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Welcome to another Motherf*ckin’ Monday email, the only weekly newsletter that sneezes all over your Christmas bagel and doesn’t even apologize. Each week, I cover three topics that will hopefully make you a more thoughtful and less awful person. This week is a special post-Valentine’s Day edition, so we’re focusing on relationships. Today’s email includes: 1) the evolving concept of “family,” 2) the Stoics’ beliefs about passion, and 3) some news related to love not being enough.
Let’s get it.
1. Questioning the nuclear family – If you’ve been following my criticisms of news media the past year, you know that I’m constantly imploring people to focus on higher quality, long-form content that covers long-term issues, not just whatever scary thing is happening at this particular moment.
Well, if you need an example of great, high-quality content, this piece about our understanding of family is long, well-researched, and absolutely fascinating.
I recommend reading it in full, but if you want the gist of it: the idea of a nuclear family—that is, two parents, two to three kids, and a dog—is a modern invention. For most of human history, we lived in bands and tribes and among our extended group of relatives. These larger networks of relatives not only lived together (or next to one another), but they financially, emotionally, and physically supported each other.
The piece argues that the nuclear family emerged as a result of the economic boom of the 20th century, and now that that boom is gone, we are mistaken to believe that it is the ideal form of social organization. Like all great journalism, it draws unexpected and interesting connections between human behavior, economics, culture, and technology.
I’ve often written about the importance of unconditional relationships in one’s life. I believe that humans need a number of unconditional relationships in their lives to function optimally physically, mentally, and emotionally. Being around family and childhood friends grants us these unconditional relationships. Yet, modern life steers us away from them. Loneliness and distrust are on the rise. People are living further apart, move more often, and more often live alone. On top of that, the economic pressures of marriage and child-rearing make both more difficult than ever before.
In last week’s newsletter, I wrote about how the older I get, the more I appreciate how much our emotional and psychological lives affect results in the material world, and the disintegration of the nuclear family is an excellent case of that. Individualism may be good economically, but the social isolation and lack of consistent quality relationships ultimately affect our mental and emotional health, our politics, and our culture.
2. Seneca would probably hate Valentine’s Day – In the US, we just celebrated Valentine’s Day on Friday—that day where you’re supposed to do something romantic for your significant other. Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that the suffering from the failed expectations outweighs the benefits of the day itself. My wife and I didn’t do anything.
Thousands of years ago, the Stoics, a school of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, defined “passion” to be the emotions based on a false sense of reality—i.e., “passion” was getting excited (or upset) over something you imagined to be real even though it wasn’t.
Much of our culture today is designed to stoke passion in ourselves—cheesy holidays, absurd advertisements, and commercials, reality television shows, and, of course, my recent punching bag, the news media. All aim to generate intense emotions over what appears to be there but really isn’t, and they do it by altering what we perceive to be real.
Here’s an idea: fuck passion. Just do what’s good and right. That’s probably what Seneca would have said. Which is fine… unless you were trying to date him, which would kind of kill the romance.
3. Love is (still) not enough – If you, like many, were left disappointed by your passions this past weekend, then this is a perfect time to once again remind you that love is not enough.
I have long touted that the big L-word is overrated and that the quality of our relationships hinges on far less sexy and exciting things—you know, things like mutual respect, trust, taking out the garbage, etc. But it’s time to finally make that message more tangible.
The past two years, I’ve been working on a project with Amazon’s Audible to create an original audiobook where I talk people through some of their relationship problems. The project followed five people over the course of six months as they tried to cope with things like divorce, anxiety, intimacy issues, obsessions, and so on. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. But we go on a journey together and the results are pretty cool.
The audiobook comes out March 26th and I’ll be telling you a lot more about it closer to the date by sharing excerpts, back story, etc. But they just opened up pre-orders this weekend (just in time for all the disappointed Valentiners). It’s an exciting project and the best thing on relationships I’ve ever created. So I hope you’ll check it out.
Pre-order: Love is Not Enough (Audible Original)
Until next week,
(P.S. Article audios have made their triumphant return to the site. If you’ve been missing the audio articles lately, they’re up-to-date now!)