Adam Levine Is Better-Looking Than Me And Probably Always Will Be

I like you

He reached into one of the side drawers of his desk, pulled out a porn mag and flashed me the cover.

He sort of raised his eyebrows, like: “Hot, right? I know you want some of that.”

I probably did. I was only 16. But the whole scene made me uncomfortable. Because he was bragging about his porn mag in front of his wife. (Which is probably better than hiding it, but that’s not my point.)

I’ll never forget what he said. “Oh, she doesn’t care. She knows this is reality,” he said in his best dissatisfied voice while gesturing toward her. “And this is fantasy,” he said proudly of the pouty sex kitten showing off her goods on the cover of Penthouse.

I looked at his wife. I got the distinct impression she cared.

In nine years of marriage, my wife never once heard me talk about another woman in a lustful way. She never heard me say something that might suggest I didn’t think she was good enough or pretty enough or sexy enough compared to some other woman who I thought was.

I’m not bragging. That DID NOT make me a good husband. It just made me thoughtful and polite in that one particular area.

Part of it was because I try to be nice and respectful.

But another part of it was simply me recognizing behavior that made me feel extra-shitty when done in reverse.

My wife didn’t sit around talking lustily about other men most of the time. But sometimes when she was with her girlfriends, there was always the girl who would bring up how dreamy (insert celebrity of choice here) Ryan Gosling, Adam Levine, sexy vampire or werewolf guy from True Blood or Twilight, etc. is.

The implication being: “I’m totally faithful to my husband, but if one of those guys showed up at my door, I’d let him do whatever he wanted.”

Maybe honesty is a good thing, even in this instance.

Maybe saying that out loud and owning it is better than keeping it to yourself if it’s actually true.

But that sentiment always made me feel shitty.

Because, I have an idea: Don’t be with me if I’m not good enough for you. Because I can’t be those other men.

And the real bitch of it is that no one can be like those people. Because we don’t know about all their negative human qualities, because we only see them looking good in front of cameras. You’re not even being compared to real people. Just personas, or fictional characters on television.

I was at a wedding once where a guy my wife knew from high school was drunk and flirting with her. He was the little brother of one of her old friends, all grown up now.

I heard him tell her that he wanted to have sex with her.

I already knew plenty of men thought it, probably even my friends. We’re human, and I totally get that. But I’d never heard a man say that to my wife before.

She hadn’t done anything to invite it. And she didn’t indicate mutual interest in return.

But I was next-level angry when she and I left the reception with another couple shortly after. I wanted to break a chair over that stupid mook’s face, but I would have just lost the fight against all his friends afterward and felt even worse, but with broken ribs.

She blew off my anger as silly man jealousy. “Oh, he’s harmless. Didn’t mean a thing.”

I get over things pretty quickly. This is the first time I’ve thought about that guy since back when it actually happened.

And I find I don’t care about him at all.

But I still care that my anger didn’t matter to her.

Maybe she thought I deserved it.

And maybe I did.

Must Be This Tall To Ride

Everything about this blog’s beginning is predicated on feelings of inadequacy.

Of not being metaphorically tall enough.

I’ve always cared what other people thought of me. We like to act cool, unfazed, like nothing other people say or think about us matters. Maybe some people really are immune to those fears and insecurities. I’m not, though.

I want you to like me, and when you don’t, I feel like a failure and wonder if everyone feels that way.

When your wife leaves you, you feel like a spotlight is being shined brightly on all of your faults and failings. You start wondering what her family thinks about you. What your family thinks about you. What your friends think about you. What your co-workers think about you.

And to a certain extent, that still happens.

Every woman I meet must think: “I wonder what this douchebag did to make her want to leave. He’s probably just like all my ex-boyfriends who made me miserable.”

And the sick truth is that I probably do share commonalities with their exes. I believe most of our human failings look an awful lot like one another’s. I think most couples break over the same basic things. I think if everyone took off the masks and were really honest with one another, we’d all feel a little better because we’d realize: We’re not the only ones, after all.

In our 2014 Facebook culture, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others.

My house isn’t as big as theirs.

My car isn’t as nice as his.

My writing isn’t as good as hers.

My job isn’t as good as his.

I’m not attractive enough for her.

We don’t get to be a fly on the wall when these people are scream-fighting with their partners in the kitchen. Or when they sing and dance alone in their houses. Or when they trip and fall. Or when they’re jerking off to some freaky fetish porn. Or when they’re rocking out to some really lame pop song in their car that they don’t want anyone to know they like.

We don’t get to be inside their heads when their brains are going a mile a minute with all of the same kinds of insecurities and fears that we have.

We compare our regular, flawed, totally human, everyday stuff to other people’s highlight reels. Their financial successes and exotic vacations and perfect-looking family photos.

It’s all a huge lie. And you believe it because you’re a person, but you don’t have to believe it because you’re smart. You’re smart enough to stop believing it.

Please don’t say or do things in front of the people you love that might make them feel like you’d rather be with someone more than them, unless you actually want to, and maybe then brutal honesty is the best policy.

They deserve better. And so do you.

I’m not Ryan Gosling or Adam Levine. I can’t look or be like them. And maybe if I really got to know them, I wouldn’t even want to be.

But I am kind of smart.

I am kind of funny.

I’m not going to knock anyone over with movie-star looks, but some people think I’m attractive.

I may never be a great writer, but some people like to read my work.

I don’t really know what I am.

What you think of me still matters, and probably always will.

But I know I’m good enough.

Just like that porn-mag lover’s wife.

Just like you.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

knight-in-shining-armor

Sometimes your wife cries in bed alone because she wants to hang out with you and you’d rather do anything else.

Don’t say you want to be with her. It’s a lie. You don’t. You like watching sports and playing video games and poker and going out with your guy friends and gambling and fishing and drinking and watching movies and TV shows more than you like hanging out with her.

Sometimes she sobs, broken and abandoned.

Because the knight on TV just saved the princess and is going to love her and protect her and make her orgasm every day, forever. Happily Ever After.

And you don’t even want to be in the same room as her. Maybe she’ll talk to you and ask you about your day. Maybe she’ll want to share details of her day.

But you don’t want to talk about it. You definitely don’t want to listen to it.

You just need some ‘Me’ time.

Why can’t she just enjoy doing the things she likes while I enjoy the things I like?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

Why can’t she think and feel like a man thinks and feels?

I mean, it’s not like she’s doing anything to make ME feel good! We used to have great sex! What happened to the blow jobs!? Just look around! I pay for all this for HER! Her hair. Her nails. Her spa treatments. Her jewelry. Her car. Her house. Our kids.

I work hard. And I only have so much time to unwind. This is how I do it. Why can’t she appreciate that? Why can’t she respect me enough to give me space?

Sometimes she panics. The kind where you’re so scared that your hair falls out a little. The kind where you’re so sad and afraid that even your kids know something is wrong.

Maybe you think she’s fat and ugly, she wonders.

Maybe you’re having an affair or wishing you were, she questions.

Maybe you’re going to leave her, she fears.

All you want her to do is treat you like she used to back when she respected and wanted you.

All she wants you to do is treat her like you used to back when you loved and wanted her.

You retreat from her because her neediness is a turnoff and makes you feel bad.

And she keeps chasing, making you want to retreat even more.

You want to be married. You want to keep your family intact. You probably even love her in your own way.

But she doesn’t feel like your best friend anymore. Because she makes you feel inadequate. So you pull away. And when you pull away, she gets even more scared. Feels even less safe.

Divorce or an affair seems inevitable.

My wife and I didn’t like the same things.

So when we fell into the rhythm of marriage and domesticated life, we were often at odds about how to spend our time.

I like watching sports.

She likes watching shows about weddings.

I like watching thrillers, science fiction and gritty dramas that don’t sugarcoat the human condition.

She likes watching romantic comedies and things that make her laugh and feel good (which isn’t dumb).

I like playing poker.

She likes skiing.

I like writing.

She likes dancing.

I always thought the fairest, simplest, most-diplomatic thing was for her and I to do what both of us wanted when we disagreed. Agree to disagree! Everybody does what they want and gets their way! Everyone’s happy!

But that’s not how it is in real life.

Because many of the things my wife wanted required contributions from me. A family activity. What a drag. A home-improvement project. The horror. A healthy sex life. Gasp!

I said what any true asshole would: “Why is it that all of the things you want require something from me? How is that fair?”

You hear it from a table of golfers having beers after a round on a Saturday afternoon.

You hear it from a defensive husband pleading his case to a therapist or marriage counselor or an empathetic buddy.

Sometimes, you simply think it when your wife or girlfriend is “inconveniencing” you with a request to spend time together.

It’s the refrain of assholes, worldwide: “What’s wrong with a little ‘Me’ time?”

The Successful, Still-Married Me

A friend sent me a link this morning.

A writer who seems to care about the same things I care about: Seth Adam Smith.

I like this guy. He reminds me of me, except he’s actually successful and relevant. And probably a much-better person.

He once wrote a post called Marriage Isn’t For You. He became famous (by writer standards) after that post received 2.2 million views in 36 hours.

I hope you’ll read it, because it’s really fantastic.

Smith was freaking out about getting married, asking himself: “Am I ready? Is Kim the right person to marry? Will she make me happy?

Smith writes:

“Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, ‘Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.’

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s ‘Walmart philosophy,’ which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, ‘What’s in it for me?’ while Love asks, ‘What can I give?’”

If you’re single, and you don’t have anyone who needs you and you like it that way, then there’s NOTHING wrong with a little YOU time. In fact, have YOU time for the rest of your life. There are no reasons you should feel guilty about that if that’s what’s in your heart.

I think a lot of people marry just because they think that’s what you do after high school or college. It’s what we see other adults do. It’s what we see on TV. It’s what our friends do.

Most guys think: No big deal! It’s just like having a girlfriend—forever! I can do that.

But it’s not like having a girlfriend forever. Marriage is NOT simply an agreement to never have sex with anyone else again.

It’s an exercise in giving more than you take.

In spending your days helping your wife have the best life she possibly can.

Sometimes that means sitting quietly at the dinner table listening to stories that may not interest you, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll care because of how much it matters to her.

Sometimes that means watching a movie or visiting a vacation destination that isn’t your first choice.

Sometimes it means you go to bed and have lots and lots of sex instead of watching Thursday Night Football.

We’re selfish and broken and messy.

So you ask: How can you expect me to give without asking for anything in return? What’s in it for me? 

I don’t know.

But I’m a good guesser.

And I’m pretty sure you get all the stuff that the world’s richest people can’t buy, but wish they could.

Joy.

Peace.

Contentment.

Happiness.

Love.

I’m pretty sure you get to live without fear and shame. That you get to walk tall with courage and pride. That you get to go to bed and wake up feeling confident and secure.

I’m pretty sure you get to keep your family.

And that your kids will grow up knowing how to secure theirs.

What happens when you make marriage not about you, but about the people you love?

Everything.

Happily Ever After.

And maybe even a few extra orgasms.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

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Wanting What You Can’t Have

want-need-things

Maybe we’re all doomed.

More than half of our marriages fail already. Some of the ones still intact are brimming with misery. Others are ticking time bombs.

The human condition is a real bitch.

Because sometimes we really want things we can’t have, and other times, we lose interest in the things and people we do have.

It’s a condition that creates a perpetual cycle of never feeling satisfied.

A condition that makes people want to have sex with people they shouldn’t.

A condition that causes feelings of boredom in people who have already achieved goals or acquired the things or people they want.

A condition that makes us profoundly unhappy.

Because we lose no matter what.

We either never get what we want. Or we do, and then it’s not as great as we thought it was going to be.

Like the thirsty man who drinks from the sea to quench his thirst. Only to become more and more thirsty. And die.

Humans.

So much love and beauty. And so much ugliness and savagery.

We feel compelled to acquire or are attracted to things we can’t or shouldn’t have.

Some think it’s in our DNA.

My friend’s wife is cheating on him and he knows it.

While a bunch of cute little kids played in a nearby room the other night, oblivious to the challenges and occasional horrors of adulthood, I sat in a room with several adults, including the cheater, and everyone there knew, but she didn’t know we all knew.

It was more uncomfortable than the time a girl I was sort-of dating for a few months came to my son’s birthday party (because her son and mine are friends), and within 30 minutes of the party ending, receiving text messages from both her and my ex-wife telling me how impolite and unpleasant they both considered the other to be.

At least that was kind of funny.

I know about many instances of people wanting to sleep with (or actually sleeping with) people they shouldn’t.

One time I got an email from a reader because they discovered one of my commenters was engaged in an extramarital affair because they’d written about it on their blog. The concerned reader didn’t think it was cool that this person was commenting on my posts about healthy marriages.

Fair enough, I guess. I try not to judge.

The older I get, the more I learn just how human everyone is. It doesn’t excuse reckless, abhorrent or irresponsible behavior, but I’ve grown to understand it’s all part of the deal.

Once you learn there’s no Santa Claus, it’s a lot easier to see things for what they really are.

Everyone is going to mess up. EVERYONE. No exceptions. And I think the real beauty is with all the people who try really hard, and all the great redemption stories that emerge from the messiness.

Why?

Why do we want things we can’t or shouldn’t have?

A bunch of reasons, according to people smarter than me.

A lovely human being from the other side of the world introduced me recently to Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University, considered among the world’s top experts on romantic love. Fisher says that levels of dopamine—the brain chemical that makes us feel happy and sense pleasure—actually increase as we wait for something we want. Essentially scientific proof that anticipation is often greater than the thing we’re looking forward to.

Another big part? Simple curiosity. Psychologist George Lowenstein’s Information-Gap Theory suggests people feel compelled to take action to bridge the gap between what we know and what we want to learn.

An Elite Daily article cites a study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology which I think is pretty telling:

“Women were presented with a photograph of their potential dream man. Half of the women were told their Mr. Right was single; while the other half were told he was in a relationship. The photographs were the same across all participants.

“Though 59 percent were interested in pursuing the single guy, that figured jumped to 90 percent when they were under the impression he was already in a committed relationship.”

Since getting divorced and falling apart and putting most of me back together again, I’ve taken a greater interest in human psychology. I’m fascinated.

Why does politician after politician after politician continue to find himself in a sex scandal?

Why do most criminals tend to already have criminal records?

Why do we procrastinate?

Why are we so afraid to tell people what really goes on under the masks we wear?

We’re all just people. And we all basically want the same things. We want to feel good. We want to feel safe. We want someone to love us. We want to have fun. We want to be able to acquire things and go places. We want to succeed in our individual pursuits.

We get confused a lot. But when you break it all down, all any of us really want is to be happy.

But much of the time we do things that are counter-intuitive to those efforts.

Those politicians don’t want to hurt their families. Or their candidacy. Or disappoint their colleagues. Or friends. Or constituents. They’re just human. That’s the one thing you can always count on people to be.

I think people can be infinitely better at marriage than they are. And I think mindset has almost everything to do with it.

It’s the reason I felt like my house was a prison when I wanted more money and a bigger place, and the reason when I thought I might lose it after my divorce that I’m so grateful to live there now.

It’s the reason I used to spend hours watching television alone or playing online poker while my wife was sitting alone in another room of the house, and the reason all I wanted to do was spend every second with her the minute I realized she didn’t love me or want to be married to me anymore.

We’re a bunch of freaks. I mean, maybe it’s just me. But I really think it’s everyone.

We’re all madly in love. Then we get married. Then we get bored. Then we do a bunch of stupid things to ruin it.

I’ve made lifestyle changes over the past few months to help me look and feel the way I want to look and feel. Healthy eating has been part of that. I don’t eat ice cream and brownies and cake and drink a bunch of beer because I don’t want to gain weight or sabotage my daily workout efforts.

I want to eat Halloween candy. I want to eat lots of it. But I don’t. Because I care about feeling good more than I care about 10 seconds of pleasure.

I think people are smart enough to figure it out if they take a few minutes to mentally walk through it: When you first meet people, you feel attracted. You’d run through walls for them. On your mind constantly. But even as your love grows for them over the years, monotony and boredom and taking them for granted sets in.

It seems like a lot of people think that’s happening because they married a shitty person, when most of the time it’s just human nature doing what human nature does.

Before long, while you’re sitting around feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled in your life and relationships, other people make you feel like your spouse used to. Because they pay attention to you. Because they think you’re smart and funny and attractive. Because they want you.

I wonder why some people think if they go have a long-term relationship with this new person that the cycle won’t continue.

What goes on inside their hearts and minds that makes them believe everything will be different with someone new? Why don’t they know it’s going to wear off? That if they don’t choose to love, they’re always going to feel unfulfilled?

Isn’t having sex with people you’re not supposed to a bit like indulging in Halloween candy while trying to get physically fit?

Yeah. That’s probably not a good analogy.

Maybe we’re all doomed.

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This Isn’t Advice, and You Shouldn’t Take It

advice

I do not write an advice column.

I don’t want to be a life coach, I don’t think I’m smart and I don’t believe people’s lives will be better if they act like me.

I don’t think I’m better than anyone, I don’t think I’m an expert in anything and I don’t think anyone should listen to me.

I failed Intro to Computing TWICE my freshman year of college. This challenging class included the basics of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint. I failed it because I liked smoking pot and having fun more than I liked going to that class.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, I let a story run with an anonymous source who claimed to be a sophomore female student in the College of Pharmacy’s honors program. She was bragging about how much she liked taking the drug MDMA, which most of us know as Ecstasy.

Turns out there were only eight sophomore female students in the Pharmacy honors program that year, and our source WASN’T one of them. I never bothered to vet her ahead of time. Maybe I was high. She had lied about being in the honors program. And eight completely innocent students at my university were made to look like assholes.

But really I was the asshole.

I used to lie about the cost of candy I was selling for school and pocket the extra money.

I accidentally let my car insurance lapse earlier this year and drove around for a while not even realizing I wasn’t insured.

I forget shit all the time unless it’s something I’m super-stressed about or have a reminder note written.

I’m not particularly intelligent. I’m far from being the responsible adult I aspire to be.

My dad has been divorced once.

My mom has been divorced twice.

And I’ve now been divorced. I cried like a total pansy a bunch of times for months afterward.

I don’t have a fucking clue what a super-healthy, super-functional marriage looks like from the inside. And I’m really sorry if anyone is or was under the impression that I did think that.

Some People Don’t Think You Should Listen to Me

I don’t disagree with them.

I wrote a series of posts called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. They’re my most popular posts by a mile, because I think sad and pissed-off wives like seeing a guy figure out why his marriage got toxic because he did all the same stupid things their husbands do. I think these women are hopeful that maybe their significant others can come to the same conclusions I did. I think these posts validate all of the things they feel and that they’ve tried to explain to their husbands and boyfriends for years. And finally! A guy gets it.

And I do.

I do get it.

And I think it’s devastatingly sad that so many guys don’t seem to give a shit just like I didn’t seem to give a shit until it became pretty clear that my marriage was fast-tracking to divorce.

It took that fear of losing my marriage—that motivation to avoid it—to exert the energy to learn what was happening in my relationship. I read books. I prayed. I talked to people.

And it started to become really clear how all these little things I had been selfishly and obliviously doing for years made my wife feel how she did.

Anyway, An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands Vols. 1, 4 and 6 get shared a decent amount on Facebook. (For the record, Vol. 4 and Vol. 6 are the only ones I think have much value. Vol. 2 is a preachy, shitty post and I should take it down because it reads like a total asshole wrote it. No one likes being preached to.)

I’m not privy to any of the comments people make about those posts on Facebook.

But a couple days ago, someone shared Vol. 1 on Reddit and a few readers were not impressed. I was able to check those out.

From “terminite”:

“This article, and the other volumes I read look more like the manifesto of a depressed and guilty man who thinks he is the sole reason his wife left him. He talks as if he ruined their marriage because he didn’t treat her like a princess… Then goes on later to say that you both have to give 100% to the marriage – Did she treat him like a king? The volumes I read were overtly abrasive and erroneously absolute, I guess to hook the reader, but it’s hyperbole and generalizations out the ass. I don’t think people should read too much into a recovering divorcee’s self-help writing therapy.”

The writer made that last sentence bold to emphasize it.

And terminite, I’m sure, is right. You SHOULD NOT read too much into a recovering divorcee’s writing on marriage. It’s not as if I was good at it.

But let’s get something straight, because it’s REALLY important:

I write about marital things, shouldering the lion’s share of blame and responsibility, and encouraging men to do their part in their relationships because I think it’s really important to take responsibility for your place in life.

Who am I to tell women what they should do as wives? I don’t know the first thing about being female or a wife.

But I DO know what it’s like to be a dude. I DO know what it’s like to be a husband. And I DO understand how I contributed to my marriage’s demise.

I figure I have two choices: I can either point fingers and scream and pout and call my ex-wife a bunch of names and blame everything on her.

Or.

I can be an adult and take responsibility for what I did and let the rest sort itself out.

Of course I don’t think my ex-wife got everything right. I was a ragey sonofabitch for a while after she left. Of course I felt justifiably pissed off dozens of times during our marriage.

But I’m not going to sit around telling men to just stand their ground and keep doing what they’re doing when I KNOW half of them are going to end up divorced if they do, and another large chunk will spend years suffering through a shitty, loveless marriage “for the kids.”

Someone has to lead. Someone has to apologize first in a fight. Someone has to be the first to call for peace during war. Someone has to be a “big” person and swallow their pride and put their marriage ahead of their selfish, petty wants.

Why not the husband?

“terminite” continues:

“We’re obviously not getting his whole story. The Masters example is a poor one, I think. I’m certain he fucked up greater than that, and much more often. And probably a lot of little things that compounded into years of resentment.”

No. You’re not getting the whole story, terminite. I was married for nine years AND I have a shitty memory. I could write an encyclopedia-sized volume of fuckups if I could only remember all of them.

From “saturdayd”:

“I really think you’re right in saying that this isn’t a reliable source of marital advice and more him trying to process what he felt went wrong.”

She seems to get it.

From “dominodog”:

“I agree. I don’t know why his marriage failed but can guarantee it wasn’t because one Sunday he wanted “me” time instead of going on a family hike that his wife wanted.

“It appears to me this guy has no idea why his marriage failed and I don’t know why anyone would take his writing as good advice.”

I don’t either, man. I don’t either.

From “gddammit”:

“He probably did this all the time to her. I am always alone and doing things alone. When my husband is not working, all he wants to do is watch TV or be in another room from me. We have only been married 3 years. It’s hard and it makes me sad. I don’t know if I am unreasonable in the way I feel, and I often wonder if he is telling me the truth when he says he loves me.”

… 

I don’t give advice. I’m not in the advice-giving business.

I’m in the storytelling business.

Matt did X. X= something shitty.

The result was Y. Y = something REALLY shitty.

And in the final analysis, maybe a couple people will be able to identify with my experiences and make the choice to not do X so that Y won’t happen and ruin their lives.

That last lady? The sad wife? She’s sad because her husband is essentially the same guy I was. He takes her for granted. She likes “Real Housewives” and “The Voice” and romantic comedies. And he likes video games and watching football and movies with explosions.

So he hangs out by himself to do what he wants to do. He might not even realize he’s causing harm.

But he’s committing marriage’s worst crime, after infidelity and abuse.

He’s leaving his wife alone in their marriage.

And someday it’s going to break.

That’s not advice. That’s just really good guessing.

I got a little defensive when I saw people treating my post like I was trying to be a marriage counselor. Part of that is because I’m naturally defensive. It’s one of my shittiest traits.

But another part of that is because I really don’t want to be seen as a guy who thinks he “knows” anything.

I don’t know anything.

I only know that sometimes I read or hear things, and combined with relevant life experience, I sometimes have some “Ah-ha!” moments that make me grow and be better.

It would be really cool to write stuff that helped people have some of those “Ah-ha!” moments once in a while, and God-willing, maybe end up in a happy, healthy relationship because of it.

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands is just a clickable headline. I don’t really believe all these men are “shitty” husbands. And I don’t believe that men are always the assholes ruining their marriages.

But I do believe there are some small, subtle things that a man CAN and WILL do if he knows that doing them will be the difference between being married or being divorced.

I don’t think I’m smarter than you.

I don’t think I’m more insightful than you.

I CERTAINLY don’t think I know any more about marriage than people who are actually still married.

I just think there are a few guys out there that don’t know they’re getting marriage wrong and might recognize a few commonalities in my story.

And just maybe they’ll ask their wives the right questions.

And maybe then they’ll make some changes.

And maybe then everyone grows just a little bit more, loves just a little bit more purely, feels just a little bit happier.

None of this is advice.

It’s just a story.

Just a story with a bunch of blank pages waiting to be written.

Just a bunch of blank pages hoping for a happy ending.

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The Level Playing Field

typewriter

I will never be able to run faster than Usain Bolt or swim faster than Michael Phelps.

I will never be as intelligent as Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking.

I will never throw a football as well as Peyton Manning or dunk a basketball like LeBron James.

I lack the physical prowess, mental aptitude and genetic resources necessary to be a great athlete or a genius astrophysicist.

But I look down at these keys I punch expertly like an old pro: 26 letters, 10 numbers and a handful of symbols.

That’s it.

That’s all there is.

And my fingers dance. A beautiful sound I fell in love with during my days in the newsroom. An orchestra of tapping. The sound of a thousand word choices being made simultaneously in the great exchange of ideas.

One of my biggest childhood regrets is that I never learned how to play an instrument. I’ve owned two guitars, pianos and keyboards, and a full drum set. And other than some average-at-best trumpet playing in middle school, I’ve never been able to make music—something I love very much.

I have a mother and sister who are both very talented, musically.

I wish I’d inherited those same gifts.

Equal Opportunity – Since 1878

The modern QWERTY standard keyboard has been around since 1878. I once made the keyboard a metaphor for dating after divorce. It totally worked.

That’s how long everyone has had to get to know these keys: 136 years.

I haven’t taken any polls, but my guess is there is a higher percentage of proficient typists living in 2014 than there’s ever been given that so much of our time is spent in front of computers or mobile devices all using the same keys.

I just look at it. It’s simple genius. My brain completely ill-equipped to understand how I’m able to punch all these keys in exactly the right order to make each sentence. Endless possibility. That’s what this device represents. A world without limits.

This is the keyboard used by William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and the New Testament Gospel writers. (Just kidding.)

But it WAS used by Mark Twain. By George Orwell and Hunter S. Thompson. By Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. By Ernest Hemingway.

It was also used by Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook. By Bill Gates to create Microsoft. By Larry Page and Sergey Brin to create Google.

Just look at the keys in front of you.

Punch these buttons one way, and you have Not-So-Bright-Internet-Message-Board Guy: “wtf your a idiot every moran know the knicks goin all teh way !!!!!111!!!!11!!!”

Punch them another and you end up with my drivel.

But somewhere in that endless sea of possibilities is the perfect combination of keystrokes. The perfect combination of words that make magic. That change lives. That introduce new ideas. That will pen the next Oscar-winning film. That will earn the TV news anchor her first Emmy. That will win the Noble Prize for literature.

And you don’t have to be the strongest. Or the fastest. Or the smartest. Or the best. You just need to have the keyboard and be brave enough to tap it. Disciplined enough to rewrite. And courageous enough to ship it.

You might even rescue someone 1,000 miles away.

The internet has made it easy. And we have no more excuses.

You have a song to write that will stir our insides.

An idea to share that can help change the world.

A story to tell that might save a life.

Everyone uses the same keyboard. No advantages. The same keyboard. The world’s greatest achievers. Using this exact same tool. What might be possible?

I was wrong.

I am a musician.

This keyboard, my instrument.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.

A glorious symphony.

Calling you. Calling me.

Go create.

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The Number 333, Vol. 2

333

“3:33,” the digital clock likes to tell me.

“Oh, here he goes again! Matt thinks he’s a numerologist!”

Believe what you want. I see the number sequence 333 ALL THE TIME. As I said before, I see it infinitely more than my semi-intelligent brain deems to be the statistical likelihood.

When I wrote about this the first time, I was amused to discover it was my 33rd post after hitting the “Publish” button.

This time, I knew it was coming. Post No. 333. There could only be one topic.

But, what to say?

What Does it Mean?

I still don’t know. But I love that I’m thinking about it.

When I wrote about this 300 posts ago, I made fun of some of the things I found on the internet in my quest for 333 answers. Because the most-common result when searching for 333 meaning is this: Angels and Ascended Masters are trying to get your attention.

<insert vinyl record-screeching noise here>

You fall into one of three camps:

Camp 1 – “Angels and ‘Ascended Masters’!?!? Are you phucking (you thoughtfully use “ph” to lessen the impact) stupid!?!?

My response: Maybe.

Camp 2 – “Well, OF COURSE it’s the angels, silly! What!? You thought it was just a funny coincidence all this time!? Hahaha!”

My response: Maybe.

Camp 3 – “I don’t live my life assuming I know anything for sure. I acknowledge I don’t have all the answers and try to stay open-minded.”

My response: Me too.

Several weeks ago, a friend set me up on a date with one of her friends. She included something akin to a cautionary warning: She has “unique abilities,” my friend said about my date.

Details were scarce. I didn’t know if I was dealing with Miss Cleo, the Long Island Medium, or just someone super-spiritual.

“She can see auras and detect certain energy,” I was told.

I grew up Catholic. I still am. Psychics scare us. But, dammit, if I’m going to walk a higher path, I’m not going to judge people and be afraid of things just because I don’t understand them.

As dates go, I wouldn’t call it successful. She insists she had a good time.

However, a legit friendship was born. She’s pretty fascinating. And the more I get to know and understand her, the more I appreciate her unique perspective on life. I have deep respect for how she experiences the world.

She’s the one who convinced me to try meditation, something I’d already been considering. Life-changing, I think.

I don’t need to be psychic to know what you’re thinking: “Is she for real? Does she intuitively know things?”

Maybe she’s just a good guesser, like me. But after hanging out with her a half dozen times? Yeah. I believe she’s the real deal.

I drove her to dinner about a month ago just to hang out for a few hours one random night. I pulled into a parking lot just off a road under construction. There was a huge dip as we pulled in that made both of us bounce quasi-violently in our seats. I do this thing where I instinctively put my right arm out to “protect” my passenger in situations like that, as if my floating arm is going to save anyone’s life in a car accident.

We were laughing about it as I apologized for the rough ride. “I didn’t know we were going to Moab!” I said, referring to a town in Utah famous among Jeep owners and off-road driving enthusiasts.

We pulled into a random parking spot seconds later. She tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the back of the Jeep Wrangler parked in front of us.

“You said you’re always looking for signs,” she said with a mischievous grin. “You could have pulled into any of these other spots.”

On the Jeep’s back window was a large Moab, Utah sticker.

Things like that happen when you’re with her.

The Source has several names: Mother Earth. Allah. Nature. The Universe. The Supreme Being.

My friend and I use “God.”

The place from where light and love and energy emanate. God doesn’t speak to us in a booming voice from the heavens, she insists. Nor from a burning bush. Nor from impossible-to-miss miracles in the sky.

Rather, we’re spoken to in whispers.

And for most of my life, I’ve tried hard to plug my ears and not listen.

It’s not convenient to cede control. I’ve always been too afraid.

Because then I won’t get to do what I want!!!

I’m trying to remember the last time doing what I wanted brought me peace and happiness.

Still thinking…

333: All the Time

I see it on the clock.

I see it on microwave timers.

I see it as my phone or Jeep dash display tells me how much time remains in the song I’m listening to.

I see it on billboards: “Hotdog and soft drink combo! Just $3.33!”

I see it on email timestamps.

I see it on my word counter.

I see it on my treadmill.

I see it on my odometer. Just this morning at a stoplight: 13,333.

I understand if you think it’s bullshit. I think lots of things are bullshit.

My friend says it’s the angels. She doesn’t think, she says. She knows.

She calls me a “light worker.” Not light worker, like I only do light work, but light worker as in I’m someone called to do good.

And maybe sometimes I do. I don’t know. These things aren’t measurable.

And I don’t know that I believe I’m called any more than anyone else to be a force for good in this world.

Everyone is capable of lighting up the darkness.

If everyone tried, there wouldn’t be much dark left.

Which sounds pretty nice.

I don’t know much.

But I’m convinced there are many things about life beyond our understanding.

And if angels or the Universe or random chance choose the number 333 as a tool to remind me to walk a higher path, then it seems worth paying attention.

So, that’s what I’m doing.

I hope you will, too.

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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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