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F*ck Love

One Shrink's Sensible Advice for Finding a Lasting Relationship

From the brilliant New York Times bestselling authors of the “refreshingly blunt” (Harper’s Bazaar) F*ck Feelings—this seriously irreverent roadmap reveals the essentials to look for when you're done being suckered by the promise of true love and want help seeking a real, lasting relationship.

Many people have opinions on the subject of romantic relationships—why they’re so hard to find, so difficult to maintain, so easily analogized to planets and pets—but the real source of trouble isn’t too complicated: it’s that we are choosing our partners based on love, excitement, lust, attraction, neediness…on feelings.

Instead of helping readers find true love (also known as “total bullshit”), Dr. Michael Bennett and his comedy-writing daughter Sarah reveal the practical, commonsense criteria for good partnerships that will allow real love to develop, even after the romance has died down or been buried completely. Finding a good partner involves losing preconceived notions about who your dream date might be, so the Bennetts helpfully appraise the pros and cons of eight traits people most commonly seek: charisma, beauty, chemistry, communication, sense of humor, family stability, intelligence, and wealth. They suggest you’ll have better luck finding a partner in a bar, online, or on a date arranged by your chiropractor if you focus on ideas like mutual attraction and respect and common interests and common goals. With helpful quizzes, case studies inspired by Dr. Bennett’s practice, and unscientific flow charts, F*ck Love is packed with enough advice and wisdom to help you avoid the relationship nightmares that led you to this book in the first place.

F*ck Love Chapter 1 F*ck Charisma
Unlike other attractive superficial qualities—looks, finances, a handbag so exclusive it has a first name—charisma can’t be faked or procured. As appealing traits go, it’s a double whammy because it’s not just inherently ingratiating, but, like blond hair or a high metabolism, it’s a genetic gift; true charismatics are born, not made, and they possess the kind of magnetic charm that makes everybody like them and want to believe everything they say, no matter how high the bullshit quotient. That a charismatic person makes us feel good on so many levels, however, is a sign that he’s not necessarily good to build a life with.

Charisma is even more effective than other superficial qualities at drawing you to people who, were they slightly less charming, you’d quickly realize were human plague. Charisma can blind you to character traits you need to be looking at and compromise your future, safety, and common sense. On the other hand, being attracted to someone who’s totally uncharismatic is about as likely as having a crush on a floor lamp.

You’re most susceptible to charismatic relationships if you feel bored with life and unhappy with yourself, e.g., when you’re broke and lonely, unhappy at work, or generally feeling useless, unattractive, and miserable. That’s when contact with charisma promises to lift you out of the doldrums and imbue your life with excitement that would otherwise never happen.

Unfortunately, most of us are unhappy or bored at some time in our lives. What makes us particularly vulnerable to the seduction of charisma is the feeling that, just because we can’t make our lives better and more interesting, we’re failures. That’s when secondhand charisma feels like a magic power that can transform us from losers to winners, from unlovable to the most beloved, special creatures in the world.

Ironically, thinking your charisma makes you special is just as dangerous. You’d think you’d love your charismatic self and its ability to get dates, above-your-true-ability job opportunities, and every last call returned. After the excitement passes, however, you’re left with a job or relationship that, for various reasons, may not work and is often boring. Since you need to generate excitement to feel like a success, you always have to move on, often leaving in your wake a lot of people who feel angry and betrayed.

Charisma is inherently magnetic, but just when it seems to draw you into a deeper connection, it’s most likely to pull you under, blinding you to what’s going to happen next or addicting you to searches that lead nowhere.
The Good Things You Want Charisma to Deliver
• A feeling of significance in everything you’re saying and doing with this magical significant someone.

• A sense of confidence that allows you to approach people so easily you’re basically “the human whisperer.”

• A glow from feeling that a fascinating person finds you fascinating and everyone else in the room is total bullshit.

• A relief from the way you hated yourself and your life before this person made you and your life seem downright lovable.

• A confidence that comes from knowing you’re with the right person, in the right place, and all is right with the world.
Profile of the Charismatic
Traits associated with people seen as charismatics include:

• Physical attributes: Expert at knowing just how to approach you, smile at you, lock eyes with you, and “accidentally” touch you to convey confidence and connection, regardless of how they actually feel about themselves, you, or anything else.

• Common occupations: Those that turn connection and respect into money, such as preaching, litigating, politicking, acting, and big-ticket selling (mansions, boats, huge yachts that are actually mansion-boats, etc.).

• What attracts you first: Some intangible quality that commands your attention for reasons that aren’t clear, i.e., isn’t based on attractiveness, intelligence, or anything short of hypnotism.

• Other early red flags: Your inability to put your finger on what you like about him, aside from his ability to make a strong impression; basically, in describing this person, you sound as if you’re talking about a delightful new street drug instead of a human, and other people in his orbit seem to agree.
Seeking Charisma
Charisma seems like an ideal quality for drawing people together since it inspires attraction and respect and has more to do with personality than beauty or wealth. It protects one from the pain of rejection and the embarrassment of bombing at dinner parties. While charisma might be less superficial than some traits, it still exists fairly close to the surface; charisma has nothing to do with character, reliability, or impulse management, and it’s less than ideal for predicting reliability, fidelity, and a capacity for hard work. Being charmed can give you fuzzy feelings for someone; it can also give you the wrong idea about the person you think you should be with.

Here are three examples:

• I have a friend at work who’s got a magnetic personality and I enjoy talking to her, but I never know whether she really likes me or is just being her usual attractive self. I always get the feeling when we’re talking that I’m special to her, but she sounds like that with other people, too, and I don’t want to make a move at work that could then make things embarrassing. My goal is to figure out whether her feelings for me are special, or whether she’s naturally magnetic and I’m just part of her entourage.

• My boyfriend is tremendously attractive, and I know he loves me, but he also loves attention, and I think he has trouble saying no to at least some of his many female fans. He’s a great salesman, which means he’s such a great bullshitter that he’s good at bull-shitting himself. My goal is to figure out whether he’s capable of a committed relationship.

• People love my girlfriend because she’s totally spontaneous and fun to be with, but I see the other side, which is that she’s also sometimes angry and mistrustful, and that’s when I wonder what our relationship would be like if we got serious. My goal is to help her get over her insecurities, so she can be the happy, charming person we all love.

Charisma seems like a desirable asset in a long-term relationship because it doesn’t wear out or depend on looks or money; after all, ’tis nobler to choose someone with a good personality over good cheekbones or a good investment portfolio. Unfortunately, having a good personality and just being good at attracting people are rarely the same thing.

One problem with seeking a relationship with a charismatic person is that it’s often hard to tell whether she likes you as much as she seems to and, at the crush stage, whether your first overtures will be accepted or rejected. The real issue, however, is not whether you may suffer a little humiliation when you discover that the intense interest, intimate conversation, and love-song-strength eye contact don’t really reflect more than your crush’s desire to captivate. It’s that, even if she is interested, she may never belong to you as much as she belongs to her public.

So instead of trying to figure out whether this woman is actually interested in you or is this way with everyone, take a moment to determine whether she’s actually worth pursuing in the first place, since a relationship with her is bound to make you feel neglected, insecure, and possibly angry and jealous. You may find that it would be better to keep her as a friend you can harmlessly flirt with while looking for someone else more meaningful, even if that someone is less magnetic.

Indeed, a charismatic partner may always make you feel unsure about how much she actually cares, so once you notice her using her charm on anyone or anything that’s currently holding her attention, you start to wonder who’s most-est special to her, or whether anyone is. You’re right, then, to put on the brakes until you can watch her behavior, gather information about her past relationships, and verify her ability to treat those who are truly close, such as you, with genuine specialness and in a way that lasts.

If you’re dating someone who depends on charisma to feel good, as well as to make a living, as do many salespeople, you have additional reason to worry. His manager, ego, and income tell him that he’s respected for his excellent ability to seduce new sales. Unless he is grounded in better values, however, and can tolerate the inevitable “chopped liver” feeling that burdens even the best of partnerships, your relationship may not endure. At the least, those eventual feelings of neglect may fuel a strong need to seek admiration and conquest (those usually come by not being sexually neglected by someone else).

Before taking a risk and putting yourself on the line to commit to that charismatic person, find out all you can about past and current relationships. Instead of just paying attention to his enthusiasm and generosity when love is new, ask yourself whether his attachments last after things get unpleasant and annoying, i.e., after an episode of food poisoning or Thanksgiving dinner with your alcoholic grandfather. Get to know his values and observe how much he depends on his charisma to feel good.

Charisma can also disguise the usual high-risk personality traits that make lasting relationships difficult. If someone with a great, relaxed public persona turns out to have a bad temper and little trust in private, don’t assume that your love and attention will restore the personal warmth that always seemed to dominate her personality before you got close.

While bursts of anger and mistrust may be rooted in misunderstanding or temporary depression and may resolve with patience and understanding, don’t let wishful thinking cloud your judgment as you get to know someone and learn about what happened to their prior relationships. Charismatic people often have more control over how they present themselves; prepare to take more time, effort, and detective work to know who they really are by observing their deeds, rather than responding to their charm.

Charisma may grab your interest and make someone seem like a safe bet, but as with any deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is. The more charisma attracts you, the more carefully you should examine that person’s character and his ability to stand by values of partnership and faithfulness, even when he’s tempted by offers of admiration, money, and sex that his charisma can snag for him as easily as it hooked you.
Quiz: Charm Questions—Caught by Charisma
1. If the most popular kid in your class or guy in your office or gentleman on your floor of the assisted-living facility sidled up to you and asked you out on a date, you would:

A: Say yes before the offer is withdrawn or he even finishes asking the question.

B: Say no with conviction, to make it clear you haven’t forgotten the years of rejection and indifference you’ve been subjected to by him and all of his kind.

C: Buy time by chatting about what he thinks would be fun to do on this hypothetical date while you try to figure out how full of shit he might be and what’s really going on.

2. If you spot your favorite professional hockey player at the supermarket, ask him for a selfie, and he starts to get chummy afterward, your instinct would be to:

A: Gush about how you are a big fan and loved when he punched that guy from his rival team so hard he got concussed.

B: Let him know you’re a fan, not a whore, and you appreciate his time but your Lean Cuisines are melting and it’s time to go.

C: Take his number but avoid using it until after Google assures you that he’s not married, a moron, or out on bail for using his punching abilities on his last girlfriend.

3. If the young upstart candidate running for Congress crosses the street to shake your hand, smile at you, and ask for your vote, your reaction would be to:

A: Try to impress her with jokes, maybe get a big hug, and blush as she puts one of her campaign pins on your coat.

B: Run the other way while yelling, “Leave me alone! I’m . . . an anarchist! Fuck the system!”

C: Smile, tell her you’ll think about it and appreciate her attention, and wish her luck.

4. You hated high school with the passionate intensity of a suicide bomber, but if the coolest kid from your class—the one everyone wanted and who didn’t know you existed—called you as an alumni rep to raise money for your alma mater, you would:

A: Tell him you’d be honored to give and happily follow his lead into a conversation filled with loving nostalgia for a place you neither loved nor feel nostalgic for.

B: Let him know if he’d actually known you, he would know that you hated school and would never have bothered calling in the first place, so it’s time to move on to the next sucker on the list.

C: If the gift would help outsider students like you to enjoy the school more, give a prudent amount, but otherwise, politely decline.

5. If your glamorous mother-in-law takes you and your husband out for a fancy dinner where she pitches you both on investing another $1,000 in her business, you tell her:

A: That you’d be happy to help, expecting your generosity will strengthen your relationship with this impossibly chic woman and give you entrée into her exciting world.

B: That she’s forgetting all the money she already owes you and your husband, which she could have paid off if she’d spent less money on impressing and charming people with pointy shoes and fancy meals.

C: That you’d love to help, but you’d need to see a loose budget from her first, just to see if the money would be used wisely, then take a look at your own household budget to see what you can afford.

6. When your spouse gets through her contrite explanation for why she has been so busy with social engagements that you haven’t had a chance to talk in a week, you respond:

A: That you totally understand and are just proud to be associated with someone who’s so admired, well connected, and hardworking.

B: Flatly tell her that it’s fine while mentally plotting how you’re going to find a private detective to tail your spouse after you stay up scouring her cell-phone records.

C: That you both need to sit down and determine the amount of time together that you believe the relationship needs and see whether agreement is possible.

If you answered mostly A’s . . .

You need to take time to develop your bullshit meter because right now you’re far too easily swept away by the often-false flattery, meaning, and devotion that charismatic people are so good at delivering. You don’t want to let facts spoil the warm fuzzies, but you need to learn how to pursue them if you want to protect yourself from exploitation, doom, and other bullshit you don’t even want to imagine.

If you answered mostly B’s . . .

Then you have a charisma allergy; if you so much as breathe in a particle of the stuff, it hits hard, stirring up uncomfortable fear and envy, feeling like a personal attack that will end in your deception and humiliation unless you strike back. Unfortunately, you may be attacking a nice, honest person who can’t help being charismatic but is otherwise worth getting to know, so build up a little resistance so you can encounter charisma without immediate negative side effects.

If you answered mostly C’s . . .

You’re at peace with the charismatics you encounter in your life, able to enjoy the pleasure of their enchanting company and tolerate its uncertainties without forgetting yourself or the life lessons you’ve learned about character and lasting relationships. As long as you keep going slow, ignore the rush, and pay attention to what’s actually happening when things are not so much fun, you’ll be able to peacefully coexist with charming types without being too charmed yourself.

Where’s Your Partner on the Charisma Scale?
We wouldn’t be with our partners if we didn’t find something attractive in their personalities, but while some spouses’ appeal is due to a subtle, earnest nature, others are so enchanting that their magnetism isn’t just undeniable, it’s dangerous. Your average spouse can find a way to talk you into doing something you dislike by working out a compromise, but a not-charming partner can be so genuinely obnoxious that he works your last nerve, and a too-smooth spouse is actually working you all the time like a mark. Here are a few common relationship scenarios that highlight the risks and the benefits of having a partner who’s either as charismatic as a paper clip, has average appeal, or could charm the pants off a statue.

Charisma Impaired

Charisma Capable

Charisma Corrupted

Keeps mentioning that somebody needs to do the dishes, observing how dirty the dishes are, recalling that he had such a lovely dream about pristine mugs and plates and an empty sink, and is generally as convincing and passive-aggressive as a sweaty used-car salesman.

Gives you a dirty look every time you pass the kitchen without going in, but after so many arguments, finds the money to buy you a dishwasher that’s so tech’d out and fancy it makes you want to wash dishes that are clean just so you can play with your new kitchen toy.

If attempts to flirt you into dish-doing have failed, he plans more dinners with old frat buddies, guys from the club, and women he insists are clients, so you wind up begging to cook for him and do dishes since you feel as if he were doing you a favor just by eating with you at home.

Goes hog wild on Sephora’s website and successfully hides the cosmetic arsenal until the credit-card bill arrives, at which point she terrifies you with projectile lip gloss and elbow cream until you agree she can keep everything.

Overdoes Sephora but agrees to cut back in other ways and return that sparkly lip stuff that looks ridiculous anyway . . . if you put away the refund so you can eventually make good on your promise to buy yourself a suit that fits.

Makes you forget how much cash she burned through by putting on a face so fabulous that she makes you feel as if you were on the arm of a movie star, even if you’re going to the nearby Panera Bread instead of the Golden Globes.

Flirts and texts clumsily with someone he met at a bar, then, after you find out when he forgets his phone at home, he becomes too afraid to come home and face you, and you start to wonder if you care.

Gives a sloppy, cringe-worthy drunk performance at your office Christmas party that causes many not-merry fights, but starts the New Year with a determination to get sober that restores your faith, at least temporarily.

You find a strange text on his phone, but he insists it’s the crazy lady at work who’s always flirting with him but he only has eyes for you, because you’re so gorgeous and make up his whole world (cue intense eye contact, drop phone).

Having Charisma
To the uncharismatic—those who were never brushed with the pixie dust of charm and have to rely on luck, extra hard work, and the ability to beat back nagging self-doubt to achieve any kind of success—having charisma can seem like the ultimate advantage. A charismatic person appears to have access to a better, luckier kind of luck than the rest of us. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with too many lottery winners, freak survivors of catastrophes, and celebrity spawn, too much luck can be a bad thing, and too much of this kind of luck can also ruin your life if you don’t understand its costs and risks and manage them carefully.

Here are three examples:

• My buddies envy me because girls always want to be with me. It should be good for my ego, but I don’t feel comfortable just using girls for sex and have trouble saying no because I hate to make anyone feel rejected. So after we have a date or two, they wind up getting really invested, and since I rarely am, I wind up having to let them down after they’ve started to care. I feel terribly guilty and worn-out by the whole process, but I’m not sure what the alternative is—whether it’s up-front or after a few dates, I’m going to end up making these girls feel like shit. My goal is to figure out a way to turn off my charisma so I don’t have to reject girls all the time.

• I’ve always felt lucky to be someone who’s good at making friends and getting along with people in general. I’m even friends with all of my exes, since they’re all nice guys worth keeping in my life. Now, however, I find myself fascinated with a guy who’s really smart with a wicked sense of humor, but also prickly and a bit of a loner. I thought I’d have an easy time getting past his defenses, but the closer we get, the more I get to see his irritable, nasty side. My goal is to figure out how to help this guy, whom I really like, to become more relaxed with people in general and me in particular.

• I love dating and am blessed with the mysterious ability to attract whatever guys I want. But then, after a couple months, what starts out as genuine interest always seems to fade on my side, but not on theirs. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I love the initial attention, but it’s not like I’m desperate for it and willing to get it from anyone; I’m pretty choosy in terms of only getting into relationships with guys I really like who meet my high standards. My goal is to understand why I get bored with really great guys.

Having charisma is like belonging to an elite club with many privileges and benefits; it’s the Amex Black Card of personality traits, giving one boundless access to everything from business contacts to dates to private jets (why not?). Whether it’s your charm or your credit that’s unlimited, however, there’s always a danger of forgetting what all that privilege and access will end up costing you in the end.

Charisma often misleads people into thinking that they have more control over relationships than they do, distracts them from examining character factors that determine whether a relationship is safe or dangerous, and burdens them with an unreasonable sense of responsibility for the feelings of others. So if you don’t keep those risks in mind, you may end up going into emotional debt.

When charisma makes you lucky at romance, and you’re lucky enough to have the good character to recognize and respect your gift, it’s hard not to feel guilty. After all, you’re receiving attention that others must work much harder to achieve and which you don’t deserve for any reason other than that you’re charmed and charming. Unless you’re in love with your charisma, you may well feel an obligation to offer something in return for this attention, such as not disappointing all those people who are unlucky enough to be drawn to your gift/curse.

Unfortunately, making yourself available to admirers can’t create a real, lasting relationship and will make their disappointment worse when you stop answering their calls or acting like a real friend. Feeling guilty can cause harm and make you feel guiltier.

Instead of making yourself responsible for meeting their needs, remember that your goal isn’t to give every charmed party a chance, but to find a lasting relationship despite the often-confusing and time-consuming overresponsiveness of possible candidates, and to do so while causing as little harm as possible. So, without being rude or obnoxious, learn to turn off your charm, turn down the smile, and stick to topics that are neutral and a little boring, at least until you decide whether you like someone. Don’t stop trying to get to know prospective dates, but don’t be afraid to use clichés and make a dull first impression. That way, when you seem to express interest, it will be because your interest is real and you’re ready for a real response.

People who have the charisma to build close friendships with little effort often find it hard to understand loners and others who find friendship difficult. Charismatics come to feel that there isn’t a person in the world whom they can’t turn into a friend if they want to, so socially inhibited people and grumps become a thrilling challenge.

Unfortunately, while it’s easy for a charismatic person to warm up the shy and awkward, no one can make relationships turn out well with an Asshole, and the effort to create a positive relationship with such a person is bound to end badly. That’s because Assholes can’t stop themselves from turning on their friends, and they make no exception for warm, friendly people with charisma. On the contrary, the warmer the relationship at the beginning, the hotter the explosion when it disappoints.

So don’t assume that charisma and a gift for friendship can overcome all obstacles and are under your complete control. Your goal isn’t to make friends with all those who interest you, but to instead take the same self-protective precautions as are necessary for everyone else. If you tried to tame a beast, give yourself credit for courage and altruism, but if the beast turns out to be too feral, return it to the cave where you found it, give yourself credit for learning an important, if painful, lesson, and warn your fellow hikers to give it a wide berth.

If you’re truly particular when it comes to partners, having charisma creates additional problems because now you’re dealing with a second uncontrollable factor, which is pickiness. Truly picky people don’t just have high standards, they are rarely comfortable with friends who aren’t a particularly good match. Charisma and a genuine interest in getting to know people may propel you into many relationships that initially gather speed, but then pickiness may kill the engine and leave your relationship in a ditch.

Yes, it’s possible you’re afraid of commitment or are too much in love with flirting to move on to the stress of everyday partnership. In those cases, talking over your issues with a therapist may make a difference. What’s also possible, however, is that your gift for dating is combined with an innate selectiveness that can’t easily be overridden.

Just because you’re great with relationships, find dating a breeze, and go out with genuinely nice, interesting people doesn’t mean that you can talk yourself out of pickiness. So, instead of letting hot dates turn into serial disappointments, develop other ways of socializing and amusing yourself while getting to know prospective dates more gradually. Don’t cross the dating line until you think someone may actually meet your picky standards. Then, even if things don’t work out, you’ll know you avoided causing unnecessary pain.

Yes, having charisma confers luck and gives you choices you might not otherwise have. It does not, however, give you control over the qualities that make a relationship last, and it often makes things look good when they aren’t. Charisma can make it easy to pair off with anyone, but it’s up to you to figure out what you need from someone and learn to say no to everyone else.

Classic Lack-of-Charisma Remedies for Those Seeking Women
Things you can do if you can’t woo ladies with natural charm:

• Learn to play a stringed instrument, such as a guitar or a bass. Avoid instruments you can’t lift (harp) or play without sweating profusely (drums) or simply hold without looking like a moron (tuba).

• Don’t ever leave the house in sweatpants, pajamas, shower shoes, or any clothes that strengthen the impression you’ve just awoken from a coma.

• Consult the necessary sources—hip publications, an ex you’re still friendly with, your gayest gay friend—to get a decent, maintenance-minimal, cost-more-than-$10 haircut.

• If you know you can handle it, adopt a dog. Not only will it attract the opposite sex, it will weed out unworthy mates who can’t handle hair, drool, or crypt breath.

• At the very least, don’t publicly scratch, clip, pluck, pick, or drain almost any part of your body, certainly not those parts normally covered by clothing.

Marriage and Charisma
Charisma may always be attractive to some people, and some people may always be charismatic, but nobody always lies within the Venn diagram between the two; no one’s guaranteed to be held in the thrall of one person’s charisma forever. That’s why, if charm is the main force driving your marriage, sooner or later you’re in trouble. Charisma doesn’t have to screw up a marriage, but it comes with unique baggage, and it’s your job to know what trouble to look for and what to screen out.

Here are three examples:

• Before I met my wife, when we were in medical school, it was no secret that she was the most fascinating person on campus. Professors treated her like an equal and were eager to mentor her for valuable internships, and everyone wanted to be her friend. So when she found me interesting, I couldn’t believe it. My problem is that, even though we’ve been married ten years, she still hungers for admirers. She loves me and our children and is a good, hardworking person, but she can’t leave a room until everyone has been charmed, and it often means that our family comes last. Sometimes I think she gets flirtatious and it goes too far. My goal is to get her to draw the line before she has an affair and blows our partnership apart.

• I don’t mind that my wife is shy and not terribly sociable; I’ve always been a big socializer and popular, and I guess opposites attract. My schmoozing skills have taken me far in my profession, but now I’ve reached the stage in my career where it helps if she comes with me to these parties to show that I’m grounded, and she just hates it. She says it’s all phony and a waste of time. My goal is to figure out how to put her at ease so she can do the social scene and I can succeed at the next stage of my career.

• My father is one of the most interesting people I ever met—everyone finds him fascinating—but by the time I was ten, I realized he was a con man. He didn’t mean to hurt people, but he considered it part of his job to raise money for projects and investments, and when they didn’t work out, he’d just disappear. He’d either move the family or, after my mother divorced him, he’d reappear after the heat blew over. I am angry at him and can’t trust him, but I also love him, and now I just wish he could get help. My goal is to convince him to get help or, at least, to forgive him for all the harm he did our family and a lot of other people as well.

A common fear among the mostly young and commitment-adverse is that, after many years of marriage, they will get bored with whomever they’ve saddled themselves. They will fall out of love and end up finding someone new, then finding a lawyer, then finding themselves single and living in their car, giving their ex every cent they make. They will be doomed to die alone (see the sidebar on p. 22).

A charismatic partner seems like the solution to that problem; if you can find someone who’s inherently fascinating, the excitement will never end. What you don’t realize, however, is that the fascination begins to fail when someone doesn’t keep his promises, clean up after himself, or generally hold up his end of the marriage bargain. In addition, the spark that compulsive fascinators rely on to attract others either starts a fire or flames out; it seems as if the spark will burn forever, but once he has you fired up, he has to keep finding something new to ignite.

Charisma can be as addictive to those who have it as it is to those who are attracted to it, becoming so essential to achieving one’s ambitions that it becomes okay to subvert the values of honesty, fidelity, and hard work. Understanding its influence and possible long-term problems can help you avoid those issues or, if you didn’t see them coming, help you to respond with less blame and more effectiveness.

If your fascinating partner is a compulsive fascinator, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she loves you less or is less committed to your family. It may just mean that, like JFK, FDR, or W“B”JC (husband of HRM HRC), she gets such a charge out of winning people over that she can’t stop herself from taking that extra step and sometimes sexualizing her connections. That her sparkage often advances her career, however, and indirectly benefits your life together makes it even harder for her to stop, and you can’t help feeling hurt. Remember, however, that your partnership may still provide commitment, economic security, and good parenting, and breaking it up may be worse than keeping it together. HRC is no fool, even if she chose to suffer one.

Before deciding what to do, measure the depth of your partner’s other attachments compared to hers with you. Focus on actions, not words, as you examine her response to your and the children’s needs and her ability to make a positive difference in your life. Look at time invested, money spent, and difficulties endured. You may decide that infidelity of any kind, even if it’s not physical, is unacceptable. But you may discover that her other love is merely an addiction to the buzz of reflected charisma and, for all the damage done, is an insignificant distraction that presents little threat to the specialness of your partnership.

If, before deciding whether to move on, you wish to test the ability of a charismatic partner to limit seductive behavior, approach the problem as you would any addiction. Spell out the behavior that you find unacceptable, and urge her to regard it as destructive to her goals and values. Don’t ask her to change for your sake; ask whether she thinks she needs to change for herself. Then observe the actions she takes and whether, like attending 12-step meetings, they reflect a new and continued commitment to sexual abstinence with anyone but you.

If you’re the one with charisma to burn and your partner is relatively antisocial, it’s natural to want to share your good times with your partner and to resent her inability to appreciate or support your social accomplishments. You may well feel closer, at times, to those who are more like yourself and have more respect for your public persona.

Remember, however, that charisma may often distract you from important, unglamorous priorities, such as caring for kids and doing your share of domestic dirty work, and that your partner’s perspective may help balance your life, even as it deflates your ego and kills your party buzz. Instead of valuing your partnership by how well it contributes to social success, list your other priorities and imagine yourself single.

Create a job/spouse description that covers your most important obligations as well as the things you enjoy doing. Then determine your partner’s contributions and ask yourself whether she does jobs that you don’t like doing and allows you to do what you’re good at.

Yes, you need a partner who accepts your charisma-driven socializing, but you may also benefit from her efforts to limit your social activities, pull you away, and engage you in other obligations. Don’t overreact to her criticism and disrespect until you first look at her overall influence on the life you want to lead.

Perhaps the worst-case scenario, when you love a charismatic person, is to discover he’s a coldhearted manipulator whose need to attract and influence people far exceeds his honesty or ability to keep a commitment. He feels good only when he’s charming people (which he can do without effort) and can’t stand it when he’s not. He compulsively feeds you what you want to hear and can’t tell the truth if he knows it will upset you or even when it doesn’t matter, because it’s a habit he can’t break.

Like the compulsive seducer, the con man is addicted to his own charisma, but unlike a decent person who sometimes goes too far, the harm he causes doesn’t bother him as much as being found out and criticized does, which makes him want to fool you even more to further protect his bullshit from being exposed. Although few people can cause you as much harm as a con man, it’s not personal. He will say—and truly believe—that he let you down because you don’t believe in him or because unavoidable circumstances prevented him from keeping his promises. That’s what makes him, technically, an Asshole who can’t be helped by shrinks or anyone else. In his mind, his problems are always someone else’s fault.

People who love a con man will often rationalize that he just needs professional help and lament that he won’t accept it. In truth, professional help has nothing to offer him. A shrink can help his victims and relatives, however, by reminding them that the damage they experience isn’t personal, trying to get through to the Asshole or save him will only make it worse, and protecting themselves is a far more important priority.

Charisma can generate excitement and success in a marriage or family, but a spark is not a stable thing on which to build a marriage; charisma also bears a special risk of addiction, disloyalty, and deception. What you hope is that your charismatic partner’s character is strong enough to make your relationship worthwhile and, sometimes, to make change possible.

What you must accept, unfortunately, is that charismatic people sometimes lack the strength for commitment and your relationship will be dangerous and always on the brink of combustion. Understanding the risks and benefits of charisma can help you deal with its influence, guide you toward constructive management, and, hopefully, keep things from blowing up or burning out.

Did You Know . . . Truth, or Bullshit?
We examine widely accepted beliefs about relationships to determine whether they’re true (or not so much). The phrase in question:

“If I don’t find someone, I’ll die alone.”

If you do not find someone to marry or some fellow olds to split a house and a lanai in Miami with, you will be alone. But that doesn’t mean you should give a shit.

First of all, it’s important to remember that life is long and death is short, so focusing on the latter over the former is as misguided as paying attention to the quality of the wedding rather than that of the marriage. Sure, it’s hard to grow old by yourself, but unless you’re living on a space station or in a crazy-brains cat hive, you probably have family, friends, or even former coworkers who have your back or could help you find services that offer support.

So if your search for a partner is motivated by the desperate need for companionship that will be there at the end, you may be forgetting the eons due to pass between your average wedding and average croaking; most people will drive you crazy or ruin your life if you partner up with them, and you’re better off enjoying your time on earth with friends and your own company than marrying some schmuck because he’s the least schmucky schmuck you can find to protect you from oblivion.

Second, to quote a line from the cult sci-fi series Firefly, “Everyone dies alone” (and fun-time lines such as that might explain why it was canceled so quickly). Whether or not you have a companion by your deathbed, or explode along with everyone else on the bus as it hits the beach by the cliff, or drink the Fresca at the same time as a hundred other Xuxu worshippers, the journey into the next world is always solo. Having a spouse won’t make dying that different, particularly if he goes first.

There are a lot of good reasons to partner up, but the focus should be on whether partnership improves your life, not your demise.


A strong person learns how to manage charisma, whether she has it or her spouse does, without its affecting her integrity or weakening her relationships. A weaker person, however, runs into problems without realizing that the personal charm that attracts many kinds of good luck has also burdened her with distraction, unusual responsibilities, and intense temptations. Your burden, when confronting charisma in yourself or someone else, is to be carefully selective in spite of feeling extra attracted, understood, and special. Then you’ll know whether you can tame the risks of charisma, bear the temptations it creates, and use it to enrich your life and the life you build with someone else.

What to Look For

What to Achieve/What Not to Be Fooled By

Mutual attraction

. . . based on feeling you’re interested in each other and reasonably comfortable, and not because you both feel you’re in the presence of the most fascinating person in the world.

Mutual respect

. . . because you can understand and appreciate each other’s strengths and accomplishments, not because you appreciate that one of you has the power to woo anyone and the other had the power to join the woo-er in matrimony.

Shared effort

. . . doing things together that are annoying, frustrating, and smelly, rather than working together to be the life of every party (and brunch, bris, wake, etc.).

Common interests

. . . in hobbies, friends, and child rearing, and not in the joys of winning friends and influencing people.

Common goals

. . . such as being good people, maintaining a stable household, and doing your part to put less plastic in the ocean, and not about being the most interesting couple in the world (as a rule of thumb, any goal that’s even loosely affiliated with a beer ad is a bad idea).

Dr. Michael I. Bennett, educated at both Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, is a board-certified psychiatrist, Canadian, and Red Sox fan. While he’s worked in every aspect of his field, from hospital administration to managed care, his major interest is his private practice that he’s been running for almost thirty years. The author of F*ck Feelings, with his daughter Sarah Bennett, he lives with his wife in Boston and New Hampshire.

Sarah Bennett has written for magazines, the Internet, television, and books. She also spent two years writing for a monthly sketch comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City. When not living by her philosophy of “will write for food,” Sarah walks her dog, watches Red Sox games, and avoids eye contact with other humans. Somehow, she lives in New Hampshire and works in New York. F*ck Feelings, written with her father Dr. Michael I. Bennett, is her first book.

"Gives the middle finger to the self-help genre....Refreshingly blunt."

– Harper's Bazaar

"Refreshingly honest....Psychiatrist Michael and his comedy-writing daughter, Sarah, bring the funny, but they are also eminently sensible."

– The New York Times Book Review

"The Bennetts have no time for gooey motivational slogans....Together they urge readers to abandon a quest for perfection in favor of realistic attempts at betterment....The Bennetts' goal is not that you might finish the book and say, 'I am perfect,' but that you might finish the book and say, 'I am the best version of myself that I can be at the moment.'

– The New York Times Book Review

"A tough-love, irreverent take on 'life's impossible problems.'"

– The Atlantic

"'s hard to argue with the book's advice."

– Elle

"Entertaining...refreshing...hilarious...funny and useful."

– Publishers Weekly