Monthly Archives: August 2014

It Gets Better

Image by Incessant Star at Deviant Art.

Image by Incessant Star at Deviant Art.

I read my text message and laughed out loud because my ex-wife wrote something funny.

One of my friends at the office asked what I was laughing about.

I told him. He smiled.

“You wouldn’t believe what a difference nearly a year and a half makes,” I said.

Sometimes my ex and I laugh about stuff.

The Darkness

There was so much darkness after she left. I freaked. Big-time.

Partially because something radical and different was happening, and change scares me. Partially because my little son wasn’t home all the time anymore and it feels like a piece of your soul is missing. Partially because the wounds of rejection run deep and can feel exactly like betrayal.

I was broken. Dazed. Crying, sometimes. It wasn’t pretty.

I have never gone back and read anything I wrote a year ago. But I think it’s all there.

Growing up, nothing extremely horrible ever happened to me. My parents’ divorce was the worst thing.

I grew up in this safe little Catholic school in this safe little Ohio town and had a safe little non-scary life.

Life had inadvertently pulled the wool over my eyes.

Then she left and started seeing someone else and I felt like dying.

Sometimes, I intentionally try to recreate the feeling because I don’t want to take for granted the peace I feel today. I NEVER want to forget how uncomfortable life can feel inside your own skin when you’re broken. Because that’s the fuel I need to build my new life.

The feeling is unmistakable and all-consuming. And you only know it if you know it. If you don’t know what it feels like to not be able to breathe because everything you ever thought was true just crumbled, then I really want you to keep your loved ones close, because you’re going to need them when it finally happens.

It hurts more than anything you’ve ever experienced. When you break on the inside. And the wounds are so deep they take an excruciatingly long time to heal.

But they do heal.

Sometimes my ex and I laugh about stuff now.

Clocks, Calendars and Fear

I was 34 when my wife left after a dozen years together. Mid-thirties with a son in kindergarten.

A single, graying, average-looking dad who just got dumped. My entire social network, altered overnight. My home went from a steady, warm, safe haven, to a quiet prison that felt much like a tomb.

I was (sometimes, am) afraid of so many things.

Who will ever want me?

How can I set a good example for my son?

What’s my purpose in life now?

Am I going to survive, financially?

Will I ever feel like myself again?

I wrote.

I read.

I watched a bunch of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

I went out with friends.

I kept waking up each morning and breathing.

The clocks ticked.

The calendar pages flipped.

The sun kept coming up.

No Shortcuts

I don’t think so, anyway. I don’ t think there’s any way of cheating the process. When we lose things, we grieve. And everything I understand about grief and loss is that we all deal in different ways, but we all go through the same stages. Some of those stages take longer than others.

The five stages of grief are:

1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance, and Hope

I wasn’t shocked when she left. The shock happened a long time ago when the marriage went bad. The denial, too. She’s not leaving!

I was wrong.

But I didn’t have any trouble being angry and feeling like a victim. That part’s easy.

In the bargaining phase, you long for the past, forgoing the present by focusing on what might have been.

Then you get depressed.

I got totally depressed.

I wasn’t moping around, like how I imagined depression to be. But just a deep emptiness and sadness. You tend to not give a shit about a bunch of things you used to. Simple things, really. All my old hobbies—my favorite sports teams, poker, cooking, etc. I just didn’t care anymore. They feel so insignificant after something monumental happens.

And it turns out this is completely expected and normal. And there’s no set amount of time. Everyone has to walk their own path. And it’s important to remember that when you’re feeling so shitty. The depression IS the path. It’s the way out of all the suck. Keep moving forward.

And finally, acceptance. Hope.

This doesn’t mean you’re all better. Woo-hoo! I accept it! I’m totally healed now!

I don’t think that’s how it works. At least not for me.

My world ended on April 1, 2013.

A life that only exists now as a high- and lowlight reel in my memory bank.

And now I have to build a brand-new life.

With new goals. New dreams. A new script. A new supporting cast.

And you know what? I’m going to.

It’s not like I ever had much of a choice, but when you’re walking through all those phases of the Grief Path of Suckage™ you don’t feel much hope or really anything at all.

When I felt like dying, the thing that made me feel best was connecting with people who understood. Via this blog. Via real life. Crossing paths with people with the same wounds and scars. Crossing paths with people who had been through the exact same things and would pat me on the back, reassuringly.

“It will get better.”

And if you’re still in agony, it’s hard to hear. It’s tricky when other people seem happy or peaceful or unaffected.

Don’t they know the sky is falling? Don’t they know the sun might not come up tomorrow?

They walked through fire.

And they emerged stronger.



And I know there are millions of people out there now. Having trouble breathing. Crying and terrified.

It makes my entire body hurt to think about because that feeling is still like muscle memory, just below the surface. It can still be recreated in short bursts. And it’s horrible.

But it doesn’t last.

It can’t anymore.

Because one day you look in the mirror.

Hey! I know that guy.

And someone else makes you smile.


And your child fills you with enormous pride.


Because real healing has taken hold.

Because you kept breathing.

Because clocks keep ticking.

Because the sun is indiscriminate and it won’t stop setting, rising and dancing across the sky for anyone.

Because sometimes my ex and I laugh about stuff—strangers, but strangers who don’t hurt each other anymore.

Because everything is going to be okay.

It really is.

It might even be amazing.

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Ageism, Dating and More Ageism, Vol. 2

My ageism isn't just about me being a dick. I want marriages to succeed.

My ageism isn’t just about me being a dick. I want marriages to succeed.

I’ve never been particularly controversial. I’m that way on purpose. I like to get along with everyone.

But I brushed as close to controversy as I ever have this week when I published my first post on the topic of ageism and dating.

And by “ageism and dating,” I really just mean I question the long-term romantic compatibility of people too far apart in age.

There are people with two decades separating them and everyone involved seems content and satisfied with the relationship. Great! Happiness (long-term contentment and inner peace, actually) should be the thing we strive to achieve most in this human life.

I would never ask two people in love to sacrifice their happiness. But for the purposes of this discussion, I’d equate it to winning the lottery. Some people do it! But it’s a shitty save-for-retirement strategy. Most of the time, lotto-ticket purchases are the equivalent of burning money.

I wanted to get into this a little more because my previous post was written off by at least one person whose opinion I very much respect as “an immature view of adult relationships.”

And maybe it is. I’m not the brightest. But I’m happy to explain how I arrive at my conclusions.

The Dating Math and its Impact on Marriage

In the previous post, I wrote:

“In the Department of Overgeneralizations, you’ll discover a few laws of human nature (that I’m totally making up on the fly because I believe them to be generally true and the furthest thing from actual law.)

Boys and young men are constantly hoping to, or actively trying to, have sex with the girls in their life to whom they’re attracted. Which is often several.

Girls and young women are constantly hoping to find someone who will fall in love with and marry them, frequently misinterpreting sexual interest as potential love interest and ultimately spawning the “Boys are Mean™” and “Men are Pigs™” movements.”

I want to clarify my position, and reinforce that I believe (quite strongly) that all of this is generally true. Perhaps 85-percent of the time if I had to attach a number to it. There have always been, and will always be, exceptions to every rule. And I think my observations on life are a far cry from being “rules.”

On “Boys and young men are constantly hoping to, or actively trying to, have sex with the girls in their life to whom they’re attracted.”:

Aside from being grammatically incorrect (‘life’ should have been ‘lives’), I stand by this statement.

And it does NOT mean I think all young men are trolling to con some unsuspecting girl or young women into having sex under false pretenses and then ditching them afterward.

There are millions—billions, hopefully—of good men out there. But they all want to have sex with the people they’re attracted to. Every one of them. It’s a mammal thing. And I think boys and young men are motivated romantically by their desire to have sex.

I also believe love is a choice.

I believe it as much as I’ve ever believed anything. Boys—and men—while motivated by sex are absolutely capable of love. And when they figure that out, and choose it, they put all of their energy into the person they want to be with forever. That happens when they find the partner they want to stay with.

And I think girls and young women are different. GENERALLY. Generally, I think girls are interested in the love part upfront. I think women often want to recreate the safety and security they felt living with their fathers growing up. And I think women want to experience the romantic love they see on television. Prince Charming. The knight in shining armor. The passionate kiss during the cliché ending of another romantic comedy. Because that stuff makes people feel good.

Because males and females are different (and because people are impossibly shitty at communicating with one another—myself included) the wires are always getting crossed in our youth.

The boys are thinking about sex all the time, and because they know no different, assume the girls are, too. (And some are!)

The girls are thinking about love all the time, and because they know no different, assume the boys showing all this interest in them has romantic, Prince Charming-like intentions at its core. But really, the boys are most interested in exploring their sexuality with them.

I think this general misunderstanding causes a lot of hurt feelings for young people not mature enough to understand the psychological and spiritual ramifications of acting like adults, sexually.

We live. We learn.

I went on to write about the 20-30 age range, because I think this is the window of our lives (please keep in mind I’m a heterosexual American male, and don’t have a sense of how much this applies elsewhere or to people dissimilar from me) when the majority of people get married.

I think many girls (Not all! Just most!) dream of their wedding day throughout much of their teenage years.

I think falling in love and getting married, at least during my lifetime, has been the No. 1 goal of the majority of females.

And I’m not sure I believe that’s true of men. I think most men want to. But boys tend to dream of being a pro football player, or an astronaut, or the front man for a rock band, or whatever. The dream tends to be career-oriented.

I think most boys assume they will grow up to get married and have kids because that must be “the way” since that’s what their grandparents and parents did.

It’s not so much a goal as it is an inevitable eventuality.

So, we’re in our 20s.

And the girls our age are generally much more emotionally mature than we are. I estimate about five years’ worth.

They want a husband. Crave stability and security. Their friends are getting engaged. Some even have kids and they’re sooooooo happy!!! We’re not getting any younger! And commitment and feeling safe is so important to them. So, either very directly, or more subtly, they begin to hint at and apply marriage pressure to their boyfriends.

But their boyfriends aren’t ready.

They’re only 22! Just got out of school! Just started their career! What’s the rush!?

He probably even thinks about all the women he can’t date or hook up with now because of his girlfriend. It’s worth it, he’ll tell you, because she’s a keeper. And it might even be true. But he still feels the call of the wild, so to speak. He’s a boy. Boys feel that.

If said boy doesn’t want to lose this girl, he has to make assurances. She’s in a hurry!!!

She doesn’t know he’s a child. She doesn’t know he has so much more growing to do on the inside. She thinks he’s just a little undisciplined because he’s still bro-ing it up once in a while like he did in college.

He’ll settle down! He’ll grow up!

And he will.

He will settle down. He will grow up.

It’s just that it’s going to take longer than she thinks. Not in all circumstances. Just in most.

I think very few men under 30 are ready to marry.

To give what it takes to stay married. To understand that that’s part of the formula for making it successful.

To give, give, give.

Because if you’re not giving more than you take in a marriage, it’s DOOMED. If it doesn’t end, it will be unhappy.

There are no cheats. No hacks. No workarounds.

Two people give themselves to one another without reservation. Both give more to one another than they take from one another.

Anything less, and it’s either shitty, or it ends.

Probably both.

Marriage is important to me. It affects 95 percent of us. That’s damn near everybody.

And I think the dynamics of dating that occur during our prime marriage years (20-30) are a HUGE factor in why so many of us divorce 5-10 years later.

It’s a tragedy.

And I know we can do better.

And I think being just a bit more discriminatory and whole lot better at communicating can be an important part of the solution.

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Ageism, Dating and More Ageism

No. Just... no.

No. Just… no.

I’m an ageist.

There, I said it. I didn’t know I was an ageist until last week because, outside of professional sports, I had never previously discriminated against the elderly.

But now I am.

And the real beauty is that almost EVERYONE qualifies, so basically, depending on the situation, I now potentially discriminate against every single person on Earth. Except babies. They’re cool.

One of my oldest friends (not in an age sense; in a friendship-length sense) is female. We talk about everything.

And I just found out recently that one of her best friends who is our age (35-ish) is married to a guy who is 50-plus.

And my gut reaction was: “That’s gross.”

Then she told me about how all her girlfriends will get together and sleep over at their house, where this wealthy older man “spoils” all these attractive women, 15 or more years younger than him.


“He’s yummy,” she said, just before explaining that he goes to bed before 9 p.m. every night, and spends all his mornings reading the paper in bathrobes that cut off mid-thigh.

My natural, instinctive reaction was revulsion. I don’t know that I can adequately explain or defend it. It’s simply how I feel.

When this wife was born, the husband was a sophomore in high school.

When the husband graduated college, the wife was in first grade.

Chew on that, outraged people who might feel like debating this.

It’s totally gross. Like this, but less awesome:

The Dating Math (Pre-Marriage Edition)

In school, your “dating” options are limited.

In grade school, you’re mostly stuck with boys and girls in your class and a few randoms you meet through other channels.

In high school, the girls’ options open up to all four grades (and later, college guys), while the boys generally are limited to just one grade up and back.

While our college years represent the closest thing to “real life” any of us experience throughout our schooling, the age thing tends to play about the same as in high school, though women tend to have more upward mobility—age-wise—than guys.

For example, it’s not unheard of for a 19-year-old sophomore girl to date a young professional man who is 23 or 24 (and I’d even recommend it for those looking for stability—more on that in a minute), but you almost never see a 19- or 20-year-old guy with a woman much older than he is.

In the Department of Overgeneralizations, you’ll discover a few laws of human nature (that I’m totally making up on the fly because I believe them to be generally true and the furthest thing from actual law.)

Boys and young men are constantly hoping to, or actively trying to, have sex with the girls in their life to whom they’re attracted. Which is often several.

Girls and young women are constantly hoping to find someone who will fall in love with and marry them, frequently misinterpreting sexual interest as potential love interest and ultimately spawning the “Boys are Mean™” and “Men are Pigs™” movements.

I don’t believe there to be many males who spot a female from across the room and say: “Ooooooohhhhh! I want to marry THAT one!”

It tends to be more like: “Oooooooohhhhhh! I want to nail that one!” and so the male tries to court the female hoping to get laid. And what sometimes happens in that courting process is that the male will decide the pain of losing that female is greater than the “benefit” of his independence and will eventually choose her to settle down with.

So you end up with a lot of girls who are obsessed with Disney princess movies and romantic comedies marrying men who know jack shit about what real love is. They just know they’ve agreed to stop having sex with other women and to give up most of the weekend keg parties and other bro-hobbies for the rest of their lives. Five to 10 years later, half of them divorce.

It’s a sad story.

Now, please allow me to slightly contradict myself.

The Older Guy Contradiction

So. Ladies. New rule. Unless you’re absolutely sure you have an exception to the rule (and there are always those, too), then you should never be dating anyone who isn’t about five years older than you if you’re between the ages of 20-30, because almost every under-30 male you know is still similar to a child from an emotional-maturity standpoint.

From about third grade on, girls have a five-year emotional maturity advantage over boys.

Many girls are so eager to “fall in love” and get married in their early 20s, so they accidentally con young men who don’t know how unprepared they are into agreeing to marriage.

The girl thinks she’s getting a husband just like her father or the men (who aren’t real) she sees on TV.

The guy thinks he’s signing up for a permanent girlfriend like he currently has. He thinks: “Life’s pretty good! We have fun with our friends and we hang out all the time, and the sex is great! Sure, I can do this forever!”

Neither side is being disingenuous. It’s just that no one teaches us how completely insane and outside reality that type of thinking is, and I’m not sure we would have listened even if they’d tried.

If you’re a 25-year-old female, you need a 30-year-old male to even have a chance to be on the same emotional-maturity level as you. It’s a gap that pretty much closes after age 30. Many guys figure out in their early to mid-30s (whether married or single), that the lifestyle we lived in our youth doesn’t bring sustainable happiness, and that “freedom” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I wish girls weren’t in such a hurry to get married. I wish young men were smart enough to communicate why it’s too soon. They simply don’t know they’re still apes, because we all lie to ourselves.

The Dating Math (Post-Divorce Edition)

I was online dating for a short time right after my wife left because I’m a stupid moron.

You can filter out online-dating profiles based on a variety of criteria. For example, every single woman with no children filters out guys my size (5’9”) and/or guys with children (I have a young son).

Whatever. People are allowed to date whoever they want. The moral of that story is simply that online dating is bullshit. Write that down.

I’m 35.

I’m at a funny age, even though I suspect there are literally millions of people just like me out there (thirtysomethings with kids who don’t like being single very much). We just have a hard time finding one another, so we online date and then wish we could set ourselves on fire afterward.

The dating math for guys my age and with circumstances similar to mine is sort of interesting.

Under the right circumstances, I could meet a 28-year-old who has never married and wants to have children. Whoa. Or I could meet someone with a couple kids who has two or three years on me.

If I decided I wanted more children, something would have to happen pretty damn fast for it to be mathematically feasible, considering I’m not dating anyone, nor do I even really know any single people.

I remember being 21 and thinking that 21 year olds would ALWAYS be attractive.

And I guess, physically, maybe they always will be.

But years have a way of morphing you on the inside. And now it just sounds wrong and unpleasant.

There isn’t a 21-year-old on the planet I can see myself wanting to talk to for any great length of time (and that’s just 14 years’ difference!), and even if there was, there aren’t any 21-year-olds trying to get with Graying, Thirtysomething Guy with Kid™. Just not happening.

Which is totally fine. I’m merely walking through the mental exercise of dating someone about 15 years younger than me.

I feel like we all need to agree to keep it within a 10-year window throughout our adult dating years. Seriously.

Can we agree on that? I feel certain we can’t.

I’m sorry, ladies. I don’t care that he buys you Porsches and unlimited spa days. At some point, this is just going to get awkward. I can’t quite put my finger on when, but I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I see it.

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What’s Possible Today?

Possibilities word cloud

Marital status aside—my life looks a lot like I thought it would when I was growing up.

I live in the Ohio suburbs. I’m middle class. My child goes to Catholic school now, just like I did.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really know what marriage would look and feel like, so I didn’t spend a great deal of time imagining it.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand what separates the financial winners from the losers. And I still don’t. I often feel like a complete failure. But compared to many people (the statistical majority, actually), I’m really doing quite well.

I hold myself to pretty high standards. And maybe that’s not psychologically healthy. But I don’t know how to quit. And I’m not sure I’d want to if I did.

Ask me why I’m 35 and have never been promoted at any of my three jobs since graduating college, and I’ll feed you an excuse: “Well! When you’re a newspaper reporter or copywriter in a corporate environment, there really isn’t much upward mobility!!!”

But the truth is that I’ve never made myself stand out as a leader of others.

Ask me why I lost my last job, and I’ll tell everyone how unlucky I was: “Oh yeah! Back in college, how could we have known what would happen to the newspaper industry!?!? I survived two rounds of corporate layoffs before the economic crunch caught up to me on a third round of cuts, and I was the least-senior person on staff!!!”

As if telling the story that way (which is all true, but all bullshit) makes you think any more of me.

The truth is that I didn’t prove myself to be indispensible to the publication. They knew they could lose me and there would be no financial consequences. There wasn’t enough demand for my writing and I never gave anyone a reason to care.

It’s not the economy’s fault my career is what it is.

It’s my fault.

It’s not the universe spoon-feeding me bad luck that has made me a single 35-year-old who works in a cubicle, leaving this dissatisfied taste in my mouth.

It’s my fault.

A little bit of ignorance.

A little lack of discipline.

A little lack of life experience.

But those three things all can be remedied.

So, what’s possible? What’s possible today?

Maybe Anything

More than once in history, the American people picked up their newspapers or turned on their televisions to learn the U.S. president had been shot and killed.

That lady over there just won a new car on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

A ping-pong ball bounced the right way last June, triggering a series of events that have turned the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers (my favorite team) into championship favorites after four straight years of horribleness.

Things just happen.

One day I was getting ready to fly to San Diego for a wedding and my wife told me she was pregnant.

Another time, when I was little, my mom put me in a car and drove me 500 miles away from my dad and we never came back.

You get the idea.

We know this already because life surprises us all the time. Like when we heard the Robin Williams news last week.

Things just happen. And we can’t see them coming.

The good news is that many of those things are not bad. And some are quite good.

I’ve just been thinking that maybe my life is a lot like how I thought it would be because I always thought this was “the way.”

You’re a little kid.

You go to grade school.

You go to high school.

You go to college.

You get a job.

You get married and have kids.

You try to get better jobs and raise your kids.

You retire and maybe travel in an RV, or live part of the year in Florida.

It’s hard for my brain to come up with things I haven’t seen or experienced. It’s hard for me to think beyond what I know.

That’s why I’m a writer in a safe corporate job at age 35, convincing people that often have less money than I do that they need to spend it on the things our company sells.

I was always so happy from childhood through college, and a bit beyond, that I never bothered to think about other ways to live a life, or what might happen if I was wrong.

Because, I was wrong.

What I’ve done, and what a lot of people do is A WAY. But certainly not THE WAY.

There’s no THE WAY.

Because while we all share so much deep-seated commonalities within our hearts and minds because of the human condition, we are all motivated by so many different things, and those motivating factors are changing constantly because of changing health or financials or children or death, or simply our individual passions and pursuits.

I want to get better at everything.

I want to get better at being a dad. A homeowner. A writer. A friend. A co-parent.

I want to get better at life.

And they don’t have a scoring system for that which matters. Some people measure it with checking accounts, or attendance records, or the cars in their garage, or their children’s achievements, or the photos they post to Facebook, or the job titles printed on their business cards.

And that’s fine. All of those can be good. And all can be bad. Most of the time, they really don’t matter.

In the end, our ability to thrive mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally in an ever-changing world is what gives us the balance we need to enjoy life. And I think people can achieve that balance and thrive regardless of their job, or their house, or where they graduated college, or how many people fawn over them at the next high school reunion.

There are all these things in life I want to do and experience, but I make excuses and just go to work 40 or so hours a week and hang out at home most of the time in a life that looks and feels a bit wasted.

I’d move somewhere fun! But my son is here and I can’t leave!, I’ll tell you.

I want to write and travel! But I need my job to pay for all of this… stuff!

I’d be hard-bodied and in the best shape of my life since I’m trying to attract a mate! But I’m still a little depressed over my failed marriage and the loss of my family last year so I don’t workout enough!

I always forget: Anything can happen.

I don’t know why I forget since we are constantly reminded.

We get so wrapped up in our little comfortable routines and we’re often too scared to leap. It doesn’t feel safe to leap.

But I WANT to leap. Maybe you do, too.

Because that clock is not slowing down and we only have one shot.

Because safe is boring.

Because the bad things that might happen are never really as bad as we imagine them.

Because we can handle it.

Because no matter how bad, good or great we have it, there is ALWAYS more to life than this. Than right now.

What’s possible today?


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How To Be Found

Worst-hide-and-seekMost of us grow up playing Hide and Seek with friends.

Something interesting happens during the game.

The counting begins: “One! Two! Three!…”

And we all run, run, run, trying to find that perfect hiding spot. It’s important to us that we find a good spot. That we become difficult to find.

If we’ve done our job, the seeker might find others. You hear the screams and laughter.

But there you remain, unfound.

The seeker continues: “Where are you??? I’m gonna find you!!!”

But, no luck. Because you’re stowed away in the best hiding place.

As the cat-and-mouse game drags on, it dawns on you: I may never be found!

And against the very nature of the game, you offer little hints to make yourself known.

A little noise.

A stifled laugh.

Maybe you peek out, putting yourself in view.

It’s because, in the end, we all WANT to be found.

A Catholic priest—the man who oversees the church and school my son will attend as an incoming first grader this week—told a similar childhood story this morning and I nodded along silently because I think he is correct in the universal human truth sort-of way that has fascinated me since discovering the many things that tie us all together.

We all have different experiences and upbringings. Different talents and hobbies. Different cultures, beliefs, skin colors and interests.

But underneath all the stuff we see on the surface, down in the places inside us that we don’t spend enough time talking about or acknowledging—all the human stuff—there is so much that unites us. So much that connects us.

It’s the thing that made me feel least alone when I felt like the earth was crumbling beneath me and everything I thought was true about my life turned out not to be.

The Connection Culture

There’s a reason there are a BILLION people using Facebook. Because people—you and me and everyone else—feel an innate desire to feel connected to others.

Even introverts want to feel connected to something. Perhaps a small circle of like-minded people, or pets, or their craft—whatever that may be.

When I got divorced, so many of my connections felt severed overnight.

The family I’d married into.

All of the friends—especially other married couples—that she and I had forged bonds with.

All of those perimeter people in your lives that you met through your spouse that you maybe bump into at local restaurants or grocery stores or social gatherings where everything’s just a little bit different now.

I went crazy trying to connect during those initial weeks and months. I was freaking out and latching on to any friend I could, seeking fun and distraction because being home was torturous. Because the silence was so loud and scary I couldn’t hear myself think.

Like a fool, I tried online dating, as if anything good could have come from that.

It was unstable, unwise behavior. But in hindsight, I get it.

I needed to feel connected because so much had been lost, and everything just feels like you’re floating out to sea at the mercy of the weather, and there’s nothing but storm clouds in every direction.

But you stay alive. Just breathe. In. Then out.

That’s your only job when everything feels impossible.

Just to keep breathing. One breath at a time.

Then I Hid

I don’t know what stage of the grieving process I was in when I tucked into my shell, but I got very reclusive. I stopped thinking about dating. I did a shitty job of staying in touch with friends and family. And I just stayed quiet and alone in my house.

Just breathing.

I was writing and reading and watching TV. Things I enjoy that I can do alone. Comfortable things. Things that made me feel safe.

But out of sight. Hidden.

Isolation Therapy

Maybe it’s necessary. All that alone time. I don’t know. I just know that real loneliness settled in. A feeling that—despite growing up an only child—I’d never really felt before.

No one’s coming to save you.

I wanted to be found.

There are a million reasons people feel lonely.

Sometimes people feel lonely even among throngs of people. I’ve heard people say New York City can be the loneliest place in the world.

Death. Divorce. A troubled marriage. Moving to a new city or country. Changing schools. Changing jobs. Over and over again in life, people have to adjust to the world they know turning into one they don’t.

And many of us feel lonely when that happens.

Sometimes children feel lonely even when surrounded by brothers and sisters and loving, well-meaning parents.

Sometimes spouses feel lonely even though their husbands or wives live in the same home and sleep in the same bed.

Sometimes adults feel lonely even though they put on a happy face and walk through the world doing their jobs and running errands and trying to make life something that feels meaningful and worthwhile.

People crave acknowledgment.

People want to be found.

People need to matter.

And They Do

People do matter.

I made my wife feel alone in our marriage and made her feel like she didn’t matter to me even though she did. And now I don’t have a family anymore.

Simple things like attention and respect and acknowledgment. They’re game changers. One way or the other.

The same goes for our children.

And our friends.

And our coworkers.

And the strangers we encounter.

And the homeless, sick and marginalized.

They just want to matter to someone.

I wanted to be found but I was spending every night home alone and out of sight.

But I’ve been floating out at sea for many months now. And the waters have calmed. The storm clouds are rare.

I want to be found.

And maybe others do, too.

And maybe if we all get out… smile at others, be brave enough to say hi, try something new, somewhere new… we will be.

And maybe the best part of Hide and Seek isn’t the hiding, but the seeking.

And maybe we can start changing lives, one found person at a time.

At work.

At school.

At the store.

At the gym.

At home.

Maybe we make the connections instead of waiting for everyone else to do the work for us.

And maybe we build a whole new life for ourselves.

One where we don’t run, run, run and hide. They may never find us.

But where we are the ones seeking out others, saying: “I see you! I found you!”

Maybe then, everything changes.

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The 10-Year Anniversary That Isn’t


I was really nervous because the moment felt so big.

Not because I was afraid to marry her.

But because there were all these people. People from every corner of my disjointed life. And they were all there, staring back at me.

There in the front row to my left were my mom and dad. And my stepparents. Both remarried for many years because they couldn’t get their marriage right and I didn’t want to be like them.

Just behind them? My grandparents. Married 50 years. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

To my right were her parents. They didn’t know me very well because we were living faraway in Florida. And there was her older brother I’d only just met. And all her many aunts and uncles, friends and extended family.

Everyone in the room was wondering: Are they going to make it?

I was thrilled to be marrying her. Gorgeous every day, but especially that day. They coined the term “marrying up” for guys just like me.

I wanted to get it right for my grandparents. Married all those years. Walking the walk.

I wanted to get it right for her father. Giving away his little girl to a guy he couldn’t possibly trust but treated like gold, anyway.

I wanted to get it right for me. To prove I’m good enough. Smart enough. Capable enough.

To prove I was up to the task of shedding the dysfunction of my past and creating a new life for myself with the person I chose. With the person who chose me.

The wedding is a blur in my memory bank.

Gorgeous church. Super-fun reception. All the right guests.

I smiled at her when I slid the ring onto her finger. Feeling the foreignness of cold metal for the first time on mine. My wedding band, which still is laying at the bottom of my sock drawer because I wouldn’t sell it. Not because I believe my life would be better if I was still wearing it. But because those years really mattered. No matter what, they mattered.

The ring stays.

I do remember one thing.

I spoke the words with purpose.

‘Til death do us part.

I meant that shit, babe. I hope you know that. I did a bad job. But I totally meant it.

Ten Years Later

My brain’s having a little trouble wrapping itself around the idea that it was 10 years ago today.

An entire lifetime, it feels like.

But one giant blur, too.

Time is constant. But it has a magical ability to feel excruciatingly slow and unfairly fast all at the same time.

As the clock keeps ticking, everyone keeps healing. Exactly 51 weeks ago today, we finalized our divorce, forever changing the course of several lives.

Everyone’s still just trying to figure out this new rhythm of life. It’s an awkward dance. You want to be a graceful dance partner, but now the steps are unfamiliar and there’s no touching allowed.

Everyone watching is still a little unsure, too. Her family has always treated me very well, but no one knew what to say when we saw each other for the first time in more than year at my son’s birthday party earlier this summer.

One of them was one of the best men I know. Her uncle.

When we lost my ex-wife’s father, this man, who just lost his brother, looked at me and said: “You take care of that little girl.”

I didn’t hesitate.

“I will,” I told him. “Promise.”

And then I didn’t. Because I didn’t know how to be selfless during my greatest test as a husband. As a father. As a man.

I thought I was putting her first. But I wasn’t. I just wanted her to get over it and treat me like the most important person in her life again without doing anything to earn it.

We’re in a good place now, I think. As good a place as we can possibly be considering all that’s been lost. Felt. Screamed. Cried. Written. Done.

We’re our son’s mom and dad. A job both of us take very seriously. And I think she’s exceptional at it. And I hope she at least considers me adequate.

My one final chance at redemption with her. That she can go to sleep at night when her son isn’t home with a peaceful heart. Knowing I’ve got her back. That our son is safe.

If time can be both fast and slow, then I think my marriage can be both the worst and best thing that’s ever happened to me.

I think I can choose to focus on the good.

I think I can take comfort in the fact that all these paths are leading somewhere, and when I reach that next trailhead in life and things start taking shape, I’m going to be able to look back on the journey with the benefit of hindsight and understand why things had to be the way they are.

Can you have massive regrets, and no regrets at the same time?

On my 10-year wedding anniversary that isn’t, I say I get to do whatever I want.

If I could, I’d go back and do many things differently.

But. I also wouldn’t change too much because of all the good things that came from these past 10 years.

All that beauty.

Because without the veil of pain hanging between now and the past, I can see so much good.

Lots of regrets.

But no regrets.

It doesn’t have to make sense. Because I understand.

So, here’s a toast: To the girl I married, and the woman I share a child with. A gorgeous child. My lifeblood. Thank you so much for him.

You’re going to have a beautiful life. And maybe I am, too.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart.

I’m sorry I couldn’t buy you anything.

I totally mean that shit, too.

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The Pursuit of Happiness, Vol. 3

Image courtesy of EW.

Image courtesy of EW.

“Happiness comes in small doses, folks. It’s a cigarette or a chocolate chip cookie or a five-second orgasm. That’s it, okay? You cum, you eat the cookie, you smoke the butt, you go to sleep, you get up in the morning and go to fucking work, okay?” — Denis Leary, No Cure for Cancer

Is Denis right? Is that really all there is?

At 35, there aren’t many people who have been household names my entire life.

Actor and comedian Robin Williams, dead of an apparent suicide at 63, is one of those people.

When someone dies, you rarely hear: “That guy was an asshole! Good riddance!”

People tend to focus on the good and honor the departed. So, it’s no surprise there is an outpouring of praise being heaped upon Williams.

None of us know what went on inside Williams’ mind and heart. But in more than three decades of knowing who he is, the worst thing I’ve ever heard about him is that some people didn’t care for his brand of humor.

By all accounts, he was a kind, decent, hilarious and generous man on and off stage, and on and off camera.

Which begs the question:

If Robin Williams, worth an estimated $130 million (according to Business Insider), beloved by millions worldwide, who reached the pinnacle of a career as a Hollywood actor and comedian, wasn’t happy, what chance do you and I have?

If a man with seemingly everything would rather be dead, what are we living for?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:

Robin Williams reportedly suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. But I’m not going to let people get away with writing off his suicide as some anomaly. Just another case of mental illness that happens in this faraway place to people who aren’t like me!

Depression is a word.

Just like bipolar.

Words we use to describe conditions we observe in people. Conditions, I suspect happen to all of us in varying degrees at varying points in our lives.

People are afraid to talk about it.

I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because some of us equate “mental illness” to “crazy.”

I’m not crazy!, we all think.

I used to be sure I wasn’t. And now I’m not. Now I know I can never really be sure of anything. I felt a lot better about my life the day I let go of trying to be certain about everything.

It’s okay to not know.

Try it. “I. Don’t. Know.” And you don’t have to. Now take a deep breath and go do something that makes you laugh.

I grew up in this “normal” little life, in this normal little house, in this normal little town. I grew up convinced I was about as typical as a person can be.

Maybe we all feel that way because we don’t know any better when we’re young and our brains don’t work very well because we don’t have enough data.

Life was simple.

And I remember thinking that when I grew up, I’d get married and have a couple of kids, and live in a normal little house in a normal little town just like that one.

And I’d be happy.

My wants got a little more ambitious as I aged. I began to crave certain material things and career achievements, but the end product of my happy-life fantasy still looked mostly the same.

A simple life in the suburbs with a wife and children and a job I could be proud of.

Eventually, I achieved that life.

And it wasn’t enough.

Everything broke. I lost my family. And then I got a taste of what depression really feels like.

For the first time, I discovered what it feels like to not recognize your own reflection. To forget what it feels like to be happy. To forget what it feels like to be you.

It changes everything.

Because that’s when you finally learn to prioritize. That’s when you finally figure out what matters versus what doesn’t.

I once needed the house, the car, the wife, the kids, the money, the job, the friends, the love, the life. To succeed. To be happy.

And now I don’t. I no longer believe there’s some magical Life Ladder that you climb and when you reach high enough you pump your fist and say: “Yay!!! Now I’m happy!!!”

There’s no finish line. No mountaintop. No end credits upon completion.

If life’s a video game, there’s no beating the game.

It’s just repeated attempts to set a new high score.

And I think it’s important to come to terms with that reality, or else we set ourselves up for enormous disappointment—high expectations that cripple us when life fails to satisfy.

Great Failed Expectations

I thought my life was going to be awesome because it pretty much was most of the time. Things got a little better all the time, every year, for the first 30 years of my life.

It set the expectation that things would continue to progress that way. So, when all the shitty things started to happen, I fell hard.

Your brain has trouble processing.

It poisons your insides. Fucks with your soul.

Maybe all of the really happy people started out with hard lives and thought their futures would be shitty, and then eventually climbed their way out and realized how beautiful life can really be.

I don’t know. It’s okay to not know.

I think this is what happens to all of these people—people most of us look at and think: Wow! They have amazing lives! I bet they’re so happy!

Rich and famous people. People who are beloved and worshipped. People just like Robin Williams.

What could they be missing?

I can only make an educated guess.

They’re missing some or all of the same things that elude any of us who feel dissatisfied with our lives.






We all want good health. And fun. And money. And friendship. And love. And sex. And to feel good. And safe.

But what makes us happy?

Is that not the most-important question? Aside from taking care of those who love and need you (partners and children, etc.), do we have a more-critical job than identifying that which makes us truly happy?

Than immersing ourselves in that fountain? Over and over and over again?

Everyone suffers from varying degrees of brokenness.

Can love heal the broken?

Everyone has demons. Guilt. Regrets.

Can hope, faith, forgiveness bring us peace?

We all just want to feel like most of us did when we were kids. Laugh! Run! Play!

Is happiness really just an orgasm and a cookie?

Is all we get that short burst of joy we feel while laughing at the punch line of a Robin Williams joke?

Is that all there is?

Is that happiness?

Yeah, I don’t think so either.

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Breaking the Cycle

Routine keeps us grinding our wheels. New things keep us growing.

Routine keeps us grinding our wheels. New things keep us growing.

Sometimes I am so comfortable in my routine that I get physical anxiety when I’m about to do anything out of the ordinary.

Sometimes I am so comfortable in my routine that I get used to things no human should ever be “used” to.

Tangible things.

Like a cluttered kitchen. Piles of laundry. A non-functioning garage door opener.

And other things.

Like a boring social life. Subpar physical fitness. A messy spiritual life.

Is that routine? I might call it a rut.

You can almost trick yourself into thinking it’s okay. It was one of my favorite things about being married. Accountability.

Accountability motivates me to exercise. To keep my life in order. To quickly and efficiently take care of things that need tended to.

After some emotional ups and downs (mostly downs) following my divorce last year, I have found myself in something of a rut for many months.

A mostly uneventful life full of disorganization and a complete lack of fulfillment in every imaginable area.

Maybe it’s depression. Maybe it’s some psychological condition that makes me crave routine even when the routine is shitty, simply because it feels “safe.”

The only way to break the cycle is to do something different.

The Reset Button

My parents divorced before my fifth birthday and lived 500 miles apart from each other. I lived with my mom in Ohio and visited my dad in Illinois throughout my school breaks.

It was like having two lives. Two very distinct lives where things felt and were different in both places.

I was in school. Changing teachers. Changing classrooms. Playing sports. Growing. Learning.

I was surrounded by friends every day and experiencing all of the growing pains school children do.

But more than that, I was always experiencing huge changes in scenery.

I was always hitting the reset button. Each school break. Each new semester. Each new year.

Minus the long-distance, back-and-forth parent thing, I suspect most of us felt this way during our school years.

The rhythm of life, full of constant change.

Then adulthood comes.

I’m not sure when. People say 18. Especially 18 year olds. But we all know that’s not true.

I felt like an adult when I moved away to college. But I wasn’t.

I felt like an adult when I was put in charge of my college newspaper. But I wasn’t.

I felt like an adult when I moved a thousand miles away from everything I ever knew and loved after graduating and getting my first news reporting job. But I wasn’t.

Surely I was an adult when I got married at 25. When I bought my first house a year or so later.

But it doesn’t seem that way now.

I think our thirties—on paper—are our best years. I describe it as being the best combination of having youth and money. I hope most people feel that way and are living accordingly.

That’s not how it worked out for me.

All of the really shitty things that have happened to me in my life happened after turning 30. And now five years later, it’s hard for me to remember what it felt like when everything was good.

And that’s got me thinking that maybe there’s no age that grants us adulthood.

That it’s more a right of passage that comes about when life starts throwing challenges your way and there’s no one there to save you anymore.

For some people, that happens as children.

For others, it never happens.

For me, I’m still in the transition. Right now. Still trying to figure it all out.

Still learning how to save myself.

Still climbing toward adulthood.

I took my first non-family visit trip in more than two years this past week. A nice trip west to Reno, Nev. with a visit to Lake Tahoe in northern California sprinkled in there. I had never been there before.

I liked both places very much for different reasons.

The important part is that it was somewhere different. It was something different.

A gorgeous hotel room for a week. Reminding me to get my house in order.

A great week at the poker tables. Reminding me to reconnect with a passion from my past.

A week outside the monotony of my daily life. Reminding me to live.

Because I forget sometimes.

I forget to live.

By not inviting friends over. By not getting out and meeting people. By not engaging in outdoor activities I love. By not trying enough new things.

By not writing.

I’m a creature of habit. I think many people are. Especially men.

But I think living can be a habit, too. And breaking the habit of not doing so has to be a priority.

I think the rut—the cycle of monotony we often find ourselves in—can be replaced by the rhythm of life.

It all starts by choosing to do something different.

Maybe just one little thing.

Maybe even right now.

To really feel alive.

To break the cycle.

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