In Defense Of The “Relationship Expert”

Ok. Maybe some things aren't exactly defensible

Ok. Maybe some things aren’t exactly defensible

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 Tie 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. 

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. 

…the one that stood out to me the most was exactly how irrelevant 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 markets themselves 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, Panama 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. 

Now, part of this pushback is undoubtedly 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 lives offering relationship-related answers to relationship-related questions they’re frequently asked” or “coital 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 variations 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 “Stupid 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 commonly criticized.

Men and women are usually addressed in monolithic terms because, well, most men and women tend to act 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. 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 bare minimum needed to maintain some mental and emotional equilibrium, and women tend to overthink things on their way to 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 is technically 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   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, 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”)

And I Will Always Love Whitney.

August 9, 1963 - February 11, 2012. Gone too soon.

Whitney Houston is gone.

I don’t even know how else to start this off. The news that Whitney Houston died at the young age of 48 (!!!!!!) caught me so off guard that when the first person called to tell me, I responded so non-chalantly that I caught myself by surprise. I was just like, “that’s sad.”

It wasn’t because it didn’t matter. It’s because it just didn’t seem real at all. Not Whitney. Micheal? Yeah. We were all saddened and moved but it wasn’t a total surprise to anybody. Whitney was also on some sort of that stuff – and quite famously – and yet it just didn’t seem like she’d pass…so soon (again…48!!!!). We still don’t know what happened but no illegal drugs were found in the room and there were no signs of foul play. It was just…her time.

(Early reports suggest that she may have drowned. That is tragic beyond belief if its true. EDIT: 10AM – Turns out she didn’t drown, but a lethal mix of prescription drugs and alcohol might have killed her long before she had time to drown. There wasn’t enough water in her lungs to suggest she drowned.)

And that’s hard to deal with. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I have no power of when my time on this planet will end. It’s bigger than I am. But the death of larger than life people like Whitney Houston still seems surreal and doesn’t make sense to me. I always felt like she had another comeback in her. Her voice, while not what it used to be, was still leagues better than 98 percent of the population.

That voice. My God. There have been a few people who I’ve felt were given a truly God given gift and Whitney was one of them. Her voice was so strong, so pure, and so beautiful that her heyday was nearly 25 years ago and we are STILL attached to those very songs. Just like Michael. While nobody will ever touch what Michael Jackson did, Whitney was as pretty high up on the short of list of individuals who held that type of superstardom purely for their talents.

I’m a grown ass man and I still sing along to “I’m Every Woman”. And who HASN’T screwed up “Greatest Love of All” at karaoke or in their car. And think, that song is immortal ANYWAY because of Coming To America. And yes, “How Will I Know” if he really loves me. I don’t know…So many songs. So many great moments. And no, my name is not Susan, which could be why people never watch what they say. I really think I could write an entire post based on her songs.

I think, much like Michael, the true test of what Whitney Houston meant to America, and particularly Black America is how much of our experiences she’s tied to. If you grew up in the 80s then Whitney was absolutely apart of your life. I remember the long ass road trips with my Black man from Alabama ass father blasting the I’m Your Baby Tonight album. My father used to ask my mother to put Whitney Houston (and later Mariah Carey) under the Christmas tree for him every year. Every. Year. My daddy wasn’t sh*t.

And don’t even get me started on the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack. I still bump that (real talk). There’s an odd connection we all feel in the Black community (and maybe white artists do too) to our artists, especially the larger than life ones. Maybe it’s because music is the one escape most of us have in a life filled with so much struggle. Artists like Whitney blew the lid off what we could achieve and what was expected and even though she sang pop music, she sang it in a way that wasn’t selling out. You can’t fake a voice like that and there’s no way to sell out with an instrument like that.

Whitney Houston was family. Hell, she still is family. She’s so much family that many of us are ACTUALLY really concerned about Bobbi Kristina…and Bobby Brown. And I’m not even sure Whitney liked him anymore. But this is what happens when family passes. And there’s a certain sadness that will persist for a while. She was an icon. She was a legend. And its hard to believe that she’s gone. But she’s one of those that will live forever. She has no choice. She made too much of an impact while she was here. There are very few artists today who aren’t influenced by her.

Plus, she has one of the most iconic “big leagues” of all time in her remake of “I Will Always Love You”. It’s a perfect rendition. With a perfect voice.

And yes, the Whitney tribute was short. And yes, we all wanted more. Did Whitney get shortchanged? Possibly.

But that’s second to the fact that the voice is gone.

I’m all over the place here, so I’ll just end this here:

Whitney, I wish to you joy, and happiness…but above all this, I wish you love.

We love you. And miss you. RIP.

-VSB P