Tag Archives: Emotion

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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How to Avoid Spit in Your Food and Get Your Spouse to Work on Your Marriage

Always Be Kinder Than You Feel

(Image/notonthehighstreet.com)

I lose control sometimes.

I don’t know whether I’m in the minority, or whether most other people lose it, too. I don’t go off the deep end into full-fledged insanity. I can prove it by showing you all of the non-murder and non-arson I committed following my separation and divorce.

I do feel emotional swings that probably register on the upper-end of the Emoswingomometer I just invented, but I have no way of knowing how other people experience their feelings.

Sometimes I yell at my son. He’s 7 and my favorite thing on Earth. And, even though I know raising my voice doesn’t help him learn lessons, and almost certainly contributes to unhealthy emotional responses, I still do it when I’m super-stressed and he does something that’s really, just, seven. There tends to be something really messy or broken to clean up afterward.

I say and think this a lot: Will this matter in five years? No? Then how much does it REALLY matter now? It’s a way for me to deal with anxiety or simply to keep life in perspective because everyone has their own hourglass, and their story ends when that last bit of sand falls from the Life bulb to the Death bulb, and we tend to not know when that will happen. We always assume it’s some future day so far away that it doesn’t matter, so we just live life taking it for granted. Even the most grateful person in the world probably takes being alive for granted—what?—98-ish percent of every day?

And that’s good. We shouldn’t be obsessed with death and freaking out all the time. But I do believe in being mindful of the perfect amount of death.

One of my favorite writers reads New York Times obituaries every morning in order to be mindful of the opportunity he has been given to be alive. He does it to maintain gratitude and as motivation to not squander it. Another of my favorite writers sometimes walks around imagining that everyone he sees is going to die soon as a reminder to treat them with kindness.

Morbid? A little. Foolish? No way.

What if we treated everyone we encounter as if they were going to die tomorrow?

But I Forget

I forget every day to do all of the things I’m supposed to. It’s either because I haven’t formed good habits, or because it’s impossible.

Sometimes I say really mean things to the driver of the car in front of me because they’re driving the speed limit. They’re literally doing ZERO WRONG THINGS and I call them some creative combination of the worst words I know because I’m in a hurry for something that probably doesn’t matter.

Will this matter in five years? Will this matter next week? Will this matter in an hour?

I need to get a grip. But it’s hard. I know it’s hard for other people, too. Sometimes people lose their shit and murder their entire family, and then shoot themselves, which seems like an extreme reaction to every possible thing imaginable.

I’m not going to beat myself up about it. The smartest psychologists in the world can’t agree on what REALLY happens to our biochemistry regarding emotional reactivity.

Sometimes, I even self-sabotage a little bit, like when my mom would ask me how much I’d like being grounded for a week, and I’d respond with something like: “Probably not as much as I’d like two!”

And then I’d be grounded for two weeks like an asshole who deserved it.

It feels good, though, right? To scratch that Fuck You itch once in a while?

My favorite exchange in the movie Good Will Hunting goes like this:

Will (Matt Damon’s character) is attending therapy sessions with Sean (Robin Williams’ character). Will is telling Sean about how his alcoholic foster father used to come home drunk looking to beat on his wife and kids.

Will: “He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, ‘Choose.’”

Sean: “Well, I gotta go with the belt there.”

Will: “I used to go with the wrench.”

Sean: “Why?”

Will: “Because fuck him. That’s why.”

Whether we’re mad at a co-worker, our children, a business we believe screwed us, or our romantic partners—I think once in a while, all of us choose the wrench.

The Thing About Being Nice

Sometimes, I’m an asshole.

But. And this isn’t fair for me to say because I can’t substantiate it, but I really do believe it: I’m mostly—like, very mostly—NOT an asshole.

I care about things. I care about people. It seems like many people go through life completely unconcerned with how their actions affect others. You see it every day. Maybe you’re even the person accidentally doing it. I am sometimes.

I wanted to tell you about choosing the wrench and about me sometimes being a dick because, A. It’s true, but also B. I was hoping it would allow me a little leeway to also talk about me being nice without you thinking I was a totally hypocritical, holier-than-thou douchebag.

I think being nice is important. I think not being nice causes a high percentage of life’s problems, and exacerbates them close to 100-percent of the time.

Words Matter. Choose Wisely

Actions speak louder than words. What we do matters more than what we say. Kindness lives in our deeds, not our platitudes.

It’s why someone can punch his friend in the arm yelling: “You are the biggest dickhead I know!” and it’s fun and hilarious because of context, facial expression, and tone of voice; but the EXACT same thing can happen with it being the opposite of fun and hilarious.

But words matter, too. What we say, and HOW we say it.

Every conversation is a transaction. What do you want to accomplish?

When the restaurant server or kitchen messes up your order, what is it that you really want to happen next?

The waiter or waitress almost certainly didn’t intentionally bring you the wrong food. A member of the kitchen staff almost certainly didn’t read the order ticket and think: “I know!  Let’s give this person the wrong meal, so that maybe they’ll get mad, want free stuff, yell at us, complain about us on Facebook, and force us to throw food away.”

If the restaurant is conspiring against you, you should stop eating there and choose a different dining location. I think it makes sense to get mad at the front-of-the-house workers or kitchen staff if you can prove they brought you the wrong thing on purpose.

But restaurants only conspire against you when you’re an unreasonable prick.

So, they brought you the wrong thing and now you have choices:

  1. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being nice.
  2. Try to get the meal you ordered and actually want by being shitty.
  3. Verbally abuse the server or restaurant manager because someone made an honest mistake, and you don’t care what happens with your food.

This is just one guy’s opinion, but if you verbally abuse people for one mistake when it’s illogical to believe they were trying hurt you, you’re a huge asshole. You are my least-favorite kind of person. You spend your life purposefully causing conflict and stress and making life harder and shittier for everyone around you. I try hard to figure out what motivates people to do things. It’s always helpful to understand what drives people. Sometimes when you figure it out, it makes sense, and you learn how to see things from a more balanced perspective, and then grow as a person. Sometimes people, with regularity, verbally abuse others when things don’t go their way. I understand that they have some kind of unmet psychological need to lash out. But to the rest of the world, it is merely being shitty for shittiness’ sake. It borders on inexcusable.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, but you want to be a dick about it in an effort to let them know you mean business, I submit you’re making a poor choice.

“Excuse me, waiter. I know you have the hardest job in the world and everything, but I clearly said I wanted this steak well-done. You see that? Does that look well-done to you?”

“I’m really sorry about that, sir. We’ll get that taken care of right away.”

“I’ve got an idea. Don’t be sorry. Just listen to what people are saying to you, so that maybe you can get a real adult job someday. Also, when you’re finished not screwing up my order, maybe you could bring us another round of drinks.”

That’s kind of a ridiculous example, but you get it. More often than not, people who witness it will think less of you, you’ll feel worse about yourself, and someone in the kitchen will spit in your food or “accidentally” drop it on the floor and laugh about it. And it’s a little bit hard to feel sorry for you because you were shitty.

If you want to get the meal you ordered, respect yourself, earn the respect of others, and become one of the staff’s favorite people who they want to do favors for, give free drinks to, and try hard to deliver your meal fast and spit-free, you should be nice. Smiling helps.

“Hey. I know you’re incredibly busy and have too many things to do, and I’m sorry to ask you this, but I ordered the pork shoulder, and this appears to be a fish of some kind. And, listen, I’m sure the fish is great, but I love that pork dish more than my family. Will you please help?”

“I am really sorry about, sir.”

“I promise I’m not mad at you. I understand that neither you nor the kitchen did it on purpose, and I appreciate your time and help. I probably should have told you about the pork obsession ahead of time.”

“Thank you so much for your patience and understanding. Can I bring you some drinks on the house while you wait?”

Pretty much everyone has experienced a restaurant messing up their order. We had a choice to make about how we were going to handle it.

I can’t figure out what the good reason would be to respond with unpleasant words or tones. EVEN IF you have to fake it because you’re secretly super-pissed, how does speaking and acting confrontationally improve the situation? How does it get you what you want?

This blog’s most frequently-asked-question is: “How do I get my husband to read these letters?”

Having never met any of these people, it’s really hard to answer that. I’m sure some of those guys are awesome and willing to make their wives feel secure and loved in their marriages. I’m sure there are others who are not.

In either case, how can “Ask him very nicely” not be the best answer?

“Hey Manfred. (Because all of them are obviously married to guys named Manfred.) I have a favor to ask you, but I want to explain a little bit. First of all, I love you. I love you and appreciate you for all that you do for me and for all the good things that you are.

“Secondly, I want to apologize to you. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done that might have made you feel unappreciated, or as if I was pushing you away. Because this favor I’m going to ask you might come off like I think you’re some horrible person, and like I think I’m perfect and amazing. Which of course isn’t true. I also want to apologize for not talking about this with you before. I just didn’t know how to bring it up.

“But listen, this is really important to me. This is our lives. We are not like we used to be. And I know it’s easy to shrug our shoulders and think this is just what happens to all married couples. All around us, people are falling apart because they ignore these changes. It seems like no one sees the end coming. It can’t happen to us, Manfred.

“Sometimes you hurt me. Badly. Sometimes I tell you about it, and we have a fight, and afterward I usually hurt more. But many times—and maybe you do this, too—I don’t say anything because I don’t want to fight with you, but then it just keeps hurting.

“I don’t believe you would ever intentionally hurt me. So it’s my job to help you understand what causes the pain, and up until now, I’ve failed to do that. You don’t hurt me on purpose, so some of this is on me.

“I read something that made sense to me. I don’t want to be like: ‘Hey, read this thing on the internet and then feel bad about it because you’re treating me like crap!’ I’m begging you to not take it that way. What I hope you will do is read this stuff in an attempt to understand why I sometimes get upset and you can’t figure out why. I know it’s frustrating for you when that happens.

“Please read this for me, and when you’re ready, we can talk about it, because I want to be married to you until we’re the oldest, gnarliest couple in the world.”

Again. Every conversation is a transaction. What is it that you really want to accomplish?

There’s a time for choosing the wrench.

And the other 99-plus percent of the time, there’s a time to be nice.

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The Third Post-Divorce Valentine’s Day

Wilted rose sad on valentine's day

I didn’t want to write about Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t thinking about it at all. But it turns out, THAT is the entire point. (Image/freepromotoday.com)

My phone buzzed.

The text read: “I’m telling you now, so we don’t have to have a guilt-ridden conversation later. Today is my bday. Holla! And I am expecting a good V-day post in honor of it.”

“Happy birthday! A V-day post!? What would I possibly write about?”

“I don’t know! About being single on Valentine’s Day?… Unlessss… Wait, do you have another secret girl?!”

(For clarification, said “secret girl” was someone I went out with a few times, and it represented the first time post-divorce that I believed something serious might be happening. It wasn’t.)

“I do not. But I also don’t feel loneliness anymore,” I said.

“Well then. Isn’t that a post?” she said.

“Is it?”

“Isn’t it?!”

“Seems self-indulgent.”

“How could it be self-indulgent when… so many people follow you with the HOPE of one day, being on the other side?! Those ‘I’m not feeling loneliness anymore’ posts are very important to your story. I think.”

Maybe she’s right.

Here’s the thing: I can’t remember me three years ago. I remember wanting to die. But recreating traumatic emotion is, thankfully, not a skill I possess.

I won’t pretend to know what other people feel at the end of their marriage. It was all, just, very bad at my house. I spent 18 months in the guest room. That’s, what? About 540 consecutive mornings of waking up and realizing your life is shitty and your wife doesn’t want you? That takes a toll.

I tried to stay hopeful.

On that final Valentine’s Day, I got her a card. The one I received came from our son, but not her. The depths of my denial were apparently limitless.

April 1, 2013 was the last time I shared an address with another adult.

Loneliness is a State of Mind

I freaked out.

I can’t explain the depths of the pain, fear, sadness, grief and anger I felt. I had no idea simply being alive could feel like that. You either know what I’m talking about, or you’re very fortunate.

In the early days, I was with friends constantly. If I wasn’t home with my son, I was out having drinks. I stayed busy and surrounded by others because spending too much time in my empty house taught me how loud silence can be.

Friends and family were checking in constantly. I have never known lonely like I did then.

Lonely isn’t the same thing as isolated.

You can be standing in the middle of a bustling New York City sidewalk and feel lonely.

And you can be sitting alone on a lakeside picnic table soaking in a gorgeous sunny day with no one in sight and be the furthest thing from it.

We can’t cure loneliness simply by surrounding ourselves with others.

It has to be the right others. But broken insides don’t heal from the outside in. The healing has to start from the inside. And we don’t have much control over how long it takes.

When you first get divorced following 34 straight years of pretty much always being with someone in public, you feel like the biggest loser imaginable when the restaurant hostess asks whether anyone will be joining you.

“Nope. Just me,” I’d say, and then imagine what she must think about me since she probably thought I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to join me.

I’d sit there on my phone, or with a pen and notebook, and I’d meet the eyes of other diners, all of whom had at least one person sitting with them. I felt like every one of them was sending me pity vibes each time we made eye contact.

I irrationally believed everyone who saw me could tell my wife had moved out and thought I was pathetic, when the truth is they likely didn’t give me a second thought.

When you spend 540 straight nights in a guest room, then your wife leaves you and seems a million-percent happier about it than you, really bad things happen to your mental and emotional make-up.

I wrote honest stories here about how it felt. About how afraid I was of everything. A bunch of tough guys read some of it and internet-yelled: “Be a man, pussy!!!”

But, they can all suck it.

I wasn’t broken because I was weak. I was broken because human resiliency is a finite resource, and I’d just been through some shit.

When all you have ever known is companionship and connection, being alone and feeling the disconnection of divorce and celibacy and your child being gone half the time is the recipe for profound loneliness.

And that’s what I felt. Every time I saw an old married couple. Every time I saw any couple. Every time I saw big groups of friends laughing and having a good time. Every time I returned home from a fun weekend away. Every time I walked in the door to my quiet, empty house. Every time I woke up in the morning and realized I was the oldest I’ve ever been AND that my life was worse than it has ever been.

That’s a pretty bleak and brutal realization.

The Giant Ever-Spinning Globe

It’s not something you earn.

It just happens.

You just… feel better.

You have a million questions following a painful divorce, but I think the one you care about the most is: When will I feel like myself again?

Everyone and their individual situations are different. Maybe it’s easier for people to move on when they don’t have children and don’t have to see and speak to their ex constantly. Maybe people who have been through traumatic life events prior to divorce don’t think it’s as bad as the rest of us do. Maybe some people brush off divorce easily because of their emotional wiring in the same way some people can roll their tongues while others can’t.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. That day, and many that followed, are tied for the worst day of my life.

A year later, it was still hard.

Two years later, it was much less so.

Three years later? I spent two hours yesterday morning with my ex-wife and her new significant other, and there were zero ill-effects. He’s a good guy. We have history. And I count my blessings every day that he is in my son’s life instead of an unknown entity or someone who sucks.

You don’t “earn” healing. There isn’t a “best way” to heal in order to speed up the process. If you hurt, you just hurt. And it doesn’t stop until it stops.

There are no shortcuts. Just masks. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. People use them to numb the pain. To escape.

The only escape is the other side. The only way is through it.

The Earth spins around every 24 hours. It fully orbits the sun every 365.25 days.

And here on the ground a million imperceptible things are happening inside our hearts and souls. We watch the sun rise and set. We watch the clocks tick off the minutes. We flip the pages on our calendars.

And then we wake up, and it’s tomorrow even though it felt like it was never going to get here.

The days are dark at first. We feel out of control. We sometimes question whether waking up tomorrow is even worth it.

But early in the process, I thought of something important. It’s true, and it has stuck with me, and I will never stop saying it:

Someday, the best day of our life is going to arrive. The best thing that will ever happen to us, will happen, or at least something awesome that makes every day after more inspiring and life-giving.

Someday, we will be presented with a new opportunity or we will meet someone who will maybe become the most important person in our lives.

Since looking forward to awesome things is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I always figure: Why not start now?

Something good and beautiful is out there waiting to randomly bump into us in the future. Look forward to it. Choose hope.

And when that day arrives, we get to connect all the dots. We get to see how everything needed to happen exactly as it did. We get to have this beautiful and important thing in our lives and we get to know that all of the shit we crawled through was worth it because it was the only path to now.

I used to say it even when I didn’t feel it: Everything is going to be okay.

It’s three years later, guys. And everything is okay.

Today just might be the day the best thing that ever happens to me, happens.

And if it doesn’t?

I like having things to look forward to.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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‘My Wife is Irrational, Therefore She’s Wrong’

light bulb in sunset

(Image/freewhd.com)

I know it’s hard, guys.

I’ll never be confused for a genius or scholar, but I’m reasonably bright in a Get B+ and A- Grades Without Trying kind-of way. And I made all of the same arguments you’re making. I repeated them until I was blue in the face, sometimes in my best dickhead voice while my wife and I volleyed shots at each other in another fight in which no winner would emerge.

I agreed with you so much that I unknowingly bet my entire family on it. And lost.

Maybe some of you guys are really tough and stoic. Maybe when bad things happen to you, you brush it off like it’s no big deal and move on gracefully.

That’s not how it went for me.

I could barely breathe when my wife and little son weren’t home anymore. This isn’t some “evil monster entitled man-hating feminist” I’m talking about, raging uncontrollably over petty things like dirty dishes. This was my wife. We met at 19. We were married nine years, many of which seemed and felt good. This was someone who very much wanted to stay married. And she reached a breaking point. All humans have them.

I cried. I vomited. After more than 30 years of mostly feeling what I can only describe as normal or very good, I experienced what it means to break on the inside. I don’t know how far away rock bottom was, but it couldn’t have been far.

That experience taught me why people commit suicide. Sometimes, it hurts so much that dying and shutting it off permanently feels less scary than the possibility of feeling that bad forever. I’ve said it a bunch of times: I didn’t want to die. But for a little while there, after a predominantly semi-charmed life, I didn’t really care if I did.

All around me, life went on. The sun kept rising and setting. My friends tried to care, but only people who have been through divorce really understand. People told jokes. Others laughed. People were happy. But I was miserable, no matter how positive of an attitude I tried to keep. I felt like dying every day for months.

THAT is when I learned the lesson so many men complaining about my “dishes” post have not learned: Two people can experience the same thing at the same time, but feel very differently without either of them being wrong.

Maybe all those times I acted like my wife’s post-partum depression was a figment of her imagination since I didn’t get it, were poor, ignorant and insensitive choices.

Are Our Complaining Wives ‘Irrational’?

That’s what John said after reading She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink, a headline that accidentally hookwinked hundreds of thousands of readers.

He called it “irrational” for a wife to be upset about a dish by the sink.

Here’s the common male thought process: Because it’s “irrational” for her to feel that way, a husband is not obligated to cooperate on the matter. After all, “irrational” is not so different than “wrong.”

My wife is wrong. I am right. End of discussion, bitch!

It doesn’t even seem crazy to me because that’s exactly how I felt in those frustrating marriage fights, and I’m reasonably smart. This isn’t something that had ever come up in life until my girlfriend and future-wife started upsetting me with all of her “irrational”ness.

If we fought long enough, she would just cry, at which time I thought she was unstable, but had an easier time speaking with her then because Sad is so much easier to deal with than Angry.

In John’s current form, he has no chance of ever finding common ground with a wife or girlfriend. Because any time he considers her opinions or emotions “irrational,” he will simply dismiss them as inconsequential. Once his little argument is over, he’ll never think about it again.

And maybe he doesn’t care.

Maybe single guys don’t care because they don’t want to be married anyway. I’m cool with that.

What I’m not cool with are the guys suggesting their “rational” opinion that a glass left by the sink—innocently and with ZERO malice—shouldn’t be dismissed or deemed less important than their wives’ “irrational” emotional response to it. I’m not cool with people who want to marry or want to stay married doing things I know to be toxic in relationships.

Rational Emotion: Is There Such a Thing?

Emotions are subjective things. The things that make you happy, sad, angry, horny, afraid, ashamed, confident, inspired, etc. are not the exact same things that make other humans feel those same emotions.

I believe, in very general terms (as we cannot pigeonhole every single human into one narrow silo), that men and women—husbands and wives, in this case—have VERY different emotional responses to things.

It’s why a guy can call his buddy an asshole and laugh about it in a male-bonding capacity, but would likely get a different result if he called his aunt one.

A critical lesson of my divorce: We must allow others to have their own individual human experiences, and accept that they’re real even when they react to something differently than we do, or describe a conflicting feeling.

What that means is, some people can be called an asshole and it’s funny, and some people can be called an asshole and it REALLY upsets them.

One is not rational while the other is irrational. One is not logical while the other is illogical.

It’s simply two separate people experiencing the SAME thing two DIFFERENT ways.

It’s not right or wrong. It just IS.

I used to believe my wife was irrational. Because I believed my wife was irrational, I never took seriously her requests for me to more assertively participate in our marriage on MANY levels—not just dish washing, which I actually did reasonably well.

I predict that any man who doesn’t understand the dish metaphor, OR feels offended and reacts defensively to it as if I believe wives’ or women’s feelings are somehow more important than husbands’ or men’s, also doesn’t participate actively in his marriage.

It likely means that when his wife tells him that something he does or doesn’t do hurts her, he dismisses it as her being “irrational.” And because he does that, she feels abandoned and alone in her marriage. Wives who feel abandoned and alone in their marriages will eventually do one of three things: Have sex with other men, leave their husbands, or both.

Deny that at your peril.

Maybe You Could Just Believe Your Wife

When your wife tells you something hurts her enough to bring it up to you in conversation, knowing it will likely create conflict, you should try to believe her.

If you’re a smart guy (and if you’re still reading this, I KNOW you’re smart, because the mouth-breathers stopped more than a thousand words ago), then you are statistically likely to be married to a smart woman.

I KNOW that it doesn’t make sense to you, when she talks about how something you consider minor and meaningless hurts her. That’s basically why EVERY divorce happens. You’re not strange. You’re just like most guys. You’re just like me—the me before I broke and had to start over again.

And Then the Entire Conversation Changes

I hope I’m safe in assuming no man still reading is the kind of guy who would slam his wife’s head against the kitchen counter, or crack her ribs with a baseball bat, or throw her against a wall and scream what a stupid worthless whore you consider her to be.

I hope that you’re the kind of guy who genuinely values her, and would prefer to stay married because divorce is shitty. I believe you are.

When you think of “hurting” your wife, you might think about physical pain, or how she might feel if she discovered an affair or another betrayal.

You don’t currently equate Another Meaningless Fight! with painfully wounding her. It’s not your fault. Your brain doesn’t naturally connect those dots any more than you’d feel afraid of someone throwing a sponge at you.

That’s why YOU NEED TO BELIEVE HER. You need to step outside your own mind for five seconds, and see the world as it really is: That person over there was hurt by something I did. Even though that same thing would never hurt me, it’s still true that it happened. If I care about that person, I need to make sure I never do that again.

Hundreds of men said it. And five years ago, I would have agreed with them: “Why does it always have to be the man changing for the wife? I’m pretty sure the wife could also show love and respect by just putting the glass in the dishwasher and not complaining about it! I hate that men always get blamed for this stuff even though it takes 50/50 to make it work!”

The answer to that is: You’re NOT changing for her. You’re not going to tell her she’s a crazy, nagging, complaining shrew AND also not help her with things she pleads for help with for the same reason you wouldn’t hit her with a baseball bat.

Because it hurts her. And you NEVER want to intentionally hurt her. And once the truth dawns on you: Holy shit. Now I understand why she gets upset about me throwing my socks on the floor, and that it causes her pain in ways I don’t experience. Then, the light bulb can go off.

Ohhhhhh. Because she has told me this 18,000 times, and I always dismiss her as crazy and tell her that she’s wrong, I can finally understand why it FEELS to her like I’m hurting her intentionally. It all makes sense now.

A lot of men think their wives shouldn’t be allowed to feel hurt by things because that same thing would never hurt them. The man makes the conversation about the thing they disagree on, instead of how bad it makes her feel.

But if they had the conversation they could both agree with—the one about how neither of them want to feel disrespected or see their marriage end in divorce—just maybe something really good could come from all this.

Just maybe, when we give, we get.

Just maybe, when we make the first move and are leaders in our relationships, we are treated well in kind.

Just maybe, marriage doesn’t have to suck at all.

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‘I’ve Ruined My Marriage and My Wife Hates Me’

drowning

Sometimes, there’s no life preserver. Just prayers. Prayers with painful answers.

She liked to shower at night.

The downstairs bathroom, just down the hall from the guest room I was sleeping in, was the one she always used.

Everything was fucked.

I don’t mean, we were having a spat.

I mean, the entire universe was upside down and I couldn’t remember the last time my wife said “I love you” or hugged me like she meant it. Sex? Sleeping in the same bed? Ha. Right.

The celibacy streak was only just beginning, but relative to my life experience up to that point, it had already been forever.

You want to experiment with male psychosis? Go from sexually active to involuntary celibacy. I know women also don’t like sex deprevation, but I’m not sure the psychological effects are the same.

She seemed fine about it. I’m not saying she was. I’m simply saying it was clear she preferred to sleep in separate bedrooms and never touch each other rather than go back to the way it was.

I wasn’t fine. In these moments, you start asking yourself questions you don’t really want to know answers to: Would she rather touch herself than let me touch her? Is she seeing someone?

You go long enough without, combined with the emotional vortex of shit you’re living in, and you literally go a little bit crazy.

I couldn’t take it anymore. My pretty wife was on the other side of that bathroom door in a towel or nothing at all.

I don’t remember what I said or did next, but she agreed! Holy shit! She said yes! My God. Hope.

It had been several months.

Hands. Lips. Tongue. Teeth. I know how this body works, I thought.

Because when I do this, that usually happens, and when I do that, this usually happens.

But none of that happened.

I wanted so badly for it to be like it used to be. That’s how it had gone in my head. The beginning of the Marriage Reset!

I don’t think she was trying to be cruel or intentionally not physically or emotionally responding. In fact, I think she did try.

But you can’t fake it. There are no masks when it’s just two naked and familiar souls. You just know.

For the first time in my life, I couldn’t do it. I was physically incapable of performing. Like the old guys in those commercials. I needed her to want me and like me.

But she didn’t want me. She didn’t like me.

I was emotionally beaten and physically broken at 33 years old.

I rolled over, staring at the ceiling.

She left without saying anything.

A minute or two later, I had my first God’s-honest Will Hunting breakdown.

I sobbed. Convulsed. Couldn’t catch my breath. She could hear me through the floor vents in our upstairs bedroom.

Her pathetic loser husband who wasn’t even good for THAT anymore. Crying like a wimpy bitch.

I never gave up hope for a miracle. But that’s when I knew it was over.

‘I Want to Save It’

Tom wants to save his marriage.

He’s not just saying the right things. It seems clear he means it the same way I meant it once the lightbulb finally clicked on. His heartfelt blog comment and email contain many of the same things I was thinking and feeling three or four years ago when my life was in much the same place his is now.

He was a little bit selfish and oblivious, and then had the epiphany people have when they finally solve a vexing problem. It happens to all of us. That moment something clicks in our brains and we learn something. Most of the time, it’s some mundane little fact or method of doing something. But sometimes it’s Why My Wife is Hurt, and How I am Responsible for Causing It.

It’s life-changing.

Something just clicks and you finally get it.

For me, it was reading How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. It’s a goldmine.

For Tom, it was something else.

And we get excited. Hopeful. We finally understand, babe! Now I know how to be a good husband! I really, truly get it!

All we need is for them to give us a chance.

But all they see is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. They ALREADY trusted their entire lives to us. It was the most sacred vow we’ve ever made, looking them in the eye while we slipped the ring onto her finger.

And then we spent years not following through on those promises.

They told us what was wrong as it was happening. Instead of apologizing, taking steps to fix what’s broken, and making sure it never happens again, we tell them they’re crazy and explain how and why their feelings are wrong.

The person they need to make them feel safe is now the greatest threat to their long-term happiness.

But we’re all smiles and promises again, us guys. And EVEN WHEN WE REALLY ARE DIFFERENT THIS TIME, the gamble doesn’t seem worth it for them.

If they guess wrong this time, they may never recover.

You Can’t Taste the Poison

Routine acts like poison that eventually kills your marriage.

You naturally fall into it. It’s human nature to crave safety and predictability. So we like to do the same things every day when we come home from work, and after dinner, and before bed, and when we wake up in the morning.

I live in a decent little house in a typical-for-Ohio older suburban neighborhood and drive a base model 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

When I first got the house, I felt like a real estate baron. After nearly 10 years living there, I mostly don’t think anything about it at all. It’s where I live.

When I first got the Jeep, I felt like I had the nicest vehicle on the road. It was my first-ever brand-new car. Now, it’s just my car, and I mostly think about how much worse it looks than all the more-expensive Grand Cherokees I see.

Everyone gets it. We take things for granted. We don’t know how not to. Every day, we forget to think about and concentrate on the two or three people or things that really matter most.

It’s only cliché because it’s true: We don’t know how good we have it until we lose something.

So we come home from work and have dinner together and chit-chat about the day. We often don’t say “thank you.” For what? For EVERYTHING. After years together, we don’t even see what our partner does for us. Not the good stuff, anyway. We only see the flaws. Like my kitchen that could use an upgrade or my garage door opener that stopped working.

I don’t feel grateful that I have a kitchen with functioning appliances and enough money to cook excellent meals any time I want. I don’t feel grateful that I have a two-car garage even though it’s the first house I’ve ever lived in as a car owner that had one.

I bet I’d appreciate it if I had to live in a shanty in rural Haiti.

I bet I’d appreciate my Jeep if I had to drive a rusted-out $300 car with a non-functioning heater this winter.

Just like I learned to appreciate how much better my life was—despite all the occasional frustration and bullshit—when my wife and son lived at home.

Sometimes husbands and boyfriends fall into the comfortable routine. We like it. Because outside of birthday parties, surprises are usually bad. This goes on for years. When our wives or girlfriends get upset about something, we all just think it’s a common side effect of marriage and long-term relationships. Mom used to get pissed at dad! This is just what happens!

We don’t ever think we should make changes.

We don’t learn how to empathize until our insides twist up and our hearts break just like our wives’ did months or years earlier.

Holy shit. THIS is what she felt like when I told her she was wrong and to get over it.

I finally understand.

We think she owes us this new opportunity now that we have a better tool kit.

We made vows!

We have kids!

When you’re broken on the inside, none of that shit matters. Self-preservation and a desire to protect our children always win out.

Our wives are dead inside. And we made them that way. But then we expect them to just snap out of it because of our epiphany.

Eagerly, we start changing how we do things.

She’ll like and appreciate this!

But she doesn’t like and appreciate it. It feels like desperation. Like parlor tricks. Like a too-little-too-late effort to convince her not to leave.

We’ve never cared about anything more than this. Our family is and has always been our highest priority. But she couldn’t tell. And we didn’t know that behaving the way we were might jeopardize it. She’s got to see that now!

Arguments still pop up. She’s still sad and angry. She’s not happy about how hard you’re trying now, because she’s still totally broken by the previous 2,000 instances of severe pain and emotional abandonment without so much as an apology or acknowledgment from us that we caused it.

We get defensive and freak out.

“Why can’t you ever let anything go!? Can’t we just concentrate on tomorrow!? Can’t we just start over!?”

We become totally unhinged emotionally.

Our brains are telling us to calm down and speak maturely. We know what we want to do and say. We want to use our patient, loving and understanding tone of voice. But our bodies rebel. We blurt out fighting words, and the instant shame washes over us at failing her and succumbing to pride and defensiveness yet again.

“See?” she thinks. “He’s the same. I knew I couldn’t trust him. That asshole deserves what’s coming.”

Can It Be Saved?

I know what it looks and feels like when your wife dies on the inside.

Tom is coming to terms with it now, too. And what he wants to know is the same thing I wanted to know: Can it be saved? What can I do?

I don’t think our wives hate us. Hate is an actual emotion.

What I think they feel is a total absence of emotion.

Apathy.

Indifference.

In the end, it’s not really a negative emotion they feel toward us.

They feel nothing.

First, I watched my mom leave my stepdad because of this indifference. Then I watched my wife leave with my son for the same reason.

Then I broke a little bit more and couldn’t breathe for months.

Then I freaked out and called a therapy hotline, and the lady told me I should try journaling.

Then I got drunk on vodka and started a blog instead.

Then I started writing about my marital separation and divorce without taking responsibility for any of it.

Then I started writing about those things WHILE taking responsibility for it.

And that’s when everything came together.

People read it and cared, because being a person who feels and is afraid of all the things most of us are too scared to talk about is something almost everyone understands.

Wives started writing me.

A few. Then dozens. Then hundreds.

I’ve read THE EXACT SAME DIVORCE STORY so many times, I could be a legit marriage counselor, I think.

But there are always two things I don’t have an answer for:

How do you get a man to have the epiphany BEFORE everything breaks? And…

Can we bring it back from the dead?

Maybe someone out there can provide more insight. Maybe there are success stories about a totally broken marriage that ended up Happily Ever After.

A unifying Disney movie moment with fireworks and shooting stars during the redemptive kiss.

Or maybe magic. Sorcery.

Or maybe a miracle. God.

But I’ve never seen it happen without a bunch of people getting their hands dirty first. I’ve seen instances of two people finding one another again. But in EVERY case, there were other sexual partners and a whole bunch of healing time in between.

On the other hand, I understand the healing power of knowledge.

Because I think Tom gets it now. I think Tom might get it like I get it.

I think Tom might love like I love.

And in my experience? Love never fails.

And even though I’ve never seen one? I believe in miracles.

And even though I’ve never written one? Some stories have happy endings.

…..

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A Post About Nothing and Everything

(Image/teepublic.com)

(Image/teepublic.com)

I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen. Another one of those I-don’t-know-what-to-write moments.

“What happens if you just took a pass on writing a post for today?” a friend asked.

“I took a pass on writing a post on Wednesday,” I said.

Maybe it’s time to cut back to two days a week. Or maybe something awful needs to happen because I tend to do my best writing when I feel.

It’s not that I don’t feel. Life is just more typical of the human experience I remember having prior to all the shitty things that happened once I turned 30.

Maybe that’s something, though. Sometimes people hurting after divorce want someone to tell them how long it’s going to hurt. That’s what I wanted to know the most back then. When will I be ME again? Ever?

I kind of wanted to die for the first six months, didn’t care whether I died the following six, but noticed improvement. I don’t remember the 18-month mark which means it wasn’t that significant, and I must have felt better.

As we sit today, I am two years and more than four months away from the separation date—the worst day of my life. And I’m totally fine. Things about my life are shittier than when I was married. But some things are better. It’s how you feel when you wake up in the morning that really matters.

The “problems” I wake up thinking about today are a spoonful of sugar compared to the fuckness of divorce. I’m down nearly 20 pounds. I feel pretty good. I’m actively engaged in various business pursuits as I attempt to improve my financial standing.

It’s a very nice change. To not feel wretched all the time.

I’m not saying two years from now, you won’t hurt anymore. Everyone deals with these things differently in their own way and at their own pace. But I think MOST people are MOSTLY the same on the inside. I think you can mark your calendars for the two-year mark as a nice “I’ll totally feel better then!” benchmark. But don’t forget to be grateful each step of the way when you notice the pain fading.

It’s a slow process.

But you notice yourself breathing more easily, smiling more, living more fully, with each passing day.

As I sit here not knowing what to write, I choose gratitude for those things.

Things on my Mind

That’s usually what I try to write about. Whatever’s top of mind.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my career.

No one gives a shit. I’m not going to write about that.

I was interested in, and entertained by, last night’s GOP presidential debate even though I tend to feel mostly disgust for Washington politics (toward both major parties) and am usually politically engaged only during election cycles.

Political conversation is too divisive. Debate and defending myself exhausts me. And I’ve never (not even once) seen someone change their mind while discussing issues with someone with whom they disagreed. I don’t want to write about it.

To that end, I’ve been reflecting on relationships between people from different backgrounds or faiths or political philosophies, and whether it’s sensible for those people to try to make a relationship work.

Not unlike my general belief that couples too far apart in age are often making a poor choice in terms of sustainability, I have strong feelings about other aspects of a couple’s personality makeup as well.

I once spelled out exactly what I’m looking for in a relationship partner. It has been read just 162 times because it’s one of my oldest posts.

I went back and read it to see whether I feel differently today.

I don’t.

I’m not going to write about that because I already have.

So what am I going to write about?

Nothing.

Everything.

This.

I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter.

But I do know it’s good to be back. To recognize myself again. To feel back.

And maybe that’s what this is really about. You tell me.

*PUBLISH*

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A Response to “Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me”

(Image/janrisher.com)

(Image/janrisher.com)

Jamie Varon published a four-minute read that rose to the top story on Medium where I saw it today.

It’s rare to strongly agree and strongly disagree with something at the same time, so I was delighted to stumble on a written piece that did exactly that. It made my “Now what the hell am I going to write about today?” process an easy one.

The following is Ms. Varon’s post supplemented with my occasional interruptions. As always, I’ll totally understand if you don’t care.

Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me (By Jamie Varon/Medium)

I think when people are ultra-positive and have this incomparably sunny disposition toward the world, I get turned off. There’s a lot of stuff out there which attempts to make you feel inspired, but ends up leaving you feeling ashamed for being human. It would be easy for me to say:

“Everything happens for a reason!”

“Life is an adventure!”

“Love solves everything!”

“Happiness is a choice!”

These are easy words to say. Easy things to think. Easy, easy, easy. But, their meanings dry up the moment life happens.

Interruption #1

I think most reasonable people with basic reading-comprehension skills can understand and appreciate what Jamie is saying here. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one, been divorced or through a bad break-up, lost a job, was abused or neglected or mistreated, struggled with addiction, fought horrible illness, etc. totally gets it.

You feel like you die. Your entire body hurts. You think and feel things you’ve never thought or felt before. You don’t know what to believe anymore. You don’t know what’s real. Because everything you’d ever believed or “known” about yourself prior to that moment is gone. Lost. To this new, strange version of yourself. Because everything just changed.

I empathize with how Jamie might be feeling. Because when I was sobbing and broken, if someone told me to chin up, I wanted to punch them in their stupid, fucking faces. I get it.

But then she loses me.

Because it’s just as easy to say:

“Everything is meaningless.”

“Life is boring and painful.”

“People are hopeless.”

“We have no control over our feelings.”

There’s a lot of gray area in the arena of human emotion. Can we CONTROL our emotions when we just found out someone we love died? When someone intentionally hurts us in cruel ways?

Not really.

But can we, generally, take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings and work daily to take care of ourselves, to practice gratitude for the many beautiful things in our lives? (Yes, I think EVERYONE, no matter what, can feel legitimate gratitude for their lives, and I’ll accept the challenge should anyone disagree).

It all starts with “Thank you!” For food, or health, or shelter, or clothes, or friends, or hugs, or employment, or children, or pets, or opportunity, or this next breath.

If you can’t find a reason to say and feel “Thank you!” then forgive my bluntness, but you’re doing this whole being-alive thing wrong.

Jamie continues…

I have spent far too many nights feeling ashamed that I couldn’t be more positive, happier, better, stronger. I’d look at these shiny people plastered with positivity and I’d wonder where I went wrong. Why was I so affected by the world? Why didn’t every day feel like an adventure? Don’t these people have to pay bills and have uncomfortable conversations and wake up sometimes with a headache and an axe to grind? Why was I seemingly the only one so deeply affected by the human experience?

I don’t want to be inspired anymore. Inspiration is cheap. It’s easy. It’s flowery. It’s drenched in promises no one can fulfill.

I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me. I don’t need someone negating my experience in order to provide me with sweet words fluffy as clouds — and just as transparent. I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do.

I’m tired of people trying to inspire me to have a better, bigger, happier life. Let me exist. Let me fumble. Let me find the patch of light in the long tunnel of darkness. Let me figure out some shit on my own. I say we need less fake inspiration in this world and more realness. Less doomsday. Less fake happiness. More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.

I wish people would stop trying to perfect my life. Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness. Why do I have to be so happy all the time? CAN I LIVE?

Interruption #2

It’s hard sometimes to look over there at those people and just feel: What the hell is so great about them and so shitty about me that everything about their lives is perfect and everything about mine is so, just, uggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh?

But we are REALLY BAD guessers, sometimes.

Remember how you felt about Tiger Woods before you found out he slept with every woman you know, or Bill Cosby before—you know—unbelievable, or that person in your personal life who did something so out of line with the story you had always told yourself about them, that everything changed once you learned the truth?

Their lives aren’t perfect, either. Those people (the authentic ones!) who want to help others. But they CHOOSE to focus on the good and not the shit. The light. Not the dark.

They ALSO feel shitty and scared and confused. But I admire them for trying to encourage people instead of ignoring them, or worse, playing the victim card and discouraging others along the way.

She said “Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness.” And maybe some people are. But those frauds are easy enough to spot. The people who are closest to figuring it out don’t use smoke and mirrors. They don’t have to. They’ve been to the bottom and write authentically and authoritatively about it. They’re the ones worth listening to.

Jamie gets so much right, though.

I love this: “I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do… More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.”

Even more importantly, she hones in on the most valuable aspect of human connection through the written word (and probably every other type of social interaction):

“I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me.”

Preach on, Jamie. You (yes, you) are not the only one. You are never, ever, ever, EVER the only one.

It’s so important for people to realize there are others who think and feel just like them. That they’re not freaks. The effect it has on our hearts and minds is extraordinary.

You’re not a freak. And it is TOTALLY human and normal to think and feel whatever you think and feel. It’s the culmination of every experience you’ve had right up to this moment. We shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

But to deny the power of GROWTH or the ability to positively influence our lives moving forward? To act as if whatever’s going to happen is going to happen and there’s nothing we can do about it? That we’re all just a bunch of hopeless victims of whatever comes next?

That’s just someone lying to themselves.

Like that one time they thought Bill Cosby was a great guy and the kind of role model the world needed.

Jamie continues…

I want you to know that you don’t need to fix yourself if you’re not smiling every moment of the day. Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s hard to muster up the energy to be happy with what you have when you want so much more from the world and yourself. That’s okay. It’s okay to be angry and to be kind of dark and weird and not a ball of positivity every moment. Sometimes it’s okay to be bored and to think that happiness is a bit boring because it kind of is. Sometimes it’s fine to be moody and sad and contemplative and to solve problems with a glass of wine or a pizza or some good sex I don’t even know but it’s okay to just not have it all figured out, to have no answers, to just be like, what is the point of anything.

It’s okay to feel like the ground is shaking beneath your feet. It’s okay because everything is temporary. You can lose your footing one day and be on top of the world the next. Things can change in a blink. Happiness is as fleeting as anything else. These fake salespeople who act like they have the cure to being human really grind me up. All they serve to do is make you feel ashamed for not having it all figured out. They sell your aspirational experience and bake shame into it.

Just promise me that the last thing you’ll do is be ashamed of where you’re at in your experience of being a human. Nothing good comes from shame. It’s about the lowest vibrational place you could be operating from. Avoid shame and anything or anyone that causes you shame. Get it all the hell out of your energy field. Shame is not going to motivate you. It’s going to drain you.

If there’s one promise you can make for yourself, let it be this: I will not let myself be ashamed of my unique experience of being human. Forget the positive bullshit: that promise, that mantra, that state of mind is what can really change lives. A person incapable of cowering to shame is a hero — considering all the many reasons our world gives us reasons to be ashamed. To forgo the feeling of shame is an act of radical resistance. Let yourself be. To truly be. What freedom.

In Conclusion

I think the world today shames people more than any other time in history. The internet is the world’s loudest microphone and we are bombarded with You’re not good enough! messages everywhere we turn. We need to work out more, have better sex, eat healthier, make more money, be better parents, go to church more, stop believing in God, being more tolerant, holding onto our values—whatever.

No matter who you are, it’s not hard to find something to tell you how much better you could be! And if you order right now, we’ll toss in a second one absolutely free!

A person should never feel like there aren’t others out there who feel as they do.

A person should never have to look at their social media feeds and feel like everyone’s lives are so much better than theirs.

A person should never feel ASHAMED of who they naturally, organically, authentically are.

I co-sign with that and so much of what Jamie wrote in this piece. I think she was doing what so many of us do. Just saying: I hear you! I won’t judge you! You’re fine just the way you are! You’re not alone!

And I applaud it. Enthusiastically.

But there’s that other thing, too. The part I strongly disagree with: “Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay.”

That’s NEVER true. Not ever.

Almost every one of us woke up this morning and we could see and hear and had the use of our limbs. People love us. We have food and shelter and electricity and functioning brains and beating hearts and air to breathe.

As my favorite comedian Louis CK once said:

“This is earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks, so bad, it’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head, because it sucks so bad. You get to be on earth and look at shit as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is, that you get to be here, you get to eat food. You get to put bacon in your mouth. I mean, when you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who is president or anything, you just ahh, ahhhhhh.”

We are miraculously fortunate to be here. The odds against us even existing are beyond mind-blowing.

The least-fortunate human on earth could spend the rest of their lives writing down reasons to feel grateful and never run out of things.

And every day we feel sad and miserable (that is NOT one of those fresh-wound moments where even the most-stoic person alive feels pain), is a day to seek more things to be thankful for.

Like a treasure hunt.

The treasure hunt to real happiness.

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Do People’s Feelings Matter? That Depends.

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I once wrote that feelings are bullshit.

Except I wrote it more dramatically: “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.”

That probably seems rich coming from a guy who frequently writes emotion-based stories and whose only success as a blogger has come from a series of posts validating emotionally damaged wives’ feelings and warning husbands to ignore them at their peril.

Because of a technical glitch, an 18-month-old post titled Love is a Choice was re-posted to my Twitter feed over the weekend after making a small edit to that post and hitting the Update button.

A reader saw the tweet, read the post which included my “Feelings are bullshit” claim, and asked a challenging, but fair question: “Matt. I just read your post on ‘Love is a Choice.’ Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

Human emotion is a fascinating and complex thing.

I don’t think I need to rattle off the litany of wars, romances, terror attacks, artistic creations, revolutions, epic social or cultural changes, marriages, divorces, friendships, or nearly every single notable thing that’s ever happened, instigated by human emotion.

By day, I am a marketing professional.

As everyone in this profession or who has watched Mad Men knows, connecting with consumers emotionally is the ultimate key to getting them to take desired actions.

In most respects, emotion drives our choices and dictates how we feel at any given time.

Emotional bonds change everything.

They’re the difference between some stray animal, and a beloved pet that becomes part of the family.

They’re the difference between a random adult and child, and an adoring father and son.

They’re the difference between two strangers walking by one another on a crowded street, and those same two people sharing beds and homes and lifetimes after meeting and connecting.

“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

What I Meant

Despite my affinity for the written word, some conversations are best had in person, because in a rapid exchange of information, clarity and understanding can win the day.

In this case, I can understand how my “Feelings. Are. Bullshit.” declaration could cause some bristling and heartburn.

I’ll try to be clearer.

Because how people feel dictates their entire human experience—literally determines whether them being alive is a positive or negative experience—considering the feelings of those around us when we say and do things is what separates the dicks from the conscientious. People who suck from people who are cool.

“But wait a minute, Matt. Are we REALLY responsible for how OTHER PEOPLE FEEL? Is it REALLY our problem or responsibility?”

I’ll be on both sides of this argument for the rest of my life, depending on the situation.

While I’m a MAJOR free speech and anti-censorship advocate, I applaud the State of South Carolina for pulling the Confederate flag from government property.

I don’t know whether this is fair or not (and fairness REALLY matters to me), but I simply give a MUCH LARGER shit about the feelings of black Americans who view that flag as a symbol of racism and oppression than I do about the feelings of southern whites who see it as an important symbol of their heritage.

To demonstrate the depths of my hypocrisy, I’m a Cleveland Indians fan, and much like Washington Redskins fans, and fans of other sports teams which use Native American names and symbols as mascots, I make the same argument as the rebel flag supporters about keeping the teams’ names and mascots as is. I find it unreasonable to suggest that because I root for my favorite baseball team, I am somehow mocking or belittling the heritage of a particular group of people, or that I’m insensitive to the atrocities they suffered centuries ago.

I imagine some people flying the Confederate flag feel exactly like that.

I don’t know.

But I do know that how people feel is at the very heart of both debates. And that there doesn’t always appear to be a clear-cut right or wrong thing to do.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea that I am RESPONSIBLE for another person’s emotions. I can write a sentence or a blog post, for example, that will yield dramatically different responses.

I recently wrote a post joking about a drunk guy inappropriately touching women at a party one night several years ago.

Some people thought it was hilarious.

Others thought it was serious subject matter, and that my tone and treatment of the story was in poor taste.

Am I responsible for those emotions? I don’t know.

This is Why Husbands Have So Much Trouble with Emotion

Emotion and human behavior is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different.

But I believe that men share many traits with the vast majority of men, and women share many traits with the vast majority of women. And I believe that allows us to make generally true statements about how the two genders behave.

To that end, how women feel will often be the ultimate factor in whether a marriage lasts, whether a couple is sexually active, and whether children grow up with divorced parents.

And on paper, I might agree with a guy who says that’s too much power for his wife to wield, and inherently unfair, as she accepted him as a young man, and then rejected him later when her wants and needs changed after years of marriage and raising children.

But life isn’t on paper. Not the nitty-gritty human relationships, anyway. Those are on the front lines of the human experience.

And if a husband listens to his wife’s cries for attention and pleas for help and begging for changes that will allow her to feel emotionally safe and secure, and ignores them, or tells her “Sorry! I’m not changing!” then he gets what he deserves when she inevitably leaves, and increases the odds of infidelity about 14 trillion percent.

The reason men are so cavalier about their wives’ emotions is that they literally don’t know. Most men NEVER feel as their wives do, but more importantly, the story of why their wives feel that way doesn’t register with them because it seems totally insane to a man that X caused Y. X didn’t even faze him, so it doesn’t make sense that THAT is the reason she’s hurt and crying right now.

Most men don’t realize that their wives and girlfriends are fundamentally different than them. But men DO understand emotional pain. It’s just triggered by different things. If you find a man who has experienced intense emotional pain, and you can clearly convey that this other thing made the women in their lives feel the exact same type of intense pain, THEN it will finally click in his brain.

At least, that’s what worked for me.

So, Wait. When Are Feelings Bullshit?

Glad you asked.

Feelings are bullshit when you exchange wedding vows and promise forever, and then use negative feelings about the relationship later as a reason for ending the marriage, only to go out, start a new relationship and repeat the cycle all over again. Because (with the exception of abuse, addiction, cheating, and other dysfunctional horribleness) the cycle WILL repeat all over again.

There are no such things as perfect relationships.

They say marriage is hard work BECAUSE of all the times that are hard.

Sometimes drivers next to us make us want to run them off the road.

Sometimes people who disagree with us on emotional matters make us want to punch and scream.

Sometimes we wake up in the morning and don’t feel like working out, or going to our jobs, or paying bills.

Sometimes people are MADLY in love with someone, and then hate them a week later.

Sometimes our kids make us so angry that we wish they weren’t with us. Usually, within five minutes, or just one really nice hug, we’re back to being totally smitten.

Feelings are VERY fickle things. Constantly changing. Thus, dangerous things to put in charge of everything that happens.

People do drugs and drink excessively because it feels good.

Married people fuck people they’re not supposed to because it feels good.

Parents neglect their children because they don’t feel like taking care of them.

Human emotion? Particularly in our close, personal relationships? They are one of the most important things for us to monitor and manage. Absolutely.

But sometimes?

When we have responsibilities? When we feel tempted or lazy? When we’ve made promises?

Doing what we, in our dumbest, weakest human moments, feel like doing is just about the worst idea imaginable.

“Do you still feel this way about feelings?”

I didn’t explain myself very well the first time. And maybe I didn’t this time.

But, the answer is: yes.

I do.

Sometimes what we choose to do is infinitely more important than what we feel like doing.

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The Things That Matter

13599-Memories

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.

He had just learned she was dying of cancer.

His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.

Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.

No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.

He can’t speak.

She says: “I know.”

And we know that she does.

This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.

And they both remember those times.

The things that matter.

A Letter from my Grandmother

I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.

I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.

I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.

I think most of us are too afraid.

To go on that adventure.

To give up the day job.

To kiss the girl.

To dance.

To leap.

We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.

And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.

I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.

I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.

That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.

That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.

My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.

She wrote me a letter.

Dear Matt,

Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.

The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.

I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.

As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.

Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.

Just know we love you and always will. 

Grandma and Grandpa

How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?

We won’t always know while it’s happening.

But I think one day we will.

I think, one day, we’ll just know.

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