Tag Archives: Discipline

We Should Stop Blaming Marriage for Our Problems

who we blame for our problems

(Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

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

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

“Monogamy is unnatural!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe You Don’t Know What Marriage Is

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

That’s not what I mean.

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

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

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

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

Maybe I’ll choose something else.

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

But that’s not the point either.

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

It’s Because You Didn’t Know

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

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

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

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

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

They don’t deserve blame either.

Because they grew up the same way.

And so did our grandparents.

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

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

Yes.

Marriage Doesn’t Suck. We Suck.

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

Marriage is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

Cynical people tell you how frequently it fails.

Hedonists tell you how limiting it can be.

“Don’t do it!” we hear.

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s okay.

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

You’ll receive no judgment or shaming from me.

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

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

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

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

The rewards of relationship success are equally so.

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

It seems silly to blame the mountain when we fall.

Marriage is rewarding and beautiful when we make it so.

It’s something else when we don’t.

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The Unknown Soldiers

A soldier from the U.S. Army's Old Guard honor guard walks at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington

(Image courtesy of the Jawa Report.)

And the soldier marched.

Twenty one steps. Always. At the end of the mat, he turns toward the tomb and counts: One, two, three…

After 21 seconds, he turns and walks the mat again. Twenty one more steps. Always 21.

He neither smiles nor frowns. He marches with purpose.

He’s the Sentinel.

It is his solemn duty to guard the tomb. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Tombs that contain remains of unidentified U.S. soldiers from World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. The Arlington, Va.-based monument is intended to honor all unidentified men and women who died serving their country.

Had they met in life, the soldiers guarding this tomb may not have even liked or respected the fallen soldiers they now honor with such reverence.

Doesn’t matter. There are no judgments. No questions like, “why are we doing this?” or “why do these soldiers matter more than others?”

Those questions aren’t relevant. Not to the Sentinel.

And so they walk. Twenty one steps. Twenty one steps, exactly. And then they face the tomb for 21 seconds, not 20 or 22.

Purpose. Precision.

The scene is somber. Respectful. Ceremonial. I’ve seen it twice, deeply moved both times.

The discipline is unlike anything I’ve seen.

The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, every day, no matter what, and has been, every second since July 1, 1937.

For 78 years, soldiers apply to be part of the elite team. A group who sacrifices so much so they can walk the mat. Guard the tomb. Preserve honor and tradition. I use the word “he” to describe the soldier because the vast majority of Tomb Guards have been male, but at least three have been female.

Why do they do this?

Near as I can tell, they do it because they said they would. They do it because they can.

They walk the mat during severe storms.

They walk the mat with hundreds of onlookers.

They walk the mat in the dark of night with none.

What’s Our Problem, Then?

It’s worth asking.

If these men and women can perform this ritual. One of such discipline and precision and honor for people they don’t even know. Why can’t we exhibit an appropriate amount of discipline and respect for those we love and care for most?

What separates those soldiers from you and me?

They will sacrifice their entire way of life to be part of a chosen few. The Tomb Guard.

But you won’t take a deep breath and shut up for five minutes to REALLY pay attention to and care about something your partner needs from you?

Working out is too hard? Being kind is too hard? Doing the best job you can on this project or that chore is too hard?

For the people you love?

For the people who pay you?

For the people who count on you?

What’s our problem?

Sept. 11, 2001, 9:37 a.m. EST

And the soldier marched.

Perhaps with many tourists present. Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. is a popular tourist attraction among visitors to Washington D.C.

Sept. 11, 2001 was a gorgeous Tuesday morning. Clear skies throughout most of the continental United States.

I bet there were people there.

At 9:37 a.m., a jet airliner brushed the treetops perched atop the hills of Arlington National Cemetery. It must have scared everyone. Seconds later, that jet slammed into the Pentagon building. The symbol of American military might and the headquarters for the nation’s Department of Defense. 184 innocent people died in a fiery explosion.

It wasn’t until my last visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns and realizing where the Pentagon was in relation for this to dawn on me. The jet screamed overhead without warning. And then exploded into the side of the Pentagon.

There, a fire raged for hours. Onlookers must have screamed. The nation and many parts of the world were horrified.

What might happen next?

But, amidst the chaos, the solider marched. Exactly 21 steps. Then, again.

Shame is a bad thing. We shouldn’t be shaming people.

But if it’s an effective motivator to change for the better, maybe it’s worth it.

I couldn’t love and respect my wife even when it was hard?

I can’t give my beautiful son my undivided attention any time he wants it?

I can’t work out every single day?

I can’t give more of my time and money to people who need it?

What’s my problem?

No matter what’s happening around them, the Sentinels walk.

Twenty one steps. Always 21. No mistakes.

For a mission many of us can’t fully appreciate or understand.

They walk no matter what. No matter what. Because they made a vow to do so.

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. 

–Mother Teresa

And the soldier marched.

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How to Be Loyal

Like this. Only with boy thumbs.

Like this. Only with boy thumbs.

I cheated on her.

I did.

She’s engaged to be married to someone else. But still. We have a thing, she and I. It’s been going on for years.

And I cheated on her.

This is the third time.

I feel dirty. I do. Ugly on the inside.

Her name popped up on my phone this morning. A text message.

“Haven’t seen ya… hope all is well!” she wrote.

Guilt.

It just washed over me.

We had a quick back-and-forth. And agreed to meet up next Tuesday.

I’ll give her a sheepish grin. She’ll forgive me. She always does.

Then she’ll run her fingers through my hair and ask me about my life before we get down to business.

And afterward, I’ll pay her for her time.

Ugh. I’m a bad person.

Loyalty Matters

“This is a moral test of oneself. Whether or not one can maintain loyalty. Because being loyal is very important.” – Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction

Being loyal is important. Vincent was right.

We’re faced with these decisions, big and small. All the time.

We often order from the same pizza places. Or hit up the same restaurants for lunch or breakfast. Maybe we’re regulars at our favorite local pubs.

We often exhibit loyalty to other kinds of businesses. Doctors. Landscapers. Contractors.

And to the people in our lives.

We’re loyal to our families. To our friends. To our children. To our teammates. To our siblings. To our employers. To our romantic partners.

Responsibility Matters

Sometimes, we fail other people because of our own irresponsibility.

I do this all the time. All. The. Time.

For example, people I love sometimes don’t get birthday or Christmas presents from me. Because I waited too long to get them something, or because I completely forgot.

Maybe I told someone at work I’d get something over to them by the end of the day, and then don’t. And then I make their job harder. Because of simple irresponsibility.

Maybe my son had to eat a crappy lunch at school because I waited too long to update his lunch money account online.

Maybe my snowblower sat dormant the entire snowy-as-all-hell winter because I didn’t work hard enough to get it repaired.

But sometimes we display disloyalty of sorts for purely selfish reasons.

We don’t return someone’s phone call or email because we’re so self-absorbed.

We choose a new restaurant over the old one we’ve been supporting for years, even though the old one did nothing to warrant losing our business.

We switch brands in our various shopping adventures for any number of reasons.

I cheated on this girl because I’m irresponsible.

She didn’t deserve that.

The Last Time I Saw Her

“Do you want to schedule an appointment for next time?” she said.

She knows I can’t wait too long. I’m needy. I am.

“No, I’ll just fire you a text and see when you’re available in a few days,” I said before walking out.

But she gets busy. She’s in demand.

And yeah, she likes me, but I can never be No. 1 in her life. She has other clients, too.

She’s not going to bump well-paying clients just because I want to see her.

So I went to see someone else.

And yes. I feel bad about it. I mean, it was good. This new girl got the job done. But the experience ultimately left me dissatisfied.

It just wasn’t the same.

So Tuesday I’ll go back. Back to where I’m supposed to be.

And she’ll take care of me.

Those familiar hands.

And I’ll feel balanced again.

We’ll talk for a bit afterward.

I’ll pay her for her time. She’s thoughtful and attentive.

Only this time, I’ll schedule our next rendezvous before leaving.

To be loyal.

To be responsible.

Because she deserves it.

And, honestly?

My hair just looks shitty when I let other people cut it.

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