Monthly Archives: November 2015

Can We Trust Ourselves After Divorce?

steel bars

Swords aren’t swords until they’ve been tempered and formed.

You know it when you hear a song.

You know it when you take a drink, read a book, or see a piece of art.

You know it when you have a new experience, or travel for vacation, or attend a party.

There is rarely ambiguity: It was either good or bad. You either liked the experience or didn’t.

We spend our entire lives trusting our own judgment. Sometimes there’s risk assessment involved—Can I get through this yellow stoplight before it turns red? Sometimes it’s as simple as trusting the colors we see, and the words we hear, and our spatial awareness as we constantly move around, and our memory of—everything (who we are, where we live, the best route to work, 3+7=10, and our phone number).

We spend our entire lives trusting that the things we see, hear, touch and experience are real. That we’re not insane.

And unless we are totally and completely crazy, everything (except for all the silly things we make up in our heads out of fear and insecurity) we experience reaffirms constantly that we can trust ourselves.

I was always right.

I mean, lighting that 101-proof shot on fire and drinking it in college showed poor judgment.

And I probably should have realized more quickly that Gay Dave was trying to sleep me that one time.

And sometimes I miscalculate stuff and suffer consequences large and small for doing so.

But mostly? I was always right.

The grass really is green. I caught the football because I correctly guessed where it would end up and my hands did what they needed to in less than a second to not drop it. I always remember my birthday and social security number and address and telephone number.

When I do X, good things happen. When I do Y, bad things happen. I know the difference. I can trust myself.

I think most of us are pretty good at this. Every second of our lives, we exercise judgment, and we’re mostly rewarded for it by virtue of not being dead.

But Then Something Happens

I have no idea what.

One time I got super-intoxicated and got out of bed in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and that’s when my wife started yelling at me, which was REALLY annoying because Leave me alone while I’m relieving myself! I really have to go! before waking up enough to realize I had just peed all over a bunch of my own clothes hanging in my closet.

That was life-changing in that it was the first documented instance of me losing total control of myself. Proof that I can’t always trust myself.

But not even that did it.

My marriage ended.

Not in some explosive, dramatic sort-of way. It was—for me—an imperceptibly slow death by a thousand pinpricks I didn’t recognize until there was no going back.

And after 34 years, everything in my life I felt sure of went up in smoke. I freaked out. And there are a lot of reasons people freak out when their marriage ends. But one of the reasons doesn’t get talked about very much. For many people, divorce is the thing that shatters our illusion of good judgment. Once you have invested all of your time and money and dreams and future plans in a failed marriage, you realize something terrifying: I can’t trust myself anymore.

At first I was all jacked up and didn’t even know who I was looking at in the mirror. I sort of looked like me, but my insides told me everything I needed to know: I WASN’T ME ANYMORE.

And that shakes you. Hard. You don’t even get to be the old you again once you lose your I-can’t-trust-myself-virginity. That person is gone forever.

And then you wake up every day a little less sure of yourself.

You’re scared when you used to be brave. You’re insecure when you used to be confident.

You engage in self-loathing and self-destructive behavior because fuck everything.

The Next Chapter

Other life trauma can trigger the terrifying I-can’t-trust-myself-anymore feeling, but for those experiencing it because of divorce, many people insanely, but understandably, try to date while they’re totally messed up and unable to recognize their own reflections.

It’s because people enjoy being kissed by someone who likes them, and being alone all the time feels lonely and foreign to people accustomed to marriage and companionship.

Fools rush in.

We see it all the time. That shit usually crashes and burns.

Others harden their hearts because of anger.

And others build walls around them because nothing feels scarier than going through that again.

But time marches on, and stuff that used to hurt stops hurting. Things, just, get better. Like magic.

If you just keep breathing and stay alive, the pain resides, the fear lessens, and our smiles return.

We’re not our old selves anymore. We can never be.

But we start living again. We start feeling again. And, even though it seemed impossible just a couple years ago that we could ever be with someone else, it starts to feel possible.

We meet people we like. Sometimes we sabotage it. Maybe for good reasons. Maybe for bad ones.

More time.

More people.

When it’s time to make a decision, how will we know?

When life teaches you unequivocally that you can’t trust yourself, how can you trust yourself? When there’s so much at stake? When there’s so much to lose?

And then I look around. My fingers almost always hit the right keys. I hear the music. I feel the keyboard. I see the sky, and I’m smart enough to know it’s not really blue, but that light refracting off a zillion air particles makes it look that way to our eyes even if I don’t have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads proving it in a dangerously awesome and random color-science demonstration.

I don’t think we ever get to fully trust ourselves again. I think it’s probably always scary now.

You can’t buy heartache insurance. You can’t sign up for a membership to the Easy Life Club. You can’t be assured nothing bad will happen tomorrow.

You only know that, no matter what, you can handle it.

How will we know?

I don’t think we ever know. But I know we never fly without taking the leap.

So maybe now it’s not about trust anymore.

Maybe now, it’s about faith.

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No Bullshit: Gratitude Changes Everything

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If you’re anything like me (and pretty much every other person, ever) you have countless memories of looking forward to getting or achieving something, and how awesome it feels for the following five seconds before you totally take it for granted and start wanting something else.

THIS IS WHY YOUR RELATIONSHIPS FAIL.

This is why you feel a little depressed and unfulfilled.

This is why even though we have nice cars and smartphones and HDTVs and houses and good jobs and attractive partners and beautiful children and awesome friends and supportive families, we STILL want more shit.

Like most things, this sucky part of the human condition is not without its perks. Without a predisposition toward achievement, humanity would have died off eons ago from disease and lion attacks because cavemen would have discovered how to make fire and just stopped trying new things forever.

The cost of ambition is the destruction of internal peace and contentment. Of our individual pursuits of happiness.

It has a name, and I didn’t know it until today: Hedonic adaptation.

It is the psychological phenomenon of boredom and dissatisfaction taking hold over time as we adjust to positive life changes.

It’s why the person who gives you intense crushy tummy butterflies and lusty pulses of orgasmic euphoria can turn into your feel-nothing roommate just a few years, or even months, later.

It’s why your brand-new car from a couple years ago from which you once handpicked the occasional pet hair from the carpet, is now sufficiently unclean and fails to deliver those fun I’m-proud-to-drive-this! feelings when you climb in.

It’s why no material thing or salary increase or lifestyle change IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE has ever capably delivered long-term happiness to the person unaware of the dangers of hedonic adaptation (which I’m pretty sure is more than 95 percent of everybody.)

OMG! What Can I Do About It???

There is, literally, only ONE cure for this life-destroying ailment. And that is to actively, deliberately, vigilantly practice gratitude.

Your choice, every day of your life, is: Really and truly feel thankful for all of the great things in your life OR suffer a slow descent into miserable shittiness.

That’s not an exaggeration. Remember when P. Diddy was wearing those silly Vote or Die! shirts, and we were all like: “WTF, Puff Daddy!? Are you and The Family going to murder non-voters!? That seems like an overreaction! Ohhhhhhh. You just mean, voting is really important and we should all do it, and you chose that slogan to spread the message? Got it now! Sorry, but that’s stupid. You don’t die when you don’t vote, because we would totally hear about that in the news.”

Anyway. This gratitude stuff is nothing like that. I’m more right about this than Puffy was about the voting/death correlation. Please don’t listen to him, unless it’s his track “Victory” with Notorious B.I.G. because that shit was mad rare.

Find a way to say “Thank you” and really feel, deep in your heart and soul, genuine gratitude that your life doesn’t suck and is actually quite blessed.

“But, Matt! My life DOES suck right now!”

I’m totally putting my hands up right now in the universal sign language for “Fair enough.” I get it. I’m a whiny turd every time something doesn’t go my way, too. It’s because I haven’t mastered this gratitude thing yet and forget how good I really have it.

I forget EVERY DAY.

Right now, a woman in some faraway place is holding her dying child because of the trickle-down effect of not having sanitary drinking water in her village.

Someone else doesn’t know how to read. Someone else can’t find employment. Someone else will get shot or sexually assaulted walking in his or her neighborhood today. Someone else has a child with a terminal illness.

Others can’t pay the electric bill.

Others have no car.

Others have no home.

Others have zero people who love them.

I whined a little yesterday because I got stuck in traffic for, like, 30 minutes, and everything worked out fine.

My 7-year-old asked whether I wanted him to starve to death because his stomach was rumbling before dinner.

Tomorrow, even though I’m a thoughtful eater portion-wise, I am still likely to throw away more food than millions of people scattered throughout the world have available to them.

If You Don’t Start Now, You’ll Forget and Stay on the Hedonic Treadmill (and that’s bad)

I know it sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy bologna.

I know.

But this is real. And if you (and I do this constantly, so I have to believe everyone else does too) ever say or think: “When X, Y and Z happens, EVERYTHING is going to be different and I’ll finally be happy!!!” it means you’re an unwitting prisoner on the Hedonic Treadmill. Just running and running and running and never getting anywhere. Just like me.

It’s time to get off.

We celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States tomorrow. The day where most people remember to say “Thank you!”

Please remember to say Thank you.

Just maybe, all that gratitude will be contagious.

And just maybe, if we catch it, it will save our lives.

(Note: A massive Thank You to Amit Amin at Happier Human for all the great content that contributed to this post.)

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When Someday Gets Here

someday

(Image/riereads.blogspot.com)

I used to believe depression was code for “weak,” and that criers were wimpy losers.

I had heard of people described as “broken,” but I didn’t know what that meant.

Then I lost everything that really mattered to me, and I broke. So now I know what that means, and that if crying is wimpy loserdom, I was a huge wimpy loser, and that if depression is weakness, then I was the opposite of strong.

It taught me one of life’s most critical and valuable lessons: empathy.

Now, when someone is grieving, I can more accurately guess how they’re feeling and am better equipped to support them.

Now, when someone is crying, I know they shouldn’t feel shame, and that it might just be years and years of bottled-up shit coming out in an inevitable and psychologically necessary purge.

Now, I know what’s really at stake. Inside of a person. Now I know the importance of taking off masks in relationships. Of a good night’s sleep. Of the support of family and friends. Of health and wellness. Of peace.

When the lights are off, and it’s just you laying in the silent darkness. Just you. Not the one wearing any of the masks we sometimes wear at work or school or church or socially or on dates or whenever because we’re so afraid of people seeing the real us and running away or pointing and laughing or telling us we’re not good enough.

When the lights are off, and it’s just you? When you take a deep breath, and smile, and feel good, because you like and respect yourself? There is no amount of money we would trade that for. Because there is no thing in this world that can heal that brokenness. When you come apart internally, you feel it every second of every day no matter where you are.

There is nowhere to hide.

People try to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs or money or sex or other escapism. But it just follows you around because wherever you go, there you are, which is, I think, why people sometimes kill themselves. Because maybe then the hurt will finally stop.

Learning about that hurt—and what it really means to be a broken person—changed everything for me. Forever. There’s no going back after that. There’s who you were before, and who you are now. And they’re not the same.

There’s Always Someday to Look Forward To

One of the best things about writing this blog was the discovery that so many other people knew the same pain.

People here got it. People here really understood. It helped. It mattered. I’m not the only one.

One of the worst things about writing this blog more than two years later is that I’ve crawled through the shit, and now I’m pretty much Andy Dufresne standing fearlessly and triumphantly in the cleansing rain while the thunderstorm rages, but countless others are still desperate to find a way out.

Every day, someone in the throes of despair—someone who can’t even catch their breath—discovers this blog for the first time and finds a guy who was once just like them.

And then sometimes they write me: “I’m so afraid. This hurts so much. How do you make it stop?”

But you don’t make it stop.

You just serve your sentence and bide your time. And when the time is right, you crawl through the shit tunnel just like everyone else had to. No cheats or shortcuts. Just the way. And then you’re less afraid. Because freedom no longer represents the loss of everything you were ever sure of—of everything steady in your life.

On the other side, freedom looks like hope and possibility.

I didn’t get much right in the early days of divorce. But on my darkest days, I always chose hope. That part, I got right.

I’m so afraid. This hurts so much. How do you make it stop?’

It’s good to be afraid, because it’s the only time we ever have the opportunity to choose courage.

It’s good to hurt, because when everything’s broken, it’s the only way you know you’re still alive.

And it’s good that we’re forced to be patient. Because forcing things generally yields undesirable results.

I used to give myself a pep talk to maintain my sense of hope.

And now I find myself giving it to others.

In the context of the human experience, I think it’s one of the most important ideas I’ve ever had.

Someday will eventually get here.

When we feel like we lost everything—when we hit the floor and know it’s rock bottom—we have a few choices.

But there’s only one good one. And that’s holding the following truth close to our heart and remembering to breathe every day, because your only job is to stay alive:

If you just keep breathing, tomorrow always comes. Someday eventually gets here.

Someday. When it doesn’t hurt anymore. When everything will change.

Someday. When something inexplicably beautiful happens.

Someday. When you get to feel like you again, only now you have these superpowers because now you have courage and wisdom and strength that you didn’t have before.

Because of fortitude. Fortitude and breathing and bravely getting out of bed in a brazen attempt to live.

And finally—finally, dammit—you get to look at a puzzle image coming into focus. A picture of your life that helps explain that you could have never gotten to today—to someday—without every single experience before it. Even the bad stuff. Maybe especially the bad stuff.

In my experience, there is very little in this life better than anticipation. Like a child staring at unopened presents under the Christmas tree.

We don’t need much. Air. Food. Water. Shelter. And something to look forward to.

And that’s one of life’s secrets that not enough people think about: We ALL have something to look forward to. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what it looks like or when it will happen.

Someday will arrive. Every single day we wake up, someday is closer.

Sometimes someday arrives. Awesome! But now we have no idea what might happen next. Afraid! Because the unknown is scary. That’s when all that courage and something like fearlessness helps. You earned those things. You earned them by crawling through the shit.

And now the wind, thunder and lightning don’t faze you. I’ve survived worse.

And now the heavy rain feels like an old friend.

Because salvation laid within.

When someday finally gets here.

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The Magic Boner

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(Image/express.uk.com)

Men frequently demonstrate wisdom and foresight to protect future interests.

Saving money for retirement. Physical fitness and healthy eating. Career advancement. Thoughtful real estate and home-improvement investments. Paying for insurance policies.

These things are all done in the spirit of sacrificing now, so that their future lives might be better for having done so.

And it begs the question: For those who showcase this level of forward-thinking, disciplined decision making, why not apply the same logic to our sex lives and marriage?

There are many good reasons for a man to love his wife faithfully.

There are also bad reasons.

I want to believe when guys invest money in engagement rings, and thoughtfully execute marriage proposals, and make the internal decision to swear off other women for the rest of their lives, it is their honest intention to follow through.

I think men aspire to this. Because their fathers married and loved their mothers, and now they want to live up to that same standard, or maybe their fathers DIDN’T, and they tell themselves they’ll never do that to their kids.

My good friend’s dog passed recently. A bulldog. Let’s call him H. Super-close canine pal for the past 12 years. Got him through a difficult divorce. He knew H was struggling and didn’t have much time left. But he felt mentally and emotionally prepared for it, he said.

Then it happened, and it was MUCH harder than he thought it would be.

And I think I know why. I think we have a bunch of moments in life that we anticipate and think about and imagine a certain way. Our minds almost involuntarily predict how it’s going to be, whether it’s a date, high school reunion, wedding reception, business presentation, pet death, or marriage.

But we’re kind of shitty at predicting things. Moreover, when human emotion—specifically pain—is involved, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to know how we’ll feel during this future thing. It’s hard for someone who feels good now to know how they’ll respond to something later when they’re feeling unexpectedly bad.

Men propose to their girlfriends and enter marriage with good intentions, “predicting” that it will always be and feel like it is today. We have a great relationship! She’s the one! Failing to account for all the times (and more importantly, how it will feel) when the relationship is no longer a positive experience.

The good reasons for making marriage last are obvious. But, just in case that’s not enough for you, there’s also a bad reason to make marriage last, and we should talk about it.

Thinking With the ‘Other’ Head 

Men like and want sex. Lots of it. No reason to sugarcoat it.

Don’t tell me how much women like it too. I get it. I know women also like and want sex. But it’s often different with guys. Common is the man that would walk into any busy bar on Saturday night and sleep with any (literally any) woman that passes his Would I sleep with her? pass-or-fail test which probably gets less stringent with each drink. Much rarer is the woman who would do the same.

I don’t know what the adult entertainment industry is raking in these days (I’m totally talking about pornography, by the way), but the numbers are always scary-high. The Rockefellers could have probably just as easily built their fortune on sex films as they did on oil. Those eye-popping dollar amounts have everything to do with men’s appetite for it. (Which I think is bad, and we can talk about why someday.)

Man’s general desire for sex appears to be a root cause for many life choices. How he grooms, how he smells, how he dresses, the cars he drives, the stuff he buys, the way he behaves.

Any choice a guy makes along those lines has EVERYTHING to do with wanting to be sexually attractive. I promise he’s not trying to impress his buddies.

Men totally like sex.

If you’re a woman, you probably know this already from your personal experiences. If you’re a woman currently dating online, you FOR SURE know it, because dudes online are shameless and tactless and fail to exhibit whatever little manners they might in a real-world, face-to-face scenario.

Men sometimes are dishonest with their wives (and girlfriends) about how much they crave sex, and what kinds they like. I think it happens a lot to guys who grew up in conservative families where wholesomeness was a virtue to which everyone aspired. They’re taught their entire lives that premarital sex is bad, and God is mad at them for masturbating at 13, and that sex is only appropriate with their demure wives in the missionary position IF they’re trying to have a baby. They develop weird guilt-shame complexes about sex.

Secretly, they might want to go to European sex parties, or have BDSM dungeon sex, or have a three-way with a couple Asian chicks.

Even conservative guys want infinitely more than Demure Missionary™, but might feel uncomfortable having open and honest conversations with their wives about it. If she knows I’m into this, she’ll think I’m a sexually deviant pervert and won’t love me anymore!

One thing leads to another, and some couples go years without ever having a real conversation about what they want (or need?) from their partner, sexually (and emotionally).

Sex is no longer a positive in their marriage, because even at its best, it’s only moderately satisfying. Wives fantasize about being romanced by the cute guy at work who will spend a little more time doting on her collarbone and inner thighs. Husbands turn to porn and “take care of themselves,” while they fantasize about someone else. Sometimes, their respective fantasies lead to affairs. Even if they don’t, the sexlessness is an eventual marriage killer.

When he proposed to his girlfriend, he was eager to marry her and swear off all others. She wanted him. He felt really good.

Now? Both of them are justifiably sad, confused and angry. The marriage looks nothing like they thought it would.

Sometimes that, combined with months or years of a sexless marriage, lead men to look outside their marriage for sexual relief. They like feeling wanted again. And they justify it because their wives clearly don’t want them anymore. She changed, not me! What did she expect me to do!?

Tomorrow Always Comes

That’s a really long and tedious way of saying: sometimes men cheat on their wives for a variety of psychologically sexual motivations the rest of us often don’t understand.

Whatever the reasons, we should all agree it’s bad to break wedding vows or engage in deceiving our spouses, and that some component of the cheating is rooted in a desire for immediate gratification even at the risk of jeopardizing long-term security.

And the question is: Why? Why so much effort to work hard now and save money for later in this one area of life, but a total disregard for the long term in this other area?

Chump Lady gifted me this thought (and fantastic post title) in one of her posts from last week:

“The Dan Savages of the world would excuse such unilateral decision making (as a response to what they’d blameshift as your unilateral decision to Deny Him Sex), because Sex Is Of Paramount Importance! It trumps considering your partner and his or her health! Obey the Boner! Is cheating “optimal”? No, but hey, the MAN NEEDED SEX!

“Okay, you know what, cheaters? — go for it. Please, fuck the younger woman, the Thai prostitutes, the Craigslist hookups, the slutty co-worker. Do it all in service to Almighty SEX. Make that your paramount value. And good luck later when you need someone to change your colostomy bag. When you’ve traded all your gold for a magic boner — who’s going to love you when you’re old and vulnerable? When your equipment fails? When you’ve invested all those years in the magic boner and not in meaningful relationships — then what?”

And she’s right.

She is.

Tomorrow always comes, guys. Where you’re bald or sick or fat or ugly or can’t get it up anymore.

And all those cheap orgasms you chased? When you’re alone and unloved in your condo? What good did any of it do? What was it worth?

Tomorrow is gonna come, and your wants and needs will shift accordingly. It’s totally possible dying sick and alone with herpes on your penis is a super-fun time. I won’t pretend to know.

But I have to believe growing old with someone who stuck with you through it all, and feeling grateful for her every day, and falling asleep and waking up each day free of guilt and shame, might be a preferable alternative.

With fun holidays. And grandchildren. And self-respect.

Maybe not chasing cheap pieces of ass at the expense of your wife and family isn’t something you want to avoid because of your particular moral bent. Maybe it just doesn’t seem wrong enough to you. Some people seem okay with shooting and blowing up innocent people as much as possible, forcing me to admit there is some human behavior I can never understand.

Maybe “doing the wrong thing” isn’t a big-enough deterrent for you, and never will be. Maybe all the good reasons for excelling at marriage don’t register with you.

But why not, at the very least, give it a shot in the spirit of long-term security and your future self-interests?

Why not do a good job in your marriage for bad reasons?

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Vows, Bullshit and Personal Responsibility

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bonbon2 wrote:

“I don’t think it’s a wife’s responsibility to make husband understand what he should know, he is not a teenager anymore, he doesn’t need to make her wife another mother to him and should grow up and be a sensible adult. It’s not a wife’s duty to educate her husband. It’s not that he doesn’t understand, it’s that he DOESN’T want to understand, and to me it seems a very stupid way to ruin your own marriage like that. If that’s my husband who still needs me to educate him this and that, I would rather get a clean divorce from this man, to save myself some trouble. Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife. I’ve seen too many men doing this and then whining about their wife and their marriage.

Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave. She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution. We are the solution to a happy life.

Wife isn’t dead inside, wife seems dead because she is still in this marriage with him. Once a woman leaves her shitty marriage, she can be herself again because she isn’t dead inside.”

I try hard to not be combative.

Combative people are never happy because they’re always at odds with someone, and never content or satisfied. And if I’ve learned anything valuable in adulthood, it’s that all anyone ever really wants is to be content. Or “happy,” if you prefer. I use them interchangeably.

Sometimes people think: “That’s not true! What I really want is to accomplish my life goals! To have a lot of money! Or to have a great job! Or to have lots of orgasms! Or to have a great relationship! Or the opportunity to make a difference in the world! Or to have a great family! Or to have my dream home and nice cars! Or to get high all the time! Or to travel and have amazing vacations and life adventures!”

Not everyone figures out that they want all those things BECAUSE they—consciously or subconsciously—believe those things will bring them happiness and make them feel good.

Everything—EVERYTHING—we chase in this life is rooted in our internal desire to feel good. To attain peace. To achieve happiness.

Combativeness is a surefire way to always have drama and conflict in our lives and never achieve goals.

But, screw it. Sometimes I make bad decisions.

Some things are stupid. And it’s irresponsible to not point them out.

Silly policies at my son’s school. Ridiculous corporate policies or inefficient workflow at my job. And once in a while? Other people’s observations and opinions.

Sometimes, things are soooooo bullshitty that I just can’t help myself. I just have to shout it from the rooftops: “Wow! Look at that thing over there! It’s REALLY bullshitty! Even more bullshitty than all the regular-sized bullshitty things I see!”

That’s how I feel about bonbon2’s comment above, which was written in response to one of my comments on An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1.

That if you imagine a gigantic—I mean COLOSSAL—mountain of bullshit, you would need beachball-sized bullshit-hail to rain on it nonstop for months to reach the pinnacle of the giant bullshit mountain I’m describing.

I feel like everyone probably gets it now, but just in case you don’t, feel free to go back and read the comment again, and then come back and read the following sentence:

That comment is total bullshit.

Marriage: Before and After, Because There’s a Difference

I’m not suggesting everything this person wrote is patently false. For example, comments like this are right on: “Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife.”

I agree with this one too: “Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave.”

And if we take a few sentences out of context from which they were written, I might agree with them also. But basically every other utterance is total crap.

1. Taking Responsibility Goes Both Ways

Unless you are held at gunpoint in front of a marriage official, suffer amnesia or some type of head trauma that fundamentally changes your conscious self, are married to someone who develops amnesia or experiences life-altering head trauma, or married an intentionally deceptive con artist (which I’ll allow liberal interpretation of, because some guys really are dicks), then you are TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHO YOU MARRY.

Because the vast majority of men do not change much after marriage. In fact, THAT’s a huge part of the problem. Men often crave routine and stability, and want to do the same things over and over again. Bad habits from the single life sometimes remain, and staleness from routine sometimes sets in. Their wives get pissed about the bad habits and ask them to change, OFTEN not getting the response they need or want. That perceived lack of respect, combined with monotonous boredom festers into feelings of loneliness and neglect. As she gets more upset, he withdraws further because it’s how he naturally and chemically responds to conflict with his partner.

The cycle lasts until someone has an affair and/or leaves.

I’m not going to entertain the idea that millions of men are getting married and then fundamentally changing who they are on the inside. The next time I see that will be the first time.

Here’s an idea: Take some fucking responsibility for who you chose to marry. Because you had UNLIMITED time to choose the person you agreed to exchange forever-vows with.

I understand that when we’re young, we can’t know what we don’t know, and that young women aren’t unreasonable for assuming their husbands might evolve and grow in many of the same ways they do in a marriage. It just so happens that in real life, it tends to not work that way.

But I’m not going to stand idly by while angry wives point fingers calling for men to grow up and take responsibility while not taking any themselves.

There ARE victims in this world. You know them based on the facts of an individual’s story. No question, some spouses get TOTALLY screwed. I’ve seen it plenty.

But that’s not what usually happens. What usually happens is two good people get married with the best of intentions and ACCIDENTALLY ruin their marriage through hundreds of little decisions they didn’t know were important at the time.

Our lives are the sum of our choices, from our earliest memories to right this second.

OWN IT.

2. Don’t Take Vows if You Don’t Mean Them

I hate to break it to you, bonbon2, but after you say “I do” and promise all that shit in front of spouse, God and country, it kind of DOES become your responsibility to help your husband be a better husband if that’s what it takes to save your marriage.

bonbon 2 wrote: “She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

“I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution.”

Well, that’s great bonbon2!

You’ve just alleviated every married man or woman of all responsibility for the rest of their lives! Awesome!

Now men can leave their wives guilt-free after gaining weight from childbirth because she didn’t “take responsibility for her physical health” and that doesn’t make him “happy”!

Now every time a wife would like her husband to help her solve a problem, from opening a jar, to fixing the brakes on her car, to properly setting up a new electronic gadget she isn’t comfortable using, he can say: “Sorry babe! I don’t have an obligation to help or educate you! You’re an adult, so you can just figure it out all by yourself! It’s not my responsibility to help you because it sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. I’d rather get divorced since what I’m really responsible for is my own happiness in life!”

For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and health. Until death do us part.

Remember that shit?

DON’T SAY IT IF YOU DON’T MEAN IT.

You don’t have an obligation to educate your boyfriend on what it takes to be a good husband any more than I am obligated to avoid walking into an ISIS camp and calling them assholes.

But when a bunch of bad shit happens afterward, shouldn’t we be big enough to admit our choices were unwise?

Men get things wrong in marriage all the time. And I think if men collectively came to understand what I think I now understand, and then acted accordingly, the divorce rate would drop 80-90 percent.

Men have a HUGE responsibility to help keep families and marrages intact, and that’s what I dedicate much of my writing time to saying.

But I don’t give wives free passes. I just think all the things wives get wrong happen in response to some bullshit their husbands did. So if the husbands get it together, maybe their wives won’t accidentally push them away while trying to make their homes and marriages the best they can be.

Sure, husbands get a lot wrong. I did. And millions just like me are doing the same things right now. I hate it.

But if you’re the kind of person who thinks trying to EFFECTIVELY communicate your wants and needs to your spouse in an effort to educate them on things they might honestly NOT KNOW OR UNDERSTAND is more trouble than it’s worth, then you’re every bit part of the problem.

But feel free to enjoy the view from the top of Mount Bullshit.

Don’t forget to take deep breaths. The air is thinner up there.

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I Might Be a Narcissist

(Image/University of Michigan)

(Image/University of Michigan)

Gill B. asked: I usually hate psychobabble. What’s done (really done) is done, and all that. However on reading these insightful posts through – I wondered if It was at all possible that you have narcissistic personality disorder? The warm, gentle, reasonable, charming, just a lovely decent (abandoned) guy phase?”

I won’t lie. My first reaction to this was: Who the fuck does this guy think he is? (I’m assuming it’s Gill, the male name with a hard “G” sound, and not the nickname for Gillian.)

And then I remembered reading that narcissists are super-defensive and hypersensitive to criticism and I thought: Oh crap. Maybe I AM a narcissist!

I don’t know whether Gill is trying to be helpful, or passive-aggressively making an accusation. In either case, he asks a perfectly fair question: Is it possible that I have narcissistic personality disorder, and maybe that’s why certain things in my life have gone wrong and not for all the reasons I’ve come to believe and/or are still exploring?

I wish he had worded the question differently. Because the phrase “anything is possible” exists because pretty much anything is possible.

Yes. It’s totally possible I’m a narcissist.

I have never, and will never, claim to know anything for sure. I might be living in The Matrix right now. I may be dreaming all this, and will wake up one day to discover I’m a 7,951-year-old alien living on some planet 39 parsecs from the Milky Way. I may be a freaking Who and living on some dust particle on a mega-giant old lady’s rug, and as soon as she invests in a new vacuum cleaner with water filtration, I’ll drown. It’s hard to be certain of anything.

But it’s not hard to take really solid educated guesses at things that hold up to scrutiny and bear out as likely truths over the long haul. Like evaluating trends via massive sample sizes, versus jumping to conclusions based on things that might be anomalies.

Everything I write about is my best attempt at solid educational guessing (or question asking) based on my life experience and observations, the experiences of others based on what I read or am told, and any other information I might have at the time.

So I wish Gill had asked: “Do you think you have narcissistic personality disorder?”

The Potential Narcissist Investigates Himself

(See what I did there? OMG, narcissist!!!)

Snark aside, I try to keep things real. And I like this question because it is a plausible hypothesis for why a seemingly decent guy would end up in the life circumstances I’m in, especially combined with this blog, which Gill might interpret as one, big Hey Everybody! Look At Me! festival.

To conduct my investigation, I did what any self-respecting psychobabbler would do: Base my conclusions on limited, hasty research supplemented by biased opinions from people who like me.

“Do you think you have narcissistic personality disorder?”

No, Gill. I don’t think I have narcissistic personality disorder. For three reasons:

1. My ex-wife would have totally hammered me with that during the most combative periods of our marriage and separation had she believed it.

2. Maybe crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. Maybe psychopaths don’t know they’re psycho. And maybe narcissists don’t know they’re narcissistic. But I work pretty hard at the whole self-reflection thing in an effort to have a better life and not repeat mistakes. And maybe I lack self-awareness, but I don’t think so. And that’s all I have to go on. What I think and feel. (Plus two of my friends were like: “No way, man! I know narcissists, and you’re totally not one!”)

3. I dove into a few online resources on narcissistic personality disorder, and found some good stuff from the Mayo Clinic, where they list the 12 attributes most commonly associated with narcissism:

Many experts use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. This manual is also used by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.

DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

One of the friends whose opinion I sought highlighted (at my request) the bullet points she thought applied to me. She highlighted two of them and qualified them as being “remotely” applicable.

They were “Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate,” and “Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”

And yes. Those things totally apply to me, but I’d need a psych expert to tell me whether my versions of them qualify for checkmarks on the Is This Guy a Narcissist? evaluation form. (You reading, Dr. K? Feel free to be like: “Yeah, dumbass. Near as I can tell, you’re the biggest narcissist, ever, and also I’m dating Gill.”)

Success? Yes. I would really like to be “successful.” I’ve never spelled out exactly what I think that is, but it’s some healthy combination of financial freedom, entrepreneurial success, and at least a few people saying I helped them.

Power? No. If you offered me the U.S. presidency or the head seat at the table of a massive crime family, I would politely decline. My top priority is freedom and flexibility (career-wise), and “power” is somewhat useless to that end, and most likely a hindrance.

Brilliance? Hell yeah! I want to be the smartest I can possibly be! I spent most of my life squandering the educational resources around me and neglecting to pursue knowledge when I was immersed in academia for five years. If I could download every book that interests me into my brain and have the ability to recall all that information on demand? Totally rad superpower.

Beauty? Yes. I absolutely want girls to like me and want to mate. Sue me.

Perfect mate? Ehhh. I don’t know what that means in the context of narcissism. Do I have “high” standards? Probably. But I’m not sure where the flaw is in that life philosophy. I want to be attracted to my partner. I want to have fun with her. I want to be comfortable with her. I want to have long conversations and enjoy being together. I want my son to have an exceptional woman influencing him. I want to share similar life philosophies and shared interests so that, combined with all of those other things, we will have an excellent chance at achieving all the good, and avoiding all the bad, that we talk about in the comments of these posts.

As for having an inability to recognize the needs and feelings of others?

Hell. That’s the entire premise of my Here’s Why Divorce is so Common theory. Guys are oblivious to the needs of their partners, exhibit self-centeredness, and spend years defending themselves against their wives’ charges during arguments because they don’t understand that what she sees and thinks and feels in response to something happening can differ so radically from what he sees and thinks and feels. She always thinks he’s an insensitive asshole. And he always thinks she’s menstruating. Some people finally figure it out, but most don’t.

And it’s not because everyone is a narcissist or because everyone secretly hopes their marriages are horrible and end in painful divorce. It’s because they are accidentally oblivious to the needs and feelings of their partners because NO ONE learns about this stuff at home or school throughout their childhood and teenage years. Many get married in their 20s. All of them experience the consequences of ignorance. Most of them never solve the problem because their partner, by that point, is causing them intense pain, and it goes against our nature to want to invest the rest of our lives in something that only hurts.

Divorce feels easier than the surgery required to hold it all together, so people quit. And when they don’t learn from it, it tends to cycle back around in their future relationships too.

I did a bad job in my marriage, and now I never want to divorce again because it’s unpleasant.

I’m the only person who knows what I do, think and feel when no one’s watching.

And I’m not sure we can trust narcissists to tell us whether they are one.

But Gill asked a fair question, and I wanted to think about it and answer. And if that Mayo Clinic list is an accurate representation of how we’re defining a narcissist, then I really like my chances of not being one.

I have all kinds of problems, Gill. Shortcomings on display in several facets of my life. And everything I think and write about is part of me trying to figure out how to overcome those things, and maybe accidentally helping someone like me along the way.

Maybe narcissistic personality disorder is one of those problems. Anything’s possible.

But do I think so?

No, Gill. I don’t.

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Could the Loss of Tribe be Jeopardizing Your Marriage?

(Image/Carl Fleming)

(Image/Carl Fleming)

Because I’m an only child, my friends have been hugely important to me forever, and I think it was an unidentified factor in my divorce.

From grade school through high school and college, I was immersed in social activity. When I was little, I was playing at friends’ houses. When I was in high school, I was involved in team sports, or part-time jobs or doing things typical of a teenage boy in the mid- to late-‘90s. My college years were unquestionably my favorite from a How I Felt on the Inside standpoint.

I lived with my friends. Good friends. And we were, most of the time, doing whatever we wanted.

Little stress. Tons of laughter. An almost inexplicable amount of social connection, all accomplished without social media which was still a few years away from being a fundamental part of our societal fabric.

We weren’t carrying our challenges alone. Oh, you need your furniture moved from your apartment to a storage unit for the summer? Bam. Here are three or four guys willing to do it at the drop of a hat. Our massive social inner circle in college didn’t consist of many fraternity or sorority members, but if fate or happenstance hadn’t brought us all together—male and female, alike—I can see why students would want to be a part of them. After leaving the safety net of our hometowns and high schools, we crave involvement, acceptance, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Of course we like being with our families. We also like dating and being with our girlfriends or boyfriends. We totally like spending one-on-one time with our closest friends.

But nothing can replace this critical and fundamental part of our lives which has existed for as long as we can remember, and which grows steadily in importance from grade school through the end of our college years.

Our tribes.

Sudden Tribe Loss and Isolation

My negligent ignorance isn’t the only reason my marriage failed. I spent MY ENTIRE LIFE, just, living. I only knew what I knew. And what I knew was: I feel best when I’m with friends—the more, the merrier—and I am a good, happy, confident person. I am well-adjusted with a huge group of friends, supportive family, with the résumé, writing chops and charisma to justify my goal of writing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories at huge daily newspapers.

I had a 21- to 22-year data sample of knowing exactly who and what I was.

And then, in less than one calendar year, most of us graduated and moved away. But even in the end, after so many of the oldest tribe members had gone, we could still round up 40 or more people for a great party any time we wanted. That’s how kick-ass college was.

And then it was my turn.

My girlfriend and I had been together for a year, and we were making long-term plans. We agreed to move to Florida together from our more-than-20,000-student university in Ohio. A decent mid-sized newspaper on Florida’s Gulf Coast hired me for a business-writing gig. My girlfriend took a job at a marketing agency.

Overnight, two 22-year-old kids went from a lifetime of nothing but friends and family and constant involvement and community, to social isolation and nothing but one another to lean on. We were more than a thousand miles away from our hometowns and you could really feel the distance. My eventual wife missed her family desperately and knew within a few months in Florida that she wanted to be back home. And while I missed my family too, I had spent my entire life living apart from either my mother and her extended family, or my father and his extended family, and was emotionally equipped to deal with it.

But I lost something I never imagined a need to account for: The tribe.

We lived in a sleepy retirement community that would probably be amazing today as 36-year-olds, but mostly blew ass as fresh-faced young professionals dealing with culture shock on a variety of emotional, social, professional and financial fronts. We made wonderful friends and did our best, but only flying home for that rare wedding or holiday gathering could ever fill that tribal void.

Everything came to a head at the wedding of one of my best friends. We were tight all the way through high school, and I lived with him for four years of college. My girlfriend and I flew back to attend. I was a groomsman.

Because I had gone to grade school and high school with both the bride and groom, as well as four years of college with the groom, I knew pretty much everyone there. Tons of high school friends. Tons of college friends. Tons of familiar parent and sibling faces. After being away for two years, combined with heavy drinking, it wasn’t hard to get nostalgic.

I’ve written hundreds of times about crying throughout the hardest days of my separation and divorce. This night, as I drunkenly said bye to hundreds of people as they scrambled off to hotels or after-parties or back home, was the first time I remember crying as an adult. And pretty hard, too. Hugging guys goodbye, I mostly kept it together, but I remember riding shotgun in the passenger seat of a car driven by the first friend I made after moving to my hometown when I was just 6. That’s when I broke down. With my girlfriend sitting in the back next to some newlyweds who would end up being our future son’s godparents five years later. It was a drunken, totally embarrassing shit show that still evokes a little bit of shame. But perhaps no moment in my life more clearly emphasizes how critical my tribe was to my life and identity.

I am more me when surrounded by friends and family than under any other circumstances. The me I like most. The me I’m proud of.

Even back in Ohio for the past decade, I still feel that daily void because I’m a couple hundred miles from my hometown family and friends, and more recently with the loss of my large in-law family following the divorce.

I can’t explain it better than it’s written in this excerpt from Why Growing Up Is Hard to Do (But Why the World Still Needs Adults):

Isolation and the Loss of Tribe

“For most adults, the period of life they are most nostalgic for is high school and/or college. The longing for this period is usually chalked up to a desire to return to a time when they weren’t so freighted with life’s responsibilities. Surely that is part of it, but I think the real reason we miss our youth is often overlooked: it was the last time in our lives when we experienced a sense of “tribe.”

In high school and college, most of us had a group of great friends we saw on a daily basis. Many of us ran with a “gang” of guys, that sometimes joined with a posse of gals, forming a coed tribe that was enormously fun to hang out with.

Then, folks grew up, paired off, got hitched, and had kids. Few adults see their friends on a daily basis; the lucky see each other weekly, and for most, scheduling times to get together isn’t easy. It is then no wonder we get nostalgic for our younger days; it represents the last time our lives resembled the primordial pattern.

In hunter-gatherer tribes, male gangs hunted and battled together. Female posses raised their kids together. Everyone lived and worked together each day with dozens of others. Burden and joys were shared. One’s whole identity was tied up in being part of this tribe.

Today, we have never been more isolated. Many folks don’t even live near their extended kin, and the nuclear family is increasingly marooned on the desert island of the suburbs. Men (and women) go off to work in a cubicle with a bunch of fellow employees they may feel no real kinship with. Many women spend all day enclosed in the four walls of their home, cut off from all other humans, save their inarticulate toddler. Many people, male and female alike, are lonely and unhappy because they are without a tribe.

The heavy and undesirable weight of adulthood is often mistakenly chalked up to the burden of adult responsibilities alone. But the problem is not adulthood itself, but how it is currently being carried. The weight of earning a livelihood, and rearing one’s children, which was meant to be borne by numerous shoulders, is now supported by just a pair. Husband and wife rely on one another for all their emotional fulfillment and practical needs. The strain is more than an individual, or the nuclear family, was meant to bear.

So, (another) reason it’s hard to grow up is that the weight of adulthood feels hard to shoulder when you’re carrying it alone, instead of with a tribe.”

The Loss of Tribe and Its Effect on Your Marriage

This wasn’t supposed to be about me. It was supposed to give married or long-term couples something to think about, because I think when we go through major life changes, we are sometimes blind or ignorant to some of the hidden dangers inherent in those changes.

My girlfriend/fiancée/wife openly expressed displeasure with my constant longing for the big-group social life I’d always known. She was content with four-person dinner parties, and preferred them. With age, I grew to enjoy them more too. But I could never shake (and still haven’t) the deep, organic desire to be part of a large social circle and reclaim that vibrant social life.

Sometimes I get together with large groups when visiting family or friends back home, or at big (by adulthood standards) parties with a group of college friends. With the exception of the priceless father-son moments I’m blessed to have, nothing feels like home quite like these moments.

I think my wife saw it as a sign of immaturity. An unwillingness to grow up. I think she thinks I wanted to drink excessively and smoke pot all the time like we did in college. But that’s really not it. And any guy reading this who still regularly sees his band of brothers will appreciate the distinction. It’s the togetherness that matters more than the specific activity.

I think my wife felt disrespected and possibly even pangs of inadequacy because of it. Almost like because I wanted to be part of a large crew (or back with my old one again) that I was saying You’re not good enough! I need more than you can provide! I’d rather be with my friends than you! And she didn’t like it.

There isn’t one member of my excellent group of old or current friends I want to live with every day for the rest of my life. In a lifetime of thriving in a borderline-village-like family and social life, I simply wished I had more time with them built into my life.

My wife accidentally (she wasn’t being shitty; she was being emotional and wanted me to feel like she was more than enough to be happy) made me feel ashamed of my desire for a social life independent from her. Not that she wasn’t invited and welcome to be a part of it. She simply didn’t want to be. I think some couples are good at both being part of the same tribe. It just worked out for me that I married a more-private, more-introverted person who preferred small groups.

Her “tribe” cravings were satisfied by moving back near her hometown, and it was her family that filled that support network void for her.

She and a smattering of new friends were all I had to lean on.

And maybe that wasn’t enough for me, without me realizing it. Maybe neglecting and denying this fundamental part of me in favor of trying to make my wife happy ended up accidentally causing more harm than good. And maybe this same conflict (which people may or may not be discussing with their spouses) is causing unspoken, and even undetected, conflict in many other relationships.

We grow up whether or not we want to.

And everything feels a little bit harder and a little bit heavier as time marches on. We lose things. Family members. Friends. Jobs. Money. Lifestyles. We gain things. Marriages we don’t know how to nurture. Children we don’t know how to raise. Debts we don’t know how to pay. Weight we don’t know how to shed. Guilt we don’t know how to let go of.

It feels hard to be an adult.

And I’m wondering just how much this cultural loss-of-tribe dynamic might be playing a role in that. How much of all this burdensome adulthood stuff is more difficult because now it’s just us in our private homes trying to do everything alone that not long ago in our evolutionary history, was being done by an entire village? By a community? By a tribe?

Just like men are often oblivious to the emotional needs of their wives, I’m wondering to what degree women might be oblivious to this need their husbands or boyfriends feel, and maybe also feel for themselves. The need to be part of something bigger.

Maybe being part of a tribe is more important than we think.

Maybe wives and mothers, husbands and fathers SHOULDN’T be solely responsible for fulfilling the needs of their partners and children.

Maybe people AREN’T always practicing neglect or immaturity by needing the support of friends, or going out with them.

Maybe it’s something more of us almost need to do.

Maybe it’s something we need to better understand.

And just maybe, if we do, more of us will find what we’ve been looking for.

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Divorce is Bad, but Some Things are Worse

Escape the cage

(Image/Glogster)

Divorce is bad.

I wish it wasn’t a thing. I don’t mean Let’s ban divorce! I mean, I wish we didn’t live in a world where it was statistically likely that two people who invest their lives in one another, and share resources, and build their life’s foundation on top of this living arrangement, and often have children together, will eventually divorce and secretly wish they had never met their ex.

All of us who were married for a while privately roll our eyes at all those people who marry and divorce within a year or two. But really? They’re kind of lucky.

I was married nine years. Many other divorced couples were married MUCH longer.

And in a life where the clock always seems to tick louder with each passing year, we have a hard time reconciling the loss of that time.

More than a third of my life was invested in that relationship. And if my favorite little person on Earth hadn’t resulted from it, I’d have a hard time finding the silver lining in losing my twenties and early-thirties to an investment reminiscent of a Bernie Madoff dick in the ass.

At least I have a little boy to hang my hat on—to help justify the pain—even though my geography choices, finances and dating life suffer for it.

Childless divorcées have many more options as they take stock of their post-divorce lives, but maybe nothing of lasting value to pull from the experience.

Divorce is a necessary choice and freedom. Sometimes people find themselves married to mentally ill or straight-up evil frauds and abusers. Victims of domestic violence, sexual and verbal abuse, financial fraud, partners who endanger their children, infidelity, crime, and all the other sucky things that happen in this world, deserve the liberating choice to escape. To give themselves a new start where they can choose hope and reclaim their lives.

But I still hate it.

Divorce and all the accompanying shittiness are heavy contributors to most of the world’s wrongs.

There’s a huge (and growing) group of “progressive,” “enlightened” thinkers who believe everyone who gets married is simply brainwashed by hundreds of years of Puritanical influence, and that marriage and monogamy goes against our natural biological instincts as Eat-Sleep-Fuck mammals—that we’re all unwitting slaves to our primal urges.

I think they say that for two reasons:

1. For most people who never had to fight in wars, or stand in bread lines, or experience extreme violence or sexual assault, or lose someone super-close like a child or parent or spouse or sibling or best friend to an untimely death, divorce is the most difficult thing they have ever experienced.

I have a pretty positive disposition and, on paper, have lived a reasonably pleasant life. I like being alive and hope to stay this way for many years.

But throughout my separation and divorce, the thoughts and feelings I experienced were all so new and terrifying and unexpected. You either know what it feels like to completely lose control of yourself, or you don’t. You feel crazy. You hurt, fucking everywhere. Inside. Outside. In your chest. In your head. In your stomach. And no matter where you are. At work. Watching TV. The million times you wake up every night. During holidays. At parties. On dates with a stranger.

Everything feels wrong. And there’s no escape. We try to mask it with alcohol or sex or drugs or God or other forms of escapism. You don’t know as it’s happening that there’s no way around it. Just through it. And it feels impossibly long when you’re feeling it.

Once I realized I was going to feel that shitty no matter what I did—worse than I knew a person could feel on the inside, and no matter where I went, or who I was with—I finally understood how a person could take his or her own life. When there’s no escaping pain and horror, shutting it off somehow starts to make sense to a brain desperate for solutions. Just make this stop!

I never wanted to actually die. But I finally stopped being afraid of it. That oncoming semi-truck wants to cross over center and hit me head on? Bring it. I don’t give a shit anymore.

Once a human being has felt that, I can understand why they would be too afraid to put themselves in another vulnerable position to possibly feel it again. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct.

2. They don’t want to grow up. And I don’t blame them because I don’t want to grow up either. It’s juvenile and immature and impractical. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t a real feeling inside of us. We yearn for the innocence of childhood. Desperate for a life where all we have to do is hang out with our friends and play every day. Bottom line: Being an adult isn’t as fun as being a child. And some people (and I’m occasionally among them) are too selfish to choose responsibility over fun.

Brett and Kate McKay nail it in this excellent piece from The Art of Manliness:

“The world of children is made possible by the world of adults.

“When people say they don’t want to embrace adulthood, what they really mean is that they don’t want to be a grownup themselves, but they want to live in a world where everyone else is. They want competent, effective politicians to represent them; they want their journalists and doctors to be smart and level-headed with a comforting mantle of gravitas; they want their children’s teachers to be dedicated and on-the-ball; they want customer service to be friendly and efficient; they want police officers to be honest and fair. They want the world to be stable, predictable…so they can afford to be erratic and irresponsible. They want to be kids, but live in an adult world, where grownups are at the ready to take care of their every need.”

I think it’s possible to live in a society where most people have the smarts and know-how necessary to make their marriages an oasis of love and peace and goodness in their lives, rather than this unpleasant black hole of shit from which so many people crave escape.

I remain hopeful for a future where influencers take seriously the positive societal benefits of stable families and recognize the horribleness of divorce enough to start having real conversations about how to do it better.

All That Said, Yes, Your Spouse is an Asshole. GTFO.

The entire point of this post is supposed to be: Even though I’m a quasi-radical proponent of saving marriage and despise divorce, sometimes I’m like: What the hell are you WAITING for!?

I get lots and lots of blog comments and emails with awful marriage stories. Often, at the end of the story (sometimes people just need to tell someone), they ask for my opinion.

Here I am, a 36-year-old divorced guy hammering out pro-marriage messages on the internet. My mom and dad divorced when I was 4, and it probably fucked me up a little. My mom and stepdad divorced when I was 28, and it probably fucked me up a little more. My wife and I divorced when I was 33, and it felt so bad that suicide, while never an option (I promise), at least made sense.

I’ve never had a cause. But I think I have one now. I think this whole Hey World! Divorce is Horrible and You Seem to be Ignoring Just How Much, Which is Stupid, Here’s Why! crusade is the closest thing to a cause I’ve ever had.

It really matters to me. Because so much of it feels wasteful. Two decent people who don’t know better giving it their best shot without the information or resources they need to succeed in marriage. I think that’s most divorces. Those are the people I encourage to persevere. To choose courage. To choose love.

Two people who want to make it, can make it. 

But sometimes I get emails or blog comments from wives (and occasionally husbands) who have a different kind of story.

I’ll combine and paraphrase all of them into one, using the husband as the bad guy because that’s more than 90 percent of the stories I read: “My husband cheats on me and hits me and is never around and uses all our money to have fun and support his vices and affair partners. If he is home, he is never affectionate, doesn’t pay attention to the kids, and calls me a fat, nagging bitch (even though I’m trying to lose weight after bearing his children!) If I ever even hint at leaving him, he threatens me with money and the children. But I still love him and want to make it work! What should I do?”

First of all, everyone, ESTABLISH AND ENFORCE STRONG BOUNDARIES. Right now, please.

Secondly, it’s hard for me to understand how someone can be cheated on, physically or verbally abused, threatened, abandoned, neglected, and treated miserably by the one person in the world who made a spiritual and/or legal vow to love and cherish them forever, and still be like: “I’m just not sure what’s best! Maybe he’ll change!”

There are psychological and emotional forces at work I can’t begin to understand.

There are children. Innocent, precious little kids I’ll never meet who love their mommy and daddy just like four-year-old me did in 1983 when my father crouched down in front of me with tears in his eyes after a long day in court and said: “Matt. You are going to go live with your mommy far away in Ohio and you’re not going to see me very much anymore, but I want you to know how much I love you and that we will see each other every chance we get.”

And I think about those little kids who are going to carry all the same scars I did and probably still do. And I ask the mothers follow-up questions because trying to make it work for your kids isn’t as dumb a concept as some people think.

But then they write back and you just know. You know they have no chance.

Not because marriage is a failed idea. Not because humans are beyond redemption. Not because it’s just another example of two people falling out of love.

But because these men are not actually husbands.

Here’s how you can tell the difference:

Actions A, B, C and D cause your wife to hurt more than she has ever hurt before. She’s terrified and cries often. If you continue those things moving forward, you intentionally are choosing to inflict serious harm on her. By choosing those things, you lose her forever, and put your children through life-changing hell. By choosing those things, you lose everything.

When a husband/father figures this out, he strives to grow and change. He apologizes with unmistakable remorse. He demonstrates clear intentions to right his wrongs and makes choices moving forward that contribute to the welfare of his wife/family. That will happen 100-percent of the time.

Men like that are worthy of redemption. Tragically flawed, but good-hearted.

And then, there are the other guys.

The ones who figure it out, or already know, and continue to do A, B, C and D. Why? Because they want to.

That’s it. That’s the reason. Because they want to.

“That’s the whole thing? Those things matter more than me? Those things matter more than your children?”

And no matter what actual words come out of their stupid fuck-shit mouths, the answer is clearly “yes.”

These men (and women) have earned their inevitable comeuppance. You shouldn’t be aboard the same ship when it starts to sink.

Yes, I believe in honoring vows.

Yes, I believe in marriage and love (not the kind you feel; the kind you choose).

Yes, I hate divorce and think it is an underestimated destructive force in our world.

But sometimes, the union you’re part of isn’t an actual marriage.

And sometimes, people are in so much pain they can’t tell the difference.

We don’t want to be the ones to call it off. We don’t want to throw the time investment away. We don’t want to be the person “responsible” for ending the marriage by choosing divorce, and hurting our children, and disappointing our families, and creating dysfunction for our friends.

We want someone else to do the dirty work for us. Or maybe we just want someone to reassure us that it’s okay. Absolution that isn’t ours to give.

The moment you know your partner understands your pain and the real-world consequences of certain behaviors, but chooses them anyway?

Then. Right then. That’s when it’s time.

Run.

I wish it wasn’t a thing.

Divorce is bad.

But some things are worse.

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Why Couples Always Have the Same Fight

(Image/Huffington Post)

(Image/Huffington Post)

There are always exceptions to the rule. People who never smoke sometimes die of lung cancer, and some smokers live to 95.

If he’s drunk and hitting his wife and kids, or she’s a serial cheater while faking a happy-wife façade; or addiction, mental health, or sexual abuse is involved in a marriage, this conversation changes.

But that’s not what usually happens.

What usually happens is two perfectly cool, sane, healthy, decent people get married—probably a little sooner than they should—with both innocently and naively believing it’s always going to feel just like it does right now. It’s basically just like being Forever Boyfriend and Girlfriend! We can do that!

They love one another. They pledge faithfulness genuinely. They exchange wedding vows with the best of intentions.

And then, like clockwork, more than half of them are totally miserable within five to seven years. One or both are having affairs, or at least thinking about it, because they just want to feel something again. He’s jerking off in the shower or to late-night internet porn instead of having sex with her. She’s crushing on pretty much any non-creepy guy paying attention to her and making her feel special because her husband never makes her feel important anymore.

They’ll eventually divorce, or possibly stay together “for the kids” in silent misery, ensuring that pretty much every day is shitty for the rest of their lives.

What the Fight Looks Like

Sarah asked me: “Do you have thoughts on WHY men are (typically) so quick to blame hormones when they feel as though the women in their lives are acting unreasonably? Is it that it can so easily be used as a copout (why look to yourself for answers when it is probably her problem)? Or is it that many men really believe we are total victims to our ovaries?”

And yes. I have all kinds of thoughts on why this happens. In fact, I’m pretty sure I know exactly why men and women seem like they’re always repeating the same fight over and over again.

And it shouldn’t be a secret because divorce is bad.

Here’s what I think happens:

She gets upset about something she thinks is important, but he doesn’t. It could be any number of things. Leaving dishes in the sink. Leaving laundry on the floor. Tracking mud through the house right after she cleaned. It doesn’t matter what the actual thing is.

What matters is that for the rest of the conversation, neither person is talking about the same thing, because neither person actually understands what the other’s (legitimate) problem is.

To the wife, this is just another example of him not respecting her enough to demonstrate thoughtfulness about how his actions affect her. It’s not really about the dishes or the laundry. It’s more about the general pattern of behavior.

But that’s not what he thinks the conversation is about.

He thinks she’s actually mad about the glass in the sink or the pair of pants he left on the nightstand.

He thinks: “What kind of insane person would want to have a horrible fight and ruin our night and make our marriage out to be a trainwreck over something as insignificant as laundry or a dirty dish? I am never this irrational! If she thinks laundry is more important than our marriage, her priorities are warped, and she must not love me.”

And she thinks: “I cannot trust this man. I can’t count on him. He does NOT respect me. He never apologizes for hurting me because he doesn’t think it’s a big deal. He always tells me how what I think and feel is wrong or dumb. I have all these feelings and I know I’m not crazy, but he NEVER acknowledges them as important or worth his attention. He thinks ‘proving’ his point and winning our arguments are more important than my feelings. He doesn’t care. He must not love me.”

Both husband and wife settle on logical conclusions that make a lot of sense. But both are also totally mistaken! And the only way for them to figure it out is to learn the secret.

Most people get so pissed with each other, they don’t even want to. They don’t WANT to figure out how to make him or her feel better. Because THEY are clearly the problem! My next partner won’t make me feel this way!

Before long, everyone stops putting effort into the marriage. Some people start sleeping with someone else. A marriage can survive on life-support for a while, with just one person making a go of it. But once both quit, it’s effectively over.

Most of us just aren’t strong enough to handle the mental and emotional anguish we feel when our marriages fall apart. Nothing in our lives up to that point could have prepared us for it. It’s all very new and terrifying, and there’s no instruction manual for what to do next.

A troubled marriage CAN be saved.

But since most husbands and wives don’t understand how one another actually work on the inside, the marriage breaks down imperceptibly slow—especially to the husband who has yet to connect the dots about what his wife is really upset about.

If the husband thinks the only problems in his marriage are teeny little fights over laundry on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink, he’s liable to be blindsided by the news she’s unhappy and contemplating divorce.

Wives feel like they’ve been really clear about their feelings up to this point. Yet, husbands are like: Wha-!? Why didn’t you say anything!?

Wives think he’s dumb and oblivious and disengaged.

Husbands think she’s gone off the emotional deep end once again.

Wives know their husbands are reasonably smart, so they can’t figure out how he could be so dense as to not understand her after hundreds of these conversations. She can only conclude that he doesn’t give a shit.

Husbands know their wives are reasonably smart, so they can’t figure out why she doesn’t acknowledge his perfectly logical conclusion: “Ummm. A pair of pants on the floor or an empty glass in the sink is NOT worth fighting over and further damaging our marriage! Why would she rather fight than keep the peace?” He can only conclude that she’s a little bit crazy.

He doesn’t know the laundry is linked to a hundred other things inside her, all of which erode her ability to feel safe and loved in her own home.

And she doesn’t know about his frequent feelings of shame and failure that stem from these fights due to his apparent inability to make her happy. If she’s always sad and frustrated with him even though he really does love her and really believes he’s trying his best, then he’s failing epically at the most important thing in his life. These constant feelings of failure are making him withdraw further. He’s losing self-confidence, because it seems obvious now that he can’t make her feel good anymore. She doesn’t look at me the way she used to. She doesn’t want me to touch her. She thinks I’m a failure.

If he doesn’t feel like he can succeed at home, or that he is even moderately respected or appreciated, he can never muster the energy the marriage needs.

The vicious cycle continues.

Unless something changes, the marriage is doomed.

[NOTE: I felt like I cracked a secret life code when I grasped this idea for the first time. I have to credit the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” for putting me on the right path. Maybe it can help you or your partner, too.]

There’s a Better Way

The only way to fix this is for both partners to “get” it. To understand what’s ACTUALLY happening inside themselves and their partners. Because they’re speaking plain English to one another, and neither person knows what the shit the other is talking about. For the trillionth time.

There’s a fun little book called Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti which provides a lovely visual food metaphor to help people grasp the basic concept.

As a general rule, men are like waffles. Their thoughts and feelings are comprised of all these little individual compartments. And at any given time, he is dealing with the contents of one compartment, and one compartment ONLY. So when he’s talking about a pair of pants on the floor with his wife, he’s only talking about that pair of pants. All previous conversations are not part of this one conversation.

But his wife is actually talking about EVERY instance of something like this happening. She’s talking about the thousand other times because, generally, women are like spaghetti. And their minds and bodies operate in a way in which everything isn’t compartmentalized into individual boxes. Their thoughts and feelings all live in the same place where they are intertwined and wound around one another. It’s why the pants thing really matters to her. It literally hurts her. Because it proves you don’t love me or respect me, and I don’t have time to do all the laundry AND take care of everything for the kids because Kyle has a field trip Thursday and Valerie needs to get to her swim meet, and it hurts so much that I can’t count on you to make sure Kyle’s lunch and outfit and permission slip are taken care of, and tomorrow is the four-year anniversary of my dad dying, and yes asshole—it still hurts—because he was the person who always made sure I was taken care of, and then I trusted you to be that person for the rest of my life, and you don’t do it, and now he’s gone, and just—fuck you—for leaving me alone in my marriage.

Since the only consciousness we understand is our individual first-person experience, we all just assume everyone else sees and thinks and feels like we do. Your parents never told you otherwise, because they didn’t want you to know how many times they almost divorced or had sex with someone else. No one explains any of this shit to us in school because the Department of Education thinks obtuse triangles, The Grapes of Wrath, and the French and Indian War are more important than the information we need to have functional adult relationships.

Every couple who has the same fight over and over again (the vast majority, right?) needs to learn the science and chemistry of what’s happening during conflict.

Everyone’s having the same fight and no one can figure out why. It’s especially frustrating when they discover on their second and third partners that the same things keep happening no matter how many new relationships they try, because: Surprise!!! Wherever you go, there you are.

It never stops until a person makes the choice to try something else.

Thousands of years ago, we all lived in tribes and villages, and sometimes lions and bears and other tribes would try to attack, rape, pillage, and burn our communities.

Evolutionary science required that women’s bodies respond to threats the way they do to help warn of danger and protect the tribe.

Men were hunting and gathering and responsible for physically protecting the elderly, women and children in the village.

Evolutionary science required that men’s bodies respond to threats the way they do to accomplish that.

A lot of this stuff is hardcoded into our DNA because it was the only way for us to survive.

But now it’s 2015, and bears and lions and violent tribes tend to not attack us in our predominantly domesticated homes and schools and workplaces. All these involuntary emotional and chemical reactions we have to threats don’t help save our lives anymore because most of us live in houses with partners and children with virtually no chance of being mauled by a lion while we sleep in our beds.

All these natural tendencies humans developed over thousands of years now cause major communication problems between male-female partners who in no way benefit from the way their bodies chemically respond to conflict in their marriages.

Chemistry is powerful. I learned that in school while they weren’t teaching me how to be a good husband.

But we’re pretty smart. We are. And once we get it, we have a chance to recognize this little dance of insanity we do as it’s happening and stop it from growing into a monster.

We give ourselves a chance if we can at least understand what’s happening to us, and why we always feel a little frustrated and out of control.

We have no chance at all when we don’t know.

When we don’t know better, and just do what feels natural, everything breaks. You’re not the only person dealing with this. It’s happening to everyone else too.

And even when you recognize what’s happening and have a high-level understanding of it and what you should or shouldn’t do next, it’s STILL super-hard when you’re pissed off and your insides are all mish-mashed in fuckness.

In 2015, everyone who gives a shit knows how to lose weight. Simplest math formula ever.

Eat less + Move more = Weight loss

Yet, even though we’re the most enlightened we’ve been in human history, we still have a ton of obese people, rampant diabetes, and heart disease.

Even when you KNOW what should or shouldn’t be done, it still requires a level of commitment and discipline hard for flawed (that’s all of us) human beings to achieve.

A person shouldn’t eat bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes every day and wonder why they never lose weight. That’s essentially what married people do who want to have a happy marriage but never bother to try a new way of doing things, in large part because they literally don’t know that pounding the metaphorical burgers and ice cream is dangerous and unhealthy.

That if it goes unchecked long enough, they’re all going to get sick and die.

They don’t realize it until they’re sick.

And they don’t want to change anything until they’re already dead.

…..

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