Some of you might know me as a sportswriter from my time at SBS, where I did a soccer column for The World Game and later got into a bit of biff with Les Murray.
However I’m going to talk to you about a different game altogether.
I’ve just written a book called Laid Bare: One Man’s Story of Sex, Love and Other Disorders, which is being published by Hachette Australia later this year.
It’s a story of my comprehensive marriage breakdown, my even more comprehensive mental breakdown, my sexual escapades here and overseas as an accidental but hardcore player, my quixotic search for love in the age of the internet, and most of all, repairing my fractured relationship with my daughter, who is now eight, but was four when I divorced from my wife.
During the writing of Laid Bare I became aware of something that was not only missing from my own life, but also seemed to be in danger of disappearing from all our lives.
It was patience. Forbearance.
We seem to have lost patience with everything.
We don’t read books like we used to.
We channel surf.
We move on if a webpage takes more than five seconds to download.
We throw away perfectly good things. It’s quicker to replace something than repair it.
We take our smartphones to dinner.
We no longer listen and absorb. We tweet.
Now to you, a group of marketing people, this new impatient world might seem like manna from heaven.
After all, people spend money on things when they lose patience and are dissatisfied.
It could be a TV, a car, a fridge, a holiday.
When you see something better than the one you’ve already got, the collective instinct now is to upgrade, as quickly as possible. Look at the ridiculous cults of the iPhone and iPad, for example.
The problem we have now as a society is that relationships – the bedrock of our society – are no different.
We’re beginning to treat them the same as everything else.
Facebook alone is blamed for one in five breakups in the US. One in three in the UK. Those figures are disputed of course, but right or wrong, they’re not too far from the truth.
That’s because our global culture of instant connectivity but perpetual distraction is destroying relationships and marriages.
We are living in an increasingly disconnected world when it comes to emotions. I’ve dated women who should have had their iPhones surgically grafted in their wrists.
And as we know, one of the most important things in any relationship is patience and forbearance.
Patience when times aren’t good is probably the most important.
I’ve never worked in advertising, but I imagine patience plays an important part in the creative process.
If it doesn’t it should.
The best ideas take time to reach their fulfilment.
HBO’s The Wire was given time. Its first season drew terrible ratings.
By season three, it was in danger of being cancelled.
But by being patient, and having faith in their product, The Wire went on to become an artistic and critical triumph for HBO and a huge seller on DVD around the world. It’s been shown nightly on the BBC.
President Barack Obama said it was his favourite show.
Season four, in particular, was some of the finest television I’ve ever seen.
A great and enduring work of art. And it will go on to be appreciated for its quality for years to come.
Marketing, of course, is about building emotional connections.
A large section of our community is trying to find love online.
I’m one of them.
I’m happy to confess that in the wake of my divorce, over a period of five years, I went on hundreds of dates because I was searching for someone to replace my wife and because it was easy and I was trying to outrun my pain.
Click and you’re on.
It didn’t work, of course. Because I had no patience.
I expected to be able to find something perfect out there. I went halfway around the world looking for the perfect woman.
I found the next best thing, ironically, just around the corner from where I live in Sydney and fell in love. But that relationship wasn’t to last either.
So for the most part I was miserable after my marriage breakdown and it was only when my daughter said something startling to me while driving in the car one day that my life changed.
I was stuck in traffic. I was bemoaning my life. Getting frustrated and pissed off. Clenching the wheel.
Then my little girl piped up from the back seat.
“You know, Dad, you could try a little patience. Then you might find life gets easier.”
My daughter is eight. And she was absolutely right.
When I first met my wife it was 1996. She dumped me after two weeks but after some John Cusack High Fidelity-style stalking of her flat she took me back and we went on and had a ten-year marriage that produced a beautiful girl.
She took a chance on me.
But, as I say in the book, had it been 2012, “I wouldn’t have seen her again. She’d have put her picture on a dating site, married a Texas oil billionaire and blocked me on Facebook.”
So why are so many people breaking up in 2012? Why are divorce rates so high? There are 50,000 alone in Australia every year.
I would argue it’s partly because we have become so bloody impatient. We don’t persevere anymore.
Getting in and out of relationships is easier than ever because of mobile phones, emails, social networking and online dating.
It gets back to what Douglas Coupland coined in Generation X all those years ago: “option paralysis”.
When given so many choices, you make none.
Or you make one, but there’s no satisfaction.
Supermarkets in the 1990s had about 6000 to 8000 line items on the shelves. Today, there are 20,000 to 30,000, and yet research suggests that shoppers are no more satisfied by this quadrupling of choice. We’re still unhappy and demand more bang for our buck. Limitless options. Overburdened with choice.
Those hundreds of internet dates fall into the same category.
And for the committed pantsman, and for a time I was a bad one, Facebook and dating sites like RSVP are just one big vagina catalogue.
Why settle on one when you can have hundreds? Why get married when you can date a different girl every night of the week?
Formerly happily monogamous men like me have become dreadful bounders because of the internet.
It encourages men – and increasingly women – to play around. In fact women, I find, are becoming just as callous and predatory as men. The checklist mentality is given free rein on the internet.
And because of that traditional relationships are under siege, families are under siege.
And even people who are in committed relationships are thinking about getting out.
Some do. The unhappy ones that don’t console themselves with internet porn, gambling and hanging out in the shed.
Everyone is spoiled for choice. Distracted. Impatient. Dissatisfied.
It’s easy to send a picture of an erect cock or a naked rack on your phone.
You can fuck on Skype.
Porn has changed what we all expect in the bedroom and if we’re not getting it we start looking elsewhere, using the internet, smartphones, dating sites, GPS-based hook-up apps.
I put forward the hypothesis in my book that relationships have “effectively suffered the fate of porn movies: been reduced to ‘scenes’, designed for short attention spans and instant gratification rather than rewarding patience”.
I truly believe this is a bigger social problem than we think and perhaps your industry can be at the vanguard of a new sensibility of patience rather than instant gratification – to encourage your clients and their customers to look for and cherish things that provide lasting value, or at least shared happiness.
Patience is the bedrock of any relationship. The time you spend riding out those periods when things aren’t so good makes the periods when things are going great so much better.
The verb “to love” – the action of love, showing love, giving love – is just as important as the feeling of being “in love”.
In this overconnected world, we’ve collectively forgotten what a true connection really means.
And that is tolerating what it is that makes us human. Not thinking of each other as faultless avatars on a computer screen.
It all starts with a little patience.
This is the edited transcript of a speech delivered at Circus, The Festival of Commercial Creativity, in March 2012.