Tag Archives: Fear

Commitment Phobia: When Relationship Avoidance Isn’t Dumb

(Image/datingadvice.com)

(Image/datingadvice.com)

I have commitment issues.

The classic kind, like when it’s easy to choose between Chicken, Seafood or Vegetarian at the wedding reception or business luncheon, and hard to choose a meal when perusing massive restaurant menus.

I struggle with committing to future events on my calendar, or choosing which movie to watch, or even committing hypothetically to whether my perfect home is in a city or the peaceful countryside.

Maybe that’s why I live in the suburbs.

I think these commitment issues are unhealthy and neurotic, and do little to help me live my best-possible life.

But there are other kinds of commitment issues, and they often revolve around dating and relationships.

Because I’m single and spend a lot of time discussing relationships due to my writing here, this subject has come up a few times recently, and I think it’s important.

Men often get stereotyped as being afraid of commitment. There are several reasons why—some more noble than others.

But people—especially ones who have suffered emotional trauma from divorce or failed relationships—frequently express fear of commitment because they don’t want to ever feel that hurt again.

It makes sense to me. It’s irrational and joy-robbing, but I get it. We might die from choking or food poisoning when we eat. We might contract the flu from shaking hands with strangers. We might get killed in a car accident during our work commutes.

We fear losing good things ALL THE TIME.

Poor people can lament not having money OR they can feel grateful that they don’t have something they’re afraid to lose or that makes them some kind of target.

Rich people can lament having so much to lose, being targets, and having valuable things to protect OR they can feel grateful for their wealth of resources.

It’s always about perspective.

People who can see and hear and walk could go blind and deaf and become paralyzed from the waist down. Blind, deaf and paraplegic people don’t have those fears.

Parents fear for the safety and wellbeing of their children in profound ways. People without kids rarely think about that at all.

Having something of value in our lives, whether it’s intangible human connection and love, or material possession, often brings with it the burden of being afraid to lose it.

Every moment of our lives involves some kind of tradeoff. To be irrationally afraid of scary future scenarios we totally make up in our heads seems counterproductive.

Therapy. Good discussion. Writing. Deep thinking. All are good tools for overcoming our various neuroses.

But—and I’m admittedly biased—I think there are times when “fearing” commitment is wise and prudent.

People Who Love Hard Should Be ‘Afraid’

Fear is rarely useful outside of prompting us to run from scary things like a fire, or an attacker, or like, a mountain lion or something.

“Cautious” is probably a better word.

Sometimes people tell me they’re surprised I’m still single more than three and a half years after my marriage ended.

But the truth is, I haven’t come particularly close to not being single. Some of that is circumstantial. Some of that is logistical.

But most of it?

It’s because I think I understand what it takes for two individuals to merge their lives into one thing and give it a good chance to go the distance. I think I know what people need to give because I spent a nine-year marriage NOT giving it which predictably ended in ways impossible for me to recognize in the thick of it.

And I haven’t been shy about saying that I’ve been unwilling to give it.

My parenting, life and job responsibilities, and writing pursuits are already more than I can handle. When the day comes, I’ll have to abandon or reshape some of those things in order to give what’s required.

“What’s required?”

Giving more than I take. That’s what. And until a person can do that, I don’t think they’re ready.

I don’t think I’m ready.

This last part is important to me. Because I think it’s—tragically—a big part of what destroyed my marriage and is likely affecting others’ as well.

My friend said it today. She was talking about some of these same relationship fears. She said “I love hard.”

She means she invests a lot of herself into the other person and into her relationships. In the past, that might have caused her to not maintain and enforce personal boundaries as vigilantly as she would today. And when you don’t enforce boundaries, you can find yourself miles down the road with someone and wake up one day like: “Holy shit. I guess we’re, like, boyfriend-girlfriend or whatever.”

And when you love hard in those scenarios, months turn into years, and Like turns into Love.

And when you didn’t enforce compatibility and/or behavioral boundaries early in the process, the relationship suffers, often breaks, and often hurts.

She felt the hurt. And now she’s afraid. But it’s not because she doesn’t get it that she’s afraid. It’s because she does.

I love hard. Or at least, I aspire to.

I loved my girlfriend before she was my fiancée/wife/ex-wife. And because I loved her, I didn’t understand where the fear was coming from regarding my having not proposed after just a year or so together.

We were too young to say the right words. We were too scared to tell the whole truth. She probably felt pressure to get married because some of her friends were, or maybe because of childhood expectations that it should be by a certain age. Maybe she was too afraid to say that she wanted to know whether I was going to propose, because if not, she was going to break up and find someone who would and not waste her time.

Who knows what I was afraid to say. Probably everything.

But I think I was “right”—if there is such a thing—about feeling fear and hesitancy regarding marriage proposal, or even just giving the idea of a future proposal a bunch of lip service.

When you love hard, and Love = Forever, then tell me the difference between promising a proposal and actually proposing. Tell me the difference between proposing and being married.

Divorce was never on my to-do list. I always believed Marriage = Forever.

I would never commit to someone with whom I couldn’t imagine achieving Forever with.

By virtue of BEING in the committed relationship, I was working toward that goal. And when your brain works that way and you love someone with that level of matter-of-factness, it creates the family and marriage-jeopardizing scenario of totally dismissing anyone who tells you they sometimes feel as if you don’t love them.

You start writing them off as “crazy” or “emotional.” Since you think and feel Love, maybe you don’t feel the need to show it. Maybe that seems dumb to you.

I think that’s why many people get divorced. Different interpretations of verbal and non-verbal cues. It seems too subtle to be the reason everything turns to shit. But it doesn’t make it any less true.

Relationships have phases.

“Just dating” morphs into commitment.

Committed dating evolves into engagement or cohabitation.

And engagement/cohabitation often transitions to marriage.

Do you see?

When Marriage = Forever in your mind and heart, THEN engagement ALSO = Forever. And if committed dating = engagement, then you’re left in the funny little place I, along with many who love hard, or have lost much, find themselves.

If committing to dating someone feels essentially the same as engagement, and engagement is essentially the same as marriage, then—as insane as it might sound to some—committing to dating can FEEL pretty close to promising someone Forever.

After divorce? Children? Hard-earned wisdom?

That manifests as commitment phobia. As being “afraid,” or again, “cautious.”

Maybe some people will tell you that’s irrational. That you’re being “dumb.”

But when our hearts and minds are in the right place, I don’t think so.

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

Napoleon Dynamite dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did sometimes. But I mostly declined.

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

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

3 Critical Dancing Tips That Aren’t Actually About Dancing

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

1. It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

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

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

He wrote this:

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

“Martha’s response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. It Isn’t Even About You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re doing it just because.

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

I felt like it? Works for me.

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

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

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

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

Some people may genuinely not want to do certain things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So dance.

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

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

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

It only matters that you do it.

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The Death of Manhood

The Suicide by Edouard Manet

“The Suicide” by Edouard Manet (Image/Public domain)

I made fun of my gay friend in high school for the same reason I was afraid to tell my father about this blog.

It’s also the same reason I was a shitty husband, and the same reason millions of men—even ones who are pretty good guys—are shitty husbands.

Somewhere down deep, in places we don’t like to talk about, most men are afraid of losing their identity as men. They’re afraid of being rejected by their male peers. They’re afraid of not being respected or sexually desired by women. They’re afraid of disappointing their fathers, their coaches, their male mentors.

Men are so afraid of these things that we don’t seek help when we need it in matters big and small, for fear of projecting a lack of “manliness.” We sometimes won’t even admit there’s a problem.

I can handle it. I’m a man.

Men won’t admit that they are bad husbands and fathers, even with all the evidence in the world staring them in the face. Sad, angry, emotionally bent or broken wives. Jacked-up kids with daddy issues. Feelings of shame, dealt with in silence and pretend-stoicism. We grow our shame piles but hide them behind masks. Behind alcohol, and behind sex, and behind work, and behind escapist video games, and behind a whole bunch of pretending to be happy while feeling something else.

Our behavior drives our wives and girlfriends away. The ones we secretly want to rescue us. All we need them to do is tell us how great we are and want to enthusiastically take our pants off all the time. But they won’t. Because they don’t feel that way and because they’re twisted-up too. They’re just more honest about it.

So we feel even more shame.

You did this to me, bitch, thinks the broken, damaged man who feels like he gave up his old life for her.

I was happy. I felt good. People liked me. I had friends. My life was amazing.

And I gave up virtually all of it and promised you forever, and all you do is treat me like a failure every day. As if I’m a constant disappointment to you. As if you’re so perfect and amazing, and I’m the loser piece-of-shit. And now you want to pin our shitty marriage on ME?! Go to hell.

But he knows she’s a little bit right. The proof is in the shame. There’s no shame when we gave all we could.

The shame is proof we’re a little bit guilty.

I went to a small high school in a small Ohio town. We played football and called things “gay” when we meant “stupid,” and called each other “fags” as a slang bro-out locker room putdown.

So when one of the kids in our small class exhibited occasional voice-inflections and hand movements most of us guys made fun of him behind his back, because he was obviously gay, which is obviously the worst-possible thing to be because it meant you weren’t a real man like us!

By the time senior year rolled around, he had suffered silently and mostly alone for the lack of acceptance he felt from many of us. He was one of the student leaders on a retreat half of my class attended that year, and admitted during a prepared talk in front of everyone that he’d considered killing himself several times.

This guy who had NEVER—near as I could tell—mistreated me or anyone else, was so uncomfortable at school, that he thought being dead might be better than being around for what are often referred to as the best years of our lives.

You might say I almost killed a kid in my class. An awesome and kind one.

And it wasn’t because I disliked him. I was never mean to him in any obvious or direct way. It was because I wanted to be acknowledged by my friends as a “man” while we cracked private jokes more than I wanted to treat a good person with respect and dignity.

But at least I had my Man Card.

The potency of this male-identity thing is the primary reason wives can’t get their husbands to read relationship books, or my blog posts, or visit a therapist. This male-identity thing from which I also suffer. It makes me part of the problem.

In that vein, your broken marriage or divorce is kind of my fault, too.

Men Won’t Seek Help to Avoid the Appearance of Weakness

I imagine I love my country as much as any generally satisfied citizen living in a developed nation. I think the United States is an excellent place to live, and the day I believe there to be an obviously better choice is the day I’ll want to move elsewhere.

But many Americans suffer from something I’ll call America Is #1 You Foreign Losers!!! Syndrome. While I’m a proud American and will gladly defend my homeland verbally and otherwise when called for, I don’t think you can look around with intellectual honesty and say that all things American are somehow demonstrably better than things we observe elsewhere.

In fact, it’s nonsense. In 2016, we have data available to anyone with internet access which proves that other countries are better at [insert public policy of choice here]. Some places have more successful schools. More effective transportation. More thriving economies. And, it pains me to say, but maybe even people who, as a whole, are infinitely more pleasant to be around than, as a whole, a random same-sized sampling of people in the U.S.

My favorite recent example of America Is #1 You Foreign Losers!!! Syndrome is learning that U.S. students are just whatever at math performance, but lead the world in being confident about their math skills. In other words, American students think they’re awesome at math, but they’re actually a little bit shitty.

Sound familiar?

Men are confident in their abilities as husbands and fathers, or at the very least, demonstrate confidence by actually getting married, and actually fathering children. And it’s because they’re a lot like American math students. They’re not actually good, but they think they are, or at least are damn sure going to tell you they are. Like a man.

It starts to get ugly when wives who have detected the danger, try to get their husbands to give more to her and their marriage or family.

Oh, so now I’m not good enough for you, Miss Perfect? I gave up my fun life for this?

Men Are 300% More Likely Than Women to Kill Themselves

I kept this blog a secret from my parents and most people I know until about a month ago.

I kept it a secret from my mom because I didn’t want her to read my profanity or read her son write about sex, pornography and masturbation.

I kept it a secret from my dad because I didn’t want him to read about me crying about my divorce, or my newly discovered convictions about empathy, or the fact that I spend so much of my time writing about relationships. You know, “girl stuff.” You know, so he didn’t think his son was a candy-ass pussy.

For the record, both of my parents (they don’t live together) have been amazingly supportive and I’m a little bit embarrassed how afraid of telling them I was. Since I’m thirty-freaking-seven and stuff. But I still haven’t told anyone else. Maybe I’m afraid.

The fear is real. And it’s the same fear many men you know carry around behind their veils of stoic machismo.

Even though women are more likely than men to report suicidal thoughts and tendencies, men are statistically THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY TO KILL THEMSELVES.

This phenomenon, the Gender Paradox, is observed in every race, culture, religious affiliation and country in the world.

Why?

Because men don’t want to lose their Man Card. It’s something we joke about with friends, but when we REALLY feel like we lose it because our wives leave us, or hair loss, or erectile dysfunction, or a job loss, or we just slowly lose that Successful Man feeling we remember from our youth?

We’re afraid to seek help. Because that’s tantamount to admitting weakness or that we’re not man enough.

So, when shit really hits the fan? That noose or gun trigger after a bender starts looking like a viable escape plan for broken men.

The really scary part is how most of these feelings are self-inflicted. It’s no different than how most men and women accidentally destroy their relationships through a series of incorrect assumptions about how their partner thinks and feels due to an absence of effective communication habits and skills.

Men are worried about what other people think of them. But it’s not actually rooted in fact. It’s rooted in assumption. We GUESS what other people think about us, and then react emotionally to whatever we guess that is. And because we tend to be afraid of negative things more than feel pleasure or excitement over positive things, we usually make things worse in our own minds.

A person may have not thought about you AT ALL. But you are afraid because they were in the area when you did or said something which embarrassed you that they now think you’re a huge loser, and that will somehow matter five minutes from now.

From “Why Men Kill Themselves in Such High Numbers” in Pacific Standard:

“Even in the developed world, where gender equality is not as bad as in developing countries, most men still see themselves as being responsible for providing and protecting their family. Of course, some women are social perfectionists too. But men’s social perfectionism is much more harmful.

‘A man who can’t provide for the family is somehow not a man anymore,’ said Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University. ‘A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.’”

Men need help in the mental and emotional health space as much as anyone needs help with anything.

But we refuse, because we don’t believe we need it, or simply won’t admit it.

Why, men?

To appear strong?

To be fake-strong?

Not unlike the weak-boundary daters who care more about the people they meet liking them than they do about whether a healthy and successful relationship is actually possible, men often choose the appearance of strength or the appearance of success over ACTUALLY pursuing strength and success.

It’s really hard to win, or even competently play, games in which we don’t know the rules.

In our own minds and bodies, men don’t know the rules.

So we accidentally destroy our marriages.

And we accidentally ruin relationships with friends and family.

If it makes us feel shame, or feels like something in which we can’t succeed, we turn around and walk the other way, but we make sure it looks like something manlier than fear.

We never just say: “For the same reason I don’t know how to design rocket engines and navigation computers for space shuttles, I also don’t know all there is to know about how to feel great about my life and have successful relationships with my wife and kids and friends and self.

We choose the bottle or a gun or a pill or a mask, instead of what we should do.

Learn the rules of the game so we can have fun and play competently.

Then, just like back in the day: Practice makes perfect.

Then?

We win.

More On Why Men Won’t Seek Help

From PsychCentral: Real Men Don’t Get Help

From Everyday Health: Why Depression is Underreported in Men

From HealthDay News: Many Men With Mental Health Issues Don’t Seek Help

…..

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The Truth About Love You Might Not Accept

"The Vagabond/Prodigal Son" by Hieronymus Bosch

“The Vagabond/Prodigal Son” by Hieronymus Bosch

There was a wealthy farmer with two sons.

The younger son, dissatisfied with his boring life, went to his dad and asked for his inheritance early. The request was demanding and entitled. It would have been interpreted at the time a little bit like he wished his father was already dead.

Then the young man, armed with a lot of money, left home, abandoned his family and their business, traveled far and wide, and lived lavishly.

Fancy clothes. Expensive meals. Wild parties. Lots of sex.

He did that every day until he ran out of money right around the time the economy tanked and weather patterns decimated regional crop farming. Widespread famine took hold.

The rich, entitled kid had nothing left. No real friends. No viable job prospects. And now there was a food-shortage crisis, so he couldn’t find food.

With no other options, he would have to return home, tail tucked between his legs, and beg his father to let him come back. He didn’t expect a warm welcome. He was going to ask his dad to hire him as a farmhand to work the land, and sleep in one of the barns with the farm animals.

But to the young man’s surprise, that’s not how it went down. When his father heard word that his wayward son had come home, he dropped everything and sprinted to him.

Instead of admonishing him for being so selfish, foolish and irresponsible, he hugged him tight with tears of joy, expressing his love and gratitude for his safe return.

Instead of punishing him for abandoning the family and his responsibilities to waste a small fortune on excessive living, he threw a massive party to celebrate his child’s return.

The older brother was pissed. While his idiot brother was out burning money on wine and prostitutes, he had stayed home and dutifully tended to the family business and was an all-around respectful and obedient son.

No one ever threw me a party for doing the right thing!, he thought.

He went up to his dad and said what most of us would: “Umm. Dad. This is total bullshit. I’ve been right here doing all the right things all these years while that douchebag was off wasting his entire fortune on drunken orgasms. Then he comes home, and we treat him like the conquering hero? Where’s my party, dad? Where’s my ‘Atta Boy?”

The father understood his elder son’s frustration, but said simply: “Celebrating your brother’s return is the right thing to do. We thought he was dead. But here he is, alive. He was lost. And now he’s been found.”

Anyone even loosely familiar with the bible knows that story. It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son—a story about redemption. My favorite kind. It’s supposed to symbolize the endless mercy of God, personified biblically as a loving father.

But it’s also the best story I know which addresses the thing we need to talk about, because I think maybe a lot of people don’t know what it really means. And I think maybe that lack of understanding is ruining their marriages; their relationships with children and parents, with siblings, with friends, with neighbors, with co-workers, and everyone else:

Unconditional love.

Because We Care What Others Think, We Do Stuff

It’s uncomfortable to admit. We all want to believe we’re so courageous and unique and authentic. We all want to believe the decisions we make are for us because we’re genuinely pursuing whatever it is our hearts and minds compel us to chase in life.

But that’s bullshit, and we all know it.

We do things to win the approval of our parents. You didn’t go to medical school at Dartmouth because you wanted to go to Dartmouth or become a doctor. You did it because your grandfather did that, and then your dad did it, and if you don’t do it, you’ll always be the person who tarnished the family legacy, and you were afraid of the shame and possible rejection.

We do things so that other kids in school will accept us. You dated Lauren because she was hot and you wanted to look cool to the other guys, not because there was some legitimate emotional connection. You avoided playing in the band, not because you didn’t love music, but because you didn’t want your football teammates calling you a “band nerd.”

You didn’t drink beer because you actually liked it. Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper always tasted better. You did it because you wanted to fit in.

We still do this as adults. All the time.

It affects our choices about the houses we live in and the cars we drive. It influences the clothes we wear. Who we hang out with. How we treat our friends.

We worry about our children’s behavior sometimes, not because we’re ACTUALLY worried about the long-term impact on our children’s lives (most of the dumb stuff they do will have almost no bearing on how their lives turn out, and are in fact necessary experiences from which to learn important life lessons), but because we worry about what other parents might think about us as that kid’s parents.

We do and feel many things for no other reason than we invest in other people’s perception of us. The most interesting part of that is, we don’t really know what another person thinks of us. So we project our personal feelings on others, and essentially guess what they think will make us look attractive or smart or funny or successful or whatever. And then we try to display that ideal image as much as possible. We do so in an attempt to win favor with those around us for whatever conscious or subconscious reasons we have. So we ultimately end up living a huge percentage of our lives in the service of others who probably don’t care, and even if they do, we don’t know what they actually believe anyway unless we take off the masks and build legitimately authentic relationships with them.

We’re always pretending a little.

I don’t think that makes us phonies. I think it just makes us humans who haven’t yet asked ourselves the right questions, nor answered them correctly.

If we had, we wouldn’t be driven by fear.

Learning to Enjoy Dating After Divorce

Okay. “Enjoy” is an overstatement. Dating after divorce generally blows.

But there’s one aspect of it I’ve learned to love: I don’t give one iota of a shit what the girl I’m meeting thinks of me.

Let me clarify: Of course I want to be liked. I prefer the feeling of someone liking and desiring me MUCH more than the feeling of non-interest or rejection.

But because dysfunctional relationships, emotionally inconvenient breakups, nor God forbid, another divorce, aren’t thing I want; and because I learned the hard way that wearing masks and shutting out partners from our innermost thoughts and feelings we’re too scared and insecure to share for fear of rejection is a proven path to relationship failure; I’ve developed a taste for courageous honesty. Frankly, it isn’t all that courageous anymore because I’m no longer afraid to share it.

If I tell the girl on the other side of the dinner table something honest about myself and she doesn’t want me because of that honest thing, how was a relationship ever going to work out in the first place? Why would I WANT to be with someone who only liked the fake version of me?

Men have been lying to women to get them into bed for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. (I can’t prove that. I’m just certain it’s true. Cro-Magnon Man was totally grunt-lying to cave chicks about the size of that last bear he killed.)

But if the goal is something with staying power and long-term sustainability, doing the thing most guys do in high school and college to look cool or high-status to girls we meet, is pointless. It amounts to little more than trying to impress them and win their superficial approval. Even if we succeed, it provides no value to our future selves or our current or future children.

Dishonesty—even in the form of not disclosing those two or three things you don’t like sharing with others because you’re afraid they’ll run away or think less of you—WILL break your relationship. And the longer the relationship goes, the greater the pain will be.

So, we choose honesty.

I’m divorced, and largely responsible for it.

I have a young son.

I have ADHD and it sometimes strains my relationships and can affect other parts of my life, professionally and financially.

I’m a child of divorce.

I’m totally middle class but genuinely work hard to be more.

I’m not the kind of dude who can fix your overheated engine on the side of the road, or build you a shelter with my imaginary knife I always carry with me if we get lost in the jungle before I go kill our dinner.

This, this, and this is wrong with me.

I believe X, Y and Z even though it might make you uncomfortable and not want me.

After you take off the mask and share THE REAL YOU with someone? Those who want you, admire you, crave your companionship, enjoy your company; and want to be friends with you, invite you to parties, introduce you to their family and professional network, and think you’re the kind of person who could positively influence their children…

THOSE are the people with whom you build long-lasting, meaningful relationships in whatever capacity you choose.

THOSE are the people who love you, not because of what you do for them, or how you make them look to the people in their lives whose approval they seek, but because they really, just, love YOU.

Mark Manson’s “Maybe You Don’t Know What Love Is” got my wheels turning about this. In it, he writes:

“If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.

“This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A shit-storm of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.

“But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.

“But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.”

Life is difficult. It’s not easy even though we all wonder: Why not?! Relationships are difficult because they require energy and maintenance. Everyone wants love to be a feeling flowing from an eternal spring of easyness like infatuation and lust, two reasonably bullshit feelings exposed as frauds by how short-lived they are.

But not love.

Because love isn’t bullshit. Maybe love “the feeling,” is. But not real love. Not love “the choice.”

It’s the one you wake up and choose to give because you love without expectation of getting something in return. It’s unconditional. You don’t love because of what the person does for you. You don’t love because of how they make you feel about yourself. You don’t love because of the opportunities they provide you.

You just love. Without agenda.

Just because.

Maybe that’s how things come back from the dead.

Maybe that’s how something sacred and lost gets found.

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When a Boy is Tortured and Murdered in Front of His Parents

(Photo by Shahzeb Ihsan)

(Photo by Shahzeb Ihsan)

When I was little, I sometimes asked my parents what would happen if bad guys ever tried to hurt us. They always said we would defend ourselves and kill the bad guys, if needed.

“We would never let anything happen to you,” they promised.

I believed them because I was little. I’m sure they meant well.

I wonder if Philip Savopoulos’ parents promised him the same thing.

Savvas Savopoulos was a martial arts expert, which means the guy who would soon murder him and his family probably held a gun to his wife and son to get him to cooperate.

It must have been a good life before that day.

The Savopoulos family lived just a few doors down from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Washington D.C. Very rich.

The family was probably going to do something really fun this Memorial Day weekend.

I don’t know how good of a guy Savvas Savopoulos was. I don’t know anything about his wife, Amy. The housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa, might not have been a great person. I can’t be sure.

They were reportedly generous and charitable people. I rarely assume the worst.

But I do know about Philip Savopoulos.

Because he was only 10. Probably in fifth grade. Maybe just starting to like a girl at school. He probably liked the Washington Redskins. And NBA star John Wall. And the Avengers.

He was probably looking forward to summer break when he’d go on an amazing vacation with his family and maybe attend some cool summer camps. Certainly, he’d be spending some days playing video games, talking about girls, or participating in outdoor fun with his buddies.

He must have felt safe every second of his life.

Until that day.

When a man forced his way into their home. Tied up his dad. Tied up his mom. Tied up the housekeeper. And then himself.

Young Philip was probably really scared.

But I bet he never imagined that less than a day later, he would be dead, his parents, dead, his housekeeper, dead, and his home set on fire.

Nothing REALLY bad ever happened to me growing up. My parents divorced when I was 4, and it was hard because my dad lived 500 miles away, but when you’re that age, it just feels normal because this is just the way it is.

So, when I got divorced at 34, I completely freaked out and broke on the inside. And I think it’s because divorce is always hard and a shock to the system for most of us, but also because my mind and body had never been through a trauma like that.

He was just 10.

He had probably never been through a trauma like that. It’s possible he had never even seen a home invasion in a movie or heard about one on the news.

But there he was, bound with duct tape. Maybe to a piece of furniture. Maybe to one of his parents.

Maybe he cried a lot. He was just 10.

Daron Wint is 34. About my age. He used to work for Savvas Savopoulos’ company.

Wint kept them tied up while he searched the house for money. He eventually made off with $40,000. Investigators don’t yet know whether money was the only motive.

“The victims suffered from blunt force trauma. Authorities believe the four were killed before the house was set ablaze, according to the source familiar with the investigation,” CNN reported. “The source said the victims were bounded with duct tape, and there were signs that Philip had been stabbed and tortured before he was set on fire.”

There are two teenage girls. High schoolers. They attend boarding school, so they weren’t home, otherwise they would have been murdered (or worse) too.

Today, those two, already dealing with the most-complicated and confusing part of their lives, just found out their parents and little brother are dead, and that their home was set on fire.

Their lives will, in many respects, be defined by some guy they never met.

I wonder whether Wint stabbed and tortured a 10-year-old child in front of his parents. Screaming: “Where’s the money, motherfucker!?” before hurting Philip again. A helpless mother and father’s soul being ripped out in the worst possible combination of rage and fear and hopelessness and helplessness imaginable.

I can’t even type it with dry eyes.

You know what I think about the most, though?

The Domino’s pizza delivery guy or girl.

While the family was held hostage, Wint ordered two pizzas. He left cash in an envelope instructing the driver to leave the pizzas by the door.

The driver must have thought that was strange, but since the money was there, what choice did he or she have? You take it and drive away, mission accomplished.

You tell your friends at work about the odd experience and move on with your life.

A few days later, the news breaks that DNA left on some pizza crust is how investigators identified the killer. There’s shock at first. Then reality sets in.

Oh my God. I could have been killed.

Oh my God. I wish I would have called the police! Those people! I didn’t know!

Oh my God. That family’s final meal was the pizza I delivered. That little boy.

I think about that person the most.

They’ll always carry that around with no place to deliver it.

What Are Humans All About?

Today’s writing prompt from WordPress on The Daily Post was: “The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about. What do you pick?”

I couldn’t think of a book. Or a movie. Or a song.

But I like the question. What are humans all about?

And I thought about the grisly details of the Savopolous family’s brutal slaying.

We live in a world where—for whatever reason, but possibly something as simple as $40,000—a man will beat, torture, and stab a 10-year-old boy in front of his screaming, sobbing parents.

We live in a world where things like that happen.

A family in Connecticut was killed the same way in 2008.

Not terribly far from there, a young man invaded a school one day in Newtown, Ct. and shot a bunch of kindergarteners and elementary school kids.

Some people will cut your head off with a knife on video because you disagree about religion.

Others will hijack airplanes and fly them into skyscrapers.

There are violent rapes. Child kidnappings and molestation and abuse. We see bullying. And theft. And infidelity. And fraud. And disease. And starvation.

These things are real and are happening every day.

What are humans all about?

In a world where all of those things happen, people keep trying. Those horrible things crawl into our insides and infect us with fear. Sometimes we think ONLY bad things happen because it seems like we only hear about bad things.

But Kim just donated a kidney to a stranger.

And young Malik just visited (and often does) old man Johnson who has been lonely ever since his wife died two years ago.

Lucas just defended Brennan on the playground when a bunch of kids were making fun of him, and Lucas is the most-popular kid in the class.

Wendy just forgave Michael.

An African village just got a new well, and now a bunch of kids have a chance, all because people with big hearts have made this their mission.

Alyssa rescued another dog.

A child was adopted.

A girlfriend got a proposal.

A friend got a hug.

A neglected person found love.

A lost person found meaning.

A plant sprouted, and dammit, it was a miracle.

Humans are a riddle. A maddening, never-quite-solvable puzzle. Capable of terrible things. Things worse than we can conjure up in our most-twisted thoughts.

And they are also the most generous, creative, loving, inspiring, IMPORTANT thing ever documented in the history of the universe.

You can look at the riots, and the train wreck, and the brutal murder. It’s hard not to.

But you can also look over there, too. That way. Over there where hope lives.

At that thing that’s good, and perfect, and beautiful. See it?

The most horrible things happen. And still, we hope. Still, we love.

What are humans all about?

That.

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The Ghost Upstairs

(Image courtesy of PlayBuzz.)

(Image courtesy of PlayBuzz.)

On Tuesday, I came home late at night to an empty house and heard footsteps coming from my upstairs bedroom even though no one else was home.

It was scary.

I’ve lived in my house more than nine years and have never heard anything like that. It shook me up so much that I grabbed my shoes and keys and left without turning anything off. I thought there might be an intruder.

I wrote about it in my last post, acknowledging it can only be one of three things: 1. An intruder. 2. A ghost. 3. Nothing.

Yesterday morning, I got a comment on that post from someone who has never before commented on this blog. She didn’t mince words.

“Do you have a deceased uncle whose birthday is around this time? I sense he is on your father’s side and you knew him quite well in life. Just say hello, happy birthday, and I am pleased that you still think of me,” she wrote.

When I was a senior in high school, my father’s only brother was killed in a hit-and-run car accident on Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Chicago. He was 37. His birthday was in April. I’ve mentioned the incident in a few posts without going into detail. It’s something that’s crossed my mind more than usual lately.

Maybe that’s why he decided to visit.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

But people who think they have all the answers are maybe a little bit foolish, so I’m always open to new ideas and the strong possibility that I can’t really be sure of anything, ever.

I’ve seen lots of ghost shows on TV. I’ve heard lots of ghost stories. I’ve heard many stories from people I absolutely trust that could more easily be explained as a haunting than anything else.

I don’t mean “I don’t believe in ghosts” like: No way! There’s no such thing! I simply mean I’ve never, not even once, seen anything that appeared radically supernatural or ghosty.

Until now.

I texted my psychic friend (I’m serious) yesterday because she visited Wednesday when I told her this story. When I told her that it had to be nothing, an intruder, or a ghost, she said: “Do you really want to know?”

This is the second time she’s asked me that in my house, and I always say no because I live alone and don’t like being scared.

But after getting that blog comment, I texted it to her and asked: “Penny for your thoughts?”

She replied: “He tapped me on the shoulder as soon as I sat on your couch but I didn’t say anything because it would freak you out.”

I know what some of you are thinking.

It’s because I don’t believe in psychics either.

Not because I think it’s impossible, but simply because I always am a little skeptical of supernatural things I don’t witness for myself. I really mean that more as a past-tense thing, because being friends with someone with this girl’s intuitive abilities has forced me to reconsider my position on all of that.

So, quick recap: A total stranger sensed it was my dead uncle and offered enough plausible detail for me to consider it possible.

My friend who was ACTUALLY in my house and has unique spiritual gifts corroborated.

There was only one conclusion for me: My uncle’s ghost is hanging out in my bedroom.

My Ghost Uncle

I don’t mean for this to sound irreverent, because I love and respect this man. But there are all these obvious questions that pop up when you learn the ghost of your deceased uncle might be hanging out in your bedroom.

What, pray tell, might you have witnessed in there, Uncle Dave?

If you accept the premise that the spirits of the dead can observe what we do undetected in private, it’s really not that hard to get over your own uncle doing the same thing.

And once I got past that, I started wondering how long he might stay and to what extent there might be subtle signs of his presence or even some interaction.

I don’t believe in any of this, but maybe it will happen anyway! Who can say?

Of all the people I’ve known who have died, my uncle Dave is easily in the top five of the Most Welcomed Ghosts in My House list. Not kidding. It didn’t scare me at all, and a small part of me was even enjoying the idea of feeling his presence once in a while.

Uncle Dave was awesome.

We never got to drink beer together because I was 17 when he died, but maybe now we’d kind of be able to!, I thought. I’m not making that up.

And Just Like That… He Was Gone

The blog commenter who first called to my attention the fact that my uncle was responsible for the footsteps I heard Tuesday night left another comment this morning.

“He is gone now,” she said.

Huh. I felt something akin to disappointment.

And I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. Not unlike my senior year of high school when I got the phone call about the accident.

It was a road-rage death. Another driver intentionally ran my uncle and his fiancée off the road while they were driving to a Chicago Bears football game. Their pickup truck flipped over, trapping my uncle, but not his fiancée in the vehicle. She had been sleeping, but was able to crawl to safety.

My uncle remained lodged in the vehicle. Because of how he was situated, circulation to his brain was cut off for longer than living beings can handle. His mind was gone. His body quickly followed.

His murderer fled the scene in, according to witnesses interviewed by police, a white Pontiac Grand Prix. He was never found.

It was my first experience with an out-of-nowhere death. They’re the worst kind.

Rest in peace, Uncle Dave.

I’m glad you stopped in.

You’re welcome anytime.

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I Heard Someone Upstairs When No One Else Was Home

the-purge-movie-poster

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

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

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

The problem was: No one else was home.

Every hair on my arms stood up.

Investigate? Ask who’s there?

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

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

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

There were three possibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

“You around sir?” I texted.

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

The Possible Intruder Profiles

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

Thief

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

Homeless Tweaker

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

Psycho Murderer

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

A Sexy Stalker

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

A Ghost

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

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

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

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

“How ya doing?” my friend texted.

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

His cop alarm went off.

“You need to call me,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel more courageous with my writing.

I feel more courageous professionally.

I feel more courageous socially.

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

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

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

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

odd-creativity-be-yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t stopped thinking about that since.

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

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

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

It’s about identifying your values.

It’s about establishing your boundaries.

It’s about being authentic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From James Altucher:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We just want to be liked.

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

We’ll be admired.

We’ll be respected.

We’ll be wanted.

We’ll be loved.

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

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Marijuana, Bible Studies, and Bridge Construction

(Image courtesy of screen-wallpapers.com)

(Image courtesy of screen-wallpapers.com)

“Shit! I have to go.”

Everything was hazy and surreal in the smoke-filled room. It’s because four of us just burned a massive blunt. I was pretty high. There was nothing particularly weird about that. In college, I was often pretty high.

“Where do you have to go?” my friends asked.

“Bible study,” I said. “I forgot all about it.”

“Bible study!? You can’t go to bible study!” my roommate said. He didn’t say it because he, or anyone else in the room, had a problem with faith or bible studies. He said it because I looked and smelled and was acting exactly like someone who had just smoked a lot of marijuana, and he figured—perhaps correctly—that it wasn’t an appropriate time to study Scripture.

“Gotta do it, man,” I said. And then I ran off on my 10-minute trek to meet a guy whose name I can’t remember to discuss a chapter in the New Testament I can’t remember discussing.

You know, because in college, I was often pretty high.

Can’t Stay Hidden Forever

In January, an exceptional guy about my age died. Everything was fine. His wife was pregnant with their fourth child. He was in excellent physical condition. Then, the doctors told him he had cancer the day after Christmas. And he was gone a month later.

Just like that.

The story hit me hard. I had never met Paul Coakley. But I knew quite a few people who were close to him in college and stayed in touch into our adult years. The story was tragic and touching and I wrote about it.

A random Google search yesterday led one of Paul’s friends to that post. They shared it on social media and now several hundred people have read it, and many of them shared it some more.

Because that happened, more people I know in real life discovered this blog. The world closes in on me every time that happens. More people to judge the adult version of me. A version of me so different from the one they might remember when I was young, confident, always positive and optimistic, strong, brave, and afraid of little.

Now, they’ll find someone else.

A divorced single father who hasn’t lived up to his own expectations. A guy who failed to achieve professionally, socially and spiritually, the life I’d always envisioned.

I’ve been writing here for two years now. I’ve grown accustomed to many people reading the things I write.

But it feels so different when it’s someone you know. People you respect deeply and maybe wish didn’t know about all your skeletons. The skeletons on display here. I used to joke a lot about my mother and grandmother finding this place and freaking out. That will probably happen one day.

I use my first name and I show my face because I feel like a fraudulent coward if I don’t at least do that.

Someday, I’ll have to own all of it. It still scares me, even though I’m actively trying to care less.

You can’t stay hidden forever.

What I’m Doing Here

Relativism (the reality of things being relative to one another—not the philosophical doctrine) is a funny thing.

Some people have seen and done things many of us can barely fathom. Especially some kid from a quiet little Ohio town, like me. Those people read about me smoking pot and all the keg parties and my bouts with conscience regarding sexual desire as a young kid in church, and probably roll their eyes, because to them—Who cares!?

Others living purer, more disciplined lifestyles might be more offended by my casual references to sex or my somewhat cavalier use of bad words. And I still worry about what other people think of me. It’s a weakness. I’m working on it.

Except, here’s the thing: I KNOW everyone feels most of the same things I feel. Because I’ve been alive 36 years and that’s enough time to figure out a few things.

I wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies when I was 13. I grew up in one of those houses.

So it makes total sense that I wanted to party when I got to college and lived on my own. It’s totally human to want to learn and experience things for oneself.

The sex stuff? Everyone who claims to not understand is a dirty liar. Most people just don’t talk about it.

Everyone has a different definition of good and bad.

Behaviorally, I’ve long been a I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints kind-of guy.

Philosophically, I’ve always wanted to be a good person.

The older I get, the less I understand what it means to be a good person.

I only know that’s what I want to be.

I don’t know if it’s possible to bridge the gap between the righteous and the fallen. Because most of us don’t even know for sure what either of those things mean. But if there is such a thing—a bridge?

That’s who and what I want to be.

I’m probably doing it wrong.

If This is Low, I’m Looking for High

Being stoned during bible study is a metaphor for my life ever since discovering there are emotional consequences to various life choices.

Using the loose definition of these words, I want to be bad and I want to be good. I can’t look you in the eye and honestly say that I don’t occasionally want to do things I loosely define as “bad.”

I don’t know what it means to be a good person, but a good, loose definition might be someone who follows their conscience. Someone who has principles and sticks to them.

I’m certainly guilty of not always doing that.

I got high a lot back in college because I liked having fun with my friends.

I went to bible study because I liked the idea of pursuing a higher path (no pun intended).

And I’m always trying to offset some of the bad with some good. Like maybe if I do a bunch of good things, I can erase some of the bad things, even though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.

Like I’m trying in vain to scrub away some dirt in a foolish attempt to convince people I’m better than I am.

But I’m not better. I’m just whatever I am.

And if I ever did get to the top, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself.

I’m sure the view is nice.

But, in truth?

I dig the climb.

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The Human Experience

(Image courtesy of sacredspacevillage.org)

(Image courtesy of sacredspacevillage.org)

I want to have sex with her. But I’m also afraid she’ll think I’m no good at it and tell all her friends. Or that I’ll get performance anxiety and FML. Or that we’ll do it and it will be great, but my Catholic guilt will set in because maybe God doesn’t want me doing this and now I’m a bad person.

I want to look and feel really good and be healthy. But I’m so tired and I’ll never feel good without adequate sleep, so I’ll skip this morning’s workout. And I don’t have time to go to the store right now for fresh produce, so I’ll just order a pizza. And Easter candy tastes good. And a couple beers can’t hurt.

I want to never stress about money again and I want to maximize my personal income. But I don’t have time to budget right now. And it’s fine that I eat out all the time because I’m spending less money at the grocery store. And I can always work on that thing that might make me more money tomorrow.

There’s always an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

There’s always a yin and a yang.

There’s always a tradeoff or compromise that needs made.

I was an only child.

I was really good at entertaining myself. I always enjoyed books and movies and video games, and I had a great imagination and could have fun alone.

I also loved going to play with my friends. There’s nothing I enjoyed more than laughing and playing and having fun with other kids.

But sometimes, I had to compromise because I was at their house and needed to go along to get along. Sometimes, all of my friends didn’t do what I wanted to do, and maybe we had fun anyway, but maybe sometimes I didn’t because their idea might have been crappier than mine.

Sometimes friends would be at my house and it would be great, but then at some point, they were infringing on my time and space and I didn’t really mind when they left because then I could do whatever I wanted again.

Of course, at some point, I always missed them and wanted them to come back.

I got laid off from my job on Jan. 1, 2010 somewhat unexpectedly, and prior to my divorce, that was easily the most difficult thing that ever happened to me.

Not having a job when you want one is hard. You lose self-confidence. Your shame level increases. Your wife starts thinking you’re pathetic. Your friends probably do, too, but they never say so because they’re your friends.

I’ve always liked my jobs in the context of “having to go to work.” Some people have to stand in front of machines or do really hard manual labor or clean up poop and pee all day.

I’ve always been paid to write stories. Regardless, going to work is a drag when you don’t really want to. I like writing stories, but I don’t always like writing stories in this specific location at this specific time and about this specific subject. I don’t always like doing what other people tell me to do.

But then one day, I was 30 and unemployed, and it lasted 18 months and I was totally miserable, not counting the valuable time I had with my son at home.

I will NEVER take my job for granted again!, I vowed.

But four years later, I pretty much take my job for granted and wish I didn’t have to sit in a cubicle all day.

Being single again and not in constant emotional agony has been an interesting experience.

Like with pretty much everything in life, there are things about it that are good, and parts that aren’t so good.

I’m a little bit like that only child again. I have a lot of freedom to do what I want, when I want.

And that’s good! I still have a good imagination, and I’m still capable of entertaining myself.

But you get lonely, too.

And I don’t mean Boo-freaking-hoo, I’m lonely and crying on the couch. I’m not doing that. But sometimes, you’re watching a ball game or a movie or reading a book while your son is asleep upstairs at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, and you think: Hmm. Life sure would be better right now if I had someone to spend this time with.

Do I crave conversation? Yes.

Physical intimacy? Of course.

Shared experiences? Best way to build connections.

But then I wonder if maybe she is around whether I’ll secretly wish she would just go home sometimes like I did back when a friend maybe annoyed me while playing in the backyard or on my bedroom floor.

I loved my wife very much. I was a lousy husband when I declined invitations to go to bed, or ignored her in favor of online poker or 24 marathons on Netflix, or because I was more interested in Monday Night Football. But I did love the woman in the same way I feel love about my family members and close friends.

And I was still capable of making her sad and miserable by intentionally choosing to do things that I wanted to do.

We’re capable of terrible things.

It’s okay to be selfish when you’re single. I need to be unselfish for my son, of course, but in the context of adult romantic relationships, I can do whatever I want and needn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

And I guess that’s nice.

But we’re humans and we crave connection. I don’t mean crave like I really want it!

I mean crave, like we really need it.

We all want to be a part of something. To connect mentally, emotionally, spiritually with like-minded people and groups to achieve some end.

It’s why you buy the products you do. It’s why you live in the neighborhood you live in. It’s why you work where you do. It’s why you’re involved in your various hobbies and social groups and team sports and churches and relationships.

But it’s not okay to be selfish when you’re a couple. When you’re part of something greater than yourself. I know this as well as or better than most.

What if I’m always that selfish only child who doesn’t always like to share?

Of course I crave it now.

I don’t have it.

We always want what we don’t or can’t have.

But I’ll probably have it someday.

And what then? When the shiny newness is gone? When I think a quiet Friday night with my son sleeping upstairs and a book or movie alone is sounding pretty good?

I want her.

But I’m afraid of her.

I want it.

But what if I don’t always?

I want everything that I don’t have because that’s what’s missing! and if we fill the voids then we can finally be happy!!!

I think maybe we’re all a little bit broken on the inside. And I think that brokenness keeps us constantly filling “voids” only to discover that something’s missing feeling never actually goes away.

I am selfish.

I want, want, want.

Me, me, me.

“It’s always about what Matt wants,” she often said. The truth hurts.

The common denominator in all of my life pursuits that never ultimately brought me satisfaction is that I wanted things, acquired them, and still felt dissatisfied.

The common thread was selfishness. I want more.

Over and over again. Rinse, wash, repeat. I want. I need. Give me.

And it hasn’t worked yet. Not one time in 36 years.

Hmm.

What if we tried giving?

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