Tag Archives: Emotion

The 4th Wedding Anniversary (That Wasn’t)

Lucky 13 carnival

(Image/Halloween Forum)

Yesterday would have been lucky-number 13.

My wife and I celebrating 13 years of marital bliss.

Only we didn’t. Because we stopped at 9. In large part because the final couple of years were anything but blissful.

Also, I didn’t remember.

I hadn’t noticed until I flipped a daily calendar to today.

And all joking aside about my totally suspect ADHD calendar management, it’s significant that I didn’t remember.

Maybe some people feel completely fine and normal after getting divorced. But other people feel shitty and want to die a little bit and cry a lot more than they’re proud of while feeling like the world’s biggest loser and binge-watching a lot of shows on Netflix and assuming they will spend the rest of their lives celibate and alone while their exes are having orgasm parties with some wildly successful entrepreneur ready to sell their tech startup for a billion dollars and pretty much guaranteeing a lifetime of their children respecting and wanting to be with the other parent more than them.

I was a member of the latter group.

Even my grandma (the sweetest, most-prayerful and non-judgmental person I know) was probably like: “My #1 grandson seems extra-losery lately. If he doesn’t get it together, he’s going to die alone, because no woman will ever want to kiss him on the mouth, let alone play fiddlesticks in his nether regions. I’m demoting him to, like, #4 in the grandson ranking.” It’s difficult to know for sure how she felt and/or whether I’ve reclaimed by spot atop the family grandson rankings.

It’s significant that I didn’t reflect on my wedding anniversary yesterday, because that’s exactly the kind of thing you tend to do when you feel broken and depressed after divorce.

Every major holiday.

Her birthday.

My birthday.

Our son’s birthday.

The Fourth of July (our “engagement anniversary”).

There were all of these things that triggered the most powerful and unexpected emotions for the first couple of years following the end of our marriage. If you’d told me some date on the calendar had the power to trigger something within me that would make my entire body revolt, I’d have called you crazy.

But then I lived it.

I felt in the most intense ways what a particular anniversary could remind you of. If it wasn’t something on the calendar, it was one of those asshole Facebook memories that seem to randomly pop up and try to ruin your day, or it was me driving by a particular building or location, or maybe hearing a certain song, and then I’d feel all the things rushing in again.

It wasn’t just hard because it hurt.

It was hard because it reminded me that I wasn’t fully back yet. I hadn’t recovered. I remained weak and fragile. It reminded me that I didn’t have control over emotions, which meant I didn’t have control over myself.

Once every day stops hurting after a major life trauma, the next phase involves unpredictable and intermittent flare-ups.

Rock-bottom has one perk. NOTHING scares you anymore, because (even if it isn’t true) it feels like it can’t get any worse.

But once the healing begins, some of the fear returns, because the ability to just behave normally during the day without all of the hurt and fear and anxiety becomes this really important and valuable thing that you had always taken for granted until you knew better.

So when something sneaky triggers us into a mini-relapse, it can shake you up because you don’t know if that’s ever going to stop happening.

It’s hard to feel like you don’t have any control about your baseline state-of-being. As if you don’t know which “you” you’ll be when you wake up tomorrow.

I often wondered when these triggers would finally go away.

And Then Something Funny Happens

You don’t really notice because you forget to look for it.

The same way that resentment and shit-festival rides and funnel cake booths sneak quietly into our relationships and go undetected until we finally bite into some funnel cake we overpaid for and it tastes like goat piss, and then we pop three balloons with our skilled dart throwing to win that awesome stuffed monkey, but instead of giving us the awesome stuffed monkey, the carnie gives us the middle finger and divorce papers…

The same way that happens, goodness and normalcy slowly creep in when life feels like it’s beating us down.

I wanted so badly to hack the process.

I researched whatever scientific studies I could find on happiness. I went to guided meditation classes. I drank a little more beer, tequila and vodka than usual.

I wanted a shortcut, and if I couldn’t find one, I at least wanted to know when the terrible pain and sadness might end.

What is the thing or the time I can look forward to because that’s when I’ll know this is mostly behind me?

I took comfort in some of the stories and experiences of other divorcees.

But still. When will it be my turn?

And then the funny thing happens. You wake up one day and realize you’d stopped counting. You’d stopped looking for signs. You’d stopped wondering when tomorrow will come because, holy shit, it’s ALREADY tomorrow and I didn’t even notice.

There was no magic to evoke.

There was no exorcism or major therapeutic breakthrough (not that there’s anything wrong with leaning on psych pros—I’d have done so if I was financially comfortable enough to shell out $250/hour).

There was no one thing I can point to that took me from the painful and debilitating shit-festival to today. The day AFTER a wedding anniversary (that wasn’t) that I never got around to noticing.

The path to today wasn’t complex or hard to explain even though I hadn’t realized I’d arrived here. The path wasn’t around. There were no shortcuts or helpful detours. There was only one straight path that could only be traveled at the speed with which I move.

There were unpleasant and difficult obstacles from the get-go. And it turns out, Life doesn’t magically remove all those obstacles to make the path easier to walk. Dealing with each obstacle by climbing over it, or blasting my way through simply made me good at navigating them.

I wanted it to be easy and fast. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt torturously slow.

But as I look back today? Four wedding anniversaries (that weren’t) later? I don’t know where the time went.

But I’m here now. (Hi!)

The path was hard. But then it gets a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then you accidentally get so busy living again that you forget to measure the difficulty.

Hope is the carrot at the end of the stick, and it’s worth walking toward. When you’re emerging from divorce or some other awful life event, how much better tomorrow can be than today is so incremental, we’re unlikely to notice it. But it IS better.

And when you wake up and breathe enough times, you stop, look back, and really see how far you’ve come.

The only path was through.

Never easy. But always worth it.

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Guys: Emotions Matter, Are Normal, and You’re Not a Weak Pussy for Having Them

man sad with grief

(Image/Aidan Nworks)

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. While it would be nice for everyone everywhere to get along—because of the huge problems caused by our Us vs. Them mentality—I still believe it all comes back to husbands and wives, or two committed partners in general. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool their resources and have promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with generally good intentions who do things over and over again that damage their wives’ emotional and mental health. And they just don’t realize it in time.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t fucking know either.

This is the first in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

Things We Don’t Teach Men: #1 – Feelings Matter, Are Normal, and You’re Not a Weak Pussy for Having Them

“Why don’t you cry about it?”

“Be a man.”

“Stop whining like a bitch.”

“You’re acting like a little girl.”

“Toughen up, you pussy.”

Every one of us have heard it. Most of us even said it.

Men have been taught to keep emotions to themselves. Because expressing emotions is a sign of weakness. It’s “something girls do.”

It’s like the ultimate double whammy to healthy male-female relationships.

We cultivate emotionally stunted boys with dangerously flawed perceptions of what it means to “be a man,” AND we teach and perpetuate sexism simultaneously by shaming boys for doing things “like a girl.”

We make it BAD to be female, and then act all confused that misogyny and sexual abuse, or even just general displays of disrespect toward women by men are as common as they are.

Writer Paul Hudson in an Elite Daily article said it as well as I ever could:

“Men aren’t always accepted when they’re being emotional. For years and years, men have gotten bashed, personally and in the media, for being heartless, for not being understanding of women and the way they feel. Many women will still use this as an argument-squasher. The truth is, men didn’t allow themselves to understand the way the women they loved felt because they didn’t understand why women weren’t willing to follow the rules they were taught to follow.

“Don’t cry. Don’t pout. Don’t complain. Be a man — an emotionless, stubborn man. Again, not all men but most, I’m afraid.

“Men were taught emotions are a sign of weakness. Women were taught the opposite. So what are you left with? Men who believe women are weak because they’re emotional, and women who are pissed off they’re seen as being weak for something they were taught to embrace.”

For decades, psychologists studying human behavior would conduct studies about human emotion by surveying parents of children, or asking adults to self-report.

As you might imagine, that only further cemented our preconceived notions about emotions and gender.

Once the psych-research community started asking better questions, studies started to yield more interesting results.

And several studies have concluded that men are actually more emotional than women, even though men will say they are less emotional than they actually are, and women will claim to be more emotional than they are.

From The Daily Mail:

“Neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis who led the study said, ‘Gender stereotypes about men being stoic and women being emotional are reinforced by our day to day consumption of media and our social interactions.

“’We tend to oversimplify and exaggerate the perceived differences between men and women and are more likely to focus on evidence that supports our existing gender stereotypes.

“’This study suggests that men feel emotion just as much as women, sometimes more strongly, but are less willing to express these emotions openly due to expectations put on them by society.’”

Dr. Peggy Drexler also tackled this topic in: “Guess What? Men Are More Emotionally Fragile Than Women.”

Why This Emotion Thing Matters

Because truth and authenticity in intimate relationships matters.

Because fear and anxiety and shame cause us to wear masks and lie and hide parts of ourselves from the people who trust us to love and care for them.

Every man who fakes stoicism to appear like a tough guy because he thinks that’s what he’s supposed to be, or because he thinks that what his wife or girlfriend or whoever wants him to be is a fraud.

I don’t mean that in an ugly way. He’s not being deceptive with malice in his heart. He’s exercising self-preservation techniques to avoid rejection.

We want to be accepted by other males in our various tribes. At school. At work. On teams. In a contingent of soldiers, police officers, firefighters, etc.

We want to be accepted by our fathers. By our coaches. By our mentors.

We want to be accepted by the women in our lives. Respected. Admired. Desired.

So we put on our masks so our friends will stay our friends, and so dad approves, and so our wives or girlfriends won’t want to leave us for those super-tough and stoic guys who never shed tears or feel anything because we never knew that they were all either sociopaths or fellow mask-wearers who feel just as afraid as we do.

So we wear our tough-guy masks and mock or show blatant disregard for everything that doesn’t pass the Man Card sniff test.

And because a husband and wife will never achieve unbreakable status without the level of trust and intimacy that can only come from not hiding true parts of ourselves from the other, this emotion thing can play a significant role in the slow erosion of our relationships.

While we openly disrespect one another over who’s right and who’s wrong, even though nobody is either.

While we egregiously break hearts and tear one another apart in another bloody round of The Same Fight. The same fight we always have. The same fight couples always have.

More from Paul Hudson:

“Men have been taught to keep their emotions to themselves. I’m sure there are some men out there who were raised in a household that praised emotional honesty. But even such individuals had to have stepped out into the world and realized the rest of society and the culture we’ve built over the centuries prefers men to keep their emotions to themselves.

“We were taught to believe sensitivity is synonymous with weakness, which is exactly the opposite if you think about it. Sensing more, feeling more, experiencing more, understanding more, interacting with the world more, that is a strength, an advantage — not something to be ashamed of.

“Boys are taught to be ashamed of the emotions they experience, so they grow into men who are both emotionally confused and in denial. Emotions aren’t meant to be suppressed. They don’t necessarily need to be paraded for everyone else to see — even though there isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with that — but they ought to be accepted and understood. Otherwise, the build-up can kill you.”

If it doesn’t literally kill you, you can bet your ass it will kill your marriage.

And those dark days following the end of your marriage?

Staring at a stranger in the mirror. Restless nights. Loss of friends and family. Deep shame and guilt. A powerful sense of failing at life’s most-important thing in a very public way. Fear of an unknown future. Stress about the loss of time with children and influence on their lives.

Those things can kill you.

Unless.

You choose courage. You take off the mask. You own your shit. You do a better job today than you did yesterday. You make things as right as you can. You love even when it’s inconvenient. And once you feel human again, you have the chance to start over—maybe alone, maybe with someone new, or maybe even in a second try with the mother of your children.

When you own your shit and trust someone enough to show them the things you used to hide, then—THEN—bonds too strong to break can finally form.

Not because you were a big pussy who showed too much emotion.

But because you showed more bravery than you ever have before. And everything was okay. You weren’t some weak-ass pussy, after all.

You were strong. Resilient. A warrior.

A man.

We hide the truth because vulnerability is hard. And our relationships suffer for it. And then everything and everyone in our entire lives suffers for it.

Let people in, even when it’s hard.

Because we can do hard things.

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Can We Use Personality Matching and Astrology to Have the Perfect Partner and Marriage? Kind Of!

astrology art

(Image/Prosveta.it)

Someone asked me what I thought about using astrology as a compass for romantic compatibility.

Fair question, I think. No matter what you think of the pseudoscience, horoscopes are published in most newspapers, and a significant number of people consult astrology-based information regularly for personal guidance or simple entertainment.

Astrology involves several beliefs, and at the core of those beliefs is the idea that there is a relationship between astronomical activity—the position of the sun, moon, stars and other planets in our solar system in relation to the earth—and earthly events or human personality and behavior.

For me, there are two distinct questions to deal with:

  1. Is astrology real?
  2. How significant is behavioral and personality compatibility to relationship success?

Is Astrology Real?

Obviously, astrology is real. It’s a thing people study, practice and discuss. It’s real. But that’s not what I meant.

Better questions might be: Does astrology have scientific or spiritual merit, and should people take seriously the information astrologers offer? Does heeding astrological advice result in good things happening? Does ignoring or smiting it result in something bad?

I have, personally, never believed that the position of planets and stars could somehow be used to predict events.

Like, the love and financial advice people read in horoscopes.

It seems reasonable to conclude that if humans had discovered any type of connection between our astrological signs and romantic or financial success, we would all be rabid astrology practitioners in 2017.

Instead, most people have mountains of credit card debt and are statistical coin-flips to succeed in a romantic partnership, even after promising to love each other forever in front of a bunch of witnesses, and sharing homes, bank accounts, and children.

Right?

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying.

NOTE: For the TL;DR folk, the most important thing I want to share in this post is this guide to understanding the 10 Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability, because understanding how your specific type matches with your partner’s specific type could be the difference between you two having a great marriage, or a life-altering divorce.

I have always found there to be an interesting observable relationship between astrological signs and personality.

In my experience, true or not, it has always seemed as if astrology’s universally agreed-upon personality traits matched up with what I knew to be true about people born within the corresponding date ranges.

But guess what? Almost everyone—no matter what sign they are—thinks that, too.

It’s called the Forer effect (or Barnum effect).

Psychologist Bertram Forer conducted an experiment in which all participants took an individual personality assessment, and then later were given a list of personality traits tailored to their results. The students were asked to rate the accuracy of their customized personality report afterward, and the students collectively rated them a 4.26 on a scale of 0-5.

Forer had taken statements from a newsstand astrology book and given every student the exact same list, regardless of their astrological sign or personality test results.

The Forer effect essentially says that because the statements are so vague, people are able to apply their own meaning to each, making them “personal” to each individual.

Thorough scientific testing of astrology has been done through the years, and has found it to have no known scientific validity. The idea that the movement and positions of planets and stars could affect human behavior and earthly events defies everything science tells us about the laws of physics and biology.

Of course, scientists can only identify about 5 percent of “stuff” in existence (the other 95 percent is made up of dark energy and dark matter, which no one knows anything about), so maybe scientists can go eat a fat one.

I don’t pretend to know anything, for sure. I just ask a lot of questions and try unsuccessfully to not be a dick to people.

Does Human Behavior and Compatibility Influence Our Relationship Success?

I’m not a doctor or anything, but: Ssshhhyeah, it does.

And the irony is that most people believe they are dating or marrying someone they are “compatible” with.

Totally makes sense, too. Think about who people tend to date and marry. It’s pretty much always people “like us.”

We usually meet people who believe what we believe (same faith or belief system).

We usually meet people who live or work where we live or work.

We usually meet people with similar educational experiences (lots of people marry fellow students from high school or college/university).

We usually meet people with the same friends.

We usually meet people with the same hobbies and interests.

I think it makes sense that people believe that someone coming from any of those groups would be “compatible.”

Sometimes, they’re happily (and accidentally) right.

Often, they’re tragically (but also accidentally) wrong.

Thinking That Emotional = Weak Earned Me My Divorce

Maybe because I’m a guy who likes football, beer, women and other “guy stuff,” and grew up in a pretty traditional and conservative small-town culture, I—like many men—rejected human emotion as something relevant.

In guy terms, if you’re emotional, you’re just a weak, crying bitch. Who probably listens to boy bands and drinks a bunch of Diet Sierra Mist and white zin.

If you cry, you’re weak.

If you let your emotions control you, you’re weak.

If you let your emotions override your logic, you’re weak.

If you’re emotional in any way, about anything, you’re weak.

And I took that into marriage with me. All that false bravado, acting like I was all tough and manly and my wife was some weak-ass crier whenever things got hard.

Because crying = weak, and not-crying = strong, I thought I was clearly demonstrating the coolness, strength, smarts, and emotional steadiness to decide what was best in a given moment where my sad wife and I might have disagreed.

I can’t remember details of any of these moments, but I’m pretty sure I was being an inauthentic douchebag most of the time, peacocking with false bravado like I was tougher or smarter or better in any way than someone with the courage to let the tears fall.

Between the two of us, I was the only one pretending. I was the one actually weak and afraid.

Human emotion is significant—whether or not it’s convenient to admit.

Emotion is the No. 1 influencer on our consumer buying decisions—cars we buy or lease, brands we support, advertisements we respond to, homes we purchase or rent.

Emotion moves us in certain directions professionally, in determining where we geographically want to live, in whether we have children or pets, in where our kids go to school and the activities we involve them in.

Emotion heavily influences all aspects of our personal belief systems.

The Part That Really Matters

So, in addition to me (and near as I can tell, many other guys) not respecting the significance and importance of human emotion, I think most people don’t think enough about the various ways in which different humans process emotion.

Almost everyone reading this will know their astrological sign, but won’t have the first clue how their biological nervous systems and life experiences have shaped them into some combination of the 10 ways humans manage emotions.

Not unlike Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, or the lessons imparted by visual metaphors such as Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, these Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability were identified by Dr. Brent Atkinson, the principle architect of Pragmatic/Experiential Therapy.

This strikes me as one of the most-significant things I have ever seen to help two people better understand one another and incrementally improve, rather than incrementally destroy, their relationship.

It’s not an overstatement to say it can save you.

And I’ll try to wrap this up as succinctly as I know how.

What astrologists and those who follow astrology are trying to do is make it simple for certain types of people to pair up with other certain types of people, because well-matched people have happier lives, stay married, and have rewarding family and social lives.

They are attempting to do so via a connection between planets and stuff, and things we do and feel here on earth.

Maybe it’s all super-legit. Maybe it’s all total nonsense.

I’m not sure it matters or that I care very much.

Because while sharing values and vigilantly enforcing/respecting personal boundaries is critical to effective matchmaking, I believe humanity (namely men) identifying the significance of emotion on our personal lives, and then applying intelligent matchmaking and behavioral responses to our individual emotional-makeup profiles would have the same profound effect on love and relationships as horoscopes that were never wrong.

We forget sometimes, but love is not about finding the perfect partner so much as BEING the perfect partner.

We forget sometimes that love is not always a feeling. Love is a choice. And marriage is about commiting each and every day to love regardless of how we feel about it.

Do feelings matter? Everyone gets to decide for themselves.

But, if your partner feels unloved every day, and feeling unloved significantly impacts her or him, do feelings matter EVEN IF they don’t matter to you?

Sometimes, the purest act of love is demonstrating care and compassion for those we profess to love even when their interests or opinions clash with ours.

Sometimes—no matter how insignificant they might seem to us—things have to matter just because they matter to them.

A lesson learned too late.

So, thank God there’s tomorrow.

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It’s Okay to Miss Things Without Wanting Them Back

driving-away-country-road

(Image/The Guardian)

Because I’ve been incredibly blessed, my parents’ divorce when I was 4 was the worst thing to happen to me until my own divorce 30 years later.

I was a little kid who didn’t like that if I was at my mom’s house, I couldn’t see my dad, or my family and friends who lived near him, because they were hundreds of miles away.

I didn’t like that if I was at my dad’s house, I couldn’t see my mom or my family and friends living in faraway Ohio.

From the age of 4 onward, I’ve been emotionally calibrated to dread goodbyes while simultaneously looking forward to an overdue reunion. Have you ever felt the joy of hugging someone you love after having not seen them for several months, while also crying because you’re saying bye to someone else you love and now won’t see for several months?

It creates contradictions. Internal human ones that probably don’t make sense to anyone who has read the magical “These Are The Things That Make Sense” book, and are likely responsible for concocting the subset of people I call Good Men Who Are Shitty Husbands. Of which I was/am a member.

I have a unique ability to be disengaged with people I love for long periods of time, but pick up warmly right where we left off once I see or talk to them again. People accustomed to higher-functioning communication habits sometimes get upset with me, perhaps interpreting a lack of communication as me not caring about them. Which makes sense.

When the two people you love, trust, desire and count on more than anyone else (which were my parents throughout my childhood) live hundreds of miles apart, requiring months-long stretches of not seeing one of them (in a pre-FaceTime world), you develop a capacity for limited contact in ways most people might consider unhealthy, or at least uncomfortable.

I’ve been asked approximately 78 billion times: “Do you wish your mom and dad would have stayed married?”

Hmmm.

I didn’t know what a quandary was for most of those, but surely that’s what this was.

I knew my mom. I knew my dad. And even though I didn’t know how to articulate important relationship concepts like Shared Values, or having Alignment, I felt reasonably sure a household including both of my parents would have been awkward in ways difficult to articulate.

I’m pretty good at pragmatism, and I’m pretty good at finding silver linings. My parents’ divorce was the epicenter of any negative experiences in my life and the thing that hurt me most while tearfully waving bye to my favorite people disappearing in the rear window.

And if my parents had stayed married, none of that would have been the case.

But also? I wouldn’t have had my wonderful stepparents, friends, school and life experiences and opportunities that I did.

Like everything else in Life, there are almost always tradeoffs. Few are the moments we get to feel: Ahhh. This is perfect.

This was my first experience with this important Life Thing in adulthood — it’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

You’re Allowed to Do Both

When we first become “real adults” with jobs and responsibilities, many of us sometimes miss the carefree lifestyle we enjoyed as kids living at home. But, do we really want to move back in with our parents? With curfews and other restrictions? With the parameters of your adult life dictated for you?

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

When we first get married, many of us miss the “freedom” and relative ease of the single life. Do we really want to be single again?

When we first have children, many of us miss the ability to go out with friends, sleep through the night and have sex whenever and wherever we want. Do we really wish our kids didn’t exist?

I miss college. All my friends. All the parties. All my youthful ignorance and innocence. Do I really wish I could be back there?

I miss my hometown. Family and friends and favorite restaurants. Do I really wish I lived back there?

People’s marriages and relationships end. It hurts because we miss them. Not hurt like getting kicked in the shin, but more like your childhood nemesis digging out your insides with an ice cream scoop.

Sometimes we can’t breathe.

Sometimes we want to die to make it stop.

Sometimes we feel stabbing pains waving bye to our children while they disappear in the rear window.

Sometimes we feel all kinds of things. Even if you could somehow read “These Are The Things That Make Sense,” maybe nothing ever will.

You can miss your freedom without wanting your marriage to end or your children to disappear.

You can miss your youth without wanting to trade in the hard-earned wisdom acquired on the Journey.

You can miss your failed relationship without wishing you were back in it.

Sometimes the answers aren’t always right or wrong. Because you love, want and miss whatever you love, want and miss.

That’s yours. That’s just for you.

Uncle Rico wanted desperately to go back to 1984 and win the state football championship.

Maybe you want to go back in time, too. Cool.

Like freezer burn, you’re allowed to feel two seemingly opposite things at the same time. Even if we weren’t allowed, I think we’d still feel them anyway.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

There’s nothing wrong with us.

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

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Do We Need Marriage?

handcuff marriage

Is this what marriage is? (Image/tlbn.org)

Julia asked: “I’m one year post-divorce and still grappling with the idea of ever marrying again. I used to feel that marriage was a necessity, but I’ve realized that I don’t really need it. You don’t need to be married to love someone for a long, long time, ya know? I used to think Marriage = Security, but I realized that isn’t true…

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?

“I absolutely see the point you’re making, but I would love to hear more about the million reasons why we should get married.”

Life, much like writing, is filled with a bunch of nuance and subtlety.

Life, much like writing, requires we ask difficult questions and put effort into discovering answers. For example: Is there actually a meaningful difference between the words “nuance” and “subtlety”?

We talk about big things here. Big ideas. We have the conversations it often seems as if no one else is having because they’re busy screaming about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders; or trying to decipher Beyoncé lyrics; or making summer plans for their kids before school starts again in a few months, or, just, individual life distractions that keep most of our minds off anything flirting with the philosophical or psychological.

Something important gets lost in all the noise: Meaning.

One minute, we’re literal. “I am frustrated with Fred at work because certain things he does makes doing my job more difficult for me.”

The next minute, we utter hyperbole—my communication method of choice: “Fred is killing me.”

It’s awesome that the police don’t show up to arrest people for attempted murder OR falsely reporting a crime every time we say “[So and So, or This Random Thing] is killing me,” because that would be really frustrating and burdensome for law-abiding citizens as well as police officers and the judicial system.

Put another way, we’d all lose our shit and wish we were dead.

Should We Get Married?

Probably not. If that’s a serious question a person is asking.

In the post ‘This is why you shouldn’t get married’, I wrote the following:

“There are a million reasons you shouldn’t get married.

“Five short, personal accounts without additional context from divorced women on the internet SHOULD NOT be among them.

“Because there are a million reasons you SHOULD get married.

“Active and physically fit people sometimes die of heart attacks during workouts. Should people stop exercising?

“People are sometimes hurt or killed while driving. Should we avoid getting behind the wheel?

“Patients sometimes die in hospitals because of human error or unpredictable reactions to medicine. “Should we stop visiting doctors while suffering health problems?

“Bad news, guys: the problem was never the institution of marriage. It was us.”

A couple of notes:

There might not be a million reasons you SHOULD get married. A better word choice might have been: “There are a million reasons to get married.” I was just playing off the SHOULD NOT from the previous sentence. And I’m fairly certain no human can write a million-reason list to do ANYTHING, let alone get married, when so many people have become disenchanted with marriage because of divorce, seeing their parents or friends divorce, paying attention to divorce statistics, or believing it to be an outdated religious concept unnecessary for living a fulfilling life in 2016.

MBTTTR commenter Lisa G. dropped this under The Life Blueprint, and it serendipitously hits all the points:

“I agree with this. Question models and think deeply about what you want and need and your gifts. Also consider how it will affect others. Don’t go into $100,000 in debt unless you really understand what you are doing. ;)

“The problem is we often substitute one model for another equally restrictive model instead of fixing the problem underlying the first model.

“That is what is wrong with the model described in your last post. Because so many people have crappy marriages and divorces, the new model is just not to get married. But still have children.

“That’s not a well thought out model either. It’s just reactionary in the opposite direction. Maybe ok on an individual basis but unintended consequences for large populations.”

Why Marriage Matters

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?” Julia asked.

Let’s first be pragmatic, because there are two ways to approach this conversation.

People WILL get married. To the tune of 95 percent of the time. They’ll marry foolishly and thoughtfully. They’ll marry naively, or mentally and emotionally prepared. They’ll marry people who will lie, cheat and abuse, as well as people who will love, serve and protect.

For a million reasons (hyperbole!), wise or unwise to our individual perspectives, people will marry.

Sometimes religion and faith play a role. Many people believe marriage purifies sex after making spiritual vows, thus eliminating sin. Sometimes the Life Blueprint is a heavy influencer, independent of organized religion. When 95 out of 100 people are married, or say they plan to marry, it feels safe to assume many view marriage as one of those things everyone, just, does. You know? Because it’s The Way? Much of what we do is a result of modeling the behavior of everything we see everyone doing around us. Most people get married. So, we get married.

But, do we need it?

It’s a fair question.

The mentally tangible and observable positives of lifelong marriages are well documented.

Let’s start with the children. Kids raised in homes with their mother and father in an environment relatively close to what we all imagine standing in front of the wedding officiant during our exchange of vows, grow up to have measurably “better” lives than kids who do not. Stats are funny things. I’d prefer not to debate this.

The child who grows up with both mom and dad at home, and avoids exposure to the major red-flag dysfunctional stuff less-fortunate children sometimes witness, turns into an adult who is healthier, learns more, commits fewer crimes, makes more money, lives longer, avoids addiction, treats people well, and ends up having healthier relationships with partners and their children significantly more often than the kids who don’t grow up with an intact family.

The married partners themselves have measurably better lives, too.

They live longer, make more money, report more happiness, etc.

So, What’s the Problem?

Two things, I think.

1. I believe most people end up marrying someone they “shouldn’t.” Which is kind of a bullshit thing to say, because marriage is a very serious and personal decision that most of us should stay out of. I mean simply that most people will have crappy marriages—the half who divorce, and also all of the people who stay married, but hate it. I believe a large percentage of them will have done a poor job aligning their values with one another, enforcing important personal boundaries, and effectively communicating those values and boundaries with each other. In those specific situations, I would label them “incompatible.” Sadly.

2. Many people don’t know how to be married. Like any life situation in which we later find ourselves thinking or feeling: Whoa! I totally didn’t know what I was getting myself into!, I think most people are that way with marriage. Most other life situations are easily remedied. We change jobs, move to new places, hang out with different people—whatever. Since marriage is designed to be a forever-thing, the Whoa! realization is infinitely more inconvenient and creates much more complicated situations than every other life thing not involving children, legal contracts, shared bank accounts, shared property, shared social networks, and inter-family relationships as the difference between blood relatives and in-laws grows smaller with each family gathering.

Captain Obvious sentence-of-the-day: Marriage and divorce are very hard.

Beyond Pragmatism, Should We Marry?

You’re allowed to think marriage is a bullshit social or religious construct that doesn’t matter.

If you believe that, there’s a better-than-average chance you’re totally not reading this right now, or you’re still tasting the bitter pill of a divorce you didn’t want when you agreed to marry years ago.

If you believe that you got married in good faith, loved and honored your spouse in good times and in bad and then put effort into staying married after noticing cracks forming in the foundation, only to end up divorced because your partner quit on you or ripped your heart out and humiliated you through a major betrayal, then marriage stops looking awesome.

I get it.

I once had a pizza delivered to my house when I lived in Florida, and there was a cricket baked into one of the pieces like a black olive. Ordering pizza from that place stopped looking awesome after that.

Only through the prism of hindsight and self-exploration have I been able to identify the many ways I was a shitty husband, and even I felt scorned and abandoned when she decided to leave.

I felt like she was breaking a promise, regardless of how hypocritical that was. I felt it. And I broke. And it was super not-fun.

And after three years of healing, and gaining a lot of empowering clarity about how my choices contributed to the end of my marriage (which helps immensely in gaining confidence that you can avoid repeating those mistakes a second time), I am still quite unsure whether I’ll ever marry.

I assume it will feel like the Universe is forcing my hand should that uncertainty go away.

But if I end up living the rest of my life single and dying alone, it won’t be because I believe marriage is somehow an inherently flawed institution that should be avoided.

It’s hard to climb mountains.

It’s hard to save a million dollars.

It’s hard to finish marathons.

It’s hard to eat healthy.

It’s hard to learn new languages.

It’s hard to volunteer to help others.

It’s hard to do many, many, many things.

I’m really comfortable suggesting that almost everything really good and wonderful in the human experience is achieved through struggle.

Easy feels good, THEN feels shitty.

Hard feels shitty, THEN feels amazing.

What’s the argument against marriage?

That a handshake agreement is the same as a contract? That a half-hearted suggestion is the same as a solemn vow said in front of everyone you cherish?

That monogamy is unnatural because primates and dogs like to have sex with several partners, and that we’re the same as them even though we have minds that can conjure these thoughts and conversations, and ingenuity that can create the internet and build rockets we can land on Mars like remote-control cars?

That it’s shitty and horrible because one time we married someone who failed us, or we know stories about other people who were mistreated? Because THAT defines the institution of marriage and somehow influences what happens to us?

Because we’re powerless victims unable to affect our life circumstances?

No.

Marriage is shitty because people innocently make poor choices in partner selection AND in their decision making while they’re married.

Not because marriage is somehow inherently shitty.

Whether marriage is the thing people do, or becomes a choice fewer people make as we move toward the future, there is no part of the inherent human desire to connect, to experience physical intimacy, to reproduce, and to give and experience love that will change.

Call it whatever you want.

Marry or don’t marry. But in the end, we must learn to love.

Marriage isn’t the problem. Humans being human are. That’s been true forever.

Does a person need marriage?

That’s not for us to say.

Does the world need marriage?

I think it might.

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How to Feel Successful, Increase Self-Esteem and Eliminate Envy

all-i-do-is-win-win-win-no-matter-what

I know a guy who almost never loses a game of pool.

He’s one of my dad’s closest friends. He’s awesome in all of the ways which matter, and I love him like family.

But if you didn’t know him and love him like family, he might seem to you like just another guy. He manages a hospital maintenance staff. I’m not super-familiar with his financial status, but I’m not under the impression people who care about net worth would be overly impressed.

My father’s social circle has a lot of three kinds of guys: Guys with really nice cars who race as a hobby, guys who are awesome golfers, and guys with—at least by Midwestern terms—kind of a lot of money.

But the hospital maintenance manager isn’t really any of those things.

I don’t know whether he sits around thinking about this. As if he’s somehow deficient because he isn’t up to the same standards in those super-specific silos as most of his friends. I hope not, and doubt it.

When I was younger, I—objectively speaking in the context of 1980s Americans—didn’t have money in my family. My parents were young, divorced, and at best, lower middle-class. I ate a lot of free school lunches in my early years.

Some of my friends did come from families with—at least from my narrow perspective and life experience—a lot of money. Big, awesome houses I’d visit and sleep in on weekends, and nice, expensive cars.

Maybe feelings of inadequacy and insecurity started back then. I’m an only child and didn’t have a big brother or sister to help prepare me for The Things That Happen Next in your growing years, and I did a crappy job being transparent with my parents, choosing to live inside my own head rather than talk things out with people who loved me and probably knew Things.

But I don’t remember feeling particularly inadequate or insecure back then. In fact, I feel as if I had a charmed childhood and social life through my school years. Whatever my neurotic hang ups might have been, I can’t recall a time I felt intentionally excluded from anything that mattered to me. I felt well-liked and reasonably popular, which are fun things to feel.

It was during the slow death of my marriage where I developed some insecurities and self-confidence issues which are very un-fun things to feel.

Some combination of failing to rise to the level of Very Successful, Special and Unique Snowflake I’d always imagined for myself, and losing my job with a new baby at home, and feeling my wife pull further and further away while seeming to like, respect and want me less with each passing day, turned me into someone else.

Every Facebook or Instagram update from someone I knew with their smiling and happy family on another vacation or in their super-nice home proved to be another reminder of what a loser I’d really turned out to be.

Must be this tall to ride.

Before the hospital maintenance manager and family friend I know was someone who I knew and loved, he was a total stranger. Several years ago when I met him, he was a new addition to my father’s vibrant social circle.

I didn’t know a thing about him, except what a few guys in the room were telling me: “See that guy? He never loses at pool. He’s an absolute badass. One of the best I’ve ever seen or heard of.”

I’m not a particularly skilled pool shooter. I’m okay. I’m kind of okay at everything. I tend to be average at most things, and great at none. But if there’s an impromptu pool tournament, sure, I’m in.

My dad has a couple tables. He’s good, as are many of his friends. They all have their own, expensive cue sticks, rarely miss shots, and never take them unless they know where the cue ball needs to be to make the next one or two. They’re high-level players.

But none of them are like our friend, The Badass. The unassuming hospital employee. When he’s on, he’ll make other awesome players look average, and average players look weak and pathetic.

Generally, if you miss even one shot against him, you’re finished.

Ignoring that material and superficial things lack meaning and rarely move the Happiness needle on our lives, he can’t hang with the other guys on the golf course, nor can he buy a bunch of expensive cars, nor is he going to elicit financial envy from any of them.

Compared to them in those very specific areas, he might appear or even feel lacking.

But at a billiards table? You’re in his world.

A world where he’s king.

Who Would You Trade Places With if You Had to Take All Their Baggage, Too?

James Altucher, one of my favorite writers, was having dinner with another excellent writer, Ryan Holiday.

Holiday asked Altucher whether he ever feels envious of others.

“Yes,” Altucher said, “I’m envious of people.”

Holiday shared his mental strategy for eliminating feelings of jealousy or envy, and Altucher wrote about it in his recent post, The One Cure For All Envy and Jealousy:

“Here’s what you do, Ryan said. If you are envious of someone, you can’t just pick one or two things about them. Because it’s their entire history that has got them the one thing you are envious about.

“So, he said, picture that you can change places in every way with them. But then it’s forever.

He said: Would you do it?

“While he asked that, the hostess of the restaurant came up to us, She looked at me and asked, are you on TV?

“No.

“You’re Ted Mosby, right? From the show ‘How I Met Your Mother.’

“No, I said, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

“She kept staring and then walked away.

“Let me think, I said to Ryan. What about X, would you change places with him? – And I named someone we both admired.

“No way, he said, look at A, B, and C with him. Would you want those?

“Hmm, no.

“Who else do you admire? he asked.

“I had to think for a long time. There’s a lot of people I admire but which among them do I envy.

“I named some more people I envied but for each one, he named some attributes that I would definitely not want to have for myself if I switched places for that person.

“I guess you’re right, I said. I’m happy being me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be having such a fun dinner right now with you!”

I often wonder why it feels like I know several people in real life who would make AMAZING political leaders, but I often find the people I actually have to choose from to be deficient in several areas. I know people who you’d want to run through walls for in an effort to elect them President of the United States. People with unquestionable leadership skills, charisma, and as much integrity as you’d require from a public figure.

But they’ll never be president. There are a TON of brilliant and amazing people out there. Entrepreneurs, doctors, educators, business leaders, etc. But nobody like them ever runs for president.

Why?

I figured it out several years ago: Because none of the really smart people want the job.

It’s shitty! Have you ever studied the gray-hair quotient of presidents entering office versus leaving it? It’s a stressful, shitty job where half the world hates you, where you’re headline news almost every day, where your private life is almost always on display, where people don’t believe good things which are true about you, where people believe bad things which aren’t true about you, where you receive death threats all the time, and aren’t even paid particularly well in the context of being that famous and powerful.

In many ways, being President of the United States is one of the best jobs in the world.

In many ways, it’s also one of the worst.

Would you trade places with someone else? Even if you had to take on all the bad parts, too?

Bring Others Into a Place Where You are Master

Another of my favorite writers and thinkers, Tim Ferriss, taught me how to stop comparing my life to the highlights of other people’s lives I might see on social media, and feel more gratitude and pride about the things which make me, me.

This is The Secret to Feeling Successful, and you can start RIGHT NOW, and all you have to do is ask yourself a better question.

Ferriss’ focus was on business success, but it won’t take a business degree to understand how this mental trick can apply to ANYTHING in your life, and essentially be summarized as Enjoy Being the Big Fish in a Small Pond.

From Ferriss’ New Research and a Dirty Truth: Read This Before Chasing the Dollar:

“What to do? There are a few ways to use the currency of time, and awareness of positional economics, to your advantage to beat the Joneses on new terms:

  1. Focus on “relative income” — defined as hourly income — instead of “absolute income,” misleading annual income that doesn’t factor in time. If you assume a 40-hour work week and 2 weeks of vacation per year, estimate per-hour income by cutting off the last three zeros and dividing in half. Thus: $50,000 per year –> $50 divided by 2 = $25 per hour. Relative income can be increased by increasing total income for the same hours, getting the same income for fewer hours, or some combination thereof. More options with more life.
  2. Determine your precise Target Monthly Income (TMI) for your ideal lifestyle — the goal of most rat-race income competition — and focus on structuring mini-retirements to redistribute retirement throughout life. There’s an excellent Excel spreadsheet here for calculations.
  3. Determine your “where” of happiness. It’s not necessary to permanently move to a country with depressed currency, but even temporary relocation to a domestic (check out Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard’s Life 2.0) or international location with a lower cost-of-living resets your peer group and positional economics barometer. Being perceived as rich often translates into perceiving yourself as rich. Neat trick and a hell of a lot of fun. Two of my top picks for positional resets are Argentina (see “How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires”) and Thailand.
  4. Develop appreciation in tandem with achievement. Subjective happiness depends on appreciating what you get as much as getting what you want. The first step to true appreciation is perception: cultivating present-awareness. I recommend experimenting with lucid dreaming as tested at Stanford University, in particular the “reality check” exercises of Dr. Stephen Laberge.
  5. Develop competitive social groups outside of work. Participate in games outside of income mongering. Train or compete in a sport where income is a non-factor. That dude makes $1,000,000 a day as a hedge fund manager? I don’t care–his golf swing sucks and he has love handles. Here, it counts for nothing. Oh, and her? I know she just got promoted to national manager for IBM, but so what? I just scored 5 goals on her. In this world, I rule.

“Don’t let rat racing be the only game you play against the Joneses,” Ferriss wrote. “There is always someone willing to sacrifice it all to earn more, so let them. Just remember: it is entirely possible — in fact, common — to be a success in business and a failure in life. Take the red pill and think different.”

I’d like to believe that how we feel doesn’t really matter, since our feelings wax and wane all the time, and it’s hard to trust our own emotional swings.

But the truth is, how we feel DOES matter. Our feelings affect pretty much all of our decision making, and our decision making affects pretty much everything that happens to us.

Some people might roll their eyes at the idea of using Jedi mind tricks to feel better about their life. Like it’s fake. Like they actually have to do something more or different or better to ACTUALLY be better.

And I’m saying that’s bullshit.

Go chase whatever sets your heart on fire. I’m not suggesting we all sit on the couch, do nothing, and celebrate it.

The truth is true no matter what we believe: We’re already tall enough to be Jedi.

We already win. And we might as well enjoy it.

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How to Brew Magic Sex Potion

magic sex potion

(Image/betterphoto.com)

Author’s Note #1 – This is intended for men focused on long-term monogamous relationships. It’s NOT for “pick-up artists,” who I’m confident know WAY more than I about how to succeed at having cheap sex with many strangers they’ll never see or speak to again.

Author’s Note #2 – Hey mom! Maybe you should skip this one.

Talking about sex is uncomfortable for some people.

I think it’s because many of us grow up only hearing about it as this naughty, taboo thing we’re not supposed to be doing or thinking about until we’re married.

Some people grow up avoiding sex in an effort to do what they’ve been taught is the right thing. Most of that group is probably doing so out of fear. They might be afraid of eternal damnation, moral judgment from others, disease, unplanned pregnancy, or something I haven’t thought of. Another group might not be afraid at all, but rather are deeply committed to living according to their moral code.

Maybe we succeed in our individual pursuits of avoiding sex or sex-related activities and enter marriage as shy, awkward and intimidated virgins.

Or maybe we failed in those pursuits, and spend our lives carrying a bunch of guilt and shame around like painfully heavy and oversized luggage without wheels.

In EITHER case, we’re suddenly supposed to shut off 25 or whatever years of psychological conditioning the moment we enter marriage because A. It’s totally okay to have sex now!, and not only that, but B. You better be kind of awesome at it, because no matter how much someone might want to deny it, a healthy and active sex life IS ABSOLUTELY one of the structural foundational elements of a marriage that lasts.

Or, put another way—failing in your marital sex life has a few different eventualities, and all seem bad: Divorce, Affairs, Miserable Marriage, or a total psychological disconnect from one’s sexuality in order to cope in a life devoid of physical intimacy.

I’ve been putting more effort into not categorizing things in terms of the gender divide, but sometimes the evidence is so strong that something is true for MOST people, that efficiency demands it:

While men and women both crave sexual satisfaction, the things that create feelings of arousal in men are often not the same things that produce sexual arousal in women.

Men’s sexual cravings tend to be more—I don’t know… superficial? Men’s arousal is often tied to visual stimulation. Body parts. Images of women in the throes of sexual ecstasy. And unfortunately, from novelty—something new or unfamiliar. Men are more prone to view an orgasm as the end game in and of itself. The research shows that sharing the experience with a partner is typically less important to men than it may be to women.

Women’s sexual arousal is much more psychologically rooted than in men. In fact, women often experience a civil war of sorts between their physical and mental responses to sexual stimuli.

Put more simply, a male erection is a virtual guarantee of sexual interest and arousal. But a female exhibiting physical evidence of stimulation can be 100-percent detached from the experience psychologically and emotionally.

In other words, a good female actor willing to lie can convincingly fake sexual pleasure, while men sort of can’t.

How to Make Your Partner Want You

Sometimes I look at the search terms people used to find this blog.

Last week, I saw this one: “magic potion to make a woman crave for sex.”

I laughed and made a note of it. But then I found myself thinking about it because it’s a conversation topic with merit.

I think this is a critical component of healthy relationships, and fits neatly into the overarching We Must Learn Empathy conversation.

If men assume (as I naively did for years) that their female partners generally experience sexual thoughts and activity in the same ways they do, it’s no wonder there’s so much dysfunction, cheating and crappy relationships happening.

Put another way, your wife or girlfriend leaving you because of your inability to understand how leaving dirty dishes by the sink can inflict severe emotional harm would be essentially the same thing as her leaving you because of your inability to satisfy her in the bedroom. (Hint: It would have almost nothing to do with your bedroom skills or the quality of your performance.)

My anonymous friend stumbling on MBTTTR during his digital quest for magic sex potion is highly unlikely to ever read this. But maybe someone else will.

The Recipe for Magic Sex Potion

1. Wake up each day, and intentionally think and feel: I choose to love my partner today. No matter what happens or how my mood swings, I love her. I am grateful that she chooses me despite my flaws. I appreciate the many things she does for me. Think of those things. There are A LOT. Pick one of those things and then, by speaking face-to-face, writing a note, sending a text, making a phone call or maybe some other really cool way, communicate to her that you appreciate something she does. There’s nothing too small to notice.

2. When you hug her (daily), do it for six seconds. Not four or five. Six. That’s how long it takes for important brain chemicals to kick in and boost our emotional connection with the person we’re hugging. Six-second hugs. Be mindful of stuff like this. These things matter.

3. When she tells you stories about her day, or wants to include you in a life decision she has to make for herself or your household, LISTEN attentively to her stories, and be engaged enough to provide feedback if (and only if) she requests it. Because I have bad news: Your penis WILL NOT make it all better for her. However, if you actually sacrifice just a little bit of time each day to actively listen to your partner, she will be infinitely more interested in touching it.

4. Become an empathy expert and practice demonstrating it. I’m serious. It will change your life. You can actually FAIL a little bit at empathy and still improve the health of your relationship simply through your demonstration of TRYING. Empathy Wizardry. That should be your new thing. So much sex, potion seeker. Or I should say… empathy wizard.

5. Avoid at all costs anything which forces her to do something your mom would have done for you. It’s okay if she WANTS to. I’m talking about the things she doesn’t want to do. Cleaning up after you. Reminding you of that thing you have to do this week. When you put her in a mother-like position, then she starts to feel like your mom and doesn’t want to bang you. This isn’t discussed enough.

6. Be kind. I don’t mean “nice.” Nice is bullshit and it’s not enough. BE KIND. If you don’t know the difference, this might be a good time to figure it out. Not being a prick should be a given. It might be time to learn why she gets upset with you even though everyone else in the world thinks you’re such a nice guy.

7. Exercise, but not because you think she likes toned arms and a flat stomach (even though she probably does). That’s gravy. Exercise demonstrates and results in a few things which women do respond to sexually: A. Self-respect, B. Discipline and follow-through, and actively doing those things breeds within you C. Confidence. These are important ingredients.

There are many other ingredients you can add to your cauldron while you brew future batches of Magic Sex Potion, and I’d love to learn other things I can add to improve this recipe.

People hunting for magic sex potions want a shortcut. A life hack. That’s what Pick-Up Artistry is for. If you love the idea of dying old and alone with herpes, feel free to explore some of those ideas.

But if you’re someone who craves companionship, contentment and connection every day for the rest of your life with a partner who genuinely derives pleasure from satisfying you sexually and from your touch, I think you’ll find this concoction to be an effective tool.

Order your Magic Sex Potion today and I’ll throw in a nice bonus gift:

A guarantee that you’ll literally be a better man every day for the rest of your life, reaping countless riches in the process and helping others do the same.

Go kick ass, potion seeker.

…..

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Is Your Spouse Hurting You On Purpose?

albert einstein the power of asking the right question

(Image/CoSchedule)

Pain sucks.

Some people enjoy the muscle burn after a hard workout because it feels like progress. Others like the achy remnants of vigorous bedroom activities, or headaches the morning after a fun party, as a reminder of the fun.

But we can mostly agree that pain in most forms and at most times is a predominantly negative experience. Hurt someone long enough or hard enough and they won’t even be the same person afterward. It’s a big deal.

My go-to defense when my wife was upset with me in our marriage was to say I didn’t do it on purpose (which was true). To me, it felt unfair for her to be mad about whatever the thing was. Or at least AS mad as she sometimes was.

Inflicting damage intentionally is a universally frowned-upon thing. When your actions result in harm to other people or their property, the penalties in the criminal justice system (presumably everywhere, but certainly in all developed nations) are most severe when the damage was intentional.

Accidents are sometimes punishable as well, but usually with softer penalties. They’re often labeled “negligent,” or “reckless.”

Whenever my wife was mad and I thought she was charging me with murder when my crime was actually driving too fast in a construction zone, I’d get defensive and pivot the conversation to her lack of justice instead of the thing about which she was upset.

My marriage fights mostly consisted of me attempting to invalidate my wife’s complaints under the basic premise that I considered them petty or unworthy. I treated her arguments as illogical. And because, in my mind, her arguments lacked logic and reason, I categorized them as WRONG.

I was right. She was wrong. And since I believed that, she was the real rabble-rouser in the marriage and nothing was ever my fault.

I was either accidentally (and I do mean accidentally) a master manipulator OR an intolerably oblivious moron, depending on how well a given observer understood relationship dynamics as we discuss them here. Since both my ex-wife and I are socially competent, we didn’t have many disagreements in front of others. There were some, but I don’t remember ever being pulled aside so someone could point out my (or my wife’s, if applicable) douchebaggery.

That’s probably because their relationship arguments looked exactly the same.

I was months into divorce before the truth found me:

  • This is what most marriages and relationships look like. Most couples have the same, predictable fights and outcomes.
  • Holy shit. I WAS hurting her worse than if she’d been smacked in the face. (We all get outraged when people physically strike others, but no one gets outraged by emotional neglect, which actually hurts much worse. Why?)
  • I never knew my actions were literally causing pain because I didn’t believe her when she told me. Did I think she was lying? No. I guess I simply thought she was wrong.
  • The intense pain from divorce was my first real taste of emotional pain. I’m not talking about how we feel when the girl at school doesn’t like us back, or even when our parents get divorced when we’re little. I’m talking about BREAKING on the inside.
  • That experience gave me the ability—for the first time in my life—to consciously empathize with others. While I was struggling to perform basic life tasks, only two things helped—family and friends who knew me BEFORE I was married because we had a pre-existing relationship to fall back on, and other people who had gone through divorce. I used to say “they just get it.” That’s true. But what they were actually doing was EMPATHIZING, which is my new favorite life skill and one I consider to be No. 1 on our Things We Need to Succeed at Marriage lists.

When two sober, healthy and seemingly functional adults love one another and promise each other they will continue to do so every day forever, it seems reasonable to expect that to work more than half the time.

But it doesn’t. Half the time it’s Hindenburg dot com. (That’s code for: crashes and burns.)

I can’t overstate how powerful the moment was when the puzzle pieces came together and I finally understood WHY. My Ah-Ha Moment. Our day-to-day existence is so much easier when we live unaware of danger. There’s nothing to fear or stress over, so you just derpy-derp around all the time, and it feels good. Hakuna-ma-dipshit-tata.

But living life unaware can result in everything you know and love going away, including your very sense of self (the YOU that you’ve known and recognized every second of your life dies). And that’s dangerous. I think marriage is important. I think children growing up with both of their parents together and showing them by example how to love effectively is important. And I think MOST divorce is needlessly wasteful because most don’t learn enough to have any more success in their next relationship than the one they think they’re escaping.

When I had my Ah-Ha Moment, I felt like I possessed the secret to life. This stuff is important. Damn near everyone on Earth, regardless of how they think about it, and independent of romance and intimacy, have interpersonal relationships, the quality of which will determine how good or bad life feels every day.

It’s not like it’s hiding or anything. These ideas SHOULDN’T be a secret. All the fish are swimming in water every second of their existence too, but they don’t know what water is.

It appears most people are born, grow up without the information they need to have healthy, functioning relationships, get married with a bunch of people patting them on the back and congratulating them, bring CHILDREN into their flimsy world, and then even though everyone is pretty good and pretty smart, it all breaks and turns to shit.

And why? Because we were unaware. We just—didn’t know better.

But when we’re in it—fighting with our spouses and feeling betrayed because they don’t seem to be loving us as they promised to on our wedding day—we sometimes feel like they’re deliberately causing us harm. And that hurts more than the thing they’re doing. That feeling that they would WANT to hurt us. That’s what hurts the most.

How to KNOW Whether Your Spouse is Hurting You on Purpose

You ask them.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m totally serious. ASK THEM. Effectively.

We rarely ask ourselves or others the right questions.

What are the right questions?

The right questions challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative.

better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

“She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

“That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

‘What Question Should I Ask?’

Great question! I think it has a simple answer.

“Do you know why I am upset with you?”

Or.

“When you think back to [insert personal experience] and how that hurt you—on the inside—do you understand that I feel similarly right now?”

Or. (A more cooperative exercise.)

“In an effort to try to understand you and not fight about this, I want to try to make your argument for you. I want to accurately state what you think and feel, and why you think and feel that way so that you know I understand you. I was hoping you would agree to do the same for me. Will you?”

The point of this entire post is this: Until your husband, boyfriend, wife or girlfriend, demonstrates beyond doubt they can accurately articulate your point of view, you can safely conclude that THEY DON’T KNOW HOW YOU REALLY FEEL.

I don’t think the significance of that can be overstated.

I don’t think any of us sensitive to the other side of divorce could sleep at night if we had a true picture of the amount of broken homes, broken families, broken people, broken children, broken spirits that have resulted from this one little notion…

Two people didn’t actually know how the other felt.

What if all the pain and dysfunction is just one, big misunderstanding?

What if looking at the world through the curious eyes of children can save our adult selves?

What if something simple and ironic like asking the right question is the answer we’ve been looking for all along?

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That Probably Doesn’t Matter

caveman fire

Do you have ANY idea how much better life got once the cave folk discovered fire? (Image/en.paperblog.com)

“What probably doesn’t matter?”

Most things. Most things don’t matter.

Whatever has you stressed. Whatever you’re doing instead of playing with your children. Whatever you’re doing instead of the things that make you feel joy. Whatever you read in the news that pissed you off this morning. Most of the things you thought about, and most of the things you said, and most of the things you did today. (Not all! Just, most.) None of that shit matters.

Here’s a thought experiment most of us have probably done before: (Don’t cheat. Do it. Yes, especially you.) Imagine an asteroid of the world-ending variety is barreling toward Earth, and that you’re NOT the kind of asshole who is going to loot stores for flat-screen televisions and diamond rings. It doesn’t matter when impact is. Tomorrow. Three months. Take your pick. The experiment works either way.

Now, even though you should write this stuff down and look at it every day for the rest of your life and live accordingly, I know you won’t because you’re too busy like me worrying about things which don’t actually matter. So, instead, just think really hard and try to remember it later when you’re contemplating replacing your family room TV with something bigger and more high-definitiony. “OMG, my 50-inch 4KTV is soooo grainy and shitty compared to Randy’s new 60-inch 4KTV!!! Watching ‘Force Awakens’ on Blu-ray isn’t even fun anymore!!!”

You, everyone you know, and every stranger you meet has a fast-approaching death sentence.

Who do you want to be, and who do you want to be with?

What are the things you want to say to people you know and love?

What do you want to experience, and why?

In a non-apocalyptic, real-life scenario, what’s stopping you from doing those things right now? Okay, back to We’re All Gonna Die…

Are you still pissed about that thing you saw on Facebook?

Are you still stressed about whatever you’re stressed about?

Are you still hung up on politics, your favorite sports team, that argument you had over the weekend, or work “problems”?

If you’re dead next month or next week or tomorrow? Those were rhetorical.

Maybe we can make better choices.

OMG, Let’s All Freak Out About [Insert Stupid Thing Here]!!!

Last week, the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer was released, and it was pretty awesome but that’s subjective and not why I mention it.

I mention it because it only took humanity via the internet about an hour to try to ruin it for everyone.

“OMG!!! ANOTHER female lead?!?! WTF, Star Wars?!?! Are we ever going to see another male lead?!?!”

No, Guy Who Is Super-Mad About a Second-Consecutive Female Lead in a Star Wars Movie. Every Star Wars film from now until the end of time will have a female lead, you know, except for the Han Solo and Boba Fett projects which have already been confirmed. Settle down, shit eaters.

Some people got worked up because the writers included a martial arts expert in the story and had the audacity to cast an Asian man for the role.

One guy on Twitter counted the number of male and female actors appearing in the ‘Rogue One’ trailer, categorized them by race, reported the numbers, and used them as evidence Disney is secretly racist and sexist.

I wonder how many of those people would give a crap about racial quotas, and how many actual racists would measure people by skin color if that asteroid was showing up tomorrow.

Sometimes, people care about stupid things

I did something important for me and my son Saturday on a one-night Cub Scouts camping trip.

There was a decent-sized group of parents and kids staying at the campgrounds. We rented two cabins. One with a kitchen with all necessary appliances, running water, central heating, two bathrooms, and located right next to a parking lot; and one thin-walled wooden ice box with visible gaps under all the doors, large bugs crawling around, super-uncomfortable cots, one fireplace for heat, and some rickety open-air outhouse toilets at least a football field away that—even in a biological emergency of epic proportions—were so uninviting that I would have chosen death by dysentery before using them.

My son and I drew the short straws and were asked to stay in the Haitian shanty while 90 percent of the Scouts and parents were staying in the well-heated Bellagio. In total, four dads and five sons were asked to stay in the rustic cabin.

The overnight temperatures were in the low teens. Very, very cold.

Because of a no-show, two beds became available in the Bellagio cabin late in the evening. The head Scout guy asked whether I’d like to stay there with my young son, and even though I secretly wanted to say yes, I did the right thing by declining.

“I have electricity and climate-controlled air every day of my life. We need this,” I said, truthfully.

My son, who has never known life without the mobile web and unlimited on-demand video content, was forced to entertain himself by laughing with his friend in the neighboring bunk, making faces at each other in the glow of the fire.

I slept next to a three-inch-thick non-insulated wooden wall, purposefully avoiding the bottled water on the window sill next to me because there was no simple way to biologically purge it. I can’t overstate how cold, wet, muddy and all-around uncomfortable it was outside where wild turkeys and deer kept their distance from the howling coyotes.

When you don’t want to drink water (which many in the world don’t even have easy access to) because “using the restroom” is more trouble than it’s worth, and you feel cold in your bones when not under several blankets even though you’re well-dressed for the conditions, your brain starts working better.

Functioning thermostats are neat. Insulation is neat. Running water is neat. Appliances are neat. My bed is neat. The ability to go to the restroom whenever and without stepping outside is neat. Kitchens are neat. Pavement is neat. Overhead lighting is neat.

You get the idea.

Perspective. A change in focus. Like we’d all have if that killer asteroid was heading this way.

Wives: ‘How Can I Be a Better Spouse?’

Relativism is a funny thing.

For wives married to shitty husbands, I stand with them in their intolerance of hearing bullshit comparisons in defense of lousy spousal behavior. “I don’t cheat on you like Rodney does on Kathy!” or “At least I’m not drunk every night like Gary!” or “At least I provide this nice house for you to live in unlike Trailer Park Bob!” as if those things somehow magically offset shitty husbandry.

Guys, just because you know other guys who score F grades on the “Am I a Good Husband?” Test does NOT make your D+ or C- something to brag about.

But on the other hand, a wife using relativism as a tool to achieve perspective? Might that be useful? I think so. I think seeking out the good in people and situations is the surest way to avoid feeling miserable all the time, which is really important to avoid.

Wives ask me all the time via comments and email: “But what about ME?! I can be a shitty wife, too, sometimes. What more can I do?”

Some people really are married to shitheads. I know this.

But, sometimes? They’re married to pretty great guys and have spent years ignoring many of the good things about them, choosing instead to focus on the “bad things,” or on everything that’s missing.

Sometimes, wives are so pissed that Netflix is buffering in the middle of their show, they forget to remember and be grateful that they’re watching high-definition video on-demand for $8 a month on a kick-ass TV made possible by the technological miracle of readily available internet access and electricity.

As comedian Louis CK famously said: “Everything’s amazing and no one is happy.”

God knows I’m not asking wives to just grin and bear it if they’re dealing with abuse or neglect. But everyone needs to accept more responsibility for their lives and how we feel about ourselves, and that, by definition, includes married women.

Look around and see how others live. Recognize things about their lives you’re happy you don’t have to deal with. Feel good about those things.

Look around at what you have. Recognize that MOST of it consists of things most people around the world don’t have but wish they did.

Even the aforementioned Trailer Park Bob lives like a king compared to millions.

This isn’t just a wife thing.

EVERYONE needs to work harder at gratitude.

EVERYONE needs to work harder at recognizing that how we feel about almost everything is based less on each thing’s individual merit, and more on how it compares to something similar, or our preconceived expectations.

I’m 37, and I’ve already heard four generations lament the loss of the “good old days.” About how something from our particular childhood was somehow infinitely better than every other generation’s childhoods in human history.

It’s because we’re ego-centric, selfish, ignorant, lack humility and always forget to ask the right questions. You know… relatively speaking.

But I don’t think we have to be that way.

Because if the asteroid was coming, we wouldn’t be.

And since none of us are getting out of this alive, you might say that it kind of is.

 

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The Scary Truth About Marriage and Divorce

married couple arguing

(Image/The Huffington Post)

It wasn’t hard to spot the guys barreling toward divorce.

The message was camouflaged in symbolism, so it makes sense to me that the point was lost on all the cretins. Most critical responses to the “dishes” post were rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what was read.

A bunch of potentially well-meaning people internet-yelled: “OMG!!! She left him over dirty dishes!!! What a control freak!!! Don’t sweat the small stuff!!! LOL!!!”

I’m not disagreeing with them. I just can’t believe real-life human beings with functioning brains read that post and came away with: “Yep. It was literally about dirty dishes, just like the headline said!” But I was taught in my journalism classes to write for an eighth-grade audience, and those responses help explain why.

A bunch of other people internet-yelled that I am a sexist for various reasons: “OMG!!! Put on a dress you man-hater!!! Way to shit on your own gender!!!” or “OMG!!! You said in your post that men are good at stuff!!! As if women can’t do those things too!!!” or “OMG!!! Why does this have to be so gender-specific!? I’m the wife and I’m a slob!!! It goes both ways!!!”

Once I’d reached a certain frustration threshold, the immediate two minutes or so following a new comment like that were moments when being lobotomized or murdered seemed kind of awesome.

The most troubling comments came from married or formerly married men.

“I’m going to divorce my wife for making me read this crap!” or “So what you’re saying is men need to just agree to do whatever our wives want because of their ‘feelings’ no matter how irrational we consider them, and if we don’t, we’re assholes and bad husbands!?” or “Women are NEVER happy. If you start putting the dishes in the sink, then they will just find something else to complain about!”

My Modern-Day Marriage Theory

This is my big-picture and oft-repeated theory on modern-day marriage: Good men can be bad husbands. Good men can accidentally hurt their wives. Husbands and wives slowly, imperceptibly slowly, push each other away one conflict at a time. They, because of uber-complex and misunderstood emotional, psychological, biological, chemical, etc. differences, can both experience the same event, describe it MUCH differently afterward, without either of them being wrong.

Like a dish by the sink.

Maybe the guy sees a dish. Nothing more. No big deal!

And maybe his wife sees a blatant act of disrespect consistent with his other house-cleaning habits; and the way he criticizes her taste in music and things she wants them to do together on weekends; and the way he wasn’t there for her after she miscarried two years ago; and the way he’s never assertive in family and household management, leaving all those decisions to her, but shooting down her ideas every time it’s not what he wants to do; the way he expects her to know where one of his shirts is because he hasn’t done a load of laundry in four years, nor said ‘Thank you’ for not having to; or the way the two kids have homework that needs done, and little league games to be shuttled to, and special uniforms and outfits that need washed, and permission slips that need signed, and school lunches that need packed, and doctor appointments that need scheduled, and wedding RSVPs that need sent in, and gifts that need bought for that event, and how he always expects her to do everything just like his mother did for him and his dad growing up.

I believe most marriages end because of husbands who are unable to make that connection.

That something “stupid” and “petty” and “meaningless” like a dish by the sink can produce very painful feelings for his wife.

It doesn’t actually matter what the thing is. The specifics are irrelevant. One thing matters, and it’s the difference between happy marriages and shitty ones, or forever-marriages and divorce.

This: “When [insert thing here] happens, my partner and I feel very differently about it. Sometimes, I never realized it was even a thing to worry about because it seemed so innocuous to me. But now I understand that [thing you inserted] is meaningful to my partner. Because of how much I love and respect them, I am going to pay attention moving forward and demonstrate that love and respect.”

In what was perhaps a misguided attempt to explain the deeper meaning of the “dish by the sink” to male readers who were offended or totally missed the point, I offered the second half of my modern-marriage theory:

I believe that men understanding this dynamic and demonstrating concern for their wives’ emotional health through these tiny acts of love and respect, or by adjusting certain habits at home, will discover that their wives WON’T do many of the things husbands often complain about, like “nagging, bitching, overreacting” etc.

I think the “nagging,” “bitching,” and “overreacting” is a direct result of the emotional pain their wives feel. Because the husbands aren’t affected emotionally by things that their wives are complaining about, many dismiss their feelings and opinions.

There’s a dish by the sink, and she’s pissed.

All he can think is: “Ugh. How can she be so damn petty? I NEVER complain about shit like this, so she shouldn’t either. She’s totally unfair and irrational.”

He doesn’t think his wife’s opinion about the dish is valid, so he dismisses it and never thinks about it again until he repeats the same process the next time his wife nags him about some “meaningless” thing.

Some of these guys are assholes. I promise I know that. But I don’t believe most are. I think these are mostly good guys who literally don’t realize they are inflicting emotional damage on their wives. They are simply sticking up for themselves in a way that makes sense to them, and waiting in vain for the day when their wives realize “the little things” aren’t worth fighting over.

They miss the entire point.

Just like they did with the “dishes” post.

Just like I did in my failed marriage.

The little things ARE the big things.

Because of all of this, I believe men in a lot of ways are in position to fundamentally change the culture of marriage. I think if men entered marriage with a demonstrable mental grasp of this “dish” conversation, the relationships would never deteriorate to the point where “the little things” piled up into love, sex and marriage killers like they do now.

But What About the Guys That Are Good at Marriage?

That question blew my mind.

My parents divorced. One of the second marriages ended in divorce. My marriage ended in divorce.

I don’t know what good marriage actually looks like. Which is why I reverse-engineer it. I know what bad marriage looks like. Combine that with reading more personal marriage and divorce stories in my email and blog comments than most counselors and therapists will hear in a lifetime, and—right or wrong—I feel like I have a high-level understanding of how all this goes down.

That’s why I was thrown by one husband’s perfectly fair question: “What if I do all of that shit, and she STILL sucks?”

It made me stop and think. I can’t prove that guy is, objectively speaking, a good husband. But I’m a huge believer in math. Statistically speaking, there are some really great husbands out there. And some percentage of the time, they are probably married to monumentally shitty wives.

Let’s deal with some scary truths.

Every person who has been betrayed first trusted someone they shouldn’t have trusted.

We all have inconvenient thoughts and desires we bury way down deep and never talk about. (I don’t mean criminally deviant stuff, even though that is presumably true for some people. The thoughts don’t have to be “dark” necessarily. They can just be a common and naturally occurring sexual fantasy that everyone has, but since you’re married it’s a little bit inconvenient and a lot wrong. I know you get it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.)

We’re all pretty selfish when our self-preservation instincts kick in, or even in everyday occurrences when the innocent actions of another negatively impact something we want to be doing.

We don’t know what goes on inside the hearts and minds of other people, including those closest to us, unless they share it.

However.

At some point, we have to leave people to take responsibility for their lives and hope they’re being honest with themselves and others about it. It’s mostly out of our hands.

We should all have clearly communicated boundaries. Boundaries that are fair and reasonable and mutually agreed upon with those we have relationships with.

We should all enforce those boundaries with fair-mindedness and forgiving hearts.

Thus, we should all be able to recognize the Point of No Return.

When the line has been crossed one too many times, we should know it. Divorce shouldn’t be a cowardly escape for fear of self-sacrifice or an unwillingness to compromise. It should be in response to a clear and blatant and intolerable violation of marriage vows and those clearly communicated boundaries.

We all have those moments in life when we’re lying in bed in silent darkness, or driving to work, or standing in the shower. Where we are in some way face-to-face with the Real Us that no one else has access to.

I have no way of knowing this, but I believe it is in these moments that we discover who we really are. I believe we all KNOW whether what we’re doing is good or bad. Whether what we’re doing is right or wrong.

“What if I do all that shit, and she STILL sucks?”

We’re often afraid to take responsibility for life’s biggest and scariest choices. But—face it—there’s only one person who can answer that.

…..

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