Monday, October 18, 2021


The good, the bad, the mimetic. Weekly.

Negative (?) Mimesis

Kourtney Kardashian has been in a relationship with Travis Barker, the drummer of Blink-182, for a while now—and fans can’t help but notice that her fashion style has become quite goth since she started appearing with the gothic-styled Barker. (Yes, I know this. Please don’t think anything less of me.)

This has got me thinking about the idea that people in a romantic relationship often start resembling one another in various ways. They pick up habits, adopt one another’s style, preferences, religion, maybe even political beliefs. In short, many couples end up becoming pretty mimetic with one another. Or do they just self-select for those traits in the first place? It’s an important question.

I do often see serious mimesis happening, though, in the form of rapid and consequential transformations. And it happens in both positive and negative ways. For instance: my wife Claire likes to cook as an expression of love—and she has positively infected me with the desire to do the same for her, and for others. At the same time, unhealthy co-dependencies can also develop in any mimetic relationship. (I suppose that her adoption of my Detroit Lions as her second favorite football team, after the Saints, is one example of this.)

Sometimes the negative mimesis starts with silly things like affecting the way each person dresses or the way they behave at social gatherings. However, it can often develop into more complex forms of mimesis that eventually make each person in the relationship a rival to the other.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced this? Have you seen it in others? I’d like to make these Mimetic Mondays as interactive as possible, so please respond in the comments if you have something you’d like to share.

(Reader note: each week, I get dozens of emails replying to these newsletters, but I just don’t have time to answer them all. I’m sorry about that. I thought about selecting the most interesting questions/comment and posting it publicly on my substack with an answer, but I also want to respect reader privacy so that you feel like you can send me anything and never have to worry about it becoming public. So let’s do this: I would encourage you to please post comments/responses in the Substack comments of this post if it’s something you’d like to engage me and others in conversation around. If it’s something you’d like to remain private, though, continue to email me and I’ll treat it as such.)

Positive Mimesis

So then: what is the most common form of positive mimesis in an adult relationship? A strong contender is a relationship between a wise mentor and a mentee. They have been invaluable in my life. Usually, there is some sort of Celebristan-like barrier that separates the two parties to the relationship; one simply looks to the other as wanting nothing but his or her good without reservation, and there is no question of any kind of competition or ulterior motive. These relationships, when they are truly found, are invaluable.

I also believe they should form the basis of education, starting from elementary school. A good mentor is not necessarily one’s teacher, and in fact cannot be; a mentor is a different kind of thing. It’s someone outside the family who is a trusted source of wisdom and formation and who can help a child or a person navigate the uncertainties of life, including how to deal with teachers. (Hence why it can’t really be a teacher or coach. A real mentor is removed from any kind of formal or professional relationship with a person.)

One problem we face: being a good mentor or a good mentee are skills that one has to learn. It doesn’t just come naturally to most people. (A bit of etymology: the word mentor means ‘wise adviser, or intimate friend who also is a sage counselor,’ especially of one who is young or inexperienced, 1750, from Greek ‘Mentor’, “friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus (but often actually Athene in disguise)” in Homer’s Odyssey.)

It’s up to you and me to step up and learn this ancient art.

Quote of the Week

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Have a beautiful week.

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