The jittery momentum of the movie, directed by Douglas McGrath (“Emma,” “Infamous”), mirrors Kate’s frazzled state all too well. In one of its more clever touches, the film visualizes Kate’s endless things-to-do list that gives her insomnia as an animated scrawl.

Ms. Parker is a reasonably adept physical comedian, and a scene in which Kate, having just learned that her children have lice, frantically scratches her head during a high-powered meeting gives the movie a momentary blip of levity. But more often than not, Ms. Parker’s straining to be funny comes across as desperation to please.

With two exceptions, the supporting roles are underwritten and the performances anemic. Mr. Kinnear’s Richard is a near-cipher who reacts to Kate’s hysteria with mild exasperation, only raising his voice once (and not very loud). Pierce Brosnan, suave as ever but grayer, plays Jack Abelhammer, the company’s head honcho in New York with whom Kate teams to pitch the deal. A calm, enlightened, impossibly courtly, unattached widower who tolerates Kate’s every quirk and begins to fall in love with her, he is the polar opposite of a driven financial kingpin like Richard Fuld, the final former chief executive of Lehman Brothers. The screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses”) makes a whole to-do about the signals conveyed by Jack’s signing his e-mails to Kate “xo.”

The movie is unkind to Kate’s perceived rivals, both male and female. The head of her Boston office, Clark Cooper (Kelsey Grammer), is a supercilious iceberg; her colleague Chris Bunce (Seth Meyers), a treacherous, grinning back stabber. But neither has enough screen time to register as more than a half-finished sketch. The film is nastier to two Boston matrons, nicknamed “the Momsters,” one of whom blithely dispenses anti-Kate barbs while working on an elliptical trainer.

Kate’s best friend, Allison (Christina Hendricks), who speaks directly to the camera, has more substance, although her remarks about the different perceptions of similar male and female behavior in the workplace are about as fresh as “Have a nice day” and “Where’s the beef?”

I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011)

The title says it all, as I do not know how Sarah Jessica Parker has this ability to continue in being the marquee of her films, playing roles that may seem a little bit whiny and neurotic, but gaining and establishing an incredible following which has to be attributed to a certain degree to the very successful Sex and the City television series and movies, despite the latest one being not quite hitting the mark. Still, you can’t keep a good woman down especially when she has the knack for snagging roles that allows her to play, well, the usual superwoman whose life is in a constant juggle between work and family.
And in many ways this film has characters that makes it easy for any working adult to identify with, whether one has a family of one’s own or not. If life means tackling the various friends and fiends that come our way, and dealing with issues, problems and challenges that get thrown in our direction, then this story, adapted off the novel by Allison Pearson, encompasses just about everything in episodes. There’s the best friend and confidante, the rival at work just waiting to pounce on mistakes or steal thunder, snarky moms who cannot figure out why someone wants to be a career woman, an attractive boss to report to and work with, an anal retentive assistant, all rolled into the story of the work life balance.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s Kate Reddy seemed to have it all figured out, on the outside at least when others look at her, the perfect formula to keep everything together, although folks on the inside, and by that I mean family members with husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) and kids Emily and Ben (Emily Rayne Lyle and Julius and Theodore Goldberg respectively) disappointment and the lack of quantity time become very evident and frequent, and goes to a certain extent of reminding us of the things that actually matter and the importance of that balance and difficulty to achieve so, because it isn’t a zero sum game, but definitely something’s gotta give, and the crux of this film is how Kate slowly erodes what should be held dear, for career progress and reputation to upkeep.
Which is not a bad thing, but calls for very discerning time management, and knowing when to call it quits. Director Douglas McGrath weaves a very punchy narrative that relies a fair bit of comedy, even employing things like hair lice and other quite unladylike behaviour to send the message across, be it presenting the challenges Kate faced, or to try and present the narrative in a fairly novel manner with the use of talking heads interviews that makes it become like a mockumentary, even having Kate break the fourth wall and communicate directly with the audience more than once. It also offers keen insights into the modern day career woman, and if you remove gender from the equation, the many issues on display can apply to any working adult with similar responsibilities, where life may mean a constant juggle of roles and the apportioning of one’s time against activities.
It’s a film about contemporary lifestyle and the relationships built at work and at home, with many social tools used today featuring very much in the film, from email to phone to text messages, which creep into and become part and parcel of communications in life. Then there’s the subplot about the perils for the working mom in a jetsetting lifestyle with the temptation that comes in the form of her attractive working partner Jack Abelhammer who comes in the form of Pierce James Bond Brosnan, and that of her relationship with assistant Momo (Olivia Munn) who probably exists in the film to provide that tinge of sarcasm, a person who’s high on the IQ but needs plenty of work in the EQ department.
Of course you don’t watch this film to look out for solutions on offer, but it may provide suggestions that some you may already know of, but fail to practice or have it successfully implemented because a movie can conveniently lump things together and skip the nitty gritty ugly details. But such is life, and what this film can do is probably a temporal pause from our own predicaments, and to remind ourselves that we’re not alone in this struggle to maintain an even keel. I may not be the biggest Sarah Jessica Parker fan around, but I cannot argue the case against this film. Recommended.

The spectacle of someone who has it all demanding commiseration from others who don’t is unappealing. Hence the nausea induced in some filmgoers by Sarah Jessica Parker’s current portrayal of an over-privileged working mother valiantly juggling her multiple obligations.

Kate is married with two kids but wants to soar in the world of finance. The family and the job keep making annoying demands, all of which she pluckily tries to meet. Because she gives the appearance of more or less succeeding, people keep saying, “I don’t know how she does it.” We’re asked to believe she does it by being a really super person. In fact, she does it by being a scumbag.

Her two-year-old son hasn’t learned to talk because his mother’s too busy to speak to him. When he eventually gives voice, his first words are “Bye, Mom”. Her broken promises have soured her six-year-old daughter. She goes to sleep her kindly husband fancies making love. He’s trying to pursue a career of his own, but when junior falls down the stairs it’s Dad who has to take him to hospital, since Mom’s away on business yet again.

All this is because in the nasty banking world, those who want to claw their way to the top have to work unsocial hours and travel to see clients. If they don’t work hard enough, others may overtake them in the rat-race. It’s so unfair.

The film will also fuel the notion that it’s unwise to give women tough jobs because they’re intrinsically unreliable. This is unfortunate for women like Kate’s assistant, who’re prepared to sacrifice the prospect of motherhood so they can give full attention to their careers. Such concerns don’t occur to Kate, because of course it’s all about Kate. Obviously she’s not bothered about short-changing her employers: they ought to make allowances.

Why? Well, in spite of her distractions, Kate’s so much better at the job than her workplace rivals. She’s bound to be, what with being such a clever juggler. Eventually, her boss has the sense to realise this, and lets her take things easier than her colleagues. Hubby comes to appreciate that he’s got to do more of the housework. This surely is the way things ought to be.

It’s not only Kate who thinks so. Highly advantaged women often seem to assume they’re entitled to total fulfilment both at work and at home as of right. If they don’t get it, they’ve been robbed.

Yet motherhood is voluntary. Those who engage in it aren’t necessarily doing the rest of us a favour. The planet has nearly seven billion occupants, and that’s probably enough. People who’ve already been born are clamouring to come to countries like America and Britain to do whatever needs doing. Many seem to be better educated, harder working and less crippled by entitlement than our own offspring.

Still, as Kate reminds us (and her misguided assistant), having children is a great joy. Fine, but it’s for women who want this benefit to ensure they can discharge the duties involved. Fulfilling all other aspirations at the same time may or may not be practicable.

Ambitious mums can try to turn their partners into house-husbands, but it would be only fair to tell them what they’re in for. Instead of expecting childless colleagues to cover for them, they could admit that mumps and nativity plays will come first, and accept the consequences, however unwelcome.

If they can’t work as hard as their childless colleagues to get a seat on the board, they could manage without one, instead of demanding quotas that would devalue other women who’ve earned their place.

It’s like this, Kate. If you want to have it all, it’s your job to work out how to do it. If you can’t, give something up. But don’t expect the rest of us to underwrite your bliss.

Allison Pearson: ‘I don’t know how I did it all those years’

Like Pygmalion, I felt the strange thrill of seeing my creatures come to life. Jack Abelhammer, played by Pierce Brosnan, is every bit as knee-knockingly handsome as I imagined Kate’s email lover to be. Seth Myers is a study in malicious glee as Bunce, Kate’s work rival who delights in pointing out how motherhood makes her unfit for purpose. The young Asian-American actress Olivia Munn is better than I could ever have hoped as Kate’s robotic, child-averse assistant Momo. And then there’s Sarah Jessica herself. As Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, style icon and shoe goddess SJP has millions of fans, but could she be a plausible investment manager and harassed working mum?

Well, the woman on the screen is not my self-lacerating heroine, but SJP is utterly convincing as financial whizz and a woman stretched like an elastic band as she tries to honour her love for her family and her dedication to her work. I wasn’t the only person in tears at the screening when Kate softly sings, “I love you, a bushel and a peck” down her mobile to her baby who was trying to drift off to sleep in another city.

How the memories flood back. Ten years ago, a trip to the States for the Telegraph. Three interviews with celebrities in six crazy days. Calling home every morning. Being told the baby’s fine, just got a bit of a cold. A husband left holding the two children. Poor chap looked like a sphinx with a migraine when I handed him The List; tasks to attend to in my absence. “But it looks like a plan for invading a small country,” he complained.

It was, in a way. Women run the small country called Home, millions of us do it in our spare time, and no one who doesn’t run that small country really knows what it feels like in the dead of night when task lists jitter like tickertape through your seething brain.

Getting back home from the States, I find the baby has not been fine. Tonsilitis. He hasn’t eaten since I left. Two thoughts in my jet-lagged brain: a) I am a lousy mother and wife, this can’t go on. b) Set the alarm to get up early and begin transcribing interview tapes to meet deadline. Must remember. MUST REMEMBER.

Not long after I read that women of my generation actually believed they had tougher lives than their own mothers. Doing their damnedest at work and home, they felt like failures at both. And this was called Equality, the thing women had fought so long and hard for.

Next came a lunch in a smart London restaurant with Sarah Sands, then deputy editor of this newspaper and one of the most glamorous working mothers I know. I told Sarah I was considering writing a book about a working mother, a comedy of madness and despair, only I had no time to write it. “Great idea, you can do it as a column for us,” she said, reaching into her handbag for her credit card and pulling out a small plastic vial containing what looked like Harvey’s Bristol Cream. “Oops. Child’s urine sample,” she said. The suits at a neighbouring table were bemused by our gales of laughter.

Working Mothers’ laughter comes hardest when our double life is revealed for what it is: a juggling act in which the balls can drop at any time, invariably on our own head. “I don’t know how you do it.” People must have said that to me a thousand times. It wasn’t admiration I heard in their voices.

And so Katharine Helen Reddy was born in a weekly column. I named her Kate after one of my heroines, the scintillatingly brisk Katharine Hepburn. The Helen Reddy came from the singer-songwriter whose ballad of female empowerment I used to dance round to at university. “I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman.”

It was a lie. I didn’t feel strong or invincible. Mainly I felt tired. “Five years of walking round in a lead suit of sleeplessness,” said Kate in the column. All my girlfriends with small children were tired, too. We shared news of our disasters like men tell each other war stories. No, I’m not suggesting it was a war; but there were casualties. They were called children. We fought a daily battle keeping home and career going and I knew from the avalanche of responses to the column that thousands of us felt like we were Missing in Action, such a blur of activity that we could no longer see life straight nor see it whole. That much hasn’t changed.

A friend rang me after Newsnight one evening to ask if I had any liquorice. She sounded desperate. Emma was making a Postman Pat cake for her daughter’s fifth birthday and she explained she needed the liquorice to make Pat’s specs.

“Are you out of your mind?” I said. “You’re trying to finish a major documentary series for Channel 4 and you are up in the middle of the night making liquorice glasses for a fictional postman. Go to bloody bed, woman.”

“I’ve got to make the cake. I promised. I’ve hardly seen her this week,” she said and I heard tears in her voice. I gathered stories like that from all of you who wrote in.

When we talk about women’s struggle to balance their lives, certain men growl: “If you can’t stand the heat, get back to the kitchen.” Men who have never changed a nappy, mainly, and couldn’t pick their child’s teacher out in a police line-up. Since I wrote the book certain things have improved. There are more men in positions of power who understand that we run the small country called Home. Today, no party leader who wanted the women’s vote could do what Prince Philip did and play squash while his eldest son was being born.

Improved maternity leave and the right to request flexible working has also eased the burden. The greatest worry is that the Kates will stop breeding. One in four women graduates will never have children. When they say that part-time working is bad for the economy, ask yourself how good is it for the economy if a quarter of our brightest women choose not to reproduce because it’s so bloody impossible?

It is customary for the writer to sneer that Hollywood has traduced their book. Well, I adore my film. In one scene Kate says, “I love my job, I sometimes wish I didn’t love it so much” and Pierce Brosnan replies, “It’s OK to love your children.” Yes it is. So, ladies, let’s all get down to the multiplex and cheer a film which shows real women’s lives in all their joy and difficulty.

One final thing. Sarah Jessica Parker told me that she keeps her pink slippers because her twins love to see Mummy’s big toes poking through. “Toes,” they shriek, “Mama toes.” No pair of Manolo Blahniks in the world can compete with that.

‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ is in cinemas nationwide from Sep 16. The novel, ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ (RRP £7.99) is available from Telegraph Books at £7.99 + 99p p&p. This title is also available with Allison’s other bestseller, ‘I Think I Love You’ (RRP £6.99) for the combined offer price of £13.98 + £1.25 p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk. Allison’s column is in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ every Thursday.

If the Chelsea tractor set ever yearned for their own version of Bicycle Thieves then praise be, here’s a film that delivers in spades. I Don’t Know How She Does It is a salute to the oppressed middle classes, guaranteed to strike a chord with every harried working mum who’s found herself lumbered with a full-time nanny, oodles of cash, a four-storey Boston townhouse and a supportive husband with flexible working hours. What the rest of us pampered, over-privileged wretches are meant to take from this is anyone’s guess, though it may well not be pretty.

Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Kate Reddy, torn between her love for her kids and her shining dream of making a fortune in the financial sector. “This pie was going to be home-made if it’s the last thing I did,” vows Kate as she hastens to the bake-sale. But trouble is brewing. On the one hand, Kate has promised to make a snowman at Thanksgiving. On the other, she keeps being called down for PowerPoint presentations in New York, where she is close to cutting a deal with Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), a suave Wall Street shark. It’s all too much; something’s got to give. Finally Kate can take it no more. She attacks her children with a Tonka truck; blood spattering her designer dress as her hysterical spouse grabs at her arm, screaming: “Help! Help! Oh sweet Jesus, she means to kill us all.”

Actually that’s not what happens at all. Instead, Kate Reddy replumps her hair and presses onward in search of the life-work balance, while a gallery of supporting players line up to eulogise her and Bill Withers sings Lovely Day on the soundtrack. Doug McGrath’s film is based on the best-selling book by Allison Pearson, and comes accessorised with freeze-frames, a perky voice-over and scribbled crib notes on Kate’s various friends and rivals. It’s bright, glossy and professionally put together, while the cast at least play it like they mean it. But it also suffers from a crucial lack of jeopardy, with a drama that is built on foundations that are shaky at best.

Are we really meant to cheer plucky Kate as she dashes off to make another killing on the markets? What would it have cost the film-makers to have given her a job that was more uncomplicatedly virtuous, less freighted with issues? At one stage Jack Abelhammer and Kate go bowling, where they fall in with a team comprised of everyday working Joes. “If you win this for us we’ll forgive you for being a banker,” they tell Abelhammer, who duly sends the pins flying, reforming the whole financial sector in one fell swoop. For a film ostensibly concerned with the mess and tumult of modern life, I Don’t Know How She Does It presents some pretty pat solutions.

I Don’t Know Why

We could be strangers in the night
We could be passing in the shadows
We couldn’t be closer if we tried
When we’re caught in the headlights
We could be faces in the crowd
We could be passing in the shadows
Loving the risk of being found
When we’re caught in the headlights

Dangerous
Your love is always dangerous
And now I’m lost in us
We’re living in a lie of trust

I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you

I was a vacant alibi
Trading the truth in for a lie, oh
We were the essence of desire
And we’re caught in the headlights

Dangerous
Your love is always dangerous
And now I’m lost in us
We’re living in a lie of trust

I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you

Tell me that you love me
Tell me that you love me
Tell me that you love me
Tell me that you love me
Tell me that you love me
Dangerous
Tell me that you love me
Tell me that you love me
Your love is always dangerous
Tell me that you love me

I don’t know why
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you
I don’t know why
But I guess it’s got something to do with you
To do with you

Maybe You Don’t Know What Love Is

We sit silently. My friend stares deeply into her empty glass, occasionally shuffling the ice around with her straw. “Wow,” she says. I sit and wait for her to say something else. What started out as a festive night somehow became a long, deep discussion about love, what it consists of, and how rare it actually is.

Finally, I say, “Wow, what?”

“I’m just thinking that I’ve never experienced that.”

“Well, maybe you just haven’t met the right person yet,” I say — the totally cliche thing that every friend says in this situation.

“No,” she says. “I mean, I’ve never experienced that with anyone. My parents, my family, even most of my friends.” She looks up at me, her eyes glassy and wet, “Maybe I don’t know what love is.”

The Conditional Coolness Economy

When you’re a teenager, being “cool” is traded like a currency. You accumulate as much coolness as possible and then you find other kids with a lot of coolness and you bargain to share that coolness to make each other even cooler.

And if at any point you come across a kid with far less coolness than you, you tell that nerd to fuck off and stop being such a loser and dragging your coolness down because the other cool kids might see you, like, actually talking to each other.

Your coolness balance determines the level of demand for a relationship with you. If you suck at sports and sports are cool, then there will be less demand for your friendship. If you’re awesome at playing guitar and guitars are cool, then your coolness stock will rise appropriately and people will like you again. In this way, high school is a constant arms race to cultivate as much coolness as possible.

Most of the bullshit and stupid mind games teenagers play are a result of this coolness economy. They fuck with each other’s heads and brag about shit they didn’t do and think they love people they actually hate and think they hate people they actually love because it makes them appear cooler than they are and it gets them more Snapchat followers and a blowjob from their prom date.

Conditional relationships are all smoke and mirrors where you never actually know who the other person is.

These high-school-level relationships are conditional by nature. They are relationships of I’ll-do-this-for-you-if-you-do-this-for-me. They’re relationships where the same person who is your best friend one year because you both like the same DJ is your worst enemy a year later because they made fun of you in biology class. These relationships are fickle. And shallow. And highly dramatic. And pretty much the entire reason why nobody misses high school or wants to go back.

And this is fine. Trading in the coolness economy is part of growing up and figuring out who you are. You have to participate in all of the bullshit in order to learn to rise above it.

Because at some point, you grow out of this tit-for-tat approach to life. You start just enjoying people for who they are, not because they play football well or use the same brand of toilet paper as you.

Getting Stuck on Conditional Relationships

Not everyone grows out of these conditional relationships. Many people, for whatever reason, get stuck in the coolness economy and continue to play the game well into adulthood. The manipulation gets more sophisticated but the same games are there. They never let go of the belief that love and acceptance are contingent on some benefit they’re providing to people, some condition that they must fulfill.

The problem with conditional relationships is that they inherently prioritize something else above the relationship. So it’s not you I really care about, but rather your access to people in the music industry. Or it’s not really me you care about, but my fantastically handsome face and witty one-liners (I know, I know — it’s OK).

These conditional relationships can get really fucked up on an emotional level. Because the decision to chase “coolness” doesn’t just happen. Chasing coolness is something we do because we feel shitty about ourselves and desperately need to feel otherwise.

Conditional relationships often cause you to feel one thing about a person and show them something completely different.

So it’s not really you I care about, but rather using you to make me feel good about myself. Maybe I’m always trying to save you or fix your problems or provide for you or impress you in some way. Maybe I’m using you for sex or money or to impress my friends. Maybe you are using me for sex, and that makes me feel good because for once I feel wanted and seen.

Draw it up however you’d like, but at the end of the day, it’s all the same. These are relationships built on conditions. They are built on: “I will love you only if you make me feel good about myself; you will love me only if I make you feel good about yourself.”

Conditional relationships are inherently selfish. When I care about your money more than you, then really all I’m having a relationship with is money. If you care more about the career success of your partner than you do about her, then you don’t really have a relationship with her, just her career. If your mother only takes care of you and puts up with your little alcohol habit because it makes her feel better about herself as a mother, then she doesn’t really have a relationship with you, she has a relationship with feeling good about herself as a mother.

When our relationships are conditional, we don’t really have relationships at all.

We attach ourselves to superficial objects and ideas and then try to live them vicariously through the people we become close to. These conditional relationships then make us even more lonely because no real connection is ever being made.

Conditional relationships also cause us to tolerate being treated poorly. After all, if I’m dating someone because she has a rockin’ bod that impresses all my guy friends, then I’m more likely to allow myself to be treated like crap by her because, after all, I’m not with her for how she treats me, I’m with her to impress others.

Conditional relationships don’t last because the conditions they are based upon never last. And once the conditions are gone, like a rug that’s pulled out from under you, the two people involved will fall and hurt themselves and will have never seen it coming.

Relationships Based on Unconditional Love

This transitory nature of conditional relationships is usually something people can only see with the passage of a sufficient amount of time. Teenagers are young and just discovering their identities, so it makes sense that they are constantly obsessed with how they measure up to others. But as years go on, most people realize that few people stick around in their lives. And there’s probably a reason for that.

As most people age, most of them come to prioritize unconditional relationships — relationships where each person is accepted unconditionally for whoever he or she is, without additional expectations. This is called “adulthood” and it’s a mystical land that few people, regardless of their age, ever see, much less inhabit.

The trick to “growing up” is to prioritize unconditional relationships, to learn how to appreciate someone despite their flaws, mistakes, bum ideas, and to judge a partner or a friend solely based on how they treat you, not based on how you benefit from them, to see them as an end within themselves rather than a means to some other end.

Unconditional relationships are relationships where both people respect and support each other without any expectation of something in return. To put it another way, each person in the relationship is primarily valued for the relationship itself — the mutual empathy and support — not for their job, status, appearance, success, or anything else.

Unconditional relationships are the only real relationships. They cannot be shaken by the ups and downs of life. They are not altered by superficial benefits and failures. If you and I have an unconditional friendship, it doesn’t matter if I lose my job and move to another country, or you get a sex change and start playing the banjo; you and I will continue to respect and support each other. The relationship is not subjected to the coolness economy where I drop you the second you start hurting my chances to impress others. And I definitely don’t get butthurt if you choose to do something with your life that I wouldn’t choose.

People with conditional relationships never learned to see the people around them in terms of anything other than the benefits they provide. That’s because they likely grew up in an environment where they were only appreciated for the benefits they provided.

Parents, as usual, are often the culprits here. But most parents are not consciously conditional towards their children (in fact, chances are that they were never loved unconditionally by their parents, so they’re just doing all they know how to do). But as with all relationship skills, it starts in the family.

If dad only approved of you when you obeyed his orders; if mom only liked you when you were making good grades; if brother was only nice to you when no one else was around; these things all train you to subconsciously treat yourself as some tool for other people’s benefits. You will then build your future relationships by molding yourself to fit other people’s needs. Not your own. You will also build your relationships by manipulating others to fit your needs rather than take care of them yourself. This is the basis for a toxic relationship.

Relationship Hypotheticals

Conditions cut both ways. You don’t stay friends with a person who is using you to feel better about themselves unless you too are somehow getting some benefit out of the friendship as well. Despite what every girl who posts cheesy Marilyn Monroe quotes on Facebook thinks, you don’t accidentally get suckered into dating someone who uses you for your tits because you’re unconditionally loving yourself. No, you bought into that person’s conditions because you were using them to meet your own conditions.

Most conditional relationships are entered into unconsciously — that is, they are entered into without conscious thought about who this person is or why they like you or what their behavior towards you indicates. You just see their sweet tattoos and envy their rad bike and want to be close to them.

People who enter into conditional relationships enter into them for the simple reason that these relationships feel really good, yet they never stop to question why it feels so good. After all, cocaine feels pretty good, but you don’t run out and buy a bunch the second you see it, do you?

(Don’t answer that.)

Create hypotheticals with your relationships. Ask yourself:

  • “If I lost my job, would dad still respect me?”
  • “If I stopped giving her money, would mom still love me and accept me?”
  • “If I told my wife that I wanted to start a career as a photographer, would it wreck our marriage?”
  • “If I stopped having sex with this guy, would he still want to see me?”
  • “If I told Jake that I strongly disagree with his decision, would he stop talking to me?”

But you need to also turn around and ask them about yourself, too:

  • “If I moved to Kentucky, would I still keep in touch with Paul?”
  • “If John didn’t get me free tickets to concerts, would I bother hanging out with him?”
  • “If Dad stopped paying for school, would I still go home and visit?”

There are a million hypothetical questions and you should be asking yourself every single one of them. All the time.

Because if any of them ever has an answer other than, “It would change nothing,” then you probably have a conditional relationship on your hands — i.e., you don’t have a real loving relationship where you think you do.

It hurts to admit, I know.

But wait, there’s more!

If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.

This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A shit-storm of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.

But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.

But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.

This is really fucking hard, of course. But relationships are difficult by nature because people are difficult by nature. If life was just all fun and fellatio, then nothing good would ever get done. And no one would ever grow.

How to Stop Fucking Up Your Romantic Relationships

Relationships can be complicated and difficult. But few people know that there are some pretty clear signals to know if a relationship is going to work or not. Put your email in the form to receive my 29-page ebook on healthy relationships.

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