Monthly Archives: January 2016

‘My Wife is Irrational, Therefore She’s Wrong’

light bulb in sunset

(Image/freewhd.com)

I know it’s hard, guys.

I’ll never be confused for a genius or scholar, but I’m reasonably bright in a Get B+ and A- Grades Without Trying kind-of way. And I made all of the same arguments you’re making. I repeated them until I was blue in the face, sometimes in my best dickhead voice while my wife and I volleyed shots at each other in another fight in which no winner would emerge.

I agreed with you so much that I unknowingly bet my entire family on it. And lost.

Maybe some of you guys are really tough and stoic. Maybe when bad things happen to you, you brush it off like it’s no big deal and move on gracefully.

That’s not how it went for me.

I could barely breathe when my wife and little son weren’t home anymore. This isn’t some “evil monster entitled man-hating feminist” I’m talking about, raging uncontrollably over petty things like dirty dishes. This was my wife. We met at 19. We were married nine years, many of which seemed and felt good. This was someone who very much wanted to stay married. And she reached a breaking point. All humans have them.

I cried. I vomited. After more than 30 years of mostly feeling what I can only describe as normal or very good, I experienced what it means to break on the inside. I don’t know how far away rock bottom was, but it couldn’t have been far.

That experience taught me why people commit suicide. Sometimes, it hurts so much that dying and shutting it off permanently feels less scary than the possibility of feeling that bad forever. I’ve said it a bunch of times: I didn’t want to die. But for a little while there, after a predominantly semi-charmed life, I didn’t really care if I did.

All around me, life went on. The sun kept rising and setting. My friends tried to care, but only people who have been through divorce really understand. People told jokes. Others laughed. People were happy. But I was miserable, no matter how positive of an attitude I tried to keep. I felt like dying every day for months.

THAT is when I learned the lesson so many men complaining about my “dishes” post have not learned: Two people can experience the same thing at the same time, but feel very differently without either of them being wrong.

Maybe all those times I acted like my wife’s post-partum depression was a figment of her imagination since I didn’t get it, were poor, ignorant and insensitive choices.

Are Our Complaining Wives ‘Irrational’?

That’s what John said after reading She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink, a headline that accidentally hookwinked hundreds of thousands of readers.

He called it “irrational” for a wife to be upset about a dish by the sink.

Here’s the common male thought process: Because it’s “irrational” for her to feel that way, a husband is not obligated to cooperate on the matter. After all, “irrational” is not so different than “wrong.”

My wife is wrong. I am right. End of discussion, bitch!

It doesn’t even seem crazy to me because that’s exactly how I felt in those frustrating marriage fights, and I’m reasonably smart. This isn’t something that had ever come up in life until my girlfriend and future-wife started upsetting me with all of her “irrational”ness.

If we fought long enough, she would just cry, at which time I thought she was unstable, but had an easier time speaking with her then because Sad is so much easier to deal with than Angry.

In John’s current form, he has no chance of ever finding common ground with a wife or girlfriend. Because any time he considers her opinions or emotions “irrational,” he will simply dismiss them as inconsequential. Once his little argument is over, he’ll never think about it again.

And maybe he doesn’t care.

Maybe single guys don’t care because they don’t want to be married anyway. I’m cool with that.

What I’m not cool with are the guys suggesting their “rational” opinion that a glass left by the sink—innocently and with ZERO malice—shouldn’t be dismissed or deemed less important than their wives’ “irrational” emotional response to it. I’m not cool with people who want to marry or want to stay married doing things I know to be toxic in relationships.

Rational Emotion: Is There Such a Thing?

Emotions are subjective things. The things that make you happy, sad, angry, horny, afraid, ashamed, confident, inspired, etc. are not the exact same things that make other humans feel those same emotions.

I believe, in very general terms (as we cannot pigeonhole every single human into one narrow silo), that men and women—husbands and wives, in this case—have VERY different emotional responses to things.

It’s why a guy can call his buddy an asshole and laugh about it in a male-bonding capacity, but would likely get a different result if he called his aunt one.

A critical lesson of my divorce: We must allow others to have their own individual human experiences, and accept that they’re real even when they react to something differently than we do, or describe a conflicting feeling.

What that means is, some people can be called an asshole and it’s funny, and some people can be called an asshole and it REALLY upsets them.

One is not rational while the other is irrational. One is not logical while the other is illogical.

It’s simply two separate people experiencing the SAME thing two DIFFERENT ways.

It’s not right or wrong. It just IS.

I used to believe my wife was irrational. Because I believed my wife was irrational, I never took seriously her requests for me to more assertively participate in our marriage on MANY levels—not just dish washing, which I actually did reasonably well.

I predict that any man who doesn’t understand the dish metaphor, OR feels offended and reacts defensively to it as if I believe wives’ or women’s feelings are somehow more important than husbands’ or men’s, also doesn’t participate actively in his marriage.

It likely means that when his wife tells him that something he does or doesn’t do hurts her, he dismisses it as her being “irrational.” And because he does that, she feels abandoned and alone in her marriage. Wives who feel abandoned and alone in their marriages will eventually do one of three things: Have sex with other men, leave their husbands, or both.

Deny that at your peril.

Maybe You Could Just Believe Your Wife

When your wife tells you something hurts her enough to bring it up to you in conversation, knowing it will likely create conflict, you should try to believe her.

If you’re a smart guy (and if you’re still reading this, I KNOW you’re smart, because the mouth-breathers stopped more than a thousand words ago), then you are statistically likely to be married to a smart woman.

I KNOW that it doesn’t make sense to you, when she talks about how something you consider minor and meaningless hurts her. That’s basically why EVERY divorce happens. You’re not strange. You’re just like most guys. You’re just like me—the me before I broke and had to start over again.

And Then the Entire Conversation Changes

I hope I’m safe in assuming no man still reading is the kind of guy who would slam his wife’s head against the kitchen counter, or crack her ribs with a baseball bat, or throw her against a wall and scream what a stupid worthless whore you consider her to be.

I hope that you’re the kind of guy who genuinely values her, and would prefer to stay married because divorce is shitty. I believe you are.

When you think of “hurting” your wife, you might think about physical pain, or how she might feel if she discovered an affair or another betrayal.

You don’t currently equate Another Meaningless Fight! with painfully wounding her. It’s not your fault. Your brain doesn’t naturally connect those dots any more than you’d feel afraid of someone throwing a sponge at you.

That’s why YOU NEED TO BELIEVE HER. You need to step outside your own mind for five seconds, and see the world as it really is: That person over there was hurt by something I did. Even though that same thing would never hurt me, it’s still true that it happened. If I care about that person, I need to make sure I never do that again.

Hundreds of men said it. And five years ago, I would have agreed with them: “Why does it always have to be the man changing for the wife? I’m pretty sure the wife could also show love and respect by just putting the glass in the dishwasher and not complaining about it! I hate that men always get blamed for this stuff even though it takes 50/50 to make it work!”

The answer to that is: You’re NOT changing for her. You’re not going to tell her she’s a crazy, nagging, complaining shrew AND also not help her with things she pleads for help with for the same reason you wouldn’t hit her with a baseball bat.

Because it hurts her. And you NEVER want to intentionally hurt her. And once the truth dawns on you: Holy shit. Now I understand why she gets upset about me throwing my socks on the floor, and that it causes her pain in ways I don’t experience. Then, the light bulb can go off.

Ohhhhhh. Because she has told me this 18,000 times, and I always dismiss her as crazy and tell her that she’s wrong, I can finally understand why it FEELS to her like I’m hurting her intentionally. It all makes sense now.

A lot of men think their wives shouldn’t be allowed to feel hurt by things because that same thing would never hurt them. The man makes the conversation about the thing they disagree on, instead of how bad it makes her feel.

But if they had the conversation they could both agree with—the one about how neither of them want to feel disrespected or see their marriage end in divorce—just maybe something really good could come from all this.

Just maybe, when we give, we get.

Just maybe, when we make the first move and are leaders in our relationships, we are treated well in kind.

Just maybe, marriage doesn’t have to suck at all.

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Of Course It Was About More Than Dirty Dishes

But that ain't the truth. The truth is, you are the ignorant. And I am the tyranny of shitty husbands. But I'm trying real hard, guys. I'm trying real hard to be the shepard. (Image/Miramax)

But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is, you are the ignorant. And I am the tyranny of shitty husbands. But I’m trying real hard, guys. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd. (Image/Miramax)

I thought it was obvious that my wife didn’t—literally—want a divorce because of some dishes left by the sink.

I assumed no adult could possibly believe that. I was wrong.

Because many people gave the post the TL;DR treatment, or I did a lousy job of writing it, or they lacked the intellectual capacity to understand it, or never bothered to ask themselves the right questions because life is more comfortable when we’re secure in our personal beliefs, a frightening amount of people missed the point entirely.

My post “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” spent time as one of the most popular things on the internet over the weekend. As of this writing, it has been read more than 2.3 million times.

For context, my previous most popular post had been read about 100,000 times. Over the course of 2 ½ years.

As a writer, you’re like Cool! People are validating my work! But then the comments start rolling in.

“Be a man. Pussy.”

“Your wife was a nagging shrew and you’re better off without her if she would leave you over something petty like a glass by the sink.”

“You’re STILL missing the point if you think she left you because of dishes!”

“You’re a sackless fag.”

“You’re sexist because you wrote that ‘Men are capable of things’ as if women couldn’t do those things, too!”

“You’re sexist because you write about how horrible men are, but never talk about how women can be the problem too!”

My personal favorite was the Canadian high school girl who tweeted that my wife left because I write like “a whiny teenage girl.”

That was discouraging.

Things the Post Wasn’t About

It wasn’t about me.

It wasn’t about Men Vs. Women.

It wasn’t about encouraging men to be subservient husbands.

It wasn’t about propping up wives as the all-knowing and wise queens of how to structure relationships.

It wasn’t about complaints suggesting my wife nagged me over inconsequential things.

And for Pete’s freaking sake, IT WAS NOT ABOUT THE DAMN DISHES.

The “dishes” post has a thousand comments to the contrary, and each time I approved one of them I wanted to set myself on fire just a little bit more, because THAT—along with reading another new asshole call me a “mangina”—would feel infinitely less frustrating than all the people screaming on the internet while the entire point sailed a thousand miles over their heads.

Things the Post Was About

Understand something, please. Until five seconds ago, a thousand people AT MOST, were reading my posts. This “dishes” one? It was read 236 times the day it was published. And all of them “know” me, in that they’ve read dozens, maybe hundreds, of my posts, so they recognized the metaphor immediately.

Here’s my entire thing: I’m a child of divorce, and a few years ago I got divorced myself. I think divorce is very, very bad.

While I was trying and failing to save my marriage, I began a journey of introspection and self-discovery. I wanted to understand what I had done to help break the marriage, and discover tools to repair it OR at the very least, to make sure I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes in a future relationship.

I read books. I read articles. I spoke with married people. I spoke with divorced people. And I started writing down ideas and publishing them.

More and more and more, people were saying: “Yes, this! You GET it!”

And if you read through the comments in the “dishes” post, you’ll see that the vast majority are echoing that.

I’m no smarter than anyone else. I’ve simply heard the same divorce stories so many times now that, combined with my not-too-distant memories of my marriage, I’ve been able to identify terrifyingly common behaviors by husbands and boyfriends that mirror my own that I now understand to be marriage and relationship killers.

As someone passionately against divorce, I feel compelled to share these ideas.

I am NOT a “Get Married” advocate. It’s clear most people are doing a terrible job in the partner-evaluation process, and overestimating their abilities to function as marriage partners, which mostly has to do with how we can’t know what we don’t know when we’re young.

And the adults shelter us from the ugly truth.

Mom and dad don’t tell you how they fantasize about running away, or sleeping with someone else who makes them feel desired and respected, or just how much more sad they feel today than they did when they were young. It’s because they want to preserve our innocence.

Our education system, shamefully, avoids the topic altogether.

But I am a “Stay Married” advocate. Unless we’re going to ban marriage or eliminate long-term monogamous relationships altogether, I think it behooves us to improve an institution that affects 95 percent of people AND fails more than half the time.

People thought the “dishes” post was about me and wanted to critique my marriage based on a headline they misinterpreted.

The “dishes” post is about trying to help husbands get from oblivious to enlightened RE: Why Their Wives Seem to Care About “Little” Things We Don’t Care About. Men don’t understand how a stupid glass by the sink could actually hurt. That sounds insane to him. Until he figures out how to believe it’s happening anyway, and then care about the glass BECAUSE he cares about his wife, these totally cliché and annoying Man Vs. Woman, But That’s Not Fair!!! whine festivals will continue.

People accused me of sexism.

I only write for husbands and about being a husband because that’s what I know. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, wife or mother. I’m going to leave the role-reversal writing on these topics to the people who do know what it’s like.

And OF COURSE sometimes wives are the dish-leaving culprits in a marriage! But that’s just not relevant to me writing for guys like me.

Husbands who are frustrated with their wives’ cleanliness habits are not likely to identify with my marriage whatsoever.

People accused me of preaching submission.

Hahahahahahahaha!

I’m the most stubborn mule I know. It’s a damn shame you can’t hear my high-and-mighty Piss off, you’re not the boss of me! voice. That was my ex-wife’s favorite. (Not.)

The most important lesson I’ve learned post-divorce is how critical it is for human beings to have well-communicated, strongly enforced boundaries. Boundaries which are ideally discussed and mutually respected during the dating process and long before anyone agrees to marry.

No, men. Your wives should never be domineering tyrants. But there can be no question that if you’re married to one of those, it’s because you allowed it to happen AND failed to demonstrate competence—either in the life areas which she now must control, or in the preservation of your self-respect or enforcement of your boundaries.

Wives are not better than husbands. Women are not better than men. (Nor the other way around.)

But I see a hell of a lot of men getting marriage wrong, and this is my way of trying to help.

All the evidence in the world that men are getting marriage wrong lives in the comments section of the “dishes” post.

The “dishes” post that wasn’t really about dishes at all.

…..

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Cracking the Code: 7 Ideas That Would Have Saved My Marriage

Crack-The-Code

Sobbing wives write me all the time, desperate for answers. “I just read your posts and cried all the way through. Thank you for understanding me. How is it that you seem to get it but my husband can’t?”

The most frequently asked question I get is: “How do I get my husband to understand this before it’s too late?” I’ll be extraordinarily wealthy AND save millions of marriages if I ever figure that out.

I’m probably more introspective than the average guy, and certainly more willing to write it all down and share it with strangers. But there’s little difference between me and any of these other guys. By and large, we’re the same. Just ask my ex-wife.

There are exceptions, but most of the time, when a woman on the brink of leaving her husband or who is desperately searching for ways to reconnect with him, lists things he does that make her feel worthless and abandoned, a little bit of shame washes over me because I remember doing some of those same things.

Many readers of this blog think I’m some great guy destined for an amazing relationship someday, and maybe I will have one, but none of them have ever stood in my kitchen and heard me spew hostility toward the woman I vowed before God, her parents, and most people we know, to love and cherish always.

“I love how your way is so perfect and righteous, and my way is bullshit and makes your life miserable all the time,” I more-or-less said during several fights, feigning self-righteousness in a totally immature and belligerent tone. “If you’re so miserable living with me, why don’t you file the fucking papers and go find your new magic husband you’ll love being with so much more than me!”

Which she more-or-less did. I didn’t like it.

I really did love my wife. I don’t just say that. So I’m confused about why I was capable of being such a dick in those moments.

My point is simply that it’s possible to go from Guy Who Acts Like a Dick and Sucks at Marriage to whatever you think I am now.

I don’t know how to get him there. Because there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

But there are ideas fundamental to relationships and human behavior that I have come to learn over the past four years of immersing myself in this world. Ideas that took me from Guy Who is Just Like the Others, to the guy who occasionally gets marriage proposals (probably not super-serious ones) in blog comments and emails.

These ideas changed my life and, in a cynical world, have given me reason for hope.

1. Two People Can See, Hear, Feel and Experience the Same Thing and Describe it VERY Differently Without Being Wrong

This is, by far, the most important one. This applies to any two people (Barack Obama thinks this, Ben Carson thinks that, and BOTH men have intelligent, valid conclusions even though they might contradict one another).

In male-female relationships, the most common source of breakage is this dynamic. Husband does X. It hurts his wife. She tells him it hurts. He doesn’t take it seriously because if she had done X, he wouldn’t hurt like she is claiming to. His conclusion is that it can’t possibly hurt her, so she’s complaining and being unreasonable about something she’s blowing out of proportion. He chalks it up as something he needn’t take seriously.

It IS possible that she is simply being unreasonable. I account for the fact SOME people are just horrible at being alive. Maybe he married one of those for reasons no sane person could ever explain.

I want to give people credit. If you’re the kind of person who reads things you are reading right now, then you’re the kind of person who I credit as being reasonably smart. Thus, you are unlikely to be the kind of person who would take a marriage commitment so lightly that you’d just marry ANYONE.

You deliberately chose to marry the person you married. Since you’re smart, I think you married another smart person. You didn’t both get dumber and meaner.

In conclusion, you should assume when your partner tells you something that she/he is telling you the truth. Denying the validity of your spouse’s claims will ensure your divorce close to 100-percent of the time.

HONESTLY, GUYS: ACCEPT THAT SHE IS SMART AND MEANS WHAT SHE SAYS, or punch yourself in the face repeatedly for being the dipshit who intentionally married a dumbass.

Until a highly accredited doctor at an insane asylum admits your wife, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by just believing things she tells you.

The only way to do that is to also accept that when X happens, how you feel about it and how she feels about it may not always be the same, but that BOTH can be true.

So when you’re driving home from the party, and she tells you how it made her feel shitty when you made a joke in front of all your mutual friends at her expense, the appropriate response is a sincere apology, a respectful request for an explanation as to how and why, and a pledge moving forward to never intentionally make her feel that way again.

It’s NOT: “Oh, lighten up! We were all just having fun. Everyone was laughing! You obviously can’t take a joke!”

Taking the leap of faith that you’re both fighting about two different things, and then recognizing when it’s happening so you don’t continue the pointless, unsolvable conflict? That will do more to strengthen your relationship than almost anything else, because all the positive dominoes start falling from there.

2. You Cannot Feel Happy Without First Feeling Grateful

Appreciating all of the good things in your life—even when bad things happen—is the only way to consistently feel good. Just ask every rich and famous suicidal person, ever.

People get REALLY annoyed about this. “Stop telling me to look on the bright side! I just want to feel angry!”

Really? You WANT to feel shitty? Like, that’s your goal? Right.

I operate with the assumption that the vast, vast, vast majority of people prefer life when things feel good more than when things feel bad. The foundation for happiness is gratitude.

And so it is true in your relationships.

The foundation for a happy marriage is habitually demonstrating appreciation for the sacrifices our partners make on our behalf.

Every day, find a thing, big or small, and say: Thank you. Start right now.

3. We are Scientifically Wired for Boredom

I used to wonder how Tom Brady could leave Bridget Moynahan or how Hugh Grant could cheat on Elizabeth Hurley, because I find both women painfully attractive.

The answer to why that happens is the same reason you don’t baby your car the way you did when you first bought it, or why even though you felt awesome when you got your big raise at your new job, two years later, you feel just as broke as you did before.

It has a name, and humanity would be wise to get familiar with it: Hedonic adaptation.

It means that your brain adapts to positive changes—new stuff, more money, bigger house, hot girlfriend, great job, etc.—and then you return to the same emotional baseline you usually feel.

You and your spouse WILL, 100-percent, feel boredom toward one another eventually. You are not freaks. There is nothing “wrong” with you. It doesn’t mean you are not “soulmates.” It doesn’t mean you chose wrong because your lovey-dovey, excited feelings didn’t last forever like you hoped they would.

It means you are a normally functioning human being, and your body and brain are doing what EVERYONE’S body and brain does. You are adapting to a previous life change, and it’s “boring.”

This is why we do #4 instead of stick our privates inside of other people’s privates.

4. Love is NOT a Feeling; It’s a Choice

Sometimes you feel happy. Sometimes you feel sad. Sometimes you feel angry. Sometimes you feel afraid. Sometimes you feel confident. Sometimes you feel anxiety.

FEELINGS CHANGE CONSTANTLY. Up and down, side to side, and back around again.

So, when you want to make your marriage work even when you don’t “feel” the same as you did on the day you got engaged and had sex all night afterward, the solution is pretty straightforward: You choose it.

My feelings change. Her feelings change. Sometimes we cannot control our emotions because life is hard, and sometimes unexpected and inconvenient things happen. The only way to make sure our love lasts forever is to deliberately make the choice every morning when we wake up to love our spouses and purposefully demonstrate that love. Some days will be easier than others. But if we both do it every day, our marriage will not end. I’m going to choose it every day.

5. Strong Boundaries are Sexy and Healthy

Develop and cultivate strong boundaries. Understand what boundaries really are and how having them will change your life. Choose to be with other people who have them too. This will benefit you more in the dating phase of your life than your married one, but—you know—better late than never. Demand respect. Be with people who also demand respect. Respect them. Act like it.

6. Wife’s Stories Boring You? Listen Anyway.

Step 1 – Be quiet and listen to your wife or girlfriend tell you her story, or verbalize a problem she’s having. Don’t interrupt unless it’s to ask an engaging question that moves the story forward and demonstrates active listening and mental investment.

Step 2 – Don’t sigh and act disinterested. Don’t ask her whether her story has a point. Don’t behave as if everything she just said was dumb. And for the love of God, DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE HER PROBLEM WITH YOUR MAN-SUGGESTIONS unless she specifically asks for your advice. You’re making a small time investment, like you do when you work out, or like when you save money for retirement. You’re investing in her wellbeing and security. It doesn’t make sense to you that something as seemingly meaningless and passive as sitting there and just listening can make your relationship profoundly strong. But it can, and will, if you can just take a deep breath, and with love and respect, listen.

Step 3 – Enjoy how it feels when your wife respects and appreciates you and tells her mother and friends how great you are, and how it feels when she wants you to ravish her instead of fantasizing about her project partner at work, or the furnace repair guy.

7. Be the Leader

This does not mean “dominate.” This does not mean: Act like you are better or more important than her.

It means:

  • You accept responsibility for the quality of your marriage
  • You accept responsibility for the behavior and “success” of your children
  • You accept responsibility for hurting your wife’s feelings even when you don’t understand how or why it happened
  • You accept the challenge of not repeating those behaviors
  • You do not passively ask your wife to manage the entire household’s calendar and make all decisions about food or weekend activities, only to complain when it doesn’t align with what you want to do
  • You accept responsibility for making her feel sexy and desired, planting the I-Want-To-Have-Sex-With-You Seeds at unexpected times and not just after you ignored her all night and got a sudden hard-on, or worse, only when you’re post-party drunk twice a month

A wife should never cheat on her husband (just as a husband should be vigilantly faithful to his wife). But instead of feeling and exhibiting jealousy and paranoia, or wondering whether she’s looking elsewhere to fill physical or emotional voids, BE THE LEADER.

Accept the challenge to proactively make your wife your life’s focus at the top of your daily priority list.

Then, affairs go away. Emotional insecurity goes away. Resentment and anger and hurt feelings and fighting go away.

In their place, you have two great friends. Two psychologically, emotionally and spiritually balanced parents in position to raise great kids. Two active lovers. Two people who give more to one another than they take for themselves.

We are either people enslaved and victimized by whatever Life does next, or we are people who have a say in the outcome. We have to decide.

Should all marital responsibility fall on men? Of course not.

But could men take the lead in a unified social movement intent on improving the state of marriage—and helping to make it a satisfying, life-giving institution instead of one rife with failure, regret and misery?

I like to think so.

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We Put Everything Ahead of Marriage and Then Wonder Why It Fails

downward spiral staircase

Let’s play a game.

Serious multiple-choice quiz:

1. What educational subject interests you most?

A. History

B. Math

C. Science

D. Love, Sex & Relationships/Marriage

2. Ignorance in which subject matter will negatively affect the greatest amount of people?

A. Military History

B. Physics of Sound

C. Creative Writing

D. Love, Sex & Relationships/Marriage

3. The lack of demonstrable skill in which area of life will negatively affect the greatest amount of people?

A. Drafting

B. Web Development

C. Trigonometry

D. Love, Sex & Relationships/Marriage

I about had an aneurysm when I learned that divorce affects 95 percent of the population. That seemed high. But the numbers bear out.

Here’s the breakdown (in the United States): 54 percent of adults (18 and over) are married, 20 percent used to be married, and 21 percent desire marriage.

Name another social issue (so, not the environment, energy policy or our food supply) that affects 95 out of 100 people. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I’ve complained about it before, because I sometimes complain: WHY ON EARTH DOES IT SEEM LIKE NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS?

Listen, I know there are a million books and websites and therapists out there working on marriage and relationship counseling. That’s not what I mean. I mean, we get so uptight about trans fats that they’ll be illegal nationwide by 2018. We’ve made it weird and political every time we have to choose between saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” There’s a blood donation van that parks outside my office building several times per year as part of a coordinated nationwide effort to grow the nation’s blood supply.

We care about childhood obesity. We care about getting our pets spayed and neutered. We care about reducing plastic bag use because sometimes they kill wildlife when not properly disposed of.

And that’s fine. You’re not going to hear me suggest we shouldn’t have those conversations. I just can’t figure out why helping people develop relationship skills and educating them on HOW to foster and sustain healthy relationships ISN’T a thing society seems concerned with.

It’s insane. It’s lazy. It’s irresponsible. It’s foolish. And it’s creating generations of dimwits procreating other dimwits who will perpetuate the dysfunction and fuckery.

I started thinking about this because of an insightful comment by @rougedmount on a previous post, where she points out that when wives feel like mothers to their husbands (picking up after them, managing their calendars, reminding them of things they’d forgotten, etc.) they also lose sexual interest in them.

Makes sense to me. Parenting isn’t sexy.

Something interesting happens after that, and if everyone who was married knew it—or better yet—if everyone who was going to marry someday knew it, our marriage success rate would skyrocket.

A Marital Downward Spiral

Sex is very important to a husband. I don’t know why we are wired as we are sexually. I only know that we are. I also know that a man having sex with his wife accomplishes many things for the husband: 1. He feels sexually satisfied. 2. He feels desired by his spouse. 3. He feels chemically and emotionally more connected to his spouse.

Thus, NOT having sex with his wife has an opposite effect. He feels sexually dissatisfied. He feels unwanted by his spouse. He feels chemically and emotionally disconnected.

Usually, bad things happen afterward.

Maybe he starts jerking off to internet porn all the time to feel satisfied. Maybe he starts flirting with someone at work to feel desired. And maybe because he feels chemically and emotionally disconnected from his spouse, he thinks he can justify inappropriate marriage behavior because She doesn’t want me anyway!

Emotional intimacy is very important to a wife. I don’t know why women are wired that way emotionally. I only know that they are. I also know that a man connecting emotionally with his wife accomplishes many things for her: 1. She feels safe, respected and loved. 2. She feels desired by her spouse. 3. She feels comfortable connecting sexually and WANTS to, because she genuinely desires the man who makes her feel these things.

Thus, NOT connecting with his wife emotionally often causes her to feel unsafe having sex with him, or simply so hurt and turned off, that she can’t want to.

The art of seduction between the two genders is so dramatic that most men never figure out that what works for them (her lying naked on the bed with a “do me now” look on her face) would almost NEVER work in reverse.

Seducing one’s wife and/or her initiating sex usually begins with her feeling cherished, respected and validated, so that she can feel emotionally connected, so that it feels good to have sex. I’m not female nor a wife, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t feel good to sleep with someone when it feels like your partner doesn’t like or respect you, which is how many wives feel.

Life tip, guys: Your wife doesn’t want to be your on-demand human masturbation device.

So, she’s craving emotional connection, but he’s not connecting emotionally. In fact, he’s withdrawing because she has cut off his sex supply, which feels like prison since he promised never to sleep with anyone else. More importantly, he doesn’t know that thoughtfully asking about her day and listening to her answer, or keeping his laundry picked up off the floor, or putting his dirty dishes in the dishwasher is DIRECTLY correlated to how bad she feels and why he’s no longer sexually active.

Because even though he seems like part ape, he actually craves emotional connection, too. He’s just weird and man-ish and doesn’t verbalize it effectively. His solution for recreating emotional connection is to have sex because that’s what makes sense to him. But she can’t or won’t. Because she no longer feels safe in her own life, and she often feels used, like he’s only interested in her when he wants an orgasm.

She rejects him because there’s no emotional connection (which produces a physical connection).

He rejects her because there’s no physical connection (which produces an emotional connection).

And they continue to push one another away and grow further apart, eventually seeking physical and emotional connection in new places, because Screw Him/Her! They don’t want me anyway!, which they both feel about one another at the same time for very different reasons.

This happens every day.

The wife feels emotionally and physically abandoned in her marriage, and she will eventually leave because it hurts too much, and/or she will find herself emotionally connecting to a man who isn’t her husband showing her the kind of attention and interest she craves (though his motivations are typically physical).

The husband feels physically and emotionally abandoned in his marriage, and will eventually have a meaningless affair or start sleeping with someone from another broken relationship after they connect emotionally while complaining to one another about the state of their marriages.

And if she just understood that when he absent-mindedly left the toilet seat up, there was no disrespect or malice in the action; and if he just understood that taking whatever life steps are necessary to NEVER leave the toilet seat up will help his wife feel emotionally connected, which will then improve his physical relationship, creating a cycle of fostered love and connection rather than a slow descent into divorce and shittiness; millions of people’s lives would benefit from all the good that comes from great marriages, and from the elimination of all the bad that comes from divorce.

This affects 95 percent of everyone.

So, I ask again: Where’s the social outrage and call to action? Where are our parents and educators fighting for our children to learn the life skills and truths about relationship psychology that will help make things better?

Because I’ve spent a lifetime hoping problems would magically go away on their own.

As it turns out, they never do.

…..

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She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink

(Image/jerrywilliamsmedia.com)

(Image/jerrywilliamsmedia.com)

It seems so unreasonable when you put it that way: My wife left me because sometimes I leave dishes by the sink.

It makes her seem ridiculous; and makes me seem like a victim of unfair expectations.

We like to point fingers at other things to explain why something went wrong, like when Biff Tannen crashed George McFly’s car and spilled beer on his clothes, but it was all George’s fault for not telling him the car had a blind spot.

This bad thing happened because of this, that, and the other thing. Not because of anything I did!

Sometimes I leave used drinking glasses by the kitchen sink, just inches away from the dishwasher.

It isn’t a big deal to me now. It wasn’t a big deal to me when I was married. But it WAS a big deal to her.

Every time she’d walk into the kitchen and find a drinking glass by the sink, she moved incrementally closer to moving out and ending our marriage. I just didn’t know it yet. But even if I had, I fear I wouldn’t have worked as hard to change my behavior as I would have stubbornly tried to get her to see things my way.

The idiom “to cut off your nose to spite your face” was created for such occasions.

Men Are Not Children, Even Though We Behave Like Them

Feeling respected by others is important to men.

Feeling respected by one’s wife is essential to living a purposeful and meaningful life. Maybe I thought my wife should respect me simply because I exchanged vows with her. It wouldn’t be the first time I acted entitled. One thing I know for sure is that I never connected putting a dish in the dishwasher with earning my wife’s respect.

Yesterday I responded to a comment by @insanitybytes22, in which she suggested things wives and mothers can do to help men as an olive branch instead of blaming men for every marital breakdown. I appreciated her saying so.

But I remember my wife often saying how exhausting it was for her to have to tell me what to do all the time. It’s why the sexiest thing a man can say to his partner is “I got this,” and then take care of whatever needs taken care of.

I always reasoned: “If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it.”

But she didn’t want to be my mother. She wanted to be my partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household.

She wanted me to figure out all of the things that need done, and devise my own method of task management.

I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.

Men Can Do Things

Men invented heavy machines that can fly in the air reliably and safely. Men proved the heliocentric model of the solar system, establishing that the Earth orbits the Sun. Men design and build skyscrapers, and take hearts and other human organs from dead people and replace the corresponding failing organs inside of living people, and then those people stay alive afterward. Which is insane.

Men are totally good at stuff.

Men are perfectly capable of doing a lot of these things our wives complain about. What we are not good at is being psychic, or accurately predicting how our wives might feel about any given thing because male and female emotional responses tend to differ pretty dramatically.

‘Hey Matt! Why would you leave a glass by the sink instead of putting it in the dishwasher?’

Several reasons.

  1. I may want to use it again.
  2. I don’t care if a glass is sitting by the sink unless guests are coming over.
  3. I will never care about a glass sitting by the sink. Ever. It’s impossible. It’s like asking me to make myself interested in crocheting, or to enjoy yardwork. I don’t want to crochet things. And it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which doing a bunch of work in my yard sounds more appealing than ANY of several thousand less-sucky things which could be done.

There is only ONE reason I will ever stop leaving that glass by the sink. A lesson I learned much too late: Because I love and respect my partner, and it REALLY matters to her. I understand that when I leave that glass there, it hurts her— literally causes her pain—because it feels to her like I just said: “Hey. I don’t respect you or value your thoughts and opinions. Not taking four seconds to put my glass in the dishwasher is more important to me than you are.”

All the sudden, it’s not about something as benign and meaningless as a (quasi) dirty dish.

Now, it’s a meaningful act of love and sacrifice, and really? Four seconds? That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing too big to do for the person who sacrifices daily for me.

I don’t have to understand WHY she cares so much about that stupid glass.

I just have to understand and respect that she DOES. Then caring about her = putting glass in dishwasher.

Caring about her = keeping your laundry off the floor.

Caring about her = thoughtfully not tracking dirt or whatever on the floor she worked hard to clean.

Caring about her = taking care of kid-related things so she can just chill out for a little bit and not worry about anything.

Caring about her = “Hey babe. Is there anything I can do today or pick up on my way home that will make your day better?”

Caring about her = a million little things that say “I love you” more than speaking the words ever can.

Yes, It’s That Simple

The man capable of that behavioral change—even when he doesn’t understand her or agree with her thought-process—can have a great relationship.

Men want to fight for their right to leave that glass there. It might look like this:

“Eat shit, wife,” we think. “I sacrifice a lot for you, and you’re going to get on me about ONE glass by the sink? THAT little bullshit glass that takes a few seconds to put in the dishwasher, which I’ll gladly do when I know I’m done with it, is so important to you that you want to give me crap about it? You want to take an otherwise peaceful evening and have an argument with me, and tell me how I’m getting something wrong and failing you, over this glass? After all of the big things I do to make our life possible—things I never hear a “thank you” for (and don’t ask for)—you’re going to elevate a glass by the sink into a marriage problem? I couldn’t be THAT petty if I tried. And I need to dig my heels in on this one. If you want that glass in the dishwasher, put it in there yourself without telling me about it. Otherwise, I’ll put it away when people are coming over, or when I’m done with it. This is a bullshit fight that feels unfair and I’m not just going to bend over for you.”

The man DOES NOT want to divorce his wife because she’s nagging him about the glass thing which he thinks is totally irrational. He wants her to agree with him that when you put life in perspective, a glass being by the sink when no one is going to see it anyway, and the solution takes four seconds, is just not a big problem. She should recognize how petty and meaningless it is in the grand scheme of life, he thinks, and he keeps waiting for her to agree with him.

She will never agree with him, because it’s not about the glass for her. The glass situation could be ANY situation in which she feels unappreciated and disrespected by her husband.

The wife doesn’t want to divorce her husband because he leaves used drinking glasses by the sink.

She wants to divorce him because she feels like he doesn’t respect or appreciate her, which suggests he doesn’t love her, and she can’t count on him to be her lifelong partner. She can’t trust him. She can’t be safe with him. Thus, she must leave and find a new situation in which she can feel content and secure.

In theory, the man wants to fight this fight, because he thinks he’s right (and I agree with him): The dirty glass is not more important than marital peace.

If his wife thought and felt like him, he’d be right to defend himself. Unfortunately, most guys don’t know that she’s NOT fighting about the glass. She’s fighting for acknowledgment, respect, validation, and his love.

If he KNEW that—if he fully understood this secret she has never explained to him in a way that doesn’t make her sound crazy to him (causing him to dismiss it as an inconsequential passing moment of emo-ness), and that this drinking glass situation and all similar arguments will eventually end his marriage, I believe he WOULD rethink which battles he chose to fight, and would be more apt to take action doing things he understands to make his wife feel loved and safe.

I think a lot of times, wives don’t agree with me. They don’t think it’s possible that their husbands don’t know how their actions make her feel because she has told him, sometimes with tears in her eyes, over and over and over and over again how upset it makes her and how much it hurts.

And this is important: Telling a man something that doesn’t make sense to him once, or a million times, doesn’t make him “know” something. Right or wrong, he would never feel hurt if the same situation were reversed so he doesn’t think his wife SHOULD hurt. It’s like, he doesn’t think she has the right to (and then use it as a weapon against him) because it feels unfair.

“I never get upset with you about things you do that I don’t like!” men reason, as if their wives are INTENTIONALLY choosing to feel hurt and miserable.

When you choose to love someone, it becomes your pleasure to do things that enhance their lives and bring you closer together, rather than a chore.

It’s not: Sonofabitch, I have to do this bullshit thing for my wife again. It’s: I’m grateful for another opportunity to demonstrate to my wife that she comes first and that I can be counted on to be there for her, and needn’t look elsewhere for happiness and fulfillment.

Once someone figures out how to help a man equate the glass situation (which does not, and will never, affect him emotionally) with DEEPLY wounding his wife and making her feel sad, alone, unloved, abandoned, disrespected, afraid, etc. …  Once men really grasp that and accept it as true even though it doesn’t make sense to them?

Everything changes forever.

…..

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‘Got any suggestions for this exhausted wife?’

exhausted-mother

Exhausted Wife wrote: “So I recently read your open letter to shitty husbands, and actually got my husband to read them too. It is like you are writing about our relationship. Completely accurate. A little scary actually and makes me feel sad for us because I can see the same end result happening. We’ve been together for five years, married for less than one, have a 2-year-old and one on the way.
He said that reading your letters was eye opening, and seemed to be making some solid changes… yet here we are a couple of weeks later and the same patterns resurfacing. Leaving all ‘tough’ stuff on me regarding taking care of our son, sitting on his phone/laptop constantly; myself and my son being ignored while he’s watching videos, playing video games, etc. He also has ADHD and knows these distractions cause problems, yet continues to do them. Recently began taking medication to help his ADHD, however I don’t believe that it’s making much difference.
I am at a loss for what to do. I’ve tried everything I can, begged him to change his priorities, tried to make deals with him so he gets some ‘down time,’ given as much as I can, withheld and distanced myself, gotten mad, threatened to leave, left and came back. It’s the same old story.
I’m 7 months pregnant, take care of my son full-time, work part-time and spent an hour and a half the other night trying to get my son to sleep while my husband watched videos in bed. Afterwards, because I was upset, he offered to put him to sleep the next night and give me a break, but it doesn’t change the fact that I needed him the night before but his need to relax was more important than mine. I don’t know how to get through to him. I don’t know if I can even.
Got any suggestions for this exhausted wife? I am afraid that things are never going to change and I’m wasting my time and energy with a man who is more selfish than I can handle.”

This is what the average marriage looks like and why so many are creeping toward divorce.

The classic reasons a husband drove his wife to leave him (or to become seduced by another man giving her attention) tended to be some combination of infidelity, abuse and neglect. Behaviors we all looked at and universally thought: “Wow. What an asshole!”

The majority of modern divorces aren’t like that. They’re just two regular people we all know and believed were a great couple until one of our mutual friends tells us over lunch: “Oh my God. Did you hear that Katie and Mark are getting divorced? They seemed so great together!”

Most broken marriages today fall into the generic silo of “Irreconcilable Differences.”

When I was a kid, I didn’t know what that meant. I was raised in a conservative Catholic household where divorce was considered sinful. So, mom, why did you leave dad and move us 500 miles away when I was in preschool? I often wondered.

It scared me that I might one day learn that dad cheated on mom, or hit her, or was a neglectful prick (which would have been super-inconsistent with my experiences with him).

And it turns out, none of those things happened. They just “couldn’t make it work.”

My parents were really young and poor. We lived in an Iowa trailer park.

Two kids in their early 20s trying to raise a kid and do the right thing.

I was married four years before my son was born, and my ex might disagree, but I have predominately fond memories of our pre-child marriage. The adjustment from two people doing whatever they want, to everything we do now has a “is this okay for our child?” backdrop to it, is dramatic.

I can’t even fathom how hard it must have been on two young people who knew each other for less than a year.

Historically, mothers bear the greatest burden when children are conceived. They carry the child, deliver the child, try to figure out what the shit is happening inside their minds and bodies as their hormone levels and body chemistry freak out without warning while they also secretly worry about their sexual desirability with their post-pregnancy bodies, and—oh yeah—have a new human being to raise from ages 0-18+ with no instruction manual, and it’s absolutely terrifying at first.

More things change in a permanent and scary way for mothers following the birth of a child than they do for fathers.

So many of the child-rearing responsibilities in our kids’ first year of life fall into the category of what chauvinistic and sexist men overtly or secretly consider “women’s work.” Things like feeding, and clothing, and bathing. Our grandmothers and mothers did it, so we just grew up thinking it was “the way” and ended up dumping our wives with more responsibilities without ever wondering whether it was fair, actively volunteering to help, expressing our gratitude, or providing the emotional and spiritual support necessary to help them not break down.

We men hold our babies and we feel the intense love we have for them. That’s real. But we’re often daydreaming about when they’re bigger three or four years from now so we can start doing all the “dad” stuff with them we remember doing with our fathers. That’s the stuff that really gives us the feels.

We look at our wives caring for our children and we feel the intense love we have for them. That’s real. But we’re often daydreaming about spontaneous weekend getaways, and spontaneous sex against the bathroom vanity, but most importantly—the way things used to be when she was totally into me.

Little known secret: Men often feel neglected and abandoned when their children are born and take all of their wife’s attention from him. But because, A. We love our children above all things, and B. We’re prideful and consider whining for the attention and adoration we crave a sign of weakness, we never tell anyone about it.

New fathers leave an unfair amount of work and responsibility to their wives because that’s often the arrangement they saw play out in their family, in other families, and on TV while growing up.

New mothers resent it, and when they finally break emotionally and say something about it, it comes off harsh and overly emotional, and us husbands—already tender from the radical and unexpected transformation in our relationship with her—react with prideful defensiveness, and withdraw emotionally, because that’s what we do when we feel shame from our partner’s disapproval.

The husband doesn’t understand how much he’s failing her emotionally, and that his cultural examples of mom taking care of everything was some seriously unfair bullshit, or that it’s an ineffective model for making relationships work in 2016. He’s just obliviously derpy-derping through life.

The wife doesn’t understand that his emotional abandonment and failure to meet her needs are NOT the actions of someone who doesn’t love her and can’t be counted on as a lifelong parenting, sexual, and financial partner. They are the actions of a self-centered, oblivious, entitled, immature guy who—with effective communication techniques and the right information—can become marriage-centered, reliable, thoughtful and empathetic.

‘It is like you are writing about our relationship. Completely accurate. A little scary actually and makes me feel sad for us because I can see the same end result happening.’

Everyone is entitled to their feelings. Stuff happens, then we all have a natural reaction. That needs to be okay, even when we don’t always understand one another.

However, I think the statement above is the wrong (and unecessarily cynical) way to think about it.

I had spent months sleeping in the guest room while my marriage inched toward doomsday before I started to get serious about figuring out how to save it. I began having lots of conversations with other married people, praying for miracles, and reading any books or articles that seemed like they might help. I read this book, then had the same realization that millions of other marriages are going through the same cycle and breakdown as mine. While sad, it wasn’t scary. It was a REASON. I felt joy and hope for the first time in months: Holy. Shit. This is happening to EVERYBODY. Not just us.

That means, in general terms, these marriage problems are universal.

It means YOU ARE NOT WEIRD. YOU ARE NOT FREAKS. YOU GUYS ARE NOT ANY MORE FLAWED OR DYSFUNCTIONAL THAN ANYONE ELSE.

These are profound realizations.

And unless you’re someone who believes in unsolvable problems, it means these universal marriage problems have universal solutions.

It also makes it completely illogical to assume that divorcing your spouse and eventually replacing him or her with another person will eliminate these “universal” relationship dynamics. It’s one of the reasons I’m so against divorce of the “irreconcilable differences” variety. Because unless you’re going to remain single forever, this EXACT same stuff in slightly different sizes, colors and shapes are going to crop up with the next partner.

There are no magic partners.

There are only partners willing to give the love needed to keep things together, and those who are not.

And the entire premise behind my writings on marriage and divorce is that there is a HUGE percentage of men who, when they have all of the information (Doing A = emotionally and mentally damaging your wife’s heart and mind, and will lead to divorce and you missing out on at least half your children’s lives, or Doing B = Wife feeling safe, secure and desired, knowing she can trust him to be her steady and reliable rock in good times and in bad, and will lead to a lifelong marriage where you get to grow old together and he gets to feel loved and respected instead of shame from failing at his most important job), will begin to institute changes needed to have a secure and predominately happy marriage.

‘Got any suggestions for this exhausted wife?’

Yes. Thank you for asking.

Allow yourself to question your beliefs about him. About what goes on inside your husband’s heart and mind when you don’t understand him. Question whether the ability to mine every bit of information in there might radically change your perception.

Trust that you weren’t a stupid moron when you married him. Trust that all of the positive things you once identified in him are still true and real. He’s the same man.

Believe in him. Support him. Encourage him. Doing so will fuel him as he works to overcome his selfish habits in favor of new ones which make you feel good instead of bad. He may never understand why these lifestyle changes radically change the way you feel every day, but so long as he understands that they do affect you, and that they are necessary to keep your marriage and family together, he will do it IF he genuinely loves you and your children.

Suggestions:

  1. Try to always speak kindly so that he won’t tune out what you’re saying. This is important, because him TRULY UNDERSTANDING in his mind, heart and soul how critical what you’re saying is to the survival of your marriage, and your health and wellbeing, is the only way he can learn what he currently doesn’t know. Try not to make him feel like you don’t believe he’s good enough. Try to make him understand that you KNOW he’s good enough, which is why this is all so important.
  2. Find information that makes sense to him. While I’m flattered you wanted him to read my blog posts, there is much better information out there, but he must WANT to learn it. He will only WANT to learn it once he grasps the idea that not learning it will lead to divorce and horribleness. He does not get it. Most men don’t. He thinks your mind and body work like his does. We all think everyone does until life proves otherwise. So when you try to explain to him how something made you feel, it makes no sense to him, because he would never have the same reaction. This misunderstanding is essentially the root cause of every male-female relationship breakdown in history. You don’t need to understand how one another feel. You only need to believe it’s real that you don’t understand one another no matter how many times you discuss it, and that it’s BAD. Then, because you love one another and want to stay married, you reprioritize after learning how to share thoughts, feelings and ideas without fighting.
  3. Educate yourself and him on how ADHD commonly affects marriage and relationships, and strategies for overcoming it. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until more than two years after my divorce. Sadly, I never knew how big of a factor the condition was in my habits and behaviors that drove my wife away. Your husband will not have the same excuse.
  4. Wake up in the morning and decide to love him. Expect and demand the same in return. And then, knowing there will always be emotional ups and downs through the rollercoaster of life, continue to make that same decision every day for the rest of your life. As long as both of you do that, Forever After happens.

Kindly ask him if it’s fair for you to expect him to list “Husband” and “Father” at the top of his Things I Want To Be Great At list. Ahead of his hobbies. Ahead of his job. Ahead of his competitive pursuits.

“Is being the best possible husband and father—ideologically—at the top of your life’s priority list?”

If he says no, there’s nothing left to discuss.

If he says yes, it’s time for him to figure out what to do before it’s too late.

And with the right combination of words, behavior and information, he will. I’ll be rooting for him, you and your children. Very much.

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They Don’t Love Your Kids, and They Shouldn’t Have To

Dating with kids

The closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve had since getting divorced was someone I met in the first 10 months.

And that might sound like a long time to regular, non-divorced people, but I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you it took two years to stop feeling super-fragile and waking up in the morning without feeling like the universe had just spent the night brain-raping me.

She was throwing a birthday party for her kindergarten-aged son and I attended because my little guy was friends and classmates with the birthday boy. Totally pretty. Totally single. I asked her out. She said yes. We had a four- or five-month thing.

She is a very busy mother of three, working full time and running her kids around constantly to little league games, Girl Scouts, and whatever else. Because the father of her children is a substandard human being, she received ZERO amounts of help from him. Like, couldn’t even count on him to keep their children overnight once in a while. She had also lost her parents, making her the grand prize winner of the Least-Supported Mother I’ve Ever Met contest.

Even though she only lives a few blocks away, we were lucky to get together once a week for a few hours. Her children are her highest priority (as kids are with most parents), and in the end, the math worked against us.

That experience taught me two things:

  1. Dating school moms is a HORRIBLE idea because if it were to somehow end badly you’d be stuck seeing them for several years. (It worked out fine for me, but still. Single dads: Don’t date school moms.)
  2. Dating after divorce with children is very hard and complicated.

The Plight of the Dating Parent

I was afraid it would be hard to find people willing to date a divorced father. And it’s actually much worse and more difficult than I expected. The good news is that I was all emo about it during the initial divorce period. I was worried about it hurting. Divorced people are tired of hurting.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel nearly three years later, where I now sit emotionally steady and sharper mentally than I’ve ever been.

So, it doesn’t hurt. Not now. And that’s key. But it is somewhat frustrating and annoying because I’m good at recognizing data samples and long-term trends, and it’s super easy to see that having one almost-girlfriend for four-ish months two years ago doesn’t extrapolate to anything hope-inspiring looking forward.

If the goal is cheap sex and casual dating, children would only serve as a hindrance in logistical ways (only being available when the children are with the other parent, or making sure there’s a trusted sitter available), though I’ve heard of plenty of parents who don’t insulate their kids from their dating and/or sex activities, which I consider unwise and disgusting, but I don’t pretend to know everything.

Cheap doesn’t appeal to me, which is particularly inconvenient since celibacy also doesn’t.

Children present challenges for people who are dating with an eye on the future—those open to long-term relationships and possible marriage.

When you view dating through that prism, your children become the ultimate filter, with the parent asking: Would this person be a positive influence on my child? Would they make me a better or worse parent? And if the answers to those questions aren’t the right ones, the potential relationship is dead on arrival.

The other person (who may also have kids) asks: Am I willing to take on a stepparent role to this person’s children and love them as my own? Can I be unselfish enough to respect the existing parent-child relationship as well as understand that I can never replace the children’s biological father (or mother)?

I’m terrified any time I meet women with several children (which I define as three or more). When I imagine a life with them, I imagine never having any money, ever, and even less time, and it gives me anxiety and makes me feel even more selfish than I usually do. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I just know it scares me.

Which is the perfect segue to…

People Want What They Want, and It’s Often Not Others’ Children, and That Needs to be Okay

I didn’t think it was fair. Don’t they want the best possible partner? Isn’t that the most important thing?

Not dating me because I’m a father seemed shortsighted to me because they were never going to meet my son anyway unless it got to full-fledged boyfriend-girlfriend status at which time I assumed they’d lovingly accept my charming son as a valued addition to their life.

But really, I was the one being shortsighted. They weren’t making a choice for right now. They were making a personal choice about forever, and I wasn’t respecting it.

 

From a human value standpoint, I am not better than anyone. But in the context of the dating pool (of the non-cheap-sex variety)? I’m not better than the best men. But I like my chances of ranking in the top half, making me “better” than most men.

So, what the shit!? Why does it feel like I never meet anyone?

For the same reason most thirtysomething divorced parents feel that way.

Last time we were all single, we were high school or college-aged, and for the most part, we were almost exclusively surrounded by A. Single people, B. People our age, and C. People like us. I mean that culturally and demographically, which allows people to more easily discover common interests, participate in the same activities and feel comfortable with each other.

Fast forward 5-15 years to being divorced with children.

Now, we live somewhere else, or most of our friends have either married or moved out of town. We are not typically in social situations surrounded by single people, and while diversity is a great thing in the work place and in our friendships, the reality is too much cultural diversity in an intimate relationship–especially with kids (and philosophical disagreements on how to raise them)–can cause a ton of problems in marriage.

I swiped the previous three paragraphs from an obscenely long comment I left yesterday on Lisa Arends’ excellent and enlightening post “Dating After Divorce: What About the Kids?” at Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Lisa’s explanation of her choice to avoid dating single dads following her divorce helped me better see things through the prism of women who choose to not be mothers.

I used to believe it was practical to meet people the old-fashioned way. I’ve never been shy about saying online dating is horrible and unnatural and that I hate it more than cabbage which is subpar raw, and shitty and indefensible when cooked.

I also used to believe it was possible I’d end up dating someone younger than me who had never been married and didn’t have kids.

I’m not saying I prefer someone like that. That’s not how I think about dating.

I simply look for someone I feel drawn to, which tends to begin with physical attraction, after which interest grows or recedes relative to all of our conscious and subconscious filters and biases: Ugh. She’s not very interesting. Or. Wow. We have nothing in common. Or. Damn. She’s intolerably bitchy. Or. Whoa. This woman has a brilliant and sexy mind. Or. Sigh. She has the kind of heart I want pushing me to be a better man. Or. Uh-oh. This girl is amazing and it’s going to hurt if she doesn’t like me back.

But dating after divorce got scarier still when I realized the never-married/no-kids crowd wasn’t the option I thought it was. It’s a numbers game. The largest percentage of single people fall into that category, so when you take them off the board, things start to feel even more bleak.

I’ve never set out to meet someone of a certain age nor particularly cared whether someone had been married or had children prior to me meeting them. Of course, that’s really easy for me to think and feel as a now-divorced parent.

Parents with four kids don’t think having four kids is scary. They can’t imagine NOT having four kids. Yet, I can be scared of it.

Similarly, it’s not scary to have my 7-year-old at home half the time. In fact it’s logistically about as easy as single parenting gets. Yet, single women are often scared of it. Or more importantly, per Lisa Arends’ post, may deliberately choose not to get involved.

And it’s not because they’re busy or judgy or shallow or selfish.

In some cases, it’s because they respect us enough to not mess with our hearts and minds, and they’re thoughtful enough to not subject our children who we love above all things to any more loss or potential feelings of abandonment by that partner.

No matter how much we love our children, or how much it doesn’t feel like a difficult choice to put them first because it’s our default position as parents once they enter our lives, we still sacrifice an insane amount of time, resources, and personal interests on their behalf.

Imagine purposefully volunteering for all those same sacrifices when you have baggage-free options available to you. That would be akin to getting two job offers from different companies to perform the same job, only to learn that one of the jobs has a 90-minute-longer commute, more stressful hours, more complex problems, a crappy vacation policy and 30-percent less pay, and then choosing it over the other.

Both my parents remarried when I was young, so I grew up seeing and experiencing what stable, loving stepparents accepting and loving a child they didn’t produce looks like. It’s probably as easy for me to imagine loving another’s kids as it would be for anyone.

Not everyone had that experience. Hopefully because their parents stayed together.

But maybe because their parents didn’t, and then they had a bunch of negative or traumatic experiences with the strange men and women forced into their lives.

I can’t imagine how hard that might have been and how much worse my life might have gotten had that been my experience.

And maybe now they’re going to trust their instincts and do all they can to give themselves the best chance for a life of happiness and contentment.

I’ve never been able to see it that way until now. But then I read something that challenged my assumptions and made me grow up a little more.

That always feels good.

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How to Kiss Atop Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

(Image/africaninsightsafaris.com)

I was certain Santa Claus was real.

That’s why I argued with my friend Bill about it in second grade even though he had four older siblings who had exposed the whole racket by actually showing him where their parents hid the presents.

Whatever, bitch! I thought in much nicer little-kid language. If my parents say it’s true, and I get presents that say “From Santa,” and I believe it, then it’s obviously true!

True story: When I was 4, the seeds of doubt were planted RE: Santa’s existence when I received a note from St. Nick thanking me for the milk and cookies as well as the carrots I’d set out for the reindeer, in which Rudolph’s name was spelled “Rudolf.” Dad didn’t have Google in 1983, and maybe wouldn’t have double-checked the spelling anyway.

Because I was a little smarty back then before all the marijuana and alcohol contamination in high school and college, it didn’t take me long on Christmas morning to notice the discrepancy on Santa’s note versus my little paperback copy of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which I’d probably leafed through a half-million times that week.

Maybe I thought the book was wrong. Maybe I thought Santa was a bad speller. Maybe I was in denial because all the Star Wars toys were magically filling up my new snap-shut Darth Vader action figure carrying case like a Yuletide miracle.

I was still certain Santa Claus was real. And that my friend Bill and all his siblings were dumb and wrong. Kris Kringle and his magic sleigh probably just skipped them for being naughty Santa-deniers who thrived on the destruction of childhood dreams.

We just couldn’t agree because he was a stubborn little thing in second grade.

“Dude. You’re not getting it. I KNOW Santa’s real. Here’s how: 1. I get presents from him. 2. He eats the cookies. 3. He leaves me signed notes. 4. He magically finds me Christmas morning, no matter which of my divorced parents I am with, or what state I’m in. 5. My parents told me and they’re never wrong and they never lie!” I rationally explained to him.

There was only one way to settle it: Asking Bill’s mom, because she’s an awesome lady who also is never wrong and never lies.

“Mrs. O! Bill is saying there’s no Santa Claus and he’s clearly wrong! Please correct him and then spank him or something!”

Bill retorted with some blah-blibbity-blah crap and reminded her of a previous admission that she and his father did, in fact, buy all the “Santa” gifts for him and his siblings. He thought that was his ace in the hole.

Not so fast, sucka!

His mother, ever steady and wise, calmly explained to him how the supernatural capabilities of St. Nick allowed him to deliver Christmas presents to me and children throughout the world while also having agreements with certain parents in certain families to take care of gift giving themselves.

He was speechless.

That’s right! Total ownage!

His mother settled it, proving that my totally smart and awesome friend was, in this rare instance, a stupid, low-information moron.

It feels good to be right and know everything, doesn’t it?

The Thinking Problem

I pride myself on being thoughtful. I don’t mean “thoughtful,” the adjective, where I’m always anticipating others’ needs and tending to them, which would be nice. I just mean I think a lot. Many would tell you I overthink things, and I’d say they’re correct.

If I have to choose between being an imbecile or being someone who thinks a lot, my gut instinct is to be as I am. Always thinking. Always imagining. Always asking questions.

I’m a far cry from being the intellectual I’d like to be. But I’m also not dribbling milk down my chin and eating generic Apple Jacks cereal on my smelly, stained couch high on meth and watching A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila in sweatpants and holey socks.

Even though I’m reasonably smart, read non-fiction, and went to college and stuff, and there’s an actual guy somewhere doing the meth-smoking, stained-couch thing while I type this; if he grew up not believing in Santa, I could throw all my evidence and reasoning at him, and still lose an argument to the meth head by virtue of me being wrong.

There’s a healthy amount of skepticism needed to not get hoodwinked by scam artists. To not be suckered by people trying to manipulate us. To make good, informed decisions in every facet of our lives.

Anyone who has changed their mind about anything, ever, knows we’re capable of believing things which aren’t true, no matter how intelligent we are.

While this applies to life’s most controversial subjects like theology, political science and Adele, this “thinking problem” also hampers us in every other area of life.

Here’s another true story: I won’t date anyone seriously I perceive to be a bad long-term match. Live too far away? Practice a different faith? Have an opposing political ideology? Root for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Have a bunch of different hobbies, tastes and interests?

I write her name on the People I Can’t Marry, Thus Shouldn’t Date list.

Point of clarification: This only applies to me being a father to a young child, or to the me from several years ago who aspired to have children with whoever I married. In today’s terms, it mostly applies to divorced single parents interested in long-term relationships. This is less of an issue for non-parents or those planning on never having children.

I’ve had several women tell me they think it’s a bullshit philosophy. Each time they said so I got the sense they thought I was saying they weren’t good enough, and since Must Be This Tall To Ride is the ironic and metaphorical theme of my entire life, I can appreciate how bad that feels, even though it wasn’t true.

It’s not because I don’t think they’re good enough.

It’s because I’m REALLY sensitive about divorce, since my parents did it, and then I did it, and it was fun zero of those times.

There are probably a million instances of better people than me making it work, but I can’t figure out what it looks like when my atheist girlfriend answers my son’s questions about God, or when my Jewish fiancée’s daughter asks me why Catholics pray to Jesus, or when my vegan wife bans taco night and I stop speaking to her for the rest of my life while steadfastly maintaining semi-regular taco consumption.

Critical thinking, analysis and healthy skepticism are important to good decision making.

But, excessive doubt? Particularly self-doubt?

It paralyzes us, preventing us from living fully, and leads to procrastination, feelings of permanent limbo, loneliness, depression and social anxiety, according to researchers with much better evidence than I had about Santa.

I believe I’m smart, and maybe I am, but because I believe I’m smart, I trust my judgment EVEN WHEN IT’S WRONG. Like the Santa thing.

And it works the other way, too. There’s a chance that—because I’m fairly smart and capable and devilishly charming—I could succeed in all of these life pursuits I avoid out of fear of failure, ranging from writing and business opportunities to my dating and family life.

Everything in life is either true or false. Right or wrong. Or somewhere in the middle and constantly changing relative to whatever conditions apply to that particular subject or thing.

I hate to admit it, but I make mistakes. I’m wrong, sometimes. I make errors in judgment, or I blatantly believe something that eventually proves false.

My entire life is about being the best version of myself I can be moving forward. I mess up in several areas. There’s no reason to believe my assumptions and decisions and doubts aren’t among them.

Say it with me:

I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I get things wrong.

Maybe things I believe about myself aren’t true. Maybe things I believe about life aren’t true. Maybe I actually can do that. Maybe I am strong enough. Maybe I am good enough.

Sometimes I doubt things. And because I trust that I’m smart, I let doubt paralyze me.

But what if I doubted my doubt? What if I challenged my own assumptions and beliefs?

“OMG! I can’t do this!…

“Wait a minute. Sometimes I’m wrong! Maybe I should doubt this self-doubt.

“Hey, self-doubt! I’m totally doubting you right now!”

And then you bring down the house singing outside your car or shower for the first time. And then you start a new business and your life gets better. And then you experience inner peace. And then you stand on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. And then you publish that book. And then you kiss the girl.

And then you realize you’re not an imposter. That you really can do it.

And then you change the world.

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