Tag Archives: Hurt

I Don’t Feel It ‘Til It Hurts Sometimes

Attention

Wives and girlfriends get upset with their husbands and boyfriends because it often seems as if the men in their lives are emotionless, insensitive, oblivious jerks.

It’s because men tend to deal in facts and logic and generally believe saying “I love you” (and meaning it) is evidence enough that they do.

And that’s because for most of human history, man’s brute strength and physical prowess was really important to a community’s survival and it put men into positions of power, where they were given unique opportunities to lead groups and organizations.

Thus, being factual and logical was believed to be “best” or “right.”

Women often deal more in emotion and intention than what men consider logic or fact.

That’s why she sometimes gets upset because he’s going out with his friends AGAIN. She’s crying and angry. And he thinks she’s being a little “crazy” or “unstable.” But he relents, cancels plans with the boys, and spends the entire night really being present with her.

Maybe he makes her dinner. They have a couple drinks and laugh about some funny thing going on in their lives. They watch a show or two together. Hold one another close. Spend an hour or two in bed making a beautiful mess of things.

And then the next night? She ENCOURAGES him to go out with his friends. Because yesterday she was having a bout of insecurity. And today, she’s not. And she genuinely wants him to be happy.

So she encourages him to go even though it’s the exact opposite of what she said before.

And it makes ZERO SENSE to her husband or boyfriend. He secretly thinks she’s a little bit insane. Depending on the type of guy he is, he might tell his buddies about how uneven she can seem from one moment to the next. Other guys will nod, because they’ve been there, too.

“Bitches be crazy,” one will say.

The men think they’re “correct.” They think the way they are and behave is the “better” way to be and behave. They’re often waiting for the women in their lives to recognize the “obvious” truth that it’s better to be emotionally steady and stable and factual and logical.

They figure: “She’s totally smart! Sooner or later, she’ll outgrow this and think like me!” As if it’s some massive flaw in the female genetic code.

That’s in large part because it took until 2010 before there were more females in the workforce than males, and more females earning university graduate degrees than males.

Most men haven’t figured out there even are fundamental chemical gender differences between males and females, let alone that one is neither more “right” nor “better” than the other.

I don’t like this phrase, but: They simply are what they are.

These are broad generalizations. Not ALL men fit into all male stereotypes, just like ALL women don’t fit into all female stereotypes. We’re all our own, individual, customized blend of this and that.

But the above scenario probably seems familiar to most people, even the ones thinking: That’s not how I am at all. We’ve all at least seen it before.

I like to think I’m more evolved than the average male, but it’s probably a lie I tell myself that my ex-wife and any future partner I may have would tell you is a massive pile of bullshit.

I cook and read and like to talk, and think a lot about male-female relationships, but the latter is only true because divorce was really horrible and I want to get smart enough to never do it again AND maybe in the process help someone not go through what I did.

Men have emotions, too. Most of us suppress them because for many years society taught us that it was “girly” to show vulnerability, and being “girly” is BAD, because men are better than women.  (I believe many men, and SADLY, a lot of women still believe this. But it’s improving all the time.)

Burying the Lede

That’s the phrase newspaper folk use to describe when the ACTUAL news or point of your story isn’t the thing you lead with in the first sentence of your news story (otherwise known as the lede).

And that’s what I’ve done here because I felt like it, even though it’s bad writing and storytelling. This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of that.

“I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes,” is a line from my current favorite song and I hear it a lot because when I fall in love with music I tend to play it over and over again.

The lyric makes me think about my tendency to live complacently until some unpleasant threat or consequence forces me to make changes.

I don’t know how many men this applies to, but in my experience, what happens to me is usually something that happens to millions of other people too because all humans are human and we all feel the same stuff.

Your Husband or Boyfriend Isn’t Changing Because It Doesn’t Hurt

For years, my wife would tell me about things I was doing that upset her and hurt her feelings. Over and over again, these “little, insignificant” conflicts would arise where she would be sad or angry with me because of something I did or said.

And because in my “logical” brain, it didn’t make sense, I “knew” she was wrong. And since she was wrong, I didn’t have to change!

About a month after the worst thing that ever happened to her, happened, she looked at me across the dinner table after I offered a “What’s wrong?” and told me she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married.

That got my attention.

I don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

My first reaction was not to run out and figure out how to be a good husband. It was to pout and whine and act like I was getting screwed over even though that’s exactly how she felt for a really long time.

But after a while, I did want to figure it out.

After a while, I started putting in work. Because even though my behavior might have suggested otherwise, my brain and heart absolutely ALWAYS believed that my marriage and family were the most-important things in my life.

I’ve written a series of posts titled An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are 11 of them now. They get read quite a bit these days. It’s now how the vast majority of people find this blog. Sad and angry wives write to me: “How can I get my husband to understand all this!?!?”

And I don’t know what to say.

I don’t have the first clue what it feels like mentally and emotionally inside another person.

I only know what happened to me.

My wife was honest. She said: I don’t love you and I don’t know whether I want to be married to you anymore.

And it hurt.

A lot. Then a year and a half later we got divorced.

And now I write things about being a better husband. A better boyfriend. A better partner.

I write things about being a better man.

I don’t know how to reach him. The man who just doesn’t get it. Because that guy was me.

I’m afraid the truth is this: Most of us have to learn the hard way.

We don’t feel it ‘til it hurts sometimes.

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When One Becomes Two

(Image by Nora Whalen.)

(Image by Nora Whalen.)

Ali asks:

You talk about the bottom being pulled out from under you a lot and how to move forward – I’m wondering if you think ur ex felt the same way? Like she tried and tried to get through to you and eventually made the decision to leave. I am the one who initiated the divorce from my husband, and I felt like you describe, but was still in the relationship trying to save it when I felt that way… Just wondering if you thought about that? I felt depressed, alone, experienced the deafening quiet, etc. that you discuss, but my husband was still in the house. Think both partners feel that devastation just at different times? I read your posts and I feel bad for my soon to be ex, and then I remember that I felt that way too, just years ago… When he’s probably feeling it now… Not trying to criticize, just wondering if u think she felt how you felt as well? I started reading ur blog from the beginning, and am up to Sept 2014, so forgive me if u discussed this already. I’ve been finding your writing really helpful in this horrible process. Especially the shitty husband posts – at least now my family somewhat understands why I made this decision, because they are hugely unsupportive of me…

Yes.

I don’t think. I know. Long before I bothered trying to save my marriage, my wife was trying. Her only crime was not knowing how to effectively communicate with me. But, make no mistake, she was the better spouse for many years.

Maybe I was the worst kind of husband. Because I didn’t do that one big thing that totally ruins everything. And I’m nice enough and smart enough where one might have believed I was close to figuring it out.

But I never did.

Not really bad enough to leave. Not really good enough to love. Maybe she felt that way for a long time. I can’t be sure. But I can imagine it must have been hard being that half of the marriage. The one where you feel like you’re the only one giving a shit.

Because, yeah. It flip-flopped at the end. It’s so much harder being the one who cares the most.

The Me-First Only Child

I was an only child.

I have a couple stepsisters I only saw part of the year starting around age 7, and a “half” sister (I don’t like calling her that) who was born when I was 14.

For the purposes of personality and birth-order traits, I’m an only.

And I think that’s fine. Being an only child has its perks, but the older I get, the more I’m realizing how much my only child upbringing may have contributed to my marriage ending.

Here’s the thing: I spent my life having people tell me what to do all the time. My parents. My teachers. My coaches. And I had my bosses at work.

Once I became an adult, it became very important to me to feel liberated. To feel like I didn’t have someone telling me what to do anymore.

So, if I felt like playing online poker, or watching a football game, that’s what I did.

Sometimes, wives want husbands to participate in an activity, or to help with a project that we don’t feel like doing.

Sometimes, I’d fight. Because I don’t want to! AND. You’re not telling me what to do!

I made it a fight. She was going to learn, dammit! No one tells me what to do.

There’s not a lot of room for “I” and “me” in marriage.

There’s you. And there’s the other person. Two distinct identities. Two independent units. And when you’re single, that’s totally fine. Individualism is a nice thing.

Marriage is a union. Like a business merger. When XM and Sirius combined their satellite radio businesses, it was a lot like a marriage. It wasn’t an acquisition, where two companies continued to operate independent of one another. The two combined. Joined forces. Shared resources. And ceased to be just XM or just Sirius. They became something entirely new.

I thought marriage was two individuals agreeing to live together and share resources.

It took me a long time and a separation to realize how mistaken I was.

In marriage, X + Y ≠ XY. Not if you want it to work. If you want it to work, then: X + Y = Z. Something entirely new and different. (Let the record show that the second algebra equation here is incorrect math, but an effective visual aid. I beg your forgiveness.)

It’s We. It’s Us.

Sometimes young people don’t know that. They just think getting married is something you do in the relative near future after high school because that’s what they see everyone else doing.

We’re selfish, by nature. And it’s hard making that adjustment. And a marriage won’t survive without making the adjustment.

My wife spent about a year asking me to help her repaint the concrete floor that makes up half of our basement—the unfinished utility room with laundry and storage and a deep freezer.

No one but us ever went in there. I could not have cared less that the floor needed painted. So every time my wife asked me to make time on a weekend to help her get it done, I’d always find something better to do.

Always.

After many months of letting her frustration build, she just did it herself. The room looked so much nicer when she was finished.

And she did it all herself. Didn’t need me at all.

There were too many moments like that throughout our marriage. It’s an apt metaphor considering how the story ended.

Ali asks:

I felt depressed, alone, experienced the deafening quiet, etc. that you discuss, but my husband was still in the house. Think both partners feel that devastation just at different times?

Yes.

Your husband left you alone in your marriage. Aside from the obvious like infidelity or violence, it’s the most-often cited reason women say they leave a marriage, and a husband’s most-often committed crime.

I left my wife alone in my marriage.

Because I let her paint the basement floor alone.

Because I’d go watch what I wanted in a separate room of the house without trying to engage her to do something together.

Because I’d sometimes decline invitations to go to bed because I was too busy doing something for myself.

Because I was a selfish, me-first only child who took more than 30 years to grow up. And I still have plenty more to do.

Yes, Ali. We both feel the same thing. You just feel it first. When you’re abandoned during the marriage. To the outside world, everything’s fine. He doesn’t cheat or hit you or drink too much or gamble all your money away. He’s nice, so your friends and family don’t understand.

But you can’t take it. And you know you’re not crazy, but no one is validating all of these things that are crushing you.

The marriage train runs out of steam and stops dead on the tracks because one person can only shovel coal into the furnace for so long. If he’d been helping the entire time or started shoveling as you were winding down to keep the pace, the train would have kept moving. But he’d abandoned the job a long time ago. So when you did, too? It was over.

Because a marriage isn’t two separate things. It’s one thing made up of two things mixed together.

I didn’t get it. I was selfish. And I poisoned the one thing I was supposed to be an integral part of.

You see, Ali, we didn’t know what abandonment felt like until you chose to leave.

We never understood that you were feeling that way. It’s excruciating, and now we get it.

Selfish. Dense. Stubborn. Oblivious. Lazy. We are.

And then everything breaks.

And then everyone dies just a little on the inside.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

knight-in-shining-armor

Sometimes your wife cries in bed alone because she wants to hang out with you and you’d rather do anything else.

Don’t say you want to be with her. It’s a lie. You don’t. You like watching sports and playing video games and poker and going out with your guy friends and gambling and fishing and drinking and watching movies and TV shows more than you like hanging out with her.

Sometimes she sobs, broken and abandoned.

Because the knight on TV just saved the princess and is going to love her and protect her and make her orgasm every day, forever. Happily Ever After.

And you don’t even want to be in the same room as her. Maybe she’ll talk to you and ask you about your day. Maybe she’ll want to share details of her day.

But you don’t want to talk about it. You definitely don’t want to listen to it.

You just need some ‘Me’ time.

Why can’t she just enjoy doing the things she likes while I enjoy the things I like?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

Why can’t she think and feel like a man thinks and feels?

I mean, it’s not like she’s doing anything to make ME feel good! We used to have great sex! What happened to the blow jobs!? Just look around! I pay for all this for HER! Her hair. Her nails. Her spa treatments. Her jewelry. Her car. Her house. Our kids.

I work hard. And I only have so much time to unwind. This is how I do it. Why can’t she appreciate that? Why can’t she respect me enough to give me space?

Sometimes she panics. The kind where you’re so scared that your hair falls out a little. The kind where you’re so sad and afraid that even your kids know something is wrong.

Maybe you think she’s fat and ugly, she wonders.

Maybe you’re having an affair or wishing you were, she questions.

Maybe you’re going to leave her, she fears.

All you want her to do is treat you like she used to back when she respected and wanted you.

All she wants you to do is treat her like you used to back when you loved and wanted her.

You retreat from her because her neediness is a turnoff and makes you feel bad.

And she keeps chasing, making you want to retreat even more.

You want to be married. You want to keep your family intact. You probably even love her in your own way.

But she doesn’t feel like your best friend anymore. Because she makes you feel inadequate. So you pull away. And when you pull away, she gets even more scared. Feels even less safe.

Divorce or an affair seems inevitable.

My wife and I didn’t like the same things.

So when we fell into the rhythm of marriage and domesticated life, we were often at odds about how to spend our time.

I like watching sports.

She likes watching shows about weddings.

I like watching thrillers, science fiction and gritty dramas that don’t sugarcoat the human condition.

She likes watching romantic comedies and things that make her laugh and feel good (which isn’t dumb).

I like playing poker.

She likes skiing.

I like writing.

She likes dancing.

I always thought the fairest, simplest, most-diplomatic thing was for her and I to do what both of us wanted when we disagreed. Agree to disagree! Everybody does what they want and gets their way! Everyone’s happy!

But that’s not how it is in real life.

Because many of the things my wife wanted required contributions from me. A family activity. What a drag. A home-improvement project. The horror. A healthy sex life. Gasp!

I said what any true asshole would: “Why is it that all of the things you want require something from me? How is that fair?”

You hear it from a table of golfers having beers after a round on a Saturday afternoon.

You hear it from a defensive husband pleading his case to a therapist or marriage counselor or an empathetic buddy.

Sometimes, you simply think it when your wife or girlfriend is “inconveniencing” you with a request to spend time together.

It’s the refrain of assholes, worldwide: “What’s wrong with a little ‘Me’ time?”

The Successful, Still-Married Me

A friend sent me a link this morning.

A writer who seems to care about the same things I care about: Seth Adam Smith.

I like this guy. He reminds me of me, except he’s actually successful and relevant. And probably a much-better person.

He once wrote a post called Marriage Isn’t For You. He became famous (by writer standards) after that post received 2.2 million views in 36 hours.

I hope you’ll read it, because it’s really fantastic.

Smith was freaking out about getting married, asking himself: “Am I ready? Is Kim the right person to marry? Will she make me happy?

Smith writes:

“Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, ‘Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.’

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s ‘Walmart philosophy,’ which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, ‘What’s in it for me?’ while Love asks, ‘What can I give?’”

If you’re single, and you don’t have anyone who needs you and you like it that way, then there’s NOTHING wrong with a little YOU time. In fact, have YOU time for the rest of your life. There are no reasons you should feel guilty about that if that’s what’s in your heart.

I think a lot of people marry just because they think that’s what you do after high school or college. It’s what we see other adults do. It’s what we see on TV. It’s what our friends do.

Most guys think: No big deal! It’s just like having a girlfriend—forever! I can do that.

But it’s not like having a girlfriend forever. Marriage is NOT simply an agreement to never have sex with anyone else again.

It’s an exercise in giving more than you take.

In spending your days helping your wife have the best life she possibly can.

Sometimes that means sitting quietly at the dinner table listening to stories that may not interest you, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll care because of how much it matters to her.

Sometimes that means watching a movie or visiting a vacation destination that isn’t your first choice.

Sometimes it means you go to bed and have lots and lots of sex instead of watching Thursday Night Football.

We’re selfish and broken and messy.

So you ask: How can you expect me to give without asking for anything in return? What’s in it for me? 

I don’t know.

But I’m a good guesser.

And I’m pretty sure you get all the stuff that the world’s richest people can’t buy, but wish they could.

Joy.

Peace.

Contentment.

Happiness.

Love.

I’m pretty sure you get to live without fear and shame. That you get to walk tall with courage and pride. That you get to go to bed and wake up feeling confident and secure.

I’m pretty sure you get to keep your family.

And that your kids will grow up knowing how to secure theirs.

What happens when you make marriage not about you, but about the people you love?

Everything.

Happily Ever After.

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. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

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One Year Later, Vol. 2

You don't have to be tall to stand tall.

You don’t have to be tall to stand tall.

I’m back in Illinois, where my father lives and where I typically visit twice a year to catch up with family and friends I rarely see since I live in Ohio.

One year ago, I brought my young son on this Fourth of July trip with me—the first time we made a father-son trip together after his mom and I stopped living together.

One year ago, I sat poolside, day drinking a little and reflecting on my life.

Terrified.

No sense of direction.

No idea what might happen next.

I only knew that my life had unexpectedly changed forever and I needed to deal with it. Getting away from my house and immersing myself in family had a profound impact on me.

This blog was less than a month old. My fingers were still learning this dance. My mind still trying to wrap its way around the words needing written and the life needing lived.

I had been so sad and so angry for the three months since she left.

Here I found peace. Not inner peace. But outer peace. In this place. Plush, green, open acreage.

A bunch of important things collided.

Love and support from family.

The realization that I had what it takes to care for my son alone.

A healthy change of scenery from the bleakness that was my now-empty home.

And the words were working their way out from me for the first time. What will come out next? From this place deep down inside. I was coaxing things out I didn’t know were in there.

I was mostly screaming with the keyboard. Crying and blaming and finger pointing.

I needed to do it. I needed to be mad and throw a tantrum. There’s still a child in here angry at the unfairness of his own parents’ split three decades earlier. My own divorce pulled all that anger and sadness to the surface.

From day one, writing here has felt like being on the proverbial couch. Divulging all that festers inside. Occasionally turning myself inside out and letting people see the ugly.

From where I sit now, I see the poolside table and chair where I sat a year ago and wrote An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1.

It’s not particularly well written. But people liked it. People like when others accept responsibility for their lot in life.

Up until that post, I hadn’t done any of that.

Up until that post, I had been a victim.

When you accept responsibility, you become empowered.

And that’s the day I became empowered as a writer. That’s the day I gave myself a real chance to contribute something positive. To turn a selfish exercise into an unselfish one.

Is There a Point to All This?

I hope so.

I hope there is a percentage of people out there who have gotten to know me throughout this process. Who have watched—for lack of a better term—a metamorphosis. From me spazzing and freaking out. To whatever this is now.

Maybe I’ve earned a smidge of credibility with some of you whose broken hearts are healing. From people who felt cheated. Or abandoned. Or broken. Because the person you loved and trusted most made choices that made you question everything you ever believed about them and yourself.

Fear and anxiety keep you from living when you lose yourself. When you don’t know where “you” went.

You remember being a certain way. And now you’re not that way.

You remember feeling good. And now you don’t feel good.

You remember having confidence as your life progressed in ways you expected and that made sense to you. And now you’re not confident. Now all your plans and dreams are derailed.

You’re in mental, spiritual and emotional limbo. And you’ll stay right there until you’re not anymore.

I Think I’m Back

I’ll never be like I used to be. I’m forever changed. Hopefully for the better.

But I’m me again.

I was in agony. I was terrified. I was crying.

And now I’m not.

I faked hopefulness.

And now I have it for real.

I felt broken and shitty. Every single second I was awake.

And now I feel stitched together and somewhat whole. I don’t feel shitty.

Everything is going to be okay.

One year later, I can measure progress.

One year later, I can see and feel change.

One year later, I know that no matter what happens next, I can handle it.

I’m going to spend the next couple days thinking about what I did and about the things I think helped me along the way in case you feel like you’re dying. Like you need something—anything—to hold onto. And maybe some of the things that worked for me can work for you.

Maybe the calendar can be a tool. Maybe time can be your friend. Maybe you don’t have to feel like you’re doing this alone.

I think maybe it’s okay to not know what’s going to happen today.

As long as you give it every chance to be better than yesterday.

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The Heaviest Laundry

Maybe we'll never get there if we keep carrying all this stuff.

Maybe we’ll never get there if we keep carrying all this stuff.

I pulled the sexy underwear from the dryer.

Black.

Lace.

Hot.

It had been months since I’d touched her. But it felt longer. I’d been sleeping in the guest room for what felt like an eternity.

That is the loneliest place in the world. A different bed in your own house. The one situated just below your old bedroom. Where the sound of each soft footstep feels like an air hammer being shot into your head.

The second loneliest place in the world is the laundry room in my basement. It’s just dead silence if no one else is home or awake. And you just stand there folding laundry, piece by piece, and it takes you a long time because you’re not good at it, and even with a very bad cat meow-meow-meowing at your feet, there’s so much quiet that each minute feels like five.

When you never have sex with your wife, but want to, something bad happens to you. Or maybe just me. I don’t know. It was like a switch was flipped.

The old, traditional, safe, Catholic version of me turned into someone else. Whatever I am now.

I’d always wanted her. I’m a red-blooded male and she looks exactly like the kind of thing you want to see first thing every morning.

But now something else was happening. You know how you always want the thing you can’t have? It’s exactly like that except a million times worse because she lives in your house and everything’s different now and it’s in your face, and you have to see her walk around the house or imagine her behind the closed bathroom door while she’s undressing before a bath.

If the emotional and psychological beating from knowing your wife no longer wants anything to do with you doesn’t destroy your soul while you’re hoping and praying and unsuccessfully trying to reconnect with her every day, then this physical longing combined with that will come close to finishing the job.

If you don’t go crazy, something close to that happens.

I’m not a particularly jealous guy. I always prided myself on that, too. I knew girls who dated jealous guys and I was friends with jealous guys.

I liked not being that way.

If my high school or college girlfriend went out in groups and to parties without me, I didn’t even think twice about it. I was confident. Secure.

Even my wife, in the first year we dated, wanted to go have dinner with an ex before she and I moved to Florida. She asked me how I felt about it.

Wasn’t thrilled. But I’d like to think I hid it well. Sure, babe. We’re about to move to Florida together. Go have dinner.

But everything changes when you spend a year sleeping in separate rooms after more than a decade together.

A little bit of crazy seeps in.

Every business meeting or after-hours work event represented an opportunity for her to find my replacement.

Every text on her phone from a guy—even if I knew him—caused jealous feelings that up to that point I’d never before felt.

I can see why guys lose control sometimes. Jealousy hurts.

And if you’re honest with yourself, you realize how pathetic and insecure you are now.

Then you feel shame, too.

And you sink even deeper.

I held the sexy lace underwear. Just breathe, asshole.

I felt something I have never felt before. My entire body, tense. Breathe.

Maybe women wear sexy underwear just to feel pretty, or because they’re wearing a certain outfit and the underwear offers some utility that a moron like me could never understand.

Maybe there was no reason for me to lose my breath. Or feel paranoid. Or feel jealous.

But I was a new person now. Different. I was scared now. No more confidence. No more security.

Your mind starts telling you what an unlikable person you are since the person you want to do everything for thinks you’re shit.

I wasn’t funny. Or smart. Or successful. Or talented. Or strong. Or confident. Or sexy. Or desirable in any way, shape, or form.

I was just some loser she’d made the mistake of marrying. Just a stupid bum folding her sexy laundry in the second-loneliest place on earth.

And when I was done, I retreated silently to the loneliest place to lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself some more.

Prophetic poetry.

Thirteen Months and Nineteen Days Later

Your mind is so powerful. That’s why all the self-help gurus try to remind you to stay positive and believe in yourself and focus on abundance and gratitude and success and the belief that you can be anything you want to be.

That might be true. I want it to be. I’m trying.

I just know that in the absence of information, your mind will fill in the blanks for you. I’ve been blessed (and cursed) with a pretty talented imagination.

It doesn’t matter why my wife wore that underwear. Because my body created the worst-case scenario and then felt it.

My mind made it real.

After she left and started dating someone else… I don’t know. It was—literally—my biggest fear coming true.

There is no way that being brutally murdered doesn’t feel better than that.

Like, if you could choose, based purely on anguish, you totally pick being murdered.

“Hey Matt! Two choices: You can receive confirmation that the woman you love is having sex with someone else and feel the shit actually festering inside your soul…”

“Or?”

“Or we can have you murdered.”

I would have had to think about it 13 months and 20 days ago. But not anymore.

“Murder, please. Let’s go with the murder option.”

And it doesn’t stop.

You don’t get to shut it off. Maybe it shuts off on its own one day, but you don’t get to decide when.

She called me yesterday. My ex-wife. A totally reasonable conversation about a few odds and ends. She mentioned in passing that she’ll be out of town this weekend.

I don’t know what she’s doing. I didn’t ask. It’s none of my business. It’s not.

But, still.

Panic. She’s met someone else. I bet he’s funny and smart and successful and talented and strong and confident and sexy. I bet he’s everything she thinks I’m not. I bet she thinks he’ll make the perfect stepdad for my son.

Maybe she’s going to visit family with a relative.

Maybe she and some girlfriends are getting away for a weekend of relaxation.

Maybe a million different things.

In the end, it’s no one’s business but hers. I am not owed any explanations. And it’s my bitter pill to swallow.

And it doesn’t matter.

What matters is what’s inside me. What happens to me. Down deep on the inside.

Those months in the guest room fundamentally changed me.

I emerged from the laundry room a different person—giving me yet another reason to not want to go down there anymore.

My favorite writer James Altucher wrote this in his latest post “How to Deal With Loss”:

“One time I was driving around a private racetrack, taking racing lessons. The only one before and since to ever go on that track without a driver’s license. The instructor told me I was the worst student he ever had.

The instructor, a former professional race car driver, asked me what I should do if I spin out of control.

I, of course, said, “slam the breaks” and he said, “No! That’s the worst thing. Just look the opposite way you are spinning.” Otherwise you crash into the wall.

He said, “its hard to do that. It goes against your natural instincts. But you have to do it or die.”

I will tell you how I deal with loss now.

I don’t.

You only can lose what you cling to.

Practice unclinging. “Unclinging” is not even a real word. That’s how much “they” don’t want you to do it. The aliens outlawed it from English.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m clinging to but I can feel the residue of ancient clinging that’s still there.

Something in my gut and chest and head that won’t go away. Loss. Fear.”

This is part of the luggage that comes with you after your marital journey ends. And all that heavy shit is filled up in your bags. Maybe they have broken zippers like mine.

And it’s really hard to carry all of it around.

Really hard.

It’s taking me so much longer to get where I’m trying to go because I’m dragging all this crap along with me. Maybe you’re pulling around luggage, too.

And maybe there’s a better way.

Maybe we can lock it away in the attic and hope it doesn’t try to come out at night.

Maybe we can find someone (or Someone) to help us pull all this along.

Or maybe we can stop. Right here, right now.

And let it go. Just abandon it. Right in the middle of the sidewalk. No more.

And then maybe we can run.

So fast, so far, so free.

Maybe we can.

Just run.

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The Inconvenient Truth About Divorce One Year Later

my-own-prison

It makes you feel weak.

It makes you feel like a chump.

In manspeak, it makes you feel like a pussy.

Stage one is when your wife completely disengages and treats you, not just like a stranger—but maybe less than that, because you’ve seen her smile at strangers before. Like nothing. Like the most-inconsequential thing she’s ever known.

During stage one, your initial reaction is anger and a little bit of misplaced cockiness. She’s got the problem, not me. It doesn’t take long for the self-reflection to begin. You start to remember that you married her on purpose. That you love her above all things. So you start choosing responsibility. What did I do to cause this?

The answers hurt. When you don’t lie to yourself.

Stage two is when she leaves. Maybe you’re like me and foolishly believe she’ll be back soon. She totally vowed forever. In church! In front of all our friends and family! She’ll be back!

Surprise, dipshit! She’s serious.

Stage two is horrible. But you still have tangible hope. And hope is a critical component to living the optimal human experience.

Stage three is when you find out she’s with someone else and loves him. And she thinks you’re shit. Worthless. Pathetic.

You learn where you really stand with the person who replaced your parents as the most-important thing in your life.

Stage three is when you feel a soul-crushing rejection you didn’t know was possible.

Stage three is when you fluctuate wildly and uncontrollably between a sadness you didn’t know was possible and a rage that scares you because now even the guy in the mirror is a frightening stranger.

In stage three, you taste bile and self-loathing with every breath you take.

In stage three, you hate yourself just a little bit more than you deserve.

In stage three, you find out just how much self-respect matters to functioning as a human being.

You cannot prepare mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually for when the person you trust the most causes you the most pain you’ve ever felt.

It makes you doubt everything you have ever believed.

You die a little. You do. On the inside.

Hope becomes something you just talk about with a fake smile on your face. But you don’t really feel that way. You just know it’s the right thing to say. Fake it ’til you make it.

But when you wake up each morning and realize that thing you feared most actually happened?

You feel lost. Forsaken.

And you feel sorry for yourself.

And then you cry some more.

And then you lose even more self-respect.

Where’s your pride?, you think as you look in the mirror.

What the hell’s the matter with you?

More self-loathing.

What a pussy.

How Does It Feel When It’s Love?

Van Halen asked that in 1988 on their OU812 album.

I can’t tell you but it lasts forever.

It’s not possible, right? Not forever. I can’t tell you. It’s been a year and a month—389 days, if my math skills aren’t failing me.

Maybe it’s like maternal imprinting. Like on those occasions where an animal mother adopts a youngling from another species. Maybe I imprinted a part of me onto her that I’ll never quite be rid of.

I don’t know.

I just know that the inconvenient truth of divorce 13 months later is that I still very much love someone I don’t want to love.

I just know that when I saw her a year ago, I wanted to die, and when I see her now, I smile.

I just know that when she texted me a year ago, I wanted to vomit, and when she texts me now, it’s nice to hear from her.

I just know that I was with her and my son at our 1-year-old goddaughter’s birthday party last weekend. A large room full of people. People I only know through my ex-wife.

And there we were together, for the first time, really. The three of us.

Me. Her. Our young, kindergarten-aged son. The family that isn’t.

I just know that I liked talking to her.

I just know that when the sun hits her blonde hair just right, she looks like poetry.

I just know that I have never chose someone in my entire life other than her, and I haven’t found a way to shut that off. The anger masked it before. The fury.

But I don’t know how to stay angry. I don’t know how to maintain fury.

I just know that when she and my son drove away for Easter weekend, part of me wanted to be making that trip with them.

I just know that I almost did something I haven’t done in a long time.

I wanted to cry.

Unforgetful Me

“Oh my God, Matt. You want her back!”

Do I?

One year ago, the girl of my dreams boxed up a non-verbal “Go fuck yourself” care package and left it on my doorstep along with an imaginary photo album and highlight reel of some new guy touching my wife.

I didn’t even fight it back then.

I’d just let the scenes play out over and over and over and over and over and over again in my head.

Scenes so real, that it doesn’t matter that I didn’t actually see them.

I saw them.

I felt them.

I’m forgetful. I forget many things. But I don’t forget that.

And now I see them all the time. When I drive by that hospital. Every time. When I lay down in our bed that is no longer our bed. My own private video reel that starts playing whenever it wants.

And now maybe I never get to be me again because of it.

But back in stage one, you learned how to choose responsibility.

What did I do to cause this?

And you come full circle. Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you’re not entirely responsible. Maybe you didn’t deserve it.

But you could have prevented it from happening.

She used to sleep next to you every night. She used to ask you to come to bed with her.

Sometimes you said no.

You live with that.

She wanted the happy, sustainable marriage BEFORE you wanted the happy, sustainable marriage.

You live with that.

You totally vowed forever. In front of your friends and family. You could have prevented this.

And you live with that.

From Church Bells to Wish You Wells

Your brain is the most-important part of your physical body. It’s smart. Even the dumb and damaged ones like mine. Totally smart.

You can never reclaim what’s been lost. You can’t go back in time. There are no do-overs. She doesn’t want you. You are now strangers.

But your body revolts.

Maybe it’s habit. Maybe it’s psychological imprinting like we see in the animal kingdom. Maybe it’s some kind of supernatural bond I can never break.

Maybe I made that vow, and even though I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, maybe that meant more than I could ever understand.

Maybe forever is forever even when it’s not forever.

Maybe when you get the love part right, but the marriage part wrong, you have to live in this prison after it all breaks.

Maybe that’s just part of the deal you don’t find out about until you’re living there.

Maybe you spend the rest of your life in a one-man band playing songs meant for two and wondering why they always sound so shitty.

Maybe this is the curse of being a bad husband. The consequences of not doing enough. The results of falling short.

Maybe when the stakes are that high, the punishment is this steep.

A prison sentence where you involuntarily love someone you don’t want to love. Where you love someone who doesn’t love you back. Where every day your brain fights your heart. A bloody fight.

But a pointless, inconsequential struggle. Because the results are the same no matter what wins.

Maybe love—real love—is forever.

And maybe taking action today—not tomorrow—can bring you joy.

Maybe it’s time to tell her “I love you.” And mean it. And choose it.

You can stop there if you want. Maybe you’ll make it. Some people do.

Or you can take it one step further.

The part I didn’t do until it was too late.

You can live it.

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It’s Okay to Hurt

hurtheart1Sarah was just a child when she lost her big sister.

A gorgeous 17-year-old. Stricken with cancer. Died in her bedroom in her father’s arms.

I’ll never forget it because it was my first funeral.

Second grade. Sarah was 8. I would turn 8 a couple weeks later.

Sarah watched her parents lose their first born. And she watched her four younger siblings struggle to make sense of it all.

Thrust involuntarily into the eldest-sibling role, she was forged in pain. In loss. From some of her earliest memories.

Now, Sarah’s a mom. She gave birth to two children. And after learning she would never bear children again, she and her husband adopted a child in 2010. Not two weeks old.

Baby M.

He was a beloved member of their family before he even got there. A brother to an adoring big sister and big brother. And the pride of two parents who felt immeasurable joy being able to love and raise another child.

But Baby M’s birth mother lied when going through the adoption process. Hiding the identity of the birth father.

The birth father discovered he had a son and eventually filed for custody of Baby M.

The court had to choose between a biological parent whom the child had never met, and a loving family who had raised Baby M for more than two years—his entire life.

The judge awarded custody to the birth father in a case that set legal precedent in their state of residence.

Sarah watched her two children lose their brother.

She watched her husband crumble under the weight of it all.

And she watched her baby get taken away, and handed to someone else.

Her marriage disintegrated.

And she’s now separated, too. Just trying to figure it all out. Just trying to keep her children in one piece.

She recently attended Baby M’s fourth birthday party. She maintains an as-pleasant-as-possible relationship with the birth father.

She watched her son—who doesn’t remember her as his mom—open presents. Play. And do all of the things she must imagine him doing in her quiet moments of reflection.

And then, at the end of the evening, she had to crouch down in front of him. Say goodbye. And hope that she’ll get to see him again next year.

I don’t have many friends that I’ve known longer than Sarah. I certainly don’t have any I respect and admire more.

As such, we have a close relationship, where we talk about all of the messy stuff.

All the stuff that really hurts. 

The Hurt

The first thing to go is your breathing.

What you do reflexively about 15 times every minute of your life becomes work.

The chest and stomach respond accordingly. Tightening. Unforgiving. A reminder of our weakness.

Our muscles tense. Our heads ache. Our eyes water.

Our hearts break.

Not in pieces like we watched in cartoons back when life was simple.

They simply stop functioning properly.

They break down.

Then we break down.

When it hurts too much.

Then We Reach Out

Because that’s what people do. We connect.

To not feel alone. To not be alone.

Sometimes we scream. Sometimes we hug. Sometimes we cry.

Almost always, we talk.

We write.

The most tried-and-true forms of therapy since the dawn of the mental health profession.

Sarah and I reach out to one another when it hurts.

And that’s when it always hits me.

I’m crying about losing my son 50 percent of the time.

But she has LOST her son. Someone took him away. Forever.

I’m crying about divorce, isolation, loneliness.

But she has had it so much worse. And now divorce may be on the table for her, too.

I’m crying about financial concerns as I continue my adjustment to my one-income life.

But the legal fight for their son wiped them out completely.

Sarah would NEVER try to one-up your story. That’s not who she is. But she can always do you one better.

Sometimes I realize the absurdity of my whining relative to all she has been through.

And that’s when she stops me. Because she really dislikes that.

“It makes me sad when my friends minimize their troubles or pain because they think mine are greater,” she said. “There is no need for that. I don’t hold the monopoly on pain.”

And while she’s being noble and selfless, she’s also, just, right.

Your Pains Are Yours

I’ve never lived in a place without running water before.

So it was hard for me last week when my pipes were frozen and I had to go a couple days without indoor plumbing at home.

It is frustrating when you’re without electricity for a long time.

It is challenging to not have internet access in 2014.

When that’s all you know.

You just broke up with your girlfriend? Your dog needs surgery? You have expensive car repairs?

Your pains and fears are real. And it’s okay to hurt. And the people that love you will invite you to talk about those things and not trivialize them.

You mustn’t either.

Sarah’s so tough, I could go on a weekend Vegas bender courtesy of her credit card and it would only be the 27th shittiest thing that’s happened to her in the past few months.

Kurt Cobain. Junior Seau. Ernest Hemingway. Countless others.

Beloved celebrities. Adored by the masses. Had all the financial resources in the world.

How is it even remotely possible for their lives to suck?

Yet, they sucked. So much so that these people took their own lives because being dead sounded better than feeling hurt all the time.

Everybody hurts. In their own ways.

And people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. People shouldn’t have to apologize for the pain they feel.

I broke after my divorce.

Broke.

Now what am I supposed to do with my life?

Who will want to date me?

How will I trust again?

I miss my son.

This house is so quiet.

The empty bed, so cold.

Who do I want to be?

Am I strong enough?

When will this go away?

There’s no fast-forward button.

The shit hits. You have to eat a bunch of it. And then you make your next move.

The clock ticks.

The Earth spins.

The calendar flips.

Then one day you wake up and the bed isn’t so cold anymore. The right person will show up.

The house isn’t so quiet. Because you’re comfortable in your own skin. Because you’re living again.

You find purpose in other things.

You give all the love you can to your child during those precious moments together.

And then you cry less.

Or maybe not at all.

You find your smile again.

Laugh.

Discover beauty.

Find joy in the little things once more.

The scars form.

And you emerge from the fire a little stronger than before. A little braver than before.

Like my friend Sarah.

Maybe even like me.

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