Interviews by Ben Beaumont-Thomas
John Gray, author
I was a monk in the 1970s, working as an assistant to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. My world was meditation and yoga, but my brother was bipolar, and meditation didn’t work for him. So I studied psychology to try to help him, eventually becoming a therapist.
I grew up with five brothers and, after I became a monk and lived around men, was celibate. So when I started being around women, they were from another planet. Some of the ideas in the book were drawn from challenges I now faced.
When women upset me, I would meditate and analyse what had happened. The week after my wife, Bonnie, gave birth, we weren’t getting much sleep. She was on painkillers, but ran out of them and didn’t tell me. We had an angry and upsetting argument. I did my normal thing: I stopped talking and walked out of the room. Bonnie said: “Just come over here and hold me.” She started to cry and soften. I did, too.
That was a remarkable experience for a monk. I was used to going off and meditating and leaving feelings behind. We fantasise that Romeo and Juliet were this happy, romantic couple, but that’s only because they died a few days after their wedding. For great joy and lasting passion, you need a new level of insight.
One complaint I’d hear from clients was: “My husband doesn’t listen, he just gives solutions.” Well, that’s what I did as a therapist! So I started asking questions instead of answering them. Women would come in to my office distressed and leave happy. I thought they’d want their money back, because I didn’t solve the secret mystery of how to change their husbands, but my practice doubled in size.
I developed other ideas. Men sometimes retreat to their “caves”; women shouldn’t take this personally, he still loves you. Women are like waves: their moods will shift, so ride the wave rather than holding her in one spot. Essentially, I looked at the differences between men and women in a non-judgmental way. And that’s the secret of relationships: creating a space to be different.
The trouble was that, in the early 80s, we were all supposed to be the same, and people thought I meant women should be at home in the kitchen. They would come to my talks with signs saying things like: “John Gray is a sexist.” As soon as you’re labelled a sexist, you’re also a misogynist, a rapist, a killer. So I wanted to put my audiences at ease. I’d just seen ET and said: “You’re always trying to fix your husbands, but what if he’s from another planet?” One drunk woman shouted: “So where’s my husband from?” I replied: “Mars!” Everyone laughed. Thank you, Steven Spielberg.
Using that framework, I simplified a book I’d already written, and in 12 weeks Men Are from Mars was done. Nothing else in my life had felt that right. I did a book tour and went on Oprah, but nothing happened. Then Phil Donahue did a whole programme on me. They had a bunch of experts to denounce me and call me a sexist. I only found out in the makeup room. But afterwards, 25,000 more books sold, then another 25,000, until I was the No 1 bestseller. Some judges wouldn’t let people get divorced until they’d read it.
Patti Breitman, literary agent
A friend took one of John’s seminars and said: “This guy is a bestseller waiting to happen.” What was new was the idea that “somebody gets me”. John was telling people to give each other space, instead of trying to get inside each other’s heads and manipulate their thoughts.
John also knew how to sell it – and this industry is as much about promoting a book as writing one. As soon as the book took off, we started to think about the next one. His editor would fly from New York to San Francisco, drive an hour to John’s house, spend three hours in a meeting, then fly back. A sequel, Children Are from Heaven, came out of those brainstorms, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, too.
By 2015, the original book had sold 15m copies – and it sold another half a million last year. Not only is it universal, it’s perpetual: people are going to keep falling in love, keep being disappointed and keep looking for answers.
• Beyond Mars and Venus: Relationship Skills for Today’s Complex World, by John Gray, is out now.
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