Tag Archives: Growing Up

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

danger tape

(Image/Sophos.com)

You’re in danger.

You don’t know you’re in danger because it doesn’t feel scary right now. That’s both good and bad, but it might be mostly bad.

I hope you’ll believe me when I say that being aware of danger so that you can do something about it is so much better than getting painfully blindsided later in life.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when you’re a freshman playing defensive back for the scout team at football practice, and the biggest, baddest senior lineman annihilates you on a power sweep right in front of the cheerleading squad you were trying to impress.

I don’t mean blindsided, like when your boyfriend breaks up with you the week of prom or homecoming and your parents already got you the perfect dress, and now you’re feeling sad, confused, and almost too embarrassed to go, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I mean blindsided, like your parents sit you down at the dinner table one night and say “Sweetie, your dad and I feel you’re finally old enough to know the truth about our family,” right before your dad rips off his own face to reveal some creepy robot face underneath.

“We’re not human, honey. We’re creepy robots. And so are you.”

I wish I was kidding.

That’s seriously what divorce can feel like.

Like everything you thought you understood maybe isn’t true or reliable or believable anymore, and that shock can feel both painful and frightening.

You know that you shouldn’t play with guns or knives. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol. Adults taught you the dangers.

You know that you shouldn’t participate in reckless sexual activity. Adults taught you the dangers.

You understand the dangers of texting and driving. Of drinking and driving.

You know about bullying. About unhealthy eating disorders. About the hazards of social media.

You’ve heard it all.

And all of those things are important, but maybe because you’re so aware of them, they’re not the same danger they would be if no one ever warned you about them. You’re probably bored when people want to talk to you about those things because you’ve heard about them so much.

But you know what you probably haven’t heard about that is just as important as those other things, since it literally affects 95 percent of people?

The REAL reasons that so many people get divorced.

Your teachers, principals, coaches and families are failing you.

They are. It’s harsh, but it’s true. They’re not failing you on purpose. They’re not being negligent intentionally or trying to hold out on you.

The truth is, they don’t know either. Because THEIR teachers, principals, coaches and families failed them as well.

No one told you that you are statistically unlikely to have a good marriage.

And you can’t even conceive of what a good marriage might look and feel like. It’s not because you’re “dumb” or because you’re not around adults who actually do have good, healthy marriages. You may be, and I hope that you are.

But the truth is that we CANNOT—ever—know what we don’t know. We think we know all kinds of things, but we’re wrong most of the time. Even all of the adults instructed with teaching you about all of the important stuff in life. ESPECIALLY me. I’m kind of a dumbass. But I’m kind of a dumbass who accidentally discovered something super-important when I got a divorce five years ago and cried a lot more than a man in his mid-30s probably should.

Also, you don’t know who has good marriages and bad marriages, because people who have bad marriages PRETEND to have good marriages. They pretend all of the time. They do it to protect you, and they do it to protect themselves because they’re ashamed that one of the most important and precious things in their lives has become dysfunctional. They’re afraid to lose the comfort and safety of their home and family. They’re afraid of their friends and neighbors thinking they’re failures.

They’re afraid of hurting you, because when you become a parent, protecting your children (even from bad feelings) becomes one of your top life priorities.

Yes. Adults get afraid sometimes, too. Maybe even often. Very afraid.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but adults are afraid of more things than young people.

The difference between being an adult and a child isn’t the ability to shed fear. It’s the ability to march forward bravely even though you don’t have your parents or older siblings protecting you anymore.

The scariest thing in life might be when we’re in danger and don’t know how to get to safety.

It’s scary when something is wrong and we don’t know how to solve a problem or fix something that’s broken or protect ourselves from being hurt.

That’s what people in bad marriages feel like sometimes. You might think that adults would be able to explain to you WHY they got a divorce, but I think you’ll be both surprised and disappointed to learn that isn’t true.

Because you know what marriage is, right? It’s not that complicated.

It’s a forever agreement to love and be faithful to one another for the rest of your life. Generally, you share money, a home, a bedroom, cars, and often children and pets.

And even you, who has presumably never been married before, understand all of that.

While there are some cultures in the world who still do arranged marriages where people don’t get to decide who they marry, marriage is a volunteer activity for most people.

No one is MAKING us get married.

And no one is MAKING us get married to whomever we choose to marry.

Right?

So, why do you think more than half of all marriages fail? (About half of them end in divorce, and then there are all of the people who are still married but wish they weren’t. I’d like to tell you that’s a small number, but it’s not.)

Even though I’m not super-smart, I kind of know why this happens. There’s a good chance no other adults are talking to you about this (because it makes them uncomfortable OR because they never think about it the way they think about warning you about drug abuse, STDs, and creepy white vans with the words “FREE CANDY” spray-painted on the side.)

The REAL Reasons Your Marriage Will Suck (That Your Parents and Teachers Probably Won’t Tell You About)

Many of you are smarter than I was as a kid, and 100 percent of you didn’t grow up in the same time and place with the same adult role models as me, so our experiences won’t be identical. Please don’t think that because I thought or felt something that it means I believe that you are exactly the same.

But one of the coolest things I’ve learned since writing things on the internet is that no matter how different our lives might be—no matter what part of the world we live in, no matter our gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation, or religion, or politics, or profession, or education, or personal interests—there are ALWAYS life experiences that someone can identify with or connect with.

We’re never the only ones who think or feel or do something.

We’re never as alone as we might sometimes feel. So if you feel like you do something strange or weird inside your own head, or when nobody’s around, I promise you that thousands of other people think and do and feel those same things. Even the kids at school who seem smarter or cooler than you. Even the teachers who seem like they have it all figured out. Even moms and dads, and pastors, and coaches and the guy behind the counter at the convenience store, and the lady in the car next to you.

No matter what, you’re not alone. Promise.

Anyway, here is the first of several reasons your marriage will suck and ruin your life if you don’t know what to watch out for.

What Causes Divorce #1: Accidental Sexism (Boys vs. Girls Stuff)

There’s a possibility that you’re accidentally sexist and don’t realize it.

You need to either realize it OR stop behaving that way, or you’re highly likely to have a crap marriage or get divorced. It’s worse than it sounds.

When I was younger, the boys played football on the playground. We talked about sports, played with action figures, and a bunch of other fake-macho stuff we thought our dads, big brothers, and friends would approve of.

If we got in a fight with another kid during a basketball or football game, we were usually friends again by the following day.

The girls—not always, but often—did different things. Maybe they didn’t play sports because they were dressed much nicer. They often stood off to the side playing with their handcrafted jewelry, or whispering about the boys they thought were cute, or whatever secret stuff girls do that I’d be lying to claim I knew about or understood.

Girls went to the bathroom in groups. They thought boys were “gross,” even while crushing on some of them. Fights could last for entire school years between two girls in my class who were the best of friends just a week earlier.

There were obvious differences between boys and girls, I thought.

I always liked girls, both in the I-want-to-make-out-with-them way, and in the I-enjoy-hanging-out-with-them way. I’m generally well-mannered and was taught to respect people, so I certainly never acted in a way that I would have considered “sexist.”

I didn’t think boys were BETTER than girls.

I didn’t mistreat or disrespect someone because they were female.

But I WAS sexist, and I just didn’t know it. And because I was accidentally sexist, I did (or didn’t do) things during my marriage that contributed heavily to its end, and the entire time, I NEVER knew I was harming it. Scary.

You ever say or hear a boy make fun of some other kid playing a sport by saying he “plays like a girl”?

You ever say or hear someone say the phrase “cry like a little girl”?

You ever say or hear a guy accuse one of his buddies of “menstruating,” or “PMS-ing” or of needing to “clean the sand out of his vagina”?

I used to hear and say things like that.

Our intention was never to belittle women by saying those things. Our intention was to razz one another in that bro-culture way guys use to bond by giving one another a hard time. It’s just something many of us do, and I wish I could explain why.

But the implications of saying any of those things is that being a girl, or doing things like a girl, is bad. Right? Right.

And if we’re saying it’s bad to be a girl, aren’t we kind-of saying that being a guy is better than being a girl? Aren’t we kind-of saying that men are better than women?

We are.

And it’s a total dick move, so you should try to stop immediately.

Even if you don’t want to stop because it’s disrespectful to every girl or woman you know, it’s a good idea to stop simply because not stopping will lay the groundwork for your future divorce that neither you nor I want you to experience.

Who Does the Laundry?

Sure, lots of guys do laundry.

I used to wash my clothes periodically in college, and even a little bit during my marriage.

I wash my clothes all of the time now because I’m divorced and live alone.

You might think that my bedroom is the most-depressing room in my house. You’d be mistaken. It’s the laundry room.

I hate it there.

But I didn’t hate it there when my wife’s clothes needed washed and dried as well.

So now I’m a guy who does a lot of laundry because my wife moved out a few years ago. There were a lot of reasons why, but probably for NONE of the reasons you might be guessing inside your head.

If you knew why I got—and most people in crappy marriages get—divorced, I wouldn’t need to write this.

I didn’t get divorced because I hit my wife or called her names.

I didn’t get divorced because I did drugs or drank too much. I didn’t stay out all night and not tell her where I was. I didn’t sleep around. I didn’t do any of the things that I believed to be The Reasons People Get Divorced when I was growing up.

One of the reasons I got divorced is because my wife did 80 percent of the laundry. Maybe more.

And so, back to the boy-girl thing.

When I was growing up, my mom always did stuff like that. My mom washed, dried, folded and hung all of the clothes.

My mom cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms.

My mom vacuumed the carpet. Mom swept the floor. Mom dusted.

And when I went to visit my grandparents, my grandma did all of that same stuff.

So, you see, my mom learned that those things were her job from her mom. And I learned that those things were “her” job from my mom.

And that means that when I got married, and my wife didn’t do things exactly as my mom did them, I thought she was doing it wrong.

She was AWESOME at home-care. But she didn’t just silently take care of everything like my mom always had. She told me that I wasn’t pulling my fair share.

I thought that was a load of crap.

But I’m not the world’s biggest moron either. Even I could see that my wife working as many hours per week as I did made her and my situation different from my mom, who spent several years keeping a pristine and well-run home during the hours my wife had to be at work just like me.

So, I tried even harder to help around the house than I perceived my stepdad to do with my mom, or that my dad did with my stepmom.

I cooked a lot. Went grocery-shopping. Did a fair amount of dishes. And made an effort to help her clean the house on weekends, even though I was a whiny jerk about it whenever I didn’t want to spend a few weekend hours cleaning, which was approximately 100 percent of the time.

And this is the part I’m going to leave you with because it’s the most important lesson I can offer you in this first entry:

It’s not so much the amount of physical work one does that creates the anger and imbalance that will end your marriage. It’s more about the amount of MENTAL work one does to make sure that the things that need done, get done.

When you get married, and you just keep acting like you do when you live at home with your parents, where they always take care of everything so that you don’t have to—when you force your partner to do the same things your mom did for you—she (or he, potentially) is going to get tired.

Really tired.

And strong people keep going when they’re really tired, but even the strongest people have to stop and rest at some point.

And when the person holding the marriage together needs to rest, it’s all over.

It’s not about how many dishes are washed or towels are folded.

It’s not about how often someone goes to the store or how many meals get cooked.

It’s about the mental strain of being RESPONSIBLE for making sure the dishes get washed, laundry gets folded, groceries get bought, the food gets defrosted for dinner, the birthday gifts and Christmas cards get sent, etc.

It’s pretty hard for people even when they don’t have kids.

But when they do have kids, it becomes impossible to spend every day being RESPONSIBLE for EVERYTHING that needs done—not just for yourself, but for your spouse, AND your children.

Kids aren’t hard on marriages because kids are inherently difficult as much as kids are hard on marriages because they push people on the brink of mental and emotional exhaustion OVER the brink.

Not because of the children. But because of the lack of support for providing care for them.

Some people fall and never get up again.

Some people break when they hit the ground and never get themselves put back together again.

And your job—your solemn duty as a husband or wife—is to make damn sure they never fall or never break in the first place.

And there’s a good chance no one told you that house chores—House chores! How stupid does that sound?!—can be the reason your marriage will end and that your whole life can fall apart.

But, as God as I my witness, you better believe they can.

You better believe they will.

And then do whatever you must to make sure you’re never letting your spouse carry too much. Don’t try to pick them up after they fall. Don’t try to piece them together after they break.

Just do the work of LOVING them enough each day to carry whatever needs carried so that they never fall or break in the first place.

We’ll talk more about this idea later, but you’ll need it in your long-term romantic relationships and/or marriage: Love is a choice. A choice you must be disciplined and courageous enough to make every day.

So that our loved ones never break.

Because, maybe then, neither will we.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

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Admit It: You’re Just Making This Up As You Go

It's one of those secrets no one told us.

It’s one of those secrets no one told us.

I was just a young hormonal Catholic school boy sitting in church on Sundays begging God to forgive me every time I thought about having sex with one of the girls I saw.

Why am I thinking about sex in church!?!?

I used to think I was so bad.

I used to feel so guilty.

I used to look around at the backs of all the grownups and think to myself: It must be great being an adult! You can control all these thoughts and FINALLY be a good, disciplined person!

I was just a young, helpless virgin with no one to talk to about it. I wonder what THAT feels like!

I’d watch my mom and stepdad living their lives. They NEVER sinned!

I’d sit at the dinner table at my friends’ houses, quietly studying other families. They’ve got it all figured out!

When I was a kid, I didn’t know the secret.

I didn’t know everyone else was wearing a mask, too.

When I was a kid, I thought everyone’s lives were amazing and had every reason to look forward to adulthood when I wouldn’t make mistakes and feel guilt anymore.

I didn’t know everyone was having marital problems, having sex with other people or wishing they were.

I didn’t know the secret until I was well into my thirties: We’re all just making this up as we go.

You Are Not Alone

At least one of you (and probably many more) can relate in some way to all that young, hormonal, confused kid stuff. At least one of you thought you were going to reach adulthood and have the great “Ah-ha!” moment we’re all waiting for, and at some point it finally dawned on you that it never actually comes.

You don’t just wake up feeling like an adult one day.

You always just feel like a scared, confused kid, and realize with horror—maybe after having children of your own—that you ARE an adult, even though you don’t always feel or act like one.

And I just want you to know that you’re not weird.

I just want you to know that you’re not the only person who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.

I want you to know that it’s okay to be scared. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

That it’s okay to be confused. Because things didn’t turn out the way you thought they would. Because not even you are who you thought you would be.

And that it’s okay to be sad. Because you wasted all those childhood years looking forward to these shittier, adult years, never once stopping to think: “Holy shit! I’m a kid! No one needs me for anything! All I have to do in the entire world is hang out with friends all the time and learn stuff! I better enjoy this while it lasts!”

We were all in such a hurry to grow up.

So we could have FUN!

Because we thought drinking beer and having sex and getting into bars and trips to Vegas and having a job with a paycheck would be better than playing playground kickball and freeze tag and passing notes in class and sneaking kisses behind the school.

Because we thought having our own money would be better than our parents just giving us some.

God, we were stupid. And by stupid, I really just mean ignorant. It wasn’t our fault.

It’s natural to want to drive a car. And stay up as late as we want. And go to whatever party we want. And wear whatever clothes we want. To be cool.

It’s natural to be curious. To want to try new things. And to do things we’re not supposed to.

The forbidden fruit, and all that.

It’s natural to want what we can’t have.

I’m not into Buddhism. But Buddhists wisely recognize that we DO gain value in our lives from our pursuit of things we want, even though acquiring or achieving those things didn’t bring us any palpable happiness or perceived value.

That experience brings us value. The garnering of wisdom from chasing and getting, followed by the lack of long-term fulfillment afterward.

That knowledge is valuable. Because it gives us wisdom.

We didn’t fail because our lives aren’t like we thought they would be.

This, in a lot of ways, was inevitable.

Behaving like human beings and suffering the consequences was inevitable.

That’s what’s real.

I think that’s part of really being an adult. Really being human.

I think it’s one of the many fragments of that “Ah-ha!” moment we’re all waiting to experience, but end up collecting one little realization at a time.

When the light bulb clicks.

When it dawns on us that we’re not the only one.

When we see a quote from Socrates and realize: Hell. I already figured that one out for myself.

“The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing.”

It feels good to admit it.

It feels good to grow up.

It feels good to realize all those other boys in church were thinking the same things.

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The Greatest Generation

willow-tree

After my parents came back to the house to tell me which one of them I was going to live with, everything’s a little fuzzy.

I just know the judge picked mom.

So, I said bye to dad—see you in several months!—and mom drove four-year-old me 500 miles east to her parents’ house back in Ohio.

I have memory flashes of sleeping and bathing at my grandparents. We lived there for a while. Celebrated my fifth birthday there.

My first life-reset.

My grandparents lived on a 43-arce farm in the Ohio countryside. A big, white farmhouse with black shutters.

A huge concrete porch where I spent countless hours playing. Barbecuing with my grandfather. Staring at the majesty of the vast night sky.

A red barn. Where I was chased by angry chickens. Where I would sometimes sneak into the hayloft to read books. Where I killed, cleaned and filleted untold numbers of fish caught by my grandpa and I.

Huge grassy expanses for unlimited running. Fields full of arrowheads and exotic-looking rocks to be found after the soil had been tilled. Tall maple trees I used to climb.

There were pear trees. Cherry trees. Apple trees. They attracted bees.

I was never afraid of them.

The flower beds were full of some of the biggest spiders I’d ever seen.

I was never afraid of them, either.

The surrounding fields and forest, highlighted by a gorgeous fishing pond and a one-room, non-plumbed cabin with a picturesque weeping willow tree represented my playground.

My new home.

Even when we didn’t live there, we lived there.

I spent more weekends there than not throughout my childhood.

That was a good thing.

My grandfather owned a mom-and-pop furniture and flooring store in the small town. A business started by my great-grandfather.

My grandparents have eight children.

My mother is the eldest of them. I am the first grandchild by several years. My mom’s youngest sister is only four years older than me.

What that means is I grew up in a big-family environment even though I am an only child.

Salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Barbecue chicken and hamburgers on summer nights. Fish frys. Chicken and dumplings. Hot dog and marshmallow roasting over an open fire.

These are the people who showed me how to love.

These are the people who taught me about family.

These are the people most responsible for me being whoever and whatever I am today.

My grandfather included me on his fishing trips. On his excursions to watch his beloved local high school football team vie for state championships. Running errands on the farm.

He taught me patience when the fish weren’t biting.

He showed me what it looks like to handle a life where so many people are pulling you in so many directions.

He has been a loving and faithful husband for the better part of 60 years.

As a child, I got lost two times.

Once, when I ran off to go see Santa at a relatively large shopping mall during the holiday shopping season when my mom wasn’t looking.

The police found me.

The second time, when I wandered off into the woods in search of a large waterfall like one I’d seen in a book or on television.

That time, my grandfather found me.

My grandmother often included me on trips to see her parents—my great-grandparents—about 45 minutes away.

My great-grandfather was a chess champion. And a very kind and gentle man. I can’t remember one visit where he didn’t do something very gentlemanly toward my great-grandmother. He ALWAYS helped her with her coat.

His funeral was my first experience with a family member passing with whom I was very close.

My great-grandmother could run in her 90s. Not, like, jogging. But I remember seeing her run from a doorway to a car in the rain. Things like that. One of the most-amazing women to ever live. She always had cookies. Always. Cookies.

Thick German accent.

My great-grandparents were so magnificent, it stands to reason that my grandmother would turn out so wonderful.

And that’s what she is.

I’ve shared many afternoons with just her.

We used to play Yahtzee and Boggle together. Boggle is one of the games that helped me find my love of words.

She hopped a plane with me on my first flight to visit my dad, once everyone decided me flying back and forth made more sense than driving back and forth.

Despite her unhealthy crush on Liam Neeson, my grandmother is a picture-perfect model of love, patience and forgiveness. For her husband of nearly 60 years. For her eight children. For her 19 grandchildren.

My grandmother had another surgery on Tuesday. Her legs are in bad shape after they were run over by a car.

While she was still knocked out from the surgery, my grandfather, who has had open-heart surgery twice, was admitted to the hospital due to chest pains.

Apparently his heart is only operating at about 20-25 percent. Every day we have him is a blessing at this point, mom says.

The Greatest Generation

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to describe Americans born during The Great Depression who grew up in poverty, and then went on to fight, or contribute in some way to the war effort during World War II. My mom’s parents just missed the window, born just a few years after the generally accepted span between about 1914-1929.

I’m not going to get in the business of ranking generations of people.

We are all dealt the hands we’re dealt. We have no control when or where or to whom we are born. Whatever that reality is represents our individual “normal.”

Some people never knew a life with electricity and running water.

Others will never know a life without iPhones and self-parking automobiles.

Every generation’s job is to do the best they can with the resources available to them. So that the next generation can do the same.

There is a lot of neglect and apathy in this world. But I sure do see a lot of people choosing good. Choosing the harder path for their children and future generations.

More than a century ago, my great-grandparents were like me. They gave life to my grandmother. Who gave life to my mother. Who gave life to me. Who gave life to my son.

And maybe he will give life to my grandchild someday.

Everything is gone.

Youth. The time together. The big-family environment. My great-grandparents. The farm. The fishing trips.

Innocence is gone.

But everything is not lost. The stuff that really matters tends to stick.

That stuff that lives inside us.

In our memories. And stories. In our personalities.

In our ability to love. To share. To connect. To be generous. Charitable. Forgiving. Hopeful.

It won’t be long now. Until I have to say goodbye to them.

Maybe this year. Maybe in a few years. But not long now.

The people responsible for getting me through my first life-reset after my parents’ divorce.

And now I’m going through life-reset No. 2.

My own divorce.

And everything’s mixed-up. Inside-out.

There’s no rock anymore. Nothing steady to lean on.

The world’s asking me to become my own rock. So I can be a good father. A good son. A good friend. And someday, a good partner.

The world’s asking all of us to do that as we slowly lose everything on which we once relied.

So we get strong. Because we must.

And we hold one another up.

We do it for ourselves and each other. And we do it for our children.

Because our ancestors mattered.

They gave you your grandparents.

And they gave you your parents.

And they gave you yourself and an opportunity to do something great.

Maybe that’s some great big thing that everyone’s going to see and hear about in our media-saturated world.

Or maybe it’s not.

Maybe it’s just making the world a better place.

Maybe it’s just raising a child who will bring a child into the world who will bring a child into the world who a hundred years from now will change the world.

Maybe that’s why you’re here.

Maybe that’s why I’m here.

Like my grandparents.

Like yours.

The greatest generation.

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