Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Search for Beauty in Divorce

(Image/Shutterstock)

Six short years ago, my wife was selfishly choosing her emotions over the wellbeing of our family. She was breaking her promise to love me and to honor our marriage in good times and in bad. She was failing me, and our son, and I blamed her—angrily—for quitting on me. For quitting on us.

Her leaving, resulting in an empty home, the loss of half my son’s childhood, and genuine fear of my unknown future, was the most painful and life-disrupting thing I’ve ever been through.

First, my parents divorced when I was too young to object, making my life harder than all of my friends’. A long-time source of pain and sadness, and my wife knew it.

Divorce wasn’t on the table. We’d said it a hundred times.

But there she goes. Choosing another life over ours. She was running toward something she wanted and felt good about. Her life was IMPROVING, while I was crying in the kitchen, dry heaving into the sink, and feeling certain no one would ever want to kiss me again.

It was almost like I wanted to die, and the shame and feelings of failure that brought are indescribable. I was officially NOT ME anymore. I was some pathetic, sobbing, broken imposter.

She did this to me, I thought and felt.

Not felt, like a purple bruise or a hard slap.

I felt gutted. Betrayed.

I felt rage.

I didn’t want anyone physically hurt—that’s not my way—but I wanted to burn something to the ground. I had a couple of places in mind.

When you hurt that much, you stop caring about things you previously used to. Self-preservation matters less because dying would at least solve the pain problem. When it seems like the worst thing just happened to you, it can make you feel as if nothing else can be taken from you. You’re not afraid of new pain, because nothing could hurt worse than what you’re feeling now.

The worst thing I have ever known—bringing a pain I couldn’t have survived too much longer than it lasted, and forcing me to adjust uncomfortably to an entirely new life I’d never wanted or asked for—was divorce.

Divorce—in and of itself—was the enemy, and an evil thing.

And my ex-wife—the betrayer; the quitter—was the one who forced me to endure it.

The anxiety would make me puke sometimes. Tears would stream down my face.

“That fucking bitch,” I’d choke out.

And then I’d vomit again.

The Road Back to Life

I was dead.

My heartbeat remained. I could move around and talk a little. But I’d lost several months, maybe even a year. What I was doing wasn’t living.

I had ONE ultra-focused mission: To make sure I protected myself and my son from ever experiencing a pain like that again.

My new top priority was to NEVER feel dead again. I’m not sure I could survive it twice.

Divorce hurt me as a little kid.

Divorce hurt me as an adult.

Divorce hurt me as a friend, as several of my social relationships faded away.

Divorce hurt me as a professional, as I couldn’t focus at all on anything being said in meetings, nor could I care about work projects.

Divorce hurt me as a father, as I saw my son half as much as I had before, and I no longer had any control over who he was around, how safe he was; and that I now had to wear the Scarlet Letter of divorced dad in a million life situations where I assumed everyone—friend and stranger, alike—thought I was a shitty father.

Divorce was my new enemy. And I needed to understand it. NEEDED to.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle,” Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War.”

It was an idea I’d already accepted. So I went to work on understanding divorce.

I did that right here.

I wrote stories. I wrote stories about my marriage. Little moments that stood out to me, and then I wrote about what I was thinking and feeling about them at the time, versus how I thought and felt about them today.

I read books.

I asked questions. I asked so many questions. Sometimes, just to myself while I stared at the ceiling waiting for the pain to stop.

And I just kept writing as I discovered new ideas. I was uncovering so much about myself, about people, about love and relationships and marriage, and it was empowering to find that new knowledge.

If I UNDERSTAND what happened to me, then I don’t need to be afraid of it happening again, I thought.

I became addicted.

I needed answers.

It was the only way to save myself.

How I Saved Myself

I used to creepily stare at myself in the bathroom mirror for longer than I imagine most sane people do. Like a cliché movie scene you don’t want to watch.

I didn’t recognize myself, because I felt like an entirely different person, and I think that made me see an entirely different person.

I actively sought UNCOMFORTABLE ideas—things I didn’t necessarily want to hear; things that opposed ideas I’d accepted as gospel truth my entire life; things I didn’t WANT to be true—because I’d spent my entire life swimming exclusively in comfort and familiarity, and all that had done was deliver the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I had to try something else.

Why did my wife choose to end our marriage and leave? Is she evil? Crazy? Out to get me?

Is she stupid? Is she a con artist? Is she a monster?

Is she a bad mother?

Is she a bad person?

All that mattered was the truth because the truth is what I needed to understand to protect my future self from divorce, or from hurting like this ever again. I wasn’t afraid of any answers as long as they were true.

My wife wasn’t evil.

She wasn’t crazy.

She wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me. There was no credible evidence of any of those things.

She wasn’t stupid, nor a con artist, nor a monster.

We still interacted all of the time, because our son was going back and forth between us every two or three days. We HAD to cooperate so that he always had school clothes, and lunch money, and whatever he needed to feel safe and loved.

Not only was she NOT trying to make any of that extra-hard on me, she—just as she had in our marriage—took on the responsibility of leading the way in knowing what he needed, and taking steps to make sure he had whatever that was. Doctor appointments. Meetings at school. Clothes. Supplies. Birthday and Christmas presents.

She did everything possible to include me in anything meaningful going on with our son.

She was the furthest thing from being a bad mother.

I met her when I was 18—a freshman in college. I’d known her for 16 years—more than half of my life that I could actually remember. My son’s mother was NOT a bad person.

So how could this be? How could this happen?

I’d just stare into that bathroom mirror. Until I finally recognized my true enemy.

It wasn’t my ex-wife.

It wasn’t divorce.

It wasn’t God, or the Universe, or Life.

It was me.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me didn’t happen to me because my wife quit on me and tried to hurt me. My son wasn’t gone and growing up a child of divorce because of my wife’s selfishness.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me happened because of me.

Because my wife HURT—just as I was hurting right then—for years and years. And not only was I the source of that pain, but instead of listening to her and trying to help her NOT HURT anymore, I used pretty much every opportunity she took to try to talk to me about our marriage as some kind of personal affront, and accused her of always finding new things to complain about.

I was the source of her pain. Thus, I was the only one who could stop the hurt, and help her heal. As her husband, I must have seemed to her like a reasonable person to seek help from RE: the biggest source of pain and fear that SHE had ever known—again, just as I was feeling right then.

She came to me for help, and I told her that her concerns were a figment of her imagination.

She asked me to help her stop hurting, and I told her that the things she was telling me were painful were NOT things that actually hurt people, so something must be wrong with her. I told her to get help. I told her to stop blaming me for her own weaknesses and poorly thought-out arguments.

Without even trying to be an asshole, I transformed all of the pain and relationship-killing behaviors I caused into something my wife was responsible for.

I BELIEVED the story I had told myself about her selfishness and mismanaged emotions.

I BELIEVED I was the good guy. The victim.

I BELIEVED divorce was evil and a plague on society.

I BELIEVED women everywhere were growing dissatisfied in their relationships for superficial reasons, and then abandoning their husbands and breaking families because life didn’t deliver them the Cinderella fairytale ending they’d hoped for.

It felt true. All of it. Because from the inside of my life, that’s how I experienced it.

But what really happened?

She persevered through 12 years of the person who had promised to love, serve, honor and protect her for the rest of her life, ignoring most requests for help.

She remained hopeful that she’d eventually find the right words to break through. The ones that would help me see what she already knew to be true. The ones that would effectively communicate how much she hurt on the inside—how afraid she was—just as I felt right then, staring into the bathroom mirror taking stock of all that I’d done.

I believed a story about myself that wasn’t true. That—because I tried to be a good person who loved others and didn’t hurt people—I was by default a good husband.

I believed a story about my wife that wasn’t true. That—because years and years and years and years of pain piled up in moments big and small where the ONE person she had let into her life to be with forever, and had trusted to love her deeply, turned his back on her, or ran away any time she talked about feeling sad or hurt or unhappy. She didn’t QUIT. She reluctantly submitted after THOUSANDS of moments where her partner demonstrated both a lack of competence and/or desire to help protect her from the kind of pain that turns you into an entirely different person.

The kind of person you no longer recognize in the mirror.

I believed a story about divorce that wasn’t true. That—because I felt so hurt by it and saw so many other people hurt by it—it was evil.

Divorce isn’t evil. It’s just bad. Like cancer.

Divorce isn’t a plague. Broken people accidentally hurting each other in their most important relationships is. THAT’s the plague.

Divorce—as ugly as it feels to me, and as uncomfortable as it makes me philosophically after a lifetime of believing Marriage is Forever—is a tool for people who are otherwise out of options.

It’s a lifeline.

An emergency escape hatch.

It’s inconvenient. Because the thing I want most in the world is to help people avoid accidentally harming their relationships, which I believe will lead to fewer divorces and more forever-marriages.

It’s inconvenient. Because divorce has caused me more pain than anything else I’ve ever known.

And as I’ve railed against divorce, and lifted up marriage as virtuous and sacred, I’ve accidentally piled on even more.

Because divorce is bad, but some things are worse.

What causes more pain than divorce?

I never recognized it because it was never happening to me.

But just maybe, the trappings of a faux-happy marriage—the kind that look good to everyone else, but are silently killing one or both members of it—wreaks more havoc. Maybe that causes even more damage, and more pain.

Everyone and everything is a little bit damaged.

Perfection isn’t part of the human experience.

But when we know we are a little bit damaged and love ourselves anyway; and when we acknowledge our imperfections, but still courageously step up to light up the darkness—I think that’s about as close as we get to perfect.

In the uncomfortable, gritty, raw, unfiltered muck of real life, both the beauty and the pain often keeps out of sight.

I was lost.

And I found my way back by learning how to find both the beauty and the pain that isn’t obvious to anyone not looking for it.

You must find the pain. If you don’t see it, you’ll feed it, and accidentally hurt the people you love—and yourself.

I see you, people suffering silently. You’re brave and amazing.

And you must find the beauty. Covered up by all the rage and fear and anxiety and vomit and tears.

If you don’t see it, you’ll lose hope.

I see you, people committed to being a force for good when it seems like you’re constantly being shit on for doing so. You inspire me to carry on. You fuel me to give more. Thank you.

The most beautiful things are those that persist despite all of the horrors happening around them and all of the ugliness trying to cover them up.

The most beautiful things ARE NOT those things unmarred by nicks and scratches.

The most beautiful things are those that radiate so much good, that whatever imperfections inevitably exist, we never even notice.

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3 Ways to Move Past or Protect Yourself from Rejection in Relationships and Dating

Mae West room Salvador Dali museum

This is one way to look at this art exhibit. (Image/An Epic Education)

When I wasn’t crying over my divorce and broken family, I was mostly getting dating wrong.

Must Be This Tall To Ride wasn’t about helping anyone. It wasn’t about strengthening relationships, preventing divorce, or improving ourselves.

It was simply about me being a trainwreck and amusing myself by sharing stories about it.

I had just turned 34—at the time, the oldest I’d ever been—yet found myself the least secure and most afraid that I’d ever been. Being that it came at the same time that I was also setting new personal records for being sad and angry, it was a pretty bad time.

But even at my worst, my brain is always trying to problem-solve.

I just lost my wife. My home and life are incomplete without a partner. There’s a void now. I should begin trying to fill that void, I thought.

If MBTTTR was anything, it was me chronicling what I perceived to be rejection—first from my ex-wife, and then from people I never even met on online-dating sites.

Losing half of my son’s childhood is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But my wife CHOSE that over staying with me—THAT’s how unlikable I am, I thought.

I failed at marriage—who would want me?

I have a kid—who would want to deal with that?

I don’t have as much money as that guy. I’m not as smart as that guy. I’m not as attractive as that guy.

It was one big Hey Matt, You’re Not Good Enough festival.

When I first started dating I was a teenager and in my early 20s. I was nothing but hope and confidence, youthful energy and fearlessness, as well as the most physically attractive version of myself that I’d ever be.

I was CONSTANTLY surrounded by women my age who were in similar life circumstances, both in and outside of school. Pretty much everyone around me was close to my age and single.

The possibilities were endless.

I dreamed big, chased what I wanted, and usually got it. Dating? It was mostly easy.

You Must be This Tall to Ride

I’m not very tall. (5’9”-ish.)

When I was young, I never even thought about my height beyond the basketball court. I wanted to dunk on people and it totally sucks that I never have. But outside of sports, my height wasn’t on my radar as anything that would ever matter.

But then I woke up one day divorced and 15 years older.

I didn’t feel youthful. I didn’t feel confident. I didn’t feel like I had my whole life ahead of me.

I had JUST failed at literally the most important job I’d ever had, and done the ONE THING I swore I would never do—get divorced.

I was an emotional disaster. I’d totally lost confidence in myself and was afraid of everything.

And now, this broken version of myself was tasked with finding a romantic partner in a life where I’m almost never surrounded by women my age, or in similar life circumstances like I’d been 15 years prior.

This problem is why people invented online dating—something that in my estimation is both good and bad.

When I was 19 or 20, my dating competition—not that I was ever thinking about it as any type of competition—consisted mostly of the other guys around me—and I mean, literally in my physical proximity. They were mostly people I knew and liked, and were within a few years of me, age-wise.

But as a middle-aged dude? None of that was true anymore.

I was just a few photos on the screen.

That’s what I’d been reduced to.

Some mediocre stats, underwhelming photography, and a digital poster child for cliché divorced single father red-flag-waving trainwreck.

It didn’t matter what I thought about. It didn’t matter how I felt about people—or about the world. It didn’t matter what good I had to give.

For some, the only thing that mattered was that this one dude was driving a Mercedes and was 6’3” tall. And that I didn’t. That I wasn’t.

There is ALWAYS some tall, rich, super-attractive dude. And that guy will ALWAYS be more appealing than the short, divorced, middle-class guy when you’re swiping left and right.

It was a hard pill to swallow at first.

This is how people meet now, and I can’t compete.

Rejection—the idea of not being good enough and trying to deal with it—is what this place was built on.

Must be this tall to ride.

Everyone Changes Their Mind About You After You Do

Whether they come via blog comments, emails, or in real-life conversation, I get some form of this question a lot: How do I move past rejection?

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how I was going to do it. I’d finally had enough of feeling shitty.

When I first started dating and writing after divorce, every day I felt like no one would like me like they had the younger me.

And now? I don’t feel bad every day. People like me.

The question of whether I’m good enough no longer hangs over my head.

Why? Because I figured out something important about who gets to decide how much I’m worth.

I was letting OTHER people—or worse—what I THOUGHT other people might believe about me to dictate how I felt about myself.

I was letting other people decide who I was. What I was worth. How much I mattered.

People’s opinions—total strangers much of the time—had the power to dictate how good or bad I felt every day. Other people had the power to determine whether being alive today would feel good or feel horrible.

It was power that I’d given them.

You ever like a food, or a movie, or an activity, or a person, or whatever that someone else didn’t like?

Are you going to stop liking pepperoni pizza because some vegan says it’s gross?

Are you going to stop liking The Shawshank Redemption because some warm-milk drinker said they didn’t think it was a good movie?

I KNOW the things I like are awesome. I recognize that not everyone will agree. I make no value judgments about them as human beings on account of their different tastes and preferences, because I know that if I were THEM, having lived their identical life, I would share their identical tastes and preferences.

But MY stuff? The things I enjoy doing, or admire, or that inspire me somehow?

One day it occurred to me how irrelevant other people’s opinions were to me, and how they almost never influenced my likes and dislikes.

Then, everything changed.

Why would I ever let other people’s opinions affect my evaluation of myself?

3 Ways to Overcome Rejection or Fear of Rejection in Dating

1. Get serious about your personal values and boundaries.

Here are your choices, single people:

  1. Stay single, don’t date.
  2. Date casually.
  3. Date seriously, with the intention of marrying OR entering a long-term committed relationship that approximates marriage.

There are people—many people—who make getting married, or Being in a Relationship a goal. The goal is not health. The goal is not happiness. The goal isn’t about anything meaningful.

The goal is simply—Be Part of a Relationship.

When the goal is to simply NOT be single, people demonstrate the tendency to compromise their personal values and avoid enforcing their personal boundaries if it means their relationship might be in jeopardy EVEN IF it’s a shitty relationship that should have never happened in the first place.

If the long-term goal is having a sustainable committed long-term partnership with someone, why is everyone in such a damn hurry RIGHT NOW, where they’ll make a bunch of excuses for asshole behavior, because tolerating the asshole behavior somehow feels easier than having to start the dating process over again? Why is having a shitty relationship somehow better than having no relationship?

I spend a lot of time writing about divorce and how I believe men—by and large—are the biggest culprits in the typical crappy marriage and divorce story. There’s plenty of data to support this.

What I don’t spend enough time writing about (because it isn’t useful to the majority of people reading marriage and divorce-prevention content) is how I believe women—by and large—are the biggest culprits in creating the conditions for the typical marriage and divorce story to play out.

I agree that many, many, many men (and some women) seem to ‘change’ after marriage. And that their spouses feel almost duped, betrayed, and stuck when that happens.

It’s relatively easy to breakup with a boyfriend. It’s much harder to breakup with a spouse who is often a significant financial provider for a shared home, with shared bank accounts, shared vehicles, shared extended family, shared friends, and—most significantly—shared children.

Children change everything for couples, and not always in good ways. It’s easy to understand how people who have never had children before would do a crappy job of mentally guessing what the experience would be like.

But there are core needs—emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually—that people have. When they’re not met, something starts to hurt for the people with the unmet needs. It’s obvious to them that something is wrong.

And this is when people start compromising their principles—their self-respect—to keep their relationships intact.

I KNOW how hard that can be in marriage.

But I struggle to find reasons why it should be hard during the dating phase. Fantasizing about a happy marriage is NOT the same as actually having a happy marriage.

If someone doesn’t fulfill your core needs, you’re going to spend a lifetime feeling pain and awfulness BECAUSE of the very thing that’s supposed to help support you during life’s hardest moments.

Communicating what those core needs are effectively, and then respecting oneself enough to walk away from anyone refusing to fulfill them is the ONLY way to avoid a marriage with fundamental problems from Day 1.

Feeling rejected because someone refuses to fulfill your stated needs?

Did they really reject you, or did they just do you and your future children a huge favor?

2. Become the One Who Rejects

That sounds uglier than it’s supposed to, because none of this is rooted in superficiality.

Here’s the thing. People go on dates, and in the back of their minds, they want the person they are meeting to “pick them.” People try to say the right things, do the right things, look the right way—not because that’s necessarily the most honest and authentic and true version of themselves—but because they want this total stranger on the other side of the dinner table to give them the You’re Good Enough stamp of approval.

People do this all of the time. And then their entire emotional wellbeing is rooted in how often these strangers ‘approve’ of them.

Ugh. Sorry. Not happening.

Half of these people are assholes. Let’s start there. I don’t mean crazy, huge assholes who will do super-awful things to you. I just mean regular-sized assholes like me. Everyone’s got baggage and problems, and their own fears and insecurities.

It’s important to not let assholes with baggage and problems and fears and insecurities DETERMINE how you feel about yourself.

This isn’t a job interview where it’s only successful if the other person decides you’re good enough.

When YOU are the one who rejects, you give no effs about whether THEY think YOU are good enough. You’re spending the entire meeting working out whether you think THEY are good enough for YOU. This isn’t about judging people superficially. It’s about evaluating the relative competence and compatibility of another human being to determine whether romance and/or legit partnership would be viable.

Will it hurt a little if you end up really liking someone who DOESN’T end up really liking you back?

Totally.

And I’m sorry.

But. Serious question: How much do you want to be in a relationship with someone who literally doesn’t value you enough to want the same thing? Like, how’s that going to turn out for everyone?

I probably shouldn’t try to speak for everyone here, but I feel fairly confident 99 out of 100 will agree: Divorce or horrible breakups of long-term relationships are VASTLY shittier experiences than having some attractive stranger not like you as much you like them.

Framing things in intellectually honest ways is a huge part of dealing with perceived ‘rejection.’

Which leads to…

3. Tell Yourself the Right Story

You’re not only good enough, but you’re kind of awesome. If you’re doing a bunch of things you DON’T think are awesome, then I strongly suggest giving up those sucky things for all of the awesome alternatives.

Wake up and do things you want to do. Do things you love. Engage in people and activities that set your heart on fire.

If some rando out there doesn’t think those things you do and love are awesome or interesting, is that going to stop you from loving to do them or thinking they’re awesome?

Bad things happen every day. They happen to good people who don’t deserve it, and that is universal. If you love others then you’ll always have something to lose. And all of us will.

The longer you live, the more you lose.

It’s not a tasty beverage.

But, in the context of relationships, the conventional wisdom is that you either ARE in a relationship or that you WILL BE one day.

The most beautiful, significant, lasting relationship—the one that occurs with two people who promise to love one another forever, and mean it. Two people who bring children into the world, and teach them to be forces for good in the world, and how to love romantically, and otherwise.

THAT?

That only happens when all of the bad relationship stuff happens first. You only meet that amazing person when you’re not too busy wasting time and energy on people who can’t and won’t be that.

Dating failure IS NOT failure. Dating ‘failure’ is healthy relationship insurance.

Your mind deserves to be stimulated. It deserves peace.

Your body deserves to be wanted. It deserves satisfaction.

Your spirit deserves to be nurtured. It deserves whatever support you require on your life journey.

When those things happen, you are emotionally healthy.

Balanced.

When any or all of those things DON’T happen, you get knocked out of balance emotionally, and then every moment of life feels crappier than it otherwise would.

How do you get past feelings of rejection?

We tell ourselves the right stories. The correct ones.

The true ones.

No one gets to decide what we’re worth. Only us.

And are we really being rejected, or is someone showing themselves to be someone we don’t want to be with anyway?

It might seem like I’m advocating mind games. A bunch of psychobabble, or cat-poster B.S.

But what I hope it seems like is that you were standing on one side of the room looking at something, and seeing things one way, and I helped you find the other side of the room, where you discovered the exact same thing looks entirely different when you finally see it from the proper angle.

salvador dali mae west room - straight view - Pinterest

Here’s the way Salvador Dali intended you to view his tribute to actress Mae West. (Image/Pinterest)

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The Coming Divorce Decline? I’ll Believe it When I See It

(Image/Conversational Hypnosis Academy)

It looks and sounds like awesome news—like everything I want for my little boy and everyone else’s kids.

The divorce rate in the United States dropped 18 percent between 2008 and 2016, according to Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor who is predicting a long-term decline in the number of divorces in his recently published analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data, titled “The Coming Divorce Decline.”

Whoa! Holy shit! An 18-percent improvement is amazing!

But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel true. Not to me.

And admittedly, I may be one of the least-qualified people to evaluate that fairly.

After all, I’m probably in the top 1% of People Who Hear and Read a High Volume of Crappy Marriage Stories. The anecdotal evidence I have of sad and angry people writing to me is not even close to being statistically relevant. There are few reasons for happily married people to ever read anything I write, or to write with tales of their awesome, healthy relationships.

Even still. I can’t shake the doubt.

That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

You know how scientists go to great lengths to conduct objective scientific testing, confirm hypotheses, and then publish their work in scientific journals which document several years of research only to have a bunch of know-nothings totally dismiss their findings within five seconds simply because the scientific data inconveniently works against their own beliefs or opinions?

I REALLY don’t want to be like those people. It’s gross.

To be clear, I am NOT challenging Cohen’s divorce rate analysis, so much as I’m challenging the idea that there’s any legitimate correlation between Cohen’s work here, and the ACTUAL health and success rate of marriage and long-term romantic relationships.

Sorry to Piss In Your Cheerios

Everyone who gets offended by my occasional use of bad language should absolutely skip the next paragraph. (Yes mom, even you.)

Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when Mr. Wolf shows up to help the guys dispose of Marvin’s dead body after Vincent accidentally shot him in the face in the back of their car? Several minutes later, Quentin Tarantino’s Jimmie compliments the guys on a clean-up job well done, saying “I can’t believe this is the same car,” to which Mr. Wolf replies with an all-time great movie line that totally applies to this divorce-statistics conversation: “Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet.”

The divorce rate is dropping because fewer people are getting married, and demographically speaking, the people who ARE getting married are the least likely to divorce (people with money and the most education), Cohen said.

And that’s awesome. ANY good news RE: marriage and divorce is welcome.

The problem is that this in NO WAY indicates that anything is actually getting better.

1. Fewer People Are Getting Married

First of all, this data analysis begins in 2008, which coincides with the worst economic crisis in all of our lifetimes. Mathematically speaking, for several years, the MOST amount of people had the LEAST amount of money and financial security in global history. Think that might be a factor in the number of people who decided to postpone marriage (OR divorce, because they couldn’t afford to)?

You know what else happened during that span? A cultural paradigm shift RE: homosexual couples and marriage. I’m only speculating, but I literally know of five—FIVE!—elderly divorced adults with children who ended their heterosexual marriages because they were gay and had been hiding it for years.

People have gone to great lengths to hide who they are. It’s sad that some people are so afraid of what others will think of them that they’ll go to such lengths to conceal something that’s true about them.

Anyway—and again, this is all me theorizing out of my ass and not rooted in legit data science—I think a semi-significant reduction in the future divorces will come simply from gay people not entering straight relationships because of societal or family pressures to do so, only to have it all fall apart later for obvious reasons. Those instances should become much fewer moving forward.

We’re dealing with the two largest generations—by population—in human history. The Baby Boomers (who divorce, remarry, and divorce like they’re leasing new vehicles) and Millennials (who couldn’t find jobs when they graduated from college, had a bunch of student loan debt, and frequently lived with their parents for more years than what had previously been the societal norm.)

The Baby Boomers practically invented divorce as we know it today.

And Millennials—the largest generation in history—perhaps for philosophical reasons, perhaps for logistical ones, are waiting much longer to get married, OR opting not to marry at all.

And if you got married for the first time in the last eight years, you’re still in that 5-10 year window where you may be married, but miserable, OR may still get blindsided by divorce from the undetected slow build that tends to happen behind the scenes until too many straws pile up on top of your pet camel.

Cohen himself acknowledges the rise of unmarried couples who co-habitat and have children, but simply avoid exchanging vows or signing legal documents as a contributing factor to the decline in divorce. “Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to get married at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, but deciding not to tie the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be,” wrote Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman, in his recent article about Cohen’s divorce analysis.

So, you see, a lot of this is semantics. How we choose to label things.

Sure, there are fewer divorces. That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

2. People Still Don’t Get It—We’re Nowhere Close to Fixing What’s Broken

People would still rather be ‘right,’ than to mutually arrive at truth with someone with whom they currently disagree.

People cling for dear life to their beliefs. Everyone on earth was taught a story about life from their earliest moments. And the vast majority of people clutch to those beliefs for dear life because it’s what feels safe to them. It’s what feels ‘right’ or ‘correct’ or ‘normal.’ Religious and political discussions frequently up the stakes, but that’s not even what I’m talking about in the context of long-term romantic relationships.

Boys grew up watching their mothers fold clothes and vacuum rugs and juggle the majority of household tasks like cooking dinner, cleaning bathrooms, handling the majority of baby stuff, being involved in their children’s school, caring for sick kids, etc.

They grew up watching their dads do less of those things.

The only boys who could have ever grown up into men who DIDN’T believe that that family model was The Way it Ought to Be, were the ones from the statistical-outlier families where that’s not how it worked.

MOST boys grew up into men with some pretty hardwired beliefs about gender roles in male-female relationships. Those beliefs inadvertently led those men to behave in certain ways.

And it just so happens that those “certain ways” are statistically proven to negatively affect relationships—namely marriage, which is the only kind we have decent data for.

Men get really defensive about this. Makes sense. I don’t like it either when people tell me I’m messing up and hurting people, when I’m trying hard and believe myself to be someone who doesn’t hurt people.

But it’s true.

It tastes like piss-infected Cheerios. But it’s still true.

We Will All Have a Role to Play

I hope young women will continue to demonstrate stronger, more forceful boundaries while dating, and never tolerate behaviors they recognize to be relationship-killers. Better to end it now, then put yourself, your husband, and your children through divorce 10 years from now.

I hope young men will continue to evolve. Increase their emotional intelligence. Improve their empathy and self-awareness skills. Young men must learn to value their partner’s life experiences as much as their own—EVEN IF those life experiences are radically different than their own.

Maybe white people don’t know what it feels like to be treated a certain way because of their skin color.

Maybe straight people don’t know what it feels like to be rejected by family because of who they love.

Maybe atheists don’t know what it feels like to be a Christian simply trying to do some good in a mad, mad world while seeking strength from a higher power.

Maybe Christians don’t know what it feels like to be a life-long loving and peaceful member of society and the Muslim faith community, only to be treated with fear and hatred by the very people espousing Christian principles and claiming to preach the Gospel.

And JUST MAYBE, every single other person in world history have lived a totally different life than you—in different places, with different conditions and expectations, who were taught different stories from their earliest ages, and who now experience daily life and have beliefs and an emotional makeup totally different from yours.

It’s NOT weird that other people are different than us. It would be weird if they WEREN’T.

Someday, people are going to figure this out. Like an awakening.

And it’s going to be amazing when that happens.

In the meantime, I’d just like to see young people trying their best to STOP accidentally ruining their most important human relationships because they don’t know any better.

I’d like to see children being taught critical life skills that will help them manage their emotional health and human relationships with the same care that we teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic. Because I kind of think our ability to navigate human relationships and have a successful home life is even more important than the things we can learn from school books and classrooms.

Is the divorce problem really improving?

Like most things, I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Cohen’s work inspired a bunch of conversation about the health of the divorce-attorney business. About Census data that might as well have been about cattle or robots.

But I don’t see numbers.

I see people. Families. Children. Ones that look just like my life when I was accidentally ruining my marriage, and just like my life when my parents were accidentally ruining theirs.

It’s not about accounting.

It’s about a fundamental shift in self-awareness and human behavior.

It’s not about math and money.

It’s about love. For ourselves. For others.

It’s about the courage to choose it.

And then the courage to live it.

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