How to Be More Attractive

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

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

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

And then I didn’t.

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

And then I didn’t.

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

And then I didn’t.

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

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

I thought I’d be writing a sitcom.

The only problem was, not very much was funny.

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

And we always believe what we want to believe.

I had nothing.

I was nothing.

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

I wasn’t attractive enough.

I wasn’t smart enough.

I wasn’t tall enough.

I wasn’t strong enough.

I wasn’t funny enough.

I wasn’t successful enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

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

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

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

Who would ever want that guy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Then You Make the Rules Again

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

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

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

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

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

So, I’m not going to.

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

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

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

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

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

It still does.

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

I care the same about people as I always did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m worth it.

You’re worth it.

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

We’re smart enough.

Tall enough.

Strong enough.

Funny enough.

Successful enough.

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

They’re not.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

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

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

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

Maybe life goes on.

But things will never be the same.

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

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

Don’t Try to Fix Your Marriage

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

It goes against our caretaker and unselfish instincts.

As a parent, we always put our children first.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not You, It’s Me

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

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

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

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

I think it’s a piss-poor strategy.

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

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

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

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

I think everyone who wants to make it, will.

I think we just have to choose it.

Rethinking the Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Option C. The road less travelled.

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

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

Problem solved.

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

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

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

Another Definition of Love

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

It doesn’t start with her.

It doesn’t start with “us.”

It starts with you.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

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The Control Issues

Control key

It felt like I died.

I was depressed. Not like “oh, I’m feeling a little emo and wish more people liked me.”

I was a version of myself I’d never known and that’s a scary place to be when you didn’t even know it was possible.

When you can’t find a way to be comfortable in your own skin, there is very little pleasantness in the human experience. If you don’t numb it with chemicals or find a way to fall asleep, every part of you just feels… bad.

Not uncomfortable. Fucking bad. Like you kind of want to chop something off you so it stops hurting or maybe die in a fiery explosion because this.is.bad.

That’s when I realized for the first time how little control I really had over my life.

I was out of control.

Life was out of control.

You have a decision to make: Stay afloat until you feel strong enough to start swimming toward where you want to be. Or drown.

The Loss of Control After Divorce

My son was gone. GONE. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Shocks your system. Like the jump into ice-cold water. It’s hard to breathe. You panic a little. Frantically looking for a way out.

Because the world isn’t big enough, I found out where he was and who he was with sometimes when he wasn’t with me.

Someone bad.

Not necessarily dangerous.

Just… bad.

And as that child’s parent, you’re now helpless. Because you no longer get to say what happens to your child 50-percent of his life. You lose control. Even the ability to influence what happens, depending on the other parent’s choices.

Sometimes, I’d get so upset that I would sob and vomit and say bad words in between the heaving.

A New Kind of Prison

Each day. Each new experience. You get a little closer to coming to terms with your new reality.

Your new prison.

Because if you’re a divorced parent, that’s what your new life is. You no longer get to make choices like everyone else, UNLESS you’re willing to abandon your child, and if you’re that kind of person, you have bigger problems to work out than a failed marriage.

When she left, all I wanted to do was run away. Run!

I had these fantasies of getting a copywriting gig in New Orleans or the Pacific Northwest or some other undetermined place to try to find the reset button. To get a fresh start. To get away from everything in my life that represented sadness and anger and my failed life.

To run away for a couple years just to prove I’ve never been free.

It’s not possible.

Until your child is AT LEAST 18, and probably longer than that, they can use all the love and support we as parents can muster during the final stages of their transition from child to adult.

Our most-important job with our children is helping them develop into someone who doesn’t need us anymore.

I couldn’t run.

I was here. Am here. Stuck. No escape.

And your first lesson: Everything’s different now. I have to let some things go.

Including the illusion of control.

Motherfucker, I’ll Be Back From the Dead Soon

The best thing that happens after you get all that crying and puking and swearing out of your system is that you start living again.

You start having new experiences and making new memories with new people.

You can’t know you’re not going to stay dead until you finally stop being dead. It’s liberating when other people can make you smile and laugh and feel good. New people in your new life, proving to you that there is one on the other side.

People who used to have a death grip on your emotions lose that grip.

Not because they let go.

But because you’re strong enough to remove it yourself.

When you’re angry and immature and yelling: “You’re not my fucking mom. No one tells me what to do!” it’s a really ineffective way to establish boundaries and demonstrate that you are in control of your own life.

That’s what I used to do and it should come as little surprise that it was a highly ineffective strategy that probably played a pretty major role in my marriage’s eventual demise or establishing healthy boundaries in other relationships.

Self-reflection and self-awareness helps you recognize all your own bullshit and start owning it. I am a hot-headed, defensive, sarcastic, impulsive, immature sonofabitch when I get really fired up about something. And it has taken me all 36 of these years to get to a place where I could finally learn how to breathe, and pray, and exercise the kind of patience necessary to avoid escalating normal conflict into war.

The Thing About Control

Attempts to control are typically a reaction to the fear of losing control. GoodTherapy.org and virtually every credible source of information on control issues all say the same thing: “The incessant need for control can be overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.”

People who struggle with control issues fear being at the mercy of others, and the fear typically stems from some past traumatic event that left them feeling helpless and vulnerable.

“As a result, they may crave control in disproportionate and unhealthy ways.”

Empathy and patience is in order when you come across people with control issues. It’s not as if they want to be controlling and domineering. They might not even know they’re doing it. Demonstration of controlling behavior is usually a direct result of traumatic life experiences, a lack of trust, anxiety, fears of abandonment, damaged self-esteem, personal beliefs, perfectionism, or fear of experiencing emotional pain, writes Jeffrey Kaplan, a licensed therapist at GoodTherapy.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize you can’t control what other people do.

It requires simply getting stronger. And demonstrating more courage.

Because that’s the one thing it turns out you can control: How you’re going to react to unpleasantness in this new world where everything feels upside-down.

I know how I’m going to react.

I’m going to clearly state my boundaries and intentions. I’m going to mean exactly what I say.

Because I control me.

No one else does.

Attempts to circumvent my boundaries will be met with unpleasantness.

That’s where freedom lives.

Even when you feel trapped.

You make everything new by changing on the inside.

Because it turns out you’re still alive.

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A License to Live

"Les, that license in your wallet, that's not an ordinary piece of paper."

“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper.”

Within the first week of getting my driver’s license in 1995, I let a woman with two children in her backseat who had just crashed into my rear driver’s-side quarter panel drive off without calling the police or making an insurance claim, and I ran the front-right corner of my car into the back-left corner of a high school classmate’s car while backing out of my parking space at school.

No one had ever told me what to do in a car accident. It was probably only my third or fourth time driving alone. I was just worried about the kids. They were fine. I figured I’d drive home and my parents would make an insurance claim.

Doesn’t work that way, it turned out.

Oops.

My classmate Jill was in her car next to me when I backed my car out and spun the wheel too fast without clearing the front while leaving school my sophomore year.

I scratched her paint pretty significantly. She was really cool about it. I was really embarrassed.

“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper. That is a driver’s license. And it’s not only a driver’s license. It’s an automobile license. And it’s not only an automobile license. It’s a license to live, a license to be free, a license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose.” — Dean, License to Drive

Freedom. That’s what turning 16 and getting my driver’s license represented. Next to moving out of my parents’ house and into my college dorm room, nothing in life has ever rivaled the taste of freedom one feels behind the wheel.

I made the mistake with the mom who crashed into me because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I made the steering mistake while backing the car out of the parking space at school because that was literally the first time I’d ever backed out of a parking spot with cars on either side of me.

I hope it goes without saying that neither situation has come even close to happening again. I’m generally pretty good at not making the same mistake twice.

20 Years Later

At 4:37 a.m. Central Time tomorrow, I turn 36.

There are so many parallels between that time in my life and where I now find myself. Rapid change is occurring. I find myself in uncharted life territory with so many new experiences to have and life lessons to learn.

Freedom.

Not freedom I wanted or asked for. But freedom, all the same.

What are you going to do with it, middle-aged guy?

That’s the question we all have to answer about the precious time we have. I mean, maybe I’ll live to be 80. I hope so. But I might not. A heart beat seems like a fickle thing. Many people younger than me have had them stop without warning.

What are you going to do with the time?

One of my favorite writers Austin Kleon always reads a few New York Times obituaries every morning. About the lives of people who don’t have a today or tomorrow to plan for.

He doesn’t do it to be morbid. He does it to every.single.day remember to live. We all have an hourglass constantly getting emptier with no knowledge of how much sand remains in the upper half.

Today better count.

Learn more. Do more. Be more.

Not later. Now.

The divorce changed everything. It’s because divorce changes everything. A little good. A lot bad.

All the sand in the bottom of the hourglass is just going to sit there now. Days that already happened. Will never matter again. Can’t matter anymore because the sand never flows upward, even if we shake it up a lot.

After divorce or some other traumatic life event, you’re just trying to tread water. Just trying to stay alive.

But it’s nearly two years later now. Life can no longer be about treading water. Now, it’s got to be about choosing a direction and going that way. About lifting the sail and steering as best I can.

I’m a little like that 16-year-old again. Capable, but unsure. Bound for mistakes and missteps. But climbing toward good things. Always climbing.

Because this birthday isn’t an ordinary birthday.

It’s my 36th birthday.

And it’s not just my 36th birthday.

It’s the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

And it’s not just the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

It’s a license to live. A license to be free.

A license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever I choose.

Let’s go.

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The Eye of the Beholder

"La Lecture" by Pablo Picasso

“La Lecture” by Pablo Picasso

Little-known secret: I’m not particularly cultured or well-educated.

Sorry to disappoint you.

I mean, I have some refined tastes and I’m well-mannered when you’re not the shitty driver next to me I just muttered murderous things to from the safety of my vehicle.

But I don’t know about things I should know about.

I have a reasonably high IQ, so I can learn things quickly and fake people out. But because I committed most of my youth to athletic pursuits and wasted almost all of my reading and viewing hours on fictional escapism, I’m now more ignorant than a person who writes things as often as I do, and is raising a human being, should be.

I think we can all agree our Trivia Crack percentages paint a pretty distinct picture of our education and should be listed on our resumes. Yes, I’m ashamed that while I win the vast majority of my games due to my nearly 9-out-of-10 correct answers in Sports and Entertainment, my scores in Geography (79%), History (77%), Science (77%), and Art (76%), leave something to be desired.

What kind of a fraudulent writer gets 25 percent of his questions wrong in the Art category? This guy.

You see, I’m guilty of wanting to be the guy at parties that knows everything about everything, but I’m evidently not willing to put in the work to do so.

I love film.

But I’ve never seen Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or The Shining. But I’ve watched Back to the Future and Office Space and Terminator 2 a combined 14 million times.

I love music.

But I’m not obsessed with Elvis or The Beatles (though I acknowledge their greatness), and I don’t really get why everyone loves Bob Dylan and The Clash. I dig The Doors and Robert Johnson and Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, but I almost never play their albums over the new music I get so much joy out of discovering and sharing.

I love books.

But I’ve read so little of Twain and Orwell and Salinger and Hemingway and Dickinson and Vonnegut that I literally feel shame when I think about how much I’ve ignored the best at what I aspire to do. I just always liked reading Dean Koontz and John Grisham and Michael Connelly novels so much, I never stopped until I was old enough to gravitate to non-fiction.

Am I wrong, or bad, or dumb for making those choices?

I don’t know. Maybe.

What does it mean that I know Chandler’s last name on Friends and the specific date Marty travels back to in Back to the Future and that I’m close to a walking encyclopedia on the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan years, but that I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye or Fahrenheit 451?

What does it mean that I generally prefer cinema to stage performance, and photography to oil on canvas?

I started thinking about cars.

About fashion.

About architecture.

About food.

About wine.

About politics.

About religion.

Ask a hundred people about those things, and it’s almost certain no two people will align exactly.

Heidi Klum married Seal and I was like, what the-!?

Emmy Rossum married Adam Duritz and I was like, what the-!?

Tom Arnold married Roseanne Barr and I was like, what the-!?

But maybe there’s nothing to understand.

Maybe trying to is a big waste of time.

There are people who want to live in desert mountain caves and kill people who don’t agree with them because they believe in different versions of the same story.

I don’t understand why they wouldn’t rather be nice to people and attend fun parties on Saturday and hang out on the beach and go to a great concert and watch a ballgame on television more than blow something up. But they wish I was dead, so it doesn’t matter that I don’t get it.

Kim Kardashian is the most popular person on Twitter. Her stepdad is now a woman.

So is one of the Wachowski brothers.

I adore this painting by Pablo Picasso.

I don’t like the one above at all.

But I bet most art fans do.

Just like most music fans love The Clash.

Just like most literature fans have read the classics.

Just like most film buffs have seen Casablanca.

Whatever I am needs to be okay. Whatever I am IS okay. I secretly think all the things I like are better than all the things you like, but I’ve learned enough to finally understand that input gets filtered and measured so differently from human to human.

The diversity should be celebrated because it’s anything from boring.

Maybe so long as no one’s getting hurt, we just let people be themselves, no matter what.

We know what we know. Love what we love. Want what we want.

And most of the time, there isn’t any “right” or “wrong” attached to it. It just is.

Every day more things are created. More things to get to know and love and want.

Things you get to make and put out there.

Things I get to make and put out there.

And not everyone is going to get it or love it or want it.

But some will.

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Maybe If We Don’t, We Die

(Image by Fraida Gutovich.)

(Image by Fraida Gutovich.)

When your marriage fails and you’re in your thirties and you have a child, you freak out.

First, your wife just moved out and now everything you ever thought was true about your life isn’t.

Second, you freak about your child because now half the time he’s not going to be home and there’s nothing you can do to protect him except hope and pray, and your faith just took a hit because I feel like I’m dying.

You worry about your social life because all your friends are “couples” friends.

You worry about finances.

You worry about what your family and friends think of you.

She’s gone.

My little boy’s gone.

Now what?

You’re too busy freaking out to be lonely, but you’re lonely.

I don’t think it’s possible to spend a dozen years with someone, have them leave one day, and not feel totally alone afterward.

The kid’s bed is empty. Toys aren’t being played with. It’s eerie quiet. So quiet that it’s loud. So loud.

I’d been alive 34 years and it was the first time I had ever lived completely on my own, save for my last year of college when I was constantly surrounded by friends and seriously dating the girl who’d just said goodbye.

Everything was different now.

At first, the loneliness was psychological.

My friends included me in things all the time and people were reaching out so often that I didn’t find myself alone often. When my son was home, it was all about him. When he wasn’t, it was all about me.

I stayed busy because time goes faster that way, and I stayed connected because I was so desperate for it.

But it was unsustainable. And as I began to change on the inside, I moved less. And less. And less.

It was time to learn how to be still.

It was time to learn how to be okay alone.

But Maybe We Never Are

PsyBlog called it a “social epidemic that’s worse for our health than obesity, smoking or alcoholism.”

Loneliness. Social isolation. Based on research conducted over 34 years, researchers discovered that loneliness and isolation have a similar negative effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, or becoming an alcoholic.

We are wired to connect.

Chemically designed to thrive together, not apart.

But in the context of dating, it’s so much scarier now, right?

When you’re divorced with children and the rules of the game are so much different than they were back in high school or college?

It’s so hard for single parents to align schedules. Children must come first.

It’s so hard to meet people because we’re no longer involuntarily thrust into situations where “people like us” are, the way we were during our school years.

Now, we have to choose it.

Our work environments. Clubs. Groups. Hobbies. Volunteer organizations. Various social pursuits.

And it’s hard. Because it takes bravery and energy, something that’s now in shorter supply.

We have work, chores, children and other life responsibilities. I sometimes forget that I’m going to die someday, and that every day I didn’t choose adventure, or to live passionately, was a missed opportunity.

It’s hard to get divorced. Especially if you didn’t want to.

And it changes you on the inside. Rewires you into a different version of yourself. And now you don’t know if you can ever be married again. Don’t know if you can ever trust again. Don’t know if you can ever love again.

Everything’s so different now.

You tell yourself and everybody else that you’re okay alone. And maybe you are, especially if you’re staying connected to friends and family.

But there are still a lot of hours of life to fill.

Mornings and nights and weekends and holidays. Sometimes we want to walk the walk alone because we don’t need anyone! and I can do this by myself!

I’m like my six-year-old now, wanting to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m okay. That I don’t need more.

But once the bleeding stops. And the wounds turn to scars. And the pain turns to memories where you can’t recreate that feeling anymore (and that’s okay!), we have choices to make.

I don’t think we were meant to walk this world alone.

I don’t think it gets better than when we share time and space with people who matter.

And maybe if we want this life to be something more, we need to be open to trying again.

To walking.

Then running.

Then leaping.

Then flying.

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Matt the Plumber

(Image courtesy of Emergency Plumber Boston.)

(Image courtesy of Emergency Plumber Boston.)

I looked the part. Jeans and a tee shirt. A wrench and a bucket.

But the universe knows I’m not really a handyman, outside of the kitchen or bedroom. I’m more of a helper. Like Al on Tool Time.

It’s not that I can’t fix or install things. On a case-by-case basis, I can. I just generally require at least one more trip to the hardware store than a regular person.

I’ve installed a dishwasher that only leaked once, a garbage disposal that has miraculously never failed me, some lattice on my deck that lasted a solid five years before falling off, a flat-panel television by my basement bar with minimal wall damage, and I once fixed a washing machine. It still totally works. Seriously!

Bucket in hand, I was all ready to go. I would have charged myself $80 an hour, but I didn’t even have my ass crack showing, so I was like: I’m not paying this impostor.

“Hey Matt! What happened to your sink!?!?”

I’m so glad you asked.

You know the little plunger on the backs of faucets that move drain plugs up and down? Yeah, I somehow disconnected mine from that mechanism on the sink in one of my bathrooms and have never figured out how to fix it, so I just never did.

I needed to plug the sink to do some bathroom hygiene stuff which I really, desperately, want to tell you was because I fill up the sink to shave so I can conserve water responsibly while shaving my two-day stubble that took four days to grow.

But that’s not the reason. It’s because I needed to clean a plugged ear. (Hot, right? You eating lunch? Mmm. Don’t worry, this gets slightly grosser.)

So I press down the plug and let the sink fill up with water while I do what needs done.

It’s time to unplug the drain, only the little plunger-majingy on the faucet isn’t working, because duh, bitch, it doesn’t work!

Crap. How am I going to get this drain unplugged?

I ran downstairs and grabbed one of my old steak knives I would never be able to use again and tried jimmying it into the space between the plug and the drain surround.

It was an ineffective strategy, but I kept trying it over and over and swearing a little. The swearing didn’t help.

Hmmm.

A moment of genius.

Got it!

I grabbed the toilet plunger, because I’m totally brilliant and I figured I could create enough vacuum suction to force the drain up that way.

Three things happened really fast.

The first thing that happened was epic failure as my shitty plan didn’t even almost work. The drain didn’t budge.

The second thing that happened was that all of the totally disgusting bacteria and mildew that lives inside not-well-cleaned toilet plungers totally contaminated my predominately clean sink water, save for the remnants of my successful ear-cleaning procedure.

The third thing that happened is despite almost throwing up in my mouth, I tried the shitty plunger idea a few more times to see if it would work, and it never did, but some of the dysentery water splashed up on my vanity and got all over my toothbrush which I promptly threw in the trash and lit on fire.

The sink was winning.

I needed to think. And find a new toothbrush. And a new place to brush.

I knew I was going to have to disconnect the drain pipe and hit it from underneath (giggity), but that seemed like a lot of work and since I hadn’t contracted malaria or toilet-plunger gonorrhea yet, I wanted to give it a little more brainstorming and disease-marinating time.

Finally, it was last night, and my son would be home the following and there’s no way I could let him see this, so it was time to take action.

A ladybug had already found its way into the disgusting water and had fortunately died instead of turning into a giant flying Toxic Crusader insect that tried to hump my mouth while I slept.

Armed with my wrench and bucket, I pulled out everything stored beneath the sink, situated the bucket and went to work on disconnecting the drainpipe.

Turns out, whoever plumbed the sink installed fittings that could relatively easily be unscrewed by hand, so my wrench was totally for show. I disconnected the drain, pushed the plug out with a screwdriver from underneath, and watched my hand get some AIDS water on it but somehow not shrivel up and disappear. All that remained in the sink was a black ring of filth and horribleness.

I went to work with disinfectant and napalm, cleaned up, put everything away and admired a job well done that maybe took 15 minutes altogether. Even with the napalm.

What that means is I “brainstormed” ideas to fix my sink for 48 hours to try to avoid doing it “the hard way.” The hard way which only took 15 minutes.

It was a missed opportunity.

At $80 an hour, I would have been almost $4,000 richer.

And probably rocked some wicked-hot plumber’s crack.

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The Milestones

shawshank1

Right after your wife leaves you and you’re crying and barely able to breathe, the only thing you want to know is: When is this going to end?

I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, but when I felt that for the first time, that’s when I knew why someone would do it. To shut it off. I was a naïve optimist who had never felt pain from life. At least not the kind that rewires you.

I liked talking to people who had been through divorce and understood what I was dealing with. I was always a little bit like “Fuck you” every time they’d sit calmly on the other side of the table with a smile on their face and assure me it was going to be okay.

They were smiling because they remembered and were so relieved they no longer felt that way.

“Just give it time. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”

I wanted to punch every person who said that to me. I would scream on the inside: “You can’t know how this feels! You must not have cared as much! You must not have hurt this much!”

One time, a divorced mother told me she sometimes enjoyed when her son was with her ex-husband because she was able to do fun things that would be otherwise impossible.

On the inside, I screamed: “You’re a shitty parent then! You must not love your son as much as I love mine! I will NEVER enjoy my son not being home!”

I’ll never forget feeling that way.

The rejection fucks you good. You’re not good enough!

But then all the sudden your child is gone half the time, too, and the combination of those two radical life changes just ruins your insides.

You pray and beg for relief. You drink vodka sometimes even though you’ve always had a never-drink-alone policy. You indulge in escapism with friends and books and movies, but when you wake up in the morning, life is still real and hard.

You’re still alone.

Your heart is still broken.

Your life still feels over.

And all you want is for your friends’ predictions to come true: Everything’s going to be okay.

Lessons From the End of a Marriage

That’s the name of the blog and book written by Lisa Arends who I like and admire very much. Yesterday, she published a post called “The Shortcut for Healing After Divorce,” which I instantly clicked because I want to know the secret and tell everyone!!!

Lisa’s clever post title compelled me to read the story where she expertly told me something I’d been figuring out along the way.

There is no shortcut. There is just… the way.

Nobody wants to hear it because we all want things now, now, now. There’s no immediate gratification when your spirit is broken. The amount of love and laughter and adventure and friends and family and new life experiences it takes to recover is pretty immense.

The journey for each of us is exactly how long it’s supposed to be. I think the road is the same length for everyone, but some people are better conditioned to run to the finish a bit faster.

No tricks. No magic.

Just slow, sustainable healing as you rediscover yourself.

Andy Dufresne: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.

Red: What’re you talking about?

Andy Dufresne: Hope.

Signs Along the Way

You’ll see them without even looking hard.

The first one I remember is that I could go have dinner with a girl without feeling that Everything is wrong feeling I’d had for so long.

And then you notice the silence at home isn’t so loud anymore. You can be there alone and just be still. And it’s home. It’s safe. It’s okay. That’s when I knew everything would be okay.

And then you develop new routines. Make new friends. Build a new life. I can do this.

And then you can drive by places that used to make you cry, but now they don’t.

And then you can walk by the very spot where you proposed to her and surprisingly your heart keeps beating.

And then you can sit with them at school events for your child and laugh like old friends.

And then you can learn about an out-of-town trip they’re taking without that familiar panic setting in: Where are they going? Who are they going with? Oh fuck. Oh shit. I’m dying.

It’s not something you could have understood two years earlier. It’s just… okay now.

You’re not dying.

It’s like magic, but it’s not magic. You walked the path.

Everything is no longer going to be okay someday. It IS okay. Right now.

You can live with your son being with the only other person on earth who loves him like you. You love him just as much, but don’t carry guilt for enjoying life even if he can’t be there, too.

You can feel tangible joy.

You can feel brave.

Strong.

I’m not just different almost two years later.

I’m better.

I am the best version of myself I have ever been.

You crawl out of the emotional shit tunnel just like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.

A huge gulp of air. Of emotional freedom.

And now anything is possible.

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Faith Like a Child

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

Because I was an only child, I often found myself meeting and playing with new kids.

No one cared about how much money your parents made. Or what clothes you were wearing. Or the color of your skin. Or where, or if, you went to church.

You only knew you were both kids and playing is fun. So you both played.

So long as no one was mean, everyone had a good time. You just played and played and played until someone’s parents made them leave.

We all wanted to be older. To not have anyone telling us no. To have our own money to buy things. To stay up as late as we wanted. To watch big-people shows. To sit at the adult table for holiday dinners.

No one at the kids’ table understood that life was never better than it was right then.

We all grow up and wonder why we never appreciated how good we had it.

Why Are Kids So Happy?

Someone smarter than me can probably put this in more academic terms.

But it’s because the kids don’t know about all the shit, right?

Because they are less likely to have lost someone in a tragic accident. They are less likely to know heartache and betrayal. To know poor health. To care about the social implications of poverty or their skin color or sexual orientation.

They’re happy because their shit pile is so light AND their bodies are so full of energy. Almost every kid will just run and run and run and run and laugh the entire time with their friends (maybe someone they just met!) for hours and hours.

Because Play! Fun! Laugh!

Before some grouchy, sad adult drops the hammer and makes them quiet down or stop running or go home and take a bath before bed because we have very important adult things to do tomorrow!

When Do We Lose Hope?

What’s the thing that has to happen for people to do that?

What’s the series of events that turns the child who believes she’s going to fly to Mars, or be elected President, or be a professional athlete turn into a resigned 9-to-5er who believes: “This is just the way it is!”?

More importantly, is there any way to clean that whiteboard and start again? Is there any way to filter out the impurities? Is there any way to recapture the youthful spirit and energy that won’t be held down by gravity?

We get older and we get scared. We’re afraid to move because we got divorced or because we lost a job or because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Because we think we’ve disappointed our parents or our friends. Because we reject grace and forgiveness because we kind of want to carry the pile of shit and guilt and fuckness as some sort of self-imposed punishment.

I deserve this.

People think and feel that. It’s almost like they want to serve the penance. They need to serve the penance.

Atonement.

People feel trapped in their lives and they think they’re ruining it for their children or their family and friends and I’ve already done enough damage! and now it’s just a bunch of self-loathing, disappointment and fear. They’re afraid to cause any more harm.

They’re afraid to take the leap.

They’re paralyzed.

The Thing About Data Samples

We’re not going to debate climate change. Like almost every subject my brain has ever encountered, I.don’t.know and I’m never going to pretend I do. You don’t either. We just have a lot of guesswork. Some of them are probably right.

Anyone interested in intentionally damaging the planet is an asshole. But let’s not pretend we have a particularly good data sample size to make our impassioned political judgments and arguments in either direction.

The planet is 4.5 billion years old.

Humans started recording temperatures in 1850. We didn’t get tropospheric readings (from weather balloons and satellites) until 1950.

Now I want you to think of the entire history of the earth as ONE YEAR. Pretend the Earth was created on Jan. 1, and today in 2015, we’ve now completed one year of the planet’s existence.

The data we have on climate so far is the equivalent of about the first full second between midnight and 12:01 a.m. on that first day. (A good mathematician can come up with a more-accurate analogy, but the point will stand.)

You want to bet everything on your what-will-happen-next prediction based on a second of data?

Even if you’re someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, you still believe that energy never goes away (or should because it’s indisputable).

What happens to our consciousness remains up for debate by skeptics and the faithful.

But our energy is immortal and never-ending, no matter what.

And if there’s an afterlife? All this shit and guilt and fuckness we feel here isn’t going to mean a damn thing in a little bit.

How much of our lives have we really lived to know what’s going to happen next year? Next month? Next week?

Or one minute from now?

I hear all these stories from people. Beaten up by life. And now, they’re out of options! There’s absolutely nothing that can be done to change things. This is just the way it is.

This is not just the way it is.

We age and often feel shittier but some things ARE better now. All you need is one young child or the opportunity to spend time with one to feel better about your decision-making capabilities as an adult with a functioning brain.

Two days ago, I watched my son roll around on a dirty floor at his school with a bunch of his little friends and drop two donut holes from a paper plate onto the floor. About 10 seconds later after rolling around in Kids AIDS, he picked them up and ate them. Then he walked over to a table where drinks were set out and tried to mix white grape juice with orange juice. I’m convinced my interference is the only thing that prevented total disaster, and a shitty breakfast drink from being invented.

We have good brains and we should use them.

We’ll look to the kids, not for lessons on beverage mixing, but on how to get along with people and laugh more often.

Why can’t we be more like kids?

What’s stopping us from laughing and playing more? From not evaluating peers based on how much money they have or what their skin color looks like or who they choose to hang out with?

What’s stopping us from reaching for the stars with faith like a child?

We are not who we were yesterday.

Bad things happened to us. We did bad things. And we carry all that with us like luggage strapped to our backs and now we can’t be kids anymore because of the guilt luggage.

But we can get new luggage. Empty things waiting to be filled.

Yesterday does not get to decide who I am today.

Yesterday damn sure gets no say in who I am tomorrow.

You get to wake up every day and decide how you’re going to spend your time.

About whether you’re going to do something fun or productive or helpful or good or uplifting.

About at what table you’re going to sit at holiday gatherings.

About whether you’re going to do something with your life that sets your heart on fire and changes everything.

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The Pee Problem

peeing-statue

Because I’m sometimes unreliable and don’t always follow through with things, I am getting serious about my body for the third time since my divorce.

The first time I got serious, I did absolutely nothing. I just wrote that I was serious one time. That was all I did.

The second time I got serious, I got back into a regular workout routine. A little cardio and a little weightlifting. Nothing too intense. I’m not trying to be a bodybuilder. I just want to look good naked.

Fine. And with clothes on. I got close, but then let the holidays derail my efforts. I felt myself slipping back into lazy,­ you’re-gonna-get-fat! mode.

The third time I got serious was a week or so ago.

I told a couple people I was doing this for accountability reasons.

June 1, Baby

You’re totally going to want me on June 1.

Okay. If you’re a heterosexual female, or a dude who wants dudes, you’re totally going to want me on June 1.

Okay. If you’re a heterosexual female, or a dude who wants dudes, and don’t discriminate against 5’9” divorced guys with a kid rocking the suburban middle-class lifestyle like a boss, you’re totally going to want me on June 1.

I picked an arbitrary date. I figured I needed to be in swimming-pool shape by June. Right? Right.

I’m doing what I always do: I’m waking up early and doing cardio. Lift weights. I’m reducing my calories and exercising more-disciplined eating habits.

But I’m also doing something I’ve never done before: Drinking a lot of water.

This is a Thing, Apparently

A quick Google search will show you a variety of people who swear by a gallon-of-water-per-day 30-day challenge. Without changing any other facet of their lifestyle, people are losing 10-15 pounds just by adding a gallon of water to their daily habits. I have a couple friends who swear by it, also.

So, instead of sipping hot coffee all day, I’m having a cup in the morning and then drinking water the rest of the day. Four 32-ounce water bottle fill-ups. It’s infinitely easier to do than expected.

There’s just one problem.

My Bladder Suffers from Dwarfism

Turns out, I just don’t drink much. Of anything. Been this way my entire life. I drink water or Gatorade or whatever when I’m thirsty. I drink coffee fairly often because it’s the world’s greatest beverage. I drink energy drinks when I need to stay awake for the next five hours. And I drink beer, wine and liquor socially and am generally more awesome (almost certainly just in my own head) when I do.

I started drinking beer regularly as a college freshman and that’s when I learned about this biological defect.

I drink one, two, three, four, and I’m cool. We always called it “breaking the seal.” The first urination in the midst of a drinking session.

Once that happens? Freaking floodgates, yo. Every drink, I’m in the restroom. Every drink!

I use the time to assess my sobriety and have little conversations with myself about not acting as intoxicated as I might feel, or to strike up hilarious conversations with random strangers peeing next to me who may or may not find the talks as entertaining as I do.

This is why I don’t drink much at pro football or basketball or baseball games that I bought expensive tickets to attend. Because I don’t want to have to hike up or down stairs to the bathroom twice per $12 beer.

This is also why I avoid partying too far from home. “Don’t worry, Matt! It’s just a 45-minute ride home!”

Are you shitting me? Forty-five minutes? In a car? With bumps and crap to drive over? I. Will. Die. And almost have a handful of times.

One time I made my friend emergency-stop just a couple minutes from my house so I could pee in a bush outside of some business where I happened to know a guy who worked there, but hadn’t given me permission to pee outside the building, even though that’s totally what I would have told the officer.

I don’t know what happens when you let your bladder swell until failure, but I’m pretty sure you just pee your pants.

Because I’m drinking a gallon of water per day, I have to pee constantly. As a writer, I find this interrupts my flow (pun intended), and I’m annoyed that I have to get up so often.

I went to the restroom three times while writing this post. I wish I was kidding.

Whatever.

Keep your eye on the ball, right?

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.” I read that on my friend’s blog recently. Seems accurate enough.

What do I want most?

You to totally want me on June 1, of course!

If interested, you can probably find me in a restroom.

Or emergency-peeing behind a bush.

#tommyleejonesface

#tommyleejonesface

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