Do People’s Feelings Matter? That Depends.

Comments 23


I once wrote that feelings are bullshit.

Except I wrote it more dramatically: “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.”

That probably seems rich coming from a guy who frequently writes emotion-based stories and whose only success as a blogger has come from a series of posts validating emotionally damaged wives’ feelings and warning husbands to ignore them at their peril.

Because of a technical glitch, an 18-month-old post titled Love is a Choice was re-posted to my Twitter feed over the weekend after making a small edit to that post and hitting the Update button.

A reader saw the tweet, read the post which included my “Feelings are bullshit” claim, and asked a challenging, but fair question: “Matt. I just read your post on ‘Love is a Choice.’ Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

Human emotion is a fascinating and complex thing.

I don’t think I need to rattle off the litany of wars, romances, terror attacks, artistic creations, revolutions, epic social or cultural changes, marriages, divorces, friendships, or nearly every single notable thing that’s ever happened, instigated by human emotion.

By day, I am a marketing professional.

As everyone in this profession or who has watched Mad Men knows, connecting with consumers emotionally is the ultimate key to getting them to take desired actions.

In most respects, emotion drives our choices and dictates how we feel at any given time.

Emotional bonds change everything.

They’re the difference between some stray animal, and a beloved pet that becomes part of the family.

They’re the difference between a random adult and child, and an adoring father and son.

They’re the difference between two strangers walking by one another on a crowded street, and those same two people sharing beds and homes and lifetimes after meeting and connecting.

“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

What I Meant

Despite my affinity for the written word, some conversations are best had in person, because in a rapid exchange of information, clarity and understanding can win the day.

In this case, I can understand how my “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.” declaration could cause some bristling and heartburn.

I’ll try to be clearer.

Because how people feel dictates their entire human experience—literally determines whether them being alive is a positive or negative experience—considering the feelings of those around us when we say and do things is what separates the dicks from the conscientious. People who suck from people who are cool.

“But wait a minute, Matt. Are we REALLY responsible for how OTHER PEOPLE FEEL? Is it REALLY our problem or responsibility?”

I’ll be on both sides of this argument for the rest of my life, depending on the situation.

While I’m a MAJOR free speech and anti-censorship advocate, I applaud the State of South Carolina for pulling the Confederate flag from government property.

I don’t know whether this is fair or not (and fairness REALLY matters to me), but I simply give a MUCH LARGER shit about the feelings of black Americans who view that flag as a symbol of racism and oppression than I do about the feelings of southern whites who see it as an important symbol of their heritage.

To demonstrate the depths of my hypocrisy, I’m a Cleveland Indians fan, and much like Washington Redskins fans, and fans of other sports teams which use Native American names and symbols as mascots, I make the same argument as the rebel flag supporters about keeping the teams’ names and mascots as is. I find it unreasonable to suggest that because I root for my favorite baseball team, I am somehow mocking or belittling the heritage of a particular group of people, or that I’m insensitive to the atrocities they suffered centuries ago.

I imagine some people flying the Confederate flag feel exactly like that.

I don’t know.

But I do know that how people feel is at the very heart of both debates. And that there doesn’t always appear to be a clear-cut right or wrong thing to do.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea that I am RESPONSIBLE for another person’s emotions. I can write a sentence or a blog post, for example, that will yield dramatically different responses.

I recently wrote a post joking about a drunk guy inappropriately touching women at a party one night several years ago.

Some people thought it was hilarious.

Others thought it was serious subject matter, and that my tone and treatment of the story was in poor taste.

Am I responsible for those emotions? I don’t know.

This is Why Husbands Have So Much Trouble with Emotion

Emotion and human behavior is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different.

But I believe that men share many traits with the vast majority of men, and women share many traits with the vast majority of women. And I believe that allows us to make generally true statements about how the two genders behave.

To that end, how women feel will often be the ultimate factor in whether a marriage lasts, whether a couple is sexually active, and whether children grow up with divorced parents.

And on paper, I might agree with a guy who says that’s too much power for his wife to wield, and inherently unfair, as she accepted him as a young man, and then rejected him later when her wants and needs changed after years of marriage and raising children.

But life isn’t on paper. Not the nitty-gritty human relationships, anyway. Those are on the front lines of the human experience.

And if a husband listens to his wife’s cries for attention and pleas for help and begging for changes that will allow her to feel emotionally safe and secure, and ignores them, or tells her “Sorry! I’m not changing!” then he gets what he deserves when she inevitably leaves, and increases the odds of infidelity about 14 trillion percent.

The reason men are so cavalier about their wives’ emotions is that they literally don’t know. Most men NEVER feel as their wives do, but more importantly, the story of why their wives feel that way doesn’t register with them because it seems totally insane to a man that X caused Y. X didn’t even faze him, so it doesn’t make sense that THAT is the reason she’s hurt and crying right now.

Most men don’t realize that their wives and girlfriends are fundamentally different than them. But men DO understand emotional pain. It’s just triggered by different things. If you find a man who has experienced intense emotional pain, and you can clearly convey that this other thing made the women in their lives feel the exact same type of intense pain, THEN it will finally click in his brain.

At least, that’s what worked for me.

So, Wait. When Are Feelings Bullshit?

Glad you asked.

Feelings are bullshit when you exchange wedding vows and promise forever, and then use negative feelings about the relationship later as a reason for ending the marriage, only to go out, start a new relationship and repeat the cycle all over again. Because (with the exception of abuse, addiction, cheating, and other dysfunctional horribleness) the cycle WILL repeat all over again.

There are no such things as perfect relationships.

They say marriage is hard work BECAUSE of all the times that are hard.

Sometimes drivers next to us make us want to run them off the road.

Sometimes people who disagree with us on emotional matters make us want to punch and scream.

Sometimes we wake up in the morning and don’t feel like working out, or going to our jobs, or paying bills.

Sometimes people are MADLY in love with someone, and then hate them a week later.

Sometimes our kids make us so angry that we wish they weren’t with us. Usually, within five minutes, or just one really nice hug, we’re back to being totally smitten.

Feelings are VERY fickle things. Constantly changing. Thus, dangerous things to put in charge of everything that happens.

People do drugs and drink excessively because it feels good.

Married people fuck people they’re not supposed to because it feels good.

Parents neglect their children because they don’t feel like taking care of them.

Human emotion? Particularly in our close, personal relationships? They are one of the most important things for us to monitor and manage. Absolutely.

But sometimes?

When we have responsibilities? When we feel tempted or lazy? When we’ve made promises?

Doing what we, in our dumbest, weakest human moments, feel like doing is just about the worst idea imaginable.

“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

I didn’t explain myself very well the first time. And maybe I didn’t this time.

But, the answer is: yes.

I do.

Sometimes what we choose to do is infinitely more important than what we feel like doing.

23 thoughts on “Do People’s Feelings Matter? That Depends.”

  1. yes. feelings do matter, but they don’t run the show. feelings fill us, but they don’t decide for us. i feel things – very strongly – but i do what i know i need to anyway.

    it’s a unique dichotomy. feelings DO matter. they help make us who we are. but other things will always matter more. i think you explained it well.

    1. Yeah. Words are funny things.

      I don’t mean to suggest that there are times when feelings NEVER matter, just as I don’t mean to say that when people feel really hurt in marriage and are considering leaving simply because of those hurt feelings, that they’re “bullshit.”

      I use words pretty liberally sometimes, and in the absence of tone of voice, I imagine sometimes people don’t know what I mean exactly.

      But you’ve read a lot here (thank you so much), and I’m confident you get it.

      I really appreciate that, too.

    2. But the problem is that implicit reasoning is tied to feelings. It is the back door that feelings use to control us while we think we’re in charge. Until someone realizes that the purpose of feeling, in a smart, balanced life, is to give meaning and color, feelings will navigate a life that thinks it’s in charge. They come and go like thoughts and should not be taken as the goal in life. Do we constantly go to them like a rabid dog that can’t get enough to drink? Absolutely. Why should do we do what we do? Because it makes sense and satisfies our needs with moderation. That is a thought process that puts feelings more in the category of filling up your gas tank, not driving the car.

      1. I appreciate these thoughts, and totally agree.

        We need to be smart enough and aware enough to know when CHOICE needs to trump our emotional impulses, and when it’s safe to just roll whatever we feel.

        There’s a lot of reading I want to do RE: stoicism in an effort to better understand how some people regulate their emotional responses.

  2. OK, I’ll weigh in here. Feelings are fleeting, yes. Bullshit? Not so sure. You get mad at your spouse, you vow you’re going to leave, that it’s all over. But over time, you’ve been through this routine often enough that even as you’re telling yourself that, there’s the more enlightened side of you saying “Bullshit. This will pass. You’ll go back to the SOB and settle up. Hell, you might even have makeup sex.” (Perhaps this is what you mean?) And you do. And if you’re an enlightened woman, the next time it happens, you just go buy a nice pair of shoes…on his credit card, of course. Then he understands how you feel. 😉

    1. I think men often don’t understand how powerful and influential his wife or girlfriend’s emotions are over things that don’t even REGISTER in his heart and mind.

      He’s too busy worrying about how to pay for the kid’s college, or how he’s going to fix his short game in his Tuesday night golf league, or finishing that work presentation. Maybe he’s pleasantly oblivious because he likes football or video games or poker so much.

      For the men specifically, I want to convey the grave importance of learning how their wives’ and girlfriends’ hearts and minds work, and what motivates them positively and negatively.

      For both genders in the context of a troubled relationship, I want to encourage commitment and making the difficult (but necessary) choice to love their partner. Because that’s the only way it lasts.

      Every single couple in history has wanted to break up. If feelings dictated every move we made, no one would have ever stayed together, ever.

      A juvenile way to word it? For sure.

      But true in the context in which I meant it? I think so.

      Feelings (sometimes!) are bullshit.

      I appreciate you reading and commenting very much! Thank you!

  3. Feelings are important. They gauge how your wife (or any female including myself..) is feeling. Unless you want a tongue lashing. 🙂

    1. They are, indeed, important.

      I will refrain from commenting on *ahem* tongue lashings.

      *runs from room*

  4. Thank you Matt… You always leave me with food for thought! That was an intense post and I am not sure I agree with all your points but man you write your truth and I admire and respect that.
    Glad I inspired and that you felt compelled to write today’s post…. It was most powerful!

    1. No, thank you! I struggle for ideas all the time. Despite wanting to be a talented idea generator, I’m really quite blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh at it sometimes. I’ve been in a rut here lately.

      I’m glad you asked that question because it gave ME food for thought.

      Questions are always the best idea generators.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Lisa.

  5. Reblogged this on dreamlanddancing and commented:

    First of all, I always follow your posts, and generally enjoy them even when I don’t always agree….
    But this one was magnificent.
    This post covered more ground in less time/(space?) than a jet taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier, but I doubt you intended to write a book on the subject, and let’s face it, there already have been plenty of them written on the subject.
    It is a very ambitious effort on that behalf…and besides, I like your style of writing.
    I had very mixed emotions (feelings?) about a number of the opinions you voiced because I disagreed with some of them…and that’s the rub…we intellectualize our feelings and let emotions rule our decisions, and the problem is that we don’t identify or recognize what we are doing one way or the other a great deal of the time.
    Sometimes a difference of opinion can generate emotions like Anger. There is no doubt that they are connected, no matter how much at odds they may seem to be.
    Of course, research would seem to indicate that hormones and polypeptides rule all of our emotions despite the fact that our interpretations of our feelings are learned behaviors that are the result of our acculturation.
    And sometimes when we make promises and/or decisions, they are just as likely to be based on sappy emotions that are ill-conceived, as they are when we have to face the consequences…and even those decisions may not be logical or rational…especially a first marriage.
    Your blog reflects a great deal of courageous introspection on that behalf.
    Absolutely. Love IS A CHOICE…Happiness is a choice. Tolerance, Loving-Kindness, and Acceptance are choices we make also. When we make those decisions, we are less likely to indulge ourselves in self-righteous indignation. I firmly believe that those choices are more responsible for what we judge to be the quality of our lives than circumstances or even outcomes.
    I think that whenever a man or a woman uses their emotions to control another person, or to justify their actions instead of taking responsibility for their CHOICE of reactions, that this is nothing short of extortion…I know people often call it emotional blackmail, but I think extortion is more accurate.
    There is an expression called Dharma Action that addresses what actions we take that come from a place before thoughts, words, or opinions. Those choices of action accept everything exactly as it is, because arguments about context, or attempts to interpret or paraphrase are still based on opinions and emotions that amount to mental masturbation.
    This always leads to suffering.
    Pure emotions (emotions devoid of bad programming that may have resulted from disastrous primal experiences) are still a matter of choice…but the rest is bullshit…I couldn’t agree more.
    The problem comes when Ignorance precludes the opportunity to know that we have a choice.
    We would all be better off if we encouraged boys to be more nurturant and less opinionated, and encouraged girls to see themselves as complete and self-empowered.
    Few institutions within our cultures are more responsible for confused emotions and bad programming than most religions.
    Jealousy is based on a combination of insecurity, fear, anxiety, and envy but it can be therapeutic if we are provided the opportunity to experience it in a different context than we may have even known was possible.
    I refuse to accept responsibility for someone else’s choice of how they interpret my choices if they are just using it as an excuse to try to control me, although anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am quick to admit when I am wrong, (sometimes even in mid-argument) and even quicker to recognize, validate or empathize with the pain they may be feeling because I rarely ever intentionally try to hurt anyone anymore.
    If they are sad, I am sad because I care about them as people, even when they are delusional.
    If the world doesn’t understand me, then that is my fault for not communicating more effectively, but if they understand me and we still disagree, I can accept that, regardless of whether they can or not.
    People are quick to blame or condemn others, but rarely take responsibility for their own actions.
    We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their actions.
    Genuine feelings are important. People are important. Love is important. Selfless love does not change, so it cannot turn into hate. Selfless love does not need to be requited. I exists all by itself, and we can choose to own it in a way that no one can ever take from us, even those whom we love.
    Bullshit Feelings are Bullshit.
    You Matter.
    Chazz Vincent

  6. “We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their actions.”

    That, I think, is one of the wisest, most-insightful things I’ve read in quite some time.

    Life is often a series of actions and reactions, and much of the time, everyone is acting and reacting based on totally false information because we like to guess, and we’re not always good guessers.

    It’s fascinating, really.

    This is a really great comment. Full of thoughtfulness and wisdom. Thank you for leaving it and contributing to the conversation.

    Also, thank you for sharing this post with others. As someone who has read a lot of things here (can’t thank you enough for that, especially since I’m so wretched about reading other blogs), it means so much to me that something stood out for you particularly.

    Different posts yield different kinds of responses. Sometimes people really like them, and I can tell because of engagement or comments or likes or shares or whatever.

    This wasn’t one of those. Super-lukewarm response.

    So, it’s really nice that someone thought it was more than crap, and was willing to invest so much time and thought into the subject matter.

    Thanks a lot, Chazz.

    Bullshit feelings are bullshit, indeed. An excellent way of putting it. 🙂

  7. I like what you have said here.

    Love is definitely a choice. 40 year marriages don’t happen because two people wake up with that loving feeling every day. We choose who we love. And we choose how we love. And if we love, we choose to care about how we make that person feel.

    1. Hi you. 🙂

      Thank you for reading and weighing in. I appreciate it very much.

      You said perfectly exactly what I think, how I feel, and what I believe to be true about what it takes to achieve the happiest, healthiest, most-sustainable relationship possible.

      We decide. Then we do.

      And when two people do that? The right way? The emotional feelings aspect takes care of itself.

      Like magic.

      Happily ever after.

  8. Pingback: Feelings. Are. Bullshit. |

  9. I guess my question about this is “if feelings aren’t bullshit, if they in fact ‘matter,’ how do we demonstrate that they matter to us?” I am reading a book about parenting right now- -and recently finished one about dealing with borderline personalities– that is filled with talk about how we need to “validate” our child’s (or the borderline’s) feelings before we offer any criticism, make any suggestion for change, or set any boundaries. Only when the upset person is “validated” can they hear anything else and move beyond their tumult of feelings.

    This seems reasonable, and very easy to do in a mechanistic way. I told my daughter the other night “you REALLY want to keep watching this movie! You are VERY UPSET that I turned it off! I can tell you are ANGRY right now– that makes sense!” It didn’t stop her from having a huge tantrum. Similarly, when my ex-husband told me he was unhappy, I said, “yes, I can tell– you drink alone in your study; you don’t have any friends; your career hasn’t panned out the way you wanted it to– it makes sense that you’re really unhappy.”

    But then what do you do? In both cases, after “validating” the feelings, I asked “how can I help you?” My daughter’s response was “you can let me watch the movie.” My ex-husband’s response was to say “give me space to figure it out.” While I did that, he secretly had an affair with my friend.

    So I didn’t treat the feelings like bullshit. With words and actions I took them seriously. It didn’t seem to have an impact on either of their feelings or behaviors. The books I’m looking at suggest that validating feelings has this magical dimension– when people feel properly “validated,” the problem just dissolves, like cool water has been poured on a fire. Since that didn’t happen for me, should I assume that I didn’t validate them enough? or in the right way? Or does it mean that there’s really only so much we can do to validate/empathize with/”honor” feelings– our own or other people’s?

    What I’m taking away from this is that a good person will control all their own feelings (get the fuck off the couch and eat the dinner I just busted my ass to make! big surprise you don’t have any friends since you act bored whenever you’re around people you think aren’t as smart as you– go figure!) in order to work the validation magic. If you don’t do that, you’re insensitive and bad. But if you do do that, and it doesn’t work, it’s still your fault– the other person still FELT like you thought their feelings were bullshit. That’s a conundrum I’m not sure how to resolve.

  10. Pingback: Why Nonsense and Choosing the Wrong Thing Can’t be Ignored | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  11. “But wait a minute… Are we REALLY responsible for how OTHER PEOPLE FEEL?”

    That’s a question I continue to wrestle with.

    1. It’s a semantics thing, isn’t it?

      Like, in the most clinical, literal sense of the word, it’s hard to tell people they are RESPONSIBLE for how another person feels about any given thing. That’s a lot of power to give another person.


      Can it be casually/generally/etc. said that someone who VOWS to love and honor someone for the rest of their life, that they are ‘responsible’ for helping manage that person’s emotional health by mindfully doing things that are positive, and mindfully NOT doing things that are negative?

      I kind of think so.

      But it’s really hard to communicate this idea effectively via the written word.

      Ironically, for the same reason it’s unfair to ask humans to be responsible for other humans’ emotions. 🙂

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Matt Fray

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