If I quit playing music, will women still like me?

Fed up, I left the band. So how does an average bloke find a girlfriend?

Published October 19, 2010 8:16PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I write to you today to seek advice on a subject I think you may have firsthand experience on, based on what I've read in your biography and your time spent playing music and in bands.

I've been playing music in some capacity for my entire life, from piano lessons as a child to guitar in church youth group to my now-former band that achieved (and is still achieving, post my departure) mild success in an increasingly esoteric but devoted music scene, having toured both nationally and internationally a few times. I invested five years of my young adult life in this band playing a type of music that I grew increasingly disillusioned with, even to the point where I was embarrassed to talk about it with people I met. I wasn't proud of it. And like all bad relationships that cowardly people find themselves stuck in, it took a traumatic event (in this case a fight at the end of a tour) for me to finally part ways. A year later, I don't regret that decision one bit.

After this occurred, I began reflecting on why it was that I really wanted to play music. The images that came to mind were always hazy variations along the same theme; I wanted to be eating brunch down the street and have people recognize me; I wanted to walk into a record store and see my 12" sitting on the rack; I wanted to show people the gushing online review and say, this is me! I did this! And why? I boiled my intentions to their most base level, and came to a startling realization. It was about finding true love.

My thought process is as follows: A lot of us spend life chasing the same thing -- human connection and companionship. However, we live in a world defined by finite choices and competition; as such, how do I make myself more desirable than the next bloke? How do I elevate my social status such that when I finally do meet the girl of my dreams, she would be foolish to think twice about wanting to be with me? The answer, in my mind, has always been to achieve success in music.

I recognize this sounds totally silly, and also a little dangerous. A relationship whose foundation is built on an admiration of the other's status or artistic abilities is likely doomed from the start. And the same goes for investing time in a creative pursuit that's driven purely by the hope of future external validation. But no matter how hard I try, I can't dispel this belief. Without music, I have no other creative outlets; I'm just another corporate shill in his mid-20s whose life is being increasingly defined by a career that's completely and utterly artless. What pretty, creative girl is going to want me then?

The other half of it is that I can normally think of any number of things I'd rather do than pick up my guitar -- ride my bike, clean my apartment, read a book, watch another episode of "Lost" ... you catch my drift. If I were to be brutally honest with myself, I think there's actually little true burning desire inside me to create music for the sake of creating it, despite my small talents. And yet with each passing day I feel increasingly distressed about the fact that I'm not doing it. I feel handcuffed to music, and the belief that I'd be deficient without it.

So the struggle I have as I find myself deeper into the throes of adulthood is, do I finally accept that my intentions are impurely rooted in an illusion that's bound to come crashing down, and walk away? If so, how do I do it and not live on with the absurd belief that this girl who I haven't even met yet will someday reject me for lack of it? Or else, how can I fundamentally shift my intentions and approach behind music such that it's about creating, not validation?

Please tell me that it's either OK to never play music again or that talented people should create, regardless of their flawed intentions. I'm tired of being in this limbo.

Scared to Let Go

Dear Scared to Let Go,

I do think there is a way you can fundamentally shift your intentions and approach so that playing is more about creating and less about external validation. The way to do that is to move toward what is authentic for you.

It sounds like you have gotten into trouble in three ways. Broadly speaking, without meaning any offense, you have undervalued your music, you have played in bad faith and have had a traumatic musical breakup.

All these situations can be improved. But as it stands, you are at a crisis. You are even thinking of giving up music entirely.

That won't be necessary. There is a way out of this. But let's make one thing clear. You've been beaten up a bit. You are in recovery mode.

In recovery mode, it is tempting to make sweeping changes and pronouncements. You are tired of being in limbo and would like to solve all your problems at once. You will be helped more if you can settle down and move toward what is authentic for you.

One way to do that is to give voice to your various competing selves, or archetypes. These are deeply rooted fields of personality in which your talents and drives are located and organized. You probably have several, but two stand out here: the musician, who performs and creates, and the lover, who seduces and entrances.

To resolve some of my own creative difficulties, I worked with a person who had me actually have conversations with my various archetypes. One of the most vibrant of those was the musician. It was revealing, it was fun, and it was a great relief, too. It helped me get over the trauma of losing a band. If you could find someone to facilitate such a thing, that would be great. You can also do it on your own, maybe, but it's better to have help.

Just sit and be the musician you are and talk to yourself about how you are being treated. It may come out that the musician in you resents the fact that you have these extrinsic motives for playing -- in order to attract women. Your musician persona may feel like he's just being used as bait. If you are like me, the musician is a fairly distinct persona; he has a certain way of talking and holding himself and walking across the stage. It may be that he is more in touch with his appetites. He may be more volatile. If you let him talk to you, he will tell you what he wants.

He may not want to play music for money. He may not want to play in a band. On the other hand, he may very much want to play in a band and be angry at you for screwing up his relationship with the band.

Likewise, let your lover-self speak to you. This is the self that believes you must be a musician in order to find the ideal mate. My guess is that the musician and the lover are in conflict. 

Let them talk. Maybe they can work something out.

You must establish what is authentic. What is authentic may not appear at first to be what is useful. That is, you may actually need to quit playing music for a little while, to recuperate. But that will change. The music will come back. Moving toward the authentic will help bring together your creative life with your hopes for survival and finding an ideal mate.

You won't always feel inspired. There will be times you don't feel like playing. But if you maintain your playing ability by playing regularly, even when you don't feel inspired, you will be ready when inspiration comes. 

One thing I learned from breaking up with a band is that I really should have tried harder to heal the relationships. I should have gone back to the band members and made amends right away. That band was the most important thing in my life. But I had too much pride. Instead of going humbly back to my dear friends and admitting I was wrong, that I had let other things come between me and the music, instead I spiraled away, blotting out the situation, trying to distract myself and numb myself. Filled with self-pity and self-hatred, I drank and raged against the world. I lost years when I could have been playing but was instead consumed with resentment.

There are many pitfalls to playing music. It is hard to keep it honest. The minute we start playing for others, the temptation arises to falsify, in order to get applause. We have to play true. As to finding a mate, there is nothing wrong with wanting to shine. There is nothing wrong with being admired by someone you love for the gifts you have. You just have to keep it real. She has to know who she's in a relationship with. I think if you play truly, you will be more likely to find the right woman.

Anyway, I could write forever about this, but I basically just want to say that I really believe that if you move toward greater personal authenticity in your music and in your romantic life, and place yourself in the service of your talent, you'll be fine.

Write Your Truth.

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By Cary Tennis

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