3 Correctable Behaviors That Destroy Relationships

Published: Good Men Project (May 30, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa identifies 3 things to stop doing if you want to give your relationship—romantic, platonic, familiar, et cetera—a chance.

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Roughly four weeks ago, an ex-girlfriend of mine (with whom I had maintained a close friendship for the year-and-a-half since our break up) texted me that she wished I wasn’t always analyzing her. Considering that she knew full well that this tendency is a direct result of having Asperger’s Syndrome —  after all, a condition which makes it impossible to naturally read unspoken social cues requires those afflicted with it to intellectualize the human behavior they encounter — I responded as if her remarks were a deliberate insult, and as such immediately went on the attack.

While I wasn’t wrong for being insulted at what she said (there was only one rational way to interpret them), my confrontational tone was absolutely out of line. As soon as she pointed this out, I apologized.

She didn’t accept my apology, and instead proceeded to freeze me out for more than a week. Finally, after receiving a text in which she admitted to missing our conversations, I decided that our ugly argument was part of the past and we could both move on. Unfortunately, when I made the mistake of calling her intoxicated a couple days later, she denounced my state of mind as an act of “disrespect” (even though by her own admission I hadn’t said anything confrontational or hostile during that conversation) and again decided to call off our friendship-on-the-verge-of-a-relationship, this time permanently.

Which brings us to our lesson of the day.

In an ideal world, the people with whom we fall in love will be paragons of virtue – smart, funny, kind, hard working, physically attractive, socioeconomically successful, etc. The reality, of course, is much different: Most of us are neither all good nor all bad, and our ability to find love depends entirely on meeting sexually compatible partners who can cherish what is right about us and accept (while simultaneously working to improve) what is wrong.

In an ideal world, the people with whom we fall in love will be paragons of virtue – smart, funny, kind, hard working, physically attractive, socioeconomically successful, etc. The reality, of course, is much different: Most of us are neither all good nor all bad, and our ability to find love depends entirely on meeting sexually compatible partners who can cherish what is right about us and accept (while simultaneously working to improve) what is wrong.

That doesn’t mean that lines shouldn’t be drawn. If someone is physically or emotionally abusing you, or refusing to respect your personal boundaries, than by all means the relationship needs to end. In this case, however, even the girl in question (who I will refer to here as “T”) reluctantly admitted that none of my transgressions crossed those lines. It was simply a situation in which she expected absolute perfection, and anything other than that constituted grounds for not only calling things off, but for doing so with some of the most hurtful language she could conjure up (which, after calmly dealing with it for several days, I finally decided to repay in kind).

There are three valuable lessons to be learned here:

1. For any relationship to work—romantic, platonic, or otherwise—both parties need to have a margin for error. No one is perfect, and if you’re going to zoom from 100 (i.e., thinking the moon and stars of a loved one) to 0 (i.e., thinking only the worst about that loved one) over relatively minor mistakes (on this specific occasion, lashing out when my Asperger’s Syndrome was attacked or acting overly-giddy during a drunk phone call), then the chances are that the real problem isn’t with your significant other – it is with yourself. By holding people to that standard, you are demanding a level of perfection that no one – not even yourself – could ever be realistically expected to reach. The worst part isn’t even that you doom your specific relationships to failure; it is that, through your actions, you become the kind of emotional abuser who leaves a trail of scarred psyches in your wake.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that the generation raised by the Internet age tend to pass moral judgments based only on extremes – you are either an unimpeachable role model or the absolute scum of the earth. It’s why we see ongoing debates over questions like whether we should admire Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon: Even though it is undeniably true that Lincoln was both a racist and the Great Emancipator, or that John Lennon was an influential advocate of world peace who regularly abused his wife and children, people online tend to assume that either their virtues entirely negate their flaws or that their flaws render their virtues irrelevant.

2. You need to be able to look at life as more than a zero-sum game. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that the generation raised by the Internet age tend to pass moral judgments based only on extremes – you are either an unimpeachable role model or the absolute scum of the earth. It’s why we see ongoing debates over questions like whether we should admire Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon: Even though it is undeniably true that Lincoln was both a racist and the Great Emancipator, or that John Lennon was an influential advocate of world peace who regularly abused his wife and children, people online tend to assume that either their virtues entirely negate their flaws or that their flaws render their virtues irrelevant. In fact, human beings are far more complex than the reductive mindset of digital culture would have one believe: Lincoln and Lennon were great men with terrible flaws and terribly flawed men who did great things. Acknowledging this isn’t a paradox but, rather, the essence of the human condition.

3. When you meet people who apply a 0 to 100 attitude in your own life, your best bet is to cut them out entirely. In the case of T, I deleted our text messages (after using them as the basis for this article, of course) and blocked both her phone number and Facebook profile. Obviously I do not expect this to eliminate the pain that she caused me through her actions, at least not right away – but, if there is one good thing about having a diverse range of dating experiences, it’s that you realize even the most emotionally abusive ordeals will eventually fade from your memory as new (and hopefully more rewarding) ones arise to take their place.

It is lamentable that my ex-girlfriend, who is otherwise a very intelligent woman, seems stubbornly unwilling to recognize this fact (and, indeed, openly acknowledged that she enjoyed knowing she had the power to really hurt someone if she felt like it). That said, all painful experiences yield valuable lessons, and the one gleaned from this is too important to overlook:

We need to stop being a 0 to 100 society. We need to stop assuming that the Lincolns and the Lennons and, yes, the Rozsas can be defined solely by either what is best in them or what is worst in them. If we don’t stop doing this, at some point we will reach one of those periodic moralizing crazes that have occasions swept through our country – see the Salem Witch Trials, the five Great Awakenings, McCarthyism, or political correctness (at least when taken to #CancelColbert level extremes) – in which human lives are ruined because certain individuals dare not be perfect. Indeed, it is hardly a coincidence that T herself used to frequently engage in heated debates with me about whether good people could have bad qualities and vice versa – and every time, of course, she came down in favor of saying that if you do one bad thing, it devalues you entirely.

America is better than this, and as the Internet continues to exacerbate the 0-to-100 phenomenon I’m talking about, I can only hope that this unhealthy trend will change.

4 surprising reasons Rand Paul might be the liberal candidate you’re looking for

Published: Daily Dot (May 29, 2015)

At a time when the Republican Party has developed a reputation for voting and thinking in lockstep, it is worth noting that Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul has a surprisingly bipartisan appeal, which is becoming an important part of his growing presidential campaign. In the wake of an Internet-breaking filibuster on the Patriot Act, the outspoken National Security Agency critic has “reached out to African-American Republicans, spoke to a group of moderate Republicans, and held a news conference with House Democrats,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

But targeting liberals will be an important part of the Web-friendly candidate’s campaign (who even has his own subreddit), and indeed, Paul’s libertarian platform shows a great of overlap with the left, with a number of stances that could appeal to Democrats. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this constitutes genuine conviction or political pandering on his part—after all, Paul would hardly be the first president to get elected on promises he doesn’t intend to keep.

Rand Paul might not win, but as these four policies show, he’ll certainly shake things up.

1) The Patriot Act

Perhaps Paul’s most conspicuous break from GOP tradition occurred last week, when he filibustered the extension of the Patriot Act, a piece of legislation passed during George W. Bush’s presidency that significantly expanded America’s security state in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. As Paul tweeted at the time:

Thanks to the 11-hour filibuster, Paul has earned the scorn of Republicans like pundit Bill Kristol, who derisively referred to the Kentucky Senator as a “liberal Democrat” for agreeing with progressive House members Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on that and a number of other issues. The fact that Paul’s filibuster had bipartisan support almost certainly didn’t help his cause among GOP stalwarts, although they tended to depict his maneuver as either grandstanding or paranoid.

Of course, the Senate was forced to adjourn without extending the bill, so Paul’s filibuster has been at least a temporary success.

2) The prison-industrial complex

Paul has also emerged as the Republican Party’s chief (and arguably only) prominent critic of the growth of America’s prison-industrial complex. During the Ferguson, Mo., riots last year, Paul not only condemned the violence of the police officers, but managed to frame what he called “the militarization of local police precincts” as an issue of big government run amok—deftly blending a liberal stance with conservative reasoning.

“The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting,” he wrote in an editorial for Time. “There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response. The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.”

More recently, Paul extended this condemnation to include the likely Democratic presidential nominee next year, Hillary Clinton. “Your husband passed all the laws that put a generation of black men in prison,” he said on a CBS radio talk show last week, referring to measures that nationalized a “three strikes” policy and toughened crime laws that disproportionately target racial minorities. “She’s changing her tune now. She’s changing her tune because people like me have been speaking out against these injustices.”

3) He wants to end the War on Drugs

It’s important to recognize that, unlike strict libertarians, Paul refuses to take a stand on whether marijuana and other narcotics should be legalized. At the same time, he is a leading sponsor of the CARERS Act, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that the federal prohibition on marijuana would not apply to those who grow, sell, and/or use it for medical purposes.

More importantly, he has argued that the federal government shouldn’t be getting involved in enforcing drug policy at all, instead leaving that matter to the individual states. “Just end that war on drugs and make it a much more local situation, more community oriented,” he explained in a 2000 appearance on the show Kentucky Tonight. “There’s probably a lot of savings in that.”

He elaborated on this in 2014 during an interview with Bill Maher, promising to do “everything to end the war on drugs” in large part because it disproportionately targets racial minorities and the poor:

Our prisons are full of black and brown kids. Three-fourths of the people in prison are black or brown, and white kids are using drugs, Bill, as you know… at the same rate as these other kids. But kids who have less means, less money, kids who are in areas where police are patrolling. … Police are given monetary incentives to make arrests, monetary incentives for their own departments. So I want to end the war on drugs because it’s wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it.

4) He opposes mandatory minimum sentencing

In a stance that he shares with a growing number of conservative activists, Paul has spoken out against mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which require judges to impose harsh penalties on low-level drug offenders. Once again, he frames this position in the rhetoric of racial oppression. “If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago,” Paul pointed out. “Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting because of the war on drugs.”

Last February, Paul reached across the aisle to achieve meaningful reform on this issue, working with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to promote the Justice Safety Valve Act, which allows federal judges to give sentences lower than the mandatory punishment when they feel that the required minimum violates standards for fair punishment laid out elsewhere. In a statement issued for the press, Paul contextualized his argument through the lens of federalism, declaring that “the federal government should get out of the way, and allow local and state judges to do their jobs.”

Despite Bill Kristol’s characterization of Paul as a secret liberal, the truth is that his seemingly left-wing positions have more to do with a relatively consistent application of his anti-government ideology than they do with any covert progressivism. Not only does Paul rationalize his opposition to the security state or prison-industrial complex by using the rhetoric of small government, but whenever liberal ideals require an interventionist state—such as with health care reform or social welfare programse—he has reliably come down against the leftist position.

Indeed, Paul isn’t even absolute in his ostensible libertarianism, as he still opposes same-sex marriage and has yet to speak out against the voter suppression laws being passed by Republicans throughout the various states.

Nevertheless, it is both notable and admirable that a Republican presidential candidate with Paul’s high profile has been willing to go against the grain of his own party’s ideals on so many important issues. It may seem like a betrayal for liberals to give him credit where it is due here… but it would be a far greater betrayal for us to not do so.

5 ways Republicans can reboot their brand in the Internet era

Published: Daily Dot (May 28, 2015)

In his new book, Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul declares that the GOP brand “sucks” and is “broken.” From those big declarations, he goes on to discuss his personal affinity for nature (describing himself as a “tree hugger”) and his ability to find common ground with racial minorities (mainly through his opposition to the growing prison-industrial complex).

All of this is well and good insofar as Paul’s political ambitions are concerned, but what relevance does it have to the GOP’s future in the digital era? Let’s look at some ways that the Republican Party can become relevant as the Baby Boomers hand off the future to a new generation of engaged voters.
1) It needs to stop being viewed as staunchly conservative

Shortly after the 2012 presidential election, an ABC News/Washington Post poll asked Americans: “Why the Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections?” Despite Mitt Romney’s lackluster candidacy, only 38 percent of the respondents cited “needs a better leader” as the party’s chief problem; a clear majority, on the other hand, simply stated that the GOP was “too conservative.”

This is a particularly noteworthy statistic because, less than a quarter-century ago, the inverse could have helped explain the Democratic Party’s presidential woes. After all, Republicans managed to win five of the six presidential elections from 1968 to 1988 largely because the Democrats had been effectively painted as too liberal.

The Democrats remained trapped in that cycle until the 1992 presidential election, when they nominated an avowed centrist (Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas) who tamed the strident grassroots base that had produced both dud nominees (Sen. George McGovern in 1972, Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988) and polarizing national leaders (Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988).
2) Stop swimming against the tides of history on LGBT rights

Supporting LGBT rights isn’t simply a moral imperative; from a practical political standpoint, it is also a tactical necessity. A clear majority of Republicans under the age of 30 support same-sex marriage, reflecting the larger seismic shift in public opinion that has occurred within the last few years.

Before 2010, national support for same-sex marriage lingered in the mid-to-low 40s, with more Americans opposing than supporting them. Since 2011, however, that dynamic has been reversed, with Americans consistently supporting the freedom to marry. Indeed, the number of pro-same-sex marriage Americans hasn’t dropped below 50 percent in three years, with the latest survey finding it at an all-time high of 60 percent.

Whether conservatives like it or not, Americans are characterizing the struggle of marriage equality as an important civil rights movement and understandably don’t wish to be on the wrong side of history. So long as the GOP brand is associated with tolerance for intolerance, it will be that much harder for men and women of goodwill to identify with it.
3) Stop alienating Latino voters

Pundits realized a long time ago that Latino voters were going to be a key swing bloc in future presidential elections. It’s hardly a coincide that the only Republican presidential candidate from 1992 to 2012 to do reasonably well with Hispanic voters was also the only one to win the popular vote—George W. Bush in 2004.

According to the last census, there were 50.5 million Latinos residing in the United States as of 2010, an increase of 43 percent from the previous decade (when they numbered 35.3 million). In fact, 56 percent of America’s population growth from 2000 to 2010 came from the Latino community.

Yet mathematical logic notwithstanding, Republicans are still struggling to shed their rigid opposition to immigration reform, a stance that aligns them against the 66 percent of Latino voters who consider immigration reform to be a top priority.
4) Apply your big government ideology consistently, such as with the prison-industrial complex

Although Republicans like to cast themselves as the party of small government, there have been glaring inconsistencies between their rhetoric and the causes they choose to champion. As a libertarian think tank the Cato Institute pointed out, police officers in Ferguson, Mo., blatantly disregarded fundamental constitutional guarantees like the right to private property or peaceful assembly… and, indeed, treated ordinary American citizens like bystanders in a warzone.

This is symptomatic of a larger “big government” problem, namely, that America has turned into a bona fide prison state. As the American Civil Liberties Union reports, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prison population (despite having only 5 percent of its total population), has had its total number of prisoners rise by 700 percent since 1970, and currently keeps 1 out of 99 adults behind bars (1 out of 31 are under some form of correctional control).

Considering that conservative intellectuals like to root their ideas in classical philosophy, it is hard to imagine a better illustration of the observation by the ancient Roman historian Tacitus: “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” Yet with the exception of Rand Paul, nary a Republican can be heard denouncing the Big Brother actions of our government when it comes to the prison-industrial complex.
5) Don’t settle for mediocrity

To explain this point, it is necessary to turn to the earliest chapters in the Republican Party’s history. Founded in 1854 as a vehicle for uniting the various factions opposed to the expansion of slavery into America’s newly acquired western territories, it rose to national power with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860—that is, the election that triggered the Civil War—and maintained an unbroken lock on the White House for the next 24 years.

As the issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction began to fade from national consciousness, Republican leaders found themselves without a coherent ideology or cause to unite their followers. The final Republican president of this dynasty, Chester Arthur, was even chided for this by one of his “mysterious lady friends” (likely a prostitute) in a letter dated from 1882:

What is there to admire in mediocrity? Why do you take such comfort in half measures? Does it never strike you that there must be back of them only half a mind—a certain half-heartedness—in fact, only half a man? Why do you not do what you do with your whole soul? Or have you only half of one?

These words are just as applicable now as they were 133 years ago. The Republican Party of today remains the party that formed around Ronald Reagan during his transformative election in 1980—socially conservative, economically plutocratic, and internationally bellicose.

Those stances may have garnered votes at a time when our political consciousness was dominated by the Cold War, rampant crime, and the post-New Deal welfare state, but it is increasingly out-of-touch in an era when the American military has notoriously overextended itself (see the Iraq war of 2003-2011), police brutality against racial minorities regularly makes the news, and our economy was brought to the brink of collapse because Wall Street ran rampant.

This isn’t to say that conservative ideas can’t be relevant in the age of Twitter. That said, the Republican Party definitely needs to overhaul its brand in order to start trending in the right direction.

 

Why We Should Stop Saying ‘Friend Zone’

Published: Good Men Project (May 28, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa discusses the term “friend zone” – and why we should get rid of it.

Since this article was inspired by a personal experience, it seems only fair that I open it with a confession:

I have complained about being “friend zoned.”

Thankfully it’s been years since I’ve done this, but I can’t say it hasn’t happened at all. Like most men, I have found the term awfully convenient when dealing with the sting of romantic rejection. If we get along so well as friends, I’d think to myself, then why is she unwilling to see me as anything more? It seemed brutally unfair, as if I was being penalized for opening up my heart to someone and forming a connection that (at least in my opinion) had been meaningful. Because the expression is so prevalent in our popular culture anyway, it seemed like a valid way of expressing my frustration.

Then I got a taste of my own medicine: Someone recently accused me of putting her in the “friend zone.”

It’s pretty surprising that it took this long, since this is certainly not the first time I’ve told a woman (who I’ll call S in this article) her feelings for me weren’t reciprocated (more on that in a moment). Although this article draws heavily from my recent experience, its lessons are universal in nature. After all, one of the reasons men are so quick to accuse women of “friend zoning” them is that they have difficulty relating to how it feels to be on the other side of that dynamic. To rectify that, here is a quick list of guidelines men should bear in mind:

1. The so-called “friend zone” doesn’t actually exist.

When I say that the friend zone doesn’t exist, I don’t mean that there aren’t situations in which a person is attracted to a friend who doesn’t reciprocate his or her feelings – that’s a tale as old as time. That said, the notion that the friendship itself is precluding a romantic and sexual relationship is erroneous. The truth is much simpler:

If two people are friends and one of them doesn’t want to enter a relationship with the other, it’s because he or she doesn’t find that person attractive.

That said, the notion that the friendship itself is precluding a romantic and sexual relationship is erroneous. The truth is much simpler: If two people are friends and one of them doesn’t want to enter a relationship with the other, it’s because he or she doesn’t find that person attractive.

This lack of attraction can be due to any number of things: Physical appearance, specific personality traits, lack of social status vis-a-vis one’s career, lack of income, lack of common interests, and virtually anything else imaginable. It is not because the connection you forged as friends somehow precluded the possibility of the relationship developing into something more. If two people share a deep bond and are mutually attracted to each other, there will always be the possibility for that platonic relationship to become romantic and sexual. They may be stymied by concerns about losing their friendship or other practical considerations, but there is no such thing as two genuine friends failing to enter a relationship because the friendship itself has blocked that out. If one friend isn’t interested, it’s because there is something about the other that they don’t find attractive.

2. There is nothing wrong with not being attracted to a friend.

For the girl in question for me (who I’ll refer to here as S), the issue was twofold: (1) She was very flaky and (2) She was a conspiracy theorist.

As I’ve discussed before, flakiness is a huge pet peeve of mine. In addition to finding it incredibly annoying, it also goes against the grain of my Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not unusual for people on the autism spectrum to require a certain amount of structure in their day-to-day routine in order to feel comfortable. I’m the kind of person who likes to schedule everything – work projects, social engagements, even phone calls – down to the ‘t,’ and am always punctual unless extenuating circumstances make that absolutely impossible. While I understand that the rest of the world can’t always accommodate me on this, it is a sine qua non for a relationship because I can’t feel fully comfortable around a significant other if she isn’t going to be as reliable as me.

The second problem may sound petty, but it actually strikes to the core of who I am. As a history PhD, I believe very strongly in using empirical methodologies when understanding the world around us. Conspiracy theories (such as the idea that civilization was founded by aliens or that 9/11 was orchestrated by the United States government) are anathema to the rational and detached approach that respectable scholars adopt in all fields. Consequently a conspiracy theorist is as offensive to a PhD in history as a creationist would be to an evolutionary biologist, or as a global warming denier would be to a climatologist, or as atheism would be to someone who is devoutly religious.

Is this petty? Not even remotely. Remember, I’m not passing moral judgment on people who believe in conspiracy theories, but ascertaining what will work for me in a relationship. There is no “right” or “wrong” when determining what you want in a relationship, any more than you can be “right” or “wrong” for preferring one flavor of ice cream over another. It’s a matter of taste.

3. Because everyone gets rejected, it’s infuriating to be cast as the bad guy simply for not feeling a certain way about someone.

There are two kinds of people in the dating world – those who will admit that they’ve been rejected, and those who lie through their teeth. It doesn’t matter how attractive, wealthy, intelligent, funny, or otherwise desirable you might be; unless you’re lucky enough to find your true love on the very first occasion that you ask them on a date, it is absolutely inevitable that you will be shot down. For the vast majority of us, this will happen over and over again.

There is no “right” or “wrong” when determining what you want in a relationship, any more than you can be “right” or “wrong” for preferring one flavor of ice cream over another. It’s a matter of taste.

And it sucks. A lot. Which means that, unless you’re sadistic or a sociopath, you probably don’t enjoy having to reject other people.

This may hard to admit if you’re the one being turned down, but the truth is that the person rejecting you almost certainly feels terrible about having to do so. Because they’ve felt worthless and heartbroken when spurned, they can empathize all too well with what you’re experiencing, and the fact that they are personally responsible for causing you that pain adds an enormous burden of guilt.

At the same time, they’re only acting based on their honest emotions; they are no more in control of how they feel, and what they need to do as a result of those feelings, than you are. That’s why it’s so positively infuriating when the other person decided to guilt-trip them. It is, in a sense, a below-the-belt move; you’re hitting someone at their most vulnerable spot (their conscience) even though you know perfectly well that the blow isn’t really deserved.

4. It’s okay to express disappointment at rejection… so long as you don’t become angry, bitter, or manipulative.

Back to S for a moment: When I told her that I only wanted to be friends, she was openly upset but ultimately understood where I came from. This was totally fine – if you’ve been rejected, you have every right to feel hurt, and a true friend (even one who isn’t romantically attracted to you) will be sympathetic and supportive. Because I’ve turned down plenty of girls before S, I knew to expect this, and bore her no ill will for behaving in the same way that I’d seen other women react before her.

The difference was that S was unwilling to permanently accept “No” for an answer… and she was the first to use the term “friend zone” as a way of shifting the “blame” to me for us not being in a relationship. In the past I’ve had girls I rejected respond with anger or bitterness; one accused me of being a hypocrite by citing my weight (even though I never mentioned her weight, or physical appearance at all, as a reason for not being interested), while another threatened to post my phone number and home address on a white supremacist forum that had recently been created to attack my writing (this certainly qualifies as the most psychotic reaction I’ve ever received).

S, on the other hand, kept trying to subtly nudge me into relationship mode: She’d make a point of holding my hand while we were hanging out in public, putting me in the awkward position of either extricating my hand and being judged by strangers as she adopted a hurt tone and said, “Oh, Matt”; she’d bombard me with text messages even after I’d told her that I felt like being alone; she followed up with my friends about what I was doing and how I felt about her; and she even kept urging me to meet her extended family and “develop a bond with her kids,” despite my repeatedly saying that I wasn’t comfortable doing so. None of this was as bad as the outright hostility I faced on previous occasions, but it was so transparently manipulative that I eventually developed an acute dislike of her.

Needless to say, when I called off the friendship altogether, she heavily implied that I was a bad person. This brings me to the final point…

5. There are only four ways in which someone “friend zoning” you is actually a bad person.

There are four ways in which someone who has “friend zoned” you is a bad person for doing so:

A. If they break the news in an insensitive or hurtful manner;

B. If they freeze you out to avoid doing the right thing;

C. If they string you along instead of bluntly telling you how they feel;

D. If they have established an emotional wall in which they refuse to allow their feelings for you to evolve beyond a certain point.

A and B are closely related, so they can be addressed in one paragraph. Obviously it behooves someone who is turning down a friend to do so with the same compassion and sensitivity that they would expect in the same situation (which they have undoubtedly been in); that has nothing to do with dating etiquette and everything to do with acting like a decent human being. Similarly, although it is unpleasant to have to tell someone that you aren’t interested (see Point #3), you have a moral responsibility to directly inform them of how you feel. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people come up with rationalizations to avoid doing so; I recall one friend complaining that she “shouldn’t have to feel badly” by telling a man she didn’t like him if freezing him out could accomplish the same thing. The problem with that reasoning is (a) people often don’t know that you aren’t responding due to lack of interest and (b) having that news broken to you through a freeze-out is incredibly demeaning. Again: You don’t owe the other person a relationship, sex, or even a friendship, but you do owe them basic human decency. Barring a situation in which you feel unsafe or harassed, there is no excuse for not directly informing the other person of how you feel and doing so as tactfully and compassionately as possible. If you can’t handle the discomfort of having to do this – a discomfort that millions of other people slog through because they realize it’s the right thing to do – then you shouldn’t be dating at all.

You don’t owe the other person a relationship, sex, or even a friendship, but you do owe them basic human decency. Barring a situation in which you feel unsafe or harassed, there is no excuse for not directly informing the other person of how you feel and doing so as tactfully and compassionately as possible.

Of all the complaints I hear from men who say they’ve been “friend zoned” (and if you have male friends, you’ve almost certainly heard them), C is the most valid. While it may feel enormously gratifying to string someone along because you know they’re secretly attracted to you, it is not only cruel to do so – it’s downright self-entitled. When someone has amorous feelings for you and you haven’t made it clear that you don’t reciprocate, they are naturally going to try to woo you in a number of ways. This wooing may be enjoyable (particularly if you’re narcissistic or insecure), but it is also exploitative. You have every right to not be interested in someone, but you don’t have the right to take advantage of their vulnerability so you can feel better about yourself. If you enjoy the benefits of someone’s company but don’t want to be in a relationship, you need to have the courage to tell your friend how they feel and hope they’ll choose to stay in your life despite their disappointment. If they choose to leave, that is their right; if they choose to stay but not dote on you as much as they used to, that is also their right. If the thought of losing their courtship is too much to bear, than perhaps you should reevaluate whether your relationship should remain strictly platonic. No matter what you do, however, stringing someone along makes you the bad guy.

D is a bit tricky to explain. On the one hand, it’s important to establish that if you only view someone as a friend, they should proceed from the assumption that those feelings will not change – after all, they very well might not, so if the friendship is going to be preserved, both parties need to proceed from the understanding that it will be mutually platonic unless the rejector one day decides it should be otherwise (and that burden logically falls on the rejector, never the rejectee). At the same time, if your friend is someone with whom you are theoretically compatible (i.e., your sexual orientation designates you could find them attractive), there is something profoundly insulting about deciding that you will never allow your emotions to move beyond a certain point. People’s attraction to each other changes all the time, so by deciding that there is no situation in which you will view another person as a potential romantic partner, you are making a qualitative judgment about their intrinsic value. While it is popular to say that “I can’t choose how I feel,” this is a myth propagated by those who don’t want to be responsible for their own choices. Everyone chooses how they feel, whether it’s toward friends, family members, or potential romantic partners. Even the aspects of physical attraction, which in theory are based purely on intangible “chemistry,” frequently begin to arise between two people of the same sexual orientation who may not have been otherwise inclined toward each other… if, of course, a genuine friendship first arises between them. In short, you have the right to make certain choices, of course, but if you choose to refuse to view someone as more than a friend, you are limiting your ability to truly get to know them on the deepest and most meaningful possible level. That in its own right does’t make you a bad person… but if the other person is really important to you, you should make sure that you aren’t making that decision for the wrong reasons.

Conclusion:

There is a great quote from Ann Landers that sums up my thoughts on this subject:

“Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.”

In an ideal world, every romantic relationship would be held together by a bond of friendship that is strengthened by layers of physical and personal attraction. Anyone who has thought they shared that type of connection, only to discover that their feelings weren’t reciprocated, knows that that type of rejection is terribly painful. It is the greatest risk that anyone takes when entering the dating game – that you’ll fall in unrequited love.

It is also a part of life. And if there is one bit of good that comes from the existence of terms like “friend zone,” it’s the knowledge that you’re not alone.

Why Rand Paul can win

Published: Daily Dot (May 27, 2015)

While Rand Paul’s name often appears on lists of leading Republican presidential nominees, his well-known libertarian streak is often cited as a prime reason why he most likely won’t be nominated. His National Security Agency opposition might make him popular on the Internet, but he’s the definition of a wild card.

Make no mistake about it: If history serves as a reliable precedent, the nomination won’t go to Paul. Indeed, the last non-establishment candidate to head the Republican national ticket was Barry Goldwater, whose upset over Nelson Rockefeller occurred more than 50 years ago (in the 1964 election). That said, there is a plausible path to victory that lies ahead for Paul, and it is worth exploring.

We can start with the fact that Paul, if not quite a libertarian himself, has long been described as “libertarian-ish” —and the Internet has long been a hotbed for libertarian activity. Back in 2007, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), father of Rand, shocked the political world by raising more than $6 million in a 24-hour period using an Internet-based fundraising tactic known as a “moneybomb,” wherein his campaign tapped into a nationwide network of grassroots supporters who shared his outspoken libertarian ideals. Despite minimal mainstream news coverage, this groundswell of online libertarianism was good enough to net Paul Sr. more than 1.2 million votes in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries. By 2012, that number had risen to more than 2.1 million.

In addition to helping him inherit some (if not all) of his father’s base of libertarian true believers, Rand Paul’s libertarian-ish stances on ending domestic spying, reforming the criminal justice system, and legalizing medical marijuana have made him one of the Republican Party’s most attractive candidates for Internet-savvy young people. Back in 2013, the Wall Street Journal characterized Paul’s 13-hour filibuster on the military’s drone program as an attempt to “fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms,” an assumption that Paul gleefully embraced in a subsequent editorial for the millennial news site Mic (where this author was working at the time) that proudly proclaimed, “I believe a Republican Party that is more tolerant and dedicated to keeping the government out of people’s lives as much as possible would be more appealing to the rising generation.”

For Paul to be nominated in 2016, he would need to maintain his bedrock of support among libertarian-leaning conservatives and young Republicans, even as he simultaneously makes sufficient inroads among traditional conservatives dissatisfied with the other candidates to pull off majorities in the early primary states—a tricky feat, no doubt, but hardly an impossible one. After all, his father placed a close third in the Iowa caucus last election, and Paul himself is currently leading in New Hampshire among Republicans under the age of 45. If mainstream Republican voters find themselves unable to unite behind a single establishment candidate by early 2016—and polls have consistently found them split between the likes of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker—then Paul’s clear edge among libertarians, and potential advantage among young voters, could be enough to propel him to the top of the GOP ticket next year.

“I believe a Republican Party that is more tolerant and dedicated to keeping the government out of people’s lives as much as possible would be more appealing to the rising generation.”

From there, of course, the challenge for Paul is getting elected.

This would also not be inconceivable, particularly to anyone familiar with the working-class voters who abandoned their traditionally Democratic Party allegiance to vote Republican in the 1980s, the so-called Reagan Democrats. “Resenting both the rich, who they believed to be virtually tax exempt, and the poor, who received welfare,” writes James Pontuso in the conservative Web journal First Principles, “many middle-class workers believed that the Democratic Party no longer represented them and so cast their votes for Reagan, whose pro-family and limited government policies appealed to their sense of values.” In light of Hillary Clinton’s well-known weakness with this demographic, Paul could win over these voters through his unique ability to be convincingly anti-Wall Street (which tends to support Clinton) while maintaining his party’s traditional conservative attitude on issues like affirmative action and welfare.

Paul could also pose a threat to Clinton from a quarter that has heretofore been unshakably Democratic—the black vote. On the surface, Clinton would seem to have insurmountable advantages with the African-American community: No Republican has won more than 15 percent of the black vote since 1964 (when the GOP nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater, who opposed that year’s landmark Civil Rights Act), and her husband Bill Clinton has long been especially beloved within the black community. At the same time, she has not benefited from the same enthusiasm that tends to greet her husband, while Paul has taken a host of positions specifically tailored to earn their support. He was outspoken in opposing police brutality in Ferguson, Mo., calling for America to “demilitarize the police,” and has condemned America’s prison system (which has the largest incarcerated population in the world) for being “full of black and brown kids because they don’t get a good attorney, they live in poverty, it’s easier to arrest them than to go to the suburbs.” As recently as last week Paul scathingly condemned the Clintons for supporting draconian anti-crime legislation that had put “a generation of black men in prison.” As Rev. Al Sharpton noted, “if [Paul] becomes the candidate… and if you don’t get a huge black turnout saying ‘We’re afraid [of him],’ that could be a pitfall for Democrats.”

Of course, none of these arguments are meant to be definitive. It is entirely possible that the Republican Party will follow tradition and nominate Bush, Walker, Rubio, or another neoconservative candidate with “safe” conservative stances on the major economic, social, and foreign policy questions of our time. Despite being held in suspicion by large portions of the grassroots base, quintessential establishmentarians like John McCain and Mitt Romney were nominated in the last two election cycles, and it is entirely possible that the same thing could happen again in 2016.

At the same time, the prospect of a Paul nomination—and with it, a Paul election—is not so outlandish as to be safely disregarded entirely. By speaking to a wing in his own party that has yet to produce its own nominee, and reaching out to voting blocs that haven’t supported a Republican in years, Paul has significant advantages that could ultimately put him over the top.

If nothing else, 2016 will shape up to a very interesting election year.

The Role of Men in the 2016 Presidential Election

Published: Good Men Project (May 26, 2015)

The chances are pretty good that women’s issues will be front-and-center in the 2016 presidential election… and we may even have a female candidate!

From the moment Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential elections, polls have consistently ranked Hillary Clinton at the top of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2016. Indeed, even if she wasn’t in the race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has also placed highly among possible contenders (even though she has disavowed any candidacy next year). Beyond that, with the success of the Democrats’ focus on a so-called “war on women” during the last few elections and the rise of cyberfeminism as an exciting new front in the women’s rights movement, it is clear that women’s issues are going to be front-and-center in the upcoming national political contest.

What role should men play in all of this? Here are three quick guidelines:

1. We need to avoid sexist language.

As Scott Bixby of Mic brilliantly outlined, Clinton was on the receiving end of a great deal of coded sexism during her last presidential campaign in 2008. Buzz words like “nagging,” “shrill,” and “bitchy” are used not to make legitimate points about her policies or character, but disparage her on the basis of her gender. While it behooves everyone to denounce this kind of rhetoric when it crops up, the obligation is particularly strong with men precisely because we aren’t the targets of the prejudice. After all, it is easy to expect those who are victimized by a certain form of discrimination to stand up to it; when those who aren’t directly impacted also speak out, however, it truly makes a statement.

Similarly…

2. We need to stop discussing women’s issues using sexist language.

Although I personally support federal contraception coverage, I can respect that there are those who will disagree with me for legitimate (if in my opinion incorrect) reasons – a belief in free market economics, a broader opposition to the Affordable Care Act, etc. That said, there have been far too many occasions when supporters of federal contraception are characterized as “sluts” or in some other way attacked in a gender-based fashion. This tendency is hardly limited to health care reform either; while I can understand people opposing abortion because they believe it is murder (although I don’t share that position), it is reprehensible when they segue to attacking women for being sexually active.

While you are allowed to dissent from the feminist position on an important issue without fear of having your motives attacked, you deserve to be blasted the moment you start playing with misogynistic tropes to make your point.

The bottom line is that, while you are allowed to dissent from the feminist position on an important issue without fear of having your motives attacked, you deserve to be blasted the moment you start playing with misogynistic tropes to make your point. This is because…

3. As men, we don’t get it.

This is perhaps the most difficult point to explain, but it is without question the most important. As men, we have benefited from a wide range of gender privileges from the day we were born: We are less likely to be judged based solely on our appearance, to fear being raped, to be paid fairly for our work, etc. As a result, when it comes to issues pertaining to women’s rights, there is a visceral level of understanding that we will always lack.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can’t intellectually understand the points that feminists are making; the capacity of rational thought, as well as empathy, exists within all of us. At the same time, it is essential to realize that we are at a turning point in the history of gender relations, and those who have spent so long on the wrong side of that unjust power dynamic are going to have understandable sensitivities that we can’t grasp.

This is true for all members of traditionally oppressed groups – be they racial, religious, gender-based, or otherwise. It just so happens that the 2016 presidential election is likely to be a milestone for women… and good men everywhere will have an important role to play in it.

The one reason you should be watching Fox News

Published: Daily Dot (May 22, 2015)

For a while, it didn’t seem like anyone who wasn’t a card-carrying member of the GOP had a voice on Fox News, the network that is “fair and balanced,” so long as you agree with Rupert Murdoch. A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Fox News viewers were self-described conservatives, compared to 23 percent who identified as moderates and 10 percent who claimed to be liberal (the same figures ran 32-30-30 for CNN and 32-23-36 for MSNBC).

This probably explains why, at the beginning of Obama’s presidency, Americans found Fox News to be the “most ideological network.” Indeed, as recently as last year, Pew discovered that while no single news outlet dominates for liberals or moderates, conservatives overwhelmingly prefer Fox News—47 percent name the network as their primary source for information, with the runner up (local radio) clocking in at a measly 11 percent by comparison.

Yet despite the network’s well-established history of politics bias, Fox’s Megyn Kelly has been responsible for what are arguably the three most important political interviews of the past seven weeks.

Her golden streak started on April 9, when she sat down to interview Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a strong contender in the 2016 presidential race. Paul’s reputation for being arrogant with reporters was already well-known, and he had even attracted controversy for his seeming habit of being particularly put off when confronted by female journalists.

Consequently, when Kelly found herself being talked over after asking Paul about his stance on arming Syrian rebels, she insisted that he allow her to finish—and then pivoted to the question of his attitude problem.

Although Paul initially placed the blame on “both sides,” saying that nobody likes “yelling,” Kelly stood firm in holding him accountable, first by pointing out that “those women were not yelling at you.” In reference to his interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans, she then bluntly asked him, “Do you regret shushing the reporter? Savannah Guthrie’s not exactly known for her aggressive unfairness.”

After Paul replied that his allegedly disrespectful reply to Guthrie happened because her question [on his foreign policy views] was “unfair,” he added that he “would rather not have contentious interviews. I’d rather do 30 minutes with Charlie Rose, laid back in a lazy boy chair.” Kelly’s response to this remarkable assertion was pitch perfect: “The question some people are asking about you is whether you’re ready for prime time because it’s only going to get worse.”

Kelly’s “prime time” treatment of the GOP ruling class continued earlier this month, when she interviewed another presidential aspirant, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), about his brother’s controversial war in Iraq. “Knowing what we know now,” she asked, “would you have authorized the invasion?”

His evasive reply deserves to be republished in full:

Bush: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.

Kelly: You don’t think it was a mistake?

Bush: In retrospect the intelligence that everybody saw—that the world saw, not just the United States—was faulty. And in retrospect once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first.

From there, Bush went on to describe why America’s military campaign deteriorated after the invasion, acknowledging that mistakes were made but adding that he and his brother agreed on the subject. What he didn’t do was answer Kelly’s actual question—namely, whether he still would have supported the invasion based on the intelligence we have today, as opposed to the faulty information available in 2003.

Unfortunately for Bush, but fortunately for the rest of America, his stumbling reply became a centerpiece of the news cycle for the following week, culminating in Seth Meyers lampooning Bush’s seeming lack of preparation by joking on his nighttime talk show, “How did you blow that? Jeb, for real, considering your last name, how are you not ready for questions about Iraq? That’s like Rob Kardashian being caught off guard by questions about Kim. ‘I thought we were here to talk about my sock line!'”

Finally, there was Kelly’s deft deflation of Donald Trump on Wednesday. After drawing attention to a recent poll which found that 62 percent of Republicans and independents would “never consider” voting for him if he ran for president, Trump attempted to brush off the question by remarking that his negatives were only high “because they don’t think I’m running.”

As the interview continued, Trump attempted to burnish his qualifications as a potential political leader by comparing himself to General Douglas MacArthur and General George S. Patton, men who “don’t talk. They do.”

When she observed to Trump that “you haven’t been a military leader and you haven’t actually governed a state or been a lawmaker,” and he responded by citing his (in fact highly questionable) business record, Kelly asked if Americans should interpret his hiring of political staffers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (the first three GOP primary states in 2016) as a sign that he was “gearing up” to run for president.

After Trump affirmed that this was the case, Kelly openly implied that his lack of experience and popular support made his ambitions rather delusional: “You have to be a little [whistle] to run, don’t you?”

Kelly’s interviews with Paul, Bush, and Trump aren’t simply noteworthy because they involved a Fox News reporter embarrassing high-profile Republicans. They were also cases of a prominent TV personality acting like, dare I say it, a good journalist.

On each occasion, Kelly’s questions forced her subject to move away from his routine talking points and instead address important issues that lie at the center of each of their presidential ambitions: Paul’s troubling condescension toward prominent women, Bush’s relationship with his brother’s own presidential legacy, and Trump’s complete lack of political and military experience.

These weren’t “gotcha” questions or attempts to focus on meaningless hype. For better or worse, the three politicians talking to Kelly are all widely discussed as possible presidential candidates (with varying degrees of credibility, of course).

Consequently, it’s the job of all serious reporters to confront the major issues that voters would have about them, should their names appear on the national ballot next November. By virtue of how quickly Kelly’s interviews with them went viral, it’s clear that she did a good job of forcing them to be accountable for the ongoing concerns that exist about their candidacies.

The fact that Kelly happens to be a Fox News reporter just makes this development all the more remarkable.

“David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, and the Importance of Personal Heroes

Published: Good Men Project (May 21, 2015)

When Jimmy Kimmel got choked up on Tuesday as he discussed David Letterman’s impending departure from the air, he demonstrated an important fact:

Everyone needs a hero.

That’s a corny thing to say (or write), especially in an era as oversaturated with scandal as our own. Nary a celebrity or public figure has managed to avoid being tarnished by some sort of unflattering revelation. Our sports stars are regularly caught cheating, our political leaders are bought and sold by wealthy interest groups, and our news stories are filled with unflattering revelations about famous people making bigoted comments, running afoul of the law, or being unfaithful to their spouses; even Letterman had a sex scandal of his own back in 2009, which he survived by shrewdly owning up to his mistakes. Even our superheroes are becoming dark and gritty, with the most recent cinematic incarnation of Superman indifferently racking up hundreds of thousands of innocent casualties.

Despite the cynicism that permeates our culture today, the need for heroes is as strong as ever.

Yet despite the cynicism that permeates our culture today, the need for heroes is as strong as ever. To understand why, one need only look at Kimmel’s relationship with Letterman.

“Watching the [Late] Show was a great education for me,” Kimmel recalled, discussing how as a teenager he drew pictures of Letterman on his textbook covers, got a Letterman vanity plate for his first car, and hosted Letterman viewing parties at his house. The young comedian frequently jokes that he only went into show business so he could be friends with Letterman and openly admits that he was“terrified” in the days leading up to Letterman’s appearance on his own show three years ago. Indeed, Letterman wound up being more than just a muse for Kimmel. “The reason I have this show [Jimmy Kimmel Live] is because the executives at ABC saw me when I was a guest on Dave’s show,” Kimmel explained, his voice cracking with emotion.

Although the famously private Letterman seems to have successfully deflected Kimmel’s overtures for friendship, his influence as a de facto mentor is undeniable … and instructive. First and foremost, it demonstrates how the young are instinctively inspired by innovation and talent. “Even though it looked like every other talk show, it wasn’t,” Kimmel said as he described his first impressions of Letterman’s show. “It was totally original, primarily because the host of this show—who a lot of the time seemed embarrassed to even be there—he did not seem like he was a part of show business; he was uncomfortable, he never pretended to be excited, and his way of saying things was so subtle that a lot of the time the people he was talking to didn’t know he was joking.”

It isn’t necessary to ape all the details of what one finds inspiring about them; all that is required is the desire to do the same essential thing in your own distinctive way.

It’s noteworthy that Letterman’s sardonic and diffident approach to comedy had such an impact on Kimmel, whose persona is more traditionally cynical. The fact that Kimmel didn’t strive to be a carbon copy of Letterman isn’t an asterisk qualifying his admiration, but the strongest testament to its influence: What impressed Kimmel was Letterman’s ability to do something so original that both worked on its own terms and changed his industry in the process. These are qualities that can motivate future leaders in any field, regardless of the specific ways in which they manifest themselves. It isn’t necessary to ape all the details of what one finds inspiring about them; all that is required is the desire to do the same essential thing in your own distinctive way.

Thus as Americans say goodbye to David Letterman, it would be particularly appropriate to celebrate the impact that he had on Kimmel. After all, the greatest achievement that anyone can pull off—regardless of whether they’re a doctor or a lawyer, a scientist or a scholar, a politician or a comedian – is to shape the lives and careers of others who, without knowing them beforehand, are inspired by their work. Of all the legacies one can leave behind, none are greater or more meaningful than this.