Tag Archives: Psychology

Influence Your Relationship Using the 6 Principles of Persuasion

influence

(Image/justinmarroquin.com)

Most divorce and breakups could be avoided if the partner most dedicated to the relationship could effectively persuade or influence the other to adjust their behavior or communication habits in relationship-strengthening ways.

You know—theoretically.

In real life, the problem often lies in one person believing their ideas, opinions and ways of doing things are right while their partner’s hare-brained ideas, opinions and stupid way of doing things are wrong.

Sadly, it frequently breaks down along gender lines.

It’s good for all of the people who can benefit from the whole Mars/Venus, Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti concept.

It’s bad for all of the people who don’t fit neatly into those molds, and value things like equality and not being pigeonholed by stereotypical labels.

I think most rapists and serial killers are white men. It would be awesome if people didn’t assume I’m a threat to rape or kill someone based on my gender and skin color. I think other people with different skin colors and gender profiles probably feel the same.

Yet, mountains of Gottman Institute data has demonstrated that the top predictor of divorce has direct ties to gendered behavior, and that is: A husband’s willingness to accept his wife’s influence has the greatest statistical correlation to, and is the No. 1 predictor of, whether or not a marriage will last.

Sorry guys.

Understanding What Influences Human Behavior

That’s a powerful word.

Influence.

I like it. I like how it sounds, what it means, and the idea of people being influential (if you’re not an evil dickface planning a poison Kool-Aid® party or whatever).

Setting aside my belief that many men are accidentally sexist because of their Father Knows Best upbringings where they were exposed to women catering to, or being belittled by, men who were the bosses, primary decision makers, and group or organizational leaders by virtue of their stoic manliness and not being slaves to their emotions and menstrual cycles like all those diaper-changing, laundry-folding, lunch-packing women… setting all that to the side for a moment…

Human beings, regardless of gender or any other categorical label, often believe things or react emotionally to things in ways that are radically different than another person. It happens all the time, every day, in every conceivable type of relationship or life scenario.

First, something happens.

Then one person thinks and feels one way about it. And another person thinks and feels something different. It’s common for the two people to debate whose thoughts and feelings are better, or right, or most accurate.

Sometimes the debates are reasonably friendly and/or professional.

Other times, such disagreements can lead to name-calling, or fist fights, or divorce, or homicide, or violent riots and rebellion, or one country bombing another country.

It’s a problem.

An incalculable amount of human misery is generated by the equivalent of someone with colorblindness identifying something as being green (the color they accurately see) fighting with someone who sees the same object as being red.

When we tell people that their feelings and life experiences are wrong, and deny honoring their wants or needs simply because they’re not the same as ours, we end up breaking a lot of things AND being stupid assholes. Because if we had the same eyes and brain as the person we’re talking to, we’d see the color green, too.

The 6 Principles of Influence and Persuasion

The most sensible solution, I believe, is to master the skill of empathy and teach it to our children at home and in schools.

But that’s like saying the most sensible solution to our financial problems is finding hidden pirate treasure or riding our pet unicorns to Leprechaun McGee’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The transformation of the current human race into a more empathetic version that won’t fight and troll one another on the internet at every opportunity will probably take longer than it takes my 8-year-old to put his shoes on before school. (An inexplicably and painfully long time.)

So, we turn to the next-best thing: Persuasion.

We develop the ability to influence those within our influential sphere—the most important being our marriage/relationship partners, our children, our co-workers, etc.

The long-time thought leader in the psychology-of-persuasion space is a man named Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and author of the classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini spent 35 years studying what moves people to change behavior, and broke it down into six basic principles.

Cialdini wrote the book to help people protect themselves from manipulative mind tricks (from con artists and shady sales pitches), and to help marketers tap into the human psyche ethically to succeed in their profession.

But since only a small percentage of people work in marketing and since I believe marriages and families matter more than product sales, I thought it might be interesting to explore how we could use persuasive behavior to positively influence our partners in an effort to strengthen our relationships.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

We feel indebted to people who give us gifts or do nice things for us. And we are societally conditioned to think of people unwilling to reciprocate favors as assholes. And since we don’t want to be assholes, we are much more likely to do things for people who have done things for us.

“The implication is that you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return,” Cialdini said.

I know what many of you are thinking: “But Matt!!! That’s bullshit!!! I do EVERYTHING for my spouse and children, and they don’t do anything for me!!!”

I get it.

Your partner and/or family takes you for granted. Welcome to the human experience.

This exercise isn’t about what feels fair.

It’s about influencing another human being to do something we want them to do. When we are willing to go first, and give before we try to get, we have a MUCH greater chance of cooperation from anyone.

What nice thing could we do for our partners that they don’t expect that might earn us a kind and empathetic ear when we want to ask them to do something for us?

Principle #2: Social Proof

When people are uncertain about a particular course of action, we tend to look around for cues from others to help guide our actions and decisions.

Cialdini and a research team conducted an experiment to see what type of messaging on hotel room signs would result in hotel guests reusing their bathroom towels.

Sign #1 cited environmental reasons.

Sign #2 said the hotel would donate a portion of laundry savings to an environmental cause.

Sign #3 said the hotel had already made the donation and asked “Will you please join us?”

Sign #4 said the majority of hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay.

When guests were told that most other hotel guests were reusing their towels, they were more likely to comply with the request. Sign #4 got 48 percent of experiment participants to reuse their towels.

I would STRONGLY discourage someone from telling their spouse that “So-and-so does all these great things for his/her spouse! Why can’t you do them for me, loser?” and contrasting undesirable behavior with something that looks more attractive. That will prove counterproductive.

But, how might we use proven, successful relationship behavior from other people to help influence our partners to change a harmful behavior?

Principle #3: Commitment and Consistency

Obviously, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do. That probably includes more than half of everyone who has ever made a public marriage vow.

However, the science is the science. People are more likely to do something after agreeing to it verbally or in writing.

People strive for consistency in their commitments, and prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions, Cialdini said.

How might we (with kindness and good intentions) get our partners to reaffirm their commitments to our relationships in ways that might foster more connection and positive love- and intimacy-related feelings?

Principle #4: Liking

“People prefer to say yes to those they know and like,” Cialdini said.

Physical attraction, shared traits, and being paid compliments MAJORLY influences who we like.

People struggling in shitty relationships often love, but don’t really “like” being around, their partners. Try to look beyond that for a minute.

In the context of this psychological principle, something super-subtle like having a similar name nearly doubled the likelihood of someone responding to a survey request by actually participating in it.

For example, someone named Robert James was almost twice as likely (56% to 30%) to comply with a request if asked by someone with a similar name like Bob Ames, than he was by someone named Matt Fray.

The key takeaway for relationships, I believe, is learning how to be knowledgeable about our partner’s existing preferences.

Sales people greatly improve their chances of making a sale by demonstrating that they understand their customer’s personal preferences.

Couldn’t that same principle work in our behavior toward our spouses?

Principle #5: Authority

Most people tend to respect authority figures. Not just our bosses at work or police officers, but even people like the medical office workers checking our insurance cards and asking us to fill out sign-in sheets at our doctor appointments, and others, such as flight attendants.

That’s why con artists commonly pose as company officials via email, on the phone, or by wearing some type of uniform when they knock on doors. It’s to appear “official” and authoritarian.

We tend to follow the lead of real experts.

There are an endless amount of helpful resources on improving relationships and marriage, with one of the most obvious being the Gottman Institute, and their science-based approach using big data to uncover the secrets of happy marriages, and the hallmark traits of relationships that are doomed.

How can we cleverly use an authentic expert to influence our partner to take a certain action?

Principle #6: Scarcity

Ahh. Good ol’ scarcity.

The genesis of all “Act fast! These deals end soon!” messaging and the reason why those brilliant countdown clocks on Amazon and Living Social products sometimes prompt us to click that “Buy Now” button sooner than we might otherwise.

It’s the most basic premise of economic theory: The less there is of something, the more valuable it is.

People are drawn to, and willing to overpay for, rare and uncommon things that other people also want.

Cialdini didn’t need to conduct any new experiments to prove that people OFTEN want what they can’t have.

This bears out in shitty marriages all the time. Husbands frequently demonstrate indifference in their romantic relationships with their wives, and fight with her when she calls him on it, but then freak out and cry a lot when she finally decides to leave him.

That’s kind of how it went for me, too.

While it might be tempting to threaten divorce or withhold sex in a misguided effort to manipulate our partner in a reverse-psychology sort of way, I think any relationship-damaging behavior (which any type of cruel or unloving manipulation would be) defeats the purpose of using persuasion and influence to strengthen our connections with those we love.

But the question remains: How can we use the SUPER-powerful “Fear of missing out” phenomenon to influence our partners in healthy ways to adjust a behavior that might save or strengthen our marriage?

Influencing others isn’t about luck or sorcery. It’s science.

It’s simply caring about something enough to figure out how it functions, and how best to care for it to keep it operating at a high level for a very long time.

It’s simply caring enough about the people we love to figure out how best to care for them in a way that keeps their hearts, minds and spirits functioning at high levels for a very long time.

Like, longer than my son’s putting-his-shoes-on process.

Like, forever.

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She Divorced Me Because I Was Nicer to Strangers Than I Was to Her

couple fighting in public

(Image/Bao Moi)

I was usually nicer to strangers than I was to my wife.

People I didn’t know and would never see again. I treated them with patience, courtesy and politeness.

But the person who lived in the same house, gave birth to my son, and did more for me than anyone else? I often didn’t extend those same courtesies to her.

While I was oblivious to most of my missteps as a husband, I was fully aware of this—something I’ve noticed about myself from childhood: I sometimes treat total strangers better than the people I love most.

From age 5 on, I lived with my mom nine months out of the year. I lived with my dad, who lived hundreds of miles away, the other three months (school breaks).

I was observably nicer to my dad than my mom.

Throughout my relationship with my wife, she would point out instances when she felt I was being mean, or impatient, or thoughtless toward her, and that it hurt her feelings because as she was feeling that way, she could see me being kind, patient and thoughtful toward others, even strangers. She wondered why I couldn’t treat her that way, too.

My defense was always something like: “I LOVE you. I married you. Everything I have is yours,” arguing that should somehow earn me the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t know why I did that, felt that, or thought that.

I have a little boy in third grade who I love in ways I don’t know how to articulate. He’s my favorite everything.

But sometimes, I’m kind of a dick to him, and I hate it.

When he gets crumbs on the floor, or makes some mistake that is probably super-standard for little boys in third grade, or otherwise “fails” whatever expectations I have for him in a given moment, I sometimes respond with anger and a little harshness.

Sometimes I imagine if the last words I ever said to him were angry or prick-ish, and then I died in a car accident or something.

I almost feel like crying when I mentally put myself there.

I was nicer to other adults than I was to my parents.

I was nicer to other people than I was to my wife.

I was and am sometimes nicer to other children than I was or am to my son.

We know that we love the people we love. But the people we love only know we love them when they see, hear and feel evidence of that love. They don’t just psychically or magically feel good because of our thoughts and intentions.

When we are nicer to others than we are to them, they can begin to question whether we actually do love them.

I don’t know what that does to a parent when their child treats others better than them as I’m still in My Dad Can Do No Wrong Land, which will surely go away in the next couple of years. Not looking forward to finding out what that’s like.

Bad things happen to children who feel unloved and unaccepted by their parents.

And bad things happen to people who feel unloved, unwanted or rejected by their spouses.

All because we sometimes treat strangers better than people we love.

As Always, You’re Not the Only One

The term is “selfobject.” And you and I have “selfobject needs” and when these needs go unfulfilled, we lose our sense of self, feel shittier about our lives, treat ourselves and other people worse, and inadvertently damage all of our relationships, including our marriages.

Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut figured this out and coined the term in the mid-twentieth century, and therapist F. Diane Barth illustrated it with examples from one of her married-couple clients in her excellent article “Why It’s Easier to be Kind to Strangers Than Our Partners” which I discovered by typing almost that exact phrase into Google.

“At some point in every relationship, partners, parents, siblings, friends, and even children provide psychological and emotional functions for us that we cannot provide for ourselves.”

Most people—even non-parents—can probably relate to married couple Bob and Ann.

The couple struggled for years to conceive a child.

When they finally did, they welcomed a colicky newborn into the world who cried nonstop every night for a long time.

The first thing that happened was all of the happy things they’d imagined in their heads about starting a family looked and felt quite different in real life. It was supposed to be amazing and feel good. But mostly it was exhausting and felt bad.

Bob and Ann both are stressing out, big-time.

Ann feels like a crappy mother.

Bob feels helpless but tries anyway by offering suggestions. The suggestions anger Ann. She cries and lets him know how much harder he’s making it on her.

He withdraws. She feels abandoned.

This is totally NOT how I thought this would go, they think.

Stress is hard on marriage and relationships even when the stress is good, like moving into a new house, taking a new job, or bringing a new child home.

“It is also common not to have compassion for one another during these times, even though it would seem that it would be exactly the most useful emotion in the moment,” Barth writes. “Why is it that we can be compassionate and kind to friends, relatives and even strangers in ways that we cannot muster for our loved ones?

“The answer is in part found in the meaning of compassion itself. One of the keys to compassion is empathy, which author and speaker Brené Brown defines as the ability to take another person’s perspective, to understand and appreciate what they are feeling. We expect our loved ones to do exactly this for us. Ann expected Bob to appreciate how badly she was feeling about herself as a mother, for instance. She also needed him to recognize how hard she was trying and to tell her that she was not a bad mother simply because her baby was not being soothed.

“But, as happens in relationships, Bob also had needs. In particular, he needed Ann to help him feel okay about himself as a partner. He needed to believe that she would know how to soothe their baby. And he desperately wanted her to let him know that they were going to be the family he had imagined they were.”

Kohut said people require “selfobject needs” to be met just like they need oxygen to breathe, from birth to death.

Kohut explained that humans use the RESPONSES of certain others—our romantic partners or parents or children or friends, etc.—to help us maintain a healthy, balanced, positive, stable sense of self.

In other words, we make those closest to us an actual part of ourselves, and those people provide important psychological and emotional functions for us that we can’t give ourselves.

We literally rely on loved-ones’ behavior to guide our beliefs about ourselves, and to know the person we believe ourselves to be and see in the mirror while brushing our teeth.

And when those others stop providing the responses we’re conditioned to expect, or that we grew accustomed to, we’re not really ourselves anymore. We stop being the person we thought we were.

And when people in marriages or romantic relationships of any kind become someone else, everything tends to break.

But you know that already.

Because it’s not just you. And it’s not just me. And that often makes us feel better to know we’re not in this alone.

But I don’t really feel that way about this, because it’s another in a LONG and distinguished list of things that cause divorce that WOULDN’T cause divorce if we were simply aware of it before it happened, or as it was happening.

I’m aware of many areas of my life that could use improvement. Sometimes, I take steps to make things better. Sometimes, I let bad habits continue to make my life worse and erode my relationships.

Even when I understand that my words and actions are accidentally hurting someone I love and care about, I still sometimes say or do those things thoughtlessly.

Maybe that will always be.

Or maybe some habits are simply harder to break, and I’ll get there one day.

I didn’t know how to make my wife feel loved.

I don’t know if I would know how to make her feel loved now.

I only know that a bunch of bad things happened because I was unaware of how my words and actions made her feel, and then everything got sick and died.

But you can’t treat an illness that you can’t diagnose.

And maybe now that we’ve identified it, we can do things better.

You deserve it.

And so do all the people who matter most.

If we can treat total strangers with kindness, using polite language and thoughtful action, I think we might be able to do the same for our spouses.

And since I don’t have one of those, I’m going to have to count on you find out.

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We Can’t Always Get What We Want, But if We Try Sometimes…

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-by-angela-duncan

Everyone needs a few things. If you deny help to your partner in their pursuits, or become an obstacle, then your relationship will inevitably suck or end. (Image/Angela Duncan)

You and outside forces are engaged in a never-ending dance—working in harmony, or against each other—to motivate your spouse or partner to stay with you or leave you.

While I never thought of my marriage as any sort of Gotcha!-trap for my wife, it’s pretty clear upon reflection that my behavior frequently conveyed the belief she would never leave and that I had no power nor responsibility to influence her decisions or motivate her to choose me and our marriage over other options.

Maybe it’s because I grew up Catholic and didn’t see much divorce.

Maybe it’s because I was ignorant and oblivious.

Or maybe it’s because I was a stupid asshole.

It has become clear to me in the years following the 2013 divorce that ended my nine-year marriage that my wife needed things in life (whether or not I agreed with her conclusions) and that my job—my solemn duty as her husband—was to help her acquire or achieve those things, even if those things were as simple as more attention, more respect and more empathy.

Our opinions regarding others’ needs have little impact on their behaviors and choices. If THEY believe they need something, they will pursue those needs with or without us.

We can accept that and thrive, even if it means exerting more energy and giving more of ourselves to others.

Or we can reject it, and learn the hard way in our failed relationships (even when we mask the truth and convince others—and sometimes ourselves—things are okay even when they’re not).

What Do Our Partners Need? What Do We Need?

People need things.

We can debate semantics surrounding the word “need,” like whether electricity or indoor plumbing or Wi-Fi or sex or vehicles qualify. But if you’ll grant me some latitude on using that word, it will help very much.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow famously published his hierarchy of human needs in 1943.

It’s normally presented in pyramid form like this:

hierarchy-of-human-needs-pyramid-image-by-huriata

Image/Huriata

In reverse pyramid-stacking order, people need:

1. Physiological (Basic Needs)

We need air, water, food, clothes and shelter.

Typically, if any of those are missing, we don’t care very much about family drama, the economy, or The Walking Dead season finale.

2. Safety

We need to feel safe.

If lions and bears are chasing us, or someone is pointing a gun at us, or we are diagnosed with a life-changing or threatening disease, or the financial markets crash and we lose all of our money, or terrorists detonate bombs in random public places, we lose our ability to feel safe.

Stress and anxiety consume us, and we are stuck on the second rung of the Life Needs ladder until the feelings of safety return.

3. Love/Belonging

We need to feel loved and/or as if we belong to a tribe.

Humans have such a profound need to feel loved and part of something that they will often sacrifice personal safety to cling to physically/sexually/mentally abusive parents, caregivers and romantic partners in their pursuit of feeling loved and connected to others they identify as being “like them.”

4. Esteem

We need to feel respected and accepted.

We crave professional success, mastery of a hobby, accumulation of wealth, victory in competition, as well as fame and recognition in a constant pursuit of feeling respected by others.

Maslow called this craving for the approval of others the Lower form of Esteem.

Because we can NEVER feel respected and accepted until we respect and accept ourselves. Self-respect is the Higher form of Esteem, Maslow said.

5. Self-Actualization/Transcendence

We need to achieve whatever our individual or collective potential is, and accomplish whatever we are capable of accomplishing in order to live and die without shame and regret.

As you move up the five-step pyramid from Basic Needs for staying alive to more mind- and heart-based needs, you will notice the group sizes getting smaller and smaller.

That’s because we must not just understand, but master, a level of human need before we are able to move on to the next. Maybe people for many reasons live their entire lives without feeling loved, without respecting themselves, and never really feeling safe or comfortable in their own skin.

Also, let the record show you can regress and fall down a peg or two.

Because I’ve lived many years succeeding in the #4 Esteem space, and now I mostly stumble around back in #2 (an apt bathroom metaphor) trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with me and whether I’m even capable of pulling myself out of the sewage-like post-divorce shit bog to achieve a satisfying life for myself and those I love.

‘Is My Marriage/Relationship Suffering Because ACTUAL Needs Aren’t Being Met?’

Yep.

You need things. And she or he needs things too. And when one or both of you need things, you (often involuntarily) will pursue them.

And the simple truth is this: When we are obstacles to our spouses’/partners’ pursuit of needs, or when we neglect to fulfill any of their needs required of their partners, then we are complicit in our partners’ decisions to pursue those needs elsewhere.

No, guys. That doesn’t mean it’s cool to cheat on your wife or girlfriend because she won’t agree to threesomes, or to jerk off to internet porn at the expense of sex with your wife because you claim she doesn’t satisfy superficial sexual “needs.”

No, ladies. That doesn’t mean it’s cool to have an affair with Greg at work, or Brad at the gym because the attention they provide satisfies your feel-good emotional needs.

But I think it DOES mean that we should all be super-intentional about discovering our partner’s needs (not what WE think they are, but what THEY think they are) and commit to helping them achieve their personal five levels to become their best-possible selves.

Either that, or communicate quickly and clearly that we’re unwilling to so they can pursue a great life without us deliberately holding them down.

Your Marriage is Dying Because You Don’t or Won’t Trust Each Other

I always honed in on infidelity when discussing the word “trust” in relationships.

That always seemed like a big deal. To be loyal and trustworthy. I also believed there was merit in being a “trustworthy” financial partner and co-parent.

I figured: I don’t cheat, I don’t physically abuse, I don’t gamble away all of our money, I’m not an addict, and I’m not a threat to abandon her or our children. I’m trustworthy!

But that’s not the equation for Trust.

The equation is:

Safety + Belonging + Mattering = TRUST

That’s according to Christine Comaford who writes about neuroscience and business leadership.

There’s a problem, of course: Our faulty brains.

While amazing and miraculous, they’re also totally unreliable. If we all bought our brains at The Brain Store, most of us would have returned them already for ones we hoped would work better. Not that I’d be able to find the receipt.

Comaford helps business executives understand that their employees NEED things. Fundamental, primitive things. And that no matter how unimpressed the employer may be with those “needs,” a failure to help employees achieve them (at home for personal reasons, or at work for professional ones) will always keep employees and business teams underperforming, or inadvertently motivating people to seek work-oriented need fulfillment elsewhere.

The parallels to our marriages and personal relationships are obvious.

“So as a leader, and as a human, you must identify whether it is safety and or belonging and or mattering that is most important to the people in your life… and then do everything you can to satisfy that subterranean subconscious need,” Comaford wrote in this Forbes piece on human motivation.

“Safety + belonging + mattering = TRUST.

“This means leaders must behave in ways that make employees feel that they are safe, that they belong, and that they matter. Doing so will help shift them out of their fear-driven Critter State (where all decisions are based on what they perceive will help them survive) and into their Smart State (where they can innovate, collaborate, feel emotionally engaged, and move the company forward).”

The People You Love Need Things

And they will pursue them—again, regardless of whether you agree with their “need” list.

People are programmed to crave and pursue their needs.

The concept of meeting the needs of our spouses/romantic partners/families isn’t new to me.

But until I applied the concept of basic fundamental human need and motivation to my own failed marriage, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so clearly how one must aid his or her loved ones in their individual pursuits up the five-level Life Need Pyramid or, at the very least, avoid being an obstacle.

My wife needed things and stated them. I either didn’t believe her or chose not to act because I disagreed with her priorities.

But our marriage WAS a priority to me, even if my behavior failed to demonstrate that.

And I think if I’d understood that NOT being an active participant in my wife’s climb up the Life Need Pyramid would stamp my divorce certificate, I might have made different and better choices.

And I think if I’d made different and better choices, I’d be enjoying the upper levels of the Pyramid, instead of the damp and musty basement.

And I think everyone who makes different and better choices gets to reach that top-floor penthouse where genuine peace and contentment live.

Where life is LIFE. Joyful. Uplifting. Satisfying.

Where energy is abundant, and we collectively give more to pulling people up, up, up to the top floors with us.

Where we’re living for something greater than ourselves.

I think maybe that’s where fear, shame and self-loathing go to die.

I think maybe that’s what it means to really live.

And I think the view’s probably pretty nice up there.

And if we try sometimes, we just might find, we get what we need.

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What Screws Us Up Most in Life

Little girl looking into a telescope in the mountains

Maybe she’d be super-into space. (Image/Telescope Guide)

There’s at least one missing child. A beautiful little thing I would love intensely. Maybe this would be the first holidays where she was old enough to be excited about a visit from Santa. Maybe she looks like her mom.

Of course, maybe she’s not a girl at all. Maybe my third grader has a little brother instead. Three little boys, even if one of us is disguised as an almost-40-year-old.

The house is different. The plan was to move.

Thanksgiving and Christmas Day plans are different too. What was supposed to be busy and filled with family will be something else.

Maybe my imaginary daughter or son would have just been disappointed anyway.

I always had an idea in my head about what Life would look like. It never occurred to me it would be anything but that. But then Real Life happened.

We’d always talked about two kids. But after abandoning my wife in the hospital five hours after she delivered our son via emergency C-section, and then leaving the creation and management of baby logistics to her throughout most of our first year as parents, I think I sapped her desire to go through anything like that again.

I once asked her if I was the reason she chose not to have more children.

She said yes.

‘What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.’

I read that yesterday in MBTTTR commenter Drew’s excellent blog post about marital affairs.

This is a Life Thing I had picked up on when I was still young. I always said: “Expectations are everything.”

And what I mean by that is, my enjoyment or disappointment in something—or rather, my initial perception of something’s quality—was based entirely on my expectations prior to the experience.

Things like movies and books taught me this.

I can go to the theater to see two movies of approximately equal quality, say Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Avatar; or I can listen to two new albums for the first time—say AWOLNATION’s Run and Brian Fallon’s Painkillers—and my feelings about all of them are predicated entirely on what I thought heading in.

I thought Avatar was going to be the greatest achievement in cinematic history. It didn’t achieve that for me. The Force Awakens met my expectations entirely. Both movies, in my estimation, are of equal quality, but I like Force Awakens quite a bit more, and I think that’s why.

Same with AWOL and Brian Fallon. I expected to like the AWOL album. And I did.

I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever for Brian Fallon (front man for The Gaslight Anthem). And that album kicks ass. I don’t know whether I think it’s better than AWOL’s or not. But BECAUSE it was an out-of-nowhere pleasant surprise for me, I have a major fondness for it.

Maybe everyone does this.

Maybe I’m a little extreme. Or maybe some people are much better at accurately predicting their emotional responses to things, and maybe those people have much happier and healthier relationships and lives as a result.

I only know that pretty much all of my life experiences are impacted greatly by whether Real Life meets, exceeds, or falls short of, my prior expectations.

This has implications for my human relationships I’ve yet to wrap my head around.

This Isn’t Where I Thought I’d Be

Divorce changed everything.

That’s a MAJOR reset-button push when you don’t see it coming, or are in denial about its inevitability once a certain amount of breakage and ugliness has poisoned the marriage.

Everything in the very beginning is a blur.

When everything is broken on the inside of you, the world looks skewed and it’s impossible to tell whether what you’re seeing is wrong because it’s actually wrong, or because your brain’s Reality Calibration is busted.

I had just turned 34 when Everything became Something Else.

After a lifetime of companionship and/or reliable care from loving and responsible adults, I woke up to silence and a reflection in the mirror I hardly recognized.

Everything felt unsteady and out of balance, and even now, I can’t be sure how much of that to attribute to the psychological and emotional trauma of ending a nine-year marriage and losing half of my son’s childhood, and how much was simply the radical change in environment.

Where there used to be a person making noise in the house—Being a mom. Eating dinner with me. Talking on the phone. Watching TV. Walking around.

Where there used to be life and conversation and full calendars and partnership and the pitter-pattering of little feet and the stability and reliability and comfort that comes from waking up to This Is Normal And Right… there was nothing.

A void.

I was obsessed with dating at first. Not actually doing it, per se because I wasn’t very good at it and it all felt so, just, off. Wrong.

But at age 34 the ticking clock was louder than I’d realized. And I felt like filling the new void in my life quickly should be a priority.

After all, I was clearly the kind of guy who got married and lived that kind of life. Which meant, I faced the monumental task of finding someone who fit what is probably an impossible list of criteria, that I then loved along with any children she might have, and was loved by her (as would my son be), and felt secure enough in all of that to get married again.

When you’ve never been single and divorced before, it’s easy to imagine that happening in a three- to five-year window (which I did).

But then Real Life happened.

The clock ticks.

The calendar pages flip.

The seasons change.

You mark another line higher on the wall where you measure your child’s height.

You tell him to put on a pair of pants only to discover they no longer fit.

One Christmas turns into two, and then three with a fourth fast-approaching.

And then you wake up, and it’s today.

Divorced and Single Four Holiday Seasons Later

There was a part of me during the early days of this blog that believed I’d eventually have a relationship to tell you about.

Not all the nitty-gritty. I keep too much private for that.

But at least a birds-eye view of giving Round 2 a genuine shot while armed with what I believe I’ve learned about life and love and relationships. I thought maybe that would help people. I thought maybe that would help me.

But that’s not where things are.

That’s not Real Life.

In actuality, I’m just a guy who read a crap-ton of New Zealand travel guides so I can tell you all about the country, but I’ve never actually forked over the money nor invested the time to experience it myself.

(That was a metaphor. I haven’t actually read a bunch of New Zealand travel guides.)

But I’m not even sure that’s right.

That suggests fear. And I’m not afraid.

I guess I feel more like the tired old man coaching basketball (even though I certainly don’t think of myself as a “coach,” or that I’m qualified to instruct others in any way). I know what good basketball is supposed to look like, but am not inclined to get back out on the floor to play in any games.

Maybe I feel too tired. Or too old. Or too busy.

I don’t know.

I also don’t know whether to feel good, bad or indifferent about it.

As in all things, there’s some good and some bad.

But I’m learning to have fewer expectations. Less disappointment, you know? Maybe less joy, too.

I wouldn’t know.

I’m trying to remember what my daughter’s name would have been. The one I never had.

Julianne? Julie Anne? A J-name that stopped mattering the second I held my son.

Or did it?

I think about that little girl a lot. The one who never was.

And the family that isn’t. The one I used to know. And the one I’d imagined with them. And the one I was forced to imagine for a reimagined world.

But I wish I would stop. Because in The Way Things Are vs. The Way They Should Be, I’m not sure we’re always smart enough to know the difference.

And with these little ones involved, real or imagined, how much can we afford to get disillusioned by reality falling short of what we’d expected or hoped for?

Thank God she didn’t die after birth or from miscarriage.

Or that she didn’t fall ill.

Or that she never ran away or went missing.

Or that the courts never said I couldn’t see her.

Or that her family never lost her precious life.

Or that my son never lost his little sister.

And that we never had to sob over that too.

Maybe I don’t make it to today, had that not been the case.

But there’s still a bit of tragedy in Never Was.

And I can’t help but wonder sometimes about an alternative life where I chose other options and turned to different Choose Your Own Adventure pages with entirely different outcomes.

Because that would have been cute, right? Watching the Thanksgiving Day parade? Showing her massive balloons? Reminding my eldest to be kind to his sister? Putting up the Christmas tree and watching her face as we plugged in the lights for the first time?

I’d have liked that, even if the real-life version would have gone an entirely different way.

I’d have especially liked the part where I told her about that first night in the hospital where I stayed awake all night holding her so mommy could sleep.

Many years later, we’d teach older children how things that seem innocuous in a moment can redefine everything in the future.

We’d talk about having expectations. About the bad. And the good.

About regrets. And triumphs.

About fear. And hope.

We’d all show up, and just be.

Because that’s everything, really. Showing up. Being present. And being invested.

The reason my life is as it is today is virtually 100% because I failed to show up because I was too ignorant to know I was supposed to, too irresponsible to actually do it, or too selfish to actually want to.

It’s not always Life and Death, but maybe just Life and Never Was.

But sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.

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What Men Should Learn From Straight Women Choosing Other Women

two women having dinner

These two ladies are just as likely to be business associates or friends as to be on a date. But whatever. Women seem to be choosing other women over men with greater frequency. Men should try to understand why. (Image/Legal Executive Institute)

I think women, with increasing frequency, are choosing romantic relationships with other women over men because of how poorly men perform the relationship functions women value most.

A few notes:

  1. Yes. I meant to type that.
  2. “…with increasing frequency” is difficult to quantify. Maybe we simply hear about it more than we used to because of a reduced fear of judgment, or because of the wide reach of the internet. University-based studies from 2009 through today suggest more females are self-identifying as bisexual or lesbian (15-ish%) than males are as gay (5-ish%), and that 60-ish% of females, regardless of sexual labels, find other women attractive (in a more-than-a-friend way).
  3. When I talk about “women” or “men” as groups, I’m talking about general, observable behaviors. I’m in no way taking the stance that all women or all men fit into a particular stereotype.
  4. I’m fully aware that certain groups of people believe homosexuality to be gravely sinful. I have as much respect for people adhering to their faith and personal values as I do for people in their romantic relationships, regardless of who they love. I don’t take kindly to the moral judgment of strangers, ESPECIALLY on matters of homosexuality because of the nauseating levels of hypocrisy from those who turn a blind eye to “straight-sex sinfulness.” I’ll be totally cool with widespread outspoken condemnation of homosexuality just as soon as the morally righteous outcry toward sinful heterosexual behavior matches it. Because only hypocrites like hypocrisy.
  5. I believe this trend will continue until men collectively commit to not doing all of the Shitty Husband things most of us (accidentally!) do, OR reject relationships with women, forsake family life, and go all-in on A.I. Ex Machina-like sexbots or whatever.

Women Know What Women Want

An excellent writer and speaker named Glennon Doyle Melton had a relatively high-profile separation from her husband recently, just days before her second bestselling book Love Warrior (much of which focused on her marriage to her husband) hit store shelves.

Yesterday, a friend texted me out of the blue: “Glennon is a lesbian. FYI.”

To which I replied: “Shut the eff up. Did she write it?”

“Yep.”

Glennon is now in a relationship with U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach, who became a national celebrity when the U.S. women’s team won the 2015 World Cup.

I was surprised because it still feels unexpected to me to see or hear news that a long-time married mother with children is in a romantic relationship with another woman, but outside of that, I find it totally unsurprising.

During some cursory Googling, I stumbled on this 2010 article from Psychology Today reminding me that Katy Perry, Lindsay Lohan, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, Anna Paquin, Megan Fox, and Drew Barrymore have all publically identified themselves as bisexual.

You’d have thought the world had ended in 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres announced her relationship with actress Anne Heche.

Now, no one cares. Maybe that’s why these incidents are more common today. I don’t pretend to know.

But I DO pretend to know that women generally demonstrate infinitely more understanding about what women want in their intimate relationships than men do.

And given how much I am bombarded with stories of unhappy wives in total agony from how their husbands make them feel, and how much Google traffic this blog gets from women searching for answers to things like “Why doesn’t my husband love me?” or “Why doesn’t my husband care about my feelings?,” it makes a lot of sense to me.

Here’s the hard truth most of these guys need to hear:

There is no amount of money or material goods you can provide to fulfill her wants.

There is no amount of physical fitness, strength, or life skills you can possess to make her feel safe.

There is no amount of penis length or girth, or sexual prowess you can possess to make her forget how bad she feels the rest of the time.

All of your money and your badass-ness and your porn-star-ness can easily earn you a big, fat “Umm, I like women better than you” if you continue to neglect all the things she says she needs.

I have bad news.

You thinking or feeling that her stated needs are unimportant, try as you might, will NOT magically make them unimportant. The things that matter to her, MATTER to her, even when they don’t matter to you. It’s surprisingly easy to float through life not realizing or forgetting that, and then getting divorced because of it.

What She Wants

Another Important Note: No one—certainly not me—knows what an individual human being wants. I’m just some divorced idiot who got all of this stuff wrong when I was married.

The most-effective way of learning the “secrets,” is to respect the first item on this list as if it will ultimately dictate the health of your relationship. Because something simple like LISTENING will.

1. To Feel Seen and Heard

This mostly means “to be listened to.” Not obeyed. Just, heard. Guys like me have an amazing capacity for caring about whatever we happen to care about in the moment, which results in us seeming disinterested or dismissive of something our partners are sharing. Global history is filled with stories of people who wouldn’t tolerate their voices going unheard. So they either revolted or fled. Divorce works that way too.

You know how a bunch of U.S. residents said they were going to move to Canada or Europe if Donald Trump won the election? Well, your unhappy wives are like the disgruntled citizens, and Canada and Europe represent a lesbian oasis of like-minded comfort and acceptance.

2. To Feel Safe

This doesn’t mean you can beat up the guy who gets handsy with her in a crowded bar, or that you can skillfully defend your home from intruders.

It means she feels safe in every way one can. That you can reliably be counted on to have her back and be a steady presence in good times and in bad. That you can be trusted. Not just with sexual fidelity, but all of Life’s tasks and hardships through the years. That you can be a great parent to her children, who she loves intensely and strives to protect. That you can provide financially, or at least NOT be a financial drain on the long-term stability of your household.

All of that feeds into feeling emotionally and psychologically safe and secure. It’s much more than just physical safety.

And to that end, you MUST be a safe refuge for her to discuss the things that matter in her life, including her relationship with you. She must be able to describe her hopes and dreams and stresses and fears WITHOUT you mocking or judging her for it. She must be able to tell you that things you do and say sometimes add to her stresses or fears without you attacking her out of defensiveness.

If she doesn’t feel as if it’s safe to speak to you, she won’t. Eventually, she’ll find someone who will. Sometimes, that person will be another woman who knows—in her core—how vulnerable and dangerous it feels to live with someone who frequently creates negative life experiences rather than positive ones.

3. To Feel Sexually Desired

This is VERY simple. When you two first got together, you said and did things that conveyed appreciation for how she made you feel, how attractive you thought she was, and that you were interested in her sexually.

The thoughtful actions you took and words you said authentically and transparently demonstrated that sexual desire.

The emotional and psychological damage adults take on and/or accidentally inflict on each other throughout the course of a marriage and the trials of adulthood can’t be overstated. Husbands and wives are like two countries who sign a Peace Accord with the best of intentions, but then through the course of normal life, accidentally fire heavy artillery at one another which occasionally lead to short-lived, but bloody, invasions.

We ACCIDENTALLY turn off our partners sexually simply by being ourselves and not realizing certain actions cause the deterioration of those feelings in the other person. No one WANTS to be unattractive to their partners. It just sort of happens when we keep having the same fight over and over and over again.

But when people are MINDFUL of this, and intentionally do things to make our partners feel loved and wanted, much, if not all, of the bad stuff goes away.

Because women frequently demonstrate more thoughtfulness and emotional awareness than men, it’s not surprising to me that other women more effectively convey feelings of desire than many men do.

4. To Feel Appreciated

Everyone likes feeling appreciated. Demonstrating authentic gratitude is a pretty solid Life tip, across the board. But there is a dynamic in male-female relationships that rears its head with great frequency, and is responsible for much of the broken families scattered out there. And that’s the dynamic where wives are forced into the position of managing most Life Tasks around the house. Keeping track of schedules. Packing school lunches. Making doctor appointments and transporting the kids there. Responding to party invitations. Buying the gifts. Planning meals. Acquiring groceries. Paying bills on time. Orchestrating social calendars and holiday plans. Handling school-related matters. Keeping the house clean. Managing laundry. Cooking meals. Washing and putting away dishes. And often going to work just as many hours as her husband.

Sometimes, after all of that, he leaves a dirty dish by the sink for her to clean up even after she’s asked him nicely to not. Sometimes, he continues to do it anyway, and calls her a petty nag for getting upset about it. Often, that guy ends up divorced.

Some wives want more ACTUAL help and to be respected when such requests are made.

But sometimes, wives aren’t even asking for more effort. Sometimes, wives and mothers take pleasure in the skillful management and service of their families and household.

And sometimes the only thing they really crave in return is genuine appreciation.

To not be taken for granted and treated like a housemaid.

Perhaps other women who have walked a mile in those same “housemaid” shoes understand how to never make the person they love feel that way.

‘You Mean You Want Men to Act Like Women?’

Nope.

I want you to learn how to anticipate other people’s needs and adjust your behavior on a case-by-case basis REGARDLESS of that person’s gender, or any other born-this-way quality they have.

That’s what Life’s most successful people do in every imaginable scenario.

Women, for reasons I won’t pretend to know, demonstrate greater skill and competence at anticipating and meeting the needs of others than men do.

Period.

And THAT skill is an incredibly important factor in relationship success.

Learn and develop it, and I think Life gets a lot better because I think the quality of our human relationships affect our lives more than anything outside of certain health conditions.

Ignore it? And I think you’ll spend the rest of your life alone or in and out of unpleasant relationships waiting for Life to bend to your will, only to eventually realize, it never really does.

Maybe some of these women always liked women more than men, and only now feel safe to pursue those relationships.

Maybe some of these women woke up one day after years of heterosexual attraction only to discover those thoughts and feelings had been replaced by new ones.

Or just maybe, a critical mass of women have tried over and over and over again to find a life of contentment and peace with various men through the years, only to have the few they trusted fully, disappoint, betray, or fail them.

And just maybe that pain was so great, that it’s just not worth it anymore.

And just maybe, while we continue to desperately cling to our Man Cards, women will continue to pursue the comfort and safety of other women while we complain to our buddies about their petty needs and fragile emotions as the dust collects on our furniture and we awkwardly fold another load of laundry.

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Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance?

Napoleon Dynamite dance

“What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” (Image/firstandmonday.com)

I’m probably a sucky dancer. Like, to people who evaluate dance quality.

When I was a little kid there were a lot of weddings to attend because my parents are from relatively large families. I remember my aunts trying to coax me onto the dance floor, but something about dancing in the center of the room with a bunch of people watching made me super-shy and I didn’t want to.

Eventually, they’d let me scurry off to do something else.

I got into school dances around 8th grade because then I was allowed to be close to a girl. High school dances were always fun. And by the time college rolled around, bottled Budweiser, the ice luge, and test-tube shots from the shot girls were more than enough to erase what little shyness existed during my social and physical prime. We be clubbin’. Yaeeyaae.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, the president of the Black Student Union invited me as her date to the BSU homecoming dance. I was the only white person in the banquet hall. Despite having a dozen friends in the room, I still froze up pretty hard when she drug me out to the dance floor.

That was an opportunity to demonstrate courageousness in a life where I often hadn’t needed to. And I wasn’t up to it because I was worried about what everyone else was thinking.

Later, I ended up engaged and married to a competitive ballroom dancer who knew how to navigate dance floors of all types. She always wanted me to dance with her.

I did sometimes. But I mostly declined.

It was always about bravery. It was never rooted in not actually wanting to.

It was rooted in being judged by others and deemed inadequate. It was rooted in being judged by my partner and deemed unworthy.

3 Critical Dancing Tips That Aren’t Actually About Dancing

“I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” – Martha Graham

1. It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

Your opinions regarding how good or bad you are at something couldn’t be less relevant. People are wrong all the time about most things. It’s because we’re not divine or psychic.

I stumbled on this excellent thing from Brian D. Buckley somehow several weeks ago, and loved it. In his post “You Do Not Even Have To Believe in Yourself” he recounts the story of famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham who he learned about after clicking a Google Doodle honoring her.

He wrote this:

“The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She ‘confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.’

“Martha’s response:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

“I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough.

“She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.

“This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to ‘keep the channel open.’ And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.

“But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?

“None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.”

2. It Isn’t Even About You

Mark Manson—a writer I admire very much—just published a new piece yesterday called “3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You,” and it’s phenomenal.

I’m including two of the three here because they are must-share “dancing” lessons.

Because everything we have ever experienced or will ever experience involves ourselves, we mentally and emotionally treat EVERYTHING that happens to us as actually being about us.

“But here’s a newsflash: Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you,” Manson wrote.

But then he wrote the most-important thing I’ll read today, or possibly ever, and it speaks to the heart of why I was afraid of my wife thinking I was a shitty dancer, or hundreds of black students at a homecoming dance thinking I was a dorky white kid who needed to go back to the barnyard square dance where I belonged.

“When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you,” Manson said. “I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).”

3. There’s Value in Doing Things Just Because We Can

You know how the internet and inspirational posters took the phrase “Dance like no one’s watching” and made it cliché, so now it’s lame to say even though it totally makes sense because we’ve all secretly danced by ourselves at home when no one was watching (except for our dead relatives and creepy binocular-using neighbors)?

You’re not dancing because you’re at a dance. Not to be close to a partner or find one after midnight on the dance floor. Not to win the approval of a bunch of peers who are clearly superior dancers to you, OR to win the approval of judges in a competition you want to win.

You’re doing it just because.

If someone wanted you to explain why, there might not be an answer.

I felt like it? Works for me.

Manson wrote that people need to learn how to take actions without knowing what the results might be.

“But most of life — that is, real life — doesn’t work this way. When you decide to change careers, there’s no one there telling you which career is right for you. When you decide to commit to someone, there’s no one telling you this relationship is going to make you happy. When you decide to start a business or move to a new country or eat waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast, there’s no way of knowing — for certain — if what you’re doing is ‘right’ or not,” Manson wrote. “And so we avoid it. We avoid making these decisions. We avoid moving and acting without knowing. And because we cannot act on what we don’t know, our lives become incredibly repetitive and safe.”

Paralysis by analysis is the saying, I think. Using the fear of the unknown to avoid taking any action at all.

I think that’s how we die in the suburbs after spending 35 years punching clocks, and where most nights were spent in the living-room recliner watching Law & Order and shit.

Some people may genuinely not want to do certain things.

Genuine things, authentic things, actual things—REAL THINGS—are always okay. Those things are truth.

But sometimes we pretend things are true that aren’t just because we’re afraid of something.

I think most of the time we pretend things are true because we’re afraid of change.

Because we don’t know what might happen next. Scary!

And maybe we’re not good enough. Our opinions don’t matter!

And maybe everyone will point and laugh and call us shitty dancers. Maybe she’ll stop wanting to kiss us. Their opinions matter less than ours.

So dance.

Maybe that means buy the plane ticket. Change careers. Buy the ring.

Maybe that means take a chance. Have an adventure. Start your family.

It doesn’t matter what the dance looks like, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of it—not even you.

It only matters that you do it.

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Maybe You’re Giving Too Many F*cks: A Q&A With Author Mark Manson

Tim doesn't give a fuck. Image/Mark Manson

This makes me laugh every time I see it. You go, Tim. (Image/markmanson.net)

There are bad words in this post.

More than usual. I used to publish many bad words here, but have cut back, probably because I worry too much about what other people think. Which is bad.

That’s what Mark Manson’s new book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: The Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is mostly about (along with Mark’s original blog post which inspired it).

We all spend a lot of time and energy on trying to be who and what we think other people want us to be. And it leaves us feeling a little dirty and dissatisfied because it’s inauthentic and bullshitty.

Our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well-being is affected by a variety of meaningful and important things. Some people think profanity is meaningful and important. Some people want to use only nice words and feel comfortable all the time.

But sometimes, I think we MUST feel uncomfortable, because that’s when we figure out what really matters and what doesn’t.

I don’t intentionally cuss in front of children (or my grandma), and I value politeness and respecting others’ opinions.

But once in a while, boats need rocked, beliefs need challenged, and taking a counterintuitive approach is what’s needed to live well.

You might not like it. I’m fairly certain my mom doesn’t.

But for this post, at least? I just don’t give a fuck.

subtle-art-cover

F-bombing the book title is a bold choice. The word “Shitty” will live in mine.

Mark Manson is one of my favorite writers, possibly my very favorite.

He’s smart. He’s funny. And many of the things he writes hit me in that place where your mind, heart and body go: Ohhh. That feels uncomfortably true.

Other than me being a big fan and admirer of his work, Mark and I don’t know each other. I’m not pimping Mark’s new book for any other reason than I believe his writing has the ability to help certain people have better lives.

I truly believe that Mark’s work helps humans flourish. And that matters.

I think you should read his book. It would be awesome of you to buy a copy. By the time you read this, my pre-ordered copy should be sitting atop my book stack. Which is awesome.

A Q&A With Mark Manson

Matt: I’ve read a lot of your work and have been majorly influenced by a handful of your ideas. I value your opinions. What is so important to you about this specific concept that made it meaningful enough to dedicate an entire book to it?

Mark: I wanted to write a book about the importance of pain — that pain is often a good and necessary thing in life. It’s something that’s not said often and I feel like in our overly-consumer culture these days with social media and everything, it’s more important than ever for people to allow life to suck sometimes. They need to learn how to stop giving a fuck about everything all the time. In a sense, you could say it’s an approach to personal growth not through pursuing and achieving more, but rather by pursuing and achieving less.

Matt: I mostly write about relationships (the dating/marriage kind). How can learning how to give fewer fucks help someone or couples experience greater relationship success?

Mark: Not giving a fuck is essentially about choosing what to care about: choosing your priorities, your values. Most people who struggle in the dating/relationship area struggle because they’re giving too many fucks about the wrong things — being admired or receiving validation, avoiding rejection, or pumping up their own ego. For a relationship to function and flourish, one needs to get clear about what truly matters to them and what does not, and then develop the ability to sort and screen through potential partners to find someone who shares those values.

Mark Manson

That’s Mark. (Image/Forbes)

Matt: It was you who introduced me to David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech which you shared in your post “This is Water.” It had the same chemistry-shifting impact on me as I believe it did on you. (So, thanks.) How do we balance in healthy ways critical concepts like Awareness and Empathy with the self-preservation techniques of fuckage withholdment?

Mark: One of the subtleties to not giving a fuck is that it’s not about being indifferent, it’s about being comfortable with being different. Many people see not giving a fuck as this armor of indifference — by learning to not care about anything, they’ll protect themselves from being hurt. But the truth is that indifference is just another way of giving too many fucks. To truly not give a fuck about what does not matter, we must first discover those things in our life that matter the most.

Matt: If you had to pick just one of your articles, which would you choose that hit on one of those life-altering moments for you, in an effort to help others see the world as you believe it is?

Mark: It’s funny, the articles I love the most are often not the articles that readers get the most out of and vice-versa. For me though, the biggest ones would probably be “Being Special Isn’t So Special,” “Love is Not Enough” and “The Four Stages of Life.”

Matt: One of the great lessons of adulthood for me has been learning about Hedonic Adaptation. It is, in my estimation, the root cause of human dissatisfaction across the board, from how we always grow tired of our shiny new toys, adjust to pay increases, and perhaps most importantly, take for granted our romantic partners. What besides Mindfulness would you recommend to people (especially guys) for combating that psychological condition on behalf of their marriages and families?

Mark: The hedonic treadmill usually only applies to superficial, worldly pursuits — earning more money, buying nicer cars, banging more women, etc. This is why these things are generally considered superficial values and poor things to pursue (or to put another way, poor places to invest your fucks). As humans, we need a sense of progress in order to feel happy, therefore it’s important to choose goals and values that have no definitive end to them — becoming a great musician, being a good father, having a pleasant social life, etc. These are things that can always be worked on and improved upon.

Matt: The No. 1 question I get is: “How can I get my husband to understand what you’ve written here? He never listens to me any time I say anything he perceives as critical.” I care about helping others, and I believe husbands actively listening to their wives (hearing her, I mean; not following her directives) would dramatically improve relationships/marriage. What advice would you give women on how to communicate concerns or dissatisfaction in ways men are more likely to truly listen to?

Mark: Questions like this are hard because they’re so person-dependent. It’s hard to say with certainty without knowing the couple. After all, maybe there’s something in the wife’s communication style that is preventing him from hearing her. Maybe the husband has some deep insecurity that is causing him to avoid dealing with the issue. It could be a million things.

But in general, the short answer, is that whenever someone in a relationship has problems with their partner, it always needs to be communicated in such a way that responsibility or blame for each person’s emotions are not shifted to the other. For instance, many people naturally approach their partner by saying something like, “You don’t care about me and make me feel horrible because all you want to do is X.” Because this is said in such a way that puts all of the responsibility on the partner, they will naturally become defensive or seek a way to avoid dealing with it. After all, I can’t control how my wife feels 24/7!

A much better way to communicate it is something like, “When you do X, it often causes me to think/feel badly because I feel unloved. Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but is there something we can do to make it better?” In this example, the person approaching their partner with the problem is owning their responsibility for their own feelings and reactions, and are looking to find some solution. There’s no blame or guilt-tripping going on. This is far more likely to be successful.

Then again, a lot of men are raised and socialized to be emotionally shut down and distant from pretty much everyone (but especially women), so it can be a much more long-term issue that may actually have little to do with the wife herself.

Thanks, Mark

A big thank-you to Mark for making time for our tiny corner of the internet.

If you think as highly of Mark’s work as I do, perhaps you’ll give his new book a read and share it with anyone in your life who might benefit from it.

This sort of thing is good for everybody.

Because we mostly give too many fucks about the wrong things. And it makes us feel bad as we invest in other people’s opinions of us, or chasing things that ultimately leave us feeling empty.

Remember: Fuckage withholdment isn’t about being indifferent. It’s about being comfortable with being different.

We can participate in bullshit group-think and try to blend in.

Or we can be like Tim in the image up top. Each of us gets to decide.

Now, where did I leave those red balloons?

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The Truth is What We Save From the Fire

Value of hard things vs. easy things

Like vigorous exercise, a disciplined reading regiment, and giving more than we take in our marriages, there is VALUE — tons of it — in doing hard things. So maybe don’t run away. Maybe allowing ourselves to feel is THE way. (Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

I’m afraid of someone using a circular handsaw to cut open my skull.

But I’m more afraid of dying, so if the choice is certain death or brain surgery, I would choose brain surgery.

I’m afraid of jumping off of 100-foot cliffs into unknown waters.

But I’m more afraid of being eaten by big-ass dinosaurs, so if a genetically modified hybrid Jurassic World dinosaur was chasing me, I would totally jump if the alternative was being Indominus Rex’s lunch.

Broken down in the most primitive way possible, human beings are motivated by just two things:

  1. Feeling pleasure
  2. Avoiding pain

Psychologists say most people devote more energy to avoiding bad feelings than chasing good ones.

I believe them.

It’s always the same.

Whether I’m standing poolside, on the edge of a boat, or on a sandy beach, and I know the water is especially cold (which I realize is subjective), it always takes me a little longer to brave the plunge.

The water generally validates my fears as my body revolts. I lose my breath a little. My male extremities disappear like a sick David Copperfield prank. I may or may not lose consciousness for a second. All I know is I want to sprint to warmth and dryness because swimming is supposed to be fun and not take your penis away.

However. Inevitably. In what feels like a few years, but is probably only a few minutes, your body temperature begins to regulate itself. Your breathing normalizes. Your body parts are usually all in place.

Phew.

Depending on wind and air temperature, your body often adjusts so well to the water that it begins to feel almost like a warm bath relative to the chilly air.

I was afraid to take the plunge. I was afraid of the discomfort.

But I always adapt. All of us do.

Change is uncomfortable. But we always adapt.

I allow myself to bathe in the discomfort, sometimes because there’s no other choice. But the truth hits you pretty fast: This was the only way to adapt.

We like to run from discomfort. We’re smart. We know that putting ourselves in certain situations, or subjecting ourselves to certain experiences are likely to cause discomfort. Sometimes, intense pain.

And we run.

But at some point, we realize the only way through it, is through it.

We allow ourselves to feel.

And God, it sucks.

But we adapt. We always adapt. And then some uncomfortable things no longer make us uncomfortable. Certain painful things don’t hurt as much.

Because we’re, just, stronger now.

So, Give Me The Fire

“Pain is sometimes an indication we need to set boundaries, learn to say no more often, or take better care of ourselves; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.” – Lori Deschene

I don’t believe in fate, per se. I don’t believe necessarily that “everything happens for a reason,” because little kids get cancer. So, no.

But there is no question that enormous value can be gained from the horrible things we experience.

Maybe there were parents who weren’t very attentive to their child, and were on the fast track to divorce, but then their young child was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed.

Maybe a sick child can teach you how to prioritize things that really matter in life.

Maybe overcoming adversity can teach them the life skills needed to handle future challenges.

Maybe the entire experience was a galvanizing moment for a struggling couple who finally learned how to choose love and practice gratitude.

Everything may not happen for a reason. But if you ask the right questions, you can always pinpoint the positive results of negative events.

If I have to choose between living with the wool pulled over my eyes, or feeling growing pains, then damn it, I choose growing pains.

I choose truth.

You fight for what you love. It doesn’t matter if it hurts.

You find out what it’s worth, and you let the rest burn.

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains.

– Switchfoot

Carry On, Warrior

That’s the name of Glennon Doyle Melton’s first book.

Her second book, Love Warrior, released Tuesday.

I caught a couple quotes from her recently that mattered enough for me to save them for a moment such as this.

Glennon said this in a recent Facebook post:

“I spent the first half of my life being afraid of pain. I found a million easy buttons to transport myself out of pain: Food, booze, sex, shopping, snark, scrolling.

“I was afraid of the wrong thing.

“I’m no longer afraid of pain — I’m now afraid of the easy buttons.

“Because I’ve learned that all my courage and wisdom I need to become the woman I want to be is inside of my pain. When you transport yourself out of it, you miss your transformation.

“First the pain, then the rising.

“You can do hard things, Warrior. You were born to do this.”

You will NEVER hear me celebrate my divorce. Not ever.

I failed my wife and son. I haven’t decided yet who I failed more.

It remains the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me.

Which raises something of a philosophical moral dilemma: Would I rather be married still walking through this world oblivious to the harm I cause others, to my wife’s persistent discomfort, and without the ability to help my son grow into a man capable of understanding what it takes to succeed in his human relationships?

Or… can I accept that this is what had to happen for me to arrive in a place where I have a real chance to be a decent human being moving forward?

Blissful ignorance and comfort? Or tormented enlightenment and discomfort?

I don’t know how to say that I’m happy my marriage ended, because that’s not how I feel.

I would NEVER say that I think my son’s life is better with his parents apart.

But I know how to say that I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity to experience the kind of trauma required to instill real change.

I NEEDED to hurt.

I NEEDED the fear.

I NEEDED the anxiety.

I NEEDED to break.

I NEEDED to cry.

That was my path to right now. There could be no other.

I don’t know that anyone captures the true essence of the human condition in the midst of life’s most challenging moments as well as Glennon.

I wrote about my intense admiration for her in a post last month. And it’s because I am magnetically drawn to people like her — people who accept responsibility for their life choices, who don’t blame others for their problems, who courageously admit their flaws for the sake of helping and encouraging others, and are the ones willing to stand up and raise their hands to say: “This is what it’s REALLY like when I’m not pretending to be who I think everyone wants me to be!”

Because then we all get to feel a little more “normal” afterward. It takes the brave people admitting things for us to realize we aren’t the only ones with those same feelings and fears.

It takes courageous people to teach us how to live courageously.

From Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens’ story about the Love Warrior book release.

“It’s a beautiful lesson for each of us who takes on the responsibility and privilege of partnering and parenting: Do it authentically.

“I asked Melton if it’s daunting to embark on such a public life — book tour, speaking gigs — on the heels of announcing her separation.

‘I’m used to going out all busted up,’ she said. ‘It’s where I’m most comfortable. Now, more than ever, people don’t want shiny, perfect.

‘Lovely and easy and shiny people are really comfortable talking about their problems when they’re over,’ she continued. ‘We’re not allowed to struggle until after we’ve done our victory lap. That’s fine, but it’s less helpful than hearing from people in the trenches. How do I show up in the during? Maybe this all happened to me so I can go out there and be seen in the during.’

Thanks, Glennon.

I know exactly what you mean.

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How to be Less of an Asshole in Life and Relationships

you're an asshole

Yes, even you. (Image/dailycal.org)

Sometimes I’d walk into the living room to find my wife watching 16 and Pregnant or some other TV show I thought was stupid or morally baseless.

I could have ignored it.

I could have sat with her to try to better understand the things she liked and why.

I could have suggested another activity that didn’t involve TV or seem stupid to me.

But instead of those mature and relationship-nurturing alternatives, I usually acted like an asshole.

I think deep down in the furthest recesses of my heart and subconscious, I believed I was doing the right thing by reacting negatively.

Because I loved my wife and wanted her to be the best person she could be, I didn’t want her to enjoy watching things that were “beneath” her or “bad” for her.

Because I thought television programming like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant was ultimately a bad influence on young girls and the world in general, I didn’t want my wife supporting it, or even wanting to.

Because she was the person I wanted to have children with, and I was sensitive to the sacred responsibility parents have as moral guides for their kids, I wanted my wife to share my opinions and values—even though I totally watched things like Family Guy, South Park, The League, and other raunchy and sophomoric comedies that have made me laugh through the years.

I didn’t share her tastes, beliefs or opinions about some things, and I sometimes valued my feelings more than hers. I felt morally superior to her on this topic, despite all of the insufferable hypocrisy. And since speaking in mocking tones or even just sarcastic ribbing was NOT something I judged to be hurtful or demeaning (because I loved her and married her, thus couldn’t possibly be trying to cause pain, I reasoned), I’d make asshole comments about her personal entertainment choices.

Sometimes those comments hurt her feelings. Sometimes she’d say so.

Maybe I apologized sometimes. It’s hard to remember.

Mostly, I don’t think I did. I think because I “knew” I was right and she was wrong (Because I just want what’s best for you and our kids, babe!!!), that any resistance from her was met with invalidation and probably some insistence that my “morally and intellectually superior” opinions were somehow more correct than hers.

This is the same kind of thinking hate groups and terrorist organizations use to justify hate speech, discrimination, kidnapping, rape and violent murder—sometimes on a massive scale.

Their beliefs are unwavering absolutes which in their minds gives them the moral high ground to carry out the worst things that happen in the world.

If hostility is your default reaction to people challenging your beliefs, then you probably have some Inner Asshole self-control issues like me.

What you believe may or may not be an established fact. Documented facts are easy enough to prove.

If what you believe can’t be proven easily, it makes sense that others have beliefs that conflict with yours. It would be weird if they didn’t.

If you want to have good relationships and make life suck less, you should stop being an asshole about it. Here’s how.

Think of the Times You Were Proven Wrong Despite Feeling Certain

When you’re in the midst of a disagreement, ask yourself: “Is it possible I’m wrong about this despite feelings of certainty, just like those other times I mistakenly thought I was right?” Of course, it’s possible. But sometimes, you’ll feel certain in your correctness anyway. You probably mostly will because of the Actor-Observer Bias, which you accidentally use every day to forgive yourself for behaviors and actions you typically admonish others for doing (texting while driving, using profanity, having an affair, etc).

Unfortunately, your feelings of certainty are not always a reliable measuring stick for determining truth. Feeling certain has no bearing on whether your beliefs, opinions, or even what you think you know, is actually true. We can feel equally certain about things that are right as we do about things that are wrong.

The best thing I’ve done following my marriage imploding and subsequent divorce was closely examine how my behavior contributed to my divorce and intentionally seek out explanations for how—despite how uncomfortable it sometimes made (and continues to make) me feel—my choices were largely responsible for the relationship’s death and depriving my young son of a better life with his family intact.

I was always so certain of my correctness, and that bullshit “certainty” fueled the asshole behavior that ultimately led to my life’s worst moments.

I believe the key to being less of an asshole and more of a kind, humble human being who people like and respect, is to adopt a Nothing-is-Certain mindset.

I used to care so much about being “right” during disagreements with my wife, that I:

A. Never challenged my own sometimes-incorrect beliefs in pursuit of truth.

B. Exercised WORSE behavior morally by being an asshole than she ever did innocently watching television, and…

C. Ultimately destroyed the very thing I was attempting to “improve.”

All because I “knew best.”

All because I was “right.”

All because of certainty.

The reason this humbling journey of self-discovery has been so freeing is because I no longer have to be a slave to “being right.”

Every disagreement is either an opportunity for me to share my beliefs with others, or an opportunity to correct one of my false beliefs and stop being wrong about something.

I “win” no matter what. And God-willing, am less of an asshole in the process.

What You Should Do Next

Author Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, said it best when he wrote that “the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”

“This is the only ‘safe’ Super Belief as it limits your ability to force your certainty onto others, while simultaneously always leaving you open to new and improved ideas. It keeps you open to new experiences and capable of coping with whatever pain may arise in a realistic and safe way. It also just makes you less of an asshole,” he wrote. 

Advance your noble quest to reduce your Asshole Quotient and improve your relationships by reading these two awesome and thought-provoking pieces from Mr. Manson:

The Virtue of Doubt

Why You Can’t Trust Yourself 

I’d like to tell you I’m certain you’ll like them, but I suppose I don’t know.

And that’s okay. Not knowing things is so much better than I ever imagined.

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Do We Need Marriage?

handcuff marriage

Is this what marriage is? (Image/tlbn.org)

Julia asked: “I’m one year post-divorce and still grappling with the idea of ever marrying again. I used to feel that marriage was a necessity, but I’ve realized that I don’t really need it. You don’t need to be married to love someone for a long, long time, ya know? I used to think Marriage = Security, but I realized that isn’t true…

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?

“I absolutely see the point you’re making, but I would love to hear more about the million reasons why we should get married.”

Life, much like writing, is filled with a bunch of nuance and subtlety.

Life, much like writing, requires we ask difficult questions and put effort into discovering answers. For example: Is there actually a meaningful difference between the words “nuance” and “subtlety”?

We talk about big things here. Big ideas. We have the conversations it often seems as if no one else is having because they’re busy screaming about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders; or trying to decipher Beyoncé lyrics; or making summer plans for their kids before school starts again in a few months, or, just, individual life distractions that keep most of our minds off anything flirting with the philosophical or psychological.

Something important gets lost in all the noise: Meaning.

One minute, we’re literal. “I am frustrated with Fred at work because certain things he does makes doing my job more difficult for me.”

The next minute, we utter hyperbole—my communication method of choice: “Fred is killing me.”

It’s awesome that the police don’t show up to arrest people for attempted murder OR falsely reporting a crime every time we say “[So and So, or This Random Thing] is killing me,” because that would be really frustrating and burdensome for law-abiding citizens as well as police officers and the judicial system.

Put another way, we’d all lose our shit and wish we were dead.

Should We Get Married?

Probably not. If that’s a serious question a person is asking.

In the post ‘This is why you shouldn’t get married’, I wrote the following:

“There are a million reasons you shouldn’t get married.

“Five short, personal accounts without additional context from divorced women on the internet SHOULD NOT be among them.

“Because there are a million reasons you SHOULD get married.

“Active and physically fit people sometimes die of heart attacks during workouts. Should people stop exercising?

“People are sometimes hurt or killed while driving. Should we avoid getting behind the wheel?

“Patients sometimes die in hospitals because of human error or unpredictable reactions to medicine. “Should we stop visiting doctors while suffering health problems?

“Bad news, guys: the problem was never the institution of marriage. It was us.”

A couple of notes:

There might not be a million reasons you SHOULD get married. A better word choice might have been: “There are a million reasons to get married.” I was just playing off the SHOULD NOT from the previous sentence. And I’m fairly certain no human can write a million-reason list to do ANYTHING, let alone get married, when so many people have become disenchanted with marriage because of divorce, seeing their parents or friends divorce, paying attention to divorce statistics, or believing it to be an outdated religious concept unnecessary for living a fulfilling life in 2016.

MBTTTR commenter Lisa G. dropped this under The Life Blueprint, and it serendipitously hits all the points:

“I agree with this. Question models and think deeply about what you want and need and your gifts. Also consider how it will affect others. Don’t go into $100,000 in debt unless you really understand what you are doing. ;)

“The problem is we often substitute one model for another equally restrictive model instead of fixing the problem underlying the first model.

“That is what is wrong with the model described in your last post. Because so many people have crappy marriages and divorces, the new model is just not to get married. But still have children.

“That’s not a well thought out model either. It’s just reactionary in the opposite direction. Maybe ok on an individual basis but unintended consequences for large populations.”

Why Marriage Matters

“Do we need marriage? Is it essential?” Julia asked.

Let’s first be pragmatic, because there are two ways to approach this conversation.

People WILL get married. To the tune of 95 percent of the time. They’ll marry foolishly and thoughtfully. They’ll marry naively, or mentally and emotionally prepared. They’ll marry people who will lie, cheat and abuse, as well as people who will love, serve and protect.

For a million reasons (hyperbole!), wise or unwise to our individual perspectives, people will marry.

Sometimes religion and faith play a role. Many people believe marriage purifies sex after making spiritual vows, thus eliminating sin. Sometimes the Life Blueprint is a heavy influencer, independent of organized religion. When 95 out of 100 people are married, or say they plan to marry, it feels safe to assume many view marriage as one of those things everyone, just, does. You know? Because it’s The Way? Much of what we do is a result of modeling the behavior of everything we see everyone doing around us. Most people get married. So, we get married.

But, do we need it?

It’s a fair question.

The mentally tangible and observable positives of lifelong marriages are well documented.

Let’s start with the children. Kids raised in homes with their mother and father in an environment relatively close to what we all imagine standing in front of the wedding officiant during our exchange of vows, grow up to have measurably “better” lives than kids who do not. Stats are funny things. I’d prefer not to debate this.

The child who grows up with both mom and dad at home, and avoids exposure to the major red-flag dysfunctional stuff less-fortunate children sometimes witness, turns into an adult who is healthier, learns more, commits fewer crimes, makes more money, lives longer, avoids addiction, treats people well, and ends up having healthier relationships with partners and their children significantly more often than the kids who don’t grow up with an intact family.

The married partners themselves have measurably better lives, too.

They live longer, make more money, report more happiness, etc.

So, What’s the Problem?

Two things, I think.

1. I believe most people end up marrying someone they “shouldn’t.” Which is kind of a bullshit thing to say, because marriage is a very serious and personal decision that most of us should stay out of. I mean simply that most people will have crappy marriages—the half who divorce, and also all of the people who stay married, but hate it. I believe a large percentage of them will have done a poor job aligning their values with one another, enforcing important personal boundaries, and effectively communicating those values and boundaries with each other. In those specific situations, I would label them “incompatible.” Sadly.

2. Many people don’t know how to be married. Like any life situation in which we later find ourselves thinking or feeling: Whoa! I totally didn’t know what I was getting myself into!, I think most people are that way with marriage. Most other life situations are easily remedied. We change jobs, move to new places, hang out with different people—whatever. Since marriage is designed to be a forever-thing, the Whoa! realization is infinitely more inconvenient and creates much more complicated situations than every other life thing not involving children, legal contracts, shared bank accounts, shared property, shared social networks, and inter-family relationships as the difference between blood relatives and in-laws grows smaller with each family gathering.

Captain Obvious sentence-of-the-day: Marriage and divorce are very hard.

Beyond Pragmatism, Should We Marry?

You’re allowed to think marriage is a bullshit social or religious construct that doesn’t matter.

If you believe that, there’s a better-than-average chance you’re totally not reading this right now, or you’re still tasting the bitter pill of a divorce you didn’t want when you agreed to marry years ago.

If you believe that you got married in good faith, loved and honored your spouse in good times and in bad and then put effort into staying married after noticing cracks forming in the foundation, only to end up divorced because your partner quit on you or ripped your heart out and humiliated you through a major betrayal, then marriage stops looking awesome.

I get it.

I once had a pizza delivered to my house when I lived in Florida, and there was a cricket baked into one of the pieces like a black olive. Ordering pizza from that place stopped looking awesome after that.

Only through the prism of hindsight and self-exploration have I been able to identify the many ways I was a shitty husband, and even I felt scorned and abandoned when she decided to leave.

I felt like she was breaking a promise, regardless of how hypocritical that was. I felt it. And I broke. And it was super not-fun.

And after three years of healing, and gaining a lot of empowering clarity about how my choices contributed to the end of my marriage (which helps immensely in gaining confidence that you can avoid repeating those mistakes a second time), I am still quite unsure whether I’ll ever marry.

I assume it will feel like the Universe is forcing my hand should that uncertainty go away.

But if I end up living the rest of my life single and dying alone, it won’t be because I believe marriage is somehow an inherently flawed institution that should be avoided.

It’s hard to climb mountains.

It’s hard to save a million dollars.

It’s hard to finish marathons.

It’s hard to eat healthy.

It’s hard to learn new languages.

It’s hard to volunteer to help others.

It’s hard to do many, many, many things.

I’m really comfortable suggesting that almost everything really good and wonderful in the human experience is achieved through struggle.

Easy feels good, THEN feels shitty.

Hard feels shitty, THEN feels amazing.

What’s the argument against marriage?

That a handshake agreement is the same as a contract? That a half-hearted suggestion is the same as a solemn vow said in front of everyone you cherish?

That monogamy is unnatural because primates and dogs like to have sex with several partners, and that we’re the same as them even though we have minds that can conjure these thoughts and conversations, and ingenuity that can create the internet and build rockets we can land on Mars like remote-control cars?

That it’s shitty and horrible because one time we married someone who failed us, or we know stories about other people who were mistreated? Because THAT defines the institution of marriage and somehow influences what happens to us?

Because we’re powerless victims unable to affect our life circumstances?

No.

Marriage is shitty because people innocently make poor choices in partner selection AND in their decision making while they’re married.

Not because marriage is somehow inherently shitty.

Whether marriage is the thing people do, or becomes a choice fewer people make as we move toward the future, there is no part of the inherent human desire to connect, to experience physical intimacy, to reproduce, and to give and experience love that will change.

Call it whatever you want.

Marry or don’t marry. But in the end, we must learn to love.

Marriage isn’t the problem. Humans being human are. That’s been true forever.

Does a person need marriage?

That’s not for us to say.

Does the world need marriage?

I think it might.

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