Tag Archives: Regret

Stop Waiting Until it’s Too Late

top regrets of the dying

(Image/Humanengineers)

There was something I wanted to tell someone and I was just waiting for the right time. But then he died before I saw him again.

Message: Undelivered. Permanently. Nice work, Matt. Way to prioritize all the things.

The funeral was beautiful. As beautiful as a funeral can be, anyway.

It’s been a few years since my last funeral, I’m fortunate to report, but a couple of things stood out to me beyond the pain, grief and sadness everyone was feeling to varying degrees, and the brutal suffering of a couple of people on my personal I Love These People the Most list.

Life lessons, if you will. Obvious ones.

But despite their obviousness—and critical importance—almost everyone loses sight of, or forgets, them every day.

2 Lessons About Life & Relationships We Learn at Funerals

There are more than just two. These are simply what stood out for me while people cried in my arms or while listening while long-time friends of the departed eulogized him eloquently and tearfully.

If you think about life and death hard enough—and most of us won’t because the idea of dying or losing our loved ones makes us too uncomfortable (I’m not judging—I bury my head in the sand, too)—life kind of boils down to a contest to see who can die while feeling the most internal peace.

The contest “winners” are everyone who faces their impending death with total peace, having lived a regret-free life where they did all they could, gave all they could, and that their family and friends will remember them fondly because the way that they lived made them a great family member or great friend.

Like, I totally need to get my shit together. But I’m really good at waiting until it’s too late.

It’s probably not accurate to categorize these things as lessons. They’re observations that will surprise approximately zero people, but there’s a good chance you’re not remembering them during everyday life.

We’ll call these observations “sub-lessons” that live under the umbrella of the primary lesson no one ever remembers: Everyone Dies, and We Usually Don’t Know When.

1. We Treat the Dead, Terminally Ill, and Grieving Differently

I’m sure the terminally sick, handicapped, and people grieving the deaths of those closest to them resent being pitied and treated like fragile victims once the initial shock wears off.

But that doesn’t stop us. We typically treat people MUCH differently when we learn they’re dying, that they might die, or that someone very close to them just passed.

I’m not the kind of person who verbally berates strangers (not counting all of the things I mutter toward shitty drivers that would probably make Jesus and my grandma really sad), but sometimes I see people get pissed and say mean stuff to the restaurant wait staff, or hear them dress down some customer-service rep on the phone who’s probably making less than $10 per hour to field complaint calls from strangers all day, every day.

Maybe some of the people getting their ears chewed off deserve it. Probably a few. I just think if they had a sign hanging around their neck announcing that their mom died a few days ago, or that they had a terminal illness that would kill them in the next few weeks, that most people would treat them with a certain amount of kindness and patience.

Which begs the question: If our spouses/romantic partners, our children, siblings, friends, co-workers, etc. are all going to die, and that will be among the worst things that ever happen to us, changing our behavior toward them and enhancing our feelings about them… then why are we sometimes or currently being stupid assholes to them about things that don’t really matter?

Taking it a step further—so many men report the same experience I did at the end of my marriage—that we didn’t see it coming, or that we didn’t know that certain things were causing her so much pain.

We say that if we HAD known, we’d have made better choices.

But if something is legitimately the most important thing in your life, why would you EVER show enough neglect to jeopardize it? How could that even be possible?

But we do. So many of us do. For the same reasons we forget that we, and everyone we know and love, are going to die.

2. It’s Difficult to Leave Something Behind, But We Should Make it Count When We Do

The man who died was a musician. A talented one. Even better than I’d realized when he was still alive and I could have shared my admiration and appreciation.

His nephew, a doctor and pastor, was the primary officiant at the funeral, and he talked about two things in particular that affected me.

The first was his encouragement to the rest of us to live our best lives (which, HINT: is the entire point of this article as well), in which he shared author Bronnie Ware’s five biggest regrets expressed by the terminally ill from her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Because those are good reminders of things most of us are probably getting wrong to some degree.

And the second thing that stood out to me during the pastor’s eulogy was his observation of how rare it is for most people to leave something behind for people to remember them by after our deaths.

Painters leave paintings.

Actors leave films.

Builders leave buildings.

Authors leave books.

Parents leave children.

Musicians leave music.

Some career and life paths don’t lend themselves to so easily leave something tangible behind the way artists, construction crews, and parents are able to.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to write things down that occasionally matter to people. Maybe I shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to finish a book.

What a gift, I thought. What a gift to be able to adjust our behavior toward some people who really matter to us, even if it takes a terrible loss to trigger it and help us refocus.

Maybe we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to actually behave with the love we say we feel for those who matter most.

Because if we’re too busy putting our most critical relationships on hold in favor of stuff that won’t mean a damn thing to us during their funerals, then I think it’s fair to say we’re probably doing it wrong.

But we don’t have to keep doing so. While there’s breath in us, we can always make a better choice, no matter what life throws our way.

What a gift.

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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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It’s Okay to Miss Things Without Wanting Them Back

driving-away-country-road

(Image/The Guardian)

Because I’ve been incredibly blessed, my parents’ divorce when I was 4 was the worst thing to happen to me until my own divorce 30 years later.

I was a little kid who didn’t like that if I was at my mom’s house, I couldn’t see my dad, or my family and friends who lived near him, because they were hundreds of miles away.

I didn’t like that if I was at my dad’s house, I couldn’t see my mom or my family and friends living in faraway Ohio.

From the age of 4 onward, I’ve been emotionally calibrated to dread goodbyes while simultaneously looking forward to an overdue reunion. Have you ever felt the joy of hugging someone you love after having not seen them for several months, while also crying because you’re saying bye to someone else you love and now won’t see for several months?

It creates contradictions. Internal human ones that probably don’t make sense to anyone who has read the magical “These Are The Things That Make Sense” book, and are likely responsible for concocting the subset of people I call Good Men Who Are Shitty Husbands. Of which I was/am a member.

I have a unique ability to be disengaged with people I love for long periods of time, but pick up warmly right where we left off once I see or talk to them again. People accustomed to higher-functioning communication habits sometimes get upset with me, perhaps interpreting a lack of communication as me not caring about them. Which makes sense.

When the two people you love, trust, desire and count on more than anyone else (which were my parents throughout my childhood) live hundreds of miles apart, requiring months-long stretches of not seeing one of them (in a pre-FaceTime world), you develop a capacity for limited contact in ways most people might consider unhealthy, or at least uncomfortable.

I’ve been asked approximately 78 billion times: “Do you wish your mom and dad would have stayed married?”

Hmmm.

I didn’t know what a quandary was for most of those, but surely that’s what this was.

I knew my mom. I knew my dad. And even though I didn’t know how to articulate important relationship concepts like Shared Values, or having Alignment, I felt reasonably sure a household including both of my parents would have been awkward in ways difficult to articulate.

I’m pretty good at pragmatism, and I’m pretty good at finding silver linings. My parents’ divorce was the epicenter of any negative experiences in my life and the thing that hurt me most while tearfully waving bye to my favorite people disappearing in the rear window.

And if my parents had stayed married, none of that would have been the case.

But also? I wouldn’t have had my wonderful stepparents, friends, school and life experiences and opportunities that I did.

Like everything else in Life, there are almost always tradeoffs. Few are the moments we get to feel: Ahhh. This is perfect.

This was my first experience with this important Life Thing in adulthood — it’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

You’re Allowed to Do Both

When we first become “real adults” with jobs and responsibilities, many of us sometimes miss the carefree lifestyle we enjoyed as kids living at home. But, do we really want to move back in with our parents? With curfews and other restrictions? With the parameters of your adult life dictated for you?

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

When we first get married, many of us miss the “freedom” and relative ease of the single life. Do we really want to be single again?

When we first have children, many of us miss the ability to go out with friends, sleep through the night and have sex whenever and wherever we want. Do we really wish our kids didn’t exist?

I miss college. All my friends. All the parties. All my youthful ignorance and innocence. Do I really wish I could be back there?

I miss my hometown. Family and friends and favorite restaurants. Do I really wish I lived back there?

People’s marriages and relationships end. It hurts because we miss them. Not hurt like getting kicked in the shin, but more like your childhood nemesis digging out your insides with an ice cream scoop.

Sometimes we can’t breathe.

Sometimes we want to die to make it stop.

Sometimes we feel stabbing pains waving bye to our children while they disappear in the rear window.

Sometimes we feel all kinds of things. Even if you could somehow read “These Are The Things That Make Sense,” maybe nothing ever will.

You can miss your freedom without wanting your marriage to end or your children to disappear.

You can miss your youth without wanting to trade in the hard-earned wisdom acquired on the Journey.

You can miss your failed relationship without wishing you were back in it.

Sometimes the answers aren’t always right or wrong. Because you love, want and miss whatever you love, want and miss.

That’s yours. That’s just for you.

Uncle Rico wanted desperately to go back to 1984 and win the state football championship.

Maybe you want to go back in time, too. Cool.

Like freezer burn, you’re allowed to feel two seemingly opposite things at the same time. Even if we weren’t allowed, I think we’d still feel them anyway.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

There’s nothing wrong with us.

It’s okay to miss things without wanting them back.

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What Matters More Than Your Relationships?

the most important things are not things

(Image/esterpartegas.com)

As a child dreaming about the future, I imagined myself in life scenarios I believed would make me happy.

I dreamed of being an adult. Independent! Freedom to do whatever I want with my own money! I thought going to a job and being paid for my time would be better than going to school and hanging out with my friends every day. I thought having my own house would be better than living with adults who could restrict my choices. I thought having my own money would be better than my parents financially fulfilling life needs and occasionally just giving me some.

I dreamed of owning a big house. I won’t even want to go on vacation if I live in paradise every day! I didn’t know I was hopelessly incapable of keeping even an average-sized three-bedroom house clean and properly maintained on my own. I didn’t know about hedonic adaptation, and how we all adjust to every positive life change over time, and then it stops feeling as awesome as when it first happened or something was new. I didn’t know that could also happen to rich people who could buy anything they wanted.

I dreamed of fun things like having season tickets to all of my favorite Cleveland pro sports teams. I can go to every game! Awesome! I didn’t know how much I wouldn’t like hunting for parking spots downtown, or sitting outside in the cold for hours, or how watching games at home in 2016 would in many ways be a superior experience to driving to the stadium or arena; nor did I know how much my emotional attachment to my favorite teams would fade as life introduced me to new things to care about.

Some People Think Relationship Stuff is Dumb

They don’t care. It’s simply not on their radar.

I was out with friends recently. We were kicking around some important relationship ideas over beer and food when Jeff sitting to my left used a pause in the conversation to ask Ryan for his thoughts on the Batman v Superman movie. We all laughed and joked about Jeff’s less-than-subtle conversation pivot to something which didn’t bore him to death. But move on to comic-book movie discussion, we did.

One thought stuck with me: If Jeff’s wife ever decides to divorce him, he’s probably going to care so much more about the conversation we just had than he will about movies.

My divorce not only put me on the path to understanding how common human behavior leads people who were once in love to dislike each another so much that they’re willing to go through life’s second-most stressful event (according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale) in order to get away from their spouse; but also helped me achieve what I feel is a more appropriate and healthy perspective on life—one which prioritizes THINGS THAT MATTER.

Everyone will decide for themselves what matters to them. There are no universally right or wrong answers.

But there is strong evidence that most people are incorrect in their guesses about what will make them happy, and that elderly people who die slowly but alertly on their proverbial deathbeds express many of the same thoughts and regrets in their final hours of self-reflection.

How to Live a Regret-Free Life

A Hospice nurse interviewed several dying patients in an effort to compile commonly shared wisdom about how to live a life free of regret. Money, Career, Fame, Big houses, and Cheap sex were all conspicuously absent from the list, which actually looked like this:

1Live a life true to yourself; not the life others expect of you.

2. Don’t work so hard.

3. Express your feelings courageously.

4. Stay connected to friends.

5. Give yourself permission to choose happiness.

Perspective is really important.

That guy who just cut you off dangerously and rudely in traffic is a huge asshole who needs to learn how to drive, UNLESS we later discover he was rushing to a nearby hospital because his small child was undergoing emergency surgery and he didn’t know whether his little son or daughter would live or die.

When I was in my late teens and 20s, I despised “little-kid” things. Like Barney or The Wiggles or going to some elementary school performance where a bunch of kids who don’t know how to keep their shirts tucked in properly and are objectively terrible at singing and dancing are supposed to entertain me by singing and dancing.

You suck, little kids!, the younger me thought.

But then I became a dad. And watching his favorite kids’ shows is now (usually) a fun thing to do. Attending his little-kid school performances is (always) an absolute must.

Perspective.

Interview a hundred men and ask them what they want out of life, and a common refrain will be: “Success.”

Ask them to define Success, and you’ll get a bunch of different answers. I won’t pretend to know how other guys define it. I only know that it’s common to observe in men the tendency to avoid any activity or situation in which he perceives a high probability of failure—like how I’m afraid to go skiing in front of a bunch of strangers, or to play in a golf tournament if I don’t know what to expect from my swing after not playing for a while.

This Men Avoid Failure Thing is important in the context of a man’s marriage or dating relationships. Men often withdraw and/or actively avoid conflict in their relationships. We do this because our experience has taught us that we cannot succeed by having the hard relationship conversations. (Not because it’s not possible, but usually because we’re unskilled communicators lacking profoundly in the empathy department, so we just keep having the same fight over and over.)

Maybe that’s not just a guy thing. I don’t know.

Our Relationships Matter Most

I’ve written it a hundred times: I BROKE after divorce.

My head and body physically hurt. There was chest tightness and constant feelings of stress and anxiety that never really went away unless I was asleep or intoxicated. When I slept, I had bad dreams. When I drank, I blabbed constantly about divorce to both friends and strangers, and probably made everyone uncomfortable.

When your mind and body betray you every second of every day, NOTHING in life is good.

Work sucks. Parties suck. Dating sucks. Even spending time with your child sucks because it’s a constant reminder of your failings and the undeserved life sentence you just gave him.

Until I felt how true misery poisons, or at least clouds, every life experience, I never truly realized the importance of Mental, Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional health like I do now.

Mental health and addiction are huge factors in accidental deaths and suicides, and I’m woefully ignorant about and unqualified to discuss them.

But assuming some of these people took their own lives to simply get rid of the hurt, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to realize that people who “succeed” and who are “loved” and who experience great fame and fortune and accolades ARE JUST LIKE US. Many of them had everything marked off on the Things I Believe Will Make Me Happy checklists shared by so many of us. But for reasons we can’t fully understand, they were so miserable they intentionally killed themselves or consumed enough drugs to end their lives.

Robin Williams. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Whitney Houston. Heath Ledger. Kurt Cobain. Hunter S. Thompson. Tony Scott. Ernest Hemingway. Marilyn Monroe. Junior Seau. Don Cornelius.

It’s staggering.

Until I first experienced true isolation, I never truly understood the critical role our human relationships play in our overall life experience. I’d taken it for granted every day because I’d always had it. In the context of our earthly lives, nothing is more important. You know it when it’s gone.

Perspective.

We neglect our intimate relationships and our families and our friendships in pursuit of “succeeding” at other things. Our jobs. Our hobbies. Our competitions.

And then sometimes we “succeed,” but no one’s around to share the success with.

And then sometimes we get old and die, lonely and afraid.

And perhaps all because of something as sneakily simple as HOW we thought about our relationships and what the word “success” really means.

Like many previous life lessons, it was one I had to learn the hard way. Maybe some others won’t have to.

Because it’s never too late to put our focus over there instead of over here.

Maybe that’s where we’ll find what we’re looking for.

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If I Die Before I Wake

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

I think about dying sometimes.

I think about dying because sometimes people die.

I can’t decide how afraid of it I am. I tend to feel a little afraid of any situation in which I have no prior experience, or am missing a lot of information and don’t know what to expect. So I guess I’m a little bit afraid to die, which I like better than three years ago when being awake hurt so much that staying alive too long feeling that way seemed much scarier.

One of the worst things about being a divorced, single father is that there’s no one around to document life with my son. My little second-grader, thankfully, has several family members on his mom’s side who he sees pretty regularly.

But because we live far from my extended family, and I’ve been single for three years, there’s this huge chunk of my son’s life that only exists in his memory and mine. If I die today, he’ll only have a few pieces of visual evidence documenting our life together.

He curled up next to me on the couch last night. He wanted to look at old photos of him and us. Even though I’m an infrequent Facebook user, it’s still my largest repository of old photos.

It’s a time warp, because there’s close to nothing from the past three years.

If you judged and measured my life in terms of Facebook activity, it’s not hard to see the world turned upside-down in 2010, and stayed that way. My son didn’t recognize some of his friends from today because they were so young in the photos.

We got to Fourth of July photos from 2010.

“Look dad! That’s when mommy still came with us when we go to visit grandpa’s,” he said.

“That’s right, bud. You’ll see mommy in a lot of these photos,” I said. “See? There you both are. Look at that face.”

“That was one of my happiest years.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I was 3, and mommy still lived here.”

That sort of thing used to make me cry. I’m tougher now.

“Do you remember when mommy still lived here?”

“Yeah. I remember.”

We flipped back to Christmas 2009. There was a photo of him standing in the middle of my in-law’s old living room, a place he spent much of his first three years before the whole world changed.

“Where is that, dad?”

“Are you serious? You don’t know where that is?”

“I just don’t really remember,” he said.

I think about his grandfather—my father-in-law—all the time. We lost him unexpectedly one day, and some of us went into an involuntary tailspin afterward.

I don’t presume to know what happens after we die, but if it’s possible for him to peek in on his grandson, I know he is. He was an awesome grandpa.

I wonder what he thinks of me. Maybe he feels like I failed his daughter, and considers me a major disappointment. Maybe he hears me sometimes when I get upset with his grandson, and wishes he could tell me to chill out and maintain perspective.

You know?

Because we’re all going to die one day. And really? Who gives a shit about a few crumbs on the dining room floor?

Sometimes, I think about dying in my sleep.

I hope my son is with his mom if that happens any time soon.

She and I rely on mobile phones to communicate with each other. Sometimes when one of us is particularly busy and distracted, or we have our phones plugged in and away from us, the other worries that something bad might have happened after we don’t get responses to texts, or our calls go unanswered.

If enough hours go by, I start concocting potentially terrifying stories and possible explanations in my head, because that’s what I do sometimes in the absence of facts.

At my son’s age, even though he’d be really upset and afraid, I think he’d be able to use my phone to reach his mom. I think he knows to go to the neighbors for help in an emergency.

I hope he’ll be okay.

I hope my life choices didn’t add up to a freakish moment where a young child has to face the body of his dead father and try to figure out what to do next, and then not even have very many photos of our good times together to look through afterward.

I worry about my parents. I don’t call them enough, so maybe they secretly think I don’t love and appreciate them as much as I do.

I worry about my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. I hope they know what they mean to me. They probably don’t. It’s probably my fault. But I hope they guess correctly.

I worry about you. Most of you won’t care or notice. But some of you will. If you’re still reading this meandering, self-indulgent post, you’re probably someone who cares. You’re probably someone who might notice when the updates simply stop. Hopefully by design. But maybe not. Maybe one day there just won’t be any more heartbeats. Then, no more posts. And maybe some of you will wonder what happened. Maybe some people will think I quit, or ran out of words.

Maybe some of you will guess correctly that I died, and be frustrated that there may never be a way to know for sure.

I might not die today. I probably won’t, since I’ve never died any of the other days I’ve been alive. But maybe I will. Maybe this is the day the top of the hourglass runs dry. That’s the point, really. We never know.

If I’m out of time, what is it that needs to be said, and to whom?

Is that really worth feeling upset over?

Shouldn’t the things people think about in their final moments be the things we put most of our focus on?

I think so.

I hope this isn’t the last thing I ever write. That they don’t find the plates I left in the sink. The stack of mail on my desk. The unmade bed. The unfinished Pinewood Derby car on the bench downstairs.

The last father-son project. Unfinished, like this life.

We probably don’t wake up one day feeling ready to die—feeling like we got it all right, and accomplished all we set out to do.

Maybe the best we can do is whatever’s in front of us today.

Offering to help.

Forgiving them.

Forgiving ourselves.

Trying hard.

Loving harder.

Choosing hope.

Choosing courage.

If I knew this was the last thing I would ever write, I would finish with a note to my son (Love you, kid.):

Thinking about dying is only awesome if you use it as motivation to take nothing for granted. I did many bad things. But I always chose hope, and it has never failed me. I hope you will, too.

I don’t spend most of my life thinking about dying. I promise.

I spend most of it thinking about living.

I spend most of it thinking about living because sometimes people really live.

Be one of them.

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The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done

face-in-hands

Between acting like my wife should hurry up and get over the unexpected death of her father because it was damaging our marriage, and my nonchalant denial of her postpartum depression following our son’s birth, I can’t decide which is my greatest failure on my journey toward divorce.

I wake up every day believing I’m a good person, but maybe I’m not.

My failure to adequately support my wife after losing a parent was largely a function of a million previous tiny failures culminating in her breaking point in the midst of grief. When everything hurts, you need someone you can trust to help take some of the pain away. I’d stopped being that a long time ago. I just didn’t know it yet.

I thought she had been nitpicky, overly emotional and occasionally unfair for the previous seven years. Like most guys, I was selfish and clueless.

So, here’s a secret I’ve never told anyone: I have a sociopathic trait. I lack the ability to empathize with the physical pain of others.

When I read books, or hear someone describe something I’ve never seen, my brain dials up images, but what I visually imagine is almost never what reality looks like when I get to see whatever the thing is. And maybe that’s why I struggle with relating to the physical pain of others. Because I can’t properly imagine it.

I am quite sensitive to emotional pain—especially if I’ve been through something similar to a hurting person, or can adequately imagine what it would be like to.

That matters for two reasons: I wasn’t appreciating how much physical discomfort my wife was experiencing during pregnancy, and because I was an ignorant mook, I also failed to grasp the fear, stress and anxiety she might have been feeling worrying about both child delivery, first, then the following 18 years of being responsible for the safety and wellbeing of an actual person.

I was texting friends from the chair next to her bed while she was in labor. I was updating them on her and the baby’s status, so I thought I was doing something important. My wife expressed displeasure with my choice. She wanted me to be fully present and engaged with her, demonstrating my commitment to her, and reinforcing in her mind and heart that I would always be at her side through life’s difficult moments.

These are things I understand today. They make perfect sense, because today I am less of an ignorant mook. But on that day seven and a half years ago, none of that made sense.

The mere act of marrying her demonstrates my commitment to her forever, I thought.

OF COURSE she knows based on thousands of conversations how much I value being a good father.

OF COURSE she knows she’s loved.

OF COURSE she knows she can count on me.

She knows me well enough. She knows I’m a good person.

I wasn’t illogical for assuming and believing that. I was just profoundly ignorant. I think most guys are because no one ever explains it to us in a way that ever computes and resonates.

I would never consider something more important than the birth of my son. But texting friends while my wife was in labor—no matter how uneventful or undramatic it seemed to me—felt to her precisely like I cared more about doing what I wanted than being there for her in her most-vulnerable moments.

I would never physically abandon my crying wife. But that’s exactly what I did. She cried. She asked me not to go. But I’m stubborn and moronic and had it in my head that I needed to be well rested for the days ahead per the advice of other fathers.

I left my crying wife alone in a hospital room just hours removed from an emergency C-section where she struggled to breastfeed a screaming child who didn’t want to with nurses who made her feel like she just wasn’t trying hard enough.

Why?

So I could sleep, shower, send photos to family and friends, and revel in the amazing feeling of being a father to a newborn son.

I hope you believe me when I tell you how reasonable it seemed at the time.

In the context of my nine-year marriage? It’s the single worst thing I’ve ever done.

Then I Made it Worse By Suggesting Postpartum Depression Wasn’t Real 

My wife developed postpartum depression.

My lack of education about hormone loss and the psychological impact of childbirth on a new mother, combined with my lack of respect for mental and emotional health issues across the board, were just the ingredients needed to make me a profoundly negligent asshole in the early months of our son’s life.

I thought postpartum depression amounted to mental weakness.

I thought it was something “crazy” people feel, like Andrea Yates who drowned five of her children in the family bathtub.

I thought it was tantamount to my wife not loving our infant son.

This is just a phase she’ll get over, I thought.

She’s emotional sometimes, but I know she isn’t crazy!

I know she loves our baby.

Instead of reading books, talking to other parents, researching PPD or even just actively seeking ways to help my wife in whatever way I could make the difficult adjustment to parenthood, I played a lot of online poker and watched football and convinced myself I was a good husband and father because I have a kind heart.

I hope when she thinks back on those days, she remembers at least something positive about me, but I can’t say with certainty that she can, or that she should.

She tried to talk to me about it later. About the PPD. About how sad and afraid and alone she felt in the hospital when I’d left her there. About how she wanted me to actively participate in the planning and organization of our new life as parents.

But instead of apologizing with heartfelt sincerity for hurting my wife so badly, I’d get angry with her and accuse her of looking for yet another reason to complain about me even though I was such a good guy. Good guys are well liked and get told what good guys they are all the time, so when their wives point out their shortcomings in a relationship, all the “good guys” resort to the old: “How is it that the person I married is the one always bitching about me?” Because if no one else is bitching about you, they must all be right, and your crazy emo wife must be wrong.

Postpartum depression, according to the Mayo Clinic, typically requires professional treatment, including therapy sessions and, when applicable, anti-depressant medication.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following things mothers suffering from PPD can do to speed up recovery:

Make healthy lifestyle choices. Include physical activity, such as a walk with your baby, in your daily routine. Try to get adequate rest. Eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol.

Only a mother with a thoughtful and attentive husband can realistically expect to get the sleep, healthy food preparation, and time (not to mention energy) for physical activity to achieve a healthy lifestyle and overcome PPD.

Set realistic expectations. Don’t pressure yourself to do everything. Scale back your expectations for the perfect household. Do what you can and leave the rest.

A new mother only feels like she has to do everything when her partner doesn’t have her back.

Make time for yourself. If you feel like the world is coming down around you, take some time for yourself. Get dressed, leave the house, and visit a friend or run an errand. Or schedule some time alone with your partner.

There are only enough hours in the day when all of a household’s responsibilities are tended to. Time alone with a partner only works when the partner makes himself available for such things.

Avoid isolation. Talk with your partner, family and friends about how you’re feeling. Ask other mothers about their experiences. Breaking the isolation may help you feel human again.

When my wife tried to talk to me about it, I basically invalidated her condition and dismissed it as a figment of her imagination. “You’re a great mother,” I kept saying, as if you can’t be a great mother AND feel uncontrollably depressed due to a variety of hormonal and psychological conditions I was largely responsible for creating in the first place.

Ask for help. Try to open up to the people close to you and let them know you need help. If someone offers to baby-sit so you can take a break, take them up on it. If you can sleep, take a nap, or maybe you can catch a movie or meet for coffee with friends.

She tried to talk to me. Several times. She asked me for help. And I denied her my help by suggesting there was nothing to worry about. Instead of trying to understand how she felt and working diligently to figure out what more I could do to help, I pretended everything was fine and left her to fend for herself.

Maybe I did that because it was easier than working hard.

Maybe I let my wife run the show because I didn’t want the responsibility or the hassle.

Maybe every single thing about our lives would be different had I made the right choices.

There were countless little moments where I failed my wife. Where I didn’t work harder to understand her or speak to her in ways that conveyed my sincere desire to be a good partner.

But until I ditched my crying wife at the hospital to catch a few winks, left all the new-parenting heavy lifting to her, and never once apologized or took responsibility for it, I hadn’t actually destroyed my family.

There’s no such thing as time travel. And there’s not enough Christmas magic to rewind clocks and unflip calendars.

But if anyone’s wondering what I’m most sorry for in my entire life, now you know.

…..

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The Things That Matter

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One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.

He had just learned she was dying of cancer.

His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.

Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.

No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.

He can’t speak.

She says: “I know.”

And we know that she does.

This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.

And they both remember those times.

The things that matter.

A Letter from my Grandmother

I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.

I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.

I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.

I think most of us are too afraid.

To go on that adventure.

To give up the day job.

To kiss the girl.

To dance.

To leap.

We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.

And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.

I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.

I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.

That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.

That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.

My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.

She wrote me a letter.

Dear Matt,

Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.

The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.

I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.

As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.

Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.

Just know we love you and always will. 

Grandma and Grandpa

How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?

We won’t always know while it’s happening.

But I think one day we will.

I think, one day, we’ll just know.

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Good People Ruin Marriage

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Any time I’d hear about a couple getting a divorce, I always assumed one of them did something bad.

I’d usually suspect the guy. Of cheating. Of hitting. Of being verbally abusive. Of having a problem with gambling or alcohol or child abuse.

But then I got divorced and started talking to lots of other people who are either divorced or in troubled marriages.

And that’s when it became clear that all the common “reasons” for divorce probably don’t cause most of them.

Good people ruin marriage. I don’t mean people, by virtue of being good, ruin marriage. I mean good people with the best intentions ruin marriage. All the time.

They are not bad. They are simply bad at marriage.

Not With a Bang

“This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

                – T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

I think most marriages die with someone asleep at the wheel.

Some well-meaning husband or wife just obliviously caught up in the rhythm of comfort and routine. They believe they’re a good husband or wife by virtue of not committing all of those marital cardinal sins.

We do this a lot.

I go to work and church and don’t commit crimes, so my wife must think I’m a good guy!

I don’t do drugs or punch my wife, so she must think I’m a good guy!

I don’t gamble all our money away or stay out late drinking without telling her where I am, so my wife must think I’m a good guy!

We like to think: “Well, at least I’m not like… !!!” and then consider that virtuous.

Just because the worst student in class got Ds and spent a lot of time in detention doesn’t make you a great student just because you got Cs and sat in detention half as often.

Marriage isn’t graded on a curve.

More and more, people are emailing me and asking for relationship advice.

That’s how desperate they’ve become. They’re asking a guy who is batting 0-1 at marriage to advise them on their marriages. I don’t know how this happened.

I can’t fix your marriage. I couldn’t fix mine. What I am good at is asking myself the hard questions and drawing what I consider logical conclusions about things I did in my marriage that led to its demise.

Sometimes, when I write those things down, people recognize the same behavior in their relationships.

It’s Not the Big Things

It’s not.

It almost never is. It’s those little moments you didn’t know were big.

It’s the routine argument, and because it’s routine you don’t choose your words carefully. Because you like to win fights, you don’t take a deep breath and think about what you really want the outcome of the situation to be.

What if someone told you that silly argument over what song was playing on the radio (Shazam would have been helpful in 2003) would ultimately cause real fights and feelings of resentment and a lack of respect for one another and be something that haunted you 12 years later?

Wouldn’t you just keep your mouth shut and thank the heavens for another beautiful day to share with the person you love most?

I would fight with my wife and sometimes she would cry and instead of apologizing and not repeating that mistake again, I would walk away and then the next time we would fight, I would just do that exact same thing again.

Maybe it was pride. I think pride might kill more marriages than gambling or alcoholism or domestic violence.

I would abandon my wife when she was feeling most vulnerable. She just fought—(Fought! Why do we fight people we love?)—with the person who is supposed to be there for her. The person who is supposed to make her feel safe and lift her up during life’s toughest moments.

And I walked away because it was easier. Turned my back on her.

I let her cry instead of hugging because I was prideful and thought I was right.

Why did it matter to me who was right in a fight I can’t even remember?

Remember the topless mall psychic lady in Mallrats with the third nipple? What if a little mini version of her popped up on my shoulder during one of these fights and said: “Hey! Matt! You’re being a moron! 1. You have ONE job, and you’re currently failing. It’s easy to ‘love’ when everything’s going your way! Weak cowards can love on the good days. Real men love when it’s hard. When it’s inconvenient. When you don’t feel like it. 2. This is what’s going to break your marriage. In a few years, you’re going to have a little boy. Some unexpected life challenges will pop up, and because you haven’t built a strong-enough foundation with your wife, you’re going to fall apart. And it’s because of this, right here. You’re going to be in your mid-thirties. And your wife is going to live somewhere else and your son is going to be gone half the time and it’s going to be hard for everyone involved. You’re going to break on the inside. You’re running out of time.”

If that little miniature three-nipple lady said that to me (and I believed her), I truly think I’m prudent enough that I would have changed the way I was doing things.

The things that destroy our marriages are sometimes so small that we’re incapable of respecting the moment enough to behave differently. But if we knew that what we did and said in that moment would change our future one way or the other? Almost as if our entire lives would be determined by it? Wouldn’t we choose the right thing?

I think we would.

I think people do the wrong thing because they don’t know how important that moment is.

You’re going to have a fight soon because you’re a human being. And you’re going to fall into the same behavior you always fall into when you fight because it’s almost involuntary. But at some point, sanity will prevail and you’ll have a chance to ask yourself the right question: What is it that I really hope happens at the end of all this?

I can’t go back and change anything.

But I can be more conscious of right now.

I don’t want to ever again say I didn’t see it coming. That I didn’t recognize the moment for what it was. Something defining. Something that would change everything. Forever.

The little things are the big things.

This is the way your marriage ends.

With a whimper.

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The Heaviest Laundry

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

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

I pulled the sexy underwear from the dryer.

Black.

Lace.

Hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I liked not being that way.

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

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

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

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

A little bit of crazy seeps in.

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

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

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

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

Then you feel shame, too.

And you sink even deeper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prophetic poetry.

Thirteen Months and Nineteen Days Later

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

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

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

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

My mind made it real.

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

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

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

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

“Or?”

“Or we can have you murdered.”

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

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

And it doesn’t stop.

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

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

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

But, still.

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

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

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

Maybe a million different things.

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

And it doesn’t matter.

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

Those months in the guest room fundamentally changed me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will tell you how I deal with loss now.

I don’t.

You only can lose what you cling to.

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

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

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

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

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

Really hard.

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

And maybe there’s a better way.

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

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

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

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

And then maybe we can run.

So fast, so far, so free.

Maybe we can.

Just run.

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The Inconvenient Truth About Divorce One Year Later

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It makes you feel weak.

It makes you feel like a chump.

In manspeak, it makes you feel like a pussy.

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

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

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

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

Surprise, dipshit! She’s serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes you doubt everything you have ever believed.

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

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

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

You feel lost. Forsaken.

And you feel sorry for yourself.

And then you cry some more.

And then you lose even more self-respect.

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

What the hell’s the matter with you?

More self-loathing.

What a pussy.

How Does It Feel When It’s Love?

Van Halen asked that in 1988 on their OU812 album.

I can’t tell you but it lasts forever.

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just know that I liked talking to her.

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to cry.

Unforgetful Me

“Oh my God, Matt. You want her back!”

Do I?

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

I didn’t even fight it back then.

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

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

I saw them.

I felt them.

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

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

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

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

What did I do to cause this?

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

But you could have prevented it from happening.

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

Sometimes you said no.

You live with that.

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

You live with that.

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

And you live with that.

From Church Bells to Wish You Wells

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

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

But your body revolts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe love—real love—is forever.

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

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

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

Or you can take it one step further.

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

You can live it.

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