Category Archives: Life

It’s Time: I’m Launching a Podcast Soon

black and white coffee mug

(Image/Pexel.com)

“How are you doin’?”

“I’m great, I got that ‘excited/scared’ feeling. Like 98% excited, 2% scared. Or maybe it’s more. It could be two; it could be 98% scared, 2% excited but that’s what makes it so intense, it’s so—confused. I can’t really figure it out.” – Oscar, just prior to being launched into space, in the movie Armageddon.

I’m planning to launch a podcast soon.

Like in weeks, not months.

I’ve got that ‘excited/scared’ feeling. And the 98-to-2 ratio swings wildly, depending on the moment.

It’s been a while since I’ve gone journal-style here. I really do try to keep this space about articles that are helpful, so I apologize for the interruption. This is my only effective means of telling you what’s going on.

Writing has always been easy for me. I don’t mean the quality of it. For everyone who likes it, someone else thinks it’s trash. What I mean is, I spent 10 years writing newspaper articles for public consumption, so the idea of putting words down and sharing with others wasn’t particularly scary—only the subject matter.

But this podcast project? It’s an entirely different proposition.

I have zero broadcast experience. There were a couple of times at the newspaper when a regional news station wanted to interview me about one of my stories I’d written live on television. Every time that happened, I would disappear and not answer my phone or texts until they found someone else to fill in.

That’s how afraid I was.

Because I’ve written a few semi-popular things, I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed for a few radio and/or podcast shows, and in the process learned something I hadn’t previously considered: The ability to speak—to use tone and voice inflections to communicate ideas provides greater depth to the ideas I’m trying to share.

I can write a sentence, and it can be interpreted three different ways, and it’s sometimes frustrating as a writer to deal with feedback or criticism rooted in a fundamental lack of understanding what I’d intended to say.

Kind of like how I imagine most husbands and wives feel during every marital fight.

Why I’m Launching a Podcast

As afraid of this as I am, I am truly excited about the opportunity to communicate these things that matter so much to me, and that I believe so strongly in, in ways that I believe might resonate or connect more effectively with a particular listener.

Also, I’m just some schmoe. Some divorced guy. Some people inexplicably care what I have to say, and it’s my pleasure to keep talking about the stuff I talk about, but there’s a level of credibility I simply don’t possess to be able to legitimately help people struggling in their relationships.

And while I’ll continue to look for opportunities to share valuable insights from subject matter experts like my friend Jay Pyatt, who recently guest-posted on how to rebuild trust in a relationship following a betrayal, mostly this place is for me to tell the stories about my failed marriage that I hope some people can relate to and identify with in ways that might help them better understand their own marriage.

But the podcast? It’s an opportunity to feature experts, thought leaders, or even just really thoughtful or entertaining people I know who can have real conversations about real marriage that I hope people will like and connect with in ways not dissimilar from the feedback I’ve gotten here for the past five years.

On a Personal Note

Some of you know, but maybe most don’t: My parents split when I was 4, and then moved more than 400 miles apart.

Twice a year, my mom would drive to meet my dad, and I’d hug one parent goodbye and drive away with the other—sometimes for weeks; sometimes for many months.

Sometimes there were tears.

Sometimes I fucking broke. Just inconsolable in the backseat while one of my parents disappeared in the rear window, knowing it would be another half of the school year before I’d see them again.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But the one thing I was totally certain about was that I’d never get divorced and put my future children in a position to feel anything like that.

No way.

I was certain.

Five years ago, almost exactly, my marriage officially ended when a court magistrate signed a piece of paper filed away in the downtown courthouse.

And even though I’m in a pretty solid place today—mentally and emotionally RE: my divorce—there are still these little moments.

When my son hugs me extra-tight because he knows it will be a few days.

When my ex-wife texts me photos of their family vacation on the very same beaches we used to frequent when we lived in Florida right after college.

When I attend a family reunion for the weekend—one where a bunch of us were aware that this is likely the last time we’ll all be together while my grandfather is alive. And when I go to hug him—the guy who was the first to assume the role of father-figure for me during my first year living far away from my dad; the guy who taught me to fish, and shoot a BB gun, and who fathered eight children—my mother, the eldest.

And when I go to hug him, he tells me he has a gift for me.

Then hands me a cigar.

Weird.

Near as I can tell the man never smoked, and it was super-out-of-the-ordinary to be handed tobacco from him. So I just held it and stared for a moment, confused.

And this man, undergoing kidney failure, this physically weak and deteriorating version of a guy who was larger than life when I was 5 and needed him to be, tells me: “That’s the cigar your father handed me the day you were born.”

And now I own a nearly 40-year-old cigar that is one of the most precious objects in my life.

Because my grandfather—the father of my mother—kept a cigar given to him by the man she divorced who lives several hundreds of miles away for the better part of 40 years.

And then was somehow thoughtful enough amidst his uncomfortable life and failing health to dig it up and hand it to me.

And you might be wondering what the shit that has to do with MY divorce and MY son and MY ex-wife, and I can’t really answer that.

I just know it mattered.

I just know that family matters.

Love matters.

And that’s why I write things. And that’s why I’m starting this podcast.

About the Podcast—‘It’s Not About the Dishes’

It’s not the most amazing podcast title in the world, but it accomplishes one very important thing.

It automatically prompts the question: What does that mean?

And the answer is layered—just like all of these nuanced and complicated conversations we have about relationships, marriage and divorce here.

To many of you, the symbolism will be evident—in January 2016, I published an article called She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink, and several millions of people read it, and it’s basically the entire reason anyone gives a shit what I have to say.

There are more than 4,000 comments on that article. Most of them full of positive feedback. Others? Not.

I don’t need anyone to like it.

But the part that’s always eaten away at me are all of the people who totally missed the point. All of the people who didn’t get it.

There were all these people who said: “OMG! Your wife was such a control-freak! Who gets divorced because of the dishes? Your feelings about where to put that drinking glass matter just as much as hers! It’s your house too! You’re better off without her, dude! Grow some balls!”

The entire point sailed a thousand miles over their heads: It’s not about the dishes.

And that conversation is rife with peril.

The complex and layered nature of that conversation is the very reason we continue to see more than half of all relationships fail. (About half of all marriages end in divorce, and MOST dating relationships fail before marriage.)

I hesitate to make promises, but in an ideal world, there would be one episode published per week. I’m thinking 45 minutes each, with the majority of them featuring a guest who I perceive to be qualified or well-suited to discuss whatever the topic of the day may be.

I want it to matter to people. To be useful. And maybe even fun. We’ll see.

This is a subject I take personally—relationships. Marriage. Divorce.

My life has been defined by it.

It’s rarely been pleasant, but I usually try to make the best of things. And if my experiences can somehow help others avoid some of the negative consequences of broken homes and families, or if my experiences can make someone suffering from them feel less alone, then maybe I can die one day feeling like I did something worthwhile.

Something that mattered.

I hope this can be that—something that matters.

I’m really scared. But I’m also really looking forward to sharing it with you.

Thank you so much for being a part of it.

…..

Here’s What I Sound Like

So, I had to do a mic test. It’s full of poorly calibrated mic settings, and contains some vocal flubs, but I recorded an audio version of You’re Right Guys—You Can’t Make Women Happy, and if you’re interested in hearing what the podcast will kind-of sound like (minus guests), you can find that recording here:

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The 3 Tiers of Lying and How Well-Intentioned Lies Can Still Destroy Relationships

chair in spotlight

(Image/iStock Photos)

How many times have you lied to people you genuinely love and respect in the past few days?

If someone asked me that, I’m pretty sure I’d say “Zero! I don’t lie to people, but especially not to those I care about most!”

And by doing so, I’d be telling another lie.

I don’t think of myself as a liar. I don’t think of myself as dishonest.

But maybe I am.

I used to think I was this really good and nice person just because I got along with people so well and had a bunch of friends. And you know what I found out later? That my behavior sometimes hurt people—friends and family. And you know what else I found out later? That my behavior often hurt my wife, and even though I thought of myself as a good husband, she thought and felt differently, and left anyway.

I’m pretty sure the fact that I was hurting my wife rules out the possibility that I was one.

So let’s get honest for a minute.

The uncomfortable kind.

The truth is that I probably lie all of the time and because I label it something else, I don’t feel like a liar.

I want to talk about why, because I think it’s probably significant as to how marriages, or relationships in general, deteriorate slowly through these tiny little breaches of trust that I think work a bit like a tree being chopped down.

Each swing of the axe affects the tree’s structural integrity just a little bit. If the trunk’s large enough, you can keep chopping away for the longest time, and everything seems fine. The tree remains standing.

And then, maybe on the fiftieth, or hundredth, or thousandth swing, it comes crashing down.

It wasn’t the last blow that caused the tree to fall. It was all of them before it. The cumulative effect.

The final blow wasn’t more damaging than the first or tenth. It was just the last one the tree could handle before giving way.

We talk a lot about these little moments that add up in relationships. These seemingly inconsequential little conversations or arguments where one person hurts the other, and some kind of fight ensues, before an eventual apology or mutual calm takes over and things seem to return to normal.

These are the tree-chopping moments. A little bit more damage was caused, but by all appearances, that tree stands tall and looks like it will remain so.

I think the person who felt pain (which is sometimes both of them) noticed the extra swing of the axe, and maybe the person who didn’t feel pain, and spent the fight defending their behavior and spinning the moment to accuse her or him of overreacting and misinterpreting the situation, forgets all about it.

So, what is a lie?

The 3 Tiers of Lying

I like to rank things. Sorry.

I think there are three tiers—three categories—of lies.

And in my opinion, one is very bad, the second can range from very bad to just kind-of bad, and the third doesn’t feel bad at all.

I think a lot of people categorize mistruths in their own minds, just like I do, and they can morally justify some of them because they don’t really feel like lies.

Tier 1 – Lying Evil Piece of Shit Lies

They’re the worst and most indefensible kind of falsehood. Lying Evil Piece of Shit Lies involve a person being intentionally deceptive for some nefarious purpose. To steal. To con someone into sleeping with them. Whatever.

Example:

Man meets Woman at business event. She’s single. He’s not wearing a wedding ring. He invites her to dinner. She likes him. They start seeing each other. Sleeping together.

And then one day, she’s out with friends at a random restaurant, and in walks the guy she’s seeing with another woman and three children.

All along, he’s been misrepresenting himself to both her and, presumably, his wife and family.

Fuck that guy.

Tier 2 – Cover Your Ass or Look More Awesome Lies

These are STILL indefensible in my estimation, but at least I GET why someone would do it.

Circumstances matter. Because a Cover Your Ass lie could certainly look and feel an awful lot like a Lying Evil Piece of Shit lie under the right circumstances, such as:

“Where were you last night?”

“I was playing cards with the guys. Just like I said.”

But she knows he wasn’t there because the actual person hosting the poker game texted her to ask where her husband was.

And the truth is, he was with a woman he’s having an affair with.

BUT.

That identical scenario can happen, and it wouldn’t seem like an Evil Piece of Shit lie at all.

For example:

“Where were you last night?”

“I was playing cards with the guys. Just like I said.”

But she knows he wasn’t there because the actual person hosting the poker game texted her to ask where her husband was.

And the truth is, he was meeting their travel agent because he’s going to surprise his wife with an elaborate trip overseas to celebrate their upcoming wedding anniversary.

Our self-preservation instincts are strong. It’s how our ancestors survived lions and bears trying to eat them all the time. So when we’re afraid that telling the whole truth will HURT us, it’s not hard to resort to a lie that doesn’t feel ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ in order to avoid experiencing that hurt, or feeling what would seem to be unnecessary discomfort.

I tell self-preservation lies sometimes. I do.

I don’t think I tell them in my close personal relationships in a way that I perceive to be a breach of trust, but I also know better than to trust my own judgment anymore.

Maybe I’m just embarrassed about something that someone else doesn’t really need to know, so I find some other way to say it that isn’t the most truth I could tell.

I don’t think it’s good.

I think it’s lying, and I think lying is almost universally frowned upon as a bad thing for good reason.

I understand why someone might make something sound cooler than it actually was to try to impress a date, or professional colleagues, or friends.

I understand why someone might omit a detail, or talk around some embarrassing thing when explaining a situation because they’re afraid of that person they’re crushing on, or their friend, or their co-worker thinking they’re a douchebag and not wanting to hang out with them anymore.

We are irrational creatures, us humans.

Tier 3 – Little White Lies

You already know about these. You probably tell one every day, and don’t think twice about the moral implications of doing so because they don’t FEEL wrong or bad. They just don’t.

If I think a meal tasted kind of shitty, and I say “Thank you so much for dinner. It was wonderful,” I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

I played along with stories about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy that today I actually have mixed emotions about, because I have legitimate concerns about the psychological effect it has on kids when they grow up and realize the ENTIRE WORLD, including the people they love the most had orchestrated a scheme to make them believe that something was real that actually wasn’t.

No one was trying to hurt anyone, and it’s all done in the spirit of childhood innocence and helping kids have a good time, so we all convince ourselves it’s fine. That it’s a good thing, even.

But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve begun to question how true that is.

If I don’t like someone’s shirt, or haircut, or new car, or whatever, and they ask me about it, I’m not going to tell them the whole truth if I believe doing so will offend them or hurt their feelings.

Maybe that makes me some kind of coward or weakling. I don’t know.

I just know I don’t like how it feels to say or do things that make people feel bad, and not ONCE in my life have I ever intentionally tried to do that.

So, sometimes, I won’t tell the whole truth because I perceive it to be the ‘right’ thing to do.

NOT hurting someone I care about > Being the most honest I can possibly be.

I think there’s a reasonable debate to be had about that little math equation, and I think how everyone feels about it will depend on a thousand unknown variables.

How Lies Destroy Marriages and Compromise Relationships

Here’s the part I didn’t get when I was married and was justifying the Little White Lies or Cover Your Ass lies I told.

Human beings have NEEDS. Not wants. Not nice-to-haves. NEEDS.

And the needs people have come with varying degrees of importance.

For example, we NEED a phone, right? And it’s a life emergency that yours just went over the side of the boat and sunk to the bottom of the lake or ocean.

But now, you get word that a tornado swept through your neighborhood, and your house is gone. You don’t have anywhere to live. How big of a deal is that lost phone feeling now?

You’re homeless, and you can’t even text your friends or put up a sad Instagram post about it. It feels like the sky’s falling at this point.

But suddenly, the sky IS falling. An asteroid falls down to Earth out of nowhere and it’s dark and scary, and it doesn’t take everyone long to figure out that the ash cloud from the asteroid impact is going to block out the sun for the next two years, and all plant and animal life on earth is going to die. How big of a deal is the tornado-hit home situation now?

It’s chaos. Scary. People are looting big-screen TVs they can’t watch because there’s no power or internet right now. Everything looks post-apocalyptic, like you’ve seen in the movies.

But suddenly you hear a gunshot, and the Jolly Rancher piece of candy in your mouth goes down the wrong pipe, and you can’t breathe. You’re choking. No matter what you do. Your body can’t get air. If you can’t unblock your air passage, you’re dead in 30 seconds…

How scary does that gunshot you heard feel now?

That’s probably excessively dark, and I’m sorry, but it amateurishly illustrates something in psychology called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, and it’s usually presented in pyramid form like this:

There are these things in life we all want and need. BUT, if you take away one of the foundational needs holding it up? None of that other shit matters. We’re stuck trying to regain that foundational need, and things can’t improve until we do.

If you look at Maslow’s pyramid, you’ll notice that after the most basic human needs like air, water and food, the next thing people need is Safety.

Some people only think of ‘safety’ in the context of physical safety. Like NOT getting murdered or kidnapped or burnt by fire or hit by a moving vehicle.

But there are other elements to safety, and I think it’s common for men—young and old—to have the wrong idea about safety and trust in their relationships that will inevitably lead to divorces that neither they nor their wives actually want.

People ALSO need to feel ‘safe’ financially. People need to feel ‘safe’ with good health. People need to feel ‘safe’ emotionally.

People need to be able to trust their romantic partners to not hurt them.

Sometimes a husband leaving a pair of dirty socks on the bedroom floor HURTS his wife.

Sometimes a wife not demonstrating faith in her husband’s ability to succeed at something HURTS her husband.

And sometimes, being lied to hurts.

Sometimes—even if the lies told were designed to preserve someone’s feelings or simply cover your ass—the experience of being lied to by the person you love and trust the most HURTS.

So maybe several years ago, your girlfriend found out you were going to strip clubs all the time and getting lap dances, and maybe that really hurt her feelings.

And maybe you promised to never do that again.

Then, maybe a couple of years after that, during your engagement, your fiancée figured out that you were looking at porn, and it made her feel bad in the same way you going to those strip clubs made her feel bad.

Maybe when she asked you about it, you lied. And she knew you lied. And maybe because you don’t think looking at pornography is a big deal, you don’t think she should make a big deal out of it.

It’s not like I’m cheating, or even looking at a real-live person!

You just want to protect her feelings.

So you don’t tell the truth. For HER, you tell yourself. But really you just don’t want to feel uncomfortable, but it’s easy enough to justify.

And maybe this keeps happening off and on through the months and years.

And then maybe one day you’re married and on a bachelor party golfing trip with your buddies out of town, and one of the guys hires a stripper to the vacation house you guys are staying in. You’re all drinking and having a good time, but everything’s on the up and up, behaviorally.

Then maybe your wife asks you on the phone what you guys are doing, and you say you’re playing cards and having drinks, and it’s actually true.

But she also knows that your buddy hired a stripper because she’s friends with one of the other wives, who casually mentioned it with an eye roll: Our big, silly, idiot husbands, amirite?

Strippers and pornography were never a marriage problem or breach of trust in her house, so she didn’t realize the trigger she just caused your wife.

Suddenly, she’s the young woman crying about your strip club appetites back when you were in your early twenties again.

Suddenly, she wonders: Why would he lie to me about that? What ELSE does he lie to me about?

There’s no answer he could ever give to convince her that he actually respects his wife.

There’s no answer he could ever give that would make that feeling go away. Those nagging questions: Who is this guy? Do I really KNOW my husband? If I don’t even know who this guy is, how can I trust myself to know who I can feel safe with, and who I can’t? If I can’t trust my husband anymore, maybe we shouldn’t be married. Oh my God. I’m so afraid of what might happen to us and our kids.

I don’t trust my husband.

I don’t trust myself.

I don’t feel safe in my life.

And maybe that’s the end. Maybe that’s the moment the marriage ended and a family broke apart, whether anyone realized it as it was happening.

We All Wear Masks But Must Take Them Off With Our Forever Person

We all do in some form or fashion.

But the people who MUST always have behind-the-mask access is our spouses or long-term committed romantic partners.

That’s the only way it works.

We hide parts of ourselves because we fear rejection.

It’s difficult and scary to take off the armor for someone not knowing whether they’ll choose to stab us in the heart.

But the couples that make it to forever?

They’re the ones who were brave enough to.

We tell lies sometimes and they don’t even feel bad or wrong.

But, just maybe, even when we’re not telling Evil Piece of Shit Lies, and the people who love and trust us most find out that we were dishonest with them, maybe the PAIN is the same as an Evil Piece of Shit Lie.

And then.

Maybe even less-severe Cover Your Ass Lies and totally innocent Little White Lies begin to cause that SAME amount of pain.

That same feeling of betrayal and mistrust.

That loss of safety.

I can’t even breathe.

And then it’s over.

But with the slightest adjustment; just a little bit more courageous honesty and trust-building, maybe that tree remains.

In the most tumultuous and violent storms.

Steady.

Tall.

Rooted.

Strong.

Always.

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If Marriage Were an Airplane, Which Matters More—the Engine or the Wings?

plane-is-taking-off-at-sunset

(Image/bt.dk)

I’m not an aviation expert or aeronautical engineer, but I’m pretty sure airplanes need their engines AND wings both to be working properly for a flight to be successful.

And think about how much is at stake.

When an automobile stops working, we can usually pull it over to the side of the road without much danger or risk.

Even when a boat hull fails, we have a fair chance of surviving with floatation devices and swimming, so long as land is within reach.

But when an airplane stops working, the results are usually very, very, very bad. We don’t need to talk about it.

I’m probably biased because nothing worse than divorce has ever happened to me, but I perceive the stakes involved in marriage to be similar to an airplane ride. If you’re anything like me, a part of you dies once you don’t get to be someone’s spouse, or someone’s all-the-time parent anymore. A part of you dies once you realize you’re a single parent and have to go through life under conditions you’d never even conceived of before.

Damaged, maybe broken. Baggage. Guilt. Uncertainty. Maybe anger. Probably regret.

You get it.

Divorce sucks ass.

I’ve not been in an airplane accident, but I can imagine they are, you know, really awful.

So which matters more?

The engine?

Or the wings?

How Marriage is Like an Airplane

I think it’s easy for people—young people, particularly—who have never been taught otherwise to think about marriage the same way they think about their current dating relationship with their girlfriend or boyfriend.

You remember being in high school or college-aged and feeling in love?

It was the cutest shit, ever. You missed one another because you were apart all of the time, either living with your parents in high school, or involved in various social or educational activities in college, or super-busy at work during your early adult years.

It’s EASY.

And I think young men and women ask themselves after a year or two of dating: Is there any reason to believe we can’t just keep doing this forever?

And of course, everyone thinks they can.

Everyone thinks they can be Forever Boyfriend and Girlfriend.

Two individuals with individual lives who complement one another so well.

But then MARRIAGE happens—or even just a marriage-like forever commitment and co-habitation scenario materializes—and suddenly we’re dealing with something else. And I think the ability or inability to understand the difference between the before and after is what determines the success or failure of most marriages.

A marriage is like an airplane.

It’s NOT two individual things in close proximity to one another.

It’s two things (the spouses) totally and complete fused together to form ONE thing (the marriage).

One spouse is the wings.

One spouse is the engine.

And to put it bluntly, the reason MOST relationships fail is because one of them stops functioning as its needed.

When the engine dies, the plane crashes.

When the wings fall off, the plane crashes.

When one spouse isn’t giving to the marriage what the marriage requires, the marriage dies. Every time.

We can’t rely on just one critical airplane component to get us to our destination.

We can’t rely on just one spouse to hold a marriage together, and certainly not to nurture one and make it thrive.

A marriage isn’t just two things.

A marriage is one thing. One vitally important thing.

But a marriage is comprised of two individual, but equally vital parts. One cannot work without the other.

You can be broken wings before you’re airborne.

You can be a non-firing engine while sitting still on the ground.

You can NOT feel the pressure of being responsible for the lives of others as a single person with no one but yourself to care for and answer to. That is an option, and one worthy of consideration.

But we all know that’s not what most people do. Most people get married, or couple up. About 95 percent of people, in fact.

And as soon as you do, you no longer get to take days off. You don’t get to only function some of the time.

When the plane is in the air, there’s very little margin for error.

Once you take the vows—once you promise someone forever. Once you make and share children. Once you form a home. A life.

You’re an airplane in flight.

Maybe the wings.

Maybe the engine.

In either case, there’s only one way that it ends the way you want it to—working in tandem every day, forever.

And the sky is a blank canvas, a crossroads with never-ending options, a compass with unlimited possibilities.

A place above the clouds.

Where love is the fuel.

Fly.

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An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

pie-chart-people-count by Wonkhe

(Image/Wonkhe)

Imagine a pie chart.

But not the kind with only a few slices like you might see in classroom presentations or this image above.

Think about a pie chart that is attempting to illustrate every imaginable hobby or personal interest known to man.

Mountain biking.

Astrophysics.

Rap music.

Sewing.

Tap dancing.

Politics.

Mixed martial arts.

Gardening.

Architectural design.

Cars.

Books.

Religion.

Solitaire.

Ice sculpting.

It would be the largest, most impossible-to-read pie chart in history, but please try to imagine it anyway.

So, because we only live for about 80-ish years on average, and because most of us tend to grow up surrounded by “people like us” in our cities, towns, schools, sports teams, churches, etc., the vast majority of us only ever see a ridiculously tiny slice of this Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart in our lifetime. Add up all of our hobbies and interests over the course of our lives, and maybe none of us ever even come close to sniffing 0.01% of all of the possible things out there that people do and care about.

Kids growing up in rural Manitoba, Canada or Oklahoma are statistically likely to have different hobbies and interests than kids who grow up in the heart of Los Angeles or central Prague.

There are all kinds of wonderful applications for this thought exercise.

Dwell on this long enough, and the obviousness of how insane and bullshitty it is to dislike or mistreat other people based on their particular religion or skin color or political affiliations or personal preferences for who they love simply because they’re different than yours becomes really evident.

People have a nasty habit of classifying anything different than what they believe or prefer as ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ or even ‘wrong.’

I know it’s uncomfortable to think about the possibility that everything you were taught might be bullshit like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but the sooner you come to terms with the fact that literally no human beings know, or have ever known, with 100% certainty the answers to life’s greatest mysteries (we can’t even get a manned mission to Mars—the nearest planet to Earth), the sooner we can all stop being gigantic dicks to one another just because some of us were taught different stories when we were little than other kids who were taught different things in faraway places.

But healthy self-awareness and mature social consciousness aside (which as a cool bonus will make you much less of an asshole for the rest of your life), the reason we’re thinking about this massive Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart is because I don’t want you to accidentally hurt the person you’re dating or married to every day for the rest of your life until you inevitably break up or get divorced and end up a lonely sad sack with no friends.

You’re worth so much more than that.

And THIS super-simple idea can help your relationship with your future romantic partner or spouse thrive, or at the very least, help you NOT accidentally sabotage it because you didn’t know this secret.

Relationship Secret: Care About Things Because the Person You Love Cares About Them

You are NOT a bad person for liking pro wrestling and video games, and hating classical music and knitting classes.

That’s not what makes a person bad. DIFFERENT does not mean the same thing as BAD.

However.

If you’re anything like me, you have a natural tendency to prefer some things over other things, and your brain mistakes your preferences and interests as having greater value than everything that ISN’T in your tiny sliver of the Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart.

Your stuff is “worth more.” Your stuff “matters more.”

So, maybe you love steak and you’re out with friends, and one of them orders some abomination like a well-done strip steak, and then dips it in ketchup when they eat it.

It is NOT bad that in your mind and heart, you’re secretly like holy shit, do they know how to ruin a steak dinner.

It IS bad if you say out loud: “Holy shit. What are you—stupid or something?” It will likely lead to having fewer friends and the people you spend time with not liking you very much.

And if the person demonstrating different preferences than you is someone you hope to have a long-term romantic relationship with, acting this way WILL end your relationship one way or another.

Don’t just think about food or musical tastes or what you like to do with your free time.

It’s everything.

Everything someone thinks, does, and feels is a result of all of their individual experiences from the moment they were born through right now.

Everyone’s 0.01% of the pie chart is going to be a different blend then everyone else’s, and inevitably lacking 99.9% of the life experiences necessary to objectively measure how much they like or dislike other slices of the pie chart they’ve never even heard of or experienced before.

Imagine a large black piece of construction paper.

One that I punch a tiny hole into with a needle.

And then I block your view with that piece of paper and ask you to accurately describe what’s on the other side only having that tiny pinhole to work with.

That’s what all of us are doing every second of our lives.

None of us have unlimited knowledge, time, nor the education and life experiences necessary to evaluate the big, uncharted alien world around us.

Everyone who tries ends up looking and sounding like an asshole, and they make their spouses or romantic partners feel shitty. They make their spouses or romantic partners fantasize about being with someone who wouldn’t communicate—verbally or otherwise: “Everything you like and care about is stupid and worthless. I don’t love or respect you enough to try to understand why it matters to you because it’s a complete waste of my time.”

Again: The Reason to Care is Because You Care About Them; Not Because You’re Naturally Interested in the Same Stuff

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much this matters.

You have to learn how to silence your inner monologue that communicates how ugly that painting they love is, or how terrible that food they love tastes, or how crappy that song they love sounds.

It’s totally okay that you feel that way. It’s a math equation that made you feel that way. It would be impossible for you to NOT feel that way. You can’t control that.

But you CAN control what you do with that feeling.

I used to believe it was okay to just be honest and say out loud what I was thinking. I used to believe it was okay to openly mock or chide my friends or wife for everything they liked or believed that was different than my likes and beliefs.

But then my wife moved out after nine years of marriage and I lost a bunch of my friends and now every day is shittier and more difficult than necessary.

It seemed fine, totally fine, to like what I liked and pay no attention to the rest of it.

And if you want to live a single life with a bunch of surface-level relationships with other people (no judgments here—that’s totally an option if you don’t crave the things long-term relationships and marriage provide), it IS totally fine to live that way.

There’s no law against asshole-ism. Choose it if you want.

But.

If deep down, you’re embarrassed by the idea that you might be causing people you care about to feel awful and not even realize it, and if you’re really interested in a long-term romantic relationship or marriage that doesn’t end all shitty and horrible with a bunch of tears and lawyer fees, then try this one simple life trick.

That person you care about is super-interested in something that doesn’t interest you at all.

I’m not asking you to change your internal chemistry through sorcery to make yourself like stuff you don’t naturally like. That’s impossible.

But it IS possible to mindfully invest your time and energy to understand what it is about a particular hobby or interest that captivates this person you love.

It IS possible to learn more about it, and through that discovery, gain a greater appreciatiation for your loved one’s personal passions.

In addition to not constantly shitting all over the things that make your spouse or partner or friend feel joy, the simple act of you investing in what they care about will build a new bridge between you. A new bond. An extra tether, binding you together.

You know what happens when you add additional tethers to two objects, right?

They strengthen.

Become more secure.

Sturdier.

They don’t drift apart.

Steady.

They stay connected.

Together.

Always.

Unbreakable.

And if I may be so bold, I think every day of the rest of your life, and the lives of everyone you interact with will be better for it.

You don’t change the world one grand dramatic act at a time. You do it by making the slightest little course adjustments millions of times, causing other people to do the same. Like ripples in a pond.

Leaving everything just a little bit better than you found it.

Maybe they won’t write books or sing songs about it. But that’s what makes you legend.

That’s how you change the world.

And I can’t wait to see it.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

Aladdin and Jasmine

I remember liking this movie, but the idea that Aladdin and Jasmine will live happily ever after just because it feels good right now is every bit the fantasy that a magic carpet and wish-granting genie are. In other words, it’s kind-of bullshit. (Image/FanPop via Disney)

Author’s Note: Before we begin, you should probably grab a spoonful of sugar. Because this isn’t going to taste very good.

Do you remember when you learned the truth about Santa Claus?

Or when you heard awful stories about Bill Cosby or Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer, or some other person you admired, and you felt like something was stolen from you?

It’s easily one of my least-favorite things about growing up.

When you finally get to peek behind the curtain and you realize that the great and powerful Oz is really just some charlatan.

There have been, and will continue to be, these moments in life when you discover that some things are just a little bit darker and uglier and scarier than we believed. They make us feel uneasy for a little bit, but then we move on, and find joy in other things.

We find hope in new places.

I’m not sure whether training yourself to expect the unexpected is even possible, but if it were, it would be an amazing life skill to practice.

Everything that hasn’t happened yet lives only in our imaginations, and you’ll be disappointed to learn that we’re all pretty lousy guessers. Some things will be better than you expected and you’ll feel good because of them, and other things will be worse, and then you’ll feel bad after those experiences.

That’s your entire existence emotionally, in a nutshell.

Reality vs. what you thought would happen.

Do we want to be negative and cynical, and occasionally be pleasantly surprised?

Do we want to be positive and optimistic, and often be disappointed?

I don’t know what the answer is, nor do I think there’s much you can do about it. You’re you. And no matter what that looks, sounds, and feels like, you should embrace being yourself, because no one else gets to.

Try your best. KNOW you will mess up. KNOW other people will mess up even if they hide it really well.

Be uncomfortably honest with yourself, because maybe after you practice that enough, it won’t feel hard anymore.

Because now we have to talk about something uncomfortable.

It’s not an easy conversation to have because your brain and body are likely to revolt. You won’t want to believe it, even though it’s true.

The truth is often more difficult to deal with than things we imagined to be better or easier than they really are.

It’s up to you to decide whether operating in a world where you know the truth—even if it’s more difficult—is a better choice than operating in blissful ignorance and maybe feeling a little better in the short term.

If you’re up for it—if you’re brave enough—the idea (I might even call it a secret) I’m about to share WILL absolutely give you and your future spouse the ability to have a long and beautiful marriage.

It might not look and feel like the fairy-tale ending you’ve imagined or dreamed of.

But it can be Happily Ever After.

And Happily Ever After is definitely worth fighting for.

Almost Everything You Think You Know About Romance and Attraction is a Lie

Have you ever had the power go out for several hours at home, and suddenly you become hyper-aware of just how much you use electricity in your daily life and just how much you take it for granted?

Because you can’t stream Netflix or get a Wi-Fi signal or charge your phone or any of a million other things that can only be accomplished when our lights are on and our power outlets function?

EVERYTHING in your life is like this, and you don’t think about it, and it’s not your fault, so please don’t feel bad about it.

We are blind to the totally obvious. Dangerously blind. Kind of like how fish—even magical intelligent ones—could spend their entire lives swimming in water without ever knowing what water is.

I submit that two things you have done more times than anything else in your entire life are blinking your eyes and breathing air.

And you almost never think about doing it. Things on autopilot escape our notice, and it’s not because you’re a bad person. It’s a fundamental component of having a human brain.

This Phenomenon is called Hedonic Adaptation and it Will Help You So Much if You’re Aware of It

Hedonic adaptation, in its most basic form, is the process your brain goes through while it normalizes changes in your life.

So you move to a new town and school and it’s crazy and strange at first, but then eventually it’s your new normal. And going back to your old life in your old town and your old school would now seem crazy and strange.

This is a good thing in a lot of ways.

Most commonly, hedonic adaptation is referenced in regards to POSITIVE life changes.

So, you get a brand-new Xbox, or a new pair of shoes, or an awesome new phone, and it’s the freaking best for a few weeks. You feel a little bonus jolt of excitement every time you look at them or use them.

But then, what happens? Not sometimes. But, EVERY time?

One day at a time, your brain normalizes this new, awesome thing, until it becomes just like all the other stuff you have. Something you barely notice, like your working light switches. Something you eventually throw out or trade in for an upgraded model.

Hedonic adaptation serves a valuable purpose in nature. If humans didn’t care about making things better, or improving one’s circumstances, we’d all just quit trying things or working hard as soon as the first good thing happened.

Can you imagine what would have happened if the cavemen and women had made fire for the first time, realized how amazing cooked food and not freezing to death is, and then just stopped trying to do anything else?

Our life expectancy would still be like 12 years, we wouldn’t have rad tunes to listen to, and I wouldn’t get to spam you with preachy articles on the internet that your cooler-than-you-realize mom probably sent to you.

So, yay hedonic adaptation! You help us to not rest on our laurels, and actually try to achieve things in life!

Of course, like pretty much every life scenario, there’s a tradeoff. A really uncomfortable one.

How Hedonic Adaptation Ruins Marriage

Every Disney princess movie or romantic comedy you’ve watched, or every poorly conceived love story masquerading as an edgy BDSM sex story you’ve ever seen have contributed somehow to the way your brain imagines an ideal relationship to be.

It DOES feel good when the two people on screen or on page finally get together in the end after overcoming whatever obstacles they had to overcome to get there. It tugs at our heartstrings and shit, and then we buy more stuff or convince our friends to.

It’s easy to WANT to feel that very-good feeling we imagine the two fictional characters to be feeling. We dream about it and then feel all the feels. And then, thoughtfully or somewhat mindlessly, pursue that feeling.

We get crushes. Some people like us back. Some don’t. We go out together. Some of those turn into dating relationships. Some don’t. Some of those dating relationships turn into marriage.

And then, EVERY marriage doesn’t look anything like the Disney princess or Boy-Meets-Girl movies that made you feel so good.

You meet. It feels very exciting.

You touch. It’s great.

You kiss. It’s amazing.

And then eventually, when it feels safe and appropriate, maybe some other things will happen. Super-delightful under the proper circumstances (which vary from person to person for a multitude of valid reasons).

It’s so good when it’s good. The love thing.

People use phrases like “falling in love.” Like it’s this powerful force that sweeps you away against your will. And it makes sense. If you’ve ever even had a crush on someone, you know exactly how insane we can be. Staying up for hours thinking about them. Getting full-body tense before walking into a classroom where we know they’re going to be. Telling our best friend, just so you have some kind of outlet for the pent-up madness.

It’s wild, right?

But then what happens?

Months, weeks, maybe even just days later, those feelings are gone, and you’re now projecting them onto someone new—either because something bullshitty happened with the first one, or because something happened that switched your focus to the new one.

It’s different in marriage, because much of the fickleness goes away.

When you’re 14, how pretty or handsome someone looks to you might be enough to earn your crush.

When you’re 24, you’ve now had enough experiences with “attractive” people to realize that who people are—in their minds and hearts—is infinitely more important than how they look. Physical attraction eventually boils down to a simple pass-or-fail test. Would you or wouldn’t you get naked with that person based on their looks?

Anyone who passes that test goes into your Yes bucket, and then all of the things that really matter like Character, Personality, Shared Interests, Values, etc. separate the people you want to date and marry from the people you don’t.

And then you hit it off with someone, and now you’re together. You’re a committed couple.

Weeks and months pass.

You both wonder: Is she/he the one? Are we going to get married?

There’s love there.

There’s loyalty there.

There’s mutual attraction.

Maybe you argue a little sometimes, but mostly it feels easy. If it didn’t, you’d have already broken up.

We can do this, you think.

After a year or two or three or four together, you have every confidence you can just keep doing what you’re doing. I can’t believe so many people get divorced! It’s almost like we’re married right now, and everything’s fine! I’ll never cheat. They’ll never cheat. We don’t have any addiction or abuse problems. We’re going to live Happily Ever After!

Statistically, people spend more than $6,000 on engagement rings, and more than $30,000 on weddings.

In my experience, most people invite their closest family members and friends to celebrate this big day with them.

They’ve thought about it, and they’re ready to spend the rest of their lives together. They’re willing to spend more money than they have on a huge party to commemorate the occasion. To demonstrate just how serious they are, they’re going to exchange sacred vows in front of everyone they know.

You know what happens next, right?

More than half of those people within 10 years will be divorced, having affairs, or wishing they were doing one or both of those things.

Facts.

Difficult ones.

And there are many, many, many reasons why this happens.

But one of the reasons it begins is because of hedonic adaptation.

You Won’t Want to Believe it Because the Truth Hurts

I know.

I’m sorry.

I swear on everything that is good and beautiful in this life and world that I take no pleasure in writing this. It’s just as hard to type as it was to learn.

Because you’re a person, as is the person you love and trust and promised the rest of your life to (and who did the same for you in return), BOTH of you will take one another for granted (like you do with working electricity in your home), and BOTH of you will get a little bored with one another (like when you stop wanting to play your old Xbox or wear your old shoes, even though they were the absolute best when you first got them).

It’s common for people to spaz over this idea a little and say it’s inappropriate to compare material devices to human beings.

Damn right it’s inappropriate.

It’s bullshit.

But WE DO IT ANYWAY, and we do it with very little awareness that we’re doing it.

We do it even when we genuinely love them more than we love anyone or anything else.

It’s normal for people to be nicer to strangers than they are to the people they love the most like their parents, or siblings, or spouses, or even their own children.

It happens all of the time.

Hedonic adaptation.

Blinded by the All The Time.

Blinded by the constant.

Blinded by the totally obvious.

But then the lights stop working and you notice.

But then you’re out at a restaurant with your wife who you haven’t complimented on how nice her hair looks, or how good her shoes look with her outfit. And you see her eyes and face light up when the handsome waiter pays extra attention to her and treats her just like you did on your first date.

And what do you know? You notice.

I don’t care how much love there is.

I don’t care how objectively beautiful you both are.

I don’t care whether you would win the Super Hot Sex Olympics over every other human couple in history.

YOU WILL GET BORED WITH ONE ANOTHER A LITTLE BIT.

You just will, and I’m sorry.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t soulmates or whatever. There’s no reason to freak out about it. It doesn’t mean you weren’t “meant for each other.”

It just means you’re two human beings with brains that work EXACTLY as brains are supposed to work, and a bunch of time has passed.

WTF. Does That Mean I’m Always Going to Desire Novelty or That My Spouse Will Always Find Other People Attractive?

Probably. Sorry.

And now I want you to consider whether signing up for a long life of potentially “boring” routineness with one person is the choice you really want to make.

After all, you can stay single and keep chasing those exciting new experiences if you want. It’s an option. I think it’s worth considering what your life might look like when you’re your parents’ or grandparents’ age if you make that choice, but at least you’ll “solve” the boredom problem.

If you’re like me, you grew up around people who mostly got married and had kids, and you think the positives of that are worth the risk of some boredom along the way.

I totally agree with you.

Family gatherings, holding your own children and watching them grow up, and having an adult living with you who you trust and love and enjoy being with is pretty amazing.

That’s why it hurt so much when my wife took off her wedding ring and moved out the next day with our 4-year-old in the backseat.

I just stood in the kitchen crying as hard as I can ever remember crying, and then I threw up in the bathroom, and then I tried to watch Netflix, but I couldn’t even do something as simple as watch TV.

And you know what I think?

I think that if someone had taught me about hedonic adaptation when I was younger and warned me of the dangers of taking the most precious things in my life for granted, that maybe I could have done a better job every day between our wedding day and the day she took her ring off nine years later. Just a bunch of little things. Nothing major. But a bunch of little things that would have prevented the most major thing I’ve ever been through from happening.

Crap. That Sounds Awful. What Can We Do About It?

DO NOT GET MARRIED UNTIL YOU’VE EXPERIENCED AND CONQUERED THE BOREDOM AND ROUTINE.

Just don’t.

I honestly think half of divorces are just people who had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

But if you’re aware—if you KNOW that this is what’s going to happen—then you won’t have any weird surprises later when you don’t feel that same excitement and attraction that you did when you first met your spouse.

If you believe THAT is a signal that your marriage is broken, or that your spouse sucks, then you have a real problem on your hands, because THAT WILL NEVER STOP HAPPENING.

So, people get bored with their marriage, right? And then they maybe have an affair or get a divorce and marry someone else.

You know what happens?

They totally get bored with their new sex partner or with their new “upgrade” marriage, and then the EXACT same problems repeat themselves.

Some people get married three or four times, and you might be like What the shit?! How can you get it wrong that many times?

They’re not really getting it wrong.

They’re just lacking the right information. When something good begins to feel bad, it makes sense for people to interpret that as if something’s wrong or broken. It makes sense for people to not deal with wrong and broken things and live a life where things are right and functioning as they should.

For people—people like you—who know the truth, you have two choices, and I won’t judge you for either.

1. Stay Single – It really is an option. If I thought mountains of celibacy and spending my twilight years sad and alone was an attractive proposition, I would for-sure choose it.

2. Get Married with the Appropriate Mindset that Will Help You SucceedBut what’s the appropriate mindset?

I’m so glad you asked.

Happily Ever After Occurs When You Both Choose it Everyday

Sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

It IS simple.

But it’s not easy. It’s hard for people to do which is why there’s so many divorced and miserable people, and I do not want you to be one of them.

It’s really hard. But you can do hard things. You really can.

And the trick is simple enough.

1. You understand that no matter who you were dating or married to that you would ALWAYS feel some of those naturally occurring attraction and lusty feelings go away over time. You exercise wisdom and knowledge to not go foolishly chase the next good time only to realize they’re just going to come out with another new iPhone someday making the one that’s out now old and boring just like the one you’re holding.

2. You understand that there’s no such thing as soulmates or perfect people. That relationships don’t happen magically. They happen intentionally.

3. You understand that FEELINGS change. All the time. Like when you said you loved that one kid back in high school, but then you’ve loved like five other people since, and you kind of feel like a dumbass for saying it a few of those times. FEELINGS are important, but they’re also super-fickle. You can’t forget this. If humans simply did what they FELT like all of the time, society would break down because no one would go to work and pay bills, and everyone would be super-murdery to people in traffic jams and shopping malls, and in work meetings. I think we can all agree that’s not a very good idea. We can’t and shouldn’t do what we FEEL every second of our lives.

4. You keep your promises. Again, not easy, but totally simple. You might not always feel that same level of excitement or sexual desire or physical attraction. You might not laugh at their jokes quite as hard or be quite as impressed by their life accomplishments. The years have passed and these things have become routine. They’ve become ALL THE TIME. Like your electricity. Like the water the fish never notice. So you stay together on purpose. You manufacture the love. You don’t wonder where it ran off to. You MAKE it. Create it. You have to. It’s the only way it works out.

This isn’t always feel-good work.

Two people just got home from crappy days at work, and now the 2-year-old is rubbing a yogurt stick all over the TV screen, and the 8-year-old is whining about how hungry he is, and somebody needs to cook dinner and walk the dog, and do laundry and pack a school lunch for tomorrow.

You’re not going to FEEL like giving your partner a nice six-second hug. (SIX seconds. Don’t cheat.)

But you’re going to do it anyway.

You’re not going to get all those good vibrations in your nether regions after two kids and a busy, stressful daily routine. Nothing either of you are doing is triggering sexy-time feelings in one another, and even if you were, you might not feel like there’s adequate time or energy.

But you’re not going to neglect your partner like a thoughtless sock-sniffer. You’re NOT.

You’re going to—even if it means setting reminders on your phone calendar, or writing little reminder notes for yourself—spend your days and weeks and months INTENTIONALLY doing and saying kind things to and about your spouse, and doing kind and thoughtful things for them.

You’re going to send little I-love-you texts, or maybe even surprise them with some naughty flirty ones.

You’re going to sit still and invest your whole mind and heart into the conversations they want to have with you, NOT because they interest you—you’ll probably be “bored” out of your mind; that’s not why you’re doing it—but because THAT will help a person feel loved. Feel respected. Feel cherished. Feel important.

You are going to CHOOSE to love every day so that the person you promised forever to never feels like they can’t trust you to love them and be their partner.

You’re going to choose it, because you won’t always FEEL like it.

You’re going to choose it, because that’s your ticket to Happily Ever After.

It won’t look or feel like it does in the movies you see or the books that you read. Those are made-up. Those are fairytales that don’t have any shitty work commutes and screaming children or post-partum depression written into the scripts.

In real life, things are hard. But again, we can do hard things.

Love isn’t just something you feel. Feelings come and go.

Love is a choice. It’s a choice you make today and tomorrow and next week and 30 years from now.

You start on Day 1 and you never stop.

There won’t be chariots and amazing ballroom gowns and kick-ass fireworks displays while you make out right before the movie credits roll.

It will be more boring than that.

But it will be real. It will be truth.

It won’t be exciting, but it will be good.

And all you have to do is choose it.

Not once.

Always.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

Tagged , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

black and white puzzle pieces

Puzzle pieces are cool because they sort of police themselves. Even though several pieces might look like they’ll fit together, they usually don’t, and even if they do, it’s easy to spot the problem and fix it. Try to think of having strong, healthy personal boundaries just like that. When you identify your boundaries, and you enforce them, crappy incompatible puzzle pieces don’t get misplaced and mess everything up. Healthy boundaries take the mystery out of dating and good relationships. Either you fail fast, and avoid a horrible relationship, OR you progress in mostly pleasant, functional ways with a romantic partner who is a great match for the long haul. The people who are still around after you enforce your boundaries like a boss? They’re the keepers. (Image/daninicoleauthor.files.wordpress.com)

You’re not going to like this, but you probably shouldn’t marry your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Seriously.

You know how it feels safe to eat bacon cheeseburgers, drink milkshakes, or maybe even smoke something without the fear of imminently dropping dead of a heart attack or developing lung cancer?

You feel that way because you have several years ahead of you, which is awesome.

But, you’re also intellectually aware that eating bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes for every meal and smoking a pack a day will end with you being a VERY unhealthy adult and will almost certainly rob you of several years of life.

I’m asking you to please think of your dating life in that same way.

Things that feel like no big deal right now will WRECK you in your thirties and forties. Big-time suckage.

And the only person who can protect you from those future shitty things is you. On this particular matter, you’re all you’ve got.

Because I’m capable of not concerning myself with three days from now in the interest of enjoying today, I promise that I understand that some or all of you will dismiss this friendly warning.

That’s okay.

I think maybe most people have to learn life’s most important lessons on their own. That’s how I am too. Every important lesson that stuck with me was learned the hard way.

The reason I’m even talking about this is because I got divorced about five years ago, and it was a WAY bigger deal than I ever realized divorce could be. And I say that as a child of divorced parents who lived about 400 miles apart through my formative years which made me cry a lot when I was a little kid.

Divorce was VERY hard, and I think most people don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed, or because it’s such an awkward and uncomfortable conversation to be on either side of. Divorce is COMMON. Thousands of divorces happen every day.

And common things seem NORMAL. Regular. Not weird.

And things that we think of as normal, regular and not weird don’t scare us. So we don’t protect or prepare ourselves because it never occurs to us that we should.

This is me trying to convince you that you should.

According to a couple of researchers who studied the health impact of major life events on human beings, divorce is the #2 most-stressful life event a person will ever experience.

According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce ranks ahead of things like going to prison, the death of a parent or child, and losing a body part in a horrific accident.

And I’m here to tell you that Holmes and Rahe weren’t playing.

You don’t want any part of it.

So when I say things that offend you a little and make both of us uncomfortable like: Your boyfriend or girlfriend who you currently feel super-in-love with is statistically likely to be your life’s greatest threat at the moment, I want you to understand why.

Let that sink in for a minute before we talk about what you can do about it.

The Boring Word You MUST Prioritize to Avoid a Crappy Adult Life

Boundaries.

When I was growing up, if someone tried to talk to me about boundaries, I would have tuned them out like when my gym teacher tried to stress the importance of stretching and eating vegetables.

I’m 17 and can do 25 more chin-ups than you, dude.

And it would make sense to me if you thought I was an asshole for disparaging your relationship that has always felt like a really good and healthy thing, and that it all seems pretty hypocritical coming from some divorced guy.

But I’m totally right about this, so I hope you’ll begrudgingly come along anyway.

Your future non-crying children who enjoy having both mom and dad living in the same house will really appreciate it.

What Boundaries Are and Why They’re Your Best Defense Against Divorce

Your parents aren’t going to like me using this example, but I think it’s probably the quickest way to cut through the bullshit, so I hope they’ll get over it.

I want you to think about being a girl in high school. A junior. Sweet 16.

I want you to imagine walking through the busy, locker-lined hallway, and as you walk by a group of guys, you hear one of them say about you: “Check out the ass on her. Oh man, I would love to tap that.”

You feel embarrassed, but you just keep moving. You kind of know who the guy is. He’s a cliché high school jock that you know is dating one of the cheerleaders. You know that he routinely harasses some of the less-popular kids in the hallway. He’s a jerk and a bully.

His comment made you feel gross, but it’s not as if you’ve never heard things like that before or even heard your guy friends say them about other girls. So, you leave it alone.

I want you to imagine that you have three rules for dating:

  1. You don’t go out with guys who have girlfriends.
  2. You don’t go out with guys whose only objective is to have sex with you.
  3. You don’t go out with cocky dickbags who intentionally bully other kids for a cheap laugh.

And now, I want you to imagine that the new semester has started and that same guy is in one of your classes. He approaches you after class one day. He smiles and asks you if you’d like to hang out sometime. At first, you’re like ewww, but you don’t say anything right away.

You look him in the eyes, studying them. You think he’s cute, and you secretly feel flattered that a popular kid wants to go out with you.

He seems nice right now. He’s so different when his friends aren’t around. Maybe I should give him a chance.

So, you say “Sure. Why not? Let’s get together soon.”

Fast-forward to your first date.

You went to the movies, or grabbed dinner somewhere. Maybe you went to a house party where someone’s parents were out of town.

And somewhere along the way, he kisses you. You like it. You kiss him back. Everything is great.

But then his hands start going to places you didn’t want them to go. “Oh man, I would love to tap that” is on repeat in your head. All of the sudden you don’t want to be there anymore.

You tell him to stop.

He finally does, but he’s got a surprised look on his face as if you’ve wronged him somehow.

“I thought we were having a good time,” he whines.

You make it clear that there’s no way that’s happening tonight.

Now he looks wounded. You’ve bruised his ego. What you don’t know is that he told a few of his friends he was going to get into your clothes tonight.

He doesn’t want to go back and have to explain to them how he failed.

Maybe he calls you a tease.

Maybe he calls you a stuck-up bitch.

Maybe he—inexplicably—calls you a slut.

Maybe he makes up a story about you to his friends, and maybe some people start talking about you at school, and maybe the entire incident is pretty horrible.

The girl in this example has good dating rules, I think. Reasonable ones designed to protect her from bad things happening.

But then, even though she had evidence that Captain Dickface was bad news, she still got caught up in a moment of weakness and rationalized why she should break her own rules just to feel good.

Then everything turned into a big shit-festival.

Because she broke her own rules.

Because she didn’t enforce her boundaries.

The girl wasn’t honest with the guy when he first approached her. Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable telling him how it really felt to hear him say that. The guy wasn’t honest with the girl about his true intentions. There are a million reasons, some noble, most not, for why he didn’t want to tell the truth. Predictably, in the end, it didn’t work out.

You might believe this scenario has little in common with married couples, but I would argue that THIS is largely why so many people end up divorced.

Not because of bullying and unwanted sexual advances, certainly.

But because of people being dishonest about their true intentions, and people failing to communicate and enforce their boundaries—probably because they’re afraid of rejection, or of being alone, or are afraid of what others might think about them.

Let’s Get Even More Real

Married adults sometimes have crappy marriages and get divorced. And you know who all of them were before they got married?

The same people who wouldn’t have liked hearing me say that they shouldn’t be marrying their boyfriend or girlfriend. They would have felt offended just like I would have, and maybe you do.

But now here they are, pissed off and resentful and full of regrets about wasting their life, hurting their kids, and being afraid of what might happen next.

And here’s the No. 1 reason that happened: They tolerated things that shouldn’t have been tolerated, they failed to communicate and/or enforce their personal boundaries, and ultimately lied to themselves and one another about what their long-term relationship with this boundary violator (or victim of our violations) would look like.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend (or better yet, someone you’ve dated a couple of times) does something that HURTS you, and after talking about it, there’s no evidence that he or she is going to stop doing that hurtful thing, you should cut them out of your life.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forgive. Forgiveness is an awesome thing.

This doesn’t mean that all people who violate your boundaries are BAD.

Some will be good people.

They’ll just be bad marriage partners. They’re not the same thing.

I think that might be the worst part. Very good, very decent, very fun, very awesome people will violate your boundaries—either because they’re a flawed mistake-prone human being like the rest of us; or because they legitimately don’t SEE or FEEL the same negative consequence you do from something that happened.

You won’t want to cut all of them out of your life.

But please don’t marry them.

Please.

It’s okay for people to disagree. It’s okay for people who love each other to have their differences.

But it’s NEVER OKAY for the person we are considering teaming up with for the rest of our lives to HURT us.

Never, never, never.

You will accidentally be hurt in life. I don’t suggest walling yourself off from every person who wrongs you.

But I AM suggesting that your marriage will NOT succeed if you spend every day of the rest of your life with someone unwilling to honor and respect your personal boundaries.

Maybe you won’t get divorced, but you won’t like your life or your marriage.

You’ll be miserable.

Because people who have boundary issues are miserable. That’s just how it works.

How Do I Know Whether I Have a Boundary Issue?

Here’s a good start, from one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, who uses even more bad words than I do:

“Let’s do the ‘You Might Have A Boundary Issue If…’ list so you know where you stand:

  • Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to ‘save’ people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
  • Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
  • Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
  • Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
  • Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships,” Manson wrote.

“If you answered a resounding ‘yes’ to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.”

OMG. I Totally Have Boundary Issues. Can I Still Have a Happy Marriage?

Probably not.

But I have excellent news. You can absolutely fix your boundary problem. You can fix it right now, but it will probably take some practice before you get comfortable telling people to pound sand whenever they try to take advantage of you if you’ve spent most of your life not realizing that’s what was happening.

Boundaries are about your emotional health, which might be more important than you realize.

Emotionally healthy people have and enforce strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and enforcing strong boundaries makes you emotionally healthier.

Having strong boundaries means you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I believe we must vigilantly enforce our boundaries (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we need to be willing to walk away and cut them out of our lives, which is a really hard thing to do. Because sometimes it’s your spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or an old friend, or a co-worker, or someone you share children with.

The Bottom Line

When you don’t break your own rules—when you enforce your boundaries (while honoring other people’s)—you know what happens?

ONLY emotionally healthy people with a clear understanding of how to NOT hurt one another (or tolerate hurtful behavior) ever end up together.

It reduces the probability of divorce by probably 90 percent.

When you start tolerating behaviors that your mind and body are telling you not to tolerate, a bunch of bad things happen afterward, and tend to repeat themselves until everyone is miserable and gets divorced or stops being friends.

When you NEVER tolerate behaviors that you know you shouldn’t tolerate, maybe bad things happen once, but you can be sure they will never repeat themselves.

And the people who are still around after all of that filtering? After all of those strong and courageous and confidence-building demonstrations of self-respect?

They’re the keepers.

You May Also Want to Read

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

Tagged , , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

danger tape

(Image/Sophos.com)

You’re in danger.

You don’t know you’re in danger because it doesn’t feel scary right now. That’s both good and bad, but it might be mostly bad.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that being aware of danger so that you can do something about it is so much better than getting painfully blindsided later in life.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when you’re a freshman playing defensive back for the scout team at football practice, and the biggest, baddest senior lineman annihilates you on a power sweep right in front of the cheerleading squad you were trying to impress.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when your boyfriend breaks up with you the week of prom or homecoming and your parents already got you the perfect dress, and now you’re feeling sad, confused, and almost too embarrassed to go, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I mean blindsided, like your parents sit you down at the dinner table one night and say “Sweetie, your dad and I feel you’re finally old enough to know the truth about our family,” right before your dad rips off his own face to reveal some creepy robot face underneath.

“We’re not human, honey. We’re creepy robots. And so are you.”

I wish I was kidding.

That’s seriously what divorce can feel like.

Like everything you thought you understood maybe isn’t true or reliable or believable anymore, and that shock can feel both painful and frightening.

You know that you shouldn’t play with guns or knives. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t participate in reckless sexual activity. Adults taught you the dangers.

You understand the dangers of texting and driving. Of drinking and driving.

You know about bullying. About unhealthy eating disorders. About the hazards of social media.

You’ve heard it all.

And all of those things are important, but maybe because you’re so aware of them, they’re not the same danger they would be if no one ever warned you about them. You’re probably bored when people want to talk to you about those things because you’ve heard about them so much.

But you know what you probably haven’t heard about that is just as important as those other things, since it literally affects 95 percent of people?

The REAL reasons that so many people get divorced.

Your teachers, principals, coaches and families are failing you.

They are. It’s harsh, but it’s true. They’re not failing you on purpose. They’re not being negligent intentionally or trying to hold out on you.

The truth is, they don’t know either. Because THEIR teachers, principals, coaches and families failed them as well.

No one told you that you are statistically unlikely to have a good marriage.

And you can’t even conceive of what a good marriage might look and feel like. It’s not because you’re “dumb” or because you’re not around adults who actually do have good, healthy marriages. You may be, and I hope that you are.

But the truth is that we CANNOT—ever—know what we don’t know. We think we know all kinds of things, but we’re wrong most of the time. Even all of the adults instructed with teaching you about all of the important stuff in life. ESPECIALLY me. I’m kind of a dumbass. But I’m kind of a dumbass who accidentally discovered something super-important when I got a divorce five years ago and cried a lot more than a man in his mid-30s probably should.

Also, you don’t know who has good marriages and bad marriages, because people who have bad marriages PRETEND to have good marriages. They pretend all of the time. They do it to protect you, and they do it to protect themselves because they’re ashamed that one of the most important and precious things in their lives has become dysfunctional. They’re afraid to lose the comfort and safety of their home and family. They’re afraid of their friends and neighbors thinking they’re failures.

They’re afraid of hurting you, because when you become a parent, protecting your children (even from bad feelings) becomes one of your top life priorities.

Yes. Adults get afraid sometimes, too. Maybe even often. Very afraid.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but adults are afraid of more things than young people.

The difference between being an adult and a child isn’t the ability to shed fear. It’s the ability to march forward bravely even though you don’t have your parents or older siblings protecting you anymore.

The scariest thing in life might be when we’re in danger and don’t know how to get to safety.

It’s scary when something is wrong and we don’t know how to solve a problem or fix something that’s broken or protect ourselves from being hurt.

That’s what people in bad marriages feel like sometimes. You might think that adults would be able to explain to you WHY they got a divorce, but I think you’ll be both surprised and disappointed to learn that isn’t true.

Because you know what marriage is, right? It’s not that complicated.

It’s a forever agreement to love and be faithful to one another for the rest of your life. Generally, you share money, a home, a bedroom, cars, and often children and pets.

And even you, who has presumably never been married before, understand all of that.

While there are some cultures in the world who still do arranged marriages where people don’t get to decide who they marry, marriage is a volunteer activity for most people.

No one is MAKING us get married.

And no one is MAKING us get married to whomever we choose to marry.

Right?

So, why do you think more than half of all marriages fail? (About half of them end in divorce, and then there are all of the people who are still married but wish they weren’t. I’d like to tell you that’s a small number, but it’s not.)

Even though I’m not super-smart, I kind of know why this happens. There’s a good chance no other adults are talking to you about this (because it makes them uncomfortable OR because they never think about it the way they think about warning you about drug abuse, STDs, and creepy white vans with the words “FREE CANDY” spray-painted on the side.)

The REAL Reasons Your Marriage Will Suck (That Your Parents and Teachers Probably Won’t Tell You About)

Many of you are smarter than I was as a kid, and 100 percent of you didn’t grow up in the same time and place with the same adult role models as me, so our experiences won’t be identical. Please don’t think that because I thought or felt something that it means I believe that you are exactly the same.

But one of the coolest things I’ve learned since writing things on the internet is that no matter how different our lives might be—no matter what part of the world we live in, no matter our gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation, or religion, or politics, or profession, or education, or personal interests—there are ALWAYS life experiences that someone can identify with or connect with.

We’re never the only ones who think or feel or do something.

We’re never as alone as we might sometimes feel. So if you feel like you do something strange or weird inside your own head, or when nobody’s around, I promise you that thousands of other people think and do and feel those same things. Even the kids at school who seem smarter or cooler than you. Even the teachers who seem like they have it all figured out. Even moms and dads, and pastors, and coaches and the guy behind the counter at the convenience store, and the lady in the car next to you.

No matter what, you’re not alone. Promise.

Anyway, here is the first of several reasons your marriage will suck and ruin your life if you don’t know what to watch out for.

What Causes Divorce #1: Accidental Sexism (Boys vs. Girls Stuff)

There’s a possibility that you’re accidentally sexist and don’t realize it.

You need to either realize it OR stop behaving that way, or you’re highly likely to have a crap marriage or get divorced. It’s worse than it sounds.

When I was younger, the boys played football on the playground. We talked about sports, played with action figures, and a bunch of other fake-macho stuff we thought our dads, big brothers, and friends would approve of.

If we got in a fight with another kid during a basketball or football game, we were usually friends again by the following day.

The girls—not always, but often—did different things. Maybe they didn’t play sports because they were dressed much nicer. They often stood off to the side playing with their handcrafted jewelry, or whispering about the boys they thought were cute, or whatever secret stuff girls do that I’d be lying to claim I knew about or understood.

Girls went to the bathroom in groups. They thought boys were “gross,” even while crushing on some of them. Fights could last for entire school years between two girls in my class who were the best of friends just a week earlier.

There were obvious differences between boys and girls, I thought.

I always liked girls, both in the I-want-to-make-out-with-them way, and in the I-enjoy-hanging-out-with-them way. I’m generally well-mannered and was taught to respect people, so I certainly never acted in a way that I would have considered “sexist.”

I didn’t think boys were BETTER than girls.

I didn’t mistreat or disrespect someone because they were female.

But I WAS sexist, and I just didn’t know it. And because I was accidentally sexist, I did (or didn’t do) things during my marriage that contributed heavily to its end, and the entire time, I NEVER knew I was harming it. Scary.

You ever say or hear a boy make fun of some other kid playing a sport by saying he “plays like a girl”?

You ever say or hear someone say the phrase “cry like a little girl”?

You ever say or hear a guy accuse one of his buddies of “menstruating,” or “PMS-ing” or of needing to “clean the sand out of his vagina”?

I used to hear and say things like that.

Our intention was never to belittle women by saying those things. Our intention was to razz one another in that bro-culture way guys use to bond by giving one another a hard time. It’s just something many of us do, and I wish I could explain why.

But the implications of saying any of those things is that being a girl, or doing things like a girl, is bad. Right? Right.

And if we’re saying it’s bad to be a girl, aren’t we kind-of saying that being a guy is better than being a girl? Aren’t we kind-of saying that men are better than women?

We are.

And it’s a total dick move, so you should try to stop immediately.

Even if you don’t want to stop because it’s disrespectful to every girl or woman you know, it’s a good idea to stop simply because not stopping will lay the groundwork for your future divorce that neither you nor I want you to experience.

Who Does the Laundry?

Sure, lots of guys do laundry.

I used to wash my clothes periodically in college, and even a little bit during my marriage.

I wash my clothes all of the time now because I’m divorced and live alone.

You might think that my bedroom is the most-depressing room in my house. You’d be mistaken. It’s the laundry room.

I hate it there.

But I didn’t hate it there when my wife’s clothes needed washed and dried as well.

So now I’m a guy who does a lot of laundry because my wife moved out a few years ago. There were a lot of reasons why, but probably for NONE of the reasons you might be guessing inside your head.

If you knew why I got—and most people in crappy marriages get—divorced, I wouldn’t need to write this.

I didn’t get divorced because I hit my wife or called her names.

I didn’t get divorced because I did drugs or drank too much. I didn’t stay out all night and not tell her where I was. I didn’t sleep around. I didn’t do any of the things that I believed to be The Reasons People Get Divorced when I was growing up.

One of the reasons I got divorced is because my wife did 80 percent of the laundry. Maybe more.

And so, back to the boy-girl thing.

When I was growing up, my mom always did stuff like that. My mom washed, dried, folded and hung all of the clothes.

My mom cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms.

My mom vacuumed the carpet. Mom swept the floor. Mom dusted.

And when I went to visit my grandparents, my grandma did all of that same stuff.

So, you see, my mom learned that those things were her job from her mom. And I learned that those things were “her” job from my mom.

And that means that when I got married, and my wife didn’t do things exactly as my mom did them, I thought she was doing it wrong.

She was AWESOME at home-care. But she didn’t just silently take care of everything like my mom always had. She told me that I wasn’t pulling my fair share.

I thought that was a load of crap.

But I’m not the world’s biggest moron either. Even I could see that my wife working as many hours per week as I did made her and my situation different from my mom, who spent several years keeping a pristine and well-run home during the hours my wife had to be at work just like me.

So, I tried even harder to help around the house than I perceived my stepdad to do with my mom, or that my dad did with my stepmom.

I cooked a lot. Went grocery-shopping. Did a fair amount of dishes. And made an effort to help her clean the house on weekends, even though I was a whiny jerk about it whenever I didn’t want to spend a few weekend hours cleaning, which was approximately 100 percent of the time.

And this is the part I’m going to leave you with because it’s the most important lesson I can offer you in this first entry:

It’s not so much the amount of physical work one does that creates the anger and imbalance that will end your marriage. It’s more about the amount of MENTAL work one does to make sure that the things that need done, get done.

When you get married, and you just keep acting like you do when you live at home with your parents, where they always take care of everything so that you don’t have to—when you force your partner to do the same things your mom did for you—she (or he, potentially) is going to get tired.

Really tired.

And strong people keep going when they’re really tired, but even the strongest people have to stop and rest at some point.

And when the person holding the marriage together needs to rest, it’s all over.

It’s not about how many dishes are washed or towels are folded.

It’s not about how often someone goes to the store or how many meals get cooked.

It’s about the mental strain of being RESPONSIBLE for making sure the dishes get washed, laundry gets folded, groceries get bought, the food gets defrosted for dinner, the birthday gifts and Christmas cards get sent, etc.

It’s pretty hard for people even when they don’t have kids.

But when they do have kids, it becomes impossible to spend every day being RESPONSIBLE for EVERYTHING that needs done—not just for yourself, but for your spouse, AND your children.

Kids aren’t hard on marriages because kids are inherently difficult as much as kids are hard on marriages because they push people on the brink of mental and emotional exhaustion OVER the brink.

Not because of the children. But because of the lack of support for providing care for them.

Some people fall and never get up again.

Some people break when they hit the ground and never get themselves put back together again.

And your job—your solemn duty as a husband or wife—is to make damn sure they never fall or never break in the first place.

And there’s a good chance no one told you that house chores—House chores! How stupid does that sound?!—can be the reason your marriage will end and that your whole life can fall apart.

But, as God as I my witness, you better believe they can.

You better believe they will.

And then do whatever you must to make sure you’re never letting your spouse carry too much. Don’t try to pick them up after they fall. Don’t try to piece them together after they break.

Just do the work of LOVING them enough each day to carry whatever needs carried so that they never fall or break in the first place.

We’ll talk more about this idea later, but you’ll need it in your long-term romantic relationships and/or marriage: Love is a choice. A choice you must be disciplined and courageous enough to make every day.

So that our loved ones never break.

Because, maybe then, neither will we.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Prison Break: Free Yourself By Taking the Red Pill

yellow saltwater fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like breathing.

Like blinking our eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not a small thing.

Our health.

Our bank accounts.

Our human relationships.

Our souls.

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

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

Morpheus - red pill blue pill The Matrix

(Artwork/Joel Jerry)

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

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

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

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

Neo chooses the red pill.

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

Big machines are flying around.

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

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

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

Whoa.

The Importance of Choosing What to Think About

My mind wanders. A lot.

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

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

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

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

OMG. That’s amazing.

Or.

OMG. What hot garbage.

Or.

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

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

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

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

But it’s also NOT cool.

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

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

Most of the time, it’s harmless.

Some of the time, it’s not.

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

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This isn’t about encouraging people to be virtuous.

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

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

busy supermarket by ABC News

(Image/ABC News)

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

It affected him profoundly.

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

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

I think the answer to that is: Yes.

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

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

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

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

Now, Wallace is going to take us home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You get the idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“’This is water.’

“’This is water.’

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

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

“I wish you way more than luck.”

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

don't care

(Image/The Mind Unleashed)

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

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

I like those things much less.

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

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

We had many surface-level differences.

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

You know, like that dish sitting by the sink.

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

There was a list of Things My Wife Cared About.

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

The lists were quite different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn.

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

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

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

Maybe It’s Not As Hard As We Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s okay.

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

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

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

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

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

We all like different things. Seems harmless enough.

But THIS is the thing that’s breaking us.

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

BUT.

What if you cared simply because THEY did?

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

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Broken Promises Ended My Marriage—Can Keeping Them Save Yours?

broken glass

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

I break promises.

I break promises, and then other people sometimes feel let down or betrayed, and then maybe I never talk to them again.

Break enough promises and maybe your entire life breaks.

Maybe you lose a wife. Maybe you lose friends. Maybe you lose touch with your family.

Just maybe, if you break too many promises, you lose your children.

I am divorced because I broke promises. I lost half of my son’s childhood because I broke promises.

I’ve known for a long time that I break promises, even though I remember feeling like a reliable person in my youth. I remember feeling as if I was someone others could count on.

I remember being someone people could trust.

But when enough time passes and enough instances pile up of us not doing something we said we would, a new narrative begins to form.

I am not someone who keeps his word.

I am unreliable.

I can’t be trusted.

But, it’s not as if you discuss this personal shortcoming with others.

I mean, you’re not walking into job interviews proclaiming how unreliable you are or listing on your work resume all of the moments in which you let others down. You want the job.

You’re not telling a group of peers ridiculing something that you actually like whatever they’re mocking. You don’t want them to not like or mock you.

You’re not communicating to someone you want to date or marry that you’re not trustworthy. You don’t want them to leave you.

If I tell you something and it turned out not to be true, did I lie to you?

That’s nuanced, right?

To me, a lie is something said to deliberately mislead, deceive, or conceal truth in ways that protect or benefit you at the expense of other people ultimately being hurt by the deception.

By that definition, I am not a liar. I don’t plot mistruths in an effort to hurt others. Never.

But, do I say things that sometimes end up not being true because I didn’t follow through with a promise, or because things outside of my control prevented me from keeping the commitment? Absolutely.

Whether I lied or not, or whether I intended to keep a promise and was a victim of circumstance, the fact remains that I promised something that never got delivered.

Sometimes that leads to a shrug, easy forgiveness, understanding, and a time extension to try again. Another chance to make it right.

And then other times, your wife takes off her wedding ring, packs a suitcase, and drives your 4-year-old son away to be with someone else.

Broken Promises and the Stories We Believe

prom·ise /ˈpräməs/ (noun) – a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something, or that something will certainly happen in the future.

I’m the captain of the ADHD Squad. My capacity for calendar mismanagement and task-list forgetfulness exceeds the boundaries of known anthropology.

Because of this, I’ve believed myself to be unreliable for so long that it’s seeped into my bones and psyche so much that it’s almost like I believe it now: I am unreliable.

I too often don’t do what I say I will. (Has anyone seen my book yet? Exactly. I’m an asshole.)

I believe these things about me because they fit the narrative of why I’m a single, divorced 39-year-old who is a little bit disappointed with his life on various levels.

Being the kind of person who breaks promises or fails to complete goals is a massive disappointment.

Sometimes I’m afraid of pursuing jobs with more responsibility because I’m afraid I might not be responsible or reliable enough to excel with a larger accountability load and higher stakes.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue a speaking and writing career because I’m afraid without the structure of a quasi-formal work environment, I won’t be disciplined enough to do all of the work day in and day out that I believe successful entrepreneurism requires.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue relationships because no matter how much work I’ve done to understand and attempt to help others understand what causes marriages and human relationships of all types to break, I’m not confident that I’m built with the right materials to be someone’s husband.

I’m afraid to have my life fall apart again after experiencing the brutality of divorce five years ago.

I’m afraid to hurt someone else again.

I’m afraid of it negatively impacting my son.

I’m afraid of being a dude who writes about relationships, but then sucks at actually being in them.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, but almost all of them are rooted in the fear of not being up to the task—of being in over my head.

Maybe I’m not tall enough, you know? All those online-dating profiles five years ago suggested as much.

Maybe I’m not good enough.

If I was, she would have never left and napalmed our lives like that.

We believe these fear-based negative stories about ourselves in our weakest moments. When our fragile brains and emotions are getting the best of us.

Maybe there was a young black kid who grew up watching TV and in doing so, mostly saw only white people in those stories on TV.

Like Santa Claus. Looks white.

Even Middle-Eastern Jesus looks white.

Forty-three of the 44 U.S. presidents have been white.

Maybe the company owner where mom or dad worked was white.

And maybe, if she or he has a brain that worked like mine did, maybe they felt different around anything unfamiliar.

Maybe when you tell yourself negative stories like that, a bunch of bad things happen—or rather, a bunch of good things DON’T happen because of all of things we never try.

I went through thoughts like that, and I was just some little sheltered kid in a small town in Ohio surrounded by farm fields for several miles. Relatively charmed, compared to many other children.

What we believe is EVERYTHING. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s true. If we believe it, we experience it as real, and one way or another, it will affect our lives.

Of course there are gay kids feeling “wrong” or “bad” or “broken” if they grew up seeing and hearing others saying that they were.

Of course there are kids growing up in various religious faiths or ideologies who feel confused, conflicted, and guilty when they hear that things they think or do will damn them to hell.

Of course there are kids growing up who feel self-righteous, judgmental, or superior to others because everything they were ever taught from their earliest memories until right this moment is that everything THEY believe and do is “correct” and “right” and “better,” and everyone who disagrees is incorrect—and possibly a threat. Or an enemy. Or evil.

We see it all of the time in politics.

And in racial division.

And gender battles.

And lifestyle choices.

And too many other things.

Whether we believe we’re wrong and broken—or THEY are—we always have a fundamental breakdown whenever the thought exists: That person is not like me, followed by feelings of either inferiority OR superiority.

Why does it seem like there’s so much wrong with the world?

Almost all of it can be traced back to that.

  • What I believe is right and true.
  • What they believe is wrong and false.
  • We are opponents with competing interests, and the right and true side must win at all costs.

People who believe that are capable of anything.

Even mass murder, if they believe they’re serving the “greater good” by doing so.

The sheer power of our beliefs about ourselves (and others) can’t be calculated.

Maybe You Break Promises Too (And Maybe It’s More Damaging Than You Realize)

I had the recent pleasure of connecting with someone at an Ohio non-profit organization facilitating a social movement called Because I said I would.

The organization is dedicated to the betterment of humanity by educating people on the power of making and keeping promises.

It took me all of five minutes in learning about their organization’s mission to connect the work they’re doing with the social crisis we have with marriage failure rates, and the untold fallout stories and trickle-down effects of those failures.

Speaking at TEDx a few years ago, Alex Sheen, founder of Because I said I would, identified marriage, along with political promises and New Years’ resolutions as prime examples of how humans commonly suck at keeping promises.

Marriage involves making promises. Half of them fail.

New Years’ resolutions are made by 40 percent of people (that’s, like, 3 billion people), according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions, follow through with them.

Politicians make promises when running for office, and while in office. According to PolitiFact (at the time of Sheen’s TEDx talk three years ago), fewer than half of all publically stated promises made by U.S. leaders of either political party were kept.

The people we entrust to protect us from violent enemies and keep society from descending into dangerous lawlessness and economic collapse—they fail to do what they say they will more than half of the time. Yet, we all allow them to take 25 percent to 50 percent of all the money we earn. Which is insane, when you think about it.

Everyone is Unreliable—You’re Not Alone

Sheen does a great job during his TEDx talk of diving into the art and science of promise-making, and if you take the 18-minute journey with him, it won’t take long for you to also see the wisdom and CRITICAL IMPORTANCE in his message.

This isn’t a small problem—this It’s-Common-to-Break-Promises,-So-Whatever thing we have going on.

It strikes at the heart of all that’s broken and fucked in our lives and world.

We break promises on the reg. And it’s a huge problem because of how many other things break when our promises are.

People suck at keeping promises.

But, why?

A few reasons, Sheen says.

  1. We say A LOT of words every day. (Statistically speaking, about 15,942 words per day.)
  2. It has become routine for people to say things like “Oh yeah, I’ll do that,” or “Sure, I’ll be there,” or “I promise,” or “Always,” or “Never.”
  3. We have shitty memories. (Note: Sheen did not use the word “shitty,” I don’t think. He seems more mature than I am.)

Mark Manson—one of my favorite writers because he’s awesome—was the first person I heard or read say what Sheen is saying here: Our memories, beliefs and opinions are NOT reliable. You’re mathematically LIKELY to have some key detail wrong in your memory of an event.

You really can’t trust yourself. Seriously.

It’s really Step 1 on the journey to becoming less of an asshole in life and relationships.

How bad are our memories?

U.S. readers: How many times would you guess you’ve seen a nickel (the five-cent coin)?

Hundreds of times in your life? Maybe thousands?

Sheen asks: “Can you tell me what a nickel looks like?”

  • Which way is the face pointing?
  • Where is the year marked on the coin?
  • What’s depicted on the back?
  • How many windows are on the building?
  • Is there even a building?

If you’re anything like me, you know precisely dick about nickels beyond Thomas Jefferson, their relative thickness, and silver color.

And why is that?

Because we’re human and there’s no getting out of it, and part of that package is that you overestimate your ability to remember things, to get facts straight, and even interpret the intentions of the people you love the most and know the best.

Sheen goes on to talk about “flash-bulb memories.” These are those significant moments that we remember best because there is often so much emotion attached to them. Humans have been documented to retain the most information about these flash-bulb moments.

One study interviewed a group of students in the aftermath of the NASA space shuttle “Challenger” explosion shortly after lift-off. Each student was asked seven questions.

Then two and a half years later, those same students were asked those identical questions.

Half of the study’s participants got two out of seven answers correct by remembering the incident accurately, and 25 percent answered incorrectly on all seven questions.

Conclusion: We have terrible memories whether we believe it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not.

So, What if We Owned That and Accounted for It?

My favorite part of Sheen’s talk involved him posing his hypothesis he intentionally mislabels The Two-People Theorem.

“We almost look like two different people with a promise,” Sheen said. “We’re going to be there for someone who needs us. We’re going to stay passionate. We’re going to do what is right. We’re going to stay committed.

“Then, what happens?”

Hedonic adaptation happens—that’s what. And that’s why many people struggle to stay happy in life and relationships.

But I’m kind of putting words in Sheen’s mouth and shouldn’t be.

“That emotion completely fades,” he said. “If you could step away from the situation and just observe it—it’s like you’re crazy. It’s weird.”

Like we’re two entirely different people, he said.

“One person wants to make this promise,” he said. “The other doesn’t want to show up.”

Sound familiar, married people?

How to Overcome the Promise-Breaking, Marriage-Ending Two-People Theorem 

Sheen then offers an awesome analogy involving zombies, and zombies make analogies better just like they made Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice better. (Probably not true.)

If you discovered that a toxin had been pumped into the air that would turn you into a zombie 24 hours from now—and that you would remain a zombie for 24 hours before reverting back to your normal self—what would you do?

Most responses are the same, Sheen said.

Most of us would go home and warn loved ones to get away and keep away from us until it was safe to return. Most of us would find a way to lock ourselves up in a way that we couldn’t harm others or ourselves.

“You chain yourself,” Sheen said. “What you’re doing is forecasting your own weakness and taking preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.

“Why don’t we do this in real life? Are you telling me we don’t become two different people?”

Sheen and the team at Because I said I would have made it their mission to help people “chain themselves” and “forecast their own weaknesses” and ultimately “take preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.”

What we’re doing is making a plan, just like we would if we were going to do a 24-hour stint as an animated brain-eating corpse.

“Humans have a very horrible perception of time. How much time it takes to complete the four steps to fulfill a commitment,” Sheen said.

Sheen hates the phrase: “You need to make the time for what’s important in life.”

“Time cannot be made. It can only be reserved,” he said. “It can only be adjusted. Not many people take their schedule and put each little step in a promise on it to ensure they’re following a sequence that hits a certain date to fulfill a promise. We normally just say it, and that’s a problem.”

If you want to be good at keeping promises, you have to think through these things, he said.

Awareness. Mindfulness.

“Be careful with your word choice,” Sheen said. “Write those promises down. Create motivators that chain you to your promise so when you’re at your weakest moment, you know you can still do something right. Create a plan.

“Fulfill your promise.”

Not unlike many of the ideas I like to discuss here, it’s an idea that comes off dangerously simple.

Of course we should keep our promises! Duh!

Yeah, but maybe things we say thoughtlessly or otherwise feel like promises to the people who matter to us most, and maybe when we fail to follow through on those promises, we damage the hearts and minds of those we love and the integrity of our relationship with them.

Maybe we slowly erode others’ trust in us without ever realizing the hurt they feel from promises unkept that we forgot about long ago.

“That’s what we need in this world. People who are reliable. Who fulfill their promises,” Sheen said.

Just maybe, if I learn how to forecast my weaknesses and plan accordingly, I’ll be able to start telling myself different stories.

Just maybe, I’ll get a little bit taller.

Just maybe, an idea we’ve been aware of since our earliest memories—the importance of keeping our promises—is the key to saving human relationships.

It’s the most deceptively simple ideas that destroy us.

Just maybe, it’s the most deceptively simple ideas that will save us.

Check out this group. Because I said I would. They’re awesome. Order some Promise Cards (they’ll ship 10 for free to anyone who asks anywhere in the world).

Be more mindful of the words you say among the nearly 16,000 you’ll speak today. And if you tell someone you’ll do something, do it.

Because if we can collectively find a way to simply do the things we’ve promised, we just might save the world.

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