This is a transcript of Lex Fridman Podcast #396 with James Sexton. The timestamps in the transcript are clickable links that take you directly to that point in the main video. Please note that the transcript is human generated, and may have errors. Here are some useful links:
Table of Contents
Here are the loose “chapters” in the conversation. Click link to jump approximately to that part in the transcript:
- 0:00 – Introduction
- 2:34 – Why marriages fail
- 24:05 – Sex and fetishes
- 33:22 – Breakups
- 59:09 – Johnny Depp and Amber Heard
- 1:19:09 – Complicated divorce cases
- 1:25:55 – Cheating with the nanny
- 1:28:12 – Relationship advice
- 1:36:54 – Cost of divorce
- 1:58:45 – Prenups
- 2:13:06 – Cheating
- 2:20:50 – Open marriages and threesomes
- 2:33:38 – Sex and fighting
- 2:58:33 – Kevin Costner’s divorce
- 3:08:17 – Lying
- 3:15:45 – Productivity
- 3:23:39 – Jiu Jitsu
- 3:32:11 – Sex, love, and marriage
James Sexton We have been encouraged culturally to criticize people we’re in long-term relationships with. Not new relationships. New relationships, you put the person on a pedestal, you’re allowed to just… Oh, they’re wonderful. But every trope out there in every form of popular media is the wife rolling her eyes at the husband, and the husband being like, ugh, this loathsome harpy that castrated me, as if people are just passive players in their lives. And I think that is an incredibly toxic message to send to people, that this is how we should be relating to our partner. Don’t take the piss out of your partner in front of people. The successful relationships I’ve seen are where people are just cheering for their partner, where they’re thick as thieves, where there is just this feeling of, man, they like each other. They got each other’s back like you wouldn’t believe. Man, you could take sides against anybody. But take sides against their partner? You’re going down.
And when you see a couple that has that, that’s so hard to break. But I think that comes from having a steadfast, no, I don’t do that. I don’t shit talk my partner, and you don’t shit talk my partner to me. Because I think we’re just so criticized by the world, the world is so full of criticism, we criticize ourselves so harshly, that having a partner who no matter what is like, “You’ve got this. I’m with you. Okay yeah, you screwed up. I see it. Look, I’m not going to lie to you about your blind spots. You screwed up. But you know what? People screw up sometimes. You got a right to screw up. A lot of people screw up. Come on, get up. Let’s go. I know you have it in you.” If you have that person, I feel like that’s a superpower.
Lex Fridman The following is a conversation with James Sexton, divorce attorney and author of How to Stay in Love: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together. As a trial lawyer, James, for over two decades, has negotiated and litigated a huge number of high conflict divorces. This has given him a deep understanding of how relationships fail and how they can succeed, and bigger than that, the role of love and pain in this whole messy rollercoaster ride we call life. This is the Lex Fridman Podcast. To support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here’s James Sexton. What is the most common reason that marriages fail?
Why marriages fail
James Sexton That’s a great question, but it’s a question that everybody wants there to be a simple answer. They want me to say cheating or money or the internet, but the reality is… I think it’s a lot of little things. It’s disconnection. That would be my answer. The reason marriages fail is disconnection. What causes disconnection? That’s the bigger and I think more important question because like Tom Wolfe said about bankruptcy, “It happens very slowly and then all at once.” Disconnection happens very slowly and then all at once. So most of the time what I think people want is an answer like cheating, but cheating is the big all at once thing. How did we get to the place where cheating was even something you were thinking about doing or that you would think about and then cross the line from thought into action? And that’s, I think, the big question. So disconnection would be my answer.
Lex Fridman Do you think it’s possible to introspect looking backwards for every individual case where the disconnection began and how it evolved?
James Sexton Sure. Yeah. This is such a multi-variate equation. It’s a dance, it’s a chemistry, it’s what did you do and what did the other person do? And see, the interesting thing about being a divorce lawyer is I’m weaponizing intimacy in a courtroom. It’s full context storytelling, what I do for a living. So what I do is I take my client’s story, and I have to present it to a judge and make my client the hero in every way and the other side the villain in every way. Now I have to be careful not to do that in a manner that loses credibility because even a judge is smart enough to know that no one is all good or all bad. But only if you were reverse engineering a relationship and saying how did this break, you really have to look at both people, the good and the bad, what each of them did that moved the dial in these different directions.
And I think that’s very hard for anyone going through a divorce to do about their own relationship. We don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish. If you’re in it, I don’t think you see it clearly. I think as a divorce lawyer whose job is to really drill down on the facts and figure out what’s going on in this story, I have to look at both sides. So I have to think a lot about my own arguments, but I also have to think about what’s the other lawyer’s argument going to be, especially in custody cases. So I really have been forced to look at both sides for so many years, so deeply in relationships. Once you do that, you realize that the good guy, bad guy thing just doesn’t apply.
Lex Fridman I wonder if it’s the little things or a few big things that cause this connection. You’ve talked about granola and blowjobs, but those seem to be stories that you can tell to yourself like… Maybe that story should be explained or maybe not.
James Sexton You don’t think granola and blowjobs is self-explanatory?
Lex Fridman Almost. I think people can construct a good… If you ask GPT, what do they mean? I think the story that would come up is a pretty good one. But that’s a story you tell about when you first knew the disconnection has begun is when he stopped buying my favorite granola or when she stopped giving blowjobs.
James Sexton I would say when it’s reached a critical mass.
Lex Fridman Yeah, phase shift of some sort.
James Sexton Because I think it started before that. When she said, “Yeah, I used to give him blowjobs when we were in our early relationship, and then one day, I just was like, oh well, we don’t have as much time. I’ll wait until later, and we’ll have sex and then we both enjoy it.”
Lex Fridman Blowjobs are inefficient.
James Sexton Yeah, exactly. Correct.
Lex Fridman You batched it all together into one-
James Sexton So she said, “Well, exactly.” And they had kids at that point, so I think she really was like, “Hey, we’ve got a certain window, so let’s have something we both enjoy.” So I don’t think she had any negative intentions there. I think that she was working in good faith towards the betterment of the relationship, but it was having this second order effect. And so I really do think that, yeah, the blowjobs, granola… Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship, I guess it’s just worth asking the question, what does this person do that makes me feel loved? I think it’s very interesting in my own experience in life. I remember I had a difficult chapter with one of my sons, my younger son, when he was in his early twenties. And we were having a heartfelt conversation, and I said to him, “Do you know I love you?” And he said, “Well yeah, of course I do.” I said, “But do you feel my love? Do you feel it? Not just do you know it intellectually? Do you feel it?”
And I remember thinking to myself, when do we feel someone’s love? What is it that they do? And sometimes, it’s the weirdest, silliest things that they would never know. They are the person who’s showing us that they love us and that we’re feeling their love. They would never show us. If you said, “Why does this person love you?” They wouldn’t say, “Oh, I always make sure that when the paper comes, I bring it from the bottom of the driveway to the door so they don’t have to go out and get it.” Or “I always hold the door for them.” Again, “I buy the granola that I know this person likes.” Or “I remembered that they don’t like it when I put on this particular record so I don’t put it on.” Yes, they’re small things, but they’re not small. They’re kind of everything.
Lex Fridman Do you think it’s good to communicate that stuff?
James Sexton Well, 100%.
Lex Fridman It takes away some of the power of it, right?
James Sexton When you point it out, then the person realizes, oh, he likes this or dislikes this. So yes, there becomes a deliberateness to it, a conscious… So I understand not pointing that out when it’s a good thing. I think when it’s a negative thing… I think in the granola situation, if she had said to him, ” Hey, you used to do this, and you’ve stopped,” that feels like something to me. She said she didn’t say anything about that, just like he probably didn’t say anything about the blowjobs. I think if there had been a moment of, this is starting. Let’s talk about it while it’s starting. But people wait. From what I can see, people wait until the big thing happens. The financial impropriety, the substance use disorder, the cheating. They wait for that to happen and then they go, “Where did we go wrong?” And the answer is, quite a while ago with the granola.
Lex Fridman Yeah, yeah. So when you notice something, you notice that little something, talk about it because that little something is probably a kernel of a deeper truth. Of course, there is also moods. We’re all a rollercoaster of emotion. So you can not bring a granola one day just because you’re in this place where just nothing is… Just cynicism everywhere, just anger and so on. But it’s a temporary feeling, but maybe that temporary feeling is grounded in some other deeper current that’s actually building up.
James Sexton And I think a good partner wants to understand the currents of their partner-
Lex Fridman Yeah, that empathy.
James Sexton If they want to understand, hey, are you going through something? And look, if I’m the one you need to take it out on, that’s okay. I’m a big boy, I can take it. If you’re hormonal, if you’re frustrated at work, if you’re whatever, we should be able to have a little bit of that interaction in a relationship. It’s so easy to just say to people, “Well, communication is the key.” But it really is about fearless kinds of communication. It’s about really honestly saying to somebody, “This feels like something to me. Am I wrong? This just feels like something to me.” And also how that’s presented. One of the things I’m very caught up on or feel very strongly about is that we have been encouraged culturally to criticize people we’re in long-term relationships with. Not new relationships. New relationships, you put the person on a pedestal, you’re allowed to just, oh, they’re wonderful.
But every trope out there in every form of popular media is the wife rolling her eyes at the husband, and the husband being like, ugh, this loathsome harpy that castrated me, as if people are just passive players in their lives. And I think that is an incredibly toxic message to send to people, that this is how we should be relating to our partner. Don’t, take the piss out of your partner in front of people. The successful relationships I’ve seen are where people are just cheering for their partner, where they’re thick as thieves, where there is just this feeling of, man, they like each other. They got each other’s back like you wouldn’t believe. Man, you could take sides against anybody. But take sides against their partner? You’re going down.
And when you see a couple that has that, that’s so hard to break. But I think that comes from having a steadfast, no, I don’t do that. I don’t shit talk my partner, and you don’t shit talk my partner to me. Because I think we’re just so criticized by the world, the world is so full of criticism, we criticize ourselves so harshly, that having a partner who no matter what is like, “You’ve got this. I’m with you. Yeah, you screwed up. I see it. Look, I’m not going to lie to you about your blind spots. You screwed up. But you know what? People screw up sometimes. You got a right to screw up. A lot of people screw up. Come on, get up. Let’s go. I know you have it in you.” If you have that person, I feel like that’s a superpower to have that effect on another person.
Lex Fridman One of the things I love seeing, when you look at a couple, and one is talking in an interview, answering a question, especially intellectual questions like, what do you think about the war in Ukraine or something, and then the partner is talking and then the other person is looking at them as if they’re hearing the wisest thing ever. They’re still looking at them, not waiting for their turn to speak, not thinking about how is the audience going to take that, but they’re looking at them like goddamn, I’m so lucky to be with this smart motherfucker.
James Sexton But there’s this scene-
Lex Fridman And they could be saying the dumbest shit ever.
James Sexton There’s a scene in the movie, True Romance-
Lex Fridman Yes, I love True Romance.
James Sexton Great movie. That Gary Oldman scene the greatest scene ever done in film with Christian Slater. But there’s a scene in it where she holds up a sign to Christian Slater, and it says, “You’re so cool.”
Lex Fridman You’re so cool. Yeah.
James Sexton Man, that’s it. That’s it. I think I say it somewhere in the book that you go to weddings, and when the bride walks in, everybody is looking at the bride. It’s her show. Everybody turns around. It’s the first glimpse everybody gets of the bride. And I never look at the bride. I always look at the groom looking at the bride. To me, he has this look. This is the first time he’s seeing her in the dress most of the time. And also he’s seeing her like, holy shit, she’s coming down the aisle, we’re getting married, this is it. And everyone is looking at her, and I always look at him because I always think to myself… The look on his face, that’s this feeling of, yeah, wow, okay. Everyone is looking at her and she’s mine, and she’s coming up here and we’re getting married. And I feel like that kind of adoration… I think that’s the look we’re describing is adoration, that the words coming out of their mouth that they’re like, yeah, that’s mine, that one’s mine. That’s such a great thing. It’s such a great feeling.
Lex Fridman Seeing the good stuff. With True Romance, you could make fun of the guy’s totally cringe wearing Elvis, essentially being a fake Elvis with shades. And what is he doing watching these kung fu movies? But from her perspective and from a perspective you could take on him is this is the baddest motherfucker who’s ever lived. He’s willing to do those things for me. It’s almost like an epic heroic figure, and we’re living in this epic hero story.
James Sexton And what does that do to him though? See, that’s the point. If there’s a point to this whole thing, this whole couple thing, isn’t that it? I don’t understand this idea of we had a successful marriage, we were married for 50 something years, we were miserable for 47 of them, but we hung in there. This is an endurance event? The primary relationship of your life, you’ve decided You’re going to turn into a 50-mile trail race. Why? Why would you do that? Congratulations. You took the concept of monogamy and made it something that two people are absolutely not going to enjoy, but you hung in there. Congratulations. And I understand there’s religious perspectives that say it’s a sacred covenant, but I have a real chicken or the egg problem with that because I think it was how do we sell this incredibly stupid concept that isn’t working to people? I know. We’ll tell them God says you have to, and we’ll sign on for that.
I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it anymore because when you see a successful marriage… Even without a marriage, you see a pair bond. You see a couple that really love each other and cheer for each other in that way and hang on each other’s words that way and are just in each other’s corner that way. You see the fake shit instantly. You see the difference right away. This is the first time I’ve come to Austin. I thought I’d eaten a lot of barbecue in my life. I’ve never had Texas barbecue. I landed, I went and had barbecue. I was like, I’ve never had barbecue before. Apparently, this is a whole different thing. I think it’s the same thing. I think once you see real love, real love, and I mean romantic love, real love like that, real bond, you go, oh yeah, this other thing is not going to do it.
Lex Fridman Do you think that’s a daily deliberate choice that a couple that makes? Because it feels like a very easy to do deliberate step, choose to see the brilliant in it, the beautiful in it, and almost immediately, everything shifts and it becomes this momentum where all you see is the beautiful and all you see is the brilliant.
James Sexton That is a conscious choice. I think approaching life that way is a conscious choice. Approaching any relationship that way is a conscious choice. Looking at someone who hurts you or does something hurtful to you and thinking about what’s going on in their life that they’re doing that or what’s happening with them, yeah, that’s a very conscious choice, and I think a better one, a better one than seething in animosity and letting that eat you alive. I don’t think it should be so difficult. With our children, with our pets, we don’t have this problem. You never have someone look at their dog who they’ve had for eight years and go, “Ugh, I got to get a new dog. I’ve had this one for eight years. Puppies are so cute. What am I doing with this old dog?”
It’s the total opposite. They’re like, “Oh my god, this is my dog. This is my dog.” The smell of the dog is… This is my dog’s smell. The bad habits of the dog, you’re like, “It’s my stupid dog that does stupid things.” And it’s not like that has to be a conscious thing. They wake up every day and go, “I should be grateful for the dog.” It’s just visceral. It’s in them. And your children, people’s children. It’s why people are not aware of how annoying their children are because they’re not annoying to them. I get it.
To you, the sound of your kids’ shrieking is like, oh my kid’s having a good time. When I hear that, I try to hear it with those ears. I’m a parent. I get it. My kids are adults now. But I get it. So when I hear a kid shrieking, I just am like, ah. To that parent, that’s the sound of that kid having a great time. And good, it’s so nice that’s in the world. So for me, it has to be conscious. For that parent, I don’t think it has to be conscious. So I think it would be great if it didn’t have to be a conscious practice, but I wonder if like anything in meditation or mindfulness, it’s a matter of exercising that way of seeing. And then once you’ve come to that-
Lex Fridman It becomes easier.
James Sexton It does itself. It really does. I think it initially has to be a conscious practice. And by the way, it’s easier to make it a conscious practice before it started to fade. That’s so amazing about marriage is there’s almost 8 billion people in the world, and you’re picking this one. So when you marry, in theory, the stock is at its highest. You’re as crazy about each other as you could possibly be. So that’s the time to get into this mindfulness, to get into this practice, not once the wheels are starting to come off. It’s much harder. It’s gaining a bunch of weight and then saying, “How am I going to lose the weight now?”
Lex Fridman Well, I think that even before marriage, right away, just see everything is beautiful. Let me quote BoJack Horseman on this. “When you look at someone through rose colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”
James Sexton That’s great.
Lex Fridman There’s a certain sense where if you, from the very beginning… Of course, you could end up in toxic relationships that way, but life is short. You’re going to die eventually. Might as well really go all in on relationships.
James Sexton There’s a line in Drugstore Cowboy, it was a great film where he says, “We played a game you couldn’t win to the utmost.” And I think everything, I think life is a game you can’t win, and so you play it to the utmost. To love anything is insane because you are accepting that you’re going to lose it. I am a dog person, and you get a dog and you’ve just resigned yourself to unbelievable pain because this thing is going to die in 10 years, maybe 15 if you’re lucky. And why would you open your heart to that? Because the joy is just so wonderful of it, of the ride up until it.
Same thing with us. Every marriage, every relationship, every love is going to end. It’s going to end in death or divorce. So why not just go in, go in, go in and just get weird don’t, define it the way… Again, we keep going back to True Romance, but just get weird. I love this Elvis pretending to be weirdo. I love this former sex worker. Whatever. Just go in, love this person, have them love you. Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing in their relationship. It’s not to me surprising that as the performative aspects of life on social media increases, people’s satisfaction with their relationships and the divorce rate is following the same trend because I think everyone is going, “Well, what’s everybody else doing? Well, how much sex is everyone else having?” The only two people that should worry about how much sex you’re having are the two people. If the two people are happy in the relationship, great. Then what does it matter? What does it matter what everybody else is doing?
Lex Fridman There should be an element to great relationships and great friendships of, fuck the world. It’s us versus the world.
James Sexton It’s us. It’s us. And that’s what I mean when I say that thick as thieves. When they’re like a unit like that because look, it’s just us, it’s just what we want, it’s what we like. And that’s why I said even when it comes to sex or things like that, if you can’t be candid with your partner about whatever weird shit you’re into or what fantasy you had, well then who the hell can you be candid with? Because you’re going to either go without or go elsewhere, and neither of those is a particularly healthy option or helpful option. It’s the start of that decline. So why open yourself to that decline, which invariably is just the path to the chair in front of me in my office?
Sex and fetishes
Lex Fridman You have a full section in your book on foot fetishes?
James Sexton I do. I do, which is funny because I don’t know anything about foot fetishes.
Lex Fridman Me neither, me neither.
James Sexton I’m not kink shaming anybody, but there’s nothing sexual about feet to me at all. I just don’t get it. But listen, if people like things, it’s good. But yeah, I have had clients that have odd fetishes or sexual proclivities or things they want to do, and they don’t share it with their partner at all. And then they find an outlet for it because they try to go without it, and that doesn’t work, so they try to find some other outlet for it. And then that’s interpreted as a betrayal, and it creates distance and people split up. And of course, everybody likes to have a bad guy to blame it on. So when you say, “Well, why’d, you guys get divorced,” oh, because he secretly had a foot fetish, and he was on these message boards like meet people. Well, it gives you an easy answer as to why the two of you split up, but I don’t think most divorces have such simple answers as it was a foot thing.
But I also think too, listen, if you’ve got a partner, we all do stuff that we’re not super into because we’re in a relationship, and that’s what part of it is. Do you really want to go see that chick flick? Do you really want to eat at this restaurant? Do you really want to go to her cousin’s wedding? No, but part of being in a relationship is if you’re into this, I’m going to pretend this song is a good song even though it’s not my favorite song. I just don’t know. Sex has been so politicized in recent years. Maybe it always was. But I think we’ve made it into something where we can’t just… I don’t know. I’m not into feet, but if the woman I love was like, “I’m really into feet, I really want to do stuff with your feet,” I’d be like, all right, I can pretend that I’m into that. It’s not going to kill me. I’m not going to be able to make it a centerpiece of our coupling, but yeah, I can pretend I’m into feet if you want.
Lex Fridman I don’t personally have any fetishes that are outside of the normal discourse.
James Sexton As a divorce lawyer, I get to experience the whole spectrum.
Lex Fridman But if I was into furries, for example, I don’t know how I would initiate the conversation with my partner about that.
James Sexton But frame the question the other direction. If you were into furries, how do you prevent your partner from knowing anything about that? You’d have to make a conscious choice to not let your partner know.
Lex Fridman Sure, sure.
James Sexton So I don’t think either of those is a particularly palatable or easy proposition.
Lex Fridman But a lot of people live life hiding some part of themselves.
James Sexton Quite unsuccessfully. The second order effects of that are very rarely positive.
Lex Fridman Sure.
James Sexton I don’t think I’ve ever met someone and went, yeah, I really hid this huge part of myself for an extended period of time-
Lex Fridman And worked out great.
James Sexton And that’s the best thing that happened. I’m, really glad I stayed in the closet as long as I did. It really worked out. It rarely does. It’s a question of how long can you hold it off? I know gay men who stayed in the closet for 40 years, 50 years of their lives, and then they had a successful second chapter as a gay man. I’ve had clients like that. Do they regret that they were in the closet? No, because they were married, they had kids, they had experiences they’re glad they had, but would their advice to a young person in their twenties and thirties who’s gay be, stay in the closet because then you can have a wife and some kids, and then you can come out when you’re 50 or 60 and have a second chapter?” No. They would say, “Be who you are. Don’t be afraid.”
Lex Fridman As you were talking, I’m trying to think of… Because publicly and privately, I’m the exact same person or try to be the exact same person. So I usually try to make sure there’s nothing to hide. But I was trying to come up with a counter example for you for if there’s good things to hide. Well, there could be past relationships. If I slept with thousands of women or something like this, maybe you want to put that to the side when you have the-
James Sexton Well, there’s a difference between being honest about something and being indelicate about it. I think we all do this with lovers. Any of us who’ve been in more than one relationship, you would not at the end of sex be like, “That was the third-best sex I’ve ever had.” It’s just indelicate. It’s rude. So I don’t think it’s a matter of total candor at all times.
You were using the furry example, and I’m not picking on furries. I just think if that is a proclivity that is anything other than a passing thought, it’s something that you just keep coming back to, then you’re making a conscious decision to withhold it from your partner. And what is that out of? I would say it’s probably out of fear. I’m not a psychologist, but it’s probably out of fear, fear that they would reject you. Well now, see, I genuinely believe that this… I’m very conflicted in my religious faith, but I don’t know that I believe in the devil. But if there was a devil, I think his principle function would be to convince us that we are so bestial that God couldn’t love us. It would be to convince us that we’re awful and that we should just lean into the awfulness.
And I know the greatest low points of my life came whenever I just went, “You know what? I’m just awful. I might as well just behave awfully.” And I really believe that when you push down parts of yourself like your sexuality, like your insecurities, your true feelings from your romantic partner, the person who’s supposed to be your number one, you are making sure you will never feel their love because they don’t love you. They love the you you’ve presented to them, which you know in your heart is not the authentic, honest, real you. And so if you know you’re super into furries and you don’t tell your partner about that, and your partner says, “I love you so much, and you know what I love, one of the things I love about us is we have such great sexual chemistry,” You’ll never feel that love because you know that’s not true though, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know that actually I’m not really satisfied, and there is this thing that I want that I know I can’t even tell her because I’m so ashamed. That doesn’t feel like a good option to me.
Lex Fridman Yeah. So that kind of vulnerability is essential to intimacy.
James Sexton I’m prone to jiu-jitsu metaphors, and this is one of the first conversations where I can actually use them because the person I’m talking to is a jiu-jitsu person.
Lex Fridman And people should know that you are a “Jiu-jitsu person.” You have been afflicted with the disease.
James Sexton I am a brown belt under Marcelo Garcia, and I am a seven-year brown belt now.
Lex Fridman Which is the right way to be a brown belt.
James Sexton And also I am late middle-aged middleweight and moderately talented. And training at that academy with so many incredibly talented people and training in New York City where there’s so many unbelievably talented people, you’re constantly humble and feeling like you should just be wearing a blue belt all the time. I think as you know and as most people who practice jiu-jitsu know, you start to sort of see jiu-jitsu in everything. I genuinely believe that in love, you have to give something to get something. Everything you do creates a vulnerability. Every move you make in jiu-jitsu creates opportunity and creates vulnerability. And so you have to be willing to create vulnerabilities in order to get any leverage, in order to get any progress and any way to move the position. You don’t want a marriage that’s just two people both in 50-50. You’re just sitting in that guard doing nothing. You want it to actually move along.
Lex Fridman Yeah, that’s the way I see love and relationships. You should take that leap of vulnerability, give the other person the option to destroy you.
James Sexton Well, you have to expose, and that’s the part that I think is hard for everyone is to expose yourself in that way. But that’s what I mean even when I said about getting a dog or having a child, loving anything is tremendously courageous because it’s terrifying.
James Sexton It’s tremendously courageous because it’s terrifying. And it’s only brave if you’re scared. If you’re not scared, it’s not brave. It’s just stupidity. It’s bravery when you’re afraid and you do the thing anyway. And so love is like yeah, it’s scary. I don’t care who you are. Being in the jiu-jitsu community, I’m around, as you are, incredibly tough people, physically tough people, mentally tough people. But I’ve seen some of those people taken down by a 120-pound woman, not from a grappling perspective, but they are taken apart by a woman in their life. And vice versa, I’ve seen men who… It really is shocking how much leverage we give to our romantic partners and how little genuine discussion we really have about it, how much we really are ever trained to think about it. There’s nothing in school that teaches us about it. So much of literature and art is an idealized version of it. So little of it is real.
Lex Fridman And no matter how it evolves, when it ends in tragedy or drama, I feel like what people don’t do enough is appreciate the good times, appreciate how beautiful it is to having taken the risk and to having experienced that kind of love. I think when you look at people that are divorcing each other… There’s a Edgar Alan Poe quote, “The years of love have been forgotten in the hatred of a minute.” I always am saddened, deeply saddened how people seem to forget how many beautiful moments have been shared when some reason, some drama, some breakup leads them to part ways.
James Sexton Yeah. It’s interesting that you came to that not being a divorce lawyer because I’ve felt that way for a long time. And I really try to say to my clients… In the courtroom at the negotiating table, I have a role to play where I have to be a pit bull or some kind of a courtroom sociopath. But behind closed doors, I’m very candid with people. I try to be much more emotionally attuned with them.
Lex Fridman So you’re an empath in the sheets and sociopath in the streets?
James Sexton Exactly correct. That’s well said. I got a new tattoo idea. That’s good. I like that. But I do believe when I’m behind closed doors with people, I say to them, “How you end things is going to be how you’re going to remember the whole thing.” And That’s unfortunate because you watch a two-hour movie and if the last 15 minutes of it sucked, you go, “Well, that movie sucked.” Well, the first hour and 45 was great, but you walk out with this bad taste in your mouth. I am genuinely in awe of how easily people forget that they loved each other. And I’m amazed because by the time I meet them and by the time they hire me to be a weapon against the person they were in love with, there’s nothing but animosity there. And so I have to try to imagine what these two people looked like when they were in love with each other and how that even existed.
But I have to tell you, I don’t function that way. Every woman I ever had a relationship with, when I think of them, I don’t think of the ending necessarily. I try to think about the greatest hits. I try to think about the moments that were wonderful, where I loved them and they loved me, and there was joy and there was connection. And I don’t know why you choose not to. There’s that old axiom, I don’t know who said it, that if you don’t learn to find joy in the snow, you’ll have less joy in your life and precisely the same amount of snow. And I genuinely believe like, “Okay. The relationship ends. This is where it ends. We’re done now. I am making a choice as to how I will remember you.”
And we do it in relationships. I always tell people if you ever want to see a couple of light up, if they’re ever the couple at the table that seems like they got in a fight or something, ask them how they met. And most people, when they talk about how they met, their face softens. And the other person looking at them telling the story gets that look you were talking about before. And because they remember that thing and how they felt at that moment. When this person was a choice, not a default, not their automatic plus one, but the person they asked to the wedding, not the, “Of course, you’re bringing her. It’s your wife. You bring your fucking wife places.” It was still, “Hey. There’s three and a half billion women, and I’m picking you.” That feeling. And I don’t know why when a relationship ends, you can’t do that.
A lesson I learned when my mother passed away. She had a two-year terrible battle with cancer and was on hospice and was very, very sick. And it was a very slow and awful end. And I remember one of my worst fears was that this is how I would remember my mother for the rest of my life, that I would never be able to think of her, that I didn’t think of what she had become in the last months where she was withered away to nothing in this bed. And I learned over time that memory is very kind. That faded somehow. And that now when I remember her, I remember her healthy and vibrant. I remember her laughter. I remember positive things. Some of that is I like to look at photos of that. But some of it is just how I think memory works. And I don’t know why we don’t apply that to relationships.
And I think part of it is because we have this binary view of relationships, that it’s either success, which means you have happily ever after for the rest of your lives and die together or in short succession, or it was wrong. It was awful. And I don’t understand why that would have to be how we do it. I think we could look at relationships like what they are, which is chapters in a book. And that book is our life, and those chapters all have significance. The later chapters, none of them would happen without the prior ones. So there’s this beauty to me, of that. And I don’t know if it’s a choice or if that is how it is, and the rest is just narrative that we’ve put on top of it culturally for some reason.
Lex Fridman Well, I think to push back a little bit, I think memory can also… I think it is a deliberate choice because I think memory can basically… That’s how trauma works. It can surface the negative stuff and the negative stuff completely drowns out all the positives. So I think it’s a deliberate choice to make your memory probably work that way. In relationships, betrayal can do that, right? Cheating, infidelity, one event can almost erase the entirety of your understanding of the past. And all the memories are shrouded in this darkness of, “Okay. What I believed was true is totally untrue.” And so to overcome that and still appreciate the beautiful moments.
James Sexton I’m continually astounded by how long the hurt and anger of betrayal can reverberate. I have clients who were four years, five years past when the divorce ended, the cheating was discovered, and they’re as angry as they were the day they found out. And I don’t know what that’s about because I also have clients that they look back on it and they go, “We screwed up. We didn’t do the best, but we did the best we could do at the time. There should be stars for wars like ours. There should be champagne for the survivors.”
Lex Fridman Yeah. That was beautiful.
James Sexton “We made it through. We survived it and we were fools. And we were fools for love, and there are worse things in the world to be fools for.” But I also do think that most relationships where there was infidelity… And it’s not a popular thing to say and I’ll get pilloried for it.
Lex Fridman Great.
James Sexton I just don’t know… And I don’t want to blame the victim of infidelity. But was the relationship really where it needed to be? Were you truly the most just dutiful spouse who was seeing this person’s needs be met? Again, we’ve established in the granola story that people can sometimes with good intentions not be meeting their partner’s needs or perceiving their partner’s needs, or their partner isn’t communicating them the right way, or all of the above. But I’ve rarely seen very happy, content couples that cheat on each other. And so I understand there’s a shame in saying, “This person cheated on me,” or, “I cheated on this person.” Because I represent the cheater and I represent the cheated. I represent the victim of domestic violence and I represent the perpetrator of domestic violence. I represent the person with the substance use disorder, the person married to the person. So I don’t get to choose the white or the black hat. I have my client and that’s my client.
And it forces me to put myself into their story from their point of view. And I think that kind of radical empathy that you need to engage in on a daily basis to represent people in those kinds of proceedings it’s just… I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like there’s good guys and bad guys. It just seems like it’s complicated, and people’s intentions and where they actually end up are different.
Lex Fridman Yeah. I think there are some sense in still remembering the betrayal as it being a symptom of taking life a little too seriously, too seriously where you don’t… Life shouldn’t be taken that seriously. You should be able to laugh at it all. I like the story you say of being able to appreciate the battle that should give stars for those kind of wars that we fought, and just be able to laugh at it all.
James Sexton Especially with love. Love’s just so absurd. It’s so-
Lex Fridman It’s just crazy.
James Sexton It’s so crazy. I mean, I think It’s funny. This is real candor. But as a man. There’s nothing funnier than when you finish masturbating. There’s no more humbling moment. And I like to think about the fact that the richest, famous, most powerful person in the world, they jerk off. The most powerful man in the world jerks off, I’m sure. All of them do. I mean, you probably know them so you could ask. And that moment where you just come and you go, “What am I doing? What the… Now I got to wipe the… Oh. Good lord.” And there’s this feeling of, “But a second ago this seemed like a great idea.” And it was, by the way. It was a great idea. But there’s this moment, this satori where you just go, “Oh. This is so silly.” Well, that’s love. That’s sex. It’s crazy.
When you read other people’s infidelity, the text messages, the emails… Because I have to do that all the time. And I’ll tell you how we make the sausage. In a divorce lawyer’s office, some of the most entertaining moments is dramatic readings aloud of people’s infidelity exchanges with their lovers.
Lex Fridman The sexts.
James Sexton Yeah. The sexts and the… It’s just so ridiculous because people have to go through all kinds of gymnastics to be able to meet and have sex in weird places. And You’re reading this, and you’re reading these texts, and you go like, “Oh, my god.” And by the way, I’ve represented some very powerful people. And you read their texts with their lover or even their spouse, even their spouse, and they’re just pathetic. I mean, they’re just so not powerful. They’re so like, “Hey, babe.”
Totally nameless, I have a very powerful, wealthy, famous former client where there’s a whole series of texts about, “Is my dick weird?” Which by the way, I think the answer is if you have to ask if you have a weird dick, the answer’s probably yes because I’ve owned one and I’ve never thought, “Is this weird?” But the fact that you’re having this discussion, it’s absurd. It’s hilarious. Love is hilarious. It’s bizarre. It’s such a weird vulnerability. It’s such a basic, visceral human need. It really is something that we just… It’s mysterious. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. I don’t think that even betrayal, like I said, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. I think we can frame it differently.
Lex Fridman Yeah. You can laugh at the whole thing. I mean, I think what we don’t often do with ourselves is look back at text or look back at emails or look back at Google search. I did that recently, just looking at what I searched for 10 years ago, 15. It’s like, forget last week. Just look at your Google searches last week and you’re like, “Wait a minute. What? Why did you just search for this 50 times?”
James Sexton Why did The Karate Kid III pop into my head? Where’s Ralph Macchio now? Where did-
Lex Fridman Who is he dating? And then his mother and then you’re [inaudible 00:47:23]-
James Sexton And then a restaurant nearby. Like, how did I go from this to that? But it made sense at the time. So when you ask someone, “How did our relationship fall apart?” it’s like looking at the Google search history of yourself from 10 year… You don’t even know why you were thinking about those things. And now you want to understand why you did what you did, felt what you felt, she felt what she felt, she did what she did, and why the two of you, how you impacted each other and interacted with each other. Really? You think that’s doable?
Lex Fridman In the courtroom, does that come up, text messages with whoever you’re cheating with? So you have to-
James Sexton Yeah. I mean, cheating doesn’t come up as much because most states are no-fault states now. So why someone’s getting divorced, whether it’s infidelity or… It doesn’t matter. There’s no good spouse bonus or bad spouse penalty.
Lex Fridman Well, there isn’t?
James Sexton No.
Lex Fridman I mean, can you elaborate on that? That’s-
James Sexton Well, you can have… We’ve had times where we have to prove infidelity because we want to prove what’s called wasteful dissipation of marital assets, which means that you were spending money that was marital money on a paramour. That’s the legal name for a boyfriend or girlfriend in the marriage. And usually, the person calls it, “That whore,” or, “That piece of shit.” But we call them paramour. Yeah. The paramour.
And sometimes we have to prove inclination and opportunity. We have to prove that this person had the inclination to cheat and that they had the opportunity to cheat. And then we want to show that, “Okay. So when they went away, that should be considered dissipation of marital assets.” So if you go out to dinner with your brother, you didn’t dissipate the marital estate. But if you bought your paramour a Tiffany bracelet, that would be a dissipation of marital assets and the person’s entitled to a credit back for that from what was taken out of the marital estate. So we do sometimes have to authenticate text messages on the witness stand or in depositions.
And what’s interesting about that is the way people approach it. People sometimes try to pretend, “Oh, no. This is just my good friend,” which is just… You kill your credibility if you, “Oh, no. She’s just my very good friend.” She’s not. She’s not. That makes no sense whatsoever. Or, “No. We were just friends at that point. And then several months later is when we… Once this marriage was over, that’s when we got together as partner.” That’s ridiculous. But sometimes people just own it. Just own it. I did a deposition of an executive once and opposing counsel thought they were going to really hit him. They were like, “Looking at this credit card receipt, what was this charge for for this hotel?” He was like, “Oh. That was for a hotel room that I got with my girlfriend.” “And you were married?” “Yes. Yes.” “Where did you stay at the hotel?” “We didn’t even stay. We actually just did an afternoon delight, rolled around in bed for the day.” And it was like, took all the thunder out of that.
Lex Fridman What’s the downside of doing that? It seems like a really-
James Sexton There wasn’t. It actually I think helped his credibility. It was my client. So I thought it was the right move. We hadn’t really discussed it in advance, but he was naturally intelligent enough to go, “Yeah. My credibility, I’m not going to lie under oath. I’ll admit what it was. But I’ll do it in such an…” We did it at the end, like Eminem at the end of 8 Mile. It was very like, “Yeah. I cheated on her with this person. Now tell these people something they don’t know about me.”
And that’s how I try to… As a trial lawyer, we actually in my firm refer to it as the 8 Mile strategy, which is if I know there was a text message sent, ” You piece of shit. I hope you die.” My client sent that text message to his co-parent. On my examination of my client, I will say, “I’d like to have this marked for identification, shown to the witness.” “What is that?” “It’s a text message.” “Who’s it to?” “The plaintiff.” “You sent it?” “Yeah.” “Read it out loud for the court.” “Do I have to?” “I think you should.” “You’re a piece of S.” “Does it say S?” “No.” “What does it say?” “Well, it’s a profanity” “Say it to…” “You piece of shit. I hope that you die.” “You sent that to her?” “Yes.” “Why?” “I was really mad.” “Do you think that was good?” “No.” “Do you think it was helpful for your co-parenting relationship with her?” “No.”
“Why did you send it then?” “She sent me 50 texts exactly like that. And I never responded, and I pushed it down every time. And then finally I just blew up at her.” “If you had it to do over again, would you do it differently?” “I wish I could say I would, but the truth is I’m human and I was at my limits.” And I’m watching opposing counsel cross out entire sheets of their cross-examination because It’s gone now. They thought that they had their Perry Mason moment. They had their like, “Did you order the code red moment?” And It’s gone now because if you just own and accept your fault or your issues in the relationship, you can take a lot of the power out of that.
Lex Fridman I wish we wouldn’t take text seriously.
James Sexton I don’t think we should have substantive discussions via text. I think text was designed for, “Are you here?” “Yes. 15 minutes away.” Or, “I got here safely. Love you.” Substantive discussions… People love having arguments via text. And I have to say when you read other people’s text messages, as I am often forced to do, it is amazing because just like that Google history you were talking about, I don’t know how the hell you got from one thing to another.
I was just reading actually on the way here in the car. I was reading through a text exchange between two co-parents in the middle of a custody thing that I’m involved in. And it’s like, “You piece of shit. You never cared about anything. And I’m going to take… You have no right to take the kids from me,” da, da, da, da. Nothing in between. The next day, “Maddie got a good grade honor science thing.” “oh. That’s great. She’s doing so well. It makes me so happy.” “Yeah. Her teacher said she’s doing really well.” “Yeah. That’s really great to see.” “I’ll be there about 15 minutes late.” “No problem.” “See you then.”
Wait. It was a day ago. I want to know, was there a phone conversation in between where one of you went, “Hey, man.” “Listen. I’m really sorry about that.” “Oh, no. Look. We were both pissed. Whatever.” Or is it just like you did that, and then we’re supposed to pretend that didn’t happen, and now we’re just going to talk about what Maddie got on her test?
Lex Fridman Yeah. Well, sometimes a good nap or a good night’s sleep can solve a lot of emotional issues.
James Sexton I totally get it. If you’re looking just at the texts, it begs the question. Wouldn’t you take the nap and then go, “Hey, listen. I just woke up from the nap. It turns out I was really tired.” Does that not happen by text?
Lex Fridman No. Because sometimes, it’s hard to probably apologize for being an asshole. So I think we use just text. We humans use all kinds of forms of communication to vent. I think it’s the wrong thing to do, but people do do that.
James Sexton Text has a permanence, though. It’s writing. I mean, it’s writing.
Lex Fridman You think like a lawyer. I like it.
James Sexton I do think like a lawyer. But lawyers think detail. And why would you write that down? Writing it down, would you write it down and would you put it on a billboard in Times Square? Everything you say on Facebook or Instagram can and will be used against you in a court of law. Every photo you post. I mean, that’s going on with… what’s his name… Jake Paul or whatever Paul and Dillon Danis right now. That guy’s girlfriend, every picture that’s ever been put on the internet of her, by her is being weaponized right now.
Lex Fridman To reference an earlier part of our discussion, that’s love. You take a big risk putting it out there, putting it out there on text, putting it out there on social media. You take risks.
James Sexton But is the reward of doing it via text worthwhile? Listen. The reward of love, I think, is worth the risks of love. But the benefit of communicating by text, does it merit that risk of that being in writing that the person can reflect on and review and scroll back and get heated up again about?
Lex Fridman I don’t know. We just take risks and we’re vulnerable with each other.
James Sexton There may be something about text that for whatever reasons inspires a kind of candor, because I think it is a new way to communicate in the scheme of things. And so sometimes we don’t know the thing until It’s really come into existence. So I don’t know. I think it started as something that we just communicated in a very extemporaneous, unplanned way. Texts were meant to be, “I’m here. I’m outside.” Whatever it might be. And so what happens when you start to talk about more emotional, deeper, bigger things or visceral things or more emphatic, passionate things using a technology that was originally just being used for the other purpose? I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is yeah, as a lawyer; A, from an evidentiary perspective; and B, I just know what it looks like on the outside. I know when I read it what it looks like.
And that’s not always accurate. It’s like when you watch a video of someone at just their worst moment and the person tries to say, “But wait. That’s not me. That was just me in that moment. That was me at this incredible low point.” And I think as a lawyer, my job is to weaponize that and to try to say, “Okay. This low point is indicative of who they actually are.” And when I’m defending someone, I’m not supposed to say, “Well, this is their low point and We’ve all been to a low point. And this is just a moment in this person. And to judge them by that moment, would you want to be judged by your worst moment?” So I have to be able to look at that both directions.
Lex Fridman Yeah. I mean, I don’t think anyone looks great on text.
James Sexton I mean, there’s so much of our communication that is missing. Your expression… My sense of humor does not do well via text because I have sometimes this sarcastic sense of humor or I have a dry sense of humor, and it does not always translate well to text. The nuance of things is lost sometimes.
Lex Fridman Yeah. But that’s what makes the risk of it hilarious. I mean, the emojis, the memes, all that, taking a risk… There’s a risk with the text. If you do some dark, dry statement that’s a joke, and then the pause, and then there’s no response for a couple of hours. I mean, That’s beautiful. I don’t know. That’s-
James Sexton It’s the gap between the two trapezes. Once you’ve hit send and you’re like, “Well, let’s see where this goes. There’s no coming back now.” And You’re waiting and waiting. It’s like that moment of just hang is… Yeah, that’s a rush. I mean, that’s a rush. That’s a beautiful thing.
Lex Fridman Well, I have my friend Michael Malice living close by. And if the courtroom were ever to see the text between us, we would be both in jail for many-
James Sexton Okay. [inaudible 00:59:00] who to subpoena.
Lex Fridman … many years. Yeah. When this finally comes out-
James Sexton Yeah. We’re going to [inaudible 00:59:04]-
Lex Fridman … when I have my Johnny Depp, Amber Heard moment, I’ll-
James Sexton Get the subpoenas ready.
Lex Fridman We’ll get Michael Malice.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard
James Sexton The Johnny Depp, Amber Heard thing was a great example of, in a gunfight between those two, everyone was cheering for the bullets. I mean, I don’t think anybody looked like a hero. They both looked like what they are, which is humans, really flawed humans who had… It really is like that People Magazine thing. Stars, they’re just like us. We watched that and went like, “Oh, yeah. They’re just like us. They cannot keep it together.” They just have these ridiculous, toxic moments where both of them looked awful in that trial.
Lex Fridman What do you take away from that trial, just given all the work you’ve done? I mean, for me… I don’t know if you can speak to that… it’s probably the first time I’ve seen that kind of a complicated relationship, even just to say a relationship, laid out in this raw form, the fights of a relationship.
James Sexton Yeah. My feeling about that trial is there is no amount of money that would be worth laying that kind of stuff bare publicly.
Lex Fridman For you, if you were Johnny Depp.
James Sexton For me. Yeah. There’s no amount of money.
Lex Fridman Or if you were Amber Heard. I don’t know which-
James Sexton Because they both look awful. They both look awful. And I don’t think I’m qualified to say if one or both of them are awful, but they both had moments in that courtroom where their behavior and words looked awful. And I just don’t know that exposing that to the world… I just don’t know. I mean, I understand the point of view that by bringing that suit, Johnny Depp was saying, “Look. Yeah. I have to show these awful things to the world about myself, but it’s not as bad as what she’s claimed I’ve done.” So I get it. I’m not saying That’s incorrect. And for Amber Heard, I think her response is, “Well, for him to say I’m lying, I have to prove my…” But my god, what an awful thing to watch. All it really is, it’s just another couple… You know how banal that is? You know how many of those-
Lex Fridman So this kind of stuff happens a lot?
James Sexton A lot? It’s the norm. It’s not the exception. They just happen to have a grand scale because they have lots of people around them and lots of money. But yeah. That kind of dysfunction, that kind of chaos, that kind of he said, she said, two people with completely differing histories of what happened in the marriage, false allegations of domestic violence or true allegations of domestic violence that are completely denied by the person. And you have witnesses that’ll say, “Oh, my god. They never engaged in any kind…” Because again, no one engages in domestic violence with company over. You don’t invite friends. People always say, “Oh, no. I saw them. They seemed so happy.” People always do this to me as a divorce lawyer. They come in and they go, “Well, here’s photos of the kids smiling with me. So that’s proof that I’m a good dad.” I’m like, “There’s photos of Jeffrey Dahmer smiling with people he ate later. And you think these photos prove something?” The lack of…
I’m in the middle of a very complex domestic violence trial. And the entire defense on the other side is, “Well, we have photos of them on vacation where they look very happy and she never called the cops.” That’s no defense at all. Most victims of intimate partner abuse don’t call the cops. They don’t self-identify as victims of domestic violence.
Lex Fridman And they probably have many stretches of time of intense happiness, or happiness?
James Sexton Of course. Of course. And by the way, perpetrators of domestic violence are charismatic. How else would they get victims? It’s not like… If they were ogre-ish, no one would sign on for that relationship. It’s that when they’re good, they’re so good that when they’re bad, you go, “But wait. No. That’s not him. The really good person’s him.” Or her. We saw that in the public testimony of that Depp-Heard thing is there were moments where you look at her and go, “Oh, my god. I want one just like that.” There are moments where you listen to the testimony and go, “Oh, my god. She’s awful. What? That’s just evil.” And the same for him.
This should teach us something about how not only are there two sides to every story, that there’s just so much complexity and nuance to these. But I think everyone was asking the question whether you were team Depp, team Heard, or team I could care less about either of these people. Everybody’s looking at it going, “Why? Eight billion people in the world. Why did you stay together? Just break up. You’re miserable. It’s obvious. It’s obvious you’re not… This can’t be worth it.”
Lex Fridman I’ve actually become friendly with Camilla Vasquez, who’s the lawyer on the Depp side. She’s an incredible woman.
James Sexton Great lawyer.
Lex Fridman And just a great human being, just how passionate she is about her work. I mean, you radiate this kind of same passion. She’s just truly happy doing what she does. But also where the stress of a case, it becomes her. She can’t sleep, all this kind of stuff, which is fascinating.
James Sexton I think that’s a function of our professions. Even after 20-plus years of doing this, the night before a trial, I can hardly sleep, and I-
Lex Fridman Excitement? Fear?
James Sexton Yes. Yes. All of that. All of that. And I even have moments as I pull up to the courthouse and I listen… I wear certain cuff links that are my lucky cuff links or something. And I pull up to the courthouse. I walk into the courtroom. And I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach, and then it starts. And the moment it starts, something in me goes, “Oh, yeah. I know how to do this.” And it’s instantly… I own it. I love it. Yeah. The people that love this job, being a trial lawyer, being particularly a divorce trial lawyer, family law, trial lawyer, I love it. I love it more than I loved it when I started doing it. I can’t imagine spending five days a week looking forward to two. I love what I do. I don’t know that I’ll ever love anyone or anything more than I love the work.
Lex Fridman So I saw you talk with Steve Harvey a bunch of times and I always loved it. One thing just sticks in my head from something he said as advice, that if you and your partner, your spouse, if there’s a fight, there’s a difficult thing you have to deal with, keep that to yourself. Don’t talk to anyone else. That’s a little… what does he say… a two-arm circle or something, whatever the expression is. But basically resolve it all internally. When you face the world, you have a front of rock-solid-
James Sexton Don’t take sides against the family.
Lex Fridman Yeah.
Lex Fridman … rock solid.
James Sexton Don’t take sides against the family.
Lex Fridman Yeah. Yes. It all boils down to Godfather.
James Sexton Everything boils down to Godfather references, it really does.
Lex Fridman And true romance.
James Sexton Yeah, you don’t take sides against the family. You don’t show that weakness to the world. I mean, again, I don’t know that Steve, in candor, would say, “You shouldn’t discuss it with your own therapist.” But I think what he’s saying is, don’t project it out to the world, don’t share that because I think it can change the way people view your relationship, which then will change the way you view your relationship. And so I think don’t run reckless when it comes to that primary relationship, don’t run your mouth recklessly.
Lex Fridman Yeah, it’s, one of the things I mentioned to you offline, that my now close friend, Joe Rogan, I’ve never heard him ever speak negatively of his wife. It’s always super positive how awesome of a person she is. And that, to me, has always been an inspiration to do the same for everybody in my life, to always speak positively about them. That has probably a virtuous spiral effect.
James Sexton I’m sure. that’s probably because he has a great wife and he has a great wife in part because of that. I think it’s clear that he’s in her corner and cheering for her, it’s clear she’s cheering for him. It’s not like Joe Rogan’s not a man who has opportunity. I mean, he’s surrounded by UFC ring girls for god’s sakes. This is a guy who has all the opportunity in the world and he seems to be quite a fan of his wife. And that’s a superpower, that’s a real thing.
Now the question is he doesn’t seem to talk about it like, “Oh, I got to really work at that.” And that’s not a man who’s afraid to talk about what he works at. He’s pretty honest about, “Man, yeah, I got to work really hard to stay in shape. I got to work really hard to be able to do this. Yeah, I’m not good at memorizing that, it takes time.” But I’ve never heard him say, “Oh, marriage is a lot of work.” I think that’s to his credit because it seems like they’re enjoying that. And it’s also not incredibly public, it’s not something … most people couldn’t pick her out of a lineup.
Lex Fridman He kept it private for many years, and just because it’s a private joy, it’s a private, deep, meaningful, intimate partnership. That’s, interesting, that’s also an inspiration. Not everything about your life has to be this, ” Look at me, I’m happy. I’m in a happy relationship. Everything is wonderful.”
James Sexton Especially that. I think there is something about the womb like cocoon like joy of love, when you’re just tucked in, snuggled in, just pressed against each other with that. That’s such a … it’s just the two of you, and that’s lovely and that’s such a good thing. We’re just dying for connection and that connection is so big, it’s so everything.
One of my earliest psychedelic experiences, probably when I was a teenager, but a theme that’s been persistent in every psychedelic experience I’ve ever had is this idea of everything is connection. Everything is being pressed to someone and with them, the warmth of human connection. One of the reasons I enjoy listening to your work and your perspective has always been that I think at the core you see connection and love. And I think for me, from my earliest experiences with psychedelics at 16, 17, I was very attuned to that. I was very much … that was put on my radar by psychedelics and just stayed part of my consciousness forever. And I think I had a 30 something year break from psychedelics, but it was like when I came back to it, I went, “Oh yeah, it’s still there. That’s still the core of everything, is connection.”
Lex Fridman I mean, it’s fascinating how deeply you value connection, how empathic you are that you would be doing what you’re doing, which is … or is it not, is it not counterintuitive?
James Sexton I think it’s actually why I’m well-suited for what I do. I think what I do is I have to learn the story of my client and know it and feel it very deeply and I have to feel it in a very human way that’s very compassionate to this person. And then I have to feel it and understand it in a way that’s incredibly antagonistic to it, so I can shore up defenses. So I have to feel this person’s story and feelings from every possible angle because every one of them is a vulnerability and every one of them is a potential strength and a potential defense. And so I actually think it’s my number one, other than extemporaneous speaking ability, it is my number one job tool, is the ability to radically empathize and to put myself in the emotional state of someone in its best possible light and its worst possible light so that I can see again, the defense and I can see the vulnerability.
Lex Fridman But I mean, so that’s beautifully put, but also just to bear witness to this connection broken in those dramatic way, over and over and over and over.
James Sexton That part is hard, but I was a hospice volunteer for many, many years when I first got out of college and it really showed me a lot about what is sadness, what is tragic and what is just inevitable decay, what is pain and decay? We all die, we play a game you can’t win to the utmost. And so if we know the answer to all of this is you’re going to die, then what do we do with the rest of that time? If all your stuff is just stuff, it’s just going to go to … the money’s going to go, everything, your looks is going to go, everything’s going to go, love’s going to end one way or the … then what are we doing?
And again, I think it’s love and connection, but what I’m doing for a living is helping, and I don’t look at it as what I’m doing is helping people beat the crap out of each other. I look at it as I’m trying to help a client build their post-divorce life, to sort of rise from the ashes of that which has fallen apart and move on to the next chapter and refocus and have the things they need financially, emotionally, whatever it might be, interpersonally, in terms of with their kids. And so for me, it’s actually a job that is very consistent with my desire to build connection and to be empathetic.
Lex Fridman And witnessing the ashes doesn’t make you cynical about the whole thing of love?
James Sexton No, because again, 56% of marriages end in divorce, but 84% are remarried within five years. We keep doing it over and over again.
Lex Fridman And that’s a good thing?
James Sexton I think it is a good thing.
Lex Fridman The mess of it, the absurdity of it, the hypocrisy of it, there’s something beautiful about that.
James Sexton Well it’s just the return is so great on the investment. Listen man, I’ve had more than one dog. When my dog died, the first dog I had died, I remember when I’m never going to love again. I’m done, I’m done with this. I will never expose myself to this kind of pain again. I’ll never have to take the dog bed and put it in the closet and like … And then some friend called me and said, “We have an adoption event. Can you just watch this dog for 24 hours and then we’ll take him? We just need …” And I went, “Yeah, all right, I’ll watch the dog for the night.” And this dog come in and he said, “Oh, he has mange, he’s not going …” fuck, I got another dog. He walked in and my heart went, “Yeah, I got a dog.” And now that dog is 13 years old and his eyes are cloudy and he doesn’t go up the stairs real well and he’s going to break my heart, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Lex Fridman I’m still there, I’m still struggling for the second one, I lost a dog and it broke my heart.
James Sexton And you’ll never lose that pain. But I promise you, your heart has an infinite capacity for the kind of love you felt with that dog. And you’ll never feel a love that replaces the hole. There will never be another Buster for me, but there was Kava. And you know what, and when he’s gone, there will never be another one of him. But you know what, when that stupid puppy that was five months old stumbled in, I went, “I guess I’m going to do this again.” And you know what, I’m so glad, I’m so glad. And I know, by the way, I know now because that’s where I’ve said, it’s that Joseph Brodsky poem, a song, ” I wish I knew no astronomy when stars appear.” I wish I didn’t know the pain. But you know what, I don’t care. I don’t care and I believe we don’t care. Again, I think there’s something to that. If something hurts so badly and you go, “I’m going to do it again, I’m going to do it again,” then it must be of value, it must be of real value.
Lex Fridman There’s also a different perspective on it, that pain. So there’s that, from Louis, the show, of this interaction with an old man with Louis C.K. And he says that, because Louis is mourning the loss of, got split up, he got dumped or whatever, and he’s mourning the loss of that partner, of love. And the old man says that that is the best part, missing the love is still love. The real bad part is when you forget it, when the pain fades and it’s all gone. But the pain is actually a kind of celebration of the love you had.
James Sexton Of course. Well the opposite of love, isn’t hate. The opposite of love is indifference. There’s no question about that. I mean, hate is a passionate emotion, love is a passionate emotion. And there is a school of thought that says that only unfulfilled love can be truly romantic. But I believe that it’s what I think I learned from hospice, is that I think for me, knowing the impermanence is the thing, it’s the key.
Lex Fridman Yeah, it’s finite, eventually it’s going to be over so that intensifies the feeling, that’s when you can have pure love without the drama.
James Sexton Dogs are for me a great example. And again, I don’t know what it all means existentially, but I just feel like that kind of love has to be here to teach us something. And I feel like the fact that they’re so amazing and just so loving and so wonderful and the bond we feel is so amazing and deep and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, and yet it’s so finite, it’s just this short little lifespan. And I feel like there’s just such a lesson there, there’s so much there to unpack about the nature of connection and loss and that your heart has this infinite capacity.
I’m telling you, when my dog died, when Buster died, I remember thinking with certainty, I will never do this again because I’ll never love that way again. I’ll never love a dog the way I love this dog. And it’s just not true, that’s just not true. You have this infinite capacity. And that makes it scary actually because right now there’s so many people you could love, there’s so many dogs you could love. There’s so much out there and it requires a certain bravery and tremendous amount of risk to do it.
Lex Fridman And a commitment, because I think to really experience love is you just dive in, because there is a huge number of people, but to really, I mean, you have to really dive into the full complexity, the full range of another human being.
James Sexton Yeah. Which is hard because we don’t even, I don’t know that we even feel comfortable diving into the full range of ourselves. There’s pieces of ourselves we try to push away or not think about.
Complicated divorce cases
Lex Fridman Okay, so speaking of the whole sociopath/empath that is all embodied in one human being that is you, let’s go back to some cases perhaps that you’ve worked on, just something that stands out to you. What’s maybe the craziest, most complicated thing you’ve worked on, is there something that pops to mind?
James Sexton Craziest would be different than most complicated.
Lex Fridman Let’s go craziest.
James Sexton Yeah, so craziest, gosh, that’s a great question. So from a chaos standpoint, I mean, I see so many bizarre fact patterns and so many variations of people cheating with people, people sleeping with the nanny, people sleeping with a relative of their spouse, people having same sex or polyamorous relationships and the other person doesn’t even know they’re not monogamous, so much craziness that you could fill 15 books. In terms of complexity, I mean, emotionally complex is any custody case is emotionally complex because you’re dealing with parenting issues and what makes a good parent I think is a very tricky question because I’m trying to convince a judge who’s a better parent and that is so loaded with subjective value judgements.
Lex Fridman Is there, just to linger on the maternal presumption, is that a thing you come face-to-face with often in court?
James Sexton Well, it was, I mean, it was real, it was the law. There was something in the law called the maternal presumption, it was also known as the tender years doctrine, which meant that a child under the age of seven was presumed to be in the custody of the mother unless you could show she was an unfit mother. So that’s where the idea of someone has to be proven an unfit mother came from. Now in the ’80s, 1980s, that was changed. But under my skin is under my sovereignty. I mean, you can’t suggest that there isn’t in the world a suggestion that a mother who births a child and feeds a child with her body, doesn’t have a particular bond with a child that’s different than a father’s bond with a child. So where do we put that? How much importance do we put on it? Now that there’s better and more research in the mental health field about attachment theory in infants, there’s also a lot of research on how is attachment formed, how should parenting schedules be put together based on attachment theory, but there’s conflicting perspectives on that.
Lex Fridman And so judge to judge you see, is there a lot of variation?
James Sexton Yeah, there is because there’s lots of kinds of judges. There’s judges that are thoughtful, enlightened, interested in the mental health research, and there’s judges that just were unsuccessful lawyers, that were good politically and got elected and they just want a job where they show up at nine o’clock, they have a lunch break from 12:00 until two o’clock and that they leave at 4:30 and they get a certain number of weeks vacation and a pension after 20 years.
Lex Fridman What is in general the process of these custody battles, what’s the landscape here?
James Sexton Well most, the overwhelming majority of custody cases don’t end up in my office, they are a negotiation between two people that love their children more than they dislike their soon to be ex. So the overwhelming majority of cases are just two people going, “Okay, how are we going to make decisions together?” Because there are decisions that have to be made about kids, will they go to public or private school, can they go on medication if they need it or not? Should we change pediatricians? All those kinds of things. How do we make decisions and when will we each spend time with the kids? And so most custody cases are just that. Most custody cases are just a discussion, a negotiation between counsel about those issues and they’re not ugly and they’re not anything, they’re just people. Again, sometimes people have differing perspectives, but sometimes people haven’t thought through their perspective.
So as a divorce lawyer, a lot of what I’m doing is counseling a person because they come in and say, “Well I’ve been the person who handles all of the homework and all of the everything, so he should only see the kids on weekends.” And there’s a logic to that, I’ve always done the homework with the kids, so I’m the parent who’s in charge of the homework and he’s obviously not done that before. But there’s also a logic that you can then say, right, but then you’re doing all the heavy lifting of parenting and he’s doing none of that. And you were a married couple and living together so he was trusting you to do that because you’re good at it and you seem to like it. So maybe now we want him to have to do some of the heavy lifting of parenting because we don’t want the child when they’re 13 to say, “I love dad, we have nothing but a good time together. Whereas you make me do my homework and eat my broccoli. Dad’s the grass on the other side of the fence that’s greener.”
So sometimes it’s about educating a client to change their frame, to look at this differently. Yeah, okay, we always go to my mother’s for Thanksgiving, so I need every Thanksgiving. Okay, well you were married so you went, now you’re going to have new traditions. Things are changing for your children, things are changing for your family, you’re both going to have new traditions. So a lot of times it’s just educating people on looking at things in a different way, looking at their parenting in a different way. We’re not going to live in the same house anymore, but we’re still going to parent this child or these children together. What’s much more interesting, because I don’t get invited to a lot of parties, but when I get invited to parties, if somebody says, “What do you do for a living?” And I say, “I’m a divorce lawyer.” They go, “Oh my God, you must have stories.
That’s the way everybody says, “Oh my God, you must have so many stories.” And if I said, “Yeah, there was this couple and they slowly grew apart and then they decided that it would be good for them to end their relationship as a married couple, but they wanted to continue to have an amicable co-parenting relationship. So they divided their assets and they figured out a good parenting access schedule that made sure that they both had both leisure time and responsibilities with the children.” People would be like, “That’s the worst fucking story, that’s so boring.” So what they really want is, and then he was sleeping with the nanny and then she caught him. So the truth is people want to hear about those flame outs. And by the way, those are super interesting as a lawyer, it’s super interesting.
Cheating with the nanny
Lex Fridman It’s usually going to be what, infidelity? You do have a chapter called, Everybody Fucks the Nanny.
James Sexton Everybody’s Fucking the Nanny.
Lex Fridman Everybody’s-
James Sexton There’s a nanny fascination out there. I try to explain it in the book, but yeah, I mean, I’ve had some great nanny stories. I mean, people run off with the nanny, people end up getting married to the nanny. I had one where he convinced her that they should have a threesome with the nanny. They got the nanny drunk, they had a bunch of threesomes with the nanny and then the nanny and the wife paired up and left him.
Lex Fridman Oh, nice
James Sexton And they’re still quite happy.
Lex Fridman That seems like a happy ending to the whole-
James Sexton For everyone but him, but it was his idea.
Lex Fridman Well he’s really going to have a nanny fascination now.
James Sexton Yeah, well now he’s got to see the nanny whose now the stepparent to the kids and it was his bright idea of let’s have a threesome with the nanny. Yeah, I mean, the nanny thing I think is a function of, in many circumstances, is the characteristics of the wife that he remembers fondly and that have been extinguished by the presence of children. So my words of wisdom is not don’t get a nanny or make sure you get an ugly nanny. My thought on it is that a woman should remember, even when she’s a mother, that she’s also a woman who a man, they fell in love with each other and she should take time to be in touch with the part of herself that is an independent woman, that’s interesting and interested. And there’s a lot to be learned from divorced couples because divorced couples, if you do it right, it’s awesome.
I had a wonderful experience parenting and being divorced, because I divorced when my kids were quite young. My co-parent, my ex-wife is awesome, she’s a great mom, nice person, we’re good friends. And it was great. I had half the time I had my kids and I could focus on them and the other half of the time they were with the other person who loves them as much as I do, and I didn’t have any other responsibilities of kids and I could just have all of the wonderful fun that you can have when you don’t have the responsibilities that come with full-time caring for children.
Lex Fridman What would you say now on the flip positive side, we’ve been talking about the collapse of things, what about success? What’s the secret to a successful romantic relationship?
James Sexton My mom used to say that it’s hard to define intelligence, but you could spot stupid a mile away. So I’m much better at pointing out where people fall apart because I spend a lot of time with people who have fallen apart in their relationship. So it’s easy to then say, “Well just don’t do what they do.” But I don’t know that that’s not an oversimplification. So again, I think the answer is connection. I think the answer is affection, presence, mindfulness and presence. I do think, in my personal and professional experience, that most people want you fully more than they just want you in a disconnected way. So if you were to say to your romantic partner, “You can have me for two hours where I’m giving you my undivided attention and I’m really joyful to be with you, or you can have me for eight hours where I’m sort of half paying attention and I kind of want to be someplace else for part of the time.” There’s just no choice there, it’s so obvious.
So I think presence is a big piece and I think the you, the me and the we, I think is important because I think in relationships there’s you and there’s me and we meet and something magical happens and we become we, and now there’s you and there’s me and there’s we. Then the we gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and isn’t it great because it’s such a nice warm place. It gets so big. But it gets so big that you get small and me gets small because we. And if any of us dares to ask, well what about you? What about me? No, no, the we, what, you don’t like the we, you don’t want to be with the we? Whoa, whoa. No, it’s not that, but the we only exists because there was you and there was me and I really liked you and you really liked me. And so we picked each other out of lots of choices and now this we is so fucking big, it threatens to just consume all of it. And I really think that there’s something there we have to look at more honestly.
Lex Fridman So the we should not consume everything, but at the same time, not be small?
James Sexton Well the we is the you and the me and if you mix it so much that you and me loses its components that all that’s left is we, I don’t think that that’s the way to do it. I just think the world pulls us in that direction. We get told culturally that, well why aren’t you going with this person to that? Why would you do that by yourself? And anyone knows that there’s joy in being away from each other and there’s joy being reunited together. So why don’t we speak very honestly about that? And I think some of that’s our own insecurity. Well why don’t you want to be with me 24 hours a day? Aren’t I wonderful, aren’t I delightful? It’s like, well wait, what?
Lex Fridman Well, but also probably people are either afraid or lazy in developing their individual selves. I mean, it’s lonely going out there in the world by yourself and it’s comforting in that little cocoon of we.
James Sexton I mean, it can also be incredibly adventurous going out into the world by yourself and then coming back to the we with a full report. Coming back and saying like, “Oh my God, guess what I saw? Guess what I did?Like, “We have to go there together now because all I could think about was you. While I was there I was like, oh my god, she would love this.” That’s magical, that’s amazing. Look what I brought you back. I went for this and then I got you this present from there. There’s something … and we know this. I always thought it was when you watch the old westerns where the hero’s leaving and he’s walking away from the cabin, he’s going to go fight the gunfight. And she runs up and she goes, “Please don’t go, don’t go, stay here with me.” And he kisses her and then he goes. If he goes like, “Yeah, you’re right, I’ll just stay here, it’s cool. I didn’t want to deal with that anyway.” He’s not the hero anymore then.
Lex Fridman Yeah. Yeah, there’s deep truth to that. And probably, like you mentioned, sex is probably a big part of it. Friendship, that seems to me like a really important one.
James Sexton Depends on how you define friend. If being a friend means we have some connection to each other and we have each other’s cell phone numbers, okay, then we’re friends. But if it’s a bigger definition than that, if it’s like you’ve picked me up at the airport or you’re someone I could call, that it’s like, “Dude, I got to hide a body. You get shovel and lime.”
Lex Fridman I like how you escalated from airport pickup to murder.
James Sexton I try to go in two directions.
Lex Fridman You’re a true New Yorker.
James Sexton I have to tell you, I define the Ben Affleck movie, The Town, that scene, that’s friendship to me. I mean, to me the ideal male friendship is the scene where he says, “I need you to come with me. We’re going to hurt some people and you never have to ask me about it again.”
Lex Fridman Oh, yeah.
James Sexton And he says, “Whose car are we taking?” And that’s sort of like, to me that’s friendship. So it’s a high bar to be like a friend. So when you say friendship, I think that’s the kind of friendship you should ideally have with your romantic partner. If you’re getting married, it should be the like whose car are we taking? It should be that, it’s you and me.
Lex Fridman To be fair, that bar is reached with me with a lot of people, if you call me tomorrow and there’s a body.
James Sexton But you’re a big open heart.
Lex Fridman But it’s true, I wonder how many people out there are like that, in terms of hiding the body.
James Sexton I mean, my theory on this, because I think I’m like you in that way, I think I’m very sensitive. I feel things really deeply. And I think the world is terrifying when you feel things very deeply because there’s so much pain, there’s so much betrayal, there’s so many opportunities to be hurt. And I think when you are that kind of person, you go through stages and one of them is that I don’t care, I don’t feel anything, it doesn’t matter. I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel anything. You try to convince yourself I don’t feel anything, it’s fine, I don’t feel anything. And then at some point you do feel all of it, and then it’s like, oh my God, the weight of this is … I mean, I think it’s the whole arc of Pink Floyd, The Wall, it’s literally the entire arc of Pink Floyd, The Wall. And the song, Stop. I want to go home, take off this uniform and leave the show.
When you feel all of it, the army of hammers coming at you, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the thousand natural shocks, the [inaudible 01:36:00] too. When you feel all of that deeply, it’s very hard, but it can also be a superpower because I think when you can bring that to a relationship, when you can bring that to a profession, like you’ve done and I’ve done, then there’s something very magical about that. The ability to bring it out in someone, to feel it in yourself, to understand it is a gift, it’s a wonderful, wonderful gift. I’m humbled by what it brought me professionally and I’d like to think that you and I have both found professions that enable us to use that sensitivity, that empathy in a productive and good way and in a fulfilling, a personally fulfilling way, and ideally in a way that does good for other people.
Cost of divorce
Lex Fridman You yourself are incredibly successful and a high performer, you’ve dealt with a lot of CEOs and just high performers in all walks of life. What can you say about successful relationships with those kinds of folks?
James Sexton That’s a good question. I think-
Lex Fridman Is it all the same stuff or is there something special when they’re busier?
James Sexton Well, I think when you represent high net worth individuals but also high performing, I would make a distinction between high net worth and high performing. So I’ve done high net worth divorces where the person’s like a trust fund kid, even though they’re an adult. But what they did to achieve their high net worth status is their great-grandfather died. So that is different than someone who is self-made, who through discipline, focus, entrepreneurship, whatever it might be, that they have found success. And there’s also a difference between financial success and fame, because I’ve represented famous people that actually did not have that much money in the scheme of things or much liquidity. And I’ve represented people that were not in any way famous and were very high performing in their field.
In New York, we have a lot of finance people and what I find is their divorces are challenging, one, on a technical level because figuring out what they have and how to divide it is tricky. Because when something’s moving that quickly, when your portfolio’s movement affects a market, that’s challenging. Jeff Bezos divorce, for a time, when it was in its early stages, could affect Amazon stock. It did. So that’s a real thing, there are businesses that are affected by a divorce. But in terms of being in a relationship with someone who is a high-
James Sexton … with someone who is a high-performing person. Most of the high-performing people I know are creatures of discipline and routine. From Joe Rogan, we’ve talked about any of these people, they have a routine, they have a discipline, they have a focus, they have a way they like to do things, they have a type of coffee they like to drink, they have a way that they like to do. And divorce is a tremendous disruption. I mean, divorce is fundamental things in your life are shifted out of your control, like your spouse may be the one who has decided you are no longer going to live in that house. You will no longer see your children on these days. So to take that control away from someone is very, very hard.
I mean, when someone is a high performing, high net worth person, they are used to being told yes, they’re used to being able to buy their way out of a problem. But just like illness, you can hire the best doctor but you can’t cure cancer because you have a lot of money. You can hire the best lawyer, but you can’t cure a custody case. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s seemingly endless custody disputes that have been going on for years now with the best lawyers in California working on them is proof of the fact that you can’t just buy a resolution to those things, that you have to go through it just like everyone else.
Lex Fridman So that lets me ask the question of how much does a divorce usually cost?
James Sexton It’s a great question. Average divorce, what I always tell clients in the first consultation is I tell them the most reasonable question a person could ask me sitting in that chair across from me is two, how long is this going to take, and how much is it going to cost. And those are two questions I can’t answer. And then, the next thing they say is, “Give me a range,” which is a bit like calling your doctor and saying, “I have a headache. What is it?” “Well, I can’t tell you. I’d have to do tests.” “Give me a range.” “Okay, it’s a reaction to the barometric pressure and it’ll be gone in 15 minutes or it’s a brain aneurysm and you’ll be dead in five minutes, there’s your range.” And so, it didn’t really help. The least expensive divorce I’ve ever seen is two people who, one of whom comes into my office and says, “We’ve written down on a yellow pad what we figured out at the kitchen table. She’s going to keep the house. I’m going to keep the 401k, we have a bank account at this bank. We’re going to split that 50-50. I’m going to pay her this much in child support each month, and We’re going to agree from time to time on what we’re going to do in terms of the schedule with the kids, but they primarily going to live with her. Can you write this up and make it legally binding?” Yes. 3,500 bucks.
Lex Fridman Just as a side note, I have a friend who went through a divorce and handled it just masterfully by giving more than he’s supposed to and having nothing but love in his heart and happiness with the kids and just, I don’t know, that to me is just an inspiration. His whole view was like who caress about money? And also, he refused with every ounce of his being to have anything but complete love for the other person.
James Sexton Yeah. I’ve had clients who, with a straight face, will say to me like, well I’m not going to quibble over a few million dollars. And they mean it, because to them it’s numbers on a page. So I’ll personalize this a bit. So I have a friendly relationship with my ex-wife, who’s the mother of my sons who are adults, and we have maintained a very good relationship. And so now, it’s many years divorced later, 17, 18 years later and we were able to sort of post-game that relationship, even our co-parenting relationship, we kind of post-game it when we chat with each other.
And I remember once saying to her, “Yeah, you never screwed around with me when it came to the kids. You were always so cool. If I called you like if I was having a really bad day at work,” or seeing just an ugly custody case and it just felt like I would call her and say like, “Hey, can I just pick the boys up and take them out for ice cream or something tonight? I know It’s not my night, but would you mind if I just took them out for a couple hours?” She’d be like, “Yeah, sure, come on by.” She was always flexible like that.
And I said to her, “Was that just goodwill. You’re just a good person or what was that about?” And she was like, ” Yeah, it was partly that.” But she was like, “It was partly that you never screwed around with me when it came to money. If the kids needed something or if I needed something as the mother of the kids, you were always like, yeah, sure, of course.” Her air conditioning kicked out and she needed it to replace it and she didn’t have liquidity at the time. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time because it was a long time ago. And I was like, “All right, no, because I don’t want you hot and upset and I don’t want the boys to be in… Of course.”
And so, I think, yeah, when you approach a conflict, it’s very hard to argue with someone who won’t argue with you. If the person approaches the argument from the point of view of like I’m not going to argue with you, I’m going to absorb your aggression, I’m going to just not meet it with that. I’m going to meet it with love, I’m going to meet it with positivity. It doesn’t always work because sometimes people are so angry that they’re relentless.
But I have to tell you, the louder you get, the quieter I get, the more you seem irrational and that’s what I always try to bring that to court proceedings. I always try to bring to court. If I know my adversary is coming in hard, I’ll come in quiet and slow and deliberate because I want the volume to be turned up way too high over there. And then, it looks like, “Your honor, what’s their problem over there?”
I say this to clients. They got a four-year-old, they’re getting divorced, let’s say. There’s going to be a wedding in like 20 something years. There’s going to be a wedding and it’s either going to be the wedding where they got to put these people on opposite sides of the room, because if they pass each other by the shrimp boat, they’re going to kill each other, or it’s the wedding where you stand there, you take some pictures. You kind of go like, “Yeah, we fucked up this whole marriage thing, but man we did a good job with this kid. Did we?”
And the decisions you make right now, there’s a straight line to that wedding. And so, even if you don’t like this person, even if you’re mad at them, even if you’re mad at yourself for the choices you made in choosing them as a co-parent, every single Mother’s Day for 27 years, I have told my now longtime ex-wife, “Happy Mother’s Day. I’m so glad that we had kids together. I’m so glad you’re the mother of my kids, because they wouldn’t be who they are if it wasn’t that they were part me and part you and I’m so grateful for you and I’m always cheering for you.” How hard is that? How hard is that?
Lex Fridman Well, it’s really hard for some people, but-
James Sexton I don’t understand why it’s so hard for some people. I’ll tell you, I do find that hard. There’s not a lot of things that I don’t understand, but that’s one that I don’t understand. I put in one of the weird things I did as a divorce lawyer that caused a little stir among my colleagues for a few years was some years ago, we all steal from each other’s work, divorce lawyers. We’re like the matrimonial mafia. We all know each other, we all deal with each other over and over again, but we all have the same job, and so, we are the only people that really know the unique stresses of that job. So even though we try to kill each other all day, it’s like boxers, professional fighters. Yeah, your job’s to take each other’s head off but nobody knows what the two of you went through like the two of you that’s.
That’s why I always get, I go like all kinds of rubbery when I see after the fight the two people hug each other because always like, yeah, because you know what? They relate to each other better than anybody. They suffered. They bled. The competitors, they bled. So I really think divorce lawyers, we have that same kind of relationship. We went through this stress on opposite sides trying to take each other apart. And I find that we all steal from each other’s material when it comes to separation agreements, provisions that we use for agreements. All the agreements are like these Frankenstein monsters of, “Oh, I like his estate planning provisions. Oh, I like her provisions related to maintaining a life insurance policy to secure the alimony award.”
And I wrote this paragraph for this select, the section, because what occurred to me is that when you have a child with someone and let’s say they’re three or four or five, they’re old enough to know what Christmas is, but they’re not old enough to go buy a Christmas present. But they’re old enough to know that you get presents on Christmas and you give presents on Christmas, but they’re not old enough to buy one for the parent. So someone has to do that for them. So I thought I’m going to put in a provision that says that as long as the children are so young that they can’t independently purchase a Mother’s Day or a birthday present for the co-parent, that you’ll take the children either to buy a small gift or to make a card or something like that.
This struck me as a no-brainer. Who could disagree with this? It’s not for the person, it’s for the kid. So the kid, “Happy birthday, mom. I don’t have a present for you. I don’t have a card for you, because I’m fucking five. I’m five.” You can’t go do that. So wouldn’t you want your child, not your co-parent, who cares? Maybe you want them to have the worst birthday ever. Fine, but you don’t want your child to be embarrassed.
And I even put in the provision, the parties acknowledged that it is the intention of this provision to ensure that the child is not embarrassed and feels that they were able to say… I cannot tell you how many people refuse to sign that, how many lawyers said to me, “We’re taking that out.” And I went, “Wait, why?” “Well, why does my client have to buy a present for your client?” I said, “They’re not buying a present for my client, they’re buying a present for the child to give to my client. It can be one of those little $3 boxes of chocolates they sell at the drugstore. But it’s a kid, they don’t know, they don’t know what anything is, and people, “Nope.” And I have to tell you, of the conundrums, of the puzzles that I can’t figure out in existence, that’s when I can’t figure. I do not understand why that’s so hard.
Lex Fridman That’s basically just an illustration of their complete inability to do anything nice for the other person.
James Sexton The level of hatred, the level of vitriol that they… Maybe this is me. If you apologize, there’s not a lot I won’t forgive. I’m not saying, “I’ll forget it.” I’m not saying, “Oh we’re totally good like it never happened.” I understand that. But if someone says what I call a non-bullshit apology, a bullshit apology is, “Oh, I’m sorry you got so upset when I did that.” That’s a bullshit apology. “I’m sorry that you were offended.” That’s a bullshit apology. Or, “I’m sorry for what I did.” Because what are we talking about? We might not be talking about the same thing. Or you might be saying I’m sorry that you found out about that, not that you did it.
So a real apology is, “I lied to you and I realized that that hurt you and I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. I regret that I did that and I know that it hurt you and I’m really sorry.” That’s a real apology. Someone’s willing to give you that and you still want to walk around with the level of vitriol that you will harm your child rather than do something nice for them? I don’t have a solution. And I tell you, I see that all the time. Parental alienation is a thing. It is a thing. Children can be weaponized. I always tell people, I’m like, “If you want to get married, get married. Get a prenup ideally. But if you don’t have a prenup, okay, you’re just risking money, don’t worry, you’re just risking money.” Money and hassle of paperwork and of time and of going through an ugly financial divorce. But you have a kid with somebody, that is a missile, that person has a power over you for a long time, if not forever.
Lex Fridman So the child could be used as part of a manipulation.
James Sexton Routinely.
Lex Fridman That’s heartbreaking.
James Sexton People weaponize children all the time and they do it with the permission of their own conscience because they genuinely believe I’m going to protect this person, this child, from this person, who by the way is a bad spouse, but that doesn’t mean they were a bad father or bad mother. You can be bad at being a spouse, but the skillset of a spouse and of a parent, it’s not necessarily the same. And I’ve seen people alienate children from a parent in such subtle ways, but they’re so powerful. And as a lawyer, it doesn’t matter what I know, it matters what I can prove. And It’s very hard to prove alienation because it’s usually a very subtle process.
And the example I always give to people is it’s a rare kind of crazy person that will say to a seven-year-old, “your dad is a bad person.” But this? “Hello? Here, it’s your dad.” You just said your dad’s a bad person. You just did it with your eyes, you did it with the expression on your face when you handed the phone to the kid, you told that kid your dad’s a bad person. You didn’t have to say it out loud. And that is something people are guilty of all the time. There’s a divorced couple, kid comes home and says, “Oh, I met mom’s new boyfriend.” And you go, “Oh yeah, that’s nice. Remember, he’s not your dad.”
Whoa, you just told that kid a whole bunch of information about how he’s supposed to feel about this person. Whereas, if you go, “That’s nice. Is he a nice guy? Oh, that’s great. I heard nice things. Yeah, I heard he likes bicycles. That’s cool. That’s really neat.” You just told this kid, it’s okay, you could like this person. It’s okay to like this person. It’s okay that your mom is with this person. And again, whatever you feel about your ex, your co-parent, usually you love your kid more than you hate your ex ideally.
Lex Fridman Also, I wish people would, even without an apology, forgive each other. It goes back to the earlier discussion we had. I usually forgive people if there’s something in them, especially if we shared something. But even just if there’s something about them that’s beautiful, it’s great that they exist in the world. So I’m just grateful for that and I use that as the fuel of forgiveness.
James Sexton I don’t know. To me, forgiveness is very often, it’s for me. When I let go of anger, I feel lighter. I think my heart enjoys peace. I mean, partly because I fight for a living. I work in the world of conflict. I jokingly used to say to my sons when they were teenagers, “I can only argue if you’ve paid. It’s not fair to the paying customers.” If I argue with you for free, that’s not fair.
Lex Fridman But I think we’re talking about the incredibly wide range that a divorce can cost. And you were saying the cheapest one was the yellow-
James Sexton Yeah, yellow pad. Two people, came to an agreement, write it up, make it legally binding, five grand maybe tops. But usually 3,500, 5 grand, that kind of vibe. Most expensive, millions, millions in counsel fees.
Lex Fridman And that’s because of the duration, the complexity.
James Sexton Yeah, duration, the complexity of issues. I have clients who’ve paid 2, 3 million in counsel fees to me.
Lex Fridman So it’s like has to do custody or what’s the source of complexity?
James Sexton It can be complex custody that requires a hearing, that requires expert testimony, dueling, mental health professionals, opining on the parenting. It can be a situation where emergency circumstances occur like where an individual tries to abscond to another country with the children and you have to bring them back under the Hague Convention.
Lex Fridman Oh, wow.
James Sexton On international child abduction.
Lex Fridman Oh, wow.
James Sexton We’ve done some Hague cases. There are cases where people have very different facts. Before I came here today, a client of mine’s soon to be ex-husband who she’s in the middle of a door, he tested positive for cocaine on a hair follicle test, where it was said he was definitely not going to test positive, and he tested positive. So it was like we were scurrying now with okay, we got to get a motion filed, we got to suspend access, we got to protect the kids, we got to get in front of a judge, we got to think about what are the implications of this, because he was about to transition to an unsupervised parenting. This is the kind of stuff that can amp up the amount of work the lawyer has to do, which then translates to money. I get paid for my time and the time of my team. I have attorneys and paralegals who work for me. So when you have a team of lawyers working on a case, you can burn tens of thousands of dollars a day if it’s a big enough case.
There are also very complex financial cases. People move and hide money. The high net worth space is a different world. Like if an average person owns a home, they own a home in their name or their name with their spouse. A high net worth person owns an LLC that owns that home. That LLC is owned by a trust. They are a beneficial interested party in that trust. This is how some of my clients who make tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year pay less in taxes than a cop or a firefighter, because they have structures, and the structures that were designed for tax planning purposes then in a divorce become very tricky to unwind and to figure out wait, no, what is mine and what is not?
Lex Fridman Well then, that takes us to the question of prenups. What’s your view on prenups, prenuptial agreements?
James Sexton It’s not popular to quote Kanye West but, “If you ain’t no chump, holla, we want prenup, we want prenup.” I mean, that’s what he had to say meaning.
Lex Fridman Meaning, prenup is a good idea.
James Sexton Prenup is an excellent idea. A prenup is a contract between two people that binds their respective rights and obligations in the event of a divorce when it comes to financial issues. That’s all it is and there’s a lot of reasons to have them and there really aren’t any reasons not to have them other than the fact it requires an uncomfortable conversation.
Lex Fridman So I mean, there’s a few questions here. First, do they work legally in general?
James Sexton Yes. If they are crafted correctly, which is not that hard to do for a lawyer to do, I’m saying for a lawyer to do, because with the internet everybody thinks why would I spend $1,000, I can just Google prenuptial agreement and I can get one and then it’ll be…” That is a bad idea. It is like a will. If you’re going to have a document that binds your rights at that level, it’s worth… The most expensive prenup I’ve ever done was like three grand. That’s ridiculous. That’s not a lot of money. So there’s no reason you wouldn’t do it, but people still, people will still. I’ve had clients that have hundreds of thousands of dollars and they did their prenup downloading something from the internet and because of some imperfection, it doesn’t have the right what’s called acknowledgement, which is the section where the notary signs and it has to say that it was duly sworn before this person on this date, and if it doesn’t have that it’s invalid, it’s not binding.
So there are weird technicalities, but yeah, prenups are binding. As long as there’s been some minimal asset disclosure, which is easily done in a prenup, and as long as there’s not a language deficiency, meaning that the person who is reading it understands English to the level that they understand what they’re signing, and if they don’t that at least they’ve acknowledged in their native language that there is some opportunity for this to be translated for them, yeah, they’re binding. They’re presumptively binding. We live thankfully in a culture where people are allowed to enter into contracts about money.
Lex Fridman What are some prenups that you’ve seen that can be effective or that people converge towards in terms of what does an agreement look like? Because the popular conception is when there’s no prenup, both sides get half.
James Sexton And that’s generally true that both sides get half, equitable distribution, which is what the law is called it’s, the law of equitable distribution. It’s not called the law of equal distribution for a reason, because it’s equitable, not equal. Now equitable is presumed to be equal, but there are exceptions to that presumption, and that’s where lawyers can get into fun and or trouble depending on how you view it. It’s where we make our money. We make our money arguing that the fair result will not be just a 50-50 split.
And so, there’s the very generic standard prenup, which is easy and I call that yours, mine, and ours. If it’s in your name, it’s yours, whether it’s an asset or a reliability. My name, it’s mine. Joint names, we split at 50-50. Simple, clean. And you go in to the marriage now knowing what the rules are. So if you get a bonus at work and you put it in your sole name, then it’s your separate property in the event you divorce. You go out and buy a boat and she doesn’t support you buying the boat. But the boat, you got a big loan on this boat, you’re responsible for that loan.
I like that because I like people having some control. I also like people having to have discussions. Well, why are we putting that bonus just in your bank account? Why wouldn’t we put it in the joint bank account? We should have that discussion while we’re married, not when we’re in a divorce lawyer’s office 10 years later, because we should be able to talk about those kinds of things. So what’s interesting about prenups is that somehow people think there’s something like it takes away from the romance of a marriage. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all marriages end, they end in death or divorce.
So having life insurance or having a will, it doesn’t mean you can’t wait to die, it doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to death, it doesn’t mean that you’re predicting your demise sometime imminently. It just means that you’re being realistic and honest. So when you marry and I don’t mean spiritually marrying, having a marriage ceremony, I mean legally marrying, you are making changes to your rights and obligations under law. That’s what you’re doing. Marriage from a legal standpoint, what we mean when we say I got married is a state agency. It’s been created by the state. This is a legal status that most people who are in it know nothing about. They just did the most legally significant thing they’re ever going to do other than dying. And they have no idea what rights and obligations it created in them. And the first time they’re going to get an education about it is in my office, that’s crazy.
Lex Fridman When they get divorced.
James Sexton That’s crazy.
Lex Fridman And so, prenup is an opportunity to learn something about it at the start.
James Sexton So first of all, whenever someone approaches me about prenups and that’s like four or five times a week probably depending on the season, right before wedding season, we get a lot.
Lex Fridman When’s wedding season?
James Sexton Well, it used to just be the summer. They say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life. That’s from some Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Now, the fall is very big too. People love fall content, fall weddings, pretty pictures and things. Fall content.
Lex Fridman It’s good on the gram.
James Sexton Hashtag fall content.
Lex Fridman All right. That’s hashtag.
James Sexton Listen, weddings is for the gram. I have to tell you, weddings is performative, man. See, the problem is though, it’s curated. So here’s us picking the cake, it’s not here’s us doing the prenup. You know how many people I’ve done prenups for that I’ve watched on their social media or them being interviewed by Andy Cohen on Bravo and saying, “Well no, we don’t have a prenup.” Yeah, you do. Yeah, you do. You do. It’s in my office. It’s in a folder. They have a prenup.
Lex Fridman Yeah, that’s beautiful.
James Sexton But prenups are not published any place. They’re not filed with a court. They’re maintained by the two people that signed it and their lawyers. That’s it. So nobody has to admit that they have a prenup.
Lex Fridman Beautiful.
James Sexton Yes, but there’s a certain problem with that insofar as a lot of people have prenups and we need to normalize prenups. There’s no reason not to normalize prenups. Until some famous people say, “Yeah, we have a prenup. We’re crazy about each other. That’s why we’re getting married. But yeah, look, we’re getting…” I don’t want to get a car accident but I got a seatbelt. You have it, just in case.
Lex Fridman And I mean, what do you do if you’re running a company? What does that have to do with a prenup? You’re running a hundred billion dollar or trillion dollar company, Jeff Bezos. I suppose his marriage was before Amazon.
James Sexton Yeah, his was before it was anything.
Lex Fridman But how does that work in a prenup?
James Sexton Well, no, actually it’s the same. What you’re doing with a prenup is you’re identifying how things will be classified in advance. So you’re creating a set of rules, and then you both can function under those rules during the marriage. So for a brief time, I taught a family law drafting class at a law school, and when we would do separation agreements and we would do pleadings, it was lots of fun. When we would do prenups, I would say to the students, “What’s the main thing you need when you’re doing a prenup?” And they would say, “Well, you need asset disclosure.” And I’d say, “Well, that’s not the main thing.” And they’d say, “Well, you need technical language.” They’d say, “Nope.” Main thing you need is a crystal ball. The main thing you need is the ability to see what’s going to happen in the future. Who’s going to have money, who’s not, who’s going to be successful, who isn’t, what people will inherit.
Problem is we don’t have that. We don’t have that. So what can we do? We can create tranches, we can create structures, we can create systems, and then people can live with those in mind. You enter the game knowing the rules. So you know if this is going to be a submission only event. You know if this is going to be no time limit. You know if we’re after a certain number of minutes, we’re going into points now. So I can work with that rule set and I’m going to amend my game based on that rule set. Same thing, same thing. You’re just going to say, “Look, what’s the rule set? Let’s agree on the rule set. And then, let’s conduct ourselves with the rule set in mind. Let’s plan the rule set in mind.” By the way, and if you’re going to cheat, you cheat with the rule set in mind. You know you’re cheating. You’re trying to get around the rule set.
When I do a consult for a prenup, the first thing I do is here’s what’s going to happen legally if you marry without a prenup. Here’s what happens to your rights and obligations. Then, what we can change with that, there’s almost no limit. You can amend anything you want to. The example I always give is there was a case that went up to the appellate court where a high net worth guy married a very beautiful woman and there was a provision in the prenuptial agreement that said for every 10 pounds she gained during the marriage, she would lose $10,000 a month in alimony if they divorced. Here’s her baseline weight as of the time of execution of this agreement. I wondered if she did what a wrestler does. Did she bulk up right before and then cut when she eventually got divorced? Is she in there in a sauna with the suit on? And the appellate court essentially said, “I don’t know why you married this person having had them make you sign this, but it’s binding, but it’s binding.”
Lex Fridman I wish somebody would do a contract like the rent for this place would be more expensive if I was fatter, and cheaper if I was skinnier, and that way I would have to weigh in and like the motivation.
James Sexton Like some motivation on you.
Lex Fridman Yeah, exactly. That kind of prenup is motivating.
James Sexton Well, what’s his name? I think Tim Ferris says that about how he does, he said you should make bets with people. It’s like if you gain this much, I got to give you this amount of money. I think he says that in one of his early books.
Lex Fridman And try to make a binding somehow, which is tough.
James Sexton Yeah, I think when we create incentives of that kind, that’s why there was the No Nut November or No Shave November, sober, all those, it was a competition. When people make a competition of something, they gamify something, it makes it something that people are more likely to stick with. So I mean, I guess a prenup, it’d be interesting. The problem is there’s also, people put in prenups what’s called fidelity clauses.
Lex Fridman Oh.
James Sexton Fidelity clauses. People still do these. I discourage people from doing them. The two things that people put in prenups that I discourage people from putting in prenups, but very often people still put in prenups even with my caveat is fidelity clauses and sunset clauses. So fidelity clauses is I’m waiving alimony, I’m waiving this, I’m waiving that. But if you cheat, I get a million bucks or I get this much alimony, I get this amount. And I know the intention is to disincentivize the person from cheating, it’s a deterrent to have them cheat, but all it really does is just creates an interesting legal battle for lawyers like how did you prove that they cheated or not?
Lex Fridman Oh, right. Because what constitutes cheating also?
James Sexton Right, is an emotional affair, and affair is oral sex. Cheating is… And by the way, how do you prove it? Well, I was in a hotel with her, but how do you prove that I had sex with her? And you’re opening a can of worms with that kind of a thing, but people sometimes still put them in. And sunset clauses. Sunset clauses is if we’re married X period of time, this goes away as if it never existed.
Lex Fridman And why is that a bad idea?
James Sexton The same reason the community property law in California is a bad idea. So the community property law is after a certain number of years, I think It’s seven, everything including your premarital property, all becomes marital property. And the idea of that was supposed to be that if you’ve been married that number of years, you’re in enough of a serious relationship now that everything is one unit, you’re one person. What it actually does is creates a very-
James Sexton You’re one person. What it actually does is creates a very uncomfortable thought experiment that people have to have at the six-year mark, because you have to, now the honeymoon’s kind of over. You might have a kid or two and you go, “Okay, wait a minute. Am I so happy in this relationship that I’m willing to take all of my premarital assets and throw them in the pot right now? Because if not, I got six months to get divorced.” So if you say to someone, if you got married tomorrow and then you found a company that’s worth $100 million dollars, and under your prenup, that’s your separate property, but there’s a sunset clause that says that your prenup goes out the window in 15 years. Man, at year 14 and six months, you got to ask yourself some serious questions about where’s this relationship going to be in five, 10 years.
Lex Fridman That’s brilliant. That’s why, kids, you pay for a lawyer. That’s it.
James Sexton We get paid to see around corners. I get paid to be paranoid. I tell people that all the time.
Lex Fridman Okay, so you mentioned infidelity, you write in the book, which everybody should get. It’s a great book, it’s a great read, it’s a window into your soul. You, in this book that there’s five kinds of infidelity. Do you remember? Can you explain?
James Sexton Yeah. I mean, what I wanted to say is that all infidelity is not the same, that there’s different kinds and some of them are more obvious than others. There’s the soulmate, that’s the one I think I see most often, which is a person meets another person or rekindles on social media or elsewhere, a reconnection with another person in their life and they go, “Oh my God, this is the person I’m supposed to be with. I’m in love. The heart wants what the heart wants like, I’m leaving you for this person. I have found my true love.” That’s one type and it’s an incredibly common type. And there are plenty of cautionary tales associated with that where people thought that they found their someone, and then it turns out it was no, it was just unfair. And a man who leaves his wife for his mistress just leaves a new job opportunity open.
Lex Fridman And we should also mention that you talk about Facebook and Instagram.
James Sexton Oh yes. If we were going to invent an infidelity generating machine, it would be called Facebook, which by the way is a function of the fact the book was written in 2019. I would now change it to Instagram.
Lex Fridman Oh, because you said just Facebook?
James Sexton Yes, but now if I had to rewrite it would be, if we were going to invent an infidelity generating machine, it would be called Meta. That would be what I’d write.
Lex Fridman There you go.
James Sexton Yeah.
Lex Fridman Very tech forward.
James Sexton It was a function of what Facebook, and I think Instagram also are, which is, it is a communication tool that has people looking into windows that I think are antagonistic to marriage. You’re looking into the lives of other people, you’re looking into the social lives of people that you meet casually. So there was a time where you would be at your son’s soccer practice and see the attractive mom across the way, and you wouldn’t really talk to her, interact with her. Or if you did, it would just be at practice. But now, we add on social media, those people, because for legitimate reasons, we need to maybe communicate about when practice is, or we want to message the person. But now it’s sort of an invitation to a connection and then it’s, a picture of her on vacation in a bikini. That’s very intriguing. And then you have a benign, “Oh, I saw you guys went on vacation. Where did you stay? Oh, was it good? Did you like that? Oh, that’s nice.”
And now we’re talking and now We’re having an interaction. And now this is how the spark of affairs begins. It’s usually, people don’t usually meet and go, “Would you like to potentially wreck your marriage? Yes. Would you? Oh my God, let’s do this.” It’s much more, it slowly happens. So when I talk about types of infidelity, the soulmate, the unexpected soulmate, this connection that you didn’t expect, “I didn’t expect to fall in love with this person, but I did. And the heart wants with the heart wants and I’m sorry.” That one’s tough. That one’s tough, because it’s an interesting distinction between men and women to some degree that when a man finds out his wife was cheating, the question is, “Did you fuck him?” And when a woman finds out that a man cheated, the question is, “Do you love her?” And those are different things.
Lex Fridman I feel like there could be many and have been many books written on that very distinction.
James Sexton There have, by much smarter people than me. But I think that the soulmate thing is very, very painful for a lot of my female clients. When a man says, “Listen, I found the one. I found the one and it’s not you.” That is really, really hard to get past. And even when it turned out to be true, I mean I’ve seen some people that it was an affair that turned into 20 plus year marriages, an unhappy marriage, and then a happy affair that turned into a very happy marriage. I’ve not seen… There’s not a formula. I’ve been doing it long enough now that I’ve seen permutations I never would’ve expected. So that’s one type of infidelity.
The other is what I call the push out of the closet, which is, and that I think happened more often earlier in my career. There have been tremendous strides, I think in the lesbian and gay community, including marriage equality obviously, where there’s a lot of change as to people accepting people as being gay or lesbian. And I think that there was a time where people were being in the closet was much more important. You were subject to professional scorn and all kinds of things if you were gay or lesbian. So people were sneaking around and having affairs with their same sex partners, and then they get caught. And then it really was a function of the fact that they were closeted. And again, that’s another kind of complicated dynamic, because I haven’t had that happen to me where a woman left me for a woman. But I’d like to think it would be easier for me.
Lex Fridman Yeah.
James Sexton Because if you left me for a man you’re saying, “I want one like you, but better than you.” Whereas if you leave me for a woman, well that’s a whole different set of equipment. I don’t have that. So I can’t… Okay, it’s not me. It’s you. It’s something you want that I can’t offer. We don’t serve that at this restaurant. So it’s okay, I get it. I mean there’s a betrayal, there’s a sadness, whatever, but it’s a different thing. The saddest type of infidelity, in my opinion is the mistake, which is someone just makes a mistake. People do dumb shit when it comes to sex. People just in a moment, they follow temptation. Their impulse control is poor, and they do something that doesn’t reflect their morality, or doesn’t reflect the depth of their feelings.
If you spent enough time in a room with people who’ve cheated in a relationship and are speaking candidly to you about it because you’re their lawyer, they’ll say to you very openly like, “No, I really love my wife, I really love my wife. I don’t know. I was just an idiot. I saw this bright shiny object and I went for it. I really wanted to sleep with that woman. I wanted to fuck her. I love my wife, I make love to my wife, I love my wife, but I just want to sleep with this one.” And we created a culture where one of those eradicates the other. That’s a whole nother discussion. Is there ethical non-monogamy? Should we, is marriage about who I have sex with, or is marriage a different kind of a partnership? Is it a pair bond that’s about building a life together, and where does monogamy fit into that? And people like Esther Perel, those are people who are making very intelligent discussions about that.
Open marriages and threesomes
Lex Fridman Yeah, that’s a complicated one. Just to actually just linger on that. How often have people with open marriages have been in your office?
James Sexton Well, let’s see, and this is one of those from a research perspective, this would be flawed because I see, they’re in my office because their marriage is falling apart. So there may be lots of people having open relationships that don’t end up in a divorce lawyer’s office, so I’d never meet them. But I meet a lot of people, that that was the Hail Mary pass.
Lex Fridman Sure.
James Sexton I meet a lot of people that they tried that. But in retrospect it was a Hail Mary pass. It was like, “Look, we’ve just figured let’s try this. Maybe this will this’ll keep the glue together on this thing.” And I’ve also seen open relationships go wrong, where we agree We’re just going to have sexual connections with other people, or we’re going to bring other people into the bedroom. But together, we’re going to be together with other people or with another person. And then that connection of those two people, like you think it’s a soulmate all of a sudden now and it goes in this other, because again, is that novelty, it’s the reason why I don’t understand why people have threesomes. It’s kind of like when someone sings to you, I don’t know where to look. I don’t know where to look. If someone’s singing to me, I don’t know where to look. It feels weird, right? This is a conundrum.
Lex Fridman Oh yeah.
James Sexton I say this [inaudible 02:22:25] never, but that’s the reason I can’t go to strip clubs, I don’t know where to look. If I go to a strip club, you go to the strip club and there’s the part where the woman’s on the stage and she walks past each person who does a little thing, and then next person and then next little thing. So when she’s right in front of you, I like a woman’s face and I like a woman’s body. I like both of them. So I’m looking at the woman’s face and she’s very beautiful, but she’s naked and I think, “Oh, she’s naked. I should be looking at her naked body,” because obviously it’s almost rude not to because she’s naked in front of me, of course. So then I’m looking at her naked body, which is lovely to look at. But then I find myself going, “Oh my God, you’re just still, you should look at her face for God’s sakes.”
Then I look at your face and find myself having this whole thing in my head where I’m going like, “Oh my God, where am I supposed to look?” So I think a threesome with two women you don’t hardly know or you’re not with, that’s different. But a threesome with a long-term partner who you’re in a relationship with, and a new person, seems to me a very dangerous ground because you’re going to want to enjoy the novelty of this new person, but you’re going to have to spend time with this person after. So how much attention do you spend to the new novel exciting thing without creating the impression that you’re not interested in this? Because you’re my favorite person, but this is fun. So I want to just try this for a few. But then also I don’t want to forget about that. It just seems tricky.
Lex Fridman That analogy, by the way is brilliant. And also I guess it’s tricky because the consequences of mistakes are quite high. You’re going to have to talk about it.
James Sexton Yeah, and there’s an easy way to misinterpret the data. So if I really like sleeping with my partner, but I get one chance to sleep with this other person, well of course I should indulge in that, because I can do this anytime. But this person, my partner might interpret that as, ” Oh, so you’re more interested in her than me,” because that voice in my partner that would be insecure might hear that. So why would you even open yourself up to that level of chaos?
Lex Fridman You seem to love chess in the courtroom. It’s a kind of intimate human chess, of sorts.
James Sexton Yeah, no. That’s too high risk.
Lex Fridman How did we get on threesomes? Oh, open marriages.
James Sexton Well, how did we get on threesomes? I don’t know. I always wonder how people get on threesomes. I figure if one is fun, two must be better. If two is better, three must be better. Yeah, I think the way that this becomes an issue is, why would you have a non-monogamous relationship? What is it about your sex life with this person that’s not satisfying? And I think that that is the question that’s harder to ask yourself and to try to answer with your partner.
Lex Fridman I mean, you’ve said that this idea of soulmates.
James Sexton It’s great business.
Lex Fridman It’s great for your business, but so a human being in a partnership can’t be everything. Is that true?
James Sexton I think it’s unrealistic.
Lex Fridman True Romance, right? The document that we keep referencing here.
James Sexton I think it’s wonderful that we do sometimes now, people don’t get that reference anymore. I talk to people when I try to teach negotiation to young lawyers who come work for me, I tell them to watch the Gary Oldman scene where he offers them the Chinese food.
Lex Fridman Yeah. Why is that scene the one that really?
James Sexton Because it’s the best negotiating lesson I’ve ever heard in my life, where he comes in.
Lex Fridman Just for the record.
James Sexton Yeah. Gary Oldman plays a pimp and he owns, his girl is Patricia Arquette, right? And Christian Slater’s character, the protagonist is coming in to tell Gary Oldman that he no longer owns this girl, Alabama.
Lex Fridman Alabama.
James Sexton Alabama is going to be with him now. And Gary Oldman is an amazing performance. And he’s sitting in a living room with a shotgun next to him, with armed guys around him watching television and eating Chinese food. And he’s got Chinese food laid out in front of him. And Christian Slater comes in and he says, “I need to talk to you about Alabama.” And Gary Oldman says, “Do you want some Chinese food?” And Christian Slater sort of taken aback by the question. He says, “No, I came to talk about Alabama. She’s with me now.” And he proceeds to tell him what his offer essentially is. And Gary Oldman says, “You know, you fucked up, right?”
In substance he says, “If you’d sat down and started eating my Chinese food, I would’ve thought who’s this guy, he didn’t have a care in the world, just sitting down eating my egg foo young. But instead you tried to be hard. And now I know you’re full of shit.” And so I think that scene summarizes how in negotiation, the more you enter into it with that, anytime I deal with another lawyer and they’re like, “Well, we’ll see you in court.” Okay, see you in court. Empty barrels make the most noise. You and I as people, who’ve been in the jiu-jitsu community, I know some dangerous people. I know FBI SWAT people. I know people that, they know how to do things to people. And they’re the calmest guys you ever meet in your life. You scuff their sneaker? “Oh yeah, don’t worry about man, it’s okay.” They’re quick to apology. They’re just chill.
Lex Fridman What were we talking about?
James Sexton We were talking about…
Lex Fridman Oh wait, True Romance. Oh, the soulmate.
James Sexton Yeah, soulmate. Yeah. Well, you’re saying that this idea that film underlying, there’s this current of they were made for each other. I think there’s a distinction between the feeling that someone is your missing puzzle piece, that you’re made for this person. I think what that just means is there’s a lot of overlapping beautiful connections. I love them intellectually. I love them sexually, I love them interpersonally. We have some shared history, we have some shared commonalities. We were raised in the same culture, raised in the same religion. We view, we have politically similar ideas. These are all, or we have totally opposite ones, but they’re complimentary. I’ve always joked that finding someone with complimentary pathologies, I’m obsessively disciplined. So having a partner who’s flexible and spontaneous is really good for me.
And also me being like, “No, no, no, come on, come back. We’re going to do this now. It’s time to actually do this now.” We’re good for each other. It’s barefoot in the park. It’s this idea of the yin and the yang. So, what I have an issue with is that the definition of soulmate that I think is sold to so many people now is this idea that if your partner is disappointing to you in any way, meaning they’re not the perfect travel companion, they’re not the perfect vocabulary companion, they’re not the perfect roommate, they’re not the perfect lover, they’re not… The odds of someone being all of those seems crazy to me. It’s infinitesimally small, and they don’t have to be everything.
If I go to a restaurant and eat 10 courses, and one of them is kind of subpar and the other nine are the most amazing culinary experience I’ve ever had, how dare I say, “Well, that wasn’t the right restaurant.” What do you mean? That’s a great restaurant. What are you talking about? Of course there was one little thing. So I think it’s impossible to have someone never disappoint you. It’s impossible to have someone who never lets you down or doesn’t say and do the exact right thing at the exact right time, and to create the idea or expectation in anyone that your partner should never let you down, never disappoint you, never not know what to say is, I think crazy.
I find for myself, when someone, for example, loses someone, when someone loses a family member or a pet, I often say the same thing to the person. I’ll either talk to them or send them a text or call them and I’ll say, “I wish I knew the perfect thing to say, because I would say it right now.” But I know there isn’t, I don’t say that part. But I know there isn’t, there isn’t a perfect thing to say. But if there was a perfect thing to say, I would say it right now. Love to me is not that you never let this person down, it’s that you never want to let this person down. Love is a verb.
It’s this feeling of, I never want to disappoint you. I will disappoint you, but I never want to disappoint you. I will hurt you, but I never want to hurt you. When I hurt you, it will be my insecurity, my stupidity, my humanity that causes me to hurt you. But I will never intentionally hurt you. I will betray your trust. I’ll never intentionally betray your trust. I will, by my stupidity, say the wrong thing, or loose lip say something to someone that you didn’t want me to, but it won’t be intentional. I’ll always try to be on your team. That feels to me like a realistic thing.
Lex Fridman Yeah, the intention leads the way, but there’s some aspect of, just like the 10 course meal that over time there’s a kind of convergence towards perfection. And along the way, there’s the rose colored glasses where you see the beauty and everything. So it feels, it’s probably destructive just to really internalize the idea of soulmate. Because then any imperfections can make you doubt, can make you step away, can make you lose the connection. But it just feels like, I don’t know.
James Sexton It’s too heavy. It just feels, I feel like when you see a couple that’s 90 years old and they’ve been together for 60 years, 70 years, there was of course a temptation to think about all the beauty that they’ve seen on that journey together. The children, the grandchildren, maybe the great-grandchildren, all the joy that they’ve seen, all the pain they’ve endured and struggled together. But they’ve also disappointed each other a whole bunch of times. Probably let each other down. They probably lied to each other a bunch. And to me, that is a beautiful thing. That is not, it’s great in spite of that. It’s great because of that, they still love each other even though they’ve been so flawed and imperfect, and they’re human and they still love each other, they still rode that thing together, because the reasons to do so were greater than the reasons to not.
Sex and fighting
Lex Fridman We’ve mentioned some of this, but I’d love to get your opinion on having seen things gone wrong, and having mentioned Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. How much fighting do you think is okay in a relationship, and how to resolve the fights such that they don’t escalate to that disconnection? Is there some wisdom you have for that? I imagine you’ve seen some epic fights.
James Sexton Yeah, I’ve seen some crazy fights. Even on my phone, I have some recordings, because now there’s cameras everywhere. It’s like Nest cams and Ring cams. And so a lot of this gets recorded, and people have phones so readily available that they can record and the other person didn’t know it. And I listen to the way people speak to their… First of all, I listen to the way people speak to each other and I’m shocked. I listen to the way people speak to their romantic partner, to their spouse, and I’m blown away. I’m blown away.
Lex Fridman Disrespect or what?
James Sexton Just disrespect, insults, profanity, just degradation, just brutality. And then, to then kind of go on the next day you kind of go on like nothing happened. I’m shocked by it. I mean, I listened to it and I think, if someone ever spoke to me that way, I don’t know that I could ever really feel deep connection to them freely. I would feel so betrayed that they’re just so brutal. I can’t imagine speaking to someone that way, saying you just such vicious insults to someone. But I understand that’s how some people communicate, perhaps. I guess the question of, how much fighting is too much fighting in the relationship is for me a bit like the question, how much sex is enough sex in the relationship?
It depends on the two people and their individual tastes. But what’s problematic is when there is a disconnect between the two people. I think it’s Annie Hall, it’s one of the Woody Allen films where Diane Keaton and Woody Allen are both talking to their respective therapists about the relationship, but it’s like a split screen. And she says, “I mean, we have sex all the time, we have sex like once a week.” And he goes, “We never have sex. We have sex like once a week.” And it’s funny because it’s true, it really is this, they both know the same data. But they’re interpreting that data set completely differently. And I think the question you have to start asking is, Steve Harvey actually once said something funny to me. He said that success is not where you are. Success is where you are in relation to where you started.
He says if success is where you are, Oprah’s got us all beat. Or maybe Elon’s got us all beat, I don’t know. But if it’s where you are versus where you started, because there’s a lot of people that started on second, and started on third, act like they hit a double. “Well, I was given 10 million but then I turned it into 100 million.” Well, the first million’s the hardest, so come on. But I think the question of how much sex were we having at the beginning of the relationship, that might be the wrong gauge. Because that’s like, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other and just, it’s novelty.
But, how much sex we’re having post children versus before the children, that might be worth looking at. How do we compare it? Am I overweight? Compared to what, when I was 20 and running marathons, or most 50-year-old men? I don’t know. What do you compare it to? So I think fighting, there are some people that I think they enjoy fighting, they enjoy argument. I know people that enjoy political debate. I don’t particularly enjoy political debate. Not that I’m not very interested in political concepts, economic concepts, I just argue for a living. So in my free time I don’t find argument that enjoyable when it’s intense, I find discussion more interesting.
Lex Fridman That’s so interesting, that you just keep the battle to that particular, to your main profession.
James Sexton Sure.
Lex Fridman And everywhere else you want peace.
James Sexton Well, did you ever Bobcat Goldthwait, the comedian?
Lex Fridman Yeah.
James Sexton Very, very funny. And he had a whole second chapter as a director and a writer. But he has this, I saw an interview with him once where he said, “Yeah, I’m a comedian. I’ve been a comedian in a long time. People always come up to me and they’re like, oh, you’re a comedian. Do you want to hear a joke?” He’s like, ” Oh yeah, that’d be a real fucking treat. I haven’t heard jokes all day, all night for years. That would be a real special occasion.” Yes, I get it.
Lex Fridman Yeah. And I mean, a sadder story. I’ve been reading quite a bit about Robin Williams, and his wife would talk about how quiet and introspective, and thoughtful and intellectual he was, and not really that humorous in his private life.
James Sexton But that may be a function of that it is enjoyable to be the other thing. One of the things I’ve always thought was very funny in relationships. My own relationships is, most women I know who have a husband who doesn’t wear a suit every day for a living. When their husband gets dressed up, they’re going to a wedding or something, they get like, “Oh my God, look at him.” And I wear a suit every day. On the weekends I don’t, I wear jeans and a black T-shirt. But the rest of the time I wear a suit. And I remember, I think this has been true in every relationship I’ve been in since I was a lawyer, including Mike’s wife. It was always like if I had on jeans and I wasn’t shaven, it was like, “Look at you.” It’s like, are you kidding me? Really? Whereas the suit, they wouldn’t even notice. Wouldn’t notice the suit.
Lex Fridman Sometimes the other thing.
James Sexton Well, that’s what it is, it’s the novelty of the other thing. So I think that if you’re Robin Williams and You’re being shot out of a canon in terms of your performative style, and your energy and explosive, being quiet must be very refreshing. I imagine incredibly intelligent people must love just watching stupid humor, or having a dumb thing. It’s why some of the smartest people I know like really dumb shit. It’s why Rick and Morty, I think is brilliant because it’s both smart and dumb.
Lex Fridman Yeah. It’s the perfect combination.
James Sexton It really is. Yeah, I think it’s possibly the perfect show.
Lex Fridman Is there advice you can give to somebody like me on how to interview well? How to do conversations well? Do you think there’s something transferable from the courtroom to this setting with complicated people?
James Sexton Yeah, I think so. I think what can be learned about interviewing is the distillation. What is most important? When I hear a story that I have to present to a judge, the totality of someone’s parenting, the good of their parenting, the bad of their parenting, the good of the other parent, the bad of the other parent. I have to sort of boil down, what are the best examples? Because I can’t lay it all out. And then what greater principle do they speak to? The best jiu-jitsu teacher that I think I’ve had is Paul Shriner, and Paul doesn’t just teach you techniques, he’s teaching you ways of thinking about concepts in jiu-jitsu. And then, here are some techniques that illustrate that. John Danaher, from what I can see, does a lot of that as well. I think they’re like soulmates in the jiu-jitsu world.
Lex Fridman Yeah, and then there’s that element that you spoke to, which is maybe considering the other side.
James Sexton Always.
Lex Fridman Devil’s advocate kind of thing.
James Sexton Yeah, I mean straw man, steel man stuff. You do a lot of that, and I think all the best interviewers do. But yeah, I think it’s really, really important to think about. I have to know the other side’s case much better than my own. I have to know, what are their defenses, what are their strengths? I have to map out a strategy that keeps those in mind, and that’s hard because early in my career I would attribute to the other side and intelligence and strategy that sometimes wasn’t applicable. I’ve learned there’s the simplest explanation is the accurate one, the Occam’s Razor. I think Sexton’s would be, never attribute to strategy that which could be attributed to stupidity or laziness.
Lex Fridman Yeah.
James Sexton Because I have lots of adversaries that they’ll not file a motion I thought they were going to file and I’ll go, “Wait, why didn’t they file that tactically? What are they thinking I’m going to do? And what is that about?” And I would go, “Well, if I didn’t file it, why wouldn’t I file?” And the answer is they just didn’t think to file it, or they were too lazy to draft it or they went on vacation last week. So why they didn’t, and I’m driving myself crazy going, “There’s some tactical read, there must be.” So I think you have to look honestly and don’t attribute to the other side, your constitution. If I said that, I’d be saying it sarcastically. If you said it, maybe you weren’t saying it sarcastically. You have to think about the fact that we’re unique human beings who express themselves differently.
Lex Fridman And for you, the audience is usually the judge. Do you do jury?
James Sexton Yeah. It’s the judge. No, we don’t do jury trials. That’s the interesting thing about family law attorneys, family law attorneys don’t do jury trials. We do bench trials. We just persuade, there’s a person in a black robe. That’s the only person I have to convince.
Lex Fridman Does the person in the black robe, do they have emotions? Are they human, or are they very…
James Sexton They are human. They are all too human.
Lex Fridman Do they impose that humanity on you? Do you feel it?
James Sexton Oh, yeah. Do you feel it? They’re human. They’re working their shit out.
Lex Fridman Okay.
James Sexton They’re parents. They’re husbands and wives, and you’re talking about stuff they deal with. I had a woman on the stand, an expert witness on the stand who was talking about the emotional and physical abuse that was perpetrated on a seven-year-old, and this person had written a bunch of reports that were in evidence in this trial. Around day six or seven of the trial, and there’s all of this information in the record about this verbal abuse and mental abuse, and gaslighting and really intense stuff that this woman was doing to this seven year old. And the judge was vaguely paying attention for most of the time. And at some point the person says, ” Well, when a parent is abusing a child,” and the judge just interrupts, she goes, “Well, look…”
James Sexton Well, when a parent is abusing a child and the judge just interrupts, she goes, “Well, look, do you think if a person spanks a child that that’s abuse?” She’s like, “Well, like a person in general?” By the way, if my adversary asks that question, I could object, but I can’t object when the judge asks a question. They get to rule on that objection. So I’m like, “Where is this going?” She’s like, “Well, no, I mean, spanking can be a form of abuse.” She’s like, “Right. But are you saying everybody who spanks…” I’m sitting here going, “What is going on in your house?”
Lex Fridman Yeah, [inaudible 02:45:32].
James Sexton What went on with your parents? Because you’re bringing some stuff here, this is not what you’re supposed to be. This is not your role. But there are good judges and bad judges and that’s a big, big deal.
Lex Fridman I don’t have kids, so I have a certain perspective on the world. I really want to have a family and have kids. But I’ve noticed when I talk to people that have kids and gender matters also, fathers with daughters and so on, it changes the landscape of the conversation.
James Sexton Sure does.
Lex Fridman It’s like you’re no longer this intellectual that’s like, “Well, there’s this and there’s this.” It’s more like, “Go fuck yourself. Anything that with kids can burn it to the ground. I don’t care what the nuance is, if the little intellectual thing-
James Sexton Oh, you want to learn about this, represent someone who’s accused of child sexual abuse. I’ve had about a dozen of those cases, where I’ve represented someone who’s alleged to have perpetrated sexual abuse of a child. You are guilty until proven innocent. Let me tell you, as a lawyer, that is the toughest cases because you put sex and kids together and everyone loses their goddamn mind immediately. There’s a rush to judgment. There is a disregard for procedure. There is a confirmation bias. There’s a desire to be a protector. Again, all motivated and informed by really good things, the desire to protect the innocent, the desire to protect the vulnerable, but gang, no, we have these… I like living in a world that has due process. I like these rules. I like the rules of evidence. I like innocent until proven guilty. I like that. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but-
Lex Fridman I’m so torn on it because I also like living in a world where people are so emotionally invested in connection to other humans.
James Sexton Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. They shouldn’t be.
Lex Fridman I know, but if you dedicate yourself fully to the law, you might lose some of the humanity.
James Sexton I don’t think you have to. I have to tell you, I once actually went off on a DA, on a district attorney who was very vehemently prosecuting a child sex abuse case that I was involved in. Thankfully, I came in very early in the case. So the accusation was made and I came in right away because very often you get this case there’ve been 15 interviews. This person’s been interviewed by police, by child protective services and it’s like they’re already so far down a hole they didn’t even know they dug themselves into. So I got in very early on and I just kept saying… She’s like, “Well, we’re going to do this. We’re going to do this.” I was like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. We should both want this to be fair, done properly.”
There’s an expert, a well-respected expert who’s a clinical psychologist who their job is they’re a validation expert. So their job is to interview a child. They record the interviews with a hidden camera so that everyone can see they didn’t ask suggestive questioning. There are very stringent standards that they follow to prevent suggestive questioning or any of those kinds of things. I was saying, “Listen, no, no one should be interviewing this child other than this person, who’s a neutral qualified person.” I kept saying to the other side like, “Wait, no, no. See, this is the problem, you want to win. You’re a lawyer, you want to win. I want to win too, right? But we want to win fair.” That’s like saying, “I’m going into a boxing match, I want to win. So if the referee’s looking to the side, I’m going to kick the guy in the nuts.” Okay. Then you might’ve won, but you didn’t win boxing. You won some other thing.
I want to win a fair fight. I want to go in with the rules set, the law, the rules of evidence. I don’t want a judge who doesn’t understand evidence. I don’t want an adversary who plays it fast and loose with the rules. I want to go in and win a fair fight. That’s where when it comes our passion to protect the innocent, to emotionally connect, to feel deeply about children and protecting them, I don’t think that that’s antagonistic to… We always treat dandruff with decapitation in this culture and I don’t understand it and that’s what I like about the law. The law, there’s rules and there’s rules about procedure. And so, that’s our job is to bring out the truth using the rules and the procedure. I love that job.
Lex Fridman But still there’s a human being in the judge, right?
James Sexton That’s the problem.
Lex Fridman It seems like a really hard job-
James Sexton It’s a hard job. Yeah.
Lex Fridman … because you have to be pay attention to the whole thing.
James Sexton You have to pay attention to the whole thing and everyone is trying to persuade you and lie to you and everyone can keep their shit together in a court appearance most of the time. It takes a rare kind of crazy to blow up in a courtroom. So most of the time everybody looks really put together. Yeah, you got to have an amazing bullshit detector. I’m not saying they don’t have a really hard job. They have a really hard job. They have a way harder job than I have.
Lex Fridman What’s their source of ground truth? How do they sharpen the radar for bullshit?
James Sexton I think that they’re assessing credibility, which is what you call it in the law, is something that I think you’re supposed to develop it on the job.
Lex Fridman Do you have the data of who was lying in the end or not?
James Sexton No, not really. Not really. I mean, you can try to demonstrate. What I always tell clients, and this is the art of advocacy is I want to use examples of misrepresentations to show that this person’s a liar. I’m trying to extrapolate from the small, the large. I’m trying to say, “Here’s three times he lied, therefore he’s a liar,” when in fact we know human beings don’t really work that way, but I’ve seen people submarine, they just torpedo their entire case because they lied about some dumb shit, some dumb little thing. I say to them, “Why would you lie? Why did you lie about that?”
I had a case where a person was accused of child sexual abuse. On cross-examination, they were asked, “Did you have an affair with this babysitter?” They were like, “No, no, no, no, no.” And then it was shown through text messages and things, they clearly had an affair with the babysitter. I said, “Why did you lie?” They said, “Well, I didn’t want that to come out.” I said, “Right, but now you’re a liar. Did you molest your child? Because if the answer to that is no and now you destroyed your credibility because you didn’t want to admit that you slept with an adult woman. By the way, it would’ve been good for your case.” “What do you mean good for your case?” For you to say, “Yeah, I slept with her. I like sleeping with adult women. That’s how I am. I don’t sleep with children, much less my own.” So why would you lie?
And so, that concept is incredibly important. Judges, theoretically, they have to make very tough calls. I feel like It’s the most impotent place to just sit there and dispassionately listen and rule on objections. I just would be so frustrated because I’d want to get up and… I had to do jury duty once and it was like a horrific experience for me because I’m sitting there and-
Lex Fridman You have no power. You’re just [inaudible 02:53:29].
James Sexton Yeah, I’m just watching these two guys. I’m like, “Why did you ask that question that way? I would never have asked it that way. Why would you object? When you object, you bring more attention to it. What are you doing?” I’m watching both of them. It’s like watching a jiu-jitsu. Probably what it feel like for John Danaher to watch two white belts spar. “Why are you doing… Wow, my God, what are you doing? Why would you grab that? What are you thinking?” It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to watch and as a judge, it must just be unbelievable.
Lex Fridman So divorce lawyers sometimes get a bad rep. Is there a reason for this?
James Sexton I mean, no one’s ever happy to be spending time with a divorce lawyer. If you have a criminal lawyer, they’re defending you against the maelstrom of injustice and false allegations. They’re protecting your freedom. Maybe you’re acquitted and then you’re like, “Oh, that person saved me.” You buy a house, that lawyer helps you get the house. You’re happy about that, sign the paperwork. You do a will, you help. They make you feel secure. At best, I’m a representative of a chapter in someone’s life that was very unpleasant.
I have a friend who’s a Julliard-trained classical pianist. He was having a humidification system installed in his home because his piano required a certain level of humidity and it was very expensive to install this humidification system. We went out to dinner and then we came back to his place and he said, “Man, this is the most depressing $15,000 I’ve ever spent.” I said, “Why?” He said, ” Because there’s nothing different. I spent $15,000 and I feel absolutely nothing different. My piano does, but I don’t.” You don’t have anything to show for it. You finished getting divorced, you don’t really have anything to show for it.
Lex Fridman At best it’s the same.
James Sexton It’s one of the things I think that’s interesting about divorce is in our increasingly performative society, you can’t pretend you meant to get divorced. You can’t, like everything everybody does. “Well, I wrote that album for me. It didn’t matter that it was not going to be popular.” No, you wanted that album to be popular. Come on, you’re lying and that’s fine, but you’re lying. “Oh, I think my haircut came out great. I wanted it to look this fucked up.” No, you didn’t. You didn’t. You’re lying and that’s fine because we live in a society now where everybody’s just, “Oh yes, I meant to do that.” Okay.
Divorce? Nope, you got married. You break up in a relationship, not a marriage. “Okay. Well, we were only going to be together for a little while. It was never serious. We were having fun. That’s all it was. We were never going to be a happily believer after.” No, you got married. You got married guys. You got up there and you said forever and it didn’t go forever so you can’t bullshit anybody anymore. No, it didn’t go the way you thought it was going to go, didn’t go the way you signed on for. So now that that’s undeniable, what can we make it? What can we make it into? It can be beauty. The barns burned down, now I can see the moon. Let’s make it something. And so, for me, I think people look at a divorce lawyer and they just go, “Yeah, this is this horrible chapter and I associate you with it.”
Also, too, listen, some of the things we do, it’s difficult to simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The things you do to protect your clients sometimes look like acts of aggression, but really they’re just trying to shore up a defense. And so, I get paid to be paranoid and I have to say to clients sometimes like, “Well, are you sure that they’re not doing this?” And then they go, “Well. I don’t know.” I go, “Well, let me inquire.” “Did you accuse me of that?” “No, no. I’m not accusing you. I’m just trying…” We get a reputation, divorce lawyers, as amping up conflict because we get paid for the conflict, right? It’s like if you get paid by the bullet, you’re going to start a lot of gunfights, right? It doesn’t really work that way with most good divorce lawyers. There are plenty of people that are bad lawyers and they stoke up conflict because it jacks up fees. They usually don’t do well. They don’t build a successful career because you live and die by your reputation.
Lex Fridman Yes, reputation is everything.
James Sexton But good lawyers, like good experienced divorce lawyers, we do the whole, “Hey, listen, you’re going to say this, I’m going to say this. You’re going to do this, I’m going to do this. Let’s skip it. We’re going to end up here. We got Judge blah blah blah and you know what he’s going to do. He’s going to go right here. So why don’t we just agree right now to X, Y, Z? Sounds good. We’re done. We’re good.”
Lex Fridman So you want to minimize the number of bullets.
James Sexton It’s like Miyamoto Musashi. It’s like the two swordsmen who see each other and they just stand there at the edge and they see the whole fight in their minds and they know who won and who lost and they walk away. We do a lot of that. Okay. It’s like when you watch high level chess and someone resigns and you go, wait, “What happened?” You go, “No, no, the other guy won. It’s 15 moves from now, but he won and the other guy sees it, so now we’re done.”
Kevin Costner’s divorce
Lex Fridman Can you speak to some recent high profile divorces? The most recent I saw is Kevin Costner.
James Sexton Yeah, Kevin Costner is a great… I mean, I don’t know him. I’m not involved in the case.
Lex Fridman By the way, Yellowstone is just so great.
James Sexton Oh, it’s so good, right?
Lex Fridman And I hope Matthew McConaughey, who I’ve gotten to know, I hope he does one of these shows. Yellowstone or anything else, he’s just-
James Sexton Born for the role frankly.
Lex Fridman But anyway.
James Sexton He’d be amazing in that. Yeah, your conversation with him was a great one. The Kevin Costner divorce is interesting because Kevin Costner had one of the most expensive from a distributive award perspective. He gave a huge payout to his first wife and then this time he had a prenup. It’s a very public showing of the fact that once bitten twice shy. He had a very public divorce that cost him a lot of assets in terms of the division of assets, and now it appears by all acknowledged reports that he had a prenuptial agreement that was well-crafted and enforceable. The argument now is over. What is child support? What is spousal support? What’s covered in the prenup and what isn’t?
Lex Fridman So it seems like the prenup worked actually.
James Sexton The prenup worked. Kevin Costner’s career, which has always been a steady career, I don’t know that in the Hollywood stock market that people would’ve bet on Yellowstone. I think you would’ve said, “Hey, the best years of that guy’s career are behind him.” How do you get better than Dances with Wolves and Robin Hood and all these big, big… The Bodyguard and then Yellowstone. It’s like, “Holy cow, did he knock that out of the park?” And he’s central to it? I mean, he knocked the skin off the ball. So I think that’s why prenups are important. You don’t know what your career’s going to do. You don’t know where it’s going to go. And so, he saved himself a lot of money. He also has a great lawyer. He has Laura Wasser. Laura Wasser’s L.A… Just a top professional, brilliant lawyer, even tempered but intense in the courtroom and just a smart, smart human being.
Lex Fridman The thing I liked, just I haven’t been following it, but I saw a few comments he’s made and he refused to comment negatively about his spouse and just-
James Sexton That’s smart.
Lex Fridman But the way he said it, it wasn’t lawyer advice. It’s good lawyer advice probably, but he said it from the heart, which I always like. I like seeing that, where he refuses even the drama, even the public nature of it to throwing jabs or-
James Sexton Well, Laura, his lawyer, is actually notorious for not speaking to the press about cases in an extended way and that’s smart move. I don’t speak about pending cases I’m involved in publicly and I discourage my clients from doing so. I can’t always stop them, but I discourage them from doing so. I don’t think there’s any good to come of it. There are lawyers who try to try things in the court of public opinion. To take it to the broader principle you just brought up, I think there is a lot of value in talking about your ex in a favorable way.
I have to say when I first got divorced many years ago, I went out on a date with a young woman. It was one of my first dates as a divorced man. She was a divorced woman. She’s a beautiful woman. We were having dinner and it was going quite well. It was one of those things where I was like, “Oh, I definitely want to see this girl again.” I said something about, “Oh, there’s going to be this thing at this museum. We should go.” She’s like, “Oh yeah, that’d be a lot of fun.” I’m like, “Yeah, we should, definitely. Maybe that’ll be next thing we do together.” She was like, “Yeah, we should go next weekend. The kids are with the asshole so we can go.” It was like you could hear that record scratch. I just went, “Oh yeah. No, this isn’t good. You’re referring to the father of your kids as the asshole? I’m walking into something here that I don’t know that I want to be involved in.”
Matthew McConaughey, before he was married, if you look at his history, he dated some of the most beautiful women in Hollywood in their prime, and none of them ever talked bad about him in the press. They all were like, ” Oh my god, he’s such a great guy. He’s such a great guy.” I always wondered how do you… He got out of all of those relationships without a scratch on him. When you’d watch an interview with him, they would say, “So you dated Penelope Cruz,” and he’d go, “Penelope, that’s just a special lady. What a special lady. She’s just a wonderful… What a wonderful woman. I’m just so blessed to have the time with her. What a beautiful, wonderful woman.”
I would think to myself, I’m like, “You’re a genius.” He’s a genius because he never came off as petty, spiteful, bitter, any of that. He just came off as just dignified, strong, smart, self-assured. It left the viewer with the impression that when he was looking off and basically he’s probably just thinking about some wonderful time he had with her and you think to yourself like, “God, that guy. He just became cooler and cooler.” Whereas if he got into the whole, “Oh yeah, that was ugly and then this happened,” nobody wants to hear it. It’s awful.
Lex Fridman The funny thing about him just having interacted with him a bunch, I don’t think… He’s in the Rogan school of thought, I think, that I don’t see him ever having a fight. Now his parents were, as he’s spoken about a bunch, nonstop fighting. They got divorced and remarried and just insane.
James Sexton And they were volatile.
Lex Fridman Yeah, very. It depend on swinging the other way. He just seems cool as a cucumber always.
James Sexton Just lets it roll off. But even if It’s internally not rolling off, there is value in just rising above it in your discourse.
Lex Fridman That’s true. Yes. Yes.
James Sexton You lie to your children. People say this to me all the time. Clients, they’re like, “Why did you tell your child that dad had an affair?” “Well, I’m not going to lie to my kids.” Fuck you. Yes, you are. You lie to your kids all the time. “Mommy, are you going to die someday?” “Yes, babe, I’m going to die and Daddy’s going to die. And then someday the earth’s going to hurl into the sun. We’re all going to die. Sweet dreams.” You lie to your kids all the time. “What’s wrong with me?” “We don’t know What’s wrong with you. We’re going to take you to the doctor and hopefully it’s nothing serious and you won’t die.” You lie to your kids all the time. You tell them that Santa Claus exists when he doesn’t, whatever.
So to say, “I’m not going to lie to my kids,” you lie to your kids all the time. You don’t like your husband, that’s okay. You don’t like your ex-husband, but it’s their father so just grin. “Oh, Daddy took me to meet his new girlfriend, Kiki.” “Oh, that’s nice. Did you guys have a good time?” “Good. Oh yeah. And she helped me do my hair and she did my makeup.” Listen, I’m sure that’s burning you inside, but you go, “Oh, that’s great,” because why? You love your kids.
Lex Fridman Well, I mean, again, McConaughey has a way bottom with that. He basically says, “Never lie, but a little bullshit is okay.”
James Sexton Sure. Yeah.
Lex Fridman Tom Waits, that song Lied To Me, “You got to lie to me baby.” Honesty is a funny thing.
James Sexton Tom Waits also believes that God’s away on business.
Lex Fridman I think his words, man-
James Sexton “Who are the ones that we left in charge? Killers, thieves and lawyers,” that’s a Tom Waits quote.
Lex Fridman Well, it must be true then.
James Sexton Yeah.
Lex Fridman I don’t know how many limbs I have, but I will give all of them to talk to Tom. He’s a very private person.
James Sexton I feel like he’s the musical equivalent of Cormac McCarthy. Even if you get the interview, you’re not, I don’t think, going to get in there.
Lex Fridman Honestly, I don’t think you want to. You’ve seen his public interviews over the years with Letterman and I think he is the poetry.
James Sexton I would put Tom Waits, Cormac McCarthy, Maynard James Keenan, these are artists that I think they want the art to speak for itself. They would like to be lessened. I remember early, early days of Tool that he could not have been less interested in the spotlight to the point where I think it was almost to the detriment of the band early on. There’s no surprise that those are three artists that I think are unbelievable and in a category of their own and that you hear their performance. You can give me a page of a Cormac McCarthy novel and I’ll know it’s a Cormac McCarthy novel. A few notes of Maynard James Keenan or Tom Wait’s voice, you know that that’s them.
Lex Fridman Yes, genius. Genius hides from the spotlight, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling sad about it, but anyway.
James Sexton Yeah, that does. I would like to hear that interview/
Lex Fridman She’s the girl that got away.
James Sexton Yeah. Yeah.
Lex Fridman I’m just standing outside of that girl’s house with a blue box.
James Sexton With a sign. Yeah, just playing In Your Eyes with Peter Gabriel. Yeah.
Lex Fridman Yeah. Anyway, what is it? Lie To Me. This whole idea of honesty in relationships is interesting. I mean, clerks with the blowjobs. I don’t know how to phrase it eloquently, but there’s stuff you should be honest about and there’s stuff maybe you don’t need to be honest about.
James Sexton So in the law, it is illegal to commit fraud. Fraud is a material misrepresentation of fact, but the law specifically says you are permitted to engage in “mere puffery.”
Lex Fridman Nice.
James Sexton Puffery.
Lex Fridman Puffery.
James Sexton That’s the term that was used for it, puffery. Puffery is when you are inflating something. You’re being hyperbolic, but people wouldn’t necessarily think you’re telling the truth. If I say to you, “This bottle of water was held by Elvis and that’s why you should pay me $50 for it,” that’s fraud. But if I say, “This water was drank by the finest people. Presidents drink this water,” now this is puffery. And so, advertising, marketing is based on puffery. It’s not fraud. When it’s fraud, it crosses the line.
So I think there’s a difference between honesty and candor, right? So in relationships, being honest is good. Being totally candid is probably not a great idea. It’s indelicate to be totally candid about some things. If a woman you’re in romantic relationship with says to you, “Do I look good in this dress?” and they don’t, or “Do I look fat in this?” that’s a better way. Any heterosexual man who’s ever been in a relationship has had that question asked of him, “Do I look fat in this? Does this make my butt look big or whatever? Do I look fat in this?” If you go, “Yes,” that’s indelicate. It’s honest, but it’s indelicate and it’s almost mean, right? If you say no, but it’s true, she doesn’t look good in that, the concern she sees is a legitimate concern, do you lie and go, “No. No, you look great in that. It’s great, da-da-da-da-da”? That’s not a good thing either.
So, what do you say? “That blue dress you have really compliments your body in a way that one doesn’t. The cut of that dress is such that it doesn’t flatter you.” “I see what you’re saying.” Now, it’s the dress, it’s not you babe, but I’m telling you the truth. I’m addressing your concern. This is the distinction. Don’t material misrepresent the facts. Don’t steer people down roads that you know that that’s not how it’s going to go, right? So it’s like if the woman says I love you and you don’t love her, don’t say I love you back. You do the like, “Oh, I have very strong feelings for you as well.” Or there has to be some middle ground. You don’t just pretend you didn’t hear them.
Lex Fridman Yeah. I mean, I guess all of it requires skill, just like you described. I think just being honest in quotes is not enough.
James Sexton Well, it’s not a specific enough instruction. I mean, that’s the problem. See, when you write a relationship book, which I never intended to do, people come to you and say, “What are the things I should do to help my relationship, or what is the cause of divorce?” You go, “Well, disconnection.” But what do you mean by that? Or like, “How do I improve my relationship?” Pay more attention. Make small gestures. “Okay. What does that even mean? What do you mean?” Acts of love. You should show your partner that you love them more often. “What do you mean? What I say? What I do? We should have more sex? What are you at? What are you saying?”
People want measurable, specific things. So that’s why I tried in my book to be very specific about things you can do, things you shouldn’t do, and they’re practical suggestions, like leaving a note. I talk a lot about leaving a note. If you’re dating someone or you’re living with them or you’re in a serious relationship, send a text, leave a note. Every day just some little thing that just tells them how much you like them. This is a low cost, high value move, doesn’t take much and it’s a practical thing. But when we speak in these broader axioms, these broader concepts that people just don’t have any idea how to practically apply.
Lex Fridman I can’t wait to listen to the audiobook where you talk about managing marital finances is like anal sex, which your mastery of the metaphor touches one’s heart and soul. You’re Shakespeare of the 21st century, really.
James Sexton I don’t know that Shakespeare would’ve brought anal up in that context, but I appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah. My thesis there or my point there was proceed carefully and have discussion in advance and don’t just spring it on someone and realize that if this goes wrong it will go catastrophically wrong. So, good communication is important. Yeah, I don’t think it’s something you should just dive into unless you’re prepared for that to have potentially a very negative impact.
Lex Fridman Finances is one of the sources of a huge amount of stress in relationships, which is-
James Sexton Tremendous. Because it’s about value, I think. I mean, it’s aside from having painful conversations about what you tried to do and were able to do or what your impulse control was in terms of what you spent money on. There’s the conversation and then there’s underneath the conversation. There’s gender stuff about men feeling the need to be a provider. There’s gender stuff of men or women thinking material goods will fill the void and buying things and then creating stress on their partner. There’s the very human desire to make things seem effortless so your spouse doesn’t feel any stress when in fact it’s causing tremendous financial stress. And then when the dam breaks, it breaks hard. So yeah, there’s a lot. Finance is tricky stuff. You could probably be wonderful, romantic and sexual partners and have very different styles of how you handle your finances. How you handle your finances is informed by not only your individual psychology, but also how you were raised and how your family taught you about finance and how you should conduct your finances.
Lex Fridman And there’s interesting power dynamics in play.
James Sexton Tremendously. Yeah. Those are very tricky because the standard of living of a couple becomes important in a divorce, but sometimes this toxic standard of living that created toxic levels of stress is one of the causes of the divorce. And so, they’re asking the court to maintain a financial obligation on you, that is the reason why the marriage fell apart and that feels like a particularly insulting form of indignity.
Lex Fridman Well, you’re a fascinating human being on many levels, but you’re also exceptionally productive. You’ve talked to me about waking up early. We’ve met today at 11:00 AM and for you that’s what? Late afternoon, I suppose. We had to negotiate and come to an agreement because I went to bed at 4:00 AM.
James Sexton And I was up. I get up at 4:00 every day, so now I hear-
Lex Fridman You woke up at 4:00 every day.
James Sexton It’s three o’clock local time, so I woke up at 3:00 local time.
Lex Fridman Nice.
James Sexton Yeah, I wake up at 4:00 naturally though. My body just wakes up.
Lex Fridman Oh, wow. That’s fascinating.
James Sexton And wakes up full on this speed.
Lex Fridman Wow.
James Sexton My most productive writing and speaking is from 4:00 AM until noon or 1:00.
Lex Fridman So can you take me through a perfectly productive day?
James Sexton I wake up at 4:00 AM very naturally. I wish I didn’t, but I do check my phone first thing because I want to see if any emergencies came in from a client overnight.
Lex Fridman So work emergencies.
James Sexton Yeah, work-related emergencies. It is a divorce lawyer… Our definition of emergency can be very serious. It’s people absconding with a child. It’s a police being involved in a domestic violence incident. It can be time-sensitive things. When someone is hiring a divorce lawyer, I think they want someone responsive. My clients have my cell phone number. I go to bed early because I get up early and so I go to sleep by 8:00 PM latest. I don’t think I’ve seen 9:00 PM even on New Year’s Eve.
So I wake up at 4:00. I check my phone, check my email. Usually, even if there’s something that’s time-sensitive, it’s usually not so time-sensitive that it needs to be responded to at 4:00 AM because most other normal people are asleep. I have espresso, black espresso, which I enjoy very much. And then I work out and that’s some days going to be weights. A lot of days it’s just going to be cardio. I’ve changed my habits now that I’m in my early 50s. It used to be much more intensive weight training and deadlifts and stuff like that, and then I herniated my L5-S1. So 485 was my max deadlift and now I don’t hardly do deadlifts.
Lex Fridman Well, you can still relive the past glory.
James Sexton I do. I have some pictures and videos.
Lex Fridman You have pictures?
James Sexton I have videos. I have videos of me putting 485 for three, which-
Lex Fridman In stories, when you talk about it, you can exaggerate how much-
James Sexton … five for three, which is-
Lex Fridman In stories, when you talk about it, you can exaggerate how much you’ve actually lifted.
James Sexton That’s true, but then you can’t pack it up. See, I’m very evidence-based. So if I don’t have a photo or video of it, it’s just puffing, mere puffery at that point, but I work out. Then I try to work out for a good hour. I do that partly because of stress. I think when I don’t work out, it’s difficult. I had a group of guys that I would do jujitsu with at 5:00 AM. They were mostly law enforcement. They were cops who would either be starting a shift, or coming off of a night shift. We would train together, just do an open mat, and it was at 5:00 AM till 6:00, and that was heaven. I love training jujitsu first thing in the morning if I can.
Then I always do either a sauna or steam for 20 minutes, half an hour. Then I do a cold plunge, or if I don’t have access to a cold plunge, a cold shower. Then I have breakfast, and it’s usually a very uncontroversial simple breakfast. I like to eat. I eat slow carb Tim Ferriss type style. Then I get right to work. I try to do my drafting early in the day, prenups, motions, things like that from, let’s say, six or seven until 9:00, 9:30, which is when court begins.
Lex Fridman So, drafting is like writing up different documents.
James Sexton Right. Writing prenups, writing separation agreements, writing settlement proposals, writing motions for the court, pretrial memos, which is research that I want to present to a judge that supports my arguments. I do drafting. I review documents that the attorneys who work for me have drafted and refined them. Then court is usually from 9:00 until noon. If we’re on trial, then it’s a whole different pace, because trials… The lunch break isn’t really a lunch break. You’re preparing the afternoon’s witnesses, and you’re trying to do damage control on what happened in the morning. But if it’s just court conferences like most cases, there’s conferences.
Conferences, as you go in, you make oral argument, but you don’t have witnesses on the stand. You’re not taking testimony. It’s like everybody’s just shouting allegations back and forth, and making temporary arguments pretrial. It’s kind of the foreplay of the trial.
Lex Fridman Is that exhausting by the way?
James Sexton It’s exhausting when you’re done with it. While you’re doing it, it’s exhilarating. I always say that I never sleep as poorly as the night before a trial, and I never sleep as well as the night I finished a trial. Because when I am on trial, I am speaking, listening, watching the judge closely to see what they’re reacting to, and when they’re paying attention or not paying attention, watching opposing counsel and the opposing party like, “When is the opposing party writing a little note to their lawyer to show it to them? What is the opposing counsel objecting to?” My client is trying to pass me notes half the time.
While I’m speaking and making my arguments, I’m trying to adjust what I’m doing strategically based on the objections that the judge is ruling on. So, I’m so hyperstimulated on trial that when you finish, you can’t even talk. You’re gone. Your brain is jello. Conferences is harder because at least with a trial, there’s a singularity of focus. With a trial, it’s just one case, and they have all my attention. The problem is then on the lunch break, all the other cases that I’ve been ignoring for the last several hours while I was on trial, they all have stuff going on. So, it’s like, “Hey, where’s that settlement proposal on this? Hey, she just did this. We need to file a motion.”
So now it’s like, “Okay, I have an hour to eat and to answer all of this in some preliminary way to delegate some responsibilities. Then I got to go back in and put 100% of my focus on this other case again.” So, you find yourself in a place. That’s why I’m very disciplined is you find yourself in a place where I live my whole life in six-minute increments, tenths of an hour, because we bill in tenths of an hour. So, everything I do, it’s like 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, and I’m logging time throughout the day.
Lex Fridman That’s fascinating.
James Sexton You find yourself at the end of the day. My son is a lawyer, my older son. He’s a district attorney, and I’m very proud of him. He gets to put bad guys in jail, and he is very smart, and he’s doing a great job. He just about a year ago. When he graduated from law school, we were very close, and we were talking, and he said… We were just talking about the career in the law that he was about to embark on. I said to him, “You know, the feeling at the end of the day when all your homework or all your work is done, and you just go, “Okay, it’s all done now, and I’m going to go home.” You’ll never have that feeling ever again ever. You’re just going to everyday go, “All right, it’s enough. It’s enough. I got to get out of here.”
Because with every one of these cases, you could stay up 24 hours focusing just on it. So, you have to have the discipline to go, “No, that’s it. I’m done for now. I’ve done what I could do today, and now I’m going to sit and read for a half an hour. I’m going to watch this show for a half an hour. I’m going to have this meal,” because It’s never done. So, that’s challenging. That’s a hard part of this job, but I think my discipline helps with that. Then like I said, I finished my day around 5:30, 6: 00. I have something to eat, and I try to wind down a little, and I’m usually in bed by 7:30, and asleep by 8:00.
Lex Fridman You mentioned jujitsu. You’re brown belt. What role has jujitsu played in your life?
James Sexton I love jujitsu. I trained martial arts from the time I was a little kid. I think I was seven or eight. I took up Okinawan Goju karate, and I did judo. It was always part of my life. Then I got to college and grad school, and I didn’t have time for it, and I didn’t do it so much. Then I got divorced. I was quite young still when I got divorced, and I had two young kids. I thought, “Well, I can grow a goatee, and buy a convertible, and do the thing you’re supposed to do, and you’re a dude with kids close to middle age, or I can try to do something more productive.” So I said, “Well, maybe I’ll go back to martial arts.” So, I took up Muay Thai kickboxing, and they had a jujitsu class at the same school after the Muay Thai class.
I had been around the orbit of jujitsu having been my kids took karate, and there was jujitsu there. It was a Gracie Academy. I stayed for a jujitsu class, and I had 120 pound girl ragdoll me, because I just knew nothing about grappling. I remember just going, “Well, I got to learn what this is,” and that was it. I just dove into it. My first professor was Louis Vintaloro in New Jersey. He’s a Royler Gracie black belt, great teacher, taught me amazing fundamentals, took me all the way up to purple belt. Then right after I got my purple belt, I moved to the city. I moved to Manhattan. I actually chose my apartment based on its proximity to Marcelo Garcia, and I moved to West Chelsea, because it was a short walk to Marcelo’s academy.
My core jujitsu was up to purple belt. It was Louis Vintaloro, and then it’s been Marcelo, and Marcelo, Paul Shriner who’s really phenomenal at his academy. All the people at his academy, I mean, are all phenomenal. I mean, Bernardo [inaudible 03:25:37] was there for a period of time that I was there and before he went to Boston. Marcos Tinoco was like his lasso guard stuff. He was at Marcelo’s for a long time, and what a teacher. I mean, my lack of skill at jujitsu is not based on a lack of quality instruction. It’s based on an inability to retain the information for very long.
Lex Fridman For me, that’s one of the most reliable place I can go to humble myself.
James Sexton I love jujitsu. I love the progressive humility that it drives home constantly. I love the impossibility of perfecting it, although Gordon Ryan’s probably come close, and Marcelo’s probably come close to perfecting it.
Lex Fridman Let me ask you since you mentioned Gordon Ryan. So, apparently some close with Gordon, and there’s, I am sure in Austin, just this jujitsu scene. It’s incredible.
James Sexton It’s like jujitsu mecca.
Lex Fridman This is the Mecca.
James Sexton I’m actually seeing John Donaher this evening,
Lex Fridman I mean, this-
James Sexton This is amazing.
Lex Fridman It’s a truly special place. But anyway, apparently, long ago, you mentioned Jersey.
James Sexton Yes.
Lex Fridman There’s a bit of a conflict between you and Gordon, and you mentioned to me offline that you love him and just how much respect you have for him as an athlete and so on. But can you explain why is this-
James Sexton I’m actually glad I have that. It’s funny that you bring it up, and of all the… We’re talking about all these heavy topics, and this is probably the one that I find the most actually emotional. Gordon’s, I think, a very young man still. He’s probably in his 20s or early 30s. It’s hard to imagine that because he’s accomplished so much as an athlete and as a business person, but there was a time not that long ago, I think it was eight or nine years ago, where he was just a young guy on his way up. He’s only, I think, a couple years older than my oldest son. Through a series of circumstances, jujitsu wasn’t… It’s really exploded in the last 10 years, but there were not as many people sponsoring “super fights.” There really weren’t jujitsu super fights being sponsored at Jersey and New York in particular.
I got involved in sponsoring some jujitsu super fights. I also got involved in sponsoring some jujitsu athletes. Gordon was a part of the Danaher Death Squad. I was friends with Eddie Cummings. I’m still friends with Eddie. I was friends with John. I’m still friends with John, but I didn’t really know Gordon. I actually don’t know that I’ve still ever met… I don’t think I’ve ever met Gordon. I’ve been in the same room as him, but there was a fight that… I had sponsored some other fights with this particular promoter, and they asked me to sponsor one. It didn’t involve anyone from Marcelo’s, but it involved Gordon. He was one of the people.
I liked John very much, and I liked everybody in the Danaher Death Squad. I like watching them compete, and I thought, “I think John’s just brilliant.” I mean, everyone at Marcelo’s has such respect for John and for everyone and the stuff they were doing when they were the… Early days of that Danaher Death squad, Eddie Cummings, his leg locks. It just blew the whole game up. It just was a whole nother thing. It was insane such innovation. Gordon at the time, he was online. I’m much older than that. I’m in my early 50s, and that’s not, I guess, chronologically that much older, but generationally, I think it’s quite a bit different.
Gordon was smack talking about a guy who I was sponsor of, who I knew and who I knew was a very good athlete, and had been through difficult things in his life. Gordon just said some nasty things about him. It falls into the category of totally appropriate smack talking, looking at it now and looking at what Gordon became, which is he’s someone who talks trash. It’s part of his brand is to talk trash. I see now that that’s like a Muhammad Ali thing, but at the time, I just didn’t see it as what it was. Although it doesn’t excuse it, my mother was dying. I was not at my best. I was having a hard time, and Gordon had spoken ill of this person. I got upset, and I reached out to John and to Tom DeBlass.
I said to them, “Hey, could you tell this guy to knock it off? Don’t talk about this person who I sponsor if I’m sponsoring his fight. I don’t even know this Gordon Ryan kid, and I’m sponsoring his fight. He should say thank you. Don’t talk bad about a person who I financially sponsor. That’s not cool.” I think on Facebook, he wrote some comments, and then I wrote some comments back, and I was incredibly obnoxious. Very soon after, I felt really gross, because I was an adult, and I was talking to a young person this way, who’s on their way up, who’s a little older than one of my kids. I just said these obnoxious things to him, and I felt really like, “That’s gross.” But I’d never really thought much about it again.
I watched his star rise, and I was very… I mean, who is not impressed by Gordon Ryan? Everyone at our academy was always very thrilled to see him rise. I’ve stayed friends with John. Every time Gordon would have a big victory, I would always text John and be like… Because Gordon’s victories are John’s victories too. They have such a great bond. All the people in his orbit are all people that I respect and like. I just would say, “Hey listen, congratulations and please pass on my congratulations to Gordon,” but we don’t know each other. I Don’t have his number. I have no way to contact him to apologize to him.
But if Gordon hears this, I am profoundly sorry. I don’t say that because I’m trying to get in your good graces. I don’t know that we’ll ever meet each other, but that was an unbelievably wrong, stupid thing to say to a young person.
Lex Fridman Well, thank you for saying that. This warms my heart in general.
James Sexton So, you talk to a divorce lawyer, and it warms your heart. Look at that.
Sex, love, and marriage
Lex Fridman Well speaking of which, you’re romantic actually. What role… You’ve seen love break down completely. What role does love play in the human condition?
James Sexton I mean, it’s everything, right? Love is romantic. Wars are fought for romantic love. Empires fall because of romantic love. It takes down kings. It takes down… We’re all just struggling for it. We’re all just chasing it. We’re all chasing the dragon. It’s like the rush. We all are… So, it’s huge. It’s huge. I mean, sex and love, which I like to believe are in some way connected, and love and romance, which again I like to believe are in some way connected. I think it’s huge. I think It’s a… Look, I’ve always thought most of what men do, including me, we do to get laid on some level. You want to be successful. Why? So, you can have money. Why? So you can have nice things so that you can attract attractive members of the opposite sex.
A lot of things come down to that. Even for men like red-pilled men who are like, “I don’t care about women.” Well, you talk about them an awful lot. For someone that’s not interested in women, you sure are in the orbit of women who you’re telling how much you don’t care about women, which feels like you’re doing that to attract a certain kind of woman, which I get. More power to you, but a person who worships an idol and a person who destroys an idol are both idolaters.
Lex Fridman Yes.
James Sexton So if all you’re talking about is how you don’t need women, you’re talking about women an awful lot. So, it’s just such a splinter in people’s mind, relationships, breakups, and it’s such a great equalizer. I mean, you’re spending some time in the rarefied air now of big celebrity people. I remember when I started out as a lawyer just doing the regular, the cop and the teacher with a 401k, and they didn’t have any assets. I remember thinking like, “Well someday if I represent celebrities or wealthy CEOs, it’ll be different. They’ll be smarter. They’ll be different.” It’s just the same-
Lex Fridman It’s the same.
James Sexton … weird, petty, shit, the same infidelity, the same-
Lex Fridman The same kind of insecurities, the same kind of jealousy, the same kind of fights. It all-
James Sexton It’s all the same, but it is, and it’s all the same insecurity, sadness. It’s the same desire to be validated like mommy issues, daddy issues, like intimacy issues, and it’s all the same stuff. Just because you’re really good at other things… I’ve represented professional athletes who are phenomenal world-class doctors, business people, and they suck at relationships, no better than anybody else. There’s no connection between the skills that made you a good entrepreneur and the skills that made you a good spouse or partner. I’m sure there’s some overlap like patience is good, and thinking strategically is probably good, but I’m just humbled by how we’re called to it still.
Even when we lose and even when our greatest pains were caused by our desire to love and be loved in a romantic sense, we just keep putting the money on the table and playing. We won’t just quit. We just keep going.
Lex Fridman The whole mess of it is worth it.
James Sexton I mean, I guess so… It’s calling us. I don’t know if it’s worth it or not. That’s a value judgment, but we don’t stop. I don’t know a lot of people that they played the hand. They lost and they went, “Well, no more of that game for me. I’m not a good poker player. I’m not playing poker anymore.” I know people who’ve done that. I know people that are like, “Listen, I don’t drink. I am allergic. I break out in handcuffs and hospital bills. I’m not drinking anymore,” but I don’t know people that are like, “Man, that relationship, I screwed that up, or I got screwed on that one. I’m not doing that anymore.”
You can say that. Everybody says that, “I’m through with love. I’m done.” They’re not. They keep going. They’ll go up again.
Lex Fridman Never going to fall in love again, and then a few weeks later-
James Sexton I got job security, man. I got job security. People are not going to stop walking down that aisle. They are not going to stop having kids with people that they probably should have thought through whether they would have kids with that person or not.
Lex Fridman I’m glad they are. I’m glad they’re taking that leap. I’m glad they’ve taken that risk. It’s this whole beautiful mess that we’re all a part of. It’s like taking that risk, taking that leap of vulnerabilities of what this whole thing is about.
James Sexton And what a danger if we didn’t. You hear about people like Alexander Hamilton, or you hear about people who they were born of circumstances that these two people should never have had a kid, and then they did. That kid changes the world and moves the dial forward. What a great mistake. What a great… You can’t ever say it’s a mistake. What an amazing thing that happened. I think that that’s… One of the things I like about divorce as a practice and as almost looking at it like a spiritual practice, I think you just don’t know what is a blessing in the world. You just don’t know. I’ve spoken about this before publicly, and he does frequently. My father’s an alcoholic. My father’s been in recovery now for seven years, I think, but he was a bad alcoholic Vietnam veteran my whole life, and only got sober when I was in my 40s.
A lot of the personality characteristics I have are consistent with those of adult children of alcoholics, desire for control and control issues, a lot of those things. I love my life. I’m having a great time. If I died tomorrow, man, I did more, learned more, earned more, loved more than I ever dreamed. So, I’m so glad my dad was an alcoholic. If you said to me, “How do you raise kids?” I wouldn’t say, “Well, you definitely want to be an alcoholic, because your kid’s going to get a lot of really good discipline lessons from that experience.” No, I wouldn’t want that for… But it’s born. All these wonderful things were born of this awful situation.
So, I think divorce is the same thing. We make these mistakes, but they’re not really… I often have to say to my clients when they’re like, “Oh, I wish I’d never married this person,” I’m like, “You love your kids, right? Your kids are half that person. They would not be the organism they are without that person’s DNA. So, you can’t regret being with that person if you love your kids, because those kids don’t exist without that person.” I don’t know how we refocus on that. I don’t know. Maybe we give anyone going through a… I’ve actually had a theory, which I’ve not said out loud, but I’ll say it to you, because it’s just us talking.
I think if we could figure out a way to take a divorcing couple that is interested in potentially mediating, and put them in a setting where we could give them both psilocybin, a good dose, like two and a half, three grams, and have them do individual sessions with controlled setting with a guide, and have them do that inner work, and then have them do some kind of a session together after they’ve had that experience, that psychedelic experience, I actually think you could do transformative divorce work, because I have found myself and certainly the many people that I’ve talked to who’ve had psilocybin experiences in particular, but any psychedelic experience, many of the empathogens or even MDMA… MDMA is an empathogen.
If we brought that space and the divorce and conflict resolution space together, that psychopharmacological intervention on empathy, one’s empathy receptors or one’s connectivity, I think that could be radically transforming. It would be logistically an absolute nightmare. It would never get done from a legal standpoint, but man, I think sometimes that if… Because I think the more that you can bring people to the awareness of connection that comes from many people’s psychedelic experiences, I think they could then extrapolate that into their understanding of the conflict and disconnect they’re having with their partner.
Lex Fridman So really lean into the, “Use this brink of divorce as a catalyst for doing a lot of soul-searching, a lot of growth together.”
James Sexton Well, that was what appealed to me about it, I mean, before I started doing it is it was this idea that this is a opportunity for radical reinvention. It was an opportunity for people to say, “Okay, now what?” I didn’t expect that now what, and it was to be part of the architecture of that. I didn’t look at it like I’m helping demolish the building. It was like I’m tearing down the building, so we can build the new one, which I hope is filled with joy and abundance and peace and love and real love, real satisfaction. My ex-wife is married for over a decade now to a phenomenal guy who is perfect for her, and he’s nothing like me by the way.
If you met him, and you’ve met both of us, you’d go, “Well, no one could love both of these guys.” It’s like, “If you like this flavor, you wouldn’t like this flavor.” I’m impatient, fast talking. Skip to the end, “We got to land this plane. Come on.” He’s a therapist. He’s chill. He’s patient, and they’re perfect together. I can say that as someone who loves her and loved her and knows her or knew her. I think if we can radically view honestly without jealousy, without the sense of, “Look at it, and just go, “Yeah. Yeah, okay, this is the love this person needed.” That doesn’t mean my love sucks. It just means it wasn’t the right one for this person. There’s a lid for every pot. She found her lid. I want her to find her lid. That’s good.
Lex Fridman There’s billions of pots out there, and we just need to match them with the proper lid.
James Sexton Yeah, not hit each other over the head with them all day long.
Lex Fridman Man, this is such a romantic few hours we’ve got to spend together. There’s even a candle burning over there.
James Sexton Is there? Oh, that’s lovely.
Lex Fridman All right, brother, thanks so much, James.
James Sexton Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Lex Fridman Thanks for listening to this conversation with James Sexton. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. Now, let me leave you with some words from Rumi. Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.