This is the first of a two-part episode that features a conversation with two creative men who love each other. Peter McGraw talks to Chester See and Darwyn Metzger about the SOLO project, well-being, friendship, and love among friends.
Listen to Episode #95 here
I Love You, Man – Part 1
This is a two-part episode that features a conversation with 2 men, 2 creatives, 2 friends, and friends of mine. The first is Chester See, a musician who has been nominated for six Streamy awards, including a win for Best Original Song. He has sold more than two million downloads of original music without the help of a label and was 1 of the first 100 people to garner over one million subscribers on YouTube. Chester lives remarkable life, one that seems cut out of a movie but without the ego.
The second is Darwyn Metzger, a former star of American Now and an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist. He’s the Founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm. Darwyn juggles secret projects from brands, studios, political campaigns, and celebrities, including Apple, Stanford, Nike, DirectTV, Warner Bros., Fox, NBC Universal, and BBC America. A dear friend of mine, Darwyn has been a nonstop supporter of Solo. Our conversations have encouraged me to think even bigger. Thank you, Darwyn.
I use this conversation to gather feedback about the project and to discuss well-being and friendship. Importantly, we talk about love among male friends, hence the name of the episode. I host a private Solo community, which you can be part of by applying at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. There, you can get access to extra material, including bonus material from this conversation where we discuss alcohol, and not in a good way. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Thanks for having me.
Welcome, Darwyn. This is one of my more loosely planned Solo episodes. I did that not because I’ve become lazy but rather, I know not to over plan with the two of you.
This feels like there’s a lot of subtexts directed towards Chester.
It was a little more Chester-focused. I envisioned this like we’re going to sample from different areas. In many ways, I’m using you two. I’ve been working through various ideas and I want to get your feedback on it. I don’t have to say this to Darwyn. Don’t hold back. Darwyn has been with me from the early stages of the Solo project. I’m sure I’ve talked to him about it before I even wrote the one-pager and he has been paying attention. I’ve subjected him to many conversations and looked for his advice.
He wanted to call this Stag.
Originally, it was men only.
Thankfully, I pivoted. The feedback on that has been overwhelmingly positive, although we are going to talk about some men’s issues. I have gotten feedback from my followers that they have particularly enjoyed when I’ve gotten a group of guys together to talk and that has happened rarely. You are much more charming than the previous group, so no pressure. I want to run through some ideas for you both but beforehand, what are your thoughts? What are the improvements? What are the tweaks? Anything else you want to give me feedback on?
If we talk long enough. Will this be a two-part episode? Think about, Pete.
I feel you’re more equipped to answer that question.
There’s a benefit in having both someone who’s had a lot of exposure and then someone who’s had brief exposure.
I’ll jump in then. What’s happened now is that you have found an audience that believes in this. Whereas in the beginning, you didn’t know the process. You were just experimenting. You were throwing a bunch of different lines out in the water and you see a formula that works, which is you hone in on a few specific topics that you’re definitely bleeding edge on when it comes to ethical non-monogamy.
You realized that when you lay down that blueprint because there are so few other people talking about this subject in high integrity, high-minded way, it’s clear that you have a product-market fit. I still like the fact that you allow yourself the freedom to explore weird little nooks and crannies. We did an episode where we talked about entrepreneurialship.
The thing that is toughest for you is if you’re not the world’s foremost expert, you’re one of the world’s foremost experts on this topic. It’s because this podcast is often you interviewing somebody, who in the case of me and Chester, have weaker expertise than you do, it’s tough to decide, are you going to showcase our thoughts and you’re just here to serve us layups? Are you going to be the one who’s going to lay out how you see things?
I’m not sure that you have concluded that yet and maybe you don’t need to. Maybe it’s going to be a mix of both but that’s tough, either it’s a Joe Rogan who knows nothing about the topic and he’s there to ask questions as best as he can or it’s somebody who, this is their world that they live and breathe. You’re the tweener where you’re trying to do both.
I sense that tension. Occasionally, I get feedback like, “I would have liked to hear the guest a bit more.”
You say, “I’m more qualified than that guest.”
Sometimes I’ve done a ton of prep and research. Oftentimes I’m more prepared than they are, so I do a lot of editorializing. I often have a goal like, “I want to make sure these things are covered.” There are times where I feel comfortable taking the more traditional interviewer standpoint with it. It is a real tension and I do sometimes feel guilty that I editorialize a little too much.
Do you feel guilty that you’re wearing shorts now? Do you think your audience would appreciate you wearing shorts on the clock?
I’m embarrassed that people know that I’m wearing shorts, in part because I almost never wear shorts. Only when I’m in the gym or at the beach.
You have good thighs but still, I’d rather you wear pants.
I normally would not do this, but I’m among friends. Middle-aged men should not wear shorts in public. I feel strongly about that.
Am I middle-aged?
This is useful for people to know. You guys are the late 30s.
We’re both 38. Chester is like, “What do you mean late 30s? It doesn’t get much later. It’s 30. That’s much later as we get.”
I had a moment where it dawned on me. I was like, “You’re 40. You’re right there. You have lived for 40 years.” That blew my mind. I realized I had this thought.
Not really though because we don’t have kids.
First of all, you’re on this show. You’re not living the typical 40-year-old’s life. You’re not married, no kids at the moment. From the outside, you’re now on a show that seeks to celebrate and de-stigmatize single living. How do you feel about that?
It’s something that I put a lot of thought into because I am 38. I am single and I’m not married. At this point, I thought I would be married now and would have kids. That’s always in the background for me. The thought of that was supposed to be where I’m at now. I was talking about this one time. There’s something about, in general, having a wife and kids is a way of supplying a lot of purpose for somebody.
Too much purpose, Chester?
I don’t know about too much purpose. Chester, you still want to have a wife and a family.
Chester and I were similar where we were raised. It’s expected you’re going to get married and you’re going to have kids. The difference between Chester and where I’m at is I’m open to it but I still think it is for you in a sense it’s almost like a mission that you do believe in finding your partner and building a family.
I think so but I do question that. There’s a lot of things that are ingrained in us because of our culture, it’s what you’re told, and it’s what you see everywhere you look. I do question that but I agree. As I’ve questioned it, I do come out the other side of that feeling. I truly do like the idea of having a traditional monogamous relationship with somebody and creating humans and making those humans as fucking great as possible. To be honest with you, sometimes that’s the only major last thing in my mind of boxes getting checked. Most of the things like little goals and career goals, a lot of those have been weirdly checked for me.
You’ve had success early on.
Enough success to fulfill my version of those being achieved in my mind, whatever that means to me. It’s an interesting podcast been for me because I’m almost a little bit on the opposite side of it. I do want a wife.
You’re not on the opposite side. The way that I think about this is every married person was at one point single and many of them will be single again, whether they like it or not. We should create a world in which being single is seen as equal to a married life so that people, A) Don’t feel less than and, B) Don’t feel like they have to do it in order to be worthy in the eyes of others. It ends up being a choice and equal choice in that sense. Your presence here is not at odds with the mission of the podcast in any way.
Most people go to a dark place and there is something about having somebody making a commitment with them that says, “We’re going to make this work. We’re going to be there for each other. We’re going to take care of each other as we grow old.” There’s a fear that I have of growing old and not having somebody around that loves and takes care of me as I become weaker and less capable of taking care of myself. Doing that with somebody is different than doing it alone in my mind. Part of being married and having kids is it prevents that from being a fear that I deal with.
What are you waiting for?
It’s the paradox of choice.
Your problem, Chester, is you’re too handsome. You’re going to always have picked up whatever type of woman you want and that makes it harder for someone.
Chester’s not just handsome but he’s also charismatic. It simultaneously makes it easier and harder. There’s a whole bunch of guys who have the opposite problem, which is they can’t attract someone despite their best efforts because their best efforts aren’t good enough.
To me, the best-kept secret in society is that the bottom 80% of men, there’s not a single woman interested in them. If a woman marries someone that’s in the bottom 80% of men, they are truly settling. If you are Chester and you’re not only in the top 20% but you’re probably in the top 1% or 5% or whatever, you have 100% of women competing for your attention.
You have simultaneously all these men who nobody desires, and then you have this disproportionate amount of women who are trying to chase down somebody like Chester. I have to imagine that makes it exponentially harder for you to be like, “Whoever I have now is going to be more than enough. Let me double down and dive into this relationship.” You’re like, “There’s maybe some other women that might be interesting coming around the corner soon.”
I don’t feel that way.
I feel like we’re in my therapy session now. I should be the one laying down on the couch.
These are big questions. What’s interesting is without even listening to what the words are, your tone changed as you started talking about this topic. It felt weighty.
I don’t know the answer to a lot of this. I was secretly engaged at one point. I never talked about it. No one knows about and it doesn’t matter. I had reached a point in my mind where I’d found someone and we had thought, “We’re going to do this.”
How long ago was this?
Maybe I shouldn’t say yes out of protection. If you know me, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out.
I have a lot of questions for you offline.
We’re engaged and I don’t think since that relationship I’ve dropped my walls back down and have truly let myself even fall for someone. I kid you not, I wrote a song about not saying that I like a girl. I feel like a fourteen-year-old boy using the word, “I like a girl.” I started to like this girl and I didn’t pick up right away that it would be reciprocal necessarily.
I bailed on the pursuit of it. I was protecting myself because it was one of those mantras where I feel like I could potentially start to have feelings and then be victim to that not going the way that I wanted. There is still that lingering inside of me. I’m sure that you can relate, Darwyn. That’s a big portion of it, to be honest with you, over the last few years of finding someone, diving in, and letting go. Letting go is the hard part.
Darwyn, you have a story. You were not so secretly engaged.
There’s probably a lot of similar parallels to what Chester said. My engagement was not a secret. Like you, Chester, it was an important relationship that I had went all-in on. When things didn’t work out, I felt apprehensive about putting myself out there that way. I didn’t get married and you didn’t get married either. Chester, I don’t know if you feel the same way but I’m a divorcee. I know I’m not literally one but I don’t see what’s so different between me in a relationship that lasted almost nine years from someone who was married for nine years. We live together.
Your lives were entwined.
Fully entwined and untangling them was exhausting, painful and arduous. This is done under relatively amicable circumstances. If somebody didn’t have amicable circumstances, I can’t imagine what it was like to go through what you and I have gone through. I don’t see why I want to put myself through that unless it gets to the point where I feel so excited and energized by the process, which is why I’m open-minded to finding that partner.
I’m seeing someone now that certainly could go down that road with me but I don’t think I have it as a check-off item any longer. I did check this item off my list and it didn’t work out for me and it didn’t make me happy. I will be happy independent of being married and I don’t think I could ever rely on that relationship to make myself feel fulfilled or happy. By the way, at some point here, Peter, I hope you get to insert 30 seconds of Chester’s I like a girl song.
That’d be nice to do.
That’d be a nice little freaking moment, Chester. Sorry to put you on the spot, as I like to do.
“I’m just having conversations with the thoughts in my head. All I hear are angels crying. Oh, won’t they just sing instead? It would be wrong for me to say I don’t need that girl by my side. I don’t need that girl in my life. I don’t want to talk it out or hold her when she cries. I don’t want to say she’s my kind. I don’t want to say that she’s mine. I don’t want to tell her that I love her more than life. More than life…”
I think of this as we’re talking this out. The children thing has more weight than the marriage thing for me.
Would you co-parent with a woman and not marry her?
I hope my mom not reading this. She’s like, “My son doesn’t have sex.” I had sex with this real-life woman.
We’re not talking about the metaverse here, folks.
By the way, this is an open-minded show.
She made a joke where she was like, “I hope you didn’t get me pregnant.” She was light-hearted. She just made a joke about it. My reaction was like, “If you’re okay with it, then I would be okay with it.” I would be like, “That’s a new chapter of this life.”
Does part of you think that’s the only way it’s going to happen for you?
That’s a strong question. You can see Darwyn’s background in television and news with that question.
Do you think that’s the only way you’re going to have a kid is if it happens unplanned, there’s no pressure, no agenda, and it just happens?
I don’t know if that’s what I think is the only way that’s going to happen. It likely happens that way. At this point, it’s more likely that. The girl that I’m thinking of now, even though it matters that the person that I’m thinking of is a well-put-together human being, intelligent, and would be a good mom. Those choices matter. I am a sexually active guy, not every girl. I would categorize it that way. I don’t think I’d feel this necessarily the same.
This particular connection, the prospect of that happening did not terrify you in the way that it would terrify me. You found it a little bit spicy. One thing that I chuckled about when Darwyn was talking, and it might have sounded insensitive but the reason I chuckled as I was remembering how far down the path that he was with his relationship.
To his credit, he was good at this relationship. They had asked me if I would do the ceremony. I remember being asked and being incredibly flattered by this, and then saying, “You know how I feel about marriage.” I don’t remember exactly the logic but you know as well and I was supportive of it. I was perfectly prepared to do that.
I still have a clear image in my head of exactly what I pictured that day was going to look like and what you were going to look like. I can picture seeing Chester in the crowd and I know exactly what it was going to be. Thank you, by the way, for being gracious and being open to doing that, given your relationship with marriage.
I’m not anti-marriage. I just think it’s overprescribed.
You need Bill Maher on your show.
I would like it if you can help me get him. Let’s do it.
Bill, if you’re reading, you want to go ahead and tweet Peter.
I’ve been trying to get Henry Rollins. I’d love to get Whoopi Goldberg. There are a lot of folks. It’s not the 20 or 30-something celebrity crowd. It’s the 40, 50, 60 celebrity crowd that is surprisingly single or solos in that sense.
It makes sense. They’ve either themselves went through messy divorces or they’ve observed so many unhappy people who may get divorced or even worse, stay unhappily married, and then they realize, “Why did that person have to be married?” I see that.
You’ve already touched on a few of the things that I wanted to go into. Both of you recognized something that is healthy in an escalator relationship, as I call it, a traditional relationship. A conventional relationship has great rewards. It’s something that is exciting. You have a companion and someone you can lean on, especially when times are difficult or even when times are lean.
In your case, Darwyn, there’s a lot of growth. You learn a lot about yourself and you improve as a person because of the good times and the bad times. I can say this comfortably. Darwyn, you’re a much better person in many ways than you were years ago because of that relationship. Not because you needed the beast tamed in a way. That’s more of a Chester thing. You also recognized the risks. In some ways, there’s not enough conversation around the risks of relationship, heartbreak, financial risks, abuse, and so on. It’s not always a rom-com.
It’s probably healthy that people are so optimistic but we know that people are often overly optimistic about their future. There’s a dumb banking commercial. It’s a Fidelity banking commercial. They gave people blue stickers for good things and yellow stickers for bad things. They said, “Walk us through the timeline of your past.” “It was 50/50 good things and bad things.” They had them go out in the future. “What is your timeline moving forward?” It was just positive things. People realize if they look in hindsight like, “A lot of good and bad happened.” When people think in a forward manner, people most of the time see the positives and they’re not thinking about the negative trade-offs that might happen as well.
This is fascinating. It’s called optimism bias. It’s interesting because it happens at the individual level. People think their future is going to be better but if you ask them about the future, in general, they think it’s going to be worse. “The world’s going to shit but my future is bright.” The behavioral scientists who studied it call it a bias. I don’t fully see it as a bias. In the following way is it gets us out of bed in the morning.
It’s one of the keys to survival. If you think about generations ago waking up in the middle of the Ice Age if you had any idea that life wasn’t going to work out for you, why would you even transfer day? We survived here because our ancestors were a little bit more optimistic than they needed to be.
Thank you for saying that because I was thinking about all the people that don’t think this way and they’re depressed. People think of their future as, “I don’t want to do that.”
It’s not worth it.
They don’t even try things.
How many works of art? How many businesses get started? How many families start? People are like, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to do it well.” I’ve been working on what I call a taxonomy of singles and it needs a better name of course. The idea is that not all singles are alike. First of all, it’s an incredibly diverse group of people. These are 18-year-old college kids to 88-year-old widows and everything in between.
What do you have against 89 and up?
I’m just trying to be cute. They have different goals and they think of their singleness in different ways. In this taxonomy, I have four types of singles. I haven’t named the different types yet and I welcome ideas for names for you and from the readers, so feel free to message me if you have them.
Whoopi, we know you have some ideas.
I have some ideas.
I’m sorry. I’m talking to my friend Whoopi Goldberg now. Pete, not you. I know she’s going to want to be a guest and she’s got some great ideas.
She’s either a type 3 or type 4, so we’ll see. Two dimensions divvy them up but it’s not equal. It’s not a 2×2 in my behavioral science language. The first one is, do you see yourself as incomplete and wanting that other? Do you see yourself as complete as an individual?
You’re the first one. I’m the second.
You were talking about that you have this list of things that you want to accomplish and you feel like this is the thing you haven’t checked off of it.
In that sense, yes but I don’t feel incomplete as a person that I need another half to necessarily make me better.
Chester, if you were 89 years old, didn’t get married, never had children, and on your deathbed, do you feel like, “My life was complete. I did it,” or do you feel like, “I wish I would have had kids and maybe gotten married.”
I don’t know how to answer that.
You’re giving him too much credit to make it to 89.
That is true.
That is a solid point.
I’m surprised I made it past 27. I thought I was a better musician than this. This is not a cop-out of an answer but there is a part of me that at least in the last few years, I’ve gotten better at truly being more in the moment, less thinking about the future, and dang fulfilled with what is as a general theme. I don’t know how to necessarily answer that question.
Why don’t I look at the other dimension and we’ll go through it? What we have talked about is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 through 4. I would call type one a conventional single and 2 through 4 is solos. Most single people at some point in their life, especially early on, probably were type ones.
One criterion is to be fulfilled, you need to have this relationship. What did you say the second criteria was?
I haven’t yet. That is how you view what I call the relationship escalator. The relationship escalator is the commonly accepted, highly valued relationship, at least among Western cultures but nearly worldwide, not completely. There are cultures that deviate from it. We know what that looks like. You date someone, become sexually intimate, define the relationship, pair off, and merge your lives, identity, living arrangements, finances, lifestyle, etc. Maybe you have some kids and to death do you part. The mark of a successful escalator relationship is someone dies in the relationship.
Clutch in the other one.
Ideally, yes. Type 1s want that. They want to be completed. I would call them hopeless romantics in that sense. Type 2s also want that. I might call them hopeful romantics. They don’t see themselves as incomplete but if the right person came along at the right time, they would be happy to step on the escalator and ride it to the end. To me, hearing you’re 1 or 2 depending on how you define your soloness.
I understand. I’d be lying to myself if I tried to jump into group two. I do enjoy the idea of having that boost.
Two would, too.
It’s not so much that I don’t need it. I do want it.
A big difference between Category 1 and Category 2 and why, Chester, you’re probably more Category 1 is the difference is Category 2, if they don’t get that escalator, say, “No regrets.” Category 1 is where you fit in. If you don’t find that escalator, you might have some fault.
That’s not wrong.
This taxonomy is fluid. There are times in life where you might be a 2, 3 or a 4. A three is disinterested in the escalator. They don’t want to ride it and they don’t want any romantic intimate relationship in general. You might call these people loners. Bella DePaulo, who I had on episode two, calls them single at heart. You might call them solitaires. They are a unit and doing other things with their life.
This could be temporary or it could be forever. We’ve all turn the tap off, so to speak. We’ve all deleted the apps. We’ve all been like, “I need to get through this project this year.” many of us have been burned and have had major heartbreak. We’re not interested in a relationship. We’re not interested in seeking it. If it came knocking on the door, we would say, “Thank you but no thanks.” It’s Type 3s, it may be acute or chronic, so to speak.
Type 4s are, in many ways, the most interesting ones. You’ve already alluded to this in your opening comments, Darwyn. This is something that we’re having a conversation more and more about these days. A Type 4 is interested in a relationship but they’re going to diverge in some systematic way from the escalator.
First of all, there’s an infinite number of possibilities. I’ll give you a few scenarios and this is true of me. For example, you’re not interested in merging your lives. You don’t want to live with someone. You may have an intimate relationship with someone but they have a separate residence. Sometimes this is called an apartner or living apart together.
Perhaps it’s one of the hallmarks of an escalator relationship. It’s high status. It is the most important adult-to-adult relationship in your life. I’m reluctant to do that because I have precious friendships that I don’t want to necessarily subvert for a relationship. It doesn’t diminish the relationship but it doesn’t elevate it, then put it on a pedestal above all others. Perhaps it’s polyamorous. You have multiple romantic interests, not just one. It is consensually non-monogamous. You have multiple sexual intimate partners, and so forth. Type 4 is probably the least conventional of the four.
I want to clarify, Type 3 is, “I’m going to be single.”
The only bone I have to pick so far because it sounds great and I love the way that you’ve categorized these is, number 3 should be number 4 and number 4 should be number 3 because number three is, “This is the opposite end of the spectrum. You’re going to be single.” Number one on the far side of the spectrum is, “I’m definitely going to get in a relationship.” What you’re describing as Category 4 is the more interesting, aggressive, unconventional version of number two.
That’s a fair point. I have gone back and forth with them. I have kept four as the unconventional solo because it’s more interesting to finish with.
It’s the most complex. I am with you. I had the same reaction to you and you start the fourth because you’re setting it up further and there’s pull back.
The way you should describe this moving forward because you’re onto something and you’re going to end up doing a TED Talk or other talks about this, are you set it up with number one, “We all know what this looks like.”
“We know this person.”
“This is the conventionally looking for their hubby or looking for their wifey. We know Category 4, which is that conventional loner. They’re not going to get with anyone. Maybe they’re a hermit. They’re just doing their own thing. What I’m here to talk with you about are Categories 2 and 3.” You start with 2 and then 3 becomes your final because it’s the most interesting, elaborate, nuanced category. I understand it’s also the most exciting to talk about.
It’s a fair note. I believe in talking through things and getting feedback in writing about them. I’m not being defensive. I just want to explain this.
Does he sound defensive a little bit, Chester?
Part of what has kept 3 or 4 is I have a friend, Matt. He was a 1 then became a 2 but 2 wasn’t working for him and he thought, “I can’t do it. I need to be a lone wolf.” He met someone who said to him, “Why can’t you have it all?” He has stepped off the relationship escalator with a woman and they have an unconventional by traditional standards. For me, it fits that little bit of story where you don’t have to choose either/or. You can find this in-between.
Let’s set up a poll for the followers.
Do you think 3 should be 4 and 4 should be 3?
I feel the pressure to say something but I don’t know if I have much to say. I like the way that it’s put together. I don’t know that I would be reaching to try and dissect it anymore.
Is it leaving out any singles?
What you call group 4 in my door and I call group 3.
It gathers the rest.
The Burning Man crowd fits in the group.
People can bounce around the scale, so it’s not like you can move around 1 to 4. It encompasses everything. It’s interesting to have a conversation like, “Goddammit, I am number one.”
This is without judgment but it’s important to know.
There’s also something about creating a goal or something that makes you feel like without it, there is an incompleteness. That’s not the most stoic place to be. I would prefer to be in a place where it’s in line with being content with everything that I have now as it is. That’s something I’m trying to get better at, in general.
To your credit and to Darwyn’s point, you can make this happen if you wanted it to. What I feel bad for are the people who are truly hopeless. That is the people who want it and there’s something about them that either is not appealing enough, which I say that sadly or they lack the right temperament and the ability to do relationships, so their attempts are going to be fraught.
I’m most fascinated by loneliness. As a storyteller, the one thing that always grabs me the most is the concept of loneliness. I think about this group of people quite a bit. It sounds like we were coming from such a privileged place because to no fault of our own, we live in a culture where it’s not off the table for us, so it is off the table for a huge group of people.
It’s because of that, what I often talk about with anyone who listened to me is the value of relationships more generally, and in particular, friendships, which brings us to the next platter. I’ve been working on and I’ve talked about in a previous episode called Solo Thoughts 5. This idea of what makes a good life? How should we be thinking about living a good life, living a remarkable life, dare I say? We’ve got categories. There are 2 categories with 3 elements to each of those.
Let me put on my professor hat for a moment. You can think of this as an alternative to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Everybody knows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s deeply flawed but yet has been a valuable model by which people can think about the goodness of their lives. What it has in common with it is this idea of, “What are the foundational things that we need in order to be able to thrive?” That’s is one of the most important elements to Maslow.
To me, it’s these three basic concepts. One is your health, to have good health. It’s hard to thrive without good health. To have good wealth, that is to be in a situation where maybe you don’t have to be rich but you have to not be impoverished. The research on this is incredibly clear. Moving people out of extreme poverty has an incredible benefit to the goodness of their life and to their life satisfaction.
The last one, it doesn’t rhyme, unfortunately, is what I would call your team, your relationships, both personal and professional, and how incredibly important those are, even for those loners. I’m a big proponent and anybody who reads to the pod regularly knows how important friendships are in that way. You’re talking about loneliness. We’ll pause there with what I call the foundation. Loneliness is an enormous problem and it is a problem for both singles and non-singles. Loneliness is not about your relationship status, per se. It’s about your desires, and then your ability to meet those desires.
I came across an interesting survey. “Close friends are a great way to combat loneliness.” The data on that is clear. This was a Survey Center on American Life and there are two striking things that I’ve noticed in the literature so far. They’re intertwined, although I’m not sure. One is Americans specifically but people in general, at least in industrial countries, are having less sex than they used to.
That’s a shame.
It’s a tragedy that they’re having less sex because it’s one of the most joyous, pleasurable things that you can do. It seems peculiar that it’s happening because, in some ways, you have more access to it. You certainly have better birth control than ever before. You’ve got these apps that you can connect to people and so on, and yet people are having less sex. The other one is that friendship is on the decline, both with men and women but especially men.
That makes complete sense. From being 38, I grew up and there are no cell phones. You might as well say there was no internet because no one’s using it, not in the same way that it’s being used now. You have to meet people. You have to let people know you. You have to create real bonds. Whereas now, you can find a different version of that while staying behind a screen. It would create a false version of that. That doesn’t fulfill you in a real meaningful way. I have friendships. You met Trevor. I met Trevor since I was six years old. It’s a completely different way of growing up.
I’m going to cite a few things here. This is comparing 1990 to 2021. In 1990, less than 2% of women said they had no close friends. That number is now 10%. In 30 years’ time, the percentage of women who say they have no close friends went from 2% to 10%, a fivefold increase. Same fivefold increase, men was 3%, now 15%. What I don’t know yet is what the breakdown is for single versus married people. Married people have fewer friends than single people but the rates of marriage have gone down, not up, so you can’t explain it in that way. In my opinion, that is more tragic than the drop in sex.
That makes a lot of sense, too. They’re spending time with their loved ones.
There is a phenomenon that happens. This is disturbing with regard to the men because we know that when men are suffering, they make the world a worse place. Men tend to act aggressively when they’re suffering. They act out against the world. Women tend to act out against themselves. In any case, male or female, it doesn’t matter to me so much. I want to highlight this because all of this push and focus on relationships, on bonding with this one other person ignores this powerful force in our lives, which is friendship. There’s, “I love you, man.” That’s your rom-com equivalent of a friendship story.
You create songs. What is your ratio of love songs to friendship songs?
What are your bro’s songs?
I have a few friendship songs. I’ll send it to you.
I want to bring this up because you two do friendship incredibly well and I want to get your reaction to this, and then I also want your best practices because I know it takes work.
Pete, first of all, I agree with you that the drop off in sex, which is unfortunate and I imagine there’s a lot of men and women that’s been unhealthy for. That compared to the worsening chasm of people who feel like they don’t have a close friend is heartbreaking. To think that there are 15% of men and 10% of women who don’t feel like there’s anyone in their life that they’re close to, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. It means you could walk down the hallway and every 10th person or 7th person meets someone who they have nobody in their life that they feel connected to your three categories.
I don’t know what the framing was of the categories but I know that I have similar categories. What you mentioned was health. To me, that as a connection to yourself, whether that’s been mental, spiritual, or physical fitness. That is a healthy connection to the universe or God or even the literal physical environment.
That third group that we’re talking about connection to other humans because we are a social species. I say that as someone who identifies as an introvert and I do need to have space to myself but I need people like you guys in my life. I’ll let Chester respond to this before we go into best practices. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without strong platonic friendships both with women and especially with men.
I’m not where I am in my life without friends. I’m half the person I am without my friends. I have no doubt in my mind. All the great things that I’ve made or attempted to make don’t happen. My good health, my opportunities, and what I’ve learned. I’ve always seen friends as a cheat code. In some ways, making up for troubles with family and also challenges in my romantic life.
I hate the word privilege. I’m throwing it around so much. I have always felt privileged in this specific thing.
Why were you privileged?
There are enough variables around this where it’s to no fault of my own that I was born a certain way.
Chester, you’re handsome, charming, and have a high IQ and high EQ. People are going to want to be friends with you. Even before you’ve gone through your path of development, at the get-go, I’m sure people were openly friendly to you.
I look like Howdy Doody when I was a child. No one wanted to be my friend.
You had enough IQ and EQ that you could rise to the occasion and become this fascinating professor, author, and world traveler that celebrities and comedians go out of their way to have drinks with that most men won’t be able to go through that same trajectory or that path. That being self-privilege here is fair.
I would throw away my comment.
I only preface it with that because I don’t know that I could truly empathize with and understand what it is to not have friendships and be so accessible. I can see how tragic it would be to not have the safety net. It is the safety net to have as a human being on this planet. I know that if I were to lose everything, all I’d have to do is swallow my ego. I could get a loan from my friend if shit hit the fan.
Here’s what I know about Chester. In this situation where he’s lost everything, I know for a fact that in less than one day, Chester would have a house on the beach that he would get to stay in as long as he wanted to. He would have access to a car. He would have a job given to him. His meals will be taken care of but it’s because he’s given so much to so many people for so long. That’s the beautiful part about these relationships but you have to imagine, if you’re not in the place of privilege as Chester puts it, and you are in dire straits and you haven’t built these great relationships, you must feel exceptionally lonely.
This is a part of the work that we do with the homeless. We talk a lot about them. Our brothers and sisters who are living on the streets within our organization, refer to them as clients. My group is called Miracle Messages. Often, as we have these powerful conversations with them, we will ask them, when did you feel like you were homeless or unhoused? They’ll never say, “It’s when I lost my job or even when I lost my home.”
They’ll say, “It’s when I lost contact with my family, whether it be my father, my mother, my husband or my brother.” It’s what we describe as relational poverty. What we’re describing that the three of us have in this room is we’re often on the other end of the spectrum, where we have relational riches that put us in that relational 1%.
That’s a great way to put it better. I feel way richer, and it’s a much more important rich.
One of my more emotional moments on the show happened when this topic came up once before. I did a series on making remarkable friends. There’s this longitudinal study of men. It’s been around for 50 plus years. One of the questions they ask is, “Do you have someone you can call in the middle of the night if you’re sick or afraid?” That’s a powerful question.
If the answer is no, that person also has other profound problems in their life. Most notably, profound health problems, oftentimes. I want to point out how powerful that question is. It’s not who you can call if you’re sick. It’s who you can call if you’re afraid. That’s already a taboo topic for most men. You’re not allowed to be afraid.
If you can’t talk to someone about being afraid, you are relationally impoverished in that sense. I bring this up because this is something we don’t talk about because men are unpopular, and I don’t think there’s enough of the discourse to help people. You two do it well. As you see it, what are the basics for someone who goes, “Crap, I’m in that 15% and can’t continue?”
I don’t know that I’m qualified to dissect that one properly because I don’t know what that is like. I’m looking at it from the outside. I can see the tragedy of it, but I don’t know how to deal with it. I wouldn’t know how to. It’s easy to start saying things like, “Start a men’s group,” but how do you do that if you’re somebody that doesn’t have necessarily social skills? How do you start a men’s group?
This is not static. You’re right, there is a certain percentage. Thirty years ago, 3% of men had no close friends, now, 15% don’t have it. That’s contextual.
I’m trying to deconstruct what Chester’s doing right and also thinking about the parallels that I do right in my life and Pete that you do well in your life. If you want to build a great relationship and become a good friend, you have to start with yourself. For starters, if we think about what we all want in a relationship, which is we just want to feel like we belong, the biggest issue that most men in America deal with is they do what they have to do to fit in but they don’t feel like they belong.
The distinction is, to fit in, you do the things that everybody else tells you that you should do. Perhaps in the example of this podcast, you try to pursue a marriage because that’s what other people told you that you should do to fit in. You should be the person who never admits that you’re afraid because that’s what a man is told to do to fit in.
For someone like me, and this is probably true for both of you as well, to feel like I belong, means I have to be some version of my actual authentic self and know that you’re okay with that, warts and all. I then might admit that sometimes I’m sad or afraid or that maybe I don’t know that I want to be married and that you guys are going to be okay with that and still embrace me for who I am.
When I’m trying to envision what are the building blocks to get there, as a human who’s surrounded by other humans who accept you for who you are, first and foremost, you have to stop judging other people. The less you judge other people, the less they’re going to judge you. Number two, you have to take some time out of your day and your week, and learn to give without expecting a single thing in return. Don’t keep a scoreboard in the back of your mind of, “What did I do for Chester? What did Pete do for me? How am I going to make things equal?” That makes things transactional. In a transactional world, there is no real true connection. That’s step number two.
Beyond that, you have to start going out of your way to check in on one another and not make it about you. The more you start to elevate yourself in that way, the greater likelihood you’re going to start to surround yourself with other people who feel the same way. They’re trying to think about one another, not just themselves. The more you build that relationship, the greater likelihood that you’re going to feel like you have someone that you can call when you feel like you’re sad or sick and afraid.
Chester, you’re right. It’s tough to think of the foundational steps if you haven’t already built this platform as a human. How you, all of a sudden, jump in from a place where you felt like you were by yourself to now a place where you have these healthy connections. This is a long marathon people need to undertake.
This I can second. My hesitancy to respond to that question without feeling like I’m being pedantic.
I appreciate that you have reservations about giving advice.
I would think that one of the major variables if somebody is struggling to build those strong relationships, I’m not saying this is always the case, is that. Looking inward and working on yourself, and becoming the most authentic version of yourself. Something that I started to see in the last few years observing and understand, there’s that fun paradox with the idea of, if you think of how to be cool or what you think is going to be cool is the uncoolest thing you can do.
It’s having an adverse effect because it’s the person that is not thinking about that, that is just being, is one of the most attractive traits. To get out of your head and just be yourself, much easier said than done but that becomes easier for you to do as you do work on yourself. Work on yourself comes in all these different forms. That’s a whole other conversation. That is not funneled down to a couple of sentences. I second everything you had said, that’s a huge key part of building friendships. You have to start working on yourself as being the best version of yourself and you’ll attract.
The other way to think about this would be, what are the traits of someone who is not going down this path to building healthy relationships? What are they going to look like? Some examples that come to mind are, number one, they’re going to have the same exact opinions and worldview now that they had several years ago. They haven’t changed one bit. They’re going to have a lack of commitment to their physical health. They are going to be quite comfortable with destroying their local environment, whether that being their own personal domicile or the physical environment around them.
These are small examples but these are traits in somebody that is probably going to have broken or fractured relationships. Chester, to the point you’re making, this requires daily exercise. You don’t all of a sudden get to squat 500 pounds emotionally and through a relationship. You have to work up to it. You have to not get tripped up that you don’t have the relationship you want immediately. You have to be okay with slow growth.
Those might be a good step but they’re not the whole journey.
Those are the books that have helped put me on a certain path.
If you’re somebody who doesn’t have close friends, it didn’t happen overnight. I want a second two things that you two have identified. One is, to make friends is an act of vulnerability. It’s not just you have to try but you have to be willing to try and fail. It is only going to work if you are your authentic self. Friends can figure out who’s a phony.
You see right through it.
Even the act of calling someone and saying, “I am scared,” is an act of vulnerability. You can build friendships on these things. I had a friend, we were acquaintances. She called me one day. She’s like, “I got into a car accident. I need a hand.” I was like, “Where are you? I’ll be there in ten minutes.” That kick-started our relationship. Who knows what would have happened, maybe we would still be as close as we are? She was willing to pick up the phone and call me, and I answered it and jumped on it.
What makes me feel the furthest, the most distanced from people that otherwise would be friends in my life is when I get the opposite of the phone call you described, Pete. When somebody calls me up, “I want to call in. Family’s great. Work’s great. Everything’s great. Okay, got to go.” I don’t know you at all. I have no idea what you’re going through. If it’s just as pedestrian as you described, I’m happy for you but I doubt that it is. If anything, this tells me you don’t trust me.
The good friends call you with their troubles and their successes. Darwyn, you were talking about what I describe as a correlation. Men who can’t answer yes to that question about a call in the middle of the night have all these health problems. That suggests that the arrow goes in one direction. I suspect the arrow also goes in the other direction.
If you’re not taking care of yourself, if you’re not trying to, if your house is a pigsty, if you’re not involved in the community, it’s that much harder to create those connections. There’s the saying, “The best predictor of how good someone is, is the goodness of their five closest friends.” You want people around you who are going to elevate you.
Those ideas are powerful ideas. They start the initial steps for someone to start to try, which is an important thing. The last one, you already identified it, Chester. You got to put down your damn phone. You got to sit across someone. You got to go for a walk or hike with them, share a meal, or pick up the phone and not send a text.
Chester has a great habit. I say this as someone who’s a bit of an introvert. These are a little bit draining for me. Chester does not text you so much as he FaceTime you. He’ll FaceTime you even when he’s out doing something interesting, he might have company or whatever. You do feel like he’s bringing you into that moment, and he’s sharing that energy with you.
FaceTime is significantly better than text.
It’s so much more intimate.
The last habit that more men in America need to adopt, and I learned this from my father who had a healthy relationship with his father, and they loved one another. My dad’s biggest regret was that he never told his dad, “I love you.”
Even though they knew they loved one another, they didn’t explicitly say it. My dad always regretted that. My dad, who was this tough roughneck, former athlete, the truck driver would still go out of his way to tell me that he loves me. This is something that I pass on to my good male friends. Pete and Chester, I’ve told you many times, I love you. I want to tell you now, I love both of you.
It’s never going to be hard for me to tell you I love you. I have other friends in my life that the first time I told them or perhaps the first 100 times I told them I love you, it stunned them a little bit. Over time, it feels right to say I believe it 100%. If you say it to a friend that you do authentically love, even if their first reaction is to be like, “That’s different.” Eventually, they’ll come around. I feel like more men should go out of their way to tell their closest male friends, “I love you.”
I love you, too. I know you know that.
I love you too, Darwyn.
We got to get this out.
You can’t drop those three words on us, and not expect it reciprocated.
In a similar fashion, I’ve sent you this at least once or twice. It’s something that I try to do, and it usually happens when I am a little drunk. You send a random. If you have thought about somebody, and you have a thought about one of your friends, and it’s a good thought, there’s no reason not to send it. I have done this a few times with a lot of my friends. I send out like, “That guy’s a great drummer or I want to say how fucking amazing you are at drumming. I just thought I’d send this your way.”
You should text Garrett.
It’s funny because I have sent that text. That was the example I’m thinking of.
Chester’s friend, Garrett, is an incredible drummer. We’re both going to text him after this and let him know.
I do remember him responding, and letting me know that it was a needed message that day. You never know if it’s needed or not but it’s always appreciated.
The worst-case scenario is you have made them smile. Your best-case scenario is you may have turned around their week, so why not do it?
I try to do it more and more. It usually happens when I’m drunk but nonetheless. When you’re drunk, you feel less of the awkwardness of it.
That’s a good habit to create.
I’m glad you added that addendum, Darwyn because it’s something that I’ve started doing. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon. The other version of I love you is I will sometimes tell people that I’m thankful I met them. “I’m so thankful I met you.” Sometimes I say, “I’m happy. I forced my friendship on you.” That’s what I did with Darwyn, I forced my friendship on him.
It felt natural.
The truth is, “I love you,” has such a spectrum of meaning for a lot of people.
They’re powerful words.
Homophobia is real.
It’s bad for people who are homosexuals but it’s also bad for heterosexuals.
If you’re being brutally honest with yourself. We were raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s movies that are riddled with homophobia.
It even goes beyond that. I started rewatching Entourage from the beginning, which is 2007.
It’s not that old.
It’s amazing because you have these four characters who clearly are supposed to love one another but they’re so afraid of giving off any homosexual energy. Just say you love one another. You live in the same house. Your entire lives are tethered. All you’re trying to do is make one another succeed. It’s okay to say you love each other.
My ultimate favorite moment of just pure homophobia coming out of the ‘80s movies that we all grew up on was Teen Wolf, Michael J Fox. He’s in the garage. He’s about to tell Stiles for the first time that he’s a wolf. He’s looking for something in his garage, I forget what. Stiles picks up on him being a little shifty and weird, he uses a word that we can’t use. “You’re not gay, are you?” He’s like, “No, of course not. Are you kidding me? No. I’m a wolf.” I don’t know if he said the wolf.
The point is that they were so scared. This character is so scared of his buddy thinking that he might be gay. That is crazier than his buddy realizing that he’s a werewolf. The ‘80s and ‘90s movies were riddled with this tone. It would be completely disingenuous of me to not acknowledge that’s going to affect my psyche, my thoughts around this. Of course, I don’t have any of those real feelings about homosexuality or anything like that but to not acknowledge that there is a massive effect that a culture like that is going to have on an entire generation would be disingenuous. It’s there.
The unintended consequence of that is that men are afraid to be close to one another and afraid to verbalize or communicate that they feel a closeness because of the fear of, “I might come off as being gay,” which is ridiculous but it’s true. It’s there, the undercurrent.
The first president of the United States to enter office being pro-same-sex marriage, Donald Trump. People forget when Barack Obama became president, he was against same-sex marriage.
This is a recent flip.
You couldn’t make that political move. You had to be against same-sex marriage to run for office because the nation hadn’t flipped yet. That’s how close we are to this feeling toward it. I know that’s more complicated.
The other side of this is one, there was this oppression, which was front and center, and then there weren’t good role models. I’m flipping through my Rolodex of movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s about detailed close male friendships, these weird action movie things. The one that I came up with is Shawshank Redemption. In many ways, that story is a story of friendship as much as it is a story about revenge and survival.
Timothy Robbins and Morgan Freeman’s characters.
Two people who shouldn’t be friends become friends.
The whole end of the movie is him getting the point of feeling lonely, seeing the other guy that was there that committed suicide that was in the apartment, and then finding his friend off in the middle of nowhere.
Ewoks and Naho. We’ve spent a lot of time on the foundational stuff. Let’s talk about flourishing.
- Chester See – YouTube
- The Unemployable Darwyn Metzger – Previous episode
- Bella DePaulo – Previous episode
- Solo Thoughts 5 – Previous episode
- Yes, having more friends is better
- The Untethered Soul
- The Power of Now
About Chester See
Chester See has been nominated for 6 Streamy Awards with one win for Best Original Song. He has starred on Broadway as Rock Star Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages. He has sold over 2 million downloads of original music without the help of a label, and was one of the first 100 people to gather over a million subscribers on YouTube.
About Darwyn Metzger
A former star of America Now and an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, Darwyn Metzger is the founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm. Darwyn works with Brands, Political campaigns, TV shows, Films & Celebrities including Nike, Trident, DirecTV, AT&T, Fox, and BBC America.
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