Love is a mysterious, fickle thing. How is it that some people find their soulmates early and go on to live a life of coupled bliss? Why do others fall into a pattern of dating the wrong person, over and over again? Is there a secret formula? Is it sheer luck? Is romance overrated? Do I sound like Carrie Bradshaw?
Father-daughter duo Michael and Sarah Bennett offer up tough love and wisdom in their new book, “F*ck Love: One Shrink’s Sensible Advice for Finding a Lasting Relationship.” Michael Bennett is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist; Sarah Bennett is a comedy writer who grew up in Brookline. Last year, they came out with a similarly tough-love tome, which turned into a best-seller: “F*ck Feelings.” In it, they gave pointed advice on all of life’s little (and big) hurdles, from working with jerks to managing nitpicking parents.
Their mantra: If something goes wrong, it doesn’t mean you failed. Instead, understand that life is hard and sometimes unfair. Know what you can’t change and manage expectations, and don’t let your feelings get the better of you. Sharing your feelings won’t make you feel better, they warn, not for long. If you expect to feel good when you can’t, you’ll feel worse, not just because you’ll be disappointed, but because you’ll feel personally responsible for your sadness.
“And focusing on your bad feelings makes them more important, so you’ll forget other important things in your life that might make you feel better in the long run, like doing your best, making a living, being a good friend and, in a general way, living up to your values,” Michael says.
This is tough with romance, of course, since it goes against nearly everything our culture tells us about finding love. We should be able to control our romantic destiny! Right? No.
“A lot of self-help books sell this notion that you’re the master of your own happiness. Especially in women’s magazines. You can find the man of your dreams if you just find bangs that suit your face and lose 20 more pounds! But so much of it is based on luck and timing, and that’s in the hands of the universe, not yours,” says Sarah.
The pair frequently gets asked for advice on their F*ck Feelings website, and it typically has to do with romance. Michael often sees people who settle on what he calls a “bad compromise” due to fear of being alone. This is a huge mistake, he warns.
“If you look at finding a good partnership, you can absolutely do your best to find out what would be good for you, and write out a job description and set of values that would make someone not a ‘perfect’ partner but a ‘good’ partner. And you can search, but there are no guarantees,” he says. (He does laughingly confess that some clients say they’ve had better luck with Jewish men.)
Of course, the “no guarantees” thing might not sit well with those of us who feel like everybody is getting married and having kids while we’re binge-watching “Scandal.”
The trick is to have some perspective, Michael says.
“The challenge is to be a good person, to make a living, to have good relationships. That’s hard to do! To do that, whether you’re single or not, is a huge achievement. Remember that and take pride in it. You can never be negative if you ground yourself that way,” he says.
“You can’t control whether you meet the person of your dreams,” adds Sarah, who is happily single. “It doesn’t mean you should go home and binge-watch everything on Netflix. You have to know that a lot of hard work is required. You have to get an idea of what you really need versus what you think you do. Unless you put a lot of effort into that, you may not find the kind of person you deserve or want.”
Too often, they see people willing to overlook all manner of flaws simply for the sake of being in a relationship.
“This is a matchmaker’s manual, and if we could have spoken to a lot of old Jewish matchmakers, we would have,” Michael says. “They screen out things that will ruin a relationship: unreliability, not supporting yourself, not being honest, not being a mensch, having a bad track record of relationships, not managing money, drug abuse. These are things that HR would screen out if they were hiring somebody for a job.”
Love, they say, will not conquer all. And being in a relationship isn’t the be all, end all. Bear this in mind next time you endure one too many dates with someone with whom you have zero spark but who looks good on paper.
“Successful relationships add something to your life. They help you to do good in the world. It helps you to get through the hard times and the bad luck and the illness or unemployment,” says Michael.
If you’re in a ho-hum relationship, that just isn’t going to happen. The sooner you realize it, the more time you have to look for the right person.
“If you’re so blinded by ‘love’ that you miss the important stuff, you’ll waste your time and get blindsided later on. You’re wasting that time not being free to find someone with whom you can have a successful relationship,” Sarah says.