Monthly Archives: October 2015

Why Online Dating Might Not Be For You

farmersonlymeme

Maybe I was just doing it wrong. Totally possible. I’m good at several things, but there’s no reason to believe online dating is one of them.

I tried it pretty soon after my wife left. It was a very bad idea.

The first girl I met from Match.com liked me for real and actually got a little upset when she realized during our date that I wasn’t emotionally available. She politely explained to me how thoughtless and unfair that was. She was right.

The second girl I met ended up being the sister of a guy I happen to work with and we figured it out while chatting in an Irish pub. Bad idea!, we agreed.

The third girl was a very attractive hearing-specialist medical doctor who had just moved back to her Ohio hometown from Chicago. And even though she was a pretty doctor, she was the least-interesting conversationalist I’d ever met. Worse still? When the waitress at the Mexican restaurant asked us how we wanted our tableside guacamole made, I let her decide, and she chose to DOUBLE the amount of jalapeño, onion and garlic from how much they normally use. There wasn’t enough tequila in the restaurant to help me forgive that offense.

So, even when girls “liked” me online, meeting them was always mehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

But mostly girls didn’t “like” me.

Which is okay. I’m certainly not for everyone. However, as time marched on, and I heard others’ experiences, and I watched from the front row as one of my best friends navigated the online-dating landscape at the same time, dealing with many of the same things, I found myself souring on the process.

‘You Seem Like You’d Be Really Good at It’

The girl who cuts my hair asks about my dating life every time I see her. She likes to know who I’m talking to and whether there’s girlfriend potential.

A couple days ago, she asked “Are you online dating?”

I said no.

She asked why.

I said it’s not a good idea for guys like me.

She said: “What!? You seem like you’d be really good at it!”

Married women always think I’m swell.

“There are certain kinds of dudes who I imagine have a great time dating online,” I said. “You’ll just have to take my word for it that 36-year-old single fathers who look like me aren’t among them.”

“You’re an attractive guy. Plenty of single women would want to date you.”

“Thank you, but it doesn’t work that way on the internet.”

“I’ve been married a while and have never dated online. What do you mean?”

Glad you asked.

The Internet vs. Real Life

I’m not hideous to look at. My self-awareness extends to my self-perception. I’ll never be mistaken for a dashing billionaire playboy or movie star, but history suggests the general female population finds me more attractive than my spotty-at-best dating life might indicate.

And here’s why:

The experience of standing in front of someone and talking to them and watching them move around and interact with you and others is, historically, how people decide to whom they are attracted.

And I do pretty well with that.

People don’t often think of it this way, but sexual attraction (from a purely physical standpoint) is a simple pass-or-fail test. We either find a person attractive enough to get naked with, or we don’t. One or the other.

What determines whether we actually get naked with that person are the 90% of things that actually matter to us. How they make us feel. How they treat us and others. How their personalities mesh with ours. Whether we enjoy talking to them and want to do more of it. Whether we discover common interests and build intimacy. Whether they are safe and trustworthy, however we define that.

That’s how people become attracted to one another.

I’m decent-looking enough to pass the pass-or-fail attractiveness test most of the time, and I’m smart and friendly and kind enough, and occasionally charming and engaging and funny enough, that the person I’m standing in front of will sometimes want more.

But, if your Dating Résumé is like your Employment one, I have a few things working against me.

I’m 5’9”. Women tend to prefer tall men. But since the average female height in the United States is 5’5”, and the vast majority of women I meet are shorter than me, it tends to not be much of an issue in-person.

I’m graying. I have no idea how that plays in the minds of women either online or in-person, but my best guess is that it makes me more attractive to older women than it does to anyone my age or younger. I won’t pretend to know.

I’m divorced. To someone who has never been married, it means I come with baggage. And to divorced women who got screwed over by their exes, it could trigger feelings in them that maybe I’m like their ex-husband.

I’m a father. I have a 7-year-old son. Single women with no children aren’t always keen on becoming a stepmother to a child they’ve never met, or competing with that child’s mother. I imagine childless women frequently rule out fathers because of that. Single mothers are more likely to appreciate what a father brings to the table, but depending on her individual circumstances and experiences, may also be unwilling to take on a parenting role to another child.

When you meet someone in person, these things are often overlooked. After all, my son is never with me in adult social settings, and dating activities only occur when he isn’t home. Should the relationship ever graduate to “love,” I imagine parental status would be something of a non-issue.

But the Internet, Though…

Imagine being a single woman establishing your preference filters on an online-dating site.

As soon as you make your profile live, you have virtually unlimited options because of all the men vying for your attention. Whether you’re on Match or OKCupid or Tinder or FarmersOnly.com, you flip it on, and the requests start pouring in.

When you have your choice of anyone you want, are you really going to pay attention to divorced 36-year-old gray-haired guys with kids, when you’re 31, never married, no kids, and prefer tall men? When that’s all you know about them?

Of course not. I can’t say I blame them.

If you’re a divorced, single mother also attracted to tall men, are you going to? Possibly at a slightly higher rate, but single moms get plenty of interest online, too. It’s something of a numbers game, and even when they filter down to their favorite preferences, they STILL have virtually unlimited requests for their attention.

I’m a digital marketing strategist who is pretty good at understanding data and percentages. Shy, lonely guys with so-so social lives due to circumstances somewhat outside their control? It’s easy for them to want to sit safely in their homes and scroll through online-dating profiles where they don’t have to make eye contact and try to say something smart and attractive to a pretty stranger in public while simultaneously shitting themselves.

I get it.

But I’ve grown to believe there are a lot of people who probably shouldn’t subject themselves to this losing formula.

And nearly three years ago, I was one of them.

Broken and empty. I was desperate to fill the void. Desperate to feel liked by someone again. Desperate to feel wanted by someone again.

I turned to the computer screen because it was easy and low-risk. Just as millions of others do.

Be Brave

You know which camp you fall in.

You’re either someone who dates online because it’s fun and works for you, or you’re someone who ATTEMPTS to date online because it’s a low barrier to entry and feels safer than trying to do it the old-fashioned and scary way.

I wouldn’t waste ONE SECOND of my life on a woman who would choose her life-long partner based on height, or who would view my beautiful son as some kind of annoying handicap.

Do you know how many dipshit moron 6’2” assholes with lots of tattoos and no kids there are? Good luck, sweetheart! Hope you like Hot Pockets and pro wrestling! (Point of clarification: There are brilliant 6’2” tattooed guys with no kids that I’m sure are really awesome and infinitely smarter than I’ll ever be. And even if they like Hot Pockets and pro wrestling, it doesn’t make me better than them. Probably.)

So I hope people out there—particularly the guys in situations like I was—aren’t losing sleep over people with personal values so different from their own. (Hint: It was never going to be Happily Ever After. So look forward to meeting the person with whom you can achieve that.)

It’s a funny little thing, but in my experience, there is no place with more pretty girls walking around by themselves than the grocery store. It’s uncanny, really.

Sometimes they have kids. Sometimes they’re wearing rings. And many times, even without those things, you can be sure there’s a boyfriend waiting for them somewhere.

And even though I don’t often do it, because it’s the scariest shit ever, I really want to encourage guys to be brave enough to say hi to these women when they want to.

With confident eye contact, even if you have to fake the bravery.

The next time I see a woman respond to a guy brave enough to say hi to her with cold-shoulder bitchiness meant to shame him will be the first time. And EVEN IF that were to happen, I think it’s safe to assume you two didn’t have a bright future anyway. Because she sucks big-time.

Keep grinding away at the computer, if you must. I do know people who have met wonderful partners that way.

But don’t forget there’s a real world, too, and in it you’re worth much more than strangers on the internet might suggest.

Make bold moves with people you see and want to meet.

Because the worst-possible result is simply more of what’s already happening.

Nothing.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

‘I’ve Ruined My Marriage and My Wife Hates Me’

drowning

Sometimes, there’s no life preserver. Just prayers. Prayers with painful answers.

She liked to shower at night.

The downstairs bathroom, just down the hall from the guest room I was sleeping in, was the one she always used.

Everything was fucked.

I don’t mean, we were having a spat.

I mean, the entire universe was upside down and I couldn’t remember the last time my wife said “I love you” or hugged me like she meant it. Sex? Sleeping in the same bed? Ha. Right.

The celibacy streak was only just beginning, but relative to my life experience up to that point, it had already been forever.

You want to experiment with male psychosis? Go from sexually active to involuntary celibacy. I know women also don’t like sex deprevation, but I’m not sure the psychological effects are the same.

She seemed fine about it. I’m not saying she was. I’m simply saying it was clear she preferred to sleep in separate bedrooms and never touch each other rather than go back to the way it was.

I wasn’t fine. In these moments, you start asking yourself questions you don’t really want to know answers to: Would she rather touch herself than let me touch her? Is she seeing someone?

You go long enough without, combined with the emotional vortex of shit you’re living in, and you literally go a little bit crazy.

I couldn’t take it anymore. My pretty wife was on the other side of that bathroom door in a towel or nothing at all.

I don’t remember what I said or did next, but she agreed! Holy shit! She said yes! My God. Hope.

It had been several months.

Hands. Lips. Tongue. Teeth. I know how this body works, I thought.

Because when I do this, that usually happens, and when I do that, this usually happens.

But none of that happened.

I wanted so badly for it to be like it used to be. That’s how it had gone in my head. The beginning of the Marriage Reset!

I don’t think she was trying to be cruel or intentionally not physically or emotionally responding. In fact, I think she did try.

But you can’t fake it. There are no masks when it’s just two naked and familiar souls. You just know.

For the first time in my life, I couldn’t do it. I was physically incapable of performing. Like the old guys in those commercials. I needed her to want me and like me.

But she didn’t want me. She didn’t like me.

I was emotionally beaten and physically broken at 33 years old.

I rolled over, staring at the ceiling.

She left without saying anything.

A minute or two later, I had my first God’s-honest Will Hunting breakdown.

I sobbed. Convulsed. Couldn’t catch my breath. She could hear me through the floor vents in our upstairs bedroom.

Her pathetic loser husband who wasn’t even good for THAT anymore. Crying like a wimpy bitch.

I never gave up hope for a miracle. But that’s when I knew it was over.

‘I Want to Save It’

Tom wants to save his marriage.

He’s not just saying the right things. It seems clear he means it the same way I meant it once the lightbulb finally clicked on. His heartfelt blog comment and email contain many of the same things I was thinking and feeling three or four years ago when my life was in much the same place his is now.

He was a little bit selfish and oblivious, and then had the epiphany people have when they finally solve a vexing problem. It happens to all of us. That moment something clicks in our brains and we learn something. Most of the time, it’s some mundane little fact or method of doing something. But sometimes it’s Why My Wife is Hurt, and How I am Responsible for Causing It.

It’s life-changing.

Something just clicks and you finally get it.

For me, it was reading How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. It’s a goldmine.

For Tom, it was something else.

And we get excited. Hopeful. We finally understand, babe! Now I know how to be a good husband! I really, truly get it!

All we need is for them to give us a chance.

But all they see is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. They ALREADY trusted their entire lives to us. It was the most sacred vow we’ve ever made, looking them in the eye while we slipped the ring onto her finger.

And then we spent years not following through on those promises.

They told us what was wrong as it was happening. Instead of apologizing, taking steps to fix what’s broken, and making sure it never happens again, we tell them they’re crazy and explain how and why their feelings are wrong.

The person they need to make them feel safe is now the greatest threat to their long-term happiness.

But we’re all smiles and promises again, us guys. And EVEN WHEN WE REALLY ARE DIFFERENT THIS TIME, the gamble doesn’t seem worth it for them.

If they guess wrong this time, they may never recover.

You Can’t Taste the Poison

Routine acts like poison that eventually kills your marriage.

You naturally fall into it. It’s human nature to crave safety and predictability. So we like to do the same things every day when we come home from work, and after dinner, and before bed, and when we wake up in the morning.

I live in a decent little house in a typical-for-Ohio older suburban neighborhood and drive a base model 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

When I first got the house, I felt like a real estate baron. After nearly 10 years living there, I mostly don’t think anything about it at all. It’s where I live.

When I first got the Jeep, I felt like I had the nicest vehicle on the road. It was my first-ever brand-new car. Now, it’s just my car, and I mostly think about how much worse it looks than all the more-expensive Grand Cherokees I see.

Everyone gets it. We take things for granted. We don’t know how not to. Every day, we forget to think about and concentrate on the two or three people or things that really matter most.

It’s only cliché because it’s true: We don’t know how good we have it until we lose something.

So we come home from work and have dinner together and chit-chat about the day. We often don’t say “thank you.” For what? For EVERYTHING. After years together, we don’t even see what our partner does for us. Not the good stuff, anyway. We only see the flaws. Like my kitchen that could use an upgrade or my garage door opener that stopped working.

I don’t feel grateful that I have a kitchen with functioning appliances and enough money to cook excellent meals any time I want. I don’t feel grateful that I have a two-car garage even though it’s the first house I’ve ever lived in as a car owner that had one.

I bet I’d appreciate it if I had to live in a shanty in rural Haiti.

I bet I’d appreciate my Jeep if I had to drive a rusted-out $300 car with a non-functioning heater this winter.

Just like I learned to appreciate how much better my life was—despite all the occasional frustration and bullshit—when my wife and son lived at home.

Sometimes husbands and boyfriends fall into the comfortable routine. We like it. Because outside of birthday parties, surprises are usually bad. This goes on for years. When our wives or girlfriends get upset about something, we all just think it’s a common side effect of marriage and long-term relationships. Mom used to get pissed at dad! This is just what happens!

We don’t ever think we should make changes.

We don’t learn how to empathize until our insides twist up and our hearts break just like our wives’ did months or years earlier.

Holy shit. THIS is what she felt like when I told her she was wrong and to get over it.

I finally understand.

We think she owes us this new opportunity now that we have a better tool kit.

We made vows!

We have kids!

When you’re broken on the inside, none of that shit matters. Self-preservation and a desire to protect our children always win out.

Our wives are dead inside. And we made them that way. But then we expect them to just snap out of it because of our epiphany.

Eagerly, we start changing how we do things.

She’ll like and appreciate this!

But she doesn’t like and appreciate it. It feels like desperation. Like parlor tricks. Like a too-little-too-late effort to convince her not to leave.

We’ve never cared about anything more than this. Our family is and has always been our highest priority. But she couldn’t tell. And we didn’t know that behaving the way we were might jeopardize it. She’s got to see that now!

Arguments still pop up. She’s still sad and angry. She’s not happy about how hard you’re trying now, because she’s still totally broken by the previous 2,000 instances of severe pain and emotional abandonment without so much as an apology or acknowledgment from us that we caused it.

We get defensive and freak out.

“Why can’t you ever let anything go!? Can’t we just concentrate on tomorrow!? Can’t we just start over!?”

We become totally unhinged emotionally.

Our brains are telling us to calm down and speak maturely. We know what we want to do and say. We want to use our patient, loving and understanding tone of voice. But our bodies rebel. We blurt out fighting words, and the instant shame washes over us at failing her and succumbing to pride and defensiveness yet again.

“See?” she thinks. “He’s the same. I knew I couldn’t trust him. That asshole deserves what’s coming.”

Can It Be Saved?

I know what it looks and feels like when your wife dies on the inside.

Tom is coming to terms with it now, too. And what he wants to know is the same thing I wanted to know: Can it be saved? What can I do?

I don’t think our wives hate us. Hate is an actual emotion.

What I think they feel is a total absence of emotion.

Apathy.

Indifference.

In the end, it’s not really a negative emotion they feel toward us.

They feel nothing.

First, I watched my mom leave my stepdad because of this indifference. Then I watched my wife leave with my son for the same reason.

Then I broke a little bit more and couldn’t breathe for months.

Then I freaked out and called a therapy hotline, and the lady told me I should try journaling.

Then I got drunk on vodka and started a blog instead.

Then I started writing about my marital separation and divorce without taking responsibility for any of it.

Then I started writing about those things WHILE taking responsibility for it.

And that’s when everything came together.

People read it and cared, because being a person who feels and is afraid of all the things most of us are too scared to talk about is something almost everyone understands.

Wives started writing me.

A few. Then dozens. Then hundreds.

I’ve read THE EXACT SAME DIVORCE STORY so many times, I could be a legit marriage counselor, I think.

But there are always two things I don’t have an answer for:

How do you get a man to have the epiphany BEFORE everything breaks? And…

Can we bring it back from the dead?

Maybe someone out there can provide more insight. Maybe there are success stories about a totally broken marriage that ended up Happily Ever After.

A unifying Disney movie moment with fireworks and shooting stars during the redemptive kiss.

Or maybe magic. Sorcery.

Or maybe a miracle. God.

But I’ve never seen it happen without a bunch of people getting their hands dirty first. I’ve seen instances of two people finding one another again. But in EVERY case, there were other sexual partners and a whole bunch of healing time in between.

On the other hand, I understand the healing power of knowledge.

Because I think Tom gets it now. I think Tom might get it like I get it.

I think Tom might love like I love.

And in my experience? Love never fails.

And even though I’ve never seen one? I believe in miracles.

And even though I’ve never written one? Some stories have happy endings.

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Try Something Else

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

I was 15 minutes early for the church thing.

My ex-wife lives close so I expected her and our son to show up soon. The church thing was for him and other kids his age.

His mom and I are good about going to events together to support him. It’s the kind of thing that was uncomfortable in the early months of separation and divorce, but I now find totally okay and occasionally pleasant two and a half years later.

I asked a guy if he knew where the kids and families were sitting. He pointed to a spot on the far side of the large church. I recognized a few faces. Whenever my son and his mom showed up, we’d sit over there.

But the minutes ticked by. And everyone filing in for the 9:30 a.m. start time wasn’t my son and his mom.

At 9:26, I finally sent a text: “Are you here?”

She replied at 9:29: “Walking thru parking lot now. Where are you?”

I told her to go through a back entrance. There are two of them. I stood by one while I waited, guessing incorrectly that she would choose it. It was 9:31 and church was starting. I sent a text describing a lady passing out things our son would need to grab.

She asked again where I was sitting, but instead of answering, I told her where the kids and families were sitting together.

Because I’m divorced and feel shame easily, particularly among the school and church parents where it seems like all their families are still intact, I didn’t go sit with them, electing to wait for my son and ex to arrive.

For that same reason, I also chose not to walk across the front of the entire church in front of hundreds of people to meet them after the Catholic mass started.

Long story short: My son wasn’t sitting with his parents together like we’d planned. Mission: failed.

My non-Catholic ex-wife spent the next hour with our son who was upset because he didn’t know where I was, and was forced to do a semi-ceremonial Catholicy thing with him that she might have felt some discomfort doing.

I was a little pissed because she arrived late and perceived her lack of punctuality as a sign she didn’t respect this Catholic thing she wouldn’t have to worry about if it wasn’t for me (which isn’t true).

She was a little pissed because she felt I didn’t try hard enough to sit with them and didn’t like that me not being with them upset our son.

She lives close. So I assumed she just didn’t try hard enough. But what actually happened was they spent the night at his grandma’s house much farther away, and when they arrived with what would typically be enough time, they found no parking spots and ended up having a long walk to get there.

She thought I was being unhelpful not telling her where I was sitting, instead telling her where our son was supposed to sit with his classmates.

OF COURSE I wanted to be next to my son. But I thought him being with his classmates for this special occasion was the bigger priority.

That probably seems like a typical misunderstanding.

But that’s exactly my point in telling it. THIS RIGHT HERE, is how divorce happens. She didn’t do anything wrong and tried her hardest to make the moment special for our son. I didn’t do anything wrong and tried my hardest to do the same. With limited information about one another’s thoughts and feelings, we were both a little bit pissed at one another, even though NO ONE DID ANYTHING WRONG.

That’s How Your Marriage Ends

Sometimes he’s a drunk or an addict.

Sometimes she’s financially manipulative.

Sometimes he’s a degenerate gambler.

Sometimes she’s sleeping with a guy at work.

BUT.

That’s not usually what happens. Usually, two well-meaning people get married with the heartfelt intention to love one another forever, and raise good kids, and enjoy backyard barbecues with friends, and holiday gatherings with family, and trips together to Disney World and the Grand Canyon.

And then slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, little moments like the one I described above start to invade and infect our psyche and emotional chemistry.

She thinks he’s thoughtless and irresponsible.

He thinks she’s unfairly bitchy and never happy.

She thinks he’s selfish and that all his decisions revolve around self-interests.

He thinks he’s already changed so much of his behavior and lifestyle for her, he doesn’t understand why she’s always so dissatisfied with him.

She decides he’s never going to change and eventually grows exhausted by him. Because there are only two possibilities: He’s a childlike moron incapable of being a responsible adult partner and co-parent, OR he’s as smart as she thinks he is and cares so little about her feelings that every day he chooses all the fuck-you-I’m-going-to-do-things-my-way stuff that she’s been pleading with him to stop.

In either case, she can’t trust him anymore. He’s no longer SAFE.

Not because he had sex with someone else.

Not because he gambled away their money.

Not because he’s an unreliable financial provider or not physically capable of protecting her from harm.

But because when she bares her soul to him, nothing changes. So she must not matter enough to him. She loves him in theory, but the feelings go away. It’s hard to stay in love with the person who hurts you every single day. Because he’s no longer safe and behaves like someone who doesn’t love her, she stops being sexually attracted to him. Sex becomes super-infrequent or dries up altogether.

All this time, her husband thinks she must be a little bit crazy. She’s hormonal and imbalanced. SHE MUST BE. Because he does love her. Very much. Of everyone he has ever known or currently knows, she’s the one he chose to spend the rest of his life with. She’s the one he was willing to forsake all others for. If he’s a father, there’s a secondary layer of love and protection he feels. He loves his kids a lot and he knows how amazing she is at caring for them. He could NEVER do what she does, thus her safety and wellbeing become even more important to him.

He spent his entire life going to school and hanging out with his friends.

Many of his best memories are Friday nights on the football field, or up in the stands at basketball games, or playing golf or soccer or poker or video games, or watching MMA or boxing or pro wrestling with his friends.

He has this loyalty he innately feels to his friends. They’re like brothers. Either because they played sports together, or roomed together in college, or served in the military together, or worked together, or any other bond-forming activity guys often do.

Now, he spends maybe 5-10% of his social time with them, or participating in hobbies ingrained in him from all those years. He thinks it’s REALLY unfair that even though he gave up the vast majority of those activities and hobbies for his marriage, she still complains about what little time he spends on all those things he has always loved.

She didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where she constantly feels invalidated because he either offers a hundred reasons why she’s being an unreasonable, nagging bitch, or he totally withdraws and doesn’t communicate with her at all.

He didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where he is constantly disrespected and made to feel inadequate even though his PURPOSE in life is to provide the best life possible for his family.

She stops sleeping with him.

He starts jerking off thinking about the office receptionist or that waitress at his favorite lunch spot.

She gets huge crushes on any man who appears to show genuine interest in her because her husband hasn’t talked to her or looked at her that way in years. He really gets me, she thinks. I want to sleep with him.

He gets his kicks from the female friend or coworker who listens to him complain about how unappreciated he is at home. She feels bad and wants to help so she puts his penis in her mouth, and he justifies it because his wife hasn’t slept with him in several months. What did she expect me to do!?, he thinks.

The guilt and shame pile up for everyone.

The shoulders are just a little bit heavier every second of every day.

Quiet moments alone are no longer peaceful because those are the moments the skeletons rattle loudest.

No one feels peace or innocence anymore. Not like when you were kids. You miss it so much, and it’s amplified by watching your kids. Because they’re pure and innocent and you want them to stay that way, but you can’t protect them from all the shit. There’s just way too much of it.

You feel like you’re constantly failing them because how can a broken, flawed person like me ever expect to raise children to be great people while protecting them from every danger?

What You’re Doing Isn’t Working

Two things:

  1. The above example is a fictional hypothetical situation that is NOT autobiographical but I believe is one super-common example of how marriages break and deteriorate into tar pits of shit.
  2. Your marriage or relationship has some element of all this going on in it. The reason it’s so easy to write this off-the-cuff example that will probably resonate with a kajillion people is because I read and hear the same stories over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s totally frustrating and depressing.

You’re doing the same things everyone does, and when you do that, you get divorced and often end up sad and angry and hurting with sad and angry and hurting kids. It’s a real shit show.

A suggestion: TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

Hey Husbands: Your wife is going to leave you, and may or may not start sleeping with another man and take your children away. It’s horrible, and you and your family deserve better. If your wife tells you there’s a problem, and you don’t agree because you don’t think it’s as big a deal as she does? I have bad news. There’s a problem, and she’s going to leave.

Hey Wives: You’re not wrong that your husband who pledged to love you forever is a little oblivious and thoughtless, and should absolutely be prioritizing your feelings on all matters related to your emotional wellbeing so you can feel safe in your own life and trust that it will be here tomorrow. But you are wrong about your husband not loving or caring about you. And you’re doing a piss-poor job choosing WHEN, HOW and in what TONE OF VOICE to tell him how dissatisfied you are.

If I knew how to cure marriage problems, I’d have already written the magic-bullet bestselling book of all time, and currently be enjoying the spoils of commercial success while also kind of saving the world.

Every couple, and every individual, is different. Unique. Nuanced. Special.

And when we pledge to love and cherish and serve one another for as long as we live, it is our solemn duty to figure out what we can do to make our partner’s lives better.

Guys, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your wives. You don’t need to agree with her. You simply have to care that the person you love most feels serious pain and fear. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—alleviating her pain and fear—you’re going to be much happier.

Ladies, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your husbands. You don’t need to agree with him. You simply have to care that the person you love most in the world feels seriously unappreciated and undervalued. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—making him feel respected for all of the positive traits for which you originally fell in love with him, and valued for his many contributions to your life—you’re going to be much happier.

My ex-wife had a choice: Be pissed because I wasn’t with them during the church thing. Or appreciate that I tried my best at the expense of my own happiness to make sure our son was getting the most out of the moment.

I had a choice: Be pissed my ex-wife didn’t make a better effort to arrive sooner. Or appreciate that she—a non-Catholic—goes out of her way to support and participate in things she doesn’t always understand or agree with.

The moment passed.

Later that night, I had to run a pair of our son’s pants to her house. We do little favors like this all the time.

The anger and frustration from earlier was gone.

Despite her annoyance, she had sent me a video in the afternoon of our son riding his bike like a big boy. I appreciated it.

Despite my annoyance, it was my pleasure to bring clothes to her that he needed for school. She appreciated it.

Gratitude.

It’s the baseline emotion necessary to achieve happiness.

And just maybe, while you’re searching for answers on what to do next? On how to get through to him? On how to get her to respect you or sleep with you? On how to save your marriage? On what else you can try?

Maybe you can start with something you learned before entering kindergarten.

Saying thank you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

You’re Gonna See Some Serious Shit

Doc Brown and Marty McFly Back to the Future

“When this sucker hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown, Back to the Future

I’m a time traveler.

Just like you.

And it’s actually dangerous because when you spend all your time thinking about things that already happened, or worrying and dreaming about things that might happen someday, you’re never really being alive right now. You’re never here. Right this second. I have to remind myself sometimes that there is a right now. I have to breathe slowly and really concentrate and try to not think about something that happened earlier or wonder about something that might happen later.

I breathe in. Hold. Then out. And if you only think about the air going in and out of your lungs, you have a slight possibility of being mindfully alive for a few seconds.

I’m a dreamer. Maybe it’s healthy sometimes. Most of the time, it’s probably not. Because I’m an optimist, I often imagine something and I hone in on all the positives of this possible future, and I paint a rosy picture in my imagination where everything is great and I feel good and maybe a girl likes me in the end.

I dream about big things. Like my start-up company. I catch myself thinking about the rewards of our theoretical success a few years from now even though I can’t see all the steps between here and there.

I dream about small things. Like a party or fun weekend trip coming up. I catch myself thinking about having an amazing time with a bunch of other people who are also having an amazing time and everything is awesome just like it used to be when we were young and didn’t have baggage and shame perpetually tagging along.

I’m glad I’m a hopeful person. That I’m positive and not cynical. That I tend to find the silver linings instead of being dour and pissed off all the time.

But it has a downside, too.

When you default to a position of hopefulness and optimism, or more specifically, when you imagine the birthday or vacation or wedding anniversary or class reunion or holiday a certain way, and then when you really experience it, it’s a total letdown, you set yourself up for constant disappointment.

I experience that often. I build things up in my mind and then I’m disappointed because something I thought would be great wasn’t.

When you’re a little Catholic school kid from a little Ohio town most people in your own state can’t find on a map, it’s probably not weird to end up like me.

I’d walk home from school or deliver newspapers on my paper route, looking at the houses and daydreaming about my future. The houses were all basically the same, save the customary architectural tweaks consistent with middle-income Midwest homes designed at the turn of the 20th century.

I would live in a house just like that because people live in houses just like that.

I would be married because adults get married.

I would have a few kids because Catholic families have a few kids.

With age came ambition, if not direction. I wanted more. Financial success. A vibrant social life. There’s more to life than this.

No matter how much you evolve through high school and college, it seems like the life you lived as a child grew permanent roots. Like the baggage and shame, it follows you everywhere, and you were either blessed or cursed by whatever hand life dealt you.

I was both.

Where I’m from, everyone goes to high school, and then everyone goes to college, and then everyone gets married and starts a family.

Any deviation from that path is viewed through squinty-eyed suspicion.

Why isn’t that person following The Plan™?

It’s because those rule-breakers aren’t as smart as you. You know everything, and that will be obvious to everyone when you’re in your mid-thirties and life has turned out just like you knew it would.

Today is Oct. 21, 2015. It’s the day Doc, Marty and Jennifer travelled to in the future via flying DeLorean in the Back to the Future movie franchise. The Internet has been making a big deal about it for months.

Back to the Future (and the sequels) has been one of my favorite movies since I saw it at the theater in 1985. The time-travel story captured my six-year-old imagination. I’m pretty sure the first Back to the Future film is the movie I’ve seen more than any other though I don’t have an iTunes play count from the past 30 years to prove it.

In Back to the Future II (released in 1989), the movie makers created a version of the fictional Hill Valley, Calif. they imagined for 2015.

Flying cars and hoverboards are the obvious highlights. The justice system works swiftly because there are no more lawyers. Meteorologists can accurately predict changing weather down to the second. You can hydrate a little hockey puck-sized pizza in a small kitchen appliance, and enjoy a hot, delicious regular-sized pizza just seconds later. A bottle of Pepsi costs about $50. People wear self-drying clothes. Jaws 19 is playing in theaters. Kids no longer use hands to play video games.

Maybe adults watched Back to the Future II and knew most of that was never going to happen. I was 10, so I can’t be sure. I watched with wonder.

And what I’m thinking about now is how 30 years ago, I watched someone else’s vision of the future, and with three decades (technically, 26 years) to go, none of what I saw felt especially far-fetched to me.

But I look around today and it doesn’t look at all like the future Back to the Future II painted for me, even though 26 years ago it made so much sense.

We imagined a future. But it didn’t happen that way at all.

And in the context of the cars we drive, and the price of soft drinks, and our fashion sense, I think most of us are probably okay with that.

The part of divorce no one talks about is the part where you lose all your dreams.

People tend to focus on the loss of their spouse at home, or sharing time with the kids, or the financial costs of the split.

Change is hard. It just happens and suddenly you’re sitting alone in your house, and waking alone in your bed, and going by yourself to family gatherings to look everyone in the eye who travelled great distances to sit in church pews and hear you vow “’Til death do us part” before handing you a wad of cash. They ask how you’re doing and you can’t be honest because they’ll worry about you, or you’ll bore them for two hours while dripping in failure. Because everyone there is still married.

Back in that little Ohio town where that’s just what you do.

But I don’t know that any of that is the worst or hardest part.

I had plans.

With my wife and son and the daughter I never got.

With my successful career where we never again worry about money.

With Sunday afternoons 30 years from now where I’m grilling dinner and my grandchildren are running around the backyard. My son and his family. In both directions.

Because right up to the moment you hear: “I’m leaving,” everything is going according to plan.

You never—not even once—considered an alternative future. Not like shitty alternate-1985 where Biff is your stepdad, your father has been murdered, and your beat-up mother has massively gross, plastic boobs.

In Back to the Future II, Doc and Marty use a time machine to repair the damage.

But us? You and me? We don’t get time machines. The only time travel we do keeps us from living in the now.

I’m cool with the fact we don’t have flying cars. I was never a particularly strong skateboarder, so the absence of hoverboards doesn’t keep me up at night. And Jaws jumped the (pun intended) shark after Jaws 2.

In other words, the future happened. We’re here now. And relative to the movie’s imagined society, I’m more than fine with how everything turned out.

I think that same thing can be true in our personal lives.

The future was written. I could see down the road and I just “knew” how most of it looked and felt. And it was good.

But, really, it wasn’t written. I didn’t know anything. And it was kind of shitty and horrible when it actually happened.

Something real is eventually going to happen. Something real is happening right now.

Life will write the script that was always going to be written no matter how many times we try to pen it ourselves.

Now, I know I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

And just maybe, that’s a really good thing.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

What If We Got to Reinvent School?

Might there be a better way?

Might there be a better way?

If a gunman enters my son’s school intent on murdering children and teachers, at least I’ll know the kids and teachers had some practice beforehand.

My son is 7. I’m pretty sure he, nor his classmates, knew why they were practicing a lockdown drill last week. I’m sure the boys were giggling and goofing off like they always do.

You remember school drills. But if you’re anywhere close to my age, you don’t remember lockdown drills. Those are the ones where you don’t practice leaving the school in case of fire, or practice tucking against a wall with a heavy textbook over your neck in case of tornados or other natural disasters.

A lockdown drill is the one where you simulate hiding from mass murderers.

Parents got an email from the principal letting us know it happened.

I don’t even have a point. It just felt mention-worthy before I get into how stupid the American education system is.

What if I was Given Unlimited Power to Reinvent Education?

I’m so glad you asked!

I think I could dramatically improve the lives of all students, parents of students, and teachers overnight. And I’m not very smart. And I’ve only been thinking about this for about 10 minutes.

THAT’s how shitty our education system is.

Where Would I Start?

How about acknowledging that all students are not created equal?

How many stories do we need to hear about school dropouts going on to do amazing things before we recognize that school success (currently) DOES NOT EQUAL life success? (Examples include: Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller, Richard Branson, Charles Dickens, and many more.)

None of those people would have dropped out of my school.

Because the very first thing we’re going to do at my kick-ass school is figure out TWO super-important things about each and every student: Personality Type (there are 16 if you’re using the Carl Jung and I. Briggs Myers profiles). And Learning Style (there are three: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic.)

And we are going to design curriculum and classrooms tailored to those three learning styles, and we’re going to use any relevant components of personality to mix and match children and teachers in an effort to optimize the school experience.

I’m just spit-balling here, but maybe we wouldn’t have as many angry and socially isolated kids if we stopped making the awkward and non-athletic kids play dodgeball or kickball, or if we stopped making dyslexic kids real aloud in front of the class, or if we stopped making shy kids sing and dance in front of an audience.

Maybe if every classroom was designed to maximize the specific talents of certain types of students, every child would:

  • Learn more things and actually retain the information
  • Develop a life-long LOVE of learning
  • FEEL better every day—enjoying subjects they’re passionate about learning in ways that actually make sense to them
  • Develop healthy friendships no matter what their personality type because they are spending every day with other kids who either love what they love, or have similar or complementary personality types
  • Emerge from high school with more specialized and focused knowledge about certain subjects than today’s bachelor’s degree graduates
  • Be equipped psychologically to succeed in interpersonal relationships

Maybe there would be less violence. Less crime. Less underage alcohol consumption and drug use. Less sexual misconduct.

I know there would be a bunch of healthier, smarter kids, and that they’d be in position to tackle adulthood with focus and confidence.

Because the two most important aspects of life success are the ability to: Learn How to Learn and Maintain Healthy Relationships.

I didn’t learn either because of school.

Hell. I didn’t learn them at all.

Let’s Teach People How to Treat Others and Succeed in Relationships

Right now, we preach platitudes.

“Treat others as you wish to be treated!”

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”

“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?”

“Be a leader, not a follower!”

“You can do anything you put your mind to!”

Kids don’t really hear it because the words ring hollow when they’re snickering at that kid who just spilled something down his shirt in the cafeteria, or when they’re actually the kid being laughed at.

Those are throwaway comments parents and educators make without spending much time effectively explaining what any of that really means.

All kids know (at least the non-valedictorian-track ones) is that some asshole is droning on and on and on and on about The Grapes of Wrath or Obtuse triangles or Cirrus cloud formations or Musical scales or The War of 1812 or the Anatomy of bullfrogs or Past participles, and in most cases NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.

And you can’t make them. You can’t. It’s not their fault.

They’re thinking about making the basketball team or cheerleading squad or about that cute boy/girl they like in study hall or ANYTHING that actually matters to them.

I have spent my entire professional life punching a keyboard and stringing words together to tell stories or market products. And I didn’t take my first typing class until I was 16, and I didn’t take a writing class until I was 20, and I’ve never had a marketing class in 36 years even though that’s how I make money.

That means, I’m all for general knowledge, and would never suggest not having some general knowledge-based courses in my rad school (where they would be taught differently depending on a particular group of students). But can we all agree that learning about The War of 1812 and obtuse triangles (both of which I’d have to Google for a refresher) failed to help me with things I think are infinitely more important like: How to Succeed at Interpersonal Aspects of Marriage, How to Know you Have ADHD so You Don’t Ruin Relationships, How to Build a Professional Network and Why it Matters, Why Honest Conversations About Sex Are Important, How to Make Her (or Him, if that’s your thing) Ache for You, The Mathematical Implications of Debt Elimination, The Mathematical Implications of Buying vs. Renting Real Estate, The Short- and Long-Term Value of Exercise, How You Might Get Smarter and Make More Money Not Going to College.

You get the idea.

Things that actually help you.

We didn’t have search engines when I was in elementary school. So it’s not fair for me to be as critical of the 1988-version of American education as I will be on today’s.

We don’t teach kids what they really need to know to have mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally healthy lives. Some get lucky. Most don’t.

But it sure seems like we’re wasting a lot of time and resources teaching kids things they could learn by reading one article and watching one YouTube video in a matter of seconds. Isn’t knowing how to find information every bit as valuable as memorizing something?

If you can remember the atomic number for carbon, and it takes me 10 seconds to find the answer on my phone, does that knowledge have ANY value outside of a post-apocalyptic world where my phone doesn’t work and we’re arguing about the Periodic Table?

I submit (for anyone not working in a lab who would ALREADY know it because they actually care and use the information routinely) it does not.

Let’s Teach People How to Learn

In 2015, we have virtually unlimited information at our fingertips.

It’s hard for me to understand why we’re asking kids to memorize textbooks, take timed math tests, and regurgitate answers to questions that will have ZERO bearing on any aspect of their lives weeks from now, let alone in adulthood when life tends to start throwing punches.

Tim Ferriss calls it “meta learning.”

One of the coolest lessons: The Pareto principle—otherwise known as the 80/20 rule. It’s the theory that 80 percent of virtually any situation is determined by just 20 percent of the input. (Examples: 20% of workers produce 80% of results, or 20% of customers create 80% of sales.)

It’s not a law. It’s a guide.

Take learning a new language as another example. In English, just 300 words make up 65% of all written material.

That means, if you learn those 300 words, you can communicate (effectively, if imperfectly) with English speakers.

The same is true for all foreign languages. Learn the magic 300 words (and there are tips and tricks and tools for doing that too), and now you can passably write and speak new languages at a relatively high level.

It’s a good example of learning HOW to learn. Something we didn’t learn in school, and something we’re not teaching today’s students.

There are effective ways to learn HOW to do everything. And I think if we paired thoughtful curriculum with optimized lessons (visually for visual learners, audibly for auditory learners, and through physical interaction for kinesthetic learners), we just might be onto something.

In fact, I’m pretty sure at my school, it’s the summer and winter breaks kids would dread most.

Now, where’d I put that magic wand?

A special thanks to today’s Daily Prompt for inspiring this post.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Maybe Pain and Misery is the Only Way

guy at bar alone

(Image/ThatBestMan.com)

I was drinking a lot of vodka to numb the pain.

Not scary amounts. Nothing dangerous. But I was using alcohol medicinally for the first time and that’s probably bad.

But when you feel jacked up on the inside and everything hurts no matter what, and you’re so scared about tomorrow because for the first time you don’t have any sense of what the future might look like, you only have so many options.

I didn’t want to die, even though that’s the one thing I stopped fearing.

I tried to have fun, but when the brokenness is inside you, it comes with you to parties and friends’ houses and holiday gatherings even when it’s not invited.

Sleeping sounds good. But when every night your subconscious delivers a highlight reel of your wife with someone else, even falling asleep starts to scare you.

So I drank a little. Two or three vodka drinks in an ice-filled tumbler. Feeling sorry for myself. Binge-watching Netflix, but not digesting the escapist fare not doing its job.

I missed them so much—my wife and son. And the only relief seemed to be the nights my little boy was home with me. But when he was home, it meant she was with him. More unwanted highlight reels—my mind concocting vivid X-rated scenes I didn’t find arousing.

I puked a lot.

I finally knew what it meant to be a broken person.

Two things happened when I started blogging in late June 2013.

The first was that writing stuff down helped me feel better. Tangibly. Like a miracle, even though the psych community had been touting the merits of doing so for as long as I could remember. I don’t always believe things until they happen to me.

The second was that a bunch of people started writing me telling me they felt the same way. Men would write me to say they’ve been where I am, or that they were going through it also. And when you find someone who really understands you, you heal even more. Even if they’re faceless strangers on the internet. Women would write me because they were married to, or dating, men who were behaving in ways I identified as the likely cause of my divorce.

And every one of those women still emotionally invested in their relationship had one obvious question: “How did you figure this out, and what can I do to help my husband understand what you now seem to?”

Divorce is the Worst and I Can’t Be the Only One Who Thinks So

I didn’t think: Hey, I know! I’ll write about divorce stuff!

I actually thought: Maybe it will be interesting to write about being freshly divorced and single with a young child and trying to build a new life. There will probably be some hilarious dating stories!

My ill-conceived attempt to journal my dating experiences quickly turned into something else. It turned into a written journey of self-reflection while I tried to find an answer to the questions: What did I do to cause this? What could I have done differently? What will it take to make sure it never happens again?

And as the comments continued to pour in from damaged spouses (mostly wives struggling to connect with their husbands while feeling emotionally abandoned), this seemingly inconsequential slice of the internet developed a meaningful purpose.

To make people realize they weren’t alone. Husbands. Wives. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. Straight. Gay. Everyone has their own tragic love story.

Everyone wants to love and be loved.

And everyone wants to know the secret: How do I find that Happily-Ever-After kind of love?

The kind where it always feels good.

The kind where it always feels safe.

The kind that lasts forever.

Whether your soul has been infected by the worst kind of marital fuckness, or your heart simply aches for someone who is always just out of reach, love—the kind attached to marriage and dating and sex—hurts. Badly.

It’s the kind of pain you have to numb or tough out until time heals you because there are no simple fixes.

And no one makes a scar cream capable of erasing this kind.

It’s the Pain

That’s what makes us change.

The pain.

When we’re kids, we learn not to touch hot surfaces or play with sharp knives or avoid hard impacts, because when we are burnt, cut or struck, we feel pain and learn to try and avoid it.

I lived my life having exclusively positive relationships with girls. I was nice. I didn’t toy with people emotionally. And pretty much everyone I’ve dated has liked me after we stopped.

I think it might be that simple.

Hey wife! Everyone likes me! I’m friends with everyone I used to date! No one else EVER complains about me! So tell me why I should believe you’re not the one with the problem?

It’s not illogical. It’s damn near the scientific method—a systematic and logical approach to forming the (incorrect) conclusion that you are NEVER responsible for anything bad, and that you’re always a victim! Because you didn’t MEAN to do anything wrong!

I think most women think most men are: Selfish, dense, lazy (about activities that don’t interest them), and insensitive.

I think most men think most women are: Emotionally volatile, illogical, unfair, inconsistent, and ungrateful (because his flaws are constantly under scrutiny, while he never hears praise—which he craves—for all of his positive contributions).

I think women think this because it’s really hard for her to imagine how his brain works. She assumes his brain functions like hers, thus he must be mean and stupid.

I think men think this because it’s really hard for him to imagine how her mind and body work. He assumes she thinks and feels—mechanically—in a way that’s similar to him. Thus, she must be hormonal and crazy.

She says something to him that makes perfect sense, but he doesn’t get it.

He fires back with a perfectly valid point of his own, but she doesn’t get it.

The two translators are INCAPABLE of comprehending what the other is saying. Even more importantly, the man is befuddled by her reaction because what he just said would result in a way different reaction from him. The woman is totally confused about him not getting it because she’s speaking very clearly about this thing she KNOWS she is experiencing and he’s not validating it. He’s not admitting it’s true.

She feels a combination of rage and heartbrokenness and fear.

He feels a combination of shame and confusion and frustration.

Often he will feel better soon if he just gets some time alone to think about something else. He’ll come back later ready to hug, apologize and have make-up sex.

But she WILL NOT feel better if she’s left alone. She won’t think about something else. She’ll think about this and the 50 previous fights that were just like this one. She’s afraid he doesn’t love her anymore, and she’s questioning the long-term stability of the relationship which makes her feel afraid, and she feels totally disrespected and invalidated. So the hugs and apologies start to feel empty and meaningless after a while.

And she doesn’t want to have sex because he doesn’t make her feel safe, loved or wanted anymore.

It’s happening all over the world. Right now.

It’s happening to one of you. Right now.

And it ends in piles of shit and misery. Always. You either split up. One of you has an affair. Or you spend years feeling resentful toward the person you’re supposed to love, and like a prisoner in your own life.

And You Have to Want More Than That

You have two other options.

One is stay single. And it does seem easier and less complicated. But we get lonely and we crave companionship and most of us like orgasms. Preferably with other people. So, almost inevitably it seems, we seek partnership.

And for that to work, there’s only one option: Learning best practices for marriage or long-term relationships that last a lifetime.

It’s not so different than learning skills in a particular sport or hobby or profession.

The problem is, most people think they have it all figured out like I did. They’re “smart.” Everything will be totally fine!

And they take for granted that it won’t always be fine. And once it starts to get really hard because one of you lost your job, or because your house is financially underwater, or because of health problems and medical bills, or because someone really close to you dies—most people lack the knowledge and skills and emotional resolve to get through it.

More fighting. More affairs. More divorce.

More guys who don’t figure out what happened. More women wondering how they’re ever going to trust another man, because they all seem the same. More children who bury pain and put on a happy face around mom and dad who they secretly wish were still together.

It’s really hard to do what it takes to love another person more than yourself.

It’s really hard to put your spouse’s needs ahead of your own, and statistically challenging to find a partner willing to do the same in return.

It’s really hard to admit you’re part of the problem. Perhaps the biggest part.

Even the most unselfish of us still feel What’s in it for me? from time to time.

“Hey Matt! How did you figure this out? How can I get my husband to figure out what you did?”

I think there’s probably an effective way on the front end of marital problems. A way for men and women to proactively bolster their marriage so that the foundation is unshakable when the hits eventually come.

And I’m still trying to figure out what that is.

In the meantime, the answer to your question is: The pain.

Waking up every day and asking: What can I do to help my wife have the best day possible and know that I love her? (along with seeing your children every day) is the OBVIOUS choice over the gargantuan pile of shit divorce dumps on your life. You’re ashamed. You lose confidence. You have less money. You miss your children. You miss companionship. You miss the person who was your best friend, even though you can barely remember what that version of them was really like. You miss having a sexual partner. You miss holidays feeling special. You miss in-law family events you’re no longer invited to. You miss your friends who you always spent time with as a couple.

And you miss yourself.

The person you used to know when you looked in the mirror.

The one who didn’t feel as if they failed at the most important thing that ever happened to them.

I don’t know how to make men feel and respond as I did. As I do.

I only know how to write these things down.

Maybe for someone, that can be enough.

Even if that someone is just me.

And even if I no longer need the vodka.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

In the Trailer Park with Elise and a Deaf Man

Woman piano player

(Image/Mike Kemp)

I lived in an Iowa trailer park.

Mom always called it a “mobile home,” and fondly remembers it as being “the nicest one in the neighborhood.”

I have no idea whether that’s true. Little kids don’t think about things like that.

I’d sit atop my favorite blanket spread out in the living room and play with my Star Wars and He-Man toys. I was 3 years old.

My mother sat on the bench in front of our upright piano—probably our finest possession—playing beautifully, despite the handicap of having small hands consistent with her short stature.

I’m sure my mother played many things on the piano.

But I only remember one: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise, a common choice of beginning pianists. I didn’t know the name of the piece until I was in my 20s. This version is gorgeous:

Near as I can tell, this is my oldest memory.

What are our lives, if not a collection of memories? And if this is my oldest one, what must it be worth?

Save the things we cherish today—right this second—what could be worth more?

I cried and begged my mom not to make me take naps, staring and poking at the bottom of the top bunk which no one ever slept in.

I sobbed when she threw away my blanket because the stitching had come undone on the binding.

I developed anger issues when my parents later divorced and mom moved us 500 miles to Ohio.

But there is no amount of sadness, anger or pain that can erase those moments with mom at the piano.

Everything was—really and truly—okay.

I didn’t worry about what people thought of me, or how to make more money, or whether I’ll ever meet a girl who will like me, and who I like back.

I was just there. Just being. Pure and innocent and totally content.

With my mom who would make it okay. With my dad who would come home from work later and play Star Wars with me.

And with this piece of music. Magic.

Just a footnote on the list of Beethoven’s best work. One he chose not to publish for the final 17 years of his life.

Maybe he thought it was shitty. Maybe he thought it would never matter to anyone.

I wonder what he’d think of that score being an endearing and enduring memory of some random stranger on the other side of the world more than 200 years after writing it.

He probably wouldn’t care.

But I’d like to believe the implications would make him feel good about his impact on the world.

Beethoven is famous for being deaf.

He wrote some of the world’s most influential musical pieces between age 30 and his death at 56, totally unable to hear any of it.

What’s the equivalent of that? A fragrance maker who can’t smell? A photographer who can’t see? A choreographer who can’t walk?

The story of Beethoven’s accomplishments in music following his hearing loss (which happened gradually—he wasn’t completely deaf until around age 30) is the ultimate retort for anyone offering excuses for why they can’t achieve success in their life pursuits.

He was shy. Socially awkward. Ill-tempered. And had, according to various biographies, an “unfortunate physical appearance.”

Women apparently didn’t want to have sex with, or marry, him.

The lonely genius.

So he poured himself into his art, producing many of the world’s most famous symphonies, which are still heard today—more than two centuries later.

A deaf man wrote music that people absolutely adore 200 years later. I don’t have an adjective for how astounding that is.

Even though Beethoven never married, he still had feelings. A love letter he never sent to a married woman named Antonie Brentano was found after his death.

Für Elise is linked to a couple different women, but there’s no direct evidence he was in love with them.

Beethoven’s loneliness is worth contemplating. Here’s a man so famous that every classically educated person on the planet has heard of him. He was admired and beloved while still alive despite being a prickly cock to most in his life.

We all know somebody like that. Except the one we know is a retired electrician or factory worker, and not very many people will remember them after they die because they didn’t leave behind anything of value.

They didn’t leave behind anything beautiful.

Not like this. This ode to Elise.

Beethoven was dead 40 years before ANOTHER guy named Ludwig found Für Elise and published it.

This musical composition is an afterthought.

If any hardcore classical music fans read this, they’ll probably think the score is low-level bullshit compared to Beethoven’s—and his genius German musical predecessors, Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—most influential work.

You know how popular albums always have three or four songs everyone knows, surrounded by songs most people have never heard or care to?

It’s super-common for my favorite songs to be among those lesser-known titles. It’s either because I have amazing taste that most plebs could never understand, or because I’m the trailer-park rube who likes crappy things that will never be popular.

Both are possible.

I can listen to Für Elise on repeat for hours, as I have through this entire writing.

I don’t know how the world hears it. Maybe people think it’s silly that I don’t prefer Beethoven’s 5th or 9th symphonies.

Maybe dudes who lived in Iowa trailer parks can’t tell the difference between good and great.

I only know this:

My mother didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 while He-Man was riding Battle Cat, or while Luke was lightsaber-fighting Vader back when the good guys always won.

She didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 back then. Before the whole world changed, and everything went from safe and perfect to something else. To something unsteady.

But mom did play Für Elise 33 years ago, and it was beautiful. And even now, when it’s playing, it’s almost like nothing bad could ever happen.

It’s almost as if everything is going to be okay no matter what.

Maybe because it is.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

My Gaydar is Broken

gaydar

I thought Dave wanted to be my friend.

Fine by me. I’m friendly and stuff, and pretty much everyone I know locally already had plans or couldn’t come out. Dave, sitting at the bar to my left, introduced me to Leslie, a woman 25 years my senior, sitting to my right. Dave and Leslie are both 60-ish and know each other.

Leslie’s a widow and she owns the bar across the street from the one where we were sitting.

We had lively conversations about local economic development projects and future plans and how those were impacting residents and local business owners.

We had lively conversations with others nearby. A pretty blonde who thought a little too highly of herself named Marisa suggested Dave should date her mom. A pretty brunette named Becca tends bar at another nearby place and she remembered my name but I didn’t remember hers.

Dave asked questions about what I did professionally. I work in the corporate office of a large company just outside of town. And me and two partners have a start-up agency that’s finally getting a little traction.

I handed over a card.

He asked whether I’d be interested in attending Chamber of Commerce networking events.

Sure, I said.

He said he’d be in touch about it.

Cool, I said.

We moved across the street to Leslie’s bar. More drinks. More fun. More laughs.

Everything seemed normal.

My house is pretty close, and I got home around 1 a.m. For venturing out alone on a Friday, which I rarely do, I’d had fun.

Dave sent me a text the following week asking whether I wanted to go to a business-networking event downtown.

I didn’t have plans. My son was at his mom’s. I like talking about my new business and passing out cards. And I like beer. Of course I wanted to go.

There’s a scenic riverfront pedestrian walkway where I live closed to traffic, and I met Dave at one of the local businesses there which was hosting the Chamber event. I had a few beers. Met economic development officials. Met business owners. Talked, as people do, about how our businesses might be able to help each other.

Yet another local bar/restaurant—the one where Becca, the pretty brunette works—was celebrating its two-year anniversary with outdoor live music, and food and drink specials. It was just a short two-minute walk away.

Do I want to go?, Dave asked, because some of his friends were down there.

Of course I do. The alternative is going home to hang out alone. I always choose fun and people over that.

Pints of beer kept flowing. I met two very nice elderly married couples who have been friends with Dave for as long as I’ve been alive. One was celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary. We had alcohol-infused conversations about marriage, and everyone got to hear the Cliff’s Notes version of what I’ve come to believe about why my marriage failed, and why I think many marriages fail.

The patio environment was festive. The live music was excellent. The laughs were plenty. The drinks were delicious.

The two couples took off around 9 p.m. and I agreed to have one more drink inside the bar with Dave before going home because I had housework to do.

I chatted with a pretty 48-year-old named Renee who looked much younger than she was, but is nonetheless a little too old for me.

When my glass was empty, it was time to go. I shook hands with Dave, thanked him for inviting me to the Chamber event and introducing me to his friends, and said I’d see him next time.

Sending Mixed Signals

I didn’t know it at the time, but sending the text was a mistake.

I finished my work, and it was just before 10, and being at the bar with people was so much more fun than being home alone.

“Yo. Are you still at the bar?” I texted to Dave.

“Yes,” he wrote back.

“Cool. I’m coming back. My chores didn’t take as long as I thought. Bars are more fun than my empty house. Be back in 10 minutes or so. That woman I was talking to. Her name is Renee. You should go talk to her and her friend.”

I got back to the bar when I said I would. The ladies had left. Dave and I had another drink while he gauged my interest in the Thursday Night Football game on TV. Denver was playing Kansas City.

I told him I’m a pretty big football fan, but that it doesn’t rule my life as much as it did 10 years ago. That marriage and having a son had changed my priorities, particularly after my individual interests started negatively affecting my marriage.

He asked whether I’d like to go check out another bar. One I said I’d never been to even though I’d lived in town close to 10 years.

Sure. I like new places.

It was an old townie bar with an old townie bartender named Lester.

But the beer was cheap, the football game was on, and the Thursday night regulars were friendly.

It was about 11:30 p.m. the first time it happened.

Everyone was laughing and having a good time, and after I made a joke that earned a few laughs, Dave, sitting to my left, took his index finger and forcefully drug it down the length of my forearm. Like, from my elbow to my wrist.

I didn’t react, because funny things happen when people are drinking and I generally try to be cool.

But then, a few minutes later, Dave did it again.

He took his index finger, and drug it down my arm in a way that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than: “Surprise! I’m gay and trying to fuck you!”

Dave’s a nice guy. I like him. Being a dick didn’t feel like the right play. I calmly looked him in the eye with a look on my face that I thought clearly conveyed straightness, and said: “C’mon now, Dave.”

Not Come on, please do that again, big boy. More like Come the fuck on, dude. What have I done—EVER—to suggest that I’m either, A. gay, or B. want to have gay sex with you right now?

It was officially awkward. I sat there having a HOLY SHIT, I’ve been sitting with Keyser Soze this entire time moment, replaying the evening’s events in my head and realizing that Dave’s friends, the people he knew here in the townie bar, and Dave himself, probably thought we were on a date.

And that by texting him after I’d gotten home and coming back to hang out probably sent the most mixed of mixed signals, ever.

This isn’t the first time a gay man tried to sleep with me. But it was the first time I was completely blown away by how poorly I’d misjudged the situation.

I pride myself on my awareness and powers of observation. On my ability to communicate. And I feel strongly that my conversations about marriage, combined with my totally observable talks with the self-absorbed blonde, the name-remembering-savant bartender, and the eye-fucking 48-year-old conveyed an adequate amount of heterosexuality.

But, no.

Gay Dave was having none of it.

He did the weird finger rub down my arm a third time, and added his right shoe on top of my left shoe, and sort of pressing down and moving it back and forth as if I hadn’t already gotten the message.

I gave him another “Dave,” with a cut-that-shit-out-right-now,-please look.

I pointed to the clock: 11:53, and told him and townie bartender Lester it was time for me to go. I signed the bar tab. Thanked Dave again for the invitation, and went home, trying to figure out what I’d said or done over the course of two pretty long hangouts to give him the impression I was available for, or interested in, man love.

The following afternoon, he sent me a text apologizing for keeping me out late and being a negative influence on me, but not for the bizarre and unwelcome arm strokes and footsie maneuvers.

I didn’t know what to write back, so I never did.

And neither did he.

Seriously, I just thought Dave wanted to be my friend.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: