A Blog Vacation

(Image/fpchiro.com)

(Image/fpchiro.com)

I try to explain how it works in my head but most people don’t or can’t understand.

It’s probably really hard for a working mother to empathize. After all, she’s a superhero. Raising children. Managing calendars and balancing them against the scheduling needs and wants of the family. She is often working harder around the house than the rest of us, doing the things I spent the first 34 years of my life taking for granted. Keeping bathroom mirrors and porcelain shiny and spotless. Keeping floors swept and vacuumed. Keeping caught up on laundry. Keeping countertops and home offices uncluttered. Keeping the pantry and refrigerator appropriately stocked. They do all that AFTER working 40- to 50-hour weeks.

I sometimes come off undisciplined. Forgetful. Irresponsible. Unreliable.

I’m not proud of it. I’m even a little ashamed. Unless other people are relying on me, I am unlikely to meet a self-imposed deadline. Unless someone (probably a girl) is going to come over and pass judgment on the way I keep my home, I am unlikely to keep it as clean and organized as I’d prefer.

To be sure, I DO like the feeling of a clean and orderly home. I DO like the feeling of accomplishment following completion of a job well done.

But if there are competing interests? Even ones that matter less? I have an amazing capacity for procrastination. And despite my self-awareness, I’ve never found a way to overcome it.

I was diagnosed with ADHD. If I’m remembering the data correctly, about 5% of people’s brains work like mine. It has its advantages. It does. But the effective management of too many things suffers when I don’t have help.

My young son keeps me busy, even though I only have him at home half the time.

Me and two partners launched our start-up company in recent months. We even have clients now. It means that all of the extra professional work I do, errands I run, and housework I (sometimes) complete, is squeezed into nights when my son is with his mom. I try to stay socially active, too, because it’s really important. But that’s usually the first to suffer when life beckons.

I spend 40-plus hours per week at my full-time office job.

I’m trying (somewhat poorly) to write a book.

I’m trying to maintain good exercise and eating habits.

And I’m trying to keep this blog active, and God-willing, interesting to a few people.

Because I’m me, EVERYTHING suffers when the task list gets long. I do good work when I channel all of my focus and energy into one thing. I can do that, one project at a time.

But I’m kind of a disaster when life demands more than one thing from me at once. And in the real world, being an adult—especially a parent—requires that I be on top of more than just one thing at any given time.

In addition to the emotional, spiritual and physical (giggity) balance having a partner provides, I’ve really learned the value of having someone who helps and supports you each day (and whose mere existence motivates me to provide return help and support).

I was an emotional disaster in the aftermath of my marital separation and divorce two years ago. And that—BY FAR—is the worst part of divorce. Feeling dead inside.

But once you get back on your feet and find the internal balance, peace, confidence, hopefulness that had been missing, what you’re left with is this realization about—for lack of a better phrase—the logistics of being an adult. Especially one with parental and professional responsibilities.

Two years later, that’s the hardest part now. No question. If I could fire myself as manager of my life, I totally would.

I’ve been feeling—I don’t know—overwhelmed?—for a while now.

I’m doing a bad job staying in touch with people. My kitchen counter is an emergency of the cluttered variety. I have a bunch of projects that need finished for our growing small business. The book isn’t progressing as I’d like. My email inbox is piling up. And I have to leave town this weekend.

Again, to virtually any mom, or probably any woman (okay, or responsible guy), I probably sound like a dumb, whiny loser. I don’t care. I don’t know whether all the chaos I feel is real. It’s probably something I just manifest in my head. But my brain can’t tell the difference.

I’m not saying I won’t write. I’m not saying I’m going to intentionally post less often.

I’m just saying, I need to slow down in certain areas so I can put more energy into others, just to make sure I don’t totally lose it.

Maybe I’ll post again soon. Or maybe I’ll post again in three weeks. I don’t know.

I just know I need to reset, and I won’t know when it has happened until I feel it.

I hope I see you whenever that happens.

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Stop Telling Me to Get a Dog

(Image/Barkbusters.com)

(Image/Barkbusters.com)

I don’t want a dog.

It’s National Dog Day, so it’s probably not the most popular thing to think or say. But it’s true.

I like dogs. Most of the time. Seriously.

Sort of like people who only enjoy small children on a case-by-case basis. That’s a position I can get behind. (Giggity.)

I really do like dogs.

In fact, I DO want a dog in Bizarro Dog World™ where the things I don’t like about dog ownership aren’t true.

This is my friend’s dog, and I’m a little bit obsessed with him.

Chewie labradoodle

His name is Chewie. He’s a labradoodle. He’s smart. Friendly. Relatively well behaved (he’s a puppy, and all puppies are like: “You’re going to need to repeat that 11 more times and give me a treat before I listen. Because I’m totally a puppy. Sorry.”) Doesn’t shed, despite all that long, awesome hair. And is ridiculously cute.

I live alone when my son isn’t home. Many people have suggested I get a dog ever since I became single more than two years ago.

“You should get a dog.”

“But I don’t want a dog.”

“Why not? Don’t you like dogs? You have a good house and yard for it.”

“Of course I like dogs. What kind of person do you think I am?”

“Then what’s the problem?”

I’m glad you asked.

It turns out, I don’t live in Bizarro Dog World. Bummer.

Here’s the thing, People With Normal Brains: After I exhaust 96 percent of my daily energy making sure my son is properly cared for, and that I stay employed, the remaining 4 percent has to cover everything else, like chores and errands and cleaning and feeding myself and keeping my two low-maintenance pets alive (one very bad cat my ex-wife talked me into getting 12 years ago, and a Betta fish swimming in an old flower vase that I’m pretty sure is immortal).

When I say I have ADHD, I don’t just mean I’m a little bit forgetful or that my life feels frantic because I’m a single dad half the time.

I mean, as a matter of course, it’s not the slightest bit weird for me to experience life like regular people experience emergencies.

I am perfectly capable of loving and feeding and caring for a dog.

But I’d have to use that remaining 4 percent of my daily energy to do so, which means I’d have to start coping with narcolepsy, and honestly?—I have enough problems.

Reasons I Should Not Have a Dog

They require food and water, which isn’t a problem, but it is work.

They require attention, which wouldn’t be hard when I’m home, but I’m often not. The amount of walking and poop cleanup required to be a good dog owner would leave me passed out on sidewalks in a puddle of my own vomit that my very handsome but misbehaved dog was licking up.

They require care on vacations. You can’t leave town like you can with bad cats and immortal fish and have someone feed and water them for you. That requires planning (and money). I am a very bad planner.

They introduce things like drool, foul smells, bonus poop and pee, noise, and property damage to your life. My second grader has that covered, thank you very much.

But you know what I think the shittiest part would be?

That on average you only get about 10 years with them. Just a decade. You build a bond approaching the one you have with family. The dogs are faithful and loving and never disappoint you (in the same way a non-second-grade-aged human can), and then one day they get sick or are simply too old to carry on.

And it’s time to say goodbye.

I was talking to my friend Kevin about his lifelong experience as a dog owner.

His last dog had to be put down, and he told me he—a 40-something tough guy who is the furthest thing from wimpy—cried in the fetal position on the floor of the vet’s office and held her paw while they put her down.

I remember looking at him and saying “Yeah. I don’t need any of that in my life. I’ve got enough problems.”

I like dogs. Generally.

I really like certain dogs I know. Specifically.

And I’m guessing I’d quickly grow to love the one I’d nurture from puppyhood through his or her life.

I’m certain I’m missing out. Not unlike how I feel about adults with no children.

But in the interest of not randomly passing out on dog walks in my neighborhood.

Of not inadvertently doing a bad job caring for a beautiful living mammal.

Of not finding new ways to spend enormous amounts of money.

Of not inviting new chores and property damage and loud noises and foul smells.

Of not one day feeling crippling loss I invited by knowing the dog-lifespan math.

I think I’m gonna have to pass.

I like the idea of dog ownership. But I don’t think I like the real-world execution of it.

And I’m already so good at owning immortal fish. I figure: Why mess with a good thing?

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Should I Be Afraid to Publish My Name?, Vol. 2

(Image/ericjames.co.uk)

(Image/ericjames.co.uk)

I had never considered using a pen name. Not really.

I don’t know why.

Maybe vanity. Maybe I wanted my name out there so everyone I went to high school with would see that I’d finally done something with my life.

Maybe credibility. Because I write a first-person narrative in a pseudo-journalistic style, I thought putting my name on it was the only real option.

I finally asked myself the question: What would really be so bad about using a pseudonym?

There are only two, and both are stupid:

  1. Vanity. It’s stupid because no one from high school gives a shit, and if they did it wouldn’t matter.
  2. Money. It’s stupid because writers don’t make any real money, and it’s foolish to assume I ever will. There are logistical challenges related to receiving checks, banking and paying taxes from money earned writing under a fake name. But if I was ACTUALLY making money from something I published, wouldn’t the hassle be worth it? Of course it would. But I probably won’t, so who cares?

I found some online resources addressing this topic. I read them and started warming up to the idea.

The internet marketer in me knows having my own URL would be beneficial in the long term. I could make sure whatever name I chose had an available web address.

I found a random last-name generator. I’ve been playing with it.

The first one I liked and researched ended up being the name of a gay porn actor. So… probably not.

Step one, pick a bunch of names I like. Matt and Matthew are both options.

Step two, research the name to make sure there isn’t another famous one.

Step three, find a sensible URL that’s available (much harder to do in 2015 than it used to be, and picking anything but a .com seems like a poor choice, though I could see that changing someday).

It would help protect my son. His mother. My friends and family.

It would protect my professional interests that don’t involve writing.

I’d like to tell you I would be the same amount of honest no matter what, but the truth is, writing under a different name would probably keep the bravery and honesty quotient higher.

I’m coming around to the idea. And it’s kind of fun thinking of names.

Do I want to be Matthew Hawkins? Or Matt Shaw? Matthew Church? Matt Jackson? Matthew J. Warren? Matt Keller? Matt Watts? Mateo Juarez? Matt Chase? Matthew R. Hendrix? M. W. Hood?

The possibilities are endless.

What I haven’t settled on is just how much any of it matters.

I only know erring on the side of caution regarding those I love and care about would seem the wisest course. And I find myself (surprisingly!) leaning that way.

As always, I’m interested in your opinions and how you feel about it.

A penny for your thoughts. An imaginary penny, of course.

Sort of fits the occasion.

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The Best Relationship Advice I Know: Give More Than You Take

I feel certain that if one of them dropped their pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

I feel certain that if one dropped a pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

There are three common reactions to my ‘An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands’ series, and I hate two of them.

Reaction 1: “Atta boy! Good for you for owning up to your part in the divorce and trying to help others.”

I agree because it’s true. I accept praise for my efforts to accept responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made. Mistakes without consequence rarely teach us anything useful.

Reaction 2: “You take on too much, Matt! It takes two to tango! It’s not all your fault! Stop being so hard on yourself!”

I disagree with that one because I’m not being hard on myself. I’m telling you the truth: If I had behaved daily—in good times and in bad—as a husband must to love his wife and thoughtfully tend to his marriage, there’s no way I would be divorced right now, and my son would have both parents at home, which I think is a big deal. Exactly zero people benefit in life from pointing fingers and casting blame for their life circumstances.

Reaction 3 (always from men): “This is bullshit! No matter how hard we work, or what we sacrifice, it’s never good enough! We go to work to pay for their house and their car and their hair and their nails and their jewelry! We give them everything we have! We make them orgasm in bed! And then when we want to have a drink with our buddies or play golf or watch a ballgame, we’re somehow failing them because they’re not getting enough attention? So you’re saying we just have to do whatever they want all the time, or we’re shitty husbands? Fuck them. Fuck that. Fuck you.”

The problem with this is that it rings true for many men. I think most husbands—justified or not— feel this way at times in their relationships.

No, I’m Not Saying ‘Do Whatever They Want’

Some people seem to think I’m telling husbands to submit to their wives’ demands. Let’s deal with that for a second:

Your wife should not be DEMANDING anything from you in your marriage except for you to respect and abide by her personal boundaries. All other “demands” are totally inappropriate.

If you got married without knowing your wife’s personal boundaries, it should come as little surprise that your marriage is shitty and unpleasant. You promised a lifetime to someone you didn’t actually know, and before you were intellectually or emotionally mature enough to make the promise.

If a husband or wife wants to bark orders at one another in their bedroom while they engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual role play, I assume that might build trust and intimacy, and prove good for the marriage in the long term.

But any man or woman who acts like a tyrant, making commands and abusing partners (physically, verbally or emotionally) when they don’t obey them? They can eat dicks.

So many people find themselves in relationships that aren’t partnerships, but constant power struggles as one partner jockeys for position and authority over the other.

“I work harder!”

“I make more money!”

“I’m the man of the house!”

“This household would fall apart if it wasn’t for me!”

Marriage can’t be like a business partnership where one partner owns 70% of the company, and the other owns 30%. The person with the majority share ALWAYS has final say. It makes sense for a wife or husband investing heavily in their marriage while the other doesn’t to feel like their opinions should carry more weight.

In marriage, both partners need to be fully vested in the union. Most people think of it as a 50-50 partnership. But my mom said something to me once, and I knew right away it was true: In a marriage, 50% isn’t enough. Only 100% is. Successful marriages happen when two people both give 100% to the other. Not meeting halfway, but going all the way to one another. A 100-100 partnership.

Give More Than You Take

According to Adam Grant’s business book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, there are three styles of interpersonal dealing:

Takers – They intentionally take more than they give. Self-oriented.

Matchers – They give and take proportionally to what they are given, and their willingness to give is conditional. Others-oriented when it will benefit them to do so because it will help them.

Givers – They always give more than they take. Others-oriented.

All three styles can be successful in the business world, though “taking” will earn you little goodwill.

Through anecdotal evidence backed by mountains of research, Grant concludes that being a giver yields the greatest business success (but also writes about under what conditions giving is a failing strategy).

I think it applies to every transaction we have in our lives. At work. In our spiritual lives. With our friends.

First we give. Then life gives back.

Our emotions are insanely powerful.

We say and do shitty things to the people we love because we are hurt or angry. It’s so easy to say “Oh, just be unselfish and generous to your partner all the time!” But it’s really hard to do. A million things unrelated to our partners preoccupy and stress us out. Pressures at work or school or with family members or with some other thing we’re super-involved in. We forget. We’re thoughtless. We NEVER think: “Gee. What really shitty and thoughtless thing can I do today to make my partner feel horrible and cry?”

Yet, even with the proper give-more-than-you-take mindset, you’ll probably upset your partner more than you’d prefer.

Being a person is hard. It just is. But you have almost no chance of having a satisfying life if you’re not at least generally aware of how to succeed in a committed relationship.

The only responsible choice is to actively seek to give more than you take, every day.

Even if you’re not a natural giver, what’s the downside of giving unselfishly in your relationship knowing YOU will benefit from doing so? Hint: There isn’t one.

Consider it.

Every day, you try to give more of your love and generosity and time and energy and patience to your partner. And maybe you’re like: “Whoa! That sounds draining and unsustainable!”

But wait.

Every day, your partner is ALSO giving more of their love and generosity and time and energy and patience to you.

You are now in a relationship where you’re trying to out-give one another every day.

You both feel good because you’re giving generously to each other. Unselfishness always feels good.

You both feel good because you’re both GETTING everything you need from each other. Getting stuff always feels good too.

I think this is what love looks like. And two people practicing it daily will live a fulfilling, regret-free forever-kind-of marriage together showing friends, family and children the blueprint for sustainable relationships along the way.

I know it’s hard. I did it totally wrong.

I’m selfish and defensive. So any time a future partner might tell me how I’m failing them, my first inclination might be to justify whatever I did and try to convince her why I’m fine and how she’s really the one with the problem. You know, instead of apologizing and meaning it like one does for the people they love.

But if I was in a relationship in which giving more than we take was the very foundation on which we were built, in which that was the code by which we lived, I think we’d figure it out.

I think we’d get through anything. I think everyone living that way will.

I wonder what’s stopping us.

Maybe we could start today and then everything would change.

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Should I Be Afraid to Publish My Name?

Bloody pen

The words have to bleed. If you want to write about what it means to be human. (Image/Genius.com)

Most of you have no idea who I am (and don’t care).

Some of you know my name is Matt.

Fewer still know I’m Matt and I live in Ohio.

And a super-small group of you know my last name or actually know me in real life.

Does it Matter if it Doesn’t Bleed?

I don’t want to be critical of writers who entertain, inform or educate us. Those are great things.

Sometimes I keep it light, too. I’m immature and playful, so it’s often hard for me to leave that out of things I write.

But matters of the heart and mind are what I choose to spend most of my time exploring. I want to be a better person, and I’m sensitive to my flaws. I think it’s hard to be a human being, and it often gets harder in adulthood.

I think a lot of us frolic through childhood blissfully unaware, and then one inevitable day, that first tragic thing happens, rapes our innocence, and then we never get to be that version of ourselves ever again. Those moments take our breath away. They’re really hard. Some people freak out when life is really hard. They become addicts. They lose jobs. They have affairs. They commit suicide.

Awful things. Things I used to observe and think: What the hell is wrong with those people?

And the answer—in a macro-human sense—is: Nothing. They’re just people, and you can’t know how unmitigated fuckness feels until it’s stabbing your heart and mind mercilessly while you sob in the fetal position.

If you’re going to write about matters of the heart and mind, I don’t think there’s a lot of room for half-assing it. This is real life. When you strip away everything superficial about our lives (the jobs, houses, money, cars) the only things left are the people we love and our mental and emotional state of being when we wake up in the morning.

Mostly, we take this stuff for granted. Mostly, we feel just fine, with pockets of frustration and pockets of fun. Mostly, our relationships aren’t suffering, and people we love aren’t dying, and we’re not afraid of sickness or death ourselves.

No matter how many times a day we hear about some crazy-scary thing happening, or about some tragedy, or how many people around us get sick and die, we STILL just carry on in a That will never happen to me! sort-of way.

But bad things can and will happen. They test our character. They test our faith. They test our mettle.

And then we wallow and despair. Or we demonstrate courage. Or we climb our mountains with joyful hope. Often we do all of those things over a long period of time while we fight to find ourselves again.

THESE are the things that really matter to me. These are the things I want to write about.

I’m afraid of writing about those things, and then having my boss read them. I’m afraid of all the guys I work with, and imagining them laughing and snickering and calling me a pussy behind my back while they read about how I used to cry a lot after my wife left.

I’m afraid of my mom, or grandma, or aunts and uncles reading about how I lost my virginity or about doubting my faith sometimes or just all the bad words I use.

I’m afraid of my son reading it someday and being ashamed of his father. I’m afraid of other parents at his small Catholic school reading it and judging me. Even worse? I’m afraid of my son’s classmates reading it and punishing him socially for it.

Within the first few weeks of blogging, I stumbled on How To Be A TV Star by James Altucher and it completely changed the way I thought about first-person writing.

In the piece, he wrote about how he lied to get on television because he was afraid of flying after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His boss was asking him to fly to a business meeting, and he needed a way out, so he lied to investor and TV personality Jim Cramer about how much investment money he managed.

He wrote this, and I’ve been hero-worshipping him ever since:

“Once Jim asked me to go on I couldn’t stop shaking,” he wrote. “I knew I was a fraud and I was finally going to prove it to everyone I went to high school with.

“I assumed they would all be gathered at the same place, eating popcorn and laughing at me.”

After retelling his experience on Cramer’s show, he said this:

“Afterwards two things happened. My dad wrote me an email congratulating me. Since we were in a fight and I tend to avoid people I’m fighting, I didn’t respond to him. Then he had a stroke and died.”

Something about it just slapped me across the face. Penetrated my soul.

THIS. This is how I want to write, I thought.

It’s Just About Time

Whether I wait until I publish my book, agree to let other publications use my first and last name, or finally break the seal here, the day I start publishing my full name draws nearer.

I met an editor at The Good Men Project who charitably praises my writing and has asked me to contribute regularly. I’ve agreed.

He has been kind enough to let me keep my last name off the work for a while.

My first post (repurposed content from this blog to start with) should run this week. It will be interesting to see what happens afterward.

In the meantime, there is only one way to write anything related to the mind, heart and soul, and have it matter: Honestly.

I hope I’m tough enough and brave enough to do so even after taking off that final mask and submitting to the judgment of internet commenters everywhere.

Even if those people can affect my professional future.

Or even if they used to change my diapers and tuck me into bed at night.

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Why Marriage Counseling is a Bad Idea, Vol. 2

(Image/The New York Times)

(Image/The New York Times)

I’ve been to marriage counseling twice.

By that I mean, in two separate instances during my marriage, I agreed to see a couple’s therapist with my wife.

The first time, my son had just been born, and I was offered a job that, in theory, would solve any and all financial concerns for the rest of our lives. (Top 1% money in my 40s, and eventual company ownership.)

The catch? It would require us to move 500 miles away near my family in Illinois, and my wife, who had already left her family once when we moved to Florida after college, knew she didn’t want to leave them again.

In my estimation at the time, fixing our financial difficulties (they were serious, and we had a newborn) combined with eliminating money concerns forever, was worth the move.

I argued that I’d make enough money where my wife would never have to work again if she didn’t want to, and would be free to travel to Ohio often (I suggested one week per month as a compromise) and that the grand total of time spent with family during one non-working week every month would GREATLY outweigh the time spent with family as our lives were currently constructed.

She argued that Ohio was our home, and that she could never be happy living so far from her friends and family in another new place.

She told me she believed we would eventually get divorced if we made the move. That her family was always going to be more important than money to her. (Which I always admired somewhat.)

We discussed it patiently and at length with a couple’s counselor.

He blatantly said in each of the final two sessions with him that he agreed with my take. That solving financial problems made sense for our family since money was the top source of conflict and stress for our marriage. He agreed that “Home” can be anywhere, so long as you’re willing to make it so. He agreed that visiting family in Ohio, while somewhat unconventional, could be done with the financial resources we would have, and that, in the end, she would actually see her family for greater amounts of time that way.

She cried and I hated it and I held her hand.

She was so sad. I had made my wife—the mother of my new son—sad. I couldn’t take it.

I told her the night before our final marriage-counseling session with that first counselor that I loved her more than anything, and that there’s no way I would jeopardize our marriage and family. I turned down the job offer and agreed to stay in Ohio.

“We’ll figure something out,” I told her.

The second time we attended counseling, our marriage was a trainwreck. I’d been sleeping in the guest room for at least a year. We never touched one another. Every day was shitty and horrible. Being at work and volunteering at a local homeless shelter was infinitely less stressful than being at the house, so I worked and volunteered a lot.

My wife started seeing a marriage counselor on her own.

After a handful of sessions, she told me the counselor wanted to see me too. I really wanted to stay married and not feel shitty and horrible anymore, so I agreed.

I don’t remember exactly what the counselor’s questions were, nor do I remember exactly how my wife answered them, during our first session together. I only know that I’m a pretty nice and pragmatic guy, and I wanted to commit double homicide right then and there.

I perceived my wife’s characterizations of me and our marriage to be totally unfair, and I perceived this aloof, disengaged counselor to be 100-percent validating all of it.

It’s possible I was being overly defensive and immature in my reaction, because I am overly defensive and immature. Also, that was the worst time of my life, so negative things might have felt magnified. I don’t know.

But I do know that I felt the counselor was disinterested in whether our marriage succeeded, and that my wife was cold and unfair. True or not, it seemed to me at the time like she was looking for validation for her anger and sadness and inclination to leave more so than she was a genuine, heartfelt strategy for repairing our marriage.

Something tells me I’m not the only one to experience this.

I Think It’s Insane

If you could get couples to attend regular marriage counseling sessions from the beginning of their marriage as a routine maintenance tool and a strategy for healthy communication, I believe marriage counseling would be a very wise, useful investment, and successful activity.

But that’s not how the real world works.

In the real world, people get married young and don’t know what to expect. They think it’s going to be just like the two or three years they’ve been together so far as boyfriend and girlfriend, and that it’s going to stay that way forever.

But then one day, it’s not.

And all the sadness and resentment and anger starts to build. Because men and women have so much trouble communicating, attempts to talk about it leave both parties dissatisfied and angrier than before.

As a last resort, one convinces the other to go to couple’s therapy, so an “objective” third-party arbitrator can set the record straight.

Then two people, who not too many years ago, stood before a pastor, judge, priest or minister, and declared their undying love and commitment to one another in front of almost everyone they know, are now sitting on a sofa or chairs, talking about how the person they “love” makes them sad, miserable and angry.

Let me repeat that.

We put two people during one of the most-difficult times of their lives in a room, when they feel like their spouse isn’t there for them anymore and may actually leave them, and we ask them to say out loud in front of one another how the other person’s actions make their lives shitty.

And excuse my language, but that’s fucking insane.

The people who don’t love their spouses are never going to succeed in marriage counseling anyway.

And the people who do love their spouses just sat there and took it up the ass while the person they do EVERYTHING for just told a stranger what stupid assholes they are right in front of them, and then the counselor validated it and celebrated their “honesty.”

I think there’s probably a better way.

We’re All a Little Bit Broken and Messed Up

I’m stealing this from a comment I left in the previous post on this subject:

There are a million different reasons why we are all a little broken and messed up, and no one has the time or money to get it all figured out. But if we can all be a little bit more self-aware of our shortcomings (or at least our behaviors that tend to upset others, even if it’s only our partners who get upset), and work hardest on making ourselves the most whole, balanced, healthy, content people we can possibly be… we give ourselves an excellent chance for happiness.

Two people trying to be the best versions of themselves possible, will also try to give unselfishly to their partner and/or marriage every day. When two people give more to the other than they take for themselves, Happily Ever After happens. Both people always get what they need, and they always feel good because they’re giving a lot, too.

Jayne left a fair comment about just how hard maintaining a stable and healthy relationship truly is, even with two intellectually capable people trying their best:

“okay…but having been through divorce, as I have, and having witnessed many people aware of the danger, still fall into that black hole of complacency and taking each other for granted… Do you believe you yourself can keep a relationship “good”. As I wrote “you, yourself” I had part of my answer and that is that it’s not possible to do all by yourself. Sooo much thinking on this subject and sooo much evidence of miscommunication makes me think most of it is driven by chance. Relationships seem to start by “chance” and even with our knowledge and intellect, they can’t be formulated for success. Sometimes I do believe that relationships aren’t supposed to last forever and this is proof. When you think about it, there is a lot of proof for that,” Jayne said.

I liked my response because I think it’s the difference between couples who make it and couples who don’t:

Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur famously said that in the 1800s. And I think he was right.

Sure, there’s a lot of chance and bullshit that affect our lives.

But when we aren’t lazy, when we put in the time and effort to psychologically prepare ourselves for ANYTHING (a project, a new job, a new town we’re moving to, learning a native language before visiting a country, etc.), but certainly a committed relationship, I think we give ourselves an excellent chance for success.

I have no idea whether I’ll ever marry again. And all of the preparation in the world can’t guarantee it will last forever.

But my would-be fiancée and I will spend a LOT of time talking about these things, working on them, and demonstrating self-awareness and empathy.

Anyone I end up having “the same fight” with over and over again? It’s likely going to be her stubbornness or my stubbornness that prevents us from breaking that cycle.

In either case, that will be a sure sign to NOT get married.

If I get married again, she and I will have had these high-level talks and will have, repeatedly, over many weeks, months and years, demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively and behave unselfishly even when it’s inconvenient.

Sure, I may divorce again one day.

But it won’t be because I made the mistake of going into it not properly armed with the tools and information I need to be a good husband and succeed.

Fate gets to decide whether I live or die five minutes from now.

But it doesn’t get to decide how I treat the people I love.

Let’s Stop All the Finger-Pointing

Individual marriage counseling is the act of one person exploring all the ways they can be a better husband or wife. And THAT should be the question every married person asks themselves daily: How can I be a better spouse today?

So, confession: I don’t think ALL marriage counseling is bad. I just think the way it’s most often done is.

I also stole the following from another one of my comments in the previous post:

EVERYONE commits some kind of crime in their marriage.

Therapists shouldn’t spread the blame around equally when one person got screwed over, but they also shouldn’t not ask the right question.

People sometimes say I take on too much responsibility for the end of my marriage. Right or wrong (and I think it’s wrong), it doesn’t matter.

It’s ALL about responsibility and accountability.

This is something I believe strongly (this only applies to me, not all marriages): If I behaved every day in my marriage the way I have grown to believe a person must behave in order to have a long, healthy marriage, my wife and I would still be married, and probably with a second child.

I’ve never said or typed that before. But I think it’s true.

That doesn’t mean it’s entirely my fault that we got divorced.

It just means, I had a lot of control over my own destiny (and that of my wife and son) and I squandered it through immaturity, irresponsibility and negligence.

Thus, I’m now 36 and single and only see my son half the time.

Even when our hearts are in the right place, we reap what we sow.

If you can’t find an answer to the question: What have I done that might have contributed to my spouse’s sadness and anger?, then you’re one of two things—the greatest husband or wife in the world, or a self-centered narcissist.

And in either case, couples counseling can’t and won’t save you. You’re going to have to save yourself.

And to do so, you need to start asking the right questions.

You need to start right now.

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Why Marriage Counseling is a Bad Idea, Vol. 1

(Image/Huffington Post)

(Image/Huffington Post)

A wife asked her husband to read my ‘Shitty Husbands’ posts, which happens more than I’d like. (Because passive-aggressively telling your husband he’s not good enough WILL NOT improve your marriage.)

Then she wrote me an email asking for advice, which also happens more than I’d like. (Because I’m just some guy who doesn’t really know anything, and got divorced the only time I was married.)

In that email, she wrote: “He started reading and said: ‘Fuck that guy. Is he a therapist?’”

I assume MOST men have that response when they read those posts. It’s the same thing I would have said five years ago: Who cares what this idiot thinks? He got a divorce and I’m still married. I’m already doing better than him by default!

I don’t blame the guy for feeling that way. He suffers from the same affliction affecting most married men: Oblivious Husband Syndrome. (Which I totally made up, and could just as easily be called: Oblivious Man Syndrome.)

Our brains (both male and female) contain translators, so that when people speak to us, or we observe something, our brains can process what we’re hearing or seeing and apply meaning to it.

So when we see a “Don’t Turn on Red” traffic sign, we understand it to mean that at particular traffic intersections, we are not allowed to make right turns when the light is red, even though American drivers are accustomed to doing that. We know what the color red looks like. So we’re not sitting there avoiding right turns at green lights while a bunch of pissed-off drivers wait behind us.

Our translators are good at stuff like that.

Sometimes though, our translators are shitty. Sometimes, we need information in English, but it gives us Portuguese or Mandarin or Arabic instead.

And that’s because a member of the opposite sex is talking to us. And because men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and because men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti, when a man says something to a woman or acts like himself around her, or a woman says something to a man or acts like herself around him, it’s not uncommon for neither person to know what the hell the other person is talking about or trying to accomplish.

Men often don’t understand women because women often speak and act in code. Other women know exactly what the code means. Because of this, many women don’t understand why their husbands or boyfriends don’t get it also. The only conclusion is that he’s a stupid moron. And in the context of the way her mind naturally works, it’s a perfectly logical conclusion.

But it’s wrong.

Women often don’t understand men because men are often lousy communicators. We stay quiet about our feelings for a variety of reasons, and we have a hard time patiently listening to problems or stories because we have a tendency to problem-solve. When our wives or girlfriends are telling us a story, the ENTIRE point for them is the act of telling the story and having their husbands or boyfriends listen to it and acknowledge it.

The problem is, the men listening tend to not be interested in the nuance in her story, and are more interested in whatever “the point” is. Once they understand the point, the men can provide solutions to their wives’ or girlfriends’ problems, or solutions to whomever the story is about. That’s his goal. To solve the problem and eliminate the need for discussion.

The process is painful to the guy because he tried to help and listen, but she didn’t want him to help, and now he’s frustrated and feeling unappreciated.

It’s painful to his wife or girlfriend because, once again, he’s demonstrating insensitivity and an inability to really listen and be there for her in matters big or small.

The man thinks he was being helpful. The woman thinks he’s an insensitive dick. The only conclusion for the guy to come to is that she’s overly dramatic, emotional and crazy. And in the context of the way his mind naturally works, it’s a perfectly logical conclusion.

Men with Oblivious Husband Syndrome aren’t always stupid and aren’t always assholes. Often, they just don’t know.

This is just one all-too-common example of how men and women fail to communicate effectively with one another, and at the end of the day, it causes more breakups and divorce than anything else.

Men are not better than women. Women are not better than men. But men and women ARE different in varying degrees depending on environment, upbringing, genetics, etc.

The fundamental breakdown in a romantic relationship between men and women can be traced back to their inability to empathize with one another or to meet their partners halfway. Instead, we try hitting our partners over the head repeatedly until they finally “get” us, or concede that our way is best. (They never will. The most we can hope for are highly functional translators.)

Marketing genius Seth Godin wrote this today:

“Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, ‘why did they do what they did?’

The useful answer is rarely, ‘because they’re stupid.’ Or even, ‘because they’re evil.’ In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don’t admire merely because we don’t care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn’t help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.”

All of this is leading me to my strong belief that the vast majority of couples make a huge mistake going to marriage counseling or couples counseling together. I hope marriage counselors don’t get upset with me for writing that, but some probably will.

I started thinking about it when a husband whose wife is just about to leave him said: “Fuck that guy. Is he a therapist?”

No. I’m not a therapist. And I don’t know the secret to fixing troubled marriages. And I don’t know for sure that I will ever have a successful marriage.

I don’t give advice. I just tell you what happened to me.

There are marriage-counseling success stories. Just like sometimes, people actually win the lottery. Because some counselors are great, and some people are blessed to be married to partners willing to humble themselves and learn to empathize.

But most of the time?

It’s a gut-wrenching, resentment-building, bank account-draining affair that drives couples further apart because men and women frequently demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to understand one another.

I think couples counseling is a bad idea.

Soon, I’ll tell you why.

To be continued.

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The Book Project, Vol. 2

(Image/timemanagementninja.com)

(Image/timemanagementninja.com)

You probably think I’m procrastinating. (And you’re technically correct.) But in the context of my life, things are right on schedule.

This is how I operate. I’m not defending it, nor proud of it. It’s just a fact.

Remember that one time I pledged you’d want me by June 1? Because I said I’d be in good shape by then? I didn’t even start seriously working out and altering my diet until a week before June 1. I can’t be entirely sure you’d want me today, but it’s at least 200-percent more likely than before. You’re welcome.

In April of LAST YEAR, I told you about the book I am planning to write. And I do have several thousands of words written for it. It’s not like the workout thing, where I literally did NOTHING I said I would for a few months.

But, still. I’ve been putting it off. And that has to stop. Now.

My 500-Words-Per-Day Strategy

I won’t know I can do this until I actually do it, but there’s nothing particularly daunting to me about the prospect of writing 500 words a day. I think it might help.

My favorite writer James Altucher preaches generating 10 new ideas every day. (It doesn’t matter what for. It only matters that you do it.)

Bestselling novelist John Grisham has published 33 novels in 25 years because he commits to writing at least one page daily, and sticks to it.

Perhaps the most successful comedian of all time, Jerry Seinfeld, set a simple target for himself: One new joke per day.

It’s a productivity hack to harness the power of momentum and reap the long-term benefits of incremental gains.

Writes Cathryn Lavery in the Medium post that inspired this one: Persistence creates luck and experience.

I know it to be true. Now, it’s time to apply it to finishing this book project which I hope will lead to new ones.

I am a world-class procrastinator. I will NEVER publicly admit all of the problems that have cropped up in my life over the years because of my tendency to put things off.

I am the captain of the ADHD squad.

And I am a little bit childish in that I prefer to spend pretty much all my time doing whatever it is I want to be doing, and pretty much never wanting to do things that don’t fit nicely into that little Things Matt Likes silo.

I can continue to use those things as excuses and never achieve goals I set for myself, or I can make small changes and slowly but steadily inch my way toward the finish line.

The key takeaway from going through the StrengthsFinder program in May was the realization that I need to sometimes protect myself from myself and structure projects and parts of my life in ways that minimize the negative effects of some of my (less-than-desirable) tendencies. In other words, in order to finish this book, I need partners.

A friend and co-worker agreed to be the person to hold me accountable to writing 500 words per day. If she does her part, and I do my part, the book should be written by the holidays. I am grateful to have people in my life who want to help me with this project. Much like the workout thing, one morning it was finally time to move. For book writing, today is that day.

Improve at something 1% each day, and you’ll be twice as good at that thing in 70 days. Improve 1% each day, and at the end of the year you’ll have improved 3,800%.

All it takes is repetition and the will to say yes every day. And like working out and disciplined eating, I can do that.

Which is good.

Because it’s time to scare the hell out of Bruce Lee.

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A Post About Nothing and Everything

(Image/teepublic.com)

(Image/teepublic.com)

I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen. Another one of those I-don’t-know-what-to-write moments.

“What happens if you just took a pass on writing a post for today?” a friend asked.

“I took a pass on writing a post on Wednesday,” I said.

Maybe it’s time to cut back to two days a week. Or maybe something awful needs to happen because I tend to do my best writing when I feel.

It’s not that I don’t feel. Life is just more typical of the human experience I remember having prior to all the shitty things that happened once I turned 30.

Maybe that’s something, though. Sometimes people hurting after divorce want someone to tell them how long it’s going to hurt. That’s what I wanted to know the most back then. When will I be ME again? Ever?

I kind of wanted to die for the first six months, didn’t care whether I died the following six, but noticed improvement. I don’t remember the 18-month mark which means it wasn’t that significant, and I must have felt better.

As we sit today, I am two years and more than four months away from the separation date—the worst day of my life. And I’m totally fine. Things about my life are shittier than when I was married. But some things are better. It’s how you feel when you wake up in the morning that really matters.

The “problems” I wake up thinking about today are a spoonful of sugar compared to the fuckness of divorce. I’m down nearly 20 pounds. I feel pretty good. I’m actively engaged in various business pursuits as I attempt to improve my financial standing.

It’s a very nice change. To not feel wretched all the time.

I’m not saying two years from now, you won’t hurt anymore. Everyone deals with these things differently in their own way and at their own pace. But I think MOST people are MOSTLY the same on the inside. I think you can mark your calendars for the two-year mark as a nice “I’ll totally feel better then!” benchmark. But don’t forget to be grateful each step of the way when you notice the pain fading.

It’s a slow process.

But you notice yourself breathing more easily, smiling more, living more fully, with each passing day.

As I sit here not knowing what to write, I choose gratitude for those things.

Things on my Mind

That’s usually what I try to write about. Whatever’s top of mind.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my career.

No one gives a shit. I’m not going to write about that.

I was interested in, and entertained by, last night’s GOP presidential debate even though I tend to feel mostly disgust for Washington politics (toward both major parties) and am usually politically engaged only during election cycles.

Political conversation is too divisive. Debate and defending myself exhausts me. And I’ve never (not even once) seen someone change their mind while discussing issues with someone with whom they disagreed. I don’t want to write about it.

To that end, I’ve been reflecting on relationships between people from different backgrounds or faiths or political philosophies, and whether it’s sensible for those people to try to make a relationship work.

Not unlike my general belief that couples too far apart in age are often making a poor choice in terms of sustainability, I have strong feelings about other aspects of a couple’s personality makeup as well.

I once spelled out exactly what I’m looking for in a relationship partner. It has been read just 162 times because it’s one of my oldest posts.

I went back and read it to see whether I feel differently today.

I don’t.

I’m not going to write about that because I already have.

So what am I going to write about?

Nothing.

Everything.

This.

I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter.

But I do know it’s good to be back. To recognize myself again. To feel back.

And maybe that’s what this is really about. You tell me.

*PUBLISH*

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Our Fake Lives

This post is totally not about the Manosphere. You're welcome.

This post is totally not about the Manosphere. You’re welcome.

I don’t know how much of my life is real.

Less than half, maybe.

Sometimes you just have to stop and shut the fuck up for a minute. Just stop. And every ounce of focus and energy you possess is dedicated to being still. Just breathing. For a moment, there is nothing else. Because you’re not thinking about yesterday. You’re not worried about tomorrow. A total investment in that next breath.

In, then out.

The faintest hint of a smile on your face.

And again: In. Through the nose. Hold it. Just a moment. Then, out. Through the mouth.

That’s one of the few times you can know it when no one else is around: This is real. I’m alive.

Different things make people feel alive.

Not everyone would feel it sitting at a Las Vegas poker table the way I do. Check. Bet. Raise. Re-raise. That’s right. Ship those chips, sucka.

Not everyone would feel it sitting at a keyboard. Tap-tap-tapping until things I think and feel morph into words.

But I hope most people feel it when I feel it most. In a crowd of good people, a bunch of friends, laughing, sharing. Connected.

Less than half my life is real.

It’s not real because I spend a lot of time mentally in the past. A place that no longer exists and where pain and sadness sometimes live.

It’s not real because I spend a lot of time dreaming or worrying about the future. A complete fantasy impossible to predict because we have no idea what’s going to happen five minutes from now.

It’s not real because I watch TV and movies more than I should.

It’s not real because of books and video games.

It’s not real because so much interaction with others happens via a digital device or on an internet platform.

I’ve always wanted this to be me. These words right here. But the truth is: They’re not, and can never be. Because however many hundreds or thousands of people ever read this stuff… they don’t (and can’t) see me as I am. They fill in the blanks like all of us do when we read books and stories. Our brains plug the holes with guesses, and we invent something that isn’t real.

I’ve been divorced more than two years now. In that time, I haven’t met or dated even one person locally who could conceivably be a serious girlfriend or potential stepmother for my son. That fact comes up in conversation sometimes.

“Do you want to have more kids?”

The mathematical logistics suggest it’s not happening anyway.

“Women who read your blog love you, Matt!”

I hear that sometimes, too.

I always answer it the same way: “Yeah, but it’s total bullshit. They don’t like the real me. They don’t know me. They like the version of me they invented in their head.”

And then I remind them what I just told you. Even though I’m pretty nice, reasonably funny, semi-attractive, passably competent, gainfully employed, and open to meeting people, the net result of two years of being alive as a single mid-thirties dad is: zero potential girlfriends. I wish I was kidding.

Maybe you should try online dating!’

A bunch of people know this already, but this blog was intended to be a dating blog when I first launched it. I thought it would be hilarious to be this emotionally wrecked, ticking time bomb, cliché, middle-aged divorced guy doing all the things those guys do, and then tell the stories along the way.

Edgy! Hilarious!

And I was trying to online date, but I was shitty at it in large part because I hated myself and wasn’t emotionally ready to be dating anyone, anyway, and was stupid for trying. Instead of owning that, I blamed my height since so many girls who online date only want to date tall guys, even if they’re only 5’1”, themselves.

That always annoyed me. Hence the name, Must Be This Tall To Ride.

Even though my motives for quitting were wrong (pride), I think I was right to not use online dating in an effort to fill the companionship void after my divorce.

It’s another part of this Fake Life problem I feel like so many of us have.

HastyWords has been running a #BeReal campaign. As part of it, the always-edgy, always-entertaining Samara from A Buick in the Land of Lexus wrote an excellent post about Facebook addiction that was published today.

And it got me thinking about this Culture of Disconnection we live in, DESPITE living in the most-technically (and technologically) connected time in human history.

It’s almost as if the more fiber-optic lines we lay, and servers we build, and devices we create, and online communities we join, the less-connected we feel in our actual, physical and spiritual, real lives.

The ones that are true and real when we first wake up in the morning.

The ones that are true and real when we’re standing in the shower shaking out the cobwebs or contemplating whatever today’s top concern is.

The ones that are true and real when we’re with all the people who really know us. When all the digital image management programs aren’t running. And it’s just us, live and in color, being a God’s honest human being with other people.

I don’t mean to disparage the Internet or social media. I am a happy and willing participant, particularly in the blogosphere. (Is that still a word?) And it’s a bona fide MIRACLE that grandparents living far away can FaceTime and Skype with their grandchildren, and that we can more easily than ever before stay in touch with people far away who mean so much to us. It’s so much better than no contact at all, and I’m grateful to be alive when these things are possible.

But when I take an honest, no-bullshit look at my own life?

I lean so heavily on you. I do. Like. Comment. Like. Like. Like. Comment. Like. Comment. Like.

I lean so heavily on escapism. A show I’m binge-watching on Netflix, or some new-ish movie on HBO GO.

And my biggest crutch? This phone. But not to speak. Not much.

Many days and nights, I didn’t feel lonely because I had people there, typing back to me in those little gray text bubbles.

And thank God. This is not a BAD thing. It’s not bad that we can stay in touch with people and not feel lonely for a moment.

But it’s a Band-Aid solution, and not even a particularly good one. Like a shitty, generic drugstore-brand band-aid.

Because sometimes our faraway friends get busy.

And even that little gray text bubble isn’t talking back anymore.

We get afraid. I’m not even sure of what.

But if you’re divorced or perpetually single and don’t live by a bunch of friends and family, you don’t need an explanation. You just get it.

And so the Magic Internet Elves invent all these tools for people. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Where people can paint whatever picture of their lives they want to.

Awesome. Great. Fine. But is it real?

And they invent online dating. Where people can Swipe Right and Swipe Left and send winks and messages to strangers based on a few strategically selected photos and their best sales pitch.

Awesome. Great. Fine. Now it’s really easy for single people to find each other. But is it real?

And they invent mobile devices to keep us “connected.” Where people can do all the Magic Internet Things no matter where they are with other “connected” people no matter where they are. But is that living?

I don’t know.

But I know that none of us have as much time as we’d like. I know that time goes so fast, even when I’m just sitting at home alone. And I know I don’t want to spend my life dead.

I’m not sure what it looks like. The life where I always smile and know I’m all the way alive again, connected and whole.

But I’m pretty sure it’s not going to happen watching that movie or liking that Facebook post.

Whenever I find myself unsure of what the next move should be, there’s only one thing left to do.

In, then out.

The faintest hint of a smile on my face.

And again: In. Through the nose. Hold it. Just a moment. Then, out. Through the mouth.

Because it always comes to me.

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