The Weight

 

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

— via David Foster Wallace

Barney Trouble

A couple of years back I was friends with a guy not named Barney. He was a remarkably direct character, always speaking his mind and telling you in no uncertain terms what he thought of pretty much everything. I often found myself wincing in Barney’s presence, as he would regularly call me on some bullshit that I’d been believing, or some responsibility that I’d been neglecting.

I liked this about Barney. His unminced words helped keep me in check and identify issues I needed to work on. It was kind of like having my own personal Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, but with less references to my sexual inadequacies and resemblance to feces.

Eventually however, Barney’s friendship became too much to bear. I discovered that he didn’t much like it when I disagreed with some of his criticisms, or when I asked him to go a little easier on me so that I might properly address one issue before being informed of a half dozen more.

As it turned out, Barney so resented me standing up for myself that he called an end to our friendship altogether.

And at that moment, when I knew Barney was done with me and I wouldn’t be hearing from him again, a strange thing happened:

I felt free.

It hadn’t been obvious to me at all while we were friends, but now it quickly became apparent that Barney had been causing me a lot of stress. All that criticism combined with very little praise had been taking its toll. It was only afterwards that I could look back and realize that the tradeoff hadn’t been worth it.

For all the good Barney had done me with his helpful revelations, it was overshadowed by the negative impact his relentless criticism had had on my subconscious.

Now that he was out of my life, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. A weight I’d never even noticed before.

The Weight of Sexual Repression

This year I’ve been feeling the relief of another weight lifted, one I’d also been oblivious to for far too long. I guess you could call it the weight of sexual repression, and I suspect that far too many men are still carrying it around unknowingly.

This was the year in which I finally began to overcome my fear of attractive women and started interacting with them in a more fun and fulfilling way. I realize now that all those years of passing up such interactions had been taking a huge toll on me. Every time I saw an attractive woman and didn’t go talk to her, every time I gave into that irrational fear and added another tiny regret to my life, the weight grew larger.

And even though I wasn’t aware of this particular weight until recently, it’s obvious to me now how distracting it had become. Sexuality is massively important — humanity wouldn’t last long without it — and when it’s repressed repeatedly you’re left with a constant feeling of uneasiness, the impact of which doesn’t become fully apparent until you make it go away.

I’ve talked to many a chap in recent months about this kind of thing. And it’s depressing to hear so many of us making excuses about why we can’t just go strike up a conversation with a woman we find attractive, and let her know that we like the way the meat fits around her bones (preferably not using those words, obviously).

I used to be one of those guys. Full-time. And I also had myself convinced that it wasn’t plain old irrational fear that held me back. I would perform all sorts of mental hijinks to rationalize the bullshit my lizard brain was feeding me.

  • I can’t go talk to her. That might be her boyfriend standing nearby.
  • I can’t tell her I find her attractive. She’ll think I’m a pervert.
  • I can’t go talk to her. I’m late for that thing that doesn’t matter.
  • I can’t go flirt with her. It’s disrespectful to the girl from two weeks ago who never called me back.

It’s all fear in disguise, and every time we give into that fear the weight grows larger. We hate our cowardly selves a little more. The anxiety builds. We move one step closer to dying with dreams unfulfilled.

So here’s my advice to the guys reading…

If you’re not as good as you’d like to be with women, if your current sex life is not what you truly want it to be, if you regularly talk yourself out of interacting directly with the ladies you most want to interact with…

Get. It. Handled.

And by that I mean: Work on it.

Buddy up with other guys who’ve figured it out and learn from them. Read some books. Watch some videos. And above all: Get out there often and push yourself to interact with attractive women.

Trust me: This area of your life is really fucking important. Don’t ignore it. That weight will slowly crush you.

Weight Lifting

What other hidden weights might you be carrying? Which relationships are slowly draining you? What projects might be doing you more harm than good?

It can be hard to recognize these weights on your own, like a young fish who’s never known an alternative to water. You might want to get with a friend (preferably one better than Barney) and have them help you identify your blind spots.

Let me know how it goes.

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20 Comments

  1. I really appreciate your willingness to be so frank and open when discussing sexuality and sexual repression and fear. I think that’s something that a lot of people — both men and women — face, especially if they’ve been told they’re not attractive/interesting enough.

    Keep writing about it! I can’t wait to hear more insights on this topic and many others …

  2. I started going through this realization process about the weights in my life very recently. Among the weights I’ve shed are religion, self-doubt, blame, scarcity-centered mindset, sexual repression (thanks Catholicism…) and a few others. All of this has led to very positive things in my life. An unfortunate part of this, though, is that I realized that my relationship was a weight in it. Because of these positive changes in my life, my wife and I have decided to get a divorce. She wants me to change back to who I was, and there is no way in hell I’m going to being the person who I used to be. Why would I go back to being weighted down.

    It can be tough to shed these weights. Freeing oneself from them leads to a lot of change. In my case, it led to a renaissance in personal development for myself, but the downside was the loss of a (admittedly negative) relationship. I’m sad to see this relationship end, but I truly believe things are going to be better for the both of us.

    Really good blog post that touches on something that I’m going through in my life right now! Thanks Niall!

    P.S. What sort of rig are you using for filming in public like that? I’m guessing it can’t be your arm because it looked a little too steady for that.

    • Thanks for that, Taylor. Sounds like you’re going through quite the evolution. I hope it never ends for you :-)

      I also had a similar experience a few years back when I really started getting into this personal development stuff and began to seek conscious growth. I was in a relationship at the time an she was pretty surprised to find that she started off dating one guy and ended up dating someone completely different. For this reason, I think it’s essential that my partner also be into personal development for a long-term relationship to work. Read a good article on this here recently.

      As for the rig I just for filming: Just my arm! And a simple Canon Powershot SD1000 that I bought about three years ago.

      • Thank you for the insight and link! I definitely agree that a commitment to personal growth by both individuals in a relationship is essential to success. I’ve definitely learned a lot in the past few years and especially 2011. Because of this, 2012 is going to freaking rock!

        Props for the wicked arm strength and stability!

  3. Niall,

    Thank you for bringing this topic to the table.

    I agree with Paula that it is so difficult to discuss these types of issues. Sometimes it is even harder to recognize these personal weights we carry. In order for them to be lifted we must self reflect and acknowledge them.

    My personal weight is figuring out where I stand on the religion I was brought up with. My parents are pretty religious and zionistic. I completely respect them and they are actually really cool but I feel disconnected from my religion and I’m not exactly sure why. Facing the why will help lift the weight I am sure but it’s kind of scary too so for now it remains a weight.

    Thank you for your honesty and encouraging style!

    Tali

    • I wish you luck in freeing yourself from religion. I was Catholic my whole life and recently became fully atheist. The fine folks over at reddit.com/r/atheism really helped if you need some support. Best of luck!

      • I’m reading God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens at the moment, and he makes a great case for atheism. That said, I remain unconvinced that moving away from religion is the best course of action for everyone, even though I don’t consider myself religious at all.

        I remember from one of M. Scott Peck’s books how he noticed after decades of working as a psychiatrist that some of his patients improved their mental health by moving away from religion, whereas others improved by moving towards it. I think the key is whether or not your religious beliefs empower you. If they do, I say stick with them as long as you’re not hurting anyone. But if your beliefs make you feel repressed and powerless, then methinks you’d be wise to turn your back on it all.

      • Thank you Taylor for your kind words and encouragement. It feels nice to know others have felt the same weight and been able to eventually unburden themselves.

        Thanks!

        Tali

      • Thanks for the book recommendation Niall!

        Interesting how for some religion can be a healing modality while for others it’s just the opposite.

        Tali

  4. As I was reading the first part, I felt completely identified. I had not a friend like Barney but three! and that friendship caused me more harm than good: it was all about to give away my flaws but not a single conversation about how to overcome them, to criticize me and be present some times during my failures but never, ever during my success. I felt thankful for their honesty because I thought that was what a real friend does, but then I realized that I in the bad moments their support was more negative than positive, and in the good ones they never were there. Besides, when I started to speak up by myself they started to stop one by one our friendship. It was hard to admit I lost my friends but I have to confess that I felt relieved and free.

    Apart from that I think I don’t have any other weight on my shoulders but I might need the words of a real, good friend to show me. Thanks for this post, it is so helpful to realize how our experiences are shared by other people too…

  5. Thanks for sharing!

    I know the weight you’re talking about. And I know what it contains…just don’t know how to get rid off it.

    Or maybe I know, but I’m kidding myself because I just can’t make the effort of getting rid of it…

    Anyways.. enjoy your holidays!

  6. Back in my early twenties I hung around with a guy who was always ripping into people as a joke but with me he took it to far, it went way beyond normal “blokes breaking balls”. Half the time I wanted to put his head through a wall, but I am not really a violent person. He made me out to look like a total arse. He would tell stories about me to people in his work and blow them out of all proportion, his favourite saying was “I don’t invent, I augment”, so much so that when these people meet me for the first time one girl was surprised to find I wasn’t mentally retarded and commented as much.

    Any way I went to Australia when I was 25 for a year and the time away from him was so liberating. Back home I was scared to say anything in case he got tore into me for it. But there I could say or do what I wanted without fear. It felt amazing. I was at the centre of everything social. When I got back I didn’t hang around with him as much and through a job I had when I got back I found a new group of mates whom I still hang around with now.

    Looking back I realise now he pretty much ruined my early twenties. I have been much better of without him around. Although as I think about this there are probably still some emotional hangups lingering around from that time. I think for a long time it affected my confidence with women as well but it is something I have almost put behind me. I am far more confident at thirty five than I ever was at twenty five and I put that down to a more supportive group of friends.

    My advice to anyone who has a friend like that is ditch them. You may think to yourself “I cant do that to a friend”. But trust me if someone is nothing but emotional poison to you, you’re life will be far better off without them, trust me, you will be glad you did.

  7. Good way of putting it. Could work as a metaphorical “weight.” By learning the skills to talk to people and letting go of friends who hold you down, you’re losing that weight. It’s the same idea for losing physical weight too.

  8. Been reading these posts for months now, but this is my first comment. HAD to say something, because this came at exactly the right moment for me. Having lived in the Canary Islands for over 9mths now, I’ve learnt a lot about the weight I brought with me without necessarily thinking of it in the same terms as those Niall’s used here.

    The religion theme really resonates for me. I don’t agree with atheism, and especially that of the fervent kind peddled by the likes of Dawkins, but I was raised as a non-denominational Christian and that caused me a lot of problems which continued to dog me throughout my 20’s. Now at 30, I thought I’d worked through most of it and had some wonderful experiences as a result. But apparently not…

    Living on a sub-tropical Spanish island surrounded by attractive women (a lot of whom are wearing Santa outfits at the moment) really becomes a problem when you realise that you feel “bad” for looking at them a certain way, or wanting to even talk to them because you find them attractive. And it most definitely *is* difficult to talk about.

    As a result of this post I’m going to take some action tonight and talk to some attractive women.

    Thanks Niall and also to everybody else for being so candid.

    J

    • Thank you, James! Love hearing that my writing resonates. I hear you too about feeling bad for looking at attractive women. I’ve had to overcome that myself.

      Hope you have fun tonight :-)

  9. Awesome post!

    My most critical friends are also the ones that come up with the best praise, and for that I’ll keep them. They are both close friends. To be honest, however, I never look forward to seeing one of them. This is bad because her son is my godchild. I should have declined when I had the chance.

    As for the second part of this post, as a reasonably attractive woman, I ALSO can’t bring myself to talk to guys I think are attractive (unless enough alcohol or the internet is involved). If I’m not attracted to a guy, I am witty and hilarious and they are so into me. I need to pretend everyone is hideous :P