have many friends, or when your friends are not available to you on a deeper level.  There may be times in your life when you are short on deep friendships.  During these times, you may want to talk with a therapist.  While there is nothing that replaces a personal connection with a friend, there’s no shame in connecting with a professional whose role in your life is to listen.  We need to be heard and to be seen.  

If you are feeling a lack of connection around activities and shared goals, you will need to seek spaces where people who share your values and hobbies gather.  Seek physical spaces whenever possible.  We are bodily creatures, and being physically present does matter.  If possible, seek to share activities and spaces with others repetitively.  Being together frequently gives you more opportunities to learn about others, and frequency of interaction also lessens the stakes of each encounter.  Building relationships and understanding others doesn’t happen by simply willing it into existence.  The process of connecting over shared experiences is cumulative, which means you’ll need to put in a sustained effort. 

Do things that give you an opportunity to be with the kind of people you want to get to know.   Don’t blockade yourself into only connecting over a narrow set of interests.  If you like games, think about what other spaces exist where people play games and attend those spaces.  Expand your repertoire to include games you might not otherwise have played, and give everything a fair shot.  Physicality and space matters.  Common goals matter.  Repetition matters.  The more time you spend together, the more you will know, understand and appreciate someone, and the lower the stakes of any given hour will be.  Try aspirational activities, do the things that people you want to meet do.  Be willing to share not only what you care about, but also that you care about things.  The loneliest people in the world are those who are too cool to care about things. Don’t be one of those guys.  

Remember too boys, that you have family.  As you grow, the role of your family will change, but your family is alway here for you.  There is no world where you will ever want for a hug, for words of affection, or for my love and attention.  Loneliness is something that can sneak up on us, and that can insidiously become a part of our lives.  Watch for loneliness, know it when you feel it, and take action to correct it whenever possible. 

On Purpose

On Purpose

I’m going to be very blunt; there is no objective purpose to your life. But the key word here is objective.  All that means is that the purpose to your life isn’t something set forth from on high, but something instead that has to come from you, something that you yourself will choose and define.  While that might seem like a lot of pressure, it should also be very freeing.  There are no outside standards beyond your own, no judgmental cosmic overlord dictating for you what you should or shouldn’t be doing.  The purpose to your life is yours to choose, and I’m going to offer some help on how to make these choices.

A life lived in accordance with your purpose will be easier to manage in hard times; it will be easier to sleep at night, and you will understand, intrinsically, what to do with the days and hours of your time.  Too often, particularly when we are young, we look for meaning and purpose as if it’s an actual answer we can find, and once found, settle into.  We look for one singular purpose because we have one life, and the question itself seems to invite singular answers.  For most of us, this is a trap.  For most of us, there won’t be one answer to the idea of our purpose, and the answer will change and mature as we do.  With very rare exceptions, most of us will find that the answer to the question of a life’s purpose is a multifaceted and pluralistic answer.  The real question boys, isn’t what is your life’s purpose (remember, if we ask the wrong questions, we always arrive at the wrong answer).  The questions we should spend our lives reviewing are, “How do we know our life’s purpose?” and “Am I living in accordance with the principles of my life’s purpose?”  I can’t help you with your life’s purpose boys, but I can help you understand how to find it.

A life lived with an eye toward purpose will have several important themes:  meaningful relationships, humor, satisfying work, attention to your health and well-being, a search for novel experiences, and time spent improving yourself and others.  Let’s start with meaningful relationships.  Simply put, you’re going to want to cultivate relationships in your life defined by respect, trust, and mutual admiration.  You’ll need people in your life boys that not only do for you, but you’ll need people in your life that you too can serve.  There’s a tremendous amount of joy to be found in the service of others, and no life without service will feel truly meaningful. Serve the right people boys. Serve people who respect you, who love you, and to whom your service will have an impact and where your service will be appreciated. 

You’ll also want to find ways to embrace humor into your life.  What you find fun and funny is up to you to decide and that will, mercifully, also change with time and maturity, but boys, you get one life without do-overs.   Don’t take things too seriously; life is, most of the time absurd, even when it is tragic.  Find and appreciate that absurdity; embrace it and revel in it.  Don’t be afraid to laugh when you are afraid, or lonely or scared.  Don’t spend a day if you can help it, without laughing or smiling. Find joy and humor in even the darkest times and your life will not only feel lighter, but you’ll be better able to adapt to change and hardship.   

If possible, find work that is satisfying.  This is a tough one.  Most jobs will, in and of themselves, not be satisfying on their own.  That’s ok, and that’s to be expected.  If you have work that is not intrinsically satisfying, you’ll need to draw a line in your mind from the work itself to what the work allows you to do.  If your work is what gives you the ability to care for your family, find a way to equate the work to caring for those you love. If your work is what gives you personal autonomy and independence, draw a line from the work to what the work allows you to do with your life. Find satisfaction in a day’s labor when at all possible.  Your work will chew up most of the waking hours of your adult life, don’t squander that time.

In your search for purpose, do not forget your body boys.  Your physical health, fitness, and well being is a prerequisite to happiness and success, don’t neglect the physical self.  Challenge your bodies, be mindful of your health, and care for your physical selves.  You’re going to have to live in those things all your lives guys. Be kind to them.  

Cultivate a search for novel experiences; do new things and go to new places.  Challenge yourself by meeting people with different thoughts, experiences, and ideas.  Find new experiences that cause you to rethink yourself, and that make you see things with a fresh perspective.  Be intellectually curious about the world, and be genuinely curious about other people. Spend time caring about things.  Be in awe as often as possible.

Finally, in pursuit of purpose, you’ll need to spend time focused on improving yourself and on improving others.  Don’t be content with your faults if you think you can rise above them.  Don’t be happy gliding through your life boys.  A life is meant to be lived and actively experienced.  Be a participant in all the moments of your time, be mindful and present and share what you learn with others.  

There’s no purpose to your lives’ boys, at least not from the outside, but that’s good news, not bad.  That means that you are in control; you are driving.  The purpose of your life is what you make of it, but you’ll have to do the work of making something.  Remember, nothing good happens by accident, without your guidance and aim, nothing much will happen at all.  Don’t let the lack of a guiding external force trick you into thinking there’s no reason or purpose to your lives. The purpose of a life is to live that life, to do it well, and to do it with real intentionality, guided by what feeds you.