Woman looking into the camera smiling on a beautiful autumn day, with a slight sense of hesitation.
Communication

No One Has Ever Loved Anyone

I love potent little phrases (it’s why I run a quotation-browsing website), and I recently came across a great one. It seems that Mignon McLaughlin once quipped:

No one has ever loved anyone the way everyone wants to be loved.

It bowled me over. Because it immediately struck me as both true and useful.

First, lets play with its truthiness. If we were to make the quotation into some sort of logical proof, that proof would postulate, first, that there is a “way everyone wants to be loved.” And then it says that no one has ever loved another in that way.

It feels reasonable to sign up to the postulate that there is a way that everyone wants to be loved. What kind of love is that? Well, it’s fond and appreciative and fun, of course, but it’s also unconditional. I don’t think anyone wants to believe that whatever fondness and mutual support and whatever else they think comes with love is accompanied by any sort of precondition.

And this is the rub of the whole line: humans are, generally, unable to love in a precondition-less way. We’ll love our romantic partner, but only if they’re able to continue to provide for the family, or to be attractive to us physically, or to be available to us emotionally. Whichever of those or some other is the real friction point in the relationship, there almost certainly is one.

And there are good reasons for this: our survival is helped by mutually beneficial relationships. Unconditionality requires that we stop assuring that we get some benefit from a relationship. To move in relationship without precondition means that we can only score whether or not we’re having a positive impact on the partner to that relationship. Watching and counting what they do (or do not) for us would be a part of the calculus of rationally justifiable conditionality.

Almost all relationships between humans contain at least one regular point of friction. Even if it is as small as sometimes quibbling about what seasoning is best for the Sunday sauce, there is always some part of a relationship that doesn’t work seamlessly. Somewhere where there’s anger, or fear, or just plain old apathy to be found.

And that’s why “no one has ever loved anyone the way everyone wants to be loved.” Now, why did I say it’s instructive? Because it points our way to a better love. We can love people intensely, but we probably aren’t giving them as perfect a love as they’d like. But so frequently, because we’re lazy or blind, we deny that. We don’t accept that we may own some part of the strain that we’re both subconsciously aware has started to show in our relationship.

If we’re able to take it as a starting point that “no one has ever loved anyone” so well that there was no friction, no conditionality, no difficulty, we can use it as a place to begin to work to make our loves and relationships stronger. It can be hard to accept, especially if you’re blinded by either your romanticism or your rational self-defense. But you can love better, in a way more like the target of your love would like. And if you work on it with seriousness, you will.

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Life

In 2014, I was 28

It was my birthday on Saturday. I was born 29 years ago from the date. And to follow up a thing I started last year, I’m going to take it as an opportunity for some very direct navel-gazing.

Work & Finances

In 2014, I was making good money working in a company I co-own and excited about what I was doing. It was mostly a complaint-free experience. Fueled primarily by a single enthusiastic client for our consulting at Press Up — if you’re looking to solve a hard business problem and think web technologies could help, hit us up — I made a very respectable middle class income.

There was one less-bright part, though. In a tiny company, I was essentially at the mercy of myself as a boss. And I was an irresponsible one. I let myself drive a little too hard for too long on a specific project. The result was me putting too much of the rest of my life on hold and burning out a little too fast and hot over the summer months. Vacations postponed, workouts skipped, and social events suffered through with as much angry preoccupation as I could muster.

But it wasn’t all bad. More personally, I made some positive changes. I’ve made some (very modest) progress on what I hope will eventually be the best quotation site on the internet. I finally dropped from my regular time-sinks a project where I basically just linked to things on the internet. The time investment just ended up not feeling worth it. And I made my first ever microsite (which could use a more skilled designer’s touch).

Wholistically, career-wise, it was a good year. Fred and I were able to hire our first employee and she’s brought a welcome new energy to our work. We’ve made something more of a name for ourselves as well, not to mention starting to work on making our fractured attention across various side-projects start to resemble money-making businesses in their own right.

Health & Fitness

During my time being 28, I didn’t really lose weight which I’d hoped to. In fact I gained almost a dozen pounds (some of which I’d lost during the early part of the year). But what’s important to me is that I only gained about a dozen pound, and I know that I can get rid of them and keep them off. I know this because I’ve been successfully keeping off the almost-100 pounds I’ve lost over the last few years.

A large part of being able to have the confidence in keeping them off is that I’ve learned how I can effectively lose weight. And I know how to stay active. I love cycling and that’s one of the best things I’ve done this year. I really enjoy it. It took me far too long to learn, but exercising can be fun if you find something that agrees with you, and finding something that agrees with you is possible and a good goal for everyone. Hate jogging? Try other things that keep you moving!

Community & Relationships

I’ve lived an anomalously quiet and self-contained life thus far. This has its advantages, but in the last year I’ve much more consciously appreciated its limits and disadvantages. It’s not that you can’t go through life as your own little island — though really you can’t — but that your life can be so much richer and more interesting if you let people in.

My writing in the last few years has said these things more loudly than my actions have. While I penned a series on kindness in 2013, for example, I was still rarely making a strong effort with the people in my life. And I’ve hardly reached the level I’d say I’m proud of.

But I’m very proud of the progress I’ve made. Progress in being more available to people and in being more honest with them. Progress in actually attending social gatherings other than those of a few of my best-known friends. And managing to walk away from them happy that I’ve gone. Progress, even, in not having to drag myself mentally kicking and screaming to these events — though I admit I can still throw quite a “I don’t wanna” fit. But progress. Real honest progress in being more of the person I want to be.

If you’ve read this and want to help me meet more people, send me an email at david@www.frozentoothpaste.com. Or leave a comment. I’d love to know you better!

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Communication

Why You Must Show Up

One of the most banal but undeniable statements is that you can’t contribute if you aren’t there. That “80% of success is showing up.” It’s one of these stupid truths we think we understand until the days we just want to crawl back into bed and not get out.

But you simply must show up. I’ve spent long periods of my life opting out. When given a choice, I’d choose staying away. “Hey you should really come to this party, I’d love to see you.” “Thanks, but I’m washing my hair.”

There are people who will keep trying with you for a long time. They’ll encourage you to try to show up for your relationship with them. David Cain, over at Raptitude recently wrote about this issue, saying:

Whatever our reasons, I suspect most of us don’t pull our weight socially, and we depend, possibly without realizing, on that wonderful minority of people who are tirelessly connecting us freeloaders and cowards.

I think some of his language is drastic, but I can’t disagree with the core idea of social freeloading. I spent most of my life as a freeloader, and I can’t say I recommend it as a long-term life strategy. When you rely on other people to coax and coerce you into showing up for a relationship, you’re quite likely to wake up at some point to realize that they’ve given up on you and the relationship entirely.

Even the most saintly and generous people in the world get tired of showing up and doing their best when they’re not met with the same. It’s a real testimony to their generosity that they keep trying at all, at least for the most selfish and frustrating among us.

But you’ve got to show up for people. You’ve got to go to your son’s piano recital. Show up for your daughter’s soccer game. Be there for your wife at that doctor’s appointment she’s been nervous about. Help that friend move when you’ve got an idle weekend. Support a colleague’s adventurous idea publicly when she seems to be out on a hard-but-worthwhile limb.

This is how you help people: you show up, even when you don’t quite feel like it. Often you’ll find that in doing so you get over that not-quite-feeling-like-it if you’re sincere in your commitment to being there. And it feels good, being there. Showing up for people. Pulling your weight.

The world works best when people support each other. It’s really nice to have people show up for you. And so it follows that you’d probably do well to show up for others. To be there for them when it’s hard, and when it’s easy. To help them along, and to let them help you along. To do that, you’ve got to show up. No way around it.

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Communication

“I’m Not Afraid of the Dark”

Dark has an interesting place in human experience. Many children’s first and most enduring fear is of darkness. I, to this day, get a little spooked in completely or unexpectedly dark places.

Mythically and metaphorically, though, darkness is a lot more than just the absence of light. Darkness is a synonym for the unknown. For the things that we’d rather hide away in places where no one can see them. For the things we’re ashamed of and scared of and feel bad for and wish were different.

In Josh Ritter’s song “Long Shadows”, you’ll find the lyrics:

Every time that they start
I’ll be right here with you
I’m not afraid of the dark

One of the big blockers in communication and understanding is that we are scared to talk honestly and openly. We’re scared that other people in our life will be scared off by our darkness — be it a past action we regret, a thought we have a lot but never act upon, whatever — that we close down and cut off the conversation and journey of mutual understanding.

Unconditional love is not easy, but when really achieved I think it contains one really important trait that most lesser kinds of love do not: a cofindence in the loved person that the lover will “be right here with you, … not afraid of the dark.”

Communicating that kind of love is not something you can do in sentence, or a day, or even probably a year. It’s the kind of thing that takes a lot of time. People are aware of the gaps between what people say and what they really mean. And so we have to, to communicate something as big and monumental as a fearless steadfastness in our love, demonstrate it regularly and repeatedly. Then, and only then, is the receiver likely to slowly warm to its truth. That “I’ll be right here with you, I’m not afraid of the dark.”

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Life

What Is Love?

Love has a number of forms. There’s the love of a parent for their child. The love of friends for one another. The love of two people who are committed to each other romantically. The love of a keeper for their dog, cat, or other animal. But all of them, I think, have something in common.

Quite simply, love is the recognition and appreciation of what is beautiful in another. And just so there’s no confusion, what is beautiful in another is not only their form. It includes their actions, feelings, pain, and quirks too. Everything can possess beauty, and when we love something we’re perceiving its beauty.

One of the keys to my spirituality, if not the whole of it, is figuring out how to love everything. I want to love the flowers and the clouds and the birds and the rocks. And I want to love the beautiful celebrity defamed on the cover of the latest tabloid, and I want to love the defamer working at that tabloid. I want to love the victims of crimes, but I also want to wisely love the perpetrator.

When you really love something, when you fully see and appreciate what is beautiful about it, you want to what’s best for it. You want it to never suffer unnecessary harm, you want it to be safe and happy, you want it to get what it wants. In some sense, you want it to be protected.

And these second order out-growths of the pure thing that is love are where people get confused. For times in my life I believed that to love was to worry. That to report to your child that you really were concerned about their safety because you didn’t know where they were or how they were doing was to love them. But it’s not. That worry actually blocks the pure love which is the appreciation of what this person is and thinks is appropriate for them to do.

Don’t get me wrong, to love is to care for. And sometimes to care for is to take action to protect. You don’t care for a criminal by blithely allowing them to continue to commit their crimes. You care for a criminal and protect him from harm by teaching him why in a just society he cannot continue to commit such crimes. You don’t care for a family member prone to self-harm by allowing them to continue to do so. You care for such a person by helping them move beyond the pained psychology that makes them feel that self-harm will solve any of their problems. But you shouldn’t think that those caring actions are the substance of love, they are merely a result of it.

People get tired out by what they think love is. They get bored and frustrated with it. The idea that they could love something they don’t like feels wrong to them. But typically, they’re misunderstanding the substance of love. They’re thinking it’s about something — fealty, commitment, worry, etc — that it’s not.

You can love a lamp. You can love a dirty rug. You can love a dangerous predator. You can love your father. You can love them all — see all that is worthy and good and praiseworthy in them — and still know what they are. Love is not transformational. Love is not a reciprocal relationship. Love is not a conditional state. Love is just the purest expression of appreciation that we know how to talk about.

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Communication

“They’re invariably nice and interesting if you actually give a shit and try”

Please excuse the profanity of the title, but it’s one of those things that’s stated so simply and undeniably by someone else that I’d be a jerk if I changed it solely for the sake of propriety. Jesse Thorn penned the tweet quoted in this title over three years ago, and it still sticks in my head.

He said it about interviewing, which is his profession, but it stuck in my head Continue reading

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Communication

Complaining About Your Loved Ones

Is there anything so common and needlessly corrosive to your personal mental health, and that of your loved ones, as complaining to your coworkers about them? I’m struggling to think of anything.

When we take a problem with a person we love—he leaves his socks all around the house, she never cleans up the kitchen after cooking in it—and express it not to that person, but to a third person, we’ve complicated what is likely to be an easy conversation. It’s pretty unlikely that your significant other is unwilling to try to improve the things about them that bother you. (If they’re really unwilling, I’d begin to wonder how much they did love you. But that’s a whole different conversation.)

When we make problems we have into complaints we share we make the core issues harder and messier to solve. Two changes typically come when a problem becomes a complaint:

  • The path to solve the issue is obscured. How quickly does “You’re sometimes careless about where you leave your socks when you take them off” turn into “And he always leaves his socks EVERYWHERE! I’d be surprised if there aren’t three behind the TV.”? Real fast. Suddenly transitory behavior is rendered as an unchangeable characteristic. This means that when you express your sentiment as a complaint, even when you do so as kindly as possible, the conversation probably doesn’t lead to problem-solving. It likely leads to the cliche-level escalation of “Well you always leave dirty dishes in the sink!”
  • You’ve brought more people into the problem.  This isn’t inherently obvious—some people really do keep confided complaints quiet and invisible—but we know that most of us don’t. By complaining to a third party about something that can be solved between the two of you, you’re making the whole behavior stickier. Suddenly the person the complaint is about isn’t only responsible to you who took issue with the behavior, but instead to all the people who you’ve complained about the behavior to. Suddenly when I go to take me shoes off not just you, but the children, your visiting mother, and your best friend are all going to be carefully watching what I do with my socks. This may seem like it’ll help—and it’s possible it does in the short-term—but the likelihood of resentment about this external vigilance is high, and that typically leads to retrenchment rather than the kind of change that would have resolved your problem with the places I leave my socks.

The conversations the mitigate complaints aren’t always obvious and easy to have. Especially if you’ve already made the problem into a complaint, it can be really hard to believe that there’s any solution to it. A few perennial pieces of advice come to mind when I think about how best to have a “compaint conversation”:

  • Think and speak in terms of changeable behaviors and not intractable traits. Don’t say “You’re a slob!” What you want to do is instead observe—ideally in a neutral way—the behavior that’s leading to the complaint. “Your socks are scattered throughout the house.”
  • Keep in mind that this is a solvable problem, and you can (maybe even should) be involved in figuring out a solution. Maybe what I need is for you to remind me to put my socks in the hamper when I go to take them off. Be ready to provide that support if it’s requested. (Though probably best not to assume it’ll be necessary or desired. People like to solve things on their own, and may resent the assumption that they’ll need your help.)

This has all felt a bit preachy, but it was on my mind. I’ll close with an anecdote from Alina Tegund’s essay about her experience of being exposed to A Complaint Free World a group I’d never heard about until I found the piece five minutes ago:

I was in a class where everyone was annoyed at the teacher for regularly failing to show up on time. It was an easily fixable problem, but all of us — about a dozen — complained in whispers to one another for weeks.

A few grumbled to other teachers and even spoke to the head of the entire program. But nothing changed. Finally, one brave soul broached the subject directly with our teacher.

He responded graciously and started showing up promptly.

This is precisely the point. Simple conversations make life better far more effectively than endless complaining to people not in a position to solve the problem.

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Technofuturism

Why You Hate Your Facebook Friends

Friendship–whatever we are to understand that to mean in the age of “friending”–and relationships generally can take place on the internet as well as offline. No one denies that. But few people seem to understand the advantage of internet-originating relationships against the physical-world-originating kind.

To grasp the distinction in a deep way, it helps to understand some of the constraints on relationships. First and foremost, human relationships are constrained by language. Take any two people alive on Earth and throw them into a room. After five minutes no pair that didn’t have at least some vague knowledge of each others language would come out feeling unlike strangers. They may have thought each other nice, friendly, or attractive, but they’d not get deeper than that.

Before the advent of written language, one could only ever feel an emotional connection to someone who lived near them.

After that, the strongest predictors of relationship success are a broad class of less tangible things, like interests, values, and temperament. These broadly amount to the soft stuff that’s made up our lives. Your languages, appearance, and perhaps even some part of your temperament are hard-wired. After that the strongest factors in relationship creation and maintenance are the net overlap of the soft stuff of our lives. This is why you’ll notice that Christians are more likely to be friendly to Christians. People who love basketball are more likely to be friends with people who enjoy sports. People who value curiosity and knowledge-seeking are likely to feel distant from people who write “I don’t read” in the favorite books field on Facebook. You get the picture.

The final factor in friendship compatibility is the one that was for millennia the limiting factor on human friendship: physical proximity. Before the advent of written language, one could only ever feel an emotional connection to someone who lived near them. Before words were mobile, one could only ever feel an emotional connection to someone who had lived near them. And before we could transmit voices over non-physical media, we could only be friends with people who had cause to send us letters at the physical address of our home.

Books allow emotional connection, but it’s almost exclusively a one-way relationships. For a reader in the past to develop a two-way relationship with anyone whose book he might have chanced across would take a good deal of luck and a strong sense of generosity in the author. Short of that, almost no one ever developed a single relationship with anyone with whom he hadn’t at one time shared physical space. This naturally led us to value these place-originating relationships as their only true form, and make us feel the need to excuse anyone who we met by other means through some series of lies and jokes.

But in case my profile of the constraints on friendship didn’t make it clear to you, I view the higher value placed on place-originating (or “real-life”) friendships as wrongheaded. It seems only logical to me that it is better to build your relationships from a pool of people who speak your language and have similar soft-qualities to you, than to attempt to start from a geographically constrained group and then attempt to find soft-quality matches in a face-to-face series of interactions. This is fundamentally what the internet allows: the friendship process to start from a set of commonalities around soft attributes, and then potentially aim for geographic matching. This is the opposite of the standard process, but certainly the one more likely to yield deep and long-lasting relationships.

This is fundamentally what the internet allows: the friendship process to start from a set of commonalities around soft attributes, and then potentially aim for geographic matching.

To get at the nature of this phenomenon, consider Bob. Bob is an atheist who lives in America’s “Bible Belt.” He has a passion for dance, in an area where prevailing opinion states that only “sissies” like it. Bob could almost certainly find some people who match those two (utterly arbitrary) facts about himself if he looked hard enough around the area he happened to be living because of the nature of his employment.

Or Bob could find a few websites that were as passionate about the tango as he is, and get involved in the discussions that take place around them. Bob would easily find people with whom he already shared an interest, and thus would be much more likely to find conditions ripe for friendship. Surely some of these tango enthusiast wouldn’t be atheists, and some of them would just be jerks, but Bob would find many more people with whom he shared interests with than he would by traveling his local bars. He’d probably even be more likely, if the internet-communities he found were well-populated, to find local people who shared those interests.

Surely, Bob could also mix the quests from geography and affinities. Local tango clubs would be much more likely to allow him to find “Bob’s people” than bars, but we shouldn’t forget that not all Bobs like the tango, and not all interests lend themselves to clubs. This is the essential reason that, forced to come down on a side, I’d argue that internet-originating relationships are likely to be deeper and more durable than the proximity-originating kind.

And so, we’re ready to tackle that title. Around a year ago, this sentence was making the rounds:

Twitter makes me like people I’ve never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life

This is, if I may, exactly my point. Twitter is generally a place that people collect an affinity group, a set of people–authors, movie stars, bloggers, software developers–they like and admire. Facebook is mostly a place people use to catalog those with whom they’ve shared physical space over the course of their life. It was, in light of these facts, utterly inevitable that people who saw both groupings would prefer one to the other.

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