Author Archives: Matt

Always Something There to Remind Me

(Image/PortsmouthFreemasons.org)

There’s something appalling—nearly unforgivable—about the things we forget, like, 98-ish percent of our known existence.

We forget that we breathe. We breathe more than 23,000 times per day on average. There’s literally NOTHING we’ve done in our lives more times than taken a breath.

Yet, we never notice.

We forget that we are not promised tomorrow. Today may be our last. This conversation may be the last one you ever get to have with someone. Virtually all of us would say and do things differently if we knew this meeting would be our last.

We forget all of the opportunities we have to be grateful.

Health. Money. Shelter. Clothing. Transportation. Family. Friends. Employment. Education. Abilities.

There’s always something to be deeply thankful for. Something we’re taking for granted.

Our health and closest loved ones seem to be the most obvious victims of our unintentional neglect.

My Blindness to the ‘All The Time’ is Why My Marriage Ended

There are so many perspectives. So many ways to frame and slice the conversation about how love dies. How families break. Including the story of my own divorce.

But underneath all of the specifics is a simple and difficult truth: I didn’t remember to actively love my spouse.

Like, I forgot.

I feel shitty about it, and I’d feel even worse if I didn’t know that pretty much everyone suffers from this in some form or fashion.

We grow numb to the things we feel All The Time.

We grow deaf to the things we hear All The Time.

We grow blind to the things we see All The Time.

Combine this psychological phenomenon that all of us encounter with undiagnosed adult ADHD, and boom. You get some hapless asshole who derpy-derps through life unintentionally hurting those he loves.

You know what the worst part might be? I used to be blind to it, legitimately.

Today? Not so much. I write about this stuff every day, so I’m much quicker to recognize when I’m doing it, and better understand how another person might feel about it.

I’m always in the market for a larger Shame bucket to carry around.

How I Remember to Actively Love My Son

I hope it’s clear that I felt love for my wife. The same way I feel grateful for breathable air.

I just FORGOT to actively demonstrate it in the way that would have saved everyone involved a lot of pain and suffering through the years. Sometimes, when you have a near-death experience with a Jolly Rancher, you remember how neat it is to be able to breathe without a delicious piece of hard candy lodged in your windpipe.

“News at 11, a local man was found dead in his parked vehicle this afternoon. Law enforcement officials at the scene declined to comment on the active investigation, but we were told off the record that there’s no evidence of foul play, and that a giant bag of Jolly Ranchers candy was found on the passenger seat, suggesting the man likely died from a choking incident like you might expect from a small child. None of the man’s coworkers admitted to being friends with him. Reporting live from Cleveland, Ohio, this is Johnny McJohnson. Back to you in the studio.”

I had a serious problem with forgetting to actively love my son.

He’s a fifth-grader. He’s amazing. And he’s been my entire world for the past six years.

And even though that’s true, and I’ve never known love like the love I feel for him, I still get really upset with him sometimes (almost always when getting ready for school, where his priority often seems to be to do ANYTHING except stuff that will help us accomplish our goal of getting to school on time with as little stress as possible).

And I get pretty mad sometimes. Because I know what he’s capable of, and I know how smart he is, and it feels like he’s intentionally sabotaging my efforts some mornings.

(I know. The irony isn’t lost on me. I promise.)

And sometimes, he and I will exchange words and attitude, and then maybe that was a morning where I wasn’t picking him up later that day. Maybe it would be two or three days before I’d see him again, per his mother and I’s 50-50 shared parenting arrangement.

So, sad and angry dad drops off sad and angry son only to have both of us feel crappy about it for a while and would both choose to go back in time and do it all over again, if we could.

And since he’s 10, and I’m the ‘adult,’ I needed to take action. Because doing the same thing over and over again more or less guarantees the same results over and over again.

The Simple Magic of the ‘Focus’ Wristband

I could make myself a sign.

I could get a tattoo.

I could set reminders on my phone.

I could write it in my calendar.

I could do a lot of things. But ultimately, I chose a simple black, flexible bracelet. One of those rubbery wristbands like the #LiveStrong ones that former cyclist Lance Armstrong used to pimp before he admitted to doping and everyone stopped thinking he was cool.

I bought a box of them. They all have cliché motivational words on them which annoy me, but in this case, the word “Focus” is apropos.

These. I only cared about the one that said ‘Focus.’ (Image/Amazon)

I now wear a mostly non-descript small black rubber wristband on my left wrist. There is nothing special or noteworthy about it. Unless I’m wearing short sleeves, no one would ever know it’s there.

My Focus bracelet has one job. Only one job.

To remind me to actively demonstrate intentional love and patience toward my favorite person in the world. He is my life’s greatest gift. And it’s pathetic that I get angry with him and speak to him in ways his young mind might interpret as me saying he’s not good enough, or communicate that I’m not immensely proud of him.

Jolly Rancher jokes aside.

What if on one of those mornings, I never made it where I was going? What if the last thing he remembered about me was me being angry with him at school drop-off, only to never have the chance to speak again or remind him that there is NOTHING he could ever do or say, and no amount of frustration he could ever make me feel that would equate to my love for him lessening somehow?

That wouldn’t do.

So, I ordered a pack of these silly wristband bracelets.

And, you know what? It works.

My Focus bracelet reminds me to smile and laugh at him clowning around when he’s supposed to be brushing his teeth.

My Focus bracelet reminds me that a few minutes here and there are NOT even in the same universe as him knowing his father loves him and feels immense pride in him.

My Focus bracelet literally triggers intentional patience, resulting in a 90-percent reduction in anything resembling an emotional outburst, and a much more mindful father not carelessly ‘forgetting’ how much he loves his son.

I know it might seem silly, this small thing. This wristband with only one job.

I was skeptical as to how effective it would be. I shouldn’t have been.

When we MINDFULLY, INTENTIONALLY, invest our mental and emotional energy in those we love, it sticks. Because we know what’s at stake.

Someone, somewhere doesn’t know how much you care about them.

They don’t have any idea how much they are loved and cherished.

What super-tiny, subtle shift can we make to keep our minds attuned to what matters most to us in a way that can help us maintain discipline, better communicate our love for others, and walk the walk in our daily lives?

What small thing can we do today to invest in and protect our life’s biggest, most sacred things?

I paid about $15 for a pack of wristbands I only needed one of.

But can you guess how much it’s worth?

There’s not enough room here to write out the number.

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She Divorced Me Because I Tried to Fix Her Problems

Discover Your Why Torn Paper Concept

(Image/Getty Images)

In nine years of marriage, it’s safe to assume my ex-wife and I ate dinner together between 2,500 and 3,000 times.

We must have talked about things that didn’t upset her sometimes. We must have talked about things that bored her sometimes. Maybe we even talked about things that made her happy.

I don’t remember. Several hundred conversations, and I can’t remember most of them.

It’s hard to remember the moments that never made you feel.

Maybe that’s why the only dinner conversations I remember are the ones involving her saying that she didn’t love me or want to stay married, as well as a few conversations that I’ve retroactively applied emotion to, since I now realize that they’re on the official This is Why I’m Divorced® list along with me sometimes leaving dishes by the sink.

My wife divorced me because when she told me stories about her day, I tried to fix whatever she was telling me was wrong.

And for many people, that will seem sensible—to try to help someone solve a problem they’re having. For many people, the idea of turning a husband trying to help into a marriage problem will seem like the insane actions of an emotionally unstable wife who is always looking for something new to complain about.

I would have agreed with you 10 years ago. I mean, I DID agree with you 10 years ago. Because I agreed with you 10 years ago, I was a shitty husband who accidentally and obliviously sabotaged what could have been, and should have been, a good marriage. (Hint: Which is what almost ALL married people have. Two people who married each other on purpose, thoughtfully, and well-intentioned SHOULD have a good marriage.)

I Didn’t Understand the Why

My wife was telling me stories about her day—about things or people or situations that might have upset her—for ONE reason. Just one.

It was my wife’s way of trying to connect with me. To share her experiences. The ACT OF SHARING the experience with me, and me simply being present and listening to her was THE ENTIRE POINT.

My role was to listen.

When my wife told me about someone that bothered her earlier in the day, I would sometimes tell my wife that I agreed with the other person.

Not only did I deprive her of the connection-building exercise by simply allowing her to speak without judgment, but I piled on more pain and frustration by validating the words or actions of the person that hurt or upset my wife earlier in the day.

Let’s recap:

1. Something happened that my wife experienced as a negative. Someone said or did something that made her feel shitty.

2. The thing that helps her feel better is to tell someone who will listen without judging her for her honest feelings and actual experiences.

3. She wanted to tell the ONE person in the world who promised to love and honor her every day for the rest of her life, and the only other adult who lives under the same roof.

4. I took her outlet for a positive connection-building experience—the thing she needed to do to emotionally move past the shitty day—and made THAT shitty. The thing that is designed to make her feel good became something that actually felt bad.

5. I then took the extra step of sometimes TAKING THE SIDE of her adversary from her story. I sometimes listened to her account of the day’s events, and essentially told her that her response—emotional or behaviorally—was INCORRECT. I literally told her that she did it wrong, and agreed with the other person.

6. All she wanted was for someone who loves her to LISTEN to her. That’s it. Not hard. Just STFU and listen. And after several hundred times of NOT doing that, I ceased to be someone she could trust to confide in. I was no longer a feel-good resource for coping with the ups and downs of adulthood, because hundreds of previous attempts ended badly and painfully for her. She didn’t feel safe anymore. She didn’t trust me anymore. Because safety and trust are two words that don’t always mean what we think they mean.

The most dangerous part of human relationships is how subtle and nuanced these moments are.

The things that erode and eventually destroy that which is most fragile and dear and precious to us tend to be things happening within the blind spots of our daily lives. We’re not being neglectful or irresponsible by not noticing them. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to notice them unless we are actively and mindfully looking for them.

After thousands of conversations with my wife that didn’t go like I thought they would. After, literally, thousands of instances where my wife reacted to me or a situation differently than I would have expected, I NEVER—not one time—set out to really understand the reason behind it.

I was certain—I was so certain that I was right, and therefore, she must have been wrong—that I guess I just kept waiting for her to grow up and see the world as clearly and correctly and smartly as I did.

But she never did.

She finally had enough and left.

And then I cried a lot more than a man probably should and felt sorry for myself.

But then I grew up.

And I began to see the world more clearly. I learned to stop labeling what an individual experiences as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Because if I was born to their parents and had their identical life experiences, I would say and do and feel all of the exact same things that they do.

Maybe my wife was wrong sometimes, too. Maybe she did things she shouldn’t have done. People ask me about that a lot, suggesting I’m too hard on myself. That there must be another side to the story.

Of course there’s another side. Here it is:

Imagine an alternative reality where when my wife told me stories about her day, I listened, and then told her that I cared about her experiences—that I was so happy when she had good things happen, and that I was so sorry when she had bad things happen—because I loved her and wanted to make sure she knew it. Make sure she felt it, because those are the things we remember.

Imagine if I’d done that.

Maybe all of those theoretical ‘mistakes’ my wife made would have never happened at all.

Just maybe.

Behind every misunderstanding is a reason. Behind every disagreement is a WHY. The Why behind why someone feels a certain way. And when we love the person on the other side of the disagreement—or simply on the other side of the dinner-table conversation—understanding that Why is EVERYTHING.

Find the Why.

Start right now.

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To Find What’s Missing, Look in the Gaps

hiding- image by navalent

(Image/Navalent)

There’s what we believe. And then there’s whatever is absolutely 100-percent true and real.

In the gap between our beliefs and Absolute Truth are the things that hold us back. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

There’s what we expect. And then there’s whatever actually happens.

Sometimes things don’t go as we expect them to. Sometimes that’s kind of good or kind of bad. Sometimes that’s very good or very bad. The gap between our expectations and what we actually experience is what determines how good or happy we feel, or how bad or upset we feel.

There’s what we think we know about another person. And then there’s who they actually are, what they actually feel, what they actually believe, what they actually intend, what they are actually capable of—sometimes bad, but also sometimes good.

What’s Hiding in the Gaps Within Your Relationships?

In a marriage or otherwise long-term romantic relationship, there is always (like, ALWAYS) a gap between what any two people believe about one another and what is actually, 100-percent true.

I don’t mean a husband thinks his wife is a manager at a local bank, but is actually a high-ranking government intelligence officer managing a team of spies and assassins.

I mean a more typical scenario like a wife who believes her husband likes her meatloaf, but secretly he thinks it’s gross like most sensible people who struggle with foamed meat products, but because he—in an effort to be polite—doesn’t communicate his preferences, she doesn’t actually know.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you surprise them with a gift.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you dress extra-nice for them.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you tell them the bad news.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you suggest specific weekend plans.

There’s what you think he or she will do when there’s an emergency.

And then, there’s what actually happens.

Pleasant surprises. Crushing disappointments. The results will both delight and disappoint us to varying degrees.

You Don’t Know What You Think You Know

That’s neither an insult nor a judgment.

It’s a call—a plea really—for more humility and more hope.

You think he’s never going to change. Because after all of these years he’s never changed. But. What if you did something differently to achieve different results?

You think she’s never going to change. Because the things she says that hurt you are only intensifying. But. What if she’s feeling INTENSE pain that you’re accidentally causing, and despite her best efforts to communicate that you’re hurting her somehow, you’ve continued to inflict pain over and over and over again in a way that feels intentional at worst, and negligent at best? Is it possible she WOULDN’T be saying or doing those things—is it possible she wouldn’t take that tone or act exasperated—if she felt loved, cherished, respected, wanted every day of her life as she believed she would when she accepted your proposal?

We believe things.

We believe so many things. I’m not good enough. He’s an asshole. She’s a bitch. They don’t like me. They don’t respect me. They don’t want to be with me.

And then we’re often wrong. But because we BELIEVE the thought or idea, we FEEL it as if it were true.

We feel anxious. Or angry. Or jealous. Or sad. Or stressed. Or afraid.

People who feel shitty—whether they want to or not—harm their relationships. Relationships are a resource for finding support and strength and hope and companionship during life’s most trying moments. But when the relationship itself is the source of life’s most trying moments, then people turn elsewhere for the relief, support, and hope that they need.

It’s an ugly little cycle hiding in shadows and whispers.

Everyone is so blindly certain that what they believe and feel is real and true, that we allow the gaps between what we think and what’s actually real to ruin beautiful things. Our connections to others. To ourselves. To what’s possible.

Kind, beautiful, decent people are married to other kind, beautiful, decent people.

They have kind, beautiful, and decent children, and kind, beautiful, and decent friends.

Everyone means well.

Everyone cares.

Everyone wishes for the best.

But everyone is human. They believe things. And not all of them are accurate or true. And operating on false beliefs, we just keep serving our subpar meatloaf to people who don’t really like it.

What might you be missing?

What might the people you love, mistakenly but understandably, believe that could be harming your relationship?

What might be possible if we begin to eliminate the gaps between what we believe about ourselves and one another with what’s actually true and real?

You don’t know it, but I love you. (Platonically, you dirties.)

The things that hide in the gaps aren’t things we realize are even missing. The things that end our marriages and break our families are things only discovered by asking questions we would never normally think to ask.

Our beliefs guide us on autopilot.

Our lives can break on autopilot.

Be different, please. Be more. Every hopeless and cynical belief is an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

Hope.

Not because things magically change, but because we can intentionally do things differently.

To 2019, and to each and every one of you.

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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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Should We Get Married? (Part 1)

how-the-hell-should-i-know-that

(Image/MemeGenerator.net)

In Wonder Woman lore—including the 2017 Gal Gadot film—there exists an island of Amazonian women unknown and invisible to the rest of the world.

Everyone on the fictional island of Themyscira is female. There are no ‘traditional’ families. There is no such thing as marriage.

Everyone there seems fine with that arrangement. The only child on that island that I can remember from the film is the protagonist heroine Diana—born of a Greek mythology-esque encounter between her mother and Zeus.

She knew little of marriage or family or male-female relationships.

I think we can safely assume that when Diana imagined her future, and established her personal hopes and dreams as a child and young woman, getting married and/or becoming a mother was likely not part of them.

It’s different for most of us.

A lot different. Especially in the United States, where I live, and other Western cultures.

Regardless of our gender, regardless of our religious (or non-religious) affiliations, regardless of our politics, regardless of which state we live in, and regardless of whether our parents themselves are married, we are mathematically likely to get married, or enter into a long-term relationship with dynamics that approximate marriage.

In the U.S., 95 percent of people 18 and older are either married, divorced, or planning to marry someday. In other words, marriage DIRECTLY affects and influences 9.5 out of every 10 U.S. adults.

Why?

Well, we can do the whole history-lesson thing even though it’s probably mind-numbingly boring to most people. We can talk about how Western civilization spread and evolved, incorporating beliefs and traditions rooted in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Ancient Israel, and the early Catholic Church, all of which continue to influence a ton of our beliefs, religious and political practices, and cultural traditions today.

OR.

We can simply agree that—just as pre-Wonder Woman Diana grew up surrounded only by women and thusly never conceived of marriage and family as a concept—everyone living in Western, English-speaking societies grows up seeing the VAST majority of people around them dating, getting engaged, getting married, and having children (even if they’re only seeing it depicted on TV and in the movies), resulting in most of us believing: Getting married is just what you do when you’re an adult! It’s what you’re supposed to do, and you’re probably weird if you don’t!

Unless you have same-sex romantic leanings or grew up in a single-parent family while hiding out in the woods, I assume—like me—you grew up never for a second questioning the idea that pairing up with someone and probably having children with them was basically ingrained into your belief system. You never even stopped to consider other alternative futures.

Other than our own births—which none of us actually remember—our wedding day and the birth of our first child are frequently cited as the biggest, most significant, happiest days of our lives.

Marriage: Survivor Island

Because that’s what marriage essentially is, right? Survivor Island minus the television crews?

No matter how wonderful our parents and extended families are, and no matter the quality of our education and academic experiences, MARRIAGE is essentially the equivalent of everyone we invite to our wedding being on the same jumbo plane with us and bidding us farewell as we parachute onto some island we know next to nothing about.

We know how to eat. But do we know where to find food, and what’s safe to eat?

Maybe we know how to build shelter. But do we know what location makes sense, and what the greatest threats to our safety—weather, disease, animals, other people—are?

We kind-of, sort-of know how to not die, but in this case, we don’t even know what may or may not be fatal.

“Good luck!!! We love you guys!!! Never go to bed angry!!!” they all smile and wave to us with the best of intentions and fortune-cookie marriage advice, as they’re sending us off on the ultimate Darwinian experience.

No one tells us the truth about marriage, and even if they try it doesn’t take, because most of us don’t take anything seriously that isn’t an immediate threat. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s a REALLY important concept: We CANNOT know what we don’t know.

Old or long-married couples bicker at each other and seem as if they haven’t had sex in two decades. That’s just what happens when you’re married that long!

I didn’t like hearing people I loved speak crossly to one another, but I also never doubted the substance and stability of their marriages.

Even if their marriage was garbage, where I came from, if people got married, it was likely to be forever.

Nowhere was that more evident than my grandfather’s funeral less than two weeks ago where I saw dozens of people I hadn’t seen in a decade or two, many of whom were there with their spouses just as I remembered them from childhood.

The adults did us a disservice as we were growing up, though.

They didn’t give us the real story. They didn’t give us the dirt. They didn’t tell us the truth.

They didn’t tell us all of the things that destroy love and marriage disguise themselves as things that don’t seem important. They didn’t tell us that the most dangerous things don’t APPEAR or FEEL dangerous as they’re happening, but that the slow and steady buildup of these little things is what will ultimately cause the collapse of a marriage and family.

Some of it was because they wanted to preserve our innocence. They wanted us to believe in Santa Claus because it was fun and made us feel happy. They told us not to talk to strangers, but they didn’t tell us WHY.

They don’t tell us what some people are capable of.

We read about slavery, about Hitler, about war. But it all seemed so old and faraway and non-threatening.

Sometimes, if we manage to avoid serious trauma as a child, we don’t get to experience actual fear until we watch terrorist hijackers fly airplanes full of people into buildings full of people because they disagree with the religious and political opinions of some unknown percentage of the people they killed.

Ironically, it’s this level of super-belief certainty—this idea that YOU are right, therefore your spouse must be wrong—over a subject of disagreement that will inevitably damage and potentially end your marriage.

But, before we worry about what we should or shouldn’t do within our marriages or romantic relationships, there’s a worthwhile question to explore first.

Should We Get Married?

It’s not obvious to me how best to answer that. I’m confident that I could evaluate couples on a case-by-case basis and form an opinion about whether a particular couple ‘should’ (in my opinion) get married.

But I’m just some asshole writing on the internet, and EVEN IF I was totally ‘right’ about their prospects of having a healthy marriage and satisfying family life, precisely ZERO people should ever do something specifically because of my opinion.

Especially as it pertains to marriage. Because I’m 0-1.

That doesn’t make me good at knowing what awesome marriage looks like. It just makes me kind-of good at knowing what a well-intentioned, but ultimately bad, marriage looks like.

But since I’m divorced—and admittedly much older than your typical bachelor (and a father as well)—I am faced with the very real decision of whether to actively pursue marriage again.

To be clear, I am MOSTLY thinking about younger, never-married people when I write this stuff because that is the group I perceive to be most guilty of unwittingly marrying with good intentions, but without the tool kits and skillsets necessary to execute the day-to-day of healthy monogamous, cohabitating relationships—particularly with children.

Divorce is a plague. It might be a little hyperbolic to say so, but divorce ruins lives. It certainly damages the people affected in profound ways, and every divorce tends to damage SEVERAL people. And there are thousands of divorces every day in the U.S. alone.

So.

SHOULD we get married?

I don’t think I know what I believe. But in Part 2, we’re going to talk through all of the reasons people commonly marry, and just maybe, that will spark something.

To be continued.

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I Didn’t Know Ponds and Cigars Could Do That

vintage wedding photo

Pardon the crookedness of this photo. I wasn’t planning to publish it. These are my maternal grandparents on their wedding day. I’ve always liked this photo. A lot. (Image/Matthew Fray)

That’s my grandparents on their wedding day about 62 years ago. It’s one of my favorite photos.

The handsome gentleman on the left died last night, just one week after his 85th birthday.

Father of eight. My mom’s the oldest.

Grandfather of 23. I’m the oldest.

Great-grandfather of three. My son is the oldest.

Nearly 40 years ago, my grandparents traveled 400 miles west to be with my young parents at the hospital.

My dad was 23. My mom was 21. My mom had received a college scholarship far from home, and that’s where she met my dad while she was in school.

I was supposed to be dead, according to the doctors and nurses. They told my parents and family to expect the worst.

But then I lived anyway, because I don’t always do what I’m supposed to.

My father handed my grandfather a cigar at the hospital. Wrapped in plastic. Blue ribbon.

It’s a boy.

When I was 3, my grandparents again drove west from Ohio to visit me and my parents.

While someone wasn’t looking, I decided to run off into the woods on the edge of our lot. I wandered those woods for more than an hour.

I came across an elevated storm drain spilling rain runoff into a creek bed.

While it was likely just some nasty corroded old water drainage infrastructure, it looked magical through the prism of a 3-year-old.

I thought it was a waterfall.

Then I wandered some more.

Eventually, I heard my grandpa’s voice cutting through the woods. Calling my name.

He must have been terrified. But he wasn’t angry. Not only wasn’t he angry, but he let me take him by the hand and blindly wander those woods again searching for that shitty waterfall I was so excited to show him.

I never found it again.

He never got angry with me.

Not long before my 5th birthday, my mom and dad divorced and then my mom and I moved into my grandparents’ big farmhouse with them in rural Ohio.

They lived on 43 acres, which felt to me like Oz.

They had a small pond, just a little over an acre in size on the other side of a field, far enough to drive to.

There was a little one-room wooden cabin with an old cast iron wood-burning stove that I never saw anyone light or use. Rustic. Dusty. Bugs. Smelled old.

But we called it “the cottage.” And it was perfect.

There was a weeping willow tree close by—a large one—where you could usually find the empty shells of cicadas stuck to the bark of the tree trunk.

If my grandfather wasn’t taking me on a fishing trip to a large nearby lake, or to watch me fail at fly-fishing in the river, we were catching fish at the private pond.

With his youngest son—my uncle—about to finish high school, it must have been perfect timing having me show up to live with them.

He included me in everything age-appropriate.

Not a huge talker. Not like me. He was a doer.

He didn’t really have to say anything, because what he DID was always so transparent. His actions always told the story.

We’d spend hours along the shore of that pond. Casting. Reeling. Casting. Reeling. Landing a fish. Then releasing it. Casting. Reeling. Casting. Reeling.

Dragonflies would buzz around. Wind would stir the trees and tall grass. Grasshoppers. Crickets. Bullfrogs.

And my grandfather.

There to help me tie a better bass-hook knot if I needed it. There to help me unsnag a hook. There to praise me when I landed another largemouth or catfish.

In a life that sometimes feels too heavy, and with a mind that sometimes feels too busy, that was where everything melted away.

The relative silence of the great wide open. The only nearby machine being that fishing rod and reel providing life-sustaining therapy I never even knew I needed.

I didn’t know fishing in a pond with my grandfather could do that.

Two years ago, my grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, and my son got to be there for that. When my grandparents, both in their 80s took to the dance floor at the reception hall to share a dance in front of everyone, my great-uncle—my grandma’s brother—faux-scolded my grandpa: “Keep your hands off my sister!”

More than 60 years of marriage. Eight children. All the grandkids. Health problems. Friends dying. Watching all of the good and bad things happening to all of the branches on his family tree.

I doubt he thought of himself as the patriarch of the family, the way most of us looked at him, but that’s all I could ever see.

A man who loved and served. Steadily. For 20 years longer than I’ve even been alive.

Last summer, my family flew in from all over the country for a family reunion at my grandparents’ house. My grandpa’s last one. Everyone knew it.

I was outside talking to everyone. Someone sent word that my grandpa was asking me to come inside. He had something he wanted to give me.

His kidneys were failing. He was going through dialysis. Painfully. And he didn’t want to. But my grandmother didn’t want to say goodbye to him no matter how in love with Liam Neeson she might be.

So he persevered. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.

I sat on the couch nearest his easy chair. The man was tired. Physically weaker than I’d ever seen him.

But his eyes were clear. And so was his mind.

He asked how I was. He asked about my father hundreds of miles away. He always asked about my father.

He handed me a cigar.

Wrapped in plastic. Blue ribbon. It’s a boy.

I’d never seen it before and thought it was strange that my non-smoking grandfather was handing me a tobacco product.

“Your dad gave that to me in the hospital the day you were born. I thought you should have it,” he said.

I stared at it for a moment, digesting the implications. It looked almost new.

it's a boy cigar

This is the one. It’s resting on my bedroom nightstand. I didn’t know a little thing could be worth so much. (Image/Matthew Fray)

My father—long-divorced from his oldest daughter—had handed him a cigar nearly 40 years earlier celebrating my birth.

Then my grandpa raised eight children. Entertained hundreds of friends and family members in that old farmhouse through the decades. Ran a business. Moved to a smaller house nearby 10-15 years ago.

And throughout all of that, he took care of a cigar.

Just some crappy cigar.

Because it mattered, I suppose. Because it represented the grandson who lived when he wasn’t supposed to. The grandson he found in the woods. The one he must have thought would be somewhat of a stranger to him growing up, but was then granted an entire childhood with because of life circumstances no one ever saw coming.

I didn’t know cigars could do that.

The last thing my grandfather did was fight to stay alive as long as he could because my grandmother wanted him to.

He didn’t have to spin any stories. He’d just hand you a cigar, and you knew.

He didn’t have to tell everyone how much they were loved—particularly my grandmother.

Because he gave his last breath living it.

And if you’re guessing that’s something I can latch onto and feel proud of today, you couldn’t be more right.

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