Tag Archives: Dating

Maybe Your Love Life Sucks Because You Don’t Know What Love Is

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(Image/Arre)

There’s a guy. He’s having a really bad day because this girl he likes a lot decided to stop seeing him.

She thought they were two people who enjoyed one another’s company.

He thought they were madly in love, boyfriend and girlfriend, and going to get married someday.

Dude’s a nice guy, as the story goes. One of those guys with an inferiority complex about women breaking up with him or rejecting him, because it seems to happen to him a lot.

There are probably some young women out there who want a super-clingy dude with hyper-codependent tendencies who smothers her physically, mentally and emotionally. But near as I can tell, most don’t.

This guy’s default state of being—how he shows up in the world—is THE RECIPE for triggering discomfort and mistrust in a potential romantic partner. You can still be liked. You can still be appreciated. Perhaps even genuinely cared for.

But very few—I’d argue zero—healthy people are going to intentionally commit to being a couple and/or pursue marriage with someone who needs, needs, needs all the time. Someone who leans so heavily on OTHER people to achieve balance or to feel good about themselves.

People Have Load-Bearing Limits

I kind-of know those feelings. Not because I’m overly co-dependent emotionally—I’ve got that only-child thing going for me—but because I do have a distinguished marital history of leaning heavily on my spouse to “take care of stuff.” It’s hard enough for most of us to take excellent care of ourselves under optimum circumstances. When you start adding career responsibilities and children to the equation, any extra bullshit being dumped on you from another adult is going to feel even heavier than the regular kind of bullshit.

Many divorces happen because one spouse is willing to carry that extra bullshit early in the relationship because intense feelings of love are present, and because they have the mental, physical and emotional bandwidth to take that on, BUT then five to 10 years later, when there are children and financial pressures and stale, if not non-existent, sexual routines, and years of tiny resentments piling up, and some major life trauma like the death of a loved one… that person who was carrying so much of the emotional and mental burdens of marriage or the relationship becomes too exhausted to carry it anymore.

It’s a sad story, and one I regret subjecting my ex-wife and son to.

But there’s another element to codependence as well.

And that is the idea that how OTHER people feel about us—whether they think we’re attractive, or want to play with us on the playground, or want to sleep with us, or want to hire us at their company, or want to accept us into their graduate schools, or want to go out on a date with us, or want to be friends with us, etc.—is some kind of legitimate gauge for how we should feel about ourselves.

I spent most of my life hung up on the Majority Rules concept. That when things are subject to vote (whether that be at the ballot box, or which store they shop at, or which food they like, or which movie or music artist is best), that what the Majority says is best is a reliable indicator for what actually is best. (I know. Concepts like subjectivity were totally lost on me.)

Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

I learned that quote while working as a reporter for my college newspaper. I’ve been (very slowly) inching my way down a new life path ever since.

Without getting political or philosophical, let’s just use pop music as an example.

Can we all agree that at least ONE super-popular song you’ve heard in the past 10-20 years—something that topped the music charts and sold millions of records—was a steaming pile of suck in your opinion?

There you have it.

Only ONE person gets to decide what we’re worth and how we feel every day when we wake up. And that person is ourselves.

If You Don’t Know What Love Actually Is, How Can You Know Whether it’s in Your Life?

Captain Whiny Guy feels like a victim today.

He’s not celebrating the quick end to a relationship that NEVER had a chance of evolving into a healthy love or marriage or family or anything that he claimed he wanted in life.

He’s lamenting that he, once again, feels like a loser in the Pick-Me Dance game, because a girl he liked didn’t like him as much as he liked her.

His sadness and disappointment and feelings of rejection predictably turned to anger.

“I love you,” he told her. (I don’t think he knows what that means. Weeks, not months went by.)

He cited all of the nice things he’s done for her. All of the gifts he’s given. He expressed fake-unselfish concern that he was worried that she would eventually “end up settling for someone who won’t treat you the way you deserve.”

The implication from everything this dude said was: I will be nicer to you, give you more things, and do more stuff for you than anyone else, thus you’re wrong and making a mistake if you don’t choose to commit to me and love me forever.

This guy thinks love is a meritocracy.

This guy thinks who you date and marry is a math equation rooted entirely in behavior.

As if the biggest sack on the planet could simply out-gift and out-favor and out-sweet-gesture every other guy in someone’s life and guarantee himself her approval, sexual connection, and lifetime commitment.

I feel sorry for him. But the truth is, he’s simply going to have to keep getting his nuts kicked in until the lightbulb goes on and he starts asking better questions about how he shows up in the world.

Love Cannot Be Earned, Nor Bought, Nor Taken

Love is a complicated thing to discuss because so many people define it differently.

People commonly associate love with emotions, with feelings—romantic and sexual.

People think of love in conjunction with the loyalty and foundational structure of their family of origin—the love that exists between parents and children and siblings and their pets.

People love things. Like music, art, sports, traveling, literature, cinema, and various activities of personal interest.

Generally, in the context of dating and marriage, use of the word love typically characterizes that feeling. It’s not a sane feeling. It’s not a rational one. It can’t be bottled or boxed up. We can’t trap love, stow it away, and break it out later whenever we want.

Love—the feeling—may not be the biggest factor in whether couples last forever or fizzle out fast, but let’s not pretend that it doesn’t matter. Love is UNQUESTIONABLY the most potent and influential of human emotions, and the one most likely to compel a person to do something big and otherwise unusual—hopefully something insane like moving far away to be with someone, and NOT something insane like murder in some bizarre love triangle, like that crazy astronaut love triangle that involved adult diapers and a long murdery road trip.

Because love is the most potent and influential human emotion, I think it’s important for people to truly KNOW what it is.

Let’s start with the obvious.

You cannot buy it. If you buy people roses, and write them love notes, and take them to dinner, and are super-affectionate and thoughtful, physically and emotionally, there are not units of love that can be earned or given in return.

Love is not measurable. It cannot be counted.

Love is NOT conditional. That is not to say that love won’t dissipate under certain conditions, but simply that love ceases to be love when it’s exchanged only under certain circumstances.

Companionship can be bought. Sex can be bought. Love can’t be.

“Love is inherently free. It cannot be bought, sold, or traded. You cannot make someone love you, nor can you prevent it — not for any amount of money. Love cannot be imprisoned, nor can it be legislated. Love is not a substance, not a commodity, not even a marketable power source. Love has no territory, no borders, no quantifiable mass or energy output,” said Dr. Deborah Anapol in her book The Seven Natural Laws of Love as shared in Psychology Today. “This doesn’t mean that love allows destructive and abusive behaviors to go unchecked. Love speaks out for justice and protests when harm is being done. Love points out the consequences of hurting oneself or others. Love allows room for anger, grief, or pain to be expressed and released. But love does not threaten to withhold itself if it doesn’t get what it wants. Love does not say, directly or indirectly, ‘If you are a bad boy, Mommy won’t love you anymore.’ Love does not say, ‘If you want to be loved, you must be nice,’ or ‘Do what I want,’ or ‘Never love anyone else,’ or ‘Promise you’ll never leave me.’”

I like the way Anapol characterizes it.

Love is inherently unselfish.

Did the whiny guy give the girl What?! Pick Me!!! roses because he loves her? I mean, maybe. I guess. But isn’t it more likely that he sent the girl who rejected him roses because he was hoping for a desired response—one intended ultimately to benefit him?

Wasn’t it a tool to make her change her mind, or at least feel regret about ending it with The Super-Nice Guy Who Sends Her Flowers?

And doesn’t that make him kind of a dickwad—whether it’s intentional and self-aware or not—for saying “I love you”?

Sure, it does.

It wasn’t a selfless act of love. He of course said the cliché thing people think they’re supposed to say I just want what’s best for you! I just want you to be happy!

But he didn’t act like it.

He acted like a petulant whiner with an exceedingly flaccid and unused penis.

And when you act like that, girls tend to find the behavior unattractive. And I hope he figures it out someday, because there is a place in this world for a husband and father who loves to demonstrate his love through gifts and thoughtful acts of kindness.

But I think we have our fill of human beings who don’t actually know what love is.

We don’t love our parents or our children or our brothers and sisters or our best friends because there’s some reward in doing so.

We just love them.

Romantic and sexual love are different.

I think the fabulous philosopher and author Alain de Botton might have said it best in The Book of Life.

“In general, civilisation requires us to present stringently edited versions of ourselves to others. It asks us to be cleaner, purer, more polite versions of who we might otherwise be. The demand comes at quite a high internal cost. Important sides of our character are pushed into the shadows.

Humanity has long been fascinated – and immensely troubled – by the conflict between our noblest ideals and the most urgent and exciting demands of our sexual nature. In the early third century, the Christian scholar and saint, Origen, castrated himself – because he was so horrified by the gulf between the person he wanted to be (controlled, tender and patient) and the kind of person he felt his sexuality made him (obscene, lascivious and rampant). He represents the grotesque extreme of what is in fact a very normal and widespread distress. We may meet people who – unwittingly- reinforce this division,” de Botton wrote. “The person who loves us sexually does something properly redemptive: they stop making a distinction between the different sides of who we are. They can see that we are the same person all the time; that our gentleness or dignity in some situations isn’t fake because of how we are in bed and vice versa. Through sexual love, we have the chance to solve one of the deepest, loneliest problems of human nature: how to be accepted for who we really are.”

Love is a feeling—wild and unpredictable.

But love is something else. Something more pure and absolute.

Love is an action, even if only in our hearts and minds.

Love is freely given, without agenda, because for reasons we have never thought through entirely or been asked to explain, we truly love someone and seek to improve them and their lives completely independent of our own emotions, or how it might impact our own lives.

Love is kind. Patient. Compassionate. Empathetic.

Love is a choice.

You don’t get to take love from someone. You don’t get to convince them they should love you and have it work out. You can’t EARN it.

It’s acquired one way only.

As a gift.

And when we’re blessed enough to receive it, it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of it. To treat it with the care and importance it deserves.

The care and importance that you deserve, when you finally decide to love yourself, because you finally realize that you’re worth it.

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Should We Get Married? (Part 1)

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(Image/MemeGenerator.net)

In Wonder Woman lore—including the 2017 Gal Gadot film—there exists an island of Amazonian women unknown and invisible to the rest of the world.

Everyone on the fictional island of Themyscira is female. There are no ‘traditional’ families. There is no such thing as marriage.

Everyone there seems fine with that arrangement. The only child on that island that I can remember from the film is the protagonist heroine Diana—born of a Greek mythology-esque encounter between her mother and Zeus.

She knew little of marriage or family or male-female relationships.

I think we can safely assume that when Diana imagined her future, and established her personal hopes and dreams as a child and young woman, getting married and/or becoming a mother was likely not part of them.

It’s different for most of us.

A lot different. Especially in the United States, where I live, and other Western cultures.

Regardless of our gender, regardless of our religious (or non-religious) affiliations, regardless of our politics, regardless of which state we live in, and regardless of whether our parents themselves are married, we are mathematically likely to get married, or enter into a long-term relationship with dynamics that approximate marriage.

In the U.S., 95 percent of people 18 and older are either married, divorced, or planning to marry someday. In other words, marriage DIRECTLY affects and influences 9.5 out of every 10 U.S. adults.

Why?

Well, we can do the whole history-lesson thing even though it’s probably mind-numbingly boring to most people. We can talk about how Western civilization spread and evolved, incorporating beliefs and traditions rooted in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Ancient Israel, and the early Catholic Church, all of which continue to influence a ton of our beliefs, religious and political practices, and cultural traditions today.

OR.

We can simply agree that—just as pre-Wonder Woman Diana grew up surrounded only by women and thusly never conceived of marriage and family as a concept—everyone living in Western, English-speaking societies grows up seeing the VAST majority of people around them dating, getting engaged, getting married, and having children (even if they’re only seeing it depicted on TV and in the movies), resulting in most of us believing: Getting married is just what you do when you’re an adult! It’s what you’re supposed to do, and you’re probably weird if you don’t!

Unless you have same-sex romantic leanings or grew up in a single-parent family while hiding out in the woods, I assume—like me—you grew up never for a second questioning the idea that pairing up with someone and probably having children with them was basically ingrained into your belief system. You never even stopped to consider other alternative futures.

Other than our own births—which none of us actually remember—our wedding day and the birth of our first child are frequently cited as the biggest, most significant, happiest days of our lives.

Marriage: Survivor Island

Because that’s what marriage essentially is, right? Survivor Island minus the television crews?

No matter how wonderful our parents and extended families are, and no matter the quality of our education and academic experiences, MARRIAGE is essentially the equivalent of everyone we invite to our wedding being on the same jumbo plane with us and bidding us farewell as we parachute onto some island we know next to nothing about.

We know how to eat. But do we know where to find food, and what’s safe to eat?

Maybe we know how to build shelter. But do we know what location makes sense, and what the greatest threats to our safety—weather, disease, animals, other people—are?

We kind-of, sort-of know how to not die, but in this case, we don’t even know what may or may not be fatal.

“Good luck!!! We love you guys!!! Never go to bed angry!!!” they all smile and wave to us with the best of intentions and fortune-cookie marriage advice, as they’re sending us off on the ultimate Darwinian experience.

No one tells us the truth about marriage, and even if they try it doesn’t take, because most of us don’t take anything seriously that isn’t an immediate threat. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s a REALLY important concept: We CANNOT know what we don’t know.

Old or long-married couples bicker at each other and seem as if they haven’t had sex in two decades. That’s just what happens when you’re married that long!

I didn’t like hearing people I loved speak crossly to one another, but I also never doubted the substance and stability of their marriages.

Even if their marriage was garbage, where I came from, if people got married, it was likely to be forever.

Nowhere was that more evident than my grandfather’s funeral less than two weeks ago where I saw dozens of people I hadn’t seen in a decade or two, many of whom were there with their spouses just as I remembered them from childhood.

The adults did us a disservice as we were growing up, though.

They didn’t give us the real story. They didn’t give us the dirt. They didn’t tell us the truth.

They didn’t tell us all of the things that destroy love and marriage disguise themselves as things that don’t seem important. They didn’t tell us that the most dangerous things don’t APPEAR or FEEL dangerous as they’re happening, but that the slow and steady buildup of these little things is what will ultimately cause the collapse of a marriage and family.

Some of it was because they wanted to preserve our innocence. They wanted us to believe in Santa Claus because it was fun and made us feel happy. They told us not to talk to strangers, but they didn’t tell us WHY.

They don’t tell us what some people are capable of.

We read about slavery, about Hitler, about war. But it all seemed so old and faraway and non-threatening.

Sometimes, if we manage to avoid serious trauma as a child, we don’t get to experience actual fear until we watch terrorist hijackers fly airplanes full of people into buildings full of people because they disagree with the religious and political opinions of some unknown percentage of the people they killed.

Ironically, it’s this level of super-belief certainty—this idea that YOU are right, therefore your spouse must be wrong—over a subject of disagreement that will inevitably damage and potentially end your marriage.

But, before we worry about what we should or shouldn’t do within our marriages or romantic relationships, there’s a worthwhile question to explore first.

Should We Get Married?

It’s not obvious to me how best to answer that. I’m confident that I could evaluate couples on a case-by-case basis and form an opinion about whether a particular couple ‘should’ (in my opinion) get married.

But I’m just some asshole writing on the internet, and EVEN IF I was totally ‘right’ about their prospects of having a healthy marriage and satisfying family life, precisely ZERO people should ever do something specifically because of my opinion.

Especially as it pertains to marriage. Because I’m 0-1.

That doesn’t make me good at knowing what awesome marriage looks like. It just makes me kind-of good at knowing what a well-intentioned, but ultimately bad, marriage looks like.

But since I’m divorced—and admittedly much older than your typical bachelor (and a father as well)—I am faced with the very real decision of whether to actively pursue marriage again.

To be clear, I am MOSTLY thinking about younger, never-married people when I write this stuff because that is the group I perceive to be most guilty of unwittingly marrying with good intentions, but without the tool kits and skillsets necessary to execute the day-to-day of healthy monogamous, cohabitating relationships—particularly with children.

Divorce is a plague. It might be a little hyperbolic to say so, but divorce ruins lives. It certainly damages the people affected in profound ways, and every divorce tends to damage SEVERAL people. And there are thousands of divorces every day in the U.S. alone.

So.

SHOULD we get married?

I don’t think I know what I believe. But in Part 2, we’re going to talk through all of the reasons people commonly marry, and just maybe, that will spark something.

To be continued.

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The Search for Beauty in Divorce

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Six short years ago, my wife was selfishly choosing her emotions over the wellbeing of our family. She was breaking her promise to love me and to honor our marriage in good times and in bad. She was failing me, and our son, and I blamed her—angrily—for quitting on me. For quitting on us.

Her leaving, resulting in an empty home, the loss of half my son’s childhood, and genuine fear of my unknown future, was the most painful and life-disrupting thing I’ve ever been through.

First, my parents divorced when I was too young to object, making my life harder than all of my friends’. A long-time source of pain and sadness, and my wife knew it.

Divorce wasn’t on the table. We’d said it a hundred times.

But there she goes. Choosing another life over ours. She was running toward something she wanted and felt good about. Her life was IMPROVING, while I was crying in the kitchen, dry heaving into the sink, and feeling certain no one would ever want to kiss me again.

It was almost like I wanted to die, and the shame and feelings of failure that brought are indescribable. I was officially NOT ME anymore. I was some pathetic, sobbing, broken imposter.

She did this to me, I thought and felt.

Not felt, like a purple bruise or a hard slap.

I felt gutted. Betrayed.

I felt rage.

I didn’t want anyone physically hurt—that’s not my way—but I wanted to burn something to the ground. I had a couple of places in mind.

When you hurt that much, you stop caring about things you previously used to. Self-preservation matters less because dying would at least solve the pain problem. When it seems like the worst thing just happened to you, it can make you feel as if nothing else can be taken from you. You’re not afraid of new pain, because nothing could hurt worse than what you’re feeling now.

The worst thing I have ever known—bringing a pain I couldn’t have survived too much longer than it lasted, and forcing me to adjust uncomfortably to an entirely new life I’d never wanted or asked for—was divorce.

Divorce—in and of itself—was the enemy, and an evil thing.

And my ex-wife—the betrayer; the quitter—was the one who forced me to endure it.

The anxiety would make me puke sometimes. Tears would stream down my face.

“That fucking bitch,” I’d choke out.

And then I’d vomit again.

The Road Back to Life

I was dead.

My heartbeat remained. I could move around and talk a little. But I’d lost several months, maybe even a year. What I was doing wasn’t living.

I had ONE ultra-focused mission: To make sure I protected myself and my son from ever experiencing a pain like that again.

My new top priority was to NEVER feel dead again. I’m not sure I could survive it twice.

Divorce hurt me as a little kid.

Divorce hurt me as an adult.

Divorce hurt me as a friend, as several of my social relationships faded away.

Divorce hurt me as a professional, as I couldn’t focus at all on anything being said in meetings, nor could I care about work projects.

Divorce hurt me as a father, as I saw my son half as much as I had before, and I no longer had any control over who he was around, how safe he was; and that I now had to wear the Scarlet Letter of divorced dad in a million life situations where I assumed everyone—friend and stranger, alike—thought I was a shitty father.

Divorce was my new enemy. And I needed to understand it. NEEDED to.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle,” Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War.”

It was an idea I’d already accepted. So I went to work on understanding divorce.

I did that right here.

I wrote stories. I wrote stories about my marriage. Little moments that stood out to me, and then I wrote about what I was thinking and feeling about them at the time, versus how I thought and felt about them today.

I read books.

I asked questions. I asked so many questions. Sometimes, just to myself while I stared at the ceiling waiting for the pain to stop.

And I just kept writing as I discovered new ideas. I was uncovering so much about myself, about people, about love and relationships and marriage, and it was empowering to find that new knowledge.

If I UNDERSTAND what happened to me, then I don’t need to be afraid of it happening again, I thought.

I became addicted.

I needed answers.

It was the only way to save myself.

How I Saved Myself

I used to creepily stare at myself in the bathroom mirror for longer than I imagine most sane people do. Like a cliché movie scene you don’t want to watch.

I didn’t recognize myself, because I felt like an entirely different person, and I think that made me see an entirely different person.

I actively sought UNCOMFORTABLE ideas—things I didn’t necessarily want to hear; things that opposed ideas I’d accepted as gospel truth my entire life; things I didn’t WANT to be true—because I’d spent my entire life swimming exclusively in comfort and familiarity, and all that had done was deliver the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I had to try something else.

Why did my wife choose to end our marriage and leave? Is she evil? Crazy? Out to get me?

Is she stupid? Is she a con artist? Is she a monster?

Is she a bad mother?

Is she a bad person?

All that mattered was the truth because the truth is what I needed to understand to protect my future self from divorce, or from hurting like this ever again. I wasn’t afraid of any answers as long as they were true.

My wife wasn’t evil.

She wasn’t crazy.

She wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me. There was no credible evidence of any of those things.

She wasn’t stupid, nor a con artist, nor a monster.

We still interacted all of the time, because our son was going back and forth between us every two or three days. We HAD to cooperate so that he always had school clothes, and lunch money, and whatever he needed to feel safe and loved.

Not only was she NOT trying to make any of that extra-hard on me, she—just as she had in our marriage—took on the responsibility of leading the way in knowing what he needed, and taking steps to make sure he had whatever that was. Doctor appointments. Meetings at school. Clothes. Supplies. Birthday and Christmas presents.

She did everything possible to include me in anything meaningful going on with our son.

She was the furthest thing from being a bad mother.

I met her when I was 18—a freshman in college. I’d known her for 16 years—more than half of my life that I could actually remember. My son’s mother was NOT a bad person.

So how could this be? How could this happen?

I’d just stare into that bathroom mirror. Until I finally recognized my true enemy.

It wasn’t my ex-wife.

It wasn’t divorce.

It wasn’t God, or the Universe, or Life.

It was me.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me didn’t happen to me because my wife quit on me and tried to hurt me. My son wasn’t gone and growing up a child of divorce because of my wife’s selfishness.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me happened because of me.

Because my wife HURT—just as I was hurting right then—for years and years. And not only was I the source of that pain, but instead of listening to her and trying to help her NOT HURT anymore, I used pretty much every opportunity she took to try to talk to me about our marriage as some kind of personal affront, and accused her of always finding new things to complain about.

I was the source of her pain. Thus, I was the only one who could stop the hurt, and help her heal. As her husband, I must have seemed to her like a reasonable person to seek help from RE: the biggest source of pain and fear that SHE had ever known—again, just as I was feeling right then.

She came to me for help, and I told her that her concerns were a figment of her imagination.

She asked me to help her stop hurting, and I told her that the things she was telling me were painful were NOT things that actually hurt people, so something must be wrong with her. I told her to get help. I told her to stop blaming me for her own weaknesses and poorly thought-out arguments.

Without even trying to be an asshole, I transformed all of the pain and relationship-killing behaviors I caused into something my wife was responsible for.

I BELIEVED the story I had told myself about her selfishness and mismanaged emotions.

I BELIEVED I was the good guy. The victim.

I BELIEVED divorce was evil and a plague on society.

I BELIEVED women everywhere were growing dissatisfied in their relationships for superficial reasons, and then abandoning their husbands and breaking families because life didn’t deliver them the Cinderella fairytale ending they’d hoped for.

It felt true. All of it. Because from the inside of my life, that’s how I experienced it.

But what really happened?

She persevered through 12 years of the person who had promised to love, serve, honor and protect her for the rest of her life, ignoring most requests for help.

She remained hopeful that she’d eventually find the right words to break through. The ones that would help me see what she already knew to be true. The ones that would effectively communicate how much she hurt on the inside—how afraid she was—just as I felt right then, staring into the bathroom mirror taking stock of all that I’d done.

I believed a story about myself that wasn’t true. That—because I tried to be a good person who loved others and didn’t hurt people—I was by default a good husband.

I believed a story about my wife that wasn’t true. That—because years and years and years and years of pain piled up in moments big and small where the ONE person she had let into her life to be with forever, and had trusted to love her deeply, turned his back on her, or ran away any time she talked about feeling sad or hurt or unhappy. She didn’t QUIT. She reluctantly submitted after THOUSANDS of moments where her partner demonstrated both a lack of competence and/or desire to help protect her from the kind of pain that turns you into an entirely different person.

The kind of person you no longer recognize in the mirror.

I believed a story about divorce that wasn’t true. That—because I felt so hurt by it and saw so many other people hurt by it—it was evil.

Divorce isn’t evil. It’s just bad. Like cancer.

Divorce isn’t a plague. Broken people accidentally hurting each other in their most important relationships is. THAT’s the plague.

Divorce—as ugly as it feels to me, and as uncomfortable as it makes me philosophically after a lifetime of believing Marriage is Forever—is a tool for people who are otherwise out of options.

It’s a lifeline.

An emergency escape hatch.

It’s inconvenient. Because the thing I want most in the world is to help people avoid accidentally harming their relationships, which I believe will lead to fewer divorces and more forever-marriages.

It’s inconvenient. Because divorce has caused me more pain than anything else I’ve ever known.

And as I’ve railed against divorce, and lifted up marriage as virtuous and sacred, I’ve accidentally piled on even more.

Because divorce is bad, but some things are worse.

What causes more pain than divorce?

I never recognized it because it was never happening to me.

But just maybe, the trappings of a faux-happy marriage—the kind that look good to everyone else, but are silently killing one or both members of it—wreaks more havoc. Maybe that causes even more damage, and more pain.

Everyone and everything is a little bit damaged.

Perfection isn’t part of the human experience.

But when we know we are a little bit damaged and love ourselves anyway; and when we acknowledge our imperfections, but still courageously step up to light up the darkness—I think that’s about as close as we get to perfect.

In the uncomfortable, gritty, raw, unfiltered muck of real life, both the beauty and the pain often keeps out of sight.

I was lost.

And I found my way back by learning how to find both the beauty and the pain that isn’t obvious to anyone not looking for it.

You must find the pain. If you don’t see it, you’ll feed it, and accidentally hurt the people you love—and yourself.

I see you, people suffering silently. You’re brave and amazing.

And you must find the beauty. Covered up by all the rage and fear and anxiety and vomit and tears.

If you don’t see it, you’ll lose hope.

I see you, people committed to being a force for good when it seems like you’re constantly being shit on for doing so. You inspire me to carry on. You fuel me to give more. Thank you.

The most beautiful things are those that persist despite all of the horrors happening around them and all of the ugliness trying to cover them up.

The most beautiful things ARE NOT those things unmarred by nicks and scratches.

The most beautiful things are those that radiate so much good, that whatever imperfections inevitably exist, we never even notice.

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3 Ways to Move Past or Protect Yourself from Rejection in Relationships and Dating

Mae West room Salvador Dali museum

This is one way to look at this art exhibit. (Image/An Epic Education)

When I wasn’t crying over my divorce and broken family, I was mostly getting dating wrong.

Must Be This Tall To Ride wasn’t about helping anyone. It wasn’t about strengthening relationships, preventing divorce, or improving ourselves.

It was simply about me being a trainwreck and amusing myself by sharing stories about it.

I had just turned 34—at the time, the oldest I’d ever been—yet found myself the least secure and most afraid that I’d ever been. Being that it came at the same time that I was also setting new personal records for being sad and angry, it was a pretty bad time.

But even at my worst, my brain is always trying to problem-solve.

I just lost my wife. My home and life are incomplete without a partner. There’s a void now. I should begin trying to fill that void, I thought.

If MBTTTR was anything, it was me chronicling what I perceived to be rejection—first from my ex-wife, and then from people I never even met on online-dating sites.

Losing half of my son’s childhood is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But my wife CHOSE that over staying with me—THAT’s how unlikable I am, I thought.

I failed at marriage—who would want me?

I have a kid—who would want to deal with that?

I don’t have as much money as that guy. I’m not as smart as that guy. I’m not as attractive as that guy.

It was one big Hey Matt, You’re Not Good Enough festival.

When I first started dating I was a teenager and in my early 20s. I was nothing but hope and confidence, youthful energy and fearlessness, as well as the most physically attractive version of myself that I’d ever be.

I was CONSTANTLY surrounded by women my age who were in similar life circumstances, both in and outside of school. Pretty much everyone around me was close to my age and single.

The possibilities were endless.

I dreamed big, chased what I wanted, and usually got it. Dating? It was mostly easy.

You Must be This Tall to Ride

I’m not very tall. (5’9”-ish.)

When I was young, I never even thought about my height beyond the basketball court. I wanted to dunk on people and it totally sucks that I never have. But outside of sports, my height wasn’t on my radar as anything that would ever matter.

But then I woke up one day divorced and 15 years older.

I didn’t feel youthful. I didn’t feel confident. I didn’t feel like I had my whole life ahead of me.

I had JUST failed at literally the most important job I’d ever had, and done the ONE THING I swore I would never do—get divorced.

I was an emotional disaster. I’d totally lost confidence in myself and was afraid of everything.

And now, this broken version of myself was tasked with finding a romantic partner in a life where I’m almost never surrounded by women my age, or in similar life circumstances like I’d been 15 years prior.

This problem is why people invented online dating—something that in my estimation is both good and bad.

When I was 19 or 20, my dating competition—not that I was ever thinking about it as any type of competition—consisted mostly of the other guys around me—and I mean, literally in my physical proximity. They were mostly people I knew and liked, and were within a few years of me, age-wise.

But as a middle-aged dude? None of that was true anymore.

I was just a few photos on the screen.

That’s what I’d been reduced to.

Some mediocre stats, underwhelming photography, and a digital poster child for cliché divorced single father red-flag-waving trainwreck.

It didn’t matter what I thought about. It didn’t matter how I felt about people—or about the world. It didn’t matter what good I had to give.

For some, the only thing that mattered was that this one dude was driving a Mercedes and was 6’3” tall. And that I didn’t. That I wasn’t.

There is ALWAYS some tall, rich, super-attractive dude. And that guy will ALWAYS be more appealing than the short, divorced, middle-class guy when you’re swiping left and right.

It was a hard pill to swallow at first.

This is how people meet now, and I can’t compete.

Rejection—the idea of not being good enough and trying to deal with it—is what this place was built on.

Must be this tall to ride.

Everyone Changes Their Mind About You After You Do

Whether they come via blog comments, emails, or in real-life conversation, I get some form of this question a lot: How do I move past rejection?

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how I was going to do it. I’d finally had enough of feeling shitty.

When I first started dating and writing after divorce, every day I felt like no one would like me like they had the younger me.

And now? I don’t feel bad every day. People like me.

The question of whether I’m good enough no longer hangs over my head.

Why? Because I figured out something important about who gets to decide how much I’m worth.

I was letting OTHER people—or worse—what I THOUGHT other people might believe about me to dictate how I felt about myself.

I was letting other people decide who I was. What I was worth. How much I mattered.

People’s opinions—total strangers much of the time—had the power to dictate how good or bad I felt every day. Other people had the power to determine whether being alive today would feel good or feel horrible.

It was power that I’d given them.

You ever like a food, or a movie, or an activity, or a person, or whatever that someone else didn’t like?

Are you going to stop liking pepperoni pizza because some vegan says it’s gross?

Are you going to stop liking The Shawshank Redemption because some warm-milk drinker said they didn’t think it was a good movie?

I KNOW the things I like are awesome. I recognize that not everyone will agree. I make no value judgments about them as human beings on account of their different tastes and preferences, because I know that if I were THEM, having lived their identical life, I would share their identical tastes and preferences.

But MY stuff? The things I enjoy doing, or admire, or that inspire me somehow?

One day it occurred to me how irrelevant other people’s opinions were to me, and how they almost never influenced my likes and dislikes.

Then, everything changed.

Why would I ever let other people’s opinions affect my evaluation of myself?

3 Ways to Overcome Rejection or Fear of Rejection in Dating

1. Get serious about your personal values and boundaries.

Here are your choices, single people:

  1. Stay single, don’t date.
  2. Date casually.
  3. Date seriously, with the intention of marrying OR entering a long-term committed relationship that approximates marriage.

There are people—many people—who make getting married, or Being in a Relationship a goal. The goal is not health. The goal is not happiness. The goal isn’t about anything meaningful.

The goal is simply—Be Part of a Relationship.

When the goal is to simply NOT be single, people demonstrate the tendency to compromise their personal values and avoid enforcing their personal boundaries if it means their relationship might be in jeopardy EVEN IF it’s a shitty relationship that should have never happened in the first place.

If the long-term goal is having a sustainable committed long-term partnership with someone, why is everyone in such a damn hurry RIGHT NOW, where they’ll make a bunch of excuses for asshole behavior, because tolerating the asshole behavior somehow feels easier than having to start the dating process over again? Why is having a shitty relationship somehow better than having no relationship?

I spend a lot of time writing about divorce and how I believe men—by and large—are the biggest culprits in the typical crappy marriage and divorce story. There’s plenty of data to support this.

What I don’t spend enough time writing about (because it isn’t useful to the majority of people reading marriage and divorce-prevention content) is how I believe women—by and large—are the biggest culprits in creating the conditions for the typical marriage and divorce story to play out.

I agree that many, many, many men (and some women) seem to ‘change’ after marriage. And that their spouses feel almost duped, betrayed, and stuck when that happens.

It’s relatively easy to breakup with a boyfriend. It’s much harder to breakup with a spouse who is often a significant financial provider for a shared home, with shared bank accounts, shared vehicles, shared extended family, shared friends, and—most significantly—shared children.

Children change everything for couples, and not always in good ways. It’s easy to understand how people who have never had children before would do a crappy job of mentally guessing what the experience would be like.

But there are core needs—emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually—that people have. When they’re not met, something starts to hurt for the people with the unmet needs. It’s obvious to them that something is wrong.

And this is when people start compromising their principles—their self-respect—to keep their relationships intact.

I KNOW how hard that can be in marriage.

But I struggle to find reasons why it should be hard during the dating phase. Fantasizing about a happy marriage is NOT the same as actually having a happy marriage.

If someone doesn’t fulfill your core needs, you’re going to spend a lifetime feeling pain and awfulness BECAUSE of the very thing that’s supposed to help support you during life’s hardest moments.

Communicating what those core needs are effectively, and then respecting oneself enough to walk away from anyone refusing to fulfill them is the ONLY way to avoid a marriage with fundamental problems from Day 1.

Feeling rejected because someone refuses to fulfill your stated needs?

Did they really reject you, or did they just do you and your future children a huge favor?

2. Become the One Who Rejects

That sounds uglier than it’s supposed to, because none of this is rooted in superficiality.

Here’s the thing. People go on dates, and in the back of their minds, they want the person they are meeting to “pick them.” People try to say the right things, do the right things, look the right way—not because that’s necessarily the most honest and authentic and true version of themselves—but because they want this total stranger on the other side of the dinner table to give them the You’re Good Enough stamp of approval.

People do this all of the time. And then their entire emotional wellbeing is rooted in how often these strangers ‘approve’ of them.

Ugh. Sorry. Not happening.

Half of these people are assholes. Let’s start there. I don’t mean crazy, huge assholes who will do super-awful things to you. I just mean regular-sized assholes like me. Everyone’s got baggage and problems, and their own fears and insecurities.

It’s important to not let assholes with baggage and problems and fears and insecurities DETERMINE how you feel about yourself.

This isn’t a job interview where it’s only successful if the other person decides you’re good enough.

When YOU are the one who rejects, you give no effs about whether THEY think YOU are good enough. You’re spending the entire meeting working out whether you think THEY are good enough for YOU. This isn’t about judging people superficially. It’s about evaluating the relative competence and compatibility of another human being to determine whether romance and/or legit partnership would be viable.

Will it hurt a little if you end up really liking someone who DOESN’T end up really liking you back?

Totally.

And I’m sorry.

But. Serious question: How much do you want to be in a relationship with someone who literally doesn’t value you enough to want the same thing? Like, how’s that going to turn out for everyone?

I probably shouldn’t try to speak for everyone here, but I feel fairly confident 99 out of 100 will agree: Divorce or horrible breakups of long-term relationships are VASTLY shittier experiences than having some attractive stranger not like you as much you like them.

Framing things in intellectually honest ways is a huge part of dealing with perceived ‘rejection.’

Which leads to…

3. Tell Yourself the Right Story

You’re not only good enough, but you’re kind of awesome. If you’re doing a bunch of things you DON’T think are awesome, then I strongly suggest giving up those sucky things for all of the awesome alternatives.

Wake up and do things you want to do. Do things you love. Engage in people and activities that set your heart on fire.

If some rando out there doesn’t think those things you do and love are awesome or interesting, is that going to stop you from loving to do them or thinking they’re awesome?

Bad things happen every day. They happen to good people who don’t deserve it, and that is universal. If you love others then you’ll always have something to lose. And all of us will.

The longer you live, the more you lose.

It’s not a tasty beverage.

But, in the context of relationships, the conventional wisdom is that you either ARE in a relationship or that you WILL BE one day.

The most beautiful, significant, lasting relationship—the one that occurs with two people who promise to love one another forever, and mean it. Two people who bring children into the world, and teach them to be forces for good in the world, and how to love romantically, and otherwise.

THAT?

That only happens when all of the bad relationship stuff happens first. You only meet that amazing person when you’re not too busy wasting time and energy on people who can’t and won’t be that.

Dating failure IS NOT failure. Dating ‘failure’ is healthy relationship insurance.

Your mind deserves to be stimulated. It deserves peace.

Your body deserves to be wanted. It deserves satisfaction.

Your spirit deserves to be nurtured. It deserves whatever support you require on your life journey.

When those things happen, you are emotionally healthy.

Balanced.

When any or all of those things DON’T happen, you get knocked out of balance emotionally, and then every moment of life feels crappier than it otherwise would.

How do you get past feelings of rejection?

We tell ourselves the right stories. The correct ones.

The true ones.

No one gets to decide what we’re worth. Only us.

And are we really being rejected, or is someone showing themselves to be someone we don’t want to be with anyway?

It might seem like I’m advocating mind games. A bunch of psychobabble, or cat-poster B.S.

But what I hope it seems like is that you were standing on one side of the room looking at something, and seeing things one way, and I helped you find the other side of the room, where you discovered the exact same thing looks entirely different when you finally see it from the proper angle.

salvador dali mae west room - straight view - Pinterest

Here’s the way Salvador Dali intended you to view his tribute to actress Mae West. (Image/Pinterest)

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The Coming Divorce Decline? I’ll Believe it When I See It

(Image/Conversational Hypnosis Academy)

It looks and sounds like awesome news—like everything I want for my little boy and everyone else’s kids.

The divorce rate in the United States dropped 18 percent between 2008 and 2016, according to Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor who is predicting a long-term decline in the number of divorces in his recently published analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data, titled “The Coming Divorce Decline.”

Whoa! Holy shit! An 18-percent improvement is amazing!

But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel true. Not to me.

And admittedly, I may be one of the least-qualified people to evaluate that fairly.

After all, I’m probably in the top 1% of People Who Hear and Read a High Volume of Crappy Marriage Stories. The anecdotal evidence I have of sad and angry people writing to me is not even close to being statistically relevant. There are few reasons for happily married people to ever read anything I write, or to write with tales of their awesome, healthy relationships.

Even still. I can’t shake the doubt.

That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

You know how scientists go to great lengths to conduct objective scientific testing, confirm hypotheses, and then publish their work in scientific journals which document several years of research only to have a bunch of know-nothings totally dismiss their findings within five seconds simply because the scientific data inconveniently works against their own beliefs or opinions?

I REALLY don’t want to be like those people. It’s gross.

To be clear, I am NOT challenging Cohen’s divorce rate analysis, so much as I’m challenging the idea that there’s any legitimate correlation between Cohen’s work here, and the ACTUAL health and success rate of marriage and long-term romantic relationships.

Sorry to Piss In Your Cheerios

Everyone who gets offended by my occasional use of bad language should absolutely skip the next paragraph. (Yes mom, even you.)

Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when Mr. Wolf shows up to help the guys dispose of Marvin’s dead body after Vincent accidentally shot him in the face in the back of their car? Several minutes later, Quentin Tarantino’s Jimmie compliments the guys on a clean-up job well done, saying “I can’t believe this is the same car,” to which Mr. Wolf replies with an all-time great movie line that totally applies to this divorce-statistics conversation: “Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet.”

The divorce rate is dropping because fewer people are getting married, and demographically speaking, the people who ARE getting married are the least likely to divorce (people with money and the most education), Cohen said.

And that’s awesome. ANY good news RE: marriage and divorce is welcome.

The problem is that this in NO WAY indicates that anything is actually getting better.

1. Fewer People Are Getting Married

First of all, this data analysis begins in 2008, which coincides with the worst economic crisis in all of our lifetimes. Mathematically speaking, for several years, the MOST amount of people had the LEAST amount of money and financial security in global history. Think that might be a factor in the number of people who decided to postpone marriage (OR divorce, because they couldn’t afford to)?

You know what else happened during that span? A cultural paradigm shift RE: homosexual couples and marriage. I’m only speculating, but I literally know of five—FIVE!—elderly divorced adults with children who ended their heterosexual marriages because they were gay and had been hiding it for years.

People have gone to great lengths to hide who they are. It’s sad that some people are so afraid of what others will think of them that they’ll go to such lengths to conceal something that’s true about them.

Anyway—and again, this is all me theorizing out of my ass and not rooted in legit data science—I think a semi-significant reduction in the future divorces will come simply from gay people not entering straight relationships because of societal or family pressures to do so, only to have it all fall apart later for obvious reasons. Those instances should become much fewer moving forward.

We’re dealing with the two largest generations—by population—in human history. The Baby Boomers (who divorce, remarry, and divorce like they’re leasing new vehicles) and Millennials (who couldn’t find jobs when they graduated from college, had a bunch of student loan debt, and frequently lived with their parents for more years than what had previously been the societal norm.)

The Baby Boomers practically invented divorce as we know it today.

And Millennials—the largest generation in history—perhaps for philosophical reasons, perhaps for logistical ones, are waiting much longer to get married, OR opting not to marry at all.

And if you got married for the first time in the last eight years, you’re still in that 5-10 year window where you may be married, but miserable, OR may still get blindsided by divorce from the undetected slow build that tends to happen behind the scenes until too many straws pile up on top of your pet camel.

Cohen himself acknowledges the rise of unmarried couples who co-habitat and have children, but simply avoid exchanging vows or signing legal documents as a contributing factor to the decline in divorce. “Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to get married at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, but deciding not to tie the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be,” wrote Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman, in his recent article about Cohen’s divorce analysis.

So, you see, a lot of this is semantics. How we choose to label things.

Sure, there are fewer divorces. That’s because we’re measuring the number of documents filed at our nation’s courthouses rather than measuring the quality of human relationships.

2. People Still Don’t Get It—We’re Nowhere Close to Fixing What’s Broken

People would still rather be ‘right,’ than to mutually arrive at truth with someone with whom they currently disagree.

People cling for dear life to their beliefs. Everyone on earth was taught a story about life from their earliest moments. And the vast majority of people clutch to those beliefs for dear life because it’s what feels safe to them. It’s what feels ‘right’ or ‘correct’ or ‘normal.’ Religious and political discussions frequently up the stakes, but that’s not even what I’m talking about in the context of long-term romantic relationships.

Boys grew up watching their mothers fold clothes and vacuum rugs and juggle the majority of household tasks like cooking dinner, cleaning bathrooms, handling the majority of baby stuff, being involved in their children’s school, caring for sick kids, etc.

They grew up watching their dads do less of those things.

The only boys who could have ever grown up into men who DIDN’T believe that that family model was The Way it Ought to Be, were the ones from the statistical-outlier families where that’s not how it worked.

MOST boys grew up into men with some pretty hardwired beliefs about gender roles in male-female relationships. Those beliefs inadvertently led those men to behave in certain ways.

And it just so happens that those “certain ways” are statistically proven to negatively affect relationships—namely marriage, which is the only kind we have decent data for.

Men get really defensive about this. Makes sense. I don’t like it either when people tell me I’m messing up and hurting people, when I’m trying hard and believe myself to be someone who doesn’t hurt people.

But it’s true.

It tastes like piss-infected Cheerios. But it’s still true.

We Will All Have a Role to Play

I hope young women will continue to demonstrate stronger, more forceful boundaries while dating, and never tolerate behaviors they recognize to be relationship-killers. Better to end it now, then put yourself, your husband, and your children through divorce 10 years from now.

I hope young men will continue to evolve. Increase their emotional intelligence. Improve their empathy and self-awareness skills. Young men must learn to value their partner’s life experiences as much as their own—EVEN IF those life experiences are radically different than their own.

Maybe white people don’t know what it feels like to be treated a certain way because of their skin color.

Maybe straight people don’t know what it feels like to be rejected by family because of who they love.

Maybe atheists don’t know what it feels like to be a Christian simply trying to do some good in a mad, mad world while seeking strength from a higher power.

Maybe Christians don’t know what it feels like to be a life-long loving and peaceful member of society and the Muslim faith community, only to be treated with fear and hatred by the very people espousing Christian principles and claiming to preach the Gospel.

And JUST MAYBE, every single other person in world history have lived a totally different life than you—in different places, with different conditions and expectations, who were taught different stories from their earliest ages, and who now experience daily life and have beliefs and an emotional makeup totally different from yours.

It’s NOT weird that other people are different than us. It would be weird if they WEREN’T.

Someday, people are going to figure this out. Like an awakening.

And it’s going to be amazing when that happens.

In the meantime, I’d just like to see young people trying their best to STOP accidentally ruining their most important human relationships because they don’t know any better.

I’d like to see children being taught critical life skills that will help them manage their emotional health and human relationships with the same care that we teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic. Because I kind of think our ability to navigate human relationships and have a successful home life is even more important than the things we can learn from school books and classrooms.

Is the divorce problem really improving?

Like most things, I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

Cohen’s work inspired a bunch of conversation about the health of the divorce-attorney business. About Census data that might as well have been about cattle or robots.

But I don’t see numbers.

I see people. Families. Children. Ones that look just like my life when I was accidentally ruining my marriage, and just like my life when my parents were accidentally ruining theirs.

It’s not about accounting.

It’s about a fundamental shift in self-awareness and human behavior.

It’s not about math and money.

It’s about love. For ourselves. For others.

It’s about the courage to choose it.

And then the courage to live it.

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The Moments When Men Lose Their Wives

Cesare-Pavese-Quote-We-do-not-remember-days-we-remember-moments

(Image/Quotefancy.com)

Our relationships work like a weight scale. Like a math equation.

With every person we know, there’s a ledger. There are no accountants. No bookkeeping. No visible scoreboards.

Just the running score we have in our minds and hearts. The math is impure, of course. Subjective. No two people will score their relationship with one another exactly the same. And without super-honest—sometimes uncomfortable—communication, neither person will necessarily know where they stand in the minds and hearts of the other.

We’d all like to believe in unconditional love. I always have. And I’m sure there have been countless examples of people providing it to loved ones who other people would have cut out of their lives under identical circumstances. But we’re only human. Even the strongest among us have weaknesses and breaking points.

Provide enough negative experiences for another person and they won’t want to be around you anymore. Provide enough emotionally painful experiences for another person and they won’t even want to know you. Hurt someone intensely enough, and they won’t even be the same person anymore.

This is how good marriages turn shitty, how faithful spouses turn to affairs, and how people who love one another and share children end up disliking one another so much that they’re willing to uproot their homes and children’s lives just to escape.

It’s been said by me and much smarter people several times already—marriages or long-term romantic relationships rarely end from one, big, obvious, dramatic moment that came out of the blue. Most of the time, relationships end after thousands of tiny little moments that escaped our notice piled up enough that the scale couldn’t hold up anymore. One side gets so weighed down, that the entire thing crashes to the ground, splattering all the sadness, anger, pain, shame and fear on anyone standing close enough.

Misdiagnosing My Divorce

I’m definitely an idiot, but I’m like a smart-ish idiot. I’ve always been fairly analytical, curious, and interested in getting to the WHY behind, well, everything. I always want to how or why something happened, and how or why someone or something behaves as it does.

My mental aptitude is in the top 10%-15% if you place any stock in standardized academic testing.

And even though I’m kind of smart-ish, when I applied all of my brainpower to figuring out the WHY behind my wife wanting to divorce, I settled on a totally incorrect conclusion.

Misdiagnosing things is VERY bad. If you get it wrong after a relationship has ended, and you don’t actually know why, you’re likely doomed to repeat the experience. If you get it wrong DURING your relationship, you’ll spend all of your time and energy on things that won’t make anything better. Which is why people sometimes FEEL like they’re working hard on their relationship, only to continue eating shit sandwiches from their ‘ungrateful’ partners who aren’t responding emotionally the way the Misdiagnoser wants them to.

That was me. A Misdiagnoser.

My wife’s father—my father-in-law, a man I loved and respected intensely—died out of nowhere one autumn day. We’d all had dinner together the night before. Everything was fine. Happy. Fun. The very next night, I learned the tragic news from a phone call, and was suddenly facing the task of telling my wife the most painful news she would ever hear.

The following month was a blur. I tried to play the role of Good Husband and Good Son-in-Law for my wife and extended family.

But that woman wasn’t my wife anymore. She was someone else.

I thought it would get better eventually. It never did.

I lost my wife when her father died.

So you know what I did? I pointed to that tragic life event, and interpreted it as my wife mishandling the situation emotionally. I convinced myself that my “overly emotional” wife was showing her true colors once again—putting her feelings ahead of more important things like our marriage and family.

And here’s the worst part in terms of the modern-day divorce crisis: I’d argue that that story makes sense. It’s easy to believe.

I think there are many thoughtful, intelligent people who would agree with that initial analysis, make a snap judgment about my ex-wife or me, and never put any more energy into digging for more truth.

“Yeah, Matt. That’s terrible. Something similar happened to my other buddy, Trey. She’s being selfish, and putting her sadness ahead of your marriage, and now your family is suffering for it. I’m sorry man. I wish I knew what to say.”

It doesn’t always matter what’s true. It doesn’t always matter what’s real. People will act on their BELIEFS—independent of whether we agree with those beliefs, or even know that person has them.

If you value your relationship with someone, it will be helpful to come to terms with this truth. When we love people, we have to honor THEIR experiences—THEIR reality—in order to connect with them on an emotionally healthy level.

There’s Famous Precedent for This Phenomenon

For 1,500 years, early astronomers used Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system to create astronomical charts. ‘Geocentric’ means that the Earth is the center of the universe, and everything in the night sky is orbiting around it.

Today, we know this isn’t true. Nicolaus Copernicus got suspicious and theorized we were actually the ones moving around the sun. Later, Italian genius Galileo Galilei proved it.

But for 1,500 years prior, every educated person in the world believed the sun revolved around Earth. And it wasn’t because everyone was a bunch of stupid morons. Given the mathematical parameters and limited technology of that time, you can PROVE Ptolemy’s model.

For 1,500 years, the smartest people in the world—every scientist, navigator, educator and thought leader—knew how the sun, moon and stars would move in the sky. They could ‘prove’ it convincingly by accurately predicting what would happen next in the night sky, even though EVERYTHING about their prediction model was based on false information.

People can believe things that can’t be proven—big and small. Don’t get hung up on the countless religious and political examples of this in world history. Just think about the people in your personal life. They might believe something about you or about your relationship that isn’t true, whether or not you realize it.

And if you’re constantly operating outside of THEIR reality, you’re bound to disagree with them, fight with them, confuse them, frustrate them, anger them, and hurt them.

This is the way your marriage ends.

The Moments—Big and Small—When We Lose Those We Love

We call them small, but shouldn’t. MOST of life is small moments, so it’s the collective pile of these small moments building up in people’s emotional bank accounts that end up being The Big Thing.

It’s the pinpricks—the paper cuts—that end us. We just never see it coming, because each moment seemed too minor to present a serious threat. In isolation, none of them seem to cause enough damage.

Then, one day, one more thing gets thrown on the negative side of the scale, and it comes crashing down.

The Small Moments – Minor Life Setbacks

We’re always trying to make progress. To achieve something. We want to get a new job, or succeed at a project or hobby, or whatever. But life doesn’t always hand us victory. Sometimes we have to take it on the chin a little first until we quit trying, or overcome it.

But the setbacks hurt. The disappointments are hard to swallow. Sometimes that’s because we hold ourselves to super-high standards. But, if you’re anything like me, it’s because these setbacks feel like failures for the people you love as well. Like you’ve let them all down by not earning the job offer, or not winning the competition, or working on a project at home or work that doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped.

So, you’re feeling the shame of failure, but you’re PRETENDING not to. You’re wearing the Tough Guy mask. You’re imagining your wife, kids, friends, parents—whoever—are all talking about what a loser you are (even though most or all of them love you, and are NOT actually thinking or talking about what a loser you are).

You withdraw from your spouse or romantic partner and hide because you’re feeling sorry for yourself, OR you’re leaning heavily on her for support. To nurse you back to health.

No matter which reaction you chose, you forced your wife to invest a bunch of emotional/mental/physical energy into trying to navigate your feelings (often the same feelings you belittle her for demonstrating when they’re about something that matters to her).

If you withdraw, you leave all of the work of home and children, etc. to her.

If you vampire her energy to prop you back up, you leave her short of what she needs to get through the days with her workload.

But here’s the worst part:

When SHE has a minor setback in her life, maybe you don’t see it as being a big deal. Or. Maybe you try to help her solve her problem with all of your superior man-wisdom, when all she really wants is a trusted confidant who is steadily, reliably in her corner.

These are the types of little interactions, where we are taking more from our spouse and marriage than we are giving to them.

And once one end of the scale is weighed down by enough moments, shit breaks.

The Small Moments – Illness

These are broad generalizations. They do not apply to everyone. They simply apply to me and many other people.

When my wife was sick, I certainly went out of my way to bring her meds, food, drinks, blankets, etc. And I thought by doing that, I was being a good husband.

You know what I WASN’T doing—ever?

I wasn’t thoughtfully taking care of things my wife would have taken care of while I was recovering on the couch. If I was sick on the couch, not only would my wife have brought me food, blankets, meds, etc., but she would have also kept the kitchen spotless, kept the laundry going, managed the family calendar, and much more.

My wife—and many wives/mothers—don’t get days off even when they’re sick. Because in their experience, if they’re not taking care of certain life duties, they’ll never get done. They can’t count on anyone else to do them.

This arrangement can work for a few years. It takes a while for things to pile up on the scale.

But eventually? Something as seemingly innocent as a sick husband asking for more Advil from the couch where he’s watching movies while his wife is packing two school lunches and getting two kids ready for bed can make a person snap.

The Small Moments – Parties and Social/Family Gatherings

I was nicer to strangers than I was to my wife.

Not always. Just often.

Someone I didn’t live with or barely knew could say or do something, and get total politeness from me. But if my wife said or did that EXACT SAME THING, maybe I’d find some way to voice my displeasure, or make it clear to everyone in earshot that I didn’t agree with whatever she had just said or done.

Someone I saw a few times a year, or maybe never again, would get my BEST treatment and behavior.

But the person I claimed to love above all things, and promised to honor for the rest of my life got a bunch of subtle or overt dick-headed commentary and treatment.

I’d be kind and charming to strangers. Laugh hysterically with my friends.

But I couldn’t extend that same kindness and charm to my wife? I couldn’t whisper in her ear how amazing she looked, and how grateful I was that out of all the people in the room, I was the one that got to take her home?

I never said or did things like that.

And if you don’t think that matters, you have the same disease I used to have.

The Big Moments – The Wedding

Listen. Weddings are bullshit. I get it.

They don’t HAVE to be. They SHOULDN’T be.

But they often are.

A big, expensive party celebrating the beginning of a living arrangement statistically likely to suck ass 5-10 years later.

We put so much time, effort, and energy—culturally; societally—into weddings, and I’m not the least bit shy about saying how asinine and bullshitty it all seems to me.

But you know what weddings are—independent of all the pomp and circumstance?

They are DAY 1 of what is supposed to be FOREVER.

And the significance of that can’t be overstated.

Weddings seemed like “girl stuff.” Bridal magazines, dresses, cakes, flowers, and a bunch of stuff I didn’t really care about. Weddings were “the bride’s day.” So, I just checked out unless I was asked for my opinion. I barely helped with anything. I was 24 and 25 during the year of my engagement. Thinking about marriage isn’t something that happened. I was too busy not knowing how much it mattered just like the rest of the world.

Our lives already looked how it would look when we were married. Forever Boyfriend and Girlfriend. Easy!

We can’t know what we don’t know, so I couldn’t have known it back then. But I started to lose my wife during our engagement, when I demonstrated total disinterest in something that mattered so dearly to her.

I didn’t participate—actively—in what people often refer to as “the best day of their lives.”

THAT is how I chose to begin our journey to FOREVER, and never once considered the dangers of doing so.

The Big Moments – Having a Baby

I left my crying wife in the hospital about five hours after delivering our only child, right on the heels of her being in labor for 24 hours.

I don’t like talking about it, because it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.

We talk about safety. We talk about trust. And people think they know what that means. But sometimes it takes on different meaning in romantic relationships.

After that day, my wife couldn’t trust me anymore. Not to be there for her when she needed me to be. And because she couldn’t trust me, she couldn’t feel safe. The future felt too unsteady, too uncertain.

The day of my son’s birth was the true beginning of the end. And it was 100-percent within my power to have made a different choice.

I didn’t know how to give more than I took. I chose me, taking for granted that my marriage would always be there.

Through the prism of hindsight, the outcome was predictable.

The Big Moments – Trauma and Grief

“The straw that broke the camel’s back” is a famous idiom which describes the seemingly minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions.

And it’s truly the way most relationships end.

Someone suffers a major emotional trauma, or are grieving the sudden loss of a close family member or friend. It’s so significant—they break so much on the inside—that they never get to be themselves again. It’s not a concept a person gets to understand until they suffer through it themselves.

When people break on the inside, they feel worse than they’ve ever felt before. It’s emotional and physical rock-bottom.

But something interesting happens in that moment.

When life feels like it can’t get any worse, you stop being afraid of anything. Maybe for the first time in someone’s life, they fear nothing.

People aren’t afraid to leave their spouse when they can’t feel any worse. People aren’t afraid of potential judgment from their family or friends when they can’t feel any worse. People aren’t afraid of the unknown when they can’t feel any worse, because they’re ALREADY in the midst of I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

If your relationship was already in bad shape, a significant traumatic moment, or the grieving that can occur after a tragic loss, can and will cause the scale to collapse.

If your relationship was NOT already a mess, then THIS IS YOUR MOMENT. This is when you write the story of how you show up for your partner in relationships.

How you show up when it’s inconvenient. When it doesn’t feel good. When it’s hard.

This is your chance to show up—not for you—but for them.

Your golden opportunity to put your marriage and the person you claim to love above all things AHEAD of your immediate wants.

This is the moment when you must give more than you take.

Not once.

But over and over and over again, even when there’s no certain date on the calendar when it will stop feeling hard.

When life will feel good again.

This is your opportunity to walk the In Good Times and In Bad; ‘Til Death Do Us Part walk.

And you must. If you want to have a marriage that goes the distance, this is the path. This is the price.

Love without expectation.

Giving with no hands out.

Effort without seeking pats on the back.

Every minute is another Small Moment to invest in her. In your future. In your family.

Every major life event is a rare Big Moment to step up and do everything better and differently than I did.

It’s how we beat this.

It’s where heroes are born.

There probably won’t be statues and parades.

Just your family. Always.

And all around you, every day, people learning to follow your example. Changing the world.

Not just in the big moments. In all of the moments.

That’s where the real fight lives. In the hiding-in-plain-sight everydayness. In the ordinary.

You just didn’t realize it.

But she has.

Just ask her.

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What Would You Do if You Could Learn Almost Anything You Wanted To?

kid-super-power

(Image/beatingcowdens.com)

Somewhere in the world, there exists a person who could objectively and legitimately be called The Smartest Person on Earth.

Maybe she’s a Nobel Laureate in the field of astrophysics.

Maybe he’s the global thought leader in the development of artificial intelligence.

I don’t know.

But what if I told you that—no matter your education level or particular area of expertise—you are capable of knowing and understanding almost everything that the Smartest People on Earth know and understand?

Why Does This Matter?

Good question.

  1. I’m being fast and loose with the word ‘smart.’
  2. I think ‘smart’ people are best-equipped to have good relationships and live good lives and make a positive impact on the world.
  3. I want you to know that you’re smart, and then use that smartness to improve your relationships because THAT and your personal health are the two most important influencers on how good or how shitty your life feels every day.

There are different kinds of smart. Is the high school dropout who can’t identify Italy on a world map, but who CAN masterfully build a performance car engine or race vehicle suspension, someone you’d consider to be dumb?

What about the genius music prodigy who can compose an original piece anytime you ask her to, but who knows squat about finance or history or pop culture or engineering or sports or computer software?

Is she smart for being a genius at one thing, or dumb for being an ignoramus about thousands of things?

We get sucked into a trap sometimes of associating advanced degrees and good vocabularies with intelligence. People ALWAYS think I’m smarter than I am because I can string words together, both writing and speaking.

And then they think some guy wearing a trucker hat and speaking with a southern American accent is some idiot hillbilly, even if that guy is a master mechanic, or a brilliant farmer, or whatever.

EVERYONE has something that they are masters of. Something they’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours doing. They’re experts, even if they don’t recognize it themselves, and even if it’s an activity not currently earning them a paycheck.

Everyone is smart. It’s just that many of us are biased to label certain types of intelligence or skill as ‘smart’ because we value those things more than all the other versions out there, so we accidentally treat everyone NOT living in that bubble like they’re assholes, which makes us assholes.

It’s a vicious cycle of assholery.

The Power of Asking a More Beautiful Question

Despite the truth that EVERYONE is their own version of smart whether we, or they themselves, recognize it, for the purposes of this exercise, let’s think of ‘smart’ as meaning “most knowledgeable.”

What is the difference between The Smartest Person on Earth—the person who knows the most out of everyone in the world—and someone willing to ask the right question?

If the Smartest Person on Earth knows and remembers more things than you, but you can find all of those same answers by asking Google, or an expert, or reading a book, or going to experience something for yourself—is there really a difference? If you’re coming to the same answers?

I mean, The Smartest Person on Earth will mop the floor with us on Jeopardy!, but do I REALLY care that they memorized some fact, or read some book that I can look up in 30 seconds on my phone, or have that same book on my doorstep in 48 hours?

Mental aptitude is a thing. Some people’s brains work faster and differently in ways various academics might label as ‘better.’ I accept that.

I just want to hammer home the idea that EVERYONE can know and understand ANYTHING they want with just one skill.

Just one little skill.

And that is: Asking good questions to the right people, and using effective tools to gather knowledge and information.

Someone committed to THAT is unstoppable.

At school.

At work.

In life—and that includes at home in our relationships.

If You Ask Your Relationship Partner Good Questions (and Receive Honest Answers), What CAN’T You Accomplish Together?

Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, and contributor to The New York Times and Psychology Today, might be the world’s leading authority on the art and science of asking questions.

Berger reached out to me last year to get my take on questions relationship partners could or should be asking for his new book releasing in late October called The Book of Beautiful Questions.

I have no idea whether my feedback actually made it into the book, but I secretly hope it did because there’s a better-than-average chance it’s the only New York Times Bestseller my name will ever be attached to.

But what really matters is the IDEA about asking questions. This insanely powerful idea that you have everything you need to stay connected to, or reconnect with your spouse or relationship partner.

There is mountains of research backed by decades of data science that can help you understand what does, and what does not positively affect relationships.

There are brilliant thinkers who have built amazing guides to help you better understand yourself and your spouse or partner.

And then there is the actual person sitting on the other side of the dinner table, sitting next to you on the couch, lying down next to you in bed.

What questions could you ask them in order to better understand what you could do to help strengthen your marriage/relationship?

“By asking questions, we learn, analyze, understand—and can move forward in the face of uncertainty. When confronted with almost any demanding situation, in work or life, the act of questioning can help guide us to smart decisions and a sensible course of action. But the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of a complex challenge, or that enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way,” Berger wrote in an article about his upcoming book.

Much like how the things that actually end our marriages seem too minor, too ‘silly,’ too insignificant to actually be the cause of our divorce or breakup, this idea about asking questions might seem too simple to be the key to overcoming many of your life’s biggest stressors and obstacles—at home, at work, financially, emotionally—whatever.

Ask the right question to the right person.

Ask the right question in your favorite search engine.

And then the right answers will emerge.

Beautiful questions yield beautiful answers.

And, just maybe, beautiful answers yield more beautiful lives.

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

chair in spotlight

(Image/iStock Photos)

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

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

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

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

But maybe I am.

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

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

So let’s get honest for a minute.

The uncomfortable kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is a lie?

The 3 Tiers of Lying

I like to rank things. Sorry.

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

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

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

Tier 1 – Lying Evil Piece of Shit Lies

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

Example:

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

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

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

Fuck that guy.

Tier 2 – Cover Your Ass or Look More Awesome Lies

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

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

“Where were you last night?”

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

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

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

BUT.

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

For example:

“Where were you last night?”

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

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

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

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

I tell self-preservation lies sometimes. I do.

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

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

I don’t think it’s good.

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

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

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

We are irrational creatures, us humans.

Tier 3 – Little White Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Lies Destroy Marriages and Compromise Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How scary does that gunshot you heard feel now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And sometimes, being lied to hurts.

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

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

And maybe you promised to never do that again.

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

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

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

You just want to protect her feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t trust my husband.

I don’t trust myself.

I don’t feel safe in my life.

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

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

We all do in some form or fashion.

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

That’s the only way it works.

We hide parts of ourselves because we fear rejection.

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

But the couples that make it to forever?

They’re the ones who were brave enough to.

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

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

And then.

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

That same feeling of betrayal and mistrust.

That loss of safety.

I can’t even breathe.

And then it’s over.

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

In the most tumultuous and violent storms.

Steady.

Tall.

Rooted.

Strong.

Always.

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

pie-chart-people-count by Wonkhe

(Image/Wonkhe)

Imagine a pie chart.

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

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

Mountain biking.

Astrophysics.

Rap music.

Sewing.

Tap dancing.

Politics.

Mixed martial arts.

Gardening.

Architectural design.

Cars.

Books.

Religion.

Solitaire.

Ice sculpting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re worth so much more than that.

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

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

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

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

However.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s everything.

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

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

Imagine a large black piece of construction paper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you CAN control what you do with that feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They strengthen.

Become more secure.

Sturdier.

They don’t drift apart.

Steady.

They stay connected.

Together.

Always.

Unbreakable.

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

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

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

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

That’s how you change the world.

And I can’t wait to see it.

You May Also Want to Read:

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

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

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

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

black and white puzzle pieces

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s okay.

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

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

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

And common things seem NORMAL. Regular. Not weird.

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

This is me trying to convince you that you should.

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

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

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

You don’t want any part of it.

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

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

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

Boundaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast-forward to your first date.

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

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

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

You tell him to stop.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe he calls you a tease.

Maybe he calls you a stuck-up bitch.

Maybe he—inexplicably—calls you a slut.

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

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

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

Then everything turned into a big shit-festival.

Because she broke her own rules.

Because she didn’t enforce her boundaries.

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

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

Not because of bullying and unwanted sexual advances, certainly.

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

Let’s Get Even More Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some will be good people.

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

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

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

But please don’t marry them.

Please.

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

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

Never, never, never.

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

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

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

You’ll be miserable.

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

How Do I Know Whether I Have a Boundary Issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

It reduces the probability of divorce by probably 90 percent.

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

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

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

They’re the keepers.

You May Also Want to Read

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

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

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

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