Do you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again in your relationships?
For example, do you have a tendency to ignore red flags and constantly end up in relationships that aren’t healthy for you?
Maybe you end up in relationships where the initial chemistry is good, but a few months later, you’re looking for any way out.
Well, if any of those descriptions describe you (or a friend who needs some advice!), then give this podcast a listen.
My guests today argue that your problem is that you let yourself get suckered by love. Their names are Michael and Sarah Bennett. Michael is a psychiatrist. Sarah is Michael’s daughter and a comedy writer. I had them on the show previously to talk about their book F*ck Feelings. In their latest book, F*ck Love, they focus on the most messed up feeling of all: love.
Despite the irreverent title of their book, the Bennetts provide surprisingly solid and old-fashioned advice when it comes to establishing long-lasting and fulfilling relationships. They discuss why our emotions can lead us astray in relationships and why men are actually more prone to being bamboozled by romantic feelings than women. They then share both the red flags and the positive qualities you should be on the lookout for in a partner if you want a happy relationship. They also discuss what you should do in a relationship in which you’re not happy and why couple’s therapy is often not very useful.
This is a podcast full of laughs, as well as some seriously helpful insights on how to navigate relationships effectively.
Note: Even though the title of the book contains “F*ck,” there’s no swearing in this episode.
- Why love (and romance) is overrated, and how it leads us astray
- Why you should follow your brain, not your gut
- The part that romance does play in a relationship
- Why the Bennetts’ approach to relationships is actually old fashioned
- Instead of searching for a soul mate, why you should think of yourself as a “romance recruiter”
- What to look for in a long-term partner
- Why you shouldn’t enter into a relationship thinking that you can change people characteristics
- The “Liz Lemon Dealbreakers” to look for in a relationship
- How to battle the feel-good chemicals that blind us to bad relationships
- The importance of having a friend who can tell you the truth about your relationships
- Attributes that we think make for a good partner, but really don’t
- How charisma can get in the way of a relationship
- Why Jane Austen would enjoy F*ck Love
- How communication in a relationship is actually overrated
- Does your familial relationship predict anything about your romantic relationships?
- The potential relational downsides of being physically attractive
- Why someone who isn’t as physically attractive shouldn’t lose hope about dating and relationships
- Advice for folks who are already married or in a long-term relationship
- How to think of your partner’s annoying habits or undesirable characteristics
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- My podcast with Michael about F*ck Feelings
- Why to Treat Your Relationship Like a Bank Account
- 14 Red Flags to Look for in a Relationship
- Marriage as a Master Mind
- “You complete me!”
- 6 Tips for Successful and Gentlemanly Online Dating
- My podcast with Brad Wilcox about the surprising benefits of marriage
- Study that shows loves blinds us to other problems
- Study that shows men fall in love faster than women
- Why Every Man Should Read Jane Austen
- How to Cut Toxic People Out of Your Life
- The Power of Marriage Meetings
Just like their first book, F*ck Feelings, the Bennetts provide solid, down-to-earth insights while making you laugh along the way. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you’re going to find something useful in F*ck Love.
Connect With Michael and Sarah Bennett
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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And thanks to Creative Audio Lab in Tulsa, OK for editing our podcast!
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Do you find yourself making the same mistakes in your relationships? For example, do you have a tendency to ignore red flags and constantly end up in relationships that aren’t healthy for you? Or, maybe you end up in a relationship where the initial chemistry is good but a few months later you’re looking for any way out. If any of those descriptions describe you or a friend who needs some advice then give this podcast a listen. My guests today argue that your problem is that you let yourself get suckered by love. Their names are Michael and Sarah Bennett. Michael is a psychiatrist, Sarah is Michael’s daughter and a comedy daughter. I had them on this show previously to talk about their book F Feelings, and their latest book, F Love, they focus on the most messed up feeling of all, love. And, despite the irreverent title of the book, the Bennetts provide surprisingly solid and old fashioned advice when it comes to establishing long lasting and fulfilling relationships.
They discuss why our emotions could lead us astray in relationship and why men are actually more prone to being bamboozled by romantic feelings than women. They then share both the red flags and the positive qualities you should again look out for in a partner if you want a happy relationship. They also discuss what you should do in a relationship in which you are not happy and why couples therapy is often not very useful. This podcast is full of laughs as well as some seriously helpful insights in how to navigate relationships effectively. Don’t worry, despite the title, the show is family friendly, safe for work, so you don’t have to worry about anything like that, there’s no bad, salty language in it. After the show is over, check out the show notes at AOM.is/Flove.
All right. Dr. Michael Bennett, Sarah Bennett, welcome back to the show.
Michael Bennett: We’re glad to be here.
Sarah Bennett: Yes, hello, thank you.
Brett McKay: Last time we had you on, we had you on a year ago to talk about your book, “F Feelings.” We had a great response with it. The whole idea of it, you’re a shrink, Michael, and the idea is based on your experience in your practice is letting people know that feelings are overrated and you can’t put too much credence into them and how to manage those feelings that we have. You have a new book out about one of the most troublesome feelings that has plagued humanity since Adam and Eve, basically, F Love. It’s subtitle is “One shrink’s sensible advice for finding a lasting relationship,” and the whole thrust of the book is basically love is overrated. Why is that? Why is love overrated and how does it lead us astray in life?
Sarah Bennett: So, why is love overrated, well, we’re talking here, this book is for people who are trying to figure out how to have a long lasting relationship or whether they want one in the first place. When you’re really looking for someone that you want to be with for the rest of your life, the romance element isn’t really that important in the long run. I’m not a married person, I’m sort of a happily not married person, but my parents have been married for 40 years, my sister has been married for 10 years and four kids.
And, what we always say is that the bulk of married life isn’t about flowers and chocolates, it’s about wiping children’s butts, or just paying bills or doing stuff that isn’t romantic at all. So, when you really follow your feelings and follow your heart or your gut, another thing we always say “Follow your brain, not your gut. Your gut is literally full of shit.” That’s why it’s important to not get tied up in romance and good feeling when your goal is to be with someone through a lot of boring or bad feelings or a lot of conflict, because that’s really what a lot of marriage is, to know that you have a strong enough partnership that you can get through that stuff and still like each other even if you’re not still totally hot for each other all the time.
Brett McKay: This isn’t to say that romance, you shouldn’t discount romance completely, it’s a part, but it’s only a part of a relationship.
Sarah Bennett: Exactly. You can’t force yourself to be with someone that you don’t feel some spark with or have some romantic attraction to, but when you’re looking for that partner that you want to be with longterm, the romance part isn’t the most important. It has to be there to some degree or else you’re going to end up resenting the crap out of whoever you are with and being really annoyed with yourself and sort of force yourself to be with someone. There is so much stuff that’s more important than romance in the long term, and if you want to be with someone for the long term, you can’t let romance blind you to those elements and whether they’re there or not.
Michael Bennett: I see a lot of people in my practice who are suffering because their relationships are falling apart they’re on the edge of divorce. It’s not that the romance has dried up, it has more to do with the pressures that come from survival or raising kids, you’re going through economic hard times. If one of them doesn’t work as hard as the other or isn’t reliable or doesn’t hang around, isn’t the steady kind of person, creates so much pain and disappointment and there’s nothing anybody can do about it once you get to that point. This is sort of a plea for people to be their own matchmaker, even if they’re carried away by lots of love and attraction. They’d have to have some to make somebody eligible, but to go through a sort of logical, sensible, routine way of vetting and screening people so that they don’t wind up with a heartbreak I see five or ten years later.
Brett McKay: We’ll talk about how you screen that. I think it’s interesting about your approach, it is in a lot of ways old fashioned, because I think in the past few, particularly in the 20th century, this idea that a relationship should be all about love, and you have to have that spark and you have that chemistry and if you don’t have that chemistry anymore, then you just end the relationship. It seemed like before the 20th century relationships or marriage was more practical, like you married someone because they were going to help you further your goals and you were going to help them further their goals, you could establish, you know, you created a family, you could help each other economically. So, it was very geared towards that and it seems like you are in a way reviving that a little bit.
Michael Bennett: Very much so, and in previous times, families knew one another more, there was less mobility. You had more and more single people in the city where there is nobody to do any screening for them, where families don’t know one another, where you don’t know … If you see somebody on Tinder or match.com, you don’t know what their backgrounds are or whether they are who they say they are, so you have to do it al yourself.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about this screening process. Instead of searching for a soul mate, which a lot of people, it’s the goal for a relationship, someone that fulfills them, completes them, as Jerry Maguire said. You suggest seeing yourself as a romance recruiter. What does this involve?
Michael Bennett: The major thing I think you look for, I think recruiter is a really good word to use because a lot of the common sense elements are the same ones that people use when they are recruiting somebody for a job. I think you begin by asking yourself what you want the person for, what they’re supposed to do to make your life better. Do you want them so you can start a family? Do you desperately need some more financial resources in order to do what you want to do? Do you need somebody who is calm because you get very, very anxious? The things that you think you need, you want to list them. That’s a good way to begin and put that into a job description. Then, you try to think about the aspects of character and accomplishment that need to be there, which is exactly of course what you do when you recruit somebody for any job. The experience they have to have, the strength of character, reliability, honesty, their ability with money, and once you get into that mindset I think you have a grounding that helps you when you do fall in love and care a lot about somebody that you can keep on coming back to, so that you hold off a little bit on the intimacy and the trust until you’re really sure they check out.
Sarah Bennett: Yeah, because a lot of the patients my father sees that have romance relationship related issues or he said the huge segment, the number of people getting divorced, but the other chunk of them were people, usually women that are getting burnt out on online dating, and that’s why having a sort of list for yourself whether you’ve literally written it down or you’ve just given it good consideration. I mention that because the idea of doing homework for me personally is entirely irritating and daunting and that’s what writing a list seems like. Really, thinking about it so that when you do look at profiles and subsequently decide on dating someone you don’t waste time trying to figure out, “Well, I know this guy seems like he might not be right in these ways but he seems really nice, maybe I should give him a chance.” No, hold firm to your standards so you don’t end up spending a lot of time with a guy because you feel obliged to, you don’t want to be mean. You’re not being mean to him and you’re being mean to yourself, because you’re going to end up burned out and going to see a shrink in an office building in the middle of nowhere in Brookline, Massachusetts. Keep that list in mind to keep yourself from not wanting to date, period. It’s going to keep you from really burning out entirely.
Brett McKay: What are some of the things you should be looking, big picture things you should be looking for in a person to figure out, like, this person would be good for a long term, fulfilling relationship?
Michael Bennett: Very much if you were going into business partnership you would look for these same things. You would look for reliability, a good track record with relationships. A good track record of being honest and responsible. If they aren’t good with money, they let you manage their money. Look at what they’ve spent their money on as an expression of what their values are, what they care most about. How hard working are they, how decent are they? Those are the kind of things that are really going to matter in the long run.
Brett McKay: As you said in the book, these things are important because they are character attributes, and character attributes typically are static. The temperament we have now is probably the temperament we’re going to have when we’re 40 or 50, and a lot of people have the idea that people thing “If I marry her she’ll change, I can help change her,” but that typically doesn’t happen, right?
Michael Bennett: You put your finger on it. Most people come to a shrink because they really want something to change and it’s clear by that time what they’re upset about was there at the beginning and it’s not one of those things that is going to change. We also talk about how we can tell whether somebody is going to change. It’s not a matter that shrinks have any great insight into it’s common sense. First of all, does somebody really want to change, not just to make you happy, but because they don’t like that quality in themselves. Second of all, when they really tried, did they get anywhere if they want to try? You know, if you want them to change but they don’t see it, they’re not motivated other than to make you happy, you know it’s not going to happen. That’s when people come to see a shrink and say, “You talk to him and you try to make him understand that he needs to change,” except if they haven’t been able to make somebody see I can’t do it. It’s game over and you just have to accept that they are who they are.
Sarah Bennett: It’s not even a matter necessarily of change as much as management. If you know you have a terrible temper and you try and learn exercises in anger management, then at least you recognize the issue and you’re doing all that you can about it. But, if you meet someone and figure out they have a bad temper and they don’t even want to talk about it then that’s not going anywhere, that person doesn’t even think they have a problem that needs management in the first place. That should be a major sign that this is not going to work out.
Brett McKay: Like red flags, right, people always talk about relationship red flags that you should be on the lookout for. Are there any red flags that people should look out for that are in the words of Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, “Deal breakers,”?
Sarah Bennett: I always try and point out what should be obvious ones, but aren’t because they are really attractive qualities, you know, in terms of people that you meet them and they are very intense and they don’t have a lot of boundaries, because that can be very exciting. Especially, if it’s women, those are the kind of women that guys later say, you know, “All women are crazy.” It’s like, no, you just dated someone who was literally crazy. Someone who is telling you their life story and how much they want to make a baby with you within an hour of meeting you, that should have been obvious that that is not a stable human being, but it’s a very attractive thing. Or, guys that are sort of the sexiness of not seeming to care about a lot, all the cliches that go into the bad boy.
These are very clear signs as appealing as they might be that some guy seems to live in a leather jacket, or God forbid, couch surf eternally, or use a lot of drugs. These are all things that you would think, “Oh, well, that’s obviously terrible,” but some part of our lizard brain is like, “Oh, that guy sees nice.” No, no, not good, red flag. Don’t get suckered in. It’s easier as you get older, certainly, because you’ve been there and you’ve done that or you’ve seen it happen to your friends or you’re just a jaded old fart. It’s certainly important to remind the youth or remind yourself that lots of women fall into the trap of falling for the same kind of loser over and over again. Certainly, like the guys I mentioned that say all women are crazy, to a certain point you need to recognize you have a weakness for these really bad attributes that are really appealing unfortunately, and you cannot let yourself fall into that trap again. But, the most obvious, the things that you think would be the most obvious red flags just because they create that attraction all of the time, they are, they end up being green or checkered flags drawing people into these bad relationships they should have known to avoid in the first place.
Brett McKay: It’s hard, though. They’ve done studies on this and have written about … Love literally blinds us, like, we have all these chemicals when we’re in that romantic feel good phase of a relationship at the beginning, it literally, like, we just become dumb. We ignore these things. What I think is interesting, too, is that men have a tendency to fall in love faster than women. They really hit it hard and so you tend to overlook these things. How do you battle that? How do you battle the dopamine, the oxyto- whatever that oxytoxin stuff that floods your brain that makes you blind to these red flags or these attributes? How do you overcome that?
Michael Bennett: Our advice is simply to borrow well established techniques in business and say, “Develop your techniques while you’re feeling particularly sane and grounded, drawing on your past experience, before the endorphins hit you and before you go blind with sex or lust or love or neediness or whatever, and stick with it. Then, use your experiences to where your weaknesses are. Sarah often talks about recruiting a friend and asking a friend to hit you over the head if they think you’re making the same mistake. It’s not personal. You’re not saying to your friend, “Do you like him? Do you like the way we are together? Do we look good together? Are we good for one another?” You’re saying to your friend, “If you think I haven’t done my due diligence and you think this person is showing some bad signs, don’t hesitate to speak up and tell me to review the facts harder, improve my technique.”
Sarah Bennett: Yeah, in terms, that you know, we say make a list of the qualities you want, but if you have a habit of dating losers over and over again, it’s worth sitting down and making a list of the qualities those losers had in common. They didn’t have a fixed address, they had final notice bills lying around whatever home they were crashing at, they seemed to be using a lot drugs and not being very open about it, and then giving that list to your friends and saying, “If I bring a guy around or if you’re with me in a bar and a guy has any of these qualities, feel free to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, this guy has got three, five, and heads up, you wanted me to tell you and I’m telling you,” so it doesn’t feel like a personal attack on the new love of your life. But, it’s also in terms of you have your wing woman or really your bodyguard that could help you to avoid those feelings.
Like you said, one thing I found interesting that my dad told me years ago is he has patients who are bipolar, especially women, and they feel mania coming on, one of the signs is sometimes that men start finding them irresistible, like men will stop them on the street and that, to them, aside from any of the other internal or mental signs to them that maybe they’re becoming a little unbalanced, releasing this viscery chemical of nuttiness that is a magnet for guys is always to them a reminder of “Oh, I probably need to check in with my shrink and maybe adjust my meds, I think I’m going a little insane.”
Yeah, there is a very strong natural magnetism even among sane people that can be very hard to ignore, but if you have fallen victim to being tricked over and over again into dating the same bad people or just fall in love too fast like you said, it’s worth having someone spot you. But, it’s also, you know in doing events on how the audience breaks down to the majority of it being women instead of men. I don’t know whether it’s biological or whether it’s conditioning, but certainly since the age of 11 or 12, I remember being in summer camp and issues of 17 and YM being passed around that had quizzes in them, that’s kind of why we put them in the book that are I’d say, “What kind of guy is right for you,” “What kind of guy meshes with your horoscope,” and all that nonsense. I don’t think guys are asked to think that way. Again, I don’t know if it’s women naturally think that way or not, but I know that isn’t what’s in guy magazines. I keep joking around, sometimes I think the checklist that guys develop is based on country songs, in terms of “Does she wear tight jeans; will she ride in the back of my pickup and party down by the creek.”
You know, guys need to think more about this stuff in general, I think, so they don’t fall in love so fast, so they develop a better BS detector that women have been developing since they were tweens, you know. I think it will be more helpful to them, it will save their sanity more, save them from heartbreak, save their credit, because women, like I said, we’ve been trained for years, and we’re doing the best we can, but men need to get some of that training themselves, not just for our sake, but for their own.
Brett McKay: So, the rest of the book, you delve into different attributes that we think make for a good relationship or a great partner and we’ve been kind of talking about it a little bit, but individuals who seem magnetic, you’re just drawn to them, they have a personality that just draws you to them. It’s this idea of charisma, and you guys say “charisma is overrated.” How is it that charisma can get in the way of a good relationship? Any examples from your experience, Michael, with patients that where they fell for a charismatic person or, they, themselves are very charismatic and it caused some heartache in the end?
Michael Bennett: I think you’re right. I mean, each of these qualities can be very attractive, but they each carry around dangers. If you’re very charismatic and attract a lot of people, you really have more trouble figuring out who really likes you for yourself. It’s a kind of personality beauty, so you have to be better at sifting through things to see what relationships really are right for you because you know, when you’re really popular, everybody wants to talk to you. On the other hand, if you’re attracted to somebody charismatic, you have to find out whether in spite of the charge and the pleasure you get from talking to them whether they’re caught up in it and so much like the social world that after a while you get lost as soon as you stop being a novelty. Did they really, really like you, and have good reason to build a life with you or did they like socializing or politicizing things so much that after a while your novelty wears off? You have to be careful with that, and reading a little bit about charismatic people or reading a novel can kind of alert you to the dangers and help you keep your eyes open until you’re more confident that the relationship is bigger and deeper than just a matter of mutual attraction.
Brett McKay: As I was reading your book, the thing that came to mind was like, man, do you know who would like this book, I think Jane Austen would really dig this book. I’ve read her novels and her novels seem to be like, yeah, love with your heart, but also love with your head. It’s OK to have some passion, but like you’ve also got to be careful for the Mr. Darcy’s out there, and kind of not be carried away by that visceral reaction you have with people.
Sarah Bennett: Yeah, she’s my patron saint, I think. Her villains are guys who are very good at communicating and getting close quickly, and suddenly our heroine finds she’s able to open up and be very sympathetic with somebody she’s never known before, and only later does she find out that he’s taken money that he didn’t have or that he betrayed somebody. That happens again and again, and especially for women in that age when they didn’t have any resources of their own, they weren’t allowed to inherit, these are women where it’s a survival issue. If they slip with a guy their lives are over. So, in a certain way, these are life and death dramas. They aren’t just drawing room chatting. Then, the people that were solid would often be guys who were less communicative, less easy to talk to, somewhat tongue tied, harder to get to know, but then when you got to know them, you got information that they were always reliable, that they would put themselves out for you, that once they cared about you, they didn’t get distracted very easily, so, yes, I think that she really set the boundaries and the themes that we need to pay attention to today.
She, also realizing was it in Pride and Prejudice the guy who runs off with her younger sister? The red flag of guys that talk about people who have wronged them. People or women, too, anyone who talks about ex-friends or being betrayed, that’s usually a huge red flag that this person betrays other people a lot. They are, to use the clinical term and explanation from our first book, well, the censored version, an a-hole, because a-holes tend to get into fights with people because they feel like that person has done them wrong, because they feel like they’re incapable of doing wrong. An a-hole is the world’s perfect victim, they’re the only righteous person on earth. If someone very quickly in a boundary-less way starts talking about, “Well, this person wronged me,” and you know, but really, it turns out that you tried to run off with their younger sister as, yeah, it’s Pride and Prejudice. They’re all ones, all those PBS miniseries in my head. That is an Austen era red flag that exists to this day. She was teaching us all an important lesson.
Michael Bennett: There is a character in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett’s best friend who is a little old and doesn’t have any money, and is only fair looking. She really wants to have a family, so she accepts a proposal from a rather socially awkward and somewhat repulsive minister who is a reliable guy and you know, he’ll make a living and he won’t mess around, and he’ll be helpful around the house, but he certainly isn’t a terribly attractive person. Elizabeth says to her old friend, “How could you lower yourself to marry that creep,” and her friend very correctly says to her, “Look, you’ve got better prospects. This is the best compromise I can make, and I do it willingly and proudly.” She’s a sort of minor character, but she’s really at the moral center of Jane Austen’s universe.
Brett McKay: That’s some great stuff. If you guys haven’t read Jane Austen, I even recommend guys read Jane Austen, because there’s a lot you can learn from that 18th century female writer. Let’s talk about some of the other characteristics that often get overrated in relationships. One of them you talked about is communication, which is crazy, because most of the books about relationships out there are about how to communicate better, the Mars v. Venus thing, that’s why marriage therapists exist, so couples can learn how to communicate better, but you all said that it’s all for not, pretty much. Why do you think communication is overrated in a relationship?
Sarah Bennett: Certainly, in a lot of cases, women are looking for verbal communication, but there are a lot of guys out there that don’t necessarily communicate what they feel verbally, but through their actions. You might be dating a guy who is kind of silent at the dinner table at night, but he does do all of the dishes and he then shovels the snow out of the driveway and later makes sure that the kitchen is cleaned up and the garbage is taken out. To me, what my father would recommend after seeing couples or women that come in and complain about this is what’s really more important. It’s not like you can’t get chat elsewhere. We always say, “Get a cat,” or, “Go get a haircut, hang out with your girlfriends.” There are lots of people that will want to talk about those sorts of things, but if you’re dating someone who shows good character and caring through what they do, even, and not through the conversation that they have, that’s worthwhile. That’s worth keeping an eye on. Just being able to communicate through conversation isn’t really all that important if the communication is coming through in other ways.
Also, one of my favorite jokes, I wish I could take credit for, but that is my dad’s, and I might have even said it before, I will probably have it as my epitaph because it’s just so funny to me, because it’s a fart joke, which is sort of my raison d’être. But, that a lot of people when they go into marriage counseling, that they’re going for referee not so much to resolve issues, but to declare a winner. They also feel like they need to communicate and vent. What my father said is “the venting of marital disputes in therapy is often like the venting of intestinal gas. It gives you a moment of catharsis, but then poisons the air for you and everyone around you for an indeterminate period of time.” There are some things that you should not communicate because they will only lead to more conflict or they will create lingering resentment that does not go away. If someone can communicate positive feelings through positive actions, or if you learn to withhold certain communication because you know it’s not going to have any positive result and will in fact have a lot of negative result. Verbal communication or communicating feelings, etc., is not a good thing. It’s important to know what to communicate and when, or how to communicate it best, but not to just communicate, period. A sort of value on communication in any form is not a positive in a marriage long-term.
Michael Bennett: That’s why we’d get into as much as it would be nice, if you could solve all of your problems by bedtime and feel better when you go to sleep, that there are a lot of problems that you can solve by bedtime, there are some differences that are never going to get solved. Sometimes, if you want to do your best by your marriage, you have to take your anger or your hurt and just do your best and try to get to sleep and the next morning, either you’re going to decide it’s just not something that’s worth talking about or you’re going to figure out a better way to talk about it than you would have when you were feeling tired and hurt. Marital communication, as nice as it is to be spontaneous, in such an important partnership, it really makes sense to be careful about what you say.
Sarah Bennett: We put it as we always thought the expression was “Don’t go to bed angry,” one interviewer we spoke to from Texas said that there, they say, “Don’t let the sun set on your anger.” We explained that maybe sometimes it’s better to have that happen than let it rise on your infinite regret, so.
Brett McKay: Another thing that people are often told to look for when they’re doing this relationship sleuthing to see if someone is right for them is to look at their family life. Look if they have a good relationship with their family, if their parents have a good, strong relationship, because the idea is well, if they grew up in a positive family life, they grew up with parents that put a good example of what good marriage should look like, then that’s going to carry over to my relationship with that person. But, you guys argue that that’s not necessarily the case. Why is that?
Michael Bennett: We’re always looking at the potential higher risk that goes with that, because with every benefit of any treatment there’s also a risk. In this case, it often has to do with boundaries. If you’ve got a really nice family and you’re very close to them, are you good at pushing away from them and creating your own family with your own partner, and knowing when not to get together with or not to listen to or respond to your own family, because you’re starting your own and your partnership is more important. So that sometimes, people who are attracted by somebody very close to their family finds out later on he is too close to his family, he can’t say no to them, he can’t shut the door on them, he can’t keep telling them everything and sharing too much. Creating that boundary is very important. Closeness is very attractive and warmth is very attractive, but boundaries are really essential when you’re starting up a relationship.
Sarah Bennett: They’re also essential not just if you have a very close family, but if you have very crazy parents. I talked to New York Magazine’s blog about relationships where I mentioned that my father’s mother, my grandma was, and I said the clinical term was insane. She’s been dead for 20 years, so her feelings would not be hurt by that, but my dad managed to keep her crazy from impacting our family negatively by creating those boundaries, by telling her when she would show up for a weekend visit with enough giant suitcases for a two week visit that it was not going to become a two week visit, that he was very happy that she was coming to see us and really appreciated her company, but because of our work and school schedules, it was a trip that was going to end on Monday morning as discussed.
That doesn’t have anything to do with your parents and it’s generally not easy to have a crazy parent overall as my father has explained to me through stories of his childhood many times. Your spouse and your kids did not sign up for that. You created this family and they have to come first. It’s not an easy skill to acquire, but it’s a necessary one, not an impossible one. If you do come from a nutty family and you’re trying to create a not-nutty family.
Brett McKay: It could go the other way, too, like, your potential partner might have fantastic parents, and you’re like, “Wow, what a great family. I want to be a part of this family,” but your actual partner, they’re actually crazy. Like, the fruit, the apple fell far from the tree.
Michael Bennett: Yes.
Brett McKay: That actually can lead you astray.
Sarah Bennett: Yes, there are plenty of examples of people who married someone because their parents are so loving, but they’re not a great parent themselves, and you could try and explain that in a shrinky way in terms of the parenting had x and y effect. I write fart jokes, I won’t even bother to try. The important thing is to just not get blinded, to actually look at your partner’s track record, not just their parent’s track record. That’s what every chapter is about, it’s looking at these traits beyond the superficial assumption that they’re all good traits, a good family is always good, or a sense of humor is always good. Yes, definitely, someone who comes from an excellent family, a sane family can be not so excellent or sane themselves.
Michael Bennett: When therapy was sort of getting going, therapists would put a great deal of weight on how you could create trust, confidence, and reliability in your kids by being good parents. The reverse was that if you saw good parents you would assume that the parents would be pretty good. But, I think what you see over time in your own life is that some really good parents sometimes have some very, very difficult kids, and some very difficult parents hae some really good kids and the only explanation is genetics is kind of a lottery, so that you’ve got to be very careful not to make assumptions, which is exactly what you’re saying.
Brett McKay: Another thing that leads people astray are looks, beauty, handsomeness, etc. I think we all understand what are the potential downsides of being in a relationship based purely on physical attraction. That’s like Jane Austen stuff right there. You end up, I think, I forgot which book it was, like the dad of one of the heroines married his wife because she was beautiful and charismatic and 30 years later, he despises her. What are the downsides of being attractive yourself? For whatever reason genetics has blessed you with physical attractiveness. What are the potential downsides of that?
Michael Bennett: A lot of it is you have to be really tough about sizing people up, because so many people want to be with you and want to be nice to you. You have to know what you want in life so you can pursue it. If you’re a nice person and you’re sensitive you may have trouble being tough enough. You may think so much about their feelings and not wanting to cause them pain that you wind up spending too much time and mental effort reacting to all of these people who really are not going to turn out to be your friend or significant relations and in the meantime you’re not making any progress in finding a person who really would be good for you or just going on with your other pursuits. So, I think the gift of beauty is a curse unless you also have developed a certain technique of your own for centering yourself and being tough about rejecting relationships that you just don’t want.
Sarah Bennett: Also, certainly for women, if you are beautiful or you just have certain physical attributes, you know, you have the legs or the butt, or the boobs that men are attracted to, you’ll get attention, but a lot of it is really creepy, not the kind of attention that you want. Or, you’re attracting the kind of guys that are kind of yucky, or just seem only interested in you because of and that can also be really frustrating and really burn you out. My dad telling me once about a patient who I think did something, their job was somehow appearance based and they were complaining about relationships, and of course, my reaction was, “Oh, boo-hoo, oh, too pretty, wah,” but, no, it was this constant barrage of attention from creeps, and then dating guys and figuring out pretty quickly, “Oh, I’m just an accessory to him, he doesn’t really care about knowing me, I’m just here to impress his friends. I was manipulated.” I can understand now yes, that is legitimate, pretty people have hard lives too, enough that they saw a shrink.
Brett McKay: What do you do if you think “OK, I didn’t win the genetic lottery, not that attractive,” and a lot of people they lose hope about that, like, I’m never going to be able to find a relationship because I’m not handsome, not good looking, what do you say to those folks?
Michael Bennett: First of all, you really try to become as independent as you can. I mean, whether you’re good looking or not, there’s no guarantee you’re going to find somebody, particularly if you’re a woman. There always seem to be more women who are interested and capable of close relationships than there are men. I think women are always caught a little bit in a musical chairs game and if they focus too much on whether they can find somebody or not, they’re making a big deal out of something they fundamentally don’t control. You try to build up your own life and become as aware as you can of the kind of person that you need. Then, it comes down, once your self esteem doesn’t entirely depend on it, on what you were saying earlier on being a very good head hunter, not wasting your time, not making the kind of compromise that would tie you up with somebody so that you’re not free if somebody really good comes along, being really selective. Then, whether you find somebody or not, appreciating what a good job you’re doing, when you’re independent and you’re selective and you’re protecting yourself from those compromises that would be a disaster, you’re doing a very, very good job and that’s all you can do in life. The rest is not up to you.
Sarah Bennett: We also have this thing in the book where we talk about the falsity of the phrase, “There’s someone for everyone.” Part of it is based on the fact that when my parents both worked in the public mental hospital, the “There’s someone for everyone” was a joking catch phrase, which they would use when a patient came in who was extra crazy or usually extra physically gross in terms of they hadn’t showered or their crazy was manifested in their love of eating whatever was in public toilets, really yucky stuff, and those people were always married, always, whereupon everyone on the floor would go, “There’s someone for everyone.”
So, usually, when you really start thinking, “Oh I’m too unattractive, I’m so unattracive I’m not going to find anyone,” that’s just negative thinking, period. You might have done a sort of realistic assessment and said, “Yeah. I weigh more than average,” or, “I don’t have the nose of my dreams.” But, if you’re really thinking, “Oh, well, I’m not good looking enough to find anyone,” trust me, if you were really yucky, if you were really crazy, you would have no trouble finding someone. It has nothing to do with your looks 99% of the time or your breath or any of that stuff. It’s really not within your control and it’s not that simple. So, don’t beat yourself up for appearance or even, you know. Any number of factors in terms of why you’re going to be alone, because if you really didn’t want to be alone just start acting like a lunatic. Go to the public mental hospital. I promise you, you will find someone within 24 hours. But, it’s a pretty high price to pay for sanity. Better to hold on to that.
Brett McKay: Also, it seems to focus on finding someone who displays these characteristics that you talk about in the book. You’ll eventually find them. It might take a while, but you may find them. So far, we’ve been talking about potential long term relationships. What about people who are already in a relationship, who are already in a marriage? Any advice for them, where they are married and five years later they realize that their spouse displays some of the downsides of these things we’ve been talking about? They realize, “OK, I was attracted to this person’s charisma, and now I find it kind of grating.” Any advice for them, do they just keep plugging along and just focus on the positive and downplay the negative aspects?
Sarah Bennett: One thing we always talk about, whether it’s confronting your own shortcomings, or, the shortcomings of a relationship or in the job or anything is doing a sort of honest assessment. Someone might have a really annoying habit, but look at their qualities overall, are there positive contributions? Do they outnumber the negative aspects of their personality or even what they bring to a marriage? If they are always charming people, but you don’t have reason to believe that they are unfaithful and that they’re not driven to please other people to the point where they aren’t fulfilling their duties as a husband, or a father, that they still spend time with the kids, that they’re still keeping on top of their family obligations, then yeah, it is worth sort of just plugging along and finding ways to focus less on it, and other things that you can do so you aren’t so, so that you’re more distracted.
If you find that the opposite is true, then that’s not a quality you can put up with in someone, is someone who is so charming that they are always fooling around and they are never home and they are possibly putting you at risk of any number of venereal diseases, yeah, that’s a deal breaker. But, sometimes, those qualities are outweighed by positive contributions and positive qualities. It’s worth thinking very seriously about that, and not just letting your annoyed feelings and your general disappointment get in the way of or draw you away from a relationship that is more positive than negative.
Michael Bennett: After five or ten years you’ve got a lot of money tied up and things you own together, maybe you’ve got kids, there are so many reasons to assess rather than get into the negative feelings you have when they really irritate you or hurt your feelings. Doing a kind of independent assessment where you’re looking at it in terms of your values or how your partnership advances those values. Trying to think about it from your own point of view is just a very important way of fighting that tendency of getting into the negative feelings that you get when you’re hurt or angry. Then, if you think the relationship is worthwhile anyway, there are positive ways to discuss differences to see whether you can reduce them or negotiate them. Again, they’re very businesslike methods. They rely on talking calmly and positively, rather than saying frankly, “I hate this, and I wonder what you mean by it.” Where you’re trying to say more things like, “Look, I like this about our relationship, you do this well, you do that well, but this one area really makes you less effective and hurts both of us, and I wonder if you could get more of a handle on it. When you get yourself in that frame of mind, you still can’t change people, but you’ve got a better crack at knowing what you value about the relationship and being somewhat more persuasive.
Sarah Bennett: In talking about how marriage used to be or pairing off used to be seen in a more practical and pragmatic way it wasn’t just a matter of survival, but it’s also if you’re from the same small town, or you have the same religious background, there’s a good chance you share the sort of the same values and outlook on life. The reason we put that emphasis on looking at someone’s values is because if you run into conflicts like this or in other areas, then usually you’ll have the same goals. If someone values family and they’re distracted from their family duties, then, if you point that out to them in a business like way, then they will want to get back on track because they care about that as much as you do even if they’re screwing up. It keeps these argument from being personal, or keeps them from being muddled because you don’t share those goals or you don’t see things the same way. If you fundamentally share a goal in terms of the family that you want based on the kind of people you want to be, having these discussions is a lot less fraught and it doesn’t have to be as personal and angry.
Brett McKay: Right, you have to remind them about the corporate mission statement.
Sarah Bennett: Exactly.
Michael Bennett: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Susan, let’s read our mission statement again.
Sarah Bennett: Have some flow charts.
Brett McKay: Yeah, there’s flow charts on everything. Maybe a logo? Michael, Sarah, this has been a great conversation. Where can people learn more about the book?
Sarah Bennett: We have our website, which we usually do answer when people write in with cases, but because we’ve been so busy promoting or writing books, we’ve been a little slacked, but we’ve hired a millennial who knows how to do social media, too. Our website is fxckfeelings.com, but we’re on Facebook, I think, and Instagram and Tumblr, under some, and many iterations of that. It’s all connected to the website, though. We’re all over the inter-web.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Sarah and Michael Bennett, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure. My guests today were Michael and Sarah Bennett. They’re the author of the book F Love. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about their work at fxckfeelings.com. Fxckfeelings.com. You can also find our show notes at AOM.is/flove, where you can find the links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at ArtofManliness.com. If you have enjoyed this show and have got something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, that helps out a lot, getting thee word out about the show, so, thank you for your reviews. As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.