Tag Archives: Feelings

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*

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Do People’s Feelings Matter? That Depends.

Plutchik-wheel-591x270

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Somebody’s Got to Feel This*

write feelingsI was watching Benji with a group of family members in my grandparents’ living room the first time it happened.

Something sad happened onscreen and I wanted to cry so I pretended like I needed to go to the restroom so no one would see me even though every adult probably knew.

Even at 5, I’d already been trained that boys don’t cry.

My parents had recently divorced, so I’m sure I was more emotionally sensitive than I had been prior. But I doubt that’s the reason the sad Benji moment made me feel something.

I wasn’t much of a crier throughout most of my childhood, and save the tragic death of my father’s only brother when I was 17, and a handful of instances where I was forced to say bye to my father for several months at a time because we lived 500 miles apart, I didn’t do much of it.

Maybe because “boys don’t cry.” Or maybe because I ran out of tears for the “small stuff.”

I wasn’t a cyborg. I felt. At funerals of my great grandparents, or the ones I occasionally worked as an alter boy in my childhood church.

I felt when I read Alfred Slote’s Tony and Me.

I felt when I read Where the Red Fern Grows.

I felt when I saw E.T.

Just because I didn’t cry doesn’t mean my body didn’t want to. I just pretended to be tough because that’s the role I thought I was supposed to be playing.

The writing did its job. It made me feel.

In the end, I think that’s what made it good.

Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?

As I’ve continued to write personal stories here, something became clear: No one is reading any of this shit because of the writing quality.

People are reading because I wrote a personal story they identified with. I wrote something that mattered BECAUSE it mattered to them, personally. It’s really hard for us to empathize with people who have lives nothing like our own. It’s incredibly easy to empathize with people who have the same stories.

I think the longer we live, the more in common we start to have with everyone else. You know—the law of averages and all that as more things happen to us.

People who have been through divorce sometimes find catharsis in reading someone else’s first-person account.

People who have sick children sometimes find peace and perspective when reading about someone else’s challenges with their child’s health.

People fighting addiction sometimes find strength and support when reading someone else document his or her struggles with the same.

We get so afraid to talk about it.

Because we’re private or shy or don’t want to be seen as weak. Because we’re afraid of what other people think.

That’s what’s so beautiful about writing. The opportunity to be brave and help others.

Some of you might be thinking: “But I don’t think my story is special. I don’t think it can help anyone.”

There’s a scared, self-doubting version of ourselves that lives inside each of us. And that’s the lie that coward tells us so it can stay comfortably and safely hidden in the shadows.

I laugh at the idea of me offering another writer advice as if I’m in any position to do so. But then I remember the most important thing I’ve ever learned about human beings:

We’re not so different, you and me.

Sure, you might like sauerkraut and Mountain Dew: Code Red and rye bread for reasons hard for me to fathom. But when you strip away our skin color (thank you, Dr. King), gender, personal tastes and cultural differences? We are remarkably, miraculously, beautifully (and sometimes tragically) alike.

You Can Feel It*

If you had a family like mine, you were told how special you were your entire life. “Matt, I hope you know how special you are,” I was told by my grandparents, and my parents, and my aunts and uncles, and family friends.

And then you grow up and you realize you really aren’t that special and that’s just something they said over and over again because they loved you a lot and were trying to compensate for the perceived hardships they thought you were dealing with as a child with 500 miles separating your parents.

If you didn’t have a family like mine, you might have been told verbally or otherwise that you weren’t special. That you didn’t matter much. The net result of an upbringing with an unfair amount of dysfunction or neglect or abuse.

The truth is: we are all just a bunch of people. And if every single one of us grew up with the exact same parents in the exact same house with the exact same opportunities in the exact same school in the exact same town, we’d all be excruciatingly similar.

It’s not about special or not special.

But it is about unity.

I write things sometimes about marriage and relationships and women, and people are like: “Whoa! He really gets it!”

And it’s not because I know anything about you or how you feel, or about anyone else.

It’s because I know myself and I have extreme confidence that if I just write honestly about that, it’s going to be relevant to more than enough people to matter.

So, if you’re looking for some writing advice on how to write stories that matter, I’ve got one thing: BE YOU.

And I don’t mean the person your friends hang out with, or the person your co-workers know, or the person everyone thinks you are at school or at church or at parties.

Be the you that you know. Inside your head. When it’s just you in the dark staring up at the ceiling. That’s the you that can help people, and you don’t even have to try.

All you have to do is be brave enough to write it down.

The things that make you happy.

The things that make you angry.

The things that make you laugh.

The things that make you cry.

Because there’s a person out there who gets happy and angry and laughs and cries about the exact same things. And sometimes they feel like a freak. And they’re too afraid to talk about the things they think about when they’re staring up at the ceiling in the dark. They’re afraid of rejection. That no one will like them. That no one IS like them.

That they’re alone.

The most important thing I’ve learned as a writer, as a divorced guy, as a parent, as an insecure single guy who is shitty at dating—is that we’re NEVER alone. By that I mean, we are NEVER the only people feeling something.

There are hundreds. Thousands. Millions.

Countless people just like you. Just like me. Just like us.

And if you can be brave enough to feel something.

And brave enough to write it down.

And courageous enough to hit “Publish.”

They’ll find you. And then they realize: Wow. I’m not the only one.

And then you’ll know you did something that mattered.

The secret to making people feel isn’t through clever wordplay or manipulation.

In fact, there’s no secret at all.

You just write down what happens on the inside. The parts we often hide from the world as we attempt to convince everyone we’re better or stronger or richer or smarter or funnier or braver than we are.

Because you’re not the only one.

Because it’s okay to cry.

Because the best stories are the ones that make us feel something.

Please tell us one.

Author’s Note:

*- that’s what she said.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Science of the Heart is Sometimes Lost on Me

heart health

I used to make my wife cry because I treated her like her feelings weren’t important.

“Just because you feel that way doesn’t make it true,” I would say like an asshole.

This is an example of being both right AND wrong at the same time. Because, sure. I was right.

The truth is the truth. There aren’t several versions of the truth. There are only the things that are actually real. Seeking truth seems worthwhile.

Just because someone accuses you of being mean and intentionally trying to hurt their feelings doesn’t mean that’s actually what happened.

However.

In this situation, does the “truth” even matter?

If the woman I vowed to love and cherish forever literally felt as if I was sometimes being mean or hurting feelings to the point of making her believe it might be intentional, or at best, recklessly indifferent, does it even matter what my intentions were?

It goes like this:

Someone levels a charge. It stings because the accusation suggests you’re doing a shitty job of being a spouse/friend/employee/parent/student/teacher/player/coach, etc.

So you get defensive because you’re always trying your best, which is the most anyone can ask for. Right?

Wrong.

Your Best + Indifference = You’re Maybe Being Just a Little Bit Shitty

Your Best + Empathy = Your Actual Best

I didn’t learn how to empathize with my wife until she totally shut down and flipped the script on me during the final stretch of our marriage. She felt as if I had been indifferent and unresponsive to her opinions and emotions for several years. And then I got a taste of it myself.

It tastes like sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

I wonder: How many marriages end because one partner keeps feeling hurt over and over and over, and the other seems like they don’t care even if they actually do?

Are Feelings Bullshit?

I’m guilty of having said more than once (and meaning it) that “feelings are bullshit.”

Context matters.

I believe that people’s emotions are highly volatile and ever-changing. What we liked and wanted five years ago is not what we like and want today. What we like and want five years from now might be different. Those feelings, desires, opinions are always changing as we go through life experiencing all that we do.

So, when we’re talking about marriage and divorce, I’m sometimes of the opinion that feelings are bullshit.

Every married couple is comprised of two people who were once totally, magically enamored with and wrapped up in one another. You’re either the type of person who wants to be married or the type of person who doesn’t.

If you actually got married, I assume the former.

It means you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to spend your life alone. I think most of us get that.

And if you’re that kind of person, you’re going to be with someone, sooner or later.

I don’t think it’s sensible to assume that simply changing partners is going to bring the feelings of lasting love, security, peace, happiness, contentment, sexual satisfaction, that most of us seek.

In fact, I think changing partners without a thorough self-reflection process that forces you to look in the mirror and ask the really uncomfortable question: “What did I do to help destroy my marriage?”, means that you’re pretty likely to keep having relationship problems until you do.

So, I stand on my soapbox and scream for people to realize: Love is a choice.

If you’re going to be with someone anyway. And you accept the premise that no two people are going to feel all lusty and infatuationy forever, then I think there’s a time for leaving emotion at the door and waking up every day and making a choice: Today, I’m going to love unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

One person walking that walk alone cannot and will not save a marriage. By definition, a marriage is two operating as one. And half of that can only carry it for so long before collapsing. You need both people to care.

But I sometimes wonder how many relationships would be saved if just one person (and I’d like it to be the husband) would make the very challenging, very heroic decision to sacrifice that much. To love that much.

I think feelings can follow.

And change the whole world. Maybe for everyone. Or maybe just for one small family.

If you’re part of that family, there’s no difference.

I Don’t Want to Lose My Empathy

I used to cry a lot. I don’t know what that makes me. Not very tough?

I mention it because I’m, historically speaking, not the biggest crier in the world. In fact, I used to be fairly stoic. I haven’t decided whether I think that’s good or bad.

When I was in my early 20s, I got absolutely obliterated on beer and sparkling wine at my best friend’s wedding and cried afterward because I had to say goodbye to everyone and go back to Florida where I missed them a lot. It was embarrassing.

When I was in my late 20s, my mom called me one afternoon to tell me she was leaving my stepdad who I’d known since I was 5. All the sudden I felt like a kindergartner again and cried just like I did back when my mom and dad got divorced.

And then in my 30s, there I was again. Crying. Because of divorce. My own.

I know what it’s like to be a child of divorce. Twice.

I know what it’s like to be a husband getting divorced.

I know what it’s like to be a father watching his young son deal with his parents’ breakup.

That’s empathy. And it manifests itself the best when I feel.

It’s this empathy that made me a better person in the wake of my failed marriage and as I’ve grown and evolved into whatever and whoever I am right now.

And while I’ll never celebrate the end of my family, I’ll always feel grateful for that metamorphosis which gives me a chance to be a better man moving forward. A better father to my son. A better partner to anyone who might one day grant me the opportunity.

Brokenness and Healing

The constant refrain from people close to me following my separation is that no one saw it coming. Time and time again, I heard how we seemed like the perfect happy couple. The couple others aspired to be.

No, Virginia. There is no Santa Claus.

I believe strongly in all this stuff. Passionately. That we don’t need to break as much as we do. That our relationships—the very foundations of our human experiences—can be fortified and last forever just like all those Happily Ever After princess stories we’re fed in our youth.

It just take guts. More guts than most of us have when we FEEL so horribly.

We have two choices.

We keep doing what we’re doing. Throwaway marriages built on wedding vows we either betray or never really meant in the first place.

Or we get serious about changing ourselves. On the inside.

About giving more than we take. Every day. Forever.

Feelings aren’t bullshit.

Because how we feel IS what’s real for each of us. And if we can learn to be empathetic enough—courageous enough—to love others on their terms and not on ours, maybe we’ll get the same treatment in return.

And then maybe a bunch of things won’t break.

And then maybe a bunch of kids smile and laugh and play more, family intact.

And then maybe we don’t eat so much sulfur soup mixed with drunk-guy vomit and asshole sprinkles.

And then maybe the whole world changes.

And it didn’t take a miracle.

It just took you.

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: