Tag Archives: Identity

Why People Divorce and Miss the Misery

Soldiers silhouette

(Image/ct11.wikispaces.com)

During the 18 months I was sleeping in the guest room, I felt like a lonely stranger uncomfortable in his own home, at best, and suffocating heavy-chest anxiety the rest of the time.

That’s why I loved going to work, and why I dreaded every Friday afternoon when I was staring at a long weekend at home where the best I could hope for was an occasional moment of levity with my pre-school-aged son before spiraling once again into My Marriage Sucks and I’m a Huge Failure.

The Monday commute to work was sweet relief.

But then one Sunday evening, my wife took her ring off, and the next day—a Monday that felt different than the others—she left forever.

And then—even though it should have been impossible—home became more suffocating and miserable than the previous year had been.

Even the shittiest marriage I could have ever imagined felt better than feeling (justified or not) abandoned at home combined with losing half of my young son’s childhood.

When you don’t think falling down further is possible but Life teaches you otherwise? That’s when you start questioning whether waking up tomorrow is actually worth it.

When being awake hurts, there’s nowhere to run and hide.

Home becomes a silent, empty prison. Vodka buys you a couple of hours, but sometimes you cry anyway.

Work no longer provides relief. One day, I thought I was going to hyperventilate in a full conference room in front of most of the department. They’d still be talking about it behind my back.

Friends and family help on a case-by-case basis. But mostly they don’t, even though it’s not their fault. Some things just take time.

I grew up in a big-family environment. Everyone seemed to like me.

I grew up with a pretty large social network relative to where I lived. I liked pretty much everyone. Most of them seemed to like me back.

I had a vibrant and indescribably awesome social life in college. I had a core group of friends who were more like family. I had a college newspaper staff I enjoyed working with. And I had an expanded network throughout campus, ranging from athletes and sketchy stoners to uptight student government leaders and high-ranking administrators.

And then my friends started graduating and moving away. One by one. Sometimes, a few at a time.

Until it was my turn, and I insta-ran-off to Florida with my girlfriend to chase pipedream Pulitzer Prizes and non-existent beach parties.

I felt lonely.

My friends and family felt far away. And the things that made me feel good or made me feel like I was having fun for my entire life didn’t seem to exist, no matter how much I loved the palm trees, blue skies and postcard-worthy beaches.

I missed my friends and all the parties. I missed the chaotic familiarity of holiday gatherings back home.

That’s when I first started to feel inadequate.

Like I couldn’t make friends anymore. Like I couldn’t have fun anymore. Like something was wrong with me because my girlfriend wasn’t filling the void, even though it seemed like she should be enough. Like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t make my girlfriend happy because I wasn’t filling the void for her, even though it seemed as if I should have been enough.

What’s wrong with us?

Why are we failing so hard at adulthood?

We must be freaks since no one else ever feels like this.

Your Tribe Matters More Than You Know

Some of you will remember this topic from a previous post, but when I didn’t know what to write about today, and then today happened, I knew I had to revisit it.

A buddy at work who I don’t think has ever read this blog sent me a link saying “This book sounds fascinating.”

The link was to this The Daily Beast article Why Vets Come Home and Miss the War, which is about Sebastian Junger’s most-recent book, called Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

“Why is it that you go through this terrible experience of war where you witness death and destruction, and you come home and there’s part of you that misses it?” wondered former-Marine-turned-Congressman Seth Moulton.

At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to compare myself to the bravest people alive (I’m not), the sentiment isn’t so different from: How is it that I can spend every day feeling miserable at home because of my shitty marriage, only to feel EVEN MORE miserable after my wife moved out?

Some soldiers despise one another, but won’t hesitate to take a bullet for those they dislike. Some of these war veterans experience the most horrible things imaginable—watching friends die, being shot at, near-death experiences, constant stress and anxiety the likes of which most of us are too coddled to begin to accurately imagine.

Yet, when they come home to what seems like it should be the safety and security of their homeland among friends and family, they’re unhappy and genuinely miss being in the theater of war.

It’s hard—maybe impossible—to understand the vital role Purpose plays in our lives until we finally experience not having any.

From The Daily Beast article:

“Moulton and his brethren came home to a fractured society where almost no one knows their neighbor, and chats by text or Facebook have replaced face-to-face interaction, the antithesis of the cheek-by-jowl closeness of troops in combat. Author Junger, 54, argues convincingly that Americans need to recapture the best part of their tribal beginnings, when small bands of people depended on each other for survival and so developed deep social ties that protect, bind and even heal, as an antidote to the chronic self-centeredness and loneliness that plague modern living.”

And then later:

“It’s only halfway through the book that he gets around to explaining how that loss is why troops—even those who never actually saw combat—feel bereft when they come home from war zones, missing the brotherhood, the sense of sacrifice and the mission that comes with war.

’You’ve got veterans coming back to a society that not only does it not have that very close human cohesion of your group of people around you, but also seems to be losing its cohesion at the macro level of 320 million people,’ Junger said at a book event in Washington, D.C., sponsored by veterans group The Mission Continues.

’Spiritually, this country is bleeding right now,’ he added, to nods in the crowd of veterans. ‘It’s fractured economically, politically, socially,’ whether you’re left or right, spiritual or agnostic, he added.

“In short, the American community lacks the social skills to connect with each other, much less welcome veterans home. So returning troops don’t miss the blood and guts and mayhem as much as they miss their tribe, or any tribe.”

How to Mend Brokenness

Why was I so miserable three and four years ago, but not today even though my marriage and family didn’t return?

First, it was here. You. This place. Having something to do that mattered.

And now I have my partners and clients in our budding consulting agency. I’ve never been busier. I’ve never been so removed from fun and vibrant weekend nights. I’ve never been so inactive (as a single guy) in the dating scene.

And I feel great. I am excited to wake up every day.

It’s because I have things to do that matter.

It’s because I have Purpose, even when my little boy isn’t home.

Even when there’s no adult around asking about my day, or what’s for dinner, or curling up next to me for a Netflix binge, or who is counting on me for any number of things.

It’s because I am once again part of something. It’s because there are people counting on me, even though they don’t look and feel anything like my spouse did.

I’m not championing the single life. Not by a long shot.

In fact, I’m trying to do the opposite here.

Because, while we certainly have our Dishes by the Sink arguments and laundry list of Shitty Husband things to talk and think about, perhaps what ails you, or your partner, or your relationship most is the purpose and sense of community that disappears in the absence of a tribe.

Maybe he or she isn’t choosing his or her friends over you. Maybe they’re simply trying to feel whole.

Maybe the reason you feel lonely on the couch isn’t because the person you love isn’t paying enough attention. Maybe it’s because, like Charlie Brown, you need involvement.

Maybe the loss of tribe and its impact on our lives is another one of these Life Secrets that most of us never figure out because it lives in The Places We Don’t Talk About.

But not because we can’t. Just because we don’t.

But maybe we can start.

Because living is awesome when you’re actually alive.

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Should I Be Afraid to Publish My Name?

Bloody pen

The words have to bleed. If you want to write about what it means to be human. (Image/Genius.com)

Most of you have no idea who I am (and don’t care).

Some of you know my name is Matt.

Fewer still know I’m Matt and I live in Ohio.

And a super-small group of you know my last name or actually know me in real life.

Does it Matter if it Doesn’t Bleed?

I don’t want to be critical of writers who entertain, inform or educate us. Those are great things.

Sometimes I keep it light, too. I’m immature and playful, so it’s often hard for me to leave that out of things I write.

But matters of the heart and mind are what I choose to spend most of my time exploring. I want to be a better person, and I’m sensitive to my flaws. I think it’s hard to be a human being, and it often gets harder in adulthood.

I think a lot of us frolic through childhood blissfully unaware, and then one inevitable day, that first tragic thing happens, rapes our innocence, and then we never get to be that version of ourselves ever again. Those moments take our breath away. They’re really hard. Some people freak out when life is really hard. They become addicts. They lose jobs. They have affairs. They commit suicide.

Awful things. Things I used to observe and think: What the hell is wrong with those people?

And the answer—in a macro-human sense—is: Nothing. They’re just people, and you can’t know how unmitigated fuckness feels until it’s stabbing your heart and mind mercilessly while you sob in the fetal position.

If you’re going to write about matters of the heart and mind, I don’t think there’s a lot of room for half-assing it. This is real life. When you strip away everything superficial about our lives (the jobs, houses, money, cars) the only things left are the people we love and our mental and emotional state of being when we wake up in the morning.

Mostly, we take this stuff for granted. Mostly, we feel just fine, with pockets of frustration and pockets of fun. Mostly, our relationships aren’t suffering, and people we love aren’t dying, and we’re not afraid of sickness or death ourselves.

No matter how many times a day we hear about some crazy-scary thing happening, or about some tragedy, or how many people around us get sick and die, we STILL just carry on in a That will never happen to me! sort-of way.

But bad things can and will happen. They test our character. They test our faith. They test our mettle.

And then we wallow and despair. Or we demonstrate courage. Or we climb our mountains with joyful hope. Often we do all of those things over a long period of time while we fight to find ourselves again.

THESE are the things that really matter to me. These are the things I want to write about.

I’m afraid of writing about those things, and then having my boss read them. I’m afraid of all the guys I work with, and imagining them laughing and snickering and calling me a pussy behind my back while they read about how I used to cry a lot after my wife left.

I’m afraid of my mom, or grandma, or aunts and uncles reading about how I lost my virginity or about doubting my faith sometimes or just all the bad words I use.

I’m afraid of my son reading it someday and being ashamed of his father. I’m afraid of other parents at his small Catholic school reading it and judging me. Even worse? I’m afraid of my son’s classmates reading it and punishing him socially for it.

Within the first few weeks of blogging, I stumbled on How To Be A TV Star by James Altucher and it completely changed the way I thought about first-person writing.

In the piece, he wrote about how he lied to get on television because he was afraid of flying after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His boss was asking him to fly to a business meeting, and he needed a way out, so he lied to investor and TV personality Jim Cramer about how much investment money he managed.

He wrote this, and I’ve been hero-worshipping him ever since:

“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.”

After retelling his experience on Cramer’s show, he said 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.”

Something about it just slapped me across the face. Penetrated my soul.

THIS. This is how I want to write, I thought.

It’s Just About Time

Whether I wait until I publish my book, agree to let other publications use my first and last name, or finally break the seal here, the day I start publishing my full name draws nearer.

I met an editor at The Good Men Project who charitably praises my writing and has asked me to contribute regularly. I’ve agreed.

He has been kind enough to let me keep my last name off the work for a while.

My first post (repurposed content from this blog to start with) should run this week. It will be interesting to see what happens afterward.

In the meantime, there is only one way to write anything related to the mind, heart and soul, and have it matter: Honestly.

I hope I’m tough enough and brave enough to do so even after taking off that final mask and submitting to the judgment of internet commenters everywhere.

Even if those people can affect my professional future.

Or even if they used to change my diapers and tuck me into bed at night.

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Who Am I?

man in maskI glanced at the calendar.

The year is more than halfway over. That was fast.

Maybe my life is, too. I’m 35. Many men die before turning 70.

Uh-oh.

I look in the mirror.

Who are you?

I don’t know anymore. But I want to. Need to.

I think we go through a bit of an identity crisis after divorce. Maybe not everyone. Maybe just me.

For so long, I was Matt—husband, newspaper reporter, fun guy.

Then I was Matt—husband, dad, fun guy.

Now? Part-time father. Wannabe writer who doesn’t write.

The most-important lesson I learned in a decade of newspaper reporting—bar none—was that if you want to find answers, you need to ask the right questions.

I Am My Mother

My mom is the oldest of eight children—the first four of which were born in four consecutive years. Eighteen years separate my mom from her youngest sister, who is just four years older than me.

What does that do to a person? When they spend their entire childhood expected to help with all of the younger kids, and getting less than a year of undivided attention from their parents?

She grew up in a small farm town in Ohio. Less than 5,000 people. Everyone knew everyone. People have stopped me on the town streets to ask me which family member I belong to because my facial features resemble my uncles’.

Maybe that’s why mom moved far away after graduating high school. Escape.

About 500 miles from home.

That’s where she met my dad.

I Am My Father

My dad is the oldest of four children.

His father was an alcoholic and I think his mom was, too. She died just before I was born.

When my dad and his siblings were children, their mom started sleeping with the neighbor guy and their dad started sleeping with that guy’s wife. The two women switched houses and married one another’s husbands.

My dad once spent a night in jail after riding a wheelie on a motorcycle through his city’s downtown.

He’s a high school dropout who smoked a lot of pot, and drank and partied often. He joined the U.S. Navy as a teenager and traveled the world for four years.

Mom left him when I was 4. Probably because he smoked a lot of pot, and drank and partied often.

Are We Our Parents?

I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with both of your parents together. I vaguely remember one Christmas with mom and dad. And I remember the day of my parents’ custody hearing which would determine which parent I was going to live with nine months out of the year 500 miles away from the other.

Maybe when you live with both of your parents at the same time and observe them, it’s easier to identify the bits of you that come from your mom versus the other parts that make you like your dad.

My mother was a domineering wife and overprotective parent that had me craving freedom in ways that always had me at friends’ houses. It caused hurt feelings for my mom because I would avoid bringing friends around. Mom didn’t know who I was.

My father (and the closest thing to a hero I ever had) spoiled me because he only saw me two and a half months out of the year and seemed to walk on water because he was the dad I was constantly being deprived of seeing, even though that’s unfair to my mom and a romanticized version of the truth.

Mom remarried right away and committed to making my entire childhood the best and safest and most-nurturing she could. She’s a deeply religious woman, and her only priority is that I get to heaven after I die.

Dad filed for bankruptcy after my mom left and took me far away to Ohio. He kept partying and grinding at work.

Today, my mom is on her third marriage and struggles financially.

My father eventually bought the company he worked for and is now a well-deserving member of the 1%.

He was committed to helping me become the smartest, most-financially successful adult I could be.

Both of my parents are kind and decent people.

Both would go to the ends of the Earth for me.

Both, in very different ways, are great examples of what it means to love.

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

I don’t have brothers and sisters like my mom and dad.

I am—biologically—an only child, with two stepsisters about my age and a half-sister born when I was in high school. I love all three. But we have very non-traditional sibling relationships.

And I don’t really know what that means. I don’t know what that makes me.

Want good answers? Ask good questions.

Who am I?

I don’t know.

Single? Divorced? Father? Who makes bad decisions?

Aren’t we whoever we choose to be?

Yes.

Who do I choose to be?

Someone kind. Someone fun. A good father. A writer.

Aren’t we defined by what we do?

Yeah.

Am I kind?

I really do try.

Am I fun?

I really do try.

Am I a good father?

I really do try.

Am I a writer?

*shrug*

Today, I am.

*Publish*

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The Man in the Mirror

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

I see him every morning when I step out of the shower.

We stare at one another again while I’m brushing my teeth before bed.

The guy in the mirror.

I used to wonder what he would look like in his mid-thirties. Back when he had his entire life ahead of him.

That kid was alright. Balanced. Unsure what he wanted to do with his life, but totally sure of himself.

That kid got pretty good grades in school. Got along pretty well socially. Loved by his parents. Confident with girls. Hopeful and optimistic about his future.

You could see it in his eyes. Good things were coming.

And he knew it.

What if You Couldn’t Wake From That Dream?

If you never woke from a very realistic, lucid dream, how would you ever know the dream world from the real world?

That makes me think about self-identity. How we view ourselves. And just how in tune with reality that image really is.

When you’re a confident kid growing up, and you start hearing about girls with eating disorders and whatnot in high school and college because they have an unhealthy and distorted self-image, or worse, the suicidal kids who feel completely unloved and useless, it’s not something you can understand.

At least it wasn’t for me.

I could never make sense of the beautiful people who didn’t know they were beautiful and would engage in self-destructive behavior chasing something that wasn’t real.

And I don’t just mean people with physical beauty. Because as we age and become less superficial, we discover beauty isn’t always packaged like cover girls and diamonds and sunsets.

We find it in a mother holding her newborn. In an elderly couple holding hands in the park. In a story about a college basketball player and his relationship with a gorgeous young cancer patient.

Somehow, as I aged, I lost confidence.

You watch your best friends go on to have beautiful marriages.

Highly successful careers.

Embark on ambitious adventure.

And you start reflecting on your life and comparing it to others or to what you thought it would look like when you were young and hopeful and optimistic.

But your life doesn’t look like that at all.

Your marriage doesn’t feel happy.

The bills pile up.

There are no vacations to exotic locations.

You don’t have fun with friends all the time like you used to because everyone’s busy.

You lose your job.

Family members die.

The downward spiral depresses you.

You’re not strong enough.

You’re a disappointment.

Everything falls apart.

You lose yourself.

Two Decades Later

Sometimes I’ll just stand there and stare. Letting the eye contact linger between me and the man in the mirror.

Who are you?

The hazel eyes have more green flecks than I remember.

There are signs of aging around them. Every glance at a clock or calendar sounds just a little bit louder than it used to.

Tick, tick, tick.

The gray hair is really coming in. A daily reminder that the kid I remember is, in a lot of ways, gone forever.

I miss seeing the self-assured smile. The eye twinkle that only hope can provide. A face free from the rigors of life’s occasionally cruel twists.

One of the girls I met recently calls me “gorgeous.”

She says it all the time. About that same face I see in the mirror. About that same body that can and should be so much more than it is.

I don’t see gorgeous. I still see the guy my wife left.

But I’m working to look past that. I’m working every day.

This morning, one of my co-workers—a guy who’s been married a long time and has a somewhat warped sense of what my life is really like—said casually in conversation that I was “awesome at meeting women.”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Maybe I should let him read some old posts.

What is he seeing that I’m not?

He’s seeing something. My social life is inching its way back toward vibrancy. My dating life is light years ahead of where it was throughout every second of 2013.

Maybe there’s a lesson here. About perspective. About relativism. About what it means to be an adult.

We have two possible outcomes every day and most of the time, it’s a choice: Live or die.

If we’re going to be alive, we’re going to have mountains of shit pile up on us. And I choose life.

I think being an adult is a little like being a muscle.

I think once we’ve matured and stopped growing, we need to be broken down and put back together bigger and stronger.

To grow. To be tough enough. To be tall enough to ride.

I’m not gorgeous. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I’m not awesome at meeting women. But I met some. And they like me.

And maybe I waste too much time worrying about what I’m not, or what I used to be.

And maybe you do, too.

And maybe the people we see in the mirror aren’t who we think they are.

Maybe they’re something more.

Maybe they’re tough enough.

Maybe they’re tall enough.

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