Category Archives: Dating

The Other Law of Attraction: Self-Worth and Gender Identity in a Mixed-Up World

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What do women want?

I think many guys started kicking the question around long before possessing the intellectual capacity to connect those random and inconvenient erections to their sexuality.

What will make her like me?

Because that’s really important to us when we’re young. Is it because we like being liked? Is it because we like feeling accepted by another in a more intimate way than platonic friendship? Is it because we think it’s cool to have a girlfriend, and maybe our guy friends will respect us more, and the other girls will want us more?

But I think these are questions that, to varying degrees depending on an individual’s particular circumstances, men ask themselves constantly. I perceive the vast majority of (heterosexual) men, regardless of their relationship status, to crave the He’s Attractive to Me label from as many women as possible.

I believe we view it as a measure of our self-worth. That if women find us attractive, we’ve really accomplished something. Men have been known to crave financial success, social status, material accumulation, career advancement, fame or recognition, respect, achievement in athletics or other competitive ventures, and physical fitness.

There are MANY good and virtuous reasons to crave some or all of those things.

But I think when we scrape off all the Pretending, we’ll discover that the ultimate motivation is usually: “I want women to think of me as attractive and want me, sexually. Because that’s what will most improve my status and standing in the eyes of others. And what other people think of me is very important and influences all of my decisions.”

What do men want, and what will make him like me?

I don’t know how girls commonly experience this attraction/social/sexual awakening, nor how much they value what boys want and why, nor to what extent that carries through to adulthood.

But there appears to be little room for doubt that most women share, while perhaps framed differently and motivated by different wants or needs, men’s cravings for romantic and/or sexual interest, and care intensely about how others perceive them.

Is Beauty REALLY in the Eye of the Beholder?

If you don’t get obnoxious with the spiritual meaning of the proverb as I just did, I really like it. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an adage made famous by the philosopher Plato, or William Shakespeare, or author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, depending on which random internet source you believe.

The phrase suggests that beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person considers beautiful, admirable, interesting, or valuable, will not necessarily appeal to another person.

But its spiritual meaning is that everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s awesome or not-awesome. It means our children’s objectively shitty grade school artwork is more beautiful and meaningful to us than something offered from the fine arts community. It means that mangy rescue hound from the shelter missing his right eye and which walks with a limp looks more beautiful to its owner who adopted him than all those fancy-pants dogs prancing around at the Westminster Dog Show.

And I like that.

But, it has a kind-of dark side, too. One which makes me really uncomfortable because it’s part of The Big Secret Lie most of us buy into, and which seems to cause the majority of our mental and emotional problems in adulthood (which are at the very core of all of our relationship problems—exacerbating all of the rejection, self-worth, anxiety and mental health issues which wreak havoc on our relationships and families, ultimately perpetuating the Cycle of Horribleness).

In the framework of human worth and attractiveness, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that STILL means that other people have the power to define what is and is not attractive. It means other people have the power to determine another person’s worth. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that means other people get to tell us who and what we are.

If Person X finds you beautiful, but Person Y labels you ugly, are you beautiful or ugly?

If Person X finds you worthy, but Person Y says you’re unworthy, are you worthy or unworthy?

If Person X says you matter, and Person Y says you don’t, do you matter?

Who Gets to Tell Us Who and What We Are?

There is a fantastic conversation happening beneath the Our Marriage is a Steam Train post about how we define what is masculine or feminine, and to what extent men struggle with their identities RE: Being a Real Man.

Active commenter Travis wrote: “Frankly, I don’t think we’d have the common stereotype of ‘women love bad boys’ if men who exercised their muscles of emotional investment and accepting influence were what they really hungered for.”

Lisa G. wrote: “I remember reading about experiments where a woman was crying in a public place and several people stopped and asked if she was ok. Then they repeated it with a man and no one stopped, they even looked away. It’s all so horribly depressing the messages we give men to not be allowed to express a full range of human emotions.”

Another from Travis which really gets to the heart of the matter: “I found… a fair amount of scientific studies that support my assertion that women are repelled by men who display the very same ‘nice, sweet, sensitive, vulnerable’ characteristics they say they want in us.”

He shared Elite Daily’s 5 Scientific Reasons Why Women Just Won’t Go For The Nice Guys, which I suspect will, in some form or fashion, ring true for most readers.

Are women genetically hard-wired to want assholes because so-called Nice Guys are boring?

I’m staying away from pretending I know a thing about biological science.

More importantly? I don’t think it matters.

Why? Let me ask it again: Who gets to tell us who and what we are?

RE: Attraction

We are attracted to whatever we are naturally attracted to.

People commonly accept or reject the romantic or sexual interest of others based on two things, one of which is natural attraction and perceived compatibility, and the other which is based on what we perceive others’ opinions to be about those choices.

In other words, you like whatever you like for whatever reasons you like them. Who knows why? You just know it when you feel it.

That’s primal.

But you make deliberate choices about personal traits you consider attractive based on a different set of criteria. Ideally, our long-term partner will foster feelings of primal-want within us, but we’re attracted to so many more things.

As adults, those are ideally rooted in shared values and mutually respectful boundary enforcement so your life doesn’t suck.

But people are ALSO attractive or unattractive to us based on that little nagging voice in the back of our minds. What will my friends think? What will my parents think? What will my extended family think? What will my co-workers think?

Psychologically and emotionally healthy people with strong boundaries don’t make decisions like that, of course. But most of us do.

I know personally at least three men who dated or married women (one started a family!) only to later divorce after coming out as gay, and then living as an openly gay man thereafter.

I won’t pretend to know every thought that went through these guys’ heads when they made the choice to couple with women, but one assumes it was done in the spirit of “What will everyone think of me?!”

KNOW THYSELF

Not to go even further down the nerd rabbit hole than usual, but it dawned on me within the past year or two that I’d misinterpreted a scene in one of my favorite movies for the past 15 years.

In The Matrix, the story’s hero Neo walks into a kitchen where he is to meet a spiritual guide of sorts. She is known as The Oracle. Neo has been told he is someone very important. The prophecies refer to him as “The One.” But he feels just like a regular guy. He has the power to save the world, he is told. But he can’t figure out how or even whether to believe it. The Oracle is supposed to help him achieve The One status.

He and The Oracle lady exchange pleasantries, and then she asks him the question which begins an exchange I spent years not understanding despite many repeated viewings.

Oracle: “So, what do you think? Do you think you’re The One?”

Neo: “I don’t know.”

The Oracle points above the door Neo used to walk into the kitchen. It looks like this:

photo-mat_temetnosce

Oracle: “You know what that means? It’s Latin. Means ‘Know thyself’. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”

She kind of gives him a little once-over, looking inside his mouth like a doctor would a patient in a basic check-up.

And then they have this exchange:

Oracle: “Okay, now I’m supposed to say, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, but…’ then you say…”

Neo: “But what?”

Oracle: “But, you already know what I’m going to tell you.”

Neo: “I’m not The One.”

Oracle: “Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.”

Neo: “What?”

Oracle: “Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.”

Spoiler alert: Neo is totally The One.

So why did The Oracle say he wasn’t? Was she high on crack?

I just never thought about it correctly. I have a real problem with that sometimes. About everything. Maybe lots of people do.

When it’s later revealed that Neo is, in fact, the badass with world-saving abilities, he’s as confused about it as I was.

But it’s cleared up for him, and the simple answer cuts to the heart of this discussion on attraction and gender identity, and how much or how little others should be able to define us.

No one can tell you who you are.

Am I Good Enough?

That’s the very question on which this blog was founded.

When you love your spouse and want to stay married, but they would rather suffer the many consequences of divorce more than live with you even one more day, you lose your very sense of identity.

To be sure, our spouse’s opinion of us should probably rank higher than that of others or what we assume society at large believes we should be.

I think the conversation about what men and women find attractive, and how society judges men and women relative to stereotypical standards, and how that ultimately damages our interpersonal relationships is a worthwhile conversation.

Until men are allowed to be vulnerable without facing sexual rejection, how can we expect men en masse to pursue emotional intelligence in this macro fight against dysfunctional relationship dynamics?

We probably can’t.

But, as individuals?

Not all men or women. Just one.

Just me.

Just you.

Who gets to tell you who you are?

Because in my battles with insecurity, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy as the clock wound down on my marriage, and then in my dating struggles as I carried all that baggage into single adulthood, I was asking all of the wrong questions.

Am I smart enough?

Am I handsome enough?

Am I rich enough?

Am I funny enough?

Am I talented enough?

Am I tall enough?

Or, more simply…

Am I good enough at [insert whatever thing here]? Am I worthy of her attraction?

I’ve been doing this for three years.

In the first year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I knew that I wasn’t.

In the second year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I didn’t think I was.

In the third year, I discovered that I am, indeed, good enough. Because I know that I am.

Like I KNOW that you are.

And if you don’t know it too, then I guess you’re not good enough, even though I already know that you are.

What are you waiting for? Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.

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Bad News: You Two Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating

caution you're doing it wrong

(Image/amaninthegap.blogspot.com)

Your relationship is probably doomed.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m just playing the percentages.

Half of all marriages will fall apart. It’s a huge bummer but it’s been true for so long that unless a critical mass of people in the future take to heart some of the ideas here, there’s every reason to assume that will continue.

Additionally, what percentage of pre-marriage/unmarried relationships won’t work out? Maybe 80, or even 90 percent? Who knows? A damn lot.

So. Like I said: Your relationship is probably doomed.

Maybe I’m Not Doing It Wrong After All

Tiffany asked:

My question is less about the marriage part and more about the singlehood part. I epically failed at the dating game in my younger years long before epic fail was even a phrase. I am oh so much better at it now, NOT! I have no game or swagger, I’m just me. I’m just real but I guess being real is a complete turn off in this reality-tv, instant gratification society. So my question is, now what? Now what are we divorcee’s supposed to do? Online dating did not exist the last time I was single and neither did texting. We thought our cell phones were smart until Apple raised the IQ bar. Now, there seem to be dating rules that no one has shared with me and once I become privy to what they might be, they change. It seems the sea of fishes are now depleted of sea horses but teaming with sharks. If nice guys finish last, WHERE ARE THEY? In my experience, the divorced, single men in our age bracket are either reliving their 20 something frat boy days or trying to experience that lifestyle they never had. It’s exhaustingly frustrating! I feel as if the first line of the online dating profile I don’t have should read “Hi, I am a strong woman of character, value and self-respect. I’m sorry but I will not be selling my body or soul to the lowest bidder with cheesy lines, free cocktails, Netflix and a ‘chill’.”

I feel like when I go on a first date with someone (which has not happened in over a year because I gave up) I should introduce myself as, “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m a real person with thoughts, ideas and feelings not just a pin cushion. It’s nice to meet you.” The guy would turn around and run I’m sure lol. I also have two kids which translates to leprosy I’m finding out. Refer back to the previous statement of reliving one’s 20s and the idea of being a grown man that doesn’t shy away from responsibility is just gone. Maybe they are just too overwhelmed with their own responsibility to think about any more…..Maybe they just don’t know how to tread down this road just like me….Maybe I’m giving them too much benefit of the doubt…Maybe they’ve always been irresponsible and that’s why they’re divorced….Maybe I should stop driving myself crazy with all the maybe’s.
BUT I JUST DON’T GET IT!!!
So please, if you have any thoughts as to why divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual, please clue me in.
Also, the separate problem of divorced men who may be looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids.

I used to think I was horrible at dating (post-divorce, specifically), and even felt a little bit ashamed of it. But that’s because I was comparing the QUANTITY of my dates to what I perceived to be others’ experiences, and now I’ve come to believe it’s actually the low-boundary, unfiltered attitude toward dating that is causing most of these problems in the first place.

I now think I was accidentally awesome, and believe today that I’m a competent dater in a very deliberate way.

There are two reasons people date:

1. Because they desire companionship and/or sex, casually or otherwise.

2. Because they’re looking for a suitable partner for a long-term relationship and/or marriage.

If casual relationships are the goal, then I think a relaxed attitude about dating is an appropriate disposition.

But if you’re genuinely looking for a compatible long-term partner with the intention of spending FOREVER with them, then I think getting hardcore with your intentions, your boundaries, and your stated expectations are CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to your success and emotional wellbeing.

An intentionally casual dater can date another intentionally casual dater, and have a positive experience.

An intentionally casual dater dating someone looking for love can lead to a lot of bad things happening if neither are honest with one another.

A person looking for love and long-term commitment can date someone else looking for love and long-term commitment, and it can go a million different ways. A lot of people believe if they end up married, that the meeting and dating exercise was a success. But that’s not true. It’s only a success if they actually make it to forever.

This is where most of us get it wrong.

Because I write here and some people pay attention, people in my personal life sometimes irrationally believe that makes me the go-to person for relationship questions. Ignoring how flawed that thinking is, I do my best to listen and provide the honest feedback they seek.

One of my friends liked a guy. He was the first guy she really liked in a long time. They met on an online dating site. They started seeing each other regularly. But to her displeasure, he was non-committal. He remained engaged in online-dating activities and was presumably seeing other people.

She wanted my advice. I didn’t think the solution was complicated.

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Only you can decide what you’re willing to tolerate,” I said. “The first thing I would do is decide exactly what you want and what your intentions are. Do you want him to be your committed boyfriend, or don’t you? Are you okay with him logging onto online dating sites and dating other people, or aren’t you? Once you know what you want, those are your boundaries. Then you clearly and honestly communicate those boundaries to him. Then—the hardest part—you ENFORCE those boundaries. You need to be willing to walk away if he doesn’t respect them,” I said.

“Isn’t it too soon for that?” she said. She didn’t want to seem “crazy” or “possessive,” she said.

She was afraid that being honest would cause him to reject her.

“I don’t want to seem insensitive about this, but if your relationship is going to fail, you WANT it to fail fast. Be honest about what you want. If he’s unwilling to give you what you want, or honor your feelings, or he runs away, isn’t that all you really need to know about him in terms of your long-term compatibility?” I said.

Maybe she thought really wanting him to be a certain kind of guy would magically transform him into that person. Like The Secret.

She never had the conversation with him. A couple weeks later, he cancelled plans with her for the third or fourth time, then she ended it, and they haven’t talked to one another since.

The entire scene felt insane to me. THIS is a major reason so many people end up divorced, I thought.

Why Does Dating Suck?

Because people don’t establish strong-enough boundaries for who they date.

Because people aren’t willing to be vulnerable and choose honesty when expressing who they really are on the inside, and what they really want.

And then sooner or later, it all crashes and burns because two people with different values and different expectations and different goals tried to force it using rainbow wishes and unicorn dreams, blaming culture, circumstances and everything but the person standing in the mirror for willingly participating in the madness.

Being a victim of con-artistry is the ONLY honest excuse for crushing heartache in the dating game.

Sure, rejection hurts, when one honest person doesn’t reciprocate the same emotional investment as another honest person. But, A. Don’t you WANT to be with someone who wants you back?, and B. How is that not an infinitely better result than investing years and/or marriage with someone who ultimately rejects you because you never really knew each other in the first place?

I can’t emphasize this belief enough: Every failure-to-launch relationship is a GREAT thing that eliminates wasted time, gives us critical life experience, and ultimately opens the door for people to find legitimately awesome and compatible romantic partners.

I know everyone’s in a big hurry all the time. But as mom always said: Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.

This is how dating goes when you’re from a small Midwestern town in the United States (maybe it’s a lot different in big cities and other cultures): You go to school in kindergarten, and for the next 13 years, you’re almost exclusively surrounded by “people like you,” which I’m loosely defining as single people with similar values, similar life experiences, similar educational opportunities, similar financial prospects, and similar long-term goals and expectations.

There’s no such thing as classmates or even two random students at the same school who don’t share several common interests and cultural similarities, relative to how varied our experiences and worldviews can be as single—divorced, widowed, or never-married—adults.

Unless you’re someone who moved around a lot during your school years (which must come with its own social-development issues and challenges), you’re typically 18 at the earliest before you meet a potential romantic interest with a radically divergent cultural background or value system.

I think exposure to other beliefs, cultures and customs is extremely important for people to figure out who we are. Diversity is critical for us to be able to ask the right questions during our formative and explorative years.

But I’m not sure I believe diversity to be particularly useful in marriage or committed long-term relationships (especially those involving children—more on that in a minute).

How Dating is Like Business

As an internet marketing professional, my job is, in a very generic sense, to generate as much web traffic as possible to pages containing products or services I hope to sell to as many visitors as possible.

Let’s pretend I own a company that sells exclusively men’s t-shirts which read: “Donald Trump Has Very Specific and Credible Plans for America, Excellent Hair, and Should Be President of the World.” And now my job is to sell as many of these stylish and in-demand shirts as possible.

quizzical baby

(Image/mums-corner.com)

Let’s pretend I’m going to try to sell these shirts using targeted online advertising and email marketing (because I magically have access to everyone’s email address), and I have to decide how to wisely spend my email marketing and advertising budget.

And finally, let’s pretend I decide to target the following groups of people for my men’s Trump shirt sales initiative: Registered Democrats who voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, Women who live in Poland, and everyone on Hillary Clinton’s F.B.I.-seized private email server.

I probably wouldn’t have much luck selling Trump shirts to those groups.

There is something in business called a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). A shirtless man carrying a 12-pack of Natural Light at a Trump rally might be an MQL for one of these Trump shirts. A Hispanic Los Angeles resident with a Bernie Sanders yard sign would not be.

I think many daters look for love and marriage using the I’m Trying to Sell Trump Shirts to Sanders Supporters strategy.

Online Dating Can Actually Help With This

Online dating sites allow you to establish parameters to weed out people with incompatible or unattractive traits. This is really helpful for women who receive more attention on dating sites than they can handle and for men with strong boundaries, selective tastes and specific preferences.

It’s probably bad for all of the low-boundary people who care more about feeling liked and accepted than they do about actually having healthy and successful relationships.

Maybe people are lonely and afraid they’ll be alone forever. I remember feeling that way.

Maybe people are worried about what friends and coworkers think. Maybe they want to “keep up” with their ex who has already moved on with someone new. Maybe people are trying to have sex more often than never. Maybe they’re trying to find a financial partner, or just someone to binge-watch Netflix with them.

I don’t know.

I just know that a frightening amount of people voluntarily enter relationships with people who don’t share their values, and subject themselves to all kinds of abuse or dysfunction afterward, and it often seems as if it’s because they’re more afraid of being alone than they are of being mistreated or suffering a horrible break-up.

Single Parents Must Use Stringent Filters to Find MQLs

I don’t think people are discriminating enough, and I think that’s why dating is so frustrating for people, and why so many relationships fail. I think vigilant discernment while dating is extremely critical for single or divorced parents, and any young people who intend to have children someday.

People who look different can have great relationships.

People with differing interests can have great relationships.

People with diverse life experiences can have great relationships.

People from different places can have great relationships.

People with varying personality types can have great relationships.

But, people with DIFFERENT VALUES? I have yet to see evidence that two people with conflicting core values can succeed, particularly when they share children, or are raising them together.

Dating often sucks because people aren’t honest with themselves, and then they make it worse by not being honest with those they date.

If you don’t know who you are and what your values are, YOU HAVE NO CHANCE.

If you haven’t identified your personal boundaries, or aren’t willing to vigilantly enforce them, you’re going to experience a heavy dose of frustration and heartache.

If you do it my way, you’re not going to go out on many dates, and you may often feel frustrated by what seems like a frightening lack of options. The temptation can be great to go out with people simply because you find them attractive and they’re interested.

But I implore people to be deliberate with their intentions, and be courageous enough to share their honest expectations, values and feelings with the people they’re getting to know.

Divorce is A LOT scarier than a relative stranger deciding not to date us anymore.

It bears repeating: If we’re evaluating whether that person across from us is an appropriate choice for a long-term or lifetime commitment, should we REALLY be afraid of how they might react to something honest and true about us?

Can we achieve forever with someone who doesn’t want the real us?

It’s not fun or easy. It won’t always feel good. It’s the furthest thing from sexy.

But it’s the first real step on the path to reducing divorce.

Or, more appropriately, the first real step on the journey to Forever.

SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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The Truth About Love You Might Not Accept

"The Vagabond/Prodigal Son" by Hieronymus Bosch

“The Vagabond/Prodigal Son” by Hieronymus Bosch

There was a wealthy farmer with two sons.

The younger son, dissatisfied with his boring life, went to his dad and asked for his inheritance early. The request was demanding and entitled. It would have been interpreted at the time a little bit like he wished his father was already dead.

Then the young man, armed with a lot of money, left home, abandoned his family and their business, traveled far and wide, and lived lavishly.

Fancy clothes. Expensive meals. Wild parties. Lots of sex.

He did that every day until he ran out of money right around the time the economy tanked and weather patterns decimated regional crop farming. Widespread famine took hold.

The rich, entitled kid had nothing left. No real friends. No viable job prospects. And now there was a food-shortage crisis, so he couldn’t find food.

With no other options, he would have to return home, tail tucked between his legs, and beg his father to let him come back. He didn’t expect a warm welcome. He was going to ask his dad to hire him as a farmhand to work the land, and sleep in one of the barns with the farm animals.

But to the young man’s surprise, that’s not how it went down. When his father heard word that his wayward son had come home, he dropped everything and sprinted to him.

Instead of admonishing him for being so selfish, foolish and irresponsible, he hugged him tight with tears of joy, expressing his love and gratitude for his safe return.

Instead of punishing him for abandoning the family and his responsibilities to waste a small fortune on excessive living, he threw a massive party to celebrate his child’s return.

The older brother was pissed. While his idiot brother was out burning money on wine and prostitutes, he had stayed home and dutifully tended to the family business and was an all-around respectful and obedient son.

No one ever threw me a party for doing the right thing!, he thought.

He went up to his dad and said what most of us would: “Umm. Dad. This is total bullshit. I’ve been right here doing all the right things all these years while that douchebag was off wasting his entire fortune on drunken orgasms. Then he comes home, and we treat him like the conquering hero? Where’s my party, dad? Where’s my ‘Atta Boy?”

The father understood his elder son’s frustration, but said simply: “Celebrating your brother’s return is the right thing to do. We thought he was dead. But here he is, alive. He was lost. And now he’s been found.”

Anyone even loosely familiar with the bible knows that story. It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son—a story about redemption. My favorite kind. It’s supposed to symbolize the endless mercy of God, personified biblically as a loving father.

But it’s also the best story I know which addresses the thing we need to talk about, because I think maybe a lot of people don’t know what it really means. And I think maybe that lack of understanding is ruining their marriages; their relationships with children and parents, with siblings, with friends, with neighbors, with co-workers, and everyone else:

Unconditional love.

Because We Care What Others Think, We Do Stuff

It’s uncomfortable to admit. We all want to believe we’re so courageous and unique and authentic. We all want to believe the decisions we make are for us because we’re genuinely pursuing whatever it is our hearts and minds compel us to chase in life.

But that’s bullshit, and we all know it.

We do things to win the approval of our parents. You didn’t go to medical school at Dartmouth because you wanted to go to Dartmouth or become a doctor. You did it because your grandfather did that, and then your dad did it, and if you don’t do it, you’ll always be the person who tarnished the family legacy, and you were afraid of the shame and possible rejection.

We do things so that other kids in school will accept us. You dated Lauren because she was hot and you wanted to look cool to the other guys, not because there was some legitimate emotional connection. You avoided playing in the band, not because you didn’t love music, but because you didn’t want your football teammates calling you a “band nerd.”

You didn’t drink beer because you actually liked it. Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper always tasted better. You did it because you wanted to fit in.

We still do this as adults. All the time.

It affects our choices about the houses we live in and the cars we drive. It influences the clothes we wear. Who we hang out with. How we treat our friends.

We worry about our children’s behavior sometimes, not because we’re ACTUALLY worried about the long-term impact on our children’s lives (most of the dumb stuff they do will have almost no bearing on how their lives turn out, and are in fact necessary experiences from which to learn important life lessons), but because we worry about what other parents might think about us as that kid’s parents.

We do and feel many things for no other reason than we invest in other people’s perception of us. The most interesting part of that is, we don’t really know what another person thinks of us. So we project our personal feelings on others, and essentially guess what they think will make us look attractive or smart or funny or successful or whatever. And then we try to display that ideal image as much as possible. We do so in an attempt to win favor with those around us for whatever conscious or subconscious reasons we have. So we ultimately end up living a huge percentage of our lives in the service of others who probably don’t care, and even if they do, we don’t know what they actually believe anyway unless we take off the masks and build legitimately authentic relationships with them.

We’re always pretending a little.

I don’t think that makes us phonies. I think it just makes us humans who haven’t yet asked ourselves the right questions, nor answered them correctly.

If we had, we wouldn’t be driven by fear.

Learning to Enjoy Dating After Divorce

Okay. “Enjoy” is an overstatement. Dating after divorce generally blows.

But there’s one aspect of it I’ve learned to love: I don’t give one iota of a shit what the girl I’m meeting thinks of me.

Let me clarify: Of course I want to be liked. I prefer the feeling of someone liking and desiring me MUCH more than the feeling of non-interest or rejection.

But because dysfunctional relationships, emotionally inconvenient breakups, nor God forbid, another divorce, aren’t thing I want; and because I learned the hard way that wearing masks and shutting out partners from our innermost thoughts and feelings we’re too scared and insecure to share for fear of rejection is a proven path to relationship failure; I’ve developed a taste for courageous honesty. Frankly, it isn’t all that courageous anymore because I’m no longer afraid to share it.

If I tell the girl on the other side of the dinner table something honest about myself and she doesn’t want me because of that honest thing, how was a relationship ever going to work out in the first place? Why would I WANT to be with someone who only liked the fake version of me?

Men have been lying to women to get them into bed for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. (I can’t prove that. I’m just certain it’s true. Cro-Magnon Man was totally grunt-lying to cave chicks about the size of that last bear he killed.)

But if the goal is something with staying power and long-term sustainability, doing the thing most guys do in high school and college to look cool or high-status to girls we meet, is pointless. It amounts to little more than trying to impress them and win their superficial approval. Even if we succeed, it provides no value to our future selves or our current or future children.

Dishonesty—even in the form of not disclosing those two or three things you don’t like sharing with others because you’re afraid they’ll run away or think less of you—WILL break your relationship. And the longer the relationship goes, the greater the pain will be.

So, we choose honesty.

I’m divorced, and largely responsible for it.

I have a young son.

I have ADHD and it sometimes strains my relationships and can affect other parts of my life, professionally and financially.

I’m a child of divorce.

I’m totally middle class but genuinely work hard to be more.

I’m not the kind of dude who can fix your overheated engine on the side of the road, or build you a shelter with my imaginary knife I always carry with me if we get lost in the jungle before I go kill our dinner.

This, this, and this is wrong with me.

I believe X, Y and Z even though it might make you uncomfortable and not want me.

After you take off the mask and share THE REAL YOU with someone? Those who want you, admire you, crave your companionship, enjoy your company; and want to be friends with you, invite you to parties, introduce you to their family and professional network, and think you’re the kind of person who could positively influence their children…

THOSE are the people with whom you build long-lasting, meaningful relationships in whatever capacity you choose.

THOSE are the people who love you, not because of what you do for them, or how you make them look to the people in their lives whose approval they seek, but because they really, just, love YOU.

Mark Manson’s “Maybe You Don’t Know What Love Is” got my wheels turning about this. In it, he writes:

“If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.

“This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A shit-storm of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.

“But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.

“But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.”

Life is difficult. It’s not easy even though we all wonder: Why not?! Relationships are difficult because they require energy and maintenance. Everyone wants love to be a feeling flowing from an eternal spring of easyness like infatuation and lust, two reasonably bullshit feelings exposed as frauds by how short-lived they are.

But not love.

Because love isn’t bullshit. Maybe love “the feeling,” is. But not real love. Not love “the choice.”

It’s the one you wake up and choose to give because you love without expectation of getting something in return. It’s unconditional. You don’t love because of what the person does for you. You don’t love because of how they make you feel about yourself. You don’t love because of the opportunities they provide you.

You just love. Without agenda.

Just because.

Maybe that’s how things come back from the dead.

Maybe that’s how something sacred and lost gets found.

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Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?

(Image/thetimes.co.uk)

(Image/thetimes.co.uk)

If we are referring to orgasms: Absolutely. I mean, you want her to like it and want to do it again, right? Sure, you do.

But in the Game of Life, as most people mean it when saying that phrase? I call bullshit.

I see it over and over again.

Because I’m a guy, and because Neil Strauss commercialized the pick-up artist industry and perhaps inadvertently turned the “seduction community” into a mainstream thing, I am often bombarded with “Here’s How to Get More Chicks!” marketing messages or “Be a man and learn some game!” blog comments.

It’s all coming from the same groups many of you may already be familiar with: MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), The Red Pill, or anyone identifying himself as a PUA (pick-up artist).

Like most things in life, it’s not as black and white as it might seem. There are lessons to be learned about self-respect, self-confidence, and general life tips for more effectively meeting strangers. A lot of guys suck at walking up to a pretty girl at the grocery store, striking up non-awkward conversation, and generating enough mutual interest for her to want to exchange contact information, or possibly date or sleep with him.

I’ve never been shy about telling you that scares me, and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve done it in the past three years. She probably has a boyfriend. She’s probably in a hurry. I don’t want to bother her. I don’t want to be a creeper. I don’t want to talk to her in front of her kids. I don’t want to talk to her in front of my kid. I don’t want her to judge the contents of my shopping cart. We probably wouldn’t work anyway.

There’s an endless string of irrational thoughts we invent in our own minds whenever we’re afraid of something and missing too much information. If we all walked around wearing signs: “Hi. I’m Tabitha. I’m divorced. Single. Have a son in fourth grade. Two dogs. I’m friendly. Please feel free to say hi!” or “Hi. I’m Linda. My relationship status doesn’t matter. I’m an introvert and don’t want to talk to you. Ever,” it would make things a lot easier for all parties.

To be sure, the PUA community sometimes offers valuable advice and perspective for men with self-esteem issues, or to decent guys who know too well the stomach-turning feeling right before walking up to a girl while praying none of the bad outcomes you just imagined in your head actually happen.

But, let’s be honest. Like totally, no-bullshit, let’s-not-pretend-this-isn’t-true-for-politically-correct-reasons honest: Most of these guys are assholes.

Some are not assholes. Some are pro-men (not anti-women) in much the same way most people who identify themselves as feminists aren’t anti-men. This is my one-size-never-fits-all disclaimer.

I know all of these guys are not misogynists.

I know all of these guys do not live lives that revolve around how much sex they have.

I know all of these guys do not think men are better than women.

I know all of these guys do not lie to women for the sole purpose of sleeping with them while secretly planning to never speak to them again.

But, right or wrong, I get the impression that many—probably most—do.

These men do as much good for the reputation of men as white supremacists do for caucasians.

This morning, someone was trying to sell me a book via email that would help me “slay hot chicks” and learn an important life secret about “Why nice guys will ALWAYS finish last.”

My “dishes” post received more misogynistic comments than I care to count, and a ton I couldn’t approve because I wasn’t going to let douchebag strangers call female commenters or my ex-wife the most-vile names our language has for women.

So, I’m going to pick on Jeff, who left this gem yesterday under She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You:

“Ha! You are so wrong and all of your dweeb followers. Women belong in the kitchen making sammiches. When i did all that shit and i mean all of it (i had to teach my wife how to bath and diaper our child etc etc) i cleaned cooked, house work. I think the most she did was grocery shop so she could find the most expensive organic produce. I had less sex. Now i dont do shit and have more sex. If she is home all day she can clean my underwear. If she wants me to do all that shit again, i will just take her debit card from her, hire a maid and get meals for myself and she can mve out.

“Its a fact that prostitutes are cheaper per sex than a wife.

“If my wife complains i ask her to go to work and i would be more than happy to stay home and clean and cook and talk with family and friends at my liesure. That shuts her up.”

That’s a solid example of the kind of guy I’m talking about.

He thinks because I’m single and not sleeping with a bunch of strangers all the time that I’m living incorrectly. And he thinks he has it all figured out and has mastered life because, if his comment is to be believed, he’s married to a subservient sandwich maker who blows him on demand.

I hope he’ll believe me when I say I don’t envy him.

Hey Guys! You’re Going to Get Old and Die

This may be hard for some to understand: I don’t think men should measure their lives by how much sex they have.

I know what cheap-and-meaningless looks and feels like. Maybe it makes you feel good. I don’t know. I only know what I experience. I don’t get it. I’ve never liked it.

I know what meaningful looks and feels like. That has always been good. I’ve never found it difficult to tell the difference.

Rather than pretend to be someone you’re not to get laid, why not make the real version of you awesome?

Rather than lie to con women into bed in order to feel accomplished, why not tell the truth to do so and see how much better it is?

Rather than disgrace our gender with pick-up tactics somewhat indistinguishable from sexual assault, why not behave with code and honor?

You don’t have to trick people to get them to consider you interesting. All you have to do is learn enough about something (you know, like you did with PUA tactics) to exhibit a little depth and intellect, and then you actually BECOME interesting in real life to anyone with similar interests.

The Measure of a Man

I think how much a man knows is worth more than how much sex he has.

I think how much skill a man acquires through hard work and practice is worth more than how much sex he has.

I think how successful a man is at achieving a harmonious and mutually beneficial marriage or relationship is worth more than how much sex he has (though, to be sure, he’ll be having a lot of sex in this case).

I think how successfully a man prepares children for adulthood and earns their love, admiration, respect and appreciation, is worth more than how much sex he has.

I think the stories people tell about a man at his funeral is worth more than how much sex he had.

I think how it feels in the silence—when all the lights and noise are shut off and there’s nowhere to hide—is a good barometer for how well we are living.

I think kindness and treating people well (including ourselves), striving to walk the higher path and sacrificing for something greater than ourselves, is a more noble effort than carving another notch on a bedpost.

I don’t know what the true measure of a man is. But I know this bullshit, Fuck People Over so I Can Periodically Feel Good for an Hour and Never Contribute Anything Meaningful philosophy ISN’T it.

We’re all going to die one day. And maybe we’ll have a little time to think about it before we do.

I already have enough regrets to reflect on when that day comes.

Maybe you do, too.

Nice guys finish last? Measured in cheap-sex currency? Sure.

Measured in any way that’s not morally bankrupt, or in penis-disease quotients?

Don’t bet on it.

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They Don’t Love Your Kids, and They Shouldn’t Have To

Dating with kids

The closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve had since getting divorced was someone I met in the first 10 months.

And that might sound like a long time to regular, non-divorced people, but I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you it took two years to stop feeling super-fragile and waking up in the morning without feeling like the universe had just spent the night brain-raping me.

She was throwing a birthday party for her kindergarten-aged son and I attended because my little guy was friends and classmates with the birthday boy. Totally pretty. Totally single. I asked her out. She said yes. We had a four- or five-month thing.

She is a very busy mother of three, working full time and running her kids around constantly to little league games, Girl Scouts, and whatever else. Because the father of her children is a substandard human being, she received ZERO amounts of help from him. Like, couldn’t even count on him to keep their children overnight once in a while. She had also lost her parents, making her the grand prize winner of the Least-Supported Mother I’ve Ever Met contest.

Even though she only lives a few blocks away, we were lucky to get together once a week for a few hours. Her children are her highest priority (as kids are with most parents), and in the end, the math worked against us.

That experience taught me two things:

  1. Dating school moms is a HORRIBLE idea because if it were to somehow end badly you’d be stuck seeing them for several years. (It worked out fine for me, but still. Single dads: Don’t date school moms.)
  2. Dating after divorce with children is very hard and complicated.

The Plight of the Dating Parent

I was afraid it would be hard to find people willing to date a divorced father. And it’s actually much worse and more difficult than I expected. The good news is that I was all emo about it during the initial divorce period. I was worried about it hurting. Divorced people are tired of hurting.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel nearly three years later, where I now sit emotionally steady and sharper mentally than I’ve ever been.

So, it doesn’t hurt. Not now. And that’s key. But it is somewhat frustrating and annoying because I’m good at recognizing data samples and long-term trends, and it’s super easy to see that having one almost-girlfriend for four-ish months two years ago doesn’t extrapolate to anything hope-inspiring looking forward.

If the goal is cheap sex and casual dating, children would only serve as a hindrance in logistical ways (only being available when the children are with the other parent, or making sure there’s a trusted sitter available), though I’ve heard of plenty of parents who don’t insulate their kids from their dating and/or sex activities, which I consider unwise and disgusting, but I don’t pretend to know everything.

Cheap doesn’t appeal to me, which is particularly inconvenient since celibacy also doesn’t.

Children present challenges for people who are dating with an eye on the future—those open to long-term relationships and possible marriage.

When you view dating through that prism, your children become the ultimate filter, with the parent asking: Would this person be a positive influence on my child? Would they make me a better or worse parent? And if the answers to those questions aren’t the right ones, the potential relationship is dead on arrival.

The other person (who may also have kids) asks: Am I willing to take on a stepparent role to this person’s children and love them as my own? Can I be unselfish enough to respect the existing parent-child relationship as well as understand that I can never replace the children’s biological father (or mother)?

I’m terrified any time I meet women with several children (which I define as three or more). When I imagine a life with them, I imagine never having any money, ever, and even less time, and it gives me anxiety and makes me feel even more selfish than I usually do. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I just know it scares me.

Which is the perfect segue to…

People Want What They Want, and It’s Often Not Others’ Children, and That Needs to be Okay

I didn’t think it was fair. Don’t they want the best possible partner? Isn’t that the most important thing?

Not dating me because I’m a father seemed shortsighted to me because they were never going to meet my son anyway unless it got to full-fledged boyfriend-girlfriend status at which time I assumed they’d lovingly accept my charming son as a valued addition to their life.

But really, I was the one being shortsighted. They weren’t making a choice for right now. They were making a personal choice about forever, and I wasn’t respecting it.

 

From a human value standpoint, I am not better than anyone. But in the context of the dating pool (of the non-cheap-sex variety)? I’m not better than the best men. But I like my chances of ranking in the top half, making me “better” than most men.

So, what the shit!? Why does it feel like I never meet anyone?

For the same reason most thirtysomething divorced parents feel that way.

Last time we were all single, we were high school or college-aged, and for the most part, we were almost exclusively surrounded by A. Single people, B. People our age, and C. People like us. I mean that culturally and demographically, which allows people to more easily discover common interests, participate in the same activities and feel comfortable with each other.

Fast forward 5-15 years to being divorced with children.

Now, we live somewhere else, or most of our friends have either married or moved out of town. We are not typically in social situations surrounded by single people, and while diversity is a great thing in the work place and in our friendships, the reality is too much cultural diversity in an intimate relationship–especially with kids (and philosophical disagreements on how to raise them)–can cause a ton of problems in marriage.

I swiped the previous three paragraphs from an obscenely long comment I left yesterday on Lisa Arends’ excellent and enlightening post “Dating After Divorce: What About the Kids?” at Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Lisa’s explanation of her choice to avoid dating single dads following her divorce helped me better see things through the prism of women who choose to not be mothers.

I used to believe it was practical to meet people the old-fashioned way. I’ve never been shy about saying online dating is horrible and unnatural and that I hate it more than cabbage which is subpar raw, and shitty and indefensible when cooked.

I also used to believe it was possible I’d end up dating someone younger than me who had never been married and didn’t have kids.

I’m not saying I prefer someone like that. That’s not how I think about dating.

I simply look for someone I feel drawn to, which tends to begin with physical attraction, after which interest grows or recedes relative to all of our conscious and subconscious filters and biases: Ugh. She’s not very interesting. Or. Wow. We have nothing in common. Or. Damn. She’s intolerably bitchy. Or. Whoa. This woman has a brilliant and sexy mind. Or. Sigh. She has the kind of heart I want pushing me to be a better man. Or. Uh-oh. This girl is amazing and it’s going to hurt if she doesn’t like me back.

But dating after divorce got scarier still when I realized the never-married/no-kids crowd wasn’t the option I thought it was. It’s a numbers game. The largest percentage of single people fall into that category, so when you take them off the board, things start to feel even more bleak.

I’ve never set out to meet someone of a certain age nor particularly cared whether someone had been married or had children prior to me meeting them. Of course, that’s really easy for me to think and feel as a now-divorced parent.

Parents with four kids don’t think having four kids is scary. They can’t imagine NOT having four kids. Yet, I can be scared of it.

Similarly, it’s not scary to have my 7-year-old at home half the time. In fact it’s logistically about as easy as single parenting gets. Yet, single women are often scared of it. Or more importantly, per Lisa Arends’ post, may deliberately choose not to get involved.

And it’s not because they’re busy or judgy or shallow or selfish.

In some cases, it’s because they respect us enough to not mess with our hearts and minds, and they’re thoughtful enough to not subject our children who we love above all things to any more loss or potential feelings of abandonment by that partner.

No matter how much we love our children, or how much it doesn’t feel like a difficult choice to put them first because it’s our default position as parents once they enter our lives, we still sacrifice an insane amount of time, resources, and personal interests on their behalf.

Imagine purposefully volunteering for all those same sacrifices when you have baggage-free options available to you. That would be akin to getting two job offers from different companies to perform the same job, only to learn that one of the jobs has a 90-minute-longer commute, more stressful hours, more complex problems, a crappy vacation policy and 30-percent less pay, and then choosing it over the other.

Both my parents remarried when I was young, so I grew up seeing and experiencing what stable, loving stepparents accepting and loving a child they didn’t produce looks like. It’s probably as easy for me to imagine loving another’s kids as it would be for anyone.

Not everyone had that experience. Hopefully because their parents stayed together.

But maybe because their parents didn’t, and then they had a bunch of negative or traumatic experiences with the strange men and women forced into their lives.

I can’t imagine how hard that might have been and how much worse my life might have gotten had that been my experience.

And maybe now they’re going to trust their instincts and do all they can to give themselves the best chance for a life of happiness and contentment.

I’ve never been able to see it that way until now. But then I read something that challenged my assumptions and made me grow up a little more.

That always feels good.

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Hypocrisy, Dating & God Hating Me

This_happened_LOGO_S

(Image/thishappened.podbean.com)

So, I met a girl.

She seems to like me.

It’s weird, because that never happens. (Yes, that’s hyperbole.)

But it’s also not weird because when it DOES happen, there’s always some obstacle, major inconvenience or unusual challenge attached to it. Always.

It’s The Matt Way®. Things can never just be normal and easy. Not with me. Luck might have something to do with it. Maybe ADHD, too. But all signs seem to point to this unfortunate probability: God must totally hate me.

I’m an asshole. Let me put that out there. I don’t mean that I’m mean and treat people poorly. I just mean, in a 50-percent-serious, self-deprecating sort of way, I’m an asshole.

Why am I an asshole, you ask?

Because I met her on an online dating site, which you might consider strange, if not impossible, since I swore off online dating more than two years ago and have constantly railed against it as shitty and horrible and unnatural and couldn’t POSSIBLY have an online dating account! And that makes total sense that you’d think that.

If it’s any consolation, I promise I’m really embarrassed about it, and that it’s not my first time being kind of a hypocrite.

A few weeks ago, because I’m a shitty planner, I let a weekend sneak up on me without making plans. One of my friends and I were going to go out for a few drinks. But then he got sick and needed to stay home. And then, because all my local friends are married and/or have children and don’t live in Asshole Single Guy World where smart planning has forsaken these lands, everyone already had full calendars and I ended up spending most of the weekend alone in my house, and that was that. I’d had enough.

Some people like being alone. I’m one of them, sometimes. I was an only child, and I love writing, reading, and poker—all things best accomplished alone or among strangers you don’t really want to talk to. Creeping up on three years removed from my marriage, I’m totally fine being alone.

The flipside? I’m ridiculously social. If I could ONLY choose company or solitude for the rest of my life, I would choose company for sure. Maybe even a lot of people. A lot of people is good. I like energy and connectedness and togetherness and all that shit. Very much. It’s life-giving to me. I’m at my very best in a room full of 40 people I know and love who brought along 10 strangers for me to befriend.

But there I was, watching HBO and football, and writing from my couch two weekend nights in a row, and I was done.

This is bullshit, I thought.

Match—the online dating site I used for a few months when I wasn’t emotionally ready to be dating two and a half years ago—had sent me one of their crap emails telling me someone had winked at me, or whatever.

I texted my friend: “Remind me again that I hate online dating and don’t want to do it.”

Huge mistake. He’s super-smart and I usually listen to him. Even worse? He is more than a year in with a new girlfriend (an excellent one) he met through Match.

I don’t remember what he said, but it felt like a two-handed shove toward the vortex of suck, and I fell in.

Also, I want to deflect some of the blame.

I used to whine here that no girls liked me on Match.

But then I read my profile that was still live from spring/summer 2013. It sounded EXACTLY like an insane, insecure, whiny, crying mess of non-sexy loserness had written it.

Good God, this is bad. No wonder that shit didn’t work.

I rewrote it.

I can’t be certain it’s the best-written Match profile of all time, but there’s a fair chance it’s the best in my 50-mile radius. Girls liked me. I talked to some of them, but there was nothing there. Even though it wasn’t a rejection festival to the degree it was more than two years ago, it still sucked ass.

I’ve said it a hundred times: I’m either someone who passes your primal attractiveness test, or I’m not. And if I do? You’re probably going to like me because, cocky as it may sound, I don’t make it hard. I’m not the smartest, funniest, wittiest, sexiest or most charming, but I have enough of all that stuff to make it work in real life.

But not so much on Match. And that’s what I hate about online dating. It takes away the one thing I tend to excel at: one-on-one interaction.

Even though I’m kind of a hypocrite about online dating, I’m not a hypocrite WHILE online dating. I try hard to be fair. And it’s perfectly fair for women to want to date tall, never-married, childless men. Those aren’t unreasonable preferences. I have preferences, too.

Match would be amazing for casual dating. If it was all about dating simply for the sake of having something to do. And I’d be all for that if I thought legitimate platonic friendships might result from doing so. But it doesn’t work like that. And if something can’t end well, I have a hard time investing in it. Even when I really like the other person and believe it could go somewhere if things were different.

People hear me say that and assume I’m wife hunting.

Not true.

I don’t crave marriage. It’s scary. I don’t even crave a committed, monogamous relationship. That has never been my objective, or even my hope.

My only hope?

To meet someone so amazing that I would want those things with her.

I’ve met some great people since becoming single. Under other circumstances, things could have gone differently.

But no previous encounter had a viable happy ending. Single parents put their children first. And when your loyalties are (appropriately) with your children, it often makes single adulthood more challenging.

Not that this thing now is less challenging.

She lives three hours away, even though she used to live in my town, because God’s hilarious.

Some people don’t think that’s a big deal, but I intentionally don’t date people who live even an hour away. Want to know why? Because that’s three hours, roundtrip on a wintry Tuesday night for dinner and a movie, and that’s some serious bullshit.

I don’t do it because I’m selfish and I want to actually see and spend time with the person I like.

I don’t do it because I think, fundamentally, long-distance relationships are unsustainable.

So, here’s the deal: I’m breaking a ton of my dating rules on this thing. But I’m not compromising ANY values. Not one.

Whether it was radical differences in life philosophy or personality, insurmountable geography, or a bunch of really bad timing, a fatal flaw in any potential relationship tended to rear its head immediately.

But not this time. Even with all the rule breakage. Not this time.

She lives three hours away.

She’s an insanely busy person, personally and professionally, which keeps communication comparatively infrequent.

She’s a mother of three. (I had a no-more-than-two-kids rule, because I already have enough trouble with time- and money-management.)

She might be a fraction of an inch taller than me. (Classic, right?)

Any of those four things would filter you out of my online dating preferences if these hadn’t been particularly unique and unusual circumstances, quite possibly orchestrated by a God intent on smiting me. “Hey guys, check out this dude, Matt. I kind of hate him. Watch this!”

And then, fa-la-la-la-la-la! Alakazam!

This thing.

And it’s way too early to know what “This thing” is, but I insta-turned off my Match account after meeting her and that felt like something.

And it’s way too early to be scared, but it still feels scary.

And it’s way too early to make judgments or predictions about anything, because really? Who knows anything, ever?

I only know that it’s different.

No matter what happens next, this time’s a little bit different. Because I’m still single. But I’m not still available. And that feels like something, too.

Wow, two and a half years feels like a lifetime ago.

Wow, this is crazy and different.

Wow, I’m going to hit Publish.

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Why Online Dating Might Not Be For You

farmersonlymeme

Maybe I was just doing it wrong. Totally possible. I’m good at several things, but there’s no reason to believe online dating is one of them.

I tried it pretty soon after my wife left. It was a very bad idea.

The first girl I met from Match.com liked me for real and actually got a little upset when she realized during our date that I wasn’t emotionally available. She politely explained to me how thoughtless and unfair that was. She was right.

The second girl I met ended up being the sister of a guy I happen to work with and we figured it out while chatting in an Irish pub. Bad idea!, we agreed.

The third girl was a very attractive hearing-specialist medical doctor who had just moved back to her Ohio hometown from Chicago. And even though she was a pretty doctor, she was the least-interesting conversationalist I’d ever met. Worse still? When the waitress at the Mexican restaurant asked us how we wanted our tableside guacamole made, I let her decide, and she chose to DOUBLE the amount of jalapeño, onion and garlic from how much they normally use. There wasn’t enough tequila in the restaurant to help me forgive that offense.

So, even when girls “liked” me online, meeting them was always mehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

But mostly girls didn’t “like” me.

Which is okay. I’m certainly not for everyone. However, as time marched on, and I heard others’ experiences, and I watched from the front row as one of my best friends navigated the online-dating landscape at the same time, dealing with many of the same things, I found myself souring on the process.

‘You Seem Like You’d Be Really Good at It’

The girl who cuts my hair asks about my dating life every time I see her. She likes to know who I’m talking to and whether there’s girlfriend potential.

A couple days ago, she asked “Are you online dating?”

I said no.

She asked why.

I said it’s not a good idea for guys like me.

She said: “What!? You seem like you’d be really good at it!”

Married women always think I’m swell.

“There are certain kinds of dudes who I imagine have a great time dating online,” I said. “You’ll just have to take my word for it that 36-year-old single fathers who look like me aren’t among them.”

“You’re an attractive guy. Plenty of single women would want to date you.”

“Thank you, but it doesn’t work that way on the internet.”

“I’ve been married a while and have never dated online. What do you mean?”

Glad you asked.

The Internet vs. Real Life

I’m not hideous to look at. My self-awareness extends to my self-perception. I’ll never be mistaken for a dashing billionaire playboy or movie star, but history suggests the general female population finds me more attractive than my spotty-at-best dating life might indicate.

And here’s why:

The experience of standing in front of someone and talking to them and watching them move around and interact with you and others is, historically, how people decide to whom they are attracted.

And I do pretty well with that.

People don’t often think of it this way, but sexual attraction (from a purely physical standpoint) is a simple pass-or-fail test. We either find a person attractive enough to get naked with, or we don’t. One or the other.

What determines whether we actually get naked with that person are the 90% of things that actually matter to us. How they make us feel. How they treat us and others. How their personalities mesh with ours. Whether we enjoy talking to them and want to do more of it. Whether we discover common interests and build intimacy. Whether they are safe and trustworthy, however we define that.

That’s how people become attracted to one another.

I’m decent-looking enough to pass the pass-or-fail attractiveness test most of the time, and I’m smart and friendly and kind enough, and occasionally charming and engaging and funny enough, that the person I’m standing in front of will sometimes want more.

But, if your Dating Résumé is like your Employment one, I have a few things working against me.

I’m 5’9”. Women tend to prefer tall men. But since the average female height in the United States is 5’5”, and the vast majority of women I meet are shorter than me, it tends to not be much of an issue in-person.

I’m graying. I have no idea how that plays in the minds of women either online or in-person, but my best guess is that it makes me more attractive to older women than it does to anyone my age or younger. I won’t pretend to know.

I’m divorced. To someone who has never been married, it means I come with baggage. And to divorced women who got screwed over by their exes, it could trigger feelings in them that maybe I’m like their ex-husband.

I’m a father. I have a 7-year-old son. Single women with no children aren’t always keen on becoming a stepmother to a child they’ve never met, or competing with that child’s mother. I imagine childless women frequently rule out fathers because of that. Single mothers are more likely to appreciate what a father brings to the table, but depending on her individual circumstances and experiences, may also be unwilling to take on a parenting role to another child.

When you meet someone in person, these things are often overlooked. After all, my son is never with me in adult social settings, and dating activities only occur when he isn’t home. Should the relationship ever graduate to “love,” I imagine parental status would be something of a non-issue.

But the Internet, Though…

Imagine being a single woman establishing your preference filters on an online-dating site.

As soon as you make your profile live, you have virtually unlimited options because of all the men vying for your attention. Whether you’re on Match or OKCupid or Tinder or FarmersOnly.com, you flip it on, and the requests start pouring in.

When you have your choice of anyone you want, are you really going to pay attention to divorced 36-year-old gray-haired guys with kids, when you’re 31, never married, no kids, and prefer tall men? When that’s all you know about them?

Of course not. I can’t say I blame them.

If you’re a divorced, single mother also attracted to tall men, are you going to? Possibly at a slightly higher rate, but single moms get plenty of interest online, too. It’s something of a numbers game, and even when they filter down to their favorite preferences, they STILL have virtually unlimited requests for their attention.

I’m a digital marketing strategist who is pretty good at understanding data and percentages. Shy, lonely guys with so-so social lives due to circumstances somewhat outside their control? It’s easy for them to want to sit safely in their homes and scroll through online-dating profiles where they don’t have to make eye contact and try to say something smart and attractive to a pretty stranger in public while simultaneously shitting themselves.

I get it.

But I’ve grown to believe there are a lot of people who probably shouldn’t subject themselves to this losing formula.

And nearly three years ago, I was one of them.

Broken and empty. I was desperate to fill the void. Desperate to feel liked by someone again. Desperate to feel wanted by someone again.

I turned to the computer screen because it was easy and low-risk. Just as millions of others do.

Be Brave

You know which camp you fall in.

You’re either someone who dates online because it’s fun and works for you, or you’re someone who ATTEMPTS to date online because it’s a low barrier to entry and feels safer than trying to do it the old-fashioned and scary way.

I wouldn’t waste ONE SECOND of my life on a woman who would choose her life-long partner based on height, or who would view my beautiful son as some kind of annoying handicap.

Do you know how many dipshit moron 6’2” assholes with lots of tattoos and no kids there are? Good luck, sweetheart! Hope you like Hot Pockets and pro wrestling! (Point of clarification: There are brilliant 6’2” tattooed guys with no kids that I’m sure are really awesome and infinitely smarter than I’ll ever be. And even if they like Hot Pockets and pro wrestling, it doesn’t make me better than them. Probably.)

So I hope people out there—particularly the guys in situations like I was—aren’t losing sleep over people with personal values so different from their own. (Hint: It was never going to be Happily Ever After. So look forward to meeting the person with whom you can achieve that.)

It’s a funny little thing, but in my experience, there is no place with more pretty girls walking around by themselves than the grocery store. It’s uncanny, really.

Sometimes they have kids. Sometimes they’re wearing rings. And many times, even without those things, you can be sure there’s a boyfriend waiting for them somewhere.

And even though I don’t often do it, because it’s the scariest shit ever, I really want to encourage guys to be brave enough to say hi to these women when they want to.

With confident eye contact, even if you have to fake the bravery.

The next time I see a woman respond to a guy brave enough to say hi to her with cold-shoulder bitchiness meant to shame him will be the first time. And EVEN IF that were to happen, I think it’s safe to assume you two didn’t have a bright future anyway. Because she sucks big-time.

Keep grinding away at the computer, if you must. I do know people who have met wonderful partners that way.

But don’t forget there’s a real world, too, and in it you’re worth much more than strangers on the internet might suggest.

Make bold moves with people you see and want to meet.

Because the worst-possible result is simply more of what’s already happening.

Nothing.

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The Best Relationship Advice I Know: Give More Than You Take

I feel certain that if one of them dropped their pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

I feel certain that if one dropped a pretzel, the other would give them theirs. (Image/Huffington Post)

There are three common reactions to my ‘An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands’ series, and I hate two of them.

Reaction 1: “Atta boy! Good for you for owning up to your part in the divorce and trying to help others.”

I agree because it’s true. I accept praise for my efforts to accept responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made. Mistakes without consequence rarely teach us anything useful.

Reaction 2: “You take on too much, Matt! It takes two to tango! It’s not all your fault! Stop being so hard on yourself!”

I disagree with that one because I’m not being hard on myself. I’m telling you the truth: If I had behaved daily—in good times and in bad—as a husband must to love his wife and thoughtfully tend to his marriage, there’s no way I would be divorced right now, and my son would have both parents at home, which I think is a big deal. Exactly zero people benefit in life from pointing fingers and casting blame for their life circumstances.

Reaction 3 (always from men): “This is bullshit! No matter how hard we work, or what we sacrifice, it’s never good enough! We go to work to pay for their house and their car and their hair and their nails and their jewelry! We give them everything we have! We make them orgasm in bed! And then when we want to have a drink with our buddies or play golf or watch a ballgame, we’re somehow failing them because they’re not getting enough attention? So you’re saying we just have to do whatever they want all the time, or we’re shitty husbands? Fuck them. Fuck that. Fuck you.”

The problem with this is that it rings true for many men. I think most husbands—justified or not— feel this way at times in their relationships.

No, I’m Not Saying ‘Do Whatever They Want’

Some people seem to think I’m telling husbands to submit to their wives’ demands. Let’s deal with that for a second:

Your wife should not be DEMANDING anything from you in your marriage except for you to respect and abide by her personal boundaries. All other “demands” are totally inappropriate.

If you got married without knowing your wife’s personal boundaries, it should come as little surprise that your marriage is shitty and unpleasant. You promised a lifetime to someone you didn’t actually know, and before you were intellectually or emotionally mature enough to make the promise.

If a husband or wife wants to bark orders at one another in their bedroom while they engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual role play, I assume that might build trust and intimacy, and prove good for the marriage in the long term.

But any man or woman who acts like a tyrant, making commands and abusing partners (physically, verbally or emotionally) when they don’t obey them? They can eat dicks.

So many people find themselves in relationships that aren’t partnerships, but constant power struggles as one partner jockeys for position and authority over the other.

“I work harder!”

“I make more money!”

“I’m the man of the house!”

“This household would fall apart if it wasn’t for me!”

Marriage can’t be like a business partnership where one partner owns 70% of the company, and the other owns 30%. The person with the majority share ALWAYS has final say. It makes sense for a wife or husband investing heavily in their marriage while the other doesn’t to feel like their opinions should carry more weight.

In marriage, both partners need to be fully vested in the union. Most people think of it as a 50-50 partnership. But my mom said something to me once, and I knew right away it was true: In a marriage, 50% isn’t enough. Only 100% is. Successful marriages happen when two people both give 100% to the other. Not meeting halfway, but going all the way to one another. A 100-100 partnership.

Give More Than You Take

According to Adam Grant’s business book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, there are three styles of interpersonal dealing:

Takers – They intentionally take more than they give. Self-oriented.

Matchers – They give and take proportionally to what they are given, and their willingness to give is conditional. Others-oriented when it will benefit them to do so because it will help them.

Givers – They always give more than they take. Others-oriented.

All three styles can be successful in the business world, though “taking” will earn you little goodwill.

Through anecdotal evidence backed by mountains of research, Grant concludes that being a giver yields the greatest business success (but also writes about under what conditions giving is a failing strategy).

I think it applies to every transaction we have in our lives. At work. In our spiritual lives. With our friends.

First we give. Then life gives back.

Our emotions are insanely powerful.

We say and do shitty things to the people we love because we are hurt or angry. It’s so easy to say “Oh, just be unselfish and generous to your partner all the time!” But it’s really hard to do. A million things unrelated to our partners preoccupy and stress us out. Pressures at work or school or with family members or with some other thing we’re super-involved in. We forget. We’re thoughtless. We NEVER think: “Gee. What really shitty and thoughtless thing can I do today to make my partner feel horrible and cry?”

Yet, even with the proper give-more-than-you-take mindset, you’ll probably upset your partner more than you’d prefer.

Being a person is hard. It just is. But you have almost no chance of having a satisfying life if you’re not at least generally aware of how to succeed in a committed relationship.

The only responsible choice is to actively seek to give more than you take, every day.

Even if you’re not a natural giver, what’s the downside of giving unselfishly in your relationship knowing YOU will benefit from doing so? Hint: There isn’t one.

Consider it.

Every day, you try to give more of your love and generosity and time and energy and patience to your partner. And maybe you’re like: “Whoa! That sounds draining and unsustainable!”

But wait.

Every day, your partner is ALSO giving more of their love and generosity and time and energy and patience to you.

You are now in a relationship where you’re trying to out-give one another every day.

You both feel good because you’re giving generously to each other. Unselfishness always feels good.

You both feel good because you’re both GETTING everything you need from each other. Getting stuff always feels good too.

I think this is what love looks like. And two people practicing it daily will live a fulfilling, regret-free forever-kind-of marriage together showing friends, family and children the blueprint for sustainable relationships along the way.

I know it’s hard. I did it totally wrong.

I’m selfish and defensive. So any time a future partner might tell me how I’m failing them, my first inclination might be to justify whatever I did and try to convince her why I’m fine and how she’s really the one with the problem. You know, instead of apologizing and meaning it like one does for the people they love.

But if I was in a relationship in which giving more than we take was the very foundation on which we were built, in which that was the code by which we lived, I think we’d figure it out.

I think we’d get through anything. I think everyone living that way will.

I wonder what’s stopping us.

Maybe we could start today and then everything would change.

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A Post About Nothing and Everything

(Image/teepublic.com)

(Image/teepublic.com)

I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen. Another one of those I-don’t-know-what-to-write moments.

“What happens if you just took a pass on writing a post for today?” a friend asked.

“I took a pass on writing a post on Wednesday,” I said.

Maybe it’s time to cut back to two days a week. Or maybe something awful needs to happen because I tend to do my best writing when I feel.

It’s not that I don’t feel. Life is just more typical of the human experience I remember having prior to all the shitty things that happened once I turned 30.

Maybe that’s something, though. Sometimes people hurting after divorce want someone to tell them how long it’s going to hurt. That’s what I wanted to know the most back then. When will I be ME again? Ever?

I kind of wanted to die for the first six months, didn’t care whether I died the following six, but noticed improvement. I don’t remember the 18-month mark which means it wasn’t that significant, and I must have felt better.

As we sit today, I am two years and more than four months away from the separation date—the worst day of my life. And I’m totally fine. Things about my life are shittier than when I was married. But some things are better. It’s how you feel when you wake up in the morning that really matters.

The “problems” I wake up thinking about today are a spoonful of sugar compared to the fuckness of divorce. I’m down nearly 20 pounds. I feel pretty good. I’m actively engaged in various business pursuits as I attempt to improve my financial standing.

It’s a very nice change. To not feel wretched all the time.

I’m not saying two years from now, you won’t hurt anymore. Everyone deals with these things differently in their own way and at their own pace. But I think MOST people are MOSTLY the same on the inside. I think you can mark your calendars for the two-year mark as a nice “I’ll totally feel better then!” benchmark. But don’t forget to be grateful each step of the way when you notice the pain fading.

It’s a slow process.

But you notice yourself breathing more easily, smiling more, living more fully, with each passing day.

As I sit here not knowing what to write, I choose gratitude for those things.

Things on my Mind

That’s usually what I try to write about. Whatever’s top of mind.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my career.

No one gives a shit. I’m not going to write about that.

I was interested in, and entertained by, last night’s GOP presidential debate even though I tend to feel mostly disgust for Washington politics (toward both major parties) and am usually politically engaged only during election cycles.

Political conversation is too divisive. Debate and defending myself exhausts me. And I’ve never (not even once) seen someone change their mind while discussing issues with someone with whom they disagreed. I don’t want to write about it.

To that end, I’ve been reflecting on relationships between people from different backgrounds or faiths or political philosophies, and whether it’s sensible for those people to try to make a relationship work.

Not unlike my general belief that couples too far apart in age are often making a poor choice in terms of sustainability, I have strong feelings about other aspects of a couple’s personality makeup as well.

I once spelled out exactly what I’m looking for in a relationship partner. It has been read just 162 times because it’s one of my oldest posts.

I went back and read it to see whether I feel differently today.

I don’t.

I’m not going to write about that because I already have.

So what am I going to write about?

Nothing.

Everything.

This.

I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter.

But I do know it’s good to be back. To recognize myself again. To feel back.

And maybe that’s what this is really about. You tell me.

*PUBLISH*

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Our Fake Lives

This post is totally not about the Manosphere. You're welcome.

This post is totally not about the Manosphere. You’re welcome.

I don’t know how much of my life is real.

Less than half, maybe.

Sometimes you just have to stop and shut the fuck up for a minute. Just stop. And every ounce of focus and energy you possess is dedicated to being still. Just breathing. For a moment, there is nothing else. Because you’re not thinking about yesterday. You’re not worried about tomorrow. A total investment in that next breath.

In, then out.

The faintest hint of a smile on your face.

And again: In. Through the nose. Hold it. Just a moment. Then, out. Through the mouth.

That’s one of the few times you can know it when no one else is around: This is real. I’m alive.

Different things make people feel alive.

Not everyone would feel it sitting at a Las Vegas poker table the way I do. Check. Bet. Raise. Re-raise. That’s right. Ship those chips, sucka.

Not everyone would feel it sitting at a keyboard. Tap-tap-tapping until things I think and feel morph into words.

But I hope most people feel it when I feel it most. In a crowd of good people, a bunch of friends, laughing, sharing. Connected.

Less than half my life is real.

It’s not real because I spend a lot of time mentally in the past. A place that no longer exists and where pain and sadness sometimes live.

It’s not real because I spend a lot of time dreaming or worrying about the future. A complete fantasy impossible to predict because we have no idea what’s going to happen five minutes from now.

It’s not real because I watch TV and movies more than I should.

It’s not real because of books and video games.

It’s not real because so much interaction with others happens via a digital device or on an internet platform.

I’ve always wanted this to be me. These words right here. But the truth is: They’re not, and can never be. Because however many hundreds or thousands of people ever read this stuff… they don’t (and can’t) see me as I am. They fill in the blanks like all of us do when we read books and stories. Our brains plug the holes with guesses, and we invent something that isn’t real.

I’ve been divorced more than two years now. In that time, I haven’t met or dated even one person locally who could conceivably be a serious girlfriend or potential stepmother for my son. That fact comes up in conversation sometimes.

“Do you want to have more kids?”

The mathematical logistics suggest it’s not happening anyway.

“Women who read your blog love you, Matt!”

I hear that sometimes, too.

I always answer it the same way: “Yeah, but it’s total bullshit. They don’t like the real me. They don’t know me. They like the version of me they invented in their head.”

And then I remind them what I just told you. Even though I’m pretty nice, reasonably funny, semi-attractive, passably competent, gainfully employed, and open to meeting people, the net result of two years of being alive as a single mid-thirties dad is: zero potential girlfriends. I wish I was kidding.

Maybe you should try online dating!’

A bunch of people know this already, but this blog was intended to be a dating blog when I first launched it. I thought it would be hilarious to be this emotionally wrecked, ticking time bomb, cliché, middle-aged divorced guy doing all the things those guys do, and then tell the stories along the way.

Edgy! Hilarious!

And I was trying to online date, but I was shitty at it in large part because I hated myself and wasn’t emotionally ready to be dating anyone, anyway, and was stupid for trying. Instead of owning that, I blamed my height since so many girls who online date only want to date tall guys, even if they’re only 5’1”, themselves.

That always annoyed me. Hence the name, Must Be This Tall To Ride.

Even though my motives for quitting were wrong (pride), I think I was right to not use online dating in an effort to fill the companionship void after my divorce.

It’s another part of this Fake Life problem I feel like so many of us have.

It got me thinking about this Culture of Disconnection we live in, DESPITE living in the most-technically (and technologically) connected time in human history.

It’s almost as if the more fiber-optic lines we lay, and servers we build, and devices we create, and online communities we join, the less-connected we feel in our actual, physical and spiritual, real lives.

The ones that are true and real when we first wake up in the morning.

The ones that are true and real when we’re standing in the shower shaking out the cobwebs or contemplating whatever today’s top concern is.

The ones that are true and real when we’re with all the people who really know us. When all the digital image management programs aren’t running. And it’s just us, live and in color, being a God’s honest human being with other people.

I don’t mean to disparage the Internet or social media. I am a happy and willing participant, particularly in the blogosphere. (Is that still a word?) And it’s a bona fide MIRACLE that grandparents living far away can FaceTime and Skype with their grandchildren, and that we can more easily than ever before stay in touch with people far away who mean so much to us. It’s so much better than no contact at all, and I’m grateful to be alive when these things are possible.

But when I take an honest, no-bullshit look at my own life?

I lean so heavily on you. I do. Like. Comment. Like. Like. Like. Comment. Like. Comment. Like.

I lean so heavily on escapism. A show I’m binge-watching on Netflix, or some new-ish movie on HBO GO.

And my biggest crutch? This phone. But not to speak. Not much.

Many days and nights, I didn’t feel lonely because I had people there, typing back to me in those little gray text bubbles.

And thank God. This is not a BAD thing. It’s not bad that we can stay in touch with people and not feel lonely for a moment.

But it’s a Band-Aid solution, and not even a particularly good one. Like a shitty, generic drugstore-brand band-aid.

Because sometimes our faraway friends get busy.

And even that little gray text bubble isn’t talking back anymore.

We get afraid. I’m not even sure of what.

But if you’re divorced or perpetually single and don’t live by a bunch of friends and family, you don’t need an explanation. You just get it.

And so the Magic Internet Elves invent all these tools for people. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Where people can paint whatever picture of their lives they want to.

Awesome. Great. Fine. But is it real?

And they invent online dating. Where people can Swipe Right and Swipe Left and send winks and messages to strangers based on a few strategically selected photos and their best sales pitch.

Awesome. Great. Fine. Now it’s really easy for single people to find each other. But is it real?

And they invent mobile devices to keep us “connected.” Where people can do all the Magic Internet Things no matter where they are with other “connected” people no matter where they are. But is that living?

I don’t know.

But I know that none of us have as much time as we’d like. I know that time goes so fast, even when I’m just sitting at home alone. And I know I don’t want to spend my life dead.

I’m not sure what it looks like. The life where I always smile and know I’m all the way alive again, connected and whole.

But I’m pretty sure it’s not going to happen watching that movie or liking that Facebook post.

Whenever I find myself unsure of what the next move should be, there’s only one thing left to do.

In, then out.

The faintest hint of a smile on my face.

And again: In. Through the nose. Hold it. Just a moment. Then, out. Through the mouth.

Because it always comes to me.

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