Peter McGraw welcomes back Monique Murad (Freedom in Community) to play “Truth or Truth.” It’s a fun, thoughtful exchange–featuring conversation about how the Solo movement is bigger than Peter, Monique’s “celebratory divorce,” and a surprise question that makes Peter cry. Enjoy!
Listen to Episode #166 here
Truth Or Truth With Monique Murad
Welcome back, Monique.
Thanks. It’s good to be back.
We’re doing a little truth and truth for the infrequent readers. This is a little game I play with an excellent conversationalist like yourself, where we do three rounds of questions, asking each other questions. In the first two rounds, we know the questions in advance. The third round is a surprise question. I’ll start by asking you then. You’re optimistic that the SOLO project’s going to be big. I, less so. I have more mixed feelings about it, at least with regard to me being the ideal person to execute it. Why this optimism?
It’s because the movement is bigger than you. What I love about the movement is that it took someone like you to bring it forward. We’ve had this conversation before where it’s gone beyond a guide for single people on how to live a remarkable life, but how to destigmatize alternative ways of living, including being single and what anybody can learn from solo living.
I’m optimistic because from my perspective and especially from these episodes and seeing what your future plans hold, I see a lot of space now bringing people in, which even the SOLO Community, you’ve done a great job of integrating people into sharing ideas and their stories that then take you into a direction of what conversations to have and what questions to ask. I see this being bigger because I see it growing beyond you.
A great piece of professional advice I received once and I won’t forget it was, “If you want to grow as a person, you have to make yourself replaceable.” That’s where my optimism comes from. It is so much bigger. There are people that can be involved. Personally, I have such a vision for it, that it’s important. I’ve seen how these episodes move people. The way these episodes moved me coming out of an eight-year relationship and seeing a future for me, that feels remarkable and bright through the stories that you’ve given us a platform to share. That’s my perspective.
I appreciate that. I’m reminded listening to you of this African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That resonates in response to your observation. I’m constantly impressed by the people that I’ve connected to as a result of the SOLO project. We have this community. You can sign up for a PeterMcgraw.org/Solo. We are probably adding 2 or 3 people a week. We crossed over 800 or so.
Only a small percentage are highly active as is often the case. The people who are participating in that forum are thoughtful and articulate. They do capture that essence of being solo, of not being self-sufficient and seeing themselves as a whole person, but willing to tussle with unconventional ideas. They’re incredibly generous in terms of feedback. I’m starting to muster the troops as I work on this book. People are going to be sharing their stories, which is exciting.
I have some people who have volunteered to be friendly readers of drafts, which is going to be useful, especially given the ambitious timeline that I have. You’re right, I’m wrong. We should be optimistic because the most important thing is that I try to seed these ideas and then people can do with them what they want. I’ll give you an example of this. One of the solo readers who live on the Western slopes of Colorado came to the very first SOLO salon, like the pilot SOLO salon, which was like friends and family.
I invited him. He drove six hours down to Denver to do it. He said to me, “You don’t know this, but you changed my life. You’ve set me on a completely different path in life.” This was completely unbeknownst to me. He sent me a text, “Can we talk?” He gets on the phone with me. He’s effervescent. He’s excited because he’s come up with this project idea that builds on SOLO principles. I didn’t do anything besides talk a lot which is what I do well, but he’s taken this, grabbed it, and taken it in a direction that builds on his own skills, perspective, and so on. It’s wonderful. The sooner I can be replaceable, the better.
You said there’s a lot of talking and, as a host, there’s talking, but I wouldn’t amount it to that. What you’re doing is creating space. Even in the SOLO salon, you’re physically creating a space. You’re a convener. Convening is that catalyst that brings together these great ideas. These next two comments I have will feed nicely into my first question for you. As long as you move forward with the principles of feedback is love, take as much and all feedback as possible, especially at this stage in your career and as a professor, feedback is always filtering through.
The way I see it is there’s never too much feedback. It’s our inability to filter the feedback. Take it all in then you see, even with somebody that I disagree with, maybe 99% of what they said, there’s probably a 1% thing I can pull. It’s leaving our ego at the door saying, “Even if I disagree with 99%, what’s the 1% in there that I can pull?” The beauty of this movement is not staying married to what the initial goal was. Your initial idea is to let it evolve with the people that you’re trying to move. Let it evolve with the community that you’re trying to have an impact on. What’s going to make this big is being able to shift, change, and evolve based on the community that you’re creating space.
It’s not too much advice. The problem with academia is I don’t believe that the advice is always well intended. Sometimes the critique is for the sake of critique rather than for construction. That’ll wear you down because it’s not always meant to make the idea better. It’s not always meant to polish in that sense. To me, the ideal scenario will be when salons are happening without me. That’s going to be an important step to growing this. When there are salons happening all over the world, I get to stop in. I’m like, “I’m going to go to DC this weekend. There’s a salon. There’s a salon in March in Rio that Monique’s putting on. Let me stop by.”
Maybe I’ll start putting them on here in Rio. I’ll put that on my to-do list and start brainstorming.
I go by the saying, “I like to give advice. I’d like to take advice.” Having members of the community help polish this idea, then take it and do what they want with it independently of me is wonderful. It’s not something I ever considered when I first launched, to your point.
It’s great to hear that’s the direction you want to take it in. Since starting this show, it’s been a bit, what do you think you are seeing as a potential blind spot of yours? In turn, you can chat about how you’re looking to tackle it.
I have a lot of blind spots. One certainly came to the forefront when I was trying to sell the project as a book. That is, how can one voice represent the diversity of perspectives and experiences of single people? That’s a reasonable critique in the sense that I am not a diverse voice in the United States in 2023. I was aware of that from the beginning. One of the things that I have worked to do, and I hope it’s evident, is if you look at my list of guests and guest co-hosts, it is a diverse group of people, not fully, but in many ways. Certainly, from a gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity standpoint.
I’m looking for any opportunity I can to add to my voice there. For example, I’m going to be having people submit their stories to the book. I’m going to be weaving those stories into it. I’m envisioning them as palate cleansers between sections where you get to meet Monique Murad and learn about her celebratory divorce and now her solo life, etc. I suspect you’ll be submitting it.
Before you go on to the next one, I will say that one thing that I love. I took on the role of hosting a global event. It’s a breakfast lecture series worldwide to bring together the creative community in all cities. It’s called Creative Mornings. I took on the host role, and in onboarding to this host role, what I thought was extremely interesting, I had a feeling of impostor syndrome of feeling like my family is Brazilian, and both my parents are from Rio. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Even though I’ve got both these cultures my whole life, I felt, “Who am I to take on this host role of this event to bring together the creative community and represent this creative community?”
What I love is that headquarters corrected me in the sense of their description of the host is quite the opposite. It’s not my job to represent the community. It’s my job to create space for representation. What I love is you’ve taken what you know your strengths are as this convener and you’ve taken your passion because even you as a person of privilege in the United States have the time and the space and the capacity that a lot of people and diverse voices don’t, given the systemic issues. You’ve taken those privileges and you are now creating a space for representation. In that reframing, the role of a host is not to be the representative voice of the movement. It’s to be the convener.
That’s useful for me to know. In the beginning, I felt like I needed to be the voice in part because that’s all I knew. It’s interesting, I certainly do recognize my privilege and I appreciate how far I’ve come. I don’t come from a privileged place in life. I look like a privileged person, and I have the job of a privileged person, but I’m not supposed to be this person. if you looked at my life as a child and teen, you would not have predicted this.
I’m grateful for it and I’m also eager to take advantage of it. I was writing about this not only being a professor and having this platform, this perspective, and the ability to understand the world, which took years of training. Because I’m not married, I don’t have children, and I have more optionality, the freedom to choose, I can take on a project like this. For example, if I was married with kids and wanted to make extra money, if I wanted to have an extra project, I would never choose this. Not just because it’s about single living, but because it’s not clear how is an income generator at this point.
I would’ve done something that my behavioral economics peers around the world do, which is I’d write a book about decision-making, moral decision-making, branding, or something that businesses want. What I’ve been able to do is leverage my ability to live a simple life and choose how I spend my time in order to dedicate it to this. It’s important for me to recognize, especially if I catch myself complaining about how much I’m investing in it. In many ways, this feels more like a charitable project than it does an entrepreneurial project.
You have a voice that people listen to. That’s what’s important in the idea of privilege versus where you came from and how you got here at this moment in time. You built this credibility for yourself as well, that even people that are extremely credible, but given their gender, race, ethnicity, they, unfortunately, don’t get listened to.
Even myself, it’s interesting to see the rooms that I’ve been in and the number of times I can say something, but the man in the room has to repeat what it is that I said for everyone to agree. If I let it faze me, I would be angry all the time. You do a fantastic job of bringing people into this space that you’ve created, which is great.
You’re very kind. I appreciate the encouragement. I have two areas that have blind spots. The first one is a new one, and it came out when I was trying to sell the book project. On one hand, I was seen as too traditional, and then on the other hand I was seen as too transgressive. That was an interesting surprise. I wasn’t surprised by the first part. The second part, I was. When I started this project, I wasn’t as transgressive as I am now.
I wasn’t talking about unconventional relationships. I had little understanding of these new way solos. Even though I’m a new way solo, I had no idea. I had to discover and grow into that. I want to recognize that while I want to have a big tent, an open accepting tent, and one that agrees that the standards by which we should evaluate people’s choices are one of, “Is there consent present and is there no harm?” If those two conditions are satisfied, then people can do whatever they want.
What I realize is that sometimes going down this transgressive path can be alienating or upsetting to some people. People who are devoutly interested in partnership can find some of these ideas threatening. Some people who might not have any problem with pointing out the weaknesses and the problems with the relationship escalator start to sit up a little straight and get a little anxious when you start talking about something like solo polyamory. I’m not going to apologize for either of those stances, but how I do it matters. I don’t want to rub people’s faces in it. I’m not trying to purposely upset people. I do want people to consider why they believe what they believe. That’s another thing about the transgressive nature of this project.
I do think it’s a balancing act of whether there is a better right way to approach these topics. You do a good job. I was reading the episode on bisexuality that came out. You upfront share a little bit about the sensitivity of the topic and the fact that you are new to the space. You do the research before and then come into it with that humility and understanding you seek to understand. That is the most important thing you can do then the rest is the warm tea analogy.
You don’t want this movement to be lukewarm tea. It’s not going to be cute, especially as you’re thinking about this book. You could have 1 million people read this book and 1 million people hate it, and that’s okay. It’s not for everybody. There’s a whole array of people that you would never want on the show, that you would never engage in a conversation with because it’s not somebody that you agree with.
They wouldn’t serve the community.
You can’t expect them to agree with what it is that you’re putting out there. If it helps, what it is that you’re putting out is exciting and radical. It’s conversations that people are now having. They’re new and they can feel uncomfortable. That’s extremely exciting. That’s exactly why it is you set out to do this is, “Let’s destigmatize singleness.” It is uncomfortable for a lot of people because it threatens people’s way of life.
If they are in an uncomfortable conventional marriage and the only reason they’re in it is that they’ve been told this is the one way to happiness and you tell them at 60, “Being single is great,” and you try and destigmatize it, people feel threatened. That’s okay too. Hopefully, those people will then be able to step back and see, “Other people can also be happy and take this path without it threatening my happiness.” This doesn’t need to be lukewarm tea.
I’m not going to shy away from it, but I do think that these are sometimes delicate issues and a bit of diplomacy. It can go a long way. I’m not interested in rubbing people’s noses in it, but I’m also not going to apologize. This is the usefulness of the community. I regularly get episode ideas from community members. One of them was feedback on the book proposal in which the friendly reader pointed out issues of class.
I was saying how I came from an underprivileged background, but my life has changed quite a lot in the last many years. I recognize that in terms of the topics and the guests I have often reflect a highly educated financially secure population in a sense. That’s not always the case with regard to singles. I don’t have a good answer to that observation. It’s correct, and I am tussling with it. I need to figure out what to do with that note because I do think it’s accurate.
I’m working on an episode idea again that came from a member of the community. I’m calling the episode idea, Undateable. We talk a lot about single empowerment, being single by choice, the options, the freedom, and the excitement around building a solo life, but not everybody gets to choose their relationship status, whether that be due to their mental health, physical abilities, even with this person even talked about their looks. There are people out there in the world, men and women, who are not appealing partners for reasons that they can’t control.
That’s an important idea. To help people feel seen, that’s something I need to talk about, as delicate as it is, as an able-bodied person who has been single by chance in his life as a young man. Now when I’m single, I’m single by choice. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget how life used to be, and how much we can adapt to our new world. That’s something that I’m going to be trying to focus on, address, try to be more inclusive, and expand the tent.
I’m glad I asked that question because I love that blind spot. I love it in the sense of being something that you recognize isn’t something that I had processed and thought about. It’s going to be a big one to tackle. It won’t be tackled in just one simple episode. Even starting to breach the topic, it is extremely important. It’s something that I had been thinking about without explicitly the direction you were coming in, but more thinking a lot about the roadblocks and difficulties that people do have being single and the reason a lot of people seek relationships. We’ve talked about this before, and how as this movement grows single life can be more appealing, even for people waiting to enter the relationship escalator.
It doesn’t have to be as stigmatized and isolating. It’s a tricky topic because there’s much work to be done in the space of beauty standards and standards of appeal. What is appealing? We’ve been programmed to see a specific type of person as more and less appealing. Where does appeal come from? I won’t even begin to go down that rabbit hole, but that we are, as a society, getting closer and closer to breaking down those barriers and walls. It would be an interesting path to take in something to address. I’m excited to know what’s on the docket.
We’ll be talking about the intersection of culture and evolution, certainly. Second round, in our previous conversation, Freedom In Community, you described your divorce as joyful, even celebratory. Tell me about that process and the state of your relationship.
Joyful and celebratory, I chose those words because love, I believe, is a choice after you do have to continue to choose the people you love. Even your friends choose the energy. To a certain extent, given that my relationship with my former partner was not abusive and all things considered, we are both good humans that didn’t match in that traditional sense. To make it joyful and celebratory was a choice.
I say it, because even through the rough times because it was not that we started dating and then we got married, and then at one point we woke up and said, “There are some things that aren’t working. Maybe we should explore this path.” We had some nice conversations about it and then decided to get divorced. It was messy and painful.
I don’t think I’ve shared that enough, mostly because I’ve been focused on this post space that we’ve cultivated, which is joyful and celebratory. it was quite messy, uncomfortable, and painful, but it was in the way that we treated each other through that process and are choosing to move forward now. Seeing as messy as it is, we looked at each other one day and said, “With all the love that we have, the intention, and the work that we’re doing, whatever outcome is going to come of this is going to be better for both of us,” even in the short run if it feels a little bit painful. We held onto that until the end. We kept holding onto that when we reunited.
We decided to get divorced while I was here in Brazil for an extended amount of time. We hadn’t seen each other in six months. It’d been like four months since we decided to get a divorce then we reunited. We decided to stay within some boundaries and limits that we established for ourselves. We weren’t going to be intimate. We weren’t going to even kiss. I’m being vulnerable because these are the details that no one talks about. It was hard. These are some of the things that contributed to this process being joyful and celebratory because joy is not a pursuit of short-term happiness and satisfaction. It’s a pursuit of joy, which was an act of love of each of us keeping to those boundaries and limits with each other.
In the beginning, being uncomfortable, we probably met up four times before I moved back to Rio. In that last encounter, all of the good parts of our relationship were left over. We signed the divorce papers. We went out to LA for a day, got coffee, ate, and went shopping at REI together. We sat. In the end, it was heartbreaking in the sense of bittersweet in the sense that we were going to miss each other. We cried a lot and hugged. We were also full of joy at what the work that we put in. I will say it’s joyful and celebratory because of all of the work.
The state of the relationship now gets a little bit dicey sometimes. We’re still in the middle of the divorce process. Sometimes we do one thing and irk each other or whatever it is. We’re still humans that are interacting in this way. We celebrate each other’s lives. We were even able to talk about people that we’re interested in and seeing, which is a big exciting step for both of us. We’re speaking less to make sure that we can create space to give energy to other people and not create an emotional dependence on each other. That’s how we are now.
It’s important for people to know these stories because they’re used to the typical divorce story, that script. One of the unfortunate things about the escalator is it doesn’t allow much space for failure. This is not something that gets talked a lot about because the escalator doesn’t address dissolution. What ends up happening oftentimes is the norm. You’re on the escalator, it doesn’t work out, and then you have to break up. Think about that terminology. You have to break apart the relationship.
There are two types of breakups, but let’s talk about divorces because the magnitude is bigger. The first type is, “I married a bad person, someone who is low integrity, is abusive, has problems and is not willing to work on them, and is harming my life.” Get divorced. Don’t look back. Life is too short to put yourself in emotional, physical, psychological harm, and financial harm’s way in that sense. I don’t think most divorces fit that model. Most divorces are because there are two people who want different things within this structure, and this container can’t accommodate their mismatched goals, lifestyle, or whatever that is.
Maybe it can’t accommodate the mismatched lifestyles, but the modern marriage in it being this person has to be your other half. You depend on everything. You see the worst in that person. Some marriages bring out the worst in people that you might never encounter or you turn into somebody with this other person whom you have no filter. You have built up resentment and you turn into a person that you quite aren’t proud of. That started to happen with me, even in my marriage for a few short years. It’s unfortunate.
I haven’t had this experience so I don’t know it firsthand. I do think that it is fascinating how people behave within loving relationships. They’re often meaner than they would ever be to a stranger or to a coworker. There’s something about the safety of knowing that person’s not going anywhere that allows you. With the intensity of it all, the stakes, and so on, it’s easy to become more emotional because you’re attached. I do like the idea that people might be able to change the container.
For example, the very simple thing is like these lifestyle things, “My partner snores. We’re going to sleep in separate bedrooms and that doesn’t diminish our love in any way. My partner is a city person. I’m a country mouse. Maybe we have to live in different places and visit each other.” This can start to become increasingly difficult the more transgressive you get. For example, if a partner wants to be asexual or ethically non-monogamous.
I like the idea that people might try to reshape the container before they consider divorce, but if they do end up divorcing in those kinds of cases they can remain connected. Just because someone snores, is asexual, ethically non-monogamous, someone wants to live in the city or someone cannot dedicate that much to the relationship, they can maintain some connection, they could take the goodness and keep that goodness whole.
What I was thinking about, especially in my case with my former partner, was that we met and I was eighteen. We didn’t meet in high school, but quite close. A lot of people end up marrying their high school sweethearts, for example. What I find the most concerning is not that idea, but the only thing we can count on is change. What I was feeling a lot of guilt about during the divorce, during the, “Do I want to get divorced? Do I want to separate? What do I want?” process is that it’s been programmed into me, “Before you get married, figure out what life you want to live and see if that person fits the bill.”
When I got married at 23 or whatever, I’m like, “This was the life that I thought I wanted to live. This is who I thought I was. These are my values, my identity, and all of these things.” It gives you no permission to change. You end up feeling guilty for identity changes as you grow. That was essentially what was happening in my space, which was a lot of guilt for changing because who I was changing into could no longer fit the bill of the marriage. This is something that I mentioned in the other episode. A friend of ours who was in her divorce said, “We divorced to maintain our vows to each other, which was to love, cherish, and take care of each other for the rest of our lives. We could not do that within the marriage.”
We hear a lot from previous generations that withstood marriages for 60 or 70 their entire lives, until death do they part, and saying, “They sustained a family and they were happy.” That is subjective as far as happiness, joy, and what it is that they did to sustain the family goes. We can see that our alternative ways to sustain, develop, and create beautiful families that are outside of that traditional structure, even better than the traditional structure. That might not be the path for everyone. It was a tough thing for me having met so young.
I can’t even imagine. I have undergone much personal and professional growth, and changes in values and lifestyle since you said 23 when you got married. My spine is the same. I’m still Peter. If I met someone from high school, they would still see the essence of me, but the packaging is so much different now. I have this idea, as you were talking about these vows. I would love to be able to offer people vows around relationship design, which is, “I promise to check in regularly. I promise to update you on how we’re doing.” This idea of we get to regularly recommit to a relationship that might not look the same in year 10 as it did in year 1. The vows are more about a process rather than an outcome.
Check-in regularly about the dynamic of the relationship because, at the end of the day, love is such a big word and complex. There is no one being in love. I’ve honestly grown to hate the term, “Falling in love with somebody.” It’s awful. It needs to get ripped out of people’s vocabularies if they’re using it in a one-way street, but I see I love people. If I’m acting out of love, I would be acting differently. It’s out of love, “I vow to love you forever. I can love you and even not like you in phases of your life, but out of love for you and myself, I promise to keep a dynamic that can stay true to that.”
Thank you for sharing your joyous celebratory divorce. It can be inspirational for people.
My turn for our next question. To go on the lighter side of things, I’m excited about your response to this. What is next on your list for a solo travel experience and why?
This is a palate cleanser. I have not been traveling much, and that’s okay with me. I’ve done a lot of travel in my life. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve seen the wonders of the world and have been in scary places. I’ve been to joyous, wonderful, exciting, places. I’ve had life-changing experiences. I’ve gone to most of the places I’ve ever wanted to go.
That’s a fortunate thing to be able to say. I’ve been much more focused on enjoying Colorado, building this project, and traveling in my mind rather than traveling on planes. My life, for as good as it is can start to become a little like Groundhog Day. While every day is an enjoyable day that’s focused on growth, challenge, and balance, they all start to feel the same if I’m not careful. The nice thing about travel is it disrupts that.
I booked a one-way flight to Mexico City. I’m billing this as a writing retreat. I’m doing this before delivering the manuscript. I’m doing it as a bit of an experiment to see, “Will it help my creativity? Will it give me a little bit more space to focus on the writing?” In a sense that seems a little counterintuitive because you would think that being in a different city would be distracting. I have found that sometimes when you go to a different place especially if you’re staying in a hotel, it allows you to be.
You’re not doing the day-to-day things that you often do. You’re off people’s radar. They’re not calling you. You’re not being invited to social events and so on. Mexico City is going to be a good place for that because it’s certainly a different culture and it’s having a moment for a place for culture, and food. Though I’m not a foodie, I do like Mexican food at least. I bought a one-way ticket because if I get there and it’s not going well for the writing, I’ll come home rather quickly. If I get into a groove and it’s agreeing with me, I’ll stay a little longer. That’s exciting. I’ve meant to go for a long time, and I’ve put it off for various reasons. I think it’s going to agree with me.
I am excited for you. New cities and new places when working, at least for me, especially because a lot of the work that you do, and similar to me, it’s a lot in your head. It’s a lot of creative work and sometimes we need the right amount of white noise to focus us. a trip like this can be focusing a lot of the time.
It’s going to be fun. Do you know what solos get to do? They get to buy one-way tickets. If I was married, I would be like, “I bought a ticket to Mexico City for a writing retreat.” She’s like, “That’s great. When are you coming back?” My answer is, “I don’t know. I have to teach by this day. Sometime before this date is the answer. That’s not well received typically, especially if there are kids involved. How exciting is it to be able to go, “I’ll decide when I want to come back.”
The other thing is, I love the idea that I get to go to these new museums. I’ll spend 1 hour or 2 in a museum and my creativity is supercharged after doing something like that. The neighborhood I’m staying in is filled with cafes. It’s a different type of culture, warm weather, and indoor and outdoor spaces. I get to sit in a cafe and anytime I want to lift my head up, it’s a different set of views that I would have than if I was doing this in the Rocky Mountains.
I have a huge smile on my face. I’m excited about getting out of our spaces and giving this to yourself. I can say this with honesty unless in the future I might want kids, and it’s likely that I’ll have kids. That is different. taking care of children and having that responsibility. As far as a relationship, whatever that is, it is a deal breaker if I cannot do that if kids are not involved. I’m going to put that day one, “If I pick up my crap and go, you need to not be bothered. If you’re bothered, you need to not tell me about it.”
I can appreciate that. Can I tell you about another idea that I’ve been working on? It’s not upcoming. It’s in the distant future, but it’s going to happen. It has to do with South America. I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve traveled only a little bit in Central and South America. I’ve been to Peru and Brazil, but a few other places. I’m intrigued by it.
I’ve been lucky I’ve gone to most places I want to go in the world but get too good at traveling. That is, I can show up in most places and get along. I don’t experience culture shock. It’s a muscle like anything else, you develop it. I’ve been thinking about how I’m getting older. One of the concerns about getting older is my rituals and routines are good for me, but they can get you set in your ways.
The normal thing is you’re getting set in your ways. What do you do? You go to some other place and get to experience a different world. You get these insights and on. If you’ve had all the insights and you’ve gotten good at it, you don’t experience the friction of going to another place. I can recreate my life in most other places, at least, most other cities pretty easily because I have a simple life. I need my café and gym. I can flâneur.
I’m a happy man. What has to be done is that I have to live somewhere else for some period of time. That’s not easy to do because I’ve got a job that I have to show up to. I’m not sure when I’ll be retiring. I’m not going to die at my desk. I also don’t want to be doing this when I’m too old. I have a sabbatical coming up. That might be when I do it, or I might take a leave of absence. I’m calling this my gestation project. It’s a nine-month trip to another country.
I’m here for that. It’s the rebirth of Peter.
Nine months and I’ll have to live there. It would have to be a place in which English is not the first language, I wouldn’t go to Australia, New Zealand, or even the Netherlands or somewhere like that. It’s a place where I’m going to have to pick up some of the languages. I’m not strong outside of English.
What are your top three then?
I have a top two. I’m open to a third, although I already know what you’re going to say what the third one is. I have two highly contrasting cities because I want to live in a city. One is Tokyo to spend time in Japan. I’ve been to Japan a few times. Japan is one of the most interesting places to visit in the world. It’s a fascinating place to visit. The Japanese are incredibly welcoming and interesting people.
Living in Japan would be very challenging in many ways. It agrees with me in this ritualized, tidy world that I live in. I feel like I have a little bit of that running through me. I would lean into that but lean into a very different culture and one in which I would stand out and one in which I might have some challenges in terms of how I navigate it, find my people, and my place.
There’s one other element to the gestation project that I want to mention. That is, I want to do something physical within the culture. I want to develop a new skill within the culture that is physical. In Japan, that would be like some martial arts. I’m thinking of Kendo. For people who don’t know Kendo, it’s like you’re in this suit. You have this like metal masks and wooden swords. I was on YouTube watching Kendo, and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what’s going on. People are cheering and stuff and I’m like, “I don’t know why they’re cheering.”
That’s what turned you onto it. “I don’t get it. Here we go.”
I want to try it. I played lacrosse when I was younger. The idea of sticks and on is comfortable to me. Hitting people with sticks is a very comfortable act for me. That was the first place I thought of. The second place I thought of is in South America, and that’s to go to Buenos Aires. I’ve never been, so I would have to do a reconnaissance mission first. What Argentina appeals to me is the opposite of that. The idea is that there are fewer rules. Lawless is a strong word. I don’t know what the right language is. I don’t want to be culturally insensitive.
To be honest, it is a little bit less structured. The lawlessness, not in a stigma or that sense, it is a bit more freely. I think a lot about my life here in Rio is likely similar in the sense of you can drink on the street. There are carnivals and street parties all across. There’s much that you simply can’t do in some countries that you can do here. It is quite a bit less law structured in a good way.
That’s appealing to me. I have a little bit of this libertarian element to me, and I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like being told how to behave. There’s something fun and exciting about that. Do you want to know what my physical challenge would be in Argentina?
It would be to learn the Argentinian tango.
I love it here. Dance is everything. It gets you involved in culture, connected with people, and gets you in your body. It does all of the things. For this rebirth period, you know which one has my vote.
I have to do the reconnaissance to make sure, but if you force me to choose right now, I would choose Argentina. What do you think my third option should be? There should be three options.
To be honest, those two are good. A third is maybe as you’re doing your reconnaissance of Buenos Aires, take a look at other cities in Latin America, not necessarily Brazil. The Spanish aspect is attractive probably because you’ve heard it more and it might be a little bit easier for you to navigate as well. Each country in South America at least is very different. Cities are different.
There’s likely a blog of somebody that’s done a backpacking trip across all of these different cities and can provide a little bit of perspective, especially in this unstructured nature of what you might be looking for. Every city’s got to dance. You can keep to the core of what it is you’re looking for on this trip. You have a little bit of flexibility and a little bit of research, depending on where you go.
Thanks. I appreciate your excitement and support. Final round, surprise question. When I met you in Los Angeles before we did the Freedom In Community episode, you suggested an idea to me that I have been working on in the background as a potential talk. it’s something that I might do to help promote the book. That is, what married people can learn from remarkable singles. As soon as you said the idea, I got it. I was like, “That’s smart. That’s brilliant.” Tell me more about this idea. What should I be thinking about as I construct an argument about what married people can learn from us, remarkable solos?
It’s an empathy exercise almost because the purpose here is to engage people that want to be married, get married, and stay married. It’s a bit further from the talks that have gone on and the intention behind what started solo, which is de-stigmatizing single life. This idea is single life being solo is about embracing our individuality. As you move forward with this, the movement is bigger in the sense that we are all single and individual people. Nobody owns, at least in the life that I want to live. Nobody owns my body and my choices. We coordinate. We don’t want to compromise or sacrifice.
You already have all of these fantastic pieces of advice for those that are in long-term relationships, committed relationships, and married ones. The things to think about are in an effort to keep people together, what it is that you’re going to start to share. it’s already across your show all over. I’m sure it’s going to be everywhere in your book as well. It’s reminding people that in de-stigmatizing single life, we’re taking back our ownership of our individuality regardless of the path we decide to take, which can empower people in many ways. It’s going to make people happier in their relationships when they realize and keep the fire alive as well. I like to date people that are different from me.
I don’t want to date myself. Keeping to that individuality, being able to do things like, “We don’t have kids. My partner decided to pick up and go on a six-month trip.” I haven’t heard from them in maybe 1 or 2 weeks. They come back with all these new experiences, stories, and bits to their individuality and personality that are exciting. It’s like getting to know a new person, a new side to this person. That’s part of life. We want to keep meeting new people for that very reason. I don’t know, maybe a bit of a rabbit hole, but there’s a lot there.
Think about how good the sex will be if you haven’t seen your partner in a while. There’s so much for that boring ass sex that you’ve been having.
If you’re in an open relationship, what did your partner learn along the way?
The three elements of being solo are embracing your wholeness and not seeing yourself as incomplete. If your partner is away, you’re not diminished in any way. For example, this notion of self-sufficiency and autonomy, which can be empowering, means that I now opt into this relationship. I choose this relationship because I want it, not because I need it. I’ll give an example of that. I have a friend who is in his 60s. His wife divorced him after he retired. I don’t know the full story about what her thinking was, but this came as a bit of a shock to him.
I’m the guy people call when they’re picking up the pieces. We got on the phone and we’re talking about it. He’s bright, happy, and a good person. He’s going to be fine. He is not going to turn his life into a tragedy in any way. He’s adapting to this. An example of this is like, he’s learning to cook for himself because she took care of that. That was her role. He had other roles and so on. There is something very useful about knowing for yourself and for your partner to know that you don’t need them.
This happens in a lot of ways. For example, it’s perfectly fine for one person to do all the cooking if that’s what they want to do and that’s what they agree on. However, I believe that you should be able to cook for yourself because the standard of being an adult, according to the SOLO episode, thanks to Iris Schneider for articulating this eloquently, is that you have the ability to parent yourself. To parent yourself means that you can take care of your basic needs, even if you are not doing it currently. Parent yourself to be able to make your own money, wash your own clothes, take care of your health, cook a healthy meal, or whatever those things are.
It doesn’t have to be delicious, but it has to be palatable and be able to nourish yourself. Having that ability now changes the nature of the relationship because one is you’re not using it as a tool. You are not using it in a way to lord over someone because it’s like, “You need me because you’ll never make it out there on your own,” idea. It makes the relationship healthier in the sense that both parties are opting for it. The other thing is, no one wants to have sex with their child.
You want to respect your partner. If your partner is not able to parent him or herself, it is a real problem there. The thing about this is singles or solos can parent themselves. They are an adult by that standard there. Let’s move away from the standard of being married and having kids means that you’re an adult. If you’re not doing that, you’re not mature, selfish, a Peter Pan, or whatever it is. There is an idea within this talk about what married people can learn from singles to bring these standards within a relationship.
I would add about community building. Maybe with technology, as we’ve discussed, you can survive alone, but to thrive. The argument I like to make and you make as well is you need a team and people. The point is that don’t throw that on one person. The idea here is to say there is something that impedes you from doing something basic in your life that you’ve always needed help with.
Maybe it’s a disability or whatever it is. The idea of building a team of people in which you can distribute that energy and depend a bit of dependence, it’s okay. I don’t want to speak for everyone and what it is they need, but that’s it. Don’t put it all on one person. Single people don’t do that. They know they can’t afford to do that.
You shared with me that you have a birthday coming on early April 2023. I have a set of birthday questions that I usually ask people in reflection on their year. I’m very into questions and reflection thing. I did want to end on this because your response could be something that does tie a little bit into your solo life and your lifestyle, which sometimes we get to know and I would like to know a bit more about. My favorite question that I like to ask people is, “What is something within 2022 that has served you very well?” You can thank it, but you are not taking it with you in 2023. You’re leaving it in 2022. You are thanking it and moving forward. It has to be something that truly like served you. You can thank and you’re leaving.
This is incredibly useful for me. My therapist retired. He and I have been together for many years. I don’t see him that often anymore, thankfully, because life’s pretty good, but I’ve also recognized that I have outgrown that particular style of therapy. Not because I don’t have problems anymore, but because I feel like I have different problems. I have a call with a business or performance coach. I don’t know what he calls himself, but a friend. He was recommended by a friend. I’ve seen this coach make a profound change in my friend. With problems that he has been dealing with his entire life, he now is like a different person. It’s shocking. I’m happy for him.
I’m not expecting the same results, but it gives me hope. No offense anywhere out there, but it’s easy to call yourself a coach. I’m a former athlete. I respond well to coaching. I like to take advice. I’ve been prepping for this call like, “What would I want to get out of this?” especially because it’s taking valuable time away from working on this book.
Here it is. It’s my anxiety. When I look at my life, I’m pretty lucky. I don’t get depressed very easily. There’s been a handful of times in my life when I’ve been depressed. I am largely a peaceful man now, aside from when I drive. For the most part, I’m a peaceful man. I had the angry young man thing and show the world stuff. I still am a little bit of a jersey driver. If someone’s honking in Denver, it’s probably me.
My anger doesn’t get in the way of my life, but my anxiety does. It’s not debilitating in any sense. For the readers who truly have challenges with their anxiety, my heart goes out to you. This may not resonate because you may be reading and saying, “That’s pretty mild,” but it’s still my experience. It’s not debilitating, but it’s distracting.
The way my anxiety serves me and has served me since I was certainly in my 30s and getting my academic career going is that it’s associated with a high level of vigilance. I’m constantly looking into the future and figuring out where things may go wrong. This is a lifelong skill I’ve had because I needed to do that as a young boy. I didn’t know where things were going to go wrong when mom came home from work, for example.
My state of the world has changed and I have many fewer concerns and worries, but I still find myself worrying. It shows up in the middle of the night. It gets in the way of my sleep. It distracts me from the more important things that I need to be doing. I wrote this down, “I strive to do what I want, when I want, how I want,” but I find myself sometimes anxious, having made that decision about what the world will think, especially professionally. It is one of the places that it shows up the most for me.
There’s a problem with that, which is, “I can behave in that way, but then if my emotions don’t let me enjoy behaving in that way now my anxiety, my vigilance is not serving me.” If I can crack this nut, life is not going to be perfect. There’s always going to be something else. I’m approaching many years of this being an issue. It’s not going to go away on its own. If anything, it’s entrenched into who I am and how I am. I need to do something extraordinary to try to tackle it.
Thanks for being vulnerable. It’s your lived experience. I will share that, as somebody that has anxiety that can be debilitating, I’ve struggled with it most of my life. I don’t feel that my experience is minimized. I will name that it’s different, more on that clinical side, but anxiety is fear of what we do not know. One thing in a lot of my meditation practices and what I’ve been studying about anxiety, it’s that the anxiety itself is a symptom. It’s something that might not ever leave. It’s also a survival mechanism, a fear of what we don’t know. It’s something that I’ve been working on also always in therapy. It sounds less like leaving behind the anxiety. It’s more so you’re saying thank you for your vigilance.
What you’re saying is, “Thank you.” That high vigilance served you as a child and you needed it you know. If we don’t take the time to thank the things that served us, we end up holding resentment for them a lot like redefining relationships. We need to redefine our relationship with the behaviors that served us because then, we forget why we had them in the first place and then they end up, and there’s a lot of guilt involved.
It’s fantastic that you’re able to take this time, reflect and thank that vigilance and that sense of control that you needed to take on. It sounds like now you’re in this fantastic space where you have the freedom to rewire your brain and say, “We’re not in danger. We don’t need to be looking forward. Let go a little bit of that control.” That anxiety might even heighten a little bit when you let go of that control because you’re like, “I can’t see what’s in front of me because I’m not looking anymore.”
You’re going to stop looking. that’s what’s important, but then you’re going to notice, “I’m still safe.” Your brain is going to be like, “We’re still safe. I didn’t look ahead to see what was there and I’m still okay. That’s great.” It’ll be 1 inch forward. I’m not a therapist. That was a fantastic answer. I hope it sits with you as you think about 2023.
I have this identity of Pete and then my present identity that I strive for to be Peter. I talked about this in one of the SOLO Thoughts episodes. I had a conversation. I was trying out a new therapist and he said something that was helpful for me. That is when Pete resurfaces, when I regress into this old identity, I can get frustrated with myself and feel deflated. I feel like I lost some gains because Peter doesn’t behave like that. Peter’s not anxious. Peter doesn’t give a crap about what you think about what he does, but Pete does.
This therapist said to me, “You shouldn’t resent Pete. You should thank and appreciate him. He got you to where you are now. You should be appreciative and protective of him. You’re his big brother now. A good big brother doesn’t get angry with his little brother. He understands and is compassionate with his little brother.” I have been struggling with this. I’m trying to work on that. That was a big gift. It’s easy to beat myself up. I may honk at some people, but the one person I can be hard on is myself. That was like I didn’t have any room to fail. I was on my own.
Pete learned to do these things to survive and fortunately, found a way to do more than that. People might think that it’s greedy or audacious, but I’m like, “Why not? How far can I take this? I never thought I’d be in this place now. How much further can I go?” What I’m finding is that I need to change who I am, but I need to do it with some grace and gratitude. I’m working on it. It’s hard to change who you are in your 50s.
I’m thanking Pete because you’re both and you always will be. You’re both and all, and how you identify now in this new space is exactly that. You get to take care of Pete and be Peter. That’s beautiful. You are embodying whether it’s greedy or selfish. I say we in that now you’ve invited many people into the SOLO Community that now I feel nice to say, we are here as part of the SOLO Community to destigmatize. What do we mean by greedy and selfish when we are acting for ourselves?
You needed to act selfishly as Pete, not in a bad way, but to survive. You needed to think about Pete. Pete needed to think about Pete. Peter is honestly the least selfish version of yourself because you can be. It feels like the opposite oddly. You’re filling your cup, Peter, so much. You are redefining who you are and filling your cup so much that look at everything that’s spilling over into the world. Congrats and I’m excited to continue to see it.
You’re wonderful. I’m very happy that we met in this way. I look forward to continuing to develop a partnership around this project.
It was great to be back. I’m excited for all of us to come.
- Monique Murad – LinkedIn
- Episode – Past Episode
- Freedom In Community – Past Episode
- Iris Schneider – Past Episode
- Identity Of Pete – Past Episode
About Monique Murad
I am Monique Murad – I’m 27 and living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, daughter of Brazilian immigrants, an only child, raised mostly by my single mom and grandma.
I received my Bachelor’s degree in International Studies, and my Masters in International Affairs with a focus on Economics from UC San Diego. Since graduate school, I’ve worked in research and consulting in the areas of business to business markets, corporate and federal strategy and culture development, international development and corporate social responsibility.
I love to climb, dance, be in the ocean, spend time with my people, and am a bit of an inspiration addict. In Rio, I am in the process of becoming the new host of their Creative Mornings chapter – a global monthly speaker series that seeks to bring together the creative community, celebrating the idea that everyone is creative. I am in the process of a (celebratory) divorce, and joyfully pursuing an intentionally solo life that feels most authentic to me.