Tag Archives: Health

A Marriage Alternative: How Considering a Shift to Temporary Marriage Might Benefit Your Relationship

Temporary clock art

(Image/ART + marketing)

My brain and gut recoiled in disgust at the two words: Temporary Marriage.

They were hyperlinked in my email to an article I was certain I would disagree with—A Temporary Marriage Makes More Sense than Marriage for Life.

But then I read it.

I’m a lot a better at admitting when I’m wrong and checking my biases at the door today than I used to be, since doing it the other way is literally the reason me and so many others are divorced despite wishing we were not.

Whenever a philosophical conversation is happening about The Way Things Should Be (politics and religion, in a nutshell), there are two things to consider:

  1. The best idea in an ideal world under optimum conditions.
  2. The best idea based on its implications in the world we actually live in.

Which isn’t a small thing. The worst events and conditions in human history usually begin with two people or two groups with opposing opinions regarding this nebulous concept of The Way Things Should Be.

I was surprised at how unoffended I was by author Vicki Larson’s article championing the idea of temporary marriages.

Like a pro athlete’s contract. Something designed to last maybe two to five years, before the terms of the agreement are revisited and renegotiated.

A marital arrangement where neither the husband nor wife OWES their spouse any type of support emotionally, financially, or sexually beyond the length of the marriage contract if one or both of them should choose at that time to NOT renew their marriage agreement.

Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to the idea itself, and THEN, on top of that debate, there’s all the fine print no one is reading or paying attention to.

The Pros of Temporary Marriage

It’s not all bad.

People would never feel too trapped in a horrible marriage. People who WANTED to stay married would be more motivated to behave accordingly, and less inclined to take their spouse for granted.

People who are super-into variety and novelty would have it.

What people want in their 20s is often different than what they want in their 60s. A partner who is awesome while you’re in your 20s but who WON’T be awesome in your retirement years, won’t be an unpleasant surprise later. You’ll both see it coming and NOT renew your marriage contract once the time is up.

Shitty husbandry? At least the way I often characterize it? You’re in a contract year, fellas! Better play your ass off if you want to keep her!

Let’s not underestimate the power of deadlines and a fundamental shift in human psychology RE: positively impacting how people behave within their relationships and marriages.

I honestly believe a lot of measurable good would occur in a Temporary Marriage arrangement in which both married partners fully accepted the terms of the arrangement heading in, and WANTED them, and had the support of their families and social networks.

The Cons of Temporary Marriage

According to the most recent U.S. Census data I could find (2012), there are about 115 million households in the United States. A ‘household’ is defined as everyone (even just one person) living in a housing unit.

Of those 115 million households, more than 76 million of them are “Family households,” which doesn’t take into account people who USED to be in family households (divorced parents, widows/widowers, empty-nesters, etc.)

That’s the bureaucratic way of saying MANY people like to have sex and/or have babies and raise children.

There’s a debate to be had about the merits of reproducing little, ungrateful parasitic humans, but I’m totally glad we do. I’m in the Pro-Human Race Continuing to Exist camp, so it’s neat that babies are a thing. I’m happy I was born, so I’m grateful to my parents. And I’m the father of a rapidly growing little man in grade school and he is the center of my universe. I didn’t even know it was possible to love something the way I do my son.

It’s not a math equation. You can’t measure that. Parents don’t love OTHER children as much as their own children. Most parents would do UNTHINKABLE things to protect their kids, or in an effort to provide them a means of living a good life.

Larson barely mentions children in her article, saying only that the idea was INTENDED for people who did not have children, and planned on NOT having them.

I’m glad, too, because in my estimation, a “temporary marriage” could ONLY work effectively without the introduction of children to the equation.

One group of people won’t put a lot of stock in how children are impacted, because they don’t have any. Makes sense. Seems tone-deaf, but makes sense.

And the OTHER group will stop at nothing to protect their children.

Because of this, I don’t think this is a debate that’s ever going to gain much traction, culturally.

The Fine Print

Larson is proposing an idea. As someone who loves thinking about and proposing ideas that challenge the status quo, I’m inclined to cut Larson a little slack for glossing over the fine print in her short article. I’m sure she and co-author Susan Pease Gadoua go into much greater depth in their book The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.

Here’s the fine print:

Statistically speaking (just in the United States, but these numbers hold up throughout most of the world), 95 out of 100 people will get married, or are planning to.

Why?

Because we all grow up—and even if our parents are divorced (mine were)—it seems like EVERY adult is married, or dating with the intention of getting married, and that all of our friends are planning to get married one day.

We all know someone in the 5 percent. The “I’m never getting married!” people. And what do we think of them—even if it’s bullshit and unfair? We think they’re weirdos. Or, that they’ll sell out and get married anyway (which is pretty common, because—95 percent).

We have that reaction for the same reason that I thought I was going to get all pissed off and self-righteous about this Temporary Marriage article and idea.

We BELIEVE THINGS. All of us. We believe things.

Sometimes what we believe is pretty innocuous, like which team will win the football game, or how many ‘S’s are in the name Mississippi, or who is responsible for leaving those presents under the Christmas tree on December 25.

Other times, what we believe carries more weight. You know—the scary stuff. God. Climate. War. Afterlife. The value of an unborn human. The value of people who live in other parts of the world. The value of people who don’t believe what we believe. The value of people who don’t look like us.

What we choose to do with THOSE beliefs determines the fate of the world on a macro scale, and on a micro scale, determines the fate of our personal lives.

I used to believe that everything I was taught and believed was TRUTH. All caps. Truth. And that anyone who believed other things was wrong.

You know who else uses that same logic to make important life decisions and justify doing or saying things that might hurt others? Mass murderers and terrorists.

When I finally realized that much too late into my adulthood, I pledged to stop.

Here’s why this is important to marriage—temporary or otherwise.

BILLIONS of people believe marriage is more than just a government-sponsored contract. They believe it’s SPIRITUAL. Divinely influenced by an all-powerful creator. By God, essentially, even though many of those people believe radically different things about God.

Various religious groups have been trying to convince OTHER religious groups that their beliefs are WRONG for—well—a really long time. Humans have only been writing things down for about 5,200 years, so it’s tough to know just how far back religious arguments between people or groups actually go, but I’m pretty sure in 5,200 years, there is no documented evidence of THAT practice working out well for all involved.

Don’t Be So Quick to Dismiss it Just Because it Looks Different

The concept of “temporary marriage” flies in the face of so-called “traditional marriage,” which is a trash term, but we all know what it means.

It’s a trash term because so few people honor what it ACTUALLY MEANS to enter a traditional marriage, and that includes myself back in 2004.

I was 25 years old. I was a moron. And worse, I was a moron who BELIEVED myself to be smart.

Those are the scariest people.

Here’s my quick and dirty take on marriage (leaving spirituality out of it, because that’s super-personal to everyone and well above my pay grade):

What people need to succeed in marriage is PHILOSOPHICAL ALIGNMENT. It helps to believe the same things, want the same things, share the same goals, and speak the same language. (Metaphorically, I mean – you need to be able to accurately interpret what the other person is saying to you. Most people suck at this, which is why couples always have the same fight.)

I think almost ANY belief system can work, but it’s so important in a life-long committed partnership that BOTH people share it. Differing beliefs create conflict. Conflict creates negative emotions. Negative emotions provoke shitty marriage behaviors and all-around bad feelings.

And then toxic marriage and/or divorce happens. All the traditionalism in the world can’t stop that from being true.

I don’t think “temporary marriage” is super-practical, but it’s damn sure a superior option to toxic marriage and divorce.

I’m not likely to become a “temporary marriage” advocate any time soon, but I think the POSITIVES of a mutually agreed-to temporary commitment to one’s life partner can’t be dismissed.

Because near as I can tell, THAT would solve so much of what I believe ails modern marriage.

So, I guess if you’re unable or unwilling to have children, and brave enough to tell everyone who thinks they know what’s best for you far more than you do to piss off, check it out.

Thinking and asking questions never hurt anyone who wasn’t being violently oppressed.

So think.

Ask questions.

And maybe stop doing things simply because someone without any skin in the game told you that you should.

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Lonely in a Crowd: The Dangers of Modern Social Isolation on Health & Relationships

busy street in New York City - Shutterstock

It’s not always about what it looks like. It’s not about what YOU perceive to be the ‘correct’ response to a particular life scenario. Modern adulthood, by its very nature, isolates humans from one another, depriving them of support and resources that people crave, need, and which help them live longer, healthier, more satisfying lives. We should collectively try to do something about it. But in the meantime, we must simply look out for ourselves and one another. (Image/Shutterstock)

One of my newest friends and favorite people just moved about a four-hour drive away.

He might as well have moved to another planet, in the context of how much we’re likely to hang out in the future.

He was my partner in crime—both professionally and socially at the office. He sat just a few feet behind me.

Now, it’s just shut-down computer monitors and an empty office chair. Today’s the first day of work where he wasn’t here and I knew he wasn’t returning.

Hearing the news a few weeks ago that he was leaving bothered me. More than you’d think. Like if you’d asked me to predict how I’d feel about a bunch of random life scenarios, I’d have rated my friend at work leaving the job and moving away as being a less-impactful thing than I think it is.

It occurred to me while driving alone several hours on a weekend road trip that I’ve become more sensitive to goodbyes since my divorce. At least the kind you know are forever, or damn close to it.

I think I’m more sensitive to ‘loss,’ and that I’m tired of ‘losing’ people and things that matter.

My wife.

Half of my son’s entire childhood.

My in-laws.

Many of the friends we’d made together as a married couple.

Family. Every single moment from that day to this one that somehow seemed Less Than because everything was just a little bit off.

The future I’d imagined in my head.

Dignity.

Confidence.

Hope.

Yourself. The person you believed yourself to be when you looked in the mirror or sat silently and alone in your thoughts in those moments before sleep.

But also, this is just THAT time in life. For many, many people.

I’m 39-years-old. Many people in my general age range have families and growing children, and growing responsibilities and time demands. They have pets. Demanding jobs.

People living just a few doors down or on the other side of town might go months without seeing each other. They don’t even mean to. It happens by accident. Just because they both got busy.

Habit. Routine.

And friends turn into acquaintances. And then strangers.

People have threats bombarding them from every possible angle—particularly as parents.

Many people my age grew up in a time and place where you could leave the doors unlocked at night.

And now?

Most of us won’t let our grade-schoolers ride bikes outside of our neighborhood.

It feels like kids are learning too much, too soon. They’re the first generation to grow up with access to mobile devices AND prevalent Wi-Fi.

With the wrong keystrokes, and no parental controls, my 10-year-old could learn anything he could think to ask. How dead bodies look. How to do certain kinds of drugs. What happens at an orgy. How to do dangerous stunts that have killed other children. How to use profanity like a comedian to make hundreds of people laugh and applaud. He could read about child rape. He could watch a video of some racist cock trying to convince others that the value of a human being should be measured by their skin tone. Or some homicidal maniac encouraging children to arm themselves and hurt others.

21st century parenting is a total shit-show, but I’m reasonably sure that’s been true for every generation of parents who had to face new challenges without anything resembling an instruction manual on how to navigate it effectively.

BUT.

We are dealing with something on a scale never before seen in human history that exacerbates all of this and brings greater intensity to negative life situations, like a friend moving away.

Everyone is dealing with this—not just parents.

Sometimes, It Takes a Village

Someone with a better grasp on sociology than me may want to correct me, but I’m of the very strong belief that for virtually all of human history until, like, five minutes ago (50 years, at most?), most people in human society, regardless of where they lived—city or farm—experienced life the way people in tribes and villages did.

We didn’t have digital or even amazing telecom infrastructure weaving in and out of every small- and mid-sized town 40 years ago.

People HAD to speak in person, or mail a physical letter to even communicate with other people.

Neighbors knew each other. They frequently knocked on one another’s doors to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar.

If one of my neighbors I don’t know knocks on my door and asks to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar, I’m going to tell them I don’t have any (even if I do) through my locked screen door, and assume they’re plotting my murder.

And I seriously live in a ‘nice,’ ‘safe’ neighborhood where, honestly, I’m probably the scariest person because I’m a single adult male who lives alone and probably in their imaginations collects flea market-purchased taxidermy and eats a lot of Hot Pockets. (*shakes head no*)

Seriously.

Human beings have adult challenges.

They can range from small-appliance repair and the inability to reach something on the top shelf, to emergency childcare or transportation to a hospital.

And I think it’s EASILY demonstrable that back in 1980 when there were 100 million fewer people in the United States, MORE people knew one another and were interconnected on a personal level.

Basically, when life was HARD, on a minor level (small repair) or a macro one (death in family or major illness) the majority of people were surrounded by people who would help shoulder some of that load.

You can still find pockets of this.

School communities.

Big families.

Churches.

Soldiers.

Social groups.

Team athletics.

But many of us? By virtue of our age and life circumstances? What existed for us in our youth going to school, and probably even young adulthood, can disappear gradually and without warning.

Until life gets hard on a minor level or a macro one—and not only are you lacking people willing to help, but perhaps you’re having trouble finding anyone you’d even want to talk to about it.

I’ve shared this before in Could the Loss of Tribe be Jeopardizing Your Marriage, but it’s worth sharing again. I can’t explain any of this better than it’s written in this excerpt from Why Growing Up Is Hard to Do (But Why the World Still Needs Adults):

Isolation and the Loss of Tribe

“For most adults, the period of life they are most nostalgic for is high school and/or college. The longing for this period is usually chalked up to a desire to return to a time when they weren’t so freighted with life’s responsibilities. Surely that is part of it, but I think the real reason we miss our youth is often overlooked: it was the last time in our lives when we experienced a sense of “tribe.”

In high school and college, most of us had a group of great friends we saw on a daily basis. Many of us ran with a “gang” of guys, that sometimes joined with a posse of gals, forming a coed tribe that was enormously fun to hang out with.

Then, folks grew up, paired off, got hitched, and had kids. Few adults see their friends on a daily basis; the lucky see each other weekly, and for most, scheduling times to get together isn’t easy. It is then no wonder we get nostalgic for our younger days; it represents the last time our lives resembled the primordial pattern.

In hunter-gatherer tribes, male gangs hunted and battled together. Female posses raised their kids together. Everyone lived and worked together each day with dozens of others. Burden and joys were shared. One’s whole identity was tied up in being part of this tribe.

Today, we have never been more isolated. Many folks don’t even live near their extended kin, and the nuclear family is increasingly marooned on the desert island of the suburbs. Men (and women) go off to work in a cubicle with a bunch of fellow employees they may feel no real kinship with. Many women spend all day enclosed in the four walls of their home, cut off from all other humans, save their inarticulate toddler. Many people, male and female alike, are lonely and unhappy because they are without a tribe.

The heavy and undesirable weight of adulthood is often mistakenly chalked up to the burden of adult responsibilities alone. But the problem is not adulthood itself, but how it is currently being carried. The weight of earning a livelihood, and rearing one’s children, which was meant to be borne by numerous shoulders, is now supported by just a pair. Husband and wife rely on one another for all their emotional fulfillment and practical needs. The strain is more than an individual, or the nuclear family, was meant to bear.

So, (another) reason it’s hard to grow up is that the weight of adulthood feels hard to shoulder when you’re carrying it alone, instead of with a tribe.”

There’s Probably Not Anything Wrong With You

Sometimes people write me, and their focus isn’t on their marriage or romantic relationships at all.

Sometimes, they’re simply looking around and trying to figure out how everything got heavier and darker and lonelier without them noticing until one day they realized they were the last one standing in the room.

They grew up surrounded by friends in school. Perhaps by extended family at regular weekend get-togethers.

They bonded heavily with their closest friends in high school and college.

They stayed connected with many of them after school, because they were still the people with whom they wanted to swap tales and share life happenings.

But then.

Dating.

Marriage.

Daily life.

Homeownership.

Parenthood.

Financial responsibilities.

Adulthood.

Relationship struggles.

Isolation.

And maybe no one understands, right?

Because it doesn’t look and feel the same for them.

They have two friends, and they love their two friends, and you’re being ungrateful or simply not looking on the bright side because you’re not demonstrating the proper mindset or gratitude for the friends you do have.

It’s not even about what you have or don’t have. Maybe gratitude can help. It usually does.

But there are REAL consequences to a person’s subjective perception of how connected or isolated they are.

Ever meet a stay-at-home mother of four kids who soaks in adult conversation like someone dying of thirst in a desert?

Ever meet someone who lives in New York City, but doesn’t know anyone with whom they have a meaningful interpersonal relationship?

Ever meet an elderly man who lives alone, but spends every day out with friends, or traveling, or participating in some retiree life adventure?

There are no rules.

There are not life circumstances that automatically mean someone should, or should not, feel disconnected from the life they long for.

This affects people. Powerfully. It matters.

Maybe thoughts like this have been gnawing at you. Maybe this idea has been painfully pecking at your marriage or dating relationship. Maybe you just feel kind-of shitty and don’t really know why.

And just maybe, it’s because you’re a perfectly healthy and normal human being whose life circumstances has deprived you of things known to positively affect human life and health.

You’re not alone.

There’s nothing wrong with you. Your spouse isn’t rejecting you because they crave social connection or spending time with other people.

You’re good enough. You matter.

There’s just a little something missing. And if you recognize it, and take steps to do something about it, who knows what tomorrow might bring.

Probably something rad.

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Why Nonsense and Choosing the Wrong Thing Can’t be Ignored

The-Kummakivi-Balancing-Rock

Not everything can be explained easily. Some things just are. (Image/Ancient-origins.net)

“Feelings don’t matter.

I don’t think anyone currently or formerly close to me would accuse me of heartlessness, but I’ve also been known—especially when it was convenient for my argument—to reduce human emotion to some bullshit little thing that weak people allow to control them.

Maybe all but the most empathetic members of humanity think and do this too.

Feelings Don’t Matter isn’t such a bad life mantra.

I’m strongly anti-divorce, and I consider it tragic that millions of people think and feel Love for one another and publicly promise to do so forever, only to take it all back and break their relationships, homes and families a few years later because they don’t “feel” it anymore.

I’ve written about hedonic adaptation a bunch of times because I believe it’s such a strong contributor to the world’s divorce and crappy-relationship problem, and I don’t think very many people are aware of it or talk enough about it.

Because you’re a human being, you very naturally (not because something is wrong with you) become less emotionally responsive to good things in your life as your brain adjusts to them.

New songs. New houses. New cars. New pay raises. New clothes. New jobs. New dating relationships.

These things make us FEEL good. Very good. They make us feel excited. A tidal wave of emotional motivation to invest your time, your money, and your mental and emotional energy into this awesome new positive thing in your life.

But you get used to them. They become routine. Ordinary. And all the sudden they don’t trigger those same feelings of excitement in you.

Call it the Universe’s way of keeping us motivated. The cave-people had everything they needed once they discovered fire. Between that and their stone tools, life improved about a gazillion percent.

Instead of calling it a day and spending the rest of human history spearing fish and roasting woodland creatures over an open fire, people kept pursuing more.

I like movies, football, video games, vacations, automobiles, typing keyboards, the internet and life expectancies beyond our twenties. So I’m glad we didn’t stop at fire.

Of course, the downside is that awesome things seem less awesome once I get used to them.

I don’t wake up every day with the intention of being an ungrateful douchebag, but inevitably, I say or think things that only ungrateful douchebags say and think. I forget that I have electricity, modern health care, sanitary water, the use of my arms and legs, massive HD televisions, etc. I forget that other people watch their children die because of mosquito bites and literally don’t know where their next meal will come from.

I forget that every day.

Hedonic adaptation is why. I’m used to houses, cars, modern conveniences, and even a few luxuries. My Wi-Fi was out a few weekends ago.

I couldn’t play PUBG on Xbox for like, a day, and you would have thought the world had ended.

Asshole.

I even called AT&T’s internet people twice, and I hate being on the phone with customer service people.

It occurs to me that—in that moment—my feelings mattered.

Whether I’m evaluating my old sins or new ones, I think I’m the dumbest smart person I know.

Dismissing Emotion is Stupid, Hypocritical and Will Probably Ruin Your Relationships

I thought I was so fucking smart back when I was telling my wife how silly she was to let her emotions control her like that.

I think through things. Some would say I overthink. And after dissecting and closely inspecting the idea of letting emotions drive human behavior, I concluded how foolish it was.

Because how I feel can change in an instant.

Good news makes me happy.

Bad news makes me mad or sad.

Sometimes my fourth-grader acts like a little penis-face and I get angry with him, but then I’ll drop him off at school knowing I won’t see him for a couple of days and totally melt—all traces of anger and frustration gone.

I concluded MANY years ago that if I simply did what I “felt” like all the time, I would:

  • Lack money because I probably wouldn’t show up regularly for work.
  • Have a morally questionable and unhealthy sex life.
  • Be a shitty father.
  • Likely be in prison for vehicular homicide because other drivers are assholes and deserved it.

You get it.

We shouldn’t let such fickle and constantly changing things drive our decisions, should we?

LeBron James (local hero here in Ohio) at age 33, and Tom Brady (non-local hero playing professional football in Massachusetts) at age 40, spend ungodly amounts of money on their bodies in the form of personal chefs, expensive disciplined diets, and expensive disciplined workout regimens which have both of them setting new standards for player performance in their respective sports after playing as many games as each of them have.

Their longevity—true or not—is largely linked to their disciplined lifestyle choices.

They make good choices, then good things happen.

I think most of us fundamentally understand that when we make “good,” disciplined, responsible choices, the results are positive.

When you sacrifice financially in the present to save money, you can often retire comfortably.

When you sacrifice nightlife to get plenty of sleep, you often go through the day feeling better than when sleep-deprived.

When you sacrifice physical excursion in order to be physically fit, you tend to look better, feel better, and improve your overall quality of life.

Basically, all of life is this way. Good choices = good results. Bad choices = bad results.

Some people make bad choices because they don’t know any better.

But most of us? Most of us who make bad choices do so despite knowing better.

We choose the cheeseburger over the salad. The milkshake over the tea. The snooze button over the work. The alcohol over harsh reality. The orgasm over all kinds of different life-enhancing alternatives depending on your relationship status and/or the methods for doing so.

Conclusion: No matter how much the calculated analysis, thoughtful logic, or macho tough-guy “wisdom” might dissuade us from making—or even respecting—emotion-driven decisions, the TRUTH of life is that shit’s going to go down in the hearts and minds of pretty much everyone we know, and they’re going to want and need certain things for reasons we may or may not understand.

And if those people going through these things happen to be people who agreed years ago to be our adult partners and are now feeling constantly disrespected and fucked with by our apparent lack of concern for the things they care about, they’re highly likely to make choices one way or another that end with them not being our adult partners anymore.

Maybe they’ll even go poach an egg.

Sure, feelings are bullshit.

Sure, feelings are fleeting. Neither we nor they will feel like this next week or next month. Maybe neither of us will even remember this five years from now.

Sure, we shouldn’t let something fickle and fleeting guide our decisions. But since when did people do what they are SUPPOSED to?!

Life isn’t a predictable math equation like some of us might like it to be.

Life is not If This, Then That, with any of us having a clue what “That” may turn out to be.

Today—right now—some shit that won’t matter to anyone in five years is the most important thing imaginable to someone you care about.

And just maybe if you treat that thing as important BECAUSE you care about the person, something magical will happen.

Or, perhaps at minimum, something horrible won’t.

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When You’re Too Comfortable to Know You Shouldn’t Be

Marlboro Man

“Holy crap, that guy looks awesome. I’m going to start smoking Marlboros,” I probably thought to myself at age 15 — several years before the actual Marlboro Man in this magazine ad died from a smoking-related respiratory illness. (Image/BuzzFeed)

Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll die one day from a heart attack or cancer because of things I consume or do.

Like maybe I eat pizza or a cheeseburger or Milk Duds at the movie theater because, duh, but if in some magical alternate reality I received some type of clear signal from the future that making different decisions would save my life, I would totally NOT eat those things.

Like if former TV psychic Miss Cleo was standing in my kitchen or sitting in the passenger seat next to me…

“Matt! If you keep drinking extra-large coffees with cream and ordering pizza you’re going to drop dead of a heart attack, but if you switch to tea and up the raw vegetable intake a bit, you’ll live a long-ish, healthy life! Get your shit together!”…

If Miss Cleo told me that, and I had good reason to believe she was telling the truth, I would adjust course.

It occurs to me that I order pizza, consume the occasional cheeseburger, and rock Milk Duds at the movie theater because I’m “comfortable.” I don’t assume I’m going to die soon, so I’m comfortable making choices I understand to be unhealthy.

At best, I sometimes mindlessly coast through life breaking a few things along the way. At worst, I am intentionally doing the wrong thing.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable. Because everything feels okay, even if everything’s not.

Comfort Kills Us in Other Ways Too

This whole thing—this Divorced Guy Writes Stuff and a Few People Care thing—started in July 2013 when I wrote my first-ever blog post that was intended to serve a purpose other than me simply word-vomiting emo shit on Day 93 of my wife leaving.

In An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1, I told this little story about fighting with my wife because I wanted to watch The Masters golf tournament on a beautiful Sunday afternoon while my wife wanted me to accompany her and our infant son on an outdoor hike.

I concluded that I could have recorded the golf tournament on the DVR, and regret not joining my wife and son on that hike, because I perceive that time she was out walking our son in his stroller to be one of dozens or hundreds of moments where my wife must have stewed in her disappointment over my choosing golf on TV over spending time with her and our child.

I concluded that IF I had realized in that moment that it was a contributing factor to my wife leaving and losing 50 percent of my son’s childhood, that I would have made a different choice.

That post still gets read a lot, and predictably, I’ll get the occasional blog comment from some guy frustrated by what he read there—presumably because he has the same sort of argument with his wife or girlfriend.

“You’re such a pussy, dude. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to watch a golf tournament that’s only on once a year!” says some guy standing 50 feet below the point sailing over his head.

OF COURSE choosing to watch a golf tournament over going on a hike ONE TIME is a non-issue. Of course. What level of Idiot Mastery must one achieve to read that story—then assume every other aspect of my marriage throughout its history was rosy and perfect—and conclude that my wife randomly freaked out like an insane person over one brief moment in time in which she and I wanted to spend an afternoon doing different things?

The point of that story was to convey my newfound understanding that it WASN’T the moments of conventional significance or importance that sealed the fate of my marriage. It was the collection of a million tiny moments where I disappointed or hurt my marriage partner without doing enough to eliminate or relieve that pain, or offer enough other positives to make a life with me feel like a net-positive.

She spent months—years, maybe—having an internal conversation: “Do the good things about him, or about being with him, outweigh all the bad?”

The answer to that became self-evident when she moved out on April 1—exactly 93 days prior to me thinking about and sharing the story from that otherwise-routine Sunday afternoon a couple of years earlier.

Just like eating a bunch of pizza, donuts and bacon cheeseburgers can eventually cause a person’s heart to stop without warning, our marriages and relationships can end from these moments piling up—these moments that hurt a person while their partner is unfazed. Because they don’t know or they don’t care.

And the reason they don’t know or care is because they don’t feel the need to be bothered with trying to figure it out.

One partner keeps hinting at a problem, but nothing feels wrong to the other.

Because the non-hurting partner is COMFORTABLE.

Everything’s fine. She’ll (or he’ll) get over it.

These people—too often men—can’t understand why it hurts when she sees him expertly adjusting his schedule to attend two different fantasy football drafts where he’ll drink and joke with his friends all day, assembling a fake team of players to “manage” for an entire football season.

“How is it that he can’t be bothered to make a dinner reservation for our wedding anniversary or adjust his schedule to come to our daughter’s dance recital, but he’ll jump through hoops to draft and manage an imaginary football team? one might think or say.

Defenders and apologists will accuse me of being overly harsh on the fantasy-football crowd (of which I’m a proud member), but they’ll have to be disingenuous in order to do so. A wife or girlfriend who feels loved, included, thought about, cared for, valued, etc., will NOT ask these questions on fantasy football draft day.

For the rest of us: the truth hurts, I guess. Sometimes, fantasy football is something men seem to love more than wives and children.

I don’t think as much as I used to. I don’t drive around thinking about a new blog post, or contemplating life’s deeper questions.

Because of that, I haven’t been writing often. It’s not that I don’t want to. I do.

I just don’t have much to say.

I don’t like it, but it’s true.

Why?

Because I’m comfortable.

My ex-wife doesn’t hurt me anymore. Enough time has passed and enough circumstances have changed where I don’t feel the sting of rejection like I once did.

I felt alone. Abandoned. Unwantable. Unlovable. I was worried about dating. I was worried about finding someone that would like someone so apparently unlikable.

I was worried about finding a long-term partner to fill the cavernous hole in my life. What’s going to happen now? What about my son? I can’t even breathe.

But then I could breathe. And our son in grade school is growing into a smart and handsome little man. And everything’s, just, okay.

And that’s all I wanted back then. When everything hurts and you think you might die, all you want is to feel like yourself again.

You just want to be okay.

You just want to feel “normal.”

And here we are. Now I do.

I’m okay. Fine. Totally.

I’m comfortable.

There’s merit in comfort and contentment.

There’s real value—physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally—in feeling balanced enough to just BE. To just be able to sit in a room at home alone, and be so comfortable that you’re not even really mindful of it. You’re just living on autopilot.

I think that’s how most of us do it. Autopilot.

It’s easy on autopilot because everything is habit and routine. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable.

And of course, you never grow or evolve or learn anything.

You don’t get smarter.

You don’t get stronger.

You don’t get better.

And now, in a moment of irony that almost made me laugh out loud as I type, I find myself wondering if it’s really such a good thing when “everything’s okay.”

The fear and pain pushed me to a place mentally and emotionally that truly helped me evolve into a wiser, more-capable human being.

And now?

Static. Still. Plateaued. Treading water.

I got what I wanted and naturally it wasn’t enough because of the human condition.

Maybe getting uncomfortable will get me writing again. Thinking again. Growing again.

Maybe comfort will doom me to a life where I never actually accomplish anything that matters.

Maybe getting uncomfortable can help people recognize unhealthy choices that might be slowly killing their relationships or their physical bodies.

Maybe comfort blinds us from truth, and prevents us from being who we were meant to be.

I don’t know.

I just think.

Because I want to be someone who thinks.

Even if it means battling a bunch of discomfort along the way.

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Safety and Trust in Relationships: Those Words Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

woman hiding under table

(Image/Crosswalk.com)

 

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the second in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

Safe – adj. – \ˈsāf\ — secure from threat of danger, harm, or loss

Trust – verb – \ˈtrəst\ — to commit or place in one’s care or keeping; to place confidence in, rely on; to hope or expect confidently

‘You don’t make me feel safe. I don’t feel like I can trust you anymore.’

Safety is probably more important to you than you consciously realize in any given moment.

After basic metabolic functions, like your heart beating and properly working lungs, and the most basic things needed for survival (food, water, shelter and clothing), Safety is the next thing people need to function in life.

The concept of safety, for me, tended to be rooted in physical safety. Wearing a seat belt. Not getting pistol-whipped during an armed robbery. Wearing the proper safety equipment on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility, or during a football or baseball game.

And color young-me as an ignorant sexist rube if you must, but in male-female relationships—including my marriage—I thought of safety in the context of protecting her from physical harm.

I want to sleep closest to the bedroom door.

I want to be the one to check out the strange noise in the house.

I want to be with her walking in a dimly lit parking garage at night.

I want to pay for a home-security system to deter and warn of intruders.

I want to fight and take the potential beat down to give her time to run away.

I want to take the bullet for her.

And I will never physically harm her. Ever.

And because of those things, I thought my wife (and anyone, really) should feel safe with me. I thought all of those true things made me a person who was safe to be with.

But I wasn’t. And this is in NO WAY anyone’s fault but my own—but nowhere, at any point in my upbringing, was I exposed to other ways of thinking about safety or taught the fundamental importance of making one’s girlfriend or wife feel safe and secure in those OTHER ways.

Other safety and security needs people have in addition to not being hurt or killed in an accident or act of violence include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and well-being (mental and emotional safety)

Everyone has different thresholds for what financial security looks like. I think having enough money to pay for one’s family’s needs is a concept anyone mature enough to be reading this already understands.

But on mental and emotional safety?

I failed about as hard as a person claiming ignorance possibly can.

I was mentally and emotionally abusive to my wife without realizing it because I also demonstrate classic only-child levels of self-centeredness, and I hadn’t yet learned that Marriage Isn’t For You.

But I’m not the only one.

I think many men accidentally abuse their wives’ mental and emotional health without realizing it (and it probably happens in reverse, too), and then once enough damage has been done, the couples end up having what feels like the exact same frustrating and familiar fight over and over again.

For men, it often becomes a thing we learn to deal with. It pisses us off sometimes. It certainly stresses us out and makes us feel shitty. But it tends to be a nuisance that we believe will be better after everyone calms down.

However, for many women, every one of these fights tends to slowly and systematically erode her love and respect for her husband/boyfriend, and her faith in the integrity of the relationship itself.

Over time, “lesser” incidents can trigger the arguments.

Maybe five years ago, a guy stayed out too late drinking with his friends, passed out and never told his wife or girlfriend where he was. She stayed up all night freaking out, and then they had a big fight because he thought she was overreacting.

But maybe five years later, he accidentally left his phone in the car during a two-hour business presentation in the middle of the day, and his non-responsiveness triggers that same level of concern and anger in her. And maybe he thinks it’s a gross overreaction because while reacting to an all-night drinking bender seems reasonable, freaking out because of an accidental work-related situation does not.

And once again, they have The Same Fight.

Men—boyfriends and husbands—often are so determined to defend their actions and feelings that they don’t actively listen to their upset girlfriends or wives. They HEAR them, saying words and being angry and stuff. But they don’t LISTEN. They don’t understand. They never figure out WHY their partner is saying and feeling these things.

[NOTE: I felt like I cracked a secret life code when I grasped this idea for the first time. I have to credit the book “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It” for putting me on the right path. Maybe it can help you or your partner, too.]

Here’s a guy who works hard and is good at his job. He’s a good provider for his wife and children.

He never complains about his wife’s behavior. And he thinks it’s unfair that he isn’t given the same courtesy.

He would NEVER hit her. He’s a capable protector. So it makes sense to him that she should feel Safe.

He would NEVER cheat on her. He never intentionally fails to do something he says he will. He’s not a liar. He’s a good parent and guardian. He feels like a “trustworthy” person. So it makes sense to him that she should Trust him.

The Thing That Ends Relationships

After dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts to explain what it is that upsets her, he generally responds angrily. Or tells her she’s wrong. Or tells her she’s just being emotional again. Or tells her she’s mentally unstable. Or simply walks away in frustration because he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Or maybe he’s really patient, and simply walks away confused after the conversation without fighting back, but also without ever understanding what she’s trying to communicate to him.

No matter which of those common responses occur with any given couple, each instance further weakens a wife or girlfriend’s faith in the relationship.

“He’s NEVER going to get it. I can’t trust him.”

The mistrust is not about sexual faithfulness. It’s not really even about his human integrity, assuming he is as unaware of the damage he’s causing as I believe he is. (I believe strongly that the VAST majority of husbands would never KNOWINGLY inflict pain on their wives, and I stand by that belief. I think I know an easy way to determine whether your spouse is hurting you on purpose.)

A wife or girlfriend loses trust in her husband or boyfriend after repeated attempts to explain why something hurts and requests for help in making it stop haven’t resulted in any positive outcomes nor any evidence that he wants the painful thing to stop.

Faced with feeling hurt every day for the rest of her marriage/relationship, and no evidence her committed partner is willing to be a partner in making something painful go away, she stops trusting him.

No matter how good he may be. No matter how perfect his record might be in every other part of his life.

Something hurts her. He either can’t or won’t help her. She knows because they’ve talked about it countless times with the same result.

She knows the marriage/relationship is unsustainable without trust. Its future is in doubt.

The security and well-being of her and possibly children are now in jeopardy.

And now she doesn’t feel safe.

And no matter how much he tries, a man she can’t trust to not hurt her can’t make her feel safe. In most cases, not like how her father used to.

The realization is often frightening: “I no longer believe our marriage will survive.”

I used to believe the scariest guys were the obvious assholes. The guys that punch and cheat and name-call. The drunks and addicts and reckless gamblers.

But red flags are easy enough to spot. Red flags are obvious warning signs that help people steer clear.

Real danger is what lurks undetected.

These awesome guys. Nice. Friendly. Smart. Successful. By all appearances, good men and good fathers.

The guys everyone praises as good husbands and fathers. Guys just like me.

If you leave guys like that, maybe her parents don’t approve or support the decision. Maybe her friends will judge her. Maybe when she feels most afraid than at any other time in her entire life because she doesn’t believe her marriage and family will survive, and she’s feeling guilty for not being able to make it work and how it might affect her children. And the only thing she wants and needs is support. But the ONE person she believed she could count on for the rest of her life to lift her up and care for her in such moments is the very person inflicting all of the pain, fear and anxiety.

Mistrust.

Unsafe.

Fight or flight?

She has already spent years fighting, leaving her with just one choice: Run.

I used to blame her.

But I see it all so clearly now.

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The Strangers We Live With: Maybe Birth Control, Food & Aging Dooms Our Relationships

sinkhole

Sinkholes open without warning, sometimes destroying things and killing people. I think body chemistry might work that way, too. (Image/CNN)

Even the most-honest people lie sometimes.

When we love or even just like someone, the last thing we want to tell them is that we don’t like their new haircut, or that the meal they just prepared for us tastes gross, or that their ass totally looks fat in those jeans.

Maybe that’s not a “lie.” When you’re trying to protect someone’s feelings. Or maybe it is, but it’s not bad due to its noble intentions.

Or maybe a lie is a lie, and it’s ultimately bad no matter how well-intentioned it is because dishonesty is NEVER better than honesty. I don’t think we’ll ever know because humans are never going to collectively start telling the whole truth.

So, maybe we’ll never really know why attraction went away and they left. Or why we chose someone else. Or why love died. Or whether love and attraction were ever present in the first place.

Maybe everyone has a secret they’ll never tell. And maybe being afraid of everyone, or even just one person, discovering that secret will keep us “lying” our entire lives.

Maybe those lies—or rather undiscovered truths—will prevent us from ever “solving” the problems that harm or end our relationships, sometimes ruining our lives.

Maybe we never really know someone all the way.

And, just maybe, even if we do know someone all the way, they don’t always stay the person we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, we don’t always stay the person we think we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, when you can no longer recognize yourself in the mirror, all bets are off.

Why Do So Many Relationships Go Bad?

Let the record show that until proven otherwise, I maintain the stance that Shitty Husbandry (which is mostly accidental) is the No. 1 cause of failed marriages and divorce.

But there’s something else that happens to people which we’ve rarely, if ever, discussed here. All humans are affected by changing hormone levels and body chemistry at different points in our lives for various reasons. And while I’m no science whiz, I’m reasonably confident in saying that, when you change something’s literal chemistry, that thing always changes into another thing.

You don’t even have to change the actual building blocks to change something into something else.

Mix carbon and oxygen so that there are two units of oxygen for every unit of carbon, and you get carbon dioxide (CO2), which is our friend, and used by trees and grass to produce breathable air.

By simply reducing by half the amount of oxygen in the equation, you create carbon monoxide (CO). And if you don’t know, that shit will kill you.

The difference between Life and Death.

All because you changed the amount of one of just two basic ingredients.

Which begs the questions, I think:

Can changes in our hormone levels—our literal body chemistry—turn us into entirely different people?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people who sometimes transition into people unattracted to, or incompatible with our partners?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people, and that sometimes, our partners don’t like nor are attracted to the new and different versions of us?

Isn’t it possible that we all end up living with strangers or discovering them in our reflections, and that when one or both members of a marriage change into someone else, it strains the relationship in ways difficult or impossible to properly repair?

Maybe Hormones are the Sinkholes of Relationships

Let me just say this: Sinkholes are bullshit.

There are a lot of things to be afraid of in life. Natural disasters and disease and mortal enemies and other things. And most responsible people take precautionary measures to avoid these things when possible, which is how the human race has survived to this point.

But sometimes, you’re just sleeping in your bedroom at night, and then the ground gives way beneath your home, and your house falls down into the planet, and then you die.

It’s pretty much the least-fair thing I can think of. And the thing I am theoretically most afraid of due to its fundamental randomness. I can’t even trust the ground I stand on.

And maybe hormones are just like that.

One time, the person I loved most and knew best in the world had a baby and then everything about her body chemistry changed for a while afterward, and then later still, everything about Us got sick and died.

And when We died, I don’t think either of us were still the same person who met at that college party 15 years earlier.

Many things affect hormones.

The birth-control pill, in particular, interests me because it has been demonstrated to take away a biological tool women use to choose partners—smell. Pheromone detection via the olfactory system. It’s a thing, I guess.

According to this article in The Telegraph (U.K.): “…the Pill could stop women picking up these important genetic clues because it alters hormones which make the body think it is pregnant. While that stops women getting pregnant it also means they would rather be surrounded by close family members, and so are more attracted to people who are genetically similar. And for choosing a partner, that is dreadful.”

Pregnancy and child birth, menopause, and menstrual cycles all affect women’s bodies in chemistry-changing ways.

Most forms of contraception (about 60-ish%) affect hormone levels as well.

Estrogen, progresterone, testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol are some relatively well-known hormones. Leptin and ghrelin are some appetite-related lesser-known ones.

We all have all of these hormones. But as the levels of one or many increase or decrease, we literally become different versions of ourselves.

Different versions who tend to be shitty at the things that keep marriages thriving, or even simply afloat.

The food we eat matters.

Men today have significantly lower testosterone levels than our fathers and grandfathers. Some of the pesticides used to grow much of our food has high estrogen levels, which many in the science community point to as an explanation.

The food supply would affect women equally, on top of the previously mentioned changes.

Lifestyle factors like sleep, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise all affect us as well.

Sinkholes scare me. And they’re a bullshit, unfair wrinkle in our collective efforts to not die.

Hormones? They’re just like that.

Affecting all of us indiscriminately.

Turning people into someone else.

Turning lovers into strangers.

Turning Life into Death.

And maybe if everyone keeps on hiding the changes we feel because of this or that, maybe we’re all doomed to end up living with strangers.

Even when we live alone.

…..

(Update: Edited to correct nonsense scientific claim that trees and grass produced carbon dioxide rather than oxygen, because we don’t live on Venus.)

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It Doesn’t Jive Because We’d Just Assume Do Things the Wrong Way

Ptolemy's geocentric model of the solar system

Everything revolves around Earth. We can actually “prove” that. Right? (Image/Khan Academy)

Donkey wrote: “Matt has a post about leaving his crying wife in the hospital after giving birth/having a C-section. Lisa said her husband did something similar (he now can’t believe how he could do that, so credit to him and Matt both for having realized the extreme shittiness of that. Grrrr. Honestly, thinking about it just makes me feel some kind of immense primal rage).
“Do you have any idea as to the thought process of a shitty husband (who isn’t a Dick who gets off on abusing his wife) who makes that ok in his mind? That after 9 months (usually) of pregnancy and the woman, really, risking her life during childbirth/ C-section often suffering through a lot of pain, and then is also left alone with their newborn, it’s ok for him to go to get a good night sleep and leave his crying wife who’s begging him to stay alone?
“I can understand that some people wouldn’t be hurt by a dish by the sink and all of that (and we’ve already had the conversation about accepting influence even if you don’t understand), and I remember Matt saying it was hard for him to empathize with people’s physical discomfort that ha couldn’t relate to. I understand that men can’t really get how pregnancy/birth feels like. But still, isn’t childbirth very much accepted as a VERY Big Deal, a painful and stressful and high risk deal in our society, and that the role of the modern man is to support his wife however she needs? I would think leaving your wife alone after childbirth when she’s crying and begging you to stay would be just as obvious a faux pas as cheating (again, for me, I believe I’d rather have the father of my child cheat on me with 10 prostitutes than leave me crying alone in the hospital after having our baby).
“Matt, if you have any more explanations of your thought process you want to share, I would appreciate that too of course. I’m really just trying to understand the (faulty and frankly, like Lisa said, narcissistic) thought process, because I just don’t get it.”

I left my crying wife alone in the hospital like an asshole just hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section.

It was a long and difficult labor for her. The doctor induced labor 26 hours and 24 minutes prior to the time of delivery, give or take a few minutes or a false memory.

The anxiety, fear, stress and physical discomfort my wife felt after nine months of pregnancy, followed by a long, painful, vulnerably exposed and at times terrifying delivery ending in emergency surgery, is something only a mother could possibly know.

I won’t pretend to.

But I can understand today in a way I did not eight years ago, what a betrayal and moment of abandonment that was for my ex-wife. She was in pain, frightened, and needed someone simply to BE PRESENT with her. To feel loved and supported. And she asked me to stay. Begged, even.

And I made a different choice.

After years of reflection and additional wisdom earned only by living longer, I can see and understand how much that moment damaged my relationship in a way I couldn’t at the time. I think it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Not only did I not recognize that moment for what it was, when my wife would bring it up later as an instance in which I hurt her, I’d actually get mad at her for holding grudges and using the past against me. I’d treat her like she was the problem because she had anger issues she needed to work out. Like there was something wrong with her, because clearly there is nothing wrong with me!

After all, everyone else liked me and thought I was a great guy. She must be wrong since she’s the only one saying it!

I didn’t do all of those things as part of some meticulously planned and conspiratorial attempt to inflict maximum emotional damage on my newborn son’s mother—the woman I vowed to love forever—nor did I defend myself in later disagreements as part of a thoughtful strategy to make her feel shitty, push her away and ultimately destroy my marriage, leaving my little boy with divorced parents and a broken home.

What was the thought process? 

There kind of wasn’t one.

I thought my choices were, if not “best,” at least reasonable every step of the way, and at any point in which there was disagreement, I believed I was correct, and that she was incorrect.

I Make Mistakes Like Every Known Human, Ever

For 1,500 years, early astronomers used Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system to create astronomical charts. “Geocentric” means Earth is the center of the universe, and everything in the night sky is orbiting around it.

Today, we know this isn’t true. Nicolaus Copernicus got suspicious and theorized we were actually the ones moving around the sun. Later, Italian genius Galileo Galilei proved it.

But for 1,500 years prior, every educated person in the world believed the sun revolved around Earth. And it wasn’t because everyone was a bunch of stupid morons. Given the mathematical parameters and limited technology of that time, you can PROVE Ptolemy’s model.

For 1,500 years, every scientist, navigator, educator and thought leader in the world knew how the sun, moon and stars would move in the sky. They could “prove” it convincingly by accurately predicting what would happen next, even though EVERYTHING about their prediction model was based on something completely untrue.

(Note: The following is NOT directed at you, Donkey. I genuinely appreciate your question, and it’s my pleasure to write more about it, because it’s important. I’m simply trying to illustrate my point further.)

You’d just assume your husband or boyfriend cheat on you with 10 prostitutes as opposed to leaving you alone at the hospital after giving birth?

No.

You’d just as soon have that happen.

That doesn’t jive with your expectations of a husband and new father?

No.

It doesn’t jibe with your expectations.

Because I’ve had some wonderful editors through the years who have taught me things, I no longer make the common mistake of saying or writing “assume” when I mean “as soon,” nor do I make the even more-common mistake of saying or writing “jive” when I really mean “jibe.”

I learned the “assume” one in my early twenties when I was the editor of a semi-large university newspaper and working as a summer intern for a daily newspaper. I learned the “jive” one in my late twenties after more than 10 years of being paid to write things.

I didn’t use the two phrases incorrectly on purpose. I remember feeling quite a bit of embarrassment when I realized how many times I must have used each phrase incorrectly up to that point, and how some of the people who heard or read that from me knew I was an ignorant dumbass.

Until I was in a very specific, focused moment in which someone with more knowledge and experience than me corrected my mistake and helped me learn from it, I never even had reason to question the legitimacy of my word usage.

I KNEW I was correct. You know? Even though I was actually incorrect?

You Are Biased and Selfish Without Realizing It

That’s the first of eight reasons Why You Can’t Trust Yourself, according to one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson.

He writes:

“There’s a thing in psychology called the Actor-Observer Bias and it basically says that we’re all assholes.

“For example, if you’re at an intersection and somebody else runs a red light, you will probably think they’re a selfish, inconsiderate scumbag putting the rest of the drivers in danger just to shave a couple seconds off their drive.

“On the other hand, if you are the one who runs the red light, you’ll come to all sorts of conclusions about how it’s an innocent mistake, how the tree was blocking your view, and how running a red light never really hurt anybody.

“Same action, but when someone else does it they’re a horrible person; when you do it, it’s an honest mistake.

“We all do this. And we especially do it in situations of conflict. When people talk about someone who pissed them off for one reason or another, they invariably describe the other person’s actions as senseless, reprehensible, and motivated by a malicious intent to inflict suffering.

“However, when people talk about times when they inflicted harm on someone else, as you might suspect, they can come up with all sorts of reasons about how their actions were reasonable and justified. The way they see it, they had no choice to do what they did. They see the harm experienced by the other person as minor and they think that being blamed for causing it is unjust and unreasonable.

“Both views can’t be right. In fact, both views are wrong. Follow-up studies by psychologists found that both perpetrators and the victims distort the facts of a situation to fit their respective narratives.

“Steven Pinker refers to this as the ‘Moralization Gap.’ It means that whenever a conflict is present, we overestimate our own good intentions and underestimate the intentions of others. This then creates a downward spiral where we believe others deserve more severe punishment and we deserve less severe punishment.

“This is all unconscious, of course. People, while doing this, think they’re being completely reasonable and objective. But they’re not.”

What if We Assumed the Best About One Another?

I don’t pose the question as any sort of defense of the behavior I now believe to have been emotionally abusive.

But the validity of the question remains: How much better might our relationships be if, when something happens and we’re missing too much information to KNOW why it happened, we tell ourselves the most generous, best-possible story to explain it rather than the most cynical, or worst-possible explanation?

One of the most famous and important scenes in the Harry Potter saga takes place near the end of the sixth (second-to-last) book. You either know the story and what I’m talking about, or you should start reading the Harry Potter books right now. Yes, adults. Even you.

Seconds before death, a beloved character faces his killer and says “Please.”

It seems like a man begging for his life to be spared. But his life isn’t spared. Other characters in the book are horrified, as are the emotionally invested readers.

In the absence of information we later learn, the killing seems like the malicious work of an evil murderer. But once the story is told fully, we realize the killer was actually GOOD, and the dying man’s “please” wasn’t a mercy plea, but rather a request for his secret ally to kill him in order to protect a confused teenager from becoming a murderer or from suffering punishment for refusing to.

Not unlike the scientific community during the Ptolemaic period of astronomy versus the scientific community today, we believed one thing under one set of facts, and as more information was gathered, we came to believe something else, which turned out to be the truth.

I left my wife alone in that hospital because I didn’t know better.

It wasn’t my fault. It was simply my responsibility.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

We make choices, learning things along the way. Stuff happens, and we are all constantly interpreting the things happening around us with limited information. Sometimes we’re right. Much of the time, we’re wrong.

In this case, I was wrong, and am deeply sorry for the damage I caused. There are millions of guys out there doing these exact same things. Hurting their spouses accidentally, even when they are told their actions are hurtful. They STILL don’t know. It’s the Secret About Men Most Women Don’t Know.

But I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can only do something about tomorrow.

Life’s too short. I want to live it well.

That jibes with who I want to be. Because I’d just as soon be part of the solution.

By actually doing things the right way.

…..

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How to Brew Magic Sex Potion

magic sex potion

(Image/betterphoto.com)

Author’s Note #1 – This is intended for men focused on long-term monogamous relationships. It’s NOT for “pick-up artists,” who I’m confident know WAY more than I about how to succeed at having cheap sex with many strangers they’ll never see or speak to again.

Author’s Note #2 – Hey mom! Maybe you should skip this one.

Talking about sex is uncomfortable for some people.

I think it’s because many of us grow up only hearing about it as this naughty, taboo thing we’re not supposed to be doing or thinking about until we’re married.

Some people grow up avoiding sex in an effort to do what they’ve been taught is the right thing. Most of that group is probably doing so out of fear. They might be afraid of eternal damnation, moral judgment from others, disease, unplanned pregnancy, or something I haven’t thought of. Another group might not be afraid at all, but rather are deeply committed to living according to their moral code.

Maybe we succeed in our individual pursuits of avoiding sex or sex-related activities and enter marriage as shy, awkward and intimidated virgins.

Or maybe we failed in those pursuits, and spend our lives carrying a bunch of guilt and shame around like painfully heavy and oversized luggage without wheels.

In EITHER case, we’re suddenly supposed to shut off 25 or whatever years of psychological conditioning the moment we enter marriage because A. It’s totally okay to have sex now!, and not only that, but B. You better be kind of awesome at it, because no matter how much someone might want to deny it, a healthy and active sex life IS ABSOLUTELY one of the structural foundational elements of a marriage that lasts.

Or, put another way—failing in your marital sex life has a few different eventualities, and all seem bad: Divorce, Affairs, Miserable Marriage, or a total psychological disconnect from one’s sexuality in order to cope in a life devoid of physical intimacy.

I’ve been putting more effort into not categorizing things in terms of the gender divide, but sometimes the evidence is so strong that something is true for MOST people, that efficiency demands it:

While men and women both crave sexual satisfaction, the things that create feelings of arousal in men are often not the same things that produce sexual arousal in women.

Men’s sexual cravings tend to be more—I don’t know… superficial? Men’s arousal is often tied to visual stimulation. Body parts. Images of women in the throes of sexual ecstasy. And unfortunately, from novelty—something new or unfamiliar. Men are more prone to view an orgasm as the end game in and of itself. The research shows that sharing the experience with a partner is typically less important to men than it may be to women.

Women’s sexual arousal is much more psychologically rooted than in men. In fact, women often experience a civil war of sorts between their physical and mental responses to sexual stimuli.

Put more simply, a male erection is a virtual guarantee of sexual interest and arousal. But a female exhibiting physical evidence of stimulation can be 100-percent detached from the experience psychologically and emotionally.

In other words, a good female actor willing to lie can convincingly fake sexual pleasure, while men sort of can’t.

How to Make Your Partner Want You

Sometimes I look at the search terms people used to find this blog.

Last week, I saw this one: “magic potion to make a woman crave for sex.”

I laughed and made a note of it. But then I found myself thinking about it because it’s a conversation topic with merit.

I think this is a critical component of healthy relationships, and fits neatly into the overarching We Must Learn Empathy conversation.

If men assume (as I naively did for years) that their female partners generally experience sexual thoughts and activity in the same ways they do, it’s no wonder there’s so much dysfunction, cheating and crappy relationships happening.

Put another way, your wife or girlfriend leaving you because of your inability to understand how leaving dirty dishes by the sink can inflict severe emotional harm would be essentially the same thing as her leaving you because of your inability to satisfy her in the bedroom. (Hint: It would have almost nothing to do with your bedroom skills or the quality of your performance.)

My anonymous friend stumbling on MBTTTR during his digital quest for magic sex potion is highly unlikely to ever read this. But maybe someone else will.

The Recipe for Magic Sex Potion

1. Wake up each day, and intentionally think and feel: I choose to love my partner today. No matter what happens or how my mood swings, I love her. I am grateful that she chooses me despite my flaws. I appreciate the many things she does for me. Think of those things. There are A LOT. Pick one of those things and then, by speaking face-to-face, writing a note, sending a text, making a phone call or maybe some other really cool way, communicate to her that you appreciate something she does. There’s nothing too small to notice.

2. When you hug her (daily), do it for six seconds. Not four or five. Six. That’s how long it takes for important brain chemicals to kick in and boost our emotional connection with the person we’re hugging. Six-second hugs. Be mindful of stuff like this. These things matter.

3. When she tells you stories about her day, or wants to include you in a life decision she has to make for herself or your household, LISTEN attentively to her stories, and be engaged enough to provide feedback if (and only if) she requests it. Because I have bad news: Your penis WILL NOT make it all better for her. However, if you actually sacrifice just a little bit of time each day to actively listen to your partner, she will be infinitely more interested in touching it.

4. Become an empathy expert and practice demonstrating it. I’m serious. It will change your life. You can actually FAIL a little bit at empathy and still improve the health of your relationship simply through your demonstration of TRYING. Empathy Wizardry. That should be your new thing. So much sex, potion seeker. Or I should say… empathy wizard.

5. Avoid at all costs anything which forces her to do something your mom would have done for you. It’s okay if she WANTS to. I’m talking about the things she doesn’t want to do. Cleaning up after you. Reminding you of that thing you have to do this week. When you put her in a mother-like position, then she starts to feel like your mom and doesn’t want to bang you. This isn’t discussed enough.

6. Be kind. I don’t mean “nice.” Nice is bullshit and it’s not enough. BE KIND. If you don’t know the difference, this might be a good time to figure it out. Not being a prick should be a given. It might be time to learn why she gets upset with you even though everyone else in the world thinks you’re such a nice guy.

7. Exercise, but not because you think she likes toned arms and a flat stomach (even though she probably does). That’s gravy. Exercise demonstrates and results in a few things which women do respond to sexually: A. Self-respect, B. Discipline and follow-through, and actively doing those things breeds within you C. Confidence. These are important ingredients.

There are many other ingredients you can add to your cauldron while you brew future batches of Magic Sex Potion, and I’d love to learn other things I can add to improve this recipe.

People hunting for magic sex potions want a shortcut. A life hack. That’s what Pick-Up Artistry is for. If you love the idea of dying old and alone with herpes, feel free to explore some of those ideas.

But if you’re someone who craves companionship, contentment and connection every day for the rest of your life with a partner who genuinely derives pleasure from satisfying you sexually and from your touch, I think you’ll find this concoction to be an effective tool.

Order your Magic Sex Potion today and I’ll throw in a nice bonus gift:

A guarantee that you’ll literally be a better man every day for the rest of your life, reaping countless riches in the process and helping others do the same.

Go kick ass, potion seeker.

…..

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A Misdiagnosis Can Kill You

misdiagnosis

(Image/dailyherald.com)

An infectious disease specialist who was suffering severe throat pain visited a doctor to figure out why.

Acid reflux, his colleagues said. More time went by. The pain persisted despite treating the acid reflux. So he went to see more doctors. Repeatedly over several months, multiple head and neck surgeons assured him acid reflux was causing the pain.

Finally, a resident performed a simple examination procedure which the surgeons over several visits hadn’t tried, and discovered a cancerous tumor the size of a peach pit.

The doctor with the throat pain underwent emergency throat surgery and had his voice box removed.

All because he spent months trying to fix something that wasn’t actually the problem.

I read it right here in the blog comments of a recent post. Someone wrote that her father was a doctor and often said: “An accurate diagnosis is 90 percent of the cure.”

Sometimes I read or hear something that sticks with me. This is one of those things.

Because, how do we diagnose the problems in our marriages or long-term relationships?

We mostly guess. And I think we mostly guess when we’re angry or sad or afraid.

At any given time, we have a certain amount of facts we know or at the very least, believe to be true. Certainty, real or otherwise.

Regardless, there is also a certain percentage of missing information. About everything. We constantly have expectations about what will happen next, or about what might be going on elsewhere, or about something we’ll be doing in the future.

When you’ve driven the same route to work for five years, you can predict with relative accuracy (even with all the variables) how long it will take to drive to your destination.

You can accurately predict how long it will take for your shower water to turn from cold to hot when you first turn it on.

We expertly perform countless little tasks every day that seem routine and inconsequential, but to someone who had never done them before, the experience would be much different.

Any time we’re missing too much information, our brains use every piece of input it can to try to guess what’s happening or will happen. We fill in all the missing pieces with guesses. Maybe we’re right sometimes. But we’re probably mostly wrong. 

 

During most of my marriage, I would repeatedly choose things I wanted to do over being present and engaged with my wife. I’d sometimes watch movies or ballgames in a separate room, or play online poker or do whatever.

In moderation, two healthy people can have an amazing relationship balancing Together Things and individual pursuits. But outside of our social lives, we didn’t have a lot of Together Things, so I pursued many individual interests.

I made a habit out of leaving my wife alone in a separate room to watch TV or read a book or talk on the phone believing it was a simple matter of us both doing what we wanted to do. Everything’s cool! We’re just both good at letting one another do their thing!

But when you combine it with me not pursuing her intimately as a husband should, and me being disengaged and disinterested in some of her personal interests, and frequently demonstrating an unwillingness to perform household chores and projects, and of course ALWAYS messing up the empathy thing during disagreements, it must have looked and felt much different to her.

She felt alone. Unsupported. Unwanted. Unloved. Disrespected. Rejected.

I never realized people could feel alone with other people around. I didn’t know the typical “shitty husband” behaviors affecting so many marriages were the dangerous relationship killers they are.

There was a lot of incorrect guessing going on all around.

It’s hard to explain how many pegs I had to fall in my own mind to gain the perspective and humility necessary to eat the Crow, the Humble Pie, and the Shit Sandwiches I needed to be the me I am now.

How does one feel genuine gratitude for the worst thing to ever happen to them?

That’s how.

It’s silly for her to be sad and angry!, I thought. She’s misdiagnosing the problem!

And in a way, I was correct. Philosophically, my wife was mistaken. She was loved, wanted, respected, desired, etc. But knowing what I know now allows me to see how everything happened in a way that was impossible (due to ignorance and neglecting to educate myself) for me to see then.

She was missing information. And because our communication was so epically shitty (despite both of us being longtime communication professionals), I was never able to communicate the missing information effectively or convincingly enough to help her more accurately understand those unknown things we’re all constantly guessing at.

During the final 18 months of my marriage, I slept in the guest room, and our already substandard and ineffective communication had come to a near-standstill. Because I was fully disconnected from and disengaged with my wife, the Unknown piece of the Things I Know About My Wife pie chart was expanding.

That was very bad.

The Art of Guessing What We Don’t Know

Back to the example we started with, The Washington Post ran an article about medical misdiagnosis a few years ago. It somehow feels relevant.

“Misdiagnosis ‘happens all the time,’ said David Newman-Toker, who studies diagnostic errors and helped organize the recent international conference. ‘This is an enormous problem, the hidden part of the iceberg of medical errors that dwarfs’ other kinds of mistakes, said Newman-Toker, an associate professor of neurology and otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Studies repeatedly have found that diagnostic errors, which are more common in primary-care settings, typically result from flawed ways of thinking, sometimes coupled with negligence, and not because a disease is rare or exotic, the Post story said.

“The problem is not new: In 1991, the Harvard Medical Practice Study found that misdiagnosis accounted for 14 percent of adverse events and that 75 percent of these errors involved negligence, such as a failure by doctors to follow up on test results.”

I started to lose it.

I know people say that as a figure of speech to talk about normalish episodes of feeling upset or whatever. But I mean it a bit more seriously than that. I came undone. I became, to some degree, mentally and emotionally unstable.

I totally lost it during those months sleeping in the guest room while I watched everything break apart from the inside.

I started feeling immature jealous feelings which is something I hadn’t experienced much in life.

Every attractive guy on TV or in real life suddenly became an object of her sexual interest in my imagination. Every text message alert was some guy she probably had a crush on, I thought suspiciously. I’d make up all kinds of thoughts and feelings for her—all of which I was really afraid of being true—and I thought about and worried about these made-up thoughts and feelings so much that they became real for me.

When our friends would come over and we’d pretend to be cool, I secretly thought that the wife in those other couples had been talking to her about our marriage problems and that they were silently judging and thinking bad things about me with fake smiles on their faces.

I wasn’t kidding. I lost it.

Without ever having any sort of mature fact-finding, soul-searching conversation with my wife, I just kept letting my paranoid imagination tell me stories about her thoughts, feelings and dreams. About who and what she wanted. About with whom she was discussing our broken marriage.

It’s funny because I assumed everyone knew, but almost no one did.

Until it was all over, she barely spoke of it, and even then, not much.

I thought I knew my wife better than anyone, and maybe I did. But without communicating effectively or asking the right questions, there was still so much I didn’t know.

The truth is hard to write:

We both guessed incorrectly about what the other person thought and felt, we both did an awful job trying to bridge the communication gap, and the kiss of death was my assumption that My Way—the way I thought and experienced the world through my own individual perspective—was somehow “more correct” than her way. That inherently flawed belief helped me justify not putting in the work reading books and talking to people who knew better than I did what love really is.

I don’t know how long I believed my marriage problems were simple acid reflex instead of cancer.

Maybe if I’d started down this path sooner, everything would be different.

Maybe the misdiagnosing and early detection failures at the start of our relationships are ultimately the things that kill us.

There can be no answers when we fail to ask the right questions.

There can be no cure when we don’t even know what’s wrong.

We think it’s this thing. But really it’s something else. So we never get the medicine or treatment we need.

And then we die.

…..

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And Then I Woke Up Three Years Later

(Image/Paramount Studios)

Are you mentally playing the Top Gun Anthem in your head right now? You should be. (Image/Paramount Studios)

I spent the first year depressed and freaking out.

I spent the second year using reading and writing to get to know myself.

This past year, time seemed to move faster than ever.

And then I woke up this morning.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. We’re funny about anniversaries. We can be five years removed from an event, and we feel good and our lives are in order, but then that date pops up, triggers a bunch of memories, and we’re left sorting through a bunch of feelings and trying to figure out what they mean.

I’ve yet to find a better word than “broken” for what I felt in the immediate aftermath of my marriage failing.

Not many people in my personal life knew how bad it was at the time. But it was bad. Your vital signs indicate being alive. But nothing else does. I roll my eyes at all the motivational posters and sometimes cliché- and a little-bit-fake-feeling “You can do it!” messages we’re bombarded with on social media, but some of them are cliché because they’re true. And one of those truths is how valuable of a life experience excruciating emotional and psychological pain can be once it’s in the rearview mirror and it’s not violently stabbing your chest and skull every day.

There’s the me before experiencing that, and the me right now.

Before experiencing that, I didn’t know how to empathize or even what it really meant.

And now I do, for having been through it. Success in love and marriage, in parenting, in super-close social and business relationships appears impossible without the ability to empathize. Maybe some people can learn it without having to hurt first. I hope so.

I tend to learn things the hard way, which isn’t the optimum path to personal growth, but it’s got to be better than never learning.

I was a WRECK. A total mess of a person. My chest felt tight every day. My head hurt every day. I felt full-body anxiety often. It made me vomit a lot.

I can’t remember many instances of feeling more pathetic than the times I found myself teary-eyed, puking, struggling to calm my heartrate, knowing I probably needed some serious couch time with a shrink but couldn’t afford it, and thinking: This is why she left you. And now no girl will ever like you because you’re a total failure.

There were a million things I wanted to know, but the thing I wanted to know most is: When will this be over? Soon? Never?

How to Heal After Divorce in 3 Simple Steps

  1. Stay alive by breathing.
  2. Love yourself.
  3. Repeat.

I said it over and over again, even when it was hard to believe: Everything is going to be okay.

It didn’t feel okay after one year.

It felt kind of okay after two.

And on the three-year anniversary of the worst day of my life, everything is absolutely okay.

I wish I could pass out little manuals to everyone struggling with the end of a marriage and/or loss of their children at home, including the 2013 edition of me. But there are no instruction manuals for grieving. There’s no “right” or “best” way to suffer.

It took me a long time to understand that I wasn’t suffering the wrong way. I didn’t think at the time that divorce warranted the devastation I felt. I didn’t think it was worthy of so much hurt. I concluded weakness instead of letting it be what it was—a highly stressful, totally life-changing event which psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially damages nearly everyone it touches.

Three years ago, I wanted to know what I could do to speed up the process. To fast-forward to the Okay part.

I never did find that button.

Here’s what worked for me:

1. I put my son first. He’s my baseline for all things. If it’s not good for him, I don’t do it. That helped heal the post-divorce relationship between his mother and I. It helped me build a kind, respectful, cooperative relationship with my ex-wife. I’d like to believe I’d care about her wellbeing regardless, but because she’s my son’s mother and an excellent parent and caretaker, one of the best things I can do for my child is treat his mom well. Which I try to do.

His long-term wellbeing drives my business endeavors and serves as a guidepost for me as I consider potential relationships.

2. I admitted that I don’t really know anything. Growing up, I thought being an adult meant you just knew stuff. The meaning of life. How to be disciplined and exercise self-control. How to not be afraid. Not knowing anything reduces the pressure. Not knowing anything allows you to ask better questions and stay curious. Not knowing anything helps you remain humble. Not knowing anything allows you to withhold judgment, and treat others and yourself better. Almost every adult is just making this up as they go. You’re not alone.

3. I wrote here. Putting thoughts and feelings to paper (or the keyboard) has long been touted by mental health experts as a good thing to do. Everyone’s experience will vary, but writing here created a lot of good in my life.

It forced me to look deep within for answers and explore uncomfortable topics.

I discovered other people who knew how I was feeling, and when life is hard, one of the most helpful things is the realization that someone else is walking the same path as you. It just helps when someone understands.

I got positive feedback about the writing, and that gave me confidence.

People sometimes said that it helped them, and that gave me purpose.

And the entire exercise of writing and asking questions and answering questions gave me something to pour my time and heart into when my young son wasn’t home.

And then I woke up one day and it was three years later.

My son’s mom and I had a couple friendly and peaceful text exchanges about our son.

I came to work and didn’t cry or puke in the bathroom.

I didn’t feel anxious, because I’m neither a wreck nor a complete mess.

Two different large websites published my work today in what has become a regular occurrence since the “dishes” post.

I like and respect myself—which is something a person should not take for granted—and I’m looking forward to liking and respecting myself even more in the future.

It was the worst day of my life. And God knows, conceptually, I regret the end of my family. But three years into the metamorphosis, I have to ask the question: Can the thing that changed me for the better, allowed me to explore relationships with my eyes wide open and an uncommon awareness, and granted me the opportunity to actually do something that matters to people, fairly be labeled the worst thing that ever happened to me?

I don’t know.

I only know that tomorrow arrived and everything really is okay.

And all I had to do was breathe.

Then again.

And again.

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