A few weeks ago I interviewed on Julia Armstrong's Bare Truth podcast. Julia is an athelete, coach, and author who has focused a lot of her attention on the topic of relationship. When I emailed her about my latest book, Character & Chemistry: The Only Two Questions You Need in Dating, she scheduled me right away for an interview. Alongside Julia is Andy White, a podcasting guru who produced the podcast and also asked some questions.
You can read an abbreviated transcript after the jump.
Julia: It's really interesting, because of course relationship has been the driving force my entire life. And I've done lots of research ... I'm the "Victorian Explorer of Relationships". So reading your book was fascinating, because you're talking about how should we make our choices. Has this been informed by your own journey. Have you perhaps picked the same type of girl again and again?
Phil: I think I've seen patterns in myself. When I took one of these Myers-Briggs tests, it told me I think through situations by feeling through them. And so I gauge the way a date is going based on the flow of energy, based on the dynamic nature, and based on the movement of the interaction, while as someone else might reason through the quality of the interaction. They might say to themselves, "Wow this person is a very fascinating person, someone who I have a lot in common with, someone who I could spend a lot of time with, etc." i.e. a very rational analysis of the situation. Whereas, I would come away from a date and think, "Wow, I just feel a lot of energy. Or I feel my heartbeat rising. Or I feel like we're moving with a very high pace." It's almost like I would interpret a date the way I would interpret a favorite song.
There's pluses and minuses with that kind of thinking. The plus-side is that all my relationships have been very passionate. Even if they've ended quickly, they were like candles that burn brightly and then fade out. But the negative-side of that is that oftentimes I'll rush headlong into relationships. And it's only when you step aside, take a vacation, or take a little break, that you realize, "Okay, things have been moving too fast, I'm getting completely emotional about this, I don't even know who this person is ... in fact I don't even like this person!"
Julia: So is that you acting on the chemistry, rather than the character, right?
Phil: Absolutely. I've only dated according to chemistry, according to the feel of the moment and the feel of the person. I've even done some very immature, superficial chemistry-reads, saying to myself, "I like really like the way this person looks, she really has some sparkle in her eye," and I'll just derive so much pleasure and happiness just based on that one attribute, kind of like falling in love with a movie because you love the soundtrack, not because it's actually a good movie. And it's only until recently, in the past year or so, that I've become a lot more rational about evaluating my potential partners.
Julia: And you Googled about character. I like the sort of aspects that have to do with character: trust, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
Phil: Yes, it's amazing what people type into Google. I've found myself many times at 4 a.m. unable to sleep, unable to figure out a problem in my life, just Googling for desperate answers. Near the beginning of this year, I was really stressed out about a handful of my friendships, which were with guys, which had nothing to do with dating. I couldn't figure out how to resolve my arguments with these two friends, and these were two separate arguments, and we got into massive fights.
And in one of those rare moments of soul-searching, I just Googled, "What is character?" "What is the meaning of character?" Because I needed some way of understanding these conflicts, rather than just using my emotions. You can't just resolve a conflict based on the quantity of anger that each party has. You have to use some sort of universal system. There's a reason people go to arbitration, where they have a third-party who is cool-headed and listens to both sides and tells you which way is up.
So when I Googled character, the first thing that came up is from the Josephon Institute called the Six Pillars of Character, and it struck me like a bolt of lightning.
Some people think that character is just one or two of those traits. I have some friends who love being blunt, love being brutally honest, love telling you like it is, even if it hurts your feelings. And they think that just by being completely honest, that's enough to have good character. But I think it's important to instruct that honesty with respect and compassion as well.
Julia: It is interesting. My dad used to always say, "Character is destiny." And he was born in 1912, and was a sort of an upright British Gentleman, very honest and very considerate. He used to say to my sister and I, that it's all part of the Common Weel (and he meant the Common Wealth). So listening to this is resonant for me, but of course I'm the kind of wild girlfriend you described. I'm a very passionate person, and I love that excitement in life, whether it's a relationship or anything I do. What's your thoughts on that? Is it a combination of the two, or does ultimately the character have to be the pillar of it?
Phil: I think it absolutely has to be both. If I came up with a book just called "Character" it would be horrible horrible advice. Because everyone has either dated someone or knows someone whose dated someone who fits this exact description. They say, "This person fits the bill for exactly the kind of person I want in a relationship, but for some reason I don't have it for this person." That's happened to me a couple times, where I've been dating someone who is a really really good person: kind, giving, and very liberal with their time. But honestly, I was bored to death in those situations.
But then if I came out with a book called "Chemistry" (aka "Just go with your heart" or "just follow your bliss") you could just end up going through a roller-coaster of emotions.
Julia: I find it fascinating because you've distilled so much experience and so much research, because you've been interested in personal development for a long time haven't you?
Phil: Yes, I was given my first self-help book when I was fourteen, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Between now and then, which is now sixteen years, I've read between fifty and seventy-five self-help books, and one of the things I've learned is this idea of A) setting standards and B) not just making up a standard, but having a standard that's grounded in reality.
What's the most important invention for helping people lose weight? It's not Atkins, it's not the South Beach Diet. It's the weighing scale. It's a tool for measuring something. And so, if you know how to measure the thing that you're trying to fix, you've already solved half the problem.
And when I discovered the Six Pillars of Character, I felt like I found my measuring tool. I felt like I had found the yardstick.
Many self-help books often focus on too many variables. Look at Neil Clark Warren's eHarmony, with its twenty-nine dimensions, which is shrouded in words like "What is you and your partner's cognitive modes? What is your physicality?" It's almost like, by using more complicated words, it gives it more meaning. But if there's 29 dimension, what if she has 23?
Or what if they have all 29 dimensions, but they're only mediocre in every single of the 29 dimensions? What if their temperament matches with you, but not quite perfectly?
If I had 28 out of 29, Neil Warren would give the green light on that, and I don't know if that's necessarily a good idea. You could end up wasting a year with someone who's missing the one key component that you actually needed, but didn't know you needed, because you trusted some rubric, because you listened to your priest, or your friends, or some other dating advice book that you read. And life is short.
Julia: I like your book, where can people get it?
Phil: They can get it on characterandchemistry.com. And if some of your listeners aren't voracious readers, I have a 5-minute quiz that takes them through the ropes of Character & Chemistry, and tells you whether the person you're dating is "The One" or not. It's like a crystal ball!
posted by phil on Friday Aug 17, 2012 4:47 PM