The Science of the Heart is Sometimes Lost on Me

heart health

I used to make my wife cry because I treated her like her feelings weren’t important.

“Just because you feel that way doesn’t make it true,” I would say like an asshole.

This is an example of being both right AND wrong at the same time. Because, sure. I was right.

The truth is the truth. There aren’t several versions of the truth. There are only the things that are actually real. Seeking truth seems worthwhile.

Just because someone accuses you of being mean and intentionally trying to hurt their feelings doesn’t mean that’s actually what happened.

However.

In this situation, does the “truth” even matter?

If the woman I vowed to love and cherish forever literally felt as if I was sometimes being mean or hurting feelings to the point of making her believe it might be intentional, or at best, recklessly indifferent, does it even matter what my intentions were?

It goes like this:

Someone levels a charge. It stings because the accusation suggests you’re doing a shitty job of being a spouse/friend/employee/parent/student/teacher/player/coach, etc.

So you get defensive because you’re always trying your best, which is the most anyone can ask for. Right?

Wrong.

Your Best + Indifference = You’re Maybe Being Just a Little Bit Shitty

Your Best + Empathy = Your Actual Best

I didn’t learn how to empathize with my wife until she totally shut down and flipped the script on me during the final stretch of our marriage. She felt as if I had been indifferent and unresponsive to her opinions and emotions for several years. And then I got a taste of it myself.

It tastes like sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

I wonder: How many marriages end because one partner keeps feeling hurt over and over and over, and the other seems like they don’t care even if they actually do?

Are Feelings Bullshit?

I’m guilty of having said more than once (and meaning it) that “feelings are bullshit.”

Context matters.

I believe that people’s emotions are highly volatile and ever-changing. What we liked and wanted five years ago is not what we like and want today. What we like and want five years from now might be different. Those feelings, desires, opinions are always changing as we go through life experiencing all that we do.

So, when we’re talking about marriage and divorce, I’m sometimes of the opinion that feelings are bullshit.

Every married couple is comprised of two people who were once totally, magically enamored with and wrapped up in one another. You’re either the type of person who wants to be married or the type of person who doesn’t.

If you actually got married, I assume the former.

It means you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to spend your life alone. I think most of us get that.

And if you’re that kind of person, you’re going to be with someone, sooner or later.

I don’t think it’s sensible to assume that simply changing partners is going to bring the feelings of lasting love, security, peace, happiness, contentment, sexual satisfaction, that most of us seek.

In fact, I think changing partners without a thorough self-reflection process that forces you to look in the mirror and ask the really uncomfortable question: “What did I do to help destroy my marriage?”, means that you’re pretty likely to keep having relationship problems until you do.

So, I stand on my soapbox and scream for people to realize: Love is a choice.

If you’re going to be with someone anyway. And you accept the premise that no two people are going to feel all lusty and infatuationy forever, then I think there’s a time for leaving emotion at the door and waking up every day and making a choice: Today, I’m going to love unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

One person walking that walk alone cannot and will not save a marriage. By definition, a marriage is two operating as one. And half of that can only carry it for so long before collapsing. You need both people to care.

But I sometimes wonder how many relationships would be saved if just one person (and I’d like it to be the husband) would make the very challenging, very heroic decision to sacrifice that much. To love that much.

I think feelings can follow.

And change the whole world. Maybe for everyone. Or maybe just for one small family.

If you’re part of that family, there’s no difference.

I Don’t Want to Lose My Empathy

I used to cry a lot. I don’t know what that makes me. Not very tough?

I mention it because I’m, historically speaking, not the biggest crier in the world. In fact, I used to be fairly stoic. I haven’t decided whether I think that’s good or bad.

When I was in my early 20s, I got absolutely obliterated on beer and sparkling wine at my best friend’s wedding and cried afterward because I had to say goodbye to everyone and go back to Florida where I missed them a lot. It was embarrassing.

When I was in my late 20s, my mom called me one afternoon to tell me she was leaving my stepdad who I’d known since I was 5. All the sudden I felt like a kindergartner again and cried just like I did back when my mom and dad got divorced.

And then in my 30s, there I was again. Crying. Because of divorce. My own.

I know what it’s like to be a child of divorce. Twice.

I know what it’s like to be a husband getting divorced.

I know what it’s like to be a father watching his young son deal with his parents’ breakup.

That’s empathy. And it manifests itself the best when I feel.

It’s this empathy that made me a better person in the wake of my failed marriage and as I’ve grown and evolved into whatever and whoever I am right now.

And while I’ll never celebrate the end of my family, I’ll always feel grateful for that metamorphosis which gives me a chance to be a better man moving forward. A better father to my son. A better partner to anyone who might one day grant me the opportunity.

Brokenness and Healing

The constant refrain from people close to me following my separation is that no one saw it coming. Time and time again, I heard how we seemed like the perfect happy couple. The couple others aspired to be.

No, Virginia. There is no Santa Claus.

I believe strongly in all this stuff. Passionately. That we don’t need to break as much as we do. That our relationships—the very foundations of our human experiences—can be fortified and last forever just like all those Happily Ever After princess stories we’re fed in our youth.

It just take guts. More guts than most of us have when we FEEL so horribly.

We have two choices.

We keep doing what we’re doing. Throwaway marriages built on wedding vows we either betray or never really meant in the first place.

Or we get serious about changing ourselves. On the inside.

About giving more than we take. Every day. Forever.

Feelings aren’t bullshit.

Because how we feel IS what’s real for each of us. And if we can learn to be empathetic enough—courageous enough—to love others on their terms and not on ours, maybe we’ll get the same treatment in return.

And then maybe a bunch of things won’t break.

And then maybe a bunch of kids smile and laugh and play more, family intact.

And then maybe we don’t eat so much sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

And then maybe the whole world changes.

And it didn’t take a miracle.

It just took you.

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Now I Can Die in Peace

There will always be a higher mountain to climb.

There will always be a higher mountain to climb.

I root for professional sports teams in a city famous for not winning a championship in 50 years.

It’s almost statistically impossible to have a five-decade run of suckage like we’ve had in Cleveland, Ohio. That’s why sports fans in northeast Ohio collectively showcased the world’s largest erection in the history of sexual sports metaphors last summer when basketball star LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The return of James ignited a series of events that now have the Cavaliers as the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas to win the NBA title. Probably for the next five years.

Typical fans expect major injuries to crush all of our hopes and dreams.

Sensible fans simply hope this team built for dominance will deliver Cleveland its first major sports championship in five decades.

Fans like me engage in conversation about how many championships we might win.

I’m never satisfied.

With what? I don’t know. Everything?

My poor (at worst) to middle-class (at best) upbringing shouldn’t justify my high expectations. But I have them anyway.

This dissatisfaction would manifest itself in my youth as materialism. I wanted things. I had a lot of friends with infinitely more financial resources than my family did. There was no jealousy. Please don’t think that. But it did establish a standard in my mind. A standard of living which, if achieved, would seem to indicate you’ve “made it.”

Hardly anyone has money in college. So, when I started getting my full-time job paychecks from the newspaper after graduating, I felt like I made it.

I was living in an affluent beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, surrounded by boat owners, country club members and owners of prime real estate. I’d feed my lust for big houses and piles of cash by walking through multi-million-dollars homes on the weekends and dreaming of life in a place like that.

That’s the recipe for making a totally pleasant three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment three miles from the beach seem like a shitty place to live.

When we moved back to Ohio, we bought a house that would have cost three times as much in the town we’d just moved from. So it seemed awesome.

All it took was a job offer I was unable to accept that would have made me a lot of money to make my perfectly adequate house seem wholly not so.

I drive a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. But it’s not the Limited!!!

I have six televisions (and don’t even watch TV that much). But I need a new big-screen for my basement!!!

Everything is relative.

I might never have most of the things I want. But I could lose a whole bunch of things I already have and still always have everything I need.

Fortunately, my cravings are no longer material. I want to achieve a higher state of being. I want to walk a higher path.

I don’t seek things. I seek peace.

I’m intellectually capable of understanding that contentment and happiness come not from attainable things, but from within.

Even still. I want more.

Desire is Full of Endless Distances

That was the headline of marketing genius and prolific writer Seth Godin’s blog post today. I read it three times and hugged myself because sometimes that’s how much I love things I read.

Here it is:

“Just one more level on this game, she says. Once I get to level 68, I’ll be done.

Just one more tweak to the car, they beg. Once we bump up the mileage, we’ll be done.

Just one more lotion, she asks. Once I put that on, my skin will be perfect and I’ll be done.

Of course, the result isn’t the point. The mileage or the ranking or slightly more alabaster or ebony isn’t the point. The point is the longing.

Desire can’t be sated, because if it is, the longing disappears and then we’ve failed, because desire is the state we seek.

We’ve expanded our desire for ever more human connection into a never-ceasing parade of physical and social desires as well. Amplified by marketers and enabled by commerce, we race down the endless road faster and faster, at greater and greater expense. The worst thing of all would be if we actually arrived at perfect, because if we did, we would extinguish the very thing that drives us.

We want the wanting.”

Seth’s usually (always?) right. I think he’s a genius and a master of asking the right questions.

And I agree with him here.

There’s something tragic about it, too. About a life lived chasing and climbing and chasing and climbing… and never arriving, OR getting there and thinking: Shit. Now what?

I’m skinnier. But not skinny enough.

I’m stronger. But not strong enough.

I’m smarter. But not smart enough.

I’m a better man than I used to be. But I’m not good enough. And I’m now realizing I probably never will be.

Maybe I’ll never have my Rocky Balboa moment. Maybe I’ll never conquer all of my personal battles or achieve all my goals.

And there is something inherently dissatisfying about that. But it’s also honest.

And the truth is: I want the wanting.

I want to chase after the things that move me, even if it amounts to nothing more than a cat chasing its tail.

Because what the hell else am I going to do?

I want things. Things I may never have. Things that, if I acquire, might lose their appeal and have me looking longingly toward other things.

I choose to embrace the tragic purity of climbing and chasing knowing I may never arrive at my destination. That the Browns may never win a championship. That I may never have my dream home. That I may always feel like I have a bunch of growing to do.

We’re human. The real beauty is in the trying.

There. Now, I can die in peace.

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Ebola: When is it Okay to be Scared?

ebola

I was watching horror films long before I should have.

A Nightmare on Elm Street. Friday the 13th. Halloween.

My mom found out I’d watched The Silence of the Lambs at a friend’s house in 1992 when I was 13 years old, and she freaked, not realizing I was already acquaintances with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.

Horror films scare my mother. And she was trying to protect her young son. I get it.

“But they don’t scare me, mom,” I told her. And it was true. I understood—every step of the way—that those were actors in makeup pretending for the camera. “It’s fiction, mom. I promise I’m fine.”

While certain parts of scary films had certainly made me jump or given me goosebumps, I’d never watched one that truly frightened me.

Then in 1995, when I was 16 years old, I went to the movies to see Outbreak.

In that film, a fictionalized Ebola-like virus breaks out in a small African village. A small monkey contracts the disease. And someone brings that monkey on a freight ship to California. An outbreak ensues in a small California town. Bad things follow.

And then, for the first time in my predominantly peaceful, innocent, small-town life, my mind processed the concept of a deadly pandemic in the United States.

Of quarantine zones.

Of martial law.

And I took a deep breath, realizing: I’ve finally seen a film that scares me.

March 2014

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an announcement: There’s been an Ebola outbreak in Africa. Nothing to fear! It’s on the other side of the world. Hey, look! Kohl’s has khaki pants on sale!

April 2014

It’s discovered and reported that Patient Zero was most likely a two-year-old child in Guinea. The child died in December, followed by the child’s mother, sister and grandmother over the next month. Try to imagine being a parent of that child. Your child has a fever. Crying and screaming. What do you do? You hold them. Because you must.

Thoughts and prayers for those poor people.

July 2014

I avoid the news (forgive the expression) like the plague. It doesn’t make me feel good. But even I couldn’t avoid the occasional news updates: Ebola cases are growing. The death toll is rising. “Absolutely NOTHING to worry about!!! It’s in Africa! Things like this happen there due to poor sanitation and subpar medical facilities! It could NEVER happen here!”

August 2014

I was standing in a hotel bathroom in Reno, Nev. during a business trip watching the morning news when I heard: Two American doctors have contracted Ebola. And the powers that be are going to fly them to Atlanta, Ga. where they will be treated at Emory University Hospital.

Ummm. Wait a minute. Ebola? You’re bringing it to the United States? ON PURPOSE? You’re aware that we’re the third-largest country in the world, right?

But then they brought the doctors over. Both recovered without incident.

Whew. I guess there really was nothing to worry about.

September 2014

The CDC announces the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States. Patient Thomas Eric Duncan had been isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas.

One of my friends posted an article about Ebola on their Facebook wall with the words: “If you only read one thing about Ebola, make sure it’s this.”

So, I did.

And I thought about that two-year-old child. OF COURSE the mother, sister and grandmother contracted the virus and died. It’s because they were human beings. It’s because they loved.

An excerpt from the fantastic piece from Slate:

“In short, Ebola parasites our humanity.

More than most other pandemic diseases (malaria, cholera, plague, etc.) and more than airborne diseases (influenza, swine flu, H5N1, etc.) that are transmitted indiscriminately through the air, this disease is passed through very minute amounts of bodily fluid. Just a slip of contact with the infected party and the caregiver herself can be stricken.

The images coming from Africa are chilling. Little boys, left alone in the street without parents, shivering and sick, untouchable by the throngs of people around them. Grown men, writhing at the door to a hospital, hoping for care as their parents stand helplessly, wondering how to help. Mothers and fathers, fighting weakness and exhaustion to move to the edge of a tent in order to catch a distant, final glimpse of a get-well video that their children have made for them.

If Ebola is not stopped, this disease can destroy whole families within a month, relatives of those families shortly thereafter, friends of those relatives after that, and on and on. As it takes hold (and it is taking hold fast), it cuts out the heart of family and civilization. More than the profuse bleeding and high kill rate, this is why the disease is terrifying. Ebola sunders the bonds that make us human.”

Even still. Nothing to worry about. Right?

October 6, 2014

A nursing assistant in Spain becomes the first known person outside Africa to contract Ebola.

Also, a freelance NBC cameraman who contracted Ebola in Liberia and returned to the United States was admitted to the Nebraska Medical Center.

Okay.

October 8, 2014

Thomas Eric Duncan dies from Ebola in Dallas.

Ohhh.

October 11, 2014

Critical care nurse Nina Pham is diagnosed with Ebola. She closely treated Thomas Eric Duncan. Pham is the first known person to contract Ebola in the United States.

Great.

A Lot Can Change in 24 Hours

October 15, 2014

8:30 a.m. – Amber Joy Vinson, a second nurse from the Dallas hospital where Duncan was treated, is diagnosed with Ebola.

11:30 a.m. – News reports break that Vinson flew from Dallas to Cleveland over the weekend.

Well, holy shit. That’s not too far away.

My co-workers and I went to lunch in a big group. Someone else said it, but I was already thinking it: “Just watch. The Ebola patient probably spent the weekend here and ate at this very restaurant.”

4:30 p.m. – Vinson’s family lives in the same small town in which I work. Every day.

Whoa.

October 16, 2014

Vinson’s family’s house has been taped off by public health officials, and the family members quarantined.

A ton of media vans and law enforcement affected this morning’s commute for many of my co-workers.

The house is 0.6 miles from where I now sit.

What About Now?

Is it okay to be scared?

Sure it is. But it’s still very much a theoretical fear. I don’t have any physical anxiety or stress about this interesting development.

But for the first time in my life (short of the remote possibility of World War III breaking out after Sept. 11, 2001), I’m looking at something that actually threatens my way of life.

I think people are either very ignorant or very foolish to not see it that way.

Standing in a restaurant two weeks ago with my friend, we saw the African Ebola death toll numbers on the news and talked about how important it is to make sure we don’t let this disease spread further.

How many people does one person come in close contact with?

How many people do those people know?

How many Ebola patients would it take to cripple the nation’s health care system?

How many would it take to destroy the financial markets?

How many would it take before civil unrest set in? Martial law?

How many before they can’t deliver food and supplies to grocery stores?

How many before there’s no more fuel being delivered to gas stations?

How many before the system is overloaded and the police and fire department don’t respond to 9-1-1 calls?

What then?

I’ve never been scared of getting sick and dying.

I may die in five seconds because my heart stops beating, or I get in a car accident, or a rogue meteorite plummets from space to Earth and slices through my office roof and pierces my skull.

I absolutely WANT to live. But I also understand that dying is an inevitable eventuality.

That’s not the scary part.

We’re a bunch of pansies in the United States. Even the really tough people. They are still conditioned to need pharmaceuticals and groceries and gasoline and electricity to accomplish the things they need to accomplish.

I’m speaking out of school here, but I submit Africans living in harsh conditions are infinitely better equipped to deal with danger and civil unrest than the average American citizen who complains when their iPhone battery drains too fast and the line at Starbucks almost made them late for their Pilates class.

My biggest fear has always been this: The fundamental breakdown of society as we know it.

I only know what I see and read in post-apocalyptic fiction. Maybe none of that could ever happen. I don’t presume to know.

I just know there are so many things I don’t know. That anything can happen. That I love my son more than I love anything else, and I fear my ability to protect him in a world gone rogue.

I have a history of worrying about things outside my control.

One of the things I’ve tried hardest to do in this new life of mine—this scary, post-divorce world I now live in—is to let go of all fear (it’s pointless), or at least let go of fearing things I can do nothing about.

And those efforts are working.

Because I really do feel good. So much better than the bent and broken me of yesteryear.

In many ways it’s been a spiritual journey.

I try very, very, very hard to not let things related to religion or politics poison what I’m writing here. Not that all religious and political matters are poisonous. Only that the inevitable divisive rhetoric that follows ALWAYS is.

I won’t switch course now.

I’ll only say this: I have always believed there’s more to life than this.

That the human experience is so much more than just a random mathematical anomaly that will eventually see all of us die and rot in the ground, our lives having amounted to nothing.

We are more.

I don’t like to say I “know” things because I don’t know anything! But, I feel.

I feel like we’re part of something so much bigger than our little minds (only using three percent of their capabilities) can comprehend.

I feel like we’re all made of the exact same things.

I feel like we’re all connected.

Africa to the United States.

Texas to Ohio.

You to me.

And everything that really matters in this life is so much bigger than what I can see and hear and feel.

That was true a million years ago.

And it will be true in a million more.

Is it okay to be to be scared now? The thing that frightens me most is literally in my backyard.

Sure. Probably.

But doesn’t it feel better to be brave?

I’m starting to get a little practice with that.

And yeah. It totally does.

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The Belt Notches

Graphic courtesy of jamesclear.com

Graphic courtesy of jamesclear.com

I was dressing for work the other day when it happened. While buckling my belt, I noticed it needed to be pulled a notch tighter.

You notice because your belt develops this funny little hump where it gets settled into being buckled in the same notch over and over and over again. And then—bam. It needs a new home. Strange. Different. Uncomfortable, but not in a bad way.

My belt got tighter because I’ve been making good lifestyle choices, both in terms of physical fitness and eating habits.

You don’t really notice the changes day to day. The improvements are so incremental that they would seem nearly immeasurable. But, added up over weeks and months, they are not only noticeable, but in some cases—drastic.

Most of the time, I drive right by my ex-wife’s office on my way to and from work each day.

For many months, I noticed myself always looking back to see whether I could see her vehicle parked outside. I don’t know why. Old habits die hard?

What I do know is that it never made me feel good. There were even times I saw my little son hop out of the car with her right at the moment I was driving by.

That made me cry once.

A brutal reminder of all that had been lost.

Lisa Arends at Lessons From the End of a Marriage (who everyone dealing with divorce-related matters should read) once talked to me about emotional triggers. And she said something I’ll never forget. She said they’re going to sting. And it’s going to surprise you. But then, over time, you’ll notice they don’t sting anymore, she said. That you’ll drive by and you won’t feel horrible. You won’t cry.

And that will surprise you, too.

And then you’ll know. Like passing a test of sorts. That you’re stronger now. Braver now.

That you’re actually you again.

I can’t be sure when it happened. But I caught myself once jamming to something awesome on the radio. Smiling because that day was going to be a good day. Just, feeling good.

And I realized: I didn’t look back. I didn’t look to see whether her car was there.

Then I realized I didn’t know when I stopped doing that. Weeks ago?

Because it just happened. Slowly. Unnoticeably. Incrementally.

My mind will continue to process all of the many changes these past few years have brought.

My body will continue to get leaner, harder, stronger.

And my spirit will soar because of it. Taking me to places I’ve never been.

One little bit at a time.

1% a Day

My favorite writer James Altucher writes often about improving just one percent each day.

I like it because it makes sense to me. Here’s an excerpt from a recent post of his:

I have a friend who is feeling down. He doesn’t like his job. He’s uncomfortable with the people he is working with. He’s had this job for ten years so he’s afraid to bail now after putting in so much time.

He wants to make a fast change.

Every day, though, is a new day. The past is just a photograph. The present is everything we can see and feel and hear and touch and love and live. The future is a fantasy.

So today improve just 1%.

That sounds trite. What is “one percent”?

Maybe I’ll write a list of ideas today. Maybe I’ll take a walk. Maybe I’ll call someone I love. Or maybe I will shower twice and do pushups. (or, ahem, maybe shower once).

Maybe you can tell me: what are all the ways someone can improve their lives 1%?

Maybe I’ll eat 1% less junk food. Or read a book instead of some stupid news article that is filling up the inane news cycle of the week before it’s forgotten when the next news cycle hits.

Maybe I won’t argue about a stupid issue. Or maybe I will spend time with my kids.

Someone wrote a completely insane comment on my wall the other day. I delete it and move on. No need to argue.

Another person wrote a blog post accusing me of trying to control him with “Neuro-weaponry,” apparently developed by the U.S.Navy. I ignore it and move on. I don’t even like to swim.

What are some other ideas? I hope you can tell me.

1% seems like a small amount.

And it is a small amount. It’s tiny. It’s easy. It’s doable. Today.

But 1% compounds. If you improve 1% a day you will improve 3800% in a year. I don’t even know what that means. Life is not a number.

But it means your life will be COMPLETELY different.

I know this is true. My life is completely different than it was a year ago. And a year before that. And I can barely recognize the year before that. I can’t even remember two years ago actually.

Sometimes just a kiss improves my life 1%.”

Technically, it’s 3,753 percent. If you improve one percent every day for one year, you improve 3,753 percent. That’s a lot.

James is right. Our lives are not numbers. And I don’t know what it means either.

But I know I can get one percent better at something today. Probably more.

Everything changed. And sure, I’m still scared.

But not very much.

And not very often.

I’m alive. More than just surviving. Living. Progressing. And striving for achievement more than I ever have before.

Instead of worrying about tomorrow, and way down the road about things I can’t possibly control, I’m mostly concentrating on getting a little bit better today.

A slightly smaller stomach.

Slightly stronger arms.

A more-courageous heart.

A calm, capable, clear mind.

An unbreakable spirit.

I wasn’t strong enough before.

And maybe I’m not today.

But I will be. One percent at a time. 3,753 percent more one year from now. And a nearly incomprehensible amount, five years down the road.

“So, Matt. What’s your five-year plan?”

Oh, nothing much.

Just improve 7.85 billion percent.

Rad.

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You’re Not Supposed to Laugh at That

This is pretty much exactly what I'm talking about.

This is pretty much exactly what I’m talking about.

I was the only adult in the introductory Cub Scouts meeting without a child present.

“Which one is your son?”

“I’m sorry, he’s not here. He’s at karate with his mom tonight,” I said.

“Oh, I see.” But I could tell he really meant: “Yeah, right! You just want to Jerry Sandusky our kids! Pervert!”

Whatever, virgin.

I wasn’t there to be sold on Cub Scouts. We’d already decided to sign our six-year-old up. I was just there for the paperwork.

But the Cub Scouts leaders were laying it on thick, sharing anecdotes about how great the experience is instead of letting what is a totally worthwhile children’s activity sell itself. In fact, Public Service Announcement, Boy Scouts of America People: If you really want to grow your brand, stop having guys who have never had sex before and have the personality of C-SPAN be your public speakers.

Chlorophyll? More like BOREophyll. Right?

I came to the meeting intent on signing up, and an Eagle Scout damn near convinced me I’d made a mistake. He was like the Bizarro Billy Mays, talking me out of doing something I already wanted to do, one shitty selling point at a time.

Then one of the mom leaders started talking. She has three boys and they’re all in Boy Scouts, and it’s A-MAY-ZING!!!

She shared personal anecdotes. Camping stories. And then something bad happened.

All I heard was: “Blah blah blah blah blah, and then the boys pitch their own tents. Blah blah blah blah, pitching tents, blah blah blah. And blah blah blah Boy Scouts stuff blah, it’s so great seeing the boys pitching a tent.”

And then I made eye contact with the only male Cub Scouts leader in the room who might have had sex before, and I lost it.

I snorted a little.

A few tears streamed down my face.

And I had to just stare at the ground for a few minutes to keep my shit together.

I’ve always known it. But this felt like a defining moment for me. The guy without the kid at the Cub Scouts meeting laughing by himself because an awkward Scout Mom kept using the phrase: “Pitching a tent.” (Which for the uninitiated, is a popular phrase to describe a clothed male erection.)

I’m a 35-year-old child.

And maybe I always will be.

Tell Me, Big Puberty Guy

I was in fifth grade when I met my friend who would eventually be my college roommate for four years and the best man in my wedding.

But before we were rocking college keg parties and standing up for one another at our respective weddings, we were grade-school kids doing whatever grade-school kids did in 1989.

Two of those things were: sex education and puberty.

And despite neither of us being particularly advanced on the maturity side, we took to calling boys slow to develop physically “Big Puberty Guys.”

So, like, a kid with a lot of peach fuzz and super-young-looking features? Big Puberty Guy.

I was sort of a Big Puberty Guy. And still pretty much am because I lack the physical ability to grow a beard. I seriously only shave every two or three days. On day two, I look like 5 O’Clock Shadow Guy, and on day three, I look like Dirty-Hippie Neck Hair Trying But Failing To Grow A Beard Guy. It’s the opposite of hot.

In 1988 a little-known new wave synthpop band (that sounded British but wasn’t) named Information Society had a hit called “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy).”

The hook went like this:

I want to know

What you’re thinking

There are some things you can’t hide

I want to know

What you’re feeling

Tell me what’s on your mind

And for reasons I can’t explain, my friend and I changed the second stanza for the Big Puberty Guy theme song:

I want to know

What you’re thinking

There are some things you can’t hide

I want to know

How you’re maturing

Tell me, Big Puberty Guy

To the surprise of music aficionados worldwide, we DID NOT win a Grammy for songwriting that year.

The Mike Holmgren Beej

Two things you need to know:

  1. Mike Holmgren is a 60-something-year-old former NFL coach and executive famous for winning the Super Bowl in Green Bay during the Brett Favre era. I’m a Cleveland Browns fan, and for a short while, he was running my favorite football team. He has a pretty solid mustache.
  2. Beej = blow job.

One of my very best friends—someone I’ve known since first grade and think of as family—is a successful attorney and my son’s godfather.

We’re both football fans, though we root for different teams. And we often talk football whenever we catch up on the phone or visit one another. We sometimes discuss potential or hypothetical trades to gauge the other’s interest in acquiring players or draft picks, or to evaluate whether we think a particular trade is equitable.

Sometimes, when you’re on the fence about whether to make an NFL trade, one team (or in this case, just our hypothetical imaginations) will require a pot sweetener to seal the deal. Traditionally, an extra player or draft pick.

So, my friend (my son’s godfather—the man we selected from the entire pool of humanity—who I love very much in totally non-homosexual ways—as a spiritual guide for our child) invented the Mike Holmgren Beej® to be the ultimate pot sweetener.

Him: “Okay. So, would you be willing to trade the 4th pick in the draft, the 22nd pick in the draft, and a first rounder next year to the St. Louis Rams so you can trade up to draft Robert Griffin III?”

Me: “Three first rounders is pretty steep, man. I don’t know.”

Him: “Okay. What if I toss in a Mike Holmgren Beej®?”

Me: “Hmmm. With or without the mustache?”

Him: “With. Obviously.”

Me: “Sold.”

The Heaven Bones

Just to prove that we DO actually have a spiritual foundation and value our Catholic roots, we (mostly him) also created The Heaven Bones™.

What’s a Heaven Bone, you ask? Good question.

First, you either believe in an afterlife, are open to the possibility, or don’t believe in one at all. Given what I think I understand about energy, combined with my Catholic upbringing, the concept of “Heaven” is one that’s been with me from a very young age.

The premise of Heaven, if you don’t know, is that it’s eternal paradise. A place with only love and good things. No sadness. No anger. No hatred. No evil. And it lasts FOREVER. The concept of eternity (even GOOD eternity) has always scared the piss out of me.

“Who gives a shit, Matt!?!? WTF is a Heaven Bone???”

Right.

So, Heaven Bones.

Essentially, it’s having sex with people you always wanted to have sex with on Earth but didn’t or couldn’t.

So, that girl or guy you dated in high school that you fantasized about, but just weren’t ready at the time?

That friend or co-worker or old flame or friend’s sibling that was always off-limits?

In heaven, you can Heaven Bone™ them! (Theoretically.)

“But, Matt!!! What if you want to Heaven Bone someone, but they don’t want to Heaven Bone you back???”

Another great question! Glad you asked.

We also invented for your heaven-boning pleasure, the Heaven Bone Clones©.

An EXACT heaven-produced Xeroxed replica of the person you want to heaven bone.

You never thought about this before, right? And now you’re nodding, freaking pumped because you totally want to bang <insert person or clone here> for eternity. With NO consequences. Everyone will be cool with it! Because it’s heaven.

It’s going to be rad. Heaven Bones.

And if you didn’t already want to go to heaven, now you’re at least thinking about wanting to be there and will now be a better person moving forward. You’re welcome.

Why Do I Want to Laugh When I’m Not Supposed To?

I don’t know.

I just know that I do.

When I was a kid, I always looked around at all the adults and looked forward to being one, because then I’d finally have it all figured out and I wouldn’t have to worry or be afraid of anything anymore because I’d be mature and smart and wise and brave and ready for anything.

But then I just kept growing up. Aging. Staying alive.

And the longer I stay alive, the less I’m sure of.

The longer I’m around, the more I realize that we’re all, in many ways, that same person we were snickering in the back of our fifth-grade classrooms.

In a lot of ways, I have grown up. In a lot of ways, I am ready to take on the world around me when life calls for it.

But in ways I never expected, I’m still, just, me.

Just a kid causing a little bit of mischief in the back of the room and snorting at dick-and-fart jokes and throwing out a “That’s what she said” whenever it’s appropriate (which is often).

I’m sure some people frown at what they perceive to be childishishness on my part. In a corporate office meeting, I’m the odds-on favorite to crack up during someone’s presentation because of eye contact with one of my fellow childlike counterparts.

I’ll say it again: I’m a 35-year-old child. And maybe I always will be.

“What would it take to get you to grow up, Matt?”

I don’t know. Something major.

“A Mike Holmgren Beej?”

Hmmm. With or without the mustache?

“With. Obviously.”

Sold.

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Lift Him Up

Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.

Image by Imajali at Deviant Art.

Maybe I was wrong.

When I said that men have the most power to save their marriages or long-term relationships.

The thinking was, men have so much room for improvement, that if they can get some of these little things right—these little things that make their wives or girlfriends feel unloved, unsafe, and insecure—that men can collectively make incredible gains toward a future where divorce occurs much less frequently.

And while I still believe that to be true—that men wield a lot of power in the fight for marriages—I’m questioning whether men actually have the most responsibility.

Bear with me for a minute, please.

Divorce is bad, I think. Worse than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that EVER happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I FREAKED. Hard to describe, but I don’t think I have to. I think most people understand what freaking the hell out feels like. It’s worth avoiding. (Free life tip!)

I repeat: Divorce is BAD. And it affects 95 percent of us.

We are not arming young people (or ourselves) with the information we need to make good marital choices. It ends up with a whole bunch of broken homes and broken hearts and economic hardships and children growing up in more-challenging environments than we’d all prefer.

It’s an epidemic.

People collectively freak out and band together to fight all kinds of worthy causes in this world. Causes that impact barely a fraction of the people that divorce does.

It matters to me.

It affects me every day in one form or another.

And I believe as we collectively become more enlightened in the information age, it’s something that can get incrementally better as we move into the future.

Boys vs. Girls

I have no idea how girls (and women) experience the world. I won’t pretend to.

But I know what it’s like to be a boy growing up in a reasonably typical environment in small-town Ohio.

Political correctness keeps a lot of people from being honest with themselves and others about differences between boys and girls that are generally true. (I KNOW there are exceptions.)

Here’s how I remember it:

Boys liked to play sports. Roughly. And with trucks and action figures and watch superhero shows on TV.

Girls liked to play with bedroom vanity and kitchen sets. Much more orderly. And with dolls and watch Jem and Strawberry Shortcake.

Boys were generally stronger and faster and got in more trouble during school, more prone to fighting, but also pretty good at getting along with other boys.

Girls were generally better students, stayed out of trouble, would go to the bathroom together in groups (I still don’t get it, ladies—totally weird!), and were generally less successful at getting along with other girls not in their immediate social circle.

Boys wore blue. Sports t-shirts. Air Jordans and Reebok Pumps.

Girls wore pink. Pretty things. Jewelry.

I think it’s important to admit that boys and girls are different. If you think your husband or wife thinks and feels exactly like you, then it’s no damn wonder you communicate poorly and get so frustrated with one another.

But. If you acknowledge the differences. Respect them. Understand their complementary value. Then you can understand why conflict and misunderstandings are taking place. You can learn empathy. You can attempt to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. THAT’s where compromise, balance and peace live.

Ladies: You Can be the Superhero

Depending on your individual chemical makeup, I understand that you want—check that, need— to feel supported, loved, respected, cared for, protected. It’s necessary security and I can appreciate now more than ever how important feeling secure really is.

I also understand ladies that when some of your critical individual needs aren’t being met… (you feel alone in your marriage, he doesn’t touch you or look at you like he used to, he chooses other things over spending time with you, he seems oblivious to all you do for the household—thoughtless and insensitive, he repeatedly does things that hurt you even though you tell him over and over and over again that it does. He tells you that you’re acting crazy. Like you’re making it up. That how you feel ISN’T what’s real. He just doesn’t get it. I understand.)… that it’s really hard for you to exert the energy to carry the responsibility of the relationship on your shoulders as well.

You already do feel that way because the vast majority of the time, you’re WAY better at performing the functions of married life than your male counterpart.

You just are.

At the risk of sounding like I think my ex-wife wasn’t supportive, an honest look at my adulthood yields the feeling that she didn’t have much respect for the things I was (and am) good at because I fell short in her eyes in so many other areas.

In the interest of fairness, perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case had I gotten my husband duties right. I did not. The net result was a broken marriage. It takes everyone pulling in the same direction. Always has. Always will. No cheats or shortcuts.

My ex grew up around tough guys who fixed and built things with dirty, calloused hands. Guys not unlike my father (who I was rarely with throughout my formative years). Men who fought in wars. Men who fixed cars and broken water heaters. Men who chopped down trees and repaired household appliances.

I am not like those men. And I’m fucking tired of trying to be.

I write. I read. I talk. I like watching sports on TV. And playing poker.

I find joy in cooking. In laughing with friends.

I can’t build you a car. I can write you a book.

I can’t fix your furnace. I can cook you a five-course meal.

I don’t think working all the time is nearly as valuable as living all the time.

I think my wife, in conjunction with all of the typical husband failings I committed, really tired of me not being the kind of man she respected and idealized.

And I’m very much done worrying about not living up to expectations in that regard.

I will be judged on my behavior. And you’ll leave the who-I-am part of it the fuck alone. Thanks.

Ladies, I think men need your help.

Because I do believe strongly that you are, just, BETTER, at relationships and marriage than your male partners. Not always. And not about everything. Just most of the time about most things.

And those with the most power to do something, in my humble opinion, have the most responsibility to.

You know things. You feel things. You inherently understand things that he does not.

Help him.

If he’s not successful at whatever he’s working on, his inclination is to stop doing that thing and to find something in which he does succeed. It might look like quitting to you. It might look like giving up. Like he has no follow through. But he’s NOT quitting. He’s simply chasing success. And it’s because he WANTS you to be proud of him.

Help him.

Maybe you don’t respect him because you feel unloved. He craves the respect, though. Needs it. Like water and air. Having your respect is every bit as important to him as having your love. It’s true.

Help him.

You’re not crazy. You’re not psychotic or delusional. It really happened. When you met him, you were totally smitten with him. Desire. Love. Respect. And you HAPPILY and WILLFULLY entered the relationship with him based on all the evidence that he was every bit the man you could ever want.

But now he’s changed, you say.

But now you’ve changed, he says.

He’s got work to do. I’m not saying he doesn’t.

But… maybe you do, too?

What if you just believed in him like you did back then? Encouraged him? Told him you were proud of the things he does well? Of all the things he takes care of so you don’t have to?

Believe in him.

Because that’s the same man. There’s more guilt now. More shame. More stress. More… just… life and baggage and bullshit piled on all those shoulders.

But he will carry it to the moon and back for you if you can find a way to love him and lift him up even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Maybe you feel like you’ve been the bigger person all this time and just don’t have the energy or desire to do it anymore.

I can’t save your marriage or relationship and would never think otherwise.

But I know that we all meant it when we said “I Do,” and most of us do a really shitty job with follow through years later when life and love stop being easy.

You loved him once.

He loved you once.

And you probably both still do.

You probably just don’t feel it. And sure, that’s important.

So maybe don’t wait for him to “get it.” Because maybe the way you’ve been trying to get through to him doesn’t work very well.

We all learn differently.

And maybe if you’re the strong one—the superhero—you’ll lift him and your relationship to places you didn’t know it could go.

Maybe if you believe in him, he’ll surprise you in ways you didn’t think possible.

Maybe if we choose love even when it’s hard, we change the world.

But there’s really no “maybe” about it.

Choose love.

Change the world.

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Here I Am

Just a few minutes. To live. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. But right now.

Just a few minutes. To live. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. But right now.

We never turn it off.

Ever.

Our minds, like a humming hard drive, always buzz, buzz, buzzing, jumping from one thought to the next. From a distant memory, to a worry about something that hasn’t happened yet, and might not.

It is our most-important physical asset. Nothing functions without our minds. We are not even ourselves without them.

Our minds are the things we use to experience the world. Writer and speaker Andy Puddicombe said it best during his 2012 TED Talk in London: Our minds are what we need for happiness, contentment, emotional stability. They are what we use to exhibit kindness. We require them for focus, creativity and productivity. And yet, we don’t take any time to take care of them.

We change the oil in our cars. We wash our hair. Brush our teeth. Vacuum the carpet. Mow the lawn.

We spend so much time maintaining things in our lives.

But rarely our most-important asset. We don’t take time for it. And then we get jacked up when shit goes wrong. We experience it as stress, anxiety, fear. We experience it as sadness, anger, depression.

We spend an estimated 47 percent of our waking lives reflecting on the past or thinking about the future. Nearly HALF our short lives, given to times that don’t really exist.

I want to learn how to be present.

I want to learn how to be mindful.

I want to learn how to live in the now.

At work, I sometimes get lazy and don’t shut off my computer each night before I leave. Regularly restarting my computer allows all the necessary security and network updates to load. It allows the machine to take a break and reset so that it’s performing optimally when I need it.

When I fail to restart it, the computer will often bog down. It will have trouble performing too many tasks at once, and I often am forced to restart it just so it will work properly.

Our brains function much like computers. More powerful than any man-made computer. So much to do. So much to control.

Yet, we don’t perform routine maintenance. We don’t let it rest.

Reset Your Mind

Meditation never made sense to me.

You mean, you just… sit there? Doing… nothing?

Precisely.

What a waste of time!

I used to think that very thing. Who has time to do… nothing?

Never mind that I’ve wasted approximately 600 billion hours high, drunk, playing video games, watching movies or television, or doing something else equally unproductive.

Over and over again as I’ve navigated this new life of mine, I’ve read books or blog posts, or listened to podcasts from people I really admire. People who are living life like how I want to be living. And over and over again, I noticed a common theme in so many of these people I respect and admire: They were meditating daily.

It was time for me to try.

Many of you may already know this, but I didn’t: Meditation IS NOT a bunch of Ghandi-looking monks sitting silently by gardens and waterfalls or in temples or little worship huts.

You CAN meditate that way. But that’s not what it is.

There are people in my life who are curious about meditation. Intrigued by the concept when they learned I was going to give it a shot. People not unlike me. People who have been through hard times and are trying to grow into the very best versions of themselves.

What do I tell them when they ask? What IS meditation?

I Found Me

In a quiet little church I’ve driven past hundreds of times on my work commute and never really noticed, I found myself tonight.

I, for the first time, subjected myself to a guided meditation I’d been curious about attending.

I was not struck by lightning. God did not audibly speak to me. And I’m no wiser about what my next major life move should be than before.

But in that quiet little church, I was ME.

No stress.

No worries.

No pressures.

No responsibilities.

No chores.

No phone.

No speaking.

No texting.

No typing.

No nothing.

I sat in a chair, and with the guidance of the woman leading the class, I was able to achieve a state of relaxation I didn’t know was possible.

I have a body. But I am not my body.

I have emotions. But I am not my emotions.

I have thoughts. But I am more than my thoughts.

And you let every ounce of bullshit in your entire life go.

And you just let yourself… be.

I can’t explain it. I don’t know that I want to try. And I’m sure the experience is different for everyone.

It was truly profound.

But not BIG and LOUD.

More like a whisper.

What is meditation?

Peace.

It’s peace. And I want more.

I used to toss and turn and fret about finances when I didn’t know where my next paycheck would come from after an unexpected layoff a few years ago.

I used to sleep in a guest room and feel sorry for myself every night while I tried in vain to save a failed marriage.

I used to shake and cry because everything about my life felt broken and wrong.

All I wanted—the ONLY THING I WANTED—in those moments was to just not feel shitty anymore.

I needed all the ugly to go away. I needed to feel peace. I needed to be me again.

My little personal-life comeback tour has caught fire.

I’m making healthier choices.

Walking a higher path.

And seeing the fruits of my self-improvement efforts paying off.

I am—dare I say it?—something very close to happy. In the deepest recesses of my soul. I am close.

In the evenings, when I do the right thing and shut down my computer, my machine performs like a champ.

In my life, when I do the right things, my body gets lighter and stronger, my mind gets sharper and confident, and my spirit feels peaceful and whole.

It wasn’t that long ago: not attractive enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not strong enough, not tall enough, not good enough.

We cannot change the things that happen to us.

We can’t.

But we can change how we experience them.

Just breathe. In, then out.

I’m tall enough.

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Happy Birthday, Mom

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

It must have been hard. Raising me.

You were so young. Just 21, right? Just a kid? A kid with a kid.

I still feel like one of those.

Is it the same for you as it is for me? Did you think about your future and assume it would all just click one day? Magically? When I was in grade school, I knew I’d finally figure it out in high school. When I was in high school, I knew I’d finally figure it out in college. When I was in college, I knew I’d finally figure it out once I got out in the real world. Once I got out in the real world, I knew I’d finally figure it out once I settled down and got married.

And now I’m divorced. Single dad. 35.

And I don’t have anything figured out.

At one time, that might have terrified me. But not anymore. Because I’m beginning to think the older and wiser we get, the more aware we become of how little we ever really know or understand.

We don’t have much control, and we were delusional whenever it felt like we did.

Each day I wake up, I get incrementally closer to making total peace with that: I am not in control. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But everything’s going to be okay.

You had to say goodbye to me for months at a time when I’d leave for dad’s.

That must have been hard. I have such a hard time saying bye to your grandson for much more than a couple days.

You had to deal with my selfish, me-first, independent, only child nature. I took EVERYTHING for granted when I was a kid, mom. Everything.

Love. Money. Safety. Health. Fun. Friends. Family. Laughter. Innocence. Spiritual peace.

And you, mom. I took you for granted. I still do. You can tell because I don’t call you enough. Because I still am so good at doing the me-first, only child routine, even all these years later.

I think you carry a lot of guilt about my childhood. Questioning some of the choices. Wondering whether you could have done anything different to give me a better life.

It’s been a rough go in my thirties. Everything just seemed to go to hell right then. And it has taken me a long time to find my way. I still haven’t found it. But I’m not just wandering aimlessly anymore. I feel close.

Mom. You’re why that’s possible.

You’re why I get to feel any sense of hopefulness and excitement about my future.

You dedicated your existence to providing me with the guidance, life lessons, kindness and decency, principles, and spiritual foundation that have allowed me to feel alive again.

Without you, I might not know what love looks like.

Without you, I might not understand what it means to forgive, or be forgiven.

Without you, I might not be alive because I didn’t know being alive could hurt so much until one day it did.

Mom, without you, I couldn’t be me.

It was so easy to not like who I was throughout these past years. Self-loathing. You probably know the feeling because I think everyone whose lives don’t turn out absolutely perfect feel it. And I’m pretty sure that’s all of us. Even those whose lives seem particularly charmed.

And you know what saved me?

All of the things that you instilled in me, via genetics or example.

Love and kindness live inside me and the days worse than I’d ever imagined couldn’t kill it.

Friendliness and smiles are my gift to those near me because most of the time I don’t even know how to be another way.

Hope is my favorite word. My favorite idea. Hope. Always.

I’ve taken to saying the following, and I love it because it’s always true and always will be: There’s no reason that today can’t be the day the best thing that ever happens to you, happens.

I am genuinely hopeful, mom. That I can be a better man today than I was yesterday. That I can be a better father. A better friend. A better writer. A better son.

I am ashamed of my failings. And I’m sorry for all of the times I didn’t act grateful for all you’ve done. And I’m sorry for all the times I might seem ungrateful in the future.

But I need you to believe that deep down in the places no one gets to see, that I am trying to do good. To be good. To be a teeny tiny part of making this world better than I find it.

I would never want to be anyone but me, mom. Ever. I’d trade nothing but some poor choices.

So much of the good that lives in me is because of you.

In many ways, I am you.

Thank you for my life. Thank you for dedicating so much of your life to mine. Thank you for teaching me how to love.

You sacrificed everything (nearly your life, mom—I don’t forget that) for me.

And I’m not going to waste it.

That’s my birthday gift to you, mom. And I hope it’s enough.

I love you more than I say.

I appreciate you more than I act.

And I’m still chasing those dreams. The ones you instilled in me all those years ago. And now it’s time to start running faster.

I know this life can be beautiful. Because I’ve lived beautifully. And it’s because of you.

I still care about making you proud. And I still intend to.

Happy birthday, mom.

To many, many, many years.

I love you.

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How To Never Have Bad Days

candle_Candle_light_3008

I was offered a job when I was 28 that would have basically eliminated financial concerns for the rest of my life.

The job was 500 miles away, and ultimately, I had to turn it down.

I had dared to dream of a life where I was never again worried about how a bill would get paid. The future would not be: “How will I afford to send my kids to college?” but rather “Do I want to go drink wine in Tuscany or the south of France next month?”

I got sucked in.

Money for nice clothes. All my dream cars. The kick-ass inground pool and outdoor bar and kitchen I’d always wanted.

Then, poof. Gone. Not happening.

And all the sudden, my very decent car seemed like a massive piece of shit.

My very decent home seemed wholly inadequate.

My wardrobe? Ugh.

Those goddamn bills? Maddening.

The not-amused Universe started delivering messages, one at a time.

Message #1: You don’t know how good you have it.

I lost my newspaper reporting job on Dec. 31, 2009 as part of another round of corporate layoffs. I’d hold my one-year-old son—just watching him. How will I provide?

My wife went to work, dressed to kill, and exceptional at the work she does.

She’d come home. I’d be watching Yo Gabba Gabba with my son in sweatpants and a t-shirt. I must have seemed like the biggest loser imaginable. I was unemployed for 18 months. I finally felt real financial hardship. I finally learned that we are not guaranteed employment in this life. I finally learned that having a very decent home and driving a very decent car in a very decent town isn’t such a bad thing. I learned that having a good job is not something to complain about or take for granted.

Message #2: Money won’t help you.

About 18 months after losing my job, and after a decent run writing freelance copy from home, I was offered my current job as a writer in the internet marketing department of a reasonably large company. We do good work. It’s a very pleasant, professional working environment. I’m good at my job. Seem to be liked and appreciated. And I’m paid much more than I was as a news reporter.

Suddenly, we were prospering financially. Whew.

A few weeks later, we had a death in the family and my marriage totally fell apart.

No dollar amount could save us.

Message #3: Inner peace and happiness is what we should be chasing.

She left me.

My son was gone half the time. And I totally lost it.

And I learned my most-important life lesson so far. NOTHING is more important to our individual human experience, than feeling peace and contentment. (I like the word “happiness” which I incorrectly use in place of “contentment,” which is what I really mean.)

When you can’t even sit quiet and still because of fear, stress and anxiety, you’re left with almost nothing.

Trillions of dollars and exotic vineyards can’t save you. With every breath, you wonder whether you’ll ever feel like yourself again. It’s hard when we deal with change. Even small ones.

When you actually lose yourself? When you don’t know the person in the mirror and are afraid you’ll never find them again? I’m not sure I’ve ever known fear like that.

And that’s when I knew: There are few things in this life that really matter. And so much of what I’d been chasing is not on that list.

Bring It

I’ll never ask for hardships. I’ll never hope for trials and tribulations. I’ll never revel in tragedy.

But I have been thinking: What if I could learn how to embrace obstacles and life challenges, knowing I’m going to come out a better person?

When my wife left, I thought I might lose my house. I was afraid of adding more drastic change to my life. I was afraid of what people would think. I was afraid of losing my home.

The same house I resented when I thought I should be living in something more elaborate.

The same house I didn’t think was good enough for me.

When I was thinking one way, the house brought me misery. Now that I’m thinking another way, the house fills me with joy, comfort and gratitude.

Can that same phenomenon be accomplished with the hardships we face?

Of course it can. If we’re brave enough to not be victims. If we’re courageous enough to embrace growth opportunities. If we’re strong enough to take on all comers knowing defeat doesn’t come easily.

If I can find a way to not blame the world and other people for my life circumstances—to look at obstacles as they arrive and relish the challenges—I believe this life can be incredibly fulfilling.

Bad shit is going to happen no matter what. No matter what.

And we have two choices: Be afraid. Or embrace opportunity.

With mind tricks, really. With psychology. With perspective.

Tough challenges make me stronger.

Hard times make me wiser.

Moments of fear make me braver.

And I want those things. I want those things for me and for you.

Strong. Wise. Brave.

Courtesy of life, just, happening.

Gratitude.

Turning bad things into good things.

Turning darkness into light.

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18 Months: A Post-Divorce Milestone

I Googled "Look of satisfaction." I got John Locke from "Lost." Fine. We'll go with that.

I Googled “Look of satisfaction.” I got John Locke from “Lost.” Fine. We’ll go with that.

I panicked when I lost my family.

You freak because those you love are gone. You freak because you feel broken on the inside. You freak because you didn’t know rejection could feel this way.

People resist change. We don’t like when our favorite menu items go away at the restaurant, or when our favorite television shows get cancelled, or when we’re forced to adjust our routines.

And then your family disappears. It feels like a lot.

Things were totally shitty between you and your wife. Cold and distant. But you knew her. There’s comfort in the routine and reliability. There’s something reassuring about growing old with someone. It’s the closest thing we get to the safety net most of us feel as children with our parents.

But then they leave. And you question everything you ever believed because now you can’t even trust your own judgment.

And maybe you have a son. Maybe he’s four, going on five, and getting ready for kindergarten. And maybe you’re not the best father in the world, but you love. Hard. You love hard. So much. Because that child is your lifeblood. That child in four short years has become your primary reason for even existing.

You didn’t know you could love something that much—this little person who you’d only imagined in some theoretical Imagination Land when you talked about having kids one day.

And here he is. Your son.

And then he’s not. Then he’s not there.

And so you lose your wife. Your pride. Your purpose.

As a prisoner inside yourself, there’s nowhere to run.

I’m always thinking about five years from now. I can’t help it. It’s a real problem after divorce, because there can be no five-year plan.

There’s so much just trying to figure out how to bleach your laundry without ruining it, and how to shop and cook for one, and how to fill the now-empty hours that your brain can’t fathom five years from now.

You thought you had the rest of your life mostly figured out and it all blew up in your face.

How can you possibly know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

You can’t.

And after years of believing your world was going to keep spinning as is, that’s a pretty frightening realization.

Dating After Divorce—A Double Life

I was overwhelmed by fear in the beginning.

In a week, I’m going to hit the 18-month mark. A year and a half since everything I counted on every day stopped being a thing.

And I need you to know, Person Who Just Lost Their Family And Is Totally Freaking Out: You’re going to make it.

It’s funny.

I was pretty panicky about this idea of dating after divorce. Right away I knew what a challenge it would be.

  1. I’m 35 with a son in first grade.
  2. I live far away from where I grew up, so I don’t have that large, institutional network or built-in family support system locally that some people have.
  3. Nearly everyone I know here consists of married couples that my ex-wife and I used to hang out with all the time—people who are friends with both of us, so it’s not exactly a breeding ground of like-minded singles.
  4. I’ve lost much of the confidence I possessed in my youth.
  5. I’m a 35-year-old divorced dad who works in a cubicle. When I was 20, there was still some question about my potential. Maybe I’d run a magazine one day. Maybe I’d write a bunch of books. Maybe I’d win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. I don’t have those maybes on my side anymore. Now, I’m just this guy.

And let me be clear: Just this guy—he isn’t so bad.

I was pretty down on myself right after getting left, but I’ve fought my way back and will continue to.

I’m not such a bad guy. I’m not undateable. I’m not a failure.

I’m just not in the place in life I thought I would be when I imagined myself as a thirtysomething. And failed expectations are always disappointing.

I didn’t know it before. But I know it now: Life doesn’t always work out like you think it’s going to.

At the beginning, you feel something close to hopelessness.

But once you get through the initial emotional gauntlet of horror, you start to realize: I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But maybe that’s okay.

My dating life has been a colossal failure. I’m horrible at it. And I’ve learned to accept it.

But I guess if the goal is to end up with another partner again (and that idea appeals to me much more today than it did 18 months ago when I was losing my shit), then that means I only need to get it right once.

I never meet anyone because my social life is disjointed and weird and my various social circles pretty much only include married people hanging out with one another.

I also never meet anyone because I’m the world’s biggest chicken shit about introducing myself to strangers.

I could have a bunch of casual relationships, I suppose. And some people do choose that path in their post-divorce lives.

Maybe if I wasn’t a father, I would have too.

Maybe you’re different than me. Maybe we’re not all as much alike on the inside as I believe we are. But lustful, meaningless, empty sex just doesn’t do much for me except make me feel bad on the inside.

I wonder sometimes to what extent it’s a factor in marriages breaking up—people using sex as a tool to feel good.

Casual can work. Two well-intentioned, honest people agreeing to make one another feel good is a viable option. It feels morally bankrupt to me. But it makes sense. Because there’s an element of unselfishness to the proceedings. An element of giving.

If sex is only about pleasing ourselves, one wonders what the point of a partner is at all.

If sex is about service—an expression of love—an act designed to give more to the other person than we take. Then I think maybe the foundation is there for something lasting and meaningful.

I say all that because so much of these past 18 months have been about exploring who I want to be moving forward. If this is a second chance at choosing a life for myself, then I want—need—to get it right.

And my son is at the very center of that desire and thought-process.

I cannot teach that boy about the finer points of love and self-respect and choosing a partner down the road if I don’t know who I am, and if I’m not walking the same walk I wish for him.

That Was Totally Rambling and Disjointed

Sorry.

I just want people like me to know it’s going to be okay. That’s it. I could have saved you a thousand words, and simply said that: Just wait 18 months!!! Mark it on your calendars and look forward to it!!! Everything’s going to be okay!!!

Bam. Message delivered.

Because it’s true.

It is scary and horrible when you get divorced.

It is messed up and wrong when you lose so much time with your children.

It is daunting to think about how you’re ever going to move forward functionally in a post-divorce world and find someone to love you again.

If you’re in the beginning, I’m so sorry. Don’t give up. Because something beautiful is on the horizon.

If you’re here with me?

Smile.

We made it.

Still breathing. Still alive.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

*shrug*

That’s okay.

Probably going to be awesome.

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