What Makes You Attracted to Someone?

What Makes You Attracted to Someone?

Why do you keep dating douchebags? How come you can’t you get over your ex? Why do some relationship feel effortless, while others force us to try very hard? The answer to all of these questions lies in understanding attraction.

I’m not talking about sexual attraction, although what I’ll share will, to some extent, explain that too. I mean attraction as in: “Oh, I like that guy!” The kind of attraction that’s natural, effortless, and that you might feel towards a great deal of people, even if you don’t have any agenda involving them whatsoever.

It’s a good thing, this attraction. It allows humans to get along, which, in a world this crowded, becomes more important by the day. When you easily hit it off with others, you can seamlessly navigate thousands of relationships, no matter how microscopic their role in your life may be. Which do you prefer? A queue at the bakery in which everyone gives each other the death stare, or one with light banter and the occasional, “No way, I always go for the chocolate-frosted ones too!”?

As we shall discover, this last bit of “me too” is a key element of attraction: Likeness breeds liking. I mean, it’s in the word, isn’t it? “Josh likes Trina” indicates that, in one way or another, Josh and Trina are alike. This phenomenon is so universal, it lets Seth Godin explain marketing in a single sentence: “People like us do things like this.” For now, let’s remember that since likeness is easy to find, so is attraction — and that turns our superficial chemistry into a double-edged sword.

If you quickly relate to others, beyond forging genuine friendships, you’ll also connect with many people that, ultimately, don’t belong into your life. Sometimes, that connection extends far beyond a brief encounter at the bakery, and that’s when things get complicated: A shared love for jello shots becomes a six-month stint of endless arguments. A brutal assignment survived together makes you cannon-fodder for your coworker’s quest to get promoted. That’s attraction leading us astray, and the consequences hurt.

While it won’t prevent you from ever falling for the wrong person again, understanding why attraction forms is the first step towards getting better at knowing when to trust your attraction and when to double-check your gut.

“Knowing” is the key word here. That’s where the answer to the seemingly simple yet surprisingly complex question of “Why are we attracted to people like us?” begins. Given humans have been trying to understand each other since the dawn of time, it might come as a little less of a surprise that that answer can be found in a 2,000-year-old book.

The Grandest Sport of All

“All human beings by nature desire knowledge.” Thus goes the opening line of Metaphysics, the 14-volume magnum opus on philosophy by none other than Aristotle, one of the fathers of philosophy itself. With the hindsight of history, we might call Aristotle a genius, and, looking at his dozen other “father of…” titles, it seems that we have. If you had asked him back then, I’m sure he would have said some variation of what Einstein echoed 1900 years later: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

The premise of natural curiosity will be integral to our theory, so let’s state it clearly and then probe it for truth: You are curious. All of us are.

We may forget it from time to time, but if we think back to our childhood, it’s easy to realize curiosity drove virtually every step of our growing up. As a baby, you grabbed everything, licked everything, and constantly looked around in awe. Once you were able to crawl, you crawled wherever you could go, and you only went further once you were on your feet.

This is Aristotle’s first piece of evidence that to be human is to be curios: We love using our senses. We enjoy garnering data about the world, be it through our noses, mouths, ears, eyes, or hands. Do you ever stop and smell the roses? Your coffee? Your lunch? What about vibing to a new song? How about watching the sunset? Clearly, our senses can be the source of great pleasure.

When it comes to using our senses ferociously, we’re no different from any other animal. Many smart creatures, like dogs, crows, dolphins, elephants, and others, can even form habits from experience. That, too, is something we learn early on. “If I touch the stove, I’ll get hurt, so I’ll touch the stove no more.” Simple if-then-loops, however, are where our similarities end.

Once we hit preschool, our human uniqueness fully blooms: Unlike any animal, we can understand why the world works the way it does. We can see why certain actions in certain situations are the right or wrong ones to take, and we can do so even before we take them, before we’re forced to learn from experience.

If you’ve ever solved a crossword, fixed a home appliance, or figured out the right technique for your favorite sport, you know how satisfying it is to successfully employ your capacity for logic and reason. In fact, it is so satisfying, Aristotle claims, that most of human culture and civilization is based on our singular, omniscient desire for knowledge.

That’s his second piece of evidence: If we weren’t relentlessly curious, would we ever have ventured this far beyond mere survival? Why study nature? Why make art? What about science, religion, and philosophy? What about Formula 1, Microsoft, and the Taj Mahal? A simpler animal would have been content to eat, sleep, breed, repeat — but not us. Therefore, we must be curious.

We have turned knowledge into the grandest sport of all, and every human loves to play.

A 21st Century Psychologist — in 345 BC

The English language contains 171,476 words, of which we use about 3,000 to handle our everyday reading and interactions. Some might call this efficient. I call it a shame, because for many a word we don’t know, we use five more to describe what we mean. That’s everything but efficient.

While the precision of language always depends on the eloquence of its wielder, at anywhere from 1.6 to 6 million words, Greek suffers no lack of specificity — and the deeper you dig, the more vocabulary you’ll find that you wish you had at hand. One such word is tekhnê (pronounced “tech-knee”), a word Aristotle used to establish a hierarchy of competitors in the game of knowledge.

Tekhnê combines what we today call “skill” or “technique” with “art” or “craft.” It describes both the task itself as well as the understanding and craftsmanship one might attain from (or in order to) perform said task well. Cooking is a tekhnê. Studying recipes builds tekhnê. And a master chef likely has lots of tekhnê.

The core element of tekhnê is understanding. Can the task be explained in an intelligible way? Does it have its own rationale? What about the actor? Does she know why she’s doing what she’s doing? Or is she guided purely by instinct? Without understanding, there can be no tekhnê — not that that necessarily hurts the result. Even if the painter works in trance, the painting can still be beautiful.

In German, there’s a word called “Technik,” and it gets close to tekhnê. You might watch a documentary about “die Technik des Stoffewebens,” the craft of weaving fabrics, which explains the general process of weaving by hand or via loom. At the same time, you might commend your friend’s “Technik beim Tennis,” his technique in swinging his racket while hitting yellow balls.

Today all roads might lead to Rome, but in Aristotle’s world, all tekhnê leads to pleasure. After all, understanding satisfies our curiosity, and employing said understanding to make something engages our senses on top.

Here’s an example: While spending two years on the island of Lesbos around 345 BC, Aristotle extensively thought, researched, and wrote about animals. Among the many creatures he observed was the paper nautilus, a species related to the octopus. Aristotle noted that one of the male nautilus’ tentacles looked different than the others and, seeing how he inserted it into the female during courtship, concluded it must be the animal’s reproductive organ.

Aristotle had no way of verifying his theory as correct (it was, but we only confirmed that in the 19th century), but exercising his mind and senses provided him with a rewarding feeling. That, too, is tekhnê. If somebody had drawn an accurate representation of the nautilus for Aristotle, the artist would have enjoyed the drawing as much as Aristotle enjoyed analyzing the subject — at least he suggests as much in Parts of Animals. Finally, if a skilled art critic would have looked at said drawing, they, too, would have found joy in judging the artist’s skills.

The lesson here is that expertise is fun — both building it and using it once you have it. This is astonishingly congruent with 21st century psychology. It’s in line with Daniel Pink’s Drive, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and dozens of studies on passion, grit, and deliberate practice, all of which come to the same conclusion: The better you become at something, the more fun you’ll have doing it. Obvious? Today, maybe. Yet, given we still so often fail to act on this knowledge, I think someone discovering this on a small island some 2,300 years ago is pretty impressive.

Well, okay, so much for the experts — the biologist, the painter, and the art critic — but what about the average Joe? Where are our rungs on the ladder of knowledge? Fret not, for there is another way to quench our curiosity, and it does not require tekhnê of any kind. In fact, it is accessible to all. The only demands it makes are the right vocabulary and, in the case of looking at Aristotle’s imagined octopus drawing, the realization that, “Yes! This is an octopus!”

The Second Time You Saw a Tree

If it takes an expert to appreciate the craft, how come even an amateur can enjoy watching one in action? What does the casual football fan get out of observing a great pass, and why can a child in the backseat gaze at passing cars for hours, content in silent wonder?

The answer, according to Aristotle, is mimêsis — another one of many Greek words worth adding to your roster. In Poetics, the book that shall answer our questions about dating and relationships, translator Malcolm Heath considers mimêsis a broadly defined version of the word “imitation.”

Unlike the imitation we know, mimêsis need not be literal. While it always indicates likeness, “an imitation need not be a straightforward copy of the object imitated.” A heavy metal song in which the singer screams can easily be linked to being angry, even if the lyrics never directly discuss the emotion. Furthermore, mimêsis is not limited to reality. To Aristotle, a play about a vengeful god starting a heavy metal band could be just as good as one about a vindictive carpenter doing the same. Finally, he saw mimêsis as an elemental human activity, one that pervades all the arts and many other, seemingly non-artistic activities, like making animal sounds or children playing house.

Aristotle’s contention, then, is that human beings are by nature prone to engage in the creation of likenesses, and to respond to likenesses with pleasure, and he explains this instinct by reference to their innate desire for knowledge. A likeness is (by definition) a likeness of something; to take part in the activity of making and responding to likenesses we must recognize the relationship between the likeness and its object. This engages and satisfies the desire to exercise our distinctively human power of understanding, and is therefore pleasurable. This exercise of our capacity for understanding is, to be sure, a rudimentary one. But Aristotle’s purpose here is to explain how poetry and painting are rooted in basic instincts shared by even the least intellectually sophisticated people.

The first time you saw a tree, you may have wondered what it was. The first time you saw a tree after your mom had pointed one out to you in a picture book, your eyes lit up. “A tree! It’s a tree! Mom, it’s a tree!” The key element here is recognition. You recognize the tree because you’ve seen one before. You understand there is a connection between the two, and understanding is what you were born to do — it’s what makes you human and uniquely so.

As a side note, this also explains taste and how it can be so subjective: Since everyone has different experiences, we don’t all recognize and connect the same things. If you’ve never seen a zeppelin nor know how rare they are, you might not care when one pops up in the sky — or even think it’ll usher in the apocalypse. Meanwhile, if you had lots of posters of red cars around the house while growing up, you’ll probably want your car to be red. The endless variety of mimêsis in our individual lives ensures: Not everyone likes what you like, but everyone likes something.

Returning to our little tree enthusiast, I’ll grant that the thrill of point-and-name soon wears off, but if you bring a little patience to the park, you can still summon that same spirit of awe and excitement decades later. Just sit on a bench and watch the willow for a while. You enjoy looking at it, don’t you? After all, you recognize it. The willow is familiar. At the same time, there are a million things you don’t know about it, and those are equally intriguing.

It’s fascinating how quickly fascination forms — and nowhere is this interplay of recognition and inquisitiveness stronger than in human relationships.

How Curiosity-Fueled Attraction Can Lead Us Astray

Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far:

  1. Humans have an undying, irrefutable desire for knowledge.
  2. One way of consistently fueling said desire is to become an expert in something and then rigorously exercise your expertise.
  3. Another, more rudimentary approach is to engage in imitation, and the most basic version of that is to simply recognize how two things are alike.

Once you put together curiosity, understanding, and likeness, you have everything you need to explain the magnetic pull of human relationships: Recognizing likeness feeds understanding, and understanding satisfies curiosity. That’s why attraction often feels effortless: Every time you discover another likeness-nugget, you get a little hit of dopamine. The more you realize you and your coffee date are alike, the happier you’ll be in their presence. Your understanding barometer goes through the roof, and since nothing feels better than “getting it,” you’ll soon be on cloud nine.

You’re using your senses to scan for likeness. Is her hair the same color as your celebrity crush’s? Does he have freckles like you? Your similarities-monitor is on. “Oh, I know that keychain!” “That sounds like the time I was in a band.” Your imagination is blossoming. “Where does her ambition come from?” “Was he cheated on as well?”

Now that’s great when you’re sitting across the love of your life, and it can make waiting at the DMV less boring, but, unfortunately, this process does not only work well when it’s supposed to. Your brain is so desperate for mental check marks, it’ll sometimes construe the flimsiest relation as a profound, shared connection — and that’s where the trouble begins.

“Oh, he loves Italy. I love Italy!” This implies a shared understanding of what “Italy” means to each of you — which, actually, may or may not be there. If your date associates “Italy” solely with translating Italian poetry from the 15th century into English because that’s what he spent half a year doing somewhere in rural Canada, that’s very different from you thinking about the pizza, ice cream, and beautiful palazzos you indulged in on your last vacation.

Your brain, however, rarely bothers verifying. Relying on its memory of other, equally shaky connections, it concludes there’s a decent chance your ideas of “Italy” overlap enough to warrant being excited — and up the dopamine hatches go. Even if your brain didn’t constantly jump to conclusions, you could still get away on a single, shared opinion about Italy. “The Italian language is beautiful” might be enough to get both of you to date number two. That’s how strong the pull of understanding others is. It’s the curiosity game on steroids — and that snowball will gladly roll downhill if we let it.

This also explains why, especially in unfamiliar settings, people tend to huddle together in ethnic groups. When I studied abroad, it took all of one day for all nine Germans to find each other and spend the evening in the same room. For better or for worse, likeness feels good and safe, so why not go where you know some likeness will be guaranteed? This is a trap, of course. In my case, it led to a lack of new ideas and perspectives — you know, the thing a college exchange is for. In others, it could lead to racism, bullying, and worse.

Unless…

The Slow-Burn Movie of Real Understanding

Going back to the dating game, our likeness addiction makes it easy to jump from similarity to similarity — and thus fall in love head over heels. But the question is not how many corresponding easter eggs you can find — it is whether you’re compatible in a few key aspects that matter.

If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, the three big Ws are a good place to start: What, where, and who? What do you want your daily routines to look like? How does work fit into living together? Where will you do said shared living, and who will you want close by? More than one divorce has been filed over living down the street from one’s in-laws.

The truth is if you can deflect the big bullets, your differences are a matter of management, not elimination. That’s what rooms in houses are for. You do your thing, I do mine, and we’ll reconvene at dinner. Discovering how we are different can be just as satisfying as finding out we’re alike. Unlike the latter, however, the former is not a fast, dopamine-fueled carousel. It’s more like a slow-burn movie, the fruits of which we can only reap in time.

My girlfriend loves refunds. If there’s a damaged item to return, a hotel room sub-par, or a voucher that’s not being honored, she is your gal. I’m more timid. “Diplomatic,” I call it. On a bad day, I might perceive this difference as friction. “Why can’t she just let it go?” On a good day, however, I see this difference as strength. I can count on her playing bad cop at the front desk, and I’ll play good cop to go along. Together, we’ll deliver a convincing performance that gets us what we’re owed — and we have. Situations like these have happened, and they’ll keep happening in the future. So why not combine our talents?

The kind of understanding this cooperation requires does not come with a jolt of energy that feels like caffeine hitting the veins. Instead, it triggers a slow, long “aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, that’s why she is like that.” My girlfriend grew up in a country where consumer rights don’t exist. Imagine living in a place where, in every economic transaction, you can expect to be ripped off, and the only question is how much. If you moved to a country where your purchases are protected by the law, wouldn’t you invoke the 30-day-guarantee? I would.

It’s a bit like mimêsis vs. tekhnê: Anyone can giggle over realizing they went to the same school, but the joy of being an expert on why your partner is who they are is a prize few can claim.

The Good Life — A Life of Good Relationships

If we want to build great relationships, we must understand why, when, and how we connect with others. Attraction is the spark that forges these connections, and it includes everything from a smirk at the cash register to a full-blown addiction to the devil in disguise.

While some baseline of attraction allows us to glide through society’s waters, too much of it too quickly can cause us great pain and misery. Once we know how the process of attraction unfolds, however, we are better able to pause, speed up, slow down, or even reverse it.

Let’s summarize the tenets of attraction we’ve discovered:

  1. One of our strongest, most fundamental desires as humans is to learn, know, and understand.
  2. Any activity that engages our mental faculties with the goal of understanding is, therefore, pleasurable.
  3. When it comes with a continuous cycle of learning new lessons and applying them in creative endeavors, being (or becoming) an expert can steadily feed our need for intellectual stimulation.
  4. One of the plainest, easiest, and quickest ways to repeatedly exercise our understanding muscle, however, is to simply recognize that two things are alike. That includes realizing we are like others, and others are like us.
  5. When we detect many similarities with another person in quick succession, our knowledge-guzzling brain sends us into a dopamine-induced stupor of attraction — even if those similarities are built on the shakiest of foundations.
  6. To not get carried away and into the wrong relationships, we must fact-check our gut checks, using logic and reason to discern which correlations matter, and which ones don’t.
  7. Once we look past superficial tit-for-tat comparisons, we’ll not only see ourselves more clearly reflected in others, we’ll even start appreciating the beauty in our differences — and see them for the complementing strengths that they are.

One of Aristotle’s main concerns was what it means to live a good life. While the concept of virtue, which we may summarize under the maxim of “be good, do good, feel good,” remained front and center in his answer, he was acutely aware of the role our relationships play in achieving the good life ideal — his idea of true friendship being only one of his most prominent examples.

Good relationships, like anything good, take time. We can’t rush into them over fleeting experiences or same-logo sweatshirts. Until the right person appears and reveals the right level of synchronicity at the right time, be patient. Enjoy the ease of light connections, but don’t let your dopamine glands fool you. When it comes to people’s behavior, consider all reasons, yet never take the seemingly obvious ones at face value.

After all, Lowell Bennion’s 1959 imitation of Aristotle was only slightly like the latter’s original phrasing: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Today Is Gonna Be Your Day Cover

Today Is Gonna Be Your Day

You wake up. You’re eight years old. It’s your birthday. How excited are you?

I’ll tell you how excited you are: Right now, your zest for life is an 11 out of 10. Heck, it might be a 15. I think you should live your life as if it’s your eighth birthday every day. At least once a week.

Psychologically, there’s no reason you can’t. That’s all life is. Psychology. Identifying, managing, changing your emotions — and then projecting what you have procured upon the world. Seriously. Try it.

Smash your alarm with the force of Thor’s hammer. Don’t roll over in bed. Jump out! JUMP! Try the 5 second rule: 5…4…3…2…1 — GO!

Play music. Pick a song that makes you feel unstoppable. Like this one. Or this one. Or this one. Blast it on repeat. Put on headphones. Don’t stop. You’re a train of joy, and you’re just leaving the station.

Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Open the window. Can you feel it? Can you feel the fresh air hijacking your life? Let it!

Make some coffee. Smell it. Realize what a privilege it is. Wonder about the origins of this miracle. Appreciate its journey. Isn’t it worth more than gold?

Speaking of which: If you want something shiny, look in the mirror. Why should the sun rise if you don’t? Make it! Let a smile radiate from your face. Post a selfie. Wave at the postman. Can you feel the warmth? I assure you they can.

Get dressed. Not in that lousy lounging equipment. Wear some actual pants man! Remember those? Go out with pants on. You won’t believe how empowered you’ll feel.

I guarantee you will strut. You’ll parade the sidewalk as if you own the whole block. It’ll be amazing. Fantastic. Bigly. See? When you’re eight years old, even Trump can make you laugh — for all you know is he talks funny.

Infect the world with your laughter. Laugh for no reason. Laugh while waiting at the traffic light. Grin to yourself like the Cheshire cat. For every one person who thinks you’re crazy, nine more will laugh too.

Buy the food you never buy because it’s $2 more than your average meal budget. Isn’t that stupid? Especially on your birthday. It’s $2! And you only have one life! Treat yourself. Make it count.

Learn a new skill. Stop watching piano covers. Buy an app! Get some sheet music. Press your first key. No eight-year-old worth their salt is content watching others. They must do. Try. Replicate. Playing a song feels ten times better than listening to one — and if listening is already that awesome, imagine how high playing will take you!

Take a break when you’re tired. Hell, take a nap! You can, you know? No one’s stopping you. When rested, you’ll spin our planet with twice the gumption. That’s what we need: A force like the one in Star Wars. Energy! A little divine inspiration; a strike of lightning that can come entirely from within if you want it.

Use it to start a new project. Or don’t. Be extra nice at work. Love your job twice as much. If you don’t, pretend you do for the day. Watch how it’ll transform how you feel about it. Has that lightning kicked in yet? Any lightbulbs flaring up?

This day — today — truly is yours, you know? Always has been. Always will be. There’s no one in your way. Look in the mirror. Step aside. There. Your biggest obstacle has fallen. Poof! Jokes on you! It was all in your head.

Don’t be the villain in your own story. You’re supposed to be the hero!

Life is not a sharp object you try to feel out in the dark. It’s Play-Doh. You can mold it however you want. Channel it! Take whatever wants to flow in, and then redirect it according to your desires. Don’t forget to hand out some to others. It’s more fun to play together.

I know it’s hard to remember sometimes, but if you search deep inside, I think you will find: Once upon a time, you were invincible — and just because you’ve grown up does not mean you can’t bring back that feeling.

Today is gonna be your day. I can feel it.

What Is Unconditional Love? Cover

What Is Unconditional Love?

Unconditional love is the only true love there is.

But, to be honest, I don’t really know what ‘unconditional’ means. I don’t think many of us do.

We know what’s not unconditional love.

Expecting someone else to fulfill your needs is not unconditional love. Neither is doing them favors if those favors are attached to that same expectation. Even hoping your partner will want all the same things you do isn’t unconditional love. That’s just delusion.

Blind trust is not unconditional love. When you see your girlfriend walking right into a trap, you must call her out on it. False pride isn’t unconditional love. Sometimes, our loved ones screw up. If your boyfriend is on the wrong side of an argument, tell him why and help him see.

But what is unconditional love? Here are some ideas.

Love is understanding

Will Smith’s house cost some $42 million and took seven years to build. Everything is custom-made, from the recording studio to the basketball court, and it looks like a Moroccan-style wonderland. The house is called “Her Lake” because Will dedicated the Herculean feat to his wife, Jada — or so he thought.

Dissecting the misunderstanding, Will remembers being devastated when he realized that, actually, he built the house for himself. Having grown up in an abusive household, a perpetual theme park mansion where everyone is happy 24/7 had somehow crept into his picture of an ideal family — and it didn’t matter whether Jada wanted the same or not.

Today, Will uses a little acronym to not repeat this same mistake: L.U.V. — Listen, Understand, Validate.

“There is nothing that feels better to a human being than to feel understood. The mission is to thoroughly and completely understand what the person is saying.”

In order to understand, we first have to listen. That’s hard when you’re just waiting to get out something you want to say. You have to “quiet your own mind, your thoughts, needs, and desires” so you can pay true attention, Will says. Then, make sure your judgments are correct by repeating — and validating — some of what your partner has just entrusted you with.

You won’t always succeed in understanding others, but you can always make the effort — regardless of the final outcome.

Listen, understand, validate. That’s unconditional love.

Love is help

Someone once asked a Navy SEAL instructor who makes it through the training for the most elite combat unit in the world. This was his response: “There’s no certain kind of person, but all the guys who make it, when they are physically and emotionally spent and have nothing left to give, somehow, they find the energy to help the guy next to them.”

We think of war as the polar opposite of love and, in many ways, it is. Ironically, being a good soldier — someone destined to fight — is not about being tough, smart, or fast. It’s about loving the person next to you and helping them succeed. As he recounts this story, Simon Sinek says:

“It’ll be the single most valuable thing you ever learn in your entire life: To accept help when it’s offered and to ask for it when you know that you can’t do it.”

Of course, to receive love when you really need it, you must have offered it to others before. It’s a circle. We all must take care of each other.

“The minute you say, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m stuck, I’m scared, I don’t think I can do this,’ you will find that lots of people who love you will rush in and take care of you, but that’ll only happen if you learn to take care of them first.”

The primary reason to help someone shouldn’t be that they need it but that you can. After you cover your own basic needs, the easiest way to feel love is to offer it to someone in the form of mental, physical, emotional, or material support. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself. Take a small step out of your way so someone else can take a larger one on theirs.

Will Smith agrees:

“At its core, I think love is help. Everybody is having a hard time. I think love is a deep desire for our loved ones’ growth, blossoming, and all around well-being.”

Look left. Look right. Who’s standing next to you? Those are the people who need your love right now. They deserve it as much as anyone. Who knows? Soon, you might be the one in need, and they too will give you a hand.

Love is help — and true help is unconditional love.

Love is acceptance

I saw Michael Bublé in concert once. After the first song, he told all 10,000 of us the following: “You know, I used to be so nervous giving shows like this. What if I forget the lyrics? What if I trip and fall? But when you go through something traumatizing, you realize: That shit doesn’t matter at all.”

At three years old, Michael’s son got cancer. He survived, but for a few years, Michael’s life was a living hell. What do you do when your child is about to die? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except, hopefully, find acceptance, and then take life one day at a time. That’s what Michael did.

Today, Michael carries that same acceptance wherever he goes. Whether it’s talking about his trauma, a confession on a talk show, or singing in front of 10,000 fans, the man is as authentic as they come. He radiates love at every turn, carrying a sort of lightness — a seeming disregard almost — for whatever happens next, because he knows he can accept it and handle life as it unfolds.

Acceptance is not victimhood. It’s registering the status quo in its totality, no matter how pretty or ugly it might be, and then dealing with it head on. It’s the Stoic skill of differentiating between what we control and what we don’t, and then doing the best we can about the former while ignoring the latter.

This also applies to our relationships. In Me Before You, a father tells his daughter over a breakup: “You can’t change who people are.” She asks, “Then what can you do?” “You love them.” Like us, our friends, families, and partners will never be perfect — and they definitely won’t be exactly who we want them to be — but that’s not the point. The point is to love them.

Will Smith shares a great analogy:

“I think that the real paradigm for love is ‘Gardener-Flower.’ The relationship that a gardener has with a flower is the gardener wants the flower to be what the flower is designed to be, not what the gardener wants the flower to be.”

How can you support your loved ones in who they truly aspire to become? That’s the question. It’s not about tolerating every flaw or never pointing out when they’re wrong, it’s about accepting them for who they are at their core.

Accept people without giving up on them. That’s unconditional love.

Love is a verb and — therefore — a choice

Understand, help, accept. These are actions. Not concepts. Not feelings. Actions. If true love sums up these activities, then maybe love itself is also something we do rather than something we feel. A verb much more so than a noun.

That’s the problem with definitions: If we don’t come up with our own, we’ll passively adopt whatever society hands us. In love, these cultural definitions are especially messy. It’s a broad word, and it subsumes a thousand different things, from the expensive chocolates on Valentine’s Day to butterflies in your stomach to the connection between a son and his long-estranged father.

It’s easy to get confused, to lose yourself in the abstractions and emotions, and to forget that the verb — the action of loving — is the part that matters. This dichotomy of verb and noun torpedoes our understanding of love so much that, often, we go about the whole thing the wrong way.

We end up so hell-bent on seeking love outside ourselves, on finding the noun — the feeling — in another person, that we forget we hold power over the verb at all times — and that exercising this power starts with loving ourselves.

In that sense, love is a choice. It requires no one’s presence but our own, and we can choose it in all circumstances. We can direct it inward and outward, and, at the end of it all, our actions will show how much we really chose to love. The feelings and symbols may come and may go. Love anyway.

Love is a verb. Choosing to love, over and over again, is unconditional love.

Love is compromise — without the feeling of loss

In all the above, there is an element of sacrifice. When we listen to someone, we can’t speak. When we help someone, we might slow our own progress. Acceptance can feel like giving up. And when we choose to do one thing, it means not choosing another.

Going back to the gardener-flower analogy, Will Smith says:

“You want the flower to bloom and to blossom and to become what it wants to be. You want it to become what God designed it to be. You’re not demanding that it become what you need it to be for your ego. Anything other than all of your gifts wide open, giving and nourishing this flower into their greatness, is not love.”

When you compromise out of love, you don’t feel like you’re losing something. You see agreement as a win-win. You gain from it.

Like Will said: Everyone is having a hard time. No one’s life is free of problems. In fact, it consists entirely of making tradeoffs. As such, the ability to compromise is a strength, not a weakness. We need flexibility.

Most of the time, the only way forward together is one neither party would have chosen on their own. When you’re alone, a narrow road might suffice. When you’re together, you need a path wide enough for everybody. Finding and choosing this path is an act of love.

Love is compromise without the loss. Flexibility is unconditional love.

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How To Not Waste Your Life

If you’ve wasted your whole life, can you make up for it in a single moment?

This is the question at the heart of Extraction, Netflix’s latest blockbuster and, at 90 million viewers in the first month, biggest film premiere ever.

Following Chris Hemsworth as a black market mercenary trying to rescue the kidnapped son of India’s biggest drug lord, the movie is full of car chases, gun fights, and a whopping 183 bodies dropping at the hands of Thor himself.

At the end of the day, however, it is about none of those things. It’s a movie about redemption.

After freeing his target, 15-year-old Ovi, from the hands of a rival Bangladeshi drug lord, Hemsworth’ character Tyler shows true vulnerability in a brief moment of shelter.

When Ovi asks him if he’s always been brave, Tyler claims he’s “just the opposite,” having left his wife and six-year-old son, right before the latter died of lymphoma.

Sharing the kind of wisdom only children tend to possess, Ovi replies with a Paulo Coelho quote he’s read in school:

“You drown not by falling into the river, but by staying submerged in it.”


You’re not an ex-special forces agent. Your life is not a movie. There will be no obvious signs. No excessive violence. No rampant drug abuse.

Just a slow, steady trickle of days, each a little more like the last, each another step away from your dreams — another day submerged in the river.

The river is pressing “Ignore” on the reminder to decline a good-but-not-great project request. The river is saying, “When I’ve done X, I’ll start writing.” The river is postponing asking your daughter about her dance hobby because today, you’re just too tired.

The river is everything that sounds like a temporary excuse today but won’t go away tomorrow.

Trust me. I’ve been there. It really, really won’t. No matter how much you’d like it to.

At first, it doesn’t feel like you’re drifting. You’re just letting go for a bit. You’re floating. The river carries you. It’s nice. Comfortable. Things happen. Time passes. It’ll keep passing.

Eventually, the river leads into a bigger river. You’re in new terrain. You’ve never seen this place before. Where can you get ashore? Where will this river lead?

Soon, you don’t know what’s ahead anymore. You can’t see what’s next. The river could become a waterfall. It might send you right off a cliff. You’ll stay submerged forever.

There won’t be a big shootout at the end. Just a regretful look out the window. A relative visiting. “Oh yeah, that. I never did it. I can’t tell you why.”

All rivers flow into the sea. If you don’t push to the surface, if you don’t start swimming, that’s where you’re going.

No one is coming to save you. You won’t get an extraction. No one will beat you into writing your book or asking her to marry you or being a good mother. No 15-year-old boy will serve you the answer in a quote from a book.

The only way to not waste your life is to do your best to not waste today.

Write a sentence. Make a hard choice. Pick up the phone.

We all fall into the river from time to time. But we can’t stay submerged in it. Don’t let small regrets pile up in silence. Take one step each day. One stroke towards the surface.

You’re not a soldier, and no single brief can save you. No standalone mission will define your legacy.

Don’t hope for a shot at redemption. Redeem yourself with your actions.

Redeem yourself every day.

5 Phrases Caring Partners Use Often Cover

5 Phrases Caring Partners Use Often

The best way to have a caring partner is to be one yourself. This isn’t always easy, but it’s simple.

For years, I used to wish someone would make me feel cared for and thus safe and loved. They wouldn’t have to fix all my problems, just show real interest, concern, and actually listen. As it turns out, much of receiving these feelings of affection, understanding, and respect was in my hands all along.

I’m in a relationship now, and the number one thing I’ve learned so far is this: If you want to feel cared for, care deeply for others. Reciprocity is a powerful force. When the giving is honest, it feels natural to want to give back, not forced or manipulative.

Lately, I paid attention which phrases my girlfriend uses that make me feel cared for, respected, and loved. Now, I’m making an effort to use them more often. I’m not perfect, but it feels good to say and mean them — and to frequently hear them in return.


1. “Take all the time you need.”

In my last relationship, I constantly felt bad for wanting to work. I was just starting as an entrepreneur, and though I didn’t put in Bill-Gates-like hours, the usual 40 of a common job just didn’t cut it.

My girlfriend at the time was a student. She had more time on her hands, and she often asked: “When are you done? Can we hang out now?” I was always excited to spend time with her after work, but these constant check-ins made me feel guilty despite the fact that I loved my work.

In my current relationship, hearing the words, “Take all the time you need” gives me huge relief. Whenever one of us has to finish something before we talk on Zoom or make dinner together, the other tells them to move on their own schedule, and it’s liberating. It makes me want to get my work done faster — minus the guilt.

Being in a relationship doesn’t handcuff you to your partner, but sometimes, we put the shackles on ourselves — usually out of fear. We’re afraid we’re being selfish if we pursue our own interests, and that they might reject us if we don’t spend every second with them. Ironically, often, both partners have this fear, making it wholly unfounded.

Your partner is their own person. They’re busy. They want to do many things and, a lot of them, they’ll have to do on their own. Let them. In a healthy relationship, one of the best gifts you’ll ever give — and receive — is space.

Don’t incessantly text your partner with real-time updates, and don’t expect them to do the same in return. Only if you’re apart will you learn what it’s like to miss them. You’ll appreciate them and the time you spend together so much more if you allow yourself this feeling in healthy doses.

2. “Are you ok? You looked worried.”

In the music video for their song “Family” the Chainsmokers tell the story of Rory, their cameraman. Rory joined them when they were still unknown, and then, like the band, he became famous.

Eventually, he became so successful that he lost himself, and, after a bad car accident, he fell into a spiral of negative thoughts. The band, his friends, his family, they all continued to make time for him and helped him get back on track. Had they not, he might not be here today.

The video ends with a simple message: it’s cool to check up on your friends.

When it comes to your partner, checking in on them isn’t just cool, it’s necessary. When they appear or sound worried to you, tell them. Let them know you’re under the impression that they feel a certain way: sad, angry, scared, anxious — whatever the emotion might be, shine a light on it.

Notice how different this is from saying, “You’re angry.” The truth is you can’t actually know. You don’t know how anyone is feeling except yourself. But you can make an educated guess, and if you deliver that guess in kind, people will thank you for it.

Sometimes, it’s better to do this a few hours after the fact because it gives both you and your partner time to reflect on what’s going on, but “Hey, you looked worried earlier, you ok?” often goes a long way.

3. “Do you want to talk about this now or later?”

Making room for what’s important to your partner is a two-part job: First, you have to create a safe space for them to share how they feel. Then, there also needs to be time to talk through those feelings and, eventually, help them figure out what to do about them.

“Do you want to talk about this now or later?” is a great sign of commitment and dedication. It shows you’re willing to take a break from whatever you’re doing to listen to your better half.

The phrase also accepts that they might not be ready to talk about this problem, either because they’re busy or because they need to think more about it on their own. It signals you’re open and willing to help, not just now, but whenever they feel like they need it the most.

When it comes to not only our intimate relationships but also our friendships, few actions are more powerful than letting them know you have their back.

4. “How do you feel about this?”

I think on some level, everyone can relate to Rory’s story: Sometimes, I get so busy that I forget to even consider how I feel about things. That’s how we bottle up emotions. We don’t mean to. It just happens. That’s why it’s nice to get a reminder from time to time.

You can’t have a real-time check-in for every emotionally challenging situation, but making them a habit can prevent a minor situation from becoming a major headache. Like all things under pressure, we gain stability from letting off a little steam every now and then.

“How do you feel about this?” is a universal phrase. It doesn’t just allow your partner to pause and think about their feelings towards what they’ve just experienced, it can also be a chance for you to get their opinion on a story or idea you’ve shared.

Proactively asking your partner for their opinion or how they feel about your plans eliminates many uncomfortable conversations down the line. No one wants to tell the person they love that they think an idea of theirs is bad — but sometimes, we’ll have to. Them asking us this simple question first is a great sign of humility.

5. “How did you sleep?”

If you’re with your partner for 30 years, you’ll spend 10 years next to each other — sleeping. Just because you’re not awake does not mean that it’s not time spent together.

Asking your partner how they experience this time is a simple courtesy, but it adds up — and so does a lack of it. Imagine waking up with a huge headache, and all your partner has to say is, “I slept great, let’s go!!”

Rather than waking up and immediately facing our days alone, we should use our mornings to show up to the starting line as a team. After all, what does it matter if we arrive at the finish line when we don’t do it together?


As you may have noticed, all of these phrases are simple. That’s another lesson I’ve learned in my new relationship: Being a caring partner isn’t about using big words. It’s about using the right ones — and saying them at the right time.

Show People You Love Them Every Day Cover

Show People You Love Them Every Day

The most common point of criticism my German friends have for US culture is the layer of politeness that’s slapped on top of everyday interactions.

America is a country of service, a place where you exchange pleasantries and, for the most part, say hi to your neighbors. Superficial or not, I quite enjoy it. It’s nice to be asked, “How are you?” or to receive a compliment every once in a while, even if the barista won’t be my best friend afterwards.

Germans might complain about the lack of sincerity, but they also complain about grumpy service people — which we have a ton of — and not knowing what their neighbor is up to. Regardless of where you fall on the directness vs. politeness spectrum, I think everyone should admire this about US communication culture: Americans tell people they love them. All the time.

When my American friends hang up the phone with their families, they’ll say, “Love you guys, talk soon.” When they kiss their spouse goodbye at the grocery store, they’ll toss in a quick “Love you” before they leave. It’s never a big announcement, often a small add-on. It feels almost like an afterthought — but it’s always there — and that’s the part that counts.

In my family, we’ve never been super outspoken about love, relationships, dating, money, sex, and other sensitive topics, but we’ve improved a lot in recent years. We take small steps towards sharing more, often with a good chunk of humor to make parents-kids conversations less awkward.

The most notable and important change we’ve made is that we’ve started telling each other we love each other, something we never used to do. We might say it on the phone or in passing, before going to bed or in a group message if everyone’s in different locations. We hug more, and, even though it’s obvious to all of us, it’s nice to keep hearing “I love you” from time to time. Initially, I even set a reminder to do it once a week. Now, it comes naturally.

As silly as it sounds, you never quite know what’ll happen tomorrow. People have heart attacks. Accidents occur. “Thank you,” “How are you?” and, yes, “I love you,” are phrases you almost can’t say too often. It’s very hard to overdo it with those.

Valentine’s Day is one of the most commercialized holidays in the world. This year alone, sales are expected to rise some 30% to nearly $30 billion. A lot of that money will be spent on trying to make up for what we’ve failed to do all year: Showing people that we love them. The problem is a grand gesture can’t create something that must be built brick by brick.

Love is about trust, faith, freedom from judgment, confidence, reassurance, compassion, and hope. You can’t deliver those things in a box of chocolates. You have to form them. One day, one innocuous, after-thought-like interaction at a time. Telling people you love them isn’t the only way to do this, but it’s a hell of a start.

This Valentine’s Day, don’t buy flowers as a bribe. Don’t spend money when it feels like paying bail. Instead, do something small. Call your partner at lunch hour. Send them a voice message. Drop your best friend a note. Ask them how they’ve been. Whoever you come home to at night or every once in a while, tell them that you love them. Tell them you’re grateful to have them in your life.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure it can be the start of a new habit. Give yourself a break and a tiny, repeatable step. You don’t have to raise all hell to express your affection. It’s nice to do that on occasion, but it’s much more important to do it in small ways every day. So allow yourself to start small.

Valentine’s Day is like January 1st: A day like any other, as good as any to make a difference. Whatever extra motivation you find on it, don’t spend it all in 24 hrs. Use it to begin the rest of your life.

Some folks might make snarky comments, but if the people closest to you know you love them, who really cares what they think?

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Your Failed Relationships Hurt Because You Think They Ended – But They Never Will

Why does it hurt to lose someone you were never meant to be with?

Often, after a relationship falls apart, we realize it’s for the better. We spot the flaws in ourselves and the other person, and we accept there’s work to do for both of us. Work we’ll have to do alone.

Like Ted Mosby says, “Sometimes, things have to fall apart to make way for better things.”

Whether it’s a romance, a friendship, or a relation with a colleague, as much relief as this realization brings, it rarely absorbs even a fraction of the pain that comes with cutting the relationship rope. Like a steel cable snapping in half, there’s a bang, an echo-y sound, and then, somewhere, a slash wound that runs deep.

Why is that? Why doesn’t the score feel settled when everyone agrees it’s time to leave the court? I think the answer lies in how we look at relationships.

We tend to define the success of a relationship mostly by how long it lasts. At least, I used to do so. Now, I’m not so sure that’s right.

Throughout life, we all start many relationships. We work hard to maintain, cultivate, and cherish them. That’s honorable, but when our efforts fail — and, occasionally, they do for all of us — we assume the relationship has failed too. We couldn’t hold on to that person. Oh no! What did we do wrong?

Chances are, we did nothing wrong, except making that assumption. If all relationships that fade are failures, wouldn’t all relationships inevitably fail? We all die one day, so, really, there’s no relationship we can hold on to forever.

Ugh. What a depressing way to look at the world. I’m not sure I want to play that game. Even without the death barrier, I’d be a terrible player. I’m sure I’ve lost 90% of “total relationships started.” Not a great stat on my profile. You probably have it too.

Maybe, we need a new way to look at relationships. Maybe, we need to play a different game. And maybe, in that new game, time isn’t part of the rules. In any case, one thing is for sure: Just because you and your former connection left the field does not mean the game is over.


When I walk past a wall, I love running my hand along the stones. It makes me feel connected. Earthly. As if I’m leaving an invisible trail of paint that says, “I was here.” No one can see it, but someone might feel it. Maybe, a thought will hit them. A thought I left there years ago. Like this one:

What if our relationships never end?

What a comforting one. Every human connection ripples out into infinity. Can you imagine? Yeah, feels good. Maybe, I’ll leave that thought here.

Have you ever placed a coin upright on a table and then flicked it so it spins? That’s what meeting a person is. The second you collide, momentum changes. The movement may not last, the coin may stop spinning, but the shift in direction can’t be reverted. It’s etched into the marble of time, and it’ll stay there forever.

You might not get a second date, your best friend might move away, but the flicks you gave each other? The tiny pushes towards all kinds of paths? You can’t take those back. Their effects will compound in that person’s life. Even once they’re gone, the effects of effects will persist. Who did they flick because you flicked them? You’ll never know, but the energy was there.

What if relationships aren’t meant to be collected? What if they’re not stamps we can put in an album, store away on a shelf, and then feel good about knowing they’re there? Maybe, all we have is the coin flick.

Your boyfriend left you. Your favorite colleague quit. But they didn’t stop playing. The game is still on. It’s called life. It’s called being human. You’re in it as much as they are. And the plays you made together will always have been. No one failed. Nothing has ended. It’s just the coin that’s no longer spinning.

When we declare our relationships broken and finished, we disrespect the compound interest of our actions. We take more credit than we deserve.

Who says you won’t meet again? Who says they won’t think of you each year? No, no, this ain’t over. The rope didn’t snap because there was never a rope to begin with. That’s not how humans connect. The rope is cut when we’re born. From then on, we’re individuals. Individuals made of atoms, and all we have is particles. Little sparks we can eject and hope they’ll react with one another.

Those reactions can happen anytime, anywhere. Like infinite rows of dominoes, each one falling over at its own pace. I like that. None of my relationships have failed. They’re all out there, meandering, and, at some point, I flicked my finger at each of them. I spun the coin.

I don’t know if my touch made them better or worse, but I think it’s always too soon to say. What I do know is this: Instead of trotting through life, thinking I’ve failed at most of my relationships, I’d rather flick more coins. I want to leave sparks everywhere. Paint every wall and fence I pass.

Your relationships never end. They may take a turn you can’t follow. That’s okay. You can celebrate at the intersection. Wave at the person. Be grateful you caught some of their spark. Its imprint will always glimmer on your soul.

One day, maybe you’ll meet them again. Maybe, you’ll stick with the memory. For now, know that you did your best. That it’s time to keep moving. Keep touching the walls.

Soon, you’ll bump into a new person. Another player full of sparks. Like a coin sitting on a table, they’ll be waiting just for you. There’s no telling when you’ll arrive, but whenever you do, promise me one thing: Promise me you’ll flick it.

The Perfect Couple for a Day Cover

The Perfect Couple for a Day

Girls don’t superlike me on Tinder. They just don’t. In fact, they don’t ‘like’ me much at all.

So when, once in an aeon, like a meteor entering the atmosphere and immediately going up in flames, I see that blue glow on my screen, I assume that, like the meteor, it’s an accident. But I don’t think this was. Whether it was or not, the name of this meteor was Bibi.

Bibi’s bio gave plenty of talking points (yes, men do read it), but her pictures sent only one of two possible messages:

  1. I have no idea how to take selfies.
  2. I know I’m beautiful so I don’t have to care about the pictures.

Having spent an entire day taking photos of her, I can now confidently guess it’s about 80% of the former and only 20% of the latter which, in an Insta-perfect world, is sweet and refreshing. We hit it off immediately.

There were GIFs, there were jokes, there were interesting lessons about the places we were from and the people we’d become — and it all flew around in this cosmic storm of coincidence inside a tiny chat box that soon moved from Tinder to WhatsApp thanks to Rule #1 in Nik’s Weird Book of Dating Vol. 1: Try the opposite of the stereotype.

Instead of asking for her number, I just gave her mine. If she wanted to, she would message me. I don’t know why men often feel like they have to break through the barriers around all kinds of firsts with brute force. I like making it easy for a woman to just say, “Yes, let’s take this next step together.” If it doesn’t work, I can always directly state what I want later.

Regardless of why it happened, it’s been a while since I smiled so much and laughed so hard while looking at my WhatsApp screen. Before we knew it, we had more inside jokes than we could count. They involved pandas and stereotypes and Kinder chocolate, everyone’s favorite, legal, European drug.

Getting to know Bibi was like spinning a diamond and then putting my finger on it, stopping it by grazing one of its countless, tiny edges. Every edge came with a new fact, a new attitude, a new little piece of the Bibi-puzzle. It was easy to get addicted to this game.

One of the edges was that Bibi was from Brazil. Actually, she was in Brazil, some 5,000 miles away from Munich and me. But not for long: Bibi was about to go on a 3-month Euro trip, partly for work, partly for vacation. In about a week’s time, she would land in Munich. Her original plan was to hit Paris and then Berlin much later, but what’s a plan against a conspiring universe, right?

Through the remaining week’s chatter, we agreed to meet for breakfast on Saturday and, as is possible only in a world as small as ours, a few days later, I walked into a cute little cafe, looking for an angel standing in the corner.

I’m not a tall guy, 5’7″, but, despite hating the stereotype, I have to admit I think it’s sweet when a girl is a bit shorter than me, which Bibi was. She was petite and light-skinned and, with green eyes and blond hair, otherwise not stereotypical at all.

Supposedly, guys always check boobs and booty first. That’s not true. While these things jump at my stupid, reptilian brain early on, maybe even first, they’re never what I double-check at first sight. It’s the face.

A few hours later, I would take a picture of Bibi in front of one of Munich’s many Christmas market stalls, pointing at a pair of feathered, decorative angel wings. I don’t think she realized they were hers, but her face made it clear the second I first saw it, and it’s the only adjective I’ll use to describe it: angelic.

I’m not sure if it was me or her or if it’s a matter of person-to-person fit, but I think it’s mind-boggling how easy it can be to fall into someone. Not for. Into. How easy to connect, to trust, to share. To feel warm, accepted, safe. Here we were, two people who had never met before, yet would easily have convinced anyone watching they’d known each other for years.

Over a pile of delicious pancakes, we continued right where we left off. Jokes, smiles, questions, thoughts, it all poured out of us and off we were. Two people in the same boat on the river of life, a boat labeled ‘Perfect Strangers.’ And then the current just swept us away.

Through the crowded streets, we made our way to Marienplatz to see the famous Glockenspiel at noon. “Don’t lose me,” she said. I had to smile when I took her hand. Seems like she read Nik’s Weird Book of Dating Vol. 1. Nothing around us was unfamiliar to me, but everything was new and strange to her, and yet, somehow, we still felt perfectly familiar to each other.

The temperatures weren’t bad for December, but standing atop the city hall tower in freezing winds probably still equates to an Everest climb if you’re used to an annual low of 15 degrees Celsius. Bibi started shaking more and more, so I held her tighter and tighter, and then we kissed for the first time.

Throughout the day, Bibi repeated some variation of the following: “This must be so boring for you, doing all this touristy stuff with me! I bet you would never spend your Saturday like this.” She was right. I never would spend my Saturday like this. But she was also wrong. I loved following in her tourist steps. There was an invisible cloud of curiosity in front of her, and it was a blast to see her follow it wherever it went. We were two particles in a chaotic universe, one following the other, and the other following the spirit of the universe itself. It was magical.

After a whole lot more of this and capturing some of it through the lens of her phone, we settled in at Starbucks. Me, disappointed I couldn’t find a better cafe that wasn’t crammed, her, excited because Starbucks isn’t quite so ubiquitous in Brazil. You’d think that after five hours, you’d at least get tired a little bit of talking, but I can’t remember that feeling. What’s Brazilian law like? Why do you like history? How do you say ‘bird’ in Portuguese? I can be a know-it-all, but I definitely want to know it all.

Having warmed up, we slowly made our way back to one of the main squares. Around that time, a few lines from Sam Smith’s Stay With Me started repeating in my head, over and over and over again:

Oh won’t you 
Stay with me 
Cos you’re 
All I need

I didn’t know how or when or why, I just knew I didn’t want this day, this feeling, this connection to end.

Back at Karlsplatz, I showed her the mini Christmas village they always build this time of year. It has food, Glühwein, and even a small ice-skating rink. I hadn’t done that in ten years and Bibi had just learned how to do it so, obviously, we were good to go. Unfortunately, they were just redoing the ice, so we stuck with Bratwurst and fruit punch.

It was getting late and I was supposed to be at a Christmas party, but then, between a long hug, a stolen kiss, and a light touch that gives me goosebumps just thinking about it, Sam Smith decided to speak through me: “I want you to stay with me.”

No matter how romantic you are, this is the part where you can’t help but think, “I know where this is going,” and I now have to tell you that you have never seen a crazier romantic than me — and you don’t know where this is going.

At this point, it was obvious that I was crazy about this girl, yet I had no intention of sleeping with her on our first date. It’s hard to believe both of these can be true at the same time, but they can and, in my case, always will be. There are many reasons for this, all worth explaining in the future, but for now, all you need to know is this:

Every time Bibi stroked my cheek, played with my hair, or lightly touched my temple, the weight of the world just fell away.

Notice I’m not talking about making out. I’m not talking about a pre-sexual rush of chemicals. I’m talking about the thing I — and a lot of other men — want, crave, and need way more than sex: safety. A sanctuary of unconditional love and zero expectations, hidden in the faintest physical gestures. And even though the gestures are physical, the result is entirely emotional. Emotionally speaking, I haven’t felt safe in over three years.

This lack of safety has nothing to do with money, fear of violence, or health concerns. It is the result of a harsh competition for not physical but emotional survival that takes place entirely in men’s heads 24/7/365, whether it’s at work, in sports, or masked as social gatherings. It is the result of a crushing load of expectations under which men silently allow themselves to be buried each and every single day. Imagined, real, new, old, socially accepted, socially condemned, it doesn’t matter — the weight is there and it’s not going away. It is the result of a lack of honest communication all around, whether it’s men talking to men, men talking to women, women talking to women about men, and, most of all, men talking to themselves.

I can only speak for myself, but the combination of all these has conjured a fear so paralyzing, it comes with its own list of “unspeakable lines for men,” a list so long it’s impossible to breathe let alone feel safe under its rule. Here are some of the items on that list, things you feel you “just can’t say” as a man, almost regardless of age:

  • “I don’t want to have sex.”
  • “I’d rather have a girlfriend than date many women.”
  • “I’m a virgin.”
  • “I feel ashamed.”
  • “I’m hurting.”
  • “I feel alone.”
  • “I had to cry.”
  • “I need help.”

And, of course, and this might be the biggest: “I just want a woman to hold me in her arms and make me feel safe.”

I’m not sure I even fully realized this at the time, but now I can see it all over my subconscious. That’s what I need most in the world — and that’s why I asked Bibi to stay with me. I was thrilled when she asked whether I expected anything of her if she did, and I said, “No, not a thing.”

Eventually, we arrived at my apartment and, for a while, for the faintest of moments, I felt the safest I’ve felt in years.

When you run alone, you just have to find a path for yourself. When you run together, you have to find a path wide enough for both of you. Naturally, you’ll hit more, different, hard-to-pass obstacles together. After about 12 hours, Bibi and I hit the first of ours. We took a few wrong turns on the relationship river that had turned into a highway, and, in the end, we wanted, didn’t want, wouldn’t, and then couldn’t have sex, most of which we share responsibility for, but the last one being entirely on me.

There is a lot more to unravel here, but for now, suffice it to say that, the next morning, I woke up alone. Not that you could call two hours “sleeping.” It was hard to collect myself and my clothes off the floor, but, eventually, I did it anyway. Self-love is strong with me; a balancing force I’ve painstakingly built throughout the years of staring down the abyss of emotional un-safeness.

The day before, I couldn’t remember all the lyrics to Sam Smith’s song. Just those few lines. In the morning, I listened to it. And then, right with the first verse, all of it — all of this — hit me like a truck:

Guess it’s true
I’m not good
At a one night stand
But I still need love
Cos I’m just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don’t want you to leave
Will you hold my hand

I don’t know if I’ll ever see Bibi again. I hope so. I’m not ready to give up on her just yet. If you knew me, you’d already label me crazy at this point, as you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who moves on faster from the things, events, even people in his life, good or bad. I don’t know why, but this one, I have to fight all the way until the end.

I hope you find this kind of earth-shattering optimism in your life. The kind that lets you look at a 48-hour period, 36 of which were a complete mess, and still say, “Hope dies last.”

Even if it dies, however, there’ll always be the memory. The perfect “dayte,” we called it. One of our insiders. And for a day, it really was. We were. The perfect couple.

Somehow, we compressed a lifetime of love into 12 hours flat. When the love is pure, aren’t the two the same, really? Maybe. Maybe not. But when push comes to shove, when the chips are down and the curtain is about to fall, it’ll always be the one thing we forever struggle to find: enough.

5 Things I Want You to Know Cover

5 Things I Want You to Know

Everyone you know is frustrated about some part of themselves the world doesn’t see. We all think our lives would be easier if only we could get a little more understanding from others. If only we could get them to see.

“I wish my boss knew how hard I’m trying,” you might think. Or, “I wish my dad could see that I respect him.” Or, the all-time classic, “I wish she knew how I felt about her.”

At the same time, we keep these feelings hidden. We take the parts of ourselves that we most wish others would understand and shove them into a closet deep inside. So as much as we desperately want to be understood, we also don’t want to be found out. We hold on to our secrets, afraid the transparency we crave might not bring the acceptance we hope for.

And so each day passes, every one a little faster than the last, until we realize we’ve reserved our best words for epitaphs and eulogies, when whoever needs to hear them the most can’t hear them anymore.

That’s the part we’re missing: At the end of the day, what we want the world to know about us isn’t really about us at all. It’s about our relationships with others. About how we feel about them. What they mean to us. How they’ve changed our lives — sometimes for the worse but hopefully for the better.

Therefore, being seen as who you really are isn’t a matter of sweeping declarations, being found out, or finding a certain set of special people. It’s about revealing it consistently, one person and part of yourself at a time.

If you want the world to see you as a caring person, start by telling one person you care about them. Then, follow through on that promise. That’s it.

I’m no better at this than you are. I have to remind myself constantly. To practice, again and again. So while you’re here, I’d like to take the chance and tell you five things I want you to know.

1. You’re not alone.

You’re never alone. Even when it really, really feels like it, there are always 7.7 billion others right here with you. Chances are, someone out there is going through the exact same thing you are in this very moment. And if not, one of the 100 billion who came before us definitely has.

Maybe, they were a public servant in ancient Rome, a peasant in 17th-century France, or a tribal hunter in 3,000 BC, but they had the same range of thoughts, feelings, and physical capabilities you and I have today.

Maybe, they used different words or no words at all but what they saw, heard, felt? That was universal, and you’re now following in the footsteps of their human experience. You’re not alone. You will never be alone. Take comfort in that.

2. You are amazing.

Someone brought you into this world. None of us decide to be. And yet, each of us is comprised of a vast number of mesmerizing parts, both physical and psychological, wondrously, synchronously working together in a sea of coincidence.

You take one breath, and millions of cells are activated. You think one thought, millions of synapses fire. All of this despite the chaos in which we’re floating, the hundreds of asteroids hitting earth each year, the great imbalances in nature and between humans, and the 400 trillion to one odds of you being born in the first place. You are amazing. Don’t take it for granted.

3. You are valuable.

You might not feel like it. But you are. You don’t need to be funny or charming or solve problems for millions of people. You just have to be here. Sit. Exist.

Of course, you’ll eventually want and choose to do good. To be useful. To help those around you and brighten their day. But those are consequences, not prerequisites.

As you are, you’re a complete, self-contained vessel of perspective, emotion, and capability. A unique bundle among nearly eight billion others, with a right to exercise that uniqueness however you see fit without hurting others’ ability to exercise theirs. You are valuable. Act like it.

4. You are wanted.

Desirable. Filled with potential. Someone out there wants that potential. Wants you. They want you to be everything you are and then some.

They want you lock, stock, and barrel. Crooked nose, tiny butt, messy hair and all. They might not always want you sexually or romantically. Sometimes, they just want you as a friend. A colleague. A stranger turned companion by listening that one time at the airport. But they want you.

Sometimes, they want you so much they get frustrated with you not wanting to be more of who you already are. Or not being able to. This too shall pass. Most of the time, however, they want you exactly as you are. You are wanted. Never forget it.

5. You are loved.

Even if it’s just me. I love you. But I hope there’s at least two of us. I hope every day you wake up, you choose to love yourself. Make an attempt if you can’t. Someday, you’ll get through to yourself. Until, eventually, there’ll be others.

An unexpected friend. Maybe the guy from the corner store. Maybe one with four legs. Whoever it is, they’ll show you not just what it’s like to be loved, but which parts of yourself you love the most that you didn’t even know you had.

Somewhere out there, in a tiny, distant corner of the universe, there is a book with your name on it. And for every book, there is someone who can’t stop reading it. Whether it’s an army of followers or just the person you see when you look in the mirror, each next section deserves to be read. Each new chapter could make it a page-turner. You are loved. Make the most of it.


There’s that old, Stoic saying by Publilius Syrus: If you want to have a great empire, then rule over yourself.

I think the same goes for having an impact and how the world will see and remember you: If you want to change many, let them know how they’ve changed you.

Pick one person today. Tell them what you want them to know. Tell them why they make you feel happy, good, balanced, content, or simply like someone who deserves any or all of these things. I can’t tell you what will happen, but I know you won’t regret it.

Aristotle on Friendship: 3 Kinds, 1 Lasts a Lifetime

Aristotle on Friendship: Only 1 of 3 Kinds Will Last a Lifetime

When was the last time you hung out with your best friend from grade school? The one you told all your secrets to, had inside jokes with, even did a blood oath with? It’s probably been a while. Maybe a couple decades. Despite all the #rideordie hashtags and our massive collections of Facebook “friends,” most of the friendships that we form throughout our lives will dissolve. It’s inevitable, but why? To answer that question, I looked to a 2,000-year-old text.

The writings of Aristotle have shaped the course of history, influencing everything from political theory to economic systems to Western aesthetics. But the Greek philosopher also had profound thoughts on matters of everyday life, like our friendships. In Book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle described “three kinds of friendship” that people form under different conditions, and why some bonds are stronger than others. Here, he laid out the first two: utility and pleasure.

“There are therefore three kinds of friendship, equal in number to the things that are lovable. Now those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other. So too with those who love for the sake of pleasure; it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.”

Friendships of utility and pleasure are similar — and they’re both fleeting. Aristotle observed that friendships of pleasure are most common among the young. Today, we can see that these friendships often form as a byproduct of shared phases — high school, college, or the first job search. As the next life chapter arrives, these friendships come to an end.

Friendships of utility often form between people who are more established, those who have learned that life consists of many tradeoffs, those who accept relationships that are more transactional in nature. A couple with small children might form a friendship with another young family in their neighborhood, and trade babysitting duties, for instance. Or a first-time founder might rely on a seasoned expert in his field. These relationships are also short-lived in nature because as soon as the benefit disappears, so do we. Aristotle writes:

“And thus these friendships are only incidental; for it is not as being the man he is that the loved person is loved, but as providing some good or pleasure. Such friendships, then, are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves; for if the one party is no longer pleasant or useful, the other ceases to love him.”

I’m in my late twenties, and can already feel my relationships becoming more utilitarian. People are busy, or they don’t want to overstep their boundaries, and it takes much more effort just to go grab a beer. People think: There better be a good reason for this.

There is nothing wrong with these kinds of friendships. But if they’re all we ever experience, two things will happen: 1) All of our relationships will eventually fade because our wants, needs, desires, and wishes keep changing until the day we die. 2) We’ll always crave something more — a deeper, more honest, more meaningful connection.

This deeper connection is the third kind of friendship that Aristotle described. He called it “perfect friendship:”

“Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good-and goodness is an enduring thing.”

Writer Zat Rana penned a great piece about this type of relationship, which eloquently sums it up: “In this kind of friendship, the people themselves and the qualities they represent provide the incentive for the two parties to be in each other’s lives.”

These special kinds of friendships aren’t based on what someone can do for you or how they make you feel — they simply exist because you value who they are. Maybe you love your friend’s dedication to hard work. Or perhaps you deeply respect their courage to step up during conflict. Whatever pleasure and utility you get out of the relationship are merely a side effect of that love.

“Perfect friendship” is rare — even Aristotle believed this to be true. So how does this kind of friendship form? With time.

Writes Aristotle:

“Further, such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other till they have ‘eaten salt together;’ nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends till each has been found lovable and been trusted by each.”

There is no hack or shortcut to accelerate the formation of true friendships. Think about it: Your closest friends are likely the people with whom you’ve shared the most intense phases of your life. All-night study sessions in college. A cross-country road trip. New jobs. The loss of loved ones. Bouts of depression. Moments of joy. If you’ve shared a series of experiences like that someone, and stayed friends throughout ups and downs, you’re on your way to perfect friendship. Only with time do we learn to appreciate people as they are. Aristotle writes:

“Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends, but are not friends unless they both are lovable and know the fact; for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.”

If we never venture beyond utility and pleasure, we’ll miss the relationships that give us real meaning and happiness. The only way to build these rare friendships — the perfect friendship — is to spend time together, traverse our ups and downs, and learn to value each other as human beings along the way. It won’t always be easy and it won’t always work out, but if we commit to valuing virtue over comfort and pleasure, we’ll look back at the end of our lives and see the faces of a few people we’ll call true friends.