Tag Archives: Courage

We Should Stop Blaming Marriage for Our Problems

who we blame for our problems

(Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

“I’m never getting married! Everybody who does just ends up miserable!”

Sometimes you’ll hear people call marriage a contrived social or religious construct that goes against our human “instincts” to pursue hedonism and carnal depravity.

“Monogamy is unnatural!”

You’ve heard it all before, too. The cynicism from jaded people in unhappy marriages. From those on the other side of divorce. From children of divorced parents. From those experiencing the fallout of a failed relationship within their family or social circle.

The numbers are the numbers. Divorce happens often, and even when it doesn’t, many couples are extremely unhappy.

According to Ty Tashiro, who wrote The Science of Happily Ever After, 70 percent of marriages end in divorce, or feature two people who resent the hell out of one another.

I’m calling that a 7-out-of-10, or 70% failure rate.

And while some of these people may represent the lowest common denominator of human intelligence and behavior, millions of that 70% represent the very best of us.

Good people. Kind people. Successful people. Smart people.

People who generously start up non-profits to feed the hungry, or brilliantly invent something that changes the way society functions, or just that incredibly nice and funny person you know from work or church or the neighborhood.

And when the rest of us watch these people get married, have children, and appear from the outside looking in to “have it all,” only for us to discover later that he drinks himself into stupors just to cope at home, or that she’s banging Jim in Corporate Accounting. And when we realize the Perfect Marriage we see is a façade—a David Blaine illusion—we feel the sting that comes when Life makes another surprise-withdraw from our Hope bank accounts.

You feel a little bit like an asshole when you first realize you were naïve enough to believe the Tooth Fairy flew into your bedroom in the middle of the night, took your nasty unbrushed lost tooth, and in exchange, left you some arbitrary amount of money.

And maybe we feel that same sense of loss and self-doubt creep in each time Life lands another Adulthood sucker punch, helping us realize things weren’t what they had seemed.

Bill Cosby. Jared Fogle. Tiger Woods. Corrupt and morally bankrupt politicians and religious leaders. Repeated examples from people we know personally.

And in each generation, everyone collectively thinks the world’s going to hell as they age. “Things ain’t like they used to be!”

Or. Just maybe. Things have always been this way, and it takes the hard-earned experience and wisdom of adulthood to understand that most everyone is wearing some kind of mask most of the time.

It’s too uncomfortable imagining everyone seeing the Real Us. So we hide things. A little. Or a lot.

Just maybe, things aren’t getting worse. Just maybe, people have ALWAYS been this way and now, because of the internet, 24/7 cable news and a HD camera lens on more than a billion mobile phones, we all see and hear about it constantly.

Maybe You Don’t Know What Marriage Is

I’m not trying to insult anyone. Most of us can offer a simple definition for, or explanation of, marriage that passes the sniff test.

That’s not what I mean.

You know how when you were a kid, you wanted to be a rock star, or act in movies, or play professional sports, or be a NASA astronaut, or perform at Carnegie Hall, write the Great American Novel, become President, or start your own Fortune 500 company?

Maybe you wanted to be a doctor, or lawyer, or supermodel, or architect, or police detective, or fashion designer, or ninja, or Navy SEAL, or axe-wielding firefighting hero.

But then, while 1% of people competently chased and achieved their dream, the rest of us abandoned those ideas somewhere along the way to pursue other things, or actually tried for a minute only to realize the huge effort required to succeed, and THEN we quit.

Wait. You mean to be a star actor, I need to wait tables and live with seven other people in a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles or New York, and THEN wait for someone to give me a chance? To be a doctor, I need to go to school for 10 years and take on the national debt of a small country? To be a Navy SEAL, I have to put my body through THAT, and then stare death in the face on every mission?

Maybe I’ll choose something else.

And that’s FINE. You’re not wrong or bad. You’re a person, and the only thing you can do is make choices that make sense to you in the moments you’re in. No judgment. I choose the easy way several times per day. The only difference is, now I recognize how my life occasionally suffers because of it.

But that’s not the point either.

The point is, a million people THINK they want to be musicians or lawyers or politicians or authors or badass first responders when all they know is the idea of what that profession would look like in their heads. But once they actually experience the real-life version of the journey there, they’re all like: “Wanna just get a 12-pack and play video games instead?”

It’s Because You Didn’t Know

It’s not your fault. Your heart and mind were in the right place. You can’t possibly know what you don’t know. Most of us spend our entire childhoods in the education system and none of us are ready for the real-world applications of those lessons. That’s with AN ENTIRE INFRASTRUCTURE in place to teach us shit. What is it that you ever learn about marriage?

You see people happy to get married and live Happily Ever After on TV.

You attend weddings where everyone seems to be having a great time.

But you almost NEVER see MARRIAGE. Not even at home. Your parents didn’t give you the whole truth. Mom didn’t tell you how lonely she felt because Dad worked 50-hour-weeks, fell asleep in the living-room chair most nights, and hardly ever showed sexual interest in her. Dad didn’t tell you about sexually relieving himself with Playboy magazines, or how it was easier to relax watching baseball at the local pub with the guys than being home, or how the financial pressures of having a family made him feel like he traded in all his dreams to work the rest of his life to pay for other people’s things only to likely die 10 years sooner than his statistical life expectancy.

Everybody wears the masks. They do it to protect us. To “save” children from the challenges of Real Life, only to accidentally fail to prepare us for those very challenges.

They don’t deserve blame either.

Because they grew up the same way.

And so did our grandparents.

Ancestral sheltering. Performed with the best of intentions. But ultimately contributing to us understanding marriage about as well as we did the realities of being promoted to police detective, or the highly advanced mathematics required to launch space rockets.

“Hey, Matt! Are you EVER going to make a point?”

Yes.

Marriage Doesn’t Suck. We Suck.

Like being accepted to the NASA astronaut program, or becoming a gold-medal Olympian, or passing the bar exam, most of us don’t have ANY idea what marriage requires of us in order to be successful.

Marriage is hard.

Marriage requires intense vigilance mentally and emotionally. We need to be ON, mentally. Even when we’re tired and “don’t feel like it.” And we need to be ON, emotionally. The personal discipline required to be mindful of another person’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing in order to contribute positively to it and not ruin their lives (and often our own in the process) is intense.

People get married and see what it’s REALLY like, and decide maybe they’d rather get a 12-pack and play more video games.

People are unwilling to give what’s needed to succeed in marriage, just like they’re unwilling to train every day for the Olympics, or practice playing an instrument enough to master it.

We love the idea of marriage. We see everyone around us getting married. It’s hard to believe anything other than: Getting married is what comes next after getting a job!

But then the divorced people tell you how horrible it is.

Cynical people tell you how frequently it fails.

Hedonists tell you how limiting it can be.

“Don’t do it!” we hear.

“Marriage is dumb. I’m not doing it!” we say.

As if staying forever-single somehow brings a magical sense of fulfillment and contentment in life.

As if having children as single parents is somehow the universally preferred and most-effective way of raising them.

As if hard things which people work tirelessly to achieve should magically become easy things. So C+ math students can design space shuttle flight plans, and people who don’t work out can be paid millions to play sports, and people can be given medical licenses after a couple semesters of community college.

We choose the easy way. We choose comfort over discomfort. We do it ALL THE TIME.

And it’s okay.

But for the same reasons you don’t REALLY want to put in the work required to open your own European pastry shop, or get elected to Congress, or lose 40 pounds, maybe you don’t REALLY want to put in the work a marriage requires.

You’ll receive no judgment or shaming from me.

But I’ll really appreciate it if you’ll kindly stop blaming marriage for sucking as if it’s the institution’s fault you or your friends aren’t any good at it.

Our marriages don’t fail because marriage is inherently flawed. Our marriages fail because WE are inherently flawed.

And being inherently flawed is precisely why most of us need a hand to hold during Life’s hairiest, shit-hitting-fan moments.

The rewards of career success on our respective journeys are great.

The rewards of relationship success are equally so.

But with marriage, most of us begin our mountain climbs not knowing how high we’re going, and lack the proper equipment to get there.

It seems silly to blame the mountain when we fall.

Marriage is rewarding and beautiful when we make it so.

It’s something else when we don’t.

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Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance?

Napoleon Dynamite dance

“What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” (Image/firstandmonday.com)

I’m probably a sucky dancer. Like, to people who evaluate dance quality.

When I was a little kid there were a lot of weddings to attend because my parents are from relatively large families. I remember my aunts trying to coax me onto the dance floor, but something about dancing in the center of the room with a bunch of people watching made me super-shy and I didn’t want to.

Eventually, they’d let me scurry off to do something else.

I got into school dances around 8th grade because then I was allowed to be close to a girl. High school dances were always fun. And by the time college rolled around, bottled Budweiser, the ice luge, and test-tube shots from the shot girls were more than enough to erase what little shyness existed during my social and physical prime. We be clubbin’. Yaeeyaae.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, the president of the Black Student Union invited me as her date to the BSU homecoming dance. I was the only white person in the banquet hall. Despite having a dozen friends in the room, I still froze up pretty hard when she drug me out to the dance floor.

That was an opportunity to demonstrate courageousness in a life where I often hadn’t needed to. And I wasn’t up to it because I was worried about what everyone else was thinking.

Later, I ended up engaged and married to a competitive ballroom dancer who knew how to navigate dance floors of all types. She always wanted me to dance with her.

I did sometimes. But I mostly declined.

It was always about bravery. It was never rooted in not actually wanting to.

It was rooted in being judged by others and deemed inadequate. It was rooted in being judged by my partner and deemed unworthy.

3 Critical Dancing Tips That Aren’t Actually About Dancing

“I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” – Martha Graham

1. It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

Your opinions regarding how good or bad you are at something couldn’t be less relevant. People are wrong all the time about most things. It’s because we’re not divine or psychic.

I stumbled on this excellent thing from Brian D. Buckley somehow several weeks ago, and loved it. In his post “You Do Not Even Have To Believe in Yourself” he recounts the story of famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham who he learned about after clicking a Google Doodle honoring her.

He wrote this:

“The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She ‘confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.’

“Martha’s response:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

“I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough.

“She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.

“This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to ‘keep the channel open.’ And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.

“But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?

“None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.”

2. It Isn’t Even About You

Mark Manson—a writer I admire very much—just published a new piece yesterday called “3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You,” and it’s phenomenal.

I’m including two of the three here because they are must-share “dancing” lessons.

Because everything we have ever experienced or will ever experience involves ourselves, we mentally and emotionally treat EVERYTHING that happens to us as actually being about us.

“But here’s a newsflash: Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you,” Manson wrote.

But then he wrote the most-important thing I’ll read today, or possibly ever, and it speaks to the heart of why I was afraid of my wife thinking I was a shitty dancer, or hundreds of black students at a homecoming dance thinking I was a dorky white kid who needed to go back to the barnyard square dance where I belonged.

“When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you,” Manson said. “I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).”

3. There’s Value in Doing Things Just Because We Can

You know how the internet and inspirational posters took the phrase “Dance like no one’s watching” and made it cliché, so now it’s lame to say even though it totally makes sense because we’ve all secretly danced by ourselves at home when no one was watching (except for our dead relatives and creepy binocular-using neighbors)?

You’re not dancing because you’re at a dance. Not to be close to a partner or find one after midnight on the dance floor. Not to win the approval of a bunch of peers who are clearly superior dancers to you, OR to win the approval of judges in a competition you want to win.

You’re doing it just because.

If someone wanted you to explain why, there might not be an answer.

I felt like it? Works for me.

Manson wrote that people need to learn how to take actions without knowing what the results might be.

“But most of life — that is, real life — doesn’t work this way. When you decide to change careers, there’s no one there telling you which career is right for you. When you decide to commit to someone, there’s no one telling you this relationship is going to make you happy. When you decide to start a business or move to a new country or eat waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast, there’s no way of knowing — for certain — if what you’re doing is ‘right’ or not,” Manson wrote. “And so we avoid it. We avoid making these decisions. We avoid moving and acting without knowing. And because we cannot act on what we don’t know, our lives become incredibly repetitive and safe.”

Paralysis by analysis is the saying, I think. Using the fear of the unknown to avoid taking any action at all.

I think that’s how we die in the suburbs after spending 35 years punching clocks, and where most nights were spent in the living-room recliner watching Law & Order and shit.

Some people may genuinely not want to do certain things.

Genuine things, authentic things, actual things—REAL THINGS—are always okay. Those things are truth.

But sometimes we pretend things are true that aren’t just because we’re afraid of something.

I think most of the time we pretend things are true because we’re afraid of change.

Because we don’t know what might happen next. Scary!

And maybe we’re not good enough. Our opinions don’t matter!

And maybe everyone will point and laugh and call us shitty dancers. Maybe she’ll stop wanting to kiss us. Their opinions matter less than ours.

So dance.

Maybe that means buy the plane ticket. Change careers. Buy the ring.

Maybe that means take a chance. Have an adventure. Start your family.

It doesn’t matter what the dance looks like, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of it—not even you.

It only matters that you do it.

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How to Be a Man, Vol. 3

Monty Williams

Be like this man. Monty Williams. Because he’s what we’re called to be. (Image/pelicandebrief.com)

“This will work out,” Monty Williams said at his wife’s funeral the other day.

Out of context, you might find the comment flippant or emotionally detached. It was anything but.

The phrase I like to use is: Everything is going to be okay.

And that’s what Williams, an assistant coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, meant when he said matter-of-factly: “This will work out.”

Life is hard. And the most fortunate of us don’t know it when we’re children, because nothing is hard. You just wake up every day in comfort and safety that you didn’t earn, pay for, or work for, and then people love you, give you stuff, provide your needs, educate you, and allow you to spend—compared to adulthood, and within the context of appropriate behavior—a lot of time doing pretty much anything you want.

It’s magical, and none of us appreciated it because we all wanted to be big so we could “do whatever we wanted” like the little morons we were.

But then we grow up and no one just gives us things anymore. We have to work for what we have, and we have to work to maintain those things.

Instead of living with people who tend to love us no matter what, we now live with people who have to choose whether to love us—but because we don’t know better, we take that for granted and often assume they’ll love us like mom and dad did, because we exchanged vows, or share an address, or share a bed, or share children. But then we sometimes learn the hard way that we were wrong about that, too.

Many other hard things happen in adulthood.

Losing friends in adulthood is harder than when we were kids. Financial pressures in adulthood weigh heavier than they do for mostly insulated children. Because Father Time stops for no one, those fortunate enough to stay alive longest must in turn deal with the most amount of death.

Life is hard.

And because it’s so hard to think and feel and exist beyond our own minds and chest cavities, it’s difficult to not wallow in self-pity during the darkest, most difficult, most painful moments.

A dead wife.

Just 44.

Mother of five children, three of whom were with her in the car crash.

Killed in a freak accident by someone recklessly driving 92 miles per hour on a four-lane Oklahoma City road with traffic signals and a bunch of other cars on the road.

And the grieving husband and father said, with courage and conviction: “This will work out.”

All roads lead somewhere. Even the excruciatingly painful and treacherous ones.

And no matter how much we hurt, someday tomorrow will get here, when we will get to see exactly how things worked out so we could arrive to a better, perhaps beautiful, today.

Everything is going to be okay.

A Tangent on Personal Beliefs, God, and Faith

I deliberately tend to avoid writing about spiritual beliefs, God, religion, etc.

These are human beings’ most sacred beliefs, and they often generate strong emotional reactions, and by proxy, controversy.

This blog is mostly about two things: Personal growth and reducing the frequency of divorce. And since I feel strongly that both believers and non-believers can experience personal growth, and that regardless of belief system, people will continue to get married, I want to stay focused on those things.

If we start screaming at each other about which story about God is most credible, and internet-damning all dissenters to eternal damnation, I think the important personal growth and Let’s Make Marriage Suck Less conversations might get lost in the noise, or ignored entirely.

“Hey, Matt! Why don’t you ever write about faith as an important part of making marriage last!?”

Because I think if I tell an atheist she needs to pray to God; or a Buddhist that he needs Christ’s mercy; or Christians that they need to read the Qur’an; or Jews that they need to accept the New Testament; or the faithful that there is no god, that all of our conversations will become about that, and not what I’m actually thinking and writing about.

I’ve said it before: Does it matter how right you are, or how much truth you’re sharing if no one hears the message anyway?

I’d rather people from all walks of life strive to be better people and have healthy, positive, loving relationships, than spend time quibbling over disagreements that will never be settled in this lifetime, let alone these blog comments.

But if you must know, I believe in God. I just don’t presume to know how God works, or what God wants, or why God would want whatever that is.

I personally believe that God doesn’t want people screaming at one another and dividing up into camps of angry people telling others they’re going to hell if they don’t change all of their beliefs to whatever their particular camp believes, or worse, killing people with different opinions.

Something is true. And maybe we’ll find out what that truth is someday if the lights don’t insta-shut-off when we die. I hope so. Maybe in the meantime we can speak and act with humility, treat others kindly, teach our children to do those things, try to get 1% better at something every day, and try to live in such a way that we are giving more to others and the world than we take from them. Maybe we can do that no matter what we believe.

Coach Williams is a Christian man with a strong faith in God.

And should you listen to this courageous and inspiring eulogy to his wife at the bottom of this post (and I really hope you do), I’d like to ask all non-Christians not to get distracted by Bible references and churchy things, but simply on Williams’ class, bravery, humility, and forgiveness. I hope any men reading who believe how they treat and talk about their wives should be measured in blow-job frequency or what other guys think about them, will watch it.

Coach Williams probably messes up just like every other person, ever.

But he strikes me as a man who loved his wife as wives are meant to be loved. Who loves his children as fathers are called to love. Who wakes up each morning and falls asleep each night with a peaceful heart and relatively regret-free. Because he WALKS THE PATH.

Sometimes guys like to internet-shame me because of the things I write about marriage. They think they’re tough guys, and that I’m a huge pussy.

I used to be sensitive about that back when I spent every day wallowing in self-pity over divorce and feeling sorry for myself about how unfair life had become. I spent a lot of time doing the Why me, God!? thing. It’s because I was being a huge pussy.

But that’s not what I’m being today. Things were always going to work out. Everything was always going to be okay. And now they are.

Coach Williams’ manhood has never been in doubt, despite always touting the merits of his wife to anyone who would listen. Her beauty, and strength, and importance in his life.

When he wasn’t with her, he wanted to be.

When he isn’t with his children, he wants to be.

It’s what love looks like. And courageously choosing it even when it’s inconvenient is what makes a dude, a man.

Williams is a leader of men. And for those brave enough to listen, we can learn how to be men, too.

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The Difference Between Knowing the Path and Walking the Path

running

Anyone can run a marathon, right? After all, you’re only doing one simple thing. (Image/danieltrainingnetwork.org)

Because I sometimes make bad decisions and do the wrong thing, I got internet-mouthy with readers in the comments of a recent post. In doing so, I undermined the very message I attempt to convey as critical to healing broken relationships and having pleasant, healthy and functional marriages.

Nothing fuels Imposter Syndrome and fears regarding future relationships quite like realizing you’re behaving exactly as you did in the marriage you helped destroy.

I wrote about something I think is important and believe can help guys like me because it’s the concept that helped me discover the secret to making marriage positive and lasting. Some readers were offended by certain word choices and ideas I shared. And because they didn’t respond like I wanted, or agree with me, or didn’t focus on my conclusion and then forgive me and tell all their Facebook friends I’m perfect and amazing, I dug in my heels for a You’re-Wrong-and-I’m-Right-and-Here’s-Why exchange that changed approximately zero hearts and minds.

Like children do.

Like many disagreeing people do.

Like I did when I emotionally abandoned my wife in my marriage, creating a culture of resentment and mistrust which ended unceremoniously with her packing a suitcase and driving away one April Fools’ Day.

I apologize to the people whose opinions I dismissed as if they were somehow less important than mine. And I apologize to people in relationships hoping my explanation of how leaving dishes by the sink can end marriages might connect with their significant others, because maybe—even though blog readers and commenters are not the same as husbands and wives—you felt like all the comment-fighting was evidence that I didn’t really learn anything after all.

You wouldn’t be the first people to tell me that.

I’m Afraid of History Repeating Itself

I worry that, unless I meet someone of a particular temperament and personality type (not that I have any idea what that might be), I will end up doing many of the same bad things in a future relationship I did in my last one. The things I’m always warning people to not do now.

What if all the fights are about different things but I still end up reacting defensively and dismissively? What if, no matter how much I think I know, these same emotional triggers and habits always wind up sabotaging my relationships?

This is a key point: Some people LOVE conflict and could give a shit how they make you feel while they’re trying to “win.” I am not one of them. Kindness matters. More specifically, I would never—not once under any circumstances—intentionally choose to harm or inflict pain on people I love. Yet, I have accidentally done so countless times. I have done so with such frequency and relentlessness apparently that I could not convince someone I genuinely loved and shared a home with that she was genuinely loved enough to feel safe and secure in our marriage.

It really scares me. Because for the first time in my life, I understand something profound and powerful about the human experience—something many people don’t seem to know—and it causes a lot of unintended damage in relationships. And no matter how much I know it, and how much I think about and write about it for public consumption, I still demonstrate shortcomings in executing it during live-fire exercises.

It’s because there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.

How to Run a Marathon

Running a marathon is easy! There’s almost nothing to it! All you have to do is ONE thing for a very specific distance.

Anyone can do it, right?

You just run! That’s it. That’s all you do. You do one simple activity for 26.2 miles, and then you’ve completed a marathon.

Easy-peasy.

But then you’re me who probably can’t run a 5K without heart palpitations, and you try to do this “super-simple” thing and fail epically and/or die.

Because it’s actually a very difficult thing to do.

And everyone who has successfully done so (I’m not one of them) knew it was hard, so they took a bunch of steps, and trained and trained and trained and trained to be able to do it successfully.

Everyone knows how to run marathons. But not many can actually do it without proper mindset and preparation.

And so it is in marriage and our other relationships.

People often think once love stops feeling easy and romantic and lusty that they made a bad partner choice. Everything breaks down from there.

For some reason, so few of us seem to understand that we will eventually experience difficult moments which require sacrifice—sometimes very painful sacrifice—no matter who we’re with. We will get tired, bored, angry, hurt, and want to quit so we can stop feeling all of those unpleasant feelings and go do something fun and easy that makes us feel good.

Maybe on those days we’ll collapse for lack of preparation. Maybe we’ll quit.

We have choices to make.

Maybe figuring out what we need to do in order to reach the finish line can be the choice we make.

Maybe it can be the choice I make.

So maybe then we don’t have to be afraid anymore.

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Why Online Dating Might Not Be For You

farmersonlymeme

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

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

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

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

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

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

But mostly girls didn’t “like” me.

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

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

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

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

I said no.

She asked why.

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

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

Married women always think I’m swell.

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

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

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

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

Glad you asked.

The Internet vs. Real Life

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

And here’s why:

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

And I do pretty well with that.

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

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

That’s how people become attracted to one another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Internet, Though…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get it.

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

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

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

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

Be Brave

You know which camp you fall in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

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I Heard Someone Upstairs When No One Else Was Home

the-purge-movie-poster

It was about 10 p.m. last night when my friend dropped me off at home.

I unlocked my back door, kicked off my shoes, turned on a light, and lounged on one of my couches, half-watching an NBA playoff game while reading a book.

I live in a two-story cape cod. Sometimes my son wakes up at night, gets out of bed and walks to a bathroom or to find me. So, it’s usually not that weird when I hear the floor creak several times above me.

The problem was: No one else was home.

Every hair on my arms stood up.

Investigate? Ask who’s there?

I’d like to tell you I boldly walked upstairs like a badass ready to take out any threat that might be waiting. I did the opposite of that.

I grabbed my wallet, keys, shoes, and walked out to my Jeep without putting them on.

I backed out of my driveway and parked across the street with the engine running, trying to go over my options.

There were three possibilities.

  1. An intruder was in my house. That was the scariest.
  2. For the first time in more than nine years of living there, I was experiencing a haunting. Also scary.
  3. My house made some noise because it’s 65 years old and I’m being a wimpy spaz. The most likely.

My brain was telling me it was highly unlikely there was someone in there. I live in a safe neighborhood. Plus, there were no signs of forced entry, and I hadn’t seen any visual evidence on the first floor of anything looking out of place, with the caveat being I’m not all that organized sometimes, so it’s not always immediately obvious whether something that shouldn’t be there anyway had been moved to another place it shouldn’t be.

I sat in the Jeep across the street staking out my own house like an insane person. I was looking for movement in the upstairs windows, or in my brightly lit living room. I hadn’t shut off the TV and it was casting constantly moving light and danger onto the walls.

I have only a few viable self-defense weapons in the house. All of them are in my bedroom. I’ll need to rethink that strategy.

My mind was racing. I have a Sheriff’s deputy friend who lives relatively close. He’s a single dad like me. He was the only person I could think to reach out to. If he was free, maybe he’d come sweep the house with me.

“You around sir?” I texted.

I just sat there behind the wheel staring at all the windows, wondering what an intruder WOULD do if he (or she?) was in there, almost certainly realizing I was in an idling car across the street.

The Possible Intruder Profiles

I’m no genius. But there are really only a few types of people who could conceivably break into my house and creep around upstairs while I’m downstairs.

Thief

I don’t own anything of great financial value, like jewelry, fine art or precious metals. Televisions and computers are really the only obvious things to steal. I quickly ruled out thieves.

Homeless Tweaker

It’s not unheard of for someone like me (a single guy with a predictable schedule) to have someone borrow my house when I’m away. Homeless person sneaks in. They use toilets and showers and eat and drink, but expertly cover their tracks. I added the word “tweaker,” for the element of danger. A threatened, cornered, mentally unstable person can be a physical threat.

Psycho Murderer

Creepy murderer lies in wait in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of killing you when you come home. It’s REALLY irrational to fear this, but I’d just had a conversation about Charles Manson and the cult killings associated with him over lunch that day, so it was floating around the back of my head.

A Sexy Stalker

Gorgeous, sultry stalker lies in wait naked in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of sleeping with you when you come home. There’s a decent chance the psycho murderer scenario is more likely to happen.

A Ghost

Ray Parker Jr. sang “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” in one of my all-time favorite comedies, but I actually am afraid of ghosts. I’ve seen and experienced exactly ZERO hauntings in my life. Perhaps if I had a bunch of ghost encounters, they wouldn’t bother me. I didn’t like the idea of going to sleep in my bedroom with a footstep-generating specter hanging out in there.

This is bullshit. I can’t just sit here, I thought. I’m sure it was nothing.

I pulled back into my driveway and turned off the Jeep. Just then, my law-enforcement friend texted me back, including in it the fact he had his young daughter at home.

I decided I just needed to go upstairs and deal with whatever.

“How ya doing?” my friend texted.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied. “If I don’t write back, really bad. And if I do, everything will be fine.”

His cop alarm went off.

“You need to call me,” he said.

So I did. And I told him what was going on. He said he would come over but I’d have to stay outside with his daughter. I didn’t think that was in her best interest, so I declined.

He then suggested the police. “I’ve been on those calls before. They do it all the time.”

I was a little bit more afraid of calling the cops and it turning out to be nothing than I was being attacked by a stranger.

“It’s probably nothing. Seriously,” I said. “The only thing I’ll say in defense of myself is that I’ve lived in this house nine years and know the noises it makes. This is the first time I ever felt scared enough to leave because of noise.”

He asked me to stay on the phone with him while I cleared each room. I systematically walked through each room in my house, turning on every light, looking behind every door, inside every closet, under every bed—the entire time, waiting to be ambushed by an axe murderer, junkie or ghost monster.

It’s incredible how much braver you feel with someone on the phone with you. At least there will be an audio witness to the brutal slaying!

I found nothing, of course. I was not murdered or even attacked.

Nothing yelled “Boo!” or impaled me with a demon spear.

Perhaps someone had been there, and they left during the 10-15 minutes I sat in my car across the street while my elder neighbor lady gave me WTF looks from her living room sofa.

Perhaps there had been a ghost of some kind in one of the closets and it stared right at me when I opened the door, but never realized it.

Or perhaps it was nothing at all. That’s usually what it is: the simple explanation.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I feared for my safety. I didn’t bravely and boldly run upstairs to defend my turf and protect what’s rightfully mine. I didn’t brazenly yell at the would-be intruder with warnings of imminent harm if he didn’t leave immediately. Instead, I grabbed a few things and hurried out of my own house without even waiting to put on shoes.

I feel more courageous with my writing.

I feel more courageous professionally.

I feel more courageous socially.

But when I thought I might have to fight an unknown assailant or a ghost monster, my first instinct was to run away.

I don’t necessarily know what that means, or what I should do about it.

I only know that I don’t like it, and should definitely do something.

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“Be Yourself” is Great Advice We’re Often Too Scared to Follow

odd-creativity-be-yourself

Sometimes people tell you to “just be yourself” because they like you and assume other people will, too. They say that to you before you go on a date. Before a job interview. Before a public speaking event. Before going somewhere where you’ll meet a bunch of strangers.

We have heard it so many times that most of us don’t even know what it means. Many of us spend a ton of energy trying to be the person we think others want us to be because we’re ashamed of ourselves or because we’re afraid no one will like the real us.

Many of us seem incapable of forming our own opinion of ourselves. We pretend to know what other people think about us, guess wrong some of the time, and then we use that as our identity.

Not only do we let other people dictate our self-worth, but we actually let incorrect assumptions about what other people think about us dictate it.

It’s the reason so many people are sad and angry. It’s the reason we have dysfunctional family relationships, and drama-filled friendships, and totally broken and unhealthy marriages and romantic relationships.

I think maybe sometimes people don’t really grow apart.

I think sometimes they just never really knew each other in the first place.

It was about 4 p.m. Friday when I pulled into my hometown. A little Ohio town of about 20,000 people a few hours from where I live.

My friend and I get together every year to nerd out over the NFL Draft. He’s an attorney and needed to get some work done before meeting me so I slipped into a new bar and restaurant next door to his law offices to wait for him. I sat at the bar and had a few drinks. A little more than an hour later, he showed up.

By then, I’d met the owner and learned a lot about him and his business endeavors, discovered one of the girls working there is related to some old high school friends, and was drinking mystery shots with the pretty bar manager. We had one more drink and got out of there.

Before leaving, I went over to shake hands and say bye to the people I’d met. A good time was had.

As we were walking out the door, my friend who has known me since we were six—a guy who charms juries for a living—looked at me and said: “You’re better with people than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about that since.

Many people misrepresent themselves while dating or during job interviews. Basically, they’re frauds. A lot of us do this in really small matters. It gets scarier and more painful over really big things. And when you’re a fraud, it’s only a matter of time before you’re exposed.

It’s why sometimes two people meet and pretend to be different than they actually are, and both people like the fake versions of one another, but then after getting to know each other, there’s no compatibility or chemistry and the relationship crashes and burns. I’m pretty sure that happens 147 million times every day.

I think it’s important to be yourself, and I’m really trying hard to stop pretending to be something I’m not, even over little things designed to get someone to like me more.

It’s about identifying your values.

It’s about establishing your boundaries.

It’s about being authentic.

Over time, the number of people who share your values, respect your boundaries, and are attracted to your authentic self romantically, spiritually, physically, and professionally, will grow.

I’m pretty sure for every person that likes the fake me, there are just as many people who like the real me.

I’m pretty sure for every girl who likes tattooed felons, there are just as many who prefer me or someone like me. People who read and think and talk and can spell and speak coherent sentences.

People are afraid of rejection so they go into self-preservation mode rather than put themselves out there. But the truth is rejection from a stranger isn’t a 100th as bad as rejection from someone you love.

I think maybe sometimes people don’t really grow apart.

I think sometimes they just never really knew each other in the first place.

I bet 100-percent of people who worry about what other people think of them spend a lot of time pretending to be someone they are not on matters big and small.

It’s dishonest. Lying, essentially. All the pretending drains you and makes you a suckier version of yourself.

From James Altucher:

“This is not religious but math. The brain takes up 2% of the body’s mass and burns up 25% of the body’s calories each day. One in four calories you eat goes to fuel your brain.

When you lie, one side of your brain has to deal with one set of lies. And the other side of the brain has to deal with the other set of lies.

So to be at optimal mental strength you now need twice as many calories. This is impossible.

So the best way to be mentally strong is to be honest so all of the fuel in your body can be used efficiently at propelling your brain from strength to strength instead of fighting off the attacks on your weaknesses.”

People are attracted to people who know themselves and are confident being whatever that is. A confident person understands that they are who they are and that the only people worth spending time with are the people who like and accept that authentic person.

People choose who they’re going to spend time with based on how they feel around that person.

Two authentic people being emotionally vulnerable can form virtually unbreakable lifetime bonds. And those are the best kind.

I wish people knew it was okay to be themselves. Our need for acceptance and fear of rejection makes us pretend sometimes.

We just want to be liked.

But when we’re really honest about who we are and what we want… when we are actively passionate about things we care about… we won’t just be liked.

We’ll be admired.

We’ll be respected.

We’ll be wanted.

We’ll be loved.

And all this time. Who knew? All you had to be was you.

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The Control Issues

Control key

It felt like I died.

I was depressed. Not like “oh, I’m feeling a little emo and wish more people liked me.”

I was a version of myself I’d never known and that’s a scary place to be when you didn’t even know it was possible.

When you can’t find a way to be comfortable in your own skin, there is very little pleasantness in the human experience. If you don’t numb it with chemicals or find a way to fall asleep, every part of you just feels… bad.

Not uncomfortable. Fucking bad. Like you kind of want to chop something off you so it stops hurting or maybe die in a fiery explosion because this.is.bad.

That’s when I realized for the first time how little control I really had over my life.

I was out of control.

Life was out of control.

You have a decision to make: Stay afloat until you feel strong enough to start swimming toward where you want to be. Or drown.

The Loss of Control After Divorce

My son was gone. GONE. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Shocks your system. Like the jump into ice-cold water. It’s hard to breathe. You panic a little. Frantically looking for a way out.

Because the world isn’t big enough, I found out where he was and who he was with sometimes when he wasn’t with me.

Someone bad.

Not necessarily dangerous.

Just… bad.

And as that child’s parent, you’re now helpless. Because you no longer get to say what happens to your child 50-percent of his life. You lose control. Even the ability to influence what happens, depending on the other parent’s choices.

Sometimes, I’d get so upset that I would sob and vomit and say bad words in between the heaving.

A New Kind of Prison

Each day. Each new experience. You get a little closer to coming to terms with your new reality.

Your new prison.

Because if you’re a divorced parent, that’s what your new life is. You no longer get to make choices like everyone else, UNLESS you’re willing to abandon your child, and if you’re that kind of person, you have bigger problems to work out than a failed marriage.

When she left, all I wanted to do was run away. Run!

I had these fantasies of getting a copywriting gig in New Orleans or the Pacific Northwest or some other undetermined place to try to find the reset button. To get a fresh start. To get away from everything in my life that represented sadness and anger and my failed life.

To run away for a couple years just to prove I’ve never been free.

It’s not possible.

Until your child is AT LEAST 18, and probably longer than that, they can use all the love and support we as parents can muster during the final stages of their transition from child to adult.

Our most-important job with our children is helping them develop into someone who doesn’t need us anymore.

I couldn’t run.

I was here. Am here. Stuck. No escape.

And your first lesson: Everything’s different now. I have to let some things go.

Including the illusion of control.

Motherfucker, I’ll Be Back From the Dead Soon

The best thing that happens after you get all that crying and puking and swearing out of your system is that you start living again.

You start having new experiences and making new memories with new people.

You can’t know you’re not going to stay dead until you finally stop being dead. It’s liberating when other people can make you smile and laugh and feel good. New people in your new life, proving to you that there is one on the other side.

People who used to have a death grip on your emotions lose that grip.

Not because they let go.

But because you’re strong enough to remove it yourself.

When you’re angry and immature and yelling: “You’re not my fucking mom. No one tells me what to do!” it’s a really ineffective way to establish boundaries and demonstrate that you are in control of your own life.

That’s what I used to do and it should come as little surprise that it was a highly ineffective strategy that probably played a pretty major role in my marriage’s eventual demise or establishing healthy boundaries in other relationships.

Self-reflection and self-awareness helps you recognize all your own bullshit and start owning it. I am a hot-headed, defensive, sarcastic, impulsive, immature sonofabitch when I get really fired up about something. And it has taken me all 36 of these years to get to a place where I could finally learn how to breathe, and pray, and exercise the kind of patience necessary to avoid escalating normal conflict into war.

The Thing About Control

Attempts to control are typically a reaction to the fear of losing control. GoodTherapy.org and virtually every credible source of information on control issues all say the same thing: “The incessant need for control can be overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.”

People who struggle with control issues fear being at the mercy of others, and the fear typically stems from some past traumatic event that left them feeling helpless and vulnerable.

“As a result, they may crave control in disproportionate and unhealthy ways.”

Empathy and patience is in order when you come across people with control issues. It’s not as if they want to be controlling and domineering. They might not even know they’re doing it. Demonstration of controlling behavior is usually a direct result of traumatic life experiences, a lack of trust, anxiety, fears of abandonment, damaged self-esteem, personal beliefs, perfectionism, or fear of experiencing emotional pain, writes Jeffrey Kaplan, a licensed therapist at GoodTherapy.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize you can’t control what other people do.

It requires simply getting stronger. And demonstrating more courage.

Because that’s the one thing it turns out you can control: How you’re going to react to unpleasantness in this new world where everything feels upside-down.

I know how I’m going to react.

I’m going to clearly state my boundaries and intentions. I’m going to mean exactly what I say.

Because I control me.

No one else does.

Attempts to circumvent my boundaries will be met with unpleasantness.

That’s where freedom lives.

Even when you feel trapped.

You make everything new by changing on the inside.

Because it turns out you’re still alive.

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Maybe If We Don’t, We Die

(Image by Fraida Gutovich.)

(Image by Fraida Gutovich.)

When your marriage fails and you’re in your thirties and you have a child, you freak out.

First, your wife just moved out and now everything you ever thought was true about your life isn’t.

Second, you freak about your child because now half the time he’s not going to be home and there’s nothing you can do to protect him except hope and pray, and your faith just took a hit because I feel like I’m dying.

You worry about your social life because all your friends are “couples” friends.

You worry about finances.

You worry about what your family and friends think of you.

She’s gone.

My little boy’s gone.

Now what?

You’re too busy freaking out to be lonely, but you’re lonely.

I don’t think it’s possible to spend a dozen years with someone, have them leave one day, and not feel totally alone afterward.

The kid’s bed is empty. Toys aren’t being played with. It’s eerie quiet. So quiet that it’s loud. So loud.

I’d been alive 34 years and it was the first time I had ever lived completely on my own, save for my last year of college when I was constantly surrounded by friends and seriously dating the girl who’d just said goodbye.

Everything was different now.

At first, the loneliness was psychological.

My friends included me in things all the time and people were reaching out so often that I didn’t find myself alone often. When my son was home, it was all about him. When he wasn’t, it was all about me.

I stayed busy because time goes faster that way, and I stayed connected because I was so desperate for it.

But it was unsustainable. And as I began to change on the inside, I moved less. And less. And less.

It was time to learn how to be still.

It was time to learn how to be okay alone.

But Maybe We Never Are

PsyBlog called it a “social epidemic that’s worse for our health than obesity, smoking or alcoholism.”

Loneliness. Social isolation. Based on research conducted over 34 years, researchers discovered that loneliness and isolation have a similar negative effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, or becoming an alcoholic.

We are wired to connect.

Chemically designed to thrive together, not apart.

But in the context of dating, it’s so much scarier now, right?

When you’re divorced with children and the rules of the game are so much different than they were back in high school or college?

It’s so hard for single parents to align schedules. Children must come first.

It’s so hard to meet people because we’re no longer involuntarily thrust into situations where “people like us” are, the way we were during our school years.

Now, we have to choose it.

Our work environments. Clubs. Groups. Hobbies. Volunteer organizations. Various social pursuits.

And it’s hard. Because it takes bravery and energy, something that’s now in shorter supply.

We have work, chores, children and other life responsibilities. I sometimes forget that I’m going to die someday, and that every day I didn’t choose adventure, or to live passionately, was a missed opportunity.

It’s hard to get divorced. Especially if you didn’t want to.

And it changes you on the inside. Rewires you into a different version of yourself. And now you don’t know if you can ever be married again. Don’t know if you can ever trust again. Don’t know if you can ever love again.

Everything’s so different now.

You tell yourself and everybody else that you’re okay alone. And maybe you are, especially if you’re staying connected to friends and family.

But there are still a lot of hours of life to fill.

Mornings and nights and weekends and holidays. Sometimes we want to walk the walk alone because we don’t need anyone! and I can do this by myself!

I’m like my six-year-old now, wanting to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m okay. That I don’t need more.

But once the bleeding stops. And the wounds turn to scars. And the pain turns to memories where you can’t recreate that feeling anymore (and that’s okay!), we have choices to make.

I don’t think we were meant to walk this world alone.

I don’t think it gets better than when we share time and space with people who matter.

And maybe if we want this life to be something more, we need to be open to trying again.

To walking.

Then running.

Then leaping.

Then flying.

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One Month to Live

This is Paul Coakley. He's my age and he died Tuesday. This is what love looks like.

This is Paul Coakley. He’s my age and he died Tuesday after just a month of knowing anything was wrong. I think this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I think this is what love looks like.

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

He was married with three kids and has a fourth on the way. He and his wife learned just before Christmas that he had cancer. He had surgery the day after Christmas.

He died Tuesday.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But we have a bunch of mutual friends.

They all say he was amazing and I believe them because they’re pretty amazing themselves. Every one of us knows someone who represents the best of humanity. Those people with an endless supply of kindness and smiles. With infectious laughter. That squeeze the most out of life while constantly giving more of themselves to others than they take for themselves.

That’s who he was. 

What if You Only Had a Month Left?

Paul’s friend asked me that.

“What would you do?”

How do you answer that question honestly without feeling like you’re wasting every second of your life? Maybe that’s the point of asking. It’s in our nature to take things for granted. To lose sight of the fact we all have a one-way ticket out of this life with our names written on them. We get caught up in our routines. And we forget to live.

What would I do?

I have a son. He complicates the answer to this question. My life is for him. I think I would do all the things we do now. I would just be more mindful of every precious second.

But I would also have a lot to say. I’d write more. I’d write and write and write and write, because a month isn’t long enough.

I’d write here. I’d try to finish a book.

But most importantly? I’d write something to each individual in my life, past and present, who left a mark. Something specifically for each person. Maybe it would matter to them. Maybe it wouldn’t. But there would be an actual piece of me living in those words and maybe they’d care.

Why do we wait for deadlines? Why do we need to lose someone else to reflect once again on the opportunities we waste?

Tragically flawed, humans are. I try to think of it as endearing. Because irony makes me laugh.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But had I gone to the university my mother wanted me to, we’d have probably been friends.

Guys like Paul make me feel a mixture of things. And even though he’d hate it and even though he’d insist it was unnecessary (because I know people just like him), some of it would be feelings of inadequacy.

Feeling inadequate is almost always a bad thing and a useless human emotion that holds us back. But maybe not in this case. Because Paul’s was a life worth emulating. I don’t have the first problem with an exceptionally good man making me want to be better than I am.

I think he made a lot of people feel that way.

There isn’t a greater legacy.

Do you know people in your personal or professional lives that you find difficult to get along with? Maybe you avoid them because you don’t have much in common, or because they make you feel stressed? Maybe you don’t invite them to your parties or for Friday after-work beers?

I think most of us do that.

Paul either didn’t know how, or didn’t want to.

If someone was getting marginalized socially, he turned up the friendship with them because no one was getting pushed to the side on his watch.

I think about all the times I had the opportunity to be a better friend to someone in school or at work or to show kindness to strangers.

And I pray in those moments I remember how I feel right this second to remind me to walk that higher path.

People always ask: What do you want out of life?

I want people to talk about me the way they talk about Paul Coakley.

I have a lot of work to do.

Be Good to Others

Everyone in your life—everyone you dislike or fear or hate or shun or avoid—they’re all going to die. All the strangers you pass on the street or in the store and pay no attention to are going to die. Every single one. Maybe tomorrow.

Why aren’t we more kind?

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

Light up the darkness. And live. Hard.

Because life’s too short.

Because yours is a life worth emulating.

Because you’re important.

The Coakley Family

This is the Coakley family.

As you can imagine, the lives of this pregnant mother and her three children just got infinitely more challenging. If they weren’t just about the most-beautiful people I’ve ever read about or heard about, I wouldn’t ask. But this family is worth it. If you want to make a difference in the lives of deserving people, you can read about the Coakleys and make a donation here.

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