Me: As a relationship coach, whenever I have an issue I have to work on in one of my relationships, I always feel extra bad about it. Because I’m an “expert” or whatever. And yet, still human.
Justin: Page, what do professional chefs cook themselves for dinner?
Justin: Exactly. You’re doing great.
The More You Know, the Less You Feel Like You Know Because You Know Most Answers Aren’t So Simple
In the past few years, I’ve been cited as a relationship expert by a variety of large publications. Put out two okay-ish books (if I do say so myself) on relationships that have sold way better than I expected them to. Have watched as I’ve somehow shifted from being a strange person with a little blog to being perceived as someone other people should be asking for advice.
I’ve been waiting for a while for it to stop being weird — when someone introduces me as an expert or refers to me in those terms.
Because the truth is, the more you know, the more you feel you have to learn. As I wrote in an earlier essay on Dunning-Kruger Effect and imposter syndrome, skilled people are rarely confident. Instead, they doubt themselves. And it is the unskilled invariably who typically feel like they possess expert knowledge.
And I’ve found that the more I’ve studied relationships (via research, observational studies, and working with clients), the less confident I am about anything.
Especially when it comes to relationship writing, people often want easy answers to their problems. Ones that will apply to everyone, in every situation. But the truth is that they don’t exist, at least not in the way the plethora of quick fix relationship cures in the checkout magazine headlines would lead you to believe. It’s nearly always contextual, personal. And oftentimes, conflicts are nuanced and require novel solutions.
And more than that: There’s no avoiding trouble altogether — regardless of your relationship orientation (whether that’s mono, poly, ambi, or something else entirely). There are occasional hiccups in every relationship.
No one is exempt from this. Not even the experts.
Do I have conflicts with my partners? Yup. Even argue with them sometimes? Mmhm.
Do I always manage them perfectly? …a painful and begrudging no to that.
I have days when I can’t be the person I’d ideally want to be. Because I get sick, tired, careless, or distracted.
And when that happens, I hate it. Because I’m a teacher (a label I am much more comfortable with than expert), and I’ve gone and flunked a pop quiz I help others to prep for.
In these situations, it’s easy to beat myself up for it. It was especially that way in the past. But I’m starting to think of it in a slightly different way.
The Goofus of Polyamory
That’s why I’m writing this essay today. Rather than beating myself up in private for struggling sometimes, I want to tell you all that I absolutely struggle, too. And I want you to take comfort in that on the days that you’re struggling — that everyone struggles sometimes, even the so-called “experts.”
My first book Poly Land is a case study in that. A big part of why I wrote that book is that there were plenty of how-to guides out already about polyamory, but I hadn’t seen a great “how not-to” guide. Because I think that’s part of learning, too.
Those of you who read Highlights for Children when you were kids might remember a regular feature of the magazine called Goofus and Gallant. But for those haven’t, essentially it was a column where two young boys would be in similar situations but act differently. Gallant (as his name would suggest) was typically a paragon of model behavior, adhering to norms of etiquette and politeness. He was the “how-to” example for children wishing to be good.
Conversely, Goofus was a hot mess who was always messing up and being impolite. In effect, Goofus served as a “how not-to” example.
The memoir Poly Land in effect shows how someone can have both Goofus and Gallant within them — and within their relationship system — and realistically manage it, or try to.
That’s what I was going for anyway.
Sometimes the Exhausted Chef Eats Cereal for Dinner & Even the “Experts” Struggle
I’ve tried to keep a similar bent to some of my articles. While admittedly many of them these days are on the Gallant side of the spectrum when it comes to examples (this article comes to mind), that’s more a function of how stable and mature the members of my current relationship system are. Over time, my natural everyday polyamorous life has drifted away from the Goofus side of things and over closer to the Gallant realm. This is likely because of two major reasons:
- I’ve built up a much better skillset for managing multiple relationships and my own emotions.
- I’ve attracted more reasonable people into my life by making sure to reward the hell out of those behaviors and have simultaneously driven away people who are emotionally immature and selfish by not rewarding bad behavior.
So these days, I’m sharing fewer struggles simply because I don’t have as many. But I assure you that I still do occasionally experience them.
And that’s okay.
Sometimes, tired of a long day on their feet of cooking food for everyone else, the exhausted chef eats cereal for dinner.
And I want you to remember, especially on the days that you’re struggling with something that makes you feel ridiculous, that even the “experts” struggle sometimes.