“And the stories only mine to live and die with
A couple of months ago I matched with a woman on a dating app whose job title was listed as “Casting” for FOX television. I found her attractive and her profile interesting so I messaged her--not thinking too much about her job.
We started talking and eventually she mentioned a new dating show FOX is creating titled, “Untitled Love Story” (the name is still in the works). She asked if I’d be interested in being one of the men on the show.
My initial reaction was “hell no”, and used some cheesy line like, “only if you won’t go out with me”. I took a shot, right?
After thinking about it, I decided to hear what they had to say. It was pitched to me as different from the bachelor--a smaller cast, folks in their 30s rather than 20s, the ability to work remotely during taping, etc.
I decided to consider it, confided in a few close friends and family for advice, and eventually agreed to go through the interview process.
I mean, why the hell not? It’s not like I’ve just been killing it in the dating world. It's more than that, though. I love saying yes to new adventures and new possibilities. Knowing I can always say no later if I start to feel uncomfortable.
So I taped a Skype interview, learned the producers were interested, and waited to hear more.
Then last week I received a call--FOX wanted to bring me out to LA to meet the producers so they could narrow it down to the final 10-12 men. But first I had to sign a contract...
They proceeded to send me a 27 PAGE CONTRACT. Removing all my rights to anything I say, write, or create as part of the show--and giving them the right to edit all of it as they see fit. All of which was to be expected. Then I got towards the end, and there they required I agree to: genetic testing, fertility testing, mental acuity testing, AND give them the right to talk about it all on the show.
Now, I’m a pretty open guy. I don’t mind being upfront with my struggles, with my successes, and with the processes of change I’m going through. But even I have a limit. Turns out it starts with my sperm count...
At the end of the day, it’s not so much about what they’re asking me to divulge publicly. It’s how--without any creative license of my own. With no input, opinion, or engagement.
They want to tell my story for me.
We don’t ever get to tell our entire story for ourselves. We don’t exist alone in the world, and as long as that is true others will help us tell our stories. For better or worse, it’s what being in relationship is all about.
But no one, and I mean no one, gets to tell our entire story. And that’s what FOX’s contract wanted: the right to tell my entire story to the world.
I believe I'm a good storyteller. Whether it’s helping an organization tell their story to the world or walking through life with friends and family discovering new ways to tell our stories, it’s what I’m most passionate.
As a therapist by education, I’ve seen what happens when our ability to tell our stories is taken away. I’ve seen the trauma, the pain, the impact of such a loss of control.
I’ll be damned if anyone other than me, Sam, and my friends and family get to tell the world who I am.
I have a deep desire to fall in love, but I want it to be with someone who wants to create a new story together, not at the hands of some Hollywood TV executives.
Because love deserves the right to tell its own story, too.
I'm asked a lot about why I’m not a practicing therapist. You would think after 3 years of grad school, a bunch of debt, and a deep belief in the power of therapy that I would jump at the chance to start a practice or join an agency.
There are three main reason why I don’t currently practice:
The point I’m getting at is our paths aren’t linear--they don’t always (or very often) look like a straight line. And the pressure to be able to show others a straight line is one of the most unfortunate parts of American culture. Life is messy, it includes a lot of twists and turns, and anyone who says different is either lying or confused about the reality of earthly existence.
Like anything else in life, the jobs we choose are all about what we value and why. For me, my values have led me toward autonomy and the opportunity to develop a message that can touch the hearts of many. A lot of this stems from spending much of my life feeling boxed in, and now wanted to feel free to shift and move as I walk through life--in addition to a desire to change the world in positive ways.
The question is, what do you value and why? What drives you in your professional life? And is this value something that feels healthy and makes you happier or does it only make life more difficult? Once those answers are clear, the next steps is the messy path of life will become more obvious.
I had an experience recently that struck me. One that I think is important as we traverse a world where we are more alive to issues of violence, a lack of equity and equality, and others.
I was sitting outside the local community college with a female coworker. We were there to acknowledge Sexual Assault Awareness Month and to tell folks about an event that evening--speaking with young men about sex and consent in romantic relationships.
An older student (I say older just because he clearly wasn’t college age--closer to 30) came up to me at one point and started talking. We chatted for a few minutes before he left, at which point my coworker said, "what did you think about that"?
I blathered something about not totally agreeing with what he was saying when she said, “but did you see what he did? He totally ignored me until until the end of your conversation”.
I had not even sort of noticed it in the moment. I was totally oblivious to her experience of feeling small and unacknowledged.
We chatted for a long time that day and I learned an important lesson in power and privilege. I also found myself pushing back as to why this man had engaged the two of us in such different ways.
Not because I didn’t believe her or respect her experience, but because I sensed something else was going on. I sensed this wasn’t just about a social construct (like misogyny, paternalism, etc.), that this person had an individual story that played a part in his actions that day.
What I was attempting to express is we can’t look at each man and narrow down his experience to one of privilege. We’re all far too unique for that. This man, for example, revealed later that evening that he gets really nervous around women. He’s worked in largely male dominated fields--the military, hot shots--and acknowledged there was some reason he’d been drawn that direction.
My guess is there’s something in his story that reveals pain or trauma that involved a woman.
That’s not an excuse. While we’re not responsible or to blame for our trauma, we are the only ones who can do the important work of healing. That evening as I heard more of this man’s story, I came to believe he is willing to push deeper into the pain he experienced.
And that made me smile.
In order to change the culture which allows violence to remain prevalent in our society, we can’t ignore the larger cultural issues or the stories we each hold. We have to be willing to speak up and fight misogyny at every turn while also showing kindness to the individual stories and pain which have led us to this point.
We must be kind both to the stories that led my coworker to feel ignored AND the stories that led this man to feel scared and nervous around my coworker.
Without kindness for our stories there can be no cultural healing for us, and healing is the point, isn’t it?
"And the story's only mine to live and die with
And the answer's only mine to come across
But the ghosts that I got scared and I got high with
look a little lost"
About ten years ago the rapper, T.I., made a movie called ATL. The movie centers around T.I. and his group of friends who compete in roller skating competitions.
The movie stuck with me for almost a decade because of T.I.'s final words:
"My pop said I'd put these skates down when I found something more important.
I think he was right.
This is the beginning."
Those words have remained in my psyche for many years because it reminds me of two important lessons:
1) There are some stories we tell about ourselves that we hold onto long after we realize we won't always need them.
2) It's alright, even good, to do so because sometimes they provide us safety we desperately need.
I've been thinking about this recently in regard to the stories we tell about ourselves. Specifically the often negative stories we tell--the ones we use to help us survive.
A while back I wrote a blog post for The Seattle School about something a professor said to me. Doug told me it was time to put my worn out stories to rest--referring to the narrative I've told about myself as a "breaker of women's hearts".
It shocked me the first time those words left Doug's mouth. In retrospect, it's because I had no idea I was telling a story. Over time I had simply amassed an amount of data and determined this data added up to a certain reality--I was a heartbreaker. It never occurred to me this wasn't true. Or, at the very least, it never occurred to me I could be missing some important complexity.
But as I look back, the thing I realize is those stories, even the least true story I ever told about myself, deserves grace for one simple reason: at some moment in time it protected me from something I needed protection from. I can't tell you exactly when or where or how with every story, I just know at some moment I needed each of them.
The point is that sometimes it's okay to look at some unhealthy part of ourselves and just let it go. It's okay to recognize some part that needs to change, and save it for another day. Sometimes our stories need grace enough to say, "you know what, I still need this little unhealthy part of myself for a little while longer. Not always, but for at least one more day".
I think it's so easy sometimes when we are growing and changing to look back at our old selves with scorn and shame and act like we didn't exist before we found therapy or the 12 steps or whatever is causing us to change.
But today I'm reminded off all the messed up, unhealthy, neurotic ways I learned to survive and I'm thankful. I'm thankful they were there when I needed something to hold onto. I'm thankful I was protected by my stories when I couldn't otherwise protect myself. And I'm thankful I can put some of them down because I've found something more important to hold onto.
Most importantly, I'm thankful for the stories I still grasp onto. A day will come when I don't need them anymore, but today simply isn't that day.