We look at marriages that end as failures, but I’m not sure we should. I understand vows include until death do we part, and promising to stay together is a commitment – marriage is a commitment – but we know from experience that it doesn’t always work out that way.

We tend to idolize marriages that last. And because it is so uncommon now, we want to know how they did it. How did they know? We want to know if they were always happy. Did they ever question the relationship? These are good questions. And staying with one person for 30/40 years is a remarkable achievement that should be revered, but it doesn’t make the opposite a failure.

Think of it this way: if you started your career with company ABC, and worked there for five years, and then decided to join company 123 – would you consider your five years with ABC to be a failure? Typically, no.

What if you trained as a long-distance runner for 10 years and then decided that you’d like to focus on rock climbing instead – would you consider your ten years of running a failure? Typically, no.

What about a friendship that lasted all through university and into your early 30s, at which point life choices resulted in the friendship drifting apart – would you consider that friendship a failure? I hope not.

So why do we consider divorce a failure? Why do we feel ashamed that we couldn’t make it work? There is no reason to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work. It’s not been proven to be better for the kids and it’s certainly not better for the partners. Sometimes it’s broken and we can’t fix it. Instead, sometimes, we need to let it go.

I don’t want to take marriage lightly. I think if you make that commitment, you should work towards keeping it. I was married. I worked towards staying married. But it didn’t work, and at first, I felt like a failure. I spent too much time trying to figure out what I could have done better. Asking myself if I tried hard enough. Asking myself if I should have stuck it out. Reminding myself where I went wrong. And generally punishing myself for my failed marriage.

Almost four years later, after many hours of self-reflection and shared perspectives, I view my marriage as a wonderful, challenging time in my life. I know more about myself now than I did before I said I do. It wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t change a day of it. And I no longer consider it a failure.

I have mourned the loss of the relationship that I thought we would have. I have forgiven the mistakes we made. No, it didn’t work out. But we tried. And trying will always be a win in my books. I choose to learn from the mistakes we made, cherish the memories we made and celebrate the opportunity to make better choices in the future.
Earlier this year, I admitted to struggling with asking for help. At the time, I understood the problem to be a pretty superficial one – I had difficulty asking people for help doing day-to-day things like dishes, cooking, driving to Ikea. Once acknowledged, and after a few weeks of being teased and realizing I was being silly, I easily overcame the difficulty.  

What I didn’t know is that not asking for help ran much, much deeper. How did I find out, you might ask. I fancy myself a bit of a self-psychologist. I like to probe me. I like to ask hard questions and see how I react. I push my own buttons. Now, when you start asking yourself why you do what you do, maybe over a bottle of wine, you may end up in some dark, messy, tangled places. There's always that risk. But sometimes you find surprising answers. Surprising answers that are sometimes embedded in who you now are. And maybe who you’ve always been. 

For example, here’s a snapshot of me trying to figure things out:
  • Why do I have trouble asking people for help?
  • Because I think asking for help is putting people out.
  • But I help people all the time and don’t feel that way.
  • Yes, but they need help.
  • So I don’t need help?
  • I do.
  • So then why not ask?
  • Because then they’ll know.
  • Know what?
  • That I need help.
  • Ah-ha! I don’t want people to know I need help. Why?
  • I'm uncomfortable letting people know I don't know something or can't accomplish something on my own. 
  • Why? What will happen if they know this? 
  • They might think I am incapable, weak.
  • Ah-ha! And then what? What does that change?
  • I don’t know. I guess what other people think of me doesn’t matter.
  • What does matter?
  • What I think of me, and I feel vulnerable when I ask for help.
  • Ah-ha! (Also, fuck! Fear of vulnerability is way harder to battle than just asking for help.) 

And, if you are anything like me, you keep digging. And digging. And you go way back and find stories like this:

In grade four I won an Unsung Hero award. I was called up on stage and given the award and for the rest of the day people congratulated me. I should have enjoyed this, but I spent the rest of the day wondering: what the heck is an unsung hero? I remember thinking that I shouldn’t admit to not knowing because my teachers would be disappointed. How can I be something if I don’t even know what it is? It never occurred to me that I could ask a fair question and receive a simple answer. Instead of asking, I waited until I got home and looked it up in the dictionary. 

And, if you are anything like me, you say: "Well, fuck a duck. This goes way back. And I'm pretty sure I can't blame my parents. Damnit! This is a deep down embedded characteristic and it impacts every facet of my life – friends, lovers, work, ambitions, what I have and have not accomplished. This is part of me. This isn’t an ugly sweater I can donate. Or an old embarrassing photo I can tear up. Me and Lady Gaga. We were born this way!" 

So, the big question: what am I going to do about it? And a simple answer: stop it. But then that's me not asking for help again. So, reader, what do you know about this? What stories, links, books, ideas do you have? How do I get from here to there? Do you struggle with this? I think a lot of us do, unfortunately. Let's punch it in the head together. : )

Respond below or @ twitter.com/muckymind. Love to hear from you! 

Opinions. Ideas. Have them. Share them. Throw them around like a Frisbee on a sunny summer day, like you have one of those awesome dogs that can run really fast and jump really high and catch the Frisbee mid-air and everyone around you is super jealous and wants to be your friend because they want to be a part of this wicked scene you just created with your Frisbee-thrown-to-the-cool-dog-style opinions and ideas. 

We need to hear different perspectives to grow and learn and change. Not all ideas are good and we won’t (and shouldn’t) agree with all opinions, but we need to hear them if only to dispute them.

Whoever said if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything may have also believed that children should be seen and not heard and that women shouldn’t vote. Silence is not always golden. Silence does not help you get your point across.

We’d all live in a better world if we shared what we really think. Honest, open, transparent communication is necessary to further any idea, proposal, mandate, project, relationship – everything. 

You think that the NDP should be leading this country? You think socialism is right and capitalism is wrong? You think open-relationships are a reasonable response to Ark-style coupling that was forced upon people in the name of religion and is now forced upon people in the name of “normal?”  You think that our current fascination with social media is an absolute detriment to our ability to communicate with each other and to our society in general? You think David Sedaris is over-rated? You think anything other than what the mainstream is thinking (or saying they think)? You question, wonder, disagree?

Good. Share all of this. Talk about it. Ask what other people think. Ideas make the world go ‘round. That and conservation of angular momentum, but mostly ideas.

Image credit:http://stairwaytoeducation.com/welcome/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/sharing_ideas.jpg

This is an inappropriate reaction to this article.
No it won’t. I am using hyperbole. Irritating, isn’t it? I agree. That said, the intended use of hyperbole, which includes irony, is okay in my books. But not everyone understands that hyperbole is not meant to be taken seriously. To those people I say: smarten up.

Hyperbole abusers seem to be trying to win some kind of “most amazing” competition. Whether it’s a trip, book or cup of coffee, they are using hyperbole to elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary without even the slightest hint of irony. Good is not good enough. Best is better but not as impressive as best ever and best ever is not quite as stirring as most amazing. To be merely good is akin to social suicide; you must blow people’s minds.

Luckily blowing people’s minds is nowhere near as difficult a task as it sounds. You might have assumed that to blow someone’s mind you’d need to share never-heard-before stories that are rife with intrigue: two people fall in love, cure cancer, solve world hunger, win the lottery, win an Oscar, die in a tragic car accident that somehow saves a basket of puppies, come back to life, but with amnesia, instantly hate each other, find themselves in a duel to the death and regain all memory at the very moment they both push their swords through the other’s heart so that their last moment redefines the word bittersweet.

Or maybe you assumed there is some science to telling a story or sharing a fact in a way that creates a chemical imbalance in the brain of the listener, forcing their brain to implode. Or explode. Or blow. Whatever. Science is complicated. The point is that for your mind to be blown by information, one would assume that you must have to hear something terribly, terribly interesting.

Nope. Not for the masses of abusers! Any old fact will do. (They don’t even have to be accurate facts.) Here are some real examples of what’s being considered “mind blowing” information:
  • From Mental Floss: According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the most commonly stolen vehicle in 2012 was the 1994 Honda Accord. 
  • From Buzz Feed: Mayonnaise is made from oil and eggs. (There was a picture. I’m not sure why.)
  • From Guff: Like fingerprints, everyone’s tongue print is different. 

Calling those facts mind blowing is some serious hyperbole. ESPECIALLY WITHOUT THE IRONY, PEOPLE! Yes, I’m yelling. If you are using the phrase “mind blowing” without the irony, you are not allowed to use adjectives anymore. There. I said it.

You cannot make your life more exciting by saying your cheese sandwich is the most amazing cheese sandwich you have ever had. IF EVERYTHING IS AMAZING THEN NOTHING IS AMAZING! Yes, I’m yelling again. But, come on, even if you exaggerate about how good your sandwich is, your life still remains the kind of life where you buy sandwiches at lunchtime.

So here’s the deal: Stop it. And if you can’t, keep it to yourself. Let all the hyperbole build up in your head – let all the amazing, thrilling, stupendous, spine-tingling, astounding, shocking information grow and grow and grow in your mind and see if it gets blown. You’d be the first person ever to actually blow your own mind! This is going to be literally amazing! You’ll go down in history as the most incredible science experiment of all time! Ever!

Mostly I bitch about stuff. Though I don't take all the blame for this. People are annoying and stuff is stupid, so there's a lot to complain about. I like to think of it as part of my charm, passionately hating things. But on the flip side, there are things that I love (other than the usual suspects like puppies, autumn, peanut butter cookies, wine, orgasms, soft pillows, laughing, etc.). And as proof, here’s a list of six:
  • You know the counting song from Sesame Street: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twe-eh-eh-ee-elve.” Sure you do. But did you know the Pointer Sisters sang it? When I heard that earlier today, this was my exact reaction: “Shut the fuck up. Really? Cool.” That is a groovy song.  I loved it then and I love it now. 
  • It’s like Happiness & Cyanide knew I never really got over the end of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes series (which saddened me greatly and I’ve heard rumours that he has new material, which worries me greatly because what if it’s not as good? Don’t ruin memories, you know. Bill? Can you hear me? There’s a lot of pressure to be as amazing which is almost impossible.). Anyhoo, it’s like H&C knew I needed weirdness from the comic world to fill the void. I love H&C comics. They are sometimes creepy, mostly funny and always weird (like Calvin!) and they never avoid risky topics. Love! 
  • Mogwai. The first time I heard these guys, which was recently, I asked this question: “What is this fantastic sound that is coming into my ears?” I don’t love every song, but I love many. Listen to it loudly and carry on about your day. 
  • Jason Silva. I know this guy calls himself a “performance philosopher” and that’s a bit douchey. I know the production is polished and practiced, and that he’s pretty, and I know this lures the average watcher in, subconsciously making them take what he says as truth rather than as discussion, but I don’t care. Why? It’s because he’s pretty and the production is polished that it appeals to an audience who normally wouldn’t give a shit about ideas like how we create our own architecture, the six epochs of evolution or the power of cinema. Silva says he’s trying to arouse people and reach a new audience and I believe him. And more so, I believe in the need to do so. 
  • This grammar video, and specifically, the Jersey Shore muppet in the video. His best line is best because it’s true: “You learned this in the third grade, dummy!” As a word nerd, I high-five all attempts to get people to use the words literally and ironic properly.  There is no reason for people to get they’re, there and their mixed up.  It blows my mind! Ha. Kidding. It doesn’t. But when I think about it, it bugs me a bit. And then the video makes me feel better. So, yay this video.  
  • Quizzes about what city you should live in or what food you are or what profession you should have. I love them. All of them. In case you are interested, my city is Paris, my food is pizza and my profession is writer. So, as you can see, I love these quizzes because they are accurate reflections of how cool I am. 
There. Six things that I love and one of them could easily be hated, but I choose to see the good in Jason Silva. It’s like I’m a saint. Do you feel the goodness oozing? No? Well, something’s oozing. 

And so that you know I really wrote this, here are three things that need to die:
  • The expression “it blew my mind.” Ugh. Enough. It didn’t. It was a good donut or an interesting film. It did not blow your mind. Unless you are talking about string theory (which is fucking complicated), do not ever, ever use “it blew my mind” or any of its many iterations (“mind blown” = noooooo). 
  • Bubble tea. Come on. It’s gross. 
  • Kale. Come on. It’s gross. You just pretend to like it because it’s hip. “I love kale” is the new “I don’t watch TV.” 

Long delivered as sage advice and rarely questioned, the old adage, fake it ‘til you make it, is becoming alarmingly popular these days for all the wrong reasons. Its original intent is to pretend to be confident in the moment, which may produce success, and the real success will create actual confidence (which is questionable to start with).

Its current connotation, however, seems to be more about pretending to like people you do not like, pretending to be more informed than you are and pretending to be someone you are not all in an effort to trick both yourself and others into thinking you actually are that person you are not.

I have examples!

Top ten list of how to be successful: “#1. Kiss up to difficult people and tell them that they are great. Everyone likes to have nice things said about them, especially difficult people. They like their egos stroked, so just do it! Sure, it’s fake. #2. Make your body language match your fakery. Actions speak louder than words. There is actual research to back this up. Smile! Nod! Tilt your head! Laugh! Fake it ‘til you make it!”

My this is fuckery* moment: Said “actual research” was not provided. And “tilt your head”?

Blog on how to bullshit your way through life: “Lying is not necessarily something to boast about, but it’s something everyone does. However, it’s acceptable when done right. If you are going to tell your boss that you also loved Wuthering Heights, you better have at least one decent thing to say about it. If you haven’t read it, that’s fine.”

My this is fuckery moment: The author also thinks that “if you are savvy enough, you too could bullsh*t your way to the top.” Um, if you are savvy enough, can’t you get to the top without the bullshit? Just saying. 

Ted Talk on how your body language shapes your life: “Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves … standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.” The talk is summarized with ”don’t fake it ‘til you make it; fake it ‘til you become it.”

My three this is fuckery moments: I agree that “power poses,” as Amy Cuddy refers to them, will help some people feel more confident temporarily, but her talk chafes for three reasons:
  • Just because it seemingly worked for Amy, it doesn’t mean it will or should work for anyone else. 
  • The study she conducted recorded the short-term effects on participants 17 minutes after they performed power poses and non-power poses, and found that participants felt more powerful and had higher levels of cortisol and testosterone after performing power poses for two minutes. The study did not determine any long-term effects. 
  • I question whether or not you can or should try to truly “become” someone you are not. For example, if you are an introvert, I don’t think you can or should fake it as an extrovert in an effort to become an extrovert. It belittles the value we all provide by being authentically who we are, and assumes that all power-posing extroverts are somehow better.

Some research shows that acting happy, despite the fact that initially it feels forced, will eventually make you truly feel happy. Other research states the opposite – forcing happy thoughts makes people feel positive in the moment, but depressed afterwards.

Either way, I say faking anything is not a long-term solution. At best, it’s a short-term solution to help you overcome a momentary hurdle – you have to make a public speech, ask someone out, go through a job interview – “faking it” consists of you essentially talking yourself into doing something even though it scares the shit out of you because you want the opportunity to make that speech, go on that date or get that job.

It’s not a short- or long-term plan to be someone you are not. No. Be you. Sure we can all use a little self-improvement once in a while, a helpful push to exist outside of our comfort zones, a reminder that we’re a little stronger, smarter, faster than we think. And faking it ‘til you make it is a possible temporary solution, but we just need to remember that it’s meant to help us do something not be someone.

*Fuckery definition: Stupid or untrue talk or writing. Nonsense.

In honour of the worst fake holiday of them all, Valentine’s Day, I’d like to weigh in on love. But first: Valentine’s Day is stupid. Forcing people to show love via traditional purchasing power one day a year makes for false romance among couples and feelings of inferiority among singles. We are supposed to equate Valentine’s Day flowers, chocolates and sitting in a crowded restaurant with a hundred other couples with love. Valentine’s Day is for losers. But second: Love is grand, and it's scientifically proven to make you feel good (like medicine!). I’m a big fan of love.

If the holy grail is love, and I argue here that it is, then Tony Hoagland’s poem, Why We Went and What We Found is my favourite love poem of all time. It starts by describing the craziness of being in love, the sleepless, twisted, complex, gorgeous journey of love that leaves you not knowing where you are going yet gives you absolute confidence that when you get there it will be so amazing that a “mute beggar by the church will launch into an aria in perfect unaccented Italian.”

Hoagland could be describing the loss of cognitive control we experience when we are in love. Studies have shown that when we’re in love, we can’t focus well, especially on matters we deem unimportant. Researcher Henk van Steenbergen  studied forty-three new lovers and asked them to “discriminate irrelevant from relevant information.” He concluded in his article, Reduced Cognitive Control in Passionate Lovers, that the more in love they were, the less able they were to focus.

Maybe we are using all of our cognitive resources to focus on our lover? It sure feels that way. When we’re in love, we think about our lover constantly – from big things like vacations to small things like where to go for dinner. And life is just better. Food tastes better. Minor annoyances melt away. Shitty days at the office are less shitty. 

A Syracuse University study reveals that “when a person falls in love, 12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression. The love feeling also affects sophisticated cognitive functions, such as mental representation, metaphors and body image.”

So the cartoon image of a heart beating out of our chest, birds fluttering about and flowers and kisses floating out of our eyes seemingly represents new love well. We are a little crazy. We feel and think and want and need like we’re high, and like when we’re high, everything is that much more stimulating and it makes us want it more. We make promises of forever and always and until death because rational words like maybe and probably and lots don’t make sense anymore.

Hoagland captures the euphoria and desperation, the feeling that you would do anything to protect your newfound love: “If the order comes to burn the bridges, we will burn the bridges. If the order comes to cast ourselves into the sea, we jump.” We are all in when we’re in love. And the thought of not being in love anymore is absurd.

Until it happens. And we are changed. We’ve witnessed something elusive, that we can no longer put our finger on, no longer describe with abandon. But we know we felt it and now it’s gone. It’s a broken heart, plain and simple, because all we have now are rational words to describe an emptiness deeper and more profound than anything we've experienced before. The birds are fluttering somewhere else and we’re back where we started: “When we wake in the morning, we will be ourselves again, and begin our post-grail lives. We will return to our people who eat mud and say that it is good, and we will eat mud with them and say that it is good. But it will never taste the same to us and our post-grail existence.” We reached a summit, the holy grail, and nothing but the top will do anymore.

Of course this fall from grace is too much for many. Some of us stay on the ground for fear the top will never be reached again. Some of us vow to never fall in love again. Others throw caution to the wind, and try again because, eventually, the feelings of pain subside and the longing for love returns. The good news is that love is actually a bit of a painkiller.

Perhaps this is why my friend’s mother once told me: “the best way to get over one man is to get underneath another.” I will give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she wasn’t prescribing random sex to avoid sadness but rather she read the Stanford University Medical Center study that found “intense, passionate feelings of love can provide amazingly effective pain relief, similar to painkillers.”

So maybe we’re addicted to love. Maybe that’s why every book, movie, song, show is about love. And that’s why, despite how hard, heavy, heart wrenching it is to lose our love, Hoagland suggests that we ultimately find ourselves pressing “our faces deep into the artificial flowers, half-hoping to be stung by bees.”

And that’s why Valentine’s Day is stupid. Love is a biological, scientific, philosophical, chemical thing that is hard to describe but exhilarating to experience and Valentine’s Day is a supermodel sitting in at a string theory symposium. It’s a waste. 

Why We Went and What We Found
We will find the grail.
We will gallop our horses all night
and at dawn, descend from twisted mountain roads
to the plaza of a town without a name.
At the bronze hour when the sun
melts on the horizon like an old doubloon,
we will sail our ship into the harbor,
—salt crusted in our beards, trembling from years of motion
without maps or compasses; a little daffy from the velvet
sibilance of waves.
The prowl will touch the stone wharf
without a sound, the nightingales
will trill, the dead oak shaft of the
No Trespassing sign will blossom morning glories.
The mute beggar by the church will launch into an aria
in perfect unaccented Italian
and we will hoist the bucket from the courtyard well
on its frayed rope
and drink the sacred water
as the horses nicker
and the almond trees
drop their white petals of applause.
If the order comes to burn the bridges,
we will burn the bridges.
If the order comes to cast ourselves into the sea,
we jump.
When we wake in the morning, we will be ourselves again,
and begin our post-grail lives.
We will return to our people
who eat mud and say that it is good,
and we will eat mud with them and say that it is good.
But it will never taste the same to us
and our post-grail existence.
Something will be missing we can’t say.
No one will understand the Ph.G. we sign after our names,
or why we press our faces
deep into the artificial flowers,
half-hoping to be stung by bees.
Why we always go astray inside the glittering maze
of the department store,
and always end up at the perfume counter wearing
scents called Shangri-La, Obsession, Holy Night,
finding none of them quite right,
none of them equal to a blow on the head
with a silver mace, a word whispered in a dream
like a gold key slid across a grate.
They won’t understand, and we won’t remember,
but we will never again be sad—never sad again!--
Or rather, never sad in the same way.

  • The amazing Tony Hoagland:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Hoagland
  • Leiden, Universiteit. "Reduced cognitive control in passionate lovers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131111091355.htm>.
  • Syracuse University. "Falling in love only takes about a fifth of a second, research reveals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101022184957.htm>.
  • Jarred Younger, Arthur Aron, Sara Parke, Neil Chatterjee, Sean Mackey. Viewing Pictures of a Romantic Partner Reduces Experimental Pain: Involvement of Neural Reward Systems. PLoS ONE, 2010; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013309

Image credit:
The amazing Cory Basil: http://hereliescorybasil.com
I’m not going to play coy – I say yes. I think rom-coms encourage dramatic, unrealistic, outdated romantic ideals and set us up for disappointment when our real life romances cannot live up to the pretend romances we see in film.

And I think they do this in two ways:
  1. The Nora Ephron/Nicolas Sparks-style (see disclaimer below) stupid, over-the-top, unrealistic, schmoopy love stories that make us devalue what we actually have and yearn for something completely unattainable in order to find love.  
  2. The stereotype-reinforcing-style rom-com that box men and women into pre-conceived, impossible ideals of what we are supposed to be like and make us feel like we have to conform to or look for a completely unrealistic person to find love.

Are you rolling your eyes? Okay. Ask yourself this: have you or do you know someone who has convinced themselves that the jerk they are attracted to would no longer be a jerk if they fell in love with you or the someone you know? You have. You do. I have. I do. And where did that idea come from? Rom-coms. Where else would we have come up with the idea that our love could change someone we just met? That the power of our particular brand of loving someone would eradicate all the years of their character building/destroying life experiences and turn them into the puppy-love person we desire?

That’s dumb. It’s totally and utterly dumb to think that love can change a person. But we see it in rom-coms all the time. It’s the very premise of many of these films. Let’s use the second type as an example, or what I call the Katherine Heigl/Gerard Butler “The Ugly Truth”-style film:
  • Man is stereotypical charming, successful, rogue comfortably/easily finding companionship through meaningless sex with younger, large-breasted women who look at him like he just gave them the biggest orgasm of their lives (important: these women do not have speaking parts). But, regardless of how happy his character seems, he is lost because he doesn’t know the meaning of love (!) and needs the right woman to turn him into the perfect gentleman.  
  • Woman is stereotypical busy careerist trying to find “the one” through a hyper-specific list of characteristics that include “must be doctor” and “must love poetry and dogs and balloons and white fluffy wedding dresses” (barf) and “must look like he lives at the gym but can quote Socrates.” In other words, regardless of whatever Barbie-style career she has in the film, she still needs a man (and quippy, less attractive best friend) to show her the way. 
  • Man meets woman and they hate each other.
  • Woman shows tiny sign of humanity (she cries or something) and then man falls deeply in love with her (we know this because he seems confused by “feelings” and no longer pursues big breasted women).
  • Woman meets, in the very next scene, the doctor of her dreams.
  • Man is jealous/sad and attempts to rekindle previous lifestyle, though he can’t get it up anymore/it doesn’t fulfill him the way it used to, and shows tiny sign of humanity (loneliness)
  • Woman falls madly in love with him, and realizes doctor is “nice,” but she wants a real man.
  • Man and woman are in love and both intend to tell the other but then something happens (usually, they witness something that isn’t what it seems) and they get scared/angry.
  • Man and woman deny love and part ways after a caustic interaction they both immediately regret.
  • Some truly stupid occasion (in the case of The Ugly Truth, a hot air balloon event) brings them back together and they are forced to reveal that they love each other.
  • They kiss (in the case of The Ugly Truth, in a hot air balloon – it’s so fucking contrived!).
  • They live happily ever after, she with a real man (now a lovable rogue) to show her the way and he with a beautiful woman (now less career-oriented) to show him the meaning of love. 

Role the credits. Who was the sound boom guy in this amazing film? Who wrote the totally realistic dialogue? Who coached the actors to understand the motivation of their characters? Who picked the green M&Ms out of the lunchroom M&M’s bowl? Who fucking cares?

Stereotypical guy and stereotypical girl fall for each other after contrived, sun-setty circumstances and make each other better people, which is to say for him, monogamous, and for her, less career-oriented. So, yes, I think rom-coms have the power to ruin real-life relationships. All relationships for all people? No. Of course not. But I think the insidiousness of our monkey-see-monkey-do-natures means we are far more apt to fall victim to subliminal messaging than we’d like to believe. And rom-coms are rife with subliminal messaging.

The cure? Stop it. Stop watching rom-coms. Right away. Cold turkey. And slowly rid yourself of the archaic, formulaic Hollywood version of what romance is. Watch something else, because I’m not saying all romantic comedies are terrible. They aren’t. I will defend Say Anything, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Punch Drunk Love, High Fidelity, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Lars and the Real Girl, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, (500) Days of Summer and a few other romantic comedies.

The distinction is this: rom-coms are contrived pieces of romance-crushing crap and romantic comedies feature highly-relatable, befuddled potential lovers who must overcome real issues like time or travel (and sometimes time travel) to find love. One genre deserves the extra letters; one does not.

Disclaimer: I love The Notebook. I know it’s ridiculous that a man would wait that long for a woman, that he would devote his life to her without her actually being in his life. I know that in real life this would be creepy and borderline crazy, but it’s Ryan Gosling, so it’s okay. My argument is totally weak, I know, and I don’t care.

Image credit:
Unintentionally poignant movie poster from horrible, horrible movie The Ugly Truth.
In the wake of the ongoing Edward Snowden case, the NSA siphoning and monitoring personal data from the Internet, including Yahoo, Gmail and stupid games like Angry Birds, and Obama’s recent announcement of changes to the way the US spies on random citizens and leaders of foreign countries alike (though he stated that other countries are spying so the US has to do it, too, which likely means very little will change), I think it’s important to talk about what a loss of privacy means for you and me. 

Some people say they don’t care if someone accesses their personal data because they aren’t doing anything wrong. That’s only fine if it’s a permission-based issue. But no one asked. They’re just doing it. And that’s not right. If you give someone permission to record your every move, that’s your business. I don’t. And not because I’m doing anything wrong, but because my sense of personal privacy is core to my ability to truly be myself.

If someone/something recorded everything we’ve done, when we did it and with whom, and then used our activities to extrapolate our personal philosophies, view points, reasons for being – since Shannon does X with X this means she thinks/is X – isn’t it safe to assume that our choices might alter? I bet you can list three things off the top of your head that you might reconsider doing if you knew you were being watched. We are private people – we don’t use our work laptops to look up porn or shop online, we like e-readers because we can privately read whatever we want in public (Fifty Shades of Grey?), and we use fake names on Facebook to ward off unwanted friend requests. We like controlling access to our personal lives.

Losing our privacy would be like living like a celebrity, but without the glamour, champagne and chauffeurs – we’d only get the paparazzi, the constant attention, the feeling that we are being scrutinized all the time. I think this would force us to live a scripted life, where we eventually fit ourselves into the box created for us, and we wouldn’t be able to keep both the façade and our sanity up. We’d end up living like drones in a sci-fi movie.

Too dramatic? I’m not sure.

Think about our natural response to a temporary loss of privacy and an increase in scrutiny, for example, when we’re asked personal questions in a social situation or we go through a rigorous interview process or even go through airport security – we become self-consciousness and paranoid. One wrong move, or one right move poorly interpreted, and we don’t get the friend or the job or entry to another country.

Now think of that level of scrutiny every day all the time. We’d go into self-protection mode, try to look, feel and sound like what we think is expected of us, presenting a public self and hiding our true self. If we’re watched and recorded and assessed all the time, we would lose our ability to assert our individuality for fear of being judged and boxed incorrectly (or correctly). Over time, we would develop a false sense of self and a deep fear of being discovered. We’d feel increasingly isolated and have difficulty trusting others (if I am covering up who I really am, so likely is everyone else).  

So, for those of you buying the line that losing our privacy doesn’t matter as long as we aren’t doing anything wrong, hear this: It matters. And as for the future dystopia sci-fi world becoming a reality sounding too dramatic, maybe clinical psychologist Christina Villarreal’s perspective might shed some light on how losing our privacy changes not only how we are viewed but also how we might view ourselves:

“ … personal information is an extension of the person. To have access to that information is to have access to the person in a particularly intimate way. When some personal information is taken and sold or distributed, especially against the person's will, whether it is a diary or personal letters, a record of buying habits, grades in school, a list of friends and associates or a psychological history, it is as if some part of the person has been alienated and turned into a commodity. In that way the person is treated merely as a thing, a means to be used for some other end.”

We are not things. We are not drones. We shouldn’t allow anyone or anything to treat us as such. Among the pertinent definitions of privacy from the Oxford English Dictionary: "freedom from disturbance or intrusion." Twenty-four-seven surveillance is disturbing and certainly an intrusion. We need to think about how dangerous it is to slip into an Orwellian world, a massive surveillance state, and what we can do to stop it. This is a very real issue. This is happening. And whether or not you are doing something wrong has nothing to do with it.

As for Edward Snowden, we need him and should thank him. “Whistleblowers” help ensure our leaders are honest, have our best intentions in mind and are doing the right things. If we need to be watched for our safety, then the Edward Snowden’s of this world are required to watch the watchers.


When asked what we would do if we only had one year left to live, we typically say we’d drop everything we are currently doing to do everything we’ve always wanted to do. We say we’re going to quit our jobs, climb Mount Everest, jump out of a plane, travel to far-flung locales, volunteer at a dog rescue organization, spend quality time with our grandmothers, spend our last dime and, if you are anything like me, eat French fries and drink Port exclusively.

With one year to live, we’d suddenly understand who and what really matters, and we’d tell the people we love and hate that we love and hate them. And, yes, I think it’s fair to tell people you hate them – why shy away from the opposite of love? Think of how satisfying it would be to tell someone that you hate them more than anything else in your life, and in a cold, calculated manner, list the reasons for your loathing and then walk away like you don’t give a damn. Because you don’t. It would be awesome.

Of course, there are the people who tell us we should live like every day is our last. Treat people like it might be the last time you’ll ever see them. We’d get to do and say everything we’ve always wanted to do and say! It would be pure freedom! Or, it would be like this:

8:00AM: Wake up unreasonably happy to be alive. Stretch, scratch, wash, eat French fries. Don’t make your bed, because life is short. 
8:30AM: Leave your home thinking you may never return. Feel how the door sounds as it closes behind you. Walk the streets like it is the last time you will interact in this anonymous yet communal way. Appreciate the sounds of birds, cars and people talking. 
8:40AM: See a homeless man and know you can make the difference. Go to the bank and take out all of your money. Give it to the homeless man while looking deeply into his eyes to ensure you get the most out of what might be your last good deed.
9:00AM: Go see your parents and tell them the top 10 reasons you love them. Become emotionally overwhelmed that you may never see them again. Deal with their crushing sadness that today may be your last day. Somehow convince them that you have other things to do than sit with them until you are dead. 
10:30AM: Repeat the previous step as necessary with other family members, lovers and best friends. Assuming you have one sibling, one lover, no children and two best friends, this may take up to six hours. This will be time consuming and you’ll likely be an emotional wreck afterwards. Try to fit in another serving of French fries and bust open that bottle of Port. Drink the Port and don’t think that the very last thing you did with the people you love the most was leave them to go do something else. But, hey, it’s your last day and you have to…
4:30PM: Go see your enemy and tell him the top 10 reasons you hate him. Become emotionally enraged that he has made you feel such fury and then feel relieved that you may never see him again. Get it all out. Make sure he doesn’t have a chance to speak as this will take up valuable minutes of what could be your last hours. Plus, he’s a fucker and he doesn’t deserve to have a say. 
4:45PM: Go do whatever bucket list things you have to do before you die. It’s your last day, so you don’t really have time to travel anywhere far; do what you can with what you have. Always wanted to bungee jump? Sing karaoke? Fling your phone into the ocean and scream out your deepest secrets? Shoot someone? Now’s the time. Do whatever wonderful horrendous thing you want to do because now is possibly your last chance. Important: Be sure to capture every nuance of these activities – if you sing karaoke, really feel each note as it leaves your body. If you go bungee jumping, really feel the ridiculous amount of stupidity it takes to tie yourself to something stable and then throw yourself off said stable thing. 
7:45PM: Eat French fries. Buy more Port and keep drinking. At this point, you have given all your money away, said good-bye to your loved/hated ones, crossed off some bucket list items. You are now mal-nourished and drunk. It’s been a pretty big day
8:00PM: You still have some pent-up last-day-of-your-life histrionics to relinquish. Start a fight. Kiss a stranger. Sit in the middle of the street and stop traffic. Steal something for the thrill of it. Laugh aloud alone for a long time. Realize you have much wisdom to impart and too little time to do it. Make a list of truisms you are certain will be as rousing to your audience as they suddenly are to you. Plan to share your truisms as earnestly as drunk people with hours to live can.
  • Truism 1: Family and friends are the most important things in your life. Tell them you love them every chance you get.
  • Truism 2: Plan your bucket list wisely – don’t leave the big ones to the last minute because instead of re-enacting Leo and Kate’s sexy parts from Titanic you’ll end up fucking the guy from accounting and throwing your phone into the ocean. 
  • Truism 2b: Never throw your phone away. No one memorizes phone numbers anymore and cell phone numbers aren’t listed.
  • Truism 3: French fries and Port are as amazing an all-day combo as you thought they would be.
  • Truism 4: Life is indeed short and … um … you should live every day like it’s your last, right? Or something else that everyone else says all the time. (Have you noticed that all of our last day/last year plans sound incredibly similar? Is anyone else suspicious of this? I am.)
10:45PM: Go home and pass out. You can live life like it’s your last day again tomorrow. 

It doesn’t work
Based on this very accurate description, you can see that while the idea is lovely, it doesn’t work. We can’t live that precariously all the time. The drama will take a toll. The schedule will take a toll. We can’t sustain the level of tragedy and exhilaration of living life like every day is the last. Anyone who says you can/should is a dink.  

Instead, let’s figure out if there is anything in our lives that is missing and, if it’s important, fill in the blank. That’s it. And if what you are missing sounds an awful lot like what a million other people are missing, maybe think a little harder.