"Have you seen these?" my client asked me. "Are they legit?"
One of many men I work with who are in the midst of a troubled relationship, he had been seeing a lot of video ads on his social media feed for marriage-saving coaches, programs, and gimmicks that all promised the world--and seemed to claim it would be so easy.
What he forwarded to me was an ad that claimed any marriage could be saved if a man simply "mastered this one trait". Not only would he win his wife back, she would be "uncontrollably" attracted to him--it made it sound like she'd be putty in his hands.
The video transitioned from the speaker/coach/guru teasing about his magical relationship cure to alleged testimonials. One young man listed off all the "trust, connection, intimacy" his relationship suddenly had (you know, all the buzz words she's asking for). Another bragged that, despite his ex being engaged to another man, he was able to get her back into bed with him in just a few days.
And all thanks to this ONE secret!
As my client and I watched this video together in session, I told him what struck me most about this video: it felt so familiar!
I knew this formula from ads in my own social media feeds, supposed experts with the one thing I needed to know to build a thriving private practice, or to get fit as a man over 40.
What the Fearful Parts of Us Want
Thing is, the algorithms scanning our online activity pick up on what we're interested in--and what we're likely worried about. This is valuable information to those who might profit off our struggles by offering what tantalizes the anxious heart: an easy road and total control.
Those are the two elements promised by all the charlatans in both mine and my client's customized feeds. You can get absolutely in control of your situation, and it's not even that hard. There's just one thing you need to do--or stop doing--and then amazing results are coming your way.
It's something so hard for us men to acknowledge, but the most meaningful journies in life can be the most frightening. Building a career, learning to be in relationship, mastering one's own body--they are undertakings defined by struggle and sacrifice, vulnerability and uncertainty. How tempting it is to think there's a way to our dreamed-of outcome that skips over all of that.
But the things these men claimed to have achieved in their relationships--trust, commitment, passion--don't come by learning some technique of hacking a woman's brain. And the guys promising me I can still have shredded abs without discipline in my eating and activity... they're blowing smoke.
Our fears tell us about our hopes, and they are good. And mindfully holding them means knowing that they can be vulnerable to the sweet-sounding lies of the culture of convenience.
But do you want the real thing? There will be hard work. There will be waiting (omg the waiting...). But this is the way. Comfort your fearful parts with encouragement, not escape.
And keep going.
Mike Ensley, LPC is a counselor and founder of Comeback Story Counseling in Loveland, Colorado.