I Don’t Feel It ‘Til It Hurts Sometimes

Attention

Wives and girlfriends get upset with their husbands and boyfriends because it often seems as if the men in their lives are emotionless, insensitive, oblivious jerks.

It’s because men tend to deal in facts and logic and generally believe saying “I love you” (and meaning it) is evidence enough that they do.

And that’s because for most of human history, man’s brute strength and physical prowess was really important to a community’s survival and it put men into positions of power, where they were given unique opportunities to lead groups and organizations.

Thus, being factual and logical was believed to be “best” or “right.”

Women often deal more in emotion and intention than what men consider logic or fact.

That’s why she sometimes gets upset because he’s going out with his friends AGAIN. She’s crying and angry. And he thinks she’s being a little “crazy” or “unstable.” But he relents, cancels plans with the boys, and spends the entire night really being present with her.

Maybe he makes her dinner. They have a couple drinks and laugh about some funny thing going on in their lives. They watch a show or two together. Hold one another close. Spend an hour or two in bed making a beautiful mess of things.

And then the next night? She ENCOURAGES him to go out with his friends. Because yesterday she was having a bout of insecurity. And today, she’s not. And she genuinely wants him to be happy.

So she encourages him to go even though it’s the exact opposite of what she said before.

And it makes ZERO SENSE to her husband or boyfriend. He secretly thinks she’s a little bit insane. Depending on the type of guy he is, he might tell his buddies about how uneven she can seem from one moment to the next. Other guys will nod, because they’ve been there, too.

“Bitches be crazy,” one will say.

The men think they’re “correct.” They think the way they are and behave is the “better” way to be and behave. They’re often waiting for the women in their lives to recognize the “obvious” truth that it’s better to be emotionally steady and stable and factual and logical.

They figure: “She’s totally smart! Sooner or later, she’ll outgrow this and think like me!” As if it’s some massive flaw in the female genetic code.

That’s in large part because it took until 2010 before there were more females in the workforce than males, and more females earning university graduate degrees than males.

Most men haven’t figured out there even are fundamental chemical gender differences between males and females, let alone that one is neither more “right” nor “better” than the other.

I don’t like this phrase, but: They simply are what they are.

These are broad generalizations. Not ALL men fit into all male stereotypes, just like ALL women don’t fit into all female stereotypes. We’re all our own, individual, customized blend of this and that.

But the above scenario probably seems familiar to most people, even the ones thinking: That’s not how I am at all. We’ve all at least seen it before.

I like to think I’m more evolved than the average male, but it’s probably a lie I tell myself that my ex-wife and any future partner I may have would tell you is a massive pile of bullshit.

I cook and read and like to talk, and think a lot about male-female relationships, but the latter is only true because divorce was really horrible and I want to get smart enough to never do it again AND maybe in the process help someone not go through what I did.

Men have emotions, too. Most of us suppress them because for many years society taught us that it was “girly” to show vulnerability, and being “girly” is BAD, because men are better than women.  (I believe many men, and SADLY, a lot of women still believe this. But it’s improving all the time.)

Burying the Lede

That’s the phrase newspaper folk use to describe when the ACTUAL news or point of your story isn’t the thing you lead with in the first sentence of your news story (otherwise known as the lede).

And that’s what I’ve done here because I felt like it, even though it’s bad writing and storytelling. This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of that.

“I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes,” is a line from my current favorite song and I hear it a lot because when I fall in love with music I tend to play it over and over again.

The lyric makes me think about my tendency to live complacently until some unpleasant threat or consequence forces me to make changes.

I don’t know how many men this applies to, but in my experience, what happens to me is usually something that happens to millions of other people too because all humans are human and we all feel the same stuff.

Your Husband or Boyfriend Isn’t Changing Because It Doesn’t Hurt

For years, my wife would tell me about things I was doing that upset her and hurt her feelings. Over and over again, these “little, insignificant” conflicts would arise where she would be sad or angry with me because of something I did or said.

And because in my “logical” brain, it didn’t make sense, I “knew” she was wrong. And since she was wrong, I didn’t have to change!

About a month after the worst thing that ever happened to her, happened, she looked at me across the dinner table after I offered a “What’s wrong?” and told me she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married.

That got my attention.

I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

My first reaction was not to run out and figure out how to be a good husband. It was to pout and whine and act like I was getting screwed over even though that’s exactly how she felt for a really long time.

But after a while, I did want to figure it out.

After a while, I started putting in work. Because even though my behavior might have suggested otherwise, my brain and heart absolutely ALWAYS believed that my marriage and family were the most-important things in my life.

I’ve written a series of posts titled An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are 11 of them now. They get read quite a bit these days. It’s now how the vast majority of people find this blog. Sad and angry wives write to me: “How can I get my husband to understand all this!?!?”

And I don’t know what to say.

I don’t have the first clue what it feels like mentally and emotionally inside another person.

I only know what happened to me.

My wife was honest. She said: I don’t love you and I don’t know whether I want to be married to you anymore.

And it hurt.

A lot. Then a year and a half later we got divorced.

And now I write things about being a better husband. A better boyfriend. A better partner.

I write things about being a better man.

I don’t know how to reach him. The man who just doesn’t get it. Because that guy was me.

I’m afraid the truth is this: Most of us have to learn the hard way.

We don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

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Yes, I Believe in Miracles

This famous young man is 8 now. He's trying to save his dad. (Image by Laney Griner)

This famous young man is 8 now. He’s trying to save his dad. (Image by Laney Griner)

You can show me beheading videos and tell me the world is going to hell.

You can tell me about sex scandals and Wall Street greed and random acts of senseless violence, and throw up your hands.

I know. There’s a lot of bad out there.

But, just for a moment, please look at this other thing.

Because it’s a miracle.

In 2015, we can save people’s lives. You and me. With a keyboard.

Famous internet meme “Success Kid” was just 11 months old when his mother snapped that perfect photo of him—an image now associated with wins of all shapes, sizes and colors.

I like this one.

I like this one.

Success Kid is actually Sammy Griner. He’s 8 now.

And his dad is probably going to die from failing kidneys unless he finds a compatible kidney donor and the Jacksonville, Fla.-based family can raise enough money to pay for the expensive treatment after the surgery.

At first, Sammy’s mother Laney didn’t want to use her son as a means of raising money for Justin Griner’s cause. She wanted the focus to be on Justin. But then she considered the power of the internet, and the reach that one random photo of her son had already achieved.

Maybe it could help, she thought.

First, The Daily Dot picked up the story. Then BuzzFeed, where I saw it. The Griners launched a GoFundMe campaign with a $75,000 goal. (The drugs needed to make a body and a strange kidney work together are very expensive.)

When I first read about it 24 hours ago, the family had raised close to $20,000 of their $75,000 goal.

By the time I went to bed last night, they had nearly $70,000. Now, they have more than $83,000. And the number is climbing.

Every minute or two, someone new is offering $5 or $10 or $20 or $100.

Another stranger who wants that 8-year-old boy to keep his father for as long as possible.

It’s because people—no matter how many bad things we do and how selfish we behave—are inherently good.

The Eve of Destruction

I hear a lot of people complaining about modern times.

It’s because we used to know all of our neighbors and hang out together on front porches. There was a greater sense of community.

It’s because when you saw groups of friends out in public together they were always talking and laughing and playing, and now we see people with their eyes glued to their phones Snapchatting or tweeting or updating Facebook.

It’s because we get annoyed with all the vanity and the internet bullying and the way web stories about Kim Kardashian get infinitely more people reading them than the top story in The New York Times.

I sometimes long for the good ol’ days, too. It’s nostalgia and we all have bouts with it and wish we could go back in time in Uncle Rico’s time machine.

It’s why so many of us go through mid-life crises. Our minds want desperately to experience the good we remember from our past, or to have the chance to right some wrongs, or to take advantage of missed opportunities.

But there’s no such thing as time travel. There’s only right now.

There’s too much sex and violence on TV!

Music ain’t what it used to be!

All the kids are doing drugs and having sex!

EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE, and it’s because of progress and technology! Because everyone wants everything bigger, better, faster and stronger even though everything was already fine just as it was!

I’d like to offer an alternative theory.

As With Every Single Thing in Life, Change Brings Some Bad—But a Lot of Good, Too

In almost every instance in life, when we make a decision or major change, we are sacrificing some good thing in exchange for some other, newer good thing that hopefully we feel was worth it in the end.

When we make a change, something usually gets worse.

Everything is a trade-off.

Everyone has these phones now. So we’re distracted. We’re not present with our friends and family sometimes because we’re addicted to responding to texts and answering email and liking something in our newsfeeds.

And, sure. That made life a little worse.

But in return, we got the ability to capture photos and video of moments with those same friends and family. Of dirty cops shooting unarmed civilians and bringing them to justice. Of allowing people all over the globe to communicate—and even see one another!—in real time.

Justin and Sammy Griner. (Image by Laney Griner)

Justin and Sammy Griner. (Image by Laney Griner)

Maybe you’re not a sucker for a good father-son story like me.

It’s probably because I’m emotionally hardwired to be moved by them since I didn’t see my father very much growing up, and since I’m now living out a new father-son story with my little boy, not all that much younger than Sammy Griner.

Yesterday, I witnessed one of the world’s greatest examples of just how good and beautiful life really is.

We can lament the death of old-school journalism. Of community. Of romantic notions of yesteryear.

But in 2015, we can raise $80,000 in a day to save a man’s life because we fell in love with a photo of his son.

And just maybe, that dad gets many more years because of it.

Just maybe, a wife and mother is rewarded for the love she chooses each day.

Just maybe, Success Kid gets more time with his father.

Don’t tell me the world has gone to hell.

Don’t tell me life isn’t beautiful.

Don’t tell me that’s impossible.

Don’t tell me it’s pointless to feel hope.

Don’t tell me there are no such things as miracles.

Because I just saw one.

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When Life Erodes Faith

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

Maybe it’s different when all you know is hopelessness.

When warlords kidnap your children and force them to murder.

When mosquito bites or severe weather or missile attacks annihilate your village.

When all you ever know is poverty and illness and violence and death.

Maybe then, life is so bleak that you never really care whether you live or die. Maybe death and an eternity of nothingness sounds like sweet relief when nothing good ever happens anyway.

That’s not how it was for me.

Even though my earliest memories are living in a trailer park.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 and I didn’t get to see my dad very much because he lived 500 miles away.

Even though we never had a lot of money to do a lot of things other kids I knew were doing growing up.

Everything was great. I didn’t just feel loved. I felt special. I think it’s because my mom and grandparents were trying to compensate for my parents’ divorce by telling me how great I was all the time. Over and over again, my family would recount the story to me and anyone who would listen about how I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

The doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it on the day of my birth in 1979. The nurses took to calling me “the Miracle Baby.”

The unlikely human.

That’s me, I guess. I can’t remember much before about age 4, so I’ve never been particularly moved by the story.

I was showered with love and affection from my mother’s rather large extended family. There was no shortage of attention.

“Do you know how special you are, Matt?” my grandmother liked to ask me.

When you’re a child, you believe everything you hear, especially from parents and other trusted adults.

They told me things. My parents and other adults. And they could never lie or be wrong because when you’re little, it seems like they’re never wrong.

We believe fantastic stories.

Santa Claus. Delivering presents to every little boy and girl in the world in one night. Magic.

The Easter Bunny. I never imagined an actual bunny. More like a guy in a large bunny outfit. And that somehow didn’t give me nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy. I pictured someone small and Tinkerbell-like. But she had full-size money.

Mythical beings. I believed all of them to exist at varying points in my life.

When you accept these things on faith, and you grow up going to Sunday school classes followed by 12 years of Catholic school, it’s really not that hard to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah survived inside a whale for three days, or that the entire world was once flooded and everyone died except for Noah and his family who survived on a really large hand-built boat with a bunch of animals they rescued.

When you’re a kid, you just think: Sure! Noah and his incestuous family repopulated the Earth! Makes sense to me!

I used to get uncomfortable when I’d hear people ask questions that challenged any of my beliefs. You’re supposed to just BELIEVE! Like me! Trust me! I’m right! My parents told me and they’re never wrong!

Then my uncle died in a hit-and-run car accident and his murderer was never found.

Then I was a student leader on a Christian retreat in high school when total chaos erupted because my friend was accused of raping my other friend in one of the dorm rooms. So, either I’m friends with a rapist, or I’m friends with someone who lies about being raped.

Then my mom left my stepdad after 20 years.

Then we lost my father-in-law and my wife was never the same.

Then she stopped being my wife because I apparently wasn’t THAT special, grandma.

Then I sort of stopped caring whether I died because—honestly? Fuck this.

It’s totally unsettling when all the stories you ever believed about life and yourself turn out to be wrong.

Not lies.

Not fake.

But, wrong.

You find out secrets about people you know and then you can never think of them the same and you wish you didn’t know the secrets.

Your friends get divorced and everything feels a little bit tainted and broken after that.

People die. And you use to think: I’m sad that you’re gone, but I hope you have an amazing time in heaven and that I get to see you someday.

But now, you just think: I hope they’re there, but what if they’re not?

What if this is all there is?, and you scare yourself because now you know that you don’t know. Now, people talk about heaven, and in the back of your mind, you secretly think: I want you to be right, but I don’t want you to know how unsure I feel about that.

The loss of innocence that happens, usually incrementally, between childhood and adulthood is a quandary. Better to have everyone go through the shock-and-awe process? Or maybe, should we be doing a better job of preparing children for some of life’s harsh realities?

Protect and preserve their innocence for as long as possible? Let kids be kids? Or try to make it so the adult transition is less of a brutal mind job?

You have to be an adult before you learn there are no easy answers.

The sun shone through the gorgeous stained-glass window. St. Matthew’s name is at the bottom. There’s a purple flower I can’t identify just above the Star of David.

The priest was speaking from the pulpit. About faith.

Per the Gospel reading, Christ had resurrected from the dead. But Thomas was doubting the story his friends and fellow Christ followers were telling him because people just don’t come back from the dead. Doubting Thomas needed to see for himself.

Per the story, Jesus shows up. Lets Thomas touch him. See his wounds. Hear him speak. And, of course, Thomas believes now. Physical evidence of the greatest miracle ever told.

I use to feel sorry for Thomas because he couldn’t have faith like me. But now, I just totally get him. A sobering and depressing realization.

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and all within earshot.

But now I’m sitting in the pew, no longer knowing what I use to know.

I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I’m saying: I don’t know. And I need it to be okay with everyone that I don’t know because that’s what’s true, and truth shouldn’t need defended.

The priest talked about how when people don’t eat intelligently and don’t take care of their physical bodies, they tend to get sick and die.

When you do eat smartly and build your body up, you tend to feel youthful and vibrant and prolong your life.

Then he transitioned to matters of faith.

“This is why we PRACTICE our faith,” he said. We always get better at things when we practice them.

The only way to have a strong, youthful, vibrant, unwavering faith? To practice it, he said. When you neglect your spiritual health, your faith erodes, he said.

Withers away into nothingness like our dead bodies in the ground.

I was reading a space encyclopedia for kids with my son. A pretty thorough explanation of our solar system and what we currently know about the universe.

As best as science can tell us, everything we know to be physical matter—that is STUFF, like planets and stars and comets; all physical objects—makes up about 5 percent of the known universe. That’s it. Five percent.

“26.8% of matter is ‘dark’, we know it’s there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating ‘stuff’ that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles,” wrote Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center, in Scientific American.

We don’t really know anything about those particles, either.

The largest percentage of stuff in the universe is called “dark energy.”

“Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn’t used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe,” Scharf wrote.

It’s possible that life is meaningless and that how we spend our time and how we treat others doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t feel that way. No matter how right or wrong my parents were, it very much feels to me like our choices matter.

I look around and see an astounding amount of beauty. Spring has sprung where I live. Color and life returning as it does each year. Rebirth.

A cycle that feels entirely too intricate to me to have just happened by chance.

I really look.

I don’t see random chaos.

I see order.

I see creativity.

I see design.

Scharf said it all.

What EXACTLY is it? We don’t know. We have lots of ideas, though. Which is great. It’s always good to have ideas about the universe. About all that stuff we can’t explain.

Hello, God. It’s me, Matt.

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Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

(Image courtesy of chadhyams.wordpress.com)

(Image courtesy of chadhyams.wordpress.com)

A convicted child rapist’s face was being shown on TV.

He was 19, and convicted of molesting a 3-year-old girl (which is heinous and disgusting in every imaginable way).

The Orange County, California judge hearing the case reduced the convicted rapist’s sentence to 10 years, even though law mandates a minimum 25-year sentence for child rape convictions.

I was sitting in the living room with my mom who was visiting. She joined the chorus of people absolutely infuriated by this judge’s actions.

“Doesn’t this upset you?” she asked. “What if that was your son?”

“Assuming it’s true, it’s troubling. Yeah. I don’t know enough to make a determination one way or the other.”

“He was convicted of rape, Matt,” she said.

“Sometimes an 18-year-old has consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend and gets convicted of rape.”

“This is a child, Matt.”

“All I’m saying is I don’t always believe everything I see on TV. In my experience, there are always two sides to every story,” I said.

“This judge was way out of line,” she said.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “But for the sake of argument, can you conceive of a situation in which an adult could be accused of molesting a child without actually molesting a child?”

My mother often works as a substitute school teacher.

“Yes, actually. I can.”

I didn’t know as much about that particular case as I do now. I think that kid did sodomize a 3-year-old family member, and it’s immeasurably horrible and disgusting. And I don’t think judges should be able to arbitrarily create new legal sentences out of thin air.

But when I first heard it, I didn’t jump to conclusions. I’m glad I didn’t. People always jump to conclusions and roughly half of them are wrong.

That’s a life skill I’ve only learned in my thirties. I used to be like many others and rush to judgment and be wrong half the time.

Everything Feels Wrong Sometimes

I was going off.

Really getting on a roll.

Mom was the only person there to listen. I was probably annoying her the way she sometimes annoys me.

Our education system is in crisis. (You should click and read that. She’s so right.)

Our health care system is thievery.

Our entire way of life was pissing me off, and I felt the need to unload on mom about it.

We’re born and then we get herded into the school system where we are taught what they want to teach us (Don’t learn what YOU want and are interested in! WE know better!) so that we can “get a good job someday.”

Why do we need a job?

It’s because we have to pay for a place to sleep, and food to eat, and transportation to and from our jobs, of course!

I get the sense sometimes that they—“they” being people super high up the decision-making food chain in magical Fuck-Everybody-Land—just want people to go get jobs and follow their rules, so we keep buying things.

They want us to buy all their stuff. And then more stuff, and more stuff, and more stuff.

We can’t be happy without all this stuff!!!

That’s why we need our jobs! For the stuff!

That’s why you have to play by the rules! So you can be happy and buy stuff!

I don’t like how we all got brainwashed into believing we HAD to do it this way. But with almost everyone buying in, it’s so hard to escape the machine.

You can’t quit your job! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t pull your kid out of school! That’s THE WAY.

You can’t spend your time doing what you want to do! Follow the rules! Spend your whole life working for someone! That’s THE WAY.

I’m in a phase, I guess.

My mom is a very religious woman. She probably didn’t like me using the word “bullshit” so much during my little rant, but I didn’t care.

“I get it, Matt. I do. But that doesn’t exist on Earth,” she said. “What you want? What your heart wants? You’re describing Heaven. And the entire point of our time here in this life is about getting there. Nothing else matters.”

It wasn’t an unwise thing for her to say. You have no idea how much I want her to be right. I hope she is.

But you know what I muttered to myself?

Well, fuck. What if there is no heaven?

It’s because I don’t always believe everything I hear on TV.

We All Want to be the Catcher in the Rye

I just finished the book last night. J.D. Salinger’s classic ended up in a place I hadn’t seen coming.

I had no idea how the book got its name, but it all made sense in the end.

Holden Caulfield is a troubled 16-year-old feeling disenchanted about growing up in a world where it often feels like EVERYONE is chasing things that don’t matter.

He’s nostalgic for the age of innocence and he wants to be the guy saving all the children from running blindly through the field and falling off the cliff into adulthood when the world turns harsher, colder and uglier. Sometimes, people fall off the cliff before they’re adults because older, messed-up adults like the 19-year-old molester in California steal their innocence.

Holden can’t stand it.

I can’t either.

You feel it when the big kids tell you there’s no Santa Claus and you realize how foolish you must have seemed to believe such a tall tale.

You feel it when you find out your grandparents’ neighbor used to diddle up your aunts when they were little kids, telling them: “Shhhh. Now don’t you tell anyone.”

You feel it when you get older and realize all the adults are just as messed up as you. When you realize all these people you grew up loving and admiring all have dysfunctional marriages because everyone is having sex with people they’re not supposed to or drinking too much or gambling away their life savings.

You feel it when masked men cut off people’s heads.

You feel it when police officers gun down unarmed citizens who are running away from them.

You feel it when you get divorced and you’re just like: Damn. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It was so good when we were little and we just played.

We didn’t know what was really going on and some people think ignorance is bad, but maybe it’s better. Because if we’re not pursuing happiness, what are we pursuing?

You get so tired sometimes because there isn’t just one problem to tackle. There are unlimited problems.

And sometimes we’re not very good multitaskers.

We have more people writing hate onto walls than we have people to clean it off. It’s because we all get so tired and there’s never enough time.

“If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.” – Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit crazy.

Maybe it’s because of genetics.

Maybe it’s because God really is there feeding me the strength and grace and hope I chase constantly.

I don’t know. But I hope. I always hope.

Sometimes we’re knocked down. Other times, we fall.

But we have grit. And we get back up.

I don’t stay down long. You can’t kill me.

There is always a silver lining. Always another way to look at everything.

In my experience, there are always two sides to every story.

Always new ways to reframe things. Always new, better questions to ask.

For one, short moment, Holden was able to feel peace.

He felt happy.

He looked around and saw more than phoniness.

His little sister rode the carousel in the park.

Round and round and round.

And that was it. Nothing else happened.

There was nothing bad.

Nothing that might stand out to us as particularly good.

It was a moment of just “being.”

Without judgment.

A moment full of innocence and nostalgia.

He was so happy.

He probably wanted that carousel to keep spinning and spinning and spinning forever because then maybe he’d always be happy.

The carousel can’t keep spinning forever, though.

We have to wake up tomorrow and pay another surprise bill or fix something that was working fine yesterday or deal with some new family crisis.

Because things always change and life always happens and we have no control except how we choose to respond to it.

It feels good to be angry about it sometimes. To point out all the phonies and their bullshit.

But maybe a better use of our time is looking forward to that next carousel ride.

That next moment of happiness.

And hold onto it for as long as we can.

And be grateful it happened.

And then look forward to next time.

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“Why the hell not?”

Holden Caulfield doesn't get everything wrong.(Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

Holden Caulfield doesn’t get everything wrong. (Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time.

Holden Caulfield is the protagonist, and while we don’t share a ton of similarities (largely because I’m 20 years his senior, and grew up in a small Ohio town), we share two ideas I think are really important.

1. We can be intelligent and well-educated even if it’s accomplished in unconventional ways and mired in self-doubt. 

Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. John D. Rockefeller. Walt Disney. Bill Gates. Richard Branson. Charles Dickens.

Icons, all.

School dropouts, all.

All that means is, while I very much respect people with advanced degrees in higher education, and people who use traditional channels to educate themselves and advance their careers, the thing that really kills me is when people don’t play by the rules.

When people don’t ask for permission to do something with their lives they really want to do.

They say: Sorry. This isn’t for me. I’m not like everybody else. I’m going to go do this other thing. My way.

And they don’t just succeed. They soar.

I may never be anything like those people. After all, I am 36 and work in a cubicle.

But I sure do admire them.

2. It DOES NOT have to be this way.

Your love life. Your financial life and career. Your spiritual life. Your physical appearance. Your mental and emotional health. Your geographic location. Whatever.

Holden calls up his old friend Sally and gets her to agree to a date. And she shows up looking good. Really good. He’s a madman. He really is. And he just comes out and asks her to run off with him. He’s got some money.

Let’s go start a new life, he says.

And she says it sounds fun and all, but people can’t just do that.

You can’t just break the rules and go live whatever life you want.

Holden thinks that’s bullshit. And it’s exactly when I decided to love him.

“Why the hell not!?!?” he asks.

I’m not advocating irresponsibility. Two 16-year-olds shouldn’t run off together and live in some New England cabin with no means of taking care of themselves.

But that’s just old-guy, parent Matt talking.

I agree with Holden’s inclination to ask WHY NOT!?

People don’t think about this enough. People never think enough. I never think enough.

We never ask ourselves the right questions.

What are the right questions?

They are the ones that challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative. A better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

You do NOT have to stay in your soul-crushing job.

You do NOT have to go to that family event you’re stressed about because your mother will be disappointed if you don’t.

You do NOT have to say “yes.” Say NO. Say “no” a lot.

You do NOT have to go back to college to get a better job.

You do NOT have to have a “job.” You can make your own.

Because you CAN do whatever you want.

Sometimes I think about how fast time goes.

Holy shit, my son is almost 7.

Holy shit, she’s been gone two years.

Holy shit, I’ve been sitting at this desk for four years.

Holy shit, I’m 36.

The worst thing that’s ever happened to me already happened. I can’t figure out what I’m so afraid of, because you CAN’T KILL ME. And the day I’m finally wrong about that? I’m not going to be around to eat any crow.

And I don’t know when that day is going to come. But it might be tomorrow. Maybe even today.

We waste so much time doing things we don’t want to do because we lie to ourselves and believe them. We MUST do this! We have to!

No, we don’t.

You don’t really have to do anything.

Write down the 10 things that matter most. The 10 things you want most. Consider everyone you love.

And then maybe spend the rest of your life only pursuing those things.

The things that matter.

Don’t tell me you can’t be happy unless you follow the rules.

Don’t tell me people can’t just do that.

Because I’m with Holden.

Why the hell not?

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Advice for Women “In That Place”

Read this book. I don't care if you're happy in your marriage or in your relationship. Read it anyway. Please. It could change everything.

Read this book. I don’t care if you’re happy in your marriage or in your relationship. Read it anyway. Please. It could change everything.

Tracy asks:

Do you have advice for women who are in “that place”? You know… The place where you still love your husband, but feel so unhappy in the marriage? I feel that I don’t know what to do… My husband keeps telling me that if he is so bad, why don’t I find someone else? I am seriously considering it these days even though I don’t want to. I need to find a way to get him to see that he’s pushing me and our son (and soon-to-be-born baby) out the door. How do I know if he cares anymore? Thanks in advance for your help.

Disclaimer:

I know I come off like I think I know everything sometimes. I’m not proud of that. I’m not in the advice-giving business. What I try to do is speak (or write) confidently about things I feel strongly about. Maybe a small percentage of people will care.

I don’t want to give Tracy “advice.” If you do every single thing I do in life, you’ll be single, 36, a little bit lonely, spend some holiday weekends alone, have less money than you’d prefer, sit in a cubicle for 40 hours a week, and other shit that really isn’t that great.

I don’t think people should be like me.

I don’t try to tell other people what to do. I just project all of the thoughts and feelings I have inside me and I spew them out here. And sometimes they resonate with people.

I think I know why.

I think it’s because I’m really average. Really typical. Average intelligence. Average income. Average life experiences. Average looking. Et cetera.

Where I’m not average is sometimes I write it all down. Not a lot of people do that.

And because I share so many human-experience silos with so many people, a lot of people can relate to many of the things I write about.

Maybe that helps someone. Some people say it does.

This isn’t advice.

This is what’s inside me.

In the end, everyone has to decide for themselves. Whether to leap.

I think people should trust their hearts. Their guts.

If it says leap…

Leap.

Getting Through to Him

“I need to find a way to get him to see that he’s pushing me and our son (and soon-to-be-born baby) out the door. How do I know if he cares anymore? Thanks in advance for your help.”

You have to understand something. This is really important. All these women write me all the time. Sometimes privately, sometimes publicly. Many think I’m sooo great and they wish their husbands would be like me.

I hate to break it to you ladies, but your husband is like me. I’m like them. We’re not so different. Any of us.

I wish I could tell you how it happened. I wish I could tell you why.

The story of how my wife and I died.

If you sat us both down, you’d get a variety of stories. The lowlights of our marriage that we recall that ultimately led to its demise. A series of unfortunate events. She probably wouldn’t remember or think much of mine. She probably didn’t think they were a big deal. I probably wouldn’t remember hers. I certainly didn’t think they were a big deal at the time.

That’s been the greatest lesson of marriage and human relationships for me: Our ability to destroy people on the inside without even realizing we’re doing it.

Unwitting life destroyers.

We are capable of terrible things.

Tracy, He Doesn’t Know

I’m guessing here, Tracy, but it’s an educated one.

One based on my very specific life experience. You’re unhappy in your marriage. But you still love this man, and assuming this has been going on for a while now, intentionally chose to have another child with him.

I think this is the way most broken marriages go.

There’s love there. The basic tenants of human decency (meaning: no infidelity, no domestic violence, no addiction issues, no child abuse, etc.) are present.

I need you to hear this, and believe it with your whole heart and soul: HE DOESN’T KNOW.

I know you’ve told him. You’ve cried. You’re so exhausted. You’ve told him over and over and over again.

It doesn’t matter, Tracy. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand.

What doesn’t he know?

He doesn’t know how scared and alone you feel on the inside. He’s there. Taking care of you and the kids. Going to work every day. Not cheating. Not hitting you. Loving you. Loving you, Tracy.

He has never felt like you do before.

When you tell a husband and father who is doing all of those good things and NOT doing all of those bad things that you’re sad, scared, tired and miserable, he hears this (this is so important, Tracy):

“You are a bad husband. You are a bad father. You are not good enough. You do not make me feel good. I fantasize about a better life. I fantasize about a better man.”

He feels like he’s sacrificed so much for you, Tracy. I don’t know how to measure that. I don’t know how much. But by committing his life to you and sacrificing his time to provide resources and security and shelter for you, and by NOT doing all the bad things commonly attached to ruining marriages, he feels like he’s giving a good-faith effort at this marriage thing—this commitment he was scared to enter into—but took the leap because he was too afraid to lose you.

Tracy, you feel it now. Fear of abandonment. Of being alone and emotionally isolated. And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying on the inside and you can’t feel safe in your own life. You can’t feel safe in his arms because he is mostly responsible in your mind for causing these feelings.

He feels it too, Tracy. That same horrible pain and fear. But in most men, it manifests itself not as fear of being alone, but as shame.

Men feel shame.

It’s a chemical thing. Caveman shit we can’t do anything about. Same for you and the things you feel.

I don’t want to speak for you, Tracy, because I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.

But men? We have a VERY hard time with the following truth:

When something happens. Anything. Our perception of that reality is NOT the same as how the women in our lives perceive it. We literally live in different worlds.

It’s why when you fight, you always disagree about some relatively inconsequential fact that one of you chose to throw in the other’s face in the heat of battle. And then instead of fighting about whatever you’re fighting about, you spend time arguing over this new piece of information that really doesn’t matter.

It’s a constant loop of insanity and it makes both of you so angry. You both want to cry, but the guy will try harder to not cry because crying makes us feel shame.

Here’s what I mean. All these things have happened to you and hurt you in deep and profound ways, Tracy. Your husband’s actions or lack thereof made you feel this way.

When you tell him about it, it comes off to him like you’re picking on him. Like you’re nagging. Like you’re telling him again he’s not good enough.

Because he would NEVER, EVER get upset about the thing you just got upset about, he thinks you’re crazy. Tracy, he thinks you’re totally nuts.

He doesn’t mean to insult you. Every day he just hopes you eventually outgrow what he thinks is emotional instability. Because he doesn’t yet know what I know.

That you’re not wrong or crazy.

That he’s not wrong or crazy.

But that in the context of unconditional love in marriage, you’re both doing it wrong.

He crushes your soul every time he doesn’t validate your fears.

You crush his when you tell him he’s being a bad husband.

You’ll either live like this forever, secretly resenting each other, but sticking it out for the children.

Or you’ll get divorced like me.

Behind Door #3

Or you can take the road less travelled.

Tracy, I know you want to. You’re searching for answers online. Hoping and praying and crying and trying.

This is where women almost ALWAYS outperform men in marriage. The fight for the marriage.

It’s hard for men to do heroic things when they feel ashamed. When they feel disrespected and unloved.

It’s pride, Tracy. More caveman shit.

Ugly truth time?

It took several months of sleeping in separate rooms and never having sex and living in daily fear of her leaving before I started to ask myself better questions.

Before I started actively seeking answers and figuring out how I contributed to breaking everything.

Humans always want to look outside themselves for solutions to the problem. Cognitive dissonance. Our brains will do anything to avoid the conclusion: This is my fault.

My wife—whether it was her being a poor communicator, or me being a prideful, shitty listener—was never able to get through to me.

She would keep telling me things. But the message never got delivered.

Things That Might Help

In my opinion, the most-important thing you can do is read this book. If you can get your husband to read that book, I think it can save both your lives. I couldn’t be more serious.

I think it’s the most-powerful thing I have ever read about male-female relationships, and I couldn’t recommend something more.

I don’t know where you fall on the faith spectrum, Tracy. I would never try to impose faith or prayer on someone as a cure-all. People need to find their own path. But there is something called The Love Dare. If you have the courage and mettle, it’s a worthy adventure. There’s a Love Dare app you can download on your phone, if you want.

And that leads me to the final thing.

You’ve been neglected, Tracy. Maybe even mentally and emotionally abused.

So, it’s unfair for me to ask you this.

But maybe you muster up the strength to do it anyway: Love him harder than you ever have before. Lift him up.

Tell him every day how much you love him. How much you respect him. How thankful you are for all he does for you and your family. How good he makes you feel when he makes you feel good. How PROUD of him you are. How much you believe in him. That you know he’s going to accomplish whatever he pours his heart into.

Tell him how much you appreciate that he has dedicated his life to you and the kids.

All the things you want him to do for you. You show him how without asking for anything in return.

I know you don’t feel like doing that, Tracy.

It’s pride. Cavewoman shit.

And it’s going to tell you that you’re not going to give any more than you’ve already given. Because he doesn’t deserve it.

But you deserve it, Tracy. Your children deserve it. Your friends deserve it. Your family deserves it.

You deserve the peace that comes from knowing you gave all you have to give.

Broken marriages are not fights to be fought with anger and resentment.

They’re fights meant to be fought with love.

Not the kind of love we see in romantic comedies or read about in sappy Nicholas Sparks novels. That’s all poisonous fantasy.

But the gritty love. The love you feel in your heart for your child even when they’re driving you mad.

It’s the love you choose when you wake up in the morning.

When the feeling goes away, it’s all we have left.

The choice.

And Tracy, if you can find the courage to make that choice even when you don’t feel like it?

I think your husband—a good man, I want to believe—I think he’ll muster up the strength and humility to choose it too.

Two people. Giving more to each other than they take for themselves.

Waking up every day, and saying: I choose you.

Tracy, that’s what forever looks like.

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When Bad Isn’t Wrong

01-16-13-right-and-wrong

I probably won’t ever murder anyone.

I feel really confident saying that. It’s not in my heart to hurt people, animals, or even things. In fact, I get enormous satisfaction out of helping people and making them feel good—so much so that I sometimes feel selfish about the immensely gratifying feelings I feel when performing selfless acts.

I say “probably won’t ever murder,” because maybe I’ll suffer really bad head trauma one day and lose all my memory and identity and reemerge as a murderous shithole. If that ever happens, I hope someone will remember me like I am now.

Assuming I keep my sense of self for the remainder of my life, all living things that aren’t big-ass spiders in my house should feel totally safe with me.

But, What If?

What if…

I caught someone trying to seriously harm my son?

And I had my finger on the Live or Die button?

Dead.

What if…

I had to determine the fate of masked men intent on beheading a bunch of innocent people they abducted?

Dead.

What if…

Someone was trying to hurt school children?

Commit violent rape?

Invade some family’s home?

Set off a bomb?

Shoot up a public place?

Dead.

All of them.

I have immense faith in my sense of right and wrong. That my justice scale is calibrated in a way that promotes good and condemns evil.

I believe in a God that commands: Thou shall not kill.

And still—STILL—I have enormous faith that I have the moral green light to stop those evils from happening with deadly force, if necessary.

Killing is bad. Horrible.

But it’s not always wrong.

‘…my fault my father raped me…’

“Hey Matt! Why are you writing about this shit on Easter!?”

Because a woman named Deborah wrote this to me a couple hours ago and made my heart hurt in a profound way:

“Matt, please keep writing. I just happened to come across your blog when I Googled why my husband treats me like shit. Finding your blog was a miracle and yesterday after my husband called me everything but a child of God and told me that he was not giving up porn and wanted to be roommates, I found your letters. I do not know what I am going to do or what my future looks like but the way he has treated me for the last 8 years has made me want to go sign in at the mental clinic. I am to be a schoolteacher, so that cannot happen. I went back to school because I relocated to be with him and found that I had to change careers. I have no friends at all since being here because I cannot leave the house and he chooses to not to have me with him. I am not fat or ugly. I try to talk to him but he is totally indifferent. Trying to explain how I feel, according to him, is fussing and he wants out because I try to express to him in a calm way everything you have said in your blogs but it always results in him calling me a bitch and that it is my fault my father raped me when I was a child and that I enjoyed it. He gets in my face and screams and has headbutted me, poured water over my head in public and says when we are out in grocery store / public that he wants to f every woman he sees. He would also rather masturbate to tranny porn than be with me. :(…..I do think it is time for me to leave. Thank you for showing me that there are some men out there who are kind and considerate.”

In an emotional move that proves my heart is devoid of the requisite amount of Jesus, I wished insta-death on that man as soon as I read Deborah’s note. I encouraged her to leave him in my reply, and as far as I can remember, it is the first time I have ever encouraged someone to end a marriage.

Because, fuck that guy.

Fuck. That. Guy.

If I hear you tell your wife it’s her fault her father raped her and that she’s a stupid bitch who enjoyed it and then you headbutt her, I will have zero qualms about bashing your skull with the nearest swingable object.

It’s BAD to swing dangerous objects at people’s skulls. Really bad. I don’t want to do it.

But in this case? I don’t think it’s wrong.

I hope anyone reading who prays will pray for Deborah. That she has the courage and resolve to safely remove herself from that prison.

I’ve written so much about fighting for marriage. About doing the hard thing. About sacrificing wants and needs for the greater good when the situation calls for it.

And I believe all of that.

Two years ago when my wife left and all I wanted was for our relationship to heal, I might have never typed something like that.

I guess I don’t know.

God knows I don’t want families to break, nor marriages to fall apart. But today, more than ever, I believe we should identify that line. That place where boundaries were so violated that, while we can forgive someday, we’re not going to forget.

Where we realize: It’s time to leave.

We should always try to do good. To be on the side of righteousness. And I guess today, it dawned on me in a very specific way that doing something “bad” can be righteous. It doesn’t make it good. It just makes it necessary.

The key is knowing the difference.

On a Lighter Note

In a move that showcases my breadth of “talent,” I created a short comic strip about Easter one year ago.

I read it again, and it made me laugh, so maybe some of you will like it too.

You can see that masterpiece here.

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Two Years Later

two-candle-birthday-cake-e1349305921801

I always thought anniversaries were a little dumb.

I don’t mean celebrating wedding anniversaries or birthdays. And I don’t mean observing holidays or commemorating events of historical significance. Those are good things. All good things have merit.

But sometimes when bad things happen, we hold onto those dates and relive those feelings we felt however many years ago.

It seems so arbitrary to me. For yesterday to be typical, and tomorrow to be uneventful, but today to be a big deal.

Is today a big deal?

I don’t think so.

But not being a big deal doesn’t prevent the events of two years ago from affecting today.

I told one person about it.

She said: “I can appreciate the general unpleasant feelings that come when you wake up on the anniversary date of something bad that has happened. It kind of hangs over your day.”

I can’t say it better than that.

A subtle pall, obscuring focus and clarity.

A splinter in your mind.

730 Days

Two years.

Twenty-four months.

A hundred and four weeks.

Exactly 730 days.

That’s how long it’s been since the most-important thing that ever happened to me happened.

I’d like to tell you being born was a big deal. But I don’t feel anything when I think about it.

And I’d really like to tell you the birth of my son was more important, and if you want to have a semantics argument, I suppose we can. That was huge.

But I’d be lying if I said April 1, 2013 wasn’t more profound. That little boy was a huge part of it.

Our life and marriage had grown tired and broken and shitty.

But it was normal, at least. Something you could really count on, like the ground being there when you take your next step. Even at our worst, we would still make dinner for one another, run errands for one another, share work stories with one another.

Even at our worst, our son still had mommy and daddy tucking him in every night, and hugging and kissing him each morning.

I don’t know why April 1 stands out.

She took her ring off the day before. That one totally knocks the wind out of you.

But on April 1, it was, just, different.

There was a suitcase and a little boy who didn’t understand what was happening. All the same things you’ve seen in the movies.

No screaming. No fighting.

Just sadness so suffocating, I don’t remember being able to speak.

That was the first time I can remember crying at the kitchen window watching them drive away.

It wasn’t the last time.

So, What Happened Next?

One of the things I like to do is tell you what happened to me because it seems like a lot of people have the same experiences.

And what that means is, if your marriage just ended or some other bad thing, and you kind of feel like you want to die, you can find out what it’s like two years later in order to have something to hold onto. A gauge. A measuring stick. Something. Anything. Because when you break on the inside, you feel so lost and out of control, you need something to hold onto. Even if it’s just one stranger’s story that might be kind of like yours.

What does it feel like two years later?

Most days, it feels just fine. I’m fine. And I don’t mean “I’m fine!” in that pretend way that people say they’re fine when they’re really miserable.

I’m okay. Really.

Two years later, I mostly feel peace when I’m alone.

I still feel sad sometimes, but it’s just as much feeling sorry for myself as it is suffering from the loss. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore.

The worst thing you still feel two years later is loneliness.

Maybe people with different circumstances feel less so. If you live near where you grew up, chances are you have institutional friends and family around. Those are very good things to have.

For a variety of reasons, including too much divorce, and some life choices I made geographically, I live far away from all of the people I used to know. Life-long friends and family. I don’t see them very often.

The only people I have locally are the friends I’ve made (and retained post-divorce) in the nine years I’ve lived here.

It’s one of the reasons writing here and connecting with so many of you has been such a valuable experience. As kind and thoughtful as many of my friends are locally, they all have lives, and no one sits around worrying about what the single 36-year-old is doing, nor should they be.

Staying connected is critical. It lifts you up and reminds you that you’re not alone. And by “not alone,” I don’t mean: Hey, look at all my online friends! I’m not alone!

I mean, you feel wretched and empty.

Lost and broken.

And one of the most important discoveries is when you find other people who know exactly what’s going on inside you. People walking the same walk. Feeling the same things.

The more connected you feel, the less isolated you are, and the faster you can start to breathe again.

You’re not alone.

Two years later, I still haven’t found a way to master all the organizational life skills my parents handled when I was young, and my wife handled the first dozen or so years of adult life.

My laundry system is suspect.

I throw away A LOT of food I buy at the grocery store because I don’t know how to shop for one and a half.

I forget little things my son needs for school on occasion—moments which serve as little reminders to my ex-wife how unreliable I can be.

I’m not the best house cleaner.

I’m not a particularly good planner.

I think I am probably my best self with a partner. But when you’re in your mid-thirties and you work full-time and you have your son half the time, meeting people is a massive challenge. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be this hard.

After two years of being single, I find dating to be infinitely easier, and not particularly scary.

That’s not what I mean.

But if you want someone to be the other half of you, things get really tricky.

There are children.

There is baggage.

There is fear.

When you’re single and in your mid-thirties? It generally means you’ve been through some shit.

Said shit keeps the It’s Complicated quotient rather high right up until that moment it doesn’t anymore.

I’ll let you know whether that day ever comes.

Everything’s going to be okay now.

You say it and believe it after six months. Again, after a year. But sometimes it takes this long to feel it on the inside.

After two years, you make your own rules.

After two years, you can go an entire day not even thinking about your old life even once.

After two years, you can drive by where she works every day and rarely turn your head to look for her car.

After two years, you can stop feeling ashamed.

After two years, you can know you’re good enough.

730 days.

A hundred and four weeks.

Twenty-four months.

Two years.

The anniversary does kind of hang over your day.

But it doesn’t define your day.

It doesn’t get to decide whether you smile, or how much fun you can have, or block out the spring sunshine.

It doesn’t determine who you get to think about, or how beautiful tomorrow is going to be.

Two years later, you can’t even really remember how you felt.

Because you’re someone else now.

Someone better.

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How to Be More Attractive

To-be-yourself-in-w-orld-that-is-constantly-trying-to-make-you-something-else

When you get divorced, you’re forced to say a lot of goodbyes.

One day, I had a brother- and sister-in-law. And a beautiful little niece.

And then I didn’t.

One day, I had extended family I would spend Christmases and other holidays and special events with. Many of whom I had grown to love over more than a decade of knowing them.

And then I didn’t.

One day, I had friends. The hey-how-ya-doin’? kind, and the really-dig-beneath-the-surface kind. People you could count on to show up for birthday parties and stuff.

And then I didn’t.

One of the scariest things about life after divorce is that, unless you want to be lonely and celibate for the rest of your life, you have to start dating after your marriage ends.

When I first started Must Be This Tall To Ride, the entire point, I thought, was going to be about taking a self-deprecating look at the struggles of a thirtysomething single father trying to navigate the dating landscape.

I thought I’d be writing a sitcom.

The only problem was, not very much was funny.

My wife left. I never thought that was going to happen. Despite a whole bunch of evidence to the contrary, I believed she loved me because I wanted to believe it.

And we always believe what we want to believe.

I had nothing.

I was nothing.

Everything that mattered was rooted in the success of my marriage and family. I was a total failure.

I wasn’t attractive enough.

I wasn’t smart enough.

I wasn’t tall enough.

I wasn’t strong enough.

I wasn’t funny enough.

I wasn’t successful enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

Those things HAD to be true, I thought, because my wife loved our son more than anything, and she wanted rid of me so badly that she sacrificed half of his childhood in order to do so.

And now I’m supposed to go find a girl to like me?

This tired, broken, crying, failure who doesn’t even remember what it feels like to be himself?

Who would ever want that guy?

I was so scared to talk to girls. I was broken and everyone could tell.

I put so much stock into what people thought of me, that I was making everyone else’s feelings about me more important than my own.

It didn’t matter to me what I thought of me. It only mattered what others thought.

Anyone who knows anything about human psychology knows it’s really hard to be attractive when the only things you feel about yourself are ugly.

But then you heal just a little bit more. And cry just a little bit less, and then one day, not at all.

Time strips away power from those you had previously given it to. And now you have all this power and influence in your life that you can offer to anyone you want or just keep it for yourself. You get your heart back, also to be shared with whomever you choose.

As you acquire more of this power through the natural course of time, people begin to take notice.

This person likes you. And that person wants you. And this person believes in you. And that person thinks you’re amazing.

Everyone can’t be wrong. So you must be likable and desirable and inspire confidence.

And you start looking at yourself a little bit differently. You walk just a little bit taller. Ask yourself better questions about who that really is looking back at you in the mirror.

It’s subtle at first. Like a whisper in the wind.

But you rediscover feelings for yourself long-forgotten. Love. Respect. I matter.

When you improve 1% every day, you improve 3,800% over the course of a year.

And Then You Make the Rules Again

Not many good things happen as a result of divorce. But I’m back in charge of me again, and the days of sacrificing self-identity are absolutely over.

I’m not afraid of dating or women anymore because the natural result of honesty and vulnerability and authenticity is that it organically weeds out people you aren’t compatible with.

I used to think the goal was to try to get everyone to like me.

Now I know the goal is to just be myself—unapologetic and unafraid, because if you don’t like me, then I want to learn that information as quickly as possible and move on with my life.

If you aren’t enthusiastic about our relationship, then it probably doesn’t make sense for us to have one. Life’s too short to spend it with people who wish you were someone else.

So, I’m not going to.

And I’m not going to lose any sleep over a girl rejecting me for my height or my house or my son or my bank account, nor am I going to spend a lot of time fretting over why this person or that person doesn’t like me as much as I wish they did.

It was when I started investing in my own opinion of myself over the opinions of others, that everything finally felt different.

I don’t recommend divorce because it’s shitty, but it is good training for how to manage your relationships.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve had to say goodbye to people I didn’t want to say goodbye to. Nothing ugly or sinister. Just life happening. Because life just happens.

I don’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to lose things anymore.

It still does.

I don’t mean that I care less about other people now.

I care the same about people as I always did.

But I care MORE about what I think now. MORE about what I feel now. MORE about what I need.

It’s an elegant solution to filtering out your healthy and unhealthy relationships.

We wear masks and perform because we want people to like us.

But the day of reckoning will always come. When they see behind the mask. When they catch you too weak or too tired to perform.

And then maybe the relationship falls apart and you just lost more time. And time is the one thing you can never earn more of.

It sounds corny and rah-rah, but it’s true: We’re worth it. We are. Set your boundaries and enforce them because then everything changes.

I’m worth it.

You’re worth it.

Because we’re attractive enough. Maybe not for the assholes we’re not going to end up liking anyway. But we are for them. That person over there who is going to change everything one day.

We’re smart enough.

Tall enough.

Strong enough.

Funny enough.

Successful enough.

We’re good enough. And with all due respect; the people who don’t see that?

They’re not.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

When a conjoined twin dies, their attached sibling usually dies soon after.

In most cases, one can’t live without the other.

Occasionally, surgeons can separate the deceased twin from the other before the dead infects the living.

Maybe life goes on.

But things will never be the same.

When you exchange wedding vows, your soul becomes conjoined with your spouse’s. Every second after, your life is no longer just your own. A part of you is imprinted on her, and her, on you.

Your life just became infinitely more important than it used to be because now someone else’s life is in your hands.

Don’t Try to Fix Your Marriage

Before every flight, the attendant giving the safety spiel always reminds you that in the event of an emergency in which the plane’s oxygen masks deploy from the ceiling, parents flying with children are strongly encouraged to put on their own masks first before helping the child with his or hers.

It goes against our caretaker and unselfish instincts.

As a parent, we always put our children first.

As friends and family and co-workers, and in many other walks of life, we learn to put others’ needs before our own and are taught that this is virtuous and makes us good people.

We are sometimes taught that it’s selfish to do what we want or need to do for ourselves.

But the truth is, if you aren’t right, you can’t be good to anyone else.

If you don’t have your oxygen mask on and you pass out, you can’t save your child.

If you can’t be your true, authentic, best self in your marriage, then the union is already doomed.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

We’ve been collectively rolling our eyes at that bullshit break-up excuse for eons. But I think in the context of mending a broken marriage, the idea has a lot of merit.

Maybe two sad and angry people who feel trapped, disrespected and unloved, shouldn’t necessarily be trying to work cooperatively all the time.

I believe the right way to attack marriage problems starts with NOT trying to work together.

I’ve sat in front of marriage counselors with an angry spouse. When couples disagree, they spend the entire session telling the therapist what it is their partner does to make them feel sad, angry and miserable in front of the person they’re supposed to love the most.

I think it’s a piss-poor strategy.

Maybe if we took all the finger-pointing out of the equation, we’d see real results.

Not: She makes me feel like this! She does this to me and it isn’t fair!

And more this: What is it that I need to do to make my partner feel safe, and content, and loved, and happy?

And if your spouse is doing that same thing to you in reverse? And attempting to make internal and external changes on your behalf?

I think everyone who wants to make it, will.

I think we just have to choose it.

Rethinking the Problem

Politically conservative people are furious with the number of illegal immigrants flooding into the United States via the southern border. It’s because the undocumented people don’t contribute to the tax system but provide an economic burden on the health care, criminal justice and education systems.

Politically progressive people want to make the path to legal citizenship easier, and in the meantime, appreciate the fact that immigrants most often are performing jobs that help the U.S. economy that most Americans are unwilling to do themselves—namely low-paying agricultural jobs and others in the service industry. They believe innocent children should not be punished or denied access to health care and education because they believe in compassion and helping others and believe the government is in the best position to do it (whether or not that’s true).

Then there are people like me. I agree and disagree with both sides.

I agree that the financial strain on the system is unsustainable, and that our country is a business and should be treated like one. If you can’t pay for anything, you’re screwed.

But I also (mostly) love human beings and believe the value of a human life can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

What’s a political moderate to do on the subject of immigration?

Choose Option C. The road less travelled.

I think you solve the immigration problems in the United States by creating more economic opportunity for people in places like Mexico. I think if Mexico’s economy and health care and education systems improve, Mexicans will want to stay in Mexico, because there’s no place like home.

I vote we make Mexico so awesome that WE want to go there.

Problem solved.

Don’t sit around thinking about how your spouse makes your life miserable every day.

Think about how you can actively change yourself in an effort to bridge the divide between you and her.

Be selfish about making yourself the best you can be so that you’re strong enough to actually be unselfish when the situation calls for it.

Another Definition of Love

“I moved a step farther toward accepting my complete inability to change another person and my inability to change myself. Love has been called many things, but maybe one definition would be the utterly unbridgeable gap between any two humans and the attempt to bridge it anyway.” — from Stumble, by Heather King

It doesn’t start with her.

It doesn’t start with “us.”

It starts with you.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

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