Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here's your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I'm David Tian, your host. In this episode, I'm answering the question, why do smart men suck at relationships and dating?
I don't know if we'll use that as the title, but it'll be something like that and it's intended to be a little bit clickbaity, so let me explain some of the terms. By “smart,” here I mean general intelligence, which means something like book-smarts, and the word “suck” for just meaning not very good at. This is Gen-X Canadian vernacular for “just not very good at.” I’ve been surprised at how many guys, especially in Asia, get triggered by the word “suck,” and for completely non-sexual reasons, as far as I can tell. [00:57.1]
Of course, not all smart men, not all intelligent men, suck at relationships and dating, but there definitely is a kind of tendency among smart men who are book-smart nerds to not be very good at dating and relationships. Not just because of their physical looks or even just their personality, but, instead, because of a lack of understanding of this one thing, this one fact, this one principle of life that I’ll be sharing in this episode.
If you don't understand this one thing, you may be very successful in a worldly sense at life. You'll do well in school. You'll do well at work. But your fulfillment in life will be very limited and will be largely out of your own control, and, of course, your dating life and your intimate relationships will go very poorly—though, if you are an intelligent man, you probably can get to the point of being married, because, I'm sure, on paper, you’ll look like a great candidate, the type of man that a woman would be proud to take home and show her parents, if they're of the traditional, conservative kind of what typical Asian parents are looking for. But, eventually, down the line in the relationship, whether it's a matter of months or years, your relationship won't deepen and won't grow, and will, instead, stagnate and die. [02:16.2]
You also probably won't have a very flourishing dating life, if you're only book-smart or if your intelligence is only of the general type, and you'd have to wait until the women that you're interested in are also now interested in a long-term relationship. For the modern woman, they're going to go through a period of casual dating and enjoying life and having fun, and, generally, the nerd isn't going to know what to do in those contexts of just having fun, so they come in towards the end of that curve for that woman.
So, they can get into relationships and get married, and they might be under this illusion that they've got their dating relationships down because they're newly married. But that man who has only general intelligence and is just book-smart is about to enter into hell, somewhere around the three-year mark, maybe the 10-year mark, depending on whether they have kids. [03:10.4]
Once again, this isn't all intelligent man, obviously. Once I make clear what this thing is that's “the” central thing that needs to happen for an intelligent man or a smart book-smart man to do well in dating and relationships, once that's clear, you'll see which type of smart man this applies to.
Okay, so if the main reason you clicked on this is because you want the answer to that question, something along the lines of why smart men suck at relationships and dating, here's the answer. It's because, generally speaking, men who have high general intelligence are either ignorant of, or disrespect or can't understand the value of emotional intelligence. [03:54.1]
Okay, so there's the answer. What they're lacking, generally speaking, is emotional intelligence, and you can see this in the way that they and society, their school systems, the education system, has for decades, maybe since the beginning of the school systems, approached the difference between intellect and emotion as the intellect is the substance, the core thing, and the emotions are the tool.
So, when you meet someone who is book-smart, but not emotionally smart, the way that they see emotions and talk about emotions is in an instrumental sense. They want to use. They're only interested in emotions, insofar as they can use them for some other unconscious implicit goal, which might be to make more money, to grow their business. When a book-smart guy focuses on women, the goal is to get more women, sort of uncritically assuming that these are obviously good to have, and approaches the emotions as tools to help them get those goals or as often obstacles that get in the way of getting those goals. And those goals are set uncritically for the most part. [05:06.2]
But actually in life, it's the other way around. You can just simply ask yourself, “Why do you want that goal?” Eventually, if you just stick with the why question, it'll have to come down to some way that you think you will feel once you get that goal. Even in the extreme cases of survival, you're taking it for granted that just merely surviving is a good. That's not true, if the quality of your life is negative.
For instance, if you are being actively tortured, they're flaying your skin, merely surviving for another few hours or days while you're being cut alive is not, on its own, good. The same with the more common goals, like making money or getting more women.
You're hoping that once you get these things or get into a relationship, you will be able to feel the significance or sexual satisfaction or pleasure, or love or connection, or security, so that you can finally relax. All of these are actually feelings. So, what you're after is feelings, ultimately, and these other things are just instruments to get you those feelings, whether it's money or food, or sex. All of these other things are actually instrumental to the emotion. [06:19.0]
Emotion then is the end goal. Anything else would just be robotic. That's literally the difference between a human being and an android, for all those nerds out there, right? Hopefully, that was a reference that resonated with you. Not only are emotions the end goal, but they're also the beginning.
They're the thing that starts the project, and then the rationality, the thinking, the intellect, are the instrument to help you get those emotions. So, it turns out the emotions, the whole way for a human being, the whole project of life begins and ends with emotion. It is the substance, the thing that has intrinsic value, and then everything else, including your intellect, has merely instrumental value. [07:02.4]
This point about the primacy of emotions has been made by Aristotle, as well as by ancient Asian philosophers, going back to 5 B.C. But I think the most memorable illustration of this comes from the 14th-century philosopher John Buridan and it's what's referred to as Buridan's ass, which is the donkey. But that'll stick in your mind, right? Buridan's ass. It's this donkey who is equally thirsty and equally hungry, and he stands at a crossroads, exactly midway between, on one fork of the road, a stack of hay, and the other fork of the road, a pail of water.
I actually like to teach this, as I used to be a philosophy professor, using, to really equalize the differences, he's equally hungry. He's at the fork of the road and down each road—it’s exactly the same distance both, each way—is a stack of hay that is identical in quantity, and the setup is that this donkey is perfectly rational. [08:02.3]
He needs another reason to pick one way or the other, but they're equally the same. But because they're exactly the same, there are no other factors that make one better than the other. As he's trying to calculate which way to go, he’s stuck. You can imagine a robot just sort of looking at each and just stalling, and then he stalls and stalls and stalls, looking for a factor that would make it better to go down one road than the other, and then he dies. He starves to death.
In the original setup, it was a stack of hay and a pail of water, and he was equally thirsty and hungry. No other factors, giving any reasons to distinguish either way, rationally speaking, so then he got stalled, like a robot might with a command that didn't specify which one to take when they're equal, and then he eventually starves. [08:53.3]
The point here being—and in a way, this is a test of intelligence, if you're getting the right point here—it's the same point that you find in the Nobel-Prize-winning work of Daniel Kahneman and many important researchers who were very influential, like Jonathan Haidt, about how our rationality is a post-hoc mechanism for what our unconscious has already chosen. But because it's unconscious, we are not aware of these unconscious drives, these unconscious desires, these unconscious feelings that have already led us to choose something or to want something, and then our rationality kicks in to help us rationalize it. Post-hoc, meaning, after the fact.
Here with a perfectly rational donkey, it has no feelings either way. It has no extra input from its emotions, which are really desires, right? It doesn't desire one more than the other, water more than hay, or even, in this case, that might save it is survival, in which case it should randomly choose one. It's perfectly rational. In the case given, there are no rational reasons to prefer one over the other, but it's looking for it, and then it stalls and dies. [10:07.2]
You need to have some emotion, some desire, to get you started, to kick-start that project of life, and indeed, something I just noticed, life itself requires desire, because if the man can't get hard and ejaculate, there would be no life.
Okay, so if this is too philosophical for some, here's an equivalent example from neuroscience, and here I'm drawing on the work of Antonio Damasio, one of the most famous people in the world who have been working on this. Antonio Damasio is UP, University Professor. People in academia understand that designation. He is a professor of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and neurology, at the University of Southern California, and the director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. On the Google Scholar index, he has over 230,000 citations, and his research has received continuous Federal funding for over 30 years. He's a recipient of so many awards, I can’t read them all out here. [11:06.4]
His 1994 book, Descartes’ Error, is one of the most important books in the fields of psychology, moral philosophy, moral psychology, neuroscience. I assumed, as I was going through university, that everyone had read it, and when I was in academia, it seemed like everyone had.
Then it wasn't until this past year, as I was doing research for the book I'm working on, that I realized very few people who are non-academics know about his work, which is remarkable. I shouldn't say very few, because I don't really know, but I was surprised at people that I thought would know it didn't know it.
So, I'm going to mention it here and I’ll be drawing on it, because it's sort of the foundation of the empirical research backing up the point that, for thousands of years, philosophers knew and talked about, wrote about, now we have the scientific research on it, and that was just the beginning and it also was the basis, a scientific basis, for most of what you're going to read about the science of emotions nowadays. [12:07.3]
Descartes’ Error, of course, is the error made in the Enlightenment, and we pilloried Descartes here for cutting off the brain from the body, so this is speaking directly to the point of The Body Keeps the Score, but also in philosophy, psychology, and academia, in general, the disrespect and the dismissal of emotions, and the importance of emotions and the unconscious and unconscious emotions when it comes to rationalizing, when it comes to thinking.
Antonio Damasio writes about the case of a man named Elliot. It's not his real name. Elliot damaged his frontal lobes and subsequently lost his capacity to make even trivial decisions. I'm going to quote now here from the passage. [12:52.0]
In the now famous example, Damasio “suggested two alternative dates, both in the coming month and just a few days apart from each other. [Elliot] pulled out his appointment book and began consulting the calendar. The behavior that ensued, which was witnessed by several investigators, was remarkable. For the better part of half hour, the patient enumerated reasons for and against each of the two dates: previous engagements, proximity to other engagements, possible meteorological conditions, virtually anything that one could reasonably think about concerning a simple date. . . . He was now walking us through a tiresome cost-benefit analysis, and endless outlining and fruitless comparison of options and possible consequences. It took enormous discipline to listen to all of this without pounding on the table and telling him to stop.”
Okay, so Damasio concludes that rationality is impossible without emotion. We need our emotions and feelings to push us one way or another, or else, we remain stuck analyzing the pros and cons endlessly, just like Buridan’s ass.
Okay, there's so much more to say about the science of emotions. If this is something you're interested in, let me know, because I can go into more depth on it, especially these sorts of cases. Damasio’s oeuvre is very rich. But maybe it's already obvious how, if you're dumb with emotions, you're not going to succeed at dating, because the whole point of dating is to feel a thing. [14:18.2]
The reason people go out on dates is to have fun and enjoy themselves, in addition to that, of course, emotionally connecting. And one thing that happens when you're emotionally unintelligent, but you have high general intelligence, is that you develop a kind of arrogance, and that shields you from realizing that you're emotionally unintelligent, because you kind of look down on people who are emotional.
Plus, one of the reasons why people are emotionally stunted or not very aware of emotions of their own and others, and are incapable of making sophisticated distinctions between emotions that are maybe similar—they just say, “She's emotional,” or “He's emotional,” or emotional is bad—is because, in their childhood, emotions were not given space, so they didn't get permission as children to feel whatever they were feeling. [15:03.8]
Very likely, their parents or their caregivers did not model how to be with your emotions or one's own emotions and be able to handle those, so there was just this general fear of emotionality. And when you fear it, you stay away from it, and then you focus your mental energies on something else, like math, and you get really good at that. Then you dismiss emotions and emotionality, not realizing and not recognizing how your entire life, even as an intellectual or smart man, is driven. It starts off by and with emotions and the end goal is emotion. It’s driven by emotions. [15:42.2]
No matter their physical strength, for many men, emotions are too much for them to handle. It's why they can't give women the deeper levels of emotional intimacy and connection that they crave. It's why they fail to be the man that modern women desire most: a man with inner strength, a man who has mastered his emotions.
Find out how to master your emotions through David Tian's “Emotional Mastery” program. The Emotional Mastery program is a step-by-step system that integrates the best of empirically-verified psychotherapy methods and reveals how to master your internal state and develop the inner strength that makes you naturally attractive, happy, and fulfilled.
Learn more about this transformational program by going to DavidTianPhD.com/EmotionalMastery.
That's D-A-V-I-D-T-I-A-N-P-H-D [dot] com [slash] emotional mastery.
Because you're not fluent or skillful, or even aware of your own and others’ emotions that are very or at any level of sophistication to the degree to which you are not aware of them, you won't be able to work with them and gain any kind of skill over them. [16:54.1]
This means it will be hard for you to understand the emotions that are the whole point of being in a relationship, the love, connection, security, not just sexual pleasure, because smart men can understand pleasure. I mean, even dogs, even animals understand pleasure and just survival and fear, basic emotions. But in addition, there is love and these higher emotions of connection, and so on.
There is a logic, by the way, to the emotions that you can learn as a smart man from psychotherapy and applied psychology, and that's what we're doing here in applied psychology to kind of break down for you what's happening emotionally. There is a logic to emotions. There is a way that emotions work. When this happens or when you have these thoughts, they generally engender certain emotions, and so forth.
You can actually understand why you feel how you feel, and once you understand it, you can begin to change how you feel and you can develop a level of control over it, and, ultimately, of mastering your own emotions and the emotions of others. [17:59.5]
What that largely means is becoming aware of them, being able to withstand them, even enjoy them, and then understanding why they are there and how they got to be there, and then understanding and being good at altering the things that led you to emotions that are unpleasant so you can have emotions that you want more often, so that you can have control over the painful emotions and reduce the intensity of those or, in many cases, avoid them entirely, and increase the occurrence and intensity of emotions that you want. This is actually possible to do. This is a set of skills.
I cover how to do this and I train people in how to do this in my program, Emotional Mastery, which is a multiyear program. We're not in it for some magic pill or quick fix. This is a lifelong skill and it's difficult for many people, especially smart men who have been looking down on emotions. But it's the end-all and be-all skill, because as I pointed out, the most important projects in your life begin and end, as in, the whole reason you are motivated to do them, and the thing that you're hoping to get at the end are emotions, these feelings. [19:12.8]
So, emotions are the thing that are intrinsically valuable, not the smarts that are merely the mechanism or the instrument that gets you those intrinsically-valuable things, and emotion is life. It stands to reason—right, smart people?—that you should devote a lot of your time and energy into mastering this one intrinsically-valuable thing, which is the whole point of aiming at any particular goal in the first place, which is your emotions.
This is not a quick fix course. This is something that you're going to be developing and taking on with you for the rest of your life. This is a program that is multiyear. It stays with you and trains you week in, week out, with a manageable amount of training. It takes only five to 10 minutes a day, and it is with you, what you get, for a lifetime. It’s with you for life. But the program is with you for at least a couple years. [20:11.8]
Okay, I actually did not mean to plug Emotional Mastery because we already have a thing in the middle of this that will do that, but I just want to mention that if this is something that is interesting to you, there's a program that you can use to get there called Emotional Mastery.
Now, coming back to men, when it comes to smart men, when it comes to relationships and dating, one of the symptoms or signs that you are approaching relationships in the wrong way, in this way that dismisses emotions, is when you're already pining after a relationship or a partner, or you're obsessing about getting a girlfriend before you've even met her.
I see this often and this is incredibly common even for smart men, or maybe you can say especially for smart men, because they're used to setting some kind of goal and then sort of mindlessly getting it. They don't really question why they should have it. They just see it as a goal, like getting A's or making a lot of money, and then just go and figure out how to do it. Then later as they're getting the goal or after they've gotten the goal, then they're like, Whoa, what was the point of that? I don't feel much better. Then they go look for another goal, and so then the treadmill continues running. [21:17.7]
They are generally the same uncritically looking for a girlfriend and they just assumed that I would be on board with that, just uncritically assume there’s a good for them to have a girlfriend or be in a relationship, and that's not true. Yes, your life will be much happier and the quality of your life will be much better when you're in a happy relationship. But I’ll tell you, the percentage of relationships past three to five years that are happy is the minority, especially the longer you extend that timeline.
Here's the flip side of that. If you're in a bad relationship, you can totally tank the quality of your life, your level of happiness and fulfillment and joy in life. Actually, a single man, it’s much easier for him to remain neutral. It can be a zero on that, rather than be in the negative, which is actually going to be the majority of relationships, unfortunately, because the relationships, especially the longer you live, get more and more challenging—and for modern people with all of the options they have, plus, all of the FOMO that they're seeing and how they think they should be, right? [22:16.4]
This isn't the 1950s. It's definitely not the 1700s when there weren’t any ways out. You just kind of had to make do. Nowadays, people don't have this mindset, in general, and they have a lot more freedom to leave the relationship or to think that there's something more in the relationship, especially those who idealize what a marriage should be like, and they don't have any mastery or even training, or any relationship skills or emotional skills to not just excel, but even just to cope with the inevitable challenges that an intimate relationship will bring, guaranteed.
So, if you're not prepared to invest in yourself in your relationships by learning emotional mastery and relationship mastery, you're going to be better off being single and sort of being able to control more of your life and being in the middle, because the chances are you're going to be in the negative, if you don't know what you're doing when you enter a relationship. [23:09.4]
So, no, being in a relationship, in and of itself, is not necessarily a good thing, especially if you haven't even met the woman. That's one of the big red flags, and if that's you, you're already pining after a relationship, not even yet having met that partner, which is having this fantasy. Then very likely what's going to happen for you when you do get into a relationship is that you will try to get that woman, that partner of yours, to become your sidekick.
This is a very common situation for smart men who are trying to get a relationship. What they're really after is somebody who will come and support them. It's a very narcissistic, self-centered approach and motivation for being in a relationship. Of course, this is all unconscious. They're not even aware of this, because they're, in general, not aware of their own emotions and unconscious drives in the first place. [23:55.7]
What you're often finding is intelligent men who have these sort of narcissistic grandiose ideas of their place in history and their legacy and have these big projects planned out, and they see themselves as ticking off certain boxes, right, and one of the boxes that is yet to be ticked off is a marriage and kids, kind of family, so they're looking for the candidate. It’s like they're a company and they're looking to fill this role in their company, and when they find the woman, they'll just slot her in.
What often happens is they'll do whatever that needs to be done to woo her, and so at the beginning of the courtship phase, they're going to be romantic and try to be more in their emotions. They’ll be into the connecting stuff and they're going to be generally more present, and there's going to be generally the honeymoon feelings anyway, so it'll be a lot easier for them to do that.
But because they view emotions as instrumental, that the emotions are there to help them do stuff that they've uncritically assumed have intrinsic value, like making more money or having a successful company or something, the emotions are instrumental to that. Therefore, the woman is also instrumental to that. The woman, the partner, becomes just a supporting role for his main character, and of course, any self-respecting woman will bridle at that. This isn't the 1700s anymore. It's not even the 1950s. [25:07.0]
For her, she's the main character of her movie and she's not going to want to settle for being his sidekick emotionally or psychologically. Oh, and by the way, she definitely won't want to be the other alternative, which is the nurse or the mother—which for emotionally-weaker men or kind of the nice-guy thing, that's generally the type that they will tend to look for, someone who can coddle them. Generally, they won't be high achievers.
High achievers, generally, are a lot more independent and will just get stuff done and no matter what, and what they're looking for is some emotional support because it's a lonely road to do that. That's what's coming up for the smart men who look down on emotions and don't recognize that that's the central thing, that they're kind of missing the whole point of being in a relationship. They're seeing the relationship as a kind of supportive thing for their other big projects, which is, generally, career-oriented. [25:58.6]
Smart men are, generally, high achievers who are, generally, goal-oriented and are not present-oriented. Alan Watts puts it in a really fun way where he asks and wonders whether life is more like a dance or like a piece of music, for like a piece of music, it's not like you want to just get to the goal.
But for so many achievers and smart men, they're losing sight of the whole point of life and they're just thinking about the goal. They're very goal-oriented and, therefore, they're never actually present, because goals are always in the future. They're only doing things in the now in order to get them, because they think that it will get them that thing in the future, so their orientation is still in the future. They're oriented on the future. But that will be like going to a concert and just hearing the final chord crack and then that's it, then it's over. Because that's the whole point, right? Just to get to the end?
The same with a dance. Imagine if you were to attend a dance, let's say like a ballroom dance, and the whole point is just to get to that final position, so when the music starts, you just all go to the final position and it's over. You've missed the whole point of the music in the dance. [27:02.7]
What if life is like that? What if life is like art? The whole point is the enjoyment of it while it's happening, not trying to get some goal, which would, by definition, always be in the future. If you approach life in that kind of goal-oriented way as many smart men and achievers do, you're going to end up approaching your own emotions that way instrumentally. How can I use these emotions or how can I get rid of the emotions that are getting in my way?
I hear that all the time. “How can I get rid of this anxiety that's getting in the way? And how can I use this anger or this enthusiasm or excitement to get me more money?” something like that, so they're focused on making more money and they don't realize that the whole reason they're trying to get more money is because they think they'll finally be enough at the end of that, if they get enough. But that never works and I’ve made many episodes on why that's the case. [27:52.3]
Tragically, they bring the same approach to life, to their relationships, and to dating. So, not only are smart men nerds and suck at emotional intelligence, so therefore, it can be hard for them to understand the flirting and the feel of it intuitively, which is what's needed on an kind of naturalized level where it's intuitive and you've internalized it—so they're going to have a hard time doing that, if they don't respect emotions—but even more, when they do enter into a relationship, eventually, they're going to refocus on their main goals, which are going to be something like their intellectual projects or their careers, or something along those lines.
Then the relationship becomes a supporting thing, a factor to help them get there, and the wife becomes a sidekick and the kids become a showpiece, and then it becomes all to support them in their grandiose project of life. It's because they've missed out on the point that emotions are the whole point, not the emotion vehicles, which are maybe your company or your career.
They lose sight of that and they make the vehicles the main thing, and they forget that the whole reason they wanted that in the first place was because they wanted it. Wanting is an emotion and there's a reason why they wanted it, and that reason is yet another emotion, like feeling like you're enough or significant, or worthy. [29:10.1]
But the tragic thing is you can't get those feelings for any significant length of time from any of those vehicles. You can only get them directly and that's what emotional mastery helps you to recognize and to develop a skill in. Unless they recognize that and develop mastery over their emotions, their intimate relationships will sink.
Now, in case you don't know anything about me, I can tell you I know all of this from the inside from firsthand experience many decades ago and I lived through the hell of that, of dismissing emotions, looking down on them, using them incrementally and uncritically approaching goals, and in a way, treating myself like a robot, but also like an animal, because it was just about pleasure.
And when you're young, that's what you're going to do. It's hard to have this type of wisdom without a lot of pain, and when you're young, you might think that you've had a lot of pain, and you might. I don't know who you are, listening. But generally speaking, there's a lot more life experience coming up that will season the steaks, so to speak, and then it will make a lot more sense—or it will have a lot more flavor. Let's stick with that analogy. [30:15.2]
Thank you so much for listening. If this helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think could benefit from it. Thanks so much for listening, again. If you have any comments at all, I would love to hear your feedback. Please write to me or leave a comment on whatever platform you're listening to this on. And thank you so much for listening, again, and I hope to see you in the next episode. Until then David Tian, signing out.
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