Tag Archives: Beliefs

Divorce or Stay? Using Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence to Decide

Evidence

(Image/Behance)

There’s direct evidence that I was a crap husband and that my ex-wife made the right choice in ending our marriage.

I left her alone and crying in the hospital the night our son was born. Fact.

When given the choice, I often chose myself and my preferences over her and her preferences. Fact.

During disagreements between us in which I felt confident in my beliefs, I treated her as if she was wrong, and as if her ideas or beliefs were stupid. Fact.

Because my ex-wife is female—and in my life experience, I’d seen mostly women handling the lion’s share of household tasks and childcare like laundry, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, decorating, and basically everything related to caring for babies and small children—my general behavior and state-of-being in our marriage was one of passively leaving most life and household management tasks and decisions to her. Men go to work, mow the lawn, take out the trash, and do the “big” jobs! Women do the rest, and it’s totally fair. Even if that’s not, and never has been, my actual belief, my actions—the direct evidence—reflected that. Fact.

My ex-wife is an attractive woman. Always has been. I’m a red-blooded male with the same primitive sex drive and cliché wants and interests as any male caricature depicted in cinema, music or advertising—or the same as most of the guys reading this, or the ones you know. Despite that, there were various phases throughout our marriage where my behavior communicated sexual disinterest in my wife. Fact.

Every Yin Tends to Have a Yang

Of course, there’s also direct evidence that I was—if not a superstar husband—a pretty good or decent one.

[NOTE: Let’s pause for a minute to acknowledge that we’re wading precariously into a neck-deep pool of relativism, and that the “direct evidence” referenced here—defined as “evidence that directly proves a fact”—probably is not ACTUALLY direct evidence in a legal sense. I’ll appreciate whatever latitude you give me here.]

I loved my wife. Fact.

I (given my then-limited understanding of what healthy relationships are made of) tried to put my wife first. In most situations in which I didn’t perceive Right vs. Wrong to be a factor, I went along with whatever she wanted. If I wanted to buy something expensive and she didn’t, we didn’t buy it. If she wanted to spend more money on something than I would prefer, I tried to be cool about it. I wanted her to drive the nicer of our two vehicles. I was happy to hand over to her all of the money I earned at work. We fortunately were never faced with such a terrifying scenario, but I believe with all of my heart I would have taken a bullet for her or otherwise chose certain death if it came down to my life or hers. Fact.

I was pretty nice (though I now understand it wasn’t, and could never be, enough). Friendly. Fun. Polite. Courteous. You know, in all of the surface-level ways we can be those things with people (even though there’s a Continental Divide-sized difference between “common courtesy” and the type of thoughtful, mindful courtesy one must have to foster love and healthy relationships.) I am what I believe most people would generally describe as a “good person.” Fact.

I am not a criminal or con artist. I did not try to manipulate my wife or otherwise knowingly behave in ways that would bring her harm so that I might benefit. When I asked her to marry me, and when I said “I do” 13 months later, I was quite sincere in both desire and intent. Fact.

I wanted our marriage to last the rest of our lives. I wanted to have at least one more child. And I wanted her to feel loved and wanted and secure, and for us to grow old together watching our grandchildren play in the backyard. Fact.

The Evidence of Feelings

None of us are perfect. Not as people. Not as couples. No marriage is perfect. I grew up learning that marriage was a commitment for life—a sacred one. Something spiritual. Something much bigger than our individual wants.

There will always be good and bad. And some might say my marriage was par for the course, and that there was sufficient direct evidence that I was a good guy and husband, and that my wife was selfish and/or “wrong” for choosing to end our relationship.

Every day—including right at this moment—wives and husbands are evaluating their marriages and lives, taking in all of the information available to them which is guiding their thoughts and feelings regarding the health of their relationship.

When people are deciding whether to stay married or get divorced—both of which are scary and stressful to think about in a suffering marriage—all they have to go on are their feelings and beliefs.

Evidence. Facts. We like to think they add up to what we KNOW. But what we “know,” is nothing more than our collection of beliefs, which may or may not be accurate (because we’re wrong a lot).

But the most powerful and important thing is our FEELINGS—which is probably a hard thing for all of the Spock-like emotionless Vulcan logic cyborgs out there to accept.

I’ve always been someone who felt. But it never made sense to me to let our emotions be our Life Compass. If we always acted on our emotional impulses, we’d all be road-rage monsters, child abusers, divorced or never-married, unemployed, and all kinds of other less-than-ideal things.

Facts aren’t feelings!

Facts AREN’T feelings. But the hard truth is, in real life, it’s how we feel in any given moment that tends to dictate what we do, what we think, how we speak, treat others, and ultimately guides most of our decisions. Ask anyone in the funeral industry how much money they’d lose if their customers weren’t highly emotional while grieving the loss of their closest loved ones when facing expensive death-related financial decisions.

For the same reason we will fork over tens of thousands to honor our deceased loved ones even though most of them would rather us spend the money on something more objectively practical, we will uproot our entire lives by ending our relationships because of our beliefs about our spouses and how those beliefs make us feel.

Circumstantial Evidence Doesn’t Lie

One of my childhood best friends—an attorney—said that to me yesterday.

He didn’t mean that circumstantial evidence can’t be misinterpreted or misused to paint a false picture in a court of law. He meant that direct evidence can sometimes lie in ways circumstantial evidence cannot.

But let’s not confuse courtroom procedure with what most of us experience in our daily lives.

Neither O.J. Simpson or Casey Anthony were found guilty in court of the crimes they were charged with. But the circumstantial evidence in both cases is so strong that I’m pretty confident speculating that almost everyone you know assumes the guilt of both accused murderers.

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that indirectly proves a fact. It requires someone to make inferences based on incomplete information. The guilt or innocence of people are decided both in and out of court all the time based on circumstantial evidence.

It is circumstantial evidence that ultimately convicts us in our relationships and foretells their imminent demise.

When a wife discovers her husband looking at porn, she might feel like her husband thinks she’s ugly or as if he wants whatever’s on that screen more than he wants her, even if it isn’t true.

When a wife wants to have sex with her husband, but he declines, she might feel rejected as if he’s no longer interested in touching her when the real truth is he got himself off in the bathroom 20 minutes earlier fantasizing about her, and now physically can’t, even though he wants to.

When a wife finds a dirty dish sitting next to the kitchen sink, she might feel as if her husband doesn’t respect her since it appears he—at best, thoughtlessly; and at worst, intentionally—left another chore for her to do.

When a wife wakes up on her birthday, or a holiday, or her wedding anniversary to discover her husband did nothing—no plans or gifts to acknowledge it in any way—she might feel abandoned and unloved since it might appear that he doesn’t value her or their marriage enough to have put any thought into celebrating the occasion which might feel particularly meaningful to her.

I BELIEVED I was a good husband. I can point to all kinds of direct evidence to demonstrate that.

But it was the circumstances that found me guilty in her mind of being a shitty husband.

And that’s exactly what I was—a shitty husband.

I wasn’t a bad guy. I was just bad at marriage, and didn’t have enough respect for her, myself or our marriage to identify the problem and work hard to turn things around until too much damage had already been done.

The jury of one found me guilty, and sentenced me for life.

Not because of a bunch of things we can touch, taste, or see. But because of circumstantial evidence.

Because of the stuff we can feel.

And for everyone who values lasting marriage, we should work harder to recognize just how much that matters.

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Maybe Jesus Was a Lousy Carpenter

bad fence

“Thanks for building our fence, Jesus. We promise to leave you a fair review on the Angie’s List bulletin board next time we’re in town.” (Image/Home Services by Gary)

I don’t know whether things like building inspectors or mechanisms for people to leave positive and negative customer reviews existed in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

But maybe in the Nazareth town square there was a bulletin board of some kind where townspeople could leave reviews.

“Ezekiel the shepherd did an amazing job! He took our goats and pigs from Town A to Town B in just a few weeks’ time and he only ate three of our goats to survive! If you need a shepherd/goat herder for a cross-country flock transfer, Zeke’s totally your guy!”

Or maybe.

“We hired Ishmael to help us harvest figs and grapes. He was the absolute worst. He showed up late every day, collected the fewest figs of any hired farmhands, and he was always walking around the property naked with nothing but fig leaves covering his privates! Gag me. Ishmael is a dirty, fig-stealing nudist, and we will NEVER hire him again!”

And, just maybe, Jesus of Nazareth was a subpar carpenter. Maybe in today’s online-review terms, he had a 2.3-star rating.

“Our family hired Jesus the carpenter to help us build a barn. And we feel morally obligated to say what an absolute gem of a guy he is. Literally, the most kind and patient person we’ve ever met. I was giving him crap about being late half the days he worked here, and Jesus calmly explained how he’d stopped on the way over to help some sick and hungry people, and by the time he finished explaining, I wasn’t even mad anymore! He’s amazing. But, we’d also be doing our neighbors a disservice if we overlooked Jesus’ work. I mean, the guy’s a BRILLIANT philosopher and demonstrates impeccable character… but good God, his miter joints and tongue-and-groove work are about as shoddy as we’ve ever seen. Forty-five-degree angles, Jesus! Amiright? Goodness. We’re going to have to redo half of the barn next year, and when we call Joseph, we’re going to politely request that he not bring Jesus along with him. The entire back-half of the roof is leaking water every time it rains! I’ve got buckets of water everywhere! Anyone know a guy who can turn it into wine? I need a drink!”

No matter what you believe about Jesus, I encourage you to consider that he might not have been an amazing carpenter.

I’m a long-time Jesus guy, so I had a little trouble dealing with the idea when I first considered it. But I think your life will suck more if you run away from discomfort all the time, so I hope even if you’re also a long-time Jesus person, you’ll let the idea roll around your mind a little.

It’s amazing the stuff we don’t think about. REALLY important things.

For many people in the world, Jesus is the focal point of their spiritual lives. PERFECT. SINLESS. DIVINE.

For many people, Jesus = God.

I insist we not have any religious or theological discussions on the matter. Because that’s not the point.

The point is: You’re a human being. And you’re a miracle. And you’re amazing. And you’re capable of doing incredibly beautiful and inspiring things, and I couldn’t believe in you more.

But you know what you also are? Thoughtless. Wrong. Confused. Misinformed. Misremembering. Flawed.

Those aren’t value judgments. Those are simply true things that come along with each and every one of our Welcome to Earth gift packs when we arrive.

And I think this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for people to understand about themselves—this idea that no matter how intelligent or healthy or functional we are, we get things wrong a lot.

When you KNOW you’re right and are disagreeing with someone else who also KNOWS they’re right, bad things tend to happen—especially when you’re in a romantic relationship or marriage with them.

I don’t think I’m going to blow the minds of anyone in the relationship counseling or family therapy space by identifying THAT as the root cause of the vast majority of relationship dysfunction and human emotional suffering.

And I can only think of two things that might help:

  1. Encouraging smart and healthy communication techniques.
  2. Encouraging people to start questioning their beliefs and holding them to the same level of scrutiny they’re applying to others’.

Every instinct in your body is to avoid doing this. You start rattling your inner Beliefs cage, and your whole world can feel unsteady.

But it’s what we’ve got to do. We must.

Uncomfortable Truths > Comfortable Wrongs

It’s the difference between being a slave in the Matrix, or living free in the Real World.

What Might You Be Wrong About?

I want to be SUPER-clear on something. I am NOT trying to challenge your core beliefs. Never. I promise. Those are for you and no one else.

But I think calling attention to things—VERY serious and sacred things for many of us—and then pointing out how thoughtless and careless we are with some of those beliefs can help illustrate how silly we can be. Ultimately, that silliness can cost us healthy relationships with those we love most, and lead to the most pain we can ever feel. The pain of breaking on the inside after your family or marriage or friendship is torn apart can feel infinitely more uncomfortable than can the process of challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

NEVER FORGET—the truth will always hold up to intense scrutiny. Truth is truth. It CAN’T be proven false. So rest easy, truth seekers.

Santa Claus is my favorite example for this conversation.

I was wrong about Santa Claus. I believed totally and completely for about five or six years of my life that an overweight, bearded, jolly man in a bright red suit flew through the air in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, and delivered Christmas presents to every well-behaved child on the planet in one night.

I believed that even though I woke up on various Christmas mornings in Iowa, in Ohio, in Missouri, and in Florida when I was little that Santa magically always knew where I was.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but Santa could keep track of things like that. I was too young to realize that’s even more improbable than flying reindeer.

Santa was real. And there wasn’t a damn thing you could do to convince me otherwise.

Finally a holiday season came along where by that time I’d heard enough rumblings from friends via their older siblings enough times to finally have the breakthrough: Ugh. Our parents are playing Santa. That’s not a shot at parents. Nor a call to destroy childhood innocence, or a sense of wonder which we should all demonstrate no matter what.

But I have to deal in reality. I believed in something I felt certain was true. I later discovered it wasn’t.

Want your relationships to be awesome? Be mindful of the fact that you are capable of wholeheartedly believing in things that aren’t true. That realization allows us to demonstrate the humility necessary to experience healthy intimate relationships and cultivate meaningful, unbreakable friendships.

Jesus Might Not Have Even Practiced Carpentry

Thanks to white European artists becoming famous, having their work spread far and wide, and then having Europeans bring their homeland’s artwork across the Atlantic ocean 250 years ago, I grew up only seeing the images of Jesus I imagine most of you think of when you hear the name “Jesus.”

White guy. Long hair. Piercing eyes.

But Jesus was a Nazarene. He was Middle Eastern. I’m not pretending to know what he looked like. But I think we can safely assume it’s NOT like the images we all grew up seeing in the United States.

I had trouble with that at first. That was a little bit like the Santa thing.

Do you ever think about that no one ever even called him Jesus?

His name was Yeshu’a ben Yosef. After all of the translating from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek, then to English, you end up with a name that’s the equivalent of Joshua or Jesus.

Christians grow up learning about Jesus working as a carpenter. Despite my juvenile jokes about him possibly doing shoddy carpentry, Jesus was likely not a contractor doing a bunch of framing and finishing work.

The original Greek word was “tekton.” Which is more like “craftsman” or “builder.” And when you start digging into all the word stuff, it’s not hard to see that Jesus may have always been more in the philosopher/teacher/Rabbi line of work “crafting” and “building” the following that evolved into Christian faith.

And if the image of a Middle Eastern man named Yeshu’a not practicing actual carpentry, OR maybe so, but not at a high level, can be so radically different from my lifelong image of Christ, ISN’T IT POSSIBLE THAT HUMAN BEINGS WHO DISAGREE WITH ME ON ANY SUBJECT AREN’T WRONG?

I’m not asking you to doubt your beliefs. I’m not asking you to abandon confidence or faith. And I’m NOT suggesting that your most sacred personal beliefs are like childhood beliefs about Santa.

I’m only asking you to allow yourself to be wrong.

About EVERYTHING.

I’m asking you to ask good questions with a curious mind and heart.

Not to create doubt and disconnection. To seek Truth and create lasting connection.

Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. With yourself. With others. With Life that we see and feel on Earth, as well as the Life beyond these bones.

Sometimes there’s Right. Sometimes there’s Wrong.

It’s hard to choose a path when we can’t tell the difference.

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How to be Less of an Asshole in Life and Relationships

you're an asshole

Yes, even you. (Image/dailycal.org)

Sometimes I’d walk into the living room to find my wife watching 16 and Pregnant or some other TV show I thought was stupid or morally baseless.

I could have ignored it.

I could have sat with her to try to better understand the things she liked and why.

I could have suggested another activity that didn’t involve TV or seem stupid to me.

But instead of those mature and relationship-nurturing alternatives, I usually acted like an asshole.

I think deep down in the furthest recesses of my heart and subconscious, I believed I was doing the right thing by reacting negatively.

Because I loved my wife and wanted her to be the best person she could be, I didn’t want her to enjoy watching things that were “beneath” her or “bad” for her.

Because I thought television programming like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant was ultimately a bad influence on young girls and the world in general, I didn’t want my wife supporting it, or even wanting to.

Because she was the person I wanted to have children with, and I was sensitive to the sacred responsibility parents have as moral guides for their kids, I wanted my wife to share my opinions and values—even though I totally watched things like Family Guy, South Park, The League, and other raunchy and sophomoric comedies that have made me laugh through the years.

I didn’t share her tastes, beliefs or opinions about some things, and I sometimes valued my feelings more than hers. I felt morally superior to her on this topic, despite all of the insufferable hypocrisy. And since speaking in mocking tones or even just sarcastic ribbing was NOT something I judged to be hurtful or demeaning (because I loved her and married her, thus couldn’t possibly be trying to cause pain, I reasoned), I’d make asshole comments about her personal entertainment choices.

Sometimes those comments hurt her feelings. Sometimes she’d say so.

Maybe I apologized sometimes. It’s hard to remember.

Mostly, I don’t think I did. I think because I “knew” I was right and she was wrong (Because I just want what’s best for you and our kids, babe!!!), that any resistance from her was met with invalidation and probably some insistence that my “morally and intellectually superior” opinions were somehow more correct than hers.

This is the same kind of thinking hate groups and terrorist organizations use to justify hate speech, discrimination, kidnapping, rape and violent murder—sometimes on a massive scale.

Their beliefs are unwavering absolutes which in their minds gives them the moral high ground to carry out the worst things that happen in the world.

If hostility is your default reaction to people challenging your beliefs, then you probably have some Inner Asshole self-control issues like me.

What you believe may or may not be an established fact. Documented facts are easy enough to prove.

If what you believe can’t be proven easily, it makes sense that others have beliefs that conflict with yours. It would be weird if they didn’t.

If you want to have good relationships and make life suck less, you should stop being an asshole about it. Here’s how.

Think of the Times You Were Proven Wrong Despite Feeling Certain

When you’re in the midst of a disagreement, ask yourself: “Is it possible I’m wrong about this despite feelings of certainty, just like those other times I mistakenly thought I was right?” Of course, it’s possible. But sometimes, you’ll feel certain in your correctness anyway. You probably mostly will because of the Actor-Observer Bias, which you accidentally use every day to forgive yourself for behaviors and actions you typically admonish others for doing (texting while driving, using profanity, having an affair, etc).

Unfortunately, your feelings of certainty are not always a reliable measuring stick for determining truth. Feeling certain has no bearing on whether your beliefs, opinions, or even what you think you know, is actually true. We can feel equally certain about things that are right as we do about things that are wrong.

The best thing I’ve done following my marriage imploding and subsequent divorce was closely examine how my behavior contributed to my divorce and intentionally seek out explanations for how—despite how uncomfortable it sometimes made (and continues to make) me feel—my choices were largely responsible for the relationship’s death and depriving my young son of a better life with his family intact.

I was always so certain of my correctness, and that bullshit “certainty” fueled the asshole behavior that ultimately led to my life’s worst moments.

I believe the key to being less of an asshole and more of a kind, humble human being who people like and respect, is to adopt a Nothing-is-Certain mindset.

I used to care so much about being “right” during disagreements with my wife, that I:

A. Never challenged my own sometimes-incorrect beliefs in pursuit of truth.

B. Exercised WORSE behavior morally by being an asshole than she ever did innocently watching television, and…

C. Ultimately destroyed the very thing I was attempting to “improve.”

All because I “knew best.”

All because I was “right.”

All because of certainty.

The reason this humbling journey of self-discovery has been so freeing is because I no longer have to be a slave to “being right.”

Every disagreement is either an opportunity for me to share my beliefs with others, or an opportunity to correct one of my false beliefs and stop being wrong about something.

I “win” no matter what. And God-willing, am less of an asshole in the process.

What You Should Do Next

Author Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, said it best when he wrote that “the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”

“This is the only ‘safe’ Super Belief as it limits your ability to force your certainty onto others, while simultaneously always leaving you open to new and improved ideas. It keeps you open to new experiences and capable of coping with whatever pain may arise in a realistic and safe way. It also just makes you less of an asshole,” he wrote. 

Advance your noble quest to reduce your Asshole Quotient and improve your relationships by reading these two awesome and thought-provoking pieces from Mr. Manson:

The Virtue of Doubt

Why You Can’t Trust Yourself 

I’d like to tell you I’m certain you’ll like them, but I suppose I don’t know.

And that’s okay. Not knowing things is so much better than I ever imagined.

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How to Kiss Atop Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

(Image/africaninsightsafaris.com)

I was certain Santa Claus was real.

That’s why I argued with my friend Bill about it in second grade even though he had four older siblings who had exposed the whole racket by actually showing him where their parents hid the presents.

Whatever, bitch! I thought in much nicer little-kid language. If my parents say it’s true, and I get presents that say “From Santa,” and I believe it, then it’s obviously true!

True story: When I was 4, the seeds of doubt were planted RE: Santa’s existence when I received a note from St. Nick thanking me for the milk and cookies as well as the carrots I’d set out for the reindeer, in which Rudolph’s name was spelled “Rudolf.” Dad didn’t have Google in 1983, and maybe wouldn’t have double-checked the spelling anyway.

Because I was a little smarty back then before all the marijuana and alcohol contamination in high school and college, it didn’t take me long on Christmas morning to notice the discrepancy on Santa’s note versus my little paperback copy of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which I’d probably leafed through a half-million times that week.

Maybe I thought the book was wrong. Maybe I thought Santa was a bad speller. Maybe I was in denial because all the Star Wars toys were magically filling up my new snap-shut Darth Vader action figure carrying case like a Yuletide miracle.

I was still certain Santa Claus was real. And that my friend Bill and all his siblings were dumb and wrong. Kris Kringle and his magic sleigh probably just skipped them for being naughty Santa-deniers who thrived on the destruction of childhood dreams.

We just couldn’t agree because he was a stubborn little thing in second grade.

“Dude. You’re not getting it. I KNOW Santa’s real. Here’s how: 1. I get presents from him. 2. He eats the cookies. 3. He leaves me signed notes. 4. He magically finds me Christmas morning, no matter which of my divorced parents I am with, or what state I’m in. 5. My parents told me and they’re never wrong and they never lie!” I rationally explained to him.

There was only one way to settle it: Asking Bill’s mom, because she’s an awesome lady who also is never wrong and never lies.

“Mrs. O! Bill is saying there’s no Santa Claus and he’s clearly wrong! Please correct him and then spank him or something!”

Bill retorted with some blah-blibbity-blah crap and reminded her of a previous admission that she and his father did, in fact, buy all the “Santa” gifts for him and his siblings. He thought that was his ace in the hole.

Not so fast, sucka!

His mother, ever steady and wise, calmly explained to him how the supernatural capabilities of St. Nick allowed him to deliver Christmas presents to me and children throughout the world while also having agreements with certain parents in certain families to take care of gift giving themselves.

He was speechless.

That’s right! Total ownage!

His mother settled it, proving that my totally smart and awesome friend was, in this rare instance, a stupid, low-information moron.

It feels good to be right and know everything, doesn’t it?

The Thinking Problem

I pride myself on being thoughtful. I don’t mean “thoughtful,” the adjective, where I’m always anticipating others’ needs and tending to them, which would be nice. I just mean I think a lot. Many would tell you I overthink things, and I’d say they’re correct.

If I have to choose between being an imbecile or being someone who thinks a lot, my gut instinct is to be as I am. Always thinking. Always imagining. Always asking questions.

I’m a far cry from being the intellectual I’d like to be. But I’m also not dribbling milk down my chin and eating generic Apple Jacks cereal on my smelly, stained couch high on meth and watching A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila in sweatpants and holey socks.

Even though I’m reasonably smart, read non-fiction, and went to college and stuff, and there’s an actual guy somewhere doing the meth-smoking, stained-couch thing while I type this; if he grew up not believing in Santa, I could throw all my evidence and reasoning at him, and still lose an argument to the meth head by virtue of me being wrong.

There’s a healthy amount of skepticism needed to not get hoodwinked by scam artists. To not be suckered by people trying to manipulate us. To make good, informed decisions in every facet of our lives.

Anyone who has changed their mind about anything, ever, knows we’re capable of believing things which aren’t true, no matter how intelligent we are.

While this applies to life’s most controversial subjects like theology, political science and Adele, this “thinking problem” also hampers us in every other area of life.

Here’s another true story: I won’t date anyone seriously I perceive to be a bad long-term match. Live too far away? Practice a different faith? Have an opposing political ideology? Root for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Have a bunch of different hobbies, tastes and interests?

I write her name on the People I Can’t Marry, Thus Shouldn’t Date list.

Point of clarification: This only applies to me being a father to a young child, or to the me from several years ago who aspired to have children with whoever I married. In today’s terms, it mostly applies to divorced single parents interested in long-term relationships. This is less of an issue for non-parents or those planning on never having children.

I’ve had several women tell me they think it’s a bullshit philosophy. Each time they said so I got the sense they thought I was saying they weren’t good enough, and since Must Be This Tall To Ride is the ironic and metaphorical theme of my entire life, I can appreciate how bad that feels, even though it wasn’t true.

It’s not because I don’t think they’re good enough.

It’s because I’m REALLY sensitive about divorce, since my parents did it, and then I did it, and it was fun zero of those times.

There are probably a million instances of better people than me making it work, but I can’t figure out what it looks like when my atheist girlfriend answers my son’s questions about God, or when my Jewish fiancée’s daughter asks me why Catholics pray to Jesus, or when my vegan wife bans taco night and I stop speaking to her for the rest of my life while steadfastly maintaining semi-regular taco consumption.

Critical thinking, analysis and healthy skepticism are important to good decision making.

But, excessive doubt? Particularly self-doubt?

It paralyzes us, preventing us from living fully, and leads to procrastination, feelings of permanent limbo, loneliness, depression and social anxiety, according to researchers with much better evidence than I had about Santa.

I believe I’m smart, and maybe I am, but because I believe I’m smart, I trust my judgment EVEN WHEN IT’S WRONG. Like the Santa thing.

And it works the other way, too. There’s a chance that—because I’m fairly smart and capable and devilishly charming—I could succeed in all of these life pursuits I avoid out of fear of failure, ranging from writing and business opportunities to my dating and family life.

Everything in life is either true or false. Right or wrong. Or somewhere in the middle and constantly changing relative to whatever conditions apply to that particular subject or thing.

I hate to admit it, but I make mistakes. I’m wrong, sometimes. I make errors in judgment, or I blatantly believe something that eventually proves false.

My entire life is about being the best version of myself I can be moving forward. I mess up in several areas. There’s no reason to believe my assumptions and decisions and doubts aren’t among them.

Say it with me:

I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I get things wrong.

Maybe things I believe about myself aren’t true. Maybe things I believe about life aren’t true. Maybe I actually can do that. Maybe I am strong enough. Maybe I am good enough.

Sometimes I doubt things. And because I trust that I’m smart, I let doubt paralyze me.

But what if I doubted my doubt? What if I challenged my own assumptions and beliefs?

“OMG! I can’t do this!…

“Wait a minute. Sometimes I’m wrong! Maybe I should doubt this self-doubt.

“Hey, self-doubt! I’m totally doubting you right now!”

And then you bring down the house singing outside your car or shower for the first time. And then you start a new business and your life gets better. And then you experience inner peace. And then you stand on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. And then you publish that book. And then you kiss the girl.

And then you realize you’re not an imposter. That you really can do it.

And then you change the world.

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A Crooked Soul Trying to Stay Up Straight

(Image/nature.com)

(Image/nature.com)

I’d like to tell you I’m a man of deep, unshakable faith. I’d like to tell you I know the real, actual truth about the universe and meaning of life so I could share the secret with you.

That’s a big deal when you’re a Christian. Certainty. Certainty wearing a “Hello, my name is Faith” sticker.

Maybe it’s a big deal for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists, too. Maybe you’re only a good member of your faith community if you believe everything you’re taught.

Understand something about me: I only saw good, kind, decent versions of Christians growing up—loving and charitable people who I only witnessed doing good things, and never doing bad things. I think that’s why I always felt ashamed when I was younger for wanting to make out with the cute girl in the church pew in front of me, or for questioning whether I’m literally supposed to believe that God once lost His temper and intentionally flooded the entire world killing every man, woman, child, animal, and plant which wasn’t on a giant wooden boat built by Noah and his family large enough to house two of every type of animal on Earth, followed by Noah’s family incestuously repopulating the world.

I nonetheless had mountains of evidence that Christians were good people. And since I knew a bunch of them, and had no reason to doubt them, I grew up believing all of the finer points of Catholic Christianity.

And let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing. I was just a kid. A pretty good and nice one too.

There wasn’t any ambiguity in our rules:

Any orgasm outside of marriage?

Going to Hell.

A hit off a joint or one too many drinks at a party?

You’re gonna burn.

Profane language?

Holy shit! An eternity of torturous fiery terror and torment!

That’s a lot to handle when you’re a 16-year-old boy, and your life revolves around girls, friends, sports, and daydreaming about going off to college, in that order, where you assume you magically become an adult and figure out what you’re going to be for the rest of your life, and maybe stop getting erections for no apparent reason.

Maybe Muslims and Atheists experience it differently. I hope for their sake that they do.

‘You Have an Obligation to Write About Your Faith’

People tell me that, sometimes. I always disagree with them, and then try to explain why.

I usually write about divorce, marriage and sustainable relationships, and I’ve earned some credibility with a group of people who think maybe I have a bunch of it figured out.

Here’s the thing: I can spit out a nice little playbook for how a man can make his wife feel loved, safe, secure and desired, and not want to divorce him as much as most women want to divorce their shitty husbands. I can. I’ve had THOUSANDS of wives, and even some husbands, write me to say so.

That doesn’t make what I believe true.

It just makes me confident.

Certain?

The only path to a good, forever-kind-of marriage is vigilantly practicing love—the verb—every day. It requires a healthy understanding of human psychology—how husbands’ and wives’ minds and bodies operate differently, and having the tools necessary to keep things from breaking.

For years and years, everyone was smoking. Even doctors. A bunch of people were dying from cancer and heart disease and we couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, we did. And now we know smoking invites sickness and death faster than not smoking does.

There are three kinds of people now.

  1. The kind who do not smoke because they want to do what’s best for themselves and the people they love.
  2. The kind who smoke because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who smoke, know it’s bad and want to quit, but struggle with the addiction or habit for a variety of reasons.

On the subject of marriage and relationships, we are—as people—nowhere near as enlightened and educated as we are about the health ramifications of smoking cigarettes. Every day, people are accidentally and carelessly ruining relationships, damaging children, and tearing families apart.

There are three kinds of people who are married or in committed relationships, and unlike with smoking, the largest group has NO IDEA that what they’re doing (metaphorically smoking circa 1960) will invite sickness and death into their relationships.

  1. The kind who get it and do things the right—and frankly, only—way. Actively choosing to love their spouse and family every day, applying information they’ve learned about what makes their partner feel good to their daily lives. Proactively nurturing their marriages.
  2. The kind who abuse and lie and cheat and neglect because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who sometimes fall short, understand that they can do and be more, want to, but struggle in their hearts and minds for a variety of reasons.

Let’s call it doubt. Maybe a person doubts that monogamy can really work. Maybe a person doubts they can trust their partner to not abandon them. Maybe a person GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED IN LIFE AND STILL DOESN’T FEEL HAPPY.

That last thing happens to decent, intelligent people all the time. They were certain this was what would finally make them happy, but then it didn’t, and now they want more.

There must be more to life than this.

Life in the Margins

I don’t write about God and/or Jesus because I think it’s an ineffective way to communicate with strangers. People don’t like being judged or preached to.

It automatically divides and makes people feel unwelcome. Not only that, it’s a bullshit thing to do.

And the answer to this question is why I think so: When is the last time you witnessed two human beings with deeply held spiritual, theological, philosophical or political beliefs discuss their differences pleasantly or otherwise, and afterward hear one say: “Gee whiz. You’re right. I reject all my previous beliefs and agree with you now.”?

Even once? Ever?

I mean, yeah. I’m Catholic. Kind of a rogue, miscreant one. I believe many things unique to Catholicism. I’m a regular churchgoer.

But I also have a bunch of stuff I’m not sure about. I used to feel guilty about that but now I don’t.

I don’t murder, because that makes sense. I don’t rape, because that makes sense. Can I really be damned for eternity for using birth control during married sex because money’s a little tight right now?

I’m tired of people acting like they know. No one knows. Zero people.

We know precisely dick.

We’ve had the world’s most-intelligent and thoughtful people trying to get to the root of what’s true about life and the universe since before the words “science” or “philosophy” were ever uttered. And no subatomic-particle physicist, pastor, atheist, teacher, scholar, prophet, rabbi, tribal chief or jungle medicine man has solved it.

Their argument and evidence would be convincing if they had. Like when the doctors proved to us that smoking caused cancer, and we believed them and made new choices.

We all want to feel certain.

I want to feel certain. I don’t want to believe in fairy tales. And I don’t know how to believe in nothing, Lebowski. I need meaning and reason and purpose, or I can’t make sense of anything. If the entire point of living is hedonism before the lights inevitably go off, why aren’t we all shooting heroin, hosting orgies and encouraging everyone we know to do the same?

But I’m NOT certain.

I don’t know.

Not for sure. Is what I feel faith and belief? Or is it just 36 years of habit reinforced by like-minded people within an unchanging faith community?

If no one ever told me the truth about Santa and someone kept sneaking “From Santa” gifts under the Christmas tree every year, might I still believe in him?

If Carl Sagan was my father and nothing bad ever happened to me for believing everything he taught me, would I look at the world completely differently?

If I didn’t have a father, money, education, enough food, or experienced love from family or friends, might I be willing to join a violent group of religious militants intent on spreading mayhem and murdering innocent people who believed a different God story than me?

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

When you strip away all the bullshit, we’re all just a bunch of people who behave the way we do because of our beliefs and habits.

That’s why we usually believe whatever our parents taught us, so long as no negative consequences came from doing so. When it felt bad, we did something different than them.

I don’t know anything. I never have. I just believe things which make sense to me.

I don’t know that what I write about in terms of love and marriage actually works. I just believe it strongly because I’ve read, discussed, and thought a lot about it and it made sense to me.

Maybe some really good guy out there has been married twice and did everything right both times, but in both marriages, his wife took advantage of him financially and slept with his best friend. Maybe now that guy can’t believe what I believe anymore.

I’m done pretending I know what it’s like to be another person.

Maybe some people can’t believe in God because they watched their mother die of a horrible disease she didn’t deserve to get, or because they lost family on Sept. 11, 2001, or because their parents told them there is no God, and since thousands of children die every day in Africa from asshole warlords and no sanitary water, that story made sense to them.

Something is true, and I don’t know what it is. But I like trying to figure it out.

The only thing I really know is what it’s like being me.

A flawed, broken, uneven human being who can feel joyful and grateful one day, and a little bit sad and empty the next.

A guy who does all kinds of things my faith community warns me could send me straight to Hell.

That might be total bullshit. Or 100-percent true.

I won’t know until I’m dead. That’s when we will all learn the truth OR when the lights go out and our consciousness insta-shuts off, and the book of our life ends, maybe mid-sentence and unresolved.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you I don’t believe in God.

Do I doubt some of the details of thousands-year-old religious texts which include mountains of symbolism and metaphor? Sure!

But do I doubt God’s existence, goodness, or power? How could I? Why would I want to?

Some people don’t like God and religion. But it’s not because of God and religion. It’s because some religious people do heinous, horrible things in the name of their faith, thereby making every sane person on earth despise them and reject their beliefs.

That makes sense to me.

If the only Christians you ever knew screamed “God hates fags!” at your gay friend or family member, or staged protests at the funeral of your neighbor killed in military combat, or bombed women’s health clinics because they’re somehow convinced God’s preferred solution to ending abortion is murdering people with guns and explosives, would you like them or want to practice the same faith?

Isn’t that what many Muslims deal with now? Judgment and squinty-eyed suspicion based on the actions of a few?

Life has clearly demonstrated that one size does not fit all.

I think everyone feels the emptiness sometimes. Every faith. Every walk of life.

Things just feel off, sometimes. We can’t figure out why because when we write it all down on paper, our lives are exactly what we think we want.

I HAVE EVERYTHING I WANT AND STILL DON’T FEEL HAPPY.

I love my wife and I want to be married, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing for her. I don’t always feel like not putting my penis in others I’m attracted to. My marriage didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, so what’s the point?

There will always be that third group. The group too damaged to love themselves or others. Who just want to watch the world burn.

Then there’s the rest of us. With all our doubts. All our ignorance. All our guilt. All our shame.

Crooked souls trying to stay up straight.

The longer we live, the more bad things we experience. We collect more scars. We lose more innocence.

It’s so easy to embrace the cynicism now. To abandon hope while the politicians scream, and the fanatics shoot, and greedy abuse, and our friends fail us, and our marriages burn while we cry.

But here we are. Still trying.

We pray and we hope. We try to be good, for the sake of being good. We do things that are difficult or inconvenient because it’s what’s right.

People keep waiting for a blinding light. For God to speak thunderously from a mountaintop or burning bush. To feel certain again. Like when we were kids and less afraid of everything.

God doesn’t yell. We’d all know if that were true.

He whispers. Whispers are hard to hear.

I think when people have everything they ever wanted and still don’t feel happy, or genuinely love their spouse and family and want to be married, but still feel empty?

I think that might be a whisper.

I think that’s when we’re supposed to cede control. For God to fill the gaps. I think God likes working in the margins.

I’m never going to suggest you need to be saved. That you should believe what I believe. That I have some answer you don’t. I don’t know. And I think most, if not all, people who say they know are mistaken or lying.

I will always try to ask the right questions, though.

When it seems as if all options have been exhausted, is it possible the only thing you’ve never tried is a legitimate leap of faith? Is it possible that could make the pain and fear go away?

I’ll always say what I believe and why and let others form opinions about it. To decide for themselves whether the nagging emptiness we don’t usually talk about might be a whisper. A nudge to wake up inside.

Maybe there’s no love without hate.

Maybe there’s no hot without cold.

Maybe there’s no light without darkness.

What do I believe? That the shadow proves the sunshine.

 

(Thanks to Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman for writing this beautiful song, and inspiring this post.)

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