In Defense Of The “Relationship Expert”
Of the several takeways from an hour or so of watching the Grammys last night…
1. Why is the 10 second long chopped and screwed version of Suit and TieÂ exponentially—exponentially!—better than the real version?
2. If they had an annual contest for “Rappers who could easily pass for WNBA players” wouldn’t Wiz Khalifa win every year?
3. Taylor Swift is very white with a lowercase “w,” very White with an uppercase “W,” and very WHITE in all caps.Â
4. One of the most annoying (well, annoying and amusing) parts of being a teacher were the last couple months of each school year, when all the asshole seniors who were one suspension away from being expelled or one failing grade away from being held back morphed into Steve Urkel for eight weeks in an attempt to graduate. I’m not saying that Chris Brown reminded me of those seniors last night, but Chris Brown reminded me of those seniors last night.Â
…the one that stood out to me the most was exactly howÂ irrelevantÂ LL Cool J was. This isn’t a dig at LL himself—while his makeup was a bit distracting, “I’m Bad” was the first rap song I memorized the lyrics to, so he’ll always hold a special place in my heart—but the irrelevance of a non-funny MC at an awards show. Seriously, if it’s not Chris Rock or Louie C.K. or anyone who’s there to poke a little fun at the audience, what’s the point of even having an MC? Since all the awards (and most of the performances) are introduced by presenters, an MC is basically just the dude who introduces the dudes who introduces the dudes who everyone is actually there to see.
Ironically, while I sit here questioning someone’s relevance, I’m writing this at a place that was made popular because of dating and relationship-centric content; a particular type of blog/blogging that—if Twitter and the blogosphere are any indication—many people seem to wish would become irrelevant. While there has always been a level of pushback to anyone who marketsÂ themselvesÂ that way, the pushback has definitely become a bit more consistent and definitely more antagonistic recently. And, despite the fact that being considered “relationship experts” or whatever has been very advantageous for us, we’ve even pushed back from that somewhat ourselves, as just a few months ago, PanamaÂ wrote about why he hated being labeled a relationship expert, and I gave an interview a couple weeks ago where I explained why the “relationship expert” label is an oxymoron.Â
Now, part of this pushback isÂ undoubtedlyÂ semantics-based. “Expert” and “Relationships” are two terms that just shouldn’t be put together, as it’s impossible to have an expertise with something so arbitrary and variable. Semantics aside, most of the people vehemently against “relationship experts” would be just as upset if the “experts” called themselves “relationship helpers” or “normal people with their own imperfect livesÂ offering relationship-related answers to relationship-related questions they’re frequently asked” or “coitalÂ Yodas” instead. And, there seems to be four main criticisms.
1. “Relationship experts” tend to speak of men and women in monolithic terms, not accounting for differences and variationsÂ within all humans
2. Most advice is geared towards women
3. Many of the people dolling out this advice aren’t very qualified to do so
4. Some of the advice is clearly, for lack of a better term, f*cking stupid
Each of these points are valid. Most relationship writers/bloggers/experts/Yodas tend to write blogs, columns, and books with titles like “Why All Men Cheat” and “StupidÂ Things That Women Do And No Man Has Ever Done,” most advice is geared towards women, most of the people giving this advice have had their own past and current dating and relationship f*ck ups, and there’s some shitty-ass Fisher-Price bin at a Bodega advice out there.
But, since most relationship advice is somehow rooted in a person’s idea of pragmatism, it stands to reason that there’s a practical reason for each of the four things most commonlyÂ criticized.
Men and women are usually addressed inÂ monolithicÂ terms because, well, most men and women tend to actÂ monolithically. Ok. Maybe monolithically is a bit inaccurate, but there are traits many (if not most) men share with each other and many (if not most) women share with each other, and it’s not wrong to acknowledge and address that.Â Yes, variations and exceptions exist—we’re all special and shit—but we’re not as unique as we want to believe.
For instance, in a relationship context, men tend to do the bareÂ minimumÂ needed to maintain some mental and emotionalÂ equilibrium,Â and women tend to overthink things on their way toÂ equilibrium. Is this true for every single man and every single woman who’s ever existed? No. Is it true much more often than it’s false? Yes. And, while speaking in absolutes isÂ technicallyÂ wrong, when thinking of a subject, it just makes more logistic sense to say “The 10 Biggest Fears Men Have” or even “The 10 Biggest Fears Most Men Have” than “The 10 BIggest Fears 65.4% Of The Men I’ve Personally Interacted With And/Or Observed Tend To Share.”
Advice is geared usually geared towards women because…women are the ones who ask the most questions, visit the most sites, and buy the most books, and I’m not really sure what could be done to change that.
As far as the issue of unqualified people dolling out this advice, what exactly would make someone qualified? A degree? A blemish-less relationship record? A generous use of terms like “patriarchy” and “misogyny?” Admittedly, I do understand the train of thought behind this. You’re probably not going to ask a homeless man for financial advice, so it stands to reason that you’d prefer to hear dating and relationship-related advice from people who have positive relationship experiences. But, I don’t subscribe to the believe that Â having a less than perfect relationship resume disqualifies someone from being able to speak and think logically, realistically, and insightfully about it, and I definitely don’t think that just because someone has been “successful”—“successful” in this sense means they’ve been in a long-term, monogamous relationship—they can advise other people on exactly what to do.
And yes, it’s true that some people offer some extra-simplistic fortune cookie-esque advice, but it’s also true that some people actually need it. Sure, maybe things like “don’t give up the cookie until after 90 days” just don’t apply to the type of educated and empowered woman who went to Georgetown, works for Booz Allen, and comments regularly at Jezebel. But, not everyone lives and/or wants that same life, and something she might think is stupid and sexist might spark a positive lightbulb in someone else’s head.
Really, all the “relationship expert” does is take conversations we all have with each other at game night or lunch or happy hour or Facebook and put them on paper. Some get paid for it. And, as with anything that can potentially involve money and some sort or status—especially something with a low barrier for entry—you’re bound to have people just looking to make a quick buck and/or score some panties, and you’re bound to have some idiots. Like with everything else, some people are going to be good, and some are going to be bad, and if the bad annoys you that much, just stop paying attention to it.
I get it. Really I do. I do understand why some people may wish that the relationship expert dies or, at least, skirts off into irrelevance, But they, well,Â we are just leading and continuing the conversations we’re going to have anyway, and as long as we’re interested in discussing and debating this topic, the “purposeless” has a purpose.
(Damn, maybe I was wrong about LL.)
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)