Tag Archives: Sex

You Don’t Have to Get Married, So Maybe You Shouldn’t

Old School wedding scene

Screenshot from the movie “Old School” (Image/DreamWorks Pictures)

Frank: “Hey, I just want to thank you one last time for being here. It’s the best day ever.”

Beanie: “Don’t even start with me, Franklin, okay? You need to walk away from this ASAP.”

Frank: “What?”

Beanie: “You need to get out, Frankie. This is it. It’s now or never. You need to get out of here while you’re still single.”

Frank: “I’m not single.”

Beanie: “She’s 30 yards away. You’re single now.”

Frank: “Come on, Marissa’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Beanie: “Why don’t you give that six months. You don’t think that’ll change? I got a wife, kids. Do I seem like a happy guy to you, Frankie?”

Beanie: “There’s my wife. See that? Always smiling? Hi, honey. Judging, watching, ‘Look at the baby.’”

Mitch Martin: “She’s coming down the aisle, Beanie. Let it go.”

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the sixth in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: You Don’t Have to Get Married

I can’t prove this, but I believe almost everything we do in life is based off of us modeling the behaviors of others or doing things we believe we are “supposed” to because we think: This is how everyone does it!

Like when we stop our vehicles at red lights or “STOP” signs even though we can see that no other cars or pedestrians could be hurt or affected by us disregarding the traffic signal. Humans are creatures of behavioral habits. And many of those habits start before we can even talk, watching others around us do all the things.

I think that’s why most people get married. Because we grow up with adults who are mostly married or in some stage of dating, and that then makes us believe “Getting married is just what you do when you’re old enough!” Sprinkle in any beliefs about sex being sinful and wrong outside of marriage, and it’s not hard to see why most people make a beeline for a relationship model well known to fail painfully half of the time, and on average, spending $30,000-$40,000 between the engagement rings, wedding bands, wedding receptions and honeymoon trips just to get started.

A few key points here:

I am NOT pro-marriage (unless people plan to have children).

I am NOT anti-marriage.

What I AM is anti-divorce.

I am, I believe, a well-informed pragmatist on the subject. And I know that 95% of people WILL marry, or are planning to marry someday. That’s real-life math. Of all people ages 18 and up in the United States, 9.5 out of 10 are married, used to be married, or are planning to get married.

Thought exercise: Name something besides air, food and water that affects 9.5 out of every 10 people.

Other than cataclysmic apocalyptic things like asteroids striking earth or nuclear holocaust, there aren’t many things capable of impacting the human population as significantly as marriage does. Yet, the majority of people in positions to improve or optimize marriage, and to teach young children the things they need to know to have healthy and successful marriages, don’t seem to be talking about or thinking about any of this stuff.

We tend to not worry about cancer until we’re diagnosed with it.

We tend to not worry about marriage until we’re sobbing in the kitchen watching our wives drive away for the last time with our kids in the backseat.

The Masks We Wear Doom Our Relationships and Families

I got engaged and married sooner than I wanted to. I didn’t feel ready. But all around me, my friends and other couples we knew were getting married.

I was afraid to lose her. My fear of not being with her was bigger than my fear of getting married.

Which is all well and good. My biggest mistake was NOT being more fearful of divorce. But really, there was no way I could have known what I do today. And I never believed divorce was a realistic eventuality. My parents split when I was 4. I always said I would NEVER get divorced, and I meant it.

But I was just a kid. And you can’t know what you don’t know.

I was worried, but it wasn’t enough to scare me off. I assumed EVERYONE worried. I assumed EVERYONE doubted themselves. I assumed EVERYONE must feel this way leading up to their weddings.

The math for me was simple: I loved her and wanted to be with her, and I perceived marriage to be the only way that was going to happen.

We were married at 25.

Prior to marriage, we never had a legitimately honest and vulnerable conversation about sex. Likes, dislikes, fantasies, preferences, etc.

I blame me for this. I have some weird guilt-shame hang-ups about sex. Maybe all boys growing up in Catholic school in small, conservative Midwest towns do.

I wasn’t fully honest about things I liked and felt and wanted in the bedroom. I thought I was being a gentleman because I never wanted my wife to feel like she wasn’t good enough. And I never felt comfortable telling her all of the things I really thought about and felt, because What if she thinks I’m a weird perv and doesn’t want to be with me anymore?!?!

I never wanted to “plan” a date night or to have sex because I had this ridiculous idea in my head that all sex should be an act of passionate spontaneity.

I rarely flirted with my wife the way I did as a young single guy, or the way I can now as an old single guy.

There are several examples, I’m sure, of my wife and I not being as intentionally transparent and honest with one another as we should have out of fear of what the other might think.

The concept of being ACCEPTED is really important to a lot of people. It was always really important to me. Intellectually, I care less today. But emotionally? It still feels the same. There are people I want to like me and it’s not fun when it feels as if they don’t.

But a magical thought occurred to me over the past couple of years of dating, and once I recognized The Truth, almost everything about being single started to feel positive.

It has forever changed the way I feel about human relationships, about career opportunities, and about many significant Life events.

You DO NOT Want to Marry Someone Who Doesn’t Like the REAL You

I can’t begin to explain how powerful this realization was for me.

What am I so afraid of? That someone who is truly not a good fit, or a company that is truly not a good place for me to work, will reject me for being the most honest and real version of myself?

What is the motivation to date or marry someone, or to earn a job, where the true and authentic version of yourself is incompatible with the other person, or with the place you spend most of your time every day?

Yet, so many people put on masks and try to say things and behave in ways they believe the person they’re dating or the person interviewing them for a job wants to hear and see. So many people are afraid if someone knows the REAL us that we’ll be deemed unworthy of love or employment.

People go to great lengths for acceptance. To feel part of something with the best of intentions. What we often don’t realize until much too late is how many bad things could have been avoided if we were more courageous in sharing our innermost selves and thoughts and desires and beliefs, because the people who want THAT version of you—romantically or professionally—THOSE are the great matches with an incredibly high chance for success.

When you’re young and ignorant like I was, it feels safer to hide certain thoughts and feelings that might earn you a rejection from someone you want to like you. But when the stakes are as high as a marriage, or even a job where you will spend most of your time, there couldn’t be a more important time to be YOU.

Because you’re already good enough. Whether they like you or whether they hire you can’t and won’t change who you really are.

So we must own all the things that make us who we are.

And if we have to suffer dozens or hundreds of personal and professional heartbreaks and disappointments in order to get to our highly filtered matches? On the back end of a difficult divorce, I’m confident saying it feels worth it.

And even if it didn’t? Bad matches are bad matches, no matter how much they like you. And bad matches don’t have happy endings.

When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Your life will suck less and you will have a better chance for succeeding in your relationships if you read and behave according to this:

Please Read This:

THE MAGIC OF BOUNDARIES: DATE WELL, MARRY THE RIGHT PERSON, AND LOVE HARD FOREVER

 …

You don’t HAVE to get married. You don’t.

And even if you feel like you do, I promise you don’t want to marry someone with whom you have significant compatibility issues. Every day turns into a shit show, and you kind of want to die.

When we exercise bravery, we can embrace disappointment and those BAD things that happen because we understand that all the future good things can’t happen without these moments; then we all have the opportunity to write stories with less horror and trauma and tragedy, and with more humor and hope and happiness.

You know—all the good shit.

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How to Seduce Your Wife (Because Your Old Single-Guy Tactics Won’t Work)

(Image/CigsAce – DeviantArt)

Google processes more than 60,000 internet searches every second, or nearly 6 billion per day, and the Nos. 1 and 2 most-frequently searched terms are “sex” and “s e x.”

In other words, sex is a popular topic and human activity.

It also holds VASTLY different meaning or evokes vastly different feelings in people because of their individual religious beliefs, or differing sexual orientation, or previous experiences (positive or negative), or due to several other factors and influences.

The topic of sex can produce significant discomfort for many people. Maybe they’re embarrassed. Maybe they’re afraid. Maybe they’re ashamed.

Maybe that discomfort sometimes gets in the way of two people in a relationship having honest and vulnerable conversations about sex. I think that was true in my failed marriage.

Many things contribute to the common breakdowns that infect and fracture marriages.

We don’t always know how to talk to, nor accurately interpret one another. It’s why couples always have the same fight.

We don’t always know that leaving dirty dishes by the sink, or being extra-polite to strangers, or doing a bad job of executing household tasks like meal planning can end our marriages.

But I think most people realize that when two people who promised one another sexual exclusivity and faithfulness stop wanting to have sex with one another, an obvious problem arises.

But I don’t think most people truly understand WHY this happens. I think most people believe: “That’s just the way it is!,” or that it’s the other person’s fault, or that they simply fell “out of love.”

I believe it’s a lot less complicated than that. But, unfortunately, a hell of a lot more nuanced.

And I think much of it can be fixed by helping men understand something most of us aren’t routinely taught as boys or young men.

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: What Makes Us Sexually Attractive and Desirable as Singles Often Changes Radically in Marriage

In other words, all that shit you did to get your wife in bed back before you were married becomes mostly ineffective in a long-term relationship.

What do I mean?

Your physical appearance. No matter how physically attractive you are, no amount of rugged good looks or a chiseled physique can overcome feelings of mistrust and danger she feels as a result of relationship insecurity.

Your bank account. Money is attractive because it represents both safety and opportunity. But if she feels unsafe BECAUSE of your relationship, all those commas and zeros can’t and won’t matter.

Your “game.” Confidence only works when it’s authentic. Humor and intelligence only works when kindness and trust are present. And while mind games or deception might work for bar pickups and one-night stands, dishonesty or even just the lack of an authentic connection between two mutually trusting and vulnerable people will eventually end all marriages.

‘Did you try to have sex with your wife?’

That was the subject line of an email sent by a reader. She’s a stay-at-home mom with a 10-month-old daughter, and if she’s not exaggerating, her and her husband haven’t had sex since they discovered the pregnancy.

That’s roughly a year and a half ago. Which is a problem.

She found MBTTTR while rifling around the internet, discovered the same unsettling commonalities so many of us share in our troubled relationships, and fired me a note asking whether I tried to have sex with my wife because she’s sad that her husband doesn’t “chase” her nor produce sexual desire in her, and she’s rightly worried about what this means for her marriage’s long-term outlook.

Because if they simply pretend it’s going to get better on its own, things will worsen and then they’ll divorce, and everyone will hurt, especially that little girl who deserves better.

Things only change when our behaviors do. Doing the same thing over and over tends to produce the same results.

The 4 Things Men Should Know About Sex in Marriage

1. Your primal feelings of lust and sexual attraction have waned (or will wane) because of hedonic adaptation.

There’s nothing wrong with this or you. It doesn’t mean you’re not “soul mates” or not “meant to be together.” It means your brain is functioning normally and naturally adjusting to something positive and normalizing it. When things become “normal” or “routine,” they frequently feel more “boring.”

Our brains adjust to positive things because it’s biology’s way of keeping us motivated. It’s called hedonic adaptation, and it’s important for our self-awareness that we understand this. If humans had the tendency to rest on our laurels, we would never accomplish or achieve anything. The downside is, we commonly feel dissatisfied with familiarity. Once you come to mental terms with this, then you can take steps to combat it with intentional gratitude and mindfulness, AND you can come to the intellectually correct conclusion that leaving your spouse for someone else because of “boredom” is an endless cycle like a dog chasing its tail. In marriage, CHOOSING love is very important.

2. Men need to know the REAL recipe for Magic Sex Potion.

Sometimes, people search Google for “magic sex potion.” They want to use an elixir to magically produce sexual desire in their wives. But there’s actually a way to produce sexual desire in wives WITHOUT magic. And it’s a pretty helpful thing to know. See: How to Brew Magic Sex Potion.

3. Pornography and masturbation (especially when hidden) can cause significant harm to relationships.

I’m not going moralist on you here. It’s not my place to judge your heart. I’m saying there are super-practical things you maybe haven’t thought about pertaining to porn and/or masturbation, the most obvious being: Maybe if you stop wanking it in the shower so much, you’ll build up more sexual desire, and maybe that will serve as a helpful reminder and motivator to pursue your wife so she stops feeling like you’re not interested in her, or like you’re more attracted to fake internet chicks than the person you vowed to love forever. This certainly affected my marriage. Badly. I don’t like talking about it because my mom reads this shit. But because I know I’m not the only one, see: An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13.

4. There comes a point in many relationships where wives feel forced into duties once performed by our mothers. That’s bad.

No further explanation is required: She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You.

Guys don’t screw up their marriages on purpose. Bad marriages and divorce are MISERABLE. Young men WANT to be great husbands and have successful relationships.

But we are often not armed with the right information in our youth. I don’t think it’s because people are intentionally hiding it from us. I think it’s because most others don’t know this stuff either.

Sex is important. You’re probably thinking about it right now, you big dirties.

Let’s not let one of life’s greatest pleasures be among the things that tears us apart when it, quite literally, is meant to be something that keeps us together.

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The Strangers We Live With: Maybe Birth Control, Food & Aging Dooms Our Relationships

sinkhole

Sinkholes open without warning, sometimes destroying things and killing people. I think body chemistry might work that way, too. (Image/CNN)

Even the most-honest people lie sometimes.

When we love or even just like someone, the last thing we want to tell them is that we don’t like their new haircut, or that the meal they just prepared for us tastes gross, or that their ass totally looks fat in those jeans.

Maybe that’s not a “lie.” When you’re trying to protect someone’s feelings. Or maybe it is, but it’s not bad due to its noble intentions.

Or maybe a lie is a lie, and it’s ultimately bad no matter how well-intentioned it is because dishonesty is NEVER better than honesty. I don’t think we’ll ever know because humans are never going to collectively start telling the whole truth.

So, maybe we’ll never really know why attraction went away and they left. Or why we chose someone else. Or why love died. Or whether love and attraction were ever present in the first place.

Maybe everyone has a secret they’ll never tell. And maybe being afraid of everyone, or even just one person, discovering that secret will keep us “lying” our entire lives.

Maybe those lies—or rather undiscovered truths—will prevent us from ever “solving” the problems that harm or end our relationships, sometimes ruining our lives.

Maybe we never really know someone all the way.

And, just maybe, even if we do know someone all the way, they don’t always stay the person we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, we don’t always stay the person we think we’ve gotten to know.

And, just maybe, when you can no longer recognize yourself in the mirror, all bets are off.

Why Do So Many Relationships Go Bad?

Let the record show that until proven otherwise, I maintain the stance that Shitty Husbandry (which is mostly accidental) is the No. 1 cause of failed marriages and divorce.

But there’s something else that happens to people which we’ve rarely, if ever, discussed here. All humans are affected by changing hormone levels and body chemistry at different points in our lives for various reasons. And while I’m no science whiz, I’m reasonably confident in saying that, when you change something’s literal chemistry, that thing always changes into another thing.

You don’t even have to change the actual building blocks to change something into something else.

Mix carbon and oxygen so that there are two units of oxygen for every unit of carbon, and you get carbon dioxide (CO2), which is our friend, and used by trees and grass to produce breathable air.

By simply reducing by half the amount of oxygen in the equation, you create carbon monoxide (CO). And if you don’t know, that shit will kill you.

The difference between Life and Death.

All because you changed the amount of one of just two basic ingredients.

Which begs the questions, I think:

Can changes in our hormone levels—our literal body chemistry—turn us into entirely different people?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people who sometimes transition into people unattracted to, or incompatible with our partners?

Isn’t it possible that we all change into different people, and that sometimes, our partners don’t like nor are attracted to the new and different versions of us?

Isn’t it possible that we all end up living with strangers or discovering them in our reflections, and that when one or both members of a marriage change into someone else, it strains the relationship in ways difficult or impossible to properly repair?

Maybe Hormones are the Sinkholes of Relationships

Let me just say this: Sinkholes are bullshit.

There are a lot of things to be afraid of in life. Natural disasters and disease and mortal enemies and other things. And most responsible people take precautionary measures to avoid these things when possible, which is how the human race has survived to this point.

But sometimes, you’re just sleeping in your bedroom at night, and then the ground gives way beneath your home, and your house falls down into the planet, and then you die.

It’s pretty much the least-fair thing I can think of. And the thing I am theoretically most afraid of due to its fundamental randomness. I can’t even trust the ground I stand on.

And maybe hormones are just like that.

One time, the person I loved most and knew best in the world had a baby and then everything about her body chemistry changed for a while afterward, and then later still, everything about Us got sick and died.

And when We died, I don’t think either of us were still the same person who met at that college party 15 years earlier.

Many things affect hormones.

The birth-control pill, in particular, interests me because it has been demonstrated to take away a biological tool women use to choose partners—smell. Pheromone detection via the olfactory system. It’s a thing, I guess.

According to this article in The Telegraph (U.K.): “…the Pill could stop women picking up these important genetic clues because it alters hormones which make the body think it is pregnant. While that stops women getting pregnant it also means they would rather be surrounded by close family members, and so are more attracted to people who are genetically similar. And for choosing a partner, that is dreadful.”

Pregnancy and child birth, menopause, and menstrual cycles all affect women’s bodies in chemistry-changing ways.

Most forms of contraception (about 60-ish%) affect hormone levels as well.

Estrogen, progresterone, testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol are some relatively well-known hormones. Leptin and ghrelin are some appetite-related lesser-known ones.

We all have all of these hormones. But as the levels of one or many increase or decrease, we literally become different versions of ourselves.

Different versions who tend to be shitty at the things that keep marriages thriving, or even simply afloat.

The food we eat matters.

Men today have significantly lower testosterone levels than our fathers and grandfathers. Some of the pesticides used to grow much of our food has high estrogen levels, which many in the science community point to as an explanation.

The food supply would affect women equally, on top of the previously mentioned changes.

Lifestyle factors like sleep, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise all affect us as well.

Sinkholes scare me. And they’re a bullshit, unfair wrinkle in our collective efforts to not die.

Hormones? They’re just like that.

Affecting all of us indiscriminately.

Turning people into someone else.

Turning lovers into strangers.

Turning Life into Death.

And maybe if everyone keeps on hiding the changes we feel because of this or that, maybe we’re all doomed to end up living with strangers.

Even when we live alone.

…..

(Update: Edited to correct nonsense scientific claim that trees and grass produced carbon dioxide rather than oxygen, because we don’t live on Venus.)

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Can Male Attractiveness and Good Husbandry Coexist?

black father and son

Does this guy automatically stop being attractive to his wife because he proves reliable and safe during their marriage? (Image/Breaking Brown)

When I was a kid, I liked big two-story houses with full basements better than other home designs.

Three stories of living space seemed better than just one. Having a basement seemed better than not having one.

Thirty years later, I’ve spent several thousands of dollars on waterproofing a basement, and walking up and down two flights of stairs to take laundry to and from my laundry room to the second-floor bedrooms. And I’ve also spent time in coastal Florida, witnessing the many benefits of one-story, ranch-style living.

Now I’m less certain which style of home I prefer.

I’ve long known that, with virtually every choice we make, we are sacrificing something to acquire another thing. There’s always a tradeoff.

But I didn’t always know how little true objectivity existed in the world. Even the most intelligent and skilled among us committed to the idea of measuring things objectively can’t really do it.

The closest we can come is to say that A is better than B when judged or measured by (insert metric of choice here). But that baseline metric? Even THAT was created by the subjective judgment of people along the way.

It can be a little headache-inducing if you travel too far down the rabbit hole, but I think this phenomenal (subjective!) answer on Quora does an amazing job of breaking it down.

What’s better?

Chocolate or vanilla?

Country or rap music?

Biggie or Pac?

Butter or margarine?

Winter or summer?

The color green or the color purple?

Some people like pulp in their orange juice while others do not. Some people like eating escargot while others do not. Some people like to be defecated on during sex. Neat. Sounds not-awesome to me. I can only assume most people prefer not being, um, dumped on.

In life and love, many things are subjective. Attractiveness—sexual or otherwise—is subjective.

We forget constantly that our personal experiences and worldviews are not Absolute Truth for everyone else, because to us, we have to use our imaginations (which are totally unreliable tools for predicting things) to try to put ourselves in the circumstances and mindset of others.

On the whole, humans are pretty shitty at doing that as demonstrated by the politics-related unrest happening today, and also by all 794 kajillion instances of human arguments/fights/wars/breakups/abuses/crimes/attacks that happened in the past five seconds.

All of that to say: Attraction is a subjective metric.

But despite its subjectivity, there’s evidence that some physical, behavioral and status-related traits in men are commonly considered more attractive to women than others.

A discussion took place yesterday in the comments of my last post and got me thinking about what I perceive to make a man more attractive to women in general, acknowledging there’s no accounting for individual tastes.

The Optimized Man

“I disagree with the premise that women go seeking other women because men don’t provide the things we need. The more sensitive, the more feminine a man becomes the less attractive he is,” insanitybytes said.

Human conversation, especially typewritten, can be funny. A single sentence can be interpreted several ways by different people.

I spend A LOT of time on this blog talking about how I believe men have to make MAJOR strides toward understanding why their wives are unhappy in their marriages, and then altering their behavior accordingly, if marriage is to ever return to a place where every wedding guest doesn’t secretly wonder: Are they going to be among the half who don’t make it?

Here’s something I’ve never felt, thought or said.

I’ve NEVER said that men should be more feminine. (Which—let’s be honest—is also a subjective qualification.)

From a personality standpoint, one might say that men and women should try their best to be most like whatever they were at the height of their mutual attraction.

I do not want men to change who they are. Every human has an equal amount of inherent value. I don’t have a lot of love for murderers, rapists, terrorists, hate groups, child molesters, etc., but—ideally—everyone who doesn’t present a clear and present danger to others would be recognized for their inherent value, and not put on a pedestal nor rejected based on each of our arbitrary standards.

But whatever. We’re all just a bunch of people with our own set of arbitrary standards, and when you line them all up next to each other, you can find patterns.

As a digital marketing professional, I know from very large data samples that certain people will behave on the internet in certain ways—whether that be responding to an email subject line, or clicking a link, or ordering a product.

As a random dude writing about relationship stuff, I THINK I know from personal and anecdotal evidence that most women commonly find certain male traits or behaviors attractive.

The Physically Attractive Man

  • is tall
  • has a symmetrical face
  • has a body-fat percentage around 12% (meaning you can be lean or stocky or somewhere in the middle, so long as your muscle-to-body fat ratio isn’t too far off whatever your 12% looks like)
  • wears clothes that fit (also a status cue)
  • has a deep voice

The Behaviorally Attractive Man

  • passionately pursues his personal goals
  • has a healthy and active social life where people are drawn to him
  • demonstrates confidence in the majority of life situations
  • showcases follow-through; his actions match his words
  • possesses leadership qualities
  • pursues physical health and fitness
  • has a sense of humor

The Status-Based Attractive Man

  • has the financial resources to acquire or experience the things people value, OR demonstrates the intellectual capacity to achieve it in the future
  • has a high-status position among friends, or at work, or in whatever groups or organizations he’s involved with

I’m sure I’m forgetting several. But really, it’s a silly exercise.

A sensitive, reliable, eager-beaver husband type may bore the hell out of many young, single women, but seem like a breath of fresh air to someone suffering at the hands of an aggressive and abusive dickhead.

But I don’t think we should confuse reliable, loyal or sensitive traits as feminine any more than we then we should consider promiscuity and betrayal as masculine ones.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In all things.

And I believe that many traits we generically and thoughtlessly label “masculine” are considered attractive by the general female population.

I think men (if appealing to women is a value they possess) should aspire to demonstrate as many of these attractive “masculine” traits as possible, and develop healthy self-acceptance and confidence surrounding any that his genetics prevent him from having.

But there’s a second component to all this, and I think it’s important.

Marriage.

The Attractive Married Man

I can only conclude that a married woman is attracted to the man she chooses to marry. However her personal ranking and value system works that out.

Our conversations about marriage here are not about people who marry for what I consider atypical reasons (money or young trophy wives or citizenship or cultural arrangements).

Our conversations here are about MOST people. The 80-90 percent who get married with the intention of having a committed partnership and/or family that lasts their lifetime.

How does THAT guy remain attractive to his wife in the face of her natural biological urges and the unfortunate realities of hedonic adaptation?

I think the baseline characteristics listed above should be pursued and maintained for life. Those things = attractiveness.

But a person can possess all of those things and become unattractive to someone if they represent any kind of threat to them, their children, or general wellbeing. It happens when a person brings harm to another.

People we consider beautiful literally STOP being attractive to us for many reasons, but I think Making Us Feel Shitty is probably No. 1 on that list.

And mislabeling behaviors like:

  • Listening to our spouse
  • Empathy for their pain
  • Respect for their thoughts and opinions
  • Helping with housework and parenting tasks even if our fathers and grandfathers didn’t
  • Occasionally choosing to invest time in our spouse’s interests over our own for the sake of togetherness…

Well. I guess I believe it perpetuates the Man Card problem that got us here in the first place.

A man should be strong. In all the ways.

A man should pursue “success.” However he defines it.

A man should be confident.

A man should lead.

A man should pursue good health.

A man SHOULD be “manly” in whatever ways his genetic makeup allows.

I have never, and will never, say that men should be more feminine in an effort to make their wives happy or succeed in their marriages. And I never will.

But most men simply do not know about the things they do thoughtlessly that cause significant emotional damage to their wives.

We can argue all day about whether women SHOULD be hurt by whatever those actions might be, and whether women should be equally responsible for adjusting their reactions to particular behaviors.

But the reality is that common male behaviors HURT wives.

Hurt wives become unattracted to their husbands. Unattracted wives’ behavior makes husbands unattracted to their wives.

And that’s when all the marriage-breaking shit happens. While everyone is all emotionally beat up and messy and volatile and imbalanced and without the support of the person they’ve long relied on and felt closest to.

Dudes acting “girly” won’t fix it. If this blog conveys emasculating men, then I’ve done a shitty job of writing it, or people have done a shitty job of interpreting it.

Perhaps a bit of both.

Men are men. Women are women. They often like one another and exchange I-Promise-To-Love-You-Forever Vows and make children together.

And so long as this human song and dance continues to happen, I think it’s in the world’s best interest that we make it as successful as possible.

A bunch of “Nancy-boy sissies” won’t help anything.

But a bunch of attractive men learning how to meet the emotional needs of their wives and avoiding the relationship spiral which results when men do not?

Like the people we’re attracted to, and the stuff that makes us attractive to them, I think that’s a world worth pursuing.

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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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The Times When Wives Owe Husbands Sex

wedding rings wifely obligation

(Image/lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com)

I haven’t read the statutes or consulted an attorney, but it’s conceivable to me that a wife could owe her husband sex if she is employed by a brothel in a place where prostitution is legal, and her husband is a paying customer.

But even that’s debatable. Panera Bread once gypped my son and I out of the cookies we ordered and paid for with our takeout sandwiches. That was, like, three months ago and I’ve probably been back a dozen times since.

Does Panera owe me cookies? Do they?!?!

But seriously. The question of whether married people are obligated to have sex with their spouse is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.

Because the word “owe” isn’t limited to legal, enforceable or contractual obligations. It’s also defined as “to be under a moral obligation to give someone something.”

The most-fair question I can think to ask is this: In instances where two people marry in good faith, sincerely pledging sexual faithfulness to one another for life, could it be said that they have a moral obligation to fulfill one another’s sexual desires?

About Wifely Duties and Submission

The concept of “wifely duties” is rooted in the Christian idea of wives submitting to their husbands. There’s a better-than-average chance you’ve attended a wedding or church service where you heard it. It gives every champion of human equality heartburn. And I imagine it’s incredibly uncomfortable for women (and possibly some men) who’ve been abused at one time or another by a domineering tyrant. I grew up attending church on Sundays, have never been abused by a domineering tyrant, and it STILL makes me uncomfortable.

We should talk about that.

There are two things to deal with before continuing.

The Two Kinds of Sexism

There is overt and intentional sexism perpetrated by men who truly believe they are better than women, and actively work to raise male power and status at the expense of women.

But there’s also what I call Accidental Sexism. I think it’s secretly a major root cause of modern-day relationship failure. Accidental Sexism is what happens when men assume their wives will pick up after them, fold their clothes, cook them dinner, plan family and social activities, etc. because that’s how they remember it working in their childhood homes.

These men are NOT mindfully trying to demean and disrespect their wives. Bad people do that. Most people are not bad. These men are thoughtlessly replicating behaviors modeled for them in childhood, and then feeling unpleasantly surprised when their idea of being a good husband isn’t actually good enough for their spouses.

These men are good men. They care. Their sexism is unintended. They don’t even think their behavior is actually sexist, because “sexist” = “bad guy,” and they know they’re not bad guys.

The Perversion of Christianity

There are huge numbers of Christians who believe the public backlash against Christianity by non-Christians is tantamount to persecution.

This is happening because the actual meaning of the word “Christian” means different things to different people.

There’s the Christian label. A person who was baptized in a Christian church. They check a box on a form, and categorize themselves as Christians. People wearing the Christian label sometimes say and do asshole things. Something evil on colossal levels like drowning children in a bathtub or bombing an abortion clinic, or something on a more Everyday Asshole sort-of level like when I’m behind the wheel and mutter AWFUL things at other drivers that would make Jesus and my grandmother sad.

People see and hear these things and might understandably think: Ugh. Christians are assholes. That’s easy for me to understand because I also think people who do those things (including me and my non-Jesusy driving language) are assholes.

But there’s also what it ACTUALLY means to be a Christian, which at its core is basically: Act like Jesus.

Jesus was solid, across the board. And I’m certainly biased here, but Jesus is hard to pick on. I can tell you things about myself, my son, my parents, and my best friends that I think warrant criticism. But Jesus? I don’t have even one thing. I’ve known plenty of people with major hang-ups regarding Christian churches and faiths, but I’ve still never heard anyone say: “Jesus? That guy was just awful.”

Two dictionary definitions for Christianity:

  1. Treating other people in a kind and generous way.
  2. Being commendably decent or generous.

We’re not discussing theology here. We’re discussing “wifely submission,” and whether it has merit.

The PROBLEM here is that ignorant, sexist men co-opt Bible passages to suit their personal interests and justify spousal abuse.

The Bible doesn’t tell men to MAKE their wives submit.

The Bible tells women to submit to their husbands. The ball is 100 percent in the women’s court.

But there’s more to it than that, and lots of men like to ignore it because the truth is inconvenient.

The Bible ACTUALLY says: (Ephesians 5:22) “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”

Let’s deal in reality, because I like it better than Bullshit Land.

  1. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians between 62-80 A.D. That’s at least 1,932 years ago for those of you counting at home.
  2. The assumption being that everyone paying attention to Paul’s writings were going to be “godly” people. People taking seriously the idea of “serving the Lord” in their personal lives.
  3. So, all of this submission talk was rooted in “serving the Lord.” The cultural norm in the year 72 was for women to follow their husbands’ lead. But the culture norm (and ultra-specific Bible-based expectation) ALSO was for these husbands to be GODLY men. Men of profound character whose family leadership was rooted wholly and completely in humbly serving God and “treating other people in a kind and generous way” or “being commendably decent or generous.”

The men who play the “wifely submission” card today tend not to be humble. They are not “commendably decent or generous.” They are typically selfish and abusive, or at the very least, profoundly ignorant.

Conclusion #1: EVEN IF what Paul wrote nearly two millennia ago is the ACTUAL, not-to-be-ignored-lest-ye-be-damned Word of God, the instruction was not: Hey Women! You’re supposed to be your husband’s slave and do whatever he says no matter what! He’s the boss!

The instruction was: IF you marry a godly (holy, not god-like) man, follow his humble and loving lead.

Anything other than that set of conditions renders the agreement null and void.

Conclusion #2: EVEN IF those suggestions are culturally relevant today, they only apply to people who are married, practice Christianity together, and who entered the marriage with the understanding that, so long as the husband behaves as holy men do, that his wife will defer to him on familial matters. And just so we’re absolutely clear, “bring me a sandwich and give me a blowjob” cannot be even loosely connected to the Christian God of the Bible.

Conclusion #3: Virtually every person playing the Wifely Submission card either: A. Has a great marriage consisting of two people in complete spiritual and philosophical alignment with one another, or B. Is a HUGE, disingenuous, sexist, and profoundly stupid asshole.

So, When Do Wives Owe Husbands Sex?

Maybe the prostitution scenario in a business-agreement sort-of way. I’ll let legal experts weigh in on the legal definition of the word “owe.”

How about in the general sense of the word? I suppose if a wife promised to have sex with him in writing or verbally (and ideally while wanting to, and not out of obligation), then maybe she would “owe” him the way I “owe” my mom a phone call because I didn’t call her over the weekend like a good son.

But the real heart of the matter is this: Do wives owe husbands duty-sex by virtue of their marriage?

Are wives “morally obligated” to sexually relieve or satisfy their husbands’ urges?

If while attending a large holiday gathering with family and friends and children, a husband wanted to have sex on the living-room floor in front of everyone, would his wife be dutifully obligated to?

If during a business trip to New York a husband wanted his wife home in Chicago to have sex with him, but she couldn’t because there were 790 miles between them, would his wife be failing in her dutiful obligations?

If during hospitalization after being involved in a car accident which left his wife in a coma, or body casts, a husband wanted his wife to have sex with him, is she dutifully obligated to?

Too extreme?

What if she has the flu?

What if her best friend died that day?

What if the family pet needs taken to the emergency vet?

What if she ran a marathon in the morning and says she’s too tired?

What if she didn’t get much sleep because of a sick child and says she’s too sleepy?

What if she had a rough day at work and simply isn’t in the mood?

Or. What if she just doesn’t want to?

What if after years of feeling neglected emotionally and frustrated by constant invalidation, she doesn’t feel sexually attracted to him nor safe engaging in physically intimate acts with him?

Where does a proponent of Wifely Submission draw the line between Good Enough reasons and Not Good Enough reasons?

And who gets to decide? The man? Because he was taught growing up that being “in charge” at his house is his birthright by virtue of having a Y chromosome?

Sorry, Guys. You Must Do Better Than That

Nope. Being male does not, and never has, grant license for the sexual decision-making of another person.

The Bible doesn’t say it, and neither does anyone you’d want your daughter going out on dates with.

Remember the famous JFK quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?”

Great quote.

Applies to marriage. Marriage is NOT about what it can do for you, or more specifically, what your wife can do for you. Seth Adam Smith said it best in his fantastic Marriage Isn’t For You, which you should totally read if you haven’t.

Marriage is about what YOU can give to your marriage. It’s about how YOU can make your spouse’s life better. I feel comfortable saying that unwanted sex NEVER makes someone’s life better.

I can help you guys out with the whole sex thing, if you’re struggling.

The solution is amazing, because it benefits EVERYONE involved—you get to have more sex, you get to have sex with a wife who WANTS to have sex with you, your marriage is fantastic, your kids have an infinitely better shot at happiness, and you get to live a fulfilling life which benefits your Mind and Spirit, every bit as much as your penis (or Body, if you prefer).

Because you do not want your wife to have sex with you nearly as much as you want your wife to WANT to have sex with you.

It’s the difference between marriage and divorce. Between happy and miserable.

All you need is a little Magic Sex Potion. You already have the ingredients needed to make it right there at home. You just need the instructions for how to make it. (You’re welcome.)

Do our wives OWE us sex?

The question is totally irrelevant. Because if you’re even asking it, your marriage is a trainwreck.

YOU owe your marriage energy and effort.

YOU owe your spouse love and respect.

YOU owe your family humble, selfless leadership.

When you do these things, there’s rarely a lack of sex in your relationship.

Do our wives owe us sex?

As is too often the case, we’re asking the wrong questions.

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Guest Post: The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About

woman being oogled and cat called

(Image/Odyssey)

Editor’s Note:

I’m not going to hold men’s feet to the fire for finding women attractive, and acting like it. We’ve been pummeled with pretty faces and/or sexually suggestive marketing messages since having the awareness to notice TV ads, magazine covers and highway billboards. Even if those didn’t exist, I think men would still feel physically attracted to women. (Because that’s the signal the storks need to deliver the babies, of course.) And that’s okay. It’s not wrong.

But treating people as “things” is. If the Universe saw fit to magically transport a starving child to a place just outside the front door of everyone with middle-class-and-up income levels, there wouldn’t be any more starving children. We’re all so good at Out of Sight, Out of Mind. I’m a freaking master.

Men sometimes treat women (who aren’t their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, etc.) like things. Their very own animated masturbation devices to do with as they please. Not unlike Shitty Husbandry, I perceive this to be more the symptom of thoughtless action than calculated abuse.

My blog-friend Gretchen Kelly is an excellent writer, and last year she published the following post on her blog. It profoundly affected my understanding of the everyday female experience.

I forwarded it to a few of my female friends, asking: “Is it like this for you, too?”

They all said yes.

By Gretchen Kelly

There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

They don’t know.

They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.

We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.

It’s not something we talk about every day. We don’t tell our boyfriends and husbands and friends every time it happens. Because it is so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know.

Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.

So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing.

Not showing our suppressed anger and fear and frustration. A quick cursory smile or a clipped laugh will allow us to continue with our day. We de-escalate. We minimize it. Both internally and externally, we minimize it. We have to. To not shrug it off would put is in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation. Learning by way of observation and quick risk assessment what our reactions should and shouldn’t be.

“It’s the reality of being a woman in our world. It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.”

We go through a quick mental checklist. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Does he seem reasonable and is just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something impact my school/job/reputation? In a matter of seconds we determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear/see/feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

It is the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It is the customer who holds our tip out of reach until we lean over to hug him. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a “friends with benefits” moment even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We see it happen to our friends. We see it happen in so many scenarios and instances that it becomes the norm. And we really don’t think anything of it. Until that one time that came close to being a dangerous situation. Until we hear that the “friend” who cornered us was accused of rape a day later. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Years Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those times stick out. They’re the ones we may tell our friends, our boyfriends, our husbands about.

But all the other times? All the times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times we just go about our business and don’t think twice about.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world.

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to your stomach that we had to “play along” to get along.

It’s feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s taking our phone out, finger poised over the “Call” button when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon when walking to our car.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend just so a guy would take “No” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded bar/concert/insert any crowded event, and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass.

It’s knowing that even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a big box store and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear as he berates us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? You got a problem? Pffft… bitch.

It’s not telling our friends or our parents or our husbands because it’s just a matter of fact, a part of our lives.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s realizing that the dangers we perceive every time we have to choose to confront these situations aren’t in our imagination. Because we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted or raped.

“Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.”

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this. They have heard of things that happened, they have probably at times seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors much of what we say or do and how we do it.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop ignoring it ourselves, minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? They’re not bad guys. They just haven’t lived our reality. And we don’t really talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience. So how could they know?

So, maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on a regular basis.

Maybe it is so much our norm that it didn’t occur to us that we would have to tell them.

It occurred to me that they don’t know the scope of it and they don’t always understand that this is our reality. So, yeah, when I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the every day sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching… when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing… they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe I’m realizing that men can’t be expected to understand how pervasive everyday sexism is if we don’t start telling them and pointing to it when it happens. Maybe I’m starting to realize that men have no idea that even walking into a store women have to be on guard. We have to be aware, subconsciously, of our surroundings and any perceived threats.

Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

We de-escalate.

We are acutely aware of our vulnerability. Aware that if he wanted to, that guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men. We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives. We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger. We are aware that we are the smaller, physically weaker sex. That boys and men are capable of overpowering us if they choose to. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

So, the next time a woman talks about being cat-called and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t dismiss her. Listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called “Sweetheart” at work, don’t shrug in apathy. Listen.

The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language, don’t belittle her for doing so. Listen.

The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable, don’t shrug it off. Listen.

Listen because your reality is not the same as hers.

Listen because her concerns are valid and not exaggerated or inflated.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows personally has at some point been abused, assaulted, or raped. And she knows that it’s always a danger of happening to her.

Listen because even a simple comment from a strange man can send ripples of fear through her.

Listen because she may be trying to make her experience not be the experience of her daughters.

Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

…..

About the Author

Gretchen Kelly writes at Drifting Through My Open Mind. You can also see her work in The Huffington Post. Connect with Gretchen on Twitter.

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Decent Men in Indecent Times: Rape, Sex & Locker Room Talk

Harvey Two-Face Dent in The Dark Knight

(Image/Warner Bros.)

Not long before my high school graduation, one of my friends said another one of my friends raped her.

No witnesses.

A classic case of He Said, She Said.

Half of my classmates were at an off-site retreat. I was one of the student leaders, which was as much of a surprise to me as it might be to you.

In my first and only God’s-honest attempt at self-improvement and public vulnerability in an effort to help others before writing here, my two friends — let’s call them Joe and Sally — decided to make out in one of the retreat center’s private dorm rooms during a break between speakers.

In the middle of the next speaker’s talk, ANOTHER one of my friends assaulted the boy, in what seemed to everyone in the room like a bizarrely unprovoked attack. Chairs fell. Profanity was spoken. Students shrieked.

Some of the guys restrained the attacker. This was a scene none of us small-town, small-school Ohioans had experienced before. Padded hits at football practice and occasionally aggressive shoving during playground basketball games was about as violent as it got.

Word quickly spread as it does among high schoolers: “Sally says Joe raped her.”

I think maybe I didn’t want to deal with being the kind of person who could be friends with a rapist.

What do you even say to something like that? When I was a freshman, one of the sophomore boys was hit in the head with a golf club by some kid from another school. That other kid was convicted of felonious assault. And that was my first and only experience with felony crime until now.

Rape. Jesus. Rape.

On the Horrible Things You Can Do To People List, I always figured that was #2 behind murder.

And now, one of my buddies was being accused of doing THAT. We weren’t lifelong best friends or anything, but Joe and I spent a fair amount of time together outside of school our senior year.

He was nice, you know? Like me. One of our best basketball players. I’d never heard anyone say anything bad about him, never experienced anything bad with him, and didn’t know anyone who didn’t like him.

But now this.

Rape. Did he or didn’t he?

No one wants to pick sides, but I think everyone did.

He was kicked out of school and spent a month or so in jail. He’s probably a registered sex offender. I’ve never looked.

I only saw him once after that.

I stopped by his house after he got out of jail. I never knew anyone who had ever been in jail before. I sat on a porch swing with him on the back patio, smoking Marlboro Lights, and checking in on him.

He said it was consensual. That he didn’t know why she would do that to him.

Sally ended up going to the same university as me, and even ended up in the same residence hall our freshman year. I was always polite when we’d cross paths, but I never made any attempts to include her in my social circle.

I think, if I’m being honest with myself, I wanted to believe Joe more than I wanted to believe Sally. I think I wanted to preserve my emotional attachment to my friend. I think maybe I didn’t want to deal with being the kind of person who could be friends with a rapist.

I think, if I’m being honest with myself, had Bill Cosby only ever had one accuser, I’d have done the same thing with him.

I think, if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve been an unwitting participant in Rape Culture, a term I’ve only recently come to understand.

To be clear, I have no idea what happened that afternoon back on my high school retreat. But I think it’s safe to say that, in the moment, I leaned on the side of victim-blaming someone I also knew to be a decent person.

I think I believed at the time that she said Yes before saying No. So maybe that meant it wasn’t really rape.

I wish I hadn’t thought that.

The Locker Room Talk

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump came under fire last weekend after a recording of an 11-year-old conversation circulated globally. On the recording, Trump could be heard saying fairly vile shit about how he treats women he desires sexually, and how he can get away with it because of who he is.

He apologized for the language, describing the exchange as “locker room talk,” which I think he meant as: “Boys will be boys, you know? In private, we talk about sex like this. It’s not like REAL LIFE or anything. I don’t ACTUALLY sexually assault people, so it’s cool. Let’s talk about something else.”

I don’t know what other guys discuss in other places. I only know what I’ve said and heard.

And to be sure, I have heard, probably said, and certainly laughed at, HORRIBLE sexually explicit comments made about women — strangers or the wife/girlfriend of someone I knew.

Comments that would almost certainly be considered demeaning and offensive to the human being talked about, or which confirmed that the person to whom I was speaking, cheated on his partner and/or suggested the desire to.

Comments about her ass. Her chest. Her lips. Her face. Her flexibility. Her technique. Her whatever.

Sometimes “good,” as in they are desirable. Sometimes “bad,” as in they are not.

Pretty much everyone in my general age range has heard the lines, I suspect.

“Did you see her ass? Do you have any idea what I would do to that?”

“Did you see the tits on her? I want to put my face between them.”

“Oh man, did you see that butter face? Great body, though. Think she’d let me put a bag over her head?”

Or, maybe just some TMI commentary from one of the guys about what he allegedly did with whoever. Maybe some of it is true.

It’s pretty gross. It is. And it happens every day, all the time, with men of all ages, from the locker room to the corporate boardroom.

It’s common. And “common” things can sometimes make us feel as if they’re “okay” or “normal” like that one time when white people systematically enslaved people with different color skin, and it was somehow debated like an everyday political issue.

Because something is common does not necessarily make it okay.

Does the prevelance of lewd sexual banter exacerbate rape culture? To what extent has men’s collective silence contributed to the problem?

Thought of the Day

If Muslims of Middle Eastern descent “deserve” squinty-eyed suspicion and discrimination because most terrorists are members of that group, do Men, in turn, deserve squinty-eyed suspicion and discrimination because most rapists are men?

Expectant fathers sometimes actively root for their pregnant wives to have boys. It’s NOT just because they love the idea of playing catch with them in the back yard. It’s because of the old adage: “With boys, you only have to worry about one penis. But with a girl, you have to worry about EVERY penis.”

When she — whoever “she” may be — is just some theoretical piece-of-ass fantasy, men who engage in “locker room talk” will engage in locker room talk. But when that human being is someone they KNOW, everything changes dramatically.

Whether it’s a wife, girlfriend, daughter, mother, sister, cousin, friend — whatever. “C’mon guys. Don’t talk about my [Insert Person Who Matters Here] that way.”

And that’s pretty much always respected and honored in a Bro Code sort-of way, OR it’s said in a circle of such close friends that the biggest clown in the group can get away with ruthless jokes at the requestor’s loved-one’s expense, and everyone will laugh about it because “it’s just a funny joke.”

I don’t know that any of that is somehow defensible.

I just know that’s how it is sometimes when you’re “out with the guys” in the world I experience. It happens infinitely less as a father in my 30s than it did as a younger guy, for whatever that’s worth.

I can only assume this is an unwelcome and unpleasant component of Common Guy Behavior for many people, and something that could fairly be accused of contributing to rape culture.

But I wanted to make one thing abundantly clear: I have, not one time, seen or heard one of my friends or even just some dude I kind-of know say ANYTHING, EVER that wasn’t within the context of consensual sex.

It’s not okay to describe behavior consistent with gross sexual imposition or sexual assault, and chalk it up to “Boys will be boys!”

Want to know how big of a Shit-fuck McGee someone you know is? Just ask them about this.

“Do you think rapey comments and jokes, even in a locker-room setting are normal and/or funny?”

Anything other than “No” = Total Shit-fuck McGee. Sorry, but it’s true.

Even the biggest assholes I know and love don’t speak that way. Not in locker rooms. Not anywhere.

Do Wives Owe Their Husbands Sex?

If a man with a higher sex drive than his wife gets married, and then his wife denies him sex, is there ever a point where it becomes “acceptable,” or maybe just “understandable,” if he has an affair?

I have strong opinions about people who feel entitled to sex. That includes husbands and boyfriends who feel entitled to sexual gratification from their partners. That they’re “owed” it, somehow.

I’ll look forward to talking about it with you in the next post.

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No, the Affair Didn’t Cause the Divorce

fractured glass

(Image/quotesgram.com)

Sometimes, a married person has an affair, and everyone screams: “Oh my God, Roger and Beth got divorced because he/she had an affair!!!”

Wrong.

And that’s bad because everyone sits around thinking: That was so stupid of [Insert Name Here] to do that. And now they’re divorced. I would never cheat on my spouse, and he/she would never cheat on me. So we have nothing to worry about.

No one is afraid of what ACTUALLY ends marriages.

Hurt, scorned spouses suffering from the fallout of betrayal hurt about as bad as humans can. Let’s not trivialize that agony, nor act like it doesn’t matter. But in the end, people burned by marital affairs fall into one of two camps:

1. Spouses Who Repeatedly Fail Their Partners Until the Pain of Feeling Neglected Outweighs Any Guilt They Might Feel From the Affair (By far, the most common.)

2. Spouses Who Were Excellent at Marriage and 100% Innocent Victims of Con Artistry

I’m not defending people who have affairs. Betrayal is a horrible thing to do to anyone. To do it to the person you vowed to love forever (and/or your child(ren)’s other parent, is next-level wretched).

The affairs make the headlines. The affairs are big and dramatic. The affairs are gossip-worthy.

So many people then think affairs end marriages, thus concluding: “If I simply don’t have affairs, I won’t get divorced!”

The root cause of the marriage failure goes ignored or undetected.

No lessons are learned. No one grows.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

NOTE: Regular readers of this blog are about to be bored with another overly wordy recap of things I always write, including the most recent post on Married Men Taxonomy. (Much of what’s below is stuff that spewed out of me while trying to write that post.)

Your time (and the time of any reader truly interested in improving relationships and marriage) would be better spent with this gem from Dr. Brent Atkinson which helps explain WHY couples struggle so mightly with communication, called “Core Differences in Ways of Maintaining Emotional Stability (Legitimately Different Ways of Navigating Life).”

It’s brilliant and important, and I’m certain you’ll recognize yourself and your partner in the words, and God-willing, maybe even find some answers you’ve been searching for.

The Everyday Divorce

Two adults voluntarily marry one another. Thousands of times per day, on average. Good people, too. They promise with all the sincerity they possess to love one another for life.

Five to 10 years later, half of them divorce and a large percentage of still-married people are sad, angry, scared, frustrated, having affairs, and often only still married because they feel trapped.

In the context of what’s at stake for all involved, and what people invest to be part of it, I’d call marriage (the institution) the biggest societal failure we have.

I also call it the biggest social crisis of our time, and I don’t think it’s even close to being an exaggeration.

The inability of human beings to functionally coexist with those they profess to love, have children with, and share homes and other resources with; and then the negative trickle-down effects of all those broken people and relationships and behavior models for the kids involved, causes damage to humanity and society that can’t be calculated.

It’s very bad.

Evil people aren’t causing this very bad thing. It’s a bunch of good people accidentally making mistakes — and because it’s not common knowledge that these things are mistakes, there isn’t enough awareness to solve the problem.

How the History of Cigarettes Can Save Marriage

Just in my lifetime (I’m 37), we’ve gone from smoking in airplanes and restaurants, and in the car with the windows rolled up and our kids in the backseat, to very little public smoking, and essentially ZERO people who don’t realize that smoking causes major health problems.

All it took was enough people giving a shit. Once a critical mass of people get it, everything changes forever.

I think the bad things that stem from broken families and divorce cause infinitely more societal harm than smoking does.

Hell, all I wanted to do in the midst of my own divorce was smoke and drink vodka.

People are getting divorced and breaking their marriages for the same reasons people used to accidentally die of lung cancer — they were making lifestyle choices based on incomplete or false information.

They simply don’t realize what they are doing has dire consequences.

So, Roger and Beth get married. Roger starts leaving a glass by the sink each night before bed. And each morning, Beth finds it sitting by the sink and wonders why he won’t just put it in the dishwasher. For a while, she puts it in the dishwasher or washes it herself.

But then other things like this start happening. Leaving shoes on the living room floor. Leaving damp towels on the bedroom floor. Leaving the toilet seat up (with the added bonus of pee stains on the toilet rim).

Beth finally speaks up.

Roger laughs it off, telling her she’s making a big deal about nothing.

The next time they have the conversation, Beth shares that it hurts her when these things happen — when even after asking him to do things differently, he continues to do it his way, regardless of the hurt she feels.

What Happens Next is Why Our Marriages End

(Note: These things don’t always manifest as husbands doing this, and wives doing that. There are exceptions. But it looks like this MOST of the time.)

She tries to explain why these things hurt her. A dish by the sink. Leaving laundry on the floor. Spending hours and hours playing video games or watching sports but being unwilling to spend 15 minutes replacing the lightbulb above the kitchen sink. For months.

Dishes and laundry and lightbulbs don’t matter to him. He doesn’t care and never will.

There’s no switch he knows how to flip to make himself care, not that he’d ever want to anyway. It all seems too minor. Life would suck if I let petty crap like this bother me!

Beth says it matters. But he “knows” it doesn’t.

The problem is not with me, Roger thinks. The problem is Beth’s emotional calibration! It’s wrong!

She lets inconsequential things negatively affect her, he thinks. And it all adds up to a simple fix: All I need to do is show her how silly and meaningless these things are. Once she learns how to feel like me, everything will be awesome.

He tells her: “That’s a stupid reason. Stop making such a big deal out of this. What are you going to do someday when something that’s ACTUALLY bad happens?”

That’s not theory. That’s pretty much exactly what I used to say to my wife every time I told her all of the things she said and felt didn’t matter.

Beth hears her husband, for the thousandth time, say her feelings don’t matter, aren’t real, are not his problem or responsibility, and that the quality of their relationship rests solely on whether she’s willing to start accepting things she finds unacceptable.

Because he has no intention of changing.

That’s when it gets scary. Because Beth realizes: Oh my God. He’s never going to change. This is my life. Where I must feel hurt and unloved every day until one of us dies. How did I get here?

She feels trapped and betrayed. She agreed to build a life with someone but he’s not keeping his promises. She withdraws.

She’s been hurt so many times, she can no longer carry on like she normally does. He asks what’s wrong. She drops the hammer: “I don’t feel like myself anymore. I feel like a stranger in my own life. I don’t know if I love you anymore.”

They start sleeping apart. Spending little time together. Hardly speaking.

He jerks off to internet porn, justifying it because she doesn’t want to touch him anyway. Beth knows it, too.

She fantasizes about the guy at work who is always so nice to her and actually listens to all the things Roger does not. This man really understands me!

When Home Stops Being Home

Everything they used to think, feel and believe about love and marriage morphs into something else.

They dread coming home at the end of the work day. It feels so much freer when they’re not trapped in that prison.

Gone are feelings of love. Gone is any sense of the values they grew up believing in and committed to when they married.

When every moment of every day hurts, and the rules people have always followed led them to the misery, then people start writing new rules.

When people feel dead inside, they just want to feel alive.

More months go by in the loveless, sexless marriage.

Beth or Roger finally crack, and take the marital affair plunge with someone they’d built an intimate relationship with, either at work or online.

That’s usually where the story ends.

But Then Everyone, Including Divorcees Themselves, Get it Wrong

“Oh my God, Roger and Beth got divorced because he/she had an affair!!!”

Everyone who knows them writes off another relationship due to heinous, inexcusable actions of the person who had the affair. No one really sees how everything poisoned and fractured along the imperceptibly slow march toward their deaths.

All those smokers were dying of respiratory illnesses, but the doctors just kept smoking their cigarettes and scratching their heads about their patients’ cause of death. Everyone stood around the funeral parlor smoking cigarettes and saying: “Frank was so young and healthy. This is so sad and unexpected.”

And for the longest time, no one ever learned anything.

It’s NOT okay that the affair happened.

But intellectually honest people recognize that the affair never, ever comes close to happening without the smaller marital indiscretions slowly eroding the relationship leading up to it.

Our marriages don’t fail JUST because we’re shitty at marriage.

Our marriages fail because everyone just keeps on metaphorically smoking and blaming the resulting lung cancer on anything and everything except the sick person’s choices.

Our marriages fail because we’re shitty at marriage, and even with a failure rate of more than half, nobody realizes it.

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The Other Law of Attraction: Self-Worth and Gender Identity in a Mixed-Up World

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What do women want?

I think many guys started kicking the question around long before possessing the intellectual capacity to connect those random and inconvenient erections to their sexuality.

What will make her like me?

Because that’s really important to us when we’re young. Is it because we like being liked? Is it because we like feeling accepted by another in a more intimate way than platonic friendship? Is it because we think it’s cool to have a girlfriend, and maybe our guy friends will respect us more, and the other girls will want us more?

But I think these are questions that, to varying degrees depending on an individual’s particular circumstances, men ask themselves constantly. I perceive the vast majority of (heterosexual) men, regardless of their relationship status, to crave the He’s Attractive to Me label from as many women as possible.

I believe we view it as a measure of our self-worth. That if women find us attractive, we’ve really accomplished something. Men have been known to crave financial success, social status, material accumulation, career advancement, fame or recognition, respect, achievement in athletics or other competitive ventures, and physical fitness.

There are MANY good and virtuous reasons to crave some or all of those things.

But I think when we scrape off all the Pretending, we’ll discover that the ultimate motivation is usually: “I want women to think of me as attractive and want me, sexually. Because that’s what will most improve my status and standing in the eyes of others. And what other people think of me is very important and influences all of my decisions.”

What do men want, and what will make him like me?

I don’t know how girls commonly experience this attraction/social/sexual awakening, nor how much they value what boys want and why, nor to what extent that carries through to adulthood.

But there appears to be little room for doubt that most women share, while perhaps framed differently and motivated by different wants or needs, men’s cravings for romantic and/or sexual interest, and care intensely about how others perceive them.

Is Beauty REALLY in the Eye of the Beholder?

If you don’t get obnoxious with the spiritual meaning of the proverb as I just did, I really like it. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an adage made famous by the philosopher Plato, or William Shakespeare, or author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, depending on which random internet source you believe.

The phrase suggests that beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person considers beautiful, admirable, interesting, or valuable, will not necessarily appeal to another person.

But its spiritual meaning is that everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s awesome or not-awesome. It means our children’s objectively shitty grade school artwork is more beautiful and meaningful to us than something offered from the fine arts community. It means that mangy rescue hound from the shelter missing his right eye and which walks with a limp looks more beautiful to its owner who adopted him than all those fancy-pants dogs prancing around at the Westminster Dog Show.

And I like that.

But, it has a kind-of dark side, too. One which makes me really uncomfortable because it’s part of The Big Secret Lie most of us buy into, and which seems to cause the majority of our mental and emotional problems in adulthood (which are at the very core of all of our relationship problems—exacerbating all of the rejection, self-worth, anxiety and mental health issues which wreak havoc on our relationships and families, ultimately perpetuating the Cycle of Horribleness).

In the framework of human worth and attractiveness, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that STILL means that other people have the power to define what is and is not attractive. It means other people have the power to determine another person’s worth. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that means other people get to tell us who and what we are.

If Person X finds you beautiful, but Person Y labels you ugly, are you beautiful or ugly?

If Person X finds you worthy, but Person Y says you’re unworthy, are you worthy or unworthy?

If Person X says you matter, and Person Y says you don’t, do you matter?

Who Gets to Tell Us Who and What We Are?

There is a fantastic conversation happening beneath the Our Marriage is a Steam Train post about how we define what is masculine or feminine, and to what extent men struggle with their identities RE: Being a Real Man.

Active commenter Travis wrote: “Frankly, I don’t think we’d have the common stereotype of ‘women love bad boys’ if men who exercised their muscles of emotional investment and accepting influence were what they really hungered for.”

Lisa G. wrote: “I remember reading about experiments where a woman was crying in a public place and several people stopped and asked if she was ok. Then they repeated it with a man and no one stopped, they even looked away. It’s all so horribly depressing the messages we give men to not be allowed to express a full range of human emotions.”

Another from Travis which really gets to the heart of the matter: “I found… a fair amount of scientific studies that support my assertion that women are repelled by men who display the very same ‘nice, sweet, sensitive, vulnerable’ characteristics they say they want in us.”

He shared Elite Daily’s 5 Scientific Reasons Why Women Just Won’t Go For The Nice Guys, which I suspect will, in some form or fashion, ring true for most readers.

Are women genetically hard-wired to want assholes because so-called Nice Guys are boring?

I’m staying away from pretending I know a thing about biological science.

More importantly? I don’t think it matters.

Why? Let me ask it again: Who gets to tell us who and what we are?

RE: Attraction

We are attracted to whatever we are naturally attracted to.

People commonly accept or reject the romantic or sexual interest of others based on two things, one of which is natural attraction and perceived compatibility, and the other which is based on what we perceive others’ opinions to be about those choices.

In other words, you like whatever you like for whatever reasons you like them. Who knows why? You just know it when you feel it.

That’s primal.

But you make deliberate choices about personal traits you consider attractive based on a different set of criteria. Ideally, our long-term partner will foster feelings of primal-want within us, but we’re attracted to so many more things.

As adults, those are ideally rooted in shared values and mutually respectful boundary enforcement so your life doesn’t suck.

But people are ALSO attractive or unattractive to us based on that little nagging voice in the back of our minds. What will my friends think? What will my parents think? What will my extended family think? What will my co-workers think?

Psychologically and emotionally healthy people with strong boundaries don’t make decisions like that, of course. But most of us do.

I know personally at least three men who dated or married women (one started a family!) only to later divorce after coming out as gay, and then living as an openly gay man thereafter.

I won’t pretend to know every thought that went through these guys’ heads when they made the choice to couple with women, but one assumes it was done in the spirit of “What will everyone think of me?!”

KNOW THYSELF

Not to go even further down the nerd rabbit hole than usual, but it dawned on me within the past year or two that I’d misinterpreted a scene in one of my favorite movies for the past 15 years.

In The Matrix, the story’s hero Neo walks into a kitchen where he is to meet a spiritual guide of sorts. She is known as The Oracle. Neo has been told he is someone very important. The prophecies refer to him as “The One.” But he feels just like a regular guy. He has the power to save the world, he is told. But he can’t figure out how or even whether to believe it. The Oracle is supposed to help him achieve The One status.

He and The Oracle lady exchange pleasantries, and then she asks him the question which begins an exchange I spent years not understanding despite many repeated viewings.

Oracle: “So, what do you think? Do you think you’re The One?”

Neo: “I don’t know.”

The Oracle points above the door Neo used to walk into the kitchen. It looks like this:

photo-mat_temetnosce

Oracle: “You know what that means? It’s Latin. Means ‘Know thyself’. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”

She kind of gives him a little once-over, looking inside his mouth like a doctor would a patient in a basic check-up.

And then they have this exchange:

Oracle: “Okay, now I’m supposed to say, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, but…’ then you say…”

Neo: “But what?”

Oracle: “But, you already know what I’m going to tell you.”

Neo: “I’m not The One.”

Oracle: “Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.”

Neo: “What?”

Oracle: “Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.”

Spoiler alert: Neo is totally The One.

So why did The Oracle say he wasn’t? Was she high on crack?

I just never thought about it correctly. I have a real problem with that sometimes. About everything. Maybe lots of people do.

When it’s later revealed that Neo is, in fact, the badass with world-saving abilities, he’s as confused about it as I was.

But it’s cleared up for him, and the simple answer cuts to the heart of this discussion on attraction and gender identity, and how much or how little others should be able to define us.

No one can tell you who you are.

Am I Good Enough?

That’s the very question on which this blog was founded.

When you love your spouse and want to stay married, but they would rather suffer the many consequences of divorce more than live with you even one more day, you lose your very sense of identity.

To be sure, our spouse’s opinion of us should probably rank higher than that of others or what we assume society at large believes we should be.

I think the conversation about what men and women find attractive, and how society judges men and women relative to stereotypical standards, and how that ultimately damages our interpersonal relationships is a worthwhile conversation.

Until men are allowed to be vulnerable without facing sexual rejection, how can we expect men en masse to pursue emotional intelligence in this macro fight against dysfunctional relationship dynamics?

We probably can’t.

But, as individuals?

Not all men or women. Just one.

Just me.

Just you.

Who gets to tell you who you are?

Because in my battles with insecurity, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy as the clock wound down on my marriage, and then in my dating struggles as I carried all that baggage into single adulthood, I was asking all of the wrong questions.

Am I smart enough?

Am I handsome enough?

Am I rich enough?

Am I funny enough?

Am I talented enough?

Am I tall enough?

Or, more simply…

Am I good enough at [insert whatever thing here]? Am I worthy of her attraction?

I’ve been doing this for three years.

In the first year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I knew that I wasn’t.

In the second year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I didn’t think I was.

In the third year, I discovered that I am, indeed, good enough. Because I know that I am.

Like I KNOW that you are.

And if you don’t know it too, then I guess you’re not good enough, even though I already know that you are.

What are you waiting for? Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.

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