Truth Or Truth With Jill Cohen

SOLO 142 | Single Living


Peter McGraw invites Jill Cohen, a remarkable solo and frequent contributor to the podcast, back into the Solo Studio. They play “Truth or Truth,” where they ask each other questions about single living and pursuing a remarkable life.

Listen to Episode #142 here


Truth Or Truth With Jill Cohen

In this episode, I have a discussion with a remarkable solo and frequent contributor to the show, Jill Cohen. She grew up in Miami, attended Emory University, received a Master’s degree in English at the University of Colorado, and resides in Boulder. As a traveling ER and telenurse, she has worked in Colorado, Wyoming, California, Florida, and Australia.

You may recognize her voice as a previous guest in episodes such as What Makes a Life Remarkable, How to Go On a Date, and STIs. My experiment with the game Truth or Truth continues where Jill and I ask each other questions about being single and living remarkably. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.

Welcome back, Jill.

Thanks, Peter.

We have known each other for many years. We are still super sexy people.

I agree with you on most things, especially that.

Let’s reflect for a moment. Would you have imagined then that your life would look like this now?

No. My whole life has been that way from the time I left for college. Everything since then has been a surprise, but the big things and a few small things, too, because I’m a nurse.

You didn’t set out to be an English teacher.

I thought I was going to be an English teacher. If you hadn’t told me back then, when I was studying English Literature, “You are going to be a nurse. Not only that, you are going to be an ER nurse for many years. You are also going to work in a cardiac unit. You are going to travel with this job, and you are going to like it.” I would have said, “You are high on crack, and you have me mixed up with somebody else,” whoever would have told me that, the fortune teller. This was also a surprise. When I think back to the first time you told me about this, we bumped into each other in the vegetable department at Ideal Market.

It’s like in the movies.

Except we didn’t wind up married. It is usually how those things go. You said, “I’m doing my next project, and you should be part of it. I want to get you involved.” I said, “What is it?” You told me about Solo. I said, “I’m in.” You could have planned or predicted that we were going to bump into each other at the grocery store. Maybe you would have thought of me anyway, but maybe I appeared at the correct time.

That happens a lot. When we met, you were a nurse. You were doing your swing dance thing.

That was another surprise. I was on the run with a friend of mine. He told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get a hobby. I have mentioned him before. This is my bossy gay friend. He said to me, “You need to get a hobby.”

Why was the problem that the hobby was going to help solve?

It’s interesting that you asked that because that is what I came back to him with.

I’m saying how much energy you have. You are like a dog that you need to get out running all day long.

I even described myself to somebody once. This was in a dating situation. He said, “You seem cool.” I said, “I’m not. I know you mean that nicely. Thank you. I’m more an excitable puppy dog.” This was my answer.

I like people who were like, “I’m easygoing.” There is a small percentage of people who are easygoing. Most people are not. Those people who are not, a bunch of them think they are easygoing.

That is one of the biggest self-delusions that we have going around. That was my answer. I said, “What? Is it because I sit around doing nothing all day?” He said, “No, that is not what I mean. What I mean is do something unusual that you wouldn’t normally think of doing that would enrich your life. Maybe it’s something artistic. You are always doing athletic stuff. Maybe you volunteer to be on the board of a charity. Maybe you take a photography class. Something where you round yourself up.” When he said it that way, I said, “Okay.” That is not a bad idea.

Some of the best experiences in my life have come from someone suggesting something, saying something, and my response is, “Okay,” and being open to things and saying, “Maybe that is not a bad idea. I will check it out.” I have always loved dancing. There was a dance studio next door to my apartment where I was living at the time. I thought, “This couldn’t be easier. I will take swing dancing lessons.” I always wanted to learn how to partner dance. Fortunately, there are tons of different swing dancing. I didn’t know that at the time.

Let me guess. You happened upon the most challenging and exciting form of swing dancing.

The most athletic one requires the most energy and is done to the fastest music.

I’m not woo-woo Jill, but I’m getting there. The more mushrooms I do, the more I’m like, “The place next door to you. It has the most energetic, challenging, athletic form of dance.”

This is funny that you say this because we are going to get into stuff like this in the conversation with our little game that we are playing, truth or truth. The truth is nobody knows. We don’t know. I’m not woo-woo either, but woo-woo things happen. I’m like, “What do I know?”

It doesn’t matter if it is the universe or a probability, but if you act on it and it fits, it is right and meant.

People will say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I can’t stand that expression.

Some things happen for a reason.

The way I see it is you can get something out of these things that happen. You can take advantage of that. That is how I see it. That is my take on that.

I talk a lot about how singles are always compromising because this guy is supposed to be your everything. You end up going to a movie you don’t want to see or a concert you are not excited about. He goes on a vacation that he is not thrilled about because of you, him, or her. I’m always talking about how solos are good at coordination. Go to your movie, go to your concert, take your vacation. I will be here when you get back. What that does is it doesn’t maximize the amount of time you are spending together. I prefer that model, where you can come back together both excited to be doing whatever the thing is that you both opt into.

You hit on something wonderful. I remember thinking about it when I read the episode you did with Kriss Rita.

That inspired this episode.

No pressure, Jill. She was amazing. I feel like I have big shoes to fill, Kriss.

We can cover a few other things I wanted to chat about, but I want to get into truth or truth. This is a new thing. It is a new game. This is a new format I’m experimenting with. The rules of truth or truth are simple. One expectation is you are going to tell the truth. There is no dare hence the repetition. What we have each done is come up with three questions. We have shared two of the questions with each other. We give it a little bit of extra thought. The third round is a surprise question for us.

This could be about any number of things. It could be about single living, living a remarkable life, or solo movement. We have a lot of degrees of freedom here. Normally, I go, you go, etc., but we are going to do a little change here. I’m going to start with a question. The next two questions will be yours because your two questions were closely connected. Are you ready to go?


This is the first question for you, Jill. I launched an episode in which my guests, Lawrence and Sarah, talked about how the world often wants them to be well-behaved and wants them to be small. They use the term, “Where I dim myself, I minimize myself.” In it, we talked about ways that they do the opposite. They value themselves more highly in the world and want them to be valuing themselves even more than they instinctually would naturally do. I want to know from you. It was an inspirational episode. How do you value yourself more highly than your instincts or the way the world wants you to?

This is such a great question for me because I struggle with this a lot. I’m going, to be honest in this episode. I have nothing if not a good directions follower. It speaks to this valuing yourself thing. I’m such a rule follower. It is because I don’t trust myself to color outside the lines that maybe I have a better idea with something. There is a couple of stories that I thought of. One is that this has been a thing with me ever since I was a little kid.

The way I know this is my parents always tell the story of how when I was maybe 3 and my older sister was 5, we were brought to a toy store by a family friend or a relative. He said, “Girls, you can go and grab whatever toy you want in the store. It’s my treat.” My older sister grabbed a giant teddy bear. It was bigger than her. She couldn’t even carry it to the register. I grabbed this tiny little doll, this microscopic thing. I shyly brought it up.

How old were you?

Three, give or take. I was like, “Can I have this?” You are asking this question to someone who started off like that. I saw a post on Instagram. I follow these accounts, the @Overheard accounts.

Those are fun. There is @OverheardLA that I have seen. If you live in LA, it is especially enjoyable.

If you know anything about those cities, @OverheardNewYork, and @OverheardSanFrancisco, they are great. I saw one, and it was @OverheardLA. It was an Overheard conversation. The girl says something, and the guy says something. Here is what the girl said, “You will never find anyone as good as I am.” The guy’s reply is, “No, that is the thing. I did find someone better than you. That’s why I’m breaking up with you.” The reason why I bring that up is because I have a realistic idea of who I am.

It’s called calibrated. In behavioral economics, you are well-calibrated.

I don’t have delusions of being grander. I’m a good athlete and mountain biker, but I’m not a Colorado Olympic good mountain biker. That thing summed it up for me. It’s like, “There is always going to be someone who, in someone’s eyes or by someone’s standard, is better than you, and there is always going to be worse than you.”

I find most people who were like, “I want to date someone else.” I always say this. Overwhelmingly, women don’t like me. I’m saying this in a calibrated way. The average woman who is interested in dating and that I would fit her profile is not interested in me. It is hard to find a match. It’s not easy.

It’s amazing that anybody does it.

I find it striking that anyone pulls it off for any length of time. It was not easy to do even if you have a lot to bring to the table and when you are committed to it. Being calibrated is helpful. It can help with the despair that some people have. Why it seems like everyone else is making this happen? No, they are not. You are normal.

You are somewhere in the middle of the pack.

You have some wins and some losses.

This is human. You are having a human experience.

Do you value yourself as someone worthy of dating?

I bring a lot to the table in dating, friendships, and professional life. I started to think of this question in terms of accomplishments versus connections. I started to think of it as if you could get caught in this thing of, “I value myself because I’m living this ‘remarkable life.’ I’m doing all these things. I’m going on these giant rides, but I’m traveling and having these interesting experiences.”

From the outside, you are the poster child in some ways for a remarkable life. That is why you were thumping watermelons in the produce section. I said, “Jill, you will be perfect for this.”

I know you’re joking around, but I wouldn’t have been thumping a watermelon because I don’t eat at home long enough to eat a whole watermelon. Living solo, that thing would rot on the countertop, but I know you were joking. That is the stuff I do, the accomplishments, achievements, exploration, and adventures. There is outwards success in those ways. It’s taking life by the horns and going for it. I’m happy about that. Sometimes on these long bike rides, I start to think to myself, “Am I doing this to impress people?” I’m suffering in the rain going uphill and freezing cold, or who knows what.

It is like, “Am I doing this for Instagram?”

It is like, “Do I like this? Do I value this thing that I’m doing?” The thing is, life is a mixed bag. We call it Type 2 fun in Colorado. When you are doing it, it is not always fun. It is not always rainbows, puppy dogs, and flowers. Sometimes it is hard, but you are still glad you are doing it. You are still getting something out of it. It is still challenging, invigorating, and engaging. When you survive it, you are glad that you did it.

I think of it as like, “This is going to be fun. This sucks. I can’t wait to do that again.”

That is the Type 2 fun cycle right there.

As a behavioral scientist, for a moment, there are multiple paths to living a good life. One of them is achievement. One of them is engagement. Doing a long mountain bike ride can have both of those elements to it, but things that are achievement related very rarely are pleasurable in the process. Engagement is a specific type of positive emotion. I’m not surprised that you are having that profile, and yet, you keep going back to it, especially once you have the photo to show the world that you do this thing. You keep doing it.

It’s not just athletic stuff. I did a presentation at work, and I worked on it. I didn’t have to do this thing. I volunteered to do it. An idea came up, and I followed it. I thought, “This is going to be good for me. I could coast at work, or I can find something that seems interesting and dive into it deeply, learn more about it, and communicate that in an organized presentation. That is going to be good for my brain and my intellect.” I did it. When I start to wonder why I am doing this, the question always comes up, “Am I doing this to prove myself or to impress people?”

To prove yourself to yourself or to prove yourself to others.

I start to worry about that. This is something I struggle with. I go through this a lot. We sometimes have these thought cycles that we do that we overthink. The good thing about this is that it makes me remember, “Yes, I can do this all I want to try to impress other people, but that is not what is important. That is not what connects me to other people.” I can be impressed with someone for their accomplishments, but does that bond me to them somehow? It might be a starting point of connection, “You are doing this thing I’m interested in.” It becomes less about what they have done and more about who they are as you get to know them.

How they make you feel is what I would say oftentimes.

How you make each other feel, the chemistry you experience when you have a conversation. It can start anywhere. The thing is not to write off accomplishment and achievement because human connection is more important, but maybe they are not completely divorced from each other. You can maybe connect with someone because of something that you did or something you accomplished. Maybe someone took an interest in you. That started a friendship or deeper relationship and connection.

I often think about connection as more foundational, and the connections often allow you to do these other things. Anybody who has achieved anything great did not do it on their own. There were others there supporting and helping them in some way. What you are suggesting is that the act of flourishing, whether it be through achievement, engagement, or positive emotion, has a feedback loop.

Yes, it makes you more interesting. I have thought a lot about this, especially as a man, where I feel I’m like, “Look at me. Look how great I am. Look at all the cool things I do,” even if that has been some of the motivation, and it certainly has. I joke that if I had any luck with the ladies when I was young, I would not be as accomplished as I am now.

The beautiful thing, regardless of what those initial motivations or partial motivations are, if you lean into things that agree with you, that fit your skills and your interest, it does lead to flourishing. It allows us, like building blocks, to do other things that might be interesting to yourself. If someone decides to get wealthy because they believe it is going to help their dating life, that feels like the wrong motivation. To get wealthy, you have to make a lot of sacrifices and put in a lot of work.

If you are not compelled to do it because you want it, I don’t feel like that process. Living a remarkable life to me is more about the process. It is more about approaching your potential. When you are pursuing something that is not worthy of your potential or struggling with the process too much, it suggests you are off track.

The funny thing is, at the top of my page of notes, I have the right reasons and motivation for this topic. It is exactly like what you said. With the accomplishment, achievement, or whatever you dive yourself into, if it’s the right motivation, not that, “This will impress somebody else. This will connect me to somebody else. This will get people to like me,” that would be, in many words, maybe not quite the right motivation. This makes me come alive. If I’m doing things that make me more fully myself, that will probably be what connects you to other people because they need somebody to like.

I’m going to get woo-woo again. If you decide to play guitar, join a band, become a poet, a standup comedian, or an entrepreneur, I’m talking about things that a lot of guys do because you think it is going to make you impressive to the kinds of people you want to have sex with and people you want to date. You are not going to be that good at those things, and it’s not going to help as much as you think, versus you become a standup because you are passionate about comedy. You start a band because you want to bring music to the world, or you become an entrepreneur because the world needs a better mouse trap.

You immerse yourself in these things. You become passionate and excited about it. Suddenly, that is when you get sexy. You can’t trick the world. I say this to all my guests before we start. I say, “Have fun and be authentic.” For the readers, if we are having fun, they are going to have fun. If you try to present yourself in a way that is positive, they are not going to like you because they can sniff it out. They like vulnerability and imperfection.

It is hard to do because here I am saying, “I have done this where I have done stuff because I thought it would be impressive.” I’m not super proud of that.

You are not valuing yourself when you do that.

You are trying to please other people as opposed to what you were saying because this makes me feel alive and joyful on this earth. That’s why I’m doing it, not because I think it is going to bring anybody to me.

That is good, Jill, because, first of all, when you arrived at the Solo Studio and Sporty Spice style, you were so alive. You were gushing about this experience that you had now. You did a solo. It is not like you are like, “I hope I meet a boy out on the trail.” You were like, “If I crash, I think someone would come along and help me out.”

It is the class of like, “If this tree falls in the forest, is anyone going to know? No one was around to hear it.” That was most of the thoughts that I was having.

One last thing before you go. If I took you to the toy store, and I said, “Jill, get whatever toy you want in this store,” what would you get?

I would overthink it. I would go down every aisle. I would probably weigh the pros and cons of all the toys, “What am I going to get the most enjoyment out of? What is going to last long?” I don’t know know what I would get.

I hope you get something big.

If that is what I want, that is what I will get.

That’s even better. Let’s get to your two-part question. There is some background to this.

I went many years ago to this speaker, a talk by a couple’s counselor. It was part of a project called Global Glue that a couple of my friends were doing. They were a brother and sister team. They were doing what I would say is quite the opposite of solo. They were celebrating couplehood. They were interviewing and filming couples who had been together a long time to try to uncover the secrets.

It’s the cold open for When Harry Met Sally, where they are interviewing these old couples.

That is what this brother and sister team was doing. They interviewed couples. They have speakers come and give a talk. It was all part of the thing that they did call Global Glue. I had gone through a breakup at the time, and I went to see this couple’s counselor. I was asking myself, “Was it true when he said, ‘I don’t think relationships are my thing, it’s not my thing?’ Is that a thing? Is that true? Maybe sometimes relationships aren’t people’s thing.” This was way predated solo. I was thinking, “Maybe relationships aren’t my thing.”

Most people never considered that question ever.

I’m an overthinker. I considered it. At the end of the talk, in so many words, I asked the couple’s counselor these questions. I asked him, “Is it not some people’s thing to be a couple?” He said it in so many words and with caveats. He is a couples counselor. He has vested in this answer.

He is holding a hammer. We know the nail.

He said, “It is rare. There are some people who exist like this, but we are meant to connect and couple up. If people are struggling with it and it’s not working for them, there is something wrong with you. We can find it and fix it, and you can have this happily ever after thing.” That is what he said, “If you can’t make this work, maybe it’s not for you.” He would be out of business in five minutes, but that is what he said. I was like, “Okay.” Here’s my question to you, Peter. The other part of the context behind this is you are a scientist. What is the science behind the notion that maybe this guy could be right? Is he right? Is there part of it that is right? He says that because financially, he is invested in it.

He is subscribing to the common narrative. What he is saying is not a provocative idea if you ask the average person. I believed that I could not make relationships work. I thought to myself, “What is wrong with me?” I never considered at that moment in time that maybe the problem was the relationships.

It’s the structure. Let’s look at the science behind these because everything has some science behind it. What is the science behind it? Is he right? Is there some part of it that is right? By the same token, what is the science, biology, anthropology, neurobiology, and everything behind him not being right? He is dead wrong. I’m asking you the flip sides of the same coin and dive into the science behind it.

This is going to be a little mini-lecture. I want to start with a friendly correction, a story, and then a caveat. The friendly correction is I don’t see solo as an anti-partnership. I believe that marriage is over-prescribed. I also believe that while not all singles are solo, not all solos are single. I see you as a solo. If you happen to run into that guy and start a relationship, you don’t have to turn in your solo card. Solo is about your perceptions of how you approach the world. It’s about self-reliance, unconventionality, and feeling whole. That doesn’t go away because you have decided to partner up and settle down.

I could never be in a relationship where it did.

That is why you’re a good solo. Early on, I had an episode called Married to Comedy with Alonzo Bodden and Neal Brennan, two very accomplished standup comics.

I would love to have been in that room.

Those guys are great, and they are bachelors. They have relationships, but for the most part, they got a little bit of the lone wolf comic thing going on. Comedy is their first love. Neal doesn’t tell this story in the show. He told it on another show, and he related it to me. He had a girlfriend, and things weren’t going well with the girlfriend. The girlfriend wanted everything. Neal’s thing is you get 40%. Don’t quote me on the number. He was like, “You are not going to get 100%, you get 40%, but it is a pretty spectacular 40%. We are headed to the Oscars with that 40%. If you want 100%, you got to go somewhere else.”

For him to be comfortable saying that, he did all the things. He went to the couple’s counselor. His girlfriend and the couple’s counselor, you could imagine them teaming up on him like, “Fix it. Whatever is wrong with you, why can’t you do this?” One day, he was like, “I don’t think this is right for me.”

I worded it in the questions like, “Are we trying to pour ourselves into a mold in which we don’t fit?” We are trying to squeeze the parts in there, push, force, and smush them.

We are going to return to that idea. The caveat is I’m still learning. I have particular training. This project is pushing me to be interdisciplinary. I’m reading and talking to historians, anthropologists, demographers, sociologists, and smart people, who are figuring it out on their own and have no credentials at all but are seeing things differently. I’m cobbling together disparate perspectives and doing my best with it.

Let’s dive into some of these things. This is in no particular order. It’s not for most to least important. Let’s look first historically and anthropologically at marriage, this constellation of activities out there. For most of humanity, since humans were humans, there was no such thing as marriage. The first recorded evidence of a marriage ceremony uniting a woman and a man goes back to 2350 BC, but things didn’t get rolling until Europe 13th-century AD. That is when it got going.

This is a worldwide phenomenon, and people will often argue, “It happens in nearly all cultures. It must be the way it is supposed to be.” That, first of all, is overstated. There are still cultures that exist that are not marriage-focused. They tend to be hunter-gatherer societies. Prior to the rise of marriage, most humans lived in a hunter-gatherer way.

What seems to be the case when you start to piece together the record is as humans move from being hunter-gatherers to being agrarian, suddenly, you need a different set of rules by which people had children behaved and so on. It is not terribly romantic when you look at marriage. In many ways, marriage is a practical matter, one that works quite well for an agrarian or industrial society. Early marriages were about alliances between families. They were a tool. They were designed around connection and community, but not with the two people’s love and happiness. You often had to sacrifice for the family.

It wasn’t like, “I laugh at all his jokes.” It was like, “Our families would do well if our ox and your corn crops rejoin those forces.”

The history of marriage is not pretty in many ways. Arranged marriages still exist nowadays, where people are forced together in this alliance. We used to have things like child brides, where fourteen-year-old girls were married to older men. This idea that this thing is pure and wonderful is an exaggeration. With that said, this division of labor along gender lines, men tilling the fields and the woman taking care of the house in many ways, works given to this massive change to humanity.

What ends up happening, I believe, is marriage was a convenient invention, given our biology, drives, motivations, and the fact that humans are highly cooperative. It’s the thing that makes us different than other animals, even especially intelligent animals. It’s not our language ability to think. Other animals can think and have language ability, but it’s our ability to cooperate at a large scale to accept rules, norms, and conventions and to follow them.

It is why humans are on top of the food chain in that sense. What happened is that because humans are cooperative, this thing works. It wasn’t a bad invention. I don’t think it is an optimal invention in the same way that almost anything out there that exists, that is, an invention that is designed to help humanity doesn’t fit for everyone.

School systems work for the average, but there are plenty of students who don’t work well in that thing. What we say is, “There is something wrong with that kid,” instead of, “There is something wrong with that classroom.” That’s my parallel in that sense. There is a problem with that line of thinking, and it’s this. The best places to live in the world deemphasize marriage. I’m talking specifically about Sweden and other Nordic countries. What we are seeing is a decline in marriage and family. It is not happening in places that are struggling. It is happening in places that are thriving. Why is that?

Let’s take Sweden as a case study because it’s the poster child for this. When you have a strong state that values individual freedom, and the citizens trust the state to take care of them to provide them unemployment, healthcare, and free education, it allows you to opt into a path that you want to walk in life. It allows you to choose the best based on your interest and desires. It is the most egalitarian society on earth in terms of women’s opportunities, educationally, economically, parody between the genders, etc. Fifty percent of households in Stockholm are one person. There are still marriages. There are still dating. There are still relationships, but it is not overwhelming.

I was going to say overprescribed.

It’s not the prescription per se. It’s the thing that people do. They often do it, but it is much more freely a choice. What happens is when you give women a choice, some of them decide not to do this thing. They have other things that they want to be doing with their time. They have other aspirations and so on. I don’t think there is anything wrong with those women. Some of them still want it, and some of them don’t. Some wanted them to do this thing, and they wanted to do it. They are navigating a world where they have a choice in this sense.

They are valuing themselves. They are choosing a path that is authentically theirs. This is a point I wanted to make. It is not that those women don’t have connections and relationships. They probably have more. When I think of that question in terms of connection versus accomplishment, they are not completely separate.

When you are valuing yourself, you are making better connections, which is arguably something that contributes to a remarkable life as having these remarkable connections with other people. When you are more authentically yourself and bringing your authentic self to your connections, whether you have huge accomplishments, small accomplishments, and anything in between, that is interesting to know that there is a society that has evolved this way.

Some of that has to do with the specific nature of Swedish culture. It’s funny how having a stronger state and trusting it allows for more individual choice because the state serves as the cushion rather than a family. Another little thing is this is a paradox. It goes against the idea that if you are not doing this relationship, you can’t do it, or you don’t want to do it, there is something wrong with you. It is that within a country, the people who both do single living best and do marriage best are the healthiest, happiest, most educated resource-rich people. The healthier you are, the happy you are, the more educated you are, the more stability you have, and the better you are able to go solo or ride the escalator.

When you want to point to the people who aren’t doing it, you can’t point to them and say they are deeply flawed individuals necessarily. Not everybody is doing it well. I’m focused on the people who are doing it well. The members of the community generally are doing it well, but there are people out there who are struggling.

I find that they are struggling with 1 or 2 things. They are struggling because their foundation is bad. They are in poor health. They have financial problems. They are isolated. Their inability to attract a partner is a symptom of the fact that they are poor souls at this moment. I don’t want to ignore those people. I want to try to help lift them up, in a sense. The other side is the people who are like, “I don’t need it. I get to choose.” They have a privilege.

It’s to even know that you have a choice.

I had inklings of this at age sixteen. At age 34, I threw myself a bachelor party because I didn’t think this was going to happen to me, but it has taken a lot to even start to think about this as optional in a sense. Most people never get there.

I remember the moment it happened to me. It was pretty quick. I wanted to go on a trip. It was right when I got to a point where my student loans were paid off, and I had the financial ability to take myself somewhere for a couple of weeks. My first thought was, “Who can I go with?” I looked around. I thought about a couple of different people. I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, but the thought that came into my head was, “If you wait for someone to go with, you could be waiting for a long time.”

I say all the time, “What are you waiting for?”

That question or phrase, “If you wait for someone to go with, you could be waiting for a long time,” has sparked a lot of stuff. It was that moment that it’s not a far fall to the idea of maybe you don’t always have to have someone to go with.

Can I make a guess?


You went on the trip. It was great.

It was awesome.

It becomes reinforcing. I have one more piece of evidence. This is a cherry. Frequent readers will know this already from episode two, The Science of Single Living with Bella DePaulo. If you put me into a debate with these glue guys, they would cite research in top journals that show that married people are happier than single people who are happier than divorced people. They will sit back, fold their arms and go, “The science backs it all up.” I would say, “It is not good science.” First of all, this is limited science because you can’t run the experiment that would be conclusive, which is to randomly assign people to single living or married living and randomly assign them to divorces. No human subjects would whatever allow that, nor would anyone sign up for that study.

It all has to be retrospective, which has its limitation.

What is nice is there is data that speaks to this, and that is longitudinal evidence. The studies take married people and ask them, “How happy are you? How satisfied is your life?” The single people, “How satisfied are your life?” Indeed, that is the pattern of behavior. The problem is that if you ask those people prior to their marriages and divorces, you find the same pattern. That is, people who get married and stay married are indeed slightly happier statistically but not meaningfully happier than single people. People who marry and subsequently divorce were already less happy, to begin with.

It’s convenient that they pull the divorce people out of the married group. If you combine married and divorced people, any statistical advantage goes away. The story is not as romantic. This is one piece of evidence that is in favor. I’m going to end with something in favor of what these folks say, “The people who are less happy don’t do marriage as well.”

I’m speaking in generalities from my divorced readers and so on. These are small effects, but when you survey 10,000 to 50,000 people, you can detect these small differences. The point is if you’re the person that marriage is not a good fit, you could try to change who you are in order to be able to do this thing that you’re not well suited for. Maybe you go, “Maybe I will do other things that I am well suited for.” The world needs diversity.

We celebrate diversity in all these other ways. We don’t have one type of food and art. We have different types of science and trades. People get to choose their paths. There is this one thing that we’re all supposed to do. I think that we are not all well-suited for that. My thing is, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. It can be a lot more nuanced.

It can be 40%.

I couldn’t tell you what the right number is, but humans are amazingly adaptable and cooperative. I think that marriages and the escalator are imperfect, but they generally do fine for the average person. Let’s not get carried away here.

What do you mean?

It does fine for the average person. It was invented for another time. We are running on old software. Especially in the world where we live, we don’t need to divide up chores and roles based on gender anymore. The men, generally, are out building buildings out in the fields. Things have changed. It is okay to loosen these things up and redesign.

I love how you took this huge thing and were like, “It’s all right to loosen it up.”

There is no master controller anymore. It is not the church that can exert tremendous authority. What is happening is people are rebelling anyways. They are doing their own thing. They are on this show all the time. They are tweaking this and changing that. They were like, “We don’t have to live together.” I met a guy and he was like, “I’m not going to have a relationship for ten years.” He decided that he was going to spend this time doing other things. He goes, “When that time is up, I will consider it.” People are doing it on their own anyways. We are cobbling this all together. We are moving on. This is going to be the longest truth-or-truth episode we have ever.

The good news is I don’t have a lot to say about this next one. Go ahead.

This is the second question. We have known each other for several years. I feel like a lot has changed, and a lot has gone by. I still feel young. I suspect you still feel young.

Yes, not too bad.

We are not going to be young forever. Do you think about your life at 70, 80, 90, or beyond? When you do think, what are you thinking? Are you doing any prepping or preparing?

I remember there was a Solo episode where you had a financial person on, Money Amy. I feel like she would be a better person to ask this question. That was my first thought because I don’t do a whole lot in that regard. I’m terrible in that regard. With that being said, I’m not a complete idiot.

Please tell me you are saving for retirement.

Yes. I have some savings for retirement. I haven’t looked at it in a while because I understand the stock market. It has been going down the toilet. I have not been looking. I have been doing that. I have a thing.

By doing that, you are already in the top 25% of people preparing for the future. I’m making up 25%, but it’s a small percentage.

That’s surprising to me but great. You’re in the ballpark. That was one thing I thought about. I don’t do much, but I do a little bit. The other thing that comes to mind is I have a couple of different groups of friends with whom we talk about making a compound.

This comes up a lot in my conversation with solos.

We have decided if it comes down to it, we are all going to buy some property, put a few different houses on it while all take care and look out for each other, and make sure we are doing okay because we don’t know what 70, 80, and 90 are going to look like. As a nurse who has worked in healthcare for several years, I have seen the range. I have seen some 92-year-olds who look like they are 60 and act and sound very youthful. I have seen some 59-year-olds who are pretty rough around the edges and not doing well at all.

The variance goes way up. Will any high school reunion ever show you that?

Having been a nurse and having seen the range, there are times at work when this speaks to an interesting idea. I haven’t thought it all the way through, but we have joked about it, where there will be some of us sitting at the nursing station. This was when I used to work on the unit. Another nurse or I will walk by the room. You glance in there and see somebody who looks rough, some poor soul who is not doing well. Maybe they are in their 70s, 80s, or 90s. It could be any age.

Nurses can have a dark side and a dark sense of humor that we share with each other to get through the shift and the job. There are many moments at work when someone walks by that room and they come back to the nurse station. They say, “Did you see that guy in room 325?” I say, “I caught a glimpse earlier.” The conversation goes, “If I ever get to that point, if you ever see me like that, you’re welcome to hit the morphine hard. You are welcome to put the pillow over my head.” They were like, “Me too.” It became a pact that everybody was like, “Yes, if we ever get to that point.”

It’s dark, but I understand it.

Not that it is a plan for the old aged, but it is an idea that and it is unsavory to mention. This is truth or truth. We are talking about these things. I don’t know. Culturally and societally, here in this country, we fight death. Other cultures don’t. There was an interesting study that was done where they asked physicians, “All this stuff that you do to save people later in their life, the interventions, the aggressive care, and all the stuff, would you take it? Would you accept it?” The answers were overwhelming, “No way. I’m not doing any of this stuff.”

I’m glad you brought up euthanasia. I didn’t anticipate that.

I didn’t think you would have. I was like, “Am I going to throw this at Peter?”

I have thought about this a lot. I have talked about it on the show. It is not a new idea. I have alluded to it. I’m putting it off. I’m going to do a series when the book comes out, which will be a long time from now. I’m going to do a series on retiring, aging, and dying solo, where we are going to do a deep dive into these things. I’m terrified it will turn into another book.

These are percolating. I got my own separate file for this series because it is an important one. This notion of a community has come up in conversations before. There is an episode about the new American dream, about alternative forms of housing that you might want to read. This comes up with a friend of mine, Mike Koenig, who does Studio Shed. He is investigating alternatives to the typical apartment, condo, or suburban home thing. It’s very hard to euthanize yourself when you got a family.

When you are solo, the idea doesn’t seem quite as crazy.

If you say, “I don’t want to be a burden. I have lived a good life. This is not a good life I’m in right now.” Sometimes mathematically, it’s clear. This is a personal decision. I’m not the one to prescribe it in any way, and it is easy right now while I’m healthy and vibrant that I could be down the road. I have a friend, and we have talked about it. She has agreed that she will take the trip with me. She will bring my ashes back when it is time. Talk about exerting autonomy over your life.

That is the thing. We think that we have to submit ourselves to every healthcare intervention that can be done, as opposed to, “This is my life, my decision, my death. Do I have to do anything in that regard? Do I have to stick around until I’m 95 years old?” It wouldn’t be such a crazy idea to think people should get to choose that. If their pain outweighs their joy at some point, I don’t know when the magic number is. There is a lot to be thought out and said about this to make it work for individuals. I don’t think it is terrible to think that we should have to submit ourselves to this culture’s notion of life and death when there are other ones.

These are made-up rules. There is a biological thing. There are two things you can’t escape, death and taxes. I’m with you on this.

We always say, “Life is short.”I know why people say that. People say that because you want to be encouraged to make the most of your time here. I would argue that life is pretty long.

It is both. That is the problem.

78, 88, or 92 years is a long time.

Especially if you have made the most of it. It’s okay you haven’t given this a lot of thought yet. First of all, let me do that and create the episodes so you can read them. Part of the reason is you are doing all the right things now to help ward off those bad things later. You eat well. You move your body. You sleep well. You have connections, hobbies, and interests. You are living a remarkable life. What happens is when you are doing that, things aren’t always easy. They are not always stress-free, but you are living on your edge.

You are on this growth path. You are not going to be that 59-year-old who’s looking rough. My guess is that Jill at 70 is going to be surprisingly similar to Jill in her early 50s. The issue is that without even knowing it, you are already preparing because you are living a vibrant life that is going to carry you emotionally and physically well into your older years. We are going to do these last two little rapid-fire. Your third question is a surprise question for me. I have no idea.

Peter, we have known each other for a long time, and I have seen you through various projects you devote yourself. You always have something going on. When I first met you, it was pretty low-key. You were a PhD and a professor at the University of Colorado. You started the Humor Research Lab, the HuRL, and you went around the world and wrote your book, The Humor Code, and you wrote Shtick to Business. It was another branch of The Humor tree, and then Solo happened. I have two questions. One is, how do you transition from one to the next to the next? How does that happen? Do you have a next thing that is on your mind already?

SOLO 142 | Single Living
The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny

I will answer the second one first. No, I don’t.

I was wondering. I was like, “Is Solo where you are landing?”

I’m hesitant to say that. I do get bored easily. It has no surprise. I’m a lifelong bachelor. When I started The Humor stuff, I envisioned it as a ten-year project, anticipating that I was going to plateau at some point. My best work was going to be behind me. It ended up being more of a several years project.

It is better than what most contractors do. We went three years over.

It was life-changing. I have gotten good at closing chapters and opening new ones. I like a good reinvention. I like reinventing myself. I see this as my third professional reinvention. Picasso says, “Learn the rules like a professional so you can break them like an artist.” The first third of my life was NBD scholar. I learned the rules. The Humor stuff, I broke the rules in order to answer this age-old question and live this remarkable life.

This is an extension of that. In Solo, I’m running a little bit of The Humor playbook, and I’m also venturing much beyond. This project is much bigger than The Humor stuff. People have heard the story before, but what ended up happening was I had this inkling. I started talking to people close to me about it and behind the scenes. They were like, “That is a big idea. That is way bigger than what you are doing.” I was scared.

The Humor stuff, I never was scared. I never doubted it. I was never unsure that I would be successful. I was all approach. In this, there was trepidation, fear, and uncertainty. I could see how it would be big, but I wasn’t well-calibrated. I thought, “I’m too early. I don’t think the world cares about this.” When I looked out there, there were not many people doing it. It felt like there was Bella. This woman, Shani Silver, has a podcast. I didn’t even know that existed when I launched mine. You can’t even find this stuff.

I was worried about how I would be labeled, but what I didn’t anticipate was people were looking for this. They are not ashamed to talk and tell other people about it. What I didn’t understand was it was going to transform my life. It was going to let me become my most authentic self to live life unapologetically. Now, I’m completely obsessed. I don’t know when the endpoint for this would be. It’s the most meaningful work I have ever done. This book that I’m writing is going to be the 3rd or 4th most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. That is important to say because I don’t need to do it. I don’t need to do it for my survival. I’m compelled to do it.

Tying it into a little bit of what we were talking about before and something you said in the episode with Kriss, I’m impressed with the accomplishment, achievement, devotion, dedication, and passion around it. We have become closer friends in the past couple of years. I have worked with you a little bit on it. I appreciate you are inviting me to it. What is interesting is the fact that I’m impressed with it is not what has made us closer.

We became closer because you are becoming more full of yourself. One aspect of it was you have reached out to people more. You have become more of a joiner of an inviter, a connector of people. We have become closer not because of the popularity you have gained, and people are reading this. It is not completely separate, but it’s because of how it has transformed you that has brought me in and made us more connected. I hope that makes sense.

This is the purest my work has ever been in that sense. The Humor stuff, a lot of it was intellectual curiosity. The less proud parts of me were like, “I might get famous.” This is about helping people and about understanding the world. I feel lucky that I took a chance at it.

It does prove that point. It’s a cliché, but I guess clichés become clichés for a reason. If you do what makes you come alive and become more full of yourself, success follows.

The business way to say this is there is this notion in Silicon Valley called Product Market Fit. All these startups are all writing code and making things. Venture capitalists are looking for product market fit. Do you have something that solves people’s problems? Do you have a better mouse trap? It’s Paul Graham who says, “What you’re looking for as a venture capitalist, whether I should give a founder money or not, is product market founder fit.” You can’t remove the person from the project. Love him or hate him, Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook had a product market founder fit. The person who did Friendster didn’t have a good founder fit. I’m guessing here, but do you see what I’m saying? I feel I have that. I have been training my entire life to do this thing without knowing it.

It is why these founders are not working for the money. They could retire. It is their baby. That is how I’m starting to feel now about it. It has been good. We have been talking about you could have expected it in your life, and your answer was not if I could sum it up. Philosophers love their thought experiments. One of these thought experiments has caught a little bit of wind in intellectual circles. It’s this notion that we may not be humans, and we may be computer programs.

There are people who predict that artificial intelligence will get so good that you can create sentient beings. You create programs that can write programs. You could write a program that captures the human persona. The idea being is that it may not be in the future. That may have happened in the past. We are computer programs within a computer program. There are not infinite, but near infinite numbers, because now there is AI in it, and it writes code and all this stuff.

The idea is that we may be living in a simulation or imaginary world. That is hard to get your head around, but the idea is if it is a good enough program, you don’t know that you are a program. You feel like a human being. I sometimes run my own simulation in my head. What if we ran my life from conception? We ran it 10,000 times. What would Peter McGraw’s life look like?

In some of those lives, I’m married with children. In some of them, I was aborted as a miscarriage by biology. For most of those lives, I’m not living a remarkable life. I do believe that. I wasn’t destined to have this happen. I needed the right breaks at the right time, coupled with the right decisions and hard work, for things to fall into place.

A lot of different pieces had to fall into place.

This is a long lead-up that if you run Jill Cohen’s life, run the simulation, how does that feel? What comes to mind? There are worlds where you are an English teacher. There are worlds where you crash your mountain bike and are paraplegic.

One of my favorite movies is Run Lola Run.

It’s a wonderful German film from the ’90s.

I was going to say the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, where there are three different endings to her story where she gets a phone call. For those of you who haven’t seen it, she gets a phone call at the beginning of all three. It’s from her boyfriend. He has gotten himself into some trouble with a drug deal, and she has got to go around and help him. From there, it takes three different directions because the smallest little thing happens. She doesn’t make it out of the parking garage because someone walks across in front of her. That sets it on a completely different trajectory, and little things like that for the other two as well. I think about this a lot. It is fascinating as an idea that our lives could be completely different.

One different choice, one rainstorm, whatever the thing may be.

“Let me run to the bathroom real quick before I go.” You get in your car and don’t make it to the red light. Something completely different happens because of that. This is an idea I think about a lot.

Does it affect you?

There is one particular one that causes some what-if thinking and some wistful moments, daydreaming maybe. It’s this one. Maybe it will sound silly, but I’m going to be unapologetic about it. I was in seventh grade. I went to take dance lessons like jazz dance or something. The teacher asked me, “Do you want to be on the junior line?” That is because she noticed I was good at it. She wanted me to get into it. I asked at home, and it wasn’t going to work for me to take this path or pursue this interest. There were too many other things going on. I was a rule follower, and I thought, “Okay.”

You are no Billy Elliot.


Sorry for the person who, but go back and read The Solo’s Promise episode, and that joke will make sense.

I remember Billy Elliot. He was the Irish kid that became a ballerina.

His dad wanted him to be a boxer, but he snuck into dance classes.

I did other things that were as dancing later on in life, but I never formally trained. I would have formally trained to be a dancer, got into it at a young age, and devoted myself to it. I wonder what that life would have looked like. Would I have studied it then and moved to New York? Would I have been happier? Would that have been a struggle going to audition after audition and maybe getting small parts? Could I have been alongside JLo in her Super Bowl show?

In enough simulations, perhaps you are a Rockette. You are on in Living Colour and one of the Fly Girls.

In this simulation, the idea of living in New York doesn’t sound great to me, but in the other simulation, that would have been the dream.

You would have different values and goals.

It is a completely different life, but I do picture it. I picture myself with the bag over my shoulder. It is vivid with the clothes and hair in the bun, walking into a rehearsal studio, and saying hello to the people I know I see at all the auditions. We are going full circle because, at the beginning of the show, we said, “Are we woo-woo?”

That’s a nice one. Mine is too often I’m an alcoholic. In a large number of these simulations, I end up an alcoholic. I’m sure of it. I feel fortunate. I’m glad I’m not aware of the one where I have liver disease.

I feel like that’s a double entendre.

That’s where we end. Thank you, Jill.

Thanks, Peter.


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About Jill Cohen

SOLO 142 | Single LivingJill Cohen grew up in Miami, attended Emory University, received a masters in English from the University of Colorado and currently resides in Boulder. As a travelling ER and a tele nurse, she worked in Colorado, Wyoming, California, Florida, and Australia. She is a frequent contributor to Solo, including episodes: What Makes a Life Remarkable and How to go on a Date.