Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Ism Theory: Maybe There’s Less Hate Than We Think

Remember the Titans screenshot

They didn’t like each other. Right up until they became friends. Then, wouldn’t you know it? How they were different didn’t matter at all. (Image from “Remember the Titans”/listal.com)

ism — a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.

I had a mild case of homophobia growing up.

Gay people were “weird” and different. Kids threw “gay” around as meaning the same thing as stupid.

I use the term homophobia when I really mean something closer to bigotry. I wasn’t afraid. But I was something akin to intolerant.

But it didn’t matter! Because I didn’t know any gay people!

I also didn’t have any close black friends before college.

I didn’t know anyone who didn’t believe in the Christian God of the bible.

I didn’t know any feminists or really even understand why there was a gender-equality conversation to be had.

I wasn’t exposed to anything except one story about right and wrong growing up. Fortunately, I was raised by kind and decent people, so any ugliness stemming from my core belief system was always rooted in a general love for human beings, rather than having people teach me that certain groups of people were evil and warranted my hate and discrimination, as many less fortunate children are taught.

I was an only child, so I gravitated to my friends, but one of my closest friends was a cousin about my age. At family gatherings for holidays or weddings, he and I were mostly inseparable.

We spent countless hours talking about girls, playing video games and playing basketball.

Years later, I was the best man in his wedding where he married an awesome girl I’m not sure I’ve seen since.

They fairly quickly divorced, and my cousin—one of my lifelong best friends—moved to another state.

Turns out, he’s gay. Which caused a bit of strain in the intimacy department before everything broke.

What was different about my cousin between all of those years he was among my dearest friends, and after coming out?

I thought about that for a bit.

The answer was simple: Nothing.

“For in spite of itself, any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” ― John Dewey

The Kinda-Racist Old White Guy & the Young Black Kid He Adores

Maybe (if you grew up anything like I did) you remember the old prejudiced guy in your personal circle who predated The Civil Rights Movement.

The guy you could count on to say something super-racist at Thanksgiving dinner or while watching an athlete showboat on TV after a good play. Maybe he even dropped an N-word or two now and then.

And because you KNOW him, you know he’s a pretty good person, if a bit out of touch.

But here’s where it gets interesting:

This lovable old guy (who you’ve NEVER seen mistreat anyone short of using offensive or insensitive language about a group of faceless strangers in private conversation) doesn’t BEHAVE as a racist.

A group of black people who committed a crime on TV might earn a foul label from him, but as he goes through life, he treats the actual individuals he meets with kindness and respect regardless of their skin color.

Maybe he meets a nice kid named Daryl because Daryl is a waiter at the old guy’s favorite breakfast spot, and Daryl is working hard to save money to go to college. Maybe Daryl is also a star on one of the old guy’s favorite local high school teams.

The old racist guy loves Daryl after getting to know him, and you can’t help but notice how he still speaks in (unintentionally) offensive ways about people of different races or cultures, but he sings the praises of Daryl.

Daryl – the hard-working, intelligent, well-mannered, kind kid from the restaurant who always makes sure the old guy’s coffee is full, and who delights the old man when he’s sitting in the stands cheering on Daryl’s team.

“So. Old Guy. I gotta ask: You periodically say things about black people we see on TV which is racist by every known definition and interpretation of the word. But then over here, you’re always raving about Daryl. Daryl has the same skin color and is from similar communities as all of the people you are categorically speaking ill of. It’s inconsistent. What gives?”

And then maybe the old guy responds: “Daryl’s a great kid! He’s not like the others.”

But the real truth is, if he spent the same amount of time with any of those others, getting to know them on an interpersonal level, he’d feel the same fondness for each new person.

If he didn’t? It wouldn’t have anything to do with skin color. It would have everything to do with the same personality conflicts we have with People Like Us.

Did you ever see films like “American History X,” or “Remember the Titans,” or “A Time to Kill,” or “Gran Torino,” or “Crimson Tide,” or “Men of Honor,” or “The Help”?

Do you remember when former vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter came out as being lesbian and he changed his entire tune on homosexuality as a U.S. social issue?

I don’t believe people actually hate one another to the degree the social narrative suggests.

I believe everyone simply hasn’t gotten to know each other yet.

When People Meet and Develop Relationships, It’s Never Skin Color, Gender, Sexual Preference, or Creed That Fosters Dislike

There are clearly notable examples in history where people really do hate as much as they say. They behead innocent people on video, and they violently attack through word and action people who belong to some group they’ve identified as being Different From Themselves.

I think a lot of people subconsciously think (especially when young and unexposed to different cultures): I’m me. I belong to this group. We are good. I am good. Those people over there don’t belong to this group. They are different than me. We have competing interests sometimes. They must be bad.

But when we ACTUALLY spend time around other people with diverse beliefs and backgrounds, we are regularly exposed to the fact that human beings share so many commonalities, and mostly have the same goals.

It’s not a black football player and a white football player. It’s teammates who play for the Titans.

It’s not a black defendant and a white attorney. It’s two fathers who love their daughters and demand justice.

On Sept. 11, 2001, it wasn’t “That stupid idiot Bush fighting his daddy’s war over oil!!!” Or black or white or Hispanic or male or female or Christian or Jew or atheist or gay or straight or New York Yankees fan or Boston Red Sox fan.

It wasn’t even American or “foreigner.”

Because for a moment, it was only about humanity.

When we realized that fiery explosions kill people no matter what tribes they belong to, or what beliefs they have.

When we meet human beings where they are—or when we meet each other where WE are—we work together or play on sports teams together or fight battles together or laugh together or pray together, and then we collectively grow together.

I felt weird about gay people because I didn’t know any.

But then I found out that I did, and there had been nothing weird about it at all.

Every one of us is a minority somewhere.

Every one of us is different in another part of town.

Every one of us has an accent.

Or. Just maybe.

No one is a minority.

All of us have a million things in common.

And underneath all the nonsense, everyone actually speaks the same language: Human.

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The War Inside: If You’re Not Uncomfortable, You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

angry goat

(Image/trinitypropertysales.com)

I’m a little outraged by all the outrage.

One group of people is outraged because an NFL quarterback chose to remain seated during the U.S. national anthem before a game.

“It’s disrespectful!” “If he doesn’t like America, he should get the hell out!” “People died for that flag, man. Honor the troops!”

A separate group is outraged for the very reason San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has decided to protest the national anthem.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

49ers fans posted videos of them burning Kaepernick jerseys to let him know how they felt about his decision.

Some of my friends badmouthed him at my fantasy football draft yesterday.

I don’t know how many of the angry people can accurately explain Kaepernick’s reasoning. I think it’s fair to assume at least some of them jumped to conclusions, and that most if not all of them have never been targets of harassment, racial profiling, or discrimination in any fundamentally dehumanizing ways.

Similarly, I don’t know how many angry Black Lives Matter activists can accurately explain official police procedure for officer-involved shootings, or have ever been in the type of highly stressful, life-threatening situations most law enforcement officers volunteer for to protect innocent people and, by extension, our very way of life through the preservation of civil order.

I think maybe some people just like to scream about things.

‘What’s wrong with the world?’ This. All This Self-Righteous Certainty.

Men often say how exhausting it is for them to have “talks” with their wives or girlfriends. You know—the ones they didn’t initiate. The ones that force us to deal with things like criticism, or questions about certain behaviors, or listening to the women we love tell us how we make them sad and miserable.

We have all kinds of reactions:

Silence.

Walking away.

Defensiveness.

Retorting with complaints of our own.

Haughty moral superiority.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

Fighting.

Sometimes we fight because we think it might end the conversation. We often regret that once the anger subsides. We apologize and try to make peace. But nothing gets resolved because we never actually listened to her with focus and intention in any kind of effort to instill personal changes that would solve the problem.

If she decides to bring it up again (which she often won’t simply to avoid the fight, even though it hurts her a lot to do so) sometimes we just get angry all over again. Maybe we accuse her of “always trying to pick a fight!”, or “always finding something new to complain about!”

It’s bullshit.

Having the conversation she wants to have is making us uncomfortable because it forces us to look inward for answers, and ask ourselves hard questions. It forces us to deal with our flaws, it exposes our weaknesses, and brings us face-to-face with our demons.

That’s when we squirm.

The hard truths make us squirm.

The prospect of needing to change makes us squirm.

This is why people are angry about Colin Kaepernick.

This is why people are angry about Black Lives Matter.

This is why people are angry about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson.

This is why people are angry about atheism.

This is why people are angry about God.

This is why people are angry about feminism.

This is why people are angry about Red Pill philosophy.

This is why people are angry about homosexuality.

This is why people are angry about abortion.

Talking about these things makes us uncomfortable. These are the things that make us squirm. It’s because we all have stories that we tell ourselves about each and every one of these things, and it hurts when these core (and sacred-feeling) beliefs are challenged.

EVERYONE has different points of view. And EVERYONE usually has some kernel of Truth—or at minimum, some real-world, first-person experience—at the core of whatever they believe.

We MUST Discuss Uncomfortable Things, Else Nothing Ever Changes

I love the American flag and the national anthem. Americans piss me off constantly. Our federal government is something of a dysfunctional, financially inefficient pool of incompetence. But I love my country, my flag, and our anthem. I have problems with many things in our country. But I will not protest the flag.

But I am WAY more outraged by the people who think Kaepernick exercising his Constitutional right to free expression warrants insulting him, harassing him, or suggesting he’s un-American and should leave the country.

That’s just my opinion. It might be unpopular. Let’s talk about it.

Let me ask you this, Outraged NFL Fan or Outraged American who thinks Kaepernick’s national anthem protest is disrespectful of the men and women who have died protecting the many freedoms we enjoy as American citizens.

Which is the greater crime against patriotism: Kaepernick’s sitting down during the national anthem (a PERSONAL decision he didn’t seek attention for—a media member approached him about it, not the other way around), or the NFL accepting millions in taxpayer dollars to promote “patriotic” displays before and during NFL games?

And here’s another: Which is the greater service to our brave military men and women—standing at attention for the national anthem, or actually getting off of our asses to donate time and money to the tragic problem of what happens to many of our veterans when they return home?

I’m raising my hand on this. I am one of you, and we are many. The people quick to criticize a man not doing the same thing we would do during the national anthem in the name of patriotism, only to turn and look the other way when we hear about the sad state of veterans affairs in the United States.

Why?

Because it makes us uncomfortable. It’s easy to scream at Kaepernick.

But it’s HARD to solve real problems.

I love the police. I assume the reason my house isn’t regularly broken into by gunmen who might hurt my son, or why my car isn’t stolen, or why there aren’t more high-speed fatalities in neighborhoods where kids play and people walk dogs is because of the police.

You know what else I love?

People NOT getting shot and killed (especially children) who do not present a deadly threat to police or other people.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we strongly support the police AND respect and honor the feelings of those participating in Black Lives Matter?

White people in suburban neighborhoods around the country never experience or even think about what racial discrimination or oppression looks like. I get it. I’m a white person in a suburban neighborhood who almost never experiences those things either. But how are WE the Arbiters of Truth on issues affecting black communities? We couldn’t be more ignorant about it if we tried.

Millions of black Americans believe police officers have unjustly killed children or their friends or their neighbors or just someone with the same amount of melanin in their bodies.

Worse yet, many believe that the people doing the killing are unfairly enjoying paid leave instead of being scrutinized the same way they or other people they know have been scrutinized by police.

Maybe all of the officer-involved shootings were justified.

Maybe none of them were.

I’m not focused on that (even though they obviously merit our concern). I’m focused on what a shitty job everyone is doing at dealing with it.

Thought Exercise: The Goat-Sex Conundrum

I hope you’ll take this seriously.

Would you prefer to:

  1. Have sex with a goat, with assurances that no one will ever find out. Or,
  2. NOT have sex with a goat, but everyone will believe you did, no matter how much you protest or try to convince them otherwise?

Normally, this mental exercise is designed to help you figure out whether you place more value on what you think and feel about yourself, or on what others think and feel about you.

I intend it a slightly different way.

Maybe the Police are a bunch of racist murderers. Or maybe they’re not.

Maybe the Black Lives Matter movement is totally out of line and wrong in their beliefs.

And to either side, I’d say: Does the truth even matter if no one believes it?

Maybe Exchanging Stories and Ideas with People Who DON’T Share our Life Experiences Can Help

We avoid conversations and experiences that make us uncomfortable.

It’s just easier that way.

But I wonder what might happen if every police department in the United States invited community leaders, Black Lives Matter representatives, and everyday citizens to a friendly and public conversation about these issues.

What if law enforcement officials collectively spent more time investing in understanding the day-to-day lives of those who mistrust them? What if BLM officials invested more time in police ride-along programs to get a closer look at what our bravest first responders face?

People (mostly men, I think) scoff at the call for empathy.

They’d rather bitch and moan about whatever new controversy is on TV before getting back to the routine of not paying attention.

The most powerful and healing move we can make in ANY conflict—from international disputes and wars, down to our most personal relationships, is simply to pour energy into understanding what daily life or a specific situation looks like through the prism of another person with sometimes intensely different lenses and filters.

It’s easy to dismiss our relationship partners. They’re being crazy.

It’s easy to dismiss our political opponents. They’re obviously stupid morons.

It’s easy to dismiss people of different faiths. I just want what’s best for them!

It’s easy to dismiss people who make different lifestyle choices. Those people are freaks, and nothing like me!

It’s easy to dismiss people from different cultures. We’re already doing things the best way!

Because NOT dismissing them makes us squirm.

NOT dismissing them makes us explore questions we’d rather not have to answer.

NOT dismissing them forces us to have the uncomfortable conversations we’re all constantly avoiding.

But maybe those are the only ones that actually change things.

I’m With Kaep

It’s easy to criticize Kaepernick. My initial reaction was to do just that.

No matter what your beef is, you should honor the flag! But that’s my personal opinion.

But after hearing what the man had to say?

What do you want from him? To shut up and do things your way?

Is that what you want your wife, and people of different faiths and different lifestyles and different political opinions to do?

We have TWO choices:

  1. Have a group take over by force, overpowering or enslaving the opposition, and then imposing new laws which everyone must follow. That’s one option.
  2. The second option is freedom. The second option is acknowledging that everyone gets to be and do and think and feel whatever they want so long as doing so doesn’t restrict those same freedoms of others.

Please let people be themselves. It is the best way I know to be less of an asshole.

And please accept this truth about ANY disagreement discussed with kindness and empathy:

In the end, you’ve either proven how smart you are and helped another person understand your point of view, OR you’ve been properly convinced of a better idea and evolve into a smarter, higher-functioning human being.

It’s the Everybody Wins Strategy.

And it would save the world if we would just let it.

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There’s Gonna Be Some Changes Around Here

iron fist

(Image/YouTube)

I’ve been forging my shiny new iron fist and intend to wield it mercilessly on properly informed violators.

The purpose of blog comments is to provide a tool for feedback and the exchange of ideas. As a staunch opponent of censorship, and a strong proponent of free speech, I have intentionally avoided anything resembling the policing of comments.

For most of Must Be This Tall To Ride’s existence, the posts were little more than ultra-personal, first-person stories, leaving comments that might be deemed “offensive” in the camp of being critical of my ideas or insulting me.

I’ve always been okay with that, and I’m still fair game. But other people are not.

Things are different now. Human beings—real people—most of whom are kind, conscientious and respectful of others, are having ongoing conversations in the comments that live beneath MBTTTR posts. In certain respects, it has become a living, breathing community.

Communities have guidelines. Established and agreed-upon codes of conduct designed to protect the community and cultivate an environment where its members can thrive.

By allowing community members or visitors to knowingly violate the spirit and principles of the community, the community will eventually cease to exist because all of the principled people with healthy values and boundaries will find a better way to spend their time.

MBTTTR community members have always, and will always, come and go.

But it can never again be because someone who doesn’t represent the core values, mission and purpose of this place is poisoning the well.

What that means is, moving forward, if someone knowingly poisons the well, I’m going to stick my digital iron fist directly up their ass and ask them to leave.

The Case for Being Intolerant of Intolerance

“Hey, Matt!!! What kind of comments will you delete?!”

The simplest and most generic way to explain the new comment-enforcement policy would be: A comment should not grossly violate the Kindness litmus test.

Kind DOES NOT mean the same thing as “nice.” But they’re close. This isn’t about everyone liking one another. It’s about everyone treating others with the requisite amount of dignity and respect.

KINDNESS
“Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.”

If it doesn’t pass that common-sense sniff test, I’m trashing it.

“Hey, Matt!!! Isn’t it possible something might feel unkind to me and others but NOT you, which would cause more disagreements?”

Totally possible.

Because I remain staunchly anti-censorship. I am anti-censorship because I believe so strongly in personal responsibility. I believe people are in control of themselves and responsible for their choices. Choosing to share an idea publicly, which is then rejected by another person or group, is a fundamental part of the free exchange of ideas. And sometimes that will hurt people’s feelings. And that will create paradoxes and situations which flirt dangerously close to hypocrisy.

But so long as I adhere to the principles about to be shared, and so long as most of you do the same, we will often arrive at a great place.

“How?”

Moving forward, we will be a tribe.

A tribe that (when exchanging ideas in MBTTTR comments, at least) is united in its effort to lift up all tribe members. More on this in a moment.

The Magic of Defining Yourself

The best thing I’ve read recently is The Book In A Box Culture Document—something that very intentionally, deliberately, and thoroughly defines the culture of Book In A Box. (An MBTTTR reader thoughtfully shared it with me, and I can’t overstate my gratitude.)

One of the most important lessons of my first year as a partner in a startup company is the power of an organization putting clearly defined ideas to paper regarding its mission and purpose.

When you define your purpose, difficult decisions mostly go away. Because a choice tends to either serve the mission and purpose, or not.

The fantastic BIAB Culture Doc served as my model for fleshing out the principles that will guide the MBTTTR tribe moving forward.

…..

Thrive

(Image/likesuccess.com)

The MBTTTR Mission, Purpose, Values & Principles

MBTTTR’s beginning was firmly rooted in the Me, Me, Me space.

MBTTTR’s future will be firmly rooted in the Us, Us, Us space.

Our collective mission, purpose, values and principles will be clearly defined while ALSO being subject to scrutiny and change when new information demands change. Those conversations will happen with the passage of time, and we will collectively adjust course as needed. Together.

Mission (What are we doing?)

To tell honest stories about the human experience—even when it’s uncomfortable and against our natural self-preservation instincts—to connect others to good people, good questions and good ideas in ways that help humans thrive.

Purpose (Why are we doing it?)

To use judgment-free storytelling as a tool to lift people up—mending hearts, enriching minds and uplifting souls—for the betterment of human relationships.

We believe human relationships are the things which most strongly influence an individual’s quality of life. That people with healthy, high-functioning relationships have measurably better lives than those who do not.

We believe human relationships thrive when individuals are prepared to contribute positively to them.

We believe a person is best prepared to contribute positively when she or he is balanced in four key areas: Mind (mental health), Body (physical health), Spirit (spiritual health), and Emotion (emotional health).

Values (What do we care about?)

1. Things that matter.

“Hey Matt! What matters?”

Who do you want to be with if you only have one day to live? What do you want to do? What are the things you’re thinking about?

Those things matter.

Here, we mostly care about the earthly thing that matters above all others—people.

2. Learning and growth.

“Knowing things is great, but the reality is that most “facts” are either an illusion, or have a short half-life,” the BIAB Culture Doc says. “The success of our tribe will not be determined on what we know right now. It will come from our ability to learn quickly, and implement what we learn.

“This means every person in our tribe must be an active and lifelong learner. We all must be curious, willing to ask questions, and most important, willing to change our minds when new facts demand a new perspective.”

Come to discussions with a Beginner’s Mind. With humble inquiry.

If your goal isn’t to find the best answer, but to win an argument on the internet, our relationship will be short-lived.

The MBTTTR Tribe cares about finding the best idea. The closest thing to Truth we can arrive at in all of our flawed humanity.

“Let the best idea win,” says PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

And it will be a guiding principle here.

The beauty lives in the trying.

3. Results.

While we celebrate, encourage and admire those who try, we value results. Another BIAB-inspired guiding principle of MBTTTR will be just that.

You get brownie points for trying. You also get divorced.

Intentions often matter. But if you’re trying earnestly to be a good spouse, but failing as evidenced by your shitty, dysfunctional and broken relationships, we think that should be taken into account.

If you don’t TRY to hurt your wife, but you ACCIDENTALLY hurt her, the following becomes true: You hurt your wife.

If NOT hurting your wife is a guiding principle in your marriage, then your intentions mean little.

Another BIAB gem: We award medals for results. Not attempts.

“While we deeply value results, results by themselves are not enough; we must get results the right way. Of course this means being ethical and honest and doing the right thing. But it goes beyond that,” the BIAB Culture Doc says. “Getting great results means that we must be focused on the experience that people have when dealing with us.”

4. We value human connection and shared experiences.

By considering the experiences of the other people we interact with, it requires us to be empathetic and considerate. It forces us to see everyone as another human, with their own wants and needs and desires, and it compels us to consider those in our actions.

The most important life lesson I’ve learned post-divorce is:

A. Ohhhhh. THAT’s what empathy means!, and

B. Holy shit. Empathy is the most important life skill people need to succeed in relationships, but few people ever explain or define it for young people.

[Author’s Note: The remainder of this document is mostly in note form and heavily modeled after the content generated from the BIAB team. For the sake of time, I need to move onto other things. I will make this document a permenant fixture as a page on this site, and I (or WE!) will more clearly define these principles moving forward.]

Principles (How do we apply our values?)

The First Principle: We before me

 

The Second Principle: Tell the truth

“Amateurs want comforting lies. Professionals want to hear uncomfortable truths,” the BIAB Culture Doc says.

Truth is about caring. Truth can be painful, but if you deliver it right—with both candor and authentic kindness—it helps people more than anything else you can do for them.

The Third Principle: It’s not necessarily what you say or do, it’s how they feel

Again: Medals for results, not attempts.

There must be room in our hearts and minds for others’ experiences. Our experiences DO NOT and CANNOT define the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and expieriences of others.

The Fourth Principle: Our goal is to find the best idea

From BIAB:

We criticize ideas, not people.

Why? Because most people tie their identity to their ideas.

This attitude is toxic and destructive to creative and free discussions. We are the opposite. Confrontation is good, as long as it’s about the ideas and not the person.

We call this “shoot the message, never the messenger,” and the point is that all discussion is always about an idea, and never about a person. We discuss what is right, NEVER who is right.

However: You are not your ideas.

People must feel like their identity is safe–even if their ideas are not.

This is very difficult to achieve (it is in some ways against core parts of human nature), but if we can do it, we create an environment that has people intensely debating and rigorously scrutinizing ideas—that is simultaneously respectful of people.

This creates the best outcomes for everyone, because it means the best ideas will almost always win—which means the tribe will win.

CLARIFYING NOTE: This principle also means your beliefs must be based on facts, and you must be willing to change your beliefs if the facts change.

Feedback must be our North Star. It’s HOW we navigate and calibrate and make sure that we are serving the MBTTTR mission, the interests of the tribe, and the other people we affect. How else can we know we’re doing the right thing, unless we’re hearing it from the people we affect?

…..

For the love of all that is good and beautiful and worth caring about in this life…

Pretty please…

Be kind to each other.

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Please Help Me Build Something

bald eagle

(Image/Christopher Martin)

NOTE: I try hard to not ask you for things.

That’s not how I want this relationship to work.

But today, I must.

Because someone who matters to me asked for my help. And only you can make it possible.

You can skip the storytelling and contribute to something deserving and meaningful.

Or you can learn why I care. Because context matters.

We’d haul buckets full of water and live fish to the barn where my grandfather had built a fish-cleaning station.

There, I’d watch him club the heads of fish to kill them before I’d help him descale and filet them. Later, we’d have a fish fry.

The meals were delicious. The process was routine if I was fishing with grandpa. I didn’t think or feel much about it at all. It was just the way we did things.

My third-grade son and I recently started fishing together. I’m not sure what took me so long.

I asked him the question: “When we catch fish, do you want to keep and eat them, or release them back into the lake?”

He insta-answered: “I want to put them back.”

I was glad. Because I didn’t want to club fish heads.

I don’t judge people who fish for food. And I promise I’ll fish for food any time a food shortage or survival situation calls for it. But so long as I have access to a nice seafood counter at my local market, I’m cool with not intentionally killing fish myself.

I didn’t think about things like that when I was in third grade.

But my little boy does.

Years ago, so did another boy growing up in Minnesota. When he was in third grade, a representative of a raptor (birds of prey, not dinosaurs!) educational outreach program visited his school.

The speaker invited the boy to approach the live eagle perched on their arm.

It was Scott’s first close encounter with a raptor.

And it changed him forever.

The Subtle Art of Achieving Balance

One of my dearest childhood friends went through divorce about a year after me.

My divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Her divorce was maybe the fourth- or fifth-worst thing to happen to her, because she has survived Life Things that destroy people, leaving most of us in perpetual states of identity crisis and disrepair.

When we take enough damage, breathing and moving ceases to mean we’re alive.

My friend knew she wasn’t really alive anymore. Sometimes, we just break.

I’ve been broken.

In her search for balance, she enrolled in a program designed to help people achieve the kind of Mind, Body and Spirit balance that allows humans to thrive.

The process has been transformative.

I see and hear the changes in the things she writes and says.

The final step in her journey was to team with others as part of her leadership training to create something meaningful by enlisting the help of at least 100 people.

She joined 16 others to form the team who would choose Children and Environment as focal points for their final project.

Scott, the third grader from Minnesota who turned his eagle encounter into a lifelong passion for learning about and protecting birds of prey into his adulthood, just happened to be part of her team.

It Means: ‘To Seize’

The word Raptor—that is the classification of large birds of prey which includes eagles, falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, etc.—is derived from the Latin word Rapere, which means “to seize” or “to take by force.”

I see my friend taking her life back. Seizing moments. It’s a big deal.

And in Charlotte, N.C., she serendipitously met 16 like-minded souls willing to unite and work for something that mattered.

They’re going to build—with their hands—a large outdoor playground on the grounds of the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., just north of Charlotte.

Something lasting. Something for children. Something that serves the big-picture mission of ecological balance most of us rarely pause to think about. (Here’s an entry-level primer on how raptors help balance ecosystems.)

They are raising money to pay for the raw materials, hardware, and tools needed to complete the project.

Maybe you care about raptor conservation. Maybe you care about children. Maybe you’d like to do me a personal favor.

Maybe you just like helping people. I hope so.

I didn’t need a reason other than someone who was fundamental to my character development, who has always been there for me, and who I have NEVER seen on the wrong side of a kindness argument say: “Can I please ask you for a favor?”

I should have known it wouldn’t be about her.

Help My Friend, Children, and Life Flourish

Please show others what’s possible by making the Carolina Raptor Center Playground a reality. No amount is too small.

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BREAKING: Someone Called Me ‘Jesus-Like,’ My Mother’s Head Explodes

humility

Humility is worth striving for. I hope I don’t come across as lacking it, because that will be a major failure on my part. (Image/blog.adw.org)

“I’ve got nothing against God. It’s his fan club I can’t stand.” 

— Unknown athiest

I was having a nice time with a small group of friends gathered for my 37th birthday before everything went sideways.

It’s one of those speakeasy-styled places with super-legit handcrafted cocktails. Good company. Good drinks. Good everything.

And then one of my newest friends (who was promptly downgraded to ‘acquaintance’ status after this) stopped in with two of her girlfriends from work, one of whom my friendquaintance was trying to set me up with.

God.

An Interlude

“When you live what you preach, you don’t have to say much.”

— Abdul Nasir Jangda

Something you might not know about me since most of you only read things here and it’s sometimes difficult to convey tone with the written word: I am an animated person.

I’m gregarious. A tad loud sometimes. And I have a reputation with some people as having really strong opinions about seemingly inconsequential things, which is well deserved, but ONLY within the context of trusting that I mostly have my priorities in order.

For example:

Maybe I have strong opinions about some facet of religion or about a particular politician or divisive political issue. No matter what someone believes and no matter how much my opinions might diverge from theirs, it’s generally “safe” to discuss sensitive things with me without any risk of fighting or offending one another.

That’s because I work hard at NOT, A. Judging, B. Trying to convert someone to my way of thinking, C. Being impolite, offensive or unkind, and D. Assuming of every mathematically possible answer that exists in Life, that little old me somehow has all of the correct ones. It’s all part of my master plan to be less of an asshole.

HOWEVER, to the uninitiated, listening to me go off on the relative inadequacies of Mounds or Three Musketeers candy bars, or debating the merits of crunchy versus creamy peanut butter, or some other random personal-preference thing, can seem like I’m going off the rails about something inconsequential.

It’s because I foolishly believe that no rational human could ever think I’m ACTUALLY that passionate about something stupid like peanut butter, just like I foolishly believed that no rational wife could ever ACTUALLY believe that I didn’t love her based on my well-documented Shitty Husband behavior.

When someone dangerously cuts you off in traffic, and you’re pissed about it, the difference between whether they were recklessly cutting you off “just because!” or because they were rushing their deathly ill child to the hospital is likely to influence how we feel about it.

Context matters.

Back to the Birthday Thing

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

The three women walked in, we shook hands while they wished me a happy birthday, then they ordered drinks, before somehow, some way, religion and church attendance became the topic of conversation.

Among the churchgoers, I think everyone attended Christian services of various denominations.

As a Catholic (not a very good one), I counted myself among them.

But I was quickly derided by the girl my friendquaintance wanted to hook me up with. She didn’t attempt to conceal her disgust with my personal choices, informing one of her coworkers that “Catholics aren’t real Christians because they don’t believe in love and forgiveness.”

Attempts to politely correct her were met with assurances that she knew better. As a baptized Catholic, I firmly rejected the concepts of love and forgiveness. That was her take. She looked me in the eye and said so.

I have zero problems with people not believing what I believe. Because in the context of their individual life experiences, it almost ALWAYS makes sense that they believe what they believe.

But there’s a point where that stops being true. And that’s when an ignoramus opines on a subject she knows nothing about, is politely corrected by someone with more than 30 years of personal knowledge on the subject, and STILL insists she knows before repeating something ridiculous.

This was an opportunity for me to behave with patience, with kindness, with humility, with perspective in a way someone might consider Christ-like.

But instead, I did the Matt thing where I get a little pompous and outraged—NOT about the religious aspect of the conversation nearly as much as how irrational and bitchy the Birthday Ruinator was.

Out of context, it probably looked and felt like I was being super-non-Jesusy in a moment that probably called for walking a higher path.

I don’t know.

Maybe it was super-Jesusy that I didn’t call her a big, fat stupid face who sucks at all things, which is reasonably close to how I felt about her in the moment.

The Last Thing I Want to be is Preachy

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

—St. Francis of Assisi

In a comment, a reader asked whether I was a practicing Christian, but I unintentionally never answered it. In response to that comment, another reader wrote this, which could legitimately cause my mother to have an aneurysm or actually explode when she reads it. (I hope not, mom. Please let me know you’re okay!)

In agreement with a previous comment, Catherine wrote:

“I was thinking this. Matt, you are very Jesus-like in the way you preach. Perhaps you should start a Church for Husbands! They do not want to go with us, maybe you could start one on TV? HeHeHe…”

I can’t emphasize this strongly enough: I don’t KNOW anything. I lack the knowledge of those with more education, the experience of those who actually have healthy relationships, and the wisdom of the people with the requisite education and experience.

I never want to come off (even though I have many times failed at this in real life and on this blog) as if I think I KNOW things.

I just THINK things.

And I like to tell the stories of my life and marriage as a cautionary tale to others because I perceive (correctly or otherwise) my life and marriage story to be fairly average.

I think most people accidentally break their marriages, and I think I mostly see how.

But none of that means I’m capable of walking the walk in a future relationship. That remains to be seen. There’s certainly no reason to assume I will.

And regardless of what you might believe about Jesus, there’s EVERY reason to believe I have little in common with him.

I believe Catherine meant well and was mostly being playful.

But my alarm went off when I read the word “preach.” Because I can’t think of a more off-putting way to be than to PREACH. As if I—some divorced jerkoff on the internet—is in any position to PREACH to any one of you.

I apologize for any time you felt as if I thought I was some super-smart and wise person who you should listen to. (About things that matter. You should TOTALLY listen to me on things that don’t matter, like food, music, movies and all of the other things about which I have exquisite tastes.)

I only hope that if you ever recognize yourself in the stories that you ask yourself whether there are better choices to be made or better ways to live, so that good and beautiful things happen for you and your children.

Because they don’t make tequila strong enough to salvage the kind of sideways birthday parties I had. And even if I start walking on water or turning said water into wine, you can be damn sure no one will confuse my behavior with Jesus’.

Even if I do believe in love and forgiveness.

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Why People Divorce and Miss the Misery

Soldiers silhouette

(Image/ct11.wikispaces.com)

During the 18 months I was sleeping in the guest room, I felt like a lonely stranger uncomfortable in his own home, at best, and suffocating heavy-chest anxiety the rest of the time.

That’s why I loved going to work, and why I dreaded every Friday afternoon when I was staring at a long weekend at home where the best I could hope for was an occasional moment of levity with my pre-school-aged son before spiraling once again into My Marriage Sucks and I’m a Huge Failure.

The Monday commute to work was sweet relief.

But then one Sunday evening, my wife took her ring off, and the next day—a Monday that felt different than the others—she left forever.

And then—even though it should have been impossible—home became more suffocating and miserable than the previous year had been.

Even the shittiest marriage I could have ever imagined felt better than feeling (justified or not) abandoned at home combined with losing half of my young son’s childhood.

When you don’t think falling down further is possible but Life teaches you otherwise? That’s when you start questioning whether waking up tomorrow is actually worth it.

When being awake hurts, there’s nowhere to run and hide.

Home becomes a silent, empty prison. Vodka buys you a couple of hours, but sometimes you cry anyway.

Work no longer provides relief. One day, I thought I was going to hyperventilate in a full conference room in front of most of the department. They’d still be talking about it behind my back.

Friends and family help on a case-by-case basis. But mostly they don’t, even though it’s not their fault. Some things just take time.

I grew up in a big-family environment. Everyone seemed to like me.

I grew up with a pretty large social network relative to where I lived. I liked pretty much everyone. Most of them seemed to like me back.

I had a vibrant and indescribably awesome social life in college. I had a core group of friends who were more like family. I had a college newspaper staff I enjoyed working with. And I had an expanded network throughout campus, ranging from athletes and sketchy stoners to uptight student government leaders and high-ranking administrators.

And then my friends started graduating and moving away. One by one. Sometimes, a few at a time.

Until it was my turn, and I insta-ran-off to Florida with my girlfriend to chase pipedream Pulitzer Prizes and non-existent beach parties.

I felt lonely.

My friends and family felt far away. And the things that made me feel good or made me feel like I was having fun for my entire life didn’t seem to exist, no matter how much I loved the palm trees, blue skies and postcard-worthy beaches.

I missed my friends and all the parties. I missed the chaotic familiarity of holiday gatherings back home.

That’s when I first started to feel inadequate.

Like I couldn’t make friends anymore. Like I couldn’t have fun anymore. Like something was wrong with me because my girlfriend wasn’t filling the void, even though it seemed like she should be enough. Like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t make my girlfriend happy because I wasn’t filling the void for her, even though it seemed as if I should have been enough.

What’s wrong with us?

Why are we failing so hard at adulthood?

We must be freaks since no one else ever feels like this.

Your Tribe Matters More Than You Know

Some of you will remember this topic from a previous post, but when I didn’t know what to write about today, and then today happened, I knew I had to revisit it.

A buddy at work who I don’t think has ever read this blog sent me a link saying “This book sounds fascinating.”

The link was to this The Daily Beast article Why Vets Come Home and Miss the War, which is about Sebastian Junger’s most-recent book, called Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

“Why is it that you go through this terrible experience of war where you witness death and destruction, and you come home and there’s part of you that misses it?” wondered former-Marine-turned-Congressman Seth Moulton.

At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to compare myself to the bravest people alive (I’m not), the sentiment isn’t so different from: How is it that I can spend every day feeling miserable at home because of my shitty marriage, only to feel EVEN MORE miserable after my wife moved out?

Some soldiers despise one another, but won’t hesitate to take a bullet for those they dislike. Some of these war veterans experience the most horrible things imaginable—watching friends die, being shot at, near-death experiences, constant stress and anxiety the likes of which most of us are too coddled to begin to accurately imagine.

Yet, when they come home to what seems like it should be the safety and security of their homeland among friends and family, they’re unhappy and genuinely miss being in the theater of war.

It’s hard—maybe impossible—to understand the vital role Purpose plays in our lives until we finally experience not having any.

From The Daily Beast article:

“Moulton and his brethren came home to a fractured society where almost no one knows their neighbor, and chats by text or Facebook have replaced face-to-face interaction, the antithesis of the cheek-by-jowl closeness of troops in combat. Author Junger, 54, argues convincingly that Americans need to recapture the best part of their tribal beginnings, when small bands of people depended on each other for survival and so developed deep social ties that protect, bind and even heal, as an antidote to the chronic self-centeredness and loneliness that plague modern living.”

And then later:

“It’s only halfway through the book that he gets around to explaining how that loss is why troops—even those who never actually saw combat—feel bereft when they come home from war zones, missing the brotherhood, the sense of sacrifice and the mission that comes with war.

’You’ve got veterans coming back to a society that not only does it not have that very close human cohesion of your group of people around you, but also seems to be losing its cohesion at the macro level of 320 million people,’ Junger said at a book event in Washington, D.C., sponsored by veterans group The Mission Continues.

’Spiritually, this country is bleeding right now,’ he added, to nods in the crowd of veterans. ‘It’s fractured economically, politically, socially,’ whether you’re left or right, spiritual or agnostic, he added.

“In short, the American community lacks the social skills to connect with each other, much less welcome veterans home. So returning troops don’t miss the blood and guts and mayhem as much as they miss their tribe, or any tribe.”

How to Mend Brokenness

Why was I so miserable three and four years ago, but not today even though my marriage and family didn’t return?

First, it was here. You. This place. Having something to do that mattered.

And now I have my partners and clients in our budding consulting agency. I’ve never been busier. I’ve never been so removed from fun and vibrant weekend nights. I’ve never been so inactive (as a single guy) in the dating scene.

And I feel great. I am excited to wake up every day.

It’s because I have things to do that matter.

It’s because I have Purpose, even when my little boy isn’t home.

Even when there’s no adult around asking about my day, or what’s for dinner, or curling up next to me for a Netflix binge, or who is counting on me for any number of things.

It’s because I am once again part of something. It’s because there are people counting on me, even though they don’t look and feel anything like my spouse did.

I’m not championing the single life. Not by a long shot.

In fact, I’m trying to do the opposite here.

Because, while we certainly have our Dishes by the Sink arguments and laundry list of Shitty Husband things to talk and think about, perhaps what ails you, or your partner, or your relationship most is the purpose and sense of community that disappears in the absence of a tribe.

Maybe he or she isn’t choosing his or her friends over you. Maybe they’re simply trying to feel whole.

Maybe the reason you feel lonely on the couch isn’t because the person you love isn’t paying enough attention. Maybe it’s because, like Charlie Brown, you need involvement.

Maybe the loss of tribe and its impact on our lives is another one of these Life Secrets that most of us never figure out because it lives in The Places We Don’t Talk About.

But not because we can’t. Just because we don’t.

But maybe we can start.

Because living is awesome when you’re actually alive.

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How to be Less of an Asshole in Life and Relationships

you're an asshole

Yes, even you. (Image/dailycal.org)

Sometimes I’d walk into the living room to find my wife watching 16 and Pregnant or some other TV show I thought was stupid or morally baseless.

I could have ignored it.

I could have sat with her to try to better understand the things she liked and why.

I could have suggested another activity that didn’t involve TV or seem stupid to me.

But instead of those mature and relationship-nurturing alternatives, I usually acted like an asshole.

I think deep down in the furthest recesses of my heart and subconscious, I believed I was doing the right thing by reacting negatively.

Because I loved my wife and wanted her to be the best person she could be, I didn’t want her to enjoy watching things that were “beneath” her or “bad” for her.

Because I thought television programming like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant was ultimately a bad influence on young girls and the world in general, I didn’t want my wife supporting it, or even wanting to.

Because she was the person I wanted to have children with, and I was sensitive to the sacred responsibility parents have as moral guides for their kids, I wanted my wife to share my opinions and values—even though I totally watched things like Family Guy, South Park, The League, and other raunchy and sophomoric comedies that have made me laugh through the years.

I didn’t share her tastes, beliefs or opinions about some things, and I sometimes valued my feelings more than hers. I felt morally superior to her on this topic, despite all of the insufferable hypocrisy. And since speaking in mocking tones or even just sarcastic ribbing was NOT something I judged to be hurtful or demeaning (because I loved her and married her, thus couldn’t possibly be trying to cause pain, I reasoned), I’d make asshole comments about her personal entertainment choices.

Sometimes those comments hurt her feelings. Sometimes she’d say so.

Maybe I apologized sometimes. It’s hard to remember.

Mostly, I don’t think I did. I think because I “knew” I was right and she was wrong (Because I just want what’s best for you and our kids, babe!!!), that any resistance from her was met with invalidation and probably some insistence that my “morally and intellectually superior” opinions were somehow more correct than hers.

This is the same kind of thinking hate groups and terrorist organizations use to justify hate speech, discrimination, kidnapping, rape and violent murder—sometimes on a massive scale.

Their beliefs are unwavering absolutes which in their minds gives them the moral high ground to carry out the worst things that happen in the world.

If hostility is your default reaction to people challenging your beliefs, then you probably have some Inner Asshole self-control issues like me.

What you believe may or may not be an established fact. Documented facts are easy enough to prove.

If what you believe can’t be proven easily, it makes sense that others have beliefs that conflict with yours. It would be weird if they didn’t.

If you want to have good relationships and make life suck less, you should stop being an asshole about it. Here’s how.

Think of the Times You Were Proven Wrong Despite Feeling Certain

When you’re in the midst of a disagreement, ask yourself: “Is it possible I’m wrong about this despite feelings of certainty, just like those other times I mistakenly thought I was right?” Of course, it’s possible. But sometimes, you’ll feel certain in your correctness anyway. You probably mostly will because of the Actor-Observer Bias, which you accidentally use every day to forgive yourself for behaviors and actions you typically admonish others for doing (texting while driving, using profanity, having an affair, etc).

Unfortunately, your feelings of certainty are not always a reliable measuring stick for determining truth. Feeling certain has no bearing on whether your beliefs, opinions, or even what you think you know, is actually true. We can feel equally certain about things that are right as we do about things that are wrong.

The best thing I’ve done following my marriage imploding and subsequent divorce was closely examine how my behavior contributed to my divorce and intentionally seek out explanations for how—despite how uncomfortable it sometimes made (and continues to make) me feel—my choices were largely responsible for the relationship’s death and depriving my young son of a better life with his family intact.

I was always so certain of my correctness, and that bullshit “certainty” fueled the asshole behavior that ultimately led to my life’s worst moments.

I believe the key to being less of an asshole and more of a kind, humble human being who people like and respect, is to adopt a Nothing-is-Certain mindset.

I used to care so much about being “right” during disagreements with my wife, that I:

A. Never challenged my own sometimes-incorrect beliefs in pursuit of truth.

B. Exercised WORSE behavior morally by being an asshole than she ever did innocently watching television, and…

C. Ultimately destroyed the very thing I was attempting to “improve.”

All because I “knew best.”

All because I was “right.”

All because of certainty.

The reason this humbling journey of self-discovery has been so freeing is because I no longer have to be a slave to “being right.”

Every disagreement is either an opportunity for me to share my beliefs with others, or an opportunity to correct one of my false beliefs and stop being wrong about something.

I “win” no matter what. And God-willing, am less of an asshole in the process.

What You Should Do Next

Author Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, said it best when he wrote that “the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”

“This is the only ‘safe’ Super Belief as it limits your ability to force your certainty onto others, while simultaneously always leaving you open to new and improved ideas. It keeps you open to new experiences and capable of coping with whatever pain may arise in a realistic and safe way. It also just makes you less of an asshole,” he wrote. 

Advance your noble quest to reduce your Asshole Quotient and improve your relationships by reading these two awesome and thought-provoking pieces from Mr. Manson:

The Virtue of Doubt

Why You Can’t Trust Yourself 

I’d like to tell you I’m certain you’ll like them, but I suppose I don’t know.

And that’s okay. Not knowing things is so much better than I ever imagined.

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Why Divorce Hurts Men More Than Women

sad guy after divorce

(Image/The Huffington Post)

First things first: DOES divorce actually hurt men more than women?

I think there’s plenty of researched and anecdotal evidence to back up that it usually does, but I have no idea. I typed it into Google and was greeted with a mixed bag of headlines on the first three results pages.

Does it really matter? I’m not trying to make the argument that divorce hurts men more than women. I’m more interested in sharing my take on WHY it does—in situations where it actually does.

The Obligatory Broad-Generalizations Disclaimer

The following is a broad generalization and should in no way be interpreted as me believing that wives are ALWAYS “better” at marriage than their husbands. Of course that’s not true.

I love the Cleveland Browns even though they always suck. Do they REALLY “always” suck? Kind of. But the Browns sometimes win too, just like there are guys out there who are phenomenal relationship partners struggling with female partners who aren’t.

It’s impossible to write things that encapsulate every mathematically possible scenario in existence, and this post is not suggesting that men or husbands are inherently worse at relationships than women, nor always the “worse” spouse in a troubled relationship.

I am Make Broad Generalizations Guy.

It’s hard to write about this stuff another way.

And since I write about relationships and divorce a lot, I often make generalizations about wives/husbands, girlfriends/boyfriends, and women/men.

Sometimes, people take offense. Sorry.

Men Struggle More After Divorce Because They Lose More Than Their Wives

I believe wives, while not flawless nor without responsibility in failing marriages, are the objectively BETTER spouses on a few fronts in typical marriages.

First, I think wives are better at Life Management (and Emotional Labor).

I think most of the time, wives/girlfriends/women demonstrate more proficiency than husbands/boyfriends/men at things related to family budgets, long-term scheduling, meal planning, organizing academic and extracurricular activities for children, social calendars, sending birthday and holiday cards, running errands for upcoming events, RSVPing, sending Thank You notes, remembering anniversaries, as well as performing routine cleaning and house maintenance, like laundry, vacuuming, changing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, etc.

Second, I think wives/girlfriends/women are better at Relationship Skills which are absolutely CRITICAL to having healthy and lasting marriages, friendships, parent-child relationships, etc.

Skills like:

  • Mindful, active, present LISTENING
  • Humble apologies or admissions of mistakes
  • Empathy (the ability to identify and acknowledge another person’s pain and share the feeling. NOT sympathy. NOT pity. Empathy. “I get it. I’m here with you.”)
  • A willingness to set ego aside for the sake of a partnership, and admitting they don’t have all the answers but want to figure them out together for the long-term health and stability of the marriage/family

I think men, because of the whole Man Card socialization thing, equate FUNDAMENTALLY necessary and critical relationship things such as honest, vulnerable conversation; understanding the link between sexual appetite and physical/emotional labor things at home; being emotionally available for his sad or hurting spouse; with being Candy-Ass Girl Things.

Maybe their grandfathers and dads and uncles and friends growing up all reinforced that: “You’re a man! Men do this!” while totally ignoring that all the “candy-ass girl things” are REALLY DIFFICULT. Like, extremely difficult. The amount of discipline, simple heroism, sacrifice, strength, perseverance, etc. needed to perform these skills at a high level is a lofty and noble place to aspire.

The men who can do it are AWESOME guys.

About the Man Card and Man Stuff

I’m not asking guys to stop being guys, nor am I asking guys to be effeminate or stop doing whatever man stuff they like to do now.

I am asking guys to recognize that they’re accidentally negligent.

I think it is in large part because they feel entitled to do or not do certain things that have everything to do with Man Card socialization.

You can be an alpha-male badass who commands the respect and attention of everyone in any room you’re in, AND also demonstrate a high-level understanding of what your partner requires of you to have a happy, healthy, stable relationship.

Men don’t necessarily need to stop doing things, or stop being things, that are a part of them as much as they need to START doing a few things that would totally change the climate of the modern male-female relationship.

The problem is NOT that guys recognize that relationship problems would go away if they changed a few simple things, but stubbornly think: “To hell with that! I’m going to keep doing it this Man Way, because I love it when my wife is miserable, and getting divorced sounds awesome!”

The problem is actually that many men truly have a particular belief system, live according to that belief system, and don’t see their actions (or lack thereof) as being relationship or marriage-killers.

Most guys have lived their entire lives without anyone having EVER said anything like that to them, except for his sad and angry wife he thinks is overly emotional, or outright WRONG during disagreements regarding her feelings and opinions concerning their relationship.

It’s a sad state of affairs.

Men Often Have More Life Skills to Develop Post-Divorce

I think when men and women divorce, wives (especially mothers) move on and get along pretty well once the emotional pain subsides.

And I think that happens because they were so accustomed to doing all of the emotional and logistical life management work anyway, that not much changes for them in terms of the day-to-day rhythm of life. They were always doing all of this Life work, anyway.

But, men?

Sometimes they’re shitty at laundry, dishes, meal planning, keeping track of the calendar, and knowing when and where the kids need to be, or what they need for those events.

Men often learn the hard way how difficult it is to manage all those things competently while juggling work responsibilities and whatever social life might remain once their wives aren’t there to plan that either.

Throughout the marriage, she had been meeting his emotional needs by virtue of being there in the house, and taking care of Life things for him, and relieving him of many of the child-rearing stresses.

But he wasn’t doing the same in return, which in addition to being exhausting for her, also made her feel like his mom which is why she stopped wanting to have sex with him.

If he has a kick-ass job, maybe he provided financial security, some of which went away for her after divorce. And maybe if he’s former Special Forces, or law enforcement, or a champion kickboxer, and she doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of self-defense, maybe she loses some sense of safety and security when she’s home alone or with children.

But mostly?

Men lose more in divorce than women and it’s because (in my estimation) they didn’t give enough during the marriage.

And the scariest part of this pattern of neglect and emotional abuse is that the vast majority of guys are NOT bad men, or abnormally large assholes.

They’re just guys who didn’t know better. But hopefully now, they do.

Because now, we have choices.

At least one of them is heroic.

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Why I Support My Friend Who Won’t Change for His Girlfriend

stubborn boyfriend walks away

(Image/worldlypost.in)

So, I’ve got a friend who appears unwilling to change certain behaviors or sacrifice some of his life preferences for his girlfriend.

He’s totally “a guy” in the way I think of the caricature or stereotype that exists in my head when I’m writing about shitty husbandry—not radically different from how I remember myself not too many years ago.

There are things he enjoys and wants to do in life. Some of those things have begun to cause conflict in his relationship as she expresses dissatisfaction with them, and he seems prepared to pull the plug after more than a year together.

And THAT is why I support him even though it might seem as if I’m advocating stubbornness or selfishness in relationships.

  1. He’s being honest with her about his boundaries.
  2. He’s being honest about his feelings toward hers.
  3. They are exploring these differences together, even if it hurts and exposes cracks in their relationship.
  4. He’s having the difficult conversation BEFORE marriage. He’s not moving toward forever-vows under false pretenses only to have marriage fights about these things later when more is at stake for all involved.

The Truth is Inconvenient, but Should Still Have its Day

How many of our life problems exist because we’re not 100-percent honest? Most, I think. So many of us are afraid to make waves that we let things happen without reacting to them in fully honest ways, and then dominoes of dysfunction begin to fall from there.

Sometimes it’s some little thing that barely matters. Other times, it’s the whole world, and afterward you don’t get to have your family anymore.

I don’t really care if guys are selfish pricks. Never have. I don’t think it’s an awesome way to live, and I don’t want to be friends with people like that, but on its own, I think individual people putting themselves first is among the least of our major societal problems.

Selfishness only destroys things when it’s deceptive or when its introduced into a group environment, like a team, or business, or friendship, or family, or romantic relationship.

“Hey Matt!!! Are you saying you think it’s more okay to be selfish when you’re dating than when you’re married?”

Yes. I think I am.

Do I wish they would have discovered some of these differences before their relationship graduated from casual dating to fully committed relationship? Of course. But the reality of human relationships is that we sometimes don’t learn every single thing about a person in a short time, especially if one or both parties are hiding something about themselves.

Most of us do it.

We’re a little bit insecure and we fear rejection, so we pretend to be super-tolerant of some aspect of this person we’re getting to know, when in reality, we’re intolerant of that part of them. We convince ourselves we’ll get over it, or it’s not a big deal, but these little things can sometimes turn to major things once we’re in the thick of our relationships and Truth crawls its way to the surface no matter how much one of us had tried to keep it hidden.

My friend offered me examples of things she was doing and saying that were getting under his skin.

I defended her where it seemed appropriate, but didn’t have to. He never blamed her for being her, and takes 100-percent responsibility for the predicted end of his relationship.

He’s now wrestling with the idea that maybe committed relationships just aren’t for him. As if he is—fundamentally—not cut out for them. Or realizing that he is simply unwilling to give up enough of his personal wants in order to have a healthy one.

That is INFINITELY more noble to me than the guy who secretly feels that way, marries someone he professes to love unconditionally but proceeds to spend 5-10 years with taking more than he gives before draining her spirit entirely, breaking a home, and maybe a few other things in the process.

I’m not celebrating selfishness. I’m not. I’m celebrating self-awareness and an unwillingness to make life decisions that border on deception or would set up something more painful and damaging years from now than a breakup now would be.

The Season Ticket Fight

Long before my friend met his girlfriend, he and one of his buddies split the cost of two season tickets to their favorite NHL hockey team.

They chop the season (41 home games) into thirds. One third, they go together. Another third, his buddy brings his wife or child. And the last third, my friend brings whoever he wants.

Once my friend began dating his girlfriend, she became the person he brought to most games.

And that has been the arrangement, which he thought was working out okay until she recently expressed an interest in attending more games.

He immediately started suggesting options.

Suggestion #1: Identify the one third of games on the calendar my friend didn’t already have tickets for, and buy single-game tickets for all the ones she wanted to attend.

She didn’t like that idea because she liked where they sat for the season tickets they have now (they’re awesome seats). She didn’t want lesser seats to ruin the experience, she said.

Alright, he thought.

Suggestion #2: Buy her own season tickets in seats she likes equally well, and bring friends with her on the night he’s in his regular seat.

She didn’t like that idea because if they were both going to be at the same hockey game, she wanted them to be together.

Okayyy, he thought.

Suggestion #3: Through a stroke of good fortune, it just so happens that a vacant seat right next to the two seats my friend and his ticket partner have is available. My friend suggested they grab that seat, so she could sit next to him for two-thirds of the season, and either attend the other games with the other couple, or sell the seat each night she didn’t want to go.

She didn’t like that idea because she didn’t like the idea of being the third-wheel when my friend and his buddy were at the game together.

In the end, she admitted that she wanted him to give up his season tickets with his buddy, and get new ones with her.

And that was all my friend could stomach. That was the end of his rope.

I defended her again, suggesting that it’s awesome that she wants to do things together and make their relationship strong. I reminded him that he doesn’t know every little part of her past and that maybe there are some insecurities he doesn’t know about. That maybe whatever hang ups she has about times when they’re not together are scars from previous life experiences where she felt abandoned or betrayed.

He understood, but not enough to care more about that than what he perceived to be needy, unreasonable, clingy bullshit on her part.

He said he felt deceived. She advertised herself as independent, he said. There were no signs of her feeling uncomfortable with the ebb and flow of their social lives and schedule for months. And then, something changed.

And he has a choice to make: Compromise with her in a way that will satisfy both of them (toward which he believes he put a good-faith effort), or stand his ground knowing it could mean the end of their relationship.

And he’s choosing standing his ground. To not compromise on something that will breed and foster resentful feelings inside him and poison his feelings toward her.

I don’t know if that’s worth celebrating or especially admirable in the context of my strong belief that Love is a Choice.

But I do know that he’s responsibly doing the thing I believe to be super-critical to marriage success, because I also believe there are MANY people who shouldn’t be dating each other.

The season-ticket fight is a microcosm of The Same Fight my friend and his girlfriend are starting to have—one likely to carry on through the remainder of their time together, until both of them fully understand what’s happening.

I’m not sure my friend is willing to put the work in on that one. In fact, he said basically that very thing.

And I’m afraid that’s likely to mean he’ll be single for as many years as he continues to make that choice.

Do I think it’s ideal? Nah. Noble? Not really. The optimum way to be? Of course not.

But do I respect and support his awareness and honesty in an effort to avoid broken homes and divorce down the road?

Damn right, I do. And no matter how inconvenient it feels to those who crave the same love and desire they give the person they’re dating, a bit more inconvenient truth would go a long way to making this world a better one.

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Hey, Can We Talk About a Few Things?

can we talk?

(Image/firsteuless.com)

The irony has never been lost on me.

Some divorced guy who shortchanged his marriage offering something that looks and smells like marriage advice. Thousands of people think: “Who’s this asshole, and how could ANYTHING he says possibly matter?”

Plenty have said as much in comments, which means a trillion more thought it without exerting the energy to type it.

And I get it. I promise. I’ve tried hard to not be Advice Guy, and I’ve gotten sucked in at times playing amateur-hour therapist to people because they’ve asked me to, or because I had strong feelings about some aspect of marriage and relationships.

But that’s never what I wanted to be.

What I wanted to be was a real-life human being who was maybe a little bit more honest than most people about a bunch of these Life things we don’t usually talk about because it feels unsafe.

The truth makes people uncomfortable. It’s socially awkward to tell too much of it in the wrong setting. And the amount of vulnerability required to let others inside our REAL thoughts and our REAL fears and our REAL hearts is too much for most of us, most of the time. The vast majority of people I know have no idea I write things here. I don’t tell them.

Maybe I’m afraid.

I often wonder if that person over here or that other one over there has read something I’ve written, and when they’re talking to me, thinks less of me for it but keeps it to themselves trying to be polite.

There are plenty of people in my life with whom I used to have good relationships, and now I don’t. Maybe some of the writing is why.

I’ll probably never know.

But one thing is certain. If what I write here is going to mess with my head and fuel my occasional insecurities and adversely impact my real-life human relationships, then it damn sure better matter.

Which raises an important question.

Does it Matter Anymore?

One of the awesomest writers and speakers in the whole Human Being/Relationships/Life genre is a woman named Glennon Doyle Melton. She’s badass, but not in a fight-you-in-a-dark-alley sort-of way. She just really gets it, I think. We have a similar writing style, a friend pointed out back when I didn’t know who Glennon was. And we sorta do, but she’s better.

The closest thing to a gripe I have with Glennon is that she doesn’t write for me. She is 100-percent, unapologetically writing for women, which is a shame because I’m sure underneath all that she is, lives a bunch of insightful things that could benefit men, too.

As a writer and aspiring author, I try to pay attention to her because she’s like, my female spirit animal, or whatever. I don’t really know what spirit animals are.

So, let me set the stage for the next thing: Glennon is the bestselling author of “Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life” (which I haven’t read, but will) and whose second book “Love Warrior” is set to release in five weeks.

It’s a book about her marriage, and how she and her husband powered through the human messiness that affects all of us and our relationships. She’s likely to sell many, many, many copies.

She has a speaking tour, traveling around the country speaking to groups from a stage, smacking audiences with the same openness and vulnerability she infuses into her writing.

And despite the protest of some of her staff members and marketing people at the publishing company charged with promoting the new book launch, Glennon announced on her blog Momastery today that she and her husband (a central figure in her writing) have separated.

She’s choosing courage and authenticity over masks and book sales. She’s choosing vulnerability over staying hidden. She’s choosing truth over bullshit, even when bullshit feels safer and is infinitely more profitable.

Carry on, warrior, indeed.

Which brings us to me, to the things we discuss here, and to this important question: How much longer can I sit at the keyboard—with ANY semblance of integrity—writing about relationship stuff?

This all started because I got divorced and it sucked and I broke so hard that I didn’t know what to do with myself, and a therapist I spoke to drunk on the phone one night told me I should start writing things down.

She asked me to call her back and let her know how it was going. I never did.

My divorce happened a few months later, but April 1, 2013 is the day the world changed for me. The day before, on Easter Sunday, she took off her ring and said she was leaving. And I remember that moment just fine.

But it still felt the same. I’d spent the past 18 months in the guest room, crying sometimes like a colossal wimp. And then after work Monday, she was gone. A little boy was, too.

And then I cried some more, but it stopped feeling wimpy after a while, because it was all very hard, and it wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

IT ACTUALLY WAS DIFFICULT. For real. And I wasn’t weak or crazy. That’s when—despite being 34 years old—I finally figured out what empathy was, and how epically short I’d fallen of providing a requisite amount to my wife for the previous dozen or so years.

The stories mattered because they were real. Some were raw. Because I was teetering constantly between various states of Broken and Angry and Sad and Hopeful and Introspective and Intoxicated.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4, and it was really hard, I didn’t know how hard divorce was.

That felt important to me. Divorce is hard. And all this time, when I’d hear about a couple divorcing, I’d think: Ehhhh. People get divorced all the time. I don’t want to do it, or put my son through what I went through, and it totally sucks to be them, but at least no one died or anything!

I never respected its significance. I was fundamentally broken on the inside. It hurts so much for a while, you have trouble doing anything more than staring into space, your body fully tensed, trying not to cry again, and almost forgetting to breathe.

When being alive feels that way every second of your existence for months or years, people start asking themselves whether being alive is actually the attractive proposition they’d always believed it to be.

If divorce is THIS hard, and HALF of all married couples do this, and MOST relationships are ending for reasons so few of us can even explain, then this is a bona fide social crisis. An emergency. Because this FEELS like the end of the world, regardless of whether it is. And if it FEELS like the end of the world, what difference does it make whether it actually is? Right now is real. Right now matters. And millions and millions of others are feeling this same way right this second. I need to tell other guys out there what I think I’ve learned.

It turns out, 60-70 percent of readers ended up being their wives, most of them corroborating my beliefs with a bunch of “Finally! A man who gets it” comments.

Relationship Avoidance After Divorce: It’s a Thing

I haven’t had a girlfriend since my divorce. You know, in the She’s Wearing My Varsity Jacket and Everyone in School Knows We’re a Thing kind-of way.

Maybe I’m afraid.

In those initial months following the world changing on April 1, 2013, my life was defined by the void in the center of it.

The black hole of despair needed filled. I was kind of obsessed with thoughts of dating and how difficult I perceived it to be for a mid-30s single father to meet available (and compatible) people.

I whined about it a lot in blog posts and to friends.

Every trip to the grocery store, or night out with friends, or dinner at a restaurant was a reminder of everything missing in my life.

I can’t tell you what changed. I can’t point to any one, specific thing. But at some point over the past 40 months, the black hole of despair disappeared.

New things filled the void. An evolving relationship with my son. A healing and respectful relationship with his mother. New life adventures, including new writing opportunities, a new business venture, and new human connections.

When friends ask about my dating life, my response now is a million miles away from three years ago when I was feeling sorry for myself all the time: “Honestly? I don’t even think about dating. I go out with people sometimes who I already know, but there are all these other life things happening. Who has time for first dates?”

To which I was recently challenged—fairly, I think.

The spirit of that challenge being: How long can you write with authenticity about that guy you used to be or about relationships when you’re unwilling to show up and be in them yourself? Aren’t you worried about being an observer of your own life, rather than living it?

And what do you say to that?

I don’t know.

I think Glennon said it best in today’s post:

“As you’ll read in Love Warrior, Craig and I endured serious trauma a few years ago. We suffered. My God, we suffered. I was broken, just completely shattered. And then we healed. It was beautiful.

“And this is what I learned: You can be shattered and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece.

“But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary. When you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: new life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying.

“Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.”

I’m not who I used to be.

Not when I was a kid. Not when I was a young adult. Not when I was married. Not when I was broken after divorce.

I picked up a bunch of those scattered pieces and got most of them put back together again.

And I mostly look the part. But I am new. I am different.

Better?

Stronger?

Wiser?

God, I hope so.

I don’t know what I’m afraid of, or even IF I’m afraid. Maybe I’m afraid of being hurt again. Maybe I’m afraid I’m not strong enough to walk the walk when the feelings fade and difficulty ensues. Or maybe it’s something else.

But here I am, 40 months removed from marriage, and talking about marriage, having not once put into practice most of the things we talk about here in the context of a committed relationship. One of my best friends got divorced one week before me, and just recently got engaged.

What does that make me?

I don’t know.

I started this because it made me feel better.

I kept writing when I realized it accidentally helped others and made them feel better.

And I guess now I’m looking for whatever’s next. As long as it matters to someone, somehow, I’m not even sure I care what it is. I just want it to matter because I do care about THAT.

Because you all saved my life.

Because you matter very much.

I should tell you more often. Because that matters too.

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