The Vampire Test

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Pablo Picasso was a vampire.

The famed artist had a talent and reputation for sucking energy from the people he spent time with, then using that energy back in his studio to paint all those famous images I don’t like (except for The Old Guitarist. That painting is rad).

I didn’t know this about Picasso. Austin Kleon taught me in his awesome new book Show Your Work! where he wrote that he learned it by reading John Richardson’s biography A Life of Picasso.

Picasso was a taker. And, wrote Kleon, most people would deal with it because they liked hanging out with a famous guy.

But one man was unwilling to tolerate Picasso’s energy-draining behavior—a sculptor named Constantin Brancusi.

“Brancusi hailed from the Carpathian Mountains, and he knew a vampire when he saw one,” Kleon wrote. “He was not going to have his energy or the fruits of his energy juiced by Picasso, so he refused to have anything to do with him.

“Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test.”

But the Blood Tastes Good


It feels so good to get.

Love. Attention. Sex. Money. Help. Whatever.

We crave these things on a case-by-case basis. I had to stop reading Kleon’s book at that point. I really wanted to think about this. Because it made me nervous.

Am I a vampire?

Two things happened after my wife left:

  1. I reached out to people and latched onto friends and family members because I needed them. But then I went into a reclusive cocoon and disconnected (not permanently!) with so many of those people who were there for me during those preliminary freak-out moments.
  2. I started writing here. And used you. Because so many of you give, give, give.

You read. You care. You provide feedback.

More often than not, it’s the nicest stuff anyone has ever said to me not counting my mom and grandma who are both inexplicably kind and loving to me.

But what do I give you?

There are dozens of you who peek in on what I’m saying here. You read. You “like.” You comment.

You invest.

You give.

You give more than I give. Because I’m such a self-centered person sometimes. You need to know that I feel it. That I know it. The inequity. I know you give more to me than I give to you.

That, sometimes, my behavior amounts to me sucking your blood.

I do it for the same reasons we don’t pick up the phone enough to call our friends and family members. For the same reasons we have those conversations with people over and over again: “We should talk more! Let’s go have a drink sometime! I just get so busy! You know how it is!” And we all nod our heads, because we all do know how it is.

But it doesn’t have to be. We can choose to give more.

I’m such a wretched communicator with people, which is so stupid because I always feel better WHEN I’m connected to others.

And I always feel better when I give more than I take.

Give More Than You Take

I love this idea. I say it a lot. Usually, I’m thinking about it in the context of a marriage as I still spend every day nearly a full year later thinking about all the ways I did marriage wrong.

Give more than you take.

It applies to all of our friendships. It applies to charity. It applies to the energy we give to our families. Our employers. Our various commitments and extracurricular activities and hobbies and passions.

Give more than you take.

You want to make your relationship work with the person you love?

This idea alone can save you. But it will always take both parties.

One half of the couple can grow as an individual learning to give more than he or she takes. But that’s not enough for marriage.

If both partners can give more than they take?

Spend a lifetime out-giving one another?

That’s what the baseline ingredients for Forever look like.

Let the Right Ones In

“It’s a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life,” Kleon wrote of The Vampire Test. “If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.”

He continued.

“Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.

“Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the presence of a vampire, be like Brancusi, and banish it from your life forever.”

James Altucher practices this very same philosophy—surrounding himself with people who lift him up and make him feel loved, and distancing himself from people who do the opposite.

It has been life changing, he said.

I do not want to be a vampire in your life. And I pray that I am not.

I hope you will think about incorporating The Vampire Test, and spending more time with people and doing things that make your life better, and spending less time with people and doing things that make it worse.

Even if one of those things is me. Because you deserve happiness.

And to achieve it we must only let the right ones in.

64 thoughts on “The Vampire Test”

  1. This is the Internet. If you had been a vampire in my life, the fix is easy. All I have to do is quit following you and reading your posts. But— that’s not happening. I’m getting enough out of your writings– as well as a dozen others I follow here– that I can safely say you’re not a vampire– or at least not one that I need worry about.
    I’ve had to deal with a couple of vampires. One, to this day every time the phone rings and I know it’s him, I know I’ll be on the phone for forty minutes with a guy who looks up to see the belly of a snake. That phone call could draw the energy out of anybody. Another only seems to want to talk of breaking things and hurting people, and half an hour of that fills my weekly quota of “don’t want to hear that again”– but I’m stuck because he’s blood relative.

    Now, let me think on this: Could that be why I’ve been sleeping upside down?? 🙂

    1. I’m glad you feel that way, thank you. 🙂 I really want to think about the things in life that drain me versus lift me up. And try to invest in the right people and things.

  2. When recovering from a life trauma like divorce, you are going to be a little vampirish. Maybe a lot at first. That’s ok with me Matt. Some become full time vampires. Some were never really vampires to begin with. I think that’s you. I think you realize being a vampire is a poor way to live. That’s why this resonates with you. That’s why you are not a vampire. Most vampires don’t know they are vampires. They just suck.

    Also, vampires don’t write books.

  3. How could you possibly be a vampire to us when we choose to read you? Seriously Matt, you are not a vampire with this blog. You have given a lot of people a lot of insight– I think it’s been a fair trade-off!

    My ex was a vampire. I have described him as an emotional black hole– puling in all the love and attention everyone threw at him and incapable of returning any. I have (and do) worked with plenty of vampires. The advice is sound– sometimes you just have to stay away from them.

    1. Many people who read are writers themselves. Maybe even most. And I think everyone deserves more of my time and attention than they get. It’s something I think about all the time.

      But thank you. I’m so glad you don’t see it that way.

  4. The fact that you give so much of your time and your soul to write a post almost every day means you are not a vampire.

    The fact that you take the time to read every single comment people make on your blog and respond to 99% of those comments means you are not a vampire.

    Do I wish you read my blog as faithfully as I read yours? Yes. But I only post about once a month so it’s not really apples to apples. And if you read every single blog post of the people who read yours? Well, given your following, that would quickly turn into a non-paying full-time job. And let’s face it, you’ve got a son to feed and a life to rebuild. I get it. I think we all get it.

    So, in true Maury Povich style… “Matt, we gave you a Vampire Test and I have the results right here.” (dramatically opens envelope and scans the results) “When it comes to MBTTTR, you are…NOT A VAMPIRE!”

    1. Thank you, T.

      Really glad you feel that way. Thank you for the chuckle. Hope you’re having a good weekend.

  5. Thank you, Matt, for the reminder (once more) that we always have a choice.

    In my life I actually have explored vampirism intensively. I have looked at it from about all sides you can look at it (I did not drink blood, though 😉 ). I have experienced it from those perspectives, as well. And I have made my choice.
    When I was at the point that my own energy had run empty and all I could do is feed from others, it was the most unhappy and terrible time in my life. I never allow that, again. Not now, not in the future and possibly not even in other lifetimes. And I rarely say never.

    As for me, I know how to take care of myself, here. And I am aware of my self-responsibility. And when I notice that I did not take care of myself so well, I know that I am the one who can change that. (Actually I am just experiencing that in terms of some family issues)

    We all can choose to read or not read your blog. And if I would feel drained I would be gone from here.

    I assume that it is healthy that you think about these things, though – and very couraged to name them, here. Sometimes we get needy. That is ok. It is ok to need, sometimes. And it is okay to ask for help/ support. And it is healthy to check-in, from time to time, so that we don’t become vampires. Because I believe that vampires are the most unhappy people in the world. And you would not want to go there.

    Also, don’t you ever underestimate what you actually have to give – and what you share.

    Much love,

    1. I haven’t spent any time thinking about this as a giving exercise. It’s very cool that some people experience it that way. Thank you for saying so, Steffi.

  6. You have just launched a new term: Vampire Bloggers. We all know them. Now you have shone a light on the situation, we will be hyper vigilant for them 🙂 I agree that everyone has vampires in their life, and I’ve found that the behavior can be fine for a while and then one day you wake up and don’t want to deal with the vampire in question any more. That last draw of blood did you in. Everyone has their threshold. I’m sure your friends are happy to be there for you in this transition time and if/when it gets too much they will think enough of you to let you know. Everyone needs people sometimes.

    1. I just don’t want to be one of those people, Jackie. And we need to be vigilant in our lives. To not be takers. And to make sure we don’t let ourselves get repeatedly victimized by them.

  7. I love this post; My ex husband is a vampire, he will never understand anything you just wrote, he wouldn’t even accept this concept, therefore, my point is, vampires do not know what they are, you are not a vampire, because you think you are.
    I too have had to step back and see who and what was a vampire in my life. Although some did not understand what I was doing at the time, I still did an elimination of some, and all vampires in my life..I’m always on guard, because my blood is sweet..(laughing like a vampire)
    also, I’m reblogging this, this is a very valid point in life…

    1. I don’t think I’m a vampire, per se. Vampires take and take and take and never give. I don’t do that. But I also don’t think I give as much as I could. And I think everyone needs to always be thinking about what they have to give in any situation.

      Anyway, I’m glad this post resonated with you. Thank you for sharing it with others. 🙂

  8. Matt,

    I think the year after someone goes through a traumatic experience (divorce definitely included) it’s perfectly ok to take more than you give. You need to. No one can give more than they take ALL the time, because then no one would need anything and then it would just be weird.

    As someone who has both been through a divorce and helped others through divorce, it’s ok to take, for a while. I’d say after a year or so it’s time to start pulling the pieces together and becoming a fully fleshed living member of society again. But for a little while longer, feel free to take a bit more than you give. It’s ok. We out in the blogosphere understand and we’re cool with it. Plus, we like what you write, so it doesn’t feel unhealthy or exploitive.

    As always, thanks for sharing!


  9. You are a vampire. I stopped reading the comments after like the 3rd person said you weren’t. You are. But at this point in your journey you need to be a vampire and that’s okay, because you won’t always be one. I can tell that vampirism is not your natural state, which is good because I have fun reading your blog and I don’t keep vampires in my life. I have so much to give that vampire personalities really do drain me and I can’t have them in my life on a regular basis.
    Plus, in real life they aren’t near as sexy as they are in books & TV. And not the sparkly kind, the Angel and Spike kind. 🙂

  10. I think you give ‘us’ far more than you realise 😀 I’ve learned so much from you that I’m grateful for.

    1. I very much hope that is true. That would be nice. Thank you for saying so. Hope you’re having a good weekend. 🙂

  11. This is the first post I’ve ever read of yours, but even though I don’t Internet-know you well, I can already tell that if you are concerned that you *are* a vampire, you most likely are not. People who suck the energy out of others typically don’t extend compassion for those they deplete and they certainly don’t try to get better; they like the attention too much. That said, I’ll be sticking around.

    1. Thank you! I’m definitely always trying to be better. At everything.

      Thank you so much for reading and saying hi.

  12. I recommend a thorough review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and You Suck by Christopher Moore. Throw in the original Dracula. Then get back to me on your musings. I will simply say that if you do not have a minion, then you are not really a vampire. Are you hiding a minion?

  13. is it bad that ive spent quite some time recently trying to figure out how to become a vampire myself? i WANT to be more selfish… not to the point where i make people feel like crap, but enough to not let other people make me feel like crap 😀

    i think a fairly solid rule here is… if you question if you are… then you arent… the key is awareness. you get it. so its cool 😀

    1. No. No, it’s not bad. Because I already know the kind of person you are now. I know what that always-giving behavior looks like.

      And no. It’s not bad! Just give more than you take. Even if it’s only 51% of the time. 🙂

      I think too much unselfishness is dangerous. Especially if it’s unsustainable. One day you just break unless you do something about it.

      But please try to feel good about being a giver. Please remind yourself all the time that you’re the best kind of person.

      Thank you for being you.

  14. All people feed off the energy of those they interact with but only some leave the people around them drained. We crave and thrive on social connection and interaction; it’s part of our humanity. So, in a way, everyone is a vampire. Maybe the majority of us are like the vampires in the Vampire Academy book series (yes I read slightly trashy young adult fiction) who feed off people without killing or draining them. Instead their bites release endorphins that give off a euphoric high. There are some vampires in the series (bad of course) who drain & kill or change the people they feed off.
    That being said, isn’t your asking if you are a vampire (as you described them) kind of like a woman asking “Does this dress make me look fat”? Do you really want that answer?
    I’m not saying you are, but you write about your pain, vulnerability, and short comings (as you perceive them) and alot of your readers give you “There there now, you’re not so bad…you’re really great.” type feedback. You probably needed that level of encouragement for a while and that’s okay but it’s something a person could come to crave and feed off of in an unhealthy way.
    I also agree with the commenter above who stated that your awareness of the possibility of being the vampiric type prevents you from becoming one.

    1. No! It’s not like a woman asking if she looks fat in a dress!

      In fact, I didn’t ask anyone that question. I asked myself that question after reading that chapter. Then I thought about it. Then I write this. (When I italicize stuff, I’m often indicating it’s just what I’m thinking about).

      Your opinion of me is none of my business.

      Everyone’s opinions are none of my business. And I absolutely meant what I said: if someone feels (in real life, or via the blogging world) like I take too much from them, they should absolutely cut me out of their life.

      You’re funny. And we like a lot of the same music. And I particularly enjoy reading what you have to say. So, I hope you won’t decide that. 🙂

      1. I did realize after I wrote that that you, in fact, did not ask. You get my opinion anyhow: I don’t think you’re inherently vampire like and I’ve come across more than a few of them working in clinical & residential care settings. I do think it would be pretty difficult to be that type of person and maintain a decent blog following which you obviously have done because it’s so easy to un-follow bloggers if you get tired of them. But don’t worry, I won’t un-follow you…yet. I have been enjoying interacting with you via blog.

      2. And P.S.- I still think if you had asked that question it could be a bit like someone asking if they look fat…but you didn’t so I won’t argue the point.

          1. Only if you plan on wearing a dress anytime soon. It’s still pretty cold out though so I wouldn’t recommend it.

          2. Yes, people still wear leggings. There’s some debate over whether or not they actually count as pants though. They’re way more comfortable than tights or pantyhose or whatever. And warmer.

          3. What started as a totally joking discussion about me potentially looking fat in a dress has gotten dangerously close to a serious conversation about cross-dressing.

            But I do like a healthy debate about crap that doesn’t matter. One of my favorites. What are the talking points in the pants vs. leggings debate?

            I feel certain I would agree with the people who think they are two different things. But I can’t be sure without hearing the arguments.

          4. Well I too enjoy a good semi-pointless debate. So here goes:
            Leggings are sort of like thick tights without feet.
            The debate revolves around whether they should only be worn under a skirt or dress or alone too.
            They are super fitted (like a second skin) and therefore show your exact shape.
            They don’t have pockets.
            They aren’t supposed to be see through, this could qualify them as proper pants.
            You can usually tell what type of underwear someone wearing leggings has on which may discredit them as pants.
            They’re usually sold and marketed as pants.
            If you are too big for the leggings you’re wearing by quite a bit they can become somewhat transparent which is, of course, not ideal in a pant.

          5. I sometimes wear leggings as pants but only with a longer shirt or sweater. My rule is crotch & at least half ass must be covered… that what probably TMI but only for the purpose of illustrating a point.
            But if you’re going to wear leggings as pants you have to make sure they’re the right size & thick enough.
            People wear “running tights” as pants and yoga pants so why not? As long as you follow some rules leggings can work as pants.

          6. I also use leggings to make some of my shorter skirts pass as acceptable to wear in public… I might not be the best judge of appropriateness when it comes to clothing.

          7. I was only pretending to be interested on cross dressing. You kind of lost me when going over the finer points of women’s clothing.

            I never claimed to be bright.

          8. Actually many many people agree with your conclusion.
            I kinda figured you weren’t really interested in cross dressing. 🙂

  15. When I started my blog on WP I was already in the process of getting a divorce. One of the first things I did was to search for blogs that related to divorce, single parenting etc. My intention was to find people who could relate to what I am dealing with so that I didn’t feel so alone in the struggle. I’m glad I found your blog because it’s been a huge help to me.

    Have you ever seen how rhinos always have a bird or two sitting on it? That’s an Oxpecker known as “the rhino’s guard.” The bird eats ticks off the rhino and warns of danger so the rhino lets it stick around. There’s a mutual benefit to the relationship. You blog and receive encouragement, I read your blog and receive encouragement too. You’re the rhino, Matt.

    1. That’s kind of the awesomest thing to read about oneself.

      To have someone call you the rhino. Especially when you’re not feeling so tough some days.

      Thank you for the Oxpecker education and a very cool new metaphor to think about.

      But I think we can all be rhinos. Sometimes, we’re just injured.

      I appreciate you very much.

  16. Hey, Matt. I haven’t commented in a while (because I’ve been a vampire), but I have been reading. From one selfish person to the other, thank you. Sometimes in order to fill the void of emptiness and hopelessness we feel, we have to draw from others. Those who love us will understand and know that we will, in turn, bare our necks to them when they need to draw from us. The key is balance and reciprocity…things I need to remind myself of daily. Thank you for this post. It spoke directly to me. 🙂

    1. Hi!

      I tend to feel personally exactly as you do. And I’d like to think everyone in both of our respective circles understand that.

      So glad you still peek in. And thank you for saying hi! Hope everything is going well for you.

  17. You are definitely not a vampire. I wish I were able to read more of your posts because you always have some sort of “hmmmm” inspiring insight for me to ponder over. Like this vampire thing– so true. I’ve had to distance myself from relationships because of their vampiric qualities. At the same time, I think I was totally a vampire in my early college years… I was like a dark hole you didn’t want to step in, unfortunately. Luckily I’ve un-vampired some of those relationships since then. This is a good reminder though… both to take care of ourselves and also to NOT BE that person.

    P.S. Speaking of your Grandmother– has she seen the new Liam Neeson movie? 😉

    1. Thanks for saying that you get something out of these posts, Aussa. Really appreciate that.

      I owe my grandmother a phone call. When I do, I will be sure to find out whether she’s up to speed on Neeson’s latest.

      Did you see the news that Neeson turned down the James Bond role that Daniel Craig eventually got?

      Can you imagine Neeson as Bond!?!? Grandmas everywhere would be having one massive orgasm festival. And that would just be weird.

      Things tend to work out as they should.

      1. Hahahahahaha I’m trying to be quiet so that my dog won’t remember she is supposed to be jumping all over the back door begging to come inside but you totally just ruined it with your massive grandma orgasm festival, I’m dying.

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  19. I don’t think you realise how much you give of yourself here on this blog. How much your openness and honesty helps the rest of us. You give so much that on the days that I read without leaving a comment – I feel like a vampire, because I’m taking from you and not giving a comment back.
    I don’t think needing lots of TLC after a traumatic event in your life makes you a vampire. We all have times like that. To be a true vampire you have to be a taker permanently. You can’t be a vampire for a while and then be something else at other times. So I’m pretty sure you’re safe.
    Hope you had an awesome weekend 🙂

    1. That’s incredibly sweet of you to think, feel, and say.

      Thank you.

      I don’t feel like I give here at all. You’re right.

      I’m writing because I don’t know how to not write. And I love that people care enough to read it. It’s amazing.

      I just hope when all is said and done, people feel like I give. And it means a ton to me that you think I do.

      Don’t you dare feel obligated to leave a comment. Totally unnecessary. If you have something to say, by all means, your thoughts and feelings are encouraged here.

      But please never feel as if you owe anything. You certainly do not. If something stirs you, and you want to opine, I want to hear it. But if it doesn’t? Save your energy for the stuff that matters to you.

      Nonetheless, this really made me smile and feel good. Thank you for that.

  20. This resonates with me. I too felt I was taking too much post divorce and that I don’t give enough, especially to my blog followers. Reading some of the comments here as well as your piece has helped to put things into perspective a bit, in that regard.

    So thanks for giving that to me ?

  21. Reading this, you have inspired me. Before I was even half way through the post, I had opened up Facebook and sent a message to a friend that I had wanted to catch up with for ages. I had realized that I am prone to getting more than I give, because I often don’t make the effort. Thank you for waking me up, I don’t want to be a Vampire!

    1. Thank Austin Kleon! But you’re more than welcome for my small contribution. I’m happy to hear you immediately fired your friend a note.

      I should take a lesson from you. 🙂

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