Loneliness

I noticed a pattern in my dating behavior recently.  Actually, I think I noticed it a few years ago but suppressed it, afraid it might be indicative of something that I might have to deal with.

I think I’m good at being single.  I keep myself busy with work, friends, and sports.  I enjoy my alone time.  Sex outside a relationship doesn’t do much for me.  And for the most part, I don’t crave to be in a relationship.  Yet every year, I enter the fall a single man, and exit the holidays in some kind of relationship.  Maybe not every year, but close enough for me to see a pattern.

In 2016, I met a Harley Quinn at a Halloween party and we dated until the spring of last year.  Before that was Max, who I met in the fall of 2015.  We dated until the spring of 2016.  It’s been almost a year since I’ve been anywhere near a woman though, and I’m starting to bug out a bit.

As great as my last girlfriend was, I came out of that relationship thinking that I might be asexual.  She was all kinds of awesome, and I was all kinds of uninterested towards the end.  It wasn’t her fault as I had some things I needed to work through.  In that regard, I suppose I’m not very good at multitasking.

Harley and I broke up in the spring.  Women weren’t on my radar at all.  The summer came and went and I still had no interest in women.  I was open minded to the idea that I just wasn’t suitable for a relationship.  I was also open minded to the fact that I might be a touch asexual as I noticed myself getting bored of sex within the first few months in most of my relationships.  I loved exploring, I loved figuring out where her buttons were, and I loved introducing her to new things… but as soon as things became a bit repetitive, I would lose interest.

In the fall, an ex messaged me.  We chatted for a bit and I could see she was angling for something physical so I told her she was probably barking up the wrong tree.  She took it as a challenge and basically took it upon herself to turn me back into a red-blooded male.  I thought it would be an interesting experiment.  We were supposed to meet up one weekend after she wrapped up at some kind of fancy party.  I told her earlier in the day that I just wasn’t into it.  There’s an interesting test that I think most men (and perhaps women?) are aware of: If you still wanna hang out with them after you jerk off, then they’re worth hanging out with.  That was not the case with her, so I eventually told her that it wouldn’t be right to use her to work out my own issues.

On Monday, I downloaded Tinder.  Or perhaps I should say that I re-downloaded Tinder.  I’m probably the minority but I’m a fan of the app and have used it to meet several quality women.  This time around, I’m feeling a bit lost.  My last profile was a head shot of me in a 3 piece suit, talking about working in finance and dabbling in venture capital.  As effective as that profile was, it seemed a bit douchey this time around.  It didn’t reflect who I had become over the last year.  I really didn’t know what kind of girl I was looking to attract, or even what I would even want from them.  I just knew it was different from before.  But Tinder isn’t the place for me to work this out.  I had the app for 2 days before deleting it again.

But I’m playing back into this pattern aren’t I?  Give or take a couple months.  Do I want to be in a relationship?  Probably not.  I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  Am I open to one?  I think so.  Maybe what I’m hoping for is to meet someone new who can teach me a few things about the world and myself.  Or maybe I’m feeling the void of someone who’s already taught me so much.

I probably went through more personal growth in the last 12 months than any other period of my life.  The last time I went through this much growth was when my dad died.  I learned to appreciate the true diversity of humanity.  I learned that embracing what made me different, and being true to myself wasn’t only going to be my greatest comparative advantage, it would also lead to my happiest self.  I learned the importance of not suppressing my emotions and the value of learning how to process and communicate them.  I learned why it was important for me to embrace the parts of who I am which I had neglected, thinking they weren’t necessary in my career.  I learned a greater appreciation for prejudice and the survivorship bias.  I learned to be far more grateful.  And perhaps most importantly, I learned a tremendous importance of keeping an open mind.

Keeping an open mind can be important for a variety of reasons, many of which I learned last year.  Of all those reasons though, one is very important to me.  I had the opportunity to learn all of this when I was dating Max.  She was a few years younger than me, but she had a handle on all of this stuff.  And the things she didn’t know, we should’ve been able to discover together.  Instead of keeping an open mind and seeing her as someone I could learn from, I saw her as a challenge to the path I was already committed to.  Where she embraced her diversity, I was telling her to mind her P’s and Qs.  Where she tried to encourage me to explore, I would tell her that I didn’t have the time.  Where she pushed me to have a better awareness of my emotions, I bought into the myth that I was all robot.  Where she encouraged me to be more grateful, I insisted that I had worked hard for everything that I had.  When she tried to assert herself as an equal who I could learn from, I basically told her that between our age difference and the life that I had lived, there was a good chance that I knew better.  I dismissed the wisdom in what she was trying to help me learn, for the sake of being right and being able to continue along the path I was on.  It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done to anyone in a relationship and I still feel pretty rotten about it.

In a year where I’ve had more personal growth than at any other point in my life, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Max.  Over.  And over.  And over.  It wasn’t even about wanting to be back in a relationship with her.  It had everything to do with wanting her back in my life. But she wasn’t.

So I found myself thinking about her more and more.  I started playing some of the music she had turned me onto (Phantogram).  I made a half hearted attempt at stalking her social media (largely unsuccessful).  I started to wonder if we would still be compatible (maybe?).  Eventually, I even found myself tossing and turning in bed, wanting her to be within arm’s reach.

When we dated, we fell hard and fast.  Within the first few weeks, we were in love.  Within the first month, we were talking about moving in together.  A month later, we were joking around about having alpha-babies.  Infatuation aside, there was also a deep compatibility that I hadn’t experienced with anyone else.  But she only got half of me.  The other half was career oriented at all costs, and had picked a terrible career to be committed to.  I don’t see an alternate universe in which she could’ve convinced me of that.  I was subscribed to the philosophy that if failure was an option, then you had too many options.  A painful lesson, but perhaps invaluable to my future.

When I think about her now, the word that I can’t get out of my head is ‘equal’.  In the grand scheme of things, I think that we’re all equally valuable to the universe.  But Max was equal to me.  Or maybe I was equal to her.  Or maybe I’m just in awe of the situation and can’t help but hold her in such high regard.  I don’t think it’s that simple though.

I’ve spent most of my adult life hoping to find a partner.  I’ve also spent most of that time not knowing what that person would look like.  I think I have a much better idea now, though it seems incredibly hard to articulate beyond being with someone who’s my equal.  I want to be able to learn from them as often as they learn from me.  I want us to be able to keep an open mind when exploring the unknown together.  I want someone who can hold their own when debating something we disagree on.  I want someone who is valuable to me as I am to them.  And for each of us to be the most valuable person in each other’s lives because we’re committed to bringing out the best in one another.

Maybe that’s what’s going on here.  I have this fixation on becoming the best version of myself.  Seeing the influence Max had on me, I can’t help but think of her as an asset.  The key to my best self.  As romantic as that may sound to some, I don’t think it’s a very functional or realistic way to approach this.

With all the growing up I’ve done, I’m confident that I would make a far better partner for her than I did when we were dating.  Considering the potential we both saw in each other when we did date, I can’t help but be interested in knowing where that would take us today.  Maybe not much further than before.  Maybe much further than before.  I think that would have a lot to do with who she is now.  And therein lies the reality of the matter.

We were in touch over email last week for the first time in about 2 years.  She’s on the other side of the planet working on her MBA.  She’s out there doing her thing, as I always hoped that she would.  Which means I either gotta go get her, hope that she comes to me, or put it out there in the universe and see what happens.  And I’m going with option 3.

I’m sure there’s a romantic, fairy-tale way to approach this… and I wouldn’t put it past me to try something crazy like that.  But I’m still not sure how much of this really involves her.  Had it not been for our most recent communication, she wouldn’t have a clue any of this was going on in my head.  Not to mention there’s always a chance that she’s already dating someone.  Maybe she’s found her soulmate and I’m just being a needy ex.

How much of what I’m feeling relates to the fact that I haven’t been intimate with anyone in almost a year?  How much of this has to do with me usually being in a relationship at this time of year?  How much of this has to do with the loneliness I experience when I don’t have anyone to share my inner-thoughts with?  How much of this is the loneliness that comes from a modern society that’s so connected yet so divided?  How much of this is the loneliness that comes from a world where it costs money to hang out with your friends, but where everyone is struggling financially?  And how much of this stems from the fear that I may have found someone who I could truly build a future with, and may not find another?

The logic in me says that there are a finite amount of people in this world who would make for a suitable partner.  That Max may be one of them, but that she wouldn’t be the only one.  That given where she is, and the phase of life that she’s in, I would probably have better odds looking elsewhere.  Or maybe as the odds play out, I end up with none of them.  The logic in me says appreciate who she is, be grateful for what she’s helped you learn, and focus on the things in your life that are a little more tangible.

But then something else inside me says, what about Max?

I Used to be a Nice Guy.

As a kid, I think I was probably a handful.  But in general, a good kid.  It’s interesting because you might expect that a good kid would grow into a nice guy, and a nice guy would end up with a good girl and everything would work out. Somewhere along the way though, nice guys became not so nice.

I always had a close circle of guy friends, but back in early high school, I started hanging out with the ladies as well.  I genuinely respected and appreciated them as friends, but there would usually be at least one girl in the group I was crushing on.  As a kid, I really wasn’t sure how to approach the situation.  All I really knew is that if I spent time around them, I could probably make some progress.  I’d eat lunch with them.  Talk with them on the phone.   Help them with their homework. Help them with their guy problems…  And I literally got friend-zoned every time.

In grade 11, I met my first girlfriend.  We met at a driving school and I’m pretty sure she had both hands on the steering wheel.  I was lucky because she clearly knew what she was doing and didn’t mind that I was just along for the ride.  It only lasted a few months but at least I figured out how to kiss a girl.  My grade 12 girlfriend was about the same.

I could’ve very easily graduated high school a virgin.  Probably would’ve had I not been easy prey for a pair of girls who weren’t afraid to go after what they wanted.  Instead, I had a couple relationships under my belt and was ready for university.  I remember during orientation week, seeing a girl in my dorm who had the face of an angel, the body of a goddess, and the personality of a cartoon character.  We’ll call her Grace.  She was pretty awesome, and we started hanging out.  Just when I thought I may have been making some progress, she detoured towards an upperclassman.  Not only was the guy a legit womanizer, his personality was mostly cardboard.  It was extremely frustrating for me because I was athletic, I was academic, she and I got along really well, her friends liked me, her family liked me, and I was a nice guy.  Yet she ignored my interest to chase after a guy who literally treated her like an after thought unless he was trying to get laid.

Towards the end of my first year, I started dating our dorm’s resident busty blonde.  There was one point at which she came back to the dorm with another upperclassman, looking a little flustered.  I was a little suspicious.  He was the type to take advantage of a situation like that and she was probably the type to be into it.  We did a little long distance over the summer, where she cheated on me again with her ex back home.  As revenge, I strung her along until she thought things were good, then I broke up with her.  Effective revenge, but a complete dick move on my part.

Ironically, Grace started reaching out to me that summer, telling me about how I was the one she should’ve gone after.  To make matters more confusing, she had just gotten into a relationship with a childhood friend from back home, and the guy was actually treating her well.  She ended up sleeping with him, and then he ended up sleeping with her best friend, who happened to be a gay guy.  As entertaining as that was for me, I felt a little bad for her.

When we got back to school for our second year, everyone was back to being single.  I had been thinking about Grace a fair bit so I told her.  She didn’t have much of a response.  We went out to the big dance in the first week and within the first few dances, she was all up on another guy, so I decided to get all up on another girl.  We were mutually upset at each other’s behavior, and that seemed to undermine any possible momentum we may have had.  From there, she started pursuing a buddy of mine.  This guy was also a dick.  He was easy enough to get along with as a guy, but he also treated her like an after thought.  The more she wanted him, the more he didn’t want her.  I think they slept together a few times, but he had no interest in a relationship.  By the end of the second year, she was dating another buddy of mine who I shared a wall with.  He was much less of a dick, but also the kinda guy who partied way too hard to make it into his second year.

WTF was going on?  What did these guys have that I didn’t? In my head, I would go through the qualities that I had learned women respected:  Physically fit, good hygiene, doing well in school, good circle of friends, social status, respected women, polite, gentlemanly… what else was there?  Leaving university after my second year, I had concluded that women were more attracted and more responsive to men who treated them poorly than men who treated them well.  I knew that I didn’t completely understand the dynamic, but I was fully ready to give up on being the nice guy who was doomed to live out his days in the dreaded friend-zone.

When I got back home from university that summer, I really wasn’t focused on girls.  I was focused on being bad.  Money for school had run out and because of a few other issues between me and the university, they really didn’t want me back.  So I didn’t go.  Instead, I started doing the kinda things that bad boys do.  I spent the next 18 months with ‘the wrong crowd’, doing the kinds of things that people go to jail for.  My inner-circle knew what I was up to but for everyone else, I would just tell them, “don’t worry about it.”  And it worked surprisingly well.

I still wasn’t the type to chase after women, but I started noticing that girls were into me.  Girls who would’ve friend zoned me before were now interested.  My plan was working.

I didn’t even have a clearly defined plan.  All I knew is that when I was a ‘nice guy’, women weren’t interested in me.  When I wasn’t a ‘nice guy’, I was much more attractive.  I gave that a lot of thought.  Maybe the nice guy was too vanilla?  But then it occurred to me that for the most part, nice guys were harmless.  And harmless was unattractive.  There was a lot more to it than that, but maybe I was on to something.

When I got back to university to complete my degree, I proceeded to date 3 of what were probably the most eligible females on campus.  I thought the first was probably a fluke, right place at the right time.  By the third, I knew something was different from my first two years at the school.  I had manifested into the mysterious, hardened, conflicted, complicated guy who still managed to have a bright future, great friends, and a good heart.  Girls were totally into that guy.  I have to admit, it was a lot easier trying to figure things out as that guy than as the guy who could only watch from the sidelines.

When I graduated and came home, I started training in MMA 6 days a week.  I had watched a ton of it on TV and wanted to start competing ASAP.  Within months, I had added a new dimension to my personality.  I now knew that if I ended up in a physical confrontation with another person, there was a very good chance that I would come out on top.  I can’t stress how impactful that state of mind has been on every element of my life.  I spent the first half of my life avoiding violence, fearing that I wouldn’t know how to handle it.  I’ve spent the second half of my life avoiding violence, because I know how to handle it.  The confidence that comes from that state of mind was the final step in building myself into the ‘perfect guy’.

With all the information that I had collected in the first 25 years of my life, I had what I thought was a pretty good idea of what women wanted.  They wanted a guy who’s nice to them, but not to everyone.  They wanted a guy who’s good, but is capable of being bad.  They wanted a guy who can fight, but isn’t violent.  It was like they wanted someone who was a threat, but not a threat to them.  So I literally became the university educated, former bad boy, MMA fighter, investment advisor, who was complicated but with a good heart and a bright future guy.

It would be an exaggeration to say that at this point, I got every girl I pursued, but not by much.  I’ve never been the type for one night stands or picking up girls at a bar so that’s not what I’m talking about.  All I’m saying is that I haven’t been put in the friend zone since.

So how has that worked out for my dating life?  Am I happier?

For a while, it was nice.  Tinder worked like a charm.  Ironically though, the last time I used it was when I landed what many men would think was the holy grail of dating.  I ended up going on a date with a girl who had blonde hair and blue eyes, who looked like a porn-star, worked as a model, and on our second date, tried to bring another girl back to my place.  The second girl she brought back was way too drunk so I took her home, came back, and did the deed.   And felt so gross.  I literally had zero interest in who she was and I’m not the kind of person who looks to date or sleep with someone I’m not interested in.

It was like I had climbed this mountain of self-improvement, so that women would pay more attention to me, only to to realize that the person I had turned myself into was finally capable of landing the kind of woman I had no interest in.  Well then.

That was about 3 years ago.  I’ve had time to reflect.  With the rise of r/niceguys, I’ve thought a fair bit about the path I’ve taken.

The first thing that I had to face was that I spent most of my adolescent and adult life trying to become the kind of guy that girls would be interested in.  When I was young, I modeled so much of my behavior after prince charming.  The good guy, the hero, the gentleman, the nice guy.  That earned me as many female friends as I wanted, but no real relationships.  The girls I did date either got disinterested or cheated on me.  Once I realized being nice didn’t work, I modeled myself after the reformed gangster.  The bad boy, the outlaw, the guy who had seen some shit but didn’t wanna talk about it, and the guy who did bad but now chose to do good.  That earned me as many dates as I wanted, but again, no real relationships.  I was a fixer-upper that women were keen to get to work on, but I had no interest in being fixed.

There’s a dynamic here worth exploring.

There seems to be this cat and mouse game going on between men and women.  But who’s the cat and who’s the mouse?  As much as personal preference came into play, there would always be a few guys that almost all the girls were into.  There were also more than  a few guys who almost all the girls were never into.  To some degree, there was a male hierarchy, that was determined by female preferences in dating.  It was the alpha males and the beta males.

Interesting.

In an age where people are talking about women needing to be more powerful, I can’t help but think this is a dynamic we’ve yet to really appreciate.  Men, in their formative years, model so much of their behavior after what they think will give them the best chance of being with a woman.

As with most major issues in the world, I can’t help but think that this would be easily solved with the use of blatant honesty.  I think a good starting point would be for women to be completely honest about what they find attractive, and communicate how that changes over the course of their lives.  I suspect that most girls grow up thinking that they want a prince charming but as they start to grow into women, they start to realize that life’s a little more complicated than the fairy tales they grew up with.  Turns out that prince charming doesn’t actually exist, and even if he did… meh.  At this point, it becomes an exercise in women exploring what they do want.  It can be tough to be honest about this though.  Especially when you’re trying to maintain an image of innocence, sexual exclusivity, or any other quality that women tend to assume they should be projecting.  It’s not honest though, and it’s confusing the hell out of the guys.

Men aren’t off the hook.  Not even close.  Maybe, in a roundabout way, women facilitated the creation of the ‘nice guy’.  But seriously, how about we don’t play the victim here?  The modern ‘nice guy’ is no longer defined by being a good person.  He’s now defined by the pain and frustration that comes with years of rejection.  And perhaps a mistrust of women, betrayed by the nice guy philosophy which he was convinced would lead to that elusive girlfriend and social acceptance.  I understand where those emotions come from… I’ve experienced that same frustration… but get over it.

If you had focused on you, focused on becoming an interesting and accomplished individual with the patience to wait for the right woman to come along, you probably would’ve been fine.  Instead, you tried to become who you thought women wanted you to be.  You got it wrong.  You thought they just wanted someone who treats them well.  They want more.  A lot more.  They want someone they feel safe around, they want someone who can make them laugh, they want someone who can make them think, someone who can introduce them to new things, someone they can introduce to new things, someone who will truly understand and support who they are.  And etc., and etc.  Not to mention, they want to feel that physical chemistry.  If all you got is nice, it’s not enough.  If all you’ve got is nice, you haven’t earned shit.  Even when a girl says all she wants is a nice guy, they’re still not talking about you.  Until you’ve figured out who you are, found your reason for wanting to be a good human being, and are no longer projecting your issues onto others, you’re not ready for dating.

So what happens when you figure out that women aren’t really looking for just another nice guy?  Well I’m not sure if it’s the default, but a lot of nice guys are becoming assholes, thinking, “shit, well if I’m gonna get rejected, I might as well be an ass about it.”  And maybe there’s this sense of karma where you’re thinking, “You want to date a jerk?  I’ll show you a jerk!”  All that’s really happened though, is you went from the uninteresting nice guy, to the uninteresting asshole.  Or, maybe you were always an ass, but thought that being a nice was going to sweep her off her feet.  Stop it.  It’s not working.  It’s never worked.  It’s unlikely to ever work in your lifetime.  Focus on being a good person, through and through, and move on with your life.  That was my saving grace.  I was always more interested in being a good person than being a boyfriend.  While I was able to play the role of the disinterested bad boy, I think it’s unlikely that the girls I dated would’ve stuck around for as long as they did if there wasn’t more to it.

Thinking back on it all now, had I focused on being the best version of myself, it may have led to fewer relationships, but it probably would’ve led to more meaningful relationships.  Healthier relationships.  The kind of relationships which weren’t, in-part, defined by trying to be what I thought someone else wanted me to be, when in reality, nobody really understood any of  what was going on.

A Modern Marriage

I grew up wanting a high school sweetheart that I could marry and spend the rest of my life with.  Something about that seemed sensible and wholesome.  By the time I got to university, I was looking for brains and beauty.  I thought that if I set my standards super high, I’d be able to find a super awesome woman, and the rest would be easy enough to figure out.  As it turns out, compatibility and chemistry can be important, especially when I’m a bit of a basket case.

First girl I thought I’d marry laid out the ultimatum of 2 kids within 5 years, and working backwards meant that we were getting engaged in the coming year.  Considering that we had been together for less than a year, I couldn’t do it.  3 months after we broke up, she was engaged to another guy.  She’s still an awesome person and I hope that it all works out for her, but it was the first time I was really faced with the ridiculous concept of marriage.  Let me explain…

Marriage, as we know it, is a life-long commitment of a romantic relationship to another person.  Am I the only one who thinks that sounds absolutely crazy?

Maybe I need to back the truck up for a second.  With the exception of the last few years, I used to be a big romantic.  Flowers delivered at work, spontaneous cross-country surprises, breakfasts in bed, gifts from Tiffany’s… nothing made me happier than putting a huge smile on her face.  But just about all of my relationships lasted less than 6 months.  Once that initial stage of infatuation settled and the real dynamics of the relationship started to emerge, I would see issues.  Then I would try to solve these issues.  If I couldn’t solve them, I would try to put up with them.  Eventually, I would be disinterested or frustrated, and the relationship would end.  I can’t help but think that a big part of that is on me, but when I describe the situations to others, they usually agree that it just wasn’t the right fit.

Over the last few years, my time and my finances have been much tighter so I didn’t quite have the capacity to be the same happy-go-lucky romantic that I used to be.  Instead, I focused more on the inter-personal dynamics, trying to understand what it would take to build the foundation for something that would last forever.  What boxes would we need to tick over the next 2-4 years before we decided that this was what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives?  Physical chemistry was a must.  A deep friendship was a must.  An ability to work out our differences was a must.  Etc. Etc.  There was something that just wasn’t adding up though.

Back in my early 20s, I was watching this amateur comedian at a local bar… I think he was an English teacher.  He said that he had been with his girlfriend for about 20 years, but he still thought that marriage was a dubious proposition.  As he put it, he loved his girlfriend, enjoyed being with her, and wanted to keep being with her… and yet marriage still sounded like the most ridiculous proposition.  He went on to explain how marriage was first introduced when humans would barely live past 30.  That made sense.  Get married in your teens, have a few kids, and call it a night.  ‘Til death do us part is easy when you’re only going to last another 15-20 years.  When we’re expected to live into our 100s though…

Putting aside the idea that marriage was brought about in a manner that treated women like property, let’s just focus on what marriage today looks like.  I had this conversation with a friend’s girlfriend the other day.  I made the case that if our success rate for marriage was 50%, and that just about every couple enters into a marriage beaming with love, confidence, and hope, wouldn’t that suggest that we don’t have the capacity to pick life partners with accuracy or consistency?  She conceded.  But she protested, “What about the romance?”  There it is.

As with many things in life, I can’t help but think that a more logical approach would make for an emotionally healthier situation.  Her perspective on marriage was a little more traditional.  She thought that the grand gesture of marriage was romantic, and that committing yourself to someone for life was what helped you get through the rough patches.  There was something about taking that plunge into the unknown, together, that made it special.  I admire that.  But I also disagree with it.

My parents split when I was in my early teens.  Most of the families I grew up around were single parent households.  As an adult, personally and professionally, I’ve seen marriages breakdown.  There’s a yin and a yang to this dynamic.  All the optimism, hope, love and trust that usually exists during a wedding, is usually replaced by pessimism, hatred, and mistrust during a divorce.  When it comes to splitting the kids and the finances, things get downright ugly.

What about a prenup?  But that’s not very romantic.  The idea of getting married to someone is forever, and as soon as you introduce a prenup, you’re already planning for it not to be forever.  Well… if 50% of the time, it doesn’t last forever… what exactly is going on here?  If we took a more pragmatic approach to things, wouldn’t a prenup be standard protocol?  As I’ve often suggested to others, it’s best to make decisions about how to walk away when you still really love and want the best for each other.  It certainly beats figuring it out when all you care about is making the other person hurt as just much as you are.

So what’s the solution?  Glad you asked.

By no means will this be for everyone, but I can’t help but think I’m on to something with this.  First, you abandon the idea that marriage is forever.  If you’re 30 and plan on living to 100, appreciate the ridiculousness of being legally bound to someone else for the next 70 years.   If you want to make a commitment to that person, along with a grand gesture and a big party, you should go for it.  But maybe go for a 10 year commitment.  Say that for the next 10 years of my life, through thick and through thin, I want to be by your side.  If after 10 years, things are going great, extend that agreement.

If you’re planning on kids, and this is key, it should be a 20 year contract.  Parents really should do everything they can to keep their personal differences from disrupting the formative years of their children.  With a 20 year contract, it helps to emphasize that.  Not only are you making a commitment to that other person, you’re making a commitment to the kids.  You’re signing up for a team effort in raising the best damn offspring you can manage.  If you’re ready for a new phase of your life after your kids have moved out or are off to college, that’s cool.

The purpose of the contracts, agreements, or whatever euphemism you’d like to use, isn’t about putting a time limit on the relationship, but rather a minimum commitment.  It’s about understanding and accepting the knowns and unknowns that come with a decisin like this.   You can do your best to map out what the coming years look like personally and professionally.  You can set out who will contribute what.  You can make decisions about what happens with the finances if the marriage dissolves early, or if you reach the end of your agreement and want to go your separate ways.  It like a built-in prenup and I can’t emphasize enough the power of addressing this stuf when you still like each other.  The other things that you can tackle in here are things like infidelity or other deal breakers.  No landmines.  It’s really about building a long-term relationship on a stable foundation instead of unstable emotions and hoping for the best.

The next piece, and I’m a big fan of this, is screw taking anyone’s last name.  For the longest time, I was big on carrying my family name forward.  I can only see what I see today because I stand on the shoulders of giants.  What my dad did for me and my family will always be appreciated and will never be forgotten.  What his mom did for him, and so on and so forth.  I thought that carrying my family name forward would be the best way to honor them.  It’s bullshit.  The best way I can honor them is by taking everything that they’ve given me, and doing my best to make the world a better place.  The idea of a woman having to take a man’s last name, while a noble gesture, is rather silly.  The guy taking the girl’s last name is just as silly.  Hyphenating the name works for one generation, but what happens when that person wants to get married to another person with a hyphenated name?  Silly.  So what do you do?  Come up with your own last name!  Seriously.  I can’t be the only one excited about the idea of brainstorming with my significant other about our new last name.  You can come up with something that’s meaningful to both of you, sounds good with both of your names, and something that your kid can identify with.  You might as well come up with a new family crest while your at it.  Seriously, the more I think about this, the more it makes sense.  I think this would do a lot of good, on many levels.

Part 3, ditch the traditional wedding.  The idea of making everyone sit through a ceremony that we’ve all seen before, on uncomfortable church pews, in our best clothes, while we judge the parents who brought the crying baby… just doesn’t make much sense.  What makes even less sense is spending tens of thousands of dollars on hundreds of guests, at an overly fancy venue, with overly fancy food, all at a fat wedding mark-up.  Not cool.  You found someone that you wanna be with so bad that it’s worth throwing a party?  It’s a celebration bitches!  Treat it as such.  Throw the kinda party that you and your friends would love to go to.  Stop putting on this masquerade in the name of tradition.

Finally, and perhaps this speaks to some of my other motivations here… fuck the ring (pardon all this foul language).  Coming from a guy who’s spent thousands at Tiffany’s, I couldn’t be more confident in this statement.  For anyone who hasn’t looked up the history of the diamond wedding ring, it has nothing to do with romance and everything to do with marketing.  As someone with a business background, I can’t help but appreciate how effectively they were able to build an industry around the idea that the bigger the diamond, the more he loves you.  As a human being, I can’t help but be frustrated and annoyed that we’ve been this ignorant for this long.  What I do appreciate about the ring though is that it’s a marker that one wears proudly as if to say “I’m taken, and it’s awesome”.  I can get on board with that.  Does it have to be a ring?  Probably not, but that’s what we’re used to looking for so… maybe it does.  Either way, it definitely doesn’t have to be a diamond and that’s where things start to get fun again.  I used to be big on man made diamonds.  The girl could get a giant diamond, I wouldn’t have to spend much, and I would get the satisfaction of knowing I outsmarted the jewelry industry.  But why not explore a bit?  If you decide on a diamond for personal reasons, then go for it.  If you choose a different type of precious stone, or no stone at all, go for it.  Personally speaking, I’d love to have something cool like titanium carbide or maybe something made from tungsten.  Whatever it was, it would be designed specifically with us in mind.  Because when I look at the ring, it should be us that I have in mind.

We’re in an age where tradition is disappearing to make way for better ideas.  I reject the idea that being romantic means making poor life choices.  I reject the idea that a wedding is about anything other than celebrating their love.  And I reject the idea that marriage is anything more than a commitment where two people who love each other enough to consider a distant future where they’re still together.  I embrace the idea that this is 2018 and that it’s about time that marriage caught up to who we really are.

Why is Racism so Complicated?

So I had a moment last week.  A moment of confusion, a moment of frustration, and then a moment of weakness.

It started when I was talking to a friend about growing up as a minority.  The neighborhood I grew up in was right beside Chinatown and included most of the city’s low-income housing.  The neighborhood was predominately Asian with a mix of other minorities.  One of those minorities were the families of the middle class, artsy-entrepreneur crowd.  That was me.

I still have my grade 7 year book and looking at it now, I was one of 5 white kids in my grade.  I’ve learned a great deal reflecting back on all of this.

Growing up, the school and community did a great deal to teach us that racism was wrong.  We had leadership groups, speakers, engagement from the teachers, stories, VHS tapes… you name it.  But the lesson was always the same:  it was never OK to judge someone based on the color of their skin.  But kids can be mean.

By no means was this neighborhood like present day Detroit, but it had its rough patches.  I used to get asked if I knew what the KKK stood for.  I was told that it stood for ‘kill kocky kaucasians’.  On more than a few occasions, I would be picked last for a team because it would be funny to leave the white guy for last.  I was beaten up more than a few times, teased, picked on, all of it.  Oddly enough though, I rarely associated it with my skin tone.  I took it personally.  I thought they were picking on me, because of me.  Reflecting back on it, I don’t think my skin color was the driving factor, more of an excuse.  I think it had something to do with it, but for the most part, it was just kids being kids.

By the time I got to high school, things were a little more diverse but not by much.  The white minority was now probably closer to 15%.  By this time though, I didn’t identify as white.  I’m not sure if I ever did.  Why would I?  There were still some racial tensions in high school but again, I think it was mostly just kids being kids.  I had several circles of friends and they were never determined by race, just by what we had in common.  I had my friends through sports, my friends through the academics, my friends through computer games, my friends through work, and my core friends that I grew up with.  More often than not, I was the only white guy and it was more of a novelty than anything.  Now that I think about it, the nickname given to me in high school was actually whiteness.  I really didn’t mind though, because my friends were still my friends.  They made fun of me having a big nose in the same way that I would make fun of them for having small eyes.  There was no hate attached to our brand of racism, just humor and lightheartedness.  It was like our way of being… over it.  Perhaps that’s why when Dave Chappelle and Russel Peters started to bring that dynamic to the mainstream, we were huge fans.

The last time I punched a hole in the wall was a few years ago.  It was very out of character for me.  I was dating a girl who I thought had a deep understanding of who I was, but she was intent on checking my white privilege.  It was so confusing and frustrating for me.  It was as if she couldn’t appreciate that the path I had taken wasn’t exactly the best example of white privilege.  Last week, I was told that I didn’t grow up as a minority.  Sigh.

Instead of getting frustrated, I tried to ask why.  She said that if I were to watch the media, or read books, or look at anything outside my bubble, white was the norm.  As a kid who grew up watching Dragon Ball, Fresh Prince and The Simpsons, I’m not exactly sure that’s true, but I understood what she was saying.  I pushed back though, saying that even if that’s what was in the media, I was a kid who spent most of his time in school, community center programs, or with friends.  Even my nanny was an old Chinese lady who didn’t speak any English.  I can’t help but think that objectively speaking, I grew up as a minority.  And perhaps why I pushed back on it is because I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for having gone through that.  I think that’s a big part of who I am today and for someone to tell me otherwise can be rather frustrating.

Ironically, she actually went to the same high school as I did about 30 years earlier so she said she knew what I was talking about and went through some of the same dynamics but said it still wasn’t the same as growing up as a minority.  Maybe so, but what came next was even more confusing.  She said that I was a racist.  At first, I thought it was a comment about everyone being racist to some degree.  I think that’s probably true.  The color of someone’s skin still acts – to some degree – as a predictor of other qualities.  Asians tends to be better at math.  Blacks tend to be more athletic.  Whites tend to be better at… country music?  As far as I’m concerned, the reason why racism is silly, is because while the color of someone’s skin used to have some relevance in predicting other qualities, that relevance is decreasing rapidly, to the point of inaccuracy.

This is something I brought up in that conversation, that once upon a time, generalizing based on race or even gender may have come with enough accuracy to justify the assumptions that came with them.  Up until 100 years ago, assuming that a woman’s role within the family was based around raising the family, was correct far more often than not.  Back when travel between regions of the world was much more limited, you could use facial features and the color of someone’s skin to identify where they were likely from, and where they were from would usually tell you about their culture.  If you knew someone’s cultural background, perhaps more often than not, you could make somewhat accurate assumptions about their values.  That all falls apart in the modern age though.  We still actively look for markers that lend to a deeper understanding of the people we see, but I can’t help but think that race is an out-dated tool.

As global travel became easier, people started to move around.  The color of someone’s skin was no longer an accurate predictor of where someone was from.  As people of different ethnicities started to cozy up to each other, the prevalence of mixed-race couples was on the climb.  As everyone started to shift around and mix-and-match, skin color became just that – skin color.  I grew up with an understanding that I had way more in common with the Asian kid or the black kid from my neighborhood than the white kid one town over, let alone on the other side of the country, let alone from another country.  It wasn’t about race, it was about culture.  And your skin tone might still be able to predict the culture you were raised in once in a while, but since when is a tool worth using if it rarely works?

So when she said that I was a racist, I thought she was referring to the actual tool of racism which we’re all familiar with but rarely speak to out of fear of being labeled a racist.  Not quite.  So I asked her for an example, again, doing my best to understand where she was coming from.  The example she gave was that we always assume that the world’s accomplishments are a result of white men.  Huh?  I’m pretty sure I don’t do that… so I asked if she could give me a more specific example.  She asked me who invented the light bulb, I thought about it for a moment and replied with Thomas Edison.  She said wrong, it was a black guy and that this was a perfect example of how history was written in the white man’s favor.  I’m fully aware of how history’s inaccuracies come about but I was surprised that this was an example.  The science community tends to rise above these kinds of things so I thought I’d look it up.  What I found, I think speaks volumes about modern racism.

As with all great ideas, the light bulb was built upon past innovations.  It’s true that Thomas Edison filed the first patent for a commercially viable electric light bulb in 1879 but that was nearly 80 years after Allessandro Volta  invented the voltaic pile, history’s first manifestation of incandescent lighting.  Since the voltaic pile wasn’t commercially viable, other inventors continued to build out their own versions, each getting slightly closer to something that would be available to everyone.  Thomas Edison’s first iteration of his bulb made use of carbon filaments but they would only last a few days.  A few years later, he was able to extend the light of the filament significantly.  Shortly after that though, Lewis Latimer developed a technique of encasing the carbon filament in a cardboard envelope which would extend the life of the bulb even further.  It’s argued that this final step of the development of the incandescent bulb is what made it commercially viable, but this is where things get a little grey.

So what does this say about modern racism?  For starters, it’s a reminder that it’s better to do your own research than to take the word of someone of hasn’t done their own research.  When it comes to the topic of race, people get heated and sometimes, proving a point can be more important than being accurate.  I don’t doubt for a minute that my friend thought Latimer had invented the light bulb, but I also suspected that she hadn’t really looked into it.  My guess is that someone she trusted gave her this information.  Because it fit her understanding of the world, she accepted it and started telling others.  This is how misinformation spreads.  People tend to be less critical of new information when it fits their view of the world and I can’t help but think that this dynamic played a major role in the spread of racism in the first place.  Mexicans are lazy.  Blacks are dangerous.  Asians are bad drivers.  White people write history in their favor.  Each may be true at times, but they’re likely the exception to the rule.  Not to mention that each criticism could be said about a different race, and still be true at times.

Looking into this light bulb situation, it was still a reminder of the past’s racial dynamics as well.  Latimer didn’t invent the light bulb, but he did make a significant contribution to it just as many other scientists had – including Edison.  It was a group effort from the scientific community, just as all great inventions tend to be.  While the scientific community credits Latimer with his contribution here, I can’t help but think that the history books do a better job of rewarding the person who filed the patent than the people who were behind the invention.  Sure, it’s easier to say that Edison invented the light bulb, but if we had a clearer picture of how this all really came about, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that Latimer, along with other scientists, played a more significant role.

Fortunately for me, I had google at my disposal and I’m pretty fearless when it comes to looking things up on the spot.  So I looked it up, and told her it looked like Latimer had contributed to the invention, but wasn’t solely responsible for the invention itself.  To her credit, she conceded that she would need to look into it further.  But she also insisted that the point was still the same, that white men wrote history in their favor and the Native Americans was a more well-recognized example.  I reminded her that I was very familiar with how history is written, but this did remind me of something I need to own up to.

When I think about whether or not I’ve ever been racist in the past, in the traditional sense, I have been.  Most of the friends I grew up with were children of immigrants who were raised in the projects.  When I spent time at their homes, I saw people working multiple jobs, and pinching pennies to do whatever they could to give their children a better life.  When my friends started working, they started chipping in at home.  It was inspiring.  It still is.  20 years later, most of them have moved out of the projects and while their parents will never be millionaires, the kids really were given an opportunity to make something of themselves and that’s a sacrifice I’ll always recognize and appreciate.  So I was confused when I got to high school and saw all these unmotivated Native Americans.

There were a few natives at my elementary school and while I got along with them for the most part, there was a lot of friction between them and the other students.  When I got to high school, there were more native kids than white kids but most of them were in the alternative programs for kids who were struggling academically.  It created this weird dynamic where they were basically segregated from the rest of the school.  A lot of them had issues with violence so that was part of it, but at the time, I never invested the time into learning the rest.  One of my problems was that I had a few friends who were native and we got along just fine.  It made it easy for me to write-off the rest as flawed.  In the most fundamental sense, that was racist.

It wasn’t until late high school that I wandered through one of the projects by my school.  It was almost all native kids.  There was an outdoor basketball court with a few kids playing.  It looked like a scene out of Harlem, except instead of black families, it was native families.  Even the dress code was similar.  Here’s the thing.  In high school, I played basketball, listened to hip hop, watched BET, and dressed way too thuggish for a middle class white kid.  I had a huge appreciation for that side of black culture.  So how was it that I could be so judgmental and dismissive of these native families who were going through such a similar struggle?  That was a big moment for me.

It wasn’t malicious, but I was genuinely racist towards Native Americans until that moment.  It was at that moment that I stopped looking at them like the other, and started looking at them like fellow humans.  It was in that turning point that I started asking why they were different.  Why was it that my friends who grew up in the projects were hustling hard in school while the native kids were skipping class? Why were the parents of my friends working 2-3 jobs while the parents of these native kids seemed content on welfare?  What was the difference?  Had I been born with their genetics and raised by their families, would I be any different?  I couldn’t help but try to understand what was happening here.  Native American culture was rich, and interesting, and had a connection to spirituality and nature that should be better appreciated in modern times, but something was missing.  My prejudice was replaced with compassion.  My assumptions were replaced with questions.  Now I just look to help where I can.  While it sucked to realize that I had been racist, I was grateful to have learned what it felt like, and why it was counter-productive.  While I had admitted this to myself in my own mind years ago, it wasn’t until that conversation that I said it out loud.

I half-expected my admission to be a moment within the conversation but it wasn’t.  That didn’t fit her argument.  What I learned recently is that people don’t always argue with you, as much as they argue with what they assume your argument is.  My admission of racism didn’t fit her dialogue so she skipped right past it and before long, it was time for BLM.  She said suspiciously, ‘you’re not one of those all lives matters people are you?’  I looked back, sheepishly, saying something to the effect of ‘I don’t know, probably…’

The truth is, I didn’t know all that much about the BLM movement besides the fact that they stood against police brutality against the black community and that they were referenced in the conservative media as one of the more violent factions of the alt-left movement.  More recently, I had also read that they had leveraged their muscle to keep uniformed police from marching in support of the Toronto and Vancouver Pride Parades – something which the founders of those parades found troubling.

I was plenty familiar with the ‘all lives matter’ rhetoric of Fox News, used to undermine the position of BLM.  Like most of what they put out, it’s an ounce of truth followed by a pound of bullshit.  But the ounce of truth was that all lives matter.  Maybe I should’ve kept my mouth shut… but I can’t help but speak my truth.

This seemed to really frustrate her.  It was as if saying that all lives mattered undermined the momentum that this virtuous movement has gained.  It didn’t matter that all lives mattered, this was their time in the spot light and anything to take that away from them was wrong.

I disagree.  There are solutions that create more solutions and there are solutions that create more problems.  United, we’re strong.  Divided, we’re weak.  I was fully aware of the racial discrimination that shows up in the statistics around police brutality and I’ve seen the body cam footage of just about all of them.  But I’ve also seen the body cam footage of white people getting gunned down by cops with an almost identical demeanor.  Race played a role, but this isn’t a race issue, it’s a police brutality issue.

I tried to tell her that we need to stop drawing these lines in the sand between us and that the more we focus on race, the more others focus on race.  I told her that we’re all human and that the sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll realize that we’re all in this together — and that’s when we’ll have the power to create the change that we’re looking for.  Not when we’re fighting each other.  She said that I was being unrealistic, that what I was talking about was reserved for a distant future.  I’m convinced it isn’t, but we didn’t need to argue much further.

Then came my moment of weakness.  I was planning on doing a sober January in solidarity with a friend who was taking month off from cannabis for the first time in a long time.  Instead, I went home and busted out a vape pen I had mostly forgotten about.  I was so wound up that I needed help unwinding.  But then a very nice thing happened.  My friend called.  She wanted to check in on me.  It wasn’t necessary as I wasn’t going to let that affect our relationship, but I did tell her I was frustrated and that her call was appreciated.  I think I articulated it well… I wasn’t frustrated that she thought BLM was the way to go, I was frustrated that just because I wanted to take a more unified approach to solving the problem, I was being treated like the enemy.  That was my problem with the approach, it’s the ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’, kinda thing.  And we know that only Siths deal in absolutes.  She understood what I was saying, and then said something that I think was very valid.  She said that sometimes, before you can truly work on fixing a problem, you need to be seen.  You need to be recognized and appreciated by those around you, and only then is the soil fertile enough to plant a seed.  While I couldn’t necessarily relate, I could understand.

For the next few days, we sent a few messages back and forth.  I told her that the thought leaders I follow would suggest that together is better, and that together is on the horizon.  She asked who they were.  I told her Joe Rogan, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Trevor Noah, John Oliver, and Jordan Peterson.  Her husband who was a part of that chat blasted Jordan Peterson right away, saying he was pompous and arrogant, and included a link to a Toronto news article that was something to the effect of “Jordan Peterson is a dumb man’s smart person”, and started off with calling him the belle of the alt-right.  It was like reading an article from Fox News on Obama… all I could do is reply with a frowny face.

So I thought I’d do some more research on BLM and see what else I could find.  I started with a google search of ‘BLM divisive’, as the divisiveness and violence were the only issues I really had.  I came across a very interesting article from a black woman who had been a part of the civil rights movement back in the 60s.  I didn’t agree with everything she said, but I did agree with the theme of her article.  She was saying how she empathized with the BLM movement, but struggled to support the way they were going about it.  From her perspective, all lives did matter, and that the civil rights movement was about exactly that.  And their approach was with love being stronger than hate.  I can’t help but think that same approach would be even more effective today.  Imagine blacks, whites, latinos and everyone else marching together against police brutality.  That was my vision of all lives matter.  Curiously, she sent me a TED Talk with the founders of BLM and within the first few minutes, they spoke about how they hoped BLM would grow into a movement where all lives mattered as well.

The second thing that I found when searching for ‘BLM Divisive’ was the founder of the BLM Toronto Chapter.  I still don’t know much about what she’s gone through, but she’s got some issues.  I knew that she was in-part, responsible for keeping uniformed police officers from marching in support of the pride parades in Vancouver and Toronto, but I was surprised at what else I found.  On multiple occasions, through social media and at rallies, she seemed to be keen on black racial supremacy.  I won’t bother quoting any of that here as it’s easy enough to look up.  When I found that article, I sent it over to my friend and asked her if she was familiar with this side of BLM.  She said that person was an extremist, not well, and she was disappointed that I used her as an example of BLM.

Here’s the thing, it’s not just her.  It’s the people who are cheering at her rallies when she speaks.  It’s her followers on social media.  And when she’s helping the Toronto faction of BLM influence divisive policies within the Pride movement, one which has championed diversity and inclusivity for years… it’s not just her.  When she spoke, she was speaking to a group of people who people who were carrying around a tremendous amount of hurt and pain for past and present transgressions, and playing to their emotions.  She recognized them, gave them someone to blame, gave them a cause to rally behind, and I’m not sure what comes next.

The reason why I have a problem with this isn’t because systematic racism doesn’t exist, or because black people aren’t over-represented in the prison system or through police brutality.  The reason why I have a problem with this is that it’s the same problematic tactics that have been used for ages.  From Trump and the alt-right to Hitler with Nazi Germany.  You tell them that their pain is real, you tell them that it’s unfair, you give them someone to blame, you give them someone to hate, and then you leverage that power.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen hate and fear used for good.

With so much going on with both of us, I haven’t forced the conversation any further.  I’m happy to let her come back to me on this one when we’re ready.  She did however mentioned something over dinner the other night about how love conquers hate, so I might be winning her over.. if only just.

The last dynamic that I thought might be worth mentioning here are the racial dynamics of those involved.  I’m a white guy in his early 30s that apparently looks like a model of white privilege.  She’s a white woman of Swedish decent, in her early 50s, who I don’t think has experienced all that much privilege in her life, but might assume she has.  Her husband, who I would also consider a good friend, is a black man who’ll be 50 this year.  Here’s where things get interesting, the family did an ancestry report recently.  If I remember correctly, her husband was about 40% black (Caribbean), about 40% German and the rest was a bit of a mix.  The two of them have 3 daughters.  The whole family is rather passionate about the BLM movement and racial injustice towards black people.  While she’s proud of her Swedish heritage, I’ve never heard them speak much about their German ancestry.

I really don’t identify with any of my genetic heritage.  I think I’m half Scotts-Irish a quarter Jewish, and a quarter Austrian.  The only thing I’ve ever assumed about my lineage was that they were all tough as nails in their own way.  If I was part black, I’d probably say the same.

I can’t help but think that people are going about this all wrong.  When my buddy told me that Meghan Markle was half black, I was surprised.  I thought a mix of something, but would not have guessed black.  Does she experience black prejudice?  What about white privilege?  Should she have the same emotional connection to BLM?  If someone is half black and half German, if they carry the pain of black slavery, should they also carry the guilt of Germany’s Nazi past?  How white do you have to be to experience white privilege?  How black do you have to be to be able to use the N-word?  If someone shares the genetics of a slave and a slaver, what then?  The answers to just about all of these questions, for me, are some variation of nonsense.

You are a human being.  You are unique.  The color of your skin will only tell you two things: How likely you are to get a sun burn, and how likely racist people are to make assumptions about who you are.  Skin color is not a measure of laziness, nor is it a measure of privilege.  If you want to know these things about a person, you’ll need to get to know who they are and the path they’ve traveled.  You are also not your ancestors.  The only thing you received from any of them was a slice of genetic code.  You didn’t inherit their accomplishments,  you didn’t inherit their pain, their prejudice, or any of it.  If you carry it, that’s on you.  That’s your baggage you have to deal with, and I think it’s about time you stop making the rest of the world deal with it.

My friend told me that racism was deeply seeded in North America, but I resisted and told her it was something we could solve.  She doesn’t think it can happen in her lifetime.  She may be right.  I hope not.

Something I realized in our conversation was the generational gap between us.  She talked about how she was raised to be a racist, assuming credit to the white man when that wasn’t necessarily the case.  She told me that it was the same for me.  It isn’t.  I don’t have that prejudice.  I was raised differently.  She was projecting.  I can’t help but think that she’s also projecting some of the hurt and pain which women have experienced through their own oppression.  It’s like the oppressed are getting together and fighting back, and they seem to have found a common enemy in the white man, especially the ones who wear a suit.  Lucky me.

I don’t doubt for a second that many of the shittiest people in the last 300 years have been white men.  From Stalin, to Hitler, to Nixon, to the Koch brothers, to Trump.. all white men.  But then I look at the list of Nobel Prize winners and I see the same bias to white men.  With how human history progressed, western civilization led a great deal of this, and western civilization happened to be white.  There was both good and bad in what they accomplished.  From slavery, to space travel.  Had the industrial revolution taken place in China or Africa first, we’d probably be having a very similar, but different conversation.  It’s a messy history, but it’s our history.  If we made more of an effort to understand it, rather than allow it to trigger emotions of pride, shame, anger, fear, or hate… I think we’d all have a much more honest understanding of who we actually are.

When I think of how I was raised, and the popularity of modern comedians who make light of race, I can’t help but think that our generation is largely over it.  Most of us are mixed-race, with more on the way.  Most of us couldn’t care less what color your skin is.  When we’re talking about systematic racism, it’s less about the laws and structures that are in place and more about the people who are behind those laws and structures.  Racism still exists, but I can’t help but think that the vast majority of these sentiments reside in the older generations.  These are the generations that grew up in racially charged times.  These are the people who had to deal with a government that played to racial tensions and made things worse.  Race is still very much a part of how they see the world, and they can’t help but think that of us as well.

Perhaps this is why I’m confident that we’ll turn this corner on racism sooner than later.  Once these people move out of their positions of power, those replacing them won’t share that prejudice.  There will always been exceptions to the rule, and the rest of the world is a different conversation entirely, but I see a big shift on the horizon.  Within a couple generations, mixed-race will be the norm.  Within my lifetime, we’ll get to a point where just about everyone is born some shade of beige.  I’m sure racism will still exist in some way shape or form, but I’m hopeful that it gets relegated to the realm of ridiculousness that it belongs in today.

Also… simple way to make a huge step forward?  Every kid leaves the hospital with a ancestry report.  Knowledge.

 

The Future of Advertising

Part of my degree was in marketing so I tend to see advertising through a different lens than most.  The other part of my degree was in psychology so I can’t help but see the psychological component as well.  One dynamic which I find particularly interesting is in how we actively tune out the noise for traditional advertising, but when we see someone we respect engaging positively with a brand, we take note.  The Starbucks cup or the Lululemon tote bag may be a bit played out today, but both are great examples of how this works.

Years ago, I was watching TV and noticed how the characters on the show had to avoid mentioning specific brands – likely because they didn’t have approval and seeking approval would’ve required legal paperwork and perhaps a fee.  In certain instances, it actually made for rather awkward speech.  In reality, we actually reference brands and products on a regular basis, in our regular speech, for the sake of accuracy.  Which means that not being able to use brand names in certain areas of media actually hurts the dialogue.  Wouldn’t it make sense to write the dialogue as you would naturally, and then approach the brands mentioned in a positive manner for ad revenue?

There are certainly some complexities to this strategy, but I doubt they’re beyond our ability to solve.  Based on how I’ve seen things progress, I think this is actually being done now to some extent.  What a concept, letting a character talk about their Mercedes or BMW, let them talk about their iPhone or Android, let them talk about their favorite restaurant or coffee shop.  Script writers would have to maintain integrity so that it didn’t come off as a plug or mini-infomercial, but I don’t think that would be too difficult.  The idea isn’t about sneaking an advertisement into something we’re already paying attention to, it’s about letting a brand impression exist where a brand impression would already naturally exist.

 

So maybe we’re starting to turn that corner, but where does it go from here?  I have an idea.

Right now, AI and computer vision allow YouTube to recognize most copy-written material and then defers action to the original owner.  As AI and computer division develop further, they won’t just be able to recognize the content, they’ll be able to recognize what’s in the content.  Watching a movie, and see a sweet car that you’ve never seen before?  No problem, hit pause, hover your mouse over the car and see a few quick details.  Super interested?  Click on the details and you’ll head straight to the website.  Now imagine being able to do that with clothes, foods, toys, and everything else.

If we approach this correctly, I can’t help but think it would be a massive win-win for everyone.  No more advertisements.  No more commercials.  No more jingles.  And especially no more manipulation of public perception in the hopes of earning a sale from someone who doesn’t actually need or want your product.  If this done correctly though, I think the biggest winners may actually be the businesses.

Rather than guessing at where to advertise, how to advertise, and how much to spend on advertising, just paying per click.  Every time someone sees a piece of media that includes your product and someone wants to know more about it, there’s your point of monetization.  Next-level pay-per-click advertising.  Effectively, you’re only paying to connect people to your product, when they’ve shown an interest in your product.  Not only is that a more streamlined approach, it builds trust rather than degrades it.

Efficiency is my North Star.  When someone sees something they’re interested in, they want to know more about it.  If they learn more about it and they want to buy it, they want a quick and easy way to complete that transaction.  Businesses want to provide those details and the option of that transaction to potential customers, however, they would prefer to only spend their advertising budget on people who are interested.  This strikes me as a remarkably efficient approach compared to what’s out there now.

Thinking it through a little further, I know there are bound to be a few hiccups.  What happens if someone you don’t like is wearing or using your product?  What if you’re just getting started and you need to get your product out there to begin with?  I could come up with a few other issues that would exist in today’s unspoken rules of advertising but I can’t help but think that it’s just not that complicated.  If you’re on the alt-left and someone on the alt-right is wearing one of your products?  Grow up.  Appreciate the extra revenue, and appreciate that if they’re wearing your stuff, you may have more in common with them than you might think.  Just getting started?  Send free products out to influencers who would appreciate them.  If you have solid product, they’ll show it off and you should end up with a cascading effect.  If you send your product out to the people who would appreciate it, and they don’t?  Maybe you picked the wrong influencers, or perhaps your product just isn’t very good.  Regardless of what obstacles I come up with, the solutions don’t seem very far away.

I’d estimate we’ll have the tools to do this within about 10 years.  Whether or not major industry players are interested in challenging the status quo is a different story though.  But this is why ‘revolutionary’ has become the holy grail of doing business.  Whoever breaks that mold, I’m rooting for you.

Dragon Ball Super Theory: Jiren

I’m a nerd.

Sketchy territory as a kid but I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out.  Dragon Ball Super has been a highly entertaining return of the Dragon Ball franchise and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.  I only started watching a few months ago but I’m fully caught up and I probably have YouTube to thank for that.  I didn’t know how big the DBZ community was.  The amount of content that’s put out on a weekly basis is impressive, with all kinds of reviews, predictions and breakdowns.  So I’ve been inspired to make one of my own.

Jiren is a fusion between a Supreme Kai and a God of Destruction from the 13th universe. 

This crossed my mind during last week’s episode, with Jiren had some dialogue with Goku and Vegeta.  He kinda spoke like a Kai, but a touch of destroyer.  Kinda like wise advice from a jerk.  There was also a moment where Goku asked Jiren what motivated him, and he said he wanted to know what was beyond strength.  If you were a destroyer or a supreme kai who wanted nothing more than to know what was beyond strength, a fusion with your divine counter-part would probably be a good place to start.  Then I took a look at all the destroyers and supreme kais to see if anyone had purple skin – check.  The kais all looked the same, but the destroyers were all pretty unique.  Jiren’s ears and all-black eyes would probably have to come from the destroyer so that still holds up.  The fact that fusion was pretty central to the plot line for the Goku Black story line and was then brought back for this season with Kefla, it makes me think that it’ll pop up at least a couple more times before the season is over.  Finally, there’s a lot of talk about a new god of destruction.  Whis asked Goku, I think Vegeta was asked at some point, and I think there was something about Toppo or Jiren being in the discussion.

Nothing more than a hunch.. but it’s nice to put a hunch out there and see what happens.

The Bias of Success

I’m rather grateful for the time I’ve spent playing Texas Hold’em.  It’s a brilliant game for teaching people about life.  In this case, about what it takes to be successful.

 

Many if not most would define a successful hand as one which you’ve won.  I would argue that a successful hand is one which you’ve played to the best of your ability.  I think this highlights a dynamic which we see throughout society.  Perhaps far too frequently right now.

In Texas Hold’em, each player is dealt two cards.  They then must play those two cards as best as they can with the 5 community cards dealt to the middle of the table.  If more than one player makes it to the end, the best hand wins.  When you’re talking about playing the hand that you’re dealt, whether in life or in poker, what you’re really saying is do best with what you’ve been given.

When you’re playing against experienced players who understand the mechanics of poker, you’ll often see them lose hands which they played exceptionally well.  Sometimes they run into someone else who also played their hand exceptionally well, but more often than not, it’s someone who was dealt a more advantageous hand, or someone who benefited from the community cards more than anyone else.  Typically, this is called a bad beat.  Even at the highest levels of poker, we see this happen from time to time.  In most cases, the undeserving winner of that hand will apologize with a smile as they’re collecting their chips.

So why is it that most of the world assumes that a win means they did good?

I suspect that evolutionary biology plays a role here.  Positive reinforcement encourages you to connect your actions to your outcomes.  If something good happened, figure out what you did so that you can make it happen again.  Action = Outcome.  The problem with this mindset though, is that it ignores other important variables.  A more realistic equation might be: Nature + Nurture + Circumstance + Action = Outcome.  In the case of poker, that might look like: The cards you’re dealt plus your knowledge of the game plus the community cards plus how well you play that hand, equals a win or a loss.  Assuming that your actions were solely responsible for your outcome is just as erroneous as assuming that your actions had nothing to do with your outcome.

I think another influence here might be the places we work at.  I spent the better part of the last 10 years at two of the largest companies in the world.  I can’t tell you how many times I was told, “at the end of the day, the score board is the only thing that matters.”  In both cases, they were talking about sales.  I’ve also spent plenty of time serving on boards for non-profit organizations where people loved to talk about how unfair the world was.  I’m not sure which side of this coin is more frustrating.

Those who have had success tend to take credit for their success, thinking it was a result of their actions.  Those who have not had success tend to credit their circumstances, thinking there was nothing they could’ve done.  They’re both wrong.  The reality exists somewhere in the middle and the sooner we get there, the better off we’ll all be.

Perhaps my favorite example is that of Warren Buffet’s ‘Ovarian Lottery’.  As most people know, he’s one of history’s most accomplished investors.  What some may not know is that he’s been able to maintain a level of modesty and humility rarely seen in that tax bracket.  When asked about this, he says he got lucky.  Lucky doesn’t refer to the work ethic or business acumen he developed as a kid.  It doesn’t speak to the education he earned or the Dale Carnegie course he took to deal with his fear of public speaking.  It doesn’t refer to the level of integrity he maintained throughout his career.  And it certainly doesn’t reference the sheer amount of hours he spent honing his craft.  Those were things he could control, and he did them to the best of his ability.  Where he got luck, as he tells it, is with where he was born.  He was born a male when women weren’t expected to do much more than be married off.  He was born white when a minority in a senior role was rare.  He was born into a family that knew plenty about investments.  And he was born in a country that absolutely valued the capitalistic skill set he would eventually develop.  As he tells it, had he been born into a village in Africa, he probably wouldn’t have fared so well.

I’ve always looked up to the guy.  When I heard him say that, I couldn’t help but agree.  It was a shift in my perspective.  I was humbled and now tend to be more grateful for what I’ve been given.  We control much less than we think we do, but it’s important to recognize that what we do control, matters tremendously.

The decisions that we make, ultimately shape our lives.  But perhaps not the way we expect.  In poker, it’s said that luck favors the backbone, not the wishbone.  Beyond poker, it’s said that luck favors the prepared.  Both reference the same dynamic.  True success is is not a matter of luck, but rather the cumulative effect of many good decisions.  The decisions of how we choose to spend our time, who we choose to surround ourselves with and what we choose to learn about.   Over time, these kinds of decisions will have a more of an impact on the opportunities we’re presented than just about anything else.  It’ll also ensure that we’re ready for them.

And if that’s true, perhaps a win is a moment of good fortune, while success is a journey of good decisions.