masculinity, men's issues, personal development

Four Things About Robert Bly That May Surprise You

Poet, author, and thought-leader Robert Bly turned 90 last year on Friday, December 23rd. His name will be forever associated with the mythopoetic men’s movement, a loosely-knit group of men, scattered across the country, that gathered during the late 1980s and early 1990s to sing, drum, dance, and reconnect with their bodies. Bly’s book “Iron John” was their inspiration. In that book, he holds that modernization has caused an identity crisis in the modern American male, a crisis that can only be solved by reconnecting with and giving voice to grief; by being initiated into adulthood by older men; and by reconnecting with the earth. The movement gained huge popularity after Bill Moyers interviewed Bly in 1990 in “A Gathering of Men” on PBS. Although the movement was widely criticized, and at times ridiculed, it was the first time, for many men, that we connected with our emotions — the first time they gave themselves permission to feel. Public attention on the mythopoetic men’s movement lasted about five years, but the weekend events and the relationships forged there changed the lives of many men forever and inspired some men’s groups that still exist, such as The Mankind Project.

Bly’s legacy is getting renewed interest and attention since the release last year of “A Thousand Years of Joy”, a film about his life and work. It’s an intimate portrait of a multi-faceted man. Bly’s influence on American culture goes way beyond the mythopoetic men’s movement; his contributions are vast and wide-ranging. Here are some aspects of his life that may surprise you:

Bly made it okay to be introverted. Both through the example of his life, and through his writing, Robert Bly represents the cultivation of self-knowledge through solitude. During his years living in New York City in the early 1950s, he lived in a rented room and met few other poets. Years later, as a successful author and a National Book Award winner, when young students asked for advice on what it takes to become a poet, he’d tell them to live alone for two years and not talk to anyone, because without an experience of solitude, a poet’s words won’t carry the authority of self-knowledge.

But his thirst for solitude and love for the inner life was always balanced by a passion for social justice and a moral outrage against human cruelty. “American Writers Against the Vietnam War” was an organization he founded, with fellow poet David Ray, to provide a vehicle for American intellectuals to voice their opposition to that war. Bly became a frequent sight on college campuses and at anti-war rallies, demonstrations, and teach-ins, bringing his anger over the war to life with poems that had a personal, intimate quality to them. Unlike other political writers who simply gushed their anger onto the page, Bly was introspective and fearless, and wrote poems that were carefully crafted, as in these lines from “Counting Small-Boned Bodies”:

If we could only make the bodies smaller

Maybe we could get

A whole year’s kill in front of us on a desk!

As a sensitive intellectual, Bly provides a model for younger men in this country who may be seeking an alternative to the stereotyped forms of masculinity seen in the media (and taken to an extreme by our president-elect). Their experience is of a man who is sensitive to feeling and expressive of his emotions but still grounded. This is also a man who also sees women in a very different way than in ways many of us were brought up to do.

How much I need

A woman’s soul, felt

In my own knees,

Shoulders and hands.

I was born sad!

(from “Love Poem in Twos and Threes”)

Spending a few hours reading poems like this brings us into the presence of a man who can remain open-hearted and grounded while still remaining true to who he is as a masculine man.

Bly helped us see the world through poetry. Robert Bly was one of the first to introduce American readers to certain poets writing in other languages whose work was mostly unknown outside the cultural traditions from which they came. Through his literary journal The Fifties Press (its name changed with the passing decades), he provided original translations into English of many poets whose names are now familiar to many of us, and whose work is now taught at many high schools and colleges around the country:  Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado, Rumi, Kabir, and Mira Bai – to name just a few. Other writers and poets continue to produce translations of these and other authors from many languages.

Bly was a keen observer of societal shifts. Bly became increasingly disturbed by the ascendancy of youth-centric culture and the social and economic forces that encourage everyone to think of each other as sibling rivals. A world without mentors or people to look up to is a world where people begin the path to adulthood too soon, — but emotional growth stops at adolescence. Previous generations were marked by compromise and sacrifice; people only got about half of what they wanted, but they grew up all the way. In the sibling society, people feel entitled to everything they want, but grow up only halfway.

Since “The Sibling Society” was written the problem’s only gotten worse. Social media is a place where experts’ and dabblers’ opinions both carry equal weight, and where people post news and photos of their achievements online, to the envy of others. Where is the role of mentors and teachers in a world where everyone has equal access to the public’s attention, and where everyone feels entitled to be rich, famous, and successful? Where are the pictures of people’s failures and getting up again, or of making personal sacrifices?

Bly started the Great Mother Conference. Before Robert Bly wrote “Iron John”, and long before he started his men’s workshops, one of his main interests was in the divine feminine. The Conference on the Great Mother was a gathering he started in 1975, inspired by the work of psychologists Carl Jung and Erich Neumann, with the purpose of reclaiming aspects of the divine feminine by seeking evidence of her in other cultures around the world, through what became known as the “mythopoetic imagination” – a revisioning of modern cultural narrative through story and song. This conference still takes place every year near Portland, Maine, and has been renamed “The Great Mother and New Father Conference”. It’s hosted teachers like psychologists Joseph Campbell and James Hillman, as well as Rumi translator Coleman Barks and others.

In addition to these direct influences, Robert Bly’s work has influenced the work of many people in the helping professions – most notably psychotherapists Robert Moore, Douglas Gillette, and John Herald Lee. All publicly acknowledge and give credit to Bly for his inspiration to work with men. His collaboration with Jungian analyst Marion Woodman (“The Ravaged Bridegroom”) has helped thousands of women also, and helped to popularize the writings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes (“Women Who Run With the Wolves”) and others who gave a voice for women’s stories and healing.

Although he never has, and probably never will (because of his politics), serve as our poet laureate, Americans owe a great debt to the life and work of Robert Bly. He introduced us to new ways of being male; he gifted us with translations of poets from other cultures; and his cultural criticisms are every bit as true today as when they were written. We wish him the best on his 90th birthday.


dating, men's issues

Self-improvement: When Friends Don’t Accept Your Changes

Let’s say you’re newly single and dating again; or you never had positive role-models to show you how to show interest in someone in the first place; or you’re recently-arrived to the United States from a country where love and marriage are handled very differently. Or perhaps you’ve simply gotten into some bad habits that make you seem less desirable as a mate. So you put in the footwork to change your dating behavior.  You adjust your mindset and your posture; you discover your style and change your wardrobe; you’ve become acquainted with technologies that didn’t exist or were in their infancy the last time you dated; you clearly define who you are, to yourself and others, and let it show; and you face down your social anxiety and meet a ton of new people. And your efforts are beginning to show results. Suddenly you have a full social calendar again, and you’re on your way to the relationships and the love life that you want.

But your friends – even the ones who said they wanted to see you succeed in this area – don’t respond the way you expected them to. They may say they’re happy for you, but they don’t look happy for you. Instead, they act surprised when you’re no longer available on short notice, or when you show up to a party with a woman by your side. They seem jealous of your new-found ease and freedom in the world of women. Or worse, they try – subtly or overtly – to sabotage you, to reverse your progress.

One unexpected side-effect of changing yourself, which most of the self-help books don’t tell you, is that, when the changes in your life finally start to bear fruit, we sometimes discover there is little in our environment to support our healthy choices. It’s true of any positive change, and it’s true of dating too.

Some people will be pleasantly surprised by behaviors they never noticed in you before, or they’ll notice changes in the way women respond to you and actively show you appreciation and support for your changes. Any time someone just rolls with the changes, even if it’s a neutral statement, you can consider it positive support.

“I had no idea you were such a flirt!”

“How long have women been reacting to you like that!?”

“What have you changed? Something’s different about you.”

But often, friends and loved ones feel threatened by the positive changes you’ve made. Sometimes it’s because your hard work and success puts their own laziness or inaction into stark relief; more often, though, it’s simply the fact that they’ve become attached to the person you used to be, and they don’t want to see that person disappear. So they undermine your changes, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.

“I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.”

“So you’re too good to hang out with us now?”

“I can’t stand your new girlfriend.”

“Why can’t you find someone your own age (race, ethnic group, etc.) to date?”

As strange as it may seem, others have traveled similar territory before, mostly in the realm of alcohol addiction. The husband or wife of the alcoholic gets used to running the household without him or her; if, as functioning improves, the alcoholic begins to take an interest in the activities of the household again, it can lead to problems. Or the alcoholic makes new friends in recovery, and his or her family doesn’t get along with them. In all cases, the codependent partner has become so used to their partner’s dysfunction that they’re uncomfortable when it changes, even for the better.

Dysfunctional relationships perpetuate control and predictability. Healthy relationships allow some chaos – though it’s usually safe chaos – and spontaneity.”

John Herald Lee, Recovery Plain and Simple

In general, the more casual relationships will respond earliest and best to the positive changes you’ve made in your dating life. Family and long-term friends, though, might fear losing you. The praise and encouragement you were expecting from them might not be forthcoming, or in worst-case scenarios, they might actively try to sabotage your progress.

You will almost certainly need to make changes in your social circle that take into account the changes you’ve made in your love life. If you’ve got a girlfriend now, you’ll want to spend more time with your partnered friends than you did before; if you’re single and dating, you’ll want to spend time with other men who are single and dating. In this, as in most things, you need to use balance and good judgment:  there’s no need to stop seeing your single friends altogether, even if you’re partnered, and no need to avoid married friends if you’re single.

How will you know whether changes are in order? Here are a few telltale signs:

  • You’ve had the unusual feeling that people you’ve met more recently know you better than friends who have known you a long time.
  • Your old friends show disdain for your new lifestyle, or actively work to sabotage it.
  • They actively judge, berate, or show hostility to your new friends or your partner.

Understanding Vs. Compassion

Keep in mind that long-term friends and close family often bring benefits that far outweigh any support they can give you over a change in a single area. If people close to you don’t understand your new lifestyle, but aren’t actively sabotaging it, you don’t need to separate yourself from them. They may love you, even if they don’t understand you. As always, be clear with yourself about what you want. Most people, if they had to choose only one, would prefer to be loved than understood.

Some of your friends might be curious. They may even want to know how you did it, and express interest in making some changes themselves. If you think it’s appropriate, you can go ahead and answer questions. Just keep in mind that your decision to change almost certainly came at the end of a lengthy decision-making process. The same will be true for them; don’t expect to short-cut the process for them.

Some coaches recommend changing your whole environment:  job, residence, social circle, and venues (bars, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) where you spend a lot of time. This isn’t always possible, or even desirable (except in cases where they try to sabotage your progress). But in all cases, you should continue to practice your new behavior, even in the face of resistance from people closest to you. Gradually, they’ll become used to your new-found habits. Once they realize they won’t lose you, they’ll develop new expectations for you.

confidence, dating, men's issues, personal development

Four Mistakes Men Make Before the Third Date

It’s happened to all of us: you’re getting to know a woman, and you both seem to be hitting it off. Maybe that first date is some stimulating, shared outing; the second date, something more quiet and conversational. But by the third date, whatever it is, something fizzles. Suddenly you realize that she’s not the catch you thought she was; or she’s visibly turned off by something you didn’t even know you were doing. Or worse, you think it’s gone really well – but you don’t hear back from her. Or she sends you a polite note saying thanks, but you’re not for her.

A young  loving  couple hugging and kissing on the beach at suns

If you’ve spent a lot of time giving and receiving dating advice, as I have, you know that it’s dangerous to overthink any single interaction. Every situation, and every woman, is different, and each early interconnection has its own trajectory that includes a feminine person, a masculine person, the dating environment, logistics, and our inner lives. There are too many variables to look at in any meaningful way, and in any case, it’s best not to ascribe motives to a woman that she hasn’t verbalized to you herself.

But there are some common pitfalls. They’re easy to avoid if you’re careful; if you know how to relax; and if you can communicate well and circulate your desire through your body. (If you don’t know how to do these things, get in touch with me.) For these tips to be effective, you need to know what (and who) you’re looking for.  You also need to demonstrate that knowledge through your every word and action; be in touch with your own feelings and desires, and be honest with yourself about them.

Mistake #1.  Showing continued interest when you’re no longer interested. Why do we men do this? Maybe we’re acting out of fear and scarcity and want to “lock in” what we have; maybe we’re not sure what we’re looking for; or maybe we’re planning to keep her on the sidelines for NSA sex. In all cases, you’ve already decided she’s not what you want, but you find yourself making plans with her anyway. You continue to text her, you flirt with her, maybe you even go on another date or two.

It’s often worth sticking around for a while to find out if your feelings for her change. People can, and do, find the love of their lives in someone who “isn’t my type” or who made a bad first impression. If there is only one aspect of her you find unappealing, and everything else looks good, it’s wise to be patient with yourself, and with her. But if you find the thought of calling her again exhausting; if you’re easily bored this early in the interconnection and have to constantly resist the urge to look at your phone or at other women in the room; or if (yes, this needs to be said) she absolutely disgusts you, you need to break it off – early and cleanly. To do anything else is a disservice to her and to yourself. These are not the same rules that govern a long-term relationship. In a committed relationship, there are going to be moments when we find our partners exhausting, boring, or disgusting, and our job, as loving partners, is to love our women through their least attractive moments. But the relationships that survive these moments are those grounded in deep physical and emotional connection. If it isn’t there from the beginning, you won’t be doing either of you any favors by continuing to stay with her. It’s better to be alone than with the wrong person. (Women understand this, by the way, better than we do, in recent years.)

Know your desire. Get acquainted with what it feels like in your body, and in your heart. Trust your deepest wisdom. If you’re still not sure, talk to your friends.

Mistake #2. Being too nice. It’s fine to give her a compliment – once. But if you continue to do so, she may think you’re being too nice, and if it continues past a certain point, she might actually stop believing you.

Recent research suggests that being a jerk, counterintuitively, can get results. High disagreeableness correlates with a wider variety of sexual partners, and the correlation cuts across all demographic and socioeconomic groups. But the same women who select men for casual sex select different men for long-term relationships, and those men tend to be kinder and more sensitive. Bottom line:  if you’re a nice guy looking for a casual fling, you might need to cultivate some qualities, such as social dominance and insensitivity, that don’t come naturally to you, and if you’re a disagreeable man looking for a long-term relationship, you need to blunt your edges.

Don’t be afraid to give her a sincere compliment about something you notice about her. Choose one aspect of her, preferably some choice she’s made, an accessory or an article of clothing, rather than some aspect of her face or body, and deliver your compliment sincerely and with good eye-contact. Let her hear it, and see how it lands. How she handles a well-delivered compliment will tell you a lot about her.

Being too generous is part of this “too-nice” quality. Spending more money than you usually do on a night out will be picked up as low-value behavior, and will actually decrease your chances of another date. Don’t take a cab if you normally take the subway; don’t take her to a five-star restaurant if you’d normally go for pizza. Although, for some women, high income communicates high status and marriageability, if it isn’t genuine, the outcome will be worse. You may think you can fake it, but trust me, she will know if you’re using payment methods you’re not used to, or negotiating wine lists you don’t know anything about. Even if she feels special to you, demonstrating it by being overly generous will lead her to expect such treatment all the time. Can your wallet handle it?

Mistake #3:  Not touching her. The topic of kino and physical escalation is a controversial one, but I’ll say it directly:  from the first interaction, you need to be touching her, at least in social ways if not romantically or seductively. Even during a chat between friends, there’s a physical conversation happening, or not, that sets the tone for the entire interconnection. It’s worth paying attention to what’s socially acceptable in her culture; some societies value touching more than others. But by date #3, an interconnection is defined, in large part, by how two people are handling each other physically. (And recent studies show that physical touch has social benefits that go way beyond sex and romance, but that’s a topic for another article.)

Physical touch is how you separate yourself from her other friends and establish yourself as a potential intimate partner. Elbows and shoulders are usually good starting points for social touch. As emotional intimacy develops, a man can move on to the hands, hair, and the small of her back. Keep alert to her responses, and calibrate accordingly. If she asks you not to touch her, don’t! She should eventually be reciprocating.

Mistake #4.  Giving information instead of emotion.  Information and small-talk are instant killers of romance. “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” Do you really want to ask these questions, or answer them? Women (and, much of the time, men too) want to be taken on an emotional journey. They remember and value feelings, rather than data. Tell stories she’ll remember, give her impressions of textures, sights, aromas. Your own feelings are a great guide here. If you’re bored, chances are that she is too. If you’re relaxed and having a good time, she likely is as well. It’s probably better to be a bit of a jerk than to be boring on a first, second, or third date. Don’t be afraid to voice your strong opinions on wine, music, or politics. Ask her for her opinions too, and playfully challenge them if she sounds too deferential or accommodating.

You can talk about the weather, if the talk reflects your true passions and experiences. But too often, small-talk and information are used as a way to hide – either because we’re shy, or because we’re afraid to make a mistake or to let the woman see us as we are.

Avoiding these mistakes are a good start to getting what you want in the world of dating. Knowing what you want can set the tone for the interconnection. You’ll be able to communicate your desires clearly and, if a connection isn’t what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to break it quickly and honorably. Taking your date on an emotional journey, touching her affectionately, and avoiding insincerity will show her who you really are. And who we are is what we should always aim to be to women. After all, why would we want to be anyone else?

masculinity, men's issues

The Real Reason We Shouldn’t Make Fun of Barron Trump

It had to happen sooner or later that someone was going to take a pot-shot at the new First Family, and it’s not surprising that that shot came from SNL. Comedians, at their best, rub our noses in our own worst nature, and SNL has a long history of lampooning Trump. Trump himself, with his hypermasculinity and proclivity for telling falsehoods, has certainly made himself an easy target. And it’s hard to forget the hate that Obama’s enemies, including Trump, cast on him and his family all the way through Obama’s two terms.

Here’s what’s not being said about this situation:  Any attack on Barron Trump is an attack on the relationship between Trump and his son. And at a time when fatherhood is still evolving and being redefined, that’s criminal.

This is a 10-year-old boy – Trump’s youngest child, and his only child with the First Lady. This is a boy who lacks nothing, who attends private school, who was kept out of the spotlight for much of the Presidential campaign, but who now finds himself the center of unwanted attention, because of his father. This young man, who has his own aspirations and desires – whatever they may be – must look to Trump for those things that only a father can give. He’s looking to experience the world through his father. A father and son have a special relationship: while his role may be to nurture at times, what he really offers a son that no one else can offer is his experience of the world. A father’s role is to help his son explore and understand the world; to help him negotiate the pull between a boy’s desire to explore and his need to respect physical limitations. To provide a safe, loving container to come to terms with the world and its people.

Think about what having, or being, a father means to you. Now imagine, for a moment, what it must be like to have Donald Trump for a father.

I will not put my speculation into words. But sons and daughters look to their fathers for a certain protection from a dangerous world – not necessarily physical protection, but emotional protection. Robert Bly says that, if a boy’s father is unavailable, he’ll look to his mother for that protection. The moment he does that, Bly says, the boy feels shame.

Do not get between Donald Trump and his son, whatever the relationship may be. Don’t cast aspersions on them, don’t ask questions about them. Let Barron Trump and his father fail or succeed in their relationship without interference. To do otherwise will be to add shame to what is almost certainly a very difficult situation for this young man who is currently living in his father’s shadow. This may be hard to hear in the age of helicopter parenting, but his struggles are his, and his alone. Yes, I know he’s only ten. Yes, I know his father is probably not all he should be. The boy may need to do a lot of growing up quickly. That’s the hand he’s been dealt. Yes, he’s privileged. But he’s got his own struggles, whatever they are, and he should inspire neither envy nor pity.

masculinity, men's issues, personal development

Five Books That Shaped Me in 2016

It’s been a year of bizarre, unexpected surprises, both personally and politically. I spent a lot of time alone, reconnecting with my passions, reaquainting myself with old literary loves, and generally taking care of myself. Here are just a few books that helped me on my journey. All of them are masterpieces that yield new insights with repeated readings. Only one was published in 2016, but all of them are still in print and made me stronger as a person and as a man. They’ll do the same for you.2016_books

Just Kids by Patti Smith. The punk rock scene of which Patti Smith was a part didn’t really hit the Long Island suburbs where I grew up until the late 1970s, and by then it was over. I read her memoir last year partly to get caught up on what I missed, as well as to get a sense of Patti herself and the person she’s become since her days with Robert Mapplethorpe. Her descriptions of their life in the East Village are touching and bring to mind images of a New York that has utterly disappeared, as completely as the New York of earlier eras. The people she worked with, the lives she touched, and her journey from an aspiring, poor bohemian to successful performance artist and musician is inspiring. Her account of her lifelong friendship with Mapplethorpe calls to mind how precious — and rare — a true and lasting friendship can be. Smith was in the limelight again this year for her appearance and performance at the 2016 Nobel Prize ceremony for Bob Dylan, at which he failed to appear (viewable here). It’s a beautiful tribute to an American icon.

The Suble Art of Not Giving a F*k, by Mark Manson. Pickup-artist-turned-blogger Mark Manson has taken some of his best-loved ideas and turned them into a book. For a man under 40, he’s incredibly wise and unpretentious. His ideas, though often counterintuitive, make a lot of sense. They’re down to earth and are a good antidote for the pie-in-the-sky school of creative visualization and positive affirmation championed by many New Age personal development authors and the self-esteem movement. For people of my generation, it’s my parents’ advice revisioned and re-articulated, minus the judgments. His key point, which informs the whole book, is about values. Clarifying our values with a fine-toothed comb will help us choose more wisely the things that we care about. And doing that will give us better problems, which in turn give us a better life.

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard M. Halpern. If you need to break an unhealthy romantic attachment — as I did earlier last year — this book is for you. Addiction to alcohol or drugs is well-known, and the remedies are relatively straightforward, though not easy. Addiction to a person is a little harder to define, and the cure is not so simple, but with time, effort, and support, it is possible. The book looks at the phenomenon of “attachment hunger” and all the ways it can interfere with living our best life. It’s a brilliant mix of self-help advice and an explanation, in layperson’s terms, of object relations theory, which is how mental health clinicians explain the ways in which our experiences of other people are formed from an early age. If there are problems getting our attachment needs met during early childhood, it can lead to problems forming healthy relationships later. Parts one and two address the workings of an addiction to a person. You may recognize a lot of your own and others’ toxic behaviors here, but what’s really helpful is the last part, which offers techniques and exercises to break free. These include writing, building a supportive network, and self-talk that promotes self-esteem. There is also a chapter on how to make the best use of psychotherapy, for those who wish to seek professional help in this situation.

Reading the Manson book before reading this book will help you make better use of the exercises here. Remember that affirmations that build self-esteem are only useful if you can find things in your life to feel good about. But as you spend more time alone, become reacquainted with yourself, and take concrete actions that move your life forward, finding things to feel good about gets easier.

Eating the Honey of Words by Robert Bly. I heard Robert Bly read while he was on the Ohio Poetry Circuit in 1978 or 1979, and I’ve been addicted to his work ever since. This book is a selection of poems from his books spanning almost fifty years, and contains work that had not previously been included in any collection. (Bly turned 90 last year; my tribute to his life and work can be found here.) The book is divided into sections that begin with the earliest books and end with the latest, but the divisions overlap and and are not strictly chronological. Still it’s easy to see, in this book, all the ways in which his work has evolved. The poems often contain one or two details from nature that suddenly come in with a revelation about his, or our, inner lives that had previously been unnoticed. But the biggest gift his writing gives to me is he way the shares his experience of the feminine — both the real women in his life, and with his own feminine side. The way he gets in touch with aspects of himself that many men never notice over their whole lives can be an inspiration to the rest of us. A good way to experience “Loving a Woman in Two Worlds” or “Morning Poems” is to read them once, read Iron John or A Little Book on the Human Shadow, and then read the poems again. It’s not for the faint of heart. You might find, for instance, as Bly does in “A Man Writes to a Part of Himself”, that your feminine side has regressed through neglect, and is living in primitive, hostile conditions. Or you might see hints of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, in his seminal protest poem against the Vietnam war, “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” — though she’s never mentioned by name.

The Way of the Superior Man, by David Deida. First published in 1997, and now in its 23rd printing, this book is a beautiful guide, for men or masculine-identified people, for dealing with women or female-identified people. I’ve read it about once a year since 2008, and it yields new treasures every time. Its generalizations may enrage or offend you, but if men read it, take long breaks to breathe fully during those difficult passages, and then go back to it, they will find, after doing this over several years, that the places in the book they find hardest to accept are those that point to their biggest potential for growth. Women can read the book too, as a guide to understand what the men in their lives are all about. The book is a few years old by now, and some of its more important points can be easily challenged. For example, Deida says that men are happiest while filling their life-purpose, whereas women are happiest while in relationship. The data from the Harvard Study are now in and suggest, pretty convincingly, that close relationships are the key to happiness, not just for women, but for everyone. But it is true, over the short term, that men tend to find fulfilment in their achievements. It’s a wise man that honors that impulse in himself, while keeping family and close friendships — the things that matter most over the long term — in sight.

inclusion, social skills

How to Argue With Your Family About Politics

Families with wide-ranging political views are expecting a tense Thanksgiving dinner this year. The divisive rhetoric and high level of emotion could spill over into holiday conversation, threatening to ruin the meal for some. It doesn’t have to, though. Political arguments at Thanksgiving can actually be an opportunity to learn some things about your family that you never knew before.tgiving

I’ll skip the most obvious tips, like limiting the amount of alcohol served or actively avoiding all political subjects until after dessert. That’s not bad advice, but it’s advice that depends on others’ cooperation, and it just won’t be well-received in some families. People won’t want to change family traditions all that much for the sake of keeping peace at the dinner table. Instead, these are things that you can do yourself, that don’t require the cooperation of others. We’ve all heard that oft-repeated phrase that change begins with you. If your family is like mine, you can assume that those with strong opinions before the election will have even stronger opinions now, and that you are not going to change anyone’s mind over Thanksgiving dinner. Relax and have fun. Realizing that this election hasn’t changed people fundamentally can be both a comfort and a frustration; these hints are meant to help you tip the scales in favor of comfort.

One caveat: If someone’s getting drunk or abusive, don’t use these techniques. Instead, do whatever it takes to protect yourself emotionally, and remove yourself as soon as you can. Otherwise, try the following:

Get curious. Motivational interviewing is a technique used by mental health clinicians to move people in the direction of positive self-change, but it can be used informally also, as a way to deepen your understanding of other people and their views. Asking questions, and then listening to the answers, is a sure way to prevent an emotionally-charged situation from escalating into an ugly fight. One type of question used in motivational interviewing, known as “values clarification”, can be really useful in getting your family to articulate the motivations behind some of the choices they’ve made, not only politically, but personally also. How does their candidate reflect their values? Have them talk about their valued principles, and about the values they’re hoping to see expressed over the next four years. Behind much of the talk about immigrants bringing crime and jobs going overseas, for instance, is a desire for security, safety, and rewarding, meaningful work. Bringing a broad, big-picture perspective to the conversation will get your family talking about their cherished ideals. That’s never a bad thing, and the conversation just might go to some unexpected places.

You can also have them paint a picture of “a day in the life”. What kind of life are they imagining for themselves, and for you, under the new administration? How will it be better? Talking about the details of the future will give you a good idea of what your family is hoping for, and will again shed light on what they value.

Retrace the steps that led your family to this moment. Think, as you listen, about what led this person to the beliefs that he or she has. You’re in a unique position, as someone who knows this person’s history better than any politician ever will, to understand what drives this other person’s beliefs and values. Look for, and ask about, the experiences that led this person to value the things he or she does. Were they treated unkindly by foreigners? Was there a high school brawl with a black or Latino student? Remember that your story is intertwined with your family’s; their story is your story. Some of you may have shared the same experiences, but come to different conclusions. Share those with them.

Stay away from facts and data. This is a hard one for most of us, I know. But the cold truth is that elections are won and lost based on emotions and imagery, and people make decisions the same way. No one wants to be that guy at a cocktail party who offers a constant stream of information, no matter how interesting the subject. The family dinner table is no different. National pride, greatness, compassion, greed, protection, self-preservation – all play upon the emotions and are expressed in images and symbols. Think about things that fire you up and get you excited – it’s rarely the information itself, but rather the meaning you give to that information, that inspires the most engagement.

Remember again that you are not going to change anyone’s mind, especially with information. You’re there to enjoy the company of your family and to get them to articulate what they value. You can express your opinions strongly and passionately, talk about what you value, and highlight all the ways in which your candidate embodies those values, but be sure to keep an emotional connection, both to your family and to your topic.

Involve the kids. Very young children who aren’t old enough to understand the topics can still be at the table. You can bounce your one-year-old on your knee while talking about Trump’s foreign policy or Clinton’s proposed health programs. Interact with them physically as you engage with your family intellectually. Doing so will have two effects: it will make the kids feel part of a grown-up conversation even if they don’t fully understand it, and it will keep a certain amount of civility in the discourse. If emotions get too hot or the language too strong, you can remind people that there are kids in the room. Remember that young children are always learning from adults’ behavior, even when they don’t understand conversation. If you express your ideals with sincerity and passion, they’ll grow up to do the same.

Older kids can be part of the conversation in the same ways that adults are. You can simplify some topics without talking down to them, bringing it back again to values and cherished ideals.

Let older people have the last word. You don’t have to agree with them. But remember that older people, particularly those who have led especially colorful or diverse lives, have many decades of experience that inform their opinions, and that should be given respect. Even when their facts are wrong. Even when they’ve drawn the wrong conclusions from their experiences. Don’t contradict them, verbally or nonverbally. All the things said above about people not changing their minds are even more true for people of advanced age. Older people have a truly amazing story to tell, and their gifts, in this society, are often profoundly underappreciated. Try to place their opinions in the context of a long and full life, and listen to them carefully, because if a word is missed or a story ignored, it may be gone forever.

Thanksgiving can be a tense time for families on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Holding your own with grace and confidence while still remaining curious about others can be one of the most difficult things to do, but it yields valuable rewards. Using these techniques will help you not only survive the Thanksgiving meal, but actually enjoy it, and you just might learn something about your family in the process

inclusion, masculinity, Uncategorized

The Lonely, Dirty World of Roosh V.

There’s something about Roosh V., the self-described pickup artist and blogger whose “pro-rape” meetups were cancelled last week, that begs to be looked at. He’s become a laughingstock, a media buffoon who has directed way more attention to himself – even negative attention – than he deserves. His ideas of neomasculinity look and sound like cartoon versions of male media icons of the last generation – John Wayne is the one who comes to mind at the moment – but without the style or panache. Overnight, he’s become the ISIS of the seduction community. Did he really attempt to organize a meetup for rapists? Who are they, and where did they come from?

Press conference given yesterday

On the face of it, Roosh is an ass. He’s written articles that seem to advocate the legalization of rape when it occurs on private property; he promotes a highly aggressive, manipulative style of interacting with women; and he and his fellow bloggers at Return of Kings have churned out material that was misogynistic enough to land it on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2012 list of hate groups–though this week SPLC said that ROK doesn’t really meet their criteria for a hate group. They said this because they couldn’t find any evidence that Roosh’s organization has a physical existence. Roosh himself claims a substantial following, but because the meetups have been cancelled, we still don’t know whether this following exists anywhere but in his own mind.

How has he garnered so much publicity? How has an internet hack gained so much notoriety that he’s had to lock out his online forum and request police protection?

I spent several hours poring over Roosh’s writings to find out what he actually says. I wanted to get into his world, to understand the rationale that would possess a man to write, even satirically, that rape might sometimes be OK. Roosh is more than the labels being hurled at him right now. He’s more than a man who writes and says stupid things. He’s a man, like the rest of us, with desires and aspirations, who has made a series of choices that has led him to this moment. What’s it like to be him?

As far as I can tell from his writing, the world inhabited by Roosh V. is a harsh, lonely one. It’s an ugly world, without love or compassion, where a man has to leverage a woman’s insecurities in order to have sex. Meeting women is hard work. Women are quick to dismiss a man at the slightest misstep. A man who wants any chance of being with a desirable woman has to simultaneously engage in several different behaviors that may or may not be natural for him, in the hope that she will sleep with him. Men who go out at night to meet women to have sex with shouldn’t go out with “wingmen”, and shouldn’t talk to other men they might meet in nighttime venues, because they’ll just get competitive and try to snatch away the girl.

Roosh’s world is governed by a rigid social hierarchy – men are “alpha”, “beta”, “omega”, and “zeta”. Women, as the prize, all have a number rating based on their level of physical desirability, with women who score eight and above being the most desirable. In this world, the dominant alpha male sets the rules by which everyone else has to play. Men don’t necessarily need to be alpha males in order to succeed with women, but they do need to emulate enough alpha-male traits to be able to sleep with a beautiful woman. Women, in this world, are totally unpredictable; a man needs to carefully distinguish between what a woman says with her words and what she says with her body language. A man needs to manage several different processes at once if he has any hope of succeeding, and it’s all very complicated. When in doubt, though, a man’s job is to push the interaction forward, whether he sees a green light or not. Push and plough through resistance, all the way, all the time.

Vast quantities of women, in his world, are more valuable than quality. Range is more valuable than depth. Feelings like love and attachment may arise, but they’re to be managed, just like anxiety or depression. What really matters are notches on the bedpost.

What I got, from hours of reading this stuff, is confusing and worrying. Roosh is many things, but he’s not, as some critics charge, an Internet troll or keyboard jockey. His personal goals and aspirations may be controversial, but he’s someone who has put in the footwork to accomplish those goals. His teachings are based on experience, not on theory. Unlike a lot of these guys, Roosh is someone who has actually spent time in the world of women – talking to them, getting to know them, and almost certainly sleeping with some of them. He writes articulately and convincingly. As a pickup artist who has made sleeping with women his primary goal in life, he’s walked away from mainstream values that cause other men to pursue committed relationships and to have families — and that’s horrifying to those who believe that all men should want those same things.

Assuming that Roosh has never raped anyone (he’s never been charged), and that all his conquests have been consensual, the only thing left to condemn about Roosh is writing some very distasteful, misogynistic material. A man who makes casual sex his goal in life will likely reach midlife with some big disappointments. But there’s really no reason to pronounce moralistic judgments about a man like that. So once we remove the judgments and the intense emotion around what he values, and we put the responsibility for Roosh’s happiness where it belongs – with Roosh himself — here are my takeaways from Roosh:

#1. Roosh’s view of women is disgusting. It’s based on experience, but he’s drawn the wrong lessons from that experience. His experience of women is also inconsistent:  sometimes his stories sound like things that could have actually happened, other times they’re so bizarre, so outside of my own personal experience, that I have trouble believing he’s even talking about females of the same species. In this strange world, the worse you treat women, the better they respond to you; and the moment you begin treating them well, they grind you underfoot. Women and men can never be equal in this world; all relationships are a struggle for dominance.

Roosh’s methods, even when successful, have had some serious and toxic side-effects. He both desires women and detests them. Most of his writing is shot through with this hate, but it’s most explicit in “The Dark Side of Game”, excerpted here from his “Best of Roosh Volume I”:

When so many girls have opened their legs up for me so quickly and easily, it’s hard for me to respect them (and their opinions or ideas) like I would a family member or close friend. I think this is leaking out into other areas of life as someone pointed out to me that I seem to read books written only by men.

He goes on to acknowledge that his pursuit of sex has led him to lose his capacity to empathize with women, to resolve disagreements, or even to view sex as a loving act. This is a man moving through very dangerous territory.

#2. Roosh does not advocate rape. The article that caused such a frenzy, “How to Stop Rape”, reads like Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal”. The part where he proposes making rape legal on private property is 100% satire; it’s not even a question. People taking him seriously and labeling him “pro-rape” on the basis of that piece are demonstrating an astounding lack of appreciation for subtlety. The joke (or “thought experiment” as he later called it) is in extremely poor taste; it’s an offensive, obscene argument; but it’s an attempt, however grotesque, at satire.

#3. Of the rest of Roosh’s writing, some of it is has a point. There is a piece of substance behind some of his drivel. It’s twisted and disfigured, but it’s there. Social hierarchy does govern much human interaction, though maybe not in the way he describes it. Human beings are primates; we create hierarchy, as well as unwritten rules and punishments for anyone who violates them. Roosh’s source for this part of his worldview is likely evolutionary psychology, a field which is still in its infancy but which is already making some convincing points. People don’t usually respond well when these unwritten social structures are pointed out, however, and with good reason:  it challenges the narrative our civilization tells us of everyone being equal, of everyone having opportunity. People are uncomfortable with the idea that there’s a much older story that drives some human behavior, and mating behavior in particular:  a story of winners and losers, of popular people and outcasts; of people chosen as mates and life-partners, and others who get passed over. What other kind of reaction can he expect when he rubs our noses in our own worst nature?

I felt dirty after all this reading, like I needed a shower. I detested what Roosh had to say, even – and maybe especially – when he had a point. Yes, most men have a preference for slender women, and there may be evolutionary reasons for it, but that doesn’t make it OK to suggest that women with eating disorders make better girlfriends. Even if women comply with demands that are made angrily, that doesn’t make it OK to use anger as a tool to get what you want from a woman you’ve already bedded. Anyone who has dated a lot knows that Roosh’s techniques, although they might get results, will at best reward a man with what I call the “booby prize”:  an insecure, high-maintenance, possessive woman with baggage. Alternatively, they will leave in his wake a trail of women who either don’t like him or don’t remember him. And at worst, he’ll leave himself open to criminal charges—either now, or 30 years from now.

The amazing thing is not that Roosh has had some success with these methods, but that he’s not alone. He’s got a fair number of followers on Twitter, and Return of Kings is exploding with traffic right now. Clearly he speaks in some way for a segment of men who feel isolated and unfulfilled, who will accept any form of sex – even rushed sex with drunk girls – over being alone. Of course it’s angering, but there’s also something profoundly discouraging and sad about it. One imagines him stuck in this holding pattern for years, going out every weekend to hunt for fresh meat while his friends all fall in love and get married. Don’t hate on Roosh. Let’s hope he can recover his humanity, and soon.