Tag Archives: Fortitude

We Should Stop Blaming Marriage for Our Problems

who we blame for our problems

(Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

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

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

“Monogamy is unnatural!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe You Don’t Know What Marriage Is

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

That’s not what I mean.

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

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

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

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

Maybe I’ll choose something else.

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

But that’s not the point either.

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

It’s Because You Didn’t Know

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

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

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

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

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

They don’t deserve blame either.

Because they grew up the same way.

And so did our grandparents.

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

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

Yes.

Marriage Doesn’t Suck. We Suck.

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

Marriage is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

Cynical people tell you how frequently it fails.

Hedonists tell you how limiting it can be.

“Don’t do it!” we hear.

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s okay.

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

You’ll receive no judgment or shaming from me.

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

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

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

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

The rewards of relationship success are equally so.

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

It seems silly to blame the mountain when we fall.

Marriage is rewarding and beautiful when we make it so.

It’s something else when we don’t.

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The Two Paths to Solving Divorce: Which Will We Choose?

The easy way or the hard way

(Image/iStock)

There are two ways to solve society’s divorce crisis.

One is pretty easy, which is great! We like easy things because everyone can do it!

The other is hard, which is a bummer. We generally prefer easy over difficult, and most of the time it makes sense to choose the easier way when the result is the same.

I think divorce is the great social crisis of our time.

The consequences of divorce on individual people and families are nothing short of life trauma for one or both partners, their children, extended families and close friends. There is often financial suffering, and more importantly, suffering of the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional variety.

The trickle-down effects of divorce on society as a whole have been well documented. Children in unstable homes often grow up struggling emotionally, have trouble in school, experience dysfunctional relationships and never learning what healthy ones look like, all of which leads to sick and broken people who hurt others, commit crime, and repeat the cycle.

Is it Fair to Label it a ‘Crisis’?

Of course it is.

First, marriage is a thing which affects 95% of all people (in the United States, but I’m super-confident this applies everywhere).

Second, marriage consists of two people VOLUNTEERING to commit the rest of their lives to one another, most of the time doing so in front of hundreds of witnesses and spending $30,000 on a big party to celebrate it. These two people are serious, and you can tell since they’re investing so much in it. The vast majority of the time, both people exchanging vows are totally convinced they will love and honor one another forever.

Third, despite that, 5-10 years later, more than half will divorce. Those brave enough to marry again end up divorcing 67% of the time, even after experiencing what didn’t work the first time.

Fourth, (and most frightening) is that so few see it coming. We date and we’re happy. We want to get married. We get married. Then millions of things happen both good and bad over the course of many days, and emotional ups and downs, and perhaps children and other life changes.

And then it breaks, and people die inside. Then they get divorced, and most of the time, can’t even tell you how it all happened, because there’s rarely some big thing to point to as the reason. It’s many countless little moments no one knew were important until they looked back later and identified their missteps. Which some never do.

Fifth, (and most disturbing) is that it seems so few talk about it, making me wonder how things can get better if no one ever talks about it.

The Two Divorce Solutions

Solution #1 is Easy! – Redefine Divorce, making it “less painful through rebranding and rethinking.”

OMG! YES!!!

This sounds awesome! After all, I’m a huge proponent of the power of mindset, asking the right questions, and reframing problems to find solutions!

Maybe divorce isn’t a crisis! Maybe it’s an opportunity!

Here’s what a couple of super-smart doctors had to say about this exciting new method of dealing with the end of a marriage—The Inconvenient Truth About Love and Divorce, they say:

“Divorce is intrinsically hard, but our attitudes make it harder than it needs to be. Guilt, shame and a sense of failure significantly raise the emotional cost of divorce.”

They continue:

“…people contemplating divorce are generally profoundly unhappy. America has taught us that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right — yet because our society feels threatened by divorce, it does not particularly want to attach that concept to the dissolution of marriage. We want to talk about love and happiness on the way into marriage, but after the exchange of rings, we demand an old-fashioned narrative, one of self-sacrifice, loyalty and hard work.

“These attitudes are rooted in the past, when marriage was an economic institution designed to build wealth and raise children. While it was surely the case that humans longed for love and happiness as much then as they do now, those feelings were not expected to derive from marriage. The pursuit of love and happiness was not considered to be an adequate reason for marriage, and it certainly was not an adequate reason for divorce.

“Today, in contrast, the vast majority of Americans marry for love. We promise at the altar to love one another until death do us part. We do not pause long enough to ask ourselves what that promise signifies, because we do not want to know the answer. Can anyone commit to feel an emotion in perpetuity? No, of course not. We can force ourselves to be loyal and self-sacrificing, but we cannot force ourselves to love. We humans have little control over our hearts.

“This truth is so inconvenient that we try to tell ourselves stories about how love can be created through determination and hard work, but we don’t really believe our own stories. If we did, we would all still agree to arranged marriages. In reality, some modern couples are held together by a strong bond of love, but for other couples, love fades, leaving behind an existential question: If we married for love, what does it mean, now, to be married without love?

“If we, as a society, were honest with ourselves, we would admit that it is not reasonable to expect people to marry for love yet not to divorce for lack of love.”

Maybe you didn’t pick up on this earlier, but I think the co-authors’ take on love, marriage and divorce is about the dumbest, shittiest, unhealthiest and damaging take on this topic that I’ve ever seen.

Maybe murder would be better dealt with using simple rebranding and rethinking!

Is murder really so bad? After all, everyone dies anyway. By demonstrating empathy and support for murderers, we can see that what they really did was simply accelerate an event which was inevitably going to happen anyway. There’s no evidence the deceased is suffering. Let’s not think of it as “murder,” and start telling ourselves different stories!

Maybe I’m being an asshole. That’s probably not a very good example.

I shared this TED article written by Astro and Danielle Teller yesterday on Facebook, curious what others may think and feel about it.

I think frequent MBTTTR commenter Lisa Gottman summed up my initial thoughts nicely with this:

“One aspect of love is emotion, but it’s also involves our cognitive choices and relationship skills and biology. So many people get divorced because they don’t understand where love went or how to fix it.”

And then kicked more ass with this:

“Also, by these authors’ premise, we could also apply these principles to children. That used to be a practical way to get help for the farm or just a lack of birth control. We now have children for love. But you know what, we don’t feel love for them sometimes, or when they’re teenagers maybe not at all for years.
“Should we consciously uncouple from them too? How about our annoying relatives? The mom who is not abusive but just has poor boundaries. Do I get to consciously uncouple from her because I don’t feel a lot of touchy feely emotions of love each Thanksgiving when she criticizes the meal?”

Because I read that article and was totally dumbfounded. The Tellers are brilliant, highly accomplished people. Astro is a successful entrepreneur, scientist and author. Danielle is a physician, scientist and author.

And if THEY don’t know, then it’s no damn wonder so many people out there don’t know either.

LOVE IS NOT AN EMOTION.

Love is certainly something we feel. But it is NOT a “feeling.”

And I needn’t say more than Lisa already did regarding our feelings toward our children or family members. We don’t “feel” like waking up and going to work sometimes. But most of us do it anyway because it’s what we must in order to achieve something we desire—paying for homes, food, transportation, electricity, TV and internet service, eliminating debt and every other life expense. We WANT these things, so we do things we don’t want in order to acquire them.

We don’t wake up every morning for the rest of our marriages feeling the same emotional waves of infatuation and lustful desire as we might have in the early days of our relationship. We’re soul mates and best friends!!!

Umm. No you’re not. And it won’t take long for hedonic adaptation to firmly take hold of your brain and make you shittier at several aspects of human relationships.

It’s your job to KNOW you will get bored. It happens to every person about everything. Always, always, always. You can’t trade in your boring spouse for a new one who will magically never bore or upset you one day.

The Tellers are smart. But on this, they’re terrifyingly wrong.

LOVE IS A CHOICE.

Solution #2 is Hard! – Wake Up Every Day, and Make the Choice to Love Hard, Just Like You Promised

The Tellers called it “old-fashioned.”

They labeled “self-sacrifice, loyalty and hard work” as being outdated concepts we should all move past. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!

Yeah, great message. That should do wonders for the world’s youth who don’t want to go to school, and who want governments to just give them things without making any discernible societal contribution.

When you don’t mow your grass, your lawn looks shitty and your property becomes ugly.

When you don’t exercise, you gain weight and your muscles atrophy, and you look worse and literally become less healthy.

When you don’t educate yourself or develop skills, you end up ignorant and unskilled, and a life of difficulty and poverty is likely. (Yes, I know there are layers of complexity related to certain unearned advantages here.)

When you neglect Things Which Need Done, or even just Things We Should Do, your life suffers in whichever areas you are neglecting. This is a universally true thing, applicable to everyone in every culture, since the beginning of recorded human history.

We must DO STUFF—some of which isn’t fun and maybe doesn’t “feel good”—in order to achieve something we want, or maintain a particular state of being.

Treating marriage or any long-term monogamous relationship as something that lives outside this universal truth is dangerous, delusional, and fuels the problem we’re already having.

The Problem: We’ve Cheapened Marriage

We’re all probably a little guilty.

I am with the Tellers that a “non-confrontational approach to divorce” is a better way of doing things. Kindness almost always has merit. And I’m totally cool with “conscious uncoupling.” Two people calmly and collaboratively agreeing to go their separate ways. That’s awesome. Good for them.

Just do it before you get married.

Because, Marriage = Forever. That’s the entire point. Any hesitation to sign up for forever lends itself, I think to simply NOT getting married.

Succeeding in marriage and avoiding divorce has NEVER been advertised as something easy to do. That doesn’t make it “old-fashioned.” It just makes it true.

The solution to achieving future love and happiness is NOT encouraging everyone who doesn’t feel loved or feel happy to treat their relationships like an older-generation iPhone they want to upgrade.

The solution to achieving future love is to actually love—because when we give, we receive.

The solution to achieving future happiness is to realize there’s no such thing as a life destination where Happiness lives. We don’t arrive somewhere, discover we feel happy, and then simply stay there forever. Happiness is something we feel along our various life journeys in our endless pursuits of whatever it is we choose to chase.

Choose to love. Choose gratitude and contentment while doing so.

It’s rarely easy. It’s often hard.

But it’s always good.

Life is full of hacks and shortcuts.

Like with physical fitness, education, and our individual pursuits of excellence, in Love and Marriage there are no shortcuts. Just the long way.

No one promised it would be easy or feel good every day. Only that it’d be worth it.

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Is ‘Happy Marriage’ a Myth?

unicorn

Deanna asked:

“I’m sleeping alone after 5 years of marriage for the second time to the same man. Yes, the first time around it was about this long before we’d arrive at this point too. We took 7 years off before embarking on Round 2. We are absolutely headed for another divorce. Because I’m not a complete idiot, I don’t plan to take this lovely ride a third time, however, I do wonder if it’s even worth bothering pairing up with anyone in the future. I’m 38 and will be an official empty-nester once I’m single (183 days before the kid graduates and a clean break can be made). Reading your posts and subsequent comments it seems like I’d be up for more of the same even with a different man. I’m not interested in switching teams so my question is if flying solo is just the best way to go? Does anyone ever get this shit right?”

Does anyone ever get this shit right?

I think about that question all the time. In case you were too lazy to read Deanna’s question, “shit,” in this case, refers to marriage.

Does anyone ever have a happy and successful marriage?, is what Deanna asked.

That’s a vexing question. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Of the half that do not, how many are comprised of sad, angry and depressed people who want out of their marriages but feel trapped? How many are having affairs, or wish they were? How many scream and fight every day or get physically abusive? How many sleep in separate bedrooms and never have sex? How many are pocked by unhealthy addiction or criminal behavior? How many are absentee parents with children who hate them, or themselves, and think about committing suicide because they feel abandoned and unloved?

Most of these are obvious and observable. So, here’s the one that frightens me most: How many of the couples who appear to do everything right, and have joyful, cooperative, peaceful, loving, stable marriages are faking it and actually have creepy skeletons and tell-tale hearts hidden beneath the surface?

The Dream World vs. The Real World

One of our many life problems is that we live in two worlds: The real one we experience every day which is filled with frequent frustration, annoyance, pain, horror, stress (but also some good things!); and the magical (and make-believe) dream one where everything functions ideally all the time.

Let’s use abstinence-only sex education as an example.

OF COURSE the world would be better if young, unmarried people never had sex. A lot of very decent, well-meaning people believe God has a rule punishable by eternal damnation that says: DO NOT have sex outside of marriage.

Since these people’s top priority in life is to raise children to make good choices and avoid eternities of fiery torment, they want to teach abstinence-only sex education classes to them. To discuss “safe sex” and pass out free condoms is tantamount to encouraging teenagers to have immoral and irresponsible sex that endangers both their physical and spiritual lives.

There are two things going on here, and both are true:

  1. If unmarried people never had sex, a bunch of awesome things would happen overnight: Unwanted pregnancy, sexually-transmitted disease, adultry, rape, prostitution, the emotional guilt-and-shame rollercoaster, child pornography and molestation all vanish instantly, and a bunch of ancillary things like kidnapping, child sex slavery, prostitution, pornography and murder all undergo dramatic transformations which project to benefit humankind.
  2. Unmarried people, including teenagers who shouldn’t, are going to have sex whether God or we want them to, or not.

Buck all you want, but the conservative goody-two-shoes people (no matter what you believe about a particular deity or religion) are totally right: Unbridled hedonism fucks up a lot of stuff.

HOWEVER, in a real-world application designed to prepare teenagers for adulthood and educate them about sex, is it really practical to throw a bunch of moral platitudes at them, and expect everything to work out fine?

Ideally, I’m with the moralists on this one. My list of bad things that goes away when the world abides by The Jesus Sex Rules™ (not to be confused with The Jesús Sex Rules, which may or may not involve donkeys in Tijuana) seems like a worthwhile tradeoff.

But, practically? It doesn’t seem wise or pragmatic to avoid reality when teaching teens about sex. Adding more horny and confused ignoramuses to the populace only exacerbates our problems.

WTF are We Talking About? Donkey Shows?

No. We’re talking about whether anyone ever gets marriage correct. Are there really people out there who wake up every day feeling good and have a great time (without being conned) in their married lives?

The answer is: I don’t know. There are 7.4 billion people in the world, and I only really know what it’s like to be one of them.

I don’t know anything. Ever.

But I always think things.

And I THINK there are people who have great lives and happy, honest, healthy marriages that last forever involving real, actual love.

Most People Aren’t Up to It Because it’s Hard

Does anyone ever really lose weight when they make New Year’s Resolutions?

Yep.

Does anyone ever really succeed when they quit a job to start a business?

Uh-huh.

Does anyone ever really overcome hardship and rise to greatness?

Totally.

Most people have shitty marriages because IT’S REALLY HARD TO HAVE A GREAT ONE.

We all think it should be easy. “Love should be easy! It’s love! I love my mom and dad and best friend and puppy! If it’s difficult, then it wasn’t meant to be! Since it isn’t easy, we’re probably just not right for each other! I’m pretty sure my soul mate is that hot co-worker in Accounting!”

Marriage has such a high failure rate because most of us are ignorant assholes. We lack a fundamental understanding of what marriage IS NOT, and we demonstrate a complete inability to understand the subjective experience of our opposite-sex partners (I won’t pretend to understand how this might play in same-sex relationships). We make a grave error in assuming that whenever something happens, two different humans observe and interpret it the same. That never happens. Some people like crocheting more than watching football. Some people like tofu salads more than pizza. Some people like polka music more than… well, any music that doesn’t suck.

Any two people are going to view the world differently. That tends to be exacerbated further between the two genders.

The same patterns always emerge between husbands/boyfriends and their wives/girlfriends. He does this. She responds this way. She does this. He responds that way. And all of those choices and responses mixed together end up getting you a shit sandwich with rotting lettuce and divorce mayonnaise on moldy rye, no matter what you intended to order.

People are foolish enough to believe it might work with someone else, so they start sleeping with them, or end their marriage thinking it will all work out with the more-awesome person they’ll get with next time.

But, SURPRISE! The divorce rate for second marriages is actually 17-percent higher! A lovely 67 percent!

That’s right. After gaining all that wisdom and life experience and learning from past mistakes, people get marriage wrong the second time even more than when they were understandably young and stupid.

But some people are wise.

They KNOW, really and truly, how hard marriage is and the level of commitment required to make it last forever. And they WANT to. They’re pretty smart, honest, decent people with the best intentions for their spouse, children, extended family and friends.

And they STILL fuck it up. They neglect their wives emotionally because they’re selfish. They shame and belittle their husbands because he’s different (Read: not as good as) than my father. They let their powerful and hard-to-reign-in human emotions run rampant, constantly pushing one another away because I’m right and they owe me an apology!

Most people get divorced or have unhealthy marriages because it’s really hard to have good marriages. It requires the same level of sacrificial dedication it takes for obese people to shed weight through disciplined exercise and healthy eating. It requires the same level of attention successful entrepreneurs put into product development, market research, branding and customer acquisition. It requires the same amount of inner-strength and fortitude people use to overcome enormous life obstacles to rise to great success and inspire others.

‘Is flying solo the best way to go?’

Here’s the toughest thing to swallow about marriage, and what makes finding a great one so rare: It’s INCREDIBLY difficult to find a human being with the strength and discipline required to love their spouse enough to give more to them every day than they ask for themselves.

And even when you do find one? It’s barely half of what’s needed for a marriage to survive. A marriage will NEVER work with one hero trying to do all the heavy lifting while their partner just selfishly derpy-derps their way through life, never sacrificing in return.

Great marriages are unicorns because the ONLY way for them to exist is for TWO PEOPLE to have the unwavering will and discipline to wake up every day, no matter what, and choose to love the person next to them, regardless of how they might be feeling through life’s perpetual ups and downs.

Good marriages are impossible without it.

“Why does my marriage suck?” people wonder. That’s why. Because you don’t give enough, and your partner doesn’t give enough, and your love and respect and kindness for them is conditional. You only treat them well when its convenient and doesn’t require swallowing any pride. And you can’t stop hurting one another because you don’t even know that what you’re doing hurts them. And you don’t care enough to ask.

But look on the bright side, there’s a 33-percent chance you’ll get it right next time! (That wasn’t directed at you, Deanna.)

In conclusion:

Deanna. I don’t know whether I’ll ever marry again. No clue. I felt so bad after my divorce, that avoiding a situation in which I might feel that again seemed like a wise play.

I think most people feel that way.

In The Dream World, we would live the rest of our single lives feeling free and independent and having an amazing time pursuing whatever passion, idea or interest popped into our little heads, and we’d die someday old and admired and regret-free as our many friends and family celebrated our life well-lived with champaigne and tequila.

But we live in The Real World.

And in the real world, our hearts and souls (and privates) want to reach out and connect to others. We are confusingly and mysteriously and beautifully wired for connection.

The benefits of happy, healthy relationships, and of love and companionship are well documented. People live longer and better when they have reasons to. For most people, that’s loved ones.

Flying solo sounds like a fine idea.

Like crazy European sex parties. And eating cake and ice cream for every meal. And snorting cocaine all the time because it feels so good.

What could possibly go wrong!?

However—and I reiterate that I don’t know, but simply think—figuring out what it takes to make the relationships we naturally crave last a lifetime is a better strategy.

What if we asked:

What do I need to learn in order to be an amazing partner so they always feel loved and want to be with me?

What have I failed to do up to this point that might have helped me choose a partner who wouldn’t want to end our marriage? How can I do better next time?

But, Deanna… if you’ll forgive this one overstep… you and he chose each other not once, but TWICE. (Which is a little bit poetic and beautiful.)

If we already know that marriages to second partners fail more frequently than with our first, and we know our hearts and souls (and privates) crave companionship, and that we are our best selves when we have it, maybe there are better questions:

What can I do today to make ME better?

What could I do today to help save my marriage?

What if doing so changed everything?

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Play ‘Til the Ninth Inning

Be a closer.  Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Be a closer.
Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Two horrible things happened to me after turning 30.

I lost my job.

And I lost my family.

In both instances, the cuts were deep. I’ve never known rejection like either of those incidents.

To be sure, your wife leaving and deciding to love someone else makes you feel pretty worthless.

And generally speaking, divorce is about a million times worse than unemployment.

But this is also true: I have never felt like more of a loser than when I was laid off from my job.

The Job Hunt

The local job market wasn’t exactly clamoring for laid-off newspaper reporters.

Finding work as a reporter would have been even more difficult than what I was facing at age 30: Reinventing myself.

I did the only things I could. I made my résumé the best it could be. I tapped into my local network. And I started doing the work I wanted to do in my new professional life.

Without realizing it, I chose myself.

I caught a few breaks, and I started a freelance business creating marketing content for several companies and organizations.

But I did something more important than that.

I showed tenacity and sticktoitiveness.

A company for which I wanted to work invited me to interview for an opening in their advertising department.

But I didn’t get an offer.

The head of human resources liked me, though, and kept fighting for interviews.

One day, I showed up for one of the company’s job fairs. I met with another department head for a writing position.

But I didn’t get an offer.

I was invited to interview with a third department. Internet marketing.

It went well. But the other two had also.

No offer.

Days turned into weeks. And weeks turned into months.

I kept looking for opportunities. I was making money freelancing. And I still qualified for unemployment benefits during the weeks when I didn’t earn as much as my benefits were worth.

The clock was ticking on unemployment, though. The benefits were a couple weeks away from running dry.

Things were about to get really dicey.

One sunny afternoon, I was downtown attending a chamber of commerce luncheon to hear a speaker.

So, I didn’t get the phone call.

Back in my car, I listened to the voice mail.

It was the HR lady who liked me, asking me to call back. She had a job offer for me. For more money than I’d ever made before. She hoped I was still interested and available.

I’d never tasted victory so sweet.

I got ballsy and asked for more money anyway. (You should ALWAYS ask for more.)

And I got it. Two years worth of raises with one simple question.

Play ‘til the ninth inning.

I’m just finishing up the fantastic Austin Kleon book Show Your Work! which I mentioned yesterday. Everyone participating in the creative process should read it.

Near the end, Kleon tells an anecdote about one time he and a co-worker returned to their office building from lunch to find no parking spaces available. They circled and circled and circled the lot. Both were ready to give up, but just then a spot opened up, and they pulled in.

Kleon’s co-worker looked at him and said “You gotta play till the ninth inning, man.”

Kleon never forgot it.

And I hope I never will either.

Never Say Die

You don’t have to be a Goonie to appreciate what it means to have a never-quit attitude.

It’s impossible for me to think about this without thinking about my marriage.

I had spent a long time doing all of the wrong things.

And then my father-in-law died and everything turned to shit.

Shortly thereafter, I was in the guest room.

The guest room is an interesting place when it’s located directly below the bedroom you want to be in.

Because you stare at the ceiling. Because you hear her footsteps. Because there’s no running away from all that truth piled up on your chest while you’re trying to catch your breath.

And that’s when it started.

It was the 7th inning stretch.

I was tired. Exhausted. But I wasn’t quitting.

I cried.

I thought.

I prayed.

I read books.

I grew.

I was about to lose everything. I could feel it. But I was holding on.

The guest room is where I learned that love is a choice.

The guest room is where I learned that you have to give more than you take.

The guest room is where l became a different person. Where I turned into the kind of man that is going to play through the ninth inning.

And now I’m left with only questions. Questions that will go forever unanswered.

Now I’m back sleeping where I wanted to be. But the footsteps echoing into the guest room below are my own.

And no one is around to listen to them.

She’s gone.

Maybe she thinks about this stuff sometimes. Maybe she doesn’t.

But here’s the one thing I’m sure of.

The man she left was the best version of himself she ever knew.

And I’ll never stop believing that if she would have been willing to play just one more inning, we could have avoided everything crashing and burning.

Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore.

It probably doesn’t.

But the idea matters.

Because there are a bunch of other guys in guest rooms. On couches. Sleeping at their parents’ houses. All over the world.

Relationships in limbo.

Everyone’s hurting. Hurting so bad that quitting looks like an attractive option. Most people are going to quit. Because it’s the decision requiring the least amount of effort. The least amount of pride swallowing. The least amount of choosing love.

Everyone wants to fall in love. Few of us want to choose it when it’s inconvenient.

I have truckloads of regret over my marital missteps. But I sleep at night because of how I played toward the end of the game.

Maybe you’ll climb that mountain.

Maybe you’ll get that job.

Maybe you’ll save your family.

Or maybe you won’t.

But if you can muster up the strength and courage to play ‘til the ninth?

You’ll walk tall no matter what.

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The Lost Followers

Are you not entertained?

Are you not entertained?

I lost readers—at least three—after disclosing that this place has been compromised.

My place.

To write. To opine. To emote.

Maybe they decided I’m a fraud and jumped ship.

Maybe they’re people in my ex’s and I’s personal lives that no longer felt comfortable playing voyeur now that she’s in the loop.

Maybe they were among the many new followers picked up when a post I wrote about Clean Copy was widely circulated by WordPress, and they quickly discovered my personal stories weren’t their particular cup of tea.

Maybe I offended them with all of my bad language in the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde post.

Or maybe they think I’ll stop being honest now since my ex might be reading. Maybe they think I already have. Maybe they think I never was.

On Rejection

I don’t take it well.

Never have.

While I was never the most-popular kid in school, I was also never the kid getting picked on, or the last to be picked in a playground football game.

I’ve always fared reasonably well socially.

I always had predominantly good luck getting jobs. I interview well because I’m nice and I think interviewers can tell I care and have genuine passion.

But then I was laid off. Living on The Unemployment Line for a year and a half before finally finding the job I have now.

My editors at the paper assured me it was a financial decision. I had to be the one because I had the least seniority on the editorial staff. That it had nothing to do with my value.

But, you know what?

That can’t be true.

If I had been an all-star-caliber employee? A magnificent reporter and writer? There’s no way in hell they send me packing.

I failed to make myself indispensible.

So, when the economic crunch happened and employers had to make tough choices, I was tossed on the other side of the line upon further evaluation. With the group of people they could manage without.

I’ve had plenty of girls not want to go out with me. But I never had my heart broke by one until my marriage failed.

There was so much at stake. Nine years. A child. Family ties. Mutual friends.

And in the final analysis, I was deemed the worse option. Divorce was the lesser of two evils.

I am so much more sensitive to rejection now than I used to be.

Girls that might not have even been real people not writing me back on online-dating sites felt like needles.

Friends withdrawing post-divorce has felt even worse.

Somewhere in the middle are people who once decided: Yeah, I want to read more from this guy. Only to read more and decide it was a nuisance. Bullshit. A waste of their time.

I can only think of that great scene in Gladiator where Maximus violently ruins a few dudes in the gladiator arena to the horror and astonishment of a crowd that was blood-thirsty just moments before. He screams at them: “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE?”

Own It

Then.

Pause.

Get a grip, Matt.

Breathe.

You have to own your shit.

Or, in mature-speak, you must accept responsibility for your actions. In each and every situation in which you find yourself.

Life cannot be a series of unfortunate events happening to you. You’ll be a victim you’re entire life if that’s how you think about things.

Life must be a series of choices you make to control the action. To dictate the outcomes you want. With courage. And faith. And fortitude.

You know why girls on Match didn’t write me back? Because I wrote them suck-ass emails. Because I haven’t made my body something they want to touch. Because I don’t represent the type of successful and confident and bold and brave and strong person they find attractive. Maybe even because I have a son. And that beautiful little man is a choice I’ll make over and over and over again at the expense of my dating life forever.

Own your shit.

You know why I lost my job?

Because I didn’t make myself indispensible. I didn’t work harder than every other person. I didn’t write the most stories. Or the best. I wasn’t the best journalist in the newsroom. All the best ones got to keep their jobs. There’s a lesson here about how it’s in our best interest to give our jobs—if we value them—the very best we have each and every day. To take nothing for granted. Because it’s on us to be the best we can be. No one is responsible for us having jobs. Or money. Or job satisfaction. Or long-term career success. We’re responsible. Make the choice every day to be great.

Own your shit.

You know why I lost my wife?

Because I was a shitty husband. I’m not going to rehash it. We all fall short. We all mess up. We all do things to hurt others. We all sin.

But is there any doubt that I could be blissfully married with an amazing job and my happy wife and child—or possibly more children—if I’d chose every single day to be great? To love unselfishly? To be kind even when it was inconvenient?

I don’t get to be married anymore in large part because of me.

Our lives are the sum of our choices.

Don’t point fingers.

Look in the mirror.

And be strong.

And love yourself.

And forgive yourself.

And commit to giving your all today in every endeavor that truly matters to you.

Be indispensible in life and love.

Do it for the people who write your paychecks.

Do it for your partners.

Do it for your children.

But mostly, do it for yourself.

The world doesn’t owe me a thing. Nothing. But I owe the world.

I’m sad I lost those followers. Those readers. But they don’t owe me.

I owe them.

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