Peter McGraw welcomes a member of the Solo community, Bill Neil, for a round of Truth or Truth. Sign up for the Solo community at: https://petermcgraw.org/solo
Listen to Episode #184 here
Truth Or Truth With Bill Neil
Welcome, Bill Neil. You are a member of the Solo community.
I ask that new members of the community introduce themselves. There’s an actual channel in the Slack. I was so struck by your introduction that I wanted to talk to you. We’re going to play Truth or Truth here, which our regular audience is familiar with. I am looking for a better name than Truth or Truth. If you want to suggest, you can sign up at the Solo community, PeterMcGraw.org/solo, and meet other people like Bill and other Truth or Truth guests. In Truth or Truth, we have prepared two questions in advance for each other, and then we have a surprise third question. Before that, can you give your story? How did you become famous and show up on the Solo podcast?
I lived a long time. First of all, I’m going to go into that, but I want to take a second to thank you because there’s going to be a lot of this that you’ll see that the show has influenced and I might forget to say thank you at some point. I’m going to say that right now. I appreciate everything the show has done for my life and I’ll get into it.
I’ve found that my life breaks into three equal eighteen-year chapters so far. You’ll see as you go through these chapters that there’s some remarkable commonality with some of the other people who have been on the show as well. There are also some great differences because of the amount of time I’ve been there. The first chapter is my childhood, which bears a remarkable resemblance to the host of the show’s childhood.
It turns out that Peter and I both grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey. I got a sense of it in the early episodes and then eventually you said it in one of the episodes. I’m like, “I knew it.” We have very similar backgrounds and a lot of the things that you’ve talked about yourself, I relate to 100%. We did not have a lot of money. I lived in a broken home with my mom and I had my two younger siblings. I had to be the pseudo-parent. Mom had to go out and work a lot of overtime and extra jobs if she could get it. I was cooking and getting the kids to bed and all that stuff at that point.
That’s pretty much what that looked like. I’m only going to list one other little similarity that we have that I’ve heard you talk about. Like you, I was not doing so great with the women back in Willingboro High School. I mentioned that only because in chapter two, that immediately changes. In chapter two, I’m eighteen years old. I graduated high school and I have a job at the Jersey Shore on Long Beach Island. I go to this junior department store environment, and there are a lot of college kids working there.
They’ve been there. They’re back there for their second, third, or fourth summer. There’s already this social network. On maybe day two, they say, “There’s a party at Randy’s house on Friday. We got you if you need a ride.” I’m already there. By the end of that party, my goose egg in high school with the ladies was already over. That summer progressed that way. It turned out that during that summer, I met someone with whom I became very serious. I continued to remain very serious with her all the way through college. We ended up getting married in November after I graduated college.
That’s old school.
It is, except, in one way, it’s not old school. This is where it draws in with another one of the guests who’s been on the show, Steve Ainslie, who was married to someone much older than him. My wife was nineteen years older than me.
That’s not old school.
No, it’s not. I guess it was from my perspective. Anyway, she was nineteen years older than me, but it worked out great. We were on the same page on pretty much everything. She had two children. As Steve had said in his episode, it was easy for me to slide into that step-parent role in that relationship because the maturity level was that much different, even though the age wasn’t that much of it.
Like Steve, we unfortunately lost the oldest child in his first freshman year of college. Sally was left at that point. We had a great marriage. On the show, you often say, “A successful marriage, by definition, must end in death.” I always think about those first fourteen years or so with Sheri, where it was a successful marriage. The fact that it ended not in death, I don’t think it says it wasn’t.
I want to clarify. I want to say that the world says that. I don’t believe that. I think a successful marriage is one that two people grow as a result of.
I didn’t say that. I know that when you’re saying that, that’s what you mean. I didn’t say it right. However, the marriage didn’t last. We did get divorced, and what happened was that I changed and I beat myself up over this. Actually, the show helped me to understand that it’s okay that I changed a little bit. Our daughter got married and had a couple of kids. Of course, my wife got more involved with the kids. What was the problem for me was I was invited into that and I accepted being invited to that. I was now gramps. I loved it.
You’re a 30-something year old?
I was mid-30s. I loved holding the little kids, having them fall asleep on my chest, helping them learn things that little kids learn, taking care of them, and all of that. It was good for me. I started thinking, “What have I done? I’m built to be a dad.” All this time, as a kid I was helping to raise my siblings and then being a stepparent to Sally, and now this. The issue was that my wife was too old for that. It wasn’t going to happen.
I went into this real spiral and declined. It wasn’t that I was upset like I’ve lost out on this because I’m only in my mid-30s. The issue was if I’m going to change my life and do this, it’s going to have to be a whole new life. I was in agony over that for a month or so. I was just in bed. I couldn’t think straight. She was perfect about it. She was like, “This is something you have to figure out and I hope you come back to me when you figure it out.” She knows she can’t influence it. That wouldn’t help.
I’m lying in bed. I’m losing weight. I had to get up to go to work, but that was about it. I distinctly remember one evening as the sun was starting to go down, I was lying in bed and clearly heard a little girl’s voice say, “Come and get me, Daddy.” It was clear that it was my daughter, and I had to ask for a divorce at that point.
That’s heartbreaking clarity to me, hearing that story.
It was like decisions were already made. Chapter three starts as the divorce starts. I moved out and immediately didn’t want to waste what I knew was my quest. I started dating immediately. I think I invented speed dating. It’s one after another.
Were you sitting there with your checklist, looking for the perfect mother to your daughter?
I don’t know about a perfect mother because I was looking for the perfect person for me. I felt pretty confident with the father part that I could figure out the rest of it. You could quickly be like, “That’s not going to work.” However, I was extremely lucky that I very quickly met someone who lived near my hometown at that time who was funny, fun, smart, and very pretty. We had a lot in common. We hit it right off the bat. She was six years younger than me. She had a son who was only seven at the time and was open to the concept of having another child.
Did you lay it out like, “I want to be a dad,” in these conversations?
No, I didn’t. I felt like that would scare people away. It’s more or less like, “Let’s see if this is a relationship first,” but I was dating people of that age so it has a good chance.
Frankly, in that part of the world, at that age, and in that generation, most people are looking for that. It’s not a stretch to assume that it’s in the cards.
When I look back, I was so incredibly lucky. That could have ended in disaster. I could have met nobody or I could have met somebody and it turned out we couldn’t have kids or whatever. The divorce was not even final and we were already talking about our future together. I think at the time, I knew this was going to happen. I’m going to meet this person because I already know the result.
Can I interject for a moment? This is a fascinating story. As I said, I was captivated by it in writing, and even more so in person. You went from an escalator relationship to another escalator relationship. I’m not suggesting that your first wife would be open to it, but our conversations we have on this show suggest that there could have been a different path. Not to you because you didn’t have access to these ideas where you could say, “I want to be a father.” You might have broached the topic of having a different style of relationship that didn’t end in a divorce and didn’t end up you separating your lives from this woman who sounds like a wonderful person.
That’s absolutely true, Peter. I think about that because it’s not something that ever crossed my mind. I don’t think at the time that there could have been some other way to make this work. It’s the path I took and it worked out.
It’s not a regrettable situation because you didn’t know. To have regret, you have to have considered another path.
We got married. Nine months and five days after our wedding, I met my baby girl. Two and a half years later after that, I met my son. I didn’t see this in my foreshadowing.
Your ESP is only about 50% correct.
It only got me started. To cut the end of chapter three there, it ended up not working out for us. We married for about fourteen years and we ended up in fights. It wasn’t good in the end. We divorced, which brings us to chapter four. Chapter four is the chapter that we’re in right now. Everybody that’s tuning in to this right now is in chapter four. It’s a work in progress. When the dust settled on the divorce, I kept the marital home, which was a big important thing for me to have.
The way New Jersey custody laws work, it’s very good for men now as compared to when I was a kid. We have shared custody. It’s two days every weekday and every other weekend. Basically, in a 14-day stretch, I’d have my kids for 7 days. That also means that I’ve got every other weekend to do with what I want. If you listen to this whole buildup of the story. You probably can imagine that my first reaction was to start dating again and get back on the escalator.
I ended up dating someone after about six months. I was like, “This might be number three.” I thought that this was unbelievable. That petered out after about another 2 or 3 months after that, and we both decided to call it quits. Now I was back home and I’d been in this another relationship and I decided to chill for a little while and think about it.
I started to see how cool it was to be home by myself on the weekends and in the evenings, and then not have to worry about texting somebody on time or calling what time am I supposed to call them and stuff like that. My bank account wasn’t dwindling with dating and all that other stuff. I’m like, “This is cool.” I started to question whether maybe I should stay single, “Why do I keep doing this?”
I didn’t know about the relationship escalator or any of this stuff. I hadn’t come across the show yet, but I was starting to think, “Maybe this is right for me,” but I was worried about it because my married friends were already like, “When are you going to date somebody? We’d like to go on a trip with you, but you got to have a spouse,” or “We’d like to go out to dinner with you.” It was awkward for them because I no longer had a spouse. I’m like, “How is this going to work out?” I ended up taking a solo trip to Punta Cana for a week.
Where is that?
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I went there for a week to think about it and to be away from everybody and be by myself in a situation where people usually aren’t and see what it’s like. I loved it and it was great. When I came back from that, I thought, “Maybe there’s a podcast out there that somebody is talking about this subject.” There was yours and pretty much nothing else. It turned out that yours was great.
It wasn’t that old at the time. There weren’t that many episodes, so I was able to go back to the first one and that’s where I started. I kept on listening through. The show helped me put some clarity into what I was thinking. It gave me some terminology. Now, I’m 100% certain that this is me. I’m solo for the rest of chapter four.
You’re a no way.
I’m currently a no way. In fact, I say currently no way because I know things change in life. I’m a confirmed no way at this point.
First of all, thank you for all the kind words. My condolences for the loss of your stepchild. I congratulate you for doing your best in navigating these difficult relationships. It’s not easy to get divorced. The government makes it especially not easy to get divorced. You have a lot of forces working against you in those situations, and yet people still do it because it’s also not easy for many people to be married and certainly to be married for their entire lives.
In a sense, you could almost talk about this as seasons instead of chapters. Nonetheless, what a powerful set of intuitions that you have about what’s right for you at these different stages in life. Having the ability to act on them, even though they may go against comfort and they may go against domestication in that way, but doing it with grace.
The hardest one was obviously the first marriage. I beat myself up about that for a long time. In the show, you guys talked about at one point how people can change and it is that way. I started to think, “I’m 18, 19, 20, 22 years old when I’m saying I don’t need to have kids. I still was a kid.” For me to get to my mid-30s and think otherwise I don’t think is that bad anymore as much as I did.
The best that you can do at this stage to the degree that you can is to ask for forgiveness. Now that people have a sense of who you are and your charm, let’s get into Truth or Truth. I’m going to start. You’re in your fourth season or your fourth chapter. I want to know, are you planning to retire? If so, when? Do you have plans for retirement?
Retirement has been a moving target for me because I think about my first marriage. My wife is nineteen years older than me. I wanted to retire when she wanted to retire. I had every intention of being retired, at the latest, by 45. I was working hard towards that. I would’ve achieved it if I had stayed with her until I was 45.
In my second marriage, retirement went away as a thought. First of all, more than half my money went away in the divorce. Now we have kids. That is expensive. I can tell they’re smart. We’re going to be paying for college and all of that. Retirement wasn’t on my radar. When the marriage wasn’t going so well, I started thinking, “What is retirement going to be like? This is going to be terrible. We can’t get along. It’s the kids that are holding us together.” I’m scared of retirement at that point.
Work is a refuge.
Believe me, there are people working to hide. I work with some of them. When I first got divorced the second time, I thought, “I’m not in any hurry to retire.” I don’t see it as a pressing thing.
You’re how old?
I’m 59 right now. I didn’t see any purpose for it. As soon as I figured out that I was probably going to stay single, then I didn’t want to retire. I saw working almost at this point as who I would be married to.
What type of work do you do?
I’m in sales. I sell hardware for a wholesaler to mom-and-pop hardware stores. I run about Philadelphia and New Jersey in and out of hardware stores all day. I felt like keeping me working was keeping me alive. It would keep me active and socially involved with people. It’s the reason to do things. I felt like this was the secret to being able to stay single. I’m going to keep on working. I work for a great company that would never push me out. There are older people working and all that. That was a real thing.
Two things came along to make me change my thinking on that. The first one was your show because now I started to hear people doing remarkable things with their time as solos. I had to say to myself, “I’ve never lived alone.” Even though I feel like I’ve been a solo my whole life even when I was married, there was only that little brief period between marriage 1 and marriage 2 that I wasn’t living with someone.
I didn’t know what I could do with this free time. People started talking about amazing things and I started to think, “I could do that.” It opened my eyes to maybe retirement wouldn’t be that awful. The second thing that pushed me all over the hump was the pandemic. I discovered your show around the same time as the pandemic got started. I was forced to stay home. I couldn’t go out to call on customers. I had to work on the phone, but it was a much shorter day. I had a lot of free time on my hands.
I used that free time productively. I got into projects that I had pushed off to the side before. I brought out hobbies that I used to have and other parts of my lifetime that I didn’t have time for like reading, gardening, cooking, and all these sorts of things that I couldn’t do that now I could do. I took long walks in the woods. I’d either have an audiobook, a podcast, my kids, or the dog. A lot of times by myself. It was fantastic.
By the time the pandemic ended, I was like, “I’m going to retire as soon as I possibly can.” That changed my target. Now, my target is as soon as I can afford it, I’m out the door. The challenge for me, besides the financial part, is to teach myself how to be a good retired person. I’ve picked this up from some of the people you’ve had on that talk about planning your day, having a routine, and having a schedule.
I fear like now, if it’s my day to go to the gym, I have to go because tomorrow I’m working. I can’t go. When I’m retired, I could very easily say, “It’s beautiful out. I’ll go to the gym tomorrow.” I know that could snowball. I want to try to teach myself not to need work or have the kids home to get to that stage. The kids will be off to college in a couple of years. That’ll give me a little bit of a transition.
What are some of the things that you’re thinking about doing in retirement? Obviously, you’re going to continue this path of growth. You’re going to be active. You’re going to be consuming gardening, these hobbies and stuff. Are there other more grandiose ideas that you’ve considered?
I do love to travel, so that will definitely be part of it. Wherever my kids end up, that might dictate some of my trips. I’ve always liked to travel and I’ve done a lot of it. That will definitely be part of it. I’ve been thinking lately that I need to try to align myself with some volunteer organization where I am committed to being somewhere at some point. Keeping somebody else expecting me and dependent upon me to show up when I’m supposed to would be good for me and keep me showered and changed once in a while.
I think it’s right. I know you’re being a little bit cheeky when you say that. It’s interesting because retirement is an invention. It’s something that humans invented. When you were hunter-gatherers, you didn’t retire. You still were part of the tribe in contributing and so on. It’s largely a blue-collar invention in the sense that you can’t work in the factory anymore at some point. You can’t till the land as a farmer and so on.
To me, for a lot of people, retirement is an escape from something they don’t want to do. They have to work. They have to be paid in order to work. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you per se. You still like your work. You are just discovering there are other things that you’d like to do instead of that. It’s more of an approach to freedom and approach of new activities than it is an avoidance of the drudgery of the factory.
I think that’s all very exciting. I’ve been thinking a lot about the next steps, the next projects, and so on. The obvious one and one that members of the community are shouting at me to work on is this idea of aging, retiring, and dying solo. How do you plan for a different style of your fourth season, so to speak? I’ve been reluctant to do it in part because I don’t have the right hook yet. I don’t have something that feels different than the existing resources out there. Be patient with me. I’m sure it’s a matter of time before it comes to me in the middle of the night or on a show. I’ll turn it to you.
I get to ask Peter McGraw questions. That’s awesome. I’m excited about this. I’m going to go back to when I first started introducing myself and talking about the similarities and Willingboro High School. When I wrote my little biography on this Solo channel, I stuck my neck out and I said, “I suspect that we have at least one teacher in common. I bet you that we both had Mr. Welsh for Psychology class.” I felt like you didn’t come out of what was a tumultuous time at that high school as chill and together as you are unless you had Mr. Welsh. You DM-ed me and you were emotional about that.
I started crying.
I could understand that, for sure. I would like to ask you about him and take everybody there. Who was Mr. Welsh? What was so special about him? Why does he stand out as a special teacher? What influence has he had on your career path in your life since high school?
First of all, what a coincidence that our paths have crossed, given that they didn’t cross when we were in Willingboro. Willingboro High was not an easy school to be a student in. It was a tough school. I was sheltered from some of it because I was in honors and AP classes. I was also an athlete. I played on the football team, so I wasn’t completely sheltered from it all. I shouldn’t have been playing on the football team.
It’s in my nature to think I can do things that other people don’t think I can do. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not. Mr. Welsh was an oasis. His class was an oasis in that school. He was a big nerd. I don’t remember how tall he was, but he was a slender man. He was a bald man with glasses. He was very square. He was a nerd there, but he was a very gentle man. He was a kind soul and a very patient man who taught this psychology course to seniors, I believe. I think it was a senior-level class, so it was an elective. Not everybody took it.
I was eager to take that class. I was looking for answers as a teenager. I was a bright kid and I was a kid who was struggling. I was eager to get out of the house. I wanted to get as far away from Willingboro, New Jersey as I could. I was struggling with the dysfunctional family, identity issues, and thoughts. There were things that were deeply wrong with me because of my fraught relationship with my mother in particular. I looked to that class as finding some answers to understanding the human condition. I wouldn’t say that it was fully delivered, but it certainly helped. I loved the material. I thought it was so interesting compared to the math, calculus, physics, chemistry, and all the other classes that I was taking. I was being groomed to be an engineer. All of us were. That was your escape.
What kind of engineer do you want to be? It was the only choice you got.
It was. The school was a very good school. It had very good teachers and it was a very diverse school. At the time I was there, at least 75% were African American.
When I graduated, it was 50%. That was a very tumultuous time because it was even, but it was a Levittown. Levittowns were designed to start out completely Caucasian. That’s the way it started out. You had a bunch of suburban kids who grew up knowing no one of color. As their friends would move out, they’d be replaced by urban kids. There was mistrust. There was a misunderstanding. In the beginning, when the first few started to move out, I remember there were great friends of mine. It was when I got to high school that it got me.
It switched. When I was there, there weren’t many racial issues at the school. It was a Black school. For example, I was 1 of 2 White kids on the football team. It was a tough school, but it wasn’t Black against White in any way.
We had fights in the cafeteria. Whoever designed the cafeteria, I don’t know what they were thinking, but there was a big gap between the two sides of where the tables were. You had an entirely African-American side and an entirely Caucasian side.
That wasn’t my experience. I had a lunch table through almost all of high school that was about 50/50, Black and White, maybe slightly more Black. For me, that was wonderful. I went into a White world from high school and was like, “This is different.” I went off to college and I was like, “Where are all the Black people?”
This was obviously a different era. There was no social media. Your world was the lunch table. Your world was the basketball court. Your world was three channels on television. It was much tighter. I enjoyed the class. When I went to college after half a semester of pre-reqs for Engineering, I switched to Psychology.
That class set me on a path to becoming a professor, becoming a PhD in Psychology, and so on. The thing about Mr. Welsh is that it was great to have this kind man in my life and to have this intellectually vibrant classroom experience. One that I was well suited for, much more so than physics. I could make my way in math and I could make my way in physics, but it was hard.
For me, the psychology stuff was fluent. He made it fluent because he was a good teacher. There was something that he did as an extracurricular. It was a club of sorts. It was the invite-only club that he called Psychodrama. It was a group of seniors, I think in the last half of your year, that went on the road and visited other schools and did sketch comedy about teenage issues.
There was a sketch about the classroom and all the stereotypes. There was a thing about bullying. There was a whole bunch of stuff that kids dealt with. There’s no social media. They went on the road. My friends were a pretty charismatic group of guys. They were funny and they were smart. They had a little bit of swagger in a way that I didn’t. I felt lucky to be part of this lunch table. They were saying, “Today’s the day. He’s picking the crew.” He makes an announcement in class. “I’d like to see Mel, Rick, Eric, Melissa, and so on after class,” and he says Peter.
I don’t know if fist pumps were a thing back then, but these guys were doing fist pumps like, “We’re in.” I remember him saying, “Peter, I’d like you to be part of this group.” What he did was he picked outgoing, charismatic, and funny people. I had started to come into my own tiny bit as a class clown. I was starting to be much more social, going to parties as a senior. I was starting to blossom. It was budding even or that kind of thing. He saw something in me. I remember he kept on 2 or 3 more introverted folks to run AV. Just to run the sound, play the music, and help out.
They didn’t have to be the star of the show because he wanted to be inclusive and not just have one style of personality. I remember this so clearly. I remember thinking, “I guess I could do the AV.” I think I was going to do the AV, but that was not his plan for me. His plan for me was to be in these sketches, be on stage, and so on. I had a few prominent roles in some of the sketches. I was an athlete and I played the klutz. I could fling myself through the air and go crashing to the ground in these things. It would always get a laugh. It was so easy. It was physical comedy.
I remember at one point in time, ironically, I played a guy who was going on a date or something like that. I was miscast in terms of my real life. I remember I had this line and I remember I had improvised it, and it got a huge laugh the first time I was ever on stage. I got to tell you, Bill, I was hooked. That was the moment where I was like, “Maybe I can do this.”
It got things going for me in college and beyond to be more comfortable with, “Look at me,” in that sense. It was such a great gift that he saw something in me that I never would’ve thought. No one at home was saying, “You can do this stuff.” At home, I was being made small. Mr. Welsh made me larger than life. It was wonderful.
He made everybody feel special. He would come up and talk to you and there’s a way that he seemed focused in his listening that you felt like he cared about the answer to your question. My brother was in that organization you talked about, but he was not asked to perform. I think he might’ve been asked to, but he didn’t. He was in set design. I don’t even know if there was a set design thing. He recalled he got his first laugh by helping to produce a giant joint held up on stage.
I think Eric Bird is one of the guys. I think he probably was the guy who was the stoner in the classroom.
My brother helped make that joint, apparently. The other thing that was interesting about Mr. Welsh is, I don’t know if you noticed, you saw him at all the events after school. If you went to a sporting event, he somehow was always there.
I’m going to go out on a limb here. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a bachelor.
It makes sense for the amount of time that he seemed to put into the school and with the people and the commitment that he had. I don’t remember him ever talking about a spouse. It’s entirely possible that whoever it was, if he was married, she worked late hours.
It’s possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I would say that. Most of our teachers at that school were married because that’s what people did. Being a teacher is especially a married person’s job because it’s hard to be a teacher on your own in terms of paying the bills. If I would take 2 to 1 odds that he was a bachelor. I appreciate you bringing that up and asking that question because it was such a wonderful walk down memory lane and a very emotional one. I’m emotional thinking about it now.
It’s great to hear you’re talking about it and I can feel that in you.
What a gift. I have a question for you. You’ve been a parent, a grandparent, a step, and beyond. You might end up being a grandparent again. Who knows? You’ve talked about your children and you’ve mentioned something that I want to hone in on. The show has changed you. That’s very clear. Has it changed the way you’ve parented?
Yes, absolutely. That’s a great question. First of all, before I got to that one, I was scared of the breakup because of my experience of having been the child of a divorced and I didn’t think it would go so well. I think I’m a better parent in this situation that I’m in right now because I don’t have to focus on someone else. I can just focus on the kids when I’m there with them. It did work out well.
What the show did for me though was made me think I wasn’t quite as good a parent as I thought I was all along and realize that maybe I’m an awful parent. What I mean by that is I started listening to these segments on the relationship escalator with Amy Garin. I thought, “I’m teaching that. My kids are getting that from me.” I don’t mean in the fact that we watched every Disney movie there was with them and all of that.
One of the things that I am most proud of myself as a parent is that I don’t ever go for punishments, consequences, taking their Xbox away, or things like that. When there’s a rule or something that they want to bend or that they’ve already bent, it means they’re going to sit and talk to dad about it and dad is going to explain to them why it is what it is.
I always said to them, “Most of our time together, we’re going to be adults. We’re going to have these conversations from the beginning as adults.” I let them talk and explain their side and all of that thing. I was always proud of how those conversations went and how the message got across. However, then I started to think, if you went back and listened to all those conversations, there was always going to be somewhere in there where I said, “When you’re a parent.” Just the assumption that I am not only teaching you why you need to brush your teeth, but I’m also role modeling how you should act when you get to the top of the escalator. When you’re here where I am, you’ll understand.
Not just that you’ll understand, but that you’ll do it this way, that you won’t yell at your kids, that you’ll explain things to them. The thing is this assumption that they’re going to do that was hammered into them. Where I worried about it the most was with my daughter because obviously, she was older. Not only had we watched the Disney movies, but we’d gone to Disney World and put her in a Cinderella dress and she lived the whole “someday my prince will come” experience.
It’s not even that. My daughter is extremely talented in a well-rounded way. In the arts, she can paint, draw, play the guitar, and sing. She can write beautifully. She has all of that. She’s a Science major in college. She’s a Biology major. She nailed stats. She nailed math. She’s an everything kind of a person. She’s fascinated by so many things. She’ll spend hours painting. She’ll spend hours out in the woods collecting things, and studying them under a microscope when she gets home. All these things.
I thought, “This is somebody that maybe should be a solo and would be a remarkable solo or should at least understand that that’s an option for her. She should at least understand that maybe if you go down this traditional path, you might not be able to do all these things that you’ve been able to do so far.” I want to have a conversation with her about that and tell her I’m wrong. I need to fix that situation.
We had the conversation a few years ago and I explained to her that it doesn’t have to go that way and that there are other options. She was very interested in the subject. We’ve since gone back to it repeatedly. In fact, at this point, we talk about the show all the time. She doesn’t listen to the show, but she’s aware of the different styles of being a solo.
She knows about the escalator. I’ve read some of the books that you’ve talked about. She’s read those books and that sort of thing. We talk about regularly the different things. I don’t know exactly. Maybe she just may right now and maybe she’s a new way, but she’s definitely not a someday. I feel like mission accomplished on that.
That’s so wonderful. What a gift.
It’s a gift from you. I just had to translate it. I talked to my son about it and that conversation was much more brief and to the point. I started to tell him about it and he said, “Yeah, Dad, I get it. I want to get married and I want to have kids.” I said, “That’s fine. I’m not here to say that that’s wrong. I’m certainly the wrong person to say that’s wrong because that was me. I just want to make sure you know.”
“You don’t have to do it for me.” That is the big message from parents. “You do not have to do anything to make me happy. You have to do what makes you happy.”
You have to do what’s right for you. The only project left with him is getting across how much better it will be if he can show up in a relationship as the complete package and not find someone who completes him by finding somebody who complements him. He’s sixteen now. He’s got a lot to learn about that, but he’s going to learn that stuff. I think if he knows the more you can bring and the more you can be a solo on your own to that relationship, the better it’s probably going to be in the long run.
It sounds like you gave me a book idea, Bill.
It’s how to raise solo children. How do you have conversations with your kids that open up the possibilities beyond just the escalator?
Do you need a co-author?
I certainly need some case studies. It sounds like I have one. I want to read something briefly that made me think when you were talking about your daughter who sounds not just a wonderful human being but an interesting aspiring polymath. In the book, I briefly write about Susan B. Anthony, the suffragist, the abolitionist, and women’s rights activist. Not surprisingly, Susan B. Anthony believed that women should have the freedom to pursue their own interests and goals, and that marriage should not be the only path available to them.
She has this quote that I quote that says, “I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper. When I was young, if a girl married poor, she became a housekeeper and a drudge. If she married wealthy, she became a pet and a doll. I thought I would have none of either.” Think about her great contributions to the world. She helped women get the right to vote in a way that has propelled your daughter’s life to be different than it would’ve been otherwise.
I think she’s going to do great things. She amazes me every day with how much she knows and how smart she is. It’s amazing. My first question, I asked you about a very special teacher that we both had and now here you are a professor. We hear a little bit about that on the show. From time to time, you put it in there and I want to know more about it.
The part of it that I want to know more about is how has your lesson plan as a professor changed over the years that you’ve been doing this show. I know in the very beginning, there was an episode towards the end of 2020 that was Selling to Singles. You already had an idea at that point that this is a little bit of a different market.
You’ve talked about how the housing market is probably a little different. How does that go back to the classroom? What do you do differently in the classroom now than you did back then? What is your overall mission? How do you send kids fully prepared out after your class, knowing what you know about this growing Solo community?
It has influenced me, certainly. It has influenced a bit of my scholarly and creative work first. I wrote an article for Contagious about representing singles in advertising. I developed a talk. I gave a talk about marketing to singles. I did that in part because this is a huge market. Half of American adults are single and they’re not being spoken to.
Politicians aren’t speaking to them. Politicians are always talking about families needing our help. They overlook half the people who are not part of a family are also need help. My anti-capitalist audience won’t like this, but one way to gain prominence and acceptance in the world, especially in the United States, is for businesses to see you as a market.
The case study, for example, is the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community. What happened was businesses realized there was this non-trivial number of people. No one is talking to them. No one’s providing for their needs. They’re being ignored almost completely. A chance to sell extra products turns into advertising products, sponsorships, and a whole bunch of things that speak to this group.
Obviously, this also happens in the world of entertainment. Will and Grace. We went from Three’s Company, which you and I watched when we were kids, where Jack has to fake being gay, to a show where the main characters are gay. They’re provocative, charismatic, happy, and interesting characters, and then someone who sees them on television goes, “There are other people like me.” In my small way, I’m trying to nudge people who serve the public to see singles.
I have a pitch that I sent to Harvard Business Review that’s under consideration. My experience pitching Harvard Business Review is I’m 0 for 4 or something like that. I’m not optimistic, but I will publish it somewhere. I will publish this idea. It’s about creating products and services to help single people live better. If you think about it, the invention of the apartment building is essential for singles. You can have this small space and share common areas, gyms, concierge, pools, and so on.
All the labor-saving devices that were made for housewives back in the day also helped us singles be able to maintain a household without it being too onerous and without needing a partner to share things. In 1960, the invention of the pill revolutionized single living because now, suddenly, women were not getting pregnant and having to get married as a result of that, and so on and so forth. These are my nudges to the world and I’m developing talks and so on to speak to organizations. That’s very squarely within the purview of my job as a business school professor.
The second way is that I am cautious not to push politics or my own lifestyle beliefs in the classroom too much. I’m happy to have conversations about it and I’m happy to present alternative perspectives, but I don’t have a mission to do too much educating on this topic because I’m not teaching a class about this topic.
I teach an undergraduate course in consumer behavior. The limit is that I’m going to be doing some case studies around singles that I think will be provocative. I teach pricing and so I’m going to use the pricing strategies of hotels to illustrate, do you price based on cost or do you price based on value? Hotels are priced for 2 people, not 1 person. If a couple shows up, they pay the same price that I pay even though they’re getting more value because there are two of them.
There have been these articles about restaurants turning away single diners because they take up too many seats. They take up a table of 2 or 4, which I think is a mistake. I want to talk a little bit about what’s the right strategy. Do you want to target singles or do you want to target couples? I can use those as comfortable compelling case studies that the students care about because they’re single at this stage in their lives.
The last one I think you’ll like the most, Bill. I’m unapologetic about my psychedelic journey. I spent some time in Colombia and I was still working there. I finished the last round of edits on the book at a wonderful hotel in Bogota. Nice, cool weather, which is good for creativity in my world. I did a series of mushroom trips.
These are therapeutic. They’re fun to do but I’m not doing them for recreation. I’m doing them to work on myself, in part because I feel like I’ve exhausted almost every other possibility of personal growth. I’ve read all the books and I’ve done therapy. I started a damn show. I’m like, “I’ve got to do something else.” My friend Shane Moss is my shaman. He has been very generous in guiding me on this path.
On one of the trips, I got thinking about my work and about how it too often feels like work. Where I am in my career, being tenured and, not to be immodest, but good at what I do, I better be after dedicating most of my adult life to it. It’d be a shame if I was bad at it and still doing it. The tagline of the forthcoming book is Breaking the Rules in a World Built for Two.
You mentioned bending the rules. I talk a lot about bending the rules and breaking the rules in order to live a more remarkable life. I talk about how solos are unconventional. They approach relationships unconventionally, but they approach life even more so. The idea is this. If you’re willing to question whether marriage is right, you should be willing to question whether lots of things that we assume are right are actually right for you.
What I started doing was while I was tripping, I started deconstructing my class and thinking about how many things I do in that class because that’s what you do with a class. I teach from PowerPoint, for example. Why? It’s because everybody teaches with PowerPoint. I started thinking about why couldn’t class be more fun. Why can’t we have more fun in class? Think about when we were young kids. Think about Mr. Welsh’s psychology class. That was a fun class. It was a light class. It was a happy class. You didn’t feel beat up by him all the time.
It was an encouraging class. For example, one decision I’m making is I’ll still have PowerPoint slides and I will post them and you can look at them if you want to have them, but I’m not standing in front of PowerPoint slides anymore. I don’t need them. Nineteen years ago, when I was an assistant professor, I basically had to read from the PowerPoint slides because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Now I have a voice. I can tell stories. I can perform. I can make this class move from the mundane into near magical for them. By the way, it only has to be more magical than the other 4 or 5 classes they’re taking.
That’s true. It has to be in the top two.
I was thinking. I remember tripping hard and thinking, “Day one, I’m bringing a DJ to my first class. I am going to have a DJ create a soundtrack for our first class.” Why? It’s because that will be fun for me. The students will never forget it. It is going to send a message that says, “We’re here to learn, but learning doesn’t have to be work. It can be play.” I know this is a roundabout answer to your question, but that insight doesn’t happen if I’m not working on Solo.
I needed to see how the world has this very narrow path to the way things ought to be and how often we walk that path because we’re worried that our colleagues are going to think we’re not serious, or our colleagues are going to disapprove of this. I realized that they don’t get a say. The school decides what class I teach, but they don’t tell me how to teach it.
I don’t show up at my colleagues’ classes and tell them how to teach their classes. They’re thankful for that unless they invite me. We’ll know at the end of the semester whether it works. Now, a lot of times, professors dread teaching because it’s hard work. It’s soul-sucking at times. Now I’m excited. I’m like, “Let’s go.”
That sounds cool. I like it.
Round three, surprise. You’re one of a few of a small special group who have tuned in to every episode. I want to ask you, have there been 1, 2, 3 episodes that have influenced you? You’ve already talked about the relationship escalator ones and the one with Steve. That is A Widower Lives A Remarkable Life. Are there others that stick out as helping you have a moment of insight or change your perspective or behavior?
Absolutely. My answer is probably going to surprise you because there are some great paramount episodes out there that you’ve mentioned and that we’ve alluded to during this conversation that they’ve put the vocabulary out there. Of course, you have to give a nod to those. There’s one particular episode that put something into my life that is always going to be there. It gave me a little bit of a gift because sometimes you bring on someone who’s got a book or a remarkable thing about solos to share who knows stuff. They got you theories about how the economy is going to go and things like that. This is a book episode. I gave that away. It was when you had Miek Wiking on and you talked about The Little Book of Hygge.
I was driving my car, listening to the show as I often do. I was listening to that one and I said, “This is me.” I never heard of hygge. I would’ve called it cozy or something. To me, the whole Christmas or fall seasons where the lights are lighter and they have the smells that you’re used to at that time of year and all these great things. That’s me. I’m driving on Route 70 in Cherry Hill. I’m passing Barnes and Noble and hit a jug handle with ten minutes still left in the episode and went back and bought the book.
By the way, that is such a South Jersey thing that you described. No one understands this, but Cherry Hill, Route 70, and then the jug handle is a New Jersey invention. For people who don’t know what a jug handle is, typically, what ends up happening is you have a left-lane turn, but New Jersey doesn’t like left-turn lanes. They created these jug handles. You go on the right lane and you take this loop around to make a left. I don’t think it’s unique to New Jersey, but it is such a Jersey invention.
It’s definitely a thing. I went back and I bought the book. I brought it home and I ate it up. I loved it. It’s not hard. It’s a short book. I’ve given the book to other people to read. That’s another thing that I like about that particular episode. It gave me something that I could share with people about what I’ve learned in the show physically.
What it did for me personally, though, when I came back and looked at my house, I have hoover rooms already in my house. I had them already in place. Not my whole house. I want my whole house to be that way. The back of my house has a lot of windows that face the South and it’s very bright streaming light coming in. That’s the look I want for there. My living room, dining room, what is technically my office, but I call it the dart room because that’s pretty much what I do in there, is throw darts. We’re all hygge to a certain extent.
I looked at the living room and said, “I nailed this one.” When we built the house, the spec was to put a gas fireplace in the living room and I said no. I said, “I want a wood-burning fireplace in the living room.” The builder was like, “No way. You don’t want that.” I said, “I do.” He ran the gas line anyway. It’s outside somewhere, but I wanted the fireplace. I wanted the crackling sound of the fire. I wanted to build the fire. That particular room was also one of the rooms after the divorce that had no furniture in it anymore. I went out and got all new furniture for it that was right for the mood I was putting in.
It’s conversational. There’s no television in there. There are books and soft lighting and all. That room was good. I looked at the dining room. I’ve tried to achieve the same thing and they’re joining, but it wasn’t quite right. What I learned from the book was it was too bright. I have this big overhead light when you go in and it’s shining down. Every time we had a meal, it was too bright. All I had to do was take the switch out and put a dimmer in, and it was beautiful. There was a piece of furniture in the corner that was the wrong color and it was being used to hold place mats and napkins. I took that out, put another table in there, and put an oil-burning lamp on this one and a little candle.
For me, I always had a scented candle going in the fall and Christmas season. I don’t like the scents in the spring or summer. I’d have them lit, but then I wouldn’t light them if I was cooking something I wanted to smell. That would compete with it. I didn’t have candles all the time. I never thought about scented candles. I went out and bought hundreds of them. I have burned hundreds of them since then all over the house.
In the kitchen, when I’m cooking, they’re going. In the dining room, there’s always a few scattered on the table. I will tell you, our meals last longer because I light those candles. I have teenage kids. I understand they’ve got homework. They got stuff to do. They’re going to get up from the table and go.
They don’t. We’ll stay for two hours with the plates still sitting in front of us talking since I started burning those candles there. I burn them when I’m eating by myself. If I’m sitting at the dining room table, it makes it more hygge. It makes it feel more right. I have hundreds of candles and Sarah, my daughter, was like, “We can make these candles.” We’ve made candles. That was an episode that stood out for me. It still stands out for me.
I’m so happy to hear that. I enjoyed talking to him. He’s an interesting fellow. It has helped me too. It’s this idea of coziness and creating the right sense, lighting, and food. Comfort food. The right textures like wool, cotton, wood, and so on and having this very welcoming, comfortable space, especially during those winter months, which you get a lot of in Denmark. We’re coming to an end here. Surprise question. I have no idea what you’re going to ask.
We touched on it a little bit in your last answer, but I’m still going to go ahead with it anyway because I’m curious about the trip you took and not the mushroom trip, but the physical trip that you took. I think you were gone for 35 days.
What intrigues me about that is I’ve done solo travel, so I get that, but never for 33 days. That’s a long time. This concept that you’ve been mentioning a couple of times about buying a one-way ticket and not knowing when you’re going to come back intrigues me. I’ve already acclimated that when I’m retired, that is going to be what I‘m going to do. When I’m able to do that, that’s what I’m going to do.
Still, I would like to know, how did you figure out where you were going to go in the first place? Did you stay there in one place? Did you move around? How did you know when it was time to come home? Did you accomplish what you set out for? As a tip to another solo traveler, is it different? How is it different to travel for a month by yourself than it would be with a companion or for a shorter period of time as a solo?
I need to brag for a moment because this is the first time I’ve ever done this. I packed perfectly for this trip. I took a carry-on bag and a backpack. Some of it was the nature of the weather that I was encountering, but I never felt like I needed something that I couldn’t pick up in a pharmacy or something like that.
I’m a notorious over-packer. The problem with overpacking is that you have to check a bag and it limits your movement. It limits your flexibility and so on. I’ll call back to this in a moment. I wanted to go to Buenos Aires. I wanted to go to Argentina. The problem was I waited too long and it’s high season in Argentina and a ticket was going to be prohibitively expensive, either with cash or with miles.
I had also been intrigued by Colombia. I have a good friend, Mark, who’s been to Colombia and spoke very highly of it. Moreover, the two major cities in Colombia, Bogota and Medellín are at higher elevations and have cooler weather. I’m a cool-weather person. I’m not a hot-weather person. Around the time that I was going is when it started to get hot in Denver. It was blazing.
My decision was I’m going to fly to Bogota and I’m going to try to vacation. That’s a foreign concept to me. I travel a lot, but I never vacation. I failed at vacationing, but in a good way. It was an experiment. First of all, I like Colombia. The people are very friendly. It’s a warm culture and great customer service. As an American, it’s an inexpensive place to visit. As someone who sometimes gets a little too focused on money, it becomes easy to enjoy yourself. It becomes easy to buy a steak for dinner or that kind of thing.
I found a nice neighborhood. I landed in the perfect neighborhood in Bogota. I was in a hotel that I didn’t like that much. I stayed a little bit longer than I would have because I didn’t feel like moving. After about a week or so, I landed in a great hotel called the EK Hotel. I want to give them a shout-out because it was such a comfortable place. I was sleeping well. I replicated my Denver life. I would get up in the morning, I would go to a coffee shop. I’d come home. I’d have a late breakfast. I’d go to the gym and then I would often do something social.
Maybe I’d go out on a date, go to a museum, or at Lenore. Most of my nights were quiet in the hotel, where I learned how to hygge like you partly because of the pandemic. I don’t have to be out and about all the time. As you said, I was on a one-way ticket and my decision was I was going to come home when it felt right. The semester is going to be starting so I knew I had to be back for the semester, of course. I set up a Solo Salon in Denver a little bit before that. I knew I had to be back for that. That was a big runway. That’s like 5 or 6 weeks.
I didn’t anticipate staying as long as I did because I was going to get the book back. I had one week, hard stop, for one final round of edits and punch-ups. I remember debating this like, “Do I want to be in Denver for that? I better come home two days before that thing.” I was in such a groove. I was feeling good. I was sleeping well. I was exploring this new city with these very friendly and warm people. I was like, “No, I’m going to do the edits here in Bogota.” I hunkered down for that week in this lovely hotel. It was great.
I think it worked for me in that sense. As I said, I also did three mushroom trips during that time, which was very aggressive. I’ve never done three in a year before. I think it helped that I was away to be able to do that. I turned the book in. I recovered for a day and then I went to Medellín. Everybody raves about Medellín. It’s a sexier city. It’s a warmer city. It’s a bit more vibrant. It’s smaller. I liked it, but I didn’t land exactly where I needed to be there.
I was lucky. The universe works in weird ways. I was riding the elevator on my first or second day at this hotel. There’s an American. The guy was obviously an American, older gentleman in his mid-60s. I struck up a conversation because that’s what you do when you’re traveling. He offhandedly mentioned that he had been living in the hotel for a year and a half.
I said to him, “You’re not going to believe this, but I have a dream of living in a hotel for a year or living in hotels.” Not the same one, but like a month here, six weeks there, chase the weather kind of thing. He was a lovely man. Three times divorced and now solo. We had breakfast every day, went on walks, and I got to know him. He’s working on a book. He was originally from Denver and sold his house. He came to Colombia with three bags and he’s building a life there.
He’s buying some apartments and going to start a restaurant and stuff like that. I think he’s going to be there for good. He’s going to be a citizen and so on. What it did was it opened up even more possibilities to me about what my retirement might look like and so on. That was fun. I made a friend and he’s a good soul and he’s a peaceful man. He was very generous with me in terms of helping me get hooked up and set up in the hotel, get a better room, and so on.
Medellín wasn’t as good a fit as Bogota. I knew that I was going to make a change. I was deciding what to do. I did a mushroom trip and during the mushroom trip, I had a bunch of insights and I remember thinking, “I got to go home. I’ve got work to do.” I was on a plane two days later. I ended up missing my flight in Mexico City by accident. It’s the only time I’ve ever done something that boneheaded.
I have a friend in Mexico City. I basically called her up and said, “Are you free today? I’m going to be in Mexico City for the day.” I had this nice little cherry at the end of this trip. It was wonderful. What I realized is I don’t need a vacation in the way that most Americans need a vacation because I don’t have anything that I need to escape from. I need to change the scenery. I don’t need a vacation. It was fun.
Bill, it’s a pleasure to meet you in person. There will be a Solo Salon in New York City in 2024. I’m certain of that. I hope you make the drive up the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s not a long drive. I would love to see you in person at that Solo Salon. Thank you for your time. Thank you for the kind and generous words. Thank you for sharing your story. In the same way that people have shared their stories and it’s helped you, I have a feeling that your story will help others.
I hope so. Thank you for allowing me to come on and talk to you about it. I appreciate it.
We don’t have to have all famous people. I think that one of the things about the show that works is that we have remarkable everyday people here.
Absolutely. Thank you.
- Steve Ainslie – Past episode
- Selling to Singles – Past episode
- Solo: Breaking the Rules in a World Built for Two
- Miek Wiking – Past episode
- The Little Book of Hygge
About Bill Neil
Bill Neil is father of two children and a stepfather to one. He has been married twice and now enjoys parenting as a Solo.
At the age of 59, Bill is a lifetime resident of NJ. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Drexel University. The first twenty years of Bill’s career were spent managing stores for a small independent retailer. Bill now works for a hardware distributer where his role is helping independent hardware stores and lumber yards to be successful.
Bill enjoys an active life in his free time, especially swimming, hiking and lifting weights with his youngest son.