Tag Archives: Parent

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

danger tape

(Image/Sophos.com)

You’re in danger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I was kidding.

That’s seriously what divorce can feel like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve heard it all.

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

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

The REAL reasons that so many people get divorced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one is MAKING us get married.

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t think boys were BETTER than girls.

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

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

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

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

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

I used to hear and say things like that.

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

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

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

We are.

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

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

Who Does the Laundry?

Sure, lots of guys do laundry.

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

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

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

I hate it there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, back to the boy-girl thing.

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

My mom cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms.

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

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

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

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

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

I thought that was a load of crap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people fall and never get up again.

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

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

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

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

You better believe they will.

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

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

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

So that our loved ones never break.

Because, maybe then, neither will we.

You May Also Want to Read:

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

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

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

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A Failed Marriage, a Beautiful Son, and Tomorrow

father son hands

(Image/ashscrapyard.wordpress.com)

“Fine. I’ll just stay with mom all the time and you won’t see me anymore!” he said about seven years sooner than expected.

I can’t remember why he was upset with me. It’s usually because I denied him something he wanted.

He was 6 when he said that during a father-son fight more than a year ago. An occasionally angry little boy adjusting to a brand-new school and a brand-new life where mom and dad live in different houses. An occasionally angry father adjusting to the same.

I try to remember how I felt at age 5 when my parents split, but everything’s hazy. I remember bits and pieces. The moments. But I can’t remember me then. How I felt. But that’s no surprise. I can’t remember me five years ago.

I haven’t talked to any therapists about it, but my amateur self-evaluation is that my traumatic experience with divorce two and a half years ago is largely due to hypersensitivity related to also going through it as a child. I think some things I’d buried might have clawed their way up to the surface.

I was the only kid I knew whose dad lived hundreds of miles away.

I don’t know what parts of me—good or bad—are byproducts of that upbringing. I wonder whether living near, and coexisting well with his mother, might make his life better than mine.

I cried a lot in the weeks leading up to, and following, my marriage imploding. Everything hurts. And it scares the shit out of you when you figure out you can’t run away from it.

It’s there in your office meetings at work.

It’s there when you’re having drinks with friends.

It’s there when you visit family for the first time without your spouse and you’re totally drenched in failure.

It’s there in the house you shared with her for more than seven years.

It’s there when you look into your child’s eyes. The most beautiful, pure, innocent, precious thing you have ever known. And it’s your job, your mission, your solemn duty to provide him with the safety, resources, education and love required for him to have a chance at a life better than your own.

And you feel like you just helped destroy his family.

You’re afraid of everything and you’re carrying a mountain of shame.

You wonder how you can ever take care of him if you can’t even take care of yourself.

Maybe he deserves a better father than this, you think.

Maybe he does.

I was in his mom’s driveway helping him buckle his seatbelt—something he does now on his own—the last time I remember crying. Every child has a patented little frown that no other kid can make. All parents recognize it because it’s the one that makes your heart bleed. The corners of his mouth turned down. Tears fell.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I said.

“I just want you and mommy to live in the same house again,” he said.

And then you hold your breath and wonder whether your heart will keep beating. I knew he wished for that. He just hadn’t said it until then.

He’d been so strong and brave. Wearing his little mask every day like his parents used to while hiding a marriage on life support from family and friends.

You hold his little face in your hands and apologize harder than you ever have before. You pray your ex isn’t watching you from the window. You mutter silent Why me, God?s before remembering that you brought this on yourself.

When you neglect a garden, the plants stop producing. And the flowers wither and die.

I have a massive capacity for forgiveness. This doesn’t make me a good or virtuous person. I didn’t work hard to grow into a person who forgives easily. It’s a gift I didn’t earn.

It caused a lot of problems in my marriage. Because my wife and I would fight, and it was ALWAYS the same fight. I think maybe every couple has it.

Something I did or didn’t do would upset her, and she’d tell me about it. And instead of acknowledging something I had done hurt my wife’s feelings, I would get defensive and justify it. I didn’t apologize. Since I didn’t do anything intentionally, I didn’t owe it, I reasoned, and I’d go to great lengths to justify that, too.

Why is she always finding something new to complain about?

I think most husbands and boyfriends get annoyed about things their wives or girlfriends do, but because they don’t like to have “talks,” they avoid saying anything. Having a beer, or watching football, or playing video games, or going to work, or literally any other thing in the entire universe including taxes and dental work are less painful than “talks.”

I always viewed it as loving my wife enough to overlook her “shortcomings,” and was always perturbed I didn’t get that same courtesy in return. I didn’t have empathy for my wife’s feelings because I didn’t know she felt things in profoundly different ways than me. I didn’t have perspective because I ignorantly took my marriage for granted and thought winning battles was more important than actionable love.

She didn’t like that after a good night’s sleep I felt good and was ready to move on because she was still pissed about the unresolved thing.

These things piled up with each passing argument, and instead of acknowledging them, I’d stay defensive and complain that she was keeping track of all these supposed crimes and unloading them on me every time she was upset. I would never be so petty as to do that to her, I’d say like a smug prick.

I didn’t know that her way would have saved our marriage, and that my way was why half of all marriages fail, and why many that don’t are broken and miserable.

Maybe my son will get angry all over again when he’s old enough to recognize that. Or maybe because he’s a boy, he’ll empathize with me by default.

His mom is a grudge holder and is still angry with me about how our lives turned out. I sometimes feel it in those (now rare) moments when she gets upset with me about something I did or didn’t do as her co-parenting partner.

I don’t know how to stay angry. It goes away like magic even if I don’t work at it. But I think it’s opposite for other people. I think they don’t know how to not be angry. A burden they didn’t earn or deserve.

Maybe it’s just nine years of feeling unheard and invalidated all piled up into a mountain of shit too heavy and painful to always keep hidden.

Since there’s no such thing as time travel, our son is all that matters now.

Have we infected him somehow?, I wonder.

Is he secretly sad and angry?

Has he forgiven us?

Will he ever?

“Dad,” he says into my ear. “You’re the best dad in the whole world. If I could choose any dad out of every dad there is, I would choose you.”

He tells mom the same thing about her. And we believe him. He really would choose us.

Some combination of love and resilient childhood magic stirs inside him.

My handsome little second grader, rapidly approaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to call him little.

We crafted a small boat for him to race at a Cub Scouts function this past weekend. Win or lose, he showed maturity and graciousness in congratulating opponents. Losses left other kids in tears. My little man shrugged them off, knowing we did all we could.

One year ago, he was desperate for acceptance from the first graders in his new school. His mom and I worried privately about him being a social outcast because we’re not ingrained in the community the way most of the other families are.

Last year, kids didn’t chant our son’s name in support when it was his turn to race. This year, many did.

Last year, we worried about his social life. This year, every Cub Scout in his class came to our table at the event to sit with and talk to him.

We grow together, that boy and I.

Him—socially and academically. Me—emotionally and professionally.

He rifled through a deck of nerd cards during breakfast this morning. “Nerd cards,” being the little role-playing trading cards popular with kids (and some adults), but which I was too “cool” to play with when I was younger. Things like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Gormiti cards. The particular nerd cards this morning were Gormiti cards given to him by an older boy he looks up to. Gormiti, to me, feels like Wyler’s Flavor Aid to Pokemon’s Kool-Aid®.

You know—even lamer than the regular amount of lame.

I started teasing him: “Hi, I’m Tony Romo and I play Pokemon. And I’m arts-and-craftsy Tony Romo, and I play Gormiti.”

He half-smiled because he likes the DirecTV commercial I was spoofing.

And then I made up another Pokemon-is-better-than-Gormiti joke, and I saw his sweet little face do the patented frown thing, and he started to cry.

I felt like a dick.

I walked around the counter scooped him up, sat him on the counter and hugged him tight, because I’m not the guy I used to be.

“I’m so sorry, bud. Did dad just hurt your feelings?”

He nodded, so I hugged him again.

“Kiddo, you are allowed to like whatever you like, and I am so sorry if I made you feel like I thought your Gormiti cards were stupid. I think it’s awesome that your friend gave you those and I want you to have so much fun with them today, okay?”

I meant it.

He nodded that he understood.

Hands on my shoulders, he sort of pushed me back a few inches so we could look each other in the eye.

“I love you, dad,” he said.

He meant it.

Because he has a massive capacity for forgiveness, too. And God-willing, maybe now he has a role model for how to deal with hurt feelings in ways that can heal rather than divide. That soften hearts rather than harden them.

That, at the risk of oversimplifying humanity, might be the keys to making romantic love last.

The keys to the forever kind-of families.

The keys to healing the broken.

So that we can unlock tomorrow without fear of the unknown. Because we’re ready now.

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Three Years From Now 

three-years

Sarah asked: 

“How would you like to see your relationships evolved in the next three years?”

If form holds, I’ll still be alive in three years.

But form never holds.

I’ll be barreling toward 40. Maybe I’ll like myself more. I hope so. People should like themselves on their 40th birthday.

My son will have just finished fourth grade. Maybe he’ll like a girl and want to hold hands with her but not want to talk to me about it.

I might still be plugging away at my cubicle job. Maybe that will be depressing. Or maybe I’ll be grateful for the security.

I might be a published author. Hopefully more than just once. You always get better at things when you practice.

When I rank all the things that project to matter in my life three years from now, only four things stand out. All four are personal relationships. Only three are with humans.

The One with my Ex

I didn’t see it coming, but my relationship with the woman I married continues to be the most important one I have.

“But what about your son, Matt!?!?”

If you want to get all lawyery about it, my relationship with him (he’ll be seven soon) is the most relevant and meaningful.

But the thing that gives me the best chance for success with that child is for his mother and I to have a civil, healthy, friendly, cooperative relationship, that provides him the best opportunity for a happy, secure, fruitful childhood.

In three years, I have to assume she will be in a serious relationship with another man. A man who will serve as a de facto stepfather to my son. A man who I will inevitably imagine having sex with my wife of nine years and be slightly repulsed. A man who might have children of his own who will prove to be a major influence on my young son.

I will have no say in the matter, nor should I.

You wake up and breathe. You smile. You help. You care. You love. Not romantically. Just… love.

You continue to practice kindness and you build up that muscle.

This is what love looks like, son.

That’s what it must be about now.

The One with my Son

When I was a boy, I loved being with friends because I was an only child. I wanted to go play with them more than I wanted to be home, and I think it might have made my parents sad.

My mom sometimes took it as I didn’t want to be with her.

My dad? I only saw him for a small percentage of the year. Maybe he felt betrayed, too. He usually didn’t say anything. But maybe it hurt. I don’t know.

My young son was invited recently to spend the night with his friends. I texted his mom to let her know I was thinking about letting him.

“Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “But I think there’s a good chance he will wake up crying and want you, so be prepared to go get him in the middle of the night.”

I asked him whether he’d like to stay with his friends. He was visibly excited. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be there. In that moment, he had everything he wanted.

That was the first time he has ever slept somewhere else when he was “supposed” to be with me. That’s the first time I ever felt like my parents must have felt a thousand times, each.

I know there will be more.

I want him to know he can talk to me about anything. I pray I never make him feel punished for his honesty. He must learn to communicate honestly about things if he hopes to maintain healthy relationships in the future.

It was a lesson I learned too late.

I have never loved nor been more proud of anything than that child. Nothing can stir in me deep, meaningful feelings the way just looking at him sleeping can, or when he does something that demonstrates how much he has learned and grown.

He’s a beautiful child.

I pray I always feel about him as I do right now. Right as I push this button.

The One with the Girl I Haven’t Met 

It fascinates me when I consider it.

Maybe she’s laying in bed with another guy right now. Maybe she’s giving birth to a child. Maybe she’s on the other side of the world building houses in impoverished communities. Maybe she’s out having drinks with her friends. Or walking her dog. Or visiting her grandmother. Or writing something like me.

Maybe she’s sitting somewhere right now wondering who I am and what I’m doing.

Maybe I’ll be single forever. I just don’t think so.

And that means it’s going to happen again. You know. IT. Love. It’s hard to imagine. Only this time, she’s going to get a more raw, real, honest, authentic version of me than my ex-wife did. (I didn’t know then what I know now.)

With all of my insecurities (though I feel pretty good about myself these days) and baggage. With the knowledge I have a son.

That my family is spread all over. That I’m still trying to figure out who I’m going to be when I grow up.

She’s going to be amazing. AMAZING.

I know.

Because I’m picky. Because her capacity for love and patience and forgiveness will be massive. Because I’m TERRIFIED to love again the way I loved my wife because I never again want to feel the horrors of breaking on the inside. And if there IS a someone?

That means she overcame all that. That means I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both said yes.

It means we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but for now, we want to find out together.

It means I’ll be cooking again. Hugging again. Kissing again.

It means someone will inspire me. Cheer for me. Believe in me.

It means I’ll rarely feel lonely. Just a reach away.

Maybe all of that will come true, or maybe none of it will. We spend a lot of time reflecting on the past and pondering the future.

But really we only have now.

The things that happened before don’t get to determine what happens next.

And what happens next is not something we control.

Just. Right. Now.

Breathe in. Hold it. Then out.

Alive.

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Why Kids Are Happier Than You

They're smiling because they know how to do something you don't.

They’re smiling because they know how to do something you don’t.

Kids are smarter than you.

When kids aren’t crapping their pants, exposing themselves in public or throwing temper tantrums because they’re not allowed to have candy five minutes before dinner, they’re smarter than you.

Not about everything.

I can run circles around my five-year-old son in academic contests.

“Hey dad! Do you know what 71+14 is!?!?”

“Yes.”

He’s always so impressed when I give him the answer even though I could have answered “93,” and he wouldn’t know the difference.

“Hey dad! Do you know how to spell ‘antelope’?”

“Totally.”

And even if I spelled “rhinoceros,” I’d probably get away with it.

He’s a sharp little dude. But he’s got a ways to go.

But I watch him.

He plays.

Smarter than me.

What’s great about this is even if you’re not a parent, you can remember doing this, too. Or you see it in restaurants and parks and shopping malls.

The kids play.

Smarter than us.

They run. They scream. They squeal. They dance. They laugh.

That’s what delight looks like.

That’s what fun looks like.

That’s what happy looks like.

And that’s precisely what all of us want.

Happy.

I Didn’t Want to Grow Up

At least, not once I got to college.

I still played.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I played with Star Wars, He-Man, and G.I. Joe action figures, turning my house into a different universe.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I spent hours mesmerized by The Legend of Zelda or Tecmo Bowl or Super Mario Bros. 3.

But I was playing. Always playing.

After dragging my feet in college, taking five years to graduate due to some career indecision and a whole bunch of partying, I was hired as a newspaper reporter at age 23 in a beach community near Tampa, Fla.

I’d been on a few trips to other places in my life, including Florida, but I was so saturated by the Midwest culture in which I grew up that I truly didn’t know it was different in other places.

When I moved to Florida, I thought it would be EXACTLY like what I had always experienced in Ohio, only it would be 85 degrees and sunny every day, while I drank beer and umbrella drinks on the beach jamming to live reggae music.

It wasn’t like that at all.

It was scary how different everything was. How far away I was from everything I knew and loved. It was time for me to grow up.

But I don’t want to grow up!

I wanted to play.

My girlfriend didn’t like that about me. It hurt her feelings, she said. And it made her question my maturity.

“We all have to grow up sometime,” she’d say.

You can’t get married and grow in maturity and have a happy and successful life if you’re partying with friends all the time!, the thinking seemed to be.

There’s no time for childishness. Not in the real world.

We need to be serious!

And responsible!

And go to work every day!

And pay our bills!

And do chores!

And take care of the lawn!

And keep the house clean!

Ehh. Maybe she’s right, I thought.

So, I stopped doing all those fun things.

I stopped playing.

And we got married.

I replaced the old games with new ones.

With poker. With movies. With music.

But the best times were still those long nights laughing with friends and having buzzed late-night sex.

I wonder if she thinks so, too.

Kids Know How to Play

But maybe you forgot.

I did.

Because I was in such a hurry to grow up. Because I was hell-bent on trying to make the woman I loved happy without ever stopping to wonder whether maybe she had it wrong.

Because how is all this growing up and being responsible working out for you?

Listen, I want you to pay your bills. I want you to go to work. And take care of yourself. And keep your house looking nice.

I’m not talking about neglecting responsibilities.

But, dammit, I AM talking about PLAYING.

Because this is bullshit. This rat-race game we’re all trying to play.

When did we all get brainwashed into believing this shit?

Who made the rule that in order to be an “adult,” you have to go work 40 hours a week in an office and tuck in your shirt and read biographies and not laugh at dick-and-fart jokes?

Because that rule is BULLSHIT.

I don’t want anything in this life but HAPPINESS for myself, my son, everyone we love, and all of the other people out there who crave happiness as well.

And I don’t think I always have to play by all these rules in order to achieve that. I’ve been playing by these rules for the better part of the past 15 years.

And what do I have to show for it?

A stack of bills, a stamped dissolution of marriage document, a part-time son and doing a bunch of things alone that I used to do with my wife.

It’s Time to Start Playing Again

We’ve gotta play.

We must.

I think this is one of the ways we’re gonna save ourselves.

Don’t you remember all the fun you used to have? And now you’re not having fun anymore. Sitting around doing “adult” things all time.

You know what? Fuck. That.

These rules are bullshit, and a bunch of us got brainwashed somewhere along the way. As if this was the only way to capture the “American Dream” or the spouse and 1.8 kids and the house in the suburbs.

I let other people make me feel guilty about the things that made me feel happy.

And now I feel shitty all the time UNLESS I’m doing all the things l love to do surrounded by people I love and who love me in return.

I’m so tired of feeling shitty.

And you must be, too. You must be. It’s so exhausting wearing that mask. Trying to play the role of mature adult and doing what you think everyone expects you to do rather than what you actually want to do.

I know what you want to do.

You want to feel happy.

Just like when we were kids. Running outside. Free. Innocent.

We squealed.

We danced.

We laughed.

We had fun.

We were happy.

Those kids are pretty smart. Yours. Mine. The ones we see lighting up the darkness.

I think I’m ready to start playing again.

Wanna play too?

A special thanks to T at “This Is Not My World” for inspiring this post.

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

You have a couple choices. I hope you'll make the correct one.

You have a couple choices. I hope you’ll make the correct one.

She’s going to leave you.

And even if she doesn’t, she’s going to want to. She’s going to fantasize about your best friend. Or her friend’s husband. Or her co-worker who pays attention to her. Or the guy who smiled at her at Starbucks. Or the UPS man. Or me.

A 5’9” guy with a kid who got dumped this year and cries a little more than he should. She fantasizes about THAT guy.

That’s how shitty you are.

She won’t even be able to help herself.

Despite what a total self-absorbed prick you are, she still loves you and wants YOU to be the one who makes her feel good.

But you don’t.

You make her feel like shit. When she tries to talk to you, you tell her the things she thinks and feels are stupid.

When she asks you nicely to do something simple for her, you refuse.

When she asks you nicely to not do something anymore, you do it anyway.

You make her feel bad when you put your immediate wants ahead of the needs of your relationship or family.

When you don’t tell her she looks good. When you don’t tell her she makes you feel good. When you don’t show her that you want her.

That situation is unsustainable. And she’s going to leave you.

Or she’s going to sleep with someone else. And then leave you.

Don’t shake your head no. You’re in denial.

I’m right.

She will. Or she’ll really, really want to which I submit is equally bad.

Then you’re going to get divorced. Because a human being can only take so much, and sooner or later, the misery of divorce is going to seem like a lesser pain than the misery of living with you.

That one’s going to sting.

And then you’re going to be alone and your life is going to be shitty. And one day you’re going to have a really rough morning with your kids. And then the day care lady is going to come over and pick up your son and he isn’t going to want to leave you because he knows he’s not going to see you for three days and he’s going to cry as the day care lady peels him off of your leg so that he’s not late for school and you’re not late for work. And he’s going to scream “Daddy! Daddy!” as he gets carried away sobbing and you can’t help him because you can’t even help yourself.

And then you’re going to cry in your kitchen and call your ex-wife names between the sobs.

But really?

It’s going to be your fucking fault. Because you brought this on yourself.

Don’t ever forget it.

When Two Become One

When you’re a kid, your parents are the most-important figures in your life. You can barely imagine life without them.

But you grow. Mature. Gain independence.

Then you meet someone. Someone you decide is going to replace your parents as the central figure in your life. They become the most-important thing.

But now, you don’t always treat her that way. It’s because you’re a shitty husband. Don’t worry. It’s not just you. Most of us are.

You see, I know you’re not a bad person. I’m not either.

You don’t have to be a bad person to be a shitty husband. The shitty-husband badge isn’t only reserved for assholes.

By assholes, I mean guys who cheat, guys who are physically or mentally abusive, guys who drink excessively or do drugs, guys who go out every night leaving their wives to fend for themselves or to care for children alone.

You might even be nice like me. Kind. Empathetic. Caring.

But there’s a demon inside you that you can’t quite fight off. The sex isn’t quite as stimulating as it used to be. You probably think it’s her fault.

Because she used to really get your blood pumping. Back when she wanted you. Needed you. You didn’t have to ask. You could see the need. Feel the need. And you loved it. Because we all have a little Alpha in us.

And now she doesn’t make you feel wanted. She doesn’t make you feel needed.

It’s not because she doesn’t want to. She wants to. It’s an involuntary sort-of apathy she feels now. Because you robbed her of the passion she once had for you. And she resents you for it.

This isn’t the life she’d hoped for. The one you’d promised her curled up in the sheets and one another on a Saturday morning when you were young and nothing else mattered.

She can’t want you now. Because the fire’s gone. Extinguished.

And the pain and frustration of that realization is almost unbearable for her. That you don’t love her anymore. That you don’t want her anymore. That she matters so little to you now that your job, or your friends, or your video games, or your drinking, or your golfing, or your TV watching, or whatever, has taken priority over her. You’re the person she chose over her parents. The person she trusted with the rest of her life.

Because you’d rather play Call of Duty or watch reruns on the couch, than tell your wife she looks sexy, than clean up the kitchen for her, than spend a couple hours making her climax over and over again.

Right now, maybe you’re nodding your head.

“Yeah, Matt. I would rather do something for myself.”

  1. You’ll regret thinking that.
  2. You deserve what’s coming.

What Divorce is Like

According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, divorce and marital separation are the second- and third-most-stressful things that can happen to us in our entire lives, behind only the death of a spouse. But if she had died rather than leave you, you’d at least sleep at night dreaming of the good times together, rather than thinking about the new guy sticking his penis inside your wife and imagining how much happier she is now.

Do you like stress?

Divorce is bad.

Worse than I thought. And I’m relatively smart.

Especially if you’re a dad.

When you’re a divorced dad, no childless woman wants you. It’s hard enough being a parent when you love the child more than all other things on Earth. Imagine having to be a parent when you don’t love the child that much. And you’re asking her to do that after someone who lived with you for a long time, intentionally had children with you, then decided life without you was more attractive than life with you.

So, hope you wanted more kids. Because if you want to date someone, that’s what you’re looking at.

Good luck with that.

When you’re divorced, you have less money than you used to, so you can’t even afford to distract yourself from how shitty your life is now with small pockets of fun. You have to stay home where no one comes to visit you because all of your friends liked it better when you were with your wife, and none of your couples friends want to hang out on the weekend with the sad, single guy.

When you’re divorced, your kids are sad, and it’s mostly your fault.

When you’re divorced, the ONLY thing about your life that doesn’t change is all of the things you do now that push her away.

But once she’s left you, you’re not going to want to do those things anymore. Because the things you thought were bringing you happiness ended up bringing you the most misery you’ve ever felt.

When you’re divorced, everything is three times as hard, because you’re only half of yourself, and no one’s there to help.

If you do get divorced, I hope you have your family nearby. That will help. But if you’re honest with them, and if they’re honest with you, everyone’s going to be disappointed in you and miss when you were still a couple. They might even say so. That will make you feel bad and you’ll want to see your family less.

What to Do if You Want to Get a Divorce

You think it might be cool? You think it’s going to be a bunch of sex with hot strangers and parties and football with the boys?

Maybe it will. Maybe you really will like the single life better.

No one to tell you you’re making them feel bad. No one to interrupt you watching Thursday Night Football. No one to tell you you can’t order pizza from your favorite place. No one to nag you about your laundry or bathroom habits.

It will be just like high school or college again! Freedom!

You’re wrong. But you’re a guy. So you’re not going to listen to me anyway.

If you want to get a divorce, just go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing. Watching Bones reruns. Playing video games. Ignoring her.

But here’s the thing: I know you don’t really want to get divorced.

If you did, you’d have already filed.

You want to stay married. I’d like to help.

What to Do if You Want to Stay Married

First, evaluate your wife’s state of being.

If she’s acting scared and needy and clingy or nagging and begging for attention, that’s a GOOD thing. That means she hasn’t reached the apathetic stage yet where she’s highly likely to sleep with other men, leave you, or both.

If she’s acting like a different person. Quiet. Reserved. Doesn’t “bother” you as much about the stuff that troubles her, I’ve got bad news, man. It’s not because it’s no longer bothering her or that she’s turned a corner and understands you more now.

It’s because she doesn’t give a shit about you, she’s learning to do everything by herself as she prepares for her life as a single, divorced woman, and she might be having sex with someone else. If she’s not, she’s strongly entertaining the idea.

She’d rather pleasure herself while thinking about your friend or her co-worker or some blogger she’s never met than have you touch her.

Chew on that for a minute.

She needs to feel something. And every night you choose TV, beer, video games, whatever, over her. She’s given you a million and a half chances. And you just keep doing the wrong thing.

It’s not okay for her to go have sex with someone else. It’s not. I’m not defending her.

But it does make sense, right? When you process it in that non-emotional, logical brain of yours?

The thing we all crave the most is happiness. You make her sad. If you didn’t have children, money, real estate and family ties, she’d already be gone.

I can’t promise that if you do any of these things, she’ll forgive you. But I do promise you’ll give yourself a fighting chance to keep your marriage and family intact.

  1. Do not say anything negative toward her for an entire day. Once you pull that off, go an entire week. If you can do it for an entire week, you can do it forever. Say kind things. Not mean things. Every day. When you mess up, apologize. Twice.
  2. Hug her daily. Mean it. While you’re hugging her, ask this question: “What can I do for you to make your day better?” You’re going to want her to say have sex with her. But she’s not going to. She’s going to want you to clean the kitchen, bathe the kids and walk the dog. She’s going to want you to do those things so that she has time to do two loads of laundry AND maybe take a bath or whatever she likes to do when she has a precious few minutes to herself. Ask that question every day with love and sincerity. Do whatever she asks to the best of your ability, without complaining about it. Do that enough times, and she’s going to want you to have sex with her. And it’s going to feel like it used to. Yay you. You’re making progress.
  3. Flirt with her. Not pervy-douchebag flirt, either, unless she takes it to the dirty place herself. Send her a nice text once or twice a day: “Thinking about you. Please let me know what I can do to make your day better,” and later “I can’t wait to see you later. I hope you know how loved and wanted you are.”
  4. Kiss her. The really nice kind. The first-date kind. Don’t try to have sex with her. Do this three or four times per week. If she makes you have sex with her one of those times, it’s okay.
  5. Take one of her “jobs” away from her. The one she likes the least. You know how she always does laundry and you always mow the lawn? How she always does the dishes and you always take out the trash? Take one of those off her plate. Ask her which one. And take it. And work your ass off to do a good job. You’ll learn to respect how challenging her life is, how amazing she is at multi-tasking and time-management, and you’ll get another taste of how much shittier your life would be as a single guy doing all of this alone. Why should you take one of her jobs away? Because she does more than you do. And if you want a successful marriage, you have to give more than you take. You give her support. She gets more time to relax and feel good about her life. You get a happy wife who wants to have sex with you. The good kind of sex. Everyone wins.
  6. If you’re not exercising, start. You don’t have to be Adonis. You just have to not be a fat slob. You might be surprised how far 50 pushups, 50 sit-ups and 60 seconds in the plank position can take you right when you wake up, and right before bed. We’re talking 10-15 minutes a day, tops.
  7. Learn about your wife. Two parts. First, read a book about why women do what they do. There are several. You’ve probably heard of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I personally prefer How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. It’s a book that will gain fast credibility with you because the authors clearly understand why you do and feel many of the things you do. You’ll appreciate that they “get” you. And then you’ll believe them when they tell you why your wife does and feels the things she does. And if you have an empathetic bone in your body, you’ll instantly feel terrible for all of the pain you’ve caused the person you love over the years, and you’ll learn how to communicate in healthy ways. You’ll learn why you have the same fights over and over and over again about the exact same things. It’s NOT just you! It’s every couple. Everyone has the same natural instincts and tendencies and defense mechanisms that cause conflict in our human relationships. And once you learn what those are, you can navigate those waters. The “mystery” of women that you hear other guys talk about. It’s not a mystery. She REALLY IS different than you. Don’t treat her like a man. Second, learn about your wife like you did when you first started dating. Because she’s not the same person she used to be. She’s matured. Maybe she’s a mother now. Maybe she doesn’t like the missionary position as much as used to. She has different hopes and dreams than she used to. And if you help her achieve them? You can have a truly happy life and marriage. And that’s what I want for you. And for her. And for your children. And for your friends. And for your extended family.

Or you can just get divorced like me.

You can spend Christmas Day alone. You can never have sex. You can never have anyone there to listen to how hard your day was. You can do all of your laundry alone. The house is REALLY quiet when you’re folding laundry alone. You can pay all the bills yourself. Hope you’re good at managing time and money. You can watch movies and television shows alone. You can never see all of your old couples friends. You can clean the kitchen and bathrooms alone. Or you can let them get disgusting as a daily reminder of just how far you’ve fallen.

Please fight for your life and family.

Like a warrior.

She’s worth it.

And so are you.

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. 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

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

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