Category Archives: Being Human

Prison Break: Free Yourself By Taking the Red Pill

yellow saltwater fish

This fish has spent its entire existence swimming in water, yet is probably completely unaware of what water is. Maybe the fish does know, and we have even bigger problems than I thought. It’s hard to be certain. And that’s the entire point. (Image/Unsplash)

We’re going to talk a little red pill, blue pill.

Not the way dudes who hate women sometimes talk about it, though.

But like Morpheus does—the impeccably dressed part-time sage, part-time badass in The Matrix.

We’re going to get a little weird. Please don’t run like I would have five or six years ago.

Try hard to not do the thing I always did in late-night college pot-smoking circles when one person would inevitably start waxing stoner philosophy, and I thought they sounded like morons and thus insta-dismissed whatever they were saying.

Because there’s this idea that I think might be the most important idea in the world.

The idea that we’re dangerously blind to what’s constantly in front of us.

Like fish that spend their entire lives in water, but don’t actually know what water is.

And I think the amount of people we hurt or help in life, and how people will remember us after we’re gone, and the relative success of our marriages and work life and parent-child relationships is entirely dependent on how well we manage to execute this ONE life skill.

You see, when I consider what makes someone interesting, or “deep,” or intelligent, I tend to think about it in terms of how much they know, and their capacity for learning, or their capacity for thought.

Maybe you do too. I believe it’s common.

But the more I think about this way I thoughtlessly measure how intelligent I consider something to be, the more I agree with the brilliant David Foster Wallace’s suggestion that a good education should be less about someone’s capacity to think, and more about a person’s ability to choose WHAT to think about.

And that is going to seem intolerably banal to many people, and maybe you want to stop reading now.

Like breathing.

Like blinking our eyes.

You almost never think about doing them even though they might be the two things you’ve done more times than anything else in your entire life. Boring as hell, to be sure. But so important. If you stop blinking, you’ll go blind. If you stop breathing, you’ll die.

I think this idea is just like that. Like blinking. Like breathing.

If you’re feeling that mental-auto-pilot nudge to shut your brain off now and move on to the next thing, then maybe that is your little warning light to hang on just a little longer. That means I’m writing this sentence just for you.

I know you might not care, and that’s okay.

I’m not writing it because I think you’re wrong or bad or dumb, or need help from some idiot writer on the internet.

I’m writing it because sometimes we humans mess up our entire lives, and damage our children, and lose everything that’s fragile and dear to us, and if someone asked us to explain how it happened, most of us wouldn’t be able to.

Not because we were careless, even though it might feel like that afterward.

Not because we were reckless, even though it might feel that way to the people we hurt.

But because we CHOSE to think about something else in moments when thinking differently would have changed our entire lives for the better.

That’s not a small thing.

Our health.

Our bank accounts.

Our human relationships.

Our souls.

I must ask, as Wallace did in his remarkably poignant commencement speech that first introduced me to this idea, that you please “bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”

The Real Value of The Matrix’s Red Pill/Blue Pill Lesson

Morpheus - red pill blue pill The Matrix

(Artwork/Joel Jerry)

Before it was hijacked by men who I perceive to be intentionally trying to recruit broken, depressed and angry guys to join their Women are the Real Enemy Cult, the red pill/blue pill symbolism portrayed in The Matrix served as a valuable thought exercise.

20-Year-Old Movie Spoiler Alert: The film’s protagonist Neo is given a choice by Morpheus.

Neo can choose the blue pill, which will put him to sleep and allow him to wake up in his bed with no memory of recent events, and carry on with his low-stakes, ignorance-is-bliss life. That would have been easy. No risk. Very little danger.

Or, he can choose the red pill. The red pill won’t taste so good going down. It will be hard to swallow. He’ll have to face some really uncomfortable truths, and life will inevitably feel harder. But it will be REAL. It will be the TRUTH. Even if it doesn’t feel as good. Even if it’s more difficult.

Neo chooses the red pill.

After swallowing it, the world melts around him. Neo wakes up in this alien goo pod with a bunch of cords and shit sticking out of him. His weird, goopy, hairless body is hardwired into some kind of massive biomechanical machine tower with millions of other human bodies all sleeping and hardwired into the same system.

Big machines are flying around.

Aside from the machines and the enslaved humans in sleeping pods, the world is nothing but rubble and ash.

Neo had spent his entire life in a simulated computer life that the machines built to make him think he’s living just like the rest of us. With houses and cars and day jobs.

But actually, he was unwittingly a slave to an intelligent race of alien machines harvesting humans to produce energy.

Whoa.

The Importance of Choosing What to Think About

My mind wanders. A lot.

I have an ADHD brain, and I take medicine every day for it.

That means I have a capacity for unawareness (when I’m on auto-pilot) that I believe exceeds the average person, and which I think contributed heavily to the demise of my marriage.

But even if you don’t have similar brain chemistry, you are still affected by blindness to all of the things hiding in plain sight. (Breathing. Eye-blinking. Fish not knowing what water is.)

Our minds—on autopilot—file everything we see, hear, taste, feel, or experience into some kind of bucket.

OMG. That’s amazing.

Or.

OMG. What hot garbage.

Or.

OMG. What happened, again? I wasn’t paying attention because I just dripped coffee all down the front of my shirt and now I’m for-sure going to look extra-assholey today. NEAT.

We automatically—without any thinking whatsoever—classify stuff in our own minds. How good a movie or song is. How attractive that gal or guy is. How we perceive what others will think about us if they know that we like or do [insert whatever here].

We value and measure whatever we just heard or saw or tasted based on a million prior experiences—which calibrates our personal measuring sticks totally differently than other people’s measuring sticks.

It’s cool that this happens because it saves us an enormous amount of mental energy. Our brains go on auto-pilot, and for that we’re not needing to start drinking heavily or go back to sleep by lunchtime just to survive the mental strain of our brains working a thousand times harder than they do now.

But it’s also NOT cool.

Because maybe when we were young, we were either taught something that wasn’t true (or was only partially true) because we were too innocent, inexperienced and naïve to question what people taught us.

I’m not talking about the big, scary things like religion and politics. Most adults, parents, teachers, older siblings, celebrity influencers aren’t intentionally trying to brainwash people. They simply believe something as surely as everyone else does, and if we value their thoughts and opinions, maybe we adopt them for ourselves.

Most of the time, it’s harmless.

Some of the time, it’s not.

I’m talking about the stuff most people think very little about—whether it’s cool for a man to be a ballerina; whether dogs or cats make better pets; what the vehicle someone is driving says about them.

I know a lot about NFL football and NBA basketball, which many guys like to talk about.

But if I go to a random pub in Dublin, Ireland; or Juneau, Alaska; or Istanbul, Turkey, will the average guy there give even a miniscule shit about North American football and basketball?

I don’t know.

But certainly less than you might expect to find in downtown Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Ill., or Boston, Mass.

It’s because people know what they know, and NOTHING else. We can’t know what we haven’t been exposed to or experienced ourselves.

And for everyone, everywhere, we are the stars of our own stories. You, me, the people in Bangladesh, and some other people in Argentina. Everybody. Everywhere.

We have experienced EVERY moment of our entire lives from the view inside of our own heads and first-person perspectives, and filtered through the prism of our specific individual experiences.

And really, this is great most of the time. That you are a unique individual. It’s awesome that you’re not identical to everyone else, because that would seem really boring to me and others. It’s amazing that you’re you. Don’t stop being that.

But it’s also a handicap, even though most people don’t think of it that way because few people like selfish egomaniacs, and most of us want to be liked.

A significant handicap. One with life-and-death consequences.

“Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up,” Wallace said in that commencement speech. “The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way.”

This isn’t about being a good person or being a bad person.

This isn’t about encouraging people to be virtuous.

“It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted,’ which I suggest to you is not an accidental term,” Wallace said.

The Life-Saving Opportunity Crowded Supermarkets, Traffic Jams, and Adulthood Monotony Provide Us

busy supermarket by ABC News

(Image/ABC News)

Note: I just want to reiterate one more time that these aren’t my words. They are from Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College graduates in 2005. And the only reason I know about it is because one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, shared it several years ago.

It affected him profoundly.

It affected me profoundly, even though I still mess up often.

And I wonder: If it affected EVERYONE profoundly, would most of what’s wrong in the world go away?

I think the answer to that is: Yes.

And I think people who apply what Wallace is encouraging us to do to our relationships with our spouses, friends, siblings, children, co-workers, and even the strangers we encounter in the world—I think if we can muster the strength and courage to take the extra step of choosing WHAT to think, then we can prevent the worst things in our lives from ever happening in the first place.

Maybe we don’t get cancer because we quit smoking.

Maybe we don’t have a heart attack because we exercise and eat healthy.

Maybe we don’t get divorced because we don’t spend years accidentally swinging bats wildly in a room full of the most precious and fragile things in our lives.

Now, Wallace is going to take us home.

“And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

“By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

“But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to ‘Have a nice day’ in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

“Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

“But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides.

“But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

“Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

“You get the idea.

“If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

“The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

“Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

“Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

“Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

“This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

“Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

“They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

“And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

“I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

“It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“’This is water.’

“’This is water.’

“It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.

“Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

“I wish you way more than luck.”

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The Secret Way Sex and Faith Collide to Destroy Your Marriage

secret

(Image/OCD Life)

Before we begin, let’s address three truths everyone should understand:

  • No matter your spiritual beliefs, Christianity’s reach and impact has been enormous through the centuries, and likely affects your life in ways you’ve never even considered. While only 33 percent of people globally identify themselves as Christians, the VAST majority of the English-speaking world (the only language in which I write and speak fluently) are Christian. That’s 83 percent of Americans, 76 percent of Europeans, 80 percent of South Africans, and about half of the population of Australia and New Zealand.
  • You’re probably going to get married or be involved in a long-term relationship which approximates marriage. Humans crave connection and companionship. In the United States, 95 percent of people 18 and over are either married, formerly married, or planning to marry. That’s 9.5 out of 10, which any statistician will tell you is basically everyone.
  • Sex is like, totally a big deal to people. It’s easy to prove. “Sex” and “s e x” are the top two Google searches every day out of the 3.5 BILLION that people type into the world’s top search engine. More than 250 babies are born every minute worldwide. (Sex-ed spoiler alert: Most pregnancies occur from a man and a woman doing the hibbity-dibbity, and most hibbity-dibbity sessions do not result in pregnancy.) Lastly, the pornography industry earns about $100 billion per year globally (if you believe the stats I read on the internet). The Hollywood film industry releases about 600 movies per year, and makes about $10 billion in profit. The porn industry produces 13,000 films per year, and makes about $15 billion in profit, which means the adult film industry makes more money than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined.

I think Christianity might be negatively affecting young men in ways that has produced generations of guys who hide their sexual desires or activities out of shame, which then leads to relationship-destroying trust issues in marriage.

NOTE: I am NOT saying Christianity is bad. So don’t even, please. I’m saying in its current form culturally, modern Christian teachings might be accidentally creating a human condition that I believe fundamentally harms marriages.

And I think this might lead to a wide-range of commonly occuring marriage-killing conditions, including:

  • Secret pornography use.
  • Sexual anxiety that can adversely affect performance.
  • Discomfort discussing sex with their wives, which can prevent intimacy building, and lead to wives questioning their own desirability and self-worth.
  • A belief that all sexual thoughts and desires and activities are taboo outside of marriage, which can create a psychological condition where forbidden sex becomes a turn-on in a way “approved” sex with one’s spouse never could. The negative implications of which should be obvious.

…..

Is porn messing up your relationship?

If so, I made new friends yesterday who I think can help you. They’re a husband-wife team who I hope to do a lot more work with.

…..

Burn in Hell, Sinners

Let’s start at the beginning.

Me and all of my friends were taught growing up that any sexual thought or action we had was sinful (if we weren’t married, and none of us were because we were little kids).

I don’t mean sinful like “That’s naughty!”

I mean sinful like “If you die—which could literally happen any minute—Jesus is going to be so disappointed in you that he might send you to Hell for eternity!”

Have you guys ever spent a couple of hours in a hospital waiting room? Stood in line at the DMV? Got stuck in bumper-to-bumper vehicular traffic when you were in a huge hurry? That’s just hours.

ETERNITY is FOREVER.

No end. Holy crap. Have you ever contemplated eternity before? You probably haven’t, and you shouldn’t, because I’m pretty sure everyone who does has an aneurysm and dies.

Nobody talks about this, but we need to, because it’s a thing that’s destroying people’s marriages, but the root causes (fear, guilt, and shame) are never dealt with in healthy or productive ways.

A HUGE number of young men are growing up with naturally occurring sexual urges, and believing that if they act on them, there’s the chance they will spend FOREVER experiencing the worst-possible pain and suffering imaginable. Perpetual shitty days. Not regular-shitty. Mega-shitty. Forever.

Sexual desires, thoughts, and certainly actions (the ultimate sign of weakness and low self-control when you consider what’s at stake, right?) produce SHAME. Not a little. A lot.

And profound feelings of shame can cause men to do some very funny things, almost all of which can lead to divorces nobody wants.

English-speaking countries, where Christianity is prevalent, has NOT made it safe for ANYONE to discuss the human activity that MOST people think about, and want to do more than anything else (depending on individual circumstances, of course), every day.

I’m 99 percent sure that isn’t Jesus’ fault. I don’t think the New Testament writers ever quoted him saying the things I was taught.

It’s a condition that crept up organically. No one set out to create generations of sexually dysfunctional men and couples. It’s a consequence of teaching billions of people that they’re doomed to an eternity of fiery torment if they have an orgasm before they’re married, or even think about it too much.

Do Guys, or Their Wives, Understand the Impact of Sexual Shame on Their Marriage?

I grew up like this, and while nobody meant to screw me up, I think that’s what happened anyway.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe I craved it even more than I would have simply because I was a person.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe every time I didn’t succeed at saving myself for marriage, I felt fear that I would be punished for eternity, I felt fear that I contributed to jeopardizing the spiritual health of someone else, I felt ashamed that I wasn’t strong and disciplined enough to do what’s “right” or to be a “good” person, that I’d let down my parents, and the people I used to go to church with, and that I failed to live up to the behavioral standards all the adults around me seemed to demonstrate.

When I get married someday, everything will be okay.

I wouldn’t have to be afraid, or be ashamed. I wouldn’t be “bad” anymore.

But then I got married, but I didn’t feel any different.

I’d already felt guilty thousands of times because of sexual thoughts or activities. I didn’t know how to shut it off.

I didn’t know how to talk about it with my wife. I didn’t want her to know that I was “bad.” That I was “weak.” I didn’t want to poison our marital bed with shame.

I wanted my wife. Lovely woman, she is. But there were so many times I avoided being honest with her about things I thought and felt, either because I was trying to “protect” her from dirty, evil things, or because I was trying to conceal things about me that I was worried she might consider perverse or offensive or otherwise undesirable.

And I’m left with a couple of simple questions:

  1. Did my fear and shame and embarrassment related to sharing my true thoughts and feelings about sex impact my marriage negatively, and was that a major contributor to my eventual divorce?
  2. If I never felt fear or shame or embarrassment while discussing sex with my wife, is it possible we could have built intimacy, and created a relationship-strengthening connection in that way?

I believe the answer to both of those questions is: Yes.

I’m almost 40 and I don’t know things. I just think things.

Today, the only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t know anything for certain.

I know that SOMETHING is true. Something is Absolute Truth. But I also know that I currently don’t know what that Absolute Truth is. Maybe nobody does, even if they believe they do and tell you that they do.

And that’s a scary thing, right? Uncertainty?

Because I used to KNOW things. And there’s comfort in certainty. There’s comfort in a foundational belief system that guides your decision-making and calibrates your moral compass.

I was raised in a small Ohio town, where almost everyone went to church and believed that Jesus wanted you to vote Republican.

We’re not going to debate theology here.

I’m not here to be an advocate for, nor discourage, a faith-based life.

I think Jesus and his core message are all kinds of rad, but I sometimes have doubts about some of the people who claim to follow him.

I don’t claim to know the mysteries of the universe. I’m just pretty sure divorce is bullshit, and messing up all kinds of lives in all kinds of ways.

And sex—or a lack thereof—can be one of the greatest influences on divorce.

And if we continue to heap shame on young men because of their sexual desires in the name of Good and Evil, or Faith and Love; and we never create a safe environment for them to discuss it without being judged, mocked, or rejected, how can we realistically expect the success rate of long-term relationships to improve?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right or wrong.

I don’t pretend to know how to reconcile helping children to not feel fear and shame because of things damn near EVERYONE thinks and feels while trying to impart on them a deeply held spiritual belief.

I don’t pretend to know what God or Yahweh or Jesus or Allah or anyone—all-powerful or otherwise—wants us to actually do, think or feel.

But I do know that if we don’t start having this conversation, nothing is ever going to improve.

So many silent sorrows you’ll never hear from again,
And now that you lost tomorrow, is yesterday still a friend?
All the bridges we built were burned
Not a single lesson was learned
Everything that mattered is just a city of dust covering both of us.

The men who grew up like me may never find the courage to talk to their wives about how it might be negatively affecting their relationship.

And their wives, missing critical pieces of information, may never know WHY something is happening or not happening.

But maybe if he did, and maybe if she did, something amazing would happen.

I don’t know.

I just think.

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I Do Not Care About That But I Do Care About You

don't care

(Image/The Mind Unleashed)

Author’s Note: A very special thanks to the author of “The Secret Blind”, whose post with this very same title inspired this one. The headline so perfectly encapsulates the message I’ve repeatedly, and in multiple ways, attempted to share here. It is my greatest failure as both a husband and human being. My failure to treat things with care simply because they hold so much value for other people, even if they do not for me personally.

My wife enjoyed marching band performances, snow skiing, and white wines.

I like those things much less.

I generally preferred watching the live sports where marching bands often played, and thought of their performances mostly as a sideshow at best, and distraction at worst. I don’t like doing much of anything in snow. And if I’m drinking wine, I’m choosing a dry-ish red more than nine times out of 10.

There are no limits to the list I could produce illustrating differences between how my wife chose to do things, or her personal preferences; versus how I chose to do things, and my personal preferences.

We had many surface-level differences.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we OFTEN did not care about the same things.

You know, like that dish sitting by the sink.

Or how I would be emotionally affected by the outcome of a football, basketball or baseball game I was watching, and the result—good or bad for my favorite teams—wouldn’t faze her either way.

There was a list of Things My Wife Cared About.

And then there was a separate list of Things I Cared About.

The lists were quite different.

I think it’s TOTALLY NORMAL and INSTINCTUAL, frankly, for human beings to react with passion and interest to events or subject matter that live on their Things I Care About lists.

And I think it’s also totally normal and instinctual to lack interest in any subject matter or event NOT on that list.

Most of the time, this is a non-issue.

When readers pick up The New York Times, some of them will go straight to the Sports page while others go to Business news, or Classifieds, or the Opinion page.

Businesses and entertainers have been catering to diverse audiences since the dawn of commerce. None of this seems weird to anyone.

And that’s why it can be so shocking later in life when your spouse’s or romantic partner’s total disinterest in the things that matter to you can be the thing that stress-fractures your previously amazing relationship, and slowly but surely chips away at its structural integrity until it splits in two or totally levels it in a fiery explosion.

How can these TOTALLY NORMAL and COMMONLY OCCURRING personality differences or differing points of view be THE thing that is causing us to fall apart? How did this happen?

These are the questions some of us are left asking ourselves after our spouses move out, and we’re crying in the kitchen, and we miss our kids, and no amount of alcohol can make the hurt stop.

Two people gave varying degrees of shit about several things, just as ANY two people in human history would. And THAT somehow ended the most cherished and important human relationship they’ve ever had.

Damn.

Competing interests can cause nations or groups of varying ideologists to go to war.

Competing interests can cause supporters of opposing sports teams to treat one another like assholes.

And competing interests can cause two people who vowed to love one another for their entire lives to go back on that promise—and JUSTIFY doing so because it feels like their spouse broke that same promise first.

Maybe It’s Not As Hard As We Think

Teed-up That’s what she said jokes aside, maybe it’s true, even though I’m pretty much in a constant state of Sucking at This.

Maybe we do sometimes over-complicate divorce. Maybe we overthink it. Maybe we overestimate the problem facing us societally, or within our own relationships.

Maybe—just maybe—when we take the time to invest our energy in the stuff on the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists (not because we naturally care about those things, but because we mindfully care about our loved ones), those existing stress-fractures can heal.

Maybe when we’re focused on investing in the Things [Insert ANY Person We Value] Cares About list, people won’t drift apart, or feel abandoned, or disrespected, or neglected, or unloved, or underappreciated, or any of the countless other emotions we all feel from time-to-time (even though the people who love us would NEVER intentionally try to make us feel that way).

Our habits and naturally occurring instincts are NOT bad. We’re not wrong or broken or evil for responding in the moment in whatever way is most authentic.

HOWEVER, after vowing a lifetime of love, service and partnership to another, and should it turn out that our habits and naturally occurring instincts cause painful stress-fractures and emotional suffering in their hearts and minds, do we not owe them the daily effort to avoid behaviors that they tell us are hurting them, and invest in behaviors that actually foster good?

I didn’t give even the slightest iota of a shit about some of the things my ex-wife loved and valued.

That’s okay.

But then I actually behaved in ways that communicated how little I valued and respected those things that she cared about.

And THAT response hurt—HURT—her. A little at first. Then more. Then every day was a grind and something to dread, and then she eventually stopped wanting to keep doing that.

How long would our relationships last if, from Day 1, we said things like “Hahaha, that’s so stupid! Everything you like sucks, and all of your opinions are bullshit. You must be dumb like your parents and all of your dumb friends.”

I think, even when we don’t speak—or even think and feel—those words, our actions SAY them when we are constantly dismissive of and inattentive to the Things My Wife/Husband Cares About lists.

You probably don’t think everything on those lists is particularly interesting. Just like if you prefer chocolate ice cream while she/he prefers vanilla.

We all like different things. Seems harmless enough.

But THIS is the thing that’s breaking us.

You don’t care about something, and that’s okay. It would be inauthentic and bullshitty to start faking it now.

BUT.

What if you cared simply because THEY did?

And what if, instead of throwing empty words at them, we actually acted like it?

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My 9-Year-Old Accidentally Explained Why His Mom Divorced Me

Oh the Places You'll Go Dr. Seuss book cover art

(Image/Dr. Seuss – drseussart.com)

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?”

My wife asked me that a lot and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like it on two levels:

Level 1 No-Likey: I have enough to worry about. Whether I have serious things to do, or perhaps am simply unwinding from a day at work, there are SEVERAL things competing for my time and energy, and what we’re doing for dinner TOMORROW was extremely low on my priority list. Maybe I’ll want pizza. Maybe I’ll want tacos. Maybe I’ll want seafood. I don’t know. Also, I’m not hungry, so almost nothing sounds appealing. This doesn’t matter right now. Can’t this wait until it does?

Level 2 No-Likey: This conversation often didn’t go my way. I don’t want to invest time doing something I don’t want to do, only to be told why it’s a bad idea or why it can’t or shouldn’t be done. I don’t want to say something that will require either of us to have to stop at the grocery store when we previously weren’t planning on it. As a general rule, I am against decisions that create more work when an alternative is available that doesn’t.

I’m sure she agreed to ordering a pizza a bunch of times when she probably didn’t want to. I bet she even went to the grocery store a bunch of times just to accommodate whatever dinner idea I’d suggested.

But my natural state of being—generally—is to worry about things when it seems like I need to. You know—“cross that bridge when we get to it.”

I wasn’t shy during my marriage about saying or behaving in ways that communicated how insignificant I considered the Future Dinner Conversation to be.

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?” she said.

“I truly don’t have an opinion, babe. I kind-of don’t care. Whatever you want will be fine with me,” I said.

I thought I was being cool and accommodating my wife’s preferences.

It took me several years to realize just how incorrect I was.

The Little Things That “Don’t Matter” in Marriage

I don’t remember it being a big deal in our first few years together, but somewhere along the way, it evolved into a full-fledged “marriage problem.”

I eventually came around on the dinner thing.

I was certainly imperfect, because I don’t default naturally to Person Who Thinks About Future Meals, but I improved quite a bit through the years at being helpful with dinner. I’m a competent cook who seriously considered culinary school before choosing a writing career. My wife never seemed to figure it out, but I totally cared about her opinion of me. Me getting better at meal planning, volunteering for the grocery buying, and cooking most of the time seemed like a way for me to contribute positively and be a “good husband.”

It was easy for me to do it when I thought it was something she valued that I could take care of.

But it was hard for me when viewed through the “Do I seriously think this is important?” prism.

Five years post-divorce, I almost never plan meals for my son and I, and even less often for nights when it’s just me.

I don’t value planning future meals unless I’m going to be cooking for other people, like friends or a date. Otherwise, I just don’t think it matters. There are many important things in Life. Many. Planning meals for three days from now doesn’t crack the high-priority section of my list.

My wife seemed to get irrationally upset about this lack of concern for tomorrow’s meal. In my mind, she was “overreacting.” In my mind, she was blowing things out of proportion. This was another example of my wife having mixed-up priorities in our marriage.

Our marriage = Important.

Tomorrow’s dinner = Not Important.

According to my math, my wife was willing to damage our marriage by “starting a fight” over something that didn’t matter.

I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with her emotional calibration.

I thought she was irrational, which I thought made her wrong.

But because I would never let something silly like that outrank our marriage, I loved her anyway.

This “selfless” act showed that I took my marriage vows seriously. I was a “good husband” because I had my priorities straight.

If I can move past my wife’s crazy and irrational responses to little things that don’t matter, why can’t she chill about silly stuff like me not wanting to plan for tomorrow’s dinner, or me leaving my drinking glass next to the sink to use again later?

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I was feeling a little frustrated with my 4th-grade son this morning.

First, I had to remind him to hang up his bath towel the way that I’ve showed him at least a dozen times.

Then, I had to take away his iPad that he’d inexplicably started playing with in the middle of breakfast, which was slowing him down.

He was intentionally making noises to annoy me while I was trying to hear a conversation on talk radio, even after I’d asked him not to a couple of times.

I gave him three tasks after breakfast: Brush his teeth, put his packed lunch inside of his backpack, and put his shoes on.

I don’t remember which incident of non-compliance finally made me snap, but my response made it clear that he’d finally succeeded at pissing me off.

To which he responded: “Dad, why do you get mad about dumb stuff?”

Zoose, the ironic god of sky and thunder, had just face-blasted me with a bolt of ironic lightning.

I wasn’t pissed anymore, even though he was totally being a dickhole again. (Sorry, lupushope.)

I wasn’t pissed anymore because this was funny.

My son doesn’t know enough to know WHY it was funny, and I wasn’t going to get into it with him right then, but I did try to teach him something important that he clearly hadn’t learned yet.

(I’m probably not quoting myself with 100% accuracy. Sorry.)

“Listen, kiddo. I understand why you think I’m getting mad about dumb stuff that doesn’t matter. I really do,” I said. “I’m giving you a hard time about how quickly you’re putting on shoes or eating. I’m angry because you’re making silly noises, or not hanging up your bath towels in the way I’ve asked you to. I get why that seems stupid. Those are all things that don’t seem very important.

“But I’m not really upset because you did a less-than-stellar job hanging up your towel, or because you’re making weird mouth noises for no apparent reason, or because you don’t have your shoes on yet.

“I’m upset because I’m your dad, and I’ve asked you to do a few easy and simple things this morning, and then you didn’t do them. You chose to not help me. Not only did you not help me, you kind of sabotaged my efforts to get us ready so you can get to school on time. Towels and school shoes and you making noise are NOT important. But you obeying your mom and dad IS important. I’m not upset about dumb stuff. I’m upset because you’re not listening to your parents.”

Flashing Neon Sign: I Was a Child Throughout My Entire Marriage

The irony wasn’t lost on me, and anyone who has read anything I’ve written probably knows that I figured out much of this long ago.

But this still felt like a breakthrough moment with my son.

I get comments from people who read She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink and then accuse my son’s mother of being a control-freak nag because she was making a big deal out of a dish.

I get comments from people who read An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1 and tell me that I’m better off without my wife, because at least now I can watch The Masters golf tournament on a Sunday without anyone giving me crap for doing so. “All you wanted to do was watch a little golf from a tournament that only happens once a year! What’s wrong with that?”, they ask rhetorically, believing they see the world as clearly and correctly as I used to believe I did.

I just wanted to watch golf and football instead of work on some home-improvement project or go to an event at the in-laws. What’s the big deal?

I just wanted to let my wife choose what to have for dinner, because I didn’t have a preference. Why is that a problem?

I just wanted to leave my jeans that I wore one time on that little bedroom stand because it seemed more efficient than hanging them up again, or putting them in the laundry before they actually needed washed. Why is she acting upset about this silly crap?

Our marriage was effectively over long before I was capable of behavioral change in this arena, and was logistically and legally over long before I could see the WHY underneath all of the frustration and sadness my wife had expressed during these disagreements that seemed so insignificant to me at the time.

I spent my marriage kind-of acting like my 4th-grader: Why is she always getting mad about dumb stuff?

The truth was always hovering just a little over my head.

Just a little out of reach, kind of like I wasn’t tall enough.

Some people grow until they’re tall enough to see and understand.

Others find a way to climb up, sometimes because they’re crawling out of the darkness after hitting the floor.

I love my son so much, but if I can’t find a way to effectively communicate and help him understand the WHY underneath my requests or expressed frustrations over “dumb stuff,” he may spend the majority of his life believing that his father treats him like he’s never good enough, or that his dad is always looking for reasons to criticize him.

Can you imagine a son carrying that with him his entire life? As if his father doesn’t think he’s good enough? All because of a little nuanced misunderstanding?

But what if he learns all the things I didn’t know?

Oh, the places he’ll go.

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Why Nonsense and Choosing the Wrong Thing Can’t be Ignored

The-Kummakivi-Balancing-Rock

Not everything can be explained easily. Some things just are. (Image/Ancient-origins.net)

“Feelings don’t matter.

I don’t think anyone currently or formerly close to me would accuse me of heartlessness, but I’ve also been known—especially when it was convenient for my argument—to reduce human emotion to some bullshit little thing that weak people allow to control them.

Maybe all but the most empathetic members of humanity think and do this too.

Feelings Don’t Matter isn’t such a bad life mantra.

I’m strongly anti-divorce, and I consider it tragic that millions of people think and feel Love for one another and publicly promise to do so forever, only to take it all back and break their relationships, homes and families a few years later because they don’t “feel” it anymore.

I’ve written about hedonic adaptation a bunch of times because I believe it’s such a strong contributor to the world’s divorce and crappy-relationship problem, and I don’t think very many people are aware of it or talk enough about it.

Because you’re a human being, you very naturally (not because something is wrong with you) become less emotionally responsive to good things in your life as your brain adjusts to them.

New songs. New houses. New cars. New pay raises. New clothes. New jobs. New dating relationships.

These things make us FEEL good. Very good. They make us feel excited. A tidal wave of emotional motivation to invest your time, your money, and your mental and emotional energy into this awesome new positive thing in your life.

But you get used to them. They become routine. Ordinary. And all the sudden they don’t trigger those same feelings of excitement in you.

Call it the Universe’s way of keeping us motivated. The cave-people had everything they needed once they discovered fire. Between that and their stone tools, life improved about a gazillion percent.

Instead of calling it a day and spending the rest of human history spearing fish and roasting woodland creatures over an open fire, people kept pursuing more.

I like movies, football, video games, vacations, automobiles, typing keyboards, the internet and life expectancies beyond our twenties. So I’m glad we didn’t stop at fire.

Of course, the downside is that awesome things seem less awesome once I get used to them.

I don’t wake up every day with the intention of being an ungrateful douchebag, but inevitably, I say or think things that only ungrateful douchebags say and think. I forget that I have electricity, modern health care, sanitary water, the use of my arms and legs, massive HD televisions, etc. I forget that other people watch their children die because of mosquito bites and literally don’t know where their next meal will come from.

I forget that every day.

Hedonic adaptation is why. I’m used to houses, cars, modern conveniences, and even a few luxuries. My Wi-Fi was out a few weekends ago.

I couldn’t play PUBG on Xbox for like, a day, and you would have thought the world had ended.

Asshole.

I even called AT&T’s internet people twice, and I hate being on the phone with customer service people.

It occurs to me that—in that moment—my feelings mattered.

Whether I’m evaluating my old sins or new ones, I think I’m the dumbest smart person I know.

Dismissing Emotion is Stupid, Hypocritical and Will Probably Ruin Your Relationships

I thought I was so fucking smart back when I was telling my wife how silly she was to let her emotions control her like that.

I think through things. Some would say I overthink. And after dissecting and closely inspecting the idea of letting emotions drive human behavior, I concluded how foolish it was.

Because how I feel can change in an instant.

Good news makes me happy.

Bad news makes me mad or sad.

Sometimes my fourth-grader acts like a little penis-face and I get angry with him, but then I’ll drop him off at school knowing I won’t see him for a couple of days and totally melt—all traces of anger and frustration gone.

I concluded MANY years ago that if I simply did what I “felt” like all the time, I would:

  • Lack money because I probably wouldn’t show up regularly for work.
  • Have a morally questionable and unhealthy sex life.
  • Be a shitty father.
  • Likely be in prison for vehicular homicide because other drivers are assholes and deserved it.

You get it.

We shouldn’t let such fickle and constantly changing things drive our decisions, should we?

LeBron James (local hero here in Ohio) at age 33, and Tom Brady (non-local hero playing professional football in Massachusetts) at age 40, spend ungodly amounts of money on their bodies in the form of personal chefs, expensive disciplined diets, and expensive disciplined workout regimens which have both of them setting new standards for player performance in their respective sports after playing as many games as each of them have.

Their longevity—true or not—is largely linked to their disciplined lifestyle choices.

They make good choices, then good things happen.

I think most of us fundamentally understand that when we make “good,” disciplined, responsible choices, the results are positive.

When you sacrifice financially in the present to save money, you can often retire comfortably.

When you sacrifice nightlife to get plenty of sleep, you often go through the day feeling better than when sleep-deprived.

When you sacrifice physical excursion in order to be physically fit, you tend to look better, feel better, and improve your overall quality of life.

Basically, all of life is this way. Good choices = good results. Bad choices = bad results.

Some people make bad choices because they don’t know any better.

But most of us? Most of us who make bad choices do so despite knowing better.

We choose the cheeseburger over the salad. The milkshake over the tea. The snooze button over the work. The alcohol over harsh reality. The orgasm over all kinds of different life-enhancing alternatives depending on your relationship status and/or the methods for doing so.

Conclusion: No matter how much the calculated analysis, thoughtful logic, or macho tough-guy “wisdom” might dissuade us from making—or even respecting—emotion-driven decisions, the TRUTH of life is that shit’s going to go down in the hearts and minds of pretty much everyone we know, and they’re going to want and need certain things for reasons we may or may not understand.

And if those people going through these things happen to be people who agreed years ago to be our adult partners and are now feeling constantly disrespected and fucked with by our apparent lack of concern for the things they care about, they’re highly likely to make choices one way or another that end with them not being our adult partners anymore.

Maybe they’ll even go poach an egg.

Sure, feelings are bullshit.

Sure, feelings are fleeting. Neither we nor they will feel like this next week or next month. Maybe neither of us will even remember this five years from now.

Sure, we shouldn’t let something fickle and fleeting guide our decisions. But since when did people do what they are SUPPOSED to?!

Life isn’t a predictable math equation like some of us might like it to be.

Life is not If This, Then That, with any of us having a clue what “That” may turn out to be.

Today—right now—some shit that won’t matter to anyone in five years is the most important thing imaginable to someone you care about.

And just maybe if you treat that thing as important BECAUSE you care about the person, something magical will happen.

Or, perhaps at minimum, something horrible won’t.

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When You’re Too Comfortable to Know You Shouldn’t Be

Marlboro Man

“Holy crap, that guy looks awesome. I’m going to start smoking Marlboros,” I probably thought to myself at age 15 — several years before the actual Marlboro Man in this magazine ad died from a smoking-related respiratory illness. (Image/BuzzFeed)

Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll die one day from a heart attack or cancer because of things I consume or do.

Like maybe I eat pizza or a cheeseburger or Milk Duds at the movie theater because, duh, but if in some magical alternate reality I received some type of clear signal from the future that making different decisions would save my life, I would totally NOT eat those things.

Like if former TV psychic Miss Cleo was standing in my kitchen or sitting in the passenger seat next to me…

“Matt! If you keep drinking extra-large coffees with cream and ordering pizza you’re going to drop dead of a heart attack, but if you switch to tea and up the raw vegetable intake a bit, you’ll live a long-ish, healthy life! Get your shit together!”…

If Miss Cleo told me that, and I had good reason to believe she was telling the truth, I would adjust course.

It occurs to me that I order pizza, consume the occasional cheeseburger, and rock Milk Duds at the movie theater because I’m “comfortable.” I don’t assume I’m going to die soon, so I’m comfortable making choices I understand to be unhealthy.

At best, I sometimes mindlessly coast through life breaking a few things along the way. At worst, I am intentionally doing the wrong thing.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable. Because everything feels okay, even if everything’s not.

Comfort Kills Us in Other Ways Too

This whole thing—this Divorced Guy Writes Stuff and a Few People Care thing—started in July 2013 when I wrote my first-ever blog post that was intended to serve a purpose other than me simply word-vomiting emo shit on Day 93 of my wife leaving.

In An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1, I told this little story about fighting with my wife because I wanted to watch The Masters golf tournament on a beautiful Sunday afternoon while my wife wanted me to accompany her and our infant son on an outdoor hike.

I concluded that I could have recorded the golf tournament on the DVR, and regret not joining my wife and son on that hike, because I perceive that time she was out walking our son in his stroller to be one of dozens or hundreds of moments where my wife must have stewed in her disappointment over my choosing golf on TV over spending time with her and our child.

I concluded that IF I had realized in that moment that it was a contributing factor to my wife leaving and losing 50 percent of my son’s childhood, that I would have made a different choice.

That post still gets read a lot, and predictably, I’ll get the occasional blog comment from some guy frustrated by what he read there—presumably because he has the same sort of argument with his wife or girlfriend.

“You’re such a pussy, dude. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to watch a golf tournament that’s only on once a year!” says some guy standing 50 feet below the point sailing over his head.

OF COURSE choosing to watch a golf tournament over going on a hike ONE TIME is a non-issue. Of course. What level of Idiot Mastery must one achieve to read that story—then assume every other aspect of my marriage throughout its history was rosy and perfect—and conclude that my wife randomly freaked out like an insane person over one brief moment in time in which she and I wanted to spend an afternoon doing different things?

The point of that story was to convey my newfound understanding that it WASN’T the moments of conventional significance or importance that sealed the fate of my marriage. It was the collection of a million tiny moments where I disappointed or hurt my marriage partner without doing enough to eliminate or relieve that pain, or offer enough other positives to make a life with me feel like a net-positive.

She spent months—years, maybe—having an internal conversation: “Do the good things about him, or about being with him, outweigh all the bad?”

The answer to that became self-evident when she moved out on April 1—exactly 93 days prior to me thinking about and sharing the story from that otherwise-routine Sunday afternoon a couple of years earlier.

Just like eating a bunch of pizza, donuts and bacon cheeseburgers can eventually cause a person’s heart to stop without warning, our marriages and relationships can end from these moments piling up—these moments that hurt a person while their partner is unfazed. Because they don’t know or they don’t care.

And the reason they don’t know or care is because they don’t feel the need to be bothered with trying to figure it out.

One partner keeps hinting at a problem, but nothing feels wrong to the other.

Because the non-hurting partner is COMFORTABLE.

Everything’s fine. She’ll (or he’ll) get over it.

These people—too often men—can’t understand why it hurts when she sees him expertly adjusting his schedule to attend two different fantasy football drafts where he’ll drink and joke with his friends all day, assembling a fake team of players to “manage” for an entire football season.

“How is it that he can’t be bothered to make a dinner reservation for our wedding anniversary or adjust his schedule to come to our daughter’s dance recital, but he’ll jump through hoops to draft and manage an imaginary football team? one might think or say.

Defenders and apologists will accuse me of being overly harsh on the fantasy-football crowd (of which I’m a proud member), but they’ll have to be disingenuous in order to do so. A wife or girlfriend who feels loved, included, thought about, cared for, valued, etc., will NOT ask these questions on fantasy football draft day.

For the rest of us: the truth hurts, I guess. Sometimes, fantasy football is something men seem to love more than wives and children.

I don’t think as much as I used to. I don’t drive around thinking about a new blog post, or contemplating life’s deeper questions.

Because of that, I haven’t been writing often. It’s not that I don’t want to. I do.

I just don’t have much to say.

I don’t like it, but it’s true.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable.

My ex-wife doesn’t hurt me anymore. Enough time has passed and enough circumstances have changed where I don’t feel the sting of rejection like I once did.

I felt alone. Abandoned. Unwantable. Unlovable. I was worried about dating. I was worried about finding someone that would like someone so apparently unlikable.

I was worried about finding a long-term partner to fill the cavernous hole in my life. What’s going to happen now? What about my son? I can’t even breathe.

But then I could breathe. And our son in grade school is growing into a smart and handsome little man. And everything’s, just, okay.

And that’s all I wanted back then. When everything hurts and you think you might die, all you want is to feel like yourself again.

You just want to be okay.

You just want to feel “normal.”

And here we are. Now I do.

I’m okay. Fine. Totally.

I’m comfortable.

There’s merit in comfort and contentment.

There’s real value—physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally—in feeling balanced enough to just BE. To just be able to sit in a room at home alone, and be so comfortable that you’re not even really mindful of it. You’re just living on autopilot.

I think that’s how most of us do it. Autopilot.

It’s easy on autopilot because everything is habit and routine. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable.

And of course, you never grow or evolve or learn anything.

You don’t get smarter.

You don’t get stronger.

You don’t get better.

And now, in a moment of irony that almost made me laugh out loud as I type, I find myself wondering if it’s really such a good thing when “everything’s okay.”

The fear and pain pushed me to a place mentally and emotionally that truly helped me evolve into a wiser, more-capable human being.

And now?

Static. Still. Plateaued. Treading water.

I got what I wanted and naturally it wasn’t enough because of the human condition.

Maybe getting uncomfortable will get me writing again. Thinking again. Growing again.

Maybe comfort will doom me to a life where I never actually accomplish anything that matters.

Maybe getting uncomfortable can help people recognize unhealthy choices that might be slowly killing their relationships or their physical bodies.

Maybe comfort blinds us from truth, and prevents us from being who we were meant to be.

I don’t know.

I just think.

Because I want to be someone who thinks.

Even if it means battling a bunch of discomfort along the way.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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Text Less, Speak More — Because the Break-Up Sauce Tastes Awful

text message confusion by Hamilton Animatic

(Image/Hamilton Animatic)

I want you to imagine a person looking you directly in the eye and saying: “I’m going to kill you.”

First, I’d like you to imagine that it’s your best friend saying it with a huge smile on his or her face immediately following a joke you’d just played on them.

friends laughing together

(Image/Video Block)

And next, I’d like you to imagine that it’s a stranger saying it after breaking into your house late at night wearing a creepy mask, using an ominous tone of voice, carrying a weapon, and just looking all-around murdery.

Strangers-mask by Horror News

(Image/Horror News)

Our reaction to hearing “I’m going to kill you,” is largely dependent on what we can see and hear. On context.

What we can see and hear—non-verbal communication—is commonly called the 7% Rule, even though that’s probably not technically correct. The 7% Rule says that communication, on the whole, is 7 percent verbal, and 93 percent non-verbal.

A good example might be a person saying “I love the taste of canned spinach. I’m going to eat a bunch right now,” while shaking their head no, which we’d all safely interpret as the person NOT liking canned spinach like a smarty, and joking about wanting to eat some.

Tone of voice, facial expression, and other nuanced components of how we interpret information when someone is speaking to us play a HUGE role in our understanding of what someone is saying to us.

Which is why, other than exchanging logistical information—making plans, sharing news, etc.—we should try to avoid text messaging as much as possible.

Seriously.

Two Dumbass Kids and a Potentially Phantom Rivalry Over a Girl

When I was a high-school sophomore, I had a little crush on a super-attractive girl in the freshman class.

Katie. She was awesome and liked me back. We had a cute little almost-thing for a couple of months before summer break happened and I disappeared for a few months, and then for my entire junior year, because I moved 500 miles away to live with my father for the first time since I was 4.

Which doesn’t really matter in the context of this discussion.

What does matter is that I moved back with my mom and with all of my old friends I’d grown up with for my senior year of high school. And during the year I was gone, Katie had dated some other guy at school. And for reasons/explanations I was told and can’t remember, THAT guy decided he didn’t like me, and maybe wanted to fight.

We didn’t fight. We just kind of ignored each other and probably considered the other to be a huge asshole. Then I graduated and moved away and haven’t seen that guy since.

Without EVER speaking a meaningful word to him, I still have memories of us not liking one another for an entire school year. Because of a girl neither of us dated that year.

I don’t know how he remembers it. I don’t know how he’d feel about it, or me, today.

I just know I perceived another guy to be someone I didn’t like (the reason being that my friends told me he didn’t like me—not because he’d ever actually wronged me in some way), and that I spent an entire year feeling shittier than necessary whenever we were in the same place—and I had ZERO facts about his true feelings and intentions, nor had I ever attempted any type of meaningful conversation with him.

I have memories of a high school rivalry that I may have fabricated like an idiot from totally false information from other high school idiots.

I experienced real, tangible negative moments that I still kind-of remember 20 years later, and I can’t even prove whether my opinions and beliefs back then were based on anything real or true.

With Text Messaging, We Don’t Even Need the Help of Idiots to Recreate These Scenarios

This video has bad words, FYI. But it’s amazing. Watch it. (Special thanks to Becky for sharing the timely video on the MBTTTR Facebook page.)

I don’t think we need any more examples. You get it. Not that it matters. You’ll keep on texting because you’re a masochistic, lazy glutton-for-punishment like me.

Remember when we used to memorize 30 phone numbers and politely leave messages with our friends’ parents to have them call us back, sometimes several hours later, just to ask a question we insta-text today?

We’ve arrived at the point where actually answering and speaking on the phone is an inconvenient thing we have to do—like laundry. Texting feels easier, and it tickles our This Shortcut Is Awesome pleasure sensors.

But it also lends itself to a crap-ton of misunderstood messages—things intended to be benign but that angered someone or hurt their feelings. Things that read like a joke through our current emotional filters, only to respond in a way that feels disrespectful and dismissive to the person who, in fact, is not joking.

That kind of awkward, fact-deficient exchange can escalate something immaterial into a real-life problem, and a minor problem into a relationship-ender.

Because I’m a writer, I’m really comfortable texting. Because I’m more comfortable communicating via the written word, I like to try to explain myself through writing.

Sometimes, I try to do that via text message.

Rife with peril, this is.

Choosing convenience over focusing our attention on the people and things that matter is essentially the summarized theme of Shitty Husbandry, as well as being a substandard friend, family member or teammate/partner of any kind.

We struggle mightily with empathy in our human relationships. We like to think what we think and feel is right and true, while anyone bringing something different to the table is wrong and full of shit. It’s why pretty much all human conflict exists—disagreeing about something, and then being dicks about it to everyone on the other side of a debate or argument.

We struggle mightily with this even when the person is our spouse, friend, or family member of several years. We struggle mightily with this when someone we know better than anyone else is looking right at us and speaking words from the same language we speak.

Even with all of that going for us, we still fundamentally don’t understand the other person often enough that MOST people who truthfully say “I love you” and have sex a bunch of times and share a home address end up not liking each other and divorce or break up. They don’t “get” each other, fight about stuff and hurt each other’s feelings a bunch of times, then one or both of them quits because it feels too hard.

People who share a bed and have known each other for years.

Reducing all of that to auto-corrected text and emoji is literally Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for Fuckness Casserole with Break-Up Sauce.

So please be more thoughtful about what you choose to discuss via text, and how easily something you say might be interpreted in a way that makes someone you care about feel shitty even if that’s not your intention.

Sometimes, the things that matter warrant a phone call.

Sometimes, No Response is a great choice.

Always, clear and effective communication is the greatest tool in our relationship arsenal and demands thoughtfulness and effort.

Always, the people we love and care about are worth it.

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Sorry You Asked

Achilles heel statue

(Image/Beth Clayton)

I took down the MBTTTR “Ask Me Stuff” page because someone email-yelled at me about a large amount of unanswered questions last week, and I think she’s right.

I am not discouraging questions moving forward, nor do I want to give the impression that I’d prefer that people not reach out. I hope people who want to will continue to in comments or by email.

But the pile of unanswered questions might be causing harm, and that’s something I needed to fix, because I could.

Here’s the strongly worded email I received which prompted me to make the change. (There are more bad words than even I usually say, which I’m guilty of liking.)

I wasn’t going to share it, but it’s pretty good, so I’m going to. Different people always react differently to things, so I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say.

I found your blog this past weekend like so many other women do…out of sheer desperation. I understand you have a day job and have your son 50% of the time. However, get ready, because you’re about to get your ass ripped.

You put this blog online and encourage comments. You say, “Ask me anything!” and then you NEGLECT to respond or answer your comments for MONTHS AND MONTHS AT A TIME!!! WHAT THE FUCK, MATT!!!!

What the fuck is wrong with you?! You have all these earth shattering realizations as a failed husband after your wife leaves you, and then you blog about it only to then NEGLECT the very women who reach out to you for help afterwards?! WTF DID YOU EXPECT TO HAPPEN AFTER YOU STARTED BLOGGING ABOUT SHITTY HUSBANDS?!

It is morally reprehensible for you to leave these wounded wives out there hanging FOREVER WITH ZERO ANSWERS bc you’ve just decided to abandon them like their husbands have. The second you took up your cause and ASKED FOR PEOPLE TO WRITE TO YOU, you owed them an answer back, even if you don’t have the answer to their specific problem(s).

Reading your blog initially gave me hope, but once I saw you left your small following hanging month after month after MONTH without responses to their numerous comments, I saw you fundamentally haven’t changed as a man. You really don’t care about these wounded, abused, desperate women calling out to you for help. You rarely reply to ANY comments on your blog and when you do it’s months after their desperate pleas for your feedback. It physically sickens me as a woman, a fellow Ohioan, and a wife of a shitty husband, although I must say my own husband puts you to shame. He’s a much better husband than you could probably ever be.

You should be fucking ashamed of yourself. I personally don’t give two fucks how busy you are, or what your excuses are for not replying to these comments in a more timely manner. You took it upon yourself to request feedback. You knew what that would mean.

Do these desperate women a favor and delete your blog because all you’re doing is disappointing and wounding these exasperated and desperate women more than they already are. These women, more so than anyone else, deserve more than to be simply ignored…especially by you, of all people. You’re exacerbating their pain by not replying to their comments. Asshole. As you would say.

Most Sincerely,

Wife of a “Shitty Husband” and former reader of a “Shitty Blogger.”

P.S. You’re an Asshole.

The “P.S. You’re an Asshole.” was a nice touch, I thought.

Because I AM kind of an asshole, my initial reaction was to respond with: “Thanks for the feedback. Now please go fuck yourself,” which is precisely the sort of instincts that will get you divorced and make strangers hate you. I DID NOT respond with that, which is a decision I’m pleased with.

However, I did go instantly into Defense Mode: Who the hell is this, and why does she think it’s okay to talk to me like this? I tend to get defensive anytime someone finds fault with, or takes offense to, something I did or didn’t do, as if I can’t make mistakes or as if all of my actions are somehow flawless and above reproach. It’s a bad habit that probably keeps me from growing into a better human being, and I know it’s a VERY bad habit for two people in a relationship.

If I’ve learned anything about what ended my marriage, and what ends many relationships, it’s that saying and believing “It’s not my fault!” a bunch of times will earn you a divorce, and you’ll probably deserve it EVEN IF the thing is really not your fault.

If your marriage isn’t more important to you than your ego, and if wanting your spouse to feel good and loved within your marriage isn’t more important to you than winning some meaningless fight, your relationship is going to be shitty anyway, and if it doesn’t end, you’ll probably both want it to.

I sat on the angry note for a day, and read it four or five times, because

  1. When you live in discomfort long enough, it loses its edge, and you can operate more effectively within it. Like weightlifting or yoga for your mental/emotional health.
  2. The truth hurts.
  3. Because the truth hurts anytime it’s inconvenient, I’ve learned to recognize the feeling, and I suspected she was right. After some reflection, I decided that she is. I shouldn’t solicit questions if I’m going to leave them hanging with no responses, PARTICULARLY if a lack of response could in any way be piling on to an already painful experience. In other words, I realized pretty quickly that just because I thought she was overreacting doesn’t mean she was.

She was going to bat for a bunch of people scared and hurting as they feel their marriages and families falling apart, and might think there’s a lifeline bit of information out there that might save them. It doesn’t matter that they shouldn’t ask me. It doesn’t matter that I can’t help. It doesn’t matter that no one understands what my life looks like logistically. No excuse or reason I can offer matters.

  1. Someone hurts.
  2. When I did or did not do something that I could have to make it better, by default, I was making it worse. It doesn’t matter that my intentions weren’t to do that. It doesn’t matter that I might disagree with someone else’s opinions. It doesn’t matter that I don’t believe they SHOULD be hurt. They still hurt anyway. Those with the ability to do something good, should. Always. It’s easy for me to rationalize that I don’t owe to blog readers what husbands owe to their wives. DOESN’T MATTER. I was wrong to provide an environment for people hurting from the very thing I’m trying to help reduce instances of, to hurt even more because when they called out for help, no one ever came.

In marriage and relationships, sometimes our spouses or partners call out for help. If we’re not going to, who will?

Inevitably, someone will think knee-jerk reacting to ONE complaint is a bad life strategy. That’s probably true. But before we all thought of him as a huge creep who drugs and sexually assaults women, Bill Cosby said something important once, that I now wish I could attribute to someone else. He said: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

And that’s my life right now. I’m trying to do many things well, and while trying to juggle them all, every one of them suffers.

But, guess what? No one cares. Nor should they.

Here’s something I KNOW from my work by day as an internet marketer who works with big data: If one person thinks and feels something, a bunch of other people do, too.

They may not be the majority. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t matter.

I’m Sorry to Everyone Who Asked for Help and Never Even Got a Ring Buoy Thrown Your Way

I really do owe them all an apology. Unanswered comments. Unanswered emails. I can’t even fathom a guess how many of those there are. Too many.

It’s hard to explain myself to other people. Maybe everyone feels that way about themselves.

I get upset when people tell me that I don’t care.

That I don’t really care about families and people who are suffering. That I don’t actually mean the things I say or write.

And that’s because I do care. Very much.

I’m just shitty at several facets of communication that are probably exacerbated by ADHD and trying to do too many things—trying to please everybody, instead of just saying no more often.

My nine-year-old and I were playing video games this weekend. A cooperative one where two strangers were playing with us thanks to the magic of the internet. While trying to defeat a giant robot monster together, our little digital fireteam kept failing because we couldn’t get all of the players to stick together.

Many people who play these games use headphones and microphones to communicate with each other. I don’t do that because I’m 38 years old and there’s no way I’m voice-chatting with a bunch of 10-year-olds or other nerdy dads and moms playing PlayStation, and also because I don’t want my little boy hearing strangers say all of the inappropriate things he probably already hears me saying.

My son said: “You know why they’re doing it wrong, dad? Because you can’t communicate. How can we expect them to know what to do if we can’t communicate?”

It was—seriously—the wisest thing I’d ever heard my son say, and I told him so twice.

Seems simple. Communication. So simple, I think, that we don’t always recognize how significant a failure to communicate effectively can damage us and our efforts in whatever we’re working on personally or professionally.

It’s easily my life’s biggest Achilles heel, and probably always has been.

I’m sorry to anyone adversely affected by it—especially those who reached out during times of intense pain and vulnerability, only to be met with silence which probably felt just like: “I don’t care about you or your life.”

The angry email asked me to delete the blog. I’m not going to do that. But I thought this might be the first step toward reconciling something that might have been doing more harm than good.

I hope, someday, I’ll be doing some of these things much better.

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Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

happy face

“Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or bike rides sucks the joy out of a previously positive experience. Maybe we’re doing something alone, but we discover that we only feel good or happy when we’re doing it with other people. (Giggity.)

How much I like or don’t like something tends to be influenced heavily by my expectations leading into it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to not hype things up in my head so much, and have discovered many more pleasant surprises along the way as a result. I like pleasant surprises.

But something else has also happened as I’ve gotten older—I’ve had less fun.

I don’t think people want to admit that.

I think we feel guilty and ashamed when we take an honest, no-bullshit assessment of our lives and conclude: I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to.

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we’re married or in committed relationships and we don’t understand why the most important relationship in our adult lives doesn’t deliver more personal happiness. Maybe we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or anyone else how much of our lives we sacrificed to promise forever to someone else, only to feel much more disappointed than we ever acknowledge.

Shouldn’t my relationship deliver more joy and satisfaction than it does?

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we have kids and we love them so intensely. Shouldn’t I feel happier and have more fun as a parent than I do?

Maybe we’re embarrassed that no matter how much wealth, real estate, or career advancements we earn, we still sometimes feel a yearning when we’re laying still in the dark with nothing to drown out our most honest inner thoughts.

I’ve achieved and acquired so many things I believed would make me happy, but the truth is, back when I was just a poor kid playing backyard football in a small town no one’s ever heard of, I felt HAPPIER and had MORE FUN than I do now.

And once again, our unmet expectations take a poke at our insides, making the corners of our mouths just a little bit heavier. It’s harder to find our smiles when we find ourselves once again asking: WTF happened to my life? Why do I feel so unfulfilled?

Maybe it’s Just Me

I don’t mean to sound as if I assume your life sucks and that you feel depressed all the time.

I don’t feel depressed all the time.

My life doesn’t suck.

BUT. There’s no question that I don’t have as much fun as I used to.

And that dear friends—I believe—is the answer to the riddle.

Everyone’s Fun Looks Different, So Trust Yourself, Not What Others Say

I can sit for five or six hours in a poker tournament folding 90 percent of my hands and have fun.

My ex-wife thought that sounded dreadful. Even some of my fellow poker enthusiasts can’t stand the idea of folding so many hands. (Bonus Life Tip: That’s how you win poker tournaments—folding the vast majority of the time.)

Some people love crocheting. Or bowling. Or gardening. Or painting tin soldiers. Or reading biographies. Or watercolor painting.

No one can tell you what feels fun. It’s our job to try things and then evaluate as fairly and honestly as possible how pleasurable of an experience each thing was.

In a life where more and more demands are being placed on us from family and career responsibilities, and an increasingly more-connected world also means more distractions, the FIRST things most of us sacrifice to make room for these demands are the things that bring us pleasure.

We are continually being forced to cut out more and more of the things we do simply because we like them. And normally, productivity and accomplishment provides a sense of satisfaction. But almost inevitably, mandatory tasks always start to feel burdensome.

Nothing but divorce has ever depressed me more than the day I realized that I wake up every weekday, drive to work, and do something I wouldn’t necessarily be doing if I didn’t need the income, before going home only to wake up and do the same thing again the following day.

It’s still true right now.

I exchange the vast majority of my (non-sleeping) life for a paycheck.

Why?

(This is the depressing part.)

So I can have enough money to stay alive (food, water, clothing, health care), have shelter (mortgage), and afford transportation (car payment).

In a life with a finite amount of time, I question the wisdom in exchanging the majority of my life experiences simply to have a house to sleep in, stuff to store there, and a vehicle to drive me back and forth to the job.

To deal with this, I pursue several other things (including the writing I do here, and the speaking I hope to do in the future) in my limited spare time to have hope that I can wake up every day feeling more fulfilled and as if how I’m spending my time has more purpose and value.

But that’s a personal problem.

What all of us are ultimately pursuing is CONTENTMENT. And some people, who are either super-fortunate to have been born that way, or are models of practicing intentional gratitude, DO actually feel content to live in their homes and their towns and go to work every day.

They are rich in home life. In friends and family (or super-content to be mostly alone and reclusive—and for those wired for that—that’s great too). They are thankful for what they have and aren’t slaves to The Disease of More.

But we don’t have time for platitudes.

We’re not going to tell depressed people to “chin up.”

We’re not going to tell happy people how lucky they are that they don’t suffer as others do.

We’re not going to tell people that they’re wrong because of their likes and dislikes.

In the interest of self-care and supporting those we care about most, it’s critical that we make time to engage in activities that give us life and energy.

It makes us better romantic partners.

It makes us better parents.

It makes us better friends.

It makes us better members of the workforce.

It makes us better human beings.

The Importance of Discovering Our Happy Places

Kids instinctively do their favorite things in whatever moments and environments they’re in, given whatever resources are available.

Children don’t know all of their favorite things because they spend a lifetime discovering them. Some are given a narrow view of the world and limited opportunities because of whatever circumstances they’re born into, and others are introduced to unlimited possibility and have rich life experiences that are the result of substantial financial resources, or resourceful and supportive parents and adult role models.

Some kids are told that they can’t do certain things. Over and over again. Because their parents or siblings or friends or teachers roll their eyes at these childhood dreams and say very adult things like “Well, young lady. That sounds great, but how are you going to make money doing that?”, or “Well, young man. I’m sure you’d make a fine [insert dream-big idea here] but you don’t have the skills, knowledge, money, talent, geography, etc. Maybe you should think of something more realistic like being an assistant restaurant manager, or a third-shift foreman at the local factory.”

Even if you were supported as children, you can still hear and feel all of the naysayers every time you’re vulnerable enough to share an idea that makes you feel alive on the inside.

And then those closest to us tell us we’re silly and impractical, or otherwise leave the impression that we’re not good enough.

Husbands and wives have divorced, and children have gone years without speaking to their parents, for less.

The most fortunate of us can make a sustainable living doing things we love. (I am paid decently, mostly to write things. It’s a miracle, and I STILL complain because I don’t like bosses and rules, and occasionally demonstrate a gratitude problem.)

But often we invest time in activities that don’t pay us back with money. Social clubs. Hobbies. Parties. Travel. Volunteerism. Sports. Art. Whatever.

We do these things because we feel pleasure when we do them.

Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s many things. Maybe some people can’t think of ANYTHING (outside of sex, drugs and alcohol) that they do simply for the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing it.

But you must.

And you must encourage your partners and children to do the same.

We place so much value on the acquisition of money and material goods, to the point where adults believe they’re happy when they’ve gotten enough money to buy the thing they’ve spent years believing “When I FINALLY have that magical thing, I’m going to feel successful and happy. THEN, I’ll know I’ve made it,” only to inevitably discover that the feeling is fleeting and then The Disease of More rears its ugly head once again.

I think goals are amazing.

I think wanting things and experiences and money is more than okay. I want them too.

But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.

We forget to have fun. The kind of fun that’s OURS. Maybe other people like it. Maybe they don’t. But we must do things that light that fire of happiness within us.

It’s a feeling.

And the real magic of knowing that feeling is that once we identify it (which is easy as an unfulfilled adult because it feels so radically different from the rest of existence), we can begin to recognize it in other parts of our lives.

With our spouses or romantic partners.

With our children.

With our co-workers.

We begin to recognize the set of conditions that produces that feeling of fun and energy and enthusiasm. The one that makes us feel like the best version of ourselves.

It’s pretty cliché and platitudey for me to offer some bullshit like: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or “Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself.”

So I’ll leave that to the Instagram quote writers.

But in a life where our relationships with our romantic partners are THE #1 FACTOR in the quality of our life and health, and half of all marriages fail, I don’t think we can afford to ignore the importance of injecting fun into our lives.

It’s NOT selfish to pursue fun if that fun gives you the energy you need to be the best romantic partner and parent possible.

It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place (which may or may not involve dwarf cowboys). If we need to step up and take something off of their plate so that they have the time to pursue THEIR passion, I think we’ll discover incalculable dividends.

We’re broken.

Messy.

Imbalanced and unsteady.

Amidst the chaos Life throws our way, one of the ways we can achieve balance and sure footing is to call timeouts for fun.

No agenda.

Just to be in the moment, or be with the people with whom fun spontaneously happens.

We forget to play.

We confuse acquisition, advancement and long-term goals as the happiness-delivering payoff to justify all the miserable drudgery we subject ourselves to while our most important relationships fail, and we feel ourselves slip further and further away from the US we remember from long ago.

When things just felt better.

When we were happy.

When life was fun.

It can’t and won’t look the same as it did back then. But if we invest less in feeling like failures for our lives looking and feeling differently than our little-kid dreams imagined, and more in simply pouring our minds and hearts into the things that fill our souls?

Maybe our children accidentally learn how to live better by watching us live better, and maybe our marriages and personal relationships thrive.

Because we’re no longer living for tomorrow.

But once again, just like when we were kids, we’re alive today.

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The Subtle Difference Between Shitty and Non-Shitty Husbands and Wives

Coke vs. Pepsi by Adweek

I don’t drink a lot of soda, but I think I could identify Coke vs. Pepsi in a blind tasting. But since they’re both cola, there are probably many people who cannot. And I think it’s fair to call the differences subtle. (Image/Adweek)

The difference is so subtle that I didn’t recognize it until now.

And now that I have, it isn’t hard to see why so many pissed-off guys stumble on these articles and miss it too. My own inability to tell the difference when I was married is WHY I’m divorced today.

In everyone’s defense, including my own, the differences can be hard to detect. Really hard. If it were easy, therapists and divorce attorneys would have trouble finding work.

It’s not only subtle, but ever-changing.

The shitty behavior of husbands and wives may be healthy and totally acceptable in different relationships with different partners.

What is NOT shitty today may one day become shitty. What is shitty today may one day cease to be shitty.

It’s little wonder we have so many disagreements in our relationships.

I’m accused often of blaming men and husbands for the majority of relationship failures and divorce, and I’ve written sentences so strikingly similar to “I believe male behavior is responsible for the majority of divorces,” that I understand why some people feel that way. One of the best things about speaking these ideas someday as opposed to writing them now is that I think it will be easier for people to more-accurately gauge my meaning when they hear it vs. reading it.

Subtle.

More subtle than the flavor of Coke vs. Pepsi.

Even more subtle than the difference between the words “complement” and “compliment.”

So very subtle.

“You’re a female-worshipping pussy!” some tough guy said.

“This is bullshit!” another guy said. “A wife’s expectations need a reality check in many cases, though others hearing the story are sure to think the husband is at fault due to the false ideas permeating our culture.”

Another guy characterized my ideas as old-fashioned and unrealistic. He said a few things I disagreed with, but then he asked a great question that I’ve been thinking about since:

“What about the seeming double standard—is this fair to men, or anyone, to expect them to be any less human, any less fallible or fragile than anyone else? Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person? Or should men be required to constantly earn love—not for who they are—but for what they can do or provide?”

You see, when I was married, I misdiagnosed the marriage-problem symptoms my wife and I displayed, and I was CERTAIN of my correctness in any given disagreement between us. I was right, therefore she was wrong.

Here I was doing or not doing all of these things she wanted me to do differently. And most of the time, I would draw a line in the sand—a boundary, if you will—and stand my ground. I—quite literally—believed my wife was being unfair, or reacting inappropriately to something (like a judge sentencing someone to life in prison for a speeding ticket).

What’s the Difference?

I don’t know that I believed my choices were things I considered to be marriage-enhancers, but I DEFINITELY didn’t consider them to be things that might destroy mine.

Don’t you see the inherent danger there? For me, the scariest things in life are the dangerous, potentially fatal things that we don’t or can’t see coming.

Cancer. Heart attacks. Fatal auto accidents. Terrorism. Sink holes. Asteroids.

I don’t sit around feeling fear over these things because I don’t give a lot of mental energy to them. But I absolutely believe they’re the scariest things.

The things we don’t see coming.

I believe the behaviors that end relationships, lead to affairs, and are ultimately responsible for divorce, are behaviors that MOST people don’t recognize or identify as a danger.

I wasn’t a bad guy. Most guys aren’t bad.

But I WAS a shitty husband. Accidentally. Unaware. Thoughtlessly. Not on purpose.

And because I was trained from a really young age that we treat ACCIDENTS radically differently than we treat INTENTIONAL harm and destruction, I usually defaulted to the position that the “punishment” of my wife’s frustration or anger didn’t fit the “crime” of whatever action or inaction had upset her.

This might sound familiar because I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people can identify with either my experience, or my ex-wife’s.

“But, Matt! You always say that you were a SHITTY husband! How do you know?! Maybe your wife was just being a control freak or an insufferable nag! Maybe SHE was the shitty one!”

You know what, maybe she was sometimes.

I don’t think about things like that. I don’t try to remember every time I felt wronged by her in some attempt to excuse or justify my choices.

My marriage ended and now my little boy has to share homes and CONSTANTLY miss one of his parents, and possibly suffer a little bit socially.

I did things that hurt my wife.

Not her face. Not her arms. Not anywhere on the outside of her.

In her heart. In her mind. In her gut.

I didn’t know when I was married that emotional pain could hurt worse than physical pain. When my wife would talk about feeling hurt, I consciously or subconsciously treated her like she was a crazy person. Like she was a child I perceived to be acting overly dramatic about a tiny scrape. Like she didn’t know how to rank or manage discomfort.

This is what it looks like to not possess empathy nor understand the word’s meaning. When a husband or wife proves incapable of displaying mindful, intentional empathy for the person they promised to love and honor forever, they are breaking their marriage vows.

A shitty husband disregards his wife’s expressions of pain and treats her like there’s something wrong with her whenever he would have felt differently.

A shitty wife disregards her husband’s desire to feel appreciated as “payback” for feeling unappreciated herself.

A shitty husband abandons his wife to entertain herself in favor of doing things he prefers to do alone, when the THING she prefers to do is be together.

A shitty wife berates and shames her husband anytime he performs a task differently than she would have.

Where’s the Line?

“Where is the line between being responsive to your partner’s needs, and drawing a boundary around your own?” said MBTTTR commenter Lindsey in a recent conversation that inspired this post.

Is it possible that some husbands are having THEIR boundaries violated by wives who force husbands to earn their love and kindness, rather than give it freely?

“Is it OK to suggest that men are not entitled to simply be loved for who they are as a person?” the male commenter asked.

That question forced me to self-reflect more than almost any question I’ve been asked in the four years I’ve been writing here.

I think it’s quite simple. NOT to decipher. It’s way too subtle and requires vigilant communication and a mindful, willful desire to achieve a high level of bridged understanding with another person whose differences might frustrate you and create discomfort.

There’s nothing easy about it. But it is simple.

There are:

  • Things That HURT. Actions or words that fundamentally cause pain and/or harm to others, and
  • Things That Inconvenience or Conflict with Personal Preferences. Stuff a husband or wife WISHES were different, like how my ex-wife wished I liked skiing and house cleaning, and I wished she liked watching sports and playing poker.

If a relationship’s survival depends on HURTFUL things coming to an end, then I perceive it to be largely on the shoulders of the person causing the pain to stop, or at minimum, to actively seek ways to minimize it because they love and respect the person they married.

If a relationship’s survival hinges on two people finding balance between personal preferences and conveniences, then I think it’s profoundly important that the two people love and respect one another enough to make damn sure these matters of disagreement DO NOT cause damage to one another.

Because here’s what happens.

An event takes place. A moment comes and goes. Maybe someone did or said something. Maybe someone forgot a calendar event or special occasion.

There are endless possibilities for events we experience, and there are endless possibilities for how any individual person might react to that experience.

And it strikes me as being perfectly okay to not sign up for a lifetime together with someone whose preferences or reactions to events do not align with yours. By all means, don’t get married if you believe the relationship is doomed to fail.

BUT.

It strikes me as perfectly NOT OKAY to promise in front of witnesses, friends, and family; and sign legal contracts, and—most importantly—be assuring one’s partner or fiancé/fiancée throughout the length of an engagement that you’re in this forever to either:

  1. Knowingly bring harm to your spouse.
  2. Knowingly treat your spouse as if they aren’t good enough, and required to EARN your love simply because you want them to think as you think, or do things as you prefer them to be done.

A person who threatens a marriage by treating their spouse as if they aren’t good enough because of a difference in PREFERENCES is every bit as bad as the shitty spouse who damages their partner through intentional or neglectful harm.

Love is a choice.

And when we marry someone, we are to give that love freely for the rest of our lives. But NOT when our marriage vows have been broken by someone who refused to give the love and empathy marriage requires.

How do we get two people to actively choose to love one another, even when they don’t “feel” like it?

Maybe we can’t.

But that’s what a shitty spouse is—someone who won’t give love because it’s inconvenient or doesn’t feel good.

Who’s to blame?

Amidst the chaos of war in the middle of the battlefield, where both sides are firing shots and taking no prisoners, it’s really hard to tell.

No one?

Everyone?

I don’t know.

So, I looked in the mirror and figured out who to blame for my divorce.

Because there’s a better life out there. One I didn’t find blaming everyone else for my problems. But after looking into that reflection long enough and hard enough, I think it might be coming into focus.

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