F*ck Maybe

Have you ever heard of a successful relationship where both parties were 100 percent sure about it, all the time over all the years they've been together? I haven't.

Right now, a relationship advice article called "Fuck Yes or No" by Mark Manson is going viral on Facebook. Mark makes a lot of good points, the most important and over-arching of which is that if a situation isn't a "Fuck Yes" relative to what you want out of the relationship then it should be a "No."

The grey area Mark speaks about does cause all sorts of problems. People stay in ambiguous, destructive relationships for all sorts of probably unhealthy reasons, and romance causes them misery when it could be, yes, still challenging but also incredibly fulfilling.

I'm talking about a short-ish blog post, and, based on the rest of Mark's site that I generally really agree with, I assume there is more depth Mark could elucidate on the topic, but the way that it's presented is quite incomplete and his conclusion of "The Law of Fuck Yes or No" commits a persuasive but invalid logical fallacy.

I agree with Mark most when he says that the problem with advice in this grey area is that it tries to solve the issues with overly specific and stupid interventions. This methodology of Cosmo and other relationship advice columns treats romance like a problem to be solved instead of a life to be lived. There are no comprehensive answers in relationships, because as soon as you get one a new question or tension arises. This is just how romantic relationships operate--"they are the hardest work, but the best work," i.e. they are ongoing processes, not clear-cut math problems with empirical solutions.

"Fuck Yes or No," however, falls short in that it criticizes this issue and then presents an only slightly higher-level intervention of the same form. Needing to know things for sure, with complete certainty, to act and be--which category of thought both the solutions Mark critiques and his own solutions fall into--can be terribly detrimental to our lives. It causes us give up on things, blaming the environment instead of looking at ourselves, without ever learning any lesson from it. We say: "Oh this must be wrong" because the answer isn't obvious, and then we simply rinse and repeat the same pattern next month. By saying "Fuck Yes or No," we take love--one of the most complicated parts of life--and attempt to simplify and solve it. If (A) then (B), but if (C) then (D)--plain, simple, easy. Attraction and love are rarely, if ever, this simple. 

Yes, Mark, we do work jobs with no pay called internships because they give us skills that make us more valuable. Many people own dogs that bite them and bond with the dog and it stops biting them and they become long-term companions. We do hang out with friends that regularly ditch us because maybe we appreciate that they have a lot demanded of their lives and can't always commit well and we appreciate the time together when we get it. No relationship is black or white, and while it's useful and true to know that grey relationships aren't necessarily healthy in general, that doesn't mean they don't have value or purpose and that we should delete the person's number. This view is unsophisticated.

Issue two is that Mark observes a problem and constructs a solution that skips a few steps. In context, processes are made up of small conflicts and resolutions that blend together into one longer period of time, often infinite. I mean that while we shouldn't fundamentally view romance as a problem to be solved, we still must make decisions we think are right and go with them. In some cases, certainly leaving a non-"Fuck Yes" relationship would fall into this category. But does it all the time?

"Fuck Yes or No" is a version of a logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc. This is where you observe a series of events and conclude that one causes the other without conclusive evidence this is true. The classic example is when you wake up to a wet lawn and determine it must have rained the night before. However, this is invalid because many other options--sprinklers, broken fire hydrant, dew--could be possible.

In this case, Mark implies: because people in grey--non-"Fuck Yes" relationships--are generally unhappy in love and seeking out romantic advice, then those grey relationships must be the direct cause of that dissatisfaction. But this is not completely accurate--if you keep finding yourself in the same perceived situation across different circumstances, it's likely that it's something to do with you and not them.

Moreover, he assumes: a "Fuck Yes" feeling must come from a totally healthy place and from the perfect attraction of two well-matched people, when we know that is not wholly, or even perhaps remotely, correct. Think about all the times in your life you've had big "Fuck Yeses" and then couldn't stand the person some short time later. An evolutionarily developed brain chemical called PEA creates this lusty, obsessive feeling and it lasts at most until our bodies decide any offspring would be old enough to be on their own, so it's ridiculous to trust a "Fuck Yes" anymore than we trust our basic instincts for getting us into a grey area.

"Fuck Yes or No" blames the environment--i.e. the relationship between the two people as a whole--for personal issues--my, yours, or our dissatisfaction--and fails to look at the reality of attraction and romance and what brings people together.

When I work with people and they come to me with a grey-area romance situation, I usually express two big picture options. First, maybe this person is not a good fit for you, but there is some repressed or unknown part of you that creates an emotional compulsion toward them where you can't leave even though you know you should. Second, this person is a great fit for you, but, again, you don't know yourself well enough to know what you actually like in a person and where you need to grow and become more skillful. Additionally, you likely want--i.e. believe you want--in a partner what you idealize yourself to be like or what you wish you were like.

From here, the action to take (whether to say "Fuck Yes" or leave) is a secondary question--as, in my opinion, it should be. The next obvious step is to engage with the inquiries. What would have you staying with someone who treats you like shit? What part of you wants that? What negative aspects of your personality are you blind to where you're blaming someone who could be a great partner to you for something that's really stemming from your own weakness?

By understanding yourself and your own relationship history better, the partners that you will find in your life and seek out will be partners that don't cause the type of intense misery that Mark talks about. Instead there's an opportunity for positive, but still hard, challenging growth. Because in most cases, the cause of relationship grey areas and unhappiness isn't your chemistry with the other person, it's your own lack of self-awareness.