I once wrote that feelings are bullshit.
Except I wrote it more dramatically: “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.”
That probably seems rich coming from a guy who frequently writes emotion-based stories and whose only success as a blogger has come from a series of posts validating emotionally damaged wives’ feelings and warning husbands to ignore them at their peril.
Because of a technical glitch, an 18-month-old post titled Love is a Choice was re-posted to my Twitter feed over the weekend after making a small edit to that post and hitting the Update button.
A reader saw the tweet, read the post which included my “Feelings are bullshit” claim, and asked a challenging, but fair question: “Matt. I just read your post on ‘Love is a Choice.’ Do you still feel this way about feelings?”
Human emotion is a fascinating and complex thing.
I don’t think I need to rattle off the litany of wars, romances, terror attacks, artistic creations, revolutions, epic social or cultural changes, marriages, divorces, friendships, or nearly every single notable thing that’s ever happened, instigated by human emotion.
By day, I am a marketing professional.
As everyone in this profession or who has watched Mad Men knows, connecting with consumers emotionally is the ultimate key to getting them to take desired actions.
In most respects, emotion drives our choices and dictates how we feel at any given time.
Emotional bonds change everything.
They’re the difference between some stray animal, and a beloved pet that becomes part of the family.
They’re the difference between a random adult and child, and an adoring father and son.
They’re the difference between two strangers walking by one another on a crowded street, and those same two people sharing beds and homes and lifetimes after meeting and connecting.
“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”
What I Meant
Despite my affinity for the written word, some conversations are best had in person, because in a rapid exchange of information, clarity and understanding can win the day.
In this case, I can understand how my “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.” declaration could cause some bristling and heartburn.
I’ll try to be clearer.
Because how people feel dictates their entire human experience—literally determines whether them being alive is a positive or negative experience—considering the feelings of those around us when we say and do things is what separates the dicks from the conscientious. People who suck from people who are cool.
“But wait a minute, Matt. Are we REALLY responsible for how OTHER PEOPLE FEEL? Is it REALLY our problem or responsibility?”
I’ll be on both sides of this argument for the rest of my life, depending on the situation.
While I’m a MAJOR free speech and anti-censorship advocate, I applaud the State of South Carolina for pulling the Confederate flag from government property.
I don’t know whether this is fair or not (and fairness REALLY matters to me), but I simply give a MUCH LARGER shit about the feelings of black Americans who view that flag as a symbol of racism and oppression than I do about the feelings of southern whites who see it as an important symbol of their heritage.
To demonstrate the depths of my hypocrisy, I’m a Cleveland Indians fan, and much like Washington Redskins fans, and fans of other sports teams which use Native American names and symbols as mascots, I make the same argument as the rebel flag supporters about keeping the teams’ names and mascots as is. I find it unreasonable to suggest that because I root for my favorite baseball team, I am somehow mocking or belittling the heritage of a particular group of people, or that I’m insensitive to the atrocities they suffered centuries ago.
I imagine some people flying the Confederate flag feel exactly like that.
I don’t know.
But I do know that how people feel is at the very heart of both debates. And that there doesn’t always appear to be a clear-cut right or wrong thing to do.
I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea that I am RESPONSIBLE for another person’s emotions. I can write a sentence or a blog post, for example, that will yield dramatically different responses.
I recently wrote a post joking about a drunk guy inappropriately touching women at a party one night several years ago.
Some people thought it was hilarious.
Others thought it was serious subject matter, and that my tone and treatment of the story was in poor taste.
Am I responsible for those emotions? I don’t know.
This is Why Husbands Have So Much Trouble with Emotion
Emotion and human behavior is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different.
But I believe that men share many traits with the vast majority of men, and women share many traits with the vast majority of women. And I believe that allows us to make generally true statements about how the two genders behave.
To that end, how women feel will often be the ultimate factor in whether a marriage lasts, whether a couple is sexually active, and whether children grow up with divorced parents.
And on paper, I might agree with a guy who says that’s too much power for his wife to wield, and inherently unfair, as she accepted him as a young man, and then rejected him later when her wants and needs changed after years of marriage and raising children.
But life isn’t on paper. Not the nitty-gritty human relationships, anyway. Those are on the front lines of the human experience.
And if a husband listens to his wife’s cries for attention and pleas for help and begging for changes that will allow her to feel emotionally safe and secure, and ignores them, or tells her “Sorry! I’m not changing!” then he gets what he deserves when she inevitably leaves, and increases the odds of infidelity about 14 trillion percent.
The reason men are so cavalier about their wives’ emotions is that they literally don’t know. Most men NEVER feel as their wives do, but more importantly, the story of why their wives feel that way doesn’t register with them because it seems totally insane to a man that X caused Y. X didn’t even faze him, so it doesn’t make sense that THAT is the reason she’s hurt and crying right now.
Most men don’t realize that their wives and girlfriends are fundamentally different than them. But men DO understand emotional pain. It’s just triggered by different things. If you find a man who has experienced intense emotional pain, and you can clearly convey that this other thing made the women in their lives feel the exact same type of intense pain, THEN it will finally click in his brain.
At least, that’s what worked for me.
So, Wait. When Are Feelings Bullshit?
Glad you asked.
Feelings are bullshit when you exchange wedding vows and promise forever, and then use negative feelings about the relationship later as a reason for ending the marriage, only to go out, start a new relationship and repeat the cycle all over again. Because (with the exception of abuse, addiction, cheating, and other dysfunctional horribleness) the cycle WILL repeat all over again.
There are no such things as perfect relationships.
They say marriage is hard work BECAUSE of all the times that are hard.
Sometimes drivers next to us make us want to run them off the road.
Sometimes people who disagree with us on emotional matters make us want to punch and scream.
Sometimes we wake up in the morning and don’t feel like working out, or going to our jobs, or paying bills.
Sometimes people are MADLY in love with someone, and then hate them a week later.
Sometimes our kids make us so angry that we wish they weren’t with us. Usually, within five minutes, or just one really nice hug, we’re back to being totally smitten.
Feelings are VERY fickle things. Constantly changing. Thus, dangerous things to put in charge of everything that happens.
People do drugs and drink excessively because it feels good.
Married people fuck people they’re not supposed to because it feels good.
Parents neglect their children because they don’t feel like taking care of them.
Human emotion? Particularly in our close, personal relationships? They are one of the most important things for us to monitor and manage. Absolutely.
When we have responsibilities? When we feel tempted or lazy? When we’ve made promises?
Doing what we, in our dumbest, weakest human moments, feel like doing is just about the worst idea imaginable.
“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”
I didn’t explain myself very well the first time. And maybe I didn’t this time.
But, the answer is: yes.
Sometimes what we choose to do is infinitely more important than what we feel like doing.