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