Tag Archives: romantic relationships

Al Bundy Syndrome: The Face Of Learned Helplessness

Some concepts are so vague that it’s hard to put a human face on it. I suspect that’s part of why many people suck at math. You can’t personalize it, humanize it, or imagine it on a pair of breasts. Even things that directly affect people, like learned helplessness, are hard to grasp.

That’s why if you find a way to put a human face on a serious issue, you jump at the chance. It doesn’t just make it easier. It makes them memorable in an unexpected way. I consider the concept of learned helplessness a serious issue that affects our personal lives, our professional lives, and our sex lives. It goes beyond the world of an aspiring erotica/romance writer. It’s way bigger than we’re comfortable admitting.

That’s why, in the interest of putting a human face on a serious issue, I’d like to present the greatest personification of learned helplessness in the history of media. Some of us grew up with him. Some of us were appalled by him. He’s a myth, a legend, and an icon in his own tragic right.

His name is Al Bundy, the hapless husband and father of the Bundy family from the Fox classic, “Married With Children.” To those who have watched every episode and love the show as much as I do, you already understand why Al is the perfect embodiment of learned helplessness.

For those who aren’t familiar with “Married With Children” or why it was such a groundbreaking show, I feel sorry for you. For most people under the age of 20, they have no idea how much this show shook our collective understanding of modern television.

Say what you will about the trash currently on TV now, but before “Married With Children,” it was much worse. By worse, I mean they were boring. Most sitcoms were bland, generic, feel-good stories that tried to paint the world in an overly-rosy picture. Every one of them basically tried to capture the spirit of “Father Knows Best” or “Leave It To Beaver.”

Married With Children” saw that and decided to do the exact opposite, so much so that when it was in development, the title of the show was called “Not The Cosbys.” It was a show where all the conflicts weren’t solved at the end. It was a show where the world wasn’t idealized, perfect, or fair. In other words, it was more in line with the real world.

In that world, Al Bundy gets dealt a worse hand than most. At one point, he was a high school football star with a promising future. Then, he got hit with a streak of bad luck that effectively crushed his spirits.

He got injured and lost his football scholarship. He got involved with Peggy Bundy, a woman I’ve cited before as a character that men should rightly dread. He eventually has two kids that don’t respect him and works a dead-end, low-paying job as a shoe salesman.

While other sitcoms glorify the innate dignity of working class men like Ralph Cramden, Archie Bunker, and even Homer Simpson, there’s nothing glorious about Al Bundy’s life. There’s nothing noble about his poverty. He doesn’t even try to come off as sympathetic. His life doesn’t raise the bar or embody an ideal. If anything, it reminds ordinary people just how bad things can get.

Whereas other TV sitcoms try to uplift an audience by showing how loving, functional families solve their problems in a simple, 30-minute show, “Married With Children” sent a different message. It presented the audience with a level of dysfunction so extreme, so exaggerated that even if you’re home life was a mess, you could take comfort in the fact that you were not the Bundy family.

What makes that message so powerful is also what makes Al Bundy such a perfect example of learned helplessness. Fittingly enough, the actor who played him, Ed O’Neill, actually drew inspiration from someone in his own family.

In a sense, Al Bundy was built around the idea that he was just resigned to his fate. He realized how much his life sucked, that his family didn’t respect him, and that his best days were behind him. Dealing with all that in addition to working a dead-end job effectively destroyed his spirit, so much so that he stopped trying to better his situation.

That perfectly reflects some of the early experiments done about learned helplessness, namely those involving a poor dog that just stopped trying to avoid painful shocks. Al Bundy is basically that dog after it has been shocked so many times that it just doesn’t bother anymore. It accepts that it will suffer and doesn’t try to avoid it.

In a sense, it becomes a mentality akin to a psychological illness. In the spirit of caveman logic and excuse banking, I’ll give it a name. From here on out, let’s call it “Al Bundy Syndrome.” That’s a much more memorable name than the overly-technical term, learned helplessness. With Al Bundy Syndrome, the condition has a name and a face that Ed O’Neill made iconic.

Given that we already have weird diseases like restless leg syndrome and walking corpse syndrome, which I swear is a thing, I don’t see why we can’t create a syndrome out a fictional character. In fact, it wouldn’t even be the first time.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an expert in anything that doesn’t involve telling sexy stories, but it’s for that reason that I feel it’s so important to put an actual face on an issue that’s hard to understand. Psychology is tricky, complicated, and messy. Al Bundy is simple, crude, and crass. One is innately funnier than the other.

In that sense, it’s easier to see the signs and symptoms of learned helplessness, so long as you frame it in Al Bundy syndrome. Watch any old episode of “Married With Children” and the symptoms reveal themselves. They include feelings like:

  • Being hopelessly numb to the misery around you, like Al Bundy
  • Making little to no effort to improve your situation, like Al Bundy
  • Assuming the worst in every situation, like Al Bundy
  • Having an extremely cynical outlook, like Al Bundy
  • Not caring about whether the world likes or respects you, like Al Bundy
  • Having no shame or filter about what you say, like Al Bundy

The list goes on, but there are too many to list and watching old episodes of “Married With Children” is probably far more informative than any list, not to mention funnier. It’s a show that probably couldn’t get made today, due to how politically incorrect it was, even for its time. That makes its impact all the more vital.

I doubt that Ed O’Neill or the producers of “Married With Children” intended Al Bundy to be the poster boy for learned helplessness, but sometimes the connections are there and all we have to do is make them. So, moving forward, if you want to know what learned helplessness is and how to avoid it, just remember this face. It may save your life, your marriage, and your soul.

For that, I thank you Ed O’Neill.

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A (Potential) Solution To The Worst Love Triangle Of All Time

There are some romantic sub-plots that cannot and will not work, no matter how well they’re written. You could resurrect Shakespeare, Tolken, and Faulkner, merge their brains, and still never salvage those plots. More often than not, most of those un-salvageable sub-plots involve love triangles and I’ve made it abundantly clear how much I despise love triangles.

In a sense, love triangles are a symptom of a much larger problem with romance. They’re basically a reverse cheat code in that they’re supposed to be an easy way to inject drama into a romance, but only ends up making things harder in the long run. While it’s not impossible for a love triangle to work, as fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” might argue, it’s exceedingly rare.

That brings me back to what I’ve identified as the worst love triangle of all time, namely the one involving Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine of the X-men. I could talk for days as to why it’s so awful. However, I don’t want to re-hash those old arguments. I want this article to be more productive in that it offers solutions instead of whining.

In general, this is an aspect of comics I don’t enjoy talking about and avoid at every turn. I probably would’ve kept avoiding it and talked more about my sexy college experiences, but a few recent announcements by Marvel Comics has me and many X-men fans contemplating this god-awful love tingle once again.

It started a couple weeks ago when Marvel announced that Jean Grey, the one that isn’t a time traveler, is returning from the dead after 14 years. Needless to say, this sparked a firestorm of cheers and squees from X-men fans who have been longing for her return for years. I’m not going to lie. I did my share of squeeing.

Then, less than a week later, Marvel dropped another bomb in the pages of Marvel Legacy #1, their latest blockbuster event comic meant to bump sales and soak the panties of collectors. Wolverine, who has been dead since 2014 and was subsequently replaced by multiple characters, is alive again.

That surprised nobody so there wasn’t as much squeeing. Wolverine has survived a nuclear explosion, getting his flesh blown off, and being run over by a steamroller. It was only ever a matter of when and not if he would return. However, him returning at the same time as Jean Grey is one of those coincidences that no self-respecting X-men fan believes to be a coincidence.

If there was any silver lining to Jean Grey being dead for so long, it was that it kept anyone from dragging that god-awful love triangle back into the forefront. With Jean dead, Wolverine could move on and pursue other relationships, like he did with Storm. Cyclops pursued a brief, but passionate relationship with Emma Frost. Both characters seemed to move on from that horrible affront to romance.

Now, with Jean Grey and Wolverine back in the picture and a time-traveling Cyclops still running around, these three are finally in the same universe again. That means there will be the temptation to revisit this malignant tumor of a love triangle. As someone who loves all three of those characters dearly, I am not looking forward to that.

It’s too early to say how the story will play out. Marvel hasn’t revealed anything about how Wolverine came back from the dead. There also isn’t much information on the particulars of Jean Grey’s resurrection. We only know the outcome in that they’re both alive again and that’s usually all anyone needs to re-visit that infuriating love triangle.

Given the circumstances of how it played out, which I’ve noted before, it’s hard to twist this love triangle in a way where anyone comes out looking good. No matter what happens, someone gets screwed over.

If Jean Grey chooses to be with Cyclops, then it screws Wolverine over by reducing him to an obsessive, whiny stalker instead of the ultimate loner.

If Jean Grey chooses to be with Wolverine, then it screws Cyclops over by reducing him to nothing more than an obstacle for Wolverine.

In both cases, Jean Grey comes off as either a prize to be won or a heartless bitch who plays with the heart of any man who dares to fall in love with her. In the end, nobody wins in a love triangle, especially one that was so horribly contrived to begin with.

All that said, I don’t deny that the love triangle is hard to ignore. While it’s not an integral part for each character, it is one of those unresolved issues that has never truly been laid to rest. It’s like a dangling plot hole that can never be totally ignored.

Even so, the love triangle is so toxic to all three characters involved. It only ever brings out the worst in them at every turn. So if it’s only a matter of time before the love triangle re-surfaces again in the X-men comics, then what’s the ultimate endgame? Is there a solution to this omega-level migraine of a plot?

I’m not a writer at Marvel, nor do I have a sliver of influence with them. However, I am a passionate X-men fan, as well as an unapologetic romantic who writes sexy love stories. Given that passion and experience, I have a solution that I doubt Marvel will ever take seriously, but one that essentially fixes the worst love triangle in the history of romance. The solution is as simple as it is sexy.

Make Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine the first polyamorous relationship in comics.

I’ll give comic fans a moment to stop rolling their eyes and/or laughing. I’ll give the ardent proponents of the Cyclops/Jean and Wolverine/Jean relationship a moment to stop shaking their heads as well. This may be the only time both sets of fans are on the same page. I assure you, though, it’s no joke. I’m as serious as an attack by Thanos.

Just think about it from a purely pragmatic point of view. Jean Grey’s love for Cyclops is beyond dispute, being the oldest and most serious relationship in the history of X-men. Her attraction to Wolverine is also beyond dispute, which has made for more than a few sexy moments in the history of X-men.

On top of that, both Cyclops and Wolverine have a history of wanting to hook up with more than one woman. I’ve gone over the long list of romance/hook-ups that Wolverine has gone through. This is a guy who hooked up with Squirrel Girl, for crying out loud. That should be proof that this man cannot handle monogamy.

Cyclops, despite his reputation as a boy scout, also has a history with wanting to hook up with other women. Granted, he’s not even in the same time zone as Wolverine, but the sentiment is there. Unlike other heroes, such as Superman or Mr. Fantastic, he can’t seem to shake it off.

That makes him, Wolverine, and Jean ideal candidates for a polyamorous relationship. They exist in the real world. There is even some evidence that polyamory can be beneficial to certain couples because they require a great deal of communication and understanding, two key requirements to any successful relationship.

Given that Jean Grey is a powerful psychic and Cyclops has a history of attracting psychics, they’re better equipped than any other couple in the real world or the fictional world the create a functioning polyamorous relationship. When real psychics are involved, the obstacles associated with communication become an instant strength.

It works great for Wolverine too because it means he can still be Wolverine. He can still strike out on his own every now and then, stab some monsters, and hook up with a few crazy women. He wouldn’t be tied down by Jean Grey and unable to be what makes him awesome. He can still live, love, and fight like Wolverine.

It may very well be the only way that the nauseatingly overplayed melodrama that is the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle gets resolved. With a polyamorous relationship, all three characters get to share in the emotional fulfillment. They all get to feel loved and nobody gets left out in the cold. It may even bring them all closer together.

That might be impossible for some to imagine with Cyclops and Wolverine, two characters who have been at odds since the moment they met. However, they have shown throughout their history that they can get along. They can work together and bond over a shared goal, especially when that goal involves Jean Grey.

On paper, a polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine would solve so many problems. Everyone involved could have their cake and eat it too. That might be the primary reason why Marvel would never do it, though. It makes too much sense.

I don’t think that a polyamorous relationship would be too taboo for Marvel. In recent years, Marvel has shown a willingness to explore non-traditional relationships. Back in 2012, they celebrated their first same-sex wedding in the pages of Astonishing X-men. They have a fairly lengthy list of LGBT characters as well. Even Daken, Wolverine’s son, has a history of eccentric sexual preferences.

The timing would even be right because polyamorous relationships are on the rise and monogamy is on the decline, especially among young people. While there will always be a place for strong, monogamous couples in comics, why not mix things up a relationship that everyone at Marvel seems eager to strain?

A polygamous relationship isn’t necessarily taboo these days, but it’s something nobody has really tried. It seems like the only way comics, TV, or movies can ever inject drama into a romance is to throw in a love triangle. On behalf of all hopeless romantics, I’d like to go on record as saying that tactic is old, not to mention detrimental.

Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine are in a perfect position to try something different, creating a new kind of romance that we haven’t seen in comics, TV, or anything that didn’t used to air late night on Cinemax. It would be challenging, but that’s exactly what would make it so appealing.

That may also be why Marvel would never try it. It’s so different and there’s no successful formula to follow. Sure, William Marston, the kink-loving creator of Wonder Woman, did it to great effect, but it would require all sorts of dynamics that take a great deal of effort. That effort might just be more than Marvel, or any comic company, is willing to put in at the moment.

Maybe a time will come when polyamorous relationships find their way into comics, just like same-sex relationships. It may not happen with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine, but they are the ones that stand to benefit the most from it. Compared to another exceedingly toxic triangle, it would be a welcome change to the world of superhero romance.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men

How To Flirt Better (According To Science)

Whether you’re a man, woman, or something in between, you’ve probably done your share of flirting. Like learning to walk, ride a bike, or get out of jury duty, it’s one of those things you instinctively do once you become an adult. Compared to riding a bike, though, flirting can be much more dangerous/frustrating/hilarious.

As someone who spent most of his life hindered by crippling social awkwardness, I’ve often been frustrated by the act of flirting, mostly because I was so bad at it. Then, as someone who aspired to be an erotica/romance writer and tell sexy stories, I gained a greater understanding of it and why I was so bad at it in the first place.

When you think about it, learning to flirt is part of our evolutionary destiny. Surviving childhood is a hard enough challenge, but those that do now have to deal with their next major biological imperative, which is reproduction. Part of that process involves finding someone who wants to have sex with you. For some, surviving a bear attack is less daunting than that process.

It certainly has been for me, at times. I am by no means an expert on flirting or one of those self-proclaimed pick-up artists. I’m just someone whose social skills are behind the curve, but is working to improve them, often through telling sexy stories. I’m not saying I’m on my way to becoming the next Hugh Hefner, but I’m making an effort to show that I have something to offer to the opposite sex.

Being the romantic I am, I believe everybody has something to offer, although not everyone is good at conveying it. That’s why, as a service and an effort to help those avoid my hapless social life, here are some flirting tips that have some science to back them.

Most of these tips were compiled on an article from Bustle. I’m not saying the science is perfect, but it passes the Simpson Filter and the various forms of caveman logic that I’ve discussed. There may be other tricks I don’t know about. There are probably men who are much better at employing these skills than me or most people. At the very least, they can serve as a guide for those seeking love, sex, or both.


Flirting Tip #1: Pay Attention (And Draw Attention)

This one is basic common sense, but there are some caveats to keep in mind. Yes, attention is the first and, arguably, the most critical step of any flirtation. There’s a reason it’s value is growing in the current economy.  However, when it comes to flirting, attention is only one side of the coin.

Beyond just making eye-contact with the person you’re flirting with, you need to keep drawing their attention as well. It can’t just be because you’re the one talking. Drawing attention means giving the other person a reason to pay attention to you. It doesn’t have to be a huge reason. You don’t have to slay a dragon or fight Floyd Mayweather. You just need to prove that you’re interesting.

That might be easier for some more than others. If you’re a boring person, then that’s a challenge. If you’ve got something in your life that is strange, unusual, or intriguing, then you’ve got an advantage and you shouldn’t be afraid to use it.


Flirting Tip #2: Smile, Be Open, And Welcome Someone In

This is also common sense, but it’s also one of those things people of both genders only do halfway. Smiling is regularly cited as one of the best flirting tactics of all time, but it’s only part of a much larger process and too many people don’t bother finishing that process.

You can’t just stop at smiling. You have to be open and willing to let someone into your world. I know that sound dirty, but it’s not limited to a sexual sort of way. If someone is open to being with you, then you need to show that you’re open as well. Smiling is a great way to signal that you’re open for business and not just in your pants, but it shouldn’t be the only way.

Let someone know you want to be loved. Let them know you want to take a chance on them too. If that person is open to being loved, then there’s a good chance they’ll act on it. If they don’t, then don’t waste your smile on them.


Flirting Tip #3: Give Compliments (But Not Just On Beauty)

This is something that a lot of people screw up, myself included. Giving compliments is great, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I’m sorry to admit that for much of my early life, I did things the wrong way. I gave girls compliments, but they were very shallow. I said they looked nice or sexy. They would often smile back, but not much else and I could hardly blame them.

I learned later in life that if you’re going to compliment a woman, her looks shouldn’t be the first thing you compliment. It doesn’t matter if she has tits like Pamela Anderson or an ass like Jennifer Lopez. It also doesn’t matter if a man has the face of Hugh Jackman and the abs of Channing Tatum. Those people get compliments all the time on their looks. To really stand out, you need to compliment something else.

Sometimes it involves a book they’re reading, a sport they’re playing, or TV show they’re watching. Every person has their quirks. When you compliment those, you compliment someone on a deeper level. That’ll get their attention. From there, you can get to work on heating up their loins.


Flirting Tip #4: Make Someone Laugh And Relax

Laughter isn’t just the best medicine. It’s also a great way to bond once you’ve gotten past the point of getting each other’s attention. In a sense, getting attention is the easy part. Holding it with someone is the real challenge. That’s where jokes come in.

Making someone laugh makes you more likable. Being likable means they want to be around you more. Being around you more will let them know whether you’re worth loving. The more you make them laugh, the more you tip those odds in your favor.

It can’t just be crude dick jokes either. Those only go so far. Even in high school, that stuff isn’t enough to get you a date. Making someone laugh isn’t just about entertaining them. It’s about making them feel relaxed. By being relaxed, they’ll be more comfortable around you. By being comfortable, they’re more willing to take their clothes off. It’s logic at its most simple.


Flirting Tip #5: Be Poised, Be Confident, And Lie To Yourself (But No One Else)

Poise often goes hand-in-hand with confidence, but they don’t always have have to be mutually exclusive. Confidence is critical in any successful flirtation. Contrary to what every teen movie ever said, being pitiful is never attractive. Most people don’t fall in love or have sex out of pity.

That’s why being confident is so important. That’s also why sometimes you have to lie to yourself about your confidence level. It may sound crude, but it is one of those things that you can fake until you make. In fact, you can use caveman logic to your advantage. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between fake confidence and real confidence so take advantage of that bug.

In doing so, however, you have to be careful not to give a false impression to the person your flirting with. If you lie to them about the kind of person you are, then that means either becoming that person or having to keep lying. In the end, that’s more stress than it’s worth. It’s also a dick move and most people don’t appreciate that kind of flirting.


Flirting Tip #6: Invite Soft Touching (To A Point)

Being a natural hugger, I can attest to the power of touch. There is some science behind it as well. Even light touching is enough to send the sexy parts of someone’s brain into overdrive. It’s another instance where you can get caveman logic to work in your favor.

Now, this can be risky because touching someone when they don’t want it can get you into all sorts of trouble, especially these days. It’s more so for men, but it’s also something women struggle with as well. It’s not always easy to discern a loving touch from the kind of touch that Ted Bundy might give. That’s why it’s best to keep things soft and subtle.

If at any point, the touching gets heated, then by all means, go for it. Let that touching take you and your prospective lover across the rainbow bridge into paradise. However, you have to make damn sure you don’t jump the gun. You’ll save yourself and your lover more awkward moments than they care to deal with.


Again, I would like to re-emphasize that I am not a dating expert, nor am I a professional pick-up artist. If I were, I’d be charging a lot more for these tips and be a lot less honest about it. The fact that I’ve inconvenienced myself, a major indicator I’ve noted before, to the point where I would write out these tips and give them for free should be proof enough of my sincerity.

Even if I’m not an expert, I dedicate a lot of time and energy into writing sexy stories and crafting sexy scenarios to entertain and arouse. Issues like flirting are things I have to research, explore, and learn about to make my writing as sexy as possible. If it can help other people in the real world get lucky in love or sex, then that’s just a nice bonus.

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