This is why I?m so hard on the pseudo-spiritual couple.
Photo by Emma Frances Logan on Unsplash
There have been a few moments this week where I?ve wondered if I was too hard on Rachel Hollis. I?m sort of embarrassed that one of my rants about celebrity gossip went a little bit viral. If I thought that so many people were going to read it, I think I would have paused to make sure my tone wasn’t too snarky. At any rate, I wrote what I wrote. And I meant what I wrote.
But I wasn’t too clear about why I wrote it. That’s my fault.
It bummed me out when some folks read into my response to Rachel’s divorce announcement and thought that I was somehow happy about it, or even trying to tear her down in some bullish effort to feel good about myself.
Allow me to take a moment to say that no one?s divorce is funny. I?m also not mocking Rachel?s relationship choices. If you?re familiar with my work, then you know I?ve made much worse choices in my own love life. Folks, I?ve been a mess and I’m still not someone to emulate in most areas of life. The difference is that I?m also not trying to spin my poor choices into healthy habits for others to follow.
Here’s where criticism of someone else’s personal life gets murky.
Holding folks accountable isn?t about casting stones or pointing out their imperfections. And then when I read Dave?s statement about the divorce, it reminded me why I said anything at all.
?Our marriage has been a triumph in so many ways… and it has run its course. Despite still loving and deeply respecting each other as friends, co-parents and business partners, Rae and I decided that the best way to allow each of those to thrive in the future is to end our marriage while the option for a beautiful, unconventional new family, friendship and partnership still exists as a real and hope-filled option.
This is a decision we have wrestled for years and made with so much counsel, thought and prayer… keeping love for each other and our kids as the ultimate and only goal.
Frankly, our friendship’s strength is the testament to our ability to have done the work of the last few years. As much as this isn?t the way we may have dreamed up the future of how our family or friendship would look, while of course there is overwhelming sadness, there is also a massive sense of gratitude for what was as we transition into the promise for what will be.
No matter the form, we?ll always be a family connected by these 4 amazing kids… and we will always be here for each other.
We will stay committed to this work of impact as a team. That said, having been such an open book to this beloved community, we hope that as real people, with real lives and a family, you can understand our need to process these changes to our life away from social media, out of the public eye. We graciously ask that you respect our privacy as we navigate these challenging waters from where we are to where we?re going. As much as there will be sadness until we reach our next shore, your love and support will be part of the bridge that affords us the opportunity to reach the other side, new… ready to write the next half of the story of our evolving family.?
Dave?s statement shares plenty of similarities with Rachel?s, but there?s one key point of disparity. While her statement mentioned that “the past month” had been really hard, Dave said they?ve been thinking about divorce for years.
Years. Wait, what?
As I wrote earlier this week, folks who?ve been married for 16 years don?t suddenly decide to divorce upon a whim. They must have thinking about divorce as an option for a long time. Dave’s statement suggests divorce was on the table as they wrote their books, recorded their podcast, and cashed the checks from those pricey marriage seminars.
We?re talking about two very influential life coaches who?ve rapidly built an empire on tough love and being supposedly open books, yet they?ve been covering up the real state of their own marriage for years.
They didn’t get real despite the fact that they’re paid to get real.
There?s nothing great about that.
Rachel has been particularly good at spinning their stories. She has repeatedly written about and spoken of their marriage problems as if they?re all in the past. She?s talked about the things they fight about, but those only scratched the surface. In fact, they were all the things you?d expect most couples to fight over. It didn?t cost them anything to vaguely reveal that they fight about money, sex, and kids, etc.
See, that?s the problem. Vulnerability comes with a significant cost. When we as writers decide to get vulnerable, we reveal something about ourselves that isn?t just imperfect, but something our readers might very well judge us for. It?s embarrassing and personal. Furthermore, once it’s out there, we can’t take it back, and you can be sure that our readers are going to follow up on whatever we reveal.
If the message we share isn?t a bit scary, or it costs us nothing to reveal, that’s not true vulnerability.
The absence of vulnerability is a significant problem with the Hollis brand and many other lifestyle bloggers who become life coaches. Dave and Rachel clearly want us to think they?re being vulnerable when they typically haven?t said anything of substance.
And when they do begin to open up? They contradict their own messages.
In Dave?s recent book, Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic?s Guide to Growth and Fulfillment, he tells readers to ignore the marriage advice of couples who don?t have it all together:
?I filtered other people?s relational feedback based on their track records. Have you ever been in a situation where the person giving you relationship advice couldn?t themselves hold one down? In the same way I wouldn?t come to someone who was totally out of shape for advice on working out, the idea of giving weight to the opinions of someone who isn?t excelling in their relationship is ridiculous. Plenty of people have tried to tell us the best way Rachel and I should be doing our marriage. If those voices come from people who are killing it in their own relationship, their thoughts are welcome. But… if the feedback you?re getting is coming from someone who can?t keep a steady relationship, you best filter out their feedback as it does not come from a credible source.?
Did he really just tell us that listening to marriage advice from struggling couples is ridiculous? Because, by that same logic, everything they?ve told us about a good marriage is ridiculous too.
One popular anecdote that Dave shares is equally disturbing. He told his wife that one of her business goals had only a 3% chance of happening. When it happened, she bought herself a gold bracelet with that ?3%? engraved on it. She told him it was a “gift he bought her.”
Since I?m a very sarcastic and dry humored person, part of me loves this story. But I’ve also been through a number of toxic relationships and this same story raises all sorts of red flags.
As the Washington Post points out, Rachel and Dave are about the only coaching couple that will tell you passive-aggressive methods of communication work.
“Success, in Hollisville, isn?t becoming a better person who?s more engaged with the world. It?s craven careerism. It?s admiration and money. It?s running your flaws through a sparkly Instagram filter. It?s thinking you?re improving when spite dangles off your wife?s wrist.”
Ouch. If folks think I?m being petty and mean to write about my Hollis qualms, I suppose they should steer clear from some of the book reviews. I?m far from the first writer to suggest that both Rachel and Dave represent a certain sort of privilege that’s plain wrong for humanity.
In an ideal world, of course, we would never need to discuss another person?s business. We wouldn?t have to delve deep into their personal lives or critique the way they talk about their mistakes. But also in an ideal world, we wouldn?t have influencers taking advantage of people who are desperate to fix their marriages.
One of the reasons I am so, so hard on Rachel Hollis is simply because we were cut from the same cloth, spiritually speaking. I?m no stranger to the pentecostalism she frequently invokes. Sure, she?s big on tough love. Plenty of Christians, pseudo-Christians, and pseudo-spititualists are. But she seems to forget that anyone in leadership must also face much more expectations and responsibility than the rest of us who aren’t trying to coach others.
Nobody is perfect, and that certainly includes me. I?m a writer who will let you down on my best days by never doing or saying the right things. In many toxic circles, such imperfections prevent us from calling out hypocrisy among leaders. As in, who are we to say a word?
Speaking from experience, cults use such logic to keep members from questioning anyone at the top. I?m not saying that Dave and Rachel want to be cult leaders. But they are guilty of using some same tactics that cults use. This is far from shocking since it?s something that plenty of pseudo-spiritual groups do. And if those of us who recognize such toxic behavior won’t speak up, we risk even more people getting bamboozled.
Rachel Hollis has built an empire around the idea that she conquered low self-esteem, lost 30 pounds, and saved her marriage. It?s not that there isn?t wisdom or goodness in anything she?s said, or that she should be perfect? it?s that she?s frequently regurgitated work that belongs to others and then completely missed the point.
Her lifestyle recommendations include avoiding fat friends aka ?trigger friends? who will somehow make you eat too much and be completely unreliable because she says they can?t even keep a commitment to themselves since they?ve ?failed? their diets. (Even though the experts have repeatedly told us that diets don?t work.)
And yes, she often writes about big issues like emotional abuse or alcohol abuse with practically zero self-awareness. These things are not cute or benign. I belong to a Facebook group of more than 50,000 working moms, and you wouldn?t believe how many of those women are currently distraught and blindsided by the Hollis divorce news. Several women have commented about how hopeless they now feel. As if they will never be able to get themselves together. Not when they thought Rachel was actually doing it.
Make no mistake, my friends. Rachel and Dave Hollis want you to see them as experts. They might say in one breath that they aren’t experts and that they merely share whatever works for them. But there have long been shadows and cracks to indicate those methods weren?t working out for them after all. And plenty of women have begun to realize that they don’t even like where Rachel?s teachings were leading them.
It’s sometimes hard for people who didn’t grow up in that world to understand. Some of us have gotten into abusive marriages because we fell for the Hollis logic that says love can change a cruel partner.
Plenty of us who are coming out of Christianity spent our lives trying to please others and are now trying to live by Rachel’s rules too. And she’s set herself up to be that voice. I think folks forget that these books aren’t actual memoirs. She’s not just sharing her journey. Instead, she’s telling us what’s worked for her to deal with her “past” issues.
It?s wise to question anyone who suggests they’ve got all their issues behind them.
Both Dave and Rachel offer life coaching, and that?s not to say that a life coach can?t have problems in their lives. They?re just as human as the rest of us, and we should expect as much. The issue is more about how we can take a life coach seriously when they offer up toxic advice, don?t practice what they preach, or they?re blatantly dishonest about what they?re going through.
My hope for the couple is that they would quit spinning their lives to look like gold. There are ways to be vulnerable without falling apart and both people are poised to make a real-life difference if they’d just deal with that vulnerability problem.
Am I too hard on some high-profile people? Maybe. As a writer, I am far from famous, yet I know what it’s like to get heaps of criticism. I?ve pretty much heard it all and understand that there’s no way to make everybody happy. I know that even blogging is not an easy job.
The best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to do no harm. (Or at least, do less harm.) Don’t dress up manipulation or passive-aggressive spite as strategies for a healthy relationship. Don’t lead folks on to believe that doing the work and saying the mantra is the same thing.
And if it turns out that you’ve done those things? Or that you’ve plagiarized, fat-shamed women, and used your privilege in a completely tone-deaf way? I happen to think a person (or couple) can be forgiven for all of those things. But it starts with acknowledging our errors first. Whether they were innocent mistakes or willful errors, we’ve got to come clean in the mirror before we can be honest with anyone else.
It?s going to be uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.
Yet, I have no doubt the Hollis brand would benefit from proving they can do the work it takes to make things right.
I even believe they can do it.