In celebration of the release of his new book This Is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships, The Good Men Project asked longtime columnist Matthew Fray to answer the Proust questionnaire, a game made famous to contemporary the audience by Vanity Fair magazine. Here are his thoughts on rejection, hypocrisy, and why there is “no way to know”…
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I have all sorts of ideas about what would make me all the way happy. Being more attractive. Being more talented. Having more friends. Having more money. Having nicer things. But none of them, on their own, deliver happiness. A better word than happy might be “contentment.” Peace. Balance. All of this happens on the inside. Feeling worthy, not from external validation, but from the knowledge that we’re enough. That we’re good enough as we are. I know it’s achievable. But I’m still working on it.
2. What is your greatest fear?
Rejection. Being measured as not good enough. Being disliked. It’s really unhealthy. Healthy, secure people love and respect themselves enough that what other people think or feel about them has no bearing on how they feel about themselves. Insecurity is one of my hallmark traits. Ironically, it’s not an attractive one, and can result in healthy people choosing to not have you in their lives. (Rejection. Ha.)
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Some of my ADHD traits result in what would appear to every non-ADHD type as chronic procrastination and disorganization. And I understand why they would think that. It’s IDENTICAL to that. The result of my behavior can sometimes be the same as chronic laziness would be. It affects your friendships. Your communication habits with people far away. The amount of peace one feels in their oft-cluttered homes. In their heads. In their hearts. I haven’t yet found an effective way to combat some of my poor habits.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
5. Which living person do you most admire?
I admire many people. Professionally and in my personal life. There are so many low-key heroes out there living quiet heroic lives, overcoming infinitely more adversity than I’ve ever faced. But a couple of famous examples of people I admire who are sort of in the same universe I work in? Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle, both for the same reason, even though they do it differently. They bare the insides of themselves even though it terrifies them, through vulnerable speaking and writing, risking rejection and judgment from others. They do so courageously, modeling what it looks like to bravely face our fears, to show up and be seen instead of hiding, as Brené might say—to dare greatly.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
I live pretty humbly. At 43, I’m still living in the first house I bought 16 years ago. There’s not one thing extravagant about it. I drive an eight-year-old Jeep. But I do treat myself to many simple pleasures. I have over 200 open bottles of bourbon and rye in my home bar. (As a hobbyist, fortunately, and not due to addiction.) I have a 110-inch home theater television that doesn’t suck. Restaurants prepare about 90 percent of my meals. And I buy every book I want the second I learn about it.
7. What is your current state of mind?
At the time of this writing, I’m 11 days away from publication day for my debut nonfiction book “This is How Your Marriage Ends.” Not only is the content very personal and vulnerable in many ways, but if it tanks and no one likes it, it’s going to feel like rejection, which you might recall, is my greatest fear. So. My current state of mind? Low-grade fear and anxiety.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Hmmm. Good question. Let’s rank them, from most important to me, to least important:
So the answer is: Chastity. [Insert sheepish, totally uncomfortable half-smile here.]
9. On what occasion do you lie?
To protect a secret on behalf of someone else, and to protect myself from all those insecure, rejection fears I have. I’m a threat to fudge the truth if I calculate that the truth will result in wholesale rejection of me. But that’s something I’ve gotten much better at as I’ve tried to embrace vulnerable authenticity to model behavior that contributes to healthy human relationships.
10. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I have a shitty jowl neck that makes me appear much heavier than I actually am, especially my profile. I’m extremely self-conscious about it, and it’s the primary reason I don’t like sharing photos or videos of me. GOOD THING THEY’RE NOT GOING TO GIVE ME A TELEVISION SHOW TO APPEAR ON IN FRONT OF EVEN MORE PEOPLE. (Just kidding. They are. And I’m super-scared of it.)
11. Which living person do you most despise?
I don’t really despise anyone. People who suck almost always suffered in some way during their upbringing which resulted in them being the way they are as adults. Everyone is, in certain respects, a victim of circumstance. But if you put a gun to my head – and I beg the forgiveness of politically conservative people when I say this, because I truly don’t despise you, and I truly understand why you believe what you believe because I’m originally from a small Ohio town – I’d have to say Donald Trump. The virtues I admire most in life are kindness and humility. I think they’re soooo important for healthy relationships and societies. And I don’t perceive him to possess much of either virtue. And then he inspired more people to behave that way. That behavior harms relationships. And my life is dedicated to fighting for those.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Huh. I’ve never considered this. Intelligence, I think. So long as it is accompanied by kindness and humility. Geniuses who lack kindness and humility are insufferable. Which might mean, I suppose, that I value kindness as a quality in people above all else.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Yeah, it’s kindness. People who are dicks might have several admirable traits, but I’m not impressed by those traits if they show up as shit, toxic people.
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I picked up the phrase “There’s no way to know” as a way to respond half-jokingly to a question someone might ask me, and I abuse it. In fact, it would have been the perfect not-serious response to this question: There’s no way to know.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My 13-year-old son. He’s my only child. He’s my favorite.
16. When and where were you happiest?
College. I had the requisite amount of independence I craved growing up, but still with a layer of protection from the rigors and pains adulthood can throw at us. I had an obscene number of friends, and we were a super-social bunch. If we’re measuring the selfish idea of “my feelings,” my college years were when I felt happiest. The interesting thing about that, is that if I were to try to replicate that lifestyle at 43 with a teenage son and a career, it would be destructive and bring me a ton of misery. So much of it had to do with the innocence of youth. And I want to acknowledge my privilege in that. I didn’t have to worry about safety the way my female friends probably had to. I didn’t have to worry about overt or understated discrimination and mistreatment the way my black friends may have. I didn’t have to experience any hatred my student leader colleagues at the Arab Student Union had to following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. (I was the editor of the student newspaper then.) I didn’t have to experience any bigotry or judgment the way some of the gay or otherwise non-heteronormative students may have. And I was never the victim of a crime or violence of any kind during my school years. So, it’s easy for me to wax sentimentality through rose-colored glasses that not everyone was issued back then.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
As a young child, I would have said to be highly skilled at basketball. As a young adult, I would have said to play a musical instrument at a high level. Today, I would say, to be a charismatic and engaging public speaker, instead of the stuttering, pissing-myself stage presence I imagine when I think about it.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I was going to say my ADHD traits, but the truth is there are a lot of lovely things about me that might disappear if I lost those traits. The essence of me? I’m going to ride it out. I don’t want to be anyone else. But if someone can make this shitty jowl neck go away so I don’t feel so damn insecure in photos and video all the time, I’ll really appreciate it.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Easy. Learning how my behavior – even if I mean well – can cause harm to others, most specifically people in my closest relationships, if I refuse to accept responsibility or to be accountable for how my actions impact others. I’m so much different than I was prior to my divorce. And I’m really proud of it.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
[Side-eyes this question quizzically.] No. Just no. I don’t want to come back as some rando thing, or as anyone else. If I magically come back after I die, I guess I just want to be Zombie-Me. Get wrecked, post-apocalyptic survivalists.
21. Where would you most like to live?
I’m an unapologetic fan of beach communities. San Diego, Calif. and the Florida Keys are my favorites, but that doesn’t mean the trade-offs (cost of living, traffic, crowdedness, etc.) of living in those places is something I would choose. The quick answer is somewhere relatively close to saltwater. There’s a good chance I end up back in the greater Tampa, Fla. area eventually, where I spent a few years after graduating college.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t have one specific thing I can think of. I’m not a “stuff” guy, probably because I don’t have an abundance of cool things. If I can cheat and say my book collection or my whiskey collection, I’d have to choose one of those. They’re both awesome for different reasons. One makes me a better person. The other results in me having more fun. You get to decide which is which. Cheers!
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Whatever the shit thing was that I felt for about two or three years, leading up to and following my divorce in 2013. I pretty much wanted to die. When being alive hurts, and eternal sleep philosophically seems like the more pleasant alternative, you’ve found yourself in a place I don’t think anyone wants to be. I didn’t know that was a thing, until I lived through it myself. It really upped my empathy and gratitude quotients, so I’m kind of glad it did.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
An author. Being someone who writes books. I have my favorite job in many respects. It’s totally neat.
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
Friendliness? I try really hard to not be a dick to others. Probably started in my youth as a means of acquiring friends. But today, I genuinely value the experiences of others in ways I might have been blind to during my younger years.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
I grew up as an only child despite having two stepsisters and a biological half-sister who is 14 years younger than me. (Complicated divorce stuff.) So, my friends were very important to me. I suppose the idea of companionship is what I value most.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Mark Manson. Glennon Doyle. James Altucher. If you can have a favorite writer after only reading one book—Jeannette Walls. Her memoir “The Glass Castle” is so absurdly good, that I can hardly stand it.
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
My favorite reoccurring character in fiction novels is Harry Bosch from Michael Connelly’s fabulous murder-mystery LAPD police procedurals he’s been penning for eons. Bosch lacks some of the kindness I value in people, but he’s a purpose-driven guy who fights injustice and abides by a moral code I can admire, even if he’s not always the most polite dude while doing so.
I’ve also loved Spider-Man from the Marvel universe and Batman from the DC universe for as long as I can remember.
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
In Christianity, the story goes that the Romans arrested Jesus, and were trying to round up the rest of his disciples, and in a well-known Bible story, the most famous disciple – Peter – keeps getting accused of being part of Jesus’ crew and a close friend, but – three different times – he denies even knowing Jesus in order to avoid arrest and save his own ass. Like a coward.
Just as I might do in a stressful situation. I might be dishonest to protect myself.
But then, Peter goes on to live a pretty powerful redemption story, and if I’m not messing up my history here, ultimately was crucified upside down and burned because of his affiliation with Jesus and Christianity.
I admittedly would prefer to not be crucified or burned, upside-down or otherwise, but I’d like to think that while I’m a threat to chicken out to avoid pain or consequence, that given time for reflection, in the end, I’m capable of redemptive behavior.
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
My favorite writers, mostly. But I think hero-worship is dangerous. EVERYONE is human. And humans are flawed. When we hold people up to impossible standards, they inevitably disappoint us for not being perfect. I try to give the grace I would want people to give me for being a flawed human. I try not to judge. And part of that includes not hero-worshipping people.
31. What are your favorite names?
The only one that comes to mind is my son’s name, and I’m not inclined to type it here. #Privacy
32. What is it that you most dislike?
People being shitty to one another.
33. What is your greatest regret?
Being a shitty husband.
34. How would you like to die?
Gee. The most honest answer? Even though it might sound intolerably vain? While saving the world. Or maybe just one person. I don’t think I’d “like” dying under any circumstances. But dying during a legitimate act of heroism doesn’t sound like a bad way to go.
35. What is your motto?
I don’t have one. But maybe I can come up with one now…
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Featured photo Angelo Merendino Photography