Tag Archives: Perseverance

Is ‘Happy Marriage’ a Myth?

unicorn

Deanna asked:

“I’m sleeping alone after 5 years of marriage for the second time to the same man. Yes, the first time around it was about this long before we’d arrive at this point too. We took 7 years off before embarking on Round 2. We are absolutely headed for another divorce. Because I’m not a complete idiot, I don’t plan to take this lovely ride a third time, however, I do wonder if it’s even worth bothering pairing up with anyone in the future. I’m 38 and will be an official empty-nester once I’m single (183 days before the kid graduates and a clean break can be made). Reading your posts and subsequent comments it seems like I’d be up for more of the same even with a different man. I’m not interested in switching teams so my question is if flying solo is just the best way to go? Does anyone ever get this shit right?”

Does anyone ever get this shit right?

I think about that question all the time. In case you were too lazy to read Deanna’s question, “shit,” in this case, refers to marriage.

Does anyone ever have a happy and successful marriage?, is what Deanna asked.

That’s a vexing question. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Of the half that do not, how many are comprised of sad, angry and depressed people who want out of their marriages but feel trapped? How many are having affairs, or wish they were? How many scream and fight every day or get physically abusive? How many sleep in separate bedrooms and never have sex? How many are pocked by unhealthy addiction or criminal behavior? How many are absentee parents with children who hate them, or themselves, and think about committing suicide because they feel abandoned and unloved?

Most of these are obvious and observable. So, here’s the one that frightens me most: How many of the couples who appear to do everything right, and have joyful, cooperative, peaceful, loving, stable marriages are faking it and actually have creepy skeletons and tell-tale hearts hidden beneath the surface?

The Dream World vs. The Real World

One of our many life problems is that we live in two worlds: The real one we experience every day which is filled with frequent frustration, annoyance, pain, horror, stress (but also some good things!); and the magical (and make-believe) dream one where everything functions ideally all the time.

Let’s use abstinence-only sex education as an example.

OF COURSE the world would be better if young, unmarried people never had sex. A lot of very decent, well-meaning people believe God has a rule punishable by eternal damnation that says: DO NOT have sex outside of marriage.

Since these people’s top priority in life is to raise children to make good choices and avoid eternities of fiery torment, they want to teach abstinence-only sex education classes to them. To discuss “safe sex” and pass out free condoms is tantamount to encouraging teenagers to have immoral and irresponsible sex that endangers both their physical and spiritual lives.

There are two things going on here, and both are true:

  1. If unmarried people never had sex, a bunch of awesome things would happen overnight: Unwanted pregnancy, sexually-transmitted disease, adultry, rape, prostitution, the emotional guilt-and-shame rollercoaster, child pornography and molestation all vanish instantly, and a bunch of ancillary things like kidnapping, child sex slavery, prostitution, pornography and murder all undergo dramatic transformations which project to benefit humankind.
  2. Unmarried people, including teenagers who shouldn’t, are going to have sex whether God or we want them to, or not.

Buck all you want, but the conservative goody-two-shoes people (no matter what you believe about a particular deity or religion) are totally right: Unbridled hedonism fucks up a lot of stuff.

HOWEVER, in a real-world application designed to prepare teenagers for adulthood and educate them about sex, is it really practical to throw a bunch of moral platitudes at them, and expect everything to work out fine?

Ideally, I’m with the moralists on this one. My list of bad things that goes away when the world abides by The Jesus Sex Rules™ (not to be confused with The Jesús Sex Rules, which may or may not involve donkeys in Tijuana) seems like a worthwhile tradeoff.

But, practically? It doesn’t seem wise or pragmatic to avoid reality when teaching teens about sex. Adding more horny and confused ignoramuses to the populace only exacerbates our problems.

WTF are We Talking About? Donkey Shows?

No. We’re talking about whether anyone ever gets marriage correct. Are there really people out there who wake up every day feeling good and have a great time (without being conned) in their married lives?

The answer is: I don’t know. There are 7.4 billion people in the world, and I only really know what it’s like to be one of them.

I don’t know anything. Ever.

But I always think things.

And I THINK there are people who have great lives and happy, honest, healthy marriages that last forever involving real, actual love.

Most People Aren’t Up to It Because it’s Hard

Does anyone ever really lose weight when they make New Year’s Resolutions?

Yep.

Does anyone ever really succeed when they quit a job to start a business?

Uh-huh.

Does anyone ever really overcome hardship and rise to greatness?

Totally.

Most people have shitty marriages because IT’S REALLY HARD TO HAVE A GREAT ONE.

We all think it should be easy. “Love should be easy! It’s love! I love my mom and dad and best friend and puppy! If it’s difficult, then it wasn’t meant to be! Since it isn’t easy, we’re probably just not right for each other! I’m pretty sure my soul mate is that hot co-worker in Accounting!”

Marriage has such a high failure rate because most of us are ignorant assholes. We lack a fundamental understanding of what marriage IS NOT, and we demonstrate a complete inability to understand the subjective experience of our opposite-sex partners (I won’t pretend to understand how this might play in same-sex relationships). We make a grave error in assuming that whenever something happens, two different humans observe and interpret it the same. That never happens. Some people like crocheting more than watching football. Some people like tofu salads more than pizza. Some people like polka music more than… well, any music that doesn’t suck.

Any two people are going to view the world differently. That tends to be exacerbated further between the two genders.

The same patterns always emerge between husbands/boyfriends and their wives/girlfriends. He does this. She responds this way. She does this. He responds that way. And all of those choices and responses mixed together end up getting you a shit sandwich with rotting lettuce and divorce mayonnaise on moldy rye, no matter what you intended to order.

People are foolish enough to believe it might work with someone else, so they start sleeping with them, or end their marriage thinking it will all work out with the more-awesome person they’ll get with next time.

But, SURPRISE! The divorce rate for second marriages is actually 17-percent higher! A lovely 67 percent!

That’s right. After gaining all that wisdom and life experience and learning from past mistakes, people get marriage wrong the second time even more than when they were understandably young and stupid.

But some people are wise.

They KNOW, really and truly, how hard marriage is and the level of commitment required to make it last forever. And they WANT to. They’re pretty smart, honest, decent people with the best intentions for their spouse, children, extended family and friends.

And they STILL fuck it up. They neglect their wives emotionally because they’re selfish. They shame and belittle their husbands because he’s different (Read: not as good as) than my father. They let their powerful and hard-to-reign-in human emotions run rampant, constantly pushing one another away because I’m right and they owe me an apology!

Most people get divorced or have unhealthy marriages because it’s really hard to have good marriages. It requires the same level of sacrificial dedication it takes for obese people to shed weight through disciplined exercise and healthy eating. It requires the same level of attention successful entrepreneurs put into product development, market research, branding and customer acquisition. It requires the same amount of inner-strength and fortitude people use to overcome enormous life obstacles to rise to great success and inspire others.

‘Is flying solo the best way to go?’

Here’s the toughest thing to swallow about marriage, and what makes finding a great one so rare: It’s INCREDIBLY difficult to find a human being with the strength and discipline required to love their spouse enough to give more to them every day than they ask for themselves.

And even when you do find one? It’s barely half of what’s needed for a marriage to survive. A marriage will NEVER work with one hero trying to do all the heavy lifting while their partner just selfishly derpy-derps their way through life, never sacrificing in return.

Great marriages are unicorns because the ONLY way for them to exist is for TWO PEOPLE to have the unwavering will and discipline to wake up every day, no matter what, and choose to love the person next to them, regardless of how they might be feeling through life’s perpetual ups and downs.

Good marriages are impossible without it.

“Why does my marriage suck?” people wonder. That’s why. Because you don’t give enough, and your partner doesn’t give enough, and your love and respect and kindness for them is conditional. You only treat them well when its convenient and doesn’t require swallowing any pride. And you can’t stop hurting one another because you don’t even know that what you’re doing hurts them. And you don’t care enough to ask.

But look on the bright side, there’s a 33-percent chance you’ll get it right next time! (That wasn’t directed at you, Deanna.)

In conclusion:

Deanna. I don’t know whether I’ll ever marry again. No clue. I felt so bad after my divorce, that avoiding a situation in which I might feel that again seemed like a wise play.

I think most people feel that way.

In The Dream World, we would live the rest of our single lives feeling free and independent and having an amazing time pursuing whatever passion, idea or interest popped into our little heads, and we’d die someday old and admired and regret-free as our many friends and family celebrated our life well-lived with champaigne and tequila.

But we live in The Real World.

And in the real world, our hearts and souls (and privates) want to reach out and connect to others. We are confusingly and mysteriously and beautifully wired for connection.

The benefits of happy, healthy relationships, and of love and companionship are well documented. People live longer and better when they have reasons to. For most people, that’s loved ones.

Flying solo sounds like a fine idea.

Like crazy European sex parties. And eating cake and ice cream for every meal. And snorting cocaine all the time because it feels so good.

What could possibly go wrong!?

However—and I reiterate that I don’t know, but simply think—figuring out what it takes to make the relationships we naturally crave last a lifetime is a better strategy.

What if we asked:

What do I need to learn in order to be an amazing partner so they always feel loved and want to be with me?

What have I failed to do up to this point that might have helped me choose a partner who wouldn’t want to end our marriage? How can I do better next time?

But, Deanna… if you’ll forgive this one overstep… you and he chose each other not once, but TWICE. (Which is a little bit poetic and beautiful.)

If we already know that marriages to second partners fail more frequently than with our first, and we know our hearts and souls (and privates) crave companionship, and that we are our best selves when we have it, maybe there are better questions:

What can I do today to make ME better?

What could I do today to help save my marriage?

What if doing so changed everything?

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The Pursuit of Happiness

I think I know where happiness lies. I just don't think it's easy to get there. But isn't the climb worth it?

I think I know where happiness lies. I just don’t think it’s easy to get there. But isn’t the climb worth it?

People chase money.

They chase sex. Fame. Status.

They chase adventure. Education. Fitness.

People chase fun. Friendship. Spiritual peace.

In the end, people are chasing these things day in and day out because they believe achieving them will make them feel good.

We don’t really want millions of dollars. We just want to not be enslaved to debt. To never be stressed about unexpected bills. To never worry about how we’re going to pay for something. To have the means to acquire things or participate in various activities.

We want to do all those things because we believe doing so will enrich our lives.

It’s the pursuit of happiness.

Misery Loves Company

I was several hundred words into another post when a friend texted. Her marriage is on the rocks. Has been for a long time.

She had a rough weekend with her husband.

Then something happened, triggering some atypical emotional responses in her.

“It sent me into a tailspin,” she said. “I’m questioning EVERYTHING.”

I know how you feel.

It doesn’t take much, sometimes.

I told her we both suffer from the same problem.

That we’re both in phases in our lives where we’re simply waking up every day, doing what’s required of us, and trying to not die.

It’s a wholly dissatisfying way to live.

There’s little fun. There’s no peace. And happiness is a long-forgotten stranger.

A figment of my imagination, it seems. Something I remember feeling, but not what the actual experience is like.

Like a decadent dessert you tried long ago.

You don’t remember the flavor. Only that it was beautiful and that you want to taste it again.

What I Want

I texted my friend: “What do you want? Be specific.

“To me, the only thing that makes sense is to write down specifically what you want. Really specific.

“Then, only do things that get you closer to those things.

“Everything else is a colossal waste of time and energy.

“We don’t have a lot of time.”

Well, alright then, Matt. Try not to be a hypocritical douchebag for once in your life.

What do you really want?

  1. I want a partner who I love and trust. I want to share the same life philosophies. I want to share meals and laughs and drinks and friends with her. I want to have ridiculously adventurous and spirited sex that would make all of my friends jealous if they only knew. And I want to always be giving more to the relationship than I’m taking.
  2. I want to be a good father to my son. I want to set a good example for him spiritually, intellectually, financially and socially.
  3. I want to spend more time surrounded by friends and family.
  4. I want to wake up every day, write whatever I want, and make enough money to maintain whatever lifestyle I choose.
  5. I want to be at my physical peak. Because I like how I feel when I am. I like feeling wanted. I like having mountains of energy. I like being strong.
  6. I want to live a life where I help other people acquire all of the things on their What I Want lists.
  7. I want to achieve spiritual peace.

So, what do I need to be doing right now, and tomorrow morning, and the next day, and the next to achieve those things?

  1. I can’t do anything about #1. But it will come. I can concentrate on the rest.
  2. I can be a better man, I can read more, I can be more financially disciplined, and I can be a better friend.
  3. I need only reach out and make the effort to be with those I love.
  4. I don’t know that I can do much more than I’m doing. I need to read more. Get smarter. Get wiser. Practice the craft. And maybe, if the stars align, someone will decide to trade money for words. Goonies never say die.
  5. Work out. Stop being a chump. Make the effort. Every day. First a little, then a lot. I need it. Excuses are bullshit.
  6. I do try to help people. Perhaps I can do a much better job. Ask more questions. Listen thoughtfully. Then, when possible, take meaningful action to help others achieve their dreams.
  7. All I need to do is say “Thank you” every single chance I get and be good even when no one’s watching. That will be an excellent step toward being the man I want to be.

I don’t want to be rich.

I don’t want to be famous.

I don’t want to be popular.

I just want to feel, deep within me, the peace and happiness that has eluded me in adulthood.

And I believe so strongly that it can only be achieved through great effort.

That this world gives you what you put into it.

That you must ALWAYS give more than you take.

In your human relationships.

In your professional relationships.

In your spiritual relationship.

You can sit around like me. Play the victim card. Why me, God? Why?

Or you can actually do something.

Happiness isn’t hiding behind that bush over there.

It’s big and shiny and on display for the world to see.

Only it sits atop a mountain. A big one.

And the weak can’t get there. The lazy can’t capture it.

Without strength, without discipline, without resolve, without faith, without perseverance, without courage, the climb will break your spirit.

Better to just sit staring longingly at the summit?

Or to prepare for the difficult climb?

I’m tired of this shit.

The climb must begin.

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The First Date, Vol. 2

Diamonds. Virtually unbreakable. Not unlike my date. The jewelry store girl. Who knows what will happen next? I'm not sure it matters. But I'm grateful to have met her. And I've already grown because of it.

Diamonds. Virtually unbreakable. Not unlike my date. The jewelry store girl. Who knows what will happen next? I’m not sure it matters. But I’m grateful to have met her. And I’ve already grown because of it.

My shirt was untucked so she wouldn’t see the pleats.

I was running late from work and hadn’t had time to change.

I pulled into a parking space in front of the jewelry store where I had promised to pick her up 20 minutes earlier.

I hope she’s not too mad, I thought.

I beeped my horn for her to hurry. Applebee’s was probably going to be slamming.

She tried to tell me about her day at work, but I was only half listening while answering some text messages and driving at the same time.

I can only do so many things at once, lady!

Rod Stewart was blowing my mind on the radio and I turned him up so she would know to change the subject.

We got to Applebee’s and sat down right away. The Olive Garden next door was packing them in because of unlimited salad and breadsticks so we totally lucked out at the neighborhood grill and bar.

I invited her to order anything she wanted… so long as it was on the Two for $20 menu. Like a boss.

She texted one of her friends, probably telling her what a charmer I was.

I’m getting lucky tonight, baby.

<Insert vinyl record-screeching sound here.> C’mon now. Non-punctuality? Applebee’s? Rod Stewart!?!? You didn’t really believe that.

Only the untucked-shirt part of that story was true.

I arrived right when I said I would.

I sipped a sugar-free Red Bull because I didn’t want to yawn during our dinner conversation. I brought her a bottle of water, just in case. She appreciated it.

She’d had a tough day, she said. She manages a jewelry store owned by a man she calls her dad, but who isn’t her biological father. The vast majority of day-to-day responsibilities at the shop belong to her. Almost every day, she experiences all of the negatives of being a business owner without any of the financial perks. I bet it’s exhausting.

It took about a half hour to drive to the restaurant. We were a little early but were still able to get a table pretty quickly.

She likes sweet wines.

I prefer dry reds.

So, we ordered by the glass.

The conversation was effortless. I remember being curious what we would discuss. Wondering whether personal topics would be broached.

Her divorce was finalized only a month ago. And from a separation standpoint—she is three months behind me on the healing curve.

She’s an incredibly open person. Just puts it right out there. No walls. I’m learning to appreciate that more and more.

It’s amazing what you can learn about someone in five hours—the length of our time together. More on that later.

Dating as a Divorced Adult

The stark differences between 34-year-old me and 20-year-old me were on full display last night.

I seriously didn’t think about sex one time. Okayyyy. Maybe once. But only because I have a man brain and she mentioned a couple tattoos.

Honestly, there was zero sexual tension as there would have been several years ago.

Maybe because we’re both still reeling from our marriages ending.

Maybe because it felt foreign to be sitting in a dimly lit restaurant with a relative stranger.

Maybe because we didn’t drink enough.

Maybe because we consumed 89,000 calories.

Maybe because she thought I was stupid and ugly, but faked it well.

Not thinking about sex is a wonderful thing. It helps you focus on substance. On listening.

And you are less anxious as a result. No one likes anxiety.

On the flipside, I was worried about feeling pressure because the stakes are so much higher now as an adult. At least on paper.

When you’re young and a date goes bad? Who cares?

I could have two more the next day!

When you’re Divorced Single-Dad Guy who knows approximately ZERO single people?

The field narrows.

So, it’s like: OMG! OMG! I gotta be amazing! Brilliant! Funny! Sexy! Skinnier! Richer! Stronger! Braver! Taller!

Because if I don’t, maybe it will be another seven months before I meet an attractive available woman to share dinner with.

When you’re young, you have your entire life ahead of you. You’re only worried about which club or pub or keg party you’re going to attend this weekend.

When you’re me?

You wonder how many weeks it will be before you’re even able to coordinate schedules to be in the same place at the same time again.

She has a very hectic professional and personal schedule.

I have my son half the time.

So, even if she wants to see me again—and I am inclined to ask—it could seriously be, like, January the next time we’re both available.

But maybe I’m just exaggerating. I totally do that sometimes.

A New Kind of Tough

This woman is a brand of tough that would take me a long time to fully understand.

Hers is a story filled with tragedy and heartache. And you only know it because she’s not afraid of telling you who she is.

She’s been through so much shit that she doesn’t know shame. She doesn’t know fear.

I’m whining about divorce all the time.

And divorce is just barely sneaking into the Top 10 of her Shitty Things That Have Happened to Me list.

I hesitate to share her story, even though three times she has told me to write whatever I wanted.

But I also want to give you a taste of who I spent five hours with last night. Because so much of it surprised me. That pleasant, smiling, pretty girl behind the counter of a family owned jeweler? How could she have baggage? How could she be tainted by all the shit?

Here’s how:

Her mother abandoned her, leaving a 21-year-old father to raise a baby daughter alone.

Her father loved and cherished her. He painted. Made crafts for his daughter. Took her fishing. Loved music. Metallica. Aerosmith.

But we all have demons.

My date’s father was a drinker. Like my dad, in a lot of ways. Because he never had any of the problems commonly associated with alcoholism. He went to work. Maintained healthy relationships. Stayed out of trouble. No violence or sexual misconduct or anything like that.

He just drank.

My date recalled stories growing up in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her dad.

“I went for the coffee and donuts,” she said.

Sometimes, her father’s hands would shake from withdraw symptoms, so they would only fill his coffee cup a small amount to avoid spilling.

A total goofball, his adoring daughter called him.

Her father was killed in a car accident when she was 12.

Mom’s been gone forever. And then the person who matters most is gone, too. Out of nowhere.

My chest tightened as I started to see my date for who she was. As I started to realize the depths of trauma and tragedy that have touched her.

She started tearing up. She almost never does that, she said.

The waitress showed up right then. I hoped she didn’t think I made my date cry.

She regrouped quickly. Told me happier stories about her father’s art. She has one of the last paintings he ever made. Showed me a photo of it. A small boat nestled up against a palm-treed peninsula or island. Calm waters off on the horizon. I liked it.

She also lost a best friend unexpectedly. I don’t know the details. I just know she’s an only child like me and keeps her best friends close. Which makes it extra brutal, all that she’s endured.

By the time her failed marriage came up, I had a healthy dose of perspective.

A healthy dose of gratitude.

And an inkling of a clue as to the kind of woman I was with.

A special one.

Whatever Comes Next

She likes football.

And playing card games.

And non-traditional family.

She likes making crafts—really creative things with a needle and thread.

And designing jewelry.

And music.

She wants to learn how to play guitar to honor her father. She worries about her small hands, though.

She has reconnected with her biological grandmother who she didn’t know growing up. They sew together now, and have built a loyal and loving grandmother-granddaughter relationship.

She likes the number 13. I always have, too. We joked about how shitty 2013 was for us despite our affinity for those digits.

I have absolutely no idea what my future is with this woman.

Perhaps friendship.

Perhaps nothing.

Perhaps something.

I don’t know that it matters. Which was my favorite part of going on my first date in 14 years.

Because I don’t care what happens next. Whatever happens next will happen.

The world will keep spinning.

The sun will rise and set.

The clocks will keep reminding us that yesterday is yesterday, we can’t know what tomorrow will bring and that we only have right now.

And today I choose gratitude.

Because someone volunteered to share a moment with me.

Because someone trusted me enough to share their deepest wounds and vulnerabilities.

Because someone proved to me that no matter what happens next, there is life after divorce, there is life after death, there is as much life as we choose to live.

This too shall pass.

I’m inspired by her perseverance. By her courage. By her fearlessness.

I’m inspired by her ability to love after all of the, just, totally epic pile of shit she has endured since forever.

I’m inspired by her faith. That her spirit endures. That she wants to discover more, and be generous, and love her friends and family.

The world tried to break her.

But she wakes up every day, and says: “Not today, bitch.”

I can use a little more of that in my life.

And, platonic or otherwise, I hope to do that very thing.

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