Comment of the Day: Where Are References to Non-Professional Emotional Events in My Life?

Steve Silberman of Wired left a poignant comment on my post Partitioning the Emotional Events in Your Life:

That’s all true in a professional sense, and is a valuable insight. But one notable thing about reading this blog is that, for documenting the internal and external process of a passionate 18-year-old guy, there are remarkably few references to emotional events that don’t somehow involve work, your career trajectory, and other practical matters. It’s a little too easy I think for people to see that and say, “Well, thank God! Ben is not one of those kids who waste their days mooning about failed or potential romances. It’s a sign of his advanced maturity.”

Maybe you should also be thinking about discovering and cultivating the emotions that you are capable of with others, as you also develop the ability to strictly “partition” these feelings?

I am blessed to have Steve in my life, not only for his intelligence but because he tells it as he sees it and frequently challenges meon points (which I love much more than simple agreement!).Steve is extremely empathetic and projects a high level of emotional intelligence, a capacity I’ve repeatedly argued more important than mere IQ. I’ve found it impossible to be dishonest with Steve — not that I’m dishonest with others, but I have this sense that he sees right through me, can anticipate what I’m about to say, and if I don’t say what I’m truly thinking, will continue to dig. He is, after all, a journalist for a reason! I say this for two reasons. First, it’s because I think Steve identified something spot-on, not unusual for him and me. Second, it’s because I think Steve is projecting how he deals with these topics in life (and how he would if he were blogging) — openly and honestly.

I think I write so prolifically about professional stuff – if you count things like effectiveness or general intellectual banter as “professional” – because I think I’ve figured a bunch of things out in this domain. And I can share them and refine them. On the personal level, I still have many questions. I have never fallen in love, felt intense grief or sadness, or even figured out the rules and regs of physical attraction. These aren’t things I want to blog about – yet. (Side note: I rarely think about personal and professional as split — work and fun are usually the same for me!)

I concede that discovering and cultivating emotions of the heart-tugging sort is not something I’ve done a lot of in my brief time on this planet. Intellectual camaraderie has been the primary driver in my relationships (as well as humor – I love funny people). No, I don’t spend all day every day engaged in serious discourse about worldy things. God no. To the contrary, I tend to enjoy carefree moments with friends, relish the interpersonal rapport I have with them, and take a serious interest in their lives and the emotional ups and downs we experience together. I have close personal relationships. But the spirited pursuit of ideas and intellectual growth is my overarching consumption right now, and I’m loving every second of it.

But, you say, these are not mutually exclusive ideas: Ben, why can’t you be equally committed to intellectual life and to emotional life, such as a romance, crying with a friend, and so forth? Get a girlfriend for Christ’s sake! Well, I still have a ways to go in terms of personal growth. Give me some time! But mainly, I’m really really happy and excited about life right now. I do subscribe to the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway” but I also know that adolescence is a crazy, psychotic period in people’s lives, and I’m not terribly interested in changing a formula that’s worked well so far.

I’m not convinced, by the way, that the more stereotypical teenage routine of sitting around and “waste[ing] their days mooning about failed or potential romances” is particularly useful if the goal is developing and cultivating deep emotions.  I know teens who do this and I’m not sure they’re any farther along on the “emotional development” continuum than me. More, so much of “failed or potential romance” is cheap shit, not the real stuff, at least from my vantage point. Romance, in most teenage culture, is analogous to TV dinners. See: fuck buddies.

I should also note that this is a blog. It is a personal blog, far more personal than most, but it is still a blog. Thus it’s not the totality of me, it’s simply the me I choose to write about. Which is most of it.

Finally, I have posted a little on these topics. “Ben Is Insensitive and Like a Machine” or I’m Going to Break Ben’s Shell or How Do Hyperambitious Workaholics Get In Touch With Their Sensual Side. I’ve posted on sadness being the most underrated human emotion. I’ve posted on never having felt deep sadness or grief (a double edged blessing).

Thanks Steve for bringing this up!

16 comments on “Comment of the Day: Where Are References to Non-Professional Emotional Events in My Life?
  • Interesting post, though I want to get your opinion on something further:

    Do you truly find something wrong with the idea of a “fuck buddy?”

    Allow me to defend it:

    If one isn’t interested in a long term relationship, yet still wishes to have sexual gratification once and awhile, there are several options. One is to simply lie to the girl (or guy, since some women don’t want long term BFs either) and then discard her after the fact.

    Secondly, you can have a string of one night stands with people you don’t know and will most likely never see again.

    Finally, if you have come to an understanding with someone you know, someone with whom there is a mutual physical attraction, what is the harm in doing the horizontal tango once in awhile? It’s better to share a bed with someone you know isn’t on crack or God knows what else than to go out and find someone who may very well be.

    While this might come off as chauvinistic at first glance allow me to share the fact that I have been the “fuck buddy” on several occassions in which the female was actually the one who needed her back scratched per say, and let me know upfront she had no interest in a long term relationship, and simply wished to have sex, continue to hang out, but have no true exclusive obligation.

    Better to have sex with few people you do know than with many people you do not know, don’t ya think?

  • Jason, thanks for the comment, it made me chuckle, given the nature of the topic, but you make a compelling intellectual defense of the construct. I think it withstands criticism assuming: a) it truly is “once and awhile” and not twice a week with different buddies, as the latter would imply indiscriminate recklessness, b) it is “people you know” and not “someone you meet at a party.” I suppose “someone you meet at a party” would be classified as “one-night stand” not “fuck buddy”, though.

    In any event, the point of this post was about “developing and cultivating deep emotions” — something fuck buddies, one night stands, or anything else in that category, do not fulfill. Those things fulfill a different need, perhaps, but not this one.

  • Ben, I love this post. It’s really made me want to talk to Steve Silberman! (And made me really glad I’m going to be meeting you soon in London.)

    Your enthusiasm and passion for life is infectious, as is your lack of shame in talking about it. Apart from private emails with close friends, I don’t discuss this much, because it would make an easy target of me and because I am somewhat afraid of ‘tempting the Gods,’ ludicrous though that is. But you are making me re-evaluate my decision on that. I do love life, and I want other people to love it, too. I also want other people to know it’s okay and not cheesy to be passionate about life.

    This post is making me think. Thanks!

  • What a beautiful, smart, honest post, Ben, thanks! And I of course am honored by your words.

    My challenging you occasionally is directly proportional to my enormous respect and affection for you. Watching you mature and develop is like watching a glorious, gleaming flying machine assemble itself out of available parts, synthesizing some new ones along the way, then roar to life and take off skyward. It’s pretty breathtaking. And in this case, the “sky” I mean is not financial success, but a vibrant, passionate, compassionate, emotionally generous, creative, effective, intensely engaged role in the wider human community.

    As I have said to you before, Ben, you have an enormous amount of charisma. If I was your age, I would probably be in awe of you (and I still am). But charisma and the awe of others can only carry a person so far, particularly when things get tough, inwardly. I bring these things up sometimes to spur you to develop other inner resources than the ones you have so obviously and impressively developed. I’m sure there is much more to your inner life than you post on this blog, and I respect that. (As you know, I’m also open to hearing about it in person, anytime).

    Psychologist Carl Jung and poet-thinker Robert Bly (in his provocative book Iron John talk a lot about the importance of developing the shadow side of the self, particularly as one gets older. By “shadow,” they don’t mean “dark side,” as you might think. They mean the human abilities that get ignored or overlooked in the necessary push in early life to develop the abilities in which one already shows promise. In other words, I had a very strong verbal ability that started showing itself at age 2, and as I went through college and early adulthood, that got tested and strengthened, and I worked very hard to become a writer and an articulate talker. At the same time, other capacities of mine — such as for non-verbal communication, athletic ability, art, music, math — fell by the wayside. I would be a writer! Everyone knew that early on and supported me, which was great. But as I got older, I had to develop some of my “inferior functions” (as Jung puts it) as well. (I’d be a lot better off now if I had worked even harder on, say, having a “physically intelligent” relationship with my body.)

    I have been blessed to have met several True Geniuses in my lifetime. Most of them were very highly developed in certain ways, and terribly undeveloped in others. There was the brilliant musician X, as articulate in words as he was with his famous guitar, with a deep knowledge of culture far beyond music. His relationships, however, were a total mess, and he was a heroin addict. There’s Y, one of the best-known writers in the world (translated into over 25 languages) and a leading, seminal thinker in his scientific field, as well as being a very attractive and endearing person — but he hasn’t had a relationship in over 30 years; not even a passionate kiss.

    These are fine, worthy, excellent lives that do and did make indispensable contributions to society. But I can’t help thinking that if these guys had worked a little harder on developing what they were not gifted at too, they both might have been a little happier or content as they changed the world. Sure, happiness isn’t everything — some very depressed people have made equally valuable contributions — but writer Y is currently facing old age wondering if he didn’t miss out on one of the most meaningful human experiences.

    That’s why I play the Shadow’s Advocate sometimes. I know you have a lot of people telling you you’re great, charismatic, handsome, and the rest. It’s all true. But I try to notice what parts of the masterpiece are not filled in yet. And yes Ben, hopefully you will have many more decades to fill it in.

    Even though I don’t know you all that well, I feel enormous tenderness toward you, and enormous respect for what you’re about and how you do things — including this blog.

  • Oh, I left out the fascinating topic of “fuck buddies.” [grin]

    The problem with the teen version of “fuck buddies,” which is what Ben was talking about, is that they rarely are just that. Often one person or the other is wishing the relationship could be more than that, and is having their heart quietly smushed by the refusal of the other person to go deeper.

    I have had some wonderful fuck buddies in my life, for which I am still thankful, and also some awkward situations where one person or the other (or a third person!) got hurt. Deep non-sexual relationships (or, for that matter, deep sexual relationships) are more important to me now than getting laid a lot. I am in a very happy long-term relationship now that doesn’t totally exclude the “FB possibility,” but there are Rules Which Must Be Obeyed.

    We’re all mammals, and I’m a guy. Guys, as many studies have shown, crave sexual variety. To put it another way, we’re horny mofos. Figuring out how to maximize the pleasure of being a horny mofo without wrecking the most important things in your life and being careless with the tender feelings of others is one of life’s thorniest projects. Everyone figures it out in their own way.

    I think if two people are very attracted to one another and are both content within the boundaries of fuck-buddyhood — and when sex is involved, all boundaries become slippery slopes — it’s possible to maintain, at least for a short while, a mutually satisfying venue of play, affection, and release. But the landmines are many, and at my age, recognizing the irreplaceable beauty of my primary partnership, erring on the side of caution has been a good thing.

  • Steve, you’re talking about well-roundedness. The ability to change the world on a global level, but still maintain balance and unity in your personal life.

    Two words: forget it.

    Having a hugely successful outward life and a train wreck of a personal life is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

    Listen carefully to that, Ben. It doesn’t ring so nice at first, does it? But honestly – it doesn’t matter.

    Because 99% of the world thinks it’s possible to have both. You know who I’m talking about: “I’m a succesful VC who has a happy family life!” or “I’m a succesful writer who has a happy family life!”. In other words, I haven’t changed the world, but at least I have a rich inward life, family life, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. “I’ve discovered the true value of life”. People who act like this have this fervor that is almost religious – like you haven’t “seen the light” yet.

    Fuck them, Ben.

    I’ve been reading your blog since the first week you put it online, and I’ve read every comment too. If you put your mind to it, you probably will be a billionaire – a few times over.

    Or you’ll be one of the most provocative and bestselling thinkers of your generation. Because you think on a scale no one else who comments in this blog seems capable of even approaching – and then you bring it back down to earth and feed it to us in bite size, easy-to-digest pieces.

    If I had to put my money on you making the biggest dent in the universe vs. anyone else who has ever posted in this blog, I’d throw it all at you in a split second.

    And I’d tell almost everyone else to take a hike.

    I see the defects Steve has identified as the fuel that fires the genius. People are afraid of living like that – because ultimately most people are pretty wimpy. It’s not very intellectual, or intriguing, and there’s no emotional arc to it to make it sound more valid. But most people just are pretty wimpy, and the word “risk” only goes so far for them.

    Maybe backing away from life is really just when people try to be someone else. Some people – like you – may never have a close relationship.

    So what? Maybe you don’t value that. And that is so far from a crime it’s hysterical.

    And while everyone around you recoils in horror at that thought…

    …just keep flying.

  • I hear what you’re saying, Idiot. And there’s a lot of truth in it. But one of the virtues of being around for a few decades is seeing how certain sets of intentions turn out. The world is full of wealthy, highly successful, type-A executives who are leaders in their fields — and absolutely miserable inside, and to the people who care about them.

    People who are highly successful and happy — “tap dancing to work,” as Warren Buffett says — are rarer. There are always a bunch of guys to stand around a person with spark and cheer them on: “Fuck ’em! You go, boy! In the big bad jungle, you’re a fucking lion! Don’t let the weasel and wimps hold ya back!”

    Note: these cheeleaders tend to make themselves very scarce at the first whiff of failure. They’re already over somewhere else, cheering on the next unstoppable “genius.” They succeed vicariously — or so they think.

    A little failure is good for a man’s soul. But it takes about 40 years of close observation of people to figure that out, because it’s anti-intuitive in a society that places such a premium on winning.

    Anyway, Ben, you’ll get a lot of advice like Idiot’s. It’s everywhere — they even sell it in bottles at the liquor store. But the wisdom of developing the skills that don’t come naturally is harder to come by.

  • American culture forces teens to grow up much faster than in many other countries. You have already done a lot with your life for such a young age. I can appreciate Steve for challenging you to develop the more personal areas of your life, but I disagree with his suggestion for you to get a girlfriend just because that is what people your age “should” be doing. I suspect that at this point you may not feel a lot of things in common with the girls your age, and that ultimately you may find someone a little older that catches your interest. My present boyfriend comes from another country where there isn’t such pressure to date as teenagers. He was 9 years younger than me when we met and he had recently immigrated to the US at the age of 25. It wasn’t because there was anything wrong with him that he didn’t have a girlfriend until that time, he was simply focused on other aspects of his life.

    I say keep doing what you are doing. Appreciate the interactions that you have with all of the interesting people that you meet. Know that each person has a special gift to offer and something that you can learn from them. It is up to you to take the time to explore what that person’s special gift to you is. That said, there is no point forcing yourself to have a girlfriend if it doesn’t feel right. Having a relationship does take a lot of time, which you already noted that you don’t have a lot of.

    If someone comes along who does interest you at some point, I do hope that you allow yourself to deal with your emotions and explore it. In the meantime, keep enjoying your life!!!!!

  • I disagree with his suggestion for you to get a girlfriend just because that is what people your age “should” be doing.

    I would disagree with it myself — if I had made that suggestion! But I didn’t. I merely said to Ben that his emphasis on his burgeoning career is a wonderful, great, and impressive thing — and suggested that he should also be attentive to his interpersonal and intimate dynamics as well. He’s already doing this. I was supporting that idea.

  • Fascinating discussion, and yet another case of a throwaway line (“fuck buddies”) attracting a disproportionate amount of attention.

    (As an extended aside, the term has evolved quite a bit over the years. When I was in college, we used the terms “FTF” and “friends with benefits.” You can even see the citation of the latter on Alanis Morissette’s “Head over Feet” from her original “Jagged Little Pill” album. I suppose it’s a measure of our more direct modern world that the straightforward “fuck buddies” is now the dominant term.)

    There is much to respond to, so I’ll restrict myself to Idiot’s post.

    While I admire his or her passion, I think it’s important to separate out some of the points s/he made.

    There are two main points. First, that what’s right for you may be different from what’s right for someone else.

    I’m in complete agreement. When I was younger, I was always getting pressure from various school officials to “be more rounded.” In other words, to fit in.

    Fortunately, I didn’t listen to them, and even more fortunately, my parents supported me in this.

    But there did come a time when I was older when I began to take an interest in some of the things that I had previously ignored. And that’s fine too–change is natural.

    But the key is that I shifted my interests because I wanted to, not because anyone else thought that I should. If you don’t feel like wasting your time hanging out at a party with drunk people, don’t. And you should be commended for realizing what you do and don’t want to do, and having the stones to stick to it.

    Just be open to changing your mind if your interests and priorities shift.

    The second point that Idiot made (more implicitly than explicitly) is that family life and greatness are inherently at odds.

    This has both truth and fiction to it.

    It is true that families consume huge amounts of time and energy. But it is not true that a happy family life is incompatible with greatness.

    To me, this is just another example of buying into the stereotype of the tortured artist or lonely genius. And that’s hogwash.

    History is replete with examples of great men and women who also had a happy family life (though of course it is also replete with counterexamples).

    I commented on this at greater length here:

    Shakespeare was a devoted husband and father, as was Ben Franklin.

    More recently, moguls like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have combined tremendous worldly success with being good dads.

    You should be true to yourself. Don’t do things just because other people are doing things. But don’t think that ignoring the crowd is the only true path to greatness.

  • Ben, I’m currently reading Julia Cameron’s “The Vein of Gold” (an idea and activity workshop to help one to locate one’s ‘vein of gold’ of creativity) and the intro I read last night had a phrase that I love, about questing for “wholeness and a healthy autonomy from the expectations of others”. I’ll have some of that, and I think this is part of what Chris is getting at, too.

  • Oddly enough, the topic of relationships is related in my head to the topic of death that we engaged in yesterday – and of course, to life and its joys which is inextricably linked in my head to death. I came across a passage in a book called “Women Who Run With Wolves” that said, “A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die…”

    I’ve never found fuck buddies particularly satisfying, though since I’m an avid proponent of self-experimentation, would trust you to trust your own opinion on that.

    There’s a further passage in “Women Who Run With Wolves” where she speaks about choosing friends/lovers/the people who influence you. I’m already noting how mindful you’ve been with it in the course of reading your blog. Anyway, just to add some food for thought, she says, “Having a lover/friend who regards you as a living growing criatura, being…having a love and friends who look at you as a true living breathing entity, one that is human but made of very fine and moist and magical things as well… a lover and friends who support the criatura in you…these are the people you are looking for. They will be the friends of your soul for life. Mindful choosing of friends and lovers, not to mention teachers, is critical to remaining conscious, remaining intuitive, remaining in charge of the fiery light that sees and knows.”

    I’ve been fortunate in my friends, deeply so. I can’t count the number of times they’ve had faith in me when my own ability to see was lost. I’ve been very choiceful of my friends over the years, it’s important to me that each one I choose to spend time with has something about them that I treasure and respect, that evokes my joy in knowing another human being different than me.

    Discrimination/discernment is a key in one of the stories told in the myths of her book, a kind of discernment that she calls “one of the most difficult things to learn, for it takes spirit, will, and soulfulness and it often means holding out for what one wants. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the choice of mates and lovers. A lover cannot be chosen a la smorgasbord. A lover has to be chosen from soul-craving. To choose just because something mouthwatering stands before you will never satisfy the hunger of the soul-Self. And that is what intuition is for; it is a direct messenger of the soul.”

    And on love in general (not limited to ‘romantic) – I remember the first time meeting someone who genuinely cared for me without fitting in conventional ways of knowing me – she didn’t ‘know’ me well, she wasn’t a long time friend. She just had this remarkable sight and way of being and she just loved me for what of me she saw. We’d only met twice – and I was stunned to discover when we met the 2nd time that she remembered me, knew me, and actually loved me. It’s what shattered for me the notion of the various pre-conditions we hold for loving others that we float around in our culture. It’s a love based on the seeing of others for their humanity and gifts, not on relationship conditions (friends, family, dating relationships, etc.) or the other conditions we sometimes put on it (i.e. length of time we’ve known someone, etc.)

    It also continues to fascinate me how uncomfortable it sometimes makes people that I can genuinely care about them – and how often the protest is, “You don’t know me…I have all these X flaws”, as though I couldn’t be accepting of them as the learning, bumbling human beings we all are as we try to figure out life. It makes me terribly sad that so many believe in their own preconditions about what it takes for others to care about /them/. Also, the choice to care is about vulnerability and the paradox that it takes strength to be vulnerable. That’s something it took me awhile to learn – that part of what allows me to choose to be vulnerable is a sense of trust in my own resiliency.

    My two cents on this topic apparently turned into a whole dime. :p

  • You aren’t really writing all these posts on your own, are you? You do have a PR agency backing you up after all. That takes mindshare in crafting these responses.

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