09 Jan The insecure, lonely teenage male strikes back with the “cuddle puddle”
But many of the A-listers in Silicon Valley have something unique in common: a lonely adolescence devoid of contact with the opposite sex. Married V.C. described his teenage life as years of playing computer games and not going on a date until he was 20 years old. Now, to his amazement, he finds himself in a circle of trusted and adventurous tech friends with the money and resources to explore their every desire.
This reminded me of a recent interview with uber-entrepreneur Elon Musk in which he says:
“If I’m not in love, if I’m not with a long-term companion, I cannot be happy. (…) I will never be happy without having someone. Going to sleep alone kills me.” He hesitates, shakes his head, falters, continues. “It’s not like I don’t know what that feels like: Being in a big empty house, and the footsteps echoing through the hallway, no one there – and no one on the pillow next to you. F*ck. How do you make yourself happy in a situation like that?”
Brotopia – or male loneliness?
Though I’ve never partaken in a cuddle puddle (my wildest evenings were at Twilo in the late 90s) I can relate to both of these paragraphs. I was a shy, skinny, and awkward high school guy who did not run in “cool” circles and didn’t go on a date until I was 19. And like Musk, my deepest fear was being unable to find love – and spending my life alone.
In fact, this probably served as one of my greatest sources of motivation from a very young age. Work your butt off. Make money. Achieve status. This will guarantee that you don’t end up alone. It’s mildly embarrassing when you lay it out so crudely, but my guess is some of the cuddle puddlers also shared this motivation.
Teenage angst as a motivating force
I pass no judgment on whether the merits of this source of motivation. But I can’t help but recognize some of the unintended consequences. As is the case with the nouveau riches, a spectacular leap in wealth or status can be a bit disorienting. I personally felt that in the early days on Wall Street, where, to put it kindly at times I acted like a douche. But below the surface was the 16 year old scared-to-be-alone-Magic-the-Gathering-player unable to wrap his arms around the fact that he could walk into a lounge, spend some money on over-priced drinks and maybe (just maybe) strike up a conversation with the opposite sex. It’s also when the Three Es (Ego, Envy, and Entitlement) started to infiltrate many of my attitudes and behaviors.
Happiness is mean reverting
Next, there’s the belief that extrinsic goals can quell general feelings of unsettledness. It’s that feeling of “once I get there, my life will be calm/happy/fulfilling.” As a goal-oriented individual, I’ve countlessly experienced checking off an item (both big and small) only to find my happiness revert to the mean. My personal mantra is “there is no there,” you never get “there.” This doesn’t diminish the angel that chose me as her husband (she literally came up to me at Pacha in 2007 as I was too shy). On the contrary, the fear of being alone is now replaced by the thought of having to live my life without her.
The Brotopia playbook: Problem-solution-repeat
And then there’s what my friend Andrew Taggart calls the “problemization” of the universe, the notion that life is problem to be solved. Many overachievers rely on the new religion of “problem, challenge, solution, repeat” in every dimension of their lives. (This playbook doesn’t work in marriage.) Problemization really messed with me by giving me a false illusion of control. As I age, reconciling this control with randomness and uncertainty is a big source of anxiety.
So where does that leave us? For starters, if you are a nouveau riche (cuddle puddler) you can still honor the loneliness and solitude in others. You can also remind yourself that striving and individualism are not mutually exclusive from community and family. And finally, remembering every single one of us has love to give – and there’s probably someone a few feet who will accept your love with open arms.