Something About the Gay Marriage Ruling Doesn’t Feel Right

justice-peace

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

Because I grew up in a little Catholic school in a little Ohio town in the 1980s and ‘90s where boys played football and zero people were (openly) gay, the entire concept of homosexuality was foreign to me.

We all used the word “gay” the way you’re not supposed to. As a substitute for “stupid” or “lame.”

I was a little homophobic. I know because when a group of friends took me to my first gay bar in college, I made a big deal of the fact I wanted to stay near the girls because I don’t want anyone to think I’m gay!!! OMG!!! Even though 90 percent of the crowd was.

None of that ever felt mean or cruel to me, though. Stupid and ignorant? Sure. But I can’t think of a single instance when I set out to be either mean or cruel.

Then Matthew Shepard was killed my sophomore year of college. Shepard was a gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, and two other kids tied him to their pickup truck and drug him down a road. Head injuries killed him six days later. Signs pointed to homophobia as the motive for the killing. The case gained national (and probably global) attention, and hate crime legislation became a thing.

I thought about all of the openly gay students I’d gotten to know and befriended since moving away from home to a relatively large and diverse public university. Not one of them deserved even a sideways glance, let alone harm.

I liked every gay person I met, without exception, and quickly stopped using that as the thing by which I labeled them.

And I thought back to my conservative, small-town upbringing where most people believe God once destroyed a city with fire from the sky because a bunch of gay people lived there and had lots of gay sex.

What is everyone so afraid of? I wondered.

Time Marches On

Here we are, 17 years later.

And it’s different now, right? Maybe that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never had to be gay in an old-fashioned small town, or as a member of a church that frowned upon such things, or had to deal with anything that felt discriminatory from an equal-rights standpoint.

But from my perspective, it seems most people have slowly pulled the sticks out of their asses. Surprise! People are gay! And until they break into your houses and start having gay sex in your living rooms and making your kids watch, let’s maybe try the live and let live thing!

Of course, there are plenty of people from my conservative past who didn’t like that “progressive” stance.

“It’s just WRONG!!! It says so in the bible!!!” they scream.

Yeah. Maybe. After all, I subscribe to The Purple Shirt Theory. Anything’s possible. I never pretend to know for sure.

But you know what else is wrong, outraged people? Rape and murder and theft and being a hypocritical, bigoted, prickly cock.

Priorities, folks. Honestly.

It generally seemed over the past 10-20 years like the national tone shifted from: Those weirdos who aren’t like us need to just stay in the closet! to Gay people are totally the best at fashion and fun and parties, but I hope they don’t think I want to do gay stuff with them! to Whoa. Gay people are exactly like me except they are attracted to the same gender. *shrug*

And I liked that.

I like it because when I imagine a pie graph to visually represent all of the things that make up who and what a human being is, who they are sexually attracted to represents a very tiny sliver. Sort of like skin color. And gender. And faith.

There’s just a hell of a lot more to being a person than any one of those individual silos.

Who people choose to have sex with SHOULD NOT be the dominant metric by which we evaluate them.

Which brings me to my problem with what happened Friday.

I Didn’t Join the Party

The popular thing on Friday was to jump up and down: “I’m so cool and hip and with the times and love gay people, so I think it’s AWESOME what the Supreme Court did!!! Love wins!!! Equality for all!!!”

And I didn’t do that popular thing.

I didn’t take to Facebook with instant analysis either for or against the verdict. I read a bunch of those and thought every one of them was a little bit bullshit.

The consensus among the pro-gay-marriage crowd seemed to be that the ends justified the means. That because they wanted equal marriage rights for homosexual couples so badly, it didn’t matter how it happened.

There are 50 states in the United States. On Friday morning, gay marriage was legal in 37 of them already. Because people in those states banded together to raise awareness for their cause and convinced enough people to sign petitions to get the gay marriage amendments on ballots, and then drum up the necessary votes to democratically change laws.

I LOVE that. It’s called freedom. And it’s beautiful.

And I’m 100-percent speculating and speaking out of school here, but I believe strongly that if I was gay, and wanted to get married, I would want to do so in a place where the majority of people said: “YES! You are loved, respected and welcome here.”

I’m not an attorney. I can’t make an informed argument for or against what happened Friday from a purely legal standpoint.

I was genuinely happy for every gay man and woman who felt as if this ruling somehow validated their relationships or made them feel more respected. That does matter to me.

But I didn’t just see Love Winning, or Equality for All when the Supreme Court took its action.

I saw five members of a nine-member court force the hands of 13 democratically elected state governments. And THAT concerns me. Because while granting marriage licenses to whomever is fine, I’m not even close to comfortable with sweeping, overnight legal change at the decree of a few people in Washington D.C.

Call me old fashioned, but I like when laws are formed this way.

Because what happens when a future judicial decree isn’t about freedom, liberty or equality, but about taking those things away?

And because I don’t believe the end always justifies the means.

The Accidental Hypocrisy

While societally we have grown more accepting (rightfully so, in my estimation) of homosexuality, we have collectively turned on organized religion and made that the enemy. And I get it! I’ve spent years growing more jaded toward religious organizations, including my own—the Catholic Church.

I think it’s because of people like Sarah Palin, and Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty, and the Duggar kid who diddled his sisters.

Because of the Catholic Church covering up its own sex-abuse scandal.

Because of all of the war and death and destruction as a result of religious-based fighting.

People claiming to love and follow Jesus Christ do and scream vile things to people who disagree with their beliefs.

People see and hear all of this bullshit and think: If those people represent Christianity or any organized religion, then I want nothing to do with them. They’re all stupid and evil!

We look at .000001 percent of the population openly practicing a particular faith, and then apply their regular dumb-ass humanness to everyone else in that same demographic. Sound familiar, equal-rights proponents?

I’ve spent my entire life around small-town conservative Christians, and while I’m going to have a different take on the occasional political or social issue and probably not like the same music or speak similarly (I’ll use way more bad words like “shit” and sometimes even “fuck”—don’t tell my grandma), I will defend them and ride with them on the VAST majority of life matters.

Remember that human pie chart thing? Loving Jesus or voting Republican (which have become VERY ugly things to some people) only make up a tiny sliver of who a person is.

And I care about EVERYTHING. We should all care about everything.

The people I know from my small, conservative town are kind, decent and generous. They don’t hurt others. They NEVER hate. They lift people up. They’re exceedingly charitable.

It now seems like we live in a world where if you go to certain churches that teach certain things you can’t be a good person anymore. It means you’re a “bigot” or a “hypocrite.”

And I think it’s an unfair and bullshit characterization.

Not unlike some people’s mischaracterization of the gay population and about what it REALLY means to love another person.

This may NEVER come up. I’m not psychic and some of the legal nuance escapes me because I forgot to go to law school.

But the question I asked myself when I learned about the ruling Friday was: Do we really want to live in a country where the government can force states and churches and religious organizations to do things the government’s way, and/or be punished if they don’t?

I want gay people to be gay. And I want people to love and accept them, and if they can’t, to at least not cause harm.

And I want religious people to be religious. And I want people to love and accept them, and if they can’t, to at least not cause harm.

Because if BOTH of those things can’t happen simultaneously after Friday’s verdict?

Love and equality most certainly did not win.

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Celibacy or Retirement STD Sex? You Decide.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

The conversation began innocently enough, with me talking about Marathon, Fla. in the Keys as my favorite retirement location (subject to change, of course).

Then, through the sheer power of alcohol consumption, someone pointed out that there is a LOT of sex happening at retirement centers and assisted-living facilities, as if it might be something to look forward to.

I can’t verify this retirement home sex claim, but it seems plausible enough, and its veracity doesn’t matter for the purpose of this discussion.

Right up until that very moment, I’d never imagined elderly sex. You know how your brain can’t really process your own parents doing it sometimes (unless you’re one of the walk-in-during kids?) How it often seems people were immaculately conceived because no way did those two people ever have sex!!!?

My grandparents had eight children and I feel confident saying they couldn’t have possibly had sex eight times because they’re my grandparents and grandparents don’t have sex! Duh!

So, yeah. That. Wednesday night is pretty much the first time I ever thought about two older people doing it.

According to the American Health Care Association, the highest percentage of retirement home and assisted living residents are 85 years old or older (54 percent); 27 percent are 75-84; 9 percent are between 65-74, and 11 percent are under 65.

Do you think it’s like high school and college, where the older boys get excited about the new crop of freshmen? I bet it is.

Eugene and Stan are tearing up the shuffleboard courts and enjoying afternoon chess and checkers matches as guys in their 80s, and when the new 65-year-olds walk in, they probably lose their collective minds and take bets over who will be first to get to second base with that one “in the salmon-colored blouse.”

Maybe not. But probably.

One of the girls in our group suggested I might enjoy that, TOTALLY discounting the possibility of me meeting someone in the next 40-whatever years who might want to have a relationship with me and stick around the entire time. I was mildly offended until I forgot about it five seconds later when she said this: “But you really have to worry about STDs.”

Since I was drinking, I blurted: “Will we really care at that point?” thoughtlessly suggesting like an asshole that someone over [insert age of choice here] wouldn’t care if they contracted a sexually transmitted disease because they’re already old and it doesn’t matter.

That’s probably the worst thing I’ve done this week, and certainly the most ageist thing I’ve said since that time I wrote about age discrepancy between two people dating and how I think it matters more than most people do.

Given that I have no experience with STDs, and that I don’t have the first clue how I’m going to feel in my seventies or eighties should I be fortunate enough to live that long, I don’t think I’m in any position to make a call either way.

I know I’m single now with a predominantly inactive sex life and it’s totally not fun most of the time.

So, assuming I don’t morph into the made-up version of older people I invented in my head and become biologically asexual or just totally disinterested, I’m probably going to want to hook up with the fly 65-year-old Betties after the 6 p.m. showing of “Something’s Gotta Give” in the common room.

Maybe I’m 79, with high cholesterol and a bum hip. Maybe I don’t hear so well from decades of listening to music too loud.

But there will be no mistaking: “Matt. I really want you right now. But I need to be honest with you about something. I have (insert STD of choice here, which could totally be some mutated freaky one in 2058).”

And maybe I’m in a major dry spell. Like, years of nothing. Statistically speaking, I’m more likely to die tomorrow than have another shot like this.

And the choice is: Have sex (yayyyyyyyyyyyy!) and possibly contract an STD at 79 years old with constant medical treatment and supervision? Or. Politely decline the invitation because I don’t want to spend however long I have left scratching myself during shuffleboard tournaments?

Tough choice!

I’m not entirely sure what I’d do, but my best guess is I would, because I have a long history of making bad decisions, and maybe I’d want to brag to my old-guy friends about it, assuming I didn’t die during.

What I mostly care about is what you think about all this.

Have you ever thought about retirement-home sex before?

Are you imagining it right now in technicolor? You totally are.

Do you think it’s true that STDs are a problem in retirement communities?

How old is so old, where you’re just like: Screw it! I don’t care about my health or the comfort of my privates!I’m getting some.

Dying to know.

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Check Out This Other Thing

boy-covering-mouth

A very funny person named Mandi Castle, author of the recently released “Dear Stephanie,” and self-proclaimed “worst sisterwife,” invited me to participate in her monthly feature at the SisterWives blog called The Man(di) Cave where she gets guys to open up on subjects they might not want to talk about.

I accepted her invitation and was flattered for receiving it.

She asked me and a couple of other guys to answer questions about sex. I managed to do so without wanting to set myself on fire afterward. Small wins.

Please check it out and say hi over there. You can see the feature here:

http://sisterwivesspeak.com/2015/06/25/the-mandi-cave-gets-intimate-kind-of/

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The Magical Power of Writing for Two Years (and a Bit About Marriage)

Magic-Book

The date came and went without me noticing.

June 21 was the two-year anniversary of my first post here. You can’t read it anymore because I privatized it. I privatized it because I said angry things about my ex-wife. She is my son’s mother and my relationship with her means more to me than having a published account of the worst thing that ever happened to me.

It won’t be long before I start publishing my last name. I will publish books. I want to write for larger publications. I’ll have to use my full name, and protecting people I care about matters to me. Even if they’re just someone that I used to know.

It took two years to get here.

The Advice Guy

I don’t want to be Advice Guy. That guy is usually an asshole. Plus, I don’t really know anything. If you forced me to offer the world life advice; that would be my contribution: Stop pretending you KNOW anything about anything. You don’t know. And there’s freedom in being honest about it.

Better to ask questions. Better to seek truth.

There is something about writing that gives you an aura of credibility that you don’t really deserve, but it doesn’t rid you of your responsibility to help when people want it.

I’ve published about 450,000 words here in the past two years. And for reasons that don’t fully make sense to me, some people think that means I know things.

I never know things. I just think things.

On Marriage

People ask me to advise them on marriage ALL THE TIME. Several times per week, wives email me asking for marriage advice or at least for suggestions on how they might get their husbands to understand the things they believe I do based on what they’ve read.

It happens so often now that I’ve actually looked into acquiring certification for marriage coaching. Because, you may recall, I’m nothing more than one divorced guy who failed at marriage in his only attempt.

I think every marriage reaches a breaking point. And the choices made by each (or either) spouse during that time determines the union’s fate.

I think, generally speaking, everyone gets married (the first time) LONG before they’re ready. Ironically, you’re never ready for marriage until you’re already married and THEN demonstrate good (read: unselfish) decision making.

I think we grow up seeing all these married people around us, so we’re all programmed from Day 1: When you get older and become an adult, you get married! It’s just what you do!

All we see from these marriages are the masks everyone wears. We’re kids! No one is going to tell us how it really is. That he NEVER says thank you or demonstrates appreciation for all her hard work cooking or cleaning or taking care of his laundry. That she constantly tears him down and never encourages him. That he’d rather jerk off thinking about her cousin or his old college fling than have sex with her. That she spends half her day swapping complaints with her girlfriend about what an inattentive asshole he is while both of them fantasize about one another’s husband.

We send our kids off to school to learn about the World Wars and the Periodic Table and The Old Man and the Sea and about our solar system and Algebra II. And that’s great. We should all be learning things.

But when the kids are 30, clinically depressed and fantasizing sexually or otherwise about other people and other lives because no one EVER was honest with them about what it takes to make marriage work, I have to ask: Are we really teaching people things that matter? How much good is Hemingway and knowing the atomic number for Boron really doing them? When they’re broken and sobbing on the floor?

I think men and women are biologically different to varying degrees, and that, because of a misplaced desire for political correctness, or because people are sexist and believe their gender is “correct” or “better,” very few people ever bother to learn about gender differences.

So guys walk around their entire lives thinking women are overly emotional and crazy.

And girls walk around their entire lives thinking men are dense and are only motivated by competition and sex (but mostly just sex).

Guys think that over time, women will come around and “get it.” Start thinking “the right way.” Like a man!

Women think that over time, their man will come around and “get it.” That he will finally start understanding her and seeing her for who she truly is. The he will start thinking and communicating and doing things “the right way.” Like a woman!

Usually, 5-10 years later, it’s all fucked and broken.

All because no one bothered to teach us important things about love and communication. Because no one ever really showed us what it looks like to give more than we take. And how by giving more than we take, we actually GET MORE, and create a life of love and abundance.

No, we all hurt too much from that mean thing he said.

We all hurt too much because she is so disrespectful and makes us feel like failures.

Resentment grows. Communication lessens. Sexual interest and attraction fades. You grow apart and die on the inside.

THIS IS THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE. You’re not a freak. None of it’s good. But it is normal.

It happened to me. And now it’s happening to you. And I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know how to make people care as much as they should. And I’m sorry.

I am so sorry that I don’t know how.

On Writing

People like to ask about writing sometimes, too.

My advice on writing is infinitely shorter.

1. Read writers who write how you want to write. Also read other things. Basically, just read. A lot.

2. Write often. Use fewer words than me.

3. Bleed when you write. (It’s a metaphor. Please don’t cut yourself.) Write about things that frighten and embarrass you. That sadden or anger you. Because you need to learn (and constantly be reminded of) something really important: We are all super-similar and you are never the only one. And you get to be the brave one that helps people realize that simple, but sometimes life-changing truth. Don’t take it for granted.

4. Take off the mask. You spend every second of your life trying to be who you think your parents, friends, boss, kids, lover, neighbors, or whoever, want you to be. It’s exhausting trying to be so many people and we always fail at it, because it’s hard enough just being one person. Always be you. It organically filters out all the people you don’t want in your life without exerting any energy. And it organically attracts all of the people you do want to be part of it. And it makes you come alive. This is hard to do in real life, even though we should try. But dammit, you better do it when you’re punching the keys. Make courageousness a habit.

Writing makes me see the world differently.

Writing allows me to see myself differently.

So that I can grow and change and think and love and share and be better today than I was yesterday.

All it takes is a willingness to leave a tiny imprint of your soul in the words. Bare and vulnerable.

Not everyone will care.

But someone will.

And that’s where the magic lives.

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Staying Together For the Kids is a Good Enough Reason For Me

(Image/bhhook at Deviant Art)

(Image/bhhook at Deviant Art)

It was like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was afraid.

I’d never felt anything like this before. I stood over the bathroom toilet and vomited even though I wasn’t sick or drinking. But I felt seasick. Like a guy in a row boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no oars and no way to signal for help.

What the hell is happening to me?

It was the first time I’d ever experienced anxiety so badly that I threw up. It’s a feeling I got to know well during the run up to, and the aftermath of, my divorce. I puked a lot.

I still do sometimes.

You might say I’m a little unsteady.

I was 23 the first time she left. It was just for a week to visit her family in Ohio. After spending my entire life in either Ohio or Illinois with my parents, friends and extended family, I was totally alone for the first time ever.

I was in Florida 1,100 miles from the nearest person I knew. And I could really feel it. And I just lost it.

That’s the first time I realized how reliant I was on other people and how much I needed an anchor.

I grew up in this safe little Ohio town with a close group of friends, my mom and stepdad (who I met on my 5th birthday) and a big extended family.

When I wasn’t there, I was with my dad who I only saw a few months out of the year 500 miles away.

I think maybe when your parents split up when you’re 4, and live 500 miles apart, it fucks you up a little no matter how great the rest of your life is.

I used to think I was normal.

But then I broke inside and realized there’s no such thing as normal. Just a bunch of different versions of being human.

Mama, come here
Approach, appear
Daddy, I’m alone
‘Cause this house don’t feel like home

I spent every day of my life feeling safe and loved with my parents until I went away to college. I spent most of college living with one of my dearest friends from grade school and high school having the time of our lives. I spent my last year of college with the girl who would eventually be my wife.

When you get married, you officially leave the nest and build a new one. The most intimate of inner circles in your life (your parents—and siblings if you have them) moves out one rung on your circle, and your partner takes that place in the center.

She’s your new safety net. Your new normal. Your new foundation.

So when she flew back to Ohio for a week, leaving me alone far away from anything familiar for the first time, it was my first taste of isolation. It didn’t take, I realized, staring into a toilet and recognizing just how little control of myself I had.

That’s the part that scares you the most. I’m not in control. What might happen next?

I had always thought I was strong and steady.

But really, I was weak and fragile.

If you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go

My mom left my stepdad while my wife was pregnant with our son. Mom called to tell me when I was on my lunch break. She cried. I cried.

Then I vomited some more and called my wife because I needed something steady. She left her office to come hug me. I felt like the biggest pussy imaginable. I was almost 30, for God’s sake. I’m supposed to hold HER. And I’m fucking crying on her shoulder?

I was just smart enough to know shit I’d been carrying around for 25 years was rearing its head.

I didn’t visit my mom for about a year after that.

But I had my wife. She’d always be there.

When we met, I was strong and confident. But now I was something else. I wonder if that scared her. I wonder sometimes if the fear and anxiety that started to build throughout my late 20s and early 30s made her feel unsafe. Like she couldn’t trust me to make everything okay, no matter what.

You can’t know it until you know it: When your insides break, you need more than another person to make it okay.

The only certainty I ever had in life was that I would never get divorced and put my children through what I went through.

That’s it. That’s the one thing I was sure of.

I had plenty of time to get used to the taste of failure while I slept in the guest room for 18 months feeling it all slip away one failed attempt to save it at a time.

I’d like to tell you I spent most of that time thinking about how hard it would be for my young son. How he could end up feeling so many of the same uncertainties and co-dependent tendencies I did if his mom and I divorced.

But I was mostly thinking about me. That I was about to lose the only thing I was sure about. Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but when I got married, I thought of my wife in the same way I’d always thought of my parents. The person you can count on to love you unconditionally and always be there.

But then you realize it’s not true. I guess I really don’t know anything.

And then you’re back in that oar-less boat in the middle of the ocean, and the storm is kicking you around, and you want to start paddling but you don’t know which way to go because there is no home to go to anyway.

Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady
Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady

I hear a lot of people say that staying together for the kids is a bad idea.

If there’s heavy dysfunction like infidelity or physical abuse or addiction problems, I can co-sign with that. Exposing children to those things is not in their best interest.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who just die from a thousand little pinpricks?

The people who are bored. The people who are angry. The people who are scared. The people who are sad. The people who are confused. The people who are lost.

Those people need a good reason to fight for it.

If you won’t do it because it’s the right thing, or because you vowed to do so, I think doing it for the kids is a pretty legit reason.

People always say (including me): “I would do ANYTHING for my kids!”

Fuck you.

And fuck me, too.

Because we won’t love for them.

But maybe it’s because we don’t know how.

Because no one ever showed us.

Because they didn’t know how either.

Mother, I know
That you’re tired of being alone
Dad, I know you’re trying
To fight when you feel like flying
But if you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go

Author’s Note:

I was at an X Ambassadors concert Saturday night having an amazing time. They’re incredible and are going to blow up in 2015-’16 and you should buy their albums. The band played this song. It’s rare for a song to grab your soul and squeeze, especially in that surreal environment.

But it did. So I had to write this post.

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The Accidental Vagina

vagina emoticon

I was falling asleep because it was late and I wake up early.

“Talk soon,” I texted before plugging my phone in for the night.

She replied: “Goodnight!  ({})”

I stared at it for a minute. Did she just send me a vagina emoticon? It was too late and I lacked the brainpower to figure it out.

The Vagina Dialogue

I forgot about it for most of the next day, but a text exchange with her later that night reminded me of the vagina symbol, and I felt compelled to ask about it.

“Before I forget. Did you send me a digital vagina before I fell asleep last night?”

“WHAT?!?!? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!… Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha what are you talking about?!?!?”

“Was it a Rorschach test? I totally saw a vagina. ({}) <– that is a digital vagina. My face hurts from laughing about this.”

“Hahahahaha! It’s a hug!!! It’s a smiley face with two hands giving a hug!”

I questioned her sanity for the first time, as this was the clinical psychologist who befriended me and convinced me I had adult ADHD and needed to treat it properly to maximize my quality of life.

“That’s a vagina hug!” I said.

“Omg. That’s amazing!!! Hahaha. I don’t see a vagina at all!!!”

“I just showed it to a friend. He is not especially pervy. He’s married with two kids. I asked, what is this? He insta-replied: ‘That’s a vagina,’ and I laughed some more.

“He said, and I quote…”

“I’m dying right now from laughing,” she said.

“…it may be a little wider and looser than I prefer. But that’s definitely a vagina.”

“I really don’t see it!!! What role do the white hands play? So like, ({}) what is the white part and what is the yellow?? All I see is a smiley face with two hands.”

“I don’t see any color here.”

“The round thing is yellow, and the bottom is white. Ok, I’m going to text myself to the iPad and see if I can see it.”

“Allow me,” I said, and proceeded to text her the vagina symbol.

“OH MY GOD!!!!! Hahahahahahaha.”

“I thought you sent me a vagina. I thought you were trying to be sexy, like: ‘Hey, check out this super-hot vagina!’ But I really had to go to sleep.”

“I can’t believe it. I send that A LOT. Oh. My. God.”

“This is one of my favorite moments, ever. I am 100-percent writing about this.”

“Do you see what it’s supposed to look like like??? Hahahaha.”

vagina hug

“Yes. I’m giddy. You’ve been sending vaginas to everybody.”

Despite being a super-smart and easy-to-like human being, she’s like your crotchety parent who doesn’t want to use new and improved technology, and refuses to give up using a Blackberry. So this kind of thing was bound to happen.

My mother literally said to me the other day: “I’m going to buy a new TV—but it’s not going to be a smart TV!”

“Why don’t you want a smart TV, mom?” I asked.

“I don’t want those sonsofbitches spying on me in my living room!” she said.

dr evil right

So when you send hugging emoticons from a Blackberry to people with iPhones (and hopefully Android devices, too!), what they really see is vaginas.

I thought you needed to know.

You’re welcome.

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Our Souvenirs

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

The little bedroom down the hall from ours was a nice yellow. We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl.

I thought we were going to have a daughter. But she always knew. I think sometimes mothers just know.

There was a crib in the corner. A gender-neutral green bumper wrapped around it. A moon-and-stars mobile dangled over the empty space waiting for the most important thing that would ever happen to us.

That mobile was the first baby thing we bought. We used a gift card because we couldn’t afford anything else from Pottery Barn.

She made curtains. There was new carpet. She made a chair cover for this crappy old recliner I’d kept from college which we were going to use as a late-night rocking chair. A changing table was stocked with wipes and diapers and baby things.

I’d just sit in there sometimes in that old chair, looking around. I understood things were going to change, but you can’t ever be ready for it. I’m going to be a father.

In that moment, you have no idea that life is just happening.

That nothing lasts forever.

I live in the only house our little family owned.

After she left, I thought about leaving, but I’m poorly equipped to handle a project of that magnitude alone, and my little son (Surprise, it’s a boy!) said he wanted to stay. In a world spinning with chaos and change, his little five-year-old voice was my anchor.

“I want to keep our house, daddy.”

Okay, son. Okay.

My bedroom was our bedroom. Other than the mess I sometimes leave on the floor, it totally looks like a married couple’s room. No self-respecting bachelor would have used these colors.

I have an extra dresser now. It’s larger than my own. I use one of the drawers for t-shirts.

I have an extra closet now. There are books and luggage in there. I had to walk in it this morning to find a backpack. This little piece of the world that used to be one way and now it’s something else.

I wonder sometimes whether people who grow up in really difficult conditions and find ways to escape to live safe, pleasant, successful lives experience nostalgia much differently than those fortunate enough to grow up in relative safety and comfort.

Maybe when they close their eyes and go back in time, the only thing they feel is pain and sadness so they never feel it because they’re so happy it’s today.

Our triggers aren’t always predictable.

That feeling that I’m not sure words can describe. The one we feel when we rifle though old photo albums. The one we feel when we walk the halls of our old high school. The one we feel when we revisit spots where meaningful life events took place. The one we feel swapping stories at funerals. The one you can sometimes feel standing in an empty closet in your own bedroom.

We are all so young and fearless because few bad things have happened to us. Too ignorant and too innocent to be afraid.

Our grandparents are maybe a little boring because they’re old.

Our parents are a drag because they never let us do what we want.

Our siblings are annoying because they’re always in the way.

School is the worst because 3 p.m. is NEVER going to get here and I’m never going to use this shit anyway!

Our hometowns are prisons.

Our friends are great, but they’ll always be there!

Our relationships are stale because everyone finally stops pretending and no one tells us how hard it is. When the kids come. When your friends start having marriage problems. When you run into financial hardship.

When people die.

Nothing lasts forever.

When my father-in-law died, I was at the house helping out. There’s a deck out back surrounded by woods. That’s where she and I ate dinner the first time I’d ever visited the house. It was the same deck where I drank beer with one of my best friends the night before the wedding having a What does it all mean? conversation. Where my parents met her parents for the first time.

It was the backyard where she and her brother grew up playing their entire lives.

Where I’d watched my little boy be a little boy. Where I imagined him evolving into a big boy.

Then it was gone.

I stood back there crying. She came around the house and caught me. “Are you okay?”

Sure, I’m okay. Just sentimental. Just learning for the first time how unexpected loss feels. Just realizing for the first time how fragile it all is. Just digesting: Things will never be the same after this.

We were so young.

Playing at the playground. Fishing with grandpa. Taking the school trip to Washington D.C. Putting on football pads. Kissing the girl behind the bleachers. Driving just to drive. Partying too much in college. Moving far away. Proposing. Getting married. Having children.

We had no idea that life was just happening.

What is that feeling? Why does it feel good and bad? Our hearts swell when we time travel. Then sink as we mourn the losses of all those great times.

It’s powerful.

It’s why you’re reading this sentence if you made it this far.

It’s why you Share a Coke with Rachael.

It’s why you hope the next high school reunion might feel more like the good old days than that awkward and shitty one you went to five or 10 years ago.

It why we try to recreate fun times from our past and are often disappointed when they fail to measure up.

It’s why tears sometimes fall while watching things that are supposed to be distracting us from real life, instead of evoking it.

I know what that feels like and then we get lumps in our throats and hope no one else notices.

She asked me to get some things out of storage. Baby things we’d kept because maybe there would be another child someday.

There wasn’t. There was a garage sale and it was time to let it go.

I pulled out old toys. I remember these.

Booster seats, and bouncy chairs, all with the teeniest piece of my heart etched in them because a version of the person I love most used to sit right there and play with that thing and fill me with hope.

In one of the bags was the mobile. It had cost about $50 and was the first present we ever bought for our son, making it worth millions.

Someone was probably going to pay $2 for it.

I kind of felt like crying again, but I didn’t. I’m tougher now. I don’t really care about baby stuff I never see and rarely think about stored out of sight in my house. It’s much better that some nice family has them.

You don’t miss the things, really.

You don’t even long for the past.

But you miss something. Some intangible thing you’re always grabbing for like falling water, capturing trace amounts because that’s all we get to keep. Fragments.

All we get to keep is this feeling. This thing reminding us we’re still alive and to live today because yesterday’s gone.

This feeling—these moments—these are our souvenirs.

So that we know it really happened. And that now, something else will.

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Waiting for Next Time

New-Chapter

One of the hardest parts of divorce is coping with the realization that you have to start over.

Aside from the internal brokenness and misery it causes, we must wake up and deal with the ugly truth: I have no idea what tomorrow is going to look like, and I’m sad, angry and afraid.

And then you pee your pants and maybe cry a little, too.

Divorce isn’t just a marriage ending and family breaking apart. It’s the total dismantling of every dream you’ve ever had. Every hope, every goal, every plan—vaporized.

It feels like you lost everything because your brain and body can’t tell the difference. It’s really hard, but we all have to do it sooner or later: We have to pick ourselves up off the floor and start building new hopes, new goals and new plans from scratch.

Waiting for that next time.

On Dating

Despite meeting some really exceptional women during the past two years I’ve been single and writing here, I have yet to meet even ONE girl with whom I wanted to pursue a long-term relationship and lives close enough where we could see one another and build something.

The primary reason for that is that I’ve been a massive chickenshit about introducing myself to people I want to meet. Something about walking up to a pretty girl and introducing myself has proven a terrifying proposition. Historically, I always imagine her being really annoyed that I’m bothering her and thinking I’m a fat and ugly loser.

Learning about, and coming to mental grips with my ADHD diagnosis (and mind-focusing meds that help quell most of the little self-doubting voices) combined with a more-vigorous fitness plan that has me looking and feeling better, will help me overcome a lot of these mostly irrational fears.

I’m not really a fat and ugly loser. In fact, if you can get past my height, you probably want to make out with me. And I think 100-percent of the girls I would ever be interested in dating would be kind, flattered and appreciative of me saying hi and introducing myself.

Because so many people are scared to do this, most people resort to online dating where it feels safer and less scary to start conversations because they get to do so from the safety of the keyboard. But if you’ve ever participated in online dating, you know how sucky and unnatural it is.

Online dating strips me of everything I value about myself. I’m not going to let internet chicks decide how dateable I am based on my height, a few photos (which are always uglier than the real me), and a 100-word sales pitch.

It made me feel shitty in the early days of being single and I’m glad I haven’t reneged on my pledge to never do it again.

But let’s face it: Dating is critical. It has to happen. I’m not going to be single forever. That sounds terrible. I can have cheap flings, I guess. Some people do that. Like online dating, that also makes me feel shitty, so I’d rather not.

I don’t think there’s any getting around it: Sooner or later, I’m going to have a girlfriend, and possibly a wife. I figure I better try to meet her before some tall guy with a ridiculously huge package scoops her up.

My friend visited me from Florida a couple weeks ago, and he’s 36 and single like me. He likes to keep dating superficial because of how hard it is for him to deal with restarting from scratch each time he emotionally invests. Every relationship is the same, he says. They meet and have fun, and start seeing one another regularly and building some semblance of an almost-boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, then BAM, it’s over. She runs away or whatever.

And it crushes him. And it’s happened so many times now, that he doesn’t want to put himself through it anymore. It’s not so much the loss. It’s the agony of waiting for next time.

I was unemployed for 18 months about five or six years ago. That exact same thing happens with potential job opportunities, and it guts you and saps your will to live every time you go through a close-but-no-cigar scenario.

You build these dreams of this great new job, and feeling self-respect and your wife being proud of you again, and then someone else gets the job, and setting yourself on fire doesn’t sound so bad.

You have to start from scratch again. Pick yourself up off the floor and try again.

My favorite basketball team is one loss away from losing the NBA Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to have a hard time winning the next two games required to win the championship. Should that unfortunate situation arise tomorrow or Thursday, it’s not just the loss that will sting. I’m not even sure it will be the worst part.

It’s the Waiting for Next Year. Ugh.

The guy I hang out with the most, an awesome girl I know in Chicago, my son’s mother, a local platonic girlfriend and probably a bunch of other people who manage adulthood better than I do, are in relationships now.

It magnifies the challenge before me. This mission I have to create an extraordinary life of contentment for myself, my son and whoever ends up coming along for the ride.

There’s no going back. Only forward.

First, you get up.

Dust yourself off.

Choose a direction.

Walk.

Then run.

The running feels good. Not away from something. Toward something. We just don’t know what yet.

What comes next?

Maybe we fly.

I have no idea what tomorrow looks like.

Only that I’m not sad. I’m not angry. I’m not afraid.

Because everything’s going to be okay. Maybe it already is.

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11 Books That Will Make You Smarter, Sexier and Awesomer

stack of books art

I read a lot.

I do it for three reasons:

  1. I believe it’s the most-efficient way to get smarter. I’m kind of obsessed with learning about everything. When I was a kid, any learning that wasn’t hands-on was a total drag and I just wanted to play. I’m older now and my priorities and interests have shifted. I want to be a genius capable of solving any problem, but I’ll have to settle for Moderately Smart Guy Who Reads A Lot (and uses Google).
  2. I’m also kind of obsessed with new ideas and discovering new ways to do or think about things. That, combined with the desire to write things, makes it wise for me to read often.
  3. I want to be sexier and awesomer. (I have little evidence this part is working, but I think it probably is.)

Not everyone likes reading or wants to do it as much as I do. But maybe you’d like to try something new. For everyone who loves books like me, here are some exceptional ones I’ve read in recent months that I hope you enjoy too.

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

art of work

So many people are miserable because they hate their jobs and/or lives. Sometimes it seems like certain people have given up. They throw up their hands: “This is all there is!” Some people perform mundane jobs and live what I might consider mundane lives. I’m probably one of them. Sometimes people in lives like that feel satisfied and content. I applaud those people. But there are others who always feel like something’s missing. I often feel that way. The call.

Jeff Goins explores this phenomenon and the personal journey in this fantastic book about how people find their “calling.” What you were meant to do.

I love it and you probably will too because I have excellent taste.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

power of habit

Damn near everyone wishes they were better at something. For example, I’m shitty about cleaning my house (which is why I bought and will read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing once I stop putting it off), and effectively managing my refrigerator, and finishing my large-scale writing projects. I was officially diagnosed with adult ADHD yesterday (which I already knew and told you about), and which is an inexact science, but I still believe in personal responsibility and Duhigg’s book helps me understand why we are prone to do or not do so many of the things we do. Good stuff.

Double Feature

Steal Like an Artist 

steal like an artist

and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

show your work

Both books are really quick, interesting reads that I have trouble differentiating from one another because I read them back-to-back within the same week. As someone interested in the creative process for writing blog posts, and more-ambitious things like books, the lessons Kleon imparts here are important to me. If you want to MAKE anything, read these books and thank me later. (Just kidding. No need to thank me. But seriously, read them.)

Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson

models

I’m a little embarrassed about this one because one might get the impression I was trying to learn “pick-up” artistry (which I was not, and which this book is not about, though Manson addresses it). The author’s mission is to help men become the best versions of themselves and develop what he calls “true confidence.” Not false bravado, but legitimate comfort with oneself to establish healthy boundaries while navigating the sometimes-scary dating landscape. This book taught me a lot of things about myself, and I imagine almost any man would benefit from the important truths and psychological lessons. Frankly, I think most women would like it too. Manson has quickly become (even though he’s a bit younger than me) one of my favorite writers. You should sign up for his highly infrequent blog posts here.

Choose Yourself by James Altucher

choose yourself

This guy is my favorite writer. He has written two new books since this one (The Power of No, which I haven’t read but do own on Kindle; and The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth, which I have yet to read because A. I don’t have that much money, and B. My book stack is beyond obnoxious and I just haven’t got to it yet.) Altucher is a genius and I love him. I read every blog post he writes, I listen to his podcasts on road trips, I subscribe to his monthly newsletters, and suspect I will buy every book he writes for as long as he chooses to write. No one has affected my thinking more than Altucher, and my life is better for doing so. Choose Yourself is exactly what it sounds like: A guide to rethinking EVERYTHING and making your own rules in a world that often wants you to play by someone else’s.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

on writing well

I’m in the middle of this one now. It has already taught me so much about the art form I love most. Zinsser provides a ton of important lessons about what separates good writing from bad. (I do a lot of bad.) And the real value lies in the editing and rewriting portion of the work (which I NEVER do on this blog, sorry.) Many of you are writers, too. If you have never read this masterpiece, please remedy that soon. It’s accessible and amazing for writers of all levels and it WILL make you better. Even if you can’t tell from my work.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by bird

Another book on writing, but less on science and more on art. I can’t describe this book, because its qualities are intangible. But I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you: It’s magic.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss

ferriss four hour workweek

This one is a dirty lie because I haven’t read it yet, and I’m sorry to deceive you, but not really. It has 3,700 reviews on Amazon with a 4 ½-star rating, so I feel good about including it. Ferriss’ bestseller is in my monster stack and I will get to it and almost certainly write about it when I do. The reason I wanted to include it is because Ferriss is extraordinary and you should know who he is. I’ve read and listened to Ferriss many times in interviews and podcasts and articles. He’s exceptional and magnetic.

There’s never enough exceptionalism and magnetism in life. Tim Ferriss, yo. He’s legit.

The True Measure of a Man by Richard E. Simmons and Jerry Leachman

true measure of a man

Men have an identity crisis in 2015 because what it means to be a man in today’s society is radically different from what it meant for previous generations. Some men feel lost, like rudderless ships. I feel that way sometimes. People want to know why. We all just want to know WHY!?!?!? for everything. If you’re a guy and nodding your head right now? Please read this. It will help you make more sense of things. (You should read it even if you didn’t nod your head.)

Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century by Claudia Azula Altucher

idea machine

Claudia is James’ wife. So she gets bonus points from me simply by James-related osmosis. But I don’t want to minimize what she’s done here. Claudia took a staple of James Altucher’s self-improvement advice and made a nice, useful book out of it.

Bottom line: There is no skill I would rather possess than the ability to come up with great, creative ideas on-demand. Something shitty happens? BAM. I know what to do.  I want to complete a new goal? BAM. Here’s the methodology for tackling any problem with high-level thinking and execution.

That’s what this book will teach you how to do if you’re willing to grind and sweat a little (don’t get excited—I don’t mean that sexually.) Everyone can and will benefit from this book.

I always believe tomorrow can be better than today.

So, I read. Because I want to be a part of the solution.

We have Father’s Day coming up. And also, just, life.

Maybe you or someone in your life can benefit from one of these.

I hope so.

Please have a great weekend, everyone. Love you guys. (<– that’s real.)

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What If You Did It This Way?

cant-buy

Maybe he thought I was being a silly liberal hippy when I said all anyone really wants is to be happy.

The conversation had gotten deep because we don’t like talking about superficial things unless sports or movie lines are involved.

We hadn’t seen each other in five years, and we were doing the same thing we always do—standing around drinking beer, having a What does it all mean? conversation peppered with laughter outbursts.

He didn’t agree with my take. We often debate things.

I’m not sure why he disagreed. He never said, and we didn’t get much further in that conversation because beer.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Am I missing something? Does something else drive us?

No. This is the thing.

No matter how you choose to philosophically slice it up, everything you do in life is a means to an end. You are pursuing something you consciously or sub-consciously believe is bringing you happiness.

Maybe you like making money. Maybe you like travelling. Maybe you like staying home with kids. Maybe you like walking your dog. Maybe you like competing in sports. Maybe you pray often and live by a very specific spiritual or religious code. Maybe you like being helpful and serving others. Maybe you enjoy movie watching. Maybe you like drugs and partying with friends. Maybe you like exercising. Maybe you like eating healthy foods. Maybe you like not doing that.

Whatever. I don’t care.

What I do care about is understanding why things happen. I want to understand what motivates me.

I want everyone to be able to answer the question: “What do you want out of life?”

And I want everyone to understand the most-correct answer to that question, regardless of our differences and the various details, is: “I want happiness.”

Happy

adjective

1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing:

to be happy to see a person.

2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy:

a happy mood; a happy frame of mind.

 

Some people get bent out of shape over the word “happy.” They think it’s a lightweight word and concept, because ice cream, TV shows, roller coasters and vigorous bedroom romps can make us “happy” for a while before everything that truly matters in life brings you back to your baseline state of being.

And to them I say: FINE. Let’s use the word Content. Because that’s what I REALLY mean. 

Content

 adjective

1. satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.

There is not one decision you will make today that can’t ultimately be traced back to your pursuit of happiness (or, if you prefer: contentment).

“But, Matt! Going to work doesn’t make me happy! I do it because I MUST!”

Wrong.

You go to work because you’ve thus far not discovered a more effective way to make money. And you want that money because you want to pay for food, clothing, shelter and fun weekend activities. You do it because it makes your parents proud and you care what they think. You do it because all your friends have jobs and you believe that’s just what people do after high school and college!

We want our parents to be proud of us. We want clothes and food and roofs over our heads. We want to have money to support our children. We want people to look at us and believe we’re successful.

We want approval.

We want status.

We want to feel good.

It’s why I do everything.

It’s why you do everything.

We Get It! What’s Your Point?

Being an adult is really hard. Every day I get a new note from someone sad or angry or broken because their marriage is in trouble, or because they can’t figure out how to get out of their own way and be the person they aspire to.

I used to think I wanted big houses and nice cars and great sex and fun beach-party buzzes.

And I do sort of want those things! I think that’s okay.

But after being gutted from the inside following my broken marriage and divorce, I learned quickly that none of that stuff matters.

The man driving the ’91 Jetta with many friends happy to see him at tonight’s party will ALWAYS be living better than the millionaire CEO driving the Bentley whose company is about to lay off 5,000 workers, while his wife sleeps with her tennis coach, and he questions all his friendships, because everyone always wants something from him.

When you’re in the throes of depression and EVERYTHING hurts, you learn the truth: Nothing is as valuable as feeling peace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to enjoy life without it.

There are things in life that bring me joy. Real, authentic joy.

And then there are bullshit superficial things that make me feel good for 10 minutes but don’t matter after.

How good might life be if everything was about the pursuit of authenticity? Of contentment? Of happiness?

It was a good What does it all mean? conversation my friend and I were having.

The kind of conversation not enough people are having.

The thing you’re doing right now. Why are you doing it?

Something puts your soul at ease.

And another thing makes you feel like a kid again.

And that other thing over there sets your heart on fire.

Go do those things.

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