Monthly Archives: January 2015

“What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

dear letter

“What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?” she typed into the search box.

She must be so sad and afraid. In her search for answers, she stumbled onto this place yesterday.

Maybe she found something that made her feel better. Probably not.

What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?

If she had asked me, what would I say?

I don’t like imagining her sitting there so desperate for answers that she typed it into Google.

It wasn’t that long ago, I was asking questions a little bit like that.

I can’t stop thinking about her question. If he wants to leave (because he wants someone else or because he wants the freedom to do as he pleases), there’s almost nothing she can say. He’s going to leave.

But, what if deep down he really wants the marriage to work too? What if his heart is in the right place? What could she write?

I’m not this woman’s husband. And maybe I’m not even like most men.

But something like this might work for me.

 …

Dear Husband,

I am afraid.

I am afraid and I need you.

I am afraid you’re going to leave and we’re going to lose everything. All these years. Because all I’ve ever wanted since meeting you was to grow old with you.

This all feels so fragile. You’re the person who makes me feel safe, and you’re not here making me feel safe because there’s this wall now.

I know that sometimes I make you feel like you need to run away from me. Because I’m asking all of these things from you and it feels to you like criticism. Like I’m telling you you’re not good enough.

I know that I can be a mystery to you. That you’re pretty steady and consistent, and that I’m less so. That I can respond differently to the exact same event and that sometimes I lash out at you when things don’t go my way.

I am sometimes more emotional and sensitive than you to things that happen. I know that frustrates you. I understand and appreciate that I sometimes direct my anger toward you as a result even though you had no intention of hurting me. You don’t try to hurt me. And I sometimes make you feel as if you did try to.

I wish I could feel what you feel sometimes. So I’d know what it’s like to be you. Then maybe I could understand.

I always wish you could feel what I feel. So you’d know what it’s like to be me. Then I think you’d understand. I think WE would understand and we’d forever change the way we communicate and treat one another.

I really think everything would be different then.

I feel so hurt sometimes. So sad. So angry. And I just cry. And you’re not available to make me feel better. And sometimes I feel so hurt by you that I’m not sure you even could.

In those moments I wonder if my life would be better without you in it. Maybe with someone else.

We go through life giving our hearts to different people. Falling in and out of love. So happy at the beginning. So sad at the end. We feel so broken and we ask ourselves how we will ever love or trust again? Can we find someone to make us feel loved?

And that’s when it hits me.

The relationship cycle that all couples deal with. Over and over again. People sometimes believe the lie that everything will be different with the next person but it’s always the same because WE’RE always the same.

We think the grass is greener over there, but it never is. We just did a lousy job taking care of our own lawn. If I move over there and keep doing the same things I’m doing now, that lawn will look just like this one.

We can trade one another in. Find replacement partners and try to do this all over again with someone new.

But it all feels so foolish and wasteful.

I choose you.

Out of every person I have ever met or ever will meet, I choose you.

I am so sorry for making you feel like you’re not good enough or as if I regret marrying you.

There’s a little piece of me that’s broken. And maybe a little piece of you that’s broken, too. And it’s hard enough for the put-together people to make marriage work with all of the things that go on in life constantly driving a wedge between us.

But maybe if I work on fixing me. And maybe if I dedicate my life to helping you fill whatever’s missing in yours, we can make this what we always talked about it being.

You are smart and talented and capable. And when we’re not getting in our own way, no one makes me feel as good and whole and safe as you do.

I BELIEVE in you. That you can be and do and achieve whatever you want. I’m sorry I don’t say it more.

I APPRECIATE you. That you give so much of your time and effort to providing all that you do for me. I don’t say ‘thank you’ nearly enough. I am so grateful for you.

I FORGIVE you. Because I know you do not set out to hurt me. And I’m sorry that I hold grudges and put up walls with you when my feelings are hurt. It’s a defense mechanism and I’m trying to stop.

There are many people in my life that I love. I inherited almost all of them. Parents and siblings. Grandparents and extended family.

But I didn’t inherit you. I picked you.

I love you. Because I woke up today and said “yes.” And I’m promising you right here and now, as I did on our wedding day, that I’m going to wake up every day and say “yes,” no matter how I’m feeling.

My feelings are always going to change. But my choice on this matter will not.

I am yours. Always.

I don’t know what forever looks like, or how to get there. But I know that with you holding my hand, we’re going to find it.

Please say yes too.

Love, Me

Actions speak louder than words. But if I got this letter, I’d like to think I’d say yes.

Then keep marching toward forever.

…..

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Maybe It’s Not a Popularity Contest

America's greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it's okay when people don't like you.

America’s greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it’s okay when people don’t like you.

I want everyone to like me and when they don’t I sometimes obsess about it.

I think I have it programmed into my mind somehow that the most important thing in life is whether people like you. When I take a hard look at my feelings and behavior, that’s the conclusion I come to.

I want people to like me so I try to be funny even though everyone laughs at different things.

I want people to like me so I try to be nice even though sometimes on the inside I want to kick them in the shin and insult their mothers before kicking them in the other shin.

I want people to like me so I don’t write about controversial things here, and I justify it by saying that I want to be someone who connects, rather than divides. Who participates in healing more than the tearing open of scars.

There are about 13,000 comments on this blog. About 7,000 of those are from readers, and the vast majority of them contain something nice about me.

It’s funny, because in real life when you read internet comments, it’s usually just racists and mean people rehashing political talking points like: “republitards hate women and black people and poor people!!” or “barack HUSSEIN obama is from kenya and is not real president!!” or my personal favorite: “your a moran.”

One of my biggest fears about taking my writing to a bigger platform is that a bunch of those people are going to say dickhead-ish things to me and I’m going to want them to like me, but they won’t. Ever.

I’ll probably stay awake all night thinking about them even though a really smart writer says that would be a good thing.

Despite getting overwhelmingly positive feedback (and that’s generally true for my personal life as well), I am capable of putting 95 percent of my focus on the 5 percent of people acting like cocks.

Sure, I’m a little insecure. Sure, I worry about what people think of me. Sure, I just want to be liked.

But I’m not 12 anymore and seldom act like it when I’m sober.

I know that I’m going to die and so is everyone else. I know it. And it just. doesn’t. matter.

It doesn’t matter!

Maybe I should write and say exactly what I think and feel. Exactly. Instead of being polite.

And maybe if people don’t like it, they can lick my balls.

When Bill Cosby wasn’t too busy drugging and raping women, he was saying insightful things, like: “I don’t know the key to success. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody. And also sexual assault. That’s another key to failure.”

(Half of that quote may or may not have been made up.)

The idea itself is important. That trying to please everyone doesn’t get you very far in life. Millions of people either love or hate Michael Moore. And Rush Limbaugh. And Bill Mahr. And Rachel Maddow. And Glenn Beck. And Chris Matthews. And Ann Coulter. Depending on their beliefs.

These are wildly successful political commentators and anyone with a penchant for (American) politics is going to know each person’s political bent immediately. That’s how strong (and controversial) these people’s personalities and ideas are.

Maybe it’s better to be that way?

I don’t know.

I never thought a non-Christian was going to convert to Christianity because of a screaming man holding a bible on a street corner pointing at them and yelling that they were going to hell unless they believed and behaved just like him. Who wouldn’t want to be like THAT guy!?

I never thought blowing up innocent civilians in Iraqi cafes or in American office towers was an effective way to convert people to Islam. You mean I’m not allowed to have sex here, but in Heaven, I get to have a 73-way!?!?

I never thought that smart-mouthed liberals like Mahr and Maddow were particularly good champions of social change, just like I never thought the fear-mongering and pompous tactics of conservatives like Beck and Coulter were an effective way of promoting family values and patriotism. I can barely stand the ones I AGREE with. It’s maddening.

I read something this morning. I’m not prepared to discuss it. But reading it made me question everything about my approach to life and writing. This idea that I need to always be careful about what I’m saying because I want everyone to like me and end up being a big pussy any time something controversial warrants discussion.

Life consists of issues about which not everyone agrees.

Americans used to shoot and stab one another by the thousands in open fields because they couldn’t agree on whether it was okay to enslave other humans.

Maybe sometimes you need to take a stand.

The point of sharing an idea is to put it out into the world in hopes that it, if well-conceived, will start getting kicked around other people’s heads and conversations and perhaps promote change of some kind.

Some people mean well. Others do not.

I mean well.

When I say I want to be a good man. Kind. Patient. Loving. Wise. I don’t mean “good,” like: “Oh yeah! Matt was a cool guy! He really liked beer and tequila and always made me laugh when he air humped inanimate objects at parties!”

I want to actually be good.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether everyone likes me because A. I’m going to die, and B. We’re probably not going to meet anyway.

Maybe what is popular isn’t always right.

Maybe you really will fall for anything if you don’t stand for something.

And maybe now’s the time to figure out what that means.

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Marriage: A Global Epic Fail

marriage_fail_by_bytebullet-d4um8y1

Artwork by bytebullet at Deviant Art.

If seven out of 10 children flunked out of school or demonstrated a complete inability to adapt to the classroom and learn basic curriculum, everyone would lose their minds.

The top priority would be to fix this totally broken and dysfunctional system. There would be plenty of blame to go around. But the basic premise would boil down to: Ummm. Maybe we’re doing it wrong!

You think?

Education is already one of the most-important political and social issues of our time, and that’s with 90 percent of our students graduating high school or achieving an equivalent degree. About 34 percent earn a bachelor’s or higher degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

So, I got to thinking. And I came up with this: What the fuck, world!?

SEVEN OUT OF 10 MARRIAGES FAIL AND NO ONE IS DOING DICK ABOUT IT!

To be clear, 70 percent of marriages don’t end in divorce (but more than half do). According to Ty Tashiro, who wrote The Science of Happily Ever After, 70 percent of marriages end in divorce, or feature two people who resent the hell out of one another.

I’m just trying to understand! Plenty of people care about this. It’s impossible for us not to. Divorce affects 95 percent of us!

But there’s no national or global dialogue about the problem. I’m having trouble understanding why.

Maybe People are Out of Fucks to Give

But it couldn’t have started out that way. As a percentage, how many couples do you think wanted to get divorced on their wedding day? Like, con artists aside, we’re dealing in the zero range, right? Right.

So everyone REALLY gave a shit and was like “Hell yeah, let’s get married and love each other forever!!!” and then seven-ish years later were like: “Honestly? This is shitty. I hate my life. I have no more fucks to give.”

Then, BOOM. Divorce. And everyone’s sad. And all the kids cry. And we get boyfriend and girlfriend and step-parent drama. Everyone has less money afterward. It’s seriously so unbelievably horrible and shitty in most instances that despite trying hard, so hard, I can’t come up with multiple reasons why this is happening more than half the time.

There can only be one reason.

We’re Doing It Wrong

Just own it. You’re fucking shit up right now. I know you are. Because you’re a person just like me and even the really, really, really, really, really exceptional ones mess up.

If you’re part of the mythical 30 percent, you needn’t read further. I’m not talking to you. Just carry on being better at life than me and trust that I appreciate you more than you know.

The rest of you? You’re in this pile of shit with me and I’m begging you to start being part of the solution.

“Hey Matt! Why are you being all snide and cheeky today?”

Because of Scott, that’s why. Who’s Scott? Glad you asked.

I wrote a series of posts called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands and through the magic of SEO and social media sharing, a lot of people (relative to my audience) read them.

Vol. 1 gets read the most these days, and yesterday Scott read it. I don’t think he liked it, because he said: Fuck women! They can’t be pleased! No matter what you do, it’s never good enough! They’re intolerable, crazy and unreasonable! And I’ll never be happy as long as I’m married to her but hopefully I will be happy when I’m dead!

I’m paraphrasing. But he pretty much wrote that.

Some guy. I don’t know him. Maybe he’s awesome. Might be. He’s married with kids and wants to play golf on Saturday and to be left the fuck alone about it.

Which is fine. I’m not privy to his family’s wants and needs and financial situation and how the decision to play golf as an escape from them affects everyone psychologically and emotionally.

Scott could be anyone because millions of men feel this way. MILLIONS. Just like the millions of women who are frustrated with Scott because he doesn’t understand that it’s not the golf that upsets her. Maybe she feels like he values his friends more than his family and it hurts her. Maybe she feels like the money would be better spent on needs for their children and it erodes her trust. Maybe he’s so emotionally disconnected at home that she thinks he’s having an affair and every time he leaves for five hours it triggers inner turmoil because all she can think about is him being with some imaginary woman and: how is she ever going to make it on her own after the divorce?

It goes both ways. I don’t like to write about it because I don’t like to point fingers. Pointing fingers causes defensiveness and then things don’t get better. But sure, ladies. Let’s deal with it. You’re occasionally awful, too. Maybe give this a read and tell me whether it rings any bells: I Wasn’t Treating My Husband Fairly, And It Wasn’t Fair.

I blame dudes all the time because they’re wrong more than you. On balance, I really believe that. But, yeah. You are also capable of extraordinary shittiness, ladies.

But I’m going to trust you to own it after your other half starts owning his. Someone has to fire up the healing train, and I’m perfectly okay with men taking the lead.

Here’s the Thing

We have to fix this. How? If I figure it out, I won’t have any money problems. I don’t have any answers and I’ve never claimed to. But I know one very important thing.

WHAT WE’RE DOING NOW IS THE WRONG WAY.

You’re doing it wrong! Right now. (Not you, 30 percent!) And I just want to know what’s so hard about doing it differently. Try a new way!

“If she is not happy with all that shit then we should fucking leave them,” Scott said. Scott’s angry.

Well, Scott, I’m fucking angry. Because your way is BULLSHIT. It’s a massive failed experiment (70 PERCENT, man!) and you perpetuating it is just about the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.

Getting mad? Leaving? Complaining? Cheating? Playing more golf? Putting your kids through divorce?

That’s your grand plan? That’s the solution to all your problems?

Try Something Different

So, I wrote back to Scott. Because I want him to try something most people don’t. I want him to take the road less traveled and save his family because that’s hero shit. And I said something like this:

We live in a world where everyone is always asking: “What’s in it for me?”

People get married with the idea that their partner is going to make them happy, and so often failing to ask: “What can I do to make them happy?”

And we wonder why everyone is feeling miserable and shitty all the time.

So, again, I ask: Why not try a different tactic? It might seem a little radical. But, desperate times, and all that.

You give all you have to give. Every day. And you make your marriage about the other person. About their wants and needs and happiness.

Expect and demand (kindly) the same in return. And then maybe you get everything and more you want while providing the same to your partner.

So you have two people. Two people who give to the other more than they take for themselves.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: No one’s doing this (again, not talking to you, 30 percent!) and everyone’s getting divorced or wanting to because their relationships are broken and shitty.

So maybe my way is worth trying. And yeah. It’s super hard. All of our human being baggage gets in the way of executing this plan to perfection. I don’t think it’s easy. I just think it’s worth it.

And I’m becoming more and more convinced this is how we can get a bunch of people to wake up in the morning not feeling angry and sad and lonely and shitty and afraid all the time.

This is how.

Give more than you take.

I did it wrong. And everything broke.

And now you’re doing it wrong, too.

But you don’t have to.

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One Month to Live

This is Paul Coakley. He's my age and he died Tuesday. This is what love looks like.

This is Paul Coakley. He’s my age and he died Tuesday after just a month of knowing anything was wrong. I think this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I think this is what love looks like.

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

He was married with three kids and has a fourth on the way. He and his wife learned just before Christmas that he had cancer. He had surgery the day after Christmas.

He died Tuesday.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But we have a bunch of mutual friends.

They all say he was amazing and I believe them because they’re pretty amazing themselves. Every one of us knows someone who represents the best of humanity. Those people with an endless supply of kindness and smiles. With infectious laughter. That squeeze the most out of life while constantly giving more of themselves to others than they take for themselves.

That’s who he was. 

What if You Only Had a Month Left?

Paul’s friend asked me that.

“What would you do?”

How do you answer that question honestly without feeling like you’re wasting every second of your life? Maybe that’s the point of asking. It’s in our nature to take things for granted. To lose sight of the fact we all have a one-way ticket out of this life with our names written on them. We get caught up in our routines. And we forget to live.

What would I do?

I have a son. He complicates the answer to this question. My life is for him. I think I would do all the things we do now. I would just be more mindful of every precious second.

But I would also have a lot to say. I’d write more. I’d write and write and write and write, because a month isn’t long enough.

I’d write here. I’d try to finish a book.

But most importantly? I’d write something to each individual in my life, past and present, who left a mark. Something specifically for each person. Maybe it would matter to them. Maybe it wouldn’t. But there would be an actual piece of me living in those words and maybe they’d care.

Why do we wait for deadlines? Why do we need to lose someone else to reflect once again on the opportunities we waste?

Tragically flawed, humans are. I try to think of it as endearing. Because irony makes me laugh.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But had I gone to the university my mother wanted me to, we’d have probably been friends.

Guys like Paul make me feel a mixture of things. And even though he’d hate it and even though he’d insist it was unnecessary (because I know people just like him), some of it would be feelings of inadequacy.

Feeling inadequate is almost always a bad thing and a useless human emotion that holds us back. But maybe not in this case. Because Paul’s was a life worth emulating. I don’t have the first problem with an exceptionally good man making me want to be better than I am.

I think he made a lot of people feel that way.

There isn’t a greater legacy.

Do you know people in your personal or professional lives that you find difficult to get along with? Maybe you avoid them because you don’t have much in common, or because they make you feel stressed? Maybe you don’t invite them to your parties or for Friday after-work beers?

I think most of us do that.

Paul either didn’t know how, or didn’t want to.

If someone was getting marginalized socially, he turned up the friendship with them because no one was getting pushed to the side on his watch.

I think about all the times I had the opportunity to be a better friend to someone in school or at work or to show kindness to strangers.

And I pray in those moments I remember how I feel right this second to remind me to walk that higher path.

People always ask: What do you want out of life?

I want people to talk about me the way they talk about Paul Coakley.

I have a lot of work to do.

Be Good to Others

Everyone in your life—everyone you dislike or fear or hate or shun or avoid—they’re all going to die. All the strangers you pass on the street or in the store and pay no attention to are going to die. Every single one. Maybe tomorrow.

Why aren’t we more kind?

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

Light up the darkness. And live. Hard.

Because life’s too short.

Because yours is a life worth emulating.

Because you’re important.

The Coakley Family

This is the Coakley family.

As you can imagine, the lives of this pregnant mother and her three children just got infinitely more challenging. If they weren’t just about the most-beautiful people I’ve ever read about or heard about, I wouldn’t ask. But this family is worth it. If you want to make a difference in the lives of deserving people, you can read about the Coakleys and make a donation here.

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How to Own Your Shit and Never Be a Victim Again

Dont-Be-A-Victim

Eilene asks:

“Have you ever thought (even if briefly or secretly) that your divorce was more her fault than yours? I ask because I know we’re supposed to accept our part in things but I REALLY think it is more on him. I’m struggling with that.”

No.

I am a lot of things—including occasionally hypocritical—but I am pretty skilled at evaluating a situation and understanding who is responsible for what.

People are horrible at accepting responsibility for their life circumstances. HORRIBLE. And it makes us all feel like victims. And when we feel like victims we can’t make our lives better because everything in life is just happening to us against our will.

It makes us powerless to change anything.

When we accept responsibility for where we are in life and own our choices, THEN, and only then, do we have the power to make things better.

I don’t know Eilene. But on faith, I believe her. In my experience, wives get marriage right INFINITELY more often than husbands do. I’m sure her husband or ex-husband sucks at marriage every bit as much as I did. People often don’t get this: Good people can be awful at marriage. You don’t have to be a bad person to suck at marriage. It’s a skill. I can’t fix a car. That doesn’t make me shitty at life. I just don’t know how to fix cars. But I can learn. I didn’t know the really important information about marriage until it was too late. I think a lot of men might be like that. Objectively, it probably is more on him than Eilene. Just like in my marriage.

But never again can I allow myself to start pointing fingers at others.

 …

Let me walk you through my bouts with victimization since turning 30:

My father offered me a job at his small company 500 miles away. Assuming I’d done a good job (and I would have), I would be making top 1% money in my 40s and 50s and have every opportunity to retire a multimillionaire and live the kind of life most of us dream about. My wife didn’t want to go. It was our first major fight.

Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair this is that I can’t secure our financial future simply because she doesn’t want to move eight hours away. How could she be so selfish? This will solve EVERY money problem—forever. And now I’m stuck. Because of her.

Smart Matt: I will lose my family if I do this. Money isn’t, and will never be, more important than family. I chose to marry this woman. We make decisions together. She feels like she can’t do this. Okay. We’ll find a way to make more money here in Ohio.

It wasn’t my wife’s fault that I chose a profession (journalism) where making money is such a challenge. It wasn’t my wife’s fault that she didn’t want to live in Illinois far away from everyone she knew. And once I stopped being angry, I saw it as a good thing I had married someone who valued family more than how much money her husband earned.

I was laid off from my job on Jan. 1, 2010. Only people who have lost a job unexpectedly can appreciate what an enormous loss and psychological impact it can have.

Victim Matt: I can’t believe how unfair it is that I lost my job even though I always did it well. How am I supposed to find work now that I’m 30 and have no experience except in newspapers? Now what am I going to do?

Smart Matt: The company was losing money. Without layoffs, EVERYONE would have lost their jobs. Had I been the best, most-valuable employee at the paper, I would probably still be there. So, work harder next time and don’t take employment for granted, asshole. I accepted that job. I wanted it. No one made me take it. I am responsible for choosing to work there, and I am responsible for not ultimately proving myself indispensable regardless of circumstances.

My marriage ended. On April 1, 2013, technically, but not legally until August a few months later. I thought it was unfair because I didn’t want to get divorced.

Victim Matt: When I was standing on that alter and said: “I do,” I meant it. ‘Til death do us part. Sure, it had gotten bad. Really bad. But I wanted to fight for it. I was in marital limbo. A situation in which I didn’t want to get divorced, but was mentally and emotionally incapable of sleeping in the guest room much longer. It was a brutal time. The hardest thing I’d ever been through. Sometimes I’d cry in the guest room. I could hear her footsteps in our room upstairs. And I’d just cry because: This is so un-fucking-fair. After she left, I learned about a new relationship. All I could think about was how happy she must be with this new guy. And I’m sitting in our empty living room and I can’t even breathe. How could she do this to me?

Smart Matt: I caused this. Not because I’m a bad guy. And not because she doesn’t bear any responsibility also. But because I COULD HAVE and SHOULD HAVE been a good husband. A really good one. I used to not know how to cook or drive a car or read or play poker. But then I took an interest, I learned, and I excelled at those things. What if I’d invested more of my time in the most-important thing in my life? What if I’d EXCELLED at marriage? At being the best man, husband and father possible? Had I spent each day being exceptional at those things—would she have left? She’d have never wanted to. This isn’t something that happened to me. This is something I allowed to happen. Through negligence, irresponsibility and a lack of discipline. Sure, it may not all be my fault. But you can bet your ass I’m responsible.

Own Your Shit, Please

If you ask yourself the right questions, an adult can always come to this conclusion: You are ALWAYS responsible for what happens to you. Somewhere along the way, you made the choices that led you right here, right now. Other people didn’t make the choice. You made the choice.

I am responsible for me. No one else is.

I am not responsible for anyone else. These are the strong personal boundaries we need to establish if we want to have healthy relationships with potential mates, friends, family, business associates, etc.

I’m tired of everyone’s reasons for why they “can’t” do something or why it’s always some outside force or lack of opportunity that prevents everyone from doing whatever it is they say or feel they want to do.

The first step to achieving whatever it is we desire is to accept that the No. 1 factor in whether we will achieve or not achieve that thing is the choices we make.

Good choices yield positive results.

Bad choices yield negative results.

This has always been true and will always be true until the end of time.

And once we come to grips with this—once we shake off the gravity of realizing just how large of a role we play in the vast majority of bad things that happen to us, we can take a deep breath and smile.

This is good news, you think. Because now I can do something about it.

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Ask Me Things, Please

Image courtesy of kindnessresources.com

Image courtesy of kindnessresources.com

In an effort to evolve this blog and maybe have a little fun or some great conversation, I launched a page called Ask Me Stuff which you should go read.

I want you to ask me things because it will create some new content opportunities and because maybe I’ll accidentally help someone once or twice.

Let’s call it a social experiment.

For anyone inclined, I appreciate your time and contribution very much.

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Somebody’s Got to Feel This*

write feelingsI was watching Benji with a group of family members in my grandparents’ living room the first time it happened.

Something sad happened onscreen and I wanted to cry so I pretended like I needed to go to the restroom so no one would see me even though every adult probably knew.

Even at 5, I’d already been trained that boys don’t cry.

My parents had recently divorced, so I’m sure I was more emotionally sensitive than I had been prior. But I doubt that’s the reason the sad Benji moment made me feel something.

I wasn’t much of a crier throughout most of my childhood, and save the tragic death of my father’s only brother when I was 17, and a handful of instances where I was forced to say bye to my father for several months at a time because we lived 500 miles apart, I didn’t do much of it.

Maybe because “boys don’t cry.” Or maybe because I ran out of tears for the “small stuff.”

I wasn’t a cyborg. I felt. At funerals of my great grandparents, or the ones I occasionally worked as an alter boy in my childhood church.

I felt when I read Alfred Slote’s Tony and Me.

I felt when I read Where the Red Fern Grows.

I felt when I saw E.T.

Just because I didn’t cry doesn’t mean my body didn’t want to. I just pretended to be tough because that’s the role I thought I was supposed to be playing.

The writing did its job. It made me feel.

In the end, I think that’s what made it good.

Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?

As I’ve continued to write personal stories here, something became clear: No one is reading any of this shit because of the writing quality.

People are reading because I wrote a personal story they identified with. I wrote something that mattered BECAUSE it mattered to them, personally. It’s really hard for us to empathize with people who have lives nothing like our own. It’s incredibly easy to empathize with people who have the same stories.

I think the longer we live, the more in common we start to have with everyone else. You know—the law of averages and all that as more things happen to us.

People who have been through divorce sometimes find catharsis in reading someone else’s first-person account.

People who have sick children sometimes find peace and perspective when reading about someone else’s challenges with their child’s health.

People fighting addiction sometimes find strength and support when reading someone else document his or her struggles with the same.

We get so afraid to talk about it.

Because we’re private or shy or don’t want to be seen as weak. Because we’re afraid of what other people think.

That’s what’s so beautiful about writing. The opportunity to be brave and help others.

Some of you might be thinking: “But I don’t think my story is special. I don’t think it can help anyone.”

There’s a scared, self-doubting version of ourselves that lives inside each of us. And that’s the lie that coward tells us so it can stay comfortably and safely hidden in the shadows.

I laugh at the idea of me offering another writer advice as if I’m in any position to do so. But then I remember the most important thing I’ve ever learned about human beings:

We’re not so different, you and me.

Sure, you might like sauerkraut and Mountain Dew: Code Red and rye bread for reasons hard for me to fathom. But when you strip away our skin color (thank you, Dr. King), gender, personal tastes and cultural differences? We are remarkably, miraculously, beautifully (and sometimes tragically) alike.

You Can Feel It*

If you had a family like mine, you were told how special you were your entire life. “Matt, I hope you know how special you are,” I was told by my grandparents, and my parents, and my aunts and uncles, and family friends.

And then you grow up and you realize you really aren’t that special and that’s just something they said over and over again because they loved you a lot and were trying to compensate for the perceived hardships they thought you were dealing with as a child with 500 miles separating your parents.

If you didn’t have a family like mine, you might have been told verbally or otherwise that you weren’t special. That you didn’t matter much. The net result of an upbringing with an unfair amount of dysfunction or neglect or abuse.

The truth is: we are all just a bunch of people. And if every single one of us grew up with the exact same parents in the exact same house with the exact same opportunities in the exact same school in the exact same town, we’d all be excruciatingly similar.

It’s not about special or not special.

But it is about unity.

I write things sometimes about marriage and relationships and women, and people are like: “Whoa! He really gets it!”

And it’s not because I know anything about you or how you feel, or about anyone else.

It’s because I know myself and I have extreme confidence that if I just write honestly about that, it’s going to be relevant to more than enough people to matter.

So, if you’re looking for some writing advice on how to write stories that matter, I’ve got one thing: BE YOU.

And I don’t mean the person your friends hang out with, or the person your co-workers know, or the person everyone thinks you are at school or at church or at parties.

Be the you that you know. Inside your head. When it’s just you in the dark staring up at the ceiling. That’s the you that can help people, and you don’t even have to try.

All you have to do is be brave enough to write it down.

The things that make you happy.

The things that make you angry.

The things that make you laugh.

The things that make you cry.

Because there’s a person out there who gets happy and angry and laughs and cries about the exact same things. And sometimes they feel like a freak. And they’re too afraid to talk about the things they think about when they’re staring up at the ceiling in the dark. They’re afraid of rejection. That no one will like them. That no one IS like them.

That they’re alone.

The most important thing I’ve learned as a writer, as a divorced guy, as a parent, as an insecure single guy who is shitty at dating—is that we’re NEVER alone. By that I mean, we are NEVER the only people feeling something.

There are hundreds. Thousands. Millions.

Countless people just like you. Just like me. Just like us.

And if you can be brave enough to feel something.

And brave enough to write it down.

And courageous enough to hit “Publish.”

They’ll find you. And then they realize: Wow. I’m not the only one.

And then you’ll know you did something that mattered.

The secret to making people feel isn’t through clever wordplay or manipulation.

In fact, there’s no secret at all.

You just write down what happens on the inside. The parts we often hide from the world as we attempt to convince everyone we’re better or stronger or richer or smarter or funnier or braver than we are.

Because you’re not the only one.

Because it’s okay to cry.

Because the best stories are the ones that make us feel something.

Please tell us one.

Author’s Note:

*- that’s what she said.

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Don’t Invite Me to Your Divorce Party

happy divorce

Because a bunch of people have been encouraging me to write for Huff Post Divorce, I’ve been spending more time reading it.

There are thoughtful pieces I like and agree with, such as “An Open Letter to My Ex-Husband’s New Girlfriend.”

There are thoughtful pieces I hate and disagree with, such as “Here’s Why My Affair Will Turn Into A Healthy, Long-Term Relationship.”

There are very practical Things You Should Know pieces. About legality. About emotional turmoil. About child-custody issues. About moving on.

But there is one type of story that’s prevalent and bothering me.

The Fuck-Yeah-I’m-Divorced-Let’s-Party story.

My ex-wife was in a relationship after our separation. Never met the guy. And that’s more than okay.

When something bad happens to you—something really bad—it cuts you on the inside in ways you didn’t know was possible. It’s shocking.

You’re reeling from the horrible thing that happened. And all the sudden your body and mind are experiencing things you were totally unaware were even possible, making healing seem impossible.

Almost like losing grip on reality. And maybe that’s exactly what happens.

I spent countless hours and nights alone on the couch or in bed. I’d watch TV sometimes, but it was so hard to focus on anything that I would often have to rewind whatever I was watching over and over again because I’d get lost in thought and not pay attention.

I was almost obsessed with them. Another man with my wife. And I spent unhealthy amounts of time picturing them together. At the dinner table. Maybe curled up on the couch together. Maybe driving around in cars. Maybe on vacation to places I could never afford to take her. And, of course, in bed.

In about 35 years, I had never felt anything more excruciating.

You can’t feel more rejected than that.

You can’t feel smaller than that.

You can’t feel more humiliated than that.

You don’t just lose your partner. You lose all your memories of your partner because she ceases to be the person you know, because the person you know would not be doing this right now.

And then you lose yourself. And you can’t recognize yourself in the mirror because you’ve never felt or behaved like this before.

It’s all very scary.

My marriage broke. Much of it was my fault. But that didn’t stop the hurt.

My parents divorced when I was 4, and you might think that life experience would help prepare you for the realities of divorce in your own marriage.

It didn’t.

Divorce was the most brutal thing I have ever experienced. I know some people have experienced more-challenging things and that I’m blessed to have not.

But make no mistake: Divorce (if the love was real) is very hard. Worse, I believe, than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that ever happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I freaked.

What that means is, when I see your Fuck-Yeah-I’m-Divorced-Let’s Party stories it makes my skin crawl.

It means I want to punch you in your face, even though I would never, and even though you might not deserve it. (Everyone’s divorce story is different.)

On behalf of the institution of marriage—an important union designed to bring enormous stability to our world—I’m insulted.

On behalf of every scorned spouse who has fallen asleep alone in the dark sobbing and thinking about the person they loved being with that other person—I’m offended.

On behalf of every child that cries and suffers financially and socially and academically and spiritually because his or her mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore…

I wanted to write it. And almost did. It’s perhaps the most unkind two-word phrase we have in the English language.

But I don’t really mean it.

Because there are some marital horror stories out there. And the women and men who feel liberation, who feel peace, who now have an opportunity to pursue real love in a post-divorce world DESERVE to feel good.

And it makes sense that people with those stories would want to use them to empower other divorced people and encourage them to find peace and contentment in this new life.

But I want so badly to live in a world where love and families are viewed with more reverence than our throwaway-marriage culture calls for.

Where we empathize with people in pain, and the blameless children caught in the middle.

Where divorce is frowned upon and strenuously avoided.

Fuck Yeah, We’re Divorced, Let’s Party?

Have a good time.

I won’t be there.

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The Secret to Life and Marriage

Guy-telling-a-secret

No. Not again.

It’s a dull, pulsing pain that starts in my stomach and runs to the bottom of the back of my head between my ears.

Unregulated, the headache starts. Very acute, sharp pain around the crown.

Almost every muscle feels engaged. Tense.

Everything hurts.

I can’t find my smile.

My face, stuck in place, just, hurts.

It’s stress. A physiological reaction to anger and perhaps my least-favorite way to feel.

Don’t forget to breathe. In, then out. And again.

If you had EVERYTHING in the world you ever wanted, but felt this way on the inside? How long could a person make it? Not long for me.

It’s poisonous. Anger. And we feel it a lot. We make others feel it.

My marriage ended because of anger. My entire life circumstances—my entire reality—dictated by the net results of angry people doing angry things.

People are Dicks

We are. Perhaps me more than others. But—and this is VERY important to me and I’ll defend myself and others with it until my last breath—I try.

In a candid moment. When no one’s watching. When it’s just me inside my head left to make whatever choice I want: I choose kindness. I intend to be good to others, even when it’s hard.

I don’t know if that makes me a good person. But I hope it makes me close.

When I’m angry, only two things work to make it go away: love and laughter. Staples of a life brimming with kindness. A life worth chasing.

I want to know what motivates people to intentionally choose unkindness and I want to know why, even though it has been documented ZERO times in human history to benefit anyone, people choose abrasiveness in their human relationships at home or at work or in some other facet of their lives.

My favorite writer James Altucher has written repeatedly about how he has cut out of his life every person who makes him feel bad on a regular basis. How peace and contentment are so hard to achieve when constantly dealing with emotional vampires.

If people don’t pass the Vampire Test? Stake their asses and walk away.

But What if You Can’t!?

It’s a fair and difficult question. Because there are many examples in life of people being tied too closely together to simply cut the cord and walk away.

In my search for answers, I kept coming back to marriage.

Why do people have so much trouble loving the people they forsook all others to love forever?

I found something beautiful and important and insightful when I stumbled on a great piece in The Atlantic called “Masters of Love” published about six months ago.

You should read it in its entirety because it’s better than this blog post. But I’d like to explore the highlights, and hopefully by doing so they’ll become more ingrained within me. And maybe moving forward it can help me be a more patient, wiser, better human being.

According to Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After, only three out of 10 marriages remain happy and healthy.

You read that right: 70% of marriages either break or turn miserable and dysfunctional. Think we might have a problem with kindness and anger?

Psychologists John and Julie Gottman run the New York-based Gottman Institute—an organization dedicated to helping couples achieve loving, healthy marriages through science. They did some homework on this kindness thing.

From The Atlantic story:

John Gottman began gathering his most critical findings in 1986, when he set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other. With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects’ blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other.

The masters, of course, were physiologically calm and steady.

Giving a Shit Matters

Gottman wanted to know how the masters had achieved the emotional state of being that allowed the relationship to thrive even during difficult times, so he conducted another experiment.

He designed a lab to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. There, he observed 130 newlywed couples doing what couples do on vacation—cooking, eating, chatting, hanging out, playing games, etc.

Then Gottman discovered something I’ve never heard anyone talk about before as a predictor of marital success, but it makes perfect sense.

From The Atlantic:

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

According to The Atlantic, Gottman can predict with 94 percent certainty whether couples—gay or straight, rich or poor, with kids or without—will be together and happy, together and miserable, or broken up several years later.

Was my divorce a foregone conclusion?

That’s a hard idea to stomach.

Contempt is the number-one factor that tears couples apart, the researchers said.

People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman told The Atlantic, “which is this: they are scanning social environments for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“Being mean is the death knell of relationships,” The Atlantic’s writer Emily Esfahani Smith wrote. “Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from [the Gottman’s] has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.”

It’s hard to be kind when you’re pissed.

But it’s also when it’s most important.

To walk the walk under the most trying of circumstances. That’s what separates the strong from the weak.

INTENTION is a very important concept. One that should be used to fairly evaluate every situation and person involved.

I’ve believed it forever.

It made me feel good to see these renowned researchers agree:

“One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. From the research of the Gottmans, we know that disasters see negativity in their relationship even when it is not there. An angry wife may assume, for example, that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her. But he may have just absent-mindedly forgotten to put the seat down.”

Psychologist Ty Tashiro offers this parting advice: “Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on and people trying to do the right thing,” he said. “A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing even when it’s executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.”

Another breath. In, then out.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Knowledge is power.

And then I find my smile again.

Because I like knowing secrets.

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The Thing About Stepparents

Maybe that's his father. Maybe that's his stepfather. There's beauty in the fact we can't be sure.

Maybe that’s his father. Maybe that’s his stepfather. There’s beauty in the fact we can’t be sure.

My parents divorced when I was 4, and twice a year all the way through high school, my parents met at a McDonald’s on the eastern edge of Illinois and exchanged me.

I grew up in Ohio with my mom. My dad lived 500 miles away.

Some of my strongest memories include the anticipation of that meet. Seeing my mother and father together. It always felt weird for me. Feeling simultaneously excited to be leaving with my father and sad to say bye to my mother. And feeling absolutely devastated when I’d get into the backseat of my mom’s car at the end of a long, fun summer with dad knowing I wouldn’t see him again until Christmas.

Time goes fast now. But it’s an eternity when you’re little and sobbing in the back of a car watching a McDonald’s disappear behind you at 70 miles per hour.

There is nothing fair about divorce for children. None of it is their fault. They had no say in the matter. And they are perhaps most adversely affected by the drastic and emotionally challenging lifestyle change.

I write about divorce a lot because it has been a dominant theme in my life for more than 30 years.

These are wounds that never fully heal.

But We Do the Best We Can

Life is hard. And no one tells us how hard marriage is, and the ones who try do an inadequate job conveying the gravity of their advice and warnings.

A lot of us marry young, without as much information as we should have. A lot of us have children. And half the time it breaks. And so many people get hurt, and it just keeps happening over and over and over again.

But we do the best we can.

I have a six-year-old son in first grade and he’s my freaking favorite.

He is the first line of defense and litmus test for every woman I meet. Right or wrong, I ask myself immediately: Could she be a potential stepmom for my son? If the answer to that question isn’t yes, then seeing her again is an exercise in futility.

If I ever find an actual girlfriend, it’s going to take a very long time before I introduce my son to her. That’s because I think children of divorced parents have had enough loss and change in their lives and don’t deserve to grow attached to ANOTHER person that could be taken away from them.

There’s no guarantee it won’t happen anyway. But we do the best we can.

I talk to lots of divorced parents and most share my thinking. People they date often don’t meet their children. I agree with the policy.

I know of one mother whose boyfriend has been involved in her only child’s life for months, perhaps years, but she still has reservations about marrying again (despite him appearing to be a very good man) because of her daughter.

And something dawned on me while hearing the story. Her parents are still together. She has never had any experience with stepparents.

Maybe a lot of people are like that.

My Other Father

I met him on my birthday.

I was young. He brought me candy and a board game. Just some guy.

But after a while, he wasn’t just some guy. He was the guy who loved my mom and who did very dad-like things for and with me.

He was a basketball coach and he took me with him to his practices. Taught me how to shoot a decent jump shot.

He was a sports enthusiast who refereed football and basketball, and umpired baseball games. He taught me all about the games I love.

He taught me to read when I was in kindergarten. He taught me to swim and ride a bike, too.

He supported me financially like a father.

Disciplined me like a father.

Loved me like a father.

His parents became my grandparents. His brothers and sisters became my aunts and uncles. His presence became a familiar comfort while I was missing my dad.

It’s hard to imagine how my life might have turned out without that man’s steady hand being part of it.

He taught me about character.

He taught me about teamwork.

He taught me about choosing to love.

My stepfather and his extended family were a very important piece of my childhood. And while divorce and its hardships hurt me as a child, it would be disingenuous to not express enormous gratitude for the many blessings that also came from it.

My father remarried also. My stepmom, too, is an important part of my life, but growing up under my mother’s roof, my stepdad had a much more direct impact on my development.

These are IMPORTANT, life-altering relationships.

And for all the heartache and fear attached to divorce. For all the protective measures we take on behalf of our children, I think it’s critical to never lose sight of the unknown future and the many good things that could be coming for us.

We hurt because our families are broken.

We feel ashamed because we couldn’t hold it together for those little hearts and minds that mean so much to us.

But unless you had a childhood like me, you couldn’t possibly know it.

That if you make good choices. If you find someone with a kind heart, a good soul, a steady hand, and the ability to truly love? You give your child gifts of value impossible to measure.

We feel sad, broken and frightened sometimes. Afraid of the unknown future. Of screwing up our kids even more.

But maybe sometimes we’re just overthinking it.

Maybe if you just find one of the good ones—and they are out there: good, kind, smart, decent people—you create joyful opportunity for yourself and your children.

Maybe it’s not the same as what you’d always imagined, but maybe on balance, it really isn’t so bad for them. And maybe it’s even a little bit good.

Maybe there are fewer tears and more laughs.

Less pain and more hope.

Because that’s the thing about stepparents.

The really good kind, anyway.

The ones like mine.

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