Tag Archives: Honesty

How Trying to ‘Fit In’ Can Ruin Your Life and Marriage

Never Abandon Yourself

(Image/Pinterest)

As far back as I remember, I was taught that some human behaviors are so bad that if you do them, God—an otherwise all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving father figure—will be so pissed and disappointed with your choices that you run the risk of being banished to the shittiest, most-frightening, most-painful environment imaginable for ETERNITY.

I don’t know how many of you try to conceptualize FOR-FREAKING-EVER, but it hurts my head so much that even the concept of an eternal paradise scares me a little. I’m not really capable of imagining forever. Dinosaurs were alive 65 million years ago. Compared to FOREVER, 65 million years is less time than it took you to read this sentence, relative to our lifetime.

Let’s not discuss theology, please. I have no idea what’s true and not true, and I have a sneaking suspicion no one else does either—even those who act like they’re really certain about it.

This Bad Human Behaviors List was mostly not a problem.

I didn’t want to kill anyone. I never even liked hurting people.

I didn’t want to rape, or kidnap, or steal things. I didn’t even want to covet my neighbor’s wife or possessions.

I wanted to treat people well—not for praise or recognition—but just because that’s what naturally made sense for me.

The things on the Bad Human Behaviors List were super-easy to avoid for the first 12 or so years of my life. I didn’t want to do them anyway! Yay!!! I’m going to Heaven!!!

And then somewhere along the way, I started waking up with erections and inevitably had one anytime I was called up to write something on the chalkboard in front of the class at school. Sex became a thing I thought about a lot, and to some extent, talked about with friends.

By mid-high school, I’d experienced alcohol and marijuana, and decided I really liked both.

And for the first time in my life, my personal values were on the line.

Am I going to be the kind of person who does things because I like them and they feel good even though I believe they’re wrong?

With the full knowledge and understanding that having sex outside of marriage AND consuming alcohol or smoking pot just to “feel good” were on the Bad Human Behaviors List—the very list that will damn your ass to an eternity of excruciating fiery torment—I totally chose to do them anyway.

Guilt.

Shame.

Fear.

These things were now a part of my world, and there was nowhere to hide from them. What I discovered is that if you drink enough, and smoke a bowl, and climax a couple of times with a sexy partner in crime, you kind-of dull or mute the discomfort of guilt, shame and fear. Like a numbing agent.

Temporary relief from the discomfort of Real Life.

Whenever that relief wore off, you’d just do it again. Like a non-hospitalized college kid’s personal morphine drip.

Twenty years, one son who needs my guidance, and one divorce later, and I still find myself pushing that metaphorical button.

It doesn’t look anything like it used to. I never smoke. I rarely drink. I’m no longer surrounded by 10,000 single women every day.

But I’m still dancing with the question: What kind of person am I? What do I REALLY believe, and can I live courageously and authentically in whatever those true and actual beliefs might be?

Do You Ever Lie Like I Lied?

I didn’t think it was lying. Deception for the sake of taking advantage of someone, or benefiting at others’ expense.

THAT’s lying, right? I’m just not always disclosing the whole truth. That’s so much different than lying! Keeping some things to myself isn’t on the Bad Human Behaviors List!

I was pretty much being Peter in the movie scene from “Office Space” when he’s trying to justify to his girlfriend how stealing fractions of a penny from his employer isn’t actually wrong since Take-a-Penny trays exist.

Because I fucking lied. I was lying to myself as I spent years convincing myself I was doing the right thing.

I was “honest” in that I never tried to deceive my wife in some ultra-heinous way. But I lied to her by misrepresenting myself about sex.

“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”

– Mark Groves, relationship coach, speaker, writer

I wasn’t ashamed to drink with her nor have honest conversations about it. It wasn’t a source of guilt and shame.

I wasn’t ashamed to have honest conversations about pot smoking with her because it was such a relatively insignificant thing in our adult lives. It just didn’t matter enough to ever matter.

But then we get to sex. It’s always so uncomfortable to talk about for me, like I’m 12 again.

Maybe deep down, I’m still the 12-year-old just waiting for God to ban-hammer my sinful ass to perma-bathe in some hellfire lava pit.

Here’s the important part:

I was afraid to communicate things I thought and felt about sex to my wife—both when we were dating, and during our marriage.

Why?

Because I was afraid of rejection.

I was afraid my wife wouldn’t like the REAL ME, so I played like I was all morally virtuous in the sex department, even though I was actually a little pervy, and fantasized about interracial three-ways and other rad stuff that would probably make my grandma cry.

When Did We Decide Everyone Else Matters More Than Us?

This isn’t about sex, or moral righteousness, or even communication in marriage.

It’s about betraying and abandoning yourself to win the approval of others.

I was watching and listening to relationship coach and speaker Mark Groves talk about these ideas in a video I’ll share below.

[Full disclosure: Mark and I “met” for the first time on the phone last week because I really like and respect the work he does, and from that conversation I am intentionally looking for opportunities to share Mark’s work and support him, as he has the same mission that I do, and he’s already doing what I one day hope to—write about and talk about this stuff full-time.]

In this talk, Mark shares a number of personal stories (not unlike I try to do) in order to illustrate the lesson he learned from it, and share ideas for a better way of living.

Listening to his talk from the video, I was affected when he talks about how there’s a moment when we’re kids where most of us abandon ourselves in favor of: “I need to be this type of person to get the love of my parents.”

And how we often behave and make major life decisions (including who we date and/or marry) in an effort to live up to whatever cultural, religious, educational standards we believe will earn us the approval or praise of others.

“So we become who we think we need to be to be loved,” Mark said. “But when we do that, who’s not getting the love? Inside?

“Us. We abandon self to stay part of a group that doesn’t even celebrate who we truly are.

“That used to be something that preserved us in evolution, but it doesn’t seem so helpful now.”

The Science of Relationships (a Mark Groves talk)

Mark and I had a great talk where it was clear we were both passionate about the idea that our interpersonal relationships are truly the things that have the greatest impact on our lives.

How good or bad our human, earthly life experiences are is most greatly affected by the quality of our closest relationships. How good we feel. How healthy we are.

Yet, we spend our lives NOT learning about relationships from anyone except people who ALSO suck at them. Then shitty things happen and we cry and stuff.

I often use the term “failed relationship.” Mark hates that term and called it “shitty.”

“A relationship that ends is not a failure,” Mark said. “It’s expansion. It’s growth. It’s just the end of a story.

“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”

I spent a lot of time thinking about that. Longevity is beautiful, and Mark is the first to say so. But longevity DOES NOT make a relationship “successful.”

And it doesn’t have to be this way.

The path to a better way starts with treating ourselves better.

You deserve it. We all do.

Even me.

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Why I Support My Friend Who Won’t Change for His Girlfriend

stubborn boyfriend walks away

(Image/worldlypost.in)

So, I’ve got a friend who appears unwilling to change certain behaviors or sacrifice some of his life preferences for his girlfriend.

He’s totally “a guy” in the way I think of the caricature or stereotype that exists in my head when I’m writing about shitty husbandry—not radically different from how I remember myself not too many years ago.

There are things he enjoys and wants to do in life. Some of those things have begun to cause conflict in his relationship as she expresses dissatisfaction with them, and he seems prepared to pull the plug after more than a year together.

And THAT is why I support him even though it might seem as if I’m advocating stubbornness or selfishness in relationships.

  1. He’s being honest with her about his boundaries.
  2. He’s being honest about his feelings toward hers.
  3. They are exploring these differences together, even if it hurts and exposes cracks in their relationship.
  4. He’s having the difficult conversation BEFORE marriage. He’s not moving toward forever-vows under false pretenses only to have marriage fights about these things later when more is at stake for all involved.

The Truth is Inconvenient, but Should Still Have its Day

How many of our life problems exist because we’re not 100-percent honest? Most, I think. So many of us are afraid to make waves that we let things happen without reacting to them in fully honest ways, and then dominoes of dysfunction begin to fall from there.

Sometimes it’s some little thing that barely matters. Other times, it’s the whole world, and afterward you don’t get to have your family anymore.

I don’t really care if guys are selfish pricks. Never have. I don’t think it’s an awesome way to live, and I don’t want to be friends with people like that, but on its own, I think individual people putting themselves first is among the least of our major societal problems.

Selfishness only destroys things when it’s deceptive or when its introduced into a group environment, like a team, or business, or friendship, or family, or romantic relationship.

“Hey Matt!!! Are you saying you think it’s more okay to be selfish when you’re dating than when you’re married?”

Yes. I think I am.

Do I wish they would have discovered some of these differences before their relationship graduated from casual dating to fully committed relationship? Of course. But the reality of human relationships is that we sometimes don’t learn every single thing about a person in a short time, especially if one or both parties are hiding something about themselves.

Most of us do it.

We’re a little bit insecure and we fear rejection, so we pretend to be super-tolerant of some aspect of this person we’re getting to know, when in reality, we’re intolerant of that part of them. We convince ourselves we’ll get over it, or it’s not a big deal, but these little things can sometimes turn to major things once we’re in the thick of our relationships and Truth crawls its way to the surface no matter how much one of us had tried to keep it hidden.

My friend offered me examples of things she was doing and saying that were getting under his skin.

I defended her where it seemed appropriate, but didn’t have to. He never blamed her for being her, and takes 100-percent responsibility for the predicted end of his relationship.

He’s now wrestling with the idea that maybe committed relationships just aren’t for him. As if he is—fundamentally—not cut out for them. Or realizing that he is simply unwilling to give up enough of his personal wants in order to have a healthy one.

That is INFINITELY more noble to me than the guy who secretly feels that way, marries someone he professes to love unconditionally but proceeds to spend 5-10 years with taking more than he gives before draining her spirit entirely, breaking a home, and maybe a few other things in the process.

I’m not celebrating selfishness. I’m not. I’m celebrating self-awareness and an unwillingness to make life decisions that border on deception or would set up something more painful and damaging years from now than a breakup now would be.

The Season Ticket Fight

Long before my friend met his girlfriend, he and one of his buddies split the cost of two season tickets to their favorite NHL hockey team.

They chop the season (41 home games) into thirds. One third, they go together. Another third, his buddy brings his wife or child. And the last third, my friend brings whoever he wants.

Once my friend began dating his girlfriend, she became the person he brought to most games.

And that has been the arrangement, which he thought was working out okay until she recently expressed an interest in attending more games.

He immediately started suggesting options.

Suggestion #1: Identify the one third of games on the calendar my friend didn’t already have tickets for, and buy single-game tickets for all the ones she wanted to attend.

She didn’t like that idea because she liked where they sat for the season tickets they have now (they’re awesome seats). She didn’t want lesser seats to ruin the experience, she said.

Alright, he thought.

Suggestion #2: Buy her own season tickets in seats she likes equally well, and bring friends with her on the night he’s in his regular seat.

She didn’t like that idea because if they were both going to be at the same hockey game, she wanted them to be together.

Okayyy, he thought.

Suggestion #3: Through a stroke of good fortune, it just so happens that a vacant seat right next to the two seats my friend and his ticket partner have is available. My friend suggested they grab that seat, so she could sit next to him for two-thirds of the season, and either attend the other games with the other couple, or sell the seat each night she didn’t want to go.

She didn’t like that idea because she didn’t like the idea of being the third-wheel when my friend and his buddy were at the game together.

In the end, she admitted that she wanted him to give up his season tickets with his buddy, and get new ones with her.

And that was all my friend could stomach. That was the end of his rope.

I defended her again, suggesting that it’s awesome that she wants to do things together and make their relationship strong. I reminded him that he doesn’t know every little part of her past and that maybe there are some insecurities he doesn’t know about. That maybe whatever hang ups she has about times when they’re not together are scars from previous life experiences where she felt abandoned or betrayed.

He understood, but not enough to care more about that than what he perceived to be needy, unreasonable, clingy bullshit on her part.

He said he felt deceived. She advertised herself as independent, he said. There were no signs of her feeling uncomfortable with the ebb and flow of their social lives and schedule for months. And then, something changed.

And he has a choice to make: Compromise with her in a way that will satisfy both of them (toward which he believes he put a good-faith effort), or stand his ground knowing it could mean the end of their relationship.

And he’s choosing standing his ground. To not compromise on something that will breed and foster resentful feelings inside him and poison his feelings toward her.

I don’t know if that’s worth celebrating or especially admirable in the context of my strong belief that Love is a Choice.

But I do know that he’s responsibly doing the thing I believe to be super-critical to marriage success, because I also believe there are MANY people who shouldn’t be dating each other.

The season-ticket fight is a microcosm of The Same Fight my friend and his girlfriend are starting to have—one likely to carry on through the remainder of their time together, until both of them fully understand what’s happening.

I’m not sure my friend is willing to put the work in on that one. In fact, he said basically that very thing.

And I’m afraid that’s likely to mean he’ll be single for as many years as he continues to make that choice.

Do I think it’s ideal? Nah. Noble? Not really. The optimum way to be? Of course not.

But do I respect and support his awareness and honesty in an effort to avoid broken homes and divorce down the road?

Damn right, I do. And no matter how inconvenient it feels to those who crave the same love and desire they give the person they’re dating, a bit more inconvenient truth would go a long way to making this world a better one.

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Bad News: You Two Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating

caution you're doing it wrong

(Image/amaninthegap.blogspot.com)

Your relationship is probably doomed.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m just playing the percentages.

Half of all marriages will fall apart. It’s a huge bummer but it’s been true for so long that unless a critical mass of people in the future take to heart some of the ideas here, there’s every reason to assume that will continue.

Additionally, what percentage of pre-marriage/unmarried relationships won’t work out? Maybe 80, or even 90 percent? Who knows? A damn lot.

So. Like I said: Your relationship is probably doomed.

Maybe I’m Not Doing It Wrong After All

Tiffany asked:

My question is less about the marriage part and more about the singlehood part. I epically failed at the dating game in my younger years long before epic fail was even a phrase. I am oh so much better at it now, NOT! I have no game or swagger, I’m just me. I’m just real but I guess being real is a complete turn off in this reality-tv, instant gratification society. So my question is, now what? Now what are we divorcee’s supposed to do? Online dating did not exist the last time I was single and neither did texting. We thought our cell phones were smart until Apple raised the IQ bar. Now, there seem to be dating rules that no one has shared with me and once I become privy to what they might be, they change. It seems the sea of fishes are now depleted of sea horses but teaming with sharks. If nice guys finish last, WHERE ARE THEY? In my experience, the divorced, single men in our age bracket are either reliving their 20 something frat boy days or trying to experience that lifestyle they never had. It’s exhaustingly frustrating! I feel as if the first line of the online dating profile I don’t have should read “Hi, I am a strong woman of character, value and self-respect. I’m sorry but I will not be selling my body or soul to the lowest bidder with cheesy lines, free cocktails, Netflix and a ‘chill’.”

I feel like when I go on a first date with someone (which has not happened in over a year because I gave up) I should introduce myself as, “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m a real person with thoughts, ideas and feelings not just a pin cushion. It’s nice to meet you.” The guy would turn around and run I’m sure lol. I also have two kids which translates to leprosy I’m finding out. Refer back to the previous statement of reliving one’s 20s and the idea of being a grown man that doesn’t shy away from responsibility is just gone. Maybe they are just too overwhelmed with their own responsibility to think about any more…..Maybe they just don’t know how to tread down this road just like me….Maybe I’m giving them too much benefit of the doubt…Maybe they’ve always been irresponsible and that’s why they’re divorced….Maybe I should stop driving myself crazy with all the maybe’s.
BUT I JUST DON’T GET IT!!!
So please, if you have any thoughts as to why divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual, please clue me in.
Also, the separate problem of divorced men who may be looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids.

I used to think I was horrible at dating (post-divorce, specifically), and even felt a little bit ashamed of it. But that’s because I was comparing the QUANTITY of my dates to what I perceived to be others’ experiences, and now I’ve come to believe it’s actually the low-boundary, unfiltered attitude toward dating that is causing most of these problems in the first place.

I now think I was accidentally awesome, and believe today that I’m a competent dater in a very deliberate way.

There are two reasons people date:

1. Because they desire companionship and/or sex, casually or otherwise.

2. Because they’re looking for a suitable partner for a long-term relationship and/or marriage.

If casual relationships are the goal, then I think a relaxed attitude about dating is an appropriate disposition.

But if you’re genuinely looking for a compatible long-term partner with the intention of spending FOREVER with them, then I think getting hardcore with your intentions, your boundaries, and your stated expectations are CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to your success and emotional wellbeing.

An intentionally casual dater can date another intentionally casual dater, and have a positive experience.

An intentionally casual dater dating someone looking for love can lead to a lot of bad things happening if neither are honest with one another.

A person looking for love and long-term commitment can date someone else looking for love and long-term commitment, and it can go a million different ways. A lot of people believe if they end up married, that the meeting and dating exercise was a success. But that’s not true. It’s only a success if they actually make it to forever.

This is where most of us get it wrong.

Because I write here and some people pay attention, people in my personal life sometimes irrationally believe that makes me the go-to person for relationship questions. Ignoring how flawed that thinking is, I do my best to listen and provide the honest feedback they seek.

One of my friends liked a guy. He was the first guy she really liked in a long time. They met on an online dating site. They started seeing each other regularly. But to her displeasure, he was non-committal. He remained engaged in online-dating activities and was presumably seeing other people.

She wanted my advice. I didn’t think the solution was complicated.

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Only you can decide what you’re willing to tolerate,” I said. “The first thing I would do is decide exactly what you want and what your intentions are. Do you want him to be your committed boyfriend, or don’t you? Are you okay with him logging onto online dating sites and dating other people, or aren’t you? Once you know what you want, those are your boundaries. Then you clearly and honestly communicate those boundaries to him. Then—the hardest part—you ENFORCE those boundaries. You need to be willing to walk away if he doesn’t respect them,” I said.

“Isn’t it too soon for that?” she said. She didn’t want to seem “crazy” or “possessive,” she said.

She was afraid that being honest would cause him to reject her.

“I don’t want to seem insensitive about this, but if your relationship is going to fail, you WANT it to fail fast. Be honest about what you want. If he’s unwilling to give you what you want, or honor your feelings, or he runs away, isn’t that all you really need to know about him in terms of your long-term compatibility?” I said.

Maybe she thought really wanting him to be a certain kind of guy would magically transform him into that person. Like The Secret.

She never had the conversation with him. A couple weeks later, he cancelled plans with her for the third or fourth time, then she ended it, and they haven’t talked to one another since.

The entire scene felt insane to me. THIS is a major reason so many people end up divorced, I thought.

Why Does Dating Suck?

Because people don’t establish strong-enough boundaries for who they date.

Because people aren’t willing to be vulnerable and choose honesty when expressing who they really are on the inside, and what they really want.

And then sooner or later, it all crashes and burns because two people with different values and different expectations and different goals tried to force it using rainbow wishes and unicorn dreams, blaming culture, circumstances and everything but the person standing in the mirror for willingly participating in the madness.

Being a victim of con-artistry is the ONLY honest excuse for crushing heartache in the dating game.

Sure, rejection hurts, when one honest person doesn’t reciprocate the same emotional investment as another honest person. But, A. Don’t you WANT to be with someone who wants you back?, and B. How is that not an infinitely better result than investing years and/or marriage with someone who ultimately rejects you because you never really knew each other in the first place?

I can’t emphasize this belief enough: Every failure-to-launch relationship is a GREAT thing that eliminates wasted time, gives us critical life experience, and ultimately opens the door for people to find legitimately awesome and compatible romantic partners.

I know everyone’s in a big hurry all the time. But as mom always said: Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.

This is how dating goes when you’re from a small Midwestern town in the United States (maybe it’s a lot different in big cities and other cultures): You go to school in kindergarten, and for the next 13 years, you’re almost exclusively surrounded by “people like you,” which I’m loosely defining as single people with similar values, similar life experiences, similar educational opportunities, similar financial prospects, and similar long-term goals and expectations.

There’s no such thing as classmates or even two random students at the same school who don’t share several common interests and cultural similarities, relative to how varied our experiences and worldviews can be as single—divorced, widowed, or never-married—adults.

Unless you’re someone who moved around a lot during your school years (which must come with its own social-development issues and challenges), you’re typically 18 at the earliest before you meet a potential romantic interest with a radically divergent cultural background or value system.

I think exposure to other beliefs, cultures and customs is extremely important for people to figure out who we are. Diversity is critical for us to be able to ask the right questions during our formative and explorative years.

But I’m not sure I believe diversity to be particularly useful in marriage or committed long-term relationships (especially those involving children—more on that in a minute).

How Dating is Like Business

As an internet marketing professional, my job is, in a very generic sense, to generate as much web traffic as possible to pages containing products or services I hope to sell to as many visitors as possible.

Let’s pretend I own a company that sells exclusively men’s t-shirts which read: “Donald Trump Has Very Specific and Credible Plans for America, Excellent Hair, and Should Be President of the World.” And now my job is to sell as many of these stylish and in-demand shirts as possible.

quizzical baby

(Image/mums-corner.com)

Let’s pretend I’m going to try to sell these shirts using targeted online advertising and email marketing (because I magically have access to everyone’s email address), and I have to decide how to wisely spend my email marketing and advertising budget.

And finally, let’s pretend I decide to target the following groups of people for my men’s Trump shirt sales initiative: Registered Democrats who voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, Women who live in Poland, and everyone on Hillary Clinton’s F.B.I.-seized private email server.

I probably wouldn’t have much luck selling Trump shirts to those groups.

There is something in business called a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). A shirtless man carrying a 12-pack of Natural Light at a Trump rally might be an MQL for one of these Trump shirts. A Hispanic Los Angeles resident with a Bernie Sanders yard sign would not be.

I think many daters look for love and marriage using the I’m Trying to Sell Trump Shirts to Sanders Supporters strategy.

Online Dating Can Actually Help With This

Online dating sites allow you to establish parameters to weed out people with incompatible or unattractive traits. This is really helpful for women who receive more attention on dating sites than they can handle and for men with strong boundaries, selective tastes and specific preferences.

It’s probably bad for all of the low-boundary people who care more about feeling liked and accepted than they do about actually having healthy and successful relationships.

Maybe people are lonely and afraid they’ll be alone forever. I remember feeling that way.

Maybe people are worried about what friends and coworkers think. Maybe they want to “keep up” with their ex who has already moved on with someone new. Maybe people are trying to have sex more often than never. Maybe they’re trying to find a financial partner, or just someone to binge-watch Netflix with them.

I don’t know.

I just know that a frightening amount of people voluntarily enter relationships with people who don’t share their values, and subject themselves to all kinds of abuse or dysfunction afterward, and it often seems as if it’s because they’re more afraid of being alone than they are of being mistreated or suffering a horrible break-up.

Single Parents Must Use Stringent Filters to Find MQLs

I don’t think people are discriminating enough, and I think that’s why dating is so frustrating for people, and why so many relationships fail. I think vigilant discernment while dating is extremely critical for single or divorced parents, and any young people who intend to have children someday.

People who look different can have great relationships.

People with differing interests can have great relationships.

People with diverse life experiences can have great relationships.

People from different places can have great relationships.

People with varying personality types can have great relationships.

But, people with DIFFERENT VALUES? I have yet to see evidence that two people with conflicting core values can succeed, particularly when they share children, or are raising them together.

Dating often sucks because people aren’t honest with themselves, and then they make it worse by not being honest with those they date.

If you don’t know who you are and what your values are, YOU HAVE NO CHANCE.

If you haven’t identified your personal boundaries, or aren’t willing to vigilantly enforce them, you’re going to experience a heavy dose of frustration and heartache.

If you do it my way, you’re not going to go out on many dates, and you may often feel frustrated by what seems like a frightening lack of options. The temptation can be great to go out with people simply because you find them attractive and they’re interested.

But I implore people to be deliberate with their intentions, and be courageous enough to share their honest expectations, values and feelings with the people they’re getting to know.

Divorce is A LOT scarier than a relative stranger deciding not to date us anymore.

It bears repeating: If we’re evaluating whether that person across from us is an appropriate choice for a long-term or lifetime commitment, should we REALLY be afraid of how they might react to something honest and true about us?

Can we achieve forever with someone who doesn’t want the real us?

It’s not fun or easy. It won’t always feel good. It’s the furthest thing from sexy.

But it’s the first real step on the path to reducing divorce.

Or, more appropriately, the first real step on the journey to Forever.

SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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The Truth About Love You Might Not Accept

"The Vagabond/Prodigal Son" by Hieronymus Bosch

“The Vagabond/Prodigal Son” by Hieronymus Bosch

There was a wealthy farmer with two sons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional love.

Because We Care What Others Think, We Do Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

We still do this as adults. All the time.

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

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

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

We’re always pretending a little.

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

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

Learning to Enjoy Dating After Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, we choose honesty.

I’m divorced, and largely responsible for it.

I have a young son.

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

I’m a child of divorce.

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

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

This, this, and this is wrong with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not love.

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

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

You just love. Without agenda.

Just because.

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

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

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

(Image/thetexastiger.wordpress.com)

(Image/thetexastiger.wordpress.com)

Sooooo. I’ve totally masturbated before.

Maybe once. Or maybe 87 million times. Truthfully, I don’t want to talk about it because it makes me really uncomfortable and I can’t stop thinking about my mom or grandma reading this and saying: “Heavens to Betsy! Did you know that Matt played Diddle-Me-Elmo!?”, or thinking about everyone I knew in high school sitting around going: “Ha! I knew that dude wanked it!” and then making plans to announce it at our next high school reunion. It makes me want to set myself on fire. But THAT feeling is precisely why I’m talking about it.

I can’t write about shitty husbandry with intellectual honesty if we don’t talk about pornography and masturbation. According to a 2015 NBC News report, porn is a $97 billion industry worldwide, with about $12 billion of that in the United States alone. What that means is, mathematically, EVERY American, including newborn babies and nuns and 90-year-olds, spends $40 annually on porn. And that’s with virtually unlimited free pornography available on the internet.

Conclusion: You totally wank it too, you Pervy McPerversons. It’ll be our little secret.

Many—maybe even most—relationships that go south, do so because we’re too afraid to talk about things for fear of judgment or rejection, and then our partners end up believing things about us which aren’t true, and you spend years with your marriage never really having a chance because no one knew the real story. Our partners were literally—at least a part of them—someone other than who we thought.

I wasn’t who my wife thought because I never told her who I really was, sexually. When two people promise to never have sex with anyone else again, it stands to reason that—unless you despise orgasms, physical intimacy, or prefer sexual repression—you and your partner MUST make your bedroom (or wherever!) experiences really good, to avoid craving something more or different in ways that will ultimately destroy your relationship.

And then there’s the flipside. The people who are so cavalier and shameless about it that they don’t see any downside to pornography or “taking care of things themselves,” which I can only get behind if all their cards are on the table with their significant others. If one or both of them are lying about, or hiding, that part of them, it can only end badly. More on that in a bit.

Why didn’t I talk to my wife about it? I was afraid. I was afraid that if I told my wife the unfiltered truth she’d think I was some sex-crazed perv or deviant and not love me anymore. That she’d think I was a freak. That she’d somehow reject me.

I wasn’t smart enough to see the big picture and choose bravery. If your ultimate goal is to marry for life, you CANNOT be too afraid to discuss true things with your partner. In addition to actually having a good chance to stay married for life, it also just feels so much better when people choose you even after knowing things about you that make you feel insecure.

I understand there are a lot of people out there who can’t understand what the fuss is about. Some people will shout it from the rooftops: “Of course I masturbate! I have my best orgasms with my vibrator!” or will be like one of my college buddies who was the first person I’d ever heard talk about it casually and without embarassment. It took 19-ish years for me to hear someone speak about it in front of others.

Remember The 40-Year-Old Virgin? I handled all masturbation-related conversation even worse than Steve Carell’s Andy did. And I’m a little bit jealous of the self-assuredness of Paul Rudd’s hilarious David.

Andy: [motioning to David’s box of porn] “I don’t want this stuff, okay? Because I don’t do that, that much.”

David: “What, masturbate?”

Andy: “Yeah.”

David: [who has been standing in the doorway, fully clothed, for only a couple minutes] “Dude, I’ve jacked it twice since I’ve been here.”

Why This is Dangerous

If sex is unimportant to you AND your spouse, then it probably doesn’t matter very much.

If you hate long-term monogamous relationships or were forced into marriage, or just really want to divorce, then this isn’t a problem for you.

But if your marriage is important to you, and you’re like 99 percent of people who really like sex, even if it’s a big secret to everyone who knows them, then this matters. A lot.

I grew up in a little Ohio town with conservative Catholic parents. I went to Catholic school, attended church on Sundays, was part of religious-based activities from first grade through high school graduation, and only “knew” a few things about masturbation as a kid:

1. It’s a sin and depending on what God decides on Judgment Day, could lead to eternal damnation. Imagine that for a minute. The shittiest time in your life you can think of. The worst you’ve ever felt. So, like, a few weeks after divorce, and your ex is dating someone else, and you’re crying and afraid of everything, and then one day you’re like, working it out in the shower or wherever, drenched in loneliness and shame, while everyone else in the world watches because you’re secretly the star of a real-life The Truman Show, and then someone randomly emails you the video with a note: “Everyone knows, loser!!! Even your mom and grandma!!!” and then you look out the side window of your house and there’s your 70-year-old neighbor lady pointing and laughing at you. And then, because you’re in hell for jerking it, you have to feel THAT FEELING for ETERNITY. Not two weeks. Not 1,000 years. FOREVER. That’s what we’re taught. And, you know, maybe it’s true. I don’t have any way of knowing. I just know when you are afraid of THAT your entire childhood and combine it with #2, your marriage can get really shitty.

2. That’s weird and gross! I can’t talk about that! No one else does it! You can tell because everyone at school makes jokes about it! No chance any of these other adults in church would ever do something like that! True story: Catholics go to confession, where we tell a priest in private about the things we feel guilty for, and then God through the intercession of the priest forgives our sins. And even though I’m not a very good Catholic, I’ve been to confession in adulthood. So, I mention this to the priest one time when I was still married, and he can tell I’m feeling nervous and uncomfortable talking about it. So, he asks: “How often?” I told him. And he replied: “That’s it!? You’re not even trying!” Made me snort. Maybe God or the pope or really pious people would frown at him cracking that joke. But it was a huge moment for me in terms of really understanding that most things that make us uncomfortable are things that many, maybe most, other people also feel uncomfortable with. Because so many of us are kind of the same underneath all our masks. Which is awesome to understand when you’re having conversations like this.

3. Just letting “things” build up seemed wholly unsustainable. I don’t think most young people think: Gee, what can I do right now for fun? I know! Diddle myself! I think they think: Good God, man. I totally need to do it with someone. But I’m like 14 and don’t know how, and we’re supposed to wait until we’re married, and premarital sex is a sin too! But that seems like an even-BIGGER sin than this other sin. So, I guess I’ll watch this weird scrambled TV channel that is mostly snowy static, but I can totally see a naked boob once in a while. Or whatever.

So I didn’t talk to my wife about it. I don’t want to blame Jesus and my parents and my Catholic upbringing for my failed marriage. We’re all responsible for our choices. But that’s seriously the reason all the sex stuff got weird. Fear and shame related to beliefs about sex that were unhealthy in the context of marriage.

I had, and in some ways, have, legit guilt-shame issues about sex. And I’m guessing many kids who grew up in religious or conservative homes, or small towns like me, ALSO have some of those conflicting feelings swirling around, and maybe many people outgrow it. I’m working on outgrowing it. But it takes courage for me to talk or write about this. And maybe it does for you, too.

It’s the same fear that kept me from talking to my wife openly and honestly about sex.

Even the most-religious and conservative teachings I’ve heard about marriage don’t address what marital sex is supposed to look like. But no matter what that is? If you’re doing it together, and not hurting other people in the process? How can that be wrong? Be honest with the people you love. They NEED access to what’s inside and underneath the masks, or your relationship will suffer badly.

What it Looks Like for Many People

One of the most common stories you hear about is the guy who sneaks to the computer late at night or when no one else is home, and looks at porn photos or watches videos.

I’m not much of a porn consumer, and I’m not just saying that. Real people just seem hotter to me than “fake” people in photos or videos, and that’s always been true. I think relative to people who consume adult material, I’m probably in the bottom 5 percent.

But I’ve still been the guy whose wife turned on the computer to find some pop-up web page that had been minimized with a bunch of porn images on it, even though it’s never been a major thing.

Maybe some wives don’t care.

But I know some do. Some do because it makes them feel insecure, as if they are not good enough to make their husbands feel good or satisfy him sexually. Some do because their sex lives are inconsistent or seemingly non-existent, and she’s asking herself all these questions about why because she wants to reconnect with him in the bedroom, and then she finds porn.

And she’s like: “Wait a freaking minute. I totally want to have sex with you, even though you’re a shitty husband half the time, and I have actual body parts and a vagina and stuff, and you’re choosing airbrushed, fake-breasted electronic chicks on a screen and your hand over me!?”

So, guys. Mental exercise: Think of your best guy friend. Or one of her platonic guy friends or co-workers you know. And now, imagine your wife has rejected your sexual advances for a few weeks and you’re starting to worry about it or wonder why.

And you come home one day, and you find her masturbating while looking at a picture of your friend or another guy she knows, and moaning his name.

Got it?

That might be close to how she feels when she realizes you never touch her or tell her she’s sexy or beautiful or that you want her, but that you’re wanking it to internet chicks. It’s bad.

The Sexual Motivation Problem

You probably already know this, but you WILL get bored with pretty much everything in your life. It’s called “hedonic adaptation,” and it happens to everyone about everything. You get a new car, you get a new job, you get a bunch of money, you get a new TV, you get new clothes, you get a new romantic partner.

At first, it’s amazing. Everything feels good and it’s all rainbows and unicorns and orgasms.

Then, one day, and you don’t even notice it happening, it stops exciting you. Whatever new thing that made you feel awesome at first has now stopped generating those good feelings.

Hedonic adaptation is your brain naturally adjusting to positive life changes.

This means, you’re going to eventually “bore” of your partner in some form or fashion. It means, if the value of your relationship is measured in skin-deepness, that hot bartender or the new girl in accounting at your office is going to seem more attractive or exciting to you than the person you’re always with, in purely a base mammal sort of way.

This is why we choose to love our partners every day, and not be duped by how we sometimes “feel,” because feelings change constantly and always will.

This is why we actively practice gratitude for all that we have, instead of pining for what we don’t.

This is why we work daily to build profoundly honest and strong and intimately connected relationships, where something as superficial as a person’s physical appearance could NEVER feel more attractive to you than your partner.

This is why I’m championing mega-honesty about sex before and during marriage. Practice doing it with your spouse A LOT. Get awesome at it. Like, really, really, really awesome at it. Because, who wants to go bang some stranger who could never come close to doing it as well as your masterful partner who loves and respects you?

In Mark Manson’s Models: Attract Women Through Honesty, he tackles the subject of porn and masturbation in the context of dating, and does so without filtering it through the prism of religion or morality.

I think it applies to modern marriage, too. Here are some excerpts:

“Since the advent of internet pornography, it’s become easier than ever for men to satisfy their sexual urges… there’s an entire generation that has grown up always having access to as much pornography as they want since a young age…

“There’s no hard scientific evidence (yet) for porn addiction. But here’s something that is absolutely true: porn kills your motivation to pursue women in real life.”

Part of making your marriage awesome is making your wife feel respected, safe, loved, desired, and sexy so that you can have a kick-ass and bond-forming sex life together. When you stop pursuing your wife emotionally and sexually as you did when you were dating, she feels less respected, less loved, less desired, less sexy, and thusly, less safe. And even though that’s true, she may still want to have sex with you a lot. When you’re jerking it all the time, you eliminate your physical and psychological motivation to pursue your wife. When she expresses sexual interest in you because the kids are finally asleep, or because they’re spending the night at grandma’s, and you say “Um, I’m really tired tonight, babe. I just want to watch this movie,” but the truth is you just got off by yourself in the bathroom, maybe because you guessed incorrectly that she wouldn’t want to do it tonight, or maybe just because you never considered her at all, she’s going to feel rejected.

Like, it’s going to start to really hurt and pile up on top of all these other things we accidentally do to destroy our wives emotionally.

We are selfish creatures, we humans. Some more than others. If you selfishly want your marriage to be good and last forever, then you need to unselfishly communicate with your wife about your wants and desires, and take steps to build up your sexual motivation by devoting that energy toward her. Instead of expecting her to drop her panties on command, maybe you could do what needs done to make her want to.

Maybe even need to. That’s always fun.

Manson continues:

“There’s a bit of an epidemic of sexual apathy going on worldwide, where husbands, boyfriends, and even single men are turning to pornography rather than the real life women that they see walking around every day. And it makes sense why: it’s easier… the sex is more exciting, it’s available at any time… the girls never say no, and… there are no obligations or commitments involved.

“The problem is that there are some negative side effects. The first being that porn creates very, very unrealistic expectations about sex, about women, and about sexuality. Porn makes money by accentuating and exaggerating sexual ideals. Actual sex with an actual woman often involves awkward moments of figuring out what she likes, what you like, who likes it which way. It also involves ecstatic moments of emotional intimacy, something porn can never provide

“The other problem is that porn is so easy, that it encourages men to masturbate… a lot. And as we all know, as men, the more we masturbate, the more interested we become in food and television, and the less we become in women and accomplishing something…

“Science is starting to back this up. Orgasms, or more accurately, ejaculation in men, actually causes a depletion of various hormones and endorphins which often lead to useful behaviors as well as motivation.”

Maybe you’re totally comfortable discussing sex. That will really help you have open and honest conversations with your wife which can contribute to an amazing, and perhaps marriage-saving, sex life. I hope you’ll have them.

Or maybe you’re sometimes scared to talk about it like I was. Maybe you’re afraid to tell her because you’re afraid of rejection or her judgment.

Maybe you have some warped sense of moral duty to hide from your wife some of these things you feel on the inside.

But you have to figure out how to have the conversation. You owe it to her. You owe it to you. You owe it to any future children you have. Talk to her. Courageously. Because you may be surprised to discover she wants those things, too. No matter what, it might help her understand that she is desired and enjoyed much more than she believes.

You may be surprised to discover that little things like blindfolds and neckties and headphones blasting a sexy playlist and ice cubes and food and touching her there, and there, and right there, just like that, can play a major role in making your marriage the sustainable, healthy and joy-giving institution it’s designed to be.

This part of your life can destroy your marriage if you’re not honest with her.

This part of your life can make it phenomenal if you are.

Be brave.

Not tomorrow. Today.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

…..

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When You Say ‘It’s Not My Fault,’ it Becomes Your Fault

your fault finger point

(Image/TechCrunch)

Imagine for a moment that two people plan and carry out an armed bank robbery.

Just like you’ve seen in the movies. Wearing masks and carrying guns, they barge into a bank, force customers to the floor, demand the tellers hand over money from the registers, and coax the manager at gunpoint into giving them access to the vault.

It’s stressful and scary for both the gunmen and the people fearing for their lives. The robbers are screaming for the bank employees to hurry up and fill their bags with cash. Everyone else is laying still on the floor praying they don’t die.

One customer has a concealed carry license and is armed with a loaded weapon, or maybe he or she is an off-duty police officer. It’s your imagination. Do what you want.

The hero draws the weapon in an attempt to save the day.

A gunfight ensues. Bullets. Blood. More screams.

When it’s all over, nine people are dead, including one of the gunmen. More are in critical condition at the hospital. The second gunman is taken into custody where he is interrogated by police.

The bank robber makes a credible and compelling case to investigators that his partner planned the entire robbery, and fired all of the shots that killed innocent people. Video footage from inside the bank and evidence recovered from the dead gunman’s house corroborates his story.

“I swear! No one was supposed to get hurt!” the bank robber says.

Because he cooperates with police and is willing to testify in court, and because he never fires any bullets or actually kills anyone, the judge and prosecuting attorney agree to an 18- to 24-month prison sentence, down from the standard five-year mandatory sentence for armed robbery.

Eight innocent people are dead simply because they were making bank deposits, or refinancing loans, or because they showed up for work. The victims’ families, the public and the media are outraged, and demand explanations from the judge and district attorney.

And both essentially say: “Welllllllll. We looked at all the evidence, and the entire thing was a lot more the other guy’s fault than this guy’s. The surviving bank robber didn’t even kill anyone! He didn’t mean to hurt anybody. So we’re not going to hold him responsible since it’s clearly WAY more the other one’s fault.”

Sounds Absurd, Right? 

Of course it does.

It doesn’t matter how much more to blame the other gunman is for the robbery or all the deaths. The surviving bank robber is going down hard, and responsibility for the deaths of those people will be appropriately laid at his feet. He will serve life in prison, even though his portion of the It’s-My-Fault Pie Chart is only 20% or whatever.

Yep! You’re Responsible. 

Next to all of the people who missed the point entirely, the second-most annoying response to the inexplicably popular She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By the Sink post was all of the men who thought all of the women who agreed with the post were a bunch of unfair man-haters, and attempted to prove it by sharing a link to another popular internet post called I Wasn’t Treating My Husband Fairly and it Wasn’t Fair.

Some people dropped the link without commentary, as if to say: “This post about dishes and my irrational wife’s feelings are bullshit. She’s guilty of treating me unfairly and being a nagging shrew, and here’s the proof. BAM. How do you like that, morons!?” 

Let me say this: The “I Wasn’t Treating My Husband Fairly…” post is great. I even included it in a post titled Marriage: A Global Epic Fail more than a year ago.

It appears to be the work of a wife practicing humility and introspection in an effort to grow, treat her spouse with more love and selflessness, and contribute positively to the success of her marriage. It’s awesome.

But it’s not some magical Get of Jail Free card for husbands who don’t understand that they’re hurting their wives or care enough to figure out how and why, any more than my loved AND criticized An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series is some kind of free pass for wives who fail to honor their marriage vows.

In good times, and in bad.

So many people responded to that “dishes” post, not with introspective humility, but with finger-pointing outrage.

“You’re giving all the wives a pass, you feminist pussy! Be a man! So our wives get to just freak out about whatever they want, and if we don’t cater to their every whim, we’re shitty husbands!? You’re an asshole!”

To which I respond: Let’s pretend for just a moment that we can prove, beyond all doubt, that in a given marriage, the wife is 75% to blame for any relationship problems that exist. Do the people who feel that way also believe that the spouse with only 25% of the blame is somehow not responsible for that share?

If a man is a minority shareholder in the downfall of his marriage, is he NOT obligated to work to be the best-possible husband he can be in an effort to serve the union, or fight for and protect his family?

Maybe I’m wrong. I am sometimes. But it seems like many people believe that. That because their marriage problems are not entirely their fault, they needn’t concern themselves with being part of the solution.

Own your shit, please.

I don’t blame men more than women, philosophically.

I just know up close and personal what it looks like when the average guy fails his average marriage. It’s a whole bunch of stuff, that looked upon as one little incident, like leaving a dish by the sink, seems outrageously insane and unfair to blame for the demise of a marriage.

But I know it’s not one thing, and I still can’t believe so many people took the dish metaphor so literally. It’s a symptom of a larger problem. One where people so often want to point fingers and blame others for their problems in life, instead of looking in the mirror and asking: “What more can I do? What more can I give?” 

So. Guys. I don’t give a shit how petty and irrational you think your wives are. I don’t give a shit how much more responsible you think your wife or girlfriend is for the negative state of your relationship. And I don’t give a shit how much blame my ex-wife deserves for my failed marriage.

A booming voice from the heavens could thunder “HEY MATT! IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, YOU ARE ONLY 49% RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR DIVORCE! SO, IT’S COOL NOW! YOU CAN JUST BLAME YOUR EX FOR EVERYTHING AND KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING. NO GROWTH AND CHANGE IS REQUIRED!”… and I’d still have to ask you the question: Why don’t you want to be the best person, husband and father you can possibly be? Why don’t you WANT to grow and be better tomorrow than you were yesterday? What good can possibly come from all the ‘It’s not my fault!’ screaming? 

A life without feelings of guilt?

Because if everyone believes your story, does that really make it true?

When it’s just you and the silence, and nothing but your mind and heart, you KNOW what’s real and what’s not. You KNOW what’s right and what’s wrong. You KNOW what really happened.  

In a world full of blamers, take responsibility.

In a world full of hate, choose love.

In a world full of darkness, be the light.

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

odd-creativity-be-yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t stopped thinking about that since.

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

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

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

It’s about identifying your values.

It’s about establishing your boundaries.

It’s about being authentic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From James Altucher:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We just want to be liked.

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

We’ll be admired.

We’ll be respected.

We’ll be wanted.

We’ll be loved.

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

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The Truth About Lying

truth

I looked my mom in the eye and lied to her about watching a movie I wasn’t allowed to watch even though she totally knew I was lying.

Even when I was young and extra-stupid, I was still smart enough to know she knew.

Parents just know.

It was a conservative house. No R-rated or even PG-13 movies for me. Even actually turning 13 didn’t convince my mom that PG-13 material was age-appropriate for me.

When I was probably 9 or 10, we had just one PG-13 movie in the house. Hiding Out. A random late-1980s Jon Cryer movie I’ll be surprised if any of you have ever seen.

I totally watched it whenever I had a few hours to kill home alone because I was young and liked doing things I wasn’t supposed to.

There was a word used in the film that no one ever uses: execrable.

And I used it once in a sentence while talking to my mom.

Because she’s not a vegetable, a small-brained woodland creature or a moldy piece of ham, my mother knew instantly I had watched the one movie in the house I wasn’t allowed to watch.

When she asked me where I’d heard that word, I told a lie.

Because self-preservation is one of our greatest instincts.

Because no kid wants to get caught doing things they’re not supposed to, or more specifically, punished for the behavior.

Because we don’t appreciate the freedom of honesty when we’re too young and innocent to know how poisonous dishonesty really is.

My son got in trouble in gym class this week for sliding on the floor even after the teacher instructed him not to. He wasn’t allowed to participate in gym that day and it made him cry.

We got a note from the teacher telling us what happened.

Our six-year-old denied it. He suggested his first-grade teacher was lying to us.

He gets his facts wrong a lot because he’s 6. But this is the first time I know of where he was being intentionally dishonest out of self-preservation.

He didn’t want to lose rewards and privileges. And I’d like to believe he didn’t want to disappoint his parents.

I never want to lie to him about anything not related to Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.

So, we hugged.

“Daddy used to get in trouble at school too, bud. And when the teachers told my mom and dad about it? They were never lying,” I told him. “I know it’s hard to tell the truth sometimes. Sometimes people say things that aren’t true because they’re afraid to get in trouble. Everyone does, man.”

And then we hugged again.

So here we are. Just a little more innocence lost.

He can lie when he’s afraid just like the rest of us.

But maybe he’ll choose not to.

When I was five or six, I spent a summer staying with a family during the day while my dad was at work. They had a little boy named E.J. He was a year younger than me.

We would run around behind their house, playing in sandboxes and doing Big Wheel stunts and picking raspberries while trying to avoid bee stings.

On one random afternoon adventure, we discovered a bucket of discarded motor oil outside a neighbor’s house.

E.J. picked up a pinecone lying nearby, dipped it in the bucket of oil and started drawing oil marks on the wall of the house.

I don’t remember feeling like we were doing anything wrong.

The neighbor discovered the oil mess on his house later and contacted E.J.’s mom—the neighbor lady who babysat me.

She sat us down at the kitchen table to ask us what happened.

E.J. told her that I did it.

I denied it.

She believed her son.

And I was simply the lying vandal shitty kid that helped supplement the household income for however many more days or weeks I stayed with that family that summer.

That’s the first time I can remember someone accusing me of something that wasn’t true.

That’s the first time I can remember feeling a real sense of injustice and outrage.

I’m almost certainly the only human being in the world who remembers the story and knows (or cares) what really happened.

The truth matters.

I hope I’m always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.

I hope my son is always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.

I hope the power of truth prevails for people who deserve justice.

I hugged my son so tight. The missteps of growing up have begun.

Everything’s going to be okay.

“It’s always better to tell the truth,” I told him.

Something I’m sure to repeat over and over and over again for many years.

Something I need to always remind myself to be.

Because we must lead by example.

Because honesty takes courage.

Because that’s where peace lives.

Because the alternative is execrable.

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How James Altucher Saved My Life

This guy is my writing hero. Not because of how he tells you. Because of what he tells you.

This guy is my writing hero. Not because of how he tells you. Because of what he tells you.

James Altucher lied to get on television because he was afraid to fly on airplanes following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, where he lived.

His boss wanted him to fly south for a business meeting. Altucher needed a way out of it. So he lied to Jim Cramer—an investment advisor and TV personality—about how much investment money he managed in order to get on Cramer’s TV show.

I was reading this story last summer in the first post I ever saw by Altucher. I was struck by the honesty in the words. It seemed almost a little messy, like his unkempt hair. But the writing was still somehow more pure than anything I’d ever read before.

“Once Jim asked me to go on I couldn’t stop shaking,” he wrote. “I knew I was a fraud and I was finally going to prove it to everyone I went to high school with.

“I assumed they would all be gathered at the same place, eating popcorn and laughing at me.”

I laughed out loud when I read that. This guy’s awesome. He really gets it. He really understands how to communicate what it’s like to be a person!, I thought.

Altucher finished recounting his experience being on television with this:

“Afterwards two things happened.

“My dad wrote me an email congratulating me. Since we were in a fight and I tend to avoid people I’m fighting, I didn’t respond to him. Then he had a stroke and died.”

It took my breath away.

It was the first time I had ever seen someone express something like this. It’s as if he’s giving you permission to laugh at the tragedy. Of every paragraph I have read by any writer—ever—that is the one that stays with me.

That’s when I knew I loved Altucher.

That’s when I knew if I had any chance at all of being a legitimate writer, I had to choose bravery as he does. I had to bleed a little onto the page. I had to take off the mask. The one I wear out of habit and fear. The one I wear to appear smarter or more confident or more accomplished than I am. The one I wear to appear less fearful, less neurotic or less damaged than I am.

Why Don’t I Feel Brave?

Here’s a sample of what people write to me on my About page.

“Your bravery in laying yourself bare for all to see is commendable.”

“Your writing here requires some serious balls, and I gotta admire you for that.”

“Your ups and downs, your words of hope (even when stuff gets really bad), your honest words and struggles shared with us, they are priceless. Really priceless.”

“Have to say, your honesty is awesome.”

Nothing about what I write here feels particularly special or honest or courageous to me. But I also know my opinions are mostly irrelevant.

Sometimes I write things I like, but no one else does, and sometimes I write things I think are just mehhhhhhh and people seem to love it.

One time I wrote a post about how all the typos I was writing and publishing were getting emailed to people. I was mortified. The post was me apologizing to you for shoddy work.

At the time I hit the Publish button, I considered it just about the most-pointless thing I’d ever written. WordPress editors chose it for Freshly Pressed—a part of WordPress where blog posts are shared with thousands of readers. I think I tripled my daily traffic overnight with the post I was most embarrassed about. Fitting.

It makes me feel like a fraud. You think I bare MY soul? A James Altucher post often feels like voyeurism. Like the police just let you behind the yellow Caution tape to check out a murder scene.

Altucher says he studies great writing so he can write things 1/10th as well as the people he’s reading. Which is funny, because I set out to write things 1/10th as well as he does.

With each thing he writes, he has three goals: Entertain. Be honest. Help people.

For my money, no one has ever been more successful doing those things with a keyboard.

What Honesty Looks Like

Here are excerpts from a bunch of Altucher posts. Out of context, they might lack the impact they do reading them within his stories. But I want to share anyway.

“I was afraid this was my one shot and I was blowing it. I was even crying in my car. I was going broke and I felt this was my one chance. What a loser.” (from How to Get an MBA from Eminem)

“One time I bored Dave Chapelle to death. I kept talking and talking and finally he said, ‘Excuse me, I have to get out of here and find me a girl for tonight!’

“Another time there I asked Al Franken if I could interview him. He looked me up and down and said, ‘No’ and walked on. Fair enough. Now he’s a U.S. senator, and I just write random stuff on my Facebook wall.” (from Louis CK and the Hare Krishnas Used This ONE Trick for Success)

“One time I was at a funeral of a relative. There was a woman there I had a crush on. Everybody was hugging each other because it was a funeral. So I hugged her more than once. Every time I passed her I would hug her. Finally I got the sense that she thought it was weird and then simply because she thought it, it did become weird. Actually, it was weird. I can’t blame it on her. I was weird.” (from How to Hug)

“I’ve done everything to avoid being lonely.

“I pretended to be a psychic on Craigslist.

“I’ve spent ten hours a day on dating sites.

“I asked out girls in elevators, girls in laundromats, girls at ATM machines, waitresses, more waitresses, thousands of waitresses. Only one said yes. And then she didn’t show up.” (from How to Cure Loneliness)

You get the idea.

He’s the best.

I don’t know James Altucher. And he sure as shit doesn’t know me. He follows me on Twitter along with more than 10,000 other people, but I bet he doesn’t know it.

But I get to feel like I know him because he lets us in. We all do. Because he takes off that mask and lets us see all the messy human stuff that lies beneath the surface.

And now I get to try to write bravely like he does, and some people think it is brave and that it helps them somehow. I still think it’s a miracle that people read anything I write.

Thank You, James

Because almost half of all married people get divorced I sometimes think I’m being particularly lame whining all the time about my divorce last year.

I’m afraid people will think I’m weak.

I’m afraid men will think I’m a douchebag.

I’m afraid women will think I’m pathetic and never want to have sex with me.

I’m afraid my ex-wife reads every one of my posts with a satisfied smirk on her face, thinking: Now everyone can see why I left this coward!, just before jumping into bed with some hard-bodied guy she met at the gym.

All of this negative energy was building up inside me, and it continues to if I don’t take action.

But I do take action.

I write little stories here. And I’m able to take all of that ugly trying to grow inside me all the time and rid my body of it one sentence at time.

I don’t know how or why it helps. I just know that it does.

And maybe if I didn’t do that, I’d be dead.

And maybe if I wasn’t honest, it wouldn’t work.

And maybe if I never read James Altucher, I wouldn’t know how.

Thank you, James.

And thank you, people who read.

It’s no exaggeration: you saved my life.

Two of the smartest things you can do right now is visit James’ website and sign up for his email list and buy his latest book “Choose Yourself!,” which is currently on sale for Kindle for $0.99. Less than $1 for one of the most-important things published last year. 

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The First Date

Here's to a good night.

Here’s to a good night.

I have a date tomorrow night. My first in eons.

We have dinner plans. Pretty old-fashioned. It’s a good restaurant, so the eating part will be pleasant no matter what.

But Matt!?!? Your first date?!?! I thought you said you went on dates with girls from Match.com!?!?”

Yeah, yeah. Online dating is bullshit. This is a real date. A person I met out in the world, then expressed interest in hanging out with some day, and was fortunate enough to have her reciprocate.

I know very little about her.

I know she’s pretty.

I know she’s about five or six years younger than me.

I know she just finalized her divorce about a month ago under circumstances very similar to mine.

I know she’s not a parent.

I was scared to tell her I was a dad. At least with online dating profiles all those “red flags” are just out there for people to accept or reject upfront.

In real life, you have to drop the hammer and wait for the reaction. My date knows I have a five-year-old son. And still she wants to go out.

So. Yay me.

The Floodgates of Fear

So, I’m afraid of a million things. At least.

Nothing petrifying. I’m not particularly nervous. She and I have already met and spoken for a half hour or so, and then again on the phone. So there isn’t that weird online-dating dynamic where you don’t really know what you’re walking into.

But I tend to over-think things. It’s kind of my modus operandi.

Do we talk about our divorces, since that’s what’s most in common and what’s most affecting our lives?

Do we ignore that topic to avoid discussing emotional and deeply personal things?

I don’t know.

But there really are a million things to be afraid if I allow myself to indulge the fears. Fears, both big and small.

Because I haven’t done this in about 14 years.

What if she doesn’t like me and never wants to see me again? Ouch.

What if she likes me and wants to see me again, but I don’t want to see her? I hate hurting people.

In the big picture, regardless of whoever I date seriously again, isn’t my next relationship doomed from the start? Isn’t your follow-up relationship to a marriage by definition a rebound? Don’t those always fail?

I think they pretty much always do.

I’m not just writing about my date tomorrow. I’m writing about any date. About any girl I meet from now until eternity.

What if I like her but we’re far apart philosophically?

What if she likes me but would make a lousy partner in caring for my son?

What if she finds out I write about my personal life and decides she could never be with someone who does that?

What if she likes me but then reads my spaz-fest writing here and decides she doesn’t?

What if she reads this post!?!?!?!?!?

State of Zen

None of that shit is going to happen.

Well, maybe some of it will. But who cares?

Maybe the world will end today.

Maybe I croak before I pick her up tomorrow.

Maybe we get salmonella poisoning from the food and end up in the hospital together and she falls in love with our doctor.

Maybe spacemen will beam me to another galaxy.

Being afraid of the unknown—while common and sort of standard operating procedure for me—is wasted energy.

When your entire life turns to shit, you toughen up in a hurry. I know I don’t always act like it, but I’m going to need you to trust me.

I’m now tougher than I have ever been.

I don’t know that I’ve been to hell and back, but I’ve been somewhere close. Hell’s suburbs, maybe. Everything’s really shitty there. I didn’t like it.

But it didn’t kill me.

And none of this is going to kill me, either.

I’m confident in ways I’ve never been before. I’m still insecure about my physical appearance sometimes. I don’t like that I don’t have washboard abs. I don’t like that my arms and back aren’t what I want them to be.

But mentally? Spiritually? Emotionally?

I’ve never been more put together than I am today. I’ve never been more confident in my ability to navigate personal waters with grace. With humor. With sensitivity. With wisdom.

Maybe after tomorrow night, she and I will never see each other again.

Or maybe we will.

I can’t control tomorrow.

I can’t control other people.

I can only control me.

So, I’ll smile. I’ll listen. I’ll care. I’ll feel.

I’ll be grateful for the moment.

The silver linings.

The opportunity to feel alive after all that time I felt like dying.

Because there can be no bad outcome as long as honesty exists.

And honestly?

I feel lucky.

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