Tag Archives: Truth

What You Don’t Know Actually Can Hurt You

dice optical illusion

(Image/Zako.org)

Disclaimer: I might be clinically insane.

That needs to be said upfront, because it’s mathematically possible and I have no official medical diagnosis to prove otherwise. I’ve never been in anyone’s head but mine, and there’s a pretty good chance mine’s a little more whack than yours. I’m not sure.

So that’s my big caveat–that I might be totally bat-shit crazy, because I don’t assume (about this) that just because I experience life this way that you also do.

But I’m betting there will be someone–maybe you (hi!)–who’s also a little bit nuts. Maybe they’ll get it and think it matters.

I am–by far–the wimpiest version of myself while flying on airplanes.

It’s not the kind of thing you can observe. I maintain a calm appearance because I want to look like a cool customer.

But sometimes I’m not.

There are moments while flying where my body feels involuntary jolts of fear. All those “DANGER!” chemicals your brain produces during life’s least-calm moments. I sometimes experience that on routine commercial flights.

I know it’s irrational. Super-irrational.

There are more than 100,000 flights every day around the globe. In the United States alone, there are more than 5,000 commercial jets in the sky at any given time. And how many non-terrorism-related U.S. commercial flights have not made their destinations in my lifetime?

Honestly, that ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996 is the only one I can think of. Even a 2009 US Airways flight that hit a flock of birds and suffered total engine loss managed to land safely on the Hudson River in New York (an incident dramatized in the film “Sully”).

If you believe in math (and I totally do), it’s literally less than one in a million that something super-scary or dangerous happens on commercial flights.

And yet, there I sit, doing my best to wear my best Super Calm Guy face (I hide the fear pretty well), but on the inside feel all kinds of nerves whenever:

  • The plane changes altitude significantly.
  • We make any major directional turns.
  • The plane bounces significantly from turbulence.
  • I hear that ding-noise that is probably just some random passenger asking for scotch or a pair of headphones, but which my mind always assumes is the pilot calling the flight attendants into the cockpit to warn them of imminent danger and to keep it a secret from the rest of us to avoid panic.

I stare at my phone. I read the same sentence in my book over and over. I maintain eye contact and a calm demeanor with anyone seated next to me I might be talking to.

But on the inside of my chest and stomach, I feel involuntary fear and anxiety as if I’m going to die any minute now, and my son and ex-wife are going to get stuck rifling through my house at the estate sale, with my ex-wife secretly celebrating my untimely passing so that our little boy no longer has to live in a house which clearly hasn’t been dusted or vacuumed in the corners for far too long.

When I was little, I used to have a reoccurring dream of falling–the kind that likes to happen shortly after falling asleep. It wasn’t a peaceful fall. The ground was rushing toward me, and I was afraid.

Of course, like in the dirty dreams where you never actually get to do the deed, I’d wake up before I hit the ground, and just sit there waiting for my heart rate to return to normal.

The Power of Information

I spent last week in Las Vegas for work, and because my company’s travel department hates me apparently, it had me fly through San Francisco on my way back to Cleveland. From Vegas. Don’t get me started.

I flew on four planes. I’ll fly on four more to get to and from Mexico within the next two weeks. I have a fair amount of air-travel experience. Nothing bad has ever happened.

I’m not afraid leading up to the flight. I don’t worry about it, nor dread it. I just have an uncomfortable physical reaction to certain aspects of air travel that are exacerbated by my overactive imagination.

If I was sitting in the co-pilot seat and the captain said to me: “We’re about 100 miles away from a large storm system, but we’re going to increase our altitude by 5,000 feet and veer off to the right, and we’re going to miss the storm by several miles,” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have any anxiety about these two maneuvers I was anticipating.

If I was sitting with the captain, and he said: “I know turbulence is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of flying and there’s nothing to worry about–even when it’s really bumpy–here’s why…,” I’m pretty sure I’d be cooler than how I normally experience it.

It’s not just knowledge or information that eliminates the irrational fear. Sometimes, something significantly distracting overpowers it. I fly at least once a year with my young son. I don’t feel fear when I’m with him up there. Maybe because I feel like it’s my job to be brave for him, so I accidentally am. Or maybe because the rational part of my brain acknowledges the obvious: If this was legitimately risky, you would never have bought the tickets, and you certainly would never put your son in danger, and maybe that’s the thing that offsets that unpleasant panicky feeling that sometimes crops up.

What Don’t You Know About Your Spouse or Romantic Partner?

You’re probably not like I was. You probably don’t concoct paranoid thoughts and feelings about your spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend and then have unpleasant physical reactions to them.

But that was me during the final 18 months of my marriage while I slept in the guest room wondering what my wife was doing, who she was talking to, who she was thinking about, and what she really thought of me.

The final few years of my marriage messed me up pretty bad. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine, because I repeatedly lacked the courage to directly speak my thoughts, feelings and fears to the one person who mattered.

We don’t always speak or behave honestly.

We feel angry. Sad. Embarrassed. Paranoid. Jealous. Ashamed. Insecure. Afraid. But we don’t communicate that to our partner. Since we feel it so profoundly, and they “know us” so well, we assume they know it–or they should if they actually cared.

We don’t effectively communicate truth, and then when our partners don’t do what we silently hoped they would, we feel even shittier–whether that’s sadness, anger or disappointment.

We have brains and our brains are funny things.

Our brains have been doing their thing for however long we’ve been alive, and our brains learn how to tell us stories to fill in gaps. It’s how we can often catch moving things sailing overhead, or instinctively stop or dodge to avoid collisions in vehicles, or on foot.

We don’t need 100-percent of all information to guess accurately.

When we’re inside, but it’s raining outside, we don’t need to experience being rained on to know we’ll get wet.

We’re good guessers most of the time. Seriously. We’d be dead if we weren’t. I’ve never fallen off a cliff, but I’m skilled at guessing what would happen if I did, and taking steps to avoid it.

We’re excellent at observing the world around us, and avoiding danger.

But not always. We don’t bat 1.000. We strike out sometimes. Maybe not even half the time. But sometimes. And sometimes we do it in our relationships when our busy minds start guessing what our partners might be thinking or feeling, and then having psychological and emotional reactions to those guesses without confirming truth or accuracy one way or another.

YOU CAN’T TRUST YOURSELF.

No matter how good we are at not dying, and no matter how effectively we navigate our interpersonal relationships with friends, co-workers, and families of origin. We can’t trust ourselves, because the fact is, we’re WRONG a lot.

We just are.

You’re wrong about what your husband thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your wife thinks and feels.

You’re wrong about what your parents think and feel.

You’re wrong about what everyone at work thinks about you.

You’re wrong about what your children think and feel.

We’re all wrong about a countless number of things which all of us lacking the power of omniscience can’t possibly know.

But our brains guess anyway. Our brains always guess, and without a crap-ton of discipline, mindfulness and wisdom, we tend to mentally and emotionally FEEL whatever conclusion our brains settle on.

I have no way of knowing what would have happened had I walked another path. It’s not something I think much about.

But, through the prism of hindsight, I feel confident saying that a major, major, major contributor to my failed marriage and broken family is, simply…

A lack of information.

Either I thought and felt things that weren’t true, and perhaps reacted to those false conclusions, OR my wife thought and felt things that weren’t true, and in many instances, it was my fear or stubbornness that allowed that to happen.

I was so busy pretending to be tough and courageous, that I was hiding all of my weakness and fear.

I hadn’t yet discovered the truth: It IS being tough to be vulnerable and honest. It IS brave to push through fear and tackle things head-on.

Like when I calmly am there for my little boy in the seat next to me on the airplane and everything’s okay.

The most important things and people in our lives are too significant to leave to mistake-prone guessing. Yet, many of us do, and after months and years of that, our worlds end for a little bit until we pick up the pieces again.

Sometimes things are worse than we think, and we don’t really want to know the truth even though the solution lives in that truth.

Sometimes things are better than we think, but we have no idea because we want to pout and be mad, or because we’re too embarrassed to say or ask what’s on our minds.

When we don’t have enough information, we draw incorrect conclusions that lead to us thinking, feeling, saying and doing things we otherwise wouldn’t.

And maybe sometimes that doesn’t really matter.

But sometimes–it’s the only thing that does.

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Maybe Jesus Was a Lousy Carpenter

bad fence

“Thanks for building our fence, Jesus. We promise to leave you a fair review on the Angie’s List bulletin board next time we’re in town.” (Image/Home Services by Gary)

I don’t know whether things like building inspectors or mechanisms for people to leave positive and negative customer reviews existed in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

But maybe in the Nazareth town square there was a bulletin board of some kind where townspeople could leave reviews.

“Ezekiel the shepherd did an amazing job! He took our goats and pigs from Town A to Town B in just a few weeks’ time and he only ate three of our goats to survive! If you need a shepherd/goat herder for a cross-country flock transfer, Zeke’s totally your guy!”

Or maybe.

“We hired Ishmael to help us harvest figs and grapes. He was the absolute worst. He showed up late every day, collected the fewest figs of any hired farmhands, and he was always walking around the property naked with nothing but fig leaves covering his privates! Gag me. Ishmael is a dirty, fig-stealing nudist, and we will NEVER hire him again!”

And, just maybe, Jesus of Nazareth was a subpar carpenter. Maybe in today’s online-review terms, he had a 2.3-star rating.

“Our family hired Jesus the carpenter to help us build a barn. And we feel morally obligated to say what an absolute gem of a guy he is. Literally, the most kind and patient person we’ve ever met. I was giving him crap about being late half the days he worked here, and Jesus calmly explained how he’d stopped on the way over to help some sick and hungry people, and by the time he finished explaining, I wasn’t even mad anymore! He’s amazing. But, we’d also be doing our neighbors a disservice if we overlooked Jesus’ work. I mean, the guy’s a BRILLIANT philosopher and demonstrates impeccable character… but good God, his miter joints and tongue-and-groove work are about as shoddy as we’ve ever seen. Forty-five-degree angles, Jesus! Amiright? Goodness. We’re going to have to redo half of the barn next year, and when we call Joseph, we’re going to politely request that he not bring Jesus along with him. The entire back-half of the roof is leaking water every time it rains! I’ve got buckets of water everywhere! Anyone know a guy who can turn it into wine? I need a drink!”

No matter what you believe about Jesus, I encourage you to consider that he might not have been an amazing carpenter.

I’m a long-time Jesus guy, so I had a little trouble dealing with the idea when I first considered it. But I think your life will suck more if you run away from discomfort all the time, so I hope even if you’re also a long-time Jesus person, you’ll let the idea roll around your mind a little.

It’s amazing the stuff we don’t think about. REALLY important things.

For many people in the world, Jesus is the focal point of their spiritual lives. PERFECT. SINLESS. DIVINE.

For many people, Jesus = God.

I insist we not have any religious or theological discussions on the matter. Because that’s not the point.

The point is: You’re a human being. And you’re a miracle. And you’re amazing. And you’re capable of doing incredibly beautiful and inspiring things, and I couldn’t believe in you more.

But you know what you also are? Thoughtless. Wrong. Confused. Misinformed. Misremembering. Flawed.

Those aren’t value judgments. Those are simply true things that come along with each and every one of our Welcome to Earth gift packs when we arrive.

And I think this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for people to understand about themselves—this idea that no matter how intelligent or healthy or functional we are, we get things wrong a lot.

When you KNOW you’re right and are disagreeing with someone else who also KNOWS they’re right, bad things tend to happen—especially when you’re in a romantic relationship or marriage with them.

I don’t think I’m going to blow the minds of anyone in the relationship counseling or family therapy space by identifying THAT as the root cause of the vast majority of relationship dysfunction and human emotional suffering.

And I can only think of two things that might help:

  1. Encouraging smart and healthy communication techniques.
  2. Encouraging people to start questioning their beliefs and holding them to the same level of scrutiny they’re applying to others’.

Every instinct in your body is to avoid doing this. You start rattling your inner Beliefs cage, and your whole world can feel unsteady.

But it’s what we’ve got to do. We must.

Uncomfortable Truths > Comfortable Wrongs

It’s the difference between being a slave in the Matrix, or living free in the Real World.

What Might You Be Wrong About?

I want to be SUPER-clear on something. I am NOT trying to challenge your core beliefs. Never. I promise. Those are for you and no one else.

But I think calling attention to things—VERY serious and sacred things for many of us—and then pointing out how thoughtless and careless we are with some of those beliefs can help illustrate how silly we can be. Ultimately, that silliness can cost us healthy relationships with those we love most, and lead to the most pain we can ever feel. The pain of breaking on the inside after your family or marriage or friendship is torn apart can feel infinitely more uncomfortable than can the process of challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

NEVER FORGET—the truth will always hold up to intense scrutiny. Truth is truth. It CAN’T be proven false. So rest easy, truth seekers.

Santa Claus is my favorite example for this conversation.

I was wrong about Santa Claus. I believed totally and completely for about five or six years of my life that an overweight, bearded, jolly man in a bright red suit flew through the air in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, and delivered Christmas presents to every well-behaved child on the planet in one night.

I believed that even though I woke up on various Christmas mornings in Iowa, in Ohio, in Missouri, and in Florida when I was little that Santa magically always knew where I was.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but Santa could keep track of things like that. I was too young to realize that’s even more improbable than flying reindeer.

Santa was real. And there wasn’t a damn thing you could do to convince me otherwise.

Finally a holiday season came along where by that time I’d heard enough rumblings from friends via their older siblings enough times to finally have the breakthrough: Ugh. Our parents are playing Santa. That’s not a shot at parents. Nor a call to destroy childhood innocence, or a sense of wonder which we should all demonstrate no matter what.

But I have to deal in reality. I believed in something I felt certain was true. I later discovered it wasn’t.

Want your relationships to be awesome? Be mindful of the fact that you are capable of wholeheartedly believing in things that aren’t true. That realization allows us to demonstrate the humility necessary to experience healthy intimate relationships and cultivate meaningful, unbreakable friendships.

Jesus Might Not Have Even Practiced Carpentry

Thanks to white European artists becoming famous, having their work spread far and wide, and then having Europeans bring their homeland’s artwork across the Atlantic ocean 250 years ago, I grew up only seeing the images of Jesus I imagine most of you think of when you hear the name “Jesus.”

White guy. Long hair. Piercing eyes.

But Jesus was a Nazarene. He was Middle Eastern. I’m not pretending to know what he looked like. But I think we can safely assume it’s NOT like the images we all grew up seeing in the United States.

I had trouble with that at first. That was a little bit like the Santa thing.

Do you ever think about that no one ever even called him Jesus?

His name was Yeshu’a ben Yosef. After all of the translating from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek, then to English, you end up with a name that’s the equivalent of Joshua or Jesus.

Christians grow up learning about Jesus working as a carpenter. Despite my juvenile jokes about him possibly doing shoddy carpentry, Jesus was likely not a contractor doing a bunch of framing and finishing work.

The original Greek word was “tekton.” Which is more like “craftsman” or “builder.” And when you start digging into all the word stuff, it’s not hard to see that Jesus may have always been more in the philosopher/teacher/Rabbi line of work “crafting” and “building” the following that evolved into Christian faith.

And if the image of a Middle Eastern man named Yeshu’a not practicing actual carpentry, OR maybe so, but not at a high level, can be so radically different from my lifelong image of Christ, ISN’T IT POSSIBLE THAT HUMAN BEINGS WHO DISAGREE WITH ME ON ANY SUBJECT AREN’T WRONG?

I’m not asking you to doubt your beliefs. I’m not asking you to abandon confidence or faith. And I’m NOT suggesting that your most sacred personal beliefs are like childhood beliefs about Santa.

I’m only asking you to allow yourself to be wrong.

About EVERYTHING.

I’m asking you to ask good questions with a curious mind and heart.

Not to create doubt and disconnection. To seek Truth and create lasting connection.

Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. With yourself. With others. With Life that we see and feel on Earth, as well as the Life beyond these bones.

Sometimes there’s Right. Sometimes there’s Wrong.

It’s hard to choose a path when we can’t tell the difference.

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What Will I Tell My Son To Help Him Avoid Divorce?

Father Son talk

(Image/Marsha Rakestraw)

Lynda asked: “My question for you is: what are you going to say to your son to teach him how to have a healthy relationship as he grows up? What seeds are you going to plant to help break the cycle? I have only a few years left with my boys under my roof to teach them what they need to know, and I don’t want to feel like they are doomed, given the family history. What are your thoughts?”

Divorce is very bad.

People often downplay it, A. Because it’s so common, “Can it really be THAT bad?” B. Because our parents did it, or we did it, and we’re all world-class experts at rationalizing our behavior no matter how sucky the behavior is, and C. Unless you’re the one getting divorced, or are intimately involved, it doesn’t cause much trauma. So when we hear about another divorce we all just kind of shrug and think: That’s a bummer! They seemed totally fine! or That makes sense! They never seemed right for each other!

But yeah. It can really be THAT bad.

Cancer is super-common too, but we take it pretty seriously.

Our sucky behavior is sucky regardless of our rationalizations, and even the best of humanity hurts other people sometimes, even if only by accident.

And I think it might take getting divorced yourself (while not wanting to) to fully appreciate what it’s capable of doing to your insides. Some people LOVE divorce, because it helped them escape a horrible situation.

Maybe my ex-wife feels that way. I hope not, but since I’m not inclined to ask, I’ll probably never know.

Setting aside the societal trickle-down effects of divorce for a second, the emotional and psychological fallout alone strikes me as one the things people don’t talk about enough. Because I simply didn’t know. Even when I was afraid of my marriage ending and having trouble sleeping every night, and even after 30 years of life experience as a child of divorce, I DID NOT KNOW.

Maybe because it’s another We Can’t Know What We Don’t Know thing. (I guess everything is.)

We live, and we learn.

The end of my marriage destroyed me internally and fundamentally changed me.

The “me” that existed for 33 years ceased to exist because I became someone else. That’s a painful process. It was the crying that gave it away. That’s not something I spent a lot of time doing post-childhood. But then I got divorced, and it happened a lot.

And when toughness is a virtue you admire, every little breakdown is another reminder of what a failing loser you grew up to be. And then maybe you cry some more.

On top of the brain and heart stuff, there’s the logistical fallout and ripple effects. Logistically, divorce makes you poorer, because it takes away your money, and something even more valuable—your time.

It was one of the first things I realized when my young son went from being home daily, to half the time: I just lost half of my son’s childhood. Ask any parent how fast 18 years goes before the little people they love most leave the nest. With 13-ish years to go at the time of the split, the truth hit me hard and fast: I just lost seven years.

I’m not shy about calling divorce the great social crisis of our time. It’s an epidemic that really hurts people while it’s happening, and then makes the lives of all involved a little worse every day afterward, even after the emotional wounds have scarred over.

Only about 1 percent of couples are going through divorce at any given time, so it’s easy to look the other way and act like we don’t have a big problem on our hands. But over 15 years, half of all couples will divorce. Nobody who hasn’t yet divorced believes it will happen to them. And most of the people who survive the emotional crucible post-divorce move on with their lives and don’t get involved afterward, even though everyone who remarries divorces even more frequently than the one-marriage couples.

Children of divorced parents have nearly triple the emotional problems, drug use, arrests—and are more likely to drop out of school and have unwanted pregnancies, according to Dr. Brunilda Nazario.

The risk of divorce is 50 percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home, and 200 percent higher risk when both of them do, says Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah and author of Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages.

Children of divorce are also 50 percent more likely to marry another child of divorce, he said.

The only way to address divorce is for a cultural shift to take place where people learn effective relationship skills.

I don’t mean: “A happy wife is a happy life!”

Nor: “Marriage is hard work! You must work together and compromise!”

Nor: “Never go to bed angry!”

I mean real-life, hardcore, make-people-uncomfortable, mask-removing, road-less-travelled conversation and behavior to help people go from ignorant (which most of us are) to enlightened on all things related to relationships.

We teach kids about past-participles and the Pythagorean Theorem and the French & Indian War and many other things long-forgotten from my school days. But we don’t teach (or even bother trying) kids relationship skills, and provide important information about the basics of effectively communicating and co-existing with other people (romantically or otherwise).

Maybe someday, that will change. I hope so.

Meanwhile, the only thing we can do is talk to our children and try to help them learn these things so they can slowly chip away at the problem and experience less horribleness in adulthood than we did.

Today’s kids have Generation X and Millennials as their relationship role models, which in their current states, shouldn’t inspire much confidence in the future of long-term relationships.

But We Still Have to Try

Cancer continues to vex medical researchers and practitioners, but we continue to fight.

The complexities of human relationships are such that we’ll never be able to hand someone a reliable instruction manual on how to succeed. So we’ll do the best we can.

Lynda asked me what I will tell my son. No one has ever asked me that before.

There’s almost no reason to think my son will listen to me.

No matter how many times I tell him his made-up word “Eccleest” is actually two words he already knows well (“at least”), he continues to say “Eccleest” instead. No matter how many times I demonstrate that being 37 should afford me some trust on matters of both fact and educated guessing, he continues to—on a case-by-case basis—behave as if I’m the world’s biggest moron on matters of disagreement since one of his friends and/or grade school teachers once told him something he believes contradicts whatever I’m saying.

He certainly loves his father, and is super-impressed with my ability to add large numbers together in my head (even though I could totally give him the wrong answer, and he wouldn’t know the difference because he doesn’t confirm it with a calculator), but if he doesn’t WANT to agree with or listen to me, it doesn’t matter that I can prove 2+1=3. If he wants it to equal 79 million—to him, it will.

It’s a natural handicap brought partially by his age, and mostly because he’s a blend of genetic code produced by his mom and I. In the You Should Listen to Your Parents game, little man never had a chance.

What Will I Tell Him?

That the romantic couples he sees in the movies are a lie.

I’ll tell him that—just like so many things he sees on TV—that’s not real. It’ll be some innocence-robbing shit, too. Like when he inevitably discovers in the next year or two there isn’t actually a Santa Claus. I kind of feel sorry for him. Robbing him of hope and optimism on the romantic front. But it’s exactly what I’m going to do anyway.

I’m going to teach him what real love is. I’m going to show him how it’s a choice to be made. And that when two people are willing to make that choice every day, no matter what, there WILL be legitimate romance sometimes. Not always! Nothing is always. But sometimes. And that just because forever-love looks a little less exciting and like a hell of a lot more work than fairytale-love, it doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.

I’m going to tell him how HARD marriage is. Over and over and over again. Not to discourage him. To prepare him. And not to scare him. But because it’s true.

I’m going to teach him (and if I can’t, I’ll find someone who can) what it means to define your core values and vigilantly enforce personal boundaries so that his life won’t suck.

I’m going to help him understand that all those little things running around his head that he’s too scared to talk about are byproducts of fear, anxiety and insecurity (and that FEAR is really the only thing we should be afraid of). I’m going to teach him one of the most important lessons so many people don’t understand: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE.

I’m going to help him recognize that being honest (like, uncomfortably honest) with his partner is awesome, because then he can wake up every day knowing the real him (and not the mask-wearing pretender other people think he is) is truly loved and accepted.

I’m going to teach him what empathy is and make sure he can prove to me that he understands it because it’s the skill he will need most in order to succeed in his relationship.

I’m going to teach him that his marriage can’t be about HIM. That if he’s marrying for himself, he’s doing it wrong. It’s going to be for the person he chooses to marry and any future children he might have.

When he’s old enough, I’m going to tell him that pornography destroys relationships, but maybe not for the reasons he might think.

And I’m going to tell him that the one surefire way to turn a female partner into someone who resents him and loses all feelings of attraction toward him, is to put her in the position of having to do things for him that his mom did.

I’m going to tell him that his mom and I splitting up is the worst thing that ever happened to me, and that he shouldn’t marry until he can demonstrate mastery of all of these concepts and life skills so that he can recognize a partner who understands them too, and teach any children to do the same.

I’m going to make DAMN SURE he understands what hedonic adaptation is. That it happens to EVERYONE about EVERYTHING—including romantic partners.

I’m going to help him really understand that the grass isn’t greener over there.

How?

What am I going to tell him?

The truth.

…..

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Bad News: You Two Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating

caution you're doing it wrong

(Image/amaninthegap.blogspot.com)

Your relationship is probably doomed.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m just playing the percentages.

Half of all marriages will fall apart. It’s a huge bummer but it’s been true for so long that unless a critical mass of people in the future take to heart some of the ideas here, there’s every reason to assume that will continue.

Additionally, what percentage of pre-marriage/unmarried relationships won’t work out? Maybe 80, or even 90 percent? Who knows? A damn lot.

So. Like I said: Your relationship is probably doomed.

Maybe I’m Not Doing It Wrong After All

Tiffany asked:

My question is less about the marriage part and more about the singlehood part. I epically failed at the dating game in my younger years long before epic fail was even a phrase. I am oh so much better at it now, NOT! I have no game or swagger, I’m just me. I’m just real but I guess being real is a complete turn off in this reality-tv, instant gratification society. So my question is, now what? Now what are we divorcee’s supposed to do? Online dating did not exist the last time I was single and neither did texting. We thought our cell phones were smart until Apple raised the IQ bar. Now, there seem to be dating rules that no one has shared with me and once I become privy to what they might be, they change. It seems the sea of fishes are now depleted of sea horses but teaming with sharks. If nice guys finish last, WHERE ARE THEY? In my experience, the divorced, single men in our age bracket are either reliving their 20 something frat boy days or trying to experience that lifestyle they never had. It’s exhaustingly frustrating! I feel as if the first line of the online dating profile I don’t have should read “Hi, I am a strong woman of character, value and self-respect. I’m sorry but I will not be selling my body or soul to the lowest bidder with cheesy lines, free cocktails, Netflix and a ‘chill’.”

I feel like when I go on a first date with someone (which has not happened in over a year because I gave up) I should introduce myself as, “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m a real person with thoughts, ideas and feelings not just a pin cushion. It’s nice to meet you.” The guy would turn around and run I’m sure lol. I also have two kids which translates to leprosy I’m finding out. Refer back to the previous statement of reliving one’s 20s and the idea of being a grown man that doesn’t shy away from responsibility is just gone. Maybe they are just too overwhelmed with their own responsibility to think about any more…..Maybe they just don’t know how to tread down this road just like me….Maybe I’m giving them too much benefit of the doubt…Maybe they’ve always been irresponsible and that’s why they’re divorced….Maybe I should stop driving myself crazy with all the maybe’s.
BUT I JUST DON’T GET IT!!!
So please, if you have any thoughts as to why divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual, please clue me in.
Also, the separate problem of divorced men who may be looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids.

I used to think I was horrible at dating (post-divorce, specifically), and even felt a little bit ashamed of it. But that’s because I was comparing the QUANTITY of my dates to what I perceived to be others’ experiences, and now I’ve come to believe it’s actually the low-boundary, unfiltered attitude toward dating that is causing most of these problems in the first place.

I now think I was accidentally awesome, and believe today that I’m a competent dater in a very deliberate way.

There are two reasons people date:

1. Because they desire companionship and/or sex, casually or otherwise.

2. Because they’re looking for a suitable partner for a long-term relationship and/or marriage.

If casual relationships are the goal, then I think a relaxed attitude about dating is an appropriate disposition.

But if you’re genuinely looking for a compatible long-term partner with the intention of spending FOREVER with them, then I think getting hardcore with your intentions, your boundaries, and your stated expectations are CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to your success and emotional wellbeing.

An intentionally casual dater can date another intentionally casual dater, and have a positive experience.

An intentionally casual dater dating someone looking for love can lead to a lot of bad things happening if neither are honest with one another.

A person looking for love and long-term commitment can date someone else looking for love and long-term commitment, and it can go a million different ways. A lot of people believe if they end up married, that the meeting and dating exercise was a success. But that’s not true. It’s only a success if they actually make it to forever.

This is where most of us get it wrong.

Because I write here and some people pay attention, people in my personal life sometimes irrationally believe that makes me the go-to person for relationship questions. Ignoring how flawed that thinking is, I do my best to listen and provide the honest feedback they seek.

One of my friends liked a guy. He was the first guy she really liked in a long time. They met on an online dating site. They started seeing each other regularly. But to her displeasure, he was non-committal. He remained engaged in online-dating activities and was presumably seeing other people.

She wanted my advice. I didn’t think the solution was complicated.

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Only you can decide what you’re willing to tolerate,” I said. “The first thing I would do is decide exactly what you want and what your intentions are. Do you want him to be your committed boyfriend, or don’t you? Are you okay with him logging onto online dating sites and dating other people, or aren’t you? Once you know what you want, those are your boundaries. Then you clearly and honestly communicate those boundaries to him. Then—the hardest part—you ENFORCE those boundaries. You need to be willing to walk away if he doesn’t respect them,” I said.

“Isn’t it too soon for that?” she said. She didn’t want to seem “crazy” or “possessive,” she said.

She was afraid that being honest would cause him to reject her.

“I don’t want to seem insensitive about this, but if your relationship is going to fail, you WANT it to fail fast. Be honest about what you want. If he’s unwilling to give you what you want, or honor your feelings, or he runs away, isn’t that all you really need to know about him in terms of your long-term compatibility?” I said.

Maybe she thought really wanting him to be a certain kind of guy would magically transform him into that person. Like The Secret.

She never had the conversation with him. A couple weeks later, he cancelled plans with her for the third or fourth time, then she ended it, and they haven’t talked to one another since.

The entire scene felt insane to me. THIS is a major reason so many people end up divorced, I thought.

Why Does Dating Suck?

Because people don’t establish strong-enough boundaries for who they date.

Because people aren’t willing to be vulnerable and choose honesty when expressing who they really are on the inside, and what they really want.

And then sooner or later, it all crashes and burns because two people with different values and different expectations and different goals tried to force it using rainbow wishes and unicorn dreams, blaming culture, circumstances and everything but the person standing in the mirror for willingly participating in the madness.

Being a victim of con-artistry is the ONLY honest excuse for crushing heartache in the dating game.

Sure, rejection hurts, when one honest person doesn’t reciprocate the same emotional investment as another honest person. But, A. Don’t you WANT to be with someone who wants you back?, and B. How is that not an infinitely better result than investing years and/or marriage with someone who ultimately rejects you because you never really knew each other in the first place?

I can’t emphasize this belief enough: Every failure-to-launch relationship is a GREAT thing that eliminates wasted time, gives us critical life experience, and ultimately opens the door for people to find legitimately awesome and compatible romantic partners.

I know everyone’s in a big hurry all the time. But as mom always said: Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.

This is how dating goes when you’re from a small Midwestern town in the United States (maybe it’s a lot different in big cities and other cultures): You go to school in kindergarten, and for the next 13 years, you’re almost exclusively surrounded by “people like you,” which I’m loosely defining as single people with similar values, similar life experiences, similar educational opportunities, similar financial prospects, and similar long-term goals and expectations.

There’s no such thing as classmates or even two random students at the same school who don’t share several common interests and cultural similarities, relative to how varied our experiences and worldviews can be as single—divorced, widowed, or never-married—adults.

Unless you’re someone who moved around a lot during your school years (which must come with its own social-development issues and challenges), you’re typically 18 at the earliest before you meet a potential romantic interest with a radically divergent cultural background or value system.

I think exposure to other beliefs, cultures and customs is extremely important for people to figure out who we are. Diversity is critical for us to be able to ask the right questions during our formative and explorative years.

But I’m not sure I believe diversity to be particularly useful in marriage or committed long-term relationships (especially those involving children—more on that in a minute).

How Dating is Like Business

As an internet marketing professional, my job is, in a very generic sense, to generate as much web traffic as possible to pages containing products or services I hope to sell to as many visitors as possible.

Let’s pretend I own a company that sells exclusively men’s t-shirts which read: “Donald Trump Has Very Specific and Credible Plans for America, Excellent Hair, and Should Be President of the World.” And now my job is to sell as many of these stylish and in-demand shirts as possible.

quizzical baby

(Image/mums-corner.com)

Let’s pretend I’m going to try to sell these shirts using targeted online advertising and email marketing (because I magically have access to everyone’s email address), and I have to decide how to wisely spend my email marketing and advertising budget.

And finally, let’s pretend I decide to target the following groups of people for my men’s Trump shirt sales initiative: Registered Democrats who voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, Women who live in Poland, and everyone on Hillary Clinton’s F.B.I.-seized private email server.

I probably wouldn’t have much luck selling Trump shirts to those groups.

There is something in business called a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). A shirtless man carrying a 12-pack of Natural Light at a Trump rally might be an MQL for one of these Trump shirts. A Hispanic Los Angeles resident with a Bernie Sanders yard sign would not be.

I think many daters look for love and marriage using the I’m Trying to Sell Trump Shirts to Sanders Supporters strategy.

Online Dating Can Actually Help With This

Online dating sites allow you to establish parameters to weed out people with incompatible or unattractive traits. This is really helpful for women who receive more attention on dating sites than they can handle and for men with strong boundaries, selective tastes and specific preferences.

It’s probably bad for all of the low-boundary people who care more about feeling liked and accepted than they do about actually having healthy and successful relationships.

Maybe people are lonely and afraid they’ll be alone forever. I remember feeling that way.

Maybe people are worried about what friends and coworkers think. Maybe they want to “keep up” with their ex who has already moved on with someone new. Maybe people are trying to have sex more often than never. Maybe they’re trying to find a financial partner, or just someone to binge-watch Netflix with them.

I don’t know.

I just know that a frightening amount of people voluntarily enter relationships with people who don’t share their values, and subject themselves to all kinds of abuse or dysfunction afterward, and it often seems as if it’s because they’re more afraid of being alone than they are of being mistreated or suffering a horrible break-up.

Single Parents Must Use Stringent Filters to Find MQLs

I don’t think people are discriminating enough, and I think that’s why dating is so frustrating for people, and why so many relationships fail. I think vigilant discernment while dating is extremely critical for single or divorced parents, and any young people who intend to have children someday.

People who look different can have great relationships.

People with differing interests can have great relationships.

People with diverse life experiences can have great relationships.

People from different places can have great relationships.

People with varying personality types can have great relationships.

But, people with DIFFERENT VALUES? I have yet to see evidence that two people with conflicting core values can succeed, particularly when they share children, or are raising them together.

Dating often sucks because people aren’t honest with themselves, and then they make it worse by not being honest with those they date.

If you don’t know who you are and what your values are, YOU HAVE NO CHANCE.

If you haven’t identified your personal boundaries, or aren’t willing to vigilantly enforce them, you’re going to experience a heavy dose of frustration and heartache.

If you do it my way, you’re not going to go out on many dates, and you may often feel frustrated by what seems like a frightening lack of options. The temptation can be great to go out with people simply because you find them attractive and they’re interested.

But I implore people to be deliberate with their intentions, and be courageous enough to share their honest expectations, values and feelings with the people they’re getting to know.

Divorce is A LOT scarier than a relative stranger deciding not to date us anymore.

It bears repeating: If we’re evaluating whether that person across from us is an appropriate choice for a long-term or lifetime commitment, should we REALLY be afraid of how they might react to something honest and true about us?

Can we achieve forever with someone who doesn’t want the real us?

It’s not fun or easy. It won’t always feel good. It’s the furthest thing from sexy.

But it’s the first real step on the path to reducing divorce.

Or, more appropriately, the first real step on the journey to Forever.

SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

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You Don’t Know Me

Image by SuperMeww at Deviant Art.

Image by SuperMeww at Deviant Art.

At work I write subject lines and email copy designed to get people to open my company’s emails and buy something.

Sometimes, there is internal debate at the office about the words I choose.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea because…”

And then I’ll respond with why I chose to write something as I did.

Recently, during a debate about a particular subject line that said simply: “You’re Invited,” a co-worker took exception to its lack of clarity. Considered it to be a little too “tricky.” That a customer who opened it would be opening it to learn to what event they were “invited” and be disappointed and close the email upon realizing it was not an invitation to an actual event, but merely an informal invitation to save money on our company’s sales.

I was more than willing to change the subject line to what the other guy wanted because I thought he made a decent-enough point.

But our boss, upon hearing the discussion and both sides of the debate, wanted to test it.

We’d send a small batch (but a significant data sample) with one subject line, and another small batch with the other.

In internet marketing (and probably several other industries), we call this A-B testing.

We sent the test batches. My subject line got the most opens and made the most money. So we sent the remainder of our list with my version.

My co-worker came over to shake hands and eat crow. And it made me feel bad. Literally. Because he’s a good guy and was just trying to do what he thought was best for our business.

“Don’t apologize, man. I agreed with you and thought you’d end up being right. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

I DO NOT take pleasure from being “right” so long as something mean-spirited wasn’t involved.

I DO NOT feel gratification when one of my work ideas performs better than someone else’s work idea, especially when the other person is a teammate—someone I’m only interested in lifting up.

I often feel bad when I take someone’s money in a poker game.

When my favorite team beats its archrival, I actually feel sympathy for my friends who root for the other team.

I feel lousy when I get to do something awesome or meaningful with my son that his mother wasn’t able to take part in. Like when he lost his first two teeth with me. Like when we visit my family for the Fourth of July.

As much as I love spending time with my little son, I do not enjoy it at the expense of others not being able to spend time with him.

It adds an element of bittersweetness to most of the wonderful things we do.

Perhaps those feelings will go away in time. But given my propensity for not always enjoying victory and fun and good things at the perceived expense of others, I’m not sure it ever will.

I Am Whatever You Think I Am?

No.

I’m not.

There are people in this world (my sweet and innocent grandmother, for example, who thinks I’m an angel even though I almost never call her to say hi) who probably think I’m a way better person than I am.

I’m not afraid to admit I make mistakes all the time.

But I also have no reservations about telling you how hard I try to be better. How much I think about, pray about, and work toward being the best person I possibly can.

A daily grind during the most-challenging few years of my life that has amounted to me aspiring to improve 1% each day, but knowing full well I spent much of that time lazy and lethargic and depressed and alone and feeling sorry for myself.

I don’t always succeed at improving 1% a day.

Maybe I can improve 1% at improving 1% and then win the Extra-Meta Guy Award.

Everyone who creates art of any kind needs to learn and accept The Rule of Thirds.

One third will love you.

One third will hate you.

One third won’t care.

So only make your art for the one third that loves you because you can’t reach the haters. The problem is, if you’re wired like me, you’re going to WANT to. You’re going to want to so bad.

To change their hearts.

To change their minds.

To make them believe that everything you write or draw or sing or sculpt or think or feel lives in your soul at the keyboard or the canvas or the microphone, and away from it.

You don’t know me.

Talk to any divorced person and they’re likely to tell you the same story: If I can’t even trust myself to know and choose the person I planned to spend the rest of my life with, how can I ever trust myself to marry again?

It’s scary when you realize you can fudge the biggest decision of your life.

But there’s another part of that.

You don’t know me.

You don’t really know anyone.

Every time a beloved celebrity commits suicide, we all go: “Oh my God!!! How could that person do that!?!? EVERYONE loved them!!!”

Every time you hear about a school shooting or serial killer, there’s always the people interviewed that knew them from way back when and thought they were just a nice, normal person like everyone else.

Maybe we only see what we want to see.

If anyone comes to my funeral, I hope each of them can walk up to my son and tell him: “Your dad was a really good guy,” then tell him a little story illustrating why they thought that.

That’s what I want from life.

When the final ledger is tallied, I hope analysis of that ledger draws the conclusion I’m working toward: Matt was a man who loved people, who tried hard to be non-judgmental, who loved friends and family and laughter, and who had a big heart that he tried to share with others.

Maybe that’s selfish. Because that’s a lot of things.

I don’t know what you think of me.

And it doesn’t really matter because I can’t prove you right or wrong.

But I want to type it anyway. Because it really matters to me. Maybe today more than ever.

I want to be a good man who helps people.

I want to teach my son to be the same.

I want my son to know in the deepest recesses of himself how much his parents love him.

I want to be a person who gives more than he takes in all things.

I want to write stories that help someone. Not everyone. Just someone.

I want to die as the best-possible version of myself.

And on that final day I die, I want to hold my head up high.

I want to tell you that I tried, to live it like a song.

Everyone is not only allowed to believe whatever they want—they’re going to anyway.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you know who I am.

This is my truth.

And today I’m 1% closer to living it.

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The Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Routine

The truth will set you free. It's a figure of speech because it's true. Try it.

The truth will set you free. It’s a figure of speech because it’s true. Try it.

There’s a guy.

I don’t know him.

He recently started dating a girl.

And I know her well enough to care how it turns out.

There are two possibilities with him:

  1. He’s a thoughtless penis who doesn’t learn from his mistakes.
  2. He’s a lying penis who doesn’t realize he’s making mistakes.

So, the only thing I know for sure is that he’s a penis.

I’ve never met him, so it’s hard to have a good read. But here’s what I know:

Fact #1 – He’s been married and divorced twice.

Fact #2 – He makes plans with his girlfriend for long holiday weekends, then disappears with no explanation, not responding to phone calls or text messages for extended lengths of time.

Which means he’s either totally thoughtless and a HORRIBLE communicator which could have been a factor in two failed marriages and would brand him a very slow learner.

Or he’s dishonest.

Because I know that he’s smart and successful professionally, I have to lean toward the latter.

And that makes me sad for my friend who—at the very least—deserves honesty from the dude in her life because she’s smart enough and tough enough to handle it.

Hate the Player and the Game

Newsflash, guys:

It’s 2013. The days of moral boundaries and super-conservative women are almost completely in the rearview. If you want to be a man whore, you can do so honestly and openly with very little negative backlash. In fact, some women actually want to sample your little herped-up wiener for reasons I can’t fully understand.

You. Don’t. Have. To. Lie.

You can be honest and upfront about your intentions and still get laid, so long as you’re not me.

I don’t get it. And I’m reasonably smart.

I get why people do drugs. They make you feel awesome.

I get why people drink too much. It makes you feel awesome.

I get why people have dangerous unprotected sex with strangers. It feels awesome.

But lying? Making things up—for what?—so you can sleep with someone a few times? Someone you don’t even care about?

Am I in the minority here for thinking this sounds absolutely ridiculous and dissatisfying?

I must be.

Maybe I’m a weird guy. Maybe I’m the dumb one. Maybe all the dudes out there lying to get women into bed and apparently feeling fine about it are the ones that have it all figured out.

And maybe the guy sitting in front of a computer screen alone on the Sunday night before Labor Day is clearly the clueless asshole.

I can see how one might come to that conclusion.

Someone smarter than I am is going to have to explain it to me.

Both the part where women eat this stuff up, and where men have identified this as the ideal way to live.

The whole thing is exhausting.

In conclusion:

Ladies. Honestly. Get your shit together.

If you’re just trying to get a piece, more power to you. There’s not a thing weird or wrong about that, so long as you’re not cheating nor have a moral code that suggests you behave differently.

But if you’re looking for love?

And you’re someone who always seems to date men who shit on you?

It might be time to consider that you’re just bad at evaluating character. Try something else. Something safe! Like Craigslist! (Kidding.)

Dudes. Sleep with anyone and everyone you want. Forever. Until your penis itches and lesions start growing on it. Go nuts! Just don’t con women in order to do it. Be honest about your intentions. You’ll still find someone who wants to have sex with you. I know this because you’re kind of a dick, and you’re not me, which makes it, like, 97.4-percent certain you’re getting some.

But probably not if you tell her about the penis lesions.

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