Here's a story with some relationship advice for you. I took my Dad out to dinner last week as his 79th Birthday gift. He is actively downsizing in preparation for moving into a retirement village with my mother, so I appreciate that the last thing he wants is a physical gift from me. He'd much rather have some quality time together.
Unfortunately we have slightly different definitions of "quality time". As my father droned on and on over dinner telling me story after boring story, I felt myself shutting down and becoming increasingly frustrated and angry with him. He lives in his own little world, oblivious of the effect his words have on other people. I used to wonder why it was that as an adult, I found myself pushed away by his stories all the time and began feeling resentful every time he launched into one. Now I know, and the simple answer has the power to totally transform relationships:
My Dad's stories have no emotional content.
Over the past few years, I've been studying the broad spectrum of human communication. Here are some of the things I've learned from the various different fields I've studied:
To be a powerful public speaker, you must tell stories that engage your audience's emotions.
To be a great actor, you must be emotionally authentic and create an emotional connection with the other actors, and with the audience.
To be a great writer, you must create pictures using words that move your reader's emotions.
To be a popular musician, you must express your emotions through your music.
There is a common thread here, and it's that human beings connect on the basis of emotion. Our brains are literally wired with neural circuitry for empathy: the sharing of emotion with another person. It feels good to feel empathy, which is why it is the basis of all deep, meaningful connections between people.
Women are particularly fond of emotional connection, because they haven't been shamed into believing that being emotional is somehow wrong, like us guys generally have. Emotion is profoundly central to human experience, which is why other people will generally react favorably towards you when you express how you feel: chances are they've felt the same way at some point... possibly even right now. Empathy creates a strong bond between people, which is why it deepens relationships so powerfully.
Every now and then you might come across someone who reacts negatively when you express how you feel, because they don't want to be reminded of their own pain. Avoid these people. For the most part, whether you want to become more popular generally, you'd like to deepen your existing relationships, or you'd like to attract more female attention, the secret is to start expressing how you feel.
My father argued with me for some time about this. "I have no need to talk about how I feel", he said.
"Really? Well, that sounds pretty selfish to me Dad. What about the other people you talk to? What do you think it's like for them having to listen to boring stories with no emotional content?"
"It seems like you want me to be something I'm not.", he replied.
Fair call, in a way; I get that he's had 79 years of relating like an engineer, so it's hard for him to even consider the prospect of changing now. "How often do you tell mum that you love her? Or is that just another feeling that doesn't warrant being expressed?", I inquired.
He paused thoughtfully, knowing I had him.
"Look Dad, humans connect on the basis of emotions. Everything I've studied lately says so, and it's totally transformed my relationships with women, so I know it's true. The reason you and mum fight so much is that you never tell each other directly how you feel. Talking about how you feel creates a deep connection between people, and is the basis of all meaningful relationships."
"I think you're talking a fantasy.", he replied.
To our parent's generation, perhaps the notion of meaningful relationships is a fantasy. Dad knows his wife of 50 years isn't about to leave him now, no matter how much he frustrates her. But increasingly I find that women I talk to aren't prepared to put up with men who are emotionally shut down; they are walking away in droves because the emotional cost of being with men who won't share their deeper selves is just too high. Women want men who they can connect with emotionally.
Fortunately the solution is simple: learn to express how you feel, directly, constructively, and without blame. If you're not used to doing this, and chances are as a guy you probably aren't, it may take some practice. There are books you can read and courses you can take that will help. Acting and Public Speaking classes will also help, if the teacher knows what they're doing. There's a whole section on emotions in Confident Man.
My Dad is a smart guy, but he's wrong on this one. It's no fantasy; sharing your feelings invites other people into your reality. That's why it's the basis of all deep human connection, and after the conversation with my Dad, I thought I just had to tell you. Thanks for reading, I feel much better now. 🙂