Tag Archives: Self image

Surprise! I Don’t Completely Suck

failure to communicate cool hand luke

“The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care. Right? Yeah!” — The Offspring

Some people think I have low self-esteem and am too hard on myself.

“Chin up, Matt. I know way bigger losers than you!”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, man!”

“You’re a really swell guy, and a girl will probably kiss you on the mouth again someday if you just hang in there long enough!”

I made up two of those.

Sometimes I write stuff, and I feel pretty normal or even possibly good while doing so, and then out of nowhere, I’ll get one of these comments.

“Take it easy, Matt! Don’t do anything crazy!”

“We’re all here for you, buddy. Keep on truckin’!”

“If I could have one superpower right now, it would be the ability to crawl through this camera and give you a big hug.”

I also made up two of those and plagiarized the third.

It dawned on me yesterday when someone who likely has my best interests at heart told me in a comment that I frustrate her with my crappy self-esteem (but acknowledged she doesn’t always know how to interpret my tone.) That, combined with hundreds of “Keep your head up, pal!” comments over the past however many months, has led me to the following conclusion: I’m a shitty hack writer with a glaring inability to effectively convey tone of voice, and I should quit forever since I suck so much at life.

Every person who knows me even a little bit can “hear” my tone of voice in that last sentence. And they know how I mean it.

Exaggeration, hyperbole and metaphor are my tools, and self-deprecation is my trade. Sometimes, I’m even sarcastic and kind of a dick. I’m sorry if that annoys you. Maybe eating some sweaty bologna will make you feel better.

‘Then I wonder why she sleeps with my friends’

That’s my favorite line from the classic “Self Esteem” by The Offspring, and has nothing to do with this post, except that it’s about self-esteem, and I’ve been playing the song on repeat while I write this because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Two and a half years ago when I started this thing, I was a complete freaking mess. I can only assume all my writing “sounded” like it too.

Two and a half years ago, I probably had low self-esteem.

We’re all slaves to our own worldview and experiences. I’m a small-town Ohio kid known for being polite, gregarious and social. I have a naturally optimistic and positive disposition. For about 30 years, mostly nothing bad happened to me, except my parents divorced when I was 4, but that’s young enough where whatever happens to you just feels normal.

Small, safe town. Great family. Lots of friends. Seemingly well-liked, accepted and popular. Girls always liked me. Despite the absence of anything resembling economic prosperity, it was pretty damn charmed, but when it’s all you’ve known, it’s just NORMAL, and you take it for granted.

Then, at the age of 30, a bunch of bad shit happened, including a job loss and family deaths, and it all culminated in divorce.

I know that I’m nice and that there are infinitely shittier partner options out there.

I know that I’m, while occasionally unreliable in an immature/ADHD kind-of way, totally reliable in a You-Can-Count-On-Me-To-Not-Abandon-You way.

I know that I have above-average intelligence, depth and ambition. I am good-natured, have good tastes, am attractive enough that people have wanted to mate with me from puberty onward, and am reasonably funny.

Most importantly, I know, in the deepest recesses of my core and soul that I actively work at being a good guy. I totally mess up, sometimes. But, man, I care, and not everyone does.

Put all that in a blender and top it with a 12-year relationship and a beautiful son and awesome friends and large, wonderful extended families.

Seems like a lot to toss out.

But she walked away, choosing something and someone else.

And then, for the first time, I knew how brokenness and rejection felt. And maybe if my entire life had been difficult and shitty prior to that, divorce would have been no big deal. Just another whatever thing! But it wasn’t. It was soul- and life-wrecking, and I started writing about it here as a means of dealing with it, and then accidentally morphed into a quasi-self-help/advice guy because people kept asking stuff.

‘Well, I guess, I should stick up for myself’

I’m just an average guy.

A statistic.

A middle-income, divorced, single father with a mortgage and car payment.

So, even though I think I’ve got some shit figured out now regarding our romantic partnerships—one of the most critical and important facets of our human experience—I’m not going to ever try to seem like more than I am.

I am VERY TYPICAL, and screwed up my marriage VERY TYPICALLY, and now VERY TYPICAL other people (about 80 percent of everyone) might be able to benefit in some small way from me writing about it, because all of them are either doing all the same dumb stuff I did, or are being victimized by it.

I’m pretty average, and in this instance that’s a really good thing, because a lot of people can identify with it, and some of this stuff’s important.

I’m not a scholar, nor a genius, and I have ZERO experience in a committed relationship attempting to practice all of these ideas I believe can and will save, or enhance, marriages (or committed partnerships of any kind).

Just maybe, another average person can get something positive out of my average-guy writing in a way they can’t or won’t from PhDs and therapists. I don’t know for sure. And don’t pretend to.

But you can know this: I have reasonably high self-esteem.

I’m not always as brave as I should be.

I feel insecure sometimes, because I worry too much about what people think of me.

I put a little bit too much stock in everyone liking me, when I’m smart enough to understand one out of three people probably never will.

When you read or hear me call someone a “dirty pirate hooker,” or say something like “because I’m a stupid, moron asshole who makes bad decisions,” I want you to assume I’m goofing off and not take me seriously.

Please assume I’m happy and like myself and want other people to feel the same.

I may be dumb.

But I’m not a dweeb.

I’m just a sucker with no self-esteem. (Only not really.)

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How to Be More Attractive

To-be-yourself-in-w-orld-that-is-constantly-trying-to-make-you-something-else

When you get divorced, you’re forced to say a lot of goodbyes.

One day, I had a brother- and sister-in-law. And a beautiful little niece.

And then I didn’t.

One day, I had extended family I would spend Christmases and other holidays and special events with. Many of whom I had grown to love over more than a decade of knowing them.

And then I didn’t.

One day, I had friends. The hey-how-ya-doin’? kind, and the really-dig-beneath-the-surface kind. People you could count on to show up for birthday parties and stuff.

And then I didn’t.

One of the scariest things about life after divorce is that, unless you want to be lonely and celibate for the rest of your life, you have to start dating after your marriage ends.

When I first started Must Be This Tall To Ride, the entire point, I thought, was going to be about taking a self-deprecating look at the struggles of a thirtysomething single father trying to navigate the dating landscape.

I thought I’d be writing a sitcom.

The only problem was, not very much was funny.

My wife left. I never thought that was going to happen. Despite a whole bunch of evidence to the contrary, I believed she loved me because I wanted to believe it.

And we always believe what we want to believe.

I had nothing.

I was nothing.

Everything that mattered was rooted in the success of my marriage and family. I was a total failure.

I wasn’t attractive enough.

I wasn’t smart enough.

I wasn’t tall enough.

I wasn’t strong enough.

I wasn’t funny enough.

I wasn’t successful enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

Those things HAD to be true, I thought, because my wife loved our son more than anything, and she wanted rid of me so badly that she sacrificed half of his childhood in order to do so.

And now I’m supposed to go find a girl to like me?

This tired, broken, crying, failure who doesn’t even remember what it feels like to be himself?

Who would ever want that guy?

I was so scared to talk to girls. I was broken and everyone could tell.

I put so much stock into what people thought of me, that I was making everyone else’s feelings about me more important than my own.

It didn’t matter to me what I thought of me. It only mattered what others thought.

Anyone who knows anything about human psychology knows it’s really hard to be attractive when the only things you feel about yourself are ugly.

But then you heal just a little bit more. And cry just a little bit less, and then one day, not at all.

Time strips away power from those you had previously given it to. And now you have all this power and influence in your life that you can offer to anyone you want or just keep it for yourself. You get your heart back, also to be shared with whomever you choose.

As you acquire more of this power through the natural course of time, people begin to take notice.

This person likes you. And that person wants you. And this person believes in you. And that person thinks you’re amazing.

Everyone can’t be wrong. So you must be likable and desirable and inspire confidence.

And you start looking at yourself a little bit differently. You walk just a little bit taller. Ask yourself better questions about who that really is looking back at you in the mirror.

It’s subtle at first. Like a whisper in the wind.

But you rediscover feelings for yourself long-forgotten. Love. Respect. I matter.

When you improve 1% every day, you improve 3,800% over the course of a year.

And Then You Make the Rules Again

Not many good things happen as a result of divorce. But I’m back in charge of me again, and the days of sacrificing self-identity are absolutely over.

I’m not afraid of dating or women anymore because the natural result of honesty and vulnerability and authenticity is that it organically weeds out people you aren’t compatible with.

I used to think the goal was to try to get everyone to like me.

Now I know the goal is to just be myself—unapologetic and unafraid, because if you don’t like me, then I want to learn that information as quickly as possible and move on with my life.

If you aren’t enthusiastic about our relationship, then it probably doesn’t make sense for us to have one. Life’s too short to spend it with people who wish you were someone else.

So, I’m not going to.

And I’m not going to lose any sleep over a girl rejecting me for my height or my house or my son or my bank account, nor am I going to spend a lot of time fretting over why this person or that person doesn’t like me as much as I wish they did.

It was when I started investing in my own opinion of myself over the opinions of others, that everything finally felt different.

I don’t recommend divorce because it’s shitty, but it is good training for how to manage your relationships.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve had to say goodbye to people I didn’t want to say goodbye to. Nothing ugly or sinister. Just life happening. Because life just happens.

I don’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to lose things anymore.

It still does.

I don’t mean that I care less about other people now.

I care the same about people as I always did.

But I care MORE about what I think now. MORE about what I feel now. MORE about what I need.

It’s an elegant solution to filtering out your healthy and unhealthy relationships.

We wear masks and perform because we want people to like us.

But the day of reckoning will always come. When they see behind the mask. When they catch you too weak or too tired to perform.

And then maybe the relationship falls apart and you just lost more time. And time is the one thing you can never earn more of.

It sounds corny and rah-rah, but it’s true: We’re worth it. We are. Set your boundaries and enforce them because then everything changes.

I’m worth it.

You’re worth it.

Because we’re attractive enough. Maybe not for the assholes we’re not going to end up liking anyway. But we are for them. That person over there who is going to change everything one day.

We’re smart enough.

Tall enough.

Strong enough.

Funny enough.

Successful enough.

We’re good enough. And with all due respect; the people who don’t see that?

They’re not.

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The Man in the Mirror

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

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

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

The guy in the mirror.

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

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

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

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

And he knew it.

What if You Couldn’t Wake From That Dream?

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

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

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

At least it wasn’t for me.

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

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

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

Somehow, as I aged, I lost confidence.

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

Highly successful careers.

Embark on ambitious adventure.

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

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

Your marriage doesn’t feel happy.

The bills pile up.

There are no vacations to exotic locations.

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

You lose your job.

Family members die.

The downward spiral depresses you.

You’re not strong enough.

You’re a disappointment.

Everything falls apart.

You lose yourself.

Two Decades Later

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

Who are you?

The hazel eyes have more green flecks than I remember.

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

Tick, tick, tick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Maybe I should let him read some old posts.

What is he seeing that I’m not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And maybe you do, too.

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

Maybe they’re something more.

Maybe they’re tough enough.

Maybe they’re tall enough.

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