Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Quick Note About Stuff and Things 5-31-2016

stuff and things

(Image/samantharosling.tumblr.com)

Hey guys.

I had an unusually busy and not-super-fun weekend at a car dealership. I’ve decided that buying cars is one of my least favorite things.

I wanted to write a post today, but Time is being an inconsiderate jerkface, so I’m unable to. I’m writing this fake post instead just to say hi, and tell you random things you might not care about.

1. Read ‘Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person’

Alain de Botton wrote this extremely thought-provoking piece which ran in the New York Times Sunday, and I thought it was really interesting. Also, several people I know in real life or through the blog shared it with me, so it clearly has appeal with the kinds of people who read things here.

British author de Botton is the founder of the London-based School of Life which is dedicated to All The Things we discuss here, and is geared toward helping people “Develop Emotional Intelligence.” Frankly, I’m embarrassed I didn’t know about The School of Life before this past weekend, because it only took watching the 90-second intro video for me to realize their mission to help people with all the life stuff we don’t learn formally or informally as children is something easy for me to get behind.

2. Reader Lynda asks: ‘What Are You Going to Say to Your Son?’

What we teach our children about healthy relationships is THE key to changing the world RE: How to stop having crappy, dysfunctional relationships, and keep couples and families together.

Her specific question was this: “My question for you is what are you going to say to your son to teach him how to have a healthy relationship as he grows up? What seeds are you going to plant to help break the cycle? I have only a few years left with my boys under my roof to teach them what they need to know, and I don’t want to feel like they are doomed, given the family history. What are your thoughts?”

It’s a great question, and will be a post in the near future.

3. How Do We Rank Living Things?

You probably heard about the gorilla that was shot and killed by zoo workers this past weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo while rescuing a 4-year-old boy who crawled under a fence and fell into the gorilla exhibit while his mother’s back was turned.

The internet lost its mind, and after watching a minute or two of video on Facebook, everyone suddenly became experts on gorilla behavior with small human children.

Harambe, a 17-year-old, 419-pound male western lowland silverback gorilla died tragically having done no wrong. You’ll read no heartless commentary from me on his passing.

Animal lovers globally were weighing in on whether the gorilla should have been shot or tranquilized, and questioned whether the life of one human of which there are 7.4 billion should be valued over the life of a rare and endangered silverback gorilla.

I have a variety of thoughts on the matter, but there’s really just ONE question I’m most interested in exploring: How do we rank the value of life?

Are we wrong to automatically rank humans over animals? What about certain animals over others? What about certain people over others?

We must, and will, discuss.

4. Do Women Complain More Than Men?

I might be misremembering, but I think I read MBTTTR commenter Linbo ask this over the weekend, in the spirit of: “Are wives sometimes too demanding of their husbands? Are women more likely to complain about something than men? If so, why?”

I think that’s another post and discussion to be had.

5. Try Brain Surfing. It’s Fun.

This month, I had the good fortune to cross digital paths with author and brand strategist Heather LeFevre. She wrote a kick-ass marketing strategy-travelogue hybrid book called Brain Surfing The Top Marketing Strategy Minds in the World” which I’m in the middle of and liking very much. If you’re in the marketing world and/or are passionate about international travel, you’ll like it because it’s exceptionally creative and offers crucial insight to business owners and marketers about brand empathy, community building and storytelling. 

6. Please Root for the Cleveland Cavaliers to Win the NBA Finals

Pretty please, and thank you.

7. Watch ‘Bloodline’ if You Have Netflix

I’m serious. Season 2 just recently released. That’s just a good life tip you can thank me for later. Check it out here.

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Do We Need Marriage?

handcuff marriage

Is this what marriage is? (Image/tlbn.org)

Julia asked: “I’m one year post-divorce and still grappling with the idea of ever marrying again. I used to feel that marriage was a necessity, but I’ve realized that I don’t really need it. You don’t need to be married to love someone for a long, long time, ya know? I used to think Marriage = Security, but I realized that isn’t true…

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?

“I absolutely see the point you’re making, but I would love to hear more about the million reasons why we should get married.”

Life, much like writing, is filled with a bunch of nuance and subtlety.

Life, much like writing, requires we ask difficult questions and put effort into discovering answers. For example: Is there actually a meaningful difference between the words “nuance” and “subtlety”?

We talk about big things here. Big ideas. We have the conversations it often seems as if no one else is having because they’re busy screaming about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders; or trying to decipher Beyoncé lyrics; or making summer plans for their kids before school starts again in a few months, or, just, individual life distractions that keep most of our minds off anything flirting with the philosophical or psychological.

Something important gets lost in all the noise: Meaning.

One minute, we’re literal. “I am frustrated with Fred at work because certain things he does makes doing my job more difficult for me.”

The next minute, we utter hyperbole—my communication method of choice: “Fred is killing me.”

It’s awesome that the police don’t show up to arrest people for attempted murder OR falsely reporting a crime every time we say “[So and So, or This Random Thing] is killing me,” because that would be really frustrating and burdensome for law-abiding citizens as well as police officers and the judicial system.

Put another way, we’d all lose our shit and wish we were dead.

Should We Get Married?

Probably not. If that’s a serious question a person is asking.

In the post ‘This is why you shouldn’t get married’, I wrote the following:

“There are a million reasons you shouldn’t get married.

“Five short, personal accounts without additional context from divorced women on the internet SHOULD NOT be among them.

“Because there are a million reasons you SHOULD get married.

“Active and physically fit people sometimes die of heart attacks during workouts. Should people stop exercising?

“People are sometimes hurt or killed while driving. Should we avoid getting behind the wheel?

“Patients sometimes die in hospitals because of human error or unpredictable reactions to medicine. “Should we stop visiting doctors while suffering health problems?

“Bad news, guys: the problem was never the institution of marriage. It was us.”

A couple of notes:

There might not be a million reasons you SHOULD get married. A better word choice might have been: “There are a million reasons to get married.” I was just playing off the SHOULD NOT from the previous sentence. And I’m fairly certain no human can write a million-reason list to do ANYTHING, let alone get married, when so many people have become disenchanted with marriage because of divorce, seeing their parents or friends divorce, paying attention to divorce statistics, or believing it to be an outdated religious concept unnecessary for living a fulfilling life in 2016.

MBTTTR commenter Lisa G. dropped this under The Life Blueprint, and it serendipitously hits all the points:

“I agree with this. Question models and think deeply about what you want and need and your gifts. Also consider how it will affect others. Don’t go into $100,000 in debt unless you really understand what you are doing. ;)

“The problem is we often substitute one model for another equally restrictive model instead of fixing the problem underlying the first model.

“That is what is wrong with the model described in your last post. Because so many people have crappy marriages and divorces, the new model is just not to get married. But still have children.

“That’s not a well thought out model either. It’s just reactionary in the opposite direction. Maybe ok on an individual basis but unintended consequences for large populations.”

Why Marriage Matters

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?” Julia asked.

Let’s first be pragmatic, because there are two ways to approach this conversation.

People WILL get married. To the tune of 95 percent of the time. They’ll marry foolishly and thoughtfully. They’ll marry naively, or mentally and emotionally prepared. They’ll marry people who will lie, cheat and abuse, as well as people who will love, serve and protect.

For a million reasons (hyperbole!), wise or unwise to our individual perspectives, people will marry.

Sometimes religion and faith play a role. Many people believe marriage purifies sex after making spiritual vows, thus eliminating sin. Sometimes the Life Blueprint is a heavy influencer, independent of organized religion. When 95 out of 100 people are married, or say they plan to marry, it feels safe to assume many view marriage as one of those things everyone, just, does. You know? Because it’s The Way? Much of what we do is a result of modeling the behavior of everything we see everyone doing around us. Most people get married. So, we get married.

But, do we need it?

It’s a fair question.

The mentally tangible and observable positives of lifelong marriages are well documented.

Let’s start with the children. Kids raised in homes with their mother and father in an environment relatively close to what we all imagine standing in front of the wedding officiant during our exchange of vows, grow up to have measurably “better” lives than kids who do not. Stats are funny things. I’d prefer not to debate this.

The child who grows up with both mom and dad at home, and avoids exposure to the major red-flag dysfunctional stuff less-fortunate children sometimes witness, turns into an adult who is healthier, learns more, commits fewer crimes, makes more money, lives longer, avoids addiction, treats people well, and ends up having healthier relationships with partners and their children significantly more often than the kids who don’t grow up with an intact family.

The married partners themselves have measurably better lives, too.

They live longer, make more money, report more happiness, etc.

So, What’s the Problem?

Two things, I think.

1. I believe most people end up marrying someone they “shouldn’t.” Which is kind of a bullshit thing to say, because marriage is a very serious and personal decision that most of us should stay out of. I mean simply that most people will have crappy marriages—the half who divorce, and also all of the people who stay married, but hate it. I believe a large percentage of them will have done a poor job aligning their values with one another, enforcing important personal boundaries, and effectively communicating those values and boundaries with each other. In those specific situations, I would label them “incompatible.” Sadly.

2. Many people don’t know how to be married. Like any life situation in which we later find ourselves thinking or feeling: Whoa! I totally didn’t know what I was getting myself into!, I think most people are that way with marriage. Most other life situations are easily remedied. We change jobs, move to new places, hang out with different people—whatever. Since marriage is designed to be a forever-thing, the Whoa! realization is infinitely more inconvenient and creates much more complicated situations than every other life thing not involving children, legal contracts, shared bank accounts, shared property, shared social networks, and inter-family relationships as the difference between blood relatives and in-laws grows smaller with each family gathering.

Captain Obvious sentence-of-the-day: Marriage and divorce are very hard.

Beyond Pragmatism, Should We Marry?

You’re allowed to think marriage is a bullshit social or religious construct that doesn’t matter.

If you believe that, there’s a better-than-average chance you’re totally not reading this right now, or you’re still tasting the bitter pill of a divorce you didn’t want when you agreed to marry years ago.

If you believe that you got married in good faith, loved and honored your spouse in good times and in bad and then put effort into staying married after noticing cracks forming in the foundation, only to end up divorced because your partner quit on you or ripped your heart out and humiliated you through a major betrayal, then marriage stops looking awesome.

I get it.

I once had a pizza delivered to my house when I lived in Florida, and there was a cricket baked into one of the pieces like a black olive. Ordering pizza from that place stopped looking awesome after that.

Only through the prism of hindsight and self-exploration have I been able to identify the many ways I was a shitty husband, and even I felt scorned and abandoned when she decided to leave.

I felt like she was breaking a promise, regardless of how hypocritical that was. I felt it. And I broke. And it was super not-fun.

And after three years of healing, and gaining a lot of empowering clarity about how my choices contributed to the end of my marriage (which helps immensely in gaining confidence that you can avoid repeating those mistakes a second time), I am still quite unsure whether I’ll ever marry.

I assume it will feel like the Universe is forcing my hand should that uncertainty go away.

But if I end up living the rest of my life single and dying alone, it won’t be because I believe marriage is somehow an inherently flawed institution that should be avoided.

It’s hard to climb mountains.

It’s hard to save a million dollars.

It’s hard to finish marathons.

It’s hard to eat healthy.

It’s hard to learn new languages.

It’s hard to volunteer to help others.

It’s hard to do many, many, many things.

I’m really comfortable suggesting that almost everything really good and wonderful in the human experience is achieved through struggle.

Easy feels good, THEN feels shitty.

Hard feels shitty, THEN feels amazing.

What’s the argument against marriage?

That a handshake agreement is the same as a contract? That a half-hearted suggestion is the same as a solemn vow said in front of everyone you cherish?

That monogamy is unnatural because primates and dogs like to have sex with several partners, and that we’re the same as them even though we have minds that can conjure these thoughts and conversations, and ingenuity that can create the internet and build rockets we can land on Mars like remote-control cars?

That it’s shitty and horrible because one time we married someone who failed us, or we know stories about other people who were mistreated? Because THAT defines the institution of marriage and somehow influences what happens to us?

Because we’re powerless victims unable to affect our life circumstances?

No.

Marriage is shitty because people innocently make poor choices in partner selection AND in their decision making while they’re married.

Not because marriage is somehow inherently shitty.

Whether marriage is the thing people do, or becomes a choice fewer people make as we move toward the future, there is no part of the inherent human desire to connect, to experience physical intimacy, to reproduce, and to give and experience love that will change.

Call it whatever you want.

Marry or don’t marry. But in the end, we must learn to love.

Marriage isn’t the problem. Humans being human are. That’s been true forever.

Does a person need marriage?

That’s not for us to say.

Does the world need marriage?

I think it might.

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The Life Blueprint

blueprints

(Image/thescoutlife.com)

“All models are wrong. Some are useful.”Faris Yakob

The Life Blueprint® is a lottery system which varies from person to person.

Two people have sex and conceive a child, and on the day the child is born, they are given their customized Life Blueprint.

They vary dramatically from place to place. The kid slinging rock in south central Los Angeles who never met his dad has a schematic which looks much different from the one handed to the private-school teen from Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

The fisherman’s son in the Philippines has a Life Blueprint that looks and feels different from that of a bank president’s daughter in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I was handed a Life Blueprint, too. Just like them, and just like you. While all of them tend to vary among the various cultural demographics, we are all united in that we were all handed one with no attached instructions.

No one told us we weren’t obligated to follow the blueprint, and because we were babies and stuff, we weren’t smart enough to ask: “Umm. Why do we do things this way? Might there be a better way? Are we allowed to study other Life Blueprints and experiment? Are there examples of other people doing things differently and succeeding? What if we studied the Life Blueprints of a bunch of people we want to be like, and then follow the steps that apply to us? Why isn’t that an awesome idea?”

Maybe some people have these conversations through their formative years.

I didn’t.

I was just alive one day and felt happy to be loved and fed and hugged and protected by those who cared for me. Maybe if you live in a place where bombs fall at night, or with frequent gun violence in the neighborhood, or where people die often because there’s no accessible sanitary drinking water, you aren’t lulled into the comfort of the Life Blueprint. Maybe when you witness a bunch of shit and horribleness in daily life, you’re always looking for an escape.

So am I lucky? Because of my safe but perhaps sheltered upbringing?

Or unlucky? Because I accidentally believed one of Life’s biggest lies. The one we believed because no one told us differently.

The Way Things Are Here is THE Way.

We don’t see it as optional.

We see it as the path. Because everyone we see and everyone we know is walking it too.

What’s Your Life Blueprint?

I could have this wrong since I only have access to one brain, and it’s failed me before, but I’m pretty sure my Life Blueprint is shared by A LOT of people in the United States.

I imagine non-U.S. residents who haven’t spent much time stateside mostly think of New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and maybe San Francisco and Chicago as representative of typical Americans.

But I think most people grow up in places like me.

Some smallish town in what people on the coasts call the “fly-over states.”

We grow up going to Friday night high school football games, going to church on Sunday, knowing personal secrets about people in other families because so many people know one another, and we don’t have to drive far to see farmland.

I grew up in a small Ohio town just like that. There are many good things about such a life. And as with everything, there are tradeoffs, too.

The Way (When You’re Me)

My Life Blueprint was basic enough.

You go to kindergarten when you’re 5, and you go to school and do your best every day until you graduate from high school 13 years later.

You have to do a good job in school so you can go to a good college, because that’s The Way to succeed.

Then, when you’re 18 and know a million times more than your stupid, close-minded parents, you move away to college, but probably not too far, because out-of-state tuition is a bitch and because you need those idiots to give you money, and a place to do laundry and eat balanced meals when you occasionally come home because there aren’t any unmissable keg parties on the radar.

Then, you get your bachelor’s degree, which means you’re ready to be a professional-something!

Then, you have choices!

  1. Take a job doing a thing for very little money relative to the median household income and try to work your way up.
  2. Go get a master’s degree to demonstrate MASTERY of a subject.

Maybe it’s nice having a master’s degree. I know several people with them, and I don’t think any are morons. But after five years of an inefficient major-switching, college-newspaper-editing, pot-smoking march toward my piece of paper telling the world I Did It!, I wasn’t interested in sitting in any more classrooms.

The Career Way

I’d followed the Life Blueprint, but even I had the good fortune to walk a path different from the average college student.

I can’t be sure how other college graduates feel RE: preparedness to tackle their career upon leaving university life. But in terms of doing the job? I was in good shape. I graduated with a Communication degree with a concentration in print journalism after floundering through three semesters of Business school where I failed Intro to Computing—the basics of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint— TWICE, because that class was stupid and student loan money wasn’t “real money.” (I wonder whether I’m the only person to ever do that. Maybe!)

Because I was a college journalist lucky enough to be at a university with a fairly sophisticated newspaper published twice weekly (frequent by college newspaper standards), and hustled on summer and holiday breaks in professional newsrooms who welcomed my reporting, I had written hundreds of stories—including local front-page and even some national news—before getting a desk in the newsroom of a Florida paper after graduating.

I’m not sure what people who study economics, political science, or whatever feel after graduating.

But that’s kind of my point.

Take the poli-sci major who spends four years sitting in lecture halls and writing papers after reading pieces and parts of their 10-pound, $300 textbook. They graduate with $100,000 or more in debt, but they have their fancy new bachelor’s degree which will help political strategists or those managing political office staff realize how qualified they are!

Life Blueprint Challenge Exercise

What if the person who did that, instead of going to college, read one non-fiction book per week about political strategy, political history, biographies of politicians, or about any ancillary subjects important to those seeking political office?

What if the 18-year-old, instead of college, had volunteered all of her or his time to a local or state candidate’s election campaign, asking questions and experiencing life on the inside and building a network of strategists and elected officials?

What if, instead of going into debt $100,000 or whatever, they spent a fraction of that over four years traveling and gaining the kind of depth, perspective and maturity that only comes from experiencing new things?

Who do you want on your team, Elected Official or Person Running for Office?

The 22-year-old with mountains of debt, little to no experience, and a bachelor’s degree?

Or the one who read 200 books, worked on several campaigns, can pick up the phone for advice or to recruit help from a large network, has countless hours of real-world experience, and a ton of personal references from those she or he worked closely with?

On what planet would someone think the bachelor-degree way is better? Because the Life Blueprint said so, and so did all of our friends’, so we never question it?

And, honestly, Everyone 30 and Older Who Now Realizes Our Parents Knew Things: What is the WORST-possible outcome of this? Starting college as a 22-year-old and a ton of maturity and experience to apply to the classroom?

I don’t get it.

The Marriage Way

Where I’m from, you start thinking about marriage in high school or college. Anyone who has dated for two years might get married, and it’s not even weird. Seriously.

When you’re in high school, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people just like you.

When you’re in college, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people on the same general life path as you.

And even though Typical College Student demonstrates morally questionable behavior on the daily RE: sex, drugs and rock & roll, after a lifetime of church-going in Small Town, Fly-Over State, he or she has likely been taught that all sexual activity outside of marriage makes God, our parents, and most people we know really sad and/or uncomfortable.

Throw a bunch of college party-attending, single people with raging hormones, a lifetime model of seeing people meet and marry in their early to mid-20s, and a Life Blueprint in their back pockets reminding them they should hurry up and get married because of the sex thing, and also to have babies, because That’s Just What You Do—It’s The Way!, and it’s no mystery why so many young, well-intentioned people meet, fall in love, and get married without knowing The Things Married People Should Know.

Why do we do things this way?

Well, because we can’t know what we don’t know. And the Life Blueprint says we should do it this way. We look around, and everyone else is doing it that way, too, so it must be what’s best! I mean, everyone’s happy and winning the Game of Life, right?

Why?

Because we (and our children, if we’re not careful) believe: This is simply The Way things are done.

Because, models. All that we see, which tells us do this, and not that, because this is normal, thus obviously best.

But what if it’s not?

Because all models are wrong. There’s no such thing as One Size Fits All in the human experience.

But some models are useful.

Seek. And ye shall find.

…..

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‘This is why you shouldn’t get married’

bad advice

Including from me. (Images/quotesgram.com)

Grumpy old divorced or unhappily married men say it a lot.

They’re the guys complaining about their wives during the backroom poker game at the country club after a round of golf. They’re the guys nestled up to the bar who overhear younger men’s conversations about their girlfriends or fiancées, and then disclose the check amounts they wrote to their ex-wives after getting divorced as cautionary tales. They’re the husbands reluctantly getting up from a sofa or armchair to perform some inconvenient household task during a game or TV show they’re watching.

They look over at you, and then with varying degrees of seriousness—but the sentiment always being the same—say: “And this is why you should never get married.”

Which is sad, because they really believe they’re doing you a favor, imparting this hard-earned wisdom.

Millennials (those ages 18-34 in 2015) have overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest demographic age group in the United States. One in four (25%) say they will never marry. (Here’s one Millennial’s take on why.)

So the grumpy old guys will see many young people heeding their advice. Some of the time, that will accidentally be a good thing. But mostly it won’t be, because it has been demonstrated repeatedly that marriage has an overwhelmingly positive effect on society—improving individual physical and mental health of partners, increasing wealth, improving education, reducing crime, and most importantly, improving the future lives of children raised by their biological parents in a stable and loving environment.

Cynicism’s Silver Lining

There is one positive to be gained from all of these old guys telling all of these young guys not to marry, and for all of the young Millennials who view marriage as some archaic religious and social construct that has outlived its purpose in the 21st century.

And that’s that many young people (regardless of intelligence and relative “maturity”) are ignorant mooks by virtue of being young. Just ask every 70 year old whether they want to trade brains with their younger selves. Hell—ask me. And I only missed the “Millennial” label by a year.

Many young people blindly follow The Life Blueprint® which says they have to find their future spouse in high school, college, or early in their young professional lives “before all the good ones are taken!” and then get jobs, a house and start their families.

And in all of this behavior modeled after what most of us witnessed growing up, we simply never learn what we don’t know about marriage and human relationships. It’s so fun and easy! We love each other, and always will!, said every divorced person years earlier.

We don’t identify our core values, nor do we enforce our boundaries. Maybe we’re too scared to start again. Maybe we simply don’t realize that will be the death of our marriages and the reason that our lives suck. But we ignore the bad and charge headstrong into marriage believing we’ll be the exception to the rule.

Since no one bothered to teach us what relationships REALLY look and feel like and how to effectively deal with conflict—or better yet, preemptively prevent it through best practices in marriage and long-term relationships—we end up learning the hard way.

It’s hard to blame the parents and our education system. No one bothered to tell them either.

But This is Mostly About Men Unwilling to Own Their Shit

It started with this HuffPost Divorce entry: 5 Reasons Women Leave Their Marriages; In Their Own Words.

My original plan was to take each listed reason and explore ways people could avoid divorce and breaking up for those same reasons.

But then I read the top comment (more specifically, the comment generating the most engagement), got a little pissed, and decided to write about it instead.

Five women shared their personal reasons for filing for divorce. Commenter Greg didn’t approve.

“This is why you shouldn’t get married fellas. Her change of heart costs you a lot of money,” Greg wrote.

The comment has 140 Facebook “likes” thus far.

Greg reveals later in the thread that he was awarded custody of his daughter because his ex-wife is a heroin addict who didn’t show up to court for the custody hearing.

One wonders whether Greg and his ex-wife might have done a poor job aligning core values and enforcing personal boundaries in their relationship.

Regardless, Greg may have been a model husband victimized by a spouse who didn’t adhere to her marriage vows. How do you tell a man with that experience that you find his opinion misguided?

But let’s get honest. Because examinations of conscience only work when we tell ourselves the truth, guys:

You were a shitty husband just like me. Maybe you didn’t know what you were doing was wrong. Maybe you didn’t intend to hurt her repeatedly and leave her feeling alone in her marriage, which is pretty much the worst thing you can do to your wife.

You took for granted that she’d be there forever, so you didn’t try harder. You weren’t scared enough. You committed a few crimes accidentally, but then intentionally failed to make amends for them.

She told you what you were doing hurt her, and you told her she was wrong, or that she was making it up in her head. She told you what you could or should be doing to help her manage the household, and you played the You’re Not My Mom & I’m the Man of the House card. And when she wanted to talk about ways in which you could improve your marriage, you denied her your listening ear, accusing her of demanding MORE change from you while seeming unwilling to examine her own behavior.

“You’re acting like an ungrateful, spoiled little bitch. Nothing is ever good enough for you. You’re the best married person of all time. You’re an amazing wife who never does anything wrong! And I’m the worst husband ever who can’t do one damn thing right! It must be awesome being so perfect all the time! If you want to bitch about me some more, why don’t you find someone else who wants to listen to it because it’s not going to be me.”

Remember that?

Followed by you driving off to meet a buddy for a drink? Or retreating to another room to do or watch something you wanted to do more than have a conversation with her?

I mean, I wish I was the only guy who ever acted like such a childish douchebag.

I don’t feel any better knowing that I’m not.

There are a million reasons you shouldn’t get married.

Five short, personal accounts without additional context from divorced women on the internet SHOULD NOT be among them.

Because there are a million reasons you SHOULD get married.

Active and physically fit people sometimes die of heart attacks during workouts. Should people stop exercising?

People are sometimes hurt or killed while driving. Should we avoid getting behind the wheel?

Patients sometimes die in hospitals because of human error or unpredictable reactions to medicine. Should we stop visiting doctors while suffering health problems?

Bad news, guys: the problem was never the institution of marriage. It was us.

But maybe tomorrow we’ll make better choices, because I don’t think it has to be.

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New Things and Places Make You Grow and I’m Almost 1% of the Way There

Guy walking down road traveling

(Image/smagmagazine.wordpress.com)

Even though I lived in three different states growing up, I didn’t understand that people in other places were different than the people I was accustomed to seeing around me.

As I imagine there are many common traits among people living in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, so it is with people in Iowa, Illinois and the part of Ohio in which I was raised.

I was born in Iowa.

My parents split when I was 4 and I moved to Ohio to begin my school years. I spent a lot of time in Iowa and Illinois along the Mississippi River visiting my family throughout those years. Both places—Ohio, and the Mississippi River Valley—provide feelings of Home.

There wasn’t a ton of money floating around nor did I know anyone close to me with a passion for travel.

So I didn’t get out much.

Which is actually fine as it’s happening when you’ve never experienced anything different. Contentment is a highly underrated thing—a lesson I learned the hard way after graduating from college. What I lacked in material wealth and life experience was more than made up for in genuine contentment, surrounded by wonderful family and friends no matter which state I was in.

How do you manufacture a decent guy with a genuinely kind heart and good intentions who is capable of ditching his crying wife in the hospital hours after giving birth to his beautiful newborn son?

There are an incalculable number of factors, but I fear many innocent and well-meaning actions and conditions contributed.

I was born to very young parents. They were eightish years younger than my ex-wife and I when our son was born. I didn’t feel ready at 29. It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt.

I am, for all intents and purposes, an only child.

Because my mom is from a very large family of kind, loving people; and because my dad was from a mid-sized family who didn’t see me often; and because I made friends easily and was seemingly well liked by their parents and my teachers because I’m naturally outgoing and well mannered, I was showered with an almost-obscene amount of love, support and affirmation growing up.

These things feel good. And almost every day felt good. Being me was a very positive experience.

I think my dad spoiled me just a bit because of our unfortunate geographic situation which kept us from a typical father-son relationship. I think my mom took it pretty easy on me in terms of chores and responsibilities around the house because she was so accustomed to (and skilled at) accomplishing home management tasks from being the oldest of many brothers and sisters, so I got used to things just “magically” getting taken care of.

Folded laundry. Swept floors. Clean counters. Spotless bathrooms. Stocked fridge and pantry.

My only real job was schoolwork, and I could perform academically at a fairly high level without trying hard, and certainly without learning the material inside and out. After all that K-12 learning, followed by whatever I did to get a bachelor’s degree, I’d be surprised if I’ve retained even 10 percent of it. We’ll never know.

So what DID I “know”?

  1. Being myself makes most people like me, and I don’t have to work hard for things.
  2. I’m totally smart, which means when people disagree with me or challenge my beliefs, there’s an above-average chance they’re wrong.
  3. Life is beautiful, people are kind, and mostly good things happen, which means sad, depressed, angry or impoverished people just aren’t trying hard enough. Yay, life!
  4. People are mostly the same everywhere you go. It’s obvious because I’ve been between Iowa and Ohio my entire life, and it pretty much all looks and feels the same! Neat!

Certainly, attending a 20,000-plus-student public university after 12 years of Catholic schooling in a town with the same amount of people delivered some eye-opening moments.

Not everyone believes what I believe. Some objectively super-smart people disagree with some of my political philosophies and can articulate why without saying anything moronic. Also, I’m friends with black people! 

But the real shock to the system happened when I braved a move outside of my little four-state bubble in middle America, moving to a Florida beach town on the Gulf side to take a newspaper reporting job.

Because we all live inside our own heads and nowhere else, and because I hadn’t done a lot of travelling, and because when I had gone to other places, they shared many cultural similarities with my hometown, I assumed people were pretty much the same everywhere, at least in the United States.

In other words, I thought I was moving to Ohio with Nice Weather and Beaches.

It only took me a few months in Florida to observe how incorrect my assumption had been, and to learn an important life lesson at the age of 23:

Different people in different places often have different beliefs and different life experiences than I do, and those differences feel as natural to them as my normal does to me.

Oh, the Places We’ll Go

Last week, one guy I met while living in Florida told his oldest son to pick any place in the world to visit for a father-son trip. The boy (I think he’s 11) chose Tokyo, Japan. And off they went, leaving mom and the younger two brothers behind. Those two looked like they had an awesome time, and I imagine both father and son will have grown significantly from the experience in some way.

As I type, another friend is in the midst of a two-week tour of Europe. She texted me some photos from Switzerland that made me want to drop everything and go there. Mountains. Waterfalls. The greenest greens. And those totally rad “Ri-cola!” horns.

A new friend, author and potential future collaborator routinely travels the globe, has lived in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is married to a Dutch man she now lives with in south Florida, and returned less than a month ago from a speaking gig in Stockholm, Sweden.

That’s just regular life for her.

For me, that’s, like, whoa.

I started traveling domestically in my second job out of school, which had brought me back to Ohio. Every couple of months, I was going somewhere for a conference or industry trade show. It was then that I really felt as if I was broadening my horizons in my mid- to late-twenties.

I took a look at a map to evaluate where I’ve been.

Toronto, Ont. is my furthest trek north. New York City is my furthest east. To the south, Key West, Fla. And to the west, San Diego, Calif.

I downloaded an app where you can log all of the places you’ve been. I went through it carefully, marking my destinations.

Two countries. My homeland. And Canada. And let’s be honest. When you’re from the United States, and you occasionally get Canadian coins handed to you when cashiers are making change, and when the border is way closer than half of the U.S. states, it doesn’t really feel like international travel.

And unless I’m forgetting one, I’ve visited 24 states and Washington D.C.

That’s it.

About half of the states in my native country and a few cities in one Canadian province.

My new app was kind enough to calculate what percentage of the world I’ve seen.

That figure? 0.8 percent.

I’m 37 years old. And I try to write stories that I hope might help someone live and love better.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of this world.

There’s More to Life Than What We Think We Know

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about saltwater fish and coral reefs, but until I went snorkeling off the coast of the Florida Keys, I couldn’t accurately describe their beauty.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about New York and Washington D.C. throughout my childhood, but until I walked the streets of Manhattan or sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I couldn’t marvel at all the steel and concrete that makes up NYC, or feel what a grateful American feels looking out over my favorite visual piece of our nation’s capital.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about California and the Pacific Ocean, but I was 28 before I stood on Mission Beach for the first time and felt the awesome power of the largest body of water on Earth, and could finally understand why so many people are willing to move so far away and spend so much money to live near it.

I am a better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete human being for having experienced the few life-expanding places and moments I have.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of all there is to see.

How much better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete might I be if I see more? How much more might you be?

Maybe we owe ourselves the opportunity to find out.

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The Other Law of Attraction: Self-Worth and Gender Identity in a Mixed-Up World

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What do women want?

I think many guys started kicking the question around long before possessing the intellectual capacity to connect those random and inconvenient erections to their sexuality.

What will make her like me?

Because that’s really important to us when we’re young. Is it because we like being liked? Is it because we like feeling accepted by another in a more intimate way than platonic friendship? Is it because we think it’s cool to have a girlfriend, and maybe our guy friends will respect us more, and the other girls will want us more?

But I think these are questions that, to varying degrees depending on an individual’s particular circumstances, men ask themselves constantly. I perceive the vast majority of (heterosexual) men, regardless of their relationship status, to crave the He’s Attractive to Me label from as many women as possible.

I believe we view it as a measure of our self-worth. That if women find us attractive, we’ve really accomplished something. Men have been known to crave financial success, social status, material accumulation, career advancement, fame or recognition, respect, achievement in athletics or other competitive ventures, and physical fitness.

There are MANY good and virtuous reasons to crave some or all of those things.

But I think when we scrape off all the Pretending, we’ll discover that the ultimate motivation is usually: “I want women to think of me as attractive and want me, sexually. Because that’s what will most improve my status and standing in the eyes of others. And what other people think of me is very important and influences all of my decisions.”

What do men want, and what will make him like me?

I don’t know how girls commonly experience this attraction/social/sexual awakening, nor how much they value what boys want and why, nor to what extent that carries through to adulthood.

But there appears to be little room for doubt that most women share, while perhaps framed differently and motivated by different wants or needs, men’s cravings for romantic and/or sexual interest, and care intensely about how others perceive them.

Is Beauty REALLY in the Eye of the Beholder?

If you don’t get obnoxious with the spiritual meaning of the proverb as I just did, I really like it. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an adage made famous by the philosopher Plato, or William Shakespeare, or author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, depending on which random internet source you believe.

The phrase suggests that beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person considers beautiful, admirable, interesting, or valuable, will not necessarily appeal to another person.

But its spiritual meaning is that everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s awesome or not-awesome. It means our children’s objectively shitty grade school artwork is more beautiful and meaningful to us than something offered from the fine arts community. It means that mangy rescue hound from the shelter missing his right eye and which walks with a limp looks more beautiful to its owner who adopted him than all those fancy-pants dogs prancing around at the Westminster Dog Show.

And I like that.

But, it has a kind-of dark side, too. One which makes me really uncomfortable because it’s part of The Big Secret Lie most of us buy into, and which seems to cause the majority of our mental and emotional problems in adulthood (which are at the very core of all of our relationship problems—exacerbating all of the rejection, self-worth, anxiety and mental health issues which wreak havoc on our relationships and families, ultimately perpetuating the Cycle of Horribleness).

In the framework of human worth and attractiveness, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that STILL means that other people have the power to define what is and is not attractive. It means other people have the power to determine another person’s worth. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that means other people get to tell us who and what we are.

If Person X finds you beautiful, but Person Y labels you ugly, are you beautiful or ugly?

If Person X finds you worthy, but Person Y says you’re unworthy, are you worthy or unworthy?

If Person X says you matter, and Person Y says you don’t, do you matter?

Who Gets to Tell Us Who and What We Are?

There is a fantastic conversation happening beneath the Our Marriage is a Steam Train post about how we define what is masculine or feminine, and to what extent men struggle with their identities RE: Being a Real Man.

Active commenter Travis wrote: “Frankly, I don’t think we’d have the common stereotype of ‘women love bad boys’ if men who exercised their muscles of emotional investment and accepting influence were what they really hungered for.”

Lisa G. wrote: “I remember reading about experiments where a woman was crying in a public place and several people stopped and asked if she was ok. Then they repeated it with a man and no one stopped, they even looked away. It’s all so horribly depressing the messages we give men to not be allowed to express a full range of human emotions.”

Another from Travis which really gets to the heart of the matter: “I found… a fair amount of scientific studies that support my assertion that women are repelled by men who display the very same ‘nice, sweet, sensitive, vulnerable’ characteristics they say they want in us.”

He shared Elite Daily’s 5 Scientific Reasons Why Women Just Won’t Go For The Nice Guys, which I suspect will, in some form or fashion, ring true for most readers.

Are women genetically hard-wired to want assholes because so-called Nice Guys are boring?

I’m staying away from pretending I know a thing about biological science.

More importantly? I don’t think it matters.

Why? Let me ask it again: Who gets to tell us who and what we are?

RE: Attraction

We are attracted to whatever we are naturally attracted to.

People commonly accept or reject the romantic or sexual interest of others based on two things, one of which is natural attraction and perceived compatibility, and the other which is based on what we perceive others’ opinions to be about those choices.

In other words, you like whatever you like for whatever reasons you like them. Who knows why? You just know it when you feel it.

That’s primal.

But you make deliberate choices about personal traits you consider attractive based on a different set of criteria. Ideally, our long-term partner will foster feelings of primal-want within us, but we’re attracted to so many more things.

As adults, those are ideally rooted in shared values and mutually respectful boundary enforcement so your life doesn’t suck.

But people are ALSO attractive or unattractive to us based on that little nagging voice in the back of our minds. What will my friends think? What will my parents think? What will my extended family think? What will my co-workers think?

Psychologically and emotionally healthy people with strong boundaries don’t make decisions like that, of course. But most of us do.

I know personally at least three men who dated or married women (one started a family!) only to later divorce after coming out as gay, and then living as an openly gay man thereafter.

I won’t pretend to know every thought that went through these guys’ heads when they made the choice to couple with women, but one assumes it was done in the spirit of “What will everyone think of me?!”

KNOW THYSELF

Not to go even further down the nerd rabbit hole than usual, but it dawned on me within the past year or two that I’d misinterpreted a scene in one of my favorite movies for the past 15 years.

In The Matrix, the story’s hero Neo walks into a kitchen where he is to meet a spiritual guide of sorts. She is known as The Oracle. Neo has been told he is someone very important. The prophecies refer to him as “The One.” But he feels just like a regular guy. He has the power to save the world, he is told. But he can’t figure out how or even whether to believe it. The Oracle is supposed to help him achieve The One status.

He and The Oracle lady exchange pleasantries, and then she asks him the question which begins an exchange I spent years not understanding despite many repeated viewings.

Oracle: “So, what do you think? Do you think you’re The One?”

Neo: “I don’t know.”

The Oracle points above the door Neo used to walk into the kitchen. It looks like this:

photo-mat_temetnosce

Oracle: “You know what that means? It’s Latin. Means ‘Know thyself’. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”

She kind of gives him a little once-over, looking inside his mouth like a doctor would a patient in a basic check-up.

And then they have this exchange:

Oracle: “Okay, now I’m supposed to say, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, but…’ then you say…”

Neo: “But what?”

Oracle: “But, you already know what I’m going to tell you.”

Neo: “I’m not The One.”

Oracle: “Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.”

Neo: “What?”

Oracle: “Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.”

Spoiler alert: Neo is totally The One.

So why did The Oracle say he wasn’t? Was she high on crack?

I just never thought about it correctly. I have a real problem with that sometimes. About everything. Maybe lots of people do.

When it’s later revealed that Neo is, in fact, the badass with world-saving abilities, he’s as confused about it as I was.

But it’s cleared up for him, and the simple answer cuts to the heart of this discussion on attraction and gender identity, and how much or how little others should be able to define us.

No one can tell you who you are.

Am I Good Enough?

That’s the very question on which this blog was founded.

When you love your spouse and want to stay married, but they would rather suffer the many consequences of divorce more than live with you even one more day, you lose your very sense of identity.

To be sure, our spouse’s opinion of us should probably rank higher than that of others or what we assume society at large believes we should be.

I think the conversation about what men and women find attractive, and how society judges men and women relative to stereotypical standards, and how that ultimately damages our interpersonal relationships is a worthwhile conversation.

Until men are allowed to be vulnerable without facing sexual rejection, how can we expect men en masse to pursue emotional intelligence in this macro fight against dysfunctional relationship dynamics?

We probably can’t.

But, as individuals?

Not all men or women. Just one.

Just me.

Just you.

Who gets to tell you who you are?

Because in my battles with insecurity, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy as the clock wound down on my marriage, and then in my dating struggles as I carried all that baggage into single adulthood, I was asking all of the wrong questions.

Am I smart enough?

Am I handsome enough?

Am I rich enough?

Am I funny enough?

Am I talented enough?

Am I tall enough?

Or, more simply…

Am I good enough at [insert whatever thing here]? Am I worthy of her attraction?

I’ve been doing this for three years.

In the first year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I knew that I wasn’t.

In the second year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I didn’t think I was.

In the third year, I discovered that I am, indeed, good enough. Because I know that I am.

Like I KNOW that you are.

And if you don’t know it too, then I guess you’re not good enough, even though I already know that you are.

What are you waiting for? Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.

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Our Marriage is a Steam Train

Steam Train

(Image/w-dog.net)

Our marriage is a steam train.

Like the old locomotives responsible for most long-distance travel and supply shipments from the early 1800s through the middle of the 20th century.

Our marriage is a steam engine-powered train requiring that coal be shoveled into the firebox to keep the fire burning, the pistons pumping, the wheels churning, and the train in motion.

Even before we were married, our relationships were steam trains. But then, keeping the locomotives moving was easy.

Then, the engine is only pulling a few cars. Your fuel source, filled right to the brim and easily accessible. The only other weight comes from whatever train cars are needed to hold all of our baggage.

We’re often in our twenties; sometimes just teenagers. We are youthful, full of energy, strong, and dragging very little baggage behind us.

The steam engine doesn’t require much coal, because it needn’t work hard to pull the lightweight and low-baggage train down the track.

Sometimes, he shovels in a little coal to keep the fire burning. Sometimes, she does.

Everything feels easy.

This train will never stop, we think.

We Get Married Which Adds More Train Cars

Marriage isn’t like having a Forever-Girlfriend or Forever-Boyfriend. It’s something else. Something harder. Something requiring more work and sacrifice.

He shovels more often. Larger piles to help pull the extra weight. New relationships thrust upon him. Her family. Her friends. Her job. Her needs. Her wants. Her dreams. The train is heavier. So he shovels more.

She shovels more often too, for all of the same reasons. The train is heavier now. So she shovels more.

They’re working together. In tandem. And the train chugs on.

We Have Children Which Adds More Train Cars

Children join the train. Many more cars are added to accommodate them and their needs. Life mistakes are made. Guilt and shame. Fear and anxiety. More train cars.

Children consume our hearts and sometimes we give less of them to our steam engine partners as a result. More train cars.

Children consume our time and sometimes we give less of it to our partners. More train cars.

Children consume more of our money, and financial stresses add more weight. More train cars.

The train is now very heavy, but there’s plenty of momentum.

The Shoveling Schedule and Efforts Seal Our Fate

When both partners shovel, the train hums along.

Sometimes, one partner sets down their shovel. There are many reasons why.

Maybe one of us is going back to school to advance our education and career, so one partner says “You go ahead and tend to that. I’ll keep the train moving.”

Maybe one of us switched jobs, and it takes us away from the shoveling.

Maybe we get sick. “You go ahead and heal. I know you’ll help me shovel again once you’ve recovered. I’ve got this.”

Maybe we suffer a death in the family, and collapse emotionally. One must tend to the fire while the other regains their strength.

But with each new life event, new train cars are added, and the locomotive gets heavier and heavier. As the weight of marriage increases, the relationship requires even more effort to keep it moving forward.

More communication. More empathy. More sacrifice.

More shoveling.

So long as that fire keeps burning, the train moves forward. Sometimes trudging along slowly. Sometimes at a comfortable pace. And when we’re fortunate to come to downhill track grade, things seem to flow very smoothly.

Until it’s time to move uphill again.

The train will keep moving so long as there’s someone manning the engine and willing to shovel coal.

When both partners are shoveling, things run smoothly, though much effort is involved.

When both partners communicate and coordinate a strategy for a mutually beneficial shoveling schedule where one person is willing to shovel while the other tends to another important life need, or is in some kind of recovery period, things still run.

When one partner stops shoveling, but the other is willing to press on, shoveling and sacrificing for everyone on board, the train presses onward, though unsustainably. Because the next uphill climb eventually gets here, and one exhausted shoveler inevitably collapses trying to keep the now quite heavy locomotive moving forward on her or his own.

It’s simple enough.

It’s just very difficult.

A steam engine requires shoveling to keep the fire burning, and all of those heavy parts in motion. Certain sections of track require more power, and more power requires more sacrificial work. Shoveling coal is hard.

Which is why it’s a two-person job.

When we both shovel, we move forward.

When we both cannot shovel, we communicate and work cooperatively to keep moving forward.

When one of us stops shoveling out of necessity, the other must work harder and give more to keep moving forward.

When one of us quits shoveling due to exhaustion or selfishness, the other must work harder and give more to keep moving forward.

When both of us quit, the fire burns out, the train grinds to a halt, and everyone has to find a new way to carry all of that baggage to wherever we’re going next. We’re no longer part of the same passenger list.

When both of us quit shoveling, the ride is over.

Our marriage is a steam train.

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It Doesn’t Jive Because We’d Just Assume Do Things the Wrong Way

Ptolemy's geocentric model of the solar system

Everything revolves around Earth. We can actually “prove” that. Right? (Image/Khan Academy)

Donkey wrote: “Matt has a post about leaving his crying wife in the hospital after giving birth/having a C-section. Lisa said her husband did something similar (he now can’t believe how he could do that, so credit to him and Matt both for having realized the extreme shittiness of that. Grrrr. Honestly, thinking about it just makes me feel some kind of immense primal rage).
“Do you have any idea as to the thought process of a shitty husband (who isn’t a Dick who gets off on abusing his wife) who makes that ok in his mind? That after 9 months (usually) of pregnancy and the woman, really, risking her life during childbirth/ C-section often suffering through a lot of pain, and then is also left alone with their newborn, it’s ok for him to go to get a good night sleep and leave his crying wife who’s begging him to stay alone?
“I can understand that some people wouldn’t be hurt by a dish by the sink and all of that (and we’ve already had the conversation about accepting influence even if you don’t understand), and I remember Matt saying it was hard for him to empathize with people’s physical discomfort that ha couldn’t relate to. I understand that men can’t really get how pregnancy/birth feels like. But still, isn’t childbirth very much accepted as a VERY Big Deal, a painful and stressful and high risk deal in our society, and that the role of the modern man is to support his wife however she needs? I would think leaving your wife alone after childbirth when she’s crying and begging you to stay would be just as obvious a faux pas as cheating (again, for me, I believe I’d rather have the father of my child cheat on me with 10 prostitutes than leave me crying alone in the hospital after having our baby).
“Matt, if you have any more explanations of your thought process you want to share, I would appreciate that too of course. I’m really just trying to understand the (faulty and frankly, like Lisa said, narcissistic) thought process, because I just don’t get it.”

I left my crying wife alone in the hospital like an asshole just hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section.

It was a long and difficult labor for her. The doctor induced labor 26 hours and 24 minutes prior to the time of delivery, give or take a few minutes or a false memory.

The anxiety, fear, stress and physical discomfort my wife felt after nine months of pregnancy, followed by a long, painful, vulnerably exposed and at times terrifying delivery ending in emergency surgery, is something only a mother could possibly know.

I won’t pretend to.

But I can understand today in a way I did not eight years ago, what a betrayal and moment of abandonment that was for my ex-wife. She was in pain, frightened, and needed someone simply to BE PRESENT with her. To feel loved and supported. And she asked me to stay. Begged, even.

And I made a different choice.

After years of reflection and additional wisdom earned only by living longer, I can see and understand how much that moment damaged my relationship in a way I couldn’t at the time. I think it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Not only did I not recognize that moment for what it was, when my wife would bring it up later as an instance in which I hurt her, I’d actually get mad at her for holding grudges and using the past against me. I’d treat her like she was the problem because she had anger issues she needed to work out. Like there was something wrong with her, because clearly there is nothing wrong with me!

After all, everyone else liked me and thought I was a great guy. She must be wrong since she’s the only one saying it!

I didn’t do all of those things as part of some meticulously planned and conspiratorial attempt to inflict maximum emotional damage on my newborn son’s mother—the woman I vowed to love forever—nor did I defend myself in later disagreements as part of a thoughtful strategy to make her feel shitty, push her away and ultimately destroy my marriage, leaving my little boy with divorced parents and a broken home.

What was the thought process? 

There kind of wasn’t one.

I thought my choices were, if not “best,” at least reasonable every step of the way, and at any point in which there was disagreement, I believed I was correct, and that she was incorrect.

I Make Mistakes Like Every Known Human, Ever

For 1,500 years, early astronomers used Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system to create astronomical charts. “Geocentric” means Earth is the center of the universe, and everything in the night sky is orbiting around it.

Today, we know this isn’t true. Nicolaus Copernicus got suspicious and theorized we were actually the ones moving around the sun. Later, Italian genius Galileo Galilei proved it.

But for 1,500 years prior, every educated person in the world believed the sun revolved around Earth. And it wasn’t because everyone was a bunch of stupid morons. Given the mathematical parameters and limited technology of that time, you can PROVE Ptolemy’s model.

For 1,500 years, every scientist, navigator, educator and thought leader in the world knew how the sun, moon and stars would move in the sky. They could “prove” it convincingly by accurately predicting what would happen next, even though EVERYTHING about their prediction model was based on something completely untrue.

(Note: The following is NOT directed at you, Donkey. I genuinely appreciate your question, and it’s my pleasure to write more about it, because it’s important. I’m simply trying to illustrate my point further.)

You’d just assume your husband or boyfriend cheat on you with 10 prostitutes as opposed to leaving you alone at the hospital after giving birth?

No.

You’d just as soon have that happen.

That doesn’t jive with your expectations of a husband and new father?

No.

It doesn’t jibe with your expectations.

Because I’ve had some wonderful editors through the years who have taught me things, I no longer make the common mistake of saying or writing “assume” when I mean “as soon,” nor do I make the even more-common mistake of saying or writing “jive” when I really mean “jibe.”

I learned the “assume” one in my early twenties when I was the editor of a semi-large university newspaper and working as a summer intern for a daily newspaper. I learned the “jive” one in my late twenties after more than 10 years of being paid to write things.

I didn’t use the two phrases incorrectly on purpose. I remember feeling quite a bit of embarrassment when I realized how many times I must have used each phrase incorrectly up to that point, and how some of the people who heard or read that from me knew I was an ignorant dumbass.

Until I was in a very specific, focused moment in which someone with more knowledge and experience than me corrected my mistake and helped me learn from it, I never even had reason to question the legitimacy of my word usage.

I KNEW I was correct. You know? Even though I was actually incorrect?

You Are Biased and Selfish Without Realizing It

That’s the first of eight reasons Why You Can’t Trust Yourself, according to one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson.

He writes:

“There’s a thing in psychology called the Actor-Observer Bias and it basically says that we’re all assholes.

“For example, if you’re at an intersection and somebody else runs a red light, you will probably think they’re a selfish, inconsiderate scumbag putting the rest of the drivers in danger just to shave a couple seconds off their drive.

“On the other hand, if you are the one who runs the red light, you’ll come to all sorts of conclusions about how it’s an innocent mistake, how the tree was blocking your view, and how running a red light never really hurt anybody.

“Same action, but when someone else does it they’re a horrible person; when you do it, it’s an honest mistake.

“We all do this. And we especially do it in situations of conflict. When people talk about someone who pissed them off for one reason or another, they invariably describe the other person’s actions as senseless, reprehensible, and motivated by a malicious intent to inflict suffering.

“However, when people talk about times when they inflicted harm on someone else, as you might suspect, they can come up with all sorts of reasons about how their actions were reasonable and justified. The way they see it, they had no choice to do what they did. They see the harm experienced by the other person as minor and they think that being blamed for causing it is unjust and unreasonable.

“Both views can’t be right. In fact, both views are wrong. Follow-up studies by psychologists found that both perpetrators and the victims distort the facts of a situation to fit their respective narratives.

“Steven Pinker refers to this as the ‘Moralization Gap.’ It means that whenever a conflict is present, we overestimate our own good intentions and underestimate the intentions of others. This then creates a downward spiral where we believe others deserve more severe punishment and we deserve less severe punishment.

“This is all unconscious, of course. People, while doing this, think they’re being completely reasonable and objective. But they’re not.”

What if We Assumed the Best About One Another?

I don’t pose the question as any sort of defense of the behavior I now believe to have been emotionally abusive.

But the validity of the question remains: How much better might our relationships be if, when something happens and we’re missing too much information to KNOW why it happened, we tell ourselves the most generous, best-possible story to explain it rather than the most cynical, or worst-possible explanation?

One of the most famous and important scenes in the Harry Potter saga takes place near the end of the sixth (second-to-last) book. You either know the story and what I’m talking about, or you should start reading the Harry Potter books right now. Yes, adults. Even you.

Seconds before death, a beloved character faces his killer and says “Please.”

It seems like a man begging for his life to be spared. But his life isn’t spared. Other characters in the book are horrified, as are the emotionally invested readers.

In the absence of information we later learn, the killing seems like the malicious work of an evil murderer. But once the story is told fully, we realize the killer was actually GOOD, and the dying man’s “please” wasn’t a mercy plea, but rather a request for his secret ally to kill him in order to protect a confused teenager from becoming a murderer or from suffering punishment for refusing to.

Not unlike the scientific community during the Ptolemaic period of astronomy versus the scientific community today, we believed one thing under one set of facts, and as more information was gathered, we came to believe something else, which turned out to be the truth.

I left my wife alone in that hospital because I didn’t know better.

It wasn’t my fault. It was simply my responsibility.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

We make choices, learning things along the way. Stuff happens, and we are all constantly interpreting the things happening around us with limited information. Sometimes we’re right. Much of the time, we’re wrong.

In this case, I was wrong, and am deeply sorry for the damage I caused. There are millions of guys out there doing these exact same things. Hurting their spouses accidentally, even when they are told their actions are hurtful. They STILL don’t know. It’s the Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

But I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can only do something about tomorrow.

Life’s too short. I want to live it well.

That jibes with who I want to be. Because I’d just as soon be part of the solution.

By actually doing things the right way.

…..

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How to Feel Successful, Increase Self-Esteem and Eliminate Envy

all-i-do-is-win-win-win-no-matter-what

I know a guy who almost never loses a game of pool.

He’s one of my dad’s closest friends. He’s awesome in all of the ways which matter, and I love him like family.

But if you didn’t know him and love him like family, he might seem to you like just another guy. He manages a hospital maintenance staff. I’m not super-familiar with his financial status, but I’m not under the impression people who care about net worth would be overly impressed.

My father’s social circle has a lot of three kinds of guys: Guys with really nice cars who race as a hobby, guys who are awesome golfers, and guys with—at least by Midwestern terms—kind of a lot of money.

But the hospital maintenance manager isn’t really any of those things.

I don’t know whether he sits around thinking about this. As if he’s somehow deficient because he isn’t up to the same standards in those super-specific silos as most of his friends. I hope not, and doubt it.

When I was younger, I—objectively speaking in the context of 1980s Americans—didn’t have money in my family. My parents were young, divorced, and at best, lower middle-class. I ate a lot of free school lunches in my early years.

Some of my friends did come from families with—at least from my narrow perspective and life experience—a lot of money. Big, awesome houses I’d visit and sleep in on weekends, and nice, expensive cars.

Maybe feelings of inadequacy and insecurity started back then. I’m an only child and didn’t have a big brother or sister to help prepare me for The Things That Happen Next in your growing years, and I did a crappy job being transparent with my parents, choosing to live inside my own head rather than talk things out with people who loved me and probably knew Things.

But I don’t remember feeling particularly inadequate or insecure back then. In fact, I feel as if I had a charmed childhood and social life through my school years. Whatever my neurotic hang ups might have been, I can’t recall a time I felt intentionally excluded from anything that mattered to me. I felt well-liked and reasonably popular, which are fun things to feel.

It was during the slow death of my marriage where I developed some insecurities and self-confidence issues which are very un-fun things to feel.

Some combination of failing to rise to the level of Very Successful, Special and Unique Snowflake I’d always imagined for myself, and losing my job with a new baby at home, and feeling my wife pull further and further away while seeming to like, respect and want me less with each passing day, turned me into someone else.

Every Facebook or Instagram update from someone I knew with their smiling and happy family on another vacation or in their super-nice home proved to be another reminder of what a loser I’d really turned out to be.

Must be this tall to ride.

Before the hospital maintenance manager and family friend I know was someone who I knew and loved, he was a total stranger. Several years ago when I met him, he was a new addition to my father’s vibrant social circle.

I didn’t know a thing about him, except what a few guys in the room were telling me: “See that guy? He never loses at pool. He’s an absolute badass. One of the best I’ve ever seen or heard of.”

I’m not a particularly skilled pool shooter. I’m okay. I’m kind of okay at everything. I tend to be average at most things, and great at none. But if there’s an impromptu pool tournament, sure, I’m in.

My dad has a couple tables. He’s good, as are many of his friends. They all have their own, expensive cue sticks, rarely miss shots, and never take them unless they know where the cue ball needs to be to make the next one or two. They’re high-level players.

But none of them are like our friend, The Badass. The unassuming hospital employee. When he’s on, he’ll make other awesome players look average, and average players look weak and pathetic.

Generally, if you miss even one shot against him, you’re finished.

Ignoring that material and superficial things lack meaning and rarely move the Happiness needle on our lives, he can’t hang with the other guys on the golf course, nor can he buy a bunch of expensive cars, nor is he going to elicit financial envy from any of them.

Compared to them in those very specific areas, he might appear or even feel lacking.

But at a billiards table? You’re in his world.

A world where he’s king.

Who Would You Trade Places With if You Had to Take All Their Baggage, Too?

James Altucher, one of my favorite writers, was having dinner with another excellent writer, Ryan Holiday.

Holiday asked Altucher whether he ever feels envious of others.

“Yes,” Altucher said, “I’m envious of people.”

Holiday shared his mental strategy for eliminating feelings of jealousy or envy, and Altucher wrote about it in his recent post, The One Cure For All Envy and Jealousy:

“Here’s what you do, Ryan said. If you are envious of someone, you can’t just pick one or two things about them. Because it’s their entire history that has got them the one thing you are envious about.

“So, he said, picture that you can change places in every way with them. But then it’s forever.

He said: Would you do it?

“While he asked that, the hostess of the restaurant came up to us, She looked at me and asked, are you on TV?

“No.

“You’re Ted Mosby, right? From the show ‘How I Met Your Mother.’

“No, I said, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

“She kept staring and then walked away.

“Let me think, I said to Ryan. What about X, would you change places with him? – And I named someone we both admired.

“No way, he said, look at A, B, and C with him. Would you want those?

“Hmm, no.

“Who else do you admire? he asked.

“I had to think for a long time. There’s a lot of people I admire but which among them do I envy.

“I named some more people I envied but for each one, he named some attributes that I would definitely not want to have for myself if I switched places for that person.

“I guess you’re right, I said. I’m happy being me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be having such a fun dinner right now with you!”

I often wonder why it feels like I know several people in real life who would make AMAZING political leaders, but I often find the people I actually have to choose from to be deficient in several areas. I know people who you’d want to run through walls for in an effort to elect them President of the United States. People with unquestionable leadership skills, charisma, and as much integrity as you’d require from a public figure.

But they’ll never be president. There are a TON of brilliant and amazing people out there. Entrepreneurs, doctors, educators, business leaders, etc. But nobody like them ever runs for president.

Why?

I figured it out several years ago: Because none of the really smart people want the job.

It’s shitty! Have you ever studied the gray-hair quotient of presidents entering office versus leaving it? It’s a stressful, shitty job where half the world hates you, where you’re headline news almost every day, where your private life is almost always on display, where people don’t believe good things which are true about you, where people believe bad things which aren’t true about you, where you receive death threats all the time, and aren’t even paid particularly well in the context of being that famous and powerful.

In many ways, being President of the United States is one of the best jobs in the world.

In many ways, it’s also one of the worst.

Would you trade places with someone else? Even if you had to take on all the bad parts, too?

Bring Others Into a Place Where You are Master

Another of my favorite writers and thinkers, Tim Ferriss, taught me how to stop comparing my life to the highlights of other people’s lives I might see on social media, and feel more gratitude and pride about the things which make me, me.

This is The Secret to Feeling Successful, and you can start RIGHT NOW, and all you have to do is ask yourself a better question.

Ferriss’ focus was on business success, but it won’t take a business degree to understand how this mental trick can apply to ANYTHING in your life, and essentially be summarized as Enjoy Being the Big Fish in a Small Pond.

From Ferriss’ New Research and a Dirty Truth: Read This Before Chasing the Dollar:

“What to do? There are a few ways to use the currency of time, and awareness of positional economics, to your advantage to beat the Joneses on new terms:

  1. Focus on “relative income” — defined as hourly income — instead of “absolute income,” misleading annual income that doesn’t factor in time. If you assume a 40-hour work week and 2 weeks of vacation per year, estimate per-hour income by cutting off the last three zeros and dividing in half. Thus: $50,000 per year –> $50 divided by 2 = $25 per hour. Relative income can be increased by increasing total income for the same hours, getting the same income for fewer hours, or some combination thereof. More options with more life.
  2. Determine your precise Target Monthly Income (TMI) for your ideal lifestyle — the goal of most rat-race income competition — and focus on structuring mini-retirements to redistribute retirement throughout life. There’s an excellent Excel spreadsheet here for calculations.
  3. Determine your “where” of happiness. It’s not necessary to permanently move to a country with depressed currency, but even temporary relocation to a domestic (check out Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard’s Life 2.0) or international location with a lower cost-of-living resets your peer group and positional economics barometer. Being perceived as rich often translates into perceiving yourself as rich. Neat trick and a hell of a lot of fun. Two of my top picks for positional resets are Argentina (see “How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires”) and Thailand.
  4. Develop appreciation in tandem with achievement. Subjective happiness depends on appreciating what you get as much as getting what you want. The first step to true appreciation is perception: cultivating present-awareness. I recommend experimenting with lucid dreaming as tested at Stanford University, in particular the “reality check” exercises of Dr. Stephen Laberge.
  5. Develop competitive social groups outside of work. Participate in games outside of income mongering. Train or compete in a sport where income is a non-factor. That dude makes $1,000,000 a day as a hedge fund manager? I don’t care–his golf swing sucks and he has love handles. Here, it counts for nothing. Oh, and her? I know she just got promoted to national manager for IBM, but so what? I just scored 5 goals on her. In this world, I rule.

“Don’t let rat racing be the only game you play against the Joneses,” Ferriss wrote. “There is always someone willing to sacrifice it all to earn more, so let them. Just remember: it is entirely possible — in fact, common — to be a success in business and a failure in life. Take the red pill and think different.”

I’d like to believe that how we feel doesn’t really matter, since our feelings wax and wane all the time, and it’s hard to trust our own emotional swings.

But the truth is, how we feel DOES matter. Our feelings affect pretty much all of our decision making, and our decision making affects pretty much everything that happens to us.

Some people might roll their eyes at the idea of using Jedi mind tricks to feel better about their life. Like it’s fake. Like they actually have to do something more or different or better to ACTUALLY be better.

And I’m saying that’s bullshit.

Go chase whatever sets your heart on fire. I’m not suggesting we all sit on the couch, do nothing, and celebrate it.

The truth is true no matter what we believe: We’re already tall enough to be Jedi.

We already win. And we might as well enjoy it.

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I Won’t Be Your Ally Because You’re Probably Doing it Wrong Like Me

I'm probably not your ally. (Image/www.mawwab.com)

I’m probably not your ally. (Image/www.mawwab.com)

I got lazy.

Lulled into complacency. No matter how many times I’ve experienced negative consequences due to my word choices or tone of voice, I’m not always mindful of how what I’m saying might be affecting her.

Sometimes I don’t stop and think. There’s always so much to do, you know. Never enough time.

So I spit out a response which seems reasonable and innocuous at the time. And then I help destroy a family.

Only this time, it isn’t mine.

She wrote me a note because she’s unhappy in her marriage. I get a lot of those, and I can’t read all of them, and can’t respond to most of them.

She tells me a story. It makes sense and sounds true. It’s pretty much the same story I always hear, because no matter how unique we like to believe we are, most of our divorce stories sound eerily similar.

So I write back a note which validates her feelings:

“There’s a famous saying I often heard growing up: ‘You can’t fix stupid.’ If the men you are talking about are simply WRONG and maybe stubborn and ignorant, maybe there is no reasoning with someone like that. In my experience, not everyone can be saved. If a man is incapable of demonstrating kindness and selfless love for his wife, then I think he’s kind of an asshole. I’ve never seen anyone turn an asshole into a non-asshole. I HAVE seen good men doing wrong by accident figure out that they were doing wrong, and then making changes to be better afterward. Those are the guys I write for and root for.”

Reasonable, I thought. Innocuous.

About two hours ago, I opened the blog’s email account to scan the subject lines. One of my professional niches is email marketing and effective subject line writing. This guy wrote a good one:

“My wife is divorcing me with your help.”

I figured it would be some guy getting pissed at me for the dishes post again. A million guys were upset with me about that one. But he wasn’t pissed at me. And he wasn’t using hyperbole.

He’s a regular reader and fan. His email was full of nothing but praise, gratitude and admiration.

He tells me a story. It makes sense and sounds true.

Halfway through his story, it hits me: Holy shit. This is the ‘You can’t fix stupid’ husband. And wouldn’t you know it? He doesn’t sound stupid at all.

I spent 10 years writing news stories. Then I went through a painful divorce and have fairly successfully learned how to explain my ex-wife’s side of the story. So you’d think I’d remember—there are ALWAYS two sides to a story.

My Son’s Other Family

I like, respect and care about my ex-wife. She’s a good person. We get along well and are effective, cooperative co-parents. She’s an outstanding mother.

She sees a man I like and respect, and have known for years. I trust him to be good to her and my son, which is all I could ever ask for.

For only the second or third time, they pulled in the driveway together yesterday to pick up our son. I waved goodbye to him as the three of them drove away.

There isn’t a pain now like there was three years ago. That would have hurt worse than a bullet three years ago. Today, things are different.

Infinitely less pain. Now it’s simple discomfort.

But the truth is painful: I didn’t like it.

Most Divorce is Stupid, Selfish and Wasteful

I really believe that.

If that husband and wife who wrote to me over the weekend end up divorced, their three children will see their family torn apart.

I don’t know how much of that is on me. I only know a guy who thinks I’m awesome and said really nice things about me and my writing believes my note to his wife convinced her to pull the trigger.

I contributed to the thing I despise most. I became part of the problem. Maybe it’s not the first time. And now I’ll have to live with that.

Three kids.

I think most divorce is bad. It think it’s lazy and wasteful.

I don’t want to eliminate the ability to divorce. God knows it’s an important option for people who discover they’re married to dangerous people or con artists. People in abusive relationships SHOULD NOT stay in them.

That’s where the gray area begins. I would have scoffed in haughty offendedness had you suggested my marriage was abusive. Nonsense!, I’d have told you. I never once felt abusive, even in the moments I knew I wasn’t loving as hard and selflessly as I should have. But after everything I’ve learned over these past three years, I do think my wife found herself in an abusive relationship.

One of those sneaky ones so many wives find themselves in, where to the outside world, everything seems cool, and they go borderline-crazy because it’s hard to find people who know how to see the subtlety of emotional abuse for what it is.

“But I didn’t mean to!” husbands say. Much of the time, it’s true. We didn’t mean to.

But that doesn’t turn fact into fiction. Abuse is abuse even when we label it “a misunderstanding.”

Still, most divorce feels wrong to me. Stupid and wasteful. A move done for ONE reason only: to feel better.

The Common Marriage and Divorce Story

Two young people meet, usually in their early to mid-twenties. They become serious and get engaged just before turning 30. Literally, 99 out of 100 accepted marriage proposals come from the guys.

They plan a wedding for a year or two later. Maybe the groom is heavily invested in the process. Maybe he’s not. It’s been well-established this is the bride’s day.

They put untold hours into decisions about colors and dress styles and who to invite and where to seat them at the reception. They invest about $30,000 to pay for everything.

“Why don’t these young people put more time into discussing and making plans about the MARRIAGE?!” so many of us wonder.

That’s easy—for the same reason you didn’t. They don’t know what they don’t know. NO ONE talked to them about this other than to say “Marriage is hard work, you know! It’s a lot of give and take!”

Sweet. Thanks for the life tip.

Everyone thinks marriage is going to be EXACTLY LIKE IT IS RIGHT NOW when they already see each other every day, and are going through daily life together. It makes sense to them to feel confident that everything is always going to be like it is right now.

Most young people don’t have serious, brutally honest talks about VALUES and BOUNDARIES. That rarely happens.

We overlook value differences, because it’s been fine so far! And we forgive boundary violations, because of real love I love them no matter what! or The Sunk Cost Fallacy, where no one wants to end the relationship, become single again, and lose this multi-year investment in one another.

We get married.

Husbands obliviously do the shitty husband thing.

Wives don’t enforce their boundaries, and when they try, they use communication techniques that don’t come anywhere near working.

You know what will help? A baby!

After all, that’s just WHAT YOU DO! You go to school, get a job, meet someone, get a place, and have babies! This is The Way®!

The kids come and exacerbate all of the problems which already existed, but because we love our kids so much, we don’t like to say it, because it’s not their fault. (And it’s true. It’s our fault.)

We drift further apart. Maybe someone has an emotional and/or physical affair. The marriage has withered on the vine over the course of 5-10 years, and it feels to one or both partners like the love died.

In the United States alone, more than 3,000 people file for divorce every day. Two out of three of those are unhappy wives.

That’s 2,000 unhappy wives EVERY DAY leaving their marriages.

You think all 2,000 of those husbands are bad guys?

You think all 2,000 of those wives are bitchy, entitled maniacs?

Neither do I.

I think divorce is stupid when two good people who love one another end their marriage (especially when there are children) because they believe there is something unique about their specific dynamics that prevent them from having a happy marriage.

If people are getting divorced because they decide marriage isn’t for them, I feel much better about it. But people who are married are people who naturally crave companionship and physical intimacy. Before long, they will start dating again, possibly remarry. Even if they don’t remarry, they will likely enter a long-term monogamous relationship where the dynamics are nearly identical to marriage.

And, if they haven’t learned it already, that’s when they will.

I traded in my old problems for a new set of them with this new person. All of the warm, fuzzy excitement I felt when I first met them has worn off just like it did with my ex. In fact, there are moments when I’m angry with my partner, that I sort of miss my kids’ other parent.

They might not know what to call hedonic adaptation just yet, because it’s not spoken or written about enough, but they’ve damn sure experienced it. And now in a VERY specific way.

The grass wasn’t greener after all.

Where are you going to go to escape from yourself?

I’m Probably Not Your Divorce Ally

I’m confident there are plenty of stories I could hear that, if true, would cause me to advocate divorce. It’s already happened before.

I’m not against divorces that SHOULD happen.

I’m against divorces that shouldn’t happen.

There’s how it is. And then, there’s how it should be.

I know it’s inconvenient and unpopular when your insides are all messed up and escaping your painful marriage feels like ointment on a gaping wound.

But this is my truth.

Love is a choice.

Nothing matters more than family.

And every relationship we EVER have will feel painful and fall apart if we don’t make the right choices.

What we’re doing isn’t working.

Maybe we should do something else.

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