Monthly Archives: December 2018

How Does Your Personality Type Match Up With Your Partner’s?

Albert-Einstein-Quote-Explain-Simply

(Image/Parent Palace)

It is my belief that the #1 reason marriages—or all types of close personal relationships—fail, is because the two people in that relationship fundamentally don’t understand how to accurately interpret the words and actions of one another.

Like, a person says words. Or a person performs an action. And then the other person listening to or observing those words and actions has an involuntary emotional reaction consistent with literally hearing or seeing something entirely different.

Right? You’ve been in that fight, yes? Where you say something that seems totally sane and logical to you, but the other person looks at you like you’re from another planet?

Doesn’t it make sense that two people who can never explain or understand what the eff the other is doing would struggle to maintain a trusting, secure relationship that lasts forever? Crazy scares us. So when we think the people we love are crazy, bad things tend to happen.

I believe that if we could—with 100% accuracy—interpret others’ words and actions as THEY intend them, or simply understand WHY someone is doing something a certain way (is that guy driving like a maniac because he’s an inconsiderate asshole, or is he driving like a maniac because he’s rushing his critically ill child to the hospital?) that our relationships can thrive because misunderstandings would no longer cause the buildup of pain and injury commonly found in marriages or long-term romantic relationships.

That’s not a small thing.

[NOTE: If you’re sort of doing the lazy skim-reading thing, please just scroll to the bottom of this article and take the free personality test from 16Personalities, and then have your partner do the same. Read about your respective personality types, because by having context and understanding for why you both do the things you do, healing can take place, and love can blossom.]

I think people—generally—are terrible at having uncomfortable conversations. I think people typically avoid them, and frequently lack the courage to tell the whole truth once they find themselves in the middle of one.

And in the absence of the whole truth, our brains are left to GUESS what the words and actions of another person actually mean.

And, historically speaking, our brains are HIGHLY UNRELIABLE tools for accurately applying the correct meaning to the words and actions of other people.

Often, when we are responding emotionally to things other people do and say (or don’t do or say), we’re getting sad, angry, anxious, or afraid over things entirely made up in our own heads. But it seems real enough to us as it’s happening, and our bodies respond emotionally on auto-pilot, and then we get all mixed-up inside, and the other person gets all mixed-up inside, and then—even though we really want to help one another feel better, and we genuinely care about them—we sort of fumble around in the dark breaking more stuff and causing even more damage.

There’s the school of thought that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and I bought into it for a long time, because it was a story that made sense to me. Men do things The Man Way, and Women do things The Woman Way, and it’s the inability to accurately translate those two languages that causes men and women to have the common relationship breakdowns all of us are familiar with.

But I think I see it more clearly now.

And I think for many people struggling to connect with their partners (or anyone, really)—seeing it more clearly can change everything for the better within their relationships and homes.

When You Accurately Interpret the Words and Actions of Your Spouse, They Start to Make Sense, and Then Everyone Hurts Less

When our wife isn’t showing interest in us physically, it hurts our feelings, and we wonder whether she thinks we’re ugly, or bad at sex, or wishes she was sleeping with some other guy—or actually doing it. Maybe our insecurities are triggered because of it. And since we’re starting to see that our sexual advances aren’t wanted, we learn that Trying to Have Sex with Wife = Unsuccessful.

I hate failure. Sometimes, when things are really hard, and I fail every time I try, I simply stop trying. Maybe other people are that way, too.

So now, a marriage with infrequent sexual intimacy just got worse, because the husband withdrew even further, believing sincerely that’s what his wife actually wants.

When husbands aren’t showing interest in their wives sexually, wives sometimes feel hurt feelings, and they report feeling concerned that their husbands think they’re ugly, or bad at sex, or that they wish they were sleeping with some other woman—or are actually doing it.

But in reality, the husbands withdrew out of respect for what they honestly interpreted their wives’ behavior to indicate.

And in reality, ALL the wife wants is to be reconnected with her husband again the way they were early in their dating relationship and early parts of their marriage. She WANTS him. A lot.

But maybe there are fears and trust issues and insecurities today that didn’t exist back when they were dating. Maybe there is mental and physical exhaustion from working 40+ hour weeks and/or chasing children around, or managing the family and social calendars of three or four or five people.

The bottom line is that both the husbands and wives who love one another WANT to connect in the bedroom. But both want to feel wanted by the other, and often do NOT feel that way—but often for reasons totally different than what their brains incorrectly guess might be the reasons.

We cannot connect with people, we cannot solve problems, we cannot do anything well in this world when we don’t understand the context for why it matters, the rules of the game, the appropriate boundaries, the potential hazards, etc.

And the scary truth is that most of us go through life finding ourselves in and out of relationships—romantic or otherwise—where we never really had all of the information we needed to navigate the relationship effectively or successfully.

Terrifyingly, millions of people enter and try to live within marriages under those same nearly impossible conditions.

This is why 7 out of 10 marriages end or involve two people who truly wish they weren’t married anymore, according to psychologist and author Ty Tashiro.

But, What if You COULD Understand Them?

Personality profiles are not precise, indisputable gospel truths.

While there are 16 “categories” of personality types according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator based on the psychology work of famed psychiatrist and father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, even people within the same personality type can exhibit clear differences.

For example, someone with a certain personality type raised as a strict Baptist in the southern United States is likely to showcase obvious differences from someone with that same personality type, but raised as a Buddhist in the Himalayan mountains in northern Bhutan.

It’s foolish to say “An INTJ ALWAYS does THIS” or “An ESTP ALWAYS does THAT” much like it’s foolish to pigeon-hole all men and all women into the same buckets.

BUT.

If our spouse prefers to do things a certain way—and it’s annoyed us for years—but then we learn that there’s this super-rational and important reason why they do it that way…

Might it help us better understand them? And when we get onboard with their way of doing things because we finally understand the WHY behind their methods, and what that might mean for their mental and emotional health? Might that foster connection? Might that bring us closer together?

I think it’s a CERTAINTY that it would. If both people bought in.

That doesn’t mean people in bad marriages will suddenly have good marriages. It means that two people who can accurately interpret the words and actions of their partner (rather than thinking that they’re bat-shit crazy and/or out to hurt them intentionally) are infinitely more likely to have successful, peaceful romantic relationships than people who do not.

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(Image/Wikipedia)

Which Type of Person Are You?

Last week, I officially launched a relationship coaching and divorce recovery support business. I want to help people who ask for it, have the same experiences I’ve had—figuring out how to make sense of my broken and failed marriage, and recovering from an emotionally excruciating divorce with hope and confidence.

And for clients who are in active romantic (but potentially struggling) relationships, we’re going to introduce personality testing to our conversations and coaching work—because these tests help us get to know ourselves more deeply, but even more importantly, they can be effective translators between two people who struggle to understand one another.

What if that was the difference between a peaceful marriage or a painful divorce? The simple ability to KNOW what the other person means or is trying to do.

Maybe learning about yourself and learning about your partner can help bridge the communication-and-understanding gap between you.

I certainly hope you’ll try.

They’re worth it. And so are you.

>>Take the Free 16Personalities Test<< 

(And then ask your partner to do the same. Let’s call it a holiday gift to yourself and each other.)

The entire world changes when we understand things we had never even thought to ask.

Miracles.

‘Tis the season for such things.

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Hire Me as Your Relationship Coach and Let’s Bend Some Spoons

coach mike gundy

I’m a man! I’m 40! (Almost.) But this isn’t a joke. I seriously provide coaching services now. Drop me a line if you want to talk about it. I promise to smile more than Mike Gundy. (Image/USA Today)

“Wait. What?!” you might be thinking.

I get it, because that’s exactly what I said to relationship coach, speaker and writer Mark Groves when he told me I needed to be coaching during a phone conversation a few years ago.

But on a much more recent call a few months ago, he said it again, only it sounded slightly less insane this time.

I’ve worn my NON-expertise like a badge of honor throughout the years writing here. I’m one of those idiots who thumbed his nose at formal schooling after earning a bachelor’s degree, because I always believed I could scratch and claw my way to wherever I wanted to be, career-wise.

While I was misguided to wholly dismiss formal higher education, there’s no denying that the reason certain people (my mom and like three other people) care about things I write or say—isn’t because they think I’m especially smart or insightful—but because the things I write and say sound a lot like THEIR lives. We’re all just running around trying to make sense of our lives.

And I have a built-in secret weapon to connect with others that I never had to earn. All I have to do is tell the story of my marriage and divorce, and then it accidentally sounds like millions of other people’s lives because there isn’t anything extraordinary about me or my life at all, and my crappy marriage is statistically likely to be a lot like your crappy marriage.

And all of the well-meaning and mostly decent guys out there who sort of feel like lousy husbands? Hey, welcome to the club. It sucks in here and drink service is slow. Let’s get out of here.

You’re me. I’m you. We’re us. It doesn’t have to be weird unless you make it weird.

I can sometimes help guys whose experiences are a lot like mine were. And I can sometimes help women whose experiences are a lot like my wife’s were.

Here’s the thing I didn’t understand until Mark beat me over the head (with coolness and kindness, as he does most things)—I don’t need to fit some predetermined mold to be a relationship coach, or to be magically qualified to help people transition through divorce or a bad break-up.

I’m me and I can’t be anyone else. And once I embraced the idea that I don’t need to live up to some magical standard—that all I had to do was be me and give everything I had to trying to help people in this very specific and deeply personal way instead of the more general way I experience when writing about it?

I finally embraced the idea fully. I’m really glad that I did.

‘You, a…Coach?’

Totally.

And while I wouldn’t have had the stones a few months ago to tell you with any confidence that I can legitimately help anyone, today I feel blessed to tell you that I can.

Several people have asked me to work with them, or someone they love, in a formal coaching capacity over the past four or five years. I have always declined.

I’m not a licensed therapist. I’m not a counselor. I’m not any kind of guru.

I’m just a guy who’s pretty good at asking the right questions and not being a judgy prick about it. I’m just a guy who cares about human beings. I don’t have to pretend to care about the people sharing their painful stories and secrets with me. I just care.

Sometimes when things hurt a lot, we just need someone to care. Turns out I’m pretty good at that. And sometimes, when two people care about the same thing and work on it together, extraordinary things happen.

>> Learn more about Relationship Coaching & Divorce Support with Matthew Fray here. <<

‘How Does it Work?’

Well, someday when I have a big-boy website (soon-ish), the Relationship Coaching & Divorce Support page will have online forms where people can apply directly from the site.

Currently, we do it this super-sketchy way where you email me (MBTTTR@gmail.com) with “Coaching Request” in the subject line, and then I send you a questionnaire to fill out, and if afterward we mutually decide to proceed, we’ll schedule video chats or phone calls and get to work.

‘Will I Cry Like Will Hunting?’

God-willing.

It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

Just kidding. It may totally be your fault—or better stated—something you have the responsibility to do something about. Personal-growth efforts are challenging. They’re hard. They force us to stare at ourselves in the mirror and answer uncomfortable questions. They force us to make new choices every day. Uncomfortable choices that don’t always provide the immediate gratification we subconsciously seek from our old, comfortable choices.

Remember that little bald There is no spoon kid from The Matrix? When he drops mad knowledge on our hero in waiting?

spoon-boy-matrix

(Image/Warner Bros.)

Little Bald Kid: “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Little Bald Kid: “There is no spoon.”

Neo: “There is no spoon?”

Little Bald Kid: “Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

That junior-sized monk knows what’s up.

We’re all looking for secrets. Whispers that upon hearing them will magically transform our surroundings. Shortcuts. Fairy dust. An easy way.

But I prefer to dabble in as little bullshit as possible. Coaching is not about sharing secrets. As my friends Jay and Lori Pyatt taught me, coaching is about shining a light in people’s blind spots—helping people discover things hiding in plain sight.

The world doesn’t change. The way you look at it does.

Your relationship doesn’t change. The way you show up in it does.

But, the spoon STILL looks and feels like it’s bending. And you can do it if you want—if you only realize the truth.

‘Okay, Matt. Piss Off. Surely There are Better Options.’

Probably!

These are really smart human beings that I have a personal relationship with, and all of them bring infinitely more expertise and experience to the table.

Self-work is hard stuff. That’s why we turn to others for help. And each of these amazing people can help you. Seriously.

  • Mark Groves (Relationship coach, Connection specialist, Speaker)
  • Lori Pyatt (Specializes in helping women work through relationship betrayals)
  • Jay Pyatt (Specializes in helping men rebuild trust in relationships suffering the fallout of betrayals like porn use or affairs)
  • Dr. Ali Kravit — (Specializes in ADHD, and helping couples and individuals navigate ADHD in relationships)
  • Melissa Ryan  (Colorado-based licensed relationship counselor specializing in Adventure Therapy – student of Terry Real
  • Lesli Doares — (North Carolina-based licensed marriage & family therapist)

This is a new life adventure for me. The safety of the keyboard is gone. Real human beings with real, high-stakes problems, and no way of knowing where the conversation might go.

And I used to be afraid of that, because I was trying to bend that stupid, stubborn spoon. And then I realized the truth.

I don’t know whether I can help you. I don’t know whether it makes sense for you and I to work together.

I only know that we’ll be able to figure it out together. And probably some other helpful things as well.

Wishing everyone a very happy, peaceful and blessed holiday season wherever you are. Love you guys.

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Preparing for that Last Goodbye

goodbye gravestone

(Image/Thrive Global)

Nothing sparks contemplation for me quite as intensely as the news of someone’s death.

One of my best friends from childhood—the best man in my wedding, and my roommate for four years of college—lost his father.

I just found out.

And then my head goes to the place where my fingers need the keyboard.

No other life events affect me like death. The same must be true for many of you. The news—the shock and inflexible reality of it—forces you to rewire your brain in real-time, because what you know to be true is no longer true. And there’s no do-overs or rewind buttons. There’s just adjusting uncomfortably—sometimes very painfully—to the new world you didn’t want nor ask to travel to.

My friend’s dad was a doctor. A surgeon. A kind and funny and generous one.

In addition to welcoming me into his home for what seems like the majority of weekends throughout my senior year of high school, this man indirectly had a profound impact on my life.

He graduated from the same university I attended. So when his son and I were exploring college options, he was the one who drove us to campus one weekend to check it out and see a football game.

That trip cemented my friend and I’s decision to attend that school together and be roommates.

It was at that school where I switched majors so that I could make writing my career.

And it was at that school where I would meet the young woman who would later be my wife and son’s mother.

If Doc doesn’t invite me to visit his alma mater with his son that fall weekend in 1996, then almost everything about my life—right this second—could be radically different.

Heavy thoughts.

A favorite writer of mine starts his day by reading obituaries.

He believes that reading obituaries each morning helps him better appreciate life, focus on the present, and live each moment more fully.

There’s a simple brilliance in that.

Another favorite writer of mine will walk down the streets of New York City, imagining that every person he sees is terminally ill. That they will die in the coming hours.

He says that allows him to behave more kindly, more patiently, more empathetically, more thoughtfully to the hordes of strangers that are otherwise easy to de-humanize as they honk their horns, stand in your way while you’re in a hurry, and make daily life in the city more frustrating and less pleasant than it might otherwise be.

They do this because—one might argue—we are our best selves when we’re mindful of the fragility of this life.

We are not promised tomorrow.

How would we treat our spouses, our extended family, our friends, our children? How would we treat strangers?

If we knew they were going to die?

If we knew we were going to die?

It’s funny to me—not Ha-ha funny—that they are going to die. That I’m going to die.

The conditions are ALREADY in place for me to show up and be my best self to others. In that same way I naturally feel right now upon learning the news of Doc’s passing.

We shouldn’t be sad or morose or uncomfortably morbid all of the time. That doesn’t seem useful.

But we should be mindful. We should always be mindful of what may be.

Our time is precious.

Who deserves our forgiveness? Our patience? Our compassion? Our attention? Our love?

There’s a higher path we can choose to walk. I’m often operating several levels beneath it.

But now—right now—I feel how much I want to be up there.

And even if I—predictably—fail to stay up there as I cycle back into routine and normalcy and acting as if my life and my things are the center of the universe and nothing else is happening out there, it can’t hurt to spend right now reminding myself how laughably untrue that is.

That life is happening in other places and it matters.

That other people are fighting their own battles, and they’re hard, and what can I do to help them fight them?

That no matter what has happened in the past, between any of us and all of the people we know, there’s a farewell coming. One way or another, there’s a Goodbye up ahead.

Maybe we could make it a good one.

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How the New Math vs. Old Math Debate is a Lot Like Your Marriage

math formula for finding true love

(Image/The Kim Komando Show)

Those of you living outside of the United States might not know this, but in 2009 the federal government launched a new initiative to change the way math and science are taught in schools.

It’s called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and from its inception through today, it has been a highly politicized issue in the U.S. because many people—possibly even MOST—absolutely lost their shit over this.

“Have you seen this new math? What the hell was wrong with old math? Numbers are numbers. Facts are facts. Why do we have to make it more difficult than it needs to be?”

I was one of those people.

I find the methodology of solving 35 x 12 using Common Core standards to be excruciating.

What makes the most sense to my brain when I look at that math problem, is to solve 30 x 12 and 5 x 12, and then add those two answers together to solve for 35 x 12. I can do it in a few seconds in my head. The answer is a subtle pot-smoking joke. Done and done.

But the way it’s taught in school today, is like a dozen extra steps that seems SUPER-tedious and unnecessary when you learned how to solve multiplication problems the way I just did.

Without a doubt, solving 35 x 12 my way is faster, simpler and more efficient than the way they teach it in schools today. Many people agree with that, so we all came to the conclusion that our way is better, and Common Core standards are bullshit.

This is how we form our beliefs and opinions about EVERYTHING. We have our way of doing things, or our favorite things to eat, or watch, or listen to, or wear, or drive, or participate in, or whatever. Taking that a step further, we have our beliefs. These are the stories that make the most sense to us, and much of our behaviors, thought processes and emotional reactions happen as a result of those beliefs.

Just like the person who sees this new, and different, and tedious, and annoying, and frustrating way of solving math problems, and teaching children; a person also sees beliefs, emotional reactions, and behaviors in their relationships that feel equally new, different, tedious, annoying and frustrating.

When we see these new ideas or ways of doing things, that are neither comfortable nor in alignment with what we’ve previously done or believed, we spaz about it and act like it’s wrong.

My easy way of doing math is NOT wrong. It’s obviously superior to this new dumb way of doing math. THUS, my way is better, and everyone who disagrees is a huge moron, and everyone teaching our children in school are a bunch of stupid jerks!

Here’s the Reason Why ‘New Math’ Exists and How it Could Change Your Life

I’m not a mathematician, nor an educator. So I can’t give you the most precise mathematical terms.

But here’s how I understand this, and since learning the REASON for doing this, I have instantly recanted and regretted every ignorant statement I’ve made about this so-called ‘New Math.’

There’s the way most of us learned in school. The way everyone in my approximate age range thinks is the ‘best’ way to solve math problems. Because it’s fast and easy and efficient and less work and STILL correct.

And then there’s this new way. This Common Core standards way.

And the REASON for this new way is simple: Children who learn to solve math problems THE NEW WAY—while requiring more effort and energy right now—will more easily be able to transition to advanced mathematics.

All the shit I can’t do? Advanced calculus and physics? In 25 years or less, a whole bunch of higher education students will have embraced advanced math because it will come more naturally to them, instead of abandoning it as I did early in my college years.

Sure, I can solve 35 x 12 way faster than my grade-schooler’s teacher wants him to, but my son has the opportunity to fundamentally understand advanced math concepts that many Americans currently lack (which is why so many other countries outperform the United States both academically and economically in the fields of math and science).

Educators are doing it the hard way. The long way. The slow way. To infuse a cultural change into the American education system that could one day see American children in greater numbers helping to solve the world’s greatest problems (feeding the growing population, extending battery life of mobile devices and electric vehicles, finding solutions to energy problems to power people’s homes and businesses).

And that’s when it hit me.

I’ve been fighting this ‘new,’ ‘dumb’ way of doing things all of these years because it seemed harder and unnecessary.

But THIS is what it will take to properly educate our future scholars who will be able to advance INFINITELY further into the fields of math and science than I could have ever realistically hoped to given the way math was taught to me.

In isolation, it seems stupid to teach little kids this tedious, harder, more complex way of doing things.

But when viewed through the big picture, so many of these kids will be able to excel in ways us old complainers who think “our way” is the best way never could.

And isn’t that worth it? Isn’t that SMART and sensible and wise? Isn’t that disciplined and—minus the logistics of finding educators who can teach “New Math” effectively—an incredibly intelligent way of addressing a current and future problem? The potential absence of highly educated mathematicians and scientists capable of contributing positively to the world?

And.

Just maybe, our knee-jerk, ignorant, short-sighted reactions to others and discomfort and newness and ‘different’ in our romantic relationships, and in our experiences with other people, works exactly the same.

Just maybe, making the decision to practice doing things in a more tedious, annoying, difficult and time-consuming way won’t feel so good now, but can set us up for a future of taking ourselves and our relationships to places previously believed impossible.

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Maybe Your Love Life Sucks Because You Don’t Know What Love Is

time heart brain love

(Image/Arre)

There’s a guy. He’s having a really bad day because this girl he likes a lot decided to stop seeing him.

She thought they were two people who enjoyed one another’s company.

He thought they were madly in love, boyfriend and girlfriend, and going to get married someday.

Dude’s a nice guy, as the story goes. One of those guys with an inferiority complex about women breaking up with him or rejecting him, because it seems to happen to him a lot.

There are probably some young women out there who want a super-clingy dude with hyper-codependent tendencies who smothers her physically, mentally and emotionally. But near as I can tell, most don’t.

This guy’s default state of being—how he shows up in the world—is THE RECIPE for triggering discomfort and mistrust in a potential romantic partner. You can still be liked. You can still be appreciated. Perhaps even genuinely cared for.

But very few—I’d argue zero—healthy people are going to intentionally commit to being a couple and/or pursue marriage with someone who needs, needs, needs all the time. Someone who leans so heavily on OTHER people to achieve balance or to feel good about themselves.

People Have Load-Bearing Limits

I kind-of know those feelings. Not because I’m overly co-dependent emotionally—I’ve got that only-child thing going for me—but because I do have a distinguished marital history of leaning heavily on my spouse to “take care of stuff.” It’s hard enough for most of us to take excellent care of ourselves under optimum circumstances. When you start adding career responsibilities and children to the equation, any extra bullshit being dumped on you from another adult is going to feel even heavier than the regular kind of bullshit.

Many divorces happen because one spouse is willing to carry that extra bullshit early in the relationship because intense feelings of love are present, and because they have the mental, physical and emotional bandwidth to take that on, BUT then five to 10 years later, when there are children and financial pressures and stale, if not non-existent, sexual routines, and years of tiny resentments piling up, and some major life trauma like the death of a loved one… that person who was carrying so much of the emotional and mental burdens of marriage or the relationship becomes too exhausted to carry it anymore.

It’s a sad story, and one I regret subjecting my ex-wife and son to.

But there’s another element to codependence as well.

And that is the idea that how OTHER people feel about us—whether they think we’re attractive, or want to play with us on the playground, or want to sleep with us, or want to hire us at their company, or want to accept us into their graduate schools, or want to go out on a date with us, or want to be friends with us, etc.—is some kind of legitimate gauge for how we should feel about ourselves.

I spent most of my life hung up on the Majority Rules concept. That when things are subject to vote (whether that be at the ballot box, or which store they shop at, or which food they like, or which movie or music artist is best), that what the Majority says is best is a reliable indicator for what actually is best. (I know. Concepts like subjectivity were totally lost on me.)

Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

I learned that quote while working as a reporter for my college newspaper. I’ve been (very slowly) inching my way down a new life path ever since.

Without getting political or philosophical, let’s just use pop music as an example.

Can we all agree that at least ONE super-popular song you’ve heard in the past 10-20 years—something that topped the music charts and sold millions of records—was a steaming pile of suck in your opinion?

There you have it.

Only ONE person gets to decide what we’re worth and how we feel every day when we wake up. And that person is ourselves.

If You Don’t Know What Love Actually Is, How Can You Know Whether it’s in Your Life?

Captain Whiny Guy feels like a victim today.

He’s not celebrating the quick end to a relationship that NEVER had a chance of evolving into a healthy love or marriage or family or anything that he claimed he wanted in life.

He’s lamenting that he, once again, feels like a loser in the Pick-Me Dance game, because a girl he liked didn’t like him as much as he liked her.

His sadness and disappointment and feelings of rejection predictably turned to anger.

“I love you,” he told her. (I don’t think he knows what that means. Weeks, not months went by.)

He cited all of the nice things he’s done for her. All of the gifts he’s given. He expressed fake-unselfish concern that he was worried that she would eventually “end up settling for someone who won’t treat you the way you deserve.”

The implication from everything this dude said was: I will be nicer to you, give you more things, and do more stuff for you than anyone else, thus you’re wrong and making a mistake if you don’t choose to commit to me and love me forever.

This guy thinks love is a meritocracy.

This guy thinks who you date and marry is a math equation rooted entirely in behavior.

As if the biggest sack on the planet could simply out-gift and out-favor and out-sweet-gesture every other guy in someone’s life and guarantee himself her approval, sexual connection, and lifetime commitment.

I feel sorry for him. But the truth is, he’s simply going to have to keep getting his nuts kicked in until the lightbulb goes on and he starts asking better questions about how he shows up in the world.

Love Cannot Be Earned, Nor Bought, Nor Taken

Love is a complicated thing to discuss because so many people define it differently.

People commonly associate love with emotions, with feelings—romantic and sexual.

People think of love in conjunction with the loyalty and foundational structure of their family of origin—the love that exists between parents and children and siblings and their pets.

People love things. Like music, art, sports, traveling, literature, cinema, and various activities of personal interest.

Generally, in the context of dating and marriage, use of the word love typically characterizes that feeling. It’s not a sane feeling. It’s not a rational one. It can’t be bottled or boxed up. We can’t trap love, stow it away, and break it out later whenever we want.

Love—the feeling—may not be the biggest factor in whether couples last forever or fizzle out fast, but let’s not pretend that it doesn’t matter. Love is UNQUESTIONABLY the most potent and influential of human emotions, and the one most likely to compel a person to do something big and otherwise unusual—hopefully something insane like moving far away to be with someone, and NOT something insane like murder in some bizarre love triangle, like that crazy astronaut love triangle that involved adult diapers and a long murdery road trip.

Because love is the most potent and influential human emotion, I think it’s important for people to truly KNOW what it is.

Let’s start with the obvious.

You cannot buy it. If you buy people roses, and write them love notes, and take them to dinner, and are super-affectionate and thoughtful, physically and emotionally, there are not units of love that can be earned or given in return.

Love is not measurable. It cannot be counted.

Love is NOT conditional. That is not to say that love won’t dissipate under certain conditions, but simply that love ceases to be love when it’s exchanged only under certain circumstances.

Companionship can be bought. Sex can be bought. Love can’t be.

“Love is inherently free. It cannot be bought, sold, or traded. You cannot make someone love you, nor can you prevent it — not for any amount of money. Love cannot be imprisoned, nor can it be legislated. Love is not a substance, not a commodity, not even a marketable power source. Love has no territory, no borders, no quantifiable mass or energy output,” said Dr. Deborah Anapol in her book The Seven Natural Laws of Love as shared in Psychology Today. “This doesn’t mean that love allows destructive and abusive behaviors to go unchecked. Love speaks out for justice and protests when harm is being done. Love points out the consequences of hurting oneself or others. Love allows room for anger, grief, or pain to be expressed and released. But love does not threaten to withhold itself if it doesn’t get what it wants. Love does not say, directly or indirectly, ‘If you are a bad boy, Mommy won’t love you anymore.’ Love does not say, ‘If you want to be loved, you must be nice,’ or ‘Do what I want,’ or ‘Never love anyone else,’ or ‘Promise you’ll never leave me.’”

I like the way Anapol characterizes it.

Love is inherently unselfish.

Did the whiny guy give the girl What?! Pick Me!!! roses because he loves her? I mean, maybe. I guess. But isn’t it more likely that he sent the girl who rejected him roses because he was hoping for a desired response—one intended ultimately to benefit him?

Wasn’t it a tool to make her change her mind, or at least feel regret about ending it with The Super-Nice Guy Who Sends Her Flowers?

And doesn’t that make him kind of a dickwad—whether it’s intentional and self-aware or not—for saying “I love you”?

Sure, it does.

It wasn’t a selfless act of love. He of course said the cliché thing people think they’re supposed to say I just want what’s best for you! I just want you to be happy!

But he didn’t act like it.

He acted like a petulant whiner with an exceedingly flaccid and unused penis.

And when you act like that, girls tend to find the behavior unattractive. And I hope he figures it out someday, because there is a place in this world for a husband and father who loves to demonstrate his love through gifts and thoughtful acts of kindness.

But I think we have our fill of human beings who don’t actually know what love is.

We don’t love our parents or our children or our brothers and sisters or our best friends because there’s some reward in doing so.

We just love them.

Romantic and sexual love are different.

I think the fabulous philosopher and author Alain de Botton might have said it best in The Book of Life.

“In general, civilisation requires us to present stringently edited versions of ourselves to others. It asks us to be cleaner, purer, more polite versions of who we might otherwise be. The demand comes at quite a high internal cost. Important sides of our character are pushed into the shadows.

Humanity has long been fascinated – and immensely troubled – by the conflict between our noblest ideals and the most urgent and exciting demands of our sexual nature. In the early third century, the Christian scholar and saint, Origen, castrated himself – because he was so horrified by the gulf between the person he wanted to be (controlled, tender and patient) and the kind of person he felt his sexuality made him (obscene, lascivious and rampant). He represents the grotesque extreme of what is in fact a very normal and widespread distress. We may meet people who – unwittingly- reinforce this division,” de Botton wrote. “The person who loves us sexually does something properly redemptive: they stop making a distinction between the different sides of who we are. They can see that we are the same person all the time; that our gentleness or dignity in some situations isn’t fake because of how we are in bed and vice versa. Through sexual love, we have the chance to solve one of the deepest, loneliest problems of human nature: how to be accepted for who we really are.”

Love is a feeling—wild and unpredictable.

But love is something else. Something more pure and absolute.

Love is an action, even if only in our hearts and minds.

Love is freely given, without agenda, because for reasons we have never thought through entirely or been asked to explain, we truly love someone and seek to improve them and their lives completely independent of our own emotions, or how it might impact our own lives.

Love is kind. Patient. Compassionate. Empathetic.

Love is a choice.

You don’t get to take love from someone. You don’t get to convince them they should love you and have it work out. You can’t EARN it.

It’s acquired one way only.

As a gift.

And when we’re blessed enough to receive it, it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of it. To treat it with the care and importance it deserves.

The care and importance that you deserve, when you finally decide to love yourself, because you finally realize that you’re worth it.

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